The dream had always been the same. The forest, the shadowy figure, then his father waking him, the beginning of his training. Each detail memorized and reviewed, always the same. Until recently. The dream had started to change. Little things at first. An expression or phrasing of his father’s words askew, some piece of scenery out of place. All seemed to be clues to a puzzle that Joshua didn’t understand. Last night though he felt as if he’d had a break through. When he arrived at the training circle his father’s eyes were downcast, focused on the symbols surrounding him. When Joshua looked he saw the familiar shapes bend and change. Before his unconscious mind they shifted into the inverted 4-point star of the Vendot. As he continued to gaze, the lines began to fade until they left only a single ‘V’. The dream shattered early, leaving it unfulfilled, but Joshua knew that this was the clue he’d been searching for. The breadcrumb his father had left. Whatever it meant, the Vendot was the key, or at least the starting point. Finally he had something tangible to investigate.
He’d spent most of the day researching the Vendot. Their movements, habits and haunts. The files didn’t tell him much. The Vendot were a violent, chaotic group. There were plenty of reports on various murders, rapes and other vile acts worthy of only the most disturbing horror-core lyrics. Plenty of information, but no pattern. No discernable agenda or motive. Just a storm of destruction and death.
As Joshua sat in his office tower, watching the sun begin to set over the Las Vegas Strip, he knew he had to do what he had hoped to avoid. He pressed the button on the desk and heard the familiar ding of the intercom.
“Yes Mr. Williams.”
“Renee, set up a meeting with Allen Murrs please. This evening if possible.”
“Right away sir.” The intercom went silent as Renee most certainly went about her task.
Allen Murrs. Murrs was the first Adept Joshua had met when he left home for college. At first they were good friends. They shared an interest in deciphering patterns, solving life’s mysteries through observation. But as their acquaintance grew Joshua began to notice a streak in Murrs that shed doubt on their friendship. Philosophically they’d always had a different approach to their ability. Joshua preferred to decipher patterns as they came, dealing with moments as they happened, whereas Murrs liked to bet the odds on the future, following the pattern that most appealed to him. At first it was a harmless difference, but soon Murrs began following paths that had questionable outcomes. People getting pulled under in his tow. Eventually it became too much for Joshua’s conscience and the two stopped being friends. Unfortunately over the years they still managed to come into contact with each other from time to time. Each had skills the other had a need to call on now and again. This time it was Murrs’ turn. Because of his shady habits he also had a plethora of shady contacts. The kind of contacts that might be able to give him more insight into the Vendot. At least that’s what he hoped. If Murrs couldn’t help him, he wasn’t sure where to go next.
The intercom buzzed and Renee’s voice came over the static, “Sir, Mr. Murrs says he’s down the street and to tell you he was expecting your call. He’ll be here in 15 minutes.”
That was just like Murrs. Nearly nothing ever got by him. He always saw what was coming. “Thank you Renee. When he gets here send him right in, then you can cut out for the weekend.”
“Very well sir.”
Exactly 15 minutes later Allen Murrs walked into Joshua’s office, perfectly on time. As he came through the door he was turned, craning at Renee as she headed to the elevator to leave for the night, “Hey suga, don’t leave yet. After the meeting we cou--.” Murrs cut off as if on cue as the elevator doors closed. Chuckling he turned to Joshua, “I knew she wouldn’t go for it, but it’s fun to watch em squirm.” Already Joshua was regretting his decision.
“Have a seat. Want a drink?”
“Sure. Scotch and soda, easy on the soda.” Joshua walked over to his office bar as Murrs plopped down into a chair and put his feet up on Joshua’s desk. “So, what is it you need my expertise on this time?” Joshua had forgotten what it was like to be around Murrs. He oozed a slime ball attitude and his quasi gweedo persona was punctuated by his bright suits and pony tailed hair. Joshua pushed his feet off the desk as he handed him his drink.
“I need information on the Vendot.”
“No foreplay huh, just right to the meat of it.”
Joshua moved around the desk and sat in his own chair across from Murrs. “Can you help me?”
Murrs leaned forward, setting his drink on the desk, “Well that’s a difficult question to answer.”
For the second time Joshua was having second thoughts. Murrs was toying with him, baiting him to get information he could use. He sighed, gazing wearily at the other man, “Why?”
“Well, no one really knows anything about the Vendot except the Vendot, and they ain’t exactly holding seminars is they?”
“So we get a guy on the inside.” It still struck Joshua funny how easily the two could slip into a working relationship. He didn’t even question if Murrs would try to help. He knew he would. It was almost refreshing to be able to skip past the bullshit and get down to the business at hand. Almost, that is, if it wasn’t Allen Murrs who he found so easy to work with.
