4 – A Perfect Match

Previous Chapter

“Renegade, wake up.” My eyes bounced open. Famine was standing over me, shaking my shoulder. “Oh, good. I was worried I’d have to do more to wake you up. You’re going to help me with a few things.” I sat up and tossed my legs over the side of the couch. Famine had made me a makeshift knee brace, and it did well enough for me to move around.

“We’re going to burn another building tonight. It’s going to send the police through hell trying to investigate two sites at the same time,” She handed me a pistol, “You’re going to keep watch. Consider this you’re initiation. You do good here, and the other horseman might keep you around.”

I stood up. Her windows were all covered by heavy curtains, so I didn’t know what time it was. Famine made me stand up, then handed me a granola bar. I opened it with my teeth and ate it with one hand. The other was carrying the gun.

Famine was already out the door before I even got a second bite. I rushed after her, limping. The cool air from outside blasted my face, and the my eyes adjusted slowly to the moon light. Street lights weren’t powered in the slums anymore, because no one could afford the luxury of it. Electricity in the home was getting close to being a commodity as well.

Famine walked quickly. She walked proudly. Looks like lighting fires has already filled her head with holy purpose. I almost chuckled. I forced myself to keep up.

We walked in silence for a few minutes before Famine couldn’t seem to handle it anymore. “Aren’t you going to ask whose house we’re burning?” I shook my head.

“I don’t care if we’re burning the president’s home. I just want to watch the police squabble as they try to stop our handiwork.” I checked the clip on the pistol. It was full.

“That’s right. You’re a psychopath. I tend to forget. It isn’t often that I have to deal with psychos. Well, if only for my own sake, we’re going to burn down the home of a Superior. He went on vacation yesterday, and isn’t supposed to be back in this state until next week. It’s bound to raise some hell.” Famine looked quite proud of herself. “I’ve been watching his house for a couple weeks. It’s good to see that my effort will finally pay off.”

I laughed. “Actually, I’m glad you told me whose house you’re burning. This makes it that much more entertaining.” I smiled as I turned the safety off of the pistol.

“You scare me, Ren. I don’t know if that says something about you or about me. There’s just something terrible about knowing your allegiance is owed to excitement.” Famine didn’t say anything the rest of the way to Superior’s house.

That reminded me of the first time I learned that harming others was a crime. I was glad it happened at a young age, otherwise, my life would have been quite a bit harder. I had learned while I was young to receive entertainment through means besides violence. Thus, I became much better at manipulating others and planning ahead.

About 100 meters away, lights began to adorn the streets. Famine furrowed her brow. “Here’s the fun part. Now we get to move through people’s backyards to get around.” She took a quick turn and climbed over a fence lying in the clearly defined slums. I followed her. My knee didn’t feel nearly as sore. Maybe it was some sort of adrenaline.

“Jackson, perfect. You know the route?” Famine was talking to a frail looking guy. He couldn’t have been older than twenty. “Like the back of my hand,” he replied.

We climbed more fences for about ten minutes. It would have been longer, but we were able to cut through an empty lot. We arrived near the back fence of a fairly grand looking home. It had a second floor, and likely a basement. It was much bigger than any one person needed. It would burn for at least a couple hours. That was too much time. The neighbors would certainly notice an entire building ablaze.

I grabbed Famine’s shoulder and whispered. “Famine, you’d better have something besides matches and gasoline if you want this place gone before it can be salvaged.”

She nodded. “Terry, come here.” An older woman approached. “Show my new friend our explosives.” Terry obliged, and pulled a backpack off of her back and opened it. It contained a number of C4 charges.

I nodded. That also explains how they managed to destroy the other building so well. I’m certain that if the police had questioned any nearby residents they would’ve known about the explosives. That means they only used fire to throw off the careless police.

Famine motioned toward a couple of people, and they walked towards us. “Meet Ren. He’ll be your leader this mission.” The two nodded at me. One was a man possibly in his early thirties, the other was another teenager. Famine turned toward me. “Consider this a first test. You’re going to break in and make sure Superior didn’t hire anyone to watch the place while he’s out. If there is, try to avoid killing them, but do what you must. Vince is the old one, and Claire is the younger one. I hope you don’t mind leading a woman.”

“I couldn’t care what pronouns they prefer. Let’s go.” Claire smiled at me. She probably thought I was being progressive rather than honest. It was all the same to me.

