Spinning around a bit too quickly, Ensign Sebastian Balin wobbled on his feet. His eyes locked onto a hysterical Kent Wheelock and the ridiculous scene in the bed of the old militia truck. Tears rolled down Kent’s right cheek while he unseeingly stared beyond the gathering of onlookers and he absently petted a dead falcon. Hopping around in the truck bed next to Kent was a second falcon that occasionally used its beak to nudge the dead one’s head. Finally, a tuxedo cat with half-closed eyelids, lay sprawled out in the truck bed, watching the falcon’s grief dance. Though his mouth dropped open, Balin’s eyes narrowed. Approaching cautiously, Balin attempted to use his body to block the view of the truck bed. Even over Kent’s laughter, Balin could hear the not-so-soft whispers of the retirees.
“That boy’s got two birds.”
“Reckon he’s a baby Bard?”
“Kinda looks like old Fintan, don’t he?”
“It’s the eye.”
Caught between the two camps, the gruff giant of a paramedic stared in disbelief. He’d once heard an old saying about no genius without an element of madness, and while he believed that Fintan had been a bardic genius, he incapable of seeing how the obviously insane one-eyed boy could ever be anything but mad. He stalked over to Balin, grabbed the soldier’s gun arm, and said, “he can’t stay here. He’s lost it. We’ve got to shut him up.”
Looking down at the hand gripping his arm, then glancing up at the paramedic, Balin calmly ordered, “remove your hand.”
“Sorry. I just…let’s move him to the ambulance. He can’t stay here. It—it isn’t right.” The paramedic bowed his head and closed his eyes. After a few seconds, he opened them again, “any minute now, those people,” he used his chin to point to the growing crowd of onlookers, “are going to drop to their knees. If they do that, then he’s got to go over there and recognize each one. We didn’t say anything to the crew because we didn’t want to push him over the edge. They’re already talking. We don’t have time to argue. You want to protect him? Help me.”
“Okay,” Balin sighed. “What do we do?”
“I’ll carry him to the ambulance. You grab his stuff,” the giant paramedic answered.
“Uh…I don’t…okay,” Balin caved. Stepping up to the truck bed, Balin said, “hey? Um. We’re going to move you. So, just—well—just don’t fight, okay?”
At the corner of Beacon Street and Shipping Lane, the Inquisitor took a left and headed directly into the warehouse district’s worn-out prostitution and drug trafficking thoroughfare. The long abandoned buildings spoke of neglect with each broken window and graffitied wall. Though tempted to grab the first girl that he saw, the Inquisitor refrained. Most of the girls working this part of the street were monitored by watchful pimps or their muscle. He needed some girl no one would miss, perhaps a junkie trying to score her next fix. The further in he walked, the greater the distance he’d have to travel back with the temp. So, he also needed a nearby girl who could move quickly, which was likely not a junkie. As he pondered his options and continued moving up Shipping Lane, he nearly tripped upon seeing an old man with a goatee carrying an unconscious woman who looked suspiciously like his missing cargo. If he acted now, he could dispatch the old man, grab his cargo and make it back before the movers were ready for the last container. That also meant that they wouldn’t need to go looking for the missing girl. In fact, if he handled the situation correctly, they’d be able to continue with Plan B and maintain the original schedule.
He slowed his pace and eased closer to the buildings where he’d be less visible in the fading light. Any minute now, the street lights would whine and flash before turning the darkening street into a dingy yellowed version of itself. The hair on his arms rose, not from fear, but from a change in atmospheric pressure. The storm front had finally reached Ambrosia. Thunder roared, though no lightening struck. Finally, something is going right, the Inquisitor thought. Running softly up Shipping Lane, the Inquisitor closed the distance. A count of twenty and again the thunder roared. When he was within range, he flicked his right arm causing his hidden gun to slide into his waiting hand. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. The sound of his gun fire was obscured by the rolling growl of the thunder. Watching his prey drop, he quickly glanced up and down the street. The few stragglers he saw were far too concerned with beating the rain than with anything they might have seen or heard. A trickle of red oozed out from under the old man. The doped up girl hadn’t moved at all after their fall. He maintained a ready position with his gun hand as he approached.
Escorting the Chief Justice from the Command Tent back to Goldie’s Revenge, Captain Prescott did his best to maintain a stern expression, even though he was simultaneously confused and ecstatic. From the moment the justices had arrived at Goldie’s, Adonis had behaved as an arrogant ass accustomed to acquiescence. It brought Captain Prescott no end of joy to have handcuffed Adonis. But, when his thoughts wandered to why it was necessary, Prescott’s stomach wavered and his head hurt. How? How could he betray us? The questions repeated in the back of Prescott’s mind. The few whispered words from General Tomlyn had only been enough for Prescott to grasp the gravity of the matter that Adonis was somehow complicit in the destruction of Avalona. And that, too, caused his stomach to flip.
