XV

Simultaneous shots rang out from the gunmetal forged in The Mole and Naomi’s hands as they stepped out of the floating car. The two Sentinels dropped where they stood at the front of The Millionth Street Tower.

Crowds of people fled the sidewalks as the echo bounced off the walls of the city. Dempsey took his vehicle and zoomed off to the substreets in waiting.

An emptiness fell over the Cloud City like the dense fog that graced The Byways with its presence countless times. The Tower stood like a Sequoia among a dense forest of dwarfed buildings.

As the group entered the lobby, they were met with a wall of gunfire from posted guards. Blood seeped out of wounds dealt to Jonas and one of the volunteers, but all went quiet. Springs from Naomi’s weapon expelling its magazine sighed throughout the echo chamber of that marble construction. The Mole’s magazine was next. 

Naomi peered around a concrete pillar, her gun trying to buck her off like a wild mule. Two Sentinels go down. She regained cover and saw the devastation of her group. Two physically wounded, but all were mortified. The Mole took the violence in stride and kept firing at the remaining two guards until they too were devastated.

Bliss cowered behind a pillar like nothing more than cannon fodder. Martha pressed against Jonas’ wound as he held in the pain from escaping his lips. 

Naomi moved to the exterior elevator doors but they were locked from the other side. The Mole checked the stairwell doors only to find the same result.

“We’re stuck down here!” Naomi said.

“I can try to lock pick it.” The Mole held up a small screwdriver.

“Hurry up! We might already be too la…” 

Just as the word grazed her lips, the lobby televisions turned on. Like a breaking news story interrupting your regularly scheduled viewing, it showed the live video of Isaac and The Crest. Locked down in the lobby, they were forced to watch the situation on the wall mounted screens. 

The Mole didn’t know whether to fully focus on the lock or the TV, but he continued lockpicking, often pausing to see what was happening on screen.

The display showed Isaac down on his knees with the devilish man casting a shade down on him.

“God, what is he doing?!” Naomi couldn’t peel her eyes away from the LCD.

“He’s doing…” The Mole paused while finicking with the lock. “…what everyone else was too scared to do. What we were too scared to do for so long until he came around.”

“It’s people like this…right here! That want to make all of that sacrifice null…” The Crest’s voice echoed throughout the lobby as Naomi and the others clenched their teeth in fear of what was about to happen. Surely, there is no way that Isaac makes it out of this alive, Naomi thought. She was right.

The group watched in horror as Isaac stood over the poisoned leader, grasping at a glimpse of hope that seemed so unattainable. It was. 

Naomi, devoid of enough energy to even let out a scream, hung her head in the deepest sorrow that can be carried by the heart with it still functioning. Isaac fell to the floor and behind him, so did The Crest. Both laid out like chalk outlines of themselves and the group grew eerily silent.

Even in a victory larger than the defeat, they couldn’t look up and experience it.

“Get the door unlocked.” Naomi mumbled.

The Mole snapped out of his daze and continued picking the lock. There went the first pin, then the second. He listened to the mechanics of the thing as if he were admiring the bloodworks of a patient through a stethoscope. Then the third pin was set and the door opened.

“Martha, you guys stay down here. You…” She pointed at one of the volunteers. “Go get Dempsey and have the car ready.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she disappeared through the doorway. The Mole stood beside her in silence as they watched the elevator floor indicator tick down one by one from sixty.

“He just wiped out an evil from this world that will change the Districts in unforeseen ways.” The Mole said, staring at that light. 

Fifty-seven, Fifty-six. 

“People didn’t even see him as human anymore. I almost forgot that was the case. But he’s gone now.”

“And so is Isaac. Another one gone. Noah, the sibling, and now Isaac…my parents.” Tears suctioned to her eyeballs as if it were against her gene code to cry, even in this amount of sadness. “Everyone is gone now.” 

Forty-three, Forty-two.

“Now, no one else has to die. Isaac gave us that opportunity. We can finally end this.”

The ice cold room nipped at the back of Naomi’s arms. She thought back to finding that body laying out in the alleyway. She never knew that that moment would turn into this. 

Thirty, Twenty-nine.

“We can’t let the chance go to waste. The Crest is dead, but it’s not over yet.” As the light slipped down closer to floor one she was coming to the realization of what just happened. “There’s no way that we can go back to The Byways after all this. They’ll slaughter us.” 

Fifteen, Fourteen.

The Mole knew it to be true. He filed through all of the connections that he had stored away in that head of his. Every hint of a town hidden away that he may have heard in passing during his time in the Cloud City.

“There may be a place that we can go.” 

The elevator dinged and the doors opened like the pearly gates, ready to reveal a reality that they had only dreamed of.

As the cold steel box lifted them to the heights of The Millionth Street Tower, Naomi ran through possible scenarios in her head. Was this all a dream that she would wake up from when they reached the sixtieth floor? Was the seemingly live footage on the TV just some elaborate scheme to get the members of Daybreak all in a single place? What if Isaac was a mole for The Upper Echelon. She had never seen him before they found him. What if it was all a big plan to find would-be rebels before they were able to perform said rebellion?

That’s when her mind stopped running in place and she realized her silliness. The rebellion had happened. It was happening right then. Isaac was and had always been a core factor in that rebellion. She imagined some would say that the rebellion was born in this very moment, but she knew that it wasn’t. It was born in that makeshift clinic with a mute man that had woken up to realize his whole life had been stolen from him. It was born down there in The Byways, in mud and sludge. But now, that rebellion would be known all throughout the Districts and everyone would know the name Daybreak by the end of the night.

It was as if Naomi had become weighed down by the gravity of the situation before she realized that it was just the elevator’s inertia pushing on her as it came to a stop at the top floor. The doors opened and the director stood up from his chair in shock. He had been frantically pressing on the console buttons trying to open the door to the studio.

He swallowed his panic with a gulp. “You won’t be able to get in there. The doors are loc…”

The muzzle expelled fumes from its cylindrical shape as Naomi lowered it down, waist level. The smoke rose up against her hand, forming beads of gunmetal infused condensation. Like the sweat of death. She swiped it away like a dust feather.

The Mole didn’t say a word. He couldn’t be shocked by anything anymore. They were truly in it now and he realized it. They were all in.

She marched over to the studio door and peered in the little glass pane above the door handle. Isaac had barred it off good. Then she looked up, gazing at the bodies. 

First, Isaac’s. He was laid out on his side, facing away from her. She was glad that she couldn’t see his face. It left it open ended for her, maybe it wasn’t really Isaac. That’s the thought that Naomi could keep in her mind, at least.

Then she looked at The Crest. He was slumped over in some sort of contortionists yoga pose. Somehow, still kneeling, but also face first on the floor. His poisoned veins bulged inside of his skin. Naomi felt nothing at that moment.

The Mole stood over the studio console and the would-be director beneath it. He studied this deliverer of propaganda that had been firing on all cylinders the past few years. Now, it sat idle.

“You didn’t die for nothing.” She whispered, hoping that the words would reach Isaac wherever he was now. “Let’s go.” Naomi left the studio’s glass window, but the fog from her words remained.

Naomi entered the elevator, turning around to notice The Mole had stopped dead in his tracks. His face veered off to the right at a doorway.

“What is it?” She asked. The elevator dinged, Naomi reaching her hand out to stop it from closing. “Hey?”

“Naomi, you have to come here.” He waved her over, not taking his eyes off of whatever was on the other side of that door.

She walked over to him, giving him a stare before she finally followed his glare to what was so hypnotic. 

It was Noah, alive. He was in standing restraints, similar to the ones Isaac was in, but he was alive. He was asleep, but he was alive.

The gun fell from Naomi’s hand and crashed to the floor as she swung open the door and ran up to him. She held his face and knew that he was with her.

“Noah! It’s me! Naomi!” She squeezed his body and couldn’t let go.

The Mole began removing the restraints from Noah’s hands and feet, catching his body as it slumped over. Tubes ran all up and down Noah’s body, but Naomi knew that these were different.

“How is he still alive? Why would they keep him alive?!” She said it with hysterical concern.

“I think this might have something to do with it.” He handed Naomi Noah’s body and grabbed a folder from the table. “What is Omniblood? And who is Harvy Riddle?”

“I don’t know, but we need to get Noah out of here.”

“I’ll get him. You hold the elevator.”

Naomi couldn’t take her eyes off him the whole ride down to the lobby. A breath of fresh air. She had almost forgotten what it felt like to be happy and even in this happiness, she wasn’t sure if she was getting ahead of herself.

What is Omniblood? She thought. It must have been something important if they had kept him alive this long to, what? Test it? Make it? She only hoped that she would get an answer straight from Noah soon.

Who is Harvey Riddle? Surely the man that had done this to her brother, but who was he really?

Martha, Bliss, a beat up Jonas, and the two remaining volunteers waited in the lobby for Naomi and The Mole to return. 

“There’s sirens wailing all throughout the city. We have to go!” Martha said as she was waving them on. “Dempsey is right outside with the car!”

As they got closer, Martha realized just who The Mole was carrying.

“Noah?! He’s alive?!”

“Like you said, we have to go! I’ll tell you about it on the way.” Naomi said.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dempsey’s car whipped through the siren-clad skyways before dipping down into the substreets.

“We can’t go back to The Byways.” The Mole said.

“What? Why?!” Jonas said in an excruciating clench of the teeth.

“They know we came from there, Jonas. They are going to ransack the the whole village.” Naomi said.

