Buildings next to buildings, askew or aligned. Buildings sometimes intersecting buildings, for that matter. Walk down a hallway, end up in a ballroom, double glass doors to a subway station, third exit on the left goes to a data storage center, stacked floor-to-ceiling with magnetic tapes. Every single one of them contains a million blank images. At least, they LOOK blank.
There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it—we’ve got streets which lead to dead ends, roads which criss-cross and loop back around, highways which go nowhere. Literally nowhere, as in "anybody going down that road is not coming back." This is not a good place to wander off unless you like wandering off forever…
Nobody knows where the city came from. Nobody knows how we got here. Nobody knows why any of this is happening. But it’s happening. The city exists. We are here now. It’s growing every day, and bringing new people with it.
We live a life amidst the twisted yet familiar.
If we’re going to survive this, if we’re going to stay alive and thrive, we need to learn to live in the City of Angles.
…here’s an angle to consider…
In reality, there is no victory against a truly superior foe. When two sides line up against each other for traditional combat, on a long enough timeline the side with excessive manpower and weapons and determination will succeed. Resistance is useful in the short term, but ultimately futile; once the enemy decides to commit to total war and completely annihilate you rather than contain and control the situation, inevitability takes effect. In reality, evil tends to play to win.
But the City of Angles isn’t reality; it’s unreality. It embraces the impossible and comes at it from strange directions, achieving victory not through metrics of applied force but through lateral thinking. Even the laws of physics are mutable to those who see them as guidelines rather than rules.
This does pose a problem to historians, trying to make sense of the twisted paths that lead the City to any particular moment in time. For instance, Picasso Friday was indeed a thing that happened… but why it happened and how it stopped happening remain lost in time due to various hidden truths. The Memorial Stadium incident was indeed a thing that happened, but the particulars remain shrouded and unclear thanks to Department of Safety efforts. Anybody trying to make sense of this history will likely wish for a career change before long.
Fortunately, some documentarians are not bound by the constraints of reality…
//023: Exit Interview
…very uncomfortable. It’s strange, because it’s completely comfortable here; I’ve never felt more at home. But the fact that I feel at home makes me uncomfortable. No yelling and screaming, no rotting walls and stinkbugs, no scratching under my skin of addiction. It’s not a familiar feeling, having no gnawing problems with yourself or your surroundings…
Is someone there? I can see… there’s this light, but…
Hi. I was wondering if I could have a few minutes of your time?
I… suppose? I don’t know. Where am I?
Let’s say you’re sitting in a room, on a comfortable chair. There’s a table between you and me, and a digital audio recorder in the middle. I’m sitting opposite you and asking questions. There is a door; if you’d like to leave, you can. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to… but I’d like it if you did. I’m trying to make sense of what’s been going on lately and I think you can help.
…it’s a comfortable chair, yes. Not as comfortable as the bed I’m sleeping in, but it’ll do. Am I under arrest? You have to tell me if you’re actually a cop. It’s the law.
What? No, no. I’m not the police. I’m just trying to understand things.
Well… okay, then. …is there coffee? I could use coffee.
There could be coffee. In fact I bet there’s a coffee machine down the hallway, if you’d like to go get some. I’ll wait here. No hurry, we’ve got all night.
Change in my pocket, probably just enough for a cup. Money’s been tight, even after losing the primary drain on my finances a year ago. I exited the strange room and sure enough, there was a vending machine nearby… a bit grungy but no worse than the one at the community center. Ultimately you knew what you were getting into, when it came to vending machine coffee; gourmet roast it was not, but it would be brown and hot and keep you going. All that mattered.
I returned to the room armed with a cup of joe, and feeling quite a bit better about the situation. Felt familiar, now. The room was likewise a bit on the dingy side, but that’s my life, yes? Everything a little dirty, a little gross. It’d feel strange if it wasn’t dirty and gross. Uncomfortable…
Have a seat, and we’ll begin.
I’d left the door open, so I felt okay with having that seat. I could leave at any time. Could wake up at any time, really…
Could I have your full name and occupation, for the record?
