Roaring cigarettes burned low in the Synergy bar. A dim orange glow seemed to envelop the room in a seductive lethargy: drunkards drank and slept and drooled; robotic musicians played the working-man’s daily dirge, slow jazz; men in suits dozed as the moonshine wine they swished around in crystal glasses left them, ostensibly, for handsomer, richer mouths— wash-ups like them could only taste fine, sophisticated liquors for so long before they were forced to fall back onto the trashier, yet more loyal mistress of beer.
In the center of the room, in unremarkable chairs, around an unremarkable table, sat two men: one was fat, grease-haired, well-dressed and altogether sleazy but deceptively so; the other was young, blonde-haired, with a naïve, studious physiognomy, cloaked in a blue arbiter’s uniform. Droplets of sweat rolled down the latter’s forehead, his flawless cheeks. He would have been popular with the women in town had he possessed a more amiable disposition… and had he possessed a penis. Arbiters were eunuchs, after all.
The suit finished a glass of caramel brandy with gusto and slammed it onto the table with conspicuous zeal. He let out a contrived, “Har!” so as to let the other skin-sacks and wastes-of-flesh see that he was like them: contentedly plastered.
“You’re being too showy!” the arbiter stuttered, hushing is voice with every word, as he glanced nervously side-to-side around the bar.
“Friend, you’re being too nervous! People will only get more suspicious if you don’t look too drunk to sit up straight. So here you go, down another one, then we’ll talk,” the suit said, smiling, as he extended a glass filled to the brim of recently poured caramel brandy.
The arbiter winced, squinted, and shook his head from side to side, as if to dispel the looming, ever-watching spirit of his angelic, dead mother, or perhaps, his employer’s floating nano-cameras.
“But that is stupid paranoia! I know better, George Washington damn it. I’m not a fool; trust in myself! Trust in my planning, my care! No one in the company knows of this bar. No one knows I’m here. No one even knows where I’m staying; I forged the travel documents so. Just one swig, and I’ll satiate this gelatinous rat-bag…”
Interrupting the arbiter’s train of thought, the suit thrust his hand forward, forcing the glass into the former’s mouth. The arbiter took a few strained gulps, and then began to choke at the burning liquid as it corroded his throat and dripped like acid rain into his tender stomach. The suit flashed a look of satisfaction, and sat back down, leaving the arbiter to gasp for air and look around the table for a chaser: to no avail.
“And now, to business!” the suit chortled, ecstatically.
“Keep your voice down!” the arbiter strained.
Ignoring his cries, the suit continued. “Tell me about the newcomer.”
The arbiter shook off the effect the liquor was beginning to have on him. He said, “This new comer… a blonde, stolid, morally righteous man, he is. He comes to the Rompopolis with fire in his eyes, quicksilver on his tongue, and bronze on his uniform…”
“A war hero! My, my!” the suit exclaimed.
“So he says. He is popular with the ladies of the town, though they are not so much popular with him. Some in the force say that he is uncut. A full man, apart from some robotic parts and circuits here and there.”
“A real man! Reems sends a real man to find our good captain.”
“Not quite, you see, Mr. Suit. He has come of his own volition. No one knows why he is here, apart from the fact that he is on perhaps some clandestine operation to find the Captain without alerting the syndicate (Too late for that! What fools my coworkers are!), or the spies you have in my employer’s retinue.”
“Ah, a dashing hero swoops into town raising hell and dropping skirts,” the suit motioned dreamily towards the sky with his hand, drawing out a rainbow, or perhaps smearing sweat from his clammy palms into the air. “Tell me, arbiter, what makes this mystery man tick? Revenge? Greed? Is he a double agent? Is he working for Buchanan?”
“You see, that is where you are mistaken; you are very much naïve about things. He has been seen chatting up the good Mr. Buchanan, but that is besides the point; the conversations have come to nothing but friendship, and what good is that in the Rompopolis!”
Both men guffawed, the suit naturally, the arbiter uncharacteristically.
Quickly, the arbiter sobered and continued.
“But this man… the arbiter… he is not like the others. He is not so easily bought. Rumor has it that he has a personal grudge against this criminal, the Captain; and that Reems, as a favor, aware of this personal history, has essentially given this arbiter free reign to pursue and do as he wishes with this… Captain… so the rumors say. But they may be wrong, as rumors so often are.
“Why do we say it like that?”
“Like we are afraid of… or something.”
“Really now, Mr. Suit, I don’t get what you mean.”
“Can’t you say it?”
“His name. Its name. The Captain…”
“Captain… are you mad? They say the name is cursed! I’d rather be shot than say his name out loud, in the middle of a crowded bar!” the arbiter protested loudly, unwittingly drawing attention to his table.
“You don’t have balls sir…”
“This I know. We’re getting off track, let’s return to the matter of…”
“You’re a coward,” the suit sneered, grinning cruelly at the eunuch.
“I am not!” the arbiter replied, now thoroughly drunk.
“Yes you are… you are afraid of a man’s name! A simply sound, vibrations in your throat and words! You are a coward!”