Murrs leaned back in his chair and almost chuckled, “Not fucking likely. This ain’t the boy scouts or hell, even the mob. It’s not like you can just paint up one of your Rose saints and send em in. Those crazies would sniff em out in a second.”
“Rose saints, huh? Cute.” As Joshua stifled a chuckle of his own his office door flew open.
“Speak of the devil,” Murrs didn’t even flinch. He always knew.
Fane came striding into the office with a worried expression and a file folder in his hand. Fane was Joshua’s top pupil. His intrusion wasn’t an interruption. He mostly had carte blanche when it came to matters under his watch and Joshua knew that if he was here it was important. He came to Joshua’s desk and slid the file to him. “We might have problem. New player in town.” Fane threw a disapproving glance at Murrs before turning his attention back to Joshua. “Guy named Agony. Has a nasty rep.”
“Holy shit. Agony’s here?” Murrs sounded shocked and even a little scared. Never a good sign.
“What? Why? Who’s Agony?” Joshua asked as he picked up the file and began scanning through it.
“Agony isn’t a who as much as he’s a force of nature,” answered Murrs. “He’s an anarchist. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word. Not like these pussy protesters you see at GOP conventions, but the real deal. Violent, destructive and don’t answer to nobody.”
“Sounds like you’ve had dealings with him before.” The disdain in Fane’s voice was thick enough to choke on. He did not like Murrs one bit, which stood to reason. Fane was a good person. One of the purest souls Joshua had come across. He could smell the taint on Murrs and he certainly didn’t hold back his distrust.
“No, not exactly, but I’ve heard stories.” The hatred from Murrs was just as palatable. The two held no love for each other.
Something clicked. Joshua did know the name. “Wait, is this the same Agony who toppled the government in that island country a few years back?”
“That’s the guy,” Fane this time. “And that’s just the tip. He’s been involved in countless revolutionary actions, though it’s tough to say which side he’s on once one wins. In a few incidents he’s gone right back and toppled the new leaders too. On top of his political resume he’s been involved in the downfall of several corporations as well. Where ever this guy goes, authority falls.” Fane had certainly done his homework. That was one of the many reasons why Joshua put so much trust in him.
As Joshua continued to study the file a pattern began to emerge. There. Right there. “He’s perfect.”
Murrs looked up from a thought he must have been having with shocked eyes, “Are you nuts? No way, no fucking way.”
“Wait, perfect for what?” Fane was looking back and forth between the two men now locked in a stare.
“We need information on the Vendot. The only way to get it is to get someone inside.”
“And you want to use this guy? Hell, I hate to agree with Allen, but are you crazy?”
Without taking his gaze from Murrs’ he slid the file back to Fane, “Look again. Tell me what you see.”
Fane picked up the file skeptically, but he was used to this kind of treatment from Joshua. He often didn’t point out the answers, but rather encouraged you to find them yourself. As he flipped through the practically memorized file he began to see it too. “The government. The one on the island. They were oppressive. Quality of life there has increased since Agony was there. It’s still not any place I’d go for vacation, but it’s better.”
“So what? What does that prove?” Murrs wasn’t liking this one bit.
Joshua’s eyes still held strong to Murrs, willing him to see the pattern, “What else?”
“Umm,” Fane continued to scan. There, “The Redreese Corporation. They tested deadly chemicals near a small village. Their collapse saved the village.” Murrs gave a disbelieving grunt to which Fane turned his attention to, “There’s more too. In every act he’s been involved in there’s been some positive outcome. Not always a great grand outcome, but this guy’s definitely done some good.” He slid the file to Murrs and turned to Joshua, “You’re right. He’s perfect.” The staring contest ended as Murrs picked up the file and Joshua looked to Fane approvingly. It was Murrs’ turn to look back and forth between them in confusion.
“You guys are nuts. Even if I agree that he could do it, there’s no way you’ll get him too. You represent authority in your pretty little executive office. He wouldn’t give you the time of day.”
“True. We’ll have to find someone he will listen to.” He turned back to Murrs with a look that nearly made the man flinch. He’d seen the look before. It was the look that said ‘I know you know a way.’
“You’re not gonna budge on this are you?”
“No, no I’m not.”
“Fine," he sighed, "I might know a guy. I still think you’re crazy, but if anyone can do it, it’s him.” Murrs gave another half chuckle, “Though I don’t know you’ll have much luck getting his help either. He’s not much better then Agony when it comes to authority.” He looked at his watch and stood, “Well we better get going if we want to catch him before he gets too busy.”