Annabell Smith Jørgensen. …Annabell Marie Valentine, I guess. My husband died some time ago. I’ve waffled on whether I should keep his name or not. There’s a lot about him I don’t want to keep. Occupation… right now, I’m a waitress. I’ve been a homemaker and… I’ve done other things I’m not proud of.
I split my time these days between waitressing and working for my local Narcotics Anonymous chapter. I handle printing out flyers and doing some outreach. It’s part of my own healing process, after losing so many years to drug abuse. Losing my husband. Losing my daughter…
I don’t really want to talk about them.
That’s okay. Mostly, I’d like to hear about the day the Citadel came to your apartment.
Oh. Well… okay, I guess.
I’d seen the Citadel on the news, of course. I knew what they looked like. Honestly they felt like something far away, something that only existed on news streams. There was that week there where they were an idle curiosity, some strange new city that contacted ours, and it all looked very diplomatic. Rumors that something else was going on, okay, but I didn’t pay attention. I was too busy working with my sponsor and waiting tables…
Then they shot a bunch of protesters. I remember that because I was actually on shift when the news came up on the television at my restaurant. The entire wait staff huddled around it… customers, too. Everybody in quiet horror as soldiers opened fire into the protest group outside the embassy…
I’m getting off track, aren’t I?
Actually, that’s okay by me. I’d like to hear your side of the Citadel invasion as a whole. It’s important background material.
Well, the funny thing… I mean, funny-strange, not funny-haha… the funny thing is that even with that shooting, it was all still background material to me as well.
Work closed early that night. What happens when things go wrong in the City? You go home, you lock the door, you don’t set foot in daylight again. Wait for the disaster to blow past you. That’s how people reacted on Picasso Friday, and that’s how they were reacting now. You wouldn’t get shot if you were hiding under the bed sheets…
But we all watched the news. How couldn’t you? Mayor Keys declaring martial law, in response to "terrorist threats" to our Citadel allied forces. Tanks rolling through the streets. And then, the conscriptions…
Did you know anybody who was conscripted?
Personally? No. But plenty of people in my apartment building were conscripted. Dragged out of their homes and rounded up, sent off to the Citadel to join their army. It’s… it was crazy. Just crazy to think that this could happen, and nobody would do anything to stop it…
City Hall was a puppet, clearly. They’d ordered the shutdown of all Department of Safety services aside from emergency response units; there wasn’t much left of the D-o-S anyway, with their computers knocked out and Miranda Walker vanished into thin air. The Department of Resources was closing businesses left and right to gut them for valuables. Department of Orientation was putting new arrivals straight onto Citadel trucks…
A lot of government folks quit their jobs in protest. And were promptly conscripted. The rest went along with the changes, to avoid that.
City Hall still claimed this was all a matter of diplomacy; uniting against a common foe, the Citadel’s Enemy. But everybody knew what was really going on, the Citadel was completely taking over. I got to watch it all, live on television, or through that "http://ЯΕЅIЅт" website. Some days I’d be refreshing the site every hour, to see if someone had uploaded something new…
Did you take part in any resistance efforts?
I guess reading a website and posting comments doesn’t really count, does it. Internet outrage alone doesn’t fix anything.
But what else could you do, other than watch and hope for the best? I’d heard that anybody who pulled a weapon on the conscriptors was executed, right on the spot. They beat that journalist on live television who questioned the round-ups. Nobody was going to help us. Some Department of Safety defectors tried to fight back, and were killed. Salvager gangs tried to lock down their territory, and were killed. Most folks who somehow got word that they were next for conscription ran for it, sometimes even into the Sideways. And probably got killed.
All you could do was duck and cover, and hope they didn’t come for you next…
But you did resist, in the end. It’s why they came for you.
Not for me, not exactly. But yeah, they came to my door a few days after the crackdown started.
I was busy printing out flyers for the next NA meeting on the new inkjet my… son-in-law got me when they came. At first I assumed that knock at the door was the food delivery guy, because I’d had to order a whole bunch of stuff online this morning, but no.
You could tell he was in charge because he had a hat.
