"Says the one hiding behind the mask."
The Reaper stared blankly at her for a moment. He had insulted her pride. Such was the fate of one without tact. Taken aback for a moment; he nervously batted an old ratchet he was holding up and down in the palm of his other hand.
He sighed, "I'm sorry if I insulted you. I---" Mr. Connors' eyebrows were raised as if waiting for something. "Yes, you're free to go. Thanks again."
Mr. Connors nodded and looked at Aggie as he disappeared into the shadows of the old warehouse, "I was never here."
The ratchet didn't make a sound as he placed it gently on the metal table behind him and leaned up against it, arms crossed, "Can I count on you to keep quite about this? I--I'm not going to threaten you, but it would be best for all parties involved if you never speak of this to anyone."
Travis stirred and groaned unconsciously. He would wake up soon.
"... We keep moving until we fall. That is what we do. That is all we can ever do."
Lucia gritted her teeth as Nikolai spoke. They were hard words to swallow. Looking back at the man who had been struck down she not only saw anger, rage and desperation, but also respect. Lucia had seen into their world. She'd tasted it. It was a world she couldn't survive in if it had not been for Kusanagi.
Kusanagi was a means to an end. Lucia had no intention of assuming that persona indefinitely. She would not allow it to consume her and change her like it had these men. Two of the most important people in her life died to ensure that wouldn't happen.
Lucia turned her gaze back to Nikolai who'd been lying prostrate against the cave wall. He was likely still experiencing excruciating pain but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at him. His expression was solid. Resolute. Ruthless. She placed a hand on his shoulder, her head sinking as she spoke, "You do what you have to do to keep these men safe. They deserve a better hand than what fate had dealt them. But remember this..."
She raised her head to meet his gaze, "These men didn't fight through hell to live the rest of their short lives as dogs... as animals..." Her lower lip quivered. "And you shouldn't have to either. Promise me Nikolai... when this is all over... you'll live the life you've earned as a man. You'll find something that brings meaning to your life beyond survival and you'll let yourself get lost in it."
Her eyes darted down to the bloodied, worn hands she'd left limp between her knees, "I know there's passion behind those cold eyes. Y-you just have to reach out a-a-and grab it..."
A tear rolled down her cheek and splashed in her open palm. And they kept rolling. This was the first time Lucia had cried since Orphan's death.
This was also the first time Nikolai had seen Lucia since that fateful night.
Travis stirred in his stupor, a migraine building up. He could only hold his eyes open a little bit but he could definitely see and hear to figures speaking. He groaned and tried to swear but he needed a moment to stir himself awake.
As Acolyte stood at the mouth of the cave, he was lost in thought. His hands were in his pocket, and he absent mindedly probed his index finger through the hole in one of them, punched by his screwdriver. The finger ran along the inside of his thigh, where it found a ridge of scar tissue, which it explored thoughtfully. He remembered getting that. It'd been the week before his superiors had sent him on his final international trip. The one that had taken him to China. He couldn't have any track marks, and so he was drug starved, until he'd gotten an idea. They'd lifted a quantity of medical grade morphine a few days ago, and he was high ranking enough to take a cut of the drugs themselves as his share, rather than sell on. Setting up a drip, he put the needle in his leg, and lay down as two women, whores of the operation, writhed on top of him.
Eventually, the sexual activity had jarred the needle in his leg, twisting it and then tearing it out. He'd been that doped up that he was long past noticing, and it was only when he woke up the next morning he was aware that his leg was stuck to the blanket by blood. The wound large enough for him to jam his thumb in with little difficulty. But not too deep that it had kept bleeding. He ignored it, and it healed into the scar he felt now. He had been doing a lot of stupid shit like that night in the last couple of years before his accident. With the death of his brother, asshole though he may have been, his world had turned upside down, although he was richer and more influential than he'd ever expected to be. Mort was a bastard, and a strung out junkie, but he'd been the one remaining constant in Samuel's life. Now everything was changing again for the first time in years, he'd found himself thinking of Mort, and the old days in general, an awful lot. Most of it was regretful, some of it was angry, and even a small part of it was wistful.
"Y-you just have to reach out a-a-and grab it..."
He was snapped out of his train of thought by Lucia's sobs echoing faintly through the cave and he turned and gazed at her thoughtfully. He wanted to help her; he really did.
"Right..." Said Olivander, only half listening. His notebook had gained a few pages of hasty writing as the elevator past the mining inmates. He had read the reports, and seen the numbers, but only now did he truly realise what an enormous operation this was. He followed Montoya off the platform, looking for some flaw he could work with.
"Let's go asshat..." The Warden across from Lewis said as he dragged him to his feet but he was still defiant. He refused to straighten his back against his oppressors. "I said let's go!"
The Warden hit the gang member in the stomach. The wind from his stomach was expelled through his mouth bringing out blood and saliva as well. The Wardens began to get angry but before they could let loose another volley of punches Lewis stepped forth.
"He wants you to beat him!" Lewis said aloud. He was taken a back by how loud he spoke out and so was the Wardens at first. "He wants you... to waste your time."
"Then let's oblige him." The Warden hissed back. The gang member remained silent but he gave Lewis a quick glance.
"Moore!" Albergo grabbed Lewis' shoulder. His grip tore Lewis back. "Let them do what they need to do..."
"Goddamn it Frank!" Lewis looked back at Albergo and their eyes met. Albergo's steely eyes met Lewis' but Lewis looked away. He shook his head and began walking the other way, towards the mines. Albergo sighed and lowered his head.
"Hey Albergo!" One of the Wardens yelled. "Do we need to beat him too?"
With that they punched the gang member a few times before they dragged him into one of the sub tunnels. Albergo chased after Lewis which wasn't that hard considering that he didn't walk very fast to begin with. Lewis pulled off to an unoccupied tunnel and punched a wall. His gloves took the impact but his fists still hurt.
