Episode 22: The Roundtable and the Requirement, Part One [Unedited]
It did not even have anything to do with them directly. But indirectly, they were just as guilty as those ungrateful few who had sinned against Monster Master and brought disfavor upon the Pillorian Regime because the gripe had become a blanket mandate of disapproval. How boldly defiant could the Ultimate Ethereal's detractors have been in order to cause a ripple of his projected rage to shoot across the entirety of the expanding universe like space turbulence? Judgment would soon be passed on all living things. Second Earth simply happened to be one of the stops.
The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
Loading a fresh high capacity laser fluid cartridge into the laser fluid core chamber of Pete's LUNC was not necessary and arguably superfluous because he had not shot through even an amount that a rounding error would notice of the one million shots that the weapon possessed. But the fact remained that the Second Earth Special Police Force was finally going to make official contact with the Enforcers, and so the rugged cop caught himself scrounging through a desk drawer that smelled of shoe polish and antiquity so that he could collect and stash any of the additional cartridges into the pockets of his trench coat!
"Got enough ammo?" Julian questioned. After the earlier events, he found himself hanging out in the comfort of Pete's office. A quick debriefing on the Enforcers' offer and the Parsec situation had concluded between the number one and number two top cops, each had received a moment to regroup - relax for all of the five minutes that they could afford from badly slumping posture within uncomfortable supposedly ergonomic chairs, and their connecting eye contact across the desk held not only a spry focus but a gleam of giddy anticipation to meet and get this next challenge over with.
"I'm not sure," Pete answered with a voice that crackled into a dry burst of laughter from a fit of dark humor. Soon, his eye contact broke with Julian's and went to the rumbling desktop where Parsec's slate computer, some speakers, and a view-screen threatened to shake themselves off onto the floor along with the rest of the trembling building.
With the windows chattering, the blinds shaking, and people struggling, stumbling, tumbling to maintain their balance outside the view of the open door to Pete's office, Julian did his best to brace himself while catching one of the speakers as the rugged cop strained to save the slate computer and the view-screen. "A second-earthquake?" At least one lamp did not make it, and cabinets throughout the building with their easily destabilized centers of gravity were upended to the uneventful conclusion of violent, free-falling forward slams. That was a first, and judging from the look of astonishment on his partner's face, he decided, "Got any extra cartridges on you?"
As the ripple of rage pushed through the Quadron System, a fine purple mist that happened to be molded about a humanoid shape materialized on the remote hill overlooking the Second Earth Special Police Force Base and solidified into the corporeal manifestation of a masculine figure. Tentalor Rep had returned to the planet.
With living quarters which were more like living halves, the accommodations of the cabins were long, efficient, and functional but anything but comfortable. Not even meant for more than one person to be living there, Acro and Acra Lin - being a couple, made it work. This was an adequate corner within the expanding universe that they could call their own, and the twin-sized bed mandated closeness.
Having met a long time ago in another universe, Acro and Acra Lin were every bit as close when lying between the black sheets of that bed which sat with one of its long sides up against a wall like some sort of foldout cot, but the intimacy was missing. Yes, privacy was certainly obtained within the secluded confines of a personal living area, however they just could not make love, and this was through no fault of dysfunction or frigidity.
The universe would not allow for it - not the way that things were. Or Acro and Acra Lin would not allow it to happen until the universe was pacified. For the sake of their long overdue offspring, they waited in hopes of seeking out a better time. Each had needs to satisfy and urges to satiate, but these emotions added even more unnecessary reasons for those feelings to be held in check until the further notice of an opportune time that was appropriate.
Sheol had been somewhat of a consolation prize in the postponement of Acro and Acra Lin's child rearing, but even he was being raised by Johnny and Charlene in an unofficial capacity as it was, so they were really only responsible for training him how to fight. An almost parental quality could be associated with instructing a person in the martial arts, but having limited contact with an illegitimate child did not happen to be the ultimate goal that was being sought by the Dyoogie Discipline Master and his mistress.
Bitterness was not the sole reasoning behind Acro and Acra Lin's motivations, but it was a part. How large a part this happened to be remained to be seen, and the universe would probably never know for sure. Speaking of which, their original universe had been destroyed because of all the warmongering nonsense that they now found themselves caught up in and forced to avert. For things to happen as they had a second time - this time around would have been pathetic, but things were not all that different from universe to universe, so an edge existed on preparedness and with prescience. This leg up was played out mostly in prevention.
Knowing what was going to happen beforehand and mobilizing to dramatically affect the events only worked so many times before those affected events were so changed that there was no longer an advantage in the accuracy of its foreshadowing. One might also imagine that if they had it to do over again, the requisite moves which would be needed to be made in order to net greater wealth and fame could more easily be enacted. Since Acro and Acra Lin were forced to operate from the shadows of the covert in order for their mission to be completed, riches were not an option, and popularity was a death sentence.
But even from their own niche, they played second violin to the circumstances. There were three Crimson Red Belts, so although Acro had the most experience out of them, he was arguably no longer the most powerful among them. This honor belonged to his beloved clan sister, Marileva.
Additionally, where normally Acra Lin would have become the Dyoogie Discipline Mistress by default of her marital status to a Dyoogie Discipline Master in Acro and an appreciable tenure which warranted deservedness, this title, too, belonged to Marileva because she did not possess a Crimson Red Belt.
To say that jealousy did not at least factor into this a little bit would have been a lie, but to concede that it was what solely drove Acro and Acra Lin would have been an inaccuracy. Disappointment abounded all the way around, but this was really no more different than a normal everyday person wanting better for themselves, their lives, and their loved ones. They could not be satisfied with the way that things were and did not give up on trying to improve their situation. But for as bad as things had ever become or as not as good as these two might have wanted things to be, they always had each other, and for this subtle comfort in companionship, they were eternally grateful.
