John touched his CX-7 down a few blocks from the Airyard. There were no charge stations, no signs of parking, legal or not. Landing near the side of a “grassy” patch, the CX-7 chugged and spurted, pressing into the ground with the aid of a lander. The hull creaked as it came to rest; these cars were not meant to park without a space. A warning in the dash flashed. It indicated there had been a crash, a sign that his sensors were at least still working.
“I’ve only ever passed through District 2, sometimes…” Elle said, “It never looked that bad from above.” She gazed up at District 2’s thrall of industry. Large factories, the Coolage power plant supplying energy to all of Yorktown included, towered over them. There were no residences as far as John knew. Maybe someone who stayed in one of the major warehouses and a spattering of homeless people who wandered into the District. The mechanical jungle was at its densest here, and John questioned his own organic life.
“A few cases have led me this way,” John explained, turning up the collar of his coat as the rain beat down on them. Elle’s ears twitched in an attempt to dry them.
“Ugh… I’m going to be soaked…”
“You’re the one who wanted to go tonight,” John reminded, “Come on. Quicker we finish, quicker we can get dry.” He reached back into his CX-7, pulling open the glove compartment. There, his pistol rested since the incident in the District 4 bar. John fetched it as “assurance.”
“Don’t suppose you got anything for me?”
“Do you know how to shoot?” Elle offered no response to his question. “Then you won’t be much help if I did. Hopefully, it's our insurance policy.”
Elle groaned but knew she couldn’t protest. After all, she convinced John to come out this way, and they hadn’t prepared anything. The ongoing rain had already drenched her clothes, and the uncomfortably dampness against her skin already began to annoy her. She followed John without another complaint. As he said, they could be quick and leave.
A large, multilayered fence surrounded the whole of the Coolage Airyard. The chainlinks were small and narrow, making climbing difficult if you didn’t have the right equipment. John tested the holes; he could barely fit his sausage fingers through them. Elle’s hands were small though. The barb wiring at the top was concerning, but tossing his coat over them would take care of it. Assuming climbing was the only option. John scoured the perimeter for a possible hole or spot where the fence was pulled up from the ground. Nothing… but he did find a “door” in the fence. It was electronically locked from the other side and would probably need a push of a button to open. Most likely, it served as a side personale entrance when compared to the large gate that led out to the main road. Coolage actually put care and money into this Airyard, even with small oversights in its creation.
Worse… multiple searchlights illuminated the area inside and around the perimeter of the fence. Flashlights on the ground cut through the rain with sun bright efficiency. Coolage not only maintained their Airyard; they guarded it too.
John bit down on his finger. “Amazing this Revival can operate like this…” He asked Elle to try her fingers in the fence; they fit without issue. “Perfect. Elle, you need to climb up and open this door.”
“Like climb the fence?”
“No, climb the building across the street and jump in. Yes, the fence.” he took his jacket off and passed it to her. “Throw that over the barbed wire. It should keep you safe.”
“And unlock the door I’m assuming?”
“You’re catching on.”
Elle stepped up to the fence and tested her fingers in the holes again. They still fit, but it didn’t make her any more confident. She had never climbed anything like this before, and as she tested her shoes against it, the rain made it difficult to keep solid traction.
“Uh… ok… I’ll try,” she choked out, linking her fingers through the small holes and starting upward. She lifted off the ground, straining against the rain. Then, she stopped, but it had nothing to do with the weather.
She looked over her shoulder at John; she was just above eye level. “Don’t look up.”
“Cause I’m in a skirt.”
John’s blank stare fueled his thoughts on the matter. “Elle, given everything that’s going on and the fact it's raining, do you seriously think I give a damn about that right now…?”
“Well… I do…” she muttered and started climbing up, “I’m not the one who took Seritil the other night when I was over.”
“How did you know I took Seritil…?”
Elle glanced down. “You just told me. After you passed out, I went to the bathroom and found your Injector. It was listed with the recent injections.” She was almost at the top now, struggling to keep her balance as her shoes slipped against the damp chain. With John’s coat in hand, she draped it over the barbed wire and tested it. With too much pressure, she could still slice herself up, so she’d have to be careful.
