The pub wasn’t far from the Longsal, just a short above-ground walk that took Tay over a railway bridge and into an old part of the sector. A place of narrow roads and cobblestones. It was enclosed on three sides by towering enclaves that harboured thousands of inhabitants who viewed the triangle and its bars as their playground.
Tay ascended the bridge, lost in her own thoughts. Her uncle’s phone call, beyond the threats, had brought the past into clear focus. She’d worked hard to erase her history, to put it down to a dream she never lived out.
“Hey, no queue jumping,” a man wearing a worker's florescent jacket said hooking a thumb over his shoulder.
Tay took in the row of people lined up against the railing and then finally noticed the two armoured cars parked at the end of the bridge. A handful of militia soldiers were checking identity cards while another stood watch from the turret of one of the cars.
Cursing under her breath, she turned back, intending to take the long route into the triangle, but a trio of soldiers stepped out from behind a wall and took up a spot at the bottom of the bridge, blocking her retreat. They seemed more intent on their conversation than doing their job, but Tay couldn’t risk attracting their attention. She stood rooted in place, unsure where to go when a woman in the line caught Tay’s eye and nodded to a gap in front of her. Tay slipped past the front wheel of the woman’s bike, brushing against one of the many bags hanging from the handlebars.
“What’s going on?” Tay whispered over her shoulder.
“They’re searching for someone,” the woman said. She had a raincoat on over a grey uniform. “I’ll give you a tap when they pass and then you can go back.”
“I haven’t seen a checkpoint here in years,” the woman whispered to Tay. “I hope it’s not a warrant check. I’ve got outstanding debt, but I need to get to work.”
“We’re all wanted by someone. Wouldn’t live in the Longsal if we didn’t have problems.” Tay kept her back turned to the woman, she wanted her to stop talking, with each word she was getting louder and more likely to draw the attention of a soldier.
“What happened in the colony has them worked up. I hear they’re worried the Arcists are about to go on another of their bombing campaigns. That was horrible last time, couldn’t get on a bus without looking under the seats. I hope the militia find those murderers and lock them up.”
Tay kept her mouth shut and watched the line as it shuffled along. The young officer at the front was taking her job seriously and paying close attention to the process. Tay touched the card in her front pocket, running a finger along the rough edge. She could toss it onto the tracks below and give them a fake name. Hopefully, she’d just get a fine, but it was more than likely they’d throw her in the van as an example to the others.
She was still debating what to do when a teenage boy climbed up onto the railings and stood up. He towered over the line but stood frozen with his arms out for balance and his eyes focused on the tracks below.
“Get down from there, you idiot!” a man in the line shouted.
Tay could see the fear etched on the boy's face, he was terrified of something and when he raised a shaky finger at the soldier’s she knew what it was.
“Don’t do it,” Tay begged but her own fear kept her voice barely above a whisper.
“Get down!” a soldier shouted before running to intercept him. The bridge shook with every footfall, jangling everyone’s teeth and testing the boy’s balance. The soldier came to a stop a few metres from Tay and pointed up at the boy, “I said get down from there.”
“I can’t, I’m sorry,” the boy said in a shaky voice.
“It can’t be that bad, lad. Why don’t you just come down and talk to us.”
“I didn’t do anything.” The boy wiped his tears away with the sleeve of his coat. “They made me do it.”
“If that’s the case then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Why don’t you get down and talk to me?” The soldier reached out and took a step toward the boy. “Just stop making a scene and come with me to the van.”
The boy half-turned and reached down to grip the railing, but something hit him in the back with a bang. He teetered on the edge, the soldier lunging for him, but he was too slow to stop the boy from toppling over. Everyone rushed to look, some reaching out for him, but it was too late. His scream was cut short by a sickening crunch.
Tay stared down at his lifeless body, sprawled across the tracks, his arms twisted under him, and head pushed backwards.
“You killed him,” a lone voice said.
“I was trying to help him,” the soldier said stepping back, eyeing the line warily. “He was coming down. You all saw me trying to help him.”
