Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Bang Bang Bank

Exposed brick lines the peeling walls of the dingy apartment. Three men and a girl spread a pair of floor layouts atop a ratty table. “I am telling you, it’s the perfect time to strike. There is already an anti-police demonstration going on. It will be a turkey shoot.”

“I don’t like it,” a younger man said. “I don’t want some Mr. Johnson knocking on my door some years from now with a score to settle for his corporate masters.”

“You can just move on like snakes on ice. Get out of the country, disappear, have a better life. I bet we won’t even need to dust anyone.” The other three show in the large lenses of his green mechanical eyes. “You in?” They nodded at each other and shook hands. “Good.”

Apricot rested her head on the backrest of the cold black wooden bench. The clouds overhead reminded her of fluffy cotton balls. She swung herself upright and moaned, “I need a good story right now. I will be in trouble if I don’t turn in a paper tomorrow.” She sat upright, reaching for a partially eaten soggy double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg. “The Bureau of Education sent me a text stating that if I didn’t improve my grades, they would shift me to the labor field, and I don’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life.”

Bonni sat cross-legged next to Apricot and hung her heel off her foot. Coffee from her uniform blends with salty smells from nearby fried food. Taking a nugget out of a small pouch, she dipped the tip into a teriyaki and mayonnaise carton.

“What about today?” asked a black-haired man seated across from Apricot. A half-eaten hamburger lay in his hand. “I got a couple of photos of the crime scene. They’ll be perfect for your story.”

Next to him, a younger girl picks at a bowl of salad. “She needs a good article, Sato.” Apricot met Sato Takoma while studying. Although he is several years older than her, the two are still in several classes together. Beside him, Machi, his little sister, has also become her friend. Several years younger than Apricot, Machi hoped to become an engineer. She had long been suspected of wanting to be close to Apricot to gain favor with her father. Though this was not the first time Apricot had been acquainted with Machi. During her years at primary school, Machi was a few years under her. She had always seemed like an entitled brat, and after she met her, her opinion remained unchanged.

Apricot glanced at Bonni, whose grin seemed so deep it might just slip off of her face. “Remember that secret I wanted to tell you, like those police were at the robbery this morning. As I mentioned, they appeared troubled.”

Behind her thick black glasses, Machi’s icy green eyes rolled. “I think there is a straightforward answer.” Before she had finished speaking, she takes a bite out of her salad bowl. Her twin tails sway back and forth on her back as Apricot and Bonni wait for her response. Machi then swallowed and said, “Most likely the killing of several people.”

Bonni picked up another nugget and gestured towards Machi with a stabbing motion. “Aren’t you surprised that so many people died? According to Eerie Truths Monthly, there have been many reports of monster sightings. It is impossible for one person to cause so many deaths. She may not have been human at all. I bet,”

“Monsters!” Machi exclaimed, cutting Bonni off. “Ha, she was a crazy person who was hopped up on some pills,” Machi responded, chortling at the thought.

Apricot cut in, “I think it’s an odd thing for Bonni, but I can’t write an article about it.”

“But why appear everywhere now? I remember when everyone thought witches were just fairytales.” Bonni protested.

“There is a great deal of superstition in our society. People still pay homage to Obojo, the money god, whenever they expect a raise.” Machi snapped.

“Something weird is happening! Sato, don’t you agree with me?” Bonni reached over Sato’s lap and stroked him. A heavy red blush adorned Sato’s face as he stared into Bonni’s doe eyes.

A quick kick on Bonni’s leg by Machi forced her back into her seat. “He’s a photographer, not a journalist. And witches are fake, too. The entire thing is a bunch of ill people playing hocus pocus,” she said.

“This may sound like a tabloid story, but who knows what’s lurking in the shadows? We have no way of knowing whether monsters are buried underneath the city.” Sato rubbed his head with a grin. A piercing gaze from Machi made Apricot giggle before she jabbed Sato in the ribs. “Ack!” he exclaimed. “But Machi is right, I am a photographer. If I were to see something and snap a picture, it’s front-page news for sure,” he muttered as he rubbed the pain from Machi’s playful blow.

“This is not tabloid news. It is absolutely innovative.” Bonni shook her head before she turned her attention to Apricot. “This is the journalism that makes people famous,” Bonni said. “Imagine Apricot. They would always remember you as the woman who exposed Blue Ash’s monster invasion.”

With a finger against her lower lip, Apricot said, “Well?” she thought as she watched Bonni’s face. “I need more information and a second source.” She replied. “Thanks for the tip, Bonni. If I get more information, you can bet I’ll write a piece on it.”

“Ugh Apricot,” Machi groaned. “Don’t encourage her to be this absurd.”

“Apricot, come on!” Bonni whined, “My idea is perfect.” Bonni’s mouth and eyes widen at the sound of sirens. Several police cars swerve past, causing the wrappers on the outside table to tremble. Sato immediately pulled his phone from his pocket.

A smirk spread across Apricot’s face as she felt a slight sense of guilt for feeling so happy. “Hey Sato, what’s your police scanner telling you?” she asked. “Could this be something I should write about?”

As she grabbed Sato’s shoulder, she lept out of her chair to examine the screen. Sato manipulates his finger through a black and blue application. The board has several alerts, most of them minor, a few about a protest, and a report regarding the emergency. His finger sailed on the alert. Apricot couldn’t read the text despite her squinting. A moment later, “Yeah.” He said, “A bank robbery happened nearby.”

“A bank robbery would be perfect!” Apricot shouted as she pumped her fist. “Sato!”

“Are you thinking the same as me?” Sato raised from the table. “Here’s fifty marks, Machi,” Sato said, pulling out a few shiny emerald cards. “Sorry, but I think you’ll have to get a ride home.”

Machi blew a whiff of air. “Yeah, I understand. You always ditch me like this. I am used to it.” She glanced back at Bonni, who is grinning with predatory eyes. “Wait!” she cried. “Don’t leave me with Bonni! She is nuts!”

Bonni laughed softly. “I’ll take care of Machi for ya.”

Apricot ran to Sato’s bike, waving to the two girls. “Sorry to take off like this,” she said. “Later, I will call you to tell you how it went.” Bonni waves back as Machi slumped into her seat, cross-armed.

The siren’s clamor battled against the thunder of the trail rider. As Sato controlled the crimson and white sports bike with expert technique, Apricot clasped onto Sato’s back. As he careened through the two onward lanes, cars rushed by. With Sato pulling on the throttle, the gaps between the white lines of the street became a flicker. “Sato,” Apricot yelped. “Doesn’t this seem a tad too fast?” As time passed, the swishing of automobiles had progressed from being measured to more of an instantaneous response.

“These things can go down quickly,” Sato remarked. “Don’t want to miss a thing.” Apricot stared up ahead at a near wall of cars. A shriek escaped her throat as Sato cranked the brake, forcing the motorcycle into a skid. A harsh odor of scorched rubber filled the air as Sato came to a halt behind a truck. “Ah damn. Looks like we’re stuck in traffic.”

Hopping off the bike, she pats Sato on the back. “Sorry Sato.” As she sauntered off, his head tilted to the side. “Thanks for the ride.” She said. “I will catch you later.” Apricot giggled, holding up his camera in the air as she twirled down the road.

“Yeah, can you get a good shot for me, will you?”

Apricot spun around and faced Sato, replying “You bet.”

