Criticality (24)

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After a week or so of laying low, Chipshot decided to venture out in civilian clothing to observe the results of the aftermath.

It was not often that he got an opportunity to leave Enforcer I for any extended period of time, but in taking most of the heat for the unauthorized missions which caused Atro City to become tens of thousands of people lighter, the former Enforcers leader spared MC and Cindra from the fate of a reprimand that could have been much more heavy-handed than the slaps on the wrists that his friends received.

They were each separated with the now acting leader of the Enforcers, MC, being sent on a remedial surveillance type mission on the opposite side of Second Earth and Cindra completely off the planet seeing to a successful coup d’état in favor of the Space Force’s interests on Venimus 3. All the while, Chipshot was placed on administrative leave – pending a certain and dishonorable discharge.

It was convenient, but Chipshot had a feeling that this was not the worst of it. Not even just the beginning but the beginning of his end was cinched the moment that he decided to openly defy both General Pile and Acro. A matter of them sending the Enforcers who were formerly under his command – after him happened to be in the forefront of his mind, so he stepped into the convenience store and remained very mindful of the concealed LUNC between the waist of his jeans and his stomach.

cityscapeWho would it be?

E-Man? So pragmatic – would he even accept the job, or would it just be following orders?

Python? Could eliminating a former ally get him any closer to the redemption that he sought for past failings?

Recoil? That guy had some issues, but would probably take none with dispatching Chipshot.

The dreams of paranoia were built out of nightmare scenarios such as this. A big bit of positive news would be the tentative alliance with the Second Earth Special Police Force and now the Shokan as well, but every minute that Chipshot continued to breathe was going to put that alliance to the test. Could they come to his rescue in time? He was not going to get a chance to be able to ask for help – isolated away from MC and Cindra who needed to play their position if there was to be any hope of said alliance continuing on in his absence. Morbid – yes, but there was no use in walking around stupid by acting like his time was not coming.

The additional slap in the face was the pay cut. Being the leader of the Enforcers did not leave much time for tending to Chipshot’s place – properly, that was. His apartment would often be vacated for weeks or months on end, so food and other normal household items were usually kept at their sparsest minimums. Managing shelf lives was important when being done in conjunction with managing an already tight budget. And after being docked pay, it was only going to tighten further – one more thing to worry about.

Luckily, the influence from the Requirement seemed to have worn off with Sheol’s amazing defeat of Tentalor Rep, so at least, the populace was back to normal. A masterful stroke of teamwork – no brownie points were being assessed in Chipshot’s favor or arraignment. And these prices were boasting their steepness of a similar accord to his mounting anguish. Maybe they just seemed higher because he could now merely afford less of the items that would once fill his cart. In fact, there was no need for a cart when a basket would more than suffice. It was doubtful that the Enforcers would even allow him to get back to his microwave for a last meal.

Chipshot was being overly negative, but false positives did not need to enter into this. He had betrayed a black ops outfit which only answered to the Space Force. There was no walking away from something like that. There was no living to tell about it. And there was no putting this experience on a résumé. References? What would that even look like: References not available upon request because they would likely kill him and the interviewer who now knew about them? He was fu–ed in so many different ways that it did not even make any sense.

And for what? Why? To prove a point? No. It was time to make a change, and the fact remained that Chipshot had forced the Enforcers’ hand, so now he would be able to see his demise coming. Previously, the looming fate could have come at any time of the General’s or Acro’s choosing. It could still come at any time, but the initiative was taken by him to cause the retaliation. The solace was subtle but important. In the end, his former employers played at a much higher level, so this move could have just played right into their hand – expedited matters accordingly. The freedom to wield will was funny like that with all of the players making so many moves at any given point in time, but the key happened to be the ability to make one more move.

Death canceled out power, and waning influence could be exploited to any number of inscrutable ends. Chipshot likened the foolhardy sensibility to a popular yet deceased musician. The person might have been a powerful creative force until life was cut short, but the compilations, re-releases of prior works, and the accelerated profiteering – post-mortem, seemed borderline predatory.

“Raze!” A lady called out from behind Chipshot – using his real first name.

To say that Chipshot did not stiffen up and close his eyes at the thought of this potentially being the end would have been a lie. The basket which was dangling from his left hand happened to be very flingable, but he made a mental note that his LUNC was still safely tucked away, regardless, before opening his eyes and turning to face down whatever was to be the inevitable.

It almost appeared as if Karyn had done a double take because her cart was pointed the opposite direction, so she said as much while motoring the solar-powered carrier backward, “I thought that was you. How have you been, and when did you get back to the surface side?”

Karyn did not know.

“Well,” Chipshot stated, “General Pile’s not speaking to me right now.”

“I’d ask you why,” Karyn admitted, “but those types of conversations should not be held at public places. Getting some things for your apartment?”

With a nod, Chipshot replied, “Yeah – just a few quick items. What’s – uh, what’s…what’s been up with you as of late?”

The fact that Karyn was a head doctor had nothing to do with her catching on to Chipshot’s uneasiness. She stated, “I’m fine – better than fine,” but quickly changed the topic back to her perceived leader, “but I can tell that something’s up with you. I’ll be back at Atro City Hospital after my lunch break concludes, and you’re certainly welcome to stop in and talk.”

“I appreciate that,” Chipshot said, “and I may take you up on that. Look, I don’t wanna – I don’t wanna hold you here or take anymore of your time with this, so let’s plan on meeting up in an hour.”

“That’s fine,” Karyn accepted. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Luckily, Karyn was not militarily trained outside of the basics, so the threat of her being an assassin was minimal. Setting Chipshot up for the kill might have been another matter, but doctors were supposed to take oaths against behavior like that, so he hoped that the Head Doctor’s concern was genuine, “Thank you, Karyn.”

The Brael Moonbeam

At the bedside of Tentalor Rep, Commander sat down with a cool, damp towel and the accompaniment of an armed Shokan detail which was led by Sanjuana – surrounding the cabin. The blackened body of her man had returned to their bed, and though she could not yet share it with him, the idea that they were halfway back to normal was strangely satisfying.

There was a long way to go because the bodily husk was just that – merely a shell of Glove’s former self, but this newer personality which inhabited it seemed to be almost kinder and gentler than the soul of its former occupant ever was. In Tentalor Rep’s purest form and separated from the Pillorian Regime’s influence, this manifestation – for as dark as it was portrayed, happened to be the essence of what – of whom Commander had fallen in love with. Showing a compassion which not many had seen recently – certainly after her son was ripped away from her in that hospital on the Doran Homeworld, she dripped some water over the Ethereal’s forehead before applying the compress.

