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To the Victor…
To her left were two of her dogs. The third was curled up beside Beau who was on her right. Her outfit was balled up under her head to act as a pillow.
really beautiful,” she said. I can’t believe we’re this close to
“I was hoping you’d like it. I was surprised at your call.”
“I was too. Today was a bad one. Too much stuff to deal with.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“No. Well, yes. But no.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“There is stuff I want to talk about, but I don’t want to talk about it. At any rate, I don’t want to lay it all on you.
“Talk to me,” he said, rolling up on one elbow to face her.
“I—I can’t. Not about this.”
“Sort of. I’m just not really feelin’ very heroic lately. Lis’ was my balance. If I started to over think something, she’d jump in and force me to act. Now, it’s like I don’t know if I’m even doin’ the right thing. All these new kids comin’ in have no idea what they’re in for.”
“Neither did you when you started.”
“Because… Well, okay, you’ve got a point. Do I have the right to put these kids on the street?”
“They are putting themselves on the street, whether you help them or not. How many stand a better chance because of stuff you taught them?”
“Yeah. I’ve gone over that argument in my head too. But what about the ones that don’t come to us? The ones that see our kids, then think they can do it on their own?”
“Well, you should know better than anyone you can’t save them all.”
“Bet I could have saved Lis’.”
“You don’t know that. You can’t. Even if you were there, there is no way to know that you wouldn’t have been lost too.”
“Maybe so, but at least I could have actually done somethin’.”
“She took off before anyone even knew where she was headed. What could you have done? Do you think she’d have taken you with her?”
“No, I think I would have stayed with Marcus and told the others where to meet her, but I might have been able to talk her out of going. Just like with Jyn and Tonix, I never got a chance to even try.”
“Come here,” said Beau as he laid back down and pulled her head gently onto his chest. He glanced over at the dogs to try to reassure them that she was okay. Her warm tears pooling on his chest made him give that up. The dogs knew.
Epim and Tog sat at the conference table with Sliss. The reptile was having a difficult time seeing things from their point of view.
“How is it different from when you found me? You sat down and heard something, and there I was. You brought me here and kept me.”
“It’s different, because when I found you, you were a normal lizard, like the ones we saw at the pet shop. That’s all I thought you were. It wasn’t until later that you started to change. By the time you were old enough to understand well enough to be alone, you were already part of the family. She’s not. She’s a scared little girl that has been taken from her dimension. You can’t keep her as a pet.”
“Sliss. Do you recall where she came from? The name of the dimension or the name of the team leader, or anything that we can use to send her home?”
“I told you, no! Even I did remember any of that stuff, what if I promise to take care of her? What if she doesn’t want to leave here?”
Tog stood up and walked to a corner of the room. Epim responded. “She’s old enough to choose, but if she’s not a threat to us, and she’s willing to stay, we’ll take her on as a student like any other. She’s not a pet.” She paused. “She’s not Cursed Phoenix.”
Sliss looked at Epim, his eyes narrowing. “I know! I know she’s not. I’m not stupid. You all think I’m stupid! I know what happened to CP. I’m the one that suggested it. I was the one that pushed the button when Zach said to! I—I…”
“Sliss. All I meant was that I know you miss her. I know how much of a personal sacrifice it was for you to make. This new girl reminds you of CP, but she may not be anything at all like what you really want her to be. She’s not a pet. She’s a person. As a person, she has the right to stay or leave as she chooses.”
Epim and Sliss sat in silence while Tog left the room to bring the girl in. She looked at them for a moment, as if it were some kind of trap, then sat down as far from them all as she could.
“I’m Doctor Jensen, but you can call me Epim. Do you have a name we can call you?”
“She’s fast. And twitchy. But in a good way.”
“Yes, Sliss, you said that,” said Epim in one of her more patient tones. Ahm-ee? Do you know where you are?”
“I think so. I heard some of the others talking. I was in an arena, about to have a match. When the gate opened, I jumped out and passed through some bright light. That was a doorway from my world to yours, wasn’t it?”
“Basically, yes. This world is Earth. Have you heard of it?”
Epim was unphased. “All right. You say you were in an arena. You were about to fight? Are you a gladiator of some kind?”
“I’m not sure what a gladiator is. I’m an Enforcer recruit.”
“And what is that?”
“People on my world are tested when they’re young. Those who pass are taken to Enforcer training. Those who pass, are taken on as recruits. Those who survive become Enforcers.”
“Are you saying that people die in this training?” said Epim, her voice raising a bit.
