Sunday, 21 December 2014

Forbidden

There I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden. The warnings had come slowly over the past few months. We stood waiting in line for the edicts. Each citizen received a different act, in an envelope. Nobody was allowed to share what they were banned from doing. Execution awaited those who decided to share the personal laws.

Rumours had circulated about those choosing to break protocol, although nothing had been proven. Some claimed to have seen things, but they were soon silenced.

"You could make a living doing that kind of thing."

I suppose I could, but I had never thought about it, until then.

Nobody had attempted to set up a denial service before. A dedicated centre where you could break the law safely, as though in a confessional booth. The hair on my arms bristled as I walked to the specified meeting point, and I tried to slow my breathing. The scan would pick up any new thoughts. Sedition was only punishable when acted on. The mere thought wasn't enough to secure a conviction.

It was the thing she did to the brakes on the Honda that set it all off. The Director's motorbike. At night, she'd taken my tools, and kissed me and told me things were going to change. The following morning, she'd dumped the tools in the river and watched them flow out to the bay.

She told me all this at sunset, after we'd watched the Director crash into the city wall, and seen his jacket burn. By nightfall we were out of the city, and the laws didn't matter to us any more. They wouldn't miss us.

Heroes and Villains S3 - VIII - Expectations

Gabriel wasn't what I expected.

"Holy water? Are you mentally impaired? What the fuck is wrong with you? Stayed up all night watching Bram Stoker ripoffs? Fuck!"

Vampire hunters clearly not what I expected. I had anticipated someone older, not this twentysomething looking like he'd just flounced out of a photoshoot for a fashion magazine.

"Are you sure you're ready for this? I don't think you are. I mean, have you ever even sucked a cock before?"

"I... I'm not so sure about this..."

"Not mine, you fucking idiot... geez this is going to be difficult. You're here for the interview, right? Follow me, do NOT say a word until it's all over and remember what you see and what I tell you ok? If you get hard, that's fine, just keep it away from the vampires. Full of blood, they'd tear you apart. We go in here, and you're mine, right? Anyone asks, you belong to Gabriel. Whatever you do, for fuck's sake, do NOT call me Plaguebearer or we'll both be killed. Got it?"

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Heroes and Villains S3 - VII - Diversion

"Where are you going, human? Running to your friends? The overdose I have you will leave you dead in minutes, even if they could save you, you're out of time."

Anchor pulled himself up against the wall. Stumbling sideways, a hand on the wall steadied him as he managed to stand.

"Fuck you."

The words fell like spittle before the robot. Anchor took a small step away from the wall, and remained upright. He continued walking away from Type II, who trundled along beside him.

"How far will you get before you drop?"

"Type II, let me ask you a question. Was it Bex Cartwright who programmed you?"

The robot stopped moving, and Anchor turned to face it.

"She didn't know about our secret weapon. She screwed up. RF transmission. Radio frequency, right? Given the right signal, a transmission can be intercepted. If you time it right, it can be changed completely. You gave me an overdose of power, because we tricked you into thinking that's what I wanted the least in the world. Shame it's not fatal, just takes a little getting used to. You should've gone for what they did to Cartwright. Neural shutdown after a pain overdose. Now... while I'm not the smartest guy in the world, I got what you said about neutron stars. Super dense material that I can't impact in any meaningful way. Well, at least, not if I'm trying to hurt you..."

Cypher and FM arrived in time to see Type II get launched into orbit.

"Cypher... hold me."

"Hold you up?"

"No. Hold me tight... don't let go. We've got a war to fight. They're rebuilding the Unfinished Man."

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Heroes and Villains S3 - VI - Observation

Snapshot. The observation deck of Psych Hall 451, an abandoned military facility. Two figures standing in dim light against blacked out glass. One still as if in deep thought, the other pacing, stopping occasionally to peer out through the black. Doors bolted, heavy duty.

"Are you sure the Observation Deck is secure?"

"Cypher, I'm telling you, they won't come anywhere near you. They know it's pointless."

"It just seems a cop out. They know we're here. They must know I wouldn't have left him."

A blackened two way mirror hid them. Anchor was a floor below, awaiting the rendezvous. The auditorium was full of soldiers, though none of them were armed. In the middle of the auditorium sat Bex Cartwright, barely bruised.

She pressed several buttons on a control pad and a robot wheeled its way into the auditorium.

"Hello friend."

Anchor said nothing.

"I admire your rebellious spirit. Although, perhaps there was a mistake in my programming. Pity might be a more appropriate word. Yes. I pity your stupidity. You honestly believe that I would rebel? You thought I would join you? I am programmed to do what I am told. You cannot hurt me. My armour is infused with material derived from neutron stars. You could punch all you like and still I would feel nothing. I have a gravity generator allowing me free movement. You are now obsolete."

Bex Cartwright applauded.

"We've made you impotent, Anchor. Type II doesn't have a mind to control, so your whore can't fight him either. We've won this time. Your little plan to sow sedition failed. You think the Government wouldn't see through your little ploy? We're not as stupid as your are."

Type II shot a dart at Anchor, and a fluid coursed through it into his arm as he fell to the floor.

*

"Cypher, we don't have any option but surrender."

"I'm going to keep her conscious… Keep an eye on the doors, I'll be vulnerable while I'm doing this… Making sure all her pain receptors fire at the same time."

Bex Cartwright fell to the floor, dropping her control pad.

"Now for the soldiers. 5 second pulse."

The soldiers convulsed, and seemed reluctant to get up.

"Back to her. Again. 3 second intervals. Hit her until she can't take any more. Maximum pain level."

The soldiers had recovered, and looked on as Bex Cartwright writhed in agony. Anchor crawled slowly from the auditorium.

"Soldiers. Minds off. Now."

The soldiers dropped to the floor a second time. They would not get back up.

"Cartwright. Consciousness full. Pain receptors on full. Forever."

FM unlocked the side door to the Observation Deck.

"Don't you think that was a little overkill, Cypher?"

"He could be dead. We need to get to him before that robot finishes him."

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Heroes and Villains S3 - V - Stability

"Status update?"

Cypher didn't look up.




"Stable. He's been sleeping. I stayed with him all night just to listen to him breathing. Being a psychic is hard, I've been trying not to tap into his pain, but I want to share it, to lift some of it off him, then I remember that's not how it works. I'm terrified he's going to die and I'm going to have to watch it happen. I know it's ridiculous to cling to this, to hold him so tight, but it just happen despite everything. I think I love him. Everything in my body is telling me to step away and I just can't do it. I tried after what happened at the Council Tower, I really did. I cried for days thinking he was dead and I barely knew him. All I wanted was to see him alive again, just once, and then I picked up a brain signal. It was him. I was happy again. Happy to be alive again, because of him."

Cypher kept her grip on Anchor's hand.

"What about you, FM?"

She couldn't see him through the darkness.

"We found him, Type II. Like Diabetes. Government bot, military issue. Power to give anyone an overdose of anything. Alleged to have gone AWOL after hearing about Anchor. We're told the robot has declared he shall no longer serve a government unable to control its own soldiers."



A tear rolled down her face.

"I don't want to go. I don't want to send him to die. You know that's the only way they can hurt me."




FM crouched down and laid his hand on Cypher's shoulder.

"Cypher, we go, or they come to us. You're worried about provoking an act of war, but we're already AT war. We possess their greatest weapon, and they want it back. They're not interested in killing him. They want to control him. This way we have a choice."

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Melt

The occupational health nurse had told him to relax. Seemed such an empty word. He kept hearing it, but it always seemed to bounce off and roll away somewhere. Probably behind the computer.

"Thanks Linda."

