Matthew Graybosch
a cynical idealist, sf author, and full-stack developer

Hammer to Fall, Part 3

The following is an excerpt from my 2013 novel, Without Bloodshed. Here’s another rock ‘n roll chapter title, this time courtesy of Queen. ‘Cause if you’re gonna steal, you might as well steal from the best.

Content Warning

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarity with real events or individuals is purely coincidental. It contains material that may not be appropriate for all readers. The reader is assumed to be responsible for any allegory or applicability they find within, and for understanding the difference between depiction and advocacy.

Hammer to Fall, Part 3

Despite the distance between City Hall and the protesters massed outside, the fists raised against Alexander Liebenthal were visible. Their chanting – “Surrender now! Surrender now! Surrender now, you motherfucker!” – beat against the plate glass separating him from the world. The windows vibrated in their frames in response to the chant’s rhythm. The speech he gave in response to Morgan Stormrider’s did more harm than good. The protesters booed him from the stage, and some even threw slush balls gathered from clumps of snow the public works crews had not cleared from the streets and sidewalks. The slush balls might have injured Liebenthal if Rubicante and some of his Transmaniacons had not escorted him away. His exhortation to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s inspired placards depicting a bloody knife with slogans like, Gaius Julius got his. Liebenthal’s next! and Watch your back, Caligula!

The last offended Liebenthal most. Caligula’s excesses had abused the patience of everybody around him until two of his own Praetorian Guard back-stabbed him in a sewer. What did I do to deserve a comparison with him? I don’t even have a horse.

The doors to the mayor’s office opened to admit Munakata Tetsuo. His shirt and coat hung in tatters from a frame slimmer than it had been before he left with the Godhead Riders this morning. The ronin limped a bit, favoring his left leg, and his posture seemed stiff. He slumped into a chair, waving off the glass of scotch Liebenthal poured for him. “Thank you, Alexander, but liquor won’t help. I just need time, and something to eat.”

Liebenthal turned to Munakata after ordering one of the bikers standing guard outside to bring food. “What happened to you? You were supposed to kill the Godhead Riders without warning, and frame Stormrider.”

“Without warning?” Munakata shook his head. His voice was quiet, and his breathing shallow. “I used to be an Adversary, Alexander. We didn’t do things like that. We were never first to draw our swords.”

Liebenthal stared at him. “You let Schenker and his men go?”

Food arrived in the form of sandwiches looted from the café on the first floor. Munakata wolfed down four sandwiches before stopping to drink a bottle of water. His body filled out as he did so, using the material he ingested to repair itself.

The sight repelled Liebenthal. Munakata really isn’t human. He’s some kind of machine capable of taking punishment which would kill a man, as long as he can eat and repair himself afterward. Would he eat the flesh of a fallen enemy if no other food were available?

Munakata rose, gathering up the garbage from his sandwiches. He no longer limped as he sought the trashcan, and his posture loosened. “To answer your question, Alexander, I didn’t let the Godhead Riders go. Tobias Schenker ordered them to flee, and engaged me in single combat to keep me from giving chase.”

“Don’t bullshit me.” Liebenthal had dealt with Tobias Schenker before. The man was a loan shark, and took to preying upon some of his employees by offering loans against their wages. While the employees he approached refused his terms, Schenker refused to peddle his con elsewhere, which forced Liebenthal’s intervention. “I paid the Fireclowns to kick Schenker’s ass a few years ago before I put them and you on retainer. He’s no sword-fighter.”

Munakata shrugged. “Perhaps the beating impressed upon him the value of martial studies. He faced me alone, sword to sword. Worse, he improved as we fought. I was only able to kill him by using a sudden change in tactics.”

Liebenthal looked up from his sandwich, which he had made a half-hearted effort at eating. Despite the cancer feeding upon him, and his need to keep fighting, he fought to muster the will to eat. His choice of a meatless sandwich did nothing to help matters. I went vegan and still got cancer. Fuck it.

He dropped the meatless sandwich into a trash bin and found a ham and cheese on rye. His eyes widened and his mouth watered as he unwrapped it, took half, and found its heft was due almost entirely to meat and cheese. Instead of being stuffed with lettuce and tomato, the sandwich consisted of what appeared to be a dozen slices of ham, three of Swiss cheese, and a thin layer of Dijon mustard. Rapture radiated from his tongue as he took the first bite.

He had abstained from the taste of meat not out of principle, but as a marketing tactic. As he explained in an interview several years ago, a produce wholesaler should be his own best customer. His most recent prior indulgence was during his last vacation, five years ago. He forced himself to finish chewing before speaking. “So, did Schenker die like the fucking weasel he was?”

Munakata narrowed his eyes. “He died fighting, Alexander. Once I killed him, I attempted to chase the rest of the Godhead Riders, only to find they never fled. They hid, and flanked me from behind. They shot me up pretty badly before I killed them all. The Godhead Riders are dead.”

Which explains his former resemblance to shit warmed over. “Don’t you need a doctor? At least to get the slugs out of you?”