The arbiter began to tear up. “I am not,” he began to snivel. The two men now had the undivided attention of every man, woman, and machine in the room.
“Say it!” the suit bellowed, almost with fury.
The arbiter swallowed his spit, dried his tears, bolted up out of his chair and stood on the table in front of him. Lip twitching, he drew in a breath, then released the air in one, earth-shaking bellow,
The name sent chills down into the floor. Lights flickered, glasses fell down onto wooden tables. The arbiter regretted his actions almost immediately. The room quietened to a deathly silence, like a forest covered in snow, or a battlefield recently gassed and burned. The drunkards lay collapsed on the bar table, and though conscious, chose to appear knocked out. The appearance of incapacitation was comforting to them: like ostriches with their heads in the sand. The bar tender continued pouring a glass full of beer until the beer overflowed and began to soak her shoes. But even then, she did not move, as if paralyzed by fear. The robots continued playing their slow, sad ditties, however; they did not care for names.
Why the sudden shift in tone? The room had been so happy just seconds ago. “It is because of that cursed name,” one bar goer thought. The bar goer, a middle-aged man sporting a bowler cap that obscured his whiskery, angular face, stood up from his booth, breaking the pernicious silence that was bearing down on the arbiter’s throat like a collector’s pillow, or perhaps, chlorine gas. He walked, measuredly slow, contrivedly casual, towards the Synergy Bar door, and exited the building.
“It is because of that cursed name,” the arbiter thought, feeling the crushing weight of the room bearing down on him: all the discontent, all the fear, and all the hatred.
Macheath: It was a name synonymous with death, a name synonymous with evil. The likes of Genghis Khan, Fuhrer Hitler, and President Kennard[i] were no match. Satan was a dilettante, clutching at Macheath’s shoelaces, licking his soles, flailing at his coat tails but missing. But what had he done? What had this man done to engender such universal contempt? None knew. Some say he had massacred millions in the war. Others say he had raped even more. And still more contended that he slept with animals and dagos, and that was a crime that not even the anarchists could forgive.
The arbiter climbed down off the table and sunk down into his chair.
“And the Captain is still in your care?” he whispered, wishing to return to business and forget this whole matter of names.
“He is safe. He is working for us. And our business has never been doing better,” the suit answered.
“You know, this blonde Kaspar[ii]… He will stop at nothing to find him, now that he is so close,” the arbiter began trembling. The alcohol, and the dare, had gotten to him.
“Let him try,” the suit answered calmly, twisting his fat, jowly lips into a smile.
“It’d be best not to underestimate the arbiter, nor our good captain, for that matter. You don’t control him, don’t think or a moment that you do… but wait,” the arbiter relaxed and even began to chuckle, morbidly, as if discovering the punch-line to gallows joke. “Don’t tell me you were that foolish… to think that you could use him! Bah! You suits really are all the same! And to think I was worried that I was in over my head. Really, it is nothing compared to the whirlpool you yourself have unwittingly jumped into, with your boss and your organization plunging head-first soon after!”
“Control him? Use him? Of course not! How outrageous, good arbiter. But he’s like a nuclear reactor, that monster. We can harness that man’s work ethic, his rage, his discontent for our betterment!”
“So confident! Yet how would you know! You’re just a suit. Suit number 71 or other. You haven’t even seen his face!
“You’re right. But there’s someone in our service who has. He keeps our captain on a tight leash, lets him piss on fire hydrants, takes him on walks, feeds him… hell, he even gave him a doll to hump! Hah! Well I’ll be seeing that man later today, and so will you!”
Suddenly, the suit turned pale. His eyes darted back and forth, and he began to hunch in the chair that he once commanded with an upright, confident frame.
“Look to right; You see that? Yes… yes, I see. So clear, yet so quiet. Indeed, I suspected as much. Yes, yes.”
“What is it?” the arbiter whispered, his voice now trembling at the sight of the suit being struck by fear.
“We are being watched.”
Suddenly the suit flipped the table over, spilling the drinks onto the ground. The arbiter looked at the suit with sheer terror. A man, wearing a long brown trench coat, sitting at the bar with his back faced to the two men now turned around violently and tore an old-war Winchester[iii] out from underneath his folds. The coat rippled from the tearing, pounding air that blew sonic booms out with every shot that range out, every bullet that it spat out at the two men. The projectiles flew at the overturned table and eviscerated the wood in a lead tornado. Splinters flew out into the air and mixed about with gun smoke, flying drops of blood, and evaporated sweat. The arbiter ran to the corner of the room and dove behind a busboy, who, having never seen an old-war gun before, stood with his mouth agape at the seen, too scared, or perhaps, too enthralled (and entertained) to move. As the Coat turned his gun to chase down the suit with his trigger-bound hellfire, the arbiter saw his chance to escape and made for the back entrance. The suit, who had been hit by several stray bullets in his leg as he too dove for cover, furiously tried to drag his limp, ever weakening body towards the bar exit, smearing blood all along the floor like a snake slithering in the sand, moving quickly an efficiently, but leaving a trail. Finally, the suit burst through the Synergy bar door and tumbled out into the street, wailing, “Help! There is a mad-man in the Synergy Bar!”
