Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Path To Victory: Chapter Four

April 3, 2017,
11:22 local time,
Erasmus Campaign Headquarters,
Alert, Roman Forces Base Ellesmere Island

“While I can appreciate the efforts and intentions behind their wish,” said Consul Praeliata at a news conference outside of the Senate buildings, addressing Viridis’ blog post that had gone viral, “and while I too share many of the same sentiments that a vast majority of the population share, as do many of my colleagues within the Senate, after much consultation, deliberation, thought and prayer, we made a firm decision that denying Erasmus his legitimately obtained, clear and decisive victory in the Caesarean election would be tantamount to destroying the democracy that the Roman Empire has so strongly defended and upheld for over twenty-five hundred years. For our democracy to work, we have to respect the way elections work, even if those results do not go our way. Furthermore, denying one a legitimately won election will only serve to erode the public’s trust in the process, irreparably so, and would set a precedent more dangerous than even the election of the poorest possible candidate. Therefore, I, on behalf of the rest of the Senate, am announcing that on April 21, 2017, the first day of Erasmus’ reign, we will crown him Caesar. Thank you.”

“That was earlier today,” said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer after the video clip of Praeliata’s announcement. “Which was not unexpected…but then, moments later was this.”

“I have heard you all loud and clear,” said Valerius, holding his own news conference at the Flavia Domus. “Today I was supposed to give you a concession speech…however, I will do no such thing. The people of Rome have spoken…they regret the decision that was made. Therefore, I will not be stepping aside and will resume my reign as the 294th Caesar in Roman history.”

Erasmus shut off the TV in disgust.

“He can’t do that, right?” he said, nerves tinged in his defiance. “We legitimately won, right?”
“Yes we did,” said Licinus Ludus, his lead counsel, joining him alongside his campaign chairman and long-time friend Primus Gratius.
“We can challenge that, can we not?” Erasmus said, hanging on to the faint hope that he had.
“We could,” said Ludus, sensing Erasmus’ worry.
“So let’s get in front of a magistrate and do it!” Erasmus said, goading Ludus to pick up his phone and make the call.

Ludus could only sigh.

“Erasmus,” said Ludus, “you’re right…we could go in front of a magistrate. We could go in front of several…we’d probably do very well. Until we get to the last step…which is appealing to the Caesar…who is still Valerius.”
“The Twelve Tables are very clear,” said Erasmus. “He has to relinquish the throne if he legitimately lost, which he did. Not even he can rule against that.”

Gratius jumped in, giving Erasmus a look.

“Do you really think that Valerius would rule against extending his term?” said Gratius. “No matter what the law says, he is the ultimate interpreter of it…he’ll find some way to interpret it so he can keep his power.”

Erasmus let out a heavy sigh.

“What do we do?” he asked, almost breathless.

“I’m not sure,” said Ludus. “From a legal standpoint, you have nothing.”
“We could organize some protests,” said Gratius, “maybe see if the Senate or the Plebeian Council will go to bat for you, but I doubt they’ll accomplish much, if we can even count on their support anyway. Other than that…there is the Army. They could forcibly remove Valerius…but he’s still their boss, and military intervention is always a risky proposition, on every front.”
“A province or two can break for me,” said Erasmus, hopefully. “The Army may support me...there has to be a lot of people who be angry at Valerius.”

Gratius sighed.

“Bill,” said Gratius, using Erasmus’ birth name, “that may happen. I don’t think it will. You don’t have too many endorsements from politicians...the Senate nearly all hates you...and besides, if you are seen as instigating violence what support you may have for the crown will evaporate. You need to play it cool Bill. We’ll release a statement condemning Valerius for his actions, urge everyone to do what they can to uphold the voice of the people and leave it at that. More importantly, though, we need to tell the people to remain calm and tell them to contact their Councillor. There’s going to be a lot of anger, and the potential for violence will be high. At the very least, we don’t want anyone blaming us for whatever violence breaks out.”

Erasmus was downtrodden, unable to rectify how his dreams could be crushed so easily and so recklessly. What does it say about our democracy if the people can choose to brazenly disregard its rules?

Ludus picked up on Erasmus’ feelings.

“We should call the Mundiali,” said Ludus.
“The Mundiali?” said Erasmus, starting to get hopeful.
“Wait,” said Gratius, “Licinus, didn’t you just say that nothing illegal happened?”
“I know I did,” said Ludus, “but that doesn’t mean Valerius did something illegal to spur his legal decision.”

“He’s right,” said Erasmus. “You don’t subvert democracy on a whim, and Valerius is usually a man of honour. Someone got to him…and I’m going to find out who.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Path To Victory: Chapter Three

March 31, 2017,
15:39 local time,
Angkor General Hospital,
Angkor, Khimerium

Connie Hedburg arose from her slumber with instant anxiety. She darted her head around the room, confused over where she was and shaken by how she got there. Her heart began to race, which caused her to cry out after experiencing a significant dart of pain coming from her chest.

The nurse attended to her quickly, and, after determining it was just a panic attack, worked to sooth Connie’s worries.

“Connie,” said the nurse, “you’re fine now. You will make a complete recovery.”
“Where am I?” Connie asked, struggling to regain her composure.
“This is Angkor,” said the nurse, “in the Roman Republican province of Khimerium. You were airlifted here to the General Hospital because the Birean hospitals couldn’t take care of your had a ton of complications arising from your stab wound. Whoever did it to you was a very nasty man.”
“No, he wasn’t” said Connie adamantly, “and I stabbed myself.”
“That’s not what the police told me,” said the nurse, confused.
“They lied to you,” said Connie, who began to get defiant. “I was married to the nicest man in the world...and the ‘police’ took him away from me.”
“Sweetie,” said the nurse, “you were used in a human trafficking ring...he was not a nice man.”
“That is not true!” Connie declared. “Mason Jeffrey treated me with the utmost care and respect...I have never met anyone who treated me better than Mason did. Did he find me using a service one would call a ‘human trafficking ring’? Yeah, he did. However, Birea is so messed up that Mason could not find a woman in ‘more conventional ways’...the demographics there won’t allow it. So he had no choice...and this ring, the Order of St. Germain Cousin, they nursed me back to health, saved me from actual rapists in Sweden and never forced me into anything. I chose to be a part of their program...and I talked with Mason beforehand. In fact, I chose him from a list of men they gave me. Really, there was no more of a way that the Order did not degrade or disrespect me.”

“You know,” said Connie with tears in her eyes, “if it wasn’t for that stupid Ingrid coming in and messing things up...I wouldn’t be here in a hospital bed. I’d still be in the best possible life...with him.”

Connie then broke down and cried, causing the nurse to take pity on her.

“Well,” said the nurse. “Good news is you have recovered. We’ll need to keep you here one more night for observation but after that, you’re free to go.”

The nurse then left, leaving Connie with her lone roommate, who woke up.

“Hey,” said Connie with a warm smile to her roommate, an athletically slender blonde woman. “You finally woke up. I’m Connie, by the way.”
“Holly,” said the woman, neither shaking hands because they were too tired to make the gesture.

“How long was I out?” said Holly, scratching her groggy eyes.
“I don’t know,” said Connie. “I just woke up from surgery myself.”
“I’m glad you did,” said Holly. “I was worried about you.”
“You were?” Connie said, pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah,” said Holly. “You had a lot of is the first day I’ve seen you that they’re not running any tests on you. I’ve been in here longer than you...I heard what that guy did to you...I never wanted anyone more than you to pull through.”
“Well,” said Connie with a wistful smile, “I never should have been here...truth is...I stabbed myself.”
“What?” said Holly, aghast. “Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know what story you heard,” said Connie, “and I don’t feel like going into detail...but I wasn’t trafficked. A charity took me away from my troubles in Sweden and paired me with the best man I have ever met...but the police took him away from me so I tried to kill myself.” Connie then let out a sigh. “I wish I was more successful.”

“Oh muffin,” said Holly, taken by Connie’s words, “don’t ever say that. Life is a’ve been given a chance to continue, and it’s been given to you for a reason.”
“What reason?” said Connie. “I’ll probably have to go back to Sweden…stay with my parents, who loved paddling me more than actually taking care of me. I might have to go back to the streets…the cold, hard streets where there’s too many of us because the welfare state sucked us dry. Or go bed surfing with men who simply see you as an ‘opportunity’…my life was so much better with Mason.”

Connie sighed as Holly sat up in her bed, struggling to do so.

“What happened to you?” said Connie, seeing Holly’s struggle.

“I,” started Holly, wincing in pain. “I was in Birea too…on assignment. I don’t know if you know of the Spitzenkrieger, but that’s who I am.”
“Spitzenkrieger,” said Connie, “you’re a Vandal superhero.”
“Yup,” said Holly as proudly as she could with her strained voice. “Born and raised in Saldae…there were rumours floating last year that the Soldiers had abducted some girls from the city so I went…on my own…to the country to investigate.”
“The Academy let you do that?” said Connie.
“I told them I would do it,” said Holly, “and they were okay with it. Understand, we’re given a lot of latitude as Spitzenkrieger…we work alone, so we don’t need ‘clearance’ like other police departments do. We just follow our leads.”
“Of course…it leaves you vulnerable,” said Connie
“Yeah,” said Holly. “It’s tough…but I knew the risks…and the reward is great…”

Connie picked up on Holly’s facial expression.

“Sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere,” said Connie.
“There are just some problems I can’t solve,” said Holly with a sigh.
“Not even Birea?” Connie asked.
“Birea isn’t the Vandal Kingdom,” said Holly. “The Vandal Kingdom…despite how weird our criminals get, we still have order and respect. In Birea…it’s a dog eat dog world…only the strongest of alphas survive there.”
“Mason told me it was no picnic,” said Connie. “I’ve seen a few times…Mason taught me self-defence to get through it…I mean, it wasn’t the greatest society to live in…but if you found a way to be comfortable in it, you could manage. It’s probably no worse than a lot of countries…heck, it’s better than Sweden.”

Holly let out a sigh.

“Birea is a ticking time bomb,” she said gravely. “The country only succeeds because James Dowell ruled with a fair but strong hand, but since Ingrid Fjallsdottir came around and forced his hand, the people have been getting restless. You don’t understand what the world created.”

Connie looked on, intrigued by what she was hearing.

“There are what, ten, 15,” said Holly, “30 million Birean men unable to find a wife simply due to demographics…I don’t think the world truly understands what kind of social problems that creates, especially when those are exacerbated by Nathanism.”

Connie was about to protest before Holly stopped her.

“I know,” she said, gesturing to Connie, “it’s really the people who choose to interpret the religion in the worst possible way…but, given what happens in Birea, it only compounds the problem.”
“How so?” said Connie.
“When you have an entire society that is literally told that, as men, you are owed a woman and you are to be dominant over her,” said Holly, “and you suddenly can’t find a woman for yourself that…creates issues.”
“So you don’t think human trafficking is wrong, then,” said Connie.
“Not quite,” said Holly. “I don’t agree with human trafficking…I’m just not sure the solution was to round up all the customers. Sure, there were a lot of bad ones, but there were a lot of good ones too, and besides, arresting them doesn’t address the actual societal pressures.”
“Good ones left with no other choice,” said Connie with a sigh. “Like Mason.”

“…and then there’s Andrew O’Baley,” said Holly wistfully. “I was simply following a lead…I found that a woman from Saldae had gone missing…tracked her via the Order of St. Maria Goetti.”
“Ingrid’s ring,” said Connie, “the one where she employed all kinds of abusers just so that she could give the Birean traffickers a bad name.”
“Which worked,” said Holly with a wry smile.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Connie, “there are a lot of traffickers who were bad people…but bad operators doesn’t mean the concept is bad.”
“That’s fair,” said Holly, “but I still think you got lucky.”

“Anyway,” continued Holly, “I come up to Andrew’s house and right away something was off.”

Holly paused to collect herself before continuing.

“I heard the screams of a woman from outside of the house,” said Holly. “I decided to forgo pleasantries and just kicked down the door, my gun drawn. As soon as I enter, a security guard bashes me in the head with his fist, but before he struck me again, I took out his legs and slammed him to the floor. I then tried to move towards the screaming but the guard got up and tackled me from behind. He was a clumsy guy so after a bit of wrestling, I was able to knock him off of me.

“I picked up my gun and moved from the front towards the basement, where the screaming was coming from. There was another guard, who was much more of a capable fighter than the other guy, and we fought for quite some time before I could subdue him. I then went for the door, but, noticing it was locked, I drew my gun on the guard I had just subdued and got him to give me the key.”