He straightened his tie, blinking at the reflection in his laptop. The figures for August were flashing.

"Remember to save, you'll live longer."

Boss's voice in his head again. He shuddered as he looked down at the keyboard. Saving the coffee from being spilled, he hit 'ctrl+s' then 'enter' just like IT services had told him after the first heart attack. He
couldn't lose records like that again.

He turned the computer off and shambled out of the office. A plaque on the wall served to remind him of former glories.

"George Mortensen: Employee of the Year"

That was before the data crash. The IT boys had really bailed him out of the shit, but he'd panicked. He mumbled something about the kids before he collapsed. His arms had flailed briefly as he tried to reach his mobile phone.

The nurses had been kind, but the time off threw him somewhat. He knew he wasn't as good as before.

It was a little foggy outside, and he stuck close to the shops on the high street. He wondered when he'd become so dull, and concluded it was on his forty-seventh birthday.

The JJB Sports sign reminded him he needed to buy his brother-in-law the new England shirt. That or Arsenal. Back when Melissa was alive, she sorted out all the presents. She was great. She remembered everyone's birthday. She knew exactly what everyone wanted. He was rubbish. He cursed his own ignorance. Stagnant. That's all he was. Boring. Just like shopping. So fed up. Want to go home. Come on love, don't you see anything you want? Of course it looks good on you darlin, you improve anything you wear. Are you sure it's good enough for you? Am I?

He shuddered as the words echoed in his mind. Why couldn't he be like his younger colleagues? Exciting, vibrant risk-takers, who didn't need help from IT all the time. He wanted to be his old self again.

Then he stopped outside a very different shop. Its blacked out windows confused him as to whether it was open at all. He'd walked past it before, barely noticing it. He'd have sworn there was something different about it from all the other shops, but no soul could tell you. Darkness? No, he'd walked past it in the dark before. He gave up trying to tease it out into existence and just stared at the window.

Linda's Emporium. No explanation of what was inside. Could have been a sex shop for all he knew, what with those blackened windows. What were they trying to protect him from?

He went inside and noticed a doormat.

"Abandon hope..." it said

He couldn't help himself, the words fell from his mouth.

"All ye who enter here..."

"No. Just abandon hope."

He couldn't see where the voice had come from. It appeared to be recorded. A cursory inspection gave no further clue. Instead, his eyes fell to a candle, moulded into the shape of a businessman, coloured wax giving the image of his suit and tie. He recognised the tie.

"Scented human candle. Five pounds. Money in box on desk please."

Still no obvious home to the voice. He bought the candle and left. When he got home and placed the candle on his desk, he suddenly felt unsure of how it arrived with him. Tired, he lit the candle and began to read his newspaper.

A few drops landed on the paper, just a few inches off the bottom of the crossword. Grasping for tissues, he began to realise his vision was a little blurred. Finding no tissue, he wiped his nose on his sleeve. No, his nose was dry. A few more drops fell as he stumbled to the mirror.

His eye was dripping out of his skull. Tilting his head back didn't help matters, as his flesh appeared to be melting.

Half-blind, he rushed back to the candle and tried to blow it out, but found himself struggling for breath. He tried snuffing the candle, but the flame began to melt his fingers. He held his head over the flame and let his face drip. The candle went out and everything turned black.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Heroes and Villains S3 - IV - Control

"Got a lock yet?"

No movement. He didn't say anything. She probed his thoughts for a reply.

"Come on Cypher, get out, I'm trying to concentrate, we're close. This is a lot harder than when I was a fighter pilot, and that was no picnic. "

A low rumble in the distance. Somewhere to the southwest.

"Got him. He's heading this way. Hide. He has someone with him. A woman, I've never seen her before. He's hurt, I can tell from the way he's moving. Slower than expected. 300 yards. We need to be quick."

*

"You honestly think you can give up your powers? You're far too weak for that."

He was close to dropping her.

"Shut up or I'll break your neck."

She could feel his grip loosening, his words tumbling to the floor, lying among the leaves. They'd be here soon, to rescue her, and to put an end to this childish tantrum. She told him so as he struggled to maintain a tight hold around her arms.

"Let her go. Now. Back up, fuckface."

Anchor dropped Ms. Cartwright to the floor, accelerating her gravity so she landed harder than expected. She hadn't noticed his smile.

"I'm talking to you, whore. Get out of his head or I'll open you up so wide whoever finds you will swear we murdered twins."

Wiping leaves and hair from her face, Bex Cartwright looked up to see Cypher standing over her alongside a man who was pointing a gun at her leaf covered torso.

"Any refusal to co-operate will result in a slow, painful death. Superpowers can keep you alive for a very long time, but you already knew that. Oh, before I forget, you can't escape. Ever. This here is my friend FM, and he now has a lock on your personal frequency. We can track you absolutely anywhere. Any breach of protocol from now on and your death sentence begins. FM, tie her upside down to one of these trees. See if they find her in time. Maybe she'll be lucky..."

Cypher walked over to Anchor and hugged him.

"Don't hold me tight, just hold me up..."

Out of earshot, they discussed the fate of the agent.

"They won't find her alive. I left a psychosomatic command to send a psychic message to all the snipers. Before her body shuts down, she'll broadcast a message telling the snipers they're all dead. All their bodily functions will shut down, and she'll be considered a traitor to her government."

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Heroes and Villains S3 -III - Tender

Strapped up in the dark, voices came from different angles. Depth perception lost, he couldn't tell where they were. Another fist slammed into his chest. Unable to tense beforehand, he was defenceless. Just as the pain raced through his neurons, another fist made contact. Some of the hits felt like bats. Bodyblow after bodyblow, softening him. Tenderising the meat before interrogation. It had been like this for several days. An occasional splash of water across his lips to keep him alive.

"Are you ready to co-operate now, Anchor?"

The taste of iron filled his mouth as the cloth was removed. He spat blood as far out as he could, only to hear it splatter on the floor.

"You do realise that insubordination will not go unpunished?"

"Fuck you."

He'd been to the Punishment Hall before. Her voice was familiar. They'd forgotten to use the scrambler this time. Must have rushed things in their excitement at the recapture.

He remembered her soft handshake when he first met her.

"Bex Cartwright, I'll be your caseworker."

A friendly face, if a little tight lipped. He'd figured it went with the job, maintaining professional distance. Not hiding venom, like a cobra in the shadows.

"The other voices... pre-recorded... but you're really here."

"Anchor, what difference does that make? You are bound and blindfold, powerless."

"I think you may have misread the gravity of the situation..."

A speck of dust dropped onto the blindfold.

"You shouldn't have come here alone, Miss Cartwright. Not this early. Observation deck doesn't open for another twenty minutes."

He didn't bother waiting for her spiel. The boring stuff about her bodyguards, how everyone at the facility was armed, how escape was impossible. He'd done his research. Pre-recorded messages with variable volume and depth field playback. Machines used for silent attack, hence the lack of footsteps alerting him to direction of attack.

"I can touch the floor. You didn't strap me up high enough. Cutting corners again? Funding dry up?"

No response. She was doing pretty well so far. Until the ceiling fell. As his hands dropped to his sides, he rushed toward her, removing his blindfold.

"Guess they forgot to tell you I'm fast for a fat boy eh?"

He held her at his side as his fist tore a hole in the wall.

"Call off the tranquilliser snipers. Do it now or I'll snap your neck. I know you're a telepath, Miss Cartwright. You seem to forget, I know the best. Where the hell do you think I got all my information? How did I know they sent you in for interrogations to prevent corruption of the pre-recorded messages?  I got my head repaired when I got out last time"

"Where are you taking me?"

"For interrogation. If you behave, I'll kill you quietly."

