Criticality 19


Criticality (19)

“Hello, and thank you for tuning in to another edition of Chip Schilders Special Report. I’m your host Chip Schilders, and I’d like to welcome tonight’s special guest to WZZZ Studios,” he said, “Sheol of the Shokan martial arts clan.”

“Thank you very much for having me,” Sheol replied as he sat deviously and defiantly all at the same time in the guest chair – wearing what would appear to be a custom version of the Doran Battle Garb II (in all white) with the high-definition contrast from the fingers of his right claw glove interlocking with those of his gloveless left hand. It was a posture of sophistication and a complete turnaround from his former punk persona which only the services of image consultants could make possible. Yes the spiky hair and the earring in his left earlobe were all there and in place, but this was a different ‘him’ and he was a different kind of Shokan leader – looking to usher in a new, refreshing reign.

Enforcer I
“What the he–?” MC asked from the kitchenette of one of the many recreation areas throughout the ship. A view-screen was conveniently located in the main dining area, and the volume had been set loud enough that he was able to overhear that last part about Sheol being the special guest of tonight’s Chip Schilders episode.

Peering out from around the corner of the open doorway revealed that the previously ill-fated shock reporter had earned a following of the multitude of Enforcers who were sitting down for their evening meal, but this was not the surprising part to MC. Still, the guest was, so he unconsciously fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com.

“Are you watching this?” Chipshot had beaten MC to the punch in opening up his own Ear-To-Mouth Com channel.

MC stepped out a ways into the open from the kitchenette where he could get a better view of the festivities without straining his neck. Inside of these recreation areas, this was not necessarily a difficult task because the view-screen stretched around the location in a manner which redefined wide-screen television. Current filming methods spared nothing on the aspect and ratio because the limitation to its presentation no longer existed with the storage, delivery, or reception from the gambit of technology that was tasked with having to deal with it. “I was just getting ready to call you, Chipshot.”

A feed of this resolution looked to MC when he stepped out into the main dining area like he was stepping into the audience at WZZZ Studios. Technologically speaking, it was not even about the compression either as the feed, the size of the feed, and the requirements of the specifications which were needed to handle the feed themselves became more concise. Antiquated storage systems of one terabyte became infinite to even an army of power users; a 56k connection was actually too much bandwidth – overkill for streaming this astonishing resolution with lifelike realism and no latency; and even a Texas Instruments 99/4a could process the data with the aid of a simple terminal emulator.

The Doran Battle Garb II now featured gauntlet technology to go along with the original offense-enhancing properties. How the life force energy happened to be reconciled between the two features was unclear, but Sheol’s U-Gun displayed openly from its chest holster, and the handle of a sword jutted outward from his side within the confines of a scabbard that had regal crystal pattern accents across the outside.

Interestingly, Chip was not made nervous by Sheol’s intimidating presence because he had already looked fear in the eyes, and its name was the Space Force. With his renewed journalistic stance of integrity-based reporting, this interview was simply another day at work. It did not matter whether the guest had obviously dubious pretenses or walked a line of the straight and narrow. This was just content to him, and the more of it that he had made him merrier. “This opening segment is yours. What would you like to talk about?”

Sheol seemed to be surprisingly personable – almost with a youthful innocence to his banter, but it was this unforced presentation which made him come off as being that much darker in his ambitions and proclamations, “An unfortunate set of circumstances prevented me from completing my first official tournament appearance, and it really bothered me. I trained hard for the opportunity, and in the blink of an eye, the chance to compete was snatched away from me and not by a loss either. So I got to thinking: How could I prevent this from happening to another? Then it hit me.

Why can’t I sanction a tournament and invite the most powerful fighters from around the universe to compete in it? But not just any tournament – see, I have not yet even made a name for myself, so there needed to be a way to draw the big names in. Otherwise, there would be no attraction for the event. Without the big names, tickets would not sell, view-screen time would not be picked up or even purchasable at a reasonable discount, and this whole entire idea would have fallen apart before it got off of the ground. Time zones was another concern. Why should your fans have to stay up at all hours of their night in order to watch the hometown favorite’s matches? All of this consideration and more went into the formulation of my final concept. Simply put, as of this moment – the entire universe is the tournament, and any place throughout it can be the ring.”

