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Criticality 21

“Her name was Myah Upshir,” Parsec explained. “She’s my niece, but she was also the biggest drug dealer on the west coast of the United States.”

Aside from Julian being in dire peril at the mercy of the Enforcers, Pete found the evening air to be unexpectedly pleasant. A little known, lesser used balcony played host to this unforced and unasked-for confessional. He would normally venture down to the motor pool in order to grab a smoke but then realized that there had not been a craving for one in quite some time. It was funny how interests and tastes followed the ebbs and flows of increased responsibility. His included the lives of so many others who were now thrust under his command with the absence of Commissioner Gyro that there was no time for petty indulgences and other self-inflicted wounds. Besides, the rugged cop could not see himself defiling this locale with the littered remains of a crushed cigarette butt – left from beneath his boot. The view was too perfect. In light of everything else that was going wrong, time did not necessarily stop up here, but it did seem to slow to a tempo of peacefulness. Where was this place hiding? The campus of the Second Earth Special Police Force Base held many secrets and enough surface area to make Michigan State University proud, but nobody could ever figure out why the second floor of this main complex only had one conference room….

Parsec’s honesty was just about as disturbing. “I knew it. The family knew it. Heck, all of us benefited indirectly. Myah wasn’t a bad person; she just did bad things.

When I was a mercenary within Death Corps, it was never our place to judge another. We simply executed contracts. This letter of the law is unquestioned. Uncompromising of our values, the guild of mercenaries flourished as a respectable organization. You might not have agreed with the morbidity through which the business was founded or the macabre nature upon which our business dealings were transacted, but you understood. The alternative is sheer chaos and utter anarchy – a free-for-all of kill or be killed. Stalkord was a genius to get this thing legally off the ground and a true visionary to make it successful.

But some people just don’t play by any fu–ing rules. I’ve tracked Myah’s murderer to Second Earth. His name is Olney. I plan to kill him and anybody else who happens to get in the way of my doing that.”

From Pete’s perspective, Parsec had just ratted out the operation of his late niece, implicated himself to having been an accessory to her underworld dealings by having knowledge and not having said anything, and openly copped to a premeditated intent to start a rampage in order to see that she was avenged. All of this was admissible as evidence and highly prosecutable. Certainly, enough was there to see to him (at least) be arrested. It was going to be – no, the night was getting longer.

The dual Class V Fighters were being piloted by MC and Cindra respectively. Their partnership made a good combination because she was conservative enough to see about the business of retrieving the high profile targets in some semblance of tact which was written that way purposely because the same could not be said of him, but his malicious contribution to the ensuing melee was going to turn out to be invaluable.

Seemingly almost the entire Atro City fleet of Second Earth Special Police Force squad cars had located, zeroed in, and latched onto Julian’s Mustang for the purposes of providing a convoy escort back to the base. It was late enough that very few civilians were out, and those who happened to be were quickly ushered out of the way by the force of a high-speed procession and the urgency from a deluge of emergency lights which appeared to be as festive as they were dire. There was no telling what this many Police Force cars – hundreds of them could have possibly meant, so the collective response of any nightly civilian drivers was to pull off onto the shoulder whether out of respect or fear. Irrelevant as the reasoning was, the end result was ultimately appreciated by everybody involved, and none of those drivers wanted a piece of what was to follow.

When it was said that a person worked their vehicle resolutely, it meant that there was a focus of stride in the forward progress which was smooth but also coolheaded. Usually, the cooler heads prevailed, and Cindra was shivery with how she wielded the twin yokes to avoid smashing into overpasses while dipping upward – out of sight and keeping her eyes peeled on Julian’s Mustang that was illustrated as a green dot on the grid-based map of the Class V’s monitor. If Chipshot had been heading up this mission, a case could have been made for him sniping both adult targets within that car, but the Enforcer’s needed at least one person alive, and sending the vehicle out of control would not only cost the four lives that were inside but a golden opportunity to yank Commissioner Gyro out of hiding. Yes, their targeting feed got that granular. Names, biometrics, and brief notes lit up the left side of the ship’s screen.