The major reason for everybody who had survived from the original universe getting a second chance to make things right this time around appeared as a fine orange mist on the side of the bed opposite the wall and materialized into the corporeal form of Terry - standing in the thin aisleway before Acro and Acra Lin. He had discovered (read: stumbled upon) his Ethereal abilities in crying out and willing this newer Epic Universe to be created during the darkest parts of an interplanetary war that had seen the Space Force of the original universe destroyed, the actual universe conquered by the New Alliance, and the Pillorian Regime displaced and replaced as its ruling entity as a result. To them, this was no secret because they had fought alongside the Ethereal long before he ascended from being a regular yet brilliant Human.
This late night visit was almost assuredly in response to the violent agitation that Enforcer I and perhaps the entire universe had experienced a moment ago. Acro and Acra Lin had no prior idea of Terry's whereabouts, but for the ripple of Monster Master's ire to bring him out of hiding, this meeting must have been important.
"You've got to help stop this," was Terry imploring or accusing?
"I didn't start this," Acro responded as he sat up with no shirt and was revealed to be in his boxers against the wall to address Terry with a due amount of eye contact and respect that a former ally of an Ethereal's stature demanded, "nor did I exacerbate it, so how can you fault me for wanting to end things?"
Easily, so Terry explained, "You should be working with Marileva - not against her."
"We've been through the whole Vigil Force(s) thing," Acra Lin chose to hold this conversation while lying on her side in an adequate nighty which was much less revealing than that of Acro's bare chest, "remember?"
Vigil Force(s) referred to the Space Force offshoot which was led by Marileva that General Pile had been preparing the Enforcers to counter, but every person in this room was aware of its original rendition from their ill-fated universe that had failed miserably because they were all a vital part of the first attempt at its formation. It might have now been under new leadership, but the concept of uniting an entire universe against foes like the Pillorian Regime and the New Alliance was old hat.
"In fact," Acro added, "the same exact players from our original universe have resurfaced, and it's these people who are basically running Vigil Force(s) into the ground again. Marileva may now be the face, but Callisto from our universe has been pulling the strings all along. I know that you're aware of this because their actions have just incited Monster Master. Instead of this being the Space Force versus the New Alliance, which was also recently accelerated by their manipulations, it is now the Space Force versus the New Alliance and the Pillorian Regime."
"You have to trust them," Terry pleaded. His vision was of an expanded long-term capacity, but he could understand how those like Acro and Acra Lin who had gotten stomped by the interstellar conflict across what was not exactly a short-term endeavor might want to take matters in a different direction altogether. The Ethereal knew better however, and the patience to stay on course was the correct course of action despite the dire turmoil and in spite of the excruciating emotional pain that not even he was immune from.
This war had not been easy on anybody, and no war ever was supposed to be. When they were, that was when wars became never-ending. The pain was a barometer of tolerance, and no more was this on display than with these two disparate parties who had their own ways of propagating it.
Acro declined, "I don't have to do a godda-n thing, with all due respect."
Terry shrugged off the clever inference. Things like religion and politics often brought about intense emotions to accompany their heated opinions, and this conversation touched both. He felt strongly on a few points as well, but the discourse could still manage to remain civil in its continuance.
It was worth Acra Lin pointing out that, "We were there, Terry, and we're well aware of what everybody is capable of."
This note was obviously a slap in the face, but Terry chose not to meet the animosity of a tough room head-on, "That's not fair. And you know it."
"Perhaps not," Acro explained, "but it's the view that is shared among many of the survivors. If there's to be another Vigil Force(s) which includes...any of us, there needs to be a change in leadership. I sincerely doubt that Marileva or Callisto would ever put things to a vote. We're not adverse to unifying the split between the original universe veterans, but this hinges on somebody else taking the reigns."
"Somebody like you?" Terry accused. He was quickly losing patience in his recruitment efforts.
Knowing where Terry was going with that question, Acro expertly deflected the criticism like he was sparring with a lesser partner, "If that's what is decided then yes. Face it: Not even your father or your uncle have gotten behind your mandate. Many of the veterans have gone into hiding, but those who have resurfaced have come out in support of my side. An entire...universe was lost under Callisto's watch."
Terry did not need to be reminded of the background, so he shot right back, "She had no choice."
"But Marileva does," Acra Lin hit below the belt in completing a tag-team of rehearsed cohesion, "and it appears as if she's following much the same pattern. Instead of working through the Space Force, the Lieutenant opts to go around it, but when it becomes clear that our government is not going to be an obstacle so easily cleared, she'll do her da-ndest to go through it."
"Callisto gave up everything," Terry was honestly furious with Acro and Acra Lin's continued rebuke, but he stared away from them and up at the ceiling to conceal his sadness at the rift, "for all of us to have one last shot to get this done. Her children. Her true love. Her dignity. One last shot to smash the New Alliance. One last shot to defeat the Pillorian Regime. One last shot to save the Space Force."
"Terry," Acro held back the chance to sarcastically boohoo when staying on point and in professionalism with, "it was a train wreck all the way around. I don't want to diminish her sacrifices in any way, but most of that went out the door when she gave in to the Doran conversion, surrendered to the struggle, defected to the New Alliance, and used her intricate knowledge of not only the Space Force but Vigil Force(s) as well to try and nearly succeed in destroying most of us.
Will Marileva follow the same path? Who knows, but if we're at such a critical juncture as you recently espoused, it's too important of a decision to be left to chance. You may be omnipresent, but your omnipotence has limitations.
And I know that you believe in her with all of your heart - otherwise, why would you have created an entire duplicate universe trapping the New Alliance in our old one, stripping the Pillorian Regime from their original dominion plus jurisdiction by bringing them with, setting about the circumstances which could create Callisto's very successor (Marileva) as our potential deliverance, and dooming yourself to the celestial and eternal handcuffs of undue enrichment?
Believe me, I know that you have faith in Marileva and Callisto. I...just...don't, and out of all of us veterans, you are really the only person who does."
Tiring of the conversation, it was the aim of Acra Lin's next statement to hurry things along, "Why did you even come here anyway? With the Pillorian Regime now active and openly engaged along with the forthcoming New Alliance threat which is more of a promise at this point, are you starting to falter in your belief of Callisto's and Marileva's abilities?"
