Night had fallen upon the great city once more. With new shadows creeping across an empty land of dead grass and hollow trees, it sits alone in the dark world around it, connected to a system of motorways holding it in place, halting it from trying to run away. Along its twisting streets, all the shops have closed up for dawn and all the houses are locked tight, leaving open only the pubs, bars and buildings of specific services for the remaining conscious populace to crawl their ways into. Small rabbles of people stroll down the pavements now and then; either hurrying quickly or singing drunkenly as they meander down the city’s concrete rivers, heading somewhere: maybe home, maybe anywhere else. Any road and every road is packed with cars, vans, trucks and other four or two wheeled transport devices, except for the side roads, which are barren and abandoned like drained grey blood vessels. The main roads are clotted and blocked like the veins of a morbidly obese hippopotamus. At each street corner beggars and homeless people, sometimes with small ragged dogs, plead for sanctuary, unrelentingly desperate to live just one more day.
What made The City unique to any other city before it was that it had a motto, a specific way of life that you had to follow in order to survive. Work for life, or lose it. Like an ant’s nest inside a sinking ship, the city found a way to remove those who would not or could not work for it. What it did or how it did it was not important at all. Whether it was by vicious assault, old age, a fault heart or a fatal case of laziness, the city would cull you off if you were of no use to it. The people of the city lived by this mantra. Either you battled for life, or you lost it instantly. It did not matter if your lungs were still sucking air or if your heart was still pumping blood, if you could not supply then you could not sustain. It was a two-way system, the symbiosis of existence itself.
The city was a termite colony of sin. The days lasted twenty-four long hours, and it was a guarantee that at some point every minute someone was committing an unforgivable crime. Examples of such crimes would be murder, rape, theft, assault, fraud, arson, manslaughter, pissing in the street and, in some rare but serious cases, the attempt to annoy another person by pretending to be deaf. Police officers would not dare go out, especially at this hour. There was no point. Their presence would only rattle people up. 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 they chased. At least a criminal would have his way then be gone. A police officer would make his pain linger like a serrated knife, and then come back for seconds with a few friends.
In a place like this it is safe to say that not one person, neither man, woman, child or small furry household pet, had not committed a serious crime at some point in their life. If, by some unfathomable impossibility, they had not, then it did not matter, they would probably be blamed for one anyway. Taxes were at an all-time low, but then again so was the minimum wage. However, produce had reached a before unseen high, with the price of small, half inch chocolate pieces tripling in cost within a year and continuously rising. It eventually reached a point where no one on a budget of a few spare buttons and a shoelace could afford anything past a glass of water, which was now worth ten pounds a cup. In fact, the only people who had fat wallets were the lawyers, the aristocrats, the politicians and the drug dealers and pimps. In each case, all of them stole their money from some poor hapless soul. And they knew how to put that money to good use. For example, if some potbellied toff in a waistcoat, top hat and monocle found himself before a court of law he would only need to tap his pockets and he would walk out again a free man, no matter what he had done. He would then head off and drain the poor victim and their family dry of whatever he could find to compensate himself. These fat cat figures went on to control the city. They made its golden blood run through its concrete capillaries. They made its self-destructive antibodies work. They made its alcohol, tobacco and drug addictions thrive inside a paranoid and insane collective brain.
And there is nothing anyone can do. This is the way the city has always been. None knows a time before, so they know not how to change. None tries to stand for themselves, because they are lead to believe that they will always fall. So the rich continue to prosper, while the poor starve in their slums and hovels, barely able to raise their fingers to beg for food.
However, 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 would 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 do not 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.
Nevertheless, this ongoing change is in fact how our main characters and their plight enter the story. Upon the flat rooftops of the apartment buildings that make 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 who was not terribly well hidden but positioned in a place where no one would bother to spot him. Instead of a face, he has just a pace, sinister skull attached to a mask that hid his entire head under a draping black veil. A skeleton in leather getup. He pulled at 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 could be seen, not a hint of a man was visible underneath. 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. Well, not quietly. There was always sound, in the distance; like the rumble of vehicles, the squawk of car alarms, the gush of smog and the screams of random unfortunates. But to him it was a kingdom. It was his realm. His protection. While other men may place the laws and curfews, he enforced them, mainly because nobody else would bloody do it. This was his city. He was its real king...metaphorically speaking, of course. He was of no royal blood, and there had been no monarch in England for at least sixty years.