“She’s right. It would be foolish to head back there so soon.” The Mole stared out of the window. “I know a place we can go though. There’s a place called The Plaza in the next district over. I only heard about it in passing when I worked in the city. The Upper Echelon didn’t talk fondly of it, so I’m sure we’ll be safer there.” He said it with a subdued confidence, but no one questioned him. “Dempsey, take us there.”

“You got it.”

Naomi didn’t care. Nothing else mattered to her right now. Her brother was back. She thought that she had lost everyone she had ever cared about, but he was back. Noah was back.

She watched the beads of rain merge with one another on the window. She tried to keep track of each one before they trailed off and became another puddle in the substreets. 

She didn’t know what was in store for her, but as Noah’s head slumped over onto her shoulder Naomi knew that she wouldn’t have to face it alone.

THE END

XIV

The room was soft and the walls were made of cushion. Any sound that was made was immediately stamped out by the jagged edges of foam jutting out from the walls. It occurred to Isaac that he was now probably in some sort of recording studio. The very one where The Crest made spoke to the masses. Other than himself and The Crest, the only witness was a man on the other side of a large pane of glass. The director of this production.

“Please, Isaac, tell me what the point of all of this is.” The Crest said.

“We’re tired of living in your fantasy world where the worst people get to live forever and the good die young.”

“Who’s to say that we’re the worst kind of people? That’s your opinion, is it not?”

“You enslave children from birth and you constructed The Polling. All for what? Why did you do this?” Isaac said, strapped into a standing restraint.

“I did what had to be done. One could argue that if the ones that came before me did what they had to do, then I wouldn’t have had to take such drastic measures. Nevertheless, the Earth was dying and overpopulated. Only a drastic measure would have sufficed.” 

The man towered over Isaac. Not in stature, but in confidence and attitude. Just the smell of his aftershave intimidated Isaac. To know that he was calmly shaving his face only minutes ago irked him. His black coat sucked all of the light out of the room. His white shirt only slightly contrasting the black hole surrounding it. The Crest’s tie was like a double-edged sword running down his sternum, the tip sitting just above his belt buckle.

The Crest studied Isaac’s face.

“Have I seen you before? You look awfully familiar.”

“You should know. You’re the one that plucked me from the womb.” Isaac seethed with anger.

“Wait a minute. You’re the crop? The one that got loose? You’ve caused quite a raucous around here lately.”

“How’s that Cultivator doing?” Isaac said facetiously.

“Yeah, Harvey wasn’t too happy about that. I wasn’t either, but I like to think that I’m an optimist.”

“Oh yeah? What was the silver lining on that?”

“Well, a crop had never woken up before. I’d say that’s a pretty big scientific milestone. Maybe even a milestone for humanity.”

“I’m sure you’d turn that outcome into some good, huh?” Isaac was growing impatient with the small talk. “What am I doing here, anyway?”

The Crest laughed. “You tell me. You’re the one that was so anxious to come see me. Did I foil your plans by putting you in these cuffs?” He grew more sinister in Isaac’s eyes. “Here, let me take them off.”

Isaac was baffled that he would let him out of the restraints, but he rubbed his wrists in delight. Slight trickles of blood leaving the indentions where the iron dug into his skin.

“How’s that Crop?”

As that name entered his ears, Isaac was almost forced back into silence. Like the mute had lived within him all along and Isaac was just a mask.

“I said ‘How’s that Crop?’.” He motioned to the director in the other room. “Fire ‘em up!”

It was like the man flicked the switch on a Christmas tree. Three cameras were suddenly illuminated with LEDs and Isaac now saw his reflection in what would make this demonstration live to everyone.

The Crest forced Isaac down on his knees in front of the trio of lenses that stood before them. Like a father presenting his shy and socially awkward son, The Crest stood behind Isaac. His hands gently placed on Isaac’s shoulders as if he would not let anything in the world harm him. Quite the opposite.

“Ladies and Gentleman of the Cloud City, the wretched Byways and everything in between. Let this be a day that sets history back on its plotted course. A course that was plotted by me so it’s only right that I correct the recent mishaps that have fallen over the districts.” 

He moved his hands to pet Isaac’s head. Any time Isaac tried to rise to his feet, the surprising amount of strength forced upon him so nonchalantly kept him screwed in place.

“I know how many of you enjoy my frequent words of encouragement. Unfortunately, today I only bring words of disappointment and resentment. Especially towards those that have taken any part in this so called Daybreak. I think the weather has been pretty nice, don’t you?”

He laughed with such a devious smile that only one could learn in Hell.

“This here is Isaac. Most of you probably know of him as Crop.” He knelt down and got eye level with Isaac. The cameras panned down to meet him there. “He wanted so badly to come say ‘Hello’, that he put a poor woman in danger. If this is something that you condone then shame on you.”

He stood back up, again having his hands on Isaac’s shoulders. This time gripping them firmly. 

“Shame on us?! Shame on you! I was raised in those factories! My whole life I was used for the extension of a generation so far gone that you’ve stopped advancing! Your values and your morals are so deteriorated that you are willing to destroy future generations for a couple of years tacked onto the end of your worthless lives!”

The Crest reared back and punched him in the face to shut him up. Isaac’s body slumped to the floor before being pulled up again. That exertion cracked the cool and calm facade of The Crest. His hair now unkempt and he breathed heavily. He pulled a knife out from inside his coat and put it to Isaac’s neck.

“You see. This is the kind of rage that we have been working so hard to stomp out.” His words were broken by breaths. “I know you in the Cloud City get it. You live it everyday. The struggle of making that sacrifice of planning out your family for the betterment of humanity. It’s hard, I know. But we get it done, don’t we?”

His twitching fingers gripped the knife in his right hand. His left held Isaac’s face in place.

“It’s people like this…right here! That want to make all of that sacrifice null. Your children are down there giving their lives so that we can live on and you want to take that away from us, Isaac.” 

The metal scraped Isaac’s neck with every jerk and pull creating a rash like no other.

“Look at him. Just like a crop. Silent in obedience.”

Just as the chrome blade seemed to thirst for his blood, Isaac grabbed The Crest around his legs and knocked him down to the ground. His knuckles ached as he dug them into The Crest’s face with two right crosses. Isaac found it poetic that the man’s face was marred with his own blood.

As The Crest was recovering from having his face smashed in, Isaac ran to the studio door and locked it from the inside. The director meeting him on the other side just a second too late.

Isaac grabbed the nearby Double I machine and rolled it over in front of the cameras. He gave The Crest another fist in the face for good measure and to buy him some time to set the thing up.

“You people are insane.” He said almost hysterically. “You’re complete lack of the will to do good in the world is utterly disturbing. I have first hand experience of what it is like down there in The Byways and the factories. Have any of you even stepped foot outside of this city?!” He was so excited that he half expected an answer from the cameras. “The only way you people seem to be able to learn is through trauma and tragedy.”

Isaac hooked up the machine to his arm before holding The Crest down. He straddled his body, punching him whenever he was too much to contain.

“I’m glad that you are all here and are able to witness the next tragedy. Maybe you’ll change now. I hope you’ll change.”

Isaac pierced The Crest’s arm with the other end of the tube and pulled the lever. Isaac’s own blood clashed with The Crest’s and the man began to scream profusely.

“His body is being poisoned from the inside out. It is very painful. Like an instant rush of sickness flowing through your veins. I’ve experienced it at the hand of The Cultivator and your Sentinels.”


Isaac rose from the man’s squirming body to face the cameras. The Crest continued to scream in agony. Isaac kept slack on the blood tube to ensure the needles stayed in place.

“Daybreak will continue to act until all life is given a chance to live. We’re good people pushed to extreme measures. You must understand. This was the only way to get your attention.”

Laughter and chuckles broke through The Crest’s agony. His body like those of crops laying on concrete slabs.

“This is the man you follow?” Isaac pointed at him. “A man willing to commit genocide to retain power?” He watched as The Crest struggled to gain a kneeling position. “With your help, we can make the districts a safer and better place without all of this death and bullshit!”

The Crest yanked on the blood tube, pulling it from his arm. Isaac’s blood still flowing through his veins, every movement hurt. He couldn’t blink his eyes without wincing in pain. He rose to his feet, Isaac’s words nothing more than muffled madness to his ears now.

He grabbed Isaac from behind and put the blade to his throat, slicing it open. Isaac’s hope turned to a gurgle of sludge pouring from his neck. He fell to his knees, covering the hole almost as if he didn’t want anyone to see.

The Crest fell to his knees as well, unable to stave off the poison in his veins any longer. His arteries felt like solid rods branching off within his body now. 

“Going out just like you came in…silent and still.” He spoke a shallow tone before falling face first in a mix of Isaac’s blood and his own.

Isaac remained kneeling for a moment longer. His reflection of himself gasping for life would be the last thing that he saw before slumping over into the floor of blood.

Sentinels beat on the door, trying to pry it open. The director frantically switched off push buttons and levers. The cameras faded as power left them.

XIII

“What the fuck is he doing?!” Naomi watched the TV as Isaac’s words left the speakers.

“What the fuck. My guy said he picked him up, but I didn’t think this. What the fuck are we gonna do now?” The Mole said.

“We’ve got to put a stop to this shit. I’m tired of losing everyone around me!”

Naomi stood up and walked over to the female sibling, stroking the crop’s hair.

“Pretty soon, she’ll know loss too. I don’t know if I can handle another.”

She spoke as if Isaac were already dead. Soon, though, he would be at the mercy of The Crest and she didn’t know which was better. Dead or on the receiving end of whatever wrath his hands could conjure up.

The male sibling had ran through the food bags that Jonas brought, but it wasn’t enough.

