Chapter 1: The Sky Fall Collapse
The cashier pushed the wad of dirty money back across the counter and repeated what he said the first time, “I’m sorry we can’t take your money. We don’t accept it anymore.”
Fatima stood at the exit of the small market. Its walls packed with food. A small fridge hummed behind the counter and single yellow light cast shadows around over the dark rotting wood. A radio set next to the counter. The cover of the speakers had been torn off, but it still worked, and music poured out. She looked down at the wad of bills and collection of coins on the counter. “I don’t understand. It’s real money.” She spat on her thumb then picked up a single bill and rubbed at the dirt covering the center. “It’s very dirty, but it’s still money.” The dirt on the paper turned muddy, and she went to wipe it off on her shirt but crinkled her nose at the thin layer of filth covering her. She reached her under her clothes, wiped the bill off on the inside then reproduced it. “See, It’s the president’s face.” She pointed again. Her muscles rigid in frustration.
The cashier’s face twisted, his lower lip dropping as though he might cry, then his jaw flexed. “I know. And I want to help you. I do.” He pointed to a camera in the corner: the only modern and truly clean thing in the whole building. “But I can’t. I don’t want to lose my job.” He pushed the money further across the counter. “I can’t take your money. We don’t take it anymore.”
“I don’t understand.” Her forehead tensed, and a vein began to appear. “It’s real money. It’s not fake. It’s real.” She held up the cleansed bill with both hands pulling it tight, to make it easier to see. Her voice rose and became commanding, “It’s real! Look.”
The cashier shook his head and gazed at the floor. “You don’t get it.”
“Look!” She pushed the money closer to his face. In her anger, her body shook, and her hands trembled. A tattered edge of the paper gave way, and it ripped in half. The anger seemed to drain from her instantly. She dropped the two parts and stared at them, then looked up. “You’ll still take it?”
“Fatima.” The cashier touched her hand. “Listen, we don’t take that currency any more.”
She picked up the bills and coins from the counter and looked at them her eyebrows knitted in confusion. “I didn’t steal it. I earned it.” Again, she held it out. “I promise.”
The young man at the register pulled the lever on the machine and the drawer ejected. He reached in and pulled out a blue circular chip. He placed it next to her money. “You need these.”
“What is it?” Fatima picked up the strange coin. “I’ve never seen one. Where do I get it?
The cashier shrugged. “Several men dropped them off this morning and gave me my instructions.”
“I don’t understand. My job pays me this.” She pushed the money towards the young man again. “What good is it if I can’t buy food?”
The cashier seemed helpless and shrugged again. “I have to do what they tell me.”
Fatima gathered her bills and coins and put them into her pocket. Her mouth hung slightly open with confusion. She turned toward the door then back. Once more she pulled out the money and looked at it then at the young man. “I don’t understand this is our country’s money. How can you not take it? It’s money.”
The young man swallowed. “Not in here. Not anymore.”
She stumbled out into the street. She could feel the dirt beneath her naked feet. Everything looked the same. The same as yesterday, but today they wouldn’t take her money.” The market building was not much wider than her house. The paint was light blue and fading. It felt like a nightmare. She stepped into the street. A few electric lights spread along the market street. Other places sold food. She could get something at one of them.
Fatima visited every market along the street. All of them refused to take her money. The day grew dark, and she returned home with nothing to feed her family. In her hands, she held the dirty bills. Yesterday it was money. I bought food and anything else, today it had turned back into paper. It didn’t make sense. How could money do that? She looked at the stars. They had been without food before. But… she looked back at all the shops. But today she had money. They had paid her at the factory, and she had come right here. Would her family understand? Her money was good. Why wouldn’t they take it?
At home, Fatima paused outside the door. She could hear her children inside. They kicked something wooden, and it toppled to the floor. They laughed like they had a new toy. Fatima stood and listened. Whatever joy they had would end when she told them. As soon as they knew there would be no food, it would be all they thought about. She rested her back against the dried mud wall of her home. The mud had been melted smooth by the rain and wind, but it still felt girty against the skin of her arms and neck.
Inside, the children sounded as though they reset the game. It was quiet then the clatter of wood, and they laughed again.
A young girl walked down the street. She seemed a moving shadow as she swayed up the street. She balanced a basket on her head. Only her left hand reached up to balance it.
