Sunday, October 30, 2016

Law & Disorder

“You will only have problems when you ask fools to lead fools.”- Publius Bacchus, “The Folly of the Republic” (1715)

September 30, 2016,
17:12 local time,
Anatu Martuenki’s House,
Nineveh, Assyria

“Anatu Martuenki”, said Assyrian Federal Police officer Roger Stanner as Anatu Martuenki opened her door.
“Yes,” said the buxom blonde, terrified at his presence but resigned to her fate. “I am Anatu.”
“I’m Roger Stanner with the Assyrian Federal Police,” said Stanner, his gruff, rigid voice and disheveled look betraying the many years the grizzled veteran had been with the force.
“I’m going to guess you are here to arrest me,” said Anatu with a heavy sigh.
“You would guess correctly,” said Stanner, somewhat pleased Anatu offered no resistance at all. He wished all of his arrests were this straightforward.

As Anatu turned around and put her hands on her head, allowing Stanner to arrest her, she let out a heavy sigh, doing her best to corral her tears and her emotions, something Stanner picked up on.

“I don’t agree with this myself,” said Stanner as he completed the arrest, one Anatu noted as he did not even try to grope her. “I know this is entirely political...heck, as Assur is my witness, you should still be running for President, but Virtue’s got other ideas.”
“It’s always Virtue isn’t it,” said Anatu with a resigned sigh.
“Always is with us,” said Stanner matter-of-factly.
“Now I’m caught in the crossfire,” said Anatu.
“That’s what you get for fighting the establishment,” said Stanner, “but, between you and me, I don’t think this fight is over. I still feel you got a chance to beat ‘em.”

September 30, 2016,
13:45 local time,
Aramean Imperial Palace,
Nicosia, Cyprus, Aramean Empire

“Sir,” said Aramean Foreign Minister Pazo Pacos on the phone with his boss, Aramean Chancellor Aris Pomas. “Virtue has agreed to assist you with fighting the Pope’s representatives and the Romans in order to help you establish a republic.”
“Good,” said Pomas smiling. “Very good.”
“Next week,” said Pacos, “we may be able to sign the deal that allows us to join Virtue.”
Pomas let out a very pleased sigh of relief. “Wonderful,” he said, “wonderful work. My life’s goal of finally being free of Rome will now be finally realized. What about Pamphylia?”
“They’ll let you decide if you wish to keep it,” said Pacos. “Virtue is intent on punishing the AMF for even allowing Anatu to become a candidate for President, and your attacks help reinforce that.”
“Good,” said Pomas. “Keep me posted.”

Pomas then glanced at his computer and saw that he missed a few urgent messages from his intelligence director, so he clicked on the messages and read with interest. He then quickly called Pacos back.

“The Governor of Cilicia is dead,” said Pomas to Pacos angrily. “Could be at the hands of the occurred after another attack by the Knights.” He let out a huff before he continued. “Get on the phone with Virtue...I want answers. I want to know why they would let this happen.”

A few moments later, Franz Guggenheim, the representative of Virtue dealing with Aram, gave Pomas a call.

“Relax Aris,” said Guggenheim in his soothing baritone. “We are just as upset as you are, and we’re going to send the Virtue Guards to investigate. We believe this was done by someone out to stop our courtship, so rest assured we will find the guilty culprit.”
“The Guards?” Pomas said, relieved to know Virtue’s top police force was being sent to help, a sign that Virtue took the matter as seriously as Aram did. “OK, thanks. That makes me feel better. Looks like our friendship is going to get off to a great start.”

October 4, 2016,
07:45 local time,
Virtue Guards Headquarters,
Constantinople, Byzantium

“Hello my lovelies,” said Leroy Simms as he confidently strolled into the lab assigned to him and his team, the newly formed Guard Science Unit (GSC), all recently promoted along with Simms from their unit in Crete. “How’s the new lab?”

“Oh it’s so GREAT!” said Louloudi in her trademark shrill and her wide grin. “I already love it!”
“The people here are so nice and friendly,” said Skepsia, readjusting her top so that more of her cleavage stuck out of her blouse, to Simms’ excitement. “Their hands are so warm when they reach inside my shirt.”

Meletia could only sigh and shake her head at her teammates’ obliviousness, but she figured that since the team was new, she wasn’t in position to protest.

“At least we have stuff that works,” deadpanned Meletia, forcing a smile at Simms.

“Good,” said Simms. “We’ve got a case, an it’s a big one. The Cilician Governor, James Gudleskis, and his wife are missing, possibly dead.”
“Dead?” said Louloudi, the perky blonde breaking down in tears. “Who could do such a thing?” Meletia looked on, her eyes wide with amazement, shaking her head in frustration that it somehow surprised Louloudi that as a homicide investigator she’d actually be investigating a homicide.
“I hope we get to have a lot of blood and stuff,” said Skepsia, her voice getting more excited as she spoke.
“Oh we might,” said Simms, grinning with glee, his eyes now noticing the top of Skepsia’s areola peaking out of her shirt. “Oh we might.”

Meanwhile, Meletia wondered if she got stuck on some bad comedy, before deciding she had enough.

“When were the Gudleskis reported missing?” Meletia asked, hoping to inject some professionalism into the proceedings.
“On Monday they were supposed to return to their post,” said Simms. “Every year they go away on a vacation to a place no one is aware of, just so they can truly ‘get away ‘ from their duties.”
“Disconnecting is a great way to get rid of stress,” said Meletia, “but this time it came back to bite them. Do we have any leads on where they may have been headed?”
“Unfortunately no,” said Simms, still glancing a peak at Skepsia’s breasts, which she decided to expose for him. “However...there are reports that say they may have been heading towards the m-m-...mountains. Yes, the mountains.”
“You mean the Taurus Mountains?” Meletia replied, doing her best not to get upset at Simms’ wandering eyes. “As in the border between Cilicia and Pamphylia?”
“Ooooh, yeah,” said Simms, licking his lips as Skepsia started to rub her nipples, making them nice and hard. “Yeah...those...mountains.”

“Oh for the love of Zeus!” Meletia said, now unable to hide her frustration. “Can we not discuss a case without it devolving into a sex show? Or is that all we really are to you, Leroy- sex objects?”

“Actually,” said Skepsia, “I whipped out my breasts to make a point. I noticed in our file that the Gudleskis enjoy hiking and rock climbing. I figured the Taurus Mountains would be a natural place to look, being so close to Tarsus and all.”
“Oh,” said Meletia, shocked that Skepsia actually had a brain. “Well...good job.”
“Thanks,” Skepsia said, giggling to Simms’ amusement.

“Anyway,” said Simms, “let’s get to work. Focus your attention on the Taurus Mountains... let’s see if it’s a fruitful lead.”

After Simms left, Meletia pulled aside Skepsia and spoke in hushed tones.

“All this time I’ve worked with you,” said Meletia, “I never knew you had a brain.”
“Honey,” said Skepsia, “there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
“I guess I never noticed,” said Meletia, lowering her head and sighing. “I get so caught up with my own issues and trying to rectify that my greatest abuser is also a good friend.”
“I do that too,” said Skepsia, “but I also learned something else- what do abusers crave the most?”
“Power,” said Meletia without skipping a beat.
“So you get power over him,” said Skepsia. “Virtue’s a man’s world…they view us as nothing but sex objects. That’s just reality. So you throw it back at him…and use it to control him.”
“I’m sorry,” said Meletia, “but I can’t do that. Maybe you’re comfortable flaunting your body and exposing your breasts…but I’m not. My body is sacred.”
“You don’t have to do that,” said Skepsia. “Just stay who you are…stay vigilant. Confident. Keep him in his place, but never show him fear. If you stay strong, you’ll see he’ll eventually be the one that falls.”

October 4, 2016,
21:34 local time,
Beachside Motel,
Makhachkala, Daghestan

“What?” said Danforth Grayson, looking at his computer with shock and revulsion. “No…no…this…it can’t be!”

He then left his motel room and went to the one of one of his companions, Majoran.

“We can’t do this trip,” said Grayson. “We have to abort! Now.”
“I’m sorry,” said Majoran, looking on in confusion. “What happened? Have we been found out?”
“No,” said Grayson. “We’re still safe.”
“Okay then,” said Majoran, clasping her hands in front of her. “What is the problem then?”
“The Virus,” said Grayson, his voice filled with disgust. “Those losers have taken up the cause of Anatu…they’re pledging to get her free…they cannot get anywhere near Anatu. We cannot get anywhere near her…it’ll ruin all of our work.”

Majoran laughed before walking over to her bed and sitting down on it.

“Relax,” said Majoran, flashing a wide smile. “We’re going to be just fine.”
“What,” said Grayson, shock overcoming him. “What are you talking about?”
“I sent that message,” said Majoran. “I made Anatu a Virus cause.”
“You?” said Grayson, his voice rising. “You are part of them?!? How…how could you…how could you betray me after all I did for you?” He then pulled out his gun before Majoran deftly brought out hers, with both of them pointing at each other.

“Don’t do something stupid Danny,” said Majoran calmly. “Now, if you put the gun away, I’ll explain it to you.”
“This ain’t going anywhere until you tell me what’s up,” said Grayson, staring into Majoran’s eyes with intent and not relinquishing his gun.
“I know you’re a marksman, Danny,” said Majoran, “but I was trained by the Sharokh Force. I can shoot that out of your hands and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Prove it,” said Grayson defiantly.

Majoran didn’t flinch, turning and firing her gun in one swift motion that knocked it out of Grayson’s hand, which caused the gun to hit him in the head and leave a deep gash on his hand due to shrapnel. A dazed Grayson fell to the ground, clutching his hand in pain, as Majoran quickly moved to wrap his hand with a towel.

“All right,” said Grayson, taking a few deep breaths and still grimacing in pain. “Not going to question you. So what’s the deal?”

Majoran then pulled out her medical kit and applied stitches to Grayson’s hand, causing Grayson to wince in pain, though he was appreciative of her work.

