A fiction piece by Eli Shoup, freshman Mechanical Engineering Major
The day had been deemed miserable. The midday sun was blocked by heavy clouds; the color gray seemed to coat the city; and every street, building, and sidewalk was drenched. The rain fell in sheets, and the sidewalks were nearly devoid of life.
Two people were the exception. One was a man, dressed in a heavy black slicker, donning a wide-brimmed fedora, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. The other was a woman, tall, wearing a formal
dress with a coat over it, and holding an umbrella above herself.
He watched them from across the street. Safely in his car, sheltered from the rain, he peered boredly through the rain specked window.
The woman was talking rapidly, possibly giving suggestions or talking about their orders. He didn’t know. He couldn’t hear from his place behind the glass. The man was just listening, his eyes peering into the rain from under his hat brim.
They turned and stepped towards their destination: the city’s hospital. Together they strode across the packed parking lot towards the massive main building. Another turn around a parked car and they slid out of sight.
He let out a long sigh through his nostrils. He wasn’t looking forward to leaving the car and entering the rain. He glanced in the rear-view mirror to check his appearance.
The scars that covered his face no longer made him wince, now they just happened to serve a purpose: he no longer looked like his old self, the one the world knew. Along with this, a black ball-cap and leather jacket would be enough to hide his identity for the short time he needed.
He sighed again and pulled the latch on the driver’s side door, entering the rain.
“...Now, we know he’s not going to be compliant but—”
“Hell, he better be compliant. We’re the only reason he’s in the hospital and not on some grungy gang surgeon’s makeshift slab.”
“You and I know he won’t be. He probably doesn’t even want to be here.”
Agent Cob huffed in annoyance. Nothing would ever be easy apparently. He stared at the rain-soaked sidewalk with tired eyes.
“Honestly, if he doesn’t want to be here, then let him go,” he muttered.
“You know he has three fractured limbs, a mildly severe concussion, and a broken nose, right?”
Cob looked at his partner, and she looked back at him from under her umbrella.
“I am aware, but I’m also aware that he’s part of Hurgak’s gang. And I know you are aware of the atrocities they have committed. They aren’t to be messed with, Victoria, and if one of them doesn’t want
to be treated for his injuries, well...”
“We’re here to stop other atrocities from happening. Suck it up and deal with him. If he wants to be back on the streets with his injuries after we’re done, so be it,” she said, rather emotionlessly. “And by the way, we’re in the field. So, it’s ‘Agent Webb,’ not ‘Victoria.’”
“Ah, shut up.”
The two reached wide sliding doors of the hospital’s entrance and they hissed open automatically. Webb folded her umbrella and Cob shook his coat of raindrops, removed his hat, and waved it before donning it again.
The lobby of the city’s hospital was a massive atrium, and it was full of people. Almost every seat in the waiting areas were filled, and the number of individuals walking aimlessly around the place almost made it difficult to get to the front desk.
Cob had always hated hospitals, had always associated them with bad news and negative memories. Walking past the people in the waiting rooms, he was reminded again. He forced himself to look away
from the faces sick with apprehension and continued. Webb just looked sad.
“Did something happen? I don’t remember it being this busy,” she whispered.
Cob shook his head. “Maybe, but I doubt it. We would have been informed.”
A few moments later, the two made it to the front desk, where a line had formed. Webb briskly walked around it, much to the dismay of those waiting.
Two women were seated behind the desk. The younger one noticed the two agents making their way around those waiting in line and irritably started to say something, but the older one nervously touched her elbow to stop her.
Above the annoyed mutterings and cries of protest from those in line, Webb reached over the desk, handing the older one a small black flash drive. The older woman glanced at it apprehensively before pocketing it.
“We’re here to see a Mr. Johnson.” Cob told her bluntly.
“Yes... I’ll...” The older woman glanced around, looking hopelessly for something briefly before giving up. “Let me look him up. I’ll take you to him myself.”
She began to type on her computer.
