10/29/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 12: Wenter City





This wouldn't be the first time that Zach had been to Alfheim, as he'd gotten the chance to take a trip to most of the planets in the North Circuit after he graduated from Service Training.  But there was something about Alfheim that made his visit there extra special, most likely because, according to his known history here, it was his home planet; the planet where he was supposedly born.  On the Taxicruise there, Jeila was around to join him as he sat by the window seat in first class, which was mostly vacant on this particular flight.

"You know, in the time I've spent here in the North Circuit, I have never met a Grey," Zach said to Jeila, who was watching a traditional Alfimese stage play unfold on her Saucer, the disk-like hologram projector he'd seen being used by many.  She pulled off her earphones that were connected to the saucer and gave him her full attention.

"Well, that's understandable," she said.  "If you're ever gonna actually run into a Grey, its probably gonna be on their planet.  They aren't very social.  They're hermits who stick to their own way of life and try not to tamper with other cultures.  I mean, they're perfectly okay with having tourists and outsiders interacting with them, but they have their way of life and we have ours.  They hold dear to that separation so they don't lose sight of where they came from, like so many of us have."

"Reminds me of the Amish people back on Earth," Zach said, looking out of the window beside him at the darkness of space, gently lit up by nebula light slowly fading into view.  "Have you met any?"

"Sure.  They're really nice people.  Full of wisdom.  It was actually the Greys who first had the fascination with Earth that resulted in the Terra Renaissance."

"Really?  Interesting."

"Yeah, but they got into some hot water a few hundred Arian years ago.  Even after the Terra Renaissance ended, the Greys were still really into Earth's culture and around the time that travel to Earth had been outlawed, one of them went there anyway and ended up crashing his ship and killing himself.  The Earth-humans flipped once they found it and we were in an uproar about the action too, knowing we had to do damage control.  So we exposed our existence to all of the major governments on Earth and asked them not to let word get out in their public of extraterrestrial life existing beyond them so as to not ruin whatever sanctity of the experiment was left in the whole project.  That's why they made up the fake story of how it was a weather balloon or whatever and its also how we established a connection with the UN, once that was formed.  That was when we were supposed to show ourselves, when the Earth-humans unified under a single entity, but you know, shit happens."

"Wow.  Have there been any other incidents where people from the North Circuit have gone to Earth?  Because there have been UFO sightings around us for years, one of which is what I'm pretty sure brought me here in the first place."

"Not that we know of.  We can't regulate it like we used to.  There was a time when we had teams of Orbital Police traveling over Earth in cloaked ships to make sure that no unregulated travel was taking place.  This was right around when travel there was first outlawed.  But one day, a few of the ships passed through this magnetic field of some sort around the planet's equator and it turned off their cloaks.  When the Earth-humans saw them, they took evasive action and tried to shoot them out of the sky.  They were forced to retreat.  The humans made a big deal about it afterwards, said it was an enemy attack or something from foreign forces but they never did find out what it really was."

"Ah," Zach said, smiling.  "The Great Los Angeles Air Raid.  There were lots of people that were convinced it was extraterrestrials, myself included.  Guess we were right."

"Yeah.  So that's what led to that Grey getting himself killed there and probably all of the other 'UFO' incidents you've heard of as well.  We just can't be around to stop them anymore or else it will cause confusion.  Any time one of them shows up, the humans just constitute it as a weather balloon or something similar and handle the rest on their own.  People just can't seem to stay away from that planet sometimes."

"Yeah well, I can see how that kind of concentrated mess of failure all collected into one place can interest those who are better off.  Its like the fascination with the Fall of the Roman Empire."

"Oh yeah, I hear that was a tremendous moment for us too.  Lots of bets were lost because of it back then."

Zach looked at Jeila with surprise before turning back to the window to see a large celestial body coming into view from the corner of his sight.  Suddenly, the ship began to vibrate gently and the orbs at the top of their cabin flickered lightly.

"What's going on?" Zach asked with worry.

"Don't fret, we're just about to pass Machina," Jeila reassured him.  "There's always turbulence when we travel near it."

Zach leaned over and gazed out of the window to see the massive planet stretch across the side of the Taxicruise, its silverish grey atmosphere almost giving it a lunar moon-like appearance.  But it was much larger than Earth's moon, much larger than Earth itself, and Zach could see small flashes of lightning erupting from its clouds below.  As they continued by, the vibration of the taxicruise grew to the point where it began to shake and the orbs went completely dark.

"Why does it do this?" Zach asked loudly, turning to Jeila, who's face was lit up by the hologram playing in front of her.

"Well Machina has a really strong and vast magnetic field, for one.  Its gravity is incredibly dense as well."

"Its gravity reaches way out here?  We're not even near its orbit."

"Yeah, its a strange phenomenon.  Used to get a lot of people killed back in the early days of the UoS.  When the Taxicruises were invented though, they became the only ship's configured to pass by Machina without getting pulled in to its surface.  People don't dare come to this part of the North Circuit in a regular ship."

"So no one has ever been there.  Ever.  And no one knows anything about it," Zach stated but with more of a questioning manner, gauging a reaction from Jeila.

"Well people have been there.  Just none of them have ever made it off the planet to share their experiences.  But yeah, no one knows a thing about it.  Its just sort of there.  There's always been loads of curiousity, believe me, but its just far too dangerous to even try to contact them or anything like that.  We can't risk them slaughtering us."

Before long, the orbs flickered back to life and the ship's turbulence subsided as the planet slowly faded from view by the window and the ship began to pass it.  Zach kept his eye on it until it was out of sight, silently wondering what secrets or horrors may lie in its wake.