“You said The Virus was nothing more than a hashtag,” said Majoran. “A rallying cry that had no unity…no voice. It was just people who used the term to cover whatever pet project they wanted to pursue…but it was still a group of people who felt unified, who felt they were part of a greater cause. They’re screaming for a leader, someone to give them direction…so we can do that. We can give them purpose. The whole situation is tailor-made for us to take it back over and reclaim it as our own. So I created a MyFriends account and claimed The Virus, telling them we’re freeing Anatu, ‘The People’s Leader’…and I can give the account to you. All you need to do is shoot a video.”

“That’s…that’s all?” said Grayson, overcome with emotion. “I…I don’t know what to say. You were helping me and I didn’t even realize it…I was so blind. From the bottom of my heart…thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Majoran, smiling.
“I’d give you a hug, but it’s not my style,” said Grayson.
“I’m not offended,” said Majoran with a smile, walking towards her bed.
“…but why did you do that?” said Grayson. “You owe me nothing.”
“Maybe not,” said Majoran. “You owed something to yourself, though.”
“What is that?” Grayson responded, his interest piqued.

“You looked lost too,” said Majoran. “You lacked a purpose…you said as much when the first iteration of The Virus was taken from you. I felt that you were kind of wasting away, like you didn’t know where you were going. So I gave you a direction…something to live for.

“Remember Danny, there comes a point in everyone’s life where a minute wasted is one you’ll never get back.”

October 5, 2016,
08:00 local time,
Marcos Dionysus’ Law Office,
Antalya, Pamphylia

“Our top story,” said Terry Milewski, the Virtue News Network’s top anchor, on Marcos Dionysus’ TV screen as he was watching his local TV channel, “rioting continues today all over Asia Minor as partisan tensions continue to escalate in the country following the surprise dismissal and arrest of Anatu Martuenki as the Presidential candidate for the Mound Party.” The screen then cut away from Milewski (who continued his report) to scenes of clashing protesters, many of whom were carrying banners for Anatu while others were carrying banners for Mound’s rivals, the Bearers of the Cross.

“As rioting enters its eighth day,” said Milweski, his velvet baritone soothing to Dionysus’ ears, as he tried himself to understand the carnage, “we are receiving reports that the Ensurers are considering cancelling the Asia Minor elections, stating that the violence indicates that the vote may not be able to take place with the guarantee of voter safety. Many here point the finger squarely at Anatu, who has been long accused of playing to divisive politics with her ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric, with ‘them’ in this case being the mythic ‘establishment’.”

“Seriously?” said Dionysus, shaking his head in disgust. He then picked up his remote and angrily turned off his TV, disgusted by what he just heard. “They’re blaming Anatu for all of this? When everyone- even her own party- were saying things and working to undermine her and her message of hope at every corner…I mean, seriously? Virtue is messed up.”

He then shook his head again and scratched his eyes, still tired from sleeping on his couch. Because of the rioting, Dionysus felt it was too unsafe to even attempt to leave his office for home, as his route would pass through downtown, the epicentre of the rioting, while his law office was in the outskirts, where things were relatively calm. He also left his underlings the task of washing his clothes and getting him food, since they better blended in with the protesters who were mostly poor.

A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts.

“Hi,” said a slender but buxom red-haired woman with ivory, freckled skin as she walked in to Dionysus’ office.
“Hi,” said Dionysus, a well-built man with curly, “rock star” locks. “You’re awfully may I help you today?”
“My name is Melly,” said Melly, nervously taking her seat as she was taken in by Dionysus’ looks.
“Oh,” said Dionysus with a smile. He turned on his charm and relaxed his own body, picking up on Melly’s nervousness and hoping it would relax her. “Hi Melly. I’m glad you made it today.”
“I’m glad I’m here too,” said Melly, readjusting her glasses and fixing her hair. “Listen, I have a problem.”
“Well, I’m more than happy to help,” said Dionysus who leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “It’s what I do…not every lawyer is a crook.”
Melly laughed. “That’s a good one,” she demurred.
Dionysus then leaned forward, pulling out a bottle from his desk. “Bourbon?” he asked with a grin. “It usually helps me relax.”

Melly looked at him strangely, finding his offer odd. “You know what,” she said, “yeah, sure. Give me a shot.”

Dionysus gave her a thumbs up and a knowing nod before pouring her and himself a shot, which they both drank after clanking glasses.

“Ahhh,” said Dionysus, satisfied. “That always hits the spot. My buddy got it for me when he was down in New Orleans…it’s a local favourite. One of these days, I’m going to take a trip down to the Big Easy…get me a bottle myself.”
“It is very good,” said Melly, grinning as she was now more relaxed. “It’s been years since I had that kick.”
“So, Melly,” said Dionysus, putting his hands together and leaning forward on his desk. “How can I help you today?”
“Well, it’s my brother,” said Melly. “He’s in jail…arrested for protesting the Pamphylian government who then framed him for a crime he didn’t commit.” Dionysus’ interest was piqued as Melly’s thought process was interrupted when she noticed a picture on Dionysus’ mantle.

“Do you know the Gudleskis?” said Melly.
“Oh yeah,” said Dionysus, looking fondly at a picture of him with Governor James Gudleskis and his wife, Mary, at the Cilician Ball last year. “Good friends…or, were, anyway.”
Were?” said Melly, looking on with interest.
“Yeah,” said Dionysus, wistfully. “I spent a lot of time with them…litigated a few cases for them. They even invited me a few times to their summer getaway, a ranch up in the mountains…nobody knows about it except them…and me.”
“Sounds like you guys were pretty close,” said Melly. “What happened?”
“A week or so ago I worked on this case,” said Dionysus. “His name was Ben Cypress…told me this heartbreaking story about how the Knights of St. Peter- sent by the Gudleskis- were attacking his neighbourhood in Antayla. They killed his wife and his daughters. Dismembered them too.” Dionysus’ voice got louder and he started to gesture wildly as he continued. “Then the local prosecutors, instead of being impartial investigators, decided they hated the potential negative attention and decided that Cypress was really the one who killed his own family. This despite the fact Cypress’ family was killed while he was at work, but the prosecutors decided they didn’t care.”
“Wow,” said Melly, her mouth agape and shaking her head with disgust. “That’s awful.”
“Your story struck a chord with me,” said Dionysus, who poured himself another shot and drank it. “A lot of Pamphylians have come to me with similar stories…the Arameans seem intent to cause maximum disruption.”
“Why would Aram do that?” said Melly.
“Well, the Arameans are being courted by Virtue,” said Dionysus, “and Virtue is spooked by the possibility of Anatu gaining power in Asia Minor…Anatu being a feminist and Virtue being a ‘man’s world’ and all. Pamphylia is a strong base for her support, so by sicking the Arameans on them, they could disrupt Anatu’s prospects. One thing I found out…all of the people whose families died…they were all Anatu supporters, which is why Virtue is keeping it under wraps. If they’re just a bunch of twisted murder-suicides (or just murders) then the public will believe Anatu’s supporters are all crazy and thus that she must be crazy…undermining her prospects.”
“Yeah,” said Melly, “but Anatu is no longer running.”
“…and look what’s happening,” said Dionysus. “I’ve had to live here, in my office, for over a week because of all the riots. All because the Asians were afraid.”
“Anatu was a fighter though,” said Melly.
“You really believe that?” said Dionysus, chuckling incredulously.
“Yes I do, actually,” said Melly. “Right from day one she put the establishment in her crosshairs, insisting that Asia Minor had problems when they didn’t…and, if I remember correctly, didn’t she once say she wanted to kill her own party leaders?”
“That was taken out of context,” snapped Dionysus.
“You’re in her corner, aren’t you?” said Melly.
“Yeah,” said Dionysus, as if any other answer was sacrilege, “and the Arameans are front and centre at the cause to undermine her.”
“Which is why you built an army of people to take down the Gudleskis,” said Melly.
“Excuse me?” said Dionysus, who began looking around his office sensing something was amiss. Soon he’d know what it was.

“Marcos Dionysus!” said Simms as he burst through Dionysus’ door brandishing his gun. “Virtue Guards! Hands on your head!”
“You,” said Dionysus, his eyes wide with fury. “Who are you Melly? You…you tricked me!

Melly then pulled out her Virtue Guard badge (which, like all the badges, had a recording device on it) and grinned. “That’s who I am,” she said, revealing herself to be Meletia.

“It actually was a pretty easy get,” said Meletia, as Dionysus was being arrested. “We noticed you filled your car with gas in the Taurus Mountains last week, when the Gudleskis were supposedly on their vacation.”
“Yeah, so?” said Dionysus, looking on in shock. “Lots of people fill up their gas. Why was I special?”
“You also paid Ben Cypress’ bail,” said Meletia. “Two days before you filled up, and one day before you went to an army surplus store and bought all kinds of explosives. We then looked at the area near that gas station and found a crater…made by someone who blew up a ranch, one we looked into that was owned by Mary Gudleskis. Tell me, did you drop him off to kill the Governors?”
“You…you,” said Dionysus, shaking his head slowly, apoplectic. “You are something else.”
“C’mon,” said Simms, angrily pulling Dionysus and getting him on his way out of the office as Meletia smirked. “Let’s go!”

October 5, 2016,
14:22 local time,
Assurbanipal Beach,
10km outside of Nineveh, Assyria

Anatu could only sit in the park and stare, still in disbelief that her life had gotten to this point. I never should have gotten involved with John, Anatu thought, I should have known he was a snake. She usually liked this spot, an area outside of Nineveh that was sparsely travelled which allowed her a place she could visit by herself without many people bothering her, a plus given that downtown Nineveh was engulfed in periodic clashes like the rest of Asia Minor. Still, despite the serenity of the area, it was hardly relaxing, as she was overwhelmed by her hurt. She covered her eyes with her hands and started to cry, which caused a teenage girl who was passing by to come to her bench and sit next to her.

“Hey,” said the girl. “Are you okay?”

Anatu took her hands from her face and let out a breath, her makeup still running down her face and her eyes still watery.

