"I remember when there was still a functioning government, social services and an elected parliament. That government lasted for several centuries, surviving crisis after crisis albeit barely, but like a rubber band you could stretch, it had a breaking point. It happened in the mid 26th century. The Council was bankrupt, crimes reached epidemic levels and colonies were clamoring for independence. Everything was falling apart. The State Security Department, the agency responsible for maintaining order, was given extraordinary powers to save the government, the Army was increasingly sidelined to Earth while colonies came under StateSec control. StateSec finally denounced the weakness and corruption of the Council in 2551, when the Council realised the threat StateSec had become, they tried to rein the monster they created in but it was too late to prevent a war. By 2562, StateSec had seized power and they ruled from their Arcologies high above the clouds, only coming down to oppress and extort common people, crime gangs filled the vacuum of power below in wartorn slums in an unholy union of crooks and tyrants."

#

The wide elevator shaft extended into 3 kilometres upwards, the top was so high up, the top was barely visible from where they were. It was the hardest part of the journey to the surface, also the most dangerous. Good thing Stella managed to secure harnesses before the journey from resistance members who worked on building repair duties, it was also fortunate that she brought along an extra harness as a replacement, at least Violet has something to use, else an accidental fall from such heights is a guaranteed death sentence.

Stella and Evgeny were prepared. Stella used to repair buildings in Sector 1, the kilometer high skyscrapers for the rich and powerful, seeing them party and live decadent lives while the rest of New Iconium fought for scraps radicalized her into joining the Resistance, the height didn't disturb them. And as for Evgeny, he was born into the Resistance and he simply didn't fear anything. He was calm and professional, the perfect hitman for the resistance. Violet as well didn't seem to be disturbed by the height, considering her blindness, her Artificial Eye implant only allows her to see within 30 feet of her surroundings. She remained calm and composed, eager and excited for the new life that awaits her.

Martius froze at the sight of the elevator shaft, he always had a deathly fear of heights. Looking down from his 73rd floor apartment window always made him somewhat sick and queasy, thinking about looking down 3 kilometres below while suspended from a harness made him weak. He wanted to back out, maybe he'd just swallow his pride and join her mother's gang, at least he'll be with Keya, but the whole New Iconium resistance is counting on him to make that contact, hundreds of millions of destitute people hoping for a brighter future.

The group put on the harnesses, Violet was the first, then Martius under the supervision of the two to make sure that everything was perfect, Stella and Evgeny went last. Stella gave them a quick rundown of do's and don't and to rest whenever one feels fatigued and to tell the group. Violet was perked up for the climb but Martius still felt sick.

"What's the matter, Martius?" Violet asked, all harnessed and ready to go.

"I'm not really great with heights." Martius replied, harnessed but he was pale and shaking. He tried his best to suppress his tremors but the thought of heights constantly popped in his head.

"Marty, you go first since you're the most scared, Violet you follow right behind him. Stella and I will just be right behind. The surf is just 3 kilometres right above you." Evgeny said.

"Don't worry Martius, I'll be right behind you. Talk to me when you're scared." Violet assured him.

Martius took the first climb into the ladder and gradually ascended, avoiding looking down. His palms were sweaty behind his rubber gloves from his old work, Stella and Evgeny had theirs only Violet didn't have any, It was going to be a painful ascent for her. Martius slowly ascended, sweaty and trembling all the way, with a few moments when he almost slipped. It was too late to back down as they were already halfway at 750 meters above, Stella signaled for the Group to rest.

The group continued, albeit increasingly slow due to Martius' struggles with heights and their increasing fatigue. Violet, Stella and Evgeny continued to voice support for him from below. They were now at 1,454 metres, the opening of the main control room is visible, this gave Martius a little bit of needed boost but his trembling hands and weak legs are on the brink of slipping up.

"You okay Martius!?" Stella shouted from below, she was at the last.