MC’s job was going to be easier – much easier in fact that as Cindra had vacated the skies, he simply zoomed forward of the below targets before coming back around for a pass of pulsar fire. A New Alliance technology that the Enforcers had reverse engineered (read: stolen) was used with impunity and without mercy on the Police Force cars that trailed behind Julian’s Mustang. Equipped with lasers, missiles, and rearward missiles, pulsars were the most deadly type of projectile on a Class V Fighter because they could not only be fired like a missile but set and detonated like a bomb. All he did was place the radiant squiggle of balled up energy that was the pulsar behind the main target, wait for the trailing vehicles to swerve (easily) in avoidance, and then detonate it when a significant amount of them were trapped within its blast radius which sheered the highway in two nontraversable halves while sending cars into ditches, the opposite lanes of the freeway, and some into the adjacent subdivisions that lay right off of the collapsed exit ramps.

A tally of the body count lit up the left side of MC’s monitor as he streaked past the carnage of the shredded highway, tumbling Police Force cars, and surging fires which resulted in part because of the combustible excitation of the exploded vehicles and in part because of an intended electrical meltdown which reacted to the pulsar’s energy discharge by leaching power from the surrounding grid at the same time as it overloaded the system – blowing out the light poles that lined the median strip of the highway, had they not already been obliterated. Darkness was what he sought, and the oncoming areas which were previously unaffected became blacked out at almost the same rate as Julian’s Mustang and the remainder of his entourage approached them. The handiwork for the death blow of one Class V Fighter was impressive.

Julian tried to put the thoughts of those fallen Police Force officers out of his mind but if only to focus on the way forward as the lights began to go dark throughout the vicinity with the synchronicity of fallen dominoes. The succession of the blackout was frightening, and Ardina and Devore were officially terrified – panicking to the concerned shushing of Edith. There was no fabled response that she could make up to explain this eerie situation – no explanation that she could even fathom herself let alone put in fibbing terms which could possibly satisfy small children who were smart, intelligent enough, and highly advanced to know better. But for the sake of the Police Force officer who was squeezing the leather off of the steering wheel in order to protect them, the kids needed to hold things together now more than ever.

The Enforcers’ presence had been made known, so Cindra dropped back into pursuit and began the task of using precision lasers to pick off the remaining Police Force cars that were behind Julian’s Mustang and managed to survive MC’s onslaught as well as those that were insulating the target on its sides one by one. But Police Force officers did not just go out like that. Many of the drivers were partnered up, so their partners broke out the artillery of LUNC’s – its own arsenal to test out the most powerful and accurate handgun ever created up against her fighter.

Slicing to the right, past the outside of the highway’s shoulder, Cindra humored the brunt of those powerful shots before MC thundered up the rear center of the convoy and lobbed a spread of missiles into the forefront, striking the lead Police Force cars and causing a chaotic collision that grounded a chunk of the vehicles while all but forcing the rest of the procession to a screeching halt along trusty brakes and powerfully gripping tires that stalled the potentially rear-ending skids.

Many of the Police Force officers were out of position and not belted down with their torsos hanging out of the passenger side windows when this happened. It was a monumental amount of damage to the largest branch of the Second Earth Special Police Force – not to mention an almost insurmountable loss of life.

Edith, too, had been turned around the wrong way when this occurred, but Julian saw the missiles being launched from his rearview mirror, and extended his right arm over to brace her before he slammed on the Mustang’s brakes. With his left fist gripping – strangling the twelve o’clock position of the steering wheel, he guided the car to a halt before she turned safely around – still seat belted-down, and then shifted the car into reverse. Turning to look over his shoulder, his eyes fell upon the petrified children for a moment, and he drew strength from their fear as he backed the vehicle out from under the protection of his few remaining Police Force comrades, swung around violently, and raced down the wrong side of the highway. The Enforcers wanted an isolation play, and that was exactly what they were going to get.

“Julian’s headed your way,” Sec said into Slubbich’ Ear-To-Mouth Com.

With Sec’s help, Slubbich had managed to coordinate the assistance of nearby precincts worth of Police Force officers as they used plainclothes units to trail the action at a respectful distance but not engage. They referred to this as an epicenter chase. Plan B was to allow backup out of the north, west, south, and east directions of Julian’s position and could provide assistance with whatever path the Mustang chose to take in eluding the Enforcers. The extended safety net was not necessarily meant to ensnare the fighters but to push the Commissioner’s family on through to Plan C which was being formulated as he hurried around to the driver side of his car.

