The source of Sam’s shame sat through a tinted window, across the children’s playground.

He wanted to think that he was better than this; that he was entering this phase of his journey through the noblest of intentions. But that was the man to oversaw his beating, and what was about to happen to his was by no means noble.

His spime buzzed. The boys were in place.

Sam stepped from the car. He took a deep breath. Finally he pulled at his suit sleeves, to straighten them. “Faking it everyday from now on, Sam.”

***

He crossed the playground. He’d played there as a kid dodging needles, stepping over junkies. But the trade has scared the rest of the kids away. He nodded at … he realised he didn’t know the name of the man he was about to destroy. Probably better that way. If he didn’t think about him as “a man.” The nod to the help continued.

“Gentlemen” He slipped his hands into his pockets and looked up and the bleached out sky. “Nice day for a drug deal.”

The boss looked up. “Oh, someone put the monkey in a suit.” They all laughed. “Not that it helps.”

“Do you like it?” Sam spun around. “Same tailor as Jefe. I tell you, no one was as surprised as me. Nice man, Jefe. You met him?”

The laughing stopped.

“You know the rules,” Sam continued, as if bored. “The help gets murdered, the boss gets beaten.” He paused for effect. It seemed to work. “Gentlemen. Put your guns down and work for me. We don’t have to spill any blood.”

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” The boss spluttered.

Perhaps it didn’t work as well as Sam had wanted. He tried again, speaking directly to The Help this time.

“Gentlemen. Think about your next moves very carefully. I’m offering you not only your lives, but jobs.”

The boss had had enough. “Fuck the rules. Kill him.”

Sam turned his back on the small group and walked a couple of steps. He heard guns pulled from holsters before he spoke. “Boys?”

He turned. His men slowly faded in. Those stealth suits were fantastic and worth every penny of he paid for them. His boys’ gun barrels were firmly placed at the temples of their opposites.

“Now. Before we were so rudely interrupted, you were putting those weapons on the floor and I was offering you jobs. You may want to spend some of the next few minutes thinking about that. Boys, get them on their knees.”

The henchmen were forced down. Sam walked between them, fishing something out from the pocket of his jacket.

“I happen to value my boys. That’s why you never saw them. You’ll find that keeping your team safe. Not putting them in the line of fire. These simple things grant you loyalty.” He fitted a knuckle duster over his fist and flexed his fingers until it settled. “I also think that, as a boss, you should never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.”

It was a sloppy punch, telegraphed from a week ago. It had time to have a couple of lunch dates before it arrived. But when it arrived it brought with it years of resentment and frustration and pain. It landed with the force of a thousand beatings that Sam had endured.

The punch that followed didn’t dally as much as the first.

It shattered his victim’s nose.

Sam spoke. His voice was calm, controlled. Like the beating he was dolling out.

“You. You don’t get your hands dirty.”

He powdered a cheek bone.

“You just decide what’s enough.”

He cracked a jaw.

“You told me what would do.”

The punch shattered teeth, sliced lips, inside and out. “That’ll cost you.”

Sam was sat astride the bleeding mess. There was no human. Not to Sam. Not a man just doing what The Tow demands. It was a target.

A first step.

It gurgled, tried to lift a hand to protect itself.

“Well, will this do?”

Sam brought his fist down again.

“WILL IT?”

Sam stood, pulled a phone from another pocket. “Hello? Med-aid? I want to report a beating. The victim’s almost dead. You should come quickly.”

He turned and walked to the car. “Lads, I’ll meet you back at the place. Offer these men jobs. If they don’t want them.” He looked at them, kneeling. There weren’t more than kids. “Let them go.”

***

Sam drove the car into an alley, pushed the door open and threw up. He stumbled from the car, tearing the blood soaked clothes from his body, sobbing.

“Faking it. The only way. The only way.”

Lighter fuel, matches and the crime burnt away.

But still he cried.