--------------------------------------------------

As soon as they arrived on the landing pad of Endlong, the country on Alfheim that contained the landlocked city-state of Wenter City, they were greeted by the assets Globe had assigned to work with them.  It was daytime when they stepped off of the platform to meet them, the sky just as full and blue as it would be on Earth, but seemed much healthier and grand than one might expect.  The first time Zach had been here, he thought that maybe it was the sheer psychological wonder of being on a different planet that made it seem like it was different from Earth all together, but every trip here afterwards was met with the same wonder, so he figured that it may very well be that there was a certain magical charm that came from being on this world.  It was, after all, the most heavily populated planet in the North Circuit aside from Arias, so it was apparent that many people felt the same way about it.  As for the general vibe of the planet's cultural scene, Alfheim, both in Endlong and Elphame, where Zach had traveled on his previous trips to the planet, was a general mix of the same Earthly vibe he got from Arias coupled with a somewhat medieval feel.  Arias, which was completely barren at the time that it had been colonized, had no need for any kind of environmental takeover or destruction to ensure that they could make it the metropolitan world that it was today.  On Alfheim though, it seemed that they were able to keep a metropolis-like vibe to the planet's culture while maintaining the planet's natural progress.  The roads that the Overgates drove on were made of cobblestone-like material and there was a much more evident attention to the preservation of nature with each city surrounded by forrests and tremendous trees towering over some of the land while still being able to build large skyscrapers and neighborhoods around them, making room for its inhabitants to live without destroying parts of nature to expand their territory.  But it was apparent that the way that nature grew on Alfheim made it easier to work around, whereas on Earth, he knew it was more difficult which was the reason for why nature was so carelessly disregarded there to make way for its giant cities.

The two assets set to meet Zach and Jeila stood near the cobblestone-like street by the taxicruise landing pad just as it began to take off for its next destination.

"Tempest, Halos?" said a large Golem in a thick black jacket and what looked to be a baseball cap but was different in design from the kinds Zach knew of from Earth.  He'd seen them worn a lot around here and figured they were used just as frequently.  Standing beside him was a bitter-looking Angrefian in a flannel-like shirt and pants resembling blue jeans, whom Zach recognized immediately.

"Yeah, that's us," Zach greeted.  "You the assets Globe sent for?"

"Yeah.  I'm Wokla Bennace.  This is Otizel Sparkraven.  We're going to be your tour guides for Wenter City.  Are we ready to move?"

"Sure."  The group headed over to the Overgate with the Oasist Coat of Arms plastered on its side that was parked by the sidewalk and Otizel popped the back end of it for them to enter.  He didn't say anything to either of them but Zach was sure he didn't recognize him with his ICD activated.  At least this would ensure that things would go somewhat smoothly.  Otizel drove and before long, they were down the roads of Norella, the city neighboring Wenter City.

"How was the ride here?" Wokla asked, turning back to them as they sat in the back.  "Any trouble?"

"No, it was uneventful," Jeila answered.  "You?"

"Same.  Just a bit of traffic is all.  So we were told to take you to Parko's to get your equipment, then head on over.  You need anything else before we head off?"

"No."

"Okay, good."

The rest of the ride was silent and Otizel had still yet to say anything, which had Zach on edge, seeing as the thing he remembered the most from his encounter was that he had an unpredictable nature about him and the lack of communication had Zach a little worried that he might not be as straight and narrow as they would like to assume.  When they arrived at the restaurant, Wokla and Otizel waited outside while the two walked inside the building and headed for the excrement room together to grab their equipment.  When the disposable transmitters were in place, they were greeted by their team.

"Authorization Code: Denim, Techno, 334," Zach said clearly.  "Channel Clear."

"Authorization Code: Jericho, Harvest, 695," Jeila said.  "Channel Clear."

"Are we on the same network?" Zach asked.

"Technically no," Globe said into both of their intercoms.  "We're using a system link between the two networks of Team Tempest and Team Halos.  I'll be able to communicate directly with the both of you since I'm supervising the assignment but you will only have access to your own team's resources individually unless otherwise notified."

"Understood."

"How are my guys treating you?"

"Fine," Jeila answered, as they took hold of the supplies left for them behind the mirror, most of which included the same items Zach had used on Honario with a few added extras.  "Not the most talkative bunch, but I'm not complaining."

"Yeah, they're all about getting the job done."

"So what's the plan of action exactly?" Zach asked.  "As far as locations and times go?"

"Archbishop Biran will most likely be in his study by the time you arrive in Wenter."

"Most likely?"

"If he's not, you'll just have to wait until he arrives.  We have word he's scheduled for a meeting today with an unknown proprietor at an unspecified time of day, possibly around 3:30pm, but that was all we could get.  Gaining information on anything but the schematics of Wenter City's interior itself is near impossible; its a wonder we got as much as we did.  You'll have to wing the rest."

"So just in case, where exactly is this meeting going to take place?" Zach asked, grabbing the Da Vinci Hands from the mirror, the last item he needed with him, and slid them on.  "In the Oasis Palace Courtyard?"

"We don't know for sure.  Due to the senstive nature of the information we were given, its probably going to be a secret meeting, in which case it'll most likely be held in the Wenter Private Archives.  Why, are you thinking about tailing him?"

"If I have to, yeah," Zach said.  Once he was all set, he looked over at Jeila.  "So how do you want to do this?"

"If he's already in his study, we can act accordingly.  If not, I can secure the area while you find him.  Once he gets there and he's alone, we'll have him.  Have you thought about how you're going to approach him?"

"I have, but I don't have anything concrete.  Don't worry, I'm good at improvising."

"Whatever you say," Jeila said with a smile as they exited the excrement room behind each other without being seen.  The restaurant was near empty and looked like it was probably this way even at the peak business hours of the day, being that it was very small and hardly desirable.  When they walked back outside, they re-entered the Overgate and soon they were on their way to Wenter City.

