X Faction Soldiers
I pace about anxiously, counting how many steps it takes to cross the width of the alleyway and back again, then folding that number over into how many times I’d made the crossing. So far, I’d taken 481 steps. This seemed like an unusual number of steps, considering it takes six paces to cross the alley, and twelve if you include the return journey. I must have taken an extra step or miscounted somewhere.
Couldn't have picked a worse place to meet. The alleyway is open at both ends; a narrow corridor which blasts cold air all over you and up your sleeves every time the wind blows. I tug the sleeves of my jacket impatiently; the leather tightens across my back slightly before relaxing again. I stop pacing, having lost count around the 490 mark. Fuck it. I glance briefly at my comrade as he toddles about casually, swaying from side to side in no particular direction, intermittently putting the bottle to his lips and gulping insatiably.
They should be here by now. I know we didn’t get the location wrong. Maybe Pyrus got it wrong, dozy fuck probably got the time and date wrong too. He never was much good at, well anything, but a job is a job, and this one sounds important. This is just what I need to get back into it.
The alleyway is littered with old bags of rubbish, many of them torn and split or flattened down by cars. I’d already finished reading my paper, The English Standard, and had cast it to the ground, stamping my heel on the image of the flag, grinding mud into it. Broken glass glistens along the edge of the walls, and the whole place stinks of stale piss. Underneath a layer of topsoil blackened by motor oil and tyre tracks, old cobbles protrude sparsely, revealing the original level of the street and betraying the age of the alley. Cobblestones; who knows when they were first lain. Could have seen three wars for all I know, could have seen four.
I hold out my hand to my comrade and motion for him to hand the bottle to me. Greedy fucker will end up finishing it before I've had a swig otherwise. He hands the bottle to me reluctantly and eyes me enviously as I open my gullet and swallow as much as I can. As the initial sourness fades from my tongue, the alcohol hits my stomach, and an illusory internal warmth spreads upwards from my midriff to my oesophagus. I peer across at him, as he stares on expectantly. I close my eyes and choke back two more mouthfuls, which is more than I can usually hack in one go, but I force it down anyway to spite him, before handing it back. The sourness of the drink is quickly washed away by the feeling of thick saliva creeping up from my throat as my stomach churns in protest. I thrust my arm in his direction, handing the bottle back to him, and spit the excess saliva onto the ground. The warmth of the alcohol, and the mild nausea it brings, mellow together into a creamy release of queasiness and comfort. I close my eyes and exhale deeply relaxing my arms, welcoming the sharp wisps of cold air, savouring the bittersweet feeling.
I once again survey the alleyway, inhospitable and ugly, the local councils invested a great deal of money into removing, blocking off or paving over areas such as this. The entire architecture of a conurbation could be chopped and changed, to remove any pockets of darkness, grime or obscurity. Modern dormitory towns were made up of cul-de-sacs, circling a central hub of grassland, so that each house could be seen from every other. The notion was that such architectural design would minimise criminal activity, and ensure the safety of the common man. In reality, the idea was to create an almost panoptic system of self-surveillance, coercing conformity and compliance, and minimising any recalcitrance amongst the working classes. Alleyways like this, though inhospitable and dead, were in essence a breeding ground for insubordination. In these grim and filthy pockets, obscured from prying eyes, men could truly exercise their intrinsic human right to independent thought, free assembly and affirmative action against the dominant ethos.
"Got any fags?" I ask motioning with my finger.
"Fuck off Pick, you've had shit-loads of mine" he protests
"So fuck! You got any or what? I don't go to war without a fag" I snap at him.
I survey him as he reaches into the inside pocket of his waistcoat, pulls out a cigarette packet and throws them to me aggressively. I catch it, thumb one out and throw the pack back in his chest. He tries to catch the pack in vain, and then hunches down to pick it up off the ground. I snigger as he hunches over, gripping the grimy bowler hat on his head to stop it from falling off.
Mr Industry, or Indy to those who knew him, always wore a bowler hat, a loose tie, and a grubby frayed waist coat. It wasn’t really a waistcoat, at one point it had been the jacket of a luxurious Italian suit. He'd ripped the sleeves off some time ago, revealing the yellowing sleeves of a white polo shirt underneath, which he'd clumsily sown cuff links to. On the left sleeve he wore a Deadeye Totenkopf emblem, on the right, a twisted Ankh. He bulged out of his clothes- they were salvaged like mine-, and were at least two sizes too small.
The mock-formal wear ended at the top and the bottom of his person. His shoes were steel toe-capped leather work boots, though the leather had peeled and cracked at the toe, revealing the metal underneath. The bowler hat sat clumsily on a crown of short and spiky blood red hair, flecked sparsely with splashes of orange and purple. Stocky in stature, Indy was often mistaken for being flabby and out of shape, because although he was deceptively strong, more so than myself, his muscle lacked any definition whatsoever, giving him the appearance of being somewhat doughy.
"Got a lighter Indy?" I ask, as he returns to an upright position, having retrieved his cigarette packet.
He looks at me apathetically.
"You don't even have a lighter?"
"Aw fuck this!" I spit, "when are these faggots getting here?"
Indy fumbles with the bottle and the cigarettes to find his lighter.
"Shut up with your fucking whinging Pick, it takes as long as it takes, this isn't a weekend break in the Cotswolds" he says mockingly.
"It's not a wank in a wind tunnel either. I'm not waiting all night"
Indy hands me a lighter and I hastily light my cigarette, put it in my mouth and tug again at my sleeves. This jacket is too small, the sleeves run up and the wind runs up my arms, hitting my chest. The cold doesn’t bother me that much, I ‘m always cold. You live in squats for years on end and you learn to cope with it. It's the waiting I can't stand, makes me irritable. But I owe much of my success to my itchy feet and impatience. Ducks sit, crows fly and vultures pick the bones; that's how me and Indy had stayed off the radar for so long.
Nowhere was safe for guys like us. X faction soldiers, Grimesters, Punk insurgents, Neo-anarchists, whatever the fuck they want to call us. For us, life is war, a constant perennial conflict. We remained separate, individual in action but collective in our ideology, a loose fraternity. X faction soldiers, the real ones I mean, lived in and out of slums and squats, remaining transient, uprooted and free. We travelled by night, hitched lifts, stole cars or rode the rails, and we never stayed in one place for too long. The first one to lay his head was the first one to lose it.
I unzip my fly and let loose a stream of piss, aiming for the muddied flag of The English Standard. I watch as the urine soaks into the paper, and the colours fade into sepia.
Much was said about the ideology of the X faction, the media demonised us, the police and government hated us, and the general public feared us, but to say we followed an ideology was erroneous. It would be more fitting to describe us as anti-moral. We have little in the way of a prophetic vision of a world after the war is won, nor any plans to seize power or sanction any kind of great change. We are not politicians, nor philosophers. We simply detest the state of the nation, the draconian government which fosters it, and the indifferent apathetic majority who suffer it. To us the war is everywhere; to us the enemy is everyone. Anything we can do to break the party’s control, upset the balance of power, or disturb the established order is a victory. It doesn't matter much what it was we do. Everyone in England, even those who refuse to believe it, is being repressed and our civil liberties and human rights have been steadily eroded by the new government since the end of the fourth world war. Reckless abandon and wanton destruction, to me seems like the only action to further the cause of sanity, in a country swept up in a fever of madness. What else could I do to battle an authority that cultivated a culture of constant trespass upon the right to live in decency and dignity? What else could be spawned from such trespass but loathsome, undignified creatures such as ourselves?
