Criticality 1: Hostage Situation (Series Premiere)
Only a seemingly frail hand was exposed from underneath a heavy cotton blanket. Pete Rogue did not even make time to turn the bed back anymore. He merely slept on top of the fully made up comforter wrapped within that burgundy-colored blanket.
Ironically, this was not even the cold season. The climate of the synthetic planet, Second Earth, mirrored that of Earth, but for as extreme of cold weather the heavy blanket called for, seventy-five degrees was not it.
Connected to that hand was a cigarette which appeared to be inseparable from interlocking fingers, and the ash tray was the floor. Merely the pungent odor of cigarette smoke and the stale stench of warm liquor mingled amongst the atmosphere creating bar-like conditions similar to those before the public smoking bans took root throughout the universe.
The phone must have rang ten times, but Pete was not there – mentally at least. An argument could be made that he did not want to be there physically either but with a cruel God unwilling to hear his plea, the recently widowed man resorted to killing himself slowly. Too pathetic to get it over with via the assistance of the Triple Action LUNC on his night table, wallowing in self pity made up for lifelessness in the bed.
“This is fu–in’ unbelievable,” Julian Kazar said as he gave up on using the Ear-To-Mouth Com to reach Pete walking up the pathway to the front door of the single level, ranch style house. The doorbell would probably be useless as well, so the bottom of a balled fist and yelling would have to suffice, “Man, this shi- is getting old! We’re gonna be late. It’s already your fault that I’m stuck on this stupid shift, so wake your as- the fu– up!”
“I’m up,” Pete lied, “da-n!”
Julian’s voice and door pounding carried all the way into Pete’s bedroom, “Dude, I’m not playin’. Open up this door before I have to kick it in and drag you out.”
Pete opened the door hunched over with squinting eyes wearing boxers, socks, and nothing else. “I was just resting my head.”
“You look like shi-,” Julian opined while shaking his. “Get cleaned up, and I’ll buy you breakfast.”
“That’s not necessary,” Pete yawned. “Give me fifteen minutes.”
Sixteen minutes later, they were both sitting in Julian’s brand new blue Mustang GT500 convertible parked on the curb directly outside of the house. He took a moment to put the top down, of course.
Pete was astonished, “On a cop’s salary?”
Julian turned the key in the ignition and smiled, “Yeah, I’m on the take. I took this baby from Impounds & Auctions. You wouldn’t believe what all they have stashed down there – just sitting there.”
“So you thought you’d put a couple miles on it, Ferris?” Pete signed, “Well, they always say we should look like someone the people we deal with would want to do business with. That lighter work?” He reached inside of his trench coat for a beat up and abused pack of cigarettes which had seen no lack of attention these past few days.
“Eh?” Julian caught sight of Pete fumbling around the console before scrunching his face up in clear admonishment of the activities. He snatched the lighter out of his partner’s hand and stated very clearly that, “If you light that thing in here, you’re walking to work. Since you seem to have some sort of oral fixation, I’ve got some gum in the glove compartment to try to help hide the fact that you’ve been drinking before your shift.”
Pete put a throbbing forehead in the palms of his hands and began to massage both temples with the first three fingers of each respective hand. “No thanks.”
Julian cleared his throat.
“What?” Pete snapped.
“Seatbelt,” Julian said simply.
Pete yanked at the safety belt unsuccessfully the first few times out of frustration before easing up and finally getting it locked into place. “You’re getting on my fu–ing nerves.”
Julian laughed as he checked for oncoming traffic and pulled off, “We’re cops.”
“That just means we get to break the rules we set for everybody else,” Pete replied as he sat back to enjoy the new ride.
Pete lived in the suburbs, and Julian had decided to take the long way into work to savor this new car, but a voice came over their Ear-To-Mouth Coms and kept them from taking in the scenery, “We’ve got a silent alarm out at the Ennead Building. You’re the closest unit.”
“That company’s got locations all over the place,” Julian stated. “This is your neck of the woods. Do you know where it’s at?”
Pete fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com to respond to the page, “Yeah, Julian, it’s one of their satellite offices. There’s only one in this area, and I know exactly where it is. We’re a couple minutes out. HQ, we’re on it. What about backup?”
“The nearest unit to you is about thirty minutes out,” the voice announced. “It’s requested that you assess the situation.”
Julian threw up a flustered right hand, turned briefly to Pete, and asked, “How is that even possible?”