The Jensen-Gyro Home
Julian had been grateful for dinner as always, and tonight was no different since it was far from being an unusual occurrence. He was as familiar with Edith’s cooking as he was with the layout of the house, and his inclination was to wonder if that was some how by Commissioner Gyro’s design.

Edith did not mind cooking a little bit extra for Julian because she did actually miss adult company in a house which was overrun by little children, so she would allow him to consider this to be additional payment for the babysitting services that continued to be rendered. All of the Commissioner’s closest associates from the Second Earth Special Police Force had been over at one time or another.

After taking the lead on clearing the dinner table placements, Julian had been invited to take a load off before his time came to exit for the evening. It gave Edith a chance to put Devore down for the evening and wind Ardina down with any help that she needed on her homework, a nightly bath, and a rigidly scheduled ten p.m. bedtime. The trick was to have the kids go to bed while their babysitter was still around so that they would caught up in missing him upon his exit.

Edith and Julian had tried things the other way once before, and Ardina actually started to shed more tears than Devore because of it. As a result of the chaotic scene, her baby brother had been woken up during all of the commotion. She missed her dad, and each visible exit of her male babysitter was a subtle reminder that Commissioner Gyro was off in places unknown and most likely in harm’s way. Kids might not have known the specifics of what was happening, but they had an uncanny ability and a presence of mind to know that something was not right.

In honoring Julian’s duty to not make things any worse, he hung around well after he was off of the clock and often found himself on the couch – taking in the nightly sports scores or catching the beginning of the evening news. Tonight, Edith had decided to join him by sitting in her reading chair which was positioned perpendicularly to the main couch that faced the entertainment center.

The volume on the view-screen was low enough that Julian could still enjoy it on his much appreciated overtime, and Edith could easily focus on her eBook reading with minimal distraction. About the only thing which was breaking her concentration was the sound of Ardina running the bathwater upstairs and overhead. She honestly thought that the bath was about to run over, and had angled her eBook reader downward in order to look up at the ceiling with a slight concern.

This was until the sound of the water turned off, so Edith would be able to return to her reading selection. Right now, her favorite series belonged to a publisher by the name of Dope Enterprises. She never missed any of their eBooks, and one of their imprints even bundled free full-length soundtracks with each eBook for the purpose of giving customers an added reason to purchase their work directly from them. It was an unprecedented offer which happened to be a great deal from a hungry small business that consistently released some stellar product.

“Can he actually do something like that?” But before Edith returned to the attention of her eBook, Sheol’s bold proposition on the view-screen had caught her ear.

“I don’t know,” Julian answered with the earnest tinge of a Police Force officer’s concern in his voice from seeing the potential of anarchy being unleashed on an unfathomable scale, “but if he can, it sure makes my job a lot harder.”

Offering no opinion about the merits of the tournament, Chip decided to ask, “So who is invited?” to which Sheol seemed to start beaming from ear to ear with an apparent approval of the line of questioning.

For Chip, this was all about getting these guests to talk about themselves, their creations, or whatever it was that they had to offer. Subsequently, the current guest, Sheol, was quite excited and raring to talk about his.

“Everybody,” Sheol answered simply yet poignantly and all-inclusively.

The Jacob Residence
With an audible exhale of exhaustion and approval, Terry performed a push-up on the mattress in order to get off from on top of Karyn where he then collapsed onto his side and rolled over onto his back as he lay next to her. With an audible sigh of satisfaction, she stared up at the ceiling before rolling on top of her man for the commencement of round three.

The voracity which Terry was experiencing from Karyn happened to be pent up because it was faithful. They both had gone without each other physically for quite some time. The separation seemed very nearly abnormal with regards to the amount of time that each of them had spent apart. Incalculable – but metaphysically, these two were inseparable. She was making up for lost time, assessing some high percentage interest, and tacking on a little extra overhead for the promise of their mutual parting in the future.

