Graffiti - Chapter 1: Waiting For The End/Linkin Park
The following story takes place in a possible future.
The actual date is undocumented, but then again, who really cares? It's irrelevant, what with it being the same wasteland that it's always been. Now it's just a different shade, a more black and white hue from the present.
In the present, we can only understand the state of the world when we're exposed to it and, unless you are unfortunate enough to be in an environment where you experience it first hand at an early age, most of us still possess that innocence until we are sent to interact with the real world and truly witness the hell that it contains on its surface. But because of this, when we're young, we only get subtle hints of the world's woes, such as when we take that first step into pre-school and receive that first insert-knife-and-turn insult from one of the more "charismatic" kids in the classroom. And as we grow older, we see the full extent of human nature from relationship heartbreaks to friendship betrayals to the superficial thoughts and opinions that are expressed to us by people who aren't afraid to hurt our or other people's feelings. It's then that we realize that this barren abused rock we call a home isn't the happy-go-lucky, everything's free, sharing-is-caring gumball we were brainwashed into thinking it is. Throw in the Daily News of Murder, Rape, Terrorism, and Death, and it all gets thrown in our faces. This is the process of realizing that the world is fucked up in the present. The only difference between that and this possible future, is that it plays out a bit differently here.
Here, you're either born knowing the world is fucked up or you're ignorant to it for your entire life. Black and White. No in betweens. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "Ignorance Is Bliss." And in this new world, you find yourself thinking, "Is it really bliss? Would we really be happier having our thoughts formed for us or could we still be happy when we know the truth about the world?" It's a touchy subject. Most like to ignore it but truthfully, most people will start to come to the conclusion that we'd be happier if we didn't know the truth. However, the reality behind both of those speculations is that neither is fool-proof. Knowing the truth, as in being born knowing the truth, makes living harder. And yet still, the people of this world grow up with the happiness of thinking "I'm glad I'm not being brainwashed into ignorance. I'm glad I can think for myself." And on the opposite side of that, those that are brainwashed into ignorance and can't think for themselves are actually aware of it deep down in their subconscious. And in their smiley happy perfect world, they know that there is something wrong with everything around them. And their happiness is deterred by these subconscious thoughts, only it feels to them more like a sort of inner depression at the simplicity of their ultra-organized world. So, I'll try to simplify this whole equation for you. You're born knowing the truth and you may live unhappily, but you find comfort in knowing you're a free thinker. You're born ignorant and live in bliss, but you're slightly unhappy knowing that the truth is still out there, somewhere just out of reach. And so because of this, we've nicknamed this new American Wasteland, the "Yin Yang World." Half-Happy. Half-Sad. Throw all of the other emotions in there and you have Life. That's how the new world works.
But I know that deep down, you don't really give a shit about all of this philosophy crap. You want a story, that's why you're even reading this. Well here's the set up. Aside from what was mentioned earlier, it's still the same old, same old: The rich continue to oppress the poor, blah blah blah; and the world's smallest violin is still playing. Only now its in a higher octave. So this brings us to the story's setting: Scar City. To the naked eye, it can be recognized as your average shithole metropolis, especially given the circumstances that the world has now been succumbed by as of late. However, there are a few territorial differences that set it apart from the rest of the America.
Many some odd years ago, there was a war that tore the country, and later the world, apart. The details aren't specific, but the result of it led to the creation of an anarchistic wasteland of independent city-states and make-shift governments that, over the years, have risen and fallen with the frequency of a housefly's lifespan. And this is just in America. God only knows how the rest of the world turned out. But out of the ashes of the lone warriors, psychopathic killers, and tyranical leaders of the broken union, came the country's saving grace: The Stratis Corporation.
Founded by its "CEO," Victor Jacinto Stratis, Stratis Corp came into fruition with the help of several stock market and corporate geniuses who ironically, before the war, were a bunch of poor, jobless pricks who either lived alone, on the street, or in their mother's basements. The result: A massive monopoly of epic proportions. It swept the world by storm, filling the ears of each and every one of the country's inhabitants with promises of free food, shelter, and most importantly, order. There wasn't a soul on American soil that didn't know of the company after its first five months of operation and in a world that had been without proper organization for so many years, the people were willing to welcome "order" with open arms.
However, order came with a price. It didn't at first. At first, Stratis Corp's intentions were as righteous as the pioneers who founded the United States. Their plan was to establish order for the sake of organization and peace. But such a lucid concept was quickly transformed into an attempt to establish more than order. It attempted to establish dominance. Restriction. Forcing those under their care to conform to a "Stratis-Approved Lifestyle." Their philosophy and defense for this was that the expansion of humanity's popular culture was the cause or at least part of the cause for the destruction of modern civilization. As such, they've effectively dissected the "bad parts" of humanity's previous cultural phenomenons and filled in the cracks, creating what they believe to be the perfect environment for humankind to thrive and progress; A Utopia.
This "Utopia" consisted of a simple and easy to remember schedule for nearly every individual that worked under Stratis Corp. Men: Go to work and Provide for your family. Women: Stay home, Clean the house, and Take care of the children. Children: Watch Stratis-Approved Television, Go to School, Do chores, Stay out of trouble. This Utopia was modeled after the "perfect" 50's family lifestyle depicted in Television shows and commercials of the era and consisted of very little outside of it. At the age of 18, every man under Stratis' rule would be employed by the company and become responsible for its economy, regulation over its limited "entertainment" protocol, and governing the country with an iron fist.
And so this Utopia consists of an agenda to limit the progression of culture and focus on the progression of....everything else, I guess. Even today, if you were bold enough to go right up to Victor Stratis and ask him directly whether he was using this global monopoly for world domination (and not end up captured and tortured by Stratis Officials), he'd deny it to the fullest extent and probably believe it himself too. He'd probably fill your head with his own ideals, explaining how the concept of restrained thinking has helped to stabilize mankind and led us on a path of happiness and fulfillment. He'd say we've come a long way from the anarchistic wasteland we emerged from, that Stratis Corp has brought redemption, ressurecting the true essence of American life from the ashes of chaos and ruin. He'd say this to make you think this way. He'd say that to make you see things that way. But the smoke of lies and empty promises is thicker than most can see through and when most of the country has been blind for more than fifty years, it wouldn't make much of a difference for them to try and find their way through anyway.