"I-I'm still holding on, I don't k-know how much l-longer. M-my f-fucking legs are j-jelly.." Martius was trembling and his voice didn't even try to hide it, his hands looked pale like ghosts, a stark contrast to the light wooden brown of his arm.

"I'm so proud of you Martius, you can do this! We're almost there!" Violet cheered him up from below. Martius wanted to smile at her but doing so would make him see how high they were suspended from and it would probably make him faint and hang from his harness.

"Let's rest a while, I can see the control room, we're almost there, you're doing great kiddo." Stella commanded, and the rest of them stopped climbing, just holding on to the metal ladder as they caught on their breaths.

Evgeny checked everyone, he looked at Stella right above him, her muscular thighs and legs were perfect. He leaned a bit further and saw Violet, just calm and composed, albeit trembling due to tiredness and fatigue but not from the heights like Martius. He then leaned furthest to check on Martius, to his surprise, he saw Martius slip from the ladder and fall straight down to Violet. Violet was dislodged from the ladder by the impact and fell down straight, good thing her Harness prevented her from hitting Stella by mere inches, Violet screamed as she bounced and she was suspended inverted, her forehead, bleeding from the impact dripped blood on Stella's face. Martius was suspended by his harness just above Violet, pale and unconscious, his chemical light slipped from his pocket and fell down the shaft illuminating it, taking a while before finally impacting the floor

"I got you! Stella helped Violet get back to the ladder gently, she gripped her back and gently helped her get out of her inverted position and get her foot and hands back to the ladder, when she was back and secure, Stella climbed to Martius who was still unconscious.

"Martius, are you okay!? Talk to me!" Stella shouted but Martius was still unconscious.

Stella carried Martius on her shoulder, connecting his harness to hers. Stella was pretty strong but carrying a grown man 1.3 kilometres above pushed her amazing strength to the limit but she managed. Her adrenaline surge gave her the much needed energy to finally complete the last remaining meter of the ascent with Martius still unconscious. With a final grunt, Stella threw the unconscious Martius on the ledge, then she climbed over, lying and panting from the extreme fatigue, but smiling. Violet and Evgeny climbed out to the ledge as well but they were far too tired to celebrate and they all collapsed from exhaustion.

Later that day, Martius woke up, his hand and legs hurt like hell but he was okay. They were inside the main rectangular control room, it was far bigger than the monitoring station, with 5 rows of consoles with the ancient flat screen monitors in them. It was bare concrete like the whole tunnel system and the vast majority of New Iconium, whoever built the Warrens obviously didn't care much about beauty and aesthetics.

The team sat by the portacooker cooking algae soup. Violet noticed that he was awake, she had a bandage on her head. Violet immediately flashed a big friendly smile and waved at him, Martius still dazed, waved back. Evgeny gestured to Martius to join them, Marius immediately did and was handed his stainless bowl with algae soup and instant rice.

"What happened?" Martius aked.

"You lost consciousness, good thing the harness." Stella answered, looking pretty much unconcerned about the whole affair.

"Else you'd be strawberry jelly down here." Evgeny jokes, but Martius was still far too dazed to laugh.

"I'm glad you're okay!" Violet told Martius

Martius and the team ate quietly, his body still hurt like hell there was no way they're going to make the final ascent tomorrow. He's probably going to have to give it another day to recover.

"Okay guys, it's been a long day today, I'm off early!" Evgeny stood up and went straight to his bedding.

"Yeah, I'm not feeling too well myself, I'll go get more sleep." Martius then stood up and went to his usual corner far away from them.

"I'm not sleepy yet, I'm gonna stay up and check this place in a while, it's not like we're going tomorrow, not until Martius and you are fully recovered from the fall." Stella told Violet.

"Yeah, I'm not sleepy as well, let me stay up with you. I have plenty of time to recover." Violet said, following Stella as she wandered around the room.