It net an uneasy response from Tentalor Rep of worrisome eyes rolling about his head in searching for some sort of way out or at least an answer which could clarify his predicament. Outside of that, he was simply too weak to do anything about it other than submit to Commander’s loving care. The Ethereal just lay there, cowering within the covers – freezing but feverish, all at the same time.

Now, Commander was not some sort of an authority on caring for Ethereals. She had known a few over her time, but this type of situation was unprecedented in the history of the universe. One did not normally take care of an ailing deity. So where the expertise of a medical professional with celestial qualifications was not available, the inherent skill of a nurturer would need to suffice.

Over in Sheol and Sylvia’s cabin, the Shokan Princess returned with some good news but held off on delivering it as she watched the Shokan Leader labor out of bed in order to greet her. Lately, he had been sleeping a lot more – obviously recuperating from his battle with Tentalor Rep. Neither happened to be dolled up in their Shokan attire, so boxers and a throbbing headache met jeans and a pleasant, natural – makeup-less beauty.

“I just got done talking to Pete over at the Police Force Base,” Sylvia announced, “and I put him in touch with your contact, Chip Schilders, over at WZZZ. He’d suggested that the footage from your fight with Tentalor Rep be left at that – a fight from your tournament without the prefacing of the Pillorian Regime’s aims. Subsequently, the Space Force concurred and had since scrubbed the footage of the Enforcers’ involvement.”

“Did that one Police Force officer, Vim, have any recollection of what happened?” Sheol inquired.

“None,” Sylvia answered, “as is the case with the remaining population of Second Earth. This does work out in everybody’s favor. The Space Force gets to hush up their Enforcers project. The Police Force doesn’t have to worry about investigating the body count because they’re using the logic where people need to use better judgment when standing around to watch a match from the dOOgie Wars Tournament.”

This brought a smile to Sheol’s lips, “I’ve been meaning to tell you…that you used to work for some shady people over at the Police Force.”

All that Sylvia could do was shrug while admitting, “They’re effective, plus both the Police Force and the Space Force happen to be looking the other way with regard to your father’s body, so that kinda works out for us too.”

“Well,” Sheol thought, “back to your old Police Force, I believe them with that angle of turning a blind eye. As far as the Space Force is concerned, though, I don’t.”

“What’s on your mind about that?” Sylvia asked before hooking Sheol’s left arm and helping him back down to a seated position on the edge of their bed.

The weakness that Sheol was experiencing stemmed from the novice use of some rather advanced fight techniques. His body was confused, and he did not know enough about what he had done to Tentalor Rep to allow his mind to formulate the proper descriptive words. This only left the soul, so the answers must have lain there. The Shokan Leader surmised, “I’ve been so out of it as of late that the only thing which I’m capable of doing is contemplating the ending of that match. My hate had driven me before, but I tapped into something…deeper.”

Sylvia urged Sheol to continue, “Like what?”

“You’ve heard of True Love before haven’t you?” Sheol prefaced his answer.

“Heard of it,” Sylvia replied, “I’m hoping that we both achieve a measure of it.”

In total agreement, Sheol continued, “Likewise. I think that I tapped into its inverse opposite: True Hate.

Let me explain: Fighters have always been able to utilize their life forces for the purposes of augmenting their physical abilities. We call it that, but other cultures might call it ‘chi’ – for instance. I can focus it through a blade to celestially temper its steal and make my attacks or defenses stronger. Even the scientific community has started to stow its stubborn pride for the laws of conservation by baking the functionality of a life force into their technology.

The gauntlet technology of our Shokan attire is an example of this in practice. The gear amplifies the focusing of our life forces in order to create a personal shield. Everybody has long since been able to track one, so people are really coming around to the side of commercializing what was once pigheadedly held onto by the organized religion crowd.”

The details of the conversation were easy to follow so far, and Sylvia added, “As science and religion converge, I’d imagine that we’d net creation by default.”

“That’s where I’m at!” Sheol extended his left hand to help animatedly plead his case. “Ethereals don’t need life forces. Tentalor Rep is proof of that. My father’s body is walking around empty, and yet he’s still so powerful. They carved out a piece of creation to call their own and sustain them. This is chicken-and-egg right now, so I have no idea if that amazing feat was done before ascension, or some Ultimate Ethereal was just bad as- enough to figure that out on its own.

My point is that the Ethereals authored energy signatures which life forces ultimately derive from. The rungs of the ladder look like this: Life forces are at the bottom, energy signatures are in the middle, and creation is at the top. Now creation has more to do with love, but what is love without hate? So destruction is on par with creation but off the ladder to the side. Either one of those could have been used to block a soulless being from its energy signature much in the same way as Ethereals have used their stature to block lower beings from the knowledge of energy signatures and creation!”

“Nobody ever defeated an Ethereal until the first person did it,” Sylvia stated. “Now, everybody else can emulate. And Acro’s been mighty quiet as of late.”

Sheol sighed, “He’s still using me. It’s like my entire life was just some experiment for him!”

The wheels of Sylvia’s analytical Police Force brain were turning, but she first turned to her right to face Sheol and get him refocused on the importance of the matters at hand, “Stop worrying about that. We already know what Acro’s done. What we need to find out is why because something’s about to go down. I can feel it in my gut.”

“Morning sickness?” Sheol quipped.

“I’ll remind you of that when you’re stuck on the Brael Moonbeam changing diapers and I’m out reclaiming my career ambitions,” Sylvia fired back playfully.

In all seriousness, Sheol brought the conversation back around to the scrutiny of conjecture, “I hate to have you call upon the Police Force again, but do you think that they might have some information which could help us figure out this next piece of Acro’s puzzle?”

There was no hesitation when Sylvia answered, “They’re my friends. I’ll ask.”

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

Between the meticulous writing of death notifications and the furious reassigning of a vacated caseload, Pete’s office was bristling with an activity which had saddled the Acting Commissioner, Julian, Slubbich, and Vim beneath metaphorical mounds of paperwork as they sat around his desk. Most of everything was digitized these days, but that did not make the generous workload any less weighty of a burden. A couple hundred Police Force officers had lost their lives to the events of a week ago, and there was no doubt that certain illegal elements were going to try and capitalize on an obvious and glaring deficit of law and order.

“Whose gonna head up the Hartrick money laundering investigation?” Slubbich held up a slate computer – one of many which happened to contain this case’s particular details.

“I think that was one of my guys,” Vim accepted. “let me have a look at it.” In terms of rank, he was not necessarily the fourth in command behind Slubbich, but this happened to be quite the learning experience to put him on that crash course toward a leadership position.

