Criticality 18: Alliances of the Unholy
The Second Earth Special Police Force Base.
“Good morning, Police Force Officer Rogue!” Slubbich poked his head inside of Pete’s office to say.
“Hey, Slubbich!” Pete called more than greeted. “Can you please come back here for a moment?”
After turning one hundred and eighty degrees in order to go back to Pete’s office, Slubbich dangled his head around the door and obliged, “Certainly. Do you need me to pull up a chair as well?”
On Pete’s desk was a slate computer which had the events of Chip Schilders’ report from last night on pause. He stared at the screen with his right fist cupped inside of the grasp of his left fist, and both of them were resting pensively in front of his mouth. Muffled, he inquired, “Did you happen to catch any of that program on WZZZ yesterday?”
“Yes, I did actually,” Slubbich admitted. “The third segment sure seemed typically self-serving of Chip Schilders in how he announced the brand new format of his show after hyping up the Space Force piece.”
“The first two segments were a likely story,” Pete announced as he looked up at Slubbich with a seriousness in his gaze.
Reading Pete’s eyes, Slubbich formally came into the office from around the corner of the door and asked in a manner which kept his voice down, “Do you think that the Space Force was able to get to him in such a short amount of time?”
After Slubbich closed the door and pulled up that chair, Pete spoke more freely, “I do, and I also believe that the third segment was going to be about the Enforcers.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” Slubbich replied. “The Enforcers are elite and probably saw the events coming well ahead of time – especially with how boldly that Chip Schilders builds up his positions. This still does us no good.”
“Yeah,” Pete agreed, “Schilders is probably too spooked to be of any assistance to us. But I admire how close that he came to exposing the entire thing at about the same time as I pity the sacrifice of whatever the Space Force took away and used to silence him. Speaking of which….” He looked up and past Slubbich as Dash basically barged in by opening up the door without knocking.
“Meet me in the conference room, and scrounge up Police Force Officer Kazar on your way,” Dash ordered. His seriousness underscored his authority to be able to bark out orders with impunity. He only turned to head back to the conference room after it appeared that Pete and Slubbich were in the motion of complying with his commands.
Slubbich pointed a thumb over his shoulder as he stood up and sarcastically wondered, “Have we even been introduced yet?”
Already knowing the answer to that question, Pete decided to take a shot at the latest Space Force operatives to grace the Second Earth Special Police Force with their pushy presence, “I miss Murk and Chico already.”
Five minutes later, Pete and Slubbich entered the conference room to find Vim sitting down at the long table – already situated on the left side. There was no surprise as to how this was about to go down because the Space Force operatives sat authoritatively at the opposing heads of the table. Lug Nut was at the furthest end from the door while Dash turned around to look over his shoulder at a couple of Police Force officers who had already made it on his shi- list.
This had to be some sort of record, and Dash decided to call Pete and Slubbich out because of it, “I asked you to find Police Force Officer Kazar.”
Slubbich did not much like being talked down to in such a condescending manner, but took his seat on the left side next to Vim with his mouth respectfully closed. He did not need to resort to the level of rudeness which was being displayed by two men who were not even courteous enough to introduce themselves before they started throwing their weight all around the Second Earth Special Police Force Base and yelling at people.
“There aren’t any children in here,” Pete snapped right back, “so watch your mouth. Julian isn’t in yet, and you are very close to getting thrown out.”
“Sit down, Rogue,” Lug Nut dismissed Pete’s sentiment with more condescending orders!
Vim was not about to say anything as he sat there silently and watched Pete’s blood boil. His superior officer was no Commissioner Gyro, but it was admittedly nice to see the rugged cop’s tact (or lack thereof) in situations like these.
Disrespected, Pete was actually standing in back of his chair on the right side of the table and realized that sitting down would have needed to occur anyway, so it was like Lug Nut was baiting him to submit or forcing him to act out – classic posturing. More than willing to play this type of game with his left index finger pointed back toward the door via a sideways leaning left hand, he asserted, “Get the fu– out.”
“As if you ever have the authority to make that happen,” Dash sneered.
“I don’t need the authority,” Pete shook his head while stating, “because I wasn’t keen on this Space Force contract when your predecessors originally sprung the news on us,” before pulling out his LUNC, training it on Lug Nut’s heart, and announcing, “and I don’t have time for your jurisdictional bullshi- right now.”
Dash pulled out his own LUNC, stood, and aimed at Pete’s head.
Slubbich immediately stood up with his arms extended outward at his sides in a pleading manner for cooler heads to prevail. Vim’s eyes were bulging out of his head while is mouth was agape with astonishment. A leisurely start to the morning – this most certainly was not.
