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Cardinal Sins: Chapter 1
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 3 February 2006, 4:22 am

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       Michael Taylor regarded his empty suitcase with an empty gaze. He struggled to focus his mind, but it raced far ahead of his actions. Taking his suitcase from the closet and laying it on his bed had been an impulsive move; he did not yet know exactly what he meant to do. It would soon be curfew, after all. Yet he could not stay.

       He should have seen it earlier. No, he had; fear and weakness had simply frightened him into inaction. It had begun at the top, with the disappearance of the United Party leader, Steven Wright, followed by the resignation of most of the senior officials. Replacements had been elected shortly thereafter, though the results did not correspond with the vote of himself nor any of his closest colleagues. The newly appointed leader of the Party, Douglas Adams, was a largely unknown young man from the country who had only joined s few years prior. His victory was, to say the least, suspicious. To Michael, however, it was terrifying.

       From that day on, he had tried to keep a low profile. He had not commented on the lack of media coverage of this tumultuous political shakeup which mentioned only offhandedly that the United Party had elected a new leader. He had looked the other way as many of his comrades, some close friends, had "resigned" and dropped completely from contact. He had even remained silent when many high ranking Colonial Independence Front members took their place in the upper echelons of the Party, ostensibly defecting, but in reality monitoring those who were left. Attending the Vesta Council was an experience now rife with fear.

       He had not been quite sure what to do. Leaving had frequently crossed his mind; certainly, it was not out of steadfast dedication that he stayed. The same fear that had driven him to complacency had compelled him to stay, for in quitting the United Party he would stray beyond the watchful eyes of the CIF, and thus become a potential threat to them. So he remained, unable to act, yet too scared to leave.

       Any hope that this miserable yet seemingly safe arrangement could endure was shattered earlier that day, when he was approached by Senator William Baker, one of the newcomers from the CIF. He had asked, in a deliberate, roundabout way, what he thought of the new leadership of the Party and whether or not he had any intention of leaving. In retrospect, the question itself probably heralded his arrest, or at least suspicion. His biting answer, borne of a foolish moment of principle, served merely to accelerate the events he sensed were already in motion. They were coming for him.

       In a sudden flurry of action, he grabbed an armful of clothes from the nearest drawer and threw them into his suitcase haphazardly. He leapt about his diminutive house, grabbing necessities with little regard, his mind concentrated solely on getting away as quickly as possible. If he had any luck, he could get out of the city and get a ticket off the planet at a remote port before they put an APB on him.

       As he zipped up his suitcase, the dull sound of a heavy fist on the front door nearly stopped his heart. He snapped his head over to the curtained windows, which now glowed red and blue at rapid intervals from a source outside. His hands began to shake uncontrollably and a cold shiver ran across his skin. It was the militia.

       He walked down the stairs in the manner of a man walking to his own execution. His mind raced for a way out, some alternative to these inexorable steps to his own end, but he could see none. Of course any escape was hopeless; they would have covered the few exits his tiny home had, and in any case could track him easily from here on out in any attempt he made. He had nothing of any value with which to bribe the officers and even if he did, he doubted they would accept. His stomach clenched painfully with the horrible realization that there was no way out; he wondered only the extent of what was going to happen to him.

       Peering out of the one-way glass, he saw two militia officers on his front landing, standing lazily on either side of his door away from the window. One of them leaned over to knock again. "Michael Taylor, we know you're inside," the man said in a voice loud enough to be heard within. "Please open the door, sir."

       Looking around wildly, his eyes were drawn to a tall china cabinet, the top of which held a shotgun he had purchased years ago for an emergency and had never even thought of since. It was entirely possible that walking through that door meant walking to his death, and the thought of dealing a blow to his oppressors before he met his end flashed quickly and violently through his frantic mind.

       "Mr. Taylor, open the door now or we will use force," the officer cautioned strongly.

       It could no longer be reasonably ignored. With a short prayer on his lips, Michael reached a trembling hand to the brass door handle and opened the heavy oak door.

       "Are you Michael Taylor?" the officer asked once he revealed himself.

       "Yes," he responded in a voice that did not crack despite himself.

       The officer made a hand signal to his right, whereupon a third policeman emerged from an alleyway adjacent to the house. "Are you alone, sir?" the man asked.

