Monday, January 11, 2016

Episode Twelve: The Battle Begins

 Fighting for peace is like f***ing for chastity.”- Vietnam War protest slogan, author unknown (c. 1970)



December 28, 2015,
12:06 local time,
Post at Feminism Fellowship Message Board,
Unknown location

“A number of years ago, Phaedra Starling wrote ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist’. It created quite a stir, but, in the end, there was no denying that it was right- as much as we women would love to use ‘common sense’ (whatever that is) and tell ourselves that most men aren’t going to hurt us, the dangers of encountering one that does are far too great. After all, considering that rape is a reality and that rapists get away far too easily, how can we afford to let our guard down and ‘be friendly’ when that could lead to our undoing? Even if 0.01% of men are rapists, does any of us want to take the risk of unwittingly bumping into that 0.01%?

Unfortunately, in those six years since that post, we have not seen much of an improvement. The patriarchy continues to belittle us, telling us we are nothing but a bunch of crybabies that whine over trivial matters. We know why they’re saying this- because they’re afraid. They’re losing their grip on power and the only way they can retain it is by minimizing the power of their opponents. We sat there and we hoped that the world would see through their mind games and call them out on their tactics, but, instead, we watch as the world turned on us.

We saw how the football players at Steubenville received unending support, while the victim was blamed and shunned for daring to tell the truth.

We saw how the patriarchy destroyed sensible college tribunals that finally punished rapists by creating bogus claims that they’re nothing but ‘show trials’ that prevent the accused from mounting a ‘fair’ defence.

We saw how brainless and divorced from the truth the Coloradans were when they decided creating anti-harassment legislation wasn’t worth it, even though the evidence was right there.

Then, finally, we saw how thoroughly the patriarchy came in and swept away Marla Kirk from Daytona, ridding the country of the only person able to stand up to the patriarchy and undo its damaging ways, by creating the bogus claim that she ‘framed’ the man who clearly attacked us and that her much-needed crusade was just another woman ‘overreacting’.

Well, I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of men being able to get away with the terror they’re creating. I’ve had enough of people dismissing the very problems we face every day.

So I will do something about it. I am Morta, the Goddess of Death. I am here to announce that I will bring terror on to the men of the world, and, like Schrodinger’s cat, you men will have no idea who I am until its too late.

Why do I do this? Because, ladies, I am tired of us shirking away and ‘taking’ it from the men who terrorize us- so I am paying them back in kind. You should too.

Because only then will the patriarchy ever get the message.

-Morta”

January 3, 2016,
02:15 local time,
Outside of Smitty’s Roadhouse,
Evansville, Indiana

“Oh s***,” said Carla Mowers, stopping dead in her tracks.
“What is it honey?” Bob Mowers, her husband whom she was walking with back to their apartment. They were a young couple, out on the town for the first time in months, celebrating that Bob’s promotion to a supervisory position at the local McDonald’s finally meant that he and Carla- a manager at Target- could afford an apartment on their own, even if it was just a one bedroom apartment.

“I think I left my cell phone at the DJ booth,” said Carla as the slender blonde furiously checked her coat pockets.
“Are you sure?” the slightly rotound Bob asked, looking concerned.
“Yes, I’m positive,” Carla implored.

Bob walked up to her and unzipped her jacket down to her waist, opening it up to expose her chest. Carla was wearing a form-fitting black dress with spaghetti straps that had little flaps covering the areas around her nipples, leaving ample cleavage. The dress also helped exentuate her breasts and “expand” her bust, a favourite tactic for her since both she and Bob liked her breasts. It also allowed her a “hiding” spot for her cell phone and some money, as Bob carried her wallet.

It was for this reason that Bob had opened her jacket- to make sure that she didn’t leave her cell phone in between her breasts, because she often forgot she did so.

“I didn’t leave them with the girls, did I?” Carla said, looking at Bob who was looking at her cleavage with the flashlight on his phone.
“No,” said Bob, downtrodden.
“Okay,” said Carla, going up to Bob and embracing him before giving him a kiss. “I’m going back inside.” She kissed him again before continuing. “Wait for me, okay?” She gave Bob a warm smile before parting from him to go inside the bar.

Bob then leaned against the wall to wait for his wife. He then pulled out his smart phone and started tapping away at it, eventually getting to his favourite game, Penguis, which was nothing more than Tetris with blocks made out of penguins, but Bob was easily amused.

Several minutes passed without the reappearance of his wife, but Bob didn’t seem to notice. He was just so entrenched in his game, and tonight was a particularly good run. He’d never been past level 50 before, but tonight he saw the magical level of 100…the penguins were moving at lightning speed, but there was Bob, zeroed in on the action and moving his hands with the agility of a basketball shooting guard. As the levels moved up his eyes widened with excitement, enraptured by the screen.

Wow…I can’t believe how well this is going! Bob thought, Level up, level up, level up! Yes! Yes! YES! My gosh, I can’t believe my- ow…ouch…um…

Bob yelped in pain as he began slumping to the ground, stabbed in the stomach by a custom-made spear that injected tetrodotoxin (TTX) into his body, which paralyzed him in seconds and killed him in a matter of minutes. As he went down, he looked up, and as his consciousness faded, he saw a woman dressed in all black with a scarf over her mouth and her head, looking over him menacingly. She had stabbed him from in close, careful that her body and his shielded the stabbing. As Bob’s eyes faded to black he accepted his fate, slumping into a lifeless husk that laid on the ground while his vanquisher slipped unnoticed into the night.

December 10, 2015,
18:14 local time,
The River Lounge,
Rochester, Roman New York

“Hey,” said Angie Martinez, the slender but buxom blonde who was the bartender, clad in a bandana, a brown tank top that was cut off at her midsection and tight blue jeans. She put her hand on Galla Claudia’s resting head and softly caressed it. “Is there anything I can get for you honey?”
“Um,” said Claudia, slowly raising her head and scratching her eyes in an attempt to wake herself up. The redhead’s thick eye shadow had run down her face due to her tears, with her ivory complexion flushed red as a result of her tumbling storm of emotions. Today, she dressed simply, in a white, spaghetti-strapped tank top and blue jeans as she had to will herself to get outside today.

As she gave her head a bit of a shake and wiped more tears from her eyes, Claudia tried to summon the courage to continue, but she couldn’t.

“Oh honey,” said Martinez warmly, putting her hand on Claudia’s arm and rubbing it up and down. “You can tell me anything, I’m here to help.”
“Can I get a hug, maybe?” Claudia asked, sheepishly.
“Of course,” said Martinez, happily rounding the bar.

She met Claudia in a warm embrace, with Claudia holding her tightly. As Martinez rocked her back and forth, rubbing Claudia’s back as she did, Claudia again let her tears flow out, crying all over Martinez’s shoulder. She resolved herself to be restrained so as not to make a scene at the bar, but as soon as Martinez consoled her, Claudia felt like she did when she was a little girl when her mother held her and told her everything was going to be all right.

At this moment, she lost control, her sobbing and her crying getting louder by the minute as she was venting her previously bottled depression. After a few good minutes, her and Martinez parted back to their previous positions, Claudia relieved that she could let out her many disappointments.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice still cracking because of the sobbing. “I needed that.”
“Anytime girl,” said Martinez. “It’s what I’m here for.”
“Last night,” said Claudia as her voice regained its composure, “I went out with a friend...wound up letting some guy chat me up. Next thing I know, I’m f***ing him in the backseat of his car with my clothes scattered everywhere and my mind lost in orgasmic delight. He wore his condom at least and he did drive me back home, but as soon as I got home I realized it was the first time I’ve had sex since Marco left me, and I had missed it so much. It’s been what...four years now I think? By Jove, I’ve lost track. I mean, I feel so ashamed...I shouldn’t be throwing sex around like that. I’m a better woman than that.

“Anyway, I get home...get to bed. Cry myself to sleep...then I receive this text from another friend asking me to meet her here, for 7PM. So I leap out of bed and hastily put something on to take the train here and I wind up early...which I needed anyway because-” Claudia again broke down and cried, though she managed to finish her sentence, “because I really needed someone to console me...oh, I miss my Mom...oh!” She then buried her head into her resting arms and cried uncontrollably again.

“Aww,” said Martinez, her heart breaking for Claudia. She poured her a drink and slid it over to her. “Here’s a Rum and Coke...I know you like those. It’s on the house.”

Claudia lifted her head to acknowlegde the drink and wound up looking straight into Martinez’s eyes.

“Listen,” said Martinez, “you shouldn’t feel ashamed because you had random sex...a lot of people do it. I understand how you feel...but you’re going through a hard time, you needed to release your tension...and sex is a great way of doing that. At least he drove you home...not too many guys would do that.”
“Thanks,” said Claudia, happily accepting the drink. “I got fired from my job the other day...I used to work for the FBII and I’ve been a law-woman my whole life...everyone told me I was nothing but exemplary...but then this happens and I just don’t know what to make of it.”
“Sometimes,” said Martinez softly, “these things are blessings in disguise, there to tell us that we really should get out of a situation that was destroying us. Sometimes we don’t realize it, so fate has to force our hand. What happened if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was on this case,” said Claudia, “and someone wrote a bogus report about me...claimed that I had fundamentally failed to do my job when I did...but, I had no proof, so my boss’ hands were tied. I just thought...I just thought my boss would have given me the benefit of the doubt.”
“Loyalty doesn’t exist in this world, I’m afraid,” said Martinez. “You’d like to think that if you’re a good, honest person that others will stick up for you but truth is, everyone just worries about covering their own backs.”
“...but, I’m Roman and my boss is Roman,” said Claudia. “Everyone in Rome looks after each other...we’re not backstabbers.”
“Honey,” said Martinez, “that’s Rome...we’re in North America. Things are different here. Besides, you Romans really only help each other when it’s beneficial to them...there’s a lot of manipulators there, because there’s too many suckers who lower their guard.”
“Like me,” said Claudia, who again began to sob.
“Oh, sugar,” said Martinez, rubbing Claudia’s arm, “I’m sorry...I didn’t mean it like that. I was just saying that maybe this is all a message, telling you that perhaps you’ve been too trusting in your life.”
“You’re right,” said Claudia through a deep breath.
“I know it’s not going to be easy,” said Martinez, “but you’re a smart cookie...you’ll figure it out.”
“Thanks,” said Claudia. “Sorry to put all that on you.”
Martinez waved away her protest. “Ah,” she said, “it’s nothing. People tell me their problems all the time, and I love listening. Sometimes I feel like I’m better at therapy than the actual therapists. Just don’t ask me for solutions...I’m not really good at that. I’m much better at listening. Which reminds me...”

Martinez paused to hand Claudia her business card, which had her personal cell phone number written down onto the card.

“My name’s Angie,” said Martinez, shaking Claudia’s hand as Claudia introduced herself to Martinez. “If you ever need anything, don’t be afraid to call.”
“Why are you doing this?” Claudia said, bemused.
“You seem like a good person,” said Martinez, “and I figure you could use a new friend in your life. Whether or not you want it, though, I’ll leave that decision up to you.”

As Claudia sat and contemplated the action, a woman with her red hair in a ponytail sat next to Claudia, wearing a black leather jacket and black pants. Claudia knew exactly who it was.

“Polina?” she said, turning her attention to her guest, Polina Nikolaevna, who ran the vigilante Omega Collective group. The two then hugged before getting acquainted with their seats. “How are you?”
“I’m doing pretty well actually,” said Nikolaevna. “As soon as I heard what happened, I had to come see you. I used to think the FBII, despite our differences, was an honourable institution. I don’t think so anymore.”
“Do you want a drink, Polly?” said Claudia with a restrained smile.
“Save your money,” said Nikolaevna, waving her hand for “no”. “I do appreciate the offer.” Nikolaevna then turned to the bar and ordered herself a drink, which she enjoyed with Claudia.

“I want to offer you a job,” said Nikolaevna, turning her attention back to Claudia.
“Wow,” said Claudia, struck by how quickly Nikolaevna moved the conversation. “What kind of job?”
“We’ve been working together for almost a year,” said Nikolaevna. “We both have the same goals…and we have money. More money than the FBII would ever have. So I’d like to pay you to continue our arrangement, only that you work with us.”

Claudia sat in silence, staring longingly at her drink. Several thoughts went through her head, each one conflicting with the last. She was happy that there was at least someone willing to get her back to work and out of the rut she was in, but, at the same time, it had been a long while since she was last able to relax. The Saturnalia Festival was coming up in Rome and this year would be the first time she would actually be able to attend and do so with her family, something she hadn’t done since her kids left their litterators behind. The thought of being able to enjoy her life for a change and not have to worry about the stresses of investigations intrigued her, and eventually they came to dominate her thoughts.

“I’m sorry, Polly,” said Claudia, shaking Nikolaevna’s hand and giving her a reserved smile. “I’ve been stressed for far too long in my life…I need to take some time for myself. I really, really, really do appreciate the offer…but I have to turn it down.”
“Very well then,” said Nikolaevna. “Should you ever change your mind, you know how to find me.”

December 11, 2015
13:09 local time,
RSC Headquarters,
Rome, Roman Republic

“Hey Fitch,” said Zeke Coleman, greeting Aaron “Fitch” Fitchner as Fitchner made his way into Coleman’s office. Former teammates with the Behavioural Analysis Unit of the Foederatio Borealis Indigatores Imperiale (FBII), which Fitchner still leads, Coleman has branched off and formed his own profiling team for the Roman Special Crimes force, the Roman Behavioural Crimes unit.
“Hey Zeke,” said Fitch as he took his seat after closing the door. “How’s things? It’s, um, been a while.”

Coleman resisted the urge to say that’s the way it should be.

“Oh you know,” he said, laying back in his chair with a smug smile on his face, “I’ve just been hanging out, solving crimes…nothing big. How about you?”
“Hasn’t been that great lately,” said Fitchner, who let out a sigh.
Coleman’s ears perked up. “Oh? What happened?”
“Jack and I got into a fight before I left…it’s a long story.”
“Come on, you can tell me.” Coleman leaned forward and smiled, clasping his hands together in front of him.
Fitchner scratched his butt and let out a sigh before continuing. “Well…Jack wanted to do some kind of role play and…well, all you really need to know is that frosted icing really isn’t good lubricant.”
“Oooh,” said Coleman, taken aback and giving his head a shake. “Pains me just thinking about it. I guess he thinks you’re blowing things out of proportion?”
“He always complains that I’m not ‘adventurous’ enough…I’ve always told him, considering the stuff I deal with, I don’t want to indulge in fantasies, I see enough twisted ones to sway me away from that stuff. Makes me think straightforward sex is just the better way to go.”
Coleman leaned back in his chair and nodded his head in acknowledgement. “I hear ya…I dated a girl who wanted me to use electrodes on her nipples…I told her it brought back too many bad memories for me.”

Coleman leaned forward again and clasped his hands together in front of him.

“Okay Fitch,” he said, his tone getting serious, “you didn’t come here today to vent about your sex life. What do you really want?”
Fitchner looked down, letting out a few sighs in an effort to collect his thoughts.

“Fitch,” said Coleman, getting impatient. “Come on, spit it out.”
“Galla Claudia was fired from the FBII two days ago,” said Fitchner, finally able to look Coleman in the eye.
“Okay...” Coleman gave Fitchner a look. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Claudia was the best crime fighter the FBII ever had...for a while she was the only one solving cases.”
“So I heard...”
“Her and her team was supposed to have a ‘plush’ assignment guarding the President when he made an announcement, but it turned sour when the President got killed.”
“So I also heard...” Coleman was unmoved. “Look, I feel bad for Galla too, but she screwed up...she deserved what she got.”
Fitchner was terse in his reply. “I don’t think she did...I mean, all I have is a profile...but, having watched the President’s address that day, I have to conclude he committed suicide. Galla and her team was set up.”
“That’s an interesting theory...but, without proof, what good is that going to do?”
“I know...but there’s no way for me to get that proof unless I see the Presidential Report, and Lucius won’t give it to me.”
“So you want me to convince Lucius to do so?” Coleman started to get confused about why Fitchner showed up.

