As the allotted hour came to a close, Annah was increasingly frustrated. Not only had she been unable to find any tangible leads, but she hadn’t heard anything from Artemis either which meant that she wasn’t alone in her failure. Alternatively, it could have meant that Artemis really was in the group and had used the idea of infiltrating the organization as a means to slip away from Annah’s inquiry.
Her train of thought was interrupted by a chirping in her ear, signaling that Artemis was calling her. She tapped a finger to her ear activating the comm line, “Did you find something?”
The voice on the other end was heavily distorted, and metallic sounding, “I’ve got an in. They’re holding a recruitment operation tonight. I’ll get you the details when we meet back up.” The line gave a brief click as Artemis cut off the call, leaving Annah on her own once again as she began the trek back towards Artemis’s club.
When she arrived outside the building Artemis was already waiting for her, “So, now that we’ve got a little time to kill, you wanna tell me about it?” She gestured to Annah’s arm.
“Fine, but we should head to the location while we wait. I wanna scope out the place to make sure we aren’t walking into a trap.”
“The meeting is out on the docks, so that’s probably a good idea. If we’re lucky the trains are still running out that direction so we won’t have to walk the whole way.”
“Smart place for a meetup like this if you ask me, the docks haven’t been used since the creation of synthesized crops. They grow so fast there isn’t really a need to import anything anymore.”
“And even if they did have the intention of importing anything they’d just use the landing strip on top of the tower.”
“The promise of becoming the first self-sufficient nation, where wealth wasn’t a factor in our way of life. Safe to say that little experiment failed.” Annah scoffed, as they returned to the train station where the surviving half of the train still rested. When the island had first been built, the trains crossed the oceans leaving a connection with the outside world, and leaving a pathway for more immigrants should they agree to join the social experiment.
Annah’s grandparents had been in the first group to arrive on the island, and at first, it seemed that the idea was successful. Reports showed that nearly ninety percent of the citizens on the island were content with their life and felt that they were being governed fairly. And most importantly the rate of poverty was reported at less than a tenth of a percent.
By the time Annah’s parent's generation had taken the mantle the rate of poverty had risen to an alarming ten percent, in part that was due to an inexplicable inflation in the price of simple groceries, and other necessities for survival. But that was nothing compared to the spike in poverty that occurred over the next twenty years. Through the use of thorough data mining, the government, which ran every business, service, and housing sector, initiated a program clearly designed to line their own pockets. They were able to manipulate the market so effectively, that they knew exactly who was going to buy a product, and exactly when they would do so.
The result of this manipulation was the exponential increase in the price of any and all products in demand, which in turn led to an alarming poverty rate of fifty-two percent, and the eventual creation of the slums. Annah’s mother had been among those moved to the slums when she couldn’t afford to pay the rent that had come with the comfortable apartment Annah had spent her first years in. Annah had been raised in the slums, so she was no stranger to that section of society.
“Hey, Annah.” Artemis spoke gently, “Are we fools? For trying to rebel?”
Annah took a moment to answer as they climbed aboard the train noting the alert of the scheduled demolition of a broken down section of the track, “Foolish maybe. But anyone who questions their government in times of chaos and strife is not foolish”
“Ha, who am I kidding.” Artemis laughed, “If anyone in this world is a fool it’s the one who tries to stand in your way when you’ve set your mind to something.” The train was already hurtling towards the docks, “No more delays.” She then said in a demanding tone while staring at Annah’s arm, “Story now.”
“Nothing really that special.” Annah started, “Got in a fight, broke my arm, then they chopped it off.” She said making an angry gesture towards the train car.
“And? Come on I need details!” Artemis said shaking Annah lightly, causing the woman to groan and recount the events of her past nights.
“Satisfied?” Annah said rolling her eyes, causing Artemis to nod with a little giggle. “You can be such a pest.”
“Let me get this straight, you managed to evade a hit squad of these guys, including a full-blown cyborg and you managed to escape with only a broken arm?” Artemis asked incredulously, “If that’s the caliber of people this group really has working for them, should we really be that worried?”
“It’s not the quality I’m particularly worried about in this instance.” Annah countered as the train began to pull into the run-down station at the docks. It’s the sheer number of people that could be influenced by them. Remember what we pulled off with our little ensemble? Our revolution was founded on the backs of civilians devoted to a cause. They were willing to die for that cause, and I’m sure that’s what we’ll face.”