"Every goddamn time..." Lewis talked to himself. "Why can't I do it? Why?!" He punched the wall again. This time Albergo heard it and found Lewis, with his face red.
"Perhaps you shouldn't be down here anymore." Albergo said, his voice snapping Lewis out of his anger.
"Frank, I'm sorry. Its just that... I don't know. If I don't egg them on, I'll get shit on and if I do then I feel like a horrible piece of shit. I'm sorry." Lewis said. He composed himself, taking to deep breaths of air.
"Listen, you've been here for two months already. None of this should make you feel sick anymore." Albergo said. "I know what you feel. Most of the Wardens here know what you feel but that shouldn't stop you from just enduring."
"Its just that not all of the prisoners here deserve to be here." Lewis said plainly, in his mind he thought of Aggie. "I know that life isn't fair but we have the ability to make it fair, don't we?"
"Every human being has that ability but sometimes we don't have the liberty to choose when so right here... right now we have to keep on waiting. We must wait, you and I, for the right moment." Albergo approached Lewis with a hand. "Come on... I heard that the Executives are on this level now."
Lewis took his hand but he was still heavy with apprehension. "I sure hope you're right."
"Can I count on you to keep quite about this? I--I'm not going to threaten you, but it would be best for all parties involved if you never speak of this to anyone."
Aggie glared at the masked man before nodding her head in agreement. The large man began to stir in his little sleep. She wondered who both these men were and why they had to be in the same room together. She's heard stories of the larger man, the man called Dragon who sat there tied up like a pig. He's killed men before, lots of them but Aggie was sure of herself that whatever happened, she would make it out. She always would before whether by luck or her own will. Aggie was sure of that but not of the man across from her. The one who keeps looking at her. He sounds familiar but Aggie isn't exactly sure where she's heard his voice before.
"If you're going to kill him then kill him." Aggie whispered, wondering what his intentions were.
"It's okay Marino maybe when Lee isn't a hardass we'll be able to throw a party." Walker said.
"When is Lee never a hardass?" Abigail asked rhetorically.
"They'll come here soon enough. Once they hear this place has booze then Ms.Nyte's gonna be expecting her tips in checks." Olivia said, which caused Abigail to chuckle.
"Maybe I will Olivia, though I doubt as though many of the other Wardens here have access to chequebooks. Then again, it might encourage some Wardens who have outstanding bar tabs to finally pay up; lest I get someone in to convince them. Word has certainly spread about the arrival of these Executives; probably here to make sure RACDI-Alpha is running in the interests of Venture Horizon's shareholders and the like." Abigail said in stern voice, showing some maturity, given the situation.
Nikolai was unmoved by tears. The Boy had cried, day and night and day again. Soft moans and sobs in a constant stream as he hung there by those chains, punctuated by anguished wails whenever the Men with blank faces sliced his skin with their red hot knives, hoping that the answers to their questions would be written in the smoke that rose from his charred skin. The Boy had cried enough for both of them. By the time Nikolai had been born, there were no tears left to spare.
Luckily, most of the Free Men were too busy readying the fire and carving up the Wolf carcasses to notice. Still, their spirits would not be improved by seeing others break down. Nikolai put his hand on her shoulder, firmly, but not unkindly.
"Not here." he told her, quietly. "Not yet. The Wolves are the meat today Kusanagi, not us. Tomorrow we may fall, but tonight we feast. There are no tears at a feast."
Gingerly, but without fuss, Nikolai rose to his feet. Hus leg felt somewhat sturdier now, but only now did he realise how exhausted, and hungry, he really was. He skewered to large cuts of meat on sticks, and then roasted them over the fire (those few minutes spent near the open flames was more a test for Nikolai than having the Alpha rip his flesh to ribbons, and he couldn't bring himself to look directly into their depths, for whenever his eyes flitted across them for the briefest moment he heard screams). When they were cooked through, he gave one to Kusanagi, and kept the other for himself. They would both need to keep their strength up.
Tomorrow we may fall, but tonight we feast. There are no tears at a feast."
Lucia forced a smile and nodded through her tears. By the time he'd arrived with the skewer she'd wiped away her tears and was ready to eat. After all the excitement died down she'd finally realized how hungry she had been, "Thank you."
As she began gnawing at the meat she looked to Acolyte and patted the ground next to her. She required distraction. Her mind had ventured into dangerous territory. A good conversation would ensure she stayed away from it.
"If you're going to kill him then kill him."
"I haven't determined if that's necessary yet. I need to speak to the man first... see if his life has any remaining worth."
The Reaper walked over the Travis and decided to expedite his awakening, "Rise and shine!" A firm palm slapped Travis clean across the face and echoed throughout the warehouse.
Felix walked with Penn through the cold mine and he saw the man lying on his side coughing up blood. Felix ran forward and dropped next to the man, holding his head and positioning him upright against the wall. The other miners had kept working, ignoring the man. Felix wasn't about to ask why they weren't helping him, he knew that many people here were criminals, and almost all were only here for their own interests. "Doctor help him," said Felix.
Travis was finally starting to wake up, he blinked his eyes and he could definately see two figures as he felt a harsh slap across his face. One of them was wearing a ski mask and the other looked like the woman who warned him about getting high during work hours. "What the fuck! Where's Connors! What the fuck!"
"I'm not a doctor, mate. Just a crook." Penn knelt down beside the injured man, "Looks ugly, right enough. Might be a broken bone or two. No, probably just a fracture." He reached in to the bag, producing two small bottles, "For the pain, and for the bleeding. Nasty cut on the leg. Get a bandage on that."
