Dodoma (Valkyries, Chapter One)

 

About one hundred years ago, there was a massive plague that swept the globe. One of the big governments was experimenting with a super virus, and somehow it got out. Some people said it was an accidental outbreak, other people believed it was intentional. In any case, it got out, and close to a billion people died before they developed a cure.

They realized pretty quickly that some people were almost completely immune. I say almost because it still affected them, but I’ll get to that soon enough. They collected blood from those who were immune and they developed a vaccine with it. The disease was completely wiped out and humanity was saved. Something curious happened with the survivors, though.

It started with those who were immune. They didn’t get sick, but instead, their genetic makeup altered itself to ward off the disease. Call it evolution, call it adaptation, but whatever you call it, it was remarkable. They found that they were able to heal faster, and they had newfound abilities. Soon enough, the same thing happened to those who had taken the vaccine.

The changes were mild for the first generation or two, but they were very clear. After about fifty or sixty years, the changes had just about reached their peak. The changes could be classified in a few general groups by this time, with small variations and differences from person to person. Along with being able to heal quicker than before, every person had one or two newfound abilities. Basically, it broke down like this: torchers (they could manipulate and conjure flame), sparks (pretty much the same thing as torchers, but with electricity), shifters (they could change their appearance to look like other people, and some of them could even make themselves completely invisible), movers (they could make things move with their minds), and faders (they could teleport from place to place.)

After the plague, a lot of people had died, but for the most part, life went on as before. Cities were still bustling, people still went to work, and society moved on, almost as if nothing had happened. None of the crazy stuff you see in post-apocalyptic movies happened, not even the mass hysteria. People got sick, they got better, and they kept on going like they always had. I mean, with the exception of the new powers, very little changed. Fast forward to modern-day, and everyone’s powers are pretty commonplace. We use them all the time for various things. It’s been over one hundred years, so governments and politics have changed a decent amount, but we have survived.

Politically speaking, the world is indeed a different place. Over time, the world was more or less united. People tried the “one world government” thing for a while, but it didn’t quite pan out. There was a huge uprising, and there were wars all over the place. The United Nations eventually called a world-wide ceasefire, and held a meeting with the leaders of every country on earth. The world leaders decided to divide the planet into three segments, the Americas, Euro-Africa, and Austro-Asia. Basically, we have America, the U.K., and China in charge of the rest of the world; we call it the Tri-Council. Each of the major governing bodies has three members on the Council. Surprisingly, this has worked out quite well.

The first thing the Tri-council did was sit down with the world leaders and decide how involved they would be in each country’s affairs. Some countries were really struggling economically, so they spent a significant time protecting and stabilizing those areas right off the bat. After the world was more or less stable, they decided that issues of global importance would be handled by the Council, while more local issues would be dealt with by the smaller governing parties. The smallest form of government that was able to take care of a problem did so.

The other major change that occurred with the Tri-Council coming into existence was that the armies of the world were dissolved. The Council passed a law that war would no longer be an option, and that any disagreement that could not be solved at the national level would be presented to the Tri-Council and they would have the final say in the matter. With that, armies and battles were abolished, and it fell to the local police to keep the peace among the people.

This would have been a perfect system, except for the fact that humans are a violent race by nature. People may not have been forming armies and revolting, but that didn’t mean that they were completely peaceful. With the new world order, crossing borders and staying connected was much easier. This made organizations like the mafia a much more global enterprise, rather than scattered groups of loosely-connected families. Coupled with the fact that there were some issues the police forces could not handle, the Tri-council decided that there were still instances where deadly force was necessary.