Fatima reached into her pocket and pulled out her money. She held it up. “You have any food you can sell? Rice? Bananas?”
The girl stopped and slowly knelt. She pulled the basket from her head and displayed its empty center. She frowned. “They wouldn’t sell me any today. They said my money was not good.”
“I see.” Fatima lowered head and started at the pebbled in the path. Her hand dropped to the ground limp. The bills and coins spilled out on the ground. “How will we get food if our money is no good. It’s what they pay us.”
“The girl shook her head. I don’t know Miss. I don’t know. They turned off the water at the pump too. Said we had to pay with different money.” She rose and continued to talk more to herself than Fatima. “Where do we get this better money?”
The young girl’s word hit a cord in Fatima. She dusted herself off and entered the house. On the floor was the water bucket. It was tipped over and dry as the dirt on which it rested. That was the new game.
The children scrambled away and looked up with the same large eyes they did when they were being scolded.
Fatima knelt and cried.
It had been three days since the store had refused their money; since the water pumps had been turned off. Now, a crowd stood outside the market shop. They held stones in their hands. Fatima’s husband had brought a wooden chair. He placed it on the ground and stepped onto it. His stomach hurt, his legs trembled. The group that had gathered was just as poor and he and his wife. Most of them didn’t wear shoes.
A man with thick calluses on his feet dropped a large stone between his legs. His toenails were black and chipped. A gash split the skin on his right foot. It didn’t bleed but had healed that way with the skin splayed open. At the corner of his lips, thick white saliva had turned into a dry goop. He was thirsty. They all were, but their job was not water. The other neighborhood would take care of. They were here for the food.
Fatima’s husband reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of money. He held it up for everyone to see. It provoked angry shouts. People spit towards him. He felt some of it on his legs and arms. But he wasn’t angry with them. He understood. He dropped the money to the ground and pointed to the building.
The peeling blue front door was open, but a metal gate still stood in the way. Similar protection covered all the windows. Inside a young man stood with his back pressed against the wall. “Please don’t. I’m just doing my job. Just my job. Please don’t.”
Fatima’s husband could barely hear the man’s voice above the crowd, but he could hear him. The mob’s leader held up both his hands, the finger’s splayed wide in a call for silence. In a moment the curses and shouts died. He pointed to the building, and the figure inside then spoke. “He did not make this choice. And we are not animals. We are only hungry. Do not let your anger at what has been done lead to violence against those who had no choice. He too has to eat.”
A murmur moved through the crowd. Fatima’s husband could not make out what people were saying. He called for silence again. “When we take the gate pull at the sides. The wood is old and weak. It will give way long before the steel yields.” He pointed and gave the command. “Now!”
Inside a large conference room in Germany, the air conditioner bombinated quietly. A polished oak table fit perfectly in the middle of the room surrounded by microfiber chairs. Miguel stood next to one and watched the food riot develop on the screen. He watched a poor, dark-skinned man from a developing nation lead the charge against a small market store that Miguel’s company-owned.
The starving mass grabbed and pulled at the steel roll-down gate. They kicked and pulled until it broke free. They nearly trampled each other to get inside. In a moment, they stripped it of everything and left.
Miguel pointed at the screen. “What’s that on the floor? Can you zoom in at all?
Two men sat at the conference table. One, well-groomed, with a tight-fitting suit, and the other looked just out of college with a laptop in front of him.
The college grade typed a few things, and the camera focused in on where Miguel had pointed. The ground was covered in paper bills and coins.
Miguel leaned back in his chair and touched his hand to his perfectly smooth chin. He was tall with skin like golden honey and thick black hair. He was descended from some of the wealthiest and most influential men in the history of Chile, and with that wealth and influence, his ancestors had always married the most beautiful women in the country. Miguel was the product of centuries of human beauty clustering into a single gene pool. He spoke in a tone that was almost a question, “They stole our food, but still left money.”
Kevin unbutton his suit, and the tight clothing fell back. The slick fitting black cloth made him look spindly, like a spider that has had some of its legs torn off. He nodded. “It seems they didn’t want to feel like thieves. It’s part of why I wanted you to see this. Our first attempt at a Sky Fall collapse is a failure. The people couldn’t understand what was happening, and they blamed our company instead of turning on their government as we had hoped.”