I zip up my fly, watching the steam rise from the puddle, dissipating into the night air as the stream meanders around the cobblestones and broken glass.
Rebellion lay in the hearts of every man, but a man can spend his whole life keeping his head down, walking in step, and remaining compliant, knowing he is being exploited. It is only when he gets angry that he takes action, only after he's seen the grotesque, fucked up face of our society for what it really is that he will make a stand. Destruction of any kind would unsettle the government and the people they control. It didn't need to be aimed at anyone in particular. You could splash acid into the face of a police officer, burn a bank to the ground, or defecate in a public fountain. It didn't matter. Every action that stirred up horror, misery or pain widened the area of sanity in which progress could be made, and fuelled the anger that would eventually culminate in the overthrow of our corrupt fascist leaders.
Our emancipation from central leadership gives us the freedom to act autonomously, completely independent of command. There is no hierarchy to break, no ranks to infiltrate, no head honchos for the Big Boots to bag 'n' drag, no documents to burn, no stratagems to foil, no territory to invade, no castle with which to lay siege. The only victory anybody can hope for is to shut us down one individual cell at a time. That is how our movement survives. The individual may die or disappear, but the collective consciousness lives on.
A gust of wind causes an ember to break away from the end of my cigarette, landing on the palm of my hand. I wince in pain momentarily as the ember dies. The sensation of searing flesh on my palm is an all too vivid memory, briefly reanimated by the ember.
Indy looks across at me sympathetically. An uncommon sight from a man as wholly non-empathetic as he. I squint back at him bitterly, resentful of his pitying looks. The faction has time for camaraderie, and even to some degree compassion, but never sympathy. A true Grimester could hobble into a squat, sick, hungry or injured, and he would be taken care of to the best standard available, but no level of emotive compassion was wasted on one another. In part, this was to weed out the weak; those of soft heart who would rat out their comrades to the Big Boots if they got captured, but it wasn’t just that. The life of a Grimester meant that you could be sitting in a warehouse getting fucked up with your closest allies one minute, and be running for your life the next. Friends came and went, and it wasn’t just the transient lifestyle that precipitated it, people you knew personally could be literally dragged away with a bag over their head, and in an instant they were never seen again.
Though we have nobody to answer to, our faction has a spiritual leader; an enigma of a man known as X. Much was spoken about 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. Ever since the Hostis Publicus Act was passed back in 2037, 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 and 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, people 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 Punk 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. Rumour had it that he was often directly involved in the acts of destruction carried out by the insurgents, never shying away from a fight or a riot.
The hum of an engine approaches in the distance. My ears prick up. It is a petrol engine. That’s something. The police and the Big Boots, their vehicles are always diesel. There’s a slight but noticeable difference in the sound of the engine, knowing that is the difference between being bagged and dragged, or making a stealthy escape.
A car pulls around the corner into the alleyway. The headlights are off. The thing is falling to bits. Either stolen or abandoned. It doesn’t matter. No vehicle is maintained, once they stop moving, we leave them where they stand.
A man with a red Mohawk and a leather jacket not dissimilar to my own sits at the steering wheel. He locks eyes with me, grimaces, and climbs hastily out of the car, followed in turn by a young girl and another man of similar build to Indy. I glance at first at the man with the Mohawk, then at the man who is still in the car, and from his misshapen yellow teeth, I realise quickly that I know who he is. The girl is not familiar, but I eye her up from head to toe and supress a grin.
“You here for the job?” The man with the red mohawk asks impatiently.
“No” I spit, “we’re selling rainbow coloured unicorn spunk. You took your fucking time.”
“And what? Stop fucking whining” He imprecates, turning to Indy, “What do they call you?”
“Indy.” He nods, “Mr Industry for short”
“And your friend?”
“Pick. Short for Icepick.”
He turns to look at me, sniggering.
“Icepick?” He laughs, “Look at him, all skin, bones and no bollocks.”
“Fuck you” I scowl, “I’ll skin your bones if you carry on like that”
“Settle down, Toothpick.” He mocks, “What you even doing on this job anyway? You look like a skinny faggot.”
“Don’t worry about Pick” Indy interjects, “Pick can be a cold blooded fucker when he needs to be.” He nods reassuringly, “What do they call you?”.
“I’m Brass.” He nods.
I take a moment to examine Brass. He stands at about 6ft5, with a thick red Mohawk adding an extra foot to his height. His height is in proportion to the broadness of his shoulders, and although his jacket is made of thick cowhide, he clearly has a muscular physique. His face is clean shaven, or perhaps he does not grow much facial hair. The tops of a spider web tattoo can be seen encroaching on his neck, where a thick steel chain hangs loosely, tucked into his jacket. His right ear is adorned with an earring in the shape of a twisted Ankh and a Yin Yang twisted into the shape of an Infinity symbol. His hands seem to be permanently clenched into fists, and I can see that this is because he is wearing chrome-plated brass knuckles. His jeans are black and ripped at the knees, tucked into a pair of thick leather stomping boots, one of which has been bandaged with electrical tape. Lines form on his face, making him seem as if he is permanently snarling and frowning.
“And this is Pogo” He says, pointing to his comrade whom I’d noticed earlier; a portly man with a snarling contorted face. I’d seen pictures of him in The English Standard and other newspapers. He was shorter than the papers made him look, despite this, no still photo or video clip could do him justice; his whole character exuded a palpable dread, so much that I struggle to focus on any one part of his face. His lips twitch intermittently, revealing a set of jarred yellowing teeth. His eyes dart about rapidly as though he is constantly sniggering at something. His face is plastered in thick white make up, or maybe its paint. Around his eyes and lips, sharp shapes are painted in blue, with thick black outlines. His hair is bright blue and spikey, like a demonic jester. His clothes are baggy and striped vertically, splattered randomly with various colours, mainly blue and red. His hands are almost as white as his face, and his fingernails are long and sharp, as if they’ve been filed into talons.
Brass points his thumb backwards towards the girl.
“And she doesn’t go by any name.”
“Yes I do” she snaps.
“Yeah, but not one anybody cares about.” Brass sniggers.
I look at the girl. She looks decidedly unamused. Her hair is black and jagged, that hangs in long limp strands in places, and is cut nearly down to the scalp in others. Her eyes are dark and heavy, her face smeared with roughly applied makeup, and bright red lipstick which is smeared around her mouth. Her clothes are predominantly black and lacy, frayed and ripped at the edges, a black leather strap hangs over her shoulder, attached to a small bag which hangs at her waist. She is petite, and holds a look of vulnerability about her, which I’m certain is put on deliberately.
“You all know the plan?” Brass asks, addressing the group.
“Yes” everybody murmurs in unison.
“Well that’s fucking funny, because I haven’t even told you what it is yet.” Brass grunts, spitting on the ground.
“Where are the others?” He grunts irately.
“Others?” I ask, frustrated at the thought of having to wait for more people.
“Yes, the others.” Brass spits, “There are three groups of us.”
