The signal sent, the destruction begun, the world about to be changed forever. Forever silent: In the midst of the war, a technological melee which had ravaged the Earth for over three years, one man had a vision, a vision of peace; but like many before him, his was a misguided one. Blind to its consequences and the world which they would effect.
The man, a middle-aged idealist by the name of Peter, English born, had used his knowledge for good; though in recent years, the line had become faded and the points, worn. His family had all been killed at the beginning of the conflict which had spread across the world like a plague, each state becoming infected, and in turn reducing their host nations to ruins, though many of the cities and their cultural heritage had managed to remain intact.
His plan was simple, you might say noble in many senses, though plagued with the naivete that he thought was all but dead. After all, he was surviving in a world where a peaceful night’s sleep had become a distant memory.
Eliminate their control, take their hands and make them listen to the reason of peace. Though his mistake was two-fold; he not only took the hands where the control to end it lay, but their ears to listen, thereby forcing them into hiding, like a fox in the hunt, away from the hounds, in solitude, away from the war, and in turn the means to end it.
The ruggedly dressed man entered the old observatory, and made his way to the rancid control centre, which was now filled with weeds and the stench of death, with military insignia scattered about the filthy floor. The bullet-riddled walls resembled the face of a cheese grater, and the ceiling, that of a zoo cage, dank and filled with a botanist’s array of foliage.
Once there, he accessed the decaying terminal, which rumbled as it powered up, its power source was anybody’s guess; and he began the process of flipping the steel and plastic switches, in the correct order for his plan to succeed. Alone, in the darkness, he began to guide the fate of the human race, with only a torch and bitterness, his allies, but his enemies were not far behind.
He then removed a small piece of machinery from his rucksack, a small black box, about the same size as a brick, with a 20 pin serial connector in one end, followed by a grey, double ended serial cable. He then attached the cable to the box, and then the serial socket to the console, and flipped a couple more switches. Then, it was done, almost, acknowledged by the deafening groan of the almost-seized motors outside.
Once he was secure in the knowledge that his task was done, his signal finally sent, he grabbed his bag and left the building with haste. He strolled out of the abandoned structure, and on, back to his home across the green fields, turning for a moment to see his victory in motion.
The massive structure moved, with grace and power, though its true power was invisible to the naked eye. Once white, now brown, the rust well ingrained, it turned, the vast dish, once been a land-mark with little known effect on the general populace of Britain of the past, now it would control the destiny of the entire globe.
This place, Jodral Bank, had now earned yet another place in history, as had its architect, ‘Peter: The Misguided’.
With space as a graceful backdrop, a vast system of satellites lay adrift in the cosmos, surrounding the planet like a spider’s web. Very few signals could escape their influence. Like a web, they would be caught and consumed, in their case they were processed and despatched to wherever necessary.
But this time, the spider was about to be poisoned, and it did not stand a chance. The Jodral Bank dish was playing its part, and as was the array of satellites, hundreds of them, placed there over the years, for communications and research, including intelligence purposes.
The signal was on its way, travelling at the speed of light, it reached its target within a second, the first of many relays. The system was about to be infected, the virus had been ingested. The first satellite, an old USSR communications relay, had received Peter’s well programmed, and rather vicious computer virus, that replicated itself infinitesimally once received by the Russian made marvel.
From there, it was transmitted to another array of satellites, and from there, to another. Like a line of dominoes, they fell, irretrievably deactivated. And with them, fell the ears of the world. One by one, piece by piece, it happened. The destruction of Earth’s communications, leaving the self-destructive race alone, with their tanks, aircraft, infantry units and a whole host of other deadly units, all forced to act independently, for the first time, and for many, the last.
And it was then that they came. From the shadows, from the mist, and from the graves of those who fell before them. Dressed in distinctive black leather jackets, that varied in length from a short design to a full length, based on their rank as it were, which came complete with hoods and combat boots. They strolled into the towns, the remains of the cities, and the newly established settlements that had sprung up over the past couple of years.
Who they were, why they were here, nobody knew. But they came for a reason, they came without fear, and they did not leave until they wished to. They entered the dank pits, where no-one else would enter for fear of being murdered; they happily walked into the suburbs, most of which were lawless, controlled by Crime Lords, who had either survived the conflict, or had risen to power because of it.
Into the town of Irlam, which lay near to the remnants of Manchester in northern England, one such man arrived, calling himself Paul. He calmly entered a public house, The Sports, one of the only remaining pubs in the deprived town. He strolled up to the bright red bar, and asked the landlord for a pint of bitter, who obliged him, without a single word.
They knew who he was, well at least what he was. A member of the government, an agent of some kind: Which branch, a question as indirect as they come. Like a tree, each branch was as interconnected to the trunk as can be, leaving the answer as intertwined as ever. He was Paul, and he was thirsty, and he had a drink in front of him to quench his thirst. He was about to drink it, when he was approached.