“In two days I’ll be on trial for adultery,” said Anatu, “and even though I’ll plead not guilty and I’ll have a great lawyer, Virtue has it in for me…it’s just so overwhelming.” Anatu then turned to her new friend and made an observation. “Do you even know who I am?”
“I do actually,” said the girl with a smile. “I love you in The Temple of Love…and I would vote for you if I could. I was just so scared to say hello.”
“Aww,” said Anatu, who outstretched her arms for a hug that the teenager gave her, which caused Anatu to cry. Anatu wiped away a few more tears and flashed a warm smile, her heart taken by the girl’s words. “Honey, you should never be afraid to say hello to me…or anyone else.”
“Lots of people are afraid of you, though,” said the girl.
“They’re afraid of change,” said Anatu. “They’re afraid of someone who challenges their beliefs. They’re afraid of someone who they feel threatens everything they know. You remember The Temple of Love…I may have played a prostitute but I owned my sexuality and I refused to let others dictate the terms of my sexual activities. I also became a woman who wound up influencing men and forcing them to respect me. You don’t get that much in Virtue territory…or in a lot of territories, really…because a woman who is free scares a lot of men, who’d rather have us chained to a wall with our legs open so they can stick their penis inside of us whenever they want.”
“I know,” said the girl. “Just the other day, this boy thought it would be funny if he walked up from behind me and grabbed my breasts. I turned around and slapped him, which caused him to report me to the principal. I told the principal that he grabbed my breasts without my permission and the principal just laughed at me.”
“I…I can’t believe that,” said Anatu, her eyes wide with shock.
“What’s worse is that boy told the principal that he meant no harm,” said the girl. “He said his friends told him if he grabbed my breasts that I’d fall in love with him…someone apparently told him it would work and had ‘showed’ him that it would work by doing it to a friend of his. I told the boy that girl had to have been ‘playing along’ because there’s no other girl who’d accept behaviour like that. I know I wouldn’t.”
“You didn’t,” said Anatu. “You stood up for yourself…you should be proud.”
“Except I was suspended and my dad grounded me,” said the girl, starting to cry. “I’m only here on the beach because I sneaked out of the house…I couldn’t take it anymore. My dad…who’s supposed to protect me, said it was all my fault.” She then buried her head in her hands, crying uncontrollably, which caused Anatu to pull the girl towards her with her head on Anatu’s shoulder as she cradled the girl’s head in her hands.

“Oh honey,” said Anatu, “I’m so sorry…I can’t believe someone could call themselves a father, let alone a responsible one. That’s not how any parent should act. You can stay with me…I know people who can help you out. What’s your name?”
“Lilith,” said the girl. “I got the name because my mother apparently miscarried before I was born…so she was convinced I was a demon.”
“Or,” said Anatu, kissing the top of Lilith’s head. “You can reclaim it…you know, there’s a school of thought within Judaic thought that says Lilith was Adam’s first wife, made of the same clay as Adam was. She left him when she refused to submit to Adam, thus necessitating the creation of Eve.”
“So my name is honourable,” said Lilith, whose mood brightened considerably and began holding on to Anatu as if she was her mother. “I’m so glad I met you.”
“I’m so glad I met you,” said Anatu, enjoying the snuggle. She then remembered her own situation before letting out a huge sigh. “I’m just worried about what we’ll do when I go to jail.”

Lilith then eagerly pulled out her phone, thrusting it in Anatu’s face.

“The Virus has gotten involved?” said Anatu, stunned and frightened at the same time, seeing Lilith’s social media post.
“Yeah,” said Lilith, who rifled through some other posts, “and see, it’s rallying everyone to your cause. You do have people who want to fight for you…don’t give up.”
“You know,” said Anatu, “you’re right. I can’t give up. People like you depend on me.”

Anatu then took out her own phone and made a call.

“Roger,” said Anatu, calling Stanner. “You said the whole police department would stand up for me if I needed them. Well, I’m going to need them.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Majoran's Mask

“When the police blur the line between right and wrong, how can you know they are really serving justice?”- Rodrigo Romarus, “The Paradox of the State” (1832)

September 14, 2016,
05:56 local time,
Pakinos Complex,
Susa, Elam

“Thanks so much for coming,” said Reza Shamanaz as he handed over the payment to his babysitter, Marjorie Torquaz. “I believe this should be enough.”
“It is,” said Marjorie with a smile. The 19-year-old dark-skinned svelte blonde smiled and pocketed the cash, not bothering to check if Reza had indeed given her enough.
“Well,” said Shamanaz, “I’ll leave you to it then.” The real estate developer smiled and waved before going on his way to dinner with a potential client.

After Shamanaz closed the door, Marjorie went upstairs to check on his baby, Gupta, whom he named because of his fondness for Indian history. Gupta was barely two months old, born to a prostitute Shamanaz had seen in Delhi. Marjorie expected Gupta to be sleeping, since Shamanaz said he had put him to sleep, but as soon as Marjorie opened the door, Gupta was wide awake.

Oh great, thought Marjorie as the baby’s wailing screams irritated her ear drums. I just *had* to wake up the baby, didn’t I? She let out a heavy sigh before collecting herself in a vain attempt to sooth Gupta back to bed. She picked him up and held him close to her body, singing softly into his ear but her tone-deaf warbling had no effect. She then took Gupta and lowered him against her chest and supported him with her forearms, cradling him and rocking him back and forth. When this didn’t work, she tried playing a game of “peek-a-boo” with him, lifting him up and down at regular intervals, saying “there I am” when the two were at eye level.

Gupta was nonplussed, continuing to cry wildly. He then calmed down after he noticed Marjorie’s breast, where the nipple had crept out of a shirt that was too big for her. His hands began to reach for it and even managed to touch it before Marjorie pulled him away.

“No, no, no!” she said in a playful but stern tone. “You don’t get to have that.” Gupta, upon realizing that he wasn’t going to get breastfed, again began to cry, which flustered Marjorie once more.

You know what, thought Marjorie, you leave me no choice. I need to do this now.

Marjorie then opened her purse, put on latex gloves and pulled out a syringe, which contained enough sedatives to kill Gupta in seconds. She took the syringe and stabbed it into the baby’s neck, injecting its contents completely. Gupta soon became quiet, dying almost instantaneously, after which Marjorie put him back in the crib. She then put away her syringe into her purse, picked up Gupta and left the house, before which she reactivated the house’s cameras. She then carried Gupta and placed him in Reza’s garbage bin by the roadside before walking a bit up the road and pulling out her cell phone and making a phone call.

“Ricimer,” said Marjorie, which was really an alias. “This is Majoran. I completed the task.”
“Good work,” said Ricimer. “Justice will be served now.” Ricimer knew that soon the garbage man would collect Shamanaz’s garbage and find the dead baby, which Shamanaz hoped to hide since he killed Gupta’s mother, who he regularly visited as a prostitute in Delhi before debts forced Shamanaz’s hand. The Delhi police refused to investigate, since the locals did not view prostitution favourably, leaving Gupta the only evidence that his mother had ever existed- and only by killing him could Majoran force the police to investigate its circumstances and reveal her existence.

“Listen, Majoran,” said Ricimer, “I’ve been thinking- you’ve done so well lately…I think you might be ready for the next step.”
Majoran smiled. “Really?” she said with glee.
Ricimer smiled, happy to hear Majoran’s excitement. “I think so.”
“I’m ready whenever you are.”
“That’s good. I like to hear that.”
“I’ll be back at the airport in an hour.”
“Good. We’ll discuss things then.”

September 17, 2016,
04:02 local time,
Mount Cameroon Road,
Baboua, Nana-Membere State

The Four Emperors had their work cut out for them. A group of Special Operatives within Virtue’s multinational army, the Protectors (ostensibly a peacekeeping force), the Emperors were created with the intention of dealing with the state of Arlynal, long known to be a haven for criminals, terrorists and other unscrupulous people. Each of them were kidnapped as infants and brought to Maiduguri, capital of the Borno province of Khorsun, where they were raised to be methodical killers tasked to perform some of the Protectors’ most dangerous tasks. Today, on the day of the 20th birthday of the youngest one, Majoran, the Emperors were finally sent out to the field, sent to Arlynal with the intention of finding Arlynal’s Earl, Charlie Batch, and executing him and his family, so that Virtue can install its own figurehead as leader, Philemon Biya, who intends to rename the country “Cameroon”, after Arlynal’s highest point.

The first assignment for the Emperors- Libius (25), Olybrius (23), Anthemius (22) and Majoran- was to approach a refugee camp here and stop a potential uprising. During the African qualification track and field meet for the 696th Olympiad next year, the winner of the men’s 200 meter race, Boku Serane, made a gesture protesting the Khorsuni government of Rekhan Taneltar. Refugees of the Khorsuni’s ethnic cleansing programs were said to be here, straddling the border between Nana-Membere and Arlynal, and a tip received by the Protectors said that some of Serane’s relatives were at the camp. They were said to be organizing a revolt with the help of the Niger River Federation (who nominally controlled Nana-Membere) that intended to topple the Taneltar regime, with the NRF said to be receiving assistance from terrorist organizations within Arlynal. The Emperors’ task was to find Serane’s relatives and hand them over to the Khorsuni government, which would then use the relatives as justification to invade Arlynal themselves and install Biya.

The leader of their group was Ricimer, 56, who acted as a father to the four soldiers in Maiduguri and was their primary trainer. Once a member of Khorsun’s notorious paramilitary force the Sharokh Force, the Hessian national was driving the Emperors’ Hummer, which contained all of their weapons and other materials. Sitting in the front was Majoran, the group’s only woman, while the other three sat in the back. Because of Ricimer’s strong patriarchal leanings, Majoran was employed primarily as the group’s medic and counselor, the one who was told had to “stay back” while the other three engaged in the combat. She was still effective as a fighter in her own right, but Ricimer often worried that she lacked the mental and emotional stability to really handle a battlefield.

Upon reaching the city gates of Baboua the Emperors were stopped by the guard who patrolled the gate, who immediately grew suspicious of a Hummer approaching a refugee camp.

