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CHAPTER I: Scarletville
“Have mercy on your enemy in
their darkest hour of need.”
- The Book of Being, Chapter III
Red. Blue. Red. Blue.
The blurry neon sign flashed. Judas closed his eyes to make it go away, but his dull ears could still hear the tiny buzz of the light. He opened his eyes once more, and focused intensely at the light. ‘Pop’s Pizza & Pub’ he managed to read through bleary eyes.
How had he gotten outside?
Gritting his teeth, Judas pushed and pulled himself into a sitting position. He looked again at the sign, and the monotonous flashing made him grab his severely hung-over head and groan. Pop’s pizza was fine, but it was the stuff served in the underground party rooms that really made your head swim.
Abel, his friend-almost-brother, was propped against a wall a few feet away. Judas picked up an empty can that shared the bench with him, and threw it at his friend. Abel roused himself, and climbed to his feet. His movements were stiff and sore.
“Bet your face hurts,” Abel commented dryly, looking at Judas.
Judas carefully touched his face, finding a swollen lip and what was probably a black eye. His pounding head remembered spilling a drink on a giant inebriate, then catching a right hook from a giant hand, and a left uppercut from an equally giant elbow.
“Let’s go home.” Abel helped his friend stand, and together they shuffled down the street. The sun was rising, and dawn’s early rays made Judas grab his head again.
The street they traversed was long and straight, like all streets in the town. Town, thought Judas, this hole has too many problems to be just a town.
It was true. Though small, Scarletville had more violence, murder, thievery, and gang warfare than any other town in the Union. Sure, the town council tried their best to keep it clean and progressive. Most of the town had been built out of bright, clean metal, hoping to inspire its inhabitants with its beautiful appearance; metal that was now stained and rusted from lack of up-keep. All the roads had been made straight and wide to allow clean-up crews easy access to the roadways; roadways that were strewn with trash, and wide enough to allow nightly shootouts. How so many problems could congregate in such a small, well intentioned area, Judas would never know.
They helped each other along. The street was empty but for the blackened shell of a car smoldering from the night before, and a bent old man rummaging through the scattered trash. The man sniffed something warily before putting it in his mouth.
“Maybe we should help him?” The query didn’t really expect a response.
“What, have you become Saint and Savior to the poor?” Abel didn’t take Judas’ joke as it was intended. Abel’s tongue lashed at his friend.
“If the Book of Being is right, shouldn’t we have mercy on people and help them?”
“Poor selfless martyr,” Judas’ tone was cool. The sick feeling in his gut didn’t leave him very amiable. “Now you feel remorse and compunction to help the down and out because that’s what the Book of Being says?”
“Today of all days, shouldn’t we help him.” Abel’s voice was calm now.
“What’s so special about today?” Talking hurt. Judas was getting a headache.
“Today is Friday.”
Judas came up short. Almost instantly he was sober. Friday! The Holy Day.
“Dad’s gonna kill me.” Judas groaned. As if the old man isn’t already breathing down my neck. He said a word he knew his father would not approve of, and then set off down the street as quickly as his condition would allow. He didn’t look back.
Abel stood alone in the street, watching his friend go.
Have mercy on your enemy in their darkest hour of need. That’s what the Book of Being said.
Abel massaged his throbbing head. He couldn’t justify the life he had chosen to lead, but could he sit by while another fellow human dug through refuse for food?
This may not be this man’s darkest hour, and I probably missed my chance at becoming a saint; he approached the homeless man, who regarded him cautiously. But I guess it’s a start.
CHAPTER II: Worship
“The Being created people to live, not to die.
To conquer death you only have to die.
- The Book of Being, Chapter VII
It was one of the ironies of life. Scarletville was a house of hell, but every Friday morning the worship center was packed with people: people who had been taught as children what the Book of Being said, but only a few actually believed it, much less followed it.
Made you wonder if it was all a crock. A lie?
Judas glanced around the congregation, and his roaming eyes came to rest on Phil. No one knew what his real name was, but everyone knew the name Phil. He was responsible for most of the crime in Scarletville, but here he was, head bent piously. At least Jul Snyde, Phil’s arch enemy on the streets, had enough guts to stand for what he believed in.
You never saw him on the inside of a worship centre!
Phil must have felt Judas’ eyes on him for he looked up, and, taking in Judas’ battered face, gave a half smile before looking away.
Growing self conscious, Judas noticed other eyes drawn to his beaten face. He quickly looked down at his hands. He was glad he had taken a seat at the back of the room, hoping the shadows would hide the tell-tale signs of his nocturnal activities.
Judas tried as best he could to focus on the preacher’s message. A task he usually found hard at the best of times was augmented by loud noises coming from the street outside. He tried to hear what was going on, but the worship center had been constructed with near-soundproof walls so the sounds were muffled and indistinct.