A man, in his thirties, stood by Paul at the bar, and began a conversation with him. “…And you are?”
“Who’s asking?” Paul glibly replied, as he took a sip of his freshly pulled bitter, which had no doubt arrived from one of the many barrels that he had seen being delivered on his way in, through the all but obsolete car park.
“They call me Tony.” He informed, also with a pronounced, yet forced grin.
“I think you’ll find that’s Anthony, actually.” Paul corrected. The grin faded.
“And what would you know, er?” Tony continued, becoming a little aggravated by his new aquaintance.
“The name’s Paul.” He began, “And I know plenty.”
“Like what, Paul?” Tony enquired, now beginning to lose his placid bravado.
“Well, You think that you run this town, for one.” Paul continued, now with a hint of something more insidious.
“What do you mean, think?” Tony replied, as he looked around the crowded pub, where at least twenty of his followers either sat or stood around, all focused on the duo.
“It’s not really a conversation that we should be having in such a public place, don’t you think?” Paul continued, as he acknowledged the gang that surrounded him, with a cool nod.
Tony laughed, looked him straight in the face, and replied, yet again with the intention of intimidating his opponent, at last beginning to realise who he was. But why was he here; was it for him? He ran that town, it therefore made sense that the government may want him dead; as well as his opponents. “Here looks good to me.” He baldly stated.
“Don’t you have some kind of TV room or something?” Paul sarcastically mused.
“We don’t have TV. Not since that business with ‘Peter the not so bright’.” Tony responded in kind.
“I thought they were calling him ‘Peter: The Misguided’?” Paul replied.
“Not round here.” Tony began, “Not a popular dude, that Peter.”
“Is that who you’re looking for?” A voice blurted out from somewhere at the back, attracting both their attention.
“Why?” Paul calmly asked.
“Yeah, why?” Tony interrupted, scanning the crowd.
“No reason.” The voice replied, leaving Paul a tad suspicious.
“So, what do you want to talk to me about?” Tony continued.
“Who said that I wanted to talk to you?” Paul calmly responded, as he downed his pint, and strolled out, leaving a bemused Anthony standing by the bar, alone.
As Paul left the public house, he was greeted by the ghostly town that he had left for a brief moment when he entered the pub. Irlam was lucky compared to most towns. Those without some kind of leadership fell years ago, leaving behind those which did. Crime lords, and in a few cases civilian authorities, carry the rest.
After the front lines moved south, centering in the United States and Africa, towns like Irlam became doomed to a long life under the thumbs of men like Anthony. That was until the satellites fell, and silence became the new curse. It failed to end the war, but sent it to a new deeper level, a level that placed more lives in danger, and slowed it to a deadly crawl.
That was when they became needed, men and women like Paul. The messengers, with the power over the Overlords. Sleeping where they can, eating when they are famished, and supported either by their allies or nobody, they were the order that was lost, they were the government that nobody wanted, but everyone needed. The parents that tell you not to eat sweets, but never take you to the dentist, a mixed blessing to be sure.
Back in The Sports, Anthony became taken yet again by his common but still annoying mood swings. Who had dared to ask that question? Why would the Government send someone to Irlam to search for ‘Peter the Stupid’ when they had a perfectly good and more deadly villan already established there? To him at least, with his warped ego and dodgy tobacco, it made no sense.
He then marched across to the lounge to locate his ego’s traitor. Ranting like a deranged idiot, which was far from his true self, he yelled at the now silent patrons, in an attempt to find him. “Who asked that question?” He yelled, with his face turned red and swollen with rage, his eyeballs protruding from their sockets as they became bloodshot, and his hand trembling with the fear that his image may not be what he believed.
“I did.” A proud voice uttered from the back corner, which was incidentally was where Tony was heading.
“Did you now? And who would you be?” Tony politely enquired as he made his way through the droves of regulars and travellers who idly cluttered his path.
“It was merely a question.” The voice said.
Then, Tony’s eyes met his, and he replied. “No, it wasn’t.”
“Why not?” The voice continued.
“Who are you?” Tony enquired as he was surrounded by his bodyguards and ‘groupies’, all of whom feared for their own safety if they were to fall out of favour.
“They call me Jon.” The voice revealed.
“And who are you to speak when I am speaking?” Tony asked, the vicious evil glint appearing ravenous within his eyes.
“I’m a man with a mouth. It speaks for itself.” Jon replied.
Paul strolled down the street, the continuity of which was distorted by layers of dirt, refuse and rubble, scattered along the route. It was far from a ghost town, but equally as far from thriving; with traders taking to the streets daily, selling such a diverse stock from vegetables at extortionate prices to toys that were available dirt cheap.
