Dylan’s Note: This short story is a prologue to a longer tale, but stands on its own I think. It’s not that funny, sorry about that. I’m going to post it in at least two parts, maybe three, as its about 7000 words in length. Of everything I’ve done in my (non-published) writing career, this one is probably the most indicative of what I want to do. SF action/adventure with a message.
It was the rookie, of course, who spotted the crime in progress.
“Stop!” Allfeld cried out.
Startled, Guardian Tiroz pulled over the two-seat patrol cycle. His grey eyes, which bulged grotesquely from the faded indigo of his face, looked at the eager trainee with disgust.
“Observe and call in, rookie,” the grizzled vet said wearily. “We’re only on a watch patrol. We’re not to stop.”
Trainee Allfeld was a physical contrast to the aged guardian in every way; the indigo of his skin was still dark and glistening and his black eyes and hair hadn’t a hint of grey. But the difference between the two partners was more than merely age.
“I think they’re killing someone!” he informed his senior. “At least four, maybe five guys are beating up a girl by that corner!”
“Call—it—in,” Tiroz hissed angrily. “And do not alarm me like that ever again.”
Allfeld, abashed, started to report in to Control. But as Tiroz began to pull their ‘cycle out into traffic again, the rookie impulsively leaped out of his side-seat. Furiously, Tiroz halted the ‘cycle and shouted “Allfeld!” The young man ignored his senior’s implied order and rushed back to the corner.
It was nearly 0130 and the sun would be rising at 0213. But people of Dargniion, much less those of Craltor, its planetary capitol, only required about five hours of sleep per Dargniion week. This meant the streets were still bustling at this hour, and Allfeld had to shove his way through a very unruly throng to reach his goal.
When he got there, he saw the gang leader, a very tall young man with a shaved head and violently glittering violet eyes drop the young girl with a thud to the ground. At a glance, Allfeld saw that the girl was dead, stabbed through the heart by the youth’s knife.
There were five of them, including the leader. Three massive males and two feral females, all wearing the eye-cutting colors of the gang called Deathboys. The gang stood their ground and just looked at the young guardian trainee who, tremblingly, drew his pistol on them.
“You all stand still,” Allfeld ordered. “I’m taking you in for this murder. Don’t anyone move, or I’ll shoot you dead.”
Allfeld took a moment to congratulate himself mentally for keeping the tremors he was feeling out of his voice. Mostly.
Then, one of the males howled with vicious laughter.
“You get that, Yunto?” he said to the leader. “He’ll be taking us in or shooting us!”
The leader, Yunto, grinned at Allfeld.
“He’ll shoot us if we give him the chance,” Yunto agreed. “But I say we’re leaving and I don’t think this punk rookie’s gonna do a thing about it.”
Two things happened then: a wicked, electrified neuro-chain came flying at Allfeld’s head, flung by one of the females at his left, and a blaster fired from behind him. The male who’d laughed at him went down with a hole in his chest. Allfeld blurrily saw this as he barely ducked the chain.
Then, Tiroz was at his side and firing a second time. The female with the chain was hit and went flying back, dead, into a wall. The remaining trio of Deathboys jumped into a small car parked ready at the corner and raced away, but not before Tiroz could toss a magnetic tracker onto their rear bumper.
“Marked,” he muttered grimly. He took a moment to grab Allfeld roughly under the armpit and yank him back up to his feet. While the trainee gathered himself, the veteran smacked him none too gently on the temple. “Idiot! Never stand there chatting with animals like that! You had them in the act of murder, rookie. Just shoot next time. Or better yet, toss in an exploder, take them all out.”
“And half this block maybe,” Allfeld argued, still dazed.
Tiroz sniffed testily. “We’re cruising one of the worst districts in Craltor. Nobody out here’s clean.”
The senior guardian took two triangular devices from his belt and tossed them on either side of the corpses on the corner. Within seconds, an opaque electrified barrier encircled the crime scene, cutting the small area off from curious civilians. This would serve until a processing team could come to the site. That done, Tiroz hauled his troublesome trainee back to their ‘cycle.
As he swung the vehicle back around, Tiroz checked the console display.
“Control’s sending four ‘cycle units after those idiots,” he reported. “And shocked surprise! We’re one of them!” He glared at Allfeld. “Thanks, rookie.”
“They killed that girl,” Allfeld mumbled defiantly. “What else are we out here for?”
