The fireman stared at the buildings as they became enveloped in flames. The roaring fires spread across the city block unanswered. There was no way for him to leverage the hydrants nearby, and the buckets he had in his hands were woefully inadequate. All he could do is stare at the rubble and assess the damage that had been done.
“I don’t understand how this keeps happening.” he said to the man beside him . “After the last fire, why would anyone join team Chaos? How can you still be one of them after everything they’ve done. All they know is destruction.”
“You know it’s not that simple.” the man in the bright vest said, “We thought …” he started to say, “I thought - that things would be better this way. It was tempting to think that all of our problems had a single cause, and that by following Chaos, those problems would go away. We’ve all struggled so much. I really wanted to believe that it was over. But as I look at these flames tear away at everything, I know I took the easy way out by trusting a man like him.”
“What are you going to do now?” the fireman asked.
“What we should have done from the beginning,” he said. “We roll up our sleeves and do the hard part ourselves.” he looked towards the other man, “We start to rebuild.”
Vault and Key ran across the city streets ignoring the bright sun that shone bright overhead. It was mid-morning now and they both ran with a growing sense of dread. As they came upon the old hotel where Vault stayed, they both froze with apprehension.
“Are you ready to go in?” Key asked her.
Vault faced forward without looking at him. “Yeah” she answered. They both stepped forward, approached the building and walked through the doors. Yet the very moment the doors closed behind them, they saw her uncle , glaring towards Key with his arms crossed.
“Where were you?” her uncle insisted. “Were you at the fire?”
“We were.” Key stated.
“It was my idea.” Key admitted, “I thought it would be fun. I didn’t think it would be dangerous.” “You didn’t think, or you didn’t care?” Her uncle asked. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I’m the one who has to look after her. She can’t be hanging around with people who will put her life at risk!”
“Of course I care about her!” Key insisted. “I would never let anything bad happen to her!”
“Then how the hell did we get here?!” he barked. Key stood speechless as they both paused for a moment. “Look, I don’t know who you are, but you put my niece’s life at risk today. I know you thought it would be ‘fun’ to gamble with both of your lives, but either you don’t care enough to put her needs ahead of yours, or you don’t care at all.”
“I think you should leave.” Vault whispered.
Gang sat alone on the steps entering the casino, staring at everyone gambling across the tables. The tone was conflicted after the fires earlier that morning. Some people laughed and smiled with chips in their hands, still fueled by the promises Chaos had made of a better life, while others shifted their eyes in states of unease. He could see the quiet conflict in their faces, and imagined they were looking for a way out, but couldn’t find a way. It reminded him of his own regret from when he joined Chaos’s gang as a kid. He had trusted him too, and his mind flashed back to how he had been hurt. He remembered Chaos standing in front of him in the rain. He remembered that day from sixteen years ago that had changed his life forever. If he focused hard enough, he could still taste the blood on his tongue. He looked down at his hands that were torn by calluses and scars. Gang wondered what his life would have been like if he had never met Chaos. Then, his head rose for a moment and he spotted Fear sitting alone across the hall staring towards his hands. Gang walked over and sat beside Fear.
“How are you doing?” Gang asked him.
Gang looked towards Fear with concern. “You know, I worked for Chaos for a lot of years before we were plugged in.” he started, “It was a difficult way to live. Everything he did was a mind game. He always told me that it made me stronger and tougher,” Gang paused, “and it did, but it also made me trust less. He taught me that power was everything, and the only way to be safe was to be in charge. I don’t know who I’d be if it wasn’t for him. I just … I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did.”
Fear stared uninterrupted. “It’s not a mistake.” he said, “Every problem I’ve ever had. Every fear and anxiety I’ve had would be solved if I was stronger or in charge. Every trial he’s put me through has been to make me stronger - and I need that. I need to be a better version of myself.”
