New York City
"Hey, Sal, got a cig I can have?" Mary-Ann Lewitt looked between her husband and her latest creation, sprayed on the wall of a vacant warehouse, and it was sprayed on the entire wall, at least 20 feet high. It was a bright red vulva with a hand, flipping off the audience, sticking out between the lips. It was painted entirely in menstrual blood, which had taken her months to collect; she called it "Period Piece: The Modern Age."
The Pakistani man frowned at Mary-Ann upon hearing her request, looking at her pregnant belly. "You're with child. It's generally not a good idea to smoke-"
"It's not for me, ya dimwit." She pointed up at her piece, wiping her bandana-covered brow with one hand. "I need a proper way to express how women are destroying their bodies with drugs and pills and plastics and lord knows what else." She dug in her pocket, taking out several dildos that, by all means, should not have fit in there. "I won't smoke it, I just need it to tie the piece together."
"I think it's fine as is!" He waved a hand at the Period Piece, smiling at her. "It's just saying that a period is the way a woman's body says "fuck you" to itself once every month. Maybe you could put a mirror over there-" He pointed to a warehouse opposite the wall- "or a sculpture of Eve or something, but really, it's fine!"
Mary-Ann elbowed him in the side. "You say that about all my work, Sal. It's getting old. I at least have the balls to criticize your shit."
"…did you really think that my Bacon Treaty piece was disgusting?"
"I thought it was disgustingly simplistic. But I did appreciate you trying to be 'Cool' in the sense that 'we agree'." Mary-Ann patted her stomach and sighed. "I'm hungry. Let's get some pizza or something."
"How about we go to the old place? You know…" Salah smiled, pulling a map of New York City out of his pocket and pulling Mary-Ann close so that she could see the map, too. "It was right… here." He pointed to a spot on 32nd and smiled as the warehouse district faded away to be replaced by the urban sprawl of Manhattan. Mary-Ann rolled her eyes and bapped him in the gut.
"You're gonna get fat if you keep on relying on the Cartographer's stuff," she muttered, walking up to the pizza parlor as Salah put away the map. "A bit of exercise is good for you. You can't just rely on those candles forever."
"The City of New York says I'm not allowed on the subway anymore, remember? Gimme a break, honey." He walked up to the pizza place as well, and looked at the menu. "Veggie-lovers pizza sounds good."
An hour later, the pair of them stood in front of the entrance to the BackDoor. Mary-Ann had taken the map from Salah and had forced him to walk; he was visibly winded, while Mary-Ann had barely broken a sweat. "Now that's pathetic. I'm three months pregnant, and you can't even keep up with me." She looked around the alley and frowned. "Where the fuck is Chuck?"
Charlie came out of the wall, his pink hair done in a mullet today. He frowned at the both of them, toying with a nose ring. "Now is not a good day to be in the BackDoor. Just warning you."
"Why?" asked Salah, still panting for breath. "Did Gilligans get in again? Just give them to one of the Baileys; they know what to do with Gilligans."
"Not the Skippers," said Charlie. "The Critic's in town. She's looking over the Cartographer's new thing. You know, the Korea one?"
"The one that shows every person in the country who want to dissent?"
"That's the one," he said, holding out a hand for their token. "You sure you wanna go in? It's gonna be Bedlam in there."
Mary-Ann handed Charlie her token and nodded. "We'll just avoid the Cartographer's place for now. We're probably going to head home, anyway, unless something comes up."
"Something will come up," muttered Salah. "It has the last five times the Critic's come into BackDoorSoHo. Why should it change now?"
"Point," said Mary-Ann, looking at Charlie. "You know where to contact us if shit goes down, right?"
"Yeah, yeah…" and with that, Charlie vanished into the brickwork. Soon after, Mary-Ann and Salah vanished into there, too.
Agent Ruiz Duchamp was not having a good day. His non-Newtonian shock armor was starting to rip at the seams, his gun jammed on the firing range this morning, he was getting cold sores again, his arch-nemesis was in town, and the barista at Starbucks put cream in his coffee this morning. He was lactose-intolerant.
Then again, as everyone in the MTF knew, Ruiz Duchamp never had good days. He hadn't had one since Milwaukee. He hadn't had a good day since his brother had defected to the Chaos Insurgency. He hadn't had a good day since he had met Nobody.
Ruiz was one of the few survivors of the Milwaukee incident, and ever since then, he had been ruthlessly chasing the shadow that was known as Nobody. He had almost caught up to her, once, in Dubai, before the scarf-wearing bitch had literally frozen him on top of one of the tallest buildings in the world. He survived, even though it took three days to thaw him out.
And today, the stupid motherfucker was here. In New York City. He knew exactly where she was, too, and he was going to take his entire platoon and kill that fucker dead this time. And there was nothing- not a fucking thing- Pico could do to stop it this time.