Sheol waited patiently within the massive reception area of the ovular, saucer-shaped top area of the gigantic spire. The bustle of the daily grind was all around him as professionally dressed individuals carried on about their business. He almost felt out of place – dressed in three quarter boots, baggy and sagging jeans, and a hoodie. As stark as a contrast as his presence was to corporate ambiance, the sponge of learning was in full absorption.
No, Sheol had not come dressed appropriately, but he was learning more than the corporate facade was letting on. The clothing did not make the employee; the ideals of this business made the employees. Every organization had a uniform or an approved wardrobe, but what distinguished the companies was the individual and respective business mindset. This was no different across enterprises, nonprofits, or organized crime syndicates.
After cocking his head to the side in order to better finger the earring in his left ear, Sheol realized that he may have looked as if he was out of place, but he certainly felt that something like this was the place that he wanted to be and felt he belonged. The occasional, garnered stares did not bother him.
None of those people who looked down their noses at Sheol (partially because he was sitting down and they were walking upright) ran this company. Each of them happened to be the happy, insignificant worker bees who actually ranked much lower in the universal scheme of things than him. The observation was not of arrogance, but his notice was valid. In the timeless staredown which pit the so-called scrub against the corporate underling, only one was the leader of the Shokan and the heir to the Doran Aristocracy while the other was a number.
Many did not pass by Sheol with the approach of class warfare, and some actually hesitated in making an advance to see what he was all about out of time constraints which had to be nagging at their outwardly networking nature. After all, it would have been foolish to dismiss a potentially new client on the shallow merits of appearances alone. They could recall times with clients who were all cover and no substance, so his placement in those waiting chairs was refreshing to say the least.
“Sheol,” Stalkord called as he emerged from the secure area of the floor which sat just behind the reception desk. His right hand was extended in welcome, and this meeting did not seem to be of any inconvenience to him – almost as if it was welcomed.
“Stalkord,” Sheol acknowledged of the friendly occurrence before standing to shake hands and look the Chief Executive Officer of Ennead Tech Corp in the eyes as he did so.
With that right hand, Stalkord extended it toward one of the outermost conference rooms which were accessible ahead of the reception desk on this floor in order to politely usher Sheol in the right direction. He was never one to cause any commotion or a stir that would otherwise disturb the day’s productivity of his employees, and although unintended, parading the leader of the Shokan around the office would unfortunately do just that.
As they walked, Stalkord inquired, “How is your mother doing?”
Well, of course Stalkord knew Commander because of Ennead Tech Corp’s dealings with the Doran Aristocracy, but this conversation was odd somehow. Regardless, Sheol responded, “She’s doing fine.”
“My condolences for your father,” Stalkord extended, “please tell her that my thoughts are with your family.”
“Thank you,” Sheol nodded. Now this was just awkward. Stalkord seemed to be in the know about everything concerning his situation which would make this conversation interesting. When time did not need to be wasted with having to explain the details of a loved one having sold their soul to an enemy faction for the purposes of recovering him after being stolen away at birth, the meeting might tend to flow more openly.
After they got situated within the conference room at opposite sides of a short table, Stalkord expressed, “This entire hour is yours. What did you have on your mind?”
It was hard to believe that this meeting would take the entire hour, so Sheol got straight to the point, “I need backing.”
“I’d ask you for a breakdown of your concept ideas or a demonstration first,” Stalkord smiled, “but somehow I doubt that you are looking for any sort of patent support.”
“Ha,” Sheol reciprocated the smile, “no – not exactly. I’m planning on unifying the Crimson Red Belts.”
As if Stalkord did not know that as well, he explained, “There is a steep price for my services which only factions can afford, and this is not something that I can extend credit to you on simply because you happen to be the son of one of my business partners.”
Sheol was doing the anticipating this time around when he stated, “I knew that you would say this, so can I please ask for your advice instead?””
“Normally that also comes with a price as that would be consulting services,” Stalkord laughed, “but since you are the son of one of my business partners, I’d be happy to oblige.”
Stalkord’s response was interesting if not peculiar. He would not provide mecha, technologies, and weapons – the fish, but his aim was to get Sheol pointed in the right direction – teach to fish. But that was not the interesting or peculiar part. The indifference of potentially pitting business partner against business partner happened to be very telling about him. Was the neutrally aligned personality actually feasible – not even plausible but feasible? Surely this want (short of a need) to go against the Crimson Red Belts would invariably cause business partners to be pit against business partners, but strangely, the Doran Aristocracy was also washing their hands of this vendetta.
“My mom won’t even help me with this and even claims that I’m not yet ready to wield the reigns of the Doran Aristocracy,” Sheol meant no disrespect as he was just saying.
Becoming more serious from this moment forward, Stalkord concurred, “Your mom is correct. The Doran Aristocracy already has a capable head which understands the universal climate. In her absence, your sister has been incredible at that post, and the Aristocracy has recently made an even more impressive upgrade to their leadership.
