Book 1: Chapter 6

Powder Keg

Chem and Coder sat on a rooftop facing the sunset. The light poured across the sky in a graceful embrace as the world became wrapped in a light orange hue. The city was quiet as people had retreated into their new homes. They could see the lights flicker on across the many buildings. Only three square blocks of the city had electricity, so they could see everything in their gaze. Even still, everything looked smaller and more intimate.

“It’s very peaceful, isn’t it?” Chem asked.

“Do you always look at the sunset like this?” Coder asked.

“I do now.” Chem said, “You know how I feel about how the world ended. But things here could have gone a lot worse. I was afraid at first that we’d be in a post-apocalypse, where there would be constant chaos and war.”

“I thought so too.” Coder said with a serious gaze, “I’m glad we have some time to prepare.”

“What do you mean by ‘prepare’?” Chem asked.

“I just mean that we can build up a society, and create some order. That way, in case something challenges that … we’ll be ready.”

“Yeah” Chem said, “I suppose you’re right.”

There was a pause in the air as Coder remained silent.

“What do you think Takahashi would have thought of this?” Chem asked.

“What?” Coder asked, “Oh I don’t know. Why?”

“Because he spent years” Chem started, eyes narrowed towards the sunset, “collecting us, and hoarding us into electric prisons. Now that we’re out, would he be proud, horrified? How would he feel about his life’s work?”

“I know you still feel shame,” Coder said, “and I get that. And I - didn’t know him personally, but I don’t think he had one ounce of shame in his body. You don’t get to own the world if you know when to stop.”

“Yeah” Chem said, “You’re probably right.”

In the tattered building, the members of the Nozomi gang gathered. The walls were still haggard and dirty. The muscular man sat uncomfortably by the window with a cape draped across his shoulders, while Superior stood silently beside him. Fear and Witch sat quietly in the corners of the room.

The door opened and Gang emerged through it. The muscular man stood up.

“Alright.” Gang said, “Everyone knows by now that we’re in charge, and we’re controlling the non-perishable and frozen foods. If they want the feeding tubes in the facility, they’re welcome to it, but the good stuff is under our control!”

The muscular man took a step forward, “Can we talk privately?”.

“Fine.” Gang said, looking around, “Let’s talk outside.” Both Gang and the muscular man walked outside the door and into the adjoining hallway.

“First,” Gang asked, “What’s with the cape?”

“I need to know where Chaos is.” the man said.

“He’s on guard duty.” Gang countered, “He’s making sure no one steals any food. Now answer my question.”

The man shook his head, “I joined this group because I wanted to do the right thing. The fact that we call ourselves a ‘gang’ is tough enough, but I want to be a hero, and this cape is part of that. And when I met Chaos … I mean, how can we call ourselves the good guys when we’re aligned with someone like him?”

Gang paused and looked down at the ground. After he gathered his thoughts for a minute, he answered, “I’ve known Chaos for most of my life. He’s not my friend, and I would be much happier if he wasn’t around. We have a very bad history.” he looked at the man, “But we don’t get to choose who our allies are. We don’t always get to do the things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Because if we want to be in control, then we have to make the hard choices - and we do want to be in control.” Gang looked towards the door, “because without us, there’s a power vacuum, and the whole world could turn to … well … something worse than it already is. Understand ‘hero’?”

“Yeah” the muscular hero said, “I think so.”

Kasumi opened the door and walked into the diner. It smelled like fresh pancakes and she could hear music from the nineteen-fifties playing from a jukebox in the corner. The diner itself was painted in red and gray with checkered floors. The waitress smiled at her and tilted her head to the side. Everything in the place was very nostalgic and familiar, except for the glowing orange circle behind the counter. Kasumi walked towards it and proceeded towards the back room of the diner.

In the back room, she found Kitsune , Birdcage , Vine, sitting around a table, with another man sitting beside them. In the center of the table were square orange tiles with glowing white circles in the centers. Kitsune turned her head gracefully towards Kasumi and smiled.

“I’m glad you made it.” Kitsune said, “Were you followed?”

“No, and thank you. I’m happy I’m here.” Kasumi said. “I couldn’t go back to the farm with everything going on.” she paused, “What are those orange tiles?”