The skyline had changed so much since the beginning. Where there once lay a supermarket, the largest in Manchester at one point, now lay a shell, filled with rubble and debris, and behind that there was a massive railway bridge, built at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds. A towering monument to the power of that age, lingering through the ages, waiting for a time when it would again be used.
While the dark brown bricks of the railway bridge stood intact, the tall once green embankment on either side stood no more. Merely craters of their once useful selves. The local rail network had finally sunk lower than normal, with the latest train now clocking in at just over two years late.
He continued down the road, the air was sharp in its clearness. Crisp and crystal, an atmosphere unlike any inhaled before. It was not this way everywhere though.
Further south, in the midst of the ruins of London, the air was thick with smog, and where there was no smog, there was a mist, beyond a haze, but less than a fog. A sinister reminder of the war not so far away. A war which had already claimed the lives of the sons and daughters of over half the population.
As the clean air entered Paul’s lungs, which themselves seemed unworthy, they had also been abused by the reformed smoker, he was reminded of the old world, before the war. A world where smoking was a blessing. Where corner shops existed to be abused by the under-aged smoker. A world where air was thick with polution.
But there was little to cause polution anymore. No streams of cars commuting to and from work every day. Hardly any power stations churning out towers of smoke and waste from their cooling towers. Nothing of Sizewell B but a cracked sphere. For once, the ozone layer was safe, but at what a cost. Most of the eco-warriors were dead, but not all buried.
Burial was a privilege, and not a free one, as Paul was reminded as he continued past a deserted row of shops. The corpse of a young man lay at his feet as he stopped. A bullet was too expensive for this man, and a knife was a clean and recyclable method of execution, and being friendly to the environment it had become all the rage, by default.
And on the subject of rage, there was plenty of it. More than enough to go around, though controlled to the hilt where Paul was concerned. He was trained, but by who, we could only guess. Though, it would not take too long.
The government may seem to be dead, but it is far from forgotten. They were the proof: The men and women with the black leather jackets. Smart but practically casual, armed with whatever was needed, and trained to speak in ways beyond words. Their minds, a mystery, though obviously practical in nature. And their origins, a question that was never asked, and devoid of an answer.
A secret, perhaps, a weapon, maybe. Though whatever it proved to be, Paul continued down the road, and arrived at his destination. The primary school, once known as St. Teresa’s. Now known only as, ‘The School’. For one reason, and one reason only, it was the only school in town.
The Sports was such a misnomer. There was no sport there, well fair enough, there was plenty of sport, and with a bookmaker just seconds away across the crumbled road, it was an ideal location. But there was no sport, just games with rules that had no morality, like the next game on their agenda, ‘Kill The Speaker’.
The Jukebox banged away, but in the sense that when they tore it off the wall it broke in two and made a rather loud noise in the process. The blood-stained glass and the head that stained it were removed quickly after the fight that dark afternoon. But for a change, this was personal argument, and nothing to do with its regular interrogator, Anthony.
He stood, waiting for something of interest to peek his interest, whilst he nursed his warm Grouse. He then downed his drink and strolled into the back room, along with several of his associates.
The gaudy orange door was slammed shut by a man known as Marcus, who was Anthony’s right-hand man. Then, once Tony had taken up a nice powerfull posture at the head of the clean room, he began to lead his troops as it were.
“So, where did he go?” Tony asked, as he began his meeting.
“The School.” Marcus baldly informed him.
“Why?” Tony continued to muse.
“Why what?” Marcus enquired, whilst looking a little fatigued.
“Why ‘The School’ and who says?” Tony responded, whist pulling out a cigarette from a silver holder. It appeared to have been hand rolled earlier judged by the lack of a filter and the general state of it.
“I don’t know why, but in answer to your second point, it was Julian.” Marcus replied.
“Fine, but this Julian character doesn’t…” Tony began but he then went on to realise a rather important detail, “hold on, who the fuck is this Julian?” He continued.
“Just a freeloader, a bit of work here, a little there, a dickhead with a pair of eyes for hire. Don’t worry about him.” Marcus explained as the rest of his seemingly motley crew merely sat there like a bunch of dummies. Not one coherent sentence, not a nod, nothing. But they rarely did anything, but stand or sit around the pub looking mean, or killing people, it was all the same to them.
“Hey, Markie, I’m not worrying, okay.” Tony continued.
The door creeked as Paul opened it. It was Sunday, and the school was now empty, but showed signs of a packed curriculum. Not one centimetre of wall space was wasted, maps, most of which were now out of date, posters with a musical theme, and foreign language charts. All signs of a range of different classes, all at different levels.
He stopped, and then the other footsteps became clearer. They continued until he appeared in the doorway before Paul. He had found him, Peter. “Hello, Peter.” Paul greeted.
Peter smiled, “I wondered how long it would take.”
“I’m sorry.” Paul apologised, softly.