Each of them had divvied up a quarter of the remaining Police Force officers between them which still managed to be statistically significant (even) in light of the huge numbers from Atro City and a sizable contingent from the surrounding municipalities being sawed off. Once encouraged, sorting through the intricacies of interdepartmental cooperation now became everybody’s worst nightmare. Although there was protocol which was more often than not adhered to, every single Police Force officer had their own unique way of doing things, filing reports, and detailing matters. One week into this, in the half full glass scenario, meant that there was one less week of paperwork to sort through. Really, there was nothing about this glass that was empty….

Slubbich happily handed over the slate computer to Vim because it meant that there was one less case cluttering up his own pile. He already had the added responsibility of seeing to Edith, Ardina, and Devore during the nighttime portion of their days stuck at the Police Force Base. Ideally, the responsibility should have been shared with Yori since the Enforcer was tied to the base, but the question of loyalty still remained. So was that tied to the Space Force or Commissioner Gyro? As far as the Commissioner’s family was concerned, there could be no question, and with Chipshot seemingly thrown out of the Enforcers, there was going to be even less of an insight into what made the engineering team lead tick. Blown cover or not, the Police Force no longer held the relevant cards on the subject of leverage any longer.

“Here’s a blast from the past,” Julian dug up.

“Whatcha got?” Pete asked while he continued to type away on the keyboard which was ingrained in his desk.

With a subtle cock of his head to the left at the partial surprise, Julian went right into it, “The Retsepar case.”

It was hard for Pete’s demeanor to not change during the announcement of that sensitive issue, but this was not the only thing which had changed. He ordered, “Throw it in the drawer. I’ll get to it at a later date.”

Much to the pleasant surprise of Julian who had been through reprimand after reprimand because of the obvious and justifiable emotional strain that the case was having on Pete – dragging their Police Force partnership down the drain, he happily slid one of the deeper desk drawers open on the right side of the Acting Commissioner’s desk and softly placed the slate computer inside for safe keeping. Slubbich was also pleased by the resolve and used a nodding head to approve of the maturity and personal growth which took an immutable inner strength to pull off plus a certain selflessness that would garner the type and multitude of respect that Commissioner Gyro enjoyed.

Vim may have been the youngest of the bunch, but he realized what that decision meant to Pete and underscored its severity with reassurance, “We’ll get him.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Pete looked up from his desktop to say directly to Vim before looking past the rookie at Sec who happened to be hovering around the open doorway.

“I know that you had me put your calls on hold,” Sec interrupted, “but I’ve got Sylvia on the line.”

Pete responded, “No, it’s cool. Thanks for the heads up.” He then fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com to say, “Two times in one day? You know that you can have your old job back if you’d like.”

The Brael Moonbeam

“And have to put up with Internal Affairs?” Sylvia reminded Pete. “No, thank you. Besides, I believe that I’m of much more value to you-all in this capacity.”

After since having lain back down, Sheol began to rest his eyes as he listened along with Sylvia’s conversation. When needed, the Shokan Leader would chime in for any additional, requested details. His head was spinning, and the annoying threat of a headache was again looming. The funk of fatigue was certain like a dark storm cloud and not about to blow over any time soon. But one thing that had finally been lifted off of his heavy conscience: For all of the things that the Shokan Princess had gone through because of him, she still managed to retain a very good working relationship with her Police Force friends. Open minds and open hearts made this possible, and in making his lady friend happy, he was forever indebted to the likes of Acting Commissioner Rogue plus Police Force Officers Kazar, Slubbich, and Cobolgove – among others.

The conversation went along freely as Sylvia continued to talk, “Speaking of which, tell the guys that I said hello.”

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

“You can tell them yourself,” Pete urged before activating the speakerphone feature of his Ear-To-Mouth Com, removing the device, and placing it on the desktop.”

“Hey Sylvia!” Vim was excited to hear his former partner’s voice. About a week ago, he could have sworn that he saw her in a dream or something, so she happened to be on his mind as of late.

“Vim – my man,” Sylvia’s crisp voice came back over the Ear-To-Mouth Com clearly, “how are you doing?”

This was a welcome diversion from the non-festivous activities of the remedial grind, so Vim happily engaged, “I’m taking care of myself.”

The other Police Force officers, outside of Vim, could hear her smiling because they knew of her activities as his guardian angel and were recently made aware of and definitely approved of the constant Shokan tail that clung to him. She wondered, “How’s your mom doing?”

“Great,” Vim said, “and she’s been wanting to get both of my partners over to the house for dinner some night soon.”

“I know that Slubbich doesn’t miss too many meals,” Julian teased – causing a bit of laughter among all of the group in a bit of long overdue ribbing for its newest member. To think, neither he nor Pete nor Vim had wanted the rigid ‘by the eBook’ style to be a part of the team, and now they could hardly imagine themselves without this valuable addition.

After all, it was true what Julian had said. Skipping meals would not allow Slubbich to function optimally for the proper performance of his duties, so he was not about to miss out on home cooking and accepted the invitation, “Please, set it up. I’m in.” The ability to fit in with such an unorthodox yet disciplined group of individuals who would have normally shunned him as an outsider meant more than he was capable of expressing. His stances were often not popular and being himself was not easy, but the Police Force had embraced his contribution from the beginning, and it made a big difference – all the difference, especially as of late.

“Thank you, Detective Slubbich,” Sylvia said after the laughter died down a bit. Vim would have no idea what she meant by that and probably equated it to the dinner invite acceptance, but everybody else in Pete’s office knew the real scoop behind her words.

Rookies, more often than not, got smeared by the system. If not by the harsh tactics of seasoned criminals than by that broken system itself. In many respects, the only difference between the side that the Police Force represented and the side that the officers fought against was a thin line called the law. Had Commissioner Gyro been present, he could have put things more eloquently, but the tug-of-war for Vim’s soul was on from all sides – literally. Sylvia and Slubbich were there to ensure that nothing interfered with the rookie’s proper development. As Julian would tell it, there was a slew of bad cops, and they already had a rugged cop in Pete who had grown into an acting commissioner, so nobody was willing to see any repeats of the latter.

“No problem,” Slubbich told Sylvia.

And last but certainly not least, Sylvia made mention, “Did I hear Julian in there?”

Speaking up, Julian confirmed his presence, “The one and only. It’s good to hear from you, Sylvia. How’s the life of a princess been treating you?”

The Brael Moonbeam

Prior to Vim and Slubbich coming on board, neither Pete nor Julian could understand why Sylvia, who happened to be the granddaughter of the man who designed the Space Force’s first spacestation (Colt), would aspire to become a Police Force officer. Financially, she was set for eons – rich, the filthiest. Perhaps, this was what they most respected about her. The Shokan Princess, in her former Police Force capacity, truly wanted to make a difference. There was no threat that she would turn despite what Internal Affairs claimed because she had enough money to purchase the Police Force and enough clout in the Space Force to satiate any megalomaniac’s need for power.