“They’re from the Resistance against the Triangle Company.” Kitsune answered, “They emanate fluorescent light that’s difficult for cameras to detect. We used them to mark our hideaways.” she looked towards Kasumi, “The citizenry here is often guarded about our pasts, but any former rebels will see this symbol and know where to find us.”

The man stood up. “Hi.” he said with his hand outstretched, “I’m the Athlete . I’m excited to help.”

“Nice to meet you.” Kasumi said, shaking his hand. The man had a neon green screen with a multicolored bandana around it, and a bright purple shirt. She could feel the sweat in his palm from a recent workout. Kasumi pulled her hand away.

Kitsune stood proudly before everyone with her sword stretched across her bright white kimono. “Now,” she beckoned. Everyone sat down and grew quiet as she took control of the room. “I’ve gathered you all here because you do not approve of the gang that claims to rule this city. It’s important that we gather our strength before we make our move.”

“And what’s our move?” Kasumi asked.

“We wait.” Kitsune said with a subtle glance, and quietly sheathed her blade.

“What?” Kasumi barked. “We’re just going to let them take control of everything?”

“That’s not what I said.” Kitsune replied, pacing across the room. “While I reject their lack of values, they’ve yet to do anything unethical. We can’t make a move unless they deserve it, otherwise we would appear to be securing power for ourselves. Also, we don’t want to make room for something worse.”

There was a knock on the door. A second later there was another knock, then a third.

Kasumi began to walk towards the door. Kitsune drew out her blade as the sound tore across the room, and the sword blocked Kasumi’s path with its edge.

“What’s going on?” Kasumi panicked, with the sword’s edge inches from her chest.

“No one else was invited.” Kitsune said, “And the waitress wouldn’t bother to knock. Are you sure you weren’t followed?”

“Yes!” Kasumi said.

“What kind of intruder would knock?” Birdcage asked.

“One that takes pleasure in being discovered.” Kitsune crept towards the door, crouched towards the ground, and moved her left hand towards the door handle. Her right hand held her blade, pointed firmly towards the entrance. In rapid succession, she opened the door, swerved into the entryway and pointed the blade inches from the man’s neck.

“Well…” Chaos smiled, amused at the blade before him. “I can’t say this isn’t what I expected.”

“What are you doing here?” Kitsune asked.

“I’m here to speak to Kasumi .” he said, “And I’d like to do it alone.”

“Why would we have any reason to trust you?” Kitsune asked.

“Oh I think you’re all too curious not to.” Chaos said, “There’s one door in and out of this room. If I kill her, you can chop me up into little bits. Sound fair?”

Kitsune turned to Kasumi. Kasumi nodded.

Kasumi and Chaos sat at opposite ends of the table. It was the first time Kasumi deeply observed Chaos. Everything about his face seemed distorted and evil. It reminded her of blood and knives and chaos. She began to twitch under the table. Neither one spoke, and they only stared forwards. The more time passed, the more disturbed Kasumi became.

I know you’re here for some reason, but before you get to that, I have a few questions of my own.”

Chaos silently nodded, smiling.

“How did you find me?” she asked.

“I followed you.” he answered.

Kasumi angrily shook her head. “Why me?” she asked. “Why follow me, why talk to me privately?”

“Because of the company you keep, but also because I find you … fascinating.”

“Why?” she asked, creeped out.

“A few moments ago, this room had a freedom fighter, a rioter, an elite athlete, and a woman who I can only assume knows a lot about plants.” he said, “These people are so exquisite, so defined by their achievements, that they have taken on these things as their identities. And you are …”

“Kasumi.” she said.

“The only one I’ve met here who goes by their own name.” he finished, “The only one who doesn’t have some exceptional skill.” he paused, “You’re an anomaly Kasumi.” he narrowed his eyes at her. “And I find that … interesting.”

Kasumi breathed. The intensity of his glance scared her. “Is that why you came here? To tell me I’m interesting?”

“Oh, no.” Chaos said, “I came as a concerned citizen. As you know, I’m a part of the Nozomi gang, and I’m concerned about our leader.”

“You’re concerned?”

“Yes, I’m afraid he seems unstable, a bit off-kilter. I’m afraid he’s going to do something rash.”

