Sunday, October 16, 2016

Majoran's Mask

“When the police blur the line between right and wrong, how can you know they are really serving justice?”- Rodrigo Romarus, “The Paradox of the State” (1832)

September 14, 2016,
05:56 local time,
Pakinos Complex,
Susa, Elam

“Thanks so much for coming,” said Reza Shamanaz as he handed over the payment to his babysitter, Marjorie Torquaz. “I believe this should be enough.”
“It is,” said Marjorie with a smile. The 19-year-old dark-skinned svelte blonde smiled and pocketed the cash, not bothering to check if Reza had indeed given her enough.
“Well,” said Shamanaz, “I’ll leave you to it then.” The real estate developer smiled and waved before going on his way to dinner with a potential client.

After Shamanaz closed the door, Marjorie went upstairs to check on his baby, Gupta, whom he named because of his fondness for Indian history. Gupta was barely two months old, born to a prostitute Shamanaz had seen in Delhi. Marjorie expected Gupta to be sleeping, since Shamanaz said he had put him to sleep, but as soon as Marjorie opened the door, Gupta was wide awake.

Oh great, thought Marjorie as the baby’s wailing screams irritated her ear drums. I just *had* to wake up the baby, didn’t I? She let out a heavy sigh before collecting herself in a vain attempt to sooth Gupta back to bed. She picked him up and held him close to her body, singing softly into his ear but her tone-deaf warbling had no effect. She then took Gupta and lowered him against her chest and supported him with her forearms, cradling him and rocking him back and forth. When this didn’t work, she tried playing a game of “peek-a-boo” with him, lifting him up and down at regular intervals, saying “there I am” when the two were at eye level.

Gupta was nonplussed, continuing to cry wildly. He then calmed down after he noticed Marjorie’s breast, where the nipple had crept out of a shirt that was too big for her. His hands began to reach for it and even managed to touch it before Marjorie pulled him away.

“No, no, no!” she said in a playful but stern tone. “You don’t get to have that.” Gupta, upon realizing that he wasn’t going to get breastfed, again began to cry, which flustered Marjorie once more.

You know what, thought Marjorie, you leave me no choice. I need to do this now.

Marjorie then opened her purse, put on latex gloves and pulled out a syringe, which contained enough sedatives to kill Gupta in seconds. She took the syringe and stabbed it into the baby’s neck, injecting its contents completely. Gupta soon became quiet, dying almost instantaneously, after which Marjorie put him back in the crib. She then put away her syringe into her purse, picked up Gupta and left the house, before which she reactivated the house’s cameras. She then carried Gupta and placed him in Reza’s garbage bin by the roadside before walking a bit up the road and pulling out her cell phone and making a phone call.

“Ricimer,” said Marjorie, which was really an alias. “This is Majoran. I completed the task.”
“Good work,” said Ricimer. “Justice will be served now.” Ricimer knew that soon the garbage man would collect Shamanaz’s garbage and find the dead baby, which Shamanaz hoped to hide since he killed Gupta’s mother, who he regularly visited as a prostitute in Delhi before debts forced Shamanaz’s hand. The Delhi police refused to investigate, since the locals did not view prostitution favourably, leaving Gupta the only evidence that his mother had ever existed- and only by killing him could Majoran force the police to investigate its circumstances and reveal her existence.

“Listen, Majoran,” said Ricimer, “I’ve been thinking- you’ve done so well lately…I think you might be ready for the next step.”
Majoran smiled. “Really?” she said with glee.
Ricimer smiled, happy to hear Majoran’s excitement. “I think so.”
“I’m ready whenever you are.”
“That’s good. I like to hear that.”
“I’ll be back at the airport in an hour.”
“Good. We’ll discuss things then.”

September 17, 2016,
04:02 local time,
Mount Cameroon Road,
Baboua, Nana-Membere State

The Four Emperors had their work cut out for them. A group of Special Operatives within Virtue’s multinational army, the Protectors (ostensibly a peacekeeping force), the Emperors were created with the intention of dealing with the state of Arlynal, long known to be a haven for criminals, terrorists and other unscrupulous people. Each of them were kidnapped as infants and brought to Maiduguri, capital of the Borno province of Khorsun, where they were raised to be methodical killers tasked to perform some of the Protectors’ most dangerous tasks. Today, on the day of the 20th birthday of the youngest one, Majoran, the Emperors were finally sent out to the field, sent to Arlynal with the intention of finding Arlynal’s Earl, Charlie Batch, and executing him and his family, so that Virtue can install its own figurehead as leader, Philemon Biya, who intends to rename the country “Cameroon”, after Arlynal’s highest point.

