Blue Ash Crisis
“I need a great story now.” Apricot moans. The cool black synthetic wood bench chilly against her skirt. “I will get in trouble if I don’t turn in an article tomorrow.” A soggy double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg, rests between her fingers. “The Bureau of education sent me a letter certified that if my grades did not improve, they will move me to the labor field and I don’t want to work in a factory the rest of my life.” she cries. Sitting cross-legged next to Apricot dangling her heel off her foot, Bonni raised a chicken nugget from a small cardboard pouch, Bonni dipped the tip into a pair of open teriyaki and mayonnaise dipping packs. The smell of coffee from her cafe uniform battled against the surrounding salty smell of fried foods.
“Why not do one on today’s incident?” said a black-haired man who sat across from Apricot, who already dug into his burger, a friend of hers named Sato. She knew him through college. A pseudo mentor of sorts as he was a professional photojournalist finishing up his final year. “I got a couple photos of the crime scene, it would be great for your article.” His younger sister Machi, a first-year engineering student picked at her bowl of salad in a ladylike fashion.
“She wants a good article Sato, not one everyone will turn in reports on,” Machi remarked.
Apricot glances towards Bonni who's smile spread so far across her face Apricot, thought it was going to fall off. “So, remember that secret I wanted to tell you, like those officers were at that robbery this morning, as I was saying they looked concerned about something.”
Apricot watches as Machi rolls her ice-green eyes hidden behind thick black framed glasses; the ghost of a car passing by polish black sidewalk rails in their reflection. “I think there is a clear answer for that one,” She then takes a bite of her salad bowl. As she chews her bite Apricot and Bonni both wait for her answer. Machi shakes her head back and forth allowing her black twin tails to dangle. She swallows and continues “Most likely the fact she murdered several people.”
Bonni picks up another nugget and gestures in a pointing fashion towards Machi. “Don’t you think it's odd that so many people died. According to” Eerie Truths Monthly “there has been monster sightings all over the city.”
“Monsters! Ha, she was a crazy person, enough said.” Machi barks back chortling rudely at the notion of monsters.
For as long as Apricot had known Bonni, she was always one to become carried away with a fantastic story. Be it when they were kids and she took movies far too serious or an urban legend having her avoiding places. Even still Machi was being rude after all who does it hurt if Bonni has her weird obsession with spooky stories. “I find it odd to Bonni but I don’t think I can write a story on it at this point.”
“But why are they appearing all over the place now? I remember not too long ago when everyone said witches were just fairy tales. Something is happening and like I for one want to find out what that is! Don’t you agree with me, Sato?” A heavy red blush paints his face as Bonni crawls onto Sato’s lap leaning over towards him.
“He is a photographer, not a journalist.” Machi buts in giving a quick push on Bonni’s knee forcing her back into her seat away from her brother. “Witches are not real either. They are just ill people playing hocus pokus.”
“I guess but this sounds like tabloid stuff but who knows what is lurking in the shadows right. I mean for all we know monsters are under the city.” Sato strokes the back of his head with a foolish grin. Apricot giggles a little at Machi’s stabbing glare before she gives a small jab into Sato’s ribs. “Ack!” he yelps “But Machi is right, I am a photojournalist. If I see something and snap it you bet it would be front page news though.” He adds rubbing the impact of Machi’s playful blow.
“Tabloid, no this is cutting edge news.” Bonni barks before turning her gazes on Apricot. "You don't think this is a tabloid story?"
“Well,” Apricot says placing a finger to her lower lip. She looks up towards her brow pondering the idea. “I would need more information and two sources that are not hearsay. Thanks for the tip though Bonni. I will keep my ears open and you bet if I get more information I might write an article on it.”
“Ugh Apricot,” Machi growls. “Don’t encourage her to be so illogical.”
“Apricot come on. My idea is perfect.” A sudden look of shock comes over Bonni’s face as the loud cry of sirens roar down the street. Sato grabs his phone from his pocket. “What is that!” Bonni cries covering her ears.
“Hey Sato, what’s your police scanner say? Something I might want to write about?” Apricot asks.