“Ah fuck waiting for them.” I groan.
“We’re waiting, and you’re waiting with us.” He retorts, “We’ll need more muscle. Can’t go to war with a toothpick and a fat cunt can we?” He sniggers.
“Hey! We’ve put the field time in, we’re more than capable of taking down a van.” Indy affirms.
“Oh, so you must be the brains of the outfit eh?” Brass responds poking Indy in his forehead sharply. He turns to me.
“And fuck me, I guess that make you the beauty, doesn’t it Ice Prick?”
Pogo lets out a cackle, as the girl rolls her eyes and looks away impatiently.
I raise my eyebrows and fix him with a pitying stare.
“Your woman looks embarrassed.” I nod towards the girl.
“What’s the matter sweetheart? Not getting enough of the good stuff from handsome over here?” I say, tapping Brass on the chest.
“Get fucked.” She spits at me, “Scrawny faggot, you don’t look like you could fuck your way out of a paper bag.”
“That’s fine, you look like you’ve sucked your way all the way down the soup line at the city mission many times.” I snigger.
“Handbags away ladies, can we focus on the task at hand, please?” Indy interjects.
“And what task is that, Indy?” I ask , “Right now, all we’re doing is waiting on yet another group of punks, who are probably too busy dry-wanking themselves to sleep in a warehouse somewhere to have even made the effort to turn up.”
“Actually” A voice comes from above, “I’ve been waiting longer than you have”.
I look up to see a stocky African man with a shaved head standing on the roof of the alleyway above us.
“What the fuck?” Indy says in shock.
“Somebody had to keep a look out.” He says smugly, “It seems that you guys were too busy measuring dicks to keep focussed.”
The man jumps dangles from the edge of the roof, then drops to the floor among us.
He is tall and reasonably muscular, wearing little more than a black denim jacket a plain black shirt and jeans. His image is less than distressing, as would be expected from a Grimester. With no visible tattoos, piercings or attire, he could have passed for a civilian.
“You the boy?” Brass asks irate.
“I’m the man.” He winks, “Prince Randian. And you are Brass, Pogo, Mr Industry and Icepick.” He responds, highlighting our failure to sweep the area for prying eyes.
“Your name I didn’t catch.” He says, pointing to the girl.
“That’s Sadie.” Brass says, “Sadie by name, sadistic bitch by nature.”
Sadie smiles wickedly.
“You can come out now” Randian shouts.
A man appears from around the corner of the back alley. I look him up and down, and dismiss him immediately as a comrade. He is a dejected, apathetic man. His hair is long and scraggly and his clothes baggy and plain. His mouth hangs open slightly and his arms swing low by his side.
“Who the fuck is this?” I turn to Randian.
“This is Brain”
“Brain-fucking-dead if you ask me.” Brass adds. I chuckle softly at Brass’ comment and our eyes meet briefly, our mutual dislike of Brain becoming our temporary common ground.
Brain continues to stare vacantly, as though unaware he is being ridiculed.
“Right”, Brass says stepping forwards, asserting leadership, “If that’s all of us, let’s get a campfire meeting underway, we’re already short on time.”
Ah, the campfire meeting. The ritualistic smoking of Menstrual Minstrel, or some other cannabinoid, followed by the talking of shit. Theories differed on why we did this; some related it to the actions of the Hashshashins in 11th century Syria, who would smoke Hashish after committing murders. Personally, I think that story is bollocks, made up by posers trying to make their recreational drug use seem profound and deep. I think it’s done to root out undercover spies. A true X insurgent comes into regular contact with drugs, and won’t lose their head. A police officer gets piss tested every week, and the Big Boots can’t even drink, but most importantly, when you’re under the influence of Minstrel, the memories you have are so vivid, it feels as though you’re reliving every second of it in real time. It can be seen on your face, in your eyes, and in your voice. An undercover spy couldn’t put on that kind of performance.
Brass pulls a joint out from his jacket pocket.
“Who wants to go first?” He says, brandishing it about like a dagger.
“Fuck that Brass” Indy snaps, “Why’d you pre-roll? I don’t trust it. Roll one right here, right now.”
“I did it to save time.” He snaps.
“You were the ones who were late, we got here on time. Roll a new one.”
Brass reaches into his pocket and throws a bag of Minstrel, along with various paraphernalia at Indy, who catches it clumsily.
“You fucking roll it then, Mr Impotent.” He growls angrily.
Indy opens the baggy a little, and sniffs it deeply.
“What kind of Minstrel is this?” He asks.
“It’s not Minstrel, it’s Lucipher’s Pubes.” Brass responds.
“Ah, I don’t like pubes, kinda burns my throat.”
“I don’t give a flying fuck about your throat, roll it up and smoke it, before I fuck you in the throat.”
A few minutes pass in silence, whilst Indy layers tobacco and the red herbs together, and rolls it into a joint.
“Roller’s rights I suppose, so I’ll go first.” Indy says holding the joint between his thumb and index finger.
“Rock out with your cock out.” Brass responds vacantly.
Indy puts the joint in his mouth, lights the end and inhales sharply. The effect can be felt immediately, no matter how much you smoke; part of the popularity of Rougecannabinoids are that the effects of tolerance are minimal. Indy holds a lungful for about ten seconds before exhaling.
“What do they call you and why?” Brass asks.
“My name is Mr Industry” He replies in a hoarse voice, “I get my name because I burnt down a factory in Hammersmith, and because of my Captain of Industry attire.”
“What did the factory produce?”
“How did you do it?”
“I used to work there when I was a civilian. I stayed back one night after work, hid in the changing rooms. Started the fire using petrol and oil soaked rags.”
Brass raises one eyebrow, as if he suspects Indy might be lying.
“What have you done lately?”
“Smashed up a set of traffic lights at Piccadilly circus. Firebombed a lorry depot. Shaved off my pubes and mixed them into the coffee grounds at CoffeeGo.”
Pogo chuckles lightly at this.
“What weapons do you use?”
“Molotovs for destruction, knives and clubs for fighting, whatever I can get my hands on. Bottles, whatever.”
“Why did you join the X Faction?”
“Because the Industrial revolution created a war machine. Post-Industrial nations are stuck in a state of perpetual, unwinnable war, fuelled by the debt-driven rat race. The only way to free humanity from war and economic slavery is to break the whole system apart.”
“Pass it on.” Brass nods, convinced Indy is legitimate.
Indy hands the joint to Brain, who put it to his lips and draws hastily.
“Name?” Brass asks curtly.
“Brain” He replies softly.
“Why do they call you Brain?”
“Because my name is Brian, and it got spelt wrong.”
“And you just told me your real name!” Brass shouts viciously, “What is wrong with you? Your mother drop a brick on your head?”
Brain looks at the ground dejectedly.
“Answer me!” Brass demands.
“No she didn’t” He mutters submissively, “It got spelt wrong.”
“What have you done for the X faction, Brain?”
“I put a piranha in a public fountain once”
“And what else?”
“I shat in a golf ball cleaner at the country club and it got-“
“-You’re not ready for this Brain. This is balls-to-the-brick, hammers in the air, ready to smash, you understand? No fucking about. This is the real shit. This is insurgency. You’ve got to have big brass balls, are you prepared?”