“How much longer do you think that one’s got?” The Mole said.

“Maybe a day. The food that Jonas brought was good, but now we’re worse than before.”

“What are we going to do about Isaac?”

The thoughts were almost visibly swirling around Naomi’s head as she contemplated what to do next.

“Jonas, you and Martha go out and see if there’s anyone who would be willing to help us. Everyone knows about Daybreak now. There’s got to be people who are sympathetic to our cause.”

“What do you want us to tell them?” Martha asked.

“Tell them that if they want to help, if they want to end this cycle of gore, then come here tomorrow night.”

“Here, take this. Don’t speak the words out loud.” The Mole handed them a notebook.

“Get as many as you can.” She turned to The Mole. “Can your inside guy get some people?”

“I’ll contact him.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Mole’s house was a musty and damp residence tucked away in the corner of that town. Merely a step up from a cardboard mansion, it was living proof that he had left the high society lifestyle behind.

He walked over to a dresser on the far side of the room. The bottom of his raincoat floated inches from the floor. In the right light, you might be tricked into thinking he was a magician levitating.

The Mole pulled out an old cellular phone from the drawer. An act such as this would murder any plans of freedom that an individual had. He had kept the old thing from back when he worked in the Cloud City. The screen was cracked but still responded to touch. 

It looked like nothing more than a sample of glass. Sleek with rounded corners. At the bottom was the small projection component for the interface. Anything hardware was outdated and superseded by something consumers called airware. Functional holograms that could be manipulated in real time. This meant The Mole had worked in the Cloud City long ago if he still had this hardware.

“Hey, we’re buffing up our numbers.” He talked into the glass slate phone. “Anyone up there interested in shaking things up a bit?” He fiddled with something in his coat pocket as he listened. “Yeah, we’re trying to make a move. They’ve taken too much from us, you know?”

There was a moment of silence on The Mole’s end of the line.

“No, I get it. You gotta keep a low profile.” The Mole sighed. “We’ll take any help we can get.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“This is what we’ve got.” Martha said as she opened the door to the clinic. Jonas and three others came in behind her.

“That’s it? Three?” Naomi said, second guessing whether they should go through with this. “There’s no way that’s enough. That’s eight people, including The Mole and Isaac. Assuming Isaac is still alive.”

“Nine if you count the sibling. We have to try, Naomi.” Martha approached her, only a tear or clenched hands away from begging her. “If Isaac is alive we have to take advantage of the opportunity that this whole thing has given us.”

“I know.” Naomi collected herself for a moment. The feeling of impending anxiety finally lifting. “You’re right. Thank you, Martha.” She hugged her, but it was more for her own sake than Martha’s. 

Naomi had been leading the charge ever since Noah and her found Isaac laid out on that road. She never asked for this. She always wanted to show The Upper Echelon that there were people that they couldn’t push around, but to be the leader of Daybreak and about to lead a small group into the very home of those people was another matter. But as she hugged Martha and felt the strength of her arms, she was reassured. If only a little.

“So, what was everyone’s excuse?” Naomi said, finally pulling away from the embrace.

“They were all sympathetic to our cause, but most were too scared to take any kind of action.” Martha said.

“Can’t say that I blame them. It’s possible to get comfortable even in the most uncomfortable situations.” Jonas said as he divided the room into little living areas for the three volunteers.

“Well, we’ll just have to hope this is enough. We will definitely have to be more careful now.”

Martha turned towards the female crop. “How’s Bliss been doing?” Martha had named her.

“Still just her quiet self. Though, it is nice knowing that someone else is here.” Naomi stroked Bliss’ hair like she was her child. “She still hasn’t said anything.”

“I heard about the male sibling.”

“It was just a matter of time. We tried, but there wasn’t anything else we could do.”

“I’m sorry. I wish we could’ve saved more.”

“Me too. Hopefully we’re about to save a whole lot of them.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later that night, The Mole returned and joined the group around the fire.

“So, what did you’re guy say? Is he able to provide some bodies?” Naomi said.

“He said he would be willing to take us there, but that’s it.” The Mole took a sip of his coffee. “I told him that if he changes his mind to let us know.”

“Fuck.”

“Maybe the other job spooked him. I don’t know. Isaac did have him take him right up to The Drip’s front door.”

The eight of them sat around the fire, hot coffee warming their hands. The fire shined up on their faces from below like they were telling ghost stories. No one wanted to admit it, but maybe they were.

“So, this is what we’ve got to work with, huh?” Naomi said.

A mole, a nurse turned resistance leader, a crop, two replacement babies, and three commoners. The raggedy bunch hunched over as if to hide their insecurities.

“We’ve got to get Isaac back and take down The Crest.” Naomi stood and entered the center of the dank circle. “We need to get inside The Millionth Street Tower and make our way up to the top. That’s where The Crest will be.”

“It will be guarded so we’ll have to be careful. I know the layout of the building pretty well.” The Mole said. “The Crest sits at the top of the tower. My guy will be here shortly to take us there.”

“After that, we’re on our own.”

Naomi held demand over the group’s attention so naturally that it was surprising that she had done anything else in her life. Every detail covered, every route laid out on the building blueprints, every guard post circled.

The Mole had stepped up as her right hand man since her brother was gone. It was an obvious choice due to his background in the city.

A low rumble sent a silent vibration through the clinic as D pulled up in the back.

“Come on! Before they see him!”

The group shuffled through the back door and into the vehicle. The man put the thing in gear and ascended into the fog. The clouds illuminating their presence until it became too dense for light to escape.

“Here, take these. This is all I could get past security.” D handed pistols to Naomi and The Mole.

“I knew you’d come through, Dempsey.” The Mole’s face lit up as he shared a smile with Naomi.

“It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. They’re outfitted with attenuation devices. Less powerful, but much quieter.”

“Thank you. Really.”

“Don’t mention it.” The man flicked some switches on the dash. “Listen, I’ll probably hate myself later for this, but I’ll be standing by near the tower. If you guys need a quick out just come get me.”

“What changed your mind?” The Mole asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m just tired of this shit too.”

The clouds around them lit up in blue and white colors as if they were in a constant storm cloud. Rain whipped the windshield with fierce splatters, dispersing with the wind as quickly as they came. As they approached the Cloud City, they were no longer the brightest light in the fog. 

The Millionth Street Tower sat dead center of the city. All of the floating sidewalks and skyways branched out from that epicenter of evil. As they weaved in and out of traffic now, they were delving deeper into that fault line of sin.

Naomi and The Mole stuff their weapons into their pants as they approached the architectural monstrosity. It’s angles and curves were truly a work of art. The car idled up to the catwalk infrastructure and the group took one last breath of free air before opening the door.

XII

Isaac slid down the slick leather of the stranger’s craft. The kind that creaks and squeals any time a movement is made. It was like climbing into the cockpit of a hovering prism, both in the architecture and the interior rainbow of lights. Isaac had never seen anything so spectacular. It was as if the full spectrum had made itself tangible and began embracing him.

The dash of the vehicle reminded him of the control stations in the Cultivator’s office. Buttons and knobs, each one surely serving a purpose to keep this hunk of metal off of the ground. Capacitor control switches, magnetic field generators, and diode assistors. Isaac didn’t know what any of it meant and wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. He shut the door, committed to his decision.

The craft hovered a foot off of the ground. Down in the bellows of that Cloud City. The Upper Echelon members sat somewhere up there among the many lit rooms among the many buildings. The skyways, hundreds of feet above, bustled with traffic. More traffic than usual it seemed.

The hooded stranger sat in silence for a moment as if he were waiting on Isaac to talk first.

“The Mole sent me.”

Isaac snapped out of his admiration of the vehicle and refocused himself.

“He only wanted me to make sure you weren’t in any trouble.” The man flicked some switches on his dash and the car’s hum went up in octaves. “I can bring you back to The Byways, if that’s what you want.”

“I’m not going back.” Isaac stared out of the passenger side window.

“You won’t last long up here, man. Eventually, you’ll get found out.”

“I’m here to finish what we started. We’ve come too far and lost too much.” Isaac antsily brushed the sleeves of his jacket. “We’ve lost too many people.”

“Well, I’m not gonna drag you back. Just my advice.” The stranger turned a knob and monitored the change on the control screen before lifting off. “We’ll be seen if we’re down here too long. I can take you where you want to go.”

“The Drip is tonight. That’s where I’m headed.”

The interior of the car seemed to be rhythmically illuminated by the building lights as they passed. Now flying at the level of the skyway, the city seemed more alive than ever before. The people seemed happy there. Cars went every which way and crowds migrated down the floating sidewalks of the city. 

Restaurants sat on every corner, and skyscrapers full of hundreds of businesses each sat between them. Isaac felt resentment and envy at the same time. While people lived in squalor down in The Byways, up there it seemed like the world was perfect. Nothing else mattered when you were in a place like that. Out of sight, out of mind. But it wasn’t out of mind or sight of The Upper Echelon. Daybreak had made sure of that.

The stranger swooped in and out of the different levels of skyway like there were no restrictions. They were now soaring at the third level. Isaac watched the two below. They looked like lit up ants marching single file.

The hum and purr lessened as the vehicle slowed until it sat idling. Floods of people filed into the gala that was The Upper Echelon Drip. Isaac had been to a Drip before, but only a subdistricts version. This was The Drip that all other Drip’s aspired to be. High level political officials and celebrities attended only this specific location.

The venue was dead center of a one-hundred story building. The third level of the skyway sat at the fiftieth floor of this particular piece of architecture.