The man glanced 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, yet somehow with a hint of class. He sounded like a demon, a monster that no mortal should face for threat of being offered a cup of tea. Other than the gruff tone, he did not sound very menacing at first. But it is very easy to be deceived by first impressions. It mostly depended on what mood he was in when you bumped into him. Here was 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. With voice came an awful smell, which had somehow found a way to travel up the phone line and pass through the speakers.
“Mort.” Said the caller 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 call recipient could not see him at that point. He would not have needed to see him to know that, even if he did not already know him. “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 sounds he made into waving lines of audio.
“I got busy.” The skeletal man said. He turned his head. At the end of the road, he spotted a dainty old woman fiddling with her purse, and a shadowed mugger secretly following her. “I spotted another crook, out by Marion’s Street. A possible theft incident.”
“That’s a bad neighbourhood.” The man on the phone warned him.
The figure, Mort, chuckled quietly from behind his mask. “Child’s play.” He shook his head. “It won’t take me a minute.”
“Need I remind you that we have a candidate 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. The old woman had turned down a shadow street and out of sight, and the mugger was following, getting closer as he vanished into the dark.
“I’ll call you back.” He said.
“Mort, wait a sec!” The fat caller, Max, insisted. Mort waited.
“What?” He asked impatiently.
“Could you grab me some chips on the way back? No vinegar, thanks, that stuff tastes like pi...”
Mort ended the call and dropped the mobile phone back into his pocket. He shook his head with a slight chuckle. That was Max through and through. A big brain and a bigger stomach. A big everything in fact, but out of everything his belly was the biggest of all.
He took a quick glance 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, glowing like a fallen star into a murky underwater ravine. No doubt people were laughing and dancing and chatting away in there, drinking posh cocktails till their livers turned yellow and their two strong feet turned to microwaved jelly. Guards would almost certainly be patrolling the streets around it and the roofs above, watching for any passing rioters that may decide to pop by for a quick revolution. In a city such as this, an event like that would not surprise anyone. 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 were the muck off the streets. If you were to travel to the slum areas of the city, you would find the nicest, cleanest, most barren place ever on the planet. This is because everything there, including the buildings, the street filth, the wildlife 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 that was somehow humanoid and wearing a skull mask. He took a second to recover. He was not as young as he used to be. His ageing legs could not 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 quick sprint 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 evidently not his. He was clearly a man who was down on his luck and had dropped to the level of taking forcefully from others. Usually such an act was forgivable, and even understandable in most cases, but if he had decided to threaten, or even physically harm his victim then there was no power on earth that could save him from Mort’s wrath. Still, Mort had to be sure about what happened. He would play it the usual way he did. He would ask the questions and make the answers come out. He had ways of making them talk. Ways that involved his cane being struck against their derriere.
Mort walked up behind the man, who was so taken in by the contents of the purse that he failed to notice the skeletal figure approach. Mort looked at this pathetic excuse for a human, clenching his free hand into a 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 empty eye sockets. The thief continued to search desperately through his loot, unaware of the dooming omen that waited 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.
“Gyah! who… who ar’ you?” He exclaimed in surprise. Mort did not answer him.
The man was in a panicking mood. He drew a knife from his pockets, holding it out in his extended arm in some weak form of defence. Mort’s reaction was a blur of black. In barely a split second of 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, the clatter almost inaudible over the whoosh of the cane. The man stepped back in fear, surprised by how quickly the attack had come.
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. From one clear glance, it was obvious that the weapon was barely useful. It was more like a piece of lead pipe that had been thinned at the end rather than a real knife. Mort tutted sadly.
“A poor man’s blade.” He said, shaking his head. “Make 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.
“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 lies.
“Really?” He asked, questioningly. “Because by the looks of you, your sagging, drunken eyes, your ragged, battered clothes and your pale, heroine abused skin, I’d assume you were an abuser of illegal substances.” He tilted his head in the other direction. “Am I on the right lines here? 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 starting to get fidgety. He was likely to snap and attack at any second. “Tell ya wot. You jus’ lemme go, yeah, and I won’t ’ave ta smash ya skull in, roight?” He chuckled violently, grinning madly at his assailant.
