Criticality 6: Angles and Arcs


Cipher Coliseum
“For those of you who have just tuned in, it’s Ecleesy Conus with the call, and WZZZ is proud to bring nonstop tournament action free of commercial interruption thanks to our sponsor, Def Mute Records. ‘The Way Music is Supposed to Sound’, Def Mute Records kindly reminds us all to ‘HEAR More’.

This has been a significantly better showing of any of Billy Smith’s opponents thus far, and I do not believe that the Dyoogie Discipline representative is toying with his opponent either. The Xendeku Discipline is among one of the trickiest counter fighting styles out there and Rodrick Yacono seems awfully close to mastering it. For such an offensive powerhouse such as Billy, this all but neutralizes his attacks, but his defense doesn’t fair that much better as he’s constantly thrown back on his heels expending precious energy to weather Rodrick’s punishing combination storm.

Not to take anything away from Rodrick because he has certainly brought his A-Game to this match, but it almost seems like Billy is a little preoccupied. We may be in the midst of an upset folks. And what would that do for the Xendeku to throw the ranks of the various disciplines in further disarray as the Dyoogie Discipline had done earlier in the tournament besting the formidable Shokan.”

year-3013Preoccupied was correct and not because Billy’s family was watching from the box suites or his new lady friend was about to meet them for the first time either. He truly wanted to understand the mechanics of a counter fighting style, and was receiving an education that could not be achieved by watching instructional tapes or film of his opponent’s previous matches. This was the type of learning that those of the Djibouti Clan could only receive by experiencing, and then, they could adapt accordingly – making the purveyors of the Dyoogie Discipline perhaps the most consummate counter fighters of all. It perhaps also begged a scary question that all of them were holding back until a time of when their skills could be properly unleashed.

No matter the punch, no matter the kick – it was dodged and returned in kind but almost twice as hard. When Billy decided it might be smart to block those incoming attacks, more of them than were anticipated pummeled his defense. It was like Rodrick was a step quicker in delivery and could read minds in ascertaining. How rapidly the response was made happened to be devastating, so the Xendeku fighter’s place in the semi-finals was far from a fluke.

Billy had actually broken a sweat, and this was not determined out of cockiness, but a grim realization that he needed to work for this. The last match was a joke as had every single one to this point, in his life, barring the fight with Sanjuana. It was nothing for him to get nervous over. Quite the contrary, he relished this and the fact that the competition from here on out would become stronger!

Now on to the solution, Billy was quick, in his own right, but needed to admit honestly as he ducked a punch meant for his temple and spun away into another shaky defense, that Rodrick would win on speed – especially with the proportion of his opponent’s weight. The Xendeku fighter was built for speed and power – both a deadly combination when used in tandem.

However, Rodrick lacked endurance, and from Billy constantly dictating the pace of the match, the Xendeku fighter could latch onto the subtle rhythm of offensive flurries and defensive fleeing to leach milliseconds of rest before exploding into an attack at almost full rejuvenation. Much needed to be said about his opponent’s regenerative capabilities, but those were also the key weakness and a chink in the armor that was about to be exploited.

It took Billy almost two full rounds to figure this out, and that disappointed him slightly, but the masking of the flaw was of a total credit to Rodrick’s conditioning which made the shortcoming so minute. Almost assuredly, his opponent was back to full strength by the end of this break period. Where most intermissions between rounds would leave a person confused and doubtful – virtually incapable of coming up with a sound strategy to match, exceed, and overcome the Xendeku Fighter’s awesome abilities, this student of the Dyoogie Discipline was about to expose a weak spot for the entire universe to see.

“After exiting their corners and respectfully touching palms, Billy and Rodrick look poised to complete this match. The third round gets underway with the Xendeku Fighter holding to a familiar stance inviting attack which has worked beautifully thus far. He looks confident and would be way ahead in the proceedings if these battles were scored on a points system.

Ironically, it appears that Billy has not learned from the previous two rounds worth of shortcomings as he goes back stubbornly to an all attack mode. Perhaps the Djibouti Clan Student is frustrated and believes he can power his way through the Xendeku style. As has occurred all throughout this match, the right punch is dodged and met with a dazing return force of a Rodrick right punch.