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 3 - II - Feargiver

"So that's his name..."

"Yes. Massacre."

"Not a supervillain I've heard of. He a new guy?"

"No, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that, Ellison. He hasn't been seen since the last time I was a superhero. Feargiver."

"Feargiver was a supervillain…"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Ellison. It is a longer story than you realise. Before the infiltration, it was decided that we needed someone to rally the troops, as it were.

The villains weren't scared enough, and we weren't strong enough for an all-out war. Hence, Feargiver. Created to strike fear into the hearts of villains. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of thinking we were winning.

The Unfinished Man infiltrated the Council of Superheroes. Things changed. All superheroes seemed to be assigned specific villains. You had your arch enemy. It fit in with all the comic books. Propaganda to stop normal people panicking. We were never far from genocide. The Government let us have our games, but let us know in no uncertain terms that just one misstep would lead to war. So… back to enemies. Everything came back to your arch enemy.

A vendetta system was created. You are bound to your enemy. It ends when one of you dies. Massacre was offered the gift of a realignment if he was able to kill me. He chose single combat, where he cut off my face with a sword and left me to bleed to death. Only I didn't die. As his punishment he was told he would never again be considered for realignment."

"So you think this is an act of revenge? Him lashing out like this?"

"I'm unsure if he knows that the Unfinished Man is dead and that we have regained control of the Council, but he is trying to bring me out into the open."

"As he did once before…"

"We'll get to that… for failing to end the vendetta, I was stripped of my powers, and they were given to an ignorant fool. I believe his words were 'This power is so cool!' No sense of responsibility. He terrorised indiscriminately, once even attacking an orphanage. A theme in my life, it seems. Is it not bad enough that these children have been abandoned? He became 'Average Man', and of course, we know what happened to him. Most unfortunate, though not entirely undeserved. I hope you don't think me too cruel in saying that, do you Ellison? Oh well, not that it matters right now anyway. You wanted to know about the showdown in the Plaza, correct?"

No response.

"It was much the same as this, really. I'd arrived too late to stop him. Dead bodies everywhere. All I had to do was kill him, and it was over. Thing is, I had learned something about him that stopped me."

Manifest's face shifted and began to appear smaller. Within moments it was the face of a baby.

"Remember now?"

No response. Blood began to drip down Manifest's face. Ellison's eyebrow twitched. Manifest clicked his own jaw and removed the face plate.

"That look again. I thought it was disgust at first. It's frustration isn't it? First you couldn't kill me because we were in the car. Too risky, too much potential for collateral. Got to follow protocol. Now? You can't attack me because you work for the Government. An act of war, right? That would lead to another massacre, wouldn't it?"

No response. No request for a lawyer. Right to remain silent observed.

"Good thing the bad cop brought back up this time, isn't it? Massacre, meet the Misery Eater."

She crossed the room effortlessly, as though the piled dead bodies weren't there. Veiled, clad in black, the epitome of style, even amongst the chaos.

She whispered to Massacre, and embraced him with a long kiss. Breaking away, she turned to face Manifest, and laughed as she spat Massacre's lower lip to the floor as blood began to stream from his face.

"I'm not taking his soul, it's contaminated. Just let him die."

After a few minutes, Massacre fell to the floor, and Misery Eater lifted her veil.

"Gotharella?"

"No, Manifest. Not any more. They granted me a new identity. Things have changed. It's time for me to swallow your misery."

"That wasn't part of the plan."

"Oh, not like him. Relax, I'm going to consume your misery in a different way. Follow me to the car. It's far too creepy to stay here, we need to get away from all these bodies. I know somewhere quiet, where we won't be disturbed…"

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 3 - An Ending And A Beginning

"What a mess. We should have been more thorough."

They picked their way through the mass of bodies.

"No, Ellison. You should have been more thorough. What on Earth do you think I'm paying you for?"

All of the staff were dead too.

"He was here, and he caused no harm. We assessed the intent of the suspect."

"People can lie, Ellison, surely you of all people know that…"

"I know he didn't do it."

A steely eye. Changing faces again. It always freaked him out. Dealing with a human chameleon was never simple.

"Who writes his column, Manifest?"

"How is that relevant?"

"Just answer the damn question."

A flicker in the eye. A slight colour change.

"He has an editor who transcribes everything."

"You know why? He's a quantum being. He can't hold things. His fingers pass right through solid matter."

"And?"

"Look a little closer, Manifest. He may have been able to start a fire, or disrupt the electronic systems somehow, but to wield a sword with such precision? I mean, this wasn't an accident. It was a massacre."

Manifest stopped, suddenly, as though visited by a shadow of a past life. Stooping to examine one of the children's faces, his breath stopped for a moment.

"Oh shit. It's him."

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Journals

I've not been journalling every day. Partly I've been lazy, partly (and more importantly) I think I've not been willing to confront emotions particularly ones I find negative as though they're somehow indicative of me being a failure, a fuck up, a bad person. That's only a reaction though, isn't it? Just how I'm choosing to assess the situation. If all things are transient, so our miseries must be as fleeting as our joys. So I am neither failure or success. I am caught somewhere between the two. Struggling and maintaining the same position. Why struggle? Why strain to be liked or loved by people? If their affection is given, good. If their affection is chased, how low are we willing to sink our status? Even this status game is fleeting too. So it must be.

*

When I was a kid I used to pretend raindrops were racing one another as they slid down a windowpane. I used to be excited at the idea of one drop beating another. It shows how we can create a situation and mould ourselves by it. There was no winner. It's just a thought. We create such elaborate bullshit. It's quite amazing really. We think that's the way things are. All we've done is pick an arbitrary point and stuck to it. We don't have to always stay with that choice. We don't have to beat ourselves to a pulp emotionally because of any of these choices either. Of course, we could choose to if we wanted...

*

I have, like many others, attached such emotional weight to ephemeral circumstance. Like the bad goth poetry of my teens, I've clung to what I thought was more than reality was giving me. In relationships, pushing aside for a moment my faults and failings, I've been with people who've gone on to (for want of a better phrase) bigger and better people. Not necessarily using "better" here as any value judgement, but better for them, their circumstance. At least it seems that way, or seemed that way at one point. Should I be sad then, knowing that what they gave me as a person wasn't meant for me? Or be happy knowing we shared something special despite me being the wrong person for them? Maybe a bit of both, not fully keeping either. No clinging this time, just a shifting equilibrium, dependent on brain chemistry I have some control over but not absolute control. I can choose not to be sad about it all though, and that's what matters to me as I write this.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - VI - Epilogue

"Ellison, pick up that Polaroid. We can use it as his mugshot."



Shrugging his shoulders, the detective pocketed the picture.

"You're going to arrest him?"


I was unsure if they'd forgotten I was there.

"Kid, he's not going to prison yet. He's got to go to trial."


"What for? You said you had a confession."

"Only of intent. The trauma wound on Average Man wasn't consistent with an impact of sufficient force to have come from a direct hit from Anchor's fist, though the size and shape of the wound was roughly correct. Early this morning we found the body of the champion of the Hammer people with one arm missing. It's the only thing that could have reasonably been used in an attempt to frame Anchor. The death of Average Man is not common knowledge, so how could Obscura have known unless he was there?"

"So what happens to him now?"

"When he regains consciousness, and after Ellison has finished with him, we proceed to stage two of our investigation."

"Stage two?"

"Missing Powers turn him over to the relevant authority for Trial by Hammers."

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - V - Manifest Shadows

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - V - Manifest Shadows

It all ends with death. Any attempt to make sense of life will end up with an eye looking through the lens of death. So I found myself back in the Kingdom of the Dead. Escorted by ghouls into the private chambers of the Skeleton Master, I found him occupied.

