Criticality 10: A Pound of Blow, A Pump of Shotgun
Staines Warehouse District
“It’s refreshing to see that some of your workers – I’d imagine handlers, naked.”
“Nobody in the formulation area is allowed clothing. I’m not so much concerned with the security aspects as I am with the inventory aspects. Can’t have people stealing and taking home the product, you know? We’re not making office supplies here.”
“Well, I find clothing that your culture wears to be arrogant. What’s flowing into these vats? What type of concoction are they cooking up?”
“I call it Migraine Manaqua.”
“Manaqua? Where have I heard that name before?”
“Migraine Manaqua is the manifestation of a drug that is not addictive. This is the ultimate breakthrough in recreational narcotics – or at least it will be. Injectable with jet injectors, snortable – there’s even a patch!”
“No not the name of the drug or the drug in particular – Manaqua specifically.”
“Surely, in your extensive travels across the universe, you’ve come across the indigenous, botanical planet Ryland?”
“Yes I have. Interesting. Go on.”
“Well, we don’t try to hide the danger like normal drug companies. Have you seen the ads? They fix one problem but leave you with thirteen different, serious side effects – that those companies are willing to admit. It’s like, why even put the product out like that when a good night’s rest and some grapefruit juice would suffice? Society is overmedicated in my estimation, but I digress.
My point is that drugs don’t solve anything. They mask or inhibit symptoms. Psychologically, we feel better with merely the act of taking them. You’ve heard of those studies where people with placebos had better results than the subjects receiving the actual dosage?”
“As if you couldn’t tell, I prefer a much more holistic approach to these things.”
“And we don’t want to go down the path of being all illegal like the drug cartels.”
“Now, I agree with that. The market’s too saturated, and the government runs it anyway.”
“Ha, yes, and believe me, it doesn’t matter what planet you’re on or what system you claim to be from. It’s the same story. If the government controls the security of the aquatic, space, and terrestrial ports, there is no excuse for drugs to be able to filter through unless they will it – and willfully allow it. Anybody who doesn’t admit that is stupid, and I’ve moved some serious work in a past life which couldn’t have survived numerous supply droughts without the help of various different administrations.”
“Was it ever targeted?”
“Sometimes. I’d be tasked with introducing an agent into a population in hopes of subverting threats. It’s always funny to watch it spread further than the government would have expected, and then I have a good laugh. Personally, it didn’t matter to me what the outcome was, but I was never naive enough to not understand the extend of what I was causing.”
“On Earth, there was always some apprehension toward that theory – as if governments were incapable of such barbarism. Hearing this from your mouth is good enough for me to prove that the theorists, who were often labeled as dissidents, were in fact correct.”
“Why, because I’m a legend?”
“No, because you have no reason to lie.”
“It’s avarice, my friend! I wake up to hustle and go to sleep with one eye open watching my money while the other dreams of the next big venture.”
“Well, I sincerely hope you believe that your eyes are looking at it.”
“How’s the competition?”
“That sounds like a liability to me.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it though. On one side is the drug companies. On the other is the government. But they’ve each gotten smart and continued their collusion. I’m a little torn as to how I see that relationship. The business side of me thinks its brilliant. The competitive side of me detests them for beating me to the punch.
Much of our case study comes from Earth, and the government made an interesting move with a minor drug called marijuana. Yes, it was a minor drug, but it had major implications as far as the financial upside was concerned. The government, in essence, legalized all forms of it so that they could tax it. This was actually a gift for the drug companies who already had the distribution pipeline in place. As a result, they were able to put some standards behind the product, market multiple flavors, and produce it more cheaply. They basically undercut the illegal trade and greatly padded their bottom lines while delivering the government’s point-of-sale cut – on time, every time. And it was all legal.”
“One could argue that your Space Force is the drug company the way they gobble up and spit back out once disobedient corporations.”
“There’s no point in arguing it. We just need to be extra careful – especially with Migraine Manaqua.”
