Atriya squared his shoulders toward Benson. A part of him warned that this was a mistake, but now he was committed.
“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, and we had an officer’s life at—”
“Spare me. We were ordered over the net to hold position and wait for fucking react.” Atriya spoke in clipped tones.
Benson 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—some kid who was less than a week out of the academy. The officer—that fucking numbskull we were trying to save—said over the net that he was secure. He had a squad with him and plenty of ammo—not just the two guys you mentioned to try and make your story better. That fucker 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 that were slinging pistols.” Atriya spoke steadily, his voice resonating with taut venom.
“I heard later that our squad couldn’t coordinate with Higher—our guys couldn’t lay down effective fire because everybody we’d left behind were a bunch of fucking greenhorns. Those poor idiots were panicking and couldn’t direct effective fire onto the enemy. And surprise surprise: the landing zone was too hot. 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? Every one of ’em got turned into fresh meat. All of them zeroed in a Dissident rush. Was it worth it?” Atriya stepped forward and shoved Benson in the chest, sending him back a few steps. “Was it fucking worth it?” The Crusader’s voice was high and dangerous, brimming with unstable anger.
Two of Benson’s goons wrapped themselves around Atriya’s arms, holding him back. The other one inserted himself between Atriya and Benson.
The sergeant appeared unruffled by the outburst. “Those who fell that day made a noble sacrifice. What else would you have had—”
“I would have had you follow orders and use some 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 strained against his captors’ grips, but he began to relax. Being able to express the truth eased his maddening urge to eviscerate Benson.
“Not only did you get our squad and react 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 seemed to sense it; they slowly 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. “Right. As if nobody knows that you haven’t been sucking the dick of the admins 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 for nearly a full minute.
As they faced off and the seconds stretched, Benson regarded his antagonist carefully, assessing how much of a threat he was. Suddenly, something behind the sergeant’s eyes shifted, and his expression perked up a bit. It became 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. I heard that even the Crew guys were having a hard time and lost a few. Instead of Wraiths just being used to scare Dissidents, 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 puts the fear of God into some dumbass harvesters.” Benson was speaking the truth. Fighting to push out Dissidents in ’scape 31 had been unusually hellacious that day.
Wraiths were Echo’s premiere super soldiers, although that didn’t fully encompass their meaning. Each one wasn’t so much a soldier as much as a walking quantum bomb. They were by and large symbolic, despite costing the Regime the equivalent of the annual GDP of an Old Earth, first world country. Back when countries existed, that is. There were 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. Typically, he’d be used to scare off-world Dissidents into backing down and letting harvesters go about their business. The fact that he’d 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—the underside—colored black. The black piece was in the shape of a slim crescent, giving the glossy white portion the appearance of a waxing moon, one that was close to being full.
The other three kissed their own rings, murmuring, “Praise be to the Judge. White over black. Always and forever.” It was the instinctive response to the religious tribute that Benson had just 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. A vocal minority of them would routinely intimidate the weak into paying “tithes” and endorsing the organization in public forums. Jurors that didn’t function as outright thugs would rave about the Judge and his untouchable holiness to anyone who would listen. Interestingly enough, they never mentioned the acts of violence committed by their own. Silent endorsement was their modus operandi.
Atriya felt uneasy and fidgety as 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 weren’t assessing him anymore; they were now shining with something that was more akin to predatory calculation.
Atriya shifted his eyes both ways, taking in his surroundings. At his back was an alley that dead-ended after a few yards. He saw that the four in front of him were already fanned out, blocking him into the alley and leaving him no apparent exit.
Benson stepped closer. “Kishchan, I understand that you disagree with official policy. Fine. I get it. Agree to disagree. What matters is that under official record, events transpired as I’ve described them. There’s 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 were at odds with his gut. Fuck it. Get out of here. As he made to shoulder past James, Benson spoke.
“You know, after that whole episode in ‘Scape 31, I knew that a greater power was looking out for me. There’s no other explanation for how we got our asses out alive. I felt I had to give back, to contribute…and later that night, I realized how I could do so. I’m sure you’ve noticed the ring on my hand. Being a Juror was my way of thanking the Judge…thanking him 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 have 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: it became positively 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 went on. “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 got on his nerves. He waited for his cue, avidly keeping track of the indications that would give him the green light to start hurting 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 hit to his nose brought involuntary tears to his eyes, just like Atriya knew it would. The junior Enforcer’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 man’s 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 shrank back. Atriya let him go and got a quick glance of him holding the wrist of his injured hand (now shaking). The index finger branched grotesquely out at an unnatural angle.