Webb looked around the room as she did this, feeling sorry for those who were trapped in here, waiting for words of reassurance... or bad news. She let her eyes wander from person to person.
A man sitting in an uncomfortable chair, hands folded, his complexion pale and sick. He seemed to be shaking and looked up at one of the doors every few seconds.
A mother with long black hair, a wailing child in her arms, her eyes dead and exhausted. It was obvious she had been here for hours.
A young man in a black baseball cap leaning against the wall, staring at the floor. His face wore unnatural scars, and his expression was emotionless.
A few seconds later the woman looked up from his computer, somehow looking more nervous.
“Yes. This way.”
Cob nodded absently, his mind elsewhere. Webb stopped staring at the crowds. The older woman made her way around the desk and led them back across the lobby floor, towards one of the side doors.
The lobby floor was still full of people, and the three brushed shoulders during their brief walk. Cob kept his head low, as some of the waiters noticed indignantly that they were being taken to see someone before they were.
Almost before he got to the door, somebody shouldered him from behind. He stumbled forwards and into someone in front of him. Angrily, he half apologized to the person ahead of him and spun around, catching view of the culprit, a young man in a leather jacket and baseball cap, nonchalantly walking away from him towards the exit.
“Cob. Let’s get this over with,” Webb’s voice called out over the din of the lobby.
Cob tore his eyes from the man and found Web and the woman waiting for him in an open doorway.
Hastily apologizing, he joined them.
They were confronted by an average hospital hallway, and as the door shut the noise of the lobby almost disappeared. The woman led them on.
“Your Mr. Johnson is on the third floor,” she said, more to break the unpleasant silence than anything else. “I doubt he’ll be feeling up to conversation though, from what I gained from his charts.”
“He’ll talk to us.” Webb said with formality. The woman said nothing.
They turned a corner and entered an elevator. As they ascended, the silence was oppressive. Cob was lost in his own thoughts. Something was off, he felt like something was wrong. But he pushed those thoughts out of his head. There was a job to be done.
The elevator came to a stop, and they exited, again following the woman briskly down another hallway. A few moments later, they halted at a door, and entered. The room was small, housing the normal medical equipment and a bed.
And in that bed was “Mr. Johnson,” the one that the two agents had come to see.
He was asleep, wrapped almost head to toe in bandages and casts. Only one arm was free, and a good bit of his face was covered by some contraption that was aiding the healing of his nose. His eyes and mouth weren't obscured, however, so they were able to see his eyes open at the sound of the closing door and
hear him groan.
Cob turned to the woman. “Thank you. We’ll take it from here.”
The woman failed to hide her relief, exiting quickly and shutting the door behind her. As the man on the bed watched her leave, his eyes grew more fearful for a second, but he hid it well.
“No witnesses?” the man in the bed asked sarcastically. His voice was rough from disuse, and it had a touch of a strange accent.
The two agents remained silent and ashen faced. Cob hung his raincoat and hat on one of the hooks by the door. Webb pulled up two chairs next to the man and leaned over, pushing the button on the hospital bed that maneuvered it into a seated position rather than a flat one. They both took a seat.
“Wondering why you’re here?” Cob asked, leaning back in his chair and yawning.
“No,” the man growled. “The only reason I would be in here was if your people wanted me here. You want something from me. Which is effing hilarious because you’re the ones who caused me to end up like this in the first place.”
Cob scoffed, watching Webb hit the button on her audio recording device out of the corner of his eye.
“I don’t think so. You chose your way of life. This is where it got you,” he spat.
“Did I?” the injured gangster asked, his eyes flashing, “I wouldn’t have been injured in the first place if it weren’t for your people’s whims. You sent us into that nightmare. You guys. I follow my leaders, and somehow you got a grip on them, and...”
“We’re not aware of what transpired that night,” Webb said hesitantly, “We want your account of it.”
“Plenty of your agents were there that night too. Ask them,” he spat.
“We want your side of the story,” Webb said softly.
