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, maybe?

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)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Father of the Rat

“Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” –Alfred Pennyworth, “The Dark Knight” (2008)

January 29, 2017,
17:29 local time,
Imperial Study, Imperial Residence,
Sudbury, Ontarian Empire

“Mr. Castro,” said Ontarian Emperor Paul Ratzinger, standing and staring pensively out of his glass wall as Juan Castro entered the room. “I’m so glad to see you here.”
“I’m glad to be here too,” said Castro, beaming a wide smile as Ratzinger’s aides closed the large steel doors behind him.

Castro walked forward, slowly and carefully, taking in Ratzinger’s ornate and expansive quarters. As a muscular man who enjoyed the high life, there was very little Castro ever came across that actually intimidated him, but for the first time in a long time, Castro was struck with awe. It wasn’t because Ratzinger’s study was a unique style of ostentation- to Castro, it was actually quite tame- but because of the gravity of who Ratzinger was.

Mostly in a bid to stifle opposition and other threats to the government, Ontarian officials- right down to the lowest members of the Ontarian court- were officially nameless, their identities only known by the Emperor and the Imperial Guard. Very rarely did anyone speak in public, almost always communicating via press releases or Internet postings, with extra care taken to conceal the Emperor’s identity.

Not even Castro, one of the most well-connected men in the world, had ever met the Emperor or heard his voice, so Castro knew today was of special significance. What, he did not know.

Still, Castro did his best to hide his nerves, looking on calmly and keeping his hands behind his back. The Emperor paid him no heed, continuing to look outside of his tinted glass wall and stare, pensively.

“Have a seat,” said Ratzinger. “I didn’t bring it out for show.” The Emperor ordered an aide to get Castro a bottle of wine as Castro, who this time couldn’t hide his shock, took the seat in front of Ratzinger’s desk.

“Are you going to join me?” asked Castro. “I don’t like drinking alone.” He then flashed another smile in a feeble attempt to break the tension but the Emperor continued his pensive stare, unmoved.

A few more minutes uneventfully, upon which Castro decided to pour himself some wine. A few more uneventful minutes later and Castro started to drink from his glass.

“With all due respect, Your Highness,” said Castro, confused at what was happening. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t invite me to your desk just to watch you stare out of the window.”

The Emperor continued to stare before letting out a sigh. He was a bald man, physically fit in his old age, though his skin showed the signs of all the cosmetic surgeries he had to endure to wipe away the many wrinkles that formed on his face. He did his best to fight Father Time, even though he knew that it would ultimately be a losing battle.

“I understand Juan,” said Ratzinger, whose residence overlooked the serene waters of Lake Wanapitei, waters that calmed the Emperor. “It just takes me a while to collect my thoughts.”
“Collect away,” said Castro, beginning to get impatient. Ratzinger then sighed.

“You know I don’t have much time left,” said Ratzinger, turning around and looking right at Castro, his face still expressionless. “The disease that afflicts me has taken a hold of me in ways that I’m not sure I can overcome.”
“Oh,” said Castro, spooked by Ratzinger’s candid but emotionless display. Castro then understood the gravity of Ratzinger’s words, and did little to hide his concerns for the Emperor. “What kind of disease is it? I’m sure there’s a doctor somewhere that can help you…I know a few guys myself…I can give you their numb-”
“That’s all right,” said Ratzinger, brusquely but coolly interjecting. “I admire your empathy, but it is useless for the wider problem.”
“What would that be?” said Castro, intrigued by the Emperor’s sudden, if minor, display of weakness.

The Emperor sat in his chair, a big leather seat with a tall backside that made the chair look even more imposing. He then pulled out a vial himself and began to drink from it.

“I didn’t want to bring it up,” said Ratzinger, “because I know it was such a painful loss.”
“Painful?” said Castro. “Haylie Modine rigged that election against me…no way someone with 24% of the vote wins the Electoral College. No way.”
“It’s nice to know you get past things very easily,” said Ratzinger wryly.
“So you came here to rub it in my face, is that this is all about?” said Castro, not hiding his anger.

The Emperor’s aides all reached for their sidearm pistols before the Emperor motioned them to stop.

“No,” said Ratzinger. “That was never my intention. Haylie worries me too…but, strange as it may be, she won the Electoral College fair and square, even though her party tried to manipulate the process. The good news is that your American party prevents either the Unionists or the Federalists from having a majority in Congress, so whatever ideology she wishes to push, it’ll have significant difficulties.”
“Thanks,” said Castro, off put by Ratzinger’s remarks. “I guess?”
“My real concern is that this continent is at a crossroads,” said the Emperor. “We both know that no matter how much powers Congress claims to have it is really powerless and toothless…we, the states, have the real power, and that was no more evident than what happened this year. Roman influence is waning and Virtue tried to capitalize on it but failed, and failed miserably. Anatu in Assyria showed what the power of the people can do, and that the tide may just be turning against the superpowers.”
“So the time to strike is now,” said Castro, liking what he is hearing. “So where do I fit in?”

The Emperor took a liking to Castro’s eagerness and smiled.

“I want you to become the Chancellor of Ontario,” said Ratzinger. “I will cede decision-making authority to you, so that I can live my final days in peace and not have to worry about the stresses of having to run this Empire. Of course, I will retain reserve powers and will have the ability to veto any legislation I don’t like…but I will promise to you right now that I won’t interfere much, if at all…truth is, Juan, I need to retire, and you are the perfect person to lead Ontario while I do that.”

Castro leaned back, his eyes wide and his mouth agape, caught off guard by the Emperor’s words.

“I’d have to hide my name, though,” said Castro.
“No,” said Ratzinger. “You wouldn’t have to…I want you to be visible…for Ontario to become a world power it needs to start becoming ‘accessible’…of course, since you’re really just ruling in my name you can just claim you’re the messenger and no one will know better.”
“What about your family?” asked Castro. “Wouldn’t they be better in succession?”
“You’d think,” said Ratzinger. “I have a son…Carl. My original plan was to give the Empire to him but he…” Ratzinger leaned back and let out a sigh. “His youth is getting in the way…he’s too interested in the vices and pleasuring himself that I can’t convince him to take the reins.”
“Plus a guy like that,” said Castro, “you can never be sure will be responsible enough to be an effective governor.”
“You understand,” said Ratzinger with a smirk.
“Yeah,” said Castro. “I was once that guy.”
“Which is why I hope one day you can reach out to him,” said Ratzinger. “He loved your show, Modern Man…if anyone could reach him, it’s you.”
“Where is he?” said Castro.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Ratzinger. “We’ve only spoken on the phone within the past few years, and he’s always on a burner. I haven’t spoken to him in person in years.”
“That’s odd,” said Castro, “and he’s your son.”

The Emperor let out another sigh.

“Things are difficult to explain,” said Ratzinger. “Carl and I disagree on a lot of things…we haven’t always had the greatest of relationships…but I know that deep down inside, he’d like to repair things. He’s just in that phase, where he wants to ‘find himself’, so it makes sense to me that he rejects his family. Plus I know that I can’t make him want something, even though I know he needs it…he has to want it himself.”

Castro cupped his chin and rubbed it.

“Okay,” said Castro, “and what is it that you think he needs?”
“Power,” said the Emperor succinctly. “He’s an anti-social guy, stuck on the idea that if he causes enough of a ruckus in this world that the people will stand up and notice him. Which they will…but there’s only so much mayhem and destruction you can wrought before the people start fighting back. He needs to know that if the people really want to be beholden of him- and stay beholden to him- he has to gain control over them.”
“Where do I fit in?” said Castro, now intrigued by the Emperor’s words.
“If he sees you, the former playboy in power,” said Ratzinger, “it’ll show him that he still has heights he still needs to achieve.”
“All right,” said Castro with a smile. “I’ll do it. I’ll be your Chancellor.”

“Thank you,” said the Emperor with a very satisfied smile. “Carl is smart enough to rule the world one day…he just needs to take that next step.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Alliance: Nothing As It Seems

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”- James Baldwin, “No Name In The Street” (1972)

December 23, 2016,
04:15 local time,
Lincoln Park,
Chicago, Illinois

“I’ll call you in the morning,” said Helen Hofstrate on the phone, “If I can find the ornament I’ll bring it...I’ll see you soon. Bye Mom.”

The svelte brunette with the bright eyes and an even brighter smile walked down the street with confidence, ecstatic for the future. The nursing student had one more semester to finish at DePaul after which she had multiple offers for employment to consider. She had a loving boyfriend and a very supportive family, one that helped her stay afloat when she accumulated all that debt.

If only she could get the dog from chewing off the table legs, things would be perfect, she thought. Can’t have it all, I guess, she often thought.

As she walked, she felt the crispness of the cold Chicago air against her skin, which helped soothe and relax her from all of her stresses.

Suddenly, though, she was stopped in her tracks and let out a scream.

A baseball bat struck her and sent her to the ground, upon which almost immediately she felt the prick of a needle that injected ketamine into her system. Woozy, Hofstrate felt herself being dragged into the nearby bushes by her legs. Her vision was blurry, but she saw that she was in a small clearing. She didn’t see who her attacker was, but she felt his strong hands on her thighs, where she was being held up with one arm while another hand was fumbling around with the zipper to her pants.

As the attacker managed to undo her pants and pull them down, she let out an inaudible gasp, unable to muster the energy to scream. She then began to pant, extremely anxious for what was going to happen next, as she realized, below her waist, she was completely shorn of her clothes and there was nothing she could do to resist. She closed her eyes and kept breathing, trying to keep her composure, but there was little she could do when her attacker stuck his finger up her vagina and began to service it. She felt helpless as her body was getting aroused, even getting to a point where she reached orgasm.

With her vagina wet, her body aroused but her mind very confused, she let out a huge gasp as she felt her attacker’s penis penetrating her and began to thrust. Shock at this stage took over, as her brain was doing all it could to rectify what was happening. Eventually, the man sped up his thrusts, which sent her body into a torrent of euphoric responses that her brain eventually was unable to resist. When the attacker reached orgasm himself, Hofstrate did as well, the best one she ever reached, as she went through a tidal wave of reactions and emotions inside both her body and her brain doing all it could to understand the gravity of what just happened.

Her attacker then left, leaving her lying there, panting heavily but still shorn of the energy to do much of anything else. She laid there, confused, her emotions crashing together into competing cavalcades of anxiety and euphoria.

Caught in between the ecstasy of achieving incredible sexual excitement amidst the intense shame and humiliation of being conquered and violated, there was little Hofstrate could do but continue lying there, stunned, her body still not feeling like it had any energy even after the effects of the drug wore off.

It was at this time she heard another man’s voice calling out, seemingly to her.