“We’ve got snipers posted throughout the highest elevations in each of the four directions,” the lead officer alerted.

“It’s not gonna matter,” Slubbich shook his head in disagreement with the tactic.

The lead officer was confused. Every single Police Force officer on Second Earth would lay down their life to protect Commissioner Gyro’s family without question. But a question about Slubbich’ response popped up, “Sir?”

After opening up his car door but before getting in, Slubbich explained, “Fighting the Enforcers is like fighting the Space Force. We can throw the entire planet of Police Force officers at them, and we’d still get stomped. Two of their fighters have us back on our heels. What’s gonna happen when they send a third?”

“What do you recommend, Sir?” The lead officer was open to suggestions.

“Disengage,” Slubbich said simply.

Again with another question, the lead officer replied, “Sir?”

But there was no time for questions and even less for any further explanation, so Slubbich politely urged, “Just do it. I’ll handle this the only other way that I know how.” Too many Police Force officers were being lost over this to not at least try a different ploy.

“Yes, Sir,” the lead officer acknowledged reluctantly. using a combination of an Ear-To-Mouth Com and shouting lungs, the orders were as follows, “Pull back! Detective Slubbich has an angle! Snipers, do not engage!” It sent the plainclothes vehicles peeling out of the area, and any of the aforementioned Police Force officers who were posted up from their higher, secluded positions began to duck even further out of sight.

After the order was given, Slubbich slinked inside of his car and slammed the driver side door closed. Sitting on the passenger side was Vim who happened to be tracing the events on a slate computer which featured a map of Julian’s quickly approaching position. The fighters were noticeably undetected by the Second Earth Special Police Force’s enhanced eyes.

“Here you go,” Vim said while handing the slate computer over to Slubbich.

“Thank you,” Slubbich accepted. He only needed a visual confirmation of the Enforcers though and immediately changed the application on the screen to a more familiar setting. There was no cockiness which might have diluted his intensity, but the detective did not appear to lack any confidence in his focus either.

Vim was obviously nervous, but he had faith in his partner and quite honestly had to see this.

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

“Why are you telling me all of this?” Pete questioned. As much as the acting commissioner in him appreciated the information, the Police Force officer in him wanted to shoot Parsec and head out to assist Julian. His calm in due diligence was matched only by a gut-wrenching anxiety which would have liked nothing more than to have not been there. The duty to Second Earth had nothing to do with this. The love of the position had nothing to do with this. Torn, he just needed to get out of there and let off some steam by letting off some LUNC pulses – to shoot something and somehow become relevant again, certainly more affective than standing around with this paralyzing tug-of-war on his responsibilities.

“Because my revenge can actually fall under your jurisdiction,” Parsec announced. “My specialty had always been in tracking my assailants down before I moved in to hunt them down, and once engaged, I took them down. But gathering intel is a significant part of anything that I’d imagine either of us would do.”

An understatement was offered by Pete, “I’m listening,” with the undertone in his voice of a subtle urging for the point to be gotten to. And once it was reached, the assumption was that it better have been worth this tiresome delay. Slipping back into the role of the rugged cop for retaliation was always an option, and it would always be his word against Parsec’s – which had already offered up some incriminating evidence and openly admitted to some very da-ning details.

This conversation was almost excruciating with how forthcoming Parsec had been, so he did not disappoint in his continuation, “I wouldn’t mind your help on this one. Before, it was just me versus Olney, but now, he’s linked up with a dummy company by the name of Penetration Elimination.”

“Drugs,” Pete turned away from the view to look Parsec in the eyes and state. “Stanislaw Krell is using that pharmaceutical shadow corporation as a front for an illegal drug operation.”

“How did you know?” Parsec was impressed.

Speaking secretly of Parsec’s former boss back at Death Corps, Stalkord, Pete replied cryptically, “I have my sources. The Second Earth Special Police Force has had Penetration Elimination under surveillance for a minute, but they’ve yet to have rebuilt their operations after running up against an underworld buzz saw. It hasn’t quite turned into a drug war yet, but I’ve got to tout the proactive measures which have been taken in the interim to prevent its escalation.”