       "Yes," he repeated tersely.

       He needn't have asked, for the man said to his two comrades, "Jeff, you secure upstairs, Jake, take downstairs. Tell Li to remain out back." The two men entered the house, brushing blithely past Michael and proceeding with a rough investigation of his residence.

       The lead officer turned back to Michael. "Turn around and place both hands on the wall, please," he commanded.

       "May I ask what I'm being charged with?" he asked defiantly.

       The officer smirked dangerously, evidently tired of this particular line of questioning. "You're not being charged with anything," he said shortly. "Now, listen Mr. Taylor. This is going to happen one way or the other; it's up to you how it goes down."

       They stared at each other for a moment in mutual loathing, Michael's bred of fear, the officer's bred of contempt. Of course any insolence in his position was pointless and self-destructive, but he had the cornered man's impulse to rebel against a threat that was all the more potent because it was as yet unknown. He regarded the man as rage pounded in his veins. Michael was strong and fit, and had been in the military years ago, but the officer stood a head taller than him and wore a thick bulletproof vest that only accentuated a formidable bulk. In any case, the militia, who were the police special-forces, were well trained and kept at a level of expertise he had long ago lost. His shoulders slumped in acquiescence.

       The officer, who had tensed for an attack, now seized his target by the shoulder and shoved him roughly against the wall. Gripping his wrists painfully, he put the restraints on him then led him outside to sit on the edge of the porch, leaving him to contemplate his situation in abject misery.

       It was January, and it felt like it. The dead trees that lined the lonely street were weighed down with heavy white snow, and likewise lined the roofs of the other sorry looking houses along the stretch. A harsh wind blew from the northern mountains, loosening the odd snowflake from its resting place and twisting the dark clouds above into turmoil. The desolate scene had a cold sort of beauty, though to Michael, who had not been permitted to bring his coat, it was simply bitter.

       At length, the two men searching the house and the officer out back came around to the front. One of them shook his head slightly, which seemed to be enough for the leader to move out. He hauled Michael to his feet by his armpits and led him to a police van parked on the street in front of the house.

       They had only made it halfway down the walkway when the man leading Michael seemed to crumple under his own weight, taking him down as well as he fell to the ground. Now prostrate the frozen lawn, the wind knocked out of him and his hands tied behind his back, he rolled to face the fallen officer and recoiled in surprise as he saw a gaping wound in the man's forehead that colored the fresh snow a deep red. He tried to crawl away behind the nearest cover but not before he saw a second officer drop, his head snapping back from the impact of a high caliber bullet.

       Michael made it to a low brick wall at the front of his property and lay against it. He saw another of his captors make his way towards the wall as well but not before he took two shots to the chest; these he shrugged off like a bear, however, by virtue of his bulletproof vest. Crouching behind the wall, the officer drew his pistol and screamed at him, "Stay the fuck down!" He then brought down his communications piece and radioed frantically for backup while he primed his gun. Looking to his left, he saw that the fourth officer was now dead, sprawled face down in a snow bank after an unsuccessful dash for cover.

       With a heart-stopping suddenness, an ear splitting report that nearly deafened him pierced the night air. Looking over to the surviving officer, he saw the brick wall behind which he had sought cover had disintegrated, evidently from a powerful shotgun blast, leaving the man a torn and bloody mess.

       Michael instinctively curled up in a ball, trying to stay as close to the base of the wall as possible. He heard a pair of footsteps crunching noisily in the snow on the far side of his scant cover. Unsure whether the shooters were friend or foe, it was with considerable trepidation that he lifted his head to gaze upon his liberators who announced his presence loudly on his discovery.

       There were two figures looming over him, one heavyset and the other quite slim. They were both clad in dark clothing and had black ski masks concealing their faces, a feature which rarely portended good. This image was not particularly helped by the silenced pistols they both pointed threateningly at him.

       "We found Taylor!" the larger person said in a deep, masculine voice.

       "Secure him!" came the reply from somewhere nearby, this time a female voice. "And bring him over here quickly. They're gonna be all over us in a second."

       The large man and his smaller comrade dragged Michael to his feet and hauled him bodily over to a black van that had just pulled up behind the police vehicle. Another mysterious black clad figure crouched in the back of the van and helped the still restrained Michael into the vehicle.

