I’m going to kill President Laskin.
Agent Ellie Goldman scratches the words onto a worn, wrinkly piece of paper. The edges long tattered and color yellowed. She pays no mind to the nub of a pencil between her fingers and thumb as she traces over the same letters again and again as if putting them to permanent memory.
The radio in front of her, old and beaten like everything else in the subterranean living space, crackles a bit as it comes to life. The makeshift antenna of copper wires attaches to a rusty pipe overhead that drips into a cup on the edge of her desk. She barely registers the cloudy look of the contaminated water, but drinks it all the same.
“On this, a beautiful Sunday, the first day of January 2045, we celebrate the wonders the world has provided us all. We also take heed of humanity’s past indiscretions and focus on change to facilitate a better tomorrow.” The unknown voice is garbled through the speaker and into the ether around Ellie’s head. The words on her page continue to darken with every pass of the pencil.
Her notebook, open on the metal desk covered in dirt and detritus, is filled with ramblings of a mind that’s lost its way. The words, written in all directions, offer nothing coherent to another person. Her shoulder length salt and pepper hair hide her face from the rest of the world. Her nails chewed to the meat, some missing altogether, covered in the muck and mire of her space.
“We owe it to the future generations to educate them on the realities of the global world,” the garbled voice continued. “This year, the twentieth anniversary of the Final War, we must come together more than ever. There are enablers who prefer the underbelly of darkness rather than the light of life. For those who have never seen the horrors, we must be reminded of the pain and suffering of years long gone.”
The static cackles as shuffling sounds echo out of the radio. Ellie drops the pencil, her attention focused on the change in the background. Her pain-filled blue eyes stare as though looking through the speaker to the other side. Low voices hit her ears, some mumbling, others begging, a few praying.
“We start this New Year with a lesson and a gift. Criminals infiltrated Buckingham Palace in an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister. Their desire to reform the royal family of the United Kingdom failed. They undermine everything that we stand for. They come out of the underground, reeking of wrath, jealousy, and fear. These rapists, murderers, and drug addicts will stop at nothing to take your children and convert them to the ways of an impure world.”
The sound of guns being loaded are crystal clear through the device. Ellie leans back, her chair fighting her movement as her dead eyes remain focused. She’s keenly aware of what that means. She’s seen it in person before, lived it in real time, and fulfilled her orders at one point in time. They were just faces then. Nothing more than a picture on a page with a detailed file and a criminal record. The greater good was protected back then.
“By order of King Valkov, the one true ruler, we send these sinners to the depths of hell for their crimes. We pray that Satan will have mercy on their souls.”
The radio continues to break up as gunshots ring out. Ellie’s eyes close as she hears the low thudding sounds of bodies hitting the floor. She tries to count them on one hand, but the connection isn’t clear enough.
“If you see or hear of these individuals in your city, notify the authorities immediately. The safety of our children is at stake. Happy New Year.”
The broadcast cuts out. Ellie switches the radio off and turns her attention back to her page, her safe haven of reminders. She feels Anton’s presence behind her before he speaks. The chipped lead paint cracking underfoot gave him away. So did his breathing, deep and slow like hers.
“Anton.” Her voice is low, but sharp.
“London’s fallen.” Anton says from the doorway, his hands clasped in front of his muscular frame.
“I heard.” She responds. Ellie walks across the room to the water-stained cement wall. An old global map hangs from a metal ceiling beam, the frame bangs against the broken cement wall, shaking dust to the floor as a subway train rattles above. Using the pencil, she marks a large “X” over London, adding to the many fallen cells. Cities once thought to be strong holds are now long gone. Paris, Florence, Cairo, Johannesburg, Cartagena, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles to name a few. “Anyone else?”
“No word from Beijing, Tokyo, Toronto, or Sedona.” He answers quickly.
“Give them time, could be a technical issue.” Ellie says looking over the map where the few penciled loops cover major cities and some outliers. Her expression remains the same as her eyes dart from town to town. The coalition against the tyranny of the king was dwindling faster than anyone expected. The only unique marking on the map is of a red circle covering a small area named Churchill in Canada.