“Hold on a minute, Famine. What gives with the new kid? What makes you think she’ll be such a good leader?” Vince crossed his arms and glared at me.

Famine sighed. “Over here.” She’ll pulled Vince aside, whispered a few words to him, then came back. He still looked disdainful, but he made a nod of acceptance, and we we on our way.

I climbed the fence. Vince and Claire got over it faster than I did. By the time I had gotten over, Claire was already fiddling with the doorknob. It opened a couple moments later. Claire stood up and motioned into the house regally. “My job here is done. Don’t do anything dumb, Vince.” Vince nodded. I lowered my torso and snuck through the door. Vince followed suit.

“Claire was a thief before we found her. She had been robbing places all her life. One of our best scouts and lockpicks,” Vince informed me.

There weren’t any lights on inside, but there were a number of uncovered windows. I could see just fine. “Vince, you check downstairs. I’ll check the bedrooms upstairs. There isn’t anyone on the ground floor.” Vince acknowledged the order, then went down the stairs. It was more likely that there was someone upstairs than downstairs. I smirked at the thought.

There was only one closed door on the upper floor. I checked all of the open rooms first. They were empty. I made my path to the closed, and opened it without a sound. It was clearly the master bedroom. It was also empty.

I stood up straight and went downstairs. That was disappointing. Vince was waiting for me there. “The coast is clear. You?” I nodded. He pulled a walkie talkie out of his pocket and spoke into it, “Go get some rest, Claire. The house is empty”. Vince put the walkie talkie away. “I don’t trust you, Ren-”

I cut him off. “Good. You have no reason to trust me. Just know that I’m more experienced than you, and I can get a job like this done.”

Vince didn’t speak, and six other people poured into the house. There were three pairs of people: one pair wearing backpacks- presumably filled with explosives-, one pair with jerry cans, and one holding nothing. Their job was most likely just to hide the matchbooks. Either way, they all got to work very quickly. Gasoline was poured all over the house. The people with packs also had stud detectors and placed a small C4 charge on every other one. The other two dropped matchbooks underneath furniture, then left. Famine came in after those two left.

“Is everyone ready?” she asked. Someone else said that the jerry cans weren’t done. “Okay, they’ll tell me when they’re ready.”

A minute or two passed before the gasoline pourers came back to the ground floor. Famine asked if they were ready and they replied with a resounding yes. Famine ordered everybody to leave. Everyone obliged.

The two that had jerry cans were currently naked, and tossed their old clothing into the building. They put some other clothes on after they were done.

“Famine,” She turned me, “You can blow up the building after I’m done.” She shrugged. “Whatever, just hurry up.”

I strolled through the door. I reached into my pocket, and pulled the matchbook out of it. I stooped over, and lit one. I admired it for a moment, before dropping it onto a gasoline soaked carpet. I sauntered out of the building, hearing flames begin to crackle behind me. I marched through the backyard, and then climbed the fence. Famine and the rest had put some distance between themselves and the building. I jogged over to them. My knee had begun to hurt again.

“Are you satisfied, Ren?” I grinned. I could see light at my feet. She shook her head. “Blow the place, Jackson.” Everyone covered their ears and began to run away. Everyone except Famine, Jackson, and I. I covered my ears, then turned around and looked at the tall home. Jackson pressed the button, then there was a deafening sound. The roof collapsed into itself, falling just above our sight that wasn’t obscured by the fence. I roared with laughter.

I could feel the fear of everyone else around me. No one spoke a word as my laughter slowed to a halt. Famine shifted in place a few times over, and the other person just lit a homemade cigarette and smoked it.

Famine broke my silent admiration of the flames. “Let’s go, guys. We’ve already overstayed our welcome as it is.” Famine turned and hiked away from field. Jackson stomped out his cigarette and followed. I took a few steps backwards before turning myself.

Famine took a moment to wait for me. Jackson moved past her. “Ren, you have problems. I can’t have you just terrifying my people like that.”

I took a look at her. “Don’t worry yourself so much. It’s always the most thrilling the first time. It won’t be the same when it happens next.”

Famine scowled while she stared at me. “I shouldn’t have brought you. Damn it.” She walked away, mumbling to herself. I didn’t care. Their fear made me feel powerful, but I knew that if I kept causing it the Horsemen would try to get rid of me. I didn’t want that. I was going to be more controlled next time.