To do what you are asking for in unifying the Crimson Red Belts is going to take more experience than you currently possess. Right now, Sheol, you have no power, are not feared, and happen to be barely respected. These are not my words because I like you and feel for you, but this is the universal sentiment.
Sheol is the protégé of Acro who has now swung his allegiance entirely over to the side of the Shokan. What this continues to prove is that you are not and never have been completely in control of your own fate. If you can’t control that or don’t at least have a good grasp let alone a definite handle on your own life, how can you even hope to stand against a Crimson Red Belt? They have the power to destroy and remake universes. You’re still swayed by whichever way the proverbial wind blows.”
None of this was taken as intensely personal as it could have been. Sheol had always had father figures and mentors in his life, but he never got tired of the unbiased opinion of a male. There was something to be said of the influence which came from somebody who looked like and could relate to him.
And this was the problem. People were always telling Sheol what to do and what to think. At the age where he should be branching away from his mother, here he found himself strangely under her unyielding thrall. When was the last time that an independent thought had originated from him? No input from the Smiths, the Djibouti Clan, the Shokan, or the Doran Aristocracy – his own ideas and whim, when? Although Stalkord was supposedly offering advice, it was not leading words of what should, could, or must be done – these were merely observations.
An observation could either be accepted or declined, so Sheol had a choice there. But ultimately, his choice needed to be to take control of his own life. This was very clearly what Stalkord was stating.
Sheol agreed, “No amount of guns is going to help me until I sort through my own core weaknesses.”
“That’s right,” Stalkord added, “and who is going to follow you until these shortcomings are taken care of? If your aim is to be feared by Crimson Red Belts and factions alike, who is going to lose any sleep over you until you wake up out of this trance of self-denigration?
All of us are simply just individuals. I know that sometimes it feels like certain people have everything going for them and lucked out in the draw of fate’s lottery, but then there are others who do not believe in fate – they spit in its face and bide their time until they can choke the resolve out of fate and turn it into their slave. This is the freedom to wield will which you should start to familiarize yourself with if you want to have any chance at taking down even one of the Crimson Red Belts let alone all three.
The market share of dominance is next to infinite for those who choose not to subordinate themselves to lower beings or Ethereals. I subscribe to this notion, and it has served me well over the years. Now, don’t get me wrong – a lot of work went into getting me to this level, but it happens to be this level that I would have had no chance of achieving if I settled for trying to keep up with the status quo instead of putting out of reach my power that the status quo hasn’t any chance at acquiring. There are reasons why I can play with so many different, disparate factions and none of them are capable of touching me. The reasons will not be obvious to you, but the they exist.
Now what are your reasons? Who is Sheol? It is not about being haughty or humble. Who are you? And who do you want to be?
Even people who have not yet recognized their freedom to wield will are well on their path to realizing it. But with you, and this is not fair but such is…, all that I see is the most powerful momma’s boy in the history of the universe. Take that however you like as it is not my place to get into your affairs, but again, you should be dictating to me who you are.
This is what factions do. The New Alliance doesn’t stutter when they say that they want to destroy the universe and everything in it. The Space Force doesn’t bat an eye when they sanction your former Master Acro’s Enforcers in order to prevent and avert that…more like a promise now than a threat at this point. The Doran Aristocracy doesn’t care about either one, truthfully, and doesn’t go around hiding the fact that they will take the New Alliance out with or without the Space Force in the mix. Me, well as long as I get to supply these factions with mecha, technology, and weapons, I personally don’t care what the outcome is.
I can go on and on and on down the line of each true faction. Notice how each faction does what it wants – when it wants and with merely the justification of their whim being satiated as the only reason. Again with the ‘reason’, Sheol, this is the freedom to wield will, and until you achieve that, you’ll be just another number.”
Saving the table from the hole that Sheol’s pensive gaze was burning in it, he brought his eyes up to meet Stalkord’s. To sit and bask in this man’s wisdom all day would have ingratiated him to no end. But that was exactly his problem.
“Thank you for your time, Stalkord,” Sheol ended the meeting.
It was Stalkord who was nodding his approval of something that Sheol had said this time, and hopefully this would be a welcome occurrence of things to come from the leader of the Shokan and the heir of the Doran Aristocracy. It was also in his interests to see the strongest possible person before him emerge as Ennead Tech Corp only dealt with the largest and most powerful factions. All titles aside, this happened to be a potential future goldmine of a client in the making, so there was no need to steer the upstart wrong. As the first official assertion of a burgeoning will, he chose to honor the request to conclude the meeting early, “I’ll walk you out.”
It had not been Acro’s intention to jump ahead of both Chipshot and MC, his superior officers, by awaiting G-Pile’s arrival in the docking bay last night, but the matter was urgent, his motives were understood, and this could not wait. He withstood the outward push of the shuttle’s thrusters cushioning the vertical landing.
