Saturday, November 25, 2017

The First Day Back

November 27, 2017,
07:56 local time,
Lloydminster Watchmen Cohort Headquarters,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

I hope I’m making the right choice.

Ryan Tolliver, the Prefect of the Lloydminster Watch, stopped pensively in his tracks as he reached the door. He had been on leave for three months in order to grieve for his wife, murdered by a serial killer in late August. He heard news from his subordinates that the killer, Gillian Graymore, a “superhero” who called herself “The Flowerer”, had been apprehended, bringing Tolliver a small sense of closure.

It gave him the strength to decide to go back to work, since with his wife’s murder resolved he thought he’d be able to move on and continue with his life.

Yet, as he got closer and closer to the door, he wondered if he really could. After all, just because her killer was caught it didn’t mean she’d suddenly come back to life. He had memories, sure, of their happier moments, and he treasured every last one of them…but, deep down inside, he knew he would have no more happy memories, because Marie Tolliver would not come back to him in order to have them.

He also wondered, too, if his Cohort would really welcome him back. He wasn’t the nicest person to any of them, and rarely did he ever socialize with them. He had his lunches and dinners in his office, always with the door locked, just so no one could bother him.

Truthfully, the only person whose presence he truly appreciated was his wife, because Marie gave him an affection and a fondness he thought his subordinates lacked. Marie was also the only one he felt he could really talk to, the only person smart enough to keep up in conversation with him.

Not to say that he didn’t love his watchmen and watchwomen- he loved every last one of them- but they were “kids” to him, not people he could count on as his friends.

He even thought that of his two deputies, Primus Pilus Bridgit Penny and Pilus Prior Tristan Logan, even though he was quite friendly with both of them. Tolliver felt keeping a distance from both of them was necessary, owing to his rank as their superior.

So he breathed heavily and sighed as soon as he reached the moment of truth. Will it be worth going back? Is this life worth living, knowing my wife is no longer a part of it? Will my watchmen take me back, considering I haven’t always been the best with them?

He began to think about turning around before a thought caused him to re-consider.

No, Ryan, he thought, Marie wouldn’t want you to give up. She would want you to soldier on. She always told me my officers had my back, and that they respected me more than I think they do. Besides, what kind of a leader am I if I just gave up on them? They worked hard to catch The Flowerer…I owe it to them to come back.

He took in a deep sigh and grabbed the doorknob. He turned it slowly before putting in the strength to open the door completely, far and wide, opening the door to his building for the first time.

“Hey Ryan,” said Gregalis Patrick Peterman, who manned the security gate along with his partner, Gregalis Cindy Dixon.
“Hey Patty, hey Cindy,” said Tolliver, flashing a restrained smile as he went through the routine of going through the scan. “How’s it going?”
“We’re going to have our third kid,” said Peterman, smiling. “I’m pretty excited.”
“We just got a dog,” said Dixon. “A pit bull puppy…cutest thing you’ll ever meet. My husband picked him out.”
“That’s good,” said Tolliver, having finished entering the gate.

Dixon smiled, sensing Tolliver’s apprehension at discussing her marital bliss.

“Listen,” she said, approaching Tolliver, off-put only because Dixon never addressed him before. “I’m not going to pretend like I know what you’re going through or that you’re feeling very good about yourself right now. The only thing I can say is that when I heard about Marie, I thought about Steve and what I’d do if I ever lost him.”
“Is that why you got a pit bull?” said Tolliver, “so you could have some protection? Wished a pit bull could have helped me.”
“No,” said Dixon. “I got Farley because he reminded me of you.”

Tolliver was taken aback.

“I don’t know if I should be insulted or honoured that you think of me as a pit bull,” said Tolliver.

“You should feel honoured,” said Dixon with a warm smile. “Because Farley will fight for me just like you fought for me and Patrick.”

Tolliver gave both a look, but neither flinched.

“Remember our first day, back when we all worked in Revelstroke?” said Dixon.
“Yeah,” said Tolliver, “before most of us moved here because the Romans took Alberta and thus changed our borders. Yeah, I remember it well.”
“Remember there was this woman visiting from Ireland who was certain that asking her to go through the gate was ‘oppression’?” said Dixon.
“Tabitha O’Hara,” said Tolliver, “a 19-year-old drunk who came in here screaming for her ‘boyfriend’. Yeah, I remember her.”
“Remember when she ran through the gates and I had to tackle her?” said Peterman.
“…and then she tried to get out of it by claiming Peterman groped her?” said Dixon.
“She tried to sue both of you by claiming you had violated her human rights,” said Tolliver. “I remember it very well.”

“Well,” said Dixon, putting her hand on Tolliver’s arm, which startled but didn’t upset the Prefect. “You stood behind both of us every step of the way. Other jurisdictions would have fired us, but not you…you knew in your heart that we were just doing our jobs, and you knew, despite all the pushback you got, that the truth prevailed…and it did.”
“…and we have you to thank for that,” said Peterman, “because without you, neither of us would be here.”
“So, thank you,” said Dixon. “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. I know we never said it to you before, but we were worried you’d never come back, that you’d feel that maybe none of us in the Camp would appreciate all the things you do for us.”
“…and believe us,” said Peterman, “this entire Camp appreciates you more than you know.”
“So we at least wanted to let you know,” said Dixon, “because there’s no other Prefect we’d work for. Ever.”
“I know you lost a big part of your family,” said Peterman, “but know you have one here.”

Tolliver became overwhelmed by his emotions, with tears welling up his eyes. He embraced Dixon and Peterman both heartily, the first time he’d ever done so, with both offering their condolences to him. Those few moments where he cried on their shoulders relieved much of his tension and allowed him to carry on through the day.

He was even more floored as he passed through the building, as everyone stopped him to offer him their best. They cared for him, they really did, and only now did Tolliver realize that.

By the time he got to the bullpen area and saw a huge “Welcome Back Ryan!” banner hanging from the ceiling, with every officer waiting for him to show up, Tolliver could hardly contain himself.

“Guys, guys, guys,” he said, doing his best not to cry but there was nothing he could do. “My gosh…there’s just…there’s just no words. The amount of love you guys have for me…oh man…I’m so sorry I never realized it before.”
“Hey,” said Logan, a tall, muscular bald man of a dark complexion. “It’s okay. We knew you’d see it eventually. I’m sorry about Marie…she may have been your wife, but she was like a sister to me. She was great to talk to…I’m going to miss her as much as you will.”

Logan gave Tolliver a hug before giving way to Penny, who then gave Tolliver a hug herself and offering her own condolences.

“Tristan, Bridgit,” said Tolliver, smiling at both of his charges. “I’m proud of both you. You both did a great job catching Graymore. I couldn’t be more grateful to have both of you on my team.”
“The pleasure’s ours, sir,” said Penny, rubbing Tolliver’s arm. “We did it because it’s our jobs, and because we owe that to you.”
“You guys don’t owe anything to me,” said Tolliver. “Just your service, of which I can always count on.”
“We got you something,” said Logan, “left it in your office.”
“Oh come on,” said Tolliver with a happy chuckle. “Bring it back…you guys didn’t have to get me anything.”
“Oh no,” said Penny, “you don’t get to bring it back. In fact, I doubt you want to bring this back.”

Tolliver was speechless as soon as he saw the gift, a framed, pastel portrait of his wife hanging on his back wall, her smile as bright as ever.

“It’s beautiful,” said Tolliver with a wondrous whisper. “Almost as beautiful as Marie was.”
“We got it for you to let you know that she’ll always be there for you,” said Penny, “and she’ll always look out for you no matter what. She may not be of this Earth anymore but she will always be with you, and she will always care for you, no matter what.”

“Oh man,” said Tolliver, giving both a hearty, tearful embrace, “thanks so much. There are no words I can say to express how thankful I am for both of you.”

“Ryan,” said Logan, “you don’t need any words. You just gotta keep being you.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Queen of the Romans: Stark Raving Mad

It’s amazing how far under the radar the Spitzenkreiger fly. If there’s a group of people who pose as great a threat to the world as Rome does, it’s those “superheroes”. Should it surprise anyone? I don’t care if they’re not the ‘supernatural’ beings that exist in the comic book pages- they’re still elite crime fighters who have, time and again, proven they’re much stronger and much more intelligent than many of the best soldiers and police officers. If Tony Stark wanted to dominate the world, he could. I don’t get why the world loves them when the “heroes” could squash them like a bug.

Perhaps something is stopping them from wanting to dominate the world. If I could figure that out, I just might be able to get the upper hand on them…at least on Stark.

November 15, 2017,
14:33 local time,
Donald Trump Park,
Manhattan, New York

“What?” said Jasper Parker as he glanced at his phone. “What does he want now?”
“Who are you talking about?” said Parker’s best friend, Ned Leeds, his interest piqued.
“Happy just texted me out of the blue,” said Parker, still confused.
“What did he say?” said Ned.
“Said he wants to meet up with me as soon as he can,” said Parker, “says he’s in the area.”
“That’s it?” said Ned.
“That’s it,” said Parker, who shrugged.
“What could he want?” said Ned.
“I don’t know,” said Parker. “Ever since I turned down Stark to join the Sentries I haven’t heard from him.”
“Well, Tony had high hopes for you,” said Ned, “you took up Spider-Man when your father didn’t want to do it…Tony saved your behind many times…and you did give him the cold shoulder.”

Parker gave Ned a look.

“What?” he said, still disbelieving. “No…Tony Stark wasn’t mad at me…at least he didn’t sound like he was mad at me…I mean…he understood where I was coming from…I thought I was ready but I wasn’t and then there’s May…and…I told him all that…at least I think I told him all that…I mean…he understands…at least I think he understands…” Parker’s voice trailed off before resuming with anxiety in his voice. “I mean…if you were him, you’d understand? Right? Right?