She ran along the slick, dirty street, sprinting as fast as she could. It is a game of inches and steps that keeps traffic moving through the clogged metropolitan corridor. Apricot’s heel is seared in pain as a screech roars from behind. During mid-fall, she held the camera in the air, Apricot fell on her side while scraping against the asphalt. After regaining her bearings, she discovered a blue bumper inches above her head.

“Oh, my gosh!” As Apricot pushed up off the ground, she heard, “I am so sorry, I, I.” She looked up to see a man stammering out of the open driver-side door. “I didn’t see you, Miss? Are you okay?” Pulling the lens cover from the camera, her heart dropped. She lifted the camera without noticing the man. Looking it over, everything appeared to be in proper order, much to her relief. While brushing off-street dust, she let out a tremendous sigh. Sticky wetness covered her palm as she ran her hand down her thigh. It covered her fingers in a delicate smear of red, and blood appeared on her elbow and knees. Except for these minor scratches, nothing else appeared amiss.

“Miss?” the man asked again.

Apricot said, “It’s alright,” taking flight toward the sounds of sirens with little concern for her own safety or that of the man’s; she’s on a mission, after all.

Rioters blocked Apricot’s path when she approached the source of the piercing sirens. “I hate it when they do this kind of crap. Leave the police to do their job.” In Blue Ash, mass protests broke out for reasons not completely understood by Apricot. As far as she understood, Okabe had taken steps to separate itself from the Uchellan mainland. This resulted in the Okabe family gaining direct control over the police. There has been a less than a positive reaction from the public since they perceived it as privatization of the police.

Apricot reached into her pocket to retrieve her state journalist badge. After she didn’t find it, she went to her purse only to find that it’s gone too. As she glanced over at her person, she realized she had left her purse at the restaurant. She imagined that Machi or Bonni had spotted the purse lying on the seat by now. Looking at the swarms of protestors, Apricot said aloud, “Great.”

People carrying placards and signs drowned her in the flood of people. The heat, smell, and sweat brought back memories of a packed concert. Fighting the tide, she made her way toward the police line. She waved her meager hand, outstretched among the many, to get the guard’s attention. “I am a journalist. Please let me in,” she pleaded.

A police officer glanced at her before shouting over the deluge: “Sure kid, you got a press pass?” She clung to a barricade as she got closer, trying to keep from being snatched up by the mob.

“I accidentally left it behind because I was in a hurry to follow the sirens.”

“I’m press, too!” shouted a man in a business suit.

“Sure kid, I’ll let you through after I see a press pass. Without it, you won’t be coming over the barricade.” the Officer said.

“I am a reporter.” Another woman yelled beside her.

“Please, officer!” Apricot begged.

Using a stern hand, the official gestured. “You’re not tricking me, you punk. Now run before I arrest you for misleading an officer.”

Apricot blurted out in a panic, “What is the official statement of the police about the robbery?”

“The state has decided not to disclose whether this was a robbery miss. Once we have a better understanding of the situation, we will provide further information.” the officer replied.

“Is there anyone inside the building?” Apricot asked, pulling a scratchpad from her pocket.

Redness spread crossed the police officer’s face. Suddenly, he yelled, “Back off, everybody! Disperse!”

“Sorry,” Apricot bowed swiftly before she pushed past the crowd of crazed protesters. She retreated, weighing her options carefully. Negotiating with the police while surrounded by agitators is not a good idea. As Apricot peered back at the swarm, she felt a release from the adrenalin rush she experienced during her escape. This sudden realization slightly soured her emotions. They might have allowed her entry if not for these crazy protestors, she mused.

“Oh well, I can at least get something for Sato,” she remarked while she raised the camera. She watched the protesters fight the police through the viewfinder. With batons bashing in heads, the black-armored officers moved through the pack.

“Looks like I got out of there just in time.“ Apricot squeezed the button. The shutters spiraled with a click and opened just as quickly, capturing the moment on film. Her smile grew wider as she realized Sato would be pleased with the shot. Although, if she walked backward a few steps, she might frame the scene better. Suddenly, she trips. She threw both of her hands to the side as she fell backward, catching herself. The camera pulled on her neck as it dangled midair.

Her clumsy footwork obstructed a metal grate at her feet. She kneeled down to fix the grate, just as a delightful idea came to mind. A network of tunnels used for runoff beneath the metropolis connected all roads. Apricot thought the tunnels would be a good way past the protesters. She threw the grate aside with a grunt. While she descended the rungs into the tunnels, she beams.

The captain shouted through a blue and white bullhorn, “Come out with your hands up.” An entire team of officers surrounded the bank on all sides. The rest of the police remained on the blockade as the disruptors attempted to gain ground.

“Get back or I will shoot!” yelled the officer as the barricade collapsed in half. With a shaky hand, he pulled out a pistol and screamed, “Back up! I said!“ As the rebels make their way through. A young woman of similar age looked at the barrel. He levels it at her head. Wide-eyed, she froze inches away from the gun. The moment between the two soon broke when another man grabbed the officer by the arm.

“Murderer!” cried someone in the crowd. As the officer elbowed the man in the face, he drew back into his friend’s protection.

The police chief said, “That’s enough rabble,” while standing next to a policeman. “Gas these sons of bitches.” A group of officers in riot gear marched toward the group holding long pipe cannons. As the police called out a holler, they released several canisters. As they rained down, metal projectiles knocked an unknown number of people to the ground. Rolling upon landing, they emit a dense cloud of milky brown smoke. As they soon covered the protesters in a cloud of poison, they screamed. To avoid the spreading wall, they trampled on top of each other. Their clothes reeked of the toxic fumes as they breached the plumes.

When the bank’s mirror glass door opened, the police in front chatted with each other. An unknown man stepped from the shadows with a girl coiled around his arm. He held a gun against the girl’s lower jaw. With a kiss on her cheek, he held his lips close to her ear. He said with a gruff voice; the characteristic of an excessive smoker, “Now darling, remember what I said to you? If you move or say a word, I will spray your face all over the room. You got that?” The woman nodded her head, tears welling up in her eyes with no sign of a struggle.

The policeman lifted the radio receiver from his chest. “Get me a sniper on him, fast.”

“Put down the gun, Sir, it will be to everyone’s benefit if everyone gets out today.” said the captain.

In response to the captain’s words, the man laughed loudly. “I will put the gun down and even give you the girl.” Several officers approached the stairs with guns drawn. “Back up, you shit heads. Back up!” he roared, pulling the gun from the girl and pointing it towards the crowd. “Get back or else!” he exclaimed. The man presses his gun into the lady’s jaw, moving her spongy skin as he does. “If I see a boy in blue,” He said to the police. He pointed the firearm back at the officers. “Well, we wouldn’t want to turn the front of her pretty face into a scarlet fountain, would we?” He pointed the gun back at the girl. “Move back I said! Go, now, do it!” As he turned the gun back to the officers, he waggled the barrel.

“The gun is off the girl. Take the shot.” Said the police chief over the radio.

A bullet thundered from the adjacent building. The charge soared overhead through the man’s face. In an instant, the image of the hostage and the man flickered away, leaving only a small softball-sized orb at their feet. “Wrong move, assholes!” replied the man over the bank’s intercom speakers.