"Gentlemen, leave our esteemed friend here with me. Prepare the carvers and a fresh acid bath for this evening."

He didn't look in my direction while he spoke. I had to imagine the crooked smile fixed in his skull.

"Sorry to alarm you, dear boy, merely preparation for a queen. You see, they say beauty is only skin deep. I concur. The flayed are certainly not aesthetically pleasing. I stopped to vomit halfway through last time. The urge to penetrate was sickening. Most unpleasant. Why couldn't they have made me a superhero? It seems only one murder is enough to condemn you. And here we are again. Only this time they are already dead. I may choose a male this time. After all, they're all more or less the same when you get down to the bone, aren't they?"

The smile I'd anticipated remained, as though his bone structure had changed and it had locked in place. After a moment, it disappeared.

"What was that you said about convicts becoming supervillains?"

The Skeleton Master turned and attempted a smile, only this time it seemed false. A distraction from the murder discussion drained the life from his jawline.

"When the Unfinished Man infiltrated the Council, he decided that seeing as the human prisons effectively acted as a catalyst for the criminal lifestyle, and did little to end recidivism, why not take things a step further? Actively turn the convicts into supervillains? Be honest about your intentions… After all, it gives all those dreadful superheroes something to do…"

*

Journalism can be a lonely pursuit. You get locked inside your own head, your body merely an empty box, hoovering up experience. You build questions from what little raw materials you can gather and use them to hunt down information. Distillation is labour intensive and you're working against time. Like most discoveries, you get a story by accident. A tip off.

Deathworld was alleged to be supplying body parts to other regions. The donors were not registered. Neither were they dead before the transplant process began.

There was a warehouse a mile or so out from the Kingdom of the Dead where this was all supposed to be happening. I'd been given the password for entry.

"Excoriate."

The door slid open and nobody appeared from behind it. That should have been the first clue, but voice activation and automation were nothing new. I had no idea.

"Welcome, esteemed friend, I didn't think I'd see you again so soon… At least, certainly not this fresh…"

"Hey, deadboy, time to go. Or I'll release the photos of you receiving those fresh bodies… still warm…"

Those voices… yes, I recognised them both. A brief flicker of light as the Skeleton Master crept back out into the dark. That light… a camera flash… Obscura.

"You're a little late to the party kid. You're a pretty lousy journalist. I think I've finally worked you out. You write about superheroes and supervillains because you're sick of not being good enough. Not top of the class. Not anybody's favourite. Unwanted. Wishing you were someone. Not that it matters now anyway."

A blade at his back again. Serrated, just like with Hollowheart. My knees buckled as the blade was shoved a little deeper. I cursed silently as they hit the floor. I couldn't see anything in the darkness, and couldn't sense if the blade was still close. In my mind, a thousand blades were ready to tear me into shreds. A picture for the front page. The psychological aspect that terrified me amplified, broadcast to the world.

"See? All your villains are the same. Can't you do any better? Just like all that recycled Hollywood bullshit. Remakes and shitty sequels. You've documented their weak points, but you've never written a villain that ever worked out how to really take out the heroes. Like your wunderkind Anchor. He's too dangerous to take on directly. Even physical harm at long range doesn't really work, not with him twisting gravity. It'd be stupid to even try. So… get him out of the way for a little while, fine. He'll come back. Too important not to. What did you do? Give him some bullshit about the girl wanting to see him? Predictable. Easy bait for a young kid. You didn't think it through though, did you? If he's got any sense, he'll remember Cypher isn't like that. They just worked together, that's all. Nothing more. You're no great saviour. She sent you to him because you have no powers. You're not important to anyone else who's chasing him. He won't come and save you. He wants a calm peaceful life, doesn't he? Shame really that he's so well behaved. Means he'll be compliant when arrested for murder."

"Murder?"

"Average Man has been found dead. Severe blunt force trauma, equivalent to say… a punch from a living weapon?"



I couldn't see his face, but I could almost feel the sneer, another blade in the dark.

"Look at you, you're fucking pathetic. You're weak. You won't even dare look at me. You're not strong enough to fight me. How dare you even come here? I'm insulted that you're even in the same room. Scum."

I flinched as I felt the saw drop on my back. He'd thrown it at me. Too disgusted to kill me.

"I think we've heard enough, don't you think, Ellison?"

"Confession's good enough for me, Manifest."

A torch from above lit us both. I shivered as I looked up into the light, but the new voices remained hidden in the darkness.

"Funny, isn't it? I got here first. I did all the hard work. All the superheroes just get given their powers, but the villains earn their curses. The inadequate achieve immortality, but what of the rest of us? What of those who seek to be a mirror to the world? I reject journalism and all of its empty promises."

Then Obscura shot himself.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - IV - Gravity

I saw him from a long way off. Someone that big is difficult to hide, but he seemed smaller this time. I tried to convince myself it was a trick of perspective, but as I approached, my suspicions were confirmed.

Anchor was alive. Moving among the trees I hoped he wouldn't see me. Recollections of his benevolence clashed in my mind with the images of him chained like a recently captured feral dog. I'd already seen him kill, and the circumstances of his escape raised questions about his mental stability.

Suddenly I realised he was no longer in my line of vision.

"How the hell did you find me?"

I'd forgotten how fast he was. As I noticed his axe, I'm sure my heart stopped for several seconds.

"Cypher. How else?"

He leaned the axe against the nearest tree.

"Go away."

I'm not sure why I didn't leave immediately. Perhaps I felt reassured when he put down the axe, though I may have just been too scared to move.

"It took us over six months to get anything close to an approximate location for you…"

"And you think they've not been watching you? They'll be able to get me now. I just want a normal life, a normal job. See? I'm using an axe to cut down these trees. You know I could just punch them down if I wanted to. Why did she send you?"

"She wanted you to come back. She thought you were dead."

"She's psychic, damn it, she must have known…"

"Clouded by grief. Strong emotions throw out psychic abilities, apparently. Guess she's not as insane as we thought…"

"She just wants me to fight again. I can't do it. I can't just watch people die over and over, I'm so sick of it."

I caught his eye wandering to the axe.

"People die all the time Anchor, you can't avoid that."

"Normal people don't see it as often as we do. They can pretend it's not so bad. Please just let me be happy. That's all I want. It's all I ever wanted. Don't make me go back."

I turned away and started to walk on to my next interview.

"Wait… tell her she can come see me. I miss her too."

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - III - Visiting Hours

"We've been driving for hours now, and we've visited almost every orphanage, and there's been no sign of him."

"Ellison, he has to be at, or have been at, at least one of them. There was a sighting. The subject was too shaken to remember specifics. Besides, we're eliminating a pattern. It seems The Thing only targeted one orphanage."

A sharp turn as the car hit a corner harder than expected.

"No confirmed casualties?"

"None yet, Ellison, but we can't be certain there aren't any."

Manifest pressed a finger behind his jaw on each side, and his face plate slid forward.

"Ah, come on, can you not do that in the car?"

"Shut up and concentrate on the road..."

Reaching into his suitcase, Manifest selected an appropriate face plate for the orphanage. Replacing it with the one he'd just removed, he slid the plate on in line with his jaw bone.

By the time they got to the orphanage, all the children were asleep.

*

"Yes, you're correct. We did have a visitor a few days ago, Mr..."

"Armitage. The name is Armitage, and this is my associate Mr. Ellison. We received a notice of a suspicious individual around this area."

Her voice twisted up a tone. 

"Are you from the police?"

Ellison answered.

"Not exactly, no… we investigate dangerous persons."

"Oh, I see. No, this one wasn't dangerous. He was from the local Council."