Next Chapter

3 – Warm Welcome

Previous Chapter

I woke up to sunlight slithering past my curtain and into my eyes. I looked at my clock. The red digits informed me it was 7:14. I pushed myself out of bed and got dressed. The day was still young, and I had some more investigating to do, this time not as a police officer.

I checked all of my locks in the basement to ensure that they were properly secured. They were. I ate an orange, then left my home, locking the door behind me.

Now I knew why the arsonists had left the matchbooks they had, but I still needed to find out who these people were. I stopped myself half a block away from home. I realised I would need some money if I was going to get anything done today. Having a matchbook would likely aid me as well. I marched back home to get about twenty dollars and one of the matchbooks before traveling to the nearest store that might sell matches.

I entered the small convenience store, and was greeted by a bell ringing and a man shouting “Hello, let me know if you need anything!”

Perfect, this will save me from wasting time searching shelves. “Yes, sir. Do you sell this brand of matches?” I placed the matchbook on the counter in front of him. He shook his head. “Nope, we only carry lighters. Matches are pretty outdated now-a-days.”

I picked up the matchbook and left. The man shouted at my back “Have a nice day!” I didn’t feel like wasting time acknowledging his work ethic.

I spent the next couple of hours looking around various stores in the slums, looking for stores that sold my matches. It was tedious to say the least. That was mostly because few stores held these matches, and none agreed to let me know who bought the matches. It was something about customer confidentiality. It didn’t matter. I found who I was looking for at one point anyway.

After about three hours of walking and eight stores, I felt a knife press against my back. “You’ve been poking around where you shouldn’t be, civilian.” I laughed. I was certain that upset the knife wielder. “What’s so funny?”

“You made a pun. You poked a knife into my back, then told me I was poking around where I shouldn’t. It was fairly witty, if you don’t mind me saying,” I answered him rather politely. His small knife held no candle to my training with the police. I could humor him all I wanted.

“Cut the cute shit. You’re looking for people you shouldn’t be.”

I cut him off. “Technically, I just found one.”

I felt the knife pull away for a moment, then push back into me. “Damn it. Okay, you’re right. But I still have a knife pressed to your back. One harsh shove into your spine, and you won’t be walking anymore.”

I clapped in response. “You certainly know more than the average person does about anatomy. Where did you study?” He replied with a little more pressure on the knife.

“I said cut the cute shit. Now, tell me what you know.”

I shrugged. “I doubt I know more than you do. Telling you things you know would just waste a learned man’s time. Instead, how about you teach me? I’m more than happy to listen.”

I heard a small tear in fabric, then felt some blood slip down the small of my back. “Fine, I’ll play your game. I’ll teach you as long as you take a pretest and tell me your knowledge, then I won’t waste your time with things you’ve already learned.” I was a bit surprised. This man was more crafty than anyone else I’d ever worked with.

“Good job. You’ve outwitted me. Okay, here’s what I know. Either you or some people you’re scouting for have burned down three buildings. At the third one, they created a calling card by leaving four matchbooks that had four matches left in each around the ashes. I did some research, and concluded that it was in reference to the four horseman of the apocalypse. Right, there are also multiple people starting each fire, just to ensure that most of the house is rendered unusable.” His knife slid out of my back.

“You know more than we expected. We kind of thought the horseman theme would go over everyone’s head. As it is, most people don’t actually read the bible anymore. Our country is just lucky most still know how to read even without public schools. One last question to the pretest: Why are you trying to solve the crimes?” His knife wasn’t digging a hole near my spine anymore, but it still rested on it.

“I’m not trying to solve the crime. I couldn’t care less if some rich people are losing their houses. I’m trying to discover what is being gained besides some cheap laughs at a fire. The matchbooks were too deliberate for you and your friends to just light a fire for no reason.”

“You’re pretty perceptive. Okay friend, let’s go meet the rest of the arsonists. They’ll decide if they want to keep you in or not.” He put his knife away, then clapped me on the shoulder. “I hope you aren’t too angry about the cut, but you were testing my patience. I decided to test yours a little. All’s fair.”

I grunted in reply.

The stranger began to stroll forward, pulling me along. “My name is Ramirez. That ought to tell you why I’m part of this program,” he informed me.

“Ramirez. Interesting. Isn’t that a usually a surname?”

“Yeah, it is. My first name is Harold. I hate it. There should be no reason for me to hide my culture.”

“That’s actually quite ironic. The police force hardly cares about anyone’s race anymore. The stigma against your name is only present in the common citizen.”

“Odd. I thought the police targeted minorities.”

