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Authors: Blake Northcott

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Final Empire

BOOK: Final Empire
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Final Empire

The Conclusion of The Arena Mode Saga

Final Empire

The Conclusion of the Arena Mode Saga

By Blake Northcott
 

Amazon Kindle Version 1.7
August 27, 2015

 

Cover Art by Amir Salehi

Arena Mode Logo by Dennis Salvatier

 

Arena Mode is Copyright © and Trademark 2015
Blake Northcott, Digital Vanguard Inc. and Noösphere Publishing

ArenaMode.com

 

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.

Books by Blake Northcott
 

THE VS. REALITY SERIES

Vs. Reality

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

Relapse (Vs. Reality Volume 2)

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

Legacy (Vs. Reality Volume 3)

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

 

THE ARENA MODE SAGA

Arena Mode

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

Assault or Attrition (Arena Mode Book 2)

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

Final Empire (Arena Mode Book 3)

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

 

NOVELLAS

The Manticore Ascension

USA
/
UK
/
Canada

Extra special thanks to

David R. Lehmann

Ross Benford

Erick Jakob

Jonathan Ma

J. Paul ‘Logan’ Glendinning

Trey Lucas McLemore

Corey & Karin Stewart

Yves Verschueren

Jeff Geddes

Stephan Loshing

Rich Chang

Barbara Soto

& Jim Bellmore
 

Very special thanks to

Morris Deutsch

 

Hugs and kisses for

Cassie & Cayden

 

 

Written By
Blake Northcott

 

Editors
Jeff Geddes
J.D. Hunter

“Our world is fractured, divided, and broken beyond repair. And it is about to end.”

 

- Herald of The Order
(Darknet Holoforum)

 

 

Chapter One

Excelsior Retro Comics was the best part of The Fringe.
In 2042, getting your hands on a newly printed, physical copy of a comic was a rarity – and back-issues, doubly so. Everyone had switched to digital so long ago that virtually anything in print was considered a collector’s item, sold only in specialty stores and holo-forum auctions. Even the most pedestrian copy of The Green Arrow or Captain America could fetch a thousand dollars in mint condition, and the only place in the Big Apple that you could find them was Excelsior. That is, until an angry mob burnt it down in a hailstorm of Molotov cocktails…and shortly thereafter, the remains exploded. Or to be more accurate,
im
ploded, when a superhuman suicide bomber took out several city blocks, sucking everything from a five mile radius into a swirling vortex of concrete, blinking it out of existence.

Needless to say, the neighborhood I’d been raised in had seen better days, and so had my favorite store.

But eight months later Excelsior had been restored to its former glory, and it was gorgeous. Just off the Lincoln Skyway in the northern part of The Fringe, with an unobstructed view of the glittering Manhattan skyline, the front entrance was as inviting as ever. A green neon sign emblazoned the stone archway, spelling the store’s name in capital letters – and ending, of course, with a friendly exclamation point (was it even possible to write the word
‘Excelsior!’
without adding hyperbolic punctuation?)

I pushed open the door and stepped inside, inviting a cool breeze and a swirl of autumn leaves with me. I smiled and took in my surroundings. It was like slipping on an old leather jacket that had been in storage all summer; the lighting, the warmth, even the smell – it was just as I’d remembered it. The wood-lined walls and burnt orange carpeting had been restored, musty and time-worn as if they’d been there for decades. It was all by design. Part of Gavin’s marketing strategy was to appeal to Gen-Xers: the wealthy urbanites who made their way across the bridge from The City, searching for lost treasures of their youth. Children of the 80s were meant to see the mock living room by the store’s front entrance, complete with a chestnut wall unit and a flickering thirty-two inch Sony Trinitron, and be struck with a pang of nostalgia. It worked every time. When I strolled by, a pair of Armani-clad businessmen with salt and pepper hair were seated shoulder-to-shoulder on a seafoam-green loveseat, clacking away at a game of Street Fighter II on a yellowed Super Nintendo. Guys like this were Excelsior’s bread and butter, and they rarely left empty-handed.

A throng of shoppers roamed the rest of the long, narrow store. Some flipped through new releases on the wall, while others searched the more expensive merchandise towards the back; there were rows of wooden stacks arranged like the old libraries used to have, but with drawers that pulled open to reveal comic books instead of novels. The alphabetically arranged issues were meticulously bagged and boarded, preventing the shoppers’ acid-laden fingertips from damaging their pristine covers.