The floor was carpeted, and it damped the sound of Miguel’s footsteps as he strode toward the screen. “Don’t worry too much; for the all planning that went into this, it was still our first try. The question is why. Why was it so hard to for them to understand?”
“There is something else to consider. This is a small, developing nation; most the people didn’t have much education if any. The result might be very different in America or Europe.”
Miguel shook his head. “We can’t gamble. We will only get one shot at this, besides it’s possible that starving, thirsty people will act the same way no matter how much education they have.” He turned away from the screen. “Gather as much data as possible. We need to find out where we went wrong before we try again.”
“Of course,” Kevin said.
Half-way to the exit, Miguel stopped. “And we will need to distract Jay Nichols.” He gestured toward the screen. “If he finds out about this, he will quickly put it together and leverage his understanding of Sky Fall to put an end to it. Contact one of our assets and distract him.”
Chapter 2: I Do Not Doubt Now
As we walked the street of the abandoned city, we saw a body. A woman trampled to death in the madness of the night before. Stephenson warned me that if anyone ever wielded Sky Fall, they could kill anyone they wanted, and no one would ask questions. I doubted then. I do not doubt now.
-Jay Nichols, Secrets of the Sky Fall
They picked the girl because despite being almost thirty, she could still pass for nineteen, and she’d killed before. There were other factors as well. They had to be sure she was someone the boy would respond to. Several were interviewed and sent on preliminary missions to make initial contact. She provoked the strongest response.
Now, the two danced and gyrated against each other in the rented factory. It was a poor choice to hold a concert if anyone cared what the music sounded like, but that didn’t interest this crowd of college students. They were here for the drugs, reckless dancing and possible hookups in the after haze.
A live band played loud music through multiple speakers throughout the area. The thick cement walls and heavy unyielding metal of the printers the dotted the area reverberated the noise into an indecipherable cacophony. Even the rhythm of the crowd seemed uneven as some heard the music from the speakers, and other heard the reflection from the walls.
The girl led her date to the center of the room through careful tugs, presses and occasionally drifting away from him and seductively writhing as she waiting for him to draw closer. Instinctively, she touched her ear as though to activate her ear piece, but nothing was there. The team knew going in that it would be too loud. She ran her finger through the boy’s hair and entwined them behind his head, then pulled him close, until his lips touched her neck. She could feel him begin to kiss her skin. She took the moment to check in with her team.
Several massive men dotted the room. They danced but it was out of rhythm, the sluggish odd dance that is often mocked of in stereotypes of white people. As she made eye contact with each of them, they all gave a singe nod, then lit up a glow stick around their writs. Each held it high in the air. They waved and bobbed their hands to the music. It was common to see such a thing at raves and rock concerts, and several others members of the crowd were doing it as well. Only if one were to see the scene from a bird’s eyes view would it stand out. A perfect geometric shape of upheld blue wrist bands, all at key positions in the room.
The signal was clear. The mission was a go. She pressed her body into the boy and weaved around him like it was part of the dance, until she was behind him, running her hands over his body. She stroked them across his chest and over his stomach. She kept the pressure firm to ensure he didn’t turn around. Then the smell hit the crowd.
Not everyone noticed, but enough did. The stink crinkled their noses and their enjoyment stopped long enough for them to notice other things. She couldn’t see them, but she knew what would happen. The metal scaffolding that held the stage lights would tilt, the metal screeching, straining. Then the music would stop for just a moment, just long enough for someone to shout, and others to scream.
The silence hit. All the speakers flipping off for a few well-chosen moments. A voice boomed through the room, “It’s falling!”. A crackle of electric sparks showered down over the crowd and ignited several screams then the voice shouted again, “Run.” Then the music blared through the speakers once more.
The boy tried turn, but she grabbed his face pulled him in for a kiss. Her other hand held him in his twisted awkward posture until she could drive her knee into the back of his.
He tilted off balance and grabbed for her, but she’d practiced this moment many times and was just out of reach as he fell to the ground.
As the crowd began to swarm past her, she followed the training, avoiding damaging the Fit-Bit on his arm, and kicking him in the face as she ran past. The others would try and move through the crowd and do the same.
