Monday, September 26, 2016

Episode Seventeen: A Mad Mad World

“When the doctors are unwilling to cure their patients, it is prudent to ask- who is it that is really sick?”- Rufina Cosima, “Society’s Turning Point” (1699)

September 13, 2016,
20:36 local time,
Coos Bay Correctional Facility,
Coos Bay, Roman Columbia

“So this is really just a cover?” said Corey Biggs, conversing with his three guests, Trevor Rawlings, Galla Claudia and Maria Castroiti, inside his cell before “quiet time”.
“Pretty much,” said Claudia. “Fighting The Virus requires us to evolve our tactics in so many different ways…and one of those ways is fooling them into thinking I’m in prison.”
“I thought The Virus was firmly defeated,” said Rawlings. “Ingrid was the last link…and you got her.”
“You’d think it was,” said Claudia with a slight, wistful chuckle. “However, when I was out as an investigator, I learned that ‘The Virus’ soon came to be more than just an organized group…it became a hashtag, a rallying cry, one that millions of people across the world have used to voice their displeasure against those who they feel have oppressed them. It is true that a segment of them, led by Ingrid Fjallsdottir, infiltrated the Global Anarchists’ League and used the GAL for their own gain, but I have my doubts that arresting that network truly ‘defeats’ The Virus…a social movement doesn’t die. It evolves. I’m positive there are supporters of Ingrid who aren’t happy we put her away…and they’re going to strike at any point. Since The Virus didn’t stop targeting me until they put me away in prison, I have to make them think that I’m in prison…or else they’re going to come after me again.”
“Don’t worry Galla,” said Castroiti with a wide smile. “We’ve got your back.” She then pounded her chest with her fist before continuing. “We’re your crew…you’re family to us.”
“Yeah,” said Rawlings, “You helped give my brother closure…I’m forever in your debt.”
Claudia laughed and lowered her head, heart-warmed by their show of support. “Thanks guys,” she said with a smile. “Your support means the world to me.”

Just then, a guard came around and knocked on Biggs’ door.

“Quiet time guys,” said the guard as Biggs opened the door.
“It’s nine o’clock already?” said Castroiti, scrunching her face in frustration. “Darn…we were just getting started.”
“Sorry guys,” said the guard curtly. “C’mon Galla, we have to get you back to solitary.”

Claudia nodded her head and left her friends, turning, smiling and waving at them before she left.

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 23, 2016,
13:21 local time,
Domus Flavia,
Rome, Roman Republic

“Listen, Caesar,” said Byzantine Empress Alexia Comnenus, in a conference call to the residence of Roman Emperor Valerius IV, alongside English Foreign Affairs Minister Jack Kent and Birean Emperor James Dowell. “You have to understand the reality…we can’t create 15 million eligible Birean bachelorettes in five minutes, or even a year. The demographic reality is that, for at least the next twenty years, the Birean men will be shortchanged. There is nothing we can do.”
“We’ve done everything you have wanted us to do,” said Dowell. “I’ve ended the one-child policy, allowed the Bireans to emigrate or even just to travel to find a wife, and I’ve enacted new laws to outlaw human trafficking completely.” He then let out a frustrated sigh before continuing. “This is why, I’m begging you, to open your borders to legitimate Birean tourism, so our men can find a wife.”
“Nope,” said Valerius curtly. “There is not even a discussion about this. The whole mess you had with the Order of Maria Goetti and other networks of its ilk was a creation of your own making. You guys at Virtue allowed it get out of hand and did absolutely nothing to stop it until we got involved. Why should I let you and your merry band of village idiots run amok in my territory and muck things up again? No…not going to happen, and I don’t care how many times you protest about it.”
“Caesar,” said Kent with a chuckle. “May I remind you that you sat on your own hands as well and did absolutely nothing about the human trafficking rings until unauthorized investigation into the rings was initiated? You act like you are so high and mighty, but the reality is you are far from blameless.”

Valerius chuckled in disbelief and shook his head, refusing to get into a childish “blame game” with the English.

“We had problems with our own response,” said Valerius strongly, “I won’t doubt that. However, this whole thing is not a question about whose response is more adequate…this whole thing is about you dunderheads coming to me and grovelling to me to trust your repulsive enterprises won't operate on my soil, and, in order for me to allow that to happen, I have to trust that you would be capable enough to do that…and I do not have that level of trust. So I don’t care who is more right or more wrong in their response to the crimes…your response was also inadequate, and therefore I cannot trust that you would be able to effectively do the job.”
“That is well and good,” said Comnenus, “but allow me to remind you that you had millions of Romans willing to sign up for the services. Your allies in Scotland and Morocco already allow the Birean tourists to come without impediment. So you can argue all you like about us ignoring our realities, but it seems to me like it is you who is ignoring your own.”

Valerius let out a pensive sigh, feeling that part of him knew that Comnenus was right.

“Fair enough,” said Valerius, “I’ll allow Bireans to come as tourists. However, there will be extreme vetting of every potential tourist, all of whom will need a visa, and under no circumstances will Birean businesses- of any kind- set up any kind of branch in Rome, either directly or indirectly, and should there be any hint of Romans kidnapped against their will or Birean businesses are found in otherwise any way to be committing crimes against Roman subjects and/or against the State, we will be in a state of war- there is no ‘ifs’ and/or ‘buts’ about it. Do I make myself clear?”

September 23, 2016,
07:55 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Have a seat,” said Foederatio Borealis Indigatores Imperiale (FBII) Director Lucius Black as Behavioural Analysis Unit Chief Aaron “Fitch” Fitchner walked into his office. Fitchner walked a few steps before Black reminded him to close the door, which Fitchner did, embarrassed he had forgotten.
“Director,” said Fitchner, taking in a deep breath as he sat down.
“Your gun and your badge, please,” said Black curtly, an order Fitchner complied with even though he was downtrodden by the request.

Black then nonchalantly pulled out a folder and began leafing through the documents, stopping occasionally to read some of them. Meanwhile, Fitchner looked on, anxiously, doing his best to remain calm and composed but knowing that his badge and his gun had been shorn of him, he was restless for Black to continue on with the meeting.

“Yes,” said Black, pursing his lips and nodding his head with a small shrug. “OK,” he continued, letting out a sigh.

“Office of Professional Responsibility has given me their report about the BAU,” said Black, who again let out another sigh as Fitchner adjusted himself in his seat. Black looked down again at the report, raising his eyebrows and giving off a restrained smile before shaking his head, stopping his speech dead in its tracks. Fitchner let out another sigh, and again adjusted himself in his seat, looking on in anticipation for the words Black did not seem to want to utter.

“Listen,” continued Black, “there’s no easy way for me to say this…” Black’s voice then began to trail off, after which he again stalled with various verbal and physical ticks in his facial expressions. Fitchner again adjusted himself in his seat and began fidgeting with his thumbs, before the anticipation got the better of him.

“Oh will you just spit out!” said Fitchner, banging the desk with his fist and getting out of his chair. “I already think I know what you’re going to say, but by Jove, I’m done with you beating around the bush! Just tell me so I can get out of here and get on with my day!”
“Their report was glowing,” said Black with a wry smile on his face. “They thought the BAU was the pinnacle of professionalism and thus they believe you no longer need to be scrutinized. So I’m releasing the OPR from its review and allowing your team to resume its independent operations.”

The relief on Fitchner’s face was immense, as he lowered his head and let out a wide smile, licking his lips and shaking his head, knowing Black played him perfectly. He sat back down again, tears having formed in his eyes after being overcome with the relief that his stresses were now gone.

“You had me there for a second,” said Fitchner, starting to laugh and wiping his eyes. “Man, I can’t believe it.”
“I know you needed something to spice up your Friday,” said Black with a wide smile. “I know I did too.”
“Well, you sure perked me up,” said Fitchner, as the two laughed about the situation.

After the two of them calmed down, Black and Fitchner engaged in some small talk before Black handed Fitchner back his badge and his gun and another folder after Fitchner got up to leave. Fitchner opened it and read the document a little before his smile became a frown.

“A purse snatching?” he said, his mood souring. “I thought we were done with the OPR.”
“Oh,” said Black, “you are. This is just your next case.”
“I…I don’t get it. I understood we weren’t going to get ‘meaty’ cases because we had to re-prove our worth under the OPR, but now that they’ve finished their report, one which I assume was glowing, I thought we’d get back to our ‘normal’ cases.”
Black was curt. “Well, you’re not…and I can’t tell you when you will.”
“Lucius…” Fitchner stammered and shook his head, his eyes wide with shock. “I don’t know what to say.”
Black looked straight into Fitchner’s eyes and spoke sternly. “Yeah you do…you just won’t say it. Now get to work.”

Fitchner left Black’s office, deciding the argument wasn’t worth his time, although Black’s last words to him left him befuddled.

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.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Episode Sixteen: A Deal With The Devil

“Is it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved.”- Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince” (1532)

July 14, 2016
00:33 local time,
Prison cell, Unknown location,
Outskirts of Darwin, Australia

Where…where am I?

Danforth Grayson darted his eyes everywhere as he awoke from his long slumber, still groggy but slowly regaining his senses. A small light hung above him, which he found odd, and the prison had an open window, though with a crack too small for him to escape through. His confusion began to amplify as he peered outside but failed to figure out where he was, aside from knowing he was in a warm climate.

Then he looked harder and it finally hit him.

Darwin…I’d recognize those flowers any day.

It then hit him that whomever took him here took him here for a reason, and in a place like Darwin that law and order forgot, he knew he wasn’t getting out of the prison on his own provision.

He looked around to see if there was anything he could do to free him from his captivity but his captors were smart, leaving him nothing but a lost hope. He wasn’t sure what day it was, but he figured he hadn’t slept for that long.

It was just Saturday, he realized, that he was on a date with a lovely blonde woman who said her name was Jessica but now he was certain that name was fake. He had went back to her apartment in Brooklyn, where she made him some tea, and after that, he had no recollection of that night until now. She must have wanted him for something- but for what?

His answer came soon enough, as a face he recognized emerged and entered his cell.

“Hello Ingrid,” said Grayson as Ingrid Fjallsdottir entered his cell. “You know, if you wanted to say hello you could have just called.”
“Phone calls are impersonal,” said Fjallsdottir with a wry smile. “I’d much rather have you in person.”
“Well then, if you wanted sex all you had to do was just ask,” retorted Grayson.

Fjallsdottir looked at him and sneered, refusing to bite on his sophomoric response.

“Heh,” said Fjallsdottir walking around his cell. “You are just as I remember.”
“Likewise,” said Grayson with a wry smile of his own. He noticed the cell door was open but thought against leaving.
“The door is open for you,” said Fjallsdottir. “I’m surprised you’re not taking advantage of it.”
“This intrigued me…as unsettling as it may have been to start, this meeting does capture my attention.”

Grayson then chuckled and folded his arms, flashing a smug smile.

“So,” he said. “Now that you have captured my attention…it’s now on you to keep it.”

“Very well then,” said Fjallsdottir. “Since I don’t like messing around, I want you on my team.”

Grayson sat there, staring into space pondering the request.

“Your team?” Grayson said, confused. “Who do you think you are? I’m a guy in case you haven’t noticed.”
“I’m not talking about feminism,” said Fjallsdottir. “I’m talking about The Virus. I was wrong about you.”

Grayson got up and approached Fjallsdottir with purpose, his eyes swelling with fury.

You hacked my website and took it from me?” said Grayson, angrily pointing at Fjallsdottir. “You corrupted my work? And you expect me to come back to you with open arms?”
“Actually,” said Fjallsdottir with a snarky chuckle, “I didn’t do it per se…I had Persephone do it…but yes. I did it. Aren’t you impressed?”
“I’m angry, that’s what I am!” said Grayson. “If I didn’t want answers I’d kill you right now!”

“Calm down,” said Fjallsdottir smoothly and calmly herself, not fazed by Grayson’s anger. “I knew you would be upset.”

Fjallsdottir let out a sigh while Grayson continued to eye her, angrily, his every breath steaming with fury and his brain doing its best to maintain his patience.

“You’ve been thinking all this time that it was Virtue that screwed you over,” started Fjallsdottir. “That your troubles began when you wouldn’t defend George MacPherson in court. Really, that had nothing do with what happened…in fact, it impressed me. It showed that you would be unwilling to work with the Romans and gave us hope that you would be beholden to no government, that forever you would adhere to the call of the criminal.

“…but then you decided to start investigating Virtue. You decided to do that by working with the Romans. I didn’t care what your motives were…you became the enemy in our eyes. So in order for me to achieve what I needed to do, I had to send a message.”

“Well I got it,” said Grayson, still angry. “We did what we had to do. The Romans are Virtue’s enemies…we had to use them because they have the resources we need to defeat them. It was a matter of necessity.”
“You see, though, Danny,” said Fjallsdottir. “We’re Virtue’s enemies too. I grant that you had no idea about our work, but…there was no way we could work with you if you gave up your principles.”
“You are Virtue’s enemies too?” said Grayson, his anger abating somewhat due to his confusion at Fjallsdottir’s statement.

