“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.”- Hellen Keller, interview in “Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy” by Joseph P. Lash (1980)
December 24, 2013,
22:02 local time,
Office of the Supreme Pontiff, St. Peter’s Basicilica,
Rome, Roman Republic
“I…I…I,” said Oldrich James as he looked around the crime scene upon entering, doing his best not to let his eyes well up as he examined the horrors before him. “I don’t get it…I thought we got rid of Randy Joe…and now he’s back, a third time? What the heck is going on?”
James looked on, still trying his best to understand what happened. The immediate scene, at its surface, was nothing extraordinary- on the wall, visible as soon as someone opened the door, was Randy Joe’s trademark cowboy hat, drawn in blood from that of the victim, a man in a red sweater who was strewn across the floor, wrapped in a silk blanket.
However, this was no normal crime scene- the man who was dead was none other than the Pope, Adrian VII, killed in his office by a serial killer who James thought he had put away twice, making this latest development all that more bewildering to James.
A tall, slender, curly blonde white man, James’ trademark smirk was absent, replaced with noticeable dejection and concern on his face. An agent of within the Behavioural Analysis Unit of the Foederatio Borealis Indagatores Imperiale (FBII) from North America, James was called in for this case by his former colleague, Zeke Coleman, now the leader of the Roman Special Crimes’ (RSC) profiling unit, the Republican Behavioural Crimes unit (RBC). James was steadily involved with the Randy Joe case, not just because of his time as a consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) but also because the case was personal- Randy Joe killed his daughter and his wife.
As James stood in stunned silence, Zoe Parkes, a member of Coleman’s team, walked up to Coleman alongside her teammate, Doctor Pascal Yves, after examining the crime scene.
“How’s he doing?” asked Parkes. The bespectacled svelte white redhead couldn’t help but look at James with concern, a pit developing in her stomach as a result.
“He’s devastated,” said Coleman, a tall, bald, muscular black man. “Understandably so…I can’t imagine the shock of knowing that the killer he thought he put away has somehow resurfaced…not to mention all the grief returning from that fateful night ten years ago. I feel for him.”
“It’s got all the hallmarks of Randy Joe,” said Yves, a lanky white man with curly hair. “The signature, the usage of the victim’s own blood, the wrapping of the victim in the silk blanket…it’s all there.”
“I think we may have to start looking at Joe as not just one person,” said Parkes. “I’ve been saying this all along…it’s the only logical explanation. This proves it.”
“Third time…you’d have to accept the conclusion,” said Coleman. “The second time around, we could have just missed something…now…it’s a no-brainer.”
“Especially with all the various M.O.s,” said Yves.
It was about this time that James, having regained his focus after the initial shock.
“This guy’s got me,” he said, shaking his head. “The first guy…he was all about Beethoven and ‘The Raven’, and messing with the CBI. It’s only during my trial for his murder did it come out that he was really just a copycat and a narcissist who enjoyed the association…he may have had the M.O. down and likely knew the real Randy Joe, but none of the DNA connected. The second guy…he had the M.O. down and trophies from all the victims, including my family…so, how do we explain this?”
“Like I said,” said Parkes, “Randy Joe isn’t just one person. How could he be, with his tangled web of acolytes?”
“Yeah,” said James, “but the M.O. is the same with each crime, including the details the public doesn’t know. There’s a group, and someone is at the top.”
“We just have to figure out who that is,” said Coleman, “and hopefully before he’s dead.”
June 7, 2015,
11:01 local time,
The Daily Record Press Room,
“Hello everyone,” said The Daily Record reporter Rachel McNorris speaking into the camera, “I’m Rachel McNorris with another edition of The Sunday Interview. Today’s guest is the Roman Caesar himself, Valerius IV. Welcome, Caesar.”
“Thank you for having me,” said Valerius, smiling and relaxed in his seat on the couch, with McNorris sitting on her own easychair opposite from him.
“You must be glad to be in Scotland after the grilling you got in England.”
Valerius laughed. “I guess you could say it was a ‘grilling’ if the Englishman knew how to cook. It was more of a ‘rambling’ where he had a vendetta and tried to force it upon me. It’s common among Virtue types…they overwhelm their opponents by barraging them with multiple topics at once and constantly switching them…I’ve seen it too many times to fall for it.”