This was all good information that Parsec was hearing, but he needed to make Pete aware of the view from his perspective, “You and your sources have done a wonderful job, I’m sure, of containing Krell, but Olney is out of your league. You’ve got Second Earth locked down, but he’s a universal criminal with an illegal infrastructure that stretches around the furthest reaches of the galaxies. If he sees an opportunity to make some money with low initial overhead, he’ll extend his resources to Penetration Elimination.

Believe me, I’ve gone to his Slorg homeworld of Xenos. They don’t want this guy around anymore than we do and happily offered up their documentation on him which included last known whereabouts, linked associates, and his bio matter. He’s long since severed ties from there, and the information is somewhat dated, but the intel provides the foundation of a profile – I believe you Police Force types call it. With the original Penetration Elimination operation being wiped out by the continued efforts of your Police Force and these unnamed sources of yours, the part that I mentioned about turning Atro City into a war zone has to do with that gangster supplementing Krell’s deficit of resources with his own formidable supply.”

“I want the information that you have on Olney,” Pete did not phrase that as a request.

“Certainly,” Parsec nodded his eerily never-ending cooperation.

There was a much deeper concern that happened to be involved with this from Pete’s perspective however. The Space Force was allowing the drug operation to fester. Honestly, people could not even sneak an extra pair of boxers or panties on a shuttle, so how could the leading governmental agency for a quarter of the universe not have known about something as infectious as the proliferation of a new synthetic drug? But why would they allow this to be unleashed on their own population – especially Second Earth, their so-called pride of the Quadron System? Fast-forward a bit, and Stalkord had used Space Force weapons (which were originally meant for disposal) for the purposes of throwing a major monkey wrench into Krell’s operation. Where was the fallout on that? Again, the Police Force was being played.

Overarching agendas were at work here, and only half-truths and partial utterances had been delivered in the place of white lies. Who was Pete’s enemy? Did an ally exist among them? Everybody always loved the black and white, good versus evil scenario which made perfect, naively ideological sense. But those were always the same people who walked around in disbelief when one plus one did not add up to equal two, and they just could not admit that they had been wrong all along. He, on the other hand, had been forced to keep an open mind for the longest. One and one had not added up to two for him in quite some time with his own personal struggles and a constant stream of loose ends which could not be tied up so easily.

Pete had to admit that it added up to bad fiction for somebody who needed the details spoon-fed to them, but the truly imaginative only really required an open mind and a willingness to see things from a perspective which lied outside of their own narrow limitation. Parsec’s offer was worth pursuing, but a question loomed, “Doesn’t this go against your previous mandate? With Death Corps, anybody could take out a contract on somebody else, and the mercenaries were never held liable or blamed for the ensuing kill. Mercs were just the pass-through, and the people who took out the contract happened to be the only ones that could be held to account. Heck, a counter-contract with the same mercenary could be taken out on the person who initiated the original contract – for revenge purposes! Why not simply give the authorities – myself in this instance, the information and step aside to allow this to be handled legally? Weren’t you all about playing by the rules?”

With a soft snicker in response to being called out, Parsec admitted, “All that shi- goes out the window when family’s involved.”

Driving up a cloverleaf exit ramp in the pitch black dark from the wrong direction was not the easiest thing on a car’s cornering abilities, but Julian made it work, and Cindra’s fighter made him work by skirting over the ramp and twirling around in an unfair pursuit of mobility which toyed with the Police Force officer as surely as the aim was meant to chase after the Mustang.

“How long do you want this to go on?” MC asked impatiently as his fighter shot across a perpendicular direction with lasers dotting the street from an angle on the Mustang’s right side.

The trajectory of those lasers had come in from the right side of Julian’s Mustang but veered off ahead of the car as he pushed into an intersection, and the attack pushed him to jerk the vehicle into a left turn or risk having its tires perforated by the ripped up pavement. Edith did not need to see that incoming laser barrage from out of the passenger side window. To be completely honest, she did not need to see or be a part of any of this, but the fact that she and her children were still alive put a prideful spin on the amount of preparation and the sheer unshakable faith that the Commissioner had respectively instilled in and bestowed upon these Police Force officers. If those poor kids who were cowering in the back seat did not know it yet, their father was definitely with everybody in the manifestation of spirit as his will to see them all safely through this. Her husband was parsecs away, but his power (even under suspension) was on vivid display in these forcefully darkened streets and making a concerted go at keeping the Enforcers at bay.

