3/22/2012

Graffiti - Chapter 6: Seven Nation Army/The White Stripes



"You're a spy, aren't you?" Shane shouted, pointing accusingly at Vic.  "That's why you were asking all those questions.  You were trying to get information on the Marxmin, weren't you?"

"That's not true!" Vic shouted back defensively.  "You think my dad would let me out of his suite by myself and let me get kidnapped by those skinheads?  As far as I'm concerned, you might as well be the bad guy here!"

"Me?  What did I do?"

"My dad says you and your syndicate murder innocent people for fun and that you want to destroy our way of life.  He says you're dangerous and he's making it his life's work to destroy you."

Shane laughed humorlessly.  "That's incredible.  I knew he was full of bull but I didn't know it was that bad."

"What are you talking about?"

"Most of what he's told you about us is what he's guilty of himself.  HE'S the one trying to destroy OUR way of life.  He's the one that kills innocent people and he does it indirectly through his lackies.  Do you know how many people I've grown to love and grown up with that I've seen die right before my eyes by some Stratis scumbag?  Its a wonder he hasn't just dropped a nuke on the Strays yet and get it over with!"

"All right, calm down!" the woman shouted at the two of them, lying her weapon over the rocking chair as she walked closer to the two.  The boys turned to her curiously, their nerves dampening as she broke the tension.  "I'm guessing you boys are probably hungry?  I've got some food in the kitchen over there if you want me to fix you something."

Shane and Vic looked at each other in sheer confusion before turning back to her.  This woman, who seconds ago had them held at gunpoint, was now showing some neighborliness and offering them a generous meal.  Talk about a change of heart, Shane thought to himself.  He eventually shrugged and nodded reluctantly  "Sure, I guess that's all right." 

 The woman nodded back and walked past the two into the kitchen, the duo following behind her.  She went straight for the cabinets and began to pull out several dishes, getting them ready on the counter before going into the refridgerator and pulling out the tin foil wrapped tupperware containers that held the food she was about to prepare.  Shane and Vic took a seat at the round dinner table on one end of the room, sitting across from each other but avoiding eye contact of any kind.  As the woman began to set some of the pots over the stove, she spoke to them with her back turned.

"You two can call me, Ms. Velvet and no, thats not my real name; I don't trust you enough to give you that, so deal with it.  Anyway, you can't blame me for asking this, but what the hell are you two doing out here alone and with each other?  Its almost like having Harry Potter and Voldemort holding hands at my front door."

Ms. Velvet chuckled but when she didn't hear either of the boys answer, she turned to them to see them looking back at her, puzzled.  She rolled her eyes and turned back to the food.  "Kids these days, I swear.  Don't know nothing about nothing."

"Um," Shane said, hesitating to answer.  "I saw this kid being kidnapped by some junkies and so I tried to save him.  The chase eventually led us here.  I had no idea I was saving the son of my worst enemy."

"And I had no idea I was being saved by a terrorist," Vic said dismissively, turning his head from Shane.

"Hey," Shane called, leaning forward.  "I'm no terrorist.  I've never terrorized anybody that didn't terrorize someone else first."

"So you've never killed a man?"

"To survive, yes, and for the good of the Marxmin."

"The Terrorist Syndicate?"

"We're not terrorists!"

"Then why does my father want to get rid of you?!"

"Because we represent a type of freedom that he doesn't want anyone to have, thats why.  And thats beside the point.  If you're so scared of us, why were you in the Strays in the first place?"

Vic was slightly taken back now that he'd been put on the spot so quickly.  "I....I couldn't take living in the city anymore.  It was sucking my life dry, I needed to get away."

"So you came to the Strays?  The most dangerous section of the city?-"

"There was no where else I could possibly go.  And I was curious to see what it was like."

"Thats the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  Why would you come to the Strays where there's nothing for you, away from a place of luxury where you can basically get anything you want?"

"They have nothing that I want.  And since you speak so highly of the life I had there, why don't you go live there yourself?"

Shane blinked in surprise.  "Touche`, kid," he replied, rubbing his chin.  "But thats not how things work for me.  I've got what I want here and I earned it.  I've got no reason to leave it all behind.  You left everything you had so you could go to a place where there's nothing for you, where nobody will help you.  And for what?  Because you were ungrateful for what you did have?"

