Chapter I: Meeting Mr. Perfect
Roland pulled at his choppy chestnut hair, trying to get it to stay behind his ears. The two soldiers ahead of him wore unfriendly faces, marching in stony silence with occasional glances shared between the two with the meaning lost to their nervous companion. Sighing, he scratched his arm anxiously, almost tripping over his feet when his escorts abruptly stopped walking and turned their attention to a high security door. Grateful no one seemed to notice his uncharacteristic jitteriness, Roland watched with disinterest as one of the guards punched in a rather long pin number, swiped a card through a slot, punched in another pin, recited his name and ID number, then flashed a card to a scanner before a monitor next to the titanium door flickered on. A rather strung out looking man queried the two soldiers shortly, the static pixilating his features a bit, nodded his head as the air locks let out a loud popping sound, the door slid open as the monitor turned off again.
Beyond the door was an incredibly bright room, and Roland had thought the hallways were scorching as it was, with a few tables and chairs. Everything was white, and it hurt to look inside Roland noted, following the two, now edgy, men inside. Glancing back he saw the door slide heavily shut, the air locks snapping back in place, and when he turned back around he saw that the room wasn't empty of people. There was a man standing at a table in the center of the room, wearing a crisp suit and smiling amiably. Roland guessed the man was Warden Herald Grimsby, considering he looked quite at home in the general area of the prison, and next to him, also standing, was General Elliott Theydon with a scowl, and uniform, that could curdle Roland's toes. Of course, there was a fair amount of guards, both prison officers and military soldiers, spread out about the room and concentrated at the back of the table, watching something that was sitting behind the two standing men, hidden from Roland's view. Coughing slightly, Warden Grimsby walked straight past the two escorts and grabbed Roland's slim hand in his much larger, firm one. Shaking it, Grimsby pulled Roland over to the table, his smile almost rising off the sides of his face.
"So glad you could make it, er…" Warden Grimsby gave Roland an apologetic look, "Eh…"
"Rolande, sir. Rolande Oliver Fagg." Roland said, letting some of his French accent slip out, his ears turning pink at the smirks and chortles from the background. He looked a little embarrassedly at Grimsby, whose smile faltered a bit, and then at the General who looked liked he hadn't heard anything at all.
"Yes, mind if I call you Roland? Much easier on the, uh, tongue. No? Ok, good." Warden Grimsby asked, pulling on his starched collar a bit and glaring at his minions. Slapping his smile back in its full 100watt brightness, Grimsby gestured to a cheap, plastic chair. "Have a seat please. Don't worry; Khenbish doesn't bite, when he isn't allowed."
"Oh, thank you…" Roland supplied, slipping into the chair, Grimsby following suit on his left. He didn't have a chance to look at the mysterious man across from him as Grimsby asked him something about his trip here. The General had already sat down at that point to his right, preoccupying himself with shuffling through some files, probably files on Roland.
"Elliott, don't you have any manners?" Grimsby asked, managing to sound insulted or disappointed. Perhaps both. Roland noted that both men were well groomed and both were mildly handsome. Grimsby in a sort of offhand, genteel way what with all his airs, and the General in a more clinical, cold, classy way, despite a horrible scar running from the right corner of his mouth down under the depths of his impeccable shirt.
"This isn't a tea party, Herald." General Theydon snapped, letting the files thud loudly on the table, glaring at the two. "Now if you'd stop pussy-footing around, we could get on with this bullshit."
"My… how vulgar." The Warden sighed and murmured to Roland, "He's in a foul mood, don't mind him. He can be quite charming if he has mind to be." Then, his voice raising again, all his good-host qualities vanished and Grimsby looked at Roland flatly, "Honestly, you aren't what we were expecting at all, Roland."
"That's a nice way to put it." The General muttered sourly, "I almost died of a heart attack when you landed in our laps. This has to be a fucking joke. No offense kid, but you're not gonna last two minutes out there, what with-"
"ANYWAY," Grimsby snapped, "You're what they chose, so you'll have to do. I was hoping for someone, erm, more capable…"
"You're saying it's because I look rather girly, right?" Roland spit, piqued.
"Well, there is that." Grimsby had the decency to look at least mildly apologetic, "Look, Roland. This is a very dangerous mission, as I'm sure you know. We need someone who's able to take care of himself, not be a well, liability. And just from looking at you… Well, you look like a bit of a liability. You'd stand out; I guess it'd be alright if you were, er, ugly… but apparently, you aren't… And you're scrawny…"
"I'm at the top of my class." Roland said quietly, trying to keep his temper. Yes, he knew he looked like a weak little girl, that didn't mean he was one.