       "What the hell is going on?" he asked who he presumed to be the leader once he was settled on a small ledge.

       The lithe figure who had assisted him into the back ignored him, instead ordering her subordinates to hurry up and return to the van. "Come on," she urged to the large man, who began to close the rear doors.

       A series of loud gunshots interrupted his work, and the man suddenly collapsed as a bullet struck his neck, washing the open van door with blood.

       "Jesus Christ!" the woman exclaimed in shock. "Sam!"

       Peering out the back, Michael saw the officer who had been hit with the shotgun blast had survived and was firing shots blindly towards his attackers in his final moments of life. The smaller figure who had been with the man sprinted over to the wounded officer, vaulted over the shattered remnants of the wall, and emptied her pistol into him with a ferocity that could be felt with burning intensity.

       "Jennifer!" the woman still with Michael shouted. "Get back!"

       Perhaps remembering their situation, the dark figure pulled herself from her vicious retribution and ran back to the van. The leader also exited the vehicle, jumping out to inspect the wounded man who was writhing in silent agony on the freezing asphalt.

       "Get him into the back," she ordered the other woman.

       "We've got to move, now!" the male driver at the front shouted back. The crackle of police frequency radio could be heard distinctly by Michael as he watched with growing perplexity this horrific scene. "A military patrol is en route."

       The two women managed with some difficulty to lift the massive, bleeding man into the back as Michael continued to gaze on helplessly. The man gripped his neck with both hands as blood gurgled hideously from his mouth and poured from his wound.

       "Go, go, go!" the leader screamed at the driver, and he took off with a loud screech of the wheels. She then examined the wounded man, her head shaking almost imperceptibly. "Take his ski mask off," she ordered the other woman as she reached for a small black box near the front. From it, she took a tube of bio-foam and some bandages.

       "We've got company," the driver yelled back, his voice strained with concentration.

       The leader steadfastly ignored him, concentrating instead on her grim task. Once the man's mask had been pulled down, it revealed a face contorted with agony and covered in blood. His eyes bulged, showing both his pain and his bewildered fear; in their glassy depths lay the horrid realization that his life was slipping rapidly through his fingers. So hideous was this twisted visage of what might have been a handsome face that Michael had to look away. Even the seemingly stoic leader hesitated upon seeing it, the supplies she had so hastily procured gripped uselessly in her limp hand.

       "Amy!" her companion urged, snapping her from her trance.

       Shaking her head determinedly, the woman continued. "Prep an IV," she ordered. Twisting the cap off the bio-foam container, she attempted to administer it to the wound to seal it and prevent further blood loss. Unfortunately, with a strength given him by his own formidable physique and by desperate instinct, his own hands were clamped firmly over the injury in a vice-like grip. She wrenched at his fingers, but between his pain and confusion, he refused to give.

       "Sam," she whispered to him, the cold authority of her voice evaporating with this heartbreaking plea. Blood continued to seep through his hands. "Sam, let go. Please."

       As she said this, the vehicle made a particularly sharp turn, causing all inside to lurch sickeningly. "For Christ's sake, keep the van steady, Eric!" the second woman yelled to the front.

       "I can't!" he screamed back.

       Muttering curses, she helped her leader and together they were able to pry the man's hands from his profusely bleeding neck, revealing a gaping hole that bled with renewed vigor. "Hold his arm down," the leader said quietly to the other woman, and she pressed the tube to his neck, releasing the bio-foam into the wound. In the unsteady van, however, the procedure was less than surgical, and the foam sprayed messily over his neck. Shuddering as the foam seeped into his wound and expanded, Michael winced and felt bile rise in his throat as he imagined the searing pain this must have induced.

       "You got that IV?" the leader asked her comrade, and she nodded, pulling out the pouch and attaching it to the man's arm as best she could under the circumstances.

       "How we doing, Eric?" the woman called, still intent on her work.

       "I think we're good; I don't know," was the driver's vague response.

       No sooner had the IV been administered before the man seemed to tense and start shaking, slow at first but with growing intensity.

       "He's going into shock," the leader realized. After only a moment's hesitation, she ripped off her dark jacket furiously and ordered her companion to do the same. "Cover him, quickly!"

