She checked her gun again, exiting a round out of the chamber and catching it as it slid out of the ejection port. She popped the magazine out and replaced the bullet, checked to make sure it was full, and slid it back in. Then she re-chambered the round and let out a long sigh. She heard a slight shuffle and looked to her right. Concealed in the darkness only Emily’s piercing blue eyes shown through in the dim light, the ski mask hiding all of her other features. She could barely make out her hand moving to the throat mic but she could hear her voice in her earpiece, Emily barely made a sound.
“Do it again Maria…and I’ll shoot you myself.”
She glanced over at the other woman but she was no longer looking at her. Maria was nervous, palms sweaty, muscles anxious, it was her first night on guard duty. It had been the fourth time she checked her gun, an FN F2000. She was fresh out of the academy, as was Emily, they had been trained as partners for the last fourteen years.
At an early age women were chosen for one of three categories. Security, Workers, or Politicians. If you were chosen as a Worker your life was completely different from either of the other two. You woke up early, before the sun had even risen. You exercised constantly, highlighting upper and lower body strength. You weren’t given any education, and you were constantly exposed to the elements. The goal, in essence, was to make you a pack mule whose only purpose in life was slave labor. Someone who wouldn’t get tired, someone who could work twelve hour shifts without breaking a sweat.
If you were a Politician you were given the golden life. An education of the highest standards, exquisite food and clothes. You were pampered with manicures, pedicures, facials, and massages. Most of the Politicians became fat and lazy, constantly relying on others for even simple tasks and chores; whether that be getting your own drink or wiping your own ass. The Politicians were also the only ones allowed mates. That was strictly limited to the upper echelon and even then the mates were never allowed to live with them.
Security was a whole other ballpark. From the age of four you began training in combat. As soon as combat training began you were given a partner (in Marias case that partner was Emily). It began with hand to hand combat, from there, if you excelled, you went to knife fighting. If you didn’t excel you were dropped to the Worker class, you could also be dropped to the Worker class for any other reason they saw fit. By the age of ten the Security class was training with weapons, small arms at first until they were gradually graduated to heavy weaponry. This class was also the only class taught to drive, to operate several varieties of vehicles. At first Maria couldn’t handle the heavy weaponry, her five foot two inch frame couldn’t support the weapons well. The two of them were going to be relegated to convoy duties, a lower echelon in the Security class, but Emily picked up the slack and they moved up the ranks. They were taught to be emotionless. Separated from family, even distanced from other members of the Security force. To be hollow shells, killing machines. Once weapon training was complete they existed solely on repetition and exercise. To be lean, efficient. When they were considered past the point of puberty is when the changes of the Security class really began. First step, their heads were shaved bald. Second step, a complete mastectomy. Third step, genital mutilation. Fourth step, their teeth were filed to points. This was done for a purpose. The Security class was the only class to ever come into contact with wild men, as such, they were made to be as unattractive to the opposite sex as possible. It was considered general knowledge that the un-controlled men would want nothing to do with a physically deformed woman.
Maria looked over to Emily again and touched her own throat mic.
“Eyes open, ten spot.”
Emily didn’t even look at her, her posture simply became more aggressive, more alert, she would be looking out for two. Maria sat down against the wall and pulled her knees up to her chest. She looked at her surroundings and shivered in the frigid air. The distance across the corridor from her to Emily was only fifteen feet. On both sides of her were bleak concrete walls that stretched nearly twenty stories high. At the tops of these walls (which were ten feet thick) was a field of broken glass, razor wire, and automatic turrets. The walls of the corridor extended two hundred yards in front of them and a hundred yards behind them. These high walls surrounded the entire city. The hall she was in was one of three, the only way in or out. The corridors were pitch black save for a lamp light every thirty yards…they were directly between two of these lights. At the end of the hall, where her eyes could not see, was a metal door that extended the width and equaled its height. Two other Security workers were positioned at the door, two more were at the entrance a hundred yards behind them. She didn’t know any of the other Security women she was working with, she didn’t care. Maria listened to the hum of the electricity coursing through the turrets and slightly, in the distance, Mother preaching her sermon to any ears that were still awake.
