5 years after the fall of the democracy
Two gentlemen sit in the kitchen of a tiny apartment. The apartment overlooks the disheveled courtyard of the massive housing project the two men live in, the highlight of which is a dead tree inside the dirty stone ring of a dried out fountain. The grass is patchy and dying made all the worse by the dark clouds and when added to the dark brown brick façade of the high rise apartment it created a monochrome world. There wasn’t much point in gathering in the pea green and mustard yellow kitchen and looking outside but it was a habit these two men indulged while they waited.
“Jinx, what are we doing here?” Finally one of them said raising his head off his hand, taking his thick frame glasses off his prominent nose and rubbing his eyes.
“We’re waiting for the bus Bug.” The other replied his head leaning on his closed fist.
“I mean with our lives Jinx.” Bug said exasperated, it was a conversation they’ve had many times since the fence went up.
“God damn it…” Jinx said with a sigh before running his hands through his red hair.
“I mean, why didn’t we join up with Brace when we had the chance?” Bug asked leaning back his lean frame in his yellow, shabby kitchen chair.
“Because we weren’t asked and we didn’t want to Bug. Remember? We wanted the easy life of collecting pension and living in luxury.” Jinx replied gesticulating with his hands.
“When was the last time we even got a check?” Bug asked side tracked by the concept.
“Not since they started the fence.” Jinx responded wistfully looking out the window.
You could see the outline of the fence on the horizon with its dotted watch towers. They called it a fence but it was really a wall. A three foot thick concrete inner wall inside a fifteen foot wire fence topped with razor wire. The inner wall was probably one hundred feet from the outer. It was built about four years ago and designed to keep the citizens of Waukegan inside the borders.
“Maybe we can join up with him now…” Bug said looking at Jinx.
“I don’t even know if I still have my powers.” Jinx said slumping in his chair “I could just have a shitty life, it’s hard to tell sometimes. Besides, how would we go about that? Go up to the mayor and announce our status as Honored? Fuck that, he’d sooner call in our debt then let us go.”
Bug tapped his fingers on the table impatiently before finally expelling “I’ve been experimenting.”
“Gross.” Jinx replied going back to watching out the window.
“I’ve been able to do… bug stuff.” Bug continued his confessional.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Jinx asked waving his hand.
“I mean more than just talking to them. You know… bug stuff. I can spin webs now like a spider, secrete caustic chemicals like a yellow-spotted millipede, I can throw bombs like a bombardier beetle…”
“Gross, is that what you’ve been doing on your off time?” Jinx interrupted Bug “knock that shit off, if the mayor finds out he’ll kill you. He will, no shit, not fucking around kill you. Why do you think we wear these contacts to hide our eyes? Why do you think we use our burner ID’s The Coalition gave us? That guy is fucking nuts.”
“Well, what if we escape?” Bug asked.
The question sat there like a lump of lead on the table between them. They had often complained about their lot in life but they had never directly talked about the subject of escaping.
Before they could continue the conversation the bus pulled in announcing its presence over a loudspeaker mounted to the roof.
“All able bodied citizens’ report to the transport for selection.”
Every day the bus came looking for people to work the fence. The space of land between the inner and outer wall required constant maintenance. Trees needed to be trimmed or removed, grass needed to be cut, insects needed to be killed, holes filled and the fence mended. Much of the outlying territory was turned to farmland leaving Waukegan an island of a city surrounded by plains.
Bug and Jinx got up from their chairs and headed down to join the group. Pay for working the fence was $25.00 a day. Food, which was provided in the cafeteria in the main building was $10.00 for three meals and rent was $20.00 a day. The system was designed to create debt and desperation. There were frequent brown outs, clean water was at a premium and water rationing assured you wouldn’t get a shower every day or even every other day but if you spoke up your debt would be “called in” and you would be subjected to hard labor or experimentation in order to clear it. Being picked for wall duty meant limiting your debt for the day. The sad thing was the whole situation happened so subtly over the last five years that before they knew it Bug and Jinx were trapped. But things have been at this point for about two years now.
Bug and Jinx joined the others in their gray jump suits and waited to be picked. The government workers in the body armor looked through the crowd and eventually picked them both. They sat next to each other on the converted school bus and were silent the entire trip with Bug staring out the window and Jinx staring at the ceiling of the bus.
It was fall and fall in Illinois meant a lot of gray storm clouds. The threat of rain always loomed but mostly it was just a bit chilly and it was the season of raking. Several hours into their ten hour shift Bug stopped raking. It was a slow process, he started looking through the fence into the farmlands that reclaimed the suburbs and soon he was doing more looking than raking before finally he stopped all together and propped himself up on the rake and stared out.
“Bug.” Jinx said in a low whisper as he raked around a large oak tree near the fence itself “Bug!” he said a little louder, looking around to make sure the nearby guard couldn’t hear them.
Bug just continued to stare and think.