Since returning to Second Earth and linking up with Karyn, Terry could not recall any happier moment in his eons-long existence which had been recorded by memory, but this meeting was putting a serious and an unfortunately anticipated damper on his homecoming. With lips pursed in visible displeasure, he tore his eye contact away from the ceiling and held Acro and Acra Lin's virulently as theirs had been unflinching in respect of their own conviction before levying, "So, you and Marileva are enemies now?"
As coolly as ever, Acro stated, "That depends on whose asking the question and the response that I want them taking away from my answer. But I have no reason to lie to you:
The problem with our universe - with this universe is not the Pillorian Regime who our parents' generation of veterans has the longest tenure in fighting. The Pillorians are isolationists! If you bother them - then they will use their collection of Ethereals to put you away. Peace ultimately ensued, the markets rallied, and everybody lived happily ever after.
The problems have nothing to do with the New Alliance. Our experience comes mostly from having to deal with them, but that faction was of no consequence to the Space Force. We could've handled them without batting an eyelash or losing any sleep - on a bad day.
Do you want to know what the constant is that always happens to bring this dearth of peacefulness upon the universes?"
"So your doctrine is to deal with things by not dealing with them?" Terry chose not to wait for the answer to Acro's rhetorical snipe and offered up some criticism of his own. "Those...Ethereals are the biggest bunch of mass murderers in the history of creation."
"That's revisionist," Acra Lin dismissed Terry's angle. For anybody who was not familiar with the situation, the Pillorian Regime was the faction of the Ethereals, and they controlled the fates of the lower beings who were not explicitly aware of their existence. Much of the celestial order was implicitly understood, but that was more of a cop-out as far as those who really knew what was going on were concerned. Simply put, to a lower being: If it could not be explained, an Ethereal was responsible. If something good had occurred, an Ethereal was to be given thanks for it. If something bad was happening, prayers were to be sent to an Ethereal in the hopes that guidance, strength, wisdom, or a miracle would be bestowed upon the faithful. Her point was that none of this affected people on their level, and this was also the way that things had always been, so who was Terry to want to start rocking the boat?
However, the status quo was a grave deception because Ethereals did not have ownership over creation. They merely blocked the lower beings (many of whom welcomely refused to believe that these celestial beings also had to come from someplace) from seeing the truth by impeding the view, leveraging an emotional distortion called faith, and hording the power of creation just out of reach. And this was Terry's point of the wrongdoing that had been done: If the Ethereals were not atop the food chain, and these acts of God against the poorest who could least defend against or recover from them, for instance, happened on the Ethereals' watch and could not be chocked up to 'mysterious ways', then a sadistic quality existed of their oversight, so those Ethereals were liable for the damages.
Cutting her off, Terry continued, "And, in case you haven't noticed, the New Alliance had long since infiltrated the highest levels of the the Space Force from our universe, so they more than compensated for any lack of equal standing on the military front with incredible guile."
"We've got precautions already set in place to deal with that this time around," Acro announced - referring to the Enforcers, "which do not include turning an entire universe against the Space Force."
"You seem to have it all worked out," Terry conceded. His attempt at bridging the ideological estrangement with the most approachable spokespeople of the original universe veterans was getting him nowhere, but it was not for a lack of tact or trying. This was not even the first time that the olive branch had been extended and rejected, and it had the potential of not being the last if relations remained cordial enough that words could still be exchanged between both parties. But it was also not to be misconstrued as him begging for Acro and Acra Lin's help. Vigil Force(s) would proceed accordingly - with or without that help. This was more of an offer for them to tag along and once again be a part of an incredible team that once was. Only now, it would be again but with different personnel who were more willing to unselfishly play their individual parts as role-players. After all, maybe they might not have lost the original universe had the original team stepped their game up and not forced Callisto to have to shoulder so much of the responsibility in carrying everybody - an entire universe on her shoulders. The criticism by the old squad was fair, but so was criticism of that old squad.
Again with the insistence of the time getting late, Acra Lin urged, "Then, is that everything that you needed?"
Briefly, Terry looked to the side before staring Acro and Acra Lin down from the vantage point of his Ethereal perch as he spoke of black kettles, "You know, I may never agree with your position on Marileva, but I understand where you're coming from on that. What simply eludes me (however) is what your clan brother, Dyoogie - who was never involved in any of what we just talked about, has to do with any of this."
In the moment of being called out, Acro rolled over Acra Lin to his feet and a standing confrontation with Terry. He (in his boxers) and the Ethereal (draped in black leather from an accented, mock-collared shirt to the outwardly stiff pants to the nonstandard issue boots to the flowing overcoat) represented the diametrical shift in sensibilities among former allies beautifully if not depressingly so. His wife snatched the covers aside and sprang to his side in support. There was no inkling in her body language of attempting to hold him back because she was primed, herself, for whatever was to be the inevitable in these rapidly passing next few moments as seen by her own readied stance. Speaking for the both of them, the Dyoogie Discipline Master said, "This conversation is over," in an understatement which probably meant that cordiality had run its course as well.
"You've changed, Acro - Acra Lin," Terry had not flinched but snickered as he began to dematerialize into his fine orange mist, "and not for the better. At least I can admit this fallibility of myself." The dissipation of those particles were the last remnants of him being there, meaning that he finally left.
With their night basically ruined, Acro and Acra Lin sat together on the edge of the bed and held each other throughout it. The awkward feeling of a concluded argument suddenly paled in comparison to the hollow emptiness of an ended friendship.
When most of the Enforcers were getting ready to head to bed, MC and Cindra were getting ready to head back out, and Chipshot was joining them. In fact, the leader of Second Earth's Enforcers had suggested, requested, ordered - one could take their pick of the verbiage because this mission happened to be so far off of the record that its aim was treasonous to the objective of the Enforcer mandate. No, General Pile was unaware of what they were about to do, and in strolling past Acro and Acra Lin's quarters, the pact of three had mutually decided to keep this endeavor between their triangle of close friendship and not bring anybody else in on the unauthorized secret who could compromise or jeopardize the operation.
"What makes you so sure that we can trust the Police Force?" MC questioned while checking the laser fluid level on his trusty LUNC.