“Not anymore. Now they just target the poor.” Ramirez walked a certain confidence that I hadn’t seen in other races besides white for years. This only made me more curious. What could burning buildings do to create such confidence?

“I have another question for you. How did you stumble onto our matches? They were hidden at the burn site. Well, besides one.”

I had to think fast. His question actually caught me off guard. I chose to avoid the truth, as then he might be suspicious that I’m an insurgent. “I’m a private investigator. The police opted not to investigate at night, so they hired me to take a look while they all slept. Then, I decided to keep the information to myself, for reasons I don’t need to divulge.”

He laughed. “No, no. I get it. You’re in it for whoever pays you the most. Don’t worry, we have guys who know how to get into the banking systems. You’ll be well compensated. At the very least, we’ll buy the evidence off of you then get you out of town. Believe me, we don’t want to get shut down after our third job.”

Ramirez didn’t talk much after that. He told about a couple turns, then kept his mouth shut. He said that Famine could tell me more about their movement than he could. I laughed aloud at hearing that one of their leaders was named Famine. Ramirez insisted it was for anonymity’s sake.

After what felt like long and silent hours- which translated to thirty minutes- we had finally arrived at their headquarters. It was a small, ramshackle cabin. It didn’t look worthy of being anything besides a poor man’s vacation home. It was an intelligent choice.

Ramirez stopped me before opening the door. “I’m going to talk to Famine real quick. I’ll call you in once he’s cool with you entering his home.” His home? Huh. The group ran all of their important meetings inside the homes of their leaders. That was not the smartest choice, but I suppose they didn’t have any other choices. On the bright side, they didn’t have much to lose by planning here.

Ramirez entered the cabin. I waited at the door. A couple minutes passed before Ramirez reopened the door. “You’re in,” he told me, looking a bit smug. He was probably proud of the fact that he talked Famine into letting a stranger in.

I stepped in behind Ramirez. He stepped in a little further and pulled a curtain aside, revealing Famine sitting upon a small chair. Famine was a muscular and well built woman. She was tanner than most people, but she certainly wasn’t Mexican. She looked me up and down. Apparently she was a bit pleased with what she saw.

“Who might you be?” she asked, a sly smile appearing on her face.

“Call me what you like. My legal name was lost to me when I gained the title ‘Officer.’” Ramirez looked shocked, and maybe even betrayed. That wasn’t my problem. I had Famine exactly where I wanted her.

“Oh, Ramirez didn’t tell me you were with the police.” Famine took a gun from a drawer in small table, and set it on top of it. Then she followed up by pulling a knife out of her boot. “I trust you know what you’re doing here.”

“Of course I know what I’m doing. If I wanted you arrested, I would have disabled Ramirez and brought him to the police, where we then would have interrogated him for information before killing him.” I saw Ramirez reach for the knife he had at his waist.

Famine waved her hand at him, and he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. She followed that by putting away her gun and knife. “What do you want then? Clearly your motives don’t line up with your Commander’s.”

“Commander Holland means nothing to me. Neither does that job. I already gained everything I wanted from it. This seems much more rewarding.”

Famine’s eyebrows raised in surprise and she leaned forward in the seat. Ramirez didn’t move. “You know the name of the one above you. That’s impressive.”

I interrupted anything else she might try to say. “I have his police account. I tamper with his reports whenever I want to. I essentially run my unit of Officers. That would be a very valuable resource for you. The best part is, you’ll get it for free.”

Famine grabbed the knife in her boot, and rushed me. I was prepared for that, and was ready to counter by tearing the knife from her hands and pressing it against whichever one of her cheeks wasn’t pressed to the ground. I raised my hand to her wrist before feeling a sharp kick to my knee. I fell down, and she held my left arm above my head, and her knife to my throat. Her leg was holding down my other arm.

Famine whispered into my ear. “You’re hiding something from me, Officer. No one offers leverage like that without trying to get something in return. I want to know what it is.”

I held my tongue for a moment. The blow to my knee wasn’t strong enough to cause permanent damage, but it would keep me on the ground until at least tomorrow. I didn’t expect Famine to be able to counter my own trained counter.

“Speak, Officer.”

“Fine. I want to raze the land.” Famine didn’t move. She didn’t speak for a while either.

“You just want to burn things? You don’t want money, you don’t want power, you don’t even want fame? All you want is to destroy?” Famine kept her volume, but she couldn’t hide her surprise.