Maria drowned out the other noises except for Mother and closed her eyes.
“The role you play is important to all of us. Without you we cannot exist. Do not think less of yourself. Every one of you is needed. Everyone of you has a purpose. I love all of you. You are all my children. Today is another day to bask in the glory of freedom. Man is our downfall. Man is our enemy.”
Maria flashed to her mother, her real mother. This rarely occurred and when it happened Maria would squeeze her mind shut, trying to hold on to the brief pieces that would expose themselves. Her mother was wearing a blue dress, a Workers dress, odd, because Workers weren‘t allowed to conceive. She had strong shoulders and thick biceps. Her long rich brown hair flowed past her shoulders in waves, a kind smile played across her face. She reached for her…
Marias earpiece screeched.
“Did you hear that?”
Maria jumped to attention, gun at the ready, pointed straight down the corridor. She touched her throat, “Hear what?”
“Listen!” Emily barked.
Maria strained her ears, trying to catch whatever sound Emily had heard. Suddenly the sound of gunfire echoed down the corridor in an almost deafening quality, both women turned their heads and grimaced. The constant electric hum that eminated from above their heads disappeared. The lights flickered for a moment before being brought back up by emergency power.
“They took out the turrets.” Emily said calmly.
Marias heart began to race. She absently rubbed the tattoo of the Virgin Mary she had at her wrist and flicked the safety off on her gun.
“Can you believe this?” Emily asked. “First day out and we’re already getting action.”
Marias mind soared to a day of training. She was thirteen, running an obstacle course, Emily at her heels. They were in first place, as always. Maria rounded a corner and checked behind her. Not ten feet behind Emily was another girl, Isabelle. Isabelle was part of a smaller tier team, a partnership destined for guard duty at some penal institution. There were two things that caught Marias attention in that glance. One, that Isabelles partner was no where to be seen. Two, Isabelle herself. The girl was a beast, standing nearly six feet tall and close to two hundred and twenty pounds. Maria ignored her and continued running. Within a few minutes she heard Emily shout something in the distance and found herself being lifted off her feet and thrown face first into a wall. She stumbled, her nose broken, blood passing over her lips, dripping down her chin, and pivoted around in an attack stance. Her mind quickly took in the scene, Emily was down on the ground about fifteen yards away, cradling what was obviously a broken leg, the bone protruding from her black cargo pants. The massive girl stood over Maria in a relaxed posture, her hands balled into fists.
“You two think you’re so much better than everyone else.”
Isabelle brought down a knee strike and Maria rolled out of the way. She couldn’t breathe and her eyes were stinging as they started to close shut from the swelling, yet she managed to swing onto the girls back before Isabelle even stood up. Maria whipped her arms around the bigger girls throat and squeezed, burying her face in-between her shoulder blades. Isabelle tried to claw at her at first and when she realized she couldn’t reach her much smaller oponent she started slamming herself into the wall, which in turn meant she was slamming Maria into the wall. The blows were crushing her. Maria changed her position quickly. Instead of keeping her knees in the girls lower back, she brought them around and braced them on Isabelles thighs. Instead of sitting up high she lowered herself, making sure not to lose her grip around the larger girls throat. In a flash she pistoned her body, thrusting down on the girls thighs as she torqued her torso up and backwards. She heard a distinct pop, followed by a crack, and jumped off as Isabelles body slumped to the ground. She had broken her neck. A calm, soothing voice, came out over a loud speaker as Maria made her way to Emily.
“Well done Maria. Emily will be taken care of. Continue the course.”
Maria looked at Emily, who nodded her approval, then turned and started running again, barely able to see or breathe. As she passed Isabelles body she looked into the dead girls eyes, her tongue slightly sticking out of her mouth. She wasn’t happy or satisfied, she felt cold.
Maria shook her head and stared straight ahead.
