Cardinal Sins: Chapter 2
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 10 February 2006, 4:04 am
The remainder of the ride in the stolen car was an uncomfortable one. While reasonably assured these people did not have any intention to harm him, Michael Taylor was nonetheless apprehensive in the company of these apparently well trained killers who had yet to identify themselves. On top of this uneasiness was the heavy burden of the death of the man, which weighed heavily on his comrades' minds and robbed them of any interest they may have had in the man they had saved from the grip of the Militia. The leader of the group and the driver never turned around, and the older woman next to whom he sat stared steadfastly out the side window, save for the few wary glances she shot him at any small noise he made.
At length, Michael gave up any hope of an explanation from these people, and instead turned his attention to his own passenger window. They passed quickly down a wide avenue, home to a lower class commercial district. There were scattered groups of people heading home for the impending curfew, including a number of boisterous teenagers making their way loudly out of a closing cinema complex. They were laughing merrily, rejoicing this Friday night and clearly not making any effort to get home before the Militia would start harassing stragglers. They were intent on testing authority tonight, like it was all just some game. How could they be so blind? he thought incredulously. How can they not look to see just beyond the surface?
More striking to Michael than this blatant unwillingness to see the truth was how normal society seemed to be functioning amidst this terror and corruption. The flashing neon signs of the passing shops went dark one by one as the city settled for an early sleep; the rest reflected glaringly off the freshly fallen snow, bathing the street in fading glow. Students living in the cheap apartments above shut their curtains, anxious to get a fresh start in the morning. Couples walked hand in hand back to their homes, taking in the cold beauty of winter and finding happiness in their young love.
After bearing witness to the killings of four police officers and a man who had given his life to save him, such a scene was more terrifying in its potentialities than if he gazed on an oppressed police state of misery and defeat. Such conditions could never last; yet this! People content to live within their safe little bubbles, not questioning the sudden restriction of common freedoms out of fear for the perceived threat of violent revolution. It was an arrangement that could last much longer at least long enough to tear Vesta apart at the seams.
The last stretch of the silent ride passed quickly. The streets were by now abandoned, almost no one risking retribution for being out past the curfew. They drove presently in an uncomfortably dark industrial sector near the southern river, and as they sped past the empty, looming factories down the deserted streets, everyone in the car tensed visibly. Besides their conspicuousness, the eerie silence left them alone with thoughts they were trying to drive from their minds.
"Get us back quickly, Eric," the leader said to the driver nervously, breaking the silence for the first time since the ride had began.
"If I go any faster, I'll only attract their attention sooner," he responded brusquely.
Eventually the car made it to a sprawling warehouse that looked to be little different from all the other buildings in the area. Michael became slightly apprehensive as the car pulled into a pitch black garage around back where they were hidden from streets by a high brick wall.
"Where are we?" he asked, hoping his voice would not betray his worry.
"Don't worry," came the short reply from the darkness.
Michael heard the car's engine stop, and moments later bright lights lit up his surroundings and made his eyes water painfully. When he trusted himself to open them, he was shocked at the size of the room they were now in. It seemed to span most of the length of the building, though it seemed a wasted expanse, for only a few scattered boxes and a forklift occupied its wide open space. It had a lonely, disreputable air about it and did little to reassure him of the intentions of his new companions.
"Come on," the leader urged him as the three others got out of the car.
Deciding any refusal on his part would at this point be futile, he obeyed her command and followed her towards a platform near the side of the building. There he saw an elevator, and his hopes were raised slightly to be leaving this empty vastness where his footsteps echoed eerily and the smallest noise put his senses on edge.
"In the morning, get rid of the car," the leader said to the driver, hitting the button for the elevator.
"You got it," he said.
Studying the man for the first time, Michael realized with a slight shock that he recognized him. His name was Eric Edwards, a member of the much reduced Vesta Party and an outspoken human rights activist. It had been with particular passion that he had attacked the CIF in the recent elections, citing their abuse of power in their last administration and warning of a repeat of the same. Apparently, it had not been without cause.
Michael had never been quite sure what to make of him on his televised conferences or from his fiery speeches in the Vesta Council, and this uncertainty was only increased with this meeting. He was about his own size, though perhaps slightly shorter. In many ways he seemed ordinary, except for one, striking feature: his piercing, light grey eyes, which contrasted heavily with his black skin. It was a complex face; one he suspected harbored an equally complex agenda.
They stepped silently into the elevator, and were quickly taken to the top level of the low structure. It opened up into a narrow corridor along the length of which were a dozen offices and assorted rooms. They turned right and followed the hall into an open lounge which housed a number of plush leather couches, sleek wooden tables, and, to the side, a small kitchen with a fridge and stove. At the far end of the lounge was a large workstation which surrounded a single man with a myriad of computer monitors.
