Okay so I’m going to freely admit that I have no idea where I’m going with this book. My method of writing is to just keep going until stuff comes to me, and as it comes to me, I write it down. The course of the story is constantly changing. That being said, I think I have some ideas. It’s just hard keeping up with my own brain. So maybe this chapter will be rushed and weird. I don’t know. I guess all I’m doing is giving the usual disclaimer: This is very raw and new! As well as largely unedited. Please keep this in mind.
Okay here are some links for easy navigation to previous chapters:
It took Paxton just over a month before he was able to pin Icthi in combat training. Even then she insisted he had caught her right as she was about to sneeze. Rix later reassured him that she always made up an excuse when they beat her. It was a rite of passage.
“Also, don’t ever think for a second that she couldn’t kill you if she wanted to,” he’d said. “Icthi is vicious. Trust me when I say she holds back during training sessions.”
“Noted,” was Paxton’s reply.
Beating Icthi in a sparring match meant he had finally been cleared for field work. He definitely felt prepared. By that time he was shooting with 92% accuracy, he had an extensive knowledge of emergency procedures and protocol, and Rix had drilled all kinds of first-aid into him.
He was raring to get on the road and put his new skills and knowledge to the test.
“I’ve got a great first assignment for you,” Rix said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I came up with it myself. Korse already cleared it.”
“What is it?”
“I’ll tell you in the morning. Pick you up at your place. Dawn.”
“Dawn’s fine, but I’ll probably be at Kar-Yan’s.”
“Why?” Paxton just looked at him. “Oh…I thought you were hooking up with D’mia.”
“That was last week.”
Rix gave him a look.
“What?” Paxton asked.
“Nothing. Just didn’t take you for the type of guy to work out his problems…you know…vaginally.”
Paxton shrugged. “They come on to me, mostly. A few of them make me describe in detail what it was like to take out that Goliath’s eyes before throwing me into the bed. It’s kinda…unsettling if I think about it too much.”
“It takes a certain type of person to fit into this job,” Rix agreed.
“Yeah…I just don’t know if I should be worried that I seem to fit in so well.”
“Hmm…yeah. I never thought about that either,” he replied, though Rix didn’t seem to be too bothered by it at all.
They fell into silence as they exited HQ and made their way to the apartment block. Rix shrugged as they approached his building.
“Sex now. Worry later,” he said. “How about that?”
“Works for me,” Paxton agreed. “See you tomorrow.”
They parted ways, and Paxton spent the night parting Kar-Yan’s thighs. She was a ferocious lover. He was getting used to losing himself in locking his body with hers…or D’mia’s, or whoever happened to offer.
Still, Rix’s words echoed in his head.
Didn’t take you for the type of guy to work out his problems…you know…vaginally.
Before beating the Goliath in the arena, he hadn’t thought of himself that way either. But here he was.
“Where is your mind?” Kar-Yan demanded from beside him. She was watching him, her gray sheets tangled around her semi-transparent legs.
“Right here,” Paxton murmured, and proceeded to lose himself in her for the second time that night.
Someone was knocking on the door.
Paxton groaned and rolled over, his hand coming to rest on Kar-Yan’s soft hip. He tried to go back to sleep, but the person who was knocking was persistent.
“Tell them they have one minute to get out of here before I start breaking bones,” Kar- Yan muttered sleepily.
Paxton groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling on his pants as he headed for the door. Rix was on the other side of it, smiling mischievously.
“I hate you,” Paxton said.
“Good to hear. Get dressed. It’s time to hit the road.”
Paxton’s response was unintelligible, but he retreated to slip the rest of his clothing and armor on. Kar-Yan was already asleep again. He didn’t even think about waking her to say good-bye.
Rix led him down to a fancy transport, one that had actual seats and looked like it had been built within the past two years.
“It’s going to be a long trip,” Rix explained, seeing Paxton’s raised eyebrows. “I’ll explain on the way.”
They mounted the transport and Paxton took a seat while Rix programmed in coordinates. A moment later, the vehicle jumped to life and began skating down the road, a familiar whirring sound floating from the engine. That sound still made Paxton’s stomach tighten. Force of habit.
“So…” Paxton said as Rix sat down beside him.
“Right, our assignment,” he said, and handed Paxton a file. “Plug that in to your monitor.”
Paxton did as he was told, using the portable computer screen that Rix had given him a few days ago. Every Enforcer had one. It was mainly used to store information and send communications. The images that popped up in front of him now were of a farm and the family that ran it.
“Whicker Farm, up in Sector Seven,” Rix explained. “They’re in charge of all the grain that gets shipped to our HQ, as well as the headquarters in Sectors Five, Seven, and Eight.”
“Okay. What about it?”