“Observe and call in,” repeated Tiroz. “Like I keep saying. You’re not ready yet for engagement. As you’ve just proven once again.”
The pair rode in silence for a few minutes as they and the other three assigned units closed in on their target. Soon, the crimson dot signifying the Deathboys’ vehicle on Tiroz’s display came to a stop. The veteran guardian noted the information that quickly flashed onto his screen.
“Lakeshore apartment projects,” he said grimly. “That’s a maze in there, right in the heart of the Sqalik District. Even the grandparents in there are probably Deathboys at heart.” Once again, he graced the rookie with a glare of doom. “If you get me wounded tonight, I’ll kill you.”
Allfeld tried to return Tiroz’s glare with one of his own, but he knew he failed miserably.
In a moment, they were inside the projects. This was an area of about two square miles with many medium and larger-sized tenements. They weaved between the grey, looming apartment buildings, triangulating Yunto and company’s marked position with the other three ‘cycles. Allfeld looked around and saw nothing but brownness, greyness, emptiness.
“Where’s the lake?” he wondered aloud.
Tiroz found this quite funny and chortled aggressively.
“Maybe in their dreams,” he suggested. “If they’re even allowed those any more.”
Tiroz laughed at this joke that Allfeld only forced a dutiful grin to. He couldn’t bring himself to find the humor in this situation, but if Tiroz could…well, that was better than being yelled at and smacked around.
Suddenly, there was the car! All four Guardian Force units rounded their respective corners in perfect timing and converged slowly on the vehicle. Tiroz had stopped laughing now. The scene they were entering bothered him very much.
“The punks are standing at their car like they’re waiting for us,” he growled. “And we haven’t seen another soul since we came in here. Something’s up.”
But a moment later, it was too late. A shrill scream rent the air, the sound of a high-caliber beam weapon being fired. Allfeld watched as the Guardian ‘cycle on their left was instantly annihilated. A second later, came a second scream. Another ‘cycle exploded just ahead of them.
“Out!” Tiroz screamed.
Allfeld and Tiroz leaped from their ‘cycle just in time as it was the next to get destroyed. Rolling away from the blast, Allfeld was already drawing his gun. He looked up to see the other two guardians evacuating their ‘cycle. But that driver had had the split-second needed to lock the drive and essentially turn his vehicle into a guided missile, which then plowed into the Deathboys’ parked car and created another explosion. Allfeld’s gunhand caught a piece of shrapnel from this blast and was completely severed above the wrist. Only dimly aware of this, he dove and covered his head as best he could.
By the time he got to his feet again, he could only look on in horror at the developing scene. The gang’s exploded car had taken out two of them. The leader though, Yunto, had escaped the damage and was firing on the two guardians from behind a pillar. That was not the sight that most horrified him, however. A large group of presumed residents of the projects, hundreds of them, started appearing out of the shadows. The majority simply stood and watched; many angrily, many cheerfully, many displaying both emotions at once. A group of about twenty split off from the mass, quickly swarmed the other two guardians and brought them to the ground, intent on beating them to death.
This was when rookie Allfeld realized all this had been arranged. A young girl had even been murdered to get his attention and bring about this evening’s entertainment: the slaughter of guardians by an angry mob.
He looked to his left to see the battered body of Tiroz laying near the remains of their ‘cycle. He hadn’t been as lucky as Allfeld, the shrapnel had torn him apart while mostly missing the trainee. Allfeld dazedly held the stump of his right arm before his eyes then. Mostly missing. Lucky.
In shock, Allfeld fell to his knees. In front of him now, the other two guardians were dead. The mob now turned their attention to him. Dimly, he saw a group of figures stalk over to him. One man among them caught his eye. Tall, with his black hair cut short and tapered to sharp points at both forehead and in back. This man’s violet eyes were flecked with black, and they seemed to pierce the young guardian’s mind. He slid out of the crowd and came to kneel in front of Allfeld.
“What’s your name, Guardian?” the man asked softly.
“Allfeld,” the rookie answered. “Dairmen Allfeld.”
“It’s probably going to be of little consolation to you, Dairmen Allfeld, why you had to die tonight. But I want you to know, change is happening. This is just the beginning.” The man looked briefly at Allfeld, then turned to the crowd behind him. “Someone finish him honorably.”
“Let him suffer a little longer!” a woman said bitterly.
“Yeah, he’s bleeding out anyway!” a man observed with a sharp laugh.