“That a planet completely controlled by the Space Force has this much crime?” Pete sought sarcastic clarification, “Or that the leading civilian law enforcement agency on this entire planet is never around when you need them?”
“Broad daylight too,” Julian reminded, “so it’s most likely a hostage situation. By not sending in the sirens, we probably kept the alarm puller alive for a few more moments.”
Turning to look over his shoulder towards the trunk, Pete inquired, “You still keep the equipment in the trunk?”
Julian nodded but then felt the need to preface that admission, “I was planning on giving the car back?”
“And they say I’m the bad cop.” Pete pointed at the nearest intersection while calling out directions, “Hit a left up here.”
The lobby of the Ennead satellite office was adequate yet open and inviting due to its glass architecture. For the terrorists to pull a move like this, they had to have scoped out the building for weeks – possibly months. There was no good place to hide in that lobby area, so it was imperative that they adhere to the tightly-planned rules of their leader who happened to be on his way upstairs. A man of action, when there was dirt that needed to be done, he was more than willing to get his own hands dirty to make sure that the dirt was done correctly.
The first rule involved insider presence. This person was responsible for gathering the building plans, the schedules, and the procedures. To make sure that this person was not later implicated in the crime should things go wrong, the day of the incursion meant that at least one of the hostages would be a mole.
The second rule covered building lock down procedure and watch. If this was as professional as it seemed, they would have at least locked all the doors on the lower level by the first minute of the crime. Their lookouts would have been scattered to the four corners of the immediate vicinity before the crime even began.
The third rule had to do with crowd control. This building was too large in order to herd the entire capacity in any sensible manner, so a preset hack of the security system including the taking out of the maintenance lines locked-out all of the floors and elevators plus made it quite difficult for anybody that caught wind of the confinement activity to call for help.
That third rule had a potential subset that could include varying degrees of posturing to prove credibility to either the hostages or the authorities or sometimes both at once. To the underworld, an open debate persisted between two schools of thought – one that claimed making an unfortunate example of a hostage was a necessity and the other that claimed taking out hostages decreased leverage exponentially with the authorities.
The fourth rule was to get the team out faster than the team went in. Skill in this area depended upon the intense preparation and perfect execution of the previous three rules. If the other rules were closely followed, the scavenger hunt and the ensuing route(s) or escape were each a no-brainer to accomplish.
All of this preparation and execution was only as good as how it held up during adversity. The first test came in the form of Julian knocking on the special access glass door next to the revolving door. He put a stick of gum between his lips and began to chew thoroughly while waiting for somebody to answer.
“Who’s that guy?” The terrorist nearest the hostage receptionist asked.
Another terrorist sat in one of the puffy yet stiff chairs that adorned the lobby. His attention was held by the random magazines littered across the glass waiting table.
Each had walkie-talkies which were locked on so that the entire team could be kept in constant communication. The apparent leader of this incursion barked out orders, “Find out what he wants, and get rid of him.”
The terrorist nearest the receptionist nudged her with the barrel of his weapon and ordered, “Pretend I’m your supervisor and do your job. This thing is not filled with water.”
As Julian was buzzed in, he spit his ‘fresh’ stick into the nearest receptacle and put an even newer piece in.
“Can I help you?” The receptionist asked.
“Yeah uh, do you know where Sycamore Road is? I’ve been driving around in circles for a while, and thought I’d just pull off, stop, and ask for some directions.”
Pete had been dropped off a little bit before Julian was to arrive with the purpose of him getting a slightly different view of the situation. On foot, he was able to get in close to the building, and it did not matter that he was sighted. The boldness of a broad daylight incursion forced the hand of discreetness, so snipers in the middle of a corporate park were out of the question.
Discreetness on the side of the terrorists that was. Pete pulled open his trench coat to reveal a grappling gun and then proceeded to aim upwards for the gutter. The grapple shot upward with a vicious kickback and hooked onto the gutter as he tugged on the line. It was not secure, but anyway, his line of work had that issue of job security. This brought a smile to his lips as he began his ascent.
The power of the plan Pete and Julian had been formulating for all of five minutes was in the ability to keep the terrorists off guard with unorthodox tactics such as this. The Second Earth Special Police Force would never have reacted in this manner instead choosing the cliché negotiation tactic. The Space Force would never have wasted time with this, but if they had, the thunder would be brought down with Class III Fighters monopolizing the skies and soldiers peppering the grounds. No, this crazy man could not be either of those, and although the terrorists had seen this action a mile away because of their posted up members from various vantage points throughout the business park, they never saw it coming.
