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I Am Vlad

I will admit that my first mistake as a new ruler was to kill the ruler of a “democratic” nation in front of a camera crew. Some might say the mistake was letting the camera crew live, but I am not so inclined to kill people sheerly because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had not intended to kill President Grumash, but it was a kill or be killed moment. I rather enjoy living, so I made an on the spot judgement call and killed him.

My name is Vladimir Mortis. You probably know me better by the iconic black anodized stainless adamant-steel mask I began to wear in the mid 1980’s, and the name “Emperor Death” – the former was something that developed from a necessity, the latter was a name unfairly given to me by newspeople looking for a story and politicians looking for a good enemy.

I am no longer Emperor Death, nor am I even Vladimir Mortis – the US CIA took care of both of those, erasing them from current events as much as possible. I was talked into telling my side of the what happened in my home nation – Slavernia – by a good friend of mine who was also retired thanks to the US CIA (there are differences between our situation – he was a super-hero, not a super-villain in their eyes.)

Now I sit in this little room, pondering what to say. I once heard writing was simply a process of starting at the beginning and writing until you reach the end. That sounds simple in theory. In reality, this is 40 years of my life I’m going to write a book about. Or, perhaps two books, depending on how verbose I am.

I’m not going to dive too deeply into the beginning, and how I rose to power. If there’s call for it I could always write an “origin story” like the comic books do – though, I plan on filling mine with truth rather than fiction. Comic books were never ones for accuracy. But I’ll dedicate a section or two so I can hit the high points as some of them do become important later in the story.

I was born in Slavernia in 1950. My father was a Slavernian diplomat stationed in America. My mother came to Slavernia with my father in 1949 – she had been a high school teacher. In my opinion she was highly overqualified – she spoke three languages, including Russian, and could follow any conversation ranging from mathematics to physics. Her intelligence was a large part of the reason my father fell in lover with her.

In 1953, our ruler was overthrown by Lazar Grumash – later it was discovered that it was with considerable help of the American CIA as part of the much larger Cold War chess game that was occurring. Grumash became President Grumash of the United Democratic Slavernian Republic.

Slavernia is one of those countries, that despite all of times it’s been in the news, people still have a hard time pointing it out on the map. With one border on the Atlantic Ocean and three borders butted up against communist Russian countries, Slavernia should have been a part of the Soviet Union, but somehow managed to retain it’s independence from Russia. Of course, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the countries that surrounded it changed radically – but it’s borders never changed.

Tactically, it was important to the Americans because a friendly country in the area gave America a possible friendly location to land troups. Even better, America eventually negotiated a location for four nuclear missiles in Slavernia – which ended up factoring greatly into why the Soviet Union didn’t overrun Slavernia after I wrestled control of it the existing president. While America may have lost a base to work from, they also didn’t attempt any direct military intervention on Slavernian soil due to those same missiles. The full complexities of the situation were one of the first major political

It’s not particularly large – a little over eight-two thousand square miles, about the size of Kansas if you are a US reader of my tale – but it has a few geographical advantages that I made good use of over the years. To the East is the Atlantic bordering it, to the West you have very fertile soil for farming, and down the middle there is a metals-rich mountain range. When I first took control of Slavernia there was a reported population of one and a half million people. However, it was later determined that in reality there had been over two million people – that many of them were still hiding from the previous government and continued to hide from my government for a while!

As for me – I grew up as one of those people in hiding. My father’s last name was not Mortis – that was an assumed name. In 1954 he crossed President Grumash on a couple of domestic issues – something completely outside of his responsibilities, but my father had been quite outspoken on the rights of our people – and the head of the Secret Service informed my father what President Grumash had signed: a termination contract for my father.

President Grumash hadn’t known of my father’s monthly poker games that happened to include the head of the Slavernian Secret Service. With a little help from other friends both inside and outside of Slavernia my father “died” and created a new life as Daniil Mortis, and my mother Yelena Mortis. I was not an only child – my sister Elana was two years my junior.

My father had escaped a death sentence for a while, but nearly random events eventually made it happen anyway. We lived outside of Mursk by about 10 miles, and a small uprising occurred. Without an particular goal in mind, the men fighting had taken up residence in the barn of my father’s farm. The fighting ended quickly, the Slavernian Special Forces overwhelming the rebels in the barn. They burned the barn to hide the identities of the rebels from the public. Then they turned their guns on my family – by luck I was at a friends house. I returned to find my family dead. I was 13, and I already understood this could not continue – someone was going to have to replace President Grumash.

Homeless, I took a job in a munitions factory for nearly a year until an accident occurred. Conditions at the factory were always bad, the hours were long, and most of the labor was performed by children. It was a recipe for disaster – unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of one of those disasters. A container of explosive powder had been knocked off a high shelf onto my workspace, covering my face and head with the highly flammable material. Stumbling away from the workspace I apparently caused either a spark or a hard enough impact to ignite the compound. It doesn’t matter how it happened, the effect still remain the same: all of my hair was burned off, and my face was a mass of 2nd and 3rd degree burns. It was a miracle that my eyes had not been damaged, nor had my hearing – though one of my ears looked like it had melted.

I was fired and removed from the plant, burns and all. I found my way to a hospital with the help of strangers, only to be turned away because I did not have money – one of the kind strangers who helped me had also helped themselves to the contents of my pockets.