“No,” said Fitchner assuredly. “We’re not going to worry about the Presidential Guard situation. I’m here because you’re working the Heidi Sanderson case, as Robert Yates is a Texan.”
“Fitch,” said Coleman, exasperated. “What does Heidi Sanderson have to do with Galla Claudia?”
“Just before Claudia got fired,” said Fitchner after a deep breath, “I handed her case files for the Coffee Shop Murders, the ones we tried to solve before the team was split up. I let my pride get in the way and I asked her to leave her name off of the finished report.”
“Your pride has gotten you in a lot of trouble lately,” said Coleman with his arms folded, staring intently at Fitchner.
“I’m aware of that,” said Fitchner. “After she got fired, she offered to return the case files to me, but I told her to keep it...I’ve been looking at them for two years now without a breakthrough, so she’s my best hope at solving the case. I didn’t tell her this but I’d put just her name on the case report once she solves it.”
“Which is your way of apologizing,” said Coleman, still nonplussed. “Slick move...”
“Anyway, she mentioned she had an interest in the Sanderson case,” said Fitchner, “because she thinks the Coffee Shop Murders and the Sanderson case are related. She didn’t tell me why though.”
“So that’s why you’re here,” said Coleman, getting up from his desk.

He walked over to his bookshelf and pondered Fitchner’s request, as Fitchner looked on trying his best to hide his nerves waiting for Coleman’s response. Coleman thought about all the years he worked with Fitchner- over eleven years- and thought about the highs and the lows. He smiled, briefly, thinking of the successes, before turning sour again when he remembered why he left the FBII in the first place. He and Fitchner often clashed, as Coleman often felt that he was a far better leader than Fitchner was, as Fitchner stumbled into the BAU leadership after it was reorganized.

“I understand if you’re hesitant,” said Fitchner. “I’ll also understand if you want to force me to dig my own grave...the BAU are essentially pariahs now at the FBII, gloryhounds they call us. Just know that it took me a lot to come here and swallow my pride, something I’m really trying to work on. This might be the last case I ever get to work on, and, if so, I’d rather have it solved right.”

Coleman continued to ponder. Gloryhounds, eh? Yeah, they got that right. He then pursed his lips to the side and let out a sigh.

“All right,” said Coleman. “Our teams can work together, but under one condition- we’re equals on this. I and my team take direction from me and you and your team takes direction from you. Every major decision we are going to decide on it together. Is that understood?”
“Completely,” said Fitchner, smiling and getting up to shake Coleman’s hand only for the muscular Coleman to give Fitchner a hearty hug.

“I know we don’t always see eye to eye,” said Coleman, “but you are still a great man. I respect you a lot...and if I can do anything to get you back on your feet, I’ll do it. You’re already taking a major step by asking for help, which tells me you really are serious about change.”

January 14, 2016,
12:19 local time,
Malibu Beach,
Malibu, California

I can’t believe how gorgeous today is, thought Benny Sizemore as he laid down his towel and took a seat in the sand. A freshman at the University of Southern California and the team’s third-string quarterback, Sizemore was enjoying a rare afternoon off before he had to pack up his things and head to the airport tomorrow, so that he could join his Trojans for the college football Round of 16 playoff game they had against the Clemson Tigers.

For now, football was the last thing on his mind. After doffing his shirt and using it as a makeshift pillowcase for his backpack, Sizemore laid down so that his athletic, tanned physique could take in as much of the Sun as possible. He revelled in the Sun’s soothing rays, enjoying how the heat tingled on his skin while the waves calmly washed to shore in the background. In the distance, he could hear the seagulls chirping, probably because they were fighting for some of the litter the City of Malibu had still failed to pick up, but, fortunately for him, the loud din of the city drivers and poor smog of Los Angeles County was far away, leaving him nothing but the Sun and the ocean breeze to calm into a nice, relaxing daze.

He laid there and thought about his life. He was a single man and had been for over a month and a half, finished with his high school sweetheart after he found out she was just using him in the hopes that he would become her “meal ticket” should he make it as a professional football player. He thought about his parents back home in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, who worked almost around the clock securing the money needed so that he could attend USC, who were doing the same for his younger brother, Michael, still at home. It was tough leaving them behind, but Sizemore knew USC was his best fit considering they were the most aggressive ones recruiting him out of high school, a fit that became a reality when the USC coaches told him they saw him as a starter one day. He knew his abilities weren’t there yet, but with the current starter a senior and his backup a junior, Sizemore knew his day would come. In the meantime, he was like a sponge, taking in everything he could from his rather helpful teammates and coaches, and devoting all of his time outside of his studies to his football activities.

Except for today. Today was all about the beach and enjoying the rays. Enjoying the sleep he was finally able to get. Enjoying the mist as it rested upon his skin as he lay down in the Sun. Enjoying the serenity that came with the clear air and nature’s wonderful sounds.

Enjoying…or rather not enjoying the football thrown at him that knocked the glasses off his head and woke him up after a few hours of a nap.

“Oh, sorry!” Morta said, cupping her mouth in embarrassment. “I was just fooling around with the football and I must have...um, I must have, um...dropped it. I’m sorry!”
That didn’t feel like a drop, thought Sizemore. “It’s okay,” he said, feeling the side of his head where the football hit. “You’ve got some power in that arm.”
“Yeah,” said Morta sheepishly, dressed in a halter-style bikini and short jean shorts, “I guess I do...I must not realize my own strength.” Morta then quickly took a seat right next to Sizemore, uninvited, rubbing against him until Sizemore got up from his towel.

“What?” Morta asked with a laugh. “You don’t like me? Are you gay?”
Sizemore gave Morta a quizzical look, though he was more puzzled than disturbed. “I’m not gay...not that being gay is a problem. I mean, I think you’re a beautiful woman...I just...I just don’t know you that well. I don’t really snuggle with girls I don’t know.”
“Ah,” said Morta with a nervous laugh. “That’s okay…I understand.”
“Oh well,” said Sizemore with a smile. “Good. Now, can I get my towel back?”

Just as Sizemore finished, Morta quickly pulled out her gun and shot Sizemore several times in his gut, killing him instantly, before Morta threw her weapon into the sea and ran as fast as she could from the crime scene. Since Sizemore’s spot was secluded, it would be hours before someone would discover his body, let alone report his murder to the police, by which point Morta would be long gone.

January 18, 2016,
09:46 local time,
BAU War Room, FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“What are you looking at?” BAU teammate Claudio Pucci said to his boss, Fitchner, as he looked at various displays blown up on a projector screen from his computer.
“There have been a string of crimes against men in recent weeks,” said Fitchner, not breaking his concentration. “The connection between the crimes is very tenuous, but I can’t help but think that there is one.”

Pucci gave the screen a look, but was otherwise nonplussed. He decided to humour Fitchner, though.

“So why do you think there’s a connection?” Pucci said, not hiding his disbelief well.
Fitchner let out a sigh. “Five men killed,” he said tersely, “with witness reports of varying degrees noting a woman with a similar build around each crime scene. In the case of Ben Sizemore of Malibu, traces of female hair was found on his body, not matching his immediate family or any of his close female friends or his ex-girlfriend...meaning he too was killed by a random woman.”
“Okay,” said Pucci, putting his hands on his hips and letting his disbelief out in full, “seriously, Aaron? You’ve got five men, none of them with the same build. Each of them have different familial situations- Bob Mowers was a newlywed, Grady Mackie was a loafer living with his parents, Frank Fickles was a middle-aged divorcee who lived with two daughters, Eugene Mellows was married with two baby boys and a female toddler, and Ben Sizemore was an accomplished athlete whom the women adored but was a happily single man. There’s no ‘fit’ with the victimology, and the locations of these crimes are everywhere. Furthermore, none of the eyewitness reports- the ones that we have- indicate that the woman had the same hair colour, let alone the same hair style or style of clothing. Oh, and ‘same build’? Really Fitch? One report says ‘average height’ while another says ‘she was petit’. You know...it really strains the credulty to think that these crimes are even remotely connected...come on, Aaron, you’re better than this. You’re grasping at straws.”

January 18, 2016,
10:23 local time,
Paul’s Door Company,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

“Good morning, Galla,” said Paul’s Door Company President Pete McGuire as he walked into Claudia’s office. It was Claudia’s second week on the job at Paul’s, where she was hired as the Health and Safety Manager following some strings pulled by her best friend, Cassie Celebra. McGuire, 60, was of average build, without a single strand of hair on his head that wasn’t grey, but he still had boundless energy after all of these years.

“How are you this morning?” McGuire asked, speaking in his militaristic-style gruff voice while wearing a smug smile on his face.
“I’m doing good,” said Claudia, flashing a warm smile at her new boss. “How are you?”
“Me? I’m fan-tastic!” McGuire said with a toothy smile and an emphatic fist pump. “Listen, I’ve got some rounds to do, but if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Claudia smiled and watched as McGuire stepped away.

Shortly afterward, a message appeared on her phone. It was a social media message from Danforth Grayson, Claudia’s former informant at the FBII and one of Nikolaevna’s employees.

“How’s the new gig?” Grayson asked.
“Oh I can’t complain,” wrote back Claudia. “It’s not that much different than my old job, but with far less stress. I don’t have to worry about looking at dead bodies or dealing with grieving families...I mean, it’s still a few injuries here and there, but it pales in comparison to what I had before.”
“I’m glad you like it :),” wrote Grayson.
“I’m flattered :),” replied Claudia. “I’m still adjusting to life in Pittsburgh...it’s certainly slower than Buffalo and the Penguins are just not that good of a team, but it’s still a nice change of pace overall. How are you doing?”
“Same old, same old,” wrote Grayson. “Julia has rejoined Omega on a full-time basis, but other than that, it’s been quiet. I know that Virtue and Rome have a war coming in North America because of Reddick...I hate to remind you of that, but it’s true. Max, he’s gone off to Birea on some special project...haven’t heard much from him lately. Anyway, I know you don’t want to be burdened by all this ‘Virus’ stuff so I won’t explain too much...just know that we think we can handle it for now.”
“Well that’s good :),” Claudia responded. “I probably should get back to my reports...but, listen Danny, if you guys need any help, I’ll do whatever I can. I may have some new restrictions I have to deal with in regards to civilian life, but I’ll work around them.”

As soon as she hit “send” she was roused from her seat by a page by the receptionist. That was already annoying since it took time away from her reports, but when she got to reception, she was even more annoyed by what she saw.

It was Fitchner.

The two of them walked outside where Claudia didn’t hesitate to voice her frustration.

“Did you have to come here,” said Claudia with her hands on her hips, “pull me from work, take me away from the things I actually have to take care of and meet me face to face when an E-Mail would have sufficed? Seriously, Fitch...this better be good.”
Fitchner didn’t skip a beat, ignoring Claudia’s exaspiration. “Five men have been murdered,” he said curtly. “Bob Mowers, Grady Mackie, Frank Fickles, Eugue Mellows and Ben Sizemore, all in a matter of weeks.”
Claudia folded her arms and looked Fitchner right in the eyes. “Hundreds of people are murdered every day on this continent,” she said, “in fact, Pittsburgh had its first homicide of the year last week. Humour me, Fitch, what makes these men so special?”
“The witness reports I do have indicate that each were killed by a random woman who was described more or less the same in each instance,” said Fitchner, “I don’t have much else to go on, but my gut tells me they’re all connected.”
“Just like how your tie didn’t agree with the coffee you had this morning,” said Claudia with a smirk, noticing a faint stain on Fitchner’s red tie.

“Look,” said Fitchner with a long, heavy sigh, “Morale at the FBII is low...no one can solve anything. The crimes are getting more sophisticated every day and our staffs are just overwhelmed. You’re the only one anyone could count on...we need you back.”
“I don’t care,” said Claudia, loudly scoffing at the suggestion. “That’s not my problem anymore.”
“I started to look at the Sanderson case,” said Fitchner. “Might even have a lead.”
“That’s good!” Claudia said with a mocking hand clap. “What do you want, a cookie?”
Fitchner let out another deep, heavy sigh, as frustration over the reality of the situation set in. “Your instincts and intuition are unmatched,” he said. “You’re the only one I know that can connect the unconnectable...please, Galla, I’m begging here.”

“Oh yeah?” Claudia said in a huff. “Well, my ‘instincts’ also told me that the FBII would be guided by a strong sense of justice and people who’d help each other with an ethical code of ‘doing the right thing’...instead, all I got was a bunch of gloryhounds who do nothing but look after themselves. Well, I’m tired of that. Maybe once you guys get your heads out from being stuck so far up your own asses, you might solve a few cases.”

Claudia then turned around and left in a huff, leaving Fitchner in stunned silence.

January 18, 2016,
16:58 local time,
The Free Republic Radio Studio,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

“Welcome to the Drive at Five,” said DJ Mike Rogers, known for his bombastic voice with a sarcastic tone which made The Free Republic Manitoba’s most-listened to radio station in the region. “I’m Mike Rogers and I’m your host this afternoon.

“I hope everyone’s enjoying the winter weather we’re having...man what a blast. Our readings outside say -44 but I’m telling you...I was out there a few minutes ago and boy is it much worse. You don’t need me to say this but if you’re outdoors right now- I’m not sure how you’re listening to this outside, but if you are- get inside immediately. Your skin will freeze in a matter of minutes...don’t test Mother Nature guys. It’s why the City shut down today.

“I need to get to something a bit chillier, and I’m not talking about the weather. I think we’ve all been trying to figure out just why anyone would want to kill Grady Mackie...say what you want about the guy being a bum and all, but it’s still a human life, and random attacks should scare all of us. That last part is something I’d like to reiterate here- I know the police are releasing few details here, but there’s no evidence to suggest, as some of you had, that his attacker was provoked in any way- no witness ever said that words were exchanged or that he touched her or any other excuse you could think of. No, he was murdered in cold blood, basically being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s got to send a chill down anyone’s spine...if the cold isn’t doing that already.

“What’s worse about it is that I’ve been looking up this case on the Internet, and I see a few sites linking the murders of four other men alongside Mackie. I’m aware the sites are nothing more than ‘men’s rights’ loons, but, sometimes, when I think about it, they might be right after all. There just might be a connection here...think about it. Bob Mowers- killed by a random woman. Frank Fickles- killed by a random woman. Ben Sizemore- killed by a random woman. Eugene Mellows- killed by a random woman. Then there’s Grady- killed by a random woman. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here, and the crimes seem to fit a timeline that they could be connected. I don’t know.