“Right,” said a booming voice after approaching the two teenagers at the bench. “Tony understands…don’t worry Jasper.”

Both Ned and Parker looked up, their mouths agape and stunned in silence.

“What?” said the man, the burly Harold “Happy” Horgan holding out his arms. “I don’t get a handshake or even a ‘hello’?”
“Happy…um,” said Parker, still in shock. “It’s…it’s so great to see you again…I…I…uh, how did you find us anyway?”
“You know,” said Happy with a smirk, “Tony has his ways.” Happy then saw Parker start examining his phone. “Your Squawker profile also says you checked in to Central Park about fifteen minutes ago, and seeing how this is a nice day…I doubt you would have left very quickly.”
“Haven’t I told you to turn off the location feature?” said Ned, shaking his head. “Do you want people to stalk you? Because that’s how you get people to stalk you.”
“Come on,” said Parker, letting out a huff, “how am I supposed to do this whole ‘friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man thing’ if people can’t find me?”

“Guys, guys, guys,” said Happy, using his hands to signal the boys to relax. “It’s all good…just be responsible, that’s all I’m asking.”

“Anyway, Jasper,” said Happy, “now that I’m here…can we go somewhere a little more private?”

Jasper glanced at Ned, as trepidation set in. Ned gave Jasper a nod, which relieved Jasper for a minute and allowed him to walk with Happy to his limousine.

Once inside the back seating area, a familiar, very exuberant voice greeted him.

“Hey,” said Tony Stark, Jr., the owner and operator of Stark Industries, a company geared to training and supplying elite law enforcement agents that came to be known colloquially as “superheroes”. The well-coiffed, slender but physically-fit Stark took over the Industries from his legendary father, expanding it into a worldwide elite force known as the Worldwide Action Response Department, or WARD.

Stark and Parker clasped hands with Stark patting Parker on the shoulder, which eased Parker’s mind immediately.

“How are you doing, kiddo?” said Stark with a smile as Parker tried to maintain eye contact, still star-struck by the encounter. “I get it- you’re still overwhelmed. That’s okay.” He then reached into the mini-fridge and offered Parker a bottle. “Chardonnay?”
“I’m, um,” said Parker sheepishly, “I’m not old enough to drink.”

Stark didn’t miss a beat. “Good answer,” he said, giving Parker a smile and a point of his finger. Stark then reached back into the fridge.

“Here’s that sparkling orange juice I know you like,” said Stark, handing Parker a bottle that he opened excitedly. “Got it just for you because I don’t like that stuff…you know me, I’m little old school.”
“It’s okay Mr. Stark,” said Parker, drinking his orange juice with glee, “you don’t have to explain.”

“I should probably get to why I called you here,” said Stark as Parker looked on with interest. “So we were thinking about that last time we met-”
“Please,” said Parker, interjecting and stammering, “please don’t tell me you’re upset…I mean, I’m sorry, I’m really-”
“No, no, no,” said Stark, interrupting quickly. “Me, upset? Not at all.” Stark could see the relief overcoming Parker. “You have school, and your aunt, and I was asking you to fill some pretty big shoes…that wasn’t quite fair of me. So, I understand.”

Stark began to get more excited, gesturing as he talked.

“Anyway,” he said, “I was thinking about your whole ‘friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’ thing and I realized this could be a good thing for Stark…we don’t just have elite, roving crime fighting units but also locals…people like you who know the community, you’re trusted and valued by the community, you know the good guys and the bad guys and how things work around the area and thus would have a better handle on recognizing community threats as opposed to some distant, far-off ‘fed’ would…there’s an opportunity here that I just realized. I picked up my father’s industry because I care about people and I care about justice, and I feel that…even though the Sentries have done a lot of good work, we just don’t…connect…to the locals like I feel we should.

“So I want to create a program called ‘Sentries in your Neighbourhood’. WARD-approved, WARD-trained and Stark supplied agents who are from the local neighbourhoods and whose only task is to protect those neighbourhoods, leaving the Wardens for the bigger tasks and the Sentries for the biggest ones.”

Parker gave Stark a confused look before Stark continued confidently.

“We’re still sorting it out, don’t worry!” he said. “What I want to know is…do you want in? I still believe you got what it takes to be a Sentry…but I get that you’re not ready for that level of commitment. So why not be the Sentry for your school? It’d be perfect, I think.”

Parker, overwhelmed by Stark’s offer, was stunned to silence. He wanted to jump on the offer, but then he thought about his aunt May and his schoolwork, and he wondered if he truly was mature enough to take on such a role. I’m still a kid…I need to do kid stuff, he thought, but being a Sentry would be so cool!

“Think about it,” said Stark before he and Parker parted ways. “We’re not going to get started on things right away…but I want you to be our first guy. Think about it…call Happy when you’ve made your decision, okay?”

Stark smiled as he saw Parker leave.

“He’s a good kid,” said Stark, after Happy stepped inside the car and traded places with another bodyguard.
“He is a very good kid,” said Happy curtly.
“I know, I know,” said Stark with a sigh, sensing Happy wanted to discuss more urgent matters. “Gosh, Happy, can I not enjoy one moment?”
“Yeah, but the lawsuit,” said Happy, “we need to get our papers in.”
“My wife said she’d take care of that,” said Stark.
“Then why do I have a text message from the lawyer saying we haven’t turned it in yet?” said Happy.
“That’s just lawyer stuff…trying to intimidate us,” said Stark, trying to brush it off.
Happy just gave him a look.
“OK,” he said. “I’ll text my wife to remember…but please, don’t worry about it.”

November 17, 2017,
09:25 local time,
Colonial Courthouse,
Vancouver, Roman Columbia

“OK,” said Stark Industries lawyer Lester Serling, beginning his line of questioning to Tonya Pierson, representing herself. She was once “Bullseye”, a Stark-trained superhero known as a “Warden” who worked for the Kelowna Watchmen until she was fired by the Watchmen after they ruled she overstepped her bounds even though she committed a lawful killing. “Let me get this straight- you said you merely shot the assailant in an effort to stop the attack, is that correct?”
“Yes that is,” said Pierson, defiantly.
“…and the attack didn’t stop,” said Serling, his cutting baritone commanding the room.
“No it did not,” said Pierson. “I fired a warning shot and when that did not stop the attack, I fired at the perpetrator. I did not intend for it to be a killshot.”

Serling laughed as he paced the courtroom.

“You said you fired a warning shot,” said Serling, “but forensics never did find the bullet that missed Mr. Rodney.”
“That’s because forensics didn’t do their job,” said Pierson. “I know I shot that bullet.”
“You know,” said Serling, “but no eyewitness report said you fired that warning shot. Every shot you fired hit Mr. Rodney.”
“Eyewitness reports are unreliable,” said Pierson, “everyone knows that. Besides, the people in that neighbourhood…they hate the police. They have every reason to concoct a story that would make me look bad.”
“Is that so?” said Serling, “and you know this how?”
“Give me a break, Lester!” snapped Pierson, which earned a stern rebuke from the judge, Justice David Clarkson.
“You too, now, eh?” said Pierson.
“Again, you’re in a court of law, Ms. Pierson,” said Clarkson. “You must still respect decorum.”
“I have no respect for a judicial system that is stacked against me,” said Pierson, “nor do I have respect for a company that seeks to put profits ahead of its ethical and moral responsibilities.”

A thunderous howl erupted from the crowd, mostly from Pierson’s supporters, which required several strikes of the gavel by Clarkson before he could restore order.

“I actually think it’s quite funny that you talk about ethical and moral responsibilities,” said Serling, sensing an opportunity. “You said in your statement that the deceased was found harassing an Irishman, is that correct?”
“Yes it is,” said Pierson. “Eugene Rodney was seen calling Patrick Bardsley an ‘earn’, which is an epithet the Caucs use to degrade an Irish person who has accumulated wealth. So not only was this a violent assault, it was a hate crime.”
“Caucs, eh?” said Serling, sensing he was getting somewhere. “Short for Caucasians…the catch-all term you Irish use to describe all the white people that are not Irish, is that correct?”
“I resent you saying, ‘you Irish’,” said Pierson, seething with anger.
“Answer the question, Ms. Pierson,” said Clarkson.
“Yes,” said Pierson, “ ‘Caucs’ is the short form for Caucasians…but you turning this into a race-baiting scheme is abhorrent at best, counsel.”

Serling smiled smugly, picking up a sheet of paper from his desk and showing it to the judge.

“I’d like to present this Squawk,” said Serling. “Sent from Ms. Pierson’s personal account, dated July 19, 2014, where she, ever so subtly, states, ‘the world would be a better place without the Caucs.’ I would also state, for the record, that this wasn’t the only social media post Ms. Pierson has made where she used the term ‘Caucs’…she has used it on many different occasions, all of which, as you will see, are definitely in a racist connotation…of course, I personally believe any iteration of ‘Cauc’ is racist, but…what do I know? I’m just a ‘Cauc’ anyway, right Ms. Pierson?”

Serling smiled smugly as Pierson boiled with rage, doing all she could not to snap in the courtroom.

“What does that have to do with my case and whether or not my firing was legal?” said Pierson, not hiding her anger.
“Well,” said Serling, “Mr. Rodney is, as you would describe, a ‘Cauc’ who assaulted an Irishman in what you describe as a hate crime. That, we are not disputing…but, on my end, you clearly showed no restraint on Mr. Rodney and shot him dead because you hate him.” Serling’s tone then rose as he continued. “You let your emotions get the better of you and in doing so denied Mr. Rodney a chance at justice. You viewed him as a despicable Cauc and you shot him dead…in cold blood, when you could have just grazed him and knocked him over, still allowing for an arrest. I think it goes without saying that if you want a job as a Warden or a Sentry, you should be able to put your biases behind…but, I guess, since Rodney was a Cauc he doesn’t get that same benefit of the doubt, now does he?”