“Yes, we are,” she said. “When I heard about St. Jasper’s Fire I had to put things in motion. I knew that the Bireans and their human trafficking needs would expand. I worked my connections…I’m a well-connected feminist you know…made a Soldier cell go rogue and used to commit all kinds of atrocities, just to ensure that the world could no longer ignore what the Bireans were doing. It worked too…you saw what I did in Bodega Bay.”

“Yeah, I did,” said Grayson. “Of course, you inspired a lot of people to take you down…even I wanted to take you down. You inspired the largest coordinated manhunt in world history…Rome, Virtue, the Casarans…everyone had all of their resources put in to take down ‘the new movement’ that you had turned The Virus into. We took down the Order of St. Agnes and the Order of St. Maria Goetti…and we all did. In fact, we took down Birea’s illegal human trafficking networks…we arrested Milton Roberts, because Harvey Monroe found his daughter’s body and couldn’t stay quiet anymore. We got to Valeri Berezhutsky, or “Daddy” as you call him, because The Bactrian couldn’t keep quiet about he abused her when she was Anna Rattu. We even got to Persephone, or Hayden Myers, and closed The Virus servers for good…sadly in my case but I couldn’t accept what it became. We destroyed your network, got the Global Anarchists’ League to disavow its involvement in The Virus…and now, you’ve given yourself away.”

“Have I, Danny?” said Fjallsdottir. “Did I? The only connection I have to Milton, Valeri and his men is a one-time payment of $10 million I have in a trust fund in Arlynal, which, on top of being untraceable, as you know, belonged to a friend who crossed me. It is also where I met them in 1994. No one filmed us, no one saw our meeting, no one wiretapped it or otherwise recorded it…I’m sure they will speak my name in court but no one will believe them…after all, why would a feminist orchestrate a human trafficking ring?”

Fjallsdottir chuckled and smirked before continuing.

“Besides,” said Fjallsdottir. “The new Virus…we’re anarchists too…we’re like the Hydra…cut off one of our heads and another will pop up in its place. Even if I eventually get arrested, someone else will take my place. The Night of Anarchy was organic and spontaneous…I had nothing to do with that, even though many of them sung The Virus’ tune. They were inspired by me and what we did. I put the Bireans on their back foot…the Birean Emperor must answer all kinds of questions, and people want to get rid of him. We made everyone talk about feminism, and we proved once and for all that women are not disposable objects that can be bought and sold. We put the government on its heels, and we’ve inspired others to do the same in their lands…I saw the chatter…it’s inspiring…it is everything you wanted out of The Virus, everything you’ve dreamed of…I hope, now that you have seen our work, you may now reconsider your opposition to it. The Virus is now more than just a website to help those get away from the police…it’s become a battle cry, a song for the oppressed to rally against their governmental overlords…a song I hope that you will now sing.”

Fjallsdottir smiled, another smug look on her face anticipating Grayson’s reaction but Grayson surprised her.

“I don’t care how many governments you took down,” said Grayson sneering at Fjallsdottir. “I don’t care that the entire world is now on its heels, scrambling to make sense of what just happened. I don’t care that you have achieved some moral goal and inspired others to do the same. Yes, The Night of Anarchy was a success by many metrics…but you have ultimately failed.

“You say that I have given up my principles and that I have given up on my integrity when it is you who is morally bankrupt,” he continued, his voice rising with anger as he continued. “You did all this because the Bireans couldn’t appreciate the ‘changes’ you wanted to force upon them, so you made the whole world force it for them…and what did you really get out of it? You may have changed the laws but you didn’t solve the problem…demographics still means that most Bireans won’t find a wife. You’re fooling yourself if you think that’s going to make them treat their women any better.

“Furthermore…how many innocents had to die? How many people who didn’t wish to be a part of this were dragged into this charade and had their lives irrevocably damaged? What’s in it for Ben Sizemore…Annie Bellows…Galla Claudia…that makes their victimhood worth it?

“You are reckless with people and their lives…you have proven repeatedly that there is no one that you won’t use to achieve your goals. This isn’t about justice, this is about vanity. This is why I can’t join you on your crusade…because you’re not doing this for the right reasons.”

“Fine then,” said Fjallsdottir, stepping out from in front of the door. “Leave. The Virus will do just fine without you.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Grayson, who started to walk out before turning to talk to Fjallsdottir before he left. “Oh, and about being happy you caused so much chaos …be careful of what you wish for. You just might get it.”

July 15, 2016,
17:00 local time,
CNN Studios,
Manhattan, New York

“The world governments today have announced a joint effort to combat the spike in crime,” said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer in his booming baritone as he began his broadcast, “and they now have a face to present in that struggle. You’ll get to meet the man tasked to lead the world’s troops in combat, as he prepares for the biggest but ultimately most rewarding challenge in his life. I’m Wolf Blitzer and this is The Situation Room.”

After the show’s theme music played, Blitzer then recounted the events leading up to today. He talked at length about the Night of Anarchy, when on the evening of July 11, 2016, thousands of protesters spontaneously rose up worldwide to take on their governments, causing numerous riots and creating a global scene of instability that saw every corner of the globe affected by anti-government movements. Some were more successful than others, but it did eventually cause the collapse of 134 governments in various capacities. The worldwide reaction was swift, with Virtue, Rome, Casara, Oman and what was left of the world’s powers meeting in Buffalo to hammer out an agreement to ensure a night like that doesn’t happen again. What they left with was an uneasy companionship, especially between Rome and Virtue, with a treaty recognizing 80 different governments that all signatories have pledged to recognize. Part of the treaty- known as the Treaty of Buffalo- contained a clause creating a worldwide police force known as the “Mundiali Imperium”, or the “World Command”, which common parlance reduced to “Mundiali”. The Mundiali’s headquarters were placed in Buffalo, and technically the body answers equally to the signatories of the Treaty. Effectively, though, it was heavily influenced by the Romans and the English, who put the most money into the enterprise.

“Joining me today is Doctor David Wilcox,” said Blitzer, “who was appointed today as the Dux of the Mundiali. Welcome, Doctor Wilcox and thank you for coming by.”
“You’re very welcome,” said Wilcox, his soothing baritone endearing to Blitzer, “but please, call me David.”
“Very well then,” said Blitzer, “glad to have you David.”
“I’m glad to be here as well,” said Wilcox, smiling. “I hope that this won’t be the last time we’ll be able to have a pleasant exchange.”
“I hope not either,” said Blitzer with a chuckle. “Though your job is a very difficult one. Tell me, what drew you to it?”

“It was a very easy one to consider,” said Wilcox, at ease in front of the camera owing from his many years leading investigative teams in his native England and later in Aram as their top profiler. “Rome and Virtue were looking for a ‘unifier’, someone whom they could trust would be able to navigate effectively among the different cultures and polities that have signed on to the Treaty of Buffalo. As we all know, the Treaty brought together many different peoples who normally don’t see ‘eye to eye’, and I understand a lot of people have their doubts if they ever will. So, in light of that, the Treaty signatories sought someone who had a great relationship working the many divides that exist within the Treaty parties, and I have extensive experience working both in England and in Rome. I have a great relationship with Jack Kent and with Valerius, and I have begun getting to know Alexia as well. So, for me, this was, as they say, a ‘no-brainer’- it was tailor-made for me so I had to take it.”
“How are you going to navigate those differences?” said Blitzer. “What steps have you taken to ensure that the different peoples can work together?”
“My first order of business was to hire as my top two investigators two people who also have experiences crossing the political divides,” said Wilcox. “Phineas Malcolm once worked with the Romans at the FBII, although his heritage is Korean and he lived extensively in Newfoundland before moving to Coos Bay to join with the Romans. Working alongside him is Claire Kincaid, born and raised in Inverness in Roman-allied Scotland, before moving to Virtue-affiliated Wales to join their crime fighting unit there. I have also hired many other high ranking officials who have similar experience working cultural divides, and I have put into place people with the proper experience to deal with the challenges they may find ahead. For example, my chief financial investigator, Emma Wallace, is Arlynali and has extensive experience dealing with all the tricks and all the nonsense that passes for Arlynali financial activity, so there will be no ‘financial creativity’ she cannot uncover. I also have other investigators too, whom I cannot name for security reasons.”
“So you are hoping,” said Blitzer, “that by having people who have experience dealing with both Rome and Virtue that you can be sure that they understand the officials they might be dealing with and thus can handle them accordingly.”
“That is correct,” said Wilcox. “It isn’t just enough to have people who can speak their language and are aware of their mannerisms- it’s important to know people who know have experienced different cultures and understand why those people act the way that they do. This way, you can be sure that when you send out a request or an order that you’ve done it in the right way, and the person receiving the order will not react in consternation. I can’t always guarantee that it will work but at least by having people who understand how other countries work we hope we can lessen those headaches.”
“It seems like you have placed a lot of emphasis on Rome and Virtue,” said Blitzer. “You don’t seem overtly worried about Casara or Oman or Egypt or many of the other unaffiliated groups that are signatories to the Treaty of Buffalo. Why is that?”
“I do have people who are Casarans, Omanis and Egyptians,” said Wilcox, “among others, of course. I did ensure that I picked people who dealt with those countries as well…however, the most animosity that exists in this world is the one between Rome and Virtue, so it was especially important to ensure that I had people who could navigate that divide. Yes, other countries have their issues and I seek to redress them in any way that I can, but I predict we will be dealing with Rome and Virtue the most so it was most prudent to ensure that we have as much harmony as we can between both groups. Time will only tell if we are able to achieve that.”

July 17, 2016,
01:23 local time,
Brazer’s Pub,
Saltillo, Coahuila

“You know what they say about gang rape,” said Rupert Covington, whose Emeldic upbringing was given away by his thick, mallard-like accent. “Nine out of ten people enjoy it.” He held out his hands as if to say “don’t shoot the messenger” as he stood on stage, his audience laughing at his jokes. “Well, maybe it’s not nine out of ten…you’ve always got that one guy who regrets it later. Then again, he’s not regretting it like the girl is regretting going down that dark alley.” The audience burst into more laughter as Covington excitedly exclaimed, “hey gals, you gotta stay safe out there! No going into dark alleys! Nothing good can ever come out of venturing down a place where you can’t see anything, let alone what’s in front of you.” The crowd let out a chorus of cheers and applause to which Covington gave a knowing smirk as he accepted the adulation.

“I always find that funny,” continued Covington. “We have dealt with, for years, feminists saying that it’s wrong to teach women about staying safe, because, as they say, women shouldn’t have to be afraid anyway. Man, I’d love to know what weed they smoke, because it sure seems darn good.” A rimshot played in the background as the audience laughed again. “I mean, seriously…what kind of world do they live in where they think they can eradicate all the possible dangers that exist in this world? Memo to feminism- life isn’t a Thomas More novel…you can’t just ‘solve everything’ with the snap of your fingers. Problems exist. Dangers exist. That’s just reality. Of course, I’ve never met a feminist that ever really versed in reality…they’re too busy man-bashing to ever get to that.” More laughter erupted before Covington concluded his set.

“I hate to get political here,” continued Covington, who gained international fame as a “rape comic”, “but that Haylie Modine chick scares me. Not just because she threatens the lead my boy Thomas Bighill has right now but because her policies…well, they kind of suck. Actually, they do suck. She’s allied with Ingrid Fjallsdottir, the woman who got the Bireans to enslave their own women because she couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I mean, you gotta question someone’s judgment if they pick allies like that. Look, I admit, it’s no secret that Haylie and I don’t see eye to eye…she’s tried to get me banned a few times…and you know, I gotta say, there’s nothing wrong with not liking me or not wanting to support me…hey, it’s a free country, we can do what we want. However, it’s a whole new level of disrespect when you decide that not only do you not like someone, you’ve decided that no one else can too. What kind of self-righteous asswipe believes they’ve got that kind of authority? That’s scary. Yeah, people tell me that Bighill’s ‘safe space law’ is just as scary but Bighill isn’t doing the same thing Haylie wants to do. Bighill wants to outlaw people saying things that would directly get them upset…Haylie wants to outlaw whole ideas, because she doesn’t like them. Just imagine that for a second- your own ideas…your own expression…your own beliefs and everything you are can be summarily outlawed and tossed because someone else doesn’t like them. That’s Third World dictatorship right there folks. Forget that it’s me and my jokes that Haylie wants to get rid of…just the idea that a politician can strike down an opposing view should send a chill up and down all of our spines. It’s madness what we’ve got out there in the world today, where people think they can bully others into accepting a single ‘groupthink’ and stifle actual dissent and opposing views. We can’t let this thing slide, and if Haylie ever becomes North American President, it really could be the end of our world as we know it. Then again, if our world is destroyed maybe then Haylie can lead us to this magical fantasy world her and Ingrid come from where everyone feels safe.” Another rimshot was heard while the audience laughed.

“Thank you guys,” said Covington as he waved to the crowd before he left the stage. “You’ve been great.”

After he left the stage, he went to the bar to enjoy a celebratory drink. There, he was struck by a svelte blonde woman with ivory skin who approached him, her glistening smile and her curly shoulder-length hair truly making an impression on him.