“He did it!” someone shouted from the crowd and pointed at the soldier situated atop one of the cars. The man in question blanched under the accusing gaze and sunk down into the hatch, his shotgun poking out of the top.
“I thought he was going for a weapon,” the soldier shouted sticking his head back out.
“Get back in position!” the officer shouted as she stormed onto the bridge, waving with her pistol for the trio of soldiers to go back down to where they had come from. The lead soldier was slow to move, but eventually, he walked away.
“He was reaching for a gun,” the soldier atop the car said.
“I saw it. Keep your eyes peeled for his accomplices,” the officer said to him as she walked briskly back to the front of the line.
“Now’s your chance,” the woman behind Tay hissed. “Run for it.”
Tay glanced over her shoulder, the soldiers had their backs to her, but she would have to run past them, giving them plenty of time to shoot her in the back.
“What are you waiting for?” the woman hissed again.
Tay shook her head and turned back around.
“Get your cards ready,” the officer said. “That was an unfortunate event, but if you cooperate, this will be over quickly.”
Tay pulled her card out and held it ready. If they ran the number it would come back fake, but then half the cards in the line would come back the same. It was a game, normally less lethal. The militia would make everyone line up and then arrest anyone who ran, but rarely shoot them. They all did their best to not look down at the tracks.
“Somebody needs to move him,” an elderly man said as he held his card with practised efficiency.
“It’s none of your concern,” the officer said, barely glancing at his ID.
“Before a train comes through,” the old man said, but another soldier moved him along with a shove.
Tay had her card up, ready to flash it when it was her turn. The officer would read her name, see the guilt written on her face and throw her into the back of the car. Then they would drive her across the sector to the barracks, a place she would rather die than be inside. She wondered if the boy had thought the same thing, if he'd heard the same stories but unlike Tay, he'd tried to escape while she just shuffled along, heading to her execution.
She caught a soldier watching her and quickly lowered her head. From the corner of her eye, she could tell he was still looking at her. A little voice inside her chose that moment to speak up, it told her to run, to not look back but get out of there before they realised who she was.
She took one step out of the line and then an explosion reverberated around the towers, and they all stared dumbfounded as a plume of smoke erupted from behind a nearby factory. The initial explosion was followed by a sequence of bangs and then a dull roar.
“It’s them, we have to get there!” the officer shouted pointing excitedly at the smoke.
“Lieutenant,” the sergeant checking the identity cards said. “We have orders to mount a checkpoint here. Another unit will take care of that.”
“Our duty is to capture the terrorists, and that’s where they are. Now get in the car.” The officer clambered into the lead vehicle and started banging on the dashboard.
The sergeant gave a shout, and the three soldiers ran across the bridge. Tay stared at them as they ran past. The doors slammed shut, and both cars roared off, leaving Tay and the other civilians in a state of confusion.
Tay let out a deep breath and slid the card back into her pocket.
“We should go down and help the boy,” someone said, but half the crowd were already running, some back into the Longsal, others, along with Tay, into the Triangle.
Tay ran down the main street, past pubs getting ready for the day’s trade and delivery drivers unloading barrels. A few looked up, but Tay ran past them and turned down a winding road walled in by tall tenements. A stitch brought her to a stop, and she gulped in air as she walked with a hand stuck to her side. She wasn’t sure if it was an actual injury or just her generally poor fitness but either way, she was done with running.
At the end of the street, she turned down a narrow alleyway heavy with the stink of urine. The smell kept the patrols out and hid the graffiti and anti-militia slogans that adorned the high-bricked walls.
Tay paused before emerging onto the next street, poking her head out and glancing left and right. A rusting police car was at one end, a faded blue stripe along the side, and a light cone turning lazily on the roof. The driver was asleep behind the wheel, his hat pulled low over his eyes, while his partner stared glumly out the window, bored eyes locked with a drunk man hurling abuse in his direction. The policeman stared impassively, the shouts of the drunk nothing he hadn’t heard before, maybe not that early in the morning, but it made no difference.