Pierson stood up and laid into Serling with her voice and gestures.

“Race played no part in this!” said Pierson. “How dare you even think I would do such a thing?! You clearly decide, to prove your own narrative, to disregard all the positive interactions I had with Caucs while on the job, including the numerous Caucs that I assisted while I was Bullseye. You also fail to understand that even the best shooters don’t hit their targets- the criminal court cleared me because this isn’t Hollywood- sharpshooters aren’t always sharp.”

Serling smiled but pressed on.

“That was solely the prosecutor’s decision,” said Serling. “We never got to test it in a court of law. Here’s what I do know…you were able to shoot 100 Pepsi cans from a distance of three miles, knocking each off its pedestal in order without missing. You were hardly ten feet from Eugene Rodney and you struck him dead in the temple…twice. If that doesn’t signal intent then I don’t know what does.

“Furthermore, I will note that your arrest record shows you were far harsher on Caucs than you were on the Irish as compared to your colleagues. On two separate occasions, you confronted a Roman-descended and a Welsh-descended shoplifter by tackling them and punching them repeatedly in the face after you had taken them down. When an Irishwoman shoplifted, you took her back to the store and paid for the items yourself! Tell me, why does a Roman and a Welshman qualify for a beating but an Irishwoman gets free clothes?”
“The Romans and the Welsh haven’t faced the oppr-” started Pierson.
“Spare me your ‘privilege’ spiel,” interrupted Serling harshly. “All people are equal under the law…but you clearly see otherwise. Face it, Ms. Pierson- if you had done your job properly, you would have treated everyone the same way, and not have a different standard for your countrymen.”

Pierson wanted to object to Serling’s use of “countrymen” but Serling loudly and brusquely told the judge he was ending his line of questioning, preventing her from doing so.

Although Pierson called upon another witness- a shooting expert who contended that, despite her accuracy as a sharpshooter, there was still a chance she didn’t shoot Rodney dead- Pierson’s fate was sealed by Serling’s cross-examination. When Clarkson delivered his ruling over a week later, he agreed with Serling that Pierson’s ideological motivations played a factor in Rodney’s death, and he believed that Pierson intentionally shot him dead as a result. Thus, he dismissed Pierson’s lawsuit and found for Stark Industries, ordering Pierson to pay Stark’s legal fees.

Because of these obligations, Pierson was forced to sell almost everything she had- or, at least she would, if she hadn’t decided to flee. That night, after crying herself to sleep, she bought a plane ticket to Munich, where she could safely hide amongst the other vagabonds who infested the relative anarchy of the Western European Confederation.

Because of who she was, it would not be long before she found an unexpected ally.

November 18, 2017,
12:09 local time,
Wayne Enterprises Complex,
Paradise County, Region of Las Vegas

Bruce Wayne, Jr., had many thoughts as he exited his corporate complex and headed to his car to head out for his lunch break. The grandson of the original Batman, North America’s first superhero, Wayne built his grandfather’s empire from a conglomerate of assets into the Region of Las Vegas’ effective government, reviving the city from its crime-infested past. Advanced irrigation systems allowed the desert community to become self-sustainable, with immense wealth generated by tourism dollars as Wayne owned and operates all the casinos and resorts in Vegas, many of which the Enterprises built.

Although Wayne’s grandfather and his father, Thomas, both took on the mantle of The Dark Knight, Wayne was often critical of the concept of superheroes, claiming they helped foster ideas of “vigilantism”. The Waynes held sway throughout the 20th century, where jurisdictions often grappled with whether or not to hire superheroes of their own or maintain their conventional police forces (most opted to combine the two), but, following the Third World War, the superhero industry collapsed along with the United States and the Soviet Union, presenting Wayne with an opportunity. Using his funds to rebuild police forces across the continent to fill the vacuum left by the departed superheroes, Wayne ushered a revival of conventional police forces in North America in the latter years of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st. The centrepiece of the operation became the Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) unit that he created for Las Vegas in 1997 (simultaneously hanging up the Batman costume forever) and the 2003 revival of the Behavioural Analysis Unit, both of which spawned the CSI and Criminal Minds TV shows in their honour, respectively.

Yet it was inevitable that a culture that grew up on superheroes would interfere with the new reality and, before long, many of the police officers began acting like the superheroes they were supposed to replace. Law enforcement agents sought more and more to gain glory and fame, leading to a police culture that never worked a case unless it was “easy” and could give the officers lots of prestige. It got so bad that in 2016 a scathing report by renowned investigator and prosecutor Mike Milner effectively tarnished the reputation of police officers in North America forever, enabling Stark to gain a foothold in North America and convince the vast majority of police jurisdictions to replace their staff with small teams of superheroes, ones that Stark would supply himself.

Meanwhile, as Stark’s star rose, Wayne’s fell, as, although Milner took great pains not to criticize him, the public still believed Wayne, as the visible figure behind the “hero cops” was the one responsible for the issues that led to their conduct. No matter how many times he said he wasn’t responsible for their training and that he couldn’t fund the police services all on his own, the public just wouldn’t believe him, opting more and more to go for those “heroes” that Wayne detested.

Which is why Stark’s decision to create “Sentries on Your Street”- troubled him, making him spend almost all morning trying to come up with a strong enough statement denouncing the initiative. Superheroes in your neighbourhood? he thought, that’s either going to allow the neighbourhoods to embrace their own kind of vigilantism and further assert their autonomy or the neighbourhoods will see the heroes as extensions of a central power. Or both. Either way…it can’t be good.

In the middle of his thoughts, a voice called out to him just as he got to his car.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Wayne,” said Danforth Grayson, freezing Wayne in his tracks.
“What do you want?” fired back Wayne. “Shouldn’t you be in a jail somewhere?”
“If you think I’ve committed a crime then why don’t you arrest me right now?” said Grayson with a smug smile.
“I don’t know what country you’re a citizen of anymore,” said Wayne, “and The Virus would have a field day if I were to ‘unfairly’ target you.”

Grayson could only chuckle. A former criminal mastermind, Grayson now used his time to run the worldwide advocacy group “The Virus”, which pledged to be a voice for all of the world’s underprivileged classes. They proved to be quite successful protesters, with the movement’s ability to spark the Assyrian Revolution- which felled the Aramean Empire and propelled Anatu to the throne of the revived Assyrian Empire- proof that they had the power to bring anyone to its knees.

They were often denigrated as “just a bunch of students” and were seen as “soft” because they tended to prefer peaceful means, images Grayson played with in his response.

“What?” he said, feigning fear, “are you afraid of a bunch of college kids? You took down The Joker…what’s The Virus to you?”
“First of all,” said Wayne, annoyed. “The Joker was just a TV series thing and…I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but…I’m not the Batman anymore. I’m just Bruce Wayne.”

Grayson’s mouth went agape.

“No? Really?” he said, feigning shock. “I had no idea!”
“Why are you wasting my time?” said Wayne, starting to feel the pangs of hunger. “You usually don’t show up unless you have something important…so, speak.”
“Oh I got nothing,” said Grayson. “I just love annoying you.”

Wayne then pulled out his phone.

“OK then,” he said, “I’m just going to call security and they’ll escort you from the premises.”
“That’s too bad,” Grayson said, “then you won’t hear about Bullseye.”

Wayne stopped typing on his phone and put it away.

“Bullseye?” he said.
“Yeah, you know,” Grayson said curtly. “Tonya Pierson…fired by Stark for overkill.”
“OK,” said Wayne, “I already knew that…and I know the decision didn’t go in her favour. Even though I think she acted well within her rights.”
“I come on her behalf,” said Grayson.
“You do?” said Wayne, suddenly interested.
“You want to take down Stark and so does she,” said Grayson. “Now, I have the connections, but I don’t quite have the money necessary to fund an operation like that. You do…in fact, if you wanted to, you could fund ten Stark Industries, and in a year, we could overwhelm Stark’s heroes and show the world just how fallacious it is to rely on them.”
“I’m not sure I could fund ten Stark Industries,” said Wayne, who thought with his recent struggles whether or not he could even fund one.
“Whatever,” said Grayson, “it’s just hyperbole. The point is, you’ve got the funds and the motivation to bring down Stark- and you can have a very powerful ally.”

Wayne chuckled.

“Who would that ally be?” he said with a wry smile. “You and your bunch of college kids?”
“Yes,” said Grayson with a straight face.

Wayne nodded his head ever so slightly, intrigued by Grayson’s response.

“What exactly is my role in all this?” he said, looking on intently.
“You will agree to fund The Virus,” said Grayson, “and we’ll do everything in our power to paint the superheroes as extensions of the establishment, quickly souring their reputation with the public. You will also agree to fund Bullseye’s efforts.”
“…and what does she want to do?” said Wayne.
“She wants her own army of superheroes,” said Grayson, “ones that will fight the establishment and give the power back to the people. Ones that will fight for the marginalized and the oppressed, ones that will inevitably be oppressed by the superheroes themselves.”

Wayne held out his hand and interrupted Grayson.

“Hold on,” he said, “just one second….you want me to fund criminals? Is that correct?”
“No,” said Grayson, expecting the response, “I want you to fund superheroes. Real ones, not the fake warriors that Stark thinks he’s creating. Think about it Bruce…your grandfather took on the mantle of Batman because Las Vegas needed a hero. Now the world needs a hero to save it from itself…you and I both know Stark has just opened the doors to give the narcissistic idealists everything they’ve ever wanted…extremism will run rampant because now they’ve got the ability to project and impose like they couldn’t before. You and I both know we need to stop it, because heroes are supposed to help people…not create their own agendas. Sentries on Your Street will only make the problem worse and while Stark can’t see that possibility now we both know it’s only a matter of time.”