And mutual it was. Karyn had an illustrious career on Second Earth while Terry had an illustrious career which managed to take him all over the universe by its pursuit. These were not what one could consider a normal split or even a tenuous separation because only the physicality was missing. Yet it could be argued that, with corporate ambition set aside, the prolonged parting made the reunion that much more intense.

Whether intense or just amorous, Terry realized that Human men were not built for this kind of abuse! Karyn had been having her way with him for hours, and he had let her – as if his was a choice which was not given to him by her…. Biologically speaking though, the stamina of the head doctor’s man was uncanny, so she chose to get all of hers while the getting was good, and it was good – adult film marathon gonzo good.

This might have warranted an explanation, but Terry just got too much of a kick out of answering Karyn’s calls like ‘oh my god’ and ‘god yes’. Being an Ethereal, he was technically answering these calls, himself, each and every time – giving his lady friend the tryst of her life. So why waste time spoiling the fun when he spend the time giving this woman a pleasure that only a machine could provide. Right now, it was not about him, and she continued to make use of his unselfishness.

Ethereals and lower beings did not normally get romantically involved with one another. There was just no distinct path for something like that to occur. Had Karyn known that Terry was an Ethereal, it would have caused problems because of the self-imposed system of checks and balances which all supreme beings were bound by called Undue Enrichment. He could walk among masses all that he wanted, but if he ever chose to provide them with a knowing advantage during his time among them, the other Ethereals could and would do the something similar for their side in order to level out the plain of existence. Flirting that was something which was best left alone, and his current activities were pushing very close to the line as it was.

Karyn did not ask, but had she known, she would not have told. Enforcers could keep secrets. The one that she kept from Terry was no mere half-truth either. But these omissions by them paled in comparison to the bearing of their souls from having gone at each other for this long. No, it was not about lust, and the physical nature of the many carnal acts actually happened to be irrelevant. They were seeking out their respective souls, so there was no greater vulnerability on display during this moment than that. The Ethereal thing and the Enforcer thing was like moving into a new neighborhood and forgetting which day was trash day or forgetting to pick up an item from the store. In the universal scheme of things, who cared? These secrets that everybody else might consider to be a so-called big deal were ultimately unimportant to them and meaningless in their quest to achieve the oneness of True Love, having already achieved its unconditional component.

“Have you worked out the details on how this tournament would be organized yet?” Chip inquired.

In a chipper and prideful tone, Sheol responded, “I have.” He held out his right claw glove to the side and a little bit behind him.

As if on queue, the camera panned outward to reveal two additional people who had been standing behind Sheol (this whole time) like a personal guard. Both were tall, lanky, and wiry specimens. They wore the newfangled Shokan Garb which initially presented the appearance of a modern white gi at a first and fleeting glance, but upon closer inspection, the outfit became stunningly more clear as a sleek, form-fitting, and functional uniform that featured a contrasting black belt which housed a U-Gun in its draping hip holster and black boots – the left one of which possessed an interesting sheath for a viciously serrated dagger. In making no mistakes, Trickle and Lumpy would advise people that these were the armaments which were visible – if they ever took the time to speak instead of looking on with a despondent stare from behind their cracked and (potentially purposely) badly painted on face paint. Coupling this with wild hair which pointed outward like cones, and Sheol had long since dubbed this duo the Weak Bozos – with an etymology that happened to be patterned hilariously after a term which he had come across in a high school physics course: Weak bosons.

Uncannily, Trickle always seemed to stand on the left while Lumpy would make his post on the right. As such, the Weak Bozo on the right reached within his aforementioned gi of tricks in order to pull out a slate computer and press the device into Sheol’s palm.

