Martin sat on the terrace of the Caffe Italia overlooking _ Square and tried without success to order a cappuccino. He cursed the waitstaff for being lazy, then Jean for being late, and finally himself as a fool for being on time. Feeling self-conscious, he stared over at the cathedral as though it was absolutely riveting. A flock of tourists was busy taking selfies in front of the ancient, intricately carved doors. He decided he would mock them silently until Jean arrived.

Five seconds later he twisted around again, looking for the waiter. His back twinged. He thought about storming up to the bar and ordering something stronger, then he decided to wander over to the cathedral, maybe even pop inside. How long had it been? He couldn't remember. With any luck, Jean would be waiting for him by the time he returned.

His thoughts were interrupted by a commotion at the other end of the square. A small crowd was spilling out of one of the boulevards. He heard the echoing reverb of a bullhorn. As the crowd drew closer he saw the placards they were holding, homemade signs denouncing the latest fuel tax increase.

Another protest, he thought wearily. Didn't the Deniers understand their efforts were futile? And why couldn't they make proper signs?

Loud whistles announced the arrival of the police. A wave of black riot gear rushed into the square, pulled barricades out of vans, and scrambled to form a cordon before the protestors could reach the cathedral.

Martin settled back to watch the show. The tourists were holding their ground admirably. For once, he thought, their cameras might actually be put to good use.

Jean arrived just as Martin was getting comfortable. He bustled up to the table with enormous energy and a sense of importance, still talking into his AirPods.

"…have to call you later. Martin! Great to see you. It's been too long." The waiter magically appeared at Jean's elbow. "Two dry martinis—no, wait, you still aren't drinking, are you?"

Martin shook his head. As though it's only a matter of time, he thought bitterly.

"Have you ever tried Tinder?" Jean asked. "No," he said, snapping his fingers before Martin could respond, "you have a girlfriend, don't you." He made a face. "I tried Tinder for a while, but it was too inefficient. All this meeting in person." He looked at Martin disapprovingly. "Just coming outside wastes time. Not to mention the danger."

Martin's eyes drifted back towards the cathedral. The black riot gear was reaching over the barricades and whacking the protestors with batons. The protesters were defending themselves with their placards. A few were awkwardly bringing their signs down on the helmets and shields of the black riot gear, with no discernible effect. The tourists were in full retreat.

Jean followed Martin's gaze. His face wrinkled with contempt. "Why can't these people get with the times?" His head jerked and he touched his ear. "Paul, you rogue! No, I can talk." He disappeared into the cafe just as the waiter bustled up with two dry martinis.

There was a hiss from the square. A billow of white smoke erupted near the barricades. Tear gas. The placards hesitated, then fell back. The black riot gear started hopping the barricades. A moment later the placards were dispersed. Only a few woeful trampled signs remained. The black riot gear trooped back to the vans, packed away the barricades, and drove off, vanishing at quickly as it had appeared.

Martin glanced up at the cathedral. It looked back unconcernedly. He wondered how many protests it had witnessed, how many riots, how many massacres.

"Go back to sleep," he told the cathedral. "Much ado about nothing." He waited a few more minutes. He could hear Jean laughing from inside the cafe. The waiter had disappeared again. Martin sighed, stood up, and walked across the empty square towards his apartment.

His girlfriend was still gone when he got home. "You've gotten boring," she'd declared. She'd stormed off plenty of times before, but this time felt different. There had been no heat in her tone. He had almost gone after her. What had stopped him was the knowledge that she was right. He had gotten boring. How many nights in a row now had she spent watching him play video games? It had been different before, when he was still a brute. She'd liked him then.

He looked around the empty apartment. Somehow it looked lonelier than it had during the years he had simply lived alone. He decided to do what he always did when he felt lonely: go shopping.

His phone started vibrating while he was still clomping down the stairs to the street. He pulled it out, winced when he saw the call was from his parents, and sent back an automated reply that he was busy and would try them back later. He'd sent that message four times in a row now. He couldn't handle the same conversation again: the anxious questions, the brittle cheer, the hint-filled news.

It was dusk by the time he made it to the supermarket. As usual, everyone in the line to get in was a stranger. They were all checking their phones, their shoulders pulled together and their heads tucked down, as though bracing for a blow. The man at the back of the line glanced up from his phone as Martin fell in behind him.

"Did you see the news?" the man asked. He was in his early thirties, handsome, and self-satisfied. His hair was shiny and smooth without a single strand out of place. He might have been a successful lawyer, or a media executive.

Martin shook his head. A young woman, boldly dressed, joined the line. "Who hasn't?" she answered breathlessly, eyes wide. "Everyone agrees they've gone too far this time."

The smooth-haired man nodded with an air of authority. "A vigorous response is required."

An older woman a few places up in line must have overheard, because she turned to join the conversation. "Is it really that serious?" She sounded anxious for reassurance.

"Absolutely," said the man. He smoothed his already smooth hair. "The Deniers are violent extremists. They're a danger to the public. They threaten the health of our society."

