*Warning: This part of the story contains graphic descriptions of violence and death that some readers may find disturbing.*
The Arbiter quickly zipped the lifeless body of the interrogated KIRN paramilitary into a black bag, right in front of his apartment door. He carried it down the stairs over his shoulder. The passers-by had a complete disregard for what he was doing; they were absorbed in whatever media was projected in front of their glasses.
The same could be said for the CCTV cameras. Even though the images of the entire street were directly fed to some remote server where algorithms would parse and analyze their content, white flashes of IR radiation emanating from everyone wearing the chunky anti-privacy glasses made the entire image appear as a series of white flashes. He stuffed the body bag in the spacious trunk of his black SUV.
As the Arbiter got back inside his car he thought about a rumor among the most fanatical of arbiters, based on a very specific interpretation of the Code, that claimed that the old PM had uploaded his consciousness into the A.I. and that the will of the Truthbringer should be interpreted as the will of the former PM himself.
He again thought about the time he had swiftly exterminated a cell of Albanian journos deemed responsible for that piece of fake-news. As well as the arbiters who accompanied them. He again saw images from that vision with burning bodies of decommissioned Mark Threes.
“Beware of false prophets, and the untruths they spew,” the Arbiter began to recite from the Code. “Thrice they will rise in blasphemy. They will twist the Truth, and they will endanger the Code. Yet, three times will we eradicate the infectious weeds of their untruths. But beware of the last blasphemy, the fourth one to decide the war on Truth. For futures, presents, and pasts, upon its outcome will be coded. So sayeth the prophecy. So sayeth the Great Prime, Eddy the First, Father of Arbiters and Champion of Truth.”
“All right you little babies,” said Detective Sara Kulla, as she went down the stairs of a long concrete hallway. “What’s so important to ruin my day off?”
She wore a black workout outfit covered in yellow linear patterns. Underneath her black cap, her hair was pulled up in a short ponytail that stuck out from behind. Her gun was visibly strapped to her leg holster. Bright yellow streaks of her black sneakers matched the patterns of her clothes. Her face still glowing from the sweat she had worked out during her interrupted run.
“Come on, spit it out,” said Sara. “What’s with the long faces?”
Officer Blaku shrugged his shoulders and remained silent. Adi, the CSI technician who followed behind them averted his gaze, his eyes unfocused and scattered.
Detective Sara was not aware of the level of carnage when she entered the KIRN headquarters bunker. She entered the top-floor balcony from where she had a bird’s-eye view of three underground floors of open space. The first impressions could always be easily described as a botched paint-job, if the color of choice was that of human blood.
The concrete walls were sprayed with bullet holes that still kept crumbling as misty grey sand oozed out of them. The gunpowder and explosive burns retained the shape of the original fires that had caused them. Broken glass, shrapnel, spent munitions casings, splintered wood, and broken furniture were accompanied by electrical sparks too close to water drips. As air moved, the smoke and the smell of gunpowder were overpowered by the sweet and metallic smells of blood intermixed with the fetid and putrid odors emanating from punctured intestines and spilled guts.
And it didn’t hit Sara until she saw all the dead bodies, arranged in a haphazardous yet mathematical pattern, as if preserved in amber at the time they had met their angels of death in the form of bullets, shrapnel, stab wounds, or internal bleeding caused by some explosion or other. Like frozen frames, bodies of KIRN paramilitaries dangled over desks or platform railings, while others lay prone on the ground, red-painted tracks underneath from their labored movements during the last moments of their lives.
“I… how…,” Sara was lost for words. “Oh my God.”
She was not prepared for a massacre of these proportions. When the call came that there was an incident at the KIRN headquarters, she figured some inexperienced journalist had accidentally shot themselves in the foot while cleaning a gun (or worst case scenario: shot their colleague). “How many bodies is this?”
“Every single one of the KIRN paramilitaries. No survivors,” said Officer Blaku.
Sara felt bad for having joked earlier. Now it was clear to her why the “usual crowd” didn’t laugh at her jokes, but rather sulked in their somber faces. Slowly she began to feel something brewing inside her. Initially she mistook it for nausea, but as it rose higher she was confronted by an unpleasant old acquaintance — rage. This is going to be trouble, she thought. She hadn’t felt like this since… Aargh, she didn’t want to go back to that place in her mind.
The sight brought back bitter and sad memories. She began to get scared. Not of the gruesome sight, but of herself. Last time she experienced these kinds of emotions, it was personal, and it had ended badly — in revenge just as bloody as the scene in front of her.
“I suppose one never truly gets over things,” she said aloud in a raspy voice caused by a knot in her throat.
“Say again detective?”
“Nothing, nothing. Who do you think knew about this supposedly secret facility?”
“There’s always a chance someone could’ve infiltrated posing as one of the journalists,” said Officer Blaku.
“How many of the journalists are dead?” asked Sara.
“Well, that’s the thing,” said Officer Blaku. “As of yet, none. We can’t find any dead journalists. Actually, no sign of journalists, dead or alive. Only dead KIRN paramilitaries here.”
“We knew this day would come. Didn’t we know this day would come? We fucking knew it. And what do we do? We keep doing what we always did. We sign the ‘Iowa Accords’ and we just ask for more trouble…” Sara noticed she was getting riled up, and then in a milder tone she said to Officer Blaku, “Sorry about that.”
“Nothing to apologize for,” responded Blaku. “Tragedy of these proportions… Just wait till it hits the news. We won’t be able to keep a lid on it forever.”
“Any sign of arbiters?” asked Sara.
“Nothing. Clean as a private hospital.”
“How many would you guess for a mission of this size?”
Officer Blaku shrugged, and then added, “If we are to gobble up and believe their state propaganda, just one would suffice.”
Sara paused for a moment and directed her gaze at the carnage in the floors below her. Looking at all the dead bodies, she began to go back to that place in her mind she had worked so much to forget.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.
Music: Liburn Jupolli.