Holly took in a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh before continuing.

“I got in,” she said, tears beginning to form in her eyes, “drew my gun and pointed it at Andrew. When I saw what he was doing, my rage got the better of me.”
“What happened?” Connie asked, with grave concern.
“He had the girl,” said Holly, “the girl I was looking for. She was...” At this point, Holly could barely keep her composure. “She was naked, spread eagle on the chair...and Andrew was doing...oh gosh I don’t want to get into it...but believe me when I say that Andrew was a sick, sick man.”
“Oh gosh,” said Connie, horrified.
“I ordered him to stop,” said Holly, “showed him my badge and everything. He just...kept going. So I cocked my gun and that’s when he decided to stop.”
“That allowed you to arrest him, right?” Connie said. She was gripped, hanging on to every word Holly was saying.

Holly lowered her head and let out a heavy sigh before continuing.

“It,” said Holly, stammering, “it happened so fast…one of the guards I had knocked down earlier clocked me from behind…I fell to the floor…I tried to get up but soon I had Andrew and another guard all over me sending me a fury of fists and kicks all over my body…I become so weak…helpless. In my daze, I see them ripping off my clothes and being unable to stop them.” Holly then began to breathe heavily, the toll of the story getting to her. “They rip open my legs, their hands so strong keeping them apart…then Andrew…Andrew…”

Holly then hunches over, wincing and grimacing, all while hyperventilating. Tears began to flow liberally from her eyes and she buried her head in her hands. Connie was shaken by Holly’s show of emotion, and it was not long before she cried too.

“It’s okay Holly,” she said, wanting to comfort Holly but unable to do so from her bed. “You don’t need to tell me what that…monster…did to you.”

Holly raised her head, appreciative of Connie’s words.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I…I have to make peace with it. Fortunately the pain was so unbearable that I passed out while they did their worst…I woke up here, in this hospital bed. Told me I was lucky to be alive…I was beaten beyond a point where most would have died…I needed weeks of physical therapy just to regain any kind of movement in my limbs…and…I’ll never have kids in my life.”

Holly sighed.

“I wanted to die too,” she said. “I don’t know how I made it here…but I did. Maybe to meet you…and tell you to fight for me…because it’ll be a while before I can fight for myself again.”

Connie sat in her bed, contemplating what she just heard.

“Fight for you?” she asked, intrigued. “I’d love to, because I hate what those monsters reduced you to. I’m just not sure how.”
“I have friends who work for Global Citizens,” said Holly, referring to the worldwide human rights advocacy group. “I don’t always see eye to eye with them…but, like you, they want to challenge worldwide conventions and hold governments accountable for their policies.”
“Policies that have led to you and me in these beds,” said Connie with a wistful sigh.
“Global Citizens want to work with governments through,” said Holly. “Because governments can get caught up in their idealism...we just make sure they get things right.”

Connie nodded her head.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it. What’s my first task?”

Holly smiled at Connie’s eagerness while sending a text message.

“While I was in Andrew’s house,” Holly said, “I saw a file folder that had simply the word ‘Bessarion’ written on it. It may be nothing, but it could be tied to something. You’ll be going back there…Danel Hanno will assist you.”
“Danel Hanno?” said Connie. “The lawyer?”
“He’s helping the Birean government review the bust of the human trafficking rings,” said Holly, “so he has access to Andrew’s files. He’ll be here tomorrow afternoon to get you started.”

“Sounds good,” said Connie as both women smiled.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Path To Victory: Chapter Two

March 2, 2017,
17:02 local time,
CNN Studios,
Manhattan, New York

“Joining me here in The Situation Room,” said Cable News Network (CNN) anchor Wolf Blitzer, opening his show with his trademark booming baritone, “is Roman Consul Gaia Julia Praeliata, here to talk about the Roman Caesarean election now winding into its final weeks. Thank you for joining me, Consul Praeliata.”
“It’s my pleasure,” said Praeliata, who possessed a strong but biting baritone herself. Middle-aged but youthful looking, the tanned blonde was dressed in her ceremonial toga, form-fitting so that it brought out her bust. She did so because she found the inherent sex appeal of her outfit intimidated her colleagues in the very macho world of the Roman Republic, the Empire’s most influential group of provinces, collectively administered by the Senate. Her hard-nosed approach helped her become the Senate’s top Consul, the “Ordinary Counsul” (or simply the “Consul”), in 2011.

“We’re going to start with the topic that’s on everyone’s mind right now,” said Blitzer, “and it’s the fact that Erasmus now leads Valerius in the polls for the first time in this electoral cycle. What’s your immediate reaction to that?”
“Well Wolf,” said Praeliata confidently, “I’ve said it many times before- I think Erasmus is too stubborn and too temperamental to be the right fit for Caesar. Many of my colleagues in the Senate believe he would be very hard to work for which is why the Republic is taking the unprecedented step to campaign for Valerius who, while having many faults, has proven that he’s capable of compromise.”
“Yes,” said Blitzer, “but I’m sure you have worked with difficult politicians before. What makes Erasmus so different?”
“Erasmus,” stated Praeliata emphatically, “is the classic example of the civilian who thinks he knows more than all of us experienced politicians so he decides he’s going to become one. Usually many of those people learn on the job or they at least are willing to do so, but Erasmus has shown no signs that he wishes to do so. What’s worse, because he has this cocky, arrogant attitude, he’s more likely to hold us all in contempt and refuse to listen to suggestions that could be of benefit to the nation.”
“I understand,” said Blitzer, “but I’m sure you have dealt with a few arrogant politicians too.”
“At least politicians understand what’s at stake and how it all works,” said Praeliata. “There are things in the political world that a layperson like Erasmus will never understand unless you’re involved in it like I am. He may be a former Police Chief, but that’s an entirely different world from politics. If he really thinks he can walk in and pretend that politics is the same way, he’s in for a ride awakening.”
“Are you scared of him?” Blitzer asked, point blank.
“No,” said Praeliata without hesitation. “Not at all. Wolf, there’s a difference between being scared and recognizing when someone is too naive and stubborn to ever have a working relationship with. Erasmus isn’t fit for the job, and I’m going to say that.”

Praeliata smiled confidently as Blitzer decided to forge forward.

“Consul,” he started, “I want to get to the question that’s on everyone’s mind. Ever since Augustus was first crowned Emperor in 27 BC, the Senate has technically held the power to decide who is truly deserving of the crown. Now, it’s mostly a ceremonial role today, but there’s rumours that because of your pointed stance that the Senate may refuse to fulfill that role and decide to crown someone else. Will you state for the record what your intentions are in that regard?”
“Well Wolf,” said Praeliata confidently, “it’s a little premature to be talking about that kind of thing when the vote is still two weeks away. Having said that...all options are on the table at this stage and we will examine them when the situation comes.”
“So you are saying that you may forgo crowning Erasmus as Caesar,” said Blitzer.
“I’m saying all of our options are on the table,” said Praeliata, with a wry smile.

March 22, 2017,
20:34 local time,
Viridis’ Apartment,
Rome, Roman Republic

“This isn’t just a victory for you,” said Erasmus, addressing his supporters in a video, “but this is a victory for all Romans. For far too long we have been under the destructive policies of inaction and ‘compromise’ under Valerius, but no longer. For today, we will forge ahead as a Rome that is decisive, a Rome that is assertive, a Rome that is fearless, a Rome that is strong.” Erasmus waited as thunderous cheers emanated from the crowd.

“A Rome,” he continued, passion oozing from his smooth, commanding baritone, “a Rome that is Rome again! The Empire is back!”

Cornelia Marva Viridia, better known as Viridis, closed her laptop and sat up on her bed.

It had been over a month now and it still didn’t sink in. Despite Valerius making a comeback in the polls, on the Ides of March, Bill Firechild, now known regally as Erasmus, won the election to become Rome’s 295th Caesar.

It was a close contest, with Erasmus barely eking out a majority with 50.4% of the vote. Valerius came in second with 49.2%, with other candidates garnering the remaining votes. For the first time, a Caesar won the election despite not carrying the Republic, where Erasmus only gained 28% of the vote.

Many who opposed Erasmus’ candidacy used that result as further proof that he was not “a real Roman” and thus should not be Caesar.

Viridis saw it differently.

To Viridis, Erasmus reminded her of the tough-talking, authoritarian-minded politicians she believed dominated Rome’s enemies, the Virtue Federation. She was struck in particular about how much Erasmus reminded her of the English Conservatives, forever a thorn in the Romans’ side, not just of Jack Kent but also of politicians of yore, like Margaret Thatcher and former American Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the latter whose hawkish policies started the destructive Third World War.

She didn’t want a Fourth, so she was determined to stop Erasmus.

Viridis got on her blog and wrote a post for her millions of followers, one of whom was Praeliata. She wrote a long but impassioned post, reminding Praeliata that nowhere on the Twelve Tables does it say that the Consul must crown the victor of the Caesarean election as the Caesar, as the Tables clearly say that the ultimate decision rests with the Senate. She then reminded her readers that this was “written into” the Tables so that the Senate could be a “check” on “the mob”, overruling them when “their passions override their better judgement” (she was factually incorrect- the Tables simply stated that the Caesar is to be crowned by the Senate. The perception that the Senate could be a “check” on the mob arose from statements by revolutionary Canus Magnus in 1848, who merely suggested that the Senate take up this role).

Viridis continued by telling Praeliata that she had a “duty” to spare the Romans from “the passions of the plebeians” and use her “better judgement”. “For you,” she wrote in the post’s final sentence, “know that this is not simply about an ideological difference- this is about Rome falling to a Caesar that will undermine the Empire’s every value, one that will devolve from the dignified world power to the impulsivity of the barbarians. We cannot, as a generation, allow such a travesty to happen. Only you, Praeliata, have the power to make that happen. Make it happen. –Viridis.”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Path To Victory: Chapter One

“There is no greater lie than the idea that the masses will respect democratic decisions”- Appius II, first speech upon restoring the Empire after defeating Republican rebels, 1825

April 6, 2017,
13:01 local time,
The American Presidio
Vancouver, Cascadia

“So glad for you to join me today,” said American Confederacy President Haylie Modine with a forced smile.
“You as well,” said Modine’s guest, English Parliamentarian Jack Kent, who also forced a smile.

The two then proceeded to stare at each other with awkward smiles, underscoring the animosity between the Conservative Party member Kent and the Unionist President Modine.

“I’m not sure what you hope to achieve today,” said Modine, the young President whose nasal shrill could be both endearing and biting at the same time. “My decision has already been made...your friends are not being freed.”

Kent, an experienced man with a commanding baritone, was not fazed. Modine’s Justice Department announced yesterday that it found “evidence” needed to jail 51 politicians, almost all members of America’s “religious right” and all “right wingers” who were strongly opposed to Modine and her “alt-left” movement.

“Your naivete is more boundless than your enthusiasm,” Kent said with a wry smile. “Unfortunately for you, enthusiasm is no substitute for intelligence.”
“Keep up with your snarky remarks,” said Modine, “but you won’t get to me.”
“I don’t have to,” said Kent, “but your people will notice. Maybe not now because they have been infected, but once they regain their brains they will notice.”
“The people voted for me,” said Modine, “they gave me a mandate.”
“You escaped the last North American election by the skin of your teeth,” said Kent. “You have opposition, and you know it. You just refuse to listen to it because they don’t go online like you do.”
“Dinosaurs only have a path to extinction,” said Modine. “I’m not troubled by the desperate pleas of a fading generation.”

Kent chuckled sardonically.

“These are not ‘pleas of a fading generation,” he said. “They were good, honest people who were only unlucky to be caught in a witch hunt by the world’s most insecure leader.”
“A witch hunt, eh?” said Modine in disbelief at what she heard. “So you’re saying that I should have done nothing when Marty McCreary made duck noises and called the Emeldic people ‘crybabies’ simply because they’re tired of being bullied? Or when Sasha Marino declared that the poor ‘made their own bed’ and thus deserve not a single penny of government help? Or when Faith Dumore declared she’d never hire a Sinaloan because she can’t bothered with someone who ‘likes siestas’? Oh, and here’s the real kicker! What about when Ken Murray told a female heckler that ‘someone should bend her over and give her something to really scream about’? That’s totally cool, right?”
“As cool as it is for your chief of staff to Squawk that all men should be sterilized,” sneered Kent, “because men can’t control themselves.”
“The patriarchy is a fact, Jack,” said Modine assuredly. “It’s not hate if it’s based in fact.”