“Well…I just happened to be unloading our monthly shipment a couple days ago when I noticed it seemed lighter than usual. So I went back and checked the logs, and sure enough we were being shorted about two kilos. I dug further and found out that this lightening of our shipment has been going on for the better part of a year. They never left out so much that we would miss it, but over time they began to skim off more and more. Just a little bit at a time. When I figured that out, I made some calls. Turns out the HQs in Five, Seven, and Eight have also been receiving a lighter load, though they didn’t notice until I pointed it out. Which is how I got the honor of taking my new partner around to the farm to settle the issue.”
Paxton nodded. This was standard stuff, as far as he could tell, although…
“They had to know they’d get caught,” he said, thinking out loud.
“Bad drought these past couple of years,” Rix told him. “They’re required to send us the agreed upon amount, regardless of if they have enough left over to feed themselves. I imagine they got desperate.”
“Oh don’t get that look on your face.”
“That weird sympathetic one, like you feel bad for the trinks. It’s not like their lives are that terrible. They get to live on and work their own land, rather than moving their huge family into one tiny, little hovel. It’s a privilege. And they’re abusing it.”
Paxton sat back and scanned the files Rix had given him. Whicker Farm was run by Nano Whicker and his wife Tru. They had seven children. Five daughters, two sons. The eldest daughter was married and had two children of her own. They all lived together in the farmhouse, which was in no way a stately manor, but was certainly better than a house in one of the cell blocks. As Rix had said.
The trip was long. Paxton watched the sunrise over his left shoulder as they headed north toward the farm.
When they arrived, they immediately caught the attention of the group of people who were working the fields. A couple of them – young children – dropped their tools and ran into the house. By the time Paxton and Rix had disembarked from the transport, an older man was walking toward them from the farmhouse. He was followed by a woman, his wife, who was trying and failing to look calm and composed.
“Morning,” Farmer Whicker said as he got closer. “What can I do for you, officers?”
“Hey,” Rix said, all friendliness and smiles. “How are you doing today, sir? Got a minute to talk?”
“Sure do,” Whicker replied easily, though Paxton noticed his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.
“Great. Do you wanna do this inside?”
“We’re staying right here,” Paxton said quietly, though both Rix and Whicker heard him just fine.
“Whoops, guess my partner says we have to stay outside,” Rix said. “Is that alright with you?”
“Absolutely,” Whicker said. “What can I help you with?”
“Well, Mr. Whicker, it seems a couple of Enforcer Headquarters have noticed a slight…decline in their grain supply over the month.”
“Did they now? That is odd.”
“Isn’t it?” Rix replied cheerily. “Thing is…you’re the only one supplying us with the grain, so I was wondering if maybe you could help us figure out what was happening to it.”
“Sure wish I could, but I’ve gotta say this is coming as a surprise to me.”
Rix sighed, still smiling. “That is a pickle, isn’t it?” His blaster was in his hand now, though Paxton honestly never noticed him taking it out of the holster. Farmer Whicker sure noticed it, though. “You sure you don’t remember what happened to it?”
“No, sir. I’d tell you if I did. We always carefully measure –”
“Oh, for the sake of the Overseer!” Paxton growled impatiently. He pulled out his own blaster and whipped it across the old man’s face, knocking him to the ground. “This is a ridiculous game.” He leveled his blaster at the farmer’s forehead. “You have three to five seconds to tell me what happened to our grain, depending on how generous I’m feeling right now.”
“I s-swear I d-don’t know!” the old man stuttered, clutching his hand to his bleeding forehead.
Paxton shot him through the shin. The farmer howled with pain as his wife let out a shriek. Someone in the distance yelled, “Da!”
“I’m not going to ask again,” Paxton said. “Next time you lie, I’ll take the other leg.”
“Aw, shoot. You better tell him,” Rix said amicably. Paxton glanced at him for just a second. Had Rix expected him to do this? Had he wanted him to do this?
Paxton rolled his eyes and moved to shoot out the farmer’s other leg, but then Tru Whicker shouted out.
“It was me! Overseer have mercy! I’m so sorry! It was me. We were…we were hungry…”
She ran up to her husband and dropped to her knees, shielding him with her body.
“Fine,” Paxton said, blasting a hole in her head. Her body slumped over while the old farmer screamed. “That was easy.” He raised his voice. “Next time you skimp on the shipment, we’ll level the farm. Yeah? Any questions?”
Everybody was too busy crying or shouting or cowering to respond, but he knew he’d gotten the message across. He holstered his blaster and turned back to the transport.
“Oh, uh…actually,” Rix said, causing Paxton to turn back. “Sorry, one more thing. I know you’re mourning, but we’re going to need seven kilos of grain delivered by tomorrow morning. To each of the HQs you’ve shorted, actually. So that’ll be…twenty-eight kilos total. Sound fair?”
