A Good Man

by

verus

Chapter 3: The Unrelated Death of Joseph Amber

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Fifteen years ago.

Nothing makes sense anymore. It was a thought that kept rotating through Eli’s skull as he was dragged from one place to the other. Everywhere he went he had to stay in line, fill in forms and answer questions. Nobody listened when he tried to explain that he was lost and wanted to go home. They just blankly stared at him before repeating the last question. It was as if he was the only person in world full of robots.

At some point he had just given up and done what they wanted him to. At some point someone had given him a sandwich, told him he was a good man, and moved on to the next person in line. The whole thing was nuts. He was supposed to be an assassin, a guy that kills people for a living. Were they fucking kidding? Who the hell tells a fifteen-year-old he is going to kill a bunch of people? Why would you do that? He had so many questions, but apparently nobody here was willing, or maybe allowed, to answer them.

“Eli de Winter, please go to waiting room number five.” A voice came through the microphone attached to the ceiling. The audio quality was bad, the voice doing the announcements sounded bored, and he had the feeling that she sometimes generated static herself so that she didn’t have to repeat the message.

He slowly walked to waiting room number five. What was he going to find once he got through that door? An irrational part of his mind screamed that he might have to kill someone when he stepped through the door. His hand was resting on the doorknob, he was hesitating. If he ran away now, got himself deported or something he wouldn’t have to go inside. Then again, another country might be even worse. Everybody was migrating to this place for a reason, right?

With a deep breath he opened the door and stepped inside. The room was plain, the only furniture being two chairs and a table in between. There was another door, identical to the one Eli had just passed through, across the room. A man in a grey suit was waiting for him. The suit was a cut above the ones he had seen other employees wearing. Maybe this guy was some kind of big shot. “Mister Eli de Winter, I presume?” The man said, and Eli swallowed. With his snow-white hair and sharp face, the man didn’t make a friendly impression. His voice was cold as well, fortifying this feeling.

“Yes, that’s me.” His voice was higher than he would have liked, but the man was scary so there you go. “My name is August Cabaneri, you may refer to me as sir or mister Cabaneri.” August looked at Eli pointedly. “Yes, sir.” Eli said. “Good, you may take a seat.” Eli would be damned if he was going to think about this man as sir or mister Cabaneri. He would come up with a clever nickname later, for now this dude was August.

“So, boy, do you have any idea who I am?” Eli shook his head and August frowned. “No, sir.” Eli corrected. August was going to force this thing, wasn’t he? “I’m the owner and CEO of Cabaneri incorporated. Too make a long story short, we train assassins.” It wasn’t what Eli had expected, but he believed it without a doubt. “Immigration informs us of any ordained assassins they pick up, which is why I am here. I want to offer you a scholarship. We will house you, feed you and teach you how to follow your destined path. In exchange you will sign a contract for five years with us, after you graduate.”

Eli was speechless. “You train assassins, and the government thinks that’s okay?” August was frowning again. “Sir.” Eli added absentmindedly, and far too late. “But you are a corporation, so you’re in the private sector?” He said before August could answer his first question. The white-haired man was getting increasingly annoyed. “All your questions will be answered by your teachers if you agree with my proposal.”

August shoved a bunch of papers forwards for Eli to sign. “What happens if I don’t sign?” Eli suddenly asked. “Sir.” He added, before the old man could frown. “Then I wish you a good day and I move on to my next item of business.” August said with a sigh. “You will have to follow your destined path on your own, which is harder but also doable.” The older man added, seeing Eli open his mouth to ask the obvious question.

Eli thought for a minute, pretending to read the papers, which were copies of the same document in different languages. Among the languages was English, something that might be German and a strange script that was probably Russian. “Are you going to sign, or are you going to learn those other languages?” August asked, clearly impatient now.