“You said there’s no addictive properties. Did I miss that? How does that even work? Grinding for fiends is the big draw, and you’ve created something which would diminish the demand generator. Like you were saying of the drug companies earlier, I have to inquire about what the point is.”
“Let me rephrase: You can become addicted to anything. Migraine Manaqua doesn’t have any addicting agents – nothing aside from pleasure which puts this drug on par with chocolate or sex.
In fact, if you look over there, that refinery area is being used for diversified consumer derivatives like colognes and perfumes. We toned it down some from the core Migraine Manaqua offering, but the finished product is meant to affect the potential mates you’re looking to attract like a pheromone.
Human science is finite, but alien secretions from plant extracts on foreign planets are the next big thing. The applications are limitless.”
“You want to put out a drug that doesn’t need fiends to sell because it would be deemed safe and made available to the mainstream population. Wow, the fiends might actually migrate over to it in the end. That sounds amazing, but why the heavy security? And why are you talking to somebody like me in order to pitch your wonderful product?”
“We need investors. Some of our procurement means go against Space Force interests, and it’s hard to find individuals or organizations who are willing to take the risk – let alone see eyeball-to-eyeball with our grand vision in the scheme of things.”
“What part does the Space Force not like? The part where you’re farming the living inhabitants of Ryland in order to mass produce your drug? I suppose I would be upset, too, if you were feeding off of my friends. Ambitious. But also ironic. What I know of your culture is a dire lack of respect for plant life. You don’t have many activists posing naked to protect the dignity and feelings of plants – as if hacking off their limbs, fruits, and vegetables doesn’t hurt.”
“Believe, me I’d farm Humans as well, but the black market for organs dried up with medical advancements. You’re not going to let that clothing thing go are you?”
“Never. So constraining.”
“A business plan does exist to circumvent the fact that we’re harvesting one of the Space Force’s largest allies. The logistics are already in place because we already have hunter farmers throughout Explorigvasun acquiring the precious nutrients we need to stabilize our quantities. I want this to be pure and would prefer not to have to stretch the end product with additional ingredients. First impression upon deployment is going to be everything.
Rylaea suffering aside, my focus is on Human pleasure. Another popular trick is to flood the market and get everybody used to it, hooked is too strong of a word, and then there will be no turning back. I’m solvent enough to be able to finance the initial rollout which will achieve that.
After procurement and deployment comes replenishment. This is an expensive endeavor to front.”
“I can imagine – especially from your hunter farmers’ perspectives with the Space Force bearing down on these operations. To protect an ally from a criminal of their own, I bet they’ve spared no expense to salvage relations with the Rylaea.”
“No they haven’t which is why I have enough money to withstand them until the conclusion of the first rollout. After that, I’m going to need to turn to shadow corporations, companies that don’t exist under the jurisdiction of the Space Force, for financing.”
“My part in this supposedly?”
“Exactly. I know you’ve had some dealings in the Terran System before. You’ve eluded a very well known mercenary for the longest time. Your network is decent.”
“Who? Parsec, the Stalker? A once illustrious, Death Corps career now wasted and spent chasing after me – more like a Death Corps reject. He doesn’t even have a working contract out on me. What is that all about? Hunts me because some of his family members got in my way. I can’t even believe it – a mercenary member of Death Corps concerned about loss during what appeared to be a business transaction which necessitated it. He’s killed countless people for the very same reason! Falls victim to the same harsh reality he’s perpetrated on others, once, and now he wants to get all bent out of shape about it.
Humans are always trying to have, how does your culture say, their cake and eat it too. But with you, I’m liking what I hear.”
“Good to hear it, Olney,” Stanislaw Krell said while patting the Crabmartian Slorg from Xenos on his crustaceous back.