Judas tried instead to focus on the preacher himself. The preacher, Judas’ father, was an upright citizen in everyone’s opinion. He was speaking today on Chapter I from the Book of Being.
“We are each of us different from another.” Judas tried to pay attention, but he had heard this so many times, he could almost guess his father’s next words. “There is a life that only we can live. We each will contribute in our own way, but it is distinctly our own.”
The congregation sat with rapt, if indifferent, attention.
“When we live this way, we will know it. Something in us will let us know. It is like no other feeling in the world.”
Judas fazed out till the sermon was over.
The congregation broke up not a minute too soon for Judas. The worshipers broke from their reverent silence, and spilled into the street. But no message from any preacher could have prepared them for the chaos that confronted them.
The stunned worshipers were herded into the already crowded streets by armed militia. Everywhere, soldiers were shouting, people screaming, children crying, and the occasional firefight could be heard. Tanks and APCs burdened with soldiers rumbled through the streets as people were pulled from their homes and worship centers, buildings set to fire, and noncompliant citizens shot.
Hell really had come to Scarletville.
CHAPTER III: War
The rifle scope’s crosshairs came to rest on the guard’s chest. Slowly, they swept upwards, aligning with his forehead.
Judas lowered the rifle, rubbing his numb hands together to instill a small measure of warmth in them. The bullet was not meant for the guard. It was meant for General Hus, who wasn’t expected for another fifteen minutes or so.
Judas shifted uneasily, making the snow underneath him scrunch. Dressed in white, half buried in snow, he knew he was invisible to the outpost guards some 150 meters away. But after lying in the snow for half an hour, Judas considered himself perfectly miserable.
Curse Jul Snyde! The filthy crime lord who had declared himself the “un-thawrted President of the Union” three years earlier when he had moved his army of mercenary soldiers into the union, dragging innocent people from their homes and worship services and herding them into ‘containment quarters.’
Some people had resisted of course, and those who had fought their way out lived like animals in the wilderness, scratching out a living while trying to hit back at the man who had destroyed their lives. Fighting and storing food in the summer; freezing and starving in the winter. Such was their lot.
Such was Judas’ lot.
The rumble of vehicle engines brought Judas back to the present, and he raised the rifle. The scope’s magnified view showed a well armoured car pulling through the gates of the outpost under heavy escort: three armoured cars, and an APC full of soldiers.
Wow, thought Judas, half in jest. This general is more important than I thought.
He trained his rifle on the passenger door. Waiting; forever waiting. When he was a young man without a care in the world, waiting had been hard. But as the best sniper in the resistance, it paid to wait.
The car door opened, and General Hus stepped out. The cross hairs were on him before he was out of the car.
Thoughts of Abel flooded his mind. The two always argued now. Judas knew that Abel was right, that killing would only bring more killing. Even so, Judas had made his decision long ago. He was going to kill, and keep killing till the war was over. He was good at it. He didn’t think he could stop. It was his lot in life.
Judas’ sights followed Hus until he was about to enter the bunker. Thoughts like these always raced in his mind before he shot.
Bu he always took the shot.
CHAPTER IV: Old Friends
Judas returned to camp tired and cold. When he entered the common house, he went immediately to the heat generator and huddled as close as he dared. A few other rebels showed their pleasure of seeing him alive with a brief nod. Most continued as they were, intent on staying warm.
Judas’ attention was dragged away from his frozen limbs as someone joined him by the generator.
“I am glad to see you alive,” Abel’s voice was quiet so as not to disturb the others in the room.
“So am I.” Abel responded to Judas’ jest with silence.
“Yes.” Judas was matter of fact. Again, Abel didn’t respond.
“You disapprove.” This was a statement, not a question.
“It is not for me to say. We each made our choice when we came here: you decided to fight; I chose to help here in camp.”
The two friends sat in silence. They had grown so far apart in the last three years that they were not able to say to the other what they really thought.
The door burst open and Phil came into the room.
“Soldiers,” Phil called out. “We have learned of a munitions delivery close to here. The raiding party will leave at once.”
Though annoyed at having to face the cold so soon, Judas climbed to his feet and followed Phil into the wintry afternoon.
“Judas, wait.” Abel’s call stopped Judas. As the friends stood facing one another, a loud bull-like bellow echoed through the trees surrounding the camp: the call to muster.
“I can’t tell you what is right for you. All I can say is what I see.” Abel’s words came out in a rush.
“And what is that?” Judas’ tone was cold, but he didn’t mean it to be.
“You weren’t meant for all this killing.”
“If I don’t, who will?”
“There will always be someone to kill.”
The call went out again.
“I have to go.”
“Come back old friend.”
* * *
Judas straitened, massaging his aching back. Still early in the year, the ground was just soft enough to dig, but it was still back-breaking work.