Finally a guard came up from behind Bug and pushed him with the butt the large rifle that the guard was carrying. Bug stumbled forward and turned with an aggressive stance that earned him a blow to the cheek with the same blunt end of the gun knocking Bug to the ground. Bug looked up at the guard with anger and the guard looked back in shock, the guard had knocked one of the contacts out of Bug’s eyes. Seeing this Jinx started to walk forward grasping the rake like a weapon. The guard in the tower, watching Jinx walk up behind the guard on the ground, fired a warning shot into the tree behind Jinx. The shot knocked down a nest of wasps who were inactive due to the cold weather.
As the swarm rose up Bug smiled, he told the wasps to attack the guard which they immediately did. As they swarmed the guard he began flailing his arms as he tried to scream.
“HONORED! HONORED!” over and over again he yelled the warning. “HONORED! HONORED!”
The alarm slowly came to life sounding like a tornado siren.
Jinx just stood there in shock unable to process everything that was happening. Bug secreted chemicals from his hands, rubbed them together to create a thick resin and then threw a blob of the resin at the fence which then exploded eating a giant hole into the fence. As Bug ran past Jinx he grabbed Jinx by the arm and hurried him out through the fence and into the plains. Bullets whizzed past them as they ran out but not a single one managed to hit.
Gordon Clancy aka The Gourmand was working hard in his kitchen as he often did trying to perfect his recipe for gołąbki, which was a Polish cabbage roll. Virtue gave him power over cooking, there was almost nothing he couldn’t make and everything he did make was guaranteed to be the best of that you’ve ever had. This ability gave him international celebrity beyond The Honored One-Hundred. But there was one dish he couldn’t make and that was gołąbki. That sole power was given to Pawel Dunajski aka “Cabbage Patch”. Cabbage Patch’s only power was the ability to make the perfect gołąbki which made Pawel the toast of Poland, the one place Gourmand wasn’t able to get a foothold in the restaurant business. Every night, after work, after the last meal was served Gourmand would work on his gołąbki recipe desperately trying to usurp Cabbage Patch. Every night he would fail. Every night he created totally inedible garbage. Tonight he had hope, something was different tonight. He hesitantly put fork to mouth to discover that this time… it was edible. It wasn’t as good as Cabbage Patch’s, it wasn’t even that good in general, but it was edible. A step in the right direction. As Gourmand thought over what he had done different a hand reached out from behind him and with a loud crack he fell to the floor, his head crushed.
“How many people know about this?” the Mayor of Waukegan asked nervously as he walked towards his office.
“A couple of guards, a few citizens, it doesn’t seem to have gotten too far out of hand.” The aide responded.
“Good, the most important part is containment. Call in the debt of the citizens who saw it, pay the guards for their silence. We’ll need to talk to the senator immediately and let him know something may come up. And what was this about one of them being Honored…” The mayor said as he opened the door to his office.
Inside was the Senator of Illinois seated in the mayor’s chair.
“I’m sorry Wes, I” was all the senator could manage before his head was crushed by Brace.
The door slammed shut with a tall muscular woman standing in front of it between the mayor and the door. The aide immediately ran and hid in the corner.
“What have you done to my city!?!” Brace yelled from behind the desk.
“I, I, I, I, I…” was all the mayor managed out.
Brace was a blur and then suddenly he was standing in front of the mayor.
“This was NOT how I wanted things! This was NOT how I left this place!” Brace continued to yell to the retreating mayor.
The mayor hit the wall of a woman in front of the door and stopped. Brace grabbed him by the neck and lifted the mayor into the air.
“You couldn’t have done this yourself! Who helped you!?! Who helped you pervert my vision!?!” Brace yelled. He wasn’t expecting an answer, he was just angry, he instead tried to probe the mayor’s mind.
The mayor choked and sputtered and spat white flakes of saliva onto Brace’s black glove.
Finding nothing Brace gritted his teeth and crushed the mayor’s neck before tossing him into the same corner as the aide who screamed in terror.
“What is it? What did you find?” The woman asked in a heavy Russian accent.
“Nothing Tower, I found nothing.”
Report On Honored Member Codenamed: Jinx (partial)
…Jinx has no taste for field work and despite being trained and demonstrating proficiency in standard combat tactics and practices he prefers to be sidelined. His powers (to cause bad luck), while useful in causing misfortune to the enemy seems to be entirely focused on his own well-being and has equal chance of causing misfortune to the team. The ability to cause the enemy to misfire is negligible when you consider most of us are bulletproof in one way or another…
Report On Honored Member Codenamed: Bug (partial)
…I have assigned him, due to his powers (to talk to and command insects), to the Recon Team. However his usefulness is questionable when you consider the myriad of other recon based abilities available to us. Bug also seems more content to work in the lab or focus on his hobby of entomology than perform in the field and I am happy to allow him to pursue his passions…
Request for Release
I hereby inform you of my desire to be released from The Honored One-Hundred Program. I have spoken to Brace multiple times about my release but my requests never seem to reach you. I do appreciate all that you have given me but I am at my wits end acting as a mere commissary cook for this military operation. Since being given my powers I have greater aspirations than satisfying the simple palates of these soldiers. Thank you.
RE: Request for Release
Your request is denied. Your services are required for as long as the program is active. However we will put you on “Reserved” status which will allow you non-operation time to pursue outside interests and achieve outside goals. I received all your requests through Brace and chose to ignore them, please do not contact myself or Brace about this again.