Atriya squared his shoulders toward Benson. A part of him warned that this was a mistake, but he was committed now.
“Why didn’t you wait for the react team, Benson?” Atriya stepped forward, closing the distance.
Benson was standing loose and relaxed, that goddamn smirk still in place. “Time was crucial, we had an officer’s life at-“
“Spare me. We were ordered over the net to hold position and wait for the fucking react.” Atriya spoke in clipped tones.
Benson condescendingly hoisted an eyebrow, “I understand your concerns, Kishchan, even though that was years ago. But our actions ended up saving-“
“Our actions ended up getting the rest of the squad fucking buried. We were cowboying it in that building while you left some kid in charge who was less than a week out of the academy. The officer himself said over the net that he was secure. He had a squad with him and plenty of ammo-not just two guys. He put in the call for react so he could get heavier guns and mobility on site, not so he could reach out to a couple of idiots slinging pistols.” Atriya spoke steadily, his voice resonating with venom.
“I heard later that our squad couldn’t coordinate with HQ and lay down effective cover fire because the guy you left in charge was panicking; the landing zone was too hot and the react team got chopped to bits trying to make their insert.” Heat was starting to rise in Atriya’s voice. He was too pissed off to notice.
“As for our guys? The dumb fucking kids that looked up to you? They got turned into fresh meat. All of them zeroed in a Dissident rush. Was it worth it?” Atriya stepped forward and explosively shoved Benson in the chest, sending him back a few steps. “Was it fucking worth it?” His voice was dangerously raised, brimming with unstable anger.
Two of Benson’s goons wrapped themselves around Atriya’s arms, holding him back. The other one stepped protectively between Atriya and Benson.
Benson appeared unruffled by the outburst. “They made a noble sacrifice. What else would you have had-“
“I would have had you follow orders and use common fucking sense! Oh, and I like how you tell it as if you did the reload correctly and I pulled you up too hard. As if the real story wasn’t that you forgot to call out and let me know your clip was in. As if the real story wasn’t that you knocked us both ass-backwards when you stood without waiting for me to lift you up.” Atriya’s arms strained against his captors’ grips, but he began to slightly relax. Expressing the truth eased the maddening urge to launch himself at Benson.
“Not only did you get the squad and react team killed, you almost got the two of us wasted because you’re a sloppy fuck.” Atriya was calming down, the flare of violence within him diminishing. The two holding onto him must have sensed it because they somewhat let up on their grip.
Benson kept his composure and responded coolly, “Not how command saw it.” He tapped the medal lying on his chest.
Atriya sneered. “Oh yeah, as if nobody knows that you haven’t been sucking the dick of every admin working in the after action department for just this type of circumstance. I’m sure the investigation for your medal was given a strict and uncompromising review.” Dripping sarcasm.
Atriya and Benson stood with gazes locked, unmoving.
As they faced off and the seconds stretched, Benson regarded Atriya carefully. Assessing. Suddenly, something behind Benson’s eyes shifted, and his expression perked up a bit. A little meaner. A little more malevolent.
“Look Kishchan, I’m sorry you feel this way.” Conciliatory, reasonable tone.
You’re so full of shit, Atriya thought.
“We were all under a lot of stress that day, and the op went sideways at regiment level, not just for our guys. There were dozens of other platoons that were taking it on the chin. Heard that even the Crew was having a hard time and lost a few. Instead of Wraiths just being used to scare Dissidents into shitting their pants they actually had to get in there and fuck shit up. Hell, they had to use Apex as a tactical asset, instead of him doing his usual thing where he only puts the fear of God in some poor fuckers.”
Benson spoke the truth. Fighting to push out Dissident presence in Cityscape 31 had been unusually hellacious that day.
Wraiths were Echo’s premiere super soldiers, though that didn’t quite encompass their meaning. Less like soldiers, more like walking quantum bombs. They were by and large symbolic, despite having the equivalent cost in weaponry and tech of what would have been the annual GDP of larger first world countries on Old Earth. Back when countries existed, that is.
