The air was thick with smoke and shit. It smelled like oil and rot, rust and decay and desperation. Between the market and the river lay the slums. Between the tank farms and the market stalls rose a shantytown of ill fortunes and shattered dreams. Young people came to the city from all around the countryside, but the city wasn’t a place where poor men became rich, it was a place where rich men became richer and poor men became criminals if they were lucky and corpses if they weren’t.
Metz chewed on the end of his cigarette, breaking the bulb in the end as he stood in the entrance to the nondescript hovel. The only barrier from the outside was a grimey sheet hung across the hole in the building. The beat down old building reflected upon the structure’s beat down old inhabitant. Metz lit his cigarette and leaned against the frame. A show of force, they couldn’t touch him, not Metz Jerindold. The people of Kor’ali knew better than that, if those Krullefor thugs hadn’t realized it, so much the worse for them.
“Metz please, be reasonable,” the hobbled old man who ran the ghetto was trying to tell him, “We can’t pay protection to two gangs, the Krullefor are everywhere, they won’t take no for an answer!”
Metz smiled and shook his head, taking a drag of his cigarette. He was a tall and lanky man, attractive in his own bushwhacked and weatherbeaten way, with dark hair and darker eyes. “You’ve known me for a long time Pardin,” he said to the man.
“Since you barely came up to my waist,” Pardin confirmed.
“Did I ever give you the impression that this was an optional arrangement that we had here? That you could simply choose to do otherwise if you so wished?” Metz sneered at the ramshackle dwelling, stepping further into the dimly lit interior, looking like he’d stepped in something foul.
“The Krullefor…” the old man started.
“We’ll deal with them like we dealt with everyone else,” Metz said simply, “The Krullefor, the CBD, the capsuleers sticking their noses where they don’t belong. None of them will be here forever. They’re vultures circling a fresh carcass, but in time, they’ll wander off when they get bored, when it’s no longer in their interests to care what happens to this place. But us? we’ll still be here, and where will you be then?”
“The council decided…” Pardin started, but Metz cut him off.
“I’m well aware of what the council has decided, and so the Angels have decided as well. You made the wrong choice Pardin, you pissed off the wrong fucking people,” He flicked his cigarette but into a corner, where it began smouldering amidst the trash and refuse. Pardin made to stand and put it out, but before he could finish rising from his chair, Metz had crossed the room in a flash and kicked the old man in the chest hard enough to crush the chair under him and pin him to the ground, knocking the wind from him.
“What’s that old saying Pardin?” Metz said as he ground his heel into the man’s chest. “Stick with the devil you know? Well, I’m the devil you know, and since it seems like you losers have forgotten that, I’ll have to remind you all. This planet belongs to the Angel Cartel. We gave you everything you have, and just like that, can take it all away.”
Metz snapped his fingers in front of the terrified Pardin’s face. He was still struggling to get enough of his breath back to speak as the fire from the cigarette slowly began to spread, creeping up the greasy curtains that kept out the afternoon sun.
“Traitors to the Cartel don’t last long, Pardin, and that’s what you all are now. You, and Mex, and Codaj, your lousy little neighborhood council, and this whole thrice cursed city.
“T-Thrice?” Pardin stammered out.
“Yes,” Metz said with a sly smile, “After today, Thrice cursed.” The fire continued to spread as Metz removed an object from his pocket and tossed it at Pardin. It bounced off his face and rolled somewhere out of sight.
“What is…?” Pardin gasped out.
“It’s about 100 milligrams of antimatter,” Metz explained, “See I know all about your little smuggling operation Pardin. I know about the plutonium fuel cells you have stashed here and I know how much you’re making off them. I know roughly how many there are and I know how far the radioactive particles will be carried when that bomb goes off. What a tragic, tragic loss of life, and to think that it was all your fault for not properly storing one of your antimatter mines.”
Pardin tried to shove Metz off his chest but the younger man was stronger and had leverage, “Metz please don’t do this, please, this isn’t you, you’re…”
“What?” Metz laughed, “A good person? I don’t know where you got that idea Pardin, you think this shithole raised me to be a good person? I was raised to get a job done, to do what the Cartel needed, to fuck up the people who needed to get fucked up, and today, Pardin, your number came up buddy. Nothing personal. The Angels remember their debts, you should have done the same.”
“Metz!” Pardin hissed and struggled through gritted teeth, but the gangster was unmoved. He calmly removed his firearm and put a round through Pardin’s head before turning and strolling out the door. The fire had spread to the wall and was climbing up the side of the building, its smoke mixing with the haze from the rest of the cooking fires. He lit another cigarette and shoved his hands in his pockets, strolling off down the crowded street past a group of children playing ball and a group of old women crocheting. He didn’t warn them, he didn’t say anything. Everyone who it was worth warning had already fled Kor’ali weeks ago.
He was already on his way out of the city when the bomb went off.