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Criticality 2: Feat of Fury

Initially, that scene at the Ennead Building was not worth revisiting. It was quite possibly the most dangerous ruse Pete and Julian had ever heard of let alone seen or been unfortunate enough to have been a part of.

How reckless? How many lives were lost in this exercise? How could the Second Earth Special Police Force go along with this? Sanction this? And to what ends? What lengths was the Space Force willing to go to amuse their leadership and further appease their dominance?

Pete and Julian were left with so many questions – left to ponder that was, so at least for now, returning to the Second Earth Special Police Force Base was low on the priority list. A breach of trust as deeply as this often called for retribution of some sort, and they were strongly considering taking that brand new car and continuing to drive. Ironically, if the Space Force, the Second Earth Special Police Force, and Ennead Tech Corp were, all three, in bed together as some sort of demented menage a trois with unfathomable implications, it was doubtful that the Mustang would get all that far away.

And what of Ennead Tech Corp and their ever-growing part in this? Although Pete’s and Julian’s lips were not moving, their thoughts were running wild while pondering what had just happened, what they should be doing currently, and what could possibly be next. Replaying the scene in their minds made them realize that they had just been hit by a bus:

“Although I am sincerely sorry for your loss, your anger is misplaced,” Stalkord explained.

Pete continued to struggle against Julian’s grip while screaming out, “You won’t give up your mercenary Retsepar, so that makes you just as responsible!”

It was not Stalkord’s intention to make this any harder on Pete than it was nor belittle his position, but the law was on the Death Corps Leader’s side, and that needed to be made clear if this conversation was at all to continue sensibly, “There is not a jury in all of the Terran or the Quadron Systems that would hold me accountable or personally liable for your situation. You should be directing all of this energy toward the person who hired Retsepar to eliminate your wife.”

Pete was starting to cool off enough that Julian felt an opportunity to loosen up on his grip. He sat up and replied sarcastically, “Yeah, guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

“Exactly,” Stalkord concurred with the notion.

“What the fu– do we do?” Julian asked honestly.

“How much gas you got?” Pete replied. As he leaned back in his seat, the rugged cop realized that this was going to take some more thought.

The one thing that they did not want to start questioning was Commissioner Gyro’s involvement in all of this. There were a lot of bad and questionable police at the Police Force Base that tended to overshadow the merits of those who were on the up and up, but the Commissioner was not one of them. He was the prototypical do-gooder complete with a noble honor code and an unquestioned moral high ground. Perhaps, rather than relegating their contemplation to speculation, Pete and Julian should start there. But yet and still, this was all too unbelievable.

Second Earth Special Police Force Base
“Your men did well,” Chico O’Reilly complimented. He was one of two Space Force presence currently posturing in front of Commissioner Gyro.

The other was Murk Wreosir. “They may have just won your Police Force a Space Force security contract.”

What these two lacked in rank, they made up for in clout being two of Leader 1: Jerry Stuyvescent’s personal guard. It almost did not get any higher up in the Space Force chain of command than that, so the pressures befalling the commissioner were significant.

“Let’s leave Sec to his duties,” but Commissioner Gyro had been around the bend a few times having served in cesspool law enforcement situations throughout the United States back on Earth as the Space Force was coming to dominance, “and speak more privately.”

The three men exited the dispatcher station and continued their conversation on foot.

Chico replied, “You don’t seem pleased with the news.”

Commissioner Gyro was a big man, standing well over six feet, and it was all muscle. The only thing more commanding than his physical stature was his stoic voice that was both wise and charismatically deep. “I’ve been through this back on Earth, and the only reason I did not call off your little exercise was because my men were already engaged in combat. In doing so, I would have cost them their lives. Let’s make this clear – my authority will not be usurped again.”

“Disrespect was not our intent,” Murk assured, “but we needed to make sure that your best Police Force officers were the best. Had you called off this little exercise or they perished, the Space Force would have known that your Police Force was not suited for the job we were about to put before it.”

“Do you think I give a shi- about what the Space Force thinks when the lives of my Police Force officers are at stake?” The Commissioner asked.

Chico smiled, “We know you don’t, and that’s why we needed to take the measures we did in order to gather those untainted test results.”

Murk admitted, “It’s not all that bad. You know as well as the Space Force does that there’s untold amounts of corruption throughout the Second Earth Special Police Force. It’s unavoidable whenever knew settlements pop up or alterations in government are set to occur. There’s new opportunity. And opportunity knocks loudest for the corrupt. I realize things could have gone down differently on Earth, but look upon this second in a lifetime chance as a way to root out the bad seeds growing organically within your Police Force.”