Kent shook his head and shifted in his chair, leaning forward and looking Modine right in the eye.

“Just because your ‘allies’ approve of who you are jailing doesn’t mean you get to throw them in jail on trumped up frivolities,” said Kent. “You denied them their rights, so now you can’t stand at your altar and pretend that you believe in human rights.”
“Of course I can,” said Modine with a smug chuckle. “The people I put away are not humans...they don’t deserve rights.”

Kent could only shake his head.

“Your hypocrisy would be amusing if it weren’t maddening,” said Kent. “You don’t get to decide who qualifies as a ‘human’.”
“I think they make that choice for themselves when they spout such unbridled hate,” said Modine bluntly after folding her arms. “Nobody who holds such vile views qualifies as anything more than an abhorrence.”
“No matter how ‘abhorrent’ a viewpoint may be,” said Kent pointedly, “it is still a viewpoint, and if you respect democracy at all you would recognize that.”
“…and you fail to understand that if human society is to grow and prosper,” said Modine pointedly, “there are just some viewpoints that should never be shared.”
“Listen to yourself, Haylie,” said Kent, not hiding his disgust. “No politician is qualified to be the arbiter of what opinions its people get to share…positing that means you are no better than the authoritarians you claim to despise.”

Kent folded his arms and gave Modine a smirk, which made Modine think she’d had enough.

“Thank you for your visit today,” she said with a fake smile. “As I predicted, you got nowhere. Just like your sorry Conservatives against a real opponent in Koiji Kawasaki.”

Kent got up and put his fedora back on. He headed for the door but turned to address Modine before he left.

“Enjoy the moment Haylie,” he said ominously. “Believe that you can forge a career believing that you are always right and antagonizing everyone who so much as delivers even the tiniest sliver of disapproval. Because one day you’re going to antagonize the wrong person…and it will be an opponent so difficult that there will be no amount of self-righteousness to protect you from the fact you have no friends.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life

“Wish that I could stay forever this young/Not afraid to close my eyes/Life’s a game made for everyone/And love is the prize.”- Avicii featuring Aloe Blacc, “Wake Me Up” (2013)

April 4, 2017,
20:42 local time,
Warricksville Beat Offices,
Warricksville, Birea

Finally, thought Jackson Roscoe as he closed his laptop and prepared to head out of the office. I get to go home.

Roscoe worked as the lifestyle writer for the Warricksville Beat, offering a weekly advice column that earned him notoriety locally, though not much in the way of cash. He had many friends inside and outside the newspaper industry who believe that he should take his talents to a bigger city, like Helene, the Birean capital, or work abroad, but Roscoe lived in Warricksville his entire life, and a previous lifetime of poor decisions meant his debt wouldn’t allow him to take a trip anyway.

As he walked home, he often wondered what the point of his life was. He was a single male and 37 years old, but still living in a bachelor apartment that was just the right size for him and no one else. A muscular man with ebony skin, he was affable and sociable, talking with an expressive baritone that always got him noticed. It enabled him to get along with a lot of people, often drawing them to him, but as the years passed, Roscoe found he made fewer and fewer friends, as many were just not worth his time.

Thus, he spent most of the time on his long walk home- he preferred it, as it kept him in shape- thinking that all he did was live to work. Sure, many have told him, “if you just took a chance you could change all that”, but Roscoe was never one for risk, and he never knew what “a better opportunity” looked like except in the abstract anyway.

He stepped outside of the office and ducked passed the handyman, not even saying a word. Lazy runt, thought Roscoe, he can’t be bothered to fix the lighting but when Marty wants a new shelf, he’s suddenly able to help him. He then gave a nod to the man working security for the building before leaving, upon which he passed by the deliveryman and another man who just happened to be out riding his bike.

As he headed down the sidewalk, he walked by two men, barely out of their teens, excited to be talking about life and “how many women we’d have”. As Roscoe passed them, he shook his head, thinking to himself about how na├»ve those men were. He then waved to the garbage man before noticing the corner grocery store, remembering that he needed some milk.

As soon as he walked in, he said hello to the grocer’s greeter, a polite older man before feeling his phone vibrate. He then took a look at it and smiled.

“Hey buddy,” said Roscoe, calling his longtime friend, the internationally renowned lawyer Danel Hanno. “Got your text. You’re in town today?”
“Yeah,” said Hanno, a slender, pale-skinned man who spoke with a soft, nasal baritone that belied his friendly but assured nature. “The case in Moscow ended early…Moskvitch decided to settle.”
“That’s good news,” said Roscoe.
“Say why don’t I tell you about it at The Diner,” said Hanno. “It’s been a while…I miss that place.”
“Things are a bit different, I should warn you,” said Roscoe, wistfully.
“I know,” said Hanno confidently, “but we’ll handle it.”

The two chatted briefly before ending the call, after which Hanno came by and picked up Roscoe in his Alfa Romeo. They then drove to The Diner, where it didn’t take long for Hanno to notice what changed.

“No sex, eh?” he remarked as he approached the restaurant sign.
“Well,” said Roscoe, “you can actually still get sex…it’ll just cost you.”
“That’s a bit of a drag,” said Hanno nonchalantly as the pair walked into the restaurant and found a table.
“Reality,” said Roscoe. “There are no women available to us…human trafficking is banned, mail order brides are banned…prostitution we already know is illegal…so this is the only place where us men could get action…and the owners know it. Unless you have the money to leave the country.”
“Well,” said Hanno, “in fairness only those with money could have benefitted from the human trafficking rings…I don’t really think much has changed.”
Roscoe sighed, but decided against pressing the issue.

The Diner was one of many establishments across Birea that specialized in the hiring of “comfort girls”, scantily clad female servers whose only real function was to provide sexual services to the clients. It was often the only place in the land where single men could find sexual gratification, as government policies meant the demographics ensured that one third of Birean men would not have a wife to themselves. Coupled with a national adherence to Nathanism, a religion that espouses female subservience to men, it was a perfect storm to create a breeding ground of predatory men, as the scarcity of women increased their demand.

Hanno and Roscoe weren’t your typical Bireans. Hanno- born in Phoenicia but raised in Warricksville- and Roscoe were both educated, which helped them understand Birea’s demographic reality and accept it, even if it frustrated them. They were the rare breed in Birea that actually respected women, since they knew that it was not the women’s fault that many Birean men could not find a wife, and thus saw no reason to take their aggravation out on the women or to abuse them in some way.

They watched as a patron took a server by the hand and dragged her on to his lap.

“Hey baby,” said the man, a pale-skinned, portly man with a slicked-back mullet. “Why don’t you stay a while,” he cooed, caressing her shoulder and inching her towards him.
“Listen sir,” said the server, who wore a tiny string bikini top and a G-string bottom, both coloured blue, along with a dinosaur-themed full facemask. “I’m very busy…I can’t do this right now.”
“Come on,” said the man, widowed for ten years, “I don’t even want sex this time…I just want a hug.”
“You still have to pay,” said the server, visibly distressed by the situation. She got off his lap but couldn’t lose the grip of his hand.
“I gotta pay for a little affection?” said the man, who let out a loud frustrated sigh.

That brought out The Diner’s manager, a strapping pasty young lad who went by the name of Steve O’Donnell.

“Yes,” he said to the man without hesitation, “you gotta pay.”
“Well that’s ridiculous,” said the man, throwing up his free hand in frustration. “What kind of a country asks its men to pay to have even a little affection? It’s perfectly normal…and natural to want it.”
“I don’t care,” said O’Donnell, “rules are rules! You gotta pay! No freebies in this place…even hugs!”

O’Donnell then put his hands on his hips and looked pointedly at the man.

“Besides,” he said, “you still haven’t paid for the last meal you had here. So unless you pay up I’m going to ask you to march on out of here!”
“Seriously?” said the man with the mullet, “I paid you yesterday…and I told you…I lost my job…go easy on me…this place…it’s all I got left.”

O’Donnell was less than impressed.

“Nuh uh uh,” he said, waving his hand. “You ain’t paying…then you ain’t get the service…and you can march on out of here. Go on…go!”

Two security guards came for the man, who decided to get up on his own.

“I can walk myself out, thank you very much,” he said to O’Donnell, coldly.

As the man walked out, Roscoe could only shake his head.

“Probably has more than just one meal he hasn’t paid for,” said Roscoe. “Guy like that…he tries to take advantage of everyone that he can. Can’t believe you gotta pay for a hug though…that’s new.”
“The manager likely told him because he’s abused the system before and he doesn’t want him to abuse it again,” said Hanno. “This place must get a lot of people like him who just come in to harass the servers.”
“Hmmnnn,” said Roscoe, intrigued. “Good point.”

At this point, their server finally got to their table. She too was wearing a dinosaur-themed full facemask, with a tiny string bikini and G-string coloured pink that her tanned skin helped accentuate.

After she greeted the pair, Roscoe recognized her voice which caused him and Hanno to smile.

“Hey,” said Roscoe, as the server greeted the pair by giving each a happy, hearty hug. “How’s it going?”
“Tonight,” said the server, who knew Roscoe and Hanno well enough that she gave them her name, Bella, and has actually shown them her face. “Tonight has been a rough one.” She took down their orders, returning later with their food.

“Sorry I was late getting to you guys,” said Bella, who took off her mask. “I had to deal with that jerk.”
“Kicked out another guy?” said Hanno as both he and Roscoe enjoyed their meals. “We just saw one a few moments ago.”
“No,” said Bella, “I’m talking about the manager. He’s a real piece of work.”
“He seemed pretty hardline with that other guy,” said Roscoe. “I understand why…you guys must deal with a lot of idiots.”
“We have our days,” said Bella. “Today’s not one of them, actually.”
“Really?” said Roscoe, surprised.
“It’s the von Restorff effect,” said Hanno assuredly. “We tend to remember things that ‘stick out’ as opposed to things that are routine. There are nine other people in this restaurant, and yet we didn’t notice them because they’re not doing anything noticeable. The man with the mullet on the other hand…”

“Yeah,” said Bella with a sigh after a laugh. “That guy has come in five times and never ordered a meal, but he’s always grabby…the girls are a little frustrated with him.”
“So the manager had to take a stand,” said Roscoe.
“Steve’s…well meaning,” said Bella with another sigh. “He’s just…particular…and he thinks he has to be our ‘protector’…so he goes overboard with a lot of clients. Which would be great…if he wasn’t trying to get in between our legs.”
“That’s not right,” said Hanno, “he’s abusing his power.”
Roscoe shrugged. “It’s Birea,” he said. “I expect it.”

“Contrary to popular belief,” said Hanno, “you can’t actually force anyone into sex, man or woman, regardless of whether or not you actually own the person. The only exception is a sex slave, but in that regard, the woman actually has to be yours, not someone who is simply subordinate to you at work or at home and/or you are paying her salary…but even then…there are exceptions and limitations.”
“Interesting,” said Bella, “I’ve lived here for so long and I never knew that.”
“Me too,” said Roscoe, again intrigued.
“So why do a lot of men rape without consequence here?” asked Bella, enraptured by Hanno’s knowledge.
“Simple reason is that many times sexual assault is hard to prove,” said Hanno. “Intrinsically it tends to be a crime without a witness so there’s not much you can prove. Other law enforcement officials will try to prove a case some way, but Birean police just don’t bother. The other part is that sexual assault is so pervasive in Birean society that it would seem like a gargantuan task to prosecute everybody, plus some LEOs know that there’s a dearth of women so they’re cutting men some slack, as well as cultural attitudes that favour men over women.”
“…and LEOs that have done the deed themselves,” said Roscoe pointedly.
“That too,” said Bella as everyone laughed.

Out of the corner of her eye Bella noticed O’Donnell holding the wrist of the blue-clad server, with that amorous look in his eyes. She then alerted Hanno who wasted no time.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Hanno, as O’Donnell gave him an incredulous look. “If you even attempt to put your hands where you’re not supposed to, I will notify the authorities that you are breaking the law.”
“…and who are you, exactly?” sneered O’Donnell. “Some lazy SJW that thinks he knows this place more than the people who actually live here?”
“Actually,” said Hanno, flashing his Birean Law Association credentials, matching the credentials he has for the rest of the world. “I do know more than the people who actually live here…I practice law, and I practice it everywhere…and I know that, as simply the manager, you don’t own Clarice and thus you can’t force her to have sex with you…despite what Birean society might tell you.”
“Pfft,” said O’Donnell as Clarice struggled to get free of his grip, “I don’t care what the law says…no one enforces it, and everyone’s doing it. Besides…this is Birea…women serve us!”
“Even if they serve you, Steve, you still have to respect them,” said Hanno sternly.