Corruption was literally not worth Sylvia’s time, but being a dutiful Police Force officer – on and now off the clock really sat and continued to sit well with Pete and Julian. There was no secret that Sheol had his ear to the street, so with him and the Shokan Princess being an item, the Police Force now had a huge leg up and a greatly expanded network. It was never geared to become a universal organization, but this never meant that Second Earth was shielded from universal threats.

“Things are going well.” Sylvia announced, “I’m expecting.”

A chorus of congratulatory messages poured into Sylvia’s Ear-To-Mouth Com as Sheol opened his eyes to witness her light up with a smile and a glow that only made him prouder of the progress that they had made together. He mustered all of his strength in order to sit up and wrap his arms around the Shokan Princess, and she reciprocated by clutching him tightly.

Taking a step back, Sylvia refocused the discussion, “I’d actually called for another reason. Pete, I know that when we spoke earlier, you’d mentioned that an as of yet unnamed source gave you some access to certain classified cables. Did anything happen to be in there about any Ethereals?”

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

After Slubbich sat back down from closing the door to Pete’s office for privacy, Pete recalled, “To my surprise – yes, there was. And to be honest with you, I don’t know how our contact is going to survive too much longer with divulging this information. The Police Force is fine for the moment because the Space Force must believe that we’re too stupid to piece certain things together, but he’s a goner. I’d asked him to come in for protection, but he declined. In an unofficial capacity, I’ve sent our mercenary contact, Parsec, out to keep an eye on the Enforcer known as Chipshot, but I can’t lie: I’m expecting the worst.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Sylvia replied, “because between the Shokan, the Police Force, and select members within the Enforcers, we can really get to the bottom of some mysterious and pending stuff.”

Slubbich probed, “What’s your take on this Ethereal angle?”

Sylvia explained, “Sheol thinks that his former Master Acro is going to use what we all learned from the fight with Tentalor Rep and make a play for another Ethereal very shortly.”

“If we learned anything from the Enforcers cables,” Julian added, “it’s that the Space Force is not on the same page with itself as far as one unified vision is concerned. They would certainly have the universe to believe otherwise, but your buddy Acro’s clan sister, Marileva, is coming to Second Earth. They’re unsure if she’s an Ethereal or something stronger, but she’s bringing a portion of the Doran Aristocracy fleet along with her and a powerful cast of supporting characters.”

The Brael Moonbeam

“Hold on, Julian,” Sylvia paused the conversation because her Ear-To-Mouth Com was not on its speakerphone setting in order to relay the information to Sheol. “Did you know that Marileva is headed to Second Earth and bringing your mother’s fleet along with her?”

It made Sheol think as he stared at the claw glove which he never really removed anymore. The woman who had severed his father’s right hand was now within range, and she was bringing his mother’s stolen fleet along with her. To say that the feelings were mixed was an understatement. This first Crimson Red Belt would be formidable, but Acro seemed to be making a play against Marileva, so what was the potential for allied possibilities?

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

After a bit of muffled mumblings, Sylvia’s voice returned, “Okay, Julian – I’m back. Sheol’s family has some serious and interesting history with Marileva. I’ve got him on speakerphone now.”

“Hey, everybody,” Sheol greeted.

As if out of penance for past doubts of Sheol’s fighting abilities, Vim complimented, “Great fight, Sheol. I don’t think that I’ll ever doubt your skills again.”

“But if you’re thinking about challenging Marileva,” Slubbich advised, “I’d humbly ask you to reconsider. These cables were extremely thorough, and although it appears as if she has wronged your family, you probably aren’t aware of the details: Your father, Glove, was trying to blow up her spacestation with her family on it at the time, and your mother, Commander, shot and nearly killed her husband – on purpose.”

With an audible sigh, Sheol admitted, “That…sounds like my parents.”

“Just a piece of friendly advice, kid – from somebody who knows,” Pete offered: “Focus that hate. This dOOgie Wars Tournament is ‘funny – ha ha’ and all, but Marileva will wear you out if you cross her. The Space Force is extremely nervous with good reason, but in taking command of your mother’s fleet, she never harmed your sister, Angelica, who was controlling things in your mother’s absence. Honestly, she was the most capable of wielding it if you ask me. Some major shi- is about to pop off, and neither the Shokan nor you are any of her immediate or extended concern.”

“Thank you for your candor,” Sheol replied.

Julian stepped in here, “Marileva does have two Ethereals on her team. Jeez, I was freaking out over seeing just one! Anyway, Acro has history with both: A woman by the name of Callisto who happens to be one of the highest-ranking officials in the New Alliance – the sworn enemy of the Space Force and your Doran Aristocracy and a man who Sylvia should recognize from her family’s engineering background – Terry Terrison who is currently unaccounted for.”

After loading up her trunk with the purchased groceries and slamming it closed, Karyn found herself flung onto the car by the instinct of a flinch as the convenience store exploded! Sliding off the back of the car to her feet, she could have collapsed in her pant suit at the sight, the thought, and the disbelief if not for her duty to all of those innocents who were inside as well as her Enforcers unit. Far from being any sort of munitions expert, the Head Doctor not only felt the concussive blast which sent chunks of the building spewing outward onto the front row of cars and even more bystanders who were either coming to the store or leaving it, but she was able to witness the implosion of the entire place from what appeared to be a centralized point from within – the detonation point deep in its center. She screamed out, “Raze!”

Fortunate enough to have not parked as closely as the cars which were slammed into each other like a more easily pushed toy variety from the blast, Karyn became the unfortunate beneficiary of having to deal with it. Of her experience, one blast was normally all that it took for whichever maniac was responsible to prove their point, so she hurried off to check on the well-being of any- and everybody who she could find. Outside the building, bodies were strewn about the parking lot in various different ways: Some were thrown a few feet by the blast and suffered anything from minor bruising to concussions to lacerations to broken bones. Others were smashed in between cars as the vehicles were actually thrown around by the explosion with a disheartening ease while the rest happened to be tossed into objects which had a little less give but took a great toll on a fragile body. Carts were overturned and groceries were spilled out all over the place like a shelving unit had broken. And those pieces of glass which had not simply shattered in place were blown out and littering the ground for the foreseeable distance. A beautiful day had suddenly gone crummy with the smog of smoke and debris peppering its skies.

“Enforcer I!” Karyn fitted and fingered her Ear-To-Mouth Com to say. One by one, she checked each person who she came across while blurting out the quick line, “I’m a doctor,” and stabilizing their bodily position in motion of moving to the next. Sirens played the accompaniment to her chorus as the Head Doctor was actually on a committee that happened to be in charge of coordinating with Atro City to improve first responder response times, so she was happy to know that her efforts had made a difference.