He glanced over his shoulder at the long line of graves he had just finished digging. The raid had not gone well. The munitions trucks escaped, and most of the raiders were killed. War was expensive, there was no doubting that. Here were the graves to prove it.
The job done, the rest of the grave diggers trudged solemnly back to camp. Judas stayed, surveying the mounds of frozen earth; all that marked the men who had fallen.
He felt a presence at his elbow, and turned to see Phil. Phil wasn’t looking at him, but was staring at the graves of his men. After a few moments of silence, Phil spoke.
“It’s always hard to lose good men.”
Judas didn’t speak.
“It’s a hard world, Judas. It’s unpleasant when anyone loses their life.”
Judas’ response was ice.
“What do we know about life? We continue to bring more war and violence to the Union, just like Snyde. He hurts us, so we hurt him back. We’re all the same.”
“We fight Snyde because no one else will,” Phil replied. “He fills the Union with weapons and violence; he fills the hearts of our people with fear. Someone has to stand up against him. Someone has to stop him.”
“People fear you almost as much as they do Snyde.”
“This is an ugly war, my friend. I merely fight fire with fire.”
Judas didn’t speak so Phil continued.
“There is a way we can stop this.”
For the first time, Judas looked at Phil.
CHAPTER V: Butterflies
Judas knew he was going to die.
Sure, everyone dies eventually, but Judas was sure the life he was leading would end him in a morgue sooner than nature intended.
He sat alone in the dark, staring at the ghostly outline of the complex before him.
This is crazy, he thought to himself. Snyde was the most heavily protected man in the Union, surrounded by guards and stationed in a heavily defended military complex. An army couldn’t touch him.
But an army wasn’t coming to kill him: Judas was!
He heard a commotion around the front of the complex: a small band of rebels opening fire on the gate, momentarily drawing the guards’ attention.
Judas had thirty seconds to cover the 100 feet to the chain link fence, and cut his way in.
He made it with 8 seconds to spare.
He paused behind a crate, surveying the grounds before he started around the perimeter. Keeping his head low, he ran noiselessly until he was in a dark alley across from Snyde’s bunkhouse. There was only one guard.
We each made a choice. Abel’s words echoed in Judas’ mind. He drew his knife, slipping behind the unsuspecting guard.
You chose to fight.
He laid the guard in the alley.
Judas paused at the edge of the building, and took a glance around the corner. There were two guards stationed outside the door that led to Snydes’ chambers. Judas was a killer, and he had come here to kill. Maybe Abel was right, that he wasn’t meant for all this killing. But in situations like these, did it really matter what he was meant to do? Did he really have a choice?
Two bullets laid out the guards, a third took out the door lock, and Judas was inside, 15 seconds ahead of schedule.
I chose not to fight.
Snyde leapt to his feet, but a backhand from Judas knocked him down. Snyde climbed calmly to his feet, gun pointed at his heart. In his peripheral, Judas could see Snyde’s wife huddling in the corner, holding a screaming baby.
Snyde waited. So did Judas. He always took the shot, but still he waited.
What was he waiting for? Why didn’t he just shoot him?
Have mercy on your enemy in their darkest hour of need.
The words hit Judas like a lightning bolt. He had not thought of those words for three long years. The words came to his mind in a rush, and so did all the times when Judas had taken the shot. More than anything in the world, Judas knew he should not have taken those shots. He knew he shouldn’t take this one. Abel was right, Judas wasn’t meant for all this killing. If he took this shot, would it ever end? It had to end here and now, or there was no stopping it.
He looked at the gun in his hand. He wouldn’t do it.
Have mercy on your enemy in their darkest hour of need.
Judas felt a change come over him. He felt giddy and excited, like when you are waiting for something great, but you don’t know what it is yet. As if your stomach was full of thousands of butterflies, and it’s the best feeling in the world. He wasn’t afraid of anything: he wasn’t afraid that he would have to go on another raid again, or snipe another unsuspecting target. He knew that no matter what happened, he had stopped himself once and for all.
So this is what it means to live?
The gun clattered on the floor.
Snyde stared at the gun in disbelief. Coolly, he picked it up. Judas barely heard the shots, and the pain that ripped his chest was nothing but a dull ache. He smashed on his back, his head hitting the floor. The butterflies were still there.
As if in the distance, Judas could hear Snyde’s baby crying, and its mother cooing, trying to comfort it. He turned his head so he could see them. In the mother’s tear streaked face, Judas saw the deep, infinite pain the woman felt. Pain not only for him, but pain for all the people she had seen gunned down like animals. Pain that used to be anger for all the men like Snyde in her life. The pain turned to sorrow as she looked down at her screaming baby. Would her child die like this? Was this the life it was meant to lead?
He turned his head back, and saw Snyde standing over him, gun pointed at Judas’ forehead. Judas smiled, and everything went dark.
Then he died.
Somehow, the butterflies were still there.
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