Isaac opened the door of the hovercar, ready to enter.

“What exactly are you planning on doing in there?” The stranger asked.

“I don’t know.” Isaac shook his head. “But I am going to take any opportunity that presents itself to me.” He slid his hood over his head and stepped out onto the damp, floating sidewalk.

In an instant he was swallowed by the crowds flooding into the building. He turned to look, but the stranger had already gone.

Isaac followed the status quo of inching towards the entryway like everyone around him were all part of a single cell. The people in front of him would step forward, then Isaac, then the people behind him and so forth. A blob of blood hungry individuals waiting for the prick of the chrome.

Once inside, the order of the events weren’t unlike what he had already experienced with Leech. He came in, got his blood bag, and found a seat somewhere in the gala. Only this time he was clearly out of place. Eyes were already on him as soon as he walked in the door. He had hoped that people would soon forget after they drip.

Even still, Isaac found a seat off in the corner where he could sit and wait for an opportunity to be seized. He sat off to the side of a stage where numerous cameras pointed to televise the event. Maybe there would be a musical guest, but most certainly there would be a speaker. He hoped it would be The Crest.

As the last bit of people entered, the doors were shut and Sentinels were posted at the doors. He had not seen this kind of security at the first Drip he attended.

Everywhere around him people were plugging themselves up to the bags like power cords into an outlet. The act was so nonchalant that it was disturbing. Isaac thought that he would be used to it by now, but it had been awhile since he had seen anyone hooked up to a blood bag. Other than for legitimate health reasons, at least. 

He wondered how the crops were doing back at the clinic. Which made him think about Noah. Which made him think about Naomi. He had hoped that it would all be worth it and she would understand.

The drinks and food were flowing now and no one batted an eye at Isaac’s presence. A waitress came by, pushing her blood bag right along with her, and offered Isaac refreshments. He took a little sandwich with a toothpick through it and a glass of water.

The sandwich was inhaled in one bite, hardly even chewed, and the water was gone in two gulps. 

A woman made her way to the stage. Her dress doubled the amount of personal space required to keep a normal person comfortable. It might as well have been one of those Victorian era dresses, it wasn’t but it might as well have been. The thing was visualized inertia. When the woman moved, it followed a step behind her. When she stopped, it stopped a moment later.

Her hair was unlike her dress. The sheer blonde streaks lay flat on her head and dangled just above her shoulders. So thin, when she turned her head the strands sliced the air like a knife.

Isaac didn’t think the woman was a part of The Upper Echelon, but here in this place it was hard to tell. You could’ve told him that everyone there was part of The UE and he wouldn’t have doubted it.

The room fizzled down to a quiet whisper. The sound of her heels knocking on the stage alerted the crowd to her presence. Isaac figured maybe this was his opportunity. Possibly the only one that would present itself that night. The lights on the cameras flicked on, only making him more sure that he had to take advantage of this moment.

“Ladies and Gentleman!” Her amplified voice echoed throughout the ballroom. “A night, six months in the making! I’m so glad that I can be a part of this night with you.”

Isaac hesitated for a moment, but he knew what he had to do.

He pulled the Sentinel firearm from his pants and hopped up onto the stage. He had already grabbed the woman from behind before her she had time to know he was there. Her hair raked the air as Isaac used her as a human shield. His gun’s muzzle leaving imprints on her temple, though he meant her no harm.

The crowd gasped and called for the guards.

“Take me to him! Take me to The Crest!” Isaac yelled with frightening anger. He could see his reflection in the lens of the video cameras and he was shocked by what he saw. A rage that he didn’t know existed inside of him. The ability to endanger others that he never wanted to be realized, but to him it was justified.

The Sentinels that were posted at the door mere seconds ago had Isaac down on his knees and in restraints. The blonde woman ran off stage and hysterically fell into a man’s arms. Isaac wanted to tell her he was sorry. Maybe she had no part in The Upper Echelon’s ideals or wrongdoings. But then why would she be here? He asked himself. 

After that, all feelings of guilt fled.

XI

The smog had clashed with the rain clouds that covered The Byways that night. The combination created a downfall of liquid soot that made one look like they were cave dwellers. Globs of black paste dripped off of the tin roofs like stalactites. The soot from the black rain was washed away in the next days rainfall and mist, but for that short time The Byways resembled some suburb of hell.

In the week that Isaac had been gone, The Byways was beginning to be overrun by the Sentinel force. The atmosphere of the town became authoritarian with police holding no regard to privacy or well-being. On a rainy night like that night it was hard to tell the difference between thunder and a door being kicked in. But that evening, Naomi and the crew had other concerns.

“What the fuck?” Naomi grumbled as she found the light switch.

She made her way to the living room where she found the female crop awake, kneeling on the floor moaning.

“Hey! It’s ok!” She ran over to the crop and tried to comfort it.

The crop looked at Naomi with a face like she had just entered this dimension. Nothing around her was familiar, not even the Earth.

“I’m here to help. We took you from that place. You’re safe.” Of course, the crop didn’t understand a word Naomi was saying, but Naomi felt as though it comforted her.

She grabbed the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around the childlike woman before getting her some canned beans. The crop’s eyes were shifty and she twitched at any sound or sudden movement. Essentially a wild animal, Naomi knew she had to gain some form of trust.

Naomi brought the woman to the wood-burning stove and fed her. She hummed a song that her mother used to sing to her and her brother, though she stopped prematurely when she remembered how it made her feel. The whipping heat from the fire dried her eyes for her.

Glooping sounds filled the night air like a ringing in one’s ear, only to be silenced by the chewing of beans and the crackle of fire. The swooshing of the machines that kept the male crop alive worked tirelessly. Naomi worried endlessly if he would wake up as well, as his body became emaciated from the lack of nutrients. The clinic had run out of anything worthy of liquifying for the crop days ago.

The two sat by the fire all night, Naomi dozing off when she could.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When Naomi woke, it was dawn. Her eyes were peeled open by the sound of knocking at the door. Martha and Jonas had arrived. 

The crop had been in the same spot and position as she was when Naomi dozed off to sleep. It was as if she were a robot and hadn’t moved all night. Maybe she hadn’t.

“Hey.” Naomi rubbed her eyes as she opened the door.

“Hey. How are the Siblings?” That’s what Martha had came up with to start calling the two crops.

“Well the girl woke up last night and the man is starving. I don’t know what to do with him.” Naomi guided them over to the male crop. “We ran out of liquid food days ago.”

“I have a couple of bags back at the house from a couple of shipments ago. They should last us a couple of more days at least.” Jonas said, heading for the door. “I’ll run and get them.”

Jonas would have to dodge the new city patrols and buffed up scanner numbers, especially carrying a thing like liquid food. Usually, that might not have been suspicious, but with two crops missing the Sentinels might put two and two together.

Naomi cared for the male crop, checking his vitals, while Martha tried to teach the female how to talk.

“Mar-tha. Mar…tha.” Martha said as she pointed at herself.

She pointed at Naomi now. “Na-omi. Na…omi.”

The crop looked in the direction of the point, but made no indication that she understood anything at all of what was trying to be done. She turned her head back to the fire in a daze.

Just as Naomi put water on the stove to boil for coffee, The Mole came in the door.

“Hey, have you heard anything about Isaac?” Naomi said.

“I haven’t, but I have a guy on the inside that is keeping a lookout for him in the city. I don’t know where else he would’ve went.” The Mole came and eyed the female crop trying to decipher if she was indeed human.

“I hope he’s alright. I don’t blame any of what happened on him.”

“I know, but I’m sure he blames himself.”

“Mole. Can you say Mole?” Martha continued. “Don’t you have a real name?”

“I do, but for my sake I’d rather stay The Mole.”

Martha rolled her eyes and kept teaching, but she knew that was the smart thing for him to do.

The water came to a rolling boil as Naomi took it off of the stove. She had a makeshift filter made out of multiple layers of material from a screen door. She cradled the mesh over a mason jar and poured the water over the grounds. It wasn’t the best coffee, but it made do.

The Mole took a sip and sighed with satisfaction. “So. What’s the next move for Daybreak?”

“We need to get more people.” Naomi sat by the fire with her elbows on her knees. The coffee cup warming both of her hands.

“That’s not going to be easy with the way things are in town now.”

“Yeah, no shit. What should we do?”

“Maybe we should just lay low for awhile. I mean, with everything that’s happened…you haven’t even had time to grieve.” Martha paused the speech lesson for a moment.

“I don’t have time to grieve right now, Martha. The shit they did to Noah, and now Isaac is gone off on some hero mission…I’ll grieve when the The Crest is dead.” She took a furious gulp of coffee.

“So, it sounds like we have a mission, but you’re right. We need more people.” The Mole said.

“Don’t they call you The Mole because you’re secretive? Fucking snoop around in the shadows and find some motherfuckers to help us.” Her knee bounced, but Naomi wasn’t mad at him.

“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, I’ll see if my guy has any word on Isaac’s whereabouts.” 

“I don’t know if it would be good or bad news for him to have seen Isaac. If he sees him, that means he’s in the Cloud City and about to do something extreme.” Martha gave up on the teaching for now and grabbed a cup of coffee.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later that night, Jonas had made it back with two bags of liquid food for the male crop.

“You’re a lifesaver, literally. Thank you.” Naomi hugged Jonas and hooked one of the food bags up to the man.

“It’s getting crazy out there.  I’ve never seen it like this.” Jonas said.

“It’s never been this bad before. We pissed them off.” The Mole chuckled in an ‘oh shit we fucked up’ kind of way.