Penn stood up and stretched his back before continuing, "I assume you don't want to get the Wardens involved? Find a place to hide him for a weak or so. Rest'll do 'im good. Now, gimme your name and cell number so I can find you when I come to collect."
Taking one of the skewers passed out, Acolyte briefly put his arm around Lucia in a friendly hug, then took a bite out of the wolf meat. When he'd swallowed, he asked, "so, you said you wanted to travel. Any idea where you want to go?"
Korovitch walked through the visitor's quarters, assigning rooms systematically. After a while, only Richard remained. "And the room on the far left is yours. I'll remind you that the curfew for visitors is Twenty one hundred."
"Collect?" Felix questioned him, though he realised that most people don't give out help from the kindness of their hearts. "Right of course," Felix stood upright and spoke proudly with clear diction, or at least as clear as he could with his odd accent, "My name is Felix "Theo" Maccalion, cell number #3454. I will gladly pay you for your services but alas I don't know what the currency is down here."
"Various bits and bobs." Said Penn, "People tend to come to me with payment, or give me long enough to think of something I need. This was urgent, so you have the honour of being the only person I've ever allowed to open a tab."
"What the fuck! Where's Connors! What the fuck!"
The Reaper looked down at him unsympathetically as he struggled and screamed. After a moment of silence Travis' eyes fell on him and he spoke, "The old man you were talking to? He fled the scene once he saw my hand around your mouth." The Reaper held up a damp cloth as he spoke and set it down on a table nearby.
Travis could nearly feel The Reaper's breathe on the back of his neck as he towered over the helpless man, casting an enormous shadow over him. He tapped his ski-mask, "Do you know who I am, Travis?"
"So, you said you wanted to travel. Any idea where you want to go?"
Lucia smiled, "There are too many to name, but..." She paused for a moment, looking at the skewer in her hand. "There's nothing more I want than to stop running. Stop hiding. I want..."
She noticed the rest of the Freemen scattered throughout the cave. They were more jovial now than they had been in awhile thanks in no small part to the meal. However, under that shallow excitement she could sense the fear and pain they were all feeling. Their hope was beginning to fade.
"I want peace."
Felix stood there with a hand on the man as he tried to control his coughing. "Very well, I suppose I shall keep a lookout for various items you may find valuable, but it may be better for me to just owe you a favour or do you some kind of task. This may sound foolish but that may be were my talents are most valuable. However I will not be some assassin or mercenary for you. Otherwise I am willing to do most tasks."
Travis thought for a few moments before spitting at the ground. "No idea. But I doubt Connors wasn't helping you get me, I heard him say "Wrong choice", or something like that. And believe me when I get out of here I'm fucking him up. And you, shit you had to get an old man to do your fucking work for you? Man you must be a god damn pussy." He then turned to the woman. "Speaking of pussy, I bet you thought you could make a quick cash in on doing me in. Well listen close bitch, they call me "The Dragon" for a reason. I'm the reason this place blew up in a riot, I'm the one who killed the Wolves, Zulu, Crips, Aryan brotherhood, headbangers, yakuza, mafia, Black Rock, even those god damn crazy ass cannibal fucks. So if you think you can fuck me like this, you better let me go before I fuck you in a different way later."
They all probably knew this was all bullshit, but he needed a bargaining chip, even if it was completely ridiculous.
"...So if you think you can fuck me like this, you better let me go before I fuck you in a different way later."
The Reaper stood motionless as Travis struggled in vein to threaten him. Once Travis was done talking he let out a subtle laugh and leaned forward, gripping the arms of the chair. With their faces mere inches away he looked directly into Travis' eyes and spoke, "So you'd rather people know an old man took you out? You're just as pathetic as you ever were. Like when you pissed your pants in front of Azrael's enforcers a few months back. Remember that? Remember how your balls felt when he held them in a vice? You thought you were going to die that day." He moved in closer. "You've been hiding from the Reaper ever since that day. Hiding like a pants-shitting child afraid of the big bad wolf. Well guess what Travis, the wolf's found you... and it's fucking hungry." He held the stare for several moments before taking a few steps back, grabbing an iron chair from behind and placing it down in front of him.
The Reaper sat down backwards on the chair, his arms crossed along the top of the chair's back, "That's an interesting take on the riots by the way. You come up with all that bullshit by yourself or has sucking the wardens' cocks for the last three months enlightened you to this fabricated truth? Let me tell you a little something about the riots: they were planned." The Reaper glanced back at Aggie before continuing, "Col. Lee Jin-Oh, the Commander-in-Chief of this piece of shit hole-in-the-ground, he had the whole thing planned for a long, long time. You see, the Pit had been run by gangs for decades and there were many among the wardens who helped facilitate that power structure. Lee rightfully believed that gang-law was not to be tolerated and that something needed to be done. So what did he do?" Reaper paused for a moment, got out of the chair and turned away from the two of them.
Images of the chapel rushed back to him. The dead wardens. The screaming girl.
The devil himself.
"He turned this place into a slaughterhouse."
He stood there in silence for several moments before he continued. He moved across the room at a slow pace now, "Everyone killed everyone. Men, women, children. Innocents, wardens, murderers, rapists and everything in-between. You didn't kill shit, Travis. The Dog killed Oprhan. The Dog killed Azrael and Harris. He could have killed you too, but he didn't. You got a second chance."
The Reaper began walking towards him again, "And that's why we're here today, Travis. We're here for your second chance." He stood in front of him once more, his shadow looming over Travis' shrinking form, "Not too long ago I had your life in the palm of my hand. There were many instances where I could have snuffed you out had you overstepped your bounds. But I chose not to. You've killed a few men since then. That blood is now on my hands."