"Well, for one thing," Chipshot explained, "they're in as much of the dark about what's going on as I am, and this is not an enviable position which sits particularly well with me. We'll have to smooth over your little exercise from earlier tonight with them, but I'm of the belief that an information share and ongoing cooperation will go a long way toward doing that."
"Allow us to fill in the blanks to their core with our competencies?" Cindra surmised.
It was a nice choice of words, so Chipshot turned to Cindra and nodded, "Exactly."
Almost regretful in his tone, MC put away his LUNC and added, "We were just following orders." He loved his armaments and their destructive capabilities as much as the next trigger-happy soldier, but the taking of innocent life was not his cup of tea. It distressed him to the point of having to down a bottle of the strongest ginger ale that he could find in order to quell the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach before reluctantly agreeing to partake in Chipshot's mission, but there was a measure of redemption which was being sought. Soldiers were trained to follow the chain of command unquestioningly - even at the behest of the occasional bullshi- and the common bureaucracy, but if Police Force Officer Slubbich was correct, the palpability of the entire unit was to now be called into question. In that, opinions, orders, bullshi-, and bureaucracy held no meaning. Only the law was of consequence, and for the sake of the families of the innocent lives that he had taken, his hope was that legality would be a certain path to redeeming himself.
"I know," as far as Chipshot was concerned, MC and Cindra were automatically forgiven, "and that's what makes this so much worse."
Always the voice of reason in the corridor, Cindra stated, "Going against the General will have consequences." There was no 'might' or 'could' in that statement.
Chipshot was knowingly authoring all of their death sentences as they followed him to the docking bay section, but at least capable leadership like Briar One, Acro, and Acra Lin would follow behind them in the event that something happened. General Pile was arguably the most powerful person in all of the Space Force - being a direct adviser to Leader One, having Solstice Satellite at his beck and call, and wielding the Enforcers like cards stashed up a shady shark's sleeve.
There was no way that the General would not find out about this little excursion, and the fact remained that he probably already knew - having always planned multiple moves ahead to stay in a constant counter mode. Doom and gloom was not necessarily the order of the evening, but it was not that far off from the truth of the matter either. The decisions of leaders often came as a package deal - bundled up with severe consequences. This was the part of leadership that many so-called leaders usually avoided or ducked away from. Whether this was a byproduct of cowardice at work or the result of them just being smart depended upon whoever got the chance to utter the last laugh as well as the tilted details of the tale.
Not likely that Chipshot knew where he stood among the pack of those who happened to be fortunate enough to have people under their command, his opinion of himself and the methods that normally suited him were almost always in question. These not-so-simple items were never questioned by the one who should have most held issue with them: Acro. And no, he would never let the lack of confidence in his abilities go.
It was either that or a lack of respect, but the powerful Enforcers founder in Acro and even General Pile (to an extent) had seen to Chipshot's perpetual comfort and a fluttered ease of contentiousness aversion. He was not exactly the new kid on the block, but his ability to dance about the quietly usurped authority like an industry puppet who was programmed to play a routine and nothing else - basically have no other opinion bothered him greatly. The time had come to take control of this unit instead of being the middle management hack which was a dangerous position to be in when a person had no idea where the backstabbing could come from. And all of these festering concerns had bubbled to the surface with one inane order that circumvented his authority and sent two of his best and closest soldiers into a shootout with what appeared to be innocents!
What was the General thinking? Where was the reason for not including Chipshot on such decisions? Why were there never any straight answers when he was brought in? How was he supposed to respond in this instance? And when would he ever learn? The answer was simple:
Chipshot was being set up to fail.
This was a big part of the reason why Cindra stood by Chipshot's side. She did not much like being a pawn in causing his downfall, but that was also beside the point. If these types of shady dealings were going on with her immediate superior officer, what in the universe could this have meant for Briar One - her man on Earth. Would he be the next person to be muscled out of his leadership position?
See how easily it was for a unit like the Enforcers to break down? Cindra would have never expected a turn like these events, but simple malfeasance by one caused her to question all. It just so happened that this one was in command of the entire splinter group. The part about killing innocents was troubling because the difference between them and terrorists was two-fold: First, they were sanctioned by the Space Force, and second, this was supposed to be a precision outfit. If even one innocent got killed, it was their apologies for the blunder, but they had been ordered to retrieve any one from a set of targets at all costs and wound up having to do battle with people who were literally only doing their jobs against them - the aggressors.
Yes, the Enforcers could wipe out the Second Earth Special Police Force ten times over without much exertion, but spanking a portion of Atro City's allotment of Police Force officers had already taken its toll. They had been given no alternative for the edicts of the mission and had never needed one in the past, so their only responsibility was to follow orders dutifully and carry them out indiscriminately. Trust worked like that sometimes. It was often fleeting until it was broken and then became next to impossible to regain - not something to have been taken for granted or lightly because it was so hard to net in the first place!
Remorse was said to be the one trait that Black Ops often veered away from and could not exploit for the purposes of its specialization, but regret was worse. Remorse made it harder for a soldier to perform their duties while regret made it easier for that same soldier to seek atonement. With suspicion creating doubt and an unyielding yearn for unfiltered information to be quenched, the proof of this had caused Chipshot, MC, and Cindra to turn against General Pile and turn into the automatic sliding doors which opened access to the docking bay where their waiting fighters sat.
"I hope that you've got something good cooked up to tell the General," MC reminded Chipshot of the metaphor from their stepping foot into the docking bay section which was to say that there was going to be no turning back. Honestly, he had not seen any of this coming - not even with the green-lit mission against Acro's clan sister. The justification for that happened to be so perfect, and the collective response from Acro and Acra Lin was on-target and as expected. It made him wonder, "Could Ac-"
"Don't even say it," Cindra interrupted the idea that MC was about to express because they were all thinking it. Acro and Acra Lin were probably a part of this.
'The General Pile, Acro, and Acra Lin being in cahoots' piece had been under consideration from Chipshot the entire time that he sat in his leadership position, but the only part that he could ever mention happened to be the lack of self-confidence guise which was continuously shouted down by a chorus of aimless support to the contrary.