He felt knuckles thump hard against the back of his head, jarring his skull with a dull thudding sound. Even though Atriya was too jacked up from adrenaline to register it as pain, he experienced a quick flash of lightheadedness and knew that he’d taken damage. He turned quickly and 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 forceful strikes in rapid succession. All 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.
Her lessons didn’t take. While he loved drilling techniques that emphasized leverage and timing, he reverted to being a brutal and raging powder keg whenever 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 try and push back. It was no use; Atriya moved as if his entire body was a giant, fast-twitch muscle.
They both smacked into the alley wall. The impact drove the breath out of Atriya’s opponent. As his antagonist rebounded slightly from the impact, Atriya launched aggressively forward, driving hard with his legs into a head butt. There was a painfully audible thunk as Atriya’s forehead smashed the bridge of his enemy’s nose. Clutching his face with both hands, the man crumpled into a sitting position against the wall. Fresh blood streamed through his fingers.
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 in order to reorient himself and launch a new attack.
As he was turning he felt a keen sharpness of pain skim 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. Once he completed his turn, he blindly shoved out in the direction of the attack. He was lucky; he connected with a body and pushed 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 in the Crusader. 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. Not 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 maybe they were afraid to rush him after seeing the violence of his attacks. Whatever it was, he was grateful for the space. It gave him the chance to reach in his jacket and click out his baton. The weapon made a dry metallic sound as it extended away from his 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. It didn’t look like de-escalation was possible at this point, but still.
There was also a part of him that was enjoying this. He didn’t want to spoil it with a firefight.
“Kishchan.” That was Benson, trying to regain control of the conversational rudder. He sounded out of breath and ragged. “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 breath. You have 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. It didn’t feel serious, but he still felt anger flare up at the idea that his jacket had been damaged. An irrational thought, given the circumstances, but at this point his mind was churning through hundreds of impressions, and not all of them were logical.
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 street gave the situation a nervous look before scurrying along. They saw conflict and didn’t want any part of it.
Fucking sheep. No help there.
Benson was talking, but Atriya wasn’t paying attention to him. The Crusader was intent on the body language of his four attackers, gauging whether it looked like they were going to back off or keep pressing. A few seconds passed. Benson kept running his trap. His goons stayed where they were.
Wait for it.
He didn’t register what Benson shouted—probably something along the lines of “Fucking get him!”—but he was ready for what happened next. The four of them came at him. James—the one with the mangled off hand—led the charge, the pain of his broken finger momentarily cast. The others were stuck to his sides and followed closely behind.
Atriya’s grip on his baton tightened.
The Crusader executed a half-hop, half-skip backwards. As he did so, he exploded into a vicious rotation, one where his right hand and side, which were to the rear, turned towards the front. The movement allowed the baton in his hand to go from being chambered to swinging out in front of him. Force was generated by the turning of his torso as well as a quick drop in posture, while the backwards hop allowed him to properly distance the arc of his weapon.
Its metal nub connected with the outer edge of bone surrounding James’s eye, exploding the Enforcer’s face into a bloody, pulpy mess. James crumpled to the ground, unconscious and in dire need of an operating room.
Happy reconstructive surgery motherfucker.
The second guy, the one who hadn’t been named yet, followed right behind—too close for Atriya to effectively swing at him, so the Crusader bought the handle of the baton up in a short uppercut, catching guy #2 on the chin. Atriya shuffled his feet forward, smashing the man 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 and angle it toward the sky. Asshole number two 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 instructional on urban tactics. Smith was next in line, piling on top of Atriya while Benson stayed slightly behind him and edged sideways, trying to maneuver into the Crusader’s 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 so he could use the knife. Atriya caught the knife arm at the elbow, keeping the blade away from his ribs. Which was fine, only now his baton arm was trapped. He flicked his eyes over Smith’s shoulder. Benson was slipping to the side, coming in to take advantage of the immobilized Crusader. 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 lurched in front of Benson, blocking the sergeant’s way forward and 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 on Smith’s ear, grinding his teeth at the base of the Enforcer’s flesh. He heard a satisfying series of tiny pops from the cartilage and a rough yell of pain coming out of his enemy’s mouth. Nice. What was even more satisfying was when Smith loosened his hold and moved backwards.
