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Janitor

part 1 of Genetic Imperialism


Vincent arrives at a three storey building in Sector 2. The building is illegally subdivided into eight apartments, with forty three people bunking within, an average of 5.3 heads per subdivision. The ratio of immigrants (refugees, illegals, tax-evaders, materia-trading scum) to legals is four to one. Collateral damage to citizens is to be avoided. Citizens, Vincent read, but he understood: citizenship down here is proved by a scrip, so easy to take from an accidentally made corpse, and so many people don't have one to begin with. (A bleeding thinker, his squad captain had laughed, a bleeding-heart questioner, are you, kid? You should've joined the whitecoats, not the blue.)

Vincent has no photographic memory, not like some of his colleagues, but he understands text and subtext in ways that they do not. As his reward for daring to ponder, rookie and runt of the squad, Vincent gets sub-plate sanitary duty, day-in, day-out, and it's even stopped making him sick. (To assess, Vincent, whaddaya think you're there to do, evade, dodge, make judgments, avoid notice, and clean up the fucking mess, but changing the name doesn't change the truth, Vincent Valentine is here to kill, kill, kill.)

As with most other inhabitants of Sector 2, the building's residents appear to be asleep. On receiving his assignment, Vincent waited two hours after shift-change, an hour for Sector 2 to eat and settle, to drift closer to sleep, an extra hour for Sector 3's traffic to get to their stations. At the end of the street comes percussion and accompaniment, where children throw sticks at a red-dust cat, while it yowls, yowls, fucking yowls. Vincent knows it's midday over-plate because he lives there, the kids know it's midday over-plate because their body clocks aren't bent yet to the shape of Shinra's countless cogs. Where are their parents, and why aren't they putting their children to bed? Vincent laughs at himself: parents? Since when do they care?

With his primary hand, Vincent draws his handgun.

Military training does not take into account the circumstance of a Turk's daily life. A Shinra grunt might train cold, loading a part of their gunplay/foreplay/pre-battle routine, but Vincent is a Turk, blue suit, not blue uniform, and oh, the lunchroom wars that had been fought over that small distinction. Vincent survives by ignoring military training mostly, and by keeping his gun hot, heavy, always loaded. The building creaks when he mounts that pointless veranda. This must've been one of the original buildings, from before Midgar's amalgamation, when Sectors used to have names and skies and other redundant things. The whitewashed weatherboard's powdered with the rust that comes down with every shower of slick condensation. Such an ecosystem down here, Vincent marvels at it: it's got rain that isn't, looks like blood that isn't, comes from a sky that isn't. It'll be fixed soon, Shinra promises. People can live with anything, like leaking reactors, in exchange for a promise.

The cat shrieks, but not from sticks: the children have all turned Vincent's way, are coming his way, bare feet kicking up rust. Vincent makes as though to knock on the door, but it's open already, just a crack, crying like a baby when he tips it open. The air inside stinks of cooking rice, salt, sweat. And mould, Levi save him, the mould. The walls are phosphorescent, which must save on the electricity bills. Vincent breathes through his nose, teeth clenched against the urge to vomit. He can hear a distant radio, the evening news, Sector 6 won the final, shit. Damn compulsory office betting pool. Vincent bailed at team sports and future prediction a long time ago.

Floorboards groan; Vincent places his feet, rolls from heel to toe, carefully, well-balanced, he does not scuff. The nails have long since rusted out, replaced by pegs that sit proud of older wood. He does not want to trip while holding a loaded gun. He does not want to hide his gun. This way people (citizens or not) are aware of him as he passes. He is aware of them. Doors click closed, locked and deadlocked, as he comes. They'll be tapping messages through the walls to each other. Vincent knows what it's like, living like this, him and his father and seven other people in a room always hung with wet washing, not clean, never quite clean washing, but they'd tried; wet clothes somehow a symbol of clean clothes, of order, of newness. (Vincent's sure he's the only Turk who knows the name of his drycleaner, who apologises for the bloodstains, the splatter, the invariable pains.)

On the third floor Vincent stops, crouches in front of his target's door, and glances at the lock to see if it is: of course. A pity the wood's rotten. Vincent kicks his heel through the door, steps inside and discharges at the figure's turned back. Shock, confusion, a stagger at the window and there's wide eyes fix ed on Vincent's, just for a moment, but no questioning why. It confuses Vincent when victims ask why, and he - does not want this confusion. He does not want to think of why. (How fast can you run, Valentine, all while standing still; how many times must you decide to avoid making your own decisions? Fire the fucking gun, Valentine, fire fire fire.)

A bullet strikes the resident in the chest. Vincent pauses only to check; the resident will die soon, before the Sector 3 police can be here and get upstairs. Vincent descends by the rope that the resident had intended to use, out his narrow back window, onto the outhouse roof, and out into the alley that serves as a sewer for two streets worth of illegals.

There's a kid waiting when Vincent's heels hit earth. Vincent brushes his jacket smooth, considering. He can't help hesitating under that too-canny stare (no collateral, Vincent, but no witnesses either). Vincent leaves his gun where it is, hidden.

'You're a Turk,' the kid accuses. 'Bluecoat, fuck you. You got a gun, I heared.'

Damned kids, kids, and their fucking big mouths. The things people say about Turks, Shinra's pet murderers, child-killers who take the candy from the corpse and eat it too, but Vincent's never had to kill a child. Will never kill a child. Even bloodsports have boundary lines.

'And you've got no manners or shoes, povvo runt, what's your point?'

'Can I've a go?'

Vincent wants to laugh. 'Not a fucking chance. You haven't got the muscle. Levi knows where the bullet'd end up, probably in one of your friends. You want that?'

The kid draws circles in the dust with his toe. Lips writhe, swallowing that rejection, coming up with something else.

'C'you help my cat, then? She's gone all lumpy.'

Another one of Shinra's promises. He'll fix it. Soon. Vincent's smile tastes sour.

'Show me.'

Six bullets it takes. Five children watch Vincent relo ad his gun. On the other side of the street, four counterpoint sirens straight out of Sector 3's police shift are wailing fit to wake the dead (but the kitten's stopped twitching) or the Sector 2 shift-workers trying to sleep on their six-hour downtime. All the kids scatter, kicking across the shallow sewerage channel, they know their exit cue. No tears down here or they'd come out rusty, but there's no gratitude either.

Vincent buries the thing that had once been a kitten. He wipes his palms on his shirt, under his jacket where no one's going to see it on the train.


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