I heaved with all my might, causing my arm to flare in pain. It was honestly a nice change of pace from the tingling, and enough to restore feeling. But that wasn’t the best part. No, it was the fact that the goon went through the door, splintering it.
Seriously, were they making doors out of scored balsa wood now? I’d only planned on throwing him against it and knocking on it with his head. Nothing major.
As I stepped inside, the sole guard was scrambling to his feet and drawing his gun. 9mm, nothing to worry about if he shot me. Apparently, I’d caught him napping.
“Apologize,” I snarled at the goon cowering on the floor.
“Apologize to the guard for breaking his door!” Okay, so if you wanted to get technical about it, I broke the door. Semantics.
“Apologize!” I boomed.
“I’m sorry f-for breaking your door!”
“What in the name in the nine hells is going on here?” the guard asked. At least he was keeping his weapon trained on me. Smart.
I ignored him though. I had to finish this play. “Now apologize to me, asswipe!”
“I’m sorry!” The bastard was in tears, not daring to get up off the floor. “I’m so, so sorry!”
“Tell me what you’re sorry for! Say the words!”
The idiot glanced at the guard before looking back to me. “I’m… I’m sorry for pretending to be you! And–”
“Liar!” The word tore its way out of my throat. Apparently I had some rage built up. In a heartbeat, I was hauling him up off the floor by his shirt and pulling him to eye level. Well, visor level. “You’re sorry that I got wind of your little act. You’re sorry that I took offense to it! You’re sorry that I decided to come down on you like a ton of bricks! And you’re sorry that I’m hauling your ass in to pay for your crimes!”
I threw him to the ground again, and almost immediately I heard Brenda mutter an almost casual “Hup!” behind me. I turned just in time to snatch the tossed halberd out of the air, pointing it at the nimwit.
“Stay,” I snarled.
I turned my attention to the guard, who seemed to finally put two and two together and realize who I was. He wasn’t budging from pointing his weapon at me, but he looked rather tempted to run. I could respect that. Given my reputation, and the display that he’d just seen, fear was a natural reaction, and I wouldn’t blame him for bolting. But to stick to his guns like that, literally, was respectable.
“Are you the only one on duty, Mister…?”
“Sheriff Donnely,” the man said in a measured tone. “And yes. I gave my deputies the night off since they handled the big game today.”
Not a stutter or stammer. Impressive. I had no idea what game it was, but I could respect a man who treated his staff well. “Mr. Donnely, I’m sorry about the disturbance, however it took some work to track down this guy. He’s been robbing some folks, pretending to be me. I’m sure that he’ll be willing to confess to every sordrid detail rather than run the risk of me hunting him down again and making it even more clear to him how upset I am.”
“Gladly,” the man on the floor squeaked.
The guard squinted at me for a second, his weapon lowering ever so slightly. “That’s it? That’s what you want?”
“No. I want you to get on the horn. I want every newspaper, any law enforcement official, anyone that you can reach out to. I want them to know that if I hear about anybody else using my name, claiming to be me, that I’ll make them look at this guy with envy. They’ll know fear, and then they’ll know pain, and then… We’ll have to see what happens.” I took a slow breath. “Understand?”
The guard nodded slowly. “Is that it?”
“That’s it. I’d rather leave your town otherwise unmolested. All of his loot’s still in his home. Have at.”
I spun on my heels, walking back out the ruined door, passing by Brenda in her green mask. She muttered a quick “Ta!” before following me.
“That was nice,” she said conversationally. “Very impressive, very direct. A pity about the door, but that was so cool!”
“Come on,” I said with an eyeroll. “Let’s go home.”
Jordan Declares War On… Jordan?
By Rebeca Burnell
Sightings of the infamous Jordan have been increasing lately, only increasing the curious controversy surrounding him. Ever since New Fairfax, the stories and situation surrounding him have only gotten more and more unusual as he’s been hunting for people who claim to be him.
Indeed, he first appeared taking down a group of individuals who seem to have been responsible for the rape of Pittston, Lucan, Horton, and three suspected other villages and hamlets. After a brief and decidedly bloody battle, he slew all responsible and fled the scene.