“Oh, by Jove,” said the man, caught by the intense shock of the sight. “Miss, are you okay?”
“Um,” said Hofstrate, her voice coarse as it began to recover its strength. “I…I don’t know.”
“Listen,” said the man, doffing his long overcoat with lots of urgency. “Take my coat…it’s too cold for you to be outside like this. Let me get you to safety.”
“I…I think I would like that,” said Hofstrate, smiling in appreciation. She needed to be helped to her feet, upon which the man took it upon himself to carry her in his arms. Drained, Hofstrate soon fell asleep, as the man dutifully brought her to his car.

December 24, 2016,
08:07 local time,
Mundiali Imperium Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“I apologize for bringing you in on Christmas Eve,” said Mundiali Dux David Wilcox, getting settled in his office.
“That’s okay,” said Wilcox’s guest, Galla Claudia. “You forget, I’m Roman…I don’t celebrate Christmas…and the Saturnalia just passed.”
“Well,” said Wilcox after a chuckle, “I do apologize for bringing you in on a Saturday.”
“That’s also okay,” said Claudia. “You have yourself in quite a bind.”
“Yes,” said Wilcox. “My original investigators didn’t work out…so I’ve asked you to take the reins. If there’s anyone that has effectively managed all the nuances this world brings, it’s you. Also…Danforth Grayson took over The Virus again…so they’re no longer a threat.”
“They could even be an asset,” said Claudia.
“No doubt,” said Wilcox. “You have my blessing if you wish to work with him. Just make sure he has his documents in order.”
“Don’t worry,” said Claudia with a wry smile, “he’s got that all figured out.”

“So,” said Claudia, taking her seat, leaning forward and clasping her hands in front of her on Wilcox’s desk. “What’s needed of me today?”
“Helen Hofstrate, a nursing student at DePaul University, went missing last night,” said Wilcox.
“Not to make light of her situation,” said the slender middle-aged redhead, “but, since this is a Mundiali case and not just a regular kidnapping, what’s the catch?”
“She’s an Elector in the Electoral College,” said Wilcox somberly.
“I thought they were anonymous this year,” said Claudia.
“It was supposed to be a foolproof system,” said Wilcox. “Each party was supposed to nominate over 1000 Electors, spread across the states. Each prospective Elector was placed in a lottery and then chosen at random, with only the victorious Elector knowing they were chosen. Only at Election time were the other Electors supposed to know who their colleagues were.”
“Which would prevent Electors from banding together and voting in someone else,” said Claudia.
“…and it was supposed to keep them safe,” said Wilcox, wistfully.
“In this world, should anything surprise you?” asked Claudia ruefully.
“True,” said Wilcox, the old, experienced man letting out a sardonic chuckle.
“So where do I go?” said Claudia. “Washington or Chicago?”
“You’re going to meet with Chicago Police Detective Saul Kaminsky,” said Wilcox. “You two will work together on the case.”

December 24, 2016,
09:16 local time,
The Harding Residential Complex,
Chicago, Illinois

By Jove thought Hofstrate as she sat there, doing her best to collect her thoughts. What will he do next? Hofstrate began to pant even more, her breaths getting deeper but more frequent and heartbeat starting to race yet again.

However, her captor was doing little to show his hand. Buck, shirtless, just eyed his tools on the table, showing no emotion as he contemplated on what he wanted to use next. Meanwhile, his captive sat naked, her hands and arms bound behind the back of a chair with her legs spread apart and bound to each leg to keep them that way. A ball gag complimented her look.

Eventually Buck decided that, this time, he was going to forgo his tools. He unzipped his pants and revealed his hard, erect penis, which Hofstrate couldn’t help but be fixated on. Buck then walked over to Hofstrate with a sense of purpose, starting by playing with her breasts with his hands and tugging at her nipples, before suckling at them with his mouth. When he was finished with her breasts, he mounted her chair and pulled her body close, nibbling at her neck. Hofstrate, overcome with intense emotions feeling herself being held tightly against Buck’s body, experienced an even greater reaction when she felt Buck’s penis penetrating her vagina and began thrusting away. She sat there, her mouth (and other parts of her body) watering, as there was nothing her body could do to resist Buck and his wanton desires.

December 24, 2016,
09:09 local time,
Lincoln Park,
Chicago, Illinois

“Glad to have you here,” said Kaminsky, a slender but muscular youthful man whose grizzled voice belied his many years in service. “When Helen didn’t text her mother, Carly, in the morning, she panicked and called us.”
“One wayward text and here we are,” said Claudia, who couldn’t hide her surprise at Carly’s actions.
“Helen was supposed to board a flight at 5AM, actually,” said Kaminsky, as the pair walked slowly towards the crime scene. “So, still panicky but not as bad as you might have thought.”
“I don’t know,” said Claudia, “usually my first thought when someone doesn’t board a plane at the right time is to wonder if there was an issue with the plane. Where was Helen headed?”
“Portland,” said Kaminsky. “Her parents still live there…a boyfriend brought her to Chicago and she just stayed. She likes Chicago.”
“Even though the only reason why Chicago isn’t in anarchy like the rest of Illinois is because of the mob bosses,” said Claudia, “unlike Portland which has benefitted from Roman rule for years.”
“At least I can say somebody runs this town,” said Kaminsky, “even if it isn’t someone I like.”
“Good point,” said Claudia as they arrived at the crime scene.

Claudia then examined the scene.

So Helen was likely stopped here, before being dragged into the clearing as the drag marks and footprints suggest. She was then attacked in the clearing, as I can see traces of her blood on the ground, but there’s not a lot of it, nor does the ground indicate that she put up much of a struggle. She had to have been drugged, likely before she was dragged into the clearing- otherwise, why drag her at all? This, though, I find interesting.

“Saul,” said Claudia, pointing to a pair of pants on the ground which was covered in blood. “What do you know about these pants?”
“Gotta be Helen’s,” said Kaminsky matter-of-factly. “That’s what made me think this is the correct crime scene. That and a witness report of a woman somewhat matching Helen’s description being carried from this general area as well as reports of her screaming.”
“Your instincts are correct,” said Claudia, “but these are not Helen’s pants.”
“They’re not,” said Saul with intrigued surprise.
“They’re not,” said Claudia firmly. “I know exactly who they belong to.”

December 24, 2016
11:15 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“I’m sorry to bring you in on Christmas Eve,” said Claudia with a wry smile as her guest entered Kaminsky’s office.
“You and I,” said Alexandra Hecata with a chuckle, “fellow Romans…the Saturnalia has just passed.”
“You Romans always do things differently,” said Kaminsky. “I can never understand it.”
“We live in a different world,” said Hecata. “Figuratively, anyway.”
“Some of them seem to take that literally, though,” said Claudia with a wry smirk as the room laughed.
“Virtue too,” said Hecata wryly. “In fact, this is Virtue territory…how come they’re not helping out with the case?”
“You know them,” said Kaminsky. “The Guards won’t help out a country Virtue doesn’t find ‘glamorous’, unless they’re here to take out a ruler they don’t like and blame him for ‘war crimes’.” The room then had another rueful laugh.

“Anyway,” said Hecata, “as much as I appreciate the Mundiali paying for my flight on such short notice…I imagine I’m not being here for a friendly chat.”
“As much as I would like to,” said Claudia, “unfortunately a police matter has brought you here.”
“Am I in trouble?” asked Hecata, worry starting to come over her.
“Have a seat,” said Claudia, who sighed knowing there was nothing she could do to anticipate Hecata’s reaction.

Hecata sat down, but in doing so developed anxiety over what was going to happen next. Although Claudia was her friend, Hecata knew that her serious tone suggested that whatever news Claudia had wouldn’t be easy for her to take.

“Since there’s no easy way for me to say this,” said Claudia as she pulled out a bag from her drawer, knots forming in Hecata’s stomach. “I thought I would just show you this.” Claudia then placed in front of her a sealed plastic bag with Hecata’s blood-stained pants inside of them, recovered from the Hofstrate crime scene just moments ago.

Hecata sat there, trying her best to hide her tears but there was nothing she could do to maintain her composure. As the memories flooded back into the young woman’s brain the tears seemed to flow just as readily, with her sobs becoming more uncontrollable and louder with the minute. She then clutched the bag, using it to bury her head in it, as she cried into it and screamed several times while holding it, “why? Why? Why?!”

After several, long, heart wrenching minutes- for all gathered in the room- and some comforting from Claudia, Hecata managed to regain some of her composure, enough so that she could conduct the interview.

“I’m so sorry,” said Hecata, taking more tissues to wipe her face.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia in a soothing tone. “I know this was going to be difficult for you to face…and I know this will be difficult for you to talk about…but a woman’s life depends on it.”
“I heard,” said Hecata.
“So,” said Kaminsky, fumbling his words a little. “Our guy…was your rapist?”

“Yeah,” said Hecata, who let out a deep breath. “I was doing a gig, right here in Chicago…The Empty Bottle.”
“One of my favourites,” said Kaminsky. “Love going there.”
“I love playing it,” said Hecata.

“Anyway,” continued Hecata, “I was doing the gig and, afterwards, I decided to leave via the back entrance. There’s an alleyway behind it and…well, I used it many times before without incident, so I never believed anything could happen…I know, you’re going to tell me I’m stupid.”
“We’re not judging,” said Claudia, urging Hecata on.
“It’d be useless to tell you something you already know,” said Kaminsky, “and it doesn’t change what happened.”
“Thanks guys,” said Hecata, who let out a deep sigh of relief.

“So I’m going behind the bar through this alleyway,” said Hecata, “I’m minding my own business when…out of the blue I feel this heavy thing hit my head. It was so hard, it knocked me to the ground, but it didn’t knock me out. I’d find out later from the investigating officer that I was likely hit by a baseball bat, just based on the blood marks found at the site and the mark on my head. Anyway, in my haze, I’m lying on the ground and I can feel my rapist operate when he did his…worst.”

Hecata let out another deep breath and struggled to continue until Claudia rubbed her back.

“When he was finished, I was still in a daze,” continued Hecata, “and he left before I could get a good look at him. The first thing I realized when I came to my senses was that he had taken both my pants and my underwear…thankfully, it was not like today where it’s ten below, it was fall, so I only had to deal with the embarrassment of being pantless. Fortunately a Good Samaritan spotted me and lent me his pants while we waited for the police and the paramedics to arrive…I was lucky. I hated losing those pants…they were my favourite…but after what he did to me…”

Hecata began to cry again, with Claudia consoling her. Hecata eventually regained her composure enough to make an observation.

“That’s a lot of blood for where it came from,” said Hecata.

“Lab confirms that the blood on the pants isn’t all from you,” said Kaminsky. “In fact, much of the blood comes from many other people…who, we don’t know.”

Kaminsky leaned forward on his desk and let out a sigh.