“Do you mind if I join you?” said the woman who flashed Covington a smile.
“Of course you can,” said Covington, smiling back and waving the woman over.
The woman extended her hand for a handshake, which Covington accepted. “My name is Patricia Smalley. I’m guessing you’re Rupert?”
“I call myself ‘Tony the Tiger’. ‘Cause, you know, I’m ferocious.” Covington then imitated a tiger’s roar as Smalley laughed.
“I really liked your set tonight. Especially that part about Haylie.”
“Thanks. Yeah, I hate to bring politics into this…but, given what I do, it’s inevitable. Plus I gotta say something or that b*** is going to destroy the First Amendment.”
“I hear you…though I think Thomas might do that too.”
“I can respect that, though I disagree.”
“You talk about Haylie outlawing things she doesn’t like…well, a ‘safe space law’ would do the same thing. I could say your joke upsets me and then you’d not be able to tell them anymore.”
Covington scoffed. “I don’t think he’d go that far…Thomas just wants people to talk to each other in a useful, productive way. Not yelling and screaming at each other and egging them on.”

The two continued to chatter and enjoy a few drinks before they mutually decided to retire to Covington’s hotel room. There, the two of them had a few more drinks before Smalley decided to disrobe completely and collapse onto Covington’s bed, citing the heat. Covington could only smile as she fell asleep rather quickly, but as she watched her sleeping, he grew fond of her. He adjusted the covers so that the bedding covered her to her neck before kissing the top of her forehead. He then decided that it was time for him to go to sleep, so he curled up on the couch that was in his room and fell asleep.

July 17, 2016,
02:23 local time,
Undisclosed location,
10km outside of Brandon, Manitoba

“So the world has a new police force,” said Sandy Macintosh as he approached his brother, Andy, in the parking lot. The two Bireans were scouting for abandoned buildings they could use for their own purposes, and they wanted to see if this building could fit the bill.

“A new police force you say,” said Andy dismissively.
“Yeah,” said Sandy with a chuckle. “The Mundiali they call themselves. An actual force paid for by both the Romans and Virtue.”
Andy scoffed. “Rome and Virtue? How long do we give them before the project blows up in their face?” A year? Ten months?”
Sandy laughed. “Oh brother, you’re too kind. I say six at the most. Though they were responsible for arresting Milton when they worked with other agencies.”
Andy chuckled sardonically. “Please…what good did that do? Sure, they solved the crime but did they really solve the problems? We still don’t have wives.”
“Well, the police can only do so much.”
“Maybe so, but you’d think governments could see the forest for the trees and actually address our concerns.”
“Instead of creating a token police force that is only there to give people a false sense of security.”
“Exactly. If they can’t change policies to help us we must take matters into our own hands.”

The brothers laughed and agreed, happily walking into the building. There they met some more men, and greeted them before getting to their prize. In the middle of the room was a young woman, drugged and taken to this room, tied spread eagle across a bed, shorn of her clothes with a gag in her mouth. She had woken up and began hyperventilating in fear at what was coming up for her, but it didn’t dissuade her captors, who paid her no heed.

Andy smiled as he took off his pants, being one of the many that would rape that poor woman that night.

July 17, 2016,
13:22 local time,
Saltillo Flats Hotel,
Saltillo, Coahuila

As Smalley woke up, she blinked her eyes a few times, rising slowly as she tried very hard adjusting to the daylight. She had a pounding headache and still felt disoriented from the night before. She eventually sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes before looking down and taking a few deep breaths. Smalley then outstretched her arms and let out a loud yawn before attempting to get up. She slipped and fell to her knees before using a chair to help herself get back upright again, where she went for a walk around the room, at first slowly before regaining her energy.

She then examined the room and noticed that she was alone in it, which she felt was odd. She had no memory of how she got into this room, and she wasn’t sure whose room it belonged to. She then scratched the inside of her thigh before scratching herself in between her legs, as the heat made those areas quite itchy. She inadvertently cut herself in the process, though she didn’t realize it until she saw small pockmarks of blood on her fingernails. Given her surroundings, she began to fear the worst.

Blood? Where did this come from? Where am I? Who took me here? She then scanned the room some more and realized her clothes were missing. They were really with Covington, who stepped out to give them a wash at the hotel’s laundry room, but he didn’t leave a note, so Smalley had no idea that’s where her clothes were. She did find her purse, but, because she didn’t charge her phone last night, her cell phone’s battery was dry. She was relieved to find that none of her credit cards or money was stolen, but it did little to assuage her fears. She began to hyperventilate as panic set in, causing her to run outside of the room and scream before collapsing to the ground in a bevy of tears.

“Miss?” said an ebony-skinned man who heard her screams and exited his rooms. He approached her slightly but cautiously, trying his best to read the situation as it unfolded.

“Miss?” the man continued. “Are you okay?” He then noticed she had no clothes on and hollered back into his room. “Ethel?” the man screamed towards his wife, “Ethel? I need a dress or something.”

Ethel, also ebony-skinned, then walked towards the hallway to see what the commotion was, before agreeing with her husband. She came back with a long navy blue dress that buttoned up in the front.

“Miss?” Ethel said softly, approaching Smalley with the dress. “I have some clothes for you. If you’d like we can talk and we can help you out.” Smalley’s crying abated somewhat as she was reassured by Ethel’s voice, which eventually calmed her down. She put on the dress- whose sleeves were too long for her- before leaving with Ethel to enter her room with her husband, whose name she would learn was Irving as she introduced herself to the couple, who were married as the Johnsons.

“Are you okay?” said Irving, whose Oklahoma drawl became more prominent as he spoke. “Do you want tea or something? Or food? We’ve got lots of food.”
“No, no,” said Smalley, slowly regaining her composure as she sat in a chair and clasped on to Ethel’s hand, as holding it gave her a lot of reassurance. “Just…who are you? Where am I?”
“Well,” said Ethel, “we’re the Johnsons. We come from Merriweather, Oklahoma…it’s in the Panhandle. We’re Catholic missionaries…going to be staying here for a few weeks, helping out the poor.”
“Petrine or Nathanite?” said Smalley.
“Petrine,” said Irving. “We love the Pope…we ain’t got time for no business with a Church that hates women.”
“Fair enough,” said Smalley. “Just please don’t preach to me.”
“No no no,” said Ethel. “We’re not going to do that…we’re just here to help. I just want to know what happened.”

Smalley let out a few deep breaths and looked up, rubbing her face again and struggling to speak before Ethel gave her encouragement.

“Well,” Smalley said. “Last night, I was at Rupert Covington’s show…I was curious, don’t judge.”
“We’re not judging,” said Irving, who refrained to voice his and Ethel’s displeasure about Covington’s material. “Go on.”
“Anyway, I saw him after the show,” said Smalley. “We had a few drinks…actually, I had a lot of drinks…then I blacked out. Next thing I know, I wake up here, in this hotel, in a bed I didn’t recognize without my clothes…I don’t know what happened.”
“Which room were you in?” said Ethel.
“I…I don’t know,” said Smalley. “I think I left and went to my right before collapsing to the floor…it was a pretty big room.”
“Oh that’s Rupert’s room,” said Irving with conviction. “Can’t believe that packrat got to you last night.”
Smalley looked at Irving with unabated shock. “Wha-wha-what?” she stammered. “Got to…me?” She started to cry again before Ethel began rubbing her shoulder.

“It’s okay honey,” said Ethel, “no one can hurt you now…I apologize for my husband…he’s got quite the sharp tongue.”
“Come on now Ethel,” said Irving. “Rupert tells rape jokes…you can’t tell me he hasn’t done the deed a few times.” Ethel gave him a look which caused Irving to react contritely. “Right…I’m sorry, Patricia. I don’t mean to cause a panic.”
“It’s okay, I’m…” said Smalley, still struggling with her composure. “I…I…”
“Don’t tell me you think that’s what happened?” said Ethel, who had a shocked look on her face.
“Well,” said Smalley, “I put my fingers down there…”
“Your vagina?” said Irving. “Come on…we know about the human body.”
“Yeah…my vagina,” said Smalley. “I felt myself between my legs and I got blood on my hands. I fear the worst. I mean, I had my period last week…I shouldn’t be menstruating again.”
“Do you want to go to a hospital?” said Ethel. “There’s one just down the road.”
“I…I don’t know,” said Smalley, letting out a heavy sigh. “I already feel like my body has been violated…not sure I’d want someone I don’t know invading my body again.”

A pause then came through before Irving broke the silence.

“Well,” said Irving, who put on some latex gloves. “I’m a nurse…I could have a look.”
“You would?” said Smalley, a hint of relief emerging in her otherwise apprehensive voice.
“Yeah I would,” said Irving. “I mean, I know you don’t know me very well.”
“It’s,” said Smalley, regaining her confidence. “It’s okay.” Tears formed in her eyes as she looked at both Ethel and Irving. “You two are the nicest people I have ever met. I trust you.”

Irving nodded before getting down and getting to work. In one hand he held a small flashlight as he looked inside Smalley’s genitalia, with his other hand used to navigate the various flaps and folds in the tissue to see if there was any damage. After several minutes of looking and examining very closely, Irving withdrew his hand, taking notice of the blood that was on his hand as Smalley redid her dress.

“What?” said Smalley with bated breath, her eyes wide looking at Irving’s worried smirk. “What is it?”
“Well,” said Irving, “unless you’ve hidden lipstick in your vagina…I’d say that this is blood. Now, a lot of things other than rape can cause vaginal bleeding, like ovulation…but, I saw some scratches in there. I’d say there’s a likelihood that it was rape.”

Smalley began hyperventilating again.

“You mean,” said Smalley, winded by the announcement, “you mean Rupert…raped…me?”
“By the looks of it yes,” said Irving, his heart becoming heavy as he realized the gravity of what he said.

Smalley then collapsed to the floor, bawling her eyes out and banging her fists against the floor as she let out wails of anger and frustration at what she realized. She caused quite a stir that others began to notice her noise.

Including a certain man she stayed the night with.

“Hello?” said Covington, knocking on the door of the Johnsons and yelling behind the door. “Hello, Patricia? I’m back…I washed your clothes…is everything okay?”
Irving wasted no time answering the door, grabbing Covington by the scruff of his collar and hoisting him against the wall.

“Listen you little puke,” said Irving, anger painted all over his face and  pressing the now distressed Covington against the wall with the strength of his arm. “You give me her clothes and get back into your room and you are to make no contact with Patricia ever again! Do you understand me?”
“What?” said Covington, oscillating between feeling the fear of Irving’s anger, the confusion over what happened and the pain of being held strongly against the wall. “What are you talking about? If you did something to that girl…”
“I did nothing,” said Irving, raising his voice into a loud yell. “You…you know what you did!”
“I…I…I,” stammered Covington, doing his best to brace himself against the wall, though the pain was beginning to set in.

Irving, though, had enough, throwing him to the floor which knocked his grip of Smalley’s spaghetti-strapped black cocktail dress and her panties which Irving dutifully picked up and walked quickly back into his room, slamming the door behind him. Covington, in incredible pain (though he was merely bruised), sat up and sat there, pondering what had just happened. His material always brought up rumours of actual sex assaults, but none ever amounted to anything significant, as he could never do the deed. Several moments later, though, the Saltillo Police would come by, and they would arrest him, charging him with raping Smalley.

July 18, 2016
06:09 local time,
Mundiali Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Rupert Covington has been charged with rape,” said Mundiali Investigator Phineas Malcolm with urgency, jarring awake his partner Claire Kincaid, who had been hunched over her computer.

“You know,” said the irritated Kincaid, “ ‘Good morning Claire’ would have been far nicer.”
“I’m sorry Claire,” said Malcolm as he sat down at his computer. “This case is irritating me and I think it’s prudent we take a look at it.”
“While making a commotion and alerting everyone else in the building,” retorted Kincaid.
“It’s 6AM,” said Malcolm. “No one is here.”
“Fair enough,” said Kincaid, reassured. “I’m just not sure I want to help out Rupert Covington.”
“I understand,” said Malcolm, “but even he deserves justice.”

Kincaid gave him a look.

“Phineas,” said Kincaid. “Don’t waste your breath. The man makes rape jokes. He frequently makes vile comments about women in the press. He’s been divorced twice and he is not even 32. You’re not going to convince me that he isn’t capable of rape.”

Malcolm let out a sigh.

“Claire,” said Malcolm. “I get what you’re saying but we’re not a bad Law & Order episode…we can’t just assume someone who says bad things actually does them.”

Kincaid let out a sigh of her own.

“Fair enough,” she said. “You have my tepid attention. What do you know?”

He glanced at his phone and saw the text message that made him think about the Covington case. “It’s Ingrid!” Grayson messaged to him, claiming that Covington’s arrest was a political move. He didn’t write back to Grayson, though, as Malcolm still viewed him with intense consternation- no matter how “honourable” he claimed to be, Grayson was a criminal and Malcolm was a lawman, plus Malcolm got burned working with criminals in his last go around with the Foederatio Borealis Indagatores Imperiale (FBII).

“You received a message from someone?” said Kincaid, noticing Malcolm looking at his phone.
“Don’t worry, it’s just an anonymous tip,” said Malcolm. He hated to think Grayson could have been right, but he couldn’t help but think after his experience with him in Louisville that his instincts were on target. Malcolm just didn’t want to give him any credit.