“Joining me to discuss the crimes is California Bureau of Investigation Director Teresa Gibson, who once led the Randy Joe task force,” said Rogers as Gibson came on the line. “Hello Teresa, how are you doing? Thanks for joining us here at the Free Republic.”
“My pleasure,” said Gibson with a warm chuckle.
“Before we get to Grady, I think our listeners need to understand that the law enforcement climate is still undergoing a transformation. Is that fair?”
“That’s fair...everything’s kind of ‘in play’ after Reddick’s assassination shook up the FBII...we thought the Milner Report was a game changer, but this is a whole new level. The FBII can no longer avoid its harsh truths- they have to come to terms with them.”
“The Milner Report...that’s still kind of reverberating through the law enforcement world, and Reddick’s assassination just underscored that we need to act on it now. I guess it’s been a slower process than many of us would like.”
“Well, 2014 and 2015 were trying years...crime levels rose as this whole ‘Virus’ thing took hold and made the police realize there are no more ‘easy cases’ anymore...especially now with Reddick and Seth Marks being assassinated, the importance of ‘getting things right’ and doing policework properly has taken on a whole new level.”
“As I understand, you took an active role in the report...it’s personal for you.”
“Yes...the woman that spawned the whole report, Hayden Myers, had personally come to me to assist her on her case. She claimed abuse at the hands of her father, and I told her I’d do everything I could to help her out.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well, Myers’ father was none other than Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer, and that caused my boss, Jerry Bernard, to step back and refuse the investigation. Bundy had already escaped conviction once before for his crimes so Bernard believed it would have been a fool’s game to try to prosecute him again...so I couldn’t pursue the case. Myers disappeared soon afterward and a month later we find Bundy’s body in a ditch, killed with poison. We suspect Myers was the one who did it but since we can’t locate her we can’t know for sure...anyway, this is what led to the Milner Report inquiry, because it jarred people to think that Myers had to take the law into her own hands.”
“I know...it’s pretty sad. I understand it came to light that hundreds of criminals got away in this fashion.”
“This is true...police in North America have always had a hero complex and operated on that standard...so law enforcement rarely did anything that couldn’t ‘guarantee’ results, so we didn’t really go after anyone we thought would be tough to prosecute and we took advantage of a lot of people because we’d have cops only interested in ‘looking good’ by making an apprehension only to coerce an unwitting soul into admitting to a crime he didn’t actually commit...and I want to make something abundantly clear here. This has been going on for decades...it’s got nothing to do with the Third World War (although that didn’t help), or the rise of TV and the glorification of police dramas (though that didn’t help either)...North American police have been, for as long as I can remember, a bunch of gloryhounds, and now that the glory isn’t so easy to come by, they’re stuck.”
“So when it comes to these crimes, is it safe to assume that maybe if our law enforcement officers weren’t so lazy, we’d be able to solve them?”
“I don’t think it’s that simple…The Virus is making things more complicated than any of us have ever seen. Yes, asking someone to become a hard worker after being habitually lazy is quite the shift, but the truth is, many of these Virus crimes are so hard, even the honest workers are having difficulty solving them. It’s like the perfect storm.”
“Well that’s reassuring.”
“I know it’s a bit of a downer, but that’s the reality that we’re dealing with. Add to the fact that there are just so many people upset with the police and the government and the threat of vigilantism increases…at that point, there really is no turning back.”
“I agree, because once people cannot trust the laws, they stop following them…and everyone must then look out for themselves.”

A brief pause happened as Gibson acknowledged the point in her head before Rogers got the conversation moving again.

“So before we close,” he said with a sense of urgency. “What’s your take on the Grady Mackie case and the possibility it might be related to other crimes? I noticed Ben Sizemore is within your jurisdiction.”
“Honestly,” said Gibson, “I really only know what you know…I haven’t been officially invited into the Sizemore case so whatever the public knows is what I know…I’ll be honest, stuff like this makes me uncomfortable, because when people speculate and throw all kinds of theories around, they wind up messing up the investigation and steer the police in so many useless directions. Closure becomes harder because all these false leads mean the police now have to take a longer time solving the case…if they ever get to do it.”
“You understand why people do it, though.”
“Oh yeah, totally. People want answers…they want to make sense of things that don’t readily make sense to them. People hear about Grady Mackie and they wonder, ‘how could something like that happen?’ Sometimes the answer is easy but many times it’s not, but, as I said before, speculating on the answer just makes things harder since we’re creatures of instinct and that can make us head down many false paths, delaying the time to get to the real path. So, I wish people would just let us do our jobs and be patient.”
“I get that part…but you’re not going to stop the speculators…and while I usually think conspiracies are for nutjobs…this is one of the rare times I’m thinking, ‘they might have a point here’. No matter how many times someone debunks it…this lingers. That’s got to mean something.”
Gibson audibly sighed before responding. “Like I said, I only know what you know, and, as I said before, I find it frustrating that the gender politicians have to get involved…I mean, I understand why. The men’s rights people have been pretty vocal about this, because if the crimes are connected it plays to their narrative that feminism is really just ‘anti-male’, and I can understand why feminists would shout that stuff down because it would undermine their whole movement if they were, in fact, shown to be ‘anti-male’ at least to this extreme- mainstream acceptance of feminism depends on it being not so militant. Do I have a side? I don’t know…I’m not going to make any connections that aren’t there, but…the fact that despite all these ‘debunkings’ the conspiracy theory still lingers has to count for something at least…I really don’t know.”
“Thank you for your time Teresa.”
“My pleasure.”

January 19, 2016,
08:11 local time,
Paul’s Door Company,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

“I’m really sorry about all this,” said Claudia as the company custodian, Darla Ensign, came in to mop the just flooded floor of the women’s bathroom. “These automatic flushing units are very tricky.” Claudia had went in to investigate a rumbling noise coming from the toilets before determining the flusher was malfunctioning causing the water to continuously flush. She looked in vain to find the button to disconnect the system but instead found the button to remove the flusher, causing the water to gush out of the toilet and flood the floor. Fortunately, Claudia found the shut-off valve and managed to trip it, but not before a lake essentially formed in the bathroom.

“Eh,” said the cheery Ensign, a sprightly, slender young woman who had more body strength than her physique let on, “If I had a qudrigatus for every time something in this place f***ed someone up-”
“You’d have an aureus?” Claudia said, trying to be cheerful, referring to the highest unit of Roman currency, worth 10,240 times the value of the quadrigatus, which was Rome’s lowest unit of currency worth at 25 cents in North American dollars.
“I think I’d have a few thousand gold aurei,” said Ensign with a beaming smile.
“That’s,” said Claudia, trying to fathom the amount, “that’s...a lot of money.”
“You know,” said Ensign, “how come you guys can’t just use dollars? Or have a system that’s similar to the dollar...why is every next step twice the value of the step below it? Makes giving change so confusing.”
“We’re stubborn like that,” said Claudia, “though we argue it works, so why change things? Also, the victoriatus is 10 times the value of the solidus, so not everything is simply a ‘double’.”
“Even more confusing!” Ensign said as both women chuckled. “Don’t get me started on your units of measure.”
“At least that’s a bit easier to reconcile,” said Claudia. “Our foot and our mile are almost as long as your standards. Besides, at least here in North America we get lazy and most of us use your system of measure since it’s just easier...it’s different in Rome itself where it’s a bit more ‘independent’. Just be thankful that we keep time and dates the same way you do.”
“That’s easy,” said Ensign, “you guys invented the format.”

“So, uh,” said Ensign, trying to switch gears as she continued mopping the floor while Claudia helped by using the squeegee to keep the water from leaving the bathroom. “You came from the FBII, huh? So, um, do you know all of my secrets and stuff?”
“Ha ha, no” Claudia said with a smile. “I’m done with the FBII...they screwed me over, so I’m starting a new life.”
“Can’t imagine that your job pays as well as the FBII,” said Ensign.
“No, it doesn’t,” said Claudia with melancholy. “However, I do get enough to still be comfortable, and Pittsburgh’s a far cheaper place to live than Buffalo. Tell me, Darla, how does a bright woman like yourself end up here?”
“Oh, me?” Ensign said with a chuckle, having been asked this question many times before. “I’m originally from Green Bay...I had family issues, and Shelbyville and Springfield had another dust up a few years ago that almost spread to Green Bay so I left. I thought about going to Lakotah since I heard Virtue is very accepting of refugees, but Rome isn’t, but I always loved Roman culture so I decided the extra hoops needed to enter Roman territory would be worth it. I took my suitcase, boarded a train and wound up in Cincinnati, after which I met with Roman immigration officials who went through my background and told me they’d resettle me somewhere in the Imperium to a place that needs workers. I thought they’d assign me to Senegal or something but, luckily, Pittsburgh was underserved...so I moved here...and I haven’t looked back.”
“It’s actually a misconception that Rome doesn’t accept refugees,” said Claudia. “We just don’t do what Virtue or Casara do and let anyone walk in and stay...we vet them to make sure they’re not security risks and we do what we did with you and see where your stay could be of most benefit. We also adjust our immigration limits based on the amount of refugees we get...everything’s a bit more ‘controlled’ in Rome than it is elsewhere. Of course, other countries use that as a way of suggesting that we’re ‘cold’ and ‘selfish’, but I point out that Virtue’s refugees are essentially used as glorified slaves, and, as loving and as accepting Casara is, by not vetting people they’re risking a terrorist attack, not to mention all the strain they put on their resources- resources their people need- by not keeping limits to their immigration. So, yeah, maybe we don’t appear as ‘nice’ to others, but...we just want to make sure we do things right, not just for us but for everyone that wants to call Rome their home.”
“Funny how even the right way of doing things can still be viewed as wrong,” said Ensign with a chuckle.
“You didn’t have to wind up here as a janitor, though,” said Claudia, “you could have easily been placed where someone with your smarts could be used.”
“Perhaps,” said Ensign with a smile but a sigh, “but I told them I wanted a simple job...my whole life I’ve been faced with nothing but pressure! Pressure! Pressure! to succeed and I got tired of that...I wanted to slow down and figure out where I’m going. Besides, this place is kind of relaxing...aside from that dingus McGuire.”
“He seems pretty nice to me,” said Claudia.
“Oh, trust me,” said Ensign, “it’s because you’re new...wait until he gets comfortable with you...then it’s not so fun.”
Claudia let out a nervous chuckle. “Well, we’ll see what happens,” she said, with a nervous smile.

January 22, 2016,
19:22 local time,
Sandra Rupke’s Apartment,
Columbus, Ontarian Ohio

“Hey Sandra,” said Anna Rufus, greeting her friend Sandra Rupke as she stepped inside Rupke’s apartment. Right behind her was her friend, Candice Morris, who was similarly happy to come over.
“Hey Anna, hey Candice,” said Rupke, smiling as her friends walked in to her home. “Nice of you guys to come…I know it’s short notice but this is important. There are drinks in the fridge if you want any.”
“Nah,” said Morris, “I think we’re good for now.”
“Sounds good,” said Rupke, beaming another smile.

The three women, best friends since their days studying women’s studies and journalism at Ohio State University, formed a group called “Women for Columbus”, being the primary feminist activists in the City of Columbus. Most of their public work was restricted to philanthropic causes since the Empire of Ontario banned protests of any kind, but the trio- through aliases and proxy servers- did run a web daily called “North America’s Matriarchs” where they could let their opinions be better heard. Since starting it four years ago, they’d managed to gain over a million followers, but its notoriety gained it as many detractors and several “peaceful shutdowns” by the Empire, shutdowns that were only reversed by President Joseph Reddick.

“I’m just going to get straight to the point then,” said Rupke, as the gracile brunette reached behind her wide-rimmed GI glasses to scratch her eye. The one with the ivory skin in the flowing, navy blue dress was going to continue before she was interrupted.

“Let me guess,” said Morris, the shapely blonde who had a loud mouth and often served as the group’s orator. “We’ve been shut down again.”
“Oh great,” said Rufus, the slim, quiet redhead, “and this time we’ve got no Reddick to help protect us…well, this is a tough one.”

“No, no, no!” said Rupke, waving away their concerns. “We’re still running. Don’t worry about that. What we need to talk about are the string of murders against men that have occurred recently.”
“Okay,” said Morris, shaking her head, “seriously, Sandra? Didn’t we already discuss this? Aren’t we in agreement that the whole thing is some kind of hoax?”
“Yeah,” said Rupke, “that’s what we said before.”
“You have,” said Rufus, smiling but disbelieving, “you have something new?”
“I was looking at the evidence and,” said Rupke, who sighed before continuing, “I know this came from that idiot Mookie’s website, but…” She took another deep breath before showing the group a picture.
“That’s Frank Fickles’ house,” said Rufus, looking at the picture, noticing writing on the door. “Morta? Who’s that?”
“Morta is the Roman goddess of death,” said Rupke, “she would always announce her arrival ahead of time, as a way of telling the person she was going to kill about their impending doom.”
“That could mean anything,” said Morris, scoffing at the idea. “Besides, if I remember correctly, none of the other supposed victims had ‘Morta’ written on their doors. Why just Fickles?”
“Fickles is the only one who isn’t on social media,” said Rupke. “I’m sure if we looked into the other victims, we might find messages sent to them that are also signed by Morta that predicted their impending deaths.”

Morris got up and laughed, shaking her head as she headed for the fridge and pulled out a wine bottle for her and Rufus to share.

“Seriously Sandra,” said Morris, sitting down again with a full wine glass. “You’re such a hoot. Tell me something- if there was this supposed ‘connection’, why haven’t detectives already made it?”
“First of all,” said Rupke, “each of the victims were killed in a different country, and thus different jurisdictions. Typically speaking, jurisdictions don’t share information with each other, so similar-looking crimes get missed. We’ve known this from how many serial rapists we’ve covered? Furthermore, on Friendlist, messages sent by someone not in your friends’ list gets sent to your ‘spam’ folder, meaning that the message might not been seen by the recipient.”

Morris laughed, which caused Rufus to laugh as well, both enjoying their wine.

“Well, um,” said Rufus, “that was great. I mean…maybe you’re right. Maybe…but you have no way of knowing if that really was the case. Besides, I’d think detectives would have noticed several different messages all signed by ‘Morta’.”
“Maybe she didn’t sign them ‘Morta’,” said Rupke, “maybe she was clever and hid her signature inside of a fake account name or even within the message itself, which is why it was missed. Maybe she didn’t even write a message that explicitly foretold the recipient’s death- she just alluded to it or ‘hid’ it in ‘code’.”

Both Morris and Rufus let out a loud burst of laughter, nearly falling out of their chairs.

“Seriously Sandra,” said Morris, wiping tears from her eyes while still laughing hysterically. “That’s the greatest movie plot I’ve ever heard! Maybe you should move to Hollywood and make a film out of that! You’d make millions!”

Rupke sighed as Morris and Rufus continued to laugh uncontrollably. She wanted to continue but felt at this stage it just wouldn’t do much good.

“Why do you care so much about this case?” said Rufus as she readjusted the strap to her flowery dress.

Rupke got up and stood beside her chair, looking directly at Rufus and Morris.

“Why do I care so much?” said Rupke, waving her arms out to stress the point. “Why do I care so much? Well, let’s look at it this way- suppose there is a woman out there murdering men in the name of feminism. Shouldn’t that be of concern for us?” As she continued, her tone became louder and more forceful. “We have fought for years to counter all the misconceptions about feminism, to counter all the mistruths and the lies...to answer back at all of our critics who believe we’re nothing but ‘a bunch of man-haters’, as well as the men themselves who use this idea that we’re ‘man-haters’ as an excuse to terrorize us and humiliate us and make it that much harder to do the things that we need to do...I mean, seriously, if there’s even just one woman out there, murdering and killing in the name of feminism, all of the work we do goes out the window, and we will never be credible ever again!”

Her two friends both made looks, still not sure where Rupke was going with her rant.

“Think about it guys,” continued Rupke, quieter but no less urgent, “the public seizes upon the opportunity to undermine us…they’re not smart enough to realize that even though there people who claim to act in the name of feminism that they’re really not feminists…so, even if there’s one man-hater out there, murdering and killing with aplomb, everyone who believes we’re nothing but man-haters will be validated, which means…good luck ever getting our site back up within the City of Columbus, let alone the Empire of Ontario.”

Rupke took a deep breath and let out a frustrated sigh. “This is why I care,” said Rupke, as her friends sat in stunned silence, contemplating what they just heard.

“Sandra,” said Morris, her voice subdued as Rupke’s words affected her. “Listen, um…” She pulled out her phone and brought up a photo. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I think you should see this.”

She then flashed the photo in Rupke’s face, who then took her phone and examined it. It was a screenshot of Morta’s ominous post at the Feminism Fellowship message board, which got taken down after Morris reported it to the Fellowship moderators.

“Is this…” said Rupke pleasantly shocked, “is this real?”
“As real as it could be,” said Morris, who passed it along to Rufus.
“Do you realize what that is?” said Rupke, getting excited. “This is the smoking gun…uncover this and we’ve got evidence that Morta and her string of murders is real.”
“That kind of only ties her to the murder of Frank Fickles,” said Rufus. “No proof she committed the others.”
“It’s a start, at least,” said Rupke. “Tell me, Candice, why didn’t you say anything about this?”
“Come on Sandra,” said Morris, “how many of those kinds of messages do we see every day? They’re kind of routine on our discussion forums…it’s kind of depressing but nothing ever comes of it. Until now, I guess.”
“One more reason why we need to go to the authorities as soon as possible,” said Rupke, as her friends nodded in agreement.