“Do you think that maybe at least partly he has a point? North America is kind of a mess right now, and it’s hard to say that you are entirely blameless for it.”
Valerius smiled and let out an audible sigh. “Well…I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were things I wished we did differently. We’re not perfect, nobody is…the problem is, Virtue does not believe that same principle applies to them. They like to act like they know all the answers and that everyone else is an idiot…well, I can’t stand for that. It doesn’t mean that we’re unable to brook criticism- on the contrary, we accept criticism, a lot of criticism, and we’ll accept suggestions if they’re of a constructive nature. Problem is, Virtue isn’t really into construction, just tearing things down.”
“Is there something that you did that you wished you could have done differently?”
“First of all, Rachel, allow me to say that I don’t wish to dwell on the past…what’s done is done. We can’t change that, so to rue what we could have done is folly at best. That said…one example of something I wished we did differently was recognize what Carlaw was doing sooner.”
“As in Richard Carlaw, the man who wrote fictitious financial reports and defrauded investors in New York out of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“Yeah, that’s the one…” Valerius pursed his lips and lowered his head, letting out a heavy sigh. “There were so many red flags…we should have recognized what he was doing sooner.”
McNorris flashed Valerius a warm smile before peering down at her notes.
“Washington,” she said, glancing back up at Valerius and leaning forward, “is an interesting case. As it currently stands, the District of Columbia has a minimum wage of $7.08 per hour, and the Metropolitan Region has suggested it is considering a raise to $10.15 an hour with the possibility of it going all the way up to $15 an hour in seven years. You have voiced your opposition to such a move, when, on paper, it makes sense.”
“Yeah, on paper,” said Valerius as McNorris nodded away at his responses. “Problem is, we don’t do things on paper…things like this have to be evaluated on a grander scale. The problem in North America, as it’s always been, is an ‘entitlement culture’ where people see things in a very narrow-minded and singular view. Everyone only thinks about themselves- i.e., ‘what can you do for me today?’ No one thinks to ask how their demands might impact someone else, or if their decisions are acceptable to other people- they just say, ‘this is what I want and I don’t care what you think’…and they keep saying that because, for years, they voted in politicians who did nothing but feed that mentality instead of using that information to provide compromises. This minimum wage thing is just another manifestation of that.”
“How so?” McNorris leaned back but continued maintaining her gaze at Valerius, cupping her chin in the process.
“See, this minimum wage thing is brought upon by people who are working at McDonald’s, working at the Rex, working at Reno Depot, slaving away for almost nothing and lamenting about how they have so little cash. Believe me, and I can’t stress this enough, I understand fully their hardships and all the struggles they’re going through…I’ve been there, and I know a lot of people who have. Being poor is no fun, and I commend the people for not wanting to be poor forever. I get that. Problem is, we can’t just ‘throw money’ at the situation and hope it works…because in the end, it’s just not a viable solution.”
“ ‘Throwing money’…that’s an interesting look.”
“Exactly…that’s what it is. In a sense, this is the reverse of Reganomics. Reganomics was about lowering taxes in the hopes that businessmen would reinvest that into the economy, when we saw that the reality was that the businessmen simply pocketed their new earnings, meaning they collected more money for themselves and left even less for the United States of America to spend…and we saw what the result was. Simply hiking the minimum wage, on the other hand, might give the ‘working poor’ more money to spend on things that they didn’t have before…until the simple effects of ‘supply and demand’ economics dictates that prices have to rise because of the resultant increases in demand. Which means, sadly, we’ll be put back in our original position, forcing another increase in the wage creating this dangerous cycle where we’ll run out of money to pay the people.”
“That is all true,” said McNorris, “but studies do show that the poor are more likely to spend than the rich. So wouldn’t a minimum wage hike still make sense?”
Valerius smiled, expecting the question. “I’m not denying that it wouldn’t make sense,” said the Caesar. “It just shouldn’t be the ‘only’ solution. It should be part of a multi-faceted approach where not just one sector of the economy benefits.”
“So, what’s the solution? Should people just ‘suck it up’ then?”