Wayne sighed, pondering Grayson’s plan. He didn’t like the idea of getting behind a superhero in order to combat other superheroes, no matter what the cost, since he feared he’d only be fuelling the very vigilantism he wants to wipe out…but if the ends justify the means…

“Think about it Brucey,” said Grayson as he and Wayne parted with a hearty handshake. “A war is coming…we gotta make sure we’re on the right side.”

November 19, 2017,
16:49 local time,
Riverside Apartment Complex,
Munich, Bavaria

“How’d it go with Bats?” said Pierson after letting Grayson into her apartment, a small bachelor pad that was only big enough to fit her bed, a small kitchen and bathroom, and a couch.

Grayson put down his stuff and sighed.

“I figured that loony wouldn’t help us,” said Pierson, shaking her head.
“He didn’t say ‘no’,” said Grayson. “He just didn’t say ‘yes’, either. Which I expected…asking Bruce Wayne to get into the criminal world was not going to be easy.”
“Not even telling him that he’d be fighting Stark would do it?” said Pierson with a sigh.
“I guess not,” said Grayson. “I figured that was the one card we had…his ‘police department’ experiment didn’t work so he was out of options to compete against Stark…but I’ll give him credit, he is a man of his principles.”

Pierson flashed a restrained smile. She wanted to mention that Bruce was also a man of money, something she did not have. Her savings allowed her to get a place in Munich few could afford, but her savings was all she had. Grayson and The Virus agreed to help her out, but there was only so much crowd-funding could do.

“Tonya,” said Grayson, trying to stay positive. “Remember, you still have the public’s support, especially here in Europe. The crowd-funding will eventually turn around in your favour…and, besides, your friends in the alt-left will definitely help you out, because they know the kinds of struggles the Irish have in this world. Everything will take time…you just have to be patient.”

Pierson smiled, appreciative of Grayson’s talk.

“Makes me feel a little better,” said Pierson. “The good news is, someone’s going to pay me to train them…if all goes well, we’ll be one step closer to the army we dream of.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Grayson after a wide smile.

A few minutes later, Pierson’s phone went off.

November 21, 2017,
07:31 local time,
Riverside Apartment Complex,
Munich, Bavaria

The fury was relentless. Sparring with an aspiring fighter who called himself “The Hammerer”, Bullseye found it difficult to keep up her defenses. He was strong too, she noted, with a lightning-level quickness to his feet and overall ground game that made his fast punches that much harder to take.

As the fight wore on, Bullseye was able to gain the upper hand, which she showed with one well-placed uppercut that felled The Hammerer immediately.

“You need to learn to pace yourself,” said Bullseye, sweating but not tired, a contrast to The Hammerer, exhausted and crumpled to the floor. “You’re wearing yourself out, and more experienced fighters will take advantage of that. Otherwise, good job.”

Bullseye then helped The Hammerer get to his feet, greeting each other with a hearty hug. The Hammerer then took a shower before parting, after which Bullseye called Danforth Grayson.

“Hammerer went well,” said Bullseye. “You’ve found a lot of good candidates.”
“Thanks,” said Grayson. “A lot are buying in to The Virus’ message.”
“How are we with the weapons?” said Bullseye.
“He’s come through with them,” said Grayson, which put a smile on Bullseye’s face.
“Good,” she said. “He’s become a very good ally. Keep me posted.”

November 24, 2017,
23:15 local time,
Virtue Guards Headquarters,
Constantinople, Byzantium

I’ve got to figure out something, thought Donald Diego, as he spent a late night at the office contemplating his latest case. He had no leads, and every search he initiated of Virtue’s databases gave him no inspiration. It was about as dry as a night as it could be, and it was frustrating for Diego.

“F***,” said Diego, slamming his desk hard. “There must be something.”

Then a song came on the radio and suddenly Diego was inspired. He listened further before going on his computer. Afterwards, he shut it off and left the office, getting the inspiration he needed to explore a lead the song gave him.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Alex Carron's Big Night

“Only fools believe they can change the course of history.”- Laurence of Sicily, “Majoran’s Mistake” (497)

November 12, 2017
12:59 local time,
Wembley Stadium,
London, England

Alex Carron couldn’t help but feel the atmosphere. Mere seconds were left before he was to address a sold out crowd at the legendary stadium, a stadium that had witnessed so many moments of history.

Today it was the scene of a fundraiser, Carron’s Christmas he called it, an annual tradition that was seen as the beginning of the Christmas season across the English Empire. Many of the world’s top bands, most of them drawn from the Empire but not all, would perform today, with Carron himself performing several skits in between sets.

The tradition began in 2000, a year after Carron’s cartoon comedy, Best Boss Ever, debuted. Despite being a ratings success, the cartoon was critically panned, with critics taking particular issue with the show’s emphasis on raunchy humour and a cavalier indifference to political correctness. Throughout its run, Best Boss Ever has faced numerous calls for its cancellation on both sides of the political spectrum, with conservatives often saying “it compromises England’s morals” and socialists calling it “derogatory and insensitive”. A lawsuit in 2010 nearly saw the show cancelled, but a razor thin 11-10 vote by the Royal Judiciary kept it on the air, where it has stayed ever since.

Still, despite his pride in his show’s success, it often overshadowed Carron’s abilities as an actor, abilities Carron showcased at his fundraiser. He would often be praised for his performances from his even his harshest critics. They earned him a few prominent movie roles, roles which were also praised. It led to calls for Carron to give up his raunchy humour and become an actor full time. Carron would often dismiss such notions, saying he enjoyed his work, but speculation arose that with Best Boss Ever closing in on twenty seasons, he just might change his mind.

So, despite the air of excitement in the air regarding his opening remarks, there was also an air of apprehension. Press releases said Carron was making an “important announcement today”- was the end of Best Boss Ever in sight?

The applause began as Carron stepped out onto the stage, the cheers reaching a thunderous crescendo when he stepped up to the microphone. He smiled and waved several times to the crowd, soaking in the adulation as it poured in. Several minutes went by before it subsided to a point where Carron could finally speak. He didn’t mind- for Carron, the cheering of the crowd never got old.

“Welcome, everyone,” said Carron, beginning his speech. “I’ve done a lot of things- I’m sure you know- that I’m proud of, but tonight- as you always do- you show me why I am most proud of this event.”

Carron then listed all the bands that would be performing, drawing loud applause for each act.

“A star-studded event, as always,” said Carron. “I’m excited to get to it, and believe me we will…but before I do, I must say a few words.”

Carron smiled, though an audible sigh could be heard. Some in the crowd began to gasp, but most were stunned to silence, anticipating the worst.

“It’s been a tumultuous year in English politics,” said Carron, “and, of course, as many of you know, Best Boss Ever was at the centre of it. We had to fend off another lawsuit…this one from the Centre of Japanese Equality, who took issue with ‘Forbidden Dreams’, my episode on the ‘hikikomori’. Some of you already know the episode, but, since it aired ten years ago, some of you may not…that was the one where narcissistic parents too caught up in the ‘partying lifestyle’ drove their own son to isolation and depression because they repeatedly intimidated and threatened him if he ever tried to leave. The episode ended when Paul Chimera found a way to break the son out of his own house, with the son living with a friend of Chimera who actually took care of him and convinced him his parents were bad parents.

“Now, I remember when the episode aired, people praised me- even in Japan- for calling out destructive cultural tendencies in East Asia. People don’t realize that ‘Forbidden Dreams’ is a common occurrence, highlighting the very real problem that society is tied too closely to the family and, unfortunately not every family is going to be looking out for their own children. People in Japan have been saying for years that something needs to be done about the problem, because no society ever benefits when they get as blindly devoted to something as the Japanese do with their families.

“Not saying anything revolutionary here guys…this has been a problem they’ve been dealing with for decades, and I decided to use comedy to address it.

“Unfortunately for me, the Centre didn’t agree with me that the ‘hikikomori’ are really a problem. Not only did they flat out denied that there were depressed kids who were browbeaten by overbearing parents, they went as far to claim that there is no such thing as a ‘problem parent’. That’s right, Hiroshi- your Mommy and Daddy, heroin junkies who couldn’t bother to feed you today because they had to ‘chase the dragon’ and only want you get into IT so you can pay for their drugs, are still ‘good parents’, despite the fact they’re neglectful sons of b****es.”

Carron laughed and shook his head as his audience roared with the approval of his observation.

“I mean, imagine that,” he continued. “The Centre is so blinded by their devotion to Japanese culture that they fail to see its flaws. Of course, me being a white guy…well, criticizing another culture must mean I’m racist, right?”

Carron chuckled as varied howls emanated from the crowd.

“All right, all right,” said Carron, hoping his smile would ease some minds. “I’m not going to go into a rant about the Centre’s stance- we had the lawsuit already. We won, because at least this country still believes in free speech.

“It did make me think about where this country is headed and if it’s really going in the right path. I mean, there’s only so many times people can target my blood, sweat and tears before you’ve got to do something about it- and I will.”

Carron then began to gesture wildly as he talked, his tone getting louder and more forceful as he got into his speech.

“Reflecting on the whole ordeal with the Centre,” he continued, “my first thought, obviously, was about the left. You know what really struck me about the Centre for Japanese Equality? You what did? The name. Think about it- they’re not the ‘Centre for Equality’. No- they’re the Centre for Japanese Equality. They don’t really care about gaining equality for everyone- they just want equality-” Carron pointedly cleared his throat before continuing- “excuse me, they want power for the Japanese people. It’s why these guys will complain about people dressing up as samurais and geishas for Hallowe’en but they’ll howl in protest if you dare call them out for dressing up as a bobby or as a Medieval knight, or why they’ll so freely use terms like ‘limeys’ or ‘pommies’ but don’t you dare call them ‘yellow’ or say anything’s ‘nippy’ around them.”