“Slorgs don’t normally get along with Humans as seen by the still tumultuous relations between our Queen and your Space Force,” Olney admitted while returning the gesture by shaking Stanislaw’s right hand with his right pincer claw, “but I don’t always agree with the decisions of those drones in charge. Sometimes, in order to grow, one must leave the hive, and I intend to grow financially, Krell.”
Stanislaw nodded his agreement of the pact’s subtly veiled threat stating, “With your backing and the backing of a few others, there’s nothing that can stop this endeavor.”
Laser fire and screams did not do well for the prospective investor’s consumer confidence. Again, Olney was indifferent to the naked bodies that were scurrying around trying to find any bit of shelter let alone clothing as he, himself, stood completely in the buff, and what was natural to him held no consequence as it would to a Human viewing the same chaotic scene. He said, “Shi-,” while drawing an Elvera Blaster from his hip holster.
It was not quite the size of a Space Force Standard Issue Laser Rifle, but the weapon was larger than a Space Force Standard Issue Hand Laser. For Olney, the prized, modified weapon from his culture was just right – fitting comfortably within his sizable pincer claws. There was also no doubt that the Elvera Blaster was meant for business as it powered up with the sound of a mini reactor.
“I hope that weapon’s bite is as tough as its bark,” the Elvera Blaster prompted Stanislaw to say. “Friends of yours out there?”
“Time hasn’t come to double-cross you, yet,” Olney admitted honestly while surveying the circumference anxiously as Stanislaw’s security began to take up defensive positions throughout the warehouse. The mysterious weapons fire sounded familiar to Olney, so he remarked, “The bursts sound like they are emanating from Space Force weapons. This Migraine Manaqua wouldn’t happen to be highly combustible would it?”
Speaking of a different question, Stanislaw said to himself albeit out loud, “I can’t lose this significant of an investment.”
Three unmarked vehicles with tinted windows came burrowing through the warehouse’s doors and each skidded to a purposeful halt as doors swung open allowing hooded and armored jump-out troops to begin dispersing throughout the area. They were all packing Space Force weaponry.
Taking aim at the vehicle in the lead, Olney let off a laser burst from his Elvera Blaster with a massive kickback that sent his arm twirling all the way around a full three hundred and sixty degree circle in response to the force of the deadly dispersion. The vehicle was punched backward in such a manner that the part of the front that was not shredded away from the unforgiving energy was dented uneasily inward and the back actually flipped over the front as the entire chassis landed roof down on top of the roof of the vehicle behind it. While intuitively working the controls with his free claw to tone the blast level down, he asked, “Since when did the Space Force start outsourcing their weaponry to anybody other than Death Corps?”
“This way,” Stanislaw called out while heading hurriedly toward the back of the warehouse with Olney in tow. The layout had large canisters on their right, the lab environments on the left, and a menacing catwalk which oversaw gigantic underground vats before them.
“They’ve got the entire warehouse district surrounded!” Someone from security said to Stanislaw while rushing up toward the entrance. “We’ve already lost the perimeter installations. It’s all in flames!”
Not to be outdone in the combat arena, Stanislaw reached inside of his suit coat to pull out some sort of rod that just continued to grow and grow the more he exposed it. Ducking beneath errant pulses from a Laser Rifle while twirling the staff, Stanislaw stepped up and put every bit of spite into the delivery of his swing which did not manage to decapitate the jump-out troop that received the blow to the head, but in response to the mangled display, the astonished look on Olney’s face meant that the Slorg probably wished it had.
“I like you, Krell,” Olney admitted with a telling left pincer claw pointed respectfully in Stanislaw’s direction. He would have stepped in to help out if necessary, but the fact that it was not meant that his time would better be spent trying to figure out how to not, himself, become a victim (in more ways that one) of underestimating this new business partner.
Stanislaw and Olney retreated across the catwalk in search of intermittent refuge before eventual escape.
