This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Night had fallen upon the great city once more. All the shops had closed up till dawn and all the houses were locked tight, leaving open only the bars, super markets and buildings of specific services. Small groups of people walked through the streets now and then, either hurrying quickly or singing drunkenly as they meandered down the city’s concrete rivers, trying to make their way home. The main roads were packed with cars and lorries and other four or two wheeled transport devices, while the side roads were barren and abandoned like drained grey blood vessels. On each street beggars and homeless people, sometimes with small ragged dogs, pleaded for sanctuary, desperate to live just one more day.
That was the motto the city lived by. That was what kept it alive. You either battled for life, or you lost it instantly. It didn’t matter if your lungs were still breathing or if your heart was still beating, if you gave up on life it would give up on you too. It was a two way system, the symbiosis of existence itself. The city was an ant’s nest of sin. At any point during the twenty-four hour day there was someone being robbed, someone being beaten, someone being raped or someone being murdered brutally in one of many million thin alleyways. Policemen didn’t dare go out at this hour. There was no point. Their presence would only rattle people up more. Of course some cops went out at this time because of this. Once upon a time they had been a symbol of protection and safety, the men that the people could rely on. The men of the city. Now they were just extra trouble. Some cops were even worse than the crooks. At least a criminal would have his way then be gone. A policeman would make his pain linger like a serrated knife, and then come back for seconds with a few friends.
Corruption, manipulation and self-destruction were the bread and butter people lived by. Innocence was a facade. There wasn’t one man, woman, child or animal that hadn’t sinned something serious at least once. No one was innocent of crime. Only the lawyers got paid well, but this is because they have a lot of cases. They know for a fact that everyone is guilty till proven slightly less guilty, and they know how to use that to their advantage. However there are certain cases that they won’t stick their grave digging claws into. If someone of high authoritative power or of a vastly wealthy position came into court to be judged they would more often then not find themselves being compensated for the ‘mistake’, having just stolen more money from their hapless victim. These fat cat figures went on to control the city. They made its golden blood run through its concrete veins, they made its destructive antibodies work, they made its alcohol, tobacco and drug addictions thrive inside a paranoid and insane hive mind. And there is nothing anyone can do. That is the way the city has always been. None know a time before, so they know not how to change. None try to stand for themselves, because they are lead to believe that they will always fall. And so the rich continue to prosper, while the poor starve in their slums and hovels, barely able to raise their fingers to bed for food.
But, on this night, things were going to start changing. Things had been trying to change for a while now, since the city began as a small bunch of shacks on a grass plain, but this time, this time things would really start changing. Who would be causing these changes? No one really knew that answer. Most people assumed it would be themselves. How would things change? No one knew that either. It’d probably happen over the course of time with a replacement of ideals, like how most changes happened. Would these changes be for the better? Most people hoped so, but hope is a rare thing in this city and most don’t keep it for very long. It seems to pass from house to house like when a primary school gives the kids the school hamster to take care of for a week. Odds are someone will end up killing it by accident.
But this ongoing change is in fact how our main characters and their plight are introduced to the story. Upon the flat rooftops of the apartment buildings that made up the outer west region of the city a figure stands, his feet pointing over the edge of the rooftop. His black leather jacket, gloves and boots kept him hidden in the dim light, like an assassin hidden where no one would bother to spot him. His whole head was covered by a skull mask, an image of fear in itself that let his friends know he meant business, and his enemies know he meant pain. He pulled up the strap of his glove, flexing his fingers and adjusting his grip. Not a single part of his body was visible under the leather clothing and mask. Not an inch of skin, not a hint of a man was seen wearing it. As far as anyone could tell he was a skeleton in a jacket and jeans and nothing more. He held a thin but posh walking cane in his right hand, swinging it slightly in the air as he stood at the edge of the rooftops. The handle was made of polished beech wood and was as light and agile as a rapier. And as he looked out across the night he saw the city slumber quietly. It was his realm, his protection. While others may place the laws and curfews, it was he who enforced them, mainly because nobody else would bloody do it. This was his city. He was it’s real king...metaphorically speaking, of course. He was of no royal blood as far as he knew.
As the night slept on the man looked downwards. He could feel a great vibration in his trousers. He reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out a simple, old, cheap and replaceable mobile phone. With barely a finger movement he switched it on and pressed the answer button, moving the speaker up to where his left ear would have been under his mask.