Stella checked the place, the walls, bare concrete, the ceiling had LED lighting that hasn't been used in centuries. The consoles were completely covered in dust. She wondered what sort of information they processed here. Water level and pressure? The artificial weather system in New Iconium? There were myriads of possibilities, the only thing sure was this place once bustled with engineers and technicians, keeping this engineering marvel of a city functioning, but when the water dried out and the necessity of a flood control system went with it, they just simply packed up and abandoned the place, striking it off the map and records to prevent citizens from going making unaccounted trips to the surf. Now, they were there, although not the first to exploit it for their own means.

"Violet, what are you planning after this?" Stella asked out of the blue, catching Violet off guard.

"Well, I don't know to be honest, what kind of life there is on the surface. I suppose I'd live near you or Martius and just try to do jobs and stuff." Violet answered, she was pretty unsure herself.

"Do you really know the main reason why we took this trip, aside from Martius running away from murderous thugs in New Iconium?" Stella asked her seriously. Violet has grown pretty comfortable with her but she still gets intimidated from time to time.

"I just thought both of you were Martius' friends or something, didn't think much about it, why is there something that I should know?" Violet started to look concerned, but she was far into it to have any second thoughts.

"You seem pretty trustworthy Violet so I will tell you this but if you ever say a word of it to someone, expect the consequences. Evgeny and Me are a part of the New Iconium resistance, we fight the tyranny of the StateSec and their gang lackeys. Our main objective is to get to the surface to make contact with the main Resistance body so that we can re-establish communications between them using this tunnel and coordinate an uprising. Martius has pledged his cause to the Resistance, but you don't have to. I'm just telling you the things you should expect, regardless of whether you are Resistance or not, you came with us so you're an outlaw now. You're gonna have to live in the shadows and we're sorry if we didn't tell you earlier." Stella felt somewhat bad about having to break the news to her but VIolet seems to be undisturbed.

"I don't really mind, I feel like there's also something about me that you guys should know."

"Whatever it is, I won't judge you. Well unless you are a StateSec or a gang informant that is." Stella joked to try to diffuse the tension

"My life hasn't always been like this, working in a small coffee shop and stuff. There was a time when I had to work for the gangs because I owed money from them trying to keep my father alive from the Warrens syndrome but he died anyway, and I worked for several years before I finally paid my debts."

Stella was surprised, Violet looked like an ordinary girl full of hope and enthusiasm, a ray of sunshine in the dark, damp undergrounds they all lived in. She has been a constant reminder that hope existed in small pockets of New Icomium, she was different from them despite being from the same place.

"I had to work at the brothel every weekend to pay off my debts. It wasn't easy but I had very little choice. The gangs owned me and they passed me around and used me, sometimes they sent me over as a gift to other people. The only man I ever loved found out about what I did and he got angry and left me. It destroyed me but I had to endure it for 6 years until they finally tired of using me and let me go. I had to pick up the pieces of my life and start over again."

"Violet, I'm so sorry, I." Stella was at a loss of words, she now finally started to understand why she wanted to leave New Iconium so much, trying to run away from that god awful place that chewed people regardless of who they are.

"It's okay, I am not ashamed of having to work at the brothel but it's all in the past now. The only thing that matters is the new life waiting for me, but I don't really know how Evgeny and Martius would react to it, being men and stuff so please keep it between us." Violet told her, she felt somewhat relieved of having to finally be able to open up what happened after all these years. Even her barista friend didn't know much about her past, having Stella sincerely listen felt really good.

"I will, don't worry, even if we get to the surface, I'd still be your friend Violet. You are a wonderful, strong woman and I admire you." Stella assured her. Violet could finally envision a life surrounded by people that really mattered. Stella hugged Violet and she started crying, her tears felt warm on her chest. Violet was genuinely happy for meeting them, she was genuinely thankful for Martius for taking her with them.

Stella and Violet returned to their sleeping bags, Evgeny and Matius were deeply asleep and snoring loudly, Stella made a disappointed face and Violet stifled a laugh.