"No," Vic said defensively, before turning away.  "I...I don't know...Maybe that is why...I don't want it to be why but...My schedule, its always the same.  Get up, wash up, go to school, come home, eat, study, do chores, piano practice, violin practice, fencing class, bible lessons, study some more, go to bed, repeat the process.  For the past five years, thats everything my life has consisted of, nothing more, nothing less.  You told me that I'm smart and I took it as a big compliment, because its almost like I'm kept ignorant by my own family and friends, like every other kid that's grown up with me.  Whenever I would ask about life outside of this place, no one would ever give me a good answer.  They would either change the subject or force me to stop talking about it all together.  Everything I've learned about the Strays, I've learned from eavesdropping.  The only career option I have when I grow up is to be the heir to the Stratis throne.  That's it.  No if, ands, or buts.  Its maddening; I have no control over my own life.  I know I'm only twelve and I don't know everything there is to know about the world yet, but I want to learn and no one is willing to teach me.  I'm sick of this web of lies thats being used to keep me on a certain path; I want something more out of life.  So I got scared.  Scared that I was having thoughts like these when I've only been alive for twelve years.  To imagine still thinking this way ten years from now or even twenty....I had to leave.  I don't care if its chocked up to me just being ungrateful, I couldn't handle living through the same mundane routines over and over again for the rest of my life like some caged animal.  I'd rather die in the Strays than live like that any longer."

Shane listened intently.  He could tell that the boy had put a lot of thought into this before going through with it.  He knew exactly of the life Vic was speaking of.  No matter how hard times had gotten as he grew up by his brother's side, he knew he would always be grateful that he didn't grow up under the watchful eye of Stratis Corp.  After explaining his case, Vic had earned a little of Shane's respect for having the strength to actually defy his superiors and successfully stow away into the Strays by himself, despite his royalty.

"How did you get here anyway?" Shane asked curiously, as he was handed a glass of orange juice by Ms. Velvet.

"My bodyguard, Pierce, brought me here.  He had been assigned to watch over me ever since the day I was born, so we had a bond that was closer than I had with anyone I knew, even my own father.  He was the only true friend I had, aside from my sister, Kendall.  When I told him about my plans of leaving, he was hesitant but after a while, he decided to help me make it happen.  He's the most selfless guy I know and not completely corrupted by what my father created."

Shane took a sip of his orange juice, nodding with understanding.  "So what do you plan on doing now?"

"I don't know," Vic shrugged.  "I'll go wherever life takes me and stay away from my father's grip.  As long as I don't get caught by him, I don't even care."

Shane looked away, twittling his fingers in thought.  "What would you say to me letting the Marxmin bring you in?"

Vic whipped him a surprised and slightly offended look.  "What do you mean?  You want me to stow up with a bunch of gang members?"

"If you want to look at it like that, then yes," Shane said, sipping his drink nonchalantly.  "But we're more than gang members, Victor.  We're freedom fighters.  And with that in mind, we don't break the heads of anyone that doesn't have it coming to them.  Anyone willing to go with us will be taken in.  Anyone willing to go against us will be taken out.  Its as simple as that.  We don't discriminate based on race, class, or personal preference.  We take you as who and what you are.  We won't force you to change; the way you come in is the way you stay unless you yourself decide to change.  That's what separates us from Stratis Corp.  Besides, its not exactly like you have anywhere to go anyway.  Unless you find a nice family willing to take you in, you won't find the same hospitality anywhere else around here.  The Strays has always been a cold and unforgiving place; thats why everyone clung to the Marxmin when the gang was founded, because it was the only place of refuge left for anyone here.  Anywhere else you're likely to be killed."

"You know," Ms. Velvet interjected, as she began to scoop the food onto the plates.  "I'd actually have to agree with him on that one.  I wouldn't take my chances if I were you.  You can't stay here with me, I know that much.  This 'good host' business is a one time deal before I start ignoring you completely.  I like to be alone."

Vic raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement before, looking away in thought.  It seemed as if he didn't have much of a choice in the matter.  He could stay here for a while, but when Shane felt that it was time to leave, he would have no choice but to go with him.  If he was lying about the peaceful nature of the Marxmin, he would be headed into a bad environment.  But why exactly would Shane lie about something like that?  He had nothing to prove, not to him.

With the dishes prepared, Ms. Velvet turned around with the plates and laid them in front of the two before going back for the silverware.  Shane turned to her curiously.

"So Ms. Velvet," he said, when he was given his fork and began to dig in.  "Are you going to give us any kind of clue as to how you're allowed to live here and how this house is still standing in the first place?"

"Uh, no," Ms. Velvet said with a touch of sarcasm as she began to wash her hands in the sink.  "Who says I'm obligated to do that?"

Shane shrugged.  "Just thought it was common courtesy."

Ms. Velvet turned to Shane with a bit of offense.  "Let me tell you something.  I've been courteous enough by inviting you into my house, feeding you, and not shooting you on sight.  You want anything else, you're going to have to start bargaining, buddy."

"Well I'm just saying," Shane said  with a shrug, gathering more food on his fork and shoving it into his mouth as he spoke.  "You haven't exactly given us any indication, other than this hospitality, that you're even on our side.  For all we know, you could be planning to stuff us up and eat us later, like some fairy tale witch, or cut our throats if we end up sleeping here.  Hell, you could've have possibly poisoned this food."