About thirty years ago, The Tri-council commissioned two men to form an elite group of assassins who would eliminate those who threaten world peace. Alan Thompson (better known as “the General”) and a man now known only as “Trodaire” worked together to form what would become the Valkyrie Order. The two of them scouted out the strongest, brightest, and most skilled individuals on the planet and recruited them. They trained them in hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy, espionage, and taught them how to utilize their gifts better, expanding their abilities and using them in the field. Trodaire designed the Valkyrie blades; he came up with a basic design for twin short swords, but custom tailored each pair to the wielder. He adjusted the design to each Valkyrie’s fighting style, size, and gifts. For torchers, he made blades that could withstand intense heat, and would carry a flame; for shifters, he made blades that would disappear or camouflage their appearance based on their surroundings, and so on and so forth.

With the Valkyries’ weapons designed to be quick, silent, and effective, the members had to be the same. In time, they surpassed the expectations of the Tri-Council and were officially given a place in the government. The Valkyrie Order became the people’s watchdog, guarding them from internal threats, as well as keeping an unbiased eye on the government itself. If there was one member or group that began using their power to exploit other people, they received a visit from the Valkyries. If they still refused to change their ways, they were done away with.

Violent crime was surprisingly high in the business sector, although with any close examination it was very clear why. The mafia had their fingers in various big businesses, and they had their own way of getting the things they wanted. The street gangs, while not as organized or as sophisticated, had become more organized as well, and their murderous ways had placed them on the Valkyries’ naughty list. The Order would wait in the wings, with their leadership watching events around the world unfold, withholding the order for assassination until all other options were exhausted. That being said, they still remained fairly busy. In a world filled with billions of people, there were always at least a few people running around who needed to be removed.

As the years went on, the original Valkyries got too old or they died, and new teams had to be formed. At that point, the General and Trodaire decided to write a code for the Order. It was very simple, but it was immensely important if they wished to maintain their moral high ground in the world. The first rule was that there could never be more than twenty-seven of them. This was set in place for two reasons: the original number of the Valkyrie Order was twenty-seven, but on a more practical level, if the Order was ever to become a menace to society, their low numbers would make it possible for them to be eliminated if necessary.

The second rule was that they would not kill the innocent, and further, they would do what was necessary to protect the innocent. The Valkyries were to pride themselves on knowing that their actions maintained peace in the world, only eliminating targets who left them no other choice. This gave every person in their crosshairs the chance to repent of their ways.

The third rule was that they would cling to their fellow members as family. If a major threat ever arose, the only way the Order could survive was if they worked as a unit. Unity, community, and trust were to be engrained in every recruit, and training sessions would be held regularly to help nurture and maintain a deep camaraderie between the members of the Order.

That was it; there were only three rules. As the Order grew and changed with the times, these three pillars were designed to ensure that they stayed true to their original purpose. In time, the General’s daughter began working with the Valkyrie Order, eventually taking his place at its head after he died. Now, there’s a lot of history that I’m skimming over, but that should hold you over for now. Where the story picks up for you, my team and I were in the middle of a mission.

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Blaise, and I am a team leader in the Valkyrie Order. The Order is organized into teams of three, and my teammates are Dianna Alvarez and Patrick McMannis. We are currently on assignment in Tanzania; the mission itself wasn’t too difficult. We eliminated a public official who was using the police force to extort the people he governed. The actual assassinations seem to be the easy part of most missions; getting away has a tendency to be much more difficult.

Dianna and Ricky were ahead of me, and they had climbed out of a window in the official’s estate that faces the city. I dove out after them, and after a short free-fall, tuck-and-rolled onto the rooftop of a section of the building below me and continued running for the edge of the estate. Behind me, guards were clamoring out the window, trying to keep up with us, while below us at ground level, they were trying to shoot us off the roof.

The three of us had been working together for years, and we had discussed the plans for when and where we would meet up if we had to split up. Given the pursuit, we all knew that splitting up gave us the best chances of a clean escape, so once we reached the outer wall, we vaulted over it and took off into the night in different directions.

As my teammates quietly disappeared, I kept running, zig-zagging through the streets, climbing over obstacles, and after several minutes, I had shaken the guards who were chasing me. I knew that they couldn’t catch me at that point, but just to be safe, I kept running and evading until I had reached a place I could lay low until morning. I have be professional, after all, and getting caught would be highly unprofessional.