There was only three of them-though there were urban legends of a fourth-because they were so insanely expensive to build and maintain.
The highest ranking one, Apex, was capable of planet-wide devastation. He was normally used to scare off-world Dissidents into backing down and letting harvesters go about their business. The fact that he had had to be used for practical effect, instead of simply being used to strike fear into the enemy or for political grandstanding, was significant. It wasn’t unheard of, but it was very very rare.
Benson finished up with, “Praise be to the Judge that you and I are still alive.” He kissed the ring on his finger. It looked like a shiny white oval with a small part of it colored black. The black piece was in the shape of a slim crescent, giving the glossy white portion the appearance of a waxing moon that was close to being full.
The three others kissed their own rings, murmuring, “Praise be to the Judge. White over black.” It was the instinctive response to the religious tribute that Benson had uttered.
Atriya wore no ring. They were a symbol of the religious fanatics known as the Jury; a group of fundamentalists that specialized in condemning those they didn’t see as being devoted enough. There was a minority of them that physically intimidated the weak into paying “tithes” and publicly endorsing the organization.
Jurors that didn’t openly participate as outright thugs would rave about the Judge and his untouchable holiness to anyone who would listen. They never mentioned the acts of violence committed by their own, however. Silent endorsement was their modus operandi.
Atriya stood uneasily while the three of them paid tribute to the Judge by murmuring the customary phrase followed by an obligatory kiss of the ring. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if these men were the type of Jurors that liked to “collect tithes.”
The four of them finished the ritual and stared as one at Atriya. Benson’s eyes had lost the aspect of assessment and been overtaken by something more like predatory calculation. Not good.
Atriya shifted his eyes both ways, quickly taking in his surroundings. At his back was an alley that dead-ended after a few yards. The four in front of him were already fanned out, blocking him in if it came to a fight.
Benson stepped closer. “Kishchan, I understand that you disagree with official policy. Okay, fine. Agree to disagree. What matters is that under official record, events transpired as I’ve described them. Nothing either of us can do to change that. Let’s put the whole thing behind us, huh? It happened years ago.”
Atriya suspected Benson was up to something, but the placating words that he was hearing were at odds with his gut. Fuck it. Get out of here. As he made to leave, Benson spoke.
“You know, after that whole episode in ‘Scape 31, I knew that a greater power was looking out for me. No other explanation for how we got our asses out alive. I felt I had to give back somehow…I’m sure you’ve noticed the ring on my hand. Being a Juror was the only way that I felt I could possibly thank the Judge for getting me through that day. The thing is, he got you through that day too. And while I may look the other way when it comes to you disrespecting the Department, I can’t do that with the Judge. I’m going to insist that you pay tribute and kiss your ring.”
“You know I’m not a Juror. I don’t have a fucking ring.”
Benson’s smile, already carnivorous, went further up the spectrum, becoming reptilian. “Oh that’s okay buddy, you can use mine. Kiss the ring and pay tribute.”
“Not a chance.” Atriya’s response followed right on the heels of Benson’s words.
One of the underlings piped up. “Sergeant, when I was holding his arms I noticed he didn’t have his linkup on.”
Goddammit. No way to scare them off now.
“Really?” Cocked eyebrow. “That’s sloppy. Even for you, Kishchan. Crew guys treat that thing like a baby treats their pacifier. If you asked me-“
“I didn’t.” Atriya bit the words out.
Unruffled, Benson continued, “If you asked me, and I was Crew? I’d never take that damn thing off. Hell, even without your guns, you can still fight like a motherfucker juiced on the brain boosts and hormone dumps.”
Atriya stayed silent, his body humming with pre-fight jitters. He had gotten to the point where he wished somebody would just hit him already. He enjoyed the violence of a physical assault-the purity of it-but the cat and mouse bullshit that came before was something that always got on his nerves. He waited impatiently for his cue, mentally piling up indications of inevitability that would give him the green light to hurt these pieces of meat.