"That doesn't mean shit in the real world." A new voice said, making all three men jump. Roland turned to look at the man sitting across from them, nearly five feet away at the other end of the table. He was in a straight jacket, but the arms were crossed against his chest, heavy steel shackles hanging from what he guessed were wrists, bolted to the floor. Around his neck was a heavy collar, and from the light hum, Roland could only guess it was programmed to electrify the man if he made a wrong move. "This is stupid. Do I have to do this? I can go by myself."
"Shut up Khenbish. You're lucky you aren't rotting in the segregation cells." Grimsby snapped.
"He's right on that point though. Being class genius doesn't mean anything when you're going into the real world. Nothing in there is formulas and poetry little boy." The General said smoothly, staring at Khenbish. "But I guess you'd be desperate to go into it, eh, Ken?"
"Fuck you." Khenbish replied easily, leaning back in his chair. Roland noted that he was incredibly tall for an Asian, what few of them he'd seen anyway. Khenbish had shoulder length hair, some stubble, a pointed nose that crooked between the eyes, taught lips that were in a casual smirk, and sharp eyes that weren't really all that small.
"Some other time, cupcake." The General said sweetly.
"Anyway, getting back on topic," Grimsby sent a glare at Khenbish and Theydon, "Roland, as you know it's been fifty years since the War of the Giants. Namely, Neo-China, Indinis, the United Americas, Old Israel and Greco-France. Since then, there has been multiple factions trying to pick up were the war left off, seeing as all five of the idiots blew each other to pieces, all of them trying to re-create countries and empires. Now, we have what is left of Europe, a small section of South America and Canada, a vast majority of Africa's east coast and the most unimpressive section of Asia left for man to live on. Of course, Neo-China claimed the Asian lands, Indinis and Old Israel have Africa, and Greco-France dominates the Americas along with the European states. These are the four great empires that remain, and there is terribly frightening evidence that one of the small factions trying to stipulate the war again is actually rather huge. If there is another war, I'm afraid man won't have anywhere to turn to but the moon, and we haven't got any means to do that."
"So… who is this faction allied with? I mean, a majority of its people has to be related in some way, and they need to have a ruler…" Roland asked.
"Well, the War of the Giants created a lot of unhappiness Roland. The governments have been trying to restore order, but let's be honest, they really haven't done much. Lots of land was destroyed, and countless were killed," Grimsby looked at Theydon suddenly, "How many dead again?"
"Over two-thirds the world's population." Theydon replied, scrawling in a manila folder distractedly.
"Yes, a huge death toll, immense war reparation costs, weak governments, faction threats… When the system fails, people become unhappy Roland, and that's the real moment the system fails, because the people start turning to other things, looking for a way to relieve their anger. Two hundred years ago, that was through religion, the Third Great War was fought between the Muslims and the Christians because it was an easy scapegoat for the common man to social and political issues. Then, fifty years after that we had the War of Beliefs. That was the struggle between Democracy and Socialism, and of course neither side won, it just crippled both and let anger ferment. Then fifty years ago we had the Wars of the Giants because resources were low, overpopulation was creating problems, a third of the world had already been turned into wastelands, political fiascos were getting out of control. Everything surmounted and as a result, almost everything was destroyed. All those people, the anger passed down from nearly two hundred years ago, are the people in that faction Roland."
"At first," General Theydon interrupted, "We thought that there were 243 factions, each separate and self-thinking, self-motivated. Within the last twenty years we've put at least 140 of those factions under wing of another one, the Resistance Coalition. That is a huge, incredibly threatening number, and their hostility has increased by 200. As you know, Grimsby and I work for all four of the Great Empires under the United Empires League. It is within the world's best interest to get rid of this faction. And you'd think they'd send me a better candidate."
"I don't see what this has to do with Warden Grimsby… So far we've been talking militant facts, unless you're harboring a mole or something in your prison." Roland said stiffly, decidedly ignoring the last comment.
"Well, you see, we think we know where to find the leader of the Resistance, and as much as we need someone with excellent military background and allegiance, we also need someone who knows the ins and outs of the outside system. That is, the faction's working order. A lot of the people we're dealing with were once criminals, they're very easily bought on the side promising power, and we have someone who's an expert with the mix. Or the criminal language, if I may put it that way. He also has other charming qualities that make him an instant pick, if I may add that as well." Grimsby said, smiling richly at Khenbish. "So, I guess that's why I'm involved. After all, he is my most highly guarded prisoner here."