“Shit!“ said an officer as an explosion erupted from the bank’s front. A wave of heat and wind drove shards of debris across the ground, hitting several bystanders. Along with several officers who cracked under the pressure, the remaining protesters fled for their lives.

When the ground rumbled, Apricot huddled to her knees and screamed. As cables dangle from the walls, the shadows dance with the rocking lights in their metal cages. She felt her pounding heart through her shirt as she grabbed her chest. Near her are the metal rungs that mark the exit. After the booming shook her to her core, she couldn’t get to them fast enough. The sight of blue skies through the metal escape hatch bars relieved Apricot. As she scrambled up the steps, she pushed the surface grate open.

Apricot grew a smile as she surveyed the dirty backstreet lot. The lot was full of trash bins filled with recyclables. After she got herself back together, she realized she was behind the bank, since there was a tall brick wall with razor wire surrounding the back lot. As Apricot slithered out of the hole, the metal grate slammed shut with a loud clank. She watched police pull people from rubble-strewn streets that were engulfed in smoke. “Was that a bomb?” she asked. “What bank robbery would use bombs?” Apricot questioned aloud. It seemed absurd that something like that could be true. According to Boken’s Sword, the most likely answer is the simplest. Apricot remembered the rule. “If someone were to use a bomb, why would they do so?” she considered.

Her hands fidgeted as she felt an overwhelming sense of tension. “Could this be a terrorist attack?” She gritted her teeth, swallowing hard, watching this entire incident spiral from irresponsible to dangerous. “You can’t let your nerves get the better of you, okay? If you want to be a reporter, now is the time to act like one,” she coached herself.

Apricot held the camera up to her face to see that the viewfinder was black. The camera cap hung from the lens of the camera on a strand of white string when she removed it from her eye. She returned the camera to her eye and saw a hazel eye staring back at her. The eye had teeth surrounding it instead of lashes. “What the?” Apricot asked under her breath.

With an odd cartoon-like tone, the teeth shut into a grin and said “Hello.” She screamed and tossed the camera. Shaking from the shock, she covered her mouth with her hand. Hearing glass shatter, she looked towards her feet. Sato’s camera lay broken at her feet.

Apricot bent to lift the mangled camera. As glass pieces fell into the street from the lens, a small sob escaped her nostril. A tear ran down Apricot’s cheek as she whispered, “No.”

With the creek of the back door, “Don’t move.” Commanded the voice of a young man. Apricot looked up to see a man with a pistol. When the man bobbed the barrel, she felt pale. Apricot followed the gesture by standing up. Her feet shot up when she observed the chili yellow eyes of this man with a strong jawline looking at her. “He is remarkably handsome,” she thought.

“Now, why would a girl be out here?” he asked.

Apricot held up Sato’s broken camera and explained, “I am a journalist, and I’m trying to get some photos for my article.”

“It seems you need a new camera,” snickered the handsome guy. “You think I am some kind of idiot?” he replied. “You went through the sewers to get here, right? That’s filthy. Were you sent by the police? Got a wire?”

Apricot’s heart sank in despair as she shook her head. “No, I’m just a journalist.”

“Sure, like you would tell me, anyway.” Looking at the barrel, she felt as if the chambered bullet was interrogating her; more like a rabid dog on a leash waiting for the command, looking for an opportunity to bore into her stomach, all too happy to do its job.

When he continued, it broke her heart. “There is one way you can prove you don’t.” He pointed his pistol at her chest and raised his head. “Take them off.” Her face grew flushed as the order rang in her head. Her fingers brush against her shirt, and she breathes deeply. As she swallowed, she averted her eyes. “Go ahead,” the man said with a perverse gleam in his eye. In order to remove her undershirt from her skirt band, she removed her coat from her stomach.

The man lowered his gun and said, “Wait.” Looking down, he turned his gaze to the ground. “You don’t have to do that.” Apricot wondered if it was a trick. Then again, even if it was a trick, he would shoot her, regardless. She lowered her shirt down to her stomach. Apricot hears a clank against the brick wall as the man pushes against the door. He turned to her and said, “After you.”

When she was close to the door, she did not know if she was going to live or die. She found it humorous. She could draw on her first-hand experience of the robbery. It was like the coin had flipped, becoming the story instead of reporting on it. This would be the story of her life if she survived. Maybe even a book deal. Her face brightened at the prospects. “What do you have to be so happy about?” he asks. “Got a sick fascination with being taken hostage?” At that moment, after glancing at the gun aimed at her, all joy vanished. With such paltry words, he snuggly placed the fear of death in the mind.

“What in the hell do we do now?” asked a man holding a pistol. Apricot noted he looked younger than the handsome man, a late teenager, twitchy too; this makes him dangerous.

Her captor shook his head. “I don’t suppose we can just walk out the front door. There is an opening in the back. Heh, the reporter girl, found a way out. If we slip out, though, I am sure we will get chased.”

A lady was resting against a bank teller’s desk. It looked like she had either a resting bitch face or was poised to tear someone’s head off. Her mature and smooth face suggested she was in her late twenties or even early thirties. However, unlike the other guys, she did not carry a weapon, but the long jacket she wore could conceal an arsenal. “Well, isn’t this great? There’s a bunch of police in front of us, bright eyes is upstairs drooling like a madman, and now we’re holding this kid hostage as well. That wasn’t the plan. What the hell was he thinking?”

“A bomb, Diago is insane.” the young man wailed. He rounded in a circle, carefully maintaining cover from the front.

Apricot was sitting on the floor of the decorated bank. The polished marble floor in the lobby had a large crack she attributed to the blast’s remnants. Several windows around the room were broken, allowing smoke to enter. Even though the smoke was diluted, it still burned.

Rather than get involved in the bickering, Apricot decided to just sit back and watch. But their complaints raised more questions. Among the many things that disturb her, one stands out. They were robbing a bank, but what were they hoping to gain? As soon as they introduced the Emerald Mark, paper money was no longer used. As a result, she could no longer bite her tongue. Obviously, she had to know. “So, what were your plans?” Suddenly Apricot erupted.

The handsome man glanced at her as the other two watched each other. He smiled half-heartedly as he said, “I told you she was interesting.”

The other guy laughed nervously. “Apparently, we gained a funeral instead of a hefty retirement plan.”

“Maybe you could turn yourself in; I mean, it wasn’t your idea to make the bomb. Turn on that… Diago guy. He does not seem to be that interested in you,” Apricot suggested.

Taking a measured step towards Apricot, the girl gives a blank stare. She produces a thin rectangle from her side. The slab opens with a click, revealing a flat spring-loaded blade. She bends down next to Apricot, letting the flat of the blade rest on her cheek. “Comedian, keep talking and I’ll carve a smile all over your face from bloody ear to bloody ear.”

An uncharacteristically calm chuckle escaped the handsome man’s lips. “I kind of like the comedian.” He said. “We need some humor. May as well be her.” As she touched the tip of the blade to Apricot’s cheek, a shallow cut appeared. Apricot’s brown eyes catch hers, as the woman warns her sharply. She yielded the blade to her palm and rose to her feet.

“She might be right.” The nervous man snorted. “I don’t want to die. I mean, uh. I had nothing to do with the bomb. It was all Diego’s idea. Heh, I mean, how can you explain that?”

“Diago, what is he doing up there?” the handsome man said. “I knew deck jockey was just a plug head. Should have never trusted him.”