“I think so”
“Are you prepared!?” Brass snaps angrily.
“Yeah, I’m prepared.” He responds with a little more fervour.
Brass sighs wearily.
“What weapons do you use?”
“I’ve got a Luger from Germany.”
This sparks Brass’ interest.
“You have a Luger?”
“Yes, I got it converted in Hackney, from a replica, but now it fires real bullets.” Brain grins, “It’s one of those revolvey-type ones.”
“Show it to me.” Brass demands.
I step forward from the circle.
“Luger’s don’t revolve, Brain-Bollocks” I shake my head in disappointment, “You own a revolver. The clue is in the name, fucktard.”
Brass nods his head in agreement, before turning back to face Brain.
“Where is your gun Brain?”
“I left it at the squat.” He murmurs.
“Oh fuck me…” Brass presses a hand to his face.
After a moment, he asks the final question.
“Why did you want to become an X faction soldier?”
“It’s the only thing I’m good at doing.” He replies softly.
“Right” Brass says, unimpressed, “Pass it on”.
Brain looks around at the circle vacantly, passing the joint to Sadie.
“What do they call you, and why?” Brass asks.
“Some people call me Scalpel Sadie.”
“-And why?” Brass reiterates.
“Because I’m a fucking surgeon.” She giggles.
“And what have you done for the insurgency?”
“I hitch-hike. I wait for my white knight to pick me up from the side of the road. Then when he tries to collect his fare, I get surgical.”
“What do you mean?” I ask intrigued.
“Sometimes it’s just a little keyhole surgery, or maybe a circumcision, but some dogs need to be fully snipped, otherwise they’ll never learn to behave.”
“You cut off men’s dicks?!” Indy blurts out in awe, before succumbing to a fit of giggles, “That’s fucked up!”
Brass, evidently already aware of this, nods along unamused.
“You hear that Brain?” I nudge him in the ribs, “You might get lucky, Sadie might drain your main vein!” I laugh.
Brain shuffles away from me nervously.
“Need we ask what weapons you use?” Brass grins.
Sadie slides two scalpels out from each sleeve of her jacket, stands in the centre of the circle, and twirls around playfully with her arms out at her sides and the joint in her mouth, before returning to her position.
“Why did you join the X Faction, Sadie?” Brass asks impartially.
“The world fucked me.” She laughs, “So I fuck it up.” She says, slashing forwards with the scalpel.
“Pass it on.” Brass nods unflinching.
Next in the circle is Pogo. I’d anticipated this since I saw him exit the car.
Pogo clutches the joint in his jagged teeth, and widens his eyes in anticipation.
“What do they call you and why?” Brass says hastily.
“They call me Pogo!” He beams in a voice that almost sounds bi-tonal, as if two people are talking at once, one tone is deep and gravelly, whilst the other is a shrill whistle.
“The magical mystical musical clown, entertaining every town!” He chuckles.
Brass hesitates a little, as if he is a little nervous about speaking with Pogo.
“Right.” He says dropping his eyelids briefly, “And what have you done for the X Faction?”
I step forward once again, unable to contain myself.
“We all know what he’s done! He’s Pogo the fucking clown, the Jaded Jester.” I say, turning to face Pogo himself.
“If the devil himself walked the streets of London, he’d run from this sick cunt!” I laugh in star-struck awe.
“You killed Violet Tate-Jones” I say locking eyes with the clown.
“She was walking down the stairs, wearing lacy underwear, didn’t know of Pogo there. Oh she screams and how she stares! Scream the house down, no-one cares!”
The murder of Violet Tate-Jones had sparked a day of mourning in England. Every tabloid newspaper was filled with tributes to the one they called ‘Hollywood’s answer to Princess Diana’. Not only was she an A-List actress, but also fancied herself as a peace ambassador to the breakaway states of Eastern Europe and South East Asia, frequently visiting war zones to carry out humanitarian aid and deliver peace talks. One day at her home in London, she was violently murdered by an X faction grime punk, known to the police and papers as the Jaded Jester. To those of us who frequented the sub-cities, he was Pogo the clown, a notorious serial killer and cannibal. I’d always had a fascination with the darker side of the human psyche, and Pogo was about as fucked up as you could get.
“How did she scream?” I ask, leaning my face towards Pogo.
A wicked grin spreads across his face, cracking his white makeup.
“Like a banshee.” He giggles.
“I am a mechanical boy, I am my mother’s toy. Don’t do anything illegal, always beware of the eagle!” He sings menacingly.
I furrow my brows and lean in towards him.
“What does it mean?” I ask in a hushed tone, optimistically hoping for a deeper insight into the machinations of Pogo’s mind.
Brass grips my shoulder and pulls me backwards.
“I’m asking the questions!” He growls.
I return to my place in the circle, as Brass steps into the centre once more.
“What weapons do you use Pogo?”
Pogo withdraws a machete from his trouser leg and waves it around in the air haphazardly.
“Pogo likes toys that make no noise.” He giggles, replacing the machete.
Brass breathes deeply, relieved that Pogo had replaced his weapon.
“Why did you join the insurgency?”
Pogo closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out.
“Pass it on.”
The joint is passed to Prince Randian, who wipes the roach with his coat sleeve before placing it in his mouth and inhaling lightly.
“What’s your name and why?”
“Prince Randian.” He nods, “Ever seen a man roll a cigarette and light it using just his lips?”
Brass squints at him, confused.
“Randian can.” He nods.
“Whatever.” Brass shrugs “What have you done for the cause?”
“I hacked into the computers at the Bank of England, altered the software and produced GrimeNote” He says conceitedly.
GrimeNote, considered by some to be the X Faction currency. In reality, it was little more than a novelty or an ornament, but it was used occasionally by Grimesters, not so much for trade, but more as tokens of appreciation for acts of camaraderie. The story hit the papers when a number of bank notes entered circulation with an image of the king’s head, decayed and burning, with a Deadeye Totenkopf carved into his forehead, and a twisted Ankh protruding from his head; the symbols of the insurgency. Much of the currency was seized and destroyed, but a lot of the notes were still circulating. The action lead to many grime punks defacing bank notes on mass to replicate the original GrimeNotes. I held a few original GrimeNotes myself, but it had always perplexed me as to how the notes had made it from the Royal Mint directly into the hands of the public without detection.
“So you’re one of those neo-techno-cyber-anarchists or whatever” Sadie chides.
“Primarily yes” Randian responds, “Economic terrorism can be just as, if not more effective, than shitting in golf ball cleaners or murdering innocent celebrities.”
He nods towards Brain and Pogo.
“But if your concern is that I haven’t had time in the field, you won’t leave here in any doubt that I can fight.”
“What weapons do you use?” Brass interjects, growing weary of Randian, “You’d better have brought more than a laptop.” He says, sniggering.
“I use my hands and my feet.” He grins, “I don’t need a knife to make a man bleed.”
This level of brash arrogance irritates me.
“Oh fuck off” I spit, “Tough as old boots are you?” I say, stepping forward and jabbing Randian in the chest.
“Let’s see how hard you are when the Big Boots are stamping your face into a concrete floor.”
Randian rolls his eyes mockingly.
“I bet you can’t fight for shit.” I say raising a fist in the air.