The Takoma was at the other end of the street, nestled by the bins and underneath a kebab shop. Tay stuck her hands in her pocket and did her best nonchalant walk, careful to hide her face from the police car. She reached the steps without incident and skipped down them into the cool darkness of the cellar. There was a steady beat coming through the speakers, loud enough to stop a conversation carrying, but not so you had to shout. It was barely eleven in the morning and Tony was open for business.
The first thing that Tay locked eyes on was the screen at the end of the bar. Normally only pulled down for football matches, it was now showing surveillance footage of a line of militia vehicles parked up and surrounded by a large group of bored-looking soldiers. The camera feed switched to a roundabout and the bottom half of a doorway, where yet more soldiers were standing around, this time drinking tea and smoking.
A dozen patrons occupied two tables opposite the long bar. Laptops out and heads turning to the screen as they searched the feeds.
“You’ll get in trouble for that,” Tay said to the bartender as she sat down.
“They promise they’re using their own node relay. Besides, who will know?” Tony placed his big hands flat on the scratched metal and lent forward to get a better look at Tay. He was barely taller than the taps but wide enough to deter troublemakers. Bearded and tattooed, Tony was the sole owner of the pub and ultimate arbiter of all rules applicable within.
“Militia just killed a boy,” Tay said, hooking a thumb over her shoulder.
“Where?” Tony asked.
“Checkpoint at the railway bridge. Hit him with a rubber bullet and knocked him onto the tracks.”
“Bastards. Any idea who he was?” Tony reached down to a fridge and came back up with a bottle of beer. He popped the top and set it down in front of Tay.
“Never seen him before, he panicked, and they shot him. Those evil fuckers just carried on like normal. I was up next in the line, but there was an explosion out by the railway sheds.”
“That’s what it was? Figured upstairs dropped something in the kitchen.”
“At least I think it was a bomb, could have been an accident, I guess. A big cloud of smoke, either way.”
“You have had a busy morning.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Come on, tell your uncle Tony.”
Tay rested her elbows on the bar and stared across at the bartender. He was an old friend, his pub a sanctuary of sorts, but she wasn’t sure he was ready for her travesty of a life.
“It’s all a bit shit, Tony.”
“Well, not in here it isn’t.” Tony rubbed at a spot on the bar. “I work hard to keep my patrons happy, and you are one of my favourites.”
“I wouldn’t drink anywhere else.” Tay raised her bottle in salute before taking a sip.
“You couldn’t afford to drink anywhere else. Other pubs charge for their beer.” Tony winked.
Tay tipped the bottle at him and took another swig.
“You look like you’ve been in the wars, though. You and Oz been fighting again?”
“Something like that.” Tay stared at the bottle for a moment. “Tell me what’s been happening in the world?”
“Well, the ARRC is no longer. The DPR has liberated us from the Arcist threat.” Tony spread his arms in a mocking celebration. “Although, if bombs are going off, I guess they didn’t get all of them.”
“How do you know that?” Tay asked in surprise. “I didn’t think that was out?”
“Heard it from another landlord, who overheard it from some drunk militiamen that were bragging about killing Johansson in a firefight.”
“Militiamen?” Tay took a sip of the beer.
“He was trying to shoot his way out of the colony, apparently.”
“Is that what they say?”
“I don’t think you realise what it means, Tay.” Tony lowered his voice and took on a sombre tone. “Johansson was a legend. If there was ever any justice in this world, he would have been governor, not bloody Kaplan. But now he’s gone, well, shit.”
“Never took you for a revolutionary.”
“This is serious, Tay. With the armed revolutionary council gone, the government will ride roughshod over all of us.”
“I think you missed an r. Radical, rebel?”
Tony shook his head, “I swear your generation, bunch of bloody nihilists.”
“If I knew what that was, I’d probably agree with you.”
“The sectors going to boil over, Tay. But you’ll probably miss it. You’ll emerge from somewhere blinking in the light and wonder what all the fuss was about.”
“Tony, if the sector ever goes to war, my entire plan is to come here and sleep under the pool table.”
