The drive back is rapid, but well executed. Randian seems to keep the accelerator down for the entire journey, despite this, the car remains glued to the road, hugging the corners tightly without losing speed or skidding. Brass spends the entire journey concentrating sharply on the road ahead, keeping his eye out for cameras and police cars, occasionally pointing out a road to avoid. Randian seems to predict which roads would lead to one of Brass’ party balloons, and his route was entirely devoid of cameras.
After about twenty minutes of driving, we arrive at what appears to be an old shunting yard; a graveyard for old train carriages waiting to be scrapped. Everybody climbs out of the car except for Brass, who shuffles across into the driver’s seat.
“Where can I ditch this Rand?” He asks looking up through the window.
“There’s a lake about a mile down the road” He tells him, “Wind down all the windows, and put a rock on the accelerator, it will sink like a stone.”
“Alright, take this” He says, handing Randian the case he recovered from the van earlier.
“What is it?” Randian asks, “Are you sure it doesn’t have a tracer on it?”
“It’s the thing Zero has been looking for”
“But what is it?”
“I don’t know exactly” Brass nods, “A piece of new money tracking technology to stop money laundering or some shit. Snowden something”
“Right” Randian nods curiously.
I step towards Brass, “Are we bringing our new friend?”
“Yeah, get him out of the back, take him back to the squat and get him nice and comfortable.”
I grin wickedly as Brass pops the boot.
Holding Indy up, I peer on as Pogo excitedly flings the boot open and grips the bloodied semi-conscious Bootman with both hands, dragging him out roughly like the carcass of a hunted animal.
Brass leans out of the window.
“Do not kill him. If we get any trouble from the Boots, he may be our only bargaining chip.”
I didn’t think much of Pick or Indy when I first saw them. Fuck, Pick looked like a mild breeze would put him on his arse, and Indy? He really took the cake, he looked like he took the whole fucking bakery. Standing in that alleyway drinking whisky, it looked like one of those before and after pictures you see in those shitty glossy magazines. But looks can be deceiving, I learned that when I met Zero. I’d always thought he’d be taller than me, but I guess it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the fight in the dog that matters, and Pick had enough fight in him to win a modicum of my respect.
I see a lake ahead. Turning off the road, I drive directly towards it, before stopping sharply. I unwind all of the windows of the car and step out, leaving the engine running. I search the surrounding grass until I find a suitably sized rock, which I place carefully on the accelerator pedal. The engine revs violently, and I climb into the seat, and switch to first gear with the door still open. The wheels spin on the ground for a moment, before the car lurches away. I jump quickly out of the door, and hit the ground with a thud as the car shoots away from me. I stand up, turning to watch the car as it is swallowed up by the lake before turning to leave.
I consider myself a veteran of the insurgency. Not many grimesters have seen as much action as I have and lasted as long. I put that down to brutality, that’s it. I never fought alongside anybody for long, and I never took to travelling in groups. I knew what it meant to be a rebel, it means being free from dependence, emancipated from leadership. Violence is the only true authority and yet violence is the only way to break authority’s iron grip.
There is no established chain of command in the X faction, only temporary war chiefs, and our spiritual leader; the enigma that is X. A lot was said for X, but very little was actually known. He communicated entirely through a single soldier –Zero- whose mystery status was almost on a par with X himself. X was our inspiration, the first true rebel. Ever since the Hostis Publicus Act was passed back in 2057, the ruling party has had free rein to arrest, interrogate and execute anybody deemed to be an enemy of the public.
X was public enemy number one, closely followed by Zero, and a number of other notorious Grimesters. The list was based on notoriety and perceived threat to the domestic security of the nation. The top ranks were a veritable list of serial killers, master bomb makers, and Hacktivists. Further down the list were philosophers, intellectuals and former academics, who’d publicly shunned government legislation.
Much was said about X in the media. For a person whom nobody knew much about, the media had no trouble attaching labels to him; Mass murderer, Lunatic, Schizophrenic, Psychotic, Rapist, Terrorist, Racist, Homophobe, Drug addict, Paedophile, Bank robber… The list was endless. All I knew about X was based on the accounts of other insurgents, which were likely as flawed as tabloid reports themselves. For what I knew, he was an immensely powerful individual, both in his semantic aptitude, and his physical prowess. X was both feared and revered by both his enemies and his allies. His charisma was magnetic, and his command of language was palpable, a sabre-tongued overseer who could metaphorically whip a crowd into a frenzy in an instant, inciting infectious rioting amongst a localised population. Physically, he was believed to be immensely strong, and capable of withstanding colossal echelons of punishment. It is believed that he was often directly involved in the acts of destruction carried out by the insurgents, though nobody could be completely sure if they were fighting alongside the legend himself or not.
The squat itself is different to what I am used to. There are numerous carriages for sleeping in, as well as an underground work basement and a few engine sheds. There is a mixture of old, rusting freight trains, and a number of passenger carriages too, scattered in no discernible order. The rate of oxidisation suggests that the carriages had been shunted here sometime between the third and fourth world wars, during the ill-fated public transport reformations. The decision whether to scrap or repair these old carriages was probably tied up in red tape somewhere, a meeting on the horizon, constantly being pushed back to accommodate for more pressing priorities.
We set ourselves up in a string of carriages in the centre of a group of others. The light of the Petroline candles wouldn’t be visible here, and nobody would be able to hear us for miles. Some of the more cautious Grimesters had taken to inhabiting the engine sheds or the work basement underground; I suppose they weren’t keen on the idea of being exposed from every side. I could see the advantages of an underground squat, but having thought it through, I realised that the carriages were actually safer; they had a wider field of vision, and multiple escape routes. If they were raided, you’d see it coming, in the work basement you’d be trapped. That being said, it was Indy that really swayed my decision in the end; the work basement was bound to be damp and dirty, and his wound would almost certainly get infected. Also, there were only two Chemist’s in this squat, and both of them slept in the carriages.
The carriages we settled in were designed for passengers. Tables were in place between the seats throughout most of the carriage. Cannisters had been set up on some of them functioning as improvised kitchens, others had been completely smashed out, replaced with mattresses and blankets. Petroline candles of every different colour were scattered about the carriages, all except for the carriages at the front and the back.
Indy had been quickly taken to the back carriage, where I was told a Chemist had a bed he could stay in. That lead me to deduce that the front carriage was for small arms, bombs and munitions.
There were five carriages in total, the three central carriages were divided into what looked like a sleeping room, covered in mattresses and blankets, a kitchen and what one might call a ‘common room’. It was here we’d brought our resident Bootman.
“Big Boots! Big Bollocks! Big burly butterfly bollocks!” Pogo sings, skipping around the Bootman excitedly.
“Big bad boots! Big sick city! Burned down his house to make the sky look pretty!”
He kicks him sharply in the ribs, as the Bootman rolls across the floor moaning in protest.
He lies there, in his piss-stained underwear, hogtied with rope and gagged with electrical tape.
