it Down to Learning + Chapter 14
Seven Deadly Sinners
Quatre drew himself up to his
full height, looking contemptuously around him. He let his nose wrinkle
slightly in disdain as he took in the simple furnishings of the room.
Gray carpet, black furniture, walls that shone with some strange sort
of metallic sheen. Probably some odd type of upholstered wall covering.
"All is not to your liking, Mr. Winner?"
He turned, surprised, as the voice invaded the room. He'd been watching
the one door, and noone had entered it. How then, had this person gotten
into the empty room?
His eyes narrowed slightly when he met the owner of that soft, slightly
mocking voice. The man was at least six inches shorter than he was, and
very slight. He had silvering hair, a nondescript, faintly lined face,
and dark eyes.
He looked perfectly ordinary - the sort of person you'd see on a train,
or at the movies or the grocery store.
But you wouldn't expect to see that mild person as the head of an international
and interplanetary prostitution ring.
"Oh, you're quite right," the man told him unexpectedly. "I'm not the
leader of this organization. I'm his assistant. You may call me Adrastus."
Quatre stared at the man blankly for a moment. "Why am I speaking with
you?" he asked finally, allowing the scorn he felt to just barely color
the edges of his tone. "I was given to understand that I was going to
speak to the head of this... organization."
"Not just anyone speaks with him," cautioned another voice.
Quatre nearly jumped, but stopped the movement in time. He turned around
slowly, and there was another man, standing beside the sofa.
"I am Parthenopaues," he greeted mildly. "How do you do?"
Quatre blinked at him. Again, he was a sedate-looking middle-aged man.
"And I am Amphiarus," came a third voice.
Quatre set his jaw, turning to meet another amused smile. There were doorways
in the walls. That must be the answer. One man distracted him enough to
get him to turn around, and one of his fellows ghosted out of one of the
"It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Tydeus," a fourth voice informed him.
Quatre turned, his eyes narrowed. His tone was pleasant enough, but this
man was the most outwardly unpleasant-looking of the four he had met thus
far. The sallow skin of his face was marked with a long scar that ran
from just beneath his right ear, across his jaw, down his chin into his
neck. His black eyes gleamed unpleasantly, and his scarred mouth was twisted
into a jeering sneer.
Quatre turned away from him calmly, meeting the eye of a fifth man who
had appeared behind him before the man could speak. "You're Hippomedon,
I suppose?" the blond man asked smoothly, surveying the enormous man standing
at the edge of the room. He had to be six foot six. Perhaps more. And
his powerful build made him look even bigger. He grinned in genuine amusement,
nodding to Quatre as though in salute.
"And you," the blond continued calmly, turning to raise a brow at the
sixth man whom he knew was standing behind him. "Are you Capaneus? Or
"Noone sees Polynices," the sixth man told him, the calm hazel eyes beneath
his fading red hair not hiding the angry hostility that Quatre felt radiating
from him. He must be angry that Quatre had understood their little game.
Too damn bad.
"I take it then that ‘Polynices' is the one that I want to see," Quatre
commented easily, seating himself - without having been asked - on the
supple black sofa in the center of the room. "Do fetch him, please."
"Fetch him... " Capaneus repeated tonelessly. Quatre smiled easily, belying
the tension he felt coiling slowly inside him.
A laugh broke out, and Quatre turned his head to see the first man - Adrastus
- approach. "Very good, Mr. Winner," he complimented, sitting in one of
the chairs across from Quatre. "Noone usually manages to understand our
Quatre tilted his head, smiling with an air of superior surprise. "Really?"
he commented idly. "Well, my father was a bit old-fashioned. I was blessed
with a classical education."
"How lovely for you," Tydeus complimented tightly, moving to stand behind
"Yes, I suppose. I must confess I didn't think so at the time," Quatre
laughed, forcing himself to lounge more bonelessly into the comfortable
material of the sofa. He crossed one leg over the others, allowing his
foot to wave negligently in the air. "But my tutors always insisted that
no knowledge was useless, and lo and behold, you've just proved them right."
He let his gaze linger on each of the men. "However," he continued slowly,
as though a strange thought had just struck him, "I'm a bit confused as
to why you've chosen those particular identities. The Seven Against Thebes
weren't the luckiest bunch, if you catch my drift."