Billy staggers! He shakes it off and throws a left punch. It nets the same result only with the opposite responding hand by Rodrick. Another right is thrown. Countered! Another left is thrown. And yet another counter! What’s this? One more right. It meets the counter. These two are picking up the pace folks. It’s like the Djibouti Clan Student has begun to attack incessantly – mixing in kicks now. The Xendeku Fighter is still masterfully countering these shots but is starting to lose some ground now – being driven backward as a result.

The crowd is used to seeing technical, close-quartered fighting, but this has turned into the fury of a lightweight boxing match. I’ve lost count on the amount of punches and kicks thrown and can barely keep up with the ferocity at which they are being thrown! Rodrick seems to be digging in, but it’s clear that he’s been backed up at least twenty yards. Billy has now become some sort of machine in delivering this punishing offense with total ill regard for the result of such voracious attacks. Whatever the logic behind this, the crowd is hopping out of their seats! I know Cipher Coliseum was built on a superior foundation but this place is rocking for these semis! My chest is rumbling in anticipation of the finish.”

Gritting his teeth, Billy just needed to see this through. He could totally sense that with each attack, Rodrick’s counters became less and less powerful especially now being able to withstand the sting while keeping the pressure up on combos to stifle his opponent’s recovery time. The slugfest which ensued made for some great viewing, and the thunderous approval of the crowd meant that if neither of them were knocked out by this point that it was only a matter of time before the Djibouti Clan Student’s tactics would have the lingering effects he sought.

As Rodrick’s counterattacks became weaker, Billy’s full force attacks became stronger. The Xendeku Fighter could hardly believe it as he, himself, was caught in an endless spiral that was headed downward the longer this melee continued. So dependent on using his opponents’ aggression against them, the Djibouti Clan Student now controlled his actions! Pacing was a major concern because he could not keep this up too much longer – having been driven back at least forty yards from a serpentine pattern of contentious blows which could barely be backpedaled fast enough.

Had not Rodrick been saved by the bell, this would have been the first match to make it all the way into the end zone. He dropped to a knee and looked up at Billy who had backed away in observance of the concluding round, but this match was not about to go to overtime. The Djibouti Clan Student had won, and with a smile of both unbelieving disappointment and respect, the Xendeku Fighter tapped the ground to illustrate that fact.

Not one to beat his chest as a result of a victory in the semifinals, Billy simply nodded his acceptance of Rodrick’s submission and turned to walk slowly back to his corner. The official word would come in when the Xendeku Fighter refused to answer the call of the bell which would have started the overtime period.

“The fight fans are falling over the guardrails at this point! Really, the only thing more astonishing than the fact that Billy threw over one hundred and fifty punches in that round was that he added over one hundred kicks to the fight count tally as well. Rodrick obviously matched the Djibouti Clan Student blow for blow. Folks, I’ve never seen a round like that – ever. For both fighters to still be standing after that, this is going to be an overtime period for the record books. This already epic match is set to become an all-time classic.

Wait a minute. Word is coming in on an official call. What? Wow. This match is over. Rodrick is heading back to the locker room which means that Billy is again victorious and will be headed to the finals. Needless to say, the crowd is absolutely stunned, but hey, a victory is a victory, and they’ll get to see the Djibouti Clan Student do it all over again in the biggest match of his career. The manner in which this ended takes nothing away from the accomplishment because nothing less can be said about a win – especially a win in such a magnanimous fashion. As the crowd of over one hundred thousand collectively realized that, they come to their feet in offering a rousing ovation for this finalist.

I do believe a significant part of that ovation is also for Rodrick’s part in this unbelievable yet memorable fight, and they are telling him so in the way that can be heard wherever he is throughout the stadium. It cannot be easy to lose a fight that brutal, so it’s expected that the Xendeku Fighter probably would not wish to stand out here with Billy, but we will try to get the inside scoop on why this match did not continue – whether injury or what have you. Well I, for one, need a nap after that!”

