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4. Chain of Command

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I talked with Colt more. I don’t know why he was easier to relate to. His brother, Dusk, was more involved in the show. He had his girls, his drinks and drugs – he was a hazard to my health. I knew this when I met him. I kept my distance. If anything went wrong, I went to Colt. He was just more…sedate. Like he was above and beyond all this. He was protective of me for some reason. The fact that I had no home, no family, no past…it was the typical lost puppy syndrome. I don’t know why I took comfort in him really. I never needed or wanted comfort before. But it was nice to have. Security. Something to fall back on. And when things with his brother got…complicated, he had me relocated to an apartment in his building. I didn’t know what to do with all the empty space, living alone. It was just…different.

Things seemed to be moving fast. Or maybe I seem to be vague. In my mind, there were no important details. I was a girl from the mist – I had nothing to return to. I was going nowhere fast and I didn’t care. I was headed in any direction the wind took me. And I seldom stayed in the same place for too long. Being I was here, being I had security, I decided to start keeping track, to write things down. This’ as far as I’ve gotten. I still play on the street for money, I still help out the circus push comes to shove. But for the most part, Colt takes care of me. But I can’t stand the dependency – I need to have my own life. My own income. Hence, I work. I have morals, contrary to popular belief. I had limits, just like everybody else.

I was sitting in the empty apartment one of the many nights I spent at home. I worked during the days for the most part. I tried to keep a constant sleep schedule, but to no avail. When I wasn’t writing, I was playing. When I wasn’t playing, I was coming up with more to do. I stayed outside the bar mostly, where it was safe. There was a gang war coming, the first in a long time. There hadn’t been one in ages. Since the Fallen passed on. Since Cicero Merrick died. There was no competition. There was the ongoing cycle. Here, now, where the gangs have no names and there are only us and them…this is the new world. This is the new war.

For generations, there was peace. For years, ages, there was a calm. I am on the side of the field that I just happened to stumble onto. There is nothing to say that where I am is wrong or right. But I am here. And here I shall stay. Not because I don’t know any better. Or because I don’t care. No. Because I find comfort here. This side is the side of the constant. The side of the ongoing cycle. We continue the trend where others have faltered. I say “we” as though I belong – I am an outsider. I am not from here. A foreigner. And yet, Colt has made me feel welcome. At home. I belong here. I wrote until I was bored then put the pencil down, looking around aimlessly. After I’d smoked a few, I gave up trying to come up with new ideas. And I trooped upstairs to see what Colt was up to.

I knocked on the door, not too loud, not too soft. I didn’t want to be too obvious. I didn’t want to alarm him or anything. I heard some scuffling before the knob twisted slowly. He looked behind me before looking me in the eye.

“Hey kid, what’s up?”

“Nothing…busy?”

He took a look inside, thought about it, then shrugged. “Not really, come on in.” He stepped aside, letting me sneak by him. I counted the seconds in my head, how long he’d wait until closing the door. Checking the halls. He was especially nervous these days. I looked around a little, coming to a canvas standing against a wall, painted in parts and pieces. I wheeled around, realizing just now that Colt was covered in paint. He gave me a sheepish smile.

“They sent me to a therapist once…he said I needed an outlet for my emotions. Anger especially. He said I should get involved in the arts. So…I paint. Usually when I’m trying to clear my mind. I guess it’s a hobby.”

I laughed and hugged him. “It’s okay, you’re only human. I write when the mood strikes me.”

“Oh, really? I wouldn’t know that, being you’re only writing every time I drop in to check up on you.” He poked me until I let go, smiling back. I looked at the canvas with him. It was easily taller than he was, and Colt wasn’t too short.

“What is it?”

He turned his head to one side, then the other, looking at it from different angles. “Well…what do you think it looks like?”

“Right now? A mess.”

“Well, there you have it. Entropy.”

“That’s chaos?”

He smiled. “If I want it to be.”

I took a few steps closer to the canvas, looking at it from different angles. “It must be nice to have that kind of control.”

I could imagine him nodding behind me. “Sometimes.”

The piece made no sense, then again, very little makes sense these days. That’s just the way it goes. I turned away from it to sit down somewhere. I felt like I’d been standing for an eternity, even though it was minutes only. Colt moved over and sat nearby, not too close, not too far. I looked around the place that was becoming a familiar sanctuary.

“What’s on your mind?” I questioned. He shrugged.

“The usual. The business. The family.”

“What’s the latest?”

He looked down, thinking his words over carefully. “I’d suggest that you keep your head down, don’t swear loyalty out loud, and don’t stray too far from the bar. When outside at night, keep someone with you, okay?”

“That bad, huh?”