“Surely, he will still come through for us,” joked the young man. “I mean… he set that bomb up… with the holo-sim from upstairs. Think he has a way of getting out of here?”

The calm, handsome man looked over at the girl with the blade. “Only one way to find out.” She said.

“Okay, I will check on our little decker, see if he’s done,” he said, jumping from the desk and reaching out to Apricot. She questioned her own sensibilities as her heart fluttered. “I want a body as collateral. Hey reporter girl, mind being my shield?” He grabbed Apricot’s hand and lifted her to her feet. “Come on, it’s this way. Just follow me.”

The handsome man had led Apricot upstairs to the second floor of the bank. From the mezzanine, she spied the police outside out of the corner of her eye. The wreckage was worse than she had expected. While Apricot felt more at ease with the handsome man than she did with the lady below her, the gun pointed at her head told a different story. “So, just down the hall. I don’t want a sniper to blow my head off, so please walk in front of me?”

The man huddled up next to her, compressing himself against her lower back. When she felt the chest of the man against her rear, a blush appeared on her face. Outside, she saw several police officers with their guns drawn while others walked around casually with papers in their hands. There were fewer people in the crowd than before.

In the corner of the back office, a girl was crying, with tears streaming down her face. Her sobs accompanied a man working on a computer. Besides his pistol, he has a camera setup on the desk with several cables stretching from his hands and several metallic pieces hanging out from his fingers. They clicked on the keys, typing with brisk speed. Apricot almost vomited. This twisted thing was once human. Unlike his former self, now he looks like he was something otherworldly. “Are you almost done, Diego?” the handsome man asked. “That light show you put on pissed off the cops.”

“Did I?” the deep voice exclaimed, cackling. “I wasn’t aware.”

The handsome man pounded his fist against the table. “Yeah, now get it in gear, there’s no time to lose.” he snapped.

“What? But the party just started.” He grinned. “They got some great countermeasure electronics,” he said. “I got through the first two phases. The buried treasure looks nice. Anyway, the vaults downstairs are unlocked. Load up what you can. The tunnels will be open in a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting this. However, if you give me some time… I think I can find something more valuable. They equipped this place with naked body scanners. You can bet those images are worth something, too.”

“Pervo, we need to get on a bank train NOW to get out of here,” the handsome man yelled.

“Tanj! You ain’t no fun.” Diago looked up from the computer. The inlaid eyes made Apricot uncomfortable. She was sure that he had to undergo a special surgical procedure for those to be implanted. “Including where you gonna go? You don’t think the tunnels are swarming with police by now?”

“Just get it done.” Growled the handsome man.

“Are you a runner?” Apricot inquired. It was utterly shocking to the black-haired lady in the corner. Apricot had heard stories about people who did such things. The crooks had to go to certain locations to gain access to closed systems, not the normal kind of theft. These individuals usually leave a trail of destruction behind them, which did not sit well with Apricot. It is imperative to remove witnesses. With some technical knowledge, they can move in a way most others cannot. Most of the time, they sell their goods on the black market.

Diago glances at Apricot from his screen. “Those eyes, they’re wrong,” Apricot thought. “Like dolls in the shop windows of Akubashi street.”

“Who’s the girl?”

He patted Apricot on the butt and said, “Hostage like yours.” A chill ran down Apricot’s spine. Her first impulse was to slap the man, but she composed herself. “A reporter.”

“Oh, yeah, buddy, if that one doesn’t get creased soon, I’m going to reconfigure her myself. Expert witness, you know joy boy.” She didn’t understand everything he said, but she gathered the gist. This would be a serious threat. Apricot could tell from the other girl’s eyes that she thought much the same.

Apricot felt the handsome man press the tip of the cold barrel into the back of her uniform. “You worry about our escape.” Apricot isn’t sure how to react. The handsome man seems to have a sense of morality. She had the impression he didn’t want her killed. Still, she knew it twisted her emotions into knots. As he drives her towards the hall, he says, “Don’t let the blue boys blow off my head now.”

An angry voice exploded up from the base level. “Kneel!” A retinue of commands followed.

“Ta hell is that!” Diago shrieked. The handsome man, who held out his gun, pushed Apricot to the ground.

Through the marble ceiling, ghostly figures tumbled to the ground. Light reflected off their cloaks and mirrored their surroundings. “All but for the shimmering, the cloaked figures would have been invisible,” Apricot thought. The cloaks fell off, revealing them to be armored police pointing their guns at the suspects. A mechanically synthesized voice said, “Got ya.”

The handsome man replied, “You did.” His body spun around while a blade flicked from his spinning torso and he cut into the armored collar with the knife. The knife blade scraped against the black kevlar. Then the soldier’s rifle butt impacts into the man’s head, knocking him to the ground.

Diego jumped onto the table, smashing his seat against the wall. His arm swung, launching the computer into an officer. The cables shot back into his left hand. He points his right hand towards the officer’s rifle. ”You fool!” he hissed. A mechanical groan caused his forearm to split open, revealing a hidden uzi. “Rat-a-tat,” boomed the gun. Apricot covered both ears with both hands as she sank to the ground. The horror of this moment spread to her when a smoking bullet fell between her knees. With a louder scream, she crescendos the many ricochets.

As far as she could, she kicked away from the smoldering bullet pressing against the wall. “Ahahaha!” Diego cackled. Suddenly, her back sank into a pair of arms. It was an officer in a cloak covering her, wearing a gray and blue-hosed mask. The cloak was bright on the inside. Fabric acted as a screen, which displayed bodies around the room and made the walls appear translucent.

Apricot watched as the red silhouette of the handsome man swept his foot, knocking the other officer to the floor. “I got you, honey!” a muffled female voice said. As she leaned back, the officer lifted her through the wall. While doing the impossible, Apricot felt a tingling sensation all over her body. With Apricot clutched tightly in her arms, the officer plummets to the ground like a swooping bird. When she landed with a heavy thud on the pavement below, she realized she was thrashing and screaming.

As her mind raced with questions, she shook her head. The largest of them was “What just happened? Did they just leap through a wall?” Apricot looked up into the iron blue mask while cradled in the officer’s arms. A brilliant red gleam glistened in the mask’s eye shields. On the sides of the soldier’s neck shield, there are two air hoses.

The police officer set Apricot on her feet and said, “It’s all right mam, you are safe now.” The officer’s hands were on the clip on the side of her mask as she raised to her full stance. With a hiss, it clicks as she raises the helmet, which allows her long black hair to cascade out over it.

“She has white irises,” Apricot thought to herself. “That’s rare.”

“Are you all right? Hun?” she asked with a rural mainland accent. With a slack jaw, Apricot watched with wide eyes. “I’d like to thank you. Through your little sneaky escapade, I could enter the back door unnoticed.”

She saw another officer jump through the wall with the black-haired woman. He unfurled her and asked, “Mam, do you need any medical attention?” She just wailed in his arms.

“This is the life of a police officer, so dangerous.” She said without meaning to.

“You were lucky to miss.” The officer replied, “I haven’t seen many kids walk out of something like that.”

She broke out of her trance before turning to the armored woman and saying, “Forgive me.” She bowed as low as she could. “Thanks for saving me. You have my gratitude.”

A smile spread across the officer’s face as she said, “All in a day’s work, miss.”