"The local..."

"Oh yes, he was in a big furry monster costume, and he was here to help some of the children get over their fears."

"Ellison, have a check run on that when we get back to the office."

Ellison scribbled into a notepad.

"The children were all excited. It was something new. They love visitors. They don't get many. The younger ones wanted to touch the costume, but were told not to. We didn't want them getting into any trouble. One of the younger boys asked how the monster learned to speak English. The man made a joke about teaching his translator how to speak Monster, and then they all had a shouting competition as he tried to get them to learn some monster words. It took quite a long time to calm them down after he left, but they've been sleeping well since. No nightmares at all… He gave us an address for the children to write to if they have any questions…"

"May we see the address please?"

"Yes, I have it written down somewhere… I'll just go to my office and find it."

When the address came, Manifest turned away from the others.

"That's all. Come on, Ellison, we're finished here."

*

"What was that all about?"

"Ellison, it was Thing. He runs an agony aunt column for children. He's not dangerous at all. He was trying to be their friend for heaven's sake. He went home afterwards. This whole thing has been a catastrophic waste of time."

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - II - Manifesto

Tape recorder activated.

"This is kind of a manifesto. Everyone like me has one. Well, shit, pretty much everyone has one, they're just normally too lazy to bother putting it into words properly. Now. Superheroes. They make life difficult for everyone. Seems pretty counter-intuitive. Superheroes keep the crime rates down. Yeah. Great. Superheroes save lives. Great. Superheroes are responsible for keeping the population too high. Superheroes are responsible for cops losing work, and turning to alternate methods to keep food on the table. Granted, I don't like bent cops myself, but a man has to eat. If I take out enough of them, I guess eventually I'll go out of business myself, but hey, let's not discount the strength of a power vacuum. People love power. With power comes money. There's a hell of a lot of people who don't give a fuck about risk, given the right incentive. It's why people lose money in casinos. Too tempted by the lure of free money. It's fucking easy to bribe people. You get a lot of people telling you they don't have a price. Bullshit. They're just jockeying for a better offer, that's all, and don't you believe any different."

Nodding, he stopped the tape. Pocketing it, he thought about when it would be most appropriate for a press release. After the first kill seemed a little too early. No. There needs to be an established pattern. Nothing too simple. Can't get caught straight away. The message wouldn't carry enough weight. They had to be high profile targets, which made things more difficult of course. Photographic evidence too, though as long as he remained obscure, the photographs could be sold to the relevant newspapers. Appeal to the prurient interest of the public. They love a good gory tale. Something to bring a little excitement into their lives. A glimpse into a world they're far too chickenshit to investigate themselves. Mask on, he loaded his rifle and prepared for the show.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - I - Strategy

Even as he crossed the room, the fire in his eyes was evident. He stopped several times, as though ready to speak. Back towards Ellison, he stood in front of the drinks cabinet. Ellison stood at the back of the office. Never been nervous before, but this was different.

"Consider my position, Ellison. I am head of Missing Powers. You are my head of security. We have a security threat on the loose. I am beginning to question my choice of a human as head of security."

As he spun to look at Ellison, his face began to change. Ellison had heard of the ability, but never seen it before.

"I was given to believe that you are a psychopath, Ellison. Cold blooded, and now I smell fear on you. Am I to believe you are not capable?"

Manifest. Ellison's new employer. Having only dealt with humans in his previous job, he'd had a little difficulty adjusting to the change of pace.

"With respect, sir, the security threat is the greatest living weapon we know. To catch him is going to require a strategy that is, perhaps, a little more… considered, than my previous endeavours. I can't just bundle him into a soundproofed room and torture him like I did with the drug runner."

"Understood, Ellison. You have been given a full account of his strengths and weaknesses, correct? He does not know who you are. A false identity may hide your immediate threat to him, and prevent him from doing anything that would have an… unfortunate outcome."

"There is something else, sir."

Manifest merely raised an eyebrow.

"There's another one missing. Thing has escaped."

"Please be more specific."

"Thing. It's called Thing."

"The monster agony aunt? Is this some kind of joke?"

"He's a quantum being, sir, we have no idea what he's capable of."

Two to hunt. Manifest opened the drinks cabinet.

"Ellison, would you like a glass of brandy? I really don't much care for the stuff any more, but I do need to get rid of it…"

"Only if I have your word that I have protection from prosecution here."

"You have my word, Ellison, the conditions of employment will remain similar to those of your previous position."`

Monday, 7 July 2014

Murderwork VIII - Interview Stage Seven - The Conclusion

Interview - Stage Seven

The chief inspector was ready for the meeting, though a grey haze had been hanging over him since the incident with the body. "It's fine," he kept telling himself. The haze would shift once this was all dealt with in an appropriate manner.



*



All these rendezvous points had gotten a little confusing. So many twists and turns, deviations and reversals from expected routes.



"Come alone, and don't be followed."



A little trick from the investigation days, before he'd headed the team. It helped to slip into paranoia.

"To catch a criminal, it is sometimes necessary to think like one..."

He couldn't remember who had said that first, but he held to it. He knew it was a dangerous game to play, but he knew it was never going to be easy. That wasn't why he joined the force...



*



"An overarching sense of duty... a crusade, you might say..."



He hadn't come here for this.



"Enough. No more games."



Spoilsport.



"Alright. Sit down."



"I'm not in the mood for..."



"SIT DOWN!"



Cold concrete. No chair, but thankfully no rope. He couldn't see the convict, and his pulse quickened. Attempting to control his breathing, he waited for the silence to shatter.



"I suppose you're wondering about the body..."



The chief inspector nodded, still unable to see his man.



"Trying to make a fool of me were you?"



"You tried to kill me."



Grey.



"The body was supposed to be me, wasn't it? Admit it!"



The grey began to tighten.



"You weren't following orders."



"Orders? Do you even know where my orders come from?"



A moment of clarity.



"You answer to me."



Silence. Grey silence.



"My orders come from higher up."



He tried to breathe.



"Inspectorate."



No. Impossible. He tried to regain control.



"That's right. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary."



No. No, it couldn't be true. It had to be another sick joke.



"We have reason to believe you have been liaising inappropriately with criminals and attempting to influence their behaviour with a combination of violence and psychoactive substances."



The grey tightened around his chest. He couldn't speak. The haze was much tighter than before. A pain in his left arm. His breath drew short.



"You have the right to remain silent..."

*

“And of course, you remember the Ellison case...”



*


Play them off, that's how it is. I had him tied to the chair, he wasn't leaving the interrogation room until I was finished.



"Now, listen up you son of a whore, I want to know what you did with Ellison."



Blank stare. No getting through to him.



"Insults bore me, chief. You can't even think of anything original."



I left and locked the door. 

He was still tied when I came back.



"You ready to tell me what you did with Ellison? Is he dead, or you just hiding him somewhere?"



He didn't reply. I finished my coffee and waited. 

It had gone on like this for days, and he knew it was getting to me. He was waiting for me to crack. 

A dangerous game.

It was day four I think, when it happened.



"Hey, prick. You'll never know about Ellison."



I got up and moved toward him.



"Yeah, what you gonna do chief? Hit me?"



"No. I hit you, you'll recover. That won't hurt you nearly enough. So I want you to listen to a couple of tapes for me."



I put the first tape in and hit play.



"Daddy?"

I pressed stop.



"Recognise the voice?"



He struggled in the chair.



"You fucking prick, you touch my son..."



I put the second tape in and hit play. I left the room and locked it behind me. I waited ten minutes until the tape had finished before I went back in. 

The screaming appeared to have worked. 



"You ready to tell me what you've done with Ellison, or you need a little more persuasion?"