--------------------------------------------------

Wenter City was located on the side of a large mountain and was surrounded by large intimidating fortified walls that were ultimately ineffective because the buildings of the city itself towered over them.  The only purpose they truly served was preventing people from entering the city against the will of security, although its mountainous height and location made that difficult for anyone to try anyway.  As they came up on the city's single entrance, they could see the Oasist Coat of Arms draped over the side of the walls and flapping against the wind on the flag poles flying high on the mountain's corners, featuring several strange-looking creatures that Zach knew were extinct standing across two sets of unique-looking swords crossed over each other and topped off with a Corjia, a pterodactyl-like creature of varying sizes that he'd seen flying across the mountain tops on the drive up, on the top of a crown hanging over the two swords.

Traffic was backed up to the foot of the mountain because of heavy security and the need for each group preparing to enter to have authorized credentials saying they are legally allowed to be behind the walls of the city.  Wenter City was a sovereign monarchial state ruled by the Church of the Elder Brother, also known as the Oasist Church, making it a separate governmental entity from the Unity of Stars, similar to Vatican City on Earth.  The central governing body of the Oasist Church was the Holy Megas, which consisted of the Circuit-wide leader of the church, the Prime Bishop, and the administrative apparatus of the church, the Wenter Court, who were tasked with providing the necessary organization to keep the church functioning.  The target in question that they were intercepting was one of the Archbishops by the name of Biran Scorea, a member of the Wenter Court who supervised a series of conclaves found in various locations around Endlong, which provided housing for members of the church and other important figures who would stay in the area to promote whatever new project the church was undergoing.  Because the transmission being sent to Graft in the moments before he died were traced to one of the conclaves in Endlong, specifically Norella, getting authorization to enter them would have to come directly from Archbishop Biran himself.

When they drove up to the entrance in their Overgate, Wokla and Otizel showed their papers while Zach and Jeila put forth their own to show that they were authorized to enter the grounds for the tour.  They were allowed through by security without any trouble to their surprise and soon they were driving along the sacred streets of Wenter City.  In its center, surrounded by plenty of men and women in robed garb walking along the sidewalks beside the Overgates that drove past them, was the large holy oasis that existed near every Oasist Church in the Circuit, including this one.  This oasis was technically man-made, but it hadn't been originally, as there was once an underground stream that traveled through the inside of the mountain down below the planet's surface which became the source of the oasis' existence.  When it was first discovered and the area was chosen as the location of Wenter City and the primary headquarters of the Church of the Elder Brother, they knew that the oasis would eventually dry up, so they used its underground river as a channel for their own reservoir which they built under the mountain to provide for the city's water supply, while at the same time keeping the oasis full at all times.  The oasis itself was rather large, around the size of a football field with big wild red plants growing around its borders.  As they drove around it and continued up the slope, they could see the Oasis Palace come into view and headed around into its front courtyard, which was filled with deacons coming to and from the building as well as excited tourists who were in the middle of their own tours headed by volunteers working for the Holy Megas as tour guides.

The Overgate stopped in front of a valet service where one of the valets ran up to greet them as they exited their vehicle.  Otizel tossed him the key to it and the valet eagerly entered the Overgate, driving off to the nearest parking area.

"There are gonna be eyes on you everywhere and we won't have access to surveillance like we normally do since you're on sovereign territory," Globe chimed in on both of their intercoms as they began to head inside through the double doors.  "There's a chance that our coms might be jammed as soon as you enter the Palace as well."

"That's okay.  We know the Palace interior and we'll figure out how to proceed from here," Jeila said.

"You talking on that com of yours?" Wokla asked, looking back at the two of them.

"Yeah."

"Well try not to do that too often when we get inside, unless you want to draw suspicion."

"Right."

"So, you want to do the honors, Mr. Sparkraven?" Wokla asked, turning to Otizel, who sighed heavily and shrugged as they walked closer to the archway leading into the grandiose Oasis Palace.

"This is the Oasis Palace, home of the Prime Bishop of Wenter City and the Church of the Elder Brother," Otizel explained lazily.  "It was built on Nair 30, 58K493 by a congregation headed by Prime Bishop Dedver III after a vicious fight for dominance between the Dokkalfr Tribes and the early Oasist Pilgrimage that was expanding their settlements across Alfheim..."

The tour continued inside and they were greeted immediately by the illustious and extravagantly designed architecture, unlike anything Zach had seen before.  It must have been unique to this region, as he'd been to many places around the North Circuit in the year and half he'd spent there and he'd never before laid eyes on anything like this.  There were romanticized images of what he figured were the characters represented in the Oasist Legend including the Deep, the Shallow, Maros, and Doen, along with several other figures that had their travels chronicled in a collection of sacred texts known as the Oasist Writings.

When they were half-way through the tour of the Oasis Palace, the group stopped by a nearby set of excrement rooms.  This was their cue to stop.  Zach asked to use the room and so did Jeila, so the two parted ways and went into either of the rooms marked by gender.  When Zach stepped into the men's room, he spotted a three-foot high vent by the door and walked into one of the stalls, pulling out a small pen-like device he'd taken from behind the mirror back at Parko's.  Zach sat on the high-tech toilet behind him and hunched over so that any surveillance monitor watching him wouldn't catch what he was doing.  Pressing the top and the bottom end, the device began to light up and he dropped it between his legs into the water of the toilet, pulling out his Cosmer and waiting for a few seconds to pass.  A loud buzz went off momentarily and Zach started the timer on the Cosmer before standing up, flushing the toilet, and walking out of the stall.

"Jeila?" he said softly before heading by the door.

"Yeah, I'm here," she said into his intercom.

"Okay, good.  That means internal systems are jammed within the building for approximately fifteen clicks.  Globe, you there?"  There was silence on the other end.  "I'm guessing they're still able to cut off our communication with the outside from in here.  We'll be on our own."

"Works for me.  I'll meet you up high."