With a clipboard in hand, a uniformed man approaches her. “And apparently you’re a student, too.” The uniformed man said, looking at Apricot’s worn-out uniform. He asked, “What were you doing in the bank?”

Apricot realized she was being filmed as her heart sank. As she gnawed her nails, she muttered, “That’s a funny story…” The officer laughed as she recounted how she became a hostage.

“Press huh, well, I will have to inform your superiors so they can decide what to do. Apricot, you understand me,” he said, waving his finger.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Good girl, say something nice for me. Got it? So would you mind coming with me? Let’s get your account on file, so you can be on your way.” he said.

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 1

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 1

At Sunrise

A police officer crossed the black pavement in front of an old antique shop. Intense light from his police cruiser tinted his face blue and red. The voices of his colleagues were drowned by howling sirens. On the other side of the makeshift wall of wooden roadblocks, a crowd of onlookers stood gazing at the neon lights illuminating the storefront. “Get back!” a police officer shouted through his bullhorn. Armed with his gun, the policeman approached the shop’s glass doors. Posters for several brands of vices are taped to the walls, blocking the view of the interior of the store.

A feeble voice cries, “Please, chief, don’t damage anything.” Looking back, he sees an elderly man talking to his section chief. Approximately sixty years old. A man of frail appearance with gray hair. A foreigner, tanned, and probably a desert dweller from Dilet.

“Sure… as if everything wasn’t damaged already,” the officer remarks under his breath. There is an audible creak from the twin slabs of the shop doors. As the officer crept toward the doorway, he encountered a black liquid.

The voice of his section captain grumbled, “That’s not our concern. All we care about is getting everyone out.”

A smirk spread crossed the officer’s face. “You tell ‘em, boss.”

As the officer watched, a flash of light came from within the store. The only thing in sight was shadowed darkness. Entering the building slowly, the officer breathes in deeply. The holo-lense illuminated his eye as he scanned the area, displaying a technical reading. As it detected the flicker of a yellowed tube bulb, it revealed itself as the source of the disturbance. “My heart skipped over that?! Damn, Arikado. Don’t freak out.” He laughed. It was only then that he realized that the darkened room reminded him of an abyss, and everything about it seemed wrong. His eyes were filled with static, making it impossible to see anything. “Come on, don’t glitch on me now.”

While the halogen light vanished too, a chill ran up his spine. As the air became increasingly arctic, a neon-colored ghost floated from his open mouth. Pressing the radio switch on his shoulder, his body became cold. “Shit, I can’t see a thing and it’s hell’a cold.”

“Hey Arikado, are you scared of the dark?” a fellow officer jokingly asked.

“Quit talking, Zhang,” Arikado growled. He was sick of the situation and slightly scared at the realization. Still, it wasn’t the usual unease he felt. There is always some concern when walking into dead-end shops with potentially armed suspects, but this was different. It was a living fear, a gripping dread. He felt its claw on his throat and it stole his breath. “No, not at all. It’s dark as night. It’s impossible to see anything. I can’t feel my fingers, it’s like walking into a damn freezer.”

Stepping forward, Arikado looked at a collection of shelves strewn among an inky mosaic of a variety of objects. “So much for keeping the place undamaged, damn what the hell happened here?” Arikado turned as a rustle stirred on his left side. The officer held a gun out toward the distance, pointing into the unknown. “Come out with your hands so I can see them.” He ordered toward the dark mystery.

A red glare, a scream of pain, a yell – Arikado’s eyes widened as a sharp pain burst from his stomach. He could only hear the splash of his blood against the polished tile floor. As Arikado became disoriented, his body is flung across the room. When he collided with the wall, he let loose a scream.

Arikado’s hollering alarmed the squad outside. After the crash, the captain roared, “Get in there!” Five officers poured into the salon with guns drawn. In the shadowed corner, Arikado screams out with misery. As the gore from his splayed open stomach dripped from his arm, he pressed against his wound.

A silhouette of a woman appeared in the darkness. The static strands of her hair spanned out in all directions. A moment of silence is interrupted by Arikado’s whimpers between the police staring at the strange lady. One of the officers commanded her to get to the ground, but all she did was raise her hand, revealing sparks dancing between her fingers.

There was a constant clamor as protesters banged against the barricades, bobbed their signs up and down, and read a variety of slogans about police abuse. A man lunged over the barrier before being struck by a police baton. “Get back!” The officer who dealt the blow demanded, “Get the hell,” Gunfire rang out as it drowned out the protester’s screams. As the police push back, the storefront comes alive in the muzzle flash, fear sending the crowd rushing for cover. All eyes are focused on the flashing blackness.

The woman’s twisted smile spreads between flashes. With a metallic ping, her fingers spread wide, stopping the bullets in mid-air, hovering for a moment as if impacting against something unseen, then falling to the floor. A blinding light flared from the woman’s milky white eyes, shattering the glass in the room. The shards were transformed into shrapnel by a supernatural wind, ripping the flesh from their bodies.

It thrusts the agents’ bodies through the storefront’s windows; their remains rolled in fragments across the now bloodied pavement. Officers on the outside ran for cover behind their cars as razor projectiles ripped at everything in their path. While kneeling over their cruisers, they drew their weapons towards the flare of silhouettes, gripping their triggers as their hearts pounded.

As the storefront stood still, the darkness returned. The shattered glass sparkled in the first morning light. The silence grows from unsettling to straining while every eye stares unwaveringly. Broken shards litter the police vehicles. In addition to the hail of shrapnel falling on the officers, some of them screamed in pain as they suffered injuries from the blast.

Through the remnants of the shop doors, the woman stepped out of the darkness in time for the sliding door to fall off its hinges. She stood blatantly with pride in her eyes. There was an insane, toothy smile on her face as her eyes grew wide. Her body was a burnished gold that embraced the figure of a gymnast. Each step she took left a trail of sparks behind her. “Get on your hands and knees!” the captain yelled. Streams of blood dripped from her body, forming rivers at her toes.

Instead of complying, the woman brought a bloody stride forward. A cackle escaped from her strange, feral grin. An officer, unable to coax with his stretched nerves, pulled his trigger and a shot was fired from the chamber. A led dot flew straight at the woman, but it stopped midair, falling to the ground as the bullets did before. He screamed. “It’s a witch!” The patrol of officers opened fire in a frenzy, each bullet bouncing along sparks shielding the conjurer. Step by step, she approaches the officers huddled behind their cars. As if a mechanical doll were suffering from broken parts, she stutteringly turned her head. Her raised arm sent a blast of lightning ripping through a cruiser, turning the nearby police into a pulpy mess of parts.

A second officer charged with both arms raised, about to slash the “witch” with a saber. Amid the mighty swing, the woman bends down, splitting the officer from the shoulder to the hip. Warmblood cascaded on the ground as the officer fell to his knees.

A roar of screeching tires alerted the strange lady. A pair of trucks barreled from the end of the street and she turned towards the dissonance. Grinning, she stepped over the officer’s body and faced the rushing freights. Several armored rigs rammed through parked cars and tore up any sidewalk decorations, shattering everything in their path. By turning his wheel and slamming the brakes, the truck’s driver spun the massive truck in a circle, pointing its cargo port in the direction of the lady.

