Friday, November 23, 2012

A Gentleman and Thief



“You can’t do this to me” I shouted as my fist struck the surface of my professor’s oak desk, “This has the potential to help hundreds of people, thousands if it’s successful.
My professor started to roll his eyes, but restrained himself.
     “Potential only. It’ll hardly save hundreds if it’s a failure. Mr. Valen, you’re working off of speculation.”
My hand clenched the edge of the desk, my face began to match its redwood varnish. Oh, I had proof, not any that the academy would accept— they would likely expel me on principal. Regardless, my anger was pointless and my eyes were starting to burn. I began to rise, but my professor motioned for me to stop.
     “Peter, wait.” He pleaded, “I understand where you’re coming from. You need a ‘Grand Discovery’ to be admitted as a member of the academy, and you’re nowhere close here. You think leaving will provide more of an opportunity. I beg to differ. Keep up your studies, give it time and…”
     “That’s enough, sir.” I said, putting a hand up, “I think it’s unwise for either of us to continue wasting our time.” I walked out of his office before he could say anything else. The fool was intelligent, smarter than the majority of the others in the academy, but he didn’t know a bloody thing. He lacked the perception that I had acquired, he gladly consumed the lies his superiors fed him. I could see through them. I would not be so easily fooled.
I walked through the halls of the Academy of Natural Philosophy, the pompous d├ęcor suited the building, mirroring the majority of its inhabitants. The streets in the lower city may be dark at night, but at least that darkness was real. This was the realm of the artificial, and I was sick of it.
I stopped by a map of the Pandyssian Continent which hung on the wall in a hallway. It was here, not long ago that I saw what the academy was. It was here that I was shown the truth. I just had to prove that I was right.
*  *  *
     A week later, I sat at my desk, reading the last of the literature I had borrowed from the library at the Academy. It told me nothing about the continent, other than the lies I already knew. They all said that which wasn’t desert was harsh jungle. They all said there were no inhabitants. They all warned against traveling or colonizing the continent. They were all gullible fools. They all lacked my gift, my genius. They didn’t have vision.
Regardless, it was time to return the books. The librarian had a habit of harassing me until I returned them, a habit I didn’t care for. It was night, so I retrieved my cane as I went out. You can never be too careful, in Dunwall after dark. The cane had a chamber in the head which held a capsule of trans. When a hidden button on the shaft was pressed, the capsule was broken and the energy was released on an unsuspecting assailant. It was the weapon of a scholar, inasmuch as he needed one aside from the pen.
I opened the door to leave my modest flat, when I was confronted by a man on the other side. I raised my cane, but before I could release the energy, he knocked it out of my hand.
     “Now now, Mr. Valen, is that any way to treat a business partner?” I took a step back, dropping my bag full of books.
     “Who are you?”
The man walked casually into my home, followed by two large, brutish gentlemen in the same, dirty, working-class garb as the first wore.
     “My name’s Slackjaw,” the man answered “Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
     I’d heard of him alright. “What do you want with me?”
     “Like I said, I want to partner up.”
     “I won’t work for a crime lord.”
His eyes widened at this, and he looked down at his chest as if I’d stabbed him.
     “Listen,” he said, “Do you really believe all of that crap those aristocrats spout about me? I’m just trying to help people in my own way. They just don’t want me to be doing it on their dime.”
He made sense, I suppose. I didn’t believe his motives were as honest as he made them out to be, Slackjaw was not known for his altruism. However, perhaps his reputation was as sullied as the Pandyssian Continent.
     “I’m listening” I said, hesitantly.
     “That’s all I ask,” he said, smiling. “Now, I’ve heard your proposition and I love it. I can see the potential for us to aid the people of Dunwall. I just need you to do something for me.”
     “What’s that?”
     “Convince me you’re not full of the same crap as everyone else in that glorified rathole.”
Could I trust him? I suppose this would be my only chance to prove myself right. The academy wouldn’t accept my proof, but Slackjaw might.
     “Very well,” I said, and looked him in the eye. Shortly after, his eyes widened and then he nodded.
In my eyes, he saw the mark of the Outsider.
The crime lord leaned back against the wall of my flat, and put his hand up to his chin, staring at me all the while.
     “Alright, let’s deal.”