“Now,” he said, speaking softly but with urgency, “I hate to dip back into your past, but was there a pair of pants at the scene of your crime?”
“No,” said Hecata, “there wasn’t. Maybe I might have missed it or dismissed them because I’ve been out at night many times and I get used to strange sights. I once walked by a human skull that the locals were telling me belonged to a local criminal, which is why the police never investigated it.”
“Where was this?” said Kaminsky.
“Boulder,” said Hecata. “Colorado.”
“Makes sense,” said Kaminsky.
“Did the police report say there was a pair of pants in the area?” said Hecata, nervous for the response.
“No,” said Kaminsky, “which is what makes this even trickier. We don’t know why he left your pants there.”
“Am I,” said Hecata, beginning to stutter. “Am I…am I…at risk? Does he want to target me?”

Claudia let out a heavy sigh.

“Alexandra,” she said softly, “we’re not sure. We have a number of different theories in our heads. He could have just been sloppy and forgot the pants…it could be a new ‘thing’ of his to leave the pants of his previous victim for his next victim to stumble upon…there’s a lot of things we don’t know.”
“…but, but,” said Hecata, panting heavily, “that’s what you’re going with…right? He’s just…he’s just a sloppy criminal…right?” Tears began to form in Hecata’s eyes which caused Claudia to get up once again to console her.
“Alexandra,” said Kaminsky with a sigh, “again, we’re not sure. So far we’ve received no evidence that you are in any danger. I’ve arranged so that you can stay here at the station until he’s caught…we can’t take any chances.”
“I have my gigs,” said Hecata, “I’m not sure how long I can stay here…I open New Year’s Day festivities in Buffalo…that’s my next gig.”
“I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas,” said Kaminsky.
“No,” said Hecata, “but most of the continent does. I’ve got to respect that…plus, I need a break myself. I played every day of the Saturnalia.”
“True enough,” said Kaminsky. “Anyway, the choice is yours…it’s here if you want it.”
“Thank you,” said Hecata.

Hecata got up from her chair, as did the two detectives, and she hugged them both.

“You know,” she said, “I hate to sound like a cliché…but you need to catch him.”
“Alexandra,” said Claudia with a wry chuckle, “some things you never want to stop hearing.”

December 24, 2016,
12:35 local time,
The Harding Apartment Complex,
Chicago, Illinois

“Let this be a warning,” said Buck, wearing a black full face covering and no shirt. He was speaking into a camera he set up, recording a video that, at this moment, was streaming live across many fake accounts on social media. It would be a video he would send later to various different media markets, all with cloaked E-Mail addresses.

“My name is Buck,” said Buck, whose voice was altered to sound like an ominous cyborg. “I am a Soldier.” Buck then raised his arm and showed off the tattoo on the backside of his forearm, which featured the distinctive “1777” logo. The logo, where the number 1777 was underlined (with each number connecting to the underline) was representative of the Soldiers of the Lord’s manifesto, known as the “Seventeen Words” and the “Seventy Seven Words” each Soldier is sworn to live by. Right next to the 1777 was a tattoo of a silhouette of a man holding an assault rifle at his hips, pointing it upward.

He then backed away from the camera, revealing Hofstrate, breathing in and out quickly and heavily, still bound to the chair naked with her legs and arms open and the ball gag affixed to her mouth. As Hofstrate sat there, panting and waiting with anxiety over what would happen next, Buck casually walked to a suitcase on a nearby table, where he again spoke to the camera.

“Many of you may not know who this woman is,” he explained while nonchalantly digging through his tools. “Many of you may now be worried about this woman, even though you have not met her. Well, let me tell you who it is.”

Buck then picked up three small suction cups and walked towards Hofstrate.

“She is an Elector with the Electoral College,” said Buck, as he applied the first suction cup to Hofstrate’s nipple, causing her to gasp as a button on top of the cup sucked all the air out of it and applied intense pressure on her nipple, “sucking” it upward. Buck then did it to Hofstrate’s other nipple, again causing Hofstrate to have an intense reaction as her breasts were stimulated.

“She is here because,” said Buck, who paused to apply the last suction cup to her clitoris, which caused Hofstrate to moan with even more intensity as her skin became flushed as her body tried to rectify all this sudden stimulation.

Buck then walked back to his suitcase and talked as he did so.

“She is here because the Soldiers of the Lord believe that Juan Castro had his election stolen from him by feminist interests,” said Buck. “Feminists, like my captive here, who have rigged the system so that Castro cannot take his rightful place as President of the North American Union. Of course, I am not just some rambling terrorist…I have proof. Proof that I will show you in the upcoming days.”

Buck pulled an item from his suitcase and glanced at Helen before putting it back. He then pulled from his suitcase a vibrator, pressing the power button a few times causing Hofstrate to yelp several times as he did so.

“In the meantime,” said Buck, as he again menacingly pressed the button on the vibrator several times, “I want you to look at the torture I am putting this woman through. I want you to examine it, to feel it, because I have an ultimatum- if the Electoral College does not do the right thing and vote in Juan Castro on December 30, this woman will not be released, and the Soldiers will retaliate in ways that North America has never seen before. You have been warned.”

Buck then turned on the vibrator, putting it on its maximum setting, and shoved it into Hofstrate’s vagina, as the video ended with her body squirming and her mouth watering and moaning loudly as she had to deal with the intense sensations that Buck was putting her through.

December 24, 2014,
17:01 local time,
CNN Studios,
Manhattan, New York

“Good afternoon everyone,” said Wolf Blitzer, “and welcome to this special edition of The Situation Room. In a few moments, we will hear from Juan Castro himself and get his reaction to the news of the day.

“…but first, there is a shocking video going around social media that depicts a woman being sexually tortured by a Soldier of the Lord known only as ‘Buck’. You can view this video unedited on our website but please be warned it is very graphic and will be disturbing for some viewers. In the video, Buck explains his captive is an Elector in the Electoral College, although we do not have her identity, and says he is subjecting her to this torture to force the Electoral College to vote in Juan Castro this coming Friday when it convenes and officially crowns the North American Presidency. If they do not do that, the Soldiers- and we can confirm the actual Soldiers have actually proclaimed this, so it’s not an idle threat- the Soldiers are contending they will retaliate in ways that will make ‘9/11 look like child’s play’.

“Joining me now is Publius Gaius,” said Blitzer, turning to his first guest. Gaius was a middle-aged man with a full, silver goatee and a receding hairline, with his graying hair tied in a ponytail. He was a jovial character with an expansive knowledge of security systems across a wide variety of platforms, thus becoming a frequent guest of news programs who required an opinion on security threats. He first gained prominence in the months after the September 11 attacks on the Boston Garden arena, when he railed against politicians being worried about “Hollywood threats”.

“Thank you Wolf,” said Gaius. “I’d love to come on here and tell you all that you have nothing to worry about…but, you do.”
“Reality, I guess,” said Blitzer with a sombre chuckle.
“Well, when we’re dealing with the Soldiers of the Lord,” said Gaius, “we can call their bluff, and we have many times…but they usually deliver. They’re a very efficient terrorist organization and they’re not known to make idle threats. We’ve got to take this seriously.”
“I think the question a lot of people are asking,” said Blitzer, “is how do we know the Soldiers are working with this guy named ‘Buck’?”
“The Soldiers won’t come out and say ‘we support this guy’ unless they’re actually doing it,” said Gaius. “We know there are a lot of terrorist organizations who will ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and champion a cause a supporter is doing because it reflects well on them even though they’re not going to really do anything to help out…the Soldiers, on the other hand, they don’t tend to say things unless they plan on following through. Recall the Siege of Louisville; almost two years ago…though we had people claiming to be Soldiers acting in their name, I knew right away they weren’t actual Soldiers because the Soldiers were silent about it. Now, this isn’t always foolproof, but…if the Soldiers are saying they’re supporting someone, they’re supporting someone.”
“What do you believe their next course of action will be?” asked Blitzer.
“I can’t say for sure,” said Gaius. “They’re very unpredictable and very cagey…about the only thing you can predict about them is that they do not engage in idle threats. I will say there is a tendency to avoid an ‘obvious’ target, so, likely an attack on Haylie Modine isn’t going to happen, but after that…all bets are off.”

“Allow me,” said Gaius, interrupting Blitzer before he could ask his next question. “I really need to talk about the Electoral College plan…I want to understand, we’ve actually confirmed that the victim in the video is an Elector, right?”
“Yes,” said Blitzer. “We just don’t know her name. It was supposed to be secretive so that we would avoid a situation like this.”

“Okay,” said Gaius. “Well, we got into this situation, and we have to figure out how. The Soldiers have this all figured out…if we’re going to avoid a catastrophe, then think ‘oh, our Electors will have security’ or ‘oh, we’ll just change our Electors’ or ‘we’ll just have security at our Capitol’ won’t cut it. We have to find the plan at its source, because this Buck found out who this Elector is…now we have to do it.”

December 24, 2016,
16:39 local time,
Mars Café,
Chicago, Illinois

“No,” said Juan Castro, visibly shaken as he made his appearance on CNN in front of Blitzer. “No, I categorically do not have anything to do with this woman’s predicament, and I do not in any way, shape or form condone what is doing to her. I’m going to tell you right now Buck- if that’s even your real name- if you even think you’re doing this in my name…think again.”
“Yes, but,” said Blitzer, “Juan, you have numerous ties to Birea…you even championed Birean causes against feminism and not once have you denounced the Soldiers.”
“Oh I denounced them,” said Castro, audibly scoffing. “I’m going to denounce them right now…I don’t support the Soldiers at all.”
“I’m not sure that will do enough to ease a lot of minds,” said Blitzer. “You still haven’t conceded the election to Haylie Modine, you’re still going through the courts to challenge her victory, you’re still pressing for recounts, you keep pressing the Electoral College to hand the victory to you and…most tellingly…you are on record as saying, and I quote- ‘there is nothing I won’t do to deny that B-word the Presidency’- end quote. I’m sorry Mr. Castro…you will have your doubters.”
“Wolf,” said Castro, looking at Blitzer as if the anchor was an idiot, “I can’t control what other people think. I just know there’s a difference between challenging the wrong result and supporting Buck…those are two completely different ideas. I got nothing to do with that. Nothing. I’ll even spell it out.”

“Oh,” said Claudia, cupping her forehead and shaking her head reacting to the TV broadcast. “This Castro guy…he never knows when to give up, does he?”
“That’s why you have rules, right?” said a voice that suddenly appeared at Claudia’s table. “To make sure the ones who don’t give up eventually do.”

Claudia turned around and focused her attention on her uninvited guest, more perturbed than disturbed.

“You know Danny,” said Claudia, flashing the guest, Danforth Grayson, a wry smile. “You do have my cell phone number…you don’t need to show up uninvited anymore.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” said Grayson with a huge grin. “Phone calls…they’re boring. It’s much better to surprise people…keeps them on their toes.”
“Yes, but those rules you just talked about,” said Claudia with a smirk, “society’s got them too…and society says it’s better to call instead of surprising people.”
“Yes but,” said Grayson with another huge smirk, “when have I followed the rules?”