Since then, no less than four other groups of people have either been forced to turn themselves in, or have been turned in by him. Each time he has issued the warning that all who use his name will suffer greatly. Strange deeds from the Butcher of New Fairfax indeed.
This comes hot on the heels of other confusing rumors. Horizon, a hamlet on the southern coast of Gimmel, claims that he and a group of individuals took time to teach them ways to improve their diets and give them access to more resources. As well, there have been multiple claims that he has assaulted multiple criminal enterprises, devastating them to the point where they can no longer operate.
The Wardens, however, are quick to remind us that he is still a dangerous individual. In a statement by Valkyrie, she reminds us that he has fought multiple retrieval squads, once after a brutal battle with parties in Morrison that left over two dozen innocent civilians injured. During this fight, Jordan was witnessed savagely snapping the limbs of over half a dozen individuals.
As well, there are reports of Jordan assaulting private homes and legitimate businesses. It’s almost as if there is a pattern to the attacks on businesses, legitimate or otherwise. Some grand design that their Thinkers have yet to decode.
If that weren’t enough, three people turned themselves in to Topaz Lake (D) authorities three days following a visit from Jordan, confessing that they had been impersonating him. He had apparently let them go to turn themselves in, and they only
The words on the page blurred too bad for me to read them. Rather than admit to it openly, I tossed the paper onto the table, taking a slow, deep breath.
“I can’t believe that they’re smearing you like that,” Michelle grumbled.
“Yeah,” Dave said quickly. “I mean, you’re wanted and all that, but you’d think that they’d be happy that you were out taking care of these fuckwads. Instead, they’re… I dunno, demonizing you, bringing up all sorts of stuff right after mentioning something good you’ve done.”
“There’s no point in getting upset about it,” I said, looking between their blurry blobs. “I’m just happy that the message is getting out. If I’m not having to worry about things that I didn’t actually do, it makes my life that much easier.”
“Including New Fairfax?” Aurora asked. When I didn’t say anything, she pushed again. “Listen, Jordan… It was scary as fuck when you first hired us, but you’ve been…. You’ve been really cool, all things considered, and you’ve said some stuff that’s had us thinking that you might–”
“He can’t say anything,” Brenda said suddenly, cutting them off. “The few details we’ve gotten out of him makes it pretty damn apparent that if he says anything, more people could be in danger. But the gist that I get is that he’s innocent to at least some degree, and that nobody has come even close to guessing the situation right.”
I smiled sadly. “Sorry. But it’s… easier not to fight that battle, in a lot of regards.”
“Sorry bossman,” Jim said ruefully. “We shouldn’t have pried.”
The tone of my smile didn’t change, only it’s depth. They might be crooks, but they weren’t bad guys. “It’s alright. I understand. You’ve got your wife and daughter to think about, and all of you have to worry about your lives. I get that, and I’m not offended in the slightest.”
I had to change the subject. “What’s the status of the hunt for the Tinker black market?”
“We’ve actually got three leads already,” Aurora said proudly. Silver streaks ran across my vision like running silverfish, and as they disappeared, her form became more visible. “Unfortunately, we’re trying to single out which ones might be connected to Nexus, if any.”
“Unfortunately it’s going to take some time,” Michelle added quickly. “We’re trying not to draw attention to ourselves, so it’s slow.”
“That’s fine,” I said with a nod. “I was expecting six months before you got anything at all. Getting that much in less than three months, without making yourselves targets? That’s incredible!”
Brenda leaned forward, blindly tapping her fingernail on the table. “Any details you think you can share with us? Maybe we can check with one of our contacts, help you out a little bit.”
They glanced at each other, and now i could see that they were contemplating. Aurora spoke slowly. “Uh, well… One’s in Tet, run by a guy named Ray Wilson. One’s funneling minor tech out of Twain, but we don’t know many details yet. The one we’ve got the most on, though, is out of Dering Harbor Gimmel. We know a bit about the guy who runs it, but we don’t know if he’s connected to Nexus or not. We’ve been holding off on that one until we know more.”