“For what?” Peter naively enquired.
The sun had finally dared to show itself on this day, but a moments rest for the wicked was obviously too much to ask. The cark park was surrounded by a small array of four floodlights from the days before the war, all of which were still burning from the night before.
The outer door opened again as this time Anthony, followed by Marcus and several more of his associates, or goons for want of a better word, marched out on their missions. As the hot sun began to burn Anthony, he turned to see the floodlit car park, and then to see the source. Four tall floodlights towered over him, still lit.
He then turned to see the generator which was tucked away behind the building, but from his present position was still visible to the group. The large black cube shaped drum was sat there, making nothing but a strained humming noise and a surplus of wasted power for the afore mentioned floodlights on this now sunny day.
“What the fuck’s this!” Anthony yelled, looking primarily at a young woman who went by the name of Claire.
“They obviously need turning off.” The cocky yet somehow timid woman answered.
“Well, obviously, turn them off, then.” Anthony replied, whilst mimicking her. She then turned and skulked off back into the public house from whenst she came.
“Bitch.” Anthony commented to Marcus.
“Are you going to take my advice.” Marcus prepared to advise.
“Go on then.” Anthony entertained.
“Stop shooting her shit, stop throwing money at her and stop sticking it up her and just let me stick a knife in her.” Marcus responded. “It’s what I do best; and it’s a hell of a lot safer, trust me.” He concluded.
“You know, you’re stupid ‘I’m not getting any, so why should anybody else’ shit might actually be more practical in some circles than you get given credit for. But me, myself, the way I see it is, I am getting it.” Anthony ranted, “She may be dumb as fuck but on the other hand, she’s a top fuck. And that’s just the way I like it.” Anthony crudely went on to explain.
The lights then suddenly cut out, and the overworked generator began to produce a slightly healthier sound.
Paul had taken one of the small school chairs, and placed it opposite Peter, and sat in it.
“Well, what happens now then?” Peter enquired, fearing for his life, feeling the ice cold pinch of true fear for the first time in years.
“I’m not sure. I guess that’s up to you?” Paul replied, with his usual calm and cheerfully cold demeanour.
“What choice have I got?” Peter began. “I’m a fucking dickhead. I didn’t just misjudge the situation, I mismanaged it.” He concluded.
“It could be worse.” Paul stated.
“The world is deaf! It was already deaf, but now the drum has been skinned and the beating is futile.” Peter exclaimed.
“Nice use of metaphor by the way.” Paul coldly analysed, as his evil stare continued.
“Thank you.” Peter responded, as he continued to resist Paul’s attempts at manipulation.
“It’s just perforated, nothing that won’t heal in time.” Paul began to explain. “Fine, your plan wasn’t perfect. Yes, people miss satellite TV, and long distance phone calls, and the military misses their ability to easily communicate over a long distance, but that’s not all bad.” Paul continued.
“Why’s that? Please do explain.” Peter interjected, with more than a hint of provocation.
“I was. At least there’s no button for some politician to have his finger on.” Paul again began. “How much longer do you think it could have gone on for?”
“I don’t know, a year maybe. But now it’s indefinite.” Peter responded.
“Nothing is indefinite. The hundred year’s war ended eventually; a hundred or so years later yeah, but it did end. This will too, and people will drive their cars, and smoke their cheap cigarettes, without spending an arm or a leg on them.”
Paul continued. “I mean look at it. Yes, people are dying in bars like there’s no tomorrow, but that ain’t new. Granted, the amount has gone up a bit, but besides that people can’t afford to smoke, so lung cancer’s down, and the ozone layer has a chance. Things could be worse.” He concluded.
“You make a moderately convincing argument, but that doesn’t answer the question of me.” Peter continued with a sigh.
“What question?” Paul enquired.
“Like, how did you find me?” Peter mused.
“Word of mouth. You’ve destroyed everything else, but in the end, the words are just the same, but the method may vary a little, that’s all.” Paul explained
With a little of the guilt lifted by this, to him at least, a new perspective, Peter rose to his feet and prepared to leave, presumably with him. “Let’s go then.”
“Go where?” Paul asked, remaining in his seat, with his arm slung over the back of the chair, and his now trademark grin on his face.
Peter’s face fell, as he realised that he wasn’t going anywhere, and that Paul was sent to finish him. “What do… you mean?” He stammered.
Paul leant forwards towards Peter, and looked deep into his bloodshot eyes, and muttered, “What?” with a naive tone.
“Why are you here?” Peter began, again in the clutches of fear. “Who are you?”
“One question at a time.” Paul replied. “I’m here for you.”
“Oh.” Peter baldly murmered, not knowing what on earth to say in response.
“And in answer to your second question, I’ve already told you, my name is Paul.” He continued.
“Paul what?” The exhausted man enquired.