“Hello,” said the guard after Ricimer opened his window. “What business do you have in Baboua?”
“We just have supplies for the refugees,” said Ricimer calmly.
“What kind of supplies?” the guard replied sternly.
“They’re personal,” said Ricimer curtly, who tried to hand the guard £100.
“Your money is worthless to me,” said the guard, throwing the money back at Ricimer. “Just the fact that you’ve tried that tells me you have something to hide. Open the back, please.”
“I’m sorry,” said Ricimer, “but you don’t have justification to do that.” Ricimer then turned and gave Libius a nod. A modified compartment in his passenger side window was opened allowing him to point his pistol through it, which he aimed at the guard’s head and promptly shooting him dead.

Afterward, Majoran leapt from her seat and ran for the guard’s control tower, promptly downing the tower’s two remaining guards and killing them by grabbing their knives and slicing their necks. She then gained control the gate and opened it, allowing the Hummer to move in.

From there, the idea of the assault was simple- Majoran would stay back and watch to see if the NRF- would send a militia to retake control of the border camp, while the other three Emperors and Ricimer would search amongst the sleeping inhabitants for Serane’s relatives. However, almost as soon as the Emperors entered the camp the situation became far from straightforward.

One of the campers recognized the Hummer and spotted Virtue’s logo embedded within the grille, upon which she alerted the other campers and woke them up. As soon as they drove in, the Emperors were soon hit with a barrage of rocks and other materials, causing them to unleash their guns and start shooting at their attackers. This soon caused a riot within the camp, with several campers bringing out their own guns which they then turned on the Emperors. Several other campers started hurling Molotov cocktails at the Emperors, who faced an onslaught of determined attackers who eventually had them surrounded.

The Emperors were not fazed, as they assumed a battle stance and eventually found the “soft spot” in the crowd and began shooting at it, hoping to clear a path for a retreat back to their vehicle. The move seemed to be going as planned, until a camper clued in and used his gun to smash a window of the Hummer and open its trunk. By this point, the Emperors’ hope was diminished, as the campers easily raided their supplies and started to use them against their invaders.

Back at the tower, Majoran saw in the distance a few tanks approaching the camp, which she instantly recognized as NRF forces.

“Bogies incoming!” screamed Majoran into her communicator, a small smartphone-type device she kept on the shoulder strap of her vest. “Bogies incoming! Retreat! Retreat!” Majoran started to pant heavily as she tried to keep her composure, but knowing the mission was a failure got her stomach into knots. Having heard the stories of brutal torture by the NRF- some fabricated by Sharokh but were not entirely fictional- Majoran decided she’d stay behind in the tower, vowing to fight to the death instead of being captured. She took up a position behind the computer and waited, doing her best to control her breathing in the vain hope that she might not get discovered.

Moments later Majoran would realize that the NRF didn’t seem to care at all that their border tower had been compromised, as the tanks zeroed in on the camp. As she heard the blood curdling screams of the campers and the commands of the soldiers, she had a startling realization.

The Sharokh Force took over those tanks…I recognize those voices. I’m also not sure the camp was really a stage for a revolt- most of the campers are calling for peace, not wanting to be part of the riot…however, the Sharokh don’t seem to care about any of that, they’re just killing people indiscriminately. Wait a minute…they used us to start a riot at the refugee camp so they could move in and kill all the refugees…this isn’t about Arlynal at all…this is about the NRF.

Horrified by what she just thought, she didn’t care that at this point she’d be acting alone- she had a camp to save and she swore she would die to save refugees who didn’t deserve death. She took out her semi-automatic pistol and filled its cartridge before exiting the tower and diving in to the melee.

She made her presence known as soon as she entered the gate, shooting dead a soldier who attempted to kill a mother who was doing nothing except retreating back to her tent with her arms held out in front of her head. Majoran then shot another soldier who tried to kill the mother, before she moved on and shot dead another soldier who was going after a father who tried to shield his children from the massacre.

Eventually, Majoran had the upper hand on the faux NRF soldiers, which was buoyed when the campers realized what was going on and started to actively help her. The other Emperors- who had fled the melee as per Majoran’s instructions- were caught in a momentary state of confusion, before Libius made the same realization that Majoran did and decided to betray his command and enter the fray. Anthemius and Olybrius soon followed, but they sided with the faux NRF soldiers as they believed Majoran and Libius were traitors. The two Emperors helped turn the tide of the battle somewhat, but, given that they were severely outnumbered, they were eventually shot dead, with the campers and the maverick Emperors coming to surround the faux NRF soldiers.

As the maverick Emperors were gaining the upper hand, they heard the sound of tanks incoming to the camp from a distance, and Majoran’s heart sank when she realized that it was the real NRF coming by to “rescue” their soldiers. Majoran began to wonder who betrayed the Emperors to the NRF but after Libius was shot dead, she soon found out.

“Ricimer!” she yelled, her feelings a confusing morass of anger and betrayal. “You sent us here to die! How could you?”

Ricimer couldn’t be bothered to fashion a reply, as he felt he had better things to worry about. He co-ordinated for a group of Nigerien expats to pose as NRF soldiers to make the real NRF believe the campers had turned on them, and he intended all along for the NRF to come and “relieve” the campgrounds after the Emperors had successfully started the riot. The Khorsunis hoped that the riot would make Virtue turn away from the NRF to them, with the riot being the first in a series of moves the Khorsunis planned to make it appear that the NRF were brutal to their own people. Ricimer would be at the centre of several of those tricks, with several other suicide squads prepared to be sent to do the dirty work. All that was at risk, as he didn’t think Majoran would catch on to his trick, but after her betrayal, the only chance he had to keep the trickery under wraps was to kill his former protégé.

She readied her clip and again began firing as soon as the real NRF and Ricimer set their sights on her, setting a course for Arlynal and the Kadei River where she hoped she could eventually escape. She started to run and used what she could for cover while also simultaneously turning and shooting at whatever soldier turned their gun on her. Her bravery didn’t go unnoticed by the campers, some of whom decided to do what they could to attack the soldiers and aid in her escape. As the bullets whizzed by her while she darted past the many dying bodies and other debris that stood in her way, Majoran felt a steely determination she never felt before, one where she felt she became an unwitting soldier fighting a battle that she would wonder would be too big for her to face. Knowing she was played by Virtue told her that her duty was to go out and right their wrongs and stand up for the peoples that Virtue failed to protect. If she died, Majoran hoped it would not be in vain.

She eventually reached the edge of the campground and approached the Kadei River where she encountered thick grasses and marshland. Most of the other soldiers seemed to have given up on her, as they were too focused on exterminating the campers and the Sharokh Force knew that even if she escaped, she’d be branded as a criminal and no authorities would ever believe her story. One soldier, however, did not give up his fight and fled after her, determined to take in the traitor alive. Majoran knew it was Ricimer, so her decision to keep fleeing was an easy one. Being the younger one, Majoran’s speed allowed her to make considerable headway toward the river.

Eventually Ricimer caught a break, as Majoran- too focused on her pursuer- didn’t realize there was a log in her way, which caused her to trip and fall face first into the grasses. She had enough time to turn her body around and look straight into the eyes of her pursuer, which caused her to hyperventilate knowing that this was the end. The gun cocked and she closed her eyes, fearing the worst.

“Go!” said a female voice as Majoran opened her eyes, stunned by what she saw. “Go I said!” the voice continued to implore. “You don’t have long.” Majoran then darted towards the river, crossing it successfully and not looking back, while the woman and Ricimer had a tussle that allowed Majoran to escape.

September 17, 2016,
05:02 local time,
Ben Cypress’ house,
Antayla, Pamphylia

“Honey, I’m home,” said Ben Cypress as he closed the door to his house after a long night at work at his warehouse. “By Jove, you wouldn’t believe how busy it was tonight…it was as if Christmas was early this year or something.”

He walked over to his easy chair and nonchalantly took of his shirt and his pants, a relief for him considering each were covered in sweat and dust. The tall man with a ripped physique then took his clothes to the laundry machine and put them in there, taking the time to take off his underwear and socks and put them in the laundry as well since the opportunity was there. He then opened the drier, hoping he’d find some shorts to wear.

“Jackpot!” said Cypress, spotting his favourite shorts. He smiled as he put them on, although it struck him as odd that the shorts weren’t yet completely dry.

“That’s odd,” said Cypress to himself. “Annie never leaves the clothes not completely dried.” He then thought that maybe Annie, his wife, had went to bed early- their three daughters were quite the handful.

Cypress then walked back to the kitchen, went into the fridge and opened a beer, which he downed very quickly. He then took out another one, and this one he decided to drink slowly, just so he could enjoy it a bit more.

“Ah,” said Cypress, enjoying his brew, “nothing like Pamphylian ale.” He smiled as he stroked his beard, grinning as his beer, Ocean Breeze, went down smooth, a nice relief given all the sores and all the headaches he had to go through at work.

As he was sipping, his eyes eventually caught sight of the vent in the ceiling, and what he saw piqued his interest.

“What’s that red stuff coming out of it?” said Cypress, his heartbeat starting to pick up. “It…it can’t be what I think it is…can it?” He then opened the drawer underneath the oven and pulled out a pistol, putting in a full cartridge. He then slowly started to walk forward but purposefully around his house, opening every cabinet and inspecting every crevice where he suspected someone could be hiding. With each failed look, his heart began to race even more and sweat began to pour over his skin, although Cypress did his best to keep his calm- he would need it should he actually encounter a bogey.

He soon got to the stairs and began his climb, although his heart began to sink when his nose picked up the most repugnant smell he’d ever smelled. His breathing became heavy and a tear even began to form in his eyes, but, after a few head shakes, Cypress regained his composure, albeit barely.

The first door he opened was his daughter Charity’s, as it was the first door available to him after climbing the stairs. He furiously looked around, tossing away her toys and her bedsheets and barging open her closet door, hanging his head when he found nothing.

“…but why isn’t she in her bed?” said Cypress, panting heavily. “Why? Why? Why?” He then banged his head a few times, trying to tell himself not to overreact, but, by this point, Cypress began to painfully accept the inevitable.