"Gotcha."  Zach clasped his hands together, pressing the screws on the back of each glove and ejecting the ports from his fingertips and palms.  Closing his fists with his thumbs under his fingers, he activated the Da Vinci Hands and quickly headed over by the vent near the door, conjuring a small blade and dragged it across the edges of the vent cover until he'd covered its entire perimeter.  When he was finished, the cover leaned forward and he caught it gently, placing it by the wall beside him and crouched into the opening, grabbing the cover and sticking it over the entrance with force to make sure it stayed.  Now that he was in, he crawled through the vent and headed up a slope that took him towards the ceiling of the Palace.  He knew that the back-up surveillance would kick in in less than three minutes, but sensors and detectors would remain offline and they would be able to communicate among each other at long distance for at least another thirteen minutes, so as long as they stayed in the vents, they would be fine.  There was no surveillance monitoring in the Archbishop's study either, even when all systems would be back online, allowing them to be able to intercept him from there.  After a few moments of traveling, Zach could hear Jeila's pattering against the vent's interior and when he turned the corner, he saw her heading his way to meet him.  "So...we meet again," Zach said teasingly.

Jeila shook her head, smiling.  "Okay, so you know where to go from here, right?"

"Right, I'll check the Archives to see if he's still at his meeting while you secure his study.  If he's already there, let me know and I'll double back to your location."

"Understood."  Jeila and Zach parted ways and Zach began his trek thorugh the vents to the Wenter Private Archives.  Having memorized the layout of the Oasis Palace on the Taxicruise ride to Alfheim, Zach was able to travel through the vents and arrive just outside of the Archives in less than five minutes.  He could see the room's interior from another vent cover and noticed that it looked like an average library, however, instead of books, there were small tablets stacked against each other on shelves located around the room.  There was a lack of any notable presence.

Zach pulled out his Cosmer and checked his time.  He had about ten minutes left before all systems were back online and that would mean the sensors in the vents would be back as well.  They needed to find the Archbishop very soon.

"I'm not seeing him," Zach whispered, looking around the empty library from the vent.  "Anything on your end?"

"Entering his study now," Jeila muttered quietly.  He heard her grunt and then there was silence for a few moments.  "Its empty.  I'm headed back in the vent just in case he's on his way now."

"Understood.  Headed to your location"- Before he could move, Zach could hear voices coming from inside the library.  "Hold on, I think I've got something."  Coming from around the corner of one of the shelves and speaking very softly between each other came two figures that began to head for the door of the Archive room and stopped directly in front of it.  Zach zeroed in on the two of them and saw that one was Archbishop Biran, a Dark Alfimese elderly man in deacon robes, but the other was someone he had not expected to see here and the sight of him instantly put him on edge.  Standing beside the Archbishop and consulting with him casually was none other than Soter Rokain.

"Its Soter!" Zach exclaimed, whispering harshly.  "Its fucking Soter, that's who he's meeting with!"

"What?!" Jeila said in surprise.  "The guy who killed Doctor Stihl?!"

"Yes."  Zach leaned over and reached into one of his pockets, pulling out a small gun device with a scope on its end.  He scooted up to the vent cover, aimed the gun outside and fired at the shelf just above the two of them.  Pressing a button on the side of the gun, Zach suddenly had audio feed of the discussion between them.

"...and you'll have your supplies shipped to you by Aesir 10, plus utilities," Soter said confidently as the Archbishop nodded.

"Excellent.  I will authorize the points to be transfered to your account the second we receive the shipment."

"That won't be necessary, your Holiness.  We would actually be more grateful if you donated those points to charity."

"Really?  I never took your kind - er, the people you work with to be the philanthropic type."

"Yeah, well our intentions have always been good.  But there is a specific charitable organization that I would like for you to submit the funds to, if you don't mind."

"And which one would that be?"

"The Prince Hartwin Foundation."

"Sure, we can make that happen."

"Fantastic.  Pleasure doing business with you, your Holiness.  I hope our services will be of great use to you."

"Likewise, Mr. Raikan.  The others will be pleased to know that our well-being will now be secured."

Soter and the Archbishop shook hands and the Archbishop held the door open for Soter and himself to walk through.  Zach shuffled uncomfortably.

"You catch all that?" Zach asked in his intercom.

"Yeah..."

"Biran is on the move, I'm headed your way now."

"Copy that."

Zach made his way through the vents once again, checking his Cosmer as he moved to see that he now had seven minutes before all systems were back online.  He hustled through and on his way by, he could see into one of the hallways of the Palace from another vent cover as he passed it.  Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone accompanying the Archbishop on his way back to his study; a young priest in less formal robes than the Archbishop, most likely a protege of his.  Zach continued on his way.

"Jeila, there's a chance he may be accompanied by someone, another clergyman.  Be careful."

"Gotcha."

"Did you take the east shaft or north?"

"East."

"Okay, I'm taking north, I can get the jump on the extra guy from there."  Zach took a turn down another one of the vents until he came across an airshaft that had a metal cage covering a large spinning fan under it.  Zach dropped down from his end of the vent and landed on the cage, spotting two openings on his right side and one right in front of him.  He dashed forward through the one ahead and continued onward, turning a few more corners until he came to a dead end at a vent cover leading into a dark room with a little light spilling in from the open blinds on either side.  Sliding his blade-like constructs across the edges of the cover, he loosened it from its place on the wall and grabbed hold of its thin grilles to stop it from falling.  "In position."

Zach waited for a moment and soon a light partially filled the room as the door below him opened.  The Archbishop was in mid-conversation.

"You needn't worry, my son.  Soon we'll have all we need to make sure dissenters like them won't be bothering us ever again.  It won't be long"-

Zach watched as the Archbishop walked in, the young priest following him.  As soon as the priest shut the door and walked up from it, Zach dropped down from the vent and landed silently behind him, the vent cover still in his grip.  In a flash, Zach laid the vent aside, launched forward, and brought his forearm across the young priest's throat, using his other hand to close his nose and mouth and prevent him from making noise while the Archbishop continued into the room, still speaking to his now incapacitated guest.  Within a few seconds, the young priest had lost consciousness and Zach dragged him behind a desk by the door out of sight.  The Archbishop walked to his desk by the blinds, which was across from where Jeila was hiding in her end of the vents.  When he had his back turned to her, she hopped down from it herself and crept slowly toward him.