Farmer Whicker was too busy sobbing and clutching his dead wife’s body to be of any help. Instead, a young woman approached from the field, getting close enough to them to be heard and not a step closer.
“We don’t have that much right now. It’s been a hard summer. If you gave us a week or two maybe…”
“Oh, gee…I don’t know,” Rix said, scratching his head with the side of his blaster. “I kinda promised the other guys at Five, Seven, and Eight that we’d have you get the grain to them by tomorrow. So, yeah…you know…do that. Or we’ll kill you all, like my partner said. You know where your farm is right now? The house and all the fields? Those will just be a pile of ash. And there won’t be much left of you besides your charred skeletons, you know? So that’s your choice. We’ll see you tomorrow. Or not. Either way, have a good night, folks!”
Rix practically skipped back to the transport.
The moment they were on the road, Rix let out a whoop and slapped his knee.
“Oh, Lord and Maker, that was fun. Did you see the looks on their faces? And then you just took out his leg. Just like that! You’re a natural.”
“I wouldn’t call it fun…”
“Oh, it’s the best job in the universe,” Rix countered. “Nothing like it. Nothing like the fear.”
“You think they’ll get the grain to us in time?”
“Dunno. We’ll probably kill them all regardless. It’ll be better that way. We can start fresh. Move some other impossibly large family onto the land.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t think so, but don’t forget we’re going to leave all their bodies right there. Just picture it: The new family moves in, thinking they’ve stepped up in the world. Maybe they’re already formulating their own plans about how to screw us over. Then, one by one, they start to notice all the bodies of the previous tenants. Suddenly rebelling doesn’t seem so appealing, you know? It keeps ‘em in line real good.”
“You’ve done this once or twice before I take it?”
Rix raised an eyebrow. “What? You think this is the first family that thought they could pull one over on us? This time it was wifey, but before it was a cousin. Before that it was the father. Next time it’ll be the one-year-old.”
“That’s because you’re a big ol’ cynic. You need to have more fun. Fun that isn’t between the legs of a woman.”
“You want me to try getting between the legs of a man?”
“Hey, if that’s what you’re in to.” He fell silent for a moment, leaning back and crossing his arms behind his head as he thought. “How about this: It’s still early. Let’s go patrol a bit. That’s about the funnest thing I can think of, brother. I tell ya. Just watching ‘em soil themselves. The children all running inside.”
Rix went quiet again, no doubt lost in pleasant memories of striking fear into the hearts of the citizens.
Paxton shrugged. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it’d be like to go on patrol. He still remembered running inside as a kid every time he heard an Enforcer transport whiz by. It would be strange to be on the other side of it.
Rix called in to HQ to update them on the farm situation and let them know that he and Paxton were going to patrol.
“There’s not much to it,” he said after he’d ended the call. “Just walk around and look menacing.”
“I think I can manage that.”
“I know you can. Seriously. I think I’m in love with you.”
“Rix, you are sick. You know our love can never be.”
“A man can dream.”
Paxton allowed himself to laugh.
“Here,” Rix said, reaching into a compartment in the floor of the transport. “These ones look more menacing. You fired one yet?”
Paxton accepted an MWt 650 Rifle and looked it over. “No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”
“I, for one, believe in you. Come on, let’s go have some fun.”
Paxton shrugged and slung the rifle over his shoulder, resting it there as he walked beside Rix down the first block.
It was deserted. But that was expected. The sound of their transport would have been enough to send everyone scrambling for their homes.
The next block over had some more movement. There were children playing in their yards, a few hushed conversations going on between neighbors. Everything fell silent as they walked by, of course. Rix was eating it up, but Paxton wasn’t sure he liked seeing the fear in their eyes.
Over the next few minutes, Paxton allowed Rix to lead him around one corner, then another, going down block after block. He saw where his sadistic partner was leading him, but he didn’t say anything until they were almost there.
“I don’t exactly want to scare the shit out of my old neighbors,” he muttered. “They were always good to me.”
“But that’s just it. They need to know that you’re not one of them now. For all you know they think that you joined up with the Enforcers just to infiltrate us from the inside. You know, like my last partner tried to do? They might believe you’re on their side.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, let’s just see.”
Something felt wrong. Maybe it was the way Rix had led him right back to where he’d grown up for his first patrol, or the edge in his voice when he talked about his old partner’s betrayal. It was like an itching in the back of Paxton’s mind. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but suddenly he didn’t trust that his partner’s motivations were what he said they were.
They turned down Paxton’s old street as he moved the rifle from over his shoulder to rest the end of it in his left palm.
He saw some new faces in the neighborhood, which made him wonder what had happened to the old ones.
Maybe someone dressed like me dragged them away in the middle of the night.