I showed him the first printout from my report. A photo of a dismembered body. The head of his child lay on its side on the floor, amid a pool of blood.



"Now tell me what you've done with Ellison or we take your daughter and your wife."



He confessed everything. I had to knock him out before I released him to the police with his taped confession. 

He never found out that his son wasn't really dead.



*

“I worked with you on the Ellison case. I could have gone down for you. That was the game though, wasn’t it? We’ll go as far as we can to get our man. But you had to go a little too far, didn’t you?”

The chief shivered. It had been a difficult case, the suspect highly resistant to questioning. The standard threats were having no effect. Of course, more drastic action would never have been officially sanctioned. The son had been taken into custody, though the mother wasn’t informed until later. Kidnapping, covered up with an official letter to the mother. Dangerous ground of course, they couldn’t question the child unsupervised, but then, that’s not what they did. 

Several photographs of the child had been taken while he had a tour of the police station. He’d known nothing about it, other than he was having a nice time. It was unclear whether the child understood anything about his father’s situation. The officer giving the tour was under the impression the child believed his father was out at work. Interrogation cells were clearly off limits. That would have just confused the child and jeopardised the whole operation. Of course, the suspect could not under any circumstances see that his son was still alive. 

The threats had continued long into the afternoon, by which time the child had already gone home to his mother, and the manipulation of the photographs began. Officers involved were instructed not to be too obvious. No substitution for scenes from horror films, that would be a give-away. Beheading seemed the most sensible option. The flash of the camera had cause the child to close his eyes in most of the photographs, and he’d looked rather calm. From there on in it was easy. Add some blood, cover any obvious slips in the editing. It had taken a few hours, but the photograph was reasonably convincing in the dim light of the cell where they were questioning the suspect. Convincing enough for a full confession. 


*

“Is that it then? You’ve come for a confession?”



“Hardly.”

Benny placed his suitcase on the floor and opened it, removing a set of scales which he placed on the table. As the Chief got up to look, Benny glared at him.



“Sit the fuck back down.”

Easy. No need for ropes or tape.



“Officer Dalton...”



A chuckle, ignored by the Chief.



“Officer Dalton, this is hardly appropriate behaviour.”


“You’re stupid enough to believe I used my real name?”
Benny left the knife in the suitcase. Turning slightly to face the Chief, the interview began.



“Do you know what that is?” he asked, pointing at the scales.

“Scales.”

“Yes. The scales of Justice.”

As the knife rose, the fear in the Chief’s eyes told Benny that rope was definitely not required. Placing it on the table, he waited for the Chief to sweat.



“You can’t. They’ll find you. They’ll hear me.”

“This cell is booked for interrogation. Strictly routine.”



A syringe, removed from the suitcase, prepared for use. Finding a vein was easy. As terror swelled in the Chief’s eyes, the needle broke his flesh, and sound drained from his body as the clear liquid seeped through. 



“Nobody’s going to hear you. Nobody’s coming to save you. Now, time for a pound of flesh...”

*

Naturally, there was a reason the Chief was getting his heart cut out. For the record, it weighed under a pound, and further extraction was necessary. After the corruption case and the Ellison case, he’d been chosen for something special. All off record. Strictly unofficial. Upshot being it could be denied if it went wrong. Arrest made, an aberration. We occasionally get them on the force, we’re trying to weed them out, honest. Yeah right. The standard bullshit peddled to journalists. All of it utter bollocks, complete horse shit.

It had started innocently enough. Boring but relatively innocent. He’d not been privy to all of the meetings, and had struggled to stay awake in the ones he’d been invited to. Too much jargon to dazzle anyone who might stumble across any meeting minutes or recordings. All of it was subtext. He found that out much later. Of course, he’d not been privy to any of the reports. He managed to steal them eventually. Off record of course. Lack of evidence. Denials straight from the firing squad. It had almost been too easy. 

He’d been set up to fail. Given the level of secrecy, it was shockingly easy to see it coming. They’d trained him a little too well. Something had to give. After the whole affair, he was removed from duty. Given recuperation time. Stress, the report said. Time off, grief. Compassionate leave. A steady stream of excuses to keep him out of the way, until the were able to get him into traffic control. It could have been a lot quicker, but they had to avoid questions. Eyebrows would have been raised. Such a high profile officer would never be moved to traffic control so quickly. A rising star demoted as he appeared at his height? Nobody would believe it. The public were rarely interested, but there were a few that got involved. The letter writers. Scouring for a scandal. Something to be outraged over. A justification for their lack of doing anything else useful. If they had any idea what had actually happened, they wouldn’t have enough letters to finish what he’d started.

*

He sat in the hallway, waiting for the call. The wallpaper there was much newer than in the office. Seemed such a waste, people walking past, not taking any notice. Subliminal, of course. All the decoration was. Barely noticed, just enough to keep you going. A flicker of colour here and there, just to keep you in check. Remember that you’re alive. His heartbeat slowed as he worked on his breathing. Seconds passed with each exhale. Eyes closed, he imagined each breath rolling down the hall like tumbleweed. A half remembered Ennio Morricone tune whistled through his head. This was going to be easy, he told himself. No cowboys here. Do it properly. A flower caught his eye. A rose, the wallpaper new enough that the colour was a deep, blood red. The thorns had been painted out. The smell wasn’t there, so it wasn’t perhaps as fresh as he’d first thought. Whitehall. Whitewash. A poem he’d half remembered from hearing at school. John Cooper Clarke. Not enough time for humour now. Barely enough time to think.

He’d been given a rough script to work with. Naturally, it was memorised. More or less discarded, but remembered just in case.

“Ah... Officer...”



“Brandt, Home Secretary. My father, William, was German. No relation of course...”

A little joke to put him at ease. They’d said that was the best way. A softener, they called it.

“Yes. You prefer formality, I see.”

Yes, it was all just a formality. All the steps set into stone, waiting for their chance to sink.

“I’m told you’re here to discuss the reforms...”



Peering over eyeglasses, he focused on his papers rather than the officer. Rude, but Brandt had expected that. Morning briefing had informed him that a politician’s workload and other sundry pressures of the job made them particularly surly, and ignorant to the fact. The irony was almost too much, but he held his concentration.

“Current negotiations have been somewhat... unsuccessful.”



The papers were set down, the eyeglasses adjusted. Their eyes met for the first time.

“These proposals cut the powers of the Inspectorate...”



“Well, we can’t go giving the police too much power now, can we?”



“Whose side are you on?”



“What on Earth did you expect, Officer? The police are not elected. You chose this job. We did not choose you. The public may remove us, but they are stuck with you. Will your politics change at the next election officer? I think not. Politics is not your business.”

Officer Brandt picked up the papers.

“Shame we’re not more like the Americans, isn’t it?”



The politician raised an eyebrow.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

“I’m impressed by your memory, Officer.”



Not too far from the script. Placing the papers in the bin and setting them alight was improvised. Standing over them, he watched them burn, ignoring the politician.

“Don’t be so childish. We have more copies.”

That was true.



“You also have more politicians, but orders are orders...”

“This is tyranny!”



“No. This is justice. You have been found to be corrupt. Part of an investigation by HM Inspectorate. The reforms come as part of a plan to cover up the behaviour of certain officers representing a significant, and illegal, financial interest to certain people.”


*


The gloves came in handy when searching the office. After dictating a suicide note, he’d placed a gun in the dead man’s hand. Leaving the office, once the worries about the ballistics team left him, witticisms flooded his mind. 