January 23, 2016,
12:09 local time,
Pittsburgh Police Headquarters,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

“Hi,” said Claudia with a nervous chuckle as she walked up to the receptionist of the headquarters.
“Hello,” said the receptionist, Gina Muirhead, a heavyset black woman with a sweet, velvety voice. “How can I help you today?”
“Oh gosh,” said Claudia, starting to feel a bit more relaxed. “You’re awfully nice.”
“Sugar,” said Muirhead with a warm smile, “I wouldn’t have this job if I wasn’t.”
“You’re such an anomaly, though,” said Claudia with a restrained smile. “Usually the receptionists I work with would rather be somewhere else.”
“Maybe,” said Muirhead, “I mean, this isn’t my dream job either, but I also think it’s such a waste of time to be angry at the present while waiting for the future. Life is too short.”
“Yeah, well” said Claudia wistfully before changing gears in her tone. “Anyhow…”

“Listen,” said Claudia, pulling out an envelope with one page written document inside, “I’ve been following this case…probably deserves national attention…read an article on the ‘North American Matriarchs’ web site about the Morta killer…I’ve been reading up about it after I read the article, and…I think I made the decisive connection that proves the crimes are linked.”
“Well, we’ll be sure to take a look at it,” said Muirhead with a smile as she accepted the envelope from Claudia, who thanked the receptionist and walked outside.

Joining her was Grayson and her former teammate at the FBII, Julia Pearl.

“How’d it go?” asked Pearl as Grayson flashed a disbelieving smirk.
“Well, I pulled out my envelope,” said Claudia, taking in a breath and letting out a nervous smile, “and I handed it to her. We’ll see how it goes.”
“You know how this will go,” said Grayson shaking his head. “They’re going to take the envelope…maybe they’ll open it. Inevitably, after they laugh at what a delusional person you are, they’ll toss it in the garbage, never to read it again. Seriously, Galla, how many tips from ‘guys coming in off the street’ did you accept?”
“A lot,” said Claudia without much confidence. Pearl and Grayson both gave her a look before Claudia pursed her lips to the side and let out a sigh. “Okay…not that much,” she said, her voice trailing off as she finished.
“See?” said Pearl. “If we’re going to solve this case, we’ve got to do it on our own.”
“I trust the regular police forces,” said Claudia.
“If you don’t trust the FBII,” said Pearl, “what makes you think the regular police are going to be any different?”
“Because the police are better connected to the situation on the ground,” said Claudia. “They connect with the real people, the ones who actually live in the community…they don’t operate in some far off place, ‘distant’ from what really happens…the real police actually care about justice, unlike the FBII.”

Grayson flashed a restrained smile and patted Claudia on the shoulder, wanting to comment about how naïve Claudia was but thinking better of it.

“It’s lunchtime,” he said. “I know a good burger place down the street.”
“Please,” said Pearl, “not the Pittsburgher again…I’m tired of that lazy sandwich.”
“You should live a little, Julia,” said Claudia smiling, ushering the trio away from the police station as they went for lunch.

Meanwhile, inside, Detective Ron Marsh found Claudia’s envelope and opened it, taking it to his desk to read.

“What strikes me about the crimes,” Claudia wrote in her document, “is that, while Morta’s victims appear to be random, upon further inspection, they are not really random at all. Examining the victimology, the victims fit far too neatly across the spectrum of the different kind of lives that men could lead. You have the family man (Mellows), the divorcee (Fickles), the newlywed (Mowers), the loafer (Mackie) and the single man (Sizemore), all picked so that Morta could provide a warning that there is no type of male who could be safe from her wrath. This fits with the pattern of a mission-oriented killer and, since she announced her intentions on a feminist website, insisting that she is doing all this in the name of feminism, it is clear that this mission is one about feminism. Knowing this, I reckon that she has two victims left- the old bachelor (the one Sizemore could have become) and the anti-feminist female, the last two ‘types’ of victims that would cross a militant feminist’s radar. Thus, I would recommend looking for a woman whose credit card purchases are for flights across the continent so that she could commit those murders, with a careful examination of her next destination, since this could be a clue about her next possible victim.”

Marsh kicked up his legs on to his desk, leaned back in his chair and chomped on a doughnut, not even bothering to notice the crumbs that were falling from his mouth and onto the floor or his full beard. He thought about reading the note some more but crumpled it up and threw it in the garbage, believing it had no actual value.

January 23, 2016,
20:34 local time,
The Roundhouse Pub,
Warricksville, Birea

As Angelica Pankewicz walked into the bar with her two friends, Carter Downey and Max Collins, she couldn’t help but be struck at what she saw. Her first foray of freedom after several years locked up, being able to move about and talk freely was a new phenomenon that she was still adjusting to, but so too were the sights and sounds that emanated through the night, each one having a different “feel” now that they came from a place where Pankewicz was no longer in chains.

She couldn’t say that about the other women that she saw that night, as her wonderment at her new surroundings soon turned to despair and disgust. At first, it looked no different than a typical local pub, with black counters and seating contrasting with the shiny white walls, with ambient lighting and music broadcasting through the speakers that wasn’t too loud, with the place being as clean as a pub could possibly be on a Saturday night.

However, at second glance, Pankewicz noted she was the only female patron in the entire bar, as the other women took various different roles “servicing” the male clientele. All of them were naked (aside from tracking devices affixed to their ankle bracelets)- the pub had tried to clothe their female staff but the male patrons kept ripping off their clothes so they stopped bothering- and all of them were pert, healthy women who were dolled up in some capacity. Some were curvy while others were slender, with a broad mixture of hair colours and skin tones. The pub had two bartenders, one of whom had to stop what she was doing because a busboy came from behind her and had sex with her right then and there (for which the busboy only got a reprimand), and two hostesses, with a dozen or so waitresses operating among the tables. The pub, like many in Birea, had signs imploring its patrons not to have sex with the workers. This helped cut down on the amount of men stopping the waitresses from what they were doing (though groping was still common), but the signs were still sometimes ignored and the most any of those “courageous” men got were stern looks from the big, burly men the pub hired as bouncers, and only really because the bouncers would have to pick up the slack from the delay from the women.

Beside the bar was a few beds, laid out, with women in loose chains affixed to them. The women on the beds were at the discretion of the bar manager, who would shift them around with some of the other women on the floor as he saw fit. These were the women the men of the bar were supposed to have sex with, and these women took the brunt of the Bireans’ insatiable libidos.
It was, in other words, a typical Birean bar, but, for Pankewicz, not used to this kind of horror could only stand in stunned silence before Carter grabbed her by the arm and whisked her away.

“Sorry,” he said to her as he walked her to the bar, “but I can’t take any chances. You’re like a carcass to the vultures standing there like that.”
“You’re right,” she said, still trying to process the Birean reality. “It’s just so…”
“New?” Carter said as the two of them finally took their seats.
“Yeah,” said Pankewicz. “I’m still not used to this yet…although it feels so wrong.”
“Place like this is typical for this country,” said Collins, wistfully. “We need to act quickly before the problem gets out of hand.”
Um, this bar has women chained to a bed, naked servers and male clientele that will bust a nut inside a woman whenever he feels like it, and that’s not considered out of hand? Pankewicz thought. How much worse can it get?

She wanted comment on the absurdities before a hand reached down her pants and ran his fingers momentarily along the cleavage of her buttocks until Carter stopped him.

“Hey buddy,” he yelled, pushing the assailant away. Carter continued looking him in the eye, jabbing the attacker’s chest forcefully with his finger, pushing him away. “The girls on display are by the beds. Go bother them and leave her alone! The attacker looked Carter in the eyes and shook his head before heading to the beds.

“Kind of slow for a Saturday night, don’t you think?” Carter said as he ordered a beer.
“Um,” said Pankewicz, seated in between Carter and Collins, “I was just sexually assaulted...shouldn’t we call the police?”
“Babes,” said Carter with a sardonic chuckle as Collins shook his head in disbelief. “A guy just tried to stick his hand up your ass ‘just because’. What does that tell you about the effectiveness of the police around here?”

Just then, a man put his hand on Collins’ shoulder and grabbed it, before Collins brushed it off with ease. The man tried again only to meet the same fate. He then tried a third time before Collins twisted the man’s arm so badly that his elbow was bent out of shape, causing excruciating pain. Collins looked him in the eye and darted his eyes to usher the man away, which he did after writhing in pain.

“Slow, yes, but the Bireans are no less friendly than I remember,” said Collins as Carter laughed with Pankewicz still stunned at what she saw.
“So what brings us here anyway?” Pankewicz said. “I thought we were going to do something tonight, not just drink beers.”
“Heh,” said Carter, “trust me- we’re going to do something tonight.”

As if on cue, a slender but muscular man sat down next to Collins and repeatedly tapped him on the shoulder.

“Excuse me sir,” said the man, snarling at the disinterested Collins, “but, you’re in my seat.”
Collins sat in silence, refusing to acknowledge his new barmate’s rudeness.
The man then cleared his throat and spoke louder. “Excuse me sir,” said the man, snarling at the still disinterested Collins, “but, you’re in my seat.”
“Hey loser,” said Carter, shouting at Collins’ harasser, “there are other girls on offer tonight. Why don’t you go bug them?”

The man got up from his seat and walked towards Carter, who also got up and walked towards him.

“You simple-minded fool,” said the man, looking Carter directly in the eye. “Did I say anything about bugging a girl?”
“You’re a Birean male,” deadpanned Collins, turning his attention to the man sounding analytical. “There’s only one thing you’re after and that’s someone of the female persuasion. Your culture dictates it.”
“Poppycock,” said the man, scoffing. “Maybe I just want a seat.”
“There are plenty of other seats available,” said Collins, “so why else would you want me to vacate my own unless it is to get access to the pretty blonde I’m sitting next to?”

The man smiled and shook his head, sending a punch Carter’s way before Carter’s reflexes allowed him to block the attempt and send a jab into the man’s stomach, causing him to hunch over. The man quickly recovered, lunging for Pankewicz who recoiled in fear before Collins grabbed him from behind and threw him away, making him tumble into a table where four other men, just minding their own business, were sitting.

As soon as Collins’ harasser hurtled into their table, causing it to break, the four men ruffled their jackets and got up to confront Collins and Carter. One of them took his broken beer bottle and brandished it as a weapon, before Carter sent a high kick to knock it out of his hand.

The man then proceeded to knee Carter in the gut, which caused him to recoil back into the bar before he recovered to punch the man in the face, knocking him to the floor. Meanwhile, Collins had his hands full taking on the other three men, as one coralled his neck from behind and tilted him backwards while the other two took turns jabbing at his belly. Carter was going to provide relief when another man jumped on top of him and tackled him to the ground, sending a rain of blows to his face without warning. After a moment to get past the shock, Carter used his shoulder to throw the man off of him and put him on his back, which allowed Carter to wind up a punch and put his full force into it and knock his attacker out cold.

Just as soon as he got up, another man ran up to him and coralled him at his waist, driving him back but failing to tackle him. The man, realizing where he was, opened his mouth as if to bite, making a run at Carter’s genitals before Carter’s knee knocked him backwards. Carter then proceeded back to the bar, where Collins was still struggling with the three men and Pankewicz was curled up into a ball underneath the bar rail and behind her stool, where no one seemed to notice her.

Collins managed to trip one of his attackers and threw the one that had been strangling him off his back, sending him hurtling across the room where he banged against the real wall and landed with a splat on the floor. He still had one more man to deal with, whom Carter was about to clobber before he had to turn around and punch out a man who’d just broken a beer bottle off of his head.

By the time Carter turned around to greet Collins’ last attacker, the attacker was laying on the floor, writhing in pain before passing out.

“You were right,” said Pankewicz, still catching her breath after a thwap with her arm against the backside of the attacker’s knees knocked him flat on the ground. “We did get something to do.”
“Nice shot,” said Collins, dusting himself off and readjusting his jacket. He then rubbed his neck but otherwise appeared unaffected.
“That’s going to sting for a couple of days,” said Carter, clutching his lower back and grimacing in pain. “I ain’t the Protector I used to be.”
“Protector?” Pankewicz said, intrigued.
“Yeah,” said Carter, giving his head a shake. “I was part of Virtue’s peacekeeping force, the Protectors, in my younger days. Of course, we seemed to do more fighting than protecting, but that’s Virtue for you.”
“I needed to learn something tonight,” said Pankewicz, catching her breath and regaining her composure.
“Yeah,” said Carter wistfully, “that in a place like Birea,” he continued before pausing to show off a fist, “this is your police. Once you are comfortable with that, we can move forward.”
“I’m ready,” said Pankewicz with a smile after contemplating Carter’s words. “That was actually kind of fun.”
“Come on,” said Carter, “let’s get back to my place. Rest up so we can continue the journey tomorrow.”
“I found this,” said Collins, holding out a business card. “Pilfered it from the man who was strangling me.”
“I know that symbol,” said Pankewicz, examining the card.
“This could be a lead,” said Carter, nodding his head in ackowledgement as the three of them left the bar.

January 25, 2016,
08:10 local time,
Aaron Fitchner’s Office, FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“I can’t believe these people,” said Fitchner, watching a news broadcast from Washington, D.C. Present was Roman Emperor Valerius IV, North American Prefect Eva Avita, FBII Director Lucius Black and the new North American Union President, Rodney Dickens, Joseph Reddick’s Vice-President who assumed the office upon Reddick’s death.

“We would like to reiterate to everyone,” said Valerius in front of the podium, “that there is no reason to be afraid. All this stuff you hear about a ‘culture war’ is a figment of your imagination. It is a baseless rumour with no basis in fact.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” said Fitchner, scoffing at the report.
“We are aware that there was a Soldiers of the Lord operation on North American soil,” said Black, taking the stage, “but we can safely say that we have mitigated that threat and set North America back on a course that will get it on its feet. The crime statistics for 2015 are in, and I am proud to report another record year of low crime. This shows the continued dedication and commitment the Romans have for North America, ones we will continue to proudly have and display.”

Fitchner turned off the TV when his personal cell phone buzzed.

“Teresa Gibson?” Fitchner said, looking at the text message. He wondered what Gibson so desperately needed to talk about this early in the morning, especially considering that it was 5AM in California, but Fitchner knew her heart was in the right place so he didn’t question to the call.
“Teresa?” Fitchner said as Gibson picked up the phone. “Hey! How’s it going?” He chuckled, relieved to hear such a nice, warm, soothing voice at the other end of the line.
“I couldn’t sleep much,” said Gibson, who let out a yawn. “I was thinking about the murdered men case and I noticed something about Ben Sizemore.”
Fitchner’s voice got excited. “You were called into the case?”
“Not quite...but if the matter becomes an inter-state one, I represent the FBII in California, so I can assume the case without invitation.”
Fitchner’s voice soured as he let out a sigh. “Oh.”
“Which is why I’m calling you, because…if this is an inter-state matter we can finally get actual police resources involved on this, and I understand you have a contact that can help me.”
“Right. Send me what you’ve got.”

Just then, Fitchner, through the haze now overcoming his tired eyes, noticed Agent Casey Parnell of the Office of Professional Responsibility, assigned to review the BAU, walking towards his office, which caused him to abruptly say goodbye to Gibson, catching her off guard.

“Agent Fitchner,” said Parnell, walking into Fitchner’s office without knocking. “How are you doing today?”
“I’d love to tar and feather you”, Fitchner said with a smug smile.
Excuse me, Agent?” said Parnell, loudly and angrily.
“Fine, thank you,” he said, his voice trailing due to a defeated sigh.
“How’s the Homing Pigeon Case going?” Parnell said, sitting back in her chair relaxed with her smug smile on full display.
“Oh it’s, um, going well.” Fitchner let out another nervous chuckle, one that he tried to hide with a smile that was way too wide.
“I’ve noticed you haven’t sent me a single E-Mail with regards to your progress on the case. Why is that?”
“Well...um...uh...you see...” Fitchner scratched the back of his head and let out a deep breath while Parnell gave him a death glare with her arms folded.
Parnell shook her head in disgust. “Seriously, Agent, I’m running out of patience. You’ve had the case for two weeks now...you must have something. I expect a report on my desk at noon today about your progress or there will be consequences. Is that understood?”