The first assignment for the Emperors- Libius (25), Olybrius (23), Anthemius (22) and Majoran- was to approach a refugee camp here and stop a potential uprising. During the African qualification track and field meet for the 696th Olympiad next year, the winner of the men’s 200 meter race, Boku Serane, made a gesture protesting the Khorsuni government of Rekhan Taneltar. Refugees of the Khorsuni’s ethnic cleansing programs were said to be here, straddling the border between Nana-Membere and Arlynal, and a tip received by the Protectors said that some of Serane’s relatives were at the camp. They were said to be organizing a revolt with the help of the Niger River Federation (who nominally controlled Nana-Membere) that intended to topple the Taneltar regime, with the NRF said to be receiving assistance from terrorist organizations within Arlynal. The Emperors’ task was to find Serane’s relatives and hand them over to the Khorsuni government, which would then use the relatives as justification to invade Arlynal themselves and install Biya.

The leader of their group was Ricimer, 56, who acted as a father to the four soldiers in Maiduguri and was their primary trainer. Once a member of Khorsun’s notorious paramilitary force the Sharokh Force, the Hessian national was driving the Emperors’ Hummer, which contained all of their weapons and other materials. Sitting in the front was Majoran, the group’s only woman, while the other three sat in the back. Because of Ricimer’s strong patriarchal leanings, Majoran was employed primarily as the group’s medic and counselor, the one who was told had to “stay back” while the other three engaged in the combat. She was still effective as a fighter in her own right, but Ricimer often worried that she lacked the mental and emotional stability to really handle a battlefield.

Upon reaching the city gates of Baboua the Emperors were stopped by the guard who patrolled the gate, who immediately grew suspicious of a Hummer approaching a refugee camp.

“Hello,” said the guard after Ricimer opened his window. “What business do you have in Baboua?”
“We just have supplies for the refugees,” said Ricimer calmly.
“What kind of supplies?” the guard replied sternly.
“They’re personal,” said Ricimer curtly, who tried to hand the guard £100.
“Your money is worthless to me,” said the guard, throwing the money back at Ricimer. “Just the fact that you’ve tried that tells me you have something to hide. Open the back, please.”
“I’m sorry,” said Ricimer, “but you don’t have justification to do that.” Ricimer then turned and gave Libius a nod. A modified compartment in his passenger side window was opened allowing him to point his pistol through it, which he aimed at the guard’s head and promptly shooting him dead.

Afterward, Majoran leapt from her seat and ran for the guard’s control tower, promptly downing the tower’s two remaining guards and killing them by grabbing their knives and slicing their necks. She then gained control the gate and opened it, allowing the Hummer to move in.

From there, the idea of the assault was simple- Majoran would stay back and watch to see if the NRF- would send a militia to retake control of the border camp, while the other three Emperors and Ricimer would search amongst the sleeping inhabitants for Serane’s relatives. However, almost as soon as the Emperors entered the camp the situation became far from straightforward.

One of the campers recognized the Hummer and spotted Virtue’s logo embedded within the grille, upon which she alerted the other campers and woke them up. As soon as they drove in, the Emperors were soon hit with a barrage of rocks and other materials, causing them to unleash their guns and start shooting at their attackers. This soon caused a riot within the camp, with several campers bringing out their own guns which they then turned on the Emperors. Several other campers started hurling Molotov cocktails at the Emperors, who faced an onslaught of determined attackers who eventually had them surrounded.

The Emperors were not fazed, as they assumed a battle stance and eventually found the “soft spot” in the crowd and began shooting at it, hoping to clear a path for a retreat back to their vehicle. The move seemed to be going as planned, until a camper clued in and used his gun to smash a window of the Hummer and open its trunk. By this point, the Emperors’ hope was diminished, as the campers easily raided their supplies and started to use them against their invaders.

Back at the tower, Majoran saw in the distance a few tanks approaching the camp, which she instantly recognized as NRF forces.

“Bogies incoming!” screamed Majoran into her communicator, a small smartphone-type device she kept on the shoulder strap of her vest. “Bogies incoming! Retreat! Retreat!” Majoran started to pant heavily as she tried to keep her composure, but knowing the mission was a failure got her stomach into knots. Having heard the stories of brutal torture by the NRF- some fabricated by Sharokh but were not entirely fictional- Majoran decided she’d stay behind in the tower, vowing to fight to the death instead of being captured. She took up a position behind the computer and waited, doing her best to control her breathing in the vain hope that she might not get discovered.