“As much as we appreciated Death Corps’ assistance back on Earth – back in the day, the Space Force wants to move away from that type of practice,” Chico announced. “There’s too much exposure, and the Space Force is powerful enough that it no longer needs to resort to such archaic tactics. I believe it’s because of the old adage about bees, honey, and a flamethrower?”

Pete straightened his clothes as he returned to his feet. “So, what you just work for Ennead Tech Corp now?”

Stalkord smirked, “Work for them? I own them.”

“I thought you were running things with Death Corps back on Earth,” Julian said.

“It’s all about diversity in the ever-changing marketplace, so I keep a little stock in mercenaries and a little stock in weapons technology.” Stalkord went back around his desk, took a seat, and went to typing away on the laptop’s keyboard before stating, “You go where the money is, and the Space Force tends to be…where the money is, so I will follow.”

“You used scrubs for this exercise,” Pete deduced.

Stalkord nodded, “If they managed to take you out or survive, they’d net themselves a job in either Death Corps or Ennead Tech Corp. My mercenaries’ presence isn’t the largest out on Second Earth, but it is still no less effective.”

The relationship between the Space Force and Death Corps had been solidified across decades of brutal business dealings that mutually enriched each party financially and politically. One piece that did not fit, however, was Stalkord’s involvement and rapid ascension in Ennead Tech Corp, so Julian inquired, “How did you net this job?”

“I thought that was implied,” Stalkord laughed.

The Space Force was a corporation that grew to such prominence that it took over and displaced all of the governments of Earth. Absolutely the last thing that it was going to allow to happen was for some upstart company like Ennead Tech Corp to do the same. Their taking out of a Death Corps contract had worked to deadly perfection in the past, and with this burgeoning company responsible for quite a bit of the technological advancements seen popping up in more and more bases, vehicles, and weaponry, the most hostile of takeovers became a no-brainer.

In order to appease businesses, as if the Space Force even had to, they held to hands-off dealings of old where the private and public sectors remained separated. For the most part, it kept normal everyday society out of their day-to-day dealings, so the societal status quo made sense. But they wanted Ennead Tech Corp to be much closer with the amount business dealings that were going on between the parties. Installing Stalkord, their most trusted partner going back decades, as Chief Executive Officer would certainly do that.

Cipher Coliseum
About the only thing that the Space Force did not have its hands in was the entertainment industry. Correspondents were posted at every possible news outlet to ensure that the correct spin was delivered to every angle of concern, but entertainment kept the minds of the masses off of matters altogether.

With a capacity of one hundred thousand and a high profile martial arts tournament taking place, the Briton, Sylvia Lenorox, and the rookie, Vim Cobolgove, of the Second Earth Special Police Force oversaw security.

Sylvia absolutely loved these types of assignments because it meant that she would receive a free pass to some of the most legendary types of events. Once an all clear status was established, she normally had a pretty decent view of whatever concert, convention, or sport was going on at the time.

The Second Earth Special Police Force dedicated ten Police Force Officers to the internal security of every event, and as Sylvia explained to Vim, “Ten is more than sufficient to secure a venue of this size. Outside of these LUNC’s, nobody can get weapons in. Fissile are also flagged at the ticketing entrance areas, so all tailgating supplies including lighters must be left outside – no threat of bombs there. Everything from the drugs to the liquor that people try to smuggle in to these events is picked up by the ticketing entrance’s sensors. And thanks to our friends at the Space Force, if anything gets out of hand, we simply just pull the tape courtesy of Solstice Satellite’s spy cameras. Let it never be said that there is such a thing as privacy.”

“Seems like it’s all been thought out,” Vim said.

“But you never want to drop your guard,” Sylvia advised, “because a riot situation will tax our ten person setup – eleven with you tagging along. In that instance, no more than two of us engage the brawl at a time until backup arrives – in case the ploy is a decoy meant to divert us from another sector. Again, there is nothing anybody can get away with since big brother is out there in the cosmos looking over our shoulder, but if they feel the need to try that LUNC on your hip, as a last resort, can lay this place down ten times over, and today, there are eleven of us, so I’d say Cipher Coliseum is fairly secure.”

Vim leaned with his arms on the safety railing of one of the upper levels overlooking the venue as the next match was set to begin. “That Shokan Warrior looks unstoppable. If I was a betting man, I’d put it all on their fighter to take the tournament. I heard that they have dojos popping up all around the systems.”

