2 -Extra Credit

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I pushed the key into the lock and twisted it. The door opened unceremoniously. I stepped into my home, and shut the door behind me. Work was over. It was time to unwind and relax. I laughed. What a ridiculous thought. Relaxation was for the weak who couldn’t simply hold themselves together long enough to live for a while. I moved downstairs to my personal computer and decided it was time to study.

I chose a house in the slums specifically for this reason, so that I can afford a computer and internet along with it. On the other hand, I probably spent a bit more money on locks than the average slum member- or most other people- would. It was also a slight hassle finding a slum home with a basement, but this computer is a very important asset.

I turned on the tower, then the screen. I was greeted with the operating system logo, and then my password screen. Password, that was funny too. One word and a couple numbers are incredibly insecure. I had an entire sentence set up to protect my information. There was no way I was going to let anyone break into my only important possession.

Speaking of keeping my computer private, my router also used only wired connection. A wireless connection would let anyone with a phone realise that I was much better off down here than I should’ve been. This was a secret of utter importance.

I typed in my passphrase, then hit the enter key. The lock screen faded out, and my home screen faded in. It was routine. I opened my browser, and starting to log in to my Commander’s account on the official government site. He was an incredible dunce to keep his login information on a sticky note in his locker- which also didn’t always lock properly, allowing someone like myself entry to it after he leaves.

I looked through his latest reports on the arsonry. He didn’t remark anything important in this report. In fact, he might as well have copied and pasted his previous reports, they were so similar. Great. That made my job easier.

I didn’t want the police to solve this crime. I was going to get to this myself. I needed to personally congratulate this pyro. They made my life more interesting. I could also make their life more interesting, but only if I could find them.

I logged into my account and made my own personal report. It didn’t matter much, though. He didn’t read through mine, because I didn’t do anything to help solve the case. I just shut up people who wouldn’t keep quiet. I wrote about a paragraph then concluded. This was a formality, really. Just there so that if a Superior looked through Commander’s records, they would see that I do put in my own reports.

I logged out of both accounts, then turned off my computer. It was time to do some hands-on research. I got out of my chair, and applied all seven of my locks. One was the door knob, two were deadbolts, and the other four were various combination locks. It seemed a bit suspicious, but there was no way to see what I actually had hidden in my basement. To the average viewer, I was another police rookie trying to get out of the slums. I smirked at my own genius.

It would take me about twenty minutes walking to get the burn site. Thirty-five if I tried to hide from people who might try to watch. However, I didn’t need to hide. I was a man with a uniform. I could go wherever I pleased in this town. All I needed to do was act like I was still on duty. If I encountered anyone, I only needed to ask them a couple questions, maybe hand out a punishment. It wasn’t a very hard disguise to keep up.

Luckily for me, I didn’t brush past anyone. I heard some rustling in an empty lot, but acted oblivious. It wasn’t my problem. I had reached my goal without a hitch.

I stepped underneath the police tape, and briskly examined the burnt lot. There hadn’t been a lot of investigating done today, as Commander likes to keep his Officers studying in a better lighting. It was a terrible standard of investigating. It’s how I knew the Superiors didn’t care about our station very much, otherwise they would have dismissed Commander from his position, be it by demotion or death. Personally, I was glad he was so dumb. It made it easier for me to do whatever I pleased.

I pulled out my flashlight and looked through the ashen field more thoroughly. There was a possibility that the arson left some subtle clue I could test, or even show up here a second time. That was an odd behavior in criminals. I understood it, though. As an artist admires her painting, a criminal like this admires their own handiwork.

I inspected everything as carefully as possible. I didn’t have work tomorrow, so I could stay here all night if I needed. Time was on my side this time.

It turns out I didn’t need very much time, however. After about twenty minutes of investigating, I found a matchbook. It was mostly empty, but there were four left. The pack initially came with twenty. That meant one of two things: The arson had either used five or six matches per fire, or they used sixteen on this one house. That didn’t include the idea of our arson smoking. I doubted they did, anyway.

The matchbook wasn’t a very big clue, but it did reaffirm the fact that the arson lit more than one fire. What was a big clue, however, was finding another three matchbooks barely underneath the ash. They all also had four matches left. Four matchbooks with four matches left in each.

This was a more important find. It meant that not only was the arsonist trying to send a subtle message to whoever stumbled on the matchbooks, but that the arsonist was was actually the arsonists.

Multiple people lit this fire, and each of them left a protected matchbook. I wasn’t sure what the significance of four was, but I knew that these criminals held it close to their heart. I might’ve called these matchbooks a calling card, but they hadn’t appeared at any other crime scene. Thus, I concluded that they had to have been a message.