"Good day, ma’am," he spoke, through the crack of my door. (Always keep the chain on. Always. Even if it wouldn’t really stop anyone.) He was at least gentlemanly enough to remove his hat before greeting. "I’m Leftenant Kells, with Citadel Science Special Operations. May I come in?"
Two men with guns were behind him. They had helmets, not hats, and kept them on.
I couldn’t say no, could I? I had to say yes, and hope for the best. I even offered them coffee, in hopes of smoothing this over. Kells seemed a kind enough fellow, with a warm smile.
My husband had a warm smile, once.
"We’re wondering if you could help us with an issue we’re facing," Kells explained, the warm cup in his hands as he sat across from me in my living room. "It’s a matter of personnel. There are… certain tasks inside the Citadel which can only be done by certain gifted individuals. Building, specifically. Architecture. Laying the foundations for strong walls…"
"I wouldn’t know much of anything about architecture," I confessed. "Other than watching House Hunters reruns. I could maybe help you find a nice fifth-floor walk-up in a good District?"
Humor was my only weapon. In my lighter days, in my youth, I’d use it frequently. These days I had little to laugh about, but sometimes found a good opportunity all the same.
"If I needed residence in your City, ma’am, I’d happily take you up on that offer," the Leftenant replied, with a smirk. "No, my issue is with Citadel resources. Sadly, one of our Builders seems to have fled from her duties yesterday. We’d like to hire a replacement, and we think we know of a suitable one…"
"Who, me? I’m a waitress."
"No no, not you. But someone you know. Someone in your family…?"
He was testing for a reaction—but I’d failed before realizing that. Some resistance fighter I turned out to be. I knew I’d flinched at the suggestion, but tried to play it straight. Maybe I should’ve joked about it, but… family isn’t something I can easily joke about.
"I’ve only two family members, and they’re both gone," I spoke. "My husband was a gangster, and died a gangster’s death. My daughter became a pop musician and vanished in the Memorial Stadium Incident. I’m an only child, stranded here by the City, so no uncles or aunts or cousins of the sort. I’m afraid you may have me confused for someone else, Leftenant."
But you do have family, don’t you?
It took me a long time to admit to that. At first, I couldn’t even think about the possibility; I was trying to pull my life together after a long bout with paranoia and drug abuse. I had to deal with the death of my husband and my daughter’s disappearance. I had to prioritize getting my life together before I could approach any of that…
I think the breaking point was when I became a grandmother.
He’s a nice young man. She’s a lovely young woman. Part of me knew, deep inside, that this was the family I wished I could have even if it didn’t really belong to me. Everything went wrong, the day I mistook Gustav for a good man. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if things went right? Even if I didn’t truly deserve that family…?
So… yes. I have a family, or rather, they let me have them. I’m still not entirely comfortable with it all, but I want to be comfortable with it. I want that bright young woman I used to be back in my life…
I had a family. And I had to lie to the Citadel, if I wanted to keep that family. Despite wanting to keep my head down like any good City dweller, I had to resist.
Problem was, Leftenant Kells saw right through the lie.
"Ohhh, no. I think we have the right home," he said. "Your maiden name is Valentine, but back on Earth, you married a man named Smith. Your indirect son, Dave Smith, is husband to one Kelsey Jones. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a convoluted family tree, but… she IS in your family tree. And I’d very much like to meet her."
"I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Believe me, if I could help, I would—"
"Would you, really?" he asked, turning the cup of coffee in his hands. "Would you. Because it’s my experience that you Angles are hesitant to do your duty to the state. Compliant, but always with a little streak of defiance deep down inside that keeps you from fully helping people like me. A silly streak, given the consequences. Let me ask you one more time, ma’am. Where is your son? Where is his wife? Be honest, now."
They were hiding in my bedroom, not twenty feet away.
"I haven’t the faintest idea," I tried.
And then he threw the coffee in my face.
I remember screaming in pain. Falling from my chair, crawling on the ground. But what I remembered most of all was the fear, the terror that my son and his wife might come to my rescue. If they revealed themselves, if they were taken, I’d lose the good family I didn’t deserve to have…
My hand must’ve grasped the stack of paper by my new inkjet printer, as I tried to get to my feet. Even through the brown haze and the pain, I recognized the crumpled image in my hand.