Pete never got into martial arts tournaments. Hostage situations were more his cup of tea – or bottle of water rather. For cultural reasons, he never got into the whole tea and coffee thing, plus the rugged cop was all ready to start another addiction as he lit a cigarette and ducked underneath the cordoned-off area created by yellow police tape with displayed credentials dangling from the chain around his neck.

“Is this legit?” Pete asked the lead officer on duty. Coolly as ever, he questioned the validity of yet another incident at an Ennead satellite office.

“We’ve got the office manager with a gun, talking all crazy, and a room full of hostages,” the lead officer responded. “How much more legitimate could that be?”

Realizing that the lead officer needed to have been there to understand, Pete promptly changed the subject as he now became the ranking officer present, “Never mind. Where are your positions indicated?”

Table space was at a premium out in the parking lot and a luxury with the way their time was limited. The trunks of squad cars were used sufficiently for laying out blueprints. With a finger tracing along each vantage point across the map, the lead officer explained, “We’ve got units blocking off all routes into the vicinity – north, south, east, and west. The building is similarly secure with Police Force officers posted at all entrances and exits including the underground parking garage.”

“Evacuations?” Pete asked.

“Complete,” the lead officer said, “all except for the second floor where the issue is occurring. We’re trying to get an accounting for the numbers of hostages from eyewitnesses, but as you can imagine, that data is sketchy at best.”

It took a really caring person to stick around and count when things started to break loose, so Pete did not fault the coworkers as he was pretty sure looking out for number one was bred into their daily corporate grooming. One question eluded him however, “Do we at least know who the perp is?”

Turning away from the conversation to yell off into the distance, the lead officer shouted, “Who’s got the binder?”

“The abridged version’s fine,” Pete requested.

“It’s the office manager,” the lead officer turned back around to face Pete, “and eyewitnesses are very clear on this fact. They say she just snapped. Shots were fired, and at least two coworkers went down.”

A quick check of Pete’s LUNC brought a simple comfort as things were about to get interesting, and he muttered, “Fu–, this is going to be a murder-suicide. Have you had any direct contact with the culprit? Any demands?”

Half in and half out of this conversation, the lead officer’s ear was being borrowed to relay updated tactical information by another Police Force officer. The responses to Pete’s questions were as follows, “Yeah, nothing. No answer on the internal com systems, phones, none of it. We’ve got our snipers in place at the neighboring buildings, but good luck of them getting a clear shot.”

“That’s not going to get it done,” Pete replied. “I’m going in.”

“Are you sure?” The lead officer sought to confirm the choice.

With a smile, Pete simply stated, “Fu– no, but what other choice do the hostages have?”

The eyewitness account was correct that two coworkers were dead, shot, and slumped over their cubicles quite possibly completely unaware of the ensuing carnage that happened to have started with them. Everybody else who was unable to get away found themselves herded into a back conference room at the gunpoint of a frantic and paranoid office manager.

“We’ve all been played!” She said during uneasy motions of looking over the crowd and then peaking over her shoulder which started making the hostages even more nervous than they already were. “The things I’ve seen are the things you continually overlook!”

“What are you talking about? Can you just let us go?” One hostage pleaded.

The office manager pointed her weapon in the direction of the voice and beamed a scowl that caused all of the other hostages to shudder and huddle more tightly together and the target to freeze. She chided, “Shut the fu– up! You think this is bad. This is nothing compared to what’s coming.”

“This bitc- is crazy,” another hostage said quietly under unbelieving breath.

“They know I know,” the office manager lowered the weapon and leaned dejectedly up against the door. It was the only way in or out of the conference room, and unfortunately, the hostages’ path to salvation needed to go through her. She carried on a conversation with herself, “You know how I know that they know that I know? All of my assets – frozen. Identification no longer works. Cut off from family. The off-site meeting!”

Nobody knew what to make of that last comment, and it was collectively best decided to remain silent. That was until a startling knock came at the door and the office manager swung around with gun in hand pointing in its direction. This caused a stir which turned into a panic and screams as she scarily waved the weapon back at everybody – herself worried about two fronts worth of concerns.

