This story is by Alejandro Bastidas and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
There is nothing more soothing than the sound of my blade brushing against the shell of a bullet before the drill. It became a sort of ritual to carve my every bullet with the same pattern: roses at the bottom, two spades and two diamonds in the middle, and two drachmas in the tip. The drachmas had small crosses within, almost invisible if not scrutinized. I considered it to be a less-savage way of killing a man. With the two drachmas the dead would be able to pay Charon to ferry him into the Underworld. The other doodles were just decorations, but with the intention of turning death into art… as ridiculous as that sounds. As you may have already guessed, I’m poetic.
“Hey T, it’s time,” Oliver barked. My best friend always had to remind me when to step outside. I’ve never been able to keep good track of time.
“Two in the morning already? Damn. Hey, can you load those mags into my gun while I carve up the rest?”
“Sure, T, but hurry up. Duty calls.”
After finishing with the last bullet I reached for my black coat and stepped outside. The three crimson stripes of Captain on my right sleeve were covered by dust and ash. The previous drill had been quite chaotic, I recalled.
Oliver handed me my sniper rifle as I stepped outside and my men saluted me. Their blue coats were cleaned as if they had never had a taste of a drill. Something in my gut told me today we’d all end up with dirty clothes and hands.
I barked a series of commands and assigned each man a position that would favor my strategy.
“Oliver, what’s their status?”
“Forty civilians exiting the pantheon as we speak. We can expect them to arrive in… three-and-a-half minutes.”
“Any sight of the rebels?”
“It’s Captain, Nina.” I didn’t fancy being addressed as the Greek personification of the dead. It made me feel like some lowlife mercenary instead of a hero of the wall. The fact that I’ve never missed a shot does not make me sinister. It makes me an artist.
Three and a half minutes later the horde of civilians walked right past the wall, staring up at the meant sworn to defend them. The civilians had been discussing the latest reforms of the city and the plans to counter-attack the insurgency.
“T… it’s clear.”
“Keep your eye on the scope, Oliver. We’re not moving from this formation until everyone’s out of the hot-zone.”
The Underworld rose to the earth after that word echoed across the wall. Engines roared in the distance and out of the vehicles emerged the rebels, running at the crowd like a pack of wolves with guns instead of teeth. Bullets rained upon them from the wall. They were too many. I counted forty, and most of them bearing heavy firepower. The citizens ran for their lives and some dropped dead without the chance to run.
I took down three in five seconds. The bullets went straight through their brains. We pushed them back with our fury and precision, letting them know the watchers on the wall knew no mercy―only duty. The rebels themselves realized it was a lost cause, but that didn’t mean they did no damage. About ten corpses emerged out of the mayhem, and the rebels still attacked.
Three insurgents came running at the crowd, with absent fear and a determination to kill. I took one down and Nina got the other, but I was forced to reload, leaving one in his killing spree. My sleight of hand allowed me to push another mag inside in the time it took me to blink, but that was the exact same time it took for the rebel to take aim at a blond girl frozen in terror. I placed my eye on the scope but before I could fire, a bullet caught a nearby barrel of gasoline that blinded me as a barrier of fire rose from the ground. Once the smoke cleared I saw the rebel on the ground, and next to him lay the blond girl bathed in blood. If only I had been quicker, I might’ve been able to save her. A millisecond was the only thing standing between life and death. It was always hard for me to swallow that bitter truth after a drill.
Following the blonde’s death, the rebels fled in their SUV’s as they chanted their obscene revolutionary anthems. They had lost more men than us, had not managed to kill even half of the civilians, but it had been a hard blow for the Society.
They arrested me on the following morning. The Enforcers didn’t have the decency to say a single word and simply slammed a fist into my face, shoved a black bag over my head and restrained my arms and legs. Still, I did not fight back. I had committed no crime according to the laws of the Society. My only crime was personal―and that crime was failure―but people aren’t arrested for that.
The Enforcers drove me to the Sanctum of Whispers and that’s when I knew something was terribly wrong. There was to be a trail at once. They didn’t even take me to the station for questioning. It was no surprise, however. Watchers don’t have the luxury of regular rights.
“Lucius Kane, as Prime Whisperer of the Society, I sentence you to witness your kin’s extermination for the murder of Valery Griffin, daughter of Vice-Chancellor Griffin,” said the old woman after the Enforcers removed the bag from my head.
The extermination of kin was the Society’s harshest punishment to the date, used only on rebels. The damn Whisperers hadn’t brought me in for a trial. There had been no trial at all. For things like that rebels rose in every corner of the city. I felt a deep disgust within me, knowing that I had given half of my life to defend a Society that pisses on me as if I weren’t even human.