"Search the apartment," Kells ordered his companions. "Flush them out."
The website said this would work. It seemed silly—crazy, even—but if it did what they claimed it would do…
I turned, uncrumpled the paper, and showed the single word printed upon it to the Leftenant.
That’s what haunts me. Not the pain from the scalding coffee, not the fear of what they’d do to my family. No. It’s the look in his eyes that will likely stick with me long past the point where this story fades.
Have you ever… how do I explain this… have you ever seen someone completely collapse? Everything they were, everything they thought they were, taken away from them. I knew the look, because I’d seen my own gradual decline to that state in the mirror.
…gradual. Nothing gradual about this; I’d destroyed this man in less than a second. I left him weeping on my floor as I led my new family to safety, to one of the only havens left in the City. With a single written word I’d ruined him.
I hope he recovered. Kells was a terrible man, yes. My husband was a terrible man as well, but I still held hope he’d see the light one day. He never did. Maybe Kells never did, either. I don’t know and it’s out of my hands. I’m in a safe haven now, with my family. Dave, Kelsey, Riley… and Annabell. Annabell Smith, I guess. It’s so comfortable here that it makes me uncomfortable…
That’s what you wanted to know about, right? The day they came for me.
Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate your help. One more question… do you know who wrote the word that saved you? The one you found on the website.
No idea. I’d heard rumors it was some graffiti artist, the one responsible for all the QR codes. But I’m no rebel, not really. All I did was save my family. I’m leaving this war to those who can actually fight.
For what it’s worth… I’d say you fought bravely that day. Thanks for your time. I think I know who I need to visit next. Sleep well, Miss Annabell.
Red and floaty. A color and a sensation? A color is a sensation. It hits the eyes hard and makes an emotional connection. Red is passion and fire; soft like a rose but cruel like blood. Red and floaty. Red and floaty…
I can’t see you. I can feel you there, I can feel that light, but it’s hard to see you through all this red.
I can see you and I can hear you just fine.
Well, good for you, have a cookie. Me? I’m fading, and I can’t say I like it no matter how much I appreciate the color scheme.
I’m dying, aren’t I? I’ve been slowly dying for days. I would honestly not be surprised if this is my last gasp before kicking it. Figures that I’d go after doing so much for so many, but before I finally could be reunited with my sister…
Don’t honestly know. Everything’s a little vague up here for me, too. But I can see you and hear you, and if you feel you need to have last words, I’d be honored to remember them.
I had a last word, actually. Singular. One hell of a word, too.
It helped quite a few folks in need. I’d love to hear the story about that word, if you have time.
Time is a bit outside my control right now, but sure. Let’s do this.
Can I have your full name and occupation, for the record? It’s a bit formal, but I like to do things the right way.
Marcy Wei. I’m a graffiti writer; street name’s Ghostwriter. I’ve had odd jobs here and there, but I consider myself a writer first and foremost. And recently, a revolutionary.
So there I was, shaking signs and shouting into a megaphone, getting the City all riled up. We were one huge glorious distraction, which was very much the point. While we kept the bastards occupying the Greasemonkey occupied, little Penny was busy shutting down the Citadel war machine from within. With guns pointed at us, they weren’t pointed at her, yeah? Risky but worth it, if we could cut off their supply lines entirely.
Go on, ask me. Ask me how well that worked.
…how well did that work?
Perfectly. We closed the bleed. And it didn’t actually matter, because in the end they had bleeds all over the damn place. In thanks for this pointless gesture of rebellion, the Commander ordered his men to shoot at us.
I took a few bullets and blacked out. After that, it’s all quick images. Let’s see how many I can remember…
Gus dragged me off to a taxi, and sent it screaming into the night. Think one of Cass’s friends sat at the wheel. I ended up at a slightly shady free clinic in a tenth-floor walk-up at the edge of town, one that Hollister favored for secretive medical care needs. I’d actually been there before; after the romp at the Defined Tower, the real Gregory Yates had a bullet wound tended to here.
