The following is a work of fiction, and not appropriate for all readers.
It had not taken me long to find Cameron Duncan’s house in Astoria. It was one of those classic New York row houses, three stories tall and set back just far enough from the sidewalk to allow for a little, well-tended herb and flower garden. Though I had not taken time to identify individual species, it appeared that somebody had taken care to select the plants with care and plant them in complementary patterns. Perhaps I could ask Cameron Duncan, or one of his spouses, later when I didn’t have more pressing concerns.
My more pressing concerns were six in number, sitting astride indifferently maintained motorcycles and brandishing pump-action shotguns. I pulled up my own across the street and crossed back over on foot, keeping my hands visible and away from the hilt of my sword. No need to start a fight immediately, especially against men who might not be so careful with their aim. There were entirely too many bystanders for my liking.
One of the bikers had dismounted to approach the front door. He saw me coming and turned to meet me. “What sort of business have you got here?”
“Adversary’s business.” Which should be obvious from my uniform, damn it. “And you?”
“Reposession. Apparently there’s stolen corporate property inside, and we mean to get it.”
With this, the would-be repo man had turned his firearm toward me. Staring down the barrel of a gun is not one of my preferred pastimes, so I treated the repo man’s action as a request to relieve him of a weapon he evidently could not be trusted to responsibly handle. Since I had held my place in time for a split second there was nothing he could do to stop me; he was unarmed before he had any idea that I had moved, and stared dumbfounded as I ejected the shells into a nearby storm drain.
Once the shotgun was empty, I dropped it at the other man’s feet. “The occupants of that house are under my protection. Remember how easily I disarmed you, and consider what else I might do to you and your men with no less ease.”
This sort of posturing is unreliable, but nonetheless obligatory because when it works it can forestall a fight. This time it failed. The other bikers had raised their shotguns and loosed a fusillade of buckshot that would have shredded me and their boss if not for another vulgar display of power on my part. I had held my place in time again as I heard them chamber the rounds they would soon fire, just in time to throw up a shield of solidified air before them. The kinetic energy from all that shot hitting my shield had been slippery, but a preternatural sense for energy manipulation was common to all einherjar and it had allowed me to redirect the power from the shotgun blasts into the shield to sustain it.
Nevertheless, I dared not keep it up for long lest passersby see five loads of buckshot suspended in midflight and wonder at the sight. The pellets clattered against the pavement as I dropped the shield and set upon the other bikers. I was still demon speeding, still holding my place in time, and prying the shotguns from their grasps proved a delicate operation; too much force and these fools would need medical attention for broken fingers and I would be stuck explaining their injuries. I would rather have ripped their throats out with a few swift strokes of my sword, but then I would have had to justify that to a court martial whose judges tended to be serious about the presumption of innocence and thus took a dim view of summarily executing people for trivial reasons1.
I wasted no effort ejecting the remaining shells this time. Instead, I used the last of the weapons with which all einherjar were endowed. Manifesting a blade of deep purple lightning, I cut apart each of the captured shotguns so that they could never again be used before letting it wink out as I let myself rejoin the flow of common time. They stared at their emptied hands before staring at me and the pile of ruined firearms before me.
I met their stares and held them. “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
They weren’t quite as dim-witted as I had previously assumed from their willingness to fire on me in the middle of a moderately crowded city street; they did not force me to make explicit the reason they should fire up their motorcycles: to flee my presence before I decided it was worth the hassle of a court-martial to vent on them my resentment at having to take a case when I should be on leave. Soon only their leader remained, since he had dismounted his cycle. He would not meet my gaze. “You’re not going to kill me, are you?”
“That depends. You’re here on behalf of an outfit called Folkvangr, right?”
“How did you know?”
“You have more pressing concerns, like living to see tomorrow.”
The other guy swallowed and found something interesting on the pavement to study. “Yeah, no shit.”
“I honestly don’t know, man. I got the job from a guy who got it from a guy who got it from a –”
“I get it.” Whoever was behind this was smart enough to use redundant proxies. So much for an easy job, but I had expected that from the start. “It’s turtles all the way down.”
The soft hiss of my sword clearing its scabbard brought his eyes back up to meet mine. I showed him the fighting black cat that had been Nakajima Chihiro’s mark for every blade she forged for me, and pressed the tip just hard enough into his throat to draw a little blood. “Tell all your friends that the next person I catch on a repo job involving Folkvangr will die on my sword. Those are people you are trying to ‘repossess’. You know what that means?”
“Wait. People? Like, the fuckin’ slave trade.”
“That’s right,” I said, pressing the tip of my sword a millimeter deeper for emphasis. I had been able to treat this as an abstract problem until I got here, but seeing a bunch of bikers holding a person at bay in their own house made it real, and made it personal. Being einheri2, being artificial, meant that it could be me if this were allowed to continue. And since Saul had said there had been other attempts, it meant there would be more still. “You spread the word that if I see somebody being held against their will, I’m going to assume that the people responsible are participating in human trafficking and summarily execute them as a clear and present danger to human lives and liberty and take my chances with the court martial.”