The Reaper reached for the back of his waistband and produced a pistol. He held the cold barrel against Travis' forehead. In an unsympathetic, almost robotic voice he spoke, "Please, Travis. Don't make me do it. Pulling this trigger would be so easy. It would be so easy to take your life and be done with it. But, I am no longer a hired killer. I choose who I kill myself now, so... If I let you go knowing you won't harm another soul then I will have clean hands. If I let you go and you choose to kill, well, those deaths and your own will be on me."
The Reaper pressed the barrel hard against his skull forcing his head against the back of the chair, "So, you think I should just play it safe, cut my losses and kill you now? That'd only be one more soul I've claimed for the assurance that you'll add no more to my sins. Seems like a fair trade to me. Another year-or-so in Purgatory. I can handle that."
He looked back at Aggie for a moment and slowly moved the pistol down to Travis' crotch before meeting his gaze again, "Or is it rape I should be worried about? A tormented soul is no better to me than a murdered one. Perhaps I should be more worried about your dick," The Reaper cocked the hammer on the pistol and he shoved it against Travis' pelvis. "You don't need it, do you?"
Richard nodded as he was given his room. He peaked in, seeing his luggage on the floor. For the most part, it breathed some life into the spartan room. It looked incredibly bare but had the necessary necessities for a stay in this prison with this room looking almost like the cells below. Still, it was better than nothing and Richard loved a challenge.
"Thank you, Captain." Richard said. "Are there any other places here I should know about? Perhaps a place where a Warden like you might "wind down"."
"So if you think you can fuck me like this, you better let me go before I fuck you in a different way later."
"Very charming..." Aggie smirked as "The Dragon" belted out obscenity after obscenity in an attempt to get himself out of this sticky situation. He might have been involved with riots and he might have killed all those people but right now he was tied against a chair with an equally if not more frightening individual holding him down for a reason. A reason that still eludes her but mostly likely because of this man's colorful history. Aggie could leave but she was curious to see where this would go. Not only that but she was promised something by that Old Man.
Then she heard the masked man's take on Travis' history, blasting away the falsity and saying what he had to say. It was interesting to say the least and a bit enlightening but she couldn't be too sure of what he was saying. Some of it might be the truth. Some of it might be otherwise but Aggie didn't concern herself too much on current events.
Aggie's smirk return as she watched the man press his pistol into Travis' pelvis. She tried not to take pleasure from others' pain but people like Travis made her wish that she could more often.
"Word has certainly spread about the arrival of these Executives; probably here to make sure RACDI-Alpha is running in the interests of Venture Horizon's shareholders and the like."
"Hm... probably something to do about the riots a while back." Walker said, leaning back on the chair.
"Those riots were especially messy." Marino said. "We lost some good Wardens too."
"Not all of them were good." Oliva said. "A few of them were dirtier than the prisoners. I'm not saying who but back then it was really obvious."
"I haven't seen a lot of them since the riots." Walker mentioned. "Whatever happened, it must have affected them too. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the shareholders wanted to send this team to investigate this place a bit more."
"Not only that but most of the Lower Levels was a constant war zone." Marino rolled up his sleeve to show a scar. "That was from one of the gangs below. Their gone now but back then it was a different story."
"Imagine a world run by criminals and that's what RACDI had before the riots." Oliva leaned forward. "The Wolves, the Piranhas, the Aryans, the Crips, all of these gangs under one roof and you get a festering underworld of criminals."
"Nothing but ghost stories now, sarge." Walker said. "I think Lee was sick of it. Took matter into his own hands, cleaned up the place, and the shareholders got angry. That's my theory."
"That's everyone else's too, my friend." Marino said. "Right now... we're just seeing the result of it."
Acolyte nodded. "I'd go back to the Temple if I could, but... well, someone burned that bridge for me. I'll probably drift. Somewhere warm after all the ice. But I think I'll check in on Holland before that. The cities are awful, but you'd like the countryside, and the small villages."
He looked into the fire thoughtfully as he ran a hand through his thickening hair. "I might still have some money there, too. I've never thought about it, but I suppose living won't be difficult if we make it out of this."
He didn't mention that this money was a horde of drug profit. Even at the apex of his addiction, Samuel had been smart enough to build a nest egg. And the lucrative drug career had made it a good size.
Humiliation. Utter fucking humiliation. Travis should be used to it by now. Over a year ago he had been thrown into the pit because of humiliation. Three months his entire gang was murdered in a matter of days and he had to rely on other, bigger gangs to survive. Now he was having his life and his dick threatened in front of all things, off all things a FUCKING WOMAN... a woman... women...
"4 women, I can take these bitches easily," Travis said to himself. He gripped his knife closely and hid behind the trees, watching them. He hadn't watched them for a while now but as far as he could tell they could be easily overpowered- they were women after all. He would usually wait or find some way to separate them, but he simply couldn't hold it any longer. He ran up gracelessly to the woman furthest in the back, knife in the air he thought he was silent. Before he had a chance to stab her in the back of the head she had gotten a rough knife edge chop into his neck. He grabbed his throat in pain as he swung wildly. The women weren't panicking, they were keeping their composure. 'What they fuck why aren't they running? Within seconds each woman was on him, taking him down with ease. What the fuck was going on? They were so strong and so fast? This was ridiculous. 'Maybe if I-'
That was all Travis remembered. After that was the transport into the Pit. Not long after he had asserted his dominance in the surrounding cells as he was put in to his own. He managed to pluck together a group of savages much like himself, as well as some weak little prison bitches to round it all off. Not many but enough to make his life easier. He managed to rape a few women while there but his thirst for murder kept getting in the way. If he didn't accidentally kill them during and ruin the banquet he would get carried away and kill them afterwards, wasting a good body. That was seven months ago.
An easy life for a couple months. They all 40 members of "The Dragons" die, other than him of course. He took the name off of some Yakuza girl that he raped. He didn't know her name but she had a small tattoo of a dragon on her wrist. She was another of his victims. And then he was a victim of the Pit. A victim of the Wolves. A victim of the Mafia. A victim of Iron Fist. And now a victim of... this reaper. Fuck it. Just fuck it.