“Thank you,” Sheol said as he wrapped his fingers and thumb of the claw glove around the slate computer – showcasing yet another powerful element of these feeds: Their crisp, lifelike sound and the reproduction of this on any other end which happened to be (watching and) listening surely as if the aural effects being projected in front of a (viewer’s and) listener’s face in real time and without the over-processed fabrication of multichannel spoofing. It was a different school of thought in which the lossless crowd of audiophiles had their say and the rest gave a good listen to a technology which forced every set of speakers to step their capacity up for the purposes of providing the all-immersing backdrop through sound wave manipulation and without the overhead of additional equipment. Simply put, people could hear the precision clicking of his claw glove closing in around the face and the back of the device as he accepted it. Even the sound of a pin drop would be envious of this clarity.

After briefly bringing the slate computer to the appropriate screen, Sheol handed the device over to Chip who took a moment to familiarize himself with the data as the leader of the Shokan continued his explanation. Meanwhile, Trickle and Lumpy had returned to their eerily near catatonic state of attention.

Sheol explained, “The key to these things is to make them as simple as possible. You almost want a situation where the fighter just needs to show up and fight, so I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a comprehensive list of fight rankings for everybody throughout the universe.

It’s actually something that I started working on when I was younger, and it has expanded somewhat exponentially as of late since I started applying for entrance into amateur competitions. Fighters should always do their homework, but since I’m hosting this tournament, I decided to be a hospitable host and give everybody a head start.”

Chip was not quite sure where this question stemmed from or what would have even caused him to search this particular piece of information out in the first place, but his findings warranted some acknowledgment, “Is this your mom on this list?”

“I did say everybody, didn’t I?” Sheol reiterated before standing up and leaning over into Chip’s personal space in order to help with directing his reading. “You’re even in here…somewhere. Scroll down some. Ah, see? It wouldn’t be a party unless everybody was invited.”

“In the interest of disclosure,” Chip was utterly dumbfounded by the thoroughness of the detail from this list and wanted to share it with the universe, “do you mind if we put a graphic up on the view-screen for everybody to be able to grab a link to these rankings?”

After sitting back down, Sheol smiled and stated that, “It would be my pleasure.”

Sheol’s Fight Rankings

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
Things had cooled down considerably since the morning hours, but the result of which obligated Pete to have to stay late. Although, as he sat by himself in his office with his balled right fist cupped within left hand being used to prop his face up at his concealed lips, not much work was getting done. Nothing was being accomplished, and this was not self-doubt but fact – on any front.

“Are you alright?” Slubbich asked from halfway inside of Pete’s office – standing directly in front of his superior officer with Vim besidehim even.

“No,” Pete must have been in a trance to have not noticed Slubbich and Vim’s entrance, so he said, “I’m not. There’s too many loose ends and not enough bandwidth to tie them up. We’re outgunned, outnumbered, and outpaced. And yet, nobody is even concerned with us. I just want in.”

Vim was unsure of what to make of those last few statements, so he kept his mouth respectfully closed and tried his hardest not to pity Pete. The Second Earth Special Police Force was already down one leader, and for him to be thinking this last thought meant that he feared for the leader who was sitting before him in a funk of the rugged cop’s partial making. Perhaps he was just naive to believe in this, but faith in the team needed to be the answer. No, scratch that. The rookie was tired of people going around telling him that he did not know what he was talking about all of the time. Faith in the team was the answer, but it was not his place to say that – not yet, at least.

Because, Slubbich had it covered, “I’ve got to take Vim home since he has some prior obligations, but I can be back over here in an instant. We can talk.” And they would need to. Dash and Lug Nut rattled Pete uncharacteristically – even for him! What had started off as such a pleasant day had deteriorated into a standoff and a likely ruined partnership with the Space Force although the relationship was not all that great to begin with except that now, it might no longer be amicable.

With the Commissioner missing and technically suspended, organized crime still as the focus of everybody’s employment, no further information on the deadly Enforcers, the unforced ire of the Space Force having yet to be brought down, Pete about to crack under the strain, and Julian off tending to their original superior officer’s family – and not being able to tend to the rugged cop as a result, the responsibility fell upon Slubbich. Honestly, he had done an amazing job to earn the respect of this tight-knit unit in a record amount of time with his ‘by the eBook’ reputation and how this loose group might have received him, but that only meant that he needed to step up and speak up even more.