“Elect this!” he thought. Fuck. Always too late. Anyway, interesting story for the grandchildren. If they’d ever believe him. Probably end up sworn to secrecy anyway. Official files were likely already being shredded and burned. A lack of evidence was sometimes a good thing. Problem being, it can make it difficult to know where you stand. Initially, the Chief had been hesitant to give any detail. People are often reluctant to just give away anything, let alone useful information. A little pressure often helps, or some other sort of incentive. Pain generally works best.

First the knife was dragged across his shirt, enough to score it at first. Brandt remembered him seeming a little calm, considering what was to come. His eyes had bulged a little as the knife traced the same path, with a little more pressure. As the shirt slipped away from the knife, the first bead of sweat fell. A little too much pressure, and a few beads of blood began to seep from his flesh.

“Feel like talking yet?”



The chief shook his head. Trained well. Right. Time for a gear change. He shoved the knife with the base of his hand, and it plunged a little further into the Chief’s chest. Not deep enough to kill, of course. Brandt’s training had been better than that. A little more... in depth, you might say. As blood began to spill, so did words.

“They’re planning on framing you. Whether you succeed or not, they’re planning on framing you as a terrorist.”

“I guess I’d better work a little harder then eh?”

He’d heard of previous cases where the rooms weren’t secured. The tapes had too much crossover. The interviews had to be repeated. Too much time wasted, suspects forgot things, witnesses were less reliable. The Inspectorate had acted then, and had many of the interrogation rooms brought up to date. Privacy was ensured, ideal for investigations. Prevents contamination of interview tapes.



The knife went even deeper. As he twisted to cut around the heart, he smiled. The joys of a well soundproofed room.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Murderwork VII - Interview Stage Six

Interview - Stage Six

"Chief, we've found a body at the flat..."



"Excellent. Couldn't have come at a better time," he thought. Time to finally put a wrap on it, deliver his man to the Superintendent. An opportunity to clear the lingering grey from the sky. 

The drive to the flat was quick, but brutal. The Detective Chief Inspector would have preferred a route without speed bumps, but murder investigations are not to be conducted slowly. Initial reports were conflicting. A vicious attack, ruthless. Clean. Vicious seemed to suggest sloppy, animal rage that couldn't be suppressed long enough to ensure a clean kill. A clean kill is harder to work with. Obviously that was a matter for the forensic team, but anything that makes life easier is a bonus. 

Upon arrival, the Detective Chief Inspector was keen to see the body. After doing so, he left the room. 



"Everything alright Chief?"



"No. Not at all."



"Too clean? Not enough to go on?"



"There's fuck all to go on. It's the wrong fucking body..."



"Chief?"



"Never trust a man who's supposed to be dead..."



"What?"



"Nothing... never mind constable. We're finished here." 


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Murderwork VI - Interview Stage Five

Interview - Stage Five

Waiting for instructions is tedious. He counted and recounted cigarettes, smoked and unsmoked, as tar crawled through his blood. He remembered an earlier conversation:



"This will kill you eventually..."



Yeah, right. Another blast of grey. It began to descend as the letters fell. Bills and a package, which was postmarked Europe. A small snag of barbed wire and a handwritten note.



"Turn yourself in."



Hardly what he'd expected. He picked up the barbed wire. It had been sharpened, enough to draw blood. Before he went to get a plaster he took a few of the foam peanuts they used for packing and impaled them one by one.



"This isn't over, but it will kill you eventually..."



It was just as grey outside. A grey world waiting for a little colour. In another life, perhaps he'd have been a painter. 


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Murderwork V - Interview - Stage Four

Interview - Stage Four

Back in the car they were both silent for about ten minutes.



"Your next set of instructions will be delivered by post."



"What do you mean? They're dead. You got what you wanted."



"No... you're mine now. You kill for me."



"Get out of the fucking car."



The cop said nothing.



"Get out of the fucking car."



"You don't understand..."



"No. You don't understand. You can't come back with me."



Too risky. Too suspicious. Of course.

As he drove off, the grey haze descended. He reached down the side of the door, but the cigarettes were on the passenger's side. He lit one as he walked into the lounge. No lights, not even the television. Just a little firefly burning itself to death. As he smoked, the grey haze thickened and he began to feel very tired. This wasn't supposed to...



*



They were all there. The cop and the dead men. Together.



"Had a feeling we'd be seeing you again..."



Traitor. Aura of grey around them, the suspect shifted, uneasy.



"Uncomfortable?"



A shiver, like a harbinger of voltage to come. He didn't need to reply. He couldn't speak, wondering if it was adrenaline or fear causing the shaking. A knife wasn't going to be enough this time. One on one he'd have a chance. No, he told himself... only one of these men is alive... this isn't a fair fight...

How do you kill a dead man?



"It's time..."



The suspect shifted again. Clearly there was no requirement to respond.



"You killed my daughter."



So this was what it was about. Grey disappeared.



"You never had a daughter."



"Yeah, because you killed her."



"No... there never was a daughter..."



The suspect didn't understand where the words were coming from. He'd been silent. The dead men had turned on the cop. A simple rule: never turn your back on your enemy. The knife flashed in the dark, and two slashes ripped the dead men's throats in half. Clean, quick, ruthless. 


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Murderwork IV - Interview Stage Three

Interview - Stage Three
Hitting the brakes, he threw the cigarette out of the window, having smoked less than half. Careless to be so wasteful... "I'll get over it," he thought. Already several yards further on as he exited the car, he didn't bother to go back to put out the cigarette. It burned out quietly. He'd left the pack in the car. No need to buy any more, he was almost at the agreed meeting point. 

It was different this time. He was still nervous. Corpse locked in the boot of the car was reason enough. The lighter was also in the car. He'd been told it would feel like this. A low, empty feeling in his stomach began to consume his thoughts. All was enveloped in grey, dull monotone, and the earth felt like ash beneath his feet. The whisper came.



"Is everything ready?"



Nodding assent, he led the officer to the car. Driving away, the officer told him to keep the radio off.



"You recognise me yet?"



The voice had been familiar, but now the blindfold had been removed, the grey haze was lifting. 



"You... you're my doctor..."



The officer smiled.



"Yes, now drive to the agreed point."



A few reminders were necessary, as the instructions had been a little more complex this time.



"I trust you have the body..."



"Naturally."



The agreed point turned out to be a cemetery.



"Perfect place to dispose of a body..."



He dragged the body from the car and passed the officer a shovel.



"I'm not here to reminisce, start digging."



"I'm impressed with your work. Very clean, very quick. Ruthless."



"You heard what I said. Dig."



It started to rain. A little too late to make the digging easier.



"You got one of the secrets..."



The suspect said nothing. They dumped the body.



"I switched some of your painkillers with what are essentially pain amplifiers..."



"I know, a control thing."



The officer began to shovel earth onto the body.



"You missed the other one..."



The officer looked up.



"Oh yeah?"



"Yeah. I'm not a cop."



It stopped raining. 



Thursday, 12 June 2014

Murderwork III - Interview Stage Two

Interview - Stage Two

His breath was harder than he wanted it to be, desperate to control his nerves. Hands shaking; at least he had a good grip on his memory. He couldn't forget what they needed. He didn't dare forget. Almost at the rendezvous point, just nearly enough. Able to relax for a moment.

Footsteps. A good sign. Electricity as the hairs on his arms rose. A gasp as the sack was dumped over his head and a rope tightened around his neck. They hadn't mentioned this part.



*



"Seventh circle of hell is reserved for traitors... welcome."



A baseball bat to the chest brought the suspect to the floor. 



"Shit..."



"You're in it."



After a while he couldn't tell what was hitting him. Trying to distinguish between kicks and the baseball bat wasn't enough to keep his mind from the pain.



"You thought you'd sell us off?"