“Quite the contrary. I mean, I do believe that North Americans need a ‘gut check’ and realize that they can’t live the lives of luxury that they used to, at least not now…however, that alone won’t solve things. We can raise the wage, but tie it to inflation so businesses are not crippled by sudden jumps in expenses and that the lowest tier of society can always maintain their buying power. Furthermore, the rich should also be given tax breaks to invest and hire people- if the principle is that the rich will invest if they keep more of their money, then we should expect them to follow through, and give them an incentive to do so. The infrastructure of North America needs to be repaired, and repaired badly, and we’re working on that, even though we can’t fix it quickly. We also need to do a better job getting ‘good jobs’ to come to North America and getting businesspeople to invest…we can’t just ask everyone to work at McDonald’s for the rest of their lives. This couldn’t be more true for the District, with its sky high unemployment- 38%- as well as another 52% of its people working at the minimum wage…we need to do more to get them better opportunities. We also need to end this ‘academia culture’ that so permeates North America…far too often in the 1980s and 1990s people were told that if they wanted to make something of themselves they had to have a University education, leading to what we have now is a workforce teeming with people who have useless education, all while other positions, which can be just as productive, remain unfilled because there are too few people pushed in that direction.”
McNorris nodded her head approvingly. “That sounds pretty complicated.”
Valerius smiled before throwing up his hands and clasping them together softly. “It’s what I’ve been trying to say for years…nothing is easy, everything is complicated. A lot of people would like ‘simple solutions’ and ‘quick fixes’- heck, I would- but nothing is ever that straightforward. Every issue is complex, requiring a deep web of untangling before we find a viable solution…and stuff like this, it takes time.”
“Well, you did spend billions in ensuring the entire continent has high speed Internet. That helped.”
“...and quality cell phone towers. Let’s not forget that. Communication is the top priority in running a nation...without it, everything else cannot function. It’s why we put that at such a high priority, as well as repairing the electrical grid.”
“Seems ironic, then, that people have used the Internet to rally around criticism of you and your policies.”
“We do accept that, and value their opinions. We also factor it in our decisions, despite rumours to the contrary.”
“What do you make, then,” said McNorris, switching gears, “of the ‘social justice’ movement that’s also taken over the Internet? They’ve really put progressivism back in the spotlight and taken to task politicians who seem to think continuing the traditionalist ways of the ‘80s is a way to get out of the continent’s funk.”
“I won’t disagree that stunting social progress won’t fix things,” said Valerius confidently, “as social progress is important for any society to survive. However, let me correct you on the ‘social justice’ term- it’s not ‘social justice’, it’s ‘pedantic selfish idealism’, or PSIs as I like to call it. That’s because those who have taken up the ‘social justice’ mantle don’t do so to enact real change, they do it to get fussy about minute details that don’t ultimately matter- like a pedant- and often to further their own selfish desires so that the world changes to merely benefit them without any regard for anyone else. PSIs, without fail, are simply about projecting their own issues and desires onto whatever matter there is at hand, because they really want others to direct attention to them, not the actual subjects of the issue. If they really did care about the issue at hand, they’d critically examine the incident and evaluate it on their own, instead of twisting it for whatever narrative suits their purpose. Because they don’t care about other people, they care about being the only one who is ‘right about everything’, and I can’t think of a more destructive philosophy than that.”
“Well, that’s all the time we have. Thank you Caesar. Tune in next week when we invite Kenny Miller of Hearts to talk with us about the current season. Until then, I’m Rachel McNorris for The Daily Record. Thank you and have a good day.”
June 13, 2015,
12:01 local time,
Washington, District of Columbia
“The great people of Washington,” loudly began North American Union President Joseph Reddick after he stepped up to the podium to address a large crowd gathered at the park, “I am honoured to be your guest today, though I wish I were to come here under better circumstances. I know I need not remind you, but far too many of you suffer through the ignominious injustice of poverty, all because of the whims of the bourgeoisie who so brazenly and recklessly stole from you to feed their own selfish desires. However, today, it is not my intent to dwell on your suffering, but rather to draw from it, so that today we will work on it and keep working on it until the day comes that we become the chosen class, creating a free and just society where the people no longer suffer because we now take care of each other!”
Thunderous roars of applause eminated from the audience, continuing on for several minutes and Reddick smiled and nodded in appreciation.
“So,” continued Reddick, “I ask you all to join me today so we can fix up Washington, restore it to the world class city it once was, and build a better tomorrow!”