“Make me bleed, faggot.” I growl.
Brass reaches his arm out, knocking me backwards.
“He’s in.” Brass hisses, “I know who he is, and so should you.”
“Yeah, I bet you do” I retort, “You know everybody, don’t you Brass?”
Brass shrugs dismissively.
“I get around.”
“What makes you think you should be campfire leader anyway?” I ask cynically, “Half the people here are your buddies anyway, and Randian and the drugged up remedial? They were here before we even knew it. How do I know you aren’t all spies?” I say, waving my finger at them all.
“I fucking dare you to say that again!” Sadie shouts.
“Fuck you Sadie” I growl, “and that’s another thing Brass, who brings their girl along to a job like this?”
“She isn’t my girl, we were just in the same squat.”
“So maybe she’s bouncing on Pogo’s pogo-stick, whatever.”
“Fuck that, are you serious!?” Sadie says outraged.
“Reign it in Pick” Indy shouts, jabbing me in the chest firmly “They’re chicken soup, and you already knew Pogo anyway, you saw his picture in the papers.”
I pick up the bottle from the ground and point it towards Randian. Indy steps in front of me shaking his head. I lower the bottle, breathe deeply, unscrew the lid and put it to my lips, swigging deeply.
Indy had a point.
“Yeah, give it a rest, Toothpick.” Brass growls, “You really think the Big Boots would go to this much effort just to bring you guys in?”
I lower the bottle, and meet his gaze.
“You aren’t exactly notorious.”
My face twitches a little, irate at Brass’ belittling comments.
“And what makes you think we trust you two anyway?” He continues.
I raise my hand, exposing the palm.
“Look at my scar” I say, displaying it to the group.
Brass looks at my burned palm keenly.
“How’d you do that?” he asks inquisitively.
“Big Boots raided a squat we had down in Brighton. I was sleeping.”
Brass nods for me to continue.
“I had my acky bomb, but I didn’t have my gloves.” I explain, “I got roughed up, grabbed my acky and smashed it over his face. Burned my hand.”
Brass lets a wry smile cross his face.
“Me and Indy escaped by jumping from a window. Turns out one of the punks was a spy, let the Boots in through the back door.”
“Shit man” Brain says in awe, “that’s nasty”
“No.” I say facing Brain, “Nasty leaves no marks. Nasty is disappearing into a black bag and being dragged into van, never to be seen again”
“He’s right.” Indy says, holding his hands up “Pick saved my arse that day, almost everyone else got bagged” he pats me on the shoulder in gratitude.
“Enough!” Brass orders, “Normally I’d love to prance down memory lane with you, but we have precious little time. Let’s finish this meeting and get our arses in gear, agreed?”
A murmur of agreement comes from the group.
“Randian, pass the joint to Pick, you’ve had way more than your share.”
Randian dutifully obeys, holding the significantly diminished joint.
I fiddle the joint in my fingers and inhale in a short wisp, carefully avoiding any possibility of another ember burning my palm.
Brass sighs impatiently.
“What do they call you?” he grunts.
“You know what they call me”
“Why do they call you-”
His sentence is cut short when I raise the bottle in the air and bring it crashing down over Brass’ head. He tumbles backwards, loses his footing and falls to the floor.
“You want to know why they call me Icepick you fucking pussy?” I bark, leaning over him with the bottle outstretched.
Pogo bursts into fits of shrill laughter, screeching and hollering like a man possessed.
He looks up at me, his eyes rolling, trying to regain focus from the stun.
“Answer me!” I spit, kicking him sharply in the ribs.
I glance across to Sadie, who rolls her eyes unamused.
Indy steps forward, gripping my arm roughly, twisting the bottle free from my hand.
“Let him be Pick!” He growls, “You’re spilling the whisky.”
I relent, stepping backwards. I turn to Indy.
“Give me a cig” I pant.
Indy reaches into his pocket and thumbs out a cigarette.
“I want half of that Pick” He says as he hands it over.
“Where’s your lighter?”
“You had it last”
I reach into my jacket pocket and find the lighter, spark my cigarette, and hand the lighter back to him. I inhale deeply, then stoop down, extending my arm to Brass, who grips it, and I help him up.
“Sorry about that Brass” I grin, “sometimes I overreact.”
Brass rubs his head.
“You’re not fucking wrong” He chuckles dryly, straightening his Mohawk out with his palms, “But don’t apologise” He grins, “our whole game is overreaction, at least I know you can be trusted now”.
I hand Brass the cigarette and he inhales deeply, as a small trickle of blood escapes from the swelling bruise on the top of his head.
“Good” I say, “Because I dropped the joint when I did that, and now it’s in that puddle.”
I point down to the spot where the remainder of the joint floats listlessly.
“So what now Brass?” Sadie asks, “Do we carry on with the campfire thing or what?”
“Nah, fuck it.” Brass responds, handing the cigarette back to me “We’re all grime, I know it.”
“So what’s the plan, funny man?” Pogo asks
“Right” Brass says, puffing his chest out to reassert his authority, “A blue cash-in-transit van will be passing under the bypass bridge at around 2am.” I nod attentively.
“And we are going to stop it.”
Randian sighs loudly.
“So what’s the plan?”
Indy snatches the cigarette from my hand, and I in turn snatch the bottle from his and drink the remaining drops.
“We pack the car with explosive goodies and block the road right?” Indy asks
“No way” Brass responds, turning to Indy, “It’s too small to block the road, and the car would be seen from miles away. This is the only stretch of road between the city and the bypass, it’s the only choke spot we have. If the van makes it to the bypass, it’s gone. If we stop it before it gets to the bridge, it will divert. We need to stop it right where it is”
“So we stop it then yeah?” Brain states wearily.
“Thanks Brain” Randian says patting him on the back, “that was an excellent contribution to the operation.”
Brain, seemingly unaware of the mockery, smiles broadly, before his eyes once again drift off into the ether.
“I’ve taken the liberty of planting a number of party balloons in strategic locations around the outer city that will all detonate at 2am on the dot. There will be numerous calls to the emergency services at this time. This will direct all of the police to locations away from the choke point. So there will be no unwanted guests at our party.” Brass grins.
Randian nods in appreciation.
“There’s no risk they’ll go off too early or too late?” Indy asks.
Indy had become something of a bomb connoisseur over the years, and had some skill in making effective time-delays.
“Not a chance” Brass responds “they’re all made by Cuckoo himself.”
“Really?” Indy’s face lights up “I lived in a squat with him a couple of years ago, his bombs are fucking lethal!”
Cuckoo was known to many in X faction circles as being an expert bomb maker, partly owing to his obsessive compulsive disorder, and a need for perfection in everything he made. Such desire for meticulous precision seemed contradictory to the chaotic cause to which his bombs were applied.
“They’re not that big, but they’ll raise a few heartbeats, enough to stir some shit up.” Brass responds to Indy, “I had him make me an extra-large depth charge for the main event. This one is connected to a mobile phone. It’s under the manhole lid under the bridge. It will detonate when I call it.”
“Ring ring boom!” Brain laughs vacantly.
Pogo slaps him viciously across the back of the head, causing him to stumble away in fear.
“I also have a homemade stinger in the boot of the car. It’s a rack of nails on a timber board” Brass continues.