Ms. Velvet raised an eyebrow curiously.  "Well you seem to be enjoying it quite openly."

Shane smirked and shrugged.  "Yeah, well I'm not scared of dying.  And this is pretty good."

"What about the radio?" Vic asked, turning to her as he washed down his food with his glass of orange juice.  "Can you tell us about that?"

Ms. Velvet thought for a second, wiping her hands off with a small towel that had been lying between the handle and door of the refridgerator by her side.  She finally set it down and looked back at Vic.  "Yeah I suppose I can tell you about that.  Not much to tell though.  I've had that radio for almost fifty years now.  It used to be one of those regular old-timey FM AM Radios that people used to listen to back before my time.  I got it from my dad.  It wasn't until a little while after that my brother outfitted it with some components of a Satelite Radio, so now thats how it works."

"Oh," Shane said with a touch of disappointment.  "So its not a frequency radio?"

"Nope.  Nobody uses frequencies anymore.  Its obsolete."

Shane had been looking forward to informing Cassette that someone had made a breakthrough in the use of frequencies, but this new development meant that that was no longer a possibility.  "So you said your brother outfitted your regular FM AM Radio to work as an XM one?  He must've been pretty handy with technology."

"Don't think you're going to get information about me and my past by steering the subject," Ms. Velvet snapped.  "Yes, my brother was inventive.  That's all you'll know about him."

"No, no," Shane said, holding up his hands defensively.  "I was just saying, I'm like that too.  I outfitted an early Solid Day model boombox to play an iPod.  I was just saying what he did was impressive, thats all."

"Oh," Ms. Velvet muttered, calming down.  "Yeah, he was sort of a genius sometimes, just hard-headed.  Anyway, yeah it stayed that way for quite a while and I was able to play a larger variety of music from XM, along with AM and FM."

"But thats what I don't get," Vic replied.  "XM today is run strictly by Stratis Corp.  It only plays opera and classical music and even that's rare, compared to the massive amounts of stock market news updates, conferences, and stuff like that."

"Exactly, and thats how it was for a long time," Ms. Velvet said, leaning back over the sink casually.  "Until one day, I had it on a specific station: The Sanctuary.  To be completely honest, I thought the radio was broken for years.  The dial on it was always faulty ever since my brother toyed with it and after a while, the sound just stopped working all together, even when I would try to adjust the volume.  It would play fine but I was just never able to change the station.  So one day, I played around with it; finally got the dial working again and then I start hearing this music.  Music that I've grown up with, stuff that Stratis would never allow to be played on the radio.  The first song I ever heard from it was 'Like A Virgin' by Madonna.  When it was over, I heard the same thing you did."

"DJ Pathos of Armor Clad Radio," Shane stated.

"Turns out the rumored story behind it all is that DJ Pathos was apparently a soldier in the Great War and he ended up surviving it all.  He endured the years that followed it, the rise of Stratis Corp, all of that.  Then when he was forced to assimilate into their lifestyle, he was....how can I say this....unchangeable.  No matter what they did to him, no matter how many films they forced him to watch, how many times they tortured him into submission, he would never break.  Some say its because he endured worse during the war, others say his PTSD actually worked as a resistant to the stuff they tried on him.  At any rate, he escaped from their captivity and disappeared to an unknown location in the world, set up his own adio station, and just started broadcasting retro music, music from before the days when the private life of a musician was even an issue.  Music that even I would consider to be old.  And I lived before the Great War.  Have you ever heard of the Beatles?"

"Yeah, of course," Shane answered.  "We've got a collection of their works on our Universal Playlist."

"Right, but have you heard of the Beach Boys?"

"Um," Shane looked away in thought.  "Don't know about that one."

"What about the Temptations?"

Shane shrugged.  "Can't say I have."

"Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Doors, Bob Marley?"

Shane shrugged once again cluelessly.  "I know Bob Marley."

Ms. Velvet shook her head in shame as she stepped away from the sink and started to make her way out of the room.  "You've got a lot to learn, bucko."

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"We lost him," Geneva stated, stepping into the Marxmin Council Conference room back in the reservoir Compound under the streets of the Strays.  She was accompanied by Hope and several others that tagged along behind her.  Marvin, who had been conversating with Abel before they'd arrived, turned to them with a confused look.

"What do you mean you lost him?" he asked with attitude.

Geneva shook her head and shrugged.  "There was this kid getting snatched by Panache's goons.  We went after them and it led us to the freeway to the Suburban District.  He jumped on their car and we lost sight of him when they turned down one of the exits.  We tried to go back but there was no sign of him."

Marvin sighed hard and put his palm over his face in discomfort.  "Why does he always have to go and do this?  Risking the safety of our own guys just so he can help one person."