Bumped backward by the door, the office manager was clearly taken aback by Pete inviting himself in. As the door swung closed, those on the floor with an angular point of view which could catch a peak through the tiny opening saw Police Force officers romping into positions set up directly outside of the conference room. It was a comforting moment in an all around awkward situation for everybody involved.

“I’m in,” Pete said into his Ear-To-Mouth Com while completely ignoring the weapon pointed at his chest.

Coming back over the channel in Pete’s ear, the lead officer acknowledged, “Good show. While you were headed up there, we finally got Ennead to give up the security codes so we can tap into the building’s network cameras and systems. You would think they’d be a little more forthcoming and timely with that information in hopes of aiding their employees – without the arm-twisting.”

Turning to face the office manager, Pete replied, “You would think. The information is untrustworthy at worst – scrubbed at best. I wouldn’t put too much faith in Ennead.” That last statement was directed at and pointed toward the woman in order to build trust. She was obviously a disgruntled employee otherwise this situation would not be occurring, so it was worth playing to that crowd.

“You don’t like Ennead?” The office manager asked.

“Not particularly,” Pete answered honestly, “no.”

With the gun still trained on Pete’s chest, the office manager continued to speak in riddles, “Ennead does things. People disappear. They are not to be trusted. You’re not to be trusted!”

There was an unwritten rule with people who carried weapons out in the open that if a person was to ever pull one out, it must be used – not paraded about. If the gun was not used, then it meant psychologically that the intent just was not there, and the person holding was hesitant. In this case, hesitant meant unpredictable because two had already fallen to the office rampage that was sure to be lighting up the special reports across most channels’ interrupted regularly scheduled programming.

As tersely as possible, Pete responded, “Lady, I’m past the point of giving a fu–. You murdered two of your own coworkers, so I mean to tell you that this isn’t going to end pleasantly.”

“My life is already over,” the office manager conceded. “Ennead stole the balance from my life as I slaved away in working for them, and now they want what’s left, but I won’t let them have it without a fight!”

“You know what,” Pete shook his head, “boo-fu–ing-hoo. I hear this same coward’s story time and time again.” It was also a story that he had seen play out in the mirror not too long ago – somewhat ironically continuing to this day. The main difference here was that nobody, except for Julian, was being brought down alongside of him.

Having grown the profits of her division fifteen percent year-over-year for the past three years, the office manager happened to be a great judge of character in surrounding herself with the right combination of people that would ultimately net the results that she sought. Motivation was not just some word or a motion that a leader went through. It was an obligation, and although many might speak about it as if they were honestly able to claim their part in any of it, very few were worthy of the distinction of having taken an active role in an employee’s success by tangibly motivating someone and owning that hard worker’s failures personally.

This was an advanced art form that the office manager was clearly proficient in, and she saw the same potential in Pete as with any of her former team prior. Perhaps it was the manner in which he carried himself – the boldness or the fearlessness, but today was to be the day in which the rugged cop would be motivated as a part of the master class.

A twinkle shined in the office manager’s eyes to accompany a solemn yet hopeful smile, and she softly explained why, “I’m not a coward. This was the only way I could call attention to Ennead.”

Now Pete had not counted on that, “What?” Nor had he expected the sniper shot that rifled through closed blinds-covered windows of the conference room and struck the office manager in the back of the head thrusting her forward into the rugged cop while releasing the weapon from limp fingers.

A chunk from the back of the office manager’s head was displaced by the much larger-sized sniper bullet used to kill her which sent blood spewing violently outward soaking Pete as she twirled helplessly into his arms and coating the conference room walls, furniture, and floor. The initial spurt had actually reached the ceiling, and it sent the previous hostages into a frenzy. With no time to think, the rugged cop cradled the woman as he dropped to the floor for cover. The Police Force officers on the ground outside would need to be his eyes.

Closing the office manager’s eyes after beaming a promise from his own to eternally comfort her, Pete fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com for some demanded answers, “Who fired the shot? And how?”