The Police Force was the first on the scene to respond, swarming the area with resources as they may not have known exactly what had happened or was going on, but it was always best to throw as many resources at the problem as possible – whatever it was. Coordinated of course, the lead officer took charge, started a perimeter which cordoned off the area, and began to work from the outside in for the purposes of retrieving bodies and moving them to a much safer distance than the close proximity toward this chaos would allow.

In a bit of peculiarity, frustration began to set in as none of the other Enforcers picked up Karyn’s dire calls, “Enforcer I! Where…are…you? Come on! Chipshot is down!” She must have been of the mindset that he was still their leader and her opinion mattered to them.

But even from beneath an endcap of produce and a litany of the convenience store’s (no longer) supporting beams which used to be on the ceiling, Chipshot knew better. The body which lay twisted up beside him had been shredded, so it was of his opinion that he probably did not fare any much better. Or, he did not have much longer to live. The Enforcers had made their move, so there happened to be no question of this. The only question was of whom they had sent to cause this unconscionable amount of destruction.

Black ops was supposed to be about silence and precision which was exactly why the Enforcers had chosen to outsource this mission. Chipshot knew their tactics inside and out, so it would have done them no good to go after him with the traditional rule set. This had to be the work of a mercenary, and as he laid his head on what felt like some jagged piping in order to relax his neck, he realized that there was only one merc in all of the universe who would dare:

The Trenches of Kalos 7

Raze Coist never missed. From point-blank range as was seen with the bodies of Slorgs which led up to his current sniper position or the heads of the Slorgs that he had exploded at this distance with pinpoint accuracy. His right eye remained fixated in the laser rifle’s optional pop-up scope as he watched and followed the last of the initial front of Slorg sentries fall to him and his mercies.

Streaking across the scope view were Space Force soldiers who had now managed to push through the resilience of the Slorgs’ front line. No, the Enforcers did not exist back then by that exact name beneath the war-torn wreckage of the Kalos 7 planetoids which sat defiantly between Space Force and Slorg space. This area had become a neutral zone between the Quadron System which was of Space Force jurisdiction and Explorigvasun which was ruled mostly by Slorg dominion.

To think, people had once lived and flourished on this particular planetoid, and now Raze was perched high atop a highrise terrace with the orders, intent, means, and skill to snuff out the Space Force’s crustaceous Crabmartian Slorg neighbors from Xenos. No, this was not the Enforcers, and he was not in charge.

“Kristof’s group was able to push through,” said Gregoire Desautels – the unit’s leader. He lowered his high-powered binoculars before congratulating, “Great shooting, Coist.”

“With all due respect, Sir,” Raze alerted, “I barely even need to use my zoom in order to pick up the swarming shock troops.”

“The outerlying Slorg Decimator’s getting really close,” another member of the unit called out from behind. The apartment might have been secured but the rest of the building and the entirety of this planetoid were not.

Gregoire admitted, “Yeah, we’re deep in this one.” The mission had been to push a group of Space Force soldiers led by Riddell Kristof on through to a dense staging area that the Slorgs were using to refuel and launch attacks from. Having done that, the unit’s part in this mission should have concluded.

Or at least they should have relocated to a new vantage point in order to ensure the Space Force soldiers’ proper extraction and then moved to escape themselves. Instead, Raze found himself out draped over the fire escape with his laser rifle – loosing pulses at individual Slorg troops who happened to be scaling the walls via their powerful pincer claws. Once the one-person mecha called shock troops emerged throughout the adjacent streets and alleyway below, it was time for him to duck back inside immediately. Slorgs were already imposing physical specimens in stature because they really were all muscle at an average of seven to ten feet tall, but combining that with bipedal exoskeletons made them that much more dangerous as instead of launching laser pulses from their Elvera Blasters, they were now launching laser bursts with the efficiency of dual wrist-mounted rail guns as well as missiles.

The shock troop that stood directly below the fire escape of the unit’s position sent Raze diving back into the building where he rolled and came up to see the rest of the unit defending this horrible position. They were lucky that these Slorgs had not yet started coming up through the floor or taking pop shots at the roof. What was the game plan here? Turning to Gregoire for guidance, his amazement peaked at his superior officer being seemingly more engrossed in the readings on the minicomputer that sat on the left wrist of each person’s EVA suit than discussing any sort of timely retreat.

“We’re drawing too much enemy fire to this position,” Gregoire muttered. He then raised his voice, “Let’s head to the roof! Move!”

There were three ways to get up to the roof: The hallway which was congested with a firefight and then take the stairs, the fire escape which had a shock troop among swarming Slorgs waiting, or the ceiling and making a way out of no way. Raze switched his laser rifle to rapid, maximum blast and proceeded to gouge a sixteen foot diameter into the raised fixture which opened access to a starlit sky which danced to the rhythm of lasers as the surrounding war swayed its movements by playing havoc with the asteroid-stricken horizon. The fourth and final member of the unit broke off the assault from the doorway and brought a grappling gun into the picture. With a vicious kickback, the grapple shot upward and hooked into a rut on the roof as the connected line was tugged on.

In sequence, Gregoire hurled a Duzo 16/7 charge into the hallway as if it were the football that it happened to be shaped like. The third member of the unit was then freed up to follow the fourth member up the line as flames had engulfed the hallway and threatened to fracture the frame of the building, so there was no longer any reason to be concerned with defending that position.

With two already up, Gregoire was next, and Raze dutifully fended off the Slorgs who were struggling to push their way through the terrace entrance like ants making a play for infestation. Each laser pulse held a purpose. Each strike struck with value. Each Slorg was either killed and toppled in the entryway – gumming up their incursion or punched backward to a stumbling fall over the terrace railing to a painful collision on top of the shock troop, fifteen stories below. From above, a Duzo 16/7 charge was dropped down to him, and that was to be his cover. With his free and a soft left hand, he caught the explosive before utilizing a sidearm delivery to end any further threat from the terrace side of things. At the conclusion of a boom, the ladder-laced rivet structure was blown outward along with a chunk of the outer wall, and the aforementioned shock troop was pinned helplessly beneath the debris.

By the time that Raze made it onto the roof, the rest of his unit was hunkered down around venting placements at three of its four corners for cover. Class II Fighters were making their military presence known in battling it out with shock troops which had gone aerial, however the Space Force’s answer to air supremacy indicated that SpaceStation Konxerus was lurking nearby – overhead. Comforting if not for the fact that he was embroiled in the middle of a brutal interstellar conflict, any excitement was stowed with a three hundred and sixty degree turn along the raised floor of his stage that sat along the theater of war. Lasers pelted the rooftop and chased him out of the open to the fourth corner.