"Well in his defense, you know Mr. Panache.  You know what he would've done to that, kid.  Shane has a personal vendetta against that guy; he said as long as he's capable, he'd never let another kid get harmed by him."

"I understand that but there's a time and a place for everything," Marvin responded.  "Measures could've been taken.  Springing into action spontaneously is reckless.  God, that guy sometimes."

"To be fair, Marvin," Abel said, starting up from the table and walking to where Marvin stood.  "He probably wouldn't be on this spontaneous tip if you hadn't started pressuring him to start making moves.  Now he's making moves and you're critisizing him for it?"

"He knew what I meant.  When I said actions needed to be taken, I didn't mean jumping headfirst in quicksand.  I thought that went without saying."

"He's probably just acting out of frustration," Hope said.  "You were kind of hard on him."

"I'm always hard on him, I'm hard on everybody.  That doesn't change the fact that he needs to put the gang before anything else.  That's where we differ.  I would die for this gang.  I thought he would too, but its seeming more and more like he wants others to die for this gang rather than himself, because he hardly thinks twice when he gets one of our men killed."

"Don't say that," Geneva interjected.  "You know where Shane's loyalties lie."

Marvin sighed, shaking his head.  "Well until he decides to show up, I'm taking charge.  I now officially appoint myself as leader of the Marxmin during our current leader's absence."

"Are you serious?" Abel responded negatively.  "I'm pretty sure it was myself who was appointed second-in-command, not you."

Marvin turned to Abel with an arrogant hunch in his posture.  "I really think you need to stand down before your feelings get hurt, Abel."

Abel squinted his eyes in offense, forming his gaze into a glare.  "What're you trying to say?"

Marvin looked off hesitantly then back at Abel, shaking his head and pressing his lips together.  "You're not capable of running this gang.  By yourself or with our help."

"And who says"-

"Says logic, thats who.  Seriously, you blindly follow behind everything Shane does.  You basically hang off his nuts every damn day of the week.  How many times have you voiced your honest opinion on something he's done or had opposing views to his actions, huh?  How many times have you made decisions of your own regarding how things are operated around here?"

"So your criteria to having leadership qualities is opposing everything your appointed leader does?  I think I could be YOUR successor if that's the case."

"I'm serious, Abel.  Do you have ANY ideas of your own or are you determined to put your trust in a man that would risk your life for the sake of someone he barely even knows?  You have such blind faith in the guy that you haven't even thought of the possibility of something like this happening.  You have done absolutely nothing to show any of us how you'd be a competent leader if he disappeared.  No lie, the idea of putting this gang into your hands terrifies me."

Abel's jaw clenched at this revelation and he swallowed hard.  "Fine," he said sternly.  "If thats how you feel about it, I'm done."

Abel walked past Marvin and the group with complete disdain.  Geneva reached out toward him genuinely.  "Abel," she called, but he threw up his hand to stop her as he headed for the exit, slamming the door behind him.  Geneva turned back to Marvin with a glare.  "That was completely uncalled for."

"Hey, he asked what I was trying to say and I told him," Marvin shrugged, gesturing at the door where Abel had just exited.  "Don't get mad at me for being completely honest.  I'm entitled to my opinions too."

"I think your problem is that you care more about this gang than you do about friendship and trust, which is what this gang represents.  That almost makes it a contradiction to even have you as our leader."

"Well guess what, Geneva?" Marvin said loudly, his frustration growing.  "I'm all you've got.  So deal with it.  You're all dismissed."

Geneva and Hope looked at each other anxiously as they reluctantly led the rest of the group to the exit, Geneva eying Marvin closely as he circled back around the round table in the middle of the room, resting his arms on it in deep thought.


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Ms. Velvet had taken Shane and Vic into her room upstairs, bringing the old XM-playing radio along.  With her as their teacher, the two were given a rather long but entertaining lesson on the legendary music that ruled the airwaves during and before her time.  Because Shane's musical tastes only consisted of what records, cassettes, and CD's could be uncovered and restored for the listening pleasures of the Marxmin Compound after the war, Shane couldn't expose himself to everything that was available and easily obtainable in the Solid Days.  Now, with Ms. Velvet's help, he was being educated on the various artists and albums that existed in the early days of recorded music, farther back than he could have ever imagined that kind of music to exist.  Vic's experience with it was unique, as he had had absolutely no exposure to anything remotely like this; the only music he'd ever listened to his entire life was classical.  He had no clue there was anything like this out there.

After a while, Shane noticed Vic's overwhelmed reaction to this new cultural experience and so Shane suggested that he take his personal iPod, a spare he'd bought from Willis a day earlier, and take it outside to simply envelop himself in all of its unique tunes, taking it all in at his own pace.  Vic thanked Shane and left the room with it as Ms. Velvet concluded her lesson and decided to leave Shane alone in her room to absorb the music that Armor Clad Radio had to offer.

