Graffiti - Chapter 4: Beat It/Michael Jackson

"Rally up whoever's willing to go," Shane said strictly, taking the closest route down the steel streets where the traveling group drew the curious eye of the citizens that walked by them.  As he spoke, he made eye contact with them, filling them with the courage and confidence that he felt in himself.  "I want an army outside the Compound entrance in 30 minutes."

"Hold on, slow down, bro," Abel said, looking back and forth between Shane and the Council that walked behind him in confusion.  "What for?"

"They took Cassette."

"Who did?"

"The Mercuries," Shane said sternly.  "We're getting her back.  Tonight."

"Whoa, hold on a second," Marvin exclaimed, sprinting up in front of Shane to stop his pace.  "You're going to attack the Mercuries for the sake of one girl?"

Shane squinted his eyes with disdain.  "In case you didn't know, she's not just one girl"-

"I know, I know, she's your girl, but the point is, she's one person.  And you're about to risk the lives of several of our men for one individual?"

Abel stepped forward and put his hand up between the two.  "Marvin, no one gets left behind, thats one of our biggest rules."

"No offense, Abel, but I don't feel like dying tonight for the sake of one girl that I barely even know.  I'm sorry if you don't feel the same sentiment."

"Then you can stay here, Marvin!" Shane shouted, pushing Abel aside as he glared into Marvin's eyes, seconds away from sending his fist between them.  "Because unlike you, I handle my business for the sake of others, not just myself.  Nobody is forcing you to go with us."

Marvin winced imperceptibly but held his tongue, sizing him up without backing down.  His eyes slid over to the others that stood behind Shane protectively and then back at him.  He sighed.  "Do what you've got to do and try not to get too many of your own men killed out there, all right?"

Shane didn't want to entertain Marvin's remark with a response, so he maneuvered past him and led the others down the dark metallic streets of the Marxmin Compound.  The mood in the reservoir had turned from joyous to determinate.  The makeshift street lanterns illuminated the rusty metal structures of stores and houses that they passed on their way to the Artillery Center, where the weapons they needed would be stored for future use.  Half way there, Shane turned back to them.

"Abel, Alec, Hope, you all go collect anyone willing to go patrolling tonight.  We're hitting the Mercuries hard.  Like never before.  Get everybody and tell them to stock up and meet us outside.  Abel hit the Fort Minor siren."

The three of them nodded with understanding and turned, heading down one of the avenues out of sight.  Shane led Houston and Geneva on the path he continued on and they turned, heading towards a small garage that was currently sealed shut with chains across it and a large lock on the bottom.  Shane reached into his back pocket and pulled out his personal set of keys, leaning down and sticking one of them into the lock.  It clicked open and he pulled the lock off, throwing it aside as the others helped him pull the chains from the garage door.  He reached down once again and lifted the door up until it slid into the ceiling.  At the side of the entrance was a light that Shane flicked on, displaying the large arsenal of melee weapons that were hooked against nearly every square inch of the wall.  It was one of many weapon caches located around the Compound.  As he walked into the garage, he could hear the music of Fort Minor's "100 Degrees" echo into the speakers of the reservoir.

"This is the time so just follow me,
Its already heated to 100 Degrees
So Get Up, Get Up, Get Up, Get Up"

"There goes the siren," Shane said, lifting his head at the sound of its intro.  "Everyone should be on alert now."

"So I suppose you have a plan of attack, right Boss?" Houston asked with confidence, as he surveyed the wall for his weapon of choice.

"Of course he does," Geneva said sharply.  "Right, Shane?"

"Exactly," he said, walking alongside the wall, reaching for anything he felt would be useful on the battlefield.  He picked out a pair of brass knuckles, gripping them onto his fist, a molotov cocktail with the wick extended from it which he strapped to his belt loop, and also grabbed hold of his walkie talkie, which lay dormant in the center of the wall.  He flicked it on the make sure it worked properly, then turned it back off, attaching it to the opposite side of his belt loop.  "Or I will, at least."

Geneva shot him a dark look.  "What?  You're telling me you're going in there without a plan?"

"I didn't say that," Shane said with a small smirk.  "I'll have one before we go in there.  I just don't have one right now."

"Shane," she muttered lowly, approaching him closely so that Houston wouldn't hear.  "You know better than to go after the enemy without a battle plan."

"Well with all due respect, Geneva, I planned on spending this particular time coming up with the plan.  The time we're spending in a conversation right now."

Geneva rolled her eyes and sighed.  "You better know what you're doing, Marx.  I don't mind sticking my neck out for that girl, but I don't feel like losing my life over a slip of competence on your part.  I don't want to see you lose your head out there either."

"When have I ever," Shane said warmly, smiling and leaning forward to kiss her on the forehead.  He tapped his hand on her shoulder confidently.  "My brother taught me better than that."

He reached forward and grabbed two wooden bats from the wall.  With them in hand, he walked past Geneva and stepped up to Houston, handing one of the bats to him.

"Savage, you're going to stay by my side through the entire assault."

"Sure thing, Boss," he said eagerly, taking the bat in hand.

"I wouldn't be so excited if I were you.  I'm infiltrating the Mercuries Compound."

"What?" Houston said, his enthusiasm dying down a bit.  "Why?"

"I've got some business to take care of."

"The rest of the gang can retrieve Cassette, Shane, you don't have to worry about that," Geneva said with a bit of worry in her own voice.