Cob cleared his throat. “You are in this place for this purpose. If you don’t comply, you will be ejected back to the streets, simple as that...”
“Fine. I don’t want to be here anyways.”
Cob’s eyes narrowed, and he continued lowly “...And if that happens, I can assure you that ‘our people’ will make sure you’re in a much, much worse state than this when you are released. And you will not be put back with your gang, you’ll be put far from home; crippled, alone.”
Cob let that sink in, before softening his voice. “The two of us don’t want that to happen to you. You’ve already been through enough. That’s just what will happen to you if we leave here without the information we need.”
The room was silent, and Cob and the man’s eyes were locked, the both of them refusing to yield. But the gangster closed his eyes in frustration, “You corrupt bastards and your syndicate, you always got things under wraps, no string left untied,” he said, his eyes still closed, defeated.
“You’re part of Hurgak’s gang. I think that’s worse.” Webb mentioned, satisfied the conversation was going the way they needed.
He turned towards her slowly, glaring.
“From what I’ve heard of your syndicate, it’s not.”
Another long term of silence, broken by Cob.
“We’re agents. We’re not in charge of those decisions. We’re given a job and told we better damn well do it. So let us.”
The gangster turned his head again, this time looking at the ceiling.
“Fine,” He muttered tiredly. “Just cut the crap and tell me what you really want to know first. Then you can ask all of your vague questions.”
Webb hesitated, then said, “From what you said earlier, we gather it was ‘our people’ who pushed your gang to go on said operation. However, it wasn’t our people who hurt you, and it obviously wasn’t your comrades who did this to you. We’re interested in the individual who did.”
He scoffed. “That’s what I thought. So, even the city’s great crime syndicate is beginning to fear that bastard.”
Cob grimaced. It was irking him that the gangster showed more hatred towards them than the very man who inflicted his injuries.
“Not quite. But to the higher-ups, he’s caused enough problems to be an interest,” Webb said.
He scoffed again. “Caused enough problems for you guys to join forces with my gang for a night, to ensure that he wouldn’t be a problem. And yet, despite this, he was a problem.”
Cob looked at him in mild disdain. “We’re part of the task force whose job it is to investigate this man and bring him in. You can help us stop him. So, we’re going to ask you questions about that night. To gain a more insight on what happened, and hopefully to learn something new about him.”
Cob leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands.
“First, what is your name?” He asked.
“What’s your affiliation with Hurgak?” Webb inquired, “How did you get to be a part of that night’s operation?”
“I’ve been ‘affiliated’ with him since I was young. When Hurgak’s father was our leader, I joined. I have no direct connections with him, but I am employed in his organization through my cousin, who is my faction leader.”
The two agents nodded.
Cob took a deep breath and asked, “Could you take us through that night?”
Cyril let out a sigh. “Depends. Where do you want me to start?”
“I want to know why you were involved in the operation, how you knew we employed you guys to do it, how you went about preparing for it, and what you expected. You don’t have to tell us any crucial secrets
about your gang. Just tell us your story of what happened.”
Another deep sigh from Cyril.
“As expected, I will not be revealing any inner workings of my organization. But I will tell you what I can without jeopardizing my brethren.
“I was contacted by my cousin, as I always am. It was late, as it usually is. I don’t know, maybe midnight.I received the call and headed to the compound. It wasn’t very far. Maybe a ten-minute walk. When I arrived the rest of my faction was there. I readied myself, as I always do. I did not question the motives of the operation, I never do.
“Our projects always start this way. We are contacted by our faction leader, we arrive, we ready ourselves, and we load up. We are told what it is we are doing in the trucks, and then we leave to accomplish our tasks.
“When we were in the truck, my cousin began to tell us our task. But he was pissed, and he usually isn’t when it comes to these things. He’s always been all-for our tasks, supports one hundred percent, no matter what we set out to do. But this time he was not happy.
“He told us that we were to take out a police squadron, one that dealing with some important crime scene south of the factories.