Apparently, the shuttle was not to stay long because just as soon as G-Pile made his way out from around its back ramp door was that very same door closing since its other two occupants, Dash and Lug Nut, matters of immediacy on their own to deal with. The shuttle took back off as it swung smoothly around which placed the ship back on path of the docking bay doors where a quick exit would be bade.
“I know what you’re going to say, Acro,” G-Pile anticipated as he handed over the evidence by way of a slate computer which had led to his original and final decision.
“This proves nothing,” Acro said after scanning the pictures of destruction which spanned across much of the maligned Zero Universe.
G-Pile countered, “This proves that your clan sister must be stopped.”
Acro disagreed, “These are all New Alliance casualties from a forgotten universe. She did us a favor, and you know it.”
“What happens when the Space Force can’t return the favor?” G-Pile questioned. “You know what became of your original universe, and don’t tell me that you have no idea of the circumstances why! She’s on her way to the Quadron System with one third of the Doran Aristocracy’s fleet in tow. We’ve been monitoring the activity of the rift ever since it opened back up from Solstice Satellite.
I know how powerful she is because I know how powerful you are. If she chooses the faction of her own making over the Space Force, what will you choose – loyalty or duty? I’m sorry, but this mission is going ahead as planned – with or without your involvement. Old friend, I admire you, and you know that I’d do anything to protect your family. This is why I’ve come here to speak to you about it personally, but you’ve become apathetic. Acro, you’ve lost your edge.
You refuse to lead the Enforcers. You stood around and watched as your clan sister amassed enough power to be able to do that!” He pointed his hand toward the slate destruction which was instanced on the slate computer before continuing, “And I’ve also been monitoring the situation with your pupil, Billy Smith. How could you just let him link back up with his mother? Every one of the Enforcers knows what that means, and these positions that you continue to put us in are unfair.
Gosh, I respect you more than you respect yourself apparently. Acro, you save my life and the lives of my family. I’m indebted to you forever.”
“Then call this mission off!” Acro demanded.
With a shake of his head in the negative, G-Pile unequivocally stated, “No. You relinquished the reigns of leadership over the Enforcers, and it is too late to take them back now. I warned you that a day like this would come. You can’t just pick up and drop the onus when it is convenient to do so. It doesn’t work that way, and I can’t just turn off my feelings when things don’t feel good. They are what make us Human!”
At this point, G-Pile was starting to get on Acro’s nerves, “Don’t lecture me.”
“Well somebody should,” G-Pile refused to back down. “This woman should have been eliminated before the New Alliance and the Pillorian Regime started turning the gears to the machinery of their mayhem. In fact, you should have taken her out as well as the other Crimson Red Belt and unified the Dyoogie Discipline.”
“Shut up!” Acro shouted uncharacteristically.
And G-Pile continued to press, “How are we going to stop her now without the Enforcers and a hearty portion of the Space Force fleet? Again, she wiped out over three quarters of the Zero Universe on a whim. This changes everything, and it has forced my hand.”
The truth hurt, and Acro found himself with his head lowered in an almost sulking manner with his gaze skimming the floor. He almost shuddered to ask, “What are you saying?”
“It goes without saying,” G-Pile announced, “and this happens to be on a need-to-know basis – a status of which you are officially exempted from. As of this moment, you are going to be the good little soldier that you claim to be or cling to being. It’s all about the chain of command now until you prove your capability. You’re going to follow orders, and don’t think that contingency plans do not exist in order to deal with even yourself.”
The proclamation caught Acro’s attention as he looked up to eye G-Pile – a man who he could crush without another thought. And this was his superior officer’s point about how dangerous that the situation was becoming and precisely why all of the dangers, himself included, needed to be contained.
At the end of the day, none of them were above the Space Force, and G-Pile was not bluffing about his ability to take Acro down if the circumstances called for it, so he was actually smiling on the inside – knowing that the promise had left his subordinate officer to wonder. These might have been called war games but nobody here was in this for the fun. For the love of…was the only reminder which needed to be taken into account.
No, G-Pile was not a ninja and did not possess any extraordinary special abilities or fighting skills, but he did have the power via the Space Force fleet to equalize this disparity. And his subordinate officer needed to hear him out, “What happened to you? Billy should have been killed at birth, Acro. These are just too many mistakes – especially for you. What is it going to take for you to break out of this funk? Please, tell me. I want to help you!”
Back inside of the console deck, Acro sat – replaying the events of the prior night in his mind over and over again. He knew that G-Pile hated to have to say those things just as much as he hated to have to hear them.
To be honest, Acro was lucky to have not been booted off of the Enforcers with his performance as of late. Well, late was a relative term because these events had been simmering for decades and were just now coming to a boil. Oh were they – about to boil over, and the scalding hot mixture of neglected ends would tax everybody, as G-Pile had mentioned, including the Space Force.