Shane couldn't get enough of what he was hearing.  He sat back in the rocking chair in Ms. Velvet's room with his eyes closed, allowing the radio to blasts its tunes directly at him, all of which he was taking in for the first time ever.  The mysterious DJ Pathos regarded each of the songs and the artists that made them as legendary and Shane could immediately see why.  All of them caught his ear; he heard songs such as Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, Welcome to the Jungle by Guns & Roses, Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas, Hounddog by Elvis Presley, Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue, Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, Cocaine by Cream; the list went on and on.  It was his equivalent to striking gold.  Part of him wanted to sit there forever or have this radio with him 24/7 as his own personal soundtrack.  That's when he leaned up with a brilliant idea.  He had to take this back to the Marxmin.  This was revolutionary.  None of them had heard anything like this.  Something this valuable should be played on the Universal Playlist for the entire gang to enjoy.

Unfortunately, while Shane rocked out to each of the songs, the itch was growing stronger and after a while he knew he couldn't ignore it.  He stood up from the chair and walked to the door, looking down either sides of the hall before closing it.  Then he quickly walked to the other side of the room by the window and pulled the bag of Prayer pills out of his pocket.  Opening it up, he took one of the pills out and closed it back, shoving it back down into his pocket.

"Hey," called a voice behind him.  He whipped around to see Ms. Velvet standing in the doorway with a saucer and a small tea cup stacked on it.  "Why'd you close the door?"

"Oh, I just wanted a little privacy," Shane answered quickly.  "I like to close myself off from everything when I listen to music."

"Oh ok, I understand," she said.  "Yeah its some good stuff.  I just made some tea for you and the boy, thought you might want some.  I already gave him his."

"Oh yeah, thanks," Shane said thankfully.  "I appreciate it."

He walked up and grabbed the saucer.  "Have fun with your music," Ms. Velvet said, smiling slyly.

"Thank you," Shane replied with a laugh as she closed the door behind her.  He took the tea to his seat and laid it down on his lap.  With the pill still in the palm of his hand, he slipped it into his mouth and used the hot tea to wash it down.  There was a stool in the corner of the room that he spotted, so he used it to lay the tea cup and saucer on before walking back to the chair to sit down.  Before long, DJ Pathos announced the next song on the list, which was "Rated X", by Miles Davis.  As the song began, Shane leaned back and closed his eyes again, losing himself to the sounds of space age jazz.  Until he realized something.  Miles Davis.  That was his brother's favorite musician.


"Yep," uttered a strong voice to the right of him.  Shane whipped in its direction to see the vision of the scarred wolf figure stitting down by the door, staring him down with its mysterious gaze.

"You're not real," Shane said with wide eye,s as he'd nearly forgotten about their last encounter after the recent turn of events.

"And you're sure about it this time?"

"You can't be.  You only appear to me when I take the Prayer, which means you're an illusion."

"Or I could just choose to reveal myself when you're at your most vulnerable, Mr. Junkie."

"Don't call me that, all right?" Shane said, turning in his chair to the figure.  "I've got enough going on without having a fake apparition of my brother insulting me about my drug habits.  I'm not a junkie, I just wanted to take off some edge."

"Uh huh," the wolf nodded apathetically.  "Look at you getting all defensive over nothing.  It's only a matter of time before you start getting belligerent and needy for those things and ruin you and your friend's lives.  I've seen it happen before."

"I'll get off of it soon.  I've taken worst drugs than this and came out unscathed.  Anyway, what do you want?  Got any more life-altering information you want to share?"

"Not really," the wolf shrugged.  "Just wanted to tell you that I think you're going to die tonight."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah.  Call it a hunch.  But you've got the freaking son of a global conglomerate in the same house as you.  They will track him down.  They will kill you.  And they will get him back."

"So you're saying I should throw him to the wolves?" Shane asked, unphased.  "No pun intended."

"Nah," the wolf smirked, looking away lazily.  "I mean maybe, if you want to.  Not really my choice.  I'm just telling you what to look out for.  They could have a tracker on the kid, you never know."

"Would you abandon him?"

"There you go again using me as a role model.  Did I abandon Abel or Houston when they came along?"

"No.  But they weren't the sons of Victor Stratis."

"Good point.  But if you recall, I don't remember asking who they were before I did take them in, now did I?"

"But if you had known something like that, if you had found that out later, would you still have taken them in?  Because I was going to take him in anyway if I hadn't."

"To be perfectly honest, I probably would.  And then Stratis would target the Marxmin Compound and lead a full-scale assault against us, killing us all and taking him back."

Shane looked away in confusion and then back at Shawn.  "Then why would you do it?  Where are you getting at?"