Mort did not 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 a much sharper and more recognisable kitchen knife. But he gasped in surprise when he found his arm halted by the strong gripping wrist of his assailant.
Mort did not bother telling 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 a 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 did not even wipe it away.
“No good asshole!” The thief mumbled angrily. “Wot you goin’ after me for? I ain’t done much. Only stole some old woman’s purse. Is that such a crime?”
Mort glared at him. “No.” He said. There was a hint of sarcasm in his tone. His blackened eyes turned slightly to a dustbin at the side of the alley. He had 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. It did not take long for his old brain to put the puzzle pieces together. Mort turned slowly back to the thief, a low, deep, animal growl beginning to reverberate from within the mask. “But taking a life is!”
He dropped his cane. The thief yelled in painful surprise. Mort’s other arm had struck forwards and grabbed him by the throat, lifted him up and rammed him sharply into the wall. The thief grunted, whimpering like a petrified child. He had suddenly switched back to being afraid. Mort leered his skull into the man’s face menacingly. As the thief stared into the dark holes, he could have sworn he saw them turn deep red at the centre. Mort pushed the man’s head far into the wall. There was the sound of something begin 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 Mort would not let him go. An extreme, fearsome roar bellowed from under Mort’s mask, as if a demon had awoken inside of him.
“No!” He roared, his satanic voice ripping the flesh from his victim’s body. “You don’t deserve sympathy! Your kind never deserve sympathy! I could not gather an inch of sympathy for you if it took me twenty years to try! There are rabid dogs that have to be put down that I feel more sympathy for than you!”
The thief began to rain tears. Mort began to feel that he may have gone slightly too far. He growled cruelly, his voice returning to a slightly more human sounding pitch.
“I don’t have time for you!” He snarled. “I have other places to be!” He loosened his grip, letting the man drop to the floor. The mugger fell to his knees, coughing and groaning, tears sweltering on his grazed cheeks. “I’m giving you a second chance.” Mort 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. His work was done. He turned, and spotted his cane lying a few feet behind him. He walked over to it and reached a hand down to pick it up.
The mugger’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 a metre away from his assailant. While Mort was not looking he slowly reached his still usable arm out, attempting to grab the weapon. His grubby fingers wrapped around the handle like baby pythons around a twig. Slowly he pushed himself up onto his feet and readied the knife, preparing to stab the skeleton in the back of the skull. He crept forwards, knife raising up. The blade glistened dully in the moonlight. The faint drip of gutter water was the only sound. The thief clenched his teeth and brought the knife down.
And it was at this point that Mort turned around. His arm swinging out, the cane outstretched in his hand, leaving a rising arc of black behind him. There was the sound of slicing skin. The mugger 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 in disappointment. “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 mugger 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, and then someone answered.
“Max?” He said. “I’m done here. Has the applicant shown up yet?”
“Horace said 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 mugger, he left, leaving the cooling 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 applicant in this room, so if you wouldn’t mind kindly...”
“You misunderstand.” The man said, turning his head slightly. “That’s why I’m here too.”
Mort looked puzzled. Then he snapped his fingers 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, eyes narrowing.
Mort coughed. “Oh, nothing.” He said quickly. “I was just thinking aloud.”
He had assumed, because all his other applicants had been so, that Aiden Sampson would have been white. As it turned out, he was quite wrong. The man sitting before him now was, in Mort’s own personal dictionary of descriptive words, black. The politically correct term might have been African American, but Mort was not a politically correct man. His father had not raised him to be politically correct. He had raised him to be accurate and honest. Besides, in his mind, the term was incorrect. By his accent and his shape, the man before him clearly was not African and they were not in America, so it was inapplicable. 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 was wearing a thick, dark black leather jacket with long, cuffed sleeves and a waist that hung down around the thighs, and a pair of slightly tattered midnight blue jeans. His hands were hidden in gloves made from the same black leather. The mask, which was shaped like a gaunt, pale, dried-out skill, looked like it was fused to his face. The rest of his head was covered up entirely by a grey-black sheet that reached under his jacket. 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 raised a hand at his employer. “May I ask you a question first?” He asked. Mort nodded. He had nothing to hide. Aiden pointed at his own head and ran the finger down the side of his neck, all the while keeping his eyes on Mort. “What’s with this?” He asked
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 quietly, 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 over by a thick line of wallpaper and possibly a few bricks considering the weird bumps poking out. The floor was a weird carpet colour of pinkish cyan, with long tufts of ragged hair in random areas. It was as if someone had taken a large stray dog, dumped it in a vat of blue dye 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 were not 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 and pulled out one that was rather old and tattered. “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 ditch.” Aiden told him straight. “Along with the rest of my gang.”
