The molotov cut through the night air, turning on its axis, spinning through space. Like an embarrassing confession shouted in a nightclub, the bottle had picked a moment of silence to make it’s journey. To sail over the heads of those assembled. To land behind the line of shields.
The prelude of shattering glass was followed by a movement that touched the pyromanic in all that heard. It was answered by the cheers and cries of the mass as they pitched against riot police, armor, and baton.

The thick blue line moved steadily forward, leaving the cracked skulls and bleeding faces of the foe; and injured officers, in its wake. Inexorably dispersing the crowd, dismantling burning barricades and disarming would be assailants. It mattered not that the kids were right; that the cause they fought for nightly was just. They were outside of the law.

That was all that mattered.

And so the nightly news broadcast to a nation of children, violence done to them with abandon, and bred the next night’s warriors.

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Gabriel Franklin the 9th looked out over the 5th moon of the planet he called home.
Well. The orbital station above the planet he called home.

“Daddy, are you sure?” He daughter wasn’t pleading. But it was close. She had tears in her eyes and her voice hitched every now and then. Gabriel hated making her sad, but he had made up his mind.

“I’m sorry, baby girl. But it’s my time.” He slowly crossed the room and held her hand. “I’ve had a good innings. I mean – look at where I am? I’m in another galaxy, light years from where I was born. You’re an alien! I’ve seen first contact. More than once.” He grew silent, as he looked out of the viewport.

“Dad?”

He smiled, took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “And I miss your mother.”
Gabriel’s wife had made her decision 6 months earlier. They were to go together, but he wanted to see a nearby star go Nova. He had visited her every day since she had gone.

***

They had lived a triumphant life. Lives. Before they had changed bodies, he convinced her to try the moon colony. They needed to renew for that. By the time they had to decide if they were to renew again, she had insisted they visited Mars.
They were three bodies in when the chance to leave the galaxy had come up. Had that not been an option, they probably would have gone then – but with so much more to see, they couldn’t pass it up.

“Come on, let’s go pay her a visit, yeah?” Gabriel’s daughter held out her arm, supporting her dad as they walked form the room, down to where her mother, his wife and companion for nine generations, rested.

It hadn’t been all fun and games. More than once they had been in courthouses, demanding their marriage be dissolved. Other times they just separated. Which, for them, meant living in different rooms.

She always insisted that there was no such thing as everlasting love.

He kept on pointing out that he was still there.

She countered with the same question: “Oh, so it’s me that makes things so difficult, is that what you’re saying?”

Which is when he stopped playing.

***

They arrived at The Sim. The room was bare, respectful. In the middle was a flat table. They sat opposite each other, Gabriel pulling out a cable. One end he fitted into a table leg, the other went into his left temple.

In the middle of the table a screen burst into life. On it was a beautiful woman, a quarter of Gabriel’s age. She looked round, and did a double take on seeing her daughter.

“Oh, hello Andrea.”

“Hi, mum.” Andrea started crying again.

“What’s wrong?” The woman on the screen looked concerned. “Is everything ok?”

Gabriel walked in behind her, young now, matching his wife’s age perfectly.

“Everything’s fine, Ri. I just told her it was my time.”

Ri turned and hugged her husband. At the table, his body twitched.

“How was the nova?”

“Glorious. You should have seen it.”

“Gah – I’ve seen them before. I don’t know why you’re so interested in them. Oh..I’ve leveled.”

“WHAT? When? How many now?”

“Well, what was I supposed to do, in here on my own? I’ve only gone up a couple and now I’m waiting.”

Gabriel looked out at his daughter. “You see what I have to put up with? Do you see now?”

Andrea laughed, a great sobbing laugh.

“I’m going to say Goodbye, Ri. And then we can go. One last time.”

He kissed his wife and walked out of the image.

Gabriel’s body stood up, and he pulled the cable out.

“Well, my love. This is it. You’re ok with this, right?”

She nodded, tears and snot streaming down her face. “Oh dad. I didn’t think you’d every go. Either of you.”

He was crying now. “Neither did I. Who knew, huh?”

They hugged.

“Here.” He reached behind his neck and pulled off a necklace. On it were two clear gems. “Just in case.” He winked.

“We’d like to stay in orbit, but you can turn the power down. Just enough for the sim, and to keep us up. If you’d rather not deal with this.” He pointed at himself, “Call one of the nurses. You just keep those jewels safe, you hear?”

She nodded.

“Right then.” He took his seat once more, and slotted his cable.

Gabriel Franklin the 9th looked up at his daughter. “Goodbye, love. I’ve always been so very proud of you.”

On screen, he walked up to his wife. They kissed once more, and waved.

“So, where are we off to? The Forests or the Beach?”

“I want palm trees,” his wife replied.

Andrea watched her parents armour up, and ride off to face some new adventure.