Pete stopped to light a cigarette after he passed the second floor. There would almost assuredly be guards on the rooftop that had to be dealt with, but above all, he was a patient man and chose to take his time when marching into danger.
But first, the infamous look at the ground. Pete felt nauseous but inhaled deeply on the cigarette to bring him back to reality. The rugged cop continued upward.
“So you take 53 to Hapsfield?” Julian could see the fear in the receptionist’s eyes. One wrong slip of the tongue and she was dead as soon as he left, but the hostages probably did not have the full extent of the thirty minutes the Second Earth Special Police Force needed to arrive in force either, so this was an effort to stall.
“No!” The terrorist closest to the receptionist pushed her aside while he snatched the complimentary road map provided by the office. “What is your problem, bro? She told you the way six times!”
Julian was taken aback by the sentiment, “You’re extremely rude.” He looked again at the receptionist but pointed to the terrorist. “Is this your supervisor? Maybe I need to speak his boss to get a little customer service around here.”
The terrorist dropped the road map on the floor in front of Julian and threatened, “Maybe you should leave before I call the police.”
“What’s the old saying about a good experience and you tell a few people but a bad experience and you tell a bunch of people?” Julian asked as he picked the map off of the floor and turned around to leave. Again, he used hand motions to reinforce his case – this time pointing towards the other terrorist who was sitting down engrossed in a magazine, “Look how they just did me. You might want to reconsider doing business with an organization like this.”
As soon as Julian exited the building, the terrorist with the magazine replied, “You were going to call the police, eh? Yeah right.”
Pete reached the rooftop and collapsed there exhausted and weary.
“Well, what do we have here?” A terrorist grinned to his partner. “Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.”
Normally Pete had a combination of options to deal with times like this and these types of threats ranging from semi- to fully-automatic weapons. Today, however, he was equipped with a Triple Action LUNC.
LUNC stood for Lightweight Untraceable Combo weapon. Pete demonstrated the single shot mode by squeezing the pressure sensitive trigger pad intermittently to lose two high percentage singular laser blasts which caught his assailants by surprise and cut them down. The weapon yielded no kick back making this truly a matter of point and click at the most lethal level. He had not been smoking that long, so his lungs and body were still in some semblance of a good shape, but the bluff was effective.
It was time to move, so Pete caught sight of the rooftop door that lead back inside of the building and took off running. In one swift motion, he pulled open the door, swung inside, and tapped the trigger pad lightly to emit the built-in laser targeting beam. From there, with LUNC entering first, the steep staircase became the next obstacle to overcome.
“What were you trying to go and pull some shi- like that for?” The terrorist with the magazine asked. “Check and make sure he’s gone.”
“What’s the situation?” The leader’s voice asked.
The terrorist left the receptionist’s side and approached the revolving doors in order to peer out and see Julian skid off. “Calm now – he’s gone.”
The leader’s voice ordered, “Make sure there are no more interruptions like that. I do not want the police to find out about what we’re doing here.”
The terrorist sitting down went back to the attention of his magazine while the other returned to his post beside the receptionist. He acknowledged, “You handled that well. You’ll live a little longer.”
Julian fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com, “You got that HQ? My compliments Yori for the bugged bubblegum.”
The voice once again came over the feed louder than clear, “That’s a confirmed hostage situation. Backup is about ten minutes out.”
“The hostages don’t have ten minutes,” Julian replied while pulling a wild U-Turn in order to head back to the Ennead satellite office. The terrorists hid behind no ski masks. As soon as their business was concluded in this office building, the hostages became corpses.
The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
“Julian, wait – let’s keep this legal,” the voice of the dispatcher belonged to the eighteen year-old intern Secinol Singh or Sec for short. “I can have Commissioner Gyro authorize and email over a warrant within minutes.” That last statement was met by a soft hand touching his right shoulder.
Sec turned to look over his shoulder to see three men, only one of which, the Commissioner, he knew. One of the other two that he did not recognize was the person with a cautionary hand on his shoulder.
The man spoke, “That won’t be necessary. Don’t detain them.”
The eighteen year-old turned for confirmation of this request to Commissioner Gyro who simply nodded his approval.