The Archbishop looked to his side to see that the young priest had disappeared.  "My son?" he said worriedly just as Jeila appeared by his side with a blaster pistol pointed at his temple.  She put her finger to her lips to quiet him.  He turned to her slowly but anxiously.  "Wh-who are you?"

"Doesn't matter," Zach said forcefully, coming out from the corner behind the desk.

"What did you do with Ondro-"

"You answer our questions first, do you understand me?" Zach muttered, stepping up to the Archbishop and pushing him back aggressively, causing him to fall into the chair by his desk.  Zach lifted his leg and pushed him into a wall with his foot against his chest.  "Or else you're gonna have a bad time."

"Do you realize what you are you doing?"

"What did I just say about the questions?!" Zach exclaimed, putting pressure on the Archbishop's chest with his foot.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!  What is it, what do you want?"

"The man you were just talking to, do you know who he is?"

"Ondro"-

"Before that, in the Archives," Jeila said with less force than Zach.

"I...I don't know what you're talking about"-

Zach immediately conjured a pistol construct with his gloves and pointed it directly at the Archbishop's forehead, inches away from his face.

"You think I won't do it?  We've gotten this far, you think we won't take it a step further?!"

"All right, all right!  It was...it was Soter Rokain.  He's a representative of a company called Black Symphony."

"You mean terrorist organization," Zach said, alternating constructs with his other hand when the first one expired.

"Its not like that.  We...there's something he's providing us with.  Something that we needed with that no one else could help us obtain."

"And what's that, more suicide bombers and assassins you can use to get rid of your own people?" Jeila asked sternly.

"No!  That's the exact reason why we contacted them in the first place!  We need to protect ourselves!"

"From what?"

"I don't know who they are but this isn't the first time they've gotten us like this.  This is just the first time in large numbers.  We've been asking for assistance from the Unity of Stars and Star Crest for years now and they haven't bat an eye in our direction once.  So we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure our own well-being."

"Listen," Jeila said, leaning down towards the Archbishop as Zach took his foot off of his chest but kept his pistol constructs trained on him.  "We need access to the Western Conclave on the outskirts of Norella.  We have reason to believe that the people who are attacking you might be linked to a source located there."

"Who are you people?  Cosmic Flash?"

"Private Contractors actually."

"Mercenaries?!  If you think I'm going to give a couple of hired killers access to such sacred grounds, you're crazier than"-

"Listen, Father Brown," Zach said, losing whatever patience he had left.  "Unless you're just aching to have everyone in the North Circuit know that you're working with a bunch of terrorists, you're going to cooperate with us, now what the fuck is the passcode to get into the goddamn conclave?!"

"Oh, Doen, spare me," the Archbishop declared anxiously with several holy hand gestures.

"Doen's not going to help you when I get through if you if you don't"-

"Tempest," Jeila said, putting a hand on Zach's shoulder to calm him down.  "He's going to tell us.  Aren't you?"

Jeila turned to him with a strong gaze and the Archbishop swallowed hard before nodding.  "Original-Slash-Alternative.  That is the code that will get you into the Western Conclave.  The first and last words exactly, the slash is the actual symbol."

"Now was that so hard?" Jeila asked before turning to Zach.  "Okay, we've got what we need.  Knock him cold and let's get out of here."

"Oh no," Zach said, keeping his weapon construct pointed at the Archbishop.  "He's coming with us."

"What?" the two of them said in unison, Jeila with confusion and the Archbishop with absolute terror.

"He's going to declare a search as soon as he comes to, as it is.  More importantly, he knows about Soter and Black Symphony, probably more than he's letting on.  We're not letting him go until he's dry of all information."

Jeila shrugged and turned to the Archbishop with a smile as he looked back at her with panic in his eyes.

"Well I hope you have an appetite for adventure, Mr. Archbishop, because it looks like you're in for one."

10/19/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 11: The Good Life




The remainder of the night had been spent in the local club scene located in the luxurious district of Asphidire.  The place they went to was a nameless spot rented out on the top floor of a hotel building that overlooked the rest of the bustling city, which was just as restless in the night as a city like this would be on Earth.  Zach, Jeila, and Morgon were accompanied by Tarot, who was also off-duty for the night and met up at the club for the festivities.  The flashing strobe orbs spun from their spots on the ceiling and caressed the dance floor of the room as the group found their seats at a table and ordered their beverages while conversing.  Once they had been served their drinks by the busboy, they started catching up on old times and before long made their way to the dance floor to lose themselves in the vibrative tunes of the current Rhythic performer playing a gig at the club, a young Dark Alfimese male with long hair down to his waist that obscurred his face.  He pulsed away at the silver disks floating around him, sliding them across his area of space with his fingertips to the rhythm of the electronic music being played throughout the club and simultaneously spinning and dancing along with it.  This was Zach's first experience with seeing a Rhythic performance and because the club itself had been outfitted with the same soundwave-condensing architecture as a Reverb Room, he was getting as authentic of an experience as everyone else and he was enjoying every minute of it.

After the performance, they went outside to the top floor balcony of the hotel and looked out onto the violet sky where three of Arias' moons were looming above to greet them, one covering the largest portion of the right side of the horizon.  Zach leaned over the railing and looked out at the city before him, taking a sip from the pouch full of what might as well have been an alcoholic beverage since it had the same alcoholic taste and buzz as one from back home, only without the unwanted disorientation.  He never could remember the names of the beverages and cuisines here, Jeila had helped him order a drink she felt he would like.  Usually he would just choose whatever the hostess felt was good and hope for the best.