“Got a name?” Brenda asked.
“Sergei.” That made my blood run cold. “Uh, no last name that we know of.” That made my blood turn to liquid nitrogen. “Um… Is that a name that you know of, boss?”
“That depends,” I said slowly. “Is he actually Russian?”
The four of them were getting visibly nervous. “Yeah. Like, from Russia. Stayed over here after Gold Morning. Does, uh, does that mean anything?”
“Little bit. Write down everything on him. Even if he’s got connections to Nexus, I’ll want to pay him a visit eventually.”
“Mind if I get personal?” I asked curiously.
“Yup.” I guided Brenda through the street, back towards the hotel. “They’ve been trying to pry my past out of me, and I still don’t feel like going into details. I consider you a friend, Jordan. Just as close as them, maybe a little more. You and I’ve got a lot in common, so… Yeah. But… I just can’t, alright? It hurts too much.”
I nodded a little. “I can respect that.”
“So, let’s change the subject. More training when we get back?”
That made me laugh. “No, no. I’ve been pushing you hard, climbing the wall, fighting, training.”
“So if I train more, I’ll be even more badass!” She flexed, making me laugh again.
“That’s not quite how it works, Brenda. See, when you push your body like that, you need to give it time to rest. That’s the true secret of becoming a badass — the harder the push, the longer the rest. It’s a cycle. When you violate that cycle, you start doing your body more harm than good. As your body gets more used to the strain, you can either decrease the rest period slowly, or you can increase the intensity slightly.
“Pushing yourself too hard, too constantly isn’t a good thing. It can lead to stress fractures, weakened immune systems, and–”
“Is that how you messed up your knee?” she interrupted.
“Huh? Oh, uh…” I blinked, feeling slightly put off for being knocked off-topic like that. And then I felt guilty over feeling put off. “N-no, no. I had an accident while training. I was learning a really advanced tecnique before I understood certain basic elements to it. I–”
“There you two are!” Emi came running for us. I was actually kind of surprised that she wasn’t using her power. “John’s been looking for you! Didja sneak off to suck face?”
I snorted, but Brenda turned a deep shade of red. Emi couldn’t help but laugh. “Relax, I know you weren’t. Just teasin’.” She looked up to me, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “We’ve got a job. C’mon.”
Great. Hopefully they’d be willing to wait until the teleporter recharged.
We moved quietly into position, just like always. John on the roof, Emi and Kathy with me, Brenda off in the back. Never mind the fact that I still felt sick to my stomach. Not because I was nervous or anything, though. This damn regular queasiness was getting annoying. At least the headache wasn’t so bad.
“Okay,” Kathy whispered as she got out her lockpicking kit. “So these guys–”
“Are they baddies?” I interrupted, my eyes fixed on the door. The building was bigger than most of the ones we were used to. That meant a lot more potential danger inside. We could handle them — they were getting better and stronger by the day, and I wasn’t going to let anyone make me lose my friends.
“Uh…” She glanced up at me. “Yeah…”
I rotated my shoulders and nodded. “That’s all I need to know.”
She and Emi shared a glance. “How about the fact that it’s Tinker black market?”
I pursed my lips a little. “Okay, yeah, that’s helpful to know.”
“We’ve been holding off on this one,” John said calmly. “They get a lot of high-value, high profile goods, so I’m expecting that they’ll be better armed. We might have a fight on our hands. But, I’ll be honest, since we’ve spent so much time not doing anything, we need a big score to get back on track.”
“Rob ’em blind,” I whispered. “I gotcha.”
Kathy’s back straightened and she lowered her tools. Not a good sign. Carefully, she tested the door handle and found that it opened easily. That really wasn’t a good sign. Either we were lucky, and when the hell had we gotten lucky recently, or they had protection in such a manner that locking the doors weren’t a necessity.
Or, of course, this was the public entrance. But I was quickly finding that pessimism on these sorts of things was smarter than optimism.
