by Dan Swanson
Part of Chief Prosecutor Bettan’s team had already removed the two mercenaries. They weren’t too worried about their immediate futures; they knew that Chief Bettan would rather employ them than kill them, though the conditions of their future employment might not be quite as pleasant as being independent contractors. In fact, he had already made them offers they couldn’t refuse by the time they were led away.
Banefactor was a different story. From the instant her helmet was removed, she had been ranting about the oppression of Georwell by the government and Council Central, and even energetic buffets to the head and threats of torture hadn’t shut her up. Bettan had finally ordered her gagged, and his team had dragged her into a small, luxurious room overlooking the Council Chamber, a virtual twin to the room where Dexter had started this day’s exercise in death and destruction. There were currently armored shutters covering the window, and the room itself was totally undamaged. The chief prosecutor attempted to continue his interrogation.
“How did you survive the firing squad, Dexter?”
“The spirit of opposition to the evil oppression of Georwell can never be extinguished. I am the dark force which will destroy you and all like you!” was all the response Banefactor would give. Bettan soon abandoned that line of questioning. He realized that this person might not even be Dexter. Research Central could do genetic testing later, and if there was a match, he would find out why the firing squad had failed — and there would be more firing squads that wouldn’t fail. Meanwhile, he’d noticed that Banefactor talked as if she was a separate entity from Dexter, and responded slightly more positively if he played along with her.
“There is nothing Dexter’s file that shows any prior connection between her and the Underground. How did they contact you?”
“Idiotic fool!” Yes, that was certainly a much more positive response. “There is never any need for the Underground to contact me. I know what they know, for I am the spirit of the Underground.”
Much more promising; Bettan tried to follow up on this line of questioning. Banefactor insisted that she was an immortal spirit, born in opposition to Emperor Orge. “When the betrayer Orge Georwell murdered his sworn liege lord Good King Deward, at that very instant, the dark force of opposition was born. The Imperium was born from the blood of those Georwell betrayed, and the Underground’s blood will be its death.”
To Bettan, this was the raving of a lunatic. There were no records predating Emperor Orge Georwell’s assumption to the throne, and certainly no mention in any history to indicate that he had been a betrayer. Indeed, all surviving records from that period indicated that Georwell was beloved by the people of his time, to whom he had brought peace and prosperity that continued to this day. Still, there might be some truth in Banefactor’s ravings — there were rumors, legends, and even records in the Chief Prosecutor’s files that suggested that at least one immortal stalked through Georwell’s history.
“I have brought the beginning of the end!” Banefactor boasted. “Council Central is no more, and without its head, the evil of the body politic will wither and die!”
To that one, at least, Bettan could respond. “I rather think not.” He pressed a button, and the shutter slid away from the window. Behind was the council chamber in pristine condition, and the two enemies could see all nine councilors sitting patiently in their podiums, very much alive. Bettan clicked on a television, and the two listened to a newscast. An extremely attractive woman in a revealing outfit spoke in a deep, throaty voice, as a video next to her.
“Earlier today, a group of traitors from the Underground attempted to invade Council Central and disrupt the trial of suspected Underground mastermind Dewantay Seysa. All they accomplished was to save the republic the cost of a trial, as the automatic security weapons in the council chamber instantly vaporized the group — along with Seysa.”
The recorded video showed a group of five figures in armor, including Banefactor, bursting into the council chamber, weapons blazing. The councilors and the audience were protected by force-fields, and the weapon fire was harmlessly reflected. The unfortunate Seysa, standing alone in the middle of the chamber, was disintegrated by friendly fire, and then the chamber’s automated weapons opened up for just under a second. A hole opened in the middle of the floor, and powerful blasts of water washed the remaining slag down the drain. Councilor Seven, today’s chair, casually moved on to the next agenda item.
“You see?” Bettan said, smiling at the stunned Banefactor. “You achieved nothing today, and by this time tomorrow, no one will even remember you.”
Banefactor screamed and collapsed, unconscious. It was Dexter who finally awakened, almost six months later. She recalled nothing of the past year of her life, even after gentle persuasion by agents of Chief Prosecutor Bettan. But Research Central was interested in her, as they wanted to discover if she had really been possessed by a spirit, and when the prosecutor’s office was through with her, she lived the rest of her life as a Research Central experimental subject.
