Sub-genre(s): crime, drama, action
The past cannot be buried. Not for ELPIS, not for the residents of the Twin Cities.
Side-story featuring the Foxman Family that takes place in-between part 2 & 3.
01. Rumor (Casa)
It’s not a home. That’s for sure. He can close his eyes and walk from one side of the flat to the other in less than a second. If he lays down, his head will touch one side of the wall and his feet the other. Not even six feet across. Wait—no. Meters. He has to think in meters now. Aries uses feet, but Gemini uses meters. He has to adapt to this new city, to this new country, to this new way of living. And so do they.
Carl is laying on the floor half-curled into himself. He hit his growth spurt just the previous summer so this flat is especially small for him. Francis is draped diagonally across his stomach, still sleeping off the early morning hustle they went through to get into this place.
Their house back home in Aries is ten times larger than this; and the fridge that their mother bought only two weeks ago was full of food when they’d left. Unlike this place here where there’s not a single bit of furniture in sight. There’s not even a window. Just a door and a single v-light bulb swinging from a chain.
Apprehension boils in Allen’s chest as he finally sits down beside his brothers and wonders if he’s doomed them all with his selfishness, his gusto, his naivety. The escape and freedom dreamt up by a stupid runaway. Their story is a cens a dozen in these hard times. Kids escaping the draft or running away from a home they deemed abusive. On the train ride here, Allen read all about them in the newspapers. The articles all ended the same: poverty, death, human trafficking, scrambling back home, begging to be taken back. Just what was he thinking?
Back home in Aries they may have had to deal with their father’s unpredictable rages and abuses, but at least they had food in their stomachs, a big enough roof over their heads, and a damned window. But here? Here, they have nothing.
Allen Foxman paid attention to rumors. Whether big, whether small. They were good investments. The ROI was always fair even if they didn’t end up turning out to be true. Of course, sometimes the time and resources invested into dissecting these rumors didn’t exactly turnout. Gained nothing for what was put in. A bad gamble in other words. But those occurrences were far and few in-between.
There had been more rumors than usual circling around in the Twin Cities as of late. Not surprising given what had happened only a month ago. ‘Twin Cities finally free of crime’ was the general consensus. A stupid assumption really. Crime still flowed through the streets like it was leaking out from a broken sewage pipe. Morrowheat, modified conductors, generator conductors, illegal products—these things had never left the city even after Ophiuchus had made itself at home. Problem was that half of that circulation wasn’t Romano and Foxman family funded meaning that that money wasn’t flowing into Allen’s pockets.
Finances had been bad since that incident. No shipments leaving the docks. Had to keep a low head with Ophiuchus still poking around downtown late at night. There were rumors about them too. Something about them still trying to weed out a couple of ELPIS leaders still hiding in the outskirts of the city—following rumors about a suit-wearing woman with a tattoo on the left side of her face running around through the streets like a maniac. Apparently the terrorizing broad was trying to recruit people into ELPIS. A stupid, baseless, impossible rumor—Allen knew—but one that still had some worth.
Then there were rumors that Allen found absolutely no worth in. These were about a Foxman executive losing his head, joining ELPIS, and nearly sinking half the city. A terrorist, they called him. A monster. Probably dead and if not dead then better off dead. ‘Mr. Francis? Always was a quack that one. Too damned polite all the time. Always had a bad feeling about him. He was a cracked egg from the beginning.’
Allen made quick work of these rumors. So did Carl and Cadence. Allen put out this gossip with warning a pistol to the head and a sharp ‘shut your mouth.’ Meanwhile Carl had a more hands on approach. A fist here, a punch to the gut there, and a snarl of “Don’t you dare talk about my damned brother like that!” Compared to that, Cadence’s way of doing things was more nuanced. A pleasant smile, a thinly-veiled threat, a misdirection to some other rumor, or twisting the gossip with a choice few words. Same result. The people who started and fueled this gossip were rumored themselves to end up in ditches or bad alleyways—alive, sometimes bruised, and no longer inclined to run their mouths.
But rumors like that were in surplus in the free market economy of the Twin Cities. Nothing Allen nor Carl could do to stop them. Even with the help of the loyal men—Maximallian, Stefano, Ursula, and so on—who’d stuck with them after that night. Loyal bastards, they were. Francis had really known how to pick them. Unfortunately, more had left than had stayed.
So, with not enough men to trample out blabbering mouths and with these Francis-related rumors in unwanted surplus, Allen had to fold and opt to ignore them instead. And ignore them he did, until he overheard—
“Yeah, I definitely saw it. In this city! A snake tattoo on the right side of his face!”
Allen didn’t like to invest hope into things. Hope wasn’t quantifiable like time and money. Returns were negligible. But when family entered the equation, it was a different kind of story. Even though he’d heard whispers like these half a dozen times before, this time felt different.