Excelsior was typically dotted with no more than a handful of customers at any given time, but today it was packed more densely than a subway on the cross-town line during rush hour.

A high-pitched voice cut through the chatter. “Matty!” It was Peyton, tunneling her way through the crowd, dressed from head-to-toe in powder blue hospital scrubs. She sprinted and leaped, wrapping both arms around my neck, her legs circling my waist. When our lips met her wave of pink locks fell forward like curtains, brushing the sides of my face.

I’d seen Peyton the day before, but she embraced me like it had been a year. “Isn’t this amazing?” she beamed. “Everything is back, just the way it was!”

I nodded, scanning the store. “Pretty much. Business seems to be booming.”

“So, ‘Mister Moxon’, I missed you at the seven AM meeting.”


You’re
the CEO of the Moxon Corporation now,” I reminded her. “
You
handle the money, and the meetings, and waking up at ungodly hours of the morning for overseas conference calls.”

“I know,” she said desperately, grabbing two handfuls of my t-shirt. “but we’re doing
so
much good with your money, Matty.”


Our
money.”

“Okay,” she conceded with a quick roll of her eyes. “Whatever, ‘our’ money. But between the construction here in The Fringe and providing water for people all over Asia and Africa...you should be taking more credit, that’s all I’m saying. Getting involved.”

Just as she’d dismounted I felt a pair of much more powerful arms embrace me from behind. “Dude,” Gavin shouted, “You came outside! It took the grand opening of my store to make it happen, but you made it.”

“All right, all right,” I laughed, shrugging him off. “I know I’m not exactly a social butterfly, but I wasn’t going to miss
this
.”

I turned to face my best friend who was, as always, dressed to kill; he was decked out in a custom-fit charcoal suit with a navy tie. The matching pocket square was a nice touch. Combined with a perfectly coiffed wave of gold hair and a chiseled jaw line, the jerk looked like a model from a goddamned cologne ad…while I, as per usual, blended in with the commoners that roamed The Fringe. Of course I had more impressive garments in my wardrobe than ripped jeans and an Iron Man t-shirt, but I was a big advocate of comfort – and, in light of the media circus that followed the events at Fortress 23, I was an even bigger fan of not being noticed.

“How did you do all this?” I asked, surprised by the sheer size of the collection on display. There were a dozen stacks that could accommodate thousands of comics, with more being displayed on traditional magazine racks lining the exposed brick walls. “You never did cash that check I sent you…and how did you get your hands on so many rare issues this fast?”

Gavin dug into his breast pocket and extracted a photograph. It was the interior of his old store. “I insured every individual comic that came into Excelsior. Catalogued each piece individually with a photo for evidence. When I put in the claim, my provider paid me top-end auction rates for
everything
, which turned out to be double what I thought my stash was worth. I pocketed half, and spent the rest flying in new books from around the world.”

I’d written him a check with a number followed by seven zeroes to cover his losses but he’d never bothered to cash it, and I’d spent half a year wondering why. And now I knew. It was because this whiz kid never doubted himself for a moment. The second he’d lost Excelsior he knew he could rebuild it from the ground up, bigger and better than it was before. And he didn’t need my help – or
anyone’s
help, for that matter – to pull it off.

“Just look at the people,” Peyton said with fascination. “Before it was just rich kids and businessmen from Manhattan, but now…” She motioned to an elderly woman wearing a thick wool sweater and a tartan skirt, her silvery hair pulled into a tidy bun. “Her, for instance. She’s here buying something for her grandkids, I bet.”

I shook my head. “Actually she’s with me.”

Peyton’s eyes widened. “Wow, I didn’t realize I had competition. If I’d known you were going to be bringing a date I would have dolled myself up a little.”

“Don’t even joke,” I smiled. “She’s my stylist.”

“Well she’s doing a bang-up job,” Gavin said, sneering at my t-shirt as if it were made of toxic waste. “You’re a
billionaire
, dude. Can’t you afford to at least throw a jacket over this…thing?”

Peyton shook her head, laughing off my answer. I knew she didn’t believe me, and that I’d be grilled about my ‘stylist’ sooner than later, but she was in too good of a mood to let it faze her.

“So,” Peyton chimed, spinning in a pirouette. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re dressed like a veterinarian. Which you’re not…are you?” I knew she was still a student, but unless my short-term memory was on once again on the fritz, I thought she had another year left until graduation.

