“Marlowe,” Jen huffed. The sound of her shoes splashing in the putrid water gradually became less repetitive. She slowed from a run, to a jog, and then to a complete stop. Doubled over, she begged her heart to stop its hammering inside her chest.
“What are you doing?!? Come on!” Marlowe commanded from over her shoulder. “We’ve got to go!”
“I need… minute…” Jen gasped.
Marlowe stopped about ten yards away from Jen and turned around. “We don’t have a minute!”
“I need one anyway…”
Marlowe stalked back toward her. Furiously, she slung the green duffel bag around to her front and dug through it. “Here,” she said as she offered Jen a dose of AMP.
“You know I can’t use that,” she said.
“Now’s not the time for your Twelve Steps garbage,” Marlowe said, stepping closer and waving the AMP in Jen’s face.
Jen slapped the inhaler away. “Those are formulated for you, stupid!” She snapped. “I don’t feel like dying today, thank you!”
Marlowe took a step back. Despite the severity of the situation, she knew she was pushing a button that shouldn’t be pushed. She sighed as she placed the AMP back in the bag.
“Well, bad news,” she said, “You’re probably going to get executed when they find us, so you’re gonna die regardless.”
Suddenly, Marlowe screamed and slammed her fist into the concrete wall of the ancient drainage tunnel, chipping away at a long-forgotten gang’s graffiti.
“Fuck me,” she whispered, licking blood from her knuckles. “I never should have dragged you into this.”
Jen stood and leaned against the tunnel wall. Her breathing was stabilizing. “You had no choice,” she said. “I’m your sister, Marlowe. I get it.”
“Adopted sister, remember?”
Jen scowled. “Enough with that shit.”
“Considering recent events, it might be good to start saying it again. Deny any connection to me.”
“Stop it. We’re not twelve years old, and this isn’t school. Besides, this isn’t your fault.”
“Yeah,” Marlowe said, “I was starting to feel bad about sending your idiot boyfriend out there to face those goons, but you’re right. He’s the one to blame for this.”
Jen looked up at Marlowe, eyes watery, a scowl stamped across her face.
“Don’t look at me like that! I didn’t think they’d kill him!” Marlowe snapped. “I thought the worst they’d do is throw a collar on him and put him on trial.”
“Maybe use him as some sort of lesson for anyone considering helping me,” she continued. “Well, I guess they did do that, didn’t they…”
“I called it in,” Jen said.
Marlowe’s eyes grew wide. “You WHAT?!?”
“I’m sorry!” Jen pleaded. “I thought it was the only way to save you!”
Marlowe scowled. “You thought the only way to save a fugitive on the run for treason was to call in two squads of MilSec soldiers and a cybernetically enhanced ‘Next Top Soldier contestant?”
“Well, no… But yes?” Jen said. She stepped toward Marlowe. “He’s a Private who visits the Subs and loves cards and AMP. I dump money to in poker games to guarantee favors! I was calling one in… I thought he’d cover for us and help you out! I didn’t know he would call in the calvary! I am so sorry! I didn’t think–”
“You’re right! You didn’t think!” Marlowe yelled, taking two steps backward. “You just…reacted! Like you always do! You didn’t think some plucky Private would see brand new stripes on his arm as a reward for bringing me in! You didn’t think they’d be monitoring the coms! You didn’t think at all! Hell, I saw the reward they have on me… I doubt you’d mind coming across an easy million credits”
“Fuck you, Marlowe!” Jen screamed. “I’d NEVER sell you out!”
“You literally just did!” Marlowe said. “You are always thinking of yourself first!”
“Oh, look who’s fucking talking!” Jen said. “We’ve just run nearly a mile through who-know’s-what’s been sitting in this tunnel for who-knows-how-long because YOU–”
Jen suddenly froze. Her eyes took on a slight glow. “Oh shit!” She exclaimed. She raised her hands and began gesturing, cycling through a series of alerts that had just appeared on her HUD.
“What?” Marlowe asked urgently.
“We’re near the end of the tunnel…I just reconnected to the Net,” Jen said, reading each alert. “It’s dad!”
“What?!? Is he ok?”