The burns healed leaving a horribly scared face. I had done what I could to keep my face clean, but I had lost quite a bit of tissue to the third degree burns, and much of my face had a distorted look, as if it had been made of wax and exposed to too much heat. Even after the skin had healed over I continued to cover my face and head in bandages – it gave me a way to hide my face.

I lived on the streets for a year – there I learned to fight dirty, steal, cheat, and do whatever else I felt was necessary to survive. I was an undesirable in society – with out my bandages I was too horrible for people to take pity, and with bandages on my face I looked like a number of other beggars on the streets (though do I believe I started the facial bandage trend.)

My next stop was to join the military. In America I would have had to have been 18 before I joined, but as was the case with my job at the munitions plant no such restrictions existed in Slavernia. Typically younger members of the military end up in support roles – pealing potatoes, taking out the garbage, cleaning latrines, and similar mundane tasks. Initially that’s what I was doing.

I lucked out a bit – four other young members of the Slavernian Army attempted to grab me and stuff me in a latrine. Such activities are sport for the youngest members, and older members of the military would often make bets on how long it would take before the victim was submerged in the muck. In my case, not a single bet was won – it took a little time, but I had successfully turned the tables on my attackers. Not only had they all four ended up in the latrine pits, two of them had a broke arm and one would only see the world through one eye for the rest of his life. Unintentionally I had proven myself to be quick thinking, capable, and quite vicious.

It’s not completely unheard of for a younger member to move out of support roles and into active training, though it’s rare. By the time I was 16 I was training with the special forces unit. When I turned 17 I became the leader of my unit.

Towards the end of 1969 I was called to present my unit (among other units) to President Grumash for review. This was explained as a “standard procedure” operation and “you drew short straw this year.” It was supposed to be a simple matter of standing in formation for a few hours while the President walked around making various noises designed to reflect the idea that he was a strong, intelligent, involved leader.

When he reached my unit, he stopped and starred at me for a long moment. “What is your name?” A general, who I would later in life get to know better, stood beside him and raised an eyebrow at the breach in standard protocol.

“Sir, Vladimir Mortis, Sir.”

“Why is your face covered?” He was frowning at me now. I had been wearing bandages on my face for so long I never considered it. When I joined the special forces they added a new feature to my bandages – a camouflage mask that was placed on top of my bandages.

“Sir. Facial damage, sir.”

“Take it off. It does not belong.”

I will admit that was taken back by this. It had been years since anyone questioned my bandages or mask, and nearly as long since I’ve had to intentionally show the scars to anyone but a doctor. But I removed the mask and bandages as he requested. Grumash took two steps back when the final layer of bandages came off, his expression one of horror.

He nodded at me finally, and turned to the general beside him. “General Kutuzov have this man removed.”

“Shall I have just him removed, or shall his entire team be removed from the field?”

I could see the side of President Grumash’s face as his lip snarled. “You miss-understand me, General. I mean have this man removed from my employment. His face is…” Grumash took a deep breath before continuing. “His face is an abomination to my forces. I don’t even begin to understand why anyone felt he should be in a position of responsibility. The public might see him.”

“But sir, he’s one of the best trained-”

Grumash cut the general short. “I can have you removed, too. Make sure he is no longer on the premisses and is fully discharged without benefits within the next 15 minutes, or you can begin filing paperwork on your own discharge.” Grumand turned, and the rest of his escort continued with him, leaving the general looking at the back of his head. The general had a sidearm on him, and I noted his hand was resting on it now as his eyes narrowed.

“You might get off the shot,” I said lowly so it wouldn’t be heard by the escort, “however you wouldn’t survive the counter attack by his bodyguards.”

The general looked at me, and nodded. “Da. Come.” I followed two steps behind him to the gates without speaking a word. At the gate he motioned to the guards and they opened it. He turned to me and stuck his hand out. “You weapon. Return it now.”

I did not hesitate – I handed him the rifle, and drew my sidearm, and offered it butt first. He held the rifle for a moment, and inspected it. “I believe these weapons were properly turned in, and that paperwork will later reflect that. They were lost somewhere on barracks property.” I holstered my sidearm, a nasty .44 calibre six shooter I had chosen myself, and took the rifle. I did not speak, I simply nodded. “You are dismissed.”

The expression on his face was hard to read – he was a veteran of both politics and combat. But his words expressed deeper feeling on the matter. “This is not right. I cannot change it. Good luck, soldier.” He raised his right hand, clenched it into a fist, and smacked his chest with it. It was the Slavernian military salute.

I walked out the gate. I couldn’t speak. Grumash had been the reason why my last name was Mortis. Grumash had taken my family from me. Grumash’s munitions factory – most of which went to 3rd world countries – had taken my face. Now Grumash had taken away the one place I had found where I fit in.

Grumash, President of a “democratic nation” had taken way the dignity of all of Slavernia. We were slaves, not free men. Elections were held, and Grumash always won – sometimes because there was no contender, or because of the guards placed at the polling stations that enforced his vote. He could not be voted out of office.

I remember standing there outside of the gates, looking at the rifle still in my hand. It had been tried before – assassination attempts and uprisings were not unheard of in Slavernia. But those were often untrained, disgruntled citizens. I was a trained weapon.

I suddenly turned and looked back at the gates – the general was still standing there. I suddenly realized while the general had not pulled his sidearm and shot the President of Slavernia, he had indeed drawn a weapon against Grumash. It would take time, but I would make sure the general’s weapon hit the intended target.