“Hello?” He asked simply. His voice came through gruff and fierce. He sounded like a demon, a monster that no man should face for threat of their own demise. He was a physical devil in a city of sins. A man who watched the streets with no human soul to hold him back. On the other end he heard someone ruffle and move around. The result was crackling static through the receiver. Then a voice came through, clear as day yet as faint and intangible as common air.
“Mort.” The voice said in a flabby and aging yet also rather angrily intelligent tone. It was clear that the man on the other end was a fat slob of a form, even if the figure he had called couldn’t see him at that point. He wouldn’t have needed to see him to know that, even if he didn’t already know who he was. “Where the hell are you?” The man on the other end demanded urgently. The figure nodded slowly as the signal flickered and wavered, distorting the words he spoke into waving lines of audio.
“I got busy.” The skeletal man said. “I spotted another crook, out by Marion’s Street. Possible theft incident.”
“That’s a bad neighbourhood.” The man on he phone warned him.
The figure, Mort, chuckled quietly under his mask. “Child’s play.” He shook his head. “It won’t take me a minute.”
“Need I remind you that we have an interviewee arriving any minute now?” The man on the other end spoke up, sounding relatively fed up. “You were supposed to be here half an hour ago to sort that out.”
“Yeah, things happened, Max.” Mort told the phone.
He turned his head to the east. The smell of the rotting gutters caught in his nose. The blinding inhumanity of this country was beauty to his experienced, intelligent, ruthless eyes.
“I’ll call you back.” He said suddenly.
“Mort, wait a sec!” The fat man, Max, exclaimed through the speaker. Mort waited.
"What?" He asked impatiently.
"Could you grab me some chips on the way back? No vinegar, thanks, that stuff tastes..." Max asked.
Mort ended the call and dropped the mobile phone back into his pocket, shaking his head. That was Max through and through. A big brain and a bigger stomach.
He looked back out over the rooftops. In the distance he could see the lights of the rich flashing up to the sky. At their centre the prime minister’s home glowed like a fallen star into a murky underwater ravine. No doubt people were laughing and dancing and chatting away in there, drinking till their stomachs could take no more drink and until they were too inane to stand on two strong feet. Guards would be patrolling the streets around it and the roofs above, watching for any passing rioters that may decide to pop by. In a city such as this an event like that wouldn’t surprise most people. And just down the road the parliamentary buildings and the churches were closing up to sleep silent, safe in the knowledge that their god had long abandoned them and knowing in their darkest hearts that they really did deserve it. Meanwhile the poor starved in their homes, hoping someone would just lend them a crumb of anything, even if it was the muck off their streets. If you were to travel to the slum areas of the city you would find the nicest, cleanest, barrenest place ever on the planet. This is because everything there, including the buildings, the muck on the street, the stray animals and even the occupants, have been eaten due to relentless starvation.
Mort rubbed his aching wrist with his free hand, looking out to the city he owned. Then, with a swift tern of his heels, he ran off, free running across the rooftop and jumping down a flight of fire stairs. He leapt over the edge and landed feet first in the side alley, recoiling from the fall and recovering like a black cat at midnight that was somehow humanoid and wearing a skull mask. He took a second to recover. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. His ageing legs couldn't make jumps like that anymore. Then he was off, running out of the alley and down the street, heading for his target with haste and alertness.
He reached Marion’s Street after a minute of sprinting and spotting his target. At the far end of the third dark alleyway a man was kneeling, wearing a ragged beatnik hoodie and looking through a leathery pink purse. The purse was not his by the way. He was clearly a man who was down on his luck and had dropped to the level of taking forcefully from others. Usually he may be forgiven for such an act, but the fact he possibly held a knife to the ladies throat made his act indefensible. Still, he had to be sure that’s what happened. He would play it the usual way he did. he would ask the questions and make the answers come out.
Mort walked up towards the man, who was so taken in by the contents of the purse that he failed to notice he was there until it was past too late. Mort looked at this pathetic excuse for a human, clenching his free gloved fist. He slowly stepped towards the thieving figure, raising his cane and tapping the handle viciously on his opened palm. He stopped behind the figure, looking down his spine through the black glaring holes of his skull eye sockets. The thief continued to search desperately through his loot, unaware of the dooming omen that stood patiently behind him. Mort tapped his foot lightly on the wet street. The light splash of the past rainfall that now resigned in a small puddle finally caught the ear of the criminal. He turned and saw the tall skull wearing man standing there behind him, holding a long and posh black walking cane in both hands. He stood up quickly and stumbled backwards, pulling the purse away from the new figure. He exclaimed in surprise.