He then moved on to his children’s other bedroom, the one for Georgina and Sula, overturning it like he had for Charity, and again getting frustrated when he found nothing. At this point, he decided to hurl some of the toys around the room in frustration, with his angry grunts as he tossed around interspersed with tears that flowed like the Duden Falls.

Cypress then proceeded to the floor’s main bathroom, forgoing safety considerations and angrily opening the door, banging away as he opened the doors underneath the sink. He then moved on, opening the shower door and struck with revulsion as he noticed the body of a man in his tub.

“Who?” said Cypress, stammering. “Who is this guy?” Cypress examined the body even more to see that he’d been shot in the head, but Cypress soon realized he wasn’t the culprit of his home invasion- or, perhaps, one of many culprits- when he saw that the man didn’t have his gun on him or anywhere near him. He did notice the man was wearing a necklace that featured a miniature figurine of St. Peter holding a sword, a telltale sign of his membership with the Aramean terrorist operatives, the Knights of St. Peter.

He then moved on to the master bedroom, his heart pounding and sweat dripping profusely, anxious about what he was going to see. He saw the doors closed to the room and looked on, staring with intent at the doorknobs while continuing to pull back, his mind not ready for the sight. He then took another deep breath and decided that he had to do what he needed to do.

In a fury, he opened the doors and readied his gun, before dropping to his knees and crying uncontrollably, eventually collapsing to the floor in a torrent of tears and screams. He feared the worst when he opened the door, but no matter how much he anticipated what he was going to see, there was nothing to prepare him for what he saw.

September 22, 2016,
10:01 local time,
Taurus Correctional Facility,
Karaman, Pamphylia

The sound of his cell door opening jolted Cypress awake, his sleep patterns erratic due to the anxiety and confusion of his situation. He panicked that it may be another Pamphylian guard who was prepared to give him another beating, but his heart was soon put at ease when he saw his lawyer, Marcos Dionysus, enter the room.

“Well?” said Cypress, eager to hear Dionysus’ words. “Do I have a chance? Tell me I have a chance.” Cypress’ heart sank when he saw Dionysus lower his head and let out a deep sigh.

“They still think you did it,” said Dionysus, still slightly hungover after the stresses of Cypress’ case drove him to the local bar the night before.
“Seriously?” said Cypress, getting up and pacing, at times pulling at his hair. “What? I…I can’t believe it!” Cypress’ voice soon grew louder as he continued to talk, with his pacing becoming even more frenetic. “I mean, seriously…do they actually think I would rape my wife, rape my daughters, cut them to pieces, throw their body parts around as if they were nothing, beat their faces to the point of being unrecognizable, and then drag a man I’d never met before into my house and place him into the bathtub in order to frame him for the crimes? Do they really think I would do that?”
“That’s the working theory,” said Dionysus curtly. “Believe me, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are.”

Cypress then sat back down on his bed, running his hands on his face and shaking his head, doing his best not to shed a tear.

“I…I loved Annie,” said Cypress. “I loved my kids. I loved my job…I loved my life. Why would I want to wreck it?”
“The justice system isn’t concerned about that,” said Dionysus. “They care about what they can prove…and right now, they can prove you did it.”

Cypress began to cry, shaking his head in disbelief.

“…b-b-but,” he stammered. “How?”

Dionysus let out a heavy sigh. He was tired of having to explain the reasoning to Cypress, but it would do him little favour to protest.

“Ben, you put your hands on your family members,” said Dionysus. “Touched them several times…you even held your wife’s head one last time, and picked out the bullet from her skull yourself. Worse…your gun was shown to have killed your family. Whomever framed you did a very good job of it.”
“The Knights of St. Peter,” said Cypress, memories spurred by Dionysus’ assertion that he was being framed. “They framed me.”
“How do you know?” said Dionysus.
“The man in the bathtub,” said Cypress, his voice stammering as he was getting excitable. “He…he was wearing a necklace with St. Peter on it holding a sword…it’s what every Knight wears…the Knights…they’ve been terrorizing us for weeks…I mean, it’s no secret that the Arameans want to annex Pamphylia.”
“I would agree,” said Dionysus. “There’s been a strange spike in home invasions in Antayla, all in a similar vein to what you went through…all the other victims asserted the Knights invaded their homes and framed them, and now they’re doing it to you.”
“Why?” said Cypress. “Why are they doing it?”
“To create anger,” said Dionysus. “Confusion…uncertainty. Make the Pamphylians rise up against the AMF, out of the belief that they cannot protect them anymore. Pamphylia is a base for support for Anatu, and if she doesn’t get the state, she’ll lose the election.”
“…but,” said Cypress slightly confused. “Wouldn’t this galvanize Anatu’s supporters? Reaffirm their belief that the AMF establishment need to be replaced? This seems counterproductive.”
“It’s really about Aram,” said Dionysus. “Virtue is in very deep in AMF politics, but they're courting Aram and the Arameans believe Asia Minor is ‘their’ territory…so they want to be the ones to influence it…and the Arameans are desperate to shake this perception that they’re ‘lapdogs of the Romans’…so they sent the Knights to rape and kill your daughters and wives. Because they want to make a statement. I’m not sure they care who wins the election…if it’s Anatu then they can claim they got her in there, whereas if it’s Lazlo, they can tell Virtue they were the ones who really got him elected.”

Cypress sat in silence, making faces as he pondered what he just heard.

“Here’s what I do know,” said Dionysus. “The past three victims were ardent supporters of Anatu, and so was your wife. You, as I understand were undecided.”
“I’m not undecided anymore,” said Cypress.
“Good,” said Dionysus. “Because I wanted to tell you I posted your bail…you can leave with me.”
“I want to do more than just leave,” said Cypress, now galvanized by Dionysus’ actions.

Dionysus nodded and escorted Cypress out of the prison and into his car, where the two of them drove for a few kilometres before Dionysus fed him some important information.

“James Gudleskis has a ranch in the mountains,” said Dionysus. “He and his wife Mary go there every year at the end of September. They go unguarded and the place has no cell phone reception or wireless reception of any kind…they do this to have a ‘break’ from their duties and to truly disconnect from the world.”
“Who’s James Gudleskis?” said Cypress, puzzled.
“He’s the Governor of Cilicia,” said Dionysus. “He…was a personal friend of mine. That’s why I know about his ranch…no one else does. Not even the Aramean government.”
“OK,” said Cypress, getting enthusiastic. “So I kill him…but I’ll still have lots of work to do.”
“It gets better,” said Dionysus.
“Oh?” said Cypress.
“Yes,” said Dionysus. “He’s Aram’s ‘designated survivor’.”
“What?” said Cypress, confused but intrigued.
“Should anything happen to the Chancellor,” said Dionysus, “Gudleskis would be the one to take his place. Aris Pomas himself doesn’t know that Gudleskis is the DS- only Gudleskis and Aramean intelligence do, and they do this to prevent the military from rounding up Pomas’ government and installing themselves in power, because there’s a guy they don’t know about who can legitimately take over.”
“So,” said Cypress, reflecting on what Dionysus said, “I take out Gudleskis…I can take out the Aramean government.”
“Well, you’d be one step closer,” said Dionysus, “and I’ll help you in any way that I can.”

September 26, 2016
00:09 local time,
Governor Gudleskis’ Ranch,
Outskirts of Tarsus, Cilicia

“Stop moving!” Ben Cypress said, as he held down Mary Gudleskis, the wife of Aramean Governor James Gudleskis, on her bed. He punched her repeatedly to get her to submit to him, but Gudleskis fought valiantly, using whatever she could- fingernails, her teeth, the notepad that was in her reach- to bite and prod at Cypress, but, given that Cypress was twice as strong as Gudleskis, all it did was cause an annoyance. Eventually Cypress spun her around, slammed her head against the wall, dug his elbow hard into her solar plexus and then choked her, almost to the point of unconsciousness. Gudleskis was left gasping for air with little energy left, making her limbs very limp allowing Cypress to pose them as he saw fit.

As he climbed into position on the bed, he set her down on her back spread-eagle, using his belt to restrain her arms. Her legs were still free and regained some energy so she used them to kick Cypress several times, but Cypress gave her a few slaps to her face which made her stop. He then used his knife to cut open Gudleskis’s clothes, leaving her lying there, naked. Cypress then took off his pants and took advantage of her naked body, enjoying it for as long as he could. As he was raping her, every thrust was therapeutic, releasing a lot of the pain that Gudleskis and her husband had caused him.

“This!” Cypress shouted, as he rammed her hard, causing her to scream in pain, “is for all of the times you and your men stood by as vandals stole our goods in the marketplace, depriving us of our livelihood just so you could get whatever you liked for free!” He then thrusted hard some more, grunting as he did, with Gudleskis starting to cry amongst her moans, though Cypress wasn’t concerned for Gudleskis’ yelps.

“This!” Cypress shouted again, ramming her several more times, causing her to gasp widely, “is for all those times your men stifled free speech at our universities, shutting down protests for the simplest of things. No longer will such oppression be allowed to stand!” He thrusted again, causing excruciating pain in Gudleskis, while bending his head and positioning it on her breast, upon which he sucked, flicked and nibbled on her succulent nipple, making the pain even more unbearable for Gudleskis.

“Finally, this!” Cypress shouted, increasing the intensity of his ramming, causing Gudleskis to scream at the top her lungs in unbelievable pain, a pain so intense it caused her to have her mouth wide open, close her eyes and arch herself towards Cypress, who held her close to his body as he thrusted. “This is for the time that your men stormed my house, tied me up and made me watch as my own wife was defiled before my eyes! Now, you will know every inch of the unbearable pain that you put her and I through!”

He thrusted some more, going harder and faster with every passing minute, with Cypress getting happier and Gudleskis’ pain getting more blindingly excruciating by the minute. Eventually Cypress climaxed which felt like an incredible release, giving him a sense of euphoria that told him that justice had been served. As he got off the defeated Gudleskis, he pulled his pants back up and pulled out his gun, shooting Gudleskis dead just like he shot dead her husband moments before.