Moments later Majoran would realize that the NRF didn’t seem to care at all that their border tower had been compromised, as the tanks zeroed in on the camp. As she heard the blood curdling screams of the campers and the commands of the soldiers, she had a startling realization.

The Sharokh Force took over those tanks…I recognize those voices. I’m also not sure the camp was really a stage for a revolt- most of the campers are calling for peace, not wanting to be part of the riot…however, the Sharokh don’t seem to care about any of that, they’re just killing people indiscriminately. Wait a minute…they used us to start a riot at the refugee camp so they could move in and kill all the refugees…this isn’t about Arlynal at all…this is about the NRF.

Horrified by what she just thought, she didn’t care that at this point she’d be acting alone- she had a camp to save and she swore she would die to save refugees who didn’t deserve death. She took out her semi-automatic pistol and filled its cartridge before exiting the tower and diving in to the melee.

She made her presence known as soon as she entered the gate, shooting dead a soldier who attempted to kill a mother who was doing nothing except retreating back to her tent with her arms held out in front of her head. Majoran then shot another soldier who tried to kill the mother, before she moved on and shot dead another soldier who was going after a father who tried to shield his children from the massacre.

Eventually, Majoran had the upper hand on the faux NRF soldiers, which was buoyed when the campers realized what was going on and started to actively help her. The other Emperors- who had fled the melee as per Majoran’s instructions- were caught in a momentary state of confusion, before Libius made the same realization that Majoran did and decided to betray his command and enter the fray. Anthemius and Olybrius soon followed, but they sided with the faux NRF soldiers as they believed Majoran and Libius were traitors. The two Emperors helped turn the tide of the battle somewhat, but, given that they were severely outnumbered, they were eventually shot dead, with the campers and the maverick Emperors coming to surround the faux NRF soldiers.

As the maverick Emperors were gaining the upper hand, they heard the sound of tanks incoming to the camp from a distance, and Majoran’s heart sank when she realized that it was the real NRF coming by to “rescue” their soldiers. Majoran began to wonder who betrayed the Emperors to the NRF but after Libius was shot dead, she soon found out.

“Ricimer!” she yelled, her feelings a confusing morass of anger and betrayal. “You sent us here to die! How could you?”

Ricimer couldn’t be bothered to fashion a reply, as he felt he had better things to worry about. He co-ordinated for a group of Nigerien expats to pose as NRF soldiers to make the real NRF believe the campers had turned on them, and he intended all along for the NRF to come and “relieve” the campgrounds after the Emperors had successfully started the riot. The Khorsunis hoped that the riot would make Virtue turn away from the NRF to them, with the riot being the first in a series of moves the Khorsunis planned to make it appear that the NRF were brutal to their own people. Ricimer would be at the centre of several of those tricks, with several other suicide squads prepared to be sent to do the dirty work. All that was at risk, as he didn’t think Majoran would catch on to his trick, but after her betrayal, the only chance he had to keep the trickery under wraps was to kill his former protégé.

She readied her clip and again began firing as soon as the real NRF and Ricimer set their sights on her, setting a course for Arlynal and the Kadei River where she hoped she could eventually escape. She started to run and used what she could for cover while also simultaneously turning and shooting at whatever soldier turned their gun on her. Her bravery didn’t go unnoticed by the campers, some of whom decided to do what they could to attack the soldiers and aid in her escape. As the bullets whizzed by her while she darted past the many dying bodies and other debris that stood in her way, Majoran felt a steely determination she never felt before, one where she felt she became an unwitting soldier fighting a battle that she would wonder would be too big for her to face. Knowing she was played by Virtue told her that her duty was to go out and right their wrongs and stand up for the peoples that Virtue failed to protect. If she died, Majoran hoped it would not be in vain.

She eventually reached the edge of the campground and approached the Kadei River where she encountered thick grasses and marshland. Most of the other soldiers seemed to have given up on her, as they were too focused on exterminating the campers and the Sharokh Force knew that even if she escaped, she’d be branded as a criminal and no authorities would ever believe her story. One soldier, however, did not give up his fight and fled after her, determined to take in the traitor alive. Majoran knew it was Ricimer, so her decision to keep fleeing was an easy one. Being the younger one, Majoran’s speed allowed her to make considerable headway toward the river.

Eventually Ricimer caught a break, as Majoran- too focused on her pursuer- didn’t realize there was a log in her way, which caused her to trip and fall face first into the grasses. She had enough time to turn her body around and look straight into the eyes of her pursuer, which caused her to hyperventilate knowing that this was the end. The gun cocked and she closed her eyes, fearing the worst.