“Gyah! who… who ar’ you?” He said. Mort didn’t answer him. The man was in a panicking mood. He withdrew a knife from his pockets, holding it out in his extended arm, pointing it in some form of defence. Mort’s reaction was a blur of black. With barely a split second of reaction time his cane came swinging down on the man’s wrist, striking fast and vicious. There was a painful cracking sound. The knife dropped to the floor, barely making a clatter over the swoosh of the cane. The man stepped back in sudden fear, surprised by how quickly the attack had come. He hadn’t even seen his arm move. Mort looked at the hunk of blunt metal that the man had been holding. It rolled on its rounded sides on the wet gutter floor. It was barely eligible to be called a dangerous weapon. It was more like a piece of lead pipe that had been thinned at the end to look like a knife. The skull masked figure tutted sadly.
“A poor man’s blade.” He said, shaking his head. “Made it yourself?” He made a slight adjustment of his hand location. The cane reappeared at the edge of the thief’s throat. The man backed away, holding his arms up weakly against what was basically a thick wood and metal stick… with a razor sharp metal tip that had suddenly popped out from the end. The man backed up into the wall. There was nowhere else for him to go. The skull man was in front of him.
“N-now, mista.” He muttered nervously. “I-I wasn’t aimin’ ta hurt nobody. I was just… just tryin’ta get some money, ya know. My family’s starvin’.” Mort tilted his head, not falling for the man’s obvious fibbing.
“Really?” He asked, questioningly. “Because by the look of you, your sagging drunken eyes and your pale cocaine covered skin, I’d assume you were an abuser of illegal substances.” He tilted his head a little. “Am I on the right lines there? Or the white lines maybe?” The thief looked at his attacker, his eyes flickering around paranoid in the dark.
“Heh. You’ve a sharp eye, mista.” The druggy thief muttered, flicking his fingers a little. He was clearly getting fidgety. He was likely to snap and attack at any second. “Tell ya what. You just let me go, yeah, and I won’t have ta smash yer skull in, roight.” He chuckled violently, grinning madly at his assailant. Mort didn’t laugh in return. He simply shook his head.
“I don’t think that’s how this is going to play out.” He told him straight.
That was when the man lashed out. His arm came swinging upwards, wielding another much sharper and more recognisable kitchen knife. But he gasped in surprise when he found his arm being stopped by the strong gripping wrist of his assailant. Mort didn’t even bother to tell him off this time. He snapped his wrist like a frail twig. The man screamed in immense pain as his hand fell limp and useless. His knife dropped onto the concrete, clattering inoffensively at their feet. Mort kicked it away into an inoffensive corner. “Pathetic.” He muttered. “Street scum. I expected a better fight from someone like you.” The thief spat on Mort’s mask. Mort did not recoil. He didn’t even wipe it away.
“No good asshole!” The thief mumbled angrilly. “What you going’ after me for? I ain’t done much. Only stole some old ladies purse. Is that such a crime?” Mort glared at him.
“No.” He said, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. His blackened eyes turned slightly to a dustbin at the side of the alley. He’d noticed it as he walked in. Something was holding the lid up. Upon closer inspection Mort spotted that whatever was keeping it open was wearing an old bloodied dress and pink high heels. There was an additional smell on top of the rotting garbage. The faint but distinct whiff of cologne. Mort turned slowly back to the thief. “But taking a life is! He stated, growling deeply. He dropped his cane. The thief suddenly exclaimed. Mort’s other arm had struck forwards and grabbed the thief by the throat, lifting him up and ramming him painfully into the wall. The thief grunted, whimpering like a petrified child. He’d suddenly switched back to acting afraid. Mort leered his skull into the man’s face menacingly. As the thief stared into the mans eyeholes he could have sworn he saw them turn deep red at the centre. Mort pushed the man’s head far into the wall, and it began to crack slightly. A thin line of blood trickled down the brick wall.
“Please!” The man begged desperately. “Please! No more!” No more! Please!” He struggled with his barely usable arms, trying to break Mort’s grip, but the man wouldn’t let him go. A low and fearsome raw bellowed from under Mort’s mask, screaming like a death metal singer into the criminal’s face.