“That’s mine.” Paul replied, saying nothing more, revealing nothing more. His answer stood in his tone. The locked gates of a man’s soul, a familiar viewpoint for a man such as Peter.
“I see.” Peter said, as he finally felt at ease with his capture. Finally gained that understanding that had been there throughout, but like the world that he had created, he himself was deaf to its clarity.
“Don’t panic, I’m not going to kill you.” Paul calmly and reassurably stated, as Peter stood before him, waiting to breath again, waiting, as he wanted so much to trust the man in black, who waited before him, for redemption. But for what, no knowing stare could ever reveal. Only the locked soul of the man spilled could answer that question. “I need you, Peter.” Paul continued.
“What do you want from me?” Peter enquired, fear and bemusement now filled his face of soft stone.
“We want you to repair the damage.” Paul calmly replied.
“I can’t. The virus destroyed them all. It physically destroyed the hardware, as well as the software.” Peter explained, with a hint of fear in his tone. With no use, his life was surely forfeit.
“We know that.” Paul replied, as a drop of sweat fell from Peter’s brow. “But your plan was a little short-sighted and as you’ve already acknowledged, misguided.” Paul continued.
“Yes, but how does that answer my question? Peter pursued.
“The primary satellite, the relay that you used as the primary disruption.” Paul hesitated as he began to explain.
“Yeah?” Peter queried.
“Like an angel, it’s light still flows through the night sky with a persistence, and presence.” Paul continued as he glanced down towards his jacket.
“What the hell does that mean?” Peter exclaimed, puzzled by his seemingly incoherent ramblings.
“It still functions.” Paul simplified.
“What?” Peter exclaimed, with disbelief radiating from him.
“Yes.” Paul baldly confirmed.
“I don’t understand. It was supposed to destroy itself after its work had been done.” Peter tried to explain.
“It didn’t and that’s all that matters.” Paul began, as he pulled out a small transmitter from his jacket pocket. “And here’s the proof.”
“What’s that?” Peter knowingly asked.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that it feeds off your dead satellite. And we need you to sort it out.” Paul continued.
“I can’t. What’s the point?” Peter emotionally declined.
“The point is I can’t protect you if you don’t.” Paul informed him.
“I don’t need your protection.” Peter stubornly insisted.
“But I need you.” Paul stated.
“Why?” The puzzled man asked.
“Because he’s lonely.” A voice from the doorway interrupted. Paul lowered his arm towards his small pistol that was located in his right hand jacket pocket, but did so without any of the others realising. Peter stared at the door, eagerly waiting to catch a glance at the intruders, whilst Paul merely glanced, coolly, seemingly unconcerned by their presense.
Though with his heart racing, his blood pressure increasing, and his body temperature increasing by degrees every second, his body was telling a different tale, though nothing as chilling as the story of his brain, the story that nothing nor no-one could tell, except Paul. The cold chill of fear, the quivering of his bones, the indescribable freezing pain that seemingly hovered over his body, never making contact though never leaving him.
“Who’s that?” Paul enquired.
“Who do you think it is?” The voice continued, with a hint of joviality to it, though not the amusing kind.
“A peeping Tom.” Paul antagonised, still his smile plastered on his face with a vengeance.
“Close.” The voice continued.
“Why not show yourself?” Paul asked.
“Why should I?” The voice enquired.
“Good point.” Paul began. “If I was as useless in the hay as you, I would step out the door, Thomas.” Paul continued.
A shadow then filled the doorway as the man who was once nothing but a voice took form. A man known as Thomas. He stood in the doorway looking down on the pair, as they look back at him. His rolled up cigarette was almost extinguished as the one-eyed man’s good eye became filled with smoke and soon after blood, as the smoke began to irritate it.
The man had a presence that in it’s own sense seemed to overshadow Paul’s, but his was more decadent, more earthy. His power lay in methods that had left him scarred for life. A line or two on his face, the healed eye socket, the bloodshot other, the bent nose from several breaks in the past, and the dry cracked lips that even now were secreting some blood onto the end of his cigarette.
“I know you, Thomas.” Paul informed.
“Cool. I believe that I too, have had the pleasure.” Thomas replied, as two other men appeared to his rear. Thomas then stepped forward towards the pair, with the creaking floorboards as his fanfare.
Paul then glanced about the classroom, the orange tinge of the afternoon sun tainting every surface, as he searched for more adverseries. “Alone?” Paul baldly queried.
“Do I look alone?” Thomas stated, as he glanced to his rear, the two goons standing there, casting elongated shadows across the room, falling just short of Peter’s feet.
“You don’t look as if you should be alive, though appearances can be deceptive.” Paul wittily retorted, as his brash smile consumed his face more with every comment.
Thomas glared at him, with a disturbing combination of both arrogance and joviality, his smile was almost as large as Paul’s, only more inane. “What do you mean?” He calmly asked.