Ennead Satellite Office
“Aye who’re -”
Pete fired a cold, heartless, and unfeeling laser blast into the face of the next terrorist he came across causing the enemy to tumble awkwardly down this flight of stairs. There the body laid in a conflicted crumple directly in front of the entrance to next closest floor.
It made Pete think that although this law enforcement lifestyle was exhilarating, he was starting to take too much pleasure in the kill. The line that separated the rugged cop from those he was tasked to stop was thin and blurring rapidly. The adrenaline was bleached away in favor of a new love for the reckless hunt. Perhaps by amassing the body count all the while relishing the effort, there was an opportunity to get into the mindset of the killer who slew his wife.
Calculated recklessness was the answer in this situation because Pete was not about to get taken out before he had a chance to avenge his wife and get a little revenge (he meant closure) for himself. “Fu– this runnin’ shi-.”
The door was locked tightly, so Pete squeezed and held down the LUNC’s trigger pad to fire a continuous stream of laser pulses that unlocked it the only way he knew how. Calling the LUNC a weapon was an understatement as it was clearly its own arsenal – capable of one million laser pulses based off of one laser fluid cartridge.
It did not take long for the terrorists to figure out that they were not the ones using the elevator, so still remaining in control of the building’s security systems, they were able immediately ascertain the destination of its first stop and posted up positions outside of the fifteenth floor elevator entrance. A bullet barrage riddled the walls of the elevator car.
“Hold your fire!” The order was greatly muffled by the massive waste of gunshots. “Hold your fire, da–it!” It was surprising that the doors were even able to open at all that after that display of destruction. The terrorist who gave the orders ran in and signaled for another to hold the doors open. The light for the sixteenth floor had been activated.
“I saw this in a movie once,” the terrorist holding open the door announced.
The terrorist in the elevator reloaded his Uzi with a double-J magazine (exclusive to the year). “So have I.” He pointed upward and pulled the trigger maneuvering the weapon in precise circles as to not shoot the elevator’s cables. The top lights blew out with violent sparks. “Whoever was up there is dead now.”
The ground melted as the terrorist was blasted off of his feet from beneath the elevator car! The terrorist holding the doors open jumped backward. The doors slid closed and the elevator ascended.
In battle, the sounds of weaponry were a symphony of information which allowed the discerning listener to gather all types of tactical information. Pete merely needed to know a reasonable number of adversaries he was about to tangle with but could also recite the weapons makes in his sleep from the tune of that previous barrage which echoed with a perfect clarity overhead. There were at least two Uzi’s and two P90’s, and really, he only needed to make the terrorists become cautious, hesitant. Much to his dismay, this was not a seek and destroy mission. There were still hostages to account for.
While holding on to the bottom of the elevator, Pete angled his LUNC upwards as the elevator car continued to rise and fired a continuous stream of pulses that tore chunks out of elevator doors and managed to take out at least three terrorists in the process.
Surely there would be retaliation, so rather than rise passively into that, Pete slid down to the seventh floor along a cable and forced open the doors. Performing a forward roll as an entrance made him as difficult a target as possible although no guards were present.
Julian needed not to worry about his second approach becoming suspect because he figured that Pete was in the thick of things, and that the wrench in the gears was sufficiently gumming up the works. He pulled his own Triple Action LUNC and leveled the glass doors with a streams of laser pulses. “I changed my mind. I’m back, and I brought the Better Business Bureau with me.”
“Oh shi-!” The terrorist Julian had problems with earlier was caught totally by surprise. He had gone to reach for the receptionist to use as a Human shield, but she was already jumpy because of the current events and had long since hit the deck.
This allowed Julian a clear shot that he used to offer a singular laser burst which pegged the terrorist in his gun arm spinning him around before delivering another shot to the back which put the enemy down.
Julian rushed in and dove to his left side in anticipation of the terrorist who had been previously seated at the waiting area who would have loved to have completed a crossfire had his partner not been taken out in such short order.
The terrorist went on the move as well using whatever piece of furniture or free-standing plant or architectural column he could to gain some semblance of cover to mount the counterattack. He shot. A couple bullets flew from a handgun that with the speed of the action was too difficult for Julian to make out.
Then Julian shot. While rolling he let loose a spread of laser bursts that did not even need to be accurate. With the LUNC, ‘close’ counted as with grenades and horse shoes. Of course, Julian could have simply fired wildly and netted the same effect, but his discipline would be sure to prevent innocents from ever being harmed by stray shots.
The terrorist fell from behind the column with laser char wounds and brutal piercings that left him bleeding badly, deceased.