“Strap your little invention on anyone that devoted and you’ve got a pretty good army,” Artemis said tracing a scar on the back of her neck. “To be honest I kind of miss that feeling, I wish you hadn’t destroyed the schematics for it”
Annah had designed a chemical synthesizer that would work in tandem with a brain scan to provide a soldier with everything they needed to survive in battle. If fear was to overtake one of her men, then Annah’s device would provide dopamine forcing the subject to enjoy the thrill of battle. Paired with a mild adrenaline drip, and her soldiers had managed to become an elite force in the short time they had to prepare for war., “And I’m glad I did. I don’t want to think what would happen if the government slaps one of those on every citizen. Flood anyone with enough dopamine, and they’ll be happy enough to live off the dirt in the slums.”
“You’re being paranoid. They already have complete control, why would they want to waste the money to make the dirt on their boots feel happy about it?” Annah didn’t have time to respond before she heard the chatter of a group of people growing louder as they approached the dock.
“Looks like we found the place,” Annah whispered taking the lead as the pair walked into the makeshift fort built from ruined shipping crates. She took a look at the group that had gathered in the room, and nodded acknowledging anyone who welcomed her and Artemis. The pair found themselves an open spot against a wall where they could easily observe the room.
It was a simple area with worn benches, and even a shoddy stage with a jerry-rigged podium. Annah made a note of the pair of exits on either side of the room as a speaker came to the stage, “Welcome my new brothers and sisters.” The young man spoke as though he were leading a mass in prayer, “Your devotion to the idea of freedom is obvious, otherwise you would not have made the journey to this forsaken place. But your devotion to our family must still be tested. No one will judge you if you do not follow through with the task I am about to set you. But freedom has a price, and we must be willing to pay the toll.” He paused for a moment allowing a chatter to build up in the small crowd, “Should you truly wish to fight alongside us, then I ask that you ensure this man,” A picture of an old wealthy looking man was displayed before the crowd, “Does not survive his trip to the poor residence.”
“Makes sense for an initiation,” Annah whispered hoarsely to her companion. “If they can’t kill someone who they’re going to wage war against then they’re useless as soldiers.”
Artemis turned to reply, an obvious look of disgust on her face, but she was interrupted as the speaker continued. “The one who actually carries out the kill will be granted a higher position within the organization. To make the trial a little more interesting.” He said finishing with a flourish of his hands signaling that the group was dismissed.
As the company departed the man who had given the assignment addressed Annah directly, “I do hope that your conviction holds, Cyberhawk. I would hate to see your reputation shatter and find out that you’d given up on your dream just to live a few more years in slavery.” It was an obvious jab at how she had gone into hiding after the revolution had been quashed, but Annah gave no reaction to it other than to spin on her heel and follow after the group that was quickly beginning its march towards the poor residence, murmurs of dissent already hissing through the ranks.
“I didn’t sign on to kill innocents.”
“He’s got money. Do you really need any other proof?”
The banter continued as the hopeful rebels debated the worth of their target, “Why would he come to the poor residence if he didn’t want to help the people?”
“Two words: Publicity. Stunt. He just wants to make it look like the government cares so that the approval rating doesn’t drop any farther.”
Annah interjected to put an end to the debate, “If you’re already questioning the orders of your superiors you’ll never survive in an army. It’s simple, you kill the man you’re in. They don’t care if you think he deserves it or not. They care what you do.”
“They want to make a difference, they’re fighting for the people.” Someone fired back
“And to fight any war you need disciplined soldiers, not opinionated individuals. Believe in their cause or not, they just want you to follow orders.” There was no response from anyone in the group other than for Artemis to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and soon they left the docks finding themselves in the slums.
Annah and Artemis hung a ways back from the group so that they could talk in at least some imitation of privacy. When they had separated themselves enough from the group, Artemis, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, whispered, “This is starting to sound like a trap to me. You told me you were their number one public enemy. And they recognized you. Keep your guard up.”
“You should know by now, my guard is never down.” Annah smirked, “I’m honestly hoping it is a trap, because that will give me a chance to pry some information out of the people laying the trap. That’ll be so much faster than working our way up the ranks”
“Faster and more dangerous.” Artemis worried aloud
“What’s with you?” Annah asked furrowing her brow, “You’re usually the consequences be damned type.”
“I’m just worried that if they’re using some of your tactics, that they’ll be planning for you to take this approach,” Artemis confessed.
“The thought had crossed my mind, but I need answers, and that means I don’t have another option.” Annah admitted clearly frustrated, “I can’t just sit by and let some careless idiots kill the people they’re so determined to liberate.”