“Yes. To get out of training requires a person to fight in one match every ten days. Each match has one chance in twenty to be a death match. The second year, the odds of a death match doubles, and the fights come every seven days. In the third year, the fights are every three days, and there is a death match about every fifth or sixth fight. Today was my first fight as a third year.”
“So, you’ve killed other people in these matches?”
“Two my first year and five last year. I got good draws.”
“Are these people from rival, umm training centers?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders. “Not always. Sometimes you fight a room mate. Sometimes you don’t know the person. You have no way who your opponent is. We have helmets with masks.”
“So then, how do you know you may have fought a friend?”
“If they don’t show up for dinner, they lost. If I killed someone that day, it might have been that person. We’re never told for sure, but it’s usually not that hard to figure out.”
Epim’s voice began to reflect her outage; and her pity. “And what do enforcers do, exactly?”
“Enforce the laws.”
“Laws such as?”
“Citizens are not allowed to commit any form of violence on one another.”
There was a pause while Epim took this in. “Violence is wrong, but you end up killing 20 people to get a chance to enforce that?”
The girl had a confused expression. It was almost as if she were about to explain to a child that fire is hot. “Is that any different from the way your world works? Surely you have people to enforce the laws? If someone acts against the law, they are punished, are they not?”
“Yes, but those who enforce the laws do not hand out the punishments, and our police are required to use as little violence as possible to catch them.”
“The Police are your Enforcers? While I was waiting I saw your news. People here do not fear the police. There is no respect. The police have no power over them. I saw a woman on that screen talking about a man who charged a police with hurting him. Is that really a crime?”
“Tog, could you take Sliss out to the common room, for a while.” Epim said this with a tone and look that Doug understood to mean a session was about to begin. He gathered Sliss, and they went out to the television, leaving Epim alone with the girl.
Zach had much on his mind. So much that he had forgotten all about the memory card Epim had passed to him a few hours before. He wouldn’t have thought back to it now if not for an announcement brought to his attention by Athena.
A man was
The small card seemed to border on microscopic in the big man’s hands. He eyed it with suspicion for a moment, then decided to get an opinion from Epim and Mourning before continuing.
Tog looked over as the door to the conference room opened. The girl had come out and headed for the room she had been given in the guest section. Epim signaled him to come back in.
“Is she dangerous?”
“Yes. Very. But she’s not a risk.”
Tog sat down. “This isn’t something I’m gonna need a translation on is it?”
Epim sat down beside him. “No. Her world is different than ours, and it may take a while to get her to adapt, if we can’t send her home.”
“Different in what way? Aside from teenage death matches?”
“Well, they don’t lie. Ever. About anything. Dishonesty is abhorrent to them, and grounds for immediate ‘enforcement’. That’s her way of saying killed.”
“Yes. Any lie. If she wakes you up at three in the morning and asks if you were sleeping, you tell her ‘yes’. If she asks you if her outfit makes her butt look big, and it does, tell her ‘yes’. She will view any lie as a sign of disrespect for her and her position as an enforcer. It’s actually a capital offence where she’s from.”
“So, she’s a cop?”
“In training, yes.”
“And she’ll kill people for lying?”
“So, she’s a psycho?”
“You’re one to talk.” Epim said it with a grin. “No. She’s every bit as sane as most of the people here. She’s quite a bit better off than a few. It’s just that she’s a product of her society. In her world, if one guy hits another guy, the Enforcer can kill the one that threw the punch. There are no courts or trials, and every crime carries a death sentence.”
“Wow, that must suck.”
“Not from what she said. There is practically no crime. In a twenty year career, an enforcer may never need to kill a single person.”
“Other than the twenty they killed to get the job.”
“Yep. The reason is that the people know that an Enforcer won’t hesitate or feel remorse about killing them. The family can’t sue, either.”
“What if an enforcer is wrong?”
“See, that’s the thing. It’s not just the Enforcers that tell the truth. It’s everyone. If someone reports a crime, they take that person on their word. That person knows that if they lie, and get caught, they die too. It keeps false reports to a minimum.”
“I imagine it would. How exactly does this make her not a serial killer?”
“She knows right from wrong. She feels compassion for those that deserve it, but only those who follow the rules are deserving. She is no different than any other seventeen year old girl, apart from the body count. Actually, she’s very polite and respectful. That reminds me. Keep Kym away from her for a while.”
“Does she understand that killing people here is wrong?”
“Yes. I told her about our world, and gave her some stuff to read and watch to learn about how we do things. Tomorrow I’m going to go to Portal Corp and see if I can find out how to get her home.”
