“Proof?” Lucien repeated.
The veteran whipped his empty flask aside in unbridled rage and charged toward him, or at least as much as the cane would allow. When he closed within five feet, he raised it up just enough so that his fall forward rammed the end of it hard into the elder’s stomach. The young boy lurched over and fell to the ground in a fetal position, vomiting onto the broken roadway. A collective gasp rose in the air from both the Dispatchers and the orphans as they watched him writhe in pain. Once he regained his bearings, Lucien decided to remain where he was while Pontius exhausted every possible lead.
“He’s right, you know,” Edmond sighed. “And we’ll have to file an incident report for that.”
“I don’t give a shit. Felt damn good. You sure there’s nothing?”
“Not on the orphans. We checked. The Outlanders have our phase units-”
“Suddenly you seem so eager to talk,” Pontius cut him off. “Why is that? And don’t try to tell me it’s because this clever piece of shit scares you,” he said, poking at Lucien with his cane. The boy groaned. “Well?”
“What he was about to tell you is the truth,” Edmond said. “Quentin approached the gate after escaping from the Outlanders and alerted us to the hostage situation. Said they wanted to make a deal with us for their release. Georges made the call to go out with Isaac and myself to check it out after we convinced him. The three of us followed the boy up to the old abandoned villa. Georges suspected it was a trap, so we took a moment to coordinate our approach-”
“That’s not what happened, nothing was coordinated!” Isaac interjected. “We walked straight into a trap and you know it!”
Pontius’s eyes narrowed. “Is that true?”
From his place on the ground, Lucien saw Edmond gulp.
“He…probably doesn’t remember clearly. I’m not so sure I do. It all happened so fast, and with what they did to Georges-”
“What did they do to Georges?” The commander was growing impatient.
“They…cut his cock off.”
“Jesus, they’ll eat anything, won’t they?” Pontius stifled a laugh, but fell serious again as he turned back to Isaac. “Your judgment. Can I trust it? Or do you feel that you were irreparably traumatized by witnessing a man bleeding from the stump of his amputated prick?”
“I was not traumatized, sir. My judgment is crystal clear,” Isaac said.
“I see,” the old man huffed, pacing in front of the group of orphans. “So if I asked you to pick out Quentin from this little family of rats here…is that something you could do?”
“Well, I think this has gone on long enough,” Lucien sighed, stepping to his feet and dusting himself off. “Just thought I’d indulge your ego awhile. Admit it Pontius,” he shrugged. “You’ve got nothing. Quentin was recaptured by the Outlanders, I saw it myself. All of my boys here can verify that with their own individual accounts if you’d like. We were hostages, yet you want to treat us like criminals at the gate. And subjecting my poor boys to any more of these baseless accusations after the terrifying ordeal they’ve all been through,” he continued, stepping over to pat their backs in reassurance, “without so much as a search warrant or probable cause, to say nothing of the absence of a lawyer? I’m afraid that you, sir, can eat shit.”
Pontius broke out in a fit of hysterical laughter.
“I have to give you credit. You’ve got chops, kid. But I’m curious as to just what the hell makes you think you’re in charge here,” he said, leaning in close to the obstinate boy. “I mean, the arrogance of you is just…mind-boggling.” His face again returned to that cold, sturdy rock that seemed to be his default expression. Lucien crossed his arms, remaining steadfast. The old codger wasn’t making this easy.
“You are aware who my mother is, yes?” He spoke quietly so the orphans wouldn’t overhear.
“Constance Renou, yes, I am aware,” the man obliged. “But you’re still a Riviere on paper, meaning you’re not legally her son without her signature. And being that your pass is two months expired, well…you’re shit outta luck, kid.
“I could give her a ring.”
The veteran backed away, rolling his eyes. “Now why the hell would I let you do that?”
“You know the extent of her power,” Lucien spoke louder now. “She would find out what you’ve done eventually. She’s the director of Viktorium-France Transit. Any traffic in or out of this city is her business, which means that she governs the very wall you gentlemen guard, along with funding a good portion of your operations. I could easily get you thrown in prison for the abuse of innocent civilians. All of you.”
“I don’t think she cares about some no-name,” Pontius grinned smugly. “Let’s ask your orphans then how much they know.” As the man turned his back to address the boys in his group, Lucien reached up inside his sleeve and discreetly slipped Edmond a handful of bills.
“Isaac’s silence,” he whispered. The young Dispatcher glanced at what he’d been given, then leaned up to his ear.
“It will take a bit more than that.”
“Fine,” Lucien sighed, reaching in again and handing over a few gold coins.
Edmond smiled. “This should get me out of that crummy flat. Thanks!”