Martius woke up, his body pain mysteriously gone. but something didn't feel right. He was in a nice apartment, big comfortable bed and clean furniture, beige walls and a glass window showing a nice view of the outside, with a blue open sky and tall skyscrapers. It was absolutely beautiful but it felt somewhat off, something that he couldn't explain. He stood up to investigate and outside the room was a kitchen, a slender woman was cooking something, wearing an apron, jeans and a maroon shirt, the woman turned around and looked at him, it was Keya.

"Wow, you're finally awakened my love! Come I cooked you some jelly mushroom soup, your favorite!" Keya had that same, unmistakable beautiful smile.

Martius immediately rushed to her and kissed her, the taste of her lips and the scent of her fragrance flooded his brain, his hands traversed the curvature of the back of her slender torso, tracing the length of her spine and resting above the buttocks, Keya's arm wrapped around his head and the other one around his waist.

"Geez, Marty, what's up with you today?" Keya looked surprised and flattered, she gave him a quick peck to the lips then went back to cooking.

"Just missed you so much Keya, I thought I'd never see you again."

"You are so weird Marty, that's why I love you so much."

Keya and Martius ate on the table, they talked about a lot of things, their life and childhood in New Iconium, the status of their old friends. Ziv has gotten married and is expecting his first child while Akira is a father to a twin. Keya said that they will have a little reunion here at their house and that she's excited. Martius just sat there, nodding, quietly admiring Keya's beauty, the weird feeling persisted, a lot of things didn't feel right but it didn't matter to him. Keya was the only one that mattered.

After their dinner, Keya took Martius by hand to their bedroom and they made love, time seemed to both freeze and pass by quickly, then they reached climax at the same time. Afterwards, they both lay there, sweaty and panting but overjoyed and satisfied, evident by the big mischievous grin on their faces.

Keya stood up and went to the balcony, her nakedness displaying the perfection of her copper coloured slender figure, like those old greco-roman statues of old. She stood in the doorway and lit a cigarette, her curly hair caressed by the gentle night breeze. An unmistakably beautiful silhouette in the moonlight. Martius stood up to follow her, and embraced her from behind, their warm skin brushing against one another, sending tiny electric sparks all over his nerves.

"Wow, that was intense." Keya jokes, her head against Martius' chest, Martius playing with her hair.

"Is any of this real? Are we real?" Martius asked out of the blue feeling euphoric but off, Keya was unfazed, she peacefully stared at the beautiful city skyline outside.

"Does it matter? The only important thing is this moment, right now. I love you so much, Martius." Keya looked up to him, still as beautiful as ever.

"I want to stay here with you forever Keya, I don't want to wake up. Let's just be like this forever."

"But you have to, your real life is waiting, real friends, new life. I'm just a figment of your dream." Keya caressed Martius' arm wrapped around her.

"Real or not, you're good enough for me, please don't go, Keya. Just be here with me." Martius held her closer to him, kissing her neck.

"You have to keep on living, Martius, you cannot stay forever in the past. You have to move on and keep living, for me and for yourself Martius. Keep living and love again for me." Keya turned around looking and looked him in the eye, caressing his face.

"Just be with me a little longer please, you're the only one I'll ever love Keya, I can't ever love someone else." Martius touched her beautiful face, his tears were streaming but they felt cold, like ice running on his face.

"Wherever you are, I'll just be here with you, in your heart. Just close your eyes and think of me Martius. Goodbye." Keya leaned forward and kissed him before he could say anything.

Martius woke up from his dream, sweating. His body pain is back, he could feel his joints throbbing and his torso sore. He also felt something hard on his pants, nothing new. He closed his eyes for a few moments, still trying to make sense of his dream. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring at Pietrus, bald, with a long diagonal scar across his face looking at him, grinning, gold teeth all bared. A bad dream perhaps, but he pinched himself and Pietrus was still there. Martius felt his heartbeat stop, It was over.