“Go!” said a female voice as Majoran opened her eyes, stunned by what she saw. “Go I said!” the voice continued to implore. “You don’t have long.” Majoran then darted towards the river, crossing it successfully and not looking back, while the woman and Ricimer had a tussle that allowed Majoran to escape.

September 17, 2016,
05:02 local time,
Ben Cypress’ house,
Antayla, Pamphylia

“Honey, I’m home,” said Ben Cypress as he closed the door to his house after a long night at work at his warehouse. “By Jove, you wouldn’t believe how busy it was tonight…it was as if Christmas was early this year or something.”

He walked over to his easy chair and nonchalantly took of his shirt and his pants, a relief for him considering each were covered in sweat and dust. The tall man with a ripped physique then took his clothes to the laundry machine and put them in there, taking the time to take off his underwear and socks and put them in the laundry as well since the opportunity was there. He then opened the drier, hoping he’d find some shorts to wear.

“Jackpot!” said Cypress, spotting his favourite shorts. He smiled as he put them on, although it struck him as odd that the shorts weren’t yet completely dry.

“That’s odd,” said Cypress to himself. “Annie never leaves the clothes not completely dried.” He then thought that maybe Annie, his wife, had went to bed early- their three daughters were quite the handful.

Cypress then walked back to the kitchen, went into the fridge and opened a beer, which he downed very quickly. He then took out another one, and this one he decided to drink slowly, just so he could enjoy it a bit more.

“Ah,” said Cypress, enjoying his brew, “nothing like Pamphylian ale.” He smiled as he stroked his beard, grinning as his beer, Ocean Breeze, went down smooth, a nice relief given all the sores and all the headaches he had to go through at work.

As he was sipping, his eyes eventually caught sight of the vent in the ceiling, and what he saw piqued his interest.

“What’s that red stuff coming out of it?” said Cypress, his heartbeat starting to pick up. “It…it can’t be what I think it is…can it?” He then opened the drawer underneath the oven and pulled out a pistol, putting in a full cartridge. He then slowly started to walk forward but purposefully around his house, opening every cabinet and inspecting every crevice where he suspected someone could be hiding. With each failed look, his heart began to race even more and sweat began to pour over his skin, although Cypress did his best to keep his calm- he would need it should he actually encounter a bogey.

He soon got to the stairs and began his climb, although his heart began to sink when his nose picked up the most repugnant smell he’d ever smelled. His breathing became heavy and a tear even began to form in his eyes, but, after a few head shakes, Cypress regained his composure, albeit barely.

The first door he opened was his daughter Charity’s, as it was the first door available to him after climbing the stairs. He furiously looked around, tossing away her toys and her bedsheets and barging open her closet door, hanging his head when he found nothing.

“…but why isn’t she in her bed?” said Cypress, panting heavily. “Why? Why? Why?” He then banged his head a few times, trying to tell himself not to overreact, but, by this point, Cypress began to painfully accept the inevitable.

He then moved on to his children’s other bedroom, the one for Georgina and Sula, overturning it like he had for Charity, and again getting frustrated when he found nothing. At this point, he decided to hurl some of the toys around the room in frustration, with his angry grunts as he tossed around interspersed with tears that flowed like the Duden Falls.

Cypress then proceeded to the floor’s main bathroom, forgoing safety considerations and angrily opening the door, banging away as he opened the doors underneath the sink. He then moved on, opening the shower door and struck with revulsion as he noticed the body of a man in his tub.

“Who?” said Cypress, stammering. “Who is this guy?” Cypress examined the body even more to see that he’d been shot in the head, but Cypress soon realized he wasn’t the culprit of his home invasion- or, perhaps, one of many culprits- when he saw that the man didn’t have his gun on him or anywhere near him. He did notice the man was wearing a necklace that featured a miniature figurine of St. Peter holding a sword, a telltale sign of his membership with the Aramean terrorist operatives, the Knights of St. Peter.

He then moved on to the master bedroom, his heart pounding and sweat dripping profusely, anxious about what he was going to see. He saw the doors closed to the room and looked on, staring with intent at the doorknobs while continuing to pull back, his mind not ready for the sight. He then took another deep breath and decided that he had to do what he needed to do.

In a fury, he opened the doors and readied his gun, before dropping to his knees and crying uncontrollably, eventually collapsing to the floor in a torrent of tears and screams. He feared the worst when he opened the door, but no matter how much he anticipated what he was going to see, there was nothing to prepare him for what he saw.