“It wasn’t any of us!” The lead officer responded in what sounded like a rush to figure out what had in fact happened – and where.

“Get the fu– down!” Pete ordered while pulling his LUNC and tapping the trigger pad lightly for the laser targeting beam. He did not want to lose the trajectory of the shot, so the rugged cop left the office manager to hurry into position and loose a full spread of pulses through the window from where he perceived the direction of the shot had originated.

The LUNC made quick work of the window and the blinds showering the freed hostages in shards and draping them in ugly, clunky venetian blinds as neither could withstand the onslaught. Trailing those shots, Pete rushed to the window to view the result of his handiwork. The Police Force officers on the ground would be able to trace it.

Busting through the conference room door after hearing the shots fired were the Police Force officers that had been amassing directly outside. Their immediate obligation was to the people cringing about the floor awaiting some sort of direction. Pete, himself, was incapable of providing such direction as he ducked down behind the concrete at the bottom of the window sill to not openly become the sniper’s next victim.

Cipher Coliseum
“I was nervous there for a moment,” Billy admitted as, freshly showered, he walked beside Sylvia through the upper level corridor which was lined with the box suites.

“Well, I wasn’t,” Sylvia replied, “at least not for you. Meeting your family on the other hand…. How do I look?”

The question was a longtime, universally cultural trap, and Billy was not old enough to know how to answer that question properly, “You look like a Police Force officer.”

This response caused the pleasant features of Sylvia’s face to contort into that of a frown. Billy would answer for that one later, but for now, she needed to focus on the ensuing introductions at hand. He swung the door open to a raucous cheer which immediately put her at ease seeing as though his mother, father, and sister were ultimately down to earth and probably just as anxious.

“I haven’t won it yet,” Billy said modestly as he fended off a tight hug from his mom, a manly punch to the shoulder blade from his dad, and the armed-crossed standoffishness of that evil look from his sister. Breaking that mobbing up, he wanted to bring Sylvia into this equation and did so sincerely, “Mom, Dad, and…you, I’d like you all to meet Sylvia – my lady friend with a brain to go along with that body.”

From Sylvia’s perspective, Billy was on his way to making up for that ‘Police Force officer’ comment. Backing away from the Djibouti Clan student, his family now turned their leering gazes toward her.

“So this is the person who has my son’s heart all in a buzz,” Billy’s mom said before hugging Sylvia. “My name’s Charlene.”

Sylvia replied, “Nice to meet you. Sylvia Lenorox. Hi.”

“Billy talks about you often,” his dad said while shaking Sylvia’s hand after Charlene backed away, “so we’re glad to finally meet you. My name is Johnny.”

Pointing to his sister, Billy said, “And that over there is Erica.”

“You are unbearable,” Erica shot back, “how embarrassing. Don’t you start with me!”

“You’re the one who started it,” Billy accused, “but I’ll gladly finish it.”

Charlene helped to explain the riff to Sylvia, “You might want to watch out for this. Although they are siblings, they have always fought like some sort of old, married couple.”

“I see,” Sylvia smiled.

Johnny caught something that Sylvia had said earlier and thought a moment before bringing it to everybody’s attention, “Did you say your last name was Lenorox? As in the daughter of Carlton and the granddaughter of Colt?”

All Sylvia could do was nod. It was a part of her story that she rarely divulged because love should not have been predicated on whom her family was which so often it seemed to be in previous relationships.

Turning to her son, Charlene asked, “Billy, do you know who this is?”

Shrugging, Billy was completely oblivious to the information that his parents clearly understood and waited for an answer while turning to Sylvia slightly worried that this simple introduction might be turning into a train wreck. She seemed almost ashamed by the outing, and he knew not why.

Briefly looking down at the ground, Sylvia forced herself into eye contact with Billy before sighing, “My grandfather helped to originally create SpaceStation Colt, and my father carried on that legacy.” Simply put, she was the descendant of one half of the proprietors of the major technological wing of the Space Force which essentially caused it to come to such power and never since let go.

The revelation was simply met with a one word answer from Billy, “So?”