The members of the Justice Machine were gathered in the Citadel of Justice infirmary. Batterstar was wearing a bulky suit that was tethered to several different items of medical apparatus via cables, hoses, and conduits. Inside the suit, advanced Georwellian medical technology worked with her body’s own superior regenerative capabilities to heal her injuries. Meanwhile, anesthetics and nerve blocks had virtually abolished her pain, and she was conducting the post-mission debriefing with her team. Collapsor and Spectrum had gone first, and Remanence and Lionheart were just finishing their report. Lionheart introduced the team to their new mascot, Kalyx the spidermonk.
“So how can you be sure that little critter isn’t going to go berserk again and destroy the Citadel before we can get her under control?” Tyvain asked Lionheart sharply.
Before he could answer, Collapsor spoke up. “I took care of it, boss. Research Central planted some kind of gizmo in the monkey. I chopped it up good by shrinking pieces of it down to the size of quarks. Then Spec fried the rest of it. It’s gone forever.”
Tyvain wasn’t totally happy with this solution. “You’re sure there won’t be any after-affects? I thought you were a physicist, not a biologist,” she snapped sarcastically. “Would have been nice to have that thing to study, and I doubt if Research Central is going to let us look at their records. But…” She paused, softening her voice. “…from what R.C. information we have been able to gather…” And she nodded to Remanence, whose natural affinity for computers was enhanced by the nature of his powers. “…it seems as if the device could have been incredibly dangerous. So we’ll consider that a wash.”
She turned to Lionheart. “Leo, I’m not willing to let that critter run around loose until we’re sure it wasn’t affected in some other way by the R.C. gizmo. Since you can talk to it, you’ve got a new pet. And see me tomorrow, start of business. I’m… interested in your rationale for destroying a Research Central facility the way you did. Lucky for you, the workers there are enthusiastic about evacuation procedures.” Lionheart had been playing with Kalyx and had looked annoyed when they were disturbed. He was pleased when Tyvain assigned him responsibility for the spidermonk. He didn’t see any reason to comment, however, so he didn’t.
She turned to the rest of her team. “OK, that about wraps up this shift. Update your Guardian counterpart and call it a day.” Tyvain would spend the night in the infirmary, but she was used to that, and besides, she spent most of her free time in her quarters in the Citadel of Justice, anyway — she didn’t have a family to go home to, as several of her teammates did.
The Guardians were essentially the night shift complement of the Justice Machine, a group of heroes who handled crises when the Justice Machine was off-shift. The Guardian team had been created by Chief Prosecutor Bettan when he was appointed to office only about five years ago. All members of the Guardians were appointed by Prosecutor Bettan. Batterstar liked the idea of having someone other than the Justice Machine to handle emergencies occasionally, but she was not pleased at the jealousy and animosity that was growing between the two teams. It was her (unofficial) opinion that Bettan was trying to build his own private army, but as long as Council Central approved of the Guardians, she wasn’t going to make herself a target by saying so.
“Hold on, boss. How did you really beat Banefactor?” Collapsor wanted to know. “And what did you mean about designing combat armor?”
“You know I’m a military historian,” she replied, and Collapsor nodded. Professor Tyvain Sithlam taught Military History at the Academy; he’d taken (and barely passed) her course. “Well, my special passion is personal combat armor, and I’m a design consultant for the Armor Division. I was lead designer on the Mark 9 team, and I know almost everything there is to know about every Mark ever designed.” In an earlier identity, she’d actually built the prototype for the Mark 1 armor, but they didn’t need to know that. “During our fight, it came to me that Banefactor was using exactly the capabilities of a Mark 4 suit. And the way it responded to some of my actions suggested she’d swapped a Mark 9 computer into the suit.”
“So why did the suit shut down?” Spectrum demanded.
“The Mark 4 armor and computer, circa 1879, was designed to allow our warriors to survive encounters with Yavak Walking Tanks in the Zheng war.” Tyvain dropped into the lecture mode she used at the Academy. “It was the pinnacle of the ‘bigger and stronger’ design philosophy, and the Mark 4 was the strongest, most indestructible Georwellian military armor ever created. It was also the most difficult to control and required highly trained operators. All later marques, including the Mark 9, have been significantly less powerful and much less bulky. While they provide less protection for the wearer, they are faster, more nimble, and much simpler to use.