John held his breath in as she made it to this point. Elle pulled herself as high as she could go, contorting her body over the covered barbwire, careful to only lightly brush the coat. As she bent forward, John immediately averted his gaze, which Elle caught from the corner of her eye. She sighed and muttered “Clearly not on it now…”
Elle swung her legs over the fence and cleared the barbed wire. Now facing John, she could see that he was still fixated on the ground, occasionally peeking up. When he saw she was over, he asked, “You ok?”
“Yup. Not a scratch.” Elle climbed down and bit before hopping off and landing in the mud. A splash kicked up, covering her legs and the fence. “Ugh… gross…”
“Told you to dress appropriately.”
“I didn’t expect to be climbing fences today,” Elle grumbled.
“Right… Well, we’re here now. At your request,” John reminded. He quickly provided instructions for the door, and with them, Elle was able to open it with ease. Now inside, John added, “Also, you shouldn’t have gone through my stuff.”
“I only did it because you were going to drop me from the case,” Elle shot, “I figured you took something that was messing with your head. So I looked… John, you didn’t let me tag along because you’re, you know, attracted to me…?”
With little time to spare, John led Elle further into the heart of the Airyward. He said in an almost silent whisper, drowned out heavily by the onslaught of rain, “Elle, that’s not… you’re almost 10 years my-” He stopped as a flashlight blasted the area just in front of them. He tossed Elle behind a shipping container before hiding himself. “We can talk about this later… It isn’t safe.”
Elle bit her lip in frustration but agreed. The Airyard was a mess of shipping containers scattered along three large runways. Three hangars sat along each runway; with their doors open, John could see a host of aircraft waiting for their next flight. A centralized building boasted two stories, but was ultimately smaller than it should be, constructed in an era before this sort of air transportation was normal. Whatever they sought out could be anywhere, and with as heavily guarded as the place was, Elle knew this could end with her back behind bars.
With Elle close behind, John kept low and scooted along the airfield, checking containers as they went by. The rain, which had been an annoyance moments ago, served to mask them. It cut through the flashlights, leaving the beams scattered and short. Still, Elle couldn’t wait to change out of her wet clothes.
All the containers that John checked bore the Coolage Group name, no surprise. Still, Coolage outsourced a lot of work, so John figured most of these came from outside the company’s grasp. The hangars came next, and out of the rain, John was thankful until he saw how guarded they were. Without the rain and yellow lights hanging overhead, they could do little here without getting caught. Luckily, he didn’t see many containers.
“Do you know what we’re looking for?” he asked Elle when they stepped back into the rain. It really only left central control, and John knew that would be the worst of it all.
“No… Just that the police suspected this place…” Elle replied, “No. They all but confirmed it.”
John didn’t have time to think. As Elle finished her statement, a side door on the hangar flung open. In the rain, he hadn't seen it, leaving them vulnerable. One of the security guards, a Neko, stepped out. Even with the rain, his ears picked up on Elle’s words; he turned to them as the realization and shock took over.
“Hey there” were the only words he could get out. John shoved Elle out of the way and charged forward. The security guard pulled up his rifle, but John crashed into him, sending them both sprawling back.
The rifle discharged. John swore under his breath as he pounded his victim twice in the face, leaving him out cold. The rifle shot served as the damn dinner bell. The flashlights, the searchlights, hell, what felt like every light in Yorktown, turned into a wild ball of energy, targeting in on their location. The pitter pattering of footsteps from inside the hangar signaled they wouldn’t be “alone” for long.
“We need to bounce, Elle,” John ordered, wiping mud from his face. Elle was at the body of the security guard. She pulled open his shirt and lifted his sleeves. John asked her what she was doing, but it became evident.
“Right here!” she pointed to a tattoo on his side. The symbol… Right there…
“These are Coolage people though…”
Elle shrieked, pulling John from his confusion. She had flopped to her back as the barrel of a rifle pointed down at her. Another security guard, again a Neko, stepped out from the hangar door. John reacted as fast as he could, drawing his handgun and letting off a shot. The bullet, aimed for the leg, hit its target. The security guard screamed as he dropped to the floor; his rifle flew from his hands.