And in that moment, when Sylvia began to glow from Billy’s nonsensical response, all was forgiven regarding the ‘Police Force officer’ comment. Who she happened to be was irrelevant to him compared to who she was, and from this moment forward, she was his as, unconditionally, he was hers.

“Welcome to the family,” Johnny told Sylvia.

“Yeah truly,” Charlene echoed the sentiments of approvals given.

Ennead Tower
The corporate headquarters of Ennead Tech Corp was itself perhaps nothing more than a gigantic spire to Second Earth, flared-out at the top and bottom, and with rented-out office space throughout much of its two hundred and twenty-four floors. The bottom, flared-out area looked like the base of a lamp. Toward the top, flared-out area, where Julian was headed, the section could be likened to a lamp shade if not for its sleekness and thinness – a much more ovular saucer shape.

“Thanks for meeting with me on such short notice,” Julian said while exiting one of the southern-facing elevators met immediately by a waiting Stalkord.

“I’m always happy to assist the Second Earth Special Police Force,” Stalkord replied facetiously.

Julian smiled, “We’ll see about that. Where can we talk?”

To not cause any commotion or a stir that would otherwise disturb the day’s productivity of Stalkord’s employees, he led Julian to one of the outermost conference rooms that were accessible ahead of the security reception desk in this area of the floor. “You know I am a big proponent of this new tri-partnership.”

“Why,” Julian asked cynically while taking a seat, “because you finally have your hooks into the Second Earth Special Police Force?”

“You’re making me out to be more than I really am,” Stalkord said modestly while joining Julian with a seat at the table.

Reiterating his position on the matter, Julian stated, “More like how you pretend not to be, but anyway, the Space Force met us halfway by sequestering the name of the person who took out the contract on Pete. How about you meet us the other half?”

Shaking his head, Stalkord declined, “Death Corps was an old business venture.”

“Then who’s running it now?” Julian pressed. “You can end so much anguish from my partner if you would just turn over the information you have on a person who is no longer even employed by your organization. Pete is going to be on your ass forever, and I’ll be right there with him. You seem to like this.”

“That, my friend,” Stalkord explained, “is certainly not the case. I rarely delved down into the specific dealings of my mercenaries, but you and your partner should be satisfied with my handling of Retsepar. I personally terminated his employment in clear admonition of his activities, but that is about as punitive as I can get. For legal reasons, I must respectfully refuse to turn over his personnel files. If you have a judgment that states otherwise, then I’d be more than happy to oblige this area of your investigation. But, you already know that as we’ve been down this path many times before. What’s the real reason why you’re here and without your partner no less? You could have just dropped your résumé off online.”

Uncharacteristically short, Julian slammed his right hand on the table and said, “Don’t patronize me. You wouldn’t be the first corporation that we took down, and certainly, much larger ones fell to us than Ennead for corruption well before you came to any sort of prominence.”

It was an interesting prospect and Stalkord relayed as much, “Then you have the answer on exactly how much you and your partner mean to me.”

About the only company unaffected by the Space Force takeover of technology companies from the landmark case that Pete and Julian had played a big part in cracking was a little, lesser-known corporation by the name of Ennead. Virtually a start-up as compared to the much more established Death Corps, Stalkord’s new business venture swooped in like no other taking up an innovative space within a void that the other punished and socialized corporations were incapable of filling. They had removed one evil only to see it replaced by something potentially worse by basically handing Stalkord a wealth of unchallenged market share that he otherwise would not have seen on his own – or for at least some time.

“I know it’s taking everything you’ve got to not pull out that LUNC and blast me in the face this very second,” Stalkord goaded, “but I am not your immediate enemy right now. Rather than continually going against me and my organizations, why don’t you make use of this union in the spirit of what the Space Force just demonstrated and utilize Ennead as a resource?”

“Because you benefit so much from our preoccupation,” Julian cooled down some.

Stalkord’s Smartphone rang, so he pulled it out and put it to his ear before saying, “I benefit either way. One second.”

