Waking up is a pain in the ass. That’s why god gave us Turkish coffee.
I opened my eyes and yawned loudly. I didn’t feel rested, at all. I had another one of the nightmare trainings, which were exactly what it said on the tin. Nightmares that train you. I rubbed my eyes. Couldn’t remember exactly what the dream was this time, something about urban ops? Containing civilian unrest maybe?
Unrest was the exact word to describe me. Unrested.
I stood up and slapped my phone a bunch of times to make me coffee. Not the actual phone itself, rather the app that controlled the smart coffee-maker I had installed last month. It was a gift from one of my clients, a local little factory that made these monstrosities. It ground the coffee beans right then and there, filling the room with fresh, delicious coffee smell. It boiled the water, it made the exact amount of foam I wanted, and it took up half my kitchen space, which wasn’t that big to begin with.
I loved it.
For a whole month I felt like a king every time I woke up, having a fresh cup of Turkish coffee waiting for me.
Well, it wasn’t doing it by magic, I had to fill up the beans and fresh water the night before. But, every morning, it made me feel privileged.
It’s the tiny things in life, ya’ know.
This felt like a good day to be lazy. I didn’t have any clients and I had some cash to coast through Christmas. It was still December the 6th but I was feeling a laziness that could easily last till January.
After all, Christmas is a slow season for mercenaries. Barring a few rich guys who wanted to beef up security in their houses for the holidays, nobody really wanted my skill set for a few weeks.
I took a shower. I had perfectly timed it with my coffee brewing. Took some tweaking for a few days, but for the last ten or so, I had a warm, deliciously smelling cup of Turkish waiting for me to sip it with my bathrobe.
Yes, bathrobe. Do not make fun of me. I used to laugh at people wearing bathrobes too, until an old fling got me used to them. It’s like getting hugged with fluffiness. Fluffy bunnies, if that’s your thing.
The water was cold, as expected. I had a smart water heater, but there’s no distinction between a broken dumb water heater and a broken smart one. They both did fuck-all. Ali, my landlord, kept promising he’d fix it for months. I had waged the equivalent of three wars since then and he still hadn’t gotten around to it.
My apartment was a shithole, to put it mildly. Right in the middle of Athens, at Exarcheia area, where junkies and illegal-immigrants and criminals roamed the streets every day. But the apartment was cheap, accessible to mass transit and…
Well, there were no other pluses in that column.
It was the only place I could afford when I first moved here, and though I can barely afford something a little bit better right now, I just sorta kinda like it here. The surroundings keep me on my toes, as I’ve been used to since I could remember. And after the forced relocation I endured every single day of my life back at the Janissaries, I felt instinctively opposed to moving out. And that’s the touching story of how this shithole felt like home.
Anything can feel like home when you wake up to the sweet aroma of ground coffee.
I dried myself with my bathrobe and stumbled out to my kitchen, tripping over a weapons crate. How long had that been there? Oh, right, it was my dark-web delivery. An awesome piece of crowd control, called JD-e laser dazzler. From a frickin tank! How cool is that? You can just buy that shit online! With bitcoins and stuff.
I started touching my new toy, which was a square-ish turret thingy with optics on one side. Camo green, it looked heavy but it really wasn’t. The nice Chinese guy who sold it to me was kind enough to add a strap for me, and I could carry the whole thing on my person, with a car battery at the other end for counterbalance. That would make me a tank, right? I could go pew-pew on a bunch of people. Or at least dazzle them. It was a non-lethal weapon, after all.
Then I remembered my coffee. It should be done by now!
I jumped over the crate, exposing my balls as the bathrobe swirled like a cape, and I rushed to the kitchen.
Wait, something was wrong. No.
No, no, no.
There was no coffee. I sagged on the floor.
It’s okay. Don’t panic. There’s a coffeeshop right next corner.
I put on slippers, my wallet, and walked down the stairs. In the entrance, there he was, Ali, with his door open and always present just like the concierge you never asked for.
“It’s still busted, Ali,” I said walking past him.
“Repairman will come. He’ll come. Soon. Shut up.” The only dynamic in which a scrawny, dark-skinned dude could tell a mountain of muscle like me to shut up, is when he’s your landlord.
I stepped outside and instantly felt vertigo. I always felt that when I saw Janet the junkie. She was a real character, she’s wobbly. No really, wobbly. She’s in a perpetual state of zeibekiko, always on the balls of her dirty feet, wobbling, never tipping over. I gave her some change, threw them in her plastic cup which she carried around forever. “Hey, Janet. Seen any suits?”
“No suits, my eyes are peeled, Deimos!” she said with droopy eyes that barely opened.
“Good job, soldier. Keep it up. If you see any suits, holler at me, okay?”
She spun in place and struck a salute. “Yessir!” What a character.
I turned to the coffeeshop but it was shut. What the hell?
“Where will I get my cup of Turkish now?”
“Your what?” Janet asked.
I bit my lip. You don’t actually call it Turkish coffee in Greece. It’s Greek coffee. It’s the exact same thing, but people get touchy about it.
“My cup of Greek coffee. I needs it. I wants it.”
“I know how you feel. Well, Deimos, the whole street is shut, can’t you see? It’s a riot.”
“It’s not funny when shopkeepers close their sho-”
“No! It’s a riot! Those fucking pigs, the cops, they shot that kid on this day. So we riot. Yeah!” she hailed with her fist in the air and wobbled.
I searched for it on my veil. Right, 2008 Greek riots, after a 15-year-old boy named Alex was shot and killed. They were the worst ever seen since the restoration of democracy in 1974, and the protests spread to Europe, San Fran. Fucking Siberia? Whaaat?