“All right,” said Claudia, after the pair left the café and entered Claudia’s car. “You’ve interrupted my quiet time for a reason. I imagine you know something about this Buck guy?”
“Buck?” said Grayson.
“You know,” said Claudia, “the guy in the video?”
“That’s his name?” said Grayson, making a face and shaking his head. “Nah, it’s not ringing any bells…”
“Danny,” said Claudia, her voice trailing as she let out a heavy sigh. “If you’ve got nothing then why are you wasting my time?”
“Oh I didn’t say I had nothing,” said Grayson. “I just don’t know who Buck is.”
“OK,” said Claudia, still skeptical.

“Do you know who the Bepenised One are?” said Grayson.
“No,” said Claudia. “I don’t.”
“Well, you should,” said Grayson, “because that’s the gang this ‘Buck’ guy is a part of.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know Buck,” said Claudia, nonplussed.
“I don’t,” said Grayson, “but I did recognize the tattoo on his arm.”
“Which one?” asked Claudia.
“The one where the man is shooting an assault rifle from the hip,” said Grayson. “That’s the badge for the Bepenised Ones gang, a fraternity organization run and sponsored by the Soldiers. You may have noticed but the positioning of the rifle is supposed to simulate the penis.”
“I did notice that,” said Claudia. “So, who are these guys?”

“A response, simply put,” said Grayson, a well built man close in age- and experience in justice- as Claudia. “You’ve probably heard all of the nice things the Bireans did after the world came down hard on them for having a human trafficking ring, right?”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “they’ve outlawed the rings, allowed greater emigration, ended the one-child policy…but you’re going to tell me they made the wrong moves.”

“You know me too well,” said Grayson with a smirk. “See, the Bireans may have said they outlawed the one-child policy…but many of their administrators are still enforcing it, and culturally it’s just too ingrained in the Birean psyche not to follow it. Furthermore, son preference means a lot of baby daughters are getting killed or aborted…so the demographic situation is even worse. See, if we had just kept human trafficking, things would be better right now.”
“Human trafficking,” said Claudia, horrified. “There’s just no justification for that.”
“I understand,” said Grayson, “it’s a reprehensible practice for a lot of people…but it served a purpose in Birea. It allowed Bireans who may not have had a chance to fly abroad and move the ability to get a wife right there in their country. If you want to talk about ‘the great equalizer’…there was nothing like the Order of St. Jasper. That’s the problem when you rail against ideas rather than the actual problems themselves…you wind up with more problems than where you started.”
“OK,” said Claudia, still not impressed. “Humour me on how the Order of St. Jasper was a good idea.”
“Because they did human trafficking right,” said Grayson. “The women they acquired volunteered for the service. The Order allowed them to meet their prospective husbands before they agreed to the deal. The Order even allowed them the opportunity to leave the marriage, no questions asked, if, for any reason, they felt uncomfortable with the arrangement. See, we tend to think of human trafficking as simply ‘slavery’ when it doesn’t have to be. Just because people do it wrong doesn’t mean they can’t do it right.”
“You helped take down Ingrid and her human trafficking ring,” said Claudia. “Helped me…helped the Mundiali.”
“Of course I did,” said Grayson, “because what Ingrid was doing was wrong. That doesn’t change that what the Order was doing was right. I had hoped the Bireans would be practical in their response…they proved otherwise.”

“Fine,” said Claudia, who didn’t feel like debating. “So where do these Bepenised people fit in?”

“Understand that rape gangs have always been a part of Soldier methodology,” said Grayson, “so, really The Bepenised Ones are not really anything new. What is new is the scope…right after Ingrid was arrested for ruining the Order, the Soldiers, almost overnight, recruited millions of men- and women, actually- worldwide to form millions of gangs, all loosely connected by an ideology of anti-feminism. The Soldiers have a goal- to make rape and other attacks on women so pervasive that women are made to feel they can’t engage in anything outside of their house, because they’ll never feel safe.”
“Subtly reminding them that women are useless without men,” said Claudia.
“Exactly,” said Grayson.

“How do the gangs work?” asked Claudia.
“There’s no clear method of operation,” said Grayson. “Each gang works in different ways, and procure- and secure- their victims in different fashions. Some will keep their victims forever. Others only for a few days. Still others will prefer one-off blitz attacks. What is a common thread is that almost all will engage in kidnapping, rape and torture, and none of them will willfully engage in murder or dismemberment- this is about psychology, after all, and these gangs want other gangs to be able to ‘enjoy’ the woman again.”
“So that women never know when the torture actually stops,” said Claudia.
“Precisely,” said Grayson.
“How do they escape capture?” asked Claudia.
“Many don’t,” said Grayson, “but the Soldiers aren’t worried about that- their networks are so wide that they can easily find replacements. Plus, social media helps with recruiting. However…many gangs do evade capture, and their methods vary…but most use drugs and leave their victims far away from where they were captured, with hazy memories, no documentation and locals who don’t recognize them, making finding the perpetrators difficult.”
“Who likely don’t stick around,” said Claudia.

A thought then came to Claudia.

“This makes Buck a strange character,” said Claudia. “He’s hiding his identity, but he’s freely broadcasting that he has a victim. Where he’s holding her…we don’t know. The Soldiers have their own routing system that makes his location very difficult to trace…it’s beyond the technology of the Chicago Police, that’s for sure.”
“The Mundiali will be able to trace it, won’t they?” said Grayson. “You guys are well-funded.”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “but the Romans hog all the good technology…as you would expect.”
“Good point,” said Grayson, “and it’s still no cakewalk anyway.”
“Something tells me he’s not worried about being caught,” said Claudia. “The damage has been done already…even if Juan Castro denies involvement, people are already going to doubt the integrity of North America’s elections…if the losers know no limits to how far they’ll go to contest the results, can anyone ever be sure that a result can stand?”
“There’s a twist here that we’re not getting,” said Grayson.

A text message then appeared on Claudia’s phone.

“I think we just got it,” she said, starting the car.

December 25, 2016,
00:02 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

Haylie Modine raised her head slowly and began blinking her eyes. It was a vain attempt to rouse herself from her slumber, one her body fell into despite the discomfort of her restraints. Still groggy, she looked around the room, her ankles bound to the chair and her hands bound behind the back of the chair, itself bolted to the ground. She then observed she was shorn of her favourite blazer, and then she remembered that it broke when she tried to flee from the arresting officers.

Stupid Haylie, she thought to herself, why did you try to resist arrest? You’re giving Castro a reason to take the Presidency from you.

The nubile blonde’s emotions then got the better of her, as she lowered her head and began to weep audibly.

She cried for several minutes before she was interrupted by the sound of someone going through the door.

“Gosh Haylie,” said Kaminsky, slamming down his file folder on the desk. “I can’t believe you! I just had to deal with the f***ing press to explain to them why I had to arrest the upcoming President of North America! I hate dealing with the press! They’re so stupid and so cynical, asking all these asinine questions!”

He then walked up to her, leaned in, put his face close to hers and looked her in the eyes.

“Do you know what I do to people who make me deal with the press?!” snarled Kaminsky. “Do you? Do you?!”

Modine, overcome with fear, lowered her head, causing Kaminsky to grab it and reorient it back up.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” he shouted, as Modine looked on, visibly shaken and her body breaking into nervous fits.

Modine then broke down and cried again, causing Grayson to come bursting in.

“Saul!” said Grayson, grabbing Kaminsky and peeling him away from Modine. “That’s no way to treat a lady! Have you no manners?”

“Oh come on,” said Modine through her tears. “Spare me the bulls***. You’re not going to trick me with that ‘good cop/bad cop’ trick…especially if you think I’m going to believe Danforth Grayson is a good cop.”

She then cried and sobbed some more before regaining enough of her composure.

“I’ll admit whatever you want me to admit,” said Modine. “My life is over…my career is over. No one is going to accept me now that I’ve been arrested and tried to resist…by Jove…oh by Jove how I wish Juan Castro was never born!”

Claudia then took the opportunity to enter the room herself.

“Haylie,” she said, softly but firmly. “Haylie!” Modine still had her head lowered, inconsolable as she was.
“Haylie,” Claudia repeated. “Haylie look at me. Everything is going to be fine. We just have our concerns, that’s all.”

Modine raised her head and took in a few deep breaths to stop her crying, figuring that she might be able to escape if she actually figured out what the police wanted.

“Haylie,” said Claudia. “I need you to understand why you’re here.”
“Why am I here?” Modine asked, her nerves still frayed.
“You gave a speech right here in Chicago where you mentioned Helen Hofstrate by name,” said Kaminsky. “Not once did we ever release her name to the press…in fact, only party leaders were supposed to know who they were, no one else. Not even the campaigns. So…unless you got some wild story to tell me…where’s Helen Hofstrate?”

Modine lowered her head again and began to cry. This time no one in the room was moved.

“Haylie,” said Claudia, firmer in her voice. “I’d love to help you out but…if you don’t want to talk; you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
“I know,” said Modine, still crying.
“I can’t make any guarantees,” said Claudia, “but whatever you did, we can sort it out.”

Modine took in a few deep breaths, eventually regaining enough of her composure to speak.

“Tori,” said Modine, referring to her campaign manager, Tori McGuire. “Said she knew a guy who could break into the Unionist Party’s office and get me the list of Electors…I swear, all I wanted to do was find out who this woman was and tell her that she had my support, and that her family had my support…she’s a victim…I didn’t want her to be anonymous.”

She lowered her head and cried again before continuing.

“This man,” she said, her voice cracking due to her sadness. “He brought me the list…looked up our female Electors…chanced upon a report of a kidnapping at Lincoln Park with an unknown victim and I saw that Helen lived there, so I figured it was her…so I called her mother…she confirmed it to me…and then…without thinking…I used her name in a speech.”
“Who’s the thief?” said Kaminsky, folding his arms.
“John Benjamin,” said Modine, sulking, “a friend of Tori’s since high school. Works at the Unionist Party headquarters in Washington. He stole it from Douglas Lester’s office when the Party chairman wasn’t in his office.”

“You guys, you guys gotta understand,” said Modine, pleading to nonplussed investigators, “I didn’t want Helen to die in vain…to die anonymously…she doesn’t deserve that. Please…you gotta understand! I did what I had to do! I didn’t kidnap her! I had nothing to do with that! Please! Please! You gotta believe me!”

Modine then broke down again; convinced her public career was now over.

“Haylie,” said Claudia after a sigh. She looked at both Grayson and Kaminsky who gave her nods before she continued.

“We’re convinced you didn’t have anything to do with Helen’s kidnapping,” said Claudia, “but we are going to have to book you for resisting arrest…and it is a continental felony to steal the Electors’ list. We can’t guarantee what will happen…but, we’ll at least tell the media you meant well.”

A sense of relief came over Modine as Kaminsky undid her bonds.