More than half his paycheck goes to the damned rent. It’s a shit hole place to live, but it’s still expensive as hell. Then again, even the landlord is struggling. Can’t get any cheaper than this.
Poverty licks the streets. Money flows towards the military and propaganda. The Saint Candidate of Gemini Bella Lucia is on the radio repeating the same words over and over again in a pleasant, clear voice: Reflect on yourself and bring that reflection outside yourself. Absorb, reflect, protect this country that you’ve grown up in. Remember the vineyards that produced the wine that warmed your stomach on a cold winter’s night. Remember the reservoirs that light your child’s bedroom. Remember Gemini.
TAKE UP ARMS, the posters at work even say. EVEN THE YOUNGEST PATRIOTS CAN SERVE!!!
When Francis hands Allen one of these posters when he’s returning home from work at the docks one day, Allen nearly flies into a rage.
He’s out there working hard to earn a living for them and then Francis just shoves this in his face? What? Does he want to join the army and wiggle himself into the draft that Allen has tried so hard to escape? Does he want Allen to join? Want him to die out there on some field in the middle of nowhere and leave them all alone?
In fury, he raises a hand at Francis who instinctively raises his arms—but no. Allen knows he can’t get angry. He can’t be like their bastard of a father, be like the man they’re trying to escape from. And so he apologizes, orders Francis to tear up the poster, tells both Carl and him that only idiots dedicate their lives to the country, tells them that these sort of messages will stop once—if—the war ends.
“Well, then what the hell else am I supposed to dedicate myself to?” Carl grumbles. He’s never been a bright one. “Bella Lucia says that people who don’t dedicate themselves to something are bad eggs.”
“Family,” Francis answers suddenly, a glimmer beyond his years glinting in his eye. “Family, obviously.”
Turned out the snake tattoo rumors were big around the Gamma District. Campana family territory, unfortunately—but the Campana family was half-defunct, so wandering into the district was no longer a death wish or a social challenge for a Romano or a Foxman. Allen supposed it was almost like back when he, Fortuna, Carl, Francis, Nico, and Cadence had been kids. They were free to wander in and out of the east and west sides of the city back then. No strings attached. Not a worry in the world. Dangerous—Allen now realized. They could’ve been easily taken by the Campanas and sold ‘like furniture’ and ‘pocket change.’ Like those damned poor kids Francis had made them take in. Pathetic, pitiable things. Allen never really felt sorry for people but he did feel some inkling of compassion for those Specialist children. And compassion was a damned expensive thing to have.
Allen took Maximallian with him to try to find the source of the rumors. Didn’t tell Carl. Didn’t want to get his hopes up. Already enough of a pain hearing the man say ‘I got a good feelin’ he’s comin’ home today, Al’ after every other dinner they shared.
Together with Max, Allen followed breadcrumb trails about sightings of a ‘man with a snake tattoo on the right side of his face’ showing people ‘something beyond their imagination.’ A couple whispers about a ‘gloomy poet saying strange things and wandering around in the middle of night’ also seemed like they were worth looking into. Day in and day out, they searched.
Eventually all that searching took him and Max to a backwater alleyway behind an abandoned conductor-manufacturing plant in the district. He’d thought when he was younger that the number of conductor-manufacturing plants would decrease after the war’s end, but they’d only increased in number.
It was cold and raining hard now, and the air tasted like salt and soot. City smells. Nostalgic. The rainwater made the cobblestone walkway of the alley slick and slippery, and it was practically raining sideways so the umbrella Max held over Allen’s head was useless. As they made it to the halfway mark of the alley, a thoroughly-soaked man emerged from the darkness screaming at the top of his lungs and flailing his arms. A drunk bum, maybe.
Allen stepped to the side as the scrawny man barreled past him. Not too surprised at the sight. You’d be labeling yourself a tourist if you were surprised by anything in the city.
“It’s a damned monster!”
Having second thoughts, Allen reached out and grabbed him by the scruff. “What’s this about a monster?”
“T-The kids said it was an easy mark!” the man stammered. “Said it was some loopy, gullible geezer that I could make an easy cen out of! Said they’d conned him outta his shoes no questions asked but—”
Allen’s eyes narrowed, his grip tightening.
“He’s a damned monste—” The man’s eyes widened as he finally seemed to recognize Allen’s face. “W-Wait. Y-You’re Allen of the Foxman Family!”
Letting out a wail and blubber, the man ripped himself out of Allen’s grasp and scrambled out of the alleyway. He disappeared from Allen’s sights a second after. Lost to the rain and night.
“Should I go after him, boss?” Max asked.
“No. Waste of time.”
They continued through the alleyway together, walking forward slowly as the rain pounded harder and harder around them. It was coming down in sheets now—so thick that Allen could barely see his hand in front of him. Eventually, they reached the end.