“He told us that we would be joined by a ‘HYDE Syndicate Battalion,’ and made sure that we wouldn’t attack them, for they were crucial to the mission. He told us that we would face little opposition from the cops.
“So now I could see why he was pissed. You guys and your effing HYDE Syndicate have messed with gang affairs before, we’re not blind to that, but this was the first time you were fighting alongside us.
Which could only mean one thing: that you guys had organized this, not Hurgak. It was for your ends, not ours, and you were blatantly showing it. After he was done briefing and we were on our way, I pulled him aside, and asked him about this, and he confirmed angrily. ‘This is the syndicate’s doing. Hurgak is just following along,’ he said.
“‘If we’re expecting no opposition from the cops, then why do they need us?’, I asked.
“‘They’re expecting a vigilante to show up,’ he replied.
“At this point everything made sense. This was a trap, a trap set by the syndicate for the vigilante.”
Cob stopped nodded once and held up a hand, stopping him there.
“What experiences have you had with the vigilante before this?”
“We’ve had many, many experiences with vigilantes. Most of them are settled once, and they are killed quickly. Others, two in particular, are bigger problems for us.”
Cob sent a sideways glance at Webb, who nodded slowly. The fact that the vigilante they were investigating had been attacking the gangs was well known, but the exact relationship he had with them
would be useful information.
“You say two?” Webb inquired, although she already half knew his answer.
“Yes,” Cyril responded, and a sort of dead look filled his eyes. “There are two. They do not work together, and I do not think they are allies. But they both attack us, nonetheless.
“The first we call ‘The Scythe.’ Most of us will never dare speak of him. Many of us are not convinced he is even real; we think that he’s some sort of urban legend. But I know better because I have seen him. And I have seen what he has done to his enemies. You agents know what I do for a living. The ‘atrocities’ I’ve seen and performed. But I’ve seen the results of The Scythe’s work. And it’s scarred my memory. Given me nightmares. To call it mutilation and torture is an understatement. The Scythe must truly, truly enjoy watching his victims die a slow, painful death as he tears them apart with his blades.”
Cyril stopped, lost in thought, his eyes distant. Webb took this chance to glance at Cob, who nodded grimly.
Webb and Cob were very aware of ‘The Scythe’ and his movements. Scythe was employed by their syndicate. He had been trained by their organization to do precisely what Cyril had described: to
manipulate and control the gangs and poverty struck areas of the city using fear. They chose not to share this.
Cob cleared his throat, and Cyril blinked and looked at him.
“And what do you call the other vigilante?” Cob asked.
With the changing of the subject, Cyril became visibly more relaxed.
“Hurgak has deemed his name to be ‘Velmire,’ as my cousin has told me. But my brethren have come to call him ‘Blackout.’” After saying this, Cyril looked at them, apparently expecting some sort of
explanation from the agents.
Cob hesitated, wondering if this information truly needed to be shared with such a man, but decided that it was worth it. They had to keep him talking.
“Joshua Velmire is the vigilante’s real name,” Cob informed stiffly, “And, if you haven’t noticed already, Velmire owns what we call a ‘Pulse,’ which he uses frequently. The Pulse--”
“--Extinguishes the electricity of the surrounding area, eliminating the lights,” Cyril finished, nodding.
“Precisely. Our field agents dubbed him ‘Blackout.’ It seems your gang members have picked up on it,” Cob concluded.
Webb took this chance to further the discussion. “Before that night, did you have any experiences in which Velmire was present?”
“Not many. His presence is known, but he is not feared. The Scythe’s actions make Velmire’s look tame. But it is obvious that Velmire has some sort of agenda. He intervenes when he can stop one of our
operations. I recall a time a few months ago when my cousin was in charge of acquiring a truckload of new weapons for four or five of our factions. Velmire showed up, and four of our guys were beat up
pretty bad. The rest of us fled when my cousin gave the word. I don’t know where the weaponry went, but our gang certainly didn’t get it.”