“Last chance, Kishchan. Kiss the ring or-“
And there it was. Atriya launched forward, smacking James’s nose hard with the heel of his palm in a downward strike. James wasn’t ready for it, and the surprise shot to his nose brought involuntary tears to his eyes, just like Atriya knew it would. James’s hands flew up to cover his face. Atriya was counting on that too. He closed with James to give the other three a more confusing target and pried one of the fingers away from the hand protecting the injured nose.
Grasping the finger between both hands like he was holding a nutcracker, he squeezed matter-of-factly and bent it backwards. He bore down on the digit as hard and quick as he could and was rewarded with a stomach-turning pop.
James screamed and instinctively shrank back. Atriya let him go and got a quick glance of him holding the wrist of his injured and shaking hand, the index finger branching out grotesquely at an unnatural angle.
He felt knuckles thump hard against the back of his head, making a dull thudding sound. Even though Atriya was too jacked up from adrenaline to register it as pain, he experienced a quick sensation of lightheadedness and knew that he had taken damage. Quickly turning, he barreled into his new attacker, trying to disrupt the sense of spacing the four of them might get if he stayed stationary.
By nature, the quality that made Atriya a formidable hand-to-hand fighter was his explosiveness and aggression. He was a little taller than average and solidly built, though not overly so, which made him effective in a fight due to a decent amount of inherent mass.
The thing that made him truly frightening, however, was his ability to snap out devastatingly forceful strikes in rapid succession. Every one of his hits had knockout power behind them, yet he could throw each blow with the speed of a jab. Verus had tried to clarify that talent by training him to focus on being aware of an opponent’s rhythm as well as focusing on the finer points of how to redirect momentum and energy.
It didn’t take. While he loved drilling techniques emphasizing effortlessness and timing, he reverted to being a brutal and raging powder keg when he was pushed.
His new opponent was feeling every bit of that ingrained volatility as Atriya locked up his arms, buried his head in his opponent’s chest, and drove him violently back-deeper into the alley. The move allowed him to pin his adversary against the wall while creating some distance between himself and the other three.
Atriya’s assailant could only let out a gasp of surprise as he backpedaled furiously, trying to stay upright and catch some purchase with his feet so he could push back. It was no use. Atriya moved as if his entire body was one giant, fast-twitch muscle.
They both smacked hard into the alley wall, the impact driving the breath out of Atriya’s opponent. As his antagonist rebounded slightly from the impact, Atriya launched forward aggressively, driving hard with his legs into a head butt that cracked with a painfully audible thunk against the bridge of the man’s nose. Clutching his face, the man crumpled into a sitting position against the wall. Blood started streaming from his hands.
Atriya knew there were two uninjured threats behind him. He stepped in the opposite direction that he had seen them last and swiveled, hoping to catch them in his line of sight as well as grab some more space to better orient himself and launch a new attack.
As he was turning he felt a keen sharpness of pain skim its way across his side. The fresh sting of a paper cut, only on a larger scale. His mind only registered that he had been attacked with a blade and the general direction of it. Completing his turn, he blindly and forcefully shoved out in that direction, luckily connecting with a body and pushing it back.
As his vision and perception caught up to the action he saw that Benson, James, and Smith had drawn knives and were leaning forward, ready to close with him. Benson’s knife had a smear of blood decorating a good portion of it, marking him as the one who had tagged Atriya. The sight triggered a fresh wave of fury. Going to make sure he regrets that.
The unnamed guy who had taken the head butt was in the process of standing up and collecting himself. Looked like he would soon be back in it as well. Atriya had done some damage, but he hadn’t taken out any of the four just yet. James looked like he had recovered from the broken finger-at least enough to fight-and from the way he was handling his knife, it seemed as if his uninjured hand was his dominant one.
Fuck. Should have gone for the other hand.