Acro never wanted to be responsible for having to make the decisions that he knew were coming, so he recused himself from the Enforcers’ leadership at all levels. What a cop-out that was.
Acro wanted better for Billy than his protégé’s treacherous biological mother and maniacal biological father could possibly provide. He also wanted to end the blood feud between the Djibouti Clan and the Shokan, so the only fault here was the size of his big heart.
Acro was related to his clan sister by the Dyoogie Discipline – not blood, but G-Pile’s decision did not make what must be done any easier. Torn between honoring the merits of this woman who happened to be the first Crimson Red Belt and his honor which he had completely relegated to the Enforcers, it was clear that the constant ducking out on responsibilities had finally caught up to him.
What would it take to break him out of this funk? For want of peace, Acro may have just netted himself a triple dose of war to wash down the helping of pain. But this proved why somebody of his stature should not be making the decisions. Look at what all he had caused by following his own whim. It was just easier to follow orders – much easier than good intention that was.
The Jensen-Gyro Home
From Police Force officer to babysitter. This was the moonlighting double life that Julian now led. He would do anything for the Commissioner, but this new posting was done at the behest of Edith – his former superior officer’s lady friend.
With Commissioner Gyro off gallivanting around who knew where in a mission to find out some dire information about the Space Force, he had left Edith Jensen with two small children to take care of by herself. Ironically, the difficulty of both jobs were comparable, so she could only smile when her man decided to take on such a dangerous mission. Untold dangers versus the terrible twos – everybody was wondering who actually got the short end of this stick.
Regardless, there was no sort of protection like that from a fellow Police Force officer over another Police Force officer’s family. Edith was in constant contact with Pete, Slubbich, or Vim at all times. The Commissioner and her daughter, Ardina Jensen-Gyro, was of school age, so her travels to and from that bus were monitored closely by Sec. When their son, Devore Jensen-Gyro, needed to be looked after, the responsibility fell to Julian as the roving operative. Everybody took this entire ordeal very seriously, but honestly, this was what friends were for.
Commissioner Gyro’s snooping around the Terran System would not make the Space Force…or the Enforcers happy, and his family was going to be an obvious target with which to bring him back in line and force his return plus ultimate elimination. The scary thing about it was that only one family member was needed (to be kept alive) for this to occur.
For the most part, Edith had been a homebody, but even she needed to get out to places like the convenience store from time to time. It also helped to clear her head as the child rearing coupled with the concern about the Commissioner being in the thick of whatever was beginning to become a bit much. These moments to herself with the children under the protection of the Second Earth Special Police Force gave her a brief moment of sanity. Check that, there were some good laughs.
“Why are you looking so scared?” Edith noticed Julian feeling around his coat as he handed it off to her for his LUNC – seemingly to make sure that the weapon was there.
“Devore bit me the other day!” Julian divulged.
Shaking her head, Edith comforted, “I would show you the tooth and gum marks all over my breast, but that’d be inappropriate. Devore’s just teething. You’ll be fine. It only means that he likes you.”
Julian was not so sure as he playfully asserted, “The kid is a carnivore, but I’ll be ready for him today.”
“I wish that I could send pictures of how Devore’s growing to his father,” Edith admitted solemnly. “Ardina has been wonderful throughout all of this – daddy’s little girl. You know, she’s doing her class assignments and doesn’t complain.”
“Well, a lot of that probably has to do with you,” Julian did not want to make light of a powder keg situation which was a child’s innocence and unamiable ability to blurt out the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people. “There has to be a lot of pressure for the lady friend of a commissioner, and for as long as all of us have known you, it’s your resolve which we most admire.
Edith, you saw how Pete’s situation went down. We were all right there in the middle of that, but you’ve never flinched. I’ve only seen things from the Police Force perspective, so I can’t even imagine what runs through your mind or what you’re going through.”
Simply, Edith replied, “I don’t want to flinch because I’d prefer to see things coming. Speaking of which, I’ll be back in the blink of an eye. I’ve been stretching my inventory and putting off my grocery shopping for a while, and the house is starting to look a little bit bare.”
Julian really required no explanation and would do whatever she asked of him, so he stated as much, “Take as much time as you need. Devore and I are cool. We squashed our beef last time.”
“Thanks, Julian,” Edith smiled as she headed right out the door that the Police Force officer had come in.
Staines Warehouse District
Since this place was last hit by the Palatine Triad, the state-of-the-art warehouse district had not been restaffed with workers or repopulated with product. Its status had officially become abandoned, so Sheol felt that it was a quaint setting for him to bring some select members of Shokan together for an impromptu meeting. They made quick work of the chains which were around the doors of the largest facility, and there had to be some technological savvy among them because Cindra did not pick any silent alarm upon their forced entry from her distant vantage point.