Apricot hangs off Sato’s shoulder as she latches onto him. Sato maneuvers his finger through a black and blue looking app. Several alerts being placed on board. Tapping on one alert, Sato gives a foolish grin. “Yeah,” he says pausing for a moment. “A bank robbery going on a few blocks from here.”
“A bank robbery would be perfect!” Apricot burst jumping up and giving a fist pump. “Sato!” she shouts.
“You thinking what I am thinking?” Sato smirks before standing up from the table. “Hey Machi here is fifty Marks,” Sato says pulling out a few shiny emerald cards. “I’m sorry but you will have to get yourself a ride home.”
Machi blows a puff of air. “Yeah yeah, you always ditch me like this.”
Apricot waves to the two girls as she jogs behind Sato. “Hey sorry to take off like this. I will call you later to tell you how it went!” Bonni waves as Machi sits cross-armed and slumps into her seat.
Accompanying the sound of the sirens Apricot held tightly onto Sato’s back. With expert skill, Sato rushed past cars weaving through the two onward lanes. His red and white sports bike. The white lines of the road become a flickering line as Sato pulls on the throttle. “Sato,” Apricot yelps. “Don’t you think this might be a little fast.” Apricot cries. The swishing of cars passing them had gone from having measured pause to something more like a rapid reply from the last.
“These things can go down quick,” Sato says “Don’t want to miss a thing.” Apricot feels her heart race as she sees a near wall of vehicles up ahead. Sato cranks the break, the motorcycle screeching. A heavy smell of burnt rubber fills the air as Sato comes to a full stop behind a truck. “Ah, shit looks like we have traffic.”
Seizing his camera Apricot leaps from the bike and takes off running. “Sorry Sato.” Apricot looks back to see Sato’s confused face. “Thanks for the ride. I will catch you later.” She giggles holding up his camera.
“Yeah, get a good shot for me will ya,” Sato calls out.
Sprinting along the street of backed up traffic Apricot runs along massive walls of plastic and steel. All the transportation weaving along an interactive dance of inches and steps along the clogged metropolitan artery. As she is just about to reach the sidewalk, a car clips her heel knocking Apricot off her feet. She lands with a thud on the ground scraping her elbow and knees. She looks at her legs brushing off the street dust. Her skin is scuffed up with a surface layer of blood blossoming against her pale skin.
“Are you ok miss!” the driver asks stepping out of the car. Apricot gets back to her feet, brushing offer her clothes.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Apricot calls out running along the sidewalk.
When she nears the police barricade, Apricot can see several people already pushing to get past. “Damn it, I hate it when they do this kind of BS. Let the officers do their job.” Apricot reaches into her pocket and then for her purse. Then it hit her, she had left it in her seat and imagined Machi or Bonni had just about noticed it. “Great,” Apricot says aloud before looking around. Regardless she approaches the barricades, anyway. Apricot stands in front of an officer saying “Please officer I am media can you let me through!”
The officer coldly looks at her before hollering “Sure kid, student journalist, right? Yeah, where is your pass?”
“I left it behind I was in a hurry to follow the sirens.”
“I'm press too, officer!” says another man in a business suit.
“Sure kid, go get it and I will let you through. Without it, you ain’t coming on this side of the barricade.”
"I am press as well.” shouts another woman.
“Officer please!” Apricot begs.
“Listen to you punks are not tricking me that easily. Now scram before I have you arrested for misrepresenting yourself to an officer.”
“What is the official statement of the police about this robbery?”
“The state has chosen not to disclose whether or not this is a robbery or not. More information will be given as we understand the situation further.”
Apricot asks “Is there anyone inside the building?”
“All of you back off and disperse now!”
“Forgive me, officer.” Apricot gives a swift bow before pushing back through the crowd of crazed protestors. With a heavy heart, Apricot found it best to retreat. Negotiating with the police while surrounded by agitators seemed as though it was not the best idea. The angry roar of the crowd drowned out as she headed off the main street to a sub-street.