“Well,” said O’Donnell, getting nervous, “sex is how they serve me.”
“That’s not part of their contract and you know it,” said Hanno, “and even if it were, it’d be illegal anyway.”
“St-st…still, man,” stammered O’Donnell. “You’re not the police…”
“No,” said Hanno, “but I work for Global Citizens. We protect the rights of someone like Clarice. We can contact the Birean authorities and have your place shut down for human rights violations.”
“So I’ll just find somewhere else to work,” said O’Donnell defiantly.

Hanno gave O’Donnell an incredulous look.

“Come on now Steve,” he said softly. “I know…you’re frustrated. A lot of men are here. You guys can’t find a wife so you’re reduced to taking advantage of whatever woman you can find. I know…I understand. Ask yourself, though, is it really fulfilling? Does it really make you ‘more of a man’? Wouldn’t it be better if you got sex from someone who wants to give it to you? Taking it from someone by force is really weak if you think about it…means you didn’t earn it. How good of a man are you if you’re not earning your sex? How attractive does that really make you feel?

“Besides,” continued Hanno matter-of-factly, “how do you think it makes your staff really feel? They probably have to deal with all kinds of crap…do you think your grabby, forceful hands make any of that better?”

O’Donnell began to cry as he thought about what Hanno was saying.

“So,” said Hanno sternly, “the choice is yours.”

O’Donnell pondered for a few minutes. This job was his life, the sole purpose of his existence…and yet it was too for Clarice, for Bella and for the rest of his staff. He couldn’t take advantage of them…what good was he if he ruined their lives too? What kind of a man ruins someone else’s life for his own gratification?

“I’ve been single my whole life,” said O’Donnell in tears as he let go of Clarice’s hand. “This country…it’s so messed up that I can’t find a girl…I was always told…if you’re nice, you’ll get rewarded…but where was my reward? Of course…I realize life doesn’t owe me a reward…it doesn’t owe me anything…

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” said O’Donnell, pleading. “I won’t mistreat my girls ever again…I should never take my frustrations out on them…that’s not fair. That’s not right. I just…I just don’t know when I’ll get a wife.”
“I can’t tell you when you’ll get a wife,” said Hanno. “I just know how not to get one…and besides…being single can be pretty great. You only have yourself to answer to and take care of. Just be patient…things work themselves out in the end.”

O’Donnell, Clarice and Hanno parted, all receiving hugs and conciliatory remarks from O’Donnell. Hanno then went back to his group.

“Looks like you won,” said Bella with a smile.

“Hopefully,” said Hanno. “It’s a small victory…but every one counts. Especially in a place like this.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Eirinn Go Brach

“Those who shout the loudest represent the fewest,”- Rian Forster, “The Protest” (1969)

March 17, 2017,
18:37 local time,
Doyle’s Shipyards,
Boston Port, Republic of St. Daniel’s

(Dropkick Murphys- I’m Shipping Up to Boston (2005 Epitah Records))

It was a pleasant day at the supply depot for this quaint seaside community, thought the depot’s lone security guard.

Then the murders began.

Before he had time to react, the guard was shot in the head by a sniper located on one of many amphibious assault vehicles headed toward Boston Port. The guard died instantly, and though the other workers at the depot heard the gunshot, today being St. Patrick’s Day, they mistook it for fireworks.

As the assault team approached the harbour, they made quick work of the Boston Port Police, a tiny force that was only meant to service the small town, not fight an army. The team then landed at the harbour, docking at the depot where they would really get to work.

With the rest staying outside to guard the perimeter, communications jammers were placed outside before a dozen soldiers entered the facility. Each carried assault rifles and were more than capable in their use. They were not clothed except for a thong and a head covering with ornamental wings that only exposed their eyes, though strapped on to their legs were various small belts that contained additional weaponry. The women in the group wore tiny string bikinis that barely provided coverage, as well as masks that looked like a bearded Highlander, in addition to also wearing the soldiers’ other clothes.

The only ones in the group who did not wear a mask were the group’s three leads, joint second in command Josephina, a redhead, and Harold Tulock.

...and their leader, Sinn Fein, whose imposing muscular frame he adorned with a vibrant tattoo of a winged druid. He was the most experienced soldier of the bunch and the most capable, using his prowess to assert his dominance over his crew.

As the team entered the work areas, Fein barked at each of the workers, all in various different states of celebration- stereotypically so, thought Fein, as many were drunk- of today’s events. He ordered them all to march in front of him, eventually taking all the workers within the depot- some 56 people- to the expansive boiler room, which provided the depot with power.

“It’s too hot in here,” said some of the workers, not used to the room’s excruciating heat. Some of them even started to take off their clothes before Fein started barking again.

“Silence!” he bellowed, “and put back on your clothes.” He watched with stern eyes as the workers did so.

“Now,” he said in a much calmer tone, which brought out his thick Ulsterian accent. “If you cooperate with me, you might make it out of here alive.”

“Who are you? What do you want from us?” asked one man, a rotund, balding pale-skinned man wearing lots of St. Patrick’s Day paraphernalia, which drew Fein’s ire.

“My name is Sinn Fein,” started Fein, who was then promptly interrupted by the rotund man.

“Sinn Fein?” he said. “Your name is ‘Ourselves’?”

“That’s right,” said Fein, as if the answer was obvious.

“How can you be so full of yourself that you’d call yourself ‘Ourselves’?”

Fein, expressionless, responded by shooting him right between the eyes, killing him instantly.

“Does anyone else dare to question me?” he said, scanning the room. The scared, stunned workers all shook their heads for a “no” answer.

“Good,” said Fein with a smug smile.

“Now, as I said,” he continued. “My name is Sinn Fein. I, like the rest of my crew here, are proud, ethnic Irishmen and Irishwomen. We came out here today to strike against the destructive Irish stereotypes, ones perpetuated by your silly, ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ parties. It is you that forever cast all of Ireland as nothing but a group of drunkards who are lazy and good for nothing except to get into trouble.”

“Really?” said an older woman, who wore green but was otherwise not dressed in St. Patrick’s Day paraphernalia. “I don’t think that at all...I think of the Irish as a fun group of people that love to party and have a good time. I don’t think any of you are lazy.”

Fein casually shot her in the head, killing her instantly.

“St. Patrick’s Day should be a day I fill myself with pride,” said Fein. “Instead, it is a day I fill myself with dread, knowing that the rest of the world uses it as a petty excuse to get drunk and avoid their responsibilities. Meanwhile, too many of my Irish brothers and sisters toil in abject poverty, because they have to deal with the realities your stereotypes have brought upon them. You may think this is all ‘harmless fun’, but you do that viewing it from your privileged lens and fail to see the reality of your actions.”

Fein took a deep breath and then spoke with passionate indignation.

“Well, no more!” he bellowed. “No longer will I allow this malfeasance to continue. No longer will St. Patrick’s Day ‘parties’ be allowed to continue. No longer will anyone desecrate the Irish name and our people. No! Today, I begin the journey that returns us to glory!”

“Okay,” nervously said a young man, slightly tanned and dressed in a dress shirt. “Let us help you with’re right, St. Patrick’s Day does cast the Irish in a bad light.”

The man then reached for his plastic bowler hat, tinted green, took it off and threw it on the ground.

One of the female soldiers took notice of his show of defiance.

“I’m glad that you see the light,” said the soldier who flashed a warm smile as the young man began to pant nervously. The soldier proceeded to walk towards the man, staring into his eyes with an alluring look.

As she walked up to the man, two other soldiers ran beside him and held his arms, immobilizing him.

“Please, please,” he pleaded, “don’t hurt me! I have a daughter...she needs to see her daddy again! She’s only eight...her mother died last year...I’m all that’s left!”

The man continued hyperventilating and began to sweat, watching with anxiety as the female soldier was nonplussed by what she heard. She continued to walk towards him, slowly but methodically, until she found herself right next to him.

At this stage, she knelt down and started to undo his pants.

“No no no!” begged the young man, helpless as the soldier slid down his pants. She then grabbed his penis and began to stroke it, sometimes even licking it, as the young man grimaced at what was unfolding. Whoever this group was, he thought, he never believed he’d see a group so brazen.

Eventually, the young man’s penis got erect, and the soldier had a fun time sucking on it, even though the young man wished she didn’t. Much to his chagrin, she aroused him to the point where he exploded with ejaculate inside her mouth, a load the soldier loved to swallow.

As she did so, she emphasized every movement, just to maximize the psychological effect she was having.

“I like this guy,” she said. She looked back at Fein who gave her a nod, allowing her to pull out a syringe and plunge it into his neck, making him lose consciousness.

After the other soldier dragged back her new conquest, the other soldiers present were eager to get into the fun as well. They went in groups of three and targeted workers they liked- men and women alike- and gang raped them, all while the rest of the depot staff watched on in horror, helpless as the other soldiers kept them from helping out their colleagues. Five men and six women were “enjoyed” by the soldiers, suffering the same fate as the first worker the soldiers had captured. They were destined to become concubines in the group’s harem, a harem the group justified by believing “the world has made Ireland its slaves”.

Then Tulock and Josephina had their own fun with two other hapless workers, before Fein himself stepped into the fray.

Sensing a grand moment, the room was silent as Fein looked into the crowd and picked out a target. He eventually settled on a buxom redhead, Fiona Kjallstrom, the depot’s secretary, and zeroed in on her. He began to undo her blouse and exposed her cleavage, before running his hands on her breasts. He stood over her, expressionless, as the crowd looked on, anxious.

“I’m going to enjoy you later,” he said with an ominous smirk before sticking a syringe in her neck and rendering her unconscious.

He then barked at his soldiers and told them it was time to go, which caused another soldier- a young man who was a recent recruit- to beg to let Fein let him have a choice.

“Sir,” he said, “I’m sorry…I got nervous.”
“I understand,” said Fein. “You’ve never done this before. Go have your choice…but be quick.” He then gave the young soldier a nod, causing him to run at the crowd in excitement.

The young soldier picked out a svelte brunette, exhibiting so much strength that he held her down all by himself. His boisterousness got the better of him while he was raping her, ripping open her vaginal and uterine arteries and causing massive bleeding. Not realizing this, he pulled out his syringe before Fein took aim and shot her dead.

“Hey!” screamed the young soldier, “why’d you do that?”
“You ripped her up,” said Fein coolly. “She was going to bleed out in seconds…you gotta learn when you’re raping someone you can’t just go in like a jackhammer…you gotta be smooth and gentle. There’s no rush.”

The young soldier nodded in acknowledgement while the rest of the depot’s workers gasped, horrified at the callousness of the soldiers.

The soldiers carried on, bringing in a few large baskets which they would use to carry out their new concubines. A few others were selected and sedated, bringing the total group of concubines to 22- 14 women and 8 men.

When the baskets were filled, they were rolled out to one of the depot’s cargo planes, which the soldiers had hijacked. The remaining depot workers were then ordered against the wall along the far corner, all lined up in single file.

Fear gripped the workers, many of whom tried to protest and fight back but the soldiers quickly subdued them. With the depot workers left as a quivering, anxious bunch, Fein made one last address.

“I think most of you understand your fate,” said Fein. “Don’t worry, your friends will be treated well. They paid a price for your transgressions with their freedom, just like you will pay with your lives. Let today serve as a reminder to the wider world that Ireland will never accept a role of subservience ever again.”

The soldiers then cocked their machine guns and aimed them at the crowd. They all then readied their guns and waited eagerly.

Fein then knelt down and recited a prayer:

“Morrigan Morrigan Three times Three,
Hear the words I ask of Thee.
Grant me vision, Grant me power,
Cheer me in my darkest hour.
As the night overtakes the day,
Morrigan Morrigan Light my way.

Morrigan Morrigan Raven Queen
Round and round the Hawthorn Green.
Queen of beauty, Queen of Art,
Yours my body, Yours my heart.
All my trust I place in thee,
Morrigan Morrigan Be with me...”

Jospehina then released a raven as Fein walked back to the group. He then turned to the crowd.

“Eirinn Go Brach!” he shouted.

The soldiers then pumped their cartridges into the hapless workers, killing them all in a bloodbath the world would not forget.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Scourge of Idealism

“The only difference between an extremist and a visionary is their ego.”- Publius Marcus, speech (1745)

March 6, 2017,
08:11 local time,
South Beach District,
Miami, Florida

“We must not let this get to our heads,” said Erasmus to a roaring crowd in a video recorded earlier. “We still have a lot of work to do, and if we want change to occur, we must work to make it happen!”