She then glanced at Fitchner’s desk and noticed his cell phone.

“Why is your personal cell phone on your desk?” Parnell asked, her brows furrowed.
“I...um,” said Fitchner, sensing defeat. “I didn’t...realize that it was out. I’m sorry, I’ll put it-”
“Forget it,” said Parnell, swiping it from Fitchner’s desk. “You can have this back when you finish your report. I’ll be waiting.”

Fitchner watched Parnell leave, his mouth agape, shocked at Parnell’s brazen act and thus unable to mouth any kind of meaningful process. He was certain his rights dictated she couldn’t just take his phone, but he was no position to squabble- after all, he was under review, and Parnell could effectively refute his words because of it. He decided he’d send a quick E-Mail to Gibson, using his FBII account after deducing the rent-a-goons would notice him logging into his personal account, and left his office to address his team.

What he saw dismayed him- Pucci was playing Tetris, Emily Proctor was hunched over her desk, asleep, and Jason Simeon and Vincent Chestnut were having the fiftieth argument about coffee beans. Parnell was standing over the photocopier, simply a stall tactic so that she could observe the team some more, but Fitchner wondered why Parnell didn’t give his teammates a hard time when, clearly, they were being delinquent. Fitchner wanted to cry but took a deep breath instead, loudly clearing his voice which got his team’s attention.

“Guys,” he said, a faint quiver in his voice. “What do we have on the Homing Pigeon Case?”

The team looked up and shrugged before turning back to what they were doing, which only agitated Fitchner even more.

“Jason!” Fitchner called out, “you love birds...you must have some insights...anything...right?”
“I never liked pigeons,” said Simeon, disgust evident in his voice. “One cut my hand pecking at food I offered in Venice...so I decided that I’d take up hunting them. Far more satisfying.”
Simeon hunts pigeons? Fitchner thought. He loves animals and he’s a vegan...this makes no sense...what’s going on here?

“Emily!” Fitchner said, a nervous quiver evident in his voice. “The UnSub left notes...surely you know something?”
“Seriously Fitch?” Proctor said, giving him a death glare. “I’ve been working with you for over a decade and now you decide that my opinions matter? Please...I’m not stupid. You only care because she’s around.”

Fitchner was flabbergasted, but decided against challenging Proctor. He then turned his attention to Chestnut.

“Vince!” Fitchner said with a forced smile, which turned to a frown when Chestnut started to ramble about the Kanagawa Shogunate which had nothing to do with the case. This left Pucci, who Fitchner turned to next.

“Claudio!” Fitchner said with a restrained smile.
“Don’t bother, Fitch,” said Pucci curtly, causing Fitchner to cover his face and scratch it out of stress. “Why should you expect me to pay attention to this case when I know you’re paying attention to another one.” He darted his eyes to see if Parnell was paying attention to the conversation, which she was, before he continued. “A case that Director Black has specifically told you not to pay attention to. So maybe before asking us what we’ve got, we should be asking you what you have.”

Fitchner started to pant, wanting to come up with the words to respond with but failing. He darted his eyes around the team, seeing their obvious disdain for him, bemused that his career had fallen to this point. He stood, hunched over the railing with his mouth open wide and staring off into space, unsure of what to think of next.

Pucci, though, knew right away what to say.

“Just like we thought,” he said sternly. “You’ve got nothing.”

As the team went back to their workstations, Fitchner rushed back into his office and slammed the door, imagining his team laughing at him and berating him for the lousy agent he’d become. People never failed to remind me I ‘fell’ into this job, that I never ‘earned’ it...I guess now they’re right.

A small prick in his shoulder roused him awake. It was Simeon, who had just poked Fitchner in the arm with his pen, the evidence firmly in his hand. Fitchner found his cell phone in his pocket, with Gibson having hung up on him after she realized he was asleep, with a bunch of files that Fitchner knew he’d have to look at later. It then dawned on him that he’d just dreamt that entire sequence with Parnell and his team mocking him, but Fitchner was still somewhat in a dreamlike fugue.

“What…what time is it?” said Fitchner, his nerves on overdrive after being jolted awake. “Don’t tell me I slept the whole day.”
“Relax,” said Simeon in his soothing alto voice. “It’s just 10:15, on Monday. You must not have gotten a lot of sleep.”
“I was…I was dreaming that Parnell was just here,” said Fitchner, who then started to babble. “I told her I wanted to tar and feather her, and then she asked me what I had on the team, only for me to ask you guys and you guys all mocked me and I came back into this room and slammed my head on the table and cried uncontrollably about the failure I’d bec-”
“Fitch, relax,” said Simeon calmly.
“You’re right,” said Fitchner, started to relax. “It was only a nightmare…although nightmares do have a basis in reality.
“Fitch,” said Simeon with a chuckle, “I understand you’re stressed and disappointed about what has happened lately. I get that…but you can’t let that get to you. Parnell’s busting all of our chops out there. I spent a good chunk of Friday afternoon explaining why I have so many pictures of birds on my computer.”
“You guys think I’m a good leader, right?” said Fitchner with a small quiver.
“Fitch,” said Simeon, “you shouldn’t have to ask the question…we’ve all worked with you for over a decade, except for Vince but he’s always respected you. So you don’t crack the whip…leaders don’t need to crack a whip. Leaders need to guide and set the example…and I can’t think of someone who is more dignified and professional than you are. That’s why I know you’re going to get through this.”
“We’re going to get through this,” said Fitchner with a smile escaping through his nerves.

Walking through his office door, as if on cue, was Parnell, who didn’t bother to knock or even greet the agents.

“What’s the latest on the Homing Pigeon Case?” Parnell said, planting her hands on top of Fitchner’s desk and leaning forward, lording over Fitchner’s desk as Fitchner stared in shock over her brazen attitude.
“Happy to see you too, Casey,” said Simeon with a smug smile.

Parnell gave Simeon a cold stare before turning her attention back to Fitchner.

“I have victims’ families screaming at me left, right and centre, Fitch,” said Parnell. “I need answers.”
“Well, um,” said Fitchner, doing his best to think up an answer but all he could do was hem and haw in struggling to do so before Simeon’s quick mind came to his rescue.
“He told me to have a look at the dead pigeons recovered at the scene,” said Simeon assuredly, “and I saw they had a special mark on their feet that links them to a few sanctuaries in Albuquerque. It’s now just a matter of narrowing down which sanctuary it is.”
“Oh,” said Parnell curtly. “Good. Well, keep me posted.” She then left the office, her heels loudly clicking along the floor as she walked.

Once she had left earshot, Simeon again closed Fitchner’s door.

“I’m telling you, she’s testing us,” Simeon said. “This case is a fine example. This guy with the pigeons…he’s not sending any messages that are threatening. He’s just sending people well wishes…I mean, why do we have to put him away?”
“Well, he is violating air traffic laws,” said Fitchner assuredly, “and some people view the pigeon’s message as a violation of their privacy.”
“Yeah,” said Simeon, “but we’ve got no indication he actually knows the homes of the people he’s sent messages to. It’s just some random dude trying to bring some levity into the world. We need some real cases, and soon.”
“We’ll get there,” said Fitchner with a sigh. “We just need to solve stuff like this first and maybe things will turn around.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Simeon, who also sighed. He wasn’t so sure of Fitchner’s conviction, but at least Fitchner had a positive attitude about it.

January 25, 2016,
18:39 local time,
Rick’s Diner,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

“Galla?” Gibson said as she walked up to Claudia’s car parked outside of the diner.
“Yes that’s me,” said Claudia warmly as she got up to shake Gibson’s hand.
“I was told I wouldn’t be able to miss you and your red hair...I was right.”
Claudia smiled and observed her jacket. “You must be Teresa Gibson...you said you’d be wearing a navy blue parka with a CBI pin...and, there it is!”
Gibson smiled as the two of them entered Claudia’s car and closed the doors.

“I know Fitch sent you,” said Claudia, getting serious. “I still have my issues with him, but Danny told me it’s important, so I should let it go. For now anyway.”
“Fitch is actually risking his career to help you out,” said Gibson. “Black told him he’d fire him if he continued investigating the case...which is extreme but Black’s the boss.”
“Well, Valerius is Lucius’ friend,” said Claudia, “and I believe Valerius told him to do this because of the games Rome and Virtue are playing with each other.”
“Oh?” Gibson said, her eyes widening.
“The first step of the Virtue process is chaos,” said Claudia assuredly. “The Virus, at least as it stands now, fulfills that role. It used to be indiscriminate crime and protests, which are not Virtue hallmarks...but, following the Siege of Louisville and the Morta Killer, the crimes have taken a cultural tone, hallmarks of Virtue because they incite cultural conflicts.”
“How so?” Gibson said, nodding her head in appreciation.
“Usually Virtue- through the Soldiers of the Lord- takes what a society fears the most and exacerbates it,” said Claudia, “so that Virtue can come in and appear to be the ‘heroes’. With the public beholden to Virtue, Virtue gets to manipulate the country and install politicians favourable to their views. Virtue also employs a ‘special operative’ to commit smaller ‘influencing’ crimes, with this operative going by the name of The Revenant. This is because she is summoned by Virtue for a task but leaves no trace of her presence, as if she was a ghost. The Utah Water Poisoning is a good example of her work.”
“How do you know who The Revenant is if she leaves no trace?” Gibson said, perplexed.
“The Revenant is known in Roman intelligence circles,” said Claudia. “The sheer number of times events happen that ‘influence’ a country’s policies indicates that it’s too much of a coincidence that there isn’t someone behind those crimes, and because we don’t have rose-coloured glasses on to obscure our view, we tell it like it is. We just have no smoking gun.”
“So why doesn’t Rome ‘tell it like it is’ with regards to North America,” said Gibson, “and wasn’t the Siege of Louisville just people pretending to be Soldiers to real ones out?”
“Yes,” said Claudia, “though The Siege of Louisville did bring out real Soldiers who were engaged in human trafficking. George Walker looks like a solitary case, but I suspect there’s more. Nonetheless, he exposed the Soldiers’ presence in North America so I suppose it emboldened them, which is why they killed President Marks.”
“...and President Reddick,” said Gibson as Claudia gave her an angry look.
“President Reddick killed himself,” said Claudia curtly. “I don’t know what line they fed you but Reddick is dead by his own hand...I was there. The Presidential Guards played me for a fool and wrote some garbage report to get me fired, which is what they did.”
“You guys were set up,” said Gibson, shocked at Claudia’s admission. “The question is, who led you there?”
“Could have been Reddick himself,” said Claudia. “I know Lucius interviewed him after Reddick visited Danny...unless Danny sold me out, but we’re both fighting Virtue so I can’t see why he’d do that.”
“Reddick is connected to this somehow,” said Gibson, “because- and he had to know this- his death would set everything in motion...he kept the poor in check and gave them a voice, and The Virus wasn’t engaged in cultural politics until now.”
“Morta has dealings with The Virus?” Claudia said, intrigued.

Gibson pulled out her phone and showed Claudia a picture. It was Tyson Millway, 58, strangled to death with an electrical cord. What made the picture interesting was the fact that “Virus” was carved into his leg, with the “s” forming an underline that ran along his femoral artery, though this was done post-mortem.

“Well, this confirms it,” said Claudia. “From Johnson City, Tennessee, he’s a black man...no doubt this was done to throw off our psychological profile.”
“How so?” Gibson asked, looking at Claudia with interest. “Also, I noticed that you aren’t questioning the link to Morta.”
“All of our victims prior to Millway were white, so Millway’s killing was done as a way to ‘correct’ this oversight,” said Claudia, “As for the link to Morta, I noticed that the report on his death was similar to the others- his attacker seems to be yet another woman the victim has no connection with. The only difference, as I suspect, is that this woman changes her hairstyle and clothing to give the appearance of different assailants. Every refutation of Morta goes back to the fact that her hair and her height are different in each case, so the ‘eyewitness reports’ don’t match...never mind that eyewitness reports are incredibly unreliable and no one seems to account for the possibility of wigs. Oh, and this is on top of the fact that female killers tend to be very rare.”
“I kind of already knew that connection,” said Gibson with a sigh. “I was hoping you’d have something else.”
“I do,” said Claudia with a smile.

Claudia leaned forward and spoke quietly, prompting Gibson to do the same.

“Humans are creatures of habit, right?” she said confidently.
“Yes,” said Gibson, nodding her head.
“…and we agree that Morta is a mission-oriented killer, right?”
“Yes.”
“If there’s one constant that eventually gives away the criminal is that there’s always something about them that isn’t random…they can do everything they can to appear random, but instincts always take over.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our brains are typically wired to think in logical and rational terms…in other words, we’re not going to do something unless there’s a reason to do it, and this is how people give themselves away. The methods may vary for what they do, but the reasons are always the same.”
“How so?”
“Take Ted Bundy…he mixed his signatures all the time. Never used the same murder weapon, never used the same method of attack or even the same method of obtaining his victims…he was all over the place with regards to his behaviour. It’s why the police never connected him to the killings for so long. What gives him away? Victimology- his targets were all small, petit brunette women and all were young. He had a reason for doing what he did, and that was to target women that he had a preference for. That, above all else, was never going to change- because we always need a rationale to drive us, and that was Bundy’s.”

Gibson leaned back in her seat and broke eye contact to think about what Claudia was saying.

“OK,” said Gibson, “so what’s Morta’s reason for doing what she wants to do?”
“Morta seeks to cause terror,” said Claudia, “and she seeks to tell men that it doesn’t matter ‘who you are’- they should never feel safe. How does she do this? She could pick men completely at random, but she’d run the risk of killing the same ‘kind’ of man twice, and thus her message gets blunted. So she needs to kill every ‘kind’ of man that would be present in North American society, to truly give the impression that no one should ‘feel’ safe because of their status. Once she’s done that, she may pick men truly at random, but, even then, she’ll still work to ensure there’s a proper ‘mix’ so that one segment of the population isn’t left out.”
“So it’s like she’s ‘checking men off a list’, and the fact that they’re different kinds of men gives the illusion of randomness when there really isn’t.”
“Exactly.”
“OK…but, who’s on her list?”
You have the family man (Mellows), the divorcee (Fickles), the newlywed (Mowers), the loafer (Mackie), the single man (Sizemore) and the old bachelor (Millway), leaving the anti-feminist female.”

Gibson furrowed her brows and turned her head slightly but suddenly.

“What about homosexual men?” Gibson said, “they should come on a list of men to target. Plus, why the ‘anti-feminist female’? Wouldn’t she target just men?”
“This is where the ‘mission’ comes in,” said Claudia. “Morta is a militant online feminist, not an academic one, which is an important point. Online feminist discourse tends to follow along the same lines as 20th century North American feminism followed, which was highly heteronormative and was obsessed with ‘man-bashing’ and the danger of the ‘male stranger’, things academic feminism has moved on from. Thus, Morta would not target a homosexual man, since homosexuals are not a ‘threat’ to her version of feminism. The fact that Morta used Schrodinger’s Rapist as her ‘raison d’être’ is a clear indicator of this.”

Gibson chuckled sardonically.

“Schrodinger’s Rapist,” she said with a smile, “that’s the one about the idea that a woman cannot know if the man she’s meeting or involved with is a rapist until he commits the act. Boy, I remember that one well- how many men missed the point?”
“The ‘Schrodinger’s Racist’ counterargument has some merit,” said Claudia without missing a beat, “in that if the post talked about the ‘scary black man’ stereotype instead of the ‘scary perverted man’ stereotype it’d be rightly condemned as hate speech.”
“Come on, Galla,” said Gibson, giving Claudia a look of disbelief, “you can’t tell me you’ve never had bad experiences with men, and that you’re at least not somewhat apprehensive when a man comes up to you because of it.”