Allen wasn’t quite sure what he’d been expecting to find there. An empty dead-end, maybe. A stiff, possibly. A suitcase full of cens, perhaps if lucky. A cluster of stupid kids chuckling to themselves as they spun rumor from imagination, most likely. What Allen wasn’t expecting to find was a drenched slender figure standing stiffly in the darkness. A man, gauging by the body frame. A sad sight really.
Allen stared, shivering in the cold.
Usually if you saw some creep hunkered down in an alleyway on the bad side of town on a rainy night, you’d either shoot them or run before they shot you. Especially if someone had been running away from them and screaming ‘monster’ only seconds earlier. Max seemed to get that vibe too because he reached for the pistol at his belt. But Allen placed a hand on his hand and stopped him short.
The figure didn’t move as Allen approached him, didn’t even flinch as Allen reached out to place a hand on his shoulder, didn’t resist as Allen pulled him more out into the light. It was in that light that the snake tattoo on the right side of the figure’s face became revealed as did the figure’s bleeding hand which had been evidently formerly gloved with a conductor. The conductor itself was now falling into pieces—crumbling into scraps and metal bits on the ground. Broken. But Allen didn’t care for that. Because that face—
Max let out a breath and shivered.
Francis, still gripping his bleeding hand, stared back at him. “Allen…?”
Allen never usually felt relief. Usually only felt contempt or occasional pride. Relief was only for when things were really good, for when he and his brothers would have enough money to live nice and easy, for when the doctor’d come back and say ‘all clear’ when he was waiting for his brothers’ health results in that underground clinic. But. This time as Allen took in his brother’s face—no, as Allen finally realized his youngest brother wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere—he felt nothing but relief.
The rain pounded into the silence that stretched around them.
No relief from Francis. Not even a polite smile. Just a stare that seemed to take everything in. Not even damned shivering which made him look unnatural and eerie as hell. Still off in the head, it seemed.
The entire scene reminded Allen of that time years ago he and Carl had gotten into such big argument that they’d both forgotten to leave the warehouse unlocked for Francis and Cadence when they came home. The two ended up sleeping beneath the Dioscuri that night with Nico and Fortuna. Unfortunately, it had rained. Hard, just like now. All four of them had come to the warehouse the morning after completely soaked through and shivering. Sick with fever only a couple hours after. What an expensive hospital bill that was. Back then though, Allen had felt more guilty and worried than pissed. He was always good about saving money for medical emergencies, after all. Not so much good on saving and looking after family as time had proved again and again.
But what was Francis doing here alone now? Where was that weird one—Pi? Did he finally get his head on straight? Did he finally decide to come home? No. Obviously not.
“Ophiuchus is sniffing around these parts,” Allen finally said as seconds stretched out into minutes. “Why’re you here? It’s dangerous.”
“There were rumors. I followed them. As is customary,” Francis responded calmly. “Why are you here?”
His calm nonchalance was as eerie and backwards as it had been back in that exitless room.
Rumors, huh? It couldn’t be the ones about Omicron, right? Francis and even Theta were more sensible than that.
Allen looked him up and down. Still in that same maroon turtleneck with a suit jacket thrown over it. A fashion statement or something. But no shoes. Only socks. At the sight, Allen tightened his grip on his shoulder. “There were rumors.”
More silence. Their breaths fogged in the cold.
Allen sighed. “Let’s get out of the rain.”
Fortune turns in their favor.
Allen gets friendly with some of the dock workers who dabble in the underworld of the city. And so, with the extra cens lining his pocket, Allen is finally able to buy his brothers a full dinner course. They chip in, of course. Somehow, they’ve also been earning some money on these streets. Allen himself is in no position to question them.
They stuff themselves that night with warm pasta in their small flat and begin their routine talk about the future.
“A bar in the Gamma District,” Carl says. “The Foxman’s Awesome and Badass Bar.”
“That doesn’t really have a nice ring to it though, Carl,” Francis complains. “You have to think about marketing and the audience and your patrons with these kinds of things.”
“Oh yeah? And where’d you learn all these fancy marketing things from?” Carl challenges.
“From a friend.”
“You mean your girlfriend?”
“Can’t open in Gamma District,” Allen interjects. “Too expensive to pay rent there. Can’t have a long name either. Gotta buy the name. Too expensive. Everything is still too expensive.”
After a beat, he amends, “But we’ll get there one day.”
It feels like a lie.
Even with the war reaching its end, better times still seem so far away. Allen wonders if he can really continue working like this day-in and day-out for the rest of his life. He wonders what it would have been like if they’d just stayed instead.
“This is home now?” Francis asks suddenly, staring at Allen not expectantly but kindly. Almost as if he knows. “This is home now, right? Al?”
Allen can’t find it in himself to answer.
“Yeah,” Carl answers him instead. “This is home.”