“Why did you not want to release her name?” asked Modine, cupping her wrists and wiggling her fingers to regain some of the lost sensation from the bonds.
“We had a strong sense her kidnapping was politically motivated,” said Claudia, “and we were worried about copycat attacks. If we released her name it would have confirmed that she was an Elector and it may have inspired other people to look for others and attack them, knowing that one Elector had already been victimized. We also figured that one of the campaigns- more likely Juan’s- may have been behind the attack, and since the campaigns were not supposed to know who the Electors were…”
“That would indicate their involvement,” said Modine.
“Exactly,” said Kaminsky.

After processing Modine and letting her go on her way, the three investigators went in to Kaminsky’s office.

“Mind if I pay Mr. Benjamin a visit?” asked Grayson, leaning back in his seat very relaxed.
“You?” said Kaminsky, showing Grayson obvious disdain. “Why you?”
“John might not be what you would call a ‘conventional’ criminal,” said Grayson, who began playing on his phone, “but he did commit a continental felony. I somehow doubt he’ll want to talk to a cop.”
“We’ll just arrest him,” said Kaminsky. “It worked with Haylie.”
“Haylie Modine had every reason to come clean,” said Claudia. “Her political career depended on it. John Benjamin has nothing to lose. He has no obligation to reveal anything to us.”
“How much do you want to bet that Benjamin gave the list to Buck?” said Grayson, putting away his phone and looking directly at Kaminsky, “and other people like him who may want to hurt an Elector or three? He knows things he won’t say to a cop.”
“Based on Haylie’s testimony we’ve got enough for a search warrant,” said Kaminsky.
“That, by the time we get it, he’ll have destroyed the evidence,” said Grayson with a smirk, “and I guarantee you it will mean he won’t say a word to you.”

“I’m appalled you’re not taking this seriously,” said Kaminsky, not appreciating Grayson’s tone.
“On the contrary,” said Grayson with a smile. “I take things very seriously. I just choose not to let it get to me…kid…you gotta realize that this job of yours…it ain’t getting any easier.”

Kaminsky was unmoved.

“Saul,” said Grayson with a grin. “I get it…this whole ‘Virus are good guys’ is a little weird for you…but ask Galla. Ask her about all the good I’ve done to help her take down Ingrid Fjallsdottir and end her corruption of The Virus and how she used it to install one of the worst human trafficking rings the world has ever seen. I might not always believe in the law but I believe in justice.”

Kaminsky ushered Claudia outside.

“You’re not going to get anyone better at relating to the worst of the worst than Danny,” said Claudia. “He’s got a lot of connections within the criminal underworld…if there’s someone who knows what governments and LEOs can’t know, it’s Danny. I know this is weird for you…but trust me. It’s a strange alliance…but Danny and I make it work.”
“You really think John Benjamin won’t talk to us?” said Kaminsky, unconvinced.
“I do agree with that, yes,” said Claudia. “At this stage, we have to assume that Helen is on the move somewhere…even though Buck knows the police are on his trail, if he’s a smart criminal, he’s not taking chances staying where he is. If John truly knows more than what Haylie let on, it would pay to let Danny talk to him instead of us. John might know where Buck is going, and who else might be compelled to attack an Elector…we just have to ensure that John doesn’t think we’re on his trail.”
“How do we do that?” said Kaminsky.
“We issue a press release saying that Haylie Modine is not under investigation,” said Claudia, “and that she is not involved with Helen’s kidnapping, because she’s not. Since John did it for Haylie, knowing that Haylie is not under investigation would likely tell him that he’s not under investigation either, so it’ll relax him to release more information to Danny. If John isn’t cooperative…it could mean that Haylie is more involved than we think.”

Kaminsky nodded, agreeing with Claudia.

“In the meantime, I think we need to go to Portland,” said Claudia. “Carly knows more than she’s letting on.”
“I already talked to her,” said Kaminsky. “She didn’t give me a lot of leads…says she only knows Helen through her MyFriends account now.”
“That was when she was panicking,” said Claudia. “Now that she knows this is the real deal…you’ll see that suddenly, she knows a lot more.”

December 25, 2016,
04:31 local time,
Willoughby Park, Friendship Village,
Chevy Chase, Maryland

It’s good to get out here, thought John Benjamin to himself as he felt the crisp morning air as he started his jog. There’s so much stuff going around, I can hardly have any time to breathe.

The young, slender Unionist Party staffer was having a whirlwind of a past few days. Because Haylie Modine was arrested, there was never a minute where the media didn’t seem to want to get a comment or a quote from someone connected to her, and considering the police didn’t reveal too much information in the immediate aftermath, the media was hungrier than usual.

The one solace he took was that the police issued a statement saying that Modine was cleared of any involvement in Helen Hofstrate’s kidnapping, which allowed staffers like him to spin the arrest- and Modine’s resistance to it- as a simple misunderstanding. He also took comfort in the fact that Doug Lester lied to the press and said he offered Modine Hofstrate’s name, when Benjamin knew otherwise. Of course, this too opened a lot of other questions, but at least no one was looking at Benjamin, who scanned the list to his phone right from Lester’s desk.

Benjamin went for a few laps around the park until a figure caught his attention.

“You know,” said Grayson with a smile. “If you straightened out your back, you’d make better time on your laps.”

“What are you doing here?” said Benjamin, approaching Grayson with anger. “I could have you arrested, you know that.”
“Yeah, but you’re not,” said Grayson with a smirk. “Because after I took down Ingrid Fjallsdottir, politicians know I’m too valuable an asset to get rid of.”
“The Unionist Party doesn’t think you’re anything,” said Benjamin. “We worked with Ingrid. You forgot that.”
“I didn’t forget that,” said Grayson. “I just know that right now, you’re in so much s*** that messing around with me isn’t in your best interests. Besides, do you really want to be known as siding with a human trafficker?”
“One day,” said Benjamin forebodingly, “you’re going to confront someone, and they’ll have all the leverage and you won’t be able to get out of it.”

Grayson couldn’t help but laugh.

“Won’t happen,” said Grayson, “because I study my opponents. I know everything about them and I know exactly where to hit them. Just like you.”

Benjamin put his hands on his hips.

“What do you want?” he said, exasperated.
“Helen Hofstrate,” said Grayson tersely.
“You think I know something about her?” said Benjamin in disbelief.
“I don’t think,” said Grayson. “I know.”

Benjamin was about to protest before Grayson stopped him.

“We can run around in circles all we like,” he said, ominously, “but here’s something I do know. You stole the list so that Haylie could contact Carly and mention Helen by name in a speech. Buck too found Helen through that list…so, I’m thinking…he had to have gotten that list from somewhere…and that somewhere is you.”

Benjamin cupped his face and wiped sweat from his brow.

“It could have been a random attack,” said Benjamin, who sounded unconvincing. “Helen could have told Buck she was an Elector…or Buck is bluffing and that’s a real good lookalike.”

“By Jove,” said Grayson. “You sure aren’t going to have a long career in politics are you? Your lying is horrible.”

Grayson stopped to laugh before he continued.

“Buck is a Soldier,” said Grayson, “and while I know they’re not afraid to bluff, when they say they’ve done something, they’ve done something. So when they say they kidnapped an Elector…they kidnapped an Elector.”

Grayson then walked up to Benjamin, who looked worried, and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“The police don’t want to do anything to you,” said Grayson. “They just want to find Helen. Where is she?”

Benjamin lowered his head and sighed.

“I used to know,” said Benjamin. “I gave the list to a one Craven Bucholtz…I used a burner so they couldn’t trace the transfer back to my phone.”
“Craven Bucholtz,” said Grayson, “Buck.”
“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “That’s what we always called him.”
“So you’re a Bepenised One too, then,” said Grayson.
“A different chapter,” said Benjamin.

“I need you to understand something,” said Benjamin. “Craven was supposed to kidnap someone else…Helen wasn’t the original target.”
“Oh,” said Grayson.
“It was a woman by the name of Margret Gregory,” said Benjamin.
“The Rockford librarian,” said Grayson. “One of my favourite places.”
“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “She was supposed to be kidnapped.”
“Why Margret?” said Grayson.
“I was approached by these guys,” said Benjamin.
“Soldiers?” said Grayson.
“No,” said Benjamin. “They called themselves the Hanseatic Merchants…I don’t know who they are- except that they’re connected with Virtue.”
“I see,” said Grayson, who instantly recognized the name as one of the many aliases of The Guild.
“They paid me all this money,” said Benjamin. “I’d steal the list, get it to Craven, we’d kidnap an Elector and then Tori would slip her name into a speech by Haylie, making it look like she’s trying to frame Juan Castro for the crime.”
“So Haylie was going to get arrested no matter what,” said Grayson.

“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “She’d have no credibility left…she’d look like she’s manipulating things to look like ‘the victim’ and no one would be able to trust her. We’d ferment divisions within our party, perhaps sway many Electors away from her…but the big thing is, we’d be able to nail her for influencing an election, and since Illinois is Virtue territory…”
“The Guards could have her arrested and jailed,” said Grayson. “Almost forcing the Electors to side with Castro. Of course, Haylie still slipped Helen’s name into the speech.”
“That’s the thing about Haylie,” said Benjamin. “She’s predictable.”
“So Virtue’s still going to get involved,” said Grayson.
“I don’t know,” said Benjamin. “Buck still did what he was supposed to do, and the Mundiali still arrested Haylie, which actually helps Virtue since they can argue a ‘neutral party’ has deemed her a criminal.”
“...and the Soldiers hardly care about rogue members,” said Grayson. “So many of them are rogue anyway. David Millwall was.”
“I’m still worried about Buck though,” said Benjamin. “Something about Helen makes me wonder about her...I just don’t know what.”

December 25, 2016,
08:03 local time,
The Hofstrates’ House,
Portland, Oregon

“I’m sorry this is how you have to spend your Christmas morning,” said Kaminsky as he and Claudia entered the Hofstrates’ home.
“No need to apologize,” said Jerry Hofstrate, Helen’s father. “We’d rather have our daughter back.”
“Only child I guess,” said Claudia.
“Yeah,” said Carly Hofstrate. “We didn’t intend on having Helen…but when we found out, we were still overjoyed and decided to keep her.”
“Smart choice,” said Kaminsky.
“Well, we couldn’t be happier,” said Jerry with a wry smile as the group made their way to the living room.

“What do you guys know so far?” said Carly.
“Honey,” said Jerry, giving his wife a look.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia. “We can divulge a few things.”
“Especially because it’s not much,” said Kaminsky. “We know this guy has raped before…we know she was kidnapped and we know she’s an Elector. Oh, and everyone’s in a bit of a panic right now because Haylie Modine found a way to slip her name in a speech. That part there’s not much we can do.”
“If he’s shot a video and uploaded it online,” said Jerry, “can’t you trace it?”
“He’s using onion routing,” said Claudia, “and some of the most sophisticated in the business…and even if we did trace the origin of the video, Buck and Helen have likely fled.”
“Where would they go?” said Carly.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Claudia. “We’re hoping you could help us out.”
“I already told Saul,” said Carly. “I never hear from Helen except for her MyFriends posts and the occasional gathering at holiday time…and I hardly think I know any more about her life than you already do.”