There wasn’t much of a choice here, now was there? Either Eli could go to assassin school, which sounded cool, or he could starve to death, which sounded a lot less cool. Anyway, it wasn’t as if he was going to stay in this world, his parents would find a way to get him home. Might as well learn to kick ass while he was in this world. He signed his name in the curly handwriting his mom had forced him to learn.

August sighed in relief. “Here I was, thinking we had to teach you how to read and write, that would have been a pain.” He collected the papers and stood up. He strode towards the door, where he stopped, frowning over his shoulder. “Are you coming boy?” Eli looked up in surprise. “Right now, sir?” The sir came after a pause, involving a lot of glaring. “No, tomorrow boy, or maybe next Sunday, if that is convenient?” The sarcasm in his voice was so thick you could swim in it. Eli hurried across the room, after August, who was already walking down the hallway.

“So where are we going? Sir.” He asked the white-haired assassin. “To buy you new clothes, you look absolutely ridiculous.” The older man said, a hint of amusement in his voice. “And a haircut, only barbarians and women have long hair like that.” Eli was protested but the old man wouldn’t hear any of it.

Now.

I lift my cup of tea to take a sip when I’m rudely interrupted by a very excited customer entering the café. “He wrote back!” Jesse’s jubilant voice drowns out all the other noise in the café. Conversations fall still, heads turn, and I try to at least finish my sip without becoming the center of attention. “Didn’t you hear me Eli? He wrote back!” I turn, a happy, slightly awkward, smile on my face. “I heard you, congratulations. You want to have celebratory breakfast?”

Jesse blushes a little as she notices everyone staring, before deciding that she doesn’t care and nodding happily. “You know, I could have sworn that guy’s name was Vlad.” I hear one of the bartenders softly saying. It seems I need to find a different café to enjoy breakfast in. “So, what did your brother say?” I say as I order an extra breakfast platter.

“Oh, it is just as you thought. They’re cleaning up deserters, who’ve been looting the countryside. I should have known really, I had a quick look at their supplies and logistic routes. They are by no means armed for a drawn-out conflict. They can offer some support at best.” I don’t even question how exactly she got access to secure military files. When Jesse puts her mind to something she can be surprisingly resourceful. Also, I think she has another job besides writing and being my secretary.

“He says he’s well, it is almost like they’re taking a trip.” Somehow, I highly doubt that, but I don’t tell Jesse that. The dark rings around her eyes have disappeared and she seems a lot happier. “But wait, there is more!” She makes the reveal as dramatic as possible by drumming on the table, making my plate ring. I wave reassuringly to the bartender; his dishes are safe. “Armes is sending their prince to the capital to discuss the nation’s surrender.” Jesse’s eyes are gleaming, I already know what she is going to ask next.

“Yes, you can go.” I say before she can. “You’re doing the literary world a favor.” She said, digging into the platter of food that the waiter brought. “Somehow I doubt that.” I comment drily. She just rolls her eyes, taking another bite of egg. “Why don’t you come along? You already finished two contracts this month, the office should be fine.” There is a lot I don’t tell Jesse. Some of those things are confidential, contacts, contracts, and some things I simply don’t wish to disclose. The financial situation of the office belongs among the latter.

I consider what Jesse is saying. “No, I think it is better if I don’t go.” I say after a minute. Going to the capital will complicate things. When I left situations were left, unresolved. It isn’t a good plan to go and stir things up. “Oh, come on, it’s been ages since you left the city.” Jesse is pouting, honestly, she looks adorable. The effect is only spoiled by the fact that she knows that. “I already said no. Don’t force the issue.” Jesse scowls, but she isn’t actually mad. She will probably bring it up again, maybe I will say yes. She is, after all, one of the few people I enjoy spending prolonged amounts of time with.

“Why again are we sitting here, doing absolutely nothing?” Karl asks, adjusting his green scarf. He is frustrated and impatient. It has been a little over two months since he joined the green raiders, but so far it has been boring as hell. His veins are thick, black, tainted, they mark him as an outsider, one who has strayed from the path. More importantly they force him to stay inside or cover his face when he goes outside.