The hangar doors creaked with a metallic groan. Rolling open the doors, they were greeted by a humanoid machine covered in steel plates. The machine splinters the asphalt under its triple-toed foot as it emerges from the back of the truck. Its body is twelve feet high. At first glance, it seems like an armored knight. The machine’s three fingers grip a long, specialized rifle with cables and cords attached to its forearm. As it marched forward, the automated servos whined with each movement. From the barricade of trucks, an additional group of officers formed three small squads. They wear bulletproof vests and shoulder decals bearing SDP logos.

With an airy hiss, a tall fellow with a black trench coat removes the hosed mask. Grayed black hair overshadowed a pitted face with years of experience. He yells, “Let’s finish this.” He pointed to one officer hiding behind their police cruiser near the barricades. “Get these asses out of here!” he shouted. He stands slowly on his feet, giving a nod. “Nothing to see anymore.” The man in the trench coat said. “The regular police, what a bunch of cowards.”

As the lady growled, sparks blew across the road in long streams. Discarded litter floated in a spiral wind like leaves. The armored suit lumbered in front of the group, squared off with the strange girl. As the pilot dragged his knees into the ground, he formed a position similar to a sniper’s, pointing his rifle at the woman. With a loud shriek, an electric bolt ignited the machine, leaving a path of fire behind. As lightning strikes the armor, it causes a great spark that turns its white plastic plating cyan in the glow, and its red lights dim for a moment. A few seconds after the blast, the ground flares as tethers of lightning roll across the pavement.

The blond monster paled when the goliath moved again. After being struck by a blast from its muzzle, her right leg is blown off in fleshy red strands above the knee. Rolling and spinning, her limb fell to the ground and tumbled. Her ribs snap as she collides with the pavement, sprawling on her side.

Laughing, the older man said. “Good shot. Now, pack up so we can get out of here.” A squad of armored police rushed forward to take the girl, carrying syringes, ties, and a large yellow plastic bag. A police officer kneeled, grabbing the woman’s wrist. Plastic ties were prepared with a snap. Her rose-red lips crease up into a tight curtsey as he catches her sapphire eyes. As she pushed herself up, she clutched his collar with the other arm. His throat was pierced by her nails, causing him to gasp for breath. It is as if a shotgun blast tore into his skull with all its ferocity. The sight of the headless officer makes the others step back from the twisting and twitching witch.

“Quit screwing around. Shoot her.” Roared the captain. As they drew their pistols, they shot her body with bullets. As her mutilated corpse danced from side to side in the hail of bullets, she laughed one last time. Her body was nothing more than a pulpy wad of flesh after their ammo was spent.

Some distance from the action a shadow in a cloak sat on a rooftop watching the bloody scene beneath the storefront buildings. “What a pity, the lady had’st shown promise.”

A vision of a dull burgundy flashed through Apricot’s mind. Under the thick cloud of slumber, an annoying buzz disturbed the peace. Her room changed from a red glow to shade as she opened her eyes. She turned her head towards her nightstand as she stretched. In crimson digital lights, an alarm clock blinked “8:23 AM”. As her hearing and vision became clearer, her eyes grew wide. “I will be late again!” Her grogginess was gone as she stood up, sending her covers cascading to the ground.

As she moved through her room, Apricot grabbed her clothes and put an arm through one sleeve. She adjusted the green and white seifuku with yellow trim. Although it pained her to admit it, she glanced over at her makeup before deciding she didn’t have the time today. “Perhaps just eyeliner will do, that only takes a moment.” she reasoned.

As she climbed down the stairs, she spotted her younger brother, Jasper, sitting at the breakfast table with half-eaten morning toast. His eyes were glued to the television. This was typical of Jasper. Instead of cartoons or a movie, an emergency broadcast drew Apricot’s attention. A well-dressed woman in a deep red swing coat reported an incident. The volume was far too low to make out what was being said. Apricot imagined herself in the position of the lady in red. If only, she thought, she could tell such an important story. However, she could not shake the guilt she felt whenever such thoughts occurred. Sadly, news media are always seeking ways to exploit tragedies. “What’cha watching?” she asked.

“Oh, you’re up.” Jasper snickered. “I was woken up again by your alarm. It’s annoying how you never turn it off. You’ve been sleeping through it lately.” Apricot hated the way her little brother could be so smug. If he knew she was oversleeping, the little brat should have woken her up. “But look at this!” he said. “The police had another standoff.”

Apricot opened her fridge. Plastic still covered a few leftovers and pre-made dishes. Meals for her father, as he often got home late from work. Eventually, they accumulated like a museum of the past week’s dinners. After grabbing half a carton of milk, she took a swig from the cardboard fold out and snatched some eggs and butter. “You know you could be a good boy for once and help your big sis, Jazz.”

The boy laughed. “Get yourself up.” His eyes never averted from the screen. “Wow, there’s blood all over.” His mouth dropped open.

Apricot lifts her head from the fridge, looking up at the image of bodies and limbs and pools of crimson spread like modern art over the wide pavement. “Jasper Signa!” she shouts. “You know you’re not supposed to watch this stuff!”

“It’s the news, and Mom won’t be home anyway, so don’t lecture me.” said Jasper.

“But Dad is home.” The color vanished from Jasper’s face as he swung in his chair to see his father standing behind him. Jasper felt his father’s hand on his back. “What is this?” he asked in a voice of concern. Apricot felt satisfied, knowing that their father caught him acting like a jerk. By pushing with her foot, she shut the fridge door.

Jasper mumbled, “The news.” Before returning to his lively speech. “A bunch of people were attacked by robbers. The SDP had to be called.” Jasper chirped. “Sachiban model 4s, Dad.”

“Hmm, I see. I guess your sister is right. If your mother finds out you watched this, she would be furious. It’s best if you turn it off,” their father told a disappointed Jasper.

Despite his pouting, Jasper flipped off the television with the TV’s remote control. “Missy, you are late for school,” Apricot’s father continued. “Do you think you can make breakfast, considering you’re already delayed?”

Her fingers were about to break the egg in her hand as she froze. A hollow moan came from the pit of Apricot’s empty stomach. “I guess you’re right.” She moaned.

Apricot ran along the thoroughfare, worried about her lateness. She thought to herself as she weaved her way through the crowd that it was unusually busy. It appalled her to discover a barricade blocking all movement as the source of the commotion. “Not today!” Apricot shouted as she raced up to the fence. “Ah, come on!” As her hands found themselves on the rail, she shouted, “There has got to be another way through.”

“Eh, girl, turn around,” shouted a uniformed man. Cleanup crews bagged gory remains on the other side. Despite the slimy conditions, they did not seem to slow down.

Apricot thought, “This must be where the attack took place.”

“Didn’t you hear me?” The man shouted again. “Go around!” Redirecting her from where she came.

A sigh escaped her lips as she turned to face the morning street as if going against a stream. Apricot slipped through the unyielding people but made little headway. She knew of another rail line that wasn’t on her usual route. Despite being a few blocks away, the rail did not stop at the university, but it was close enough.

The station was in sight after a quick jog, but her heart dropped when she saw the line had boarded passengers and the room was getting limited. Apricot sprinted through the crowded street, bumping into people with sailing apologies. Before the doors closed, a young man held the doors open with one arm and reached out with the other.

With the cart’s speed increasing, Apricot ran faster. Her hand reached out for the man’s open palm. As he lunged forward, he gripped the door of the train. The young man lifted Apricot onto the threshold of the train’s closing door. Behind her, the doors shut with a hiss. “Hey there, almost missed your train.” He chuckled.