September 22, 2016,
10:01 local time,
Taurus Correctional Facility,
Karaman, Pamphylia

The sound of his cell door opening jolted Cypress awake, his sleep patterns erratic due to the anxiety and confusion of his situation. He panicked that it may be another Pamphylian guard who was prepared to give him another beating, but his heart was soon put at ease when he saw his lawyer, Marcos Dionysus, enter the room.

“Well?” said Cypress, eager to hear Dionysus’ words. “Do I have a chance? Tell me I have a chance.” Cypress’ heart sank when he saw Dionysus lower his head and let out a deep sigh.

“They still think you did it,” said Dionysus, still slightly hungover after the stresses of Cypress’ case drove him to the local bar the night before.
“Seriously?” said Cypress, getting up and pacing, at times pulling at his hair. “What? I…I can’t believe it!” Cypress’ voice soon grew louder as he continued to talk, with his pacing becoming even more frenetic. “I mean, seriously…do they actually think I would rape my wife, rape my daughters, cut them to pieces, throw their body parts around as if they were nothing, beat their faces to the point of being unrecognizable, and then drag a man I’d never met before into my house and place him into the bathtub in order to frame him for the crimes? Do they really think I would do that?”
“That’s the working theory,” said Dionysus curtly. “Believe me, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are.”

Cypress then sat back down on his bed, running his hands on his face and shaking his head, doing his best not to shed a tear.

“I…I loved Annie,” said Cypress. “I loved my kids. I loved my job…I loved my life. Why would I want to wreck it?”
“The justice system isn’t concerned about that,” said Dionysus. “They care about what they can prove…and right now, they can prove you did it.”

Cypress began to cry, shaking his head in disbelief.

“…b-b-but,” he stammered. “How?”

Dionysus let out a heavy sigh. He was tired of having to explain the reasoning to Cypress, but it would do him little favour to protest.

“Ben, you put your hands on your family members,” said Dionysus. “Touched them several times…you even held your wife’s head one last time, and picked out the bullet from her skull yourself. Worse…your gun was shown to have killed your family. Whomever framed you did a very good job of it.”
“The Knights of St. Peter,” said Cypress, memories spurred by Dionysus’ assertion that he was being framed. “They framed me.”
“How do you know?” said Dionysus.
“The man in the bathtub,” said Cypress, his voice stammering as he was getting excitable. “He…he was wearing a necklace with St. Peter on it holding a sword…it’s what every Knight wears…the Knights…they’ve been terrorizing us for weeks…I mean, it’s no secret that the Arameans want to annex Pamphylia.”
“I would agree,” said Dionysus. “There’s been a strange spike in home invasions in Antayla, all in a similar vein to what you went through…all the other victims asserted the Knights invaded their homes and framed them, and now they’re doing it to you.”
“Why?” said Cypress. “Why are they doing it?”
“To create anger,” said Dionysus. “Confusion…uncertainty. Make the Pamphylians rise up against the AMF, out of the belief that they cannot protect them anymore. Pamphylia is a base for support for Anatu, and if she doesn’t get the state, she’ll lose the election.”
“…but,” said Cypress slightly confused. “Wouldn’t this galvanize Anatu’s supporters? Reaffirm their belief that the AMF establishment need to be replaced? This seems counterproductive.”
“It’s really about Aram,” said Dionysus. “Virtue is in very deep in AMF politics, but they're courting Aram and the Arameans believe Asia Minor is ‘their’ territory…so they want to be the ones to influence it…and the Arameans are desperate to shake this perception that they’re ‘lapdogs of the Romans’…so they sent the Knights to rape and kill your daughters and wives. Because they want to make a statement. I’m not sure they care who wins the election…if it’s Anatu then they can claim they got her in there, whereas if it’s Lazlo, they can tell Virtue they were the ones who really got him elected.”

Cypress sat in silence, making faces as he pondered what he just heard.

“Here’s what I do know,” said Dionysus. “The past three victims were ardent supporters of Anatu, and so was your wife. You, as I understand were undecided.”
“I’m not undecided anymore,” said Cypress.
“Good,” said Dionysus. “Because I wanted to tell you I posted your bail…you can leave with me.”
“I want to do more than just leave,” said Cypress, now galvanized by Dionysus’ actions.

Dionysus nodded and escorted Cypress out of the prison and into his car, where the two of them drove for a few kilometres before Dionysus fed him some important information.