A breath caught up in the elder’s throat as he felt his heart sink to his stomach. He glanced nervously over to Isaac, hoping Edmond was joking. Of course he was; he had just been waiting for Pontius to pace another semicircle around the orphans so his back would be turned to them again. Edmond snuck over and shoved the money into his colleague’s hand, whispering something in his ear as he did so. Isaac’s mouth dropped open, and an angry expression befell his face for a moment until he actually gazed down at the amount. Then his eyes went wide and he raised an eyebrow at Lucien. The orphanage elder gave him a simple nod and a wink. The Dispatcher blushed. What?
Edmond stifled a giggle as he returned. “I told him you want to buy a night with him.” The elder stomped on his foot. “Ow!”
“I’m not into men!” he snapped through clenched teeth.
“Don’t worry, he won’t talk.”
“Especially not with your cock in his mouth,” Edmond laughed.
Lucien elbowed him. “Enough. I pay for your silence, not your friendship.”
Across the way, Pontius appeared to be deeply invested in the account of Florian, a ten year-old. He had knelt down on one knee, hanging onto his cane as the boy spoke tearfully about the alleged ordeal. No one was certain whether or not the veteran had any children of his own, but judging by the look on his face as those piercing eyes began to crack, Lucien assumed he did. That’s it, Flo! Break him for me. After some time, the man finally got up and paced back over. The elder’s heart pounded in his chest as he awaited the verdict. They didn’t have much time left before Andre Casanov went on the air. Pontius eyed him with scorn.
“Isaac,” he called. “See to it the boys are escorted back to Barreau Orphanage.”
Lucien smiled and began to step away, but the veteran stopped him.
“Not you,” he insisted. “You get to stay with me.” He headed across to an abandoned, bombed-out building to the left that served as their base of operations.
“Pontius, I swear to God-”
“Relax!” the man snapped. “I’m putting in a call to Constance. After she verifies your ID number, I’ll write you a temporary permit and you can skulk off to wherever you’re so desperate to go. Try not to get kidnapped again. Hero.”
“Hero?” Lucien called.
“Your boy told quite the sob story,” Pontius sighed. “Reminded me of my kid.”
“I didn’t know you have a kid.”
“I did once…”
The man hesitated. “Dalishkova took him.”
“Dalishkova Knights? Shit. I’m sorry.”
“It is what it is.”
The elder waited for him to enter the building before turning back to Edmond. “Listen, after he verifies my ID, I’ll require your assistance with one more thing.”
“For god’s sake Lucien, what is it now? I have to check the weapons inventory and get back to guard duty!”
“Won’t take more than an hour at most, I promise. Just need to make a quick appearance on Casanov’s show.”
“Andre Casanov? That idiot with the green hair and frilly getup? What ever for?!”
“Max listens to it and I need to talk to Quentin.”
“So talk to him at the bloody orphanage!”
“It’s not that simple. Word gets around in there faster than a case of lice. Everything would blow open wider than Isaac’s arse.”
Edmond laughed. “How would you know how wide his arse is?”
“Please,” Lucien rolled his eyes. “If you saw the way he looks at Tomas every time he pops in for a visit, you’d see it in his face. He turns all soft. Tomas is dominant as can be. Not sure why I even bothered to buy his silence, all I have to do is get Tomas to…what the devil am I even on about, are you going to help me or what?!”
“Of course!” Edmond assured him. “What’s the plan after the show?”
“Take me to the station, write up your statement of what happened at the villa, I’ll sign it and you can check your weapons. Then we drive back to Barreau, you intimidate the boys, bring Quentin out to the alley where we’ll talk business.”
The Dispatcher groaned.
“What’s your problem now?”
“Can I ask what you are planning to do with our phase units?”
“You’re not paid quite enough to know that,” Lucien smiled, patting him on the shoulder.
“Those serial numbers are tracked and I have to list them on inventory every night, you can’t do this you know!”
“Oh, I can do whatever I like Edmond and you’ll still be my obedient little servant, that’s the beauty of our relationship,” he grinned before leaning in close to whisper in his ear. “Just be glad you haven’t been the one to lose your cock yet, because I could make that happen too.”
Edmond shoved him away as Pontius emerged from the building, handing Lucien a temporary permit. The young elder looked carefully over the crumpled paper in case the man was trying to pull a fast one on him in the way of restrictions such as curfews, checkpoints, or limited access to places he was previously allowed. Everything seemed to be in order. He had to smile at the signature on the bottom; the ink had pooled in a couple places, as if the veteran had been deeply reluctant to sign.
“Thank you,” Lucien said.
“Now piss off.”
As the elder trekked on with Edmond shuffling behind, he gazed up at the bombed out skyline and the broken streets below, still full of debris from the Workers’ Rebellion five years prior. It was a miracle that the city had avoided any loss of life back then. The Dispatchers had handled the situation with the utmost care and precision, shielding civilians with the use of a new camouflage which mimicked the frequency of anomalies. Still, it was a bloody affair that ultimately culminated in the exile of Charles DuPont and several of his cabinet members—the only way to avoid an all-out revolution.
Too bad it’s about to start again, Lucien smiled.