Howls could be heard from the crowd.

“Don’t get me wrong- offensive terms are offensive terms,” said Carron, “but the Japanese don’t get a pass because the English are the dominant members of our society. Racism is still racism…that’s a fact. We’ve got inequality in our society, but we’re not going to address it if all we do is snipe at each other.”

This time the audience was less divided, cheering for Carron’s statement. Carron smiled, but then immediately returned to his serious face.

“See, that’s the thing about the Centre and the left in general,” said Carron. “They don’t care about equality for everyone- they just want things to be better for themselves, and screw how things are for everyone else. It’s why they want massive handouts for the poor and don’t care that they’re taking from the rich who are actually working for that money. It’s why crime advocates push to end violence against women but they don’t care one whit about male victims. It’s why they’ll bend over backwards for poor people of colour but they’ll do absolutely nothing for poor Englishmen- ’cause the English are supposed to be ‘privileged’ you see.”

The audience began to howl- some cheers, some groans- before Carron cut them off.

“Let’s not act, though,” he continued, “that the right are off the hook. Yeah, I should be all up in them- after all, right wing activists were front and centre in my defence during the lawsuit, because, sadly, they were the only ones who cared about ‘free speech’. I mean, I’m grateful someone cares about that kind of stuff…but listening to what the activists were saying in defence of free speech really left me uneasy.

“These guys were front and centre with their placards, saying all kinds of nasty stuff about the Japanese. These guys were shouting obscenities, wearing mocking costumes, harassing Japanese people and making all kinds of statements and nasty comments about the Japanese that were downright falsehoods. It was tough to stand in solidarity with them and many times I didn’t. When the lawsuit was over and I finally won, there were these two guys who made a show in front of the courthouse. One was dressed as a bobby and the other guy was dressed as a samurai, and they acted this scene where the bobby kicked down the samurai and ‘made’ him beat himself to death with the bobby’s baton.”

Carron chuckled in disgust.

“I mean, I could only look at that in disgust,” said Carron. “That’s not free speech- that’s hate speech, pure and simple.”

The audience gave him a thunderous ovation in appreciation for his observation.

“It’s then I realized,” said Carron, emboldened by the crowd, “that the right are just as much of hypocrites as the left are. See, if the left is using ‘equality’ to further their own agenda, the right uses ‘free speech’ to further their own. See, they don’t want free speech to protect the rights of anyone to say what they want- no, they want free speech so only the right get to say whatever they want, and do whatever they want. The right is just latching on to free speech because it gives them sympathy with the public, since it allows them to spew whatever they want. ‘Yeah…I know what I said was offensive…but it’s okay…it’s free speech and you wouldn’t want someone to take away your right to speak, do you?’ ”

More applause came from the audience.

“It’s really a great swindle, isn’t it?” said Carron. “Say you’re defending basic freedoms and rights just so you can stifle any criticism you receive about what you say…and then turn around and push your agenda because the public believes you’re serving them…I mean, you’re defending free speech, how bad could you really be? Well I’ll tell you…really bad.”

The audience let out a loud ovation, sustaining it for several minutes as Carron smiled smugly in appreciation. He stood there, soaking in the ovation, proud of the point he made. The ovation still moved him, though, as it was clear to him that the audience’s appreciation for his speech surpassed anything he could have expected.

“This is why tonight,” said Carron forcefully, “on this very stage I am announcing the creation of a new party- the Royalist Party- that I will be the leader of. We will not only contest the next election but we will do everything we can to win the next election. Next year, we all know the Conservatives have to call one- they can’t put it aside any longer- and they’re vulnerable. They know it, the Labour Party knows it and we know it too.

“That’s why we’re jumping in- because we believe the English Empire deserves a real third choice to counteract the B.S. that passes for politics these days. We believe in serving the people, and we believe in doing it without agendas. We will protect equality not to further some special interest group’s cause but because England should be a truly equal and fair society. We will protect free speech not because we want to promote only one way of thinking but because we want everyone to be able to express their thoughts and their feelings without restriction, because only when we talk to each other do we ever get things done. We will focus on the things the English actually care about, things that will make the Empire great again, like the economy, infrastructure and real solutions to poverty. We also pledge to listen to other parties and other groups, even if we’ve got a clear majority in Parliament, because democracy is founded on the principle of everyone working together and listening to each other, because real solutions involve multiple perspectives, the kind of perspectives no one person could ever generate on their own.

“Because we’re tired of the games. We’re tired of the sniping…the name-calling…the bashing. We’re tired of disunity and dysfunction that serves no one and gets nothing done. We’re tired of politicians who speak in platitudes and only look out for themselves. We’re tired of the ‘same-old, same-old’ that gets us nowhere.”

The audience then roared in appreciation, howling for several minutes as Carron soaked up the immense support.

“We’re tired of all of it,” he said triumphantly, “and you should too. Join us in bringing real change to England.”

The audience again gave Carron a thunderous ovation, sustaining it for well over ten minutes, as Carron smiled and gestured his appreciation for the crowd. He tried several times to announce the first band to take the stage, but the crowd was so enraptured in delirium that they wouldn’t relent enough for him to do so. The support was overwhelming, bringing a tear to Carron’s eye and making him believe he really could enact the change he’s always wanted. He also knew that his work was far from done.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Sorrowful Tale of Annabelle Sanchez

November 5, 2017,
18:03 local time,
Latin Gardens,
Arles, Arelatian Empire

“Hi,” said Carlos Moyen as he opened the door to greet the Arelatian National Police.
“Hi,” said Stephen Carter, a dark-skinned man who spoke with a distinct and heavy drawl. “I’m Stephen Carter and I’m here with my partner, Luke Alvarez.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Alvarez with a smile. Alvarez was lighter-skinned but still tanned and was the more boisterous of the pair. “We’re with the Arelation National Police.”
“Is there, um, anything I can do to help you?” said Moyen, irritated by the officers’ presence.

“We’re here on a missing persons case,” said Carter, “and we’re hoping that maybe you can help us.” Carter then took out a picture and showed it to Moyen.

“Name’s Annabelle Sanchez,” said Carter as Moyen examined the photo. “We figure she’s about…18, 19 by now.”
“She used to live around here,” said Alvarez, who took a bite out of the submarine sandwich he was carrying. Since he worked out often, he was hungry a lot, and since the local deli loves his business, they cut him a deal on their sandwiches, which he loves to eat. “Nobody’s seen her for years, though, but…we got a tip that said she loved coming to your house.”

Moyen scoffed and threw his hands up in disgust.

“Do you think I have something to do with that?” he said. “I’ve got a wife and two kids…do you think I would want to hurt another family’s child?”
“You’d be surprised what family men are capable of doing,” said Carter pointedly.
“Maybe I would,” said Moyen, “but I’m not one of those guys.”

Moyen let out a deep breath to keep himself composed.

“Look,” he said, “Annabelle ran here a couple of times…Maria and I, we fed her. Treated her like family…better than her own family. Yet she never stayed here more than a few nights at a time…she had an intense loyalty to her family. I never understood why…her father beat her every day and her mother…oh, by Jove her mother…”

Moyen let out a breath, trying to keep his composure.

“What happened with her mother?” said Carter, sensing something important.

“Her mother passed her around to the boys in the neighbourhood,” said Moyen, unable to contain his disgust.
“Passed her around?” asked Alvarez with intent.
“Yeah,” said Moyen. “Whored her out…as soon as she ‘developed’. I told her to go to the police, but she never did. I tried myself but I was told that since she wasn’t my kid there was nothing the police could do. In fact, since the rest of the neighbourhood loved her- or rather ‘loved’ her- they gave me quite the grief for doing what I did.”

Moyen put his hands on his hips and looked the officers in the eye.

“Now,” he told them, “what makes me think you two are going to be any different than the other dunderheads that refused to do anything?”
“We’re National Police,” said Alvarez assuredly. “We picked up the case from the locals just last week, since it went cold…and since we’re the National Police, we have to care about these cases. Besides…I have a daughter of my own. I’d hate to see anything happen to her.”

Moyen sighed. “That’s good to know,” he said.

“When’s the last time you saw her?” said Carter.
“Two years ago,” said Moyen. “Ran away from home, came to my house crying. She stayed the night, got up real early the next morning, and bolted out the door. I never saw her again afterwards. I heard a rumour that she went to Rome and started turning tricks…but that’s all I know.”
“Thank you Mr. Moyen,” said Alvarez, taking another bite of his sub. “If we have any more questions, we’ll be in touch.”

The two brothers made their way back to their car and got inside.

“His story checked out from the same one he told two years ago,” said Alvarez. “If she didn’t contact him since then she must have really gone away.”
“I don’t think she went to Rome,” said Carter. “He’s likely only thinking that because Rome allows prostitution so everyone naturally thinks that’s where the pimps take her…but the protections are so good there and the prices are relatively low that no one looking to exploit her would take her there. She’s likely in England or America, places where prostitution is banned…that’s where the real money is.”
“What if she went willingly, though?” asked Alvarez, taking another bite of his sub, with a piece of lettuce falling onto the seat.

“Hey man,” said Carter, furiously reaching over and wiping the stain off the seat. “How many times do I have to tell you to watch your food? This ain’t our car.”
“I’m sorry man,” said Alvarez, readjusting the wrapping around the sub, better protecting it from spilling. “These things are going to happen.”