"That's not the business I mean.  I'll fill you in on it later.  We need to get a move on."


"How is she?" Saul asked curiously, walking down the metal walkway just outside one of the buildings near the courtyard of the Mercuries Compound with one of his colleagues.  What was once a relatively small penitentiary built to contain local detainees in the Strays area was later abandoned after the war and never used again until it was claimed as the personal hangout/hideout area for the Mercuries.  With the Strats maintaining their own Correctional Facilities on the opposite side of the Metro District, there was no need to reclaim this location as their own.  However, unlike the Marxmin Compound, the Mercuries Compound was out in the open and the location was widely known to everyone in the Strays area.  It was apparent that if the Mercuries were to ever somehow find a way to overwhelm the Marxmin and replace them as the largest and most powerful gang of the Strays, they wouldn't last very long at all if they continued to use the prison as a headquarters.

Saul looked out on his men, who were partying and conversing in the courtyard below under the cloudy night sky.  Across from the walkway, the Mercuries Graffiti tag was sprawled across the entire section of the opposite building in black and silver.  He soon turned back to his colleague and gave him his full attention.

"She's not saying anything at the moment," said a very tall dark Mercury with short side-swept hair, sporting the same black tanktop with a white trim and torn jeans as the other members of the gang around him.  He accompanied Saul as they continued along the walkway and entered through a door that led to one of the corridors of the building with a continuous row of cells on one side.  "She's just sitting there quietly, not responding to any of our questions.  We're not gonna get any info out of her if we don't start taking some action-"

"Don't even go there, Dan, I told you not to lay a finger on her under any circumstances," Saul snapped threateningly.  "You're starting to sound like those damn Markers out there.”

“Sorry, Saul,” Dan muttered modestly.  “What do you suppose we should do?”

“I’ll handle it,” he said simply, continuing down the corridor of cells until they reached one at the end of the hall.  There were several men already stationed at the last cell when Saul approached it, guarding the girl who lounged on the bed in the corner of the room.  Saul eyed them and motioned in their direction, relieving them of their positions.  They turned, heading for the double doors beside the cell and disappeared behind them.  Saul stopped in front of the cell and looked in on the young brunette that lay staring up at the ceiling absentmindedly.  Dan had followed Saul to the cell and stopped by it just as he did, waiting for him to address the stubborn girl.  Saul turned to him, realizing that he was still there and waved him off annoyingly, Dan obediantly following the guards through the double doors.  When he was gone and the two were alone, Saul leaned on the bars of the cell door and sighed audibly to get her attention.  She leaned up from the bed and turned in his direction.

"What do you want?" she asked with attitude.

"You know what I want," Saul muttered, surveying her intently.  "After all I've told you, you should pretty much understand the nature of your offense.  I want those Markers."

"I had no clue that was what this was all about."

"That's not what it was all about, Cassette," Saul replied, gritting his teeth with frustration.  "But I've repeatedly told you how serious this is.  When you said you had a man on the side, I didn't know you were talking about Shane Marx for Christ's sake."

"I don't see what difference it makes"-

"The difference it makes is that if it were any other motherfucker in the Strays, it'd be fine, but its not.  Its fucking Shane Marx.  The leader of the most dangerous outfit that could've ever been apart of the Strays underworld.  I mean, what the hell were you thinking?"-

"I was thinking I like him," Cassette said with anger in her voice as she got up and sat on the side of the bed, giving Saul her full attention.  "Considering I was with him before I ever met you."

"So who are you willing to compromise in the end, huh?  Me or him?  I want the location of the Marxmin Compound; if you can't give that to me, I have no use for you anymore."

"So that's how it is, huh?" Cassette muttered, chuckling humorlessly.  "You'll throw away all we've accomplished together for a stupid feud?"

"If you can't tell me where the Compound is, then I can't trust you.  I can't trust that you aren't working with the Markers behind my back.  You'll be the one throwing it all away, not me.  Now where do your loyalties lie, with me or him?"

Cassette looked away and shrugged.  "It all depends."

"On what?"

"Who wins."

"What are you talking about?"

Cassette turned to him and flashed her temptress eyes at him deviously.  "He's going to come looking for me.  When he does, whoever wins, gets to have me.  The loser dies."

"So you're saying you're the trophy wench?"

"Whatever you want to call it, honey," Cassette answered, winking at him.

Saul continued to stare at Cassette through the cell bars before looking down and grabbing the loop of keys that were attached to the belt loop on his waist.  He pulled one of the keys out of the bunch and stuck it into the cell door, turning and sliding back the bars.  He walked in and Cassette stood up, making eye contact with him as he began to approach her slowly.

"Not that I plan on losing," Saul said with a smile, "but while you're here, I might as well get my fix."

Saul leaned forward and embraced her, locking lips while she showed no signs of protest.


"Is this everyone?" Shane asked, surveying the crowd in front of him that stood by the merky graffiti-covered back alley being lit by the lamppost giving off light in the corner between the back wall and the building beside them.  A shadow covered half of Shane's face as he looked back and forth between the motley crew of individuals, clad in a unique mixture of red and blue clothing, specific in style to each of them.  Shane himself was sporting a thin denim jacket with rolled-up sleeves, a red t-shirt under it, and dark fitted jeans with red converses.  On the back of his jacket was a spraypainted tag of a red "M," while he wore a blue and red bandana tied across his forehead in the same fashion as each individual that stood before him.

