You look out of place in this bar, as usual. It's not really an 'Otaku' hot spot. Tough guys in the corner leer at you, sniggering mirthlessly, snarling like animals. Their heads are shaven, with barcodes tattooed on the sides of their skulls. Whether it's a crude joke, a gang insignia, or something altogether more sinister, you're fully aware they could kick your ass. Keeping your head down, you adjust your faded 'K-Off!' anime t-shirt, and scratch mindlessly at your acne scars.
The man has never been late before. Indeed, he was usually there by the time you arrived, as drunk, foul-smelling and hairy as ever. But today is different. You've lost weight since he last saw you - indeed, you could almost believe you were 'good looking'.
Well. Relatively speaking.
All things are relative. Right?
Your hackles rise, and a second later, an ice cold hand grips your shoulder like a vice.
"...I didn't smell you coming..." you shudder, your whiny nerd voice completely ruining what might have been a cool, contemplative response to a nasty surprise.
"What can I say. I've cleaned up my act a little. I have a job now ... it's only contract work, but it pays very well. It seems some of the old Adventurers from the Scar's early days have formed a syndicate, and are tracking down old dogs like me to give us a second chance. We do have certain ... skills. To last in the Scar as long as us, especially in the early days, you needed more than training. More than just your wits, more than honed reflexes and quick trigger finger. No... you need something more, kid ... and I figure, in a different life, you might have had it."
Clean shaven, with his long, greasy hair now washed and layered, he could have been a different person. A nice brown jacket, cargo pants and a white flannel shirt lent him an intelligent but unpretentious air, while his eyes, formerly bloodshot, sparkle with vulpine cunning.
"How do you figure?" You ask him, shifting on your barstool as he glides behind you, taking a seat to your right.
"An orange juice, and double whiskey for the kid." he raises his hand, nodding at the new barmaid. The busty woman is wearing a low-cut top and tight leather pants. Noteably, she sports a chinese-character tattoo on her left breast. Or maybe that's just you gawking mindlessly as your base instincts take hold. She appraises both of you, then smiles at him, preparing the two beverages and sliding them down the bar. You watch his idle past, into his waiting hand. In the process, you manage to miss your own, which rockets on past you.
His free hand shoots out, catching it and placing it noisily in front of you. The dark brown liquid stinks, and you turn up your nose in distaste.
"You noticed me a moment before I grabbed you. Provided your luck held out until you got your bearings, and you bulked up a little... there's a chance you'd end up like me. Those little twitches ... that sixth sense, whatever you want to call it. The more you cheat death, the more it grows, until finally, you're catching grenades over your shoulder and returning them to sender, hard enough to knock the bastard's teeth from his mouth before blasting him into oblivion. Trust me - that never gets old, even for a lone wolf like me."
"So I could be like ...Rutano the Gaijinja?" you stare over at the man, star struck.
He stares back at you for a long moment, then takes a dainty sip of orange juice. "Sure you could. Drink up."
Carefully, you raise the booze to your lips, then splutter horribly, coughing and choking on the vile substance. The 'Adventurer' sniggers fitfully.
"Go on. Have another swig. Just swallow it fast - odds are, it's nasty stuff. But it'll make a man of you."
You do so - taking the drink in hand, you force down a large gulp of it, and wheeze. A pleasant burning sensation spreads through your insides.
"Good, huh?" He chuckles. "Now then. When it comes to a first hand history of this world, I like to start with the details. That's where the devil hides - he and I go way back."
"Right." You cough, taking another swig.
"America once ruled the world you know. And before you ask, no. I'm not talking about Iraqistan and all those shitty countries, kid. America was most powerful when the only bullets it fired were from silenced muzzles, or in the name of UN 'resolutions'. And you wanna know how they did it?"
He grins at you over the rim of his glass.
