>P47[killing_machines]

Skrimp turned his face up as he exhaled. The plume of smoke mingled with the snowflakes above, killing them off.

He had never really liked these things, truth be told. As he tapped out one for Dag, he noticed the label. Lucky Strikes. Frode had been the smoker and, with enough time, it would have killed him. Though his heart and head had been racing to do it first.

Taking his cig, Dag lit up. They were walking under the streetlights on the roads beneath the rumble of the highway. They passed a redlit brothel and a hole-in-the-wall shop, each step one more down the path Frode once wandered. These dark paths had been his way of coping with insomnia, Skrimp knew. They had always been pressuring him to dream with them more, to just jack in and let the body sleep on its own. Never thinking just how tired the mind could become. Tired of it all.

It was the only thing he could think about.

Since then, none of them would dare go back to those fantasies. Frode had known their sickness first, but it had only been a matter of time for the rest to learn. There was more to life than the immediate game, sex, and freedom. A sucky thought if he had ever known one.

Finally, Skrimp said it. “I can’t g-go on living. Not on these fucker’s terms. If just for a second, man, I want to change something. Make something real.”

Dag rubbed at his face, stroking his beard. There was a hard look in his eyes. He saw the possibilities, causing him to weigh his next words carefully. “I’ve been that way for years now,” he spoke. “No compromise. No cope. No room for error. Not if we want to get there.”

Skrimp resisted asking him what he could have been doing, in all this time. Deep down, at the inner voice of his own pessimism, he expected nothing. He wasn’t an idealist like Dag. He only wanted blood. So, instead, he asked, “You know the way at least, don’t you?”

“I know most of the names of every controlling figure in the flesh trade for our district… and every adjacent district. Above them all, on top of this entire damn zone, is our guy. He doesn’t have a name. He doesn’t even seem to have a proper role in the operations. Until Frode, I hadn’t known anything about him. He doesn’t take money or make it. He roves around taking lives and setting things in motion. He’s not human anymore, Skrimp. He’s their God in flesh. Frode called him the Moribund Man.” Dag stopped walking all of the sudden. He stared his friend down. “So yeah, I know the way. I know now that he has these dens.”

Thrones,” Skrimp murmured, his mind turning on the blood and water. “I’ve seen them. They’re slaughterhouses, man. Worse, they’re something more.

Dag grabbed his shoulder. “Then you know what we’re up against. If you’re with me, I know how to find him. My… comrades… they don’t want to do anything risky. Not the boss, anyway. I’ve been stuck knocking off small shops and street operations with the youngblood.” His thoughts raced. Can we do this? He doubted hard. Only the memory of his friends steeled him, bringing him back to a desperation that was capable of anything. “But together…” he said.

Together we can do it or d-die trying.”

He didn’t like to hear that. The plan was always for a victory. But tonight only, he had decided. For once, the city would know they existed. It would feel their revenge, and wrath would guide the way to redemption. “In this city, it’s never the right time, Skrimp. I’m sick of that.”

“Then it’s today, man. It can be today.”

“Today… there’s still time.” Dag nodded, turning and starting down a narrow side road.

Skrimp followed along, stalking loosely behind with his hood up, casting wary glances in search of hitmen. At the back of that unlit alley, he noticed, a chained up bike sat, barely a black silhouette. Still, he recognized it immediately, the sight of it finally making all this real, like destiny.

Dag was bitter. He didn’t care anymore what McCrea had to say about it. He had been planning this for years now. Eventually, he knew, it would come down to him; to lead the fight and take the risks that needed taking. “There’s a protocol,” he said, unchaining the bike. “A million rules and a system of establishing trust in new Eidolon. It’s the old guard that keep to it, imagining that we’re some walking flag or remnant of true law and legitimacy. But I know different. The guys in my unit, they know it too.” With a phone in hand, he had only a few simple taps to send out the word. “We’re just tools for what needs to get done.”

“We’re fighting with fucking cops?” Skrimp realized.

Once rolled out, the electric engine started up with a growl. Grimacing, Dag was unimpressed with his friend’s hesitation, “You have no idea. Now… get on.”

Skrimp squeezed onto the back of the bike, momentarily thinking about his own, left sitting vulnerably in the blackout zone. Clearly, though, if he survived the night, his luck would have it waiting for him. With that thought, he summoned his focus as they flew off down the street, heart pounding in anticipation.

Just a handful of guys against the one monster bad enough to rule in hell, huh?

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Time was counting down now. It had always been leading here, Skrimp thought. The losses wake us up to put us on the path. Right to the end of the fucking line.

To judgment day.

 

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