Atriya saw that he had a little breathing room. Maybe they wanted to let the threat of visible weapons settle in. Or they were afraid to rush him after seeing the violence of his initial attack. Whatever it was, he was grateful for the space. It gave him the chance to reach in his jacket and click out his baton. It made a dry metallic sound as it extended away from his right hand.
His gut told him not to draw his revolver, not yet. They might have ranged weapons. Don’t escalate. He wanted to play on the chance that they were still just trying to intimidate him and keep it where he was more comfortable, closer to the hand-to-hand side of things. Didn’t look like de-escalation was possible at this point, but out of all the options in his mind he weighed the risks. He made an internal call to try and maintain it at the lowest level possible.
There was also a part of him that was enjoying this. Didn’t want to spoil it with a firefight.
“Kishchan,” Benson said, trying to regain control of the conversational rudder. He sounded a little breathless-the tension was likely spiking his respiration and adrenaline. “All I’m asking is that you pay tribute to the Judge. Kiss the ring. It’s the god-fearing thing to do. The right thing to do.”
Atriya put effort into slowing his breathing down. You have some room, he thought. Shake off the tunnel vision. Assess. His eyes darted back and forth as well as up and down, taking it all in, searching for solutions or inspirations. Nothing came to mind.
He felt wet warmth leaking from his side. Blood from the knife slash. Didn’t feel serious, but irrational anger at his sliced up jacket flitted through his brain.
Eyes front again. His four attackers had fanned out again in a loose half-circle around him, blocking his way out of the alley. Pedestrians on the other side gave the situation a nervous look before scurrying along, uncaring. They saw conflict and didn’t want any part of it.
Fucking sheep. Wasn’t going to get any help there.
Benson was talking, but Atriya wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Intent on the body language of his four attackers, he was gauging whether it looked like they were going to back off or keep pressing. Definitely weren’t backing off.
Wait for it.
He didn’t completely register what Benson shouted, something along the lines of “Fucking get him!” probably, but he was ready for what happened next. The four of them came at him quickly. James-the one with the mangled off hand-led the charge, pain forgotten for the possibility of some revenge. The others were to his side and followed slightly behind. Atriya’s grip on his baton tightened.
He executed a short half-hop, half-skip backwards. As he did so, he explosively rotated his body so that his right hand and side, which were to the rear, turned towards the front. The movement allowed the baton in his right hand to go from being chambered to swinging out to the fore of his body. Force was created by the turning of his torso and a quick drop in his posture. The backwards hop allowed him to properly distance the arc of the baton’s metal nub.
It connected perfectly with the outer edge of bone surrounding James’s eye, exploding his face into a bloody, pulpy mess. James crumpled to the ground, unconscious and in need of an operating room.
Happy reconstructive surgery motherfucker.
A second guy, the one who hadn’t been named yet, followed right behind-too close for Atriya to effectively swing at him, so he bought the handle of the baton up in a short uppercut, catching him on the chin. Atriya quickly shuffled his feet forward, smashing the guy close to the eye socket with the butt end of the weapon in a staccato thrusting motion. The move was well coordinated enough so that even though it was short range, it generated enough force to knock the man’s head back on his neck, angling it toward the sky. There was sufficient stopping power and pain behind the strike to temporarily neutralize asshole number two as he grabbed at his injured eye and went down.
That left Benson and Smith, the one who had been a stupid prop in Benson’s impromptu demonstration of urban tactics. Smith was next in line, piling on top of Atriya, Benson was slightly behind him and edging sideways, probably going for a blind spot.
Of course. No surprise that Benson was leading from the rear.
Smith wrapped Atriya’s right arm-the baton arm-with his left, trying to hug him closer to use the knife. Atriya caught Smith’s knife arm at the elbow, keeping the weapon away. His baton arm was trapped. Benson was slipping to the side, coming in to take advantage of the immobility. Stalemate. About to be checkmate.
Need to get out of this or I’m going to get stabbed.