“Quit daydreaming, you’ll get us both killed.”
“Shut up.” Maria retorted.
She could hear a shuffling of heavy feet, smell a dinstinct odor that she thought was sweat but it was thicker, more pronounced. Then, a cluster of hushed voices. Emily opened fire. Maria flinched, they had been taught not to shoot unless a target was visible, but she could hear that Emilys shots were hitting flesh. Suddenly, thick wails of agony erupted from the darkness and Maria found herself taking a step back.
“Hold your ground.”
A hand emerged in the glimmer of light some forty-five yards ahead of them and Emily fired. The bullet ricocheted against the concrete where the hand had been. She could hear what sounded like bodies being dragged away.
“We mean you no harm. This can be settled peacefully.”
Maria froze. She had never heard a voice like that before. It was deep, lush, soothing and inviting.
“Don’t listen to them!” Emily barked. “Remember what Mother said, they can get in your head.”
She remembered alright.
The day of graduation from the Security Academy, less than a week before, was the first time Maria had every literally laid eyes on Mother. Now, over the course of the hundred and twenty year run of Inner City there had been many Mothers. The current Mother had only been in place for some three months. When the last Mother had died the city went in mourning for two weeks. Everyone wore dark clothes, flags flew at half mast, there were gun salutes every hour. The new Mother was in her fifties, her hair completely gray and pulled back in pins. She looked comfortable swathed in loose fitting robes, her skin was wrinkled and yet appeared smooth and soft at the same time. A stark contrast to the calloused and rough skin of Maria’s. She stood in front of the group of graduates on a podium, a smile illuminating her entire face.
“I…am so proud of you ladies.”
She paused, perhaps waiting for an applause that would never come, before continuing.
“You have all made a great sacrifice for us. You are considered among the few and the proud here. It is a great honor to be a Security member.”
She opened her arms as if to hug the entire group and beamed at them.
“You have been giving the noble task of protecting each and every one of us. Take heed though, for it will not be easy.”
She motioned for the group to sit and everyone did as instructed, in unison.
“The enemy…is Man. As you all know Man caused the great disease, Man caused the great war. They are nothing but brutal savages. You have heard the stories since children. They only want to tear your bodies apart, ravage you, destroy your will. They will do this using whatever means necessary. Do not listen to them, do not fall prey. They have many tricks up their sleeves and they will attempt to use them all. If you see one kill it…without regret…without remorse…without question.”
“In Mothers name Maria pay attention!”
Maria looked up to see a figure standing in the light. Instinctively she raised her gun, finger on the trigger.
“Shoot him Maria!”
She glanced over to see Emily messing with her gun, it had apparently jammed. Maria looked back at the man…she had never seen one before.
The man had his arms up, demonstrating that he had no visible weapon. He slowly brushed his hair out of his face and looked at her. She became entranced. She studied his body from head to toe. He was tall, probably around six foot two, his figure was lean but strong, his muscles corded. She saw dark hair that covered his arms and chest. Even his face had hair on it. She wondered what that hair felt like. The man had a strong square jaw and she noticed that his throat looked different from hers. But she kept getting drawn to his eyes, they were a deep green and appeared soft, innocent. He smiled at her. She had been told her entire life that men were monsters, horrible creatures, this man did not look like anything horrible.
The sound of gunfire pierced her ears. She watched as the bullets rippled up the mans body and he shook, until the last one hit him in the head. She saw the back of his skull explode and brain and blood fly against the concrete wall behind him. Time slowed as she listened to every spent shell ping off the ground.
“Fuck Maria, what are you doing?”
Maria turned to Emily and started shooting. She didn’t even realize she was until she felt the gun recoiling in her hand. Her partner, her only close companion for the last fourteen years, was dying. Emily staggered backward and raised her gun. She let loose a few rounds before dropping dead with a thud, her helmet crunching against the wall. Maria didn’t even realize she’d been hit until she felt the searing pain crawling up her side. She looked down to see blood pooling around her shirt at her abdomen.