Realistically, Chipshot was nothing but self-assured in his abilities, and his military expertise which earned him a spot on the Enforcers had caused him to immediately question the validity of the situation where a hero from another universe graciously accepted a support role and the man who arguably ran the Space Force was mum on some pretty important details which carried with them serious implications. One seemed apathetic while the other one played aloof, and he could not for (what might turn out to be) the life of him figure out what the purpose of the ruse was. "If anybody asks, we were simply going out to investigate that turbulence which dropped Enforcer I out of stealth and nearly caused this entire base to smash itself into the surface of Second Earth," he said while the doors automatically slid closed behind them.
The side of the cliff was in front of Satori Diebold's face for the moment, but then he swung around to the gravity-free view of the beautiful and clear late night horizon. The ground was above him, and the sky happened to be below. If anybody would have told him that he would have been jumped, knocked out, pistol-whipped, stomped, duct-taped, thrown in a trunk, left there for hours, transported apparently here to this vista with a bodily system that was bloodied and cramped and dehydrated but barely operating, and dangled by the grasp of Sheol's claw-gloved right hand on his left ankle over the edge of a cliff, he would have never believed it. If he had believed it, he might have wanted to start playing the lottery.
"Too many more of those tremors and aftershocks," Sheol alerted, "and I might actually drop you." He did not know what the meaning of the ripple of rage was, but the measure of his power could be estimated by the fact that the Shokan Leader was unmoved by Monster Master's ire.
"Fu-- you, Sheol!" Satori exclaimed.
These two were supposed to have met in the ring during Sheol's first sanctioned tournament at the demolished Cipher Coliseum. How his life had taken a turn since the night that Satori had barged in with a camera crew on him and his adoptive family: That family was now disowned, he had become the leader of the Shokan, and his recollection of the events, "When my father had you thrown off the box suite balcony, a part of me chuckled deliriously on the inside, but I doubt that you'll survive a drop from this distance," were only sweetened by turning back to smile at his Shokan Princess, Sylvia.
Sheol did not doubt Sylvia's loyalty, and others should not have doubted it either. Who did everybody think set Satori up for the fabricated meeting where he was kidnapped earlier? She stood elegantly in a white cheongsam with Trickle and Lumpy on either side of her. Both the Shokan Leader and the Shokan Princess had taken up the reigns of Shokan leadership and taken to its actuality with seriousness and thrown themselves into their roles until the parts were indistinguishable from reality. But why should it not have been? The unforgivable Smith family lie and the Second Earth Special Police Force bullshi- were each behind them. Moving forward, the martial arts discipline could be anything that they made of it. Lovingly, she returned his smile with an earnest and approving smirk of her own. The plan worked beautifully.
Worming about his bonds, Satori tried to fight against whatever was to be the inevitable whether that meant his demise or his submission. He shouted, "Nobody respects you! We'll rise up against the Shokan!"
"No you won't," Sheol disagreed calmly. Satori had to be at least a couple hundred pounds, but there was no straining in his arm - having held the weight up for a few minutes now. "You've seen the fight rankings like everybody else. I can destroy all of you...by myself. What's going to happen when I tire of doing my own dirt and unleash the rest of the Shokan to ingratiate my demands. We're still the largest martial arts discipline in the universe, I might remind you.
True, the converted Shokan of Second Earth were all but wiped out, but we've since subsidized the loss of my brethren with the Shokan Subsect, so they're begging to differ. Personally, I don't give a fu-- if they follow me because of pay, love, or fear. It's all the same. If somebody paid a higher price, they'd leave me just as soon. If they loved me, that point is moot. Fear costs less, and negates the need for trust. Respect doesn't mean shi- to me. I'll take mine in due time."
Back a ways stood Sanjuana wearing his Shokan Garb in front of a fleet of vehicles, an innumerable collection of martial arts clans plus street gangs who could each dig it, and the colorful scene of such a truce which would have made Cyrus proud. Each could retain the individuality of the group distinction that they originally and respectively belonged to, but Sheol was now their grand leader, and the collective force was now to be referred to as the Shokan Subsect. Many different groups were represented throughout Second Earth, so as word of the massive subversion spread across the rest of the universe, the powerful Shokan would grow exponentially by silent acquisition or hostile takeover - a choice was always presented.
Unifying all of those groups was a metaphor for Sheol unifying the Crimson Red Belts. With the united power of the Shokan and the Shokan Subsect, he would be strong enough to make a play for the rarest prize which was held only by the Mistress and Masters of the Dyoogie Discipline: Marileva, Acro, and Dyoogie. With a unified Crimson Red Belt, it was his hope that he would have enough power to unite the warring Doran factions for his mother and then start taking on factions in order to potentially save his father. Nothing would be able to stop him or his family then.
"I'd rather die!" Satori said with the conviction that a swollen eye, blood clogging up his nose, and the busted lip of a dry mouth could muster.
As if flinging a heavy backpack backward, Sheol flung Satori's body onto the safer side of the cliff, "Yeah right - you've already been broken because you're far too self-serving to ever say what you really mean."
With a force that carried the duct-taped body scraping over two yards of face-cutting pain which could not have been braced for or writhed in - simply endured, Satori came to a merciful stop on his side directly in front of Sylvia's feet that were adorned by glittering silver four and three-quarter stiletto heel rhinestone open-toe sandals with ankle straps. At least the non-closed-up eye functioned as the only thing that he could move, so it rolled all around his eye socket in surveying his location for the purposes of ascertaining his position.
Trickle and Lumpy were more than happy to oblige Satori's curiosity by assisting his immobility - hauling him up to his knees and bringing his face before Sylvia's extended right foot. After they finished guiding his head into position, he instinctively pressed his lips to the beautifully soft, perfectly manicured, and silvery swirly illusion-painted toe nails of the Shokan Princess - defeated.
"You are now a member of the Shokan Subsect," Sanjuana announced as Trickle and Lumpy dragged Satori away from Sylvia's presence and pathway. He pulled what appeared to be a ceremonial knife from the sheath on his hip and began slicing the duct tape off of the former physical captive who now happened to be both physically and mentally indentured to the Shokan.