He says the right things, thought Danforth Grayson, watching Erasmus’ speech on his phone while lying on the beach, but will he do the right things? Being a visionary and being able to act on it are two different things.

“Genera Fallang is a smart woman,” said Anatu, the Assyrian Empress, delivering an impromptu press conference on her way inside the Assyrian Palace in another video that Grayson decided to watch. “I’m happy for the Casaran people and I wish them well on their new endeavour. “I know that there are some things I disagree with her on, but, as always, I’m certain there will be areas that we will see eye to eye on, and that is what I wish to focus on. Good day.”

He then read a text message he received.

Julia Pearl met with lawyer Daniel Hanno, noted Grayson. I wonder what that was about...Sinn Fein, Leroy Simms, maybe? Ryan Tolliver, perhaps?

Grayson then shut off the videos and hibernated his smartphone.

So Erasmus is leading the polls to become the next Roman Emperor, he started to ponder, lying on his beach towel and enjoying the soothing Sun. Well, he talks a tough talk and he sure sounds like he’ll have more fortitude than Valerius ever did. Sounds like he’s going to need it, because that Genera woman is going to be quite the handful, and Anatu can’t fight the good fight by herself. What a coup that is for Virtue…the world’s third strongest power joining the second and a host of other nations to really tilt the balance of power in Virtue’s favour. It makes sense, because the alt-left, they’ve really taken hold in Virtue and North America and it’s only a matter of time before it permeates elsewhere in the world.

I mean, those guys, the alt-left…they sound so nice. Their values are so wonderful…it almost makes you want to join them, don’t you? I mean, seriously, who could be against fighting rape and racism? Those are good things, right? Sure sounds better than Juan Castro and those Nathanites, who seem to think that men are nothing more than cavemen who are entitled to everything. Yet, the alt-left…and Castro for that matter…they still do it wrong…they want to throw out the rulebook and police every thought and action, snuffing out even the slightest instance of impropriety. Talk about your society that walks on eggshells…sheesh.

Grayson let out a sigh before continuing his thoughts.

I guess as long as it’s talk then it’s no big deal, but some of those guys- Haylie Modine especially- all they want to do is fight. I’d be very afraid for this world if it ever came down to that. Of course, if they’re doing the right thing, should it matter?

“Yeah,” said Grayson, now thinking out loud, “but what does it mean to do the right thing?”

August 21, 2015,
03:49 local time,
Mason Jeffrey’s home,
Thompsonville, Birea

Connie Hedberg slept soundly. A contented housewife, the svelte blonde snuggled next to Mason Jeffrey, the two wrapped in a warm embrace. She had an odd journey to this point, but Mason eventually became the love of her life.

It was something she couldn’t have been happier for. Just three short years ago, she was struggling on the streets of Malmo, forced from her home by her mother’s vengeful paddle. She would be forced in her new state to accept sex from random strangers- many of whom weren’t exactly kind to her- just to have a place to sleep at night. Every day passed, Connie hoping for something different, but it always the same. Panhandling by day, raped at night, and then off to another corner of the city to try it all over again.

Sometimes, Connie told herself, that the people she interacted with truly were different. Sometimes, there would be that sweet old man who came by with fast food, allowing her to not have to worry about dumpster diving that day. He’d then invite her to his apartment, where he’d let her take a shower. Connie would revel in the fact that she had the opportunity to wipe all the grime and dust off her, and finally get to feel like a truly beautiful woman. The old man would give her a change of clothes and a bed, and Connie would fall asleep content.

Until that dirty old man slipped into bed with her while she was sleeping, calmly but quietly undoing their clothes and running his hands all over her naked body, before deciding he had a free opportunity.

Connie would then be jarred awake, shocked and confused, but ultimately helpless because the man had already conquered her with his penis. She was left with little choice but to let him finish, where he’d wake up with a satisfied, toothy grin and she’d be left to cry herself back to sleep.

In the morning she would flee, but the only thing it did was drag her back to another “nice” man who was only helping her just for free sex.

She always told herself she’d end this cycle...but street life was so stressful and so dangerous that the first man who pledges to help you becomes too tempting to pass up.

Eventually she came to realize that being raped in a bed was better than sleeping alone on a dirty slab of concrete…at least it was better on her back. While it helped her stay relatively physically healthy, the toll it took on her dignity and soul was immeasurable.

So when she chanced upon the Order of St. Germain Cousin while running away from another rapist, she jumped at the opportunity. There she met doctors who examined her and brought her back to health, giving her proper nourishment and making her feel how she was before she left for the streets. They oddly paid a lot of attention to her genitals, but, she figured, she likely wasn’t the first street urchin they believed was sexually assaulted. Her handlers then told her she had to have an abortion, which shocked Connie but she didn’t protest. Lucky they found it, she thought at the time, relieved she didn’t have to use a coat hanger and hurt herself like so many of her peers did.

She then filled out a questionnaire asking many personal questions, mostly on her feelings on dating and relationships. She was told that, if she liked, she’d be matched with a man in Birea, someone she could talk to and “approve” before being sent to him. She proved picky, but she pressed on as she liked the idea. A few months later she found a match and flew to his house, a man who turned out to be Mason.

Connie, upon leaving the plane, suddenly became frightened, getting cold feet about the whole scheme. Something didn’t feel right, she thought, and though her traffickers were all kinds of nice and respectful towards her and eased many of her concerns about the process, she her intuition told her that something was just going to go wrong, just like everyone else said about human trafficking.

Until she saw something in Mason.

Mason, a goateed, stocky man whose pale skin sunburned easily, wasn’t like many Birean men. He never bought the cultural idea that stated he always had to be mean to women and treat them as a slave- harsh treatment always led to resistance, and he just could not bring himself to mistreat another human being. Yes, he did go to the Order because it promised him what the demographic reality of Birea could not- a wife- but he trusted that the Order would deliver on their promise to find him a woman he would like. He also figured if he was nice and respectful to her, she might fall in love with him and give him the companionship he always wanted.

If that didn’t work out, Mason figured he could at least give the woman he bought a better life, and maybe she would fall in love with one of his friends if she didn’t fall in love with him.

Fortunately, Mason and Connie hit it off almost immediately, as their personalities truly were compatible. Connie was a vibrant spirit that helped calm his many nerves, and Mason was the caring, attentive one, the only man Connie had ever met who “got her”.

She, just like Mason, couldn’t have been happier about it. Mason truly was a saint, doing everything he could to take care of her needs and truly make her feel special. He celebrated her birthday and many other occasions and helped her out with the household chores, sometimes doing them himself if Connie wasn’t up for the task. He even taught her some self-defence moves so that Connie could feel more confident when she stepped outside of the house and drove into town on her own, the only woman in Thompsonville who did so. He never stopped her from developing friends and often let her spend time with them, alone.

In short, he trusted her, because she was his world…and Mason determined to make Connie his queen.

For the first time in quite a while, in their quiet house on the hilltop, Connie felt that she was home.

February 14, 2017,
21:14 local time,
The Maiden’s Bourbon,
Vancouver, Cascadia

Carl Ratzinger sat at the bar, hunched over, his beer mug having barely been touched. It had been a rough go for him over the past few years, as he travelled extensively in a bid to “find himself”. The 23-year-old longed to establish himself as an adult, desperate to prove his father wrong and establish that he truly could live on his own.

He was always coddled, Carl was, not surprising given he was an only child. His father raised him by himself, and, in overdoing his responsibilities, his father was a relentless micromanager of Carl’s life. Carl knew that Paul did so to make him feel safe, but it still took an incredible toll on him and his psyche.

Just once, Carl often thought, he’d like it if he could go out on his own or whip up a meal or even watch TV without Paul asking a hundred questions about it. Carl understood it when he was younger, but as he got older he thought that Paul might actually understand- for a change- that Carl knew what he was doing, at least in some cases.

Yet it never happened, so by the time Carl hit 18 he decided he had enough. He took his meagre savings and left his home on a whim, vowing never to come back. He was engaging enough that he quickly found work wherever he went, which allowed him to travel to the next place that Carl felt drawn to.

It was fun at first, but Carl began to think that maybe it was time to settle down. Vancouver seemed like a nice place, and while the weather wasn’t quite like California, it was still more palatable than the harsh Ontario winters he had been used to. Plus, it was cheaper than Los Angeles while offering many of the same benefits, so the call to stay in this idyllic location moved him.

Unbeknownst to Carl, a few seats down were two women, both young like he was. They were having a much better time, gleefully gulping down shots and throwing back other drinks that they became very boisterous. The other men at the bar soon took notice, many wondering if they’d be able to score a date with them.

An hour into Carl’s stint staring at his drink, the two women again went back to the bar and ordered another drink. In their drunken state, they forgot to pay attention to the bar and didn’t see their drinks arrive. This gave one man a perfect opportunity to get beside Carl and slip a vial of liquid into one of the women’s drinks, slipping away unnoticed.

One of the women started to get woozy, which caused her friend to panic. There was much yelling and screaming, to which the barmaid quickly paid attention to, but Carl had managed to tune it out- he had been to enough bars to know that commotions were a common occurrence. He was caught off guard when the more stable woman tapped him on the shoulder.

“Did you just spike my friend’s drink?” said the woman, looking at Carl with an icy glare and venom in her voice.
“Um, what, excuse me?” said Carl, dumbfounded by the accusation but refusing to turn to look at her. “I respect your consternation but rest assured I would not do such a thing.”
“Really?” said the woman, putting her hands on her hips. “Do you really think I’m going to fall for that?”

Carl shook his head and got up. He turned around and finally looked at her, pursing his lips.

“Look, miss,” said Carl, as politely as he could. “I just wanted to come here to take my mind off things…it’s obvious your friend has just had too much to drink…happens to all of us…so, please, respectfully, I do not wish to be a part of your drama.”
“I’m sorry!” said the woman, forcefully grabbing Carl’s arm and stopping him from walking away. “You don’t get to choose what drama you’re a part of when you started it!”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Carl with a chuckle. “I’ve been spending the last hour staring at my drink…I didn’t even know you were here until you touched me…which I really don’t want you to do.”
“Oh, so you don’t like it when a woman touches you,” said the woman, refusing to let go, “but you can totally spike a woman’s drink…that’s perfectly OK!”
“I never said I don’t want women touching me,” said Carl, “I just don’t want you to do it…a simple request you seem unable to fulfill.”
“Because I’m not letting the man who poisoned my friend to get away,” said the woman.
“I’m sorry,” said Carl, trying to pull his arm away but failing, the woman’s grip stronger than he thought, “but I really don’t wish to be involved in your fanciful delusions.”
“Fanciful?” said the woman, incensed. “Is that what you call what happened to my friend? I’m going to guess that you’ll tell me if only she didn’t have too much to drink she wouldn’t be in trouble. Right? RIGHT?!?”
“Well,” said Carl, “the perils of overdrinking are well established and-”

Before he could finish the woman delivered a hard, painful slap to his cheek, which would leave a mark.

Shortly afterwards, a security guard came over and confronted the pair. Meanwhile, the man who actually spiked the drink fled the scene, realizing the commotion meant he could not kidnap the drugged woman as he wanted to.

“Is something going on here?” said the guard, a towering man with a shaved bald head and piercing eyes.
“This monster drugged my friend’s drink!” said the woman, forcefully poking Carl in the chest. “I saw him do it!”

That was all the guard wanted to hear, grabbing Carl’s arm with such force that it started to tingle.

“That’s it?” said Carl in disbelief. “You’re just going to take her at her word? I don’t get a statement in my defence?”

The guard was unmoved, refusing to answer Carl while dragging him out of the club. There waiting for him was the police, who wasted no time in handcuffing him.

“This is a disgrace!” shouted Carl, tearing in anger as the police applied their handcuffs. “I’m an American! I have rights! You can’t do this!” Carl then tried to hold his ground, continuing to prattle about the denial of his rights and how the woman could have been lying or that the security guard might have identified the wrong man. He even threw in a jab at newly elected American President Haylie Modine, who pledged to review due process laws in a bid to end “rape culture”. The police tried to be patient but even this ran out. One officer decided she had enough, clenching her fist and cold-cocking Carl in the face, dazing him to such a point that allowed the police to haul him away.