“Agent Goldman, it’s been three weeks.” He begins, trying to grab her attention. “We’re getting encoded messages of raids throughout the resistance strongholds. We’re running out of time. I think we might want to consider leaving the city.”
She ignores him and places the small pencil behind her ear. The once flourishing lands of the world now staring back at her as a decrepit tic-tac-toe board.
“Do you think we had any to begin with?” The coldness of her tone lowers the temperature in the room. “This has always been endgame. From the moment United States citizens voted for emotions over rationale, social media over actuality, the clock began to tick. As they and other countries allowed their rights to be swept away by the waves of perceived fears, we were destined to die.”
“I don’t believe that, Agent Goldman. No one chooses this life.” His naivete oozes out with the newness of his deeper voice.
“It began decades before either of us existed, when corporations and profits were deemed more important than balance. Compassion was put into terms of entitlements and less paid more while more paid less. History books long since burned in the cleansing spoke the truth we rarely hear.” Ellie stands in front of her second-in-command, his height towering over her, but he looks above her at military ease. “We’ve been fighting this cancerous disease for decades. We’re out gunned, out manned, and have a pittance of their funds. Since this began twenty years ago, we were destined to die out. I appreciate your idealism, but let’s not lose focus on our reality.”
Irritation gets the better of him and Anton walks around his commanding officer. He looks around the room, the sparse furniture, blank walls for any sort of connection. Finding none, his eyes land on the pages on Ellie’s desk. His left hand traces the scribbled words.
“The resistance is more than you or me. Freedom isn’t just some fantasy. Democracy can…”
“What do you know of it?” Ellie’s scream bounces off the walls and echoes down the tunnel leading to her room. “You’re a child. Twenty-two years old with dreams of green pastures and happy times. You don’t understand how hard it is to maintain those freedoms. How difficult it can be to allow someone with different beliefs to scream in your face, wanting your death all because of who you are, who you might love.”
He stops absorbing the words around him. Anton might have been born during the time of some equality, but it had long been destroyed by the time he could walk. He and his sister, Nadja, were judged regularly. Tested and trained throughout their lives for jobs the regime assigned them. Thoughts outside what was approved by the regime and accepted by those complicit in it resulted in termination. He’d seen many friends expunged on the playground for challenging a play during recess.
“I’ve seen enough.” His voice level and firm. “I know this world can be better. There are people within it that can make it happen. This is bigger than your personal vendetta, Agent Goldman.” He walks over to her map and takes in all the large “X’s” and the one circle within Canada. “So many have died for our right to fight. As a kid, I wanted to see the polar bears. Imagine being a child and reading about Churchill and the poisoned ice. Learning how a biochemical weapon was tested there, on those innocent creatures, just to see how flesh would respond. They deemed it so horrific that they refused to use it again and shut down the entire area like it was Chernobyl.”
“They were smart. Nothing would survive in those conditions,” Ellie adds.
Silence engulfs the room, leaving Ellie and Anton in a staring contest of sorts. The wills of two individuals struggling to find their place within the world they currently know. The one where sun is a rare pleasure, fresh water and air a commodity, and life a secondary thought.
“The directors will be in the conference room for our meeting.” Ellie breaks the tension. “I understand your sentiment, Anton, I do. The last president we had, she told us that globally we were a cornucopia of diversity. One that would foster change and bring about the peace for a global society. In her final address, before the traitor took over, she said that we were all small ripples in the ocean of life. Alone, we’re small and easily broken. But if that ripple gets attention, more ripples might join it to create a tsunami. It would be one so powerful it could eradicate the greatest of evils.”
Ellie grabs her worn green army cap and places it on her head with a deep exhale. “His death might only be a small ripple, but maybe it is the beacon others need to see to start the wave of change we so desperately need.”
Ellie walks out of the room, slowly taking in the state of life for her people. The dank, rat and roach infested living quarters were becoming too crowded. She’d accepted the smell of rotting flesh and sewage long ago. The rest of her team seems to struggle with it. Their desire to go topside and the want to give up is always strong around this time of year.