“Strength isn’t everything.” Gang told him, “I used to be a much happier well-adjusted kid, then life got in the way and I turned to Chaos to get things back on track. I got what I wanted, but I don’t think it was what I needed. Sure, I can outfight almost anybody in this casino, but at the end of the day, they get to go back to their regular peaceful lives. When I close my eyes I have to deal with the guilt of everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been a part of. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t.”
“Chaos told me you’d try to tempt me to give up. He said that you did what needed to be done, but you let your conscience get in the way. I know that he’ll make me stronger, and I would give anything to never be afraid again.” Fear stood up, “It’s time that I take charge of things.”
Gang hesitated as Fear walked away to the other end of the casino. As Gang saw Fear clench his fists and walk with haughty self-confidence, he couldn’t help but see a reflection of his old self a mere sixteen years earlier. Gang’s gut ached in apprehensive dread as he imagined where Fear’s path might lead. Then he gazed back at his hands and reflected on the answer.
Hero walked through the door and onto the flat roof of the hotel. He felt the wind rush against his skin as he took stock of the view before him. From the roof he had a view of the entire city. He saw all of the skyscrapers, most of the houses, and all three square blocks that had working electricity. From up there, you could see everything happening below, just like the superheroes he aspired to be. And standing alone on the far corner of the roof, was Kitsune , gazing intently towards the flames just a few blocks away.
“I see that you and Superior failed to pacify things.” Kitsune said without turning around.
“I have no doubt that he was effective.” Kitsune seethed.
“Can I ask you something?” Hero asked. “What happened with you two? I know you’re siblings, but there has to be more to it than that.”
Kitsune turned to face Hero and paused as the wind roared around them. “When we were children, we actually got along well. Our father raised us and decided to train us as warriors. We studied fighting, swordsmanship and spiritual strength. When we grew older, Superior grew angrier and rejected our father’s teachings. In defiance, he left us and pursued money and power. He joined the Triangle Company.” she paused. “It wasn’t until I joined the Resistance that I understood how ruthless and effective he was. He was always a strong and disciplined fighter, but he pledged his sword and his will to the Triangle Company, which crushed the souls of those they gathered in their machines and stomped on them like rocks. He spat in the face of every value our father had taught us. I fought him indirectly several times. He and I led troops against each other that were often at odds, but we never crossed blades. One day we did have the opportunity to face each other and decide which of us was truly the strongest, but we were ambushed by Triangle Company soldiers. I don’t plan on fighting him now, because our cause is too great, but I would like to fight him someday. There’s too much history to be left unanswered.”
“I’m sorry all of that happened.” Hero replied. “I haven’t fought with them, but I’ve always been on the side of the Resistance.” Hero looked towards Kitsune . “There’s something else I wanted to ask you.” Kitsune tilted her head. “I was wondering if you could train me. I’ve always focused on getting stronger, but I’ve never learned to fight properly. You’re clearly a much better fighter than me and I’d be honored if you’d be willing to teach me.”
“It might have been if you moved a bit slower.” Hero chuckled.
“Alright.” Kitsune said, “I’ll teach you a few things, but you have to promise me that you’ll only fight for a just cause. You’ve been on the wrong side before. If you use what I teach you for immoral purposes, you’ll have to fight me again, except next time I won’t toss my blade aside.”
“I understand.” Hero nodded.
“Before we get started” Hero faltered, “There’s one more thing I have to ask.”
“What is it?” Kitsune inquired.
“I understand why you hate Superior, but why does he hate you? When he said that you couldn’t come yesterday, it seemed like it was personal.”
Kitsune shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t done him any personal harm. Maybe he sees me as a rival? Either way, it doesn’t concern me.” Kitsune shifted her feet into a battle-ready stance. “Now let's talk about redirection.”
“I hope you’re happy.” Kitsune barked towards Order . “The fire has spread to a fourth building.”
“Architecturally, it should be contained to four, since all nearby buildings are outside of that cluster.” Order replied.