After diving to a side-skidding stop and coming up on his butt with his back to some heavy piping, Raze breathed a sigh of relief through the helmet of his EVA suit while clutching his laser rifle tightly. The survival instinct that he happened to be experiencing was a mix of fear and adrenaline – apparently not so mutually exclusive. What could help to alleviate a little of this stress for him might be some direction from Gregoire, so he turned his head to look around for his superior officer’s position.

Ninety degrees to Raze’ left was the member who had wielded the grapple gun. Ninety degrees to his right was the other member who had the previous responsibility for defending the hallway from down below. Gregoire must have been on the opposite side, across from the enclosed wedge-shaped rooftop staircase that lay constructed into the middle of the roof’s floor.

Gregoire’s voice came across Raze’ Ear-To-Mouth Com, “This dogfight which is being provided courtesy of the spacestation’s fighters are for us. They’ve drawn the attention and the ire of the Slorgs away from our current position so that we might conclude our mission.

I’ve received word that Kristof’s group has successfully primed, set, and armed their explosives. The Slorgs aren’t expecting a suicide mission and probably doubt that we’d even know what we should be looking for down here, so they’ve got a clear path to extraction.

Eliminate them.”

Questioning whether or not he heard right, Raze simply said, “Sir?”

“Chain of command, Coist,” Gregoire repeated, “chain of command.”

Raze took four complete medium-sized breaths before pushing onto his belly, worming his way around the piping, and crawling to the ledge of the building where he immediately propped himself up into an optimized sniping position. There with his left knee lying flush on the ground and his right knee bent, the sharpshooter extended the barrel of his laser rifle out over the edge of the roof’s safety railing. Clarity was apparent and with it, a disheartening realization about the level of planning that went into this mission froze him from carrying its orders out. The view of the entrance to the Slorg base was even clearer than from the perch of the balcony location because the higher up the vantage point, the greater increase in degrees made sniping exponentially easier since less objects could get in the way. One flight made the relatively succinct difference between a view which was like shooting from off of one’s home roof or the observation deck of the Sears Tower.

Those orders had been delivered with a sniper’s accuracy at most or a sniper in mind at minimum. And time stopped as it normally did when Raze pressed his right eye (beneath the EVA suit helmet) to the optional pop-up scope. He slowed his heart rate and brought his breathing in line with the angle of attack.

The politics of the orders should never have mattered to Raze. Slorgs were encroaching upon Space Force interests by setting up military placements within Kalos 7 when the Space Force had the same idea in mind to grab a similar foothold on the edge of Slorg space by utilizing the same neutral zone. But the vision of the mission blurred, so he blinked the haze from the fog of war away to a reticent view through the scope of Kristof’s group hauling away from the base with wounded soldiers in tow. These were his allies!

Gritting his teeth, Raze pressed the trigger pad eight times – letting off a sequential stream of laser pulses that rang up eight kills.

Feeling the tap of a hand laser’s barrel being pressed to the back of Raze’ helmeted head, he heard Gregoire’s disappointment, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

After having removed his right eye from the scope for the moment that it took to allow both eyes to ascertain the fact that Raze now sat at gunpoint, he returned his vision through the scope to see Kristof’s group manage to escape past an eight Slorg body count that had been previously baring down upon them in a nearly fatal attempt at spoiling their race for the waiting shuttle in the wings of the city’s outskirts. Now, with daylight in front of them and the threat of detonation behind them, a significant motivation to make it out of the pending ground zero was both extended and levied.

“What,” Raze stated defiantly, “martyr Kristof’s group to garner public support, universal sentiment, and the military justification for a larger war?”

In trite answer, Gregoire replied, “Something like that.”

The other two members of the unit made it around to Raze’ sides with their laser rifles pointed in his direction. With a steep drop to the tune of sixteen stories (the roof included) closing off his only open side, he was officially trapped.

“We can still rewrite the story’s angle,” Gregoire admitted, “but unfortunately, you won’t be around to witness its impac-”

Raze jumped.

His formerly fellow unit members dangled over the edge blasting off laser pulses after him. And if he was going to go out – whether by going splat or by getting shot from unfriendly fire, the rule was always to take two with him.

No scope needed, Raze put a laser pulse through the throat of one group member – causing this person to tumble over the edge and the face of the other – causing that person to be toppled backward onto the roof. Gregoire had seen the sequence of events coming ahead of time and had backed away from the inevitability of a sniper’s battle instincts to a safe distance which included the soft vertical landing of a shuttle at that distance.

The Space Force may have yet still garnered the fabrication for the story that it wanted of a courageous soldier who had fallen in the line of duty to the voracious Slorgs.

Smiling kept Chipshot’s mind off of the pain because he now found himself in a twisted position not unlike the one from Kalos 7 after he bailed off the side of the roof without a bungee cord. Left for dead in both instances, would not his current adversary be surprised to know that it was Kristof’s group who had doubled back to rescue him – the man who saved them multiple times behind the enemy’s line? But there was no use kidding himself.

Gregoire had always known. The Space Force had never forgotten. And the Enforcers were waiting for a chance to schedule the reunion. Chipshot’s former superior officer walked up – crunching rubble beneath his footsteps, and his first words were of the admonishment variety, “Chain of command, Coist – chain of command. When are you going to learn this lesson?”

Blood was running into Chipshot’s eyes so he could barely make out Gregoire’s figure or the weapon that his nemesis was carrying. He would have thought that the Space Force would have been pleased with the success of Kristof’s group. After all, the result emboldened the war effort, regardless, and got both sides of the dispute to the bargaining table. His heroics catapulted him to a measure of commendation and decoration, but the authors of that fateful campaign were embarrassed because the onset of negotiation showed weakness in the faction whose lower tolerance for battle could be exploited by the likes of the New Alliance and the Pillorian Regime – setting about a chain reaction of events with aftershocks that were set to come to fruition, years later.

Regardless, Chipshot did what he felt was right. Maybe things would have turned out differently if he would have just followed orders, but maybe, they would not have. The only variable that could be controlled was the one regarding his conscience, and with that being clear, the consequences were more than welcomed to face him.

“When I got the call-up from the Enforcers to take over your position,” Gregoire explained, “I’d decided upon a codename which would pay homage to you in your retirement: Cheapshot.”

Outside of the dead and the severely wounded, nobody could have been moving. It was this interruption to the cadence of death and an acceptance of the merits to paranoia that caused Cheapshot to dive to his left – out of the way of what would have normally been a surefire kill for Parsec.

Chipshot could not tell what was going on, where Cheapshot had fled to, what the extent of his own injuries were, or how much longer he had to live. The next thing that he did know, somebody was helping the gravel off of him and leading his punished frame toward the outside of the convenience store. This was, of course, all happening before he blacked out from the bodily pain that could be said to have been associated with living – at this point.