“That’s not what you do. You’ve always been a woman of action, even when the only action you could possibly take was one that had no chance of success.” Artemis faltered off and the pair walked in silence for a time.
The way the city was sectioned, it took about an hour to walk between the different districts, That meant that as the entourage finally reached the poor residence the sun was already rising. Which meant that time was racing against them, as the wealthy man’s visit would be underway soon, and Annah would have to make a choice. Assist in assassinating this man, and possibly prevent a benefit program from being founded, or find the members of the organization who would be supervising the operation and beat them to a living pulp.
“Annah. I’ve got an idea.” Artemis chimed in, disrupting the silence, “If I go with the group, I can stall out the assassination while you find the guys supervising the operation, that way we can make sure we don’t have to kill this guy until it’s our only option left.”
Annah nodded in reply, “Don’t put it off too long if you’re in danger because of it. I’ll try to find these guys quickly.” She then broke away from the group, and began to take the quickest path she knew of to the street where the meeting would take place. If the hit was meant to incite anger, then it would happen publicly. Firstly, there would be anger from the people with wealth that one of their own had been killed and if the organization was lucky even a retaliation which would only serve to escalate tensions while the wealthy thought they were showing their own strength.
Annah, fortunately, arrived at the crossing early enough that the crowd was thinking enough to allow an easy passage into the buildings where the best vantage could be found. Looking around Annah saw nothing but sheer glass on the buildings giving no indication where the watchmen would be staked out. The longer it took her to find them the less time this politician had, and the crowd was already swelling around her in anticipation of this meeting. Annah spun round and round looking for any clue until she was knocked to the ground by someone running into her back. She rolled onto her back prepared to defend herself but was greeted with the sight of a young woman holding her hand out to help her up, “Even if this meeting is conceived from pure intentions it can only lead to us having even less control over our lives. It must be stopped.”
Once Annah had regained her footing she tried to figure out where the girl had run off to, but she had already disappeared into the crowd. The Phantom was right, Annah despised his origins and she couldn't help but feel that this meeting was purely an attempt to gain more control. If the man lived the people would surrender their freedom for the promise of a better life, and if the assassination was successful their freedom would be wrested from them. A situation without a viable outcome to her liking so how could she possibly choose between two choices that led to the same end. Violence or submission. The choice was no longer within her control she realized as she heard the sound of a car as it turned onto the street. The target’s speech would begin soon and once he was out in the open her window of opportunity would shut rapidly. A hush fell over the crowd as well car door shut and Annah caught a glimpse of the speaker. He was well dressed and sported a watch that glistened in even the faintest of lights, as though it was made from stardust to provide its own sparkle. Even the light gait he carried as he approached the podium gave away his wealth. He walked carefully as though even touching the ground in this district would drain him of his money. As he began to speak he revealed the single part of his being that refused to be dainty, his voice. “Citizens. Your living conditions are unpleasant to even know of. It brings me great shame that this great city does not provide a better standard of living for you. It has fallen far from the wonderful lives that were granted to your ancestors not even two generations ago.” his voice carried such a forceful weight that it seemed obvious he spoke the truth. “It is my belief that with cooperation between the capital and these outer districts we can certainly reclaim that higher standard we know is possible.” his words sent a ripple of discussion through the crowd as they mulled over his words.
The discussion quickly turned to outrage before he could speak again, “It was the capital that tore our parents’ lives away! How could we ever trust you to give it back?” The crowd was roaring now and Annah knew she was out of time. The rising volume of the crowd would make it easy for any assassin to carry out their mission and then slink away undetected.
“It is true that the greed of the wealthy is the cause of our current predicament.” He paused for a moment to allow the crowd to process what he was saying but instead the pause only accentuated the crackling hiss of a rifle as it launched a vessel of death towards the speaker cutting short both his speech and his life.
Annah cursed under her breath as she witnessed the ambassador fall to the floor clutching his throat. Her eyes then traced towards the origin of the sound, trying to locate the shooter, but her only clue was a glimpse of a barrel withdrawing within a closing window, waiting just long enough to confirm the kill. Annah was sure now that it had been Artemis who had pulled the trigger, most shooters would pull the rifle back after their first shot for fear of being found, but an experienced sniper would expect that their location had already been discovered by the first shot so they wanted to ensure that they finished the job. Of course, an expert sniper might look like an amateur but an expert sniper would know that their shot would hit before firing and that’s why they would pull away before confirming the kill.