I ducked into the alley where I had hidden a backpack just for this occasion. Inside, I had a change of clothes and a hat. Valkyrie armor is designed to be hidden underneath street clothes, so I simply tucked my sheaths into the backpack and put the clothes on over my tactical suit. I snuck out of the alleyway and headed back to the hotel I had already booked.

When I arrived, I took the back stairs to the balcony of my room. Going through the lobby, I would run the risk of being seen. I don’t expect that anyone would look for me here, but on the off-chance that they did, I’d rather not have to sit through an interrogation. Getting up to my room, I popped open the balcony door and did a quick search of the room.

The front door was still locked, and nothing seemed to have been disturbed in the main room. I checked under the bed and in the closet, gripping the hilt of one of my blades as I did so. When the front area was clear, I checked the bathroom, and headed back out to the balcony. It was warm that night, so the slight breeze felt good. I smiled to myself as I had a snarky inner conversation with myself.

“You go through all that trouble to make sure no one is in your room. You’re more than a little paranoid.”

“It’s better to be safe; the moment I start to get comfortable is the moment I am most vulnerable.”

“True, but seriously, if someone did manage to get in here and get the jump on you, you know you would be able to snap them like a twig.”

“That may be the case, but there’s a reason we go through all that training when we join the Order. We have to be ready, and we always have to be vigilant. It’s who we are, and it’s what we do.”

My inner cynic sighed deeply. “You think people are following you, your paranoia knows no bounds, and you are standing here in the middle of the night having a conversation with yourself. Has anyone ever told you that you might be schizophrenic?”

“No, but I’ll keep that in mind.”

I shook my head and stepped back into my room. They say 80% of all communication is internal. We communicate more with ourselves in one day than we do with other human beings in a week. I suppose I could have a problem, but in the end, everyone has their issues. I like to think that mine make me good at what I do.

I locked the balcony door and double checked that the front door was locked before I laid down to sleep. Silencing my inner cynic, I tucked my blades under my pillow and turned in for some much-needed rest.

Suddenly, I was awake. I didn’t know what time it was, all I knew was that was still very dark. Granted, my eyes were still closed, but you know…anyway, I heard something. Someone was picking the balcony lock. I tightened my grip on my blades, opened my eyes, and leapt out of bed just as the door opened and the intruder stepped in. I swung behind them, hooking their arms behind their back and placing a blade to their neck. A low growl escaped my throat; I don’t really know why, it just happened. In my defense, this person had just woken me up quite suddenly, so I was still somewhat in fight-or-flight mode. All of this took place in about three seconds, so by the time I had the intruder pinned, they hadn’t had a chance to identify themselves. It’s a good thing I didn’t just slice them open, because after a short cough, the intruder said, “Blaise, get the hell off of me.”

I let go and tossed my blades to the bed as I replied, “Dammit, Raven; haven’t you heard of knocking? People have been doing it for centuries.”

With the dim moonlight seeping through the still-ajar balcony door, I saw her smirk.

“What fun is knocking? Sometimes I like to get the drop on you.”

I snort. “Yeah, that’s working out real well for you. I could have killed you.”

“Nah, you’re not the shoot-first type,” she said with a laugh.

This is Raven Stockhart. I met her while on assignment in Malaysia a few years back. I was on security detail for the local government, and she was sneaking into the treasury department. I busted her before she could steal anything, but she slipped past me and we had one hell of a chase. When I finally caught up to her, she brandished a pair of Valkyrie blades I had never seen before (remember, they’re all custom-made, and the Order is pretty tight-knit). We had a short fight (she’s quite skilled with her weapons, I just happen to be better), and I brought her into custody. The moment Tragedy, my boss, saw her, she rubbed her eyes, sighed, and told me to let the girl go. When I took the restraints off and led her back outside, she winked at me and blew me a kiss before saying, “So long, Romeo; I’ll be seeing you soon.”