My attention flitted between Pogo’s savage torment of the captive Bootman, and Sadie, who was marching around the carriage, wearing the Bootman’s helmet and swinging his baton about like a soldier in time to the discorded music coming from a speaker on one of the tables. I joined Sadie’s hypnotic dance, stamping my new boots, which I’d liberated from the Bootman, and swinging my arms and head around wildly.
The other Grimesters in the carriage were smoking, drinking or snorting lines on the tables about the carriage, or lying in various states of intoxication. A couple at the far end of the carriage were under the table fucking furiously, as though their lives depended on it, spurred on no doubt by the euphoric effects of some chemical or another.
I walk across to the Bootman, raise my foot in the air and stamp down hard on his chest.
“Fucking swine fucker.” I spit.
I turn back and walk down the carriage, passing Sadie as she swings the Baton around indiscriminately.
“Watch where you’re swinging that fucker.” I hiss.
She ignores me completely.
I pass through into the next carriage where a Chemist leans over Indy, whose leg is raised high, and tightly bandaged.
The chemist is short and baby-faced, with tufts of unkempt sandy brown hair and an air of docility about him. Chemist’s often looked somewhat meek, or maybe they were just perceived to be this way by the rest of us, because they rarely -if ever- saw any real action. The life of a chemist was an easy one, compared to that of any other X Faction insurgent. Chemist’s were always given a bed, were well-fed and never asked to contribute food, drink or supplies to a squat in return for lodgings. Their skills alone were their bargaining chip to immediate esteem within a squat.
“How’s he doing?” I ask.
“He’s alright” He responds, “I’ve removed the bullet, cleaned the wound with some ethanol, and given him a dose of Virginia Brown for the pain.”
I nod, looking at the semi-conscious Indy, whose quasi-happy face is beginning to drool.
“He won’t be able to walk on it properly for a while, he’ll need a crutch and you’ll need to change his bandages twice a day, and keep the wound clean so it doesn’t get infected.”
I nod, dreading the thought of being impeded by Indy’s injury. I wonder if it would be better to find him a long-term secure squat for him to hole up in for a while, at least until he can walk again.
“Thank you” I say raising my thumb to the Chemist.
I quietly leave the carriage and walk down past Sadie, and towards Randian, who sits at a laptop, hurriedly typing. I walk over, noticing that the laptop is hooked up to the thing that Brass took from the van.
“What is it Rand?” I ask, crouching down next to him.
“Well” He says, maintaining square focus on the screen, “It looks like this case contains a piece of hardware, the integral part of a machine designed to assign every existing piece of hard currency, and digital currency with a serial number and CrystalChip”
“Is that it?” I ask, wondering why we risked our lives to get it.
“That’s not just it” He continues, “It also contains part of a database for logging the exact transactions that are made with Fiat or digital currency, what was traded, where the trade was made, and by whom.”
“What’s Fiat currency?” I ask.
“Hard cash.” He responds blankly, “Latin for as it is”.
“I thought cash already had serial numbers on it.”
“It does” He replies, “But this is different” He turns his face away from the computer screen to face me.
“This means that in roughly about ten years’ time, cash-in-hand transactions will become a thing of the past, every payment made will be registered, the notes in your wallet will be officially yours to spend and save. If anybody else tries to deposit them into their bank account, they will be refused.”
“So, what? This will mean notes and coins will have to be scanned every time you buy a pack of fags?”
“Effectively yes, but it also means that you cannot give somebody money, unless you ask for authorisation from the Bank of England.”
“I don’t even have a bank account “ I mutter.
Randian turns to face the computer screen once more, typing rapidly,
“I imagine they planned to release this technology gradually, starting with digital currency only, then graduating on to notes for trades and purchases over a certain amount, and finally coins.”
I nod, “So it’s yet another method of surveillance.”
“It’s yet another system designed to tighten the stranglehold the party already has over the British public, wrapped in the guise of public service” He nods, “The party will flood the media with stories of money laundering, theft and fraud, and give the impression that the country is on the brink of financial meltdown. Then they’ll introduce a way to stamp out money laundering, blackmail and theft entirely. They’ll demand that every scrap of Fiat currency is brought to the Bank of England for processing, then they’ll implant every note and coin with a tiny Crystalchip that will contain a serial number, and information on who owns that particular unit of currency, why they own it, and where it was last used. If a unit of currency is not deposited into the bank after a certain time period, that coin will become unusable.”
I nod dejectedly.
“But if coins and notes have to be scanned every time they’re used, that means every shop and private seller will have to have one of these scanners. What if people just refused to use them?”
“They could” Randian states, “And I’m sure there will be some who will. In the same way they GrimeNote is not accepted by the general populace, people could continue to use cash as currency, and circumvent the government’s control measures.”
“And if they did?”
“Then the media nightmares they dreamt up would be fleshed out. Government sanctioned criminal kingpins would dominate entire cities, paralysing people with fear, forcing them to return to the party’s plan of monitored currency.”
Randian wipes his brow.
“Loan sharks and mobsters will have their day, but it will be nothing more than a puppet show”
“That’s fucked.” I shake my head, “But this is just hardware, surely they can just pop another one off an assembly line?”
“Not quite” Randian grins, “The beauty of this piece of hardware is that it is built entirely upon self-replicating algorithms, which produce a code for each transaction made, each one linking back to a core code, the source code if you will, which is based on Snowden’s algorithm of stand-alone mediation”
I’d heard of Snowden’s algorithm, though I did not understand it intimately. From what I knew, it was a mathematical formula to create rhizomatic codes, based on a single formula which could not be replicated.
“This not only ensures that all the other codes make sense mathematically, and so can be verified as legitimate, but also processes each transaction based on the original source code.”
“In English please?” I say mockingly.
“What it means is that the entire system cannot be hacked or altered, as each transaction is supported by every other. New transactions must be mathematically exact, and it’s precise code is generated by an algorithm related to the code produced by all previous transactions.” He nods, “A masterpiece of mathematics.”
Randian inhales wearily.
“However, as the core algorithm is contained in this piece of technology we have in our possession right here, the entire system is flawed. There cannot be two source codes, or the whole system is vulnerable.” Randian beams excitedly, “What this means is that if this new economic system is put into place, then we, the X Faction, have the means to destroy the economy entirely”
I smile wickedly at Randian.
“I bet this is a wet dream for you eh Prince?” I say, feeding off his excitement, “You know I have a couple of those GrimeNotes you created”
“I’m glad you do” He smiles, returning his focus to the laptop, “Zero truly is an excellent champion of our cause. I don’t think the Big Boots had any idea what they had in the van”
“I think if they did, they’d have fought harder” I grin.
All at once I recall the fight, and remember that Brain was the only real casualty.
“Sorry” I recount sheepishly, “I didn’t mean to be insensitive to your friend”
“What? Brain?” He laughs, “He really was the Brains of the operation wasn’t he? His brains were about as much use in his skull as they were splattered across the pavement”
“Did you know him well?”
“Not really” He shrugged, “He followed me like an orphaned lamb. He’s better dead than captured”
“Why did he follow you?”