"We're back, David," the leader said bitterly to the man at the computer.
The man snapped around on his chair and hastened to remove a headset he had been wearing so he could approach them and see the newcomer. As he came nearer, Michael likewise studied him. Unlike the others he had already encountered, this man was clearly not a fighter. With short auburn hair and light blue eyes, he had the sort of face one knew had never seen action and never willingly would. His hands were soft, as was his stomach; out of place on this gentle man, however, was a long scar that ran the length of his face from below his right eye down to his jaw.
After this new man had finished examining Michael, he turned his attention to the rest of the group. After a moment, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Where's Sam?" he asked the leader.
"He didn't make it," she answered quickly in an even voice.
"Oh my God!" he exclaimed with genuine shock. "Really?"
No one bothered to affirm the terrible news for a second time. The older woman walked over to the kitchen to wash her hands of the man's blood that still covered them to their wrists. The leader, although in a similar condition, neglected this treatment; instead, she and Edwards rounded on him and regarded him with hostile eyes.
"Take a seat, Taylor," the leader said, gesturing to one of the couches.
After a moment's hesitation, he took a seat tentatively. The leader sat down on the couch opposite him and leaned forward in preparation for what she was going to say. Edwards remained standing, looming threateningly over Michael and staring at him with an unfriendly gaze.
At last, she began. "Taylor, you are probably wondering what the hell is going on here, and who the hell we are. After what you have seen
I can hardly blame you." She paused as he shifted uncomfortably at the forthcoming explanation. "Have you heard of an organization known as the PLC?"
Michael's eyebrows shot up at this, and looked around with renewed anxiety. "You people are with the People's Liberation Coalition?" he asked incredulously. He shook his head resolutely. "I'll have nothing to do with terrorists. You justify to the people the actions of the CIF!"
"Considering we just saved you from arrest and whatever the fuck else, you might try and actually listen to what she has to say," Edwards growled, glaring at him with contempt.
The woman, however, held up a restraining hand to him. "Michael, let me make something very clear to you. Right now, you have two choices, and only two: either you hear me out, and find out what is really going on, or you walk out that door." Her voice had lost much of its biting edge from before, and now simply contained a determined calmness.
Michael nodded his head slowly, slightly reassured by this reasonable speech. In any case, he doubted they would truly let him leave alive now that he had seen their hideout. "Alright," he conceded.
She continued, her voice remaining toneless. "For a man who has had the CIF breathing down his neck in his own Party for the past seven months, and who has seen what you have seen tonight, I am surprised you so blindly accept what the media has been reporting." His eyes narrowed at this, and he felt intrigued by her words and captured by her deep, dark eyes. "Yes, we are with the People's Liberation Coalition. But we are no terrorists, at least by no reasonable definition. We fight against the Colonial Independence Front, so that Vesta may once again be a free world."
"Fear of revolution and civil war has been distorted and exploited by the CIF," Edwards spoke up. "The damage they will cause with these extraordinary powers vested in them so unwittingly by the public may well become permanent if they are not stopped quickly. In any case, these 'political prisoners' they have taken so sweepingly in their illegal arrests is a gross misuse of authority, yet the public turns a blind eye towards it out of desperation to see the attacks end."
"Is it not your bombs that give reason for Martial Law?" Michael pressed.
"No," the leader said simply. "We do not know who are behind the bombings. Our 'crimes', though, are never reported on the news. Saving persons such as yourself from a warrantless arrest, information attacks on government strongholds, attempting to broadcast the truth this is what we do."
"Who is 'we', exactly?" he asked slowly, looking around at them.
Some of the others grumbled at this inquisitiveness, but the leader was quick to answer. "My name is Amy Bishop. This man is Eric Edwards. He is a member of the Vesta Party and is active in several advocacy groups."
"Indeed, I recognized him," Michael acknowledged, with a small nod towards the man.
"I have also seen you on the Council," he said gruffly.
"This is Jennifer Wright," Amy continued, gesturing to the older woman. "She was a police officer in Massilia PD, but left after facing persecution when the CIF entered office."
"Any relation to Steven Wright?" he asked.
"Sister," she said shortly. Her surly response was probably due to mistrust, though having never heard that the leader of the United Party was anything other than an only child probably also indicated bad blood between them.
"And this," Amy finished, nodding her head to the last man, "is David Hall. He runs
"Ran," Hall corrected.
"Ran," Amy amended patiently, "an IT research firm that worked in conjunction with Guadell University. He is a computer expert, and coordinates communications and logistics." She turned back to him once the introductions had been completed. "We are members of the Cardinal Cell."
"The Cardinal Cell?" he asked.
"The PLC is separated into many different cells," she explained. "This way if any one of us is caught, it will not jeopardize the identity of more than one or two other cells. We are an active cell; the only other cells we have contact with are primary cells, those which give the orders.