This was almost assuredly a story that would show up on the news in the morning, and Julian’s aim was to not be named as a part of it. These Enforcers, generally for better or obviously for a personified worse, were meticulous in their assault. Blowing out the power grid kept this contained, and civilians would be much more concerned with grumbling at the power company and keeping their food from going bad than venturing outside to get in the way. A brawl was going on in the middle of the streets, and nobody in the morning would have been the wiser. The Space Force could easily plant some idea of what had happened in the news, and each outlet would have no other choice or explanation but to run with it. Proven or unproven, the story would be merely speculation, and this was exactly why he needed to press on with his screeching tires. Things could not be left up to any of them to fill in the blanks on him.

“Sec,” Julian fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com in order to plead, “I’m being herded.” Getting caught in some one-way dead end cul-de-sac would net the same negative result of Edith having been caught inside of the Jensen-Gyro home. There would be no way out, and the proficiency of only two fighters would continue to astound. Only! These Enforcers were the Space Force offshoot, but they were close to unstoppable. If/when this situation was survived, the response would most certainly need to be of a different tact. How many Police Force officers were lost in this – sacrificed as the subtlest expression of their power? His comrades had been made examples of like it was the Police Force who was in the wrong here! What about the Leader One security contract? Yes, what about that…now? Silly him for thinking that the current regime was not replaceable with a more Space Force-compliant group…. The position was unenviable, the accelerator was mashed, and he was all ears.

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

Sec still had a few tricks up his sleeves or rather lighting up his console as the screen instanced Julian’s position and struggled to ascertain the location of the dual fighters. “I’ll be your eyes. I can’t tell where the Enforcers are at or coming from, but I can do a running adjustment to your path to talk you in to Slubbich and keep you away from having to use your reverse gear. Slam a left up here and gun it.”

“Careful, MC,” Cindra chided, “we need somebody in that car – preferably related to Commissioner Gyro to be alive.” Her fighter hovered over the scene of Julian’s Mustang being forced into a left turn before the vehicle dashed a ways and nearly picked up its right side tires with how tightly it turned another ninety degree left turn shortly thereafter. She swooped to her own left as well and to the upper outskirts of the vicinity where a clearer view of the fleeing car was gained.

Chasing parallel to the Mustang’s position along the street over from the one that Julian was on, MC reassured, “Believe me, that wasn’t even close.”

Raising the twin yokes, Cindra descended into a path of pursuit from directly behind Julian’s Mustang. This entire situation was not lost on her curiosity however, “So what’s it going to be? I thought we needed the assistance of the Second Earth Special Police Force. And now we’re duking it out with them in the middle of the night.”

“It’s orders, Cindra,” MC surmised. “We may not always understand or agree, but we have them. For their sake, let’s just hope that they comply and don’t make this any worse than it has to be.”

“Take a right,” Sec guided directly into Julian’s Ear-To-Mouth Com. “Good, now take another right up here. You’ve got to get across this intersection, and use your kick down. I may not be able to see the Enforcers, but I can see any other traffic, and there is none, so punch it!”

The Mustang streaked right out in front of MC’s slowly hovering fighter with Cindra’s fighter closely in tow. She pulled up in a controlled fashion so as to not collide with him but then ascended to the open spaces above the buildings once more. He paused his approach, spun his fighter around one hundred eighty degrees, and thundered back down the way that he came toward the detour of shredded pavement.

Once MC hit that spot, he poured in his thrusters as if to head Julian off at the upcoming pass. Cindra continued to dangle out closely from above as she provided the deadly trailer. In short order, there would not be a need to goad the Mustang into trapping itself because the fighters would come together for the purposes of boxing the car in completely.

A quickly approaching decision was coming upon Julian so he asked, “Left, right, or straight?”

The simple reply by Sec was, “Right. And you should see a familiar sight up ahead.”