Claudia flashed a restrained smile that caught the attention of the Hofstrates.

“The thing is,” said Claudia, “I watched the video again, and, while I recognize that arousal is involuntary, I didn’t get the sense that Helen was resisting. Her skin was flush, her mouth was watering…call me crazy, but I think she was enjoying it.”

Carly was horrified, letting out an audible gasp. She attempted to leave before Jerry stopped her.

“It’s not an ironclad assertion,” said Claudia. “Oftentimes, victims of kidnappings will go through a dissociative state in order to come to grips with the pain they’re experiencing.”
“Stockholm Syndrome,” said Jerry.
“Yes,” said Claudia. “That could be what’s happening…but I also know that, most often, Stockholm Syndrome develops after a few days. Helen seems to have developed it after a few hours. Which isn’t impossible…but it’s not likely.”

Carly got up and yelled in a fit of rage.

“I can’t believe you would even think my daughter is enjoying her abuse!” said Carly. “The nerve of you cops! No wonder rape survivors don’t trust the police anymore! They all think we’re liars!”
“Carly,” said Jerry as he got up to comfort her. “I know this is all a shock but they’re just trying to do their jobs. Just because Helen might be enjoying her rape doesn’t mean the police doesn’t think she was raped…or that all rape victims make up their stories.”

“I’m sensing something here,” said Kaminsky, looking perplexed but intrigued.

“Helen wasn’t ours,” said Jerry. “We never told her this…I’d only been going out with Carly for five months when she was attacked in an alleyway in Los Angeles. She contemplated suicide many times…I had to bring her back to sanity…and I was the one who convinced her to have Helen.”

“Oh,” said Kaminsky, who couldn’t hide his shock.

“Let me say this,” said Claudia, trying to be a calming presence with her voice. “When I watched the video again, I noticed that there was a time that Buck looked at Helen and Helen raised her left eyebrow three times, causing Buck to put away an instrument he had in his hands. I couldn’t get a good look at the instrument, but when Helen did appear to be some kind of a ‘safe word’.”

“Safe word?” said Carly, confused.

“Yes,” said Claudia. “It’s common in bondage and fetish sexual communities…people who roleplay being restrained and being victimised. They get off on the immense physical pain they endure, and they consent to all the activities. However, if during the ordeal something is done that the victim does not like, they will express it via a sign or a word to get their ‘attacker’ to stop what they’re doing. It appears to me that Helen- since she was gagged- told Buck to put away the instrument and go to something else, which he did.”

Assuming you’re right,” said Carly, still shell-shocked at Claudia’s theory, “and I can’t stress that enough...what good is it going to do? My daughter is still missing!”
“You said you only knew what she posted to social media,” said Kaminsky. “So if her ‘attacker’ is really her boyfriend, it might help us figure out where she is...because she’ll share on social media where her and her boyfriend like going.”

“Helen,” said Jerry, “never had a least not one that she would have dated for a while. Of course, I never ask her about that kind of stuff, but I have never heard of her having a boyfriend.”

“There was something she talked about,” said Carly. “This band she liked talking about...The Wesses they called themselves. They play ‘horrorcourt’ or something.”
“ ‘Horrorcore’,” corrected Claudia. “It’s a kind of hip hop that is known for its extensive usage of horror movie themes and motifs. Eminem and Insane Clown Posse, as odd as the two of them being in the same sentence is, are known to produce this kind of music.”
“I’m surprised you would know something like that,” said Jerry.
“You pick up a lot as a detective,” said Kaminsky.
“Plus I have two teenage daughters,” said Claudia with a smile.

“So the Wesses,” said Kaminsky after perusing his phone, “she became obsessed with them lately?”
“Yeah,” said Jerry. “Every time she called she seemed to be calling from a show or I’d hear a song in the background. It’’s vile stuff...I don’t know how she listens to it.”
“It started a month ago,” said Carly. “It’s like she wanted to make a point about how much she liked them...and only to us, it seems.”
“You didn’t tell this to me before,” said Kaminsky.
“I didn’t think it was important,” said Carly. “I thought she was kidnapped by someone, someone she wouldn’t have liked...not by people she did.”
“Often, the ones we like are the ones who most often victimise us,” said Kaminsky.

“Like you Jerry,” said Carly, her voice full of venom directed at Jerry.

Jerry began to tear up. He lowered his head in shame and tried valiantly to protest the admission, but it rang very false.

“So it was you in the alleyway,” said Kaminsky, folding his arms as Claudia sat expressionless.

“I felt horrible,” said Jerry, sobbing. “I remember her speaking publicly many times in the news, and each time it struck at my heart. I was young, I was drunk and I was stupid...a friend dared me to rape her, so I did. I felt so guilty, five months later, I talked to her.

“She told me she was pregnant...and that if I helped raise her child she wouldn’t press charges. I pledged to be a better man...I felt I changed.” Jerry paused to wipe tears from his eyes. “I gave her my heart...and I raised Helen and supported Carly with all the love I could offer...I still do.”

“So what do you want?” said Claudia. “A cookie? A participation medal? By Jove, you must be crazy to think you’d get any sympathy from us.”
“We could arrest you right now based on what you told us,” said Kaminsky.

“You can’t,” said Jerry. “I was granted immunity by the prosecutor…I have the missive signed in a safety deposit box. I made a deal…took responsibility for my actions and for the child I inadvertently created. You need to understand…”

Jerry again lowered his head to cry before regaining enough composure to continue.

“I was the star running back at USC,” said Jerry. “The Buffalo Bills were looking at me…it was between me and Thurman…I had a year to go. I was ready to hit the prime time…I had a girlfriend…thought about marrying her. Plus all my family…my friends. Everything I had was in Los Angeles.

“I gave all that stuff up...signed a contract with the Portland Trail Blazers...made only $70,000 a year because that’s all the team could afford. Understand, I gave up millions...all because I needed to take responsibility for my foolishness.”

Jerry covered his face to sob for a few minutes while Kaminsky rolled his eyes and Claudia could only shake her head.

“I cannot tell you all the things I gave up,” said Jerry. “I had a life…Carly wasn’t anything to me…but I did something stupid to her and the least I could do was to help her get through her ordeal and take responsibility for my actions.”

“You expect me to have sympathy for you because you were forced to play basketball?” Kaminsky said.
“I still played football,” said Jerry. “The Blazers have a football team too..they just pour their money into basketball because that’s their ‘money maker’ does nothing...everyone is either a Ducks guy or a Seahawks guy here.”
“Good to know,” said Kaminsky, “but you still make me sick.”

“I think we’re getting a little off track here,” said Claudia, looking at her phone. “The Wesses...they don’t happen to have a ‘Craven Bucholtz’ do they?”
“They are named for Wes Craven,” said Jerry, “and they’re obsessed with ‘The Last House on the Left’. I don’t know if this Craven Bucholtz is in the band, though.”
“She kept telling me she ‘craved’ their lead singer,” said Carly. “So maybe.”
“We believe that Craven and your daughter are on the lam together,” said Claudia, “and we need to know if Helen may take him somewhere she likes.”

“She posts pictures of a cottage,” said Carly. “Unfortunately, I don’t know where it is…said it was on a random lake…but it’s quite like the one in ‘The Last House on the Left’, now that I think of it.”

“Thank you,” said Claudia.

As the two of them left the Hofstrates’ house, they couldn’t help but reflect on what they just heard.

“I can’t believe I never heard of the case of Jerry Hofstrate,” said Kaminsky.
“That’s because he was Jerry Myers,” said Claudia, “star running back for the Trojans, forgotten by history because he went on to play in Portland, at half-speed surely. Carly Hofstrate never knew who her attacker was until Jerry confessed, and part of his immunity deal was to keep his name out of the press. It’s all very macabre.”

“You know,” said Kaminsky shaking his head, “it’s times like this where I wish I could be like Danny and shoot their brains out, because Jerry deserves it.”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, who didn’t entirely disagree, “but then Danny would be the one to tell you it makes you no better than them.”
“Why would Danforth Grayson disavow such an act?” Kaminsky asked, confused.
“Because committing certain acts means crossing a boundary,” said Claudia, “leading you to a place you’ll never return from. Acts like murder are so heinous you’ll never find anyone who ‘understands’, placing you at odds with a society that will forever turn its back on you. You will have the ultimate skeleton, one you can’t tell anyone, alienating you from everyone you’ve ever known and eating at you until you have nothing left.

“This is why Danny does what he does...because evil only rips things can never be used to build. Uncontrolled...done by the wrong will tear us all apart.”

Kaminsky stood there in silence, impressed by Claudia’s insight.

“I’ve often wondered what stops me from wanting to do what Danny does,” said Kaminsky, “and I think you got it right. know things about this world that I don’t, and know it’s evil in depths I might never understand.

“So I need to ask- what stops you from crossing that boundary?”

December 25, 2016,
12:17 local time,
The Wesses’ Cottage,
Random Lake, South Tacoma

Helen Hofstrate couldn’t help but be enamoured. She had just walked into the bathroom, shorn of her clothes, and stared at the hunk lording over the sink. Though she regretted that he had to shave his fiery locks, she knew it was for the best.

“Oh Buck,” said Hofstrate as she wrapped her arms around Craven Bucholtz’s belly, caressing it with her hands. “It’s such a sad day that you have to shave your beautiful locks.”

She then pressed her body against his, running her hands all over his torso as he smiled.

“I know,” he said. “It’s distinctive...but if I am ever to escape with you I need to do this. Can’t leave anything to chance.”

He then resumed his shaving, which caused Hofstrate to pine for him some more. She put her hands on his nipples and began to rub them and press them with her hands, making them hard and erect. She then pressed her genitals against his buttocks and rubbed them against his, letting him feel how wet and aroused she was.

As he grunted with delight, Hofstrate then reached around his hips and started to tug at Bucholtz’s penis, stroking it several times to get it hard. It was here that Bucholtz let out a moan and removed her hand, forcefully but gently.

“Helen, honey,” said Bucholtz, trying his best to stay composed with a half-shaven face. “I love you darling and I too am horny as f***...but I need to finish shaving.”

“Oh come on,” said Hofstrate, who began nibbling at his neck, “I need it...I need it now...I can’t wait.”

Bucholtz turned around and took in a few deep breaths, looking on at the beautiful creature that was before his eyes. He heard her pleas and her insistence that he take her right there, with her heightened state of arousal being so inviting.

Hofstrate sensed Bucholtz might be turning a corner, so she decided to help him along. She again tugged at his penis, which aroused him to the point where he couldn’t turn back.

The next thing she knew, there they were, inside the bathtub, making love to both parties’ delight. There was lots of moaning and grunting, and there was little Hofstrate could do to get the much bigger Bucholtz from lying on top of her, but she didn’t care- she loved it when he overpowered her.