Jen tapped the air with her index finger. “He’s in custody…they arrested him!” She flicked upward with her finger. She gasped. Her eyes dimmed slightly as she looked at Marlowe. “They’re saying he orchestrated your escape, using his connections in MilSec. They’re charging him with treason!”
Jen gestured in the air, flicking her hands up and tapping the air as she navigated. “They’re saying he was complicit in helping the traitors who sprung you…oh god, they’re calling an emergency trial in front of the tribunal! Nine AM tomorrow!”
“They can’t…he can’t even walk or feed himself! How the hell would he have orchestrated anything– SHIT! Jen! Get down!” Marlowe yelled, pointing at a drone that had just buzzed in from the far end of the tunnel.
Jen wasn’t one for taking orders, but she knew that if Marlowe said “Get down” it was better to just do it and find out why later. She hit the deck as Marlowe picked up the chunk of rock she had chipped from the tunnel wall during her tantrum. Without her Pod, the targeting systems linking her eyes to her muscle fibers were useless. But necessity is the mother of invention, and anything can fly in a straight line if thrown hard enough. She reared back and chucked the rock with all her might, pegging the drone’s left propeller. It buzzed and lurched to its side, crashed into the wall, and fell to the floor of the tunnel.
“Nice shot!” Jen remarked as she lifted herself from the muck.
“Pure luck,” Marlowe said.
“Was it one of MilSec’s? Do you think it saw us?”
“Probably. And probably. Doesn’t matter…someone somewhere is going to wonder why it went dark, and they’re going to follow the cookie crumbs through that opening to their wrecked drone. We need another way out.”
“We passed another access port a few yards back,” Jen suggested.
“You know where it goes?”
“No clue. I didn’t go knocking on every hatch when I found this spot. Could be a bug-out tunnel like I had. Could be covered in rubble. There’s only one way to find out.”
“Fuck it,” Marlowe resigned. “Anything’s better than standing around here waiting to get caught. Let’s go.”
The sisters backtracked about fifty yards and took a right into a connecting tunnel that led to a ladder. Marlowe held up a finger. Jen froze. She ascended the ladder and pulled on the handle to the latch for the door. It wouldn’t budge — locked from the other side.
Undeterred, Marlowe simply pushed harder. The rung of the ladder she was standing on bent as the hatch began to give way. She wondered for a moment which would give first — the ladder or the hatch. After a few seconds of intense pressure, the hatch decided it had enough. A loud PLINK sounded from above as the padlock that held the latch shut gave way and broke off.
Marlowe eased her way up and peeked through the small crack of the hatch. A soft glow emanated from a desk against the wall from the hatchway; a standalone screen was displaying security camera footage. Marlowe examined the screen and saw no one in view. The fourth panel in the bottom right showed the Feed from a camera just outside the building they were in. The footage displayed two MilSec soldiers in the process of questioning a resident of the Subs, two others setting fire to a shop across the street, and a few soldiers intermittently walking by.
She returned to the hatchway and waved Jen forward. Once her sister had scrambled up, Marlowe pointed to the screen and asked, “Can you tell where we are from that?”
Jen examined the Feeds from the cameras. “We’re Krog-side,” she observed. “Near the old market. I’m betting we’re in Dirty Mike’s shop. Bunch of knockoff counterfeit shit and weak drugs…total tourist trap. Nothing here we can really use, unless it’s something heavy that you can bash these MilSec guys over the head with.”
“I’m certain those aren’t the only troops down here. We’d get slaughtered. There’s probably a full garrison at each of the entrances and exits…”
“The ones they know about, sure,” Jen said with a smirk.
Marlowe raised her eyebrows questioningly.
“We roaches know how to scatter when the lights go up,” Jen answered. “If you can get us past these guys out front, I can get us out of here.”
“Well, let’s start looking for some heavy counterfeit crap I can use as a bat, I guess.”
Jen approached the door to the office. Marlowe snapped her fingers twice, causing Jen to freeze and look back at her sister. Marlowe pointed to the screen displaying the security camera footage. The bottom-right corner showed two MilSec soldiers approaching the doorway to the shop. One shoved the butt of his rail rifle through the glass of the front door. The alarm rang out. The soldier cleared away the glass of the doorway and stepped through, followed by his partner.