In the words of Buddha, "We are what we think. All that we are, arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." Well congratulations, Stratis Corp. You've successfully made a world without thought. Without free will. Without emotion. You've tamed the human race. But hell, at least when we enter space, you can once again see shiny lights upon the landmasses, so we can at least look intelligent for the aliens. Truth is, this rock is still as barren as it was years before Stratis emerged. It's still as barren as it's always been. And now all we have to look forward to is the Big Brother figure that looks down at us from the highest throne on Planet Earth.
But 1984 has long passed and this Big Brother figure isn't as advanced as it may have been depicted. So this brings us back to Scar City, everybody. The location of your precious story. Why this city in particular? Because it's the home of the central headquarters of the Stratis Corporation. In the Metropolitan District, the actual building where Victor Jacinto Stratis operates the country from and surveys the cityscape of all he's created is present. Nearly hundreds of giant skyscrapers cover the land, all under the rule of Stratis Corp. Outside of the Metropolitan District is the Suburban District, where the housewives cook and clean and the children watch educational television 24/7, brainwashed into believing that there is absolutely nothing else out there but this: The life of a mindless zombie being pulled by millions of marionette strings guided by the hands in high places.
If you haven't taken anything out of this overview, you should understand this: In Yin Yang World, Stratis Corp is King. But the King isn't a God. He's not omnicient or all-knowing. And this brings us to the primary setting of this epic tale.
Welcome to the Strays.
The Strays is what was once known as the "Poor" or "Bad" part of Town before the war. And it still is, in the traditional sense. But if anyone from the present were to find themselves here in the state it's in in Yin Yang World, it would probably be the most familiar environment in all of Stratis America. Looking past the crumbling buildings, the graffiti-covered walls, and the (on the surface) hostile appearance, you can feel something in the atmosphere that transcends the conscience and separates it from the rest of the world like the last bit of bright color on a dying flower. This is the Yang to the Stratis World's Yin. The last remnants of the world's modern art and culture as we know it has found refuge in this one location. The land built on chaos.
Now I know what you're thinking. "'Land built on chaos?' That doesn't exactly sound like a good thing." Trust me, it is. Because Order and Chaos aren't the same thing as Good and Evil. According to the philosophy of Yin and Yang, good can't exist with evil and evil can't exist without good. When it comes to Chaos and Order, Order can't exist without Chaos. However, Chaos CAN exist without Order. And it always will. Because Order is just an illusion that humans have created in order to make it seem like we have control over the world. But Chaos, or God's wrath if you're into that sort of thing, soon shows up to prove us wrong. I use the term "God's wrath" to show that Chaos isn't a bad thing. It's a neutral and natural occurence, an independent variable that we have no control over.
Now for those of you bored already, let me go ahead and sum this up: The Strays was born out of Chaos, making it the rawest, most natural offspring of America that we could ever know. And I mean America America. Not Corporate America. Not Mainstream America. Not Capitalist America. Not Fascist America. The United States of fucking America. Haven't figured it out yet? Well here comes the cold water.
The Strays = Freedom.
Now that that's out of the way and you are now enveloped in the world that is about to be presented to you, let's get to the real deal. Here's the story.
A young man by the name of Shane Marx wakes up in his bed, his once absent mind charging into activity as soon as his eyes opened. Any kind of fantasies that his subconcious had conjured into his brain were long gone, though by now, his mind was far beyond creating fictional worlds for him to escape in. He'd been exposed to enough tragedy, seen enough horrors before his eyes to play make-believe with his subconscious.
He rose from the bed like a vampire from its coffin, his thin sheets sliding off of his body. His eyes zoomed around his incredibly small and cramped apartment room, the summer sunrise spilling into it with a radiant beauty. The room was a shade of light pink, the paint of which was slowly peeling off of the walls with cracks running along them like a highway headed right for the cobweb city in each corner of the room.
In some ways, the old folks would be able to relate the decrepit state of the room to Shane's own appearance, at least based on his style. He was an African American male. His skin was darkish but his eyes were light brown and his hair was cut into a fohawk (an afro mohawk) with the shaved sides already growing in. His earlobes were stretched open to about an inch by the gauges he would frequently wear and there were two holes on his bottom lip and above his left eyebrow, where more piercings would later be administered.
Shane slept in his bed completely naked. When he slipped off of its dirty surface onto the equally dirty and dust-covered floor, his bare feet hit them and the cold surface gave him a quick charge of awareness. With one swift move, he let gravity take control his body and slid off of the bed, landing directly onto his hands. With sharp movements, Shane pumped his body up and down with enough fluid push ups to make a gymnist proud. Shane's body was impressively built, his muscles buldging the fleshy canvas of abstract tattoos that covered nearly every inch of his body.
After several minutes, he let his arms feel the extent of the muscle burn before turning over onto his back where he curled up for the same amount of time, neglecting the choice to count out each sit up, but relying simply on his own willpower. When the driving force that sent him forward with each curl dissipated, he laid back down on his back and waited for approximately two seconds before hopping back up and shaking off the tight feeling in his abs.
The apartment consisted only of a bedroom and a bathroom. When Shane got up from the floor, he headed across from the bed and into the bathroom where he'd take his morning shower. Before this however, he was incapable of doing anything. His daily ritual would be disrupted if the next part was skipped.
A single stereo was set up along the wall beside the bathroom, sitting on top of a wooden table. In the center of it, an iPod was surgically embedded into it due to Shane's earlier tampering with the sound system. Somehow, he had successfully been able to play an antique iPod through the speakers of an even more antique 80's boombox. It took him eight hours to configure it.