The only other car out that night, it seemed, was Slubbich’. He and Vim exited the vehicle as Julian’s Mustang swerved around them (quite literally parked out in the middle of the road), and spun to a controlled stop beside their position.

“Stay down,” Julian ordered as he pulled his LUNC from out of its shoulder holster. Not about to get out of the vehicle, the intent was to be ready in the event of something outside of their control happening.

But Slubbich had other ideas as he stood defiantly out in the middle of the street with the slate computer in his grasp – and no weapon. Meanwhile, Vim hurried over to the passenger side of Julian’s Mustang – clutching a LUNC and pressed his body up against the vehicle for whatever cover it could provide against two fighters and whatever shielding he could offer for its passengers.

In a perpendicular intersection, Cindra came up from the left of the scene, and MC roared into its foreground. Part of them wanted to tear up the surrounding street so that nobody could just drive off, but they were tenured enough to know that this was going to be the final showdown. The Second Earth Special Police Force had all but sent away their officers in anticipation of this moment, and a tense moment warranted a heeding of the unexpected. It was not hesitation on their part so much as it was consideration for the last ditch effort. Regardless, Slubbich and Vim were both in their sights and a button press away from being eliminated.

After fingering his Ear-To-Mouth Com in order to activate its bullhorn projection, Slubbich spoke confidently, “Enforcers, you are in breach of certain provisions within the Space Force Doctrine. Police Force Officer Julian Kazar had been granted Space Force jurisdictional override authority by Space Force soldiers Murk Wreosir and the late Chico O’Reilly – under the direct command of Leader One: Jerry Stuyvescent. This extension of powers has not yet been revoked!”

Stunned, short of astonished, MC said to Cindra, “Are you fu–ing kidding me? What is this guy talking about?”

“This is new,” Cindra replied while she worked to patch in Enforcer I for the purposes of garnering some direction on the issue.

Never before had their targets ever played the legal card, but it was worth checking into because this group of Police Force officers was not only resourceful but savvy. They had not backed down. They had never given up. On the contrary, they stared the Enforcers in the face as…equals!

“Your investigation into the whereabouts of Commissioner Gyro is valid,” Slubbich stated, “however, he also benefits from jurisdictional override – even in suspension: That being the benefit of the doubt clause which is the foundational basis of innocent until proven guilty as was defined by the case precedent of Saint-Medieval Versus the United States government. His absence is irrelevant seeing as though his appearance is not required until the date of his impending deposition!”

“Dude, what is your point?” MC asked over his fighter’s loudspeakers.

With no flutter in his conviction and a rehearsed shake of his head with which to launch into the next statement, Slubbich responded unequivocally that, “We’re all still on the same side. If the Space Force soldiers Dat Rotca, Cas Trinity, or even General Pile say differently, then I possess the standing according to the legal conclusion of the Space Force Versus Technology Companies to challenge where your position aids in your school of thought which says that the Space Force is justice. Though I do not agree with this particular interpretation, your undermining of Police Force Officer Kazar’s stance becomes counterproductive to your own edict. There has been no proof of wrongdoing on his part; I’m aware of no other illegalities from the Second Earth Special Police Force perspective – and believe me, Internal Affairs would certainly let us know; and the only breach of the Space Force Doctrine which would have ensued in said instance would be yours. So who gets to enforce the infraction on you?”

Skeptical, MC disagreed, “It doesn’t work like that.”

“You’re surely not here to debate me,” Slubbich shot back, “but how can you operate below and above the Space Force at the same time yet not possess a self-serving interest which does not happen to be in alignment with your edict? I’m not saying that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you’re certainly not doing things by the eBook.

We can stand out here all night long, and you’ll win by default, but my only recourse is the law, and if you don’t even have to follow it, your entire unit is invalidated. The Enforcers are nothing more than a rogue terror cell. Fortunately, the law is the only recourse that I need!”

“Hold on a second,” MC wanted to argue the point, but blowing things up were honestly more his specialty, so he could not quite formulate the words to say in what would have been any sort of coherent response.