“And we’re going to keep pissing them off too so they better get used to it.” Naomi said as she watched the food flow into the crop.

As the morning turned to afternoon and then evening, The Mole slipped through the shadows of the alleyways. Able to avoid any contact with scanners or Sentinels, he made it back to his shed near the edge of The Byways. 

He opened the door, his leg having to assist his hands in shoving it open, guiding it along the half crescent groove it had made in the floor. He’d told many people it was by design, as no one would be able to enter without him knowing. Most were only amused, not convinced.

He shoved the door open and beneath him lay a folded piece of paper, damp from the evening mists. The Mole unfolded it to reveal what it said.

“Found your guy in the substreets of the city. Told him I was with you, that I could bring him back. Told me he wasn’t going back and he had to finish what y’all had started. I didn’t really have time to argue with him. I got him to where he needed to go. Whatever he’s doing, I’m sure you’ll see him soon enough. Gotta go. You know how to reach me.

-D”

The Mole folded the letter back up and flicked his lighter. He couldn’t afford to leave a trace of anything leading back to him or Daybreak.

X

United News

February 6, 2161

The Upper Echelon announced today one of its policies to combat the overpopulation of Earth. This policy, called Family Planning, intends to limit the amount of offspring a family has while also supplying donors for the roll-out of Double I factories. According to sources, every fifteen years, families will be required to produce a child as a donation to The Upper Echelon. This child will then be…

The Earth seemed to come alive in the sun as he reached the footholds of the Cloud City. Not a soul had seen or heard from Isaac in a week. Not unless the insects had souls. The flies that buzzed around his face reminded him of miniature scanners. 

Pine needles poked his soft skin as he lay beneath the towering plants. He had never been woken up from the sun in his eyes before and it left him feeling bittersweet. At least in The Byways he knew how to feel. Here, the world seemed tucked away in silence and peace, giving no thought to what transpires in the realms of humanity.

 In the day, Isaac’s eyes could not penetrate the reflections of light coming off of the monstrosities. They rose like iron stalks from that great plateau. But at night, the peaks of the buildings seemed to tear the very fabric of the atmosphere. The beacons that sat atop them seemed to do nothing but add to the stars in the sky. 

He counted the blinks through the foliage stories above him. Often, the wind would blow blocking his view and thus making him lose count. Isaac didn’t mind though, as it were the most trivial thing he’d lost recently.

He watched the traffic of the skyway skid across the ozone. Maybe heading to another far off Cloud City or another Upper Echelon, he thought. The crafts faded into the stratosphere as they reached the orange horizon and he wondered what sat on the other side. Was it as terrible as this place that stood over him? Were they just as terrible as the people occupying this city? Or was this place a special kind of evil?

Under the aura of the Milky Way many thoughts ran through Isaac’s brain. He wondered what Leech was doing. He wondered where he would go to get his fix now that they had sabotaged the factory he so often frequented. Maybe he was under an overpass somewhere craving a drop right now. None of that mattered now, and he knew it.

The world had gotten significantly bigger for Isaac since his time with Leech. A world full of good and evil. He had witnessed despicable things and also seen first hand the kindness that can come from a person’s heart. A world full of polar opposites had enveloped him at the center. 

Now, Isaac slept at the edge of a concentrated vile. An evil multiplying evil. One that he meant to water down with vengeance. An enzyme produced by the very organism of evil itself.

Isaac’s wonders and thoughts turned to dreams as he lay in the bed of dead flora.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That morning, Isaac awoke to the sound of bird whimpers resonating through the smog. As if he had been teleported to Mars overnight, the sunrise looked alien that day. Its rays dampened by the aura of man.

Days like this were rare around the Cloud City, but every once and awhile the humans that sat in the saddle of that place were reminded of the world outside. 

Isaac listened as the sirens rang throughout the plateau above. He took precautions as well, raising the neck of his shirt over his nose and mouth. It would be another days walk before he reached the foot of the pedestal that held that city. Isaac left his bed of pine needles and leaf dust and trekked on.

Critters scattered at the sound of the ground crack beneath his feet. With each step, Isaac was reminded that he was not alone. Every passing moment the plateau wall seemed to reach higher and higher. He was often left wondering if he had made a wrong turn towards the edge of the Earth.

Isaac had seemingly crossed every terrain imaginable. Creeks of acidic water had wet his feet. Course air in the oxygen fields was so thick he could capture it in his palms before it seeped out like sand. That had been the most difficult part of his journey so far. Each breath only seemed to deliver a fraction of air compared to The Byways. This, compounded with his slow, easily tired movement made it the longest part of his journey as well. The binding and unbinding of molecules that took place here tinged his skin.

After the oxygen fields, he made it to the forest below the city. He had seen Sentinel hover cars on the roads here, but had stayed hidden in the flora. Isaac had wondered if they headed to The Byways, to the clinic. He felt guilt for leaving them without an explanation, but his mind had produced an urge like he had never experienced. An urge to stop The Crest. An urge everyone had, but only a naive man would act on. Maybe that was his strength. Maybe it was a weakness. Isaac didn’t see it as naivety at all, but will.

He had reached the foot of the cliff now, the buildings no longer in sight. The plateau was so tall it seemed to be in another time zone. The sun had dipped low enough to bring darkness on the lowlands, though it was still mid-afternoon. Daylight was still abundant for The Upper Echelon and the inhabitants of the Cloud City. 

The path up was steep and uneven. The smog covered his sight and his breath made his shirt damp. Isaac’s breath was heavy, but whatever supplements had been injected into him during his time at the factory had strengthened his endurance. He didn’t look like a man that had spent his whole life on a concrete slab. Even still, his hamstrings felt the strain of this long climb. 

A pathway that had only been made by the journeys of many that had come before him. A single file line of uprooted grass, he followed it through the blanketing clouds.

The birds and raptor creatures that had circled above him throughout his journey had turned back to lower altitudes now. The only evidence of life in this smog was a little black lizard that had developed gills, filters maybe. What it ate, Isaac wasn’t sure. He wondered if the lizards made a seasonal migration down the slopes for food. Maybe that is what formed the path.

He came upon one that had buried itself in the sand. Only its gills and eyes broke the surface before it scurried away at the giant that was Isaac. It resembled a little ink blot, defying gravity as it rolled up the mountain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As Isaac broke the surface of the smog, he saw that he was at the end of the long pathway. A metropolis stood before him, reaching even higher than the cliff of the plateau had. Down at ground level there were no streets like The Byways. The cars flew high overhead there and he wandered beneath them. Down there it was quiet and seemed like a place long abandoned.

Isaac set his sights on the city up above. A car descended down to meet him at an intersection of the substreets. Its engine purred and its magnetic force made the hairs on Isaac’s arms stand up. Isaac and the car were situated towards each other like that of a duel for what seemed like an eternity before the window slid down.

A person with a hood pulled over their head sat in the driver’s seat. Unmoving, a man’s voice came from behind the hood.

“Daybreak?”

Isaac nodded with an uncertainty if he should answer at all.

“Get in.”

IX

Immortality Awaits!

March, 2158

After nearly seven long years, scientists have seemed to unlock a potential gateway to everlasting life! In a process now being called Intravenous Incubation, or Double I, scientists were able to more than triple the lifespan of a rat. Double I essentially refurbishes the bloodstream, lightening the workload of the heart and even replenishes the skin! The new oil change! Members of The UE have stated that there will need to be donors, and that they…

Red footprints led into the bathroom of the clinic where Naomi bathed herself. She slid down neck deep as her tears merged with blood and sludge and bath water. The liquid turned opaque and suddenly Naomi seemed to be floating in an abyss. 

Water trickled as she scrubbed the death from her body. If she could only scrub it from her mind. She cried now out of guilt, out of sadness, and out of fear. Fear that maybe her brother was gone. She had went into that place, caused chaos, and what did she get in return? No answers.

Isaac listened to the sound of her sadness from the main room. The prepped bed for Noah was a silent reminder of what he considered a failed mission. Though, the two crops still lay comatose, they gave him some hope that Daybreak were still the good guys.

He had sent Martha and Jonas home to get some rest. The Mole had came by that morning and stayed to monitor the crops. 

“I’m afraid we may have kicked the hornet’s nest.” The Mole said while standing over the crops. “The Upper Echelon has never been challenged to this degree before.”

Isaac prodded at his wounded arm, wincing. 

“What will we do now?” The Mole came and sat down around the fire. “Everyone in The Byways will have to watch over their shoulder.”

Scanners whizzed through the streets of The Byways as if the hornets had come back for revenge. Lights shined through every window and every door of that decrepit town looking for some reason to make an example of someone.

By now, the word of Daybreak had travelled through the streets like a virus. An unspoken narrative which you could read on every person’s face. Deeds were embellished. Everytime something out of the ordinary happened in the District, the credit was given to Daybreak.

“What will they do if they find you.” Isaac motioned at the scanners humming outside. “You were one of them.”

“I have to remain vigilant. If they find me and find out I’m a defector, they will surely make an example out of me.” The Mole stoked the fire.

Naomi had come out from the bathroom and joined them by the fire. She held herself in a way that said she was fine. That she had gotten all of the sadness and anger out of her system in there. Her arms crossed across her chest as if she was cold, but the fire was hot that night.

“Sounds like they’re looking for us.” She said, noticing the waves of scanners just outside. She peered out of the boarded window, blinded by the roaming lights outside.

“Jesus, you’d think The Drip was tonight with all of those lights.” The Mole grumbled.