“Because in the same way the weak cling to the strong, the imbecilic cling to the gifted” Randian grins smugly.
This callous attitude irks me somewhat.
“You don’t care that he died?”
“I don’t care who dies in the pursuit of liberation” He says, without breaking focus “I’d give my own life if there was no other way to avoid it.”
I clench my teeth and breathe deeply.
“You know what I don’t like about guys like you Randian?” I say coldly, “You sit behind your laptops like faceless drones, crunching numbers to make your stand, and although your efforts are effective, when it comes down to it, you’re so disengaged, so divorced from reality, that you represent the same cold-hearted fuckers who sold this country down the shit-pan” I seethe angrily.
He turns his head away from the computer screen to face me.
“And do you know what I don’t like about guys like you, IcePick?”
“Go on” I nod.
“Guys like you and Brass and Mr Industry think that terrorising a local population through acts of physical destruction and terror alone will incite them to rise up against the ruling party. Did you ever consider that you’re driving them further into their arms? Did you ever think that people have become so terrified to walk the streets that they’d gladly sell their remaining freedoms for the security of the Paramilitary Police?”
“You’re right” I nod, “Violence is not the answer. Violence eliminates the fucking question.”
Randian stares at me with contempt.
“You ever killed a man Randian?” I smirk.
“Have you ever saved one?” He responds blankly.
“If I kill a man to save one hundred, does that make me a murderer or a life-saver?” I ask.
“I guess that depends on whether you look at death as a tragedy or a statistic.” He responds.
I pause. Briefly, I consider entering into a heated discussion with Randian about the politics of the Insurgency, but decide against it. These things can go on for hours and they never change anything. Ultimately, everybody ends up agreeing that we are all on the same side.
“Whatever we do Randian” I nod, “We’ll win in the end.”
He turns back to face his computer screen.
“And even if I had been killed out there, I’m glad you were there to stop the van getting away.”
He turns back to face me.
“Thank you, IcePick.” He smiles.
“What do you reckon? A quick line to dust off the cobwebs?” I say pointing backwards down the carriage.
“Not right now” He nods, “But thanks”
“Suit yourself” I say, turning to leave.
I walk back down the carriage towards Sadie, who is still marching up and down the carriage, twirling the baton. As I approach, she whips the baton into the air, thrusting it towards my face, narrowly missing my nose.
“Stand and deliver!” She shouts mockingly.
“Got no money” I laugh, “Got no life”
She gnashes her teeth at me, growling playfully.
“But I have got a little bag of Saccharine Sunrise, if you’d care to join me in a line?”
She drops the baton and jumps forwards, wrapping her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. I stumble backwards slightly, then regain my balance and march forwards, throwing her haphazardly onto a seat.
“Sunrise!” I shout across the carriage, “Who needs one?”
A bustle of feet can be heard from each end of the cabin, as a multitude of people appear to join the table. The couple who had been fucking under a table earlier rise wearily to their feet, stumbling towards us. The man roughly pulls his jeans up over his semi-flaccid cock. The girl, who is still mostly naked, follows quickly behind.
I pull the baggy from my jacket pocket, along with a GrimeNote, and empty the entire contents of the bag on to the table. I press the GrimeNote onto the pile of powder, and use the handle of my flick knife to grind it up. Partway through my task, the train door opens, and Brass stumbles in.
“Brass!” I beam, setting down the knife and walking over to greet him.
“Did you get rid of the car?” I ask extending my hand. He grips it tightly, and we mutually slap the back of one another’s interlocked hands before releasing.
“In a lake about a mile up the road. Put a brick on the accelerator, sank like a stone.”
“How’s your shoulder?”
“Fine” He says sharply.
I imagine he was in more pain than he let on, but kept it quiet.
“You should get it looked at, Indy’s in there with the Chemist, monged out on Virginia Brown”
“I don’t want any of that shit” He spits, “And I don’t need it looked at by no Chemist”
“Suit yourself” I grin, “Saccharine?” I say, pointing to the table.
“Go on then.”
We all convene at the table, as I separate the powder into slim lines. Rolling the GrimeNote up into a snoot, I take a line. The cut is fairly coarse, and stings my nose a little, but the effect is instant. At once my vision becomes crystal clear, as if my senses are all sharpened, and a feeling of tremendous excitement begins to rise from the pit of my stomach, dancing around on my insides, and shooting up my spine. As the energy reaches my head, my lips stretch into a broad smile and my eyes widen. I struggle to contain my ecstasy, and dropping the snoot, I burst into a fit of raucous laughter. Sadie plucks the snoot up and hastily snorts a line, dipping her finger into the remaining powder and brushing it against her gums. The effect on Sadie is more reserved, as she slumps back in her seat grinning like a child. Clumsily, she hands the snoot to Brass, who methodically places it into his nostril and bends down, snorting deeply and thoroughly, running the tip of the snoot over the remaining powder to ensure not one grain is wasted. He tips his head back, sniffing once more, then carelessly tosses the snoot to one side.
“Hey man!” I say, tipping my face forwards, trying to supress my laughter, “Be careful with that note, I want to keep that!”
“It’s just paper mate” Brass says, his head still tipped backwards.
“Actually it’s a fine cotton.” Sadie interjects, her words slurred and dopey.
“It’s a Polymer-Cotton mixture” I say correctly, “And they’re all gonna have CrystalChips in them soon, Randian said so”
“Fuck your Polystyrene note IcePick!” Brass laughs, sitting forward once more.
I reach out to collect the note from the table but find it is being passed around by the other Grimesters at the table.
“What was that thing for then?” Sadie asks, half-listening to my previous comments.
“Randian says it was gonna be used to make all the money in the UK traceable.”
“Is that it?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I can’t be fucked to explain it, go ask him yourself.”
“Nah” She nods, “I don’t really care that much. Plus Randian’s a boring cunt.”
“Too right.” I nod.
Randian, seemingly unaware of our comments, types ferociously at the keyboard, his fingertips flicking from key to key in a fluid motion.
“Right!” Brass stamps his feet down, and rises up, “I wanna pay a little visit to our guest, Mr Boots of Big.”
“They’re my boots now mate” I laugh, stamping on the ground repeatedly.
“Take them off!” Brass barks.
“No, fuck that”
“You don’t wear the uniform of the enemy, idiot.” He shouts.
I stand up from the table and square up to Brass.
“And who the fuck are you to tell me what I can and cannot wear?” I snarl.
Brass looks down at me, sniggering.
The confrontation seems to have drawn the attention of Pogo, who looks up at us gleefully, before returning his focus to the Bootman, stroking his face and hair and whispering in his ear.
“Settle down boys” Sadie intervenes, “Let Pickaxe keep his shiny shoes”
“Icepick” I snarl.
“Whatever” She shrugs.
I turn, looking down towards the door at the far end of the carriage.
“Wait” I say raising my hand, “I should check on Indy.”
“He’ll be fine” Brass says dismissively.
“You don’t know that”
“What are you so worried for? He’s a hard man, he’ll cope.”