*  *  *
A few weeks later we were almost prepared for the journey. Slackjaw and his organization had provided colonist volunteers and a crew, along with all of the required supplies and information. I saw the man himself very little, but the assistants he provided were very helpful, and provided anything I needed. The surplus of provision and support meant that I had little to do but research, something that consumed my time and attention, to the point where I began to habitually neglect meals, a tendency which led to the loss of what little excess weight my body possessed. This would have been tolerable, if my two favorite vests didn’t look like ponchos when I wore them. Thus, I was off to the tailor this afternoon.
Walking from my flat to the tailors shop was paid in turn by the quality of the man’s work and the pleasure of his chipper, optimistic demeanor. If not for his accent, he would likely have been a private tailor for the Lord Regent himself. My nose was buried in a book as I walked up to the shop, which almost caused me to walk in on an argument between the tailor and his wife.
     “And what happens when the colony, along with you, sinks on the way there? Or dies in the jungle? Your ticket to ‘freedom’ leaves us with nothing but the rent!” the tailor’s portly wife questioned.
     “Darlin’, I told ya, we’re bein’ led by that Varen fella that gets ‘is things done ‘ere. I’d always telled ya ‘e was a sharp one, ‘im.”
     “But why did you have to sell everything?”
My knuckles turned white on the doorknob. It was all I could do to stay outside. I waited a few moments to collect myself and then walked in.
     “My apologies for eavesdropping, sir, but did you say you’re paying to join my crew?”
     “Of course sir, those are the rules Slackjaw gave us.”
I pursed my lips and gave him the two vests.
     “Here, take these, I’ll be back for them later. I think I need to set up a meeting with Slackjaw.”
*  *  *
It didn’t take long for me to find Slackjaw, though I doubt he was hiding. It always amazed me, the information a man could buy from a beggar for a single coin, particularly in Dunwall. I walked into the warehouse that Slackjaw had taken over as a temporary headquarters. It reeked of fish and sawdust, a side-effect of residency near the docks. Slackjaw was standing over a table with another man, pointing at a paper and mumbling something. As I approached, the other man left and Slackjaw turned his attention towards me.
     “Ah, Valen, I was just about to send for you.” He said, keeping his eyes on the table. “We’ve rented a whaling trawler for the trip.”
I reached the table and placed the tip of my cane on the paper he was looking at.
     “What is it? I’m a bit busy at the moment.”
     “I’ve heard rumors that speak poorly to your character,” I said, and the room quickly silenced itself. I looked into his eyes “I’ve heard you’ve been charging the volunteers.”
Slackjaw’s eyes flashed wide for a moment, and I locked my eyes with his, reminding him that he was dealing with a man chosen by the outsider. After a long silence, he broke my gaze and his eyes flew wide again, this time in rage.
     “Listen, kid, where do you thing all this money comes from? Look at me, I’m not rich not like those bastards uptown. This is the only way to make this plan of yours doable.” He said through his teeth. “Besides, this way we weed out the nobodies.”
     “So that’s it then, you’re just like them.” I shouted, fingering the power button on my cane. My eyes were growing warm.
Slackjaw looked at me, sighed, and said, “Okay, I’m sorry. We should have talked this out. It’s too late to turn back now though. He looked towards the door where the other man had exited.
     He was right. I was still tempted to cave his head in with my cane, but he was right.
*  *  *
     The eve of the departure had come. We were to load the craft that night and depart in the morning, early. Since our brief confrontation, Slackjaw had been in touch more often. He seemed as dedicated as I to see this through. The moon was bright that night, and it hurt my eyes. But they always hurt these days, ever since argument with Slackjaw, they’d gotten progressively worse, turning from a slight warmth to a painful burn. I tried to shake it off. Soon it’d be worth every second I’d spent, every drop of blood and sweat. I had set one of the assistants Slackjaw had provided to the task of directing the crew that was loading the vessel, and went to my quarters. Slackjaw was meant to meet me there in an hour. I sat in the small cabin and looked through the papers on my desk, searching for any errors in my equations.
     After a few moments, I heard footsteps. I presumed Slackjaw was arriving early. However, two voices, neither his, were all I heard.
     “Yeah, this is the room.”
     “Is he here yet?”
     “Shouldn’t matter. He’ll be here to meet Slackjaw soon enough.”
     “Hey, you hear about our bonus?”
     “Jet, we’re hired muscle. We don’t get ‘bonuses’”
     “Yeah, well, we do when the boss pulls off gig this big”
     “I thought he was losin’ money on this”
     “Pfft, do you think the boss plans on letting this ship leave harbor? The Watch is gonna come arrest him and everyone else who don’t work for the boss, and the boss is getting money for the ‘tip’” Jet chuckled, “Not only that, but the crates all have his stamp on them, and he’ll be able to sell them all back. The poor saps that signed up just gave us all money for a trip to jail.”
     I clenched my cane. My eyes were fire. I couldn’t… couldn’t…
*  *  *
     The two brutes stood outside the door. One dropped the last bit of a cigar onto the deck. The heel of his boot moved to crush it, but before it touched the glowing embers, the iron door blew out and struck the both of them. They were dead before they hit the floor.
     Valen, or something that looked like him stalked out of the cabin. His demeanor was more akin to a beast than the gentleman that once was Peter. A soft red light emanated from his eyes. Cane in hand he went forward, ready for the hunt. He made his way towards the bridge of the vessel, making every attempt to keep to the shadows. Even the moonlight seemed to burn him, and the lights of the ship set his skin aflame with pain, growing the bestial rage that was consuming him. He— or it— continued to the hall that led to the bridge of the trawler. There, standing between him and his goal stood a score of men, armed with blades and rifles. Valen the beast charged forth, his cane above his head. Every time the cane struck flesh, men were cast aside, broken. Bullets and blades battered and bloodied Valens body, but more than muscle moved the man. Leaving a trail of blood, including much of his own, Valen reached the empty bridge. He moved the controls rapidly, taking the vessel out of the harbor. Just as the compass needle pointed the correct bearing, the body of Valen collapsed.
*  *  *
     I awoke for just a moment, and looked up, out a window. I felt the rocking ship, I heard the sea moving beneath it, and then the blackness came.