The year is 2075. Climate change has collapsed global ecosystems and economies. The rich have taken to luxurious space stations in orbit, while the planet has descended into lawlessness and tribal warfare. In this new world, honor is all that matters…
Written by Kevin Travers
Ezekiel opened a bleary eye to see the angry face of the man kicking him. He turned over, shielding his wine bottle from any damage.
“Traitor!” his accuser cried, giving his next kick some extra zest. “Dishonorable dog!” The old man wore a red robe, a staple garment of the Roninites.
His young student ran over to stop him. “Master Isaiah, why are you beating this homeless man?”
The teacher stopped to face his student, pointing an accusatory finger at the man lying on the sidewalk. “That’s Ezekiel!” He spit on the floor, presumably to get the taste of that name out of his mouth, “He was Head of Saul’s Guard. Lord Amnon has been exploiting our people for years, Saul was the only one brave enough to confront him. Our great leader paid for it with his life.”
He turned back to Ezekiel, sprawled on the sidewalk in year-old unchanged clothes, and smelling like a drainage hatch. “It was your job to avenge him… or die trying. Instead you lie here, drunk in the gutter! You’ve disgraced your people.”
Isaiah spit again, this wad of phlegm landing square on Ezekiel’s chest. The student gasped. This was the greatest insult a Roninite could send. Overhead, two police drones hovered, watching all. Ezekiel sighed. Looked down at the shiny puddle on his chest. Looked at the bottle of wine in his hand.
He took a swig from the bottle.
Hours later, Ezekiel stumbled through a stream of people, down a sweaty alleyway, drones still in tow. It was around sunset, but hard to tell with all the soot and filth left in the sky after the wars. These were the refugee ghettos, a haphazard mishmash of high rise apartment blocks built to house those who came during the floods. They were dilapidated before they opened, with nowhere near enough space for all the people. Four to a room, with a roof that hadn’t caved in yet, was considered luxurious.
There was a commotion off in the distance, an explosion or gunshot, and the sounds of human chaos. The drones went over to check. Ezekiel turned a corner and picked up the pace, his drunken stumble turning into a purposeful stride. In an empty alleyway, Ezekiel came to a manhole cover. He looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched and lifted it open.
Ezekiel trudged through a dank sewer tunnel. He poured out the contents of his bottle, revealing water. Most days, it was water. Some days, it was wine. For the middle path is the way of the warrior.
In a dark elevated tunnel, he came to an abandoned maintenance shed, the wood rotting off the door frame. He pulled out a key and opened it.
Inside the candlelit room, three Roninites sat around a carpet. Two of them- Elijah and Immanuel- were deep in meditation. The third- Jehovah, the muscle- watched the newcomer, his face bent in displeasure. Ezekiel ditched his dirty clothes revealing his sacred red robe, and took a seat at the head of the group. The full attention of the Roninites was given to their leader.
“One year ago, Lord Amnon sentenced our Master Saul to death. He was given a choice- an easy one, or an honorable one. Our Master chose honor, taking a blade to his own stomach. Our time for revenge has almost arrived.”
Jehovah couldn’t bite his tongue any longer. He slammed the floor. “Our time is now! Every day we wait, we risk getting caught! We have a way up, what are we waiting for?”
“A way in. To Amnon.”
“To Amnon?! He has more protection than the Pope, we’ll never get that close! That’s not the point!”
“What is the point?”
“We go up there and send a message!” barked Jehovah. “Kill as many of his lackeys as we can! Die in a blaze of glory, the devil can suck my cock!”
“We do that and we barely dent his front line. Lashing out is what he expects from us, wants from us. He doesn’t give a shit about glory,” Ezekiel reasoned.
“The people out there laugh at us! They spit at us! We’ve been dishonored. Amnon has been slaughtering our people since Saul’s been gone. He killed my wife. My daughter… worse. We need revenge. I need revenge.”
Ezekiel nodded. He knew pain, but not that pain. After Saul’s death, he divorced his wife and took on the reputation of a drunk. Cutting all ties was the only way to protect her and their son. She had since remarried. That was good… it would shield her from any retribution. And there would be retribution.
“Put your faith in the plan,” said Ezekiel. “You will have revenge.”
“I trust Ezekiel,” Immanuel said, the soft-spoken heart of the group.
“How close are we, Elijah?” Ezekiel asked their fourth member, a scrawny nervous kid barely out of adolescence.
“There’s orders coming in. Any day now,” Elijah smiled crookedly.
“We wait,” Ezekiel said.
With that, it was decided.
Ezekiel lay on the sidewalk, bottle in hand. The afternoon sun had managed to break through the smog, a few precious rays of light landing on his face. He savored them.
Elijah passed him in a Kira Corp construction uniform. He made eye contact and grinned, before continuing on.