Claudia shifted in her seat to get more comfortable.

“I can do one better,” she said with a knowing smile. “Marcus, my ex, was a compulsive cheat...very emotionally manipulative, threatened me a lot...he was scary, and he could have raped me if he wanted to and maybe in some cases he did. However, it would be remiss for me to think that because I have had a bad experience with Marcus that I would thus have a bad experience with another man. This doesn’t mean my default position should be ‘every other guy is a nice guy’- it just means I make no assumptions about whether or not a man is ‘good’ without getting to know who he is.

“The Schrodinger’s Rapist analogy is not necessarily a bad one- it’s effective in understanding the cultural psychology of women, especially those who have been traumatized. Where it fails for me is that it’s couched in the extreme, continuing a narrative that is not just outdated in feminist circles but crime fighting circles as a whole, and that’s ‘stranger danger’. You and I both know that a woman’s real fear is not the man she doesn’t know but the man that she does.”

Gibson was still dismissive.

“That may be true, but we women still have to be vigilant, there’s no denying that,” she said.
“I didn’t say anything about not being vigilant,” said Claudia, “all that stuff applies. However, we can be vigilant without being scared- which is another part of Morta’s ideology that online feminism laps up: the idea that women are continually ‘damsels in distress’ who must forcefully strike against the society that oppresses them. They fail to understand the system is far more nuanced than that and that simple violence isn’t going to solve a thing.”

“All right,” said Gibson, feeling the need to get the discussion productive again, “so who is the ‘anti-feminist female’? Why is she last on this list- or rather, as you say, ‘last’?”
“My guess is that this last woman has a personal connection to Morta,” said Claudia. “There’s no one who is more destructive to the feminist cause, a cause that is supposed to help women, than a woman who won’t embrace feminism.”
“So Morta was probably inspired by this woman,” said Gibson, thinking out loud. “Something the anti-feminist said likely set her off, and by leaving her last (before she starts over), Morta thinks that her killing will be glossed over by investigators stuck on the crimes against men…but then, why not just kill her in the middle of the spree?”
“Perhaps Morta needed to work up her confidence,” said Claudia. “Think of Bob Mowers- killed out in the open, near a nightclub that Morta probably found out about from stalking Mowers. This was highly risky with lots of witnesses, so she was lucky not to get caught. The other deaths were done in seclusion, giving Morta a better chance of escaping, but not far enough away from witnesses that they couldn’t know that a woman may have committed the crime. She also learned to be adaptable, given that she stabbed the other victims yet shot Sizemore, knowing she likely couldn’t get close enough to him to overpower him with a knife.”
“Sizemore’s killing is still kind of reckless though,” said Gibson. “Gun’s pretty loud.”
“Malibu is pretty secluded,” said Claudia. “Even if someone heard the gunshots, by the time someone saw Sizemore’s body, Morta would have escaped too far from the scene for anyone to definitively connect her to the crime, but not too far that no one would think she didn’t do it.”
“She has to be wearing some kind of disguise then,” said Gibson. “If her plan involves murdering someone close enough to witnesses that they connect her to the crime yet allows her to slip away undetected, she must be wearing a disguise when she commits the crime and then leaves the scene, with her car parked close enough to the scene that she could get out of her disguise and leave without anyone noticing. That should narrow it down.”
“…and she would use multiple disguises,” said Claudia.
“Which would narrow it down some more,” said Gibson. “Since her crimes are all over the place, she must either be on vacation from her job or she just lost her job, one that likely carried a huge salary that would give her the savings for all these trips. She would have had to work as a costumer or in fashion, because she’s just too good with her disguises. So we need to look for a costumer who jetsetted across the continent.”

Claudia sighed, even though she agreed with Gibson’s assessment.

“What’s wrong Galla?” said Gibson, looking concerned.
“I wish I would have told Fitch sooner,” said Claudia. “I let my pride get in the way…I left it with local police last week and I listened to Danny and decided not to leave it with the FBII because of all of my bad experiences with them…and another man got killed.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” said Gibson letting out a sigh. “I understand why you did what you had to do…and I understand why you’d cop to Grayson’s cynicism. Remember, though, what’s wrong with the system has to do with the people on top, not those operating on their behalf.”
“Kind of like men and the patriarchy,” said Claudia. “It’s not the individual men that’s the problem, but the system that allows them an unfair advantage.”
“A lesson Morta really needs to learn,” said Gibson.

January 27, 2016,
19:21 local time,
Aiport Hotel,
Tucson, Arizona

“Perp’s name is Heather Mordecai,” said Grayson as Pearl joined him in his car where they’d drive to their stakeout position. “Galla figured it out last night and told me in person, so I figured I needed to do the same with you. We’re going to rendezvous with the CBI’s Teresa Gibson once we reach our destination, but later in the night…I understand that Galla trusts her…if we’re going to solve this crime, I guess we’re going to have to as well.”
“How’d they figure it was Mordecai?” said Pearl.
“Mordecai’s credit card statement places her in each city that the murders took place,” said Grayson. “She paid for a lot of things in cash, as we suspected, but her flights were done via credit card. She was also once a costume designer and makeup artist who did a lot of freelance work for Hollywood figures, until work dried up for her at the end of December, right on time to commit the murders. Her next flight was here, and, based on her social media accounts, she had a feud with a one Jenna Norey, who frequently comments on Mordecai’s blog and is a self-proclaimed ‘men’s rights activist’.”
“I see,” said Pearl, intrigued. “So why are we going in first? Because we don’t need a warrant to enter Norey’s home?”
“Her property, yes,” said Grayson. “We’ll be there to monitor Norey’s house and we’ll only enter once we see Mordecai enter the house…and then Gibson will come in to arrest Mordecai once we catch her.”
“Sounds simple enough,” said Pearl.

The two of them eventually came upon the ranch that Norey called home, just outside of Tucson. Like Mordecai, she was a freelancer who often worked in the film industry, with her ranch often being used for the movies that she worked on.

Grayson and Pearl parked just outside, and waited for Mordecai- who flew in today- to drive to Norey’s house. Grayson had a code that he would plug into his phone that would allow him to scramble the security codes to Norey’s fence, allowing him and Pearl access to Norey’s home, but he’d only press it once he saw Mordecai enter the gate and close it behind her. He didn’t want to risk Mordecai spotting them, so he’d have to wait to enter.

The pair waited an hour before Mordecai’s car approached the gate. There, they saw Mordecai- her hair bleached blonde with brunette roots- not get out of her car or open her window before the gates opened in front of her. Grayson took that as his cue, waiting a few moments before he called Gibson and then drove inside the complex himself.

Grayson and Pearl parked behind Mordecai’s car and quickly exited, doing their best in the cover of darkness not to be seen. Grayson then picked Norey’s lock, allowing him and Pearl to enter the house.

Both Grayson and Pearl looked around the entrance of the house and listened, trying to get a read on where Mordecai could be headed. They didn’t have their guns drawn, but they would once they got a sense that trouble lurked. Pearl heard echoes of a conversation coming from upstairs, pointing towards it to Grayson. She was ready to move before Grayson held her back.

“Sounds like she might be at the door,” said Grayson. “We need to stay back and be ready to hide.”

Seconds later, they heard screaming coming from the room they believed the conversation was coming from. The pair wasted no time, drawing their guns and running up the stairs, all while the screaming continued.

Pearl then forcefully opened the door when she got there, flinging it open and pointing the gun right at Mordecai who had gotten up after hearing the footsteps.

“Get back!” Pearl shouted, angrily thrusting the gun in Mordecai’s direction. “Don’t make any sudden moves- I’ve got backup.”
“What the heck is going on?” said Mordecai, her hands raised but bemused at the situation as Grayson entered the room with his gun drawn.
“We’re making a citizen’s arrest,” said Grayson, staring intently at Mordecai. “We know you killed all those people, and we’re not going to let you kill your friend Jenna.”
“Kill Jenna?” said Mordecai, gasping loudly with her eyes wide open. “She’s my best friend- I’ve known her since high school. Why the heck would I want to kill her?”

“Yeah,” said Norey, getting up to see what was going on and more confused than troubled at the situation. “Why would she want to kill me?”
“Heather Mordecai is Morta,” said Pearl, “the feminist killer that’s hunting down her enemies. We know you’re a MRA…that’s public enemy No. 1 for someone like Morta.”
“Besides,” said Grayson, a slight hesitation evident in his voice. “We heard the screams…she was going to do something to you. That’s why we’re stepping in.”

“Guys,” said Norey with a flabbergasted laugh. “We’re watching a movie- The Man With The Skull Tattoo. It’s pretty scary…and I invited Heather over because I want her to work with me on the sequel. It starts principal photography next week.”

Grayson turned the corner and saw their TV on, movie being played just as Norey said it was (though now it was paused). Pearl and Grayson then scanned the room and saw hundreds of pictures of Mordecai and Norey together, happily smiling as the two of them enjoyed their long friendship.

“That still doesn’t mean you’re not the Morta killer,” said Grayson, turning his attention back to Mordecai. “Explain to me how your credit card statement shows flights to all the places the killer struck.”
“Jenna told me to do some scouting,” said Mordecai. “Find the best place for the Man to escape and start his rampage of terror again. She gave me some money and I flew to various places over the past month. I wanted to get this right, because my future rides on the success of this movie.”
“Yeah,” said Pearl, “that makes sense- but you’re a feminist Heather. Jenna’s a MRA…you two couldn’t more polar opposites if you tried.”
Norey walked up and put her hand on Mordecai’s shoulder as Mordecai smiled in appreciation.

“Friendship isn’t about having the same views,” said Norey, as Mordecai started to get teary. “It’s about two people who value each other as human beings and have each other’s backs...and I couldn’t imagine my life without Heather.” They both turned to look each other in the eyes, smiling at each other before Norey continued. “If anyone tried to kill her you can bet they’d meet my fury- and she’d do the same for me.”

Right then, Gibson entered the room, her gun drawn before Grayson walked up to her.

“I’m not sure it’s Heather,” said Grayson to Gibson, who nodded and approached Mordecai.

“Heather Mordecai, CBI,” said Gibson, pulling out her badge. “Apologies for the inconvenience my two informants caused…we were operating on flawed intel.”
“It’s okay,” said Mordecai, flustered but understanding. “I can give you a list of all the hotels I stayed at, as well as the people who drove me to the locations I scouted. I can also give you my cell records and my itinerary…my social media messages…everything to show you that I didn’t commit the crimes nor did I work with anyone who did.”
“We’re going to need that,” said Gibson. She pondered the situation before she turned her attention back to Mordecai.

“I think we’ll still need you to come with us and answer a few questions,” said Gibson assuredly but warmly. “When you can, of course. I trust you when you say you’re not connected to the crimes, but there’s a reason why we’re here- because Morta led us here.”
“Of...of course,” said Mordecai with a puzzled look.
“Morta found you through someone else,” said Gibson, “and we need to know who that someone is.”
“I can’t think of anyone,” said Mordecai, doing her best to ponder Gibson’s statement.
“The night before Morta wrote about Phaedra Starling,” said Norey jumping in, “didn’t you see a feminist get piled on by sockpuppets on your blog?”
“Yeah,” said Mordecai, audibly under her breath. “I don’t remember the names though.”
“I know someone who can help you remember,” said Gibson with a smile.

January 28, 2016,
09:15 local time,
Tucson Police Headquarters,
Tucson, Arizona

“I came here as fast as I could,” said Fitchner as he greeted Gibson and Arctic Police Federation (APF) Director Bill Firechild, 51, a big, muscular Native Canadian, called on to the case because Sizemore was a Saskatchewan citizen. “You’re having trouble with the suspect?”
“She’s a witness, Fitch,” said Gibson. “Galla thought Heather Mordecai was was Morta but it turns out that she may just be a lead instead.”
“So Galla was on the right track,” said Fitchner.
“Only problem is,” said Firechild, “the lead she’s describing she can’t seem to make any sense of. She told us of this person she received messages from on social media but it turns out that account name is fake. Since you’re the behaviouralist, we thought you’d might be able to crack the code.”
“Hold that thought,” said Fitchner as he saw a man coming towards them in the distance.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen,” said Black as he approached the trio, sounding upbeat but not hiding his overall disappointment.
“ ‘Ladies’?” said Gibson with a confused look. “Director, with all due respect...there’s only one lady here and that’s me.”
“That’s what you think,” said Black, shifting his attention to Fitchner, who had his head down.

“You,” Black barked, which jolted Fitchner, “I’m only going to ask you once- what are you doing here? You better tell me you’ve got a lead in the Homing Pigeon Case.” Black furrowed his brows and stared intently at Fitchner, looking like he already knew the answer Fitchner would give him.
“He does have a lead,” said Firechild without hesitation. “I called him here personally. He wished to discuss things in his office but it would be much easier to show him.”
“OK,” said Black, “and why is Teresa here?”
“Since the pigeon I found may have been from Phoenix,” said Firechild, “it extends into CBI jurisdiction so I needed to get clearance from her. Plus, she’s a wonderfully competent investigator- I figure her help would be of much use in this case.”
“Oh,” said Black, satisfied with the answers. “All right. Get to it then.” As he walked away, Fitchner pulled Firechild aside once Black was out of earshot.

“You have a lead on the case?” Fitchner said, looking curious but excited.
“Actually, yeah I do,” said Firechild with a smile. “You said one of your messages said, ‘Get off my lawn, jackass!’ I think I know who that may be.”
Fitchner’s smile was wide as his mood brightened. “Oh. So you can bring him in.”
“I could...but I’ll let your team bring him in. I’ll give you the name, you make the phone call.”
Fitchner shook Firechild’s hand firmly and started to babble. “Thanks so much. If there’s anything I can do-”
Firechild waved at him to stop. “Please. You’ve already done a lot for me. If there is anything you can do, take this as an opportunity to grow. You need to start standing up for yourself.”
Fitchner wore a confused look on his face, getting downcast. “...but...but...”
Firechild patted him on the back and smiled, before starting down the hall to the interview room.

“Ben Sizemore,” Firechild said, as Fitchner started to walk with him. “Women love him, right?”
“From what I could tell, yes,” said Fitchner, catching up.
“Do you know anything about a Martha Wainright?”
“Martha...Morta...did she threaten Ben?”
“Not quite...but she seemed to write a pretty scathing message about Ben after the two had an evening together.”
“Well, let’s find out.”

“Good morning,” said Fitchner as he entered the interview room where Mordecai was already enjoying breakfast and engaging in small talk with Gibson. “I’m sorry I took so long- as soon as I found out I came here as fast as I could.”
“No problem,” said Mordecai with a smile. “It’s a bit earlier in the morning than I’m used to rising, but Teresa’s words moved me last night. You guys think I know her?”
“You might,” said Gibson. “Everything Morta has done has been a redirect...she’s varied her kill methods, changed her appearance, tactics and even her victimology just to ensure she doesn’t get caught...so when we got to you, it’s hardly surprising that she sent us on the wrong path. Morta has thought of everything.”
“Here’s the thing, though,” said Mordecai, getting downcast. “I haven’t told anyone of my flight arrangements except Jenna and she has an alibi.”
“Yeah,” said Gibson, “we know. It checked out- like yours.”
“Doesn’t matter who you’ve told,” said Fitchner, “stalkers find many other ways to access your information without knowing it, and, admittedly, your blog makes it easy.”
“She could have picked anyone to fly with,” said Firechild, “but she picked you. Morta came across your name somehow and decided to stalk you, only to diverge when she came across her real victim- the last one.”
“That victim is personal,” said Fitchner. “No other reason why Morta would steer us away from finding this victim, or go to such great lengths to steer us away at all.”
“I can’t think of anyone who comments on my blog who jumps out at me,” said Mordecai. “There are millions of people who comment every day- I can’t keep track of them all.”
“You told us that there was a debate between feminists on your blog,” said Gibson, “that you believed another person used sockpuppet accounts to ‘pile on’ one debater. We need you to remember that debater.”

Fitchner then sat down in front of Mordecai as Gibson and Firechild got up to observe.