“Back door’s unlocked as well,” Brenda said in my ear. By the change in Kathy’s posture, she was annoyed by the use of Brenda’s powers again.
“My information’s as accurate as I can get, but, uh… This screaming trap to anyone else?” John asked.
“Yup,” I agreed, reaching for the door.
Kathy grabbed my hand, stopping me. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Right, use words to explain the plan. Sorry.” I looked to Emi. “You come in a few seconds after me, keep to the edges of whatever room I’m in, ready to teleport.” I looked to Kathy. “You stay outside of the room, advancing behind us. Be ready to cut us out. John, position yourself near the center, and be ready to go through the roof. Try not to go into the basement this time.”
“Forty seconds,” Brenda whispered in my ear.
“Then you know the plan.” And that also told me that there were at least three more paras inside. I needed to do more experimentation with her power to find out the way that it scaled.
“No,” Kathy whispered insistently. “I mean, why are you going in if it’s a trap?”
“Could be a trap,” I repeated insistently. “Brenda?”
“Several people,” she said quietly. “I get shot at a few times, but I can usually make it to you. I think that they’re more surprised when I sprint through the building than anything. No assault rifles. I think they’re random guards. I’m not seeing any traps, but…”
“But you can’t be sure, right. I got ya.” I looked at Kathy. “We got this. We’ve already handled worse. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. They could just be idiots.” Pessimism said no, but there was an errant sliver of hope inside of me.
Hesitantly, Kathy let go of my hand and nodded. Good.
I hit the button to turn my helmet invisible and stepped through the door, halberd at the ready. Nobody immediately in front of me. It reminded me a bit of a lounge or waiting room. Weird. The door ahead told me where to go, though. There was light shining through the crack at the bottom.
Calmly, I walked forward. Taking the front door was always a hazard. It would be the most fortified, the best place to launch a counter-attack to intrusion. Which made it excellent for me to take — audacity could count for a lot.
I motioned for Emi to take cover as I reached the door — I didn’t want an errant bullet hitting her if whoever was on the other side opened fire. As soon as I was sure that both she and Kathy would be alright, I opened the door and stepped into the inner room.
As people jumped, I smiled at them. “Hi! Can I have a moment of your time, just a single second to tell you about the life of Taylor Hebert?” Three people, listening to a radio soft enough that I hadn’t heard it with the door shut. Interesting.
They scrambled to their feet, one of them drawing a gun. Funny, he seemed to be the only one armed. Less and less of a trap by the moment.
“Fuck,” Brenda said softly. “Too late, continue!”
“Who the fuck are you?” one of the unarmed three asked, overlapping with Brenda’s words.
“Me?” I shrugged a bit. “Halberd, check. Armor, check. Cunning smile, check. I think I might be Jordan!”
I’d been taking lessons from Emi.
The man seemed hesitant. “You know what happens when people claim to be him.”
“Wait,” John said suspiciously.
Great. Brilliant. Already, my little secret was out. “Yeah, I’ve been a little bit busy.”
“Jordan, what the fuck have you been doing? I thought you were just seeing your goons!”
I ignored him, instead focusing on Mr. Talky. He gnawed on his lip for a long moment before looking to the armed one. “Put it away.”
Smart. My smile grew a little bit, despite my senses being primed. “Excellent! It’s good to see some intelligence. Now, uh… This, this place seems a little big for, y’know, just three people. Where’s everyone at?”
Another door opened and a fourth man walked in, an excited smile on his face. “Downstairs,” he said in a cheeky tone. “Jordan! And you are the real deal! Excellent. I’ve been waiting for so long to meet you.” He made longer strides as he crossed the large living room, his hand extended for a shake.
Short guy, caucasoid, dirty brown hair that was cut well. Putting on a bit of weight, but not a lot. Not enough to scream extravagance. Nice clothes, too. I looked at him cautiously as he approached.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” I said without taking his hand.
“Oh!” He clapped and laughed loudly, almost distracting me from the two other people entering the room from the same door. Bodyguards by the look of them. “Forgive me, that’s terribly rude of me.”