At the table, Gabriel’s body – just a shell now – slumped, as he stopped breathing.

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“You’re shitting me!”

“Hey – don’t let mum hear you talking like that!”

Damien blushed. “Well, you won’t tell her.”

His older brother smiled. “No, I won’t. And no, I’m not. Back in the old days it was.”

“How do you know? You weren’t here in the old days.”

“I read books, don’t I?”

“Books?”

“Yeah. Ones with paper pages and everything.”

Damien’s eyes widened. He’d heard of paper, but he’d never seen any. He squinted at his brother. Damien didn’t know whether to trust him, as the younger of the two he was used to being teased mercilessly.

“So…?”

“So?” Aaron looked down from the hill at the lights. “Oh! The lights. Right. Well…years ago, they had these flying machines and-”

“We have them still, Aaron. We call them Zeps.”

Aaron jumped his brother, tickling him until he gasped for breath.

“So, as I was saying until I was rudely interrupted,” he glanced at his brother who flinched and grinned back. “These machines circled the planet, out in space. And then, once every so often, they’d came back down at set places, and,” he nodded at the lights. “Those were the things that guided them in.”

“But…what did they do?”

“Lots of different things. Some were mining ships, some were communication ships. Some even took people up with them so they could go further out into The Night.”

“Wow” Damien didn’t care if he was being lied to now. Just the thought of traveling in The Night – where it was truly dark, not neon dark. If only it were possible. The Collapse didn’t even give them the power to push metal boxes around.

“So,” Aaron continued – either on a roll, or enjoying the chance to tell his story. “This one was the most special. They had sets of these lights all over the world to guide a fleet of ships in. They came from a distant galaxy, no one knew how far-”

“How could they not know? No! No!” Damien squealed, as his brother moved towards him, fingers poised for another attack. “But…how?”

“They didn’t want to know. Some things were better kept secret. I mean, sure they knew. It’s not like we used to let anything land here, but they didn’t tell the people. Instead they gave it some joke number -Galaxy 54N74.”

“Is that funny?”

“I think it was science humour. It didn’t make me laugh and there was no notes about it anywhere else.”

Damien nodded and, for a moment, both looked at the lights.

“See the orange one?” Aaron pointed to the top of the structure, at a single light that blinked forlornly. “That light told when the fleet was coming.

“See, somehow, the 54N74 system could monitor our galaxy and could determine how many people had been good. If more had been, a shipment would be sent here and, at a certain time, the lights would flick from orange to red and guide the ships in. The RU Fleet. Planet wide ships would land and gifts would be given out.”

“Gifts? They’d come and bring presents? RLY?”

“Ya, RLY. Sometimes for people, sometimes for the whole world. And people would come out to see the biggest ship me the fleet. D01F. The books say it was massive, and lit up so much it makes the Mall look like a personal lamp.”

They sat in silence. Damien let the name ring round his head. The Nightship RU-D01F. He was pretty sure he was being wound up but the dream was too beautiful to break.

“They must have stopped a long time ago if the 54N74’s checked who was good,” he whispered.

“They did. I think these lights go on now because whoever’s in charge isn’t sure what to do with them. Still,” Aaron’s voice strained as he stood up. “They look nice.”

Small white clumps started to fall from the sky, and settled on the ground.

“Come on, Day. It’s an ash storm. These things’ll kill you if you’re not careful.”

The two kids fitted their filtration masks and Aaron made sure his kid brother was sealed securely in his environment coat.

“I’m going to be good, Aar.”

Aaron smiled behind his mask. “You do that, Day. You do that.” He turned away from the lights. “Come on. Let’s get home.”

As they trudged into the night, Damien stole one last glance at the guidance system and the lonely orange light before hurrying to catch up with his brother.

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Jefe saw The Elevator start its journey, and lifted his voice with it.

“You bastard, Sammy. You fucking, cheating bastard. I will destroy every last little thing you did here. Everything. Do you hear me? The drugs are coming back, Sammy. I’ll put them in your fucking schools. You’ll look down at HELL, you bas-”

His words faltered as Sam walked out from behind The Elevator and crossed the plaza towards him, checking the bullets in his revolver. But this wasn’t the Sam who walked to The Elevator some 30 seconds ago. This Sam walked with a purpose, with a confidence not seen before.

He stood next to Jefe, but kept his eyes on the horizon. “I always knew you were too weak and too stupid to see this work though.” Sam looked at his watch. “In about 2 minutes, give or take, a whole lot of things are going to change around here. When they do, we need to work out what your position is, Jefe.”

Sam walked to his guest, crouched down and took hold his chin and turning his face up. Sam stared at him. “I was going to kill you. But I think you should see this first.”

He stood again. “Ok boys. Let’s pull them back a bit. Just to be on the safe side.”

Eddie and Allan shimmered into view again and man-handled the others back. After a while, Sam looked back in time to see The Elevator disappear into the smog cloud.