“No!” He roared, his satanic voice ripping the flesh from his prey’s body. His tone only left a skeleton behind it. “You don’t deserve sympathy! People like you never deserve sympathy!” The thief began to rain tears. Mort growled cruelly, his voice returning to a slightly more human sounding pitch. “I don’t have time for you!” He said angrily. “I have other places to be!” He loosened his grip, letting the man drop to the floor. He fell on his knees, coughing and groaning, tears sweltering on his grazed cheeks. “I’m giving you a second chance.” He warned. “If you’re smart you’ll stay out of trouble from now on.”
The thief said nothing but looked up at him with fear in his eyes. Mort sighed, believing that his work was done. he turned, kneeling downwards to pick up his cane as he did so. The thief’s eyes fell upon his makeshift knife, which Mort seemed to have forgotten about, lying only a few feet away from him in the gutter just next his assailant. While Mort wasn’t looking he slowly reached his still usable arm out to pick it up. His grubby fingers wrapped around the handle. Slowly he pushed himself up onto his feet and readied the knife, preparing to stab the man in the back. He crept forwards, knife raising up. The blade glistened in the moonlight. The faint drip of gutter water was the only background sound. The thief clenched his teeth and brought the knife down.
And it was at this point that Mort turned again. He turned in an arc, his arm swinging out, the cane outstretched in his hand. There was the sound of slicing skin. The thief gasped suddenly. He clutched his throat, the knife again dropping from his hands, this time with specks of blood on its handle. The red liquid trickled through the gaps of his fingers. Mort shook his head.
“Though clearly you are not a smart man.” He tutted. “But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, who is?” He lowered his arm again. The cane fell neatly back into place. A sharp blade tip could be seen poking out from the end of the handle, a secret weapon for dealing with sneaky opponents. The thief collapsed, the life drained from his face. Blood poured out onto the streets, left a small red puddle under him and then ran away down the gutter. Mort turned to leave. The mobile phone reappeared in his free hand. It rang shortly, then Mort spoke.
“Max?” He said. “I’m done here. Has the guy shown up yet?”
“He’s just arrived.” The frazzled voice of Max told him from the other end of the call. “You might want to hurry if you don’t want him to walk out.”
“I’ll be there in five minutes.” Mort told him. A second later he switched the phone off, placing it back in his pocket. With a final glance at the thief he left, leaving the throat slit corpse and the purse behind in the empty alleyway.
Mort opened the simple thin metal and paper door, stepped through the creaking doorway and into the room that he called his interview office, only to find a young man wearing a grey hoodie was sitting at the opposite side of his desk with his back to him. The hood was up over his head and his elbows were resting impatiently on the wooden surface.
“Oh.” He said with surprise. “How did you get in here?”
“I was let in.” The hooded man explained simply, not turning at all to greet the man behind him.
“By who?” Mort asked.
“By your butler, I believe he was.” The man told him.
“Ah.” Mort muttered. “Well, if you don’t mind, I have a meeting with an interviewee in this room, so if you wouldn’t mind kindly...”
“You misunderstand.” The man said, turning his head slightly. “I’m the interviewee.”
Mort looked puzzled. Then he snapped his finger in realisation.
“Oh!” He exclaimed. “You’re Aiden, then?”
“Yes.” The man said. “Aiden Sampson. You requested a meeting with me at this time one week ago. I think you said something about a free lunch.”
Mort nodded. “Yes, I did, didn’t I. Well, it’s good that your here. You’ve come to accept my offer then.”
“Indeed.” The man named Aiden said.
“Excellent.” Mort strolled around the table towards his own official office seat and sat in it, wriggling himself into a comfortable position and sitting straight with the posture of a man who had taken many a lesson in manners. He placed his wrists on the table and look at the man in front of him. He was certainly not what he’d been expecting. “You’re a...” Mort tried to say, pointing a finger subtly at Aiden’s skin.
“A what?” Aiden asked probingly. Mort coughed.
“Oh nothing.” He said quickly. “I was just thinking aloud.”He had assumed that the man would be white, like the rest of his interviewees had been, but, as it turned out, he was quite wrong. The man sitting before him now was, in his own personal dictionary of descriptive words, black. The politically correct term would have been African American, but Mort was not a politically correct man. His father hadn’t raised him as one. Besides, in his mind, the term was incorrect. By his accent and his shape the man before him clearly wasn’t African and they weren’t in America, so it made no sense. Fortunately Mort was smart enough to keep these words in his head. Aiden looked at the man trying to hire him through his thick shadowing hood. His eyes were not too visible but clearly he was looking him over, making his own personal judgement.