The door to the room suddenly opened and Ms. Velvet entered the room.  "Hey," she greeted again.  "Why'd you close the door?"

"Um," Shane said with a puzzled look.  "I like privacy when I listen to music."

"Oh ok, I understand.  Yeah its some good stuff.  I just made some tea for you and the boy, thought you might want some.  I already gave him his."

Shane blinked a few times.  "Okay," he said simply before turning around to the stool beside him.  The tea cup and saucer were gone.  Weird.  He suddenly got up and reached out for the saucer again; Except this time, as soon as he took the saucer from her grip, Ms. Velvet picked up the tea cup and tossed the hot tea onto his shirt.  Shane screamed and drew back quickly, manuevering the hot wet shirt off of his skin.  When he looked up again, he saw that she was gone and the door was closed back.

"Yeah, it gets like that," the wolf muttered lazily.  "In real life, you just grabbed the tea and poured it onto yourself."

Shane shook his head and grabbed his shirt, shaking it and finally lifting it off his torso.  He laid it over the chair just as the door opened again.  Shane turned to see Ms. Velvet at the door once more.

"Hey," she greeted a third time.  "Why'd you close the door?"

Shane looked at Shawn anxiously, who merely gave him a devious smirk before he looked back at Ms. Velvet.  "Do I ignore her?"

"Ignore what, honey?" Ms. Velvet asked with a curious look.

She responded.  That meant she had to be real.  But why did she ask the same question from earlier?

"Um, nothing."

"Why are you shirtless?" she asked, chuckling.

"Oh, I spilled the tea on my shirt by accident," Shane answered.

"You mean the tea I've got right here?" Ms. Velvet asked in confusion, opening the door fully to reveal another saucer and tea cup that she held in her hand.  Shane turned his attention to the fallen tea cup on the floor but saw that it had disappeared.  "I made it for you and the boy, but I already gave him his."

This was getting stranger by the second.  "Um, Okay," Shane responded, his eyebrows raised as he shook his head dismissively.  He reached forward for the tea cup and saucer once more but was suddenly caught off-guard when she picked up the tea cup and reared back with the saucer, smashing it across his forehead.  Shane fell to the floor, holding his head, and looked up once again to see that she was gone.

Shawn burst into laughter, shaking his head pathetically.  "Priceless.  You can pretty much figure out what happened yourself."

Shane looked to his side to see the shattered pieces of the saucer scattered around him while the fallen tea cup lie where it had fallen after the second encounter.  It was the drug.  It was almost as if it were playing tricks on him.  Or maybe the wolf had control over it.

"Yeah, you should probably ignore her next time she walks in," Shawn said, still chuckling humorously.  "Although if you don't stay put, she'll probably come into the room and do something else to you, which would be you making the moves ultimately."

"This was a mistake," Shane said weakly, leaning up and heading back for the chair, where the radio was still playing the mysterious abstract sounds of Rated X.

"No kidding."

"You still didn't answer my question though.  You would take Vic in, knowing it would destroy the Marxmin?  Why?"

The wolf leaned its head back onto the wall and looked off in thought, an expression that seemed more human that Shane had ever seen from this peculiar creature.  "Probably because I'm me."

"What does that mean?"

"I can't put it in simpler terms than that, kid.  You're an adult now, you should be able to figure it out on your own.  I'll be going now."

The door suddenly opened itself and Shawn stood up on all fours.  "I'll see you around.  Don't anything I wouldn't.  Or maybe you should."

"What?" Shane said with utter confusion as he watched Shawn disappear behind the door before it shut itself.  He kept his eyes glued to it cluelessly before slowly turning back to the radio, trying to process his mind around what he'd just been told.  None of it made a lick of sense.  In the midst of his thought, the door opened again and Ms. Velvet was back to greet him.

"Hey," she said warmly.  "Why'd you close the door?"

Shane looked briefly in her direction before turning back to the radio, shaking his head.

-------------------------------------------------

Officers Best and McCall were called in to return to "Stratis City" by the captain of their department to respond to an emergency.  When the two had arrived, they were informed that Victor Stratis' son had gone missing the previous night and that there was a suspect thought to be involved in the matter.  Under their captain's orders, they were assigned to "interrogate" said suspect, who was currently in custody in the back room of the central station.  They were told that the suspect was a man called Pierce Rutledge, formerly Victor Stratis Jr's personal bodyguard.

It was obvious that, without any leads to the whereabouts of Victor Stratis Jr, coupled with the fact that the Corporation's methods of handling situations such as this were hardly ever tame, this would be more than a simple interrogation.  It would be torture, to be endured until Pierce gave up the location of Stratis' son.  And so as it began; Officer Best and Officer McCall did not start off easy, but instead began the session with the heaviest of interrogation techniques they could provide, from heavy baton strikes to the face, to a few dismembered fingers, to a sharp blade in the ear canal.  Because the room was soundproof, the deafening screams of their victim could not be heard anywhere else in the station, not that it would matter as they were under orders from the Boss himself and there would be no stopping this session.

