He had killed the dog. If Mark had known the consequences of doing so before he did it he never would have, but he had not known the consequences and he had killed the dog when she had jumped on him, biting into his arm to try to keep him in place. He had stabbed into the dog’s neck a few times, then cut her throat, kicked her away when the jaws let go of him. He had kept on fleeing, hoping that without the dog fighting him he would have enough time to escape the pursuing Protectors. Hoping that they would give up soon.

He had killed the dog. He really shouldn’t have.

Far behind him he heard a scream of deepest despair and grief, for a moment drowning out the sounds of boots to a metal floor.

“Sue! By the fucking Stewards, he killed Sue! My girl! My girl! Sue, my poor girl!”

He had run, and they had caught up with him. Four Protectors shaking in anger. They had not said a single word to him. They had not asked him if he would like to surrender. For a moment he thought they would kill him, and he was not wrong: not strictly speaking. They could have killed him quickly. They could in theory have been merciful.

In practice there was no way a Protector could be merciful to someone who had killed someone they loved and cared about. It was much too late to expect mercy.

There had been only a fury of punches as one had taken the knife from him, then he had been thrown to the floor and they had kept on kicking him for a while, still not saying a single word. He had screamed and they had still said nothing. They had picked him up and dragged him with them back the way they had come, still not saying a word to him.

The sight that met him was surreal. On the floor sat a young man cradling the dead dog in his arms, hugging her tightly to his chest. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he rocked slightly back and forth, face buried against the dog’s skull.

“Sue,” he sobbed. “Oh Sue, oh Sue, oh Sue, my girl.”

Ian, Kia and Eda pressed Mark down to the metal floor, effortlessly keeping him down no matter how he tried to struggle and squirm away. Ian pressed a hand over his mouth silencing his screams. Lua knelt on the floor beside the dead dog, respectfully taking off her coat, spreading it over as much of the body as she could.

“What should we do?” Ian glanced around.

“What we should do is drag this man off to the Wardens or the Guard and turn him in.” Kia snorted in contempt. “The question is: what will we do?”

“I’d say it’s up to Kim. It’s his partner this scum murdered.”

A murmur of agreement from the assembled formation.

Rin sat down on their heels beside Kim, a hand on his shoulder. “What do you want, Kim?”

“Let me have him,” Kim said. “Please. He murdered her.”

Lua leaned against the wall, looking back and forth. “I’m with Kim on this.”

“Anyone finds out and we’re all going to end up in the round chamber,” Red pointed out.

“Only us here. No one else will ever have to know.” Rin shook their head. “Anyone disagrees?”

Kia trembled. “That man killed Sue. She was one of us. I’d say we fucking skin him alive, and then get nasty for real.”

“Let’s vote, then.” Tye raised his hand. “Anyone who says we let Kim deal with him raises a hand.”

“Sue was one of us.” Rin raised their hand.

Ian raised a hand. Kia snorted again in pure contempt and raised hers. Red looked back and forth in the corridor.

“We’ll all be accomplices to murder of a ticketer.” Red turned to Kim, sitting down nearby. “You know what that means. You’d be killing a man with a ticket. You better have a good story to tell those Wardens when we return.”

“He wouldn’t give up,” Kia quickly said. “He wouldn’t stand down, and he had a knife, and he didn’t say anything about a ticket. Right? We had no choice.”

Kim nodded. “We had no choice. We asked him to stand down, but he didn’t.”

“The Wardens will suspect it’s not true,” Red said.

Rin stroked Kim’s shoulder, soothingly. “We will all say the same thing.”

“Then they will know that we’re lying.”

“But they will be unable to prove anything. They will be pissed off, but harmless.” Lua trembled in anger. “Are you with us or not, Protector? Are you really suggesting we deny Kim his justice?”

“Not at all, it’s just…” Red looked down to the blood on the floor. The covered body. The head peeking out from under the Protector coat. “When he returns to his Agency without Sue, his Steward will know the truth. They always do. He’ll be in trouble.”

“I don’t care,” Kim said, looking straight at him. “I don’t care what happens to me afterwards. You will be safe. You can all blame me if you want. I won’t speak against you. Just please let me have him.”

Red sighed quietly, raising his hand. “I won’t deny you your justice.”

Mark tried to fight again. He tried to bite the hand over his mouth to no prevail. The Protectors kept him down as they voted on his fate. Everyone raised their hand.

“Anyone voting for handing him over to the Wardens like we’re supposed to?”

No one said a thing. No one moved.

Tye said: “We’ll let Kim have his justice. We will all be complicit in an illegal death. For Sue, and for Kim.”

Lua nodded. “We’ll post sentries. I’ll take left.”

Rin hugged Kim’s shoulders hard. “I’ll take right.”

“I’ll come with you,” Tye told them. “Any trouble is most likely to come from there.”

They set off.