Mort sat straight in his seat. “So, you are here now.” He spoke with sudden joy. “Excellent. My name is unimportant right now, but my friends call me Mort.”
“Why do they call you that?” Aiden asked. Mort looked at him.
“Many reasons.” He said bluntly. “Now, let’s get down to the interview.”
Aiden looked at Mort. He was an odd fellow clearly, and he could tell that by simply looking at his clothing choices. Mort had changed in between his little mission and heading to the interview. Now he was wearing a tight black suit and trousers with a white shirt underneath and a thin bow tie and black suede shoes. He was still wearing the same skull mask, which looked like it had been fused to his face.The rest of his head was covered up entirely by a grey-black sheet that reached under his shirt. His neck was slightly visible however, or at least the bandages around it were. From the joints of his jaw to bellow the collar of his shirt, there were tight rows of thick but flexible bandages running up and around his skin, covering any of it from sight.
Aiden looked at his employer. “May I ask you a question first?” He asked. Mort nodded. He had nothing to hide. “What’s with this?” Aiden pointed at his own head and ran the finger down the side of his neck, all the while keeping his eyes on Mort.
Mort quickly realised what he was saying. “You mean the bandages?” He asked. Aiden nodded slightly. Mort turned his chair around and drank the coffee that had been placed on the desk. Aiden wasn’t too sure how he did it with the mask still on. When he’d finished it he turned back around and answered the question. “A fire.” He said simply. “Some teenage pricks set my house alight several years ago.” He rolled up his gloved sleeve to reveal more bandages all down his arm. “Third degree burns all over my body.” He explained. “That’s what comes from living in a lower class district.” He muttered.
“So that’s what the mask is for?” Aiden asked.
“A medical idea.” He told him. “Coated with a southing cream to keep my skin moist. It helps sooth the pain.”
Aiden sat in his seat calmly, so far not impressed but also not unimpressed by what Mort had told him. He found himself looking around the room, not out of boredom but out of curiosity. The walls were barely thicker then cardboard. Their white coating of rotting paint was dribbling like saliva from the corners and roof. There were no windows, which was interesting. There was an outline where the window used to be, but it had been covered by a thick line of wallpaper and possibly a few bricks considering the weird bumps poking out from it. The floor was a weird carpet colour of pinkish cyan, with long tufts of ragged hair in random areas. It was like someone had taken a large stray dog, dyed it in a wool dyeing factory and turned it into a very stretched out rug. There were massive holes of nothing in-between large sections of the carpet. The desk had obvious dents in it and the seats weren’t much better. The small roof fan made an irritating buzzing hum and the light flickered every ten seconds. It really was a slum of an office, but what had he expected in this city.
“But enough questions about me.” Mort said suddenly. Aiden snapped back to the present.
“Huh?” He asked.
“I said we’ve talked enough about me.” Mort repeated himself. “I want to know you. Tell me a bit about yourself.” He gestured a hand. “Do you have any grades? Any achievements maybe?” Aiden laughed at him.
“I wish.” He muttered. “Where I was growing up only the Chinese kids got good grades, and that’s because their parents whipped them when they didn’t. My guardian should have done that.”
“Okay.” Mort crossed off a box on a piece of noted paper that had the word ‘educated’ written beside it. “Have you ever held a job before?” He asked.
“Not many, to be honest.” Aiden said bitterly. “Most people wouldn’t hire me, and the few who did were slum-hole workers.” He then went off on a tangent. “You won’t believe how many dank pits I’ve been in and how many alleyway salt sellers and life snatchers I’ve bumped into.” Mort seemed intrigued.
“But you never got into that stuff?” He asked.
Aiden shook his head. “No, but I’ve often been tempted. I’ve seen many people fall down that slope. I told myself I wouldn’t be one of them.”
“Good, because the last thing I’m dealing with is an addict.” Mort told him bluntly. “We already have a bodybuilder and a scotsman, we don’t need more trouble.” He moved the papers around. “It says on your, uh... your CV that you were part of a street gang.” He continued. He read the note made with it. “The ‘Back-Alley Bruisers’ it says here. Is this true?” Aiden nodded. “It also says your nickname was ‘Shit-Lobbing Xenophobe’.” Mort leaned on his shoulders. “Did you choose that name yourself?” He asked. Slowly Aiden shook his head.