“Anyway,” said Malcolm. “Rupert Covington was arrested yesterday afternoon in Saltillo, Coahuila on suspicion of raping a woman, whom the public only knows as ‘Jane Doe’ but we know as Patricia Smalley. Smalley is 23, a local college student in town to catch one of Covington’s shows. She apparently went back with Covington to his hotel room where the alleged incident occurred.”
“Let me guess,” said Kincaid. “Covington denies the charges. What’s his excuse?”
“See that’s where it gets interesting,” said Malcolm. “Covington claims Patricia just fell asleep on his bed after disrobing completely, and Covington just watched her sleep before going to sleep himself on a couch. He then took her clothes to the hotel’s laundry machine and washed them, and would have returned them had he not been arrested. We have video of him at the laundry machine when he said he was.”
“Still doesn’t mean he didn’t rape her,” said Kincaid, folding her arms.
“Thing is,” said Malcolm with a knowing smile, “the prosecution is basing their charge of rape on two fronts- Patricia’s word, which isn’t much because she doesn’t remember much from that night, and the analysis of a one Irving Johnson, who works as a nurse in Merriweather, Oklahoma and was in town on a Catholic mission.”
“So Irving’s a nurse,” said Kincaid, unimpressed. “Case closed…he’s qualified to give a rape exam.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Malcolm, “but that’s not where it gets intriguing.”
“Oh, do tell,” said Kincaid, feigning excitement.
“Patricia went through a rape examination, apparently at the police’s behest,” said Malcolm. “That examiner concluded no rape had occurred, and that her vaginal bleeding was a result of ovulation.”
“Still doesn’t mean there wasn’t a rape,” said Kincaid, deadpanning, her voice trailing at the end.
“Haylie Modine told her to come forward,” said Malcolm.
“The Arkansas Congresswoman running for President?” said Kincaid, her interest piqued.
“Yes,” said Malcolm. “Modine even said so herself.”
“It’s so soon for her to say something like that,” said Kincaid. “Okay, maybe I’ll give this one to you.”

August 5, 2016,
10:59 local time,
Saltillo Municipal Courthouse,
Saltillo, Coahuila

“So, Mr. Irving,” said Lester Serling, well known as one of North America’s top defence attorneys who took up Covington’s case pro bono. “You work as a nurse, is that correct?”
“Yes sir,” said Johnson. “Have been for over five years now.”
“Over at Merriweather General,” continued Serling, whose continued prying gaze into Johnson’s eyes rattled him a little.
“Yes sir,” said Johnson, trying to maintain his composure.
“Merriweather,” said Serling, offering a smug smile. “Nice little town…3000 or so people…about a hundred miles from Amarillo. Had a very good cake there.”
“I’ll tell Steven,” said Johnson with a chuckle, his heart warmed by Serling’s remark. “He takes good pride in his cakes.”
“He was very good,” said Serling with another smug smile. By this point the prosecution had enough.

“Objection!” said lead prosecutor Marcia Gray. “Is there a question in there somewhere? We didn’t come here to talk about cakes.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Serling, laughing sardonically. “I guess you don’t like me making a friend out of your only reasonable witness.”
That’s out of line!” bellowed Gray as she gestured angrily at Serling, who could only chuckle in amusement as Johnson reacted with obvious confusion.
“Order! Order in the court!” said trial judge Javier Lopez, banging his gavel several times as a small furor erupted in the courtroom. “Counsellor Serling, I’m going to have to agree with Mrs. Gray here…do you actually have a question to ask?”
“Oh I have plenty,” said Serling without missing a beat.
“All right,” said Lopez. “Carry on.”

“I understand Steven has fallen on some hard times,” said Serling, continuing to prod at Johnson, whose nervousness was beginning to show.
“He got diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago,” said Johnson wistfully. “I’ve been taking care of him whenever he needed me.”
“That’s very nice of you,” said Serling with another smug smile. “You’re a very good man.”
“Thank you sir,” said Johnson, again warming up to Serling.
“I want to understand too,” said Serling, continuing his questioning. “Your father had prostate cancer too, right?”

Before Johnson could answer Gray lost it.

Objection!” she said as she loudly got up from her seat. “Irving’s father has nothing to do with this case!”
“Sustained,” said Lopez without hesitation.
“Your Honour,” said Serling, turning towards the judge. “Considering that you won’t allow me to bring up as a witness the examiner who actually conducted Patricia’s rape examination, Irving Johnson’s testimony is the only examination we have to analyze. We must establish his credibility.” Johnson nodded in appreciation, unaware that Serling really meant to undermine his credibility.
“You have to make it quick,” said Lopez, audibly frustrated. “because I’m tired of you running around in circles. There’s a woman out there who needs some closure.”
“…and my client,” said Serling sternly, finding the judge’s remark concerning.

“Anyway,” said Serling, turning his attention back to Johnson. “Your father had prostate cancer, is that correct?”
“Yes that is,” said Johnson.
“This is why you got into nursing,” said Serling.
“Yes sir,” said Johnson.
“Because,” said Serling, “I’m looking over your work history and I see a lot of work with prostate cancer patients and urology in general. I don’t believe you’ve ever had a female patient. Have you ever done a rape kit examination before?”
“Well, um,” said Johnson, hanging his head in shame. “No sir, I have not.” His voice trailed at the end of his statement.
“So what makes you think you were qualified to perform one on Patricia Smalley?” asked Serling pointedly.

Gray got up out of her chair and was about to voice her objection before Lopez caught on.

“Sustained,” said Lopez, striking his gavel.
“Excuse me?” said Serling, looking incredulously at the judge. “His examination is the only piece of evidence we can enter at this trial. Again, I must stress it is very relevant that I establish Mr. Johnson’s competency to complete such an examination.”
“I think you’ve done that fair enough,” said Lopez. “You’ve already gone too far in your questioning…I cannot let you get any further.”

Serling wanted to voice his own objection to Lopez’s callousness and wondered in his head who is paying him off, but decided that he already faced too many challenges as it is so he backed off.

“I have one more question for you,” said Serling, pulling out a sheet of paper and handed it to Lopez. “I wish to enter into evidence a series of Squawks that Mr. Johnson posted online. On March 13, 2013, as you will see in the notes, Johnson went on a rant about Rupert, calling him ‘unfunny’ and describing him as a duck many times, with ‘duck’ being a known racial slur used against the Emeldic. So-”

Serling was then interrupted by Lopez, after witnessing Lopez crumple up the sheet of paper and toss it in the garbage.

“Well then,” said Serling after a long, flabbergasted pause, his eyes widened with shock. “Nothing further.”

August 5, 2016,
12:11 local time,
Best Western Saltillo,
Saltillo, Coahuila

Pa-rap-pa-pa-rap

The sound of the knocks on the door were irritating for Haylie Modine. She was deep at work editing a campaign speech and thus hated her thoughts being interrupted. However, she thought it could be important, so she put a smile on her face and answered.

“Hi!” she said with a smile that soon turned into confusion when she saw who it was. “Um, how can I help you?”
“Claire Kincaid, Mundiali,” said Kincaid flashing her badge. “I’m here with my partner Phineas Malcolm.”
“I, uh, wasn’t expecting you,” said Modine. “You guys are police?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Malcolm.

Modine then glanced over at her security detail that blocked the way to her suite, who gave her a thumbs up that assuaged her fears- for now.

“Well, come on in,” said Modine, forcing a smile. The perky blonde was still confused about why the Mundiali were there, but she hoped she wasn’t in any kind of trouble.

“We’re going to get right to the chase,” said Malcolm as he sat down on a couch next to Kincaid. “What do you know about Patricia Smalley?”
“I’m sorry?” said Modine, taken aback by Malcolm’s abrasiveness.
“Patricia Smalley,” repeated Malcolm curtly.
“Finny, relax,” said Kincaid, gesturing at Malcolm.

Modine picked up immediately what was going on.

“Listen,” she said sternly. “If you think you can pull off some ‘good cop/bad cop bullcrap on me, you are sorely mistaken. Either get to the point or leave my room.”
“First of all, honey,” said Kincaid, “if you think I’m the good cop, you don’t know who you’re dealing with. Besides, he’s like this all day.”
“Oh,” said Modine with a sardonic chuckle after rolling her eyes.

“Well…Patricia Smalley,” said Modine, thinking about the interview topic. “Um, she’s from Pine Bluff…I’m from Little Rock!” Modine forced another smile as she sat up, though she appeared stiff.
“What?” said Malcolm, visibly frustrated. “Do you think you can just stall on this and we’ll just go away? Because the next time we’ll be back you won’t like it.”
“Do you really think you’re going to scare me with a false sense of bravado?” said Modine.
“No,” said Malcolm, “but I can scare you with the facts. Your campaign posted on Squawker about Smalley- real name and all- an hour after Rupert Covington’s arrest. You’ve since deleted it but we were able to trace it back to your account.”
“Oh,” said Modine, “you did, eh? So why come to me? Shouldn’t you be asking my tech guy? Or my social media rep? I don’t always make the posts that appear on my account…I thought you knew that.”
“Earlier in this interview you did mention where Patricia was from,” said Kincaid. “Pine Bluff is a suburb of Little Rock.”
“Good to know that you know geography,” snorted Modine.
“I just think it was a bit early in the process that you learned about her case,” said Kincaid, folding her arms.

Modine cleared her throat.

Again,” she said, her eyes wide with anger, “speak with my social media team. They put up the Squawk. I did not. I mean, yeah, it’s something that I would Squawk myself, but I can assure you much of my social media posts I don’t see until well after the fact. I trust my team.”

She got up and checked her watch.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have to finish my speech,” she said curtly, motioning the investigators to the door. “Super Tuesday is coming up and I can’t afford to take any time off.”

August 5, 2016,
18:02 local time,
Coos Bay Correctional Facility,
Coos Bay, Roman Columbia

“Hello?” said Galla Claudia as she greeted her guest in her prison cell, Technical Analyst Andi Morales of the FBII.
“Hi Galla,” said Morales, taking her seat and smiling politely at her, though she struggled to sit still.
“What can I do for you?” said Claudia, smiling courteously at Morales, sitting up calmly on her bed.
“Um, well,” said Morales, struggling to put her thoughts together, “I never thought that after all that happened, you’d still be sitting here in a prison cell.”
“Andi,” said Claudia with a smile. “Don’t cry for me…I’m okay.”
“Yeah, but Galla,” said Morales, her voice speeding up as she continued, “you’ve been framed. I know that, you know that…everyone in this prison knows that. You and I both know that you never met Tom Reasoner before that night in Santa Rosa…in fact, I doubt you met him at all. I know it was Lisa Carruthers and her partner who did the deed…but yet you confessed to the crime…I…I just don’t understand why.”

Claudia chuckled, endeared by Morales’ passion, and let out a sigh.

“I admire your belief in me,” said Claudia. “There are few law enforcement agents that I would trust right now, and you’re one of them. However…I saw the writing on the wall…if I didn’t go to jail now the Global Anarchists’ League would try again until they got me here. So here I am. Besides…I kind of like it here. I get fed. I get sheltered. I’m past my childbearing years so I don’t need to worry about finding a guy…I can just live here. In peace…well, relative peace. The big guy from Cell Block 6 really has nasty flatulence.”
“I know,” said Morales, making a face. “I smelled it coming in.”

“So, you just,” said Morales with a slight pause. “Gave up?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” said Claudia. “Sometimes in life, Andi, you gotta admit defeat and carry on.”
“I…I guess so,” said Morales with a restrained smile.

“Listen, I need to talk to you about a case,” said Morales, deciding another topic was more pressing. “The Mundiali have asked for my help in the Rupert Covington case but they’re kind of being bigheaded about it. Especially Phineas Malcolm…you worked with him. Can you help me figure out how to deal with him?”
“Phineas was always a bit of a hotshot,” said Claudia. “Always wanted to feel like he was in charge…our junior agents hated him because he was always on their case, constantly watching over their shoulder and berating them for the littlest mistake. It can be overwhelming, I understand. Just remember, though…he does it because he cares. He wouldn’t be on your case so much if he didn’t value your contributions, so remember that.”
“I know,” said Morales with a sigh. The svelte blonde readjusted her glasses before continuing. “It’s just…too much sometimes. I feel like he needs to back off.”
“What did he do now?” said Claudia, listening intently.
“He asked me to look up some stuff on Haylie Modine,” said Morales. “Access her information…credit card bills…you know, what I normally do.”
“OK,” said Claudia. “Then what happened?”
“He told me to look for deleted Squawks,” said Morales, starting to feel flustered.
“…and you did, right?” said Claudia, trying to soothe Morales.
“Yeah,” said Morales. “I must have checked 100 times and…”

Morales put her head in her hands and began to cry. Claudia responded by putting her hand on Morales’ back and rubbing it.