Roland sat there, thinking for a minute. He looked over at the dirty, rugged Asian, and furrowed his brows. This was the world's most infamous prison, noted for keeping the most dangerous of men, having a no-escape reputation and some other dark rumors floating around, none of them very flattering. If this was Grimsby's highest security prisoner, that in itself said a lot about the man's character, if not state it all.
"So, I'm to be paired with him… Does that mean the second he comes unshackled, I'll have my limbs ripped out of me? Before we've even started the mission?"
"Hello to you too, beautiful." Khenbish threw, smirking devilishly.
"You don't have to worry about him." The General said, turning to actually face Roland, "You have to worry about everything else. You aren't going into La-la Land, you're going to hell. We're going to send you to Asrun."
"Asrun?" Roland echoed, feeling slight goose bumps on his forearms.
"Yes, that's your starting point. This isn't going to be a picnic, Roland. This mission may take years, and you probably won't live to see it finished. You're going with Khenbish to Asrun, the most notorious underground criminal city to learn a bit about the Resistance. We already have plenty of moles, but this time we're going to try to go in deeper, and the only one who can do it is Khenbish. He's the only one that's not traceable, just like you."
"What do you mean by that? Not traceable?" Roland asked, scratching his arm in anxiety.
"Well, Roland, you've been chosen I suppose because you are an orphan, you're files were destroyed in the fire of Old Paris, and Roland isn't even your real name. That's the name your foster parents gave you five years ago. You don't remember your past, and certainly no one can find it. The Resistance won't know who you are; they don't have access to any of your files, because there never was any. The Greco-France government never made any documents about you, you were chosen the moment they found you in the remains of the orphanage. Your foster parents died two years ago in a raid, and so did your whole village, the only people familiar with you are your fellow soldiers that had to share a barrack with you, who all happened to be deployed to the forefront at precisely two p.m. today. None of them will survive. There will be no one left to know anything about you, except the people in this room, who I may add, are all wearing thermal helmets so they can't see your face, save me, Theydon and Khenbish."
"Dear, all that, for little old me?" Roland managed to say, though he felt a little ill. All of them, people he had cared about, were killed just to get him to this point?
"Yes, well, we're willing to make sacrifices to achieve our goals. And Khenbish, well, he's relatively the same sad story. His clan was killed in a raid accident, and he went rampaging, we caught him, locked him up, and let the world forget about him."
"I don't see how he is as carefully hidden as I am in identity," Roland grated.
"Ask him about it sometime, I'm much too bored to get into details." Grimsby said, waving a hand.
"More like you're sick with guilt." Khenbish snorted, earning a nasty look.
"I suppose man power is at its lowest in history, all things considered, and all our other possible candidates are out trying to root out the other faction leaders and puppet leaders of the Resistance. But fuck, just because they think we've got Ken, they're gonna give us a fuckin' girl?" Roland glared at the complaining General.
"I'm just that good, honey." Khenbish drawled, cracking his neck. "Besides, when has your damn government ever been competent?"
"If you don't shut the fuck up I'm liable to make your head a competent decorator item." Theydon snapped irritated.
"Try me, sweetheart, I'll be-" Khenbish started to say when a manila folder smacked him in the face.
"BOTH OF YOU STOP FLIRTING." Grimsby snarled, "Can we continue or do I need to let the both of you slug out your strange love affair?"
"You could join us, Grimmy; I haven't got a problem with it." Khenbish gushed sweetly, winking.
"…Ken. If you don't shut up, I'll shoot you." Grimsby said his face bright red.
"Party pooper." Khenbish muttered, smiling darkly at Roland.
"Uh… Anyway," Roland swallowed, dragging his gaze away from Khenbish's, "What will we do in Asrun?"
"We're staging Khenbish's escape for one. All the criminals will think you helped him escape, and he'll take you to Asrun, to 'flee' from our 'pursuing' troops. Of course, we really won't be looking for you all that hard. There Khenbish will start reestablishing his title as Under Dog, er, if that's what you call it. He's got quite a little gang of followers he left behind when he came to prison ten years ago."
"Khenbish, you'd better not fuck this up." Theydon snarled. "Get the information and don't you dare turn sides on me, or there'll be hell to pay."