“I’ve got a biometric count of over two thousand Shokan – including Billy and Sanjuana,” E-Man alerted. The high-definition presentation of the high-powered binoculars made the scene at Staines Warehouse District appear to his eyes as if he were standing right there among the Shokan.
Cindra and E-Man were out at least two miles from Staines Warehouse District and making perfect use of the targeting feed in order to track this surprisingly large gathering of Shokan. They lay on their bellies in a dense forest preserve as their fighters sat behind them – partially concealed by the brush.
Afternoon surveillance was awkward to E-Man because he had come from a background which called for more covert measures, but this could not necessarily be considered exactly out in the open. The Enforcers’ technology could see through objects across miles because Solstice Satellite saw everything and the targeting feed simply extrapolated what the user wanted to view and presented that specific imagery, so technically it was not x-ray vision, but somehow, it was much more invasive and certainly more accurate.
“I’m betting that we could rid Second Earth of the remainder of its Shokan in one fell swoop,” Cindra announced. “If Billy is running the group now, this happens to be horrible planning on his part to give us the opportunity.”
E-Man nodded his acknowledgment as he let out an audible sigh, “But what it forces us to not be able to use is Enforcer I. If this meeting were held at night, we would have the ship’s stealth on our side, and the Space Force could formulate some reasoning as to why those energy bursts were raining down from the sky. With the meeting being held during the day, we still have stealth on our side, but the Shokan get a point of triangulation.”
That last point was interesting, so Cindra turned to E-Man and urged, “Go on.”
“It’s classic reconnaissance,” E-Man admitted. “We don’t just do our run-throughs, checks, and surveillance at only one particular point in time. All of that is done across a range of different times to ensure that the information is accurate for any given time period. This is actually a pretty good ploy to bait us into giving Billy a look at our stealth which is a bit like encryption – I might add. And encryption can be cracked. How he is using his bait happens to be nothing short of ruthless as the new Shokan Leader seems aptly prepared and more than willing to sacrifice a couple thousand lives for but a glimpse of Enforcer I. We shouldn’t forget that the Shokan have Doran Aristocracy ties either, so they would know exactly what to do with each glimpse in deconstructing our aerial base’s stealth.”
“We also shouldn’t forget that Billy was trained by Acro,” Cindra added, “so facing him will be like a mirror of facing our founder – but after Commander’s influence, without the remorse.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to somebody about that last part,” Sylvia announced her presence by weaving out from around the foliage which was entangled between both fighters.
After sharing a brief look of astonishment among them, Cindra and E-Man turned around to look at Sylvia.
Unarmed and untagged, Sylvia was secure enough to be brought aboard Enforcer I without being considered a threat. Cindra and E-Man’s fighters had drone capabilities, so they forewent those ships in favor of the more spacious accommodations of a shuttle which could accommodate all three on the trip up to the kilometer long aerial base.
Although the ride was smooth, the atmosphere was tense as Sylvia sat across from Cindra and E-Man on opposing benches which were aligned with the respective side walls of the shuttle. The newly converted Doran did not know what to make of this situation seemingly any more than the Enforcers did. The waters were so uncharted that nobody even knew how to break the ice. They just sat there staring at each other – volunteering nothing and probably would have been pretty receptive to have allowed a short conversation to unfold had not all of their tongues been tied.
To add to this, Sylvia’s stomach was in knots, and although Cindra nor E-Man were clutching onto their LUNC’s the feint images of Enforcer I from outside her right side window happened to be enough to contain any hope of resistance by stifling the thought with a collective wonderment of awe. This was not being done at Sheol’s behest, but it was being done for him – because of him. There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered, and she did not feel at all comfortable in discussing matters with Commander. But the Enforcers? This fearsome entity might just decide to prevent her return indefinitely and use the point and technicality of her capture to hurt her man. Somehow, their less biased answers and the clarity that they could provide seemed to outweigh the risks to herself.
These Enforcers did not seem like the type to be coldblooded killers although Sylvia was sure that the majority of their kills were heartless. The Doran Aristocracy had put in numerous hours behind the scenes and beneath the streets as a part of an underground operation which was meant to counter, disrupt, and extinguish the Space Force’s elite splinter group at any possible turn and had failed miserably in various attempts. All of this cloak-and-dagger stuff would have been exciting if she happened to be watching a movie on a view-screen, but this really was terrifying for everybody who was involved. Real consequences were highlighting the viciousness of two formidable adversaries, but this just happened to be on the turf of Second Earth this time around. Her thoughts went to a concern for how the Doran Homeworld might have been thrown into this mix of espionage and universal intrigue.