“I suck at my job,” said Morales through her sobs.
“No you don’t,” said Claudia softly. “You’re great at it. Have been for over a decade. There’s no one else I’d have for the job.”
“Yeah,” said Morales, still crying, “well he snapped at me and said he’d rather have Sophie. I think he blames me for getting her fired.”
“Sophie got herself fired,” said Claudia. “It’s her fault she was never at work. You didn’t do that.”
“He kept saying that Sophie would find that Squawk,” said Morales.
“Which one?” replied Claudia with interest.
“Malcolm said that Modine sent out a Squawk where she expressed support for Rupert Covington’s accuser,” said Morales, “only that she used her real name, not ‘Jane Doe’ as the news uses. However, I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I looked.”
“Well then, it must not exist,” said Claudia. “If you can’t find it, then it must not exist. Phineas has a bad habit of making stuff up to rattle interview subjects…I suspect he did that with Modine and I guess she stumped him.”
“Yeah,” said Morales. “So then I had to look for a link between Haylie and the Jane Doe and I looked…and I looked…and I looked…and I found zilch. Na da…nothing! They don’t even have the slightest connection on social media. Only thing I could find is that a member of Modine’s campaign paid for a ticket at Covington’s show in Saltillo…Jim Roberts his name was. He used his own money and camera footage shows he never interacted with the accused or Covington…only thing I could find was something called a ‘banking error’ on his transaction report, dated for the day of show. Malcolm doesn’t want me to follow it but I think it could be something.”
“I see,” said Claudia, who let out a warm smile, even though she thought Malcolm’s request was odd. “If he doesn’t want you to follow it then do that…it’s his team, after all. Listen, I know dealing with Malcolm is tough…but hang in there. Most of the time he just needs to blow off steam, so don’t let his personal attacks affect you too much…he hardly ever means them. Just remember…he wouldn’t press on you so much if he didn’t value your presence. Don’t forget that.”

August 8, 2016,
08:04 local time,
Mundiali Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“You wanted to see me?” said Malcolm as he entered Wilcox’s office, not having bothered to knock. Kincaid followed right behind him.
“Yes, yes, I do,” said Wilcox. “Please, Claire, Phineas…could you close the door?” Malcolm did so with a shrug, although Claire worried inside she could be in for some serious trouble.
“Have a seat,” said Wilcox, ushering Malcolm and Kincaid to their seats, which they duly took.

“I’m going to keep this brief because I’ve got too much on my plate,” said Wilcox, his voice sounding haggard. “The number one rule for all of us is that we need to be invited into our investigations…we can’t just ‘jump in’ because we see an irregularity.” Wilcox then momentarily turned his attention towards Malcolm. “Phineas, I appreciate your heart but it doesn’t appear that you can control it with your brain.”
“OK then,” said Malcolm, quickly getting out of his seat and loudly banging it against Wilcox’s desk as Kincaid looked on in bemusement. “If you’re going to fire me, why not just say so.”
“Oh no Phineas,” said Wilcox. “I’m not going to fire you.”
“So you expect me to quit,” said Malcolm, his arms folded and looking at Wilcox intently.
“I don’t expect you to quit either,” said Wilcox with a restrained smile. “You are too valuable for this organization to lose.”

Malcolm let out a heavy sigh and threw up his hands.

“What’s this about then?” said Kincaid, calmly but not hiding the frustration in her voice.

Wilcox didn’t lose his cool once, even though Malcolm gave him plenty of opportunity to do so.

“It’s about Rupert Covington,” said Wilcox. “I don’t know the particulars, but I received a complaint from the Haylie Modine campaign alleging that you both were aggressive with her. I looked to see if we have an active investigation on Ms. Modine or Mr. Covington but I failed to find one, so therefore I can only assume that you went after Modine after one of your ‘hunches’, Phineas.”
“Seems to be a pretty good hunch,” said Malcolm, sitting back down but still aggressive in his tone. “Seeing how the Covington trial has progressed, it’s clear that his free speech rights are being violated. There’s a real travesty of justice going on there, as I knew there would be. Look, Rupert ‘got political’ for the first time in Saltillo…don’t you think it’s at least a little bit of a coincidence that he got involved in this mess shortly afterward?”
“Doctor Wilcox,” said Kincaid, interjecting. “If I may, I’m only on this investigation because Finny told me it was one worth pursuing…if I had known there would be this much trouble I would not have agreed to join him.”
“I understand,” said Wilcox, “but that still doesn’t absolve you of the things you did. You folded your arms and looked rather dismissively at a woman who was clearly telling the truth.”
“Seriously, Doctor?” said Kincaid with a chuckle. “She’s a politician, she’s an experienced liar. I caught her in the act.”
“Did you now?” said Wilcox with a knowing smirk as Kincaid struggled to find a response.
“Doctor,” she said with a sigh, momentarily losing eye contact. “I don’t like Rupert Covington more than the next guy…but the truth is, Patricia Smalley is from Pine Bluff, near Haylie’s hometown. Plus Haylie has, for years, spoken out against Covington and actively campaigned to ensure he could not play in Arkansas. She has called him, numerous times and without evidence, a rapist who inspires others to rape, and she is relentless in this assessment. Covington has, for years, ignored directly addressing Haylie until his show in Saltillo, where, surprise surprise, he gets arrested for rape.” Kincaid then pulled out a sheet of paper and presented it to Wilcox. “We even found out that one of Haylie’s staffers was at Covington’s show. That doesn’t at least strike you as odd?”
“Yeah, it’s odd,” said Wilcox nonchalantly, tossing away the paper. “However, you can’t assume that because the staffer was present that something nefarious was going on. Maybe he’s a fan and he went to check it out. Furthermore, it still doesn’t change the fact that you accused Haylie Modine of writing a Squawk that did not exist.”
“Doctor, seriously,” said Malcolm forcefully. “Can you not at least admit that Covington’s trial is at least a little fishy right now? You’d have to be Modine to not think something strange is going on in Coahuila.”
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Wilcox. “We have rules and regulations that we must follow, foremost among them that we don’t just ‘jump in’ and push aside the local police waving our badges and guns just because we ‘think’ something went wrong. No, we must ensure that we have the investigative blessing of the locals before we can take over, because without that, we cannot be trusted to do our jobs. The Mundiali is a new organization…there isn’t a lot of trust in us yet. Not just among the police but among the global citizens too. We need to show them that we can work with people, not against them…and the way we do that is by waiting for an invite. Not by imposing our will. For now, I will let this go…your excitement got the better of you…but please, in the future, let’s not jump into an investigation unless we’re sure something has happened.”

August 8, 2016,
10:34 local time,
Saltillo Municipal Courthouse,
Saltillo, Coahuila

“Let us not forget the facts,” said Gray, finishing her closing argument. “Rupert Covington took advantage of Patricia in her most vulnerable state, penetrating her when her lack of consciousness prevented her from being able to consent. She had vaginal bleeding, which our expert confidently stated was due to rape and not ovulation, as my clueless colleague tried to suggest. I also believe we must dismiss, outright, Rupert’s explanation, because there’s no way that you would think to wash someone else’s clothes unless you want to hide the evidence.

“I mean, let’s face it folks, Rupert makes his money by telling vile ‘jokes’ about rape…what makes anyone think he is not capable of the t himself? Certainly Patricia now knows that he is capable, and now you do too. Thank you.”

Gray then went to sit back down as Serling got up to deliver his closing remarks.

“Well,” he said, with a sarcastic chuckle. “Marcia…you spin a good yarn. I can’t say I have ever seen anyone twist the facts like you have. You know, I could go at length about why my client is innocent…tell you all about how the material of his jokes don’t suggest the content of his character. How his story, however implausible it may seem, is the truth. How the only ‘expert’ we had was in no way qualified to give a rape exam.

“However.” Serling stopped to look at Lopez. “I will not. Because I don’t think that justice will be served in this case. I will get in trouble for this, I am sure…but I would rather have people know that I went down making a statement about this gross perversion of justice.”

“Careful counselor,” said Lopez. “Or I’ll have you in contempt of court.”

“Oh you already do,” snapped Serling, whose rant was only beginning. “My client is going to go down because ‘we need to make a statement about rape’…never mind we will get nowhere if we falsely convict as well as falsely acquit.

“I cannot understand how perfectly good evidence can be so summarily dismissed. We had a perfectly good rape examination, properly administered, rejected for no reason. We accept the exam of another person who was not only unqualified to perform one but was racist towards the Emeldic too…and the judge refused to hear that without a reason. We have talked at length about Rupert’s jokes, which shouldn’t matter but, Mr. Justice, you think they do.

“I could go on…but that would waste everyone’s time. I simply cannot believe the travesty I have endured in this trial…thus it won’t matter what I say.

“Unless Mr. Justice…you prove me wrong.”

August 8, 2016,
17:45 local time,
Coos Bay Correctional Facility,
Coos Bay, Roman Columbia

“Next!” screamed the mess hall server for the next person in line. She was serving the prisoners, all lined up to receive their dinners, a homemade stew that she considered her specialty.

Claudia was the next one to receive her order.

“Hi,” said Claudia as she received her slop. She smiled at the server until she looked down at her tray. “No salt today?”
“As if this place ain’t salty enough for ya?” snapped the server, flashing a toothy grin before letting out her smoker’s cough.
“I didn’t mean any offence,” Claudia said with a restrained smile. “I was just observing.”
“Yur got yer whole life ahead of ya for observing!” said the server, who really didn’t have an indoor voice. “I’m just here doing mah job! Next!”

Claudia smiled reservedly and went on her way, finding a spot along the benches for her to sit on.

“By Jove,” muttered Claudia, looking at her dish and raising her hands in frustration. “She forgot to give me a fork.”

“I’ve got an extra one for you.”

Claudia paused to look up, momentarily stunned by the voice she heard. As she glanced at the kind stranger who invited herself at her table, Claudia couldn’t help but think she looked kind of familiar.

“Maria?” she said, looking up.
“Yeah, that’s me!” said Maria Castroiti, the “Morta killer” as she was better known. “Everyone else knows me as a Roman goddess, but you on the other hand…you know who I really am. I mean…you put me away and all.”

Claudia chuckled nervously, glancing from side to side to see if she was in any trouble. Castroiti soon put her at ease.

“Relax, Mama Bear,” she said with an energetic smile. “I ain’t here to give you trouble. I’m just here to say ‘hello’.”
“Um, well,” said Claudia, still puzzled with Castroiti’s visit. “ ‘Hello’, then.” She accepted the fork and the two of the started to eat their dinners.
“Come on,” said Castroiti with a wide smile. “Put her here!” She then extended her hand for Claudia to shake. Claudia looked on, still unsure of what to do.

“Okay then fine,” said Castroiti. “I figured it would take you a while for you to shake my hand.”
“It’s nothing personal,” said Claudia calmly but coolly. “Well, it is personal…I mean, you killed a lot of men with those hands…and you stuck a vibrator up my friend’s vagina. I’m not sure that I’m ready to shake your hand.”
“No no, it’s okay, I get that,” said Castroiti, shifting in her seat as she wasn’t the type to sit still. She flashed another wide smile but was momentarily at a loss for words.

Claudia still looked at Castroiti quizzically.

“I still don’t understand why you’re here,” said Claudia. “Does my presence surprise you or something?”
“Well I know a goody-two-shoes like you doesn’t belong here,” said Castroiti. “So yeah…it does.”
“I’m hardly the only cop in here,” said Claudia. “Besides, you all claim you’re innocent anyway…what makes me so special?”
“I heard rumblings that you don’t even contest your innocence,” said Castroiti. “That you accepted your crime and you don’t even want to fight your punishment.”
“Odd behaviour, I know,” said Claudia, “but sometimes you have to accept what life gives you.”
“No, no, no,” said Castroiti wagging her finger. “You ‘accept’ the guy who cuts you off in line, or the guy that jumps on your best friend.”
“Oh,” said Claudia. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Eh,” said Castroiti, “that was ages ago…I shoulda killed him…anyway…you ‘accept’ those things as ‘things that life gives you’. A prison sentence? Why would anyone want that stigma? Why would anyone want to take themselves out of society? So many bad things happen to you after you are convicted…that stays with you…for life. In fact, you might as well not even say you have a life…I mean, physically you’re there and maybe mentally…but once you step into jail…well, everything you had been able to do before you can’t do it anymore. You might as well be dead.”
“So when’s your appeal date?” said Claudia with a smug smile.
“Had it a few days ago, actually,” said Castroiti. “It failed, like I knew it would…but hey, I tried. Why aren’t you?”
“I guess I’m just a little more realistic than you are,” said Claudia with another smug smile.

Castroiti let out a sardonic chuckle.

“Please,” she said. “Quit playing with me…why are you really here?”
“I killed a man,” said Claudia confidently. “Tom Reasoner…I was really defending Cindy Monroe but the police didn’t see it that way.”
“Cindy?” said Castroiti, that name ringing a bell for her. She then looked down and laughed before resuming eye contact with Claudia, bemused at her amusement.

“That’s what I thought,” said Castroiti. “Don’t you think I know a little something about Cindy? About why she was killed? I met Persephone…well, conversed with her online…I learned about ‘The Virus’…I had to understand it if I was going to be a part of it.”
“How do you know Cindy is dead?” said Claudia, puzzled.
“Come on,” said Castroiti. “I may be in prison but things travel…I still have connections to the outside world. So does everyone else. We’re not entirely clueless, you know.”
“I thought Persephone used Cindy’s name to converse with you,” said Claudia.
“Oh, she did,” said Castroiti. “It was all part of The Virus’ plan…make someone else look like they’re the ringleader…they used Cindy, just like they used me…and you.”
“Excuse me?” said Claudia, giving Castroiti a glare.
“Only after I got here did I learn that it really wasn’t Cindy who conversed with me,” said Castroiti, “otherwise, your types would have found her.”
“Well, we didn’t know it was her until after I started looking for her…” said Claudia, her voice trailing after Castroiti gave her a knowing look.
“See, that’s why you’re in here,” said Castroiti. “They wanted a sacrificial lamb because they got tired of Cindy…so they framed you. Well, they framed you for killing her boyfriend, because they had to pretend she was still alive to keep Harvey at bay…and you saw how that turned out.”
“Cindy was investigating Bodega Bay,” said Claudia, “the Virus thought she knew something so they got rid of her.”
“…and made you do it,” said Castroiti. “Otherwise, why kill Tom? Who is he? He’s nobody. Certainly not someone to you…and you…Ms. Rules ‘N’ Stuff…you wouldn’t pull the trigger on him…you’d have tackled him or called the police or something.”