“Normally, I’d follow the chain of command and run things through Julian, but there are some items that I need to go over with you directly.” A big reason for Slubbich’s rapid acceptance within the Second Earth Special Police Force when he had been mostly an outcast throughout all of the rest of his years of work experience was Pete. From day one, his superior officer had given him a chance and not just that – an endorsement which resonated throughout the Second Earth Special Police Force Base. No, it did not matter what anybody else thought, but it kinda did, and this kindness meant a lot. Talking things out with the rugged cop who had shown that kindness could lead to a path of potentially repaying the favor.

Responding as expected, Pete shook his head to say, “I’ll be alright.”

To which Slubbich insisted, “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“You’re not gonna let this be?” Pete finally raised his eye contact up to meet Slubbich and Vim. He was not angered by the sentiment but seeking confirmation of a previous decision.

“Would you have allowed me onto the team if I did?” Slubbich confirmed.

“Now, you mentioned that everybody is invited,” Chip followed up, “but how could a person go about opting out?” He still happened to be tuned in to focusing on reading through what it was that he could of the gigantic list as he asked the question.

“Only children can opt out,” Sheol stated. “I have a soft spot in my heart for them, and those who prey on their sanctity may just receive a challenge from one of my associates – if not me directly. Innocence is precious and the one chance in hope that this universe stands of righting itself.

To be completely honest, I can’t exactly make you fight, but at the same time, I can’t necessarily stop somebody else from fighting you. That’s the beauty of my tournament. I’m gonna work my way up these standings. I was deliberately conservative in my own placement, so it might behoove the many who happen to be ahead of me to get stronger. It’s not a threat – simply the rules of the competition….”

Chip needed to pull a veteran move and act like he had been here before. Forget the Enforcers; this was the hottest scoop that had ever been obtained, and there was no undue exposure for him in breaking the story. If it happened to be a fabrication, Sheol would be the one who would look the part of a fool. His task now was to contain the (over) excitement, remain composed, and just let things flow by continuing to allow the Shokan to present the astonishing side of it, “Pouring briefly through this, I see information on affiliation, title, record, your personal analysis, and even the source materials on what caused you to come up with these specific rankings, but I don’t see any information on how a person might become victorious during the course of your tournament. Obviously, some people are higher up on this. There’s actually a great deal of emphasis on the Top 10 Seeds versus the Vying 11+ Seeds. I guess what I’m asking is this: How does the tournament end, and what does the victor receive for winning it?”

Had not Sheol needed to maintain appearances of his own, he would have taken time out to applaud Chip’s questioning. This unforced interview was painting him in a fair light without the judgment, and a more forthcoming discussion had arisen because of it. “The tournament is never-ending, but I did not start this, and really, many of the competitors who are listed in my fight rankings happen to already be engaged in some sort of battle with one another. I’ve merely shed a light on what is and has been going on behind the scenes since forever.

It helps if you think of this like a fight promotion. There are sanctioned titles which exist throughout, but the promotion is incessant. Winning means different things to different people. Some people need title belts to prove their worth while others simply need to survive. Still, others may care about overall pound-for-pound ranking and seek out the number one seed for their validation. Everybody’s motivation is different, but one thing is for sure: Paper champions will be exposed.

And people will die. As long as conflict exists or until somebody becomes strong enough to change the way that life is assessed, this is nothing new. I’ve simply put a measure of scrutiny on the proceedings through tireless research and my dispersed Shokan scouts.

My particular part in all of this could end today if my former master Acro would accept my formal challenge for his Crimson Red Belt. But he won’t, and I’m going to expose him for the coward that he is.

Acro is not afraid to face me in a one-on-one battle, so I want to be clear on this point that he’s not technically in fear of his amazing abilities to best me. It’s just that he does this thing, quite powerful actually, where everybody else does his dirty work – allowing him to sit back and watch people destroy themselves. There’s another agenda at work here, and it is not mine. He’ll continue to duck me until I carry out that agenda for him. It behooves him to. He created me for this purpose, and a lot of people are going to die because he refuses to finish what he started.”