February 16, 2017,
10:05 local time,
Vancouver Police, Robson Street Division,
Vancouver, Cascadia

“The Constitution of the American Confederacy is very clear,” said Counsel Betty Siren of the Vancouver Public Defenders association. “You can’t just detain someone without just cause, and you certainly can’t deny them their rights.”
“Madam,” said Robson Street Captain Julian Miles, “we’ve got multiple witnesses who say that your client drugged Alicia Waterstone’s drink. We’ve got just cause.”
“Don’t give me that,” said Siren. The ebony-skinned woman of average build sat back in her chair and folded her arms, delivering an icy stare into her adversary’s eyes.

The stocky, pale-skinned Miles could only chuckle.

“If you seem so certain, why do you think Carl Ratzinger is innocent?” said Miles, folding his arms.
“I don’t have to prove innocence,” said Siren, “you have to prove guilt, and you can’t do that. Both witnesses- Waterstone’s friend, Rebecca Coddler or security guard Revis Gladside- gave wildly conflicting testimonies, Coddler was drunk, neither could say definitively they saw Mr. Ratzinger spike Waterstone’s drink, Mr. Ratzinger was not found with any substance or vial on his person, a search of his apartment turned up no substances, his social media, Google searches and his contacts provided no evidence that he was even remotely interested in finding a drug to rape a woman, nor would any of his contacts be able to facilitate that request. He also has a clear criminal record, and none of his female contacts ever believed he’d be a danger to them or any of their friends. He’s about as clean and law-abiding a citizen as you could ever find.”

Miles chuckled.

“He does have a lot of pictures of women in various positions of bondage and submission,” said Miles simply.

Siren couldn’t hold back her disbelief.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” she retorted. “Some artwork? How many millions of people view and indulge in that kind of work without raping women? Huh? How many? No court of law will ever accept that argument.”
“You know, there’s lots of literature that states men who view pornographic material may eventually become sexually deviant themselves,” said Miles.
“I’ve read those studies too,” said Siren. “Almost all are self-reported, the effects are never long-lasting, and all fail because correlation does not equal causation. Besides, it’s the old ‘chicken and the egg’ argument- does pornography create objectification or are objectifiers drawn to pornography?”

Siren got up and paced, throwing her hands in the air. She then turned around and put her hands on her hips before pointedly addressing Miles.

“Look, Julian,” she said. “I, as much as anyone else, do not want anyone to get raped. I don’t want anyone to get sexually assaulted. Heck, you know I’ve dealt with some pretty bad men out there and you know I’ve got personal experience with misogyny and hate.

“You know what, though? We’re not going to get anywhere if all we do is pander to emotions and resort to ridiculous arguments and generalizations. We lose all our credibility if we round up innocent people and accusing them of doing things they’d never dream of doing. You’re just asking for the hate you want to eradicate to proliferate.”

Miles could only laugh.

“You spin a good yarn, Betty,” he said tersely, “but I think it is you that doesn’t understand the problem. Too many men are ticking time bombs of abuse just waiting to happen…Haylie’s right, it’s not an issue we can sweep under the rug. Besides, so many instances of abuse fail to be properly prosecuted because they occur when there are no witnesses, giving attackers a ‘free rein’. Face it, Betty, the ‘evidence-based’ society just is inadequate to deal with sexual assault and harassment, so we have to be hard on it. If we have to round up a few innocents but wind up eradicating rape, I’d say the effort was worth it.”

Siren’s eyes widened as she let out a huff.

“You say that,” said Siren, “until you’re the innocent that gets their life destroyed.”

May 19, 2016,
17:32 local time,
Mason Jeffrey’s home,
Thompsonville, Birea

“There you go,” said Mason, emerging from the kitchen with a hot bowl of pasta, placing it on the dining room table. “Fettuccine al carbonara…with extra olives, just the way you like it.” Connie smiled, motioning Mason over in order to give him a kiss. The two then peacefully had their dinners, engaging in rich conversation as they always had.

When the two of them were finished with their dinners, Connie got up with the intent of collecting the dishes, but Mason motioned for her to stop.

“It’s okay, honey,” he said. “You had a rough week…tonight I’ll do the dishes.”
“Are you sure?” Connie said, appreciative of Mason’s generosity but not desiring to take advantage of him.
“Really, honey,” said Mason. “It’s okay. I know how important that song is to you…go ahead and finish it. It’s no trouble for me.”

Connie then gave him a nice, soothing kiss in appreciation before bolting upstairs to her study. Mason knew she had a future in song writing- a future her parents often denied her- and encouraged her to pursue it. Mason was still her only fan, but his encouragement soon meant she gained more confidence in her abilities. Now, he felt, she was actually at a point where she could start recording and maybe even performing locally- if she could only finish a song! Mason often thought.

Once he finished the dishes, Mason went to a room in the basement, where he housed all his video games and his comics. Gaming was his release after long days at work as a mall security specialist, a job that he loved even though he worked with too many idiots. No one was allowed to bother him while he was in the room, as he turned off his phone so that he could focus on taking out his stress over Raiders of the Magic Crystal.

Well, one person was allowed to bother him.

“Hey Connie,” said Mason with delight as Connie walked into the room. “How’s the song coming along?”

Mason was perplexed when Connie didn’t respond, walking purposefully towards him. Mason watched as she slithered underneath the cords for his controllers and knelt down in between his legs. His surprise soon turned into elation, as Connie coolly undid his pants and used her hands and her mouth to start pleasuring his penis. Mason always loved her blowjobs, because Connie was the only woman he’d ever met who did them right, and this time was no exception. Sufficiently aroused, Connie worked hard sucking on his erect penis, stroking it with her mouth and refusing to let go until he climaxed.

Several minutes later, with Mason at the peak of ecstasy, Mason ejaculated. His sperm gushing into Connie’s mouth, a gush that Connie was only so willing to swallow completely.

Satisfied, Mason leaned back on his couch, letting out a very pleased sigh as he readjusted his pants. Connie then snuggled up next to him, wrapping her arms around Mason in a tight embrace.

“I had to thank you for tonight,” said Connie, resting her head on Mason’s chest.
“Connie,” said Mason with a grin, “it’s nothing…I’d do anything for you. You bring so much joy to my life that it’s only fair I give you a break every now and then. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.”
“Oh I know,” said Connie, looking up with a wide smile, “but tonight is different.”
“How so?” said Mason, his interest piqued.
“I actually finished my song,” said Connie with a grin of her own.
“Really, you did?” said Mason with excitement. “Can I hear it?”
“Of course,” said Connie, herself giddy with pleasure. “Come upstairs.”

Mason smiled with glee as Connie took his hand and led him upstairs. He was so proud of her, and he could not wait to hear the finished product.

February 20, 2017,
22:15 local time,
Vancouver Police, Robson Street Division,
Vancouver, Cascadia

Carl looked up, roused from his slumber. Though the bench he had to sleep on in his cell was hardly beneficial for sleep, the last week was so stressful on him that he got so tired that any surface would do.

Coming into his cell was Siren, who entered the cell alone. Carl quite enjoyed their talks, even though he was getting frustrated with the police for always finding some reason to keep him locked up. Tonight, he hoped, he was going to get different news.

“How are you doing, sugar?” said Siren, sitting on a chair in front of Carl.
“I’ll admit,” said Carl with a nervous chuckle, “it’ll depend on what you have to tell me.”

Siren sighed and pursed her lips, which Carl noticed immediately.

“What?” he said. “What is it?”
“Carl,” said Siren, “there’s no easy way for me to tell you this…”
“Tell me,” he said, starting to breathe heavily, “tell me what?”
“They’re talking about deportation,” said Siren with another heavy sigh.
“Depor-what?” said Carl in shock.

Carl glanced around the room aimlessly, still trying to process what he just heard. Deportation? he thought. Where would I go? I’m a North American citizen…born and raised. They can’t just throw me overseas…especially considering they haven’t a shred of proof that I’ve committed a crime. How could this happen to me?

“It’s a shock to me too,” said Siren, “but it’s because you’re an Ontarian, and Ontario isn’t a part of the American Confederacy.”
“Well that’s okay,” said Carl. “My dad…my dad lives in Ontario.” Carl actually didn’t like the thought of going back to live with his father but it was better than nothing.
“Unfortunately they can’t send you to Ontario,” said Siren. “You renounced your Ontarian citizenship three years ago and applied for the generic North American Union citizenship, which now doesn’t exist. Therefore, the only country of which you are a citizen of is the Vandal Kingdom.”
“The Vandal Kingdom?” said Carl, finding all this difficult to process.
“You were born in the Vandal Kingdom,” said Siren.
“Yes,” said Carl, “Icosium. I moved to Ontario when I was one. I never met my mother.”
“Well,” said Siren with a heavy sigh. “You might actually get your chance now.”

Carl’s eyes started to well up with tears, his body overcome with intense sadness.

“How can there be nothing you can do?” he said, tears oozing out. “I know no one in Icosium…I don’t even know if my mother is even alive…they…they…”

Carl then broke down in tears, burying his head in his hands. He cried for several minutes, which made it hard for Siren to keep her own composure.

“Carl,” said Siren, speaking softly. “Carl I know…I’m in shock about all this too…the way Haylie has run this country…it just makes no sense. She puts her zeal above reason and doesn’t realize she’s undermining her own problem.”

F*** Haylie!” shouted Carl. “F*** feminism! They ruined my life!

Carl again howled in tears, breaking down emotionally as the sadness over his dire situation completely took hold of him.

A distraught Siren could only look on, knowing there weren’t the words available that could comfort Carl.

“Please, oh please!” said Carl, crawling to Siren and grabbing a hold of her arm. “Please tell me you’ve filed some kind of motion that will block all this! This is insane!”

“I did,” said Siren assuredly, which relieved Carl. “I’m challenging your deportation as unlawful given that you haven’t yet been charged with a crime. It’s one of the few rights you actually do have.”

Almost on cue, a prison guard, two police officers and two Immigration & Citizenship Enforcement (ICE) officers entered Carl’s cell.

“Hold on, the judge that can decide on his case won’t be on the bench until tomorrow morning,” said Siren, getting in the way of the officers. “This is beyond unlawful.”

“Betty Siren,” said the prison guard coldly. “You are under arrest.”

“Under arrest?” said Carl, doing his best to dodge the ICE agents. “For what?”

“For filing too many frivolous requests,” said the guard as the officers applied handcuffs to a silent but defiant Siren.

“Is this how Haylie runs her country?!” shouted Carl after the ICE agents had tackled him and subdued him, “by arresting everyone who dares stand in her way? A liberal fascist is still a fascist!”

The officers were all unmoved, finishing their jobs and leading Carl to his inevitable fate.

February 21, 2017
23:04 local time,
Mason Jeffrey’s home,
Thompsonville, Birea

“I’m going to bed,” said Mason, getting up from the couch and kissing Connie on the lips. The pair had just finished having sex, a round both found deeply satisfying, as they always did. “Do you want anything from the fridge?”
“No,” said Connie with a smile. “I’m okay.”
“Good night then,” said Mason with a smile, giving Connie another kiss, which Connie extended briefly.

As Mason got himself prepared for bed, he couldn’t help but hear sirens in the distance, getting louder and louder. He wondered why they would be out in this area- it was so quaint and “removed” from everything he couldn’t recall the last time in his 20-plus years here that something of significance actually happened.

His curiosity soon turned to worry, as he realized that the amount of sirens meant that more than just a few police cars were on their way- he could have sworn he heard a military tank or two.

Worried, he rushed downstairs, desperate to bring Connie to safety.

“Connie!” Mason hollered, his blood pumping as he rushed down the stairs. “Connie!” Mason didn’t realize it, but Connie had fallen asleep on the couch.

“Connie!” Mason hollered again when he got down the stairs. He saw her asleep on the couch and turned to get towards her when his door suddenly burst open.

“Mason Jeffrey!” shouted Mundiali officer Zeke Coleman after successfully kicking down the door, freezing Mason in his tracks. “Mundiali! Don’t take one more step towards her! You’re under arrest!”

“Mundiali?” said Mason, confused as more officers- some of them Birean Police- came in behind Coleman, including his teammates Pascal Yves, PhD, and Zoe Parkes alongside team leader Galla Claudia. “Who the hell are you? I swear by St. Jasper’s grave that you don’t have any jurisdiction here!”
“Birea signed the Treaty of Buffalo,” said Claudia assertively. “We have jurisdiction here, and Birea has allowed us to arrest human trafficking customers like yourself and prosecute them.”

“Mason, I know this is a lot to process right now,” said Yves, calmly but sternly, “but we don’t have time to discuss the details…we just want to bring Connie back home safely.”