The man in front of Allfeld sighed, rose to his feet again, and pulled a gun. As he touched it to the trainee’s temple, Allfeld, all the fight bled out of him, just closed his eyes. He never heard the shot that ended his life.
• • •
Within the hour, the Guardian Force was hitting Lakeshore and its immediate environs and hitting them hard. A criminal quarantine was immediately enacted; no civilian was allowed to enter or exit the projects without clearance, which essentially meant that no one entered or exited except guardians since no clearance was ever given in the case of a criminal quarantine. Many arrests were made, along with many casualties incurred. The Guardian Force, not known for playing around in the best of times, was dead serious after the egregious slaughter of eight of its own.
Yet no one talked. The assertion began to be circulated among Guardian-Investigators on the ground that the Lakeshore community as a whole was complicit in the ambush. After all, spy eyes and security cams normally in place had all been shut down at the time in question, clearly indicating that this had been a planned operation. Still nobody the investigators questioned admitted to seeing anything. As the first day wore on, it became that much more clear.
Everyone in Lakeshore was guilty.
• • •
Fractar Roeh sat in a seedy room and watched night fall through a grimy windowscreen. Ten hours had passed since the killing of the guardians. To his left, a holo-channel on his data tablet was open to a contact he knew only as Silvan. The greying Dargniion’s still-dark eyes stared out at Roeh from the screen with a peculiar intensity.
“We’re quite pleased with the operation you carried out for us last night,” Silvan stated. “We believe we’ll get precisely the response we need from the Guardian Force.”
“Which is what?” Roeh asked.
“Wait and see, Roeh. I heard you personally dispatched the last guardian with a head shot. Very dramatic.”
Roeh shrugged at the lightly sarcastic tone.
“He was mortally wounded and bleeding to death,” Roeh said flatly. “I didn’t feel like waiting around. Listen, Silvan. You report directly to the Nine, don’t you?”
One of his eyes twitched ever so slightly, but otherwise Silvan covered his surprise well.
“The nine what?” he asked innocently.
“The Nine,” Roeh repeated with emphasis. “The high council of whoevers that started and control the anti-Guardian movement. I think you either report to them or are one of them, Silvan, and I have a couple of questions about last night.”
The man on the screen blinked once.
“Of course, Roeh. You may address your questions to me,” Silvan said noncommittally.
“More like issues than questions, I suppose. For starters, even though I gave my best Deathboys the assignment, I didn’t like having to kill an innocent girl to get the party started last night.”
“I thought they picked a shopgirl,” Silvan interrupted.
“They did, but–”
“A prostitute. So what?”
“Well…I also didn’t like mounting the whole thing for the entertainment of the residents. That involves the whole community in the crime, essentially.”
“The people know what the risks are,” Silvan declared. “And they don’t care. They all wanted to be involved! The whole world has had enough of the tyranny of the Guardian Force! History will proclaim those good people as heroes and liberators. Martyrs, too, since the Guardians are bound to murder some of them in their investigations.”
“See? That’s the kind of thing I’m wary about, Silvan,” Roeh went on. “But if it’s for the greater good or whatever, I guess I’ll try to accept that.”
Silvan eyed Roeh hard for several moments.
“I didn’t think of you as the delicate type, Roeh.”
“I’m not,” Roeh declared. “I just prefer to keep things simpler. I would have preferred just beating the shopgirl up or having her raped. But I decided to stick to your script.”
“I don’t think anything less than a murder would have brought the Guardians where we needed them,” Silvan explained.
Roeh rubbed his scalp wearily.
“You’re probably right,” he conceded.
“The high-beam weapon you used was destroyed?” Silvan inquired casually.
“Of course.” Roeh paused. “It came from the lab of Melnar Freies.”
Silvan’s whole mouth twitched at first, then he pretended he was merely grinning.
“Roeh, you weren’t supposed to study the weapon that closely,” Silvan chided him.
“Is Dr. Freies one of the Nine?”
“Again, this nine of yours! Roeh, let me leave you with one word of advice: drop this line of thought from your mind. Since you’ve been so useful to us, you get one warning. One.”
The man on the screen graced Roeh with his steeliest look yet. A look that told Roeh he might have already crossed a line, regardless of Silvan’s words of warning.
“Okay,” Roeh said lightly.
He smiled at Silvan diplomatically. The man on the screen unsmilingly nodded back at Roeh.
“I’ll be in touch, Roeh. Once again, great job.”
The call-screen went dead. Roeh continued to sit, staring out at the now dark city.
…to be continued