Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chapter 38

They say that nothing ever goes exactly according to plan; I tend to agree. I’m more than willing to improvise when I have to. Here I was, on the cusp of vengeance, and the only thing left in my way was waiting for the most logical man I’ve ever met to make a rash, emotional decision. I didn’t have any idea how long it would take for Raiden to pull the plug on his experiment with Trystix in Chicago after the destruction of Veritas. It was like waiting on a hurricane to hit the shore.

    I drove to Johnny’s now-orphaned home. A heavy melancholy settled over me as I walked in the front door. My arm was throbbing, blood stained my clothes, and I smelled like smoke. I slowly walked into the bathroom to take a shower. I stayed in for longer than usual. I sat down after a while, letting the water wash the ash and blood from my body. But as long as I waited, I knew that no amount of running water could wash away the darkness that had taken a hold on me. No amount of soap and water could erase the stains from my soul. I was completely alone now.

    Eventually, I got out of the shower, dried off, and started to treat my injured shoulder. I had a nasty hole through my deltoid, and the bullet had glanced off the bone and exited the other side. It was a bloody mess. The tissue was shredded, the muscles mangled, and the pain was staggering. I never paid much attention to my first aid class in high school, but I had received a lot of practice in fixing myself up. Burning things down for fun will give you that kind of real-life experience. I disinfected the wound with alcohol, wrapped it in a tight bandage, swore several hundred times, and made a make-shift sling out of a belt and an old shirt. It ached and throbbed, but at least I had it contained.

    I sat down on Johnny’s couch, reminiscing about that night just a week before. I remembered the look on Johnny’s face, the pain that I gave him, as I revealed my plan to him. I remembered him begging me to put him out of his misery once the job was done. It was a little ironic that I was glad I hadn’t had to do it, even though Johnny was still gone. I sighed deeply, feeling the pain of losing my friend mix with the pain in my shoulder. The mental anguish greatly outweighed the pain in my shoulder. I had just lost the last person on the planet I gave a damn about. I sighed again and flipped on the TV.

    It had only been a few hours since the destruction of Veritas Chicago, but the news was on top of it already. Each channel was talking about the “Nemesis” of the people, calling out for blood. They had just found a few bodies, but they hadn’t identified them yet. I hoped they wouldn’t be able to, at least not for a while. I really needed a place to crash and heal up a bit, not to mention a place to watch the fireworks whenever they started.

“…And now we will hear from Mr. Micah Raiden, the owner of the Veritas company…” The reporter was saying.

Maybe I didn't have to wait that long after all.

The picture changed to a live press conference in Seattle, watching as the White King made his way to the podium. He was wearing a black suit accentuated with a red tie, looking as trim and lean as ever. He had a grave expression on his face, jaw set. His hands were clenched, and he moved with a rigid seriousness. He looked as angry as I had ever seen him. The room fell to a hush. The tension and anxiety in the room was palpable, even through the television.

“There was a day in December of 1941 that Franklin D. Roosevelt said would ‘live in infamy.’ We recognize this as the day Japan attacked the United States and forced us to enter World War II. Though we are many years removed from this infamous and tragic day, the citizens of this great nation have never forgotten it. In 2001, a terrorist group attacked our nation again, destroying the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. Again, we have never forgotten. Now, on this very day, in the heart of our country, another enemy has struck us to the core. The largest supplier of the Red Rose Fever treatment drugs, Veritas Chicago, has been destroyed. The building is a total loss, and at least two men have lost their lives. I have reviewed my live-feed security cameras, and I can confirm with no uncertainty that the Nemesis arsonist has struck again. This heinous attack was unexpected; each of this heartless man’s targets have previously had little to no effect on the community, other than terror. But this evil man has taken something from each of us; hope. He has robbed our children of this hope, of faith, of security in knowing there was a treatment for this horrific fever that is running rampant through our dear nation. The East has no reserve of fever drugs left. I am sending what we can, but the West has need of them as well. People will die because of the actions of this Nemesis. Because of this attack on our security and a lack of means to repair the damage, I am pulling my shipments away from the East to protect them, at least until the Nemesis is caught.  This is by no means a severance of relations with Trysticorp. It is merely a security measure to make sure we can help everyone we can. I have spoken with Mr. Trystix in Chicago, who is even more stricken by this attack than myself. His concern is solely on the people of his city and the East. He too will be doing a press release, immediately following my own. He will address your questions regarding the attack today in Chicago. I have no further statement, aside from one single request. I want this Nemesis found. I want him caught, tried, and convicted of crimes against this nation. And then, I want to see him punished for his sins. I am offering a reward of one million dollars to the man who brings him in. Thank you for your time, and God bless America.”

    Raiden barely paused before walking away from the podium. The local reporters fired question after question at him as he left, but he stalked away with just a small, sad smile. He looked pale, tired even. I was impressed by his formal death sentence for me. That was definitely more direct than I had ever seen him. I had struck the right nerve, forcing him to pull his resources. I had hoped for a rash decision, but his move seemed rational enough. It didn’t matter to me, really. As long as he retreated back, my needs were met. Trystix would be cut off.