Claudia grimaced as she took her napkin and wiped her mouth, having finished her meal.

“I guess you figured me out,” said Claudia with a sigh. “Then again, you know more than most of the people in here…only thing I have to say is, if you’re going to kill me, make it quick.”

Castroiti chuckled.

“No, silly,” said Castroiti. “I don’t want to kill you…I want to help you. They played me too…told me that if I went on this murderous rampage that they’d help me escape police and I’d get to retire somewhere with a nice paycheck…as soon as I got here I realized I was young and na├»ve…just a pawn in their game. Galla Claudia…I’m your ally. If you want to take them down…and I know you do…you can’t ask for better assistance than me. I know how they work, I know how they tick. They played you and me…isn’t it time we played them?”

August 9, 2016,
13:58 local time,
Seltzer Memorial Hall,
Moline, Illinois

“Miss, we’re ready,” said one of Haylie Modine’s assistants, telling Fjallsdottir that it was time for her to address the crowd at the reception hall. Only hours before, Covington was convicted of sexually assaulting Smalley, which Fjallsdottir was thrilled to hear about. She smiled when she heard it was her time to step up to the microphone and address Modine’s supporters, because Fjallsdottir knew many of them were celebrating the result with her.

As she confidently walked out on to the stage when her name was called, Fjallsdottir beamed a huge smile and waved to the throngs of supporters, doing her best to soak in their loud cheers. Thus, she was all smiles when she approached the microphone, looking around the crowd and continuing to acknowledge them before their cheers eventually died down enough for her to speak.

“Today,” she started with aplomb. “Today is a great day! As I’m sure most of you are now aware of, Rupert Covington and his vile humour will no longer be gracing our screens, because today, in a courthouse in Coahuila, Rupert Covington was convicted of rape.”

Loud, sustained cheers erupted as Fjallsdottir smiled widely, nodding her head and displaying her appreciation for the crowd’s excitement, one she felt herself. After a few minutes, the cheering again died down, which allowed Fjallsdottir to continue her address.

“I knew you’d be happy,” she said, as more cheers came out. “I am too. However…” She stopped herself and adopted a more serious tone, which the crowd responded to in kind. “However, I would be remiss to say that even with this remarkable victory, we must remember that even though we have won the battle, we have still not won the war. Rupert Covington may be put away now, but there are millions more who are like him, ready to prey and pounce on the next unsuspecting victim.

“To illustrate this, I must tell a story. A woman who I admire so, so much for her resiliency told me the story about her attack, and how the police’s inaction led to her being victimized in her own home. It started innocently enough…he was a guitarist in a local band, she was seeing them for the first time. They met after the show…they talked…they connected…then they kissed. It sounded like the blossoming of new relationship, a love both would cherish for years and years…but then it turned sour, and it turned sour in a hurry.

“You see, our musical Romeo thought it would fun if he plied her with drinks…most predators, that’s what they do. So this girl- and she was no older than 16, I need to stress this- was given drink after drink by this disgusting guy, who didn’t touch a drink himself. After she was suitably drunk, this monster- he’s not human, I tell you- took her to a bathroom where he banged her against the wall and violently raped her. For hours. She was attacked so hard that it caused genital bleeding, which went all over her pants. Evidence right there…yet, despite the crying and wailing of this poor girl, she stood there, outside of the bathroom, evidence in full view and guess what? No one lifted a finger for her. No one.

“Of course, that’s not the end of the story. She went home to her parents…crying and sobbing, obviously distraught about what happened. Her parents agreed, and they contacted the police. They did nothing- they didn’t care about the investigation. A few days later, because of this, the creep finds his way into the poor girl’s home, and rapes her again as she was sleeping, using a pillow to muffle her screams. For several violent hours, our poor girl had to endure insufferable pain, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well.

“There are others like her…others who suffer just as badly…and they do not receive justice. We must not forget them. That is why we must remain vigilant, and ensure that our attackers never receive the benefit of the doubt ever again. Society has stacked the rules against us…so we must fight back.”

August 9, 2016,
16:02 local time,
Gilbert Perreault Park,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“OK,” said Malcolm as he sat down on a park bench next to Grayson, whose invitation Malcolm reluctantly accepted. “Make this quick. How’d you even get my number anyway?”
“Heh,” said Grayson with a chuckle. “Haven’t you forgotten who I am? I can get anything.”
“You know,” said Malcolm forcefully, “Galla may be able to trust you but I don’t. Don’t you think you’re going to win me over any time soon. You were the guy that we initially chased- you should still be behind bars as far as I’m concerned.”
“Yeah,” said Grayson, shaking his head, unfazed by Malcolm’s hollow threat. “You can think that…but you conveniently forget that this whole ‘Virus’ thing was taken from me and morphed into something I didn’t approve of…but, I don’t care if you don’t think I’m a valuable asset and still see me as the enemy. You keep beating that dead horse…you’re pretty good at it.”

Malcolm threw up his hands.

“Seriously, Danny?” said Malcolm. “Enough of the snark. I don’t have Galla’s patience to sit through your nonsense.”
“You can say that again,” said Grayson with a smug smirk, secretly enjoying needling Malcolm.
“OK,” said Malcolm, taking a few breaths to calm himself down, “why do you keep on insisting I go after Ingrid? What does she gain out of all of this?”

Grayson pulled out a toothpick and picked at his teeth, his face blank until it momentarily expressed joy when Grayson dislodged a piece of popcorn that had been stuck between his teeth.

“Have you ever heard of the Prophecy of the Lost Ship?” said Grayson.
“No,” said Malcolm curtly.
“Decius Capitolinus was fond of telling the story to his court,” said Grayson, referring to the 16th century Roman Emperor who turned around the Empire’s fortunes dramatically and set it for a rebound to become the world’s dominant power. “Decius dealt with a lot of people, particularly against those aligned with the Pope and those aligned with the Jovianists. He had a lot to sort out, and a lot of people came to him with disagreements. So he told the story of the Prophecy. One day, a captain was lost at sea, and he didn’t have his compass with him. He had a vague idea of where he was, but the winds were giving him conflicting signals on the direction of which he should turn his sails. Growing impatient, he decided to direct his sails alongside the wind that he felt was going to take him where he needed to go, and decided not to change course. What happened to him? Because he didn’t take the time to properly study the winds and see the directions they really were blowing, he didn’t realize that the wind he selected wasn’t stable and thus changed course dramatically, meaning that the wind carried him so far off course that he crashed onto a hostile coastline where he was killed by savages with his supplies looted. Had he analyzed the winds, he would have charted a different course, and wound up eventually coming home.

“What’s the moral of this story? As Decius soon found out, you can’t always solve problems by taking the obvious solution. You have to dig deeper and see how things are really developing before you can realistically find a solution. The path less traveled may be the path that leads to gold.”

Malcolm sighed.

“That’s a wonderful story, Danny,” he said, still exasperated, “but it still doesn’t change that I have no evidence to use against Ingrid.”
“That’s because you haven’t bothered to look,” said Grayson. “You keep on thinking that Haylie Modine has a role in this, and you keep on following that path, even though you know it won’t be fruitful.”
“That is not true and you know it,” said Malcolm, folding his arms.
“So explain to me why Patricia Smalley wrote to me stating that Ingrid Fjallsdottir appropriated her story without her consent,” said Grayson, “and went to tell you about it only for you to rebuff her.”

Malcolm clasped his hands together, lowered his head momentarily and let out a short sigh.

“We didn’t rebuff her,” said Malcolm. “We just figured that Ingrid heard the story from Haylie.”

Grayson turned and looked Malcolm squarely in the eyes.

“Patricia never told that story to anyone,” said Grayson. “Not Haylie, not Ingrid. At least that’s what Patricia told me, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. Why would she share a story so graphic to someone she doesn’t know?”
“Come on, Danny,” said Malcolm. “Patricia lived in Pine Bluff, that’s a suburb of Little Rock.”
“Yeah, and how many thousands of people live in that area?” retorted Grayson. “I’m sure you don’t know everyone in Buffalo.”

Malcolm got up and let out a huge huff, looking angrily at Grayson.

“Let me guess,” said Malcolm. “You’re going to retort to me that if I only looked at Ingrid, I’d find something. Riddle me this, okay…what is in it for Ingrid? What does she gain rigging a trial and eventually making Haylie look bad? This is what you haven’t explained!”

“First of all,” said Grayson, “you keep on acting like a cop thinking everyone’s got to have a ‘motive’. Second of all…this is The Virus you’re dealing with. Even you know that one of the core teachings of The Virus is to always misdirect the police, making them focus on a target that won’t bear any fruit. I should know…I wrote the thing, the thing that Ingrid stole from me. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that’s how The Virus worked- you saw it for yourself. First with Jeff Briar, then with Jolly Rodger, then with Maria Castroiti and then, finally, with Lisa Carruthers.”

“Oh,” said Malcolm, shaking his head and chuckling sardonically. “So that’s why you think it’s Ingrid…because she told you she took The Virus from you, even though we don’t have any proof.” Malcolm then started to walk away. “You know, I’ve had enough- I don’t need to be a part of your vanity project.”
“You have all the proof you need,” said Grayson, stopping Malcolm in his tracks. “She’s endorsed Haylie and she’s been an active member of Haylie’s team. Ingrid isn’t afraid to do ‘dirty work’- ask Juan Castro about that. Finally, Ingrid, in her statement, played the victim card, and she knows that if Haylie is brought down because of this investigation, Ingrid can simply claim ‘misogyny’ and her activism can continue, because her narrative has been assured.”
“Rhetoric,” said Malcolm, sneering at Grayson. “That’s all rhetoric.” He then continued to walk away until Grayson yelled “Night of Anarchy” at him.

“What did you say?” said Malcolm in hushed tones as he rushed back to the bench.
“You heard me,” said Grayson.
Malcolm looked both ways and began panting. “What did you say?” he repeated, trying his best to remain calm even though Grayson rattled him.

“Don’t be a fool, Finny,” said Grayson sternly, looking Malcolm directly into his eyes. “You forget that your entire job was created by the Night of Anarchy. You’d have to be an idiot to think that none of those guys don’t want you to fail, and fail badly. If you get this case wrong, you know you’re not going to get many opportunities to get them right, and then there will be no hope for you to maintain the peace in this world. Now, I’m not going to tell you who you should investigate, but I will tell you this- make sure you follow the right wind.”

August 9, 2016,
18:02 local time,
Coos Bay Correctional Facility,
Coos Bay, Roman Columbia

“Hey Rawlings!” shouted a voice from afar. Rawlings, a big muscular black man, rolled his eyes upon hearing the voice and let out a sigh, but decided against protesting. It was his friend Corey Biggs, a small, scrappy Indochinese man who was an endless ball of energy.

“How many times do I got to tell you,” snarled Rawlings as Biggs sat down in front of him. “Can’t a man have his dinner in peace?”
“Aw come on Rawlings!” said Biggs with a big smile. “Meal time is a great time to connect, socialize…have fun! Can’t always sit by yourself can you?”
“Well today, I think I wanna sit by myself,” said Rawlings with an angry glare.
“Woah, woah,” said Biggs waving up his hands in protest. “Easy, man. I’m cool with that. Is everything OK, man?”

Rawlings let out another big sigh, looked around, pursed his lips and then pondered for a bit.

“It’s okay,” said Biggs. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m cool with that.”
“I guess I’m just thinking about my homie,” said Rawlings, letting out another heavy sigh.
“Your brother, right?” said Biggs.
“Yeah, him,” said Rawlings. “Nine years ago today…I keep thinking I should have died defending him instead of just letting the police arrest me.”
“Come on man,” said Biggs. “You did what you needed to do…you know you needed to be alive to make sure that one day he could get justice.”
“What happened to your brother?” said Castroiti, who sat down next to Rawlings with Claudia sitting next to Biggs.

Biggs looked at Rawlings who nodded him an “okay” before he could start his story.