That opened up a brand new question: What were they trying to say? What were they trying to achieve? These people wanted something, but they didn’t tell any of us what it was. That was another human trait I never understood. Why did they want to seem enigmatic, yet want to be recognised by others? I stared at the matchbooks in my hands.

It was time to go home and do a little extra reading up on this subject, then perhaps tomorrow I could go search around town for shops that sell this particular brand of matches.

I pocketed the matchbooks, and covered up the spots where I found the other books. It wasn’t a very good idea for the police to leave a crime scene unattended, but it wasn’t my problem. I finally gave myself another goal to keep me entertained. It was time to pursue it.

I hurriedly paced back to my house. I had a wealth of knowledge sitting in my basement, I was going to use it.

For a second time, I had no people pass me as I made my way back to my house. This was going excellently. I might be able solve this mystery before the night was done.

I opened my home quickly and rushed downstairs after properly locking my door. I unlocked all seven locks in ascending order, then powered my computer on. I was online within a couple minutes.

I spent about three hours studying the number four. The fourth dimension was the dimension which holds time. There are four noble truths in Buddhism. There are four old elements: fire, wind, water, and air. There are four islamic sacred months. There are four terrestrial planets in our solar system. There are four main components to our DNA. There are four states of matter. Music typically has four beats to a measure. Leap years occur every four years. There were four rivers in the Garden of Eden.

Those topics weren’t relevant. Well, except perhaps the Buddhist bit. No, what mattered were the themes of death using the number four. Four is a homophone for death in Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Moreover, there are Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. That figures. Our country’s motto is In god we trust. It only makes sense that these arsonists would want to juxtapose that.

I set the matchbooks on my desk. Four horsemen of the apocalypse. That means there were probably four people lighting fires in the house. They must have only created that theme after burning a few buildings. I laughed. They burnt two houses before deciding they wanted to have some sort calling card. I laughed even harder.

These serial pyros just tossed out a calling card at the third offense. I stifled my laughing fit. These idiots weren’t trying to send a message; they were just trying to have fun, or maybe just rock the boat. I tossed the matchbooks aside. They didn’t matter anymore.

That being said, I decided I would continue to tamper with evidence until Commander was expunged and someone else took his place. This was going to be a lot of fun to watch. I’ll solve the crime on my own time, and constantly throw the police’s actual investigation out the window. It was comical, and I found it fitting.

These “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” were only burning down the homes of the rich, which meant I was safe. It also meant that all of the upper class was going to be on their toes. And any moment they aren’t home, the rugs beneath their feet could literally be incinerated. It was the most entertaining thing to happen around here in years.

This meant I didn’t need to distract myself with another goal. I was getting a bit concerned, as my computer was last my major goal, and everything in between that and now were just stepping stones to this great new continent.

I leaned back in my chair. This just goes to show you what a little bit of effort can achieve.

3 – Warm Welcome

1 – Hearth

Previous Chapter

She was choking down tears. She tried to keep her composure for her kids, who were mortified and standing with their neighbor across the street. “Ma’am, we don’t know why anyone would do this,” Commander informed her. He was right, there was no profit in burning down homes. If there was, our government would probably have capitalised upon it already.

“We- we can’t afford to get a new home! Our family has lived here for three generations…” The woman stuttered on every word.  She had to take at least two breaths in between to just keep herself from bawling.

Her neighbor was taking the kids into her house. It was probably dinner time. This woman is lucky to have such caring neighbors. Hell, if this girl could afford a house outside of the slums, she could probably live quite happily again if she’d give her kids away.

She had two kids. One was nine years old, and the other was only four. The four year old was lucky. He would hardly remember any of this.

Commander had been listening to the woman’s story, and had been trying to collect evidence for her case. He must have gotten tired of hearing her talk in circles, because he barked a, well, command at me. “Officer Fifteen, I have an arson case to investigate, come talk to this woman.” My reply was “Yessir.”

The woman looked furious. However, she was still on the verge of tears. I needed to talk her down, otherwise those two kids might end up without a parent. Perhaps no parents, as I haven’t seen any father around. Considering the area they lived in, he was probably at work.

“Miss, I know this must be rough for you and your family. Despite that, I need you to try and keep your composure. I’m here to try and inform you of your best choices regarding budget.” I spoke in a frank manner, but the woman still seemed calmer hearing my words. Probably because I was actually going to help, while Commander just collected details for his investigation.