"Indeed," Adrastus nodded. "They were abandoned by their Gods, defeated
one by one, killed and left to rot before a city far from home."
"Exactly," Quatre nodded. "They were brave and all, but still... "
"Well, it seemed to fit," Adrastus said vaguely.
"And how's that, friend?" Quatre asked mildly.
Adrastus' mild dark eyes grew heavier, the light of amusement fading from
them. "You seem awfully curious," he asked slowly.
"Please," Quatre said, his tone still light and tinged with boredom, his
posture still slumped and comfortable. But he allowed a little of the
intensity of the feeling he was experiencing to escape. He needed to project
just the right image. The Quatre Winner these men expected was a bored,
spoiled rich man, yes - but he was no fool. There was no way he could
have fought in two wars, worked for years as a double agent, and run a
multi-trillion credit business with branches all over the solar system,
and still be the effete idiot he was pretending to be. They would know
that that was a facade, and that Quatre Winner would be sure to let them
see a glimpse behind it.
So this Quatre Winner had to show them.
"Please," Quatre repeated. He smiled widely, letting his head tip again
to the side. "As I told you, my tutors were merciless. I know that noone
would adopt such aliases if there were no meaning behind them."
"A whim, merely," Adrastus murmured.
"So, explain it to me," Quatre smiled. "I'm sure I'd find it fascinating."
"I find it curious that you're so insistent, Mr. Winner," the man attempted.
"Indulge me," Quatre suggested calmly, his gaze meeting the other man's
They stared at each other for a moment, then, unaccountably, the other
man relaxed slightly. "You're very persistent, Mr. Winner," he commented,
but he leaned back, and some of the tension in the room drained away.
He must have passed some sort of test.
"Well, it's a bit of a melodramatic story," Adrastus confessed. "But...
it amuses us."
Quatre raised an eyebrow, silently encouraging him to go on.
"Parthenopaues is our success story," Adrastus began easily, indicating
the second man that Quatre had met. "He was born into the organization.
He's our local boy made good," he finished, smirking at the other man.
Parthenopaues stared back at him with expressionless blue eyes, then turned
to smile pleasantly at Quatre. The blond felt a sudden chill run along
his back at the incongruous expression.
"Amphiarus here," Adrastus continued comfortably, indicating the third
man, "had a lovely wife, once. Until he discovered one day that she was
selling his secrets to the police. They had offered her a great deal of
money to betray him." He shook his head sadly. "She's no longer so lovely,"
he informed Quatre, as an afterthought.
"I visit her occasionally," Amphiarus told Quatre solemnly. The words
were perfectly innocuous, but the blond man had to fight to suppress a
"Tydeus... well, he got into a bit of trouble as a young man," Adrastus
confessed sadly. "We... recruited him after he got rid of one of our enemies
for us. He actually just beat... Polynices... to the job," he added. "That's
when they were both considerably younger, of course," he assured Quatre,
smirking unpleasantly at Tydeus. "Tell him what you did to that guy, Tydeus,"
he urged the other man.
Tydeus' flat black eyes bored into Quatre's, sizing him up. The blond
felt a strong desire to be far away. He hated this mission!
"I don't think he could handle it," Tydeus announced flatly.
"Hmmm... perhaps you're right," Adrastus conceded thoughtfully. "At any
rate, Hippomedon... well, he's very tall," he pointed out earnestly.
Quatre felt his mouth twist in a genuine smile. He felt sickened by himself
- how could he find amusement in anything happening in this room? He sat
within the inner circle of the Order - the group they'd been investigating
for weeks, the organization that ran the most ruthless and far-spread
flesh ring in the world.
They weren't sure about all the group's activities, but they knew that
they forced people into prostitution, imprisoned them for life, and killed
anyone who got in their way. Not an amusing group of people.
Yet this Adrastus was amusing him.
He needed to work on his priorities.
"Yes, well... some parallels are more difficult to find than others,"
Adrastus confessed wryly. "And finally, there is Capaneus. He... "
"Let me guess," Quatre interrupted, sitting up as though eager for the
challenge. "He had a perfectly luscious little life somewhere, until his
own arrogance led him to disaster."