“Maybe you should get your shoulder looked at?” I say, pointing to his shoulder.
“It’s fine, I looked at it myself.” He says, peeling his leather jacket off carefully.
I look at the wound; it is swollen and heavily bruised, with dark congealed blood all around the centre point where the bullet hit.
“Stings a bit” Brass sniggers oafishly.
The bullet seems to have scraped across the top of his shoulder, tearing a slice of flesh out of him. The bullet itself seems to have had a cauterising effect because the amount of blood is minimal for the size of the wound.
“At least get it cleaned up” I say, “If that gets infected, your arm is fucked”
“Yeah” Sadie says, “It’ll become gangrenous and rot off. Then the infection will spread all the way to your bollocks, and they’ll drop off too. Then your head will roll off, and you’ll have-“
“-That’s enough Sadie.” I say smiling. I turn to Brass, “Most of that stuff will probably never happen” I say with mock-sincerity, “Plus, his bollocks rotted off years ago, he had them switched with two brass balls that bash together like a Newton’s cradle. Ding dong ding dong!” I sing, the effect of the Saccharine hitting me harder.
Brass reaches out and slaps me lightly across the face.
“Nice face Pick” He sniggers, “Nice face”.
I turn, walking towards the door. I open it and make my way towards Indy and the Chemist. I can hear the footsteps of Brass and Sadie behind me.
“Well well well” Brass says brashly, surveying the assortment of medical equipment in the carriage, “Isn’t this the well-oiled machine?”
The chemist looks up at Brass, confused.
“Ignore him.” I say to the chemist, “He’s just delirious from blood loss. He took a bullet in the shoulder a few hours ago”
The chemist looks up to Brass’ shoulder.
“Is it serious?” He asks.
“Are gunshot wounds ever serious?” Brass chuckles to himself.
“Alright big fella” The chemist says shaking his head, “Kneel down, I can’t look at it properly when you’re stood up.”
“I am not kneeling down” Brass spits.
“Come on you big overgrown fuck!” I say slapping him on the back.
“I’ll sit.” He says, sliding onto one of the seats, “Somebody get Doctor Dicklittle a stool to stand on”
The chemist, barely five foot four inches tall, has to strain to examine the wound.
After a moment of poking around, the chemist clicks his tongue and smiles.
“Well, the good news is, it’s just a graze.”
“Will I ever play piano again?” Brass says in a whiney voice, before laughing heartily.
The chemist turns around, retrieves a pad from a green plastic case, and a bottle with a rubber cork in it. Unplugging the cork, he begins to dab the pad with the contents of the bottle.
“Of course, we will need to clean the wound.” The chemist says, slapping the pad down on Brass’ shoulder.
Brass roars in agony as the chemical burns his wound. Instinctively, he flicks his arm out, knocking the chemist to the floor, who laughs raucously at Brass.
“What the fuck did you do that for you fucking prick?” Brass scolds.
“Well” The chemist says through his laughter, “Looks like you won’t be getting a lolly for being brave, young man!”
Sadie giggles at this comment, sticking her tongue out at Brass as he moans heavily, holding his arm tightly.
“Shit” He spits, “That just makes it feel worse.”
I manoeuvre my way across to Indy, who is fast asleep, with his leg propped up on pillows. I look down at him. There is a bit more colour to his face now, but his road to recovery will be a long one.
“Did anyone see what happened to his hat?” I ask.
“It fell off when he was shot.” Brass responds.
“Damn it” I say looking down at his head, “Now his hair will be all messy.”
Brass grins in my direction.
Sadie abruptly departs from the carriage, heading back to the one we’d been in previously.
“Brass” I say directly, “Are you leaving tomorrow?”
“I reckon so yeah”
“Where are you heading?”
“Not sure, Ireland’s out of the question. I’ve got a comrade in Hartlepool. What about you?”
“Manchester or Liverpool”
“And Mr Industry?”
“He’s coming with me”
“In that state?” Brass points to his leg.
“I have to”
“You don’t have to. He’ll be fine here.”
“He won’t.” I state, “If this place gets raided, Indy will be bagged.”
“It won’t get raided,” Brass responds “and even if it does, we’ve got one of their boys in our camp. We can barter our escape.”
“You can’t know that,” I say, “We’re only six miles away from the choke point, the Boots will be scouring the area for squats.”
Brass nods dejectedly.
“You could come with us.” I say, half pleading with him.
“No” Brass responds, “I travel alone, I never bring people with me, it’s just trouble.”
I look away in disdain.
“Pick.” He says gripping my shoulder, “Wait here”
Brass disappears into the other carriage. I keep my eye on Indy as he murmurs in his sleep. I can hear Brass leaving the train altogether and wandering out through the yard. A few minutes later, he returns with a pistol in his outstretched hand.
“Take this,” He offers, “It’s the one of the pistols Sadie stole. I had to get some bullets from the underground work basement” He says, handing me a box of bullets.
“Thanks Brass” I smile, putting the pistol and the bullets in my inner jacket pocket.
“I’ll help you boost a car tomorrow, and we’ll bring it right into the yard for Indy, but you’re on your own from there okay?”
I nod gratefully.
“Now come on mate,” Brass says slapping my shoulder, “Let’s not let Sadie and Pogo have all the fun with the Bootman.” He grins.
I follow Brass through the door into the previous carriage, towards the Bootman.
We gather around the unconscious Bootman and Pogo. Who has taken to cradling his head and whispering in his ear.
“Wake up, wake up! Oh sleepy Boot. Dreams so royal, dreams so regal, wake up with your liver in the beak of an eagle!” He sings softly in his ear as he strokes and caresses his hair.
“Get up Pogo,” I spit, “I’ll wake the fucker up.”
Pogo looks up at me like a puppy whose been denied a treat.
“Get up.” I reiterate.
Pogo drops the Bootman’s head on the floor roughly, standing up, he steps over the Bootman and shuffles himself between Sadie and Brass. Sadie shuffles away from Pogo in disgust.
I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a small plastic bag of Victory powder, a potent stimulant. I open the bag and tip a small pile of the powder onto my fingertip and press it into the mouth of the Bootman, rubbing it under his tongue and grinding it into his gums. In moments, his eyelids flicker open. The Bootman takes sharp panicked breaths as his eyes roll about in his sockets.
I put the bag back into my pocket, then grip the Bootman by the throat, holding my palm to his face.
“Look at what you did,” I growl.
His eyes are unfocussed.
“Look at my scar.” I spit angrily.
The Bootman wearily focusses on the scar on my palm.
“Where am I?” He says in a dry, chalky voice.
“You’re in hell son,” I grin, “and I am the devil.”
Pogo shrieks in laughter, and pounds at his chest with his palm.
“Rule Britannia!” he sings boisterously, “Britannia can’t be saved!”
I close my hand and punch the Bootman in the head.
“Britons forever ever ever shall be slaves!”
I grip the Bootman by the collar and drag him away from the wall.
Standing up, I kick him sharply in the hip. Brass stamps roughly on his ankle several times, as the Bootman moans in pain.