The mob jostled her as she ran with them. Others fell. Her own panic rose as her feet were kicked and a hand shoved at her as others tried to keep their balance. Then she burst through the doors, outside and the crowd spread out. A few strides across the pavement and she was safe. Sweat dripping down her arms onto the concrete.
The echoing screaming seemed distant and faint without the concrete to trap them now. She pulled her phone from her pocket to check the heart rate of her target. The screen was cracked, and it wouldn’t turn on. She glanced around for the other members of her team.
The crowd that had escaped the building began to circle it now, watching. Among them she spotted a man who had signaled from the stage. He met her eyes, removed his bracelet, snapped it in half and tossed it to the ground. The target was dead.
She looked around for the others. They were already dispersing into the parking lot. She would wait. There was small chance that the Fitbit had broken off and was simply no longer tracking his heartbeat. It was her job to make sure the boy never made it to tomorrow.
The police, fire department, and ambulance arrived. They secured the building, and brought out three body bags. The boy had to be in one of them. He’d never emerged from the factory. She gave her statement like everyone else and headed toward her car. On the ground she stepped on a discarded newspaper. It was a college campus paper discussing one of the worst tragedies at a night club, and all the signals that the crowd had ignored. The team had put that article in the papers of all three colleges that might attend this concert. They wanted to make sure it was fresh in the minds of the people; how they should react. Whoever had hired her knew what they were doing. It was one of the most complicated hits she’d ever done, but seeing the after math it was clean. No one would ever know what really happened tonight.
Jay Nichols stood in the empty printing factory. Streaks of grey wove through his dark hair. Age had taken some of his muscles mass, but he’d kept his shape. The occasionally scuffle with Alvero’s men was a constant motivator to keep him on top of his training. But he’d also learned from Stephenson the importance of blending in. Too fit, too well groomed, and people remembered you, so he bought his clothes too large and they hung loose and mis-fitting around him. His athletic body covered in saggy folds. He lowered himself to one knee and his jeans bunched up around his ankles, the hem dirty from dragging on the ground.
Strewn around the factory were torn and damaged boxes. They seem to leak propaganda as campaign posters, and banners, spilling their red, white and blue over the gray cement. The floor was marked with countless scuffs from the rubber soles that stampeded over it. A week ago, his research assistant died here along with two others.
The clicking of heels on stone echoed through the room and he looked up to see Alice standing beside a pillar. Her blonde hair and blue eyes as bright as ever, but there wrinkles around them now.
He tried to meet her eyes, but she averted her gaze. “You followed me here?”
She shrugged. “You think it was Alvero?”
“Maybe. Or Miguel, or Costly, or all three. Hard to say.”
Alice gestured to the room. “Why them?”
Nichols pointed to where he guessed the body of his assistant had been found. “I him warned not to use the internet to search for Sky Fall, but that’s what his generation does.” He touch the floor as though examining the floor closer. “The other two might just have been collateral damage, but I’m still looking into it.”
“So, what now?”
Nichols took a deep breath and scanned the room. “This has gone on too long. I know what Alvero has and what he has threatened, but I don’t care anymore. I think it’s best if we take him off the board.”
“That won’t be easy. He has an army.” She took a few steps closer. “You have a plan for us already?”
“No.” He turned to face her. “And there is no us. I still don’t trust you.”
Her lower lip tightened. “I sorry it hurt you, but it was the only way I could think of. I’m sorry you can’t forgive me, but I wouldn’t do it differently. I could help you with this though.”
“Part of the problem with you Alice, is that I don’t know what you want. I can never guess at what you’ll do. You’re not on my side. You’re on your own side of everything.” Nichols rose to his feet. “Even now I can’t understand what you’ll get out of helping me. So I have no way of knowing if you’ll turn on me.”
She folded her arms. “I never turned on you. I just left you out of the plan. There is a difference.”
Nichols shook his head. “No. I’d rather go alone than have you at my back.”
Her eyes seem to widen as she looked at him. “I took care of Emma. You said you’d forgive if I did that, but you haven’t.”
“We’re having this conversation because I forgave you. But I still don’t trust you.”
Of all the chapters in the book this one I outlined the least. I continue to wonder if this is where it should stop, or if it starts where it should begin.