Capaneus' hazel eyes darkened, and his mouth twisted with rage. He opened
his mouth to speak, but Adrastus cut him off.
"Excellent!" the small man applauded, smiling widely. "Exactly. And now...
"And you," Quatre interrupted. The other man had introduced all of the
others, sort of, but hadn't spoken of himself. "Let me guess... " Quatre
frowned, pondering. "You were cheated of your inheritance," he ventured.
"Your birthright. As was... Polynices. And he came to you for help in
regaining what was rightfully his, and together you and he struck out
and formed... all this," he finished, leaning back again and waving his
The amusement fled from Adrastus' eyes and he leaned forward, studying
Quatre intently. "You know your mythology, Mr. Winner," he complimented
Quatre smiled disarmingly. "My tutors," he reminded the other man facetiously.
"Slave drivers. But my dear Adrastus... I still am at a loss as to understand
why you would adopt this particular lot as your forbears. They ended quite
messily," he reminded the other man. "All of them died outside the gates
of Thebes. None ever made it home to Greece... except, of course," he
finished slowly, the wide smile again spreading across his face, "Except
of course for Adrastus."
"You ask a lot of questions," Tydeus interrupted nastily. "Why do you
want to know so much? What... "
"Why?" Quatre interrupted with an abrupt chuckle. "I've invested the equivalent
of a year's gross national product of a small nation to find you, and
your very generous offer of involvement has tripled the cost of that investment,"
he pointed out. "Then, I finally arrive here, am not greeted in the way
in which I had expected I would be greeted, and find that the people I've
allied with equate themselves with mythological figures, who, though splendidly
brave and all, unfortunately were defeated quite decisively. Up to this
point, gentlemen, this entire experience rather resembles a very bad B-level
movie," he said, allowing the expression of idle ennui to slip from his
eyes, replaced by a hard irritation. "I want to be assured that I am getting
an appropriate return on my investment."
Adrastus abruptly pushed himself to his feet so that he was standing before
Quatre. "As you've pointed out, the Seven Against Thebes ultimately lost
to the forces of Etocles, Polynices' brother," he said, and the smooth
undercurrent of amusement was gone from his voice. "But examine those
heroes, Mr. Winner. They were the bravest and noblest of their race, forced
from their homes and positions by the machinations of those closest to
them." He shook his head. "They put their faith in false gods - actual
gods who betrayed them," Quatre's eyes flicked to Tydeus and Capaneus,
"and in ‘gods' such as truth and justice and right." He shook his head
again and began to pace around the room.
"But imagine," he breathed, "imagine what could have happened if they
had placed that belief where it belonged - in themselves. What
could have happened if each man had stormed his gate - broken into Thebes
and taken what he wanted with no thought or care to gods or man?" He stopped,
his eyes piercing into Quatre's. "What if they hadn't done the gentlemanly
thing, and waited for the Thebans to exit their city? What if the animal
side of Tydeus had emerged sooner? What if Amphiarus hadn't been worried
about the whims and desires of his bitch of a wife? What if," he demanded,
moving closer to Quatre, "What if Polynices had killed Etocles outright,
in the very beginning, rather than accede to his demands to share the
throne that was rightfully his?" Adrastus leaned so close to Quatre that
he was almost touching him. "Imagine all that, Mr. Winner. Imagine if
they took life and the world and everything in it in their own hands from
the start, and let nothing interfere? Can you imagine what those seven
could have accomplished?"
Quatre stared directly into the eyes so close to his own, and knew without
the shadow of a doubt that the man standing across from him was insane.
No normal person would confuse the world of fantasy and reality like that,
no man could believe that injustices committed in antiquity excused present
Of course, Adrastus didn't exactly believe that either. He just... believed
in his own right to have his life however he wanted it. And he looked
to the stories of the past for... not for justification. People such as
he had no need to justify their crimes. He was looking more for... glory?