This wasn’t the first time Paxton wondered if he’d ever be able to use his position to find out what had happened to his father. He didn’t believe for a second that he’d simply abandoned Paxton and his mother. His father, in Paxton’s limited memories, had always been kind. Loyal. Protective.
But he couldn’t look up the file. The moment Korse saw Paxton sticking his nose into confidential reports, he’d be dead. There would be no trial. Just the business end of Korse’s blaster.
“You look distracted,” Rix commented casually. “Having second thoughts?”
“What? No. Why would you even ask that?”
Rix shrugged. “You used to live here. If this is too much for you, say the word and we’ll head back to HQ.”
“It’s not too much for me. I killed a Goliath to be here.”
“Oo, yeah. Wanna describe that in detail for me so I can get off?”
Again Paxton found himself smiling, laughing. Until something squishy and wet struck his left cheek, wiping the smile off his face. He whipped around to stare at his assailant, an older woman who had another rotten fruit of some kind clutched in her hand.
“How dare you show your face here?” she seethed.
Paxton only vaguely recognized this woman. She had lived a few houses down from him, maybe. Her eyes were full of hatred and something deeper. Betrayal perhaps. By now a few fearful gazes were turned their way. Meanwhile Rix’s eyes were boring into the back of Paxton’s head. His partner was waiting for something to happen. Suddenly this felt like a test. Maybe it had been all along.
Paxton reached up slowly to wipe the sloppy goo off his face. The woman responded by lobbing a second projectile. He batted it out of the air with his rifle, then aimed the weapon at her chest.
He wondered if he should fire. Just kill her and be done with it. That seemed like an awfully high death toll for his first day. He glanced at Rix with a question in his eyes. His partner spoke up, helping him out.
“Assaulting an Enforcer. That’s worth some time in the tombs, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely,” Paxton said, grateful for the direction.
He lowered his weapon and reached for the pair of cuffs that were hanging from his hip. The woman spat at his feet as he approached.
“How powerful you must feel,” she seethed. “Arresting a defenseless old woman.”
“I’m arresting a person who broke the law,” he said simply, fitting the cuffs around her wrists.
Paxton had been to the tombs only once before, back when he was touring all of the Enforcer facilities with Rix. He had expected screams, rattling chains, retching, maybe even the crack of a whip. Instead, there was only silence.
The quiet was almost unbearable, welcoming them with an icy grip as they led the old woman down its halls.
The tombs were immaculate. Pure white walls, not a spot on them. They walked past rows of cells, each only wide enough to fit an average-sized person. Paxton knew his head would brush the ceiling if he was standing in one, his shoulders would be pressed up against the walls. It was meant to be a tight fit. And if it wasn’t, well…they could change that.
A guard had welcomed them when they walked in, asking them to log the woman’s crime in his monitor. The woman’s ID card was swiped to get her into the system, and then they were ushered through the door, down some steps, and into a long hallway. It was just one of many. The Tombs went deep underground, featuring a thousand identical cells.
They were directed to an empty cell by one of the guards, who then helped to fit the woman into it. She was forced to sit, then the walls were adjusted via a control panel on the outside of the cell. Once they were pressed tightly against her sides, her arms and thighs were shackled together, using a pair of special cuffs – also adjustable – that were attached to the seat. In this way, she was prevented from standing or adjusting her position in any way.
The last thing the guard did was attach a small device to the woman’s temple. She had shown no fear as they’d led her into the cell. Now, though, her eyes opened wide. Her mouth opened in a silent scream.
“What’s it doing to her?” Paxton whispered, his voice hoarse. The clinically clean, quiet place was starting to get to him.
Rix shrugged. “From what I hear, it does something different to everybody. Something about mental pain over physical. The guy who invented those things was…unhinged, to say the least. Maybe he tested them on himself. Naturally we paid him a bundle. You wanna try one on for size?”
“No, thank you.”
The door was closed and locked, blocking the woman’s silent terror from his view.
How long she stayed in there would be up to Korse. After he reviewed her crime, he would decide on what he deemed an appropriate sentence length. The guards would receive a message from him sometime in the next day or two letting them know when she was to be released.
The two Enforcers left the way they came, and took their transport back to HQ.
Paxton immediately went to track down Kar-Yan, but couldn’t find her. While he was looking, he ran into an Enforcer by the name of Ulia. They hadn’t done much more than exchange names in the time since Paxton had started, but now he looked at her with new perspective. She wasn’t shapely, like he was used to, but she was clearly strong. She was thick. And she was a head taller than him. Pretty face, too. Strong features.
“Looking for someone?” she asked, her voice deep and throaty.
“I think I found her,” he replied.
She looked at him, sizing him up, seeing the frenzied look in his eyes. Then she cracked a half smile.
Paxton didn’t let her sleep that night.