He motioned them all to stop.

“You know what happens when you mistreat an animal enough?” He was staring at his guest.

“Do you?”

There was a flash in the cloud, closely followed by the sound of an explosion. The smog briefly cleared around the lift shaft as a shockwave reverberated out. Within the shaft there was a whirring, whining sound. The Elevator was descending now, smoking and flaming, clattering down in freefall, buckling the shaft as it fell, destroying any chance of repair, before crashing to the bottom, wrecking the plaza.

“They bite.”

Finally Sam’s guest spoke. “You stupid bastard. You have no idea what you’ve done.” He started laughing “Oh yes, animals bite. And you know what we do to them when we do? We have them destroyed and start on a new one.”

“I can’t wait to meet your vet,” Sam raised his gun and pointed it at the bleeding outsider.
He held it there for what felt like an eternity before pulling the trigger and putting the man from Up Top out of his misery.

“Gentlemen. Tonight we put all our men on full alert. If that guy got down here without anyone noticing, others can, too. Though, I suspect our little gift will give them pause. Oh – and we all need new places to stay.” Sam shook his head. “Jefe. You are such a disappointment. You could have fucked it all up. And for what? You’ve have sold everyone out at the chance of getting up there – even after that bullshit pep talk on the roof.” Sam reached into his jacket, pulling out an envelope.

He threw it at Jefe’s feet.

“That will get you out of The Tow, across The Wilds to… any-the-fuck-where else. I don’t care.” He sighed. “You have a choice. Stay, step down, do as I say. Or get out and don’t come back.”

Sam walked away. “Eddie, Allan, we need a car.”

Allan nodded, and ran ahead.

“What about Jefe’s men?” Eddie asked.

Sam stopped, hearing the credit music in his head already. He smiled his best smile. “You know the rules. The help gets murdered, the boss gets beaten.” He paused for effect. “Gentlemen. Put your guns down and work for me. We don’t have to spill any blood.”

Allan pulled up. “Your ride, mate.”

“You know, Eddie?” Sam said, jumping in the back. “This is the modern way.”

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“Very impressive, Samuel. You were going to blow them up! So much less blood on your hands.”

Sam, Jefe and the stranger from Above stood, guns trained on each other.

Jefe’s men were sprawled on the floor, Sam’s had disappeared, and their car was engulfed in flames having just been blown up.

“And yet, that’s not exactly what happened, was it.”

“We are born to improvise. Now, put a bullet in this loser and let’s get going.”

“Going how. Exactly?”

“The Elevator.”

Sam thought for a second. “Knees,” he announced. “Both of them.”

His guest went down, screaming, his knees shot out.

Sam walked over. “See. That Elevator? Only one can ride it, you sack of shit.” He turne and walked to the Elevator. “Cover him.” Stopped. “Actually, cover them both. I’m now sure I trust Jefe yet.”

***

“This is it, Sammy-boy. Only one can ride this.” He fitted the last of his cases into The Elevator.

The coppery tang of blood made Sam’s nose tingle. He looked at the bodies. The death that he had wrought.

“It was the only way,” he repeated the mantra. Keeping the basics, changing the tactics.

He stared at his new face, reflected back at him.

This is everything he had worked for. All the death; all the pain; all the money. All the Sacrifice.

It was all for this. This moment.

This triumph.

He brought his hand to his cheek, remembering the start of this journey.

His face hit the ground , this nose crumbling on impact.

All that was behind him. He was free.

“Sorry, boys.”

There were two buttons. 1 and 0. Sam smiled, and pressed the button, turning away as the doors closed and The Elevator started its long journey up.

Through the glass wall, reinforced naturally, the whole of The Tow was visible.

His house. The site of his first deal; his first, and subsequent, beatings. The hovels of his friends. Friends…gang members…bodyguards.

Everything, in fact, except the final price of that journey. The sacrifice of his friends.

Only one person could ride The Elevator.

He remembered how they’d sit and watch the elevator shaft. Everyone did it. Watching to see if one of them was escaping to the High Life beyond the Cloud. Or if pain and misery was coming the other way.

It was only one way out of The Tow – beating everyone else. Rising to the top by any means necessary.

The elevator hit The Cloud. The layer of filth that enclosed The Tow. Shrouded it. Kept the gaze of the masses away from the land of milk and honey. Everybody wanted it – but no one knew what it was they were getting. All they knew was that it meant living like an animal – either predator, or prey. That was the modern way.

The Elevator started to slow. Sam straightened his suit. Now was the time to see if it all paid off.

The Elevator juddered to a halt, the floor alarm pinged. Which covered the sound of guns cocking.

And as the lift doors opened, so did the guns.

Above Cloud didn’t want any filthy upstarts muscling in on their turf. Keep them fighting each other. Kill those which threaten the status quo.

THAT was the modern way.

That was the only way.

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