For eminence, to compare his own actions to, to feel that much more enhanced
If this was Adrastus, the second-in-command, Polynices must be a real
"The Seven were cheated of their victory," Adrastus told him softly. "They
were spurned, by gods and man, and were left to die and rot before that
stinking city. But we... we correct that. Our Thebes is the world, as
we control it, we run it... we sit on its thrones and everyone dances
to our tune." He laughed mockingly. "Most of the fools out there don't
even know that they scurry to obey us, but they do. That much power...
is delicious, Mr. Winner, it... "
"Adrastus." Quatre jumped, and tore his gaze away from Adrastus, as the
other man too turned to frown at Amphiarus. "You say too much," the thin
man warned Adrastus. "You reveal too much. You... "
"Amphiarus, really," Adrastus chided. He turned back and smiled at Quatre,
and the Arab saw some of the light of insanity that had seeped into the
other man's eyes fade slowly away. "Mr. Winner is our guest. He asked
some perfectly reasonable questions, and... "
"I still think he's asked too many questions," Tydeus interrupted. He
glared at Quatre. "He's an unnecessary risk. I don't believe that he's
who he says he is... "
"Who among us is?" Adrastus demanded rhetorically. He smiled indulgently.
"I think we should allow Mr. Winner to continue along... get a taste of
what he paid for, so to speak. Gentleman?"
"No," Tydeus spat. "We should dispose of him. Right here and now." The
man's black eyes were venomous, and Quatre watched as his hand slipped
under the jacket of his perfectly tailored suit. He tensed, mentally calculating
the best way to move to elude the bullet the other man so obviously wanted
to fire into him.
"You can't shoot him in here, you fool," the blond Parthenopaues inserted
disgustedly. "Just let him in... it'll be easy enough to see once he's
"No," Capaneus, disagreed suddenly, shaking his head. "I don't trust him
either. We should... dispose of him, before he is connected to us."
"Let him go," Hippomedon inserted. He smiled down at Quatre, but the expression
was unpleasant. He crossed his long arms. "If he's who he says he is,
there's no problem. If he's not... this should be entertaining at best."
"Well. That's three for and two against. You're the deciding factor, Amphiarus,"
Quatre stared at the man, and Amphiarus looked calmly back at him, assessing
him. Finally, he shrugged slowly. "Bring the boy in," he said slowly.
"I believe that everyone should get exactly what they asked for." Quatre
felt a rush of relief move through him, but the man's words, as well as
the expression in his eyes, made the Arab feel decidedly uneasy. Amphiarus
looked almost sad.
Tydeus burst out with a tirade of angry words, but Adrastus stopped him
with a sharp order. A door suddenly opened in the wall, a door that had
blended so perfectly with the wall that Quatre had not noticed they were
He smiled a bit smugly to himself. Doors in the walls. He knew it.
"Mr. Winner," Adrastus addressed him formally. "If you would please come
with me, I'll bring you to Polynices now."
Quatre nodded politely, and obediently stood and followed the other man
out of the room. The other five leaders of the organization - for Quatre
was sure now that he'd been evaluated by whatever the Order's equivalent
of a Board of Directors was - seemed to be remaining in the reception
room. Quatre smiled pleasantly at Tydeus as he passed him, and was pleased
to see the man snarl and clench his fists in return.
Quatre followed close on Adrastus' heels as the man led him through a
series of dim, enclosed corridors. He tried to memorize the succession
of twists and turns, but was uncomfortably aware that he would probably
not be able to reverse the order in his head clearly enough for a quick,
flawless escape if it became necessary. Besides - the hallways were very
narrow, with no place to duck away and evade pursuit.
It had better not become necessary to make a quick get-away.
Quatre sighed internally, his eyes narrowing slightly as he stared at
the straight back of the man in front of him.
For three weeks now, they'd been investigating the Order. He'd put Rashid
and Abdul in a great deal of danger, sending the two men out onto the
streets to get him a connection with the Order. Heero had manipulated
his financial records, planting a series of dubious accounts into his
Those records had been accessed, too. Heero had put a very subtle trace
on the files he'd modified, and so had been notified immediately when
an outside source had hacked into his private business.
Quatre hated it. He hated the naked, exposed feeling it gave him to know
that people - evil people - were investigating him, looking into his life
and background and habits and motivations to assess whether or not they
would make him privy to their own nefarious activities.
He hated it even more when they'd contacted him and told him that they
had judged him ‘worthy' to become part of the Order.
Some part of him had been hoping that they wouldn't. Not because he was
afraid of the mission. He was nervous, of course; only a fool wouldn't
be. But he'd experienced danger and fear before. He could handle that.