"Every active cell has five members: one for coordination, and four for jobs," she went on. She hardened herself before she continued. "We have lost one of our five tonight saving your life. I think it only fitting to ask you to be his replacement."
The others in the group looked shocked, and stared at their leader in surprise; none so much as Michael, however.
"Me?" he asked quizzically.
"You were indeed to be added to the ranks of another cell that needed a replacement member," she said, ignoring her comrades, "but given our situation, your presence with us seems more appropriate."
"I thought you were going to help me escape," he said. "I can't stay in Massilia! After what happened, there's going to be a citywide manhunt for me."
"No, there won't," Jennifer put in. "The CIF loves to report the bombings, so they can justify their imposition of Martial Law. But you'll notice the coverage is incremental, almost perfectly so. They want people to be scared, but they don't want to appear out of control either. They want to make it seem like Martial Law is a necessary evil."
"And since there was a bombing two days ago, the CIF wouldn't dare allow the killings of four Militia to be reported," Amy added. "Certainly the authorities may now recognize you but everyone here runs that same risk."
Michael put his hand to his forehead for a moment then ran his fingers through his hair. It was a lot to digest in such a short period of time.
"You've nowhere else to go, Michael," Amy urged. "You will never make it out of the city a free man, and likely not even a live man. You must want to fight back at the CIF. It is your responsibility to."
"I guess I don't have much of a choice," he concluded, meeting the depths of Amy's eyes. As they stared at each other for in that moment, he realized with a skip of his heart that he recognized both the name and the face of this stunning woman. She was the wife of Steven Wright. She had been active in her husband's campaign, participating in and organizing a number of fundraising activities, but had nevertheless been camera-shy and hesitant to give public speeches. As he was also low in the ranks of the Party, he had never met her personally, so he supposed it was reasonable he had not recognized her; nonetheless, he berated himself for not placing this beauty before.
"Good decision," Amy said, averting her eyes as she realized what he must have been thinking. "We have some offices with pullout couches here. I assume you're tired."
Any exhaustion he should have felt had evaporated with the revelations of the night and his sudden recruitment into an underground freedom fighting organization, but he sensed the invitation was actually a request for the four original members to discuss the night's events. "That sounds great," he said, getting slowly to his feet.
"I'll show you to your room, then," Amy said, and led him back down the narrow hallway.
They entered a small office near the end of the corridor. It was a cramped space with a cheap desk and a few filing cabinets pushed off to the side to make room for a couch that seemed to have been haphazardly dumped in the middle of the room. The windows were heavily curtained and the lights seemed dimmer than they should have been.
"The bathroom is across the hall," she said in parting, and made to leave.
"Amy Bishop," he called to her, as her back turned to him. She slowly turned around to face him once more. "You were the wife of Steven Wright?"
"I am," she said, subtly correcting him.
He seized upon this amendment. "What happened to him? If you don't mind my asking?"
"You knew my husband?" she asked him curiously.
"In passing, only, ma'am," he said. "He was the head of my Party and the leader of this Colony for some time. I saw him speak many times on the Council, and in many conventions. I took my place in the lower rungs of the Party, though, and spoke to him personally only a few times. He seemed like a fine man."
"He was. A fine man and a good leader." It seemed an odd way to describe one's loved one, and he began to think he may have overstepped his bounds in asking her. Eventually, however, she said, "The Militia came to my home, arrested him, beat him, and took him away. I don't know where he is."
"I'm very sorry, Ms. Bishop," he said awkwardly, though as he said it, a thought occurred to him. "Ah! The Cardinal Cell. I did not see it before."
What might have been the beginnings of a smirk crossed her face, though it did not stay long upon her lips. "I would not say the connection was unintentional, though it was not chosen for solely that purpose. I confess I did not share with you the whole story of this outfit." She paused to regard at him severely. "You see, we are a black ops cell. It is our duty to perform certain tasks which might
upset the morals of others. All in this cell must be prepared to accept the burden of cardinal sins."
This dark speech erased what humor he thought he had found in the name. "Respectfully, I am not sure I am the best pick for such an outfit," he said, lowering his gaze.
"I have read your file," she began.
"Then you know I am not," he shot vehemently.
"I disagree," she said simply.
"Get some rest, Michael," she ordered, turning once more to leave. "We'll talk more in the morning."
Closing the door behind her, she left. Michael listened to her footsteps fade down the hallway until she passed beyond his hearing. He then pulled the bed out from the couch and, after switching off the lights, settled down on the thin mattress to begin what he guessed would be an active night of tossing and turning. An irregular sleeper at the best of times, he had no hope for rest this eventful evening. And so he threw his arms behind his head and stared at the dark ceiling with eyes that had not the slightest inclination of closing, and prepared to contemplate all that had happened to him in the past few hours.
How the hell did I end up here?