He stepped outside the Gudleskis ranch, contemplating what he had just done. The fair-skinned Cypress stood in front of the detonator pensively. He set all of his charges in the right place, ensuring that the Governor’s Ranch would be no more after he set the fuse, so that wasn’t his concern. No, it was the gravity of the moment that got to him- the fact that, after this moment, there was no turning back in his struggle. He would no longer be just a common man with resentments over his overlords- no, after this, he was a marked man. Maybe the man with the biggest mark. Thus, he wondered if what he did was right. Others would come after him, that much he was sure, but could he justify his struggle with them? If he couldn’t, how could he muster the energy to continue the fight? Is continuing the fight even worth it? No, he thought, this is right. He had to beat the Governor with every pound of his fists, just like the Governor’s men beat down his village with every pound of his military might. He had to enjoy the Governor’s wife, just how the Governor’s men enjoyed the wives of his village. He had to set fire to his crops just how the Governor burned down the farms of the village. Last but not least, he had to let the Governor’s men feel the fury they put Cypress through when they held him in prison for all those years on bogus charges, all because Cypress had dared to criticize the Governor for his ruinous taxes. The Governor needed to pay, and pay he did. Without a moment’s thought, Cypress activated the detonator and fled to a nearby hill to watch the fireworks. As he watched the ranch burn, he chuckled to himself, relieved that his quest for justice had taken a positive turn. He lit a cigar that he stole from the ranch and smoked it, revelling in his victory over the Governor. He let out another celebratory laugh as he continued smoking, but urgency crept back into his thoughts. As he finished his cigar, he dumped it on the ground and began the arduous journey inland. The Arameans would seek to avenge the death of Governor Gudleskis so they would be baying for Cypress’s blood, so he couldn’t stay here for long. Still, he fled knowing that he won the first battle, even though he knew the war was just beginning.

September 28, 2016,
13:49 local time,
Reza Shah’s Seaside Diner,
Persepolis, Persis

“Everybody!” screamed a masked gunman as he entered the dining area and shot a bullet out of his shotgun into the sky. “Everybody…get out from your tables and put your hands on your head…NOW!”

The gunman stood menacingly as he walked slowly, examining the room, and reloaded his shotgun. “I’m not playing around,” he hollered, as he dragged a man and a woman from their tables and forced them off their chairs. “Hands on your head! I said HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” The scared man and woman quickly did what they were told, standing, like the rest of the patrons, with their hands on their heads.

“Now,” said the gunman, brandishing his cell phone jammer. “Don’t try to call the cops, because they’re not going to hear you. So…in light of this, here’s what I want everyone to do…I want you all to empty your pockets…every last one of them…and put all of your valuables on your table. Once I have collected everyone’s stuff…and I leave the restaurant…you guys can all leave. You try anything funny…you die. Understood?”

As he began collecting peoples’ valuables, Danforth Grayson emerged from the diner’s bathroom, wondering what the commotion was.

“One of these guys again?” said Grayson, bummed about the situation. The silver-haired former attorney turned vigilante made a dour look on his face as he patted down his pockets, feigning disappointment that he didn’t have anything- literally- to leave the gunman for his haul.

“Hey, buddy,” said Grayson, nonchalantly walking towards the gunman as the rest of the patrons were stunned that Grayson could be so calm in this situation. “Listen, buddy…I don’t have anything on me…can I just leave you my firstborn son? It’s the best I can do, really.”

The gunman turned around and looked Grayson directly into the eye, which didn’t faze Grayson at all.

“Are you playing with me?” the gunman said. “Your firstborn son? Really? What era is this? The ancient times?”
“Well, modern classicism is going through a revival,” said Grayson, “so it’s actually a more relevant offer than you think.”
“Why don’t you give me your glasses,” said the gunman. “They’re worth a lot.”
“See,” said Grayson, feigning disappointment. “I can’t…I need them to see. I’m sorry. I promise my firstborn will be an incredible athlete and then an honest politician.”
“Stop playing with me!” barked the gunman.
“Ah,” said Grayson, “you’re right…there’s no such thing as an honest politician. You got me there.”

The gunman was going to reply to Grayson when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a woman who was still sitting at her table, calmly eating her soup.

“YOU!” he hollered. “You were supposed to get up! Why aren’t you doing that? Do you want to be killed?!

Majoran didn’t skip a beat, continuing to eat her soup.

“I kind of don’t have much to live for anyway,” said Majoran. “I’m a fugitive on the run…eventually my enemies will catch me and they’ll kill me, perhaps without giving me the dignity of a proper burial. So…if you’re wondering why I don’t care about someone like you…well, I’ve already determined that my life perpetually hangs by a thread to really be scared of anything. So…shoot me.”

The gunman opened his shotgun and placed a bullet in it, readying it for firing. He then aimed it at Majoran’s head, but while his brain told him to pull the trigger, his fingers just wouldn’t let him do it.

“Tell me son,” said Grayson, walking up behind him and putting his hand on his shoulder, making the gunman put the gun down. “What is it that you really want?” The gunman then lowered his head and put down his duffel bag, letting out a few sighs. Grayson- as well as Majoran- sensed he knew what was going on but he wanted to hear it from the gunman himself.

“Nobody holds up a trendy diner without a reason,” said Majoran, calmly and warmly. “Do you want to go outside? Maybe we can talk about it there.”

The gunman, sensing that someone had truly cared about him for the first time in quite a while, started to cry, letting loose an eventual audible chorus of tears. Embarrassed, he then nodded his head, indicating his agreement with Majoran. As he started to walk with Majoran, he was stopped momentarily by Grayson.

“Give the patrons their valuables back,” said Grayson. “I have a better idea for you.” The gunman, overcome with emotion, nodded his head in agreement with Grayson, depositing what he had stolen back into a table before quickly departing with Majoran and Grayson through a back entrance. The trio eventually made it to Grayson’s car, which Grayson quickly started and drove away from the scene, allowing the three of them to talk in private in a less stressful scenario.

“Usually I don’t take people along with me,” said Grayson, “especially people I don’t know. Been around the underworld long enough to know that’s a risky endeavour. However, there’s something about you two that tells me I can trust you…so, don’t let down.”

Grayson first turned to the gunman, who took off his ski mask.

“Tell me son,” said Grayson. “What’s your name?”
“Ben,” said Cypress. “Ben Cypress. I’m a fugitive…my family was killed by the Arameans so I killed the Aramean Governor responsible for it, after the police tried to blame me for the crime. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing…I needed money, so I held up the diner.”
“…and you,” said Grayson, turning his attention to Majoran. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t know my name,” said Majoran. “I was kidnapped at birth and trained by the Khorsunis to be a fighter…only for the Khorsunis to use me on a suicide mission to further their own agenda. I managed to escape, but my teammates did not. They called me Majoran…I’ve stuck with that name since.”

“Very well,” said Grayson, satisfied with the responses. “I’m Danforth Grayson…you may know me as the guy who once ran ‘The Virus’ before those guys took it away from me.”
“Wow,” said Cypress as both he and Majoran were wide-eyed at the revelation. “The Danforth Grayson? In the flesh?”
“Yeah,” said Grayson, chuckling. “Don’t get too excited. I’m really nothing that special.”
“Oh come on,” said Majoran. “You’re a counter-culture hero…Ben and I…we look up to you. You’re one of the few people that’s not afraid to take on the government establishment and you’ve actually triumphed…you’re probably one of the last vigilantes that truly believes in honour and justice…there’s a lot we could learn from you.”
“Yeah,” concurred Cypress. “A lot.”
“Ah,” said Grayson, feigning hesitation, “all right…maybe I’m a little bit special…but let’s not get carried away…I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Since The Virus changed into the pursuit of wish-fulfillment fantasies, not only am I taking on the legal establishment but the illegal one as well. Don’t worry, though…I’ve got a lot of allies left, and they’re allies I fully intend on using to help you two out.”
“You really believe in us, Danny?” said Cypress. “Wait, can I call you that?”
“You can call me whatever you like,” said Grayson, “as long as it’s not ‘late for dinner’.” The other two passengers laughed before Grayson continued. “Yes, I do believe in you. As far as I’m concerned, we’re friends now. See, Ben, I knew that as soon as I learned you hadn’t actually shot anyone that you weren’t there to kill anyone and thus I didn’t have anything to worry about. People don’t hesitate when they want to kill…they just shoot. You, also, I don’t think wanted blood on your hands…makes it harder for you to escape. Indeed, all it seems like is that you were there to fund yourself for some great mission you want to undertake. That’s why you rob a diner, especially a trendy one like Reza’s. Knowing you felt some kinship in me made me realize there’s something here that I need to cultivate, and I fully intend on doing just that.”
“Since I lost my family I didn’t have anyone else to turn to,” said Cypress, “until I met you.”
“In your case, Majoran,” said Grayson, “when you didn’t show weakness in front of Ben I knew you had the sensibilities to grow and really make a name for yourself as a vigilante. You already knew the instincts, and, I suspect, you already have the skills. You just need the experience.”
“That’s where you come in,” said Majoran.

“Yes,” said Grayson. “I can help…and I will…and I can tell you both have a sense of justice that very few in this world have, senses I side with. I’ve got a motel room I’m renting in Pasargadae…you guys can stay with me…we’ve got some planning to do. I’m sure you’ve heard the Mound Party has just kicked off Anatu from their presidential ticket, inspiring tons of riots in Assyria. Anatu, no doubt, wants to harness that energy, but I’m not sure she knows how, nor do the rioters. We are going to figure it out…and make a real impact on this world.”

The Night At The Port

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”- John Adams, Letter to John Taylor (1814)

September 23, 2016,
20:51 local time,
Residence of Anatu Martuenki,
Nineveh, Assyria

Despite all the buzzing and the scrambling that the harried nature of the moment had brought for her campaign, Anatu Martuenki, 26, could only sit at her desk and stare blankly at the video recorder, doing her best to hold in the numerous torrent of emotions that were boiling inside of her. The svelte blonde knew she had to project a calming and strong but reassuring image in her taped message; one that she hoped would resonate with voters worried that she could be the unifying force the badly fractured political system in Assyria so strongly needed.