The smile dropped like a hot stone as he extended his hand again. “Hello, I’m Nexus. And I’ve had my eye on you for a long, long time.”
Now Brenda’s comment snapped into focus. Crap. My options were suddenly becoming much more limited. I could try to take him down, but I wasn’t sure what his powers were. If he could build a criminal empire like that, then there was a good chance that his power was extremely dangerous, enough to take down most foes with ease.
Besides, most likely, I’d be setting myself up for a huge world of hurt later on, especially with the power vacuum that his death would cause.
Running was an option, but a bad one. If he’d been wanting to talk to me, insulting him by going through the window might not be the best of ideas. And if he’d been keeping an eye on me, and with how he’d greeted me, he wanted to meet and talk. Which meant that eventually we’d have to deal with him anyway.
I kept my smile up as I switched which hand held my halberd, taking the offered handshake. “It’s a pleasure. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Enough to make me run for the hills. I so dearly wanted to break him, take down his guards, and toss his ass to the Wardens, but I had to be pragmatic. I had enough enemies, and I didn’t need to make more.
Nexus didn’t take his eyes off mine, didn’t even blink. “John, I know that you’re on the roof. Please come inside so that we can be civil. Kathy, you as well.”
He opened his mouth, but the back door opened and Brenda stepped in. He looked between her, Emi, and myself. “Does she always do that?”
I nodded. “She has good timing for it. Some people find it annoying, but I find it endearing.”
“Huh!” That eager, almost giddy smile reappeared on his face as he suddenly clapped my shoulder. “Look at you! Man! I got the raw footage from the Agamemnon fight. You were magnificent! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, even though I knew how it was going to end. When your sister got hit, I yelled.”
“He didn’t just yell,” said one of the bodyguards. “He jumped to his feet.”
“I did!” Nexus laughed, which made the entire situation feel even more surreal to me.
He seemed to key in on that and toned down his energy levels considerably. “Sorry. It’s just… Anyway.” He took a deep breath, then pointed at me. “You, good sir. Like I said, I’ve had my eye on you for a long time now.”
“How long?” I asked, trying to sound conversational.
“Oh, geeze… Years now. When your brother sold the first batch of water purifiers, I was one of his customers. Well, not me, but one of my people. Very handy stuff!”
I nodded a little. “I’d imagine that it was handy for your, uh, operation.” Chris would shit a brick if he knew.
But Nexus waved his hand dismissively. “Sure, yeah, making sure that water’s pure is great for synthesis of a couple of things, but there’s more important things than that. Drugs are… Well, they’re a means to an end. I’d rather not deal in them, but I didn’t have the best options starting out. I actually distributed them to a couple of communities that were having problems.
“I’d like bigger filters, but we’re working with what your brother provides. But naturally, I took a look into him, which brought you and your sister to my attention. Your sister, she’s a natural born leader, and she’ll go far in the Wardens. I’d imagine that you’re quite proud.”
I took a slow, deep breath through my nose and held it for a moment. There was a part of me that wanted to tell him that Sarah was an off-limits topic, but I just didn’t have the energy.
John and Kathy entered, their expressions hidden behind the masks that they wore, but I could guess. I looked back to Nexus. “I am. You’ve no idea how proud I am.”
The corners of his mouth twisted upwards. “Yeah,” he said softly. “It’s not the same, but I’ve at least got an idea.”
“Please pardon my interruption,” John asked in his smooth voice. “But I was wondering if I could trouble you with a question?”
For all his giddiness and oddities earlier, Nexus snapped into a purely professional mode as he stepped away from me, clasping his hands behind his back. “Of course. I’d imagine that you all have more than a few questions.”
John nodded slowly. “Well, the most pressing of them would of course be that the odds of us encountering you randomly are quite slim. May I hazard a guess that the information that we gave you about the leak in your operations might have something to do with it?”
Nexus chuckled softly and shook his head. “No, though that did help grease the wheels quite a bit. No, I’ve been trying to meet up with all of you for quite some time now. Trying to urge all of you towards meeting me in a gentle manner.”