It was there in that sulking state she felt a release from her original adrenalin rush. Defeat overtaking her. She turns her head looking back at the crowd. Gripping the camera that hung around her neck she lifts it. Through the frame of the viewfinder, she watched as people clamored against the police. The officers now growing restless as their protests moved through the crowd with batons bashing in heads. Apricot squeezes the shutter button. The twin shutters spiral shut with a click and open just as fast capturing the moment onto the negative tape. Apricot grins to herself knowing Sato will be pleased with the shot. Though she could get a wider shot if she walked back a few steps using the building’s alleyway to frame the image. Though as she steps back she trips. Falling backward Apricot catches herself dropping the camera to hang on her neck.
At her feet was a metal grate that had been obstructed by her clumsy footwork. Stooping, Apricot put her hand on the grate to put it back into place when a delightful idea crossed her mind. The network of tunnels used for runoff beneath the city connected every road together. She had heard every street has them. Removing the grate she smiled hoping into the subterranean tunnel that would become her nexus to get into the press area for her interview once where someone would recognize her for sure and vouch for her.
“Come out with your hands up.” Shouts an officer with a handheld plastic blue and white bullhorn. Several other officers surround with their cars forming a shield wall around the crowd. A bulk of the officers hold the barricade as protesters try to push through to harass the police.
“Get back or I will shoot!” yells a younger officer over the crowd. “Back up I said!” before he draws a pistol panicking as the protesters get past the barricade. He levels it to a young woman’s head about his age while she crawls over the barricade. She freezes in place. The group around the officer chant a rallying cry.
“Enough of these rabble-rousers.” said a chief to an officer standing next to him. “Gas these sons of bitches.” A group of officers in full riot gear march towards the group holding large pipe like cannons in hand. With a holler, the officers release a series of canisters into the crowd that land releasing a thick cloud of brown smoke. The protesters scream as the tear gas reacts. Their skin burns and eyes water in the thick haze of poison. Passing out of the smoke the protesters are shortly followed by the gas still reeking from their clothes.
The police in front begin chattering to each other when they see the mirror glass door of the bank slide open. A man casually steps from the shadows with a girl coiled in arm. A gun pressed against her lower jaw. “Put the gun down.” The officers on the outside said.
The man lowers his head to the girl’s ear. “Now darling remember what I said. If you move or say a word, I will spray your face all over the room. You got that?” she nods her head as tears drop off her cheeks. His voice was gruff, the trademark of a heavy smoker.
The captain of the police lifts a radio off his chest “Get me a sniper on him, fast.”
“Put down the gun sir, it will be better for everyone if everyone gets to leave today.” said the officer with the bullhorn.
The man laughs. “I will put the gun down and even give you the girl. Back up you shit heads. Back up!” he says pulling the gun from the girl. Pointing towards the crowd. “Get back or else! If I see an officer in sight.” He presses the gun into the girl’s jaw moving her spongy skin. “Would not want to turn her pretty face into a scarlet fountain would we!” He then points the gun back to the officer. “Move back I said! Go now do it!”
“Take the shot.” The Police chief says over the radio.
A bullet thunders from the adjacent building soars overhead through the man’s face. In an instant, the image of the hostage and the man flickered away leaving only a small softball sized orb at their feet. “Wrong move assholes!” said the man over the bank’s intercom speakers.
“Shit!” gasped the officer as an explosion rolls out from the front of the bank. Crawling fire bellows over the ground with shards of debris hitting several bystanders in the wave of heat winds. The remaining protesters ran for their lives along with several officers who cracked under the pressure.
Apricot screamed as the ground rumbled. Whatever had just happened above was loud enough that her ears had rung from the blast. The lights hung upon cables strung along the walls shook in their metal cages danging back and forth. Apricot’s heart now pounded as she reached what she assumed was the other side. Apricot looked up at the escape. The metal bars obscuring the view above but much to her relief the sky's still blue. Scampering up the bars she pressed through to the surface.
A smile grows on Apricot's face as she glances around the dirty street to see several trash bins filled with assorted recyclables line a brick wall enclosure. She had made it past the guards. The top of the walls is lined with some very nasty looking razor wire. Apricot creeps out of the grate, the metal grate slams back down with a loud clank. She sweeps the dirt off her legs looking towards the alleyway. She could see police frantically pulling people from what appeared to be an explosion. “Who would use bombs for a bank robbery?” Apricot asked herself. She felt her hands fidget a little as a tense feeling washed over her. “Could this be a terrorist attack?” She bites her lip swallowing hard. “Can’t let nerves get to you girl. You want to be a reporter nows the time to act like one,” she says to herself.