The machines continued to window shop for crime into the late evening. Strafing down the alleys for something of interest. Sometimes eavesdropping on one location for hours. Just hovering. Listening.

Passionate talks of searching for Noah had subsided into chit-chat around the television. Not that they didn’t care, but passion is tiring.

“You know…pizza…bread, cheese, toppings, crust.” Naomi was amazed that Isaac had never had it. Obviously, she knew that he had never had the chance to eat pizza, but the fact that it was now a spoken thing made it unthinkable.

“It sounds amazing.” Isaac’s mouth watered. It was so unfair that he had to hear about all of this good food, but never get to try it.

“Steak?” The Mole questioned.

“Nope. So far I’ve been a bean and potato crisp kinda guy.” Not like he had much choice.

“Man, I could go for a steak right now.” He said.

“Well, what happened to all of the cows?” Isaac wondered that they couldn’t all be gone.

“Driven out by industry, I suppose.” The Mole flicked the channel on the TV. “When I worked up in The UE, I used to hear about people finding stuff all of the time. Cows. Pigs. Even chickens were being hunted.”

“They ever find any around here?”

“Not for a long time. As soon as The UE caught wind of any livestock, they claimed it for themselves.”

The three dissolved into a lighthearted sadness as they spooned their beans in unison.

“If you think hard enough, it kind of tastes like chicken.” Naomi frowned.

“I don’t know what chicken tastes like, so I’d say you’re right.” Isaac smiled.

They all laughed. The first time the three had heard laughter in a long time. Probably the first time Isaac had ever heard it.

The three sat and watched television, their faces lit by fire and then scanners and then fire again. The TV played news from The Upper Echelon. A woman from the Cloud City spoke on some recent changes to policies and amendments to those changes that had yet to be signed off on.

They continued to watch. Only when the screen went to static did the television catch their attention again. The static cleared showing a man on screen in front of a black backdrop. 

“That’s him, that’s The Crest.” The Mole didn’t take his eyes off of the screen.

He had salt and pepper hair and was clean shaven to reveal a square jaw. He looked younger than he probably was. With smooth skin and a devious grin, he spoke.

“It has been brought to my attention that our most esteemed Cultivator has been killed. Murdered in cold blood.” His grin faded. “This comes a mere day after the thievery that occurred at the very same factory. Now, a giant doesn’t usually concern himself with the goings on of ants, but this particular group of ants seemed to have fashioned themselves a bit of confidence. You see, confidence inspires confidence. And confidence often makes a person do things that they would otherwise never do. That confidence must be stomped out.” The man’s grin gradually came back into existence. “Now, I want you all to be proud and I want you all to carry yourselves with high regard, but the harming of others in the name of rebellion will not be tolerated.” The Crest motioned to someone off camera. “Bring him over, Harvey.”

They watched the TV screen in horror as the man rolled over Noah strapped into an upright restraint. Tubes branched out from his forearms like a dead tree. Visually exhausted and his face bloodied, his lip quivered in fear.

“I have it on good authority that the same group that murdered The Cultivator, was the same group that stole our crops with ol’ Noah here. Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, I’m sure you know the group I’m talking about.” Again, his face became cold and unmoving. “Daybreak.”

The sound on the television became silent as the man was like a statue. White noise seemed to envelope the room in the clinic, dissipating when The Crest began to speak again.

“Yes, I know you Daybreak. Is this what you stand for? Murder? Well, you reap what you sow.”

The Crest pulled the tubes from Noah’s arms and the group watched as he drained onto the floor. The man walked off screen. Noah didn’t scream or yell, only small whimpers and visible shivers gave any signal that he was conscious. The splash of blood to the concrete sounded heavy like oil. Gore dripped from the hollow plastic like alien slime. Noah was left, seemingly alone, to bleed out as the television cut to black.

Naomi, devastated, fell to her knees. Just as she had regained some optimism for finding Noah, he had been slaughtered for her to witness. She couldn’t breath. Her mouth was open in an attempt to consume air, but all she could do was cry.

Isaac held her, still staring at the black screen. He had never experienced a more heinous act with his own two eyes. A fury brewed inside him because he knew that none of this would’ve happened if he stayed focused on the first mission. He knew that this was his fault, whether or not anyone could bring themselves to say it.

He left Naomi there to cry by herself. Grabbing a backpack, he filled it with some food and water. He stowed the Sentinel pistol in the front of his pants and left through the clinic door.

Across the muddy street and into the darkness of the alleys, he fled. Scanners following in tow, were on the prowl.

Daybreak had rescued the crops in the name of liberation. Naomi had killed The Cultivator in the name of rebellion. And now, Isaac was going to kill in the name of revenge.

VIII

Naomi cried with furious anger. The few tears that ran down her cheek weren’t ones from sadness, but as if she had been pushed past the edge. Like a child that had been prodded again and again, but had had enough now.

She was silent while she helped unload the crops that the group managed to get from the factory. The group was silent as well, as if the floor were made of eggshells. 

“We need to get them onto the beds and hooked up.” Naomi regained her composure.

The Mole, Martha, and Jonas brought the male and female crops inside the clinic and placed them on a couple of adjacent beds.

“Isaac.” Naomi said sternly. “Can I talk to you outside?”

Isaac followed her out to the van as she shut the cargo doors.

“I want you to know that I don’t blame you.” She said with her back to Isaac. “No one can feel what you felt…seeing that place again.” She turned around and stared at Isaac. “But, we are going back. If Noah could still be there, experimented on like you were, then we’re going back.”

“Ok.”

That’s all Isaac could really say. No other answer would have done at that point. A simple agreement was his best and only option. 

They both walked back inside to see the crops being prepped for medical evaluation. Both machines beeping with the pumps of their hearts. Still, both crops remained in a comatose state. They had not lost a wink of sleep in all of the commotion.

“Martha, I’m going to need you and Jonas to stay here at the clinic and monitor their vitals.” Naomi said. “Mole, you can go home and get some rest if you’d like. I’m sure we’re all gonna need it.”

“Where are you two going?” Martha said, concerned.

“We’re going back to the factory.” Naomi said while packing a backpack. “I’m not going to leave my brother there.”

“You’re going to go back? Are you sure that’s a good idea right after what happened?” Martha was concerned, but also knew that there was no use in questioning the decision.

“They could be doing the same thing they did to Isaac, to Noah.”

“We’re going back tonight.” Isaac said, seemingly out of nowhere. “We’re going back tonight, and we’re going to get Noah back. This is my fault.”

“We’ll prep a bed. Just in case.” Jonas said.

Naomi nodded in response to Jonas, but she looked at Isaac. She looked at him with understanding eyes and admiration. He knew that he had messed up and was willing to make it right at any cost. She respected that.

“I’ll come back in the morning to help out with whatever I can. Tell Noah to have some coffee ready for me.” The Mole slipped out into the rainy afternoon.

Naomi checked over the crops vitals. Checking their heartbeats and temperatures.

“No reaction to light.” She said as she checked for eye dilation. “Heart sounds good. Breathing is good.” She checked them both over thoroughly before she decided to get some rest before heading back to the factory.

Isaac laid down and tried to get a little sleep as well, but every time he closed his eyes he saw Noah being beat down by the Sentinels. That image repeating over and over in his head. The backs of his eyelids like projector screens for a snuff film that he had witnessed in real time just hours earlier. The beeping of the vital monitors hooked to the crops sent him into a trance. Whether he ever actually got some sleep or not, Isaac wasn’t even sure.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Her brown, shoulder length hair flowed in the wind with the windows down on that white van. For a moment, Naomi and Isaac both forgot about their troubles. This might have been the first actual moment of peace that Isaac had experienced.

Naomi, on the other hand, relished in the moment. She had felt peace before. As Isaac drove down that eroded road, she closed her eyes and felt the wind on her face. It reminded her of the days before her parents were taken away. Before she and Noah lived in these very woods for days before someone in The Byways found them. 

Her wavy hair flowed with the breeze and, for a moment, Isaac looked over at Naomi and thought that she was beautiful. A woman so content with where she was in that exact moment. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, but Noah flashed in his thoughts again and he knew that Naomi was not content.

As the two approached the factory, it was apparent that the place was on high alert. There was a significant amount of scanners patrolling the area now and guards posted up at the bay doors.

By the time they arrived at the factory, the rain was a light drizzle and the moon was a crescent shape. They easily moved up to the outside perimeter of the factory in the darkness. 

The two Sentinels situated at the bay door were armed with pistols at their hips and CIIM module’s fixated on their backs.

“They are outfitted with the biotech that The Cultivator tested on me.” Isaac peered around the corner.

“What does that mean for us?”

“I’m not sure, but whenever it was attached to me I swore I could hear my own blood moving in my veins.” He whispered. “They may have heightened senses now.”

“Well, they didn’t hear us drive up.”

“Maybe the rain is enough to drown out the sound.” Isaac didn’t have any other answers.

A scanner was patrolling near the treeline in the vision of the guards. It’s humming vibrated the roots within the ground and shook the leaves on their stems.

Naomi picked up a rock just big enough to where she could hold it with one hand. She threw it at the scanner, causing it to go into a frenzy. It’s headlight frantically panned the area while the scanner turned in circles before smashing into a tree. Sparks went flying, catching some fuel on fire.

The Sentinels posted at the bay door hurried over to investigate.

“A fire that small won’t last long in this rain.” Naomi said. “Lead the way.”

Just like the night before, they made their way into the bay doors and took cover behind the concrete slabs. The two Sentinels were patrolling the aisles of slabs. They seemed to make the same routes, splitting off before converging again in the middle.