She wondered how she got to this point. One of the dozens constituent states of the Virtue-aligned Asia Minor Federation (AMF), Assyria and its neighbours, the Hittites, were seen as “outliers”, places where the ancient Mesopotamian religion (and its Hittite variant) were predominant in a nation that was mostly Christian, especially among the elites. Anatu herself benefited from this “outlier” status, becoming a successful actress when The Temple of Love, a drama set in ancient times that centred around a temple prostitute played by Anatu, became a hit on AMF and later global television, lasting for eight seasons from 2006 to 2014. Halfway during the show’s run, Anatu gained a flair for activism, routinely campaigning against laws within the AMF that restricted sex to heterosexual marriages as well as legal and cultural practices that prevented a large number of women from working within the AMF. She gained a large following among progressive elements within the common population, so much so that, when the nominally-progressive leaning Mound Party registered candidates to eventually become the Mound’s nominee for AMF President, Anatu quickly signed up.

Anatu then romped through the primaries, vanquishing 22 foes through her populist message centering on easing the AMF’s restrictions against women as well as improving working conditions for the common worker. She then entered the general election phase against Christopher Lazlo, the nominee of the AMF’s other major political party (the more traditionalist Bearers of the Cross), with a ten percentage point lead in public polling, leading to many political commentators to believe she had a chance at winning the AMF election.

However, her lead would be volatile, as she underestimated the AMF’s penchant for evaluating the candidate’s character as opposed to their policies. Lazlo was a master of bringing up incidents in Anatu’s life that called her character into question, such as her long list of boyfriends, nights where she went on drunken escapades that involved incidents where Anatu would make colourful remarks, ingest drugs and/or doff her clothing, and an incident in 2000 where she defrauded a charity due to her financial difficulties as an actress. Many of those incidents by themselves would have sunk many AMF candidates, and they spurred the Mound leadership to question Anatu’s viability as a candidate (if not outright talk about replacing her), but, given that the AMF electorate was mostly tired of the elites’ antics, many looked the other way when another “scandal” popped up concerning Anatu, accusing Lazlo of “deflecting away from the real issues”.

Nothing, though, could prepare Anatu for the next salvo, one that threatened her candidacy for good. A photo released a week ago by The Pontus Chronicler showed Anatu hand in hand walking outside of a restaurant with a one John Razos of Sinope. Razos, the owner of a Fiat car dealership network within Sinope, was later revealed to be a married man, a revelation that sent shockwaves across the AMF. After initially downplaying the incident with “friends sometimes hold hands with each other”, Anatu was forced on to the defensive when Razos’ wife, Maria, alleged to the Chronicler that she caught John and Anatu “kissing” and released purported “love letters” written by John to deliver to Anatu. Public pressure mounted on Anatu to drop out, with rumblings within her own party growing that maybe it really was time to cut her loose. Worse, the Virtue Federation itself got involved, as they generally hated progressives like her, giving added ammunition for the Mound Party to make an unprecedented move. Her polling numbers dove into a tie with Lazlo for the first time, and, no doubt they would dive even further.

So this was a tape to stem the tide, she hoped. She would go on the recording, detailing the truth about her encounter with Razos, and apologizing with honesty for her actions. As she spoke, she worried that the truth might not be enough- but it was all she had.

February 19, 2010,
03:04 local time,
Portlands District,
Sinope, Pontus

“A strange time for someone to be out by the water,” said John Razos as he noticed Anatu sitting on a bench staring blankly out on the docks. Normally Razos’ comments would rattle Anatu, since she would think ill of anyone stopping her in the middle of the night, but there was something about Razos’ charm that stuck with her.

“Well, you know,” said Anatu with a chuckle, “I work so hard during the day and deal with so many throngs of people that this is the only time I ever get to be by myself.”
“Wait,” said Razos, clueing in after getting at good look at Anatu, “you’re the actress- Anatu. Wow…it’s so nice to meet you.”

Anatu looked at Razos and smiled, seeing that Razos had developed some nerves after being star struck. She aimed to calm those nerves and invited him over to sit next to her with a flick of her head.

“Are…are,” said Razos, stuttering. “Are you sure?”
“Of course,” said Anatu, flashing a wide smile that Razos found inviting. “You seem like a nice enough guy.”
“Yeah,” said Razos, still visibly nervous. “I…I mean…I like to think I am.”
“It’s okay,” said Anatu, patting Razos’ knee before keeping her hand there, which delightfully surprised her guest. “You come off more as a dweeb than a mugger.”
“Um,” said Razos, taken aback by the comment, “thank you.”

“So,” said Anatu, relinquishing her grip of Razos’ knee. “You know who I am…what’s your name?”
“John,” said Razos, “John Razos. I own a Fiat car dealership network here in Sinope…top-rated, actually.”
“Nice to meet you, John,” said Anatu with a smile.
“So, you know,” stammered Razos, “if you ever need a car…”
“Ah,” said Anatu with a sigh, “I’m sorry…I’m partial to my Austin-Healey…I’m a BMC gal all the way through.”
“Oh,” said Razos with interest. “Which one?”
“The 350,” said Anatu. “2004…my mother bought it for me when I got my first acting gig. Still runs like a charm.”
“Oh does it?” said Razos, switching to his “sales mode”. “What if I told you the Lancia Fulvia has more horsepower and gets you better gas mileage? It’s also a quieter ride.”
“Yeah,” said Anatu with a knowing look, “but my Austin-Healey goes much quicker and has a much better suspension. Trust me…you’re not going to convince me.”
Razos threw up his hands and smiled. “Okay,” he said, defeated. “You got me.”

“Say,” said Anatu, changing gears in the conversation, “what brings a handsome guy like you out on a night like this?”
Razos chuckled and blushed, taken by Anatu’s kind words. “Stress,” he replied demurely. “I deal with so much crap in my life…sometimes, I just need to escape. This is usually my hideout…I came here a lot as a kid, and, after the week I’ve had, I figured I needed to revisit this area.”

“What happened this week?” asked Anatu, concern painted on her face. “If you want to talk about it.”
“It’s okay,” said Razos after a sigh. “One of my dealerships is getting sued…could get put out of business.”
“As Assur is my witness,” said Anatu with unbridled shock, “that’s awful. What happened?”
Razos, a Catholic, was taken aback momentarily by Anatu’s admission that she followed the Assyrian religion, but made no issue of it.

“Last year,” said Razos, letting out a heavy sigh, “a customer came in and bought a Fiat 500. Got into an accident, sustained a concussion and a broken leg. Car was a write-off, though parts were salvageable. The police report said that he was going too fast for the conditions and obviously not paying attention, and investigators found that his seatbelt was not attached. I mean…it’s completely his fault, but in his deposition, he claims that the seatbelt was faulty and that we knew about it and still sold him the car anyway. Can you believe that?”

“Wow,” said Anatu, shaking her head. “I can’t believe that happened. It’s sad…there are too few people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions. They’re always looking to blame someone else…especially if that ‘someone else’ has money.”
“Tell me about it,” said Razos. “What’s worse is that my lawyer believes the customer might even have a case…I really don’t know how, none of Fiat’s cars failed a safety test in ten years.”

Anatu could only respond with a sigh and a headshake, before she got up from the bench and started to leave, but not before addressing Razos one last time.

“Listen, John,” said Anatu, “I’m sorry to cut this short, but I should get back to my hotel…but, if you ever need someone to talk to, give me a call.” She then gave Razos her card before putting her hand on his shoulder allowing her to lean in and plant a kiss on Razos’ cheek, before turning and leaving for her hotel.

February 21, 2010,
00:21 local time,
The Suites of Mithridates,
Sinope, Pontus

“Oh how I waited for this,” said Anatu, excitedly opening the door for Razos, and diving right in for a kiss, allowing the door to close behind Razos.
“You and me both,” said Razos, plunging in to Anatu’s mouth.

The two of them continued to kiss passionately, wrapping each other up in their arms as both of them felt drawn to each other in a way neither of them had felt before. For Anatu, she was taken by his inviting blue eyes and his smooth skin, but she was really drawn to Razos’ vulnerability, knowing that deep down inside there was a man who had the confidence to “take charge” but just needed someone to bring it out. For Razos, meeting Anatu was a breath of fresh air, as no matter what time of the day it was, there was Anatu, always finding time to respond to him and providing an open ear for his problems, being able to bear his insecurities in a way he never thought he could.

So when tonight happened, the excitement into the coming encounter built into a crescendo that erupted into a bout of full, unabashed passion, a passion that neither of them could contain.

Anatu would soon lead Razos away from the door, their lips still intricately locked, and led him to the bed, where Anatu took a seat before inching herself upwards, all while not loosening her lips’ lock on Razos’ passionate mouth. Once she got to the head of the bed, she pulled Razos towards her, binding them both into a tight embrace that deepened their bond. Here, Razos let go of his hold on Anatu’s mouth, making her gasp audibly before her moans became louder and louder as Razos moved his kissing to Anatu’s neck and then her ear, which caused her to squirm her body towards his in delight. As she was enjoying Razos’ sensual nibbling, Anatu found herself opening her legs and pressing her groin against his, desperately anticipating what was about to come.

She wasted no time undoing Razos’ belt and unzipping his pants, pulling them down before Razos finally shook them off. Razos then took the cue and ran his hands underneath Anatu’s silky black dress, pressing his hands and the dress upwards so smoothly and so elegantly that Anatu couldn’t help but be taken by Razos’ newfound brazenness. As Anatu tossed away her dress in delight, she barely flinched before excitedly undoing the buttons on Razos’ shirt, leaving both naked in all of their glory.

Razos then raised himself up, and took a long, but delighted look at Anatu’s body. Seeing her naked was nothing new to him- she’d done nude modelling pictures before and, as a fan, he’d seen all of them- but realizing that he now could actually see Anatu’s body and feel it and pleasure it in all its raw glory was astounding for him.