Clutching the camera, Apricot lifts the box to her face. Peering through the viewfinder appeared black. She removed it from her eye to see the cap was dangling off the lens on a tinsel of white string. She put it back to her eye to see a person’s hazel eye looking back. Instead of having lashes teeth surrounded the orb. “What the?” Apricot says under her breath. The teeth shut turning into a grin saying “Hello,” in a strange cartoon-like voice. A shriek escapes her mouth as Apricot throws the camera raised her hands to her head, her body shaking from the sudden fright. The sound of glass shattering directs her gaze to her feet to see Sato’s camera broken on the ground. She looks around seeing everything in the alleyway as it was before she looked into the camera.
Apricot drops to her knees lifting the camera up, a few pieces of glass dropping out onto the pavement. “No,” Apricot says under her breath, as a tear escapes from her dropping face.
“Don’t move.” says a young man’s voice rather calmly. Apricot turns her head to the back of the bank building to see a man in scruffy clothing pointing a pistol at her. She felt pale as he bombs the nozzle. Accepting the gesture as a direction to stand Apricot rises to her feet not wanting to upset the man. “Wow, he is really handsome,” she says to herself after noticing the man’s chili yellow eyes. He was a handsome devil with the features of a celebrity.
“Now, why would a girl be out here?” he asks curiously.
“I, I am a student journalist. I am trying to get a few photos for my class.” Apricot says holding the broken camera in hand.
“Looks like you need a new camera.” The handsome man snickers shaking his head a few times before stopping. “You think I am an idiot or something?” his voice sounding more serious in tone now. “You went through the sewers to get back here. Filthy. Are you sent by the cops? Got a wire on you?”
Apricot shook her head. “No.”
“Sure, like you would tell me, anyway.” He grins. “There is one way you can prove you don’t.” He raises his head pointing his pistol at her chest. “Take em off.”
Her face grew flush as the order rung in her head. Exposing herself in front of this man was not only embarrassing, but it was degrading. However is she did not she was sure he would kill her no question asked. A dread of her previous actions came over her as she lifted her shirt exposing her bare soft stomach.
“Wait.” the man said lowering the gun. He looked at the ground. “You don’t have to do that.” Apricot paused looking at him pondering if it is a trick. She figured even if it was she would be shot anyways. If a criminal will toy with you like that most likely they will end you soon after. Lowering her shirt back down she stood still as the man pushed his back against the door. It opened all the way with a clank against the brick wall. “After you.” He said directing her inside the back of the bank.
Apricot froze for a moment. If she went inside, she was not sure if she would live or die. The idea struck her funny. She had her robbery article, as a first-hand figure. She would have settled for recording someone else's story. If she lived through this, she may hold the story of a lifetime. A smile grew on her face. “What has you so happy?” and in that instant, her joy is gone. The fear of death snuggly placed in mind.
“How the hell do we get out of this?” said a man holding a pistol. He looked young. Like a teenager. Twitchy too Apricot noticed. His nerves are stretched as thin as they could get. This made him dangerous she noted.
The man who escorted Apricot in shook his head. “I don’t suppose we can just walk out of here now. The back is open, heh, reporter girl found a way to the tunnels. If we slip out though, I am sure we will get chased.”
Another lady rested up against a bank tellers desk. She either had a resting bitch face or was about ready to tear someones head off. Apricot reasoned she was in her late twenties or maybe even early thirties. Unlike the other guy she did not carry a weapon but the Belon Ruse jacket she whore could easily conceal an arsenal. “Well, isn’t this great? Bright eyes are upstairs drooling like a madman. This was not what we planned at all. What the hell was he thinking.”
“A bomb. He is insane.”
Apricot sat on the floor looking around the decorated bank. In the lobby, the polished marble floor had a huge crack which she assumed was the blast that ruined the front. The glass around the windows all shattered allowing a remnant of the tear gas flow through. Next to her sat several other people with their heads down.