But what had really struck him at the deepest level was to realize that,
with one clever cover story and a few paltry additions to his financial
report, people were willing - and able - to believe that he was a criminal,
a traitor, a predator.
He'd wanted the story to be rejected out of hand. He's wanted the Order
to refuse to believe that Quatre Raberba Winner, voted one of the fifty
best employers on the planet, known philanthropist, hero of the Wars,
could be what he was claiming to be.
An embezzler. An extortionist. A thief. A killer. A rapist.
He was none of those things!
Yet... the Order - an essentially paranoid organization if ever there
was one - believed that he was.
If they believed it... others could be brought to believe it as well.
And if it were really so credible a story as that... maybe it wasn't that
much of an impossibility.
And there rested the one small doubt that terrified Quatre, that made
him want to scream and protest and run as far away from this mission as
he could get.
What if he was all those things?
There was an enormous potential for good in most people... a potential
that was equaled by the potential for evil.
He'd blundered fully into his own potential for evil once. During the
war, he'd destroyed colonies, homes, lives to get revenge for his own
losses. He'd killed anyone who threatened his vengeance, to the extent
where he'd nearly destroyed Trowa.
He'd wanted to kill Trowa. He still clearly remembered the rage that had
pounded through his veins when Trowa had moved his suit in front of Heero.
Quatre had wanted to kill Heero too, but not... not as personally as he
wanted to kill Trowa. Heero was just an obstacle, blocking his path, that
regrettably needed to be removed.
Trowa... he'd gotten in his way on purpose. He was thwarting him, and
Quatre was furious with him, because Trowa was supposed to be on his side.
And because he wasn't, because he was messing with Quatre's admittedly
confused view of how the world should be, Quatre had wanted to destroy
him. He had been furious and enraged and he had wanted Trowa to die.
It hadn't happened, fortunately. But he'd never been able to forget that
side of himself. He'd spent years avoiding anything that he thought might
bring that part of his personality to the fore.
And now, here he was. Infiltrating the Order, the organization that specialized
in the form of decadent, self-indulgent evil that appealed to the grain
of corruption in everyone's soul.
His greatest fears, and the world's greatest temptations, all in one place.
When this mission was over, Quatre vowed to himself, he was taking one
hell of a vacation.
Finally, Adrastus stopped in front of a large, steel door. There was a
keypad beside the door, and he carefully entered a series of numbers on
the pad. He pushed the door open and stepped back, gesturing at the open
space, indicating that Quatre was to go in alone.
The blond hesitated for the barest of instants. Once he went into that
room, it was all over, and he was committed to this pretense.
But, of course, it was already too late. He was as committed now as he
would be. This pause was only an illusion of freedom, of choice.
Quatre smiled pleasantly and stepped firmly into the room, tensing as
the door closed almost silently behind him. He half expected some attack,
but none was forthcoming.
He blinked, looking nonplussed around the room.
This was more what he'd been expecting out of the waiting room.
The room was huge, and amazingly bright and airy. From the progression
of corridors, Quatre knew that it was located in the middle of the large
building he'd been shown into, but it appeared to be bathed in natural
light. He peered up at the ceiling, but couldn't tell what exactly the
source of light was. The room was a riot of color - red carpeting covered
the floor, the walls were hung with swaths of cloth of rioting colors
- reds and violets and greens and golds all fought for supremacy. A large
bed was draped with gauzy, embroidered curtains in all shades of red and
bright pink, and an area of floor on the other side of the room was strewn
with huge, mattress-sized cushions covered in blues and violets.
The room was beautiful, but Quatre's trained eyes picked out the darker
elements almost overshadowed by the explosion of color. The posts of the
bed were set with hooks, off of which shackles dangled. The same devices
were set into the walls behind the cushions, and Quatre would bet that
there were more set into the floors among the cushions. Elaborate mechanisms
dangled discreetly from the ceilings in the corners of the room.
And the people. Naked and mostly-naked people were everywhere - mostly
women, the oldest of whom could be no older than in her mid-twenties.
The youngest looked barely six, and was trying to hide behind the older
woman. There were young men, some moving gracefully around the room, attending
to tasks, others sitting obediently, waiting to be called.
In the center of all this, on a large chair set on a sort of dais in the
back of the room, sat a man.