Don’t think so, dickhead. Atriya moved with him, maintaining the tight press of their bodies. He circled 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 hard, driving them both away from Benson. They hit a wall, and the jarring impact caused both of them to drop their weapons.
Got a chance to put him down. Make it count.
Atriya shot his right arm under Smith’s, 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 the Enforcer’s 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 bicep, preventing Smith from moving his arm down so he could relieve the pressure of the painful compliance hold.
Atriya let up his grip for a brief instant—so he could generate a jerky little bounce and surprise his enemy into loosening up—and squeezed hard with both hands, forcing Smith’s hand to bend down at an angle that was past what his wrist would naturally allow. There was a gristly crack—the sound of the Enforcer’s snapping ligaments. Smith’s palm was now forced to lay flat against the inside of his wrist. The younger man screamed in the wild and unselfconscious manner induced by extreme pain, then began blubbering and shaking.
Good. Atriya grinned fiercely. I hope your rehab sucks. He was struck by a flash of pride; small joint manipulation was not in his usual repertoire. It was more refined than the techniques he was drawn to.
Verus would have approved.
He angled his body into position for a shoulder throw, tracing a small circle with his left foot to give himself room to torque. The Crusader bowed forward, bucked his hips up, and launched Smith’s body up and over. The throw was executed just in time.
As the Enforcer sailed in a graceful arc around Atriya’s shoulder, he smashed into Benson, now coming in for another attempt at a stab. Both of the Crusader’s attackers tumbled backwards, bouncing across the pavement like ragged scraps of trash.
Benson scrabbled backwards on his hands. He sat partway up and reached around to the small of his back.
An alarm flashed in Atriya’s mind. Gun.
Atriya had practiced his draw (like he practiced everything), and smoothly whipped his hand into his jacket. Both hands came out with a firm grasp on his revolver. His feet squared up and gripped the ground, while his arms punched out and assumed the just-right mix of straightness and bend. The Crusader had a good, solid shooting stance.
By contrast, Benson had pulled his pistol…but his arm was nowhere near close to being extended. The muzzle wasn’t even pointing in Atriya’s direction.
The sergeant was beat and he knew it.
Atriya could see it too. Benson’s eyes simmered with frustrated resignation. Clearly, the sergeant knew 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 still flicking in from side to side so that he could keep his peripheral vision and situational awareness intact. Benson complied with the order. 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.”
Once again, Benson followed orders. The sergeant slowly inched away, pulling the ground centimeters at a time with his elbows and knees.
“Move. Move. Move. Move. STOP.” Atriya directed him with force and sureness, leaving no room for ambiguity.
The sergeant was now a safe distance from the pistol. Atriya, mostly on the balls of his feet, shuffled smoothly over to where it lay. He kicked the weapon to the side, getting a little more distance between Benson and the gun, and creating enough space so that he could bend down, pick up the pistol, and still have room to shoot if Benson sprang up. It was a controlled kick; the gun never left his field of vision.
He stepped over, bent down, picked it up with his non-shooting hand, and stowed it in the back of his waistband. All in a smooth, practiced motion. He put his non-dominant hand back on the revolver and reassumed a solid shooting stance.
Atriya scanned the other three Enforcers, checking to see if they were still threats. One was unconscious and laying on the ground, his broken face jutting at odd angles from shattered bone, looking like a bomb had just detonated on it.
The other was clutching his snapped wrist and crying. He was in a seated position. The third guy was 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. Atriya had secured the threats and was in control. For a little while, at least.
“Shit,” Benson wheezed. His voice was slightly muffled due to his face being pressed to 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 his attackers had pulled caught his eye. Be thorough. Get rid of them. The Crusader herded the knives over to a gutter, kicking them with his feet. He was careful not to wander into range where Benson or the other two could bolt up and surprise him. He punted a blade into the gutter.
Benson turned his head up, dismay writ large on his face. “Hey! What’re you—”
Atriya’s response was immediate and vicious: “I said shut the fuck up! Face on the ground!” The Crusader booted another knife down the gutter. It made a clanging sound, one that receded as it was swallowed by the asphalt blackness.