“All we do is smoking, drinking and playing cards. I could have done the same on da’s farm.” He mutters angrily. When the recruiters came to his village they had talked a great deal about lifting oppression, fighting the system and taking down the corrupt bureaucrats.

All those promises feel very empty now that he is sitting in this moist, dirty basement, waiting for orders that never seem to come. “What did you expect? That we would take over the country overnight, joined by angry farmers and laborers?” Lars says, amusement clear in his voice. “Revolutions aren’t wars, boy. They aren’t fought on battlefields but in backrooms. When the order comes we will probably have a single objective. We do our part, destroy a cog that keeps the bureaucracy turning, and after we go home to our families.”

When the old man puts it like that it all sounds very reasonable, and really boring. It isn’t what Karl signed up for. It isn’t what his father imagined when he had proudly told his son to accept, to go change the world. What is the point of having a gun if he can’t use it to take down the enemy? He tosses his cards down on the table and stands up. “Where do you think you’re going?” Lars asks sharply.

“Outside, it’s dark and I will cover up.” Karl responds angrily. A minute or so later he’s standing outside, trying to light a cigarette in the persistent wind. He curses a few times before the thing finally lights. He is still angry, still upset about how things have turned out. The green raiders suck, for all their talk about being revolutionaries they’re mostly being intrusive. They take over the houses of poor people, who believe they are the heroes come to save them from misery. Instead of being those heroes these people need we are nothing but a burden.

He passes a woman whose face is so hollow that she seems to be a corpse already. When she looks at him however, she smiles. She isn’t looking at him of course, she is looking at the green scarf. When she looks at Karl she sees a young man fighting for justice, or something. Sure, he might cause another hungry night now, but he will build the better future. It’s all bullshit.

He quickly hurries on, passing the woman without looking her in the eye. He misses the farm, the talks with his dad, the dinners with mother, he even misses the work. But he can’t go home, he is committed to the cause now. Back home they think of him as a hero, what kind of hero returns home in defeat? The whole thing makes him sad, the sadness turning back into anger. If only we would do something! The thought is screaming in his head. Something, anything really, as long as he doesn’t have to go back to that basement.

He walks past another rundown building, there are a lot of those in the lowest level. A lot can be said about the factory distance, but at least the housing is good there. But down here, where there is nothing to interest the corporations, the factory owners or the bureaucracy, everything is rotting. The streets have been reduced to muddy trails, every stone stolen to repair crumbling houses, not that you would find a car down here. Maybe the occasional truck, but no cars or carriages.

It isn’t the infrastructure that bothers him most however, plenty mud trails in the villages, nor is it the broken-down houses. Those are problems easily resolved once the government has been torn down and the ordination system abolished. No what bothers him most is the crime, and the fact that the green raiders were doing nothing about it. There are enough cells in the lower district to put an armed man on every street corner. We could install a shoot on sight policy, he muses. You seen one of those Aksokov cunts? You gun him down. You hear a bell? Shoot that powder sniffing asshole. If we just did that these poor people wouldn’t need to suffer more than they already do.

He could start today, right now. His hand moves to the gun hidden in the back of his trousers. Maybe everybody just needs the right incentive, an example of how things should be done. It is early, but he is convinced that if starts searching now he will find a snuff dealer before noon. It is as if a lever in his mind is pulled, everything becomes clear. It doesn’t matter that he’s a nobody, that he has never even heard the boss’s name, he is going to show everybody how it should be done.

Deliberately he starts his search. First, he looks in the park, but there is nobody there. The dealers only come out when there are clients to do business with. Karl takes a minute to think, there is only one place a dealer could sell his poison, the employment office.

A long time ago, before Victoria was an industrial, corrupt cesspool, somebody intended the lowest level to be a retreat, a place for young families with kids. A part of the district still reflects that intent. Adjacent to the park there are several semidetached houses anyone of the third level could have been proud of. Had they been kept in their original state the district might have had a chance of becoming decent again. Instead, the houses had been remodeled to fit as many families as possible. There was no electricity and occasionally no running water either. It was the best the lowest district had to offer.