"Yes."  Abel nodded and crossed his arms, looking towards Shane who stood beside him while waiting for his next move.  Shane scoped out each of them, spotting the Council members present in front of the mixed crowd of Marxmin standing before him.  The only one that wasn't there with them was Marvin, who Shane assumed decided to sit this one out.  All together, the crowd numbered around fifty, all clustered around the back alley patiently.

Shane rubbed his goatee slowly as he scanned them.  "Who are you?!" he shouted at them.

"MARXMIN!" They shouted back at him in unison passionately.

"What are you?!"


"And what is this?!"


"What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?!"



"MARXMIN!" The crowd pumped their fists into the air as their energy was visibly flared.  Shane turned around and headed for the fire escape behind him, climbing up the ladder to the level above them as quickly as he could.  When he was on the walkway, he addressed the crowd from the higher level, pacing back and forth as he spoke, his energy being fed off of by the rest of the group.

"By the end of the night, the Mercuries will no longer exist," Shane said firmly, making eye contact with each and every one of them.  "Do you understand?  Tonight, we will hit them so hard that nothing will be left standing.  They've crossed us for the last time.  For those hesitant about my actions as of late, take this as the first in a long line of long-awaited strikes against our enemies.  If you are scared, you do not belong here.  If you are not prepared to get wrecked, you do not belong here.  If you are not willing to fight and/or die for the sake of your fellow brother or sister, for the Marxmin, and for everything the Marxmin stand for, you do not belong here.  The only people I should be seeing in front of me are soldiers, not cowards.  Recognize what you've signed up for, know what you're getting into.  It should have been clear from the moment you decided to join us.  We do not have any room nor time for weak-hearted people.  The Mercuries are a bunch of balls-less lowlifes who think they can muscle into our territory and make moves against us because they have no respect for our way of life.  They believe in segregation based on perfection and strength, survival of the fittest.  They believe in crushing those who can't defend themselves.  They have no conscience.  They kidnap and victimize young children, they murder people on the spot simply for looking at them the wrong way, they torture and brutalize any of our people they can get their hands on.  We've dealt with them for long enough.  Its time we fucking wipe them off the face of the Earth.  No more peace offerings.  No more mutual agreements.  No more feuds.  No more bullshit.  This ends tonight."

"Hey Shane!" Shouted a voice from the other end of the back alley.  Everyone's attention turned in the direction of the voice to see two figures walking up, fading into view with the help of the dim streetlight.  Shane recognized that it was Marvin holding on tightly to a bound Mercury whose wrists were tied behind his back, constricting his movement.  After a while, Marvin, kicked the hoodlum in the back of his knee, causing him to fall onto both of them as he came into full view.  Shane recognized by his lip injury that he was the Mercury that he'd knocked unconcious with the broken switchblade.  He had most likely been left behind by Saul and what was left of his traveling troupe.

"Well well," Shane muttered with a smirk, hopping over the railing of the fire escape swiftly and landing hard onto the pavement in front of the crowd.  He strolled slowly toward his comrad and the weakened gang member.  "Where'd you find this guy?"

"Unconcious by the scattered carnage you left over by 8th Street, Shane," Marvin said with a stern expression.  "You should really learn how to clean up your messes."

"Actually, you just gave me a stellar idea, Marvin.  I have a feeling we're going to be getting the drop on those assholes in a way they'll never see coming.  Old school war tactic style.  You think you can help us with that, mercury?"

"Fuck you," the scruffy wounded man muttered angrily, locking eyes with Shane, who chuckled.

"Thats the spirit," he said before rearing back and cracking his fist across the mercury's face, sending him leaning over to his side as he spit blood and a chipped tooth onto the cement.  Marvin grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back upright to face Shane, who eyed him with a proud sneer before turning back to the crowd.

"We will rain fire on them like they've never seen.  We will bring them a hell that they will recognize once again as soon as they cross over to the other side.  If God favors any of them enough to allow them to walk away from this, they will never forget the most important principle of the Strays and will warn the rest of the gangs that oppose us: If you cross a Marxmin, you get your fucking head split.  Show them no mercy!"

The gang of ragtag bohemians howled into the night as they prepared themselves to embark one one of the most vicious assaults attempted in the history of gang life in the Strays.


"Where are Eli and Nick?" Dan asked, heading down the stairs into the central garage, which used to be the drop-off point for inmates being brought in by transport bus when the prison was still operational.  Now it was being used as a sparring and weapons room, where the gang members would be able to hone their skills by wrestling each other, exercising, and lifting weights, as well as a storage for their arsenal.  This was the only location for their weapons, as opposed to the multiple armories located in the Marxmin Compound, and all of them were being kept along a wall on one side of the large garage.  Dan approached one of the Mercuries who was spotting another as he bench pressed a one hundred and fifty pound bar with relative ease.

"They're handling that girl on fifth street in the back room," the spotting partner stated, keeping his eyes on his struggling mate as he helped him settle the bar back on the rack.

"Did you tell them I needed to talk to them about getting the loan back from the Sutherlands this morning?"

"Yeah, they said they'd talk to you when they felt like it."

Dan sighed in annoyance and shuffled across the room, past the perspirating men that worked themselves to the peak of their willpower around him.  He reached one end of the garage, which led to a stairway up to what was once used as an office for the authority behind transit regulation.  Dan entered and took a flight of stairs up to it, listening to the sounds of high-pitched screaming being heard on the other side.  He opened the door on the top level to see two of his colleagues manhandling a half-naked young woman, who shrieked at the top of her lungs in terror as they proceeded to rip her clothes from her body, relinquishing their clothing as well.