“What’s the one eye deal?” Paul began, “Did you pull too hard?”
“What?” Thomas, who was actually puzzled at this point again asked.
“Tell me, Tommy boy, why is it that you choose to grace our presence, here, now?” Paul continued, with a happy-go-lucky, controlling tone.
“What do you think?” Thomas replied, his mouth gesturing his answer. The answer being the same as Paul’s.
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think that a bee that has used its sting, should accept that it no longer has any use. And should die quietly.” Paul lectured.
Thomas paused for a second, as he made sense of his metaphor, and then replied. “I don’t need patronising from some fucking sympathiser, you comprende?”
“Sympathiser’s the wrong word pal.” Paul began as he drew his side arm from his coat pocket, and aimed at Thomas. Then, the old class room became filled with the sound of pistols being pulled and cocked, as well as that of Peter taking cover behind the small wooden tables, as they scratched against the bare floorboards. Finally, nothing but the sound of scuffling as the four adverseries ran to their positions. Then, the shot rang out.
The door opened, smoothly and with the crisp sound of newness. Anthony strolled through it, escorted by three bodyguards, all dressed in what appeared to be uniforms, but in the sense that they carried the mono-coloured emblem of their leadership on their breast.
Anthony loved this room, the very room that he himself aspired to sit in, but not as a guest, but as the only seated one there. The room was well lit, incredibly clean, and decorated with colours ranging form brilliant white to light grey, all except the head of the long chamber.
That was coal black, with a black marble desk complete with a matching leather executive chair. To his right, the wall was empty, except for three small paintings, all original but by an unknown artist. To his left, nothing, but a blank plain white wall. The floor was marble, with a selection of Persian rugs scattered along the route to the head of the room, making almost every step sound different from the last, as one may be on marble and the other on soft Persian wool.
As his three guards stopped at the halfway point, Anthony continued to stroll towards the head of the chamber, where he was eagerly awaited by an older man who sat comfortably in the black chair. Anthony’s footsteps grew louder as he approached the man he himself, aspired to become. The C.E.O.
Anthony then stopped, and waited to be acknowledged. The older man, aged somewhere between fifty and sixty, was reading form a handwritten document which was located on a leather blotter on his marble desk. He lifted his head for a moment and nodded to acknowledge him, and then returned to his reading.
Anthony stood there, waiting for the C.E.O to finish, when he was distracted, as the main doors that he had entered by, were finally closed by one of the guards. Then, as Anthony turned back towards the desk, the C.E.O was looking at him, with his head supported by his knuckles as his elbows leaned on the desk.
“Anthony.” The C.E.O greeted, with his deep and incredibly strong voice.
“Hello.” Anthony respectfully returned his greeting.
“I take it that you are aware why you are here?” The C.E.O continued.
“Yes.” Anthony boldly replied, with a respectful but confident smile.
“Good, because I do not.” The C.E.O began, as he sat back in his soft chair and placed both hands flat and firmly on the cold marble.
“I believe that a problem has developed.” Anthony continued, his confidence now turned to mild fear. The room was filled with a sterility, radiating from the man at the head of the chamber, sat amongst benevolent surroundings but a persona that surrendered nothing but manevolence,
“And this problem is?” The older man continued, still calm, seemingly relaxed, yet cold.
“A man came to me, wearing nothing but black, with a distinctive black leather jacket, hiking boots, black shirt and tie. And an attitude.” Anthony explained.
The C.E.O leant forward with a new expression, one which seemed impossible to retreat from, and he replied. “You know how we deal with the old evil.” He began, “You deal with him son, and find out where he’s working from.” He almost concluded. “Comprende?”
A splinter of glass became embedded in the scuffed sole of one who was himself without one. The sound of crunching broken glass was all that could be heard, as the quartet entered the blood stained classroom.
Marcus, followed closely by Claire and two others, walked into the room, to find no-one, alive in any event. The smell of sulphur, singed wood and hot metal greeted them as they entered. But that was not the predominant scent. The smell of death was upon that room, but there was not a body in sight, merely splatters of blood.
Claire followed the concentration, one spot, that led to two spots, then a puddle. Marcus crept up behind her, then glanced out of the main window, but glass no longer nestled there, nothing but a ring still held there by decade old putty. He then carefully strolled up to the window, whilst walking on tiny shards, each with its own sound as it was disturbed, and stared out, in hope of answers. But his answers were not outside.
He then turned to his right, where he saw the two bodies of the goons, heaped in the corner. Marcus knew that his fears were true. They had been found, their empire was about to be taken from them, and his place was about to become like the world itself, silent to a world without ears.