“You say Velmire’s actions seem tame compared to Scythe’s. Yet here you are, displaying serious injuries. What sets Velmire apart from Scythe?”
“Scythe is a monster. Velmire we can at least tell is human. Scythe slowly whittles down his victims to the brink of death before letting them die. Velmire may beat us to a pulp, leave us, well, like I am now, but it’s no secret that Velmire has never killed one of us. Sure, he’s given some guys lifelong injuries, and his actions hurt the gang as a whole more than The Scythe’s do. But when it comes to fear, Velmire is nothing compared to the monster."
“Velmire has never killed one of yours?”
“I don’t think so.”
The two agents looked at each other, satisfied that they had at least reinforced one of their beliefs. But they were not done yet.
“Can you finish taking us through that night?”
“There isn’t much to tell. The crime scene we were supposed to disrupt was in an easy location. We stopped and unloaded a few blocks from the area. I remember that your people were already there. My cousin talked with the head agent for a bit. But it was away from the rest of us, I didn’t hear what was said. We then hopped back into the trucks. The plan was for our people to do what we call a ‘drop off,’ where the trucks drive by and we all hop out and start blasting whoever the hell is in our way. The syndicate forces were to hit the other side. We all were uneasy. But we weren’t afraid. We were ready."
“But not ready enough, apparently."
“Our trucks, they’re somewhat basic. Often, they’re just pickups and we load a bunch of guys in the bed. This is how it was like that night. Once the syndicate agents’ vehicles were out of sight, we began to roll out. Before we could pick up enough speed, he was there."
“Velmire must have dropped off a balcony or something. I was in the first truck’s bed. We wouldn’t have noticed him if we hadn’t heard the noise of him landing on the roof of the cab. I turned around to find him there. There wasn’t enough time to do something. We all saw him about the same time and started yelling, raised our rifles, but almost instantly everything went dark. The streetlights, truck headlights, all gone. We couldn’t see shit. The driver of our truck hit the brakes because he couldn’t see. Because of this the truck from behind crashed into us. We had our rifles firing at where he was, some of us assumed we had hit him. The trucks were still moving, grinding together that I could feel.
“And then the third truck hit the second truck, jolting us all. My vehicle hit the curb and crashed into something. I think the other two had similar fates. Luckily enough, we weren’t going fast enough for the crash to actually kill any of us. But most of us were thrown out of the bed and onto the sidewalk.
“I was the only one who managed to stay in the truck. After the crash, the surrounding lights began to flicker and slowly return, and I saw that Velmire was still there. He was in the truck bed with me. Instinctively I raised my rifle, but he was quick. He knocked my gun aside and punched me in the nose. Somehow my grip must have loosened on my gun because now he had it.
“My nose was broken, and I was backing away, but he came at me again. He swung the rifle like a baseball bat, and it hit one of my arms. I think the gun discharged, but I can’t remember. He kicked at my leg, making contact, and at this point I fell off the truck. My arm and leg were messed up now, and neither supported me in the fall. I landed badly on my other leg, thus completing what you see before you.”
“What happened after you fell?”
“I fell next to the rest of my people, who were getting up. The whole ordeal, from him arriving to me falling off the truck couldn’t have lasted more than thirty seconds. It was fast. The lights had returned, and Velmire was gone. The trucks’ front and back ends were pretty mashed up, and a lot of the guys had been hurt from the crash. We couldn’t continue.”
Cob’s eyes were closed, his hands folded. He asked tiredly, “What was he wearing?”
“What he always is. The dark armor, the gauntlets, and that effing featureless silver helmet that covers his face.”
Cob nodded tiredly to this.
Webb grimaced. “And that was the last of your experiences with him?”
“Yes. From what I’ve heard, he confronted the syndicate forces shortly after. Is that true?”
Cob cleared his throat. “That’s irrelevant information.”
Cyril grunted irritably, muttering, “fine. Is that all then?”