“We’ll hide in the bushes at the side of the road, wait until the van approaches, then throw the stinger out to burst its tyres. If my estimations are correct, the van will grind to a halt right over the manhole lid, then we detonate the depth charge.”
Randian shakes his head slowly.
“Cash in transit vans have run-on-flat tires, made from extra durable Kevlar netted rubber” Randian chimes in, “your stinger won’t even make a dent, and even if it does, it won’t grind to a halt, it will keep moving!”
“Have you ever stopped one before Randian?” Brass says, poking Randian in the chest.
“-Then what the fuck do you know about it then?”
“It’s not going to work Brass, we need a backup plan”
“Oh really?” Brass spits, offended “Well why don’t you run home and get your laptop, send a computer virus to the van’s tires and make them explode?”
Randian grits his teeth angrily, seething.
Brass turns away dismissively, addressing the group as a whole.
“When the van goes up, they will try to escape.”
I nod, awaiting our part in the plan.
“We come down on them hard” Brass grins wickedly, “Petrol bombs, bottles, rocks, whatever missiles you can throw at them, we’re gonna declare judgement day on the fuckers.”
“How many will there be?” Indy asks
“Two armed civilians, one of whom will be the driver, and three or four Big Boots.” Brass responds, “They will be heavily armed, so be prepared for a fight.”
“Armed with what?” Sadie asks, “Shotguns?”
“Most likely yes” Brass responds, “Anyone ever come up against a shotgun before?”
“We have” I say motioning to myself and Indy, “When the Boots raided us in Brighton”
“Just remember this, if one barrel sits on top of another, they have range, so zig-zag and sidestep out ” I explain, “If they barrels sit side by side, they have a broad spread, so step the fuck” I continue, “Most modern shotguns carry six rounds, that means they can fire three times before being reloaded, so keep an eye on how many shots have been fired, they take a long fucking time to reload.”
Brass nods in my direction, grateful for my input.
“Three shots” He says, “After the fourth shot, charge the bastards. Hit them with everything you’ve got. Don’t let any of them get away.” Brass raises his fists and throws two uppercuts into the air, his knuckle dusters glistening in the moonlight.
“What about bucklers? Will they have bucklers?” Indy asks.
“Not likely” Randian says dismissively, shaking his head.
Brass puffs his chest out, straightening the sleeves on his jacket.
“Yeah” Sadie chips in, “What exactly are we doing this for?”
“We’re doing it because Zero wants it done.”
“Fuck off” I spit, “You don’t know Zero” I say sceptically.
“He came to our squat looking for volunteers”
“I don’t buy that.”
“I don’t fucking sell it.”
“How did you even know it was Zero and not just some faggot claiming to be him?”
“When you see him, you just know it’s him.”
“Oh right” I say, “That explains that then” I say sarcastically, “So why isn’t Zero here right now joining the charge?”
“Everything we do is connected to everything else, dumb shit” Brass growls, “Zero’s oiling the gears of the chain somewhere else, we just need a reaction”
“Answer my question Brass!” Sadie shouts impatiently.
“I don’t fucking know Sadie!” He turns to her angrily, “There’s something in that van, a box or something that Zero wants, are you gonna question him?”
“Sorry Brass” She mocks, “But I have problems taking orders outside of the bedroom, if you haven’t already guessed.”
I smirk at Sadie, raising my eyebrow. She glares at me indifferently.
“Well then” Brass says cracking his neck, “What the fuck did you come along for? Wanted to get a nice view of the pretty fireworks?”
“Nah” She shrugs, “I was bored, and I’m all out of coke.”
“That’s a good enough reason for me” Indy sniggers.
I look over at Indy apathetically.
“What time are we on?” I say.
Brass pulls the phone from his pocket.
“Quarter to” He says shoving the phone back into his jeans.
“Right” I say slapping my hands together, “Let’s get to it.”
“Give me the keys” Randian says, extending his hands in Brass’ direction, “I’ll pop the boot.”
Brass reaches into his jacket and throws the keys to Randian, who catches them and walks hastily towards the car, opening the door he reaches in and opens the boot.
Brass and Pogo move towards the back of the car and open the boot, retrieving the stinger from the back.
Randian’s concerns are well-founded. The stinger is a shoddily crafted rectangular piece of timber, peppered with nine-inch nails. We walk with it for a while, until we are on the edge of the bridge. We carefully climb the barrier, and hastily carry the stinger down the grass embankment, nestling ourselves into the bushes. The entire road, even the bypass, is totally empty. I quickly scan around for cameras, but find nothing. This is the perfect spot for an ambush.
“There” Brass points to a manhole cover, “That’s where the depth charge is, that’s where the van will stop.”
I nod at him silently.
“We’ll throw the stinger out into the road about a second before the van comes out.” He explains, “I’ll go on the left, and you go on the right. We throw it in one swift movement, it will slide in front of the van.”
He turns to Pogo and Sadie.
“You guys, go further up.”
“You got the bottles from the car?” He asks,
Sadie holds up her petrol bomb, grinning.
Pogo holds two up and begins to juggle them.
“Stop fucking about Pogo!” Brass shouts, “You drop them and I’ll drop you!” He spits.
Pogo catches the bottles in his hands, giggling wickedly.
Brass winces slightly.
“Get up there, and when the van stops, hit them with everything you’ve got, burn the fuckers out.”
“Prince Randian and Brain-dead” He says, turning to them, “You guys go on the other side of the road, further up”
Randian raises his thumb, unenthused.
“If anything goes wrong, if anybody tries to escape, attack attack attack.”
Brain smacks his lips, widening his eyes, as Randian turns and walks towards his position.
“Get a move on then!” I order.
Brain turns and hastily follows Randian.
“Indy” He says, “You stay here with us”
“Right” He replies,
“The second we throw the stinger, get out there and hit them with a petty bomb, we clear?”
“Crystal.” He nods confidently, pressing his bowler hat tight onto his head.
“Why does he wear that thing?” Brass whispers to me,
“To keep his hair nice and dry, stupid!” I snigger.
Anticipation fills me, as I hear the dull hum of a diesel engine in the distance.
Brass holds the phone in his hand, ready to dial. I glance across at the time as it changes to 2:00.
“They’re here.” I chime, as the soft but noticeable sound of explosions echo in the distance.
“That’s the party balloons” Brass grins.
I look up to see a pair of headlights heading towards us at the end of the road. I grip the stinger tightly, deliberately thumbing the tip of one of the nails, piercing my index finger.
I look behind us at Indy, crouching with a bottle in one hand and a lighter in the other. My attention shifts further up the road to Pogo and Sadie. Sadie is crouched, Pogo standing, with a bottle in one hand and the other tucked into his crotch.
Finally, I look across to Brain, who is on all fours staring vacantly across at Pogo.
“Shit!” I whisper, “Where’s Randian?!” I ask urgently.
“What?” Brass turns to look, “he’s fucked off!” He growls, “What a pussy!” he spits angrily.
“Or a bastard spy” I growl.
Cunt. I never trusted those techno-anarchists. Fights with his hands? what a crock of shit, and he barely touched the Minstrel.
“No time to worry about that now” Brass responds, gripping the stinger, as headlights approach in the distance.