“This is untenable,” Adonis complained.
“The prisoner will remain quiet until questioned,” Prescott ordered.
“I’m the Chief Justice. You can’t do this to me,” he whined.
“The prisoner will remain quiet until questioned.”
“Quit saying that. You have to let me go. There’s been a terrible misunderstanding.”
“The prisoner will remain quiet…”
“Easy boys!” Jougs yelled at the two movers who teetered on the edge of the dock. Their cargo van was parked as close as it could get with the rear doors wide open. A single 4x6 plank acted as makeshift ramp that they were using to slide each container to the two loaders who then stacked and strapped the containers in.
“He better get back here soon,” Vorant whispered, checking over his shoulder to the dock where half of the containers were waiting. He held one end of the second to last crate.
“We never should have moved those,” Jougs said as he picked up the other end.
“He ordered us to move all but the one,” Vorant said.
The two men started toward the loading dock, when Jougs suddenly stopped. Staring across the crate, Jougs smiled, and boisterously yelled, “it’s slipping. I’m gonna drop it.” He yanked his hands from under the crate and jumped back as it fell. Luckily for Vorant, years of working together prepared him to let go as soon as Jougs said ‘slipping.’ The crash of the container laden with human cargo resounded throughout the practically empty warehouse.
“Easy boys,” one of the loaders mocked. The man clapped his hands together, saying, “look at you. Since we got here you’ve gotten in the way and barked at us. Far as I can tell, you’re just a grunt like me. Well. Not like me. I don’t drop pay dirt.”
“What did you say?” Jougs pivoted towards the loader.
“You heard me.” The man stepped through the bay door.
“Now, Jougs,” Vorant half-heartedly warned.
“Don’t,” Jougs answered. He smirked at Vorant before he crossed the warehouse floor. “You got a problem?” He stopped a foot from the yellow loading line painted onto the floor to warn workers not to stack things in front of the doors. Just behind the vocal mover, the rest of his crew had put down their crates. Jougs stood with arms open, knees slightly bent, and his feet apart.
The mover ran a hand through his thick hair, glanced over his shoulder at his crew, and then took a step toward the yellow line, “yeah. I got a problem.” He shifted his weight back onto his right foot and lifted his right fist in a round-house.
Stepping in, Jougs threw a combo left-right-left, each undercut landing swift and solid on the man’s ribcage. He staggered backward as Jougs came forward with a series of jabs to the man’s neck and chin. In 40 seconds, the mover sat four feet from the yellow line, his eyes crossed, and a hand holding his jaw. While the man sat weaving, Jougs dropped his fighting stance, and glared at the rest of the movers. “Anyone else got a problem with your foreman?” After staring down each silent man in turn, Jougs said, “then get back to work.” He purposefully turned from the dock, heading toward Vorant. Both his fists were balled up and ready to strike.
“Don’t even think about it,” the Inquisitor’s voice boomed from the loft where he stood in the office doorway.
The mover dropped the crowbar. Steel bouncing on concrete echoed throughout the warehouse. Jougs spun around, eyes widened as he realized that the mover had nearly brained him with steel in the expected sneak attack. “Why you worthless piece of shit!” Jougs shouted, stepping toward the man.
The Inquisitor ordered, “stop!”
From habit, Jougs froze. He relaxed his balled up fists and waited.
The only noise was the distinct sound of the Inquisitor’s impatiently tapping foot. “We’re on a schedule, gentlemen. Get back to work.”
“What do you mean by this?” Justice Cal Davies slurred while holding the table and chair to keep from falling over. “Adonis is a member of the Antigone Courts. You can’t put him in handcuffs.”
“Sir,” Sergeant Caspian said as he grabbed the drunken justice’s elbow, “take your seat. We’re under orders.”
“This is preposterous,” Justice Frederick Mayfield said from his chair. He knew better than to try to stand. “What are the charges?”
“Fraunx?” Justice Jo Casta asked.
“Justices,” Captain Prescott said, holding up a hand, “you’ll be appraised when General Tomlyn orders it. For the time being, you’ll be escorted to the Officer’s Barracks where the other justices are resting.” He pushed Adonis toward the double doors leading to the kitchen. As they passed by the bar, Prescott noticed Goldie still lying on the floor, though she leaned on her forearms and stared at the spectacle. He winked at her before passing through the doors into the kitchen. They walked to the left of the range, where Prescott opened a door that led down to the basement cold storage. Flipping the light switch, Prescott ordered, “Sergeant, accompany the prisoner into the basement. I’ll send relief shortly. He is not to be left alone for any reason. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Sergeant Caspian answered. “This way,” the sergeant said to Adonis.
Adonis held his ground in the entryway, “I’m not going down there. This is a conspiracy. I’m the Chief Justice!”
“Either you walk or I shove you,” the sergeant growled.