The sound of their boots is the only noise the two hear as they walk through the abandoned subway tunnels of the city. The sounds of traffic above and nearby subway cars rattle the walls. Plumes of lead laden dust fill the room as Ellie continues to breathe normally. Anton coughs slightly, but easily regains his breath. This is their life, their normalcy.
“Agent Goldman?” A frantic voice echoes down the hallway.
Ellie turns, hands up in a defensive posture as she pushes her second to safety behind her. A woman, half carrying, half dragging a child with her, scurries down the tunnel like a rodent. In the limited light, her skin is caked with dirt, hair matted and teeth yellow with tinges of blackness at the root. It’s easy to see they’re malnourished and from her tone – terrified.
Ellie watches as two of her security guards knock the woman down to her knees. They hold their guns raised and press the muzzles to the back of her head as a precaution. Ellie understands it’s necessary since the price on her head is higher than the majority on the Most Wanted List. A former Multinational Security Council Operative, her training is beyond that of any military outfit and her access to classified information was extensive. None of her past makes the vision in front of her easy to process. She’s numb to the death, but not to the children being subjected to it.
“Agent Goldman, please…” She pleads, pulling the child close to her chest.
“Shut up!” The security officer yells over her.
“Agent Wei Ni sent us!” The woman screams in desperation.
The name stops Ellie cold. She ignores the pleas of Anton behind her and walks up to the pair. She kneels down as her military cargo pants soak up the rancid water below. Ellie raises her right hand to the woman’s face – who flinches. Gently Ellie runs her thumb against the cheekbone of her intruder. The simple act of a kind touch forces the woman to tear up as her shoulders shake.
“It would behoove everyone to remember where we are. The tunnels aren’t as secure as our private rooms. They’re conduits for sound and we don’t need topsiders coming down to investigate this racquet now do we?” The guards nod and the hallway returns to the low murmuring of conversations. “Now, what’s your name?” Ellie’s soft voice surprises everyone. It’s a side of her rarely, if ever, seen among the men during their tenure in the resistance.
“I’m Iris and this is Toby.” Her body remains protective of the young child in her arms.
“Hello, Iris. My name is Agent Ellie Goldman. We have some protocols you have to follow through first, but then you can have a nice shower and a meal. Sound good?”
“What kind of protocols?” Iris’s voice cracks slightly. Experience has dictated that security measures were rarely in the favor of the weak or poor.
“A simple scan for implants, history of your whereabouts. Nothing like topside.” Ellie helps Iris stand and looks directly to her officers. “One of you take these two to security. Then escort them to the mess for food and a shower. If no water is available, get a bucket and rag. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Agent Goldman.” They say in unison.
“I also want you two to figure out how an elderly woman with a child managed to get the drop on you. If either of you were asleep, for instance, that is cause for immediate expulsion. Anton will be checking in with you later this evening. I suggest you have your story straight before then. Understood?”
The two soldiers nod before carefully helping Iris and Toby away from Ellie. Unmoving, she stands there watching them go. Ellie remains there, steadfast, even after they are out of sight.
“She took an enormous risk coming down here. She should have been shot on sight. I’ll shore up our security. Maybe the schedules need to be staggered to reduce strain.” Anton says, adding various ways to correct a serious issue.
“She had no choice.” Ellie’s voice remains soft, almost weak.
“She might have been followed.” Anton continues his train of thought, hands moving about.
“They’re black.” The words sharply shut down anything her second was planning to say. His hands slowly lowered; realization takes over his expression as he turns to the empty path.
“They are under my protection. No questions.”
Ellie’s voice rises back to the firm, powerful tones Anton is well accustomed to. Shifting in the sloshing water, her steps head further into the dimly lit depths.
“If she’s a plant? Someone meant to infiltrate our ranks? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that. You’ve heard the reports of torture on Riker’s Island. We have to be cautious of prisoners that might have been manipulated or brainwashed for nefarious purposes.” Anton continues speaking as the two walk through the maze of twists and turns.