“That’s The Cultivator’s office.” Isaac pointed at the office on the other side of the factory. “We need to make our way up there.”

“That’s where Noah will be?”

Isaac nodded.

The Sentinels had now converged in the middle aisle and were making their way down to the other end. 

The Sentinels outside had set up a perimeter around the crashed scanner and were searching that area now.

Isaac gave the signal to start moving closer and closer to The Cultivator’s office, one slab at a time. It was like a game of chess or checkers the way they weaved through the rows of slabs. As the Sentinels got closer they stopped for a moment.

Isaac held up his hand as a signal. Their bodies pressed up against the monitors and tubes so tight that it almost restricted the blood flow to the crops. The pumping and swooshing filled their eardrums, drowning out the marching of the coming guards.

Eventually, the guards passed them without suspicion. Naomi and Isaac continued the strategic game of chess. Bishop to C3. Knight to D2. They continued this trajectory, pausing every couple of moves to see what the enemy would do.

They were about halfway to The Cultivator’s office when Naomi pulled a tube out of the crop next to her while shifting her position. The monitoring device immediately started beeping. After fumbling with the tube, she stuck it back into the crop. The beeping of the machine stopped, but The Sentinels were already alerted to the sound and began to move in to investigate. 

The guards seemed unsure of which slab had set off the alarm and checked every crop in the vicinity. It was only a matter of time before they were caught and face down on the ground just like Noah was. Isaac knew that he had to make a move.

As one of the Sentinels approached the slab where Isaac knelt, Isaac quickly grabbed the pistol from his holster and used the guard as a shield. His forearm dug into the neck of the man and he could hear his breathing being forced. 

“Isaac!” Naomi whispered.

He had already fired the gun, killing the other Sentinel that was approaching. The body fell to the floor, his armor crashing with the concrete. Isaac knew that the two guards from outside would have heard the gunshot. He placed the muzzle to the man’s temple and pulled the trigger. The body fell from his grasp like a bag of sand.

They ran to the foot of the stairs. At the top stood the catwalk and the door to The Cultivator’s office.

“Good shit back there.” Naomi said, partially out of breath.

“The two from outside will be coming soon. Go inside and check on Noah.”

They ran up the stairs, but gunshots came flying in from the bay door.

“Go!” Isaac yelled. Taking cover behind a steel beam, he returned fire. He peered over the beam and shot twice, hitting one of the guards in the chest. The other guard returned fire from behind a slab and hit Isaac in the left arm.

The Sentinel, thinking it was a worse wound than what it was, started running towards the staircase.

Isaac, one-handed, squinted his eyes and aimed down the iron sights of the pistol. Placing the tip of the site at the head of the moving target, and fired. The man went down.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Naomi opened the door to the office. The Cultivator had watched what had happened below and took cover underneath the control panel of the factory. He was visibly frightened when the woman walked in.

“Where’s Noah, where’s my brother!?” She walked forward.

The man smiled and came out from his hole as if he were no longer scared.

“That’s who you’re here for? I’m afraid you’re too late.”

“What? What did you do to him.” Naomi said, almost breaking.

“You took some of ours, we took one of yours.”

Naomi started walking forward again, fierce as ever. She approached the man face to face. His white lab coat dirty from the dust on the floor from which he came.

“Where is Noah?” She didn’t yell. She said it with such an inflection in her voice that conveyed a type of anger that could only be produced from losing everything you have.

The Cultivator didn’t budge. He was either the most confident man or he didn’t hear the same inflection in her voice. “We took him away. He may prove useful in my next exp…”

Right at that moment a sound so smooth happened. Like the sound of air being broken in two pieces. A move so fast that it was over before the sound would reach your ears.

The Cultivator’s throat opened and expelled blood from his arteries. A cut as thin as paper stretched open revealing his esophagus.

Naomi took a step back in amazement, makeshift knife in hand. The man grasped at his throat as if he were trying to shove his body back inside himself. His neck hissed like a punctured water hose. Redness coated the floor and Naomi. She was now covered in war paint.

The man fell to his knees, his own blood padding his fall. Naomi almost found it hard to watch as he continued covering the slit throat. He alternated hands as he tried to cup air back into his lungs, but he was gone. He fell dead to the floor in a pool of blood that probably wasn’t even his. It was one of theirs down there. A babies, maybe. Residual air formed bubbles in The Cultivator’s blood before popping and fizzing on his dead face.

Knight to B7.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Isaac was bleeding profusely from his arm. He kept pressure on it, hoping that it would slow. He got up from behind the steel beam and continued up the stairwell. As he reached The Cultivator’s office door, it swung open.

Naomi barged out of the door. “Let’s go.”

“Where’s Noah?”

“Not here!” Her voice echoed through the factory as she was already halfway down the stairs.

Isaac turned to look inside of the office to see The Cultivator dead in a puddle of blood and a message that Naomi had left anyone who investigates the factory:

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

Blood trickled from the letters on the wall. A message. Isaac mumbled the words to himself as the office door swayed shut.

VII

United News

August 14, 2151

The Upper Echelon is said to have approved a series of experiments on rats today. What the experiments will consist of has not been released to the public, but theories are already circulating throughout The Districts. These theories include various speculations such as a renewable energy source, and a cure for cancer. A more eccentric theory circulating the rumor-mill comes from Swiss scientist Liam Oezdemir, who believes that “the rats will unlock a secret to the human anatomy and reveal things about humanity on unprecedented levels.”

Updates will be released as more news comes on the subject, but one thing is for sure: the future holds extremely interesting fortunes. In other news, The UE held its…

 The van rolled down the road. The Mole in the driver’s seat, Martha passenger, Noah and Isaac in the cargo area. This bumpy drive was all too familiar for Isaac. Crop back then, man now.

The moon was full that night which meant more light to see, but also to be seen.

The Mole turned the headlights off as they reached the vicinity of the factory, and as they reached the building the engine as well. With the vehicle in neutral, the only hint of what was to come was the foreboding sound of pebbles and asphalt being crushed underneath the wheels.

They parked on the back side of the factory just like they had planned. Away from any Sentinel or Scanner route. They were free to whisper here.

“How many are we going to try and get?” Isaac asked. Surely they couldn’t fit every body in one trip.

“As many as we can.” Noah said. “Martha, you stay here and keep watch. You..” He pointed at The Mole. “Come with us.”

The three men walked to the edge of the factory, seeming to almost come together in formation. Albeit, a loose one.

“We should have waited for a night with more cloud cover. Maybe rain.” The Mole said.

“We’ve waited too long already. Word about Daybreak is starting to spread through The Byways. Just a matter of time before it winds up at The Crest’s feet.” Noah said. “Isaac, you take front since you know this area more than any of us.”

The formation broke into a line of three up against the factory wall. Isaac peered around the corner. A scanner hummed off in the distance. It’s headlight weaving through the trees, making their shadows strafe through the woods. It was too far away to notice the group.

Too close now to whisper, Isaac motioned for the group to move forward around the corner. The next obstacle was the large bay door that led into the factory. Inside, two Sentinels patrolled the aisles of concrete and flesh. They walked in sync down the main aisle before splitting off in opposite directions down the width of the factory.

Isaac was shocked that there were now patrolling guards in the factory. They hadn’t been there the other times. He signaled to the group but they couldn’t stay there long. A spotlight was fixated above the bay door, illuminating their entrance. Isaac turned to check the location of the scanner. It had ventured out into the crowd of trees. If anything, they would be able to hear the low hum if it turned back towards them.

Isaac gave the signal to crouch and move into the factory. Noah, The Mole and Isaac each took cover at a separate concrete slab. Noah peaked over the top of the body next to him. The Cultivator’s office lights were off. He wasn’t home.

The Sentinels had now re-converged at the center aisle to continue their joint patrol. The group situated themselves on opposite sides of the slabs to evade view. As they passed by, Isaac noticed that the men had devices fixed to their backs. Much like the one that The Cultivator tested on him. Though, Isaac didn’t know what this meant yet, he knew that they should be extra careful.

As the guards passed, Noah moved to the machines connected to the crop beside him. The Mole and Isaac waited at the foot of the slab.

Noah carefully unsheathed the needles from their flesh capsules. The group wouldn’t be lucky enough for the crops to wake like Isaac did. They would have to carry them out.

As they readied to lift the first body, the guards separated into their singular routes at the other end of the factory. The men had to be quick.

The Mole signaled that this one was his.

Noah and Isaac lifted the crop onto his shoulder and The Mole quickly left the factory. He scurried to the van, his legs already fatigued from the weight of the burly male on his shoulder.

Martha had crafted a bed out of a quilt and some folded blankets to lay the crops on while she waited. She helped him get the crop off of his shoulder and lay it on the bed. It’s lifeless body lay there in the deepest sleep, though very much alive.

Meanwhile, Noah and Isaac readied the next crop. This one female. The machine beeped along with her heartbeat. Rushes of blood with each pulse of the organ, until Noah put that to an end. Chrome removed from its home in the vein. It still shimmered in the light, just more red now. Blood pearled on top of the wound before accumulating enough to snowball down her arm. The beeping had stopped.

The Sentinels had again reconverged together at the middle aisle, now making their way back down to the groups end of the factory.

Noah signaled at Isaac to begin the lift of the crop, but his mind had wandered elsewhere. His home had caught his eye. His slab. The womb that held him for twenty-three years. There it stood, and on top of it lay a fetus. Still slimy and wet as if it had been birthed only moments earlier. There it laid, fixed to the machine. It beeped along with its tiny heart and its blood rushed through the tubes as well. The needle seemed almost the size of the tiny human’s arm. Isaac had been replaced.