I remember waking up after impromptu and extremely dodgy surgery. The guy who ran the clinic, Doctor Hoshi, he explained how I’d suffered some organ damage. Then he explained it again, when I passed out and woke a few hours later.
He was honest with me, at least. Prognosis was terrible. If I could go to a proper hospital maybe more could be done, but the "Ghostwriter" was public enemy number… four or five, I guess, and would’ve been arrested on sight. Likely re-filled with bullets soon after.
He did his best to take care of me, for what that’s worth. Kept me going on some really sweet painkillers, provided an old laptop so I could read new content popping up on http://ЯΕЅIЅт.city. I saw the reports coming in, of the Citadel cracking down and pumping troops into the City through newly discovered bleeds. I saw how little our actions meant, that night…
Makes me angry enough to see red. We fought our hardest, we tried to be clever and cool, and it all backfired. It… it…
Easy, easy. Don’t fade yet. Hang in there, Marcy…
Not… dead. Not dead yet. Screw that noise, I’m not dying until I’m finished.
Hollister visited occasionally, but he’s a semi-wanted man. He’d made too many shady deals to help out TroubleSolver clients recently, crossed too many Citadel officials.
"There’s no truly organized resistance movement other than, well, me," he explained on one of these visits. "I’m running communication as best I can, but Kelsey dropped off the map recently, and… there’s just not enough people left, Marcy. I don’t have much to work with, and there’s nothing I can really do. Penelope’s gone, taken to the Citadel as far as I can tell. Gregory’s dead. Even Miranda Walker’s vanished…"
"Gotta be something we can do," I protested. "Gotta. Gotta…"
"You’ve gotta rest and recover, that’s what you’ve gotta do," he insisted. "We’re going to get your sister back. Someday, somehow. I want you there and ready to greet her when we do."
But you did more than rest and recover, didn’t you?
Hell yeah. Me, lying around like a useless sack of crap? That’s not Marcy Wei.
I spent any waking hours I could studying that website. Kelsey had put it together… but I developed the QR code, the means of access. An impossible glyph, dots and squares, which shouldn’t have been capable of accessing a Sideways Signal website. Yet, I did it, didn’t I…?
The vision came to me when I was lost and desperate in the Sideways, confronted with death and death as my only options. Now I was lying on a potential deathbed, feeling useless as I refreshed a website over and over. A strange site, made stranger by the cheap drugs being pumped into my I.V. by Doctor Hoshi…
Kelsey explained that Bedlam had designed the site with her. If a Citadel official or someone working on their orders looked at it, they’d vomit their guts out. Completely impossible for bits and wires and digital whatsits to accomplish, but a QR code to access a Sideways site was impossible too, right?
It was during one particularly awful blast of near-consciousness hallucinations that I wrote the word.
What IS the word? I’ve seen it through others, it’s up on the website and freely available for them to download and print, but… I can’t actually READ it…
That’s because you’re not the intended reader.
Graffiti is a method of encoding words into visuals that render the word difficult but not impossible to read. The style of it, that’s the key; you don’t slap words up on a wall in Helvetica. You want the right person to be able to read it. Normally, that’s someone open-minded enough to appreciate your work. I wanted to achieve the inverse of that.
I took all my love and all my hate and shaped it into a single word. It screams truth and freedom in the face of oppression, pounding them down with a righteous hammer. It’s an icon of pain. It’s the Yellow Sign. My pen was a weapon of war that day mightier than any sword; this machine kills fascists, as the good Guthrie put it…
During a lucid moment, I wrote the word in black marker on the back of one of Doctor Hoshi’s prescription pads. I ordered him to take a photo of it and upload it to the website. He was antsy, unsure if he should get involved, but I told him flat out that I would haunt him until the end of days if he screwed with me on this. I was the Ghostwriter, dammit, and I’d live up to that name if I had to.
And… then I passed out. Ka-wham, into the dark. I think it’s been days. I’m not sure.
…you’re in a coma, as far as I can tell.
Figures. Well. I guess it beats being actually dead. Or am I dying? Is this a slow elevator into Hell, or what?
I don’t know. That depends on you.