When they were finished, Bucholtz and Hofstrate held each other in a nice, long, tender embrace.

“I love it when you take advantage of me,” said Hofstrate. “I’m so glad I unlocked it out of you.”
“Me too,” said Bucholtz. “You are the love of my life…I would do anything for you.”
“Come on,” said Hofstrate as she and Bucholtz squeezed each other one more time before parting. “Finish up your shave…we’ve got to deal with your band. After that, we can have some ‘fun’ later.”

December 25, 2016,
15:21 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“Hello?” said Hecata as she heard a knock on the door of her makeshift living room.
“You have a visitor,” said Officer Calloway, one of the officers assigned to protect her at the headquarters.
“I’m not expecting anyone,” said Hecata, confused.
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers,” said Grayson confidently, chiming in before Calloway could get a word in. Hearing the phrase made Hecata comfortable enough to let Grayson in.

“Pretty good movie, I gotta say,” said Grayson as he walked in. “Arnold is always great for cheese.”

“You?” said Hecata, perplexed and hesitant at Grayson’s sight. “What do you want from me?”
“Relax,” said Grayson, patting the air with his hands. “Galla and I are friends now…in fact, we’ve been friends for a while.”
“You’re still Danforth Grayson,” said Hecata. “A cold-blooded, heartless criminal.”
“Cold-blooded, maybe,” said Grayson. “A criminal…yes…but heartless? C’mon…I love puppies.”

Hecata was unmoved.

Grayson analyzed the situation and sat down quietly on a desk facing Hecata, careful not to make any sudden moves.

“Alexandra,” said Grayson, speaking calmly. “I could go on another soliloquy about how I might not support the law but I do support justice…and that, as a criminal, I’m bound to a code that says I never target an innocent, and you are an innocent…but, your mind about me is already made up. What I do care about is finding out who your attacker is.”
“Galla sent you?” said Hecata.
“You need to understand something about crime fighting,” said Grayson. “You can’t always send the cops…you need your guys who can talk to criminals.”
“…but, I’m not a criminal,” said Hecata hesitantly.
“Galla’s also in Portland,” said Grayson. “Flight time is four hours…I was in Washington. Much quicker for me to do it.”
“Oh,” said Hecata, relieved. “I see.”

“I need to ask about your attack,” said Grayson.
“I figured as much,” said Hecata.
“I noticed something on your medical report,” said Grayson. “Apparently they extracted wood chips from your vagina.”

“Uh,” said Hecata, perturbed by Grayson’s candour. “Yeah…they…did.”

Grayson let out a chuckle, expecting her reaction.

“This doesn’t surprise you at all,” he said.
“No,” said Hecata. “I figured the wood came from the ground…I didn’t exactly get raped on a clean bed.”
“That is true,” said Grayson, “but you also said you were hit by a baseball bat.”
“Yeah,” said Hecata, “I was. Well, I think I was…I was hit from behind.”
“You were also raped by that baseball bat,” said Grayson confidently.

Hecata leaned forward and gave Grayson a look, stunned by his statement. She then leaned back and started glancing around, pondering and confused by this admission.

“Excuse me?” said Hecata. “I’m pretty sure my medical examination said I wasn’t.”
“You’re right,” said Grayson, “it doesn’t. That’s because the bat’s handle was ground to such a point where the knob at the end was whittled away. That’s why you didn’t feel it- and the medical examiner missed that part.”

Hecata, though uncomfortable with the knowledge that everything she knew about her attack was now being challenged, found herself strangely intrigued.

“See, here’s what I find interesting,” said Grayson. “Buck is a big man…315 lbs. by my reckoning. Now, you’re a strong woman, mentally and spiritually…but physically…c’mon, let’s get serious…you’ve got nothing on Buck. He could have whacked you with his hand and you’d be out like a light.”

Hecata gasped at Grayson’s unrestrained candour, but Grayson pressed on.

“It makes no sense to me that Buck would need a baseball bat to get you to the ground,” he said with confidence. “A man of his strength wouldn’t need it. Helen Hofstrate on the other hand-”

“Hold on, wait a minute,” said Hecata hollering in protest. “You’re saying Helen raped me?”
“She’d need a baseball bat,” said Grayson, “and I saw her social media posts…she was in Chicago the night of your rape. You need to understand something about Helen…she’s got a rape fantasy, she was the product of a rape…she wanted to find out what it would have been like…and, she likely thought you were a great target. Do you remember if you talked to her?”
“I talk to a lot of people…I don’t remember everyone,” she said.

Hecata then paused, a thought coming to her.

“I do remember the Wesses,” she said. “They were the opening act…they barely made it past two songs before they were booed off stage. I…I actually talked to Craven afterward…I felt sorry for him…I mean, yeah his stuff was vile...but he had heart. You feel that as a musician and I didn’t think he got a fair shake that night.”
“You are aware Craven is ‘Buck’, right?” Grayson said pointedly.
“No I didn’t,” said Hecata. “He had a mask on...and I didn’t watch the video. I couldn’t bear to read much about Helen since it brought back so many bad memories.”
“He is Buck,” said Grayson. “Craven Bucholtz is his name. Do you remember if he was with someone?”

“Now that I think of it,” said Hecata, digging deep into her thoughts, “Craven had a merch girl...some brunette bimbo who looked a lot like Helen. She must have not been older than 20, I think. Craven kept feeding her drinks even though he wasn’t supposed to. She had him wrapped around her finger, now that I think of it.”

“So for a decade Helen and Craven had known each other, at least,” said Grayson, sitting and pondering. “The question is, why did Helen wait until now to unlock Craven’s dark side? It couldn’t have been the election.”

“Maybe it was,” said Hecata. “Maybe he learned Helen was an Elector and this inspired him in some way. Craven’s bandmates kept telling him to ‘put her in her place’...maybe it took the Electoral result to get him to do that.”

“Did the band encourage Craven to rape Helen?” Grayson asked.
“Not that I recall,” said Hecata. “They they were more concerned about her effect on Craven and how much control she seemed to exhibit over him...their didn’t look healthy. Perhaps Helen tried to push Craven away from the band. Isolation is a classic abuser strategy.”

Grayson got up from the table and began to pace, thoughts swirling through his head. A realization soon came to him.

“Craven is the only Soldier in that band,” said Grayson. “Galla showed me the social media posts...two of the Wesses even pledged allegiance to Haylie. So, if anything...Craven and Helen wanted to break away from the band, and the Election was the impetuous.

“Let me ask...did the band have any other fans with them that night?”

“There was a lanky guy,” said Hecata. “Kind of shy...awkward. His name was Jon, I think.”
“Jon Benjamin,” said Grayson confidently. “He sounded like he knew way too much...about Craven...Haylie...Helen. I had a feeling he was misleading me. I always wondered why he didn’t leave the Unionists to join I know why.”

December 25, 2016,
17:39 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“You gotta stop protecting him,” said Kaminsky as Unionist Party chairman Douglas Lester sat at the interrogation table. “Your party is in a lot of trouble right now and you are not making things any easier by hiding Jon’s whereabouts.”
“I stepped in because you are out of your jurisdiction,” said Lester defiantly. “Jon called me after his mother received the subpoena for him...and you guys have caused enough trouble yourselves with him and our Party, arresting the President...I mean, how could you? I need to put a stop to this. You’re Chicago can’t arrest people in Washington.”
“On the contrary,” said Claudia. “This is a Mundiali investigation...we have jurisdiction in Washington...we have jurisdiction all over the world...and I don’t care if you don’t think we’re legitimate... Washington signed the Treaty of have to recognize its conditions.”

Lester could only shake his head and chuckle sardonically in disbelief over what he heard. The investigators were unmoved.

“Let’s review, shall we?” Claudia said. “Jon Benjamin’s semen and blood was found on a pair of pants found at the scene of Helen’s rape, the same pants which belonged to a victim he had brutalized previously. This victim was at The Empty Bottle where the Wesses were playing, of whom both Jon Benjamin and Helen Hofstrate were fans. Benjamin is a Soldier and part of a rape gang, and he has been friends with Helen for years, with Helen often picking targets for him who he raped over top of the pants from his first victim- we know this because the DNA on the pants matched multiple ‘friends’ Helen had on social media, friends Jon didn’t have. Both Helen and Craven have rape fantasies but held back on them despite encouragement from Jon. Their minds were only inspired to change once the Election results came in. Because all three have a hatred for Haylie Modine, they conspired to get Helen selected as an Elector so that she could be ‘brutalized’ in Castro’s name, with the knowledge that someone would think Haylie was actually behind it...I mean, it’s right out of Ingrid’s playbook. Sure enough, Haylie gets arrested and that leaves her status as President up in the air and now Helen, Craven and Jon are missing, off to do what...we don’t know. Of course, we suspect Craven’s band held back his urges, and that Jon stole the potential Electors list to get us from realizing his real targets, so we’re thinking Craven has kidnapped his band along with his co-conspirators...a kidnapping you are unwittingly protecting.”

Lester could only shake his head.

“You are absurd,” he said. “You have no proof that any of that is happening...we haven’t even selected our Electors yet...the lottery is tomorrow.”

“True,” said Claudia. “Except Helen received a letter stating she is an Elector, and it was signed- and sent- by you. Do you want to explain that?”

Lester grimaced and shifted in his chair. He wiped his face with his hand and let out a deep breath.

“There’s a reason why I came here,” said Lester. “It’s remorse...I...I couldn’t take it anymore. I supported Juan Castro, but many of my colleagues didn’t, so when they forced him out, I got upset.”

He wiped his eyes of tears before continuing.

“So I kept looking for ways to conspire against Haylie,” said Lester. “I’d been in contact with Virtue about different things we could do, but it wasn’t until Jon came by that I had the perfect plan. So I named Helen an Elector, and allowed things to play out...but when Jon’s mother reported him missing I felt they went too far.”

Lester then broke down in tears and slumped to the desk.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said through the tears. “Because I couldn’t bear what I had done.”

“So one minute you’re in denial,” said Claudia, “and the next you’re breaking down and crying, claiming you’re sorry for what you have claimed to have done.”

Claudia then folded her arms and gave Lester a stern look.

“Tell me Doug,” she said, “why should I believe you? Jon already misled us once.”

“I gave him the list thinking Jon would attack someone else,” said Lester, “and not disappear. He told me his plan was entirely political...he misled me too.”

“So what was your plan anyway?” said Kaminsky. “Act tough and hope we’d go away? I don’t get you man…but then again, I don’t get politicians anyway.”

“At first I wanted to defend Jon,” said Lester, “but then I was too overcome with-”
“No no no,” said Claudia, waving her hands to stop Lester’s speech. “You just said your whole reason for coming here was remorse. You didn’t have a ‘moment of truth’.”