The seemingly endless road flowed through the industrially planted foliage like a stream, with no current. On either side lay a once thin, but now lush forest that ran parallel to the road, which still had its original markings. This road was once a bypass that aimed to spare the traffic flow on the busy main road that ran through Irlam. It had failed in many respects, though it was not entirely useless. It served Paul now, and he needed it for more importance than cutting down a little traffic. It was his calling to return traffic to these dead roads, in these all but dead towns.
With the archaic red brick railway bridge towering over them, just short of a mile away, the scene was colourful, though very different from what it once was, or was meant to be. As Paul and his ward, Peter, walked down this road praying for salvation, and escape from this territory.
Just one and a half miles further down that road beckoned an old county know as Cheshire, which was out of the jurisdiction of this towns leadership. That was their destination. Peter was both traumatised and exhausted, which does not make for a good combination. “Listen, Paul.” He began. “We don’t stand a chance, just fuck it. There’s no escaping them, trust me.”
“No, trust me Peter. Mob rule is no rule. And that’s the rule that I live by. Do you get me?” Paul cryptically explained as he briskly marched towards their destination, with Peter struggling to keep pace.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Peter again began. “You’ve been doing nothing but spouting bullshit since we first met.” He frustratedly exclaimed.
“It’s not shit, it’s incredibly simple if you take the time to understand it.” Paul replied, whilst carrying on his trek. “You’re a scientist aren’t you?”
“I had my moments.” Peter bitterly reminisced.
The decaying Tesco Hypermarket lay to his left, as he took in his last drag of his cigarette. His wait was over, as the sound of the blue Ford Orion pulling up signaled the arrival. The car door opened, and a foot made swift contact with the decaying tarmac at its sole.
Anthony marched over to Marcus, who had been waiting along with Claire, at the end of the side road for the fifteen minutes. “What’s happened?” He firmly enquired.
“We’ve lost the first team.” Marcus began to explain.
“Lost?” Anthony pushed.
“Two men dead, no sign of Thomas, no sign of the Black guy or the Geek.” Marcus continued to report.
“We need the Guy more than the Geek, do you hear me? C.E.O wants him, I want him, comprende?” Anthony insisted, strongly, fearing for himself in both the sense of failing his idol and losing his men.
Paul and Peter, who was now finding it increasingly difficult, continued to make their way, and were no more than a quarter of an hour away from success. They were now back on the main road through the township. The towering structure looms over the duo as they embark on their final leg.
The old Lanstar chemical works; that marked the boundary between what was once Greater Manchester and Cheshire: The three massive chemical drums towered over the town, and were rumoured to have been used in the manufacture of Tar, hence it being most commonly refered to as the Tar Works.
The drums must have been about seventy feet high, and wider than they were tall, and had now begun to decay with years of neglect. Across the road from the large plant, lay the ruins of a vast housing estate, nothing but shells of houses as far as the eye could see. But in this large town, there was still hardly a soul to be seen, but it was no secret that the concentration lay at the other end, towards The Sports. The smell was of nothing but prutrification, and the rotted chemical drums.
This area was literally a ghost town, and as for the reason, that was a secret, though not too closely guarded. The pair began to pass the Lanstar plant, and with the fence only half intact and the main gate slung open, it was now possible to see inside. Paul glanced but seemed to already know, but Peter, on the other hand, was a little more naive.
He turned to see body upon body, piled high near the vast drums, which had been cut into, and apparently used to store the dead. Peter was filled with a feeling of dread. He cast his mind back, and no matter how hard, he could not recall a time or place that this had occurred before he had implemented his plan.
“This is my fault, isn’t it?” Peter humbly enquired.
“You created a world Peter, but good, bad or ugly, not many people can say that.” Paul replied as he tried in his own way to console him.
Paul continued. “Tell me, have you ever been happy?”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Peter somberly replied.
“When?” Paul continued.
“When I had a family.” Peter baldly stated.
“Okay, then what’s the point in ever being happy, if you know that you’re going to lose at the end of it.” Paul began to conclude.
“There isn’t.” Peter awkwardly replied.
“Happiness is momentary and transitional. When I was a kid, I’d be happy with a bottle of coke to myself, now, I’m happy with a place to sleep. Happiness and contentment change with the wind, and the rulers.” Paul concluded.
“I always thought that happiness was a cigar called hamlet.” Peter jested, as he began to realise, that at least in some small measure, his new found friend was correct.
The pair then passed a sign, which like everything else in this dead ville, was almost decayed. The red sign with a white border read Nuclear Free Zone. Paul glanced up as he walked past it, and spoke his thought. ‘Just about.’
Now, just two hundred yards away from the border, the pair dared to breath a sigh of relief and success, though as their breaths came to an end, so did the silence of the rotting street that they had left behind. With the Lanstar plant now towering just behind them, the sound of a car in the distance began to ooze throughout the desolate streets.