How you figure? It’s a matter of biology; either your body shuts down, or it doesn’t…
Nope. It’s… hard to explain, but… from my perspective, this new perspective I’ve found, I can see things differently. Life is but a dream, Marcy. And that dream can be what you want it to be.
Huh. Food for thought, I suppose.
Y’know, you don’t look so good there yourself, friend. You’re flickering a bit.
…it’s… tiring, speaking like this…
Well damn, kid, don’t let me keep you. Go take a nap. I’m not going anywhere myself.
I’m NOT going anywhere.
Not dead yet. Screw that noise, I’m not dying until I’m finished.
…tied way too many on, tonight. Just like the good old days, the bad old days. I’m an old man, not a young tiger. Not much other option but to drink away the pain when life kicks you as hard as it has lately…
…wish Karla was here. Wish Archie was here. Definitely wish Gregory was here. Who’s left? Damn few. Damn stupid thinking I could put the band back together; the sound’s never the same when your favorite group re-unites but has to replace the drummer and the guitarist…
Mr… uh. DeLeon? Johnathan DeLeon?
Huh. Haven’t been called by my straight name in some time. Whaddya want, kid? I’m soaking my miseries in hard liquor over here. It’s a Seventh Street tradition. …the hell’s going on, anyway?
You’re… in a bar. A young man walked up to you asking if he could talk about the fight for Seventh Street. He’s underage, but seems eager to learn all about the legend of Johnny the Icepick, of the Seventh Street Scavengers.
Legend. Fah. So I can take a few hits, maybe suck up a few bullets. So I put ten tiny holes in a guy with an icepick in some famous brawl. Those aren’t worth note. In the end you’re only noteworthy for the good you do, and honestly, I was just a punk back then. Still just a punk, even if I put on a penguin suit and show nice families to their table every night.
But you took back the Greasemonkey! You fought against the Citadel!
You want to know how that went down? Really went down? Let me give you the skinny.
I’ve got personal beef against the Citadel. Those bastards put lead slugs in me the day they showed up, and once I checked myself out of the hospital I was looking to get a little payback. Stupid thought, honestly. I was a freakin’ waiter these days, not a brawler ready for a fight. I’d settled down, got a real life. But… they’d struck at my old stomping ground, Seventh Street. That stuck in my craw.
And the night they shot up all those kids just for waving signs and chanting slogans… the same night they murdered my best friend in the world, Kegstand Greg… well. I put my fist through the wall of my apartment and decided waiting tables could wait. My new job was my old job.
Resisting the Citadel was your old job?
Gang warfare was my old job. It’s all gang warfare, in the end. Figured I’d get the crew back together and we’d bust some Citadel heads; no different than dealing with the Poison Pushers or the Macks or Jingo’s Hardcases or any of the old bastards. Bigger guns, yeah, but the same basic concept.
So, I got a few of the old crew together. Too few.
"Are you insane?" Karla suggested. (Kut-ya-up Karla. Karla Berkowitz.) "Of course I’m not joining you."
"Karla, c’mon. This is Seventh Street I’m talking about," I’d insisted, while pleading on the phone.
"Yeah, and we all moved away from Seventh Street for a reason. It was an awful place, and we were awful people. We’ve grown a hell of a lot since then, in case you haven’t noticed."
"Just because you got married and headed to the burbs doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t belong here."
"Cute, Johnny. Cute. But even if I DID have misplaced affection for that pit, why would I want to get into a knife fight with trained soldiers? No. I want nothing to do with this, and if you’re smart, you’ll feel the same way."
So yeah, she was out.
Archie was next on my list. He was our leader, back then… hard as nails despite being a heavyset bastard. Wise beyond his years and patient as hell. His sister was a looker too, but, uh, don’t tell Greg I said that. …not that you could tell Greg anything, now.
I stopped dialing the phone after the third digit, though.
See, Archie was… he was… broken, by whatever happened on Picasso Friday. I could probably convince him to come back, the Citadel were a very human threat compared to the craziness of the Sideways, but honestly? I didn’t want to bother him if I could avoid it. He’d earned his veteran stripes, by staring into the face of the City’s worst nightmare. That meant he’d earned his rest.