Claudia then put her hands on the desk and leaned over, looking Lester straight in the eyes, causing Lester to look away.

“I’ll tell you what this really is about,” said Claudia. “You are afraid. You know your career is done, Haylie’s career is done and that no one will be able to trust the Unionist brand anymore, because I’m not sure anyone will know what to believe about the Unionist Party anymore. You came here because you panicked, so you’re going to play every play there is in the political playbook because you are hoping- just hoping- that you can do something to get you and your party out of this mess.

“Except…there is no way out. Is there, Mr. Lester?”

Claudia got back up and folded her arms, looking at Lester sternly.

“I want my lawyer,” said Lester, letting out a heavy breath. “I’m done talking.”

“You can get your lawyer,” said Kaminsky, “because we’re done with you too. I’m pretty sure you’ll need it for when Virtue comes calling…they’re probably not going to appreciate all this wrangling your Party has done.”

Kaminsky and Claudia then walked out of the interrogation room.

“He’s sure great at stalling,” said Kaminsky.
“Doug has something to hide,” said Claudia. “Just, what, I don’t know.”
“You don’t think all this stalling has to do with protecting Jon, Helen and Craven, do you?” asked Kaminsky pointedly.
“You know,” said Claudia, “it just might. Doug insisted that he talk with us then he put on an act…perhaps he knows we’re hot on Jon’s trail.”
“So whatever Jon, Helen and Craven are doing, they need time,” said Kaminsky, “and Lester bought them that time.”
“It is Christmas,” said Claudia, “and likely the rest of the band is celebrating with their families.”
“Didn’t Carly say that Craven has a cottage?” said Kaminsky. “One that was much like the movie?”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “but she said it was on a random lake…and the picture doesn’t provide an exact location.”
“It’s a lark,” said Kaminsky, “but there’s a town called ‘Random Lake’ just two hours north of here, in South Tacoma. That could be where the cottage is.”
“That’s a clever way of hiding the location,” said Claudia, “because I doubt anyone except locals would know ‘random lake’ actually refers to a location.”
“Which means,” said Kaminsky, “we gotta get up there.”

December 25, 2016,
20:36 local time,
The Wesses’ Cottage,
Random Lake, South Tacoma

The basement was cold and dark, foreboding as the Wesses laid there, chained to their beds naked and wondering what would happen next. The rest of the band- Glen Chambers, the guitarist, Rick Crusher, the bassist, and Rodney “Snipes” Davis, their drummer- were told by Craven, their vocalist, that they were receiving a “special gift” from him this Christmas, so they were anxious to get to their cottage and break off Christmas plans early.

They were also eager to reconnect with their bandmate, one they were happy to find out was no longer missing.

“I hope she’s beautiful,” said Snipes, breaking the silence. “Last time we did this the girl wasn’t very cute.”
“You just don’t like Asians,” said Chambers as the rest of the band laughed.
“Oh come on,” said Snipes. “I do like Asians! My favourite groupie was an Asian…a very willing Japanese girl I might add.”
“Willing because the rest of us didn’t want to touch her,” said Crusher.
“I’m telling you,” said Snipes, “you guys don’t know what you missed…she was excellent in bed…best sex I ever had.”
“Snipes,” said Chambers, “she was crazy…almost as crazy as Helen.”
“Nah man,” said Snipes, “Helen is a whole different league…the Jap was more than cordial and affectionate. She’s just into stuff you guys are too chicken to stomach.”

“Seriously, Snipes,” said a female voice that caught the attention of the band. “We don’t need to hear the Cleveland Steamer story again.”

The band all turned their heads to get a look at the person behind the voice, with shock and silence befalling the room. Helen Hofstrate had just turned on the lights and revealed herself, her appearance causing a great deal of discomfort around the room.

“You?” said Chambers, juggling at his restraints but unable to break them. “Oh no…you’re not being our servicewoman tonight…if you come anywhere near me, the police will hear about it.”

“The police already hear about me,” said Hofstrate, as she strolled around the room running her hands against the well-toned bodies of the band. “I’m sure they’re looking for me…the ‘poor innocent girl’ brutalized by a Castro supporter because he couldn’t stand the result of the Election.”

Hofstrate then went to Crusher and began rapidly stroking his penis.

“Of course,” said Hofstrate as she continued masturbating a very confused Crusher, “you guys know I’m anything but poor and innocent.” She listened as Crusher howled and moaned, grimacing over the pain her stroking was causing. When he was near climax, Hofstrate put her mouth over top of his penis and received his ejaculate, which she swallowed with glee. She then bit down hard on Crusher’s penis, which caused him to yelp out in pain as Hofstrate could only giggle.

“Why are you here?” said Crusher, panting and sweating due to the immense pain he was in. “What do you want from us?”

Hofstrate didn’t answer, since she was busy sucking on the penis of Chambers. This time, when Chambers ejaculated, Hofstrate didn’t swallow- she spat it into his face.

“I knew you were nuts,” said Chambers, spitting out some of the semen that had gotten into his mouth. “You may have corrupted Craven, but you won’t corrupt us.”

“No,” said Hofstrate with a smile, jamming a vibrator into Chambers’ butthole and turning it on full blast, causing Chambers an intense amount of pain. “You’re right, I won’t be here to corrupt you…I’m here to say that you no longer have any power over Craven…that he’s fully embraced his dark side and that you ought to too.”

“I know we sing about rape,” said Snipes, forced to yell because of Chambers’ blood curdling screams, “but we do that because we use it as a metaphor, to talk about our frustrations in other ways. We thought Craven was just about symbolism too…but then he met you, who seemed to take our lyrics literally and you put thoughts in his head I didn’t think he’d ever have. They’re certainly not thoughts we would ever have.”

“Liars!” yelled Hofstrate, “that’s what you are!” She then jammed the vibrator even further into Chambers’ rectum, causing him to experience blinding, unbearable pain. “You can’t sing about rape without wanting to do it!”

“…but we don’t,” said Snipes. “It’s just a form of expression…I wish people would understand that.”

Hofstrate then turned off the vibrator and allowed it to drop to the floor, to the satisfaction of Chambers despite the split second of pain the drop caused him. Hofstrate then turned her purposeful eyes towards Snipes, who grew anxious but tried his best to stay stoic and defiant.

“No,” said Hofstrate as she began stroking Snipes’ penis, “it’s rape…no one thinks about it unless they want to do it.”
“If you think fellatio is going to get under my skin,” said Snipes, taking in a deep breath to deal with his unwitting arousal, “then you are mistaken.”
“You know,” said Hofstrate, pulling out razor wire, “you’re probably right…so I’ll just take it away.” She then wrapped the wire around Snipes’ erect penis and began to tighten it until a voice stopped her.

“Drop the wire!” shouted Claudia, her gun drawn and trained right at Hofstrate.
“Helen,” said Kaminsky, who also had his gun drawn. “You don’t want to do this!”
“No,” said Hofstrate, visibly and audibly frustrated at being frozen in her tracks. “He must rape me…he wants to…he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“I don’t want to rape you!” said Snipes, hyperventilating as he couldn’t stop focusing on the wire wrapped around his penis. “Helen, you’re crazy!”
“Just because your mother was raped doesn’t mean you need to be,” said Claudia, the room stunned by the admission.

“No!” shouted Hofstrate defiantly. “My mother was a coward…she didn’t like being overpowered. She was weak, unappreciative of the gift she was given…my dad…he helped me out more than she ever did. Because he truly was a man, because a man should never be afraid to assert his place on another person.”
“That’s where you have it wrong Helen,” said Kaminsky. “A man isn’t strong because he reverts to animalistic urges…he is strong because he can overcome them.”

Hofstrate began panting wildly, steaming from Kaminsky’s words but insistent on pressing on.

“You have it all wrong!” said Hofstrate. “A man should not be weak! A man should be dominant…he never should ask for permission!”
“You still gave Craven a safe word,” said Claudia. “Because even you know that there some men you don’t want to be dominant over you.”

Hofstrate stood there, stunned, before lowering her head and crying. She then suddenly stopped and began to grip at the wire again as Snipes watched on, horrified and nervous.

Kaminsky then fired his gun and felled Hofstrate with a bullet before she could tighten the wire any further, saving Snipes’ penis. The room watched with both confusion and delight as Hofstrate thudded on to the floor, a lifeless husk that could threaten the band no more. Snipes watched even further as the wire that was once wrapped around his penis fall harmlessly to the floor, allowing him to eventually exhale and regain his composure.

Claudia then grabbed the restraints’ keys from Bucholtz (arrested alongside Benjamin) and undid the locks, allowing the band to regain the free movements of their limbs. Claudia allowed them to grab some clothes before collecting statements from each of band members, all of whom were having their own difficulties trying to process the whirlwind they had just gotten out of.

After giving their statements, the three bandmates gave in to their emotions, breaking down and crying. They all consoled each other for a few minutes before Snipes decided to walk outside.

He walked towards Claudia and waited for her to finish her statements to the support staff gathered, including forensics and medical staff. Claudia turned and saw him, flashing him a warm smile.

Instantly, she knew what he wanted. She walked towards him and outstretched her arms, and the two of them locked in a tender embrace. Claudia held Snipes tightly, cradling his head as he cried on her shoulders. They spent several minutes locked in the embrace, with Claudia doing her best to soothe him and reassure him that things were only going to get better.

They then went on a stroll, arms around each other’s waists. As she so often evoked, Claudia felt like a mother to Snipes, who never knew his own mother as she died in childbirth.

“Agent Claudia,” said Snipes.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia, “you can call me Galla.”
“OK Galla,” said Snipes with a smile. “Listen, I know we rap a lot about violence and destroying people…but you know we’d never think about that, right?”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “Typically, lyrics like yours are just metaphors, outlets for real world anger and frustrations…at least that’s what you were thinking in your songs.”
“Yeah,” said Snipes. “I have no luck with women…it’s how I get my anger out.”
“You seem like a good guy,” said Claudia. “I’m sure it’ll happen at some point.”
“Thanks,” said Snipes with a smile.

“I have a question for you though,” said Snipes poignantly.
“Go ahead,” said Claudia with a smile, rubbing Snipes’ back.
“You’ve seen so much violence and had to contemplate so much hurt,” said Snipes, “and understand the darkest of minds. It’d be enough to make anyone go crazy. Yet you’re one of the nicest people ever.”

Claudia smiled and chuckled under her breath.

“How do I do it?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Snipes.
“Well,” said Claudia with a sigh. “I’m not sure how I do it. I always tell myself that I need to be strong, that no matter what I see, I need to remember that it wasn’t me who did it, and that it’s my moral duty to find out who did. If I start getting violent and lash out like the criminals I’m chasing…then the public cannot trust that I work for them, because then I’d be no better than the criminals I’m supposed to stop. It’s a difficult task…but without it, civilization itself fails.”

“The difference between being a person of the law and one who is not is not having a badge- it’s having a heart.”- Casaran proverb