“You’re more beautiful in person than any camera could ever capture,” said Razos, still stunned by what he had just witnessed. Anatu smiled and thanked him, before wrapping her hands around his neck and kissing him again, which allowed them to resume their sexual escapades.

Razos then took his time enjoying Anatu’s body, nibbling everywhere with full delight and taking a particular interest in Anatu’s luscious, firm breasts. Anatu took particular delight in Razos’ dominating her in bed, as she felt that Razos had long lived a life where he had to acquiesce to others, an option that wouldn’t be on the table for him tonight.

Eventually, it came time for Razos to put on his condom and delight Anatu one final time. The two of them had sex, with Anatu yelping and screaming in delight as she implored Razos to go faster and harder, which he ultimately did. After a few minutes, the whirlwind of flurry and passion was over and both climaxed together, which caused them both to collapse onto the bed panting heavily in a vain attempt to catch their breaths.

“That was,” said Anatu, smiling and giggling but at a loss for words.
“Amazing,” said Razos, slightly hesitant before Anatu turned to him and gave him an approving look. “I needed that…I needed that badly…after all I’d been through…”

Anatu then placed her finger on Razos’ mouth to silence him, as she smiled in delight.

“I know John,” said Anatu. “I know. That’s why I let you take control. I can tell you’ve never had it your entire life.”

Razos smiled, struck by Anatu’s words. She was right, as he was stuck in a loveless marriage with a woman who regularly belittled him and psychologically abused him, with one of her favourite tricks being teasing him for sex only to stop at the last minute, several times doing so just to spite him or taunt him. He only married her because they had a child together, and while he does not regret his son, he regrets every day that he even met his mother.

“You know, it’s funny,” said Razos, feeling calm and relaxed. “What just happened…my wife would never go for that.”

Anatu then got up from the bed and looked at Razos with scorn.

“John,” said Anatu sternly. “I think you need to leave.”
“What?” said Razos, flabbergasted at the development. “What do you mean? I…I don’t understand…”

She then casually put her dress back on, still looking at Razos with disgust.

“You didn’t tell me you were married,” said Anatu. “You told me you were just dating and that you broke up tonight…by Assur, I believed you…wow…” She started to breath heavily, with her voice cracking as she started to cry. “I…I don’t even know what to believe anymore…I…I confided in you, let you into my life…and now I know that you lied?”

Razos tried to approach her as she broke down in tears, but Anatu brushed him away.

“Anatu,” he pleaded, himself starting to cry. “Please…believe me…I wanted to tell you…I didn’t know how. My wife…she abuses me so much…she mistreats me so badly…when I met you, it was like I found my solace…my soulmate. I…I…I didn’t want to lose you…I was afraid…please…please…I can’t go back…she’ll hurt me…I feel so trapped and you had set me free…oh my gosh…please…I can’t lose you!”

He then buried his head in his hands and cried audibly, which caused Anatu to sit and ponder what she had just heard. Her heart was taken by Razos’ honest pleas, but she was a public figure, and in a polity that as deeply Catholic as the AMF was, adultery was inexcusable. Razos was at best negligent, and thus Anatu knew she couldn’t let him off the hook.

“Look John,” said Anatu. “I have people who might be able to help you with you and your wife. Help you find a way to annul the marriage, although I know in Asia Minor that’s extremely difficult. I can even find you counselling to allow you to get through the tough times…but…” she paused to take in a deep breath before continuing. “You know how bad adultery is in this country, and the fact you couldn’t be upfront about that, especially with me being a celebrity, was callous and disrespectful. One day, I hope I can get past this and we can have a wonderful friendship, but right now…there is no way I can do it.”

Razos nodded his head, understanding what it meant, before getting up and putting on his clothes. He then meekly departed, upset and ashamed that he caused so much grief, though he wouldn’t yet understand fully the true impact of what he did.

September 24, 2016,
10:11 local time,
Mound Party Headquarters,
Tushpa, Urartu

“Hello,” said Mound Party Chairman Amaru Bensarduri as Ihbarhasvad Ganbold, Virtue’s Ambassador to Asia Minor, entered his office. “Listen, I’m just as upset with Anatu as you are.”
“Yet Amaru,” said Ganbold sternly as he readjusted the tie on his suit, “You still keep her as your nominee. Surely by now you would have released Anatu from her position as the Mound Party’s official candidate…I mean, what more do you need?”
“The people elected her,” said Amaru. “Whatever reservations I or my party’s leadership may have with her candidacy, the registered voters for our party came out and cast their ballots for her…if I respect democracy at all, I must respect that decision.” Amaru shook his head when he saw that Ganbold was visibly nonplussed.

“Look, I get it,” said Amaru, “she’s promiscuous…she threatens the sanctity of human sexuality by being so wantonly reckless with it, and by expecting others to follow suit. Believe me…I know how dangerous her message is, not just because of the social ramifications that would trivialize the most intimate part of human relationships but the health issues too, since promiscuity leads to STDs, many of them life-threatening. You don’t need to go on a rant, Ganbold…I already know that everything Anatu stands for will destroy our society, perhaps even going beyond our borders and thus we need to contain it…I already know.

“However…Virtue is also about democracy, and being a real one that has checks and balances, unlike Rome where the Caesar can decide on a whim he doesn’t want elections anymore. If you want the people to respect Virtue and continue seeing it as a reputable institution that protects democracy, then it is your duty to respect Anatu’s candidacy, no matter how revolting you may find it.”

“Passionate speech, Amaru,” said Ganbold, still dismissive. “All that stuff could have held a week ago, when, despite our better judgement, she was in the lead. She is not anymore, and now she’s a proven adulterer. That alone should give you some pause.”
“Come on,” said Amaru, “you heard her…she said she was fooled…that she didn’t know that John Razos was married, and that she broke it off as soon as she found out. Technically adultery, yes…but it’s not like she actively sought him out and induced him to cheat. John did.”

Ganbold didn’t offer a response- he just pulled out his smartphone and loaded a video, thrusting his phone into Amaru’s face and thus forcing him to watch the video. Amaru was quickly disgusted by what he saw.

“I just want to comment,” said Razos in a video statement released just moments earlier on his social media accounts, “on Anatu’s video, and the blatant and downright disgusting lie that she put forward, as well as the casualness she displayed while uttering it.” As Razos continued, his eyes watered due to the eye drops he applied to them, with his voice quivering but sounding stilted at times. “Despite what Anatu has led you to believe, she knew full well that I was a married man, yet she decided to continue pursuing me anyway. Much like her name, she was relentless, pulling every trick that she could in an effort to visit me and see me, all so she could just have sex with me. She continued to contact me even though I told her not to, she would talk to my friends in a bid to get a chance to see me, and she even once posed as a customer just so she could visit my dealership.”

Razos then choked up, thinking about his worst childhood memory- when his pet turtle died- which allowed him to produce credible tears.

“The worst of it, though,” said Razos, his voice cracking because of his sobbing, “was when she invited me to her hotel room. I simply thought, ‘wow, I’ve never seen a celebrity’s hotel room before’, so I decided to pay her a visit. I never expected sex. So you could only understand my shock- and bitter resentment- when, upon arriving to her room, she decided she had enough of me rejecting her advances, so she quickly undid my pants and…” He paused to take a deep breath, although no new tears formed, “and she stuck my penis in her mouth, proceeding to give me oral sex even though I didn’t want it. Frozen with fear and paralyzed the shock of her brazen act- not to mention how dangerously close her teeth were to my penis- I decided to give in, and I broke down my resistance and…to my shame, I had sex with her that night.

“I thought that would be the end of it, but I would soon still receive calls and texts from Anatu, begging me to see her again. I did not think much of it, but then, one day, while I was alone in my bed- as my wife was out of town that night- I woke up to Anatu, naked, with my pants down and my penis inside her vagina, using her body to thrust it repeatedly inside of her. After overcoming my shock over what was happening, I pushed Anatu off of me and grabbed my shotgun, upon which she decided that it was not worth the fight and fled. After she left the house, I tried to go back to bed, but I couldn’t, as I laid in my bed for hours, crying uncontrollably and feeling like a disgusting husk of a man who couldn’t stop this ‘woman’ from defiling me. I became distant from my wife, as I felt ashamed for what happened, which eventually led to our divorce.

“Thus, I cannot understand why anyone would think that Anatu would be qualified in any way to be President of our fine federation. Truth is, she should be in jail for her actions, not just because she forced herself on to me several, several times but because she did so even though she knew I was married. She became so obsessed with me that she was determined to destroy my marriage just so she could have me all to her, as if I was just a shiny ‘prize’ for her to obtain. People say, ‘what’s the harm in sexual liberation?’ ”. Razos then panned the camera and revealed that his room that was supposed to be his living room was barren, as he moved all the furniture out of it. “Well, I ask them to take a look at me, and see how much harm it really can cause.”

Ganbold then put away his phone and stood stoically looking towards Amaru, who shook his head several times and wiped his face with his hands multiple times, visibly distressed. Eventually, Amaru spoke.

“You know what,” said Amaru, his resolve finally broken. “Ganbold…you’re right. This woman…she’s dangerous. She cannot be anywhere near the government where she can set policies that ensure the destruction of our society.” Amaru then slammed his palm against his desk, causing Ganbold to jump.

“Screw the riots,” said Amaru with conviction. “Screw how many people will march to destroy our government- we can handle them. You know what, screw the people who will contend that we elites are ‘out of touch’ and don’t know what we’re doing- it’s the commoners who show, more often than not, that they’re ones who truly don’t know what they’re doing.

“No…Anatu will no longer be our candidate. I will officially remove her right now.”

Amaru then began his press release, pointing to an obscure Mound rule that says that the Party could get rid of its candidate “for any reason, whenever it saw fit”. Amaru then smiled as he wrote, eliciting a smile from Ganbold as well, but- as Amaru would soon find out- there was no preparing for the protests the AMF was going to get.