"Fuck it... fuck it fuck it fuck it..." Travis sighed as he sunk his chin into his chest. "I don't give any kind of a fuck anymore. I'll do whatever you want man. I just... fuck it..."
The subtleties of what had just happened were probably lost on all of her compatriots, and Selina wondered if maybe that was the point. Was the Colonel trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, seeing who else here was in on the show, and what that meant for him? Entirely plausible (having two thugs beaten was a fairly impotent power-play, if that was all it was), Selina made no conservative estimates on how deep the paranoia of the Warden in Chief went, and this was only the beginning. Even Lee didn't realise yet just how much was riding on this. Then again, she probably shouldn't underestimate his intuitiveness, along with his paranoia.
The fight hadn't been staged. Perhaps 'constructed' would be the more appropriate term. To stage it would have been two-dimensional, as well as utterly transparent. They weren't dealing with an amateur at deception here. Nobody in Lee's little show had known they were playing a role at all. No-one had been approached directly, nor been given any cues. The Colonel had simply known who he needed to put where, and then just stand back and watch as probability turned in his favour. His photographic memory was not common knowledge in Venture Horizon, but neither was it a secret. It had been an instrumental factor in his selection for his current job. An Inmate population of over ten thousand, with thousands more Wardens now added on top of that, and Colonel Lee knew every single word in every single file off by heart, not to mention the stuff kept off-record. It was an ability that allowed him to see into every single shadowy corner of RACDI-Alpha. He knew everyone, and he knew everything. As a result, he knew that those two Inmates just witnessed were violently predisposed towards each-other, and that if he put them both on the same production line, it would only be a matter of time before their perverse criminal pride overcame their caution. Lee had also known that the Warden's he had chosen to patrol were just watchful enough to spot the impending violence and intervene at just the right time, that right time being just as Selina and the other Executives had been passing overhead. It was all planned with precision down to the last second, and yet done without the knowledge of anyone involved.
This man was good, seriously good. Perhaps he was even a legitimate genius. Selina knew his game, and had no doubt he knew she knew it. This was going to be fun.
"Lt. Abreu," She began innocently "How long have you worked here?"
Lee had attempted to stifle their avenues of communication from the moment they touched down, but despite his threats Selina knew Lee needed this inspection to go well more than anything, and sending her back home after only a few hours would reflect badly on him. She had some leeway to break his rules, and she was going to stretch that as far as she could. Just because she was willing to play Lee's game, didn't mean she was going to play it on his court.
As they journeyed though the maze of tunnels, slanting ever further down, they passed beneath one of the many frozen underground lakes that were especially common in the Northern Quarter. At this juncture, the tunnels transformed from hard rock to ghostly blue ice. It was a common misinformation even among some longtime Inmates, that these marked the point where The Pit dug through a glacier, or the polar ice-cap. Incorrect, glacial troughs wouldn't dig this deep, and RACDI-Alpha didn't stretch that far North.
It was at this point their procession came across two Inmates, one a very old man, and the other tall and strapping, looking unusually healthy for someone working down here (he must have been new), seeing to a third who appeared to be under some degree of medical distress.
'Dammit!' Montoya thought to himself. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary, or even particularly embarrassing, but he'd still wanted this initial tour to go off without a hitch, and if it turned out these Inmates were using contraband to treat their patient, or that said patient had been put in this state by the Wardens down here rather than another Inmate, it made Montoya look bad. He'd have to handle this decisively, but carefully.
"Stop right there!" he ordered, as four men from Trident squad moved in closer, baton's drawn. "Empty your pockets, slowly, and no-one need come to any harm. Do you both understand?"
"Three months ma'am. Recruited soon after the riots and put through training here in Racdi-Alpha and chosen to lead Husky squad on Colonol Lee's orders." Clementina spoke with precision and truth. There was some kind of power game going on here, she had ideas about it but the second she was asked by the lead executive she knew she was now part of their game, and he answer may leave an impression, good or bad, on the scum in suits. She hoped that Lee had not been put in a disadvantage because of her answer, but she figured speaking the truth to be the best and easiest option.
Felix froze as a group of wardens soon came upon them. He put his hands above his head and got on his knees, looking down and doing what was commanded. He swiftly turned his pockets inside out before saying "Please sit, we were just worried about this man, he had been coughing up blood."
"I might still have some money there, too. I've never thought about it, but I suppose living won't be difficult if we make it out of this."
"That's good I suppose. It's not like my family's fortune belongs to us anymore," Lucia announced as she violently tore a piece of meat off the skewer. She let out a sigh and stared into the campfire. "When I was in the Pit the two things keeping me going were thoughts of saving my brother and avenging my father." She paused for a brief moment and drank from her waterskin.
"Now... my brother's dead and I know there's no hope of ever bringing vengeance upon those that wronged my family. Not that it really matters anymore. Now, I just... I just want to live on, you know?"
"I don't give any kind of a fuck anymore. I'll do whatever you want man. I just... fuck it..."
The Reaper smiled under his mask and pulled the pistol away, "Good," After holstering his pistol he put his hands on his hips, standing up straight in front of Travis to further assert his dominance. "Travis, you are no longer 'The Dragon'. You're to be referred to simply as 'Travis'. You are no longer a murderer, a rapist, a sadist, or any kind of unethical vagrant. You are simply a man who is living out his sentence as penance for crimes he had committed in a former life. If you deviate from this in any way. If you look to harm another inmate or warden for your personal gain... I will kill you."