Shane hit the power button on the boombox as he walked by and it flipped on with its volume and bass set to maximum. Instantly, the air was filled with the synthesized sounds of the introduction to Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness." Shane flipped the light on in the bathroom and stepped into the tub, turning the nozzle on the water. Through this, Shane had formulated another ingenious creation: He'd been able to install an old but intact set of speakers into the wall behind his shower tiles. There were cords that ran from the stereo, through the wall and into the shower, while the speakers themselves were covered with waterproof gaskets. As the bass of the song thumped into the shower, he could feel it pumping through his body. The force was powerful enough to maneuver the water drops of the shower head as they engulfed him. He mouthed the lyrics of the song as it reverberated in his ears.
"People Told Me 'Slow My Roll', Im Screaming Out 'Fuck That'
Imma Do Just What I Want, Lookin Ahead No Turnin Back
If I Fall, If I Die, Know I Lived It To The Fullest
If I Fall, If I Die, Know I Lived And Missed Some Bullets
I'm On The Pursuit Of Happiness And I Know
Everything That Shines Aint Always Gonna Be Gold
I'll Be Fine Once I Get It; I'll Be Good"
Shane turned off the water and stepped out of the shower when he was clean. He dried himself off and walked back into the bedroom, where he had his clothes hanging off of the chair in the corner beside the wooden table holding his iPod Boombox. He dressed himself in his plaid red long-sleeved flannel shirt and rolled up his sleeves carefully, displaying his tat-covered forearms before attaching a watch onto his wrist. He slipped on his skinny jeans, the knees of which were torn open from the abuse he'd put on them over the last few months. He picked up his sneakers from the floor and turned them upside down, shaking and knocking them against the floor to rid them of any critters that might have crawled inside over night. Sure enough, a small spider and a few ants fell out and scurried under the bed as he sat in the chair and slipped his shoes on.
On the wooden table, his gauges and piercings were lying by the Boombox. Two roaches, a rather large one and an inch-sized one were examining them with their antennas. Shane flicked them away and picked up his gauges, slipping them into his earlobe lobes carefully. When they were in, he grabbed two of the looped snake bite piercings and curled them into the holes on his bottom lip, while sticking the last two in the holes above his right eyebrow. With the piercings inserted, he grabbed his headphones from the top of the Boombox and turned it off, just as the music paused mid-song. He pulled the iPod from the stereo, quickly inserted the headphones into the jack, and put the earbuds in each ear, letting the music resumed.
On the wall beside his bed was a skateboard with a crudely spraypainted decal of the anarchy "A" symbol on the bottom side. He grabbed it without a thought along with his red backpack which lay by the stereo and headed straight for the door with his music on maximum volume, drowning out all other sounds in the building.
Shane took the subway to his next location. It ran from the Strays, through the Metropolitan District, and strangely, back to the other side of the Strays. Truthfully, he would have reached his location quicker if he'd walked. But that wasn't his intention. The reason why he took the subway in the first place was because of the people that rode it. When he got on the train, he was surrounded by men in light blue business suits, red ties, glasses, and fedoras. They all looked the same, like drones or sheep headed for the slaughter. In the Strays, the Metropolitan District had the nickname of "Clark Kent Ville" because of the thousands of men clad in the same uniform-like attire, whom were subsequently nicknamed "Clark Kents." Shane knew that these were all just lackies, the general level of employment at Stratis Corp. The higher ups wouldn't take the subways. Their attire was different as well; they dressed in black business suits with no hat and no glasses. They were given the nickname "James Bonds." It seemed as if the higher up in Stratis you were, the more freedom you would be given, in terms of individuality. That's how it would seem. Truth is, they only get more freedom because they've already been brainwashed into becoming brainwashers. They can think for themselves, but when you've already been raised to believe that Stratis is God, you're still going to spend your life worshiping it. And so they willingly continue its agenda.
Normally, Shane would at least don a disguise on the subway or avoid it all together because of Stratis' main line of defense: Their Army. The Stratis Corp Armed Forces (Nicknamed "Scarfs" for the acronym it partially creates) would patrol the subway trains during the day, especially on a morning as busy as this. However, it was a Monday, a day when the subway was always vacant of Scarfs. It was the perfect opportunity for Shane.
He was standing between two Clark Kents, holding on to the loop above him to keep his balance. The others were doing the same and after most of them had done their share of staring at Shane's strange appearance when he arrived, they were now back to minding their own business. This was good. No one was watching. Shane leaned forward slightly and bumped into the Clark Kent in front of him. The Clark Kent looked back and Shane lifted his hand apologetically.
"Sorry," he muttered as the Clark Kent gave him an annoyed look and turned back to his daily newspaper. When the subway made its stop at his station, Shane looked around vigilantly before getting off at the platform. He was the only one to exit the train, as it was currently in the Strays and Clark Kents would never be headed here. When the train zipped out of view, Shane reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out the wallet he'd taken from the Clark Kent standing in front of him. He opened it and examined its contents, finding a cluster of blue and white bills folded neatly inside. Shane smiled to himself and walked off of the platform. When he hit the bottom of the steps by the sidewalk, he tossed his skateboard out in front of him, laid one foot on top, and pushed off with the other.
"I don't want to live no more
Sometimes I hear death knocking at my front door,
I'm living every day like a hustle
Another drug to juggle
Another day, Another struggle"
"Everyday Struggle" by Notorious B.I.G was blasting into Shane's ears as he skated along the sidewalk into the deepest areas of the Strays. At this point, any normal person would turn and head back to the station, taking it to the more desirable parts of town. But Shane had grown up here. He knew the location of each tenement building on this block and he could remember almost every square inch of the landscape around him, as if it was etched into his brain. Graffiti trailed along side him on the walls like a homeless dog as they covered his surroundings with a pink and purple hue along the sidewalk that he skated on. There were people populating the neighborhood as he zoomed by; he passed an elderly oriental family planting herbs in their frontyard and waved at them warmly; he went by a white teenage Blue Market Dealer that tried to sell him some merchandise as rolled past him; A few girls were playing hopscotch in front of their old apartment building across the street, all of them of different races and origins interacting with each other; down the block from him, a fire hydrant had been forced open and several slightly older kids were throwing themselves into the water, jumping and chasing each other around the hydrant. Like the girls, all of these kids were of different races: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and a few mixes. This being the last place of refuge for human culture, the majority of what was left of the world was forced to live in harmony in this place and no matter how poor or unorthodox the Strays would seem, Shane knew he would always call this place home.