That night, the Roninites gathered around the carpet.
“Elijah has been working for the past 6 months at Kira Corp, looking for a way in”, Ezekiel told the crew.
“The number one choice for the rich and orbital!” Elijah added. “Pay sucks.”
“Today, it came. A job in the residential ring on Space Station 7.”
“New marble floors, for none other than Assbag Amnon himself!” Elijah held up an order sheet. “The job’s in three days.”
A charge filled the room.
“We’ve got a friendly in transport,” Ezekiel informed them. “He can get us in. We pose as contractors and take their ship up. We get past customs, get past security, and hopefully get to Amnon’s apartment to find him alone.”
“Probably jerking off to kiddie porn,” Jehovah couldn’t resist.
“We keep casualties down. Only unfriendlies. Our target is Amnon.”
They each nodded.
“Anyone fly in a rocket before?” Immanuel asked.
“I drove in a car,” Elijah answered. “Once.”
“I don’t have to tell you…” Ezekiel continued, “this is a one-way trip. Once we step onto that space station, there’s no getting off. We need to decide right now if this is still worth dying for.”
Ezekiel pulled out a metal handle and pressed its button. A ten-inch laser shot out. The laser blade, weapon of choice for the Roninites.
Jehovah fired up his, in no uncertain terms.
“I’m in. If all this waiting gets us to Amnon, it’ll have been worth it.”
Elijah fired up his.
“Saul took me in when I was a kid. No one else would. I’d be proud to avenge him.”
Immanuel fired up his.
“I’m not doing anything else this weekend.”
Ezekiel looked around at his peers.
“We have three days left on Earth. Make them the best you’ve ever had.”
On an overcast morning, rocket X-47 sat on a busy launch pad, waiting to touch the heavens. Inside, a group of Kira Corp employees tied down heavy slabs of marble.
The Roninites passed through security clearance, dressed in the same uniforms and carrying heavy bags. The man in the security booth shared a knowing nod with the group, handing Jehovah a pass card, the key to accessing the ship’s interface.
The Kira Corp workers heard a knock at the door.
“Who is it?”
They opened to find the Roninites’ laser blades pointed at their necks.
The rocket shook violently, finally coming to a stop as it reached the weightlessness of orbit. The Roninites, strapped in their seats, breathed heavy sighs of relief. Outside a tiny window, the Earth spun below them in green, white and blue, looking so peaceful from a distance. There was a quiet moment of child-like wonder as they all stopped to stare. They drifted towards a shining metal wheel, spinning silently in orbit against the deepest of black. The docking bay opened, preparing to swallow them up like a whale.
In the 2050s, Kira Corp offered an escape from the conflicts of Earth with their Home Living in Orbit campaign- thirteen massive cities in space, with luxury apartments, one hell of a view, and all the comforts those with the cash to afford them could ever want. Rotation created artificial gravity, and a regular stream of rockets supplied them with everything needed for opulent living in space. It was in the penthouse master suite of Space Station 7 that Amnon would be found.
“Vessel X-47, prepare to board,” a voice said over the speaker.
Elijah suddenly panicked, the stakes of their mission hitting him.
“What if the contractors get out?” he asked nervously.
“They’re tied in a maintenance closet. No one will check until night.”
“What if we can’t trust our friendly? There’s a lot of money in reporting rebels…”
“We can.” Ezekiel said calmly.
“What if they check the marble…”
Immanuel reached over and slapped him across the face.
“Shut the fuck up.”
The ship entered and came to a stop.
The crew waited at the door for the customs security check. Elijah bit his nails. Immanuel said a silent prayer. Jehovah bounced from foot to foot, prepared for a fight. Ezekiel breathed.
The door slid open. An armed security team stood on the other end, with rifles at the ready. The Roninites were outnumbered 2 to 1.
“What are you here for?” the guard asked suspiciously.
“Renovations,” Ezekiel said, handing him the order sheet.
The guard looked around at each of the crew. He looked behind them at the heavy slabs of marble. He considered the effort it would take to check them all.
“Who’s it for?” he finally asked.
“The Penthouse Suite. Amnon.”
The guard shrugged. Waved them in.
“Go ahead. And be careful… that guy’s a prick.”
They each grabbed a handle and rolled the marble cargo through the gates. They passed a facial recognition scan, the guard distracted by his sandwich.
Elijah tried to regain control of his heartbeat and his colon.
“A lot of people hate Amnon,” Ezekiel whispered with a wink.
They walked through the commercial zone, an extravagant stretch of stores akin to Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue in the past, umbrellaed by a skylight that peeked out at the cosmos. It had fake cobblestone paths and plastic palm trees. Men in suits and women in dresses leisurely strolled by, stopping to check out some jewelry or look at a watch. The Roninites gazed at them in awe, witnessing a world they had only ever heard about through story. They passed an armed security guard every few feet, Jehovah watching them nervously.