“Yes. That’s exactly what I want. I just want to light fires. Possibly a quick adrenaline rush while I’m at it.” Famine may have lost her serenity here, but I didn’t.

Eventually, she got off of me. “You’re insane, Officer. But you have an offer I’d be an idiot to refuse. Fine, you’re in. I’ll have Ramirez tell you about our next meeting when you leave.”

I rolled off of my stomach. “Sorry Famine, but you messed up my knee pretty badly. I won’t be walking for a bit.”

Famine sighed. “That’s right, I did do that. Fine, you can stay the night here. It’ll give me more time to see if you’re trustworthy or not, anyway. Ramirez, feel free to leave after our Officer here gives you his address.”

I immediately told Ramirez my address. There was no need to hold him here.

Famine helped me up as Ramirez left. She moved me over to a sofa and helped me sit down. She was surprisingly gentle. It wasn’t a motherly kind of gentle, but it was softer than I expected.

She sat down next to me. “First order of business: I’m not calling you Officer the entire time you work with us, and neither are my followers. What’s your name?”

“I already told you, my name has no standing. I joined the police force, and didn’t even give them my name. I don’t care what you call me.” I wasn’t sure if she was upset or disappointed at hearing that.

“Then I’ll just give you a name. You’re ‘Renegade’ from here on out. You know, because you’re literally choosing to break the rules as an Officer. We’ll call you ‘Ren’ for short. Now, would you like some tea?” I must have looked a bit surprised that she had tea, because she looked smug after mentioning it.

“I’ll accept some tea. I haven’t much in the past.”

Famine laughed. “It’s an acquired taste, let me tell you. I have a surplus, because almost nobody likes the stuff. It’s quite healthy, though. I’ll get a kettle boiling.” She moved across the room, took what I assume to be a kettle out of a cupboard, filled it with water, then put it on her stove to boil. It was now that I realised she didn’t have any rooms besides this one. This was a single room cabin. Her bed sat in a corner, there was a table and some fold out chairs in another, and her kitchen just sat along the wall opposite of this sofa. There was no toilet. I had heard of outhouses before, but I thought they had all been replaced at this point.

“So what do you want to know about us? Ramirez told me all you know, so there must be other questions.” Famine sat back down with me.

She was right: I had questions. “What are you achieving by burning down homes?”

She frowned. “Ah. I should’ve seen that coming. I don’t like burning homes that could be used to house our homeless, but Death insists that we can send a message that way. We’ve been specific to avoid being explicit so far, but after a couple more homes we’re going to make our purpose clear. We want a greater chance at success.

“We’re sick of being pushed around by those richer than us. We’re angry that you can just buy your way to the top of our government. I want a level playing field, and so does everyone else who follows me. We’re burning down homes of the rich in our city, showing them that they aren’t safe just because they have money. They will be just as vulnerable as everyone else who lives here.

“We chose to be the horsemen because that is what the poor have to deal with on an incredibly large scale. Many of the poor die of starvation, many of the poor die from a lack of proper medicine, and fight amongst each other for survival, simply trying to make sure we don’t die young.

“We are here to fight for our right to live.”

I was mildly impressed. These people are trying to start a global movement. They’re all fighting for a cause that wasn’t just money. I used to tell people who were sick of being poor to move to Europe. It was mostly out of irony, because they couldn’t actually afford to. These people believed they should be able to fight for their land. I suppose they did live here, and they did deserve some way to become something more.

These people were trying to revive the American Dream.

I started laughing uncontrollably. The Dream? This is what these people wanted? They were burning homes to utter ruin just to try and bring back a short-sighted fantasy.

Famine didn’t seem satisfied with my response. “You’d better shut your trap before I shut it for you.” I managed to calm down after just a little while more.

“Your protest is trying to revive the American Dream,” I chuckled again, “Isn’t that preposterous?”

Famine got a light in her eyes. “The American Dream.” The kettle began to whistle. “Ah, water’s ready.”

Famine got up and poured the hot water into a couple cups, then put a small pouch into each. She stepped back over and handed me a mug. “You’ll want to wait a couple minutes for the tea to steep properly.” I put the glass on another small table next to the couch.

“I know that you are just a nutjob who wants to watch the world burn and break the status quo, but thank you. Your support will make a world of difference.”

I said nothing.

“Oh, Ren?” I looked at her. “Don’t fuck this up for me.”

Next Chapter

2 -Extra Credit

Previous Chapter

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.

Next Chapter

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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