“You know what they say: dress for the job you
want
, not the job you have. I’ve been reading this book about visualization, and how it creates positive outcomes, and—”

Sirens wailed from the street, catching my attention. Quiet, then louder, and then dying off as they passed. I turned in time to catch the red and blue streaks reflected in the store window as a trio of squad cars raced by the store.

Peyton reached out and snapper her fingers, inches from my face. I blinked twice, returning to reality. “I’m sorry, am I boring you, Mister Moxon?”

“No, sweetie, not at all. It’s almost Halloween, so if you want to dress up like a vet, knock yourself—”

And then we heard a boom.

A gunshot? Possibly – we weren’t far from the Dark Zone. While this neighborhood was more or less safe, the neighboring district to the west was most definitely not. But it was louder than a gun. An explosion of mortar, maybe, like a wrecking ball slamming into the side of a building. And it was soon followed by the howl of additional police sirens.

The noise was loud enough to catch the attention of nearly everyone in the store, silencing the chatter. That, combined with the police presence, piqued the shoppers’ curiosity, and had them searching their wrist-coms, trying to pull a news feed or find breaking news in a holo-session.

“London,” I shouted, and my stylist obediently walked to my side. She stood perfectly still and awaited my next command, hands clasped behind her back.

Peyton squinted, studying the elderly woman’s face. “Is she okay? She seems a little…vacant.”

“Riot gear,” I commanded, and she burst, breaking into a hundred thousand pieces.

Gavin leaped back and Peyton screamed. Customers snapped photos and shot video, gasping in amazement as my new swarm robotics suit re-assembled, crawling over my entire body. The artificial façade of skin tones, hair and fabric melted away as the dime-sized bots started from my feet and worked their way up my torso, reflecting a polished gunmetal blue by the time my gauntlets had formed. From my boots up to my chest-plate, every square inch of my body was protected, shielded by the most advanced fusion-powered exoskeleton money could buy.

“Holy shit,” Gavin whispered. “That’s one hell of a stylist.”

“You know what I always say: dress like you’re going to meet your worst enemy.” I’d actually never said that before, but I read it somewhere and liked the sound of it.

“What are you going to do?” Peyton asked, but I’m sure she already knew the answer.

“I’m going to take a peek,” I said, pressing my lips into her forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

With the aid of the hydraulic pumps built into the joints I raced out the front door. As I reached the sidewalk I heard thunderous applause rising from inside Excelsior, followed by cheers, hoots and hollers. I had a feeling the customers thought Gavin had arranged a publicity stunt for the grand re-opening of his store, and were showing their appreciation.

I sprinted north down the center of the street, following closely behind an ambulance that was speeding towards the explosive sounds resonating in the distance. I heard another boom, louder than before. Then another. And then the unmistakable sound of gunfire, probably from the police, popping in rapid succession like a string of firecrackers tossed into a dumpster. I assumed it was the sound of ‘contagious fire’: inexperienced cops get scared and fire when someone else does, and the result is a hailstorm of bullets when one or two would have probably done the job. Whatever they were firing at, they were firing at it a lot.

Covering three blocks at break-neck speed I overtook the ambulance. A crowd had gathered at an intersection and I dug my metallic boots into the pavement, kicking up bits of asphalt when I ground to a halt. The source of the explosions was immediately apparent, and knew why every cop in the city was heading there right now: two superhumans fighting tooth and nail – and they were flattening The Fringe in the process.

The nearest, a dark-haired Asian man with oversized metallic gloves reached down and dug his hands into the street. He pulled a swath of roadway from the earth as if he were tearing a Band-Aid from a wound. Cars flew, street lights toppled. The rippling tidal wave of steel and pavement sailed down the road.

His target – a pale, compact woman dressed in white with a bob of tangerine locks – stood her ground. She lifted her arm to shield her face, and was overtaken by the incoming swell. It consumed her. When the dust settled a mountain of rubble had been piled as high as the low-rise buildings that flanked the road, like an oversized anthill made of crushed rock.

A moment passed and the hill rumbled, tiny fragments rolling down its side. And then it erupted. The woman leaped from the debris, soaring twenty feet through the air.

Another hail of bullets followed by the surrounding police, attempting to catch her in mid-jump as if she were a clay pigeon. They’d assembled in a ragged circle around the makeshift fighting arena, and were judiciously opening fire whenever the opportunity presented itself, but either the bullets missed or they’d simply had no effect on her, because she landed and sprinted forward without missing a beat.

The gloved man raced to meet her, throwing a wild punch.

BOOK: Final Empire
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