Pietrus stared at him, gold teeth all barred out. Martius felt his heart drop to his stomach, like a cast lead. Everything was over. He was going to die without ever seeing the sun, without Keya by his side, the last recourse is to die with dignity, Martius is not going to give Pietrus the satisfaction of seeing him beg for his life.

"Did you really think that I'm not going to find you like your pathetic brother Thane, you little squirt? " Pietrus said in his menacing low voice. He was physically short but his muscular frame could probably rip Martius in half.

Evegny, Stella and Violet were all tied up, being held at gunpoint. Pietrus brought five thugs with him armed with an assault rifle, which seems to be his elite personal guards. An Aerocar was parked at the elevator door, they must have climbed down quietly and taken them hostage while they were sleeping then flew the Aerocar from above.

Pietrus walked over to Violet, he played with her hair and touched her face, she pulled away in horror and disgust.

"I didn't know my girl Violet is your lover. Did you know she used to work for my brothel in order to pay off her debts? Your sweet, innocent, beautiful Maiden used to get passed around by thieves, beggars and delinquents all day. Then I'd take her to my private room and I would play with her. I know she probably acts all sweet and innocent but behind curtains, she's one nasty bitch! Ugh!"

"Fuck off you disgusting pig!" Violet had enough and she spit on Pietrus' face, Pietrus punched her in the gut and she fell on her knees, then he pulled her hair and picked her up back to her feet.

"Whatever grudge you have is against me, leave my friends out of this! Let them go and you can do whatever you want with me!" Martius pleaded for his friends, trying to save them is the least he could do.

"You killed my cousin and shot me so I'm gonna have you watch your friends die because of you. As for Violet, I think I'm gonna have a little bit of fun and have you watch your precious little princess turn into the dirty little whore she is before I slit her throat, then I kill you last."

"Goddamnit let them go, just kill me. This is between us." Martius was crying, he certainly wasn't afraid of death but he couldn't bear to see his friends die, to see Violet get abused right in front of him. None of them deserved such a fate.

"Pietrus, please just let them go and I'd let you take me back to the brothel, do whatever you want to me like old times please Pietrus." Violet pleaded to Pietrus, she felt disgust and revulsion but her friends' life was on the line.

"Sorry babe, but you're used goods. Besides, I'm gonna have one last fun with you and don't worry, your boyfriend will join you soon afterwards." Pietrus responded to Violet

Pietrus then walked over to Evgeny and Stella, both still with their arms tied up.

"I'd have you choose between them, but it seems that you're not interested in my game so I guess I'll go ahead and just choose one for you." Pietrus pulled out his pocket knife and opened it, taunting both of them.

"You, athletic girl, you look pretty tough. Bet you're not afraid to go first for your friend." Pietrus pointed the knife to Stella

"No, please Pietrus don't do this!" Violet pleaded for Stella's life slumped on the floor, crying

It's okay kid, we'll have to go sometimes." Stella assured Violet.

Pietrus approached Stella, she remained unfazed, unafraid, tough son of a bitch he thought. He put his razor sharp pocket knife to her throat, Stella stared Pietrus in the eye, fully intent on letting him know that she wasn't afraid of death till the end. The knife went slowly in Stella's throat until it cut through the skin, just above the flesh.

Suddenly, they all heard the unmistakable hum of an Aerocar, Pietrus pulled the knife from Stella's throat. His guards all looked confused and nervous, as if someone uninvited was about to crash their party.

"Boss, we got an uninvited company!" Yelled one of his thugs, panice clearly setting in his eyes.

A StateSec Aerocar descended to the platform level of the open elevator door, with the left passenger door open and a sniper aiming at them. The searchlight in front of the Aerocar turned towards them. The pilot spoke something that came out of its roof speakers.