Ducking low, John grabbed onto Elle and pulled her away before a mass of bullets rained down on the spot she was just at. With weaponry that was far more power than any security guard had the right to use. It went against some of the gun laws in place. The discharge of a weapon, out in the open too, would be picked up by police sensors. They would be here any minute.
“Can you walk?” John asked as he dragged himself and Elle to her feet. She nodded, just slightly shaken. “Good, I need you to run then.” He pointed to the maze of shipping containers. “That’ll provide our best cover.” He gave her a head start “push” before sending off a few warning shots at three more security guards that came bolting out from the hangar. They ducked down despite each one going wide as John aimed.
In the collection of containers, Elle fought to catch her breath. She was by no means out of shape, but this was something else. John discharged more shots into the night, reloading with the speed of professional marksmen. She saw that was the only extra clip he had.
Gritting his teeth, John cursed again and said, “Where the fuck are the cops?”
“Would they know?”
“There are supposed to be long range sensors to pick up on this shit. Gunfire and disturbances. There should be at least ten cop cars here right now.” Instead, there was nothing but the rain, and the return fire from their “friends”. John growled, “Damn it Richard… Please tell me you’re not involved in this too?”
“What do we do?” Elle asked. She screamed as the shipping container erupted with a crack of metal on metal; bullets riddled the side.
John had no idea… He looked around; their assailants stepped closer by the second. With this level of force, it was to kill and take no prisoners. He only had one idea: a stupid iea. An idea that would get them killed if even one thing went wrong. John pointed to central control. “We go in there.”
“Won’t it be guarded too?”
“We pray it isn’t as bad. Call the police from there. Hunker down and then pray they get to us before these bullets do.”
Elle nodded despite being fully aware that she didn’t quite grasp the situation. The bullets had stopped, but with the security guards barking an approach strategy at each other, bidding the two of them to reveal themselves, she knew it would be seconds before they were face to face. John didn’t ask her feelings about it. It was do or die. He counted down from three, and as Elle went to ask what that meant, he shouted “RUN”.
Without a second thought, Elle bolted from the shipping crates. The rain obscured her, and as shots rang out, they missed their mark. John followed next, unleashing his full clip. It forced their assailants to back off, even nicking one when they grunted in pain.
Elle arrived at the central building first, throwing the door open. She came face to face with a large individual, a human this time, bearing striking blue eyes and slightly crooked chin. She screamed and punched him square in the nose. The man lurched back but remained on his feet. After the initial shock of it, he grinned and reached out for her. Elle ducked below his arms, and seeing an opening, she jammed her knee right into his crotch. A large pop filled the hall; the man screamed louder than any of the previous ones and hit the floor like a ton of bricks.
John charged in behind her, slamming the door, and then seeing the body. “What did you do to him?”
Blank faced, Elle simply replied, “I kneed him in the dick.”
Inside the lit hall of the central building, John pushed forward with Elle close behind. The narrow halls and corridors reminded John of photos from old naval ships, and as they scoured through the place, it made any unfortunate encounter far scarier. With no ammo left, John took to Elle’s response: kicking them in the dick. It was mostly effective in the close quarters.
At the heart of the building, John slammed the door behind Elle, just as a mob was nearing them. Elle pushed a metal shelf filled with instruction manuals and shipping information, blocking the door temporarily. The books and papers scattered out just as the banging against the door started. Elle backed away.
“John, I don’t think it’s going to hold long!”
He was already aware of that. John looked around for anything. They were in some sort of central terminal, a place to instruct and control the air traffic. A host of buttons and controls were sprawled out over a terminal. A radar of some sort showed nothing in the air for the night. It was a given considering the weather.
John cried out in frustration. “Seriously, there’s no fucking phone.”
“John!” Elle called as their only barricade shifted and jolted. The door wedged open; the barrel of a rifle fought to push it further. It would take only a bit more force to blast the door open.
Elle didn’t need to say it twice. John could hear the creaking of the door as the beat into the frame. With no phone to contact the police, this control room was a literal death trap. Another door on the opposite side of their poor barricade was jammed shut, looking as if it was locked from the opposite side. Without the key, John began to kick the door, hoping the lock would snap, and the banging of his shoe echoed the cracking of the door behind them. Elle backed as far away as she could.