“You know Rupert Covington?” said Biggs. “Just got convicted as I hear.”
“I heard that too,” said Claudia. “Guess he’ll be coming here in the next few days.”
“Well, the broad who got him convicted was a girl by the name of Patricia Smalley,” said Biggs.
“Oh,” said Castroiti, “very interesting.”
“Anyway,” said Biggs pointing to Rawlings, “My boy Rawlings, first name Trevor, has a brother, Michael, who was involved with Patricia. He’d been following Rupert since his first days as a comic, back when he was 18 when he became the Internet’s first viral star. Patricia’s dad…he didn’t quite like this. Patricia met Michael…they began to date, but Patty’s dad never approved. So one night- and, let’s not forget, Patty was only 14 here- Patty’s dad raped her while she was sleeping, later blaming Michael for it. Patricia, who at the time of the encounter, was half asleep, believed her dad. Of course, Trevor knew differently…that night, Michael was with him, so there was no way that he could have raped Patricia. So Michael and Trevor paid Patricia’s family a visit…they confronted him about the incident.”
“Got into a fight, I guess,” said Claudia, listening intently.
“Yeah,” said Rawlings with a reserved smile.
“Next thing you know, guns have come out,” continued Biggs. “Patricia’s dad falls to the ground…shoots Michael a few times and kills him before Trevor wrestles the gun from Patricia’s father. Before he knows it, Trevor’s got a gun to daddy’s head but the police have arrived…so he gives in and gets arrested. Charged and later convicted with attempted murder, and because his brother isn’t alive, Trevor couldn’t vouch for his innocence. So…here he is while daddy roams free.”
“Did the issue come up at trial?” said Claudia.
“I tried,” said Rawlings. “Court wouldn’t hear it…said it was ‘irrelevant’ to the case…which it was…and what point would it be for me to vouch for Michael’s innocence? He’s dead…clearing his name won’t bring him back to life.”
“Yeah, but, it’s just-” said Claudia before the other three gave her a look that stopped her in her tracks.

“Excuse my friend Galla,” said Castroiti, “she’s new to these parts.”
“Appreciate your sense of…decorum,” snarled Rawlings at Claudia, “but I don’t give a hoot about ‘justice’. My brother is dead and I committed a crime…as far as I’m concerned, justice can go suck an egg. It ain’t done nuthin’ for me nor will it ever do somethin’ for me. You hear me?”

“Yeah,” said Claudia with a sigh. “I hear you…I’m sorry. I just…I just hear your stories and I can’t help but think-”
“What if things were different, right?” said Biggs. “Hey, I think that all the time…but we’re here. Society don’t like us…what can we do about it? Don’t matter how right we may be…those guys out there, they made up their minds. We’re here…we’re scum. We’re meaningless. You gotta stop thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong…because for the ones that matter- and it ain’t us- they’ve already decided.”

August 10, 2016,
17:45 local time,
Smalley House,
Outskirts of Pine Bluff, Republic of Arkansas

The doorbell rang and Tina Smalley instantly jumped from the couch. The stay at home mother had been dozing off, nonchalantly flipping through her TV channels, so she appreciated the jolt her doorbell gave her.

It soon became a sour look when she saw who was at the door.

“Oh, hi,” said Tina nervously. “Patti…what’s up?”
“Don’t you Patti me,” said Patricia as she pushed her way past her mother. Tina was about to close the door before a voice stopped her.
Don’t close the door either,” said Grayson, wielding his gun and forcing himself in.
“If you think you guys are going to get away with this,” said Tina pulling out her cell phone, “you are sorely mistaken!”
“Don’t bother,” said Grayson, proudly showing off his cell phone jammer. “Your phone won’t work, neither will your TV. Nor will your house phone work…or your Internet. Of course, neither will your neighbour’s communications work either but…you don’t have any neighbours so I’m not concerned about them.”

Tina let out a sigh and put her hands on her hips.

“OK,” she said, resigned to her fate. “What do you want?”

Grayson pulled out some handcuffs while keeping his gun trained at Tina.

“Get your hands up,” said Grayson, an order Tina obliged to. Grayson then motioned her to the dining room. “Move!” he barked, with Patricia right behind him.

Grayson then instructed Tina to sit, where Patricia then fastened handcuffs to her wrists behind her back and around the backing of the chair while handcuffing her legs to the chair’s legs.

“We need to have a chat,” said Grayson, smiling as he put away his gun. He stood on one side of Tina, making sure to do so in such a way that she felt intimidated, while Patricia stood on the other side, her arms folded but no less withdrawn.

“Uh…uh,” said Tina, starting to breathe heavily. “Um…okay…just…just…”

Grayson cackled.

“Oh!” he said in mock astonishment. “You don’t want me to hurt you? Is that right?” Tina nodded vehemently in agreement. “Well, that’s going to depend on how well this goes.”

Tina began to pant heavily but smiled nervously in a vain attempt to appear strong.

“Oh, Christina,” said Grayson with a chuckle. “You’re really bad at this aren’t you? No worries though…you give me what I want and you may make it out of this. May.”
“I mean, I don’t,” said Tina, at a loss for words. “I…I don’t even know what you want!”

“I’ll start simply,” said Grayson with a smug smile. “Tell me about your friend, Ingrid.”
“I-I…I don’t know who you’re talking about,” stammered Tina, to which she promptly got a backhand slap from Grayson.
“That’s not the correct answer!” Grayson said, wagging his finger in her face. “Ingrid Fjallsdottir didn’t make up that story yesterday, now did she? She had to have gotten it from somewhere…and that somewhere is you.”
“How do you know?” said Tina, “and how dare you hit a lady!”

Grayson bent down and looked her straight in the eyes.

“I don’t care who you are,” said Grayson. “Man, woman, gay, straight, black, white, horse…you do wrong to me and you will get hurt.” He then leaned back but didn’t look at her any less icily. “Now, you have a question to answer.”
“I don’t know Ingrid, I swear!” said Tina, which got her another slap from Grayson.
“I don’t care for your yammering, mother!” said Patricia, her voice cracking as anger crept into her voice. “Ingrid told the exact same story you told me about what happened between Michael and I…I never told anyone that story! Yet Ingrid told that story- to a national audience no less. There was only one place she could have gotten it, and it was you!”
“Patti!” said Tina, who started to cry. “I didn’t think Ingrid would abuse our trust! I thought she would keep it a secret! Please, please…you have to believe me!”

Grayson chuckled sardonically.

“Ingrid’s the most selfish person I know,” said Grayson. “I wouldn’t trust her with my flower garden, let alone a deep, intimate secret.”
“Why did she use it?” said Tina, “why didn’t she tell a different story?”

“I’ll tell you why,” said Patricia, wiping tears from her face. “Because you were the first one I told about Rupert, an hour after I got a charge on my phone. I cried…I cried for hours about the pain I was in…I was lost and I was confused…I confided in you…I didn’t even know what had happened…I couldn’t make sense of it. Then, after her speech it all made sense…Michael loved Rupert, and Ingrid only cared about taking him down…and you did too, because you didn’t like Michael. I was a pawn in your game, utterly worthless and meaningless…and I’m your daughter. I don’t know how I can ever get past this!”
“Lies!” shouted Tina, “all lies!”
“Well then,” said Grayson, pulling out a printout, “explain to me why there’s a payment from your trust fund to an Arlynali intermediary mere minutes after Patricia called you. It couldn’t, pray tell, be a payment to Ingrid, now could it have been?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Tina, who then got punched in the face by Grayson.
“You really have to stop lying,” snarled Grayson. “It’s really not going to help you.”

“The trust fund,” said Patricia forcefully. “The one you set up when Daddy died…the one that was supposed to be just for me to go to college…the one that I see you keep on pilfering from to pamper yourself. The one you used to pay Ingrid so she could pay the judge and get him to deny me justice!”
“…but,” said Tina, darting her eyes in confusion. “Rupert was convicted…am I right?”
“No, you’re right,” said Grayson, “Rupert was convicted…only because I stepped in. I bribed the judge…I bribed him for proof of Ingrid’s bribe…which he gave me. In part, anyway. In return, he’d make a fool of himself and convict Rupert through a travesty of justice…which is what happened. Since I figured it would make Ingrid go off script, she had to think on the fly when she gave her speech…and she’s not good at thinking on the fly. She had to come up with the first story she could come up with…and that was the story of Michael Rawlings, whom Terence Smalley killed in ‘self defence’.

“See, Ingrid wanted Rupert to win…fits her narrative. ‘Rape culture’ and all. So I had to flip the switch…get Javier on my side. I needed to find out just who she was using as her pawn…and it turned out to be Patricia. All because of you.

“I don’t understand,” said Tina, quivering. “Why would Ingrid want Rupert to be acquitted? Who does it benefit?”
“Well, Ingrid supports Haylie,” said Grayson, “and Haylie would have a hard time rallying voters if ‘things were going her way’…so Rupert needed to be acquitted. That’s why she brought up Patricia’s story…because it allows her to continue the ‘rape culture’ narrative even though Rupert was convicted…the whole, ‘we still have a fight’ narrative. Of course, she didn’t expect it so it made her look awkward…and she was exposed.”

Tina began breathing heavily, darting her eyes back and forth between an unforgiving Grayson and Patricia. After a few tense minutes, her brain racing through many different thoughts, she looked at Patricia, tears welled in her eyes, hoping that Patricia could have some sympathy for her. Although Patricia’s eyes began to tear, after a short but deep breath Patricia was again looking at her own mother with a steely glare.

“Why did you tell Ingrid that story?” said Patricia. “Why did you abuse my trust?”
“Patti,” said Tina, beginning to cry. “I met Ingrid years ago…I told her about your rape…I told her that’s why we’d been apart for so long, because you blamed me for it.” Tina sobbed momentarily before taking a deep breath and regaining her composure enough for her to continue. “Ingrid promised me that she could bring us back together…so after you called me I contacted her, told her what happened, said she was ‘going to make things right’…so I gave her some money. Honestly…if I had known she was just going to use you…I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Well, if you want to make things better,” said Grayson, bending down towards Tina and looking right into her eyes, “tell me the name of the Arlynali intermediary that Ingrid used to pay Judge Lopez.”
“Sourdough Investments,” said Tina loudly and quickly, panting heavily.
“Um, what?” said Grayson with a puzzled look.
“Sorry,” said Tina. “Sargon Investments.”
“OK,” said Grayson blankly. “So tell me the code you had to tell Sargon to deposit funds into the account.”
“Hay…Haylie,” stammered Tina.
“Sounds about right,” said Grayson, who pulled out his smartphone (which was able to avoid being jammed). “I’m going to go check this out.” Grayson then sat down in a chair near Tina while he researched the information on his phone.

Meanwhile, Patricia went upstairs, deciding she hadn’t seen her old bedroom in quite some time. As she looked around, she darted back downstairs after making a startling discovery.

You said Michael stole these!” said Patricia, holding aloft a pair of pink panties. “You said after he raped me, he took my underwear as a trophy!”
“Ooooh,” said Grayson, shaking his head in disbelief. “Well, good news is, you had the correct code…that allows me to get into the same Sargon account Lopez accessed, and now it’s all in plain view, the transit of money from you to Ingrid to Lopez. After I punch in Lopez’s code, of course. The funny thing is…I see that you used ‘Haylie’ a week before Rupert’s show…tell me, what else are you lying about?”

Tina lowered her head and began bawling uncontrollably, overwhelmed by the so many things in her life that was coming to a head. After several minutes sobbing, with Grayson and Patricia looking on coldly, Tina decided it was time to come clean.

“Patricia honey,” started Tina, still sobbing. “I paid Ingrid to get you to go to the show in Saltillo…they weren’t a birthday present. I knew you were curious so…I sent you there.”
“Like a sheep to the wolves,” sneered Grayson, who decided to smack her a few times in the face. “Gosh you disgust me!”
“What about the panties?” screamed Patricia. “What about the panties!”
“Michael never raped you,” said Tina, mumbling and looking down at her feet. “It was your father…he knew you were asleep, so he pretended to be Michael just so you would break up with him…he was worried he was a bad influence on you…I didn’t like hiding this from you, but know that I killed him for what he did. He didn’t die of a heart attack…I shot him. Twice…because I couldn’t take it anymore!”

Patricia’s eyes widened, and she began prancing around, her mouth agape with horror, oscillating between anger and sadness over what she had just heard. She cried several times before knocking down several chairs and moving into the kitchen and grabbing any glass or dish she could see and smashing them against the wall or the floor. As she did so, she screamed epithets at her mother, all in the utter disbelief that she was tricked into breaking up with a love she’ll never get to experience again.

After several loud minutes had gone by, punctuated by Tina’s sobbing and Grayon’s head shaking, Patricia again emerged in the dining room, zeroing in on her mother.

“I can’t believe you!” she said, slapping Tina. “You lied to me, you tricked me, you cheated me!” She then sneered at Tina and recovered her breath before she continued. “You know what, Michael was right…there are people who are your family…and then there are people you’re just related to!

Patricia then grabbed Tina’s throat and applied pressure, but, having not choked anyone before, she wasn’t getting anywhere doing it. She then backed away to rest her hands before Grayson intervened.

“Here,” said Grayson, pulling out his gun and shooting Tina several times, killing her. Patricia then stood frozen in shock, her mind racing trying to comprehend what happened. Grayson didn’t think much of it, as this wasn’t his first killing. This operation was also one the Roman Agentes authorized him to go on, the same Agentes who would come by later and “clean up” the scene and stage it so that it looked like a botched robbery. They were also the same Agentes who allowed him to bribe Lopez and offered him a cushy retirement in exchange for his testimony against Fjallsdottir.

Grayson glanced towards Patricia and his heart grew heavy, knowing the gravity of the situation for her. He then walked up to Patricia, who now began to cry uncontrollably, and put his arm around her.