"Hey, didn't Rob tell you fuckers I needed to talk to you?" Dan exclaimed as he entered the room.

"Didn't Rob tell you we were busy?" The dark skinned gang member known as Nick muttered, unbuttoning his pants while his partner, Eli, a pale hairy man, held the girl by her arms as she tried to squirm from his grip.

"You were supposed to talk to the Sutherlands about getting back the loan this morning, what happened to that?"

"We did, they didn't pay up," Eli said loudly over the girl's deafening screams.

"Well why didn't you beat it out of them?"

"I thought we were supposed to give them a week's notice before we did that?"

"Policy changed, remember?  They don't have the credits, they get wrecked so they know to have it next week.  You should pay attention to the boss next time he addresses us."

"Yeah yeah," Nick said annoyingly, pulling his underwear down to his ankles and throwing them aside.  "We'll handle them tomorrow.  Now can you leave, we've got business to attend to."

Dan sighed and closed the door behind him as Nick forcefully griped the young blonde by both her legs and proceeded rob her of her innocence.  Dan could hear the screams grow louder as he made his way down stairs and eventually covered his ears in annoyance until he arrived back inside the garage to see that it had opened to reveal one of the hauling vans they used to transport food, equipment, and new weapons into the Mercury Compound.  The problem was that one of these vans hadn't been schedule for arrival in a few days, let alone in the middle of the night.  Several of the Mercuries stood around it curiously, making conversation with the driver as they waited for Dan to arrive and inspect the cargo.

Dan circled to the front of the van and walked to the window where one of the Mercuries he recognized was behind the wheel.  "What's going on here?  We didn't have a drop-off scheduled."

"I know, its a late night shipment," the Mercury muttered from the driver's seat confidently.  "Found a huge stash of Coke and Mary J over in that tenement on the corner of Barringer Place.  Figured we'd clear it out and bring the goods over here.  We can party hard tonight."

"Nice," Dan responded excitedly.  "Open up the back, lets see the shit."

"Sure," the Mercury muttered, looking down with a faded smile.  From the angle, Dan could see that his lip was heavily swollen and one of his teeth were missing.

"What happened to your face?"

The Mercury looked caught off-guard.  "Oh uh, it wasn't unguarded.  Had to bust a few heads to make sure it was ours."

"What happened to the people with you?  You didn't head in there alone, did you?"

"No, no, they're uh, they're bringing the rest of it by.  They'll be here in a bit."

"Oh okay," Dan shrugged.  "Well lets see what we've got."

The Mercury reached down and opened the back door of the van manually with the button by the side of the steering wheel.  Dan walked to the back and opened the doors all the way to see that there was a rather large electronic device implanted right between the backs of the two front seats.  Dan climbed into the van and slowly approached the device, which seemed to be temporarily inactive.  As soon as he reached for it, however, the contraption sprang to life, displaying a light blue aura with text illuminating from its mainframe, which read: "X MARX THE SPOT!"

"What the hell?" Dan said in confusion.

"They told me to comply for as long as possible or they'd detonate it immediately," the Mercury in the driver's seat confessed with a shaking worried voice.  "I'm so sorry."

Dan's eyes grew wide with realization and his heart skipped a beat.  In a frantic shriek, he turned and headed out of the van.  "EVERYBODY RUN!"  He belted.  "ITS A BO-"

A chirp could be heard from the machine just before the entirety of the garage burst into flames, sending a cluster of hellfire spewing from the entrance and out onto the road.  The explosion rocked the penitentiary, causing the windows of the floors above it to shatter and the sheer impact sent a wave of coercion through the bricks holding this side of the prison up, forcing the entire section of the structure to collapse in on itself.  This left a massive conflagration rising from the wreckage mixed with smoke and debris in its wake.

From a distance several blocks away, Shane watched the spectacle unfold and smirked when he saw that his orders had been carried out effectively.  He lifted his walkie talkie to his mouth and pressed the radio button to communicate with the others.

"Operation Explojan Horse is a success, I repeat, Explojan Horse is a success.  Moving on to Phase 2.  Storm the building and bring those motherfuckers down!"

On cue, the battle cry of the fifty soldiers he'd brought with him could be heard echoing in the distance as they erupted from the shadows and swarmed from every corner of the block surrounding the building.  With the main armory destroyed, the defenseless Mercuries would have to fight with their fists against a horde of ruthless, armed, and well-trained Marxmin.

A dirty black van sped around the corner and skidded to a stop by the sidewalk where Shane stood.  The side door slid open for him to enter and he dipped inside, greeted by Abel, who was currently driving, Hope who sat in the front seat, and Houston, accompanied by several other Marxmin assigned to escort them.  Abel steered the vehicle closer to the prison entrance that was currently being breached. 

Inside, one of the Mercuries sprinted down the cell corridor as fast as he possibly could after witnessing the West Wing collapse before his eyes.  He needed to inform the boss that they were under seige as soon as possible.  As he turned the corner and approached the cell where he'd last seen Saul, he immediately shielded his eyes at the sight before him.  Saul had been pounding away at the backside of the girl they'd kept prisoner, Cassette, with his pants around his ankles and sweat pouring down his face in exasperation.

"Boss, we're being attacked!"