The engine roars closer. The gears shift and the van accelerates towards us. The headlights are bright, and begin to burn my eyes. I grip the stinger tightly.
“Now!” Brass barks.
In a fluid motion, we throw the stinger forward. It skids across the tarmac. A loud crunch of steel echoes under the bridge as the van runs the stinger down. The van slows down slightly, but continues to move. I look at the stinger to see most of the nails have been flattened.
Brass hits his phone hastily to dial out.
Almost immediately, a deafening blast erupts from the manhole cover as the van drives over it. The cover clatters against the base of the van, as dark orange flames erupt outwards from underneath the van.
“Shit!” Brass curses, as the van continues to move onwards, accelerating hard.
Indy steps out, running forward with a lit bottle and hurls it after the van. It flies through the air, but fails to catch the van, hitting the ground and exploding, spreading a plume of flames across the ground.
Brass stands up gripping a bottle from the ground.
“Sadie! Pogo!” He shouts in their direction, “Hit them! Hit them!”
Sadie appears ahead of the van with a lit petrol bomb in her hand and throws it towards the oncoming vehicle. It hits the ground before the van and erupts into flames, causing the van to swerve, slowing it down long enough for Pogo to throw a second bottle, this time a direct hit on the side of the van. Flames trail from the van as it tries to continue moving.
I look across to Indy as Brass sprints after the van, having lit his petrol bomb. I grab the last remaining bottle and sprint after him, quickly followed by Indy.
The van slows rapidly as Pogo runs directly in front of the van with another, unlit bomb in hand.
I continue to chase the van as Pogo throws the bomb at the front of the van before diving into bush where Brain stands idly by. The bottle breaks, soaking the van in petrol and tar, which ignites from the existing flames.
The van briefly comes to a full stop, long enough for Brass to meander passed the existing lake of fire created by Indy’s first bottle.
The rag on Brass’ bottle is burning wildly.
“Throw it Brass!” I shout after him, “It’s gonna go up!”.
At once Brass throws the bomb, it twirls through the air rapidly, hitting the back of the van, and causing more flames to erupt. The van is now wrapped in dark orange flames. The van accelerates once more, as the driver panics, swerving wildly across the road. Sadie leaps backwards, narrowly avoiding the van as it charges towards her.
The flames on the van begin to simmer down as the van gains some speed. Emerging from under the bridge, the van has passed all of us, and seems to be out of our reach.
It is then that the car appears from the other side, heading directly towards the van. The crunch of twisted metal rings out through the air as the cars collide head on. The car skids backwards, as the van grinds to a standstill. I continue to run towards the van, overtaking Brass.
A moment passes as the flames on the van begin to spread once more across the stationary van. The passenger door opens up, and a tall man appears, coughing and spluttering, desperately trying to escape the flames. Sadie spots him, racing after him, she lunges towards him with a scalpel in hand, slashing at his back. The man stumbles, then continues to run. Pogo chases him down, hacking at him from behind with the machete. The blade connects with his neck, and the man drops to the floor, squirming. In a flash, Pogo stands above him, places his foot on his back and drives the blade down into his neck. He twitches violently for a moment, then falls limp. Sadie rushes towards the body, flipping him over, she reaches into his jacket pocket and takes a revolver, smirking as she raises it to her face.
All at once, the backdoors of the van burst open, and three men appear with shotguns raised. The Big Boots. I slow down slightly as I quickly examine where the barrels are placed. I see they are side by side. From my position, they are unlikely to do much damage to me. I throw my bottle through the air towards the van. Two of the men dive out of the way as it hits the ground not far from the van, and petrol splashes into the air. In a second, it catches fire, and one of the Big Boots erupts into flames, running forwards in panic, then rolling across the ground screaming in agony. Brain rushes towards one of the Big Boots, wielding a knife above his head. A shotgun blast echoes throughout the tunnel, as he turns to Brain and fires a shot directly into his face, killing him instantly. Brain’s lifeless body is propelled backwards by the blast, and lies slumped at the side of the road. His head resembling a mutilated hunk of gory flesh.
Brain’s killer turns rapidly, shrouded by smoke and fire, looking for us desperately. He turns to face me, spying me through the smoke, and starts in my direction aiming his shotgun in my direction. Pogo emerges from the smoke directly behind him, wielding his bloodied machete. In an instant, he slashes at the back of his neck, expertly targeting the unprotected part underneath his helmet, and above his back plate. He drops to his knees, grasping the back of his neck with his hand. Pogo seizes the opportunity to stamp his heel into the man’s hand, shattering his fingers and discharging the shotgun. The shot spreads out across the floor, missing Pogo. As the echo fades, the shrill laughter of Pogo can be heard as he descends on the wounded Bootman like a vulture.
I can hear the heavy footsteps of Brass and Indy behind me. I look towards the second Bootman, who is wading through the smoke towards Sadie. He spots her, raising his shotgun to take aim. She holds the revolver out in front of her and pulls the trigger, but no shot rings out. She dives behind the car which blocked the van’s escape. A shot is fired towards the car, narrowly missing Sadie. I stop short of the Bootman, grabbing a stray rock from the side of the road. I take aim and hurl it towards him. It hits him on the back of the helmet. He turns to face me. I rush to the left and he discharges the gun once more, narrowly missing me. He steps forwards into the smoke, looking down at the lifeless burning body of his comrade, he discharges another shot into the smoke. For a moment, I think he may have hit Pogo, but turn to see that he is unperturbed by the near miss, and is maniacally stamping on the injured Bootman he’d accosted earlier.
Brass continues the charge, running straight towards the Bootman, as he desperately tries to reload. I run parallel to Brass. Rushing past Pogo. I move around to the side of the van, the flames of which are beginning to die down. Coming around to the front of the van, I see the car. Randian is leaning across from the driving seat to the back door, opening it, Sadie throws herself inside, and he begins to reverse. I continue running around the front of the van to apprehend the Bootman from the back. Brass is engaged in a fight with the man, swinging his Brass knuckle-imbued fists into the Bootman’s face, clipping his helmet each time. The Bootman is staggering backwards, trying to reload the shotgun. I rush forward, leaping into the air feet first, I kick the Bootman hard in the back, knocking him forwards towards Brass, who uppercuts him in the chin.
The Bootman manages to hold his footing, dropping the shotgun, he swiftly pulls an extendable baton from his belt, and swings wildly, hitting Brass across the face, knocking him backwards to the floor. I leap onto his back, wrapping my forearm around his throat, and tightening it. He lashes the baton backwards against my flailing legs. The impact rocks my shins, but I feel no pain. Indy charges forwards from the front, a flick knife in his hand. He jabs the blade forwards into the Bootman’s stomach. The impact is absorbed by the armour. Indy pulls back and slashes at the Bootman’s wrist. The cut is deep and bleeds immediately. The Bootman drops the baton, and I release my grip from his neck, and begin throwing punches across his abdomen, to little effect. Indy slashes wildly at the Bootman’s face, who begins to retreat. Brass recovers, standing tall he removes the padlock and chain from around his neck, steps behind the Bootman, shoving me out of the way, and loops the chain around the Bootman’s neck, twisting it tightly, choking him. I move to where Indy is stood, and hold my hand out. He hands me the knife, and I lunge forwards, driving it over the chain and into his throat. Blood erupts from his neck, as his feet give way entirely to the chain. Brass grips it tightly, as the Bootman submits to his injuries, twitching violently. Eventually, Brass releases him, and he collapses to the floor, a pool of blood spreading across the tarmac.