Carter gave Alvarez an irritated stare before deciding against protesting further.

“Anyway, if she went anywhere willingly,” said Carter, “Moyen would be the first person she’d talk to. The fact that she hasn’t means she’s somewhere she doesn’t want to be.”

July 25, 2011,
23:01 local time,
Latin Gardens,
Arles, Arelatian Empire

“Hey,” said Rodrigo Morales, 15, as he sat next to Annabelle Sanchez on the park bench. “I got your text, is everything okay?”
“No,” said Annabelle, 14, her voice cracking and tears visibly streaming down her face. “My mother…she’s at it again.”
“Oh no,” said Rodrigo, with grave concern. “What happened now?”

Annabelle lifted up her butt and lowered her jean shorts to reveal the mark of a clothing iron on her bare bottom.

“I accidentally spilled coffee,” said Annabelle, stammering, “and I didn’t clean it up properly…so Mommy spanked me…and applied the iron. I had to run cold water on the burn for several minutes before I could get some relief…it still hurts to sit…”

The red-haired, svelte Annabelle collapsed in tears into the arms of well-built Rodrigo, a local soccer prodigy. Rodrigo held on to her tight and kissed her forehead, doing all he could to reassure her.

“Oh Annabelle,” said Rodrigo, his soft, reassuring hands rubbing against Annabelle’s bare shoulders. “How I wish we were older…then maybe we could run away, go somewhere better…if not for me, but for you.”
“Maybe we should,” said Annabelle. “I don’t know how much longer I can take living with my mother.”
“Annabelle,” said Rodrigo with a sigh, “I can’t…my parents…they would worry about me.”
“I’m sure they would understand,” said Annabelle.
“Annabelle,” said Rodrigo, “it’s not so easy…”

“Roddy,” Annabelle said, looking Rodrigo straight in the eye. “I know it’s not so easy…but think about my situation. I don’t have a choice…I…we need to try something.”

As Rodrigo held Annabelle in his arms, he pondered what his friend said. I can’t leave town…my team needs me, and my parents would worry sick about me…but Annabelle…there’s no way I could let her go back to her parents tonight. Not after what I just saw. Maybe she can stay with us…yeah, maybe she can stay with us. She’s been there many times before. Our house…it’s big enough. Plus Annabelle would love the dog. Not sure if Pedro will like her but he’ll get used to her.

“Come back home with me,” said Rodrigo.

“Roddy!” said Annabelle, giddy with excitement. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” said Rodrigo with confidence. “Yes I am sure.”
“Your parents will be okay with it?” said Annabelle, her excitement stunted as concern crept into her voice.
“Yes, yes,” said Rodrigo, “I’m sure. I will convince them…I mean, the mark on your butt will convince them. They can’t…you can’t continue to live like you do. I know…it’s weird, a girl living with a guy…but my parents…my parents I’m sure will understand.”

Annabelle looked Rodrigo in the eyes and didn’t waste a moment. She leaned in and began kissing Rodrigo’ lips, with Rodrigo eventually returning the favour after the surprise happening. He always had feelings for her, but, not understanding them, he never acted on them.

The pair kissed passionately for several minutes, each enjoying it more as it continued. Eventually, their feelings overwhelmed each other, with Annabelle pulling Rodrigo on top of her as the two continued to kiss deeply and press each other against their bodies.

At one point, Rodrigo had his hands underneath Annabelle’s shirt, and began to pull it up when a light shone on the two of them, stopping their makeout session.

“What do you think you two are doing?” said Regina Sanchez, Annabelle’s mother, stepping out of the car with her husband, Felipe.

Regina’s angry, purposeful look instantly struck fear into the two of them, who cowered on the park bench as the parents walked towards them.

“So,” said Regina, slapping Annabelle hard. “You think you’re an adult now? You think you can just open your legs up to anyone, right?” She slapped her again before turning to the scared Rodrigo.

“…and you,” she said, slapping him. “Do you think my daughter is someone you can ‘score’ with? That you can just use her for your carnal, distasteful desires? Do you? DO YOU?!” Regina slapped him again several times before Rodrigo summoned the courage to talk.

“It’s…it’s,” said Rodrigo, wincing in pain as Annabelle had by now been reduced to tears. “It’s not like that at all…we like each other. I mean…I like her and…she likes me…I think…” Rodrigo’s voice trailed off while Annabelle nodded in the affirmative. “Besides…please…we don’t know what we’re doing…we’re young…the feelings…I don’t know what I feel but I know that I like it, and Annabelle likes it too, and-”
“Those are the Devil’s feelings, son,” said Felipe. “The Devil makes you give in to your desires, makes you lose control. Because a petulant snit like you was never taught any self-respect! Or any respect for that matter!”

Regina began slapping Rodrigo again, needing to fight off Annabelle to do it (and slapping her again in the process), with Rodrigo eventually having enough, grabbing Regina’s hand and throwing her to the ground so that she could get up.

“Oh now boy you’ve really done it,” said Felipe, drawing a gun and pointing it at Rodrigo. Annabelle shrieked as Rodrigo breathed heavily, doing his best to maintain composure.

“Annabelle showed me what you did to her!” he said, anger filled in his voice. “I saw the iron mark…all over a spilled cup of coffee.”
“She spilled that coffee on purpose,” said Felipe. “Burned my hand.” He then showed Rodrigo a burn mark that was actually from an unrelated incident that Annabelle wasn’t a part of.
“I did not!” said Annabelle, promptly receiving a kick to her face from Felipe.

“That’s it!” said Rodrigo, seeing the blood stream down the face of Annabelle. “I’m not letting you take her! She’s coming home with me!”

Rodrigo reached for her before he heard the cocking of Felipe’s gun.

“Don’t you dare touch her!” said Felipe, giving Rodrigo a menacing scowl.

“You know what Felipe,” said Regina, wiping blood of the side of her face. “If these two love each other, they should have sex right now.”
“What if they already had it?” said Felipe.
“WHAT?” said Annabelle. “No! We didn’t have sex! We just kissed! I swear! By the grace of St. Isidore I swear!”

“How dare you invoke a holy name in vain!” said Regina, grabbing Annabelle by her hair on the back of her head and throwing her to the ground.

Rodrigo looked on in stunned silence as Annabelle was curled on the ground, bawling her eyes out.

“Get up!” said Felipe, giving her several hard kicks before picking her up by her hair. He then passed off the gun to Regina, who continued pointing it at Rodrigo and Annabelle while Felipe had Annabelle’s shirt in his grasp.

“I’m going to teach you a lesson!” said Felipe, ripping open Annabelle’s shirt and tearing off her pants and her underwear, leaving her naked. He then took her by the hair and threw her again to the ground.

“Now you!” said Regina, shouting at Rodrigo, “take off your clothes!” When Rodrigo froze Regina ordered him to do it again, which he complied with.

“Now,” barked Regina. “Go have sex with her!” The stunned Rodrigo looked on in horror, unable to rectify every feeling he had. He froze, until a few swift moves by Felipe got him back into action.

Eventually, right then and there- and after much barking from both Felipe and Regina- Rodrigo and Annabelle would take each other’s virginity, with both visibly crying throughout. When they were finished, Regina dragged Annabelle, kicking and screaming, back to her car, telling her that she needed to “get used to that”, foreshadowing her future as the neighbourhood prostitute.

Regina continued scolding Annabelle, but Annabelle was fixated on Rodrigo in front of her. He had enough and wrestled Felipe to the ground, with the two of them tussling for several moments. For a few minutes, Annabelle was excited, thinking that maybe Rodrigo could emerge victorious and eventually allow her to run off with him anyway.

However, it was not to be, as Felipe eventually gained the upper hand. He gathered his gun and emptied its cartridge into Rodrigo, killing him instantly. Annabelle collapsed in tears upon the sight, being a hysterical mess as Felipe put Rodrigo’s dead body into his trunk. She continued yelling and screaming indiscriminately at her parents until Felipe gave her a few hard punches to her face. She then collapsed in the back seat from exhaustion, allowing her parents to dump Rodrigo’s body outside of the city.

May 18, 2015,
06:02 local time,
Latin Gardens Plaza,
Arles, Arelatian Empire

Annabelle Sanchez walked to the clerk and calmly but purposefully placed her case of Rothman’s beer on the counter.

The clerk gave Annabelle a dismissive look.

“ID please,” said the clerk.
“Oh come on,” said Annabelle, not hiding her disgust. “I turned 18 two days ago. I’m of age.”
“Well,” said the clerk, “I need to make sure.”
“What?” Annabelle snarled, “you don’t believe me?”

The clerk raised his head and rolled his eyes.

“This isn’t a matter of me believing you or not,” said the clerk. “I have to do my job. Besides, I can refuse to sell you the beer and call the police.”
“Fine,” said Annabelle, audibly displaying her contempt.

She pulled out her ID from her hoodie pocket- she was only wearing that, as it was the only article of clothing she could gather quickly before running off to Carlos Moyen’s house- and slapped it on the table, along with the money.

The clerk had a look at the ID a few times and rang up the sale, letting Annabelle go on her way.

She then walked a fair distance with her case, finding a bridge and walking underneath it. There she managed to find a little nook that gave her quite a bit of seclusion, allowing her to sit by the ravine and drink her beer in peace.

Annabelle sat there and wondered how her life got to this point. Her groin still ached along with her legs as the boy her mother made her have sex with went way too hard with his thrusts. She put her hand on her genitals over top of her shirt and grimaced, remembering the pain, before clutching her breasts and “feeling” the boy’s gleeful squeezing.