"Things are finally coming together for us," Sylvia admitted when she met up with Sheol near the edge of the cliff. At the conclusion of jumping Satori in, the multitudes of Shokan Subsect who had been through a similar treatment earlier got into their vehicles and began to peel away.
"Your gambit was brilliant," Sheol turned to Sylvia to say. They had not been seen together for some time in public plus had managed to keep apart from one another for a while in case the prying eyes could see into their private life, and it was expressly done for this reason. Satori was elusive, somewhat of a loner, and not so big and bold without is camera crew or marketing control of the situation. Not a lot of time had gone by since Internal Affairs had parted the Shokan Princess' ways with the Police Force, so she had a window of stealth to utilize which would make any martial artist proud.
Sylvia's 'investigation' of Sheol's activities with a bogus purpose to clear her name after the Cipher Coliseum incident was a perfectly relevant plan which they used to draw Satori out of hiding. Merely the visual was needed, and once obtained, there was no escaping the Shokan Subsect who took advantage of obvious and powerful numbers by swooping in to abduct an individual who had been frightened of the Shokan (thanks to Glove's efforts) well before this new regime had come to power. But for as good as the scheme had come off, the Shokan Princess knew, "More will be required to bring the Xendeku in line."
After putting his arms around Sylvia, Sheol threw a sinister eye contact over toward Trickle and Lumpy who just stood there incurious - staring out into nothingness. He explained, "Our deadliest Shokan might not have been a match for Crimson Red Belts, but these Weak Bozos will be more than enough to tackle my counterfighting friend, Rodrick," before bringing his lips to the amorous acceptance of the Shokan Princess'.
To Monster Master, Tentalor Rep's presence on Second Earth was meant as preparation. None of these Police Force officers or Enforcers represented a threat to his interests. The Shokan were making impressive strides, but they were not in the league of Acro who played at much the same level as the dreaded Vigil Force(s), but even he had seemingly withdrawn from the expression of his will, so for now, one Crimson Red Belt was to be spared.
Monster Master had sent one of his generals to do this task. With the patience of the Ultimate Ethereal officially at an end, the antics of these nonbelievers would net a new round of retribution, and ten plagues were unnecessary. The very dominion which saw him as creation (deified) was being challenged. With not so much as any bit of regret or remorse for rejecting the many, numerous, and basically infinite blessings that he had provided to every living being, his immeasurable worth was being spit upon.
Again, this had absolutely nothing to do with the inhabitants of Second Earth. These people were not even an afterthought, and with time, life came and went and would come and go anew as a part of a cycle that Monster Master set. And it was supposed to be a timetable that he alone determined. No, these next events were being directed at others who were not even deserving of the effort, yet they warranted the treatment because their atheism seemingly knew no bounds as it had crossed into the realm of an egregious flagrancy.
Normally, the matter would be dealt with at the time of a violator's death when there was no more 'choice' - no more 'free will' to disobey ignorantly and arrogantly of the amassed consequences. Souls were lent and would always remain the property of Monster Master. Misuse and mistreatment of his property would be met with an exacting amount of eternal torment until the day that repentance was reached.
That category and its resultant punishment would not nearly come close to even fitting this crime however. The perpetrators were making a mockery out of death and fate and faith. It should not have affected Monster Master so, but the ungrateful were becoming organized, and no longer was their arrogance an exercise in futility or otherwise the laughable result of freedom of belief - which theirs happened to be wrong, he might have added. To them, his forceful displacement was now being actively sought despite the beliefs of and the emotional damage which would be extended to his most ardent of followers.
This was being aimed at demons who openly demanded a holy war, and Monster Master sent one of his powerful angels to greet them with open luminescent purple arms.
The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
For there to have been hundreds of Police Force officers from this main base as well as many of the surrounding precincts gumming up the aisleways and all of them nearly silent, it meant that they were either extremely disciplined in politeness, or Edith had put the fear of an Ethereal in them after that second-earthquake to keep things down. Regardless, Ardina - in Slubbich' arms and Devore - in his mom's arms slept peacefully.
Vim had gone from rookie to runner, seeking out the necessary supplies throughout the base that could allow Edith to best tend to her children's needs which included creating a makeshift bed out of the vacated desktop of Pete's former desk. Surprisingly, a surplus of pillows and bedding existed, and they had Yori to thank for that.
The full-time Police Force engineering team lead and part-time Enforcer spy was extra accommodating in light of the night's events. Whether his behavior was the result of an honest concern for the family of a man in Commissioner Gyro who he truly respected or an order that had come down from Chipshot to check on the family's well-being was unknown and irrelevant as far as the urgency of his response was concerned. Unlike other Police Force officers, he did not go home for the evening or ever for that matter. His impressive IT services were so much in demand around the clock of three different shifts, that they moved him into his server room. No rent? No utilities? No phone bill? An insanely fast internet connection? And catered meals? It was a no-brainer, and he was a bachelor, so what did it matter? Although, adding a life to the balance of work was forthcoming as a formalized telecommuting plan happened to be in the works.
The Commissioner knew that Yori was an Enforcer, but he did not know that Pete and Julian were also aware. With his former superior officer currently being suspended, he was not quite compromised and could still feed his cunning moonlit employer what was perceived to be unfiltered information.
Pete and Julian were going to play Yori for all he was worth. As they exited the office, penetrating stares had to be held back from the direction of him lest they reveal their powerful hand. Entering into talks with the Enforcers but being able to force-feed them tainted information through their plant was going to be invaluable, so it was up to them to stall the intense law enforcement urge to take the engineering team lead down to that store room and break out the phone books....
"Let me know if you need anything else," Yori whispered to Vim before heading off to his work area.
"Thanks, Yori," Vim mouthed quietly. He had assisted Slubbich and Pete in staring down the Enforcers, but somehow Edith was worse.
Speaking of staring down, Julian had to snap Pete out of his rugged cop funk as he watched his partner's eyes follow Yori all the way down the rows until the engineering team lead's absorption into the crowds blocked any further pointed sight. A simple elbow did the trick.