Apricot listened to the group bicker quietly. The questions only grew as they complained. One thing above the rest troubled her. What exactly did they expect to gain from a bank robbery? They had done away with paper money several years ago ever since the Emerald Mark became the new standard. She could not bite her tongue any longer. She had to know. “What was your plan originally?” Apricot burst out.
The handsome man glances over at her. “Told you she was an interesting one.” He says with a half smile.
The nervous man laughs a little. “Well, we aimed to get ourselves a hefty retirement plan… but it is looking like we got ourselves a funeral instead.”
“Maybe, you could turn yourselves in, I mean the bomb was not your idea. Turn on that... Diago guy. He does not seem like he cares much about you guys.” Apricot suggests.
The girl glances down at Apricot taking measured steps towards her. From her side, she draws a thin slab. With a click, the slab reveals a spring-loaded blade. She bends down next to Apricot placing the flat of the blade against her cheek. “Comedian, keep talking and I will carve a smile over your face from ear to ear.”
The handsome man smiles saying “I kind of like the comedian, someone has to be funny around here. Might as well be her.” She taps the sharp end of the blade on her cheek leaving a small superficial cut. Her eyes locking with Apricot’s giving a sharp warning. Yielding it to her palm she stands up to her feet.
“She might be right.” The nervous man laughed. “I mean, I ah, I don’t want to die. We had no part in the bomb. That was all Diego’s plan. Heh fuck, I mean, how do you explain that?”
“Speaking of Diagos what is he doing up there?” the calm man says. “I knew that deckjocky was just a plug head.”
“Maybe he will still come through for us?” the nervous man laughed. “I mean… he rigged that bomb up… with that holodeck from upstairs. Think he has some way of getting out of here?”
“Only one way to find out.” she looks over at the calm handsome man.
“Yeah, yeah, I will check on our little decker… see if he’s done.” He then glances over the group. “I want a body as collateral though.” Glancing over at Apricot. “Hey reporter girl, mind being my shield for a bit?” Apricot shook her head.
The man had lead Apricot upstairs to the second floor of the bank. Over the mezzanine, the over-watch gave a view of the outside. While uncomfortable with the anxiety of having a barrel pointed to her head. Apricot felt more at ease even though the man’s gun to her head told her otherwise. “So, just down the hall. I don’t want a sniper to blow my head off so would you please walk in front of me?”
Inside the room, a girl in the corner with tears streaming down her face sobbing to herself while a man sat in front of a computer. A pistol rested on his desk along with a camera setup with several cables stretching from his hands and tiny metal pieces spread out of his fingers. They clicked on the keys typing at a fast rate. “Hey, Diego, you almost were done? You pissed off the cops with that light show of yours.”
“Did I?” he chuckles sarcastically.
Beating his fist on the table, the handsome man barks “Yeah now get your ass in gear cause we sure as hell are running out of time.”
“What? But the party has just started.” He snickers. “They got impressive ICE. I got through the first couple phases of it. Think I they got a real nice buried treasure. The downstairs vaults are unlocked anyways, load up what you can. I will have all the tunnels open for you in a few. Was not expecting this stuff ya know. If you give me some time though… I think I can find something more valuable. This place is equipped with naked body scanners. Bet that is worth something.”
“Listen, pervo, get us a freaking bank train so we can get the hell out of here.” the handsome man hollered.
“Tanj! You ain’t no fun.” Diagos grumbles.
“Just get it done.”
“Are you a runner?” Apricot asks curiously. The black haired lady in the corner looks up with apparent shock.
Diago glances from his screen at Apricot. "The eyes, they are wrong," Apricot thought to herself. "Like the dolls in the shop windows of Akubashi street."
“Who's the girl?”
“Hostage like your’s.” The handsome man said patting Apricot on the butt with his hand. A chill ran down her spine. She wanted to slap him but resisted the urge. “A reporter.”
“Huh, shit man, if you don’t get that one creased soon, I’ll reconfig her myself. Expert witness, you know joy boy.” She did not understand all the words but gathered the jist, he wanted her dead. A threat Apricot wouldn't take lightly. Judging by the other girl's wide eye's, she thought much the same.