It was about an hour or two into the "interrogation" that someone unlocked the door to the room where the torture was taking place and stepped through.  Much to Best and McCall's surprise, they were greeted by none other than the boss himself, Victor Stratis, who would normally never come down from his suite on the top floor of the Stratis Tower to address such menial affairs as this.  Unless something of his was involved.

"Mr. Stratis," Best greeted in amazement.  He and McCall bowed slowly at his presence.  "Its an honor, sir."

"Right," Victor muttered, visibly distraught as he walked closer into the dimly lit room.  "This is him?"

"Yes sir," McCall answered.

At the sight of him, Pierce looked up with a touch of relief, blood and sweat running down over his face.  "Mr. Stratis," he uttered weakly.  "Please....tell them to stop."

"Gentlemen will you please excuse us?" Victor asked, staring unnervingly at the broken and beaten man strapped to the chair in front of him.

"Sir, we"-

Victor shot Best a deadly look that caused him to freeze where he stood.  He nearly lost the nerve to speak.  "Y-yes, sir," he croaked nervously before he and McCall headed for the door, locking it on their way out.  With the two alone in the room, Victor began to circle around Pierce slowly and rhythmically.

"Th-Thank you, Mr. Stratis," Pierce sighed with a smile.  "Thank"-

"SHUT UP!" Victor screamed hoarsely, nearly louder than Pierce had been wailing during the torture.  "My son is missing."

"Sir, he will come back"-

Victor suddenly began to chuckle.  He shook his head as he circled around to face him.  "You don't understand, do you?  You were appointed to watch over my son.  You had one job and one job only.  And when I depended on you the most, you let my son get kidnapped by some Stray scum"-

"He wasn't kidnapped."

Victor came to a stop and gave Pierce his full attention.  "Then what happened to him?"

"He - I -" Pierce stuttered, trying to get his words together.  "He wanted out, sir."

"Out of what?" Victor asked sternly.

"Out of the Corp's influence, sir.  He wanted to leave."

"So you let him?"

"Sir-"

"Where?"

Pierce hesitated, shaking his head as if to beg Victor not press the question that he was reluctant to answer.

"If you answer, Pierce, I'll let you go.  Just tell me where my son is so that I can know he's okay."

Pierce swallowed hard and let his head fall past his shoulders, shaking it to prevent himself from spilling the information.  However, he finally realized that holding Vic's father back from being sure of his son's well-being would be worse than selling his old friend out.  He had to tell him.

"He's in the Strays, sir.  I have a GPS tracker of his position in my car.  Just....please, he just wanted some freedom.  If he's all right, please let him stay."

Victor's expression softened and he finally smiled.  "Thank you, Pierce."

As his hands had been tightly held behind his back, Victor pulled them out of view, revealing a large silver pistol in his right hand.  He pointed it at Victor's torso and fired several shots.  Pierce convulsed with each one as the plasma-like blasts burned through his body with each shot.  Pierce laid back in shock as the hot metal rounds that were embedded in his chest and stomach corroded his entrails, his mouth hanging open as they burned away at his vital organs and blood began to seep from his lips.  Victor stepped up quickly, pointing the gun into Pierce's mouth just as his eyes fixed themselves onto Victor's, pleading for mercy with tears beginning to swell in them.  Without any thought, Victor pulled the trigger and watched the back of Pierce's throat explode with a shower of blood that painted the wall behind him.  Pierce's head slouched back over the chair, his eyes absent of life.

Victor sheathed the gun and turned around, heading for the door.

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By the time Shane had gotten over the influence of the drugs, night had fallen.  Ms. Velvet decided to spill her last bit of generosity on the two by giving them her bed to sleep in, while she took the guest room across the hall from it with the promise from them that they would be up and out by the morning.  As an added treat, she left the XM Radio in the room to play while they drifted off to sleep.  Shane and Vic were forced to share the same bed and they were close to drifting off to sleep as DJ Pathos began to play an obscure R&B classic, "Pave A New Road" by Eric Roberson.


"Hey Shane," Vic called, turning over in his bed to Shane's direction as he lay, seconds away from slipping off to sleep.

"What?" he asked, slightly frustrated.  He was exhausted and knew they needed to be heading out first thing in the morning, so his tolerance for small talk was low.

"Why exactly did you save me?" Vic asked softly.

Shane hesitated in answering but mainly because his drowsiness made it difficult to come up with a valid enough answer.  "Because you were in trouble."

"Would you..." Vic started cautiously.  "Would have saved me if you'd known I was Victor Stratis' son?"