As more thunderous applause erupted, Reddick stood there, proudly smiling waving his arms wildly in an effort to feed the crowd, before stepping away and saluting the crowd as he left for his booth at the anti-poverty rally. This didn’t stop the cheering, with the thousands gathered continuing to holler in appreciation for many more minutes, before a loud chant of his name broke out in the crowd. It was a lot for Reddick to soak in, but he loved every minute of it.
June 18, 2015,
09:23 local time,
Buffalo, Roman New York
Antivirus Task Force (AVTF) junior member Thomas Bartlett calmly opened the door to the office of AVTF Chief Galla Claudia, seated at her desk checking her voluminous amounts of E-Mails. Bartlett didn’t once break his stride, slapping down a binder on Claudia’s desk and inviting himself to Claudia’s open chair, leaning back comfortably.
“Well, someone’s got a spring in their step this morning,” said Claudia, turning from her computer to greet her guest.
“I had some extra time last night,” said Bartlett, smiling, “decided to finish the report on Detective Danilow early...plus I feel very strongly about this case.” Bartlett was referring to the case of Detective Clarence Danilow of the London Police Force in London, Ontario, which got embroiled in a scandal after numerous accusations arose that the black Danilow singled out white people for “random” checks of their identification, a practice known as “carding”.
“So,” said Claudia, leaning forward, “what have you found?”
“Nothing ‘arrestable’ yet,” said Bartlett, “but there are signs that Danilow is ‘carding’, despite his protests.”
“Let me guess- he’s also only targeting Caucasians.”
Bartlett smiled, appreciating Claudia’s insight. “You guessed right. Haven’t come across a single black guy who has something mean to say about Danilow, but talk to the whites and it’s non-stop.”
Claudia shook her head in dismay, flashing a smile before letting out a lamentable sigh.
“I know,” said Bartlett, “it bugs me too- discrimination is wrong, no matter who does it.”
“I understand,” said Claudia, “that many Caucasians have been dismissive about the problems African-Americans face, and I understand that Danilow wants Caucasians to understand what many police officers did to him in the past, but there are more effective ways of doing that. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“What worries me is that the whites are, expectedly, reacting angrily and getting understandably defensive now that they are under attack. They’re not ‘appreciating’ what Danilow is doing.”
“Exactly. Why would they? All they see is their rights being taken away- they’re not going to care about the context.”
Bartlett pursed his lips and let out a sigh, lowering his head.
“What’s wrong, Thomas?” Claudia said, concerned for Bartlett. “I’ve told you before, you can tell me anything.”
Bartlett let out a few more sighs, twisting uncomfortably in his chair before finally drumming up the courage to talk.
“I’ll just say it,” he said, “if it wasn’t for the Romans forcing American policymakers to adapt Civil Rights, we wouldn’t have this mess.”
“Is that what they teach you in school?” Claudia, a history buff, said, taken aback. “I suppose the next thing you’ll tell me is that the Romans killed JFK too, right?”
“It’s not just school…I believe it,” said Bartlett, getting animated. “We all know the U.S. faced massive debts after World War II, debts the Romans themselves financed…they tried for years to ignore Jackie, Rosa, Malcolm and even dear old MLK…but none of that worked, because the Romans always threatened to take their golden goose away. Look up the facts…the evidence is there.”
“I have looked up the facts,” said Claudia, deadpanning but sounding assured, “and while I have my own doubts about the effectiveness of American policies and Rome’s influence on them, the Civil Rights Movement was organic- it was not part of some greater Roman conspiracy to ‘gut’ American economics. You guys did that on your own.”
“Oh yeah?” said Bartlett, folding his arms, “how come the Romans withheld a loan until the Civil Rights Act was passed?”
“Because,” said Claudia after a sigh. “Lyndon Johnson had for years forestalled paying Rome back for the debts that JFK incurred responding to the Miquelon Incident. It was mere coincidence that the timing coincided. Besides, Rome’s loan payments to the U.S. were higher during the administrations of Harry Truman and Joseph McCarthy, who both set civil rights back, simply because Rome knew a powerful U.S. was necessary in maintaining the precarious balance of power, even if ideologically the Romans shared far more in common with the Soviet Union.”