Arrogantly, Slubbich beamed a defiant look up at the hovering fighter while alerting, “I’m waiting. Your leadership mislead you. Second-guessing them is something that a soldier should never do, but if you move forward, and I happen to be right – which I am, the lives of my fellow Police Force officers that you took are already on your leadership’s head but would then soon appear as a blight on your own conscience. So what’s it going to be? Are we enemies or are we allies?”

“Can he actually get us out of this?” Edith looked at Julian as if to ask a prayer rather than a question.

The window to the Mustang had been cracked, so Vim overheard Edith’s query. He did not want to get anybody’s hopes up but could certainly admit that they all could use it when replying, “It’s looking that way.”

“My gosh,” Julian answered Edith in astonishment, “by the eBook….”

After a heavy sigh, Cindra actually turned her head to look out her canopy in the direction of MC’s fighter for the purposes of announcing the findings to him over their discreet Ear-To-Mouth Com feed, “I went directly to Chipshot and have word back on the way forward.”

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

“Now, I know that you’re telling the truth,” Pete smiled.

“It sounds like you’ve been there before,” Parsec was pleasantly surprised in possibly finding a potential comrade in arms.

Turning again to stare out over the balcony into the stillness of the deceptively calm evening that he could see from this perch, Pete admitted, “I can’t sanction your vendetta.”

Disappointing, Parsec pleaded, “The drugs. Olney. My niece?

You do not want that stuff getting out into the population. Second Earth hasn’t faced anything yet like a drug war between criminals or a war on drugs against addicts like we had back on Earth. Talk about a war that nobody wants to win – even people who are in the midst of fighting eons long wars where they have long since forgotten who started the thing let alone what they are fighting about have to stop, sit, and scratch their heads at the insanity of drugs.

For Olney, that’s really only the start to his evils. His operation is like a group of weeds that, once left unchecked, can strangle the soil of its nutrients and constrict the growth of the surrounding foliage with the sheer influence of his grip. He needs to be cut out at his roots so that your planet is not added to his portfolio. I know you may not think so because your perspective is that of somebody who has played witness to its darker elements, but I’ve been traversing the universe in order to pinpoint him, and Second Earth really is a beautiful place to be – to live. Of course, that is a testament to your Police Force, so why allow that cancer to seep in and ruin such good work? Let me be the laser scalpel to this precision operation.

I don’t think that I can pull this off alone, but if I have to, I will. It’ll just be a whole lot messier; I can assure you of that. Once Olney gets his feet firmly planted and his organizational extension set, he’s going to be nearly impossible to uproot. Sure, I’ve chased him out of some places, but he’s always got some place else to return to, and my efforts are really no more than an inconvenience. I’m willing to play this part again and be that continued annoyance to make him always feel uncomfortable or cause him to at least become doubly cautious – looking over his shoulder when he can eventually no longer look at himself in the mirror. Who else is going to do this for Myah? I saw it in your eyes a moment ago: We…are on the same wavelength.”

“The lecture’s not necessary,” Pete cocked his head to the side in order to address Parsec’s impassioned concerns, “because my decision stands.”

“Fu–,” Parsec shook his head in disgust, turned toward the door of the balcony, and started to exit while grumbling, “you just don’t get it. You’re just like every other dumbas- law enforcement official. Well, I did my part. I gave you a heads up. I warned you about what’s to come. Maybe somewhere down the road – you’ll thank me. Goodbye.”

Actually, Pete offered up more credibility than Parsec could have ever imagined, “Retsepar killed and raped my wife,” without turning around to face the former mercenary who had stopped and turned in his own tracks. “Yes, all that Death Corps pass-through shi- did go out the window. This is not about comparing because, even with what I just told you, I have no way of comprehending your personal pain. What I can speak toward is a way to deal with it.

I’ve since located the person who took out the contract, but I passed up the opportunity to kill him. It’s just different when you’re on the side of law enforcement. I heard all the criticism about not pressing the trigger pad when I was afforded the chance, but death is too easy. The capital punishment proponents don’t realize that death is an immediate out for the perpetrator. This pain that I experience when I roll over in bed and my wife’s warm body isn’t there – killing that man, ruining my career, and shortening my own life can’t fix that. Instant closure is a fallacy. Healing is the process. And the process of healing does not begin with closure. I really think that people have that backward.”