“I’m sorry you had to go through this,” said Grayson as Patricia wrapped her arms around him for a hug. Her embrace and her emotions soon got the better of Grayson, who began to cry himself. “Oh gosh, I wish things could be different…I wish you weren’t so used.” The two then cried for a few minutes before Grayson held her by her shoulders and looked her in the eyes.

“Patricia,” he said softly but calmly. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to carry on…you’ve been through a lot. Just know that I was once in your shoes and I too felt just as you did. I found a way…I hope you will too.”

Patricia looked up at him and smiled. She then gave him another hug and told him she would find a way.

August 11, 2016,
11:18 local time,
The Grand Hotel,
Columbia, Republic of Missouri

Oh gosh…who could it be now?

Haylie Modine got up and shook her head, frustrated that someone else was knocking on her door. It was already the third time today and she was desperate to finish the speech she would give today just in time for dinner. Although she knew the polls indicated she had a comfortable lead in Missouri, she didn’t want to take it for granted- and with those same polls indicating she had 48% support among Unionist party members in the republic, she knew if she boosted her numbers, she could get all 25 points available for winning Missouri by more than 50% (instead of only getting 15 points if she won via a plurality), getting her that much closer to the Unionist nomination for North American President.

“Look, for the last-” she started before being caught off guard at her guests, Malcolm and Kincaid. “Oh please, not you again.” She attempted to close the door before Kincaid forced her way through, with Malcolm soon following.

“OK,” said Modine, her hands on her hips. “You can’t just walk right in here! I got rights you know.”
“Where’s Ingrid?” said Kincaid sternly but calmly, turning her attention to Modine.
“Um, what?” said Modine, surprised.
“You heard us,” said Malcolm. “Ingrid Fjallsdottir…the one who corrupted not just judicial proceedings against Rupert Covington but his national tour.”
“Going, as per this search warrant,” said Kincaid, flashing a piece of paper forcefully into Modine’s face, “across national lines by hiring a hacker from the Ukraine to access Covington’s servers in Nevada.”
“Now unless you want to be arrested too,” said Malcolm, “you’re going to tell me where Ingrid is.”

“You know the funny thing is about cops and robbers,” said Fjallsdottir as she emerged from the bathroom. “Why is it that it never is the robbers chasing the cops? Because the cops are always one step behind.”
“Funny Ingrid,” said Kincaid, looking at her sternly while Modine’s eyes darted to and fro with confusion.
“OK,” Modine said, exasperated. “What is going on here? Ingrid did nothing wrong!”

“Ahem,” said Kincaid, clearing her throat and reading the document. “According to this search warrant, we have evidence that Ingrid Fjallsdottir hired a hacker from Zaporizhia to access Rupert Covington’s server so that Covington could ‘award’ free tickets to Patricia Smalley. We also have proof that Ingrid bribed Javier Lopez with the stated intent of influencing Covington’s trial, and we know this was all paid for by Ingrid’s intermediary with her Arlynali bank account, one run by Sargon Investments, which revealed all of this to us.”

“Ingrid…you, you, what?” said Modine, unsure of what to make of the revelations. “How could you? We didn’t need to make a travesty of justice just to get by in this election. We were doing just fine!”
“Haylie honey,” said Fjallsdottir, snickering at the Mundiali. “You said it yourself- you needed to rally the people against Thomas Bighill, and what better way to do it than by reinvigorating the ‘rape culture’ narrative? There was no way Thomas could weasel his way out of that.”
“So you admit there was a deal?” said Malcolm, readying his handcuffs.
“Actually that weasel Lopez reneged on his deal to me,” sneered Fjallsdottir. “Somebody got to him.”
“Excuse me?” said Modine, her eyes wide with shock. “You wanted Rupert to get off? You really do care only about yourself! I can’t believe I allowed you to support me!” She then angrily waved for the Mundiali to arrest Fjallsdottir. “Take her away! You disgust me!”

As Fjallsdottir was being arrested, she looked at Modine and snickered.

“Go ahead,” said Fjallsdottir. “Disavow me. Just remember that you were nothing before me and you’ll be nothing without me. I, on the other hand, have become a political prisoner, arrested for her views, inspiring others to take up arms to correct my own travesty of justice. I’ll be a martyr, and you, my dear friend…you’ll be nothing. I’ll be out sooner rather than later and stronger than ever, while you’ll be forced to eat my dust.”
“We’ll see about that,” sneered Modine as Fjallsdottir was led away, her own smile unabated.

August 11, 2016,
16:37 local time,
Greek Flower Market,
Buffalo, Roman New York

Cassie Celebra smiled as another satisfied customer exited her shop with another bouquet. With the Nemoralia (“The Festival of the Torches”) only days away, her shop was suddenly getting busy, as festival goers flocked to pick out flowers for the wreathes they needed to assemble. She sometimes struggled to keep up with demand, but she figured it was a better problem to have than to have too many things to sell.

As she rang up another satisfied customer, a woman caught her eye as he entered the store. She soon waved her over, put up a sign and locked the front doors, leading the woman to a secret chamber underneath the store.

“Andi,” said Celebra, inviting Morales into the chamber. “Glad you could join me.”
“It’s my pleasure,” said Morales, looking around in awe as she stepped down the stairs. “So is this where you keep your special flowers?”
“Did you really think I just run a flower shop?” said Celebra as she turned on the lights.

“Galla?” said Morales in shock as she saw Claudia sitting down at the round table in dress clothes, “but I…”
“Thought I was in jail?” said Claudia with a smile. “I am…well, not technically. Cassie’s flower shop is just a ruse…she still runs the North American division of the Agentes in Rebus. She’s my best friend, so when she heard about my troubles with Lisa Carruthers, she arranged for me to become a prison informant, while altering my records so that, officially, I had committed a crime. I did this because The Virus wouldn’t stop coming after me even after I left the FBII, so, to thwart them, I have to make them think I’m in jail. She’s arranged with the warden for a special set of guards to look after me and a solitary confinement cell jerry-rigged so I could have communication access to the outside world, and leave whenever I need to. The rest of the prison doesn’t know that I’m not there, because solitary confinement prisoners don’t always mix with the general population. Since I started, I’ve gained a few allies, allies who were instrumental in giving me information that allowed us to gain the proof from the Smalleys needed to take down Ingrid and, we hope, this second reincarnation of The Virus.”

“I see,” said Morales, impressed by what she heard. “Although I’m not sure you can ever defeat The Virus…they’re anarchists, they may have the same chant but they’re not organized. They’re definitely going to spring up again.”
“Yes,” said Celebra, “they probably will. However, Ingrid was their spiritual leader and with her gone, we hope that in the meanwhile any crimes they do commit will be easier to contain. Not the social engineering stuff she tried to pull. Of course, The Night of Anarchy tells me there’s likely other leaders waiting in the wings, and there could be many different factions of The Virus that we don’t yet know about.”
“Let’s be honest with ourselves,” said Claudia, “much of The Night of Anarchy was the citizenry rising up against the injustices of their governments, many of those injustices that still remain. Thus, we’re dealing with a very delicate form of crime- a form of crime where the people are using it as a means of protest. We can’t just fight The Virus as a means of ‘taking down the bad guys’.”

Morales was struck by what Claudia had said.

“Because then we’d look like bad guys ourselves,” said Morales, “but…isn’t that what we did with Ingrid? I mean, many of the Birean policies she exposed through operating human trafficking rings are still around.”
“We’re aware of that,” said Claudia. “However, we can only do what we can do, and we know the real reason why the Mundiali were created- to remind the people of who really is ‘in charge’.”

“That is why you’re here,” said Celebra. “Galla tells me you came to visit because Phineas was giving you a hard time.”
“Yeah, yeah he was,” said Morales. “He’s an exceptionally difficult person to work for.”
“Well,” said Celebra, “we need a spy inside of the Mundiali’s inner circle, and I know you have extensive experience hacking and infiltrating…and you are very good at keeping secrets.

“See, the Romans have an interest in keeping the Mundiali ‘honest’…we’ve already seen maverick tendencies from both Malcolm and Kincaid, and that worries us about how much respect they’ll have for not just the world’s governments but also its people and the rule of law and the overall sense of justice. We believe the Mundiali are only there to serve themselves…so we need to look out for the people they’re inevitably going to bully.”

Morales nodded, understanding the gravity of the words that Celebra had said to her.

“…and if Malcolm or Kincaid or anyone else gives you a hard time,” said Claudia, “you can always come to us. We will set things straight. I assure you.”

“I’ll take it,” said Morales without hesitation. “I’ll take your position as the Mundiali spy. They’re going to do some shady things and you’ll need a record of that. I’ll be happy to provide you with one.”

“Good,” said Celebra as Morales gave firm handshakes to both her and Claudia. “I’m glad we can see eye to eye. I hope one day Malcolm will too.”

August 12, 2016,
20:34 local time,
Private farm,
Voyageur’s Pass, Maine

“Let me tell you something about Rupert Covington,” said House of Lieutenants member Thomas Bighill (U-Arctic) on the farmer’s television, squaring off in a debate against his opponents for the Unionist Party nomination for North American President- Congressman Jack Layton (U-Toronto), Congressman Michael Kim (U-Los Angeles), Kiowa Territory philanthropist Rev. Trevor Craig, Congresswoman Haylie Modine (U-Little Rock) and nightclub magnate Juan Castro of Manhattan, New York.

Bighill then walked away from his podium and attempted to walk into the centre so that he could gesticulate loudly and take centre stage but was stopped by the stern voice of moderator Megyn Kelly.

“Thomas,” she said after a frustrated sigh. “For the last time, stay behind your podium.”

“See, this is what I’m talking about folks!” said Bighill as he was forced back to his podium by a set of bars that protruded from his podium to the podiums to his left and right. “How do you ever expect us Emeldic to stop lashing out at everyone when you keep bullying us and restrict us with these inane, arcane rules! I am here to tell you today that Rupert Covington would not have raped that girl if that girl didn’t treat him with respect! The same way that the HHE would not be in jail after stopping the Soul March and that Petra Simica would still be alive today if she didn’t induce Casper Strongknife to shoot her and her partner. This is why we need the safe space law!”

Bighill’s opponents responded with a mixture of disdain and outright derision, with Castro clasping his hand to his face and shaking it visibly, with the gathered crowd at the Winnipeg Arena divided between cheers and boos.

“You must be daft,” said Modine. “I mean, how dare you suggest that if someone gets raped or killed that they ‘brought it upon themselves’? Shame on you! What, are you Emeldic so devoid of self-control that you need others to control themselves in front of you?”
“Never mind that you decide to single out the women,” said Layton, calmly but firmly. “Don’t try to tell me that you’re doing this on purpose…you’ve always been just about yourself, making a mockery of the great Emeldic people just to fulfill your own personal ambitions. What? Are your high school rejections coming back into your memory banks again?”

The crowd laughed as Bighill shook his head.

“Look at you, Jack,” said Bighill, pointedly gesturing towards Layton. “Dovesplaining to an Emeldic man about what the Emeldic really should be like.”
“Dovesplaining?” said Craig incredulously. “We’re just telling it like it is, Thomas. We don’t like angry public discourse as much as the next guy, but insisting everyone be ‘nice’ to each other is just asking for trouble. You repeatedly fail to ever explain what kind of speech qualifies as ‘unsafe’ and what doesn’t…and you expect to be President? I already know Rodney Dickens and the Federalists are a disaster…but you are worse.”

“You guys are all the dovesplainers,” said Castro, his bombastic baritone commanding attention. “Actually, you guys are all idiots, because ‘dovesplaining’ is just a word made up by the Emeldic so they don’t have to come up with a rebuttal. Which is just as Thomas as done. Kind of like how Haylie and her friend Ingrid come up with ‘mansplaining’ so they don’t have to come up with an answer to the very many questions they raise.”

“It’s just like you to belittle your opponents and refuse to acknowledge the very privilege that got you here,” said Modine forcefully at Castro, whose only reaction was sardonic laughter.

“There you go again,” said Castro, “bringing up that mythic ‘privilege’…tell me something, Haylie, Jack, Thomas and the rest of you…what has this ‘privilege’ done for the masses who are still out of work? The very masses that this party is supposed to represent but has consistently failed to do? People of all colours, races, genders, biological makeup, clothing requirements, etc.- they’re all struggling to find work and they’re all struggling to put food on the table…all because they’ve had to listen to people like you yammering about the non-issues and forgetting the real ones. That’s not the ‘liberalism’ that I know, and if we’re ever going to get liberalism back into relevancy, we need address the real problems. Not the fake ones you special interest groups keep bringing up.”

“I’ll tell you what the real problems are,” said the farmer angrily, yelling at the TV. “You guys are all idiots and you’re all going to be puppets of the establishment anyway. None of you will ever keep your promises.”

The farmer then got up and walked over to the kitchen before being overcome with surprise.

“Rupert’s been released?” said the farmer as the story came on the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen, “and Ingrid’s in jail? Tell you what…these guys think they can stop The Virus…well, I’ll tell you…they’ve just created an army!”


“What is the difference between a protest and a revolution? A protester only rises up to feed themselves, a revolutionary rises up for the common good.”- Guardino, “The Power of Reason” (1666)