A long abandoned Mom and Pop store still displayed some of its unused appliances under the label above it, which read "Jackie's Pawn Shop" and under that "The Finest Scar City Has To Offer." In between the "Scar" and the "City" was a lower case "e" spraypainted between them, mispelling the term but forming the prenunciation for the word intended: Scarcity, the origin of the city's current name. Not long before the war, the city fell under a different, more traditional title, but was nicknamed "The City of Scars" and later "The Scar City" by the Strays community. The term eventually went mainstream and stuck. The city even marketed itself under it at times, despite the negative nature of the title. It was meant to be portrayed in a devil-may-care fashion rather than to generate bad press. The aftermath of the war led to many in the area destroying any records of the city's origin and as the years went by, the city's original name was lost in the memories of the dead and forgotten. It was during this time that Scar City, which was all that was left on the signs and stores in the location, became its official title (with the exception of Stratis Corp's attempt to label the city as "Stratis City," which is a term only referred to by those who live under their rule).
Shane circled the corner and saw a brick wall to his right that happened to be vacant of graffiti, a rarity in the Strays. He skidded the board to a stop and stared at it curiously before surveying his surroundings. When he turned back to the wall, he slipped his backpack off, unzipped it and pulled out a single spraycan of red paint from inside. His plan was to just leave a throw-up on the wall until he got the crew down to help him lay up the rest of the tag. He pulled off the top and shook the can rhythmically, feeling the mixing ball bounce around inside before he started spraying on the wall.
In a swift move, Shane felt his headphones jerk out of his ears and his personal soundtrack came to a halt. He looked around and saw a young man in uniform holding the wires of his headphones in his hand sternly.
"You're unbelievable, you know that?" Said the man, who's attire heavily contrasted with the rest of the area. It was white with red soles and red patches on the breast pocket and shoulder cuffs. Shane recalled it by designed. They were the official colors of Stratis Corp. On the belt buckle at the front of his waist, the letters "S," "C," "A," and "F" were displayed in silver letters. He was a Scarf, apart of the Stratis Corp Armed Forces. When Shane looked the man in the face, he recognized him immediately. He was in his early thirties, his brown hair slicked back very professionally with a thin moustache on his upper lip and a cleanly shaven face with thin sideburns by his cheekbones. He stood with authority, staring at Shane with a stern expression. "How many times have I caught you with one of these, huh?"
Shane turned his body to face and address him directly. His look was full of hatred and the young officer could see it. Shane sized him up as he spoke. "Long enough for me to want to kill you over it," he muttered in an intentionally ambiguous tone.
"Give it here," the young man said, reaching out his hand and beckoning for the device with his fingers. Shane reluctantly pulled the iPod out of his pocket and handed it to him. "The can too." Shane gritted his teeth, supressing his anger as he handed the spraycan to the officer. "You got anything else?"
"No," Shane said securely. The officer made eye contact with him and reached for Shane's bag, picking it up. Shane swung his arm forward and snatched the bag from the officer's clutches. "I said there's nothing else," he spat disparingly.
The officer looked him up and down with a tad bit of sympathy that Shane didn't appreciate. "I have to give you another ticket."
Shane snorted humorlessly. "Course you do."
"I don't find pleasure in this, Shane, I really don't. Truthfully, based on the amount of tickets you've accumulated, I should arrest you on the spot. You're a terrorist in the eyes of the law."
"And when exactly did you start believing that I cared about the law, Roy? Or did they brainwash you into making that distinction too?"
Roy clenched his teeth and sighed. "I'm going to give you another chance but that's it. One more. I owe that to your brother."
Shane squinted, locking his eyes on Roy. He stepped up to him with a menacing attitude. "My brother would want you to arrest me. Then at least you wouldn't act like a pussy and try to vie for my forgiveness. Why don't you stop fucking around and do your job."
Roy swallowed nervously and backed away from Shane. His intimidation of him was highly evident. Roy pulled a small transparent device from his back pocket and pressed the top of it. A holographic screen extended from its surface and Roy slid his fingers across the images until the device chirped with confirmation. Suddenly, the screen disappeared and the transparent device flashed a small purple slip of paper that protruded from its crevice. Roy pulled the slip out of it and handed it to Shane carefully.
"Thanks," Shane said with sarcasm, grabbing the slip, balling it up with the same hand, and tossing it behind him at the partially tagged wall. Roy sighed again and put the device away.
"It's in the central system now. You're going to want to pay that off-"
"I'll pay it off with my life," Shane muttered with a lifeless smirk. "When Victor Stratis comes down here himself and plants a bullet in my head, that's when I'll pay it off. Otherwise, it's staying the fuck behind me."
"You're only making this harder on yourself"-
"How long have you been a regular officer for, huh, four years? Five? Maybe six or seven? You've been a street enforcer for as long as I can remember and I see you around the same block, patrolling the same areas day after day. When's that promotion going to kick in? Or are you not qualified enough for it? Or did they totally forget about you? I bet if I snapped your neck and killed you right now, they wouldn't do a damn thing about it. You know why? Because you don't matter. You never mattered to them and you never will. You used to matter to us, but you fucked that up a long time ago. You mean nothing, do you understand that? You're a pathetic sell-out and that's all you'll ever be."
Roy swallowed hard with a sour look. "Stratis saved my life"-
"At the price of my brother's?"
"Your brother was never supposed to be apart of this."
"Bullshit he wasn't, he had a target on his back the minute they knew he existed. You sold us out for an organization that does nothing to help anyone but themselves. They don't even help their own people, let alone any of us. They stretch their hands out to smite, not to assist. WE could have saved your life."
Roy shook his head and sighed exhaustingly. "You just don't understand. You'll never understand."
Shane rolled his eyes and shook his head as well. "Yeah. Maybe I don't want to."