The Reaper slid his mask up just enough to reveal his goatee. He lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth. Before putting the box away he slipped another out, placed it between Travis' lips and lit it, "If someone else attempts to harm you for past misgivings or just to get whatever it is they want... you must report it to me immediately and I will handle the situation. You are not to harm anyone under any circumstances other than to protect another. And even then... the extent in which you harm the offender will be judged." The Reaper moved in close so that the lit cigarette was mere inches from Travis' face. "Do you understand?"
Travis listened as he was neutered by the man. "What? I can't even defend myself? Fucking tell me who you are before I agree asshole".
Silently, Penn pushed the small bag of contraband behind a rock. Olivander dutifully recorded the event, but kept quiet to Montoya. The aging inmate made a show of having difficulty standing, noting the dapper figures behind the now familiar uniforms of the Wardens, nodding to one of them.
"It's alright, sir." He said, raising his hands, "The poor sod seems to have taken quite a beatin', me an tough-guy, here was just tryin' to make sure 'e was okay. Fractured shinbone, by the way."
"What? I can't even defend myself? Fucking tell me who you are before I agree asshole."
The Reaper turned around and took a long drag from his cigarette before flicking it away. Facing Travis once more, he pulled the ski-mask back down to cover his lips, "I'm the Reaper."
He pulled a combat knife out of his pocket and cut Travis' bonds loose, "You're free to go," He said to Travis as he turned his attention to Aggie. "You saw nothing. You were never here."
Montoya remained silent as Trident squad patted down the two men, and inspected the items they'd laid down in from of them. If he was not mistaken, the old-timer was an Inmate by the name of Oliver Penn. One of the many individuals The Colonel considered worth keeping an eye on. No gang affiliations or violent tendencies to speak of (by The Pit's standards anyway). No, this one was the sort who made his way with commodities. Be willing to do business, and fewer people are inclined to break your face. It was often a better way for Inmates to survive down here than sheer brute strength. Montoya had no doubt that Penn was swimming in contraband. The only question was, did he have any on him?
"Sir! Take a look at this." Sgt. Garcia called out, pulling out a small bag hidden in a crack in the ice, behind a rock. A less thorough group of Warden's may have missed it, but Trident squad were Montoya's pride and joy. They didn't miss.
Montoya held the bag up to his face and examined it.
"Morphine. Far stronger than the stuff we hand out. Aren't you quite the philanthropist Mr. Penn, or is this for personal use?"
Montoya nodded to Garcia, who struck Penn at the base of his neck with his baton. Not hard enough to cause any real pain, but enough to send the old man sprawling flat on his face at Montoya's feet.
"Consider yourself lucky I've got more urgent business than interrogating you in regards to where you got your hands on this. In the meantime though, I suggest you take a trip to The Hive, and remind yourself of what happens to repeat offenders, should we ever cross paths again...
You." Montoya pointed at the other Inmate "Tell me how this man came to be in such a state?"
Lewis and Albergo resumed their patrols after Lewis' mental crack. He tried to keep it under the radar for the most part but sometimes it emerged as Lewis' anger towards himself. The rest of the patrol was silent up until the two found a contingent of Wardens(alongside some Executives) questioning the prisoners huddled around the man Albergo had badly injured by the looks of it. That's when they saw Montoya and heard him as well.
"Tell me how this man came to be in such a state?"
Lewis saw Albergo's face visibly lose color. He began to walk towards the Captain and Lewis followed.
"Captain!" Albergo called out. He snapped the captain a fresh salute and so did Lewis. "Cpl. Albego, Shogun Squad, sir. I-"
"Cpl. Albergo spotted this man smuggling coal into his person." Lewis said. "He refused to comply so I gave this man the proper punishment. We were looking for a medic on this level to treat his wounds."
Albergo was speechless.
Aggie nodded and before she left, she looked to Travis.
"Was it worth it?" She asked. Aggie walked away and blended back into the crowd. The shifts were changing and Aggie moved with the crowd going back to their cells. After some commuting, she found herself back at her cell. She got inside and opened a can of beans to eat. It wasn't exactly a five-star meal but it was better than starving here in this place. On the wall above her cot she scribbled "The Reaper" in small words. Also "Mr. Connors" as well next to him.
"Nothing but ghost stories now, sarge." Walker said. "I think Lee was sick of it. Took matter into his own hands, cleaned up the place, and the shareholders got angry. That's my theory."
"That's everyone else's too, my friend." Marino said. "Right now... we're just seeing the result of it."
"Truer words were never spoken Marino. What we are living in is the end result, the fallout and rebirth after a rather dark period for RACDI-Alpha. Whilst we may have lost many Wardens in the fighting, think about how much stronger we've become since. With shiny new suits and more impressive armaments, this place has become a force to be reckoned with." Abigail said with a degree of certainty.
"But I'll say this, I bet you Lee is still displeased by the fact that the Free Men were able to capture that plane and fly out of the prison; bet you a fiver that is another reason why the Executives are here also. To make sure a screw up like that doesn't happen again."
There was a pause.
"First of all," Montoya replied, stony-faced "it's Lieutenant Commander, as you should well know... Corporal.
Second." he turned on the other. "It would appear that your interpretation of 'proper punishment' has fractured this Inmates shin-bone and caused him internal bleeding. He will now require immediate medical attention for his injuries not to lead to permanent damage. This costs Venture Horizon. Even with said medical attention, this man's mobility and ability to carry a fair load will be affected for weeks. This costs Venture Horizon. During this time other Inmates may be distracted from their own share of work attempting to take proper care of him, or he could be killed, which would mean an entire lifetime's worth of wasted potential. Either way, this. Costs. Venture. Horizon. Am I making myself clear Corporal!"
He's seen soldiers butt in to take the wrap for their comrades misdemeanors, or the credit for their successes, before now. However, he directed his ire at the one he knew was the innocent party anyway. The man had spoken up when he could have stayed silent, he should understand what that entails.