The following mourning, Mourning arrived to find a seemingly impatient Athena giving her a scolding look and a message to meet Zach at .
“Just time to get a quick shower,” she thought.
She made it to the room just a few minutes late, and found the whole team there, including some new girl.
“Now we can start,” said Tog.
“Yesterday, Entimangler identified a man in Talos as the man she saw talking to the leader of the Outcasts that ambushed Lista about 18 months ago. He was being mugged by a pair of Warriors. One of the items they got from him, and the only item he seemed concerned with, was this memory card. He was teleported away again, but Ent was able to recover the card.
“Before we had a chance to look at it, we got a message that there was a huge reward for its return, provided that none of the files were opened. Since this is our case, Zach has left it to us to decide what to do. On the one hand, it could give us a lead. On the other, we’d be violating the privacy of a possibly innocent person. What are your thoughts?”
“How sure is Entimangler that this was the same person? It has been 18 months,” asked HAAL.
Epim answered, “She was born to do one job, control prisoners and prevent their escape. If she says it’s the same guy, I won’t question her on it. She saw him once before and considers him one of her prisoners.”
“Why is there even a discussion about it?” asked Mourning. “He lost it. We have it. He wouldn’t be offerin’ a huge reward for its return unless he really didn’t want what was on it to be seen. Open it.”
“If it is his property, what right do you have to open it?” said the new girl.
turned to face her. “I’m sorry. Who are you?
I don’t recall you bein’ here when the men this guy hired ambushed Lista
The girl remained calm. Almost disturbingly calm. “So you would take the property of another if it served your needs?”
“In this case yes. It’s called ‘evidence’. If there is nothin’ on it, we’ll return it. We wouldn’t have accepted the reward anyway. If there is somethin’ on it, it might help us find Lis’ and put an end to this crap. Let HAAL open it. No matter what it is, he can’t pass any form of judgment on it. If it helps us, he’ll pass it on. If it’s nothin’, we’ll give it back.”
“This is why your enforcement system is so filled with problems. Your culture treats criminals like citizens, rather than predators.”
“My culture? And yes, criminals are citizens.” Turning to the room she said, “Seriously, who is this?”
“Sliss found her in Portal Corp yesterday,” said Epim. We don’t know her home dimension, so we took her in.”
Mourning gave a sigh and addressed the girl. “Okay, so how would you deal with it?”
“You know the man to be a criminal? Kill him.”
“We don’t know who he is or where to find him.”
“Arrange for the return of the card to lure him out.”
“Then kill him?”
“He is a criminal.”
“He’s a small part of a large criminal group. Alive he may lead us to someone higher than him. Killing him will mean that we lose the chance. I’m a little confused why it’s okay to kill him, but not look at his stuff.”
“He is a criminal. Criminals should not be allowed to live. The property is his as long as he is alive. Return it, kill him, then use it.”
“Shouldn’t it pass to his next of kin?”
“All items carried by a criminal at the time of death go to the Enforcer who then passes them on to the proper owners.”
“How can you be sure that Enforcers don’t just kill people to get stuff they want?”
“In my world, such thoughts have never come up.”
“That you know of.”
“No. They have never come up. You put the problems of your culture upon mine.”
Tog took a step forward. “Okay, enough. You two can continue this after. Show of hands time. Who says we look at the data?”
All hands went up except one. “HAAL, run it.”
Kym caught up to the new girl in the hallway. “Hi, I’m Kym. We haven’t met yet. Some of what you said in there was interesting. I’d like to talk to you about it, when you have some time.”
“I have time.”
“Cool. So, what do they call you?”
“A name? Ahm-ee.”
“Were you serious about killing that guy?”
“Yes. There is no reason to keep a criminal alive. They are a blight on the world. I do not understand the way your world seems to revere them, and punish those that oppose them.”
“Who reveres them?”
“Last night I watched a number of videos about your world. Your entertainment shows criminals getting away with their crimes. In many cases, your police were actually punished for catching them. If a police officer actually kills a criminal, even to save his own life, his branch has to pay money to the family of the man who was killed. When they do catch a person, they give them free food and shelter for years. How does this do anything other than glorify the criminal?”
“Hey it’s not all like that. It’s more wrong to kill than to imprison. Prisons keep criminals locked away from the rest of the people.”
“Where they learn to be better criminals for when they get out.”
“Sometimes, yeah. But other times, they are in prison in the first place because they didn’t have the skill to do anything else. In prison, they learn a real job.”