“You’re an Adversary. You can’t do that.”
That was true, but irrelevant. I wasn’t supposed to do half of what I had already done so far — especially with my use of my preternatural abilities — but there was nobody from the Phoenix Society around to object, let alone stop me. All they could do was punish me after the fact if they decided that my disregard for the laws and regulations binding me failed to yield acceptable results. This used to bother me more before Isaac Magnin gave me my Saint Judas medal and personally inducted me into the Iscariotine Order. I’ve got worse betrayals of my own ideals on my conscience, all for the greater good. I might even write about them in this journal I reserve for truths I dare not trust to the therapist the Phoenix Society pays to pick my brain and keep me sane.
The would-be slaver finally realized he could back away from my sword if the steel nipping his throat was too cold for his liking. He kept his eyes on me as he carefully withdrew to his motorcycle, taking each step slowly as if I might pounce on him. The engine turned over and a soft purr filled the street less than a second after he had mounted up. “You’re fucking crazy, man.”
Of course I was. It was either a prerequisite for being an Adversary or an occupational hazard. None of us has figured out which. “You tell all your friends that, too.” Finally indicating that I recognized his colors, I added: “Start with your local Transmaniacon MC chapter. Because I’ll start with them if I hear of any more ‘reposessions’.”
The purr of two more motorcycles approached from behind my new friend as he fled as if the original Hell’s Angels had taken wing to persue him. They stopped, their riders studying me as I cleaned the tip of my sword and sheathed it. One of the riders was a mountainous black man, taller, broader, and more massive than me and almost as strong. The other was an slim, disreputable-looking older man with a handlebar mustache and a Dragunov rifle he had looted in the Ukraine during Nationfall sling across his back. I knew these Sydney Reeves and Edmund Cohen pretty well; they had watched my six on a good many jobs and I had watched theirs in turn. “I was just about to call and see if you wanted to be dealt in on this job.”
Syd shook his head with an exasperated smile. “Sure you were. So, how many did you put to the sword so far?”
“Well, somebody certainly had themselves a shit hemorrhage if the smell’s any indication.”
“It’s that godawful blunt you’re smoking,” said Syd. He was no fonder of the thick cigars stuffed with a proprietary blend of tobacco, cannabis, and who knew what else that Eddie habitually smoked than I was, but he was far less reserved than I about expressing his displeasure because the smell lingered and he had a wife and children to consider. “We’re on the job now so put that damn thing out if you can’t find the decency to stand downwind of us.”
Fortunately, Eddie was almost done with this one. For all I knew he had been puffing on it all the way from his flat in London, but I hoped not for the sake of everybody who had to share a transatlantic maglev or suborbital flight with him. He spat it onto the pavement and ground it out beneath his bootheel. “Happy now?”
“Ask me again when I’m back home where I belong.” Syd was plainly no happier about this job than I was, and it showed in his expression for just a moment as he glared at me. Never mind that I’d rather be in Brooklyn, too, even if my girlfriend didn’t miss me right now. “Saul and Iris said you could use some backup. Something about guarding a witness.”
Eddie had been casing the entire block, judging every angle. “This location’s about as defensible as the average oligarch’s justification for laissez-faire capitalism.”
I was about to remind him that this wasn’t the Fabian Society, but the last time he had decided a location was indefensible he had used a rather more misogynistic analogy and I was not in the mood for that today. “I already had to drive off a half-dozen from the local Transmaniacon MC chapter. They were here to do a reposession on behalf of an outfit called Folkvangr. Their contact didn’t tell them they were about to try to repossess a human being.”
“Jesus H. Christ.” That had been Syd. One of his ancestors had been born a slave but died a retired Commonwealth Marshall who had won a hundred gunfights while outnumbered, and his family kept their history alive and vital through the generations. “You let them live?”
“They hadn’t quite manage to make the repo attempt when I arrived on scene. So I gave them fair warning that it was open season on slavers with no bag limit.”
Eddie favored me with a grim look and a nod. “You’re going to summarily execute anybody you catch in the act?”
“Yes, and let the court martial be damned.”
“Just make it look good.” Eddie couldn’t give me the order to kill these assholes on sight. Nobody in the Society could, or would, cross that ethical line; we were not officially in the business of assassinating tyrants and exploiters because that would make a whole bunch of people at the UN profoundly nervous. But if I were to take a bullet or two in the line of duty and retaliated in self-defense and defense of innocents that was another matter entirely3.
Nor Eddie was in the habit of admitting that he served on the Phoenix Society’s executive council. I suspected that he was only a junior member with limited influence, but when he used it shit that needed to happen happened, and shit that did not need to happen would not. “So let’s go meet the Duncans, shall we?”
more in Spiral Architect
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 1||in which Morgan is late because his day job won't let him go...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 2||in which Morgan gets yet another choice mission...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 3||in which Morgan begins to understand the stakes involved...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 4||in which Morgan finds an unexpected sense of kinship...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 5||in which Morgan agrees to help a friend in need...|