"Hollywood, kiddo. They ruled the world through Hollywood and McCrackaz Burger. You know, the shit fast food joints you see mouldering about the place, here in the fuckin' fourth world. Now that their clientelle aren't allowed to eat red meat back in America, their shit's been ruined. Hell, their head offices were firebombed by fanatics, who saw them as 'icons of decadence, and the deadly sin of gluttony'. And what with the Consortium banning them from British colonies, they're practically synonymous with poverty and suck, just like Eastern Europe itself. Quite the turn around. Once upon a time, an American colony was really taking off when you saw the Silver Arches in the town center. Now you know a place is going to hell in a handbasket if you see the red and yellow neon 'open 24 hours' sign flickering in the gloom. Anyway. America used hollywood to spread American culture to the world. And damn did they succeed. They conquered the West having fired scarcely a shot, and the best part was, after World War 2 the west wanted to be conquered! In any rate, after the damn theocrats took over and the Scar sent the world to hell, hollywood couldn't just carry on as it once had. America went isolationist and the Consortium wanted British culture in a British world, so movie exports weren't exactly flourishing. Not enough to keep up the bribes'n anti-censorship propaganda on the home front anyhow. And what's more, Hollywood's culture of sex, violence and moral decay didn't sit well with fundies who burn fags'n furscum with one hand while crucifying yids with the other, presumably to, 'show them how Aryan Jesus might have felt'."
The man finishes his orange juice, and orders another one.
"Besides, Hollywood was full of fags'n Jews. Hell, sometimes they were fag jews! Double trouble, if you get what I mean. Anyhow, suffice to say the hollywood sign found itself in flames, and the whole area was 'purged'. They claimed it was the new case of Sodom and Gomorrah. Proof that sinners couldn't hide behind numbers, money or prestige; that all should fear god's wrath. Of course, Tinsel Town was destitute by the time they nuked 'em. The purge was only commensed after those poor 'rich' bastards had been milked for every solitary penny. Damn they fought hard though, first with wallets, then with guns, and then with their teeth and hands. They must have really committed by the end - really found an identity worth dying for, even though their town was falling apart at the seams. I guess in those last few months of Hollywood, all that was good about Old America found a place there, even as the streets themselves decayed. You wouldn't expect it to become Mecca for America's persecuted, or the birthplace of the Organisation, but hey, the world's as mad as a giant blood-caked rusted meataxe these days. In any rate, the place went to shit as its population skyrocketed. You'd be amazed how fast a busy town falls apart without workers to clean it and maintain its infrastructure - gawd, you should see Pripyat. That place isn't even populated and it's coming down of its own accord. By the end Hollywood Boulevard made 20th century harlem look like the ritz. Even the local government was being extorted by the fucking Feds! Or the, 'Inquisition' as they call themselves now. You know all those funny acronyms? CIA? FBI? All that shit? Yeah. The Inquisition are supposed to fill all of those roles, kid. Not to say they do it well - ever been placed on call waiting when you phoned for an ambulance? America the beautiful, mate. America the beautiful."
"Hypocrites to the last, those Inquisitors. But I hear they pay alright, and in their elite corps there's a meritocratic salary and promotion system. You're paid and ranked according to skill, not just birthright - though that tends to help. 'Cause a pagan ex-Paladin's more likely to end up carrying a tac nuke timebomb in his backpack than a middle-American-born Christian supersoldier - but hey, what do you expect? Not to say I'd encourage that sort of backstabbing nastiness, but it's the done thing these days. Personally, I wouldn't run missions for them. Not for all the bullets in China. I prefer honest thugs, who you can trust to shoot you in the back if you show them any weakness. At least you know where you stand with work-a-day scum. Anyhow, the people of LA rallied and supported that iconic piece of Old America, struggling to keep it afloat despite the odds. They knew that as long as they paid the right people in the local and federal government, the place'd be spared. Persecuted and pillaged, but not destroyed. In the end LA's intelligencia and upper classes couldn't afford to keep up their tribute, and the locals quickly ran out of cash. Some of them tried to fight. I'd say that was their biggest mistake. Stupid bastards should've run, but no, they had to get all bright eyed'n idealistic, and make a glorious last stand. Hollywood'd still be on the map if they hadn't, though there'd be significantly fewer gays'n'kikes there. They accomplished nothing. Nothing, aside from getting their town shelled to shit before the Inquisition sent in those enhanced zealots to finish the job. Furthermore, the Organisation might actually have posed a credible threat if they hadn't made their stand with a few molotovs and the odd side arm. Discretion's the better part of valour, as the old saying goes. Now they're just a bunch of quarrelling, anarchic factions - an 'ideal' rather than a movement, all fighting their own little wars on different fronts."