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Despite the shade and air-con, Sam felt uncomfortably warm in the office. There were two sets of lights – one on him, in his uncomfortable, hard wood chair. The other, bathing Jefe – the most dangerous man in The Tow – in a soft glow, picking up the detail of the sumptuous recliner he say in.

Jefe was an enigma. He was, for all intents and purposes, Mr Big – violent, rich, powerful – owning enough henchmen, and city blocks – to stay that way. If you wanted to trade anything above nickel and dime stuff, you went through Jefe. If someone had to disappear, it was though one of Jefe’s assassination bureaus.

Sure there were other Crime Lords – and war between them was one of the major sources of death in The Tow – but Jefe had lasted a long, long time.

But he was still down here. Why hadn’t he ascended? That was the enigma that was Jefe.

Sam had presented his plan, running the mantra in the back of his mind to keep the panic at bay – “It’s the only way. It’s the only way.” – and now he sat, suited, shades in his top pocket, trying to convey the utter calm of the man he was meant to be. He had no idea how long ago he finished speaking but Jefe had said nothing.

Sam was begining to wonder if he was mute.

“So.” Sam jumped at the sound of Jefe’s voice. “You want me lend you -”

Now or never, Sammy-Boy. “Invest,” he interrupted.

Jefe raised an eye brow. “Invest?” He spat the word out like it was a piece of shit someone had fed him instead of his beloved raw heart of the poor. Still beating. “Why on earth would I do that?”

This was it. The only way. Keeping the basics. Changing the tactics.

Sam coughed. “Jefe, with all due respect, you could lend me money – but I’d only pay it back. I’m here, sitting opposite the most powerful man in The Tow. And we both know why.” He grabbed a breath, but didn’t give enough time to lose control of the conversation. “I’m here because of what you heard about me. Out of town criminal looking for a deal. Lots of money to throw around. The silent master behing the thrown.” Sam paused and picked some fluff from his trouser leg. “Jefe, I borrowed the suit I’m wearing about 2 hours ago. And all those stories you heard about me? I planted them at the start of last week and had my boys, also in suits for the first time, ensure they were spread. If you invested, you’d have a stake in this forever.”

Sam sat back in his chair, hoping Jefe couldn’t see he was sweating now.

There was an eternity of silence.

“That’s a nice suit you borrowed.” Sam couldn’t judge the tone of Jefe’s voice.

“It should be. We used your tailor; told him what we planned. He said if it failed he’d bury me in the suit as a gift.”

“My tailor said that?”

Sam nodded.

“He’s never given me so much as a button as a freebie.”

More silence. Then a chuckle.

The crime boss picked up a phone. “Doris? Ah, Doris, do I have anything on later today? Cancel it. Tell everyone I’m going to be busy.”

“My tailor.” Jefe laughed. It was a sound entirely without warmth. “You, my son. You have balls. I’ll give you that. OK, Sam. Let’s talk terms.”

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Some fucker was shining a floodlight straight into Sam’s eyes. He opened them, very slowly, and was horrified to discover that self-same fucker had poured sand under his eyelids.

And shat in his mouth.

Morning, Sam discovered, had broken. And then buggered off to make way for afternoon. Which was why the sun was shining into his room.

“Bastard Sun.” His voice was raspy and his throat hurt.

He remembered screaming and howling into the night. He looked around is trashed apartment and winced. Not through shame, but because of the crushing hangover he had.

He had to move, and shifted to hands and knees. His hands screamed. The knuckles were swollen and bleeding.

Her remembered taking his argument to something…he scanned the room and found some bloody pock-marks in the wall.

Christ – he hoped he hadn’t broken his knuckles. He couldn’t afford to have them fixed.

He lay on the floor and moaned. Everything hurt. He needed medication.

Relief was a hobble to fridge. He screwed off the bottle top and took a swig, the cheap alcohol burning its way down.

He coughed and toasted. “Get up at the tree you fell down by.”

And took another, long, swig.

***

It didn’t help so much.