“Stop staring,” Ezekiel said. “Act like we belong.”
At the end of the path was a large set of double doors.
“The residential ring,” Ezekiel said with a grin. The doors opened as they approached.
“Stop!” Someone shouted. They turned to see the security guard from the facial recognition scan running towards them. “Stop those men!”
The shoppers watched in dazed confusion. It was too late. The Roninites had entered the ring with their cargo. Jehovah gave a wave as the doors shut behind them.
In the penthouse suite of Space Station 7, Lord Amnon tied his silk bathrobe and waddled across the Persian carpet floor of his living room. Finished with lunch, he still felt unsatisfied. His body ached. Obese and greasy, beady-eyed and sluggish, he plopped himself on the Versailles sofa with a huff.
He looked out his wraparound window at the planet below. Sighed in disgust. The view didn’t do it for him like it used to. He needed some other fix. Amnon picked up the phone.
“Send the girl in.”
There was a pause.
A minute later two large bodyguards, twins, came through the door. They dragged in a young girl by her arms, doing their best to ignore their own consciences. Barely twelve, scared and trembling, they tossed her in like meat to a lion and shut the door behind them. Amnon turned to look at her, with a smile that made her skin crawl.
“Hey little girl… What’s your name?”
An Earth girl, she had been taken this morning and was a long, long way from home. She hid behind his heavy oak desk. Amnon’s smile widened. He liked it when they resisted. He stood up, and slithered across the room towards her.
A loud siren rang out, causing them both to jump. The bodyguards poked their heads back in.
“Sir, we have to go.”
“There’s been a security breach.”
Inside the residential ring, sirens blared and chaos ensued. Security pounded on the double doors, now blocked by the stacks of marble. Ezekiel and Jehovah pushed off the top slabs, revealing a hollow center and a stash of guns. The other two stacks were positioned in front for cover. They ducked behind them as the much smaller, much less experienced inner ring security team spilled into the foyer.
“Stop!” One of them shouted. “You’re under arrest. Lay down your arms…”
A bullet shot through his head, smoke rising from the barrel of Jehovah’s pistol. A gun fight ensued, bullets tearing through metal and marble. The guards had them outnumbered, but the Roninites had cover, preparation, and the element of surprise. They picked off the guards one by one, until all that was left was a room full of smoke and bodies.
Ezekiel ran over to the elevator. Pressed the button. There was no movement.
“Alarms must shut ‘em down,” Jehovah said.
They pushed the slab off the front stack and pulled out what looked like a harpoon gun. Ezekiel walked over to the wall and fired. The hook soared up over three levels of floors, the connecting rope whistling through the air, before finally running out of steam and landing on the fourth and final balcony. Its claws dug in. Ezekiel pulled the rope apart, revealing a rope ladder.
The four started climbing.
It was shaky, the rope swaying and jerking with every step. Ezekiel looked down around the second floor and felt a wave of vertigo, his hands drenching in cold sweat. He looked up, took a deep breath, and tried not to think about it.
A security guard who had been in the bathroom arrived late in the foyer. He saw his dead pals, saw the Roninites climbing the ladder, and clumsily pulled out his pistol.
Immanuel felt a fire rip through his shoulder. The ladder rocked as the Roninites tried to hold on, realizing they were under attack. Ezekiel pulled out his pistol, taking aim. The ladder again jerked wildly, and he missed. Immanuel felt another fire blast through his chest. He lost control, his body in free fall. Ezekiel steadied his hand and fired. The guard’s hat blew off as a spray of blood left the exit wound.
The Roninites slid down to the foot of the ladder. They found Immanuel in bad shape- two bullet holes, lying in a pool of his own blood, his leg snapped and sideways.
“Well…” he said through sharp, shallow breaths, “at least… I got… to see space… huh?”
“Want me to take care of it?” Ezekiel asked, resting a comforting hand on Immanuel’s shoulder.
“Nah… This one’s… between me… and the maker.”
He fired up his laser blade.
“I’ll be… seeing you guys… soon.”
Laser cut through the lock of the door on Amnon’s apartment. The Roninites burst in. They found the living room empty, save for the girl cowering behind the desk. Ezekiel and Elijah went to search for Amnon. Jehovah went to the little girl. He kneeled beside her. She pulled back, afraid.
“Hey… it’s okay,” he put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re safe now.”
Jehovah helped her to her feet. He reached into his pocket, pulling out the ship’s pass card.
“Go. Find someone to take you back to Earth. Give them this.”
She nodded and ran off. Jehovah felt a peace he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Ezekiel and Elijah returned, empty-handed.
“Where’d he go?”