"They're like the third party in a two party democratic system - everyone knows about them, and sometimes, they do a fair amount of harm to the two major parties in a dicey election. But ultimately, they're a joke; a farce, with no hope of victory in their own right. Just like those Islamist dickheads from before th'Scar appeared - back in those days, it was China and America, kid. Those beareded religious whackos, with their middle eastern 'counter-coalition', liked to believe they were the, 'third party', the righteous alternative. But ultimately, even if they ruined America's shit and set up an Allah Ackbarr administration in the white house by force, China wasn't about to let 'em build their 'islamic superstate'. They'd storm in and throw troops at those towelhead wimps until they learned the true meaning of barbarity, of intolerance, totalitarianism, oppression and fear. Like the Organisation, they were naive. Idealists are like young lovers - they willfully blind themselves to the unassailable trials before them, envisioning some rose-glass future they know will never be. Rebels can't change the world, not for the better at least - hell, they couldn't even save a town called Hollywood. Their leaders were cut down like animals, and some of the most badass ex-military motherfuckers America ever produced rode hot lead'n white light straight to hell. Most of those magnificent bastards never knew what hit them - micronuclear artillery'll do that to you. Then came the tanks and mechs - nothing says 'final solution' like shoulder mounted rocket pods mowing down fleeing civillians. Except for ovens, but ... yeah. You know what I mean."
You stare into your drink. Who is this man? A soldier or a historian? An intellectual or a criminal? A drunkard or a sage? A 4-kun troll or just a jaded misanthrope? Whatever the case, he seems to know his stuff.
"In any rate. Hollywood was America's Socrates - no sooner had they shot it to shit than they started missing it. An entertainment starved America needed more than fanatical, blind faith to keep it occupied and unthinking. Ohoho, as you know kid, there are 7 days in a week, and only one of those was spent salivating over the 'imminent apocalypse', with all its fire and brimstone and the other divine malice they like to fap over. That left six days of shit censored remakes of old pre-Theocrat television shows, along with the occasional badly acted 'moral story' based on Bible crap. Funny how that Jesus guy rarely appears in their propaganda, isn't it? I guess his preachfaggotry isn't quite 'BURN THE HERETIC' enough for them, though I admit, there are a few times when he acts so completely outta character that I figure we're missing half the story. Oh, don't get me wrong - they wave Jesus around like a head on a stick, but it's funny how rarely they let him open his mouth; how few of those cute allegorical parables they teach to the general public. What happened to that good samaritan crap? What happened to 'love thine enemy, eh? Hah. I forgot for a second - none of that tripe ever mattered to begin with, and Jesus was always a figurehead puppet. I remember catholic boarding school - I tell you, there's nothing like a catholic upbringing to teach you about Christians, kid. Oh, and guilt. Catholic guilt's the stuff of legend, I can promise you. That, and you learn how to suck a mean popsical, if you get my meaning."
He laughs bitterly, and chugs down the last of his drink.
"Yeah. Jesus is a quiet guy in America. Unless he's in the apocalyptic context, where he's a badass son of a bitch with the power to smite a thousand I-Jin by clicking his fingers. Shit, the people who wrote that book must have had pricks the size of crayons, for all the compensating they do with their 'god'."
"What you sayin', boah?"
A southern drawl from behind. What Southerners were doing in this hell-forsaken pit, you can only guess. You try to make yourself as small and inconspicuous as possible. Slowly - stupidly - you turn your head around, and find yourself nose to nose with a bald headed thug. It's one of the Barcode Guys. This isn't good.
"Hey. This old fuck your daddy, whimp?"
"...Uh ... n-no. No, I um. I barely know him, I swear!" You laugh nervously.
"Funny." The other thugs materialise from the smokey darkness. "'Cause I'd swear you'n he were talkin' most freely, 'bout our god, sayin' things I frankly don't like. Boah."