He turned to his backpack and zipped it closed before throwing it over his shoulder. As he picked up his skateboard again, he turned back to Roy with apathy in his eyes.
"Tell the assholes on the hill I said to go fuck themselves." Shane set his view along the sidewalk once again and kicked off on the skateboard, turning his back on the man who was beside himself internally as he watched a former ally disappear against the sunrise.
There were a few storm drains in that part of the city that led to Shane's destination, but there was only one that he would use on the regular. It was located a block away from where he'd been confronted by Roy, in an alleyway behind an abandoned drug store. It was located right below an old Graffiti tag of a gang long extinct as a result of the war, with a faded throw-up of a spraypainted "M". The drain itself was painted to resemble a cassette tape with its film stretched out in front of the drain's opening. Before walking into the alley, Shane inconspicuously pulled out a small device with a green mainframe computer chip of an old machine protruding from a type of electronic trigger, the wires of which were tied around the chip in a juvenile set-up. Shane pulled the trigger and looked above him as the streetlight he'd wired to stay on continuously, even during the day, flickered out. He was safe. The device he was holding was a homemade EMP. The trigger would knock out power within the block's radius and effectively knock him off of whatever grid he may have been tracked on. The location he was about to enter was a secret he needed to guard with his life. He'd wired the light to stay on during the day so that when he entered the storm drain, he could make sure that it worked properly, success being determined if the light went out after triggering the EMP. With the power knocked out around him and any trackers around the area going haywire, Shane sprinted into the alley, pulled off the cover of the storm drain quickly and dove in, submerging himself in darkness.
He twisted and turned along the pathway that he'd had memorized since he was a child. Rain water trailed across his feet in the opposite direction. After all these years, he didn't even need to take out his flashlight; the path had been burned into his mind. After several minutes of traveling, he stopped at a virtually random location in the dark storm cavern. He'd pulled out a key from his backpack and put it in his pocket on his way down, now using it to unlock the door in front of him. It was metallic and when he pulled it open, he forced it back with all his strength, the rust from it causing a great deal of inertia. A good bit of his muscle mass was accumulated from his daily commute to and from this place. When it was open enough for him to enter, he slid through and closed it behind him fairly quickly, as it was always easier to close than it was to open.
When he turned back around, he found himself engulfed in a slick white corridor with a tiled floor. It was about ten feet from wall to wall on either side of him and stretched out several yards in front to the nearest door. Shane walked down the corridor slowly, his eyes darting back and forth with vigilance as he took each step. He kept his hands at his side but cracked each of his knuckles individually in case he needed to put them to use. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a spot on the wall that stood out from the rest of it. It was the only square inch of it that wasn't slick white; instead, it was a jagged brown spot. Shane raised his eyebrow in recognition as he stared at it suspiciously.
Suddenly, he ducked on instinct as a figure emerging from the wall brought a white crowbar across his head. He countered with a punch to the pure white face of the figure, which had been camouflaged against the white walls beside him. As soon as it collapsed back onto the wall, a brigade of figures dressed from head to toe in all-white body suits emerged from their positions and sprinted in his direction as Shane went into the offense.
He brought his arm back and struck the figure behind him, sending it to the ground. Another of them swung forward in front of him, but Shane blocked the blow with his hand, kicked the back of the figure's knee and watched it collapse before swinging his right fist across its face. The white figure fell to the floor and stopped moving.
Before anymore blows could be thrown, Shane tucked into a roll, grabbing hold of the fallen white crowbar his opponent had dropped and flipped back onto his feet. He brought the crowbar in front of one of the figures, pushing them back several feet with his momentum as they held on to it tightly. As he felt one of them creep up from behind, he pushed the bar forward with all his force, throwing the struggling figure in front of him back and swinging the bar around to sweep it across the creeping figure's leg. It slid across the floor and slammed onto its side, out of commission.
Two of the white figures, one of which was the one he'd just been grappling with, charged toward him from his opposite side. Shane turned to them quickly and took a few steps forward to gain momentum. With one swift movement, he hopped into the air and brought his feet up, shoving them both square in the chest. The momentum of the push off followed him up into a backflip that guided him back onto his feet as he watched his opponents collapse to the floor.
Sensing a final adversary behind him, he swung the bar back as quickly as he could, but watched as it was caught in mid-air by the white figure. The two had entered a brief stand-off.
"Which is worst, Ignorance or Apathy?" the white figure asked calmly, holding on to the stalled crowbar.
"I don't know and I don't care," Shane muttered, yanking the bar out of the figure's grip aggressively. He gave the figure a dangerous look as it stared back at him blankly, its weapon gripped just as tightly. After a few moments of tension, Shane smiled and held out a hand to shake. "Good job."
"Easy for you to say," the figure growled as he pulled his pure white mask off of his face, revealing a teenager with short jet black sideswept hair to his shoulders, bright blue eyes with dark eyeliner around the sockets, and a lip ring by the corner of his mouth. He ran his fingers through his hair aggressively. "Three months and these lowlifes can't even take down one man."
"Hey, go easy on them, Cedric," Shane said with sympathy. "Not every intruder is going to have my fighting prowess. Lighting is perfect though. It hit the shadows by your bodies in a position where I couldn't even see your outline against the wall. The only thing that gave you away was part of this crowbar, which hadn't been completely covered in paint. I bet your guys are excellent fighters against a group."
"And what if Stratis sends an army of Shane clones to inflitrate this place? Then we're fucked."
Shane chuckled and tapped his hand on Cedric's shoulder. "They'll get better. I have faith in your teaching abilities. I wouldn't have put you in charge of security if I thought any different."
Cedric shrugged questionably. "Hope you made the right choice."
"Give yourself more credit then that, man," Shane said with a smile as he began to walk back down the corridor. The all-white figures were just beginning to recollect themselves and waved lightly at Shane as he passed by. "Hey, you're coming to the show tonight, right?"
"I'll try," Cedric said loudly, eying the figures. "If these assholes get through the hell I'm about to put them through in time."