“Are you staying or leaving, Protector?” Kia watched Red steadily, almost as if he was an opponent. “If you are worried about being complicit in murder -”

“Kia, if this hadn’t been Kim’s justice, I would have been more than complicit in murder before I was done here.”

She nodded, looking away. Satisfied by his answer.

Ian pressed Mark’s head down harder against the floor. “Tell us what to do, Kim. Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

Kim hugged Sue one last time, then gently let her go. Let her down on the floor, wrapping her up in Lua’s coat. Bea took his place by the dog as he got up. Slowly she patted the coat, almost reassuringly, as if trying to comfort Sue despite Sue no longer in need of any comfort.

Kim moved over to the man on the floor, watching him in sheer rage and hate. “You murdered her. You murdered my Sue. Our Sue. You really shouldn’t have fucking done that.” He held up his hands, covered in blood and loose fur. “This is her blood. This is all your fault.”

Mark stared up at Kim as the Protector reached out to smear his own face with blood, almost like some sort of war paint, staring back down.

“You stabbed her three times before you cut her throat.” Kim had clear difficulty shaping the words. He spat them more than he spoke. “I’ll stab you nine times and then let you bleed out in pain. That’s justice for her.”

Mark screamed again as Kim pulled out one of his knives. At least Mark tried to. It was a decent attempt at screaming, but Ian kept him silenced, the scream no more than a muffled whimper.

“We serve and protect and pass on judgement and all that,” Kia remarked bitingly. “There. We’re all good. Protocol has been more or less observed. Go ahead, Protector.”

“Get him up,” Kim said, looking up at Ian. “If he’s laying down the blood will flow the wrong way. We have to at least make it look like he was stabbed still standing up and fighting back. At least good enough to fool the Wardens.”

Bea gave the coat a last pat and stood up. “I’ll help hold him. Ian, keep him quiet and take his left arm and I’ll hold his right.”

“He might try to kick,” Ian commented grimly.

“Let him,” Kim nodded decisively. “I don’t mind. The injuries will just be more convincing if he struggles. Mine too.”

Mark tried to shake his head, managed to reach out and grab Kim’s trouser leg before Bea had moved in, painfully bending his wrist back until he let go.

“Don’t you dare!” she snapped at him. “Don’t you fucking dare to touch one of us ever again!”

She looked up to Ian, giving him a quick nod as she grabbed Mark’s arm, still bending back his hand painfully. Ian responded in kind by strengthening his own grip, and for a moment as he and Bea pulled the man up against the wall his hand slipped.

Mark yelled at Kim, looking straight at him. “You can’t do this! You can’t be serious!”

Ian got his hand back over the man’s mouth. “Do we look like we’re joking? You killed one of us! You killed our friend and you will pay for that.”

Mark went limp, heavy in their arms. A hot stream of urine rushed down his legs, forming a puddle at his feet as he stared up at them. They did not take notice of this. It was irrelevant to them.

“For Sue,” Kim hissed through clenched teeth as he moved in. “For my poor little girl, you murderer.”

There was blood.


There was blood, and two bodies on the floor. The Protectors were hanging back, looking the scene over to see if there was anything they had missed. Bea was carefully and randomly striking at Kim who was barely defending.

“He must have been one hell of a fighter,” Kia remarked dryly. “Listen, I don’t think you need more bruises.”

“I stabbed him nine times, remember? I need some evidence.” Kim paused, then signed ‘enough‘. “Fine. Yeah, this will probably be enough to convince a Warden. And the Guard. There was obviously a fight.”

Bea took a step back from him, striking no more.

“One hell of a fight,” Red nodded.

“One hell of a fight,” Ian agreed, unsuccessfully trying to wipe his bloody hands off on his just as bloody coat. “You know, Bea and I should probably carry the body back with us to explain all this blood on us.”

“You carry it,” Bea cut in. “I can always say I carried it earlier. We took turns.”

Ian shrugged. “All right. I’ll do that.”

“We’re not supposed to move bodies, but it’s a pretty gruesome sight so I think we might be excused for not wanting to leave it out in the open like that.”

Kim knelt on the floor beside Sue’s covered body, wrapping her up in his arms, picking her up and holding her close to his chest. He was crying again.

“Sue… Sue… Sue…” he wailed softly, over and over in grief. “Sue… Sue… Sue…”

They wrapped the man’s body in a white sheet Lua had fetched from one of the storage rooms and Ian heaved the body over a shoulder.

Bea came up beside him. She quietly added, almost apologetically: “You know, I’ll carry him too, you know, if you ask me to.”

“I know,” Ian nodded, not asking.

No one said anything more as they made their way back. No one but Kim who would not stop calling out the name of his dead companion, Rin at his side with one of their hands on his shoulder.

There was no satisfaction, only grief and anger, but there had been some kind of justice, some kind of debt repaid. That was all, and it would have to be enough.

It would have to be enough.

Comments are closed.