Sylvia disagreed while pointing toward the center of the football field-sized ring. “No way, Vim. You see that guy?”

“The Shokan Warrior’s opponent?” Vim asked.

“He’s hot,” Sylvia announced, “and will be the father of my child.”

Vim laughed, “I suppose you can probably scrape up what’s left.”

“Ecleesy Conus here bringing all of the martial arts action you can handle – live on WZZZ! Tonight we will showcase action from a lower circuit of up and coming fighters seeking not just their first (sanctioned) mixed martial arts tournament win but their first universal ranking that comes as a result of overall victory here.

The fighters look to be warmed up, so without further ado, I’ll turn it to the in-ring announcer to get this first match’s introductions out of the way.”

Dressed nicely from head to toe in a tuxedo, the announcer projected into her microphone for all to hear, “Good evening all of you standing room only attendees at Cipher Coliseum! We would also like to welcome those from around the universe watching these matches tonight courtesy of feeds provided by our broadcaster, WZZZ. The following match is scheduled for one fall. To my right, fighting out of Second Earth, representing the Shokan Discipline, and wearing the black trunks, we have Sanjuana Woody!”

Sanjuana raised his hand to accept the praise and began to wave it in tune with the emphasized two syllable chants of the word Shokan. He was clean-cut and polished – a disciplined fighter with a string of uncounted victories over his peers during Shokan training that propelled him to the top of the fight class and the ceding tonight.

The in-ring announcer continued, “And to my left, also fighting out of Second Earth, but representing the Dyoogie Discipline, and wearing the rainbow-colored trunks, we have Billy Smith!”

Billy’s reception was lukewarm at best. He was about just as ripped as his opponent but brought spiky hair, an earring in his left ear, and a whole lot of attitude to the match. Having torn through competitions from the gradeschool level all the way up through college would fortify anybody with a healthy dose of earned confidence. While jogging in place, he threw a few warm up punches.

The referee signaled for the two fighters to come together in the center of the field for their final instructions, and they both began their trek from across opposite ends of the field which actually took an awkward amount of time when compared to fights within a much more enclosed ring space.

“The Shokan have been making some definite waves as of late in tournaments across the universe, and you can tell that Sanjuana brought his cheering section along with him. This battle pits the crowd favorite up against the resurgence of a previously thought to be defunct style created by the late Master Dyoogie. This fight holds promise, so I would not necessarily be too quick to count out Billy just yet.”

The in-ring announcer put the microphone to the referee’s lips as he motioned with both, precautionary gloved hands for the fighters to come together in order for him to deliver the final instructions, “This match is scheduled for three five-minute rounds and is scheduled for one fall. This means that if someone has not fallen after the initial three rounds are up, there will be successive five minute overtime periods until a victor is decided in battle. Hitting below the belt and eye-gouging, although dishonorable, are completely legal; no holds are barred; and pre-registered weapons are allowed. If a death is to occur, although unfortunate, it will result in an undisputed victory for the last fighter standing. Salute your opponent and come out fighting.”

“Here we go! Sanjuana and Billy touch palms. They back away and start to encircle one another – each looking for an opening, a means to strike first effectively while avoiding the other’s deadly counterattack. I can already tell from the poise of these two competitors that we are in for a slugfest.

Billy opens the proceedings with a quick right jab to check the distance, but Sanjuana isn’t having any of that. He goes in full force with a flurry of punches.

Backtracking, Billy’s defense is strong, so no damage was done on that. With a nod of mutual respect, it seems like he is starting to understand that his opponent may be a little more offensive-minded than originally thought. Wait, with a smile and two wafting hands, he cockily entices his opponent to carry on the attack.

It looks like Sanjuana is going to oblige by delivering a spinkick that Billy ducks under. Billy comes up with a left uppercut which Sanjuana catches in mid-punch. Billy’s not through yet going for a simple right sweep which Sanjuana dances over the top of.

The crowd rises to their feet as Billy pushes into the body of Sanjuana recovering from the sweep attempt and thrusting a knee towards his opponent’s gut with the same leg. Sanjuana lets go of Billy’s left arm at the instant of impact – seemingly stifling the blow because of the subtle alteration in his opponent’s center of gravity.

With a devastating two-handed punch to the chest, Sanjuana sends Billy off of his feet flying backward! Billy tumbles to a halt some five yards from his previous position causing a divot in the field from his punishing travels.