But neither did throwing up and shaking. Sam was running out of constructive ideas, so he abandoned the disaster area and retreated to a shower, where he huddled in the corner and let the rain pour down on him.

He couldn’t do it anymore. Going out, cutting deals, getting beaten, keeping his friends alive. There had to be another way.

The system’s house phone rang. Sam let it run to the secretary. It was a slight expense, he had a hacked version, but it was more personal than an answerphone. Well. Everyone pretended it was, and interacted with the personality differently.

It was a potential date. He had no desire to see her. He’d call her later and feed her some lie to get off the hook.

Something struggled in the back of his head. It felt like an idea.

“Hello” His voice sounded like shit. He coughed and tried again. “Hello.” Not quite.

For the next 20 minutes he worked on his hello. Gravelly, old, cynical. He added a twang. He tried it with a coffee, to make sure he could carry it off with liquid. When he was happy he got his secretary to dial one of his friends through an anonymous proxy.

***

“Yeah, who is this?”

“Is this Edward?” Sam asked, voice as good as it was going to get.

Eddie laughed. No one called him Edward. “Yeah, yeah. This is Eddie. Who is this?”

“Ok, Edward. I’m asking the questions here. I’m cawling from the local precinct.” Sam paused, took a loud slurp of coffee. Eddie had stopped laughing. “I understand there was a little…altercation the other night, with you and your buddies. Is that right?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I know what you’re talking about officer. How did you get this number?”

“It’s Detective Sergeant to you, scum-bag. And let me remind you that I am still asking the questions. Why wouldn’t I have your number? You think it’s too important to have out there or something?”

Sam milked the call for about 10 minutes before hanging up. He was on Eddie’s speed dial. It wouldn’t take lo-

“Yallo.”

“Shit. Sam. I was just on the phone to some hard arse detective. He was grilling me about the other night.”

“How’d you know?”

“What do you mean, how did I know. He told me.”

Sam paused. Wondering when to tell him. “Pick up Allan and come over. You probably don’t want to talk about this on the phone.”

***

15 minutes, and a half arsed attempt at tidying, Sam sat with his two friends.

Eddie had been going on about the call since he got in, pausing only to notice the mess. “Bad night, huh?” And then back into it.

“So, what are we going to do, Sam? Are they onto us? Is this worse?”

“How’d you know it was a cop, Ed.”

“He said so.”

“How’d you know.”

“He SAID so. Shit, Sam. You fucking gone deaf?”

Sam tried on his new voice. “Let me remind you that I am still asking the questions, Scum bag.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then Allan was laughing and Eddie had launched across the room. Sam had expected this and placed the biggest amount of shit in his path. Eddie went down.

“Stay down there unless you want trouble. This is our fucking way out. We’re going topside.”

And for the rest of the day Sam laid out his plan.

It was audacious. It was epic. It was the most dangerous, fool hardy thing he had ever tried.

“How long do you think this will take, Sam?” It was probably Allan who asked. To be fair – it didn’t matter at that point.

“Two weeks to get it in motion. And then we fast track. I don’t want to be old, or dead, here.”

Which is how, two weeks later, Sam found himself sitting opposite the most dangerous man he knew, laying out his plan.

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Sam sat staring at himself in the window.

It was raining.

It was always raining.

He brought his hand to his cheek, pressed, feeling the bone underneath. It was still tender, but it would do. Like his shitty life, his new face would do. And he’d have to get some money into his insurance before another trip to the emergency room.

He drained his beer, crushed the can and tossed it on the mound on the table. It hit the top, spinning, slid to the edge, and toppled over, onto the pile on the floor

He was never getting out of there.

A search light lit The Elevator as it climbed The Spyre. The flash taunted him. The Elevator was climbing. Taking some lucky bastard away from the Tow. The only way to escape the grind, the violence.

“That’ll do.”

He remembered the command. The one that stopped the pain, but not the shame.

The two words with the power to dole out just enough of a beating. To determine just enough of a warning. Painting the boundary within which he could play.