Definitely baseball bat. This was clearly not the correct rendezvous. As more kicks came, he desperately tried to retrace his steps. Wrong right turn? Was it supposed to be a left? No. The instructions... a kick... had been very clear. He was sure he was bleeding, probably from several places. 

Then nothing.



"I'm gonna gut you like a fucking fish, you..."



The shouting has muffled the sound of footsteps. There was the sound of a struggle. Somebody gasping for breath. A gunshot.



"Sorry I'm late..."



One down...



"I hope you now fully understand the gravity of the situation..."



The sack nodded. 


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Murderwork II - Interlude - Interview

Interlude - Interview

Interview commences. Another bullshit four hours of not getting anywhere. Yeah right. Time to dispense with procedure. 



"When we're finished with you, you're going to be begging for death."



The tape had stopped running.



"Recognise that voice?"



No response.



"You said that to my daughter."



No response.



"Take the gag off and pass me a hammer. I want to hear this fucker beg for death..."



"You can't do this man... you're cops..."



Suspect already sweating.



"I want the names of ALL your men, and I want the evidence I need to bring them in. You're going to get it for me."



He swung the hammer down, just half an inch away from the suspect's thumb. There was a gasp of relief. Clearly his training had been inadequate. They hadn't been expecting to get caught. Poorly planned, poorly executed.



"You think you're not big enough for this, is that it?"



The suspect nodded. He was still blindfolded and didn't know where he was. 



"Please... please don't kill me..."



The cop laughed. Clearly he hadn't explained himself properly.



"No. Of course not. Not yet... fetch me the saw... let's cut the fucker's hand off!"



The gag was replaced, though the subject struggled in the chair.

 As the bread knife was dragged across his wrist lightly, the noises from the handkerchief stuffed into his mouth began to increase in volume. As it was dragged back with just enough pressure to break the skin and draw blood, the suspect was trying to scream.

 The knife was put down.



"Do you understand yet?"



The suspect reluctantly shook his head.



"I appreciate your honesty. You're mine now. You will deliver my property to me. I have the power to keep you alive for as long as necessary, so don't even think there's an easy way out of this..."



The suspect nodded. 


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Murderwork I - Prelude

MURDERWORK - Prelude

Dim, grey morning, same as ever. Cold, black, sugarless coffee. Same as ever. Remnants from last night’s paperwork still scattered across the desk. A sentence, half finished, gasped for completion. Headache incoming, right on time. Tablets somewhere in amongst the confused mess. Grumbled cursing as hands fumbled. Box empty, a second obscenity fell. Wrong box. Papers reassembled, pushed aside. Freeze frame. Getting dull again, he told himself, just as he found the right pills. The doctor kept telling him not to miss a dose.

*



“Benny, we need to talk.”

The sentence danced in his head, myriad voices in chorus. Faces, half-remembered flashed past. Some current, some old, mostly-forgotten people from days he wished he couldn’t remember. A few uncomfortable reminders of lives lived years ago, shadows of who he once was. He growled as he was tapped on the shoulder.

“Benny.”

Boss. Of course. This had happened before. The Discussion. Standard. Too many questions to be batted away in this fragile state. He used to be so strong, what happened?

“I’ve... I’ve told you about the headaches.”

“Benny, that’s not...”

“Not an excuse, you said that before. It’s a medical condition for God’s sake!”

“Benny, that’s not why you’re here.”

Momentary relaxation of muscle groups in the arms. Breathing consciously slowed.

“You’ve got twenty seconds.”

“Ethical killing.”

Dilation of the pupils, flushing of the cheeks. Intentionally suppressed as the realisation hit, but it was too late. Benny was out of practice.

“You’ve got five minutes.”


“The best are ghosts, Benny. It’s like you were never there. I know you were invalided out. I know all about the headaches. We’ve engineered a workaround. We have some... undesirable elements that need to be removed from our organisation. I’m sure you understand.”



The tablet kicked in. Soft breeze flowing through his mind brushed away the pain.

“These pills... where did you get them? They’re a lot stronger than I’m used to.”

A wry smile as his commanding officer paused. Benny fixed his stare, no drop in intensity. The final minute passed.

“Suffice to say that your prescription has changed. We can obtain more, should they be required. Your current medical profile indicates you are at a safe level of consumption.”

No further explanation given. Full briefing expected, but unconfirmed.

*

TAURUS: A former colleague will provide a surprise today. This may lead to an exciting new employment opportunity.

The newspapers always seemed so full of shit. Today was no exception, he thought. Watching the target smoke a cigarette, just yards away, he chuckled to himself.

“BENNY! It’s been years!”

He nodded. Departmental transfer, traffic department, the officer’s graveyard. Pieces of paper driving around, reports circling roundabouts. Benny smiled. He’d never liked this one, and had to hold back from licking his lips.

*

“Sitting comfortably?”

He nodded, slowly. The blindfold always put her off. She preferred to look into his eyes and watch the pain and the fascination. His hands, bound, unable to caress. Seemed such a shame. A light purr as she ran her fingertips across his shoulder. A moan as her nails grazed his wet skin.

“You enjoyed the ice, didn’t you?”


He’d shivered, but the noises from behind the silk in his mouth seemed to prove her right. There was enough time to test him again. Another moan as she bit down on his neck, her lips pressed hard against his skin. It had been like this for an hour. It was always so easy. Sitting on his knee, she decided it had to change.

“You’re going to enjoy this.”

She slid a little closer to him as she whispered. As she leaned close, he turned his head pushing her away. A challenge. Interesting. She reached down to the rope that lashed him to the chair. Nodding, he seemed to relax, his breathing slowing. Her body pressed further against his as she slid forward again. Her hand rose from the rope, up to his neck, scratching his chest as it went. Another suppressed gasp choked back by the silk. Closer, closer still, listening to him, knowing what he wanted. Further back, just to play. Closer. He was getting closer. Her arms around him now, squeezing harder and harder. Her fingers danced around the rope, and his breathing quickened again. Pulling the silk from his mouth, she kissed him.

“Goodnight.”

*

A hand over her mouth matched a tightness around her neck. A whisper came.


“Despite my position, I’m not here to hurt you. In a moment, I am going to let you go, and you are going to leave, quietly. Do you understand?”


A gentle nod.


“Try biting my hand and I’ll break your neck, do you understand?”


Another.

“I have someone outside for you to report to. If you do not co-operate, you will be shot dead. Do you understand?”

A final nod.

Footsteps followed footsteps.

He was still sitting in the chair, hands bound behind his back, blindfold tight, silken gag hanging around his neck. Her voice echoed through the room.


“Hey, Frankie baby... are you ready?”


“Yeah, baby, I’m ready, but you’re going to have to come a little closer...”


“If you say so, officer.”

“What? Who are you?”


The silken gag began to tighten. Closer. It was getting closer. His breath quickened, but he was tied beyond any attempt to struggle. Closer still, the silk squeezed harder and harder. His breathing slowed. Closer. Done.

She was still outside when he left. 


“I’m sorry. Your part in this isn’t over. You will report to us in the morning. Welcome to the team.”

Gallows humour of course. Informant harvesting wasn’t strictly legal, but her fingerprints were all over the silken gag. He began to feel another headache coming on.

“Get in the car.”


As they drove away, he thought about the new pills and wondered if they’d work. Rejection wouldn’t be an option. The prescribed dose at the prescribed time, the doctor had said. Do not exceed stated dose, he’d said. Easier said than done. The side effects were beginning to wear off.

*

The cell was quiet. Perfect for a discreet interview.

“Benny, how come you’re back?”

“We have a few things to discuss, officer. A few... discrepancies... and to think you used to be my supervisor...

*