"You guys realize we probably should have been back at HQ for debrief like a while ago, right?" Tarot said, as he followed them to the balcony, his long blonde hair down to his shoulders and a distinct jagged scar from the accident in MIE traveling down from above his eyebrow to the bridge of his nose.  He was a lot bigger when they first met but now he was pretty skinny due to his lack of physical exercise following his leave from MIE.  They knew it was part of his religion that he wasn't supposed to put a strain on his body unless completely necessary.  As long as he ate healthily and took care himself, he would be fine, as he put it.  He was the only one out of the group that wasn't indulging on the drinks they were all consuming profusely.

"Its really been that long?" Zach asked in surprise.  "I could have sworn we've only been here for like an hour."

"More like three hours," Morgon said, checking his Cosmer.  "And 45 Clicks."

"Holy shit," Jeila exclaimed.  "We were having a little too much fun."

"Don't worry," Zach said, reaching into his pants pocket and pulling out his own Cosmer.  "Globe didn't message me, so I don't think they need us that bad.  If he did, then we would have cut it short."  Zach checked his recent transmissions and saw plastered across its screen that he had 14 missed messages.  "What the hell?"  He went straight for the settings and saw that he had turned off sound notifications at the start of the mission and forgotten to turn them back on.  "Oh damn.  Looks like he was trying to get a hold of me."

"Guess we should be going then," Jeila said somberly.

"Well I already debriefed after the mission was over, so I'm headed back to my apartment," Tarot mentioned, starting to walk off.  "Nice use of the Da Vinci Hands by the way, Derek."

"Shit dude, finally getting to use those out in the field got me thinking how I could put those to use in a Mating Room.  That's got to make for an interesting night.  You should let me borrow them outside of duty one of these days."

Tarot laughed.  "We'll see about that.  I'll talk to you guys later.  Nice catching up again."

"You too man, see you," Zach said as he walked off.  Morgon stepped up from the railing and started to head back inside after him.

"I'm gonna head back to Post.  Need to write my debriefing report and update my Log."

"I thought you had to update Logs back at the Monolith?"

"No, I have different protocols, remember?  ICD's don't work on Monolith grounds, so I have to debrief and update my Log out of town."

"Damn, man.  So when are we going to get to hang again?"

Morgon chuckled and shrugged.  "Who knows, man?  Whenever we happen to crosspaths again and neither of us are busy.  We may end up on a case together again soon.  Maybe I can get to see YOU at work next time."

"Its a date then," Zach said with a laugh.  "I'll trans you later."

"Okay.  Make sure you trans me on my auxillary Cosmer.  Never my main one.  That's the one I use for the...you know, project."

"I don't even know the number to your main one anyway."

"Oh right," Morgon muttered awkwardly.  "Well...okay then."

"Get out of here, you goofball," Zach said, waving him off as Morgon waved back and walked back into the club.  With him and Jeila alone, he sighed heavily and gave her a bright smile, which she returned with a pathetic look.

"Pot calling the kettle black with the goofball comment right about now," she said dismissively.

"What, I can't be happy that you're back?  I mean, its been a whole Arian year."

Jeila rolled her eyes and leaned up from the railing, turning her body to face him.  "I guess I kind of missed you too."

"Oh yeah, that was very convincing."

Jeila smiled and looked out towards the gleeming city.  Zach noticed that she wasn't wearing the headpiece he'd always seen her with, the one with the star with jagged ends on the front emblem.

"What happened to your headpiece?" he asked curiously.

Jeila felt her forehead for it as if she didn't know it that it wasn't there but quickly remembered, shaking her head irritantly.  "That asshole took it from me while I was under."

"Graft?"

"Yeah.  I wasn't wearing it, but I had it in my bag and when I had to blow my cover, he searched my belongings and it was one of the first things he took.  I haven't seen it since."

"Well, now that we've got him, they should be sending guys to infiltrate his hideouts.  They'll find it."

"Maybe."

"You never did tell me what it was from."

Jeila shrugged and looked up at him.  "Maybe I didn't want to."

Zach shuffled uncomfortably and crossed his arms.  "You're being awful closed up all of a sudden."

"And this surprises you?"

"A little bit.  Before there was a time when we could talk to each other about anything.  Did something happen when you were undercover?"

Jeila looked off in thought for a moment but then shook her head confidently.  "No.  I mean, things happened but nothing I couldn't handle, you know?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, its just - I was under for over a month, so I'm a little stressed out.  I haven't been to sleep a lot since I took the mission.  He tried to get me to break a few times but I held my own."

"Well, you did an amazing job either way.  I mean, the amount of dirt you got on him is massive.  He's done for.  You should be happy, you helped take down a high-profile criminal who was trafficking illegal drugs and God knows what else."

"I know," Jeila replied with a sigh, closing her eyes and nodding her head.  "I know, but...there's more to it than that.  I don't think I did enough."

"What do you mean?"

"You saw how he seemed to know more than he was letting on, right?"

"Yeah."

"That's because he does.  I know it.  I just didn't get the chance to figure out what it was.  He talked about it all the time, said it was going to 'give his life actual meaning.'  I was so damn close but he was an expert at covering his tracks.  Its like everything he wanted us to know about him, everything I managed to uncover about him, he intentionally leaked for me to find, instead of it just being that he was sloppy.  I can't help but think that, because he did such a good job at hiding the parts of his plans that I wanted to find the most."

"Well don't beat yourself up about it.  You did what you could.  And now that we've got him, there's virtually nothing he can do.  No one has ever broken out of custody in the Monolith before.  And he's hardly got the firepower to even try it.  We've got all of his connections and his entire organization is on lockdown, he'd have to pull some real deus ex machina kind of crap for him to get out of this one.  I doubt luck's really on his side like that."

"Well," Jeila sighed, leaning up from the railing and starting back for the club.  "Regardless, you need to be careful when you interrogate him.  Don't underestimate what he might have planned.  Anyone who can still act confident when they're gonna be taken in to the Monolith of all places is either losing his mind or really thinks whatever he's got planned is going to work.  Just watch yourself, okay?"