The van pulled up to an alleyway, and the task force stormed out, surrounding a large spot of graffiti that was located in the Alley. With an audible sigh, Charlie emerged from the brickwork, arms crossed. "I'm not gonna let you in."
"We have tokens," Ruiz said, taking out a pouch and opening it onto the concrete. Several tokens with the words "ARS GRATIA ARTIS" stamped on them, some still stained with blood. "You kind of fucking have to."
"I ain't gotta do shit, Gilligan. Piss off." Charlie reached into the brickwork, and pulled out a detonator from a red piece of graffiti. The cord went back into the wall, merging seamlessly with the entrance to the BackDoor. "Or I blow this whole alley to the Oort Cloud, and then your friends can have a hell of a time explaining to the NYPD why an alleyway blew up for no reason."
The entire MTF raised their rifles at him, with Duchamp sneering. "Go ahead and try, Aussie."
Charlie shrugged. "Eh. I can just be painted again. But since pink spray paint is so damn hard to find…" He sighed. "I'm going to give my guys warning first."
"The Critic probably already knows you're here."
"You won't kill her."
"Fuck you, paint huffer." Ruiz spat in Charlie's direction, but by then, he had gone back into the brickwork to raise the alarm. A subordinate of Duchamp's looked at him.
"Sir? How will we get in without him?"
"We wait." Ruiz grinned with a grim satisfaction. "We wait."
The Cartographer paced around his apartment, wondering where the hell she could be. She said 6:15 promptly, and it was almost 6:30… just where the fuck was she? Did she not think his masterpiece was worth critiquing? He had spent the last year working on it, and now she wasn't even going to show up?
"Son of a bitch!" York, the Cartographer, felt like flipping his cartography table. Didn't she think that maps would be considered art?! That little-
"Hello there, Mr. The Cartographer." He spun around, seeing a woman in a cloche hat, gray dress suit, and a red scarf standing in his display gallery. "I apologize for my sudden entrance. I take it I am not too late to see your piece?"
"O-of course not, ma'am." The Cartographer looked at his watch, and saw that it was exactly 6:15. "Come here, come here. The piece is right this way." York walked into the display room, and directed her at a map of North Korea. Once every second, blue dots appeared and dissipated in it. A countdown clock was in the upper-left hand corner, ticking down despite being made entirely out of ink, while another clock ticked upwards; the count on the second one started on December 17th, 2011. "I call it 'The Map of Dissent'."
"A rather uncreative name," commented the Critic, looking over the map. "I do admire the technique, however. It mirrors the cartographic techniques used in the Gojoseon period. I assume all these dots are dissenters?"
The Cartographer nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! Each one represents a single dissenter that can be found in North Korea, or at least, someone with dissenting thoughts. You can even zoom it in to a certain degree; I'm still working on the magnification."
"This clock," said the Critic, pointing towards the top. "It detracts from the work, somewhat, but it also serves as a nice juxtaposition; a pseudo-digital appliance in an otherwise medieval piece. What is its purpose?"
"The one counting down indicates how much time is left in the life of Kim Jong-un, down to the second. Once that clock runs out, he dies. The other one is how long it has been since Kim Jong-il died."
"Check your calculations," snapped the Critic. "Kim Jong-il's been dead for far longer than that — although nobody but the North Korean government knows, so I suppose I can't blame you too much." She reached into her pocket and took out a smartphone. "Apologies. I have to answer this mail."
The Cartographer frowned, and was about to comment on how rude it was to do that, when suddenly, chaos broke out outside of his window.
"For the love of-" Mary-Ann rubbed her eyes to clear away the Comic Sans as she stared at their dog, calling to Salah. "Honey, I think Gerry got his hands on Amaterasu again!"
"Is that font appearing around her?" He called back, chopping up carrots in the kitchen.
"Yeah! Tell him that if he touches our dog again, I'm gonna kick his-" Mary-Ann's phone suddenly rang, and she took it out of her jean pocket, sighing into the receiver. "What."
"M-A, it's C." Charlie was on the other end of the line, and he began to sing. "Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…"
"Shit! I understand." She clicked off the phone, and called to Salah. "Dinner's cancelled. We got Gilligans."
Salah stopped chopping veggies and stepped out of the kitchen, grabbing a pen off of his writing desk. Mary-Ann took up a metal slingshot, and looked around the living room of their apartment briefly. "Crap, where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"The cricket bat we got from Marshall, Blackwood and Dark! We're gonna need it if they're packing heat!"
"One: 'if'? Two: We loaned it to Dickens, remember?" Salah picked up his own slingshot and made for the door. "Now, c'mon, we got some Gilligans to kill, again!"