She closed her eyes and saw her mother again. She was so beautiful. Her mother cast her head back and laughed and Marias heart seized in her chest. This was what it was like to be happy…that was what genuine laughter sounded like.
Maria opened her eyes to see a man kneeling before her. She tried to scoot back but a hand rested itself on her shoulder. She could feel the size of the hand, much larger than her own, it was heavy, warm, calming.
“Its ok…I just need to check your wound.”
The man was gorgeous but entirely different from the other one, she didn’t know how that was possible. His voice felt like sugar coating her body. He removed her ski mask first, then looked at her face and smiled. She started to return the smile, remembered her teeth, and quickly shut her mouth. She didn’t want to frighten him.
“Its ok…I think the pointy teeth are cute.“
She didn’t know what the word meant but it sounded delightful. Two of his fingers went to her throat and she found she couldn’t swallow. The man turned around slightly and said something to a person behind him that she could not see, then he started unbuttoning her shirt. She brought a hand up to stop him. What was it she was feeling? It was something she had never felt before. Almost as if she was nervous but that wasn’t quite it. He looked at her and the smile dropped from his face.
“I need to check your wound. You’re losing a lot of blood.”
Maria removed her hand and let him continue, but not before she felt the hair on his face. She was curious, it tickled. When the man opened up her shirt she grimaced, knowing what it looked like, it even disgusted her. He, however, made no outward sign. He touched her wound and she winced.
“What’s your name?”
She looked at him.
“You have a name don’t you?”
She looked down at the wound and felt a wave of dizziness wash over her.
“Don’t look at that look at me. What’s your name?”
She licked her dry lips with a dry tongue.
The man looked at her and smiled again, the light hitting his eye made them sparkle. In the distance Maria heard gunfire and shouting…she knew they were at the inner gate.
“Maria. My name is Richard. I’m going to help you.”
“Fire.” Maria responded.
“What did you say?”
“Purge the corridor with fire.”
The man looked at her and she fought off another wave of dizziness. She pointed to the wall above her head, to black marks that were seared along the side.
“If you get to the inner gate they purge the corridor with fire.”
Maria was with her mother again. They were playing in a park that she knew was in the center of the city. She had never been there in her adult life but she knew it was there because of maps she had to study. The women around them did not look like Workers. Sure, there were some in Worker blue, but it was a lighter blue and they were attending to the Politicians in thick bright robes. The women all looked at them with disgust. Maria could hear snickering, hands covering mouths as they whispered between each other. She could tell her mother was trying her best to ignore them, but even her armor was cracking. Eventually she reached down and picked her up, snuggling her close, the smile on her face was a fake one, one for show.
“Come on Maria,” her mother said, sounding like an angel, “Its time to go home.”
Maria woke to the sound of a dozen voices. All of them deep and harsh. She was laying on a thick bed in loose, light, comfortable clothing. She had never worn clothing like that before. She could feel that she had bandages wrapped around her abdomen. There was an iv in her arm and she glanced around the room and surmised that she was in some sort of hospital.
“How many did we lose?” One voiced asked, it was deeper than the rest.
“It could have been worse.”
“How many did we get?”
“Just the one.”
“The security? Should have left her there.”
Maria turned on the bed away from the voices. The pain shot up her side in searing hot heat but she ignored it. The voices dissipated and soon Maria felt someone looming over her. She looked up to see Richard.
“How are you feeling Maria?”
“We managed to get the bullets out. Doc says you’ll be right as rain.”
“What?” She stared at him quizzically.
“Oh right…Think you can walk?”
“Maybe.” She wanted to press him on what could be right about rain.
“Would you like a tour?”
“A tour of what?”
“Your new home.”
With his help Maria stood up and walked to a window with him. She looked out to see what looked like a minature city. The first thing her eyes noticed was that there were almost as many women walking around as men. Children as well…they seemed to be…playing. She took a step back and looked at him.
“We have a lot to talk about.” He said.