“What gives you that idea?”

“Just a feeling.” he said, “I only want to make sure, that, if the time comes, and a powder keg does explode, so to speak, that someone will be around to make him answer for his crimes. For the city’s sake.”

Kasumi paused. “I hear you.” she said. “And I’ll take that under advisement.”

“That’s all I ask.” Chaos said. He smiled and walked out the door.

Kasumi sunk back in her chair.

Kitsune , Vine, Birdcage , and Athlete emerged through the doorway.

“What was that about?” Birdcage asked.

“He said he was concerned.” Kasumi said, “He thinks Gang is going to do something rash and wants to make sure there’s someone to stop him if he does.”

Kitsune turned ominously towards the open door. “I suppose he got his wish then.” she said.

Chaos entered the empty apartment and smiled to himself. He relished these sweet moments, where he could laugh to himself and see his plan coming together. He had been planning this moment for some time. He walked towards an empty table and tossed the seven pounds of frozen meat onto it. This, he knew, was a perishable good, rescued from the freezers guarded by gang members. It was the most valuable commodity in this new world. Every moment it was out of a freezer, it would get closer to expiring. If anyone wanted to profit from this, they would have to sell it quickly. Chaos paced around the apartment and looked at the poster on the wall. The poster had a graph of stocks with the price ascending upwards. Yes, he smiled to himself, he had chosen his target well.

The next day, the gang members were gathered in their usual apartment. Gang stood at the head of the table where all the other members were gathered. Superior and Fear were patrolling the city, while Gang, Hero , Witch , and Chaos discussed how to distribute the food.

“We should definitely ration the food based on age. We want adults to have more, and younger kids to have less.” Gang said.

“But we should also make sure the kids have more variety in their diet.” Hero said, “Fruits and vegetables should go to children first.”

“You’re right.” Gang said. “That’s a good point.” Hero smiled.

Fear came bursting through the door. “Gang, you need to come quick!” he said.

“What is it?” Gang asked.

“It’s Stonks .” Fear panicked, “He got his hands on several pounds of meat from the freezers. He’s been trying to sell them. Superior has him in the city square.”

“Come on.” Gang said. “We need to show them who’s in charge.”

Superior held his sword to Stonks's neck, who was laying on the ground in the city square.

“Please” Stonks said, “I only wanted to make some money! I didn’t hurt anybody!”

“You should have thought of that before you stole from us.” Superior replied, “We’ll see who’s hurt by the end of this.”

A small crowd had gathered in the fringes of the square. They looked on from a safe distance, but no one dared to intervene.

Gang , Witch , Hero , Fear , and Chaos emerged from the crowd and marched towards Superior.

“What do you want me to do sir?” Superior asked.

“Take that sword off of his neck.” Gang said. Superior complied. “Do you think you’re a big man?” Gang asked Stonks . “Are you sorry for what you did?”

“Please…” Stonks said, as fear poured into his eyes, “Please, I … I’m sorry.”

“You’re pathetic.” Gang said. He violently kicked at Stonks’s ribs. Stonks groaned in pain.

“Your turn.” Gang said to Hero .

“What?” Hero answered. “I don’t want to hurt him.”

“He’s a criminal.” Gang said, “This is the kind of choice I was telling you about. He’s a criminal. He needs to be punished. Unless you want Superior to use his sword, we need to punish him another way. Now,” he gestured at Stonks , “kick him in the ribs.”

Hero breathed heavily and walked towards Stonks . He could feel the eyes of everyone on him. He reeled back his muscular legs, and swung forward. Stonks moved from the pain and coughed up some blood. Hero kicked at Stonks again, then again, and again. Each time the pain he inflicted seemed less to him. Each time, he closed his eyes a little tighter, wanting to avoid the awful pain he was inflicting on him.

“Okay, okay.” Gang said, pulling back Hero.

Hero opened his eyes and looked down at Stonks . His nose and mouth were bleeding, and his chest looked like it was twitching. His suit was bloodied and he could see red stains through his shirt. His eyes faded in and out of consciousness as he reeled from the severe damage done to his body.

“I …” Hero said, “I …”

“Let's get out of here.” Gang said, as they all walked away, leaving the bloodied Stonks to writhe in the street.