He was a virgin, she could tell, and figuratively was a kid in a candy store all over her body, much to the encouragement of her mother. She lost count how many times she took the virginity of the locals, eventually giving her the feeling that her body, the one she worked so hard on, was not her own, it was just a toy for others’ amusement. The boy last night was particularly egregious literally putting his hands and his mouth wherever he pleased, even though he knew nothing about actual foreplay or how to, well, do anything right.

At least he didn’t bite, the one small solace she had.

She then took a sip of her beer before putting it down in disgust, as she began to feel bad she raided Moyen’s wallet again for the beer.

“I have to stop stealing from him,” she said. “He’s going to find out…maybe he already has.”

She then looked at her phone. Sure enough, there was Moyen’s text, asking her where she was. More importantly, Moyen asked her if she knew what happened to the money that was in his wallet.

“Crap,” she said with a heavy sigh. “He knows…”

She then made a decision- she wasn’t going to go back to Moyen’s home. She wouldn’t go back at all.

Annabelle then began to drink her beer, chugging it at times. Within the hour, all six of the beers were finished, causing her to pass out underneath the bridge, falling into a deep sleep.

Two hours later, unbeknownst to her, a man noticed her in her inebriated state. He was Connor Conacher, a friend of Sinn Fein and a “scout” for him in Europe. Conacher walked up to her and, after realizing her condition, flashed a huge smile.

He carefully lifted up her shirt, eventually taking it off before turning her on to her back. He felt up her body and was pleased by what he saw.

Conacher then put his hands on her genitals and began to run them, lubricating them. He saw her body get excited, making him fear that she woke up, but she did not.

He then undid his pants, put on a condom and proceeded to have sex with her, first going slow before allowing himself to build up speed. As he did so, he made a few observations.

“A little rough,” he muttered to himself, “and a bit wide, but nothing a few Kiegel exercises can’t fix.”

Conacher then climaxed inside of her, withdrawing afterwards with glee. He then put his pants back on, putting her hoodie in his backpack and slinging her over his shoulder.

He proceeded to carry her to his car before another man stopped him.

“Is she okay?” the man asked.
“Yup,” said Conacher, trying to keep going.
“She doesn’t look okay,” said the man with concern.
“Listen buddy, mind your own business,” said Conacher, who proceeded to shoot the man to death, allowing him to get to his car and drive away with Annabelle.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Strawman Has A Point

May 1, 2017,
09:02 local time,
Treaty of Buffalo Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“The reason why we’re here is very simple,” said American Confederacy President Haylie Modine, addressing an emergency summit of all 85 Treaty of Buffalo signatories. “It is time for a new direction in the Mundiali, and, for that, I am calling for the immediate and effective removal of David Wilcox as Dux.”

Several gasps could be heard around the room, with chatter soon erupting among the delegates.

The first to address Modine was Roman Caesar Erasmus.

“Under what grounds?” Erasmus said, looking at Modine with a foreboding glare.

“Under the grounds that Wilcox has repeatedly and unabashedly harassed me and my government,” stated Modine defiantly, “as well as repeatedly mocking and defaming me in a clear attempt to assassinate my character.”

“I’m sorry,” said Scottish Chancellor Kyra Andrews, a Roman ally, “but ever since the election- if we can even call your election an election- you and your campaign have been under a cloud of suspicion that you have corrupted the results, and a review of the ‘plebiscites’ you initiated to determine your Confederacy was proven to be a fraud in two cases. Proven, Ms. Modine. Your actions, in jailing your rivals and deporting many innocent men, has only served to reinforce the idea that you do not care at all about the rule of law, and are only in this to serve yourself.”

Modine chuckled sardonically.

“You know, Mrs. Andrews,” she sneered, “I expected more from you, especially to defend me in my actions against the many monsters that you and governments like you refuse to do anything about, putting millions of women in peril. Which I thought you’d care about…unless you’re just a patriarchy shill too.”

Andrews was livid, and would have tore into Modine before Assyrian Empress Anatu, often the mediator in summits like this, jumped in.

“I don’t think any of us want to put women in danger,” Anatu said. “We are just simply not interested in indulging your personal vendettas. Mr. Wilcox is an honourable man, and, as far as I can tell, he was only doing his job. If he overstepped his bounds, he’d be the first one to tell you.”

“Then,” said Modine, “maybe you would like to explain why Wilcox never apologized for the time that Phineas Malcolm and Claire Kincaid brusquely confronted me and accused me of being involved in Ingrid Fjallsdottir’s criminal enterprises.”

Anatu was stunned by Modine’s remark, while Modine sat back and smirked. Modine was lying, as Wilcox sent her a personal letter apologizing for that interview and Wilcox even cited that incident as a reason for eventually firing Malcolm and Kincaid. However, there was no way anyone in the room would know that, at the moment.

“That really doesn’t sound like the David Wilcox I know,” said Anatu, still wrestling with the information.

“You’re lying,” said Moroccan Emperor Abdul Fattah, another Roman ally. Fattah was grasping at straws, but like many in his camp, they didn’t believe a word Modine said.

“Funny that the men in this room would seek to quiet down a girl,” sneered Modine. “Pathetic, all of you.”
“Gender has nothing to do with this,” said Erasmus defiantly, banging his fist against the desk.
“It does as long as the patriarchy is in power,” said Modine, keeping her cool and rubbing it in Erasmus’ face.

“Okay,” said Anatu, “enough. This is going nowhere. Haylie, if you don’t think Dave should be the Dux, who do you suggest?”

Modine was only too happy to reply.

“Leroy Simms,” said Modine confidently. She only picked Simms because he led the Virtue Guards, the top police force of the Virtue Federation, Rome’s archnemesis and an organization she was trying to join. With Virtue having 50 of the necessary 57 votes needed for nomination, and Modine holding three others, she just needed only four other countries to vote with her to get what she wanted.

“Leroy?” Erasmus said. “The man who raped Katy Scutaro?”
“How’s that for irony?” said Ontario Chancellor Juan Castro, who along with Birea, New York and the Visigothic Kingdom led an anti-American alliance.
“He was acquitted,” said Modine. “Meaning he didn’t actually do it.”
“So I guess all this stuff about ‘believing the victims’ only applies when you don’t like the perpetrator,” said New York Emperor Donald Trump. “Duly noted.”
“Oh the irony of men who once came to the defence of rapists and belittled their victims now suddenly feel obliged to rush to the victims’ defence,” sneered Modine.
“Haylie,” said Anatu, now getting frustrated with the proceedings, “you’re on record as having denounced Leroy and coming to Katy’s aid. There’s even a very heartfelt picture of Katy crying on your shoulder…you will have a lot of explaining to do to her now.”

“Well, you know,” said Modine, sounding unconvincing. “Opinions…they change. Conclusions you once had can become different once you have new information.”
“What new information could you possibly have?” snorted Castro. He then folded his arms and leaned back in his chair, awaiting Modine’s reply.

Modine paused for a few moments to collect herself before continuing.

“I just know,” she said with a smile. “I spoke to him…he convinced me.”

“There you have it folks!” said Castro with extreme exuberance. “The woman that has, for years denounced the word of rapists as ‘liars’ and ‘frauds’ now suddenly believes them! While simultaneously branding the very victims she asserts always told the truth, as liars! You heard it here, folks! Right from the horse’s mouth.”
“Not sure I’d believe that horse’s mouth even if her tongue was notarized,” said Trump with laughter erupting in the room, mostly from the anti-American delegation.

Modine could only chuckle.

“Laugh all you want,” she said. “Just remember that I never said what happened to Katy did not happen. I can very well pledge that Leroy has reformed, and I believe he has. This does not excuse his past behaviour, but this can be a case- an extreme one- where we can see someone has reformed and we can give them a second chance.”

Chortles could be heard from the anti-Modine camp, but Anatu spoke up to move things along.

“Does anyone from Virtue want to weigh in?” she said.

“Leroy has worked for us in various capacities for three years now,” said Mongol Khan Ogedei XII. “He’s excelled at his job and exhibited a class and dignity that is beyond what could ever be expected. Leroy has more than proven himself to me.”
“I’m pretty convinced myself that Leroy has changed,” said Bactrian Emperor David Patel. “The allegations against Katy were troubling, but I believe he’s successfully gotten past it.”

“Look,” said Byzantine Empress Alexia Comnenus. “If there was anyone who should question Leroy’s hire, it’s me. I was kidnapped and tortured once…so Katy’s story resonated with me…but, after examining the facts and speaking to Leroy personally, I made the determination that he was fit for the job…and I believe he would be fit for the Mundiali.”

A loud chorus of cheers came from the Virtue section, as many more weighed in positively on Simms.

“Okay then,” said Anatu, an uncomfortable smile coming from her. “I think we need to have the vote.”

As expected, all 50 of Virtue’s members voted in favour of elevating Simms to the Dux post, as did all three members of the American Confederacy. None of the members of the Roman bloc or the anti-American bloc voted for the measure, meaning the vote came down to 12 other states. The Hittite Empire and the Mesopotamian Confederacy, Assyrian allies, voted against the measure, with Anatu abstaining her vote until the very end, only voting to break a tie. Canada and Utah, who had their own issues with Modine, voted against Modine, leaving seven to vote and Modine’s measure still needing four more votes.

Modine sat eagerly awaiting the votes, getting more anxious as more countries voted against her. The Korvalian Empire, a seafaring nation that held territory in Iceland, Spain and Antarctica, made Modine even more nervous when they voted against the measure. Modine’s nerves were eased when African power Khorsun voted for Simms, as did the Vandal Kingdom, leaving four left to vote- Russia, Australia, Assyria and Oman. Since Anatu would only vote to break a tie- and Anatu wouldn’t vote for Simms- that meant that Modine needed two of the final three countries to vote for Simms.