“You’re missing the point!” Kitsune snapped, “Chaos and his gang are literally burning the city to the ground and you’re still sitting there with your papers and spreadsheets. We’re no closer to resolving things than we were days ago!”
“I know in the world of swords things are resolved quickly” Order retorted , “but we have to deal with institutions and command structures, and we all need to have a bit more discipline if we want a hundred percent success rate of dismantling their organization!”
“I have had enough of you lecturing about discipline!” Chem shouted and approached Order’s table. “Every day you tell us to be patient, and insist that only the perfect plan is good enough to act on. Now I’m only an amateur mathematician, but I know that most things aren’t guaranteed to succeed. And I’m sure Kitsune here, whose ‘world of swords’ involves leading people into battle understands that very well. And I’m sure Math understands that well, as well as Design and Coder. And where are they now Order? They’re on the other team! All of the people that worked with you the most are gone! I’m the only one left! Why do you think that is?” Chem paused, “It’s because you’re the one who lacks discipline.” Order ’s head shot up. “No one doubts that you work hard, but that’s not the only thing that counts. You need the discipline not to be a jerk. You need the discipline to get people to follow you. You need the discipline to commit to a plan even though it’s not perfect, because otherwise things are going to happen like you’ve done absolutely nothing at all.”
Order stared straight ahead towards nothing at all. He breathed deeply and heavily and spoke with an uncharacteristic amount of emotion. “You’re right.” he stated. “Forgive me, I just need a moment.” He placed both of his arms parallel across the table. He closed his eyes and adjusted his fingers so that each of them were approximately five degrees apart and his thumbs were parallel to the adjacent index finger. He took a deep breath, and turned back time to a memory, an old memory where he could channel all of his focus and adrenaline.
Order sat at a long wooden table. He was a child of thirteen years old, three months and twelve days. He wore his school uniform and stood with his back straight and his arms at his sides as his father read over his history exam.
“Ninety percent” his father stated. “Well you’re not stupid, but we both know that a grade like this is far beneath your potential.”
“The other kids say ninety percent is good.” Order insisted.
“It’s good if you want a mediocre life with a mediocre job. But as your parent it’s my job to make sure that you’re the best that you can be, because the world is black and white. You’re either the winner or the loser. Now, what kind of economic system did the ancient Persians use?”
“That’s not part of the test.” Order stuttered, “The exam was on Athens.”
“But Athens was at war with Persia. If you understood the economics of the two nations, you could understand the incentives behind the war.”
“But we don’t learn about that war until the next unit.”
“I don’t care!” his father shouted. Order froze and the two became silent. His father turned to a harsh whisper “The world is not divided into units. You should understand the money they used, the food they ate, how they felt about different types of trade. Anything less is lazy and I know that you can do better. Now put your hands on the table.”
“Now what kind of economic system did the Persians use?” his father asked sternly.
Order remembered studying in his room later that night. He remembered the tearful rage by which he studied. He forced himself to stay up until dawn reading every detail of the history book that he could and decided that when he’d finished, he’d read articles and math and science. He wouldn’t disappoint his father again. Anything less would be lazy.
Order opened his eyes and saw Kitsune and Chem standing impatiently before him. In his pursuit of perfection, he’d fallen short of his goal. He’d studied so long he had missed the test. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he knew that Chem was right. He knew that the best way forward was to not let his ego get the better of him and correct his mistakes. If he couldn’t be perfect, he’d be as close as he could given the deadline.
“Now” Order started, “I understand that an offensive on Chaos is overdue. And while it’s not a guaranteed success, I believe it’s highly likely that we’ll be able to defeat him, dismantle his organization and successfully re-integrate his members into a working society.”
“About time.” Kitsune smiled.
“Now while we probably have the best fighters with you and Superior , it’s important that we don’t rely on that.” Order stood up and glanced across the table. “Here’s what we’re going to do…”