"Is that worry I hear in your voice?" Zach asked with a smirk.

Jeila smiled and leaned forward, kissing him on the forehead.  "I'll see you around," she said, turning and heading back to the club's entrance.  Before she stepped inside, she turned to him.  "Its my family crest by the way.  The Halos family crest.  All the women in my family wear one when they aren't working.  Its a tradition."

Zach nodded with approval.  "That's pretty cool."

She shrugged.  "Its a story."

Zach chuckled.  "Get some rest, okay?"

Jeila nodded at him.  As she turned and walked away, Zach smiled to himself.  That was her favorite saying, she would use it every time something noteworthy enough to bring up in general conversation sometime afterwards would occur.  It was one of the many things he missed about her and about the time they spent in training, when times were simpler.  But when he thought about it more, he realized that times were never simple, not since he left Earth over a year ago.  Things had gotten complicated from the moment he stepped foot in this half of the galaxy.  He couldn't help but wonder how things had changed since he left.  He'd been able to keep track of Earth time and he knew it was around July now, 1989.  Michael Jackson had come out with a new album a few months before he left and he hadn't even gotten the chance to check it out; he was probably reaping the benefits from that and working on something new.  Reagan was probably out of office by now.  Jack and Danielle were probably still together, Ward had probably graduated by this time, or knowing him, had flunked or dropped out.  Who knows what happened to his dad.  He might be dead by now.  Or he may have found a way to get the money without him.

But what occupied Zach's mind the most was the thought of whether or not he was missed at all.  He wondered if there had been a huge search party organized to try and locate his whereabouts in the woods where he'd disappeared.  He wondered if Jack felt guilty after a while for stealing his girlfriend and attacking him, if Ward felt any remorse for letting it happen, if Danielle felt somewhat responsible for him going over the edge and disappearing into the night like he did.  Part of him wanted to see if he could take a trip to back to Earth whenever he got some downtime, just to see how things had changed.  It was illegal, but he was sure he could get a pass from Tome to let him off.  However, the more he thought about it, the more he realized how much he didn't want to know what was going on there.  And the more he realized that, the more he realized how much he didn't want to go back.  At all.  He had a good life here in the North Circuit.  He was well-educated in its ways now.  And not only that, but he was something far better here.  On Earth, he was a college student, a conspiracy nut, a baker, a virgin.  Here, he was an ex-soldier, a secret agent, a total bad ass who could fuck hot alien chicks whenever he felt like it.  To say he felt as if he was doing something that made a difference was an understatement.  Things had changed so much, he knew there was no real point in going back, even out of curiousity.  There was nothing he really liked about the way things used to be, so going back just to see if there was anything left for him would be redundant.  He had all he needed here.  In the North Circuit.  Where he mattered.

--------------------------------------------------

"He's still not talking," Globe informed once Zach came in to join them.  After being thoroughly chewed out by Albion for his lateness and Globe showing equal displeasure in his neglecting to answer his Cosmer's transmissions, he was finally allowed into the waiting room on the other side of the interrogation room where Graft sat with his hands restrained behind his back in a single chair with a table in front of him.

"What else is new?" Zach said with an annoyed sigh.  "There's only so much we can do if he doesn't talk"-

"I'll get him to talk," Globe said with determination in his voice.

"Just curious, what is it we're trying to get out of him at this point?  I mean, we've got him and we got most of his connections from Jeila."

"I want to know what this confidence is all about, what his plan is."

"You don't think he might just be playing mind games with us?"

"What would be the point of that?  So we can call him on his bullshit when we find out he's bluffing?"

"Well no, to keep us on edge, keep us trying to figure out what his game is, so we'll stay distracted with that and not on more important matters.  I mean, who knows he could be trying to make us think he's got something going on for years to come, even after he's been put away.  He could be trying to get us to think he's got some kind of long thoughtout and fully committed plan that somehow involves him going to prison and doing something on the inside or some shit, I don't know."

"Somehow I feel like that would be a waste of energy.  If it were me and my life's work was crumbling before my eyes, I'd skip the theatrics and get straight to the bawling."

"Wait, you cry?"

"Nope, but if I were in his position, I would."

The two sat in the opposite room where they were hidden from Graft through the one-way mirror similar to one held in a general police station or any interrogation area.  Zach leaned on one of the chairs near the mirror and looked off in thought.

"Maybe we should try to play with his mind a little," Zach suggested.  "You know, humor him."

"What are you talking about?"

"Like play into his game.  So far we haven't exactly acted like we've wanted to hear what he's got to say."

"Yes we have, that's why I've been asking him what his deal is all this time."

"Yeah but he gave us something to work with and we sort of ignored it."

Globe turned to Zach with a look of confusion.  "You're talking about the thing he said about the Deep?"

"Yeah.  Maybe we can use that to get him to open up, try to see what we can learn from there."

"Oh yeah, so he can start going on about how we are all one and should learn to accept each other because we may have or will live that life some day or some other kind of religious bullshit"-

"I mean, I'm not seeing any other options here, really.  He's not going to talk, this is better than nothing.  Let's just try it and see what happens.  If we don't get anywhere, we'll try something else."

Globe looked away for a moment and sighed before getting up and heading to the door.  Zach followed him and the two stepped into the interrogation room where Graft sat.  At their presence, he looked up nonchalantly and sighed, licking his lips with his bloody mouth.  His wounds had been cleaned but his broken teeth were still bleeding slightly.  Globe exchanged unsure looks with Zach, who nodded with assurance before he turned back to Graft.

"You said something about the Deep.  Back on Honario," Globe stated sternly.

Graft blinked slowly and apathetically.  "I did."

"You said and I quote 'The Deep has a stronger grip on us than we think.'  What did you mean by that?"