Marlowe quickly scanned the area for anything useful. An ink pen, several markers, a clipboard…nothing. She felt under the desk and searched the drawers for a hidden weapon. She found nothing.
Then, Jen spotted something resting in the corner by the door. She picked it up. It was a samurai-style sword in a scabbard. She handed it to Marlowe, who drew it and examined the blade. She grabbed the handle with one hand and the blunt end of the blade with another, bending it to test its tensile strength. It bent into a crescent moon shape with little effort.
Jen shrugged. Marlowe gritted her teeth and shook her head.
Shouting could be heard in the distance. Marlowe and Jen rushed to the screen to see what was going on. Both soldiers, now inside the building, turned to see what the disturbance was. On the exterior camera’s panel, several civilians were seen bum-rushing a MilSec soldier. The soldier was quickly overwhelmed. One of the soldiers in the building pointed to the other, and then pointed outside. The other soldier complied with the order and went to help the soldier outside, leaving the other to investigate the building.
Marlowe smiled. She signaled to Jen stay put, and made her way to the door of the office. Gingerly, she twisted the handle. The door cracked open. She slid out and very quietly shut the door behind her. She crouched behind some shelves at the back of the store. Taking note of her surroundings, she spotted a counterfeit action figure of herself. A fleeting glint of anger arose when she saw it, but she realized numbly that all her assets were frozen months ago. Even if the counterfeiters did pay her likeness royalties, as a felon, she’d never get to receive them.
She grabbed one of the fake plastic versions of herself off the display and tossed it to the far end of the shop. It landed with a clatter and the MilSec soldier investigating the shop flinched. He raised his rifle and pointed the mounted flashlight in the direction of the disturbance. Slowly, he crept along the aisle until he reached the end, turning the corner to the back of the store.
Suddenly, he felt a hand across his mouth and another around his chest, covering the camera mounted to his vest.
“Quiet now, Corporal,” Marlowe whispered in his ear. “You know who I am?”
The soldier’s eyes widened. Sweat glistened on his brow. He nodded.
“I don’t want to kill you. If I did, you’d be dead. Do you believe me?” She asked. He nodded again.
“Good. Yank your battery and request permission to return for field repair, and I’ll keep it that way. Deal?”
The corporal nodded once more. He reached for a pouch on his hip, flipped the cover open, and pulled on a wire until it snapped. The power to his field systems died.
Marlowe slowly removed her hand from the corporal’s mouth and wrapped it around his chin, preparing to snap his neck at the first sign of non-compliance.
“Sarge, I got a problem,” the corporal said.
Marlowe pressed her fingers into the skin under his jaw.
“Onboard just took a shit. Everything’s gone dark,” he continued. “I’m on backups. I gotta see the Chief and get it sorted.”
Marlowe immediately put her hand back over his mouth. A very faint buzzing could be heard from the earpiece in his helmet.
“Granted?” Marlowe asked. He nodded in reply.
Marlowe yanked the camera from his chest with her right hand and tossed it. She then placed her free arm over his head while moving her left from his mouth to around his neck into a chokehold. The corporal passed out almost immediately.
Marlowe dragged the soldier back to Jen in the office. “I’ve got the dumbest plan ever,” she said. “But it’s all we got. Help me get him undressed.”
Moments later, Marlowe was dressed in the soldier’s gear, while he was clad in nothing but undershorts, a piece of tape covering his mouth, and packing twine wrapped around his wrists and ankles. The clothing hung loose on Marlowe, as the corporal was at least half again her size.
“This is actually a good thing,” Jen said. “It’ll cover those cuffs on your wrists and ankles, at least.”
“I look like a cartoon,” Marlowe said, holding her arms out to demonstrate how loosely the clothing hung on her frame.
“We can fix that,” Jen answered. She began rifling through the drawer on the desk, finding a few binder clips and some tape. As quickly as she could, she performed makeshift hemming and binding on the uniform, pulling it as tight as she could.