"Takes a big man to pick on a pussy ass kid in an Otaku T-Shirt." Your drinking companion sniggers, not even turning to face them. "If you don't like what I say about your shit god, why don't you come talk t'me about it?"
The thugs move to surround the lone merc - but recoil as he kicks his barstool from beneath him and stands swiftly, holding his arms akimbo, frighteningly nonchalant.
"Hey, hey! Take it easy now! Let's not be too hasty about violencing this charming establishment to the ground! Why don't we try an interfaith dialogue? See if you can't fill this seedy joint with the love of Jesus Christ! Your Lord and -"
He reaches inside his coat and hauls out an enormous desert eagle.
Having shouted the last word, his next movement is violent and incredibly fast. Fast enough to dazzle you; he cocks the weapon while raising it from its hidden holster, a fluid motion, a symphony of blurred fingers and sleight of hand, then slams it down like a club. The precision with which he halts its descent is chilling to behold - one of the unfortunate thugs finds it levelled square at his forehead.
His friends crumble. They've already retreated a few steps, and the sight of a 50 caliber pistol is more than enough to keep them there.
"So c'mon, children. Let's start with my gospel."
He flicks the safety off with an ominous click.
"I've heard enough of yours."
The bar maid stops polishing a glass - calmly notes the weapon's presence - and reaches beneath the counter. Suddenly, you're on the set of a Wohn Jew flick - she raises an enormous shotgun, big enough to atomise anything from a drunken patron to an aggressive I-Jin, and leers down the barrel at him. In response, he whips out a nine milimeter from a second hip holster - much faster this time - and points it right back at her.
After a tense moment, one of the thugs produces a shank from his belt buckle and charges. The desert eagle, the 9mm and the huge shotgun snap toward him and track his movements, but he isn't interested in armed assailants. Instead, he grabs you around the neck, pulling you to your feet and pressing the blade to your adams apple. Panicking, you somehow strike his midsection with your elbow. You must have hit something important, because he crumples like a wet paper bag. Grabbing his knife hand you scream, sinking your teeth into his wrist. The shank falls to the ground, and his friends back off. Berserk and elated by your success, you twist his arm around and dash his head against the counter. The huge shotgun presses hard against your forehead and you freeze like a rabbit in the headlights.
"Not bad, molodoĭ chelovek." she chuckles, husky, sensual and oh-so-Russian.
"Now sit the fuck down and buy yourself drink."
The barmaid smirks at you. Slowly, you move to comply, gingerly releasing the thug's collar. He slides helplessly to the floor, his face a broken mess. Bouncers, once conspicuous in their absence, materialise from the shadows, dragging his carcass toward the flickering exit sign. His friends are long gone, their 'barcoded' reputation in tatters. He's tossed out into the cold, and the big wooden door slams shut behind him.
"Make it a triple whiskey," you growl, playing the badass card. "No ice, no water. Straight."
She snorts and laughs at you, sliding the shotgun under the bar and producing a bottle in its place. "I have never made triple whiskey before, but I will find way to improvise. Just don't throw up on the carpet, malʹchik."
Your drinking companion cackles, righting his stool and sitting down.
"Triple whiskey? Don't overdo it. You've got a lot to learn - you're still a lightweight, for a start. Anyhow. Where were we? Ahhh yes."
The drink arrives. Hoping to prove him wrong, you pick it up and scull half in one go. It burns as it goes down, and its acrid stench sears your nostrils. A strong pang of nausea floods through you and you gasp for air.
The bar maid stares at you rather intensely - clearly, she expects you to hurl. You manage to keep the liquour down.
She cocks an eyebrow, then walks down the bar to service another patron. "Ne ploho - not bad at all."
You blush slightly - whether it's the booze or the flattery you couldn't say - and nod at the old mercenary.