“People call him Slo.” Murrs gave a contemplative look, “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him call himself anything.” He shrugged, continuing, “He runs the Fight Club down at the Dead Zone. Ex-Military or some shit.”
“Why do they call him Slo?”
“Oh no, I won’t ruin all my fun tonight. You’re just gonna have to see for yourself.” The grin that populated Murrs’ face nearly gave Joshua pause. There was something in this for him now. Something Joshua hadn’t seen. But it didn’t matter. If Murrs thought this Slo character could get Agony on their team then he had to try. The dreams assured him of that much.
The Dead Zone was the number one hang out for Adepts in Las Vegas. And not just Adepts. Norms frequented the place too. A difficult balancing act to be sure, but they managed. On a cool November Friday night, it was sure to be packed. As they pulled into the parking lot, a large crowd had already gathered.
“Hope we’re not too late. If the fights have started he won’t talk to us.” Murrs pulled his beat up Cutlass into the closest spot he could find, nearly 50 yards away from the doors. They’d taken his car to avoid looking too ‘richy’ as Murrs put it. Joshua had even dressed down, though he still emitted an air of authority no matter what he wore.
The club had been built in what was once a supermarket in an abandoned plaza. Even with the Dead Zone’s success, the surrounding area had not benefited. A stone’s throw from their parking spot looked like a dying slum careening toward becoming a ghost town. Homeless, addicts and derelict destitute dominated the wasteland, milling about around burnt out trashcans and sleeping in cardboard domiciles. It dawned on Joshua that the Dead Zone had impacted the area after all. The unwashed forgotten had increased quite a bit, flourishing off of the cast off life force of the shimmering masses next door.
As they got closer to the doors, Joshua noticed a change. The people loitering in the waste were no longer the typical cast off refugees you’d expect to see. No, these people looked, well, normal. They all meandered in the same way, crouched similarly to their less fortunate companions further back, but they all looked like regular people, as if they came here after a long day at work or school.
Joshua stopped, studying the strange crowd, “Who are those people?” Fane stopped too. He noticed the change as well.
Murrs stopped a few paces ahead and looked to where Joshua was motioning. “Oh them? No one knows really. They just started showing up a few weeks ago. They don’t bother anyone. Keep to themselves mostly.”
That didn’t make sense. What was driving them? Why here? Then a terrible pattern began to form in front of Joshua. There and there again. The same on all of them. “It’s the Vendot.”
“What? No way. Not their MO. It’s just some crazy cult or something, like those carnival kids.” Murrs turned to start walking again dismissively, but Joshua and Fane held.
“No, look closer. They’re marked.”
Fane stretched his vision, tried to see the way Joshua had taught him. To see the patterns. There it was. He saw it too. They were marked. Sure enough on all of the strange company somewhere there was a single ‘V’. All were different; some in a tattoo or shirt logo or other marking that formed the shape of a ‘v’, but still, each one had it. “I see it. Shit, I see it too.”
Joshua turned to his protégé, “Check it out. See if they’ll talk and if they know anything.” Fane nodded and headed immediately to his quarry. He didn’t expect him to discover much. Not because he didn’t have faith in Fane, but because he could feel the shroud surrounding the pattern. The ‘V’s were definitely the clue, but already he knew the direct approach wouldn’t work. “Come on Murrs, lets go meet your guy.” Joshua continued for the door, but Murrs hesitated a moment, watching Fane meld into the confounding crowd.
Inside the Dead Zone was like another world. The division of the space was genius as far as Joshua was concerned. Immediately upon entering you were thrown into an open concert area, large and open, but on nights like this it was packed. Many bands, mostly of the underground variety, played the venue. It was the only one of it’s kind since the Huntridge was condemned. Tonight the crowd was filled with the painted faces of the dominant horror-core crew; the carnival kids as Murrs had called them. Joshua looked over at Murrs who was grinning back at him. Just like Murrs. The devastating rattle and hum of the rap duo on stage dominated the crowd’s attention as Joshua took in the scene.
Directly to the right was a less chaotic concession area with tables and a bar, though all were filled now. Further from the doors, off to the left beyond the hall floor, stretching half the far wall was an arcade/pool hall. There things looked much quieter, the game area being somewhat secluded from the rest of the club, mainly due to what neighbored it. The other half of the left wing was their destination; a separate room with a full sized wrestling ring complete with bleacher stands. The sight of Slo’s Adept Fight Club. The entrance was clamoring with people, but no one was getting in. Good, it hadn’t started yet.