“Nice work,” Marlowe said as she examined her provisional outfit. “This isn’t going to hold up to any sort of inspection, and heaven help me if we have to fight…but with the body armor on top and some luck, it should pass.” She donned the armor that lay in a pile on the floor, clamping each piece into place, and then picked up the soldier’s biometrically coded rifle. It was useless to her as a firearm, but perfectly suitable for a prop. She slung the green duffle bag over her shoulder, dropped the visor on the helmet, and guided Jen at gunpoint out the door.
The Subs were in total disarray. All around, people lay dead or bound with cuffs, their illicit shops and makeshift homes ransacked. Teams of MilSec soldiers carried boxes of contraband out of the burning hovels while others guided groups of prisoners to transports. It was disproportionate and heavy-handed; quite possibly the largest domestic display of force MilSec had performed since the war. Marlowe shook her head. This is horrific, and it’s all my fault, she thought wearily.
Jen led Marlowe away from the chaos toward a dead-end of head shops, strip clubs, and bars. Marlowe felt sick. Dead ends were not a place that anyone with any training would willingly go in enemy-occupied territory. But this was Jen’s hood. She trusted her sister enough to abandon her training and follow her into the unknown.
A MilSec sergeant appeared from the doorway of a shop and headed toward them. Marlowe pressed the rifle into Jen’s back, indicating that they should just keep walking. The sergeant waved at Marlowe, who nodded.
“What have you got here, Corporal?” The sergeant asked as he approached.
Before Marlowe could answer, Jen spat on the sergeant and yelled “Get bent, pig!”
Both surprised and pleased by her sister’s improvisation, Marlowe followed her lead. She whipped the rifle around and slammed the butt of it between Jen’s shoulder blades, sending her face-first to the ground. “Enough!” she yelled at Jen, who replied by raising to her knees and spitting on Marlowe’s pant leg.
Marlowe looked to the sergeant, who was smirking. She pointed to her battery pack and showed him the torn wires. “Snagged while bagging this dirtbag,” she said, hoping that her voice was muffled and disguised enough by the helmet mask. “Gonna drop her off and see the Chief.”
“Heh, fucking Subbies,” the Sergeant joked. “I’ll secure her. You go get your gear fixed.”
“I’ve got this, sir,” Marlowe said. “This one caused me some trouble. I’ve got some… extra interrogating I need to do.” She kicked Jen in the ribs for added effect.
The Sergeant chuckled. “Well then. Carry on, Corporal,” he said with a wink.
“Yes, sir! Gladly, sir!” She answered. She kicked Jen again. “On your feet!” She ordered.
Jen looked up at Marlowe in disgust. Slowly she rose to her feet. The two resumed walking.
“Did you really have to kick me that hard?” Jen muttered over her shoulder.
“It worked, didn’t it?” Marlowe replied.
“On our left,” Jen said. “Sully’s Bar. We need to get in there.”
Jen led Marlowe to a shop in the back left corner of the dead-end. The half-burnt out sign read “Sully’s.”
“Get on your knees facing the doorway, and keep your hands behind your head,” Marlowe said. Jen complied.
Marlowe took the bag from her shoulder and placed it beside Jen, and began rummaging through it, keeping the rifle trained on her as she did. Two MilSec soldiers passed. One nodded toward Marlowe. She nodded back.
The soldiers continued a few yards past the sisters, and then froze. They suddenly sprinted toward the shop from which Marlowe and Jen had just escaped.
“Looks like someone found our handiwork,” Marlowe remarked. Jen crawled forward into the doorway and made her way to the back, behind the bar. Marlowe grabbed the duffel bag and followed close behind.
“What’s in here?” Marlowe said as she ducked behind the bar with Jen.
“A way out,” Jen replied. She ran her fingers under the lip of the bar, then under the first layers of shelves. “Aha!”
She pressed a button. There was a light click, and a panel in the baseboards of the wall beside them opened. Jen crawled through, followed by Marlowe. They found themselves in a tight tunnel with a ladder leading upward.
“This will put us in a bookstore at street level,” Jen said as she grabbed the ladder. “No one ever shops there. Sully’s own insurance plan.”
“How’d you know about this?” Marlowe asked.
“I’ve had to use it before. Poker game. You know how it goes.”