"The Hollywood hills were irradiated, and trust me, unless you're filming snuff or 'reality TV' apocalyptic flicks, that's not a good thing. Right up to the Mississipi there's fallout everywhere. Lucky there wasn't much wind that day, or the whole world might be fucked. They wasted enough fissile material erasing Hollywood to trigger Armagededdon. Anyhow, LA - a city of millions - still soaks up the gamma with every sunrise. They say it's worse there than Hiroshima in '46. I still can't believe that shit, kid. They nuked their own soil to re-enact a tale of 'biblical cleansing'. Fuckin' insanity - but hey, that's faith for you."
"I may not be a bible thumping Christian, but seriously dude, faith gives people integrity. I don't go to church but I'd appreciate it if you stopped paying out what I believe. It's getting old." You mutter, swirling your drink around in your glass. Your hands have begun to tremble - your encounter with the thug has shaken you up. Not that you'll let it show.
"Did I say I wasn't faithful? Fuck oath, while the Scar's full of atheists, some with more, 'integrity' than you, kid, I like to think my ma's rosary beads, a few muttered prayers and a legion of false 'chastity oaths' have saved my skin a million times.
"Then why do you drone on like that?"
"Because I'm a hypocrite," he sniggers, "Deal with it."
You glance over at him curiously, and catch him lighting a cigar with a camo-patterned zippo. Taking a puff, he continues as though you'd never changed the subject.
"Hollywood moved to DC, and was promptly swallowed by it. Sure, they still make movies and shit. But the British don't like American culture interfering with their Imperial Renaissance, so they're not exactly, 'blockbusters' these days. Furthermore the content tends to be dull religious shite - hollywood exists only as a deepset memory in our cultural consciousness, kid. And reruns of the Eliminator 2, with old Scharnold Artsenigger running around fighting that weird I-Jin who can turn into metal... that stuff's still delighting fourth-world audiences to this very day ... charming, don'tcha think? The old Hollywood lives on through VHS and DVD. But Hollywood serves a different purpose now. It's the new Joseph Goebbels to the Theocratic Fourth Reich. Only colder - faceless and more sinister, with God on its side. Yeah, DCs still the capital. Not that you'd recognise it - the, 'Fortress Megapolis of Churches'. If you ask me, they tried to compete with the Cambridge Consortium in half the time and with a billionth of the cash. They wanted an American icon, and instead they threw up the most atrocious piece of god forsaken architecture the world's ever known. Could well be a metaphor for modern America, the 'New DC'. The whole place is made of cheap concrete that tries ever so hard to look like stone. And god there's a lot of it. It's a soulless, twisted, sinister thing that rises about seven thousand meters into the air. There's a huge wall around it, with tightly packed warrens of church steeples and skyscrapers stacked on top of each other like a big haphazard spikey-ass cone. At the top is a huge cross they light up at night with a thousand tiny fires - you gotta see it to believe it, seriously. A burning cross on the horizon, to remind everyone who's boss, and where you'll go if you question them. They say you can see the fire from space. But it's the actual construction of the thing that fascinates me most. It's a mountain. Literally."
"It looks imposing and complicated, but the whole thing is a giant manmade mound. Quarried earthworks stacked high by slaves from Canada and Europe, covered in a facade that desperately wants to be lustrous. I dunno how many thousands of people died building that thing, but it's the suffering that counts. Not the raw numbers. You know, somewhere underneath that big pile of dirt you'd find the Lincoln Memorial, kiddo. Ironic, huh? Seems the Theocrats like to bury Old America's, 'mistakes' beneath their own."
"DC's a feudal castle, kid. And I don't just mean the architecture either. I mean literally, in terms of function. Most of Virginia's covered in shanty towns - economic refugees, a fair few of them from Los Angeles. Some people could afford to up and leave - skilled laborers. They now live in third world conditions and work for a pittance, dreaming of moving to the big city. They go there to pray every Sunday, millions of them crammed into a thousand cathedrals and churches, all singing songs of praise. Bellowing their little hearts out. Most of them give thanks, for Christ's sakes. And then there are the ones who pray. Pray for forgiveness, or pray for help. But most of 'em pray that the end will come soon, so they can all be 'free'. So they can go to heaven, the land of equality. The paradise beyond, because 'Theocratic paradise' on earth just doesn't cut it. Things must be better in heaven, after all. They can go from one feudal setting to another - from one tyrant king lording over them to a new one with divine power as well as divine Authority. The next best thing is the big city - mothers send their daughters up there to become concubines to the elite, you know. Boys go up there to sing in choirs, or become monks. I hear they tried nuns but it didn't work out. Hilarious, huh? Just couldn't keep their dirty hands off that premium 13 year old snatch. They still call them Brides of Christ though - brainwashed whores at the disposal of sick self loathing fuckers who preach with one breath and rape with the next."