“Now, do you have anyone else in the home providing income?” I inquired. She nodded, “My husband. He owns some farmland out east.” I was right that she had a husband. I was a bit more surprised that he actually owned more land than just what was here. They could easily afford a greater home than what they had. Odd that they stayed.

“If your husband owns farmland, there should be no difficulty finding another home, even with the prices of real estate in our city.” I was stunned she was even bothered by losing her home.

“It wasn’t- the money that mattered. It was the personal value. I had lived in that home all my life. I grew up there. Now- now my childhood is ash.” Hers eyes began to glisten with tears once more.

I see now. She bought into the “American Dream.” Poor girl.

“Okay. Now your memories are shattered. That doesn’t matter. What matters is keeping yourself and your family off of the streets. There is one house for sale a couple blocks away. It’s a bit pricier, but there is an extra bedroom and the same number of bathrooms. It’s a very good deal for you.” She nodded the whole time I spoke. I doubted she was really listening.

“Thank you for your advice. I’ll be going now.” She walked to her neighbors house. What an idiot. She really thinks this country was going to fulfill her dreams. Go to Europe if you want quaint and satisfying. Here in Capitalism Central, you’re doomed to either poverty or incredible wealth. She was part of a very small amount of people with livable budgets. That, or she makes more and just wants to seem humble. Either way, she’s stupid.

I made my way to Commander. “Commander, I talked with the woman. She has no financial issues, she’s just a dreamer.” Commander clicked his tongue. “There’s no place for dreamers in today’s society.”

I nodded.

“Now Officer, I want you to look at the ashes spread out before you. Notice anything?” I obliged, and stared out at the burnt landscape before me. I didn’t notice anything important. It was all just ash and a few disabled pieces of structure.

“I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, Commander. It’s more thoroughly burned than usual, but that just about sums it up.”

Commander nodded. “A regular arson simply lights a fire in one spot, and then leaves. That leaves more of the original building standing. This fire was lit in multiple spots, and so less of the house stayed intact. These weren’t just some fire happy assholes; they were intentionally trying to destroy.”

I nodded. This was the third building reported being completely burned down. We started to think that these weren’t just isolated cases. Most of the time I didn’t care. I only investigated occasionally, when there were no victims to talk to. This intrigued me, however. We had never seen a serial criminal around here before. I wanted to see where this would lead to. It was the only unpredictable thing to happen in twenty years.

“I’m getting sick of this arsonist destroying perfectly good property for no apparent reason,” Commander droned, “When we catch this guy, I might try to shoot him personally.” Commander kept talking, but I walked away. He was a dreamer, too. Except he dreamed of glory on the police force rather than of a consistent way of life

Everyone around me was an utter idiot. All of them dreamed of something ridiculous that they couldn’t have. It was utter insanity and stupidity. Everyone just needs to learn to take what they have and then take a little more. This country was founded on the idea of being rich, and yet no one follows that philosophy. Everyone who does just wants to fight and take more. I don’t fathom any of it.

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Introduction 2 – A Matter of Pride

Previous Chapter

“He was a damn fine soldier.”

“Tyler, right. Too bad he had a moral compass.”

I looked at Superior with disgust. “Right, it was his morals that were the problem. Certainly not the dictators we work for, oh no.”

Superior smirked just a little. “I don’t remember promoting you for those backhanded comments, Commander.” He took a sip of his tea.

I sighed. “I think he was trying to get help from our neighbor country.”

Superior laughed. “Them? They’re just a nicer extension of us. He wouldn’t have had a chance if he told them what he did.”

I stayed silent for a few moments, and finished my own tea. Tea was a luxury that only high ranking officers received. Incredible to think that, as it’s only a few herbs in a bag. “I hate this.”

“Go on.”

“I hate being unable to make a difference. I’m going to have to do something. We could start a rebellion.”

Superior laughed. “A rebellion? Listen, new recruits are too scared of losing their paycheck, and nearly everyone above them is complacent with what they get.”

I stood up. “And that’s wrong!”

Superior stayed seated, but the rage in his voice was heard. “You think I like to sit around here and kill my own men? No, I don’t. Yet, I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve been killing Officers and civilians alike! No one is safe from our so called “Leaders!” If they were, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here sipping on god damned chamomile!” His voice softened, “I have been making a change. Handing out an extra dollar here and there. Sabotaging missions that take away resources from our city. I’ve done all of it right here, while telling you how to properly lead your men.” He tossed his tea down his throat, then put his cup down. “Here, walk with me, lass.”