“It would be easier to fill these tunnels with gasoline and light them on fire. More satisfying for their sadistic desires.” Ellie tosses out.
“Also, costly. I have to question your judgement on this one, Agent Goldman. Maybe you’re…” They stop moving abruptly.
“Be careful of your next words, Mr. Blanca.” Ellie says as her body remains facing the darkness of the tunnel before her.
“They might be alive. You have to have faith.” Anton turns to his commander, his arms hang loosely at his sides.
“I came back home and they were all gone. The door wide open, alarm disengaged, graffiti on the walls inside. The fridge had the remains of rotten food, clothing still hung in the closets upstairs. My niece and nephew’s half-finished puzzle forgotten on the playroom floor. Dried blood covering the upstairs bathroom.” Ellie details, her body rigid with emotion.
“I didn’t know.” Anton whispers.
“Why would you? I don’t need hope that they’re alive permeating my mind. Distracting me from the tasks at hand. There are people here that are living and in need of leadership.”
“But what if they are?”
“My imagination creates horrific scenarios of what happened in that house. If I could have stopped it? Could I have protected them from whatever happened? It’s a constant reminder that my brother, sister-in-law and two young children were thrown into a truck like garbage. I pray it was swift because the alternative of Riker’s Island is beyond my capacity to process.”
Ellie continues walking, ending the conversation. Citizens of the rebellion move around her, nodding or saluting. It’s something she’s well aware of, but she gives it no credence or power. Coming to a heavy steel door, Anton steps in front of her and bangs three times. It rattles as the locking mechanism is disengaged. Anton and a man behind the door struggle to open it, allowing Ellie to walk inside. Using their combined strength, the two men push the door shut once more.
The room, shaped like all the rest, houses a beaten square wooden table in the middle. White men line the walls, their clothing in various states of repair all attempting to look like the military in history books. Ellie sits at the head in one of the mis-matched chairs around the table. Anton takes a seat to her right. Four other men sit at the other end, waiting.
“London has fallen.” Ellie’s words disrupt the silence in the room. “Anton informs me that we’ve been out of contact with several other resistance cells for several weeks. Sam, what can we do to reestablish connections or gain confirmation of their destruction?”
Sam Flynt sits upright, toned arms on the table, hazel eyes looking to his dirty hands.
“I can try to access our dark web portals. If the king and his hackers shut it down… well, we won’t be able to get much.” He relays.
“Why not just hack the president’s files for information?” Anton pipes up.
“I doubt he’d be made aware of what’s going on in other countries. Jerrik Laskin might be considered next in line for the throne, but that doesn’t mean he has all the information out there. I could try to get into some of the Pentagon’s files, but they’ve increased their security since we got in last time.”
“Do whatever you can within reason. We can’t risk exposure at this point.” Ellie turns her attention to the only man at the table with a real military uniform jacket. “Major Trent, has recon turned up anything?”
“We’ve intercepted information regarding construction for 42nd and 7th Avenue. They’re expanding Political Plaza to include several more streets before and after 1515 Broadway.” Trent states. “They’re building housing and various other complexes to protect those involved in the government, higher ranking officials, and more.”
“Any confirmation about the rumored bunker?” Ellie asks directly.
“Not yet, but the new plans would indicate all aspects of D.C. will be in an official capacity in New York City,” he answers.
“During this construction period, the area will be vulnerable. We should consider…” Anton begins.
“No one has the arsenal or the man power to even get out of the subway, let alone to Laskin’s penthouse.” Ellie cuts off her second in command. “Something feels wrong about this move. Why bring everything onto an island? One that cuts you off from the outside world and isolates you. It doesn’t seem like a good strategic move.” She finishes.
“Why would they worry when their enemies are turned in and killed?” Anton answers.
The electrical above flashes as the ceiling rattles from a nearby working subway train rattling by. As the dust falls from the walls around them, no one moves. After the room stops moving, Ellie takes her hat off and shakes it a bit before placing it back on her head.