I glanced to my right and saw ten Enforcers standing behind my mother, father, sister, two sons and even my uncle. The entire Kane bloodline would be exterminated for a murder I didn’t even commit. According to the Whisperers, such punishment would serve as an example to the other watchers who felt tempted to join the revolution. As for myself, they’d lock me up in Oblivion until I starved to death.
The other Whisperers in the room displayed the image of the person who I supposedly murdered. Valery Griffin had been that blonde girl I failed to save. Her death was on me, that I admit, but it wasn’t murder. I didn’t even fire my rifle when she died. On the Institute they taught us to love the Society, but I couldn’t help but feel hate towards them and everything they stood for.
My face remained cold as stone. My family, on the other hand, they wept beyond control.
“Mr. Kane, the Vice-Chancellor Griffin commanded your arrest after Valery’s autopsy in which they discovered it was you who took her life. Since Watchers aren’t allowed to kill civilians, we denied you a trail. As for the evidence, we found one of your bullets. According to the Overseer at you platoon, you carve every bullet before your drills. Is that correct?”
“Yes, I do but I did not fire when―”
“Then it is settled. The evidence does not lie, Mr. Kane. For murder, treason, and the violation of the Wall’s code, your kin is sentenced to extermination and you are sentenced to life’s imprisonment,” the Prime Whisperer nodded at the Enforcers who aimed their guns at my family. “Any final request?”
“Yes. I demand to see the bullet that killed Valery Griffin, and also one from my own gun.”
The Whisperer, convinced of my guilt, accepted my request with a smirk on her face. Her assistants brought the bullet to her and the magazine from my confiscated gun. They removed a bullet from my mag and held it next to the other. They were twins, with the exact same carvings. The Whisperer dropped a laugh but I dropped one louder.
“See the coins on the tip? In one bullet they have crosses in the middle. In the other they don’t. Check out the other bullets in my mag and see the crosses. I have been framed, Prime Whisperer. Your evidence is in fact, incorrect. I did not kill Valery Griffin.”
“Then who did, Mr. Kane?” asked the woman, bitter and displeased.
“The only man who’s actually seen my bullets: Oliver Ashford.”
The Enforcers brought my ‘best friend’ to the Sanctum two hours later just like they had done with me. I could see in his face the he knew he’d been caught, but even then he smiled. A part of my heart vanished with that treacherous smile. I stood, fought, and bled for twelve years beside the man who orchestrated what would’ve been the extermination of my family.
I told the Whisperers how Oliver had been the one to reload my gun in the last drill, and the fingerprint-scan on the magazine proved my affirmations. The Prime Whisperer sentenced him for the same things she had accused me of, but his punishment would be execution. Oliver had no family left.
Vice-Chancellor Griffin had appeared at the Sanctum to behold the truth behind his daughter’s death, and together we witnessed as justice was done. An Enforcer placed his gun over Oliver’s head and asked him for any last words. The Society liked a bit of cliché in their executions.
“For the revolution,” then his eyes met mine, drilling deep into my pain, “If I took you down then the Southern Wall would fall, and afterwards we’d take the city. Why? You’ve seen it yourself. This is a society that condemns without trials, executes innocents and the fucking Whisperers believe themselves gods. I may have betrayed you, T, but I did it because you and the people you protect have betrayed mankind. Today I die a martyr… raise a glass to freedom…”
I didn’t hear the gunshot nor as Oliver’s brains were splattered into the floor. My eyes were closed and remained shut. I waited until the Enforcers dragged the body away and opened them when the Prime Whisperer came up with a bullshit apology and pardoned me.
Before I could go and hug my family (who were still in shock from the whole situation), the Vice-Chancellor asked me for a word.
“Mr. Kane, I owe you an apology as well, for pressing charges and urging your arrest. Today I thank you for delivering justice, and allowing my daughter to rest in peace. Still, I know words are not enough for what we put you through. Hence, I offer you five million Units that will cover your debt to the Society and release you from your duties to the Wall. Additionally, I will arrange a household for you and your family in the Rim, and lastly, if you desire, I can offer you a position among the…”
I didn’t listen to the rest of his offer. I already had what I wanted: peace, justice, safety… and something else―an awakening. Despite the pain Oliver had put me through, he gave me the greatest gift of all by opening my eyes. I stood there nodding at Griffin, a hideous creature like the Prime Whisperer. I shook his hand, accepted the offer and heard Oliver’s words echoing in my head.
I had lived a lie for a lifetime, and now I would start again, with a better life, and clarity of mind. Now on the inner circle of the Society―on the Rim among the politicians―I’d be able to fulfill my duties, but this time those would be my duties to mankind itself by tearing the Society apart from the inside.
Raise a glass to freedom.