The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
Trudging through the masses of a bustling, morning atmosphere, Nayra led an unnamed associate over to Sec’s dispatcher console. There was no denying the seriousness with which the other Police Force officers carried on about their daily duties. Very little watercooler activity was present – if any. And the officer from Internal Affairs was definitely watching, so he would know.
“Ha ha, thanks Ma’am,” Sec replied over his Ear-To-Mouth Com in mid-conversation. “That’s what we’re here for. Take it easy.”
“Where is Gyro?” Nayra demanded.
Without even turning around, Sec brought up a schedule on the right quarter of his flat-screen and corrected Nayra, “The Commissioner,” before proceeding to answer the question, “has the day off today.”
Peculiar, Nayra thought, so he inquired, “Then who is in charge of this unit in his absence?”
“That would be Pete Rogue,” Sec answered. “All leadership duties fall to him because of his seniority.”
“Rogue, eh?” Nayra would like nothing more than to incite who he perceived to be an unstable cop – certainly undeserving of such a distinction in rank over this dreadful unit. This could probably be used to some sort of an advantage in further infiltrating and opening up Commissioner Gyro’s covert group. There was a general dislike for the super secretive nature of things around here, but little by little, his influence worked its way inside. “Where can I find him?”
Unapologetically, Sec stated, “It’s not my day to watch Pete. That normally falls to Julian.”
The unnamed associate turned to Nayra in disbelief.
Barging into the Commissioner’s office, Nayra accused, “What are you doing in here?”
“This is kinda like living with my mom,” Vim offered, “except you don’t even knock before coming right on in.” He had been startled by the intrusion since, along with Julian, their backs were to the door.
“So you just take up shop in Commissioner Gyro’s office, huh Rogue?” Nayra probed, “What is going on in here?”
“Seeing as though you’ve all but monopolized the conference room,” Pete explained, “this was the only room available to be able to meet. What do you want anyway? You’re interrupting our debriefing.”
With a widening swing of the door, Nayra allowed the unnamed individual to enter the room ahead of him. Once both were inside, he closed the door and began, “See, I’m not all bad, Rogue. I realized that your unit was down one official member due to suspension and three members in general if you count the Space Force operatives, so I’m extending the services of one my own, most highly recommended and decorated officers.
I’d like everybody to meet Detective Slubbich. He’s served tours on Earth as well as most recently out in Explorigvasun as a part of a goodwill tour of Space Force-allied planets our government is looking to strike up further diplomatic relations with. His record of service made him the ideal candidate and a model officer for all to heed while he was an emissary of the Space Force. He’ll do well around here if some of that influence can rub off on the likes of this, so-called, Police Force.”
“Wait a minute,” Julian turned around to face Nayra and the newest member of the Police Force with a scrunched up face of either astonishment or confusion and announced, “‘By the Book’ Slubbich?”
“‘By the Book’,” Slubbich accepted proudly and answered confidently.
Julian sighed while shaking his head, “Fu–.”
“I’m pairing him up with Vim,” Nayra decided, “because Sylvia was obviously a bad influence, and you two really aren’t all that much better.”
Pete was very close to saying, ‘Well fu– you too,” when Sec burst into the room unnanounced. Instead he more appropriately spoke these words, “Hey, what’s going on?”
“There’s a freaking war going on out at Staines Warehouse District,” Sec alerted. “I thought you might want to know.”
“Thanks for the heads up,” Julian said before turning back around to face Pete.
Both Pete and Julian – and even Vim, seemed indifferent toward the news. It was almost as if they were longing to get back to their debriefing. Sec closed the door without so much as anymore prodding and went about his business – almost as if this announcement had been casually made on his way to a fifteen minute break.
For once, Nayra was left completely speechless. He could not, for the life of him, figure out what kind of a unit that the Commissioner was running here, and this stark dereliction of duty was on bold display for perhaps the first time in front of the eyes of an additional outside observer.
Selflessly, Slubbich put his opinion on record, “We should be heading over there to investigate.”