Retsepar was a name that Parsec obviously knew from his Death Corps days. They were not close friends or anything, but the mention did hit close to his former home and add a bit of notable expertise to what Pete was saying. Still, he was curious, “So what made you give up on vengeance?”

“I didn’t give up,” Pete corrected, “on it – merely postponed the time in seeking that out. When I became the acting commissioner, I had been given a reason – something to live for. To be completely honest, it was whole Police Force of somethings to live for who depended on my level head and leadership abilities for their survival.

Like say, I’ve been in your shoes – taking it upon myself to handle what karma was too slow in enforcing. And it got me nowhere.

You’ve chased this guy for how long? You’ve given up how much of your life – dedicating it to a piece of trash? I did the same thing, and I was selfish for it. There was no lack of support – heck, the Police Force is an extended family who feels the pain of loss as stingingly as you do. The Space Force chimed in – perhaps, they owed me for some detective work I did, or maybe, the government has a heart too. Even your old boss, Stalkord, offered his condolences by easing my search and putting up with my harassment. In return, all I did was dishonor my unit, drag down my best friends, and slowly try to put an end to my own sorry life. That was not a picture…of the man that my wife married. It was disgusting, and she would have dropped me in a heartbeat had she known that this was what I’d become. I’m sure she understands, but that understanding will run out if I continue to sulk and use her memory to drag me down rather than excel and use her memory to give me strength.”

“It’s nice to know that I’m a little bit more well-adjusted than you,” Parsec mentioned before approaching the safety railing of the balcony as if to get in closer to Pete for the possible punchline. Being a former mercenary, it was much easier for him to be able to discern between business and personal dealings. They were not mutually exclusive in that the lines could never be crossed, but he was experienced enough to not allow those lines to become blurred. People like the rugged cop often had trouble seeing obsession for what it really was and not fully succumbing to the demands of its yearn. When stalking somebody, a person was either in the mix for the finish or a candidate for being finished off because the focus of the mission got twisted. The specific and individual psychological reasoning did not matter. Emotions were not supposed to enter into things once the operation was engaged. But was this him hearing that there might be another way? If anything, the inkling of this conversation certainly happened to be worth hearing out.

Pete did not know Parsec well enough to be able to trust the former mercenary, so he reiterated, “Again, I can’t sanction your vendetta because what would that look like? There’s a certain amount of impartiality which needs to be maintained by the Second Earth Special Police Force. However, mistakes do happen. If you somehow managed to show up while we were ‘investigating’ Penetration Elimination – well, it just becomes one of those things….”

A handshake would have been offered to make this unofficial arrangement official, but that would have defeated the luster of its irony. Parsec had no reason to trust Pete, and the possibility of a double cross was always looming, so he asked those five famous words of opportunism, “What’s in it for you?”

“I’m testing out a theory,” Pete answered with a smile. Finally, he turned around from the safety railing of the balcony to face Parsec.

“You don’t believe a word of anything that you just told me,” Parsec deduced.

The deduction needed a slight correction, so Pete explained, “I want to believe it, and your case will give me the chance to prove its merits. I’m also trying to work on using my resources. My commanding officer always used to say that this was a problem of mine – the whole brooding loaner thing which got me in trouble with Internal Affairs on more than one occasion. Give me a moment.” He just received a call in his Ear-To-Mouth Com and put his left index finger up while cocking his head slightly to the right in order to focus on what was being said on the other end of the feed. “That’s good – very good. Yeah, you’ve got my authorization to get the clean-up crews out there. How many did we lose? Ah, da–it – not exactly the news that I wanted to hear.” His demeanor changed for the more somber as the conversation in his ear continued. “How did Julian survive? Slubbich, eh? But the family’s okay, right? Oh yeah, of course – we’ll make accommodations here for them. Let’s get in touch with Jason Saint-Medieval while you’re at it. I’ve gotta wrap this up here, and then we can coordinate. Yeah, go ahead. No…shi-? Thanks for the heads up, Sec.”

Taking notice of Pete’s perking up demeanor, Parsec inquired in the vein of small talk, “What was that all about?”

“Potential backup,” Pete announced almost distantly during his consideration of the thought.

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