Shane laughed. "Alright, bro," he said, waving and making his way to the door at the end of the corridor. When he emerged on the other side, he found himself walking on one of the five walkways, four of which were above him. Right before his eyes stood an immense and magnificent circular cavern, once used as the central reservoir for the city's water supply before it was drained out and left abandoned in favor of the new central reservoir that was built closer to the suburbs of Scar City. There were tons of people walking along the walkways, which were populated with dozens of small stores, built into the walls that surrounded the cavern.
Shane walked forward and leaned across the railway onto a glorious sight. A junkyard city, more advanced than any civilization that could have been conjured out of seemingly nothing, lay before him, thriving as if it were a living, breathing creature. Scraps of metal from cars, trucks, trailers, and fragments of buildings had been recycled and built into a recklessly beautiful architectural masterpiece. Inhabitants were walking in and out of the scrap metal buildings, the structures brightened by streetlights powered through wires that ran throughout the scape of the city. No individual carried the same appearance: Each displayed their own style which differed from the many others, whether they were a gangsta, hipster, goth, punk, indie, monk, muslim, etc. The diversity was even more evident here than on the surface. He knew each and every one of them and could pick them out of the crowd based on their attire and style. And with this difference, all of them were coexisting in the same place, all displaying the same hospitality to one another that they would for any of their comrads. It was a beautiful sight, a breath of fresh air every time Shane entered the place. In an instant, the city was filled with the sounds of music that echoed throughout the reservoir.
"The static comes in slow,
You can feel it grow.
Our city conscience flows
Under the streets below."
Shane recognized the song to be "The Sound" by Switchfoot; A classic he'd enjoyed since he was young.
"The river's made of sound,
Still running underground
Runs like a silent flood
We're running thick as blood."
Shane nodded his head to the music as it began to break down and enter its chorus.
"This is the Sound, Of a Heartbeat
This is the Sound, From the discontented mouths
Of a Haunted Nation
We are the voice of breaking down.
Can you hear me? This is the Sound
Of a Desperation Bound, By our whole collisions
We are the voice of breaking down."
Shane gazed up at the sign in between the walkways ahead of him; A giant graffiti tag was displayed in full view on the opposite side of the cavern. There were identical ones to his right and left, and a final one right above his walkway. In beautiful Red and Blue lettering, the word "MARXMIN" was scoured across the walls in all its glory. This was his city....
At this point a few questions may have risen, so I'll answer one that should answer all. Why have Stratis Corp not laid down the law and prevented this area and people like Shane from getting away with such forms of expression? Truth is, they tried. Years ago. Back when they were first beginning to display the totalitarian nature of their rule. Around the world, there were more neighborhoods and areas like this, all of which were overwhelmed by the tyranical force of Stratis Corp. All except this one. When Stratis Corp tried to muscle in, the Strays, like the other neighborhoods, was as divided as the world was following the war. They were separated into Sub-districts, determined by invisible color lines drawn by the gangs that ran them. Each gang was developed based on the style of music and connecting culture they represented and supported. They stuck to this principle during the frequent feuds that led to extensive gang wars in the district, but with such a scattered and divided populace, the neighborhood had no way to defend itself against the ominous monopoly.
Enter a young man named Shawn Marx, a lone amateur entrepreneur simply attempting to make his way in this crippled world around him, who gained the courage and ambition to put an end to the fighting amongst the Strays residents. He single-handedly unified each gang in the Strays into one entity under his command. The resulting event led to this super-gang's massive uprising against Stratis Corp. The Scarfs were forced to stand up against an army. And a war began.
Neither side truly emerged victorious. There were massive casualties on both ends. However, Stratis Corp retreated from the fight and never stepped foot in the Strays in large numbers again. It was considered a victory, but with one of the casualties being Shawn himself, this new gang was forced to rebuild without their fearless leader. Shawn Marx was considered a legend throughout the Strays, his gang of which was later officially named after him in his honor. So it was a big deal when, in his will, he noted for his little brother, Shane Marx to take over his throne in his absence when he was old enough to take the reins. Talk about having big shoes to fill. And now Shane, at 20 years old, found himself walking along the streets of what might as well be considered his kingdom, being that his gang was now the largest and most powerful in the Strays. He knew virtually everyone in this neighborhood and they all knew him. And as such a tremendous figure, the fact that he walked the street alone with virtually no protection said a lot about his own personal preference and perspective on his role in the community. Despite his position, he had no fear and considered himself on the same social level as everyone else around him.
"Hey Shane!" A voice shouted his name from down the walkway. Shane turned in its direction and noticed a man around the same age as him with small glasses, a thin beard, and a sailor straw hat pushed back above his hair line. When he reached Shane, he was nearly out of breath. His name was Abel Curtis.
When it came to Shane Marx and Abel Curtis, they were the closest that two men of different races could be to brothers. The rest of the Marxmin knew this too, taking note of the irony in their names: Shane and Abel, reminicent to the biblical brothers, Cain and Abel. The two met during the early years of the Marxmin's formation. At the time, Abel was just a young orphaned thief, who had come close to being apprehended by Stratis and adopted into one of the brainwashed families under their rule. He was soon discovered by Shawn and a brigade of freelanced gang members that would soon serve as the founding members of the syndicate. Shawn then raised the two together and the rest of the pieces fell into place with Abel becoming Shane's most trusted ally.
"Abel," Shane greeted warmly. "What's up, man?"
"A lot," he muttered in between breaths. "Council wants to see you immediately."
Shane sighed and rolled his eyes. "What is it this time?"
"Pretty much everything," Abel shrugged. "They had a....a vote."
Shane squinted his eyes with suspicion and turned his body to face Abel's. "Vote for what?" he asked sternly.
The hesitation in Abel's mannerisms spoke for itself. Shane lifted his chin in disbelief as Abel shrugged in response. He stuck his tongue into his cheek to supress his now sour attitude and walked past Abel, leading the way into one of the rooms set up along the walkway. They headed down an empty corridor until they reached the makeshift elevator at the end of it and pressed the button by the door, waiting for the cage-like lift to land on their floor. When it arrived, the two stepped in and the gate closed, lifting them up several level's above.