"What?" Saul asked, his cheeks puffing in and out as he kept his eyes glued to the back of Cassette, who moaned loudly while he continued to shuffle back and forth.

"Somebody just broke into the Compound and set off a bomb!  It leveled the entire West Wing!  Now we're being overrun!"

Saul turned back to the panicked Mercury with a look of confusion.  "By who?"

"The Marxmin, boss!"

Cassette suddenly chuckled through her heavy breathing.  "I told you," she said in an exhausted voice.

"Shut up," Saul muttered, gripping her by her hair and pulling her head back with force.  He turned back to the man by the cell door without breaking his stride.  "Tell them to get equipped and hold off the front from all sides."

"Boss, they blew up the West Wing.  That was where our armory was.  We don't have any weapons."

"Well just do the best you can, damn it!" Saul said in a flustered voice.  "I'll be out when I'm done.  Leave!"

"Okay, Boss," the Mercury said, turning away from the scene and sprinting back the way he came.  He emerged on the walkway by the courtyard where he could see his own men engaged in heated combat with the opposing force: an army of red and blue bandana-wearing gang members.  The blaze from the explosion was blindingly bright as it swooped through the air, bringing light to the courtyard that had been barely lit by the dim and weakly-powered spotlights before.  The grunts and shouts of the disputing forces echoed as he watched them, just before another deafening explosion rocked the penitentiary and the front entrance of the building burst forward; Rocks and fragments of wall spewed from it and out emerged a black van that sped to a stop in the center of all the carnage.

The side door slipped open and Shane stepped out alongside Houston, Abel, Hope, and the three Marxmin keeping them company.  Shane walked with determination through the brawling fighters that surrounded them.  Both sides were bloody and exhausted but percervered, holding their ground against their opposers.  A few had already fallen, most being the Mercuries who were no match for the heavily equipped Marxmin.  As the group walked across the courtyard, watching the battle unfold around them, a single free Mercury spotted Shane and sprinted angrily in his direction.  As soon as he was within reach, Shane reached out with his right brass knuckle-equipped hand and struck him in the face, causing him to flail in the other direction.  With his back exposed, Shane gripped him by his black shirt and swung him around to his side, where Houston was ready to deliver and swung his wooden bat directly up into his face.  Shane let go of him and let him fall onto his back while Hope and Abel stepped over his body as he lay unconscious.

Another few Mercuries came around from the left side of the pack, but Hope saw them coming, striking one of them in the adam's apple with the bat she held in her right hand.  As he grabbed for his own throat, Hope moved on to the next, lifting her leg and pressing the heel of her shoe into his eye, hard enough to knock him off his feet.  With the other one incapacitated, she lifted the bat over her head and cracked it across the first man's cranium, watching him fall onto the grass of the courtyard with a bleeding skull.  Several other lone Mercuries tried to attack the group individually, but were easily dispatched as they fell one by one at their hands.  The Mercuries' sense of teamwork was non-existent, a fatal flaw for their outfit.

"Where do you think they're keeping Cassette?" Abel asked curiously, keeping his eyes open for anymore assailants looking to blind side them.

"If he operates the same way he did ten years ago, he keeps all of his captives in the Prison's North Wing.  We'll start there.  Savage heads in with me, the rest of you man the frontline and waste as many of these Mercury punks as possible.  I'll radio in when I've found her."

"All right, man," Abel said saluting at him as the group began to disperse in opposite directions.  Shane nodded back and picked up his pace as he led Houston to the building directly in front of him, which served as the North Wing of the prison's infrastructure.  Shane pushed open the double doors which led to an empty hallway with walls covered in graffiti and trash scattered across the dirty floor.  On either side of them, there were doors to rooms such as the warden's office, the employee lounge, the cafeteria, and various other locations.  Shane and Houston were forced to scavenge through each one as they navigated their way down the hall, all the way until they reached the second set of double doors that led to their left.  Down this corridor, there were multiple rows of prison cells on either side, all empty from the duo's current view, although above them were more cells along several floors of walkways that led up to the ceiling of the building.  Shane motioned for Houston to follow him as they continued onward.

"Do you think she's somewhere in here?" Houston asked.

"Probably.  If not on this side, probably on the other.  From the blueprint I have of this place, there's two separate hallways of cells in each building.  She's probably in one of them.  Cassette!"

Shane shouted upward into the prison atrium, hearing his voice echo along each floor.  

"Ms. Harding!" Houston belted after him, waiting for a response.  "Are you in here?!"

All of the cells were wide open and Shane peered into each as he passed by, but only briefly as he continued along the corridor.  Because of this, he did not notice the figure that slipped out from under one of the beds and crept outside of one of the cells behind them.  Silently, the figure, a lone Mercury, tiptoed in their direction, crawling behind Houston without making a sound.  He reached behind him and unsheated a very large hunting knife, readying it in his hand tightly.  With one swift move, he grabbed hold of Houston's shoulder and drove the blade into the center of his back, slicing through his spine directly upward into his heart.  Houston gasped in shock and gagged, sending Shane's senses on alert at the sound.  He spun around to see the assault against his friend.