I finished my tea, then stood up with him. “Miranda, lass, I know how you feel right now. You were recruited out of the poorest part of the city, the same as I,” He briskly opened a door for me. “The very same slum our parents died in have given us the greatest reason to rebel. You will make a difference.”

I sighed again. “What are the conditions for retiring?”

“Injury or old age. Anything else is considered treason. If you’d like, I could shoot your leg next mission.”

I laughed. He returned it. “I might have to take you up on that.”

“I wouldn’t blame you.”

We stopped, and took off our gear in the locker room.

“I’m retiring soon, you know. About two years from now. Would you really make me find another replacement in that short while?”

I thought about it for a moment. “No, that would be selfish.”

“I’ll be waiting outside for you.” Superior’s footsteps left the room.

Superior never told me what I’d be doing to make the world a better place once I’m in his position. I guess I’d have to learn on the job once again. I took off my belt, and placed it in my locker, and closed it in. I followed Superior’s path outside.

“Do you have any family left, Miranda?”

“No, Superior.”

“Pity. You don’t seem like the type to ever settle down either. Maybe you’ll adopt, and pass your name down that way.”

“I couldn’t afford it even if I wanted to.”

Superior chuckled. “Ay, I’m having the same issue. It’s too bad I won’t be getting any sort of veteran’s bonus after retirement. I’d love to have a daughter.”

I looked at my feet. There was nothing I could say.

“Come closer for a second. I have something to tell you.”

I looked up, and took a step towards him. He hugged me, much to my surprise, and whispered: “My name is Victor.”

I tightened my grip on him, probably out of shock. No one in the force ever learns the name of the men above them. This was a rare circumstance. He’d always just been “Superior” to me, but now he has a name.

He let me go, and I followed suit. “Stay safe, Commander. In god we trust.”

“E,” I stopped myself. “In god we trust, Superior.” He smiled, and turned away.

I watched him walk away.

“E Pluribus Unum, Victor.”

Next Chapter

Introduction – Forsaken

“You need to leave.”

“What?” I stared at my brother in disbelief. “You’re just going to turn me away?”

He gave me a blank stare. “You’re a criminal of the state. You need to leave.”

Tears welled in my eyes. I forced my eyes shut and looked down. “All I want is some clothing or money, anything you can spare.”

Matthew sighed, “What you did was still illegal.”

I was angry now. “Do you really think that a knife should be illegal?”

“I’m calling the guards.” My eyes widened.

I desperately searched around the tight alley, and saw a small path to my left. I pushed my feet off of the ground and rushed toward it, leaping over a fence on the way. I sprinted down this alleyway, throwing trash down behind me. I heard sirens faintly blaring in the distance.

I stopped running for a moment, and listened to them. They were behind me, but still a distance away. I realised I had a choice. I could stay and hide for a while, or run away right now. Running right now might let me get away immediately, and our neighbor country could help me out. At the same time, there is a chance I could get captured faster. Hiding might give me time for the guards to let up the search, but I would still risk being found just because I’m sitting still.

I continued fleeing down the alley. I stopped throwing trash down, however. I knew that I might be able to leave the unguarded exit easier if I didn’t give our police a chance to guard it.

I neared the exit of the alleyway, and shoved past a homeless man. “Sorry sir!” I shouted as him as I ran.

Suddenly, my ears began to to ring. I felt numb in my leg. I looked down at it. It was painted red. My vision failed me, and the ground closed my eyes.

 

*      *      *

 

I woke up to cloth over my eyes and a tight pain in my left leg. I groaned. I was sitting on my knees.

“Ah, you’re awake,” a voice called out to me. I felt like I recognised it. “Too bad. You should’ve slept longer.”

I muttered something incomprehensible even to me. “No need to speak,” the voice replied, “You know what you’ve done. I only need to remind you of it.”

I kept my mouth shut. “It’s too bad I have to kill you on top of the other criminal. Poor kid, if only he had kept the knife to himself.”

I spoke up. “That knife was nothing to the guns we had pressed to his head.”

She didn’t respond for a moment. “Yes, but a law abiding citizen doesn’t need a weapon.” I felt metal press against my temple. “Any last words?”

I didn’t speak. I heard her pull the trigger. I heard the gun click. “Here’s a second chance, Tyler.”

Suddenly, I remembered who owned the voice. It was my Commander.

“Nothing?” The gun clicked again. “You don’t have an unlimited amount of time.”

“I know how this works,” I snapped at Commander, “You leave a few barrels empty to try and get information out of the people you execute, then kill them anyway.”

“How right you are.”

I heard the revolver cock.

The world fell into emptiness.

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