Then, the door in front of him unlocked. He tested the handle and sure enough, he could push it down. The door unlatched and immediately was pulled from him. A man, in a gray uniform and hat marked with the Coolage Group logo, stood in their way. Even with an empty clip, John aimed his pistol at the man’s head.
They tossed their hands up. “Whoa! Hey! Don’t shoot.”
“Who are you?” John posed, glancing back as their assailants pried open their barricade even further. “Doesn’t fucking matter right now. Elle, come on!” John stepped forward and forced their savior back. With him and Elle through the door, John slammed and locked it. That would keep their pursuers away for a bit longer.
“You can put the gun down, buddy…”
“I’ll decide when I do that,” John replied, “Now, who are you and why did you open the door?”
“I’m a maintenance worker,” the man assured, “I heard a bunch of commotion so…”
The barciade finally gave way and their pursuers began working on the immediate obstacle. “Do you know a way out?”
The man nodded. “There’s some tunnels below us.”
“Good. Take us there!” John pressed the pistol to his forehead. The maintenance worker nodded and indicated they should follow. John pulled his weapon back and followed him. Elle, not wanting to be left behind, treaded forward carefully. Something was… off. Almost like she recognized the maintenance worker. However, as the handle to the door jiggled behind them, she picked up the pace.
The maintenance worker led them down another series of halls and finally to a ladder, hidden under a steel grate. This was clearly designed as a backend escape route. The worker began down the ladder, directing them to follow. John went first and then Elle. It was not far, and John dropped down into a wet and dark chamber. The floor was clearly steel, but a musty scent filled the room.
The maintenance worker triggered a series of switches, lighting the place. Around them, large shipping containers rested, stacked by two to the ceiling. An extended tunnel, masked in darkness, led away. John could smell the ocean.
“Where the hell is this?” he asked, turning back to the maintenance worker. He saw a fist flying at him, striking John’s face. He reeled back; the handgun slipped from his fingers. Elle shrieked and ran at them. The maintenance worker pulled a gun hidden in his belt and aimed it at her. John had never seen someone stop as fast as Elle. She slipped against the wet steel and hit the ground.
As soon as John recovered, he went to strike back, only to see the barrel of the handgun now in his face. Just as the maintenance worker had done minutes ago, John raised his hands slightly. “Ok, friend… You got us, I guess.”
“You know, this was never supposed to happen this way,” the maintenance worker said, “I had hoped to go another two weeks before the police were going to bust this entire thing. They’d get a nice little ‘tip’ that would really kick that warrant into high gear.”
“You’re part of the Revival too…?” John muttered.
“You could say that.” The maintenance worker ripped off his hat. Elle gasped. Two Neko ears were perched upon his head, having been hidden just moments ago.
John asked Elle, “You know him?”
“He’s the cousin that Amber is staying with… I saw him this morning at the coffee shop…”
The maintenance worker grinned. “Good to see you again, kitty.”
“It’s Elle!” she fired back, “And don’t think I don’t remember your name, Sal!”
Having a name was one good thing. John tried to regain their captor's attention. “You’ll have to help me out here buddy… I’m having trouble figuring out why a member of your little ring would put their dear sweet cousin in harms way from a sex trafficker.”
“The Revival is more than a trafficking ring,” Sal replied, “Drugs. Human on Neko violence. The assured discrimination against our people. That’s my business.” John’s confusion was almost frustrating to Sal. In Elle, however, he couldn’t be happier to see her expression, filled with naivety, class, and an upbringing that some would kill for. He said to her, “You look disappointed, kitty. You’re a Neko. Ever been walking down the street and ogled at, fetishized because of what you are? Ever been refused service somewhere in this hellhole cause of those ears on your head? Ever had a bad run in with some cops just cause you’re a Neko?”
That one struck Elle; Sal could smell it on her. “Ah… I hit a bullseye I see.” He smirked. “What was your name again? Elle? Yes, that was it. Elle, what was that all like for you?”
John tried to pull him back. “Hey, she isn’t involved in this. Focus on me, buddy. You never answered my question. Seems pretty monstrous if you ask me.”