"NO!" he screamed, sprinting toward him in horror as the Mercury jerked the blade from out of Houston and tossed him aside.  As Shane closed in, the Mercury reared back with the blade and hooked it around for his head.  Shane juked backwards and grabbed hold of the Mercury's armed hand with his own right hand, while driving his fist into his ribs with the other.  With the momentum of the blow, he twisted the hand with the blade behind the Mercury's back and shoved him directly into the bars of one of the cells with tremendous force.  With burning anger at the travesty against his comrad, Shane grabbed the Mercury by his hair and slammed it onto the bars before pulling him back, pushing him closer to the entrance of the cell, and repeating the process.  He finally directed the Mercury to the opening of the cell and proceeded to kick his feet out from under him, causing him to fall frontwards onto the floor, his head right between the wall and the open bars.  In a blind rage, Shane grabbed hold of the bars tightly and swung them closed right onto the Mercury's head, pulling it back and duplicating the action several times, until his skull was completely crushed and a pool of blood traveled under Shane's feet and into the cell.

With his enemy out of the way, Shane rushed to Houston's side, grabbing hold of him by his shoulders.  His eyes were closed and his mouth hung open lifelessly.  His bowler hat, which had his blue and red bandana tied to it, had fallen aside, but Shane pulled it towards him quickly at the sight of it.

"I'm sorry," Houston whispered softly through his raspy breathing.  "I'm so sorry."

"Shhh," Shane said, quieting him.  "You didn't do anything wrong, Savage.  You understand?  You did nothing wrong.  You have nothing to be sorry about.  Just rest, okay?  I'm bringing back up."

Shane reached to his side and pulled off the walkie talkie that had been clipped to his belt loop, tuning in to its radio.  "Its Shane, somebody send one of the medics to the North Wing immediately!  Savage is down, I repeat, Savage is down!"

He dropped the walkie talkie on the floor and tended to Houston, who's eyes were slightly ajar.  "Savage, are you awake?  Savage?"  Shane shook him by the shoulders.  "Houston?!"  When he saw that his breathing had halted and his body was void of movement, Shane realized that he'd lost him.  He gritted his teeth and shut his eyes hard, shaking his head in anger and frustration as he held tightly to Houston's body, blood continuously leaking out of him and onto the floor.  One out of possibly an average amount of casualties for a battle like this.  He felt sympathy for all the lives lost in each confrontation his gang was drawn into, but he'd known Houston for years.  He was a shy and timid but extremely strong-spirited man; he was more than deserving of his position in the Council.  He was the ideal Marxmin; he represented everything that they stood for and he was a prime example of the individuality and freedom one was given in their receptive society.  Losing him would prove to be a tremendous blow to him and the gang itself.

A gunshot rang out in the prison and Shane let go of Houston, racing for cover under one of the cell's walkway coverings.  He looked over at the spot where the bullet had collided with the floor right behind him, a shot just barely missed.  He briefly recalled feeling it passing by his neck as it was fired.  Where did that gun come from?  In the Strays, combat rarely ever consisted of gunfire, as the use of guns and ammunition over the years after the war had been depleted after heavy use.  Now generally any altercation was settled with fists, knives, blunt objects, or whatever one could get their hands on, with the exception of the artillery possessed by Stratis Corp.  Hesitantly, Shane stepped out from the the walkway above him and peered up at the ceiling just as shots were fired once again.  He slid back under cover but caught a glimpse of the attacker.  Saul.

"It was hard to see your good friend go like that," he said loudly, leaning over the railing of the third floor walkway.  "I can tell you two were close.  But then again, so were me and Dan."

"Where is Cassette?!" Shane shouted loudly from out of view, slowly inching along each cell as he drew in closer to the double doors at the end of the corridor.  As he passed by the fallen Mercury, he slipped the corpse's knife into his hand.

"She's safe, you don't have to worry about that.  As a matter of fact, I just finished giving her what she had coming.  You can have what's left."

"If you hurt her, I swear, I'll kill you," Shane shouted with fake anger, grabbing the molotov he'd had tied around his waist.  He slid it off with the wick taped to the end and at the same time, pulled his lighter from his pocket.  "Oh wait, I was planning on doing that anyway."

"I like your attitude, bro, but its not going to get you far."

"Hey, tell me," Shane said loudly, reaching the double doors and preparing himself to dive through them as inconspicuously as possible.  "Even if you do kill me first, how exactly are you planning on holding back the militia we have assaulting your front, huh?"

Shane didn't wait for an answer, but instead dashed outside the corridor and circled around the corner, heading for the door that held a sign, signifying that it was the flight of stairs that led up to the next floor.  Shane burst through it and charged up each step as quickly as he could until he was at the flight just before the third floor, where Saul was currently located.  Taking his time, he flickered the lighter and set the wick ablaze.  With the flame building up on top of it, he headed up the last flight.  When he reached the top, he reared to his side and forcefully kicked the door wide open to see Saul whipping in his direction in surprise.  Shane gripped the molotov bottle tightly and reared back with all of his strength, tossing the cocktail forward and directly by Saul's feet.  Saul jumped back in horror, falling onto his back just as the bottle combusted, sending a raging flame erupting from the spot where it smashed.  It was inches from Saul, but because he had hopped back, he evaded the attack and promptly scrambled to his feet, heading straight for the exit at the end of the corridor.

Shane swore under his breath and followed him down the walkway, hopping over the flame as Saul burst through the door at the end.  Shane tailed closely behind, tailing him to another door leading to a flight of stairs directed to the roof.  Shane was gaining up on him as they climbed each step, their pace echoing throughout the shaft rhythmically.  At the top floor, Saul burst through onto the roof, greeted by the clear night sky, the moon of which scintilated directly above him ominously as the growing inferno of the leveled West Wing set a somewhat familiar orange tint over part of the horizon.