Myself, Indy and Brass take a moment to look down at the man briefly, before turning to the direction of Pogo. Who is straddling the remaining Bootman, laughing maniacally, smashing his fists into his face, as he tries desperately to escape.
A shot rings out, and Indy crumbles to the floor, cradling his leg. His bowler hat falls off his head, rolling across the floor. We turn to the direction of the shot. The driver stands there facing us, wearing a long beige coat and holding a pistol in his hands. In a flash, Brass and I dive for cover behind the van. Three more shots ring out, one of them ricocheting off the van. Crouching down against the wheel arches, we exchange glances briefly.
“He’s got two shots left” I say to Brass, who nods in return, “We could rush him from either side of the van”
“One of us will get it if we do” Brass responds hurriedly.
“Indy’s gonna get one in the head if we don’t”
Brass scowls at me, but quickly relents.
The sound of an engine roars, as Randian pulls the car up next to us.
“Get in.” He impetrates.
We throw ourselves into the back with Sadie, pressing her up against the window. Before we can close the door, Randian reverses rapidly.
“Heads down” Randian says leaning backwards, “Now!”
Randian pushes the gear stick into first and slams the accelerator down, jolting the car forwards. I keep my head up. With my head between my knees, a crash will break my neck.
Randian swerves violently around the van, heading straight towards the driver. He turns around, fires a shot towards the car which shatters the windscreen.
A dull thud is heard as Randian crashes into the man, sending him crashing over the top of the car. I look out of the back window, which is still intact, to see the man crashing limply to the floor.
Randian brings the car to a halt.
“Fuck!” Brass barks, cradling his shoulder, “That fucking hit me.”
I open the door again, rushing out towards Indy, who is rolling around on the floor in agony.
I quickly swoop to the floor to help.
“Get up Indy, we’ve got to go.”
“The bastard shot me Pick!”
“I can see that, suck it up, we’ve got to go.”
“I can’t walk Pick.”
I grip him roughly by the shoulders and heave him up to his feet, letting him rest most of his weight on me, and we limp back towards the car.
I throw Indy roughly into the car.
“You alright with them Sadie?” I ask.
“Wait here for me.” She responds, “Don’t die until I get back.”
She exits the car from the other side, and walks over towards the man on the floor, picking his pistol up from the ground nearby, she aims it at his head and pulls the trigger. His head bounces against the ground as the bullet shatters his skull. She tucks the pistol into her belt and casually walks back towards the car.
Brass, still cradling his shoulder, crawls across the seat and exits the vehicle.
“Sadie” He says in a strained voice, “Get back in the car, stop fucking about.”
I climb into the car next to Indy, who has pressed his leg up against the back of the seat to stop the bleeding. I take my shirt off and wrap it around his leg like a tourniquet.
Brass walks over to Pogo, gripping him by the shoulder, and throwing him off the barely conscious Bootman.
“You’re coming with us” He growls angrily at the semi-conscious Bootman, gripping one of his legs with his good arm and dragging him roughly towards the car. Randian pops the boot open, as Brass and Pogo roughly bundle him into the boot, spitting on him, they slam the boot closed.
Brass then returns to the van, disappearing into the back, he emerges seconds later with a black case. He then climbs into the front seat, setting it down on his knee, as Pogo climbs into the back with Sadie. The car is cramped in the back, and the smell of blood is only lightly masked by the pungent smell of smoke and petrol fumes.
“Get us out of here Randian” I spit angrily, “Brass, where’s your squat?”
“We can’t go there” Brass states, “Where’s yours?”
“Old Oxford Circus, the abandoned train station” I respond, “It’s off a main road, not a good place to hide.”
“Who wants to hide? We’re just here for the ride!” Pogo chants rhythmically
“Shut the fuck up Pogo!” Brass barks angrily
Pogo sniggers wildly, rubbing his face with his palm.
Randian accelerates rapidly, turning to Brass.
“We’re going to my squat.” Randian says blankly.
“Where is it?” Brass asks.
“You’ll find out, it’s safe.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me where it is” Sadie growls
“Alright then Sadie” Randian says as the car gains speed, “You’re welcome to jump out at any point. Don’t let the tarmac rip your skin off on the way out.”
Sadie grimaces angrily, as Pogo chuckles heartily.
“Okay” Brass nods, “We’ll go to your place, but if I tell you to take a diversion, you’d better do it. Anywhere there’s a party balloon, there will be police.”
“Just let me know” Randian nods, focussing intently on the road.
“You’re gonna be okay” I say, gripping Indy by the shoulder, “We’ll get you right.”
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.
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 punks 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 passed 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 year’s 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 Indy 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.
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 Pick.” 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 Saccharin 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.”
“Have you had 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 on the wound 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 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 friend 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.
“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 his 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 punks 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 crudely stuff his body under the train, tucking the arms and legs under the wheels.
Back in the carriage, the remaining punks who were watching arbitrarily during the scuffle had settled back into their respective seats and makeshift beds, settling 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 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. 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 silently. 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 made her look almost innocent and virtuous; she hardly looked like she’d spent a single night away from a comfortable bed. This was in stark contrast to Brass, whose body showed the signs of his lifestyle. On every part of his body, his skin was weathered, tattooed, and decorated with scars of every kind. His was 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, was an image of raw masculinity; his muscles bulged all over, as if his skin struggled to contain them from spilling out. Both Sadie and Brass were 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. 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, leaving the carriage.
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, “Acky 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 Acky bomb was the final way to prevent capture. A glass disc filled with a strong acidic liquid. The gloves were made of Alkiurathane, acid ran 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 he 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, wake up her up 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 wasn a teenage runaway 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 was in the drip-feeding of information, and the promise that I had more to come.
I dreamt every night about breaking free. Stabbing my guards in the neck and making a dash for the door. But every morning I’d wake up in my cell, a hopeless prisoner. The lines of fantasy and reality ran parallel but never met. 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 didn’t sympathise with my captors, nor agree with their ways. They were cruel, barbarous and narrow-minded, and yet, I couldn’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, was enough to make me praise their name. I hated the person I’d 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 Faction still waged terror, they would need me for information. The guard came into my cell today. I could tell it was something big, because he stepped across the threshold into my cell and offered me his hand. Lifting me up, I held out my wrists compliantly, and he cuffed them.
He blindfolded me and lead me down the corridor.
“You’re needed” He muttered at me, “Big Dick”.
I nodded in silent anticipation. It must have been something big if he wanted to speak to me personally. He’d lead me into a room, sat me roughly in a cold metal chair, and yanked my blindfold off roughly. The lights glared in my eyes, and I recoiled, squeezing my eyes tight, my retinas burning, After some time, I peered 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 punk from Hammersmith, 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 was a cacophony of raised voices and hasty whispers this morning. It had been this way since the early hours. Despite the noise, I could hear the prisoner’s panicked breaths and curdling 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 erupts with the sounds of clattering feet and panicked breaths, asking what is going on.
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
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