“Look what you created!” I shout, kicking him sharply, “Under the world you created, we’ve been growing, festering, waiting for you.”
Pogo cuts short his parody of ‘Rule Britannia’, pushing through me and Brass, he pounces on the Bootman, tearing voraciously at the flesh on his face. He screams in agony as Pogo bites down on his neck, ripping strips of flesh off the Bootman’s neck with his teeth. Brass holds his kicks, looking down at Pogo in awe.
The Bootman looks up at me, his eyes pleading for mercy, for release.
This has gone too far.
I pull the pistol from my jacket pocket, pop the barrel and see it is already fully loaded. Clasping the barrel shut and rolling it into place, I aim the gun squarely at the Bootman’s head and pull the trigger.
A deafening shot rings out as the Bootman’s head bounces against the floor of the carriage. Blood spreads quickly in a pool from his head. Pogo looks up at me, whimpering in disappointment.
In a flash, he leaps at me, knocking me backwards. I stumble to the floor, his eyes burning into me, twitching with rage. Pogo strikes at my face roughly. Before I can recover, he hits me again and again. My body goes limp, and the gun falls from my hand, clattering to the floor. The onslaught stops suddenly, as Pogo’s weight is wrenched off me. I open my eyes to see Brass, who has gripped Pogo’s arms and locked them behind his back, lifting him clean off the ground.
“Get the fuck off him you freak” He barks, hurling Pogo across the carriage.
He lands with a crash, rolling helplessly across the carriage. He quickly picks himself up, charging towards Brass, who swings his foot into the air, connecting with Pogo’s face, once more knocking him backwards. Pogo, unperturbed by this assault charges once more towards Brass, throwing himself headlong into his torso, sending Brass stumbling backwards. I push myself up to my feet as Brass and Pogo tumble passed, entwined in combat. I move to the side of Pogo and strike him hard on the side of the head, which seems to have no effect on him at all.
A shot rings through the air, and our attention is drawn to Sadie, who is holding the pistol in her hand, pointing it skyward.
“I don’t mean to break up this love triangle” She sniggers,
“But this gun has four bullets left in it, and if you guys don’t spit one another’s cocks out of your mouths right now, I’ll bury every last one of them in your fucking lungs.” She shouts.
“And that would make the Chemist’s job a lot harder, so please, show me some courtesy”
Brass, Pogo and I back away from each other slowly.
Pogo breaks the silence, bursting into a fit of laughter.
“Something funny, clown?” Sadie spits, pistol-whipping Pogo across the face.
He whimpers, then falls silent, skulking away out of the carriage door and into the night air. “Yeah you’d better fuck off!” Brass barks after him, “Fucking lunatic!”
I laugh heavily, “Nice one Sadie!” I say as she lowers the gun “Did you see that?!” I turn to Brass.
“That fucking clown.” He says in disgust.
“Thanks for jumping in” I slap Brass on the back lightly, avoiding his wound.
“No bother” He says dismissively, “We’ll bury the Bootman tomorrow, in the basement.”
“Good shout” I nod, “Let’s get him outside for now, we’ll put him under the carriage.”
I look over to Randian, who cautiously watches on, reluctant to depart from his laptop screen. I look across to the grimesters at the other end of the carriage; those that are conscious peer on with reserved intrigue.
I look down at the body, briefly I consider who he was outside of the Paramilitary Police. I evade the thought quickly, reminding myself that hours ago he had a shotgun in his hands and wouldn’t have given a second thought to blowing my head off my shoulders. He is –he was- the enemy.
I grip the Bootman under the shoulders as his head hangs limp. Dragging him across the carriage floor, I avoid directly looking at him, and instead focus on the viscous blood as it smears thickly across the floor. The coppery smell clings rebelliously to my nostrils. I take shallow breaths, trying to limit my breathing. I hate the smell.
Brass wrenches open the carriage doors, then crudely grips the Bootman by the ropes used to tie his wrists together and yanks him roughly out of the carriage. We coarsely stuff his body under the train, tucking the arms and legs under the wheels.
Back in the carriage, the remaining Grimesters who were watching arbitrarily during the scuffle had settled back into their respective seats and makeshift beds, nestling back into the sweet comfort of inebriation.
“You got any more Saccharine?” Brass nudges me.
“Yeah” I say, ruffling through my pockets, “Sadie?” I tip my head in her direction.
She grins wickedly, and we move back towards the table we’d occupied previously.
At the table, we take turns snorting lines of Saccharine. Each line helps to nullify the actuality of the events of the evening, making it feel as though it is all just a spontaneous, but deliberate act; a piece of Noh theatre without rehearsal. My release is intercepted by Brass’ comments, which continually pull me back into reality.
“That’s what separates us from Pogo” Brass rambles, “We do what we have to do, knowing we’re working towards a cause”
I nod in agreement, dabbing the remaining powder with my finger and pressing it into my gums.
“Pogo just wants to cut people up, he gets a hard-on doing it” He says, bridging his fingers, “I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a good bust-up”
“Yeah” I say, “I live for a bit of danger”
“But he’s a fucking nut job, he don’t care about fighting tyranny, he just wants to cut fuckers up.”
“You’re scared of him!” I laugh, “You’re scared of Pogo!”
“Am I bollocks” Brass snaps, “I could take him out in a heartbeat, I’d snap his neck. I’m not intimidated by a guy dressed like Donald McRonald”
“Dress to distress!” I snigger, “That’s our thing right?”
“Fuck him” Sadie says dismissively, “Better he’s on our side”
“You’re not wrong” I agree
“What about you Prince?” I shout over to Randian
He glances over briefly.
“Pogo?” He says, turning back to the screen, “He’s psychotic”.
“I mean, we’re fighting a cause here, we’re fighting against a totalitarian regime. We fight because it’s the only thing we can do. We’ve thrown our lives away to battle an oppressor, in a war which we may never win.” Brass says passionately, “Me, you guys, Indy and Rand, we’ll never see the spoils of our struggle realised. The war will be won long after we’re dead. We’ll bear witness to the new world as dust and ashes”
“You’re right” I say, “Brain can pay testament to that, just like the boys in Brighton. That which we do today is interred with our bones”
“Too right” Brass nods, “Pogo doesn’t understand it. An insurgency is knowing when to advance, knowing when to retreat, and knowing when to harrass” He continues, “You occupy the spaces the enemy has abandoned, and retreat when they hit you in force. Never let them catch you, always fight on your own terms. Strike like lightning, but be gone before they hear the thunder”
I nod, appreciating Brass’ Napoleonic speech.
“We will never lose” He says passionately.
“I’ll drink to that!” I say raising an imaginary glass in the air, “Does anybody have anything to drink?”
“Fuck it” Sadie says, pulling a hipflask from her bag and handing it to me “Let’s get fucked up”.