"Isn't it funny how hypocrites are most vocal in praising virtues they don't possess? And boy, do the Theocrats know how to praise them. They've got thousands of aerials and dishes spewing out propaganda to audiences across the nation, all from that central superstructure, kid. That's the new Hollywood. 'Project' Hollywood's incredible, both in scale and effectiveness - not that it needs to be, what with all those miracles I told you about last time. These are tough times for atheists, I'll tell you that much. You know, they say the 'sky city' is so tall that it brings you closer to God, the higher you are up the food chain. Literally, the further up your office is, the more authority you wield. Twisted system, huh? The more power you have, the higher you are, and thus, the closer you are to the Almighty his fickle vicious self. So the people at the top can hear Him clearly, and relay His word to the plebs. What a load of shite. If you ask me, the opposite is true. The higher you go in that place, the closer you get to hell. Such that the old enemy himself whispers to those sick fucks from 'INRI', and they do his bidding on earth, by spreading as much mortal misery as is humanly possible. Yeah, that's right, INRI. The governing body. The big guys; the President himself. Right inside that big burning cross, the last democratically elected President of the United States sits at a table with his generals and advisors, and pretends he rules the world. And he does rule a world - his world. The only one that matters to him. You might say Hollywood, the champion of American Imperialism, was crucified on that giant burning cross, kid. You might say it was buried beneath that manmade mountain along with everything America once stood for, before it was resurrected by the ones who forsook it. Then, just like Jesus with his dear old dad, it continued to serve its murderers, its betrayers, those who failed to protect it; promising redemption to billions across the world, while by way of thanks they transmogrified it with their greed. Funny how History repeats itself, isn't it? INRI, they call it. INRI - a great big fuckin' crucifix on which a gentler world bled out and died."
"...For a merc you sure use big words sometimes." you interject stupidly. He stares at you for a moment - you can't meet his eyes. Your cheeks burn. Attempting to redeem yourself, you go on the offensive.
"I was just saying - what are you anyway? Mercenaries don't talk like you do, they're meant to be foul mouthed drunkards like you were before. Besides! You say that there are loads of refugees from LA in Virginia. What about the 'millions' you say still live there, huh?"
"Very observant, aren't ya? Good to see you're actually listening. Rest assured, kid, I'm not contradicting myself. If you thought the plight of the rich and skilled was awful, the rest of LA's inhabitants have it worse. They still live in the Los Angeles wasteland. Yes, that's right. Next to ground zero of a micronuclear holocaust, there's a tomb city of a million or more. The City of Angels rots away while millions dwell underground, braving the irradiated wastes only to forage or meet trade caravans. I've heard it's anarchy up that way. Totally bananas. As bad as the Scar, a few of my buddies tell me - batfuck razorhead gangs in gas masks, killing refugees and foragers with high tech weaponry, raping, pillaging and warring over territory like they own the damn place. It's on my list of holiday destinations, actually. Nothing gets me off like killing scumbags, claiming loot and playing the hero. Hah. Just kidding about the last part. I'm not that pathetic."
"How much do you earn?"
"Depends upon who's paying. You interested?"
"Think about it. You know where to find me if you change your mind."
"How will you know I'm here - presuming I'm dumb enough to take you up on that?"
The merc laughs heartily. "You know way too much about me to drop off my radar 'cause we haven't met for a month. Trust me. If you come here looking for me, I'll hear about it in time to catch you stumbling home drunk or covered in bruises."
"A sense of humour? I didn't think you had it in you."
"I'm full of surprises."
"No you're not. Don't flatter yourself, kid."