"They're not serious, are they?" Shane asked after taking a deep breath.
"Well I've told you what they say about you when you're not there. It was only a matter of time."
"I don't even care what they have to say about me. It's the fact that they have the nerve to question my brother."
"Well, he wasn’t God. He made mistakes too."
Shane turned to Abel and gave him an accusatory stare. Abel threw up his hands in defense.
"I'm not saying what they think is right. I'm just saying, maybe they don't trust his decisions as much as we do.”
Shane tapped his foot impatiently and pressed the up button several more times. “They should have more faith in him then that,” he said calmly, but with obvious attitude seeping from his words.
When the elevator jerked to a stop at the top floor, the two stepped out of it onto a corridor identical to the one they’d just left behind. There was a door half way down this hallway and when the two reached it, they entered to find a relatively large room with a round table in the center and a smaller version of the Marxmin tag on the back wall. Several lights were hanging fromd the ceiling above them, but were spaced out between each other, shadowing their appearance through the faded light.
Leaning around the table were five figures, all turning to the two curiously as Shane walked into the room. He didn’t want to look at them with anger or hatred; After all, his brother had hand picked the majority of them to govern the syndicate himself. They were all valuable and qualified members for the job. This was the Marxmin Council; they consisted of a unique and diverse group of individuals that served as advisors of leadership that would provide a second opinion to any of their leader’s decisions and they would also have, as Shane felt he was about to experience first hand, the grounds to overrule, veto, and/or impeach their leader if they see fit.
One of them went by the name of Hope Stefani, a slim blonde with a beatnik style, complete with a black beret, a dark sweater, and thin shades that hung off the bridge of her nose. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun behind her head tightly. Hope was only two years older than Shane but she was picked to join the Council by Shawn because of her maturity, despite her young age at the time it was formed. She was the youngest member of the Council when she joined and remained as such even now.
Another of the Council members was Houston Savage, a 23-year old cowboy and the only member of the Council who hadn’t been personally chosen by Shawn. His black bowler hat and large thick beard were his two signature features, along with the John Wayne tattoo on his left arm, his leather vest, and his inability to wear anything other than that, a pair of jeans, and combat boots. He was the latest member added to the Council after his father, a former Stratis employee who broke free of their influence, brought him to the Strays and later sacrificed his life in the same war that liberated the community from the tyranny of the massive monopoly. After growing up with the Marxmin, Houston was elected to the Council because of his innovative ideals and passion for the gang's agenda. He was appointed months before Shane had turned 18, when he was old enough to lead the gang himself.
The next Council member went by the name of Alec Monroe or "Smart Alec", his nickname deriving from his status as being one of the only members of the Council or the gang itself to have been formally educated in a defunct "school system" that used to be established in the Strays before it was later shut down during the war against Stratis Corp. He was white, but his thick brown dreadlocks, piercing green eyes, and Rastafarian accent said otherwise. Most were under the impression that he was of mixed origins, but even that was questionable, as his slight tan was the only indication that would reinforce that. Smart Alec, who was 28 years old and the oldest of all of the Council members, was a valued friend of Shawn Marx before his untimely death. He was hand picked by him to run the Council and was also one of the founding members of the Marxmin.
Another female that led the Council was named Geneva Reyes. At 26 years old, she was perhaps the one Marxmin, with the exception of Shane himself, who could truly fulfilled the role of a Marx, as her relationship with Shawn was personal; So personal, in fact, that she was the widowed wife of the late gang leader. As Shane's sister-in-law, Geneva, a beautiful but aggressive Latina, was the only person that Shane considered to be someone who trusted his brother unconditionally, with the exception of Abel and himself. Her signature bandana, which was tied around her hair, and her sharp physique indicated that she was a force to be reckoned with, but she was also one of the only people other than Abel that Shane could trust with his life.
The final member of the Council was one, Marvin Kelly. He was a thin-faced African American man at the age of 27. Sporting a black fedora and a loose-fitting dress shirt, Marvin was the most well-dressed out of the Marxmin, a factor he’d been questioned (not ridiculed, since this wasn't the way of the Marxmin) about his willingness to dress in a similar fashion to Stratis employees. His reasons were that because he adopted it into his own unique style, his attire would be a sort of devil-may-care mockery of the Stratis lifestyle. Acting as the primary Devil’s Advocate of the Council, Marvin served as its de-facto leader and Shane knew he was probably the one questioning his leadership the most. There was a time during Shawn's rule over the Marxmin when Marvin was much more easy going and carefree, as he saw the brighter sides of life. This all changed when he watched with his own two eyes, the rape and murder of his sister at the hands of a psychopathic Scarf General. The moment changed him and ever since that and the death of Shawn, one of his closest friends, he'd adopted a take-no-bullshit persona that causes him to clash with most of his colleagues, especially Shane. Normally, Shane would avoid confrontation with him, as he sympathized with his traumatic loss, but he was currently not seeing an excuse for him to turn the entire Council against him, which was what it currently looked like.
Shane made eye-contact with each of them before speaking. “So whats the verdict?” he said with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“Split down the middle,” Marvin said, walking up from the table slowly. “3 to 3, counting your....lacky’s vote.” He pointed directly at Abel. “Don’t worry, he voted in your favor. Obviously. The rest of the votes are confidential.”
“So what's the tie-breaker?” Shane asked with no emotion.
“There isn’t one. Since its tied, we give you another chance.”
Shane chuckled humorlessly. “To do what?”
Marvin crossed his arms and raised his eyebrow. “To prove that you know what you're doing. To prove that you’re a good enough leader to not get us all killed, that’s what.”
“And what exactly did I do this time to endangered you, huh?”
“Shane, it’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you haven’t been doing,” Hope said with sympathy, trying her best not to exude any form of offense.