This question was even more difficult to answer.  Shane forced himself fully awake to truly comprehend his question and finally, he shrugged.  "Yeah," he said simply.

Vic nodded with satisfaction before rolling back over to his side of the bed.  Suddenly, Shane turned slightly to ask him a question.

"Would you have trusted me if you'd known I was the leader of the Marxmin?"

After a minute of thinking, Vic answered, "Yeah."

"You don't have to lie to me."

"I wouldn't be anywhere near you right now if I was."

With no way to respond, Shane simply shrugged and took the answer as it was, slightly surprised but far too worn out to investigate the reason behind this sudden loyalty.  He sighed and positioned himself back in the bed comfortably as he and Vic let their minds drift off to sleep just as the song came to a close....

....Until a booming voice came rushing into the building at full force.

"THIS BUILDING IS CURRENTLY SURROUNDED!  PLEASE EXIT THE HOUSE SLOWLY OR WE WILL INTERCEPT AND ELIMINATE ANY POSSIBLE THREAT TO THE WELL-BEING OF VICTOR STRATIS JUNIOR!  YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO RESPOND!"

Shane and Vic shot up from their beds vigilantly, Shane crawling from the bed and sneaking towards the window.  Vic, who's eyes were wide with worry, froze in the bed and stared at Shane as he peaked outside.  The house was indeed surrounded by Scarf Squad cars.  There were almost a dozen Stratis Officers standing around their vehicles, waiting patiently for them to exit.  Shane recognized the Officer who had spoken to them using his own Squad car's radio intercom.  Officer Best.

Shane turned around quickly and headed for the door.  "Where are you going?" Vic whispered, as he watched him head across the room.

Shane didn't answer, but as soon as his hand met the surface of the door knob, it flung open and the two were greeted by the determined look on Ms. Velvet's face as she stood in the doorway.  She immediately pressed her finger against her lips and motioned for Shane to stay in the room as she turned, walked to the staircase, and headed downstairs.  Shane tried to protest but she moved sharply to stop him from following her and disappeared out of sight.  He swore under his breath and headed back into the room, surveying the small army that had been assembled on Ms. Velvet's doorstep from the bedroom window.

Suddenly, there was a sharp sound of metal slamming shut and Shane's eyes widened when he realized what had just happened.  Ms. Velvet had stepped outside.  Why?  Was she about to give herself up?  Shane tried to adjust his view by the window, but could not see her from where he was currently positioned.  After a while, Vic scooted over his way to join him.

"That's it," Best said slowly, watching her movements intently by his car as he spoke into the intercom once again.  "Nice and slow."

Best then leaned over to his side where Shane spotted Officer McCall, standing just out of view watching the scene unfold.  Best muttered something quickly to McCall and Shane watched in horror as he raised his gun and fired a single shot at the entrance to the house.  Shane's body tensed up at the sound as he heard a body drop on the front porch.  Soon, Best once again spoke through his intercom.

"Breach now!"

On cue, the windows of the bedroom shattered completely and Shane was knocked across the room.  Disoriented by the blow, he felt Vic's small hands on his shoulder as he helped him up and turned for the door, sprinting out.

There was virtually no place to go with the entire house surrounded and the sharp chill of impending doom was steadily creeping above Shane's shoulders as they headed for the staircase.  Suddenly, the door to Ms. Velvet's room was broken open by the foot of another SCAF Officer storming into the building.  The Officer was standing right across from Shane and Vic when they prepared to step down the stairs.  Just as he came into view with the blinding light on top of his machine gun, he pointed it directly at Shane, who realized that Vic was about to cross in front of him.  In the spare of the moment, he shoved Vic across the hall as the SCAF Officer pulled the trigger.

A barrage of miniature lethal plasma blasts zoomed through the air and pierced into Shane's body, one by one.  The first four hit him with so much impact that he lost his balance and slipped backwards off of the top step of the staircase.  As the glowing bullets penetrated his body, blood flung into the air with each round that entered him, his mind operating in slow motion as his life began to flash before his eyes.  His head hit the corner of one of the stairs as he tumbled to the bottom of the staircase and rolled to a stop, his eyes slipping into the back of his head.

"Target neutralized," the Officer said confidently, walking toward the fallen boy that had watched the scene unfold from afar and witnessed the death of his savior before his eyes.  "Extracting the boy now."

As the Officer pulled Vic to his feet, he screamed and struggled to wiggle out of his grip, but the Officer held tightly, escorting him down the staircase and to the level below.  Vic spotted Shane's fallen body at the foot of the step and examined it quickly as he passed by, staring with a shred of hope that somehow he'd survived the gunfire.  His face was empty and Vic feared the worst.  Shane Marx was dead...Just like his brother said he would be.

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