No one batted an eye.
Realizing the error in his call for aid, he amended his plea with, “There is an anarchist in the Synergy Bar!”
Now, he had the peoples’ attention. Window washers and painters jumped down from their scaffolds. Shopkeepers ran out of their stores brandishing clubs, lead-filled sacks, and pipes. A mob was gathering. Suddenly, an arbiter burst out from the crowd. He flashed a badge out to anyone who cared, and announced himself.
“Citizens! I am Arbiter Cohen, from the Reems Fund for the Cure! Where is the gunman?” he commanded. Cohen stood tall, with dry, blonde hair that flowed serenely in the city air. His dandruff mixed and twirled into the wind like snow. His coat was starchy and had obviously not been washed in months. However, his comportment, his confident, unfaltering voice, and his sharp features assuaged the crowd. The angry women softened their faces and the angry men lowered their weapons.
“In the bar! The Synergy Bar!” the suit yelled, pointing to the bar.
“Get this man a doctor, he is obviously hurt! How can you all just stand there and gawk at this man who is so obviously in distress!”
The crowd, now shamed by Cohen’s berating, collectively began shouting, “A doctor! Where is a doctor! Get this poor man a doctor! No you fool, get him a stretcher! First aid is what is needed first! No you dolt, let me give him a massage! You, sir, in the suit! Let me give you a massage!”
No longer bothered with the crowd, Cohen cautiously approached the bar entrance. A shot or two could still be heard from time to time. Cohen pulled out a tiny pistol-like device, with coils and circles and futuristic curls all about it’s plastic body.
He kicked the door down and pointed the gun at the Coat, all within seconds.
“That’s an arbiter’s reflexes for you!” Cohen said contently to himself.
He squeezed the trigger, an automated warning voice-over played, saying “Target unconfirmed for elimination. Identity uncertain,” and was quickly canceled with “Code 152, Cohen, emergency override!” A beam arced across the room, split the floor apart right through the wooden planks straight into the stone foundation, and shook the city around it with a mix of a scream and a sonic boom. The bar, remarkably, remained in-tact, thought the ceiling had begun to crack and some bricks had fallen out of the ground-floor’s walls.
The arbiter, still cowering in the corner, shouted, “Thank god! Cohen! It’s you! I had no idea you were nearby! You came just in the nick of time!” he sniveled; piss flowed down the inside of his left leg.
“I just happened to be walking by, when I heard some man in a cheap suit shouting for help! Imagine that! And you happened to be in this bar. What a coincidence!” Cohen said, moving his lips to form something that approached a smile.
“Terrifyingly disingenuous!” the arbiter thought. “Indeed, quite a coincidence!” the arbiter yelled ecstatically through his tears.
Suddenly, a voice came out from Cohen’s pistol, saying, “Target identity confirmed.”
“Hmm. Damned thing. Standard issue my foot, it’s just a piece of Lamentation[iv] trash. Breaking all the time.”
“Identity is… is… i-i-iss…” it sputtered.
“Help me up Cohen! I’m damned tired, damned tired! I was lucky enough to dodge all his shots. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t have me scared shitless. I can barely stand!”
“.is… Justiciar 40 of the Reems Fund for the C…” it stopped.
Cohen’s eyes suddenly lit up with a terrible, mad flame. He looked into the arbiter’s confused, swollen eyes.
“What did that thing say?” the arbiter stuttered, puzzledly. Then, Cohen ran at him and threw his body onto the arbiter’s. He pressed his hand down, measuredly, but quickly, onto the arbiter’s throat. The arbiter, utterly confused, began to gag, and with both hands, reflexively reached to pull Cohen’s hand off his throat. Cohen now leaned down even harder, putting almost his entire body’s weight into the press. The arbiter clutched and scratched desperately at Cohen’s fleshy vice. In so doing, he had left his face completely defenseless. Cohen rained down punches with his free hand onto the arbiter’s nose, his eyes, his cheek bones, his teeth, till the arbiter was nearly unconscious. The face became swollen, bloodied, broken. The arbiter’s hands went limp. Cohen took him by the collar and began swinging the bruised head down onto the ground as a petulant child with a stuffed animal, down and down into the splintering wood again and again. The arbier tried to scream, but Cohen’s hand pressed down again and choked out the words from his throat. Only a few, broken words escaped. The arbiter’s death throes. They were as follows:
“You… so that’s why… you came…. That’s why you want… to find him…. We could compromise you…. Both of you… Hah…. It all… makes… sense.”
[i] Last President of the old federal states of Usono, known as America. He massacred thousands of Asian and Russian citizens during the Second Civil War, during his fight against anarchism.
[ii] A famed boxer in the Rompopolis; he was a notorious dandy; apart from that, he was not noted for anything else of significance.
[iii] A gun-powder based wooden rifle, not unlike the ones used in ceremonial executions.
[iv] An electronic disease that was known to plague machines during the Confederacy.