Apricot blushed. “Thanks to you, I didn’t.” His smirk was a little exaggerated. Then she noticed him looking her over. Her bust was the first thing he ogled before swinging back to her eyes. Her first thought was, “Oh great, he’s a pervert.”

He asked. “Got caught up with the detour, huh?”

Nodding, she said. “Mm-hm, so, did you?”

“Nah, but quite a few people complained about it.” While leaning against the support pole, he gripped the headrail. “It’s crowded in here this morning. It’s usually empty, that’s why I like it so much. With all these people, I feel uneasy.”

Apricot thought to herself, “That’s pretty rich coming from a pervert.” She shook her head. “Yeah, I’ve been there.” Apricot bit her tongue, not wanting to say more.

“What’s worse, I heard that Ginzu’s entire system had to be shut down for repairs. The cause: lightning during a robbery. What a load of shit. Have you ever seen a freak lightning storm endanger a rail system?” Apricot shrugged. “I haven’t either.” A sort of silence follows for a moment. Her mood had changed after being ogled; she was not ready to start a conversation after being paused. Huh, uncomfortable, sure, he knows all about it. Wrote the damn book on it. His shoulders slumped, and a sigh rolled from his lips. “So, what brought you out this morning?”

“Ah, I’m going to college. I study journalism.” Apricot had always been happy with the career she had chosen. The government and the media share a high level of trust that allows for a controlled relationship between the two. Passing the state journalist exam is difficult, especially for someone like Apricot, who is a foreigner.

Smirking, the guy said. “You’re a journalist, are you?” His posture softens. “You got a camera?” The question struck Apricot as odd. Her eyebrows squished together uncontrollably. “I figured a journalist would be interested in photography.” He replied. “I have this camera I’m trying to sell. Maybe you’d be interested in it.”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m not looking to try photography.” It was a lie, but she assumed the camera was stolen or broken.

Two arms were raised behind the young man’s head. “I ride the train almost every morning, so if you ever change your mind, come see me. Just letting you know my name is Cortez.” At first, Apricot thought he was attempting to flirt with her, but then Cortez waved. “Well, see you around OK.” Amid the mass of timbered bodies, he blended in unexpectedly.

Splashes of sweat streak Apricot’s rosy cheeks. During the jog to the university’s entrance courtyard, she sweated through her clothes. A large monitor screen displayed a government broadcast with the time-boxed in the upper right-hand corner: “10:04 AM”. This left Apricot feeling anxious. She hurried through the sparsely populated halls. The twists and turns made them seem like mazes to her. It was as if the designers had made the entire building as confusing and frustrating as possible. To intentionally cause hardship for students, let alone visitors. As if inside the vaults of each room are treasures hidden and there would-be robbers who would find themselves lost among the many turns, unable to escape.

“The detour. They will keep the door open.” Apricot thought to herself; a noble effort, but one that failed miserably to ease any tension. Ms. Akagi, her instructor, had already drawn the off-white paper shade in 1403B when she saw the door. The hand hovered just above the knob. Her lungs filled with a deep breath as she silently prayed to the almighty for divine luck. When she tried to twist the handle, she was met with resistance from metal fasteners that had locked. The doorknob jiggled with little give as she grunted again, hoping to will it to open.

As Apricot stepped back from the door, she lowered her head and placed both hands on the side of her cheeks. There was a tightness rising from her face, flowing down to her toes. Her breath was long and steady before she let it out with a sigh. “Late again.”

On a weekday, Blue Ash is like any other bustling city, a shadow of its real population. On a narrow lane, Apricot passed through people wearing a variety of fashions. The air was filled with the smell of barbecue over a charcoal grill. On the sidewalks were vendors who sold food from their carts. Shops lined the road offering a variety of items, from trinkets to clothing to consumer goods. Apricot had always seen this avenue as more of a hall of commerce.

One shop that caught Apricot’s eye was a boutique window selling the latest style spread across mechanical dolls. She admired the doll’s striking poses. Their realism seemed unreal. Almost, it is that small gap between the two that unsettled her. There was something in the eyes. They seemed to be alive, yet dead at the same time.

The sounds of programmed synths diverted her attention to an arcade. “I have little else to do.” She thought. After being enticed by the blinking neon lights, she enters the somewhat dingy “Game Palace”. A piped perfume filled the air inside. Apricot assumed it was an attempt to cover the humid heat generated by a mix of body sweat and cigarette smoke. A myriad of flashing arcade cabinets line the walls, each with an assortment of tunes that blend to make that classic sound. Apricot associated its pleasant ring with a good time despite the cacophony.

The flavor of one game was what she was looking for. A side-scrolling hack and slash game by Capnom called Queen Of Dragons. It’s a game Apricot did pretty well at. During her last visit, she had reached stage three on a single coin. Today, she was determined to go further.

A slight flicker appeared on the screens as the machines dimmed. “Crap, the power is going out again. Seriously.” A specter of breath appears in the open air from her mouth. In the frigid air, her skin tingled as if she had stepped into a deep freeze. The cold fades as quickly as it appeared, but not before causing all the systems to reset. It evoked her boredom as each began their boot sequences, causing her to whine. The appeal of battling pixilated monsters had passed.

After wandering the vitrines for a while, she came to an unfamiliar side street. Shops around here are relics from another era; dusty old places that were long forgotten. She walked past a hardware store, electronics boutique, a shady-looking pawnshop, second-hand shops, and a small market at Wiseman’s; a chain she had never heard of before.

There was a different type of populace walking the streets here. If the ones before were people without a care, these made her consider she may be in danger. In response to several unwelcome glances from men, Apricot decides it is better to head back onto more populated streets. A group of four guys kicking another man in the ribs welcomed her as she turned the corner. As each strike knocked his body from side to side, he barked out. Her wide eyes filled with horror as she shouted, “Stop! Stop!” When the guys turned to see her, she realized it had been a silly reflex.

She had now attracted the attention of four very hard-looking men. It was the tallest one who delivered the last kick. “Yeah, let’s get out of here. Make sure you have the rest of it, punk.” The men all walk towards Apricot, saying, “If not, get the hell out of town.” Apricot felt her throat tighten. The four walked by her without even a glance.

Her head turned downwards as she gazed at the man on the ground. As he spat blood, her eyes widened. It stunned Apricot to recognize him. That’s the man she met on the train. “Are you alright? Do I need to call the cops?” she said.

The man groaned as he stood to his feet. “Don’t do something stupid like that. Stay out of it. It has nothing to do with you, reporter.” He limped out of the back alley without looking at her. Despite her desire to go with him and make sure he was okay, Apricot knew it was not a good idea for her to do so. Being involved with people like that can leave you hurt, if not worse. Unlike most, Apricot valued what was unseen. Despite her desire to become a journalist, she had a pseudo-respect that some things should be left unsaid.

As Apricot was walking, she soon spotted a familiar sign: “Utopian Theaters.” It was now obvious where she was. Across the street was a small cafe called Hot Shots with an aromatic smell of brewed espresso. Upon entering, the aroma greeted Apricot. They embellished a pleasant chocolate wood décor with soft pastel green and red hues. There is some privacy with light music, but not so much that it drowns out your thoughts. She could not help but salivate as she walked up to the counter and inhaled the smell of fresh baked goods. “Hey girl, I thought you had school.” Apricot looked up at a bright blue gaze from Bonni Willox, one of her best friends from high school.