Parsec carried Chipshot in an underhand manner with his left arm hooking the former Enforcer’s mangled body, so that allowed his right hand to be free for the purposes of holding his hand laser. Short of a black sleeveless shirt which appeared to be made of leather and was designed in strips that exposed the occasional piece of skin, its matching pants with the same strip design, and a pair of black boots, he wore no additional protection as he charged through the rickety remains of the building, vigorous fires throughout various areas of the place, and lung-charring smoke which created a thickness like suspended silt that bounced off the black wiry sunglasses which not only completed the ensemble but also guided him.

There was nothing proprietary or classified about the floor plans to a convenience store, so Parsec had access to those through his specialized glasses that managed to map its unexploded layout up against the decimation that he was seeing firsthand with his unaided eyes in order to trudge the distance toward escape. Saying nothing of the Police Force, the former Enforcer was also essential to his vendetta as a valuable resource – chocked full of top secret information, thus this nearly foiled plot for Chipshot’s elimination. Alliances were being formed, and he had been called upon to keep a part of this new association intact, so for him, duty preceded any perceived level of danger. That guy, Cheapshot, would likely need to be dealt with at a later date, but the immediacy of reaching the entrance to the building held all of the importance for right now, and the timing of the exit would mean everything….

With the firefighters now on-site battling back the flames, the lead officer assigned the excess of Police Force officers who could not do much investigating at this juncture to the sci/meds for the purpose of assisting with any sort of procedures that an extra pair of hands could be lent to. The perimeter was holding steadily, and every single one of them was aware of Parsec’s involvement.

As the mercenary shot out an area of the front wall which was suitably sized for him to crash through before the further shock to the system of the instability that happened to be a makeshift door caused it to crumble down upon itself, he shielded Chipshot beneath both arms and crouched low to the ground when the anticipated sniper shots from Cheapshot’s accompaniment of mercenaries rained down upon him and his position. So much for the the exception that Cindra had entered into the Enforcer’s targeting feed, Parsec thought. Fortunately, he had been a successful merc in his own day and was able to afford an outfit which featured gauntlet technology. With the focusing of his life force through the threads, a personal shield was extended over the former Enforcer and himself – deflecting the shots.

If only Chipshot had been conscious for that sequence, he would have realized an irony which was really more of a slap in the face.

“Attack!” The lead officer ordered in the fit of a planned response to the event. The Police Force might not have known the exact scoop, but they knew the deal, and this was certainly not their first time of having to handle something like it. The setup was unimaginative, but the follow-up was made without hesitation, “Bring me one of them alive.”

With Police Force officers in full riot gear now surrounding Parsec, he was able to trudge his way into their epicenter of momentary safety – back a ways from the convenience store in the middle of the parking lot where he softly relinquished the body of Chipshot to the ground. The incoming threat of laser pulses from Cheapshot’s mercenaries had ceased as the ready and waiting Police Force vehicles ventured off into the background to mop up the mess.

“Somebody’s got to save this guy!” Parsec urged. Chipshot was the link. Without his perspective, the Enforcers cables were partly useless. No, the former Enforcer did not have every piece to the puzzle but possessed a significant amount of pieces which, once put together with the Police Force’s and the Shokan’s resources, could paint a much clearer picture – the next closest thing to having it all figured out.

There was no wonder that the Space Force wanted this target erased. It would have spared them from having to go up against the Police Force and the Shokan simultaneously, at least for the moment.

“Raze!” Karyn said as she flung herself to his side. The Head Doctor ran through her prognosis, “Vitals are non-existent. Pupils dilated – probably concussion. Bleeding and lacerations – you, get some pressure on his legs…here and here. Labored breathing – at least one collapsed lung.” It was difficult to get sci/med vehicles through the carnage, but she was just handed an oxygen pump from the back of one of the ambulances that made its way through. With the pump applied to Chipshot’s nose and mouth, the verdict remained, “Broken bones all over the place – I’ve got to get him into surgery immediately. I’m surprised that he’s managed to survive this long, but there’s no way that he can survive much longer. Da–it help me, please!”

“Always,” Terry answered Karyn’s call as he materialized from a fine orange mist into his corporeal form before her, Parsec, and the others who happened to be standing around the immediate vicinity assisting Chipshot.

Parsec shrugged as he was not expecting that but would surely take it with open arms if it meant that Chipshot could be saved.

“You’re an Ethereal?” Karyn said. Terry said, “You’re an Enforcer?” If anything, they were now even and never more proud of one another for the obvious sacrifices. She could not have told him of this side position for his safety. Ignorance was bliss when involvement meant elimination. He could not have told her about the Ethereal thing because the rules of undue enrichment forbid him from extending preference to allies. The balance of Ethereals’ power was also their greatest crutch in preventing them from being able to exercise it.

But Terry heard Karyn’s pleas, and she was actually not on his faction’s side! In learning of her affiliation with the Enforcers from her cries to Enforcer I that he first felt and later took the initiative to overhear prior to listening to, he realized that the Head Doctor’s allegiance was to the Space Force at a very high level whereas his was to Marileva’s Vigil Force(s) – which technically pitted them at odds. As a part of a loophole within undue enrichment, an Ethereal could help an adversary because the checks and balances only applied at the faction level!

This was nothing new. In Terry’s previous universe, the Ethereals of the New Alliance and the Pillorian Regime had teamed up to destroy that universe’s Space Force, and he had a feeling that the root of Monster Master’s ire stemmed from additional parties within Vigil Force(s) – not only figuring this angle out but figuring out how to exploit the angle for a nearly unstoppable amount of leverage that could basically rescind the entirety of undue enrichment and cause an Ethereal free-for-all for those who happened to be trustworthy enough to ally themselves up with an enemy…which none outside of Marileva’s faction were because hers consisted of currently sworn enemies (again at that faction level) for the sole purposes of creating a universal unification!

What it meant for this moment in time was that Terry could use his powers to transport Chipshot directly to intensive care at Atro City Hospital. He knelt down and cradled the former Enforcer with his right arm before extending his left hand to Karyn who happily accepted and began the dematerialization process.

Without consequence, without remorse, and without having to look over his shoulder for the retaliatory response from other Ethereals, Terry could finally use his powers to help somebody without the shackles limiting his infinite worth in being able to do so. But he was wrong….

Dropped out of teleportation, all that Karyn could do was scream.

Parsec found his hand laser kicked aside – out of his very grasp before the ferocity of the boot that did it socked him a quick one to the jaw, now dropped to his knees. He managed to get his arms up and in place to focus the energies of his outfit’s gauntlet in order to block the ensuing spinning side kick but found himself knocked backward from off of his feet to an uncomfortable landing on a now tender back – stunned for enough of a moment that the gauntlet’s energies could not be focused sufficiently to avert the damage by cushioning the landing. The mercenary’s body skidded a few uneasy yards, out cold.