An incoming transmission hit Julian’s Ear-To-Mouth Com at about the same time, “Yeah. What? No kidding? You’re kidding me? Yeah, let me finish up here, and I’ll be on my way. Everything good though? As okay as it can be – yeah I know. Cool. Alright. Bye.” He immediately looked up at Stalkord.

“I take it you received a similar call?” Stalkord queried.

Cipher Coliseum
To not sound shallow because the interest in Sylvia’s bloodline was genuine, Johnny explained, “Charlene and I knew your father and grandfather, each, personally.”

“Really?” Being a bit of a Space Force brat in her youth, Sylvia was always interested in hearing from others that may have shared the same or similar types of experiences.

Supporting her husband’s pronouncement, Charlene expounded, “Billy’s grandparents knew the Lenorox family well, and Johnny and I both were over there from time-to-time during our younger days.”

That last piece was interesting to Sylvia, and she asked about it, “So you two were childhood sweethearts?”

“From our earliest fondest memories,” Johnny admitted proudly while putting an arm around Charlene.

Turning to Erica, Billy mouthed, “Tired of you.”

To which, Erica responded audibly, “Shut up. You’re so annoying! Sylvia, are you sure about Billy?”

“Yeah,” Sylvia nodded, “yes.”

“Like say, that’s good enough for me,” Charlene stated. “Are either of you hungry, there’s plenty of leftover food up here, and it’s all still warm and fresh.”

Not having to ask Billy twice, he headed on over to the table of delicacies against the side wall. Working up an appetite was always happily quenched on the gourmet food of box suites. The Djibouti Clan student was able to indulge in this every once in a while because he so diligently worked it off in the mornings. Never missing a session to train and keep himself in shape allowed him plentiful amounts of opportunities to gorge, in moderation.

It pained Sylvia to say this but, “I would love to, however, this is still a part of my fifteen minute break, and I’d better be getting back to help wrap up the security portion of the festivities for the night.”

“Well, can she at least come over for dinner one night during the weekend or something?” Erica invited.

“I think that can be arranged,” Billy said while adding dessert to the very same plate as his entrée.

Liking the idea of that, Johnny agreed, “Yeah, this was too brief.”

Charlene shook Sylvia’s right hand with both of her hands while insisting on the invitation, “We’d certainly love to have you over.”

“There’s no need to part company,” Billy’s finals opponent announced while barging into the box suite followed by a slew of cameras meant to capture every part of this rude incursion, “as things are just about to get started!”

Chewing on a surprisingly tender and tasty chicken finger, Billy called out the name of his next opponent, “Satori Diebold.”

Perhaps the flashiest fighter in all of the tournament, with good reason, the brackets were projected early on to come down to Satori and Sanjuana. Billy had obviously disrupted that setting, and because of it, the flashy fighter’s commissioned camera crew was posted around the box suite to document this surprise moment of posturing. “You know the name, and soon you will know it well as the man who cut your Cinderella story harshly short. When next we meet, you will fall, but at least you have your woman and a lovely family, I might add, to console you.”

“You know what,” Billy slammed his plate down onto the serving table, “fu– when next we meet! We can handle this right now.”

“Billy Smith,” Charlene chastised, “watch your mouth!”

Shaking his head in annoyance, Billy apologized, “I’m sorry, Mom. Just getting a little tired of making a living off of these nothing fighters who have a corporate push but not much else in the realm of skills.”

“Guys,” Sylvia interjected with her arms separating both Billy and Satori, “I can’t let either of you do this right now.”

“Your woman shields you?” Satori snidely remarked.

“No,” Billy conceded, “she’s right. You might take pleasure in my disqualification, according to the rules, but I’d rather hash this out with you inside of the ring.”

“Alright cut!” The director playing the background yelled.

Just then, Satori’s entire demeanor changed to that of a much more reserved and respectful individual, “It was worth a shot, but once that little bit of footage is edited, it’ll sell twice as many tickets. Don’t let this glitz and glam fool you, Billy. That is a gimmick that more often than not throws my opponents off balance.