Joshua and Murrs made their way easily through the moshing crowd. Most of them were Norms. The Adepts were the clamoring masses outside the fight sight. Joshua recognized a few faces, but Murrs seemed to know everyone, though not everyone seemed happy about it. Others did though, and the pair managed to reach the front of the line with only a few groans from those waiting. Murrs strode to the bouncer, “Hey Jimmie, boss around?”
Jimmie didn’t seem happy to see Murrs, “No way, man. I already told you we don’t fix fights here, now get lost.” Jimmie stood revealing the massive bulk of him, well hidden when seated. Murrs didn’t seem concerned, but the line wasn’t so sure. As one they backed away giving the trio plenty of room.
“Calm down, calm down. It ain’t about that. My friend here has a job opportunity right up his alley.” Murrs gave the man what Joshua could only describe as an underworld wink.
Jimmie shifted his gaze to Joshua, measuring him. After what was certainly a thorough stare down, his demeanor softened, or as much as mountain is able to. “Okay, fine. I’ll tell him.” The big man shifted back at Murrs, “But if you try and pull some shit…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. He simply became menacing. The line crowd moved back again, but Murrs still seemed unaffected. Joshua too wasn’t moved by the threat, but then it wasn’t directed at him. He wasn’t so sure his nerves would hold if that look were for him. Jimmie disappeared into the arena, and emerged again shortly later. “He’ll see you. Go on in.” The mass moved away from the door, glaring at Murrs as he passed.
Inside was empty except for a kid who seemed to be working on some sort of projector mounted above the ring. He took mild notice as the two walked toward the back where the locker rooms and office were. Before reaching the open office door, Murrs stopped, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Joshua just looked at the man. “Fine, fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The office they entered was dark but rather plain. The rectangular room stretched along blank walls to a large desk and two simple chairs for the guests. On the other side of the desk sat a man who had the look of someone waiting, yet at the same time like someone who could wait forever if necessary. Oceans of patience ebbed and flowed around him. Joshua understood the moniker ‘Slo’ now.
“Have a seat gentleman.” His voice too held a reserve, and you knew it would sound the same even if the building was burning down around him. “Murrs. Wish I could say it was good to see you, but didn’t I ban you from the fights?”
Murrs hesitated slightly as he sat, looking almost nervously at Slo. Nervous? Murrs was never nervous. Interesting. “I apologize for that,” Joshua interceded. “I asked him to bring me. Told him rather.” Murrs paled a bit beside Joshua, but he let him take the lead, sulking down to a hunch. “I need your help with something.”
Slo’s eyes slid slowly to Joshua. Again he felt the draw of those eyes spread empty for eternity, infinitely calm. “Go ahead.”
“What do you know about the Vendot?”
“Enough to know I don’t want to know.” Slo leaned back in his chair, elbows propped on the arms, fingers arched together.
“What if I made it worth your while to know?”
Slo laughed, abrupt yet measured, “And how would you do that? It’s not like you can pay me off. Money’s not really a marketable asset to us you know.”
“Have you noticed the new vagrants outside the club?”
“Yea. So?” Slo crossed his arms and sighed as if bored.
“What if I told you the Vendot was connected to them?”
“Is that true?”
“Yes. I believe so.”
He thought about it, Joshua could see the wheels turning, weighing the impact of a Vendot infestation this close to his business. He sighed again, this time in appeasement. “Then I’d say it’s worth my while. What’s your plan?”
“The Vendot are secretive. Very secretive. We need to get someone inside.”
Murrs rolled his eyes and scoffed. Slo considered the idea briefly, “Makes sense, but why come to me. I mean I’m not enemies with the Vendot, but I’m not exactly friends either.”
Joshua manifested the file on Agony and handed it to Slo, “You’re not the someone I had in mind.”
Slo opened the file and scanned through, “Agony? Yea, I heard he was in town. You think he’d go for it?”
“He fits the profile. I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t already scouting him.”
Slo set the file down on the desk and went back to his finger prayer position, “Okay, but do you think he’ll go for it?”
“He’ll go for it, but you have to sell it. Think you can handle that?”
“Wait, you’re not really considering this?” Murrs blurted, no longer able to keep silent.
Ignoring the outburst Slo said, “Ya, I can do it.”
Murrs burst out of his chair. “This is bullshit. You’re both crazy. Did you look at the file? What makes you think you can control this guy.”
Joshua heard the ominous click of a gun hammer being pulled back as Murrs felt a barrel press against the back of his head. A shadowy figure that was Slo but not Slo stood behind him while he still sat in his chair. “What makes you think you can control me?” Murrs hadn’t seen it coming. Shock played plainly across his face. This guy was good, real good.