“But when they get out, no one will hire them because of the criminal past, so they go back to being a criminal and use the training they got in prison to be a better one. It is better for everyone to just kill them all.”
“I admire your focus, but I think your head is so far up your butt it’s giving you a limited field of view. So in your world, every criminal is killed, no matter what?”
“Yes. There are Criminals, Citizens, and Enforcers. Enforcers exist to eliminate the criminals.”
“How old does a person have to be before they can be killed for, say, stealing?”
“Once they are of school age, they are expected to be educated. Until then the responsibility falls on the parent.”
“School age is what?”
“About 6 years.”
“So, if a five year old kid steals, something, his parents have to kill him?”
“No. The child is taken to a re-education center, and the parents are placed on watch to be sure that they are capable of raising a good citizen. Two failed children result in the sterilization of both parents, as they are obviously unfit.”
“But after they start school, you’d kill a kid for stealing?”
“They know the laws, and the consequences. If the parents teach them correctly, they won’t be criminals. It’s very basic.”
“I agree it’s basic, but where is the room for the person that breaks the law one time in an act of desperation”
“Well, the classic one is a father whose daughter is very sick, but he can’t afford the medicine to treat her. Without it, she will die. The only way he can get it is to steal it. He’s not a criminal, he’s a desperate father doing what he has to do.”
“If is he steals he is a criminal. Nothing changes that. You are not understanding that the way laws are enforced is not the only difference in our worlds. The situation you described cannot happen in mine because the things essential for life are given freely to all.”
“Don’t people take advantage of that?”
“No. That would be stealing. The risk is too great.”
“So, let’s say I live in your world. I make clothes. How do you get my clothes?”
“You produce them and make them available. When I need them, I go in and take them.”
“How do I get the fabric?”
“You take it from the people that make it.”
“No money? No barter? I just take what I need from those who have it?”
“What stops me from taking all of it?”
“Well, I do. Taking more than you need is stealing.”
“So, if I think, for example, that Tog is taking too many clothes, I can report him and you’ll just kill him?”
“If you tell me he’s stealing, yes. If you only suspect it, then we talk to him and find out why he’s taking so many.”
“So, I say Tog is stealing, and you kill him. How would you find out I was lying.”
“There would be an investigation. If he did not have a surplus of clothing, then you were lying, and we come after you.”
“He could have sold it, or traded it… oh.”
“Yes, you see. There is no one to sell anything to, and no one to buy from. If he is hoarding, then he will still have it, or will have hidden it.
“It sounds a lot like Communism. That didn’t play out so well here.”
“I watched something on that too. What you call communism was flawed from the start. There were still people in power. There was still a need for money and barter. It’s only by getting rid of that need and desire for money that the system could have worked. On this world that would never have happened because there were other places that did not use that system. There can be no harmony between people that have such a different system.”
“So, if you get stuck here, will you try to change this system to make it like your own?”
“So much of your culture is flawed. So much of it needs to be changed. It’s probably impossible. Because of that, I’ll do what I know how to do. I will learn your laws, and enforce them as you do.”
“You know you can’t just kill people for stealing though, right?”
“Can I cut them just enough to pass out from blood loss?”
“Better get with Epim on that one.”
Tog was seated in the common room. All that was contained on the memory card were vacation pictures. Athena was scanning them for any hidden messages or codes, but he wasn’t hopeful.
Her call startled him. She had found nothing encoded on the card. He also had a visitor.
“It’s not my father again is it?”
“No. It’s a girl. A young girl.”
With a sigh, he heaved himself up and headed for the reception room. As he entered the waiting area, his face lit up. Before him stood Heather. She had been his brother’s best friend in the orphanage, and had a knack for designing very complex things in very simple ways. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed her.
“Wow, Doug. This place is awesome!” That computerized reception thing is wicked cool. Who built it?”
“A guy named Zach. He’s a little like you, but huge.”
“Bigger than you?”
“Yeah. I’m sure you’ll get a chance to meet him.”
“So, what’s been going on?”
Doug filled her in everything since his last letter to her. The letter where he told her about The Other Guy. Then he filled her in on the plot they’ve discovered, Lista’s disappearance, and the memory card that turned out to be a dead end.
“Just vacation pictures?”
“With sunsets?” she asked in a tone that suggested it might be important.
“Three or more sunsets?”
Doug started to smile. “Yes. Five in fact. One each day, from the looks of it.”
“I assume Athena can do basic trig and hack into airline records.”“Athena, can you call Zach and have him meet us in the lab? We may have a job or two for you.”