When the shuttle arrived in Enforcer I’s docking bay and its back ramp door let down, Cindra hopped into the lead and said politely to Sylvia, “Follow me.”
Normally, E-Man would have said goodbye in taking off on his own direction throughout Enforcer I, but he did not want to volunteer any information which Sylvia could possibly profile out of his presence. It was bad enough that she had caught him slipping back in the forest preserve and seen his face!
But Sylvia was a Police Force officer after all, and she merely made use of her core list of skills to put her in a position to get these answers. Cindra did not seem to be quite as embarrassed as the serious-minded E-Man, but this was probably because it was just nice to see another female doing her thing. Currently, the Enforcers only had three (out of nineteen), and this was well below Space Force averages which happened to be up much closer to fifty percent. Had the circumstances been different, an offer might have been extended because the first impression was certainly impressive.
Led through enough corridors to make a well-versed survivalist dizzy, Sylvia had no hope of retaining any of the layout’s designs or plans – even if she wanted to. Sure, this was being done for Billy, and to a nominal extent for herself, but there was no malice in her intention here. Anybody who could provide some answers to this madness would be worthy of hearing out.
From what Cindra knew of Sylvia’s background and current situation, she did not envy the Space Force brat. The love between the Police Force officer and the leader of the Shokan would test some boundaries during this ongoing war and these forthcoming events, but there was an understanding. The love between Briar One, the leader of the Enforcers, and herself would necessitate many of the same twisted emotions and feelings. And on the subject of leadership, this meeting would not be with either Chipshot or MC in following with the chain of command. Sometimes G-Pile went too far in his lofty Space Force proclamations and repudiations because the team was coming to understand that they were a team first and the government’s servant second. It had to be this way for the cohesiveness of the unit because they were all only Human, and Humans faltered – even the greatest Enforcer and their founder who had done the most and stumbled the biggest by comparison. Hopefully this would be therapeutic for him because he was hurting in a way that tears could not assuage.
Sylvia entered the console deck to see Acra Lin by Acro’s side on her knees as he sat in his chair with her head pressed against his left hand as it lay across the arm of the chair. This was not exactly the show of strength which the Police Force officer had come to expect from the man who had trained Sheol in the martial arts, but that was only because the unease and concern was a show of strength in itself.
Upon noticing Sylvia’s presence, Acra Lin stood up to exit the console deck. In stride of which, she patted the Police Force officer on the shoulder as if to say that everybody in this room was to be considered family despite the side of the battlefield that they happened to belong to at the moment. The Djibouti Clan did have a way of extending out the familial definitions to transcend blood after all.
“I would give Billy this,” in Acro’s right hand, he was clutching the Crimson Red Belt as Sylvia came around to face him while explaining, “but he is not ready for the burden which it entails.”
Sylvia reiterated her reasoning for even being on Enforcer I in front of Acro, “He’s no longer Billy anymore. His name is Sheol now.”
But Acro knew far better, “He will always be Billy to those of us on this side of the trenches who love him. Johnny Smith and Charlene Eriksen-Smith raised him superbly and out of the way of this madness. They have taken the news as any parent would be forced to brace against the tragedy of a lost child. In many respects, I think that we all knew that it was coming – only surprised by having averted it for so long. This says nothing of his sister, Erica. I don’t know if she’ll ever recover from the heartbreak, and if Sheol’s hatred turns outward and begins to strike against them, she will be rendered powerless by her feelings to aid in stopping him.”
“What did Commander do to him?” Sylvia asked. “One minute, he was the Billy who we all know and love, and the next, it was like he became a miniature version of Glove.”
“One thing which I sincerely hope that you never have to learn about is the concept of genetic rank within the Doran hierarchies,” Acro said. “When you were converted, you were fortunate enough to have been converted to the side of the Doran Aristocracy who does not subscribe to the method of using genetic rank to bend its people to their will. If you were converted to the Doran Military or the New Alliance, what happened to Sheol is more of the norm and would have certainly happened to you.
These rewritable designations are not limited to military rank however, and Commander demonstrated how genetic rank applies to a parent over a child. Sheol can’t help himself at this point, and there is only one person in this entire universe who I’ve ever known to be able to resist the effects of conversion.”
For Sylvia, this sounded like some good news so she spoke on the prospects, “Can this person help Sheol?”
Unsure, Acro replied honestly that, “I will ask her.”
“I can see how this is tearing you up inside,” Sylvia continued, “and we -,” before being cut off.
“There cannot be a we, Sylvia,” Acro advised. “Our attempts to bring about a positive outcome will not be allowed to move forward in the tandem of a collusive effort. I must treat Sheol as an enemy of the Enforcers, and you must treat the Enforcers as an enemy of the Doran Aristocracy.