“Someone needs to be,” Sal said, “Yorktown’s ready to blow. It has been for a few years now. Nekos are growing furious at their treatment, their relegation to the Undercity, their life of poverty. The signs are already showing. We’re shepherding it.”
“By threatening your cousin?”
“By many things…” Sal shot, “Amber was always safe! If you think I’d ever let that disgusting freak near her, you’d be wrong! I’d skin him alive if he ever tried to touch her, and I was more than willing to let Sean Addler end up one of many sacrifices for the greater good. All the better that he's human.”
“Keeping her safe by putting her in harm’s way. Seems legit…”
Sal shook his head. “By giving her and every other Neko the means to fight back. The drive to stand up. No more complacency, believing the politicians that things would get better. They haven’t. They never intended to. We’re going to give them a reason to stand up. Even Amber agrees with me!”
Elle yelled, “I don’t believe you…”
“Really?” Sal sounded shocked, “After everything she went through, you really think she wouldn’t support this? She was stalked by a mad human.” He circled around to the back of John, ordering him to stay put. “Here’s the thing, Elle. Sex trafficking, the ensueing violence, the crushing discrimnation. That’s the point. That’s what gets them ‘fed up’ with the system. That creates the breaking point. Sure, there may be a few martyrs along the way. Change is always full of them. Amber was always safe.”
John glanced over his shoulder, seeing Sal pulling towards the ladder. Did he mean to escape? “How is the Revival helping?”
Sal replied, “This ring gets broken up, the recent shootings are seen as a way to fight back, and finally, what we have been waiting for so long for, the big one.”
“And that is…?”
“An incident that will force every Neko’s hand.” Sal replied, “You're serving your part perfectly, Mr. Detective and his little assistant.” Sal grabbed onto the first rung of the ladder. “Do you like this Elle? Does it remind you of some little detective novel? You caught me. You have everything you need. So please, go to the police. Let them know what you saw here. Let them know my name, the way I look, the things I said. Blame it on Nekos. It’s all I truly want.”
John spun to face Sal. He started up the ladder. “Are you letting us go?”
“I’m letting you continue to be my messengers,” Sal said, “Nothing can move forward without good, honest messengers. I appreciate your service, Mr. Darcy. Though honestly, I can’t really let you off that easy.”
John flew back as the force of the bullet knocked him from his feet. Elle screamed, seeing as blood leaked from the fresh bullet wound in John’s arm. He let out a long groan; the bullet had luckily passed through. John gritted his teeth. This had been the third time he’d been shot, and it didn’t get any easier.
In the commotion, Sal climbed his way back up the ladder. He peered down the hole, seeing Elle tending to John. “If you ever want to make a real difference, Elle, the Revival is always looking for good Nekos. If not, just look at the moon in three days. You’ll see the sun soon enough.” Sal slammed the opening closed.
“Guy’s a real piece of work…” John muttered, sitting up while clutching the open wound on his arm. It was difficult, given the bullet passed through. He was losing blood. With nothing on her to patch the wound, Elle grabbed the hem of her skirt, bit down on it with fanged teeth, and tore it into a long strip. With a long enough piece, she tied it around John’s arm until his fingers twitched as the blood flow was cut off.
John gritted through it. “Thanks…”
“I hope that will help…” she said, sitting back, “What do we do now…?”
She helped John to his feet. He said, “I have no idea… Get me to the doctor… Get a hold of Captain Richards…”
John stepped forward to the mass shipping containers. Without any attempt to hide them, they were marked a small version of the Revival’s symbol. It was meant to be seen, meant to be found. John grasped onto the makeshift bandage covering his wound. Each container still had their control arms attached, meaning someone intended to open them soon.
“Elle, do me a favor,” John said, “Give that arm a pull. Let’s see what’s here…”
“What about your arm?”
“Ain’t gonna change a thing… Please…”
Elle bit down on her lip but did not argue any further. She Grabbed onto the control arm and gave it a pull. The hydraulics of the container activated; the end of the container unlatched. John reached up and pulled down the latches. He pushed the door open.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ…” he said, stepping back in the horror of it all.
Huddled inside the large container, surrounded by small, makeshift beds and garbage, two Nekos huddled together in fear. They couldn’t be any older than ten.
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