“Um, what?” said Connie, groggily. She squinted her eyes and did her best to regain her energy, but all the lights and the noise made her awakening especially rude. She also had difficulty processing what was going on, since everything seemed so quiet when she fell asleep.

“Connie,” said Parkes, walking towards her. Connie then recoiled against a pillow along the couch, which caused Parkes to pause her progress. “It’s okay…don’t be afraid…we’re the police…we’re only here to help.”

“Help?” said Connie. “I don’t understand…what did Mason do? What did I do? What did we do? We didn’t commit any crimes…we’re…we’re just a happy couple.”

“No Connie,” said Parkes assuredly. “You’re not a happy couple…Mason kidnapped you and used you for his own ends…”
Used her?” shouted Mason, interrupting Parkes and throwing up his hands wildly. “I did not use her! Did I go through human trafficking? Yeah…I did. I had no choice, though. You walk around the streets of Birea, you’re not going to find a single woman out there…when I contacted the Order, I hadn’t been on a date with a woman in ten years. So many of my friends have similar stories…if you want love in Birea, you have to do something drastic…like human trafficking. I know you guys in the rest of the world…you don’t understand why I would think that way…you only see what you see on TV, the chained women and the callous men…yeah, some of them are like that…”

Mason then paused, taking in a deep breath. Tears began to form in his eyes as he began to fear that this relationship, one that had done so much for him and given him so much joy, was going to be pried away from him by foreign idealists who had no clue what he went through. He then began to cry, as the thought of losing Connie felt more and more real, even though he hoped this was all just a bad dream.

“…but let me tell you something,” Mason said through tears. “Most of these human traffickers…they’re good people. Honest to good people. They cared about the women they were finding…just ask Connie.” Connie then nodded her head for “yes” that the officers paid little attention to while Mason continued on. “They were well fed…they were well treated…heck, they were well respected and they were never forced into any relationship…Connie chose me. I know there are a lot of Birean men who abused their wives and did all kinds of horrible things to them…I know we’re a society of people who are sick because we believe we have to hurt and abuse women to keep them ‘under control’ but know…but know that I didn’t buy into any of that…I believe in women. I respect them. Mistreating them is the last thing I would do.”

Mason turned and looked at Connie, who was already looking at him with awe, tears flowing from her eyes as well. Mason was going to continue his speech but he broke down in tears. Mason buried his face in his hands, causing Connie to get up and approach him to console him. Coleman was about to intervene before Claudia told him not to.

“Let them have their moment,” said Claudia, stopping Coleman with a hand on his shoulder. This caused the team to lower their weapons. “She doesn’t appear to be in any danger.”
“Guys,” said Yves, as the conversation turned into a whisper, “I’m not sure this is Stockholm syndrome…she’s looked at him tenderly this whole time…and look at their pictures…this isn’t someone who’s unwilling to be here.”
“Pascal,” said Parkes, annoyed. “You know better than that…Stockholm manifests in many different ways…it’s a survival mechanism…besides, he knows unbridled love and affection is the perfect way to control Connie.”
“I don’t know,” said Coleman, “usually in Stockholm cases even if the affection is genuine it’s almost always one-sided…they both willingly went for each other…they might actually be in love.”
“Seriously, guys?” said Parkes as she shook her head. “Have you guys forgot everything you’ve read about prostitution, human trafficking and exploitation?”
“All right guys,” said Claudia, motioning with her hand. “This is an interesting debate but now’s not the time to have it.”

Claudia then walked towards Mason and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Mason,” she said, softly but assuredly. “I understand you’re upset. I understand that you feel like the law isn’t on your side. I get that…I really do. There are lots of laws that I don’t understand why we follow them, and many times I wish we could just ignore them because then our society would be better for it…but, ultimately, if we are to have any order…we need to follow the laws.”
“Do you think human trafficking is one of those weird laws?” said Mason as he and Connie parted with one last squeeze.

Claudia lowered her gaze and let out a sigh before returning to eye contact.

“I’m not going to answer that question,” said Claudia. “I just know that resisting the law only destroys it.”

Mason then backed up, staring Claudia in the eyes with a menacing glare, which didn’t faze Claudia.

“This isn’t about the law,” he snarled. “This is about love. A natural feeling all of us have, male and female. Telling me I’m wrong to pursue it is in itself wrong, because we can all do it in a healthy way…and I have. I don’t care what it looks like to you foreigners…just because this isn’t a marriage I gained through ‘courtship’ doesn’t mean it isn’t legitimate.”

“Mason has been, without a doubt, the best person I’ve ever known,” said Connie assuredly. “It’s like God came to me and asked me everything I wanted in a man and He delivered…and then some. Yes, we had our differences…we’ve had our fights…but we always made up and we always sought common ground. Really, though…I can’t think of a more picture-perfect relationship than ours.”

Connie then glanced at the police officers with a steely glare.

“Say what you guys want,” said Connie, “but you don’t know us…and you never will.” She then looked back at Mason and shot him a sincere smile, which Mason caught and returned the favour before angrily looking at Claudia again.

“All right,” said Claudia, “enough’s enough. Mason…we can talk about your case. Get you some clemency or leniency…the Birean government, they’re still working out the details about this whole mess, I’m sure we can arrange something for you so that you two can resume your life together…but for now, we have to go.”

Mason shook his head and looked at Claudia with fire in his eyes.

“No,” said Mason. “No…I’m not going. The Birean government sold its soul to Virtue and Rome…I don’t trust you. Besides, I know what this is like…you guys give me some fake promises so that you can haul me off to jail, knowing full well that you’ll just forget about them later. Well, I ain’t falling for that.”

Mason turned to his right and saw his switchblade on the shelf. He grabbed it and opened it, expecting to be shot at it. He then punched Claudia in the face, knocking her to the ground, before raising his knife to stab Claudia. Before he could do so, Coleman, Yves and Parkes fired at him and shot him dead, as Connie shrieked in horror.

She then walked to Mason’s body, kneeling down beside it and cradling his head in her arms, sobbing uncontrollably as she did so.

“Oh why, oh why did you do this?” Connie said, overcome with emotion. “Mason, oh Mason...we’ve been through so much...why did you give up?

“...and you,” Connie said, turning to the officers, rage boiling in her eyes. “If you had any compassion, you wouldn’t have driven him to this!”
“Now Connie,” barked Coleman, “you don’t want to do anything stupid.”
“Oh this isn’t stupid,” said Connie, eyeing the knife in Mason’s hand and reaching for it. “If he died for me then I’m dying for him!”

She then grabbed the knife and plunged it into her chest despite the howls of protest from the officers. She was felled instantly, but because the rage made her jittery, the knife missed her heart, meaning after the medics tended to her, she would survive.

In the meantime, Yves couldn’t help but give Parkes one last knowing look.

“Do you still think that’s Stockholm syndrome?” he said, as all Parkes could do was look on.

March 5, 2017,
02:12 local time,
The Casbah,
Icosium, Vandal Kingdom

Although the Sun was hot, Carl was cold. Ever since he landed in Icosium, he hadn’t been able to shower or change his clothes, and, over time, the dampness of his sweat accumulated. He shorn his shirt of its sleeves and reduced his pants to khakis, but not even that would be enough to provide him relief. He eventually decided to strip down to his underwear, refusing to doff that part because Carl wanted to believe he still had a shred of dignity left.

He had no home, as, to his dismay, Carl learned his mother passed way over 15 years ago and thus he had nowhere to go. He thus was reduced to the life of a street urchin, forced to forage for whatever he could and beg others for what he could not find. He carried with him a small switchblade, using it for protection, although as days dragged on and his despair mounted, the idea of using it to threaten the more fortunate grew in his mind every day. At first, he was visible on the street corners, being nice and polite to the passersby in the hopes that they would return their kindness, but it soon evolved into a false hope.

The Vandals, he found, were even colder than anyone he had ever met in Ontario, owing in large part to the country’s strange criminals. Where in other countries people could generally assume a beggar on the street is really just a beggar, in the Vandal Kingdom, many often saw it as a ruse for a robbery or worse, a kidnapping. In fact, the criminal faction- called the “Superkriminelle”- had such a knack for creativity that the Vandals were often distrustful of each other, even people they knew very well- after all, no one could ever tell in this strange world whether or not someone’s actions were genuine or just part of another long con.

Except, Carl found, on the streets, because the homeless had far too much to worry about to engage in deception. He bonded with many of them, and together they helped each other find places to sleep and find food to eat, aided at times by the local outreach centre. Sometimes they would rob a passerby out of the frustration that none of them wanted to help, an action Carl soon accepted as an inevitability.

Tonight, at his usual street corner, he saw a new face. A young woman with glistening burgundy locks and glowing ivory skin, covered in an array of blankets. Carl thought she was beautiful, but he struggled to make a move until the woman called him over.

“Don’t worry, hotshot,” said the woman, patting the ground next to her inviting Carl to sit with her. “I don’t bite.”
“You don’t bite?” said Carl, sitting down next to her. “I’m somewhat disappointed,” Carl continued with a nervous chuckle.
“Sorry I don’t bite on the first date,” said the woman with a wry smile.

Carl laughed, warming up to the woman. He was particularly struck by the scent of her hair and didn’t hesitate to take a whiff.

“Are you a natural?” Carl asked, flashing the woman a warm smile.
“A natural?” she asked, appreciating Carl’s smile but still confused about what he meant.
“Yeah,” said Carl. “A natural redhead.”
“Oh,” said the woman, who readjusted her hair, showing some blonde streaks. “Yeah…I’m a natural. I get it from my mother.”
“Where’s your mother from?” said Carl.
“Ontario, actually,” said the woman. “This strange little place in North America.”
“I used to live in Ontario,” said Carl, starting to get a little excited. “The country…not the city in California.”
“I’m talking about the country too,” said the woman. “It’s nice…I’ve been there a few times.”
“Oh wow,” said Carl, beside himself that he was talking with someone half a world away who knew his long time home. “So, where did you visit?”
“Kendallville,” said the woman. “It’s south of Toronto.”

Carl began to think something wasn’t right, but decided to continue playing along.

“Kendallville,” said Carl. “I wasn’t aware of such a place.”
“It’s a small town by the lake,” said the woman with a wistful chuckle. “It’s so small you won’t find it on any map.”
“...and it’s south of Toronto?” Carl pressed.
“Southeast,” said the woman unconvincingly. “Just a short drive, actually.”
“You’re not very good at this, are you?” Carl said, throwing the woman off her game.
“Excuse me?” said the woman.

“Look,” said Carl. “I lived in Ontario. Southeast of Toronto is Lake Ontario...the eastern part the is the Portlands. There is no place known as ‘Kendallville’’re either an undercover agent or you’re just a very bad liar. I like to think it would be the latter, since you seem pretty nice.”

The woman got up and threw off her cloak, emerging as a woman dressed in a white tank top and workout pants. Carl saw that she was muscular and well built, which she accented by flexing her arms, but Carl wasn’t fazed.

“OK,” said Carl, deadpanning. He thought the display was pointless, since it appeared to him that the woman was trying way too hard to be imposing. He also wondered how such a benign conversation could so enrage the woman like it seemed to.

“So you come here, chat me up and then when I say something you don’t like, you flex?” Carl said, still confused about the whole situation. “Besides, you don’t have much of a moral high ground…you tried to deceive me…I’m not really sure what you’re trying to achieve here.”

Carl stared at the woman while she offered no response, looking at him with a steely glare and clenching her fists. Sensing that she was all show and no action, Carl decided that she seemed like yet another crazy person, so he decided to get up and walk away. Before he took two steps, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see that the woman did it to get his attention, which she repaid by punching him in the face.

“What the…?” said Carl, feeling the part of his face that was just hit, grimacing in intense pain. “What was that for?” He then recoiled in pain before collapsing to the ground, as the pain shot up his jaw and gave him a massive headache.

“OK, OK,” said Carl, stammering as he saw the woman approach him menacingly. “What do you want? Do you want money? I don’t have money…well, I don’t have a lot of it…” The woman then raised her fist, which caused Carl to recoil even more on the ground.

“Please, please!” said Carl, cowering in fear. “Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you! Just please…tell me what you want!”

“You’ve been robbing people,” said the woman coldly. “You need to stop that.”
“…but, but,” said Carl. “I need to eat! We need to eat!”
“We all do,” said the woman, circling over Carl as if he were vanquished prey, “but we all need to secure it legitimately. Taking from others is not legitimate- they earned it, you didn’t.”
“They have so much,” said Carl, “and we have nothing…and they refuse to help.”
“It’s not their job to help you,” she said. “It’s your job to help yourself.”
“…but I am helping myself,” said Carl. “I gotta survive…this isn’t about me stealing a TV…this is about food. We all need to eat.”