“James Gudleskis has a ranch in the mountains,” said Dionysus. “He and his wife Mary go there every year at the end of September. They go unguarded and the place has no cell phone reception or wireless reception of any kind…they do this to have a ‘break’ from their duties and to truly disconnect from the world.”
“Who’s James Gudleskis?” said Cypress, puzzled.
“He’s the Governor of Cilicia,” said Dionysus. “He…was a personal friend of mine. That’s why I know about his ranch…no one else does. Not even the Aramean government.”
“OK,” said Cypress, getting enthusiastic. “So I kill him…but I’ll still have lots of work to do.”
“It gets better,” said Dionysus.
“Oh?” said Cypress.
“Yes,” said Dionysus. “He’s Aram’s ‘designated survivor’.”
“What?” said Cypress, confused but intrigued.
“Should anything happen to the Chancellor,” said Dionysus, “Gudleskis would be the one to take his place. Aris Pomas himself doesn’t know that Gudleskis is the DS- only Gudleskis and Aramean intelligence do, and they do this to prevent the military from rounding up Pomas’ government and installing themselves in power, because there’s a guy they don’t know about who can legitimately take over.”
“So,” said Cypress, reflecting on what Dionysus said, “I take out Gudleskis…I can take out the Aramean government.”
“Well, you’d be one step closer,” said Dionysus, “and I’ll help you in any way that I can.”

September 26, 2016
00:09 local time,
Governor Gudleskis’ Ranch,
Outskirts of Tarsus, Cilicia

“Stop moving!” Ben Cypress said, as he held down Mary Gudleskis, the wife of Aramean Governor James Gudleskis, on her bed. He punched her repeatedly to get her to submit to him, but Gudleskis fought valiantly, using whatever she could- fingernails, her teeth, the notepad that was in her reach- to bite and prod at Cypress, but, given that Cypress was twice as strong as Gudleskis, all it did was cause an annoyance. Eventually Cypress spun her around, slammed her head against the wall, dug his elbow hard into her solar plexus and then choked her, almost to the point of unconsciousness. Gudleskis was left gasping for air with little energy left, making her limbs very limp allowing Cypress to pose them as he saw fit.

As he climbed into position on the bed, he set her down on her back spread-eagle, using his belt to restrain her arms. Her legs were still free and regained some energy so she used them to kick Cypress several times, but Cypress gave her a few slaps to her face which made her stop. He then used his knife to cut open Gudleskis’s clothes, leaving her lying there, naked. Cypress then took off his pants and took advantage of her naked body, enjoying it for as long as he could. As he was raping her, every thrust was therapeutic, releasing a lot of the pain that Gudleskis and her husband had caused him.

“This!” Cypress shouted, as he rammed her hard, causing her to scream in pain, “is for all of the times you and your men stood by as vandals stole our goods in the marketplace, depriving us of our livelihood just so you could get whatever you liked for free!” He then thrusted hard some more, grunting as he did, with Gudleskis starting to cry amongst her moans, though Cypress wasn’t concerned for Gudleskis’ yelps.

“This!” Cypress shouted again, ramming her several more times, causing her to gasp widely, “is for all those times your men stifled free speech at our universities, shutting down protests for the simplest of things. No longer will such oppression be allowed to stand!” He thrusted again, causing excruciating pain in Gudleskis, while bending his head and positioning it on her breast, upon which he sucked, flicked and nibbled on her succulent nipple, making the pain even more unbearable for Gudleskis.

“Finally, this!” Cypress shouted, increasing the intensity of his ramming, causing Gudleskis to scream at the top her lungs in unbelievable pain, a pain so intense it caused her to have her mouth wide open, close her eyes and arch herself towards Cypress, who held her close to his body as he thrusted. “This is for the time that your men stormed my house, tied me up and made me watch as my own wife was defiled before my eyes! Now, you will know every inch of the unbearable pain that you put her and I through!”

He thrusted some more, going harder and faster with every passing minute, with Cypress getting happier and Gudleskis’ pain getting more blindingly excruciating by the minute. Eventually Cypress climaxed which felt like an incredible release, giving him a sense of euphoria that told him that justice had been served. As he got off the defeated Gudleskis, he pulled his pants back up and pulled out his gun, shooting Gudleskis dead just like he shot dead her husband moments before.