"Parsec," Pete turned to address the mercenary who had waited patiently - continued uncannily to do so and requested, "would you mind accompanying us to this meeting?"
"Of course," Parsec accepted despite not even knowing the specifics.
After turning to address an astonished Julian, Pete responded as if he had won a friendly wager, "See!"
"Do you know or care that we're potentially walking into a death trap?" Julian questioned.
With a shrug, Parsec shrugged off the sentiment, "What does that matter? It gives me an opportunity to see how you-all operate, and you get a chance to start building some trust in me. It's almost like the hairier the situation the better in proving each of our respective mettle."
"Julian has a point," Pete insisted. "Three are invited to the meeting, and we'd normally take Slubbich along, but if none of us returned, the Police Force would be down three leaders instead of two. I wouldn't think any lesser of you if you decided to back out."
"But...I would think lesser of myself," Parsec reiterated, "and I see those kids over there, their mother, and a roomful - a room packed full of concerned Police Force officers. If this was what had you on edge earlier tonight, I'd like to see to it being resolved, personally, so that your focus can return to what we discussed regarding Olney and Penetration Elimination."
After nodding his acceptance of Parsec's angle, Pete turned to Julian, "Now, my next question is: Are you up for this?"
A simple wave off of the sentiment and jangling of the car keys in Julian's hand added emphasis to his next statement, "Oh, you don't even have to ask me that," and the start of his walk toward the direction of the motor pool. Pete and Parsec fell in line behind him.
"I was actually intrigued by the Enforcers' response to Slubbich' interpretation of the laws," Julian admitted as he, Pete, and Parsec walked through the motor pool. "They don't seem like the gung ho type of operatives who only care about their mandate and nothing else. Maybe this is the wrong choice of words, but they seemed to take pride in their work as it led to a hesitance where they clearly had the upper hand but chose not to strike with a clenched fist."
"You were there," Pete acknowledged, "so we'll go with your gut on this one. I just can't pass this opportunity up though - a chance to finally meet the Enforcers.... And if they're open-minded, this can open up a mutual pact between the sides. I'd have thought that they obviously didn't need us, but maybe they do. Maybe things aren't so rosy from the other side, and a controlled variable is needed for their own edification. That's the only thing that I can fathom. I'll take the backseat."
At the conclusion of the ten minute trek that it took Pete, Julian, and Parsec to traverse the motor pool in order to reach the Mustang which was parked near the far gate of the enclosed yet open-air single level parking garage, much had been discussed. Even more was being brought up as they stood outside the car with both doors open and the passenger side seat folded forward.
Reserved was a harsh adjective for such a sublime individual when genuine would be a much better word to describe him, but the mercenary was certainly not shy in offering his opinion based upon what little that he knew about the situation, "You can use me to your advantage. I'm new to Second Earth, so these Enforcers have no history with me.
Let me be your silent advocate. You handle the business end the way that you know how, but I'll play the background and observe - not interfere."
Stalled with his bent left leg already halfway inside of the car from the passenger side, Pete concurred, "I agree. We've all been there before regarding these high profile meetings, so just act normally. I'm sure that they'll be sizing us up as well. Let's not disappoint. You know what you can volunteer and what you can't, and if they want to turn this into some mess, we've got fallen Police Force officers worth of motivation to take it there if they want. I'll be very curious to see how that's addressed. Where are we supposed to be meeting at?"
Julian shrugged before ducking down to sit in the driver's seat, "Honestly, they didn't say. It was more like a 'we will find you' courtesy-type thing."
And the Enforcers did. Their three fighters converged upon a controlled downward plunge which made an appropriate use of the ships' vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. The canopies concealed the identities of the occupants by remaining closed until a controlled drop of about ten feet was achievable.
Chipshot, MC, and Cindra leapt down from their respective fighters, and each braced the landing from the sizable drop by bending their knees in order to absorb the worst of the impact. There was no wobble as all three stood up and approached the Mustang. Eerily instinctively, the canopies to those ships closed ahead of the drones taking off into the stealth of a night which matched the dark paint jobs and allowed the vessels to perform the duties of an active holding pattern.
Pete turned around as he stepped out of the Mustang. Julian got out of the car at the sight of the Enforcers' arrival in his rearview mirror. Parsec had already been facing that direction. They saw those three fighters and raised them an entire Police Force base full of officers, so the promise of a very real threat was of no initial concern.
Waiting for an angle to finally be able to play against the General and Acro had been of the tedious variety and excruciating in that his humility needed to neuter his ambition. It was the same old corporate story: Chief executive officers hated to be handcuffed by the board and the chairman emeritus - played out on a black ops scale. These Police Force officers represented a way forward - out of the stagnation that was a souped-up car which happened to be stuck in the mud of indifference, spinning its duly primed tires and needing to get rolling again on the road of progression.
There was that Police Force officer from earlier tonight: Julian Kazar. With no rush to tangle, the irrelevance of garnering forgiveness seemed somewhat comforting to MC. This said nothing of all of the others who had fallen to his unforgiving prowess in lethality, but again, he was only following orders. Those people who could not be brought back needed to become a bridge forward, but an inner sorrowful state was a side of him - that staid demeanor which happened to be the reason why he rose to becoming Chipshot's second in command and the Enforcers' third in command overall. The time for playfulness about his phallic familiarity for weaponry had come and gone - a lot of good that did. His best friend had put him in a position to be able to make amends although they were not legally required, and he meant to see this through, hoping that his peer of a Police Force counterpart could respect that.
The Police Force officers' third man was unknown to Cindra, but thanks to the targeting feed, she would learn about who he was at the nearest break in the action. It was a good move on their part to at least generate some light confusion to start off the proceedings. Her first impression of them was already positive, but it was a welcome thought that her second impression was not of a regret for the first as it did serve to not disappoint. As the Enforcers' unofficial fourth in command with intricate knowledge of what was going on with the first in command - her man, she hoped to bring a level of comprehension to the table which would end up pleasantly surprising their hosts.
Did Pete ever stand up straight? His hands buried in the pockets of his trench coat - he wondered. After stepping up to face the Enforcers' leader who stood in the forefront of their triangle's apex, the rugged cop extended his bare and open right hand.