The early hours roll on, and we continue to obliterate our conscious thoughts with drugs and alcohol, until the events of the night and past as it was is a distant memory, the future is annulled, and all that exists is here and now. Chemicals rush through my brain, and in my drug –induced state, it seems as though the lights from the Petroline candles spin and flicker like vertiginous imps, dancing to the unheard tune of a demonic fiddler. I think of Rosa’s silky blonde hair, swirling about in the breeze on the roof of the squat in Brighton. I squeeze my eyes tightly, and crush away the thought.
“I mean” Brass slurs, “Back in the 1960’s, when Buzz Armstrong walked on the moon” He says, leaning back in his seat, his eyes rolling around in his skull,
“That was Lance Armstrong” I say in jest,
“Whatevever” He shrugs, “When Louis Armstrong did the moonwalk, they thought we’d be fucking robot bitches and driving around in flying cars by now”
Sadie and I laugh heavily at this.
“Two wars later, and still no space cars!” He says, slamming his fists on the table.
“Here we go here we are” I sing whimsically, “We’re driving in a space car!”
Brass continues the chant, spontaneously turning my lyrical outburst into a song.
“Over moon, through the stars, driving in a fucking space car!”
“Don’t act like you haven’t seen us, when we orbited round Venus” I continue,
“Over tree and stormy sea” Sadie chimes in, “I see them and they see me!”
From this point, we each take turns to add a line to the song, starting with myself, then Brass and finally Sadie.
“Here we go, here we are, we’re flying in a space car!”
“Round and round the world it goes, where it stops nobody knows”
“Wheel of fortune, wheel of pain, someday we’ll be back again”
“Did you here the sirens call? When we flew down China’s wall?”
“Flew the world and saw fuck-all”
“Spat out of hell and I’m standing tall”
“Here we go, here we are, we’re in a fucking space car!”
“Stopped at Mercury to refuel”
“Danced with the King and fucked the fool”
“Skinny dipped in the royal pool”
“In our fucking space car”
“King came out in royal rags”
“Cos I fucked the queen and gave her crabs”
“Wants my head upon a slab”
“Jumped into my space car!”
“Said they’d have me in the stocks”
“Told them they could suck my cock”
“Hit the pedal like a shot”
“Crashed my bastard space car”
“Had a crash, got a lash”
“Smashed my teeth out on the dash”
“Broke my fingers, broke my toes”
“Blacked my eyes and burst my nose”
“Found a nail, found a tooth”
“Drinking whisky on the roof”
“Where deceivers speak the truth”
“In my little space car”
The singing continued for what felt like hours, becoming more frenzied and discorded with every line, as the song progressed, our lines began to overlap, ascending into a crescendo of chaotic disharmony, and crashing wearily into silence.
In silence, we rise from the seats and depart. As we pass into the carriage with the mattresses, I briefly glance down at Randian, his concentration still resolutely bound to the screen. His face is screwed up in frustration, staring intently at the screen, his fingers tapping incessantly.
“Good night, sweet Prince” I snigger, as I close the carriage door behind me.
Good night Ivan Pribylov. I guess that’s why they call you Icepick. The initials of your name were far too open to detection from the Boots. A Russian refugee, you must have been just a baby when you were came to Old Blighty. Oh how cruel they were to the Baby Reds.
I restrain myself from shouting his name out. That could only end badly. Once again, I am proud of my ability to control my impulses. My ability to supress my primal urges is one of my strengths, an Ace card that none of the others possess. Compulsion is a perverse Imp. Seems nobody hear can live in the bosom of chaos without putting something up their nose or into their veins. I can hear them right now. All three of them, fucking like animals. I can hear them panting. I can hear the slapping sounds, groans of pleasure intermingled with screams of pain. Who is fucking who? Maybe they’re all fucking each other.
I can’t judge. They fought bravely tonight, they need a release. Two injured and one dead, and yet nobody -save for Prybylov- took even a remote interest in what it was all for. They just hear the word Zero and they’re ready to die. That kind of loyalty can lead an army to victory, that kind of loyalty can oppress a nation.
But who is Zero? Where is our zealous leader?
It wasn’t the man I met last night. The man who came to our squat recruiting volunteers for a job of the utmost importance. No, he was somebody else, a fraud. The fate of Grimesters who pretended to be X or Zero was well known; they were beaten to within an inch of their life, if they were lucky. It had roused my suspicions when I heard he was here, it lead me to abandon my reserve, temporarily, and enlist. It could not be denied that the man was magnetic. He was in and out in a flash. Brass, Sadie and Pogo must have met him too, but he sent an emissary to recruit Mr Industry and Prybylov by the name of Pyrus.
The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. This is just one isolated piece of a puzzle, put together by a party with interests that I can only assume are counter to our own. Here I am, at the corner of the round table, the only eyewitness to the facts of this fable. This technology, the Snowden machine, is incomparably brilliant and consummately complex. There is very little chance that the Paramilitaries knew what they were transporting, and there is no chance that Zero could have known. I realise that now. Only the highest party members could have information about the real nature of this device. So, I ask myself, what would the puppet master do after the technology is recovered? Tie up any loose ends, or rather, sever them entirely. He will take the Snowden machine, and ensure that the Grimesters who fought for it are removed from the picture. Somewhere nearby, the Paramilitaries are putting their boots on, loading their guns and donning their shields, ready to strike. Somewhere behind the scenes, the Puppeteer is preparing the steal the box for his own gain.
I snap my laptop closed and rise to my feet. I pack everything into a single bag and pick up the box. I silently slip the carriage doors open and slither out quietly. Taking soft steps, I move out between the trains and into the yard. As I reach the end of the carriage, I look out into the darkness. There is nothing there. No lights in the distance, no figures in sight.
The shrill bi-tonal voice rings out from under the carriage.
Pogo the clown.
I look down at him, as my heart begins to race from the shock and beads of cold sweat form on my brow. His laughter sounds like a dog whimpering.
“Did you see the Eagle?” I ask him.
“No no no no no stop it!” He whines, rolling about under the carriage.
“The Eagle swept down from the heavens, he landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear.”
“Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” He cries out.
“He asked me where you crawl and sliver” I say, leaning down towards him.
“Stop it!” He whimpers, “They sit on his wings, the cursed things! Fly fly! To the sky! To die!”
“He asked me if he could peck at your liver!” I whisper.
Pogo, shuffles backwards, further under the train carriage, whimpering in fright.
I stand tall and walk away.
Examining Pogo’s mind was like walking around the ruins of ancient Greece. Though beautifully crafted, it was decayed, broken and served no function. I knew I’d run into him one day, so I’d taken it upon myself to learn his tics and habits. A man such a Pogo was volatile, and could turn on you in a flash. I had to have a contingency plan, a way to break his will, crush him, turn him into a nervous wreck.
I left the shunting yard by climbing over a fence, and disappearing into the forest. I would walk four miles East before finding my car, covered in foliage. Then I’d drive to Liverpool, taking country lanes and B roads, and make my way to Ireland. The borders would be crawling with Paramilitaries, which was why it was the best place to hide.