Munakata shook his head and picked up another sandwich. He took his time eating before he spoke again. “I already healed around the slugs. My body will convert them to lead acetate and excrete the compound.”

Liebenthal nodded, and began eating the other half of his sandwich. “How did you get back? I doubt the protesters would let you through.”

Munakata rose and looked out the window. “I didn’t bother going through them. I went under them. Stormrider didn’t just get ten thousand protesters, you know. It’s more like a hundred thousand. The whole city’s on a general strike, so I walked through the subway tunnels and got in through the station under City Hall. You wasted time sending me after the Godhead Riders, since those people didn’t gather because they believe in him. They’re protesting because they don’t believe in you.”

The doors to the mayor’s office opened, admitting Abram Mellech. Liebenthal’s immediate reaction escaped his lips. “Why are you back?”

Rather than rise from behind his desk, Liebenthal checked to ensure his rifle remained propped against it. After a demonstration, he believed the weapon powerful enough to kill one of the recombinant woolly mammoths – which scientists from a research university outside Moscow turned loose in Siberia – with a single head shot. Screw it. If this asshole hadn’t come to me with that gun-running deal, I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess with the Phoenix Society. “Are you here to tell me God still believes in me?”

“Not at all.” Adramelech stuffed his Roman collar into a pocket. He poured a glass of scotch and soda, and enjoyed a leisurely drink before speaking again. “Much better. I already shielded the room so nobody outside can hear us.”

Liebenthal shot a look to Munakata and used secure talk. «I don’t trust this asshole.»

Munakata circled to Adramelech’s left, giving him a clear path to attack without blocking Liebenthal’s shot, but did not draw his sword.

Adramelech continued to sip his drink. “Relax, gentlemen. I came to offer salvation.”

Liebenthal shook his head, reaching down to pull the rifle into his lap. He had a question in mind, and doubted he’d like the answer. “Why are you really here? Who sent you?”

“Who do you think? I came to offer you both sanctuary.”

“Sanctuary.” Liebenthal repeated the word, and his breath hitched as he suppressed his reactions to it. He wanted to laugh, to heap scorn on the very notion, knowing he’d die a wanted man even if he fled to the new colony on Mars and survived the months-long voyage. Hell, they’d probably know I was coming, and toss me out an airlock just to lighten their load and save fuel. I’d end up like Thistlewood. “What’s the catch?”

Adramelech smiled, looking as if he was ready to offer a hell of a deal. “Just surrender. I am a member of the Phoenix Society’s Executive Council. You need not enter Stormrider’s custody.”

“Just surrender?” Liebenthal felt his arms tremble, and his fists clenched. “Just surrender, and let you bastards take me alive, so you can make me a liar? Your propaganda department would cream themselves in delight.”

Adramelech’s voice darkened, and the air crackled with electricity. Liebenthal remembered the crackling static sensation from when Imaginos threw him across the room without laying a hand upon him, and remained seated. “Your pride ripens into hubris, Mr. Liebenthal. You served the Phoenix Society well, but further recalcitrance on your part serves no one. You already rejected Imaginos’ offer. There might not be a third offer of sanctuary. Tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, await you outside. In time, they will forget patience and storm the building, killing everybody inside. My offer is your last chance to end this farce without violence.”

Rather than speak, Liebenthal lifted the rifle and pressed the butt against his shoulder. He sighted upon Adramelech’s torso using the iron sights and squeezed off a burst. A triplet kick jackhammered his shoulder as Adramelech stared down at himself and screamed. Liebenthal squeezed off another burst, putting the rounds through Adramelech’s head. His body fell silent to the floor, and shattered into crystalline dust which in turn evaporated.

Still holding his rifle at the ready, Liebenthal blinked at Munakata. “What the fuck was that?”

Munakata’s explanation was little help. “You destroyed his avatar.”

“His what?”

“His avatar. I don’t understand it. All I know is that he isn’t human, and you destroyed his physical body.”

“So, he’s going to come back?” Liebenthal felt his sandwich rise, lifted by a tide of impending panic. “Are those other guys immortals, too? You knew we were fucked from the start, didn’t you?”

Munakata shrugged. “So did you. Your situation is no different from when you received your first diagnosis, so focus on the present. Stormrider has fomented a demonstration against you. Shall I smear him with the deaths of the Godhead Riders?”

Liebenthal shook his head, and took a minute to calm himself. “No. You were right. They’re here to oppose me. Even if the Society brought Stormrider to trial for the deaths of those loan sharks, I doubt a jury would believe he killed them.”

“So I killed one of my own kind, and got shot up by his companions for nothing?”

“Hell, no. I told that bastard Schenker I’d see him dead if I ever saw him again.” He rose from the desk, and led Munakata from the mayor’s office. “Come on, Tetsuo. Let’s get the rest of the men out of here. They can’t help me, and they deserve better than to sit here waiting for the hammer to fall.”

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or constructive comments, please email me. I may reply directly to you, or if I think your message might be of interest to other readers I will answer with a new blog post.