As if utilizing the sixth of his senses, Billy rolls over onto his back and kips up with the assistance of only his left arm showing incredible awareness in avoidance of the hawkish attack Sanjuana used to bear down sneakily upon him with a downward left punch that carried the velocity of full extension.”

“Your man is clearly being outmatched,” Vim replied.

Sylvia countered, “Something that will improve with time as a Police Force officer is your power of perception.”

Vim was skeptical, “How do you mean?”

“This fight is already over,” Sylvia alerted.

They turned their attention back to the field.

“I don’t believe what I just saw, and the hush that has befallen this crowd all but assures that they concur with the notion. Even right before my very own eyes. Folks this crowd over one hundred thousand has been silenced like the crumple that is Sanjuana Woody.

Billy managed to nimbly snap off a short left sweep from his tippy-toes after the kip dislodging Sanjuana’s left arm from the now apparently errant attack causing him to lose balance and fall forward into the full force of Billy’s fist.

Folks, Sanjuana’s arm went to the left and Billy’s punch made his face fly to the right. The velocity of this attack caused Sanjuana’s body to bounce upon impacting the ground.

Whereas Sanjuana lays in a hurt – pressed into a crater on the ground of his own bodily impression, Billy does a solitary pushup to get to his feet and await the count.

Six, seven, eight, nine – the referee shakes his head and goes for Billy Smith’s arm in order to raise it and declare him the victor! The crowd, catching their collective breath, is now going crazy. Everybody loves an underdog, but unfortunately for Billy, this match is probably going to be the last time he’s ever considered anything but a favorite. Certainly here, he has made a case that he is the odds on favorite to win as he makes his way off of the field set to advance to the next unlucky opponent he draws.”

Second Earth Special Police Force Base
Commissioner Gyro now sat behind the desk of his office with the Space Force men before him wondering, “What all is entailed concerning our involvement with the Space Force?”

“Well for starters,” Murk requested, “if you can spare the space, an office would be nice. We plan to spend a considerable amount of time here familiarizing ourselves with the members of your top team and learning your protocols.”

Chico added, “Understanding can go both ways, and it would be nice to immerse ourselves in this culture before bombarding your Police Force with what is ultimately going to be expected of them.”

“You now choose to show consideration and restraint?” The Commissioner laughed. “To what ends, gentleman?”

Murk answered the question both pointedly and directly, “Leader 1 is planning his first trip to Second Earth since moving the majority of the Space Force fleet to the Quadron Sector. He will be leaving the safety and security of Solstice Satellite, and it is up to us to keep him protected. So I must ask that you pardon us for the elaborate precautions. Simply put, we screw this thing up, and every single one of us is dead.”

Cipher Coliseum
“Are you sure we should even be down here?” Vim questioned uneasily – turning his head from side-to-side in keeping a lookout for anybody who could possibly be approaching.

Sylvia had brought them to the locker room area within the stadium’s innards. The majority of the fighters were upstairs scoping out their potential competition or warming up in preparation of upcoming matches. This left the area well vacated for her purposes, and she planned to make good use of this fifteen minute break. Peering outside of the locker room she responded, “Vim, when was the last time Police Force officer wrote a speeding ticket for him- or herself? Yet we all speed, correct? Get with it, officer.” The door closed gently.

Vim crossed his arms, and leaned up against the wall stating defensively that, “I don’t speed.”

Billy lay on his back on top of a bench with headphones on and eyes closed seemingly oblivious to the surroundings. The only thing between him and nudity was a towel wrapped around his lower body.

With the event’s program and pen in left hand, Sylvia stealthily approached and reached them out toward Billy who snapped his left hand up to intercept her wrist.

Sitting up with Sylvia’s wrist still in his grasp, Billy took a gander at the event’s program, pulled his headphones down around his neck, and said, “You want my autograph or something else?” He had never done that sort of thing under these circumstances.

Sylvia replied, “You’re not going to get in my pants as easily as you knocked out that Shokan Warrior.” And, apparently he never would…. “However, my number’s on there. I’ll give you a sporting chance to impress me. Good luck in your next few matches, Billy.” She snatched her arm back, turned, and left the fighter alone to his thoughts.

A smile curled up on the left side of Billy’s lips as he peered down at the name on the event program, “Sylvia,” and then returned his gaze to focus on what, or who, was walking out of the door.

“Guys, this is Sec. I’m sorry about that last dispatch. There was nothing I could do – Space Force presence is surprisingly thick at HQ right now. This time we’ve got an Actual. I thought you’d be particularly interested in this one. It’s another social networking (website) murder.”

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