The first is Nikolai Revenant. This dark future will be free from Sept 8 to Sept 12
James Ligatos is a man with an unusual hobby. He turns promising young criminals into world leaders. His latest project is Nicholas Boyd, formerly Nikolai of the Revenant street gang.
But the little killer-turned-file-clerk is much more than Ligatos and his staff bargained for. As Kentucky attempts to secede from the Confederated States of America and rejoin the United States, Nick's skills and the group's training are put to the ultimate test, and the price of failure is death.
The next morning, Nick showered and changed into his regular work clothes of pants, a thin dress shirt and a nondescript tie. With the candelabra safely in his cardboard briefcase, the one covered in peeling vinyl, he waited. Around eleven, he headed out to Highland and Ligatos Pawnshop, where Vlad had first heard of the whole notion.
He bundled up the black raid clothing, still stained with Vlad's blood, and took it with him. On his way to the bus stop, he dropped it, and the well-polished knife, in another dingy motels dumpster. This time, he really was leaving Nikolai behind him for the last time, as he thought he had two years before. With great luck, no one would notice it. The maids would dump their endless wastebaskets on top, and it would go to the landfill. Worst case, they would search this motel and not the one where he'd actually stayed.
He caught the bus to Highland, flashing his GenroTech pass, the bio-diesel fumes choking him as it pulled up to the curb. He watched the Memphis autumn morning turn blue and hot. He glanced at the screen in the front of the bus. Temperatures in the seventies, close to eighty, the television announcer said. He'd heard old people talk about when November was the first sign of actual cold weather with long days of gray rain and sometimes ice storms in the last week. Now, it almost never got below freezing before January. The trees were just starting to turn colors.
He got off and walked the last few blocks to Highland. A couple of juvie gangs jostled for position on the walk ahead of him. He pressed against the building like any other working stiff, not wanting them to know who he was, not wanting them to find the loot in his briefcase.
There were more gangs every year since the last of the public schools had closed eight years ago. The Confederation had no clause for public schooling in its constitution and the group currently in power was very strict about such things. Under the previous and rather more lenient regime, there had been a looser interpretation of general welfare of the populace, and public schooling had been allowed, although only grudgingly. The churches were no help and most didn't bother running private schools, since their usual stance was that man should not lean on his own understanding.
As a result, jobs were hard to get and the few private schools were expensive. Most parents just sent their sons until they could read and do some math. School was illegal for girls and minorities. The church said it made them discontent. Nick wondered at the wisdom of cutting more than half the population out of the ability to earn a living. It seemed like a waste.
Nick had picked up enough in three grades and a series of reformatories to get a real job. Most boys weren't so lucky and ended up throwing boxes at Big Purple or doing service work like his father who still drove the Mount Moriah and Winchester bus route.
There was less and less service work to be done as well, as the economy shrank. He scuffed the leaves. Fifty years ago, he'd have been in college. He heard the United States still had mandatory free public schooling, as high as one could go. Even Heartland provided it through high school. Lone Star had taken the same stand as the Confederation.
He ignored the news screens on the buildings, letting the talking heads chatter at each other in their calm baritones as he looked for the pawn shop. He took in the news strictly by osmosis these days. It was always the same: saber-rattling with the United States, disagreements with Heartland, drought, crop failure, rises in the number of indentures being signed as people abandoned the city and their farms to serve the few wealthy folk. Tobacco raids, bootleg alcohol raids, sex party raids and the breaking-up of a secret synagogue all rounded out the news.
The street-preacher on the corner of Highland was harder to ignore. He towered over the passers-by, black and frightful-looking, his hair a wild mass of dreadlocks, his filthy robe tattered with wear. He proclaimed the end of the world in his great deep voice that carried for blocks.
“Even now,” he intoned, “events rush to their conclusion. The demon that squats atop the world has called his Nikolai to him.” Nick startled a moment at the sound of his taken name and then saw an ancient, battered copy of Nicolae: The Rise of the Anti-Christ in the preacher's hand. It was nothing, just weird coincidence. He had taken the name from the book, though, and something made him uneasy. Nothing had gone quite right on this heist. He continued to the shop.
Nick opened the door of the pawnshop into must and dust and the smell of desperation. Old contraband computers, old televisions, prohibited fiction books, cheap jewelry all piled together with someone’s wheelchair and old forbidden movies in formats no one made players for any more.