Atriya brute-forced Smith so his body was positioned in front of Benson, temporarily serving as a barrier. He grunted with the strain of it. Can’t afford to keep doing that. Too tiring. Acting instinctively, he leaned forward and bit down hard on Smith’s ear, grinding his teeth at the base. He heard a satisfying series of tiny pops from the cartilage and a rough yell of pain coming from Smith. Nice. Even more satisfying was Smith loosening his hold and moving backwards, trying to get away.
Don’t think so, dickhead. Atriya moved forward with Smith, maintaining the tight press of their bodies. He encircled Smith’s shoulder with his right arm while keeping his left hand on the elbow of Smith’s knife arm, maintaining control. As Smith let up completely, Atriya swiveled both of them deeper into the alley and pedaled forward, driving them away from Benson. They hit a wall, and the unexpectedly hard impact jarred both of them into dropping their weapons.
Got a chance to put him down. Make it count.
Atriya shot his right arm under Smith’s right arm, using it to brace Smith’s tricep over his own bicep, leaving Smith unable to lower the appendage. Smith’s elbow was bent at ninety degrees. Atriya wrapped both hands around the top of Smith’s hand, bending it at the wrist.
If not for the gritty context of the scene, the trapped hand would have looked exactly like the stereotypical bent-arm wrist flick assigned to the weak and the frivolous. The silhouette of his contorted arm would have somewhat resembled that of a goose, with Atriya’s hands wrapped around the top of the “head,” and the “belly”-or the bottom side of Smith’s upper arm-pressed against the top of Atriya’s, preventing Smith from moving his arm downwards to relieve the pressure of the compliance hold.
Atriya let up his grip ever so slightly for the briefest instant-to generate a jerky little bounce and surprise Smith into loosening up-and squeezed hard with both hands, forcing the hand to bend down at an angle that was past what the wrist would naturally allow. There was a gristly crack as ligaments snapped. Smith’s palm was forced to lay flat against the inside of his wrist. He screamed in that wild and unselfconscious manner that correlates with extreme pain, then immediately began blubbering and shaking.
Good. Atriya grinned ferociously. I hope your rehab sucks. An irrationally inappropriate flash of pride struck him. Small joint manipulation was not in his usual repertoire, and a little more refined than what he was comfortable with. Verus would have approved.
He angled his body into position for a shoulder throw, tracing a small circle with his left foot to give his waist room to torque. Bowing forward, Atriya bucked his hips up, launching Smith’s body up and over. It was just in time.
As Smith sailed in an oddly graceful arc around Atriya’s shoulder, he smashed into Benson, who was coming in for another attempt at a stab. Both attackers tumbled backwards, bouncing along the pavement like raggedy scraps of trash.
Benson scrabbled backwards on his hand in a sitting position. He partially sat up and reached to the small of his back. An alarm flashed in Atriya’s mind. Gun.
Atriya had practiced his draw, like he did everything, and he smoothly whipped his hand into his jacket, both hands coming out with a firm grasp on his revolver, feet squared and gripping the ground, his arms punched out far but not too far. He had a good, solid shooting stance.
By contrast, Benson had pulled a pistol but his arm was nowhere close to being in position to shoot. The muzzle wasn’t even pointing in Atriya’s direction. He was beat and he knew it.
Atriya could see it too. Benson’s eyes had a mix of frustration and resignation to them. He recognized that he’d lost the advantage.
“Drop the gun, fucker.” Atriya had lined up his revolver and gotten a bead on Benson, but his eyes were flicking in a wary and controlled manner from side to side, keeping his peripheral vision and situational awareness intact. Benson complied, and his pistol made a plain sounding clatter as it hit the pavement.
“You know how this goes. No sudden moves. Spread eagle, face down. Point your head and hands away from the gun. Inch away from it. Slowly. I see your elbows or knees bend too much and I will put a fucking hole in you. Stay low. Keep moving until I say stop.”
Benson followed orders, slowly inching away, pulling the ground centimeters at a time with his elbows and knees.
“Move. Move. Move. Move. STOP.” Atriya directed him, leaving no room for ambiguity.