“No." He said. "My mate Binky did.”
Mort nodded. “Ah. And where’s this Binky now?” He asked.
“Lying face down in a hole.” Aiden told him straight. “Along with the rest of my gang.”
“Don’t trouble yourself.” Aiden told him. “They were all dickheads anyway, riding down the railroad of life at full speed towards an inevitable train wreck. They deserve no pity from you.”
Mort coughed. “Moving on.” He said sharply. He flipped the paper over. “So where did you grow up?” He asked, continuing his interview. “Did you grow up in the city, or did you move here later in life.” Aiden twitched his mouth.
“Nah, I’m a city dwelled.” He admitted. “Never stepped out past the steel walls. I’ve had many a dream of doing so, but never went ahead with it.” Mort nodded.
“Okay.” He slashed a box reading 'adventurous' once with his pen. “So you have no ambition to leave?” He asked.
“No, not really.”
“Right.” Mort crossed the box off properly. “What about the relationship you had with your parents?” He asked. “And don’t be afraid to be honest.” Aiden looked at him suspiciously.
“Why do you need to know that kind of info?” He asked.
“It’s all speculation.” Mort told him simply. “I just need to know if you’re bringing any baggage. So you don’t weigh us down, you know.”
“My parents are dead.” Aiden told him. Mort looked up.
“How long for?” He asked.
“Since I was born.” Aiden told him.
“Then you’re an orphan?” Mort realised, sounding a little too excited to get that information. Aiden looked at his employer.
“You catch up quick.” He said. “For a toff.”
“You don’t go throwing foul words at me, son…” Mort told him, rubbing his masked nose with his pen tip. “And I won’t go throwing them back.” He quickly realised that the pen scratching was failing to cure his itch as it was only scratching the mask that covered it. He placed it back on the paper again. “What about girlfriends? Do you have a partner, or anyone relating to that role in your life?”
Aiden tugged at his hoodie chest. “Do I look like the kind of guy who gets on well with girls?” He asked. Mort looked at the man.
“I wouldn't know.” He said, playing safe. “I suppose you don’t. Alright, just a few more questions for you.” He told him. “How well do you work in teams?” He asked. Aiden thought about his answer. “And be truthful.” Mort added. “I can live with assholes, drunks and vigilantes, I can even live with vegans, but I won’t deal with liars. So, I’ll repeat the question for you. How well do you work with others in a group?” Aiden looked down at the desk.
“Poorly.” He told him. “I tend to scare others away. They seem to not like how I joke with them.”
“I imagine not” Mort chuckled. “A lone Wolf? Well we already have a lot of them, but that’s still good. Not everyone has to work in a team. We do need our scouts and our watchers.” He tapped the desk. “Now, any hob…” He was stopped suddenly by an elderly man in a black butler suit opening the door and stepped into the room.
“Sorry to interrupt you, sir.” He announced with a posh nasal voice. “Will you be dealing with our visitor much longer. It’s just that Mr. Vincent is getting impatient to talk with you, sir.” Mort waved a hand at the elderly man.
“Oh, I shan’t be much longer, Horace. Just go out and tell him to wait a little longer, would you.” He instructed.
“Of course, sir.” Horace nodded. “Would you like me to warn the cleaner, sir?” He asked before he left.
“Oh no.” Mort spoke up quickly.
“It’s just in case it goes south again, sir… like last week. I was thinking that if it did then you’d want…”
“It won’t go south.” Mort told him. “After all, we’re on the south side of the river, aren’t we? It can't go much further south from here.”
“Very witty, sir.” Horace opened the door again and stepped through to the other side.
“Do not disturb us again, Horace.” Mort called after him.
“No, sir.” Horace closed the door behind him. It closed shut with a faint click of the lock. A slight grumpy mutter could be heard as it closed. Mort tutted.
“The dear fool.” Mort said. “He’s a little senile now, poor old sod.” Aiden looked at the skull wearing man.
“What was he on about, cleaning?” He asked. Mort shrugged.
“Don't know. He must be a bit confused.” He said, evidently lying. “Don’t worry about him. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Any hobbies?”
Aiden took a second to refigure the conversation in his head. “Adultery, vigilantism, drinking, smoking and jogging.” He paused. “Oh, and watching shit TV.”