“We’re going to do something called a ‘cognitive interview’,” said Fitchner as Mordecai nodded her head throughout his talk. “It’s designed to go deep into the recesses of your mind and pull things that your brain has remembered but has trouble accessing. I imagine Teresa has given you a briefing?”
“Yes,” said Mordecai with confidence.
“Good,” said Fitchner. “First thing I’m going to need you to do is close your eyes and do your best to concentrate on every little detail.”

Mordecai nodded her head and did as Fitchner asked.

“Okay,” said Fitchner, speaking calmy and warmly. “You’re sitting at your computer. You’ve got the notification that you’ve received new comments. What’s happening?”

Mordecai closed her eyes tightly, doing her best to concentrate.

“It’s night,” said Mordecai. “I’m always checking my blog at night, before I go to bed, just to cut down on the action I have to catch up on in the morning. It was a warm night...uncharacteristic for this time of year, I thought. I have the window open to allow the breeze to enter my room, and I recall it picked up that night. I get up, put on my bathrobe and I sit back down at the computer. I go to grab my mouse but the cat is asleep on the cord so I have to rouse him up, which I do.”

“After you rouse the cat from its slumber,” said Fitchner, his relaxing tone getting Mordecai to relax, “what do you do next?”

“So I look on my computer and I see a notification for new comments,” said Mordecai, sounding calm and relaxed. “I click on the link, and I open the new comments. There were three new ones...I wrote a piece about online harassment...someone in Tucson took her life because of the abuse...Mary Kettles. Jenna and I knew her, though not that well, and made a memorial for her on Friendlist. I simply decided to share it on my blog with a small blurb, because I was too shaken up to really write about it.

“I remember most comments were ones of prayer and support...nothing really special. Then I remember one commenter, a woman, someone who I’d later find out is a feminist...said something about how society tends to write off online harassment not knowing that things like Kettles’ suicide can result because of it...the commenter said that laws need to change so that Kettles’ abusers could be held accountable. Then I remember someone- another woman- writing in response that free speech is too important to give up, to which the first commenter replied by saying society can and does put limits on free speech to protect our safety. They went at it for a few posts...I remember reading each of them, and enjoying the debate.”

“This is happening in real time?” Fitchner asked.
“Yes,” said Mordecai, “yes it was. It was very odd but enthralling at the same time.”
“So they went at it for a few posts,” said Fitchner, “then what happened?”

“After a few exchanges,” said Mordecai, doing her best to continue imagining the night, “I notice that another person comes to the defence of the free speech commenter, then another...and then another. Soon, I’m seeing the feminist commenter being harangued by five different people- two male, three female- but they all wrote the same stuff in the same style. I notice the feminist getting exhausted in her words, so I stepped in and commented myself, pleading for respect from everyone. I hoped this would stem the tide, but it doesn’t. I look up the IP addresses of the free speech side and I notice they’re all the same. So I put the IP address on my ‘blocked’ list and, after it stemmed the tide, I went to bed.”

“I got up...made some coffee in the morning. Checked my phone...saw another text from the guy I broke up with two months ago...concluded he’s only texting me because he was lonely at Christmas so I ignored the message. Then I notice I received an E-Mail from a member of my blog’s network.”

Mordecai’s eyes widened and she started to pant loudly, shaking her head while wearing a very confused look. Fitchner watched, expressionless, but inside his brain he knew this message stuck a chord.

“It was the feminist from last night,” said Mordecai, still looking surprised. “Or at least I thought it was...she had the same name. I was expecting a ‘thank you’ but instead, all I got was a message that said, ‘you really should know who your true friends are.’ That was that. I look up the IP address and note that it was different from the sockpuppets last night, but not the same as the feminist’s...I did some further digging...found that the account was an impersonation, as the username contained an extra space at the end of the name, which is why I didn’t catch it at first.”

“How did you feel when you saw that message?” Fitchner asked, continuing to observe.
“Shock, mainly,” said Mordecai. “Disgust...disappointment. I’d never seen that person before but we shared so many views...I thought we could have a friendship but then she wrote that...why did she do that? Why would she stab me in the back after I help her out? Then when I realize that it was an impersonation, I start to feel confused...did the feminist lose access to her account? If so, why would she write a threatening message to me? It didn’t make any sense, so I conclude it had to have been a sockpuppet...which opened a whole new set of questions.”
“Go on,” said Fitchner, “you’re doing great.”
“The one question I kept asking,” said Mordecai, concentrating hard, “is why is this person going to such lengths to destroy a person that they’ve never met? It just didn’t make any sense to me. Then I wondered why this person would issue a threat to me...I’m just a blogger, I don’t have much influence. So I dismissed the person...thought it was just another ‘crazy’...and went about my day.”
“Go back to the message,” said Fitchner. “Observe the computer screen- tell me what you see.”
“I see the message form,” said Mordecai, “the site’s layout...the boilerplate disclaimer at the bottom...the site’s wonderful shade of lavender. I see her username...mine...the post count.

“Then I see the picture...it’s someone with dark brown hair...wide-rimmed GI glasses...pale skinned...but, she is very pretty. I remember the glasses...that’s what stuck out...and her smile. Loved her smile.”

“How many posts did she have?” Fitchner asked, pressing on. “Did she list a location? Time of registration? What colour is the font?”
“Um,” said Mordecai, concentrating hard. “One post...I looked...was a comment on another blog. Registered that morning...9:08AM. Said her location was Columbus, Ohio but her IP address was in Thessaloniki...which was weird. Then I see the name...I can’t make it out...”
“You can do it Heather,” said Fitchner. “Just concentrate.”
“I see the lavender,” said Mordecai. “Then I’m looking at the words...my cat jumps from the desk and into my lap. As I pet his head, I look at the words...um...”
“Think of the colour and the writing,” said Fitchner, “let your cat soothe you.”
“The words,” said Mordecai. “They’re aquamarine...Helevetica font...I think...I think...”
“Go on,” said Fitchner, trying to supress his own excitement while urging her on, “you’re doing great.”
“Sandra Rupke,” said Mordecai suddenly, starting to pant and keel over as if she had run a hundred miles. After a few seconds, she caught her breath and opened her eyes, composed. “Sandra Rupke. That’s the name.”
“You’re sure about this?” Gibson asked.
“Yes,” said Mordecai, relieved. “Yes I’m sure.” She got up to walk around, prompting Fitchner to rise from his seat.

“You did a good job,” Fitchner said, extending his hand to shake but Mordecai gave him a hug instead, which Fitchner reciprocated with a smile.
“Thank you,” she said, as Fitchner rubbed her back. “Thank you so much. Glad I could help.”

January 28, 2016,
13:35 local time,
Tucson Police Headquarters,
Tucson, Arizona

“As far as we can tell,” said Gibson as she, Firechild and Fitchner sat in an office examining online logs, “Sandra Rupke was in Columbus the whole time for the murders...and the IP address in Thessaloniki was hacked by Morta. There’s activity there during the time of the murders.”
“Morta could have spoofed it,” said Fitchner.
“Sandra could have too,” said Gibson. “She fits the profile for Morta.”
“No,” said Firechild, shaking his head. “Sandra’s the target...I suppose it’s possible that she created all those accounts so that she could look like she’s having an argument with herself...but it’s not plausible. Someone created all those sockpuppets because Sandra’s presence enraged them which is why they wanted to shout her down.”
“Sandra’s an activist,” said Gibson after pondering Firechild’s words. “She had to have been in the news at some point.”

“Bertha Johnson,” said Fitchner. “That’s who it was.”
“She’s Morta?” Gibson asked, her interest piqued.
“No,” said Fitchner assuredly. “Mark Cousins’ girlfriend, Maria Castrioti...that’s who it is.”
“How do you know?” asked Firechild, turning his attention to Fitchner.
“Mark Cousins was convicted just after the New Year of uttering death threats against Johnson online,” said Fitchner. “He’s serving five years for it...and Sandra’s the one who exposed him. Cousins sent Johnson, who’s noted as an anti-feminist, a number of threatening messages on Chirper ahead of a talk she was scheduled to give in Des Moines, and even created a game online where you could ‘beat up’ Johnson. Sandra called him out on it on Chirper, contacted Cousins’ employer and got him fired. Cousins responded by starting an argument on Chirper with Sandra, who eventually blocked him but Cousins created sockpuppets to get around the block.”
“Which is what got him charged,” said Gibson, realizing what Fitchner was saying. “Then everything caved in on him. Didn’t a lot of people say that the sentence was unfairly harsh? Johnson lives in Los Angeles and Cousins is from Minneapolis if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes there were those who wondered if Cousins could have carried out the threats he made,” said Fitchner, “but considering that his sentencing came a few weeks after Mary Kettles’ death, there was no choice for the judge except to grant the harshest sentence possible.”
“That set Castrioti off,” said Firechild, “and after the one who put her lover behind bars.”
“...and doing the same thing to her that Cousins did to Johnson,” said Gibson.

“We need to alert the authorities in Columbus,” said Fitchner, “get Sandra under police protection.”

Fitchner then left to place a call to the Columbus Police, but, to his dismay, both Columbus Police and the Ontario Imperial Police refused to provide assistance, citing a “lack of resources” to cover for the real reason- their dislike of Rupke overall.

“What happened?” Gibson asked, concerned as Fitchner came back downtrodden.
“They’re not going to help us out,” said Fitchner.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Firechild. “We can do the arrest- both Teresa and I have jurisdiction. So do you.”
“How do we know we even have a chance?” Fitchner asked, fear of the uncertainty gripping him. “Castroiti could have gotten her by now.”
“Fitch,” said Firechild looking him in the eye and grabbing his shoulders. “Can we control that?”
“No,” said Fitchner with a sigh.
“So let’s not worry about that,” said Firechild. “We’ll put our best efforts in and we’ll deal with whatever happens. It’s all we can do.”

January 28, 2016,
20:02 local time,
Sandra Rupke’s Apartment,
Columbus, Ontarian Ohio

There was little Maria Castroiti could do but wait. Having broken into Rupke’s apartment via the fire escape, Castroiti encamped herself in the bedroom, content to play on her smartphone behind the bed until her prey, Rupke, had gotten home. She let herself out to use the bathroom as well as to raid Rupke’s fridge, but there was still little she could do except wait. After all, part of the thrill of this kill would be surprising Rupke, and Castroiti couldn’t do that if she sat in front of Rupke’s TV.

A few minutes later Castroiti could hear the rumblings of Rupke as she entered her door and settled back into her apartment, music to Castroiti’s ears. She got up and had pulled out her gun and quietly got up from behind the bed, doing her best not to make any noise. Castroiti still managed to knock down a picture of Rupke and her boyfriend visiting Long Beach, but- fortunately for Castroiti- Rupke didn’t do anything except pause momentarily. Castroiti still looked at the picture in disgust, shaking her head.

What kind of a feminist is she? Castroiti thought as she looked at the picture. Rupke was clad in a bikini happily snuggling up to her much taller boyfriend, who was similarly shirtless and happily engaged in the snuggle. Look at her, degrading herself by showing off all that skin, making herself into a sexual object. Oh, and how dare she enlist the protection of a man, holding on to him as if she is unable to protect herself? A real feminist doesn’t need a man for protection...your man should always bow to you. She smiled as another thought came to her. Like Mark did for me.

Castroiti returned her attention to the closed door, listening intently for Rupke to get closer. Castroiti eventually made her way next to the door, intending to strike Rupke as soon as she entered. As Rupke moved closer, Castroiti grinned with excitement, knowing that her plan was nearing fruition. A few minutes later, Rupke, lost in her thoughts, casually opened the door, unable to anticipate the elbow that knocked her in the head as soon as she stepped in, dropping her to the floor and sending her cell phone crashing to the ground beside her.

“What the…” said Rupke, dazed from the hit as Castroiti readied her gun and stepped on Rupke’s cell phone, smashing it to pieces. “Maria?”
“Miss me, b***”? said Castroiti, grinning maniacally as she lorded over the fallen Rupke.
“Not in particular,” Rupke said audibly under her breath while feeling the cheekbone that Castroiti clobbered. As Rupke regained some of her composure, she slowly got herself standing again, albeit with a brief stumble.

“What the heck is this?” said Rupke, readjusting her glasses that had been knocked ajar. “By Jove, Maria, what in the freaking world do you want?” Rupke’s took several deep breaths as her eyes started glared intensely as Castroiti, who did nothing except laugh hysterically.

“What do I want?” said Castroiti, firmly placing herself in front of the bedroom door. “What do I want?” She chuckled to herself before continuing. “I think, for now, I want you to…take off your clothes…then you come with me to the kitchen…then we have some fun! How does that sound?”
“Not going to happen,” said Rupke, breathing in and out and preparing herself for a fight.
“Oh, really?” said Castroiti, chuckling in mock disbelief. “Are you going to argue with someone with a gun?”
“Yes,” said Rupke defiantly.

She took the book she had by her nightstand and fired it at Castroiti, who ducked out of the way just in time. Castroiti walked carefully towards Rupke, as Rupke grabbed a pen and threatened Castroiti with it. Castroiti again implored Rupke to stand down, but Rupke refused to budge, charging at Castroiti with the pen. She made a lunge at Castroiti, aiming for her neck, but Castroiti knocked it out of her hand, which forced the gun Castroiti was carrying to the floor. Rupke saw it fell behind Castroiti and made a move to get it, before Castroiti kneed her in the face and knocked her on to the bed.

Undeterred, Rupke got up, leaving from the other side of the bed in a bid to escape. Unfortunately for her, Castroiti anticipated this move and moved herself to block Rupke’s exit. She sent a right hook to Rupke’s jaw, sending Rupke backwards on top of her dresser. Rupke soon regained her footing, hurtling a punch to Castroiti’s stomach, to which Castroiti responded by striking Rupke with her open hand forcefully against her head. Castroiti then tried to punch Rupke again in the head but Rupke got her elbow up in time to block it. Castroiti was undeterred, sending an uppercut to Rupke’s jaw, sending her backwards, to which Castroiti wasted no time sending a flurry of punches and slaps as Rupke fell backwards against the wall.

“You done resisting, skank?” Castroiti snarled as she positioned herself menacingly above Rupke, blocking her view to the rest of the bedroom. “I’ll go all day.”
“So can I,” said Rupke defiantly, sending a kick to Castroiti’s thigh, which momentarily knocked her off balance. Sensing an opening, Rupke got up and started to make a beeline for the door before Castroiti jumped on her and tackled her to the ground.

“I should have done this much earlier,” said Castroiti, reaching into her pocket while still on top of Rupke. She pulled out a syringe and stabbed Rupke in the neck with it, injecting the fluid completely inside Rupke. As the injection occurred, Rupke’s body got more limp as the sedative took hold, with Castroiti’s wide eyes and fierce grunt eventually turning into maniacal glee as she realized that Rupke could not resist anymore, even though she wasn’t dead.

She turned Rupke over so that she was lying on her back, gloating as she saw Rupke dazed over what had happened.

“Don’t worry honey,” said Castroiti with mock reassurance as she stroked Rupke’s hair. “It may be succhinylcholine, but I didn’t inject enough to kill you. What would be the fun in that?”

Castroiti recovered Rupke’s glasses, stripped her of her clothes and eventually dragged Rupke to the kitchen, using a scarf as a cleave gag on her mouth and affixing Rupke’s wrists and ankles to the restraints she installed in the opening, so that Rupke stood upright in a spread eagle fashion. As Castroiti waited for the effects of the drug to wear off, she played with Rupke’s breasts, finding strange satisfaction in them.

After half an hour, the drugs wore off on Rupke, who regained the sense of feeling in her body and her awareness but was still woozy. Castroiti smiled, opening a suitcase she had hid in Rupke’s dresser.

“So what do we start with?” said Castroiti, before settling on something and walking towards Rupke as Rupke looked on, mostly in confusion. “You know…I still haven’t forgotten what you did against me for my stance on Laurence Cox…I mean, how could you support someone who mocks women by transforming himself into not just a woman, but a woman who fits every measure of the male gaze? I mean, how could you?”