“Bonni!” Apricot chirped, reaching over the countertop to give a warm hug. “I did not know you worked here?”

“Yeah, I needed a part-time job. It turns out you can’t be a movie star without one.” She laughed. “So, why are you here?”

“I was late for class. Stupid detour halted my train,” Apricot grumbled.

Bonnie leaned forward and whispered, “I’ve got a story for you. I overheard the police talking about that. It upset the Okabe officials about not capturing the robber alive. Rather than calling them a robber, they called them a witch. I found that odd, given what had happened. A freak lightning storm is out of place, no? They killed how many people?”

Apricot smirked. “How’s that a story?” she asked. “That sounds more like a novel.”

“Heh, normally I agree with you, but the way they were talking about it did not sound like the usual upset about killing her, but… like they wanted her. They kept saying they had a deadline to bag them.” Bonni drummed her fingers against the polished wood of the counter. “I will tell you more about it later, but right now, is there anything I can get you?”

Apricot nods her head while placing a finger on her cheek. “How about a Vanilla latte with a dash of half-and-half.”

The next chapter is waiting for you, why not read it? Just click the button below to go to the next chapter.

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Prologue

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.


The Crisis

Crowds of people walk through the downtown slums. Throughout the city, ripped posters from long ago adorned the walls. They are now nothing more than meaningless echoes in someone else’s mind; memories of a different time. Men and women are working in offices flanked by large windows, while festive decorations embellished the city and well-dressed customers emerged from carousel doors. Their clicking feet vanished as silence extended to the depth of the snowy streets.

In a shadowy control chamber over a mile underneath a shopping center, a young black-haired girl is sat. As a hand tapped her shoulder, she felt a chill run down her spine. At that moment, she glanced over at the young lady sitting next to her. “Come on, Chino,” she whispered. “We can do it.”

Taking a glance at the console in front of her, she gave a slight nod and half-smiled, but it quickly faded. The fingers instinctively slid across the keyboard. An overhead video wall illuminated the darkened room, and she glanced up periodically. Several objectives are listed under the heading “Mirror Crossing Operations.” Besides interacting with Falcon-One, Chino’s objectives included maintaining power levels. She cleared her throat and adjusted the microphone’s neck. “Alright, it looks like we have everything set up on our end. Let’s get started with the Mantra-Tech systems check, Falcon One.” Chino said.

“Rodger, I have light. The ION engine appears to be functioning properly. Ready and waiting for instructions. Over,” a male voice replied over the intercom amidst a hint of static.

The young woman who sat next to Chino responded: “Begin with the core inspection Falcon-One.” As Chino pulled her uniform from her neck, she left a small sigh of relief at the loss of the growing pressure on her throat. Within a few seconds, Chino’s monitor levels changed from green to orange to red. Her fingers worked rapidly, gathering information about the municipal electric grid.

Billboards lined every street. They emitted a dull fluttering light while cars snake their way through the gridlock. They dimmed marginally when Chino flicked a switch, then buzzed once again. Midway through a busy street, a group of school children watched in awe as the streetlights suddenly go out. Chino watched the levels disappear while a lump formed in her throat. She whispered to herself. “Damn it, not today! I won’t let you die on me.” Chino said as she turned on switches rapidly until the lights sparked back to life and gradually rose to a stable position.

A heavy crackle of interference rolled over the radio. “Core One, stable. Core Two, stable. Oh, Core Three, stable. Core Four, stable.” said the technician.

A loud voice boomed with authority. “Get that line clear.” the commanding officer ordered. Chino slumped into her chair as she worked. An elegant hand closed around her fingers.

Chino turned her fearful gaze to the welcoming eyes of her co-worker. “It will be all right. We got this.” Her whisper offered Chino a comfort she had not expected.

“Click,” the technician sounded. “My cable had come loose.” Chino heard the thumping of her heartbeat during the pause that followed. The technician continued, “Core 6, stable. Everything appears to be working properly. On my end, all is well. The levels are being broadcast now.” A broken streetlight flickered back to life as the clap of thunder echoed, promising rain.

“Falcon-One, everything looks fine on our end. Start the particle engine check.” Chino instructed. At last, the roving camera displayed an image on the wall. The technician dressed in an astronaut suit is working on a satellite. Blue orbs flew through the unnatural darkness like fireflies lighting up a warm summer night. While watching the spectacle through the screen’s muddled image, Chino cannot help but admire the colors. As the wisp ran in front of the optics, the camera adjusted its lenses to focus.

The technician grunted, “Let me see here.” Over the radio, a plastic board snapped. Chino looked at her co-workers wearing white, gray suits managing various switchboards inside the control room. They are all surrounded by colored holograms. As seen from her angle, their images were nothing more than bright lines of color. They changed and twisted as her own did while sifting through the compiled data. “Engines one and two are ok. Ah…. Let me see engine three, is OK.”

Through the darkness, the technician drifted along the satellite’s channel attached to a meager tether. The light from the wisps painted his spacesuit’s white nylon tricot a dull blue. With only the satellite as a guide, he waded through the dark void, climbing metal rungs and climbing snowy plastic as he changed his sense of direction. His excellence in his trade was clear to Chino as he flew around the machine.

When Chino had ensured that the energy levels were stable, she began her last check. After opening a few screens, Chino breathed deeply. “Headquarters has cleared you to engage the Mantra Drive Falcon-One.” The technician glided to the edge of the satellite, using his thrusters. His feet were hanging over the panels. He reached for another tether from his side and connected it to a rung on the ladder, gathering his footing. After that, he grasped the bar of a round switch. By turning the white cylinder with the metallic chime, he waited for the satellite rods to glow red one by one.

A man stood up and pointed to his screen as Chino shouted, “Object spotted, Commander, east of the gate.” On the wall panel, a picture of the object appeared. A moment later, her heart fluttered. She thought to herself, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Instantly, the computer recognized the object and locked onto it. “Falcon-One, there is something far off in the distance on your three. Could you provide a visual?“

The technician saw a twinkle in the distance. His HUD displayed a green box around the object. Inside, numbers are counting down. “Roger, I copied a visual. It’s approaching rapidly.”

“Falcon-one, can you tell me what your reading is on this?” The commander’s voice was firm, but Chino felt worried in it as well. There’s a loud, haunting crash as pieces of plastic and metal fall onto the floor. The light turns the satellite into nothing. The man lost his suit instantly. His flesh flew abroad, and his bones dissolved in the light.

During the commotion, the video feed flashed off. Everything inside the building trembled like an earthquake had struck. The commander yelled in concern, “Falcon-One, do you copy? Do you copy Falcon-One? There is no signal, Falcon-One. What is the situation out there, Falcon-One?”

30 Years Later

“Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the explosion that destroyed Blue Ash city. At least the disaster, which reduced everything in its wake to rubble in an instant, killed two point three million people. Smoke from the explosion obscured the sun for three days. This was one of the most devastating disasters in modern history. A brand new city has risen in its wake. New Ash City has been called a technological wonder of the world. We remember…” in a flash, the news anchor disappeared into the black of a television screen.

“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before,” said a young girl looking over a suburban township.

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