Benson was a safe distance from the pistol. Atriya, mostly on the balls of his feet, shuffled smoothly to where it lay. He kicked it to the side a little further, getting a little more distance between Benson and the gun, creating enough space so he could bend down safely, pick up the pistol, and still have room to shoot if Benson sprang up. It was a controlled kick; the pistol never left his field of vision.
He stepped over, bent down, and picked it up with his non-shooting hand, stowing it in his waistband. All in a smooth, practiced motion. Put the non-dominant hand back on the revolver and got back into a solid stance.
Atriya scanned the other three, checking to see if they were threats. One unconscious and laying on the ground, his broken face jutting at odd angles from the shattered bone, looking like a bomb detonated on it. Good hit. The other clutching his snapped wrist and crying; he was in a seated position. Third guy preoccupied with holding his eye socket, where the butt end of the baton looked like it had opened a nasty cut on his eyeball. He was busy with his own pain. Good. Threats were secure and Atriya was in control. For a little while, at least.
“Shit,” Benson wheezed, voice slightly muffled because his face was on the ground. “We were just asking you to be respectful-to show reverence to the Judge. You didn’t have to-“
“Shut the fuck up.” Atriya snarled. The four discarded knives he had been attacked with caught his eye, lying on the ground in disarray. Be thorough. Get rid of them. Being careful not to wander into range where Benson or the other two could bolt up and surprise him, he herded the knives over to a gutter, kicking them with his feet. He punted one into it.
Benson turned his head up, looking dismayed. “Hey what’re you-“
“I said shut the fuck up! Face on the ground.” Atriya booted another knife down the gutter. It made a clanging sound that receded as it got swallowed by the asphalt blackness.
He was about to get rid of the fourth knife when Benson spoke again. The tone was simpering, with a slight undercurrent of pleading to it. It was also clearer. The dumb shit had turned his face to the side, so he could see what Atriya was doing.
Inside, Atriya was amused. Fat fuck can’t follow orders, even when I’m beating his worthless ass. Completely at odds with the arrogant smugness from before, Benson mewled, “Kishchan man, you don’t have to do that. Give me back my knife. I paid a small fortune for it. It’s the one with the Judge’s emblem on it.”
Atriya looked at the last weapon lying by his feet. On the crosspiece, where the blade met the handle, there was a large, gaudy symbol of the Judge. In the maker’s attempt at an ornate and classy look he or she had used a highly polished stone inlay that depicted the mostly white oval adjacent to the slim crescent moon of black.
The materials were nice, but the symbol took up a disproportionate amount of surface space on the knife, creating an ostentatiousness that demanded attention; the kind of cloying appeal that carried a hidden threat: Keep watching me, flattering me, or I’ll turn on you and hurt you.
Atriya also saw that it was constructed with a charged plasma edge, currently deactivated. He observed that it was the low-end kind; more for looks than for function. Cheap plasma blades would light up and look intimidating-the charge around the edge would look big and colorful-but they wouldn’t actually do more than give somebody a weak burn. They didn’t actually help to cut anything or hurt the enemy. Additionally, because they compromised light discipline, their colorful charge was worse than useless.
The high end knives carried a black light charge that-aside from the shimmery haze of heated air-was invisible without enhanced optics. A good charge hugged the blade and was hot to the point that it could cut easily through most materials without needing to use the edge of the knife itself. The metal of a good plasma blade had to be specially treated and threaded with hardened nanotech so it didn’t melt from the heat and still performed as prescribed. Very dangerous. Very expensive.
Benson’s knife was the opposite. Something you flash around to impress drunks who didn’t know any better, or were too smashed to care. Maybe not cheap in the literal sense, but in every other way that mattered. Cheaply constructed, cheaply designed. Just fucking cheap.
Looking at it incensed Atriya. The knife was a combination of his pet peeves: Garish showboating and glorification of the Jury. The first aversion was simply from a matter of personal aesthetic while the other was born from a lifetime of hassle and bullying. The Jury was part of Echo’s hierarchy; if your parents weren’t declared members of the Jury then a good chunk of hell was made manifest to you throughout your growing years. It was an experience Atriya knew firsthand.