"Perhaps I shall spend tonight calculating the losses Venture Horizon has sustained due to your sloppy approach to your duty? When I do, perhaps I shall decide to reimburse those losses out of your wages? We discipline Inmates to keep them in line, but what use is that when you put them out of action in the process? You send the message load and clear, without causing serious injury. That is your training, stick to it!"
He beckoned the Medic from Scimitar squad forward, and instructed him to attend to the injured Inmate.
"You two, return to work." Montoya commanded to Penn and the other. "The situation will be taken care of. As for you two..." he rounded on the Warden patrol again "You, and the rest of Shogun squad, wherever they may be, are relieved for the night. I will report this infraction to the Warden in Chief, and I expect he will want to take matters further himself. Dismissed!"
"Apologies gentlemen." Montoya said to the Executives after their procession had moved on. "We're almost there."
Lt. Abreu would be a tough nut for Ms. Hernandez to crack, it was part of the reason why Husky squad was with them today. Lee gritted his teeth a little at the Executives disdain for his guidelines, but it was to be expected. Still, if he had to lay down the law, he would. He may need Selina to stay, but Selina also couldn't afford to risk complaints of abrasiveness and obstructive behaviour. They were both walking a tightrope here.
From behind him he heard Selina's unctuous follow up to the Lieutenant's answer. "You must have made quite an impression. Fresh out of training and already under the Chief Warden's wing. As dedicated as I'm sure your commander is, surely he can't have the time to be so... hand's on, with all the new recruits."
That was far enough. Lee cleared his throat loudly, as Viper Squad led the way though the entrance at the end of the corridor.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Lee announced "Welcome to The Hive."
Penn got to his feet and bowed low and theatrically to Montoya, "Of course, sir. It'd be a pleasure." He put his arm around Felix and began to walk, "Come along, now, Fifi! We've got work of the greatest importance to be getting too!"
"Seventeen million, give or take a few grand, Mr. Montoya." Muttered Olivander just loud enough for the Warden to hear, before scribbling something down in a notepad, tutting. "Got to keep a tight leash on these men, have we?"
Clementina had made it a habit to hide her emotions at every turn but this was too far. She tried to hide it but the anger on her face was clear as day. She gritted her teeth as her eyes flew ablaze and she tried to hide it, but it was hard very hard. This spoiled bitch had the nerve to accuse her of... now was not the time. She remained silent let she ruin the game for Lee.
Felix was being walked off by Penn but he had to tell the truth, he swung his head from under his arm and said "But sit he was not the one who attacked this inmate, it was the other. He is covering for his comrade."
Travis sighed as he was cut loose, not getting an answer to his questions and as the woman left with the question "Was it worth it?" That was something Travis would never be able to answer. He didn't know why people had such a problem with what he did, they want to do it themselves but are too cowardice to admit it. And now he had had his balls ripped out by this "Reaper" mother fucker. Fuck him. Fuck. Him. He'd play by his rules, maybe forever. In the past maybe he'd think of some plan to kill him that wouldn't work in the end like always... maybe playing by the rules was right for once. He headed back to his work station, threw on his safety mask and continued working.
Neil found Mr. Connors tucked away in small alleyway outside the complex. He'd likely been waiting there the whole time, "This is too much."
"No," Neil shook his head. "You promised that girl payment. Half is for her."
"Of course," Connors muttered. "By the way, word on the street is that the inspection's made it's way down here. Lee's showing them the Hive as we speak."
Neil scratched his goatee for a second and nodded, "Thanks for the tip."
A shadow had found its way into Aggie's cell before the man himself appeared. Mr. Conner's stood in full view and produced a large bottle from the inside of his jacket. Since there was no uniform currency among the inmates they had long since established a barter system. Contraband like this was the best you could hope for.
He set the elaborately designed glass bottle of whisky on the floor inside her cell and nodded, "The Reaper appreciates your assistance... and your silence. This goes without saying but... don't let the wardens see this gift. It came from their bar after all."
He was almost there. The trek to his secret hiding spot in the Hive was a long one, but Neil's curiosity was more than enough to push him onward. He had been hearing whispers of this inspection for awhile now and he wouldn't miss this chance to see what Lee was up to. He held no grudge against the man despite condemning his master plan. Too many innocence died in that riot... and it was all on him.
It was admittedly mischievous, but Selina couldn't deny the entertainment value of watching the uptight Lieutenant stew in her indignant rage. The implication was hollow. It didn't take someone of Selina's experience to tell that Lee was not the type to muddy the chain of command in such a manner, even if he wanted to. That said, this one was being naive if she thought she'd come about her position on talent alone. She could be nigh on super-human, and Lee's consideration would still be her uses first, her abilities second. A subtle difference, but an important one. Abreu would be extremely difficult to plant seeds of doubt in. However, if Selina was up to it, and if she needed to, it could be done, and Lee's faith in her obedience would only serve to make her an even more valuable asset then.
The Hive was somewhat cleaner than what they had seen of the Mid-Levels so far, suggesting that in the last three months this space had undergone some of the most extensive repair in the entire facility. While not a superstitious woman, even Selina would admit that this place had an aura about it that was palpable. Even cleaned up as it was, it was as if the bodies still lingered. How many people had died in this eye of the storm, and not just in the last 3 months? For such a large open space, one of the very few under ground, the most notable thing was the silence. From the third level, she watched the Inmates that mulled about below. All seemed to want to look anywhere but towards the center, where a large, Perspex cube had been erected, right in the very spot where the gladiatorial contests that Selina had heard about had once been held. Inside the box, near the far wall of the box their were five vertical posts.