“No, its what he has been doing AND what he hasn’t been doing,” Marvin interjected, raising his voice. “All the other Marxmin live in the Marxmin Compound. Why do you have to be the one to live on the outside? Don’t you know they could track you to this location?-”
“That’s what the EMP is for”-
“You don’t know what the Strats may have; they could be tracking you by satelite. You don’t know. And yet still, you choose to risk compromising us. And for what? To be alone with your thoughts for some time? Grow up, Shane. This isn’t how a good leader is supposed to operate, I thought Shawn taught you better then that.”
“What the fuck did you say to me?” Shane said in a near whisper as he antagonizingly stepped in Marvin's direction. As if on cue, the others ran to his side to hold him back from delivering any unecessary blows. Geneva was the one closest to him.
“Calm down, Shane,” she said firmly, pressing her hand against his chest.
“No, you heard him yourself,” Shane said, pointing at him accusingly. “He doubted him. He blatantly questioned my brother. After all he's done for you"-
“The only person I’m questioning here is you, Shane!” Marvin shouted. “When are you going to grow some fucking balls and handle your business like a real man?!”
“Marvin, shut up!” Geneva snapped, making him back off slightly. She turned back to Shane calmly, but spoke with hesitation. “Shane. Marvin, as well as some of us, are concerned that you aren’t doing enough as leader of the Marxmin.”
“Doing enough what?” Shane shrugged with frustration. “I’m being the best leader I can possibly be! I'm doing everything in my power to keep these people safe. I know everyone in this Compound personally. I talk to the people directly and address what they want. I provide for these people. I’d give my life for them. Somebody please tell me how that’s not doing enough as a leader.”
“Romulus, mon,” Smart Alec started, putting a hand on Shane's shoulder. He always addressed Shane by his middle name. “I and I t’ink you be a great leader, seen? But when it come to de Strats, bruddha....I and I t’ink you may not ‘ave de ‘eart to 'andle what t'ey might throw in t'is direction."
"We just haven't seen you do anything," Hope said honestly. "I don't think you've even made any moves against them since you've taken over."
"What do you want me to do, just rally up the entire gang and go marching into Clark Kent Ville tonight? I mean, why didn't you just come to me and tell me this and actually plan this out, see what we could do"-
"We have, you always try to avoid the topic at every meeting," Marvin said coldly, now calmed down from the altercation. "It's why we had to go behind your back about it."
"You had to go behind my back and talk about impeaching me instead of getting us to stand up against the Strats"-
We don't have all the time in the world, man," Marvin continued. "Those Strats are getting aggressive. Even though we drove them out, they're still coming in to enforce their bullshit and lay down some law. And they're doing it a lot more often too. Sooner or later, they're going to regroup and hit us hard and we want to know what you're going to do when that time comes."
Shane looked away in thought and considered the purpose of their intervention. He turned back to them with disappointment in his eyes. "We'll have a formal meeting about it tomorrow at 5pm. With me here. Until then, you're all dismissed."
Exchanging a few looks, the Council reluctantly walked past Shane and headed for the door. Marvin left the room without a word. Smart Alec stopped by Shane and gave him a reassuring look.
“I’ll be blackin’ up downstairs, seen? Ere'tings gonna be irie, Romulus. T'ings be lookin' up. Just gotta keep dat head up with it, nah mean? One love, bruddha."
Smart Alec patted him on the shoulder and walked out of the room as Hope stopped by him. "I have faith in you, Shane. You've just got to prove yourself is all."
Houston, who had been relatively quiet behind everyone else, walked up to Shane when Hope exited the room. "If it makes you feel any better, I voted to keep you in," he said warmly.
Shane smirked lightly and tapped Houston on the back as he walked out. When he was gone, Shane turned to Geneva.
"You sure you're all right?" she asked with concern.
"I will be," Shane replied, rubbing his face with fatigue.
"Okay. I'm going to go get something to eat at The Wall. If you want to talk, just meet me over there."
Shane nodded as she headed for the door. With her gone, the only ones left in the room were Shane and Abel.
"I guess I should start getting ready for the show tonight," Abel said with a bit of awkwardness as he started for the door.
"Hey wait," Shane said, reaching into his back pocket and walking over to Abel. He pulled out the wallet he'd taken from one of the Clark Kents earlier. "Here."
"Shane..." Abel muttered with a sigh of annoyance. Shane held up his hand to stop him as he reached into the wallet and handed him the blue and white Stratis bills he'd collected. Abel looked at them hesitantly, then gazed back up at Shane before taking them. "The Subway?"
Shane nodded. "That should be enough to pay off that ticket."
"That's just one ticket, Shane!" Abel replied loudly in irritation. "I could have found a way to pay this off myself, probably jacked somebody too! You've got like fifty tickets and you haven't paid off one."
"So?" Shane shrugged apathetically.
"So, you need to be more invested in paying off your own debts and not everyone else's because eventually the Strats are going to catch up to you."
"I'm not scared," Shane said sternly. "You know as well as I do that this isn't about me and it never was. I'm willing to make whatever sacrifices I need to keep this gang alive."
"Are you sure the gang are what you're doing this for? Or your brother?"
Shane looked away, visibly agitated. "What difference does it make?"
"A big difference. Seriously bro, you've got to get your priorities in order before someone catches you off-guard. It could mean the end of you as well as everything your brother worked for."
Shane swallowed and avoided eye contact with Abel. When he realized that Shane wasn't going to speak anymore, Abel sighed and headed for the door.
"Alright, man," he said, opening it and waving back at Shane. "I'll see you tonight."
Shane waved at him and turned back around as he listened to the door shut behind him. He headed over to the round table where the Council had had their discussion. In the center of it, as there had always been, sat a small origami figure in the form of a crane. Shane picked it up and pulled back on its tail, making it move. He sat back on the table and played with the figure for a few minutes as he engulfed himself in thought, contemplating the life he now lived as the leader of virtually an entire civilization. He was at a crossroads. He could either prepare for a war that could destroy everything his brother worked so hard to accomplish or he could sit back and wait for it all to crumble on its own. Was the risk worth it? His brain wouldn't let him come up with a solution. He was too inticed by the Origami figure in his hands, made out of the discarded and useless paper of a US 100 dollar bill.