    The cameras cut to Chicago, with a red-faced, seething Trystix approaching the podium. He looked as angry as I’d ever seen him. He walked, if you can call him lumbering forward in a relatively duck-like motion a “walk,” up to the microphone. He looked like a really pissed-off penguin.

“Although Mr. Raiden, has addressed this already, I too am angry. I am angry that someone could do these things to his own countrymen. I’m angry that someone could be this callous and cold; evil enough to unleash this kind of devastation. I’m disappointed that the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ has fallen to this point. I cannot believe that the value of life means so little to this man. We needn’t have another villain; this Nemesis is bad enough.” He paused, letting his words sink in.

    Wait…what? He hadn’t been talking about me, save until that last sentence. I smiled a bit. The fireworks were about to start…

“Let me tell all of you a story. Two nights ago, as I was meeting with my resident physicians on the progress of a revolutionary Red Rose Fever drug, someone broke into our lab at Veritas Chicago. They did little to disturb anything, except to steal some very important documents and blood samples proving the success of a new drug in its preliminary tests. This drug has shown exceptional results in treating the Red Rose Fever. I checked the security tapes within hours after the intrusion, and found them stuck in a loop of footage from the previous day. There was no visual evidence of the break-in because of this. Know this, my good people of the East; I know who is responsible. I know who the heartless coward truly is. I know him, and so do you. It is NOT the Nemesis boogeyman that Raiden would have you believe in. It is RAIDEN HIMSELF!” He slammed his fist on the podium, again pausing to let the thought sink in.

    The people in the room immediately began chattering like mice, firing questions at each other as fast as their rodent brains could think of them. Trystix stood at the podium, eyes moving from person to person. He said nothing for nearly a minute, then raised his hands to usher in silence.

“Have I proof of this? That Mr. Micah Raiden is the true villain robbing us of our sanctity of life? No. I have none. But no one else could have doctored those tapes. No one else has such a great need for the cure I have been working day and night to give each of you. Raiden is not our “saving grace,” he is our death sentence! This attack on our safety began with him! He is behind the Nemesis! He probably sent him to attack us to distract my attention, pulling the wool over my eyes if you will. The Nemesis is nothing more than a hired gun! Mark my words, people of the East. Raiden will pay. He must be removed from his position of power! Because of the direct nature of his attack on our people, I will not waste any more time. I hereby declare war on the West! The only way this war will end will be two-fold: Raiden must be removed from power and punished for his treason. Secondly, control of the country must be deferred to me! Only one as righteous as I can save us from this menace. I have already mobilized the army, and we move at dawn. I call for volunteers to contact their local unit for marching orders. Raiden must fall! He is the head of the snake! We will remove the snake, and then the Nemesis menace will die with him! This is war!”

    The journalists again started chattering, this time full of hostility. I had to take a moment to pick my jaw off the floor; I hadn’t expected this. At least not this soon…This was getting very interesting very quickly. The hurricane had reached the shore.

Chapter 36

    Halfway to the top, a shot rang out. I leapt up the last few steps and crashed through the door into the office. It swung open, and I rolled through just in time to hear another gunshot. A hole appeared in the door in the exact spot my head had been two seconds earlier. I stayed low and ducked behind a small desk.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Devil himself. Come out and play with me, Devil.” KJ said, followed by three more gunshots through the office window.

    I looked around the room I had so unceremoniously entered. As I had thought, it was filled to the brim with monitors showing the main floors of the entire building. I quickly located the one with KJ, who had started slowly moving towards the stairs. There was also someone slinking along behind him with a knife in his hand. I looked closer; it was Johnny! How did he get in? Not that it mattered; he had made it in and was about to take care of my little KJ problem. I watched him stay close to KJ, who had no idea he was there. Johnny took his steps at the exact moment KJ did, disguising his movements. The man should have been an assassin.

“Come on, Devil. Let me send you back to Hell.” KJ was saying.

    Johnny said nothing as he crept quietly behind KJ, a look of determination on his face. KJ was almost up the stairs, Johnny two steps behind him. He moved with focus, matching each step and breath KJ took. He was like a tiger closing in on his prey. Not bad for an accountant.

“Last chance Devil. Come out like a man, or I put you down like a dog.” KJ said. He waited a moment, then scoffed as he got up the last step.

    I put my foot in front of the door, trying to buy a little more time. It’d be hard to shoot me if he couldn’t get in the room. I watched as KJ’s silhouette darkened the window as he raised his gun. As he did, I saw another shadow leap on top of the first. KJ cursed as they struggled. KJ dropped his gun, Johnny his knife. They were engaged in a battle of brute strength. Johnny definitely wasn’t going to last long against someone the size of KJ, so I had to act fast. I jumped out of the office just in time to see both men tumble over the railing.
“No!” I shouted as I watched.