       In the freezing interior of the van, the two jackets did little to allay the effects of blood loss on the man. His convulsions became more potent, twisting and shaking violently and frothing at the mouth between tightly clamped teeth. These spasms ripped edges of the poorly sealed wound and tore the newly placed bio-foam, releasing a fresh torrent of blood.

       "Fuck," the leader murmured in a broken voice, spraying more bio-foam uselessly into the wound. "Do we have any epinephrine?"

       The other woman shook her head slowly, and it was clear even to Michael that it was not in response to the leader's request. They stared at each other for a moment through the slits in their masks, agreement spoken without words. Seemingly resigned, the leader grasped the dying man's trembling hand and held it tightly, laying her other hand gently on his chest. There she remained, holding his agonized gaze as his convulsions slowed and his breathing became short and ragged. As he drew in his final, pained gasp of air, she mouthed, "I'm sorry." With this, his eyes glazed over, and his final breath escaped his bloodied lips.

       With the man's passing, a silence fell over the van, its occupants respecting the solemnity of the horrific death. The leader seemed particularly affected, hitting the back of her head against the side of the van and muttering something under her breath. Even Michael, who was as yet unsure of whether he was in the presence of saviors or captors, did not break the somber mood with the multitude of questions that swam in his stunned mind.

       Not another word was spoken until the vehicle, with a final lurch, came to a stop in a parking lot behind a seedy looking restaurant. Without so much as a glance towards him, the three enigmatic black clothed figures exited the van. The male driver immediately approached a nearby red car, the side window of which he smashed with the handle of his pistol. The two women, meanwhile, secured the area, looking carefully around for any militia or passing civilians, leaving Michael to sit alone in the back of the van, hands still restrained behind his back.

       At length, the two women returned to the vehicle as the man successfully started up the red car. "Get the bolt cutters," the leader ordered her companion.

       Michael's stomach twisted at this, and he looked sharply at the unidentified woman. "Wait," he began pleadingly.

       "Relax," she said condescendingly. She seemed to have hardened herself once more from the vulnerability she had shown when she had attended to her dying comrade. "Unless you want to keep those cuffs on."

       "Right," he said, and clambered out of the vehicle with as much grace as his condition allowed, slipping at the end on the blood that now dripped from the rear edge. The other woman retrieved the bolt cutters and cut the chain, returning mobility to his arms which he put to use immediately by stretching his aching shoulders.

       As he did this, the two women took off their masks, and as he gazed curiously at the revealed face of the leader, his heart skipped a beat; for he looked at that moment upon the most beautiful face he had ever beheld. A golden tan colored the delicate contours of her face, feminine yet strong features that stole the breath from his lungs. This was framed with raven black hair that, although disheveled from the frantic attempts at saving her companion, flowed gracefully down to her shoulders.

       "We should get moving," the other woman suggested. Turning, he saw that she was much older than her leader, though still quite comely. She had short brown hair and a rough yet attractive face that exuded an air of confidence and hardness.

       "Load up," the leader instructed the other woman, who promptly turned to run to the stolen red car. She then turned to Michael. "After you," she said coldly.

       His curiosity at who his seeming liberators were being somewhat satisfied, Michael now could no longer contain his pressing questions. "Who the hell are you people?" he asked.

       She continued to ignore him, instead grabbing his arm and leading him forcibly towards the car. Having had enough of this reticence, he broke from her grasp and repeated his question more forcefully.

       Turning to face him, she revealed an unnatural anger etched on her profoundly beautiful face. "I'll tell you what, Michael," she said in a low, dangerous voice. "I'll give you three seconds before we leave you here to explain what happened to those militia back at your house."

       Michael's blood boiled at this inescapable threat that had been forced on him unwillingly, but conceded to follow her. "And what of that man back there?" he asked, gesturing towards the van.

       She twisted around to gaze into his eyes, her own sparkling with fury. "What the fuck do you care?" she spat, stopping him in his tracks with her withering glare. She paused, staring at him coldly for a few moments before saying quietly, "You didn't even know him."

       With this bitter remonstration, she packed the dark clothing she had removed and her weapon into the trunk of the car, then entered the front with a deliberately loud slam of the door. Michael, with equally bitter reluctance, climbed into the back.