With relish, he booted the knife into the gutter, watching the Judge’s symbol flash and disappear as it spun into a concrete void. Fuck you Benson. He heard a moan of dismay. It triggered a small flash of triumph within him, lifting his mood.
“You know Benson, maybe if you spent some more time at the gym or at the range, instead of fucking yapping about the Judge and showing off your stupid medal all the time, you wouldn’t be so goddamn fat and pathetic.” Atriya struck a conversational tone. He had never been a Commitment instructor, but they had versed him well in the ways of cruelty. With Benson sniveling and his face pressed against the pavement, it came naturally to Atriya.
He scanned the others lying on the ground, and quickly projected his attention to his surroundings. People passing by as if nothing was happening. No changes, no threats. Still secure. He turned back to Benson.
“I mean, what the fuck? Pandering to kids fresh out of training? Using your fake-ass commendation to sit around and drink all day? Truth be told, it’s not the fact that people fall for your pathetic lies that gets to me. People are going to be people-meaning that there are always idiots dying to lap up shit and swear that it’s sugar-what bugs me to no end is that so many of them do.”
Confident that he was safe for the moment, Atriya holstered the revolver and picked up his baton. Benson was still spread-eagled on the ground.
“Keep your hands exactly where they are, shitbag.”
Benson shifted nervously, his fingers starting to curl. “What are you-“
“HANDS, motherfucker!” Atriya put bass into his voice. It was a practiced weapon. When done correctly it struck a pair of ears with the force of a physical blow, even if the person on the receiving end had had training. Despite its forcible effect (Benson flinched and complied) there was no anger in it. It was simply a tool garnered from practice.
“Let me hear the Judge’s prayer, you fat, bloated fuck.”
“Pray you piece of shit. And you know goddamn well my name’s Atriya.”
Benson began mumbling into the ground. “All praise the Judge. He who teaches us white over black, good over evil. What is sacred and what is vile. Avert thine eyes and worship his Righteousness. All praise the Judge.”
As Benson finished speaking Atriya swung his baton downwards in a vicious, full-body arc. The nub at the end cracked cruelly against Benson’s outstretched hand-his right one. The fact that his hand was flush to the ground meant that it had nowhere to go to absorb the incoming force, which substantially amplified the impact of the strike.
Benson screamed and rolled to his side, clutching his bludgeoned and shaking hand with his uninjured one. For an instant, Atriya could see the outlines of bone under the injured skin; they were going in the wrong directions. Good break. They disappeared from view as an angry and dark purplish grey promptly flooded the traumatized flesh. The wound quickly swelled, making it look distended. Benson was crying in gasping, undignified wails.
Atriya stood over him, dominating him. “See Sergeant, I have my own version of a prayer. It was said on Old Earth, by a man named Thucydides. Want to hear it?”
Benson was bawling like a baby, holding his quivering hand. Streamers of snot were starting to come from his nose. He was lost in his own world of pain, not even registering that Atriya had spoken. Atriya shook his head, giving the pretense of disappointment.
“Seems like you wouldn’t appreciate it in your current state. Say hello to the rest of the Jury for me.” Atriya dropped his weight and rotated quickly, the motion harmonizing with his ankles, knees, hips; it traveled all the way up to his shoulders, sending the baton’s end crashing into Benson’s uninjured hand. Benson screamed louder than he had before-Atriya didn’t believe it was possible until he heard it-and hugged both hands to his chest.
After taking a long moment to drink in the welcome sight of a miserable and crippled Benson, Atriya walked away. He still had an appointment to keep with Verus. Turning his back to the subdued threat, the unspoken words by Thucydides echoed in his mind:
He is best who is trained in the severest school.
Thinking of it, Atriya couldn’t help but smile.
Want to know what I was thinking while I wrote this? Click here: Chapter 5 author’s notes