“Come on now,” said Bartlett, chuckling. “It’s a known fact that Keylusus and many other Roman officials derided America for its lax attitude on civil rights, almost begging JFK and Johnson to get something done after McCarthy screwed it all up…they didn’t understand that we’re not like them, and that we can’t just change the laws and hope the people are going to follow through.”
“Believe it or not,” said Claudia, “I would agree. We do have too many people in Rome- politically and otherwise- who don’t seem to understand that our sense of communalism developed organically, and our society was never segregated like yours was. The social struggles we have are overwhelmingly just class struggles- we never had struggles based on gender, or orientation or race because we never ‘set them apart’ to begin with. Unlike America.”
“You guys have the religious conflicts though,” said Bartlett. “Just like we do.”
“Yes,” said Claudia, “but that’s abated too…because our schools do something no one else does- teach critical thinking. It’s not the be all and end all, but if more schools taught people how to think, how to act and other kinds of life skills- instead of being people who can spout facts without understanding them- we’d do a lot more for the social movement than any law could bring.”
“I hear you on that,” said Bartlett with a smile.
“Well,” she said to Bartlett after a smile and a brief pause, “good work. Keep at it- just remember that we can’t act unless there’s an actual case of brutality or a wrongful arrest. Technically, ‘carding’ is legal.” Bartlett smiled and bid Claudia adieu.
Almost instantaneously after Bartlett left, Collins and FBII Director Lucius Black walked into Claudia’s office and closed the door, startling the agent, who doubled back even more upon seeing Collins.
“Max?” Claudia said, confused. “Lucius? OK...tell me there’s a story here.”
“I know you’re surpried,” Collins deadpanned in his signature gruff.
“Surprised?” Claudia said incredulously, “I think that’s an understatement right now.”
“First of all in this office,” said Black, “his name is Gregory Tanner...but you and I know him as Max.”
“OK,” said Claudia with a smirk, “so let me guess- Tanner is just a fake ID you and Black came up with.”
“No,” said Collins without skipping a beat. “Agent Tanner had an unfortunte boating accident eleven years ago.”
“Unfortunate for him,” said Claudia, deadpanning in disbelief and crossing her arms.
“Gregory Tanner turned out to be a spy for Virtue,” said Black with a sigh, “but the organization was too good at destroying the evidence. So the previous administration destroyed him- and no one in the FBII noticed because Tanner was hardly around anyway.”
“...and you, Lucius,” said Claudia, still disbelieving, “you went along with all of this?”
“Collins, being Omega’s deputy, is too important an ally to lose,” said Black, assuredly.
“I don’t really care right now,” said Claudia, “I could arrest you both right now for admitting to felonies.”
Collins shifted in his chair and took a deep breath, trying to maintain his composure.
“Let’s not do anything rash,” Collins said. “You’re a very valuable asset in this fight...this is why you’re privy to information no one else knows.”
Collins took a deep breath and continued. “Let me start from the beginning,” he said. “Omega started in 1922 as a nameless organization, after Anastasia successfully escaped her Bolshevik captors that had killed the rest of her family. Using her lineage and her contacts, she built her organization into a smuggling organization, used to bring essentials to the Soviet people that their own government denied them. The United States of America, seeing how valuable Anastasia’s organization was in undermining Soviet credibility, almost immediately started to funnel cash to them, as well as Central Intelligence Agents to help with covert affairs and evading capture.”
“Well that’s nice,” said Claudia, scoffing at Collins. “Am I supposed to let go of all the blood on your hands just because you’re a ‘modern day Robin Hood’?”
Collins grimaced, but otherwise ignored Claudia’s protest. “In 1990, I invested in Anastasia’s work. I only meant it to be one of the vast many different investment opportunities that I have, but I took a particular liking to Anastasia’s organization- by now run by her daughter, Katrina- and their noble goals. So I pumped more money into the organization and allowed it to expand globally, outside of Russia. Four years later, when the dust settled on the Third World War, Anastasia’s organization expanded into North America, with Virtue’s help. Virtue had heard of Danny’s work with The Virus and realized it was a perfect fit for what we were trying to do, so we recruited Danny and Blue to the cause, formally giving Omega its name upon the completion of this task.