Cob and Webb nodded, satisfied, and Cyril let out a low sigh of relief. The two agents stood and returned their chairs to the proper places. Cob grabbed his coat and hat from the rack, and Webb joined him by the door.
“We appreciate your cooperation. We’ll make sure that you’re a priority here. You’ll be back on your feet in no time,” Webb assured, halfway out the door.
“I hope so,” Cyril muttered back quietly.
Webb closed the door behind her, and the duo began their trek back through the hospital.
“That went better than I expected,” She mentioned. “We got a lot more out of that than we were looking for.”
“Man’s a talker. He wanted to tell his little story, even though he didn’t act like it.”
“What’s... what’s that thing on your coat collar?”
Webb’s apprehensive tone made his head snap down to look. She was right. Something was there. A black, minuscule, bead-shaped object was attached to his collar. He felt his stomach drop and do a few
They had been bugged. Probably in the lobby, he assumed, but he had brushed against so many people there that it would be almost impossible to deduce who the perpetrator was.
He looked at Webb, her face frozen in fear. Everything that had been spoken throughout the entire questioning would have been heard and transmitted by the tiny device.
Cob could feel the fear as well. It was still treating his stomach like a chew toy. But he raised a hand to calm Webb down, then proceeded to pull the device off his collar and crush it under his boot.
“Listen,” he said slowly, “only Velmire or his allies would have bugged us. Any information they gathered from this would be old news, as we are investigating them. They can’t learn any new
information about themselves.”
“But they can use this information to figure out what we know about them! This means that they know we’re investigating them!” She whispered frantically as they moved briskly through the halls.
“My point is, they don’t need to know about this. It will only brew trouble,” he said lowly, referring to their bosses and the rest of the syndicate.
She nodded quickly, her head resembling a jackhammer.
“The only place you could have been bugged was the lobby. We can check the security camera feed.”
“Alright. Let’s go.”
Always on the hunt, Cob thought, shaking his head tiredly. And the two agents broke into a jog, moving swiftly to the lobby once more to find out where they could access the security camera files. As they came into view, the women at the desk did not look enthused.
Several miles away, Joshua Velmire sat comfortably in his leather jacket and black baseball cap. He was back in his car, the seat reclined back comfortably. A receiver was attached to his ear, and he was listening.
[[“Man’s a talker. He wanted to tell his little story, even though he didn’t act like it.”
“What’s... what’s that thing on your coat collar?”]]
A few suppressed gasps, the sound of the device being messed with, and...
He removed the earpiece and set it on the dash, allowing his face to form a small, satisfied smile.
Oh, how he loved the hunt.
Several miles away, someone else waited, but not in a car. This person was surrounded by the silence of a dark, empty room. He sat alone. His eyes were closed, and he was appreciating the silence.
Silence was hard to find these days, in this awful city. Even now, he could just barely pick up on the sounds of distant traffic. The rain on the windowpanes didn’t bother him. It was a natural noise. But the endless honking down below? He would hate it for the rest of his days.
Deep breaths. In and out. In and out. Embrace the silence. Embrace nothingness. And above all, never, ever think.
Do what you’re told. Do not think. Do what you’re told. Do not think. Do what you’re told. Do not think.
Buzzing. A noise which was not natural.
Irritably he allowed one of his eyes to open, catching view of the phone by his side. Unfortunately, this was a call he could not ignore.
The voice on the phone was monotonous and tired. “The agents have left the premises. You’re free to move in, but no earlier than nineteen-hundred hours. You are to dispose of the body in a hidden location yourself, as are the General’s orders. He says and I quote, ‘We do not want Agents Webb and Cob aware of their subject’s disappearance,’ so we don’t need a scene. The subject’s window is on the north side of the hospital, three floors up, the seventh window from the west side. Afterward you are to come here and report in.”
The Scythe hung up the phone. It was almost time, so he began to prepare.
But he kept his mind absent, always focusing on those two sentences.
Do what you’re told. Do not think.
And so began the hunt.