Paul glanced back to see a red Metro speeding down the road, towards them. He turned, and began to run towards the border. “Shit!” Paul exclaimed as he dragged Peter along with him. Then, the passenger window rolled down, and the occupant, Marcus leant out armed with a rifle, and began to take aim, as the driver, Claire, slowed down.
As Marcus lined up his shot, with the telescopic sight that was mounted on the top, and prepared to fire his shot at his target, Peter. His trigger finger twitched and the first shot was away. The road directly in front of Peter sparked, as the first bullet missed.
“You missed!” Claire informed him.
“You don’t fucking say!” Marcus exclaimed, noting in the tone of his enraged voice that stating the obvious will get her nowhere. The second shot was away, again missing the target, which was still Peter. With Peter and Paul still running for the border, and the Metro closing fast, Marcus was about to get his next shot, when suddenly, and completely without warning, Paul stopped.
He turned, drew his pistol and opened fire on the car, firing two shots at the windsreen, making Marcus flinch!
Suddenly two bullet holes appear on the driver’s side of the windscreen. Marcus turned to his partner, to see a hole in the right side of her neck, with blood oozing out. The car then begins to swerve off the road, since the driver has now joined most of the population of this dead town.
Marcus then opens his door and dives out, realising that he would no doubt be hurt in the fall, but stood a better chance than staying in the car. The car then smashed into one of the craters left by one of the houses which had been destroyed years earlier.
Marcus, whilst holding his arm, searched for his rifle, which was in the middle of the road, whilst he lay on the side, watching as Paul and Peter continue to escape as they ran for the border.
Just then, they both saw it, an old white sign, which read ‘Cheshire’. They both knew better than to presume success at this point, but still felt as if they had made it, but then, like an old penny, the past returned and ended the dream of a future.
As the pair struggled their last steps towards freedom, he appeared in front of them, with his pistol in his hand and his finger on the trigger. Then, before the duo could comprehend what was about to happen he pulled it, twice. The sound of the two shots rang through out the town, and Marcus knew that his life may still escape forfeit.
Paul felt the impact in his breast pocket, and was shoved to the ground with unbridled force. Whilst Peter felt his bullet in the sternum, and whilst he could still see his own blood pouring out of his hot, painful, yet coldly numb wound, he saw the sky blind him, and he finally felt his head hit the floor.
Marcus struggled to his feet, as he heard another car approach from the distance, and staggered as far as he could, before he had to make his choice. Did he confirm the kill, or make his way back to the car, and show his master that his energies were used to try and save Anthony’s lover?
He looked down the road, but could see nothing, he then staggered over to the crashed Metro.
Paul staggered to his feet, to see the man, Thomas, escaping back into the bushes from wenst he came, but not before dropping his gun on the hot tarmac before him. Paul turned to Peter, who’s bloody torso and general complexion convinced him that he was dead.
He also saw a small stream of blood flowing from the back of his head, as he lay face up. He felt the need to check his body, just in case but he too heard the reinforcements arriving just up the road.
Paul turned to his new, and now late, friend and spoke to him for one last time. “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.” He then turned and ran towards their final destination, but not before picking up Thomas’ pistol on the way.
He jogged up the road and made it out of Irlam, to one of the power bases for the leadership of this dead country.
The Ford Orion pulled up by Marcus, who was now stood over the crater, and the battered body of Claire, who was still behind the wheel of her doomed car.
Anthony strolled up, looked down, and turned to Marcus, with a sombre yet masterfull tone. “What happened?”
“He killed her.” Marcus reported. Anthony merely stared at his second, his friend, with the eyes of a man in turmoil. Dead centre, and adamant.
Paul continued his journey, with the sun setting on the horizion. As the orange sky overshadowed him, he pulled out his transmitter from his top breast pocket, and looked upon it. A silver bullet was lodged in it’s casing. It had saved his life, but it may as well not have.
Without it, he had no contact with his superiors, and no map of the world ahead. No intelligence of those powers that lay before him. He then returned it to his pocket, and pulled out the pistol that killed his friend and isolated him from his people. He pulled out the clip and looked upon it. It was empty, two shots fired, two bullets lost.
Thomas ran because he had no choice. No more shots, just the desire to carry out the orders of the new order. He then tossed the weapon away and continued his journey.
The tarmac was still stained by the two puddles of blood left by Peter. He had now been moved and Anthony stood over the sight of the fray. He stared at the border that he was not permitted to cross, a border that protected him from the other leadership orders, and protected them from his.
He knew that the man who killed his lover, disgraced his best friend, and forced him to defend his own leadership from the powers that stood above, was walking freely over that line. For the first time, he felt truly caged, his hands truly bound.
Paul had no option other than to return to his base, but that lay over two hundred miles away. And without transport, or intelligence, he would be lucky to survive the attempt. One bullet had taken away his eyes and ears. He prayed as he walked under the orange glow, that he would not be forever blind, or that the old order would not be forever silent.
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