"This is Colonel Rey Asahi of the StateSec, you are unlawfully trespassing on a prohibited area. Surrender or we will open fire!" the loudspeaker mounted on the Aerocar announced to them.

"Fuck off Colonel Asahi, we have an arrangement, this is none of your business!" Pietrus shouted, his face a mixture of confusion and anger.

"Well Pietrus, somebody else paid more!" The Aerocar announced and the sniper opened fire, taking the head off one of the thugs in a clean shot, bits of skull and blown off brain matter scattered everywhere.

Pietrus ran towards his 4 remaining thugs who took cover behind the control room consoles while Stella ran towards Evgeny, Martius and Violet on the console on the opposite side of the room.

"Asahi you double crossing bastard! You'll regret this!" Pietrus and his men began firing back at the Aerocar, its armor plating deflected the shots of their small arms.

Meanwhile, Martius and the others were trying to figure out their exit from all the chaotic shooting happening.

Pietrus' Aerocar were left on the Elevator door entrance, they could make a run for it and fly to the surface. Aerocars were just large enough to fit on the elevator doors.

"We're gonna make a run for the Aerocar! Don't stop and keep running, even if you're hit. Wait for them to finish reloading." Evgeny shouted.

The firefight was intense between Pietrus and his men and the StateSec officers, time seemed to have slowed to a trickle in Martius' mind as everything seemed to unfold in slow-mo. The projectiles zoomed past in bright blue and green tracer bullets in the air.

Then the two sides finally exhausted the 100 round magazine of their Compact Assault Rifle, the mags made a plastic click upon hitting the ground and there was intense silence in the air as two parties struggled to reload their rifles.

"Go! Goddamnit Go!" Evgeny shouted and the rest of them bolted up on the floor. His shout caught the attention of Pietrus and the Statesec.

On of the StateSec finished reloading and began firing to Colonel Asahi's chagrin.

"Ceasefire, you imbecile! We need them alive!" Colonel Asahi shouted on the soldier who immediately disengaged.

"Don't let those assholes get away!" Pietrus commanded his thugs and they began firing on the gang.

Asahi and his men shot again on Pietrus, pinning them down back to the bullet ridden console they were hiding at.

"Men, go after Martius, he cannot be allowed to escape! It's a direct order from the higher-ups." Asahi ordered his men and some of them went after the chase, guns holstered.

Martius and the rest made it inside Pietrus' Aerocar, the interior was spacious and luxurious, though it reeked of smoke and drugs. Evgeny went to the pilot seat as none of them except him knew how to fly.

He flicked a switch and the holographic dashboard came to life. Pietrus left his card in the slot and Evgeny started the Aerocar and it began levitating in the air.

Two StateSec agents managed to get to the Aerocar's locked doors and began banging telling them to open the door but Evgeny ignored them and pushed the throttle forward sending the Aerocar zooming forward into the elevator shaft, then Evgeny yanked the stick upwards and the Aerocar tilted up hard leaving Stella, Martius and Violet screaming, mixture of amusement, relief and fear in their faces.

"Shit, they are closing the Elevator doors! We're not going to make it Ev!" Stella pointed out, the elevator doors had begun to close, the red indicator light blinking too fast for comfort.

"Fuck it Ev, I know what you are thinking, we're not going to make it man! Stop the car and surrender to the StateSec, it's the only way!" Martius said.

"Ooooh shit, this is it, this is it, this is it!" Violet said to herself, terrified.

"Everybody, get down!" Evgeny shouted and all of them instinctively ducked.

The Aerocar flew sideways into the closing elevator door, causing the roof to hit the door and get ripped but the rest of the aerocar's body managed to clear the door, Evgeny has lost control at this point and the Aerocar crashed into the corridor, hitting a post and causing all of them to be ejected from the roofless vehicle and immediately caught flame filling the hall with smoke.

Evgeny, Stella, Martius, and Violet all lying sprawled on the cold steel corridor floor, unconscious.