“How are our supplies?” Ellie continues.
“I wish I had better news. We need to make a run, but we’re running out of options. I think it’s time to go outside of the city limits to scavenge.” Milo Jones answers.
“That would require some soldier support we can’t afford right now.” Trent cuts in quickly.
“We’re all dead if we don’t eat, Trent. Seriously it’s common sense, asshole.” Jones, the only one of them with a job topside, argues with the Major. “We need to feed these people. We also have to secure more water rations as well. We can’t survive down here much longer without both. Military support or not, this is something we have to do.”
“We can drink the sludge off the floor for all I care! We cannot afford to waste bullets or manpower for some extraneous people!” Trent stands to continue his argument.
“Sit down old man.” Ellie raises her voice slightly.
“You can’t seriously be entertaining…”
“I said sit your ass down, now!” Her voice shakes the confidence of the Major and he slowly lowers himself into his chair. “Jones, you were discussing water rations?”
“The filtration system needs to be worked on. Jason informed me we’re down to our last set of filters. We’ll need to stock up again as well as repair some of the pipes. While we might have the tools and duct tape to accomplish the tasks, we need more people willing to assist him. I know it’s not a job the laymen want, but it has to be done.” He finishes.
“Jason?” Ellie asks the tanned skin man, who is in charge of repairs, sitting quietly at the table.
“I’ve put them off for as long as I could, but we’ve reached the critical point. If I had six people willing to get their hands dirtier than normal, we should be done in a week or two. If the repair goes well, it will hold the pipes for a few months. If Sam can find the specs for topside’s filters, maybe one of our engineers can design a similar one created from accessible items. The water won’t be as clean, but it would keep us going.” Jason whispers.
“We need to focus on our military and making a significant strike to the bastards up there. We can easily tap into the power lines that run below the city, filtration and water would no longer be an issue. We should make better use of our resources. Have the engineers focus on tapping into the main water supply lines that run through nearby tunnels. Then, we can continue to train the men and women for a strike on Riker’s Island and free our people. We came here to make a stand, not play house and barely survive at all.” Trent continues to argue. “You need to stop thinking like an emotional woman and be the soldier you once were!”
The elder gentleman’s words force the entire room into silence. Trent’s face, full of wrinkles from years of fighting the world above and beyond, stares defiantly at Ellie. His eyes and words betray his true belief system. Ellie is merely a woman, an inferior fighter to the power a man can wield. The rules of the topsiders allowed for this old archaic ideology to flourish among them. The women resumed the roles of those in the long distant past. They were no longer allowed to hold jobs, property, bank accounts and they lost the right to vote. Instead of fighting back, the state-run media spun the move as an eradication of all unemployment.
Trent, with his white hair perfectly cut into a military style, his fists balled together – waits. Ellie watches him, her face passive. The other members of the room dart their eyes to one another, as if waiting to see if their strength would be needed to pull the two apart.
“You seem to forget I was never a soldier.” Ellie’s voice is low laced with threatening undertones. “I rarely had any backup, machinery or technology to protect me. I was unseen, unheard, and unknown.”
“You fought back, you killed when needed, and you didn’t sit on your ass begging for volunteers!” Trent stands again, his fists firmly planted on the table. Several men move off the walls, waiting and ready. Ellie waves them off, unafraid of her counterpart.
“You want to tap into the city’s water supply, but how would we explain the increased usage in our vicinity? They calculate and ration every gallon of water that is utilized by an individual throughout the city. Those specific rations are set by the president and his council to ensure his climate initiative continues to succeed. If you push those numbers up even a half a gallon or less, we will be putting other citizens in jeopardy. If they track the increase closer to our location, we run the risk of exposing ourselves. For what? So you can hold your dick high in the air to prove it’s bigger than mine?” The darkness oozes out of every word Ellie utters.
“If those individuals cared about the world around them, they would be fighting alongside us and not support the enemy!” He continues to argue, even as he loses the room.
“You condemn us all then.” Ellie finishes calmly. “Jason, find volunteers and do what needs to be done.”