“And you’d be more than welcome,” Tony said with a wink.
The door to the pub banged open, daylight disturbing the subterranean gloom and Osiris skipped down the steps. She nodded to a few people and then angled straight for Tay.
“Here’s your accomplice,” Tony said, tapping the bar before moving along to serve another patron.
Osiris sidled up on Tay’s left and perched on the edge of a stool.
“You really thought they could kill me?” Osiris asked, grinning.
Tay ignored her and drank her beer.
“You’re angry with me? You’re the one that shot the place up and then ran away.”
“I thought they killed you, they killed everyone else.” Tay glared at her. “How did you get away?”
“I told you to trust me.” Oz leant over to whisper in Tay's ear. “They were Street Apostles.”
“My uncle’s crew?” Tay tried to sound surprised.
“Yes, your uncle’s crew. You would have recognised them if your head hadn’t been all banged up. As soon as I realised who they were, I knew we just had to play it cool. No way were they going to hurt you, not the golden child.”
“They killed them, Oz, and they might have killed us just for being there.”
“It doesn’t matter now. Your uncle found out they had me and ordered my release. Even gave me a job.”
“Find me?” Tay guessed. Osiris nodded. “Got the message, but I’m not going to him. They’re a bunch of murderous thugs and I want nothing to do with them.”
“Tay, you killed one of them.”
“In self-defence!” Tony looked over and Tay lowered her voice. “I didn’t mean to. I thought they killed you, and then that woman came at me with that stupid gun of hers. She had hold of the other half and it sort of went off. It’s more her fault for carrying around that crappy thing.”
“Forget about that, we can go and see him now and get this all cleared up.” Osiris put a hand on Tay’s shoulder. “They’ll come for you otherwise and there won’t be a thing you can do to stop them. Ava is crazy. You killed her husband and, accident or not, she will kill you. Your only chance is to convince Erik to order her not to.”
“She can try it.” Tay took a drink from the bottle, letting the beer sit in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.
“Bold words from someone that doesn’t believe in violence. I know you know how violent these people are, so cut the bravado, it’s not working. They will corner you in an alley and cut you open.”
“You don’t sound too bothered about that?”
“Tay, I’m trying to make you understand what will happen if you ignore your uncle. Damn it, what will happen to me.”
“Why would they touch you?”
“He only let me go because I said I could bring you to him. He promised not to hurt us if you agree to work for him. Tay, think of the lives we could live. We’d have money, respect. We would be part of his personal crew. We would be working for one of the nine.”
“Oz, all he cares about is money. If we fail him or disappoint him, he’ll have us killed and dumped in the river. I won’t live like that, and I won’t kill for him.”
“What’s so different about how we live now? The sector is going to rip itself apart, but we have a chance to be on the winning side.”
“You do what you want, Oz. I’m not joining him.”
“Your head is fucked.” Osiris slammed the bar and then jabbed a finger at Tay. “If you want to go and drip phreno down your throat and dance with those freaks, then go ahead. You’re dead weight. If I see Ava, I’ll point her in your direction.”
Tay spun around, but Osiris was marching towards the door. She wanted to shout something, to tell her to not come back, that she wished they’d killed her, but she couldn’t find the right words before the door slammed shut.
“Are you all right?”
Tay looked back to find Tony giving her a concerned look.
“That’s been a long time coming,” Tay said.
“Are you in trouble? If you need help just ask and I’ll do what I can”
“We’re friends, right, Tony?”
“Of course, we are. I don’t let all my customers drink for free.”
Tay rubbed at her face. “I don’t know what to do. There’s all this shit going on and I just want to ignore it all, but I don’t think I can.”
“My opinion, go home and get some sleep. You look shattered and nobody makes a good decision when they’re tired.”
“I can’t. Osiris was right about one thing.”
“That doesn’t sound likely.”
“I’ll see you later, Tony.”
Tay reached across the bar and slapped the bartender on the shoulder. He smiled back at her.
“Get something to eat,” Tony shouted. Tay waved at him over her shoulder. “You get skinnier every time I see you!”