Sanjuana was the number two fighter behind…me. To believe that any of the fighters I went through simply lay down to elevate me to this status dishonors their efforts.”

Realizing that he already had a Master and seeing right through this insult of a continued ploy, Billy cut Satori off, “Don’t lecture me about honor. You dishonor your own self by interrupting this time I have to spend with my family. I don’t need to make any predictions other than when we meet in the ring this all will be settled. You shouldn’t be this quick to want to take it outside unless you’re prepared for the consequences in doing so.

I’m asking you to leave before Police Force Officer Lenorox locks you up for disorderly conduct. It would be my family’s word against yours, and with your reputation, who would the tournament organizers believe?”

“Smart kid,” Satori replied before turning his back to Billy and motioning for his camera crew to follow him in exiting the box suite. “One that I will see in the ring.”

Upon exiting the room, Satori caught a knee-buckling right cross to the face that had him staggering backward as a group of Shokan rushed into the box suite. Shaking the blow off, he attempted to mount some sort of a stance as the Shokan’s leader, who had punched him initially, entered and offered no signs of backing down.

Even with eyes clearing from that first punch, Satori was unable to see the four quick punches that pegged his chest – let alone defend against it. Now winded plus blinded, he equaled little more than a target for the Shokan’s leader to do away with.

Johnny and Charlene shielded Erica behind them as a simple slap from the Shokan’s leader delivered an unconscious Satori into the arms of a couple of waiting Shokan. From there, they dragged him over to the box seats which were facing the venue and hurled him over the box suite balcony into the general seating area causing screams to come from quite a significant number of fight fans still lingering around in attendance!

The camera crews were immediately isolated by the Shokan to either of the other three ends to the box suite and did not move for fear that they might be some of the next bodies to be tossed off of the deep end. At least one camera had been switched back on during the commotion and continued to roll in both live and record modes currently unbeknownst to all involved.

Sylvia pulled out her LUNC, but Billy stepped immediately in front of her and the Shokan’s leader. He knew well enough that he did not need to protect her, but she needed to protect his family, and a soft hand gesture indicated as much. The Djibouti Clan student would deal with the rest.

“You know who I am?” The Shokan’s leader inquired.

“I’ve been preparing all of my life to face you,” Billy answered.

The Shokan’s leader grinned, “And here I thought I would actually have to convince you that I was your father.”

Disagreeing vehemently, Billy clarified, “By genetics only, and I don’t even sense that connection with you anymore.”

“Right under my nose all of this time,” the Shokan’s leader sighed, “and you’ve been brainwashed so thoroughly that your adoptive family doesn’t even conceal the fact that they stole you away from your own father.”

“Perhaps if you renounce the Shokan, we can form some sort of relationship, but until then, my only father’s name is Johnny Smith,” Billy stated. “And you’ve lost out on my training as well because my only Master is Acro.”

Sticking closely to Johnny, Charlene, and Erica, Sylvia traced the room with the LUNC out front in her right hand to keep the Shokan at bay while fingering the Ear-To-Mouth Com with her left hand and urging quietly, “Vim, get your as- up here now.” Apparently, Billy had familial secrets of his own.

Saddened, the Shokan’s leader spoke his mind, “I should have known that Acro played a hand in perpetrating this tragedy. He’ll be dealt with soon enough as I’ve already dispatched twelve of my deadliest Shokan to exterminate the remnants of the Djibouti Clan. Until this point, my only regret had been that I was not responsible for wringing the life from that traitorous Dyoogie’s neck – pulling the final breath from out of his lungs. Then, after all I had gone through and sacrificed to reunite with you, your eyes meet mine with only hate. I scoured the universe for you! I sold my soul to any faction who would have it and help me in my search. I even infiltrated the Space Force – assuming the identity of a Lieutenant in hopes that their resources could somehow aid in my quest…at the cost of my…right…hand. All of this, for you, my son.”

Having heard enough, Billy snarled, “Don’t you dare call me that! You don’t have the right.”

“Ungrateful child,” the Shokan’s leader promised, “by the end of this night, you will know your true father’s name as Glove.”

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Angie's Diary