As soon as Shane blasted through, he readied the knife he'd taken from the fallen Mercury in his fingers blade first, handle pointed upward.  Saul, who was sprinting towards the edge of the building, slowly began to turn around and face Shane, most likely to turn his gun on him again in desperation.  Sensing the offensive move, Shane reared back, and chucked the blade directly at him.  The knife spun wildly just as Saul had lifted his armed hand to aim at Shane, but it was immediately knocked away when the knife embedded itself into Saul's wrist, throwing off his entire stride.  Saul cried out in pain and tripped over his feet, falling onto his shoulder with force as the gun slipped from his grip and clattered to a stop several feet from him.

Shane spotted it and sprinted for it before Saul could recover and crawl in its direction.  Just as Saul was able to put his left hand over it, Shane reached him and stomped on his fingers, causing him to cry out in pain once again.  He reached down and pried Saul's fingers from the gun, pulling it out from under his foot and taking a step back as he looked Saul in the eyes and pulled back the hammer on the pistol.

"Goodnight, Saul," he whispered calmly, lifting the gun up to Saul's head.

Saul's eyes went wide.  "No, NO WAIT!"-

Shane pulled the trigger and fired a bullet straight into Saul's forehead, sending his skull bouncing lifelessly on the pavement of the roof.  Saul had flinched after the gunshot and his eyes were forced shut as the blood leaked from his wound and down onto the gravel beside him.  Shane took a breath of relief and wiped his face in angst, contemplating his next step.  His enemy was dead.  The assault against the Mercuries was a success.  Though there had been casualties, he and the gang would still be able to claim victory tonight.  But now his mind was zipping back t the vision of his wolf-formed brother and the message he'd left for him.  In order to free his bloodstream of the poison known as Black Iris, he needed to consume a pint of the creator's blood.  This was it.  No one could see him and if he was going to do it, it had to happen now.

He got down onto his knees and pulled the blade from Saul's wrist, allowing the blood to flow profusely from his veins.  Shane took a deep breath and brought his wrist to his lips, enhaling deeply as he sucked the blood from it.  The iron-like taste was repulsive, causing Shane to gag several times in disgust, but he kept his composure long enough to keep swallowing.  He closed his eyes and consumed as much as he possibly could until he estimated that he had devoured enough.  He threw Saul's arm away from him and coughed dangerously as Saul's body grew slightly more pale than it was before.  Shane shook his head and wiped his mouth with his hand as he got back to his feet and headed for the exit.

Standing by the door, Cassette stood, analyzing him with shocked and confused eyes that startled Shane as he hadn't realized she'd even arrived.

"How long have you been standing there?" he asked with caution.

"A while," Cassette muttered timidly, surveying him from afar as she held open the door to the exit.

"Look, I can explain"-

"Please don't.  I don't even want to know.  I'll just meet you downstairs."

Shane nodded his head sheepishly, his teeth bright red as blood dripped from his lips.  Cassette turned and headed for the exit without giving him another look.  Shane turned back and gazed at the lifeless body of Saul with a look of slight remorse.  He lifted his index and middle finger to his temple and saluted the fallen Mercury as he stepped away from his body and followed Cassette to the roof's exit.

When he had made his way down the flight of stairs to the first floor of the prison, and scooped up Houston's bowler hat on the way by, he emerged into the courtyard, where a large number of his people stood triumphantly in the rubble of bricks, blood, and bodies that lay scattered across the scape of the debris-covered mini-wasteland.  The flames from the explosion were still ablaze and served as the only light in the decrepit sanctuary that the Mercuries had once called their home.  The giant tag that had been placed over one half of the prison wall was now void of any significance.  The Mercuries were done.  Every one of them had either been wasted, wrecked beyond retaliation, or fled from the scene.  Regardless, they were now a broken outfit, no longer capable of operating as a stable unit any longer.

Shane walked to the center of the courtyard, where he watched Alec and Marvin delicately carry one body at a time to a row of dead Marxmin organized neatly.  As Shane approached them, he could see that Houston was one of the bodies among them.

"Well, good job, Shane," Marvin said with sarcasm, helping Alec lie the last battered and bruised body down by the others faintly.  "In your righteous crusade, you managed to get only nine of our men wasted, including a well-rounded Council member.  Way to go."

"You act like they died in vain," Shane said, approaching him with authority.  "I'd expect you to have more respect for them than that.  They knew the risks and made the choice of coming here on their own.  They were loyal and they fought valiantly; In the end it led us to a victory against our enemies.  Now we'll never have to worry about them fucking us over, killing any of our people, or hurting anybody else again."

"Sure, that would be all well and great if that was what it was all about.  But no, we went in here to attack tonight when we were probably expected and arguably weak, compared to how we would have been if we had prepared ahead of time.  And it was all for an entirely different reason from what you want us to think: We fought for YOUR girlfriend."

"You fought for a Marxmin and the Marxmin way of life, whether you think it was for something else or not.  Now I'd appreciate it if you stopped whining like a bitch and started paying your respect to some real warriors for a change, because a lot of us should and could have taken their place tonight."