“At first, the arrangement was happy, but things turned sour in 2003 with the MacPherson trial. This was when I first realized things weren’t as good with Virtue as I thought, so I went to the FBII to offer to investigate Virtue. Black’s predecessor, Alvin Morrow, had me assume Tanner’s identity since Tanner managed to escape punishment for a hate crime he had committed due to a lack of evidence, and assuming Tanner’s identity was easy since Tanner was never around the office much anyway. Lucius, upon taking over in 2007, allowed this arrangement to continue.
“I did what I could to be covert- including what I had always done, mask my identity- but Virtue seemed to have caught on to what I was doing. Since they couldn’t easily come after me they targeted Danny, who was always a loudmouth and a self-promoter, starting to spread lies that The Virus was about creating anarchy. Eventually they got bolder and, I suspect, they took over The Virus and made it the epicentre of many different crimes that neither Danny nor I could ever dream of being associated with. Amidst all that came Danny’s trial, which, despite the acquittal, did what it needed to do, undermining Danny’s credibility to the point where he could no longer lead The Virus effectively.”
“So you believe that Virtue will target Omega next,” said Claudia, believing Collins but still feeling apprehensive, “and Lucius, did you not know that Danny was a part of Omega? Why did you go after him if that was the case?”
“Omega is already in Virtue’s crosshairs,” said Black assuredly. “As for Danny, I had no idea he was a member of Omega- Max told me about this, and what happened in Denver, when he came to see me today. I always thought Max worked alone, and he investigated alone, perhaps not to unsettle Omega too much.”
“Wait,” said Claudia, whose tone got harsh. “Max, you told Lucius about George? How could you? At best, you’re being careless about my career and at worst, you’re a manipulative tool.” She was about to get up in a huff before Black put out his hand to calm her down.
“We’re not going to do anything to you,” said Black. “I understand why you never told me about what happened. I’m here to tell you that I’m on your side- we’re on your side. What happened with George is a secret only the three of us will share- no one else will know.”
“That’s fine and dandy,” snapped Claudia, “but I’ve got no interest in selling my soul.” She then looked Collins directly in the eye. “If I’m going to continue this arrangement, we are not going to be committing any more illegal acts. I didn’t get in the crime fighting business to commit crimes myself, and I won’t tolerate it. Full stop.”
“You won’t get any complaint from me,” said Collins, “just be aware that, in this fight, it will not be easy. If Virtue has created a rival organization to Omega, you can’t expect to take it down with only the law on your side. They know all the tricks and all the protocols too- and they won’t be afraid to turn them on you.”
“Complicating things is Eva Avita,” said Black with a heavy sigh.
“Avita?” said Claudia with shock. “Wasn’t she with the ADR?”
“Yes,” said Black, “a high ranking official. She’s the new sheriff in town, officially named today as the Prefect of North America by Valerius. Meaning she’s now my boss.”
“...and I should be concerned about Avita?” said Claudia dismissively.
“No,” said Black. “Just know that she’s not as realistic as you are...she’s a hardliner on the rules and procedures, and won’t truck vigilantism under any circumstances. Valerius hired her in the aftermath of the George Walker scandal, since I’ve learned a Roman official is being charged for being involved in arranging the deals with Robert Walker and the Kentuckian Government.”
“Sounds like my kind of woman,” said Claudia with a smile. “I’m a hardliner too on the rules.”
“Yes,” said Black, “but you understand that every now and then the rules need to be bent. Avita doesn’t.”
“Maybe it’ll be a great change of pace,” said Claudia with a smirk, “because after what you’ve both told me, you guys are more worried about her than I should be- and this is all a pathetic attempt to get me on your side. Well, I’m not buying it.”
“We’re not asking you to pick a side,” said Collins. “If you want to go to Avita and turn us both in, we can’t stop you. My concern is that, at best, Avita doesn’t know what she’s getting into and doesn’t realize how deeply entrenched the culture of vigilantism is here in North America. The police don’t have the resources to fight crime on their own- they need Omega. Black realized that long ago, and we hope that you realize this too. I’m also worried that, at some point, Virtue will turn Avita against you, and you need people who have your back. I’m not saying this to manipulate you- I’m saying this to help you. You have some very important people that can help you out within and outside the FBII- don’t turn your back on them. You might not like to admit it, but one day you’ll need them- I just don’t want you to realize it when it’s too late.”