He nodded quietly. “A few of my better guys got jumped. I already gave Dusk this talk, but…well, you know Dusk.”

“Yeah, he’s a fairly stubborn bastard.”

“Keep an eye on him for me? I told him to keep one on you as well.”

I turned and glared at Colt. “Make sure that’s all he keeps on me.”

He laughed. “Yeah, he got that talk as well.”

“Good, I wouldn’t want to have to hit him again.”

Colt laughed harder this time. “I have to admit, that was humorous, if for nothing else but to see the wonderful color he turned from shock and embarrassment.”

We both laughed about this, looking around aimlessly.

And back to silence.

“What’s his name?”

“Who?”

“The leader, of the opposition. The enemy.”

“Linkon, why?”

I shrugged. “It’s just good to know.”

He moved off to find himself something to drink, shooting a look over at me. “Want anything?”

“Not really.”

“That’s not a real answer. Yes or no?”

“Maybe.”

He laughed. “You’re a brat.”

And I got up from where I was sitting, special, to bow for him. “Naturally.”

He fixed me something anyway.

And we sat and talked about a few things here and there. How things were going. He was especially careful to avoid the truth. His operation was falling apart. We all knew it. Since the Dragon was reduced to ashes…let me explain – The Dragon was the old tattoo parlor, it was one of our centers of command. Since it burned, things were shaky. Colt had come into power at a very rough point in our history. And yet he made it work, climbed to the top on his hands and knees, and commanded order. And what’s more, they listened to him. He wasn’t a creep or anything. He had a fairly decent reputation. He was a pretty trustworthy and honest guy considering the kind of business he ran. His word was law, and it was enforced justly. He was one of the few in the line that anyone could dare to call “just” and be accurate.

There came a pounding on the door at that moment in time, before either of us could move towards it, a crew of people stormed in. I recognized Irish and Gin from the bar, both of them bloody. Between the two of them was Dusk. His entire body was limp; they had to drag him into the place, blood trailing after him. The rest of the lackeys I didn’t know, just the usual faces in and out. Colt jumped up and ran over, holding Dusk’s bloody face up to the light.

“What happened?”

Irish spoke more. She was older, had known Colt longer; she’d been involved in this longer, even though it was inadvertently. She tried to quit the game. But this’ a lifetime commitment. The girls let go, allowing Colt to bend down and pick Dusk up clear off the ground, bringing him over to a couch to lay him out. He was still breathing, blood running all over his face in rivers.

“They raided the circus.”

Colt bit his tongue, holding down anger. This wasn’t in the rules. This was a break in procedure. The circus was our sanctuary, our safe haven away from the real, or surreal. It was the holy land. It was the one place that no enemy dared tread. This was a declaration of war. And we all knew it. Dusk’s breathing patterns changed. Colt looked around, pointing at the guys lounging around by the door.

“Get the Doc, now. Girls, what’s the damage?”

Irish hung her head down. “It’s bad…we’re still working on clean up.”

“Then I’ll let you get back to more pressing matters.”

They both nodded at him, turning to leave. He nodded back, his eyes locked on Dusk. I watched the scene in silent horror. Gin went out the door, Irish turned back, lingering behind. She crept over to Colt slowly, putting a hand on his shoulder carefully, so as not to scare him.

“They need a leader now.”

He ducked his head. “We need an army.”

“Don’t start this tonight, you’re not prepared. They will demolish you. Please.”

He turned around to face her, putting his arms on her shoulders, locked onto her. I couldn’t figure out if he did this to keep her from running away, or to keep himself standing. His stance wavered a bit, but Colt remained on his feet.

“I’ll take care of this. Clean up the casualties. Scatter them – bring no more of them here tonight. Compile a list of fallen. I’ll visit the wounded and we’ll bury the lost, but for right now…this has to be handled. We can’t let them see us running scared.”

She nodded her consent. He bent down and kissed her softly, more of a promise lost in the action than for any other reason. She squeezed his arm, he let go of her, and she was gone. I sat at Dusk’s side, squeezing one of his hands in my own. As long as he held onto me, I would hold onto him. I looked up at Colt from there.

“You need to get out of here, this…please. Go home. I’ll send word when the coast’s clear, when all’s ended.”

I held onto Dusk tighter. “I’ll stick this one out.”

Colt’s body shook for a moment. “Please, you’re just a…”

“Child?” I finished. His body heaved at the offense. I had finished his sentence, concluded his insult. And he was wrong on top of it. He shook his head, trying to think, to backpedal, apologize. Nothing would work. He knew, right then, right there, he was stuck with me through this. All we had was each other. Us. And them. The enemy. The war started tonight.

The peace of the streets, a calm that’s survived decades…has ended.

Another turn of the wheel.

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