“That’ll do.”

That night, Sam had seen what was going to go down. It’s not like it was uncommon. This was how it was. You fought your way through The Tow. You done deals; you lied; you cheated; you fought your way to the top. Because it was only the toughest got to climb The Spyre. He’d huddled with his crew, told them to get out while they could. They counted as henchmen, as hired guns.

“You can kill the hired guns but you only beat the dealers.”

He passed them the days takings and told them the hospital he was registered in. Then all he had to do was wait. Or, becausehe was always a cock, walk through enemy terrotiory to short cut home.

***

The fist detonated, white hot, behind Sam’s eyes. His face hit the ground – not that it had so far to travel as he was already on his knees. His nose crumpled on impact.

“That’s going to cost me,” he thought.

A hand reached into his hair, gripping it, and pulled him back onto his knees. Blood and RealBone(tm) dripped over his lips.

“I need to cut that No one needs that much of a grip.” It was his last moment of clarity that night. The fist came down again, this time a ring sliced dangerously close to his eye. The ground was much less kind this time. He felt teeth shatter, his lips splitting, sliced inside and out.

A voice spoke from beyond the wall of fog rapidly moving in.

“That”ll do.”

***

Sam cried tears of frustration. Of impotence.

“It won’t do.” He sobbed. Shocked at the sound of his own voice. “It. Won’t. Do.”

A seething anger grew. A loathing of his place, his station. His shitty life. He kicked the table in front of him, sending cans flying. Sam leapt to his feet, screaming at himself.

“It won’t do. THIS. WON’T DO”

He set about his flat, his rage needing somewhere to go. It went into his furniture, into his walls. And it went on for hours. When it finished he may bleeding and sobbing on his floor.

Like so many other nights.

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She exhales in the dark.

“You can touch me if you want.”

***

The couple were sat in the sun by the window. She eats cake.

“We should fake our own deaths and run away,” he says.

***

“We have 4 minutes to save the world, ladies and gentlemen. Are we in place?”

***

Marcus crouches behind a desk, bullets are flying over head. “Screw this.” He yells to his team “We’re kicking this old school.”

Smoke grenades fire into a corridor. He counts off 3, and makes a break for the door as his team sends a wave of bullets to cover him.

***

Sam stared at his new face in the window.

The memory of the fist detonates, white hot, behind his eyes.

His face hit the ground – not that it had so far to travel as he was already on his knees. His nose crumpled on impact.

A voice spoke from beyond the wall of fog rapidly moving in.

“That”ll do.”

Tipping the table in front of him, Sam leaps to his feet, screaming at himself.

“It won’t do. THIS. WON’T DO”

***

A girl stands at a podium. She’s 10, and all grins.

“Hello, Mummy.” Suddenly shy, she looks down. “I’m OK. Don’t be sad. I saw you on TV crying. Don’t be sad.”

***

The letter sits on the table. It’s wrong, too dark at the edges. Not to much placed as…written into the scene.

Austin looked at it. “Is that it?”

His friend looked at him, “Let’s see – it’s the only letter in the room, and it has one word on it, Zarkophski. What do you think?”

***

The butt of Geraldine’s gun slams into Dan’s head hard enough for him to feel it through his armour.

“What part of that order did you not understand, soldier? You do not do this on my watch.”

Dan was on his feet, his own gun drawn, pointed at his captain.

***

Naomi hefts the broken body of her friend.

“See, this is why there’s no side kicks”

***

A hand reaches out.

The body is emaciated, stretched.

The face warped. Free time has seen better days.

“Help me. Please, someone, help me.”

***

The eyes of a sleeping giant snap open.

***

Litranaut Season 2

***

Marcus slips his key into the ignition, pauses, looks out the window at his friends.

He smiles and turns the key.

***

Continues

***

The fireball engulfed the car, throwing it into the air. The blast threw his team to the floor and shattered windows. It landed in slow motion, the sounds of the flames and car alarms echoing as the image fades to black.

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