He stepped outside the Gudleskis ranch, contemplating what he had just done. The fair-skinned Cypress stood in front of the detonator pensively. He set all of his charges in the right place, ensuring that the Governor’s Ranch would be no more after he set the fuse, so that wasn’t his concern. No, it was the gravity of the moment that got to him- the fact that, after this moment, there was no turning back in his struggle. He would no longer be just a common man with resentments over his overlords- no, after this, he was a marked man. Maybe the man with the biggest mark. Thus, he wondered if what he did was right. Others would come after him, that much he was sure, but could he justify his struggle with them? If he couldn’t, how could he muster the energy to continue the fight? Is continuing the fight even worth it? No, he thought, this is right. He had to beat the Governor with every pound of his fists, just like the Governor’s men beat down his village with every pound of his military might. He had to enjoy the Governor’s wife, just how the Governor’s men enjoyed the wives of his village. He had to set fire to his crops just how the Governor burned down the farms of the village. Last but not least, he had to let the Governor’s men feel the fury they put Cypress through when they held him in prison for all those years on bogus charges, all because Cypress had dared to criticize the Governor for his ruinous taxes. The Governor needed to pay, and pay he did. Without a moment’s thought, Cypress activated the detonator and fled to a nearby hill to watch the fireworks. As he watched the ranch burn, he chuckled to himself, relieved that his quest for justice had taken a positive turn. He lit a cigar that he stole from the ranch and smoked it, revelling in his victory over the Governor. He let out another celebratory laugh as he continued smoking, but urgency crept back into his thoughts. As he finished his cigar, he dumped it on the ground and began the arduous journey inland. The Arameans would seek to avenge the death of Governor Gudleskis so they would be baying for Cypress’s blood, so he couldn’t stay here for long. Still, he fled knowing that he won the first battle, even though he knew the war was just beginning.

September 28, 2016,
13:49 local time,
Reza Shah’s Seaside Diner,
Persepolis, Persis

“Everybody!” screamed a masked gunman as he entered the dining area and shot a bullet out of his shotgun into the sky. “Everybody…get out from your tables and put your hands on your head…NOW!”

The gunman stood menacingly as he walked slowly, examining the room, and reloaded his shotgun. “I’m not playing around,” he hollered, as he dragged a man and a woman from their tables and forced them off their chairs. “Hands on your head! I said HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” The scared man and woman quickly did what they were told, standing, like the rest of the patrons, with their hands on their heads.

“Now,” said the gunman, brandishing his cell phone jammer. “Don’t try to call the cops, because they’re not going to hear you. So…in light of this, here’s what I want everyone to do…I want you all to empty your pockets…every last one of them…and put all of your valuables on your table. Once I have collected everyone’s stuff…and I leave the restaurant…you guys can all leave. You try anything funny…you die. Understood?”

As he began collecting peoples’ valuables, Danforth Grayson emerged from the diner’s bathroom, wondering what the commotion was.

“One of these guys again?” said Grayson, bummed about the situation. The silver-haired former attorney turned vigilante made a dour look on his face as he patted down his pockets, feigning disappointment that he didn’t have anything- literally- to leave the gunman for his haul.

“Hey, buddy,” said Grayson, nonchalantly walking towards the gunman as the rest of the patrons were stunned that Grayson could be so calm in this situation. “Listen, buddy…I don’t have anything on me…can I just leave you my firstborn son? It’s the best I can do, really.”

The gunman turned around and looked Grayson directly into the eye, which didn’t faze Grayson at all.

“Are you playing with me?” the gunman said. “Your firstborn son? Really? What era is this? The ancient times?”
“Well, modern classicism is going through a revival,” said Grayson, “so it’s actually a more relevant offer than you think.”
“Why don’t you give me your glasses,” said the gunman. “They’re worth a lot.”
“See,” said Grayson, feigning disappointment. “I can’t…I need them to see. I’m sorry. I promise my firstborn will be an incredible athlete and then an honest politician.”
“Stop playing with me!” barked the gunman.
“Ah,” said Grayson, “you’re right…there’s no such thing as an honest politician. You got me there.”

The gunman was going to reply to Grayson when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a woman who was still sitting at her table, calmly eating her soup.

“YOU!” he hollered. “You were supposed to get up! Why aren’t you doing that? Do you want to be killed?!

Majoran didn’t skip a beat, continuing to eat her soup.

“I kind of don’t have much to live for anyway,” said Majoran. “I’m a fugitive on the run…eventually my enemies will catch me and they’ll kill me, perhaps without giving me the dignity of a proper burial. So…if you’re wondering why I don’t care about someone like you…well, I’ve already determined that my life perpetually hangs by a thread to really be scared of anything. So…shoot me.”

The gunman opened his shotgun and placed a bullet in it, readying it for firing. He then aimed it at Majoran’s head, but while his brain told him to pull the trigger, his fingers just wouldn’t let him do it.

“Tell me son,” said Grayson, walking up behind him and putting his hand on his shoulder, making the gunman put the gun down. “What is it that you really want?” The gunman then lowered his head and put down his duffel bag, letting out a few sighs. Grayson- as well as Majoran- sensed he knew what was going on but he wanted to hear it from the gunman himself.