Of course, some of the hangers-on outside the core of the group were in for it. Clearly some mid-life crisis types looking for the glory days, but a few were stand-up guys. In the end, I got enough together for me to officially declare the Scavengers back in business, even if they weren’t at full power.
Existing gangs in the area, they were already fighting back. Mostly trying to deal with armed assaults on their strongholds, since the Citadel wasn’t bothering to play around like cops, they were playing to win. I spread word the Scavengers were looking to help, and we got involved. Ugly business. Bloody business. Good business…
But let’s talk about the Greasemonkey. Key to that was the word. There’s no better word for it than "the word," when you say that, folks know what you mean. The word.
The word went up on our website earlier that day. Buncha squiggles and strokes, sort of like if Martians invented the alphabet. I didn’t make much of it personally, but the accompanying note was interesting… supposedly, anybody in the Citadel’s camp would freak out if they took one look at the thing. We already knew they’d rigged the site to make any soldier boys crap their pants, some crazy Sideways Signal business, so I figure hey—maybe there’s some truth to it, yeah?
So, we grabbed a soldier boy off the street, dragged him to a basement, and showed him the word.
…let’s talk hindsight, kid. You ever done something you straight regret afterward?
Yeah. I think everybody has, sir.
Right. Well, I loved the effect the word had on that soldier boy. Broke him down immediately, had him weeping for Momma. Hindsight, though… he wasn’t some faceless enemy. He was a poor bastard yanked from his family and shoved into a uniform. I wrecked that guy and took great pride in wrecking him. Just as I took pride in liberating the Greasemonkey.
We loaded up on the word. Signs. Banners. Some entrepreneur made t-shirts, even. Got all the boys loaded with this thing, and straight marched on the Greasemonkey in the middle of broad daylight. Better to see the word we were carrying into battle, yeah?
You saw the news broadcasts, I’m guessing?
Actually… no. I’ve… seen them through eyewitness accounts. I don’t get much television these days. Or WiFi, for that matter.
Good for you. Ugly stuff. They just crumpled before us, falling apart. Most ran, but the ones who couldn’t run, they collapsed right on the spot. We didn’t have to fire a shot, we just walked right in the front door and started flushing the building clean of Citadel folks.
…some of the boys, well. They wanted payback. And they got it, by fist and boot, on the helpless soldiers. Energized the burgeoning resistance, those images of beating down soldiers in the public’s electric eye. Gave us all a morale boost, despite being—let’s be frank here—a cowardly and bullying act. Kicking a man while he’s down…
Anyway. In the end, we’d struck the first major blow for the City Resistance. We took the Citadel’s embassy and made it our new official headquarters. Folks started turning up to see what they could do to help, feeling safe beneath the banners we’d hung up all over the place. The word made Seventh Street free. Viva la revolution, and all that garbage.
You don’t seem happy about that.
It’s funny. I’ve done some downright despicable things in my day, all in the name of protecting our territory. I never felt bad about it back then. We had each other’s backs, and that meant supporting each other through moments of doubt.
Now… my friends are gone. The day’s adrenaline high is gone. I’m alone with my drink now, can’t hide behind righteous zealotry. Can’t say I’m doing the Lord’s work out here.
But it worked! The Citadel threw troops at the building and you pushed them back. The word is spreading: carved on doors, painted on walls, anywhere people wanted to drive off the Citadel…
That might be changing, if we can’t do anything about the helmets.
The Department of Safety’s hazmat helmets. Guess you wouldn’t know; we’re trying to avoid information leaks about them. We only told Hollister, figuring he might know something. Security holes are bad news, after all…
Kid, you okay? You seem a little… were you sitting a moment ago? Or standing? …something’s wrong. You didn’t flash a fake I.D. to get in here and down a few, did you? Don’t be as stupid as I was at your age.
…it’s… okay. I’m holding it together.
No, you’re not. Go talk to the barkeep and get a taxi, sleep it off at home. Kids these days… just as bad as kids my days.
Nothing changes, I guess. Nothing amounts to anything, in the end. We’re all just stalling for time.