Marvin snorted and turned with a humorless smirk, walking in another direction as he muttered something insulting under his breath.  Shane ignored it, reaching up with his jacket and wiping the blood from his lips before taking it off and tossing it aside.  He watched out of the corner of his eye as another Marxmin jogged up to him with a bottle of water in his hand.  He tossed it to Shane who nodded with gratitude and took a large swig of the liquid, gulping half of it down before addressing the crowd that was beginning to gather around him and their fallen companions.

"You all did amazing tonight, I expected nothing less.  But we lost people today; brave, strong-willed, promising people.  For as long as the Marxmin continue to thrive, their names should never be forgotten.  Ever."

Shane leaned forward and his eyes fell on each of the fallen gang members that lay in front him, calling their names out from memory as he gazed over each of their faces.  "Val Boyle, Jeremiah Cobb, Rene Carpenter, Wade Chambers, Randolph Bass, Corrine Chaney, Madge Perry, Neil Peters, and Houston Savage.  Do not let any of these people, as well as any of our fallen comrades fade into the back of your mind.  With every step you take, every breath you breathe, every punch you throw, keep these individuals in your head and use them as motivation to fuel you as you continue to fight in the name of the Marxmin.  Use them as an example of what it means to stand up for this outfit, to exude loyalty beyond personal preference; loyalty to a free, unbiased, and just society that you have created for yourselves.  These people died here for a reason.  Let us be that reason.  Leave Scars On The Enemy!"

"Leave Marx On The Earth!"  The crowd shouted back at him proudly as he nodded in approval.

"All right.  Rally up and head back to the Compound sporadically through any of the various entrances.  Tag Team, send a crew up here tomorrow morning to lay a burner over the Mercuries graffiti tag so we can mark this place under our turf from now on.  Gather up the bodies and take them back into the Compound, we'll burn them and have a proper ceremony for them all tonight.  Once again, good work everybody.  I'll see you back in the Compound."

The Marxmin began to disperse from the area in packs, exiting from different sections of the prison.  Their code specified that none of the gang should travel in large numbers unless completely necessary, as in the case of this assault.  Now they needed to part ways to assure that they could not be ambushed in full and suffer larger casualties, a lesson learned several times before the war against the gangs of the Strays and Stratis Corp.  As they all individually headed for the exits, Shane walked by himself to the front entrance of the prison where the van had entered from.  As he stepped through onto the dark sidewalk, he could feel a gentle hand on his shoulder.

He turned around to see Cassette standing behind him, smiling lightly.  "I appreciate you standing up for me back there.  Or standing up for your choice to save me at least."

"You're my girl, what else am I supposed to do?" Shane muttered with a smirk.  He reached out and held her by the chin with his hand as he leaned in for a kiss.  She reared back in disgust.

"I don't think so.  You still had someone else's blood in your mouth."

"Come on, you know you can't resist," he said playfully, grabbing her by the shoulders and trying to kiss her on the lips as she moved her head away from him in repulse.

Suddenly, a rather advanced-looking black car, at least for something that could be spotted in the Strays, could be seen circling around the corner just a block away but barely in sight.  Inside, the bodyguard known as Pierce navigated the vehicle along the streets of the Strays with his young protectee, Victor Stratis Jr, who sat in the backseat.  Vic stared out onto the unfamiliar territory with curious eyes, staring at the graffiti and slightly debilitated structures that they passed.

"Stop here, Pierce," Vic muttered, keeping his eyes directed out of the window.  "I think we're in deep enough."

"Are you sure?" he asked, turning back in his seat to address him.  "Actually, are you sure about this whole thing at all, Mr. Stratis?  I mean, despite what some might have told you, not everyone here seems to have the hospitality that they offer back in town.  All you could get from this place is freedom, that doesn't mean everyone is on your side."

"I know," Vic nodded.  "I don't know this part of town as well as others, but I'm not here for them to treat me like some spoiled prince or something.  I've been treated that way my whole life.  I'm only here for the experience."

Pierce shrugged.  "If you say so.  Remember, if you need anything at all, buzz my private number and I'll get here as fast as I can."

"That won't be necessary, Pierce.  I should be fine here.  But if I urgently need you, I'll be sure to do that.  Thanks again for the ride.  I understand that you're the only one of my dad's employees that actually gives a damn about me and my life."

"I appreciate that, but I still haven't quite gotten used to your use of profanity, Mr. Stratis," Pierce chuckled as Vic opened the door of the car.

"Then I guess I'm probably doing it right," Vic smiled stepping out of the car.  "Goodbye Pierce."

"Goodbye, Mr. Stratis."

Vic closed the door with his bags in hand, waiting for the car to pull off down the road and circle the block, heading back for the Metro District of the city.  Now that he was, for the first time in his life, away from the sanctuary of the Stratis Stronghold and into the alien and increasingly exotic free region of Scar City, he realized that it was time he encountered the nature of this outlandish domain first hand.

Several blocks across the street, Shane could see where the rather large futuristic Stratis-Issued car had stopped and let off a passenger, who was heading down the sidewalk just out of view with his bags in his hands.  He wasn't sure, but from that view, the figure seemed to have the stature of a child.  Shane held tightly to Cassette as she hugged him, but continued to eye the boy curiously as he walked aimlessly along the pavement and out of sight, the car leaving him behind.

"Are you okay?" Cassette asked curiously, when she saw that his attention had been diverted.

"Oh," Shane said, turning back to her.  "Yeah, everything is fine.  You ready to go?"

"I am," she said, finally leaning in to kiss him on the lips, no longer revolted by him.  "Let's go."

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