I have surrendered my allegiance to the Enforcers, and until my superior officer releases me from that promise, I am bound by them – to them in the interests of serving the Space Force. Should I break my code and destroy my honor, they know that it will destroy me. There’s no faction which can stop me let alone a fleet, and my superior officer knows this. My word, however, is his leverage, and the one order that I cannot or do not follow will set about my devise. It was an elegant Achilles’ heel which I was stupid enough to divulge out of a fear that I held for not otherwise having my power be controlled.
If Commander so much as suspects that you are plotting against her, she will either have you forcefully and fully converted into basically being her slave or just kill you outright. A ruthless adversary, at that point, I bet she’d be content to simply wipe any memory of you from Sheol’s mind, and this would be the end of it.
Neither of us can do any good for Sheol in either of said instances, so we must unfortunately play our positions until other options become available. This means, that this has to be the last time that we are ever seen together.”
The news was terrifying to Sylvia, and she threw out her arms in pleading animatedly, “What am I supposed to do?”
Calmly, Acro responded, “Stand by Sheol’s side and love him as you already do. Sometimes, that is the only thing that we can do. Every once in a while, it is enough.”
“Are you going to fight Sheol over that stupid belt?” Sylvia asked short of accusing.
“If it comes to that,” Acro smiled. The predicament might have been stupid, but the Crimson Red Belt most certainly was not. In fact it was these three belts which could be the answer to solving all of this. Now, he did not expect the other two Crimson Red Belts to just come in and help to clean up his mess, but there were three of them for a reason, and Dyoogie would have wanted them to work together to solve the problems of the universe. Whether the opportunity would have been capable of being seized after it had already presented itself was a completely different set of stories.
Sylvia remembered one other thing, “Before Glove perished, he mentioned that he had dispatched twelve of his deadliest Shokan to deal with the remnants of the Djibouti Clan. I just wanted to make you aware of this before our relationship is put, as you’ve requested, on radio silence.”
Acro dismissed the news out of a coldness – not an arrogance, “I’ve already dispatched five of them and received word that my Crimson Red Belt counterpart on Earth took out four.”
“Well then,” Sylvia shrugged. She thought that the other three supposedly deadly Shokan might just want to hang it up at this point. “Is there anything that I can do for you?”
“Don’t hold back,” Acro suggested. “There is not an Enforcer or another person in this universe who will fault you for following through on the desires of your love for Sheol. I can tell that your skills are formidable with us even engaging in this conversation, so use them to their fullest possible extent and fight for the success of your side. Do not worry about me or even the Smiths.”
Interestingly, Sylvia could do a little reading of character herself and inquired, “But why are you holding back? That belt claims that this universe is yours for the taking.”
It was refreshing to see that Sylvia understood a portion of a pacifist’s anguish, so Acro expounded upon the rest, “Yes, it does, and I’m afraid of what I might do. Sheol represented an end to the hostilities between the Djibouti Clan and the Shokan as a grandson Shokan of their founder being raised under the Dyoogie Discipline. This tact may yet win the day, but my patience must allow its execution to play out.”
“I respect you,” Sylvia offered, “and your decision because no man has ever warmed my heart the way that Sheol had, so the Smiths’ and your grooming are directly attributable to the person who he was raised to be. Stealing him away from his biological parents is questionable, but he’s back with at least his mother now, so perhaps that piece was finally made right. I don’t know. There’s too much going on for me to properly pass or even be worthy of passing judgment, and regardless of the tactics, each side seems to be well-meaning. People are not always going to agree on the way forward, but that is never an excuse to not move forward.”
“Exactly, Sylvia,” Acro got up out of his chair and wrapped his arms around the lady friend of his protégé.
Now truth having been told, Sylvia was not expecting that, but she reciprocated the hug because Acro most likely did not have many people outside of a very small circle who understood what he was going through – what he was about. As they mutually parted, their hands remained locked in friendship while their respective allegiance would soon be locked in something else. It was the liveliest, to her recollection, that the Dyoogie Discipline Master had been throughout this entire conversation, and there was a certain gleam of hope beaming from his eyes as the Police Force officer had garnered the relationship approval of the fifth (Acra Lin) and sixth familial members of Sheol – having already earned Johnny and Charlene’s back at the Cipher Coliseum incident and Glove and Commander’s in their having permitted (technically) this treachery of a meeting to come to pass.
Sheol was loved on all sides, and with Commander specifically allowing Sylvia to have this meeting in order to gain Acro and Acra Lin’s approval, her place was now officially at his. No, the parents did not get along, but they were at least civil about matters as far as the child was concerned. She also knew that for as wild of a dating scenario that this was – spanning universes, blood feuds, interplanetary war, interstellar conflict, and undeniable craziness all around, she was going to laugh her as- off when it came time for her man to go around getting permission to marry her! Could the universe have even withstood another round of their love playing out traditional story lines on this existential stage? Who knew.