Noah frantically signaled to Isaac as the guards approached, resorting to waving and other big movements. It was too late. The Sentinels had noticed either the men or the empty concrete slab because they were now running down to investigate.

Isaac finally snapped out of it, but it was a moment too late.

“Take her!” Noah yelled.

Isaac threw the woman over his shoulder. He hesitated to leave, waiting for Noah to join him. But Noah was now in the clutches of the Sentinels.

“Go!” 

The guards forced him to his knees, one of them clobbering the back of his head with the butt of their gun. Noah’s body clobbering the floor in the same fashion. His cheekbone smacked the concrete, reminiscent of a bat slamming an out-of-the-park home run. He laid there lifeless like all of the crops among him.

Isaac turned and ran out of the huge bay door, Sentinels close behind. The long lost scanner had made its return and followed in tow lighting the whole area with its headlamp.

“Start the van!” Isaac sprinted with everything he had. With the crop over his shoulder it was like trying to run in knee deep water.

Martha and The Mole jumped into the cab of the van and quickly turned the ignition. Isaac jumped in the back, slinging the female crop down as gently as he could in that situation. Slamming the cargo doors behind him, the van skidding off before they shut.

“Where’s Noah?!” Martha asked hysterically.

“He’s gone…I don’t know. The Sentinels got to him.”

“Shit!” The Mole said, gripping his mouth as if to shove the word back in.

“What happened in there, Isaac?!” Martha trying to keep the van on the road in all of the excitement.

“I…” Isaac tried to make sense of it in his head. “I spaced out. I spaced out when I saw my old home. My old slab.” As soon as the words left his mouth he wept with immense guilt.

Martha and The Mole both looking back at him, didn’t say a word. The vehicle zig-zagged its way back to The Byways.

VI

United News

May 3rd, 2143

“In approximately 7 years, scientists predict the planet’s population will grow past what the Earth as a planet can sustain. Major world organizations, including The Upper Echelon, are said to be meeting later this week to discuss potential policy changes and contingency plans for the possibility of disaster. One man within The Upper Echelon is said to be preparing to propose the most dramatic policy to date on the issue. The results of the meetings will be published next week.”

The roar of the commoners doing their daily business was louder than most days. The thick mud had been trampled down into a sturdy walkway almost as if it hadn’t rained at all the night before. Isaac leaned against a corner store wall smoking a cigarette and sipping on a piping hot cup of coffee. The essentials, purchased with some scrap change that Naomi lent him. 

The morning was chilly, but the sun’s rays warmed his skin. This was his morning routine now, as it had been for the last few weeks while he recovered at the clinic during the day. During the night, though, the group would convene to go over their plans. Each week the meetings would be more tense with the anticipation that the moment was drawing nearer. Noah was reluctant to join in on the meetings the first few times, but now he was almost as fierce as Naomi. Almost.

Naomi’s passion for the task at hand was exceptional. She couldn’t get over it, and now neither could Isaac. His fury grew as well. The long, passionate talks about the way the world is fucked up. “Under the table” is a phrase she used to describe the governmental system. A hierarchy that was stacked in the shadows. 

The long hours of being hooked up to the tubes in the clinic. All because of a society he never chose to live in.

And even then, leaning up against the same corner store Leech had taken him a month before, he watched the heartbeat of The Byways. Brittle women in heavy boots, just to make it down the street. Fathers pulling their children in sleds behind them, so that they themselves won’t sink in the mud. 

All of this lit a spark inside of Isaac that had been growing into a flame. The Byways were his home now, and even though he had only been there a short time he knew no one should have to live like this. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That night, Isaac and Naomi sat in the clinic awaiting the arrival of the rest of their group. Due to the numerous scanners patrolling the area, Naomi had started to refer to all of the meetings and plans as Daybreak. It must have been her way of justifying the chaos that Daybreak was about to birth onto The Byways.

The clinic door swayed open. It was Noah, and he brought the rain along with him. That night, the water seemed to find any crack in the door and push its way in.

He came in and shook the wet cold off of him and started up some coffee. 

“Where are the others?” Naomi hunched over with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

“They should be here soon, I was just ahead of Martha and Jonas.” Noah sat the kettle on the burner. “How are you feeling?” He looked at Isaac.

“All healed up.”

“I meant about the plan.” Noah came and sat down around the wood burning stove. “Are you ready to head back there? To the factory?”

“I’m nervous, but the plan is in place and I want to get as many people out of there as possible.” Isaac sat a can of beans on top of the stove to warm. “I believe in Daybreak. Without it, I’m not really worth anything to this place.”

“You are worth something, Isaac, and you’re showing that by being a part of this.” Naomi placed a hand on Isaac’s shoulder.

He smiled, but an unconfident smile.

The clinic door opened and Martha and Jonas walked in. Martha was in her early thirties, Jonas in his late twenties. Both were what some people called replacement babies. After the Sentinels would take a families baby away every fifteen years, a family would feel empty, thus quickly having replacement babies to fill that void.

Martha took both their raincoats and draped them over a chair by the wood burner to dry. They both gathered around and waited for the last member of the group to arrive. The stove fire crackled and popped. Isaac’s beans sizzled in their juices as he plucked them off of the stove top to eat. 

The five of their shadows danced around the room like some sort of ritual. Noah poured coffee and passed it to the group, his shadow eerily jumping around him as the fire flickered. 

Naomi sipped on the hot coffee. “One of the last few good things in this shitty world.” She said while giving a little chuckle. 

The others agreed, but they were too busy sipping.

The clinic door opened, letting the moonlight break the shadow ritual which was happening in the middle of the room. A man stood in the doorway with a hood over his head. Isaac had only come to know him as The Mole. 

Naomi had said that he was a defector from The Upper Echelon, someone that knows the most about their atrocities, next to Isaac. Apparently, he had been in the meetings and had been in the talks when legislation had passed. Now, he was a very different type of board member.

He was an older man, probably mid-forties. One of the few from The UE that had aged, due to his apparent disgust for Intravenous Incubation. Though, he said it wasn’t a fear of needles. 

He sat down at the fire, grey eyes glistening and reflecting each spark. His beard was dark brown, but had started to become more grey than even his eyes. And his face had wrinkles. Common in The Byways, but not of someone from the Cloud City. 

The Mole refused to give any other identity for fear that he would be found out. He figured if no one knew, then he was that much safer.

“Sorry I’m late.” He slid the hood from his head. “Scanners are out and about in force tonight.”

“We were just having some coffee.” Naomi said, downing the rest of hers. “Let’s get started.” She slid over an empty chair to use as a table. 

Naomi was the de facto leader of Daybreak. It was her vision.

“Martha…Jonas…were you guys able to secure a van?” Naomi unfolded a hand drawn atlas sized map of the surrounding area and sat it on the chair in front of her.

“We were able to get one, I’ll just be forever in debt to the old man that owns it.” Jonas said.

“Well, hopefully that won’t matter when this is all over.” Naomi pointed to the map. “Noah, you and Isaac will take the van with Martha and The Mole to the factory. Park it here.” 

An outline of the factory was drawn on the map, Naomi wanting the van parked on the back side. 

“I’ve scoped it out, scanners don’t usually pass by that side, and Sentinels are only posted inside the factory.”

“You’ll be staying back here, right?” Isaac reaffirmed.

“Correct, me and Jonas will stay here and keep watch while we wait for your return. Once you guys get here, we’ll help unload the bodies and start checking their vitals.”

“Who’s driving the truck?” The Mole asked.

Everyone looked around before The Mole nodded that he would take the driver’s seat.

Daybreak continued to iron out every detail of the plan. Many cups of coffee were drank that night. The fire slowed to a smolder as the sun started to peak over the tops of the alleyways.

“Tomorrow night.” Naomi whispered in a realization this was actually going to happen. “Tomorrow night.”

None of the group said anything. They all came to the same realization. One by one, each member trickled out like the end of a long party. All, except for The Mole.

Isaac, mesmerized by the flickering fire, didn’t notice that the man had pulled up a chair next to him.

“I remember the days when you were either looked down upon or looked up to.” He stoked the fire with a stick. “Now you’re just looked through. But up there, in the Cloud City, up there the people only look inward.”

Isaac just stared into the fire, not knowing what to say.

“It was a beautiful city. Skyscrapers faded into gray clouds. The only proof they didn’t go on forever were the beacons of light illuminating through the fog.” The Mole leaned back in his chair, face towards the ceiling. “The city was built on change, but too much change can be destructive.”

“How long did you live there?” Isaac didn’t remove his stare from the flames.

“I’ve seen him.” The Mole whispered fiercely, not acknowledging Isaac’s question in the slightest. “I’ve seen The Crest.”

“What does he look like?” Turning to face the man.

“Success. A determination so strong, millions of deaths caused by the ink in his pen couldn’t break it.” The man’s breath protruded past his shadowy hood. “Perseverance. A man that had risen through the ranks of the legislative system, the likes of which had never been seen. Not for quite some time.”

His voice was soothing, but dreadful. The moisture in his boots sizzled next to the fire. The wood sizzled as well. The Mole stared at the ceiling, head back, and hands in his coat pockets.

“We have to end this. You need to lead us to The Crest.” Isaac watched the plumes of breath leave the man’s silhouette.

“What the hell do you think I’m here for?” He chuckled at the sound of ignorance.

Isaac leaned back in his chair, seemingly imitating the man. Eyes to the ceiling, boots sizzling, and reflecting on the task that was at hand.