The three pondered the question for a moment. Ezekiel looked out the window, noticing the stream of ships leaving for the Earth.
Inside an escape pod, Amnon paced anxiously as the twins prepared for launch.
“Hurry up, let’s get out of here!” he commanded.
“We have to wait for clearance,” a twin protested.
“Fuck clearance, I own this place!”
He fired up the engine. The ship jerked, but stayed in place.
“They need to release the hatch,” the other twin said. “I can do it manually…”
He got up from his seat and left the pod to take care of it.
There was the sound of physical exertion, as he tried to pull down the large metal hatch holding them in place. Then there was a strange sound, almost like a gurgle. Then there was silence.
The twin returned, grasping his throat with a startled look on his face. He looked down at his bloodied hands and collapsed on the floor. The Roninites entered, Ezekiel holding a bloody laser blade, Jehovah with a pistol. The other twin reached for his gun. Jehovah put a bullet in his head.
They circled around Amnon, grinning. Overtaken with panic, he passed out.
Amnon woke on the Persian rug of his apartment floor. He looked up through a bleary eye to see the desk blocking the door, and the four Roninites circled around him. He made eye contact with Ezekiel. Ezekiel could tell he recognized him and smiled.
“It was here. Do you remember? This was the place where you killed Saul.”
Ezekiel paced around the living room, the Earth spinning behind him.
“He was called here because you wanted more from our people than we could give. To submit to your demands would mean the starvation of many. Saul explained this to you, and you insulted him. Spit at him. Do you remember?”
Amnon whimpered something unintelligible.
“He challenged you to a duel. A fair fight. Instead, you sent your guards on us. We fought off many, but couldn’t fight them all. You gave Saul a choice- an easy death, or an honorable one. Today, I give you the same choice.”
“No… please…” Amnon sobbed.
“You forced me back to Earth, to tell my story and spread your fear, confident you would never face the consequences of your actions. Tell me, Lord Amnon… are you feeling confident now?”
“Please… let me go, I’m not ready…”
“An easy death…” Ezekiel fired up his laser blade, “or an honorable one?” Jehovah handed him his.
“I’M NOT READY!” Amnon burst out in tantrum. The handle rolled across the floor. The Roninites smiled.
“A dishonorable one.”
Elijah pulled Amnon’s arms until his head was hanging over the edge of the sofa. Jehovah sunk his knee into Amnon’s back, pinning him in place. Amnon begged and pleaded but didn’t put up a fight. Ezekiel handed his laser blade to Jehovah.
“You do the honors.”
Jehovah grinned like a kid on Christmas morning. He lifted the blade over his head, closing his eyes to offer a whispered prayer.
He opened his eyes, now filled with the rage of a thousand suns.
He slammed down the blade. There was a rolling across the floor, and it was done.
The Roninites shared a breath of satisfaction before the pounding on the door started.
The Roninites nodded to each other. They knew what they had to do. If they were arrested, they could be identified. If they died here, the same. That would bring retribution against their people back on Earth. They only had one choice. To disappear.
They each fired up a laser blade, holding it out in front of them, and charged for the window. The Roninites crashed through Space Station 7, their momentum carrying them towards their home planet.
In a few seconds, their skin would swell as the water in their bodies vaporized. They would feel a bubbling on their tongue, as their own saliva boiled. Cosmic radiation would cook them as they suffocated from lack of Oxygen, and in a few hours their mummified remains would burn up in the atmosphere, erasing any trace of them.
For a moment though, before any of that happened, they felt true freedom. Floating over the Earth, free from the bounds of gravity, free from the bounds of honor, free from the bounds of having a future and the worries it entails. There was nothing left but the present moment, and the most beautiful view in the Solar System.
Ezekiel thought about his wife, somewhere down there. Thought about his son. He was sad to let them go, but was blessed to have had them. That would be enough. For the middle path is the way of the warrior. He closed his eyes, and exhaled his last breath.
Word soon spread back on Earth of the bravery these Roninites had shown. With no one keeping them under their thumb, their tribe began to prosper. A monument was erected to the four great heroes, a statue in the middle of a quiet park.
One morning, one year later, the teacher Isaiah came to pay his respects. He put down a mat and kneeled before the statue of Ezekiel.
“I come to you for forgiveness,” he said, his head bowed. “I was wrong about you. You have honored your people. I insulted you, and for that I am eternally sorry.”
The old man sighed. Pulled out his laser blade. Fired it to life.
“There’s only one way to set things right. Forgive me, Ezekiel.”
There was a hiss, and the smell of burning flesh, as he dug the blade deep into his stomach. Isaiah’s body slumped on the floor, sun shining, birds chirping. A fair death in the world he lived in. For he had dishonored a hero. And honor is all that matters.
Special thanks to Daniele Boloelli’s History on Fire series, The 47 Ronin