The handsome man presses the tip of the gun into Apricots back. She can feel the cold barrel through her uniform. He moves the gun from her back and presses it into her side instead. “You worry about our get away.” She figured this was it. Driving her towards the hall they had come from he said “You know the drill girl, don’t let them blow off my head now.”
From the ground floor, a deep voice thundered “On your knees!” over a retinue of commands.
“Ta hell is that!” shouts Diagos. The handsome man pushes Apricot onto the floor holding out his gun.
Several ghostly figures drop through the marble ceiling onto the floor. The officer's cloaks bend the light to mirroring the surroundings. "If not for the shimmering," Apricot thought "they'd be invisible." Throwing off the cloaks, the armored police point their guns to the criminals. “Got ya.” Said, one officer.
“You did.” Said the handsome man. Swiveling his body fast he drew a blade from his spinning his torso to stab the knife against the thick armor covered collar. The blade scraped against the black Kevlar. The butt of the officer’s rifle impacted into the man’s head knocking him to the floor.
Diego jumps onto the table, knocking the seat into the wall. He swings his arm sending the computer smashing into an officer. The cables whip back into his left arm, pointing his right arm at the officer. The officer points the tip of his rifle in Diego’s direction.
“You son of a bitch!” Diagos howls. His forearm splits open with a mechanical groan revealing a hidden uzi. "Bratatat!” the gun roars. Protecting her ears with both hands, Apricot kneels into a fetal position. To her horror, she watches a smoking bullet landed between her knees letting out a scream of her own.
Apricot backed into the wall. “Ah-ahahahaa!” Diagos cackled. She screams as her back sank into what felt like a pair of arms. She looks up to see another officer kneeling over her as the officer covers within the cloak. Inside it was bright as the fabric became a screen showing bodies around the room and making the walls appear translucent.
Apricot watched as the red silhouette of the handsome man swept his foot knocking an officer over. “I got you honey!” said a muffled female voice. The officer leans back lifting Apricot to her feet, she leans backward through the wall taking apricot along with her. An intense tingling sensation came over Apricot as they pass through the wall. Plummeting from they P wall the officer was like a swooping bird with Apricot as her pray clutched in her arms. Landing with a heavy thud on the pavement below Apricot let out a scream.
“What just happened?” Her mind was racing. Did they jump through a wall? Cradled in the officer’s arms Apricot looked up into the iron blue mask. The eye shields shined a bright red color. Two air hoses run along the sides of the solid neck shields.
“It’s all right mam, you are safe now.” The police officer set Apricot on her feet. She rose back up to her full stance gripping a clip on the side of her mask. It clicked with an airy hiss as she lifted the helmet off allowing her long blond hair to come cascading out. She had bright almost white eyes. “Are you ok? Hun?” she said with a rural mainlander accent. Apricot looked on with amazement. “I got to thank you. Your little sneaking escapade allowed me to get inside the building with no one noticing,” she said with a smile.
Apricot looked over as she saw another officer jumping through the wall with the black haired lady from inside hopping down onto the pavement. “Mam, do you need medical attention?” he says to the lady who wails hysterically in his arms.
Apricot looks up at the room they were once inside. The struggle still going on inside. "This is the life police have, so dangerous.” The words came off her tongue without intending to.
“You are lucky to miss. I have not seen many kids walk out of something like that.” The officer said to her.
Apricot broke out of her trance before turning to the armored woman saying “Forgive me.” She bowed as low as she could “Thank for saving me. I am in your debt.”
“All in a day’s work miss.” The officer says with a smile.
A man in uniform walks towards Apricot holding a clipboard. “You, student journalist, huh?” He says looking at Apricot’s tattered uniform. “What were you doing inside the bank?”
Apricot’s heart sank knowing full well she would be on camera. “That is a funny story…” Apricot said biting her nails. She relayed the events that lead to her becoming a hostage. Much to the officer’s amusement.
“Press huh, well, I am going to have to report this to your superiors. I will let them decide what is to be done with you. Understand me.” The man says waving a finger at Apricot. She nods. “Good girl put in a good word. Got it, girl? Now would you come with me? We need to get your account on record so you can be on your way.”