He laughs heartily and pats you on the back, hard enough to make you wheeze. "Ahhh don't sweat it. Kids these days, so sensitive! Take a joke!"
"Awhh... buck up'n drink up, kiddo. As I always say."
He downs his orange juice and smacks his lips happily. "You know, being on the wagon ain't so bad. Not when I've got an alcoholic in training to drink for me, right?"
"...Right!" you laugh apprehensively.
"I think that'll about do us for this week. How about I walk you to the station? Those thugs'll be waiting outside. I've seen them around a few times - you might wanna go armed from now on. Here."
He reaches inside his coat pocket, and draws his 9mm pistol. Spinning it around his finger, he offers it to you, grip first.
"Take it, and keep it on you at all times. Just stuff it into your belt. Here. This is the safety." He points to a small switch on it. "Flick that off only if there's trouble. Otherwise, keep it tucked into your belt. That's all you need to know. Take it with you whenever you go down town - conceal and carry's fine in this crazy part of the world, I promise you. If you get challenged by cops, just reach slowly into your pocket - make sure they see the gun, but know you're not grabbing for it - and pull out your wallet instead. They'll know you mean business. Give 'em a few shiney US dollars - the old currency, not the new one - and they'll be out of your hair."
"American money? How does that work?" You ask, accepting the gun reverently. "Thankyou, by the way. I'll be careful with it, but ... seriously. How come US dollars are still worth the paper they're written on? My mum's got about fifty in a box at home. Souvenirs from before we immigrated, I think."
He chuckles. "US dollars ain't worth shit. It's the old Greenbacks you want. They're used in the Persian Grey Markets, y'see. To the right people they're worth more than gold, so you're actually pretty affluent, kid. Every Russian cop knows someone who'll pay handsomely for them - it goes without saying. Flashing them around shows you've got connections. They're the currency of the 'free' world, kid. We Mercs insist upon them. A hundred greenbacks'll see a man dead. Any man. You'll get yourself a team of veteran Adventurers for that much."
"What stops people forging them? Sounds like inflation'd go mad if they're worth that much, and one enterprising crim got busy."
"Because if you're caught forging any other currency you're jailed at worst. If you offer conterfeit greenbacks, you're not only blacklisted by everyone worth knowing, you're usually killed on the spot, or hunted down like a dog and tortured to death. Or sold into slavery, which incorporates the worst parts of both fates. The profit isn't worth the risk - because if you waltz into a bazaar with ten grand and you don't look the part, people ask questions. The sort of questions that begin with a gun to your head, and end with you lying in a ditch, minus your teeth and ten thousand greenbacks."
"Wow. That's serious."
"Deadly fucking serious, kiddo. It's a brutal world out there. Might makes right these days. I'd say it was a sad state of affairs, but hey, I profit from it. Who am I to complain?"
He chuckles darkly, then trails off, staring into space. His cigar burns slowly, thick, rich smoke perfuming the rancid air.
"You know kid. I really hope you take me up on that offer. I think we'd work well together."
"Don't flatter yourself, old man." you smirk. He laughs, almost dropping his cigar. He slaps you on the back again - despite yourself, you still end up wheezing.
"Now you're getting the hang of it, kid. Let's see if you've still got it by next week."
He stands, and slides two greenbacks down the counter - all shrapnel, of course. The barmaid counts it, then smirks at him.
"Tips will get you far, handsome - further even than flattery." she purrs, batting her eyelids at him.
"No thanks," he winks at her, then continues, "I fucked the last barmaid and she never forgave me for it. Probably because I videoed it and sent it to her geek boyfriend's email address. It's my thing, y'see."
She stops batting her eyelids and cackles. "You're a funny man, you know that? Now get out of my bar before I paint the wall with you."
"Done and done." He sniggers, and hauls you out of your chair, marching you toward the door. "Keep the change. I'll see you next time. Dasvedanya, devotchka."
She titters quietly, and keeps polishing her glass. The old bastard opens the door for you, then tosses you out bodily. "Ladies first," he grins, half heartedly swinging his boot after you. Laughing and possibly drunk, you stumble into the cold.