Acra Lin turned her sights to Chipshot, started to approach after having dealt with Parsec, and pulled a knife from out of each of her boots as she did so. After pressing a button on each to extend the blades into short swords and then connecting the ends in order to create a sword staff, the Enforcer grabbed a delirious Karyn by the collar and threw the Head Doctor aside.

There was nothing that Karyn could do for Chipshot. There was nothing that she could do for herself. With her eyes locked and her resolve focused on the reasoning for these events above all else, all that the Head Doctor could do was question, “Why?!”

In the middle of the pile – Chipshot’s almost lifeless body, Acra Lin getting set to cut off the former Enforcer’s head, and the crumple of a mortified Karyn; stood Acro with his right hand impaled in the rematerialized and very corporeal chest cavity of Terry, having crushed the Ethereal’s heart in the palm of that hand. Thanks to Sheol, he not only learned how to defeat an Ethereal but became the first person to ever kill an Ethereal.

Terry’s orange energy signature blasted outward in a directional explosion that tore through the fabric of the universe from a position that ran concentric to the length of his body. As if somebody had taken a knife to the very structure of existence, both sides of reality (from the line of the luminosity) seemingly shifted apart like a sliding tectonic plate, and these supernatural tremors were extended across the entirety of this plain – universally felt.

Streaking from out of the shadows, a shirtless Sheol lugged the He– Sword behind him in his weak right arm while exclaiming, “Da-n you, Acro,” before thrusting his sword up and through Terry’s back as a means of penetrating the celestial barrier of energy signature expulsion to strike at his former master.

Acro released the grip on what was left of Terry’s heart and ripped his right hand free of the Ethereal’s body before executing a double backward somersault as the He– Sword poked its way through the chest cavity where he had previously been. Across two universes, decades of planning, and a mountain which was made out of a molehill of patience – the Enforcer had succeeded in pulling off…this…one…move! An old score settled, a Vigil Force(s) general removed from the field of play, and an Ethereal – destroyed, the Crimson Red Belt would have celebrated had there not been additional moves to be made. Two Shokan appeared from out of the shadows, directly behind him.

Sylvia burst through the shadows on the opposite side of the orange barrier and kicked her sneaker out at Acra Lin as the Enforcer was in mid thrust of dispatching Chipshot. This was not a battle which the Shokan Princess could win, but it did not mean that this was not worth fighting.

In having to adjust her attack by fending off Sylvia’s kick, Acra Lin met the attempt with a block from the non pointy side of the sword staff. The Enforcer then twirled one of the sword-laced ends of the staff around until it came to a stop – pointing upward from her crouched vantage point at the Shokan Princess’ abdomen. She knew about the pregnancy, and her own postponed maternal jealousies kicked in. The emotion was not so much in a rage but a disappointment for a situation which had not yet been rectified.

Acro and Acra Lin were getting closer to that point, and it did not happen to be all that different from Sheol and Sylvia’s yearn to pacify the universe. They had just gotten done using their protégé and his lady friend to those ends. So whether the means were justified or not, there still remained a long pathway to go, but it did not hurt either of them any less in seeing another couple with child. These Enforcers were legends, but even they were not ready for this confrontation – today. The Crimson Red Belt and his wife backed away into the shadows and disappeared.

Meanwhile, Sheol was putting everything that he had left into trying to contain Terry’s escaping energy signature. As instructed earlier, his hate was being focused to the level of a dragnet – using the power of destruction to ensnare a portion of the power of creation. The spasms of pain which were flowing through him were on such a different level of excruciation that his body was being too pummeled from all different directions and dimensions to even be able to move in response. Where could a person move when the hurting was everywhere? What else could this person do but to remain in place and take it – withstand the strain?

The brightness of Terry’s energy signature mirrored that of staring directly into the sun, but no retinal damage occurred as the luminosity was unnaturally soft on the eyes. There was something about the situation that called Sylvia over to where the tip of the He– Sword protruded out through the front of his chest. She placed her right hand on the blade and added her efforts to contain this power of creation with Sheol’s.

All at once, everything that was the corporeal entity of Terry as well as his energy signature dissipated in a flash which happened to be even brighter than the orange hue but again strangely that much easier on the eyes – mending the plain of existence by the energy’s normalizing absence. From that moment forward, the He– Sword exploded outward from Sheol and Sylvia’s grasp and dropped right into Karyn’s lap as she sobbed from her knees while trying her best to wield it.

“Help her,” Sheol ordered to one of the Shokan minions as he tried to pick himself up off of the ground from the strain of the latest sets of fissures in the fabric of the universe that were now shooting outward from what had now become the fiery He– Sword’s blade which flamed of the deepest exposed concentration of the orange energy signature.

The Shokan moved to assist Karyn in helping her up, but upon contacting the He– Sword, the minion was obliterated by the power which was sealed within the apparently unwieldy sword. The person just did not exist anymore! And those who witnessed the feat were stunned by the display – or the lack thereof…. Everybody except for the Head Doctor, that was.

“Come…back…to…me,” Karyn cried as tears clouded her puffy eyes and dripped over the He– Sword that she was massaging like a last remnant or heirloom from Terry. Maybe this was some sort of manifestation for his essence. She had no idea.

“Stay away!” Sylvia commanded the second Shokan who was about to try again at assisting Karyn. She then altered the orders, “Get Chipshot to the hospital – quickly.”

The Shokan obliged by scooping up the brutalized former Enforcer and heading off into the shadows.

Making his way over to Sylvia, Sheol helped her up with his less injured left arm, and then, they both made their way over to Karyn. They just knew what they had to do, needed to do, and were capable of doing. She knelt down beside the Head Doctor and held the woman tightly while rocking gently for a show of heartfelt support. Impacting the He– Sword had no effect on the Shokan Princess. He followed up by reaching down with his claw glove in order to grasp its handle and take hold of the weapon.

Sheol held the power of creation up in his hands for a moment to gather the requisite thoughts that could possibly put this occurrence in any sort of timely perspective. But this sequence of events existed at a much higher level than psychology, yet again, he already knew what to do. The He– Sword with Terry’s energy signature grafted onto its blade had chosen him to wield it, and the Shokan Leader would do so honorably. He sheathed the sword and knelt down in order to offer his assistance to Sylvia with Karyn. Lofty pronouncements of hope were not going to bring the Ethereal back, so none were offered. The idea might have been well-meaning, but the timing was off, and there was only one person who the Head Doctor wanted to hear from in this moment.

In a conversation which was also being held at a higher level, Karyn continued to plead, “Come back to me….”

To Be Continued

 


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