"Let's do this." Mary-Ann grinned as she rushed out the door and up the stairs of their building.
The Critic looked through her purse for a very particular item, her attention now completely distracted from the Cartographer's work. "I do apologize, Mr. York, but I need to take my leave."
"Wha-who? Do we have the Gilligans on our back again?" He peered at the Critic as he covered his map with a tarp."They're after you, aren't they?"
"Such insistent terminology!" muttered the Critic as she took out an aerosol can. "Just call them the Foundation. I know you think that dignifies them, but really, the fact that you even know about them is humiliating." She went to the window, looking below her; a large crowd of anartists was armed with slingshots, bullets that shot guns, cream pies filled with something that was both acidic and vulgar, copies of The DaVinci Code, swords made out of newspaper, and pens. They were ready in case the Foundation Agents came this way. "You all down there!" The entire crowd turned in the direction of the Critic's voice as she threw down several aerosol cans. "Have a party for me, will you?"
The crowd took up the cans, and handed them to the unarmed members among them. Nobody smiled, and everybody grinned at the new gift. With that, the Critic made her way for the door. "Perhaps we can pick this up some other time, Mr. York."
"Perhaps," said York, looking over a map of the BackDoor that he had drawn years ago. "Perhaps."
Nobody walked out the door, and nobody was in the hallway a few seconds later.
Ruiz Duchamp broke the neck of some no-name anartist who had tried spraying his visor with paint. It was ruined now, so he took off his headgear and started firing into the crowd. Around him, members of his Task Force died as their chests were penetrated by miniature guns flying at supersonic speeds, or their arms were chopped off by claymores made out of back issues of the New York Times. Ruiz still stood though. He scanned the crowd of bright, vibrant colors for any sign of grey-
There. Coming out of the apartment building in the back. That scarf gave her away immediately. Ruiz ran through the crowd, firing in front of him and gunning down innocent anartists in pursuit of his mark. Said mark saw him, and smirked in his direction before making her way down an alley. Agent Duchamp ran after her as fast as he could, not noticing the Pakistani man and the American woman on the roof above him.
"Salah, for fuck's sake, you don't have to make a bridge every time I need to jump a rooftop!" She frowned as her husband drew a basic bridge using his pen before letting her cross. "The baby will be fine!"
"Mary-Ann, you shouldn't even be doing this," he said the pen re-absorbed the spent ink. "You're pregnant, you should be staying at home in the panic room with Ammy and not out here, fighting the god-damn Foundation!"
"Oh, so just because I'm pregnant makes me a fragile woman now, does it? Ugh!" She rolled her eyes and took out her slingshot, taking aim at an agent that was just coming in through the breach in the gateway. She let lose a stone which grew in size as it passed through the air, eventually blasting a hole through the agent's leg. "Damn. Was aiming for his balls."
Salah got the message. "I'm just saying it won't be good for our daughter if you keep on over-exerting yourself like this." Salah started to draw up a chair when he noticed that an agent was running through the crowd, after a woman in… grey… "Shit! That guy, right there." He pointed at the rogue agent. "He's going after the Critic."
"Already on it," said Mary-Ann, loading up her slingshot with a cherry bomb taking aim at the runner. "Just need to account for trajectory and…"
Ruiz Duchamp let off a shot at Nobody. "Hold it right there."
The Critic turned to face him, crossing her arms with a wry smile. "Hello again. How long has it been since we last met? 6 months? 7?"
"Seven months, 18 days, 15 hours, 24 minutes."
"Zero heartburn," quipped the Critic. Ruiz raised his rifle at her, and she put up her hands. "All right, I get the message. You want me dead." She tsked. "Ruiz, you are the very definition of obsession, you know that?"
"Shut up!" Ruiz fired a bullet that grazed her dress suit. "You killed a lot of good people in Milwaukee."
"For the umpteenth time, Ruiz, I did nothing. All I did was try and encourage a little fun."
"Half the city died because of your 'fun'!"
"Well, yes. But that bug's been worked out now!" She sighed. "Nothing I say is going to keep you from killing me, is it?"
"Not a fucking thing, Lady. Not a fucking thing."
"Very well," the Critic said as she typed one last messaged on to her smartphone before turning it off. "Give my regards to Pico, if you see him again."
"Fuck Pico, and fuck-" Ruiz blinked at the sound of whistling coming from behind him. He turned to see a small cherry bomb fireworks sailing towards his head. It landed at his feet, the fuse disappearing into the casing. For what seemed like the longest time, nothing happened.
And then the Cherry Bomb went off.
The last thing Ruiz Duchamp remembered before it went dark was the smell of fruit, the taste of wild cherry Kool-Aid, and his eardrums popping. The last thing he saw was a woman in a grey suit turn on her smartphone as she walked off into the distance.