I did see her quite soon after that. It turns out, she’s known Tragedy a long time, and she’s been an informant for the Order since she was fifteen. No one knows where she got her blades or who taught her to use them, but there’s no doubt she’s as good with them as just about any Valkyrie in the Order. Tragedy will use her from time to time to gather information, and since she is stealthy and can take care of herself in a tight situation, our fearless leader rarely feels the need to send her out with a security detail or any back-up. Since then, I’ve worked with her quite a bit. She lends us a hand when we need it, provides valuable inside information, and she is immensely helpful when an assignment requires me to split off from Ricky and Dianna.

So there’s Raven, in all her stunning glory, sitting on my bed and wiping a drop of blood from her neck where the razor-sharp edge of my blade had nicked her.

“How did it go? The word on the street is that three maniacs came in and killed the mayor and then disappeared into the night.”

“Well, it sounds like we did our job then.”

Raven raised an eyebrow at me and nodded before saying, “Does the Order have someone ready to take his place, or are they going to leave the position open like they did in Dubai?”

I put my hands up defensively and reply, “That was an oversight on our part, I will admit, but we got the situation under control. You know Dubai was a mistake and that’s not how we operate.”

Raven crossed her arms and tapped her boot on the floor. “That’s great, but it doesn’t answer my question. You left the people of Dubai without a leader for a month, and the place nearly turned into a warzone. What’s the plan for this place?”

“Well, now that the mayor is gone, we will tell the other local officials that an election needs to be held as soon as possible. We’ll stick around and make sure that the city stays peaceful until the politics stabilize again.”

Raven nodded and looked around the room. “Good; if you three were just going to leave, I was about to have some words with Tragedy.” She crinkled her nose as she continued looking around. “You couldn’t have picked a nicer room? This place is a dump.”

I chuckled. “It’s not that bad. I just need a place to sleep. I’m not like Ricky; I don’t feel the need to entertain the locals.”

There was a short pause, and it became clear that she had something on her mind that had nothing to do with re-establishing the government.

“What is it?” I asked.

“What is what?”

“There’s something else you wanted to talk about. It’s all over your face.”

She ran her fingers absent-mindedly through her jet-black ponytail as she gazed around the room.

“It’s going to sound ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous or not, it’s still bothering you. What’s the matter?”

“Well…the rumors about the Twelve keep popping up all over the place.”

“Yeah…and? There have been rumors about them for decades. No one’s ever been able to confirm that they actually exist. Is it really just some old rumors that have you this concerned?”

“Yes and no; it used to be you would hear about them like they were some sort of boogeyman. These days, it’s not just whispers and rumors of some secret organization in the underground. People are saying that they have been pulling the strings in political circles as well as a few seemingly accidental deaths. It’s just getting a little too convenient for my taste.”

I nodded. “As always, we’ll keep our ears to the ground and you do the same. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t any new information on them, and no one has ever actually seen them. Right now, they are what they have always been: rumors and ghost stories.”

She looked me straight in the eye and replied, “That’s all the Valkyries were until the General died, and we both know you guys are dangerously real. All I’m saying is maybe you should look into them, just in case.”

I held up my hands again as I said, “Alright, I relent. I’ll bring it up to Tragedy when we get back to base and see what she can dig up. Maybe we’re wrong.”

She pursed her lips and nodded again. It was silent for another moment before she spoke.

“So how long do you think you’ll be in town?”

“I’m not sure, but my best estimate is about a week. Once the people elect a new mayor and we know the police force isn’t going to stage a coup, we’ll pack up and go.”

“Alright; I’ll be seeing you then. You should probably get some sleep; you’ve had a long day.”

With that, she slipped past me and out the balcony door, somehow managing to lock the deadbolt behind her. I had to laugh; that girl was something else. She was right though. I needed to sleep. I had a coffee date in about three hours.

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