Mother of Exiles [Dystopia Rising: Evolution]

Dystopia Rising

The tug boat growls as the captain kills the engine.

For a moment, Kai thinks they’re busted, and she nocks her loose arrow. But nothing stirs this far out on the river. Exhaling, she relaxes her arm and glances towards the stern.

In their wake, the Plunge, skeletal buildings glimmering with a thousand small fires, burning at every level which hasn’t collapsed into the swampy streets below. It’s beautiful, the way the orange dots meets the starry sky above. But it’s also a testament to hubris, and the Natural One knows it better than any of the Yorkers aboard the boat.

Once, even taller buildings stood in Old York, stretching from the tip of the Plunge all the way to the Heights and Iron Gardens. “Sky scrapers,” as the stories go, because they clawed holes in the sky. But they’re long gone, to nuclear fire and the waters below.

“We gotta paddle from here. Any of their riders hear us, whole thing’s toast before we start,” the captain whispers, stepping away from the wheel. “Everybody grab an oar. Not you, you keep watch at the bow.”

She nods, walking without a sound as she approaches her assigned spot. Propping a foot up, Kai stares as the scrap heap begins to push past the remnants of a sunken barge, its hull carving a new channel towards the Broke Lands shore.

In the echoes that she begins to hear it: bloodcurdling screams and wailing that carries from Hell’s Gate all the way over the water.

“What’s that noise?” one Yorker, young and inexperienced, whispers across the tug boat.

“Prisoners,” answers Kai. “Word of advice, take a trip down before you let them take you alive.”

She can hear him gulp and shut his trap. A sense of dread hits everyone on the boat, even Kai. It’s been a week since their friend went missing, and five days since this gang paid her to track the man down. A shame she didn’t return with better news.

Now it’s bank or bust. They’re paying triple to stage an impossible heist. Either they’ll rescue him, or they’ll all be tortured by the 33rd Street Boys for… well, probably for the rest of their damn lives. But the boy’s worth money to someone, and she’s done it once.

As they grow closer and closer to the jagged shore, Kai spots an Iron Horse on patrol, headlight coasting along the outer perimeter of their territory.
“Oars up,” she murmurs. Two-by-fours slide against the railings.

Underneath her, the tug boat drifts on the water, softly bouncing between the hulls, sticking out a foot above the surface. Last time she snuck into this territory, she didn’t spot a patrol this far out.

“Security’s tighter. Might be a ceremony tonight.”

“A Final Knight ceremony? Shit.”

The patrol rumbles out of sight, and then silence. No snipers watching, no souls save for them.

Kneeling down, she pulls a special arrow from her quiver. Thicker, and instead of an arrowhead, it’s a grappling claw. She also retrieves a special coil of rope from her pack. It’s thin, but strong enough to hold her. Both cost a fortune, but they’ve been worth it ever since.

She ties one end of the rope to her arrow, making sure it won’t come loose. Then, in one fluid movement, Kai lines up her sight with the nearest building, aiming for a small fortification of sandbags on the roof, and pulls. She inhales, her fingers snap open, and the arrow arcs over the building. Once the rope behind it sags, Kai pulls on it until the claws catch on something and she can’t move it no more.

“Tie this end to the barge,” she orders, tossing the captain the rest of the rope. “All right, folks, here’s the plan. This rope won’t hold you and your armor, but if I travel light, I can climb up to that roof with a stronger line. I tie that, you climb up, and we move deeper into their territory from there.”

“This is such a stupid idea.”

Kai glares at the Yorker lady, an older woman with green veins crawling up her neck, but years of fighting left in her bones. “You didn’t pay me for smart ideas. You paid me to get it done, and if you want my honest advice? This is a suicide mission. I didn’t see you here two nights ago though, pulling this shit. But I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, so you’re getting your money’s worth.”

Everybody pauses, and the Yorker raises hands in defeat, backing off. “All right. Five story fall is better than these assholes.”

“Hooray,” Kai’s voice growls with sarcasm as the captain returns. As she looks, the line is taut, so she removes her armor. Metal clatters on the floor of the boat, and her cotton layers breathe again. She didn’t realize that the muggy summer night coated her with sweat, but she felt it caking under her arms and across her chest.

She’s been through worse though. After wrapping a thick rope around her torso and clasping its rusty carabiners together, Kai pulls her bow and quiver on and clambers onto the line. Hanging upside down, she begins to shuffle up, bit by bit with her arms and knees.

It takes ten minutes to cross the distance over the water below, the howling of the Damned at the edge of her ear, before she reaches the sandbags and crawls up and over them. Catching her breath, she checks the hook.

Bloody thing caught on the rustiest grate in the city. It’s a miracle she didn’t fall.

In two minutes, she finds a better place to hook it and uncoils the stronger rope. One clips onto the rope and slides back down to the tug boat. The other joins the claw.

As she waits, a trembling breeze ruffles her hair. The waves batter the husks of tankers down below, and across the bay, she spots the dark silhouette of half a giant woman, the Mother of Exiles, torn apart by the Fall.

It’s go time.