“Nobody holds up a trendy diner without a reason,” said Majoran, calmly and warmly. “Do you want to go outside? Maybe we can talk about it there.”

The gunman, sensing that someone had truly cared about him for the first time in quite a while, started to cry, letting loose an eventual audible chorus of tears. Embarrassed, he then nodded his head, indicating his agreement with Majoran. As he started to walk with Majoran, he was stopped momentarily by Grayson.

“Give the patrons their valuables back,” said Grayson. “I have a better idea for you.” The gunman, overcome with emotion, nodded his head in agreement with Grayson, depositing what he had stolen back into a table before quickly departing with Majoran and Grayson through a back entrance. The trio eventually made it to Grayson’s car, which Grayson quickly started and drove away from the scene, allowing the three of them to talk in private in a less stressful scenario.

“Usually I don’t take people along with me,” said Grayson, “especially people I don’t know. Been around the underworld long enough to know that’s a risky endeavour. However, there’s something about you two that tells me I can trust you…so, don’t let down.”

Grayson first turned to the gunman, who took off his ski mask.

“Tell me son,” said Grayson. “What’s your name?”
“Ben,” said Cypress. “Ben Cypress. I’m a fugitive…my family was killed by the Arameans so I killed the Aramean Governor responsible for it, after the police tried to blame me for the crime. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing…I needed money, so I held up the diner.”
“…and you,” said Grayson, turning his attention to Majoran. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t know my name,” said Majoran. “I was kidnapped at birth and trained by the Khorsunis to be a fighter…only for the Khorsunis to use me on a suicide mission to further their own agenda. I managed to escape, but my teammates did not. They called me Majoran…I’ve stuck with that name since.”

“Very well,” said Grayson, satisfied with the responses. “I’m Danforth Grayson…you may know me as the guy who once ran ‘The Virus’ before those guys took it away from me.”
“Wow,” said Cypress as both he and Majoran were wide-eyed at the revelation. “The Danforth Grayson? In the flesh?”
“Yeah,” said Grayson, chuckling. “Don’t get too excited. I’m really nothing that special.”
“Oh come on,” said Majoran. “You’re a counter-culture hero…Ben and I…we look up to you. You’re one of the few people that’s not afraid to take on the government establishment and you’ve actually triumphed…you’re probably one of the last vigilantes that truly believes in honour and justice…there’s a lot we could learn from you.”
“Yeah,” concurred Cypress. “A lot.”
“Ah,” said Grayson, feigning hesitation, “all right…maybe I’m a little bit special…but let’s not get carried away…I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Since The Virus changed into the pursuit of wish-fulfillment fantasies, not only am I taking on the legal establishment but the illegal one as well. Don’t worry, though…I’ve got a lot of allies left, and they’re allies I fully intend on using to help you two out.”
“You really believe in us, Danny?” said Cypress. “Wait, can I call you that?”
“You can call me whatever you like,” said Grayson, “as long as it’s not ‘late for dinner’.” The other two passengers laughed before Grayson continued. “Yes, I do believe in you. As far as I’m concerned, we’re friends now. See, Ben, I knew that as soon as I learned you hadn’t actually shot anyone that you weren’t there to kill anyone and thus I didn’t have anything to worry about. People don’t hesitate when they want to kill…they just shoot. You, also, I don’t think wanted blood on your hands…makes it harder for you to escape. Indeed, all it seems like is that you were there to fund yourself for some great mission you want to undertake. That’s why you rob a diner, especially a trendy one like Reza’s. Knowing you felt some kinship in me made me realize there’s something here that I need to cultivate, and I fully intend on doing just that.”
“Since I lost my family I didn’t have anyone else to turn to,” said Cypress, “until I met you.”
“In your case, Majoran,” said Grayson, “when you didn’t show weakness in front of Ben I knew you had the sensibilities to grow and really make a name for yourself as a vigilante. You already knew the instincts, and, I suspect, you already have the skills. You just need the experience.”
“That’s where you come in,” said Majoran.

“Yes,” said Grayson. “I can help…and I will…and I can tell you both have a sense of justice that very few in this world have, senses I side with. I’ve got a motel room I’m renting in Pasargadae…you guys can stay with me…we’ve got some planning to do. I’m sure you’ve heard the Mound Party has just kicked off Anatu from their presidential ticket, inspiring tons of riots in Assyria. Anatu, no doubt, wants to harness that energy, but I’m not sure she knows how, nor do the rioters. We are going to figure it out…and make a real impact on this world.”