Both of the women started nodding. Martin noticed that the younger one was looking past him and at the smooth-haired man. He felt a flash of sexual jealousy, but he still had no idea what they were talking about. He resisted an urge to pull out his phone. Had there been another bombing?

"Sorry to interrupt," he said, hating how humble he sounded. "But what's happened?"

"A riot in _ Square," the smooth-haired man replied. "Those regressive fanatics murdered several policemen."

Another man who had just joined the line poked his head in. His face was heavy from work, or worry. He might have come from a job site, or a manufacturing facility even, if there had been any left in the city. "Killed? Really?"

"Absolutely," said the smooth-haired man. "I heard it from the highest sources. They're still hosing blood off the cobblestones."

The heavy-faced man pursed his lips, impressed. "Wow, that's crazy."

"But it's impossible!" Martin exclaimed. He could still see the skirmish in his mind's eye. Had he missed something? No! Certainly not dead bodies, or enough blood to warrant hoses. But a tendril of doubt crept into his tone.

The smooth-haired man pounced on it. "How would you know?" he asked rhetorically, and sniffed.

The young woman leapt to the attack. "He's absolutely right! It's the truth!" She stared up at Martin, daring him to disagree.

Then, as though they had practiced together beforehand, all four strangers looked down at their phones and started scrolling. Martin's thumb twitched for a moment, then he surrendered. He pulled out his own phone to check the news.

"Oh! The line's moving!" said the older woman suddenly. She sounded pleased.

Martin didn't look up. All the main publications confirmed what the smooth-haired man had said: Denier terrorists had committed murder and mayhem in _ Square.

The young woman sighed impatiently. She brushed past him and took a couple quick steps to catch up to the smooth-haired man. They started chatting animatedly. More sounds of exasperation. Martin realized with a jolt that the line was moving away from him. He jammed his phone back into his pocket and fell into step with the others.

Another protest had started by the time Martin finished his shopping. This one was smaller and more subdued; a handful of people were standing in the park across the street from the supermarket, holding the usual signs. A crowd of angry passersby had formed on the sidewalk opposite. Martin could hear them shouting at the protestors. For some reason, he felt strangely uneasy. Fear rippled through him. His muscles tightened involuntarily. He tried to squeeze his way through the crowd and stumbled right into the smooth-haired man.

"Sorry about that."

The smooth-haired man barely looked at him. "They simply don't care," he remarked. The boldly-dressed young woman was standing next to him.

"Pure selfishness," she said spitefully.

A rhythmic thumping started. At first Martin could barely hear it over the strident heckles of the crowd. Then it grew louder. The smooth-haired man swiveled his head. "Something's coming."

"The police?" asked the young woman. She sounded hopeful.

A large form was moving haltingly across the park towards the protestors. It was twenty feet tall, shaped like a man, and entirely composed of human beings. Limbs, torso, and head were all formed by people pressed tightly together.

Martin watched with amazement; the synchronized coordination put the Cirque de Soleil performers he'd seen to shame. But he felt uneasy as well; something about the form was uncannily familiar. The form drew closer. His mouth fell open with shock and horror.

The people pressed together were all naked. And they weren't holding each other up. They weren't holding onto each other at all. They were sewn together, like Junji Ito's Army of One. It was a giant of stitched human flesh.

The crowd fell silent as the grotesque form heaved its way across the grass. The protestors stared but they didn't move, even when the flesh giant loomed directly over them. Martin wondered if they were frozen with fear. He knew he couldn't have taken a single step to save his life. But he finally realized what the flesh giant reminded him of.

"Leviathan," he breathed.

The flesh giant stumbled. Its arms whirled up. Martin could see the alarm of the men in the legs. They twisted desperately, muscles straining to stay upright. It was too late. With a shuddering crash, the flesh giant toppled forward, directly onto the protestors.

Someone screamed.

The flesh giant tried to stand, clumsy as a toddler. Its hand pushed down for leverage, right into the head of one of the protestors. The head burst like a watermelon dropped from a roof.

Another scream.

The flesh giant staggered to its feet and took two quick steps backwards. Three protestors lay crushed where it had fallen. The flesh giant seemed confused for a moment, then it lumbered away, gaining speed as it went. The surviving protestors limped or crawled into the stunned crowd. Only the bodies of the dead remained.

Martin stared, aghast. He could hear his own breaths, shallow and rapid.

"I suppose you can't make an omelette," said the smooth-haired man.

The young woman stuck her jaw out. "I think they got exactly what they deserved!"

"Its intentions are good. That's what really matters."

Martin started shivering. Someone patted his shoulder reassuringly. It was the older woman from before. For the first time he noticed how carefully dressed she was, the effort that had gone into her face and hair.

"Don't worry," she told him. "I"m sure it won't get far." She sounded like she was talking to herself as much as to him.

From the back of the crowd came another familiar voice.

"Wow," it said, nonplussed. "That's crazy."