The haziness of the previous night hangs on me like a heavy stone. The carriage is cold, and when I breathe out I can see my breath. I consider getting up, I don’t like to sleep in, and hunger gnaws at my stomach, but most importantly, I want to leave. I’d get up, boost a car, pick up Indy and make my way to Edinburgh. I know I need to leave, but the warmth of Sadie and Brass keeps me seduced and sedated. We have formed an oddly formed huddle, which to an outside observer would probably look uncomfortable, and yet, our naked bodies are warm and comforting, like a heavy blanket.
I cast my eyes out languidly about the carriage; the mattresses are stuffed crudely into corners, overlapping each other and bending at the corners. They are of all different sizes and fabrics, and are covered in the sleeping bodies of about nine different people in various states of undress. Some are totally naked, and others fully clothed and jacketed. Blankets are sparse, and as many as three or four people are forced to share one. Others are sleeping on a bare mattress, fully clothed, curled up in the foetal position.
My eyes fix on Sadie, her skin is creamy white and silky smooth, almost entirely free of imperfections, save for a few scars and scratches on her hands. Her outward appearance when clothed was non-chalant, bordering on abrasive, yet naked she lay before me as a natural beauty. Her sleeping form makes her look almost innocent and virtuous; she looks like she’s hardly spent a single night away from a comfortable bed. This is in stark contrast to Brass, whose body shows the signs of his lifestyle. On every part of his body, his skin is weathered, tattooed, and decorated with scars of every kind. His is a body that had been lamed with rocks, bruised with fists, slashed with blades, branded with flames, and cracked with bitter cold. His body, even sleeping, is an image of raw masculinity; his muscles bulge all over, as if his skin was struggling to contain them from spilling out. Both Sadie and Brass are naturally very beautiful, for completely different reasons.
I shuffle my arm free from the pile, and contemplate running my hand gently across the skin of both of them to experience the contrasting skin. Sadie, evidently a light sleeper, begins to stir before I can put my hand down. Lethargically, she shuffles herself loose from the pile, and sits up, stretching out her arms and yawning.
“Morning tiger.” I say mocking her.
She turns to face me, “How long have you been up?”
“I’m not, I’m on the mother of all come-downs”
“Brass!” She says, slapping him on the chest. His eyes pop open suddenly.
“What do you fucking want?” He grunts roughly.
“I’m fucking starving.” Sadie whines.
I shuffle out of the pile and stand up. I pull my clothes on roughly, slip into my boots and tie them tight.
“I’ll find something.” I say, rising to my feet.
I leave the carriage, and walk along the gangway. A few people are slumped over the tables and on the floor, in varying states of consciousness. I look around for Randian but notice he is not about. I pass through the carriage, and enter the Chemist’s room. Indy is sound asleep, with his foot raised high. The bandage on his shin is dark red with congealed blood, and I make a mental note to change it before leaving.
The chemist himself is slumped over a wooden chair with his head in his hands. I grip his shoulder and ruffle him lightly. He looks up at me, sleep still clinging rebelliously to the corners of his bloodshot eyes.
“You okay mate?” I ask him.
“Tired” He responds.
“How’s sleeping beauty?” I ask pointing to Indy.
“He’s fine, was a little restless in the night but no trouble.”
“Good” I nod, “Thank you for looking after him, what do they call you?” I ask
“Agatho,” he responds, “Agathodaemon for short,” He nods, “and it’s no trouble.”
“Do you know if there’s any food around here?” I ask.
“The underground work basement, there’s usually stuff down there, or try the kitchen carriage.”
“Cheers,” I smile, “do you want anything?”
“I’m good thanks, but get something for your friend”
“Will do. Have you seen Randian anywhere?” I ask
“Who?” He responds
“The black fella, had a laptop and big black case with him.”
“Nope, not seen him sorry.”
A small pang of worry hits my stomach, overriding my hunger.
“I’ll be back,” I say, departing the carriage and hastily leaving the train altogether.
I hurriedly rush around to the underground work basement and ask some of the occupants if they’d seen him, to no avail. Finally I check the engine sheds, and realise that he has left with the case.
“He was a fucking spy!” Brass barks, slamming his fists into the carriage wall, splintering the plastic.
“I fucking knew it!”
“No you didn’t fucking know it!” I say, loosely gripping his arms.
He shoves me lose, “I never trusted him.”
“We need to get out of here,” I say nervously, as panic grips at my stomach like a clenched fist.
I run through the carriage, throw the door open and shake Indy awake. He groans, reluctantly opening his eyes.
“Indy, we’re leaving. Now.” I say impatiently.
“The Big Boots will be on us any minute, Randian’s gone.”
Agatho, slumped on his seat, sits up alert.
“What?” He chokes.
“We need supplies, and a car.” I turn to him.
“I can give you whatever you need, but we don’t have any cars.”
Brass enters the room abruptly.
“We’ll get one,” He says affirmatively, “I’ll come with you, we’ll bring it back here for Indy”
“Thanks Brass.” I say hurriedly, grateful for his help, “Let’s go.”
“Wait.” He says, raising his hand, “Ackris bombs and gloves.” He says, handing a box to me. I drag the gloves over my hands roughly, pop open the pouch on my right palm and carefully slide the glass disc inside, close the pouch and repeat the process on my left palm. I always felt safer with the gloves on. The Ackris bomb is the final last-ditch effort to prevent capture. A glass disc filled with a strong acidic liquid. The gloves are made of Alkiurathane, acid runs off them like water off a duck’s back. One hard strike would break the glass and leak acid all over your attacker. I’d learned the hard way back in Brighton just how badly the acid burned.
I help Indy put the gloves on, and hand a pair to Agatho before leaving the carriage promptly, and briskly exit the shunting yard through the back door; a small gap in the fence which lead into a dense forest. We run through the forest, and emerge at the edge of a cul-de-sac about a mile and a half away, there we locate an old car. Wasting no time on finesse, Brass kicks the window through, and opens the doors. I climb into the passenger seat, and Brass climbs into the driver’s seat. He punches a hole in the plastic under the steering wheel and within less than a minute the engine roars into life. He roughly twists the steering wheel to the left and breaks the steering lock, and in moments we are driving back towards the shunting yard.
We pull up near the carriages, and I jump out and run into the carriage, where I find Indy, who is trying to stand properly. I grip him by the torso, and help him support himself as he limps out of the carriage and towards the car. Hurriedly, I stuff him into the back seat.
“IcePick!” a familiar voice shouts from behind me.
I turned to see a tall, skinny man with long dark hair hanging in long curly stands and a knotted black beard.
“What do you want Pyrus?” I say impatiently.
“What?” He moans, “You got no time for your old pal Pyrus?”
“Not when the wolves are at the door.” I spit, “This place is about to get raided, get everybody out.”
“We know, Pick” He says, “Everybody’s out jacking cars”
“Eggie’s coming down with his landy, I was gonna see if you and Indy wanted a lift, but it looks like you’re sorted. We’re going to Darlo.”
“If you’ve got room, find a girl called Sadie”
“Sadie the surgeon?” He says raising his eyebrows, “Yeah I know her.”