Castroiti could see that Rupke wanted to speak, so she momentarily lowered the gag.

“First of all,” said Rupke, “it’s Lauryn, not Laurence anymore…and Lauryn is a ‘she’. You really should identify people the way they want to be identified. Second of all, making the base assumption that a woman chooses to wear what she does only because she’s trying to conform what a man wants her to be makes such a mockery of what feminism stands for there aren’t enough words to begin to describe that kind of idiocy. One thing I do know, Maria, is that you consistently fail to understand that feminism is about choices and that we women should have the choice about what we do. So that means that if Lauryn wishes to pose nude for a magazine she can do so, and if I choose to wear my bikini, I can do so. Contrary to what you think, expressing yourself in a sexual manner isn’t always about ‘giving in’ to the patriarchy, particularly if you choose to do so.”

Castroiti got right into Rupke’s face and sneered at her, though both women didn’t relent from their steely gazes at each other.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Sandra,” said Castroiti. “Our standard of sexuality was defined by the patriarchy…by engaging in it you only feed in their desires. It doesn’t matter if you love your bikini- if you wear it, you’re encouraging them.”
“Seriously, Maria,” said Rupke, doing her best to hide her nerves, “people have been sexual long before the patriarchy ever existed…just because the patriarchy co-opted it and twisted sex for its own gain does not mean we cannot reclaim it. Besides, Maria, choosing to impress someone else is not oppression…it’s only oppression if I don’t have the power to leave the situation.”

Castroiti gave Rupke a disbelieving look, but no response, allowing Rupke to regain composure momentarily.

“Maria,” Rupke said, “despite you may think, when those guys attacked you for speaking your mind, I was one the first people to condemn the attacks. I fought for free speech just like you do.”
“You only fight for free speech when it’s convenient for you,” snarled Castroiti.
“Fighting against harassment is not an attack on free speech,” said Rupke, sounding exhausted. “Are we going to go through that again?”

Castroiti pondered her response until she figured that Rupke was only egging her on to delay the torture.

“I’m done trying to argue with you,” said Castroiti, shaking her head. “Since you love sex so much, I’m going to show you what it’s like to be oppressed by it.”

Castroiti then grabbed the back of Rupke’s head and pulled her hair back, forcing her mouth open. Castroiti then jammed her mouth onto Rupke’s and rammed her tongue inside, doing her best to give her a deep kiss. Castroiti then took her hand and stroked Rupke’s genitals as she was kissing her, which caused Rupke to shake fiercely as she was trying to rectify the shock of getting aroused by Castroiti’s assault.

Eventually Castroiti let go of Rupke, which caused her to pant heavily as she regained her breath. Castroiti then moved to her tools on the table, affixing two nipple clamps with weights on Rupke’s nipples before grabbing a vibrator to stick inside Rupke’s vagina. The clamps were so heavy that Rupke’s arm muscles were stretched considerably, with the shoulders almost loosened from their sockets. Rupke though continued to breathe in and out heavily, doing her best not to scream or cry because she felt that’s what Castroiti wanted her to do.

It became harder once Castroiti applied the vibrtator. Rupke clenched her teeth together and shook her head, wincing as her arousal became even more unbearable for her, until she had to relent, letting out a loud, excruciating scream that caused Castroiti to laugh maniacally in glee.

It also caused someone to bang down Rupke’s door.

“Maria Castroiti, FBII!” said Fitchner as he walked in, his gun drawn, with Pearl, Gibson and Firechild behind him. “Drop the vibrator…now!”
“Or what?” said Castroiti, mocking them. “You’ll shoot? That would only make me a martyr…an ending befitting a goddess like me!”
“You’re,” said Rupke in between wincing in pain, “you’re Morta? You killed Eugene Mellows?”
“Yeah,” said Castroiti, cackling at Rupke, “and six other people…but you knew that…I mean, you wrote about me…I’m so honoured.”
“How come I didn’t see it in my messages?” said Rupke, panting heavily. “I should have known you were coming.”
“I didn’t leave any messages for you,” said Castroiti, “figured I’d warn you in person…it’s more fun that way…besides, calling me out is a warning anyway.” She then increased the vibration level on the vibrator, causing Rupke to scream even louder.
“Come on Maria,” said Gibson, inching closer to Castroiti, “you’ve already been told to drop the vibrator…don’t make us say it again.”

At that stage, Rupke had a moment of inspiration, thrusting her torso forward and suddenly. It wasn’t enough to cause pain, but it did knock Castroiti off balance, knocking her to the floor and allowing Firechild to move quickly in order to make the arrest while Pearl undid Rupke’s bonds. As soon as Rupke was freed, she collapsed into Pearl’s arms, now decided to let out all the tears she’d held from Castroiti as she was relieved her ordeal was finally over.

“It’s okay,” said Pearl, holding her and rubbing her back. “It’s over now…you’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”
“That was Morta, though,” said Rupke through her tears. “I can’t believe I fell for her…I can’t believe it.”
“Sandra,” said Pearl, cupping the back of Rupke’s head, “you did great…you showed some real resilience…she was waiting for you to let your guard down and relent to her wishes but you held firm. Not a lot of people would have done that. You should be proud of yourself.”

Rupke didn’t offer a response, deciding to continue hugging Pearl as she slowly started to regain her composure after her harrowing ordeal.

February 1, 2016,
11:03 local time,
APF Headquarters,
Green Lake, Essex House

“Nice to see you too,” said Firechild, glaring at Avita as she walked into his office, unannounced and without knocking on his door.
“I’m not going to worry about niceties when you did what you just did,” said Avita, putting her hands on Firechild’s desk and leaning forward, attempting to intimidate him.
“You mean, catch a criminal?” Firechild said curtly. “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Avita angrily, getting up and walking slowly with her arms folded. “You vet everything before you do something like this…you don’t just run willy nilly believing you can arrest people without consequence.”
“Oh is that what I’m supposed to do?” said Firechild with mock concern. “I have to ‘make sure’ the arrest is okay before I can go ahead and do it? What do I tell the parents of Ben Sizemore when they ask me why I didn’t catch their killer? ‘I can’t do it because it’ll make my superiors upset’? Baloney! Pure baloney and you know it. I’m going to catch her, and I’ll let you guys sort out the rest.”
“If only it were that simple, Bill,” said Avita. “See, when you make an arrest, it’s public. There’s no way to suppress that. As soon as the arrest is made, other people will know- and those other people can cause a lot of problems.”
“Problems I don’t care about,” said Firechild, curtly. “I don’t give one whit that Castroiti was a descendant of Skanderbeg and that makes her a prominent citizen in Byzantium…she committed a crime, Eva, and not just any crime- she took someone’s life. I don’t care what the political implications of that are, I’m going to bring her to justice.”
“I don’t think you get it, Bill,” said Avita, “by going behind my back and pursuing the case, you didn’t allow me to set the kind of protocols that could have been in place that could have mitigated the damage of the public knowing about her existence.”
“Oh yeah?” said Firechild, looking at Avita incredulously. “What kind of protocols would that have been? Sit on your ass and do nothing, like you’d been doing for weeks before Teresa and I decided to do something about it? I’m sorry, it was in my jurisdiction…I shouldn’t have needed your formal approval to pursue the case…it should have been a given.”
“You could have called me and I could have called the Byzantine authorities,” said Avita curtly. “Since Castroiti is their criminal, they should have been in on the investigation.”
“Bulls***,” said Firechild, “you and I both know they wouldn’t have lifted a finger…just like how Rome suppressed this case because they didn’t want Virtue to think the chaos they wanted was happening, the Byzantines would have not admitted it because they know that if they did, people would start thinking Castroiti was sent by Virtue, and Virtue’s actions in North America depend on the chaos appearing organic.”
“Yes,” said Avita, “but now Virtue is suggesting that the charges against Castroiti are ‘bogus’ and that she’s merely a ‘political prisoner’ and they’re saying that because you made the arrest, not the FBII, that Rome is ‘choosing’ to ignore the crime problem that they have. You don’t realize it, but you’ve started a huge political quandary that could have been avoided had you just once checked with me.”
“You know what your problem is?” said Firechild, looking Avita directly in the eye. “You Romans are so obsessed about ‘the big picture’ that you can’t be bothered with all the small blemishes. As long as the big picture is okay, all those blemishes don’t matter, right? Guess what? I have to deal with those blemishes, and deal with them every day. Those blemishes are people, people with actual lives and loved ones like Ben who get so callously destroyed by people like Maria Castroiti. They are not insignificant, and, as any painter will tell you, have too many blemishes and you’ll eventually ruin the big picture, perhaps forever. So don’t tell me that I have to consult with you if I can fix a blemish myself.”
Avita shook her head in disbelief, not proffering a response, which allowed Firechild to rant some more.

“It takes me 15 minutes to walk from my house to this office,” said Firechild. “In those 15 minutes, five people will commit a crime somewhere in the Arctic Republics. Five people, thus- if not more- will have their lives changed forever because of some scumbag, and I owe it to the families whose lives have been carelessly disrupted to bring them justice…and that stuff will always happen even if your Emperor wins some ‘far off war’ with some other Emperor somewhere else. So excuse me if I don’t care about some abstract thing like ‘what you need to do’.”

Avita stood in stunned silence fuming under her breath, thinking up a response before she was interrupted.

“This conversation is finished,” said Firechild. “You’re dismissed.”
“Excuse me?” said Avita, giving Firechild a flabbergasted look. “I’m your boss, you can’t dismiss me.”
“It’s my office, so yes I can,” said Firechild curtly, “now go.”

Avita left in a huff, contemplating her options as Firechild went back to his computer to resume his work. As Avita closed the door, he took a look at his family picture, taken over 35 years ago. It was why he got into the law enforcement business, since they died in a house fire that was later revealed to be the work of a serial arsonist the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the predecessor to the APF) didn’t want anyone to know about because the arsonist was a Soviet citizen. He made it his life goal to catch the man, Valery Berezhutsky, and bring him to the justice the Americans didn’t seem to want to give him.

February 1, 2016,
12:17 local time,
Rick’s Diner,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

“I heard you caught Morta,” said Claudia after greeting Gibson at their table. “Congratulations.”
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” said Gibson with a smile. “You got us on the right track…she tried to throw us off, but we were up to the challenge.”
“Is it true that Morta is related to Skanderbeg?” said Claudia as she drank her water. “If so, you guys caught quite the criminal.”
“Eva Avita told me as much too,” said Gibson making an uneasy smile. “She pretty much read me the Riot Act on the phone this morning…it was pretty annoying. Sure, there’s all this political stuff at play, but…sometimes I wish they’d just let me do my f***ing job and leave the other stuff to the people who are supposed to take of it.”
“Like Eva Avita,” said Claudia with a smirk.
“Yeah,” said Gibson, happy that Claudia understood her frustration. “Like Eva Avita.”

As their lunch arrived and they got started on it, the originally light-hearted conversation took a different turn.

“Galla,” said Gibson, “I know you’re happy about solving the crime, but you need to face the facts- you got lucky.”
“When you’re good, you’re lucky,” said Claudia curtly.
Gibson let out a heavy sigh. “We were only able to make this arrest because Maria Castroiti killed a Saskatchewan citizen in Californian territory,” said Gibson. “If it’s true, what you’re saying about a culture war, the crimes you’ll face won’t always be that easy. You may have to rely on people who won’t help you out.”
Claudia let out a sigh herself. “We got it to work,” said Claudia, “that’s all that matters.”
“Galla I can get you back in the FBII,” said Gibson. “Just say the word and I’ll do it. It might take some prodding but I can do it.”
Claudia sighed again, pursing her lips knowing that Gibson was right.
“I understand,” said Gibson. “The FBII...they screwed you. Royally. You have every reason to be upset at them...but you’re not a Health and Safety manager at some stupid factory...you’re better than this. You’re an investigator, the best one I’ve ever seen.”
“If I’m so good,” said Claudia, “then why aren’t you offering me a position in the CBI?”
“You belong in the FBII,” said Gibson. “The people I know can get you in the FBII so quickly that you won’t need a ‘CBI springboard’.”
“I’m sorry Teresa,” said Claudia with a restrained smile, “but I’m not ready. Besides...Danny and Omega love spinning their theories...who knows if Morta really isn’t just a one-shot deal?”
“I’d love it if you were right,” said Gibson ominously with a sigh, “but we both know you’re wrong.”

February 1, 2016,
14:57 local time,
Travelodge East Side,
East St. Louis, Illinois

“Well, hello,” said Persephone as she entered the motel room where The Bactrian was staying. “How are you doing today?”
“I haven’t the time for pleasantries,” said The Bactrian, curtly. “Your plan to neutralize the FBII failed.”
Persephone folded her arms. “Did it? I had reliable intel that the proper task force within the FBII was taken care of. I did what you wanted- instead, you failed me.”
The Bactrian chuckled in disbelief. “I failed you?”
“You killed Joseph Reddick...we were prepared to fake his death but you just had to drive him to suicide, didn’t you?”
“I haven’t the foggiest clue about what you’re talking about, but go ahead. You amuse me.”
“I know you planted a fake story saying The Pope withdrew his support for Joseph...there was no reason to do that. He was more than a capable puppet!”
“That’s the problem...he was capable. If you don’t think he was playing you like he played Chet Miller, then you must be deluding yourself.”
“Chet Miller was a man who would rather compromise the principles of his state to preserve his power than to uphold them and die in honour. I had to step in and send Marla Kirk, because I had to force Miller’s hand and recognize he was letting the Florgians walk all over him.”
The Bactrian chuckled again. “How did that work for him?”
“The Pope was going to come and negotiate peace, alongside Aramean mediators...until you ruined it for him.”
“See? Reddick was an opportunist...he was using you. He knew you’d send Kirk, because he wanted to step in and be ‘the white knight’ who’d save the day and keep things from escalating. You don’t realize it, but he was toying with you. He’d just as easily get rid of you once he had no use for you.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your proof?”

The Bactrian got up and slowly paced around the room, speaking assuredly.

“He’s the one who called us in to fake a criminal case to damage Danforth Grayson’s reputation,” said The Bactrian. “He knew we had a disagreement with Grayson and he played us to get rid of him. Thus, he manipulated things just so you could take over. He knew once Grayson was gone you’d gather your merry band of GAL members like Kirk and cause havoc, just so he could come in and ‘save the day’ and throw you under the bus. We had to get rid of him...and we did it for you.”

The Bactrian then handed Persephone a document.

“If you don’t believe me,” The Bactrian said, “this is the transcript that proves everything I just told you, including where Reddick admits that he knows you’ll take over in Grayson’s absence. He tells me he did it because he loved you...but I know he did it to trick you.”
“Hogwash,” said Persephone, throwing it back at The Bactrian after reading it a little. “You wrote this up. You tell me, what was Louisville then?”
“I’ll tell you what it was,” said The Bactrian, looking Persephone right in the eye. “Reddick kept Robert Walker around, knowing that one day Grayson would go after him and expose us. See, Reddick already had you exposed in Ontario- which sent Grayson after you- so he had to divide Grayson’s priorities by sending him after us as well. This way, he could cast us both as the enemy and take us both down.”

Persephone pointed furiously at The Bactrian.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Persephone, “Reddick brought us both out of the woodwork so that we could band together...he knew he needed your help, but you decided to stab him in the back instead. When you killed him, you showed your cards...you showed that you can’t work with someone unless you can dominate them...you were afraid of Joseph, the only Catholic who could undermine Birea. That’s why I picked Maria...because I’m not going to let you dominate me.”

Persephone turned to leave before The Bactrian’s words stopped her.

“Do as you wish,” The Bactrian said ominously, “but I don’t think you appreciate the size of our dog in this fight.”
“...and you don’t appreciate the size of the fight in this dog,” retorted Persephone, pointing at herself before leaving in a huff.


“Winning isn’t about having the best players- it’s knowing how to use them.”- Miles Grant, Head Coach, Saskatoon Blades after a surprising Stanley Cup win in 1984