     Johnny landed spine-first onto a conveyor belt, making a sickening crunch. He looked unconscious or dead. KJ was lying on the floor screaming. He had somehow landed on the side of his feet, snapping his leg bones like twigs. The angle at which his legs had shifted was sickening. Bone protruded from his ankle. His screams were horrifying. The few employees in the room had gathered together and were as pale as the walls in the room. I slowly started walking down the steps, eyes fixed on Johnny. He hadn’t moved. I made a point to step on KJ’s ankle as I walked past him, making him scream louder.

"I'll kill you, Devil! I'll kill you!" he whimpered.

I got to Johnny and saw he was still breathing, if barely. He was covered in a cold sweat. He was coherent, but in agony.

“Go. Now. Do what we came for. Go, Jared.” He whispered.

“No, old friend. Not without you.”

“Damn it, Jared! I can’t feel my feet, can’t feel my left hand…I…I…I can barely breathe. Go.” He pled.

    A gunshot broke our argument. I fell to my knees, grabbing my left shoulder. The pain ripped through my body like a lightning bolt. Somehow, KJ had found a gun and shot me. Resourceful bastard. KJ had pulled himself up with his arms and tried to shoot me in the back of the head, but wasn’t steady enough to hold aim. I was lying on the floor, grasping my shoulder. Luckily enough, it went through-and-through my shoulder. KJ smirked and tried to point the gun at me again. Another shot rang out, but not from KJ. It had come from the conveyor belt above me; from Johnny. KJ collapsed, never to rise again. Funny how a bullet between the eyes will do that for you.

“Jared! Jared! You ok?” Johnny said.

“Better than you, I’d guess.” I said, watching blood run through my fingertips. My shoulder throbbed, but it didn’t seem to be damaged too badly. I still had feeling in my hand, which hopefully meant the nerves were ok. The pain was bad enough I almost wished it had found one.

“There is a gas line in the back of the room. Get these people out. Open the line, and run like hell. I’ll give you as long as I can, then I’ll shoot. With all the particles in the air and the spark from the gun, this place should go up quickly. Get safe.”

“I’ll carry you Johnny. We’ll get safe together.”

“Jared! I can’t move much more than my right arm! You have a bad wing now. We’d never make it and you know it!”


“Just do it, Jared!”

“But you’ll d-…”

“I’m already dead, Jared! You know that! I haven’t got long left anyway. Let me die helping you save the rest of us.”

    I stood up and looked him in the eyes, which now had tears running down his cheeks.
“Are you sure?”

“Our time is up, Jared. At least now you don’t have to be the one to end it for me.” Johnny smiled grimly.

“Even dying, you’re still an optimist?” I said.

“I’m still human, Jared. So are you. Good luck, my friend. Now go!”

    I hesitated a moment, then sprung to action. I looked to the white-coats and said simply “get out.” They fled like little white cockroaches running from a fire. That actually wasn’t too far from the truth, now that I thought about it. I ran towards the gas lines piping into the machines and opened the valve. With a small hissing sound, my work here was almost finished. I reached out and grabbed a fire alarm, trying to alert as many people left as I could. I doubted it’d matter, but I had promised Johnny I‘d try. He gave me a weak smile as I walked by. I heard him start counting. I ran as fast as I could towards the exit. I crashed through the door, running towards the entrance I had come through earlier.

    Another gun shot rang out, dwarfed in sound by the resulting concussion from the explosion. I was knocked off of my feet, hitting nothing but asphalt and landing on my injured shoulder. I cannot explain the pain that wracked through my body. Two ‘Damn it’s and a ‘son of a bitch’ later, I got up and limped away. The building was a goner; windows shattered, machinery exploding, and a silky black smoke began to pour from the building. Johnny’s car was about a hundred yards away from where I was, so I limped my towards it. The bodies of the two guards Johnny had been arguing with lay tucked behind the final checkpoint. Johnny had shot them both, probably out of nowhere during their argument. I smiled. Johnny had always had impeccable timing. And he had arrived just in time to save me. Again. I owed that man my life, and he had just sacrificed his own for me.

    I climbed in the car and sped away from the blazing building. I looked in the rearview mirror as Veritas Inc. burned to the ground. My final target destroyed, now I had to lay low and watch the fireworks begin with Trystix and Raiden. I had to stay quiet for a while. Johnny had insisted on it, and now he was gone. Johnny, the last of my conscience, had just been martyred for my cause. My only friend was gone, and now I was alone in a world of enemies. But their time was almost up.

    As I drove away, I thought of all Johnny had done for me. I was glad I didn’t have to kill him, though in essence, I kind of did. He gave everything he had to help me find justice, including his life. My throat constricted; my chest tightened. I steeled myself with a new resolve; I wouldn’t let him down. I murmured a silent goodbye to my only friend and sped down the road, passing police cars and fire engines as I went. They were too late. They had no chance.

And now, neither did Trystix.