“She was in the carriage last time I saw her, get her and take her with you, and don’t forget about Agatho the Chemist.”
“Whatever you want Pick” He grins, “Will I see you in Darlo?”
“I doubt it. Give Eggie my regards.” I respond, turning to leave.
“And don’t drive like a dick.” I shout over my shoulder.
I never doubted he was a God. I still don’t. He walks in the guise of man, but he is undoubtedly a being of celestial origin. He can see things before they happen. He can look into the mind of anyone, deeply, intimately, consummately. It was not my place to question his motives or his methods. He was always right; to be chosen by him was a great honour. To be part of his grand plan was not oppressive, it was liberating. Most people walk the earth without direction, following the crowd. Others work towards a personal or common goal, but live their whole lives without ever knowing if they will succeed, and even if they do, they may never know if they really achieved anything. They may never know if their passage was a struggle worth enduring. But I know that his way is the right way, the one true path for the greater good of mankind, and he will succeed.
X cannot compare to him, he cannot even comprehend his majesty. So it was with no fear that I took to impersonating his general. In his service, I would see no harm come to me. It is my faith that shelters me, but God works in mysterious ways. He would not send me on a fool’s errand. This must be part of his greater plan, because I followed his instructions meticulously. I took the correct route, I arrived at the correct time, and yet nobody was here to greet me. I looked everywhere, all over the shunting yard. I found the body under the carriage, the drugs, bandages and remnants of human habitation, but I could not find the case. The whole places had been emptied out in a hurry.
When the scarred man approached, I knew, just from the way he walked, that he was possessed with a fury I could not escape. But I knew it was a part of the plan, and I’d come to no harm, so I did not run, I stood my ground. He gripped my neck and lifted me clean off the ground. I choked, and lost consciousness. Where I am now, I cannot know. I don’t know anything. It’s better that way, my leader had said. I don’t know anything, so they cannot know anything. There’s one thing I’m certain of though, the scarred man was the one they all adore. The one whose disguise I wore to carry out the plan. The soldier of X, the revolutionary leader; the one and the only Zero.
Only free men can negotiate, a prisoner cannot enter into contracts. Mandela’s words tumble through my head every day as I sit in my cell, a prisoner of His Majesty and the Paramilitary Police. To the insurgents, I was Vollo. Veteran soldier of the X faction, and faithful follower of Zero. To the Paramilitary’s, I was an escaped detainee who’d been hunted like a dog, and given a tight leash.
I don’t know why I cooperated with them. They’d never let me go. They’d use me for evidence until I could give no more, then they’d execute me. My only hope for survival is in the drip-feeding of information, and the promise that I had more to come.
I dream every night about breaking free. Stabbing my guards in the neck and making a dash for the door. But every morning I wake up in my cell, a hopeless prisoner. The lines of fantasy and reality run parallel but never meet. A piece of metal from my bed broke off a few months ago. I’d spent hours rubbing it against the concrete wall, sharpening it, preparing a shiv. I tore off a piece of my clothing and wrapped it around the base of it to make a handle, and gripped it tightly in my hand, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t bring myself to fight back. I turned the blade on myself, and slashed my arms to ribbons, soaking up the pain.
I’d heard about Stockholm syndrome. It’s never as simple as it sounds. I don’t sympathize with my captors, nor agree with their ways. They are cruel, barbarous and narrow-minded, and yet, I can’t help but feel a surge of compassion for my guards for any act of altruism they bestowed upon me; a plastic spoon to eat with, a blanket -even the act of withdrawing a punch before throwing it- is enough to make me praise their name. I hate the person I’ve become -the instrument of betrayal- here I sit, in the mouth of Satan, the eternal traitor damned to remain here in torment, until they see fit to obliterate my mind with bullets. But as long as the X Faction still wages terror, they will need me for information.
The guard walks into my cell. I can tell it’s something big, because he steps across the threshold into my cell and offers me his hand. Lifting me up, I hold out my wrists compliantly, and he cuffs them.
He blindfolds me and leads me down the corridor.
“You’re needed.” He mutters, “Big Dick”.
I nod in silent anticipation. It must be something big if he wants to speak to me personally. He led me into a room, sat me roughly in a cold metal chair, and yanked my blindfold off. The lights glare in my eyes, and I recoil, squeezing my eyes tight, my retinas burning. After some time, I peer out from under my eyelids to see my interrogator; Richard “Big Dick” Heston, England’s most senior Paramilitary Police Officer.
“Black bowler hat, lined with metal” He spoke passively, “What does it mean?”
“Mr Industry.” I say quickly, cursing myself for giving out the information so readily, “A grimester from Hammersmith, I met him in the Brighton squat.”
Heston leans forward, staring at me, his eyes twitching irately.
“I don’t know much about him.” I say weakly.
He relaxes back into his seat, interlinking his fingers together over his chest.
“That’s all you know?” He asks.
“That’s all I remember about him.” I say softly.
“Okay then,” He nods, “Thank you for telling us.”
He rises from his seat, and walks towards the guard at the door. Reaching for the door handle, he opens the door and moves to leave. Before exiting fully, he turns to the guard at the door.
“Wet his head”.
The headquarters is a cacophony of raised voices and hasty whispers. It had been this way since the early hours. Despite the noise, I can hear the prisoner’s panicked breaths and bloodcurdling screams from the interrogation room. Waterboarding. I’d venture to say that they’d stick to methods that wouldn’t endanger his life or leave any marks. Chances are he’d told them everything he knew, but after last night, there was no room for doubt. It seems that the powers that be had taken the ambush as an immediate and serious threat to the stability of the country, not that we’d be told exactly why that was at any point. All we knew was that we had to get the cargo back safely, and in one piece. Failure to do so was tantamount to civil war. I look around the room; everybody in it was frantically working away with furrowed brows and dark, bagged eyes. All except for Heston, who seemed to possess a regal calmness about him, in spite of the fractious tensions.
At once, the screens snap to black, followed quickly by the lights. The headquarters fall silent, but quickly erupt with the sounds of clattering feet and panicked breaths.
“What’s going on Bertie?” Richie asks, his yellowing teeth glistening in the minimal light.
I shrug my shoulders, “Nothing good, I expect.”
Heston remains stationary, his steely gaze unbroken by the sudden darkness. The screens flicker back to life, and silence takes hold of the Headquarters once more, as words appear on the computer screen: HAIL TO THE PRINCE.
The words hang on the screen for a moment, suddenly the speakers crackle, and “Rule Britannia” blasts out across the room. The words on the screen fade away, as the animated image of a man with no limbs appears on screen. He has a golden crown on his head, which tips and sways as he rolls helplessly on his belly. The man at once sprouts a pair of angelic angel wings, and begins to flap them, faster and faster. The crown, which now sits firmly on the animated figure’s head, begins to glow brightly, as his wings beat so quickly that they become a blur, like those of a hummingbird. It is then that the figure opens his mouth and begins to speak.
“I am Prince Randian, and I have what your bosses need.”
© JC Axe 2014