As they observed, five Inmates were led onto the floor in chains, escorted by a squad of Wardens. One balked. First he cried, then he pleaded, then he tried to flee, and for his trouble he received a rifle butt to his abdomen, subduing him. Once they had all entered the cube and the door closed and locked behind them, the man's dry sobs were guttered out. It would seem the cube was designed to be transparent, but to allow no noise to escape. The purpose, presumably, was to eliminate the entertainment value such bloodshed might once have had here. The death may still be spectated, but it was no longer a sport. The Inmates who moved through this space were to observe the deaths of their peers, as a student in a science lesson might observe a parasite through a microscope. The Inmates were now being chained to the posts, while signs were being erected next to them. White, with black lettering, these signs carried vertical lists of single words in bold capitals, but no punctuation to add any emotional inflection. "MURDER", "RAPE", "THEFT" and so on. Clear, but utterly without showmanship. The audience was not supposed to boo or cheer. They were simply being told, in the simplest terms, why these men were about to die. Finally, the Inmates were blindfolded, before the Wardens took their positions at the opposite wall, and readied their weapons.
Five shots, in almost perfect unison. Selina saw the muzzles flash, but nothing broke the silence. With justice done, the Warden's immediately set about removing the bodies and cleaning up the blood. There was no need to keep either around as a grizzly example. Those that had seen had seen, and others would likely see much the same tomorrow. Selina glanced at Lee. To say his expression was stony would have been inadequate.
" I will report this infraction to the Warden in Chief, and I expect he will want to take matters further himself. Dismissed!"
"Sir yes, sir!" The both of them said. The trip back was met with silence from both Lewis and Albergo. They went back to their barracks, turned in their gear, and thought about what had just transpired. As Lewis was taking off his boots, Albergo finally spoke up.
"Why did you do that?" His voice was clear, in the empty barracks. They were alone for the time being but no doubt it would be filled. Lewis sighed.
"Because I felt like it.... I felt like it was right." Lewis fired back.
"You should have let me taken the blame."
"You did take the blame." Lewis grinned despite the embarrassment the Captain threatened them with.
"I know but you should let me stick up for me."
"I had the liberty to." Lewis thought back to what Albergo had said earlier. "We always have the liberty to. I can't wait anymore, Frank."
Albergo wrung his wrists but before he could speak up a few Wardens entered the barracks probably dismissed and ready to fall asleep. Lewis saw this and laid down on his cot. It was nothing special but Lewis tucked a picture on the side. He looked around before drawing it out. Albergo had disappeared and was probably on his way to tell the squad what happened. The Wardens around were preoccupied with their own arguments so Lewis drew out the picture. They were both on a brick stoop looking at the camera in front of their apartment. Aggie had her arms around her little brother, leaning forward with her chin on Lewis' head. Lewis had a toothy smile at the time but it still conveyed the joy Lewis had at the time despite all the hardships.
"I'm gonna find you Aggie."
"It came from their bar after all."
"Tell the "Reaper" I appreciate it but I don't drink." Regardless, Aggie still took the fanciful bottle most likely to be used as a bartering tool rather than an actual drink. She knows a lot of people who are willing to kill for a drink. She held the drink in her hands, feeling the liquid shift in the bottle.
"One last thing. Tell Reaper he has my thanks." Aggie said to Connors just as he was leaving. She didn't expect a reply back but it was worth something at least to her. She stashed the booze away in her hiding spot along with her food. With her interesting day grinding to a close she couldn't help but think about Lewis. She wondered where he was or how he was doing. Most importantly though, she wished that he wasn't any near this place.
"To make sure a screw up like that doesn't happen again."
"I'll drink to that." Marino said, raising his glass. Oliva chuckled before he saw a familiar figure walk into the bar.
"Speaking of screw ups-"
"Not in the mood right now." Albergo said. He sat himself down, rubbed his eyes, then looked to Ms.Nyte. "Congac, please."
"What's wrong, big guy?" Walker asked. Albergo let out a long, exasperated sigh.
"I fucked up, I think." His drink was delivered and he downed it in one gulp. "I caught a prisoner today. He was smuggling coal or something. Hit him a bit because, hey, that's how things were back then, right?" Albergo leaned back. "You catch an inmate doing something illegal, you beat them so they don't do it again."
"Woah...What was he smuggling?" Oliva asked. He leaned on the table. Albergo shook his head. "Coal? Seriously? You gave him the Warden's tap because of coal?"
"That's what its always been!" Albergo shouted. "We were trained to discipline the inmates, correct? Talking to them doesn't discipline them. Asking them to stop won't discipline them. The Captain gave us this whole speech about how it was hurting the income and stuff... I'm really sorry guys."
"He's probably gonna tell Lee or something. Damn..." Marino said.
"Hey, at least you didn't kill the guy, alright?" Walker said. "The worst thing we could get is a pay-cut, some more hours. Nothing too severe."
"The executives were there too..." Albergo said, cradling his head.
"The executives?" Oliva whispered.
"Yes, yes, the executives!" Albergo snapped. "Taking notes down and everything. Those little shits."
"What the fuck, man?" Marino cursed.
"Shut your mouth, you would've done the same thing." Albergo hissed.
"Frank! Cool it." Oliva said. "There probably gonna make an example of us or something then. Prove the executives they mean business."
"Yeah we should head back." Walker said, collecting himself.
"Where's Lewis by the way?" Oliva asked.
"He's back in the barracks." Albergo got up from his seat and pushed it in. The others did so as well and made their way out, saying their thanks to Ms.Nyte.
"Grazie per l'ospitalitÓ voi!" Marino exclaimed.
"Thank you very much for having us." Walker said.
"See you around, Ms.Nyte." Oliva said. "If you need anything from us just don't expect it very soon because we are in trouble."
After his skewer was picked clean, Acolyte pulled out his bowie knife, picked up the hunk of wood he'd retrieved earlier, and sat close to the fire, shaving off bark.