“Why do I bother coming here if you consistently ignore my suggestions of an attack to prove our seriousness?” Trent says almost pleading with the men around him.
“I do take everything you say into consideration. I do agree, we need to make a strike to show our strength to the locals. Work with Milo and find a food source that will target the powerful, but not the poor. Bring me the plan and if I approve it, you will have your military action.” Ellie concedes.
“And Riker’s Island?” Trent asks as he lowers himself back into his chair.
“As I’ve told Anton, we cannot just go off half-cocked. The attack on Riker’s Island would be the largest mission we’ve ever attempted. We’re also discussing the assault on Political Plaza. Both will be complex and likely cost lives and significant resources. We need to be precise in our movements. That means having all the intel from blueprints to insider information. If Macalov even grabs one of our men, we will follow London to the pits of hell. There’s no room for error here.” Ellie says to the room.
“I might be able to help with that.” Sam says from his small corner of the table.
Sam leans forward, his jumpsuit zipper slides down slightly showing his clean above ground clothing.
“Have you been assigned to either location?” Ellie asks curiously.
“Not at the moment. My physical attributes make me a candidate for security detail, but according to my practice tests, I’m the poster child for the intelligence community. If I get that position, I would be stationed within the plaza and given entry level access to the global network of systems. It might assist us moving forward.” He excitedly says while looking at those around him.
“Yes, well, appearance is everything, and having a good-looking male with higher grade levels would help remove the glasses and imperfections of those staffing the agency. If they choose your physical prowess, you would be handed keys to the jail, weapons to your heart’s content, and permission to defile all the women in captivity. Either way, you’re a perfect specimen to them.” Ellie’s harsh sarcasm rips through the room like a sharp Katana.
“My brother Tim is one of those men, ma’am. He drinks himself to sleep at night, so I know the job weighs on him. He might be able to help, directly or indirectly.” Sam finishes quietly.
“Sam, you’ve been a part of the resistance since we arrived from Georgia. We were badly beaten and had lost so many during our travels. If your brother is such a nice guy, then why isn’t he here with you?” Anton asks.
“If he does, and gets caught, our mother doesn’t get her treatments. The wealthy get all the cures right away, but the rest of us have to wait for installment shots. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago. He put her on the registry, and she started getting treatment fourteen months ago. The docs say she might remember me in another year or so. The regiment is seven years of monthly shots. So, he can’t risk openly joining the resistance.”
“And you think he would risk all that to give you some information? That you would be willing to do the same?” Anton asks. “If you’re caught, the same rules apply. Hell, what’s stopping him from turning you in to get the full cure?”
“I would risk the world for my mother to have access to the one-shot cure. Denying her the right because she was born across the river is… just wrong. I think he can give me intel. If not, maybe I can use his access cards and get some. If he turns me in, well… my implant is up to code.” Sam finishes, his back straight and chest puffed out a bit more.
“Your mother would die if this goes wrong.” Ellie adds.
“If she’s a pawn to keep my brother in servitude, she might be better off. Sometimes, I wonder if they’re really curing her or just trying to control the disease so Tim stays loyal.”
“If anything comes to your attention that requires immediate action, you know how to get in contact.” Ellie tells him. “If there’s nothing else, this meeting is adjourned.”
Trent mumbles some attack ideas to the men who follow him out of the room. Anton waits for Ellie, but she waves him off. Soon, the only sound is the dripping of water in the corner and Ellie’s breathing. Reaching into her left cargo pocket, the only one still attached to her pants, she pulls out a small square folded piece of old paper.
Carefully, Ellie pulls the edges apart as to not rip it along the creases. The faded photo showing a much younger Ellie, hair dark brown with bright eyes and a vibrant smile holding two children. Their light brown curls bounce off their shoulders. Hazel eyes and ear to ear smiles as their arms wrap around her neck. Their skin a beautiful two or three shades darker than hers. Ellie runs her fingers along their faces, as the dripping in the room becomes louder.
The little boy in the photo, Ellie realizes, looks just like Toby.