“What floor?” Julian called out sternly.
“Sixth Floor!” The receptionist responded back immediately while hurrying to her feet to rush out of the door. “Thank you so much!”
Julian offered a smile and then ran for the elevator fingering the Ear-To-Mouth Com with his gun hand, “Did you get that Pete? Sixth floor!”
“Fu–,” Pete replied, “I’m one floor off plus pinned down.” He kicked over a sofa for a barricade. The antique lost face value, and the rugged cop lost time as terrorists blocked his path to the stairs and eventually the hostages. They were starting to respect the LUNC though. Firing a few pulses over the top and allowing it to obliterate objects that were unlucky enough to have been in the way caused the terrorists to hesitate, pause, and rethink their strategy. After all, they had no way of knowing how many people had infiltrated the building as the LUNC served up some scathing never-before-seen artillery that appeared to be coming from a much heavier shoulder mounted rig capable of tossing out rapid fire armor-piercing rounds rather than the surprisingly lightweight handgun that was no more than five inches long, three inches high, and a little less than an inch wide.
“Fifth or Seventh Floor?” Julian asked. “Man, this shi- is suspect. Where is our backup?”
Making the best of a bad situation, Pete lit another cigarette before firing additional pulses over the top of the kicked-over sofa. “Seventh. An even better question: Where are all of these hostages?”
The trademarked ding sounded.
Julian popped out of the elevator using a crossfire attack with Pete completing the massacre. The only thing moving besides them was the smoke dissipating from their barrage and the dust the force of their attack kicked up. Bodies were everywhere, but to this point, they were thankfully not one of them laid out.
Julian stated the obvious, “We’re being played.”
“Far be it for us to stop the game,” Pete urged them onward.
No sooner said than were Pete and Julian back in the stairwell charging toward the sixth floor entrance. The rugged cop stood with his back parallel to the door on its right side facing his partner who fired off two pulses from the stairs – one taking out the locked doorknob and the other taking out the locking mechanism at the top of the door.
Pete slid to the left of the door, still facing Julian, reached inside of the gouge that was the doorknob, and flung the door open. It was enough to give his partner a decent, initial look of the inside which merited a downward head nod signaling that it was as clear as it was going to get at the moment. The rugged cop rushed in.
Backing Pete up, Julian hurried down the stairs and threw himself up against the rugged cop’s former position with the LUNC pointed over toward the right of the entrance. Both had their laser sights on lashing the rather calm air with red beams that picked up a disturbing amount of dust particles.
Pete kept the LUNC pointed in one direction while scanning the rest of the periphery by cautiously turning his head. “It’s clear!”
“Welcome to cubicle he–,” Julian said in deference to his past life. “If I was the ringleader and I wanted to be found, I’d pick the executive’s office.”
“Lead on,” Pete encouraged.
Despite the convoluted floor plan which left both Pete and Julian wondering where people came up with the logic of the cubicle distribution let alone who could have possibly approved this layout – they found office in question.
Upon entry, a very familiar voice heard from various press conferences across radio and television spoke up, “Pete Rogue and Julian Kazar – welcome. Although, I’m disappointed that you only neutralized thirty-seven percent of my operatives, I am still impressed that you made it this far and still live.” The man turned his attention away from his laptop which listed the statistics of this little exercise to meet the gun-toting gazes of the officers.
“You motherfu–er!” Pete exclaimed as he lunged forward in a rage with his LUNC aimed for the man’s head.
Upon instantly assessing the situation and its implications, Julian tackled Pete to the floor to prevent this altercation from escalating any further than it had over the past few weeks. Probation was an ugly thing when it came to a partnership because, more often than not, it dragged the partner down with the person who was on the hot seat. Whether it be awful shifts or mediocre assignments, he had to experience it all with the rugged cop as they were ‘partners’. It was a bit of a check and balance – and nuisance to be sure, but killing that man in front of them was tantamount to committing suicide. “Hold on, Pete!”
Wrestling was not Pete’s strong suit and his intense rage shifted to bitter frustration as he shouted, “Back up off me!” Julian had successfully gotten the rugged cop’s arm twisted into a position that pointed the LUNC away from the man before them
The object of the emotion and subsequent reaction displayed stood to approach and address the two Police Force officers. The man’s name was Stalkord, the leader of Death Corps, and although he was not responsible for murdering Pete’s wife, he managed the mercenary who did.