Mort nodded, taking down notes. “Any Phobias?” He asked.
“I don’t like pop music.”
“That’s not a phobia.” Mort told him.
“It is.” Aiden argued. “My doctor told me about it. I think he called it Boybandophobia.” Aiden smiled cheekily. Mort ignored his poor attempt at a childishly dumb joke.
“Alright, my last question.” Mort told him. He leaned in on his desk, pushing his chest forward with his hands. His intimidation was clear in the way he sat, even if his face was a blank and pale calcium-made canvas. In fact it was that canvas that made him seem more intimidating then he should be. Aiden shuffled in his seat. Mort looked him up and down. “Why did you come here to be hired by me?” He asked.
Aiden looked at the suited man and thought up his best response. This was clearly the most important question he needed to answer. If he got it wrong he had the feeling he’d find himself in a ditch somewhere outside the city with his liver missing... if he was lucky. Eventually he managed to think up something.
“Because I want power.” He said after a rather long short pause. “I want to feel the strength and control that power gives one. I want to be able to both protect people and profit from them. I want heroism and I want wealth. I want people to call my name, I don’t care if it’s with adoration or loathing. I don’t care if they love me or hate me. I want that power. I want the control I could never be given otherwise. And I know you’re the only man who can give me that.” It wasn't a speech that would go down in history, but it was one that its listener would remember for at least the next few hours.
Mort listened patiently. Then, when Aiden had finished, he said. “And what would I get out of hiring you?”
Aiden gave him a slightly malicious smile “You would get another day to live.” He told him simply.
Mort liked that response. He nodded approvingly. Even with the mask over his face it was clear he was impressed. He sat back, tapping the paper together on the desk.
“Alright.” He said, leaning back and pushing the paper away. “I think I have enough information.” Aiden looked at the suited figure.
“And what’s your decision?” He asked, sounding untroubled but also slightly inquisitive. Mort held his answer for a few seconds, chewing audibly on his lip behind a wall of white and black plastic. When he finally did speak again he spoke loudly and thoroughly.
“Son, you’re hired.” He told him.
Aiden smiled to himself. He had reached his short term goal with ease.
“Thank you, sir.” He said, bowing his head with a smile.
“You’re welcome.” Mort said. He leaned in on his elbows, clamping his hands together thoughtfully and leaning his head in on a right angle tilt. “Now, there is only the question of what name you wish to be known by?” Aiden looked at him blankly.
“Name?” He repeated questioningly.
“Your Title.” Mort explained. “Everyone working for me here has a title that they go buy. It allows us to know exactly who we’re talking to and I believe it gives us a little bit of ranking decorum. Plus it makes us sound cool.” He tapped the desk. “So what do you want us to call you?” Aiden thought for a while. Ideas and names tumbled around inside his skull like a lottery roll machine. Eventually one half formed and probably chewed-on ball of titles rolled out of the opening and ran down the glass ramp, eventually stopping at the drop leading out of the mouth. A single word was written on it.
“Nightfire.” He told his new employer. Mort looked at him.
“Nightfire?” He asked.
“Yes.” Aiden told him. “Nightfire.”
Mort rubbed his chin. “That’s, uh…” He muttered. “That’s an interesting name choice.” He looked the man up and down. “And what, uh… what made you choose that, uh… that name?”
“Because I like fire.” Aiden said simply. “And I live in the night. So, Nightfire.”
“Oh.” Mort said, glancing the dark coloured pyromaniac up and down. “Because, you see, some people may see that as, uh, a bit of an, um… a… slight… comment on your, uh…” Aiden looked at the apparently white skinned business man.
“Are you suggesting my skin colour?” He asked.
“No, no, of course not.” Mort said quickly, trying to dodge a sensitive subject. “I have no problem with the name myself.” He put his hands back flat on the table. “It’s just that some members of the city populous may believe that name to be a, for lack of a better word, racist term, and if they thought that then who knows what they might…”
“My name is Nightfire.” Aiden told him simply, gritting his teeth and extending the name like the blade of a dagger to Mort’s throat. He gave the skull masked man a stern stare through the eye holes.
“Your name is Nightfire.” He repeated, calming a little and accepting the choice. He had to say he didn’t really approve of it, but, then again, it wasn’t his choice. “Very well.” He reached out a hand. “Welcome aboard, Aiden Sampson.” They shook hands across the table. “Welcome to the Anti-Heroes.”
To Be Continued...
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