The woman sneered at him and again circled him like a lioness on her prey as Carl could only look on, whimpering and cowering in fear. She then bent down and put her face right into Carl’s, which caused Carl to hyperventilate even more.

“Here’s what I know, scum,” said the woman. “People like you…you choose to be here. If you wanted to get out of this, you would have found a real job by now and would be working legitimately. Instead, you’re here, smelling filthy rotten, stealing other people’s hard earned cash. Why? Because you enjoy it. You won’t admit it…but secretly…you know you do.”

The woman’s words suddenly gave Carl a burst of energy, as he felt a rage inside of him that he never felt before. He got up and looked at the woman with fire in his eyes, clenching his own fists ready for the fight.

“You think I chose this?” said Carl. “I was deported…wrongfully convicted in Canada. I know no one here…I stepped off the plane and the authorities just told me to walk. All of my relatives are dead or living in Canada, a place I cannot go back to because of the backwards politicians that exist there. I tried to get a job here, but nobody wants to hire me- they all turn their backs on me after giving me their word, because no one trusts anyone in this place. Furthermore, I have no home because there is no home for me to go to, and the only friends I have ever gotten in this place are fellow street urchins like myself. Why? Because we’re too desperate to care about deceiving others like the rest of you loonies are!”

Carl then walked up to the woman and shoved her.

“Who do you work for?” he said, shoving her again. “Who do you work for? Tell me!”
“I’m just a concerned citizen,” said the woman.
“No you’re not!” shouted Carl. “You know too much about me…you studied me. You’ve been sent by someone to deal with me…I don’t know who.”
“Now what makes you think I’d tell you who I work for?” said the woman with a chuckle.
“Because I’m supposed to have rights,” said Carl. “A citizen of a country is supposed to have rights…to not be bullied by other people arbitrarily imposing their own laws. If you work for the police, you’re supposed to tell me and then tell me what crime I am being charged with. Otherwise, you are no better than the criminals you think you are fighting!”

The woman shook her head and offered no response. She then took a swing at Carl’s head.

Carl, though, was ready for it, dodging her swing before connecting with a swing of his own in her stomach. Before she could react, there was another blow on her face, with Carl now raining blows upon her body relentlessly. The woman didn’t at all anticipate Carl’s speed, and thus had no time to counteract anything Carl did to her.

Meanwhile, Carl, energized by his rage, continued to pound away at her, eventually getting her to the ground where he straddled her hips and rained blow upon blow on her face. The woman could do little except take the punishment, hoping there would be a point where Carl got tired but there wouldn’t be. Sensing the woman was getting weak, Carl picked her up by her shoulder and violently threw her against the nearby store wall, bashing her head against it and making her collapse to the ground, momentarily losing consciousness.

Carl sensed that he was now in for the kill, but his rage wouldn’t allow him to finish her off with just a few blows to the head. He took off his underwear and used his knife to cut open the woman’s clothes, running his hands and his mouth all over her body and enjoying it thoroughly. He then delivered the ultimate humiliation for her, jamming his penis inside her vagina and ramming it many times inside her, climaxing amidst a pool of blood in its wake. The woman, now barely conscious, could only lay there, whimpering for Carl to let her live, even though she knew that it was futile. He beat her face beyond recognition, knocking out her teeth, before taking his knife and jamming it into her heart, killing her right there.

He then backed off of her and took in the bloody mess he had just created. He looked on in shock, wondering just what came over him to do that to the woman. People had crossed him before but he never reacted like this. What, he thought, made this so different? Did something change? Was he no longer the man that he used to be? How could he be capable of such a thing?

He collapsed in its wake, curling up into a ball and crying uncontrollably, sobbing and asking himself how he could be capable of becoming the monster he had just become. I don’t deserve to live, he thought, his sobs becoming louder as the time progressed. He began to think that death sounded more and more attractive, and began to shout hysterically that he deserved to die and wished that someone would just kill him.

Another woman passed by the crime scene and was taken by what she saw. Her skin was as white as snow, and her body was fit and elegantly slender. She had blue hair tied back into a single ponytail, with red eyes and yellow lips. Her top was a bra held up by straps and a bottom lining that looked like chains, interlocking in the middle where a red patch shaped like a skull was present. Her torso was exposed, as well as her thighs, as all she had on her waist was two beaded hip scarves tied together and briefs. Fishnet stockings covered her bottom legs, with each topped by a blue patch in the design of a skull. The blue-haired woman was about to comment about how senseless the act was until she picked up a badge and presented it to Carl.

“Hey,” said the blue-haired woman, tapping Carl on the shoulder. He grimaced and recoiled even further on the ground. She bent down and rubbed his shoulder, speaking softly.

“What,” said Carl, hyperventilating, “what do you want? Whatever it is, just kill me!
“No,” said the blue-haired woman. “No…I can’t do that. You’re a hero to us all.”

Carl looked around and gave the blue-haired woman a confused look.

“I’m a…what?” he said, perplexed.

“Come with me,” she implored, grabbing his arm. “My apartment’s around the corner…they’re going to look for you.”
“Wai-wa-wait,” said Carl, refusing to get up. “Who’s they, and I’ve been deceived once already. I’m not falling for your tricks!”

Sirens could be heard in the distance, which prompted Carl to believe what the blue-haired woman was telling him. The allure of finding out how he was a hero kept him intrigued, as he hurried away with the blue-haired woman leading the way.

March 5, 2017,
06:12 local time,
Casbah Apartments,
Icosium, Vandal Kingdom

When he got to her apartment, he took a long shower, cleansing himself of the dirt, grime and blood that had accumulated from his attack. Part of him still felt like this was a ruse and that the blue-haired woman was associated with the woman he just killed, but he figured at this stage if she was friend or foe it wouldn’t matter- if she ended his life or prolonged it, it was a goal for him either way.

After he stepped out of the shower he grabbed the towel, but was too tired to dry himself. He then found a chair and sat in it, wrapping himself up with the towel.

As soon as he sat down, the blue-haired woman came to greet him. She kissed him on the cheek before kneeling in front of him. She attempted to open his towel before Carl intervened.

“OK,” he said, “too fast here. You still haven’t told me your name.”
“Well my real name is Casri Fallang,” said the blue-haired woman, “but around here, I got by Dauria.”
“Dauria,” said Carl, intrigued by the answer. “What does that mean?”
“It’s a portmanteau of my real name,” said Dauria, “and ‘death’ in Icelandic. My father is Icelandic and my mother is Genera Fallang.”
“She won the Casaran election just the other day,” said Carl.
“A month ago,” said Dauria, “but she’s done so much it does feel like a blur.”
“You don’t sound too pleased,” said Carl.
“Because I know my mother,” said Dauria.

Dauria sighed, the topic a difficult one for her to discuss. Carl began to relax, feeling her pain.

“I was born here, in the Vandal Kingdom, while my father and mother were on vacation,” Dauria explained. “They never got along…they were only together because they were having me.”

As Dauria bared her soul, Carl began to feel more comfortable, which relaxed his hold on his towel. Dauria saw his penis was exposed and began to stroke it slowly, which gave her and Carl an odd comfort.

“At first she told me that my father, Sigurd Halthorsson, was killed by robbers while we were on vacation,” said Dauria, continuing to stroke Carl’s penis, “and I believed it, because Genera was my mother and I had no reason to believe that my mother could lie to me.

“Until, one day I heard a story while I was in Casara. I was 14…the story was about Vandal superheroes, and how the Casaran government used them to get rid of people they didn’t like, because their laws wouldn’t allow for it. Part of that story was a segment on my father, where it was claimed ‘an unnamed Casaran’ accused him of raping her and, because she had no proof of the crime, she went to the Vandal Kingdom to hire a superhero to kill my father, which they did. I confronted my mother about the lie and she evaded me, so I found out the truth from a friend. Not only did my mother lie to me about how my dad was killed, she lied about the rape- they were really a young couple who had a fling- and worse still, I found out I was an accident. Furthermore, I found out that Genera really only used me to make a point- she became a radical Casaran, the kind of feminist that wanted to prove that men were superfluous and thus wanted to show that a baby could be raised without a dad. So she had him killed…and made up the rape to garner sympathy.”
“…and she’s used that to get all the way to the throne,” said Carl, intrigued and saddened by Dauria’s story while still enjoying his handjob.
“Fortunately because I was born in the Vandal Kingdom I could claim citizenship, so I did,” said Dauria. “Four years ago, when I was 16, I got tired of my mother’s antics and moved here. I became an outreach worker, because I wanted to find out more about the Vandal superheroes and why they killed my father. I found out it’s not just Casara that sends their unwanted here…it’s every country, because they know Vandal society is run by the superheroes, who can be convinced to do your bidding if you pay them enough.”

Dauria then saw that Carl’s penis was fully erect, so she opened her mouth and wrapped it around his phallus, sucking it with great delight. Carl sat there and closed his eyes, immersing himself in the pleasure of the fellatio, especially because Dauria did it so well. As Dauria continued to work, Carl could only get more excited, allowing his arousal to take over his entire body. She is a master at this, thought Carl, his breathing becoming soothed as he enjoyed Dauria’s work. Eventually Dauria worked so hard that Carl climaxed with great effect, as a wondrous euphoria set in, a euphoria so wondrous he never knew his pleasure could reach such heights. He then ejaculated several times into Dauria’s mouth, an ejaculate Dauria was only so eager to receive.

“Which is why what you did was so special,” said Dauria after finishing the fellatio and swallowing his load. “You managed to kill the Red Fox, Icosium’s top superhero. No one in the Vandal Kingdom has ever killed a superhero before, and your friends on the street will be forever glad that you did.”
“Why?” said Carl, gleefully satisfied with the fellatio but troubled by Dauria’s statement. “It’s still murder, though.”
“The Vandal superheroes have gotten away with murder for years,” said Dauria. “Since they’re essentially only rivalled by the military within the country and that society relies on them to keep them safe, the superheroes learned they could bully the public and use them for their own needs. the Red Fox, in particular, has killed so many people, often over petty disagreements, and yet the Vandal Parliament does nothing about it, because they need her around.”

Carl sat and pondered what he heard. It disturbed him to think that the Vandals essentially “took out the trash” of other countries, but he wasn’t truly convinced that Dauria was his friend.

“How can I be sure I can trust you?” he said. “You said the guys on the street would know I killed the Red Fox…so too would the police. How do I know this isn’t a confidence trick and the police aren’t going to be banging on this door at any moment?”

Dauria lowered her head and sighed, knowing Carl would ask that question.

“If I had a way to answer that question I would,” said Dauria. “Unfortunately I don’t know how…trust is fickle, I can’t make you trust me. The only thing I can say is- sometimes you just have to believe, even if you don’t know.

“…but, if you really think about it…I let you shower. Wash away whatever evidence they could have to tie you to the crime. Your underwear is back at the scene, and it’s in so many pieces that no one could recognize them as yours. Not only that, but there’s so much blood and grime and other kinds of contamination on the ground where the Red Fox’s body was found that DNA testing won’t be conclusive.”

Dauria then walked to her dresser and picked up her lanyard, which contained her pass to get inside the outreach centre’s offices. Tears formed in her eyes and she presented it to Carl, who, after seeing her picture, realized he’d seen her before.

“If nothing else,” she said, with tears flowing from her eyes, “believe this. Know that you guys are like family to me, and that I’d do everything to help you. Know that…from deep within my heart.”

Carl was so taken by Dauria’s emotional display that he was at a loss for words. He finally believed that Dauria was trustworthy, so he leapt from his chair and wrapped his arms around Dauria and began to kiss her deeply, which Dauria reciprocated. Soon, their passions overcame them and they made their way to Dauria’s bed, where they had sex, spell-binding, fulfilling sex.

When they were finished, Carl and Dauria cuddled, holding each other’s naked bodies tightly against each other. Eventually they fell asleep in each other’s arms, with Carl vowing to help Dauria out. From that point on, Carl was a different man, one who vowed to show the world- and especially Genera Fallang- that the “trash” they discarded would be capable of doing things no one could ever think was possible.

For this, he decreed he was no longer Carl- he was The Rat, the symbol for the ultimate piece of human trash and the ultimate symbol to use to prove the world’s doubters wrong.

“If the law is to work, it must be a tool to protect from mob and not be a tool to serve them.”- Arinius Justus, “The True Republic” (1720)