John bristled. “You’ve been sending information our way.”
Nexus laughed softly. “Oh, please! Fenix works for me. He’s a good man, an excellent fence, and most importantly, an information broker. I seek them out on purpose and bring them into the fold. He who has all of the information has all of the power.”
“So you knew every step that we made?” Kathy asked.
He nodded. “Of course. I know for sure who was producing the ess thanks to you.”
“They’re mine.” I meant it as a simple statement, but it came out far more menacing than I’d wanted.
Nexus turned to me, raising his hands defensively as he took a step closer. “Hey, hey, hey! Relax. Chill. You said that you handled it, so I know you handled it. And from what you gave my boy, I can’t blame them for wanting a cut of the action.”
“You were using us.” Emi’s tone was more curious than accusatory. I couldn’t blame her for it — I was feeling pretty lost myself right now.
“It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, I think.” Nexus smiled at her. “I made sure to feed Fenix people that Jordan wouldn’t be against putting the thumbscrews to, so to speak, and you all got to make a tidy profit off of it. Meanwhile, competition, or people that I thought were dangerous, got to have their operations at least set back a bit.
“That’s what I try and do, more than the drugs. I try to engineer situations where everybody wins.”
“So why want to meet with me, then?” I asked. I felt out of place, but the question needed voiced. “If we had such a good arrangement without having to deal with me personally, why meet with me at all? I’d think that would be dangerous for you.”
Nexus turned back to me, smiling sadly. “Jordan, Jordan, Jordan… I think we both know that it isn’t as dangerous as you’d have people think right now.
“I know you, Jordan. I’ve watched your career. How you operated as a mercenary. How you’ve grown in so many ways. I’ve also seen the…” He paused, frowning as he debated what to say. “I’ve seen most of the reports on the investigation into New Fairfax. There’s some that I can’t get my mitts on, and I get a lot of redacted stuff, unfortunately. But it tells me enough.
“You’re innocent. Just the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t have the weaponry to cause those wounds. Anyone who’s read those reports, who’s even glanced at your history and knows what happened there, they have to know the same thing.”
He moved closer to me, closer than I would have liked. It made me feel uncomfortable. “You made a mistake, a mistake that wasn’t even your fault. I can only imagine what it must have been like, to wake up to that. That bloodshed, those bodies. Sometimes, to keep from crumbling completely, your brain has to just… shut off. And so you walk out and teleport to places unknown.
“And then, once your brain switches back on and you regain your wits, you realize what happened. You run. You ran when you should have stayed. But the thing is, your brain isn’t completely on. It seems like it, but it’s still struggling to connect the dots, to cope. And so you become trapped in what your body did automatically. Because you ran, you have to keep running.
“And the next thing that you know, a bad situation has become even worse for an innocent person. Now you’re truly trapped, because you can’t stop running. All because of something that’s not your fault. You weren’t in control at the time.”
He paused, glancing at Emi, before turning back to me.
“But I also know that if there had been one living person in that shithole, you would have stayed. You would have done everything within your power to keep them alive. Because that’s who you are. You would have buckled down and helped them, even if you suspected that the killer might still be there, and they just happened to miss you.”
I felt completely numb. Like someone had ripped out everything inside me, and I was just consciousness standing there.
Nexus spread his hands. “But, like I said, I know you. You aren’t a criminal at heart. You’re a hero. You always will be a hero. He who runs in to do the right thing, when other people would run away.
“You’re also a mercenary. You do your job to the best of your abilities, you get paid, and you go home. You want to stay, to help, but you know that it isn’t your place, so you move on. And in those quiet moments at night, you lay in bed and tell yourself that the world is better for what you did. That by walking away, you gave them the strength to stand on their own, so that in the future, they won’t need you.”
Nexus drew closer, setting his hands on my shoulders and looking into my eyes through my helmet. “And that’s what I need right now. Someone to be the hero and walk away. And get paid rather quite handsomely for it. Can you do that for me, Jordan?”