Not exactly knowing what to expect, Julian had not expected to see the Enforcer who was shooting at him earlier. But it was better that it be this person than the Space Force goons who had barged in at the Gyro-Jensen home. There would have been problems had any of them shown up. Now, this guy that stood before him seemed to be responsive when Slubbich took a commanding verbal advantage where weapons could not apply, so he was hoping that the Enforcer's open-mindedness would continue. Making mistakes were part of life, and he had forgiven Pete...how many times? So, this guy who was obviously questioning orders by the sheer attendance of this meeting looked like a saint compared to his partner.
Playing coy might have come easily for Parsec, but he was not shying away from this game. It happened to be the quiet ones who were always listening - sizing up the situation, and the lady that stood before him studied the same field eBook on the tactic. What the mercenary hid with his silence, she concealed with her competence. Black ops types and mercenaries were not all that different in the psyche of their mentality, the specificity of their expertise, or the distinctiveness of their venues where they chose to display these special talents. Anyway, he knew that the Enforcers would be polished, so his only question remained of how these Police Force officers would fare. Past experience with the like had been nothing short of a disappointment and a waste of time - the latter of which would not be tolerated this time around. The fate of Atro City hung in this balance, but it could never be said that a fair opportunity to avert said destruction was not at least extended before the chaos was set to begin.
"My codename's Chipshot," he said with a black-gloved right hand - accepting Pete's offer of civility. With his free left hand, he motioned to his counterparts for introduction, "This is MC, my second in command, and Cindra Rondy.
As the leader of the Enforcers, I take full responsibility for what occurred tonight, and I apologize. Excuses won't bring your people back, and what we have to offer may never make amends, but it's a start."
"I'd still be interested to know the information on what happened," Pete responded.
Without hesitation, Chipshot nodded his agreement with the request, "We can certainly make that happen."
At the conclusion of the handshake, Pete took his right hand and made the reverse introductions for his people, "You probably already know our names, but I'm Pete Rogue - the acting commissioner; this is Julian Kazar who you've already met; and here we have Parsec, the Stalker." There was no apprehension in divulging the mercenary's name because the Enforcers would have found out anyway. The namedrop was what happened to be of pertinence here though. The Police Force had already demonstrated that it was full of a vivacious unpredictability, so what was the point in changing that up now?
"I wish that we could've met under different circumstances," Chipshot remarked. "As it stands, we're on your schedule, so where would you like to meet?"
No, the Pillorian Regime had zero semblance of a fleet, but a fleet alone could not defeat them. Even with the Space Force wising up and combining fleets with others throughout the universe, it would still do little to cause a dent in the faction of the Ethereals. But the fact still remained that where might would not suffice, togetherness could at least figure something else out....
Granted, neither the Space Force nor the New Alliance were Monster Master's greatest threat, but discombobulation did happen to be his greatest ally. These next few moments would set about a chain of events which would usurp the ever predictable Human faction. Readymade plans were previously set in place to deal with the ambitious Doran offshoot.
This - all of this was aimed strictly at the most dangerous faction among Monster Master's enemies which seemed to be amassing as quickly in momentum as it was in troop strength. This was a lesson to the wicked and a challenge for their fiendish minions to go on ahead and try to test the authoring, implementation, leadership, and procedures of his own domain! Vigil Force(s) could surely continue to test him if that was their desire, but when they removed the gloves, he put the brass knuckles on. More than willing to grapple with them; to heaven's heart, their swords would not penetrate its chest; for love's sake, the Ultimate Ethereal spit back at them.
Tentalor Rep spoke the Requirement:
"On behalf of the Pillorian Regime, I, as an agent, come to remind you that Monster Master is the Ultimate Ethereal who created all manner of being and place including every person throughout the universe - past, present, and future as well as the plain of existence.
During the earliest period of Monster Master's reign, he delegated the power of creation to a woman named Spyrul to whom all must obey as the supreme ruler of the universe. Although she reigns from a pedestal perch known as the planet of Pilloria, every Doran, Grey, Human, Robot, Slorg, person of Zahn, or any other race fall under her majesty; and all systems, galaxies, quadrants, sectors, or other types of segmentation fall under her jurisdiction.
All must obey Spyrul and take her as the mistress of the universe. There have been none other before or since, so she must be regarded for having been elected to the pontificate, and these terms of endearment shall continue well after the end of the universe and its subsequent reformation until a point of Monster Master's revocation.
It was Spyrul who sanctioned the creation of additional Ethereals in order to meet the distinct and dedicated needs of your personalized worship. As is always the case, you are permitted and encouraged to speak with them directly - should you desire to.
By virtue of sacrament, these Ethereals have received and lorded over their apportionment of Monster Master's dominion in the manner that one would expect of obedient subjects - serving with good will, without any resistance, and also without delay as they were informed of the aforesaid facts. And you are expected to do the same.
Thus, you are required to understand and accept what I have just said and acknowledge Monster Master (as the Ultimate Ethereal), Spyrul (as the supreme ruler of the universe), and the remaining Ethereals (as your immediate lords and lordesses) constitute the Pillorian Regime - the ruling faction of this or any other universe.
Should you not only agree with your head and mouth but believe with your heart and soul, we will continue to welcome you in love and receive you in charity. Your families will remain free from bondage and your property will be exempt from confiscation. It is not for me to compel you to become Pillorians in essence of faith, but those who have converted find that we grant many more privileges and exemptions plus do favors above and beyond what you might have already come to be thankful for.
However, should you act like ungrateful children and decline our generous offer of not only continued but added benevolence, or should you maliciously doddle in the making of your decision, each scenario will be taken into consideration as an unforgivable sign of disrespect. With Monster Master's help, we will powerfully enter into Second Earth, make war against you in all manner of ways, enslave your families, and take your property. Vassals who refuse to obey the Ultimate Ethereal, choose to resist, and decide to contradict him but then turn around and protest the death and destruction that this could cause need to know that the subsequent response would not be the fault of the Pillorian Regime.
The conclusion of my oratory shall constitute the effective notice of your being served."
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