“It should be mentioned here,” Chip said for the sake of impartiality, “that my producers reached out to Acro in order to give him an equal opportunity to state his case and refute Sheol’s charges, but their attempts at contact were not returned.”

“I’m not surprised,” Sheol added. “Ne’er a word will come out of his camp until well after the killing, on my part, has begun and well short of the point where it becomes too late to stop the destruction. Of course, he’s hoping that somebody else will step in to fit the bill in eliminating me, but what fun would this tournament be if I didn’t have a little skin in the game as well?

Speaking of my former master and even my former martial arts study of the Dyoogie Discipline, I wanted to give the tournament a name which could possibly speak to all of that – honor my past as I go charging into the future and my new reality. I settled on…dOOgie Wars – named fervently and ardently after the Djibouti Clan’s founder: The late, great Master Dyoogie. Love? Nothing but. Respect? Mine.”

And on that note, Chip looked up into the camera which had zoned plus zoomed in on him and told the universe, “We’ll be back in a moment.”

Ennead Tower
The outermost conference rooms had seen no shortage of guest traffic these past few weeks. Now, Stalkord was certainly not the type of person who chose to hold grudges because he truly believed that all burned bridges could be mended with time, and the possibility of reestablishing positive business relations held an attractive allure because the way to his heart was through the bottom line, but General Pile would need to earn the way back into his good graces and the good standing which allowed those coveted few (outside of coworkers) to progress beyond the reception desk.

“I’m sorry,” the General said as he stared out the window of the conference room. “After all that we had been through – from even before Death Corps to now, I took your declination of Ennead Tech Corp exclusivity as a slight. It was silly of me. When you signed up the New Alliance as a business partner – among others, I took that as an insult. I was wrong, and I apologize for that.”

Stalkord leaned up against the tiny conference room table with one leg pointed to the ground while the other leg draped off of the table from his partially seated position and just listened. Again, he had not called this meeting, and would have actually continued to allow things to fester until General Pile eventually came to his senses, but regardless, the floor was not his at the moment. Emotion did not enter into any part of this instance either because just as easily as the General lashed out against Ennead Tech Corp – unleashing the Enforcers to do so no less, this same lashing out could have come when his company would have been least able to defend against it by being bonded exclusively to the Space Force and their mercy. The knee-jerk reaction of professed retaliation was the reason for and proved him right in ultimately needing to seek out newer corporate partnerships and grow additional business relationships. His response would not be of the ‘I toldja so’ kind because that went without saying.

So much so that General Pile turned to his old friend and asked, “You’re loving this too much aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Stalkord burst out laughing. “What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t,” the General admitted. “There are just too many things going on right now.”

After standing up to approach General Pile, Stalkord conceded, “I know that there are, and it’s because we’re friends that I went back at you as softly as I did. I’m going to shatter the New Alliance’s whole world for the bit part which they played in converting that office manager so that your Enforcers could blow her brains out all over the Police Force officer who had been hounding me incessantly.”

Arrogantly, the General jeered, “We thought that it was a nice touch.”

“Never forget that I can damage the Space Force just as heavily,” Stalkord countered dryly. The relationship between them had been strained, and General Pile’s joke, just then, was not of the yuk variety – nor was this threat anything but thinly veiled as a promise.

“Then it appears that we’ve reached an impasse,” the General decided.

Joining by General Pile’s side as they both now began to stare aimlessly out the window, Stalkord responded politely yet defiantly, “I’m not signing over exclusivity of Ennead Tech Corp.”

Not about to let that slide, the General warned, “Things are set to become a whole lot worse….”

“I know,” Stalkord acknowledged dismissively, “but it’s not for me to fix or exacerbate. That wasn’t ever my way at Death Corps, and it will never be the way at Ennead Tech Corp, so stop asking.”

“It was worth another shot,” General Pile admitted.

Nonchalantly, Stalkord agreed, “The apology was a nice touch though.”

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