He was about to get rid of the fourth knife when Benson spoke again. This time his tone was simpering, and was underscored by a slight note of pleading. The words were also clearer than when he’d last spoken, which amused Atriya. The dumb shit had turned his face to the side, so he could see what the Crusader was doing.
Atriya was amused. Fat fuck can’t follow orders, even when I’m beating his worthless ass.
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 manufacturer’s attempt at an ornate and classy look, he or she had used a highly polished stone inlay that depicted the mostly white oval overtop the slim crescent of black.
The materials were nice, but the symbol took up a disproportionate amount of surface space on the weapon, creating an ostentatiousness that demanded attention; the kind of cloying appeal that carried a hidden threat: Keep watching me, keep flattering me…or I’ll turn on you and hurt you.
Atriya also saw that it was constructed with a charged plasma edge, one that was 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 weren’t capable of delivering anything more than a weak burn. Cheap plasma didn’t help to cut anything or hurt the enemy. On top of that, because they compromised light discipline, their colorful charge was worse than useless.
High end plasma knives carried a black light charge that—aside from the shimmery haze of heated air that surrounded their edge—was invisible without enhanced optics. A good charge hugged a blade, and was hot to the point that it could cut through most materials without needing to use the edge of the knife itself. The metal of a decent plasma blade had to be specially treated, as well as threaded with hardened nanotech. Very dangerous, and very expensive.
Benson’s knife was the exact opposite. It was a cheap piece of shit you might flash around to impress drunks that didn’t know any better, or were too smashed to care. Maybe not cheap in the literal sense, but cheap in every way that mattered. Cheaply constructed, cheaply designed. Just fucking cheap.
Looking at the weapon incensed Atriya. The knife was a symbolic encapsulation of his pet peeves: Garish showboating and glorification of the Jury. The first aversion was simply from a matter of personal aesthetic, while the second 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 forced on you throughout your childhood. It was an experience that Atriya was well aware of, one that he’d experienced 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 from the Enforcer sergeant. The sound triggered a small flash of triumph within the Crusader and lifted his mood.
“You know Benson, 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 goddamned fat and pathetic.” Atriya struck a conversational tone. He had never been a Commitment instructor, but he was well versed in the ways of cruelty. And because Benson was sniveling and his face was pressed firmly against the pavement, it came naturally to Atriya.
He scanned the others lying on the ground, and quickly scanned his surroundings. People were passing by as if nothing had happened. No changes, no threats. Still secure. He turned back to Benson.
“I mean, what the fuck, Benson? 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’s not what gets to me. People are going to be people—meaning that there’ll always be idiots who want to lap up shit and swear that it’s sugar—no, what bugs me to no end is that so many of them buy your bullshit.”
Confident that he was safe, Atriya holstered his revolver and picked up his baton. He checked to make sure that Benson was still spread-eagled on the ground.
“Keep your hands exactly where they are, shitbag.”
The sergeant shifted nervously, his fingers curling inwards. “What are you—”
“HANDS, motherfucker!” Atriya put bass into his voice. It was a practiced weapon—when done correctly, it struck someone’s 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 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—it absorbed every bit of the incoming force. That was exactly how the Crusader wanted it.
Benson screamed and rolled to the side, clutching his bludgeoned and shaking hand with his uninjured one. For an instant, Atriya could see the outlines of bone under the traumatized skin; he could see that the bones were pointing in the wrong directions. Good break. The unsightly jags disappeared from view as angry, purplish grey flooded the battered flesh. The wound quickly swelled, giving it a distended look. Benson began crying in gasping, undignified wails.
Atriya stood over the Enforcer, dominating Benson with his presence. “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?”
The sergeant was bawling like a baby, loosely holding on to his quivering hand. Streamers of snot were leaking from his nose. He was lost in a world of pain, not even registering that Atriya had spoken to him. The Crusader shook his head, giving the pretense of disappointment.
“Seems like you wouldn’t appreciate it in your current state. But hey—say hello to the rest of the Jury for me, will you?” Atriya dropped his weight and rotated; the motion harmonized with his ankles, his knees, his hips…it traveled all the way up to his shoulders and sent 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 on the subdued threat, the unspoken quote by Thucydides echoed in his mind:
He is best who is trained in the severest school.
Thinking of it, the Crusader couldn’t help but smile.
Want to know what I was thinking while I wrote this? Click here: Chapter 5 author’s notes