“Oh.” Mort seemed embarrassed. “You have my condolences.”
“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 corrugated steel walls. I’ve had a few dreams of doing so, but I 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 aren’t around.” 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.
“Interesting that you give your condolences for me having dead gang members but not for having dead parents.” He said with a slight tone of spite.
“Don’t assume me to be apathetic…” Mort warned him, rubbing his masked nose with his pen tip. “I already said sorry once. Saying it twice would remove the effect.” 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. Therefore, I will repeat the question for you. How well do you work with others in a group?”
Aiden looked down at the desk. “Poorly.” He admitted. “I tend to scare others away. They don’t seem to like how I take the piss of 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 shall not 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? We 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 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.”
Aiden did not worry about the butler’s comment for much longer then a second. The questions from mort continued to come, and Aiden continued to answer them as best he could. They were questions about what his childhood was like, what his life aspirations were, what his perfect job situation would be, what he wanted to be as a child, to which Aiden had responded by saying he had wanted to be an Ichthyosaur. Unfortunately, he had never learned how to swim.
“Any hobbies?” Mort asked, after a long session of boring questions.
After Horace’s interruption, Aiden had mainly been responding with half hearted, slightly comical answers. Mort was getting sick of it. “Adultery, vigilantism, drinking, smoking and jogging.” He paused. “Oh, and watching shit daytime 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 Popophobia.” Aiden smiled cheekily.
Mort sighed, and attempted to0 ignore his poor attempt at a childishly dumb joke.
“Alright, my last question.” Mort told him. He leaned inward, hands on his desk. He seemed to be attempting intimidation, which, even under a mask of pale calcium, was evident simply through the way he moved. Aiden shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. Mort looked him up and down, his skull face practically a foot away. “Why did you come here to be hired by me?” He asked.
Aiden looked at the skeletal man and considered his response. This was clearly the most important question he needed to answer. If he got it wrong, he had the feeling he would find himself in a ditch somewhere outside the city with his liver missing... if he was lucky. Eventually he managed to think up something. It was a little cliché, but it fitted the job, and if he tried to come up with Shakespeare, he would only succeed in making Dickens.
“Because I want power.” He said after a rather long short pause. “I want to feel the strength and control that power gives a person. 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 really care if it’s with adoration or loathing. I don’t care if they love me or hate me. It’s not as if I have much control over that anyway. 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 the history books, but it was one that might at least inspire a small army of timid children to fight a squabble of slightly bothered swans.
Mort nodded slowly. “And what would I get out of hiring you?”
Aiden paused for a second. Then he gave his interviewer a slightly malicious smile “Shall we say a fifty percent cut of all earnings I make?” He told him simply. “And if that’s not acceptable… well I’m sure we can work something out.”
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, pushing the paper away and folding his fingers in-between each other. “I think I have enough information to make a decision.”
Aiden looked at the skeletal 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. It had been much easier than he had expected. He had expected physical fitness tests and urine tests for drug abuse. Maybe they were desperate for employees.
“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.
“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 employer.
“Are you referring to my skin colour?” He asked.
“Well, sort off...” Mort said, trying to dodge a sensitive subject. “I have no problem with the name myself.” He added quickly, putting 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. The stern expression on his face told Mort with only a simple glance that there’s was nothing on this godly earth that would persuade him to pick another name for himself.
“Your name is Nightfire.” Mort repeated, Sound a little exhausted. Interviews did not usually go like this. Most people did not try to be funny with him. He had to say he did not really approve of the name choice, but, then again, it was not 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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