“Someone caught you cheating, huh?”
“Everyone cheats down here,” Jen said. “Except, of course, off-duty MilSec guys who wander into the Subs for a wild weekend.”
“And Sully saved your ass?” Marlowe asked. “He must really like you.”
“Sully likes being cut in for thirty percent. Oh, and tits. He really likes tits.”
Jen reached the hatch. Marlowe watched as Jen pushed lightly, testing it. It lifted with no resistance. She pushed her head up against the hatch and scanned the area. It seemed clear. She opened it fully and began to ascend. Suddenly, she shrieked as she was yanked up and out of the tunnel.
“JEN!” Marlowe yelled, clambering up the ladder as fast as she could. She leapt out of the hatch to find Jen in the arms of a burly and bald grey-bearded man who clutched a massive wrench in one of the hands also holding Jen. The two were laughing, until the man caught sight of Marlowe, clad head to toe in MilSec armor.
“MilSec! Run, Jen!” The man yelled as he lunged toward Marlowe, brandishing the pipe wrench. Marlowe caught him by the sleeve of his right arm, put her free hand around his throat, and spun him into the wall behind them.
“Marlowe!” Jen begged. “That’s Sully!”
Marlowe cocked her head. She released Sully and took a step back.
Sully coughed as he rubbed his throat and regained his bearings. “Did — cough — Did I hear that right?” He asked. “Marlowe? As in MK?”
Jen positioned herself between the two. “It’s okay,” she said to Marlowe. “You can trust him. I promise.”
Marlowe took off the MilSec helmet and dropped it to the floor. Sully’s face was the very picture of shock. “Sully, meet my sister, Marlowe. Marlowe, this is Sully.”
Marlowe smirked and tossed a half-wave, half-salute toward Sully, and then began removing the overlarge MilSec armor.
“I can’t believe it…” Sully said, Marlowe Kana is your sister…?”
“Adopted,” Marlowe said. Jen hit her on the shoulder.
“Well shit!” Sully said with a laugh. “I’m a huge fan! I hate MilSec, but you…you I always loved! But…how’d you end up here?”
“Long story for another time,” Marlowe said, pulling her orange-jumpsuit-clad legs from the bottom portion of armor. “We’ve got to get out of here. You have a vehicle? Preferably pre-war?”
“Yeah, at my place. A bike and a truck,” he replied. He swelled with pride as he added “Restored ’em myself!”
“Where’s your place?” Jen asked.
“Other side of the Krog Street Bridge, in Peoplestown.”
“Shit,” Marlowe said. “I’m sure they’ve set up a perimeter. You see any MilSec on the streets?”
“Not really,” Sully said. “But I’ve been here since they started torching places in the Subs…waitin’ in case one of them poked their knobby heads up through the hatch there so I could knock it off!”
“Well, if they’re not up here yet, they will be soon. Think you could go get the bike for us?” Marlowe asked.
“Nope,” Sully answered. “But I can get the truck.”
“Something wrong with the bike?” Jen asked.
“Yeah, it won’t hold three people,” he replied calmly.
“No fucking way,” Marlowe said. “We can’t afford to have you come–”
“My truck, my rules,” Sully said. “Or feel free to walk.”
Marlowe sighed. “Fine, whatever,” she said. “Just be quick about it.”
“Hot damn!” Sully said, beaming. “Okay, hunker down here, I’ll be back in a jiff!” He made his way out of the back office and through the back door to the shop. The rumbling of a custom motorcycle could be heard through the walls.
“Wait, the motorcycle’s already here?!? That son of a…” Marlowe said, grinding her teeth. Before she could make her way toward the door, the bike growled its way out of the back lot of the bookstore and off into the distance.
“That’s Sully,” Jen said with a chuckle. “Trust me, he’s solid.”
“He’s extra weight, and we need to travel light.”
“He’s useful, and we need the help.”
“We’re about to go get some help,” Marlowe said, putting her back against the wall and sliding down it until she landed gingerly on her rear. “If they’re still there, that is.”
Marlowe pulled a Battery bar from the duffel bag and unwrapped it. “My fan club,” she remarked casually as she took a huge bite.