Russia and Oman soon announced their votes, voting against Modine. Oman Sultan Mahmoud al-Nasr was pointed in his decision, calling Modine a “hypocrite” for backing a person she spared no expense criticizing before and accusing her of “buying” votes.

“We all know you want to join Virtue,” said al-Nasr, an imposing figure with a booming baritone, “and you’re just hoodwinking them to get what you want- someone who actually challenges you.”

Modine could only shake her head, snickering. Her nerves were sky high, but she did her best to hide it, even though Australian Chancellor George Carmen was her last hope.

As Carmen got set to vote, Modine watched in anticipation. Carmen was a figurehead, an appointed representative for a country that was really just operated as the world’s effective tax haven. Hundreds of companies owned and administered their own territories on the continent and held its effective power, with both Roman and Virtual companies using the territory. Some companies cared about their territories and administered it effectively, but most just milked it for profit and treated the local Australians as effective (if not actual) slaves. Ostensibly, the people voted in Carmen, but since the companies controlled the election, it was the companies that ultimately selecting him.

Some of those companies looked upon Simms favourably, others didn’t, but many Modine knew nothing about. She never met Carmen and, though she felt he was a good man, she had no way of knowing how he would vote.

Modine’s nerves were eased when Carmen announced that he would support Simms’ promotion, meaning that Modine’s measure received the necessary 57 votes to get her wish to expel Wilcox and install Simms as his replacement. She shrieked for joy and jumped into the arms of her assistant, Tori McGuire, who was similarly happy.

As Modine celebrated, Erasmus looked on, downcast. He contemplated his options, wondering if the Treaty still could serve Roman interests. If Modine and Virtue became a voting bloc, then Rome’s voting power was greatly diminished. He had to make a move.

“I think it’s time Rome ends all trade with Virtue and America,” he said. Erasmus had one weapon, and that’s the fact the Romans and their bloc produced almost half of the world’s economic output despite only having 17 voting members within the Treaty. Though the ramifications of that decision would still hurt Rome, it would only be in the short run because, long term, the world needed Rome’s goods.

“You wouldn’t do that,” said Alexia, attempting to call out Erasmus on his bluff. “Your companies would not accept losing such a big market.”
“Maybe so,” said Erasmus, “but we produce almost half of the world’s economic output. We’re self-sufficient…we’ll manage. You stand to lose a lot more than I will.”

More chatter filled the room, with some angry barbs thrown at Erasmus for his decision. Erasmus repeatedly declared he’d change his mind only if the voting rules were changed. The Treaty members, realizing they were in a bind, voted to do so, increasing the threshold for voting to 85% of members, or 72 out of 85. This way, even if every country that wasn’t within the Roman bloc voted for a measure, it wouldn’t pass.

Erasmus was pleased he was able to quickly restore Rome’s power within the organization. He looked pointedly at Modine, who understood she had more work to do.

May 8, 2017,
18:06 local time,
Lisbon Harbour,
Lisbon, Lusitania

Danforth Grayson looked at the news and could only sigh. “Erasmus made a big move,” he said to himself, “but Haylie’s move was more decisive, and ultimately, more reckless.” Grayson then shook his head, pondering even more. “David Wilcox may have had a stick up his a** but at least he had a good heart. Leroy Simms, on the other hand, will only serve himself.”

He received another notification on his phone. The power play by Erasmus meant that an investigation was launched into Modine’s behaviour, leading to a reversal of last week’s vote and restoring Wilcox as Mundiali Dux, with Simms going back to the Virtue Guards.

More notifications gave him pause.

Looks like Modine bit off more than she could chew, thought Grayson. I’m not sure the world will be better for it, though.

May 9, 2017,
13:02 local time,
Flavian Palace,
Rome, Roman Republic

“You know,” said English Foreign Affairs Minister Jack Kent after getting comfortable in the study of Roman Emperor Erasmus, “no matter how many times I visit the Palace I am always struck in awe. The magnificence and its beauty is almost enough for me to say, ‘England and Rome, let’s bury the hatchet’, because, why would I want to destroy such a thing?”

Erasmus laughed in his chair. “Almost,” he said, “but not quite.”

“I think our countries have far too many issues which prevents us from seeking amicable terms,” said Kent. “I mustn’t hide from that reality.”

“…and yet you’ve come here,” said Erasmus, “not on an official mission but insisting I let you in as my personal guest, of which I only allowed because I believe you are a man of honour. You work in strange ways, Jack.”

“I have to use every tool available in my arsenal,” said Kent, “including appealing to your personal convictions. Surely you understand how the great game works.”
“I’ve been Emperor for hardly a week,” said Erasmus, “but the events of this past month, with Valerius initially refusing to concede the Crown…gave me a crash course.”
“Congratulations on that,” said Kent. “I figure I would at least tell you in person. You are far easier to get along with than Valerius ever was, believe me.”

Erasmus chuckled before leaning forward in his chair, adopting a serious tone.

“Yet something tells me that you’re not here simply for congratulations,” he said.

Kent readjusted himself in his seat, adopting the same serious tone. He didn’t sit forward, but he did clasp his hands in front of him.

“That is because you are about to ruin your legacy before it can even begin,” he said, his strong baritone more poignant in its tone.

Erasmus looked on, intrigued more than upset.

“The invasion of North America,” said Kent. “Don’t do it.”

Erasmus gave his head a shake and then let out an awkward chuckle.

“What invasion of North America?” said Erasmus, feigning ignorance.
“Come on,” said Kent forcefully. “Quit playing around, Your Highness. It’s the worst kept secret in the political world…the Icelandic Army has been mobilizing in Yarmouth all week, tripling in size overnight. Now I know there’s no documentation so I can’t prove any of this in a formal capacity…but anyone with half a brain would know there’s no way the Icelandic Army would get so strong in such a short amount of time without help…which would be your help.”

“So,” said Erasmus, getting agitated. “You’ve come here to figuratively arrest me…prove to your buddies that you got one over ‘those darn Romans’, am I right? Win a few points on the political sphere in England and among your buddies in Virtue too…well, let me ask you- how long will that last? A week is forever in politics, especially in a democracy like ours.”

Kent leaned forward, though his piercing eyes displayed a hint of humanity.

“I’m not here as a politician,” said Kent. “I’m here as a friend.”
“As much respect as I have for you as a person,” said Erasmus, “I’d hardly call you a friend.”
“Be that as it may,” said Kent, “you and I both have an interest in stopping Haylie Modine and her reign of terror in North America. It also hasn’t escaped me that, among the major powers of the world, we are the only two democracies. We have far more in common than you think.”
“So why are you trying to stop me?” said Erasmus. “If you’re my friend, you should support me.”
“Friends stop their friends from doing something that would ruin them,” said Kent, pointedly.
“England has spared no end trying to ruin Rome,” said Erasmus with a smirk.
“Yet I am coming here trying to save you,” said Kent.

Erasmus let out a heavy sigh.

“Let it out Jack,” said Erasmus, “you’re not here to save me…you’re here to save North America for your pals in Virtue. Or maybe for yourself…you need more of a footprint in North America.”
“I could wipe out the Icelandic Army in minutes,” said Kent, leaning back in his chair. “I have Yarmouth surrounded. In fact, my General wanted to do just that…but I overruled them. Why? Because I wanted to appeal to you first, because you decapitating Haylie would only destroy what you seek to maintain.”
“OK,” said Erasmus, “you’re holding me hostage. Say ‘yes’ to you and the Icelandic Army doesn’t get squashed like a bug. I see how this works.”
“No,” said Kent. “I told the Army to stand down no matter what you do. Besides, even you would understand that now that you know of what we can do you can actually prepare for it…you and I both know the only way we could take Yarmouth is by surprise. I don’t have that anymore. You can send your reinforcements from Boston and I don’t have an advantage anymore.”

Erasmus looked Kent straight in the eyes.

“I somehow still don’t believe you,” said Erasmus, “and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I care. I’m going to do what is right…the American Confederacy that Haylie Modine has created is nothing more than a fascist dictatorship wrapped up in liberal platitudes…you and I both know she is a danger to democracy. I have to make a statement…that the Romans care about real liberty, not something that merely sounds like it. If I don’t make a stand, people like her…people within the alt-left…they will be emboldened. Emboldened to take power and destroy everything that we hold dear. It does not matter that they fight for ‘the right things’…when they do it wrong, we all suffer.”

“No,” said Kent. “You’re wrong. The alt-left want you to destroy democracy. They want you to destroy the republic. They want you to attack them so they can rally their troops. The alt-left…they thrive on feeling cornered. They may not want to establish a dictatorship right away…but they have long argued that democracy really only serves the oligarchs and they will justify establishing their autocracy by saying they are ‘returning the power to the people’.”

Kent then leaned forward and spoke pointedly.

“Let me put it as succinctly as I can,” he said. “If you remove Haylie from power, you will be destroying the very thing you claim to protect.”

Erasmus let Kent’s words sink in, but he wasn’t swayed.

In the days after the meeting, the Romans and the Icelanders coordinated their efforts against the American Confederacy, eventually leading to Icelandic troops storming the American Presidio dramatically and arresting Modine on live television. The Icelanders had a relatively easy time establishing their rule in the rest of the Confederacy, as Modine’s ways had left her very unpopular.

Still, despite the English- and many within the Virtue Federation- secretly appreciating the removal of a figure they called “a dangerous revolutionary”, Virtue seized the opportunity to publicly denounce Iceland’s annexation of America (with the Icelanders calling their new territory “Vikingaland”), claiming they “did not respect democracy”. Virtue did little more than talk, and The Romans and Icelanders didn’t bother to engage in the war of words, deciding it was better to establish democratic values in a territory that had largely lost them within the past few years.

It was the dawn of a new era, but the problems were far from over.