The only building that hadn’t fallen into disrepair was the employment office. It was a smaller version of city hall, made of less expensive materials. Also different from the real deal there were soldiers. A lot can be said about the bureaucrats running Mercia, but they aren’t idiots. They know perfectly well that there are revolutionaries, both ordained and regular, hiding amongst the poor. They know, but do nothing, giving the terrorists the initiative. In war this would have been a fatal mistake but, like Lars so aptly put, this isn’t a war. Maybe it should be.

Karl watches the line of people shuffle into the employment office. They all hope they will find work today, maybe somebody from the third level needs a strong back, or somebody from the second level is organizing a party and wants to show off. Most go back home disappointed, not all though. The people in charge are a lot, but not stupid. There is always a chance that if you show up you will get a job. It isn’t even first come first serve, some people stand in line all day and then get hired. The majority however gets rejected. The day after they will stand in line again, and the day after that, and the one after that. Because there is always a chance that they will get a job and feed their families.

It is a harsh but effective system, proved and tested through time. It disgusts him to his core. The government should protect its weakest citizens not prey on them. Contemplating the evil nature of his government isn’t the reason he’s here however. He slowly makes his way to the line with rejected people, who are wondering what to do with the rest of their day. Amidst so many people the soldiers don’t notice him, and he moves around unobstructed.

It doesn’t take him long to find who he is looking for, a man leaning in an alley. There is a silver bell tied to a string about his wrist, which he sounds from time to time, announcing his presence. Behind the green scarf Karl grins, today he will make a difference. He walks towards the Silver Bell cartel member. Patiently waiting as he sells his product to the clients in front of him. When it is Karl’s turn the man looks surprised.

“Green Raider eh? I don’t see your people often, here for something fun or for business?” Karl slowly uncovers his mouth, his black veins standing out. “Oh, I’m here for business, definitely.” The silver bell is curious, until Karl whips out his gun and put it to the man’s head. The other people in the alleyway are suddenly attentive, except for one guy who is so out of it he can just blankly stare. “Is there anyone here who can relay a message to the Silver Bell cartel?” Karl shouts, his voice filled with excitement.

A girl with a burn mark on her cheek nods uncertainly at him. “Excellent. Let them know that the Green Raiders won’t condone their filthy presence any longer. Any bell seen in the lowest district will be returned covered in blood!” Not one for long speeches he pulls the trigger, splattering the Silver Bell’s brains all over the wall. It was messier than he had imagined it. Messier and easier, he doesn’t feel guilty in the least. “The same counts for the Aksokovs, the ravens will get what’s coming to them.” The girl with the burn mark nods and runs of.

Karl covers up his face again and leaves as well. Chances are good that the military will investigate, this is the reason they’re here after all. Beneath the green scarf Karl smiles. The word is out now, the raiders and bells will go to war. He will finally have the chance to become a true hero, instead of a cog in the machine.

The body of Joseph Amber is found by the authorities an hour or so later. Junior detective Strega is put on the case, the whole thing is rather low priority. Even though Strega is enthusiastic, she is overburdened. Another dead gang member hardly stands out. Since the Aksokovs started branching out gang members have been dropping left and right.

Nobody puts any stock in the rumors that the Green Raider terrorist organization is taking over territory. They don’t operate like the gangs, a few city blocks mean nothing to them, not when they want to take over the country. The green scarfs that start to pop up everywhere are just another way for the gangs to piss off the government.

Besides, the whole thing takes place on the lowest level, so who cares? Up on the first level the situation report gets a once over from a minor bureaucrat and is then filed away. Nobody with any authority reads the report or is informed of the situation below. No contracts are made, no assassins get hired. Nobody knows about the increasing amount of obsoletes gathering to listen to a young man wearing a green scarf. Nobody knows, and nobody cares. Maybe they should.

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verus

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