Well, yeah, it sucked. Anyway, man, I just want my coffee.
I walked down the street in my robes. I turned in Panepistimiou Avenue, it was a ghost town. People were boarding up their homes and shops. The shops had these super heavy shutters that protected their windows.
And I could hear the rioters closing in.
They were coming from the Technical University’s direction, must have been where they organised themselves. I quickly opened social media, and indeed, there was a hashtag and everything. Instructions, tips to avoid getting beaten by the cops, what to bring, gas masks, wooden bats, bike helmets, molotov cocktails.
Oh, there was an article about disconnecting your social presence so they couldn’t identify you. I skimmed through it, it was quite good. Disable GPS on your phone, paint squares on your face to fool facial recognition, disable your public profiles, use P2P messaging that makes an ad-hoc network. Wow, this was practically urban warfare.
The first rioters, and looters at it seemed, were upon me. I went to the side and let them pass. I had to push some people away. Now, I’m big, bigger than most men. But there’s nothing you can do against a mob that’s pushing through.
What surprised me was, that they weren’t just young people, punks, anarchists. I could see family men, housewives, heck, there was a yiayia somewhere in there.
People were angrier than I thought.
I hadn’t been very involved in Athens since I came to live here. My job is insane, sometimes literally, and when I do have the time I use it to relax, not catch up on the political situation. Plus, on the surface, the city seems fine. The classic case of corporate wage-slaves, homeless, junkies, a thick carpet of smog and skyscrapers ripping through it.
How was that any different from any other capital?
A rioter stepped on my foot and I promptly kicked him in the knee, bringing him down. There was no point being polite, the noise and the chanting was deafening. They stomped forward in something like an organised protest, with placards and such. Looters broke away and trashed things, cars, street signs, garbage cans. They particularly liked toppling garbage cans or setting them on fire.
And then the riot police set up a wall at the middle of the street. They had anti-riot water guns, plastic shields, tasers, armoured personnel carriers, drones taking pictures, everything.
I wasn’t tense up until that point, military training and all, but I started to feel it. This could escalate quickly, and ugly. I could see tens of ways this whole thing could go wrong.
A teenage girl next to me pulled a bottle out of her schoolbag.
Yup, shit hitting fan, in 3…2…
She lit up the molotov and threw it at the barricade.
I winced. “Won’t work…”
The lit bottle bounced off a shield and cracked on the street, away from the cops.
“You need thinner bottles,” I yelled at her over the riot.
“Thinner bottles. So they smash when you throw them. Shatter on impact. Don’t you know that a ball of glass bounces higher than a ball of rubber?”
“Okay. Good to know.” Both thumbs up at me.
And then all hell broke loose.
I got hit on the head, cause I was in the middle of a frickin warzone with my bathrobe. Blood covered my right eye, but I’d manage. Sure enough, the coating in my veins contracted and stopped the bleeding.
But I was still vulnerable.
The rioters broke rank and charged the police line. They held tight, and the wave of disgruntled civilians crashed on their shields. They were armoured too, with bike jackets and helmets, and they were angry. The MAT unit, police’s riot control section, clobbered them with their clubs without discrimination. Men, women, old, young, if you were in their reach, you got clobbered.
I knew battle. This was a trained army with gear and support versus a disorganised group of people who took up arms and decided to clash. Odds were in the police’s favour, but sometimes ordinary people surprised you.
I saw two drones taken down, rioters throwing rocks and pieces of the sidewalk at them. One even shattered on air. Molotovs broke left and right, the street was on fire.
What sort of insanity was this?
I ripped a club from a rioter without asking for permission and used it to force my way out of there.
“Are you okay, Deimos?” Ali asked with concern. He saw the blood over my eye and got worried I might die and skip rent. The horror.
“Yeah, yeah. Nothing I can’t handle.”
I jumped the steps two at a time and went up to fetch my gear.
No fucking riot can stop me from getting my cup of coffee.
I wore my full powersuit. I strolled through the rioters, shoving them gently aside. I actually had to try not to trample people as I powered through them. The side streets were empty, it seemed as if cops and civilians had set up an appointment at high noon to smash each other’s face in. No regard for actually containing the riot. I took a couple of corners in a roundabout way and got to the kafenes.
Finally. I pushed my new toy, the dazzler on my back and stepped inside.
Halim was nailing wooden panels over his coffeestore.
“What the-?” He eyed my armour.
“What’s up, Halim, my man? Stopped by for a cup of your finest coffee.”
“Deimos? Is that you in there?”
“Oh, right.” I popped my helmet open. I smelled of gasoline and shattered glass trickled down as I moved. “Yup, it’s me. It’s crazy out there, so I dressed appropriately.”
He eyed me wearily. Can’t blame the man, it’s every day you see a stolen Janissary powersuit in a kafenes. “Appropriately, so it seems,” the old man said. Then he got back to nailing panels.
“Come on, put a copper briki on,” I hurried him as politely as I could, fully aware how intimidating I was at that moment.
“What do ya mean you can’t? Sure you can, man.”
“Lets see. Make sure my kafenes is still standing after this riot is over, and I will make you one. They say on the news that it’s the worst one ever. There is support again in Madrid and Nicosia. It’s going to be messy.”
I threw my arms in the air. “The one day I say out loud I’m not gonna do any mercenary work!”
“Fine. But only cause you’re an awesome coffeemancer, Halim,” I pointed a powered finger at his face. “Only ‘cause you’re awesome.”
End of Part 1
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