“The problem with the Mark 4 was that a human with a superb reaction time could react more quickly than the suit. So the driver could be trying to get the suit to start a new action before the current action was completed. In some circumstances, the conflict between completing a current action and starting a new one created a feedback loop, and the suit would effectively have a seizure. Uncontrollable flailing of limbs that can easily pound a hole through a mountain was deemed an undesirable condition, so failsafe switches were installed. These switches were independent of either the suit’s operator or computer, so if the seizure condition occurred, the suit was shut down. A large part of the training of suit operators, and the programming in the Mark 4 computer, was designed to avoid the seizure condition. The Mark 9 suit’s response time is significantly better than human, so this condition never occurs — and the Mark 9 didn’t have the required programming to recognize or react to the danger. So I just forced Banefactor to release control to the computer, and then I forced the computer to react more quickly than the suit could.”
“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t wait for Lou and Espranze,” Remanence said. “You nearly got killed!”
“You’re almost as bad as the bad guys, Kal!” Tyvain sighed with exasperation. “I’m not exactly helpless, you know! Anyway…” She paused and looked at the clock. “…the Guardians are waiting. Get out of here and go home. I’ll see you all tomorrow!”
Department of Historical Accuracy (Depha):
In the war room at Depha Martel, shortly after Chief Prosecutor Bettan had arrived at Complex Central to take charge of the battle scene, Historian First Ogilvy surveyed his team of historical reconstruction artists. They knew they were about to deal with an unusual situation, and they were enthusiastically looking forward to the challenge.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he addressed his excited subordinates. “As you know, we at Depha Martel have just been granted a rare opportunity to shine. Today, over one hundred and fifty life stories were brought to a cruel and historically unsuitable conclusion by a group of Underground terrorists. Our task is routine — we must uncover and record the appropriate historically accurate true conclusion of each of these stories.” The euphemisms, established over the long history of Depha, rolled easily off his tongue. “But it is only rarely that we must review and verify this many stories in this short a time. Councilor One suggested that we augment our staff by recalling some of those recently retired, as well as importing experts from other Depha locations, but I convinced him that you are adequate to the task. He has promised to reward us handsomely for our successful efforts. So, let’s get to work.” With a cheer, the team raced to their stations.
Surprisingly, an hour of collaborative research showed that none of the people supposedly involved in the massacre had actually been at Complex Central today.
Several supervisors and a large group of their subordinates had set this morning for a holiday tour of the nearby vacation island of Ailborba, and a mechanical malfunction had caused the tour hoverbus to crash into the side of a cliff. The charred and totally unidentifiable remains of the Complex Central workers were already being shipped back to the mainland along with the remains of the other unfortunate tourists who had been on the bus.
Several others workers, who coincidentally had prior black marks for spotty attendance in their records, had decided to just skip work today. They had boarded a ferry to Second Continent, intending to hit the Tull City casinos. Unfortunately, that ferry had struck some unidentified debris halfway across the Orge Channel, capsized, and sunk almost instantly with no survivors.
It turned out that two or three workers, who had no close friends or acquaintances to check up on them or notice they were gone, hadn’t even died yet, but were on vacation in separate locations and would have unfortunate accidents in the near future.
The artistic imaginations of the historical reconstruction team were strained to the limits, uncovering and documenting the historically appropriate and convincingly coincidental conclusions for each of these many stories in such a short time, but Ogilvy’s faith in his team was justified. Within hours, the final facts had been added to each story, and all that remained was replacing the flawed records already in the public archives with the more-recently verified information. This task was a standard routine for Depha’s computer, and the worldwide replacement took only a few minutes.
Historian First Ogilvy and Councilor One were pleased with the team’s extraordinary efforts, and rewarded them with a catered party, complete with government provided food, intoxicants, and entertainers, which lasted well into the night. The next day, the artists of the Historical Reconstruction team could sharply recall yesterday’s best Justice Day party ever — but only vaguely recalled the intense work that had preceded the debauchery. They never even noticed that those vague memories receded further with time.
All in all, not a bad day’s work at Depha Martel.