Julian disagreed with an emphatic refusal, “He– no. We’ll let those clowns shoot it out first, and then we’ll intervene.”
“That’s right,” Pete confirmed and reiterated, “we’ll intervene – as in Julian and myself. Vim’s been through a lot lately, and I’m giving him a breather. He needs a little time to collect himself before venturing out into the field in order to get his mind right.
Slubbich, you being his partner probably isn’t all that bad seeing as though you can directly help out with that. You’re welcome to join the rest of the debriefing. And welcome to the Second Earth Special Police Force.”
A call started to come across Nayra’s Ear-To-Mouth Com as he was pleased with the outcome and responded with the word, “Excellent,” before excusing himself from the room, “I need to take this call.”
The Lenorox Household
Just outside of Sylvia’s bedroom, she stood in her nightgown while peering cautiously around the corner of the door to see if Billy was still asleep.
“You’ve finally come to your senses I see,” Nayra’s voice came over Sylvia’s Ear-To-Mouth Com. “Are you prepared to tell me the truth about what happened at Cipher Coliseum?”
“I’ll do you one further,” Sylvia admitted, “when I agree to testify against the Commissioner.”
The admission was met with startling silence on Nayra’s end before he came back over threatening, “Don’t play games with me, Lenorox. If this is some fake attempt to salvage your career, know that I will bury you -”
Sylvia did not appreciate Nayra’s tone of voice and tersely cut his rant off, “It’s not, and you’ll have my full cooperation.”
“So that I’m not wasting my time,” Nayra suggested, “what is it that you could possibly tell me about Commissioner Gyro that I don’t already know?”
“What does it matter what I tell you as long as I tell Judge Chatsis and your prosecutors make it stick?” Sylvia deduced.
The deduction was met with even more silence as Nayra weighed his options. This was starting to sound like one of those ‘too good to be true’-type things. “I’ll have you reinstated on a probationary basis, but I want your statement on the Commissioner, first, and in writing. That way, your turning your back on your entire unit will be a starting point of the proof I need to determine the genuineness and legitimacy of your efforts. He’s too smart to allow even the potential of disloyalty into the Police Force, and I’m too smart to fall for the oldest trick in the eBook.”
Sylvia laughed softly, “Loyalties can change, Nayra.”
Billy was not asleep but could not have overheard Sylvia’s conversation and was not listening to any other voice other than that of his Master Acro.
“You know she’s been converted, right?” Acro stood beside the bed dressed from neck to toe in black combat gear with a LUNC that sat holstered on his hip. His head was surprisingly uncovered, but then again, he had nothing to hide – especially from Billy.
“I know,” Billy sat up to address Acro.
As if to reiterate the severity of the situation, Acro pressed, “Then you also realize that conversion’s effects are quite irreversible?”
Dejectedly, Billy pleaded, “I fell in love with her, Acro.”
“I know,” Acro was not at all angry – on the contrary he consoled Billy, “and I’m sorry. This unfortunately signifies that the larger war I’ve been faced with fighting has reached the cusp and is now about to come around full circle from its apex.”
“I’ll be ready to assist,” Billy promised.
Acro nodded, “You’ll need to be.”
Quickly, Billy questioned, “What of my family?” He was sensing Sylvia getting about ready to conclude her conversation, so it was best that they wrap theirs up as well.
“They’re safe with my people at the moment,” Acro confirmed.
“Thanks Acro,” Billy’s voice was earnest in its concern which brought an awkward (for the seriousness of the moment) smile to Acro’s lips.
While bidding adieu as he moved backward into the shadows of the room, Acro asserted, “I’d worry about yourself if I were you. They each have more experience than you, and theoretically, your parents’ experience outweighs my very own.”
Billy laughed softly, “So you’re saying they were slightly more concerned about me then?”
“What was that, Billy?” Sylvia missed all of his discussion including that last part as she reentered the bedroom at the conclusion of her call.
“Nothing,” Billy said.