"Yea, yea. All you ever do is bitch, did you know that?" Khenbish replied, looking at Theydon like he was an ant he had pinned under a magnifying glass.
"So, where does that put me? Doesn't it seem a little suspicious that I appear out of seemingly nowhere, help out this underground leader, and escape with him? It'd be ok if I was a member of his 'gang', but I'm not." Roland said, glancing back at Khenbish who was shifting under his cuffs and ties.
"Well, if you had been more of what we were looking for, we were going to say you were his friend from the outlands, from before he came to Asrun. He has a few connections on the outside that don't associate themselves with the mainstream. But those men are battle-hardened, tough, manly men. No offense Roland."
"I see…" Roland seethed. Sometimes he wished he was a huge body builder, just sometimes.
"So… Theydon, what do you think? Will that fly in this case?"
"No. You tell them he's a frontier's man and they'll all know we rigged the whole thing and blow the two of them to high hell. Look at him, Herald, he's a pussy. It isn't a believable story. Anyone, even those idiots in Asrun, wouldn't buy it." The General looked stonily at Roland, not bothering to seem at least a little sorry about what he'd said. Stupid military man.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. Khenbish." Grimsby turned to the Asian, "Stop fooling around, you'll shock yourself, Ken."
"Whatever, mother." Khenbish said, pulling on a chain that bolted his tied legs down to the floor.
"Fine, don't listen, when you become barbeque don't come crying to me. Anyway, did you happen to have any slaves?" Grimsby saw Khenbish grin, "I know you had some money, and you were powerful. Did you have any?"
"Sure… but, they were all most definitely female." Khenbish let his gaze rake over Roland and smirked, "And I can't tell about that one. Her boobs don't seem to be there. I don't buy defects."
"Ha ha," Grimsby replied dryly, flipping through a folder Theydon had passed him, "So you did have some. Ok, well, where did you keep them? With you?"
"Fuck no. I put them in my pockets to be dead weight. What do you think I did with them? I left them at their whore-houses." Khenbish said, pulling on another chain. Roland thought he heard a crackle from the shackle on his wrist, "What do you think I am? Fucking stupid? Piss heads."
"Ok. Good, that means no one's ever really seen all your slaves. You were never one to show things off. Roland, you're Khenbish's slave, he left you with your "family", gave you orders to infiltrate the UEL. You became a soldier at Old Paris, worked your way to the UEL. You were then chosen to work at Grimsby's prison, Akeldama, and then staged Khenbish's escape. That's your story."
"…His slave." Roland repeated, unimpressed. He glared at Grimsby and Theydon, demanding another cover story. He wasn't anyone's slave, and he wasn't going to start.
"Get used to it, bitch." Khenbish chortled from his side of the table, abandoning his struggle with the chains.
"Well, Khenbish," General Theydon said, "I guess you're going to have to come up with a name for him."
"Hold on. How do I know he won't kill me? How do you know he isn't going to turn sides? You said it yourself; men like him aren't to be trusted. Criminals go to the side that promises power." Roland frowned when he saw Khenbish wink at him, "He'd probably kill me the minute you let him go."
"Oh, wouldn't I love to babe. Wouldn't I love to?" Khenbish purred, leaning on the table eagerly.
"You don't have to worry about that. We have something Ken wants, desperately. He also has five GPS devices, two shock stimulators that work much like tasers, and an electric discharger implanted inside of him. If that won't put him out of commission, I don't know what will." General Theydon grinned, a look of nostalgia coming over his scarred face, "It seems to have been effective so far."
"Laugh while you can fuckface." Khenbish grit, "One day you're not gonna have a damn remote, and I'll be the one laughing then."
"Well, then. Roland, you can either sit here and chat with our charming Khenbish, or you can go with General Theydon to, eh, get some personal preparations that don't concern our mutual little dove, Ken." Grimsby smiled gracefully; ignoring a wad of spit Khenbish sent flying his way, smoothing lifting himself from his chair, Grimsby started to gather all the files together.
"Just stand the hell up and come with me, boy." General Theydon snapped, throwing some files at Grimsby before abruptly standing up and making his way to the heavy titanium door. "Well, are you coming or am I gonna have to drag you the whole way?"
"Sir." Roland got up and nodded to Grimsby, who waved, and shot one last look back at Khenbish who was slouching in his seat, smiling devilishly at Roland. Then he turned and followed General Theydon out, into the slightly dimmer halls.