Graft snorted with a smile and shook his head but remained silent.  Globe turned to Zach with an annoyed look and Zach straightened up.

"This Deep guy," Zach said, trying his hand at him.  "He's the bad guy, right?  The one we're supposed to be looking out for"-

"Do you even know what you're talking about?" Graft snapped, looking up at Zach irritably.

Zach shrugged and shook his head.  "I'm not really religious.  Sorry."

"Neither am I," Graft said with a broad smile.  "But I know more than you."

"Yes, I think you've made that clear already for the hundreth time," Globe said impatiently.  "Now the Deep, what does he have to do with you and vice versa?  He your pal or something?"

Graft suddenly began to laugh.  "Not my pal, friend.  I'm just along for the ride."

"Then why'd you let yourself get caught if you're just along for the ride?" Zach asked suspiciously.

"I'm here as a favor for a friend actually," Graft said with a sly smirk, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them.

"Who?"

"Does it matter?"

"What's the favor?" Globe asked, leaning forward across the table while cautiously trying to hold back his anger.

Graft looked at Globe but when he did, the arrogance and charm in his demeanor slowly began to slip away and he swallowed almost nervously before looking off.

"What if I told you, that I'm here to...deliver a warning?" Graft asked with a slight tremble in his voice, flexing his neck muscles as if to force down his sudden anxiety.

Zach and Globe exchanged confused looks before turning back to him.  "What kind of warning?"

"A genuine one," Graft said, swallowing again.  "For something that none of you are going to come out of unscathed."

Graft strained suddenly and pressed his hand over his chest but quickly regained his composure.  "What is it?  What are you talking about?" Globe asked anxiously.

Graft looked down into his lap and shook his head with another quick laugh, but instead of it showing his arrogance, it made it appear that he was bordering hopelessness.

"It seems there really is no way out of this," he muttered to himself, before looking up to them.  When he did, all form of pride and pretension was gone from his eyes and only fear replaced them.

"What I'm about to tell you is going to kill me," he said to them frantically.  "As soon as my heart stops, something big is going to happen and its going to be the start of something even bigger.  I let you catch me so I could tell you myself"-

Graft suddenly stopped and grunted as if something was obstructing his throat.  He looked down and grabbed his chest tightly as anguish suddenly filled his face and he moaned and gurgled as the veins protruded from his neck and his eyes went red.  Globe, in the middle of the confusion, sprinted for the door.

"I'm calling for a medic, stay here!" he commanded Zach, who ran forward and grabbed Graft as he started to fall from his seat.  He collapsed onto the back wall and Zach, in a panic, pulled Graft's dress shirt open to see that there was a pulsing purple spot growing across the center of his chest.  Graft called out in pain and collapsed onto the floor, taking Zach with him.  Writhing on the ground, he began to cough violently, blood splattering from his lips.

"Whoa, whoa, easy, easy," Zach said, trying to comfort him.  "Its gonna be okay"-

"No," Graft croaked through short wheezing breaths.  "Its not."  He leaned forward suddenly and grabbed Zach by the shirt, pulling him closer towards him.  "You listen to me and you listen good.  They made promises.  They made bold claims, that's what they do, they make you think they will give you everything.  They made me believe it would be in my best interest to help them and then I did and they dragged me along by the ankles and never planned to let go.  Whatever you do, don't let yourself get under their thumb because I swear to Doen, you will NOT get out.  They are extremely powerful.  And they are about to start showing just how powerful they are soon.  Very soon."

"Who are you talking about?" Zach asked with worry.

"The Deep," Graft muttered hoarsely, blood running down the sides of his mouth as his eyes grew dim.  "Don't let the Deep find you...Don't let the Deep find you....don't let the Deep find...you, don't let the...Deep..."

As the last of his energy slipped away, Graft's eyes rolling into the back of his head and his lips quivered one last time to deliver his warning before they stopped moving and so did the rest of his body.  The purple spot on his chest had taken over the entirety of his torso, eroding away at his innards.  Zach let go of Graft and let him lay there on the floor while he stood up in shock.  A few seconds passed and the room was filled with a medic team that crowded around Graft's body and hauled him away down the hall while Globe escorted Zach out of the room, both of them out of breath as they hustled down the hallway of the Cosmic Flash Department.

"Did he say anything more to you?" Globe asked, filled with tension.

"Yeah but it was all cryptic.  He knew that was going to happen if he told us too much, somebody must have orchestrated it."

"I know.  I'm more worried about the big thing he said was"-

Out of the side window they walked along, the sight they saw transpiring outside made them stop in their tracks.  A taxicruise that had just entered the lower stratosphere and was preparing to take its landing across the city suddenly ignited from its front.  The explosion continued all the way to its back until the entirety of the ship burst into a mix of red and blue flames, immediately plummetting from the sky and colliding with one of the many skyscrapers trailing along the city.  Zach swore he could hear the screams of the citizens under it all the way from the Monolith.

"Oh my God," he muttered as he watched the scene unfold.  They both remained speechless, watching from afar as chaos erupted from the city below.  Thousands of people were being killed right before their eyes.  This must have been what Graft had warned.  And the way he made it seem, the worst was yet to come.

--------------------------------------------------

"So here's what we've got," Globe said, as he stood before Team Tempest in the Briefing Room of Office 201, which was lit up by a large holographic display in the center of the table surrounding them.  Zach sat among them, accompanied by Tarot, who was back on duty after spending the night at home and witnessing the attack on his way there, Ruby, who had just joined them, and Opera, who sat on the farthest end.  Globe pressed a button on his hand, that changed the display in the center each time, reminding Zach of several sci-fi movies he could recall and realized this was probably where they received their inspiration.  When Globe pressed the button, the picture of Graft's official ID popped up on the display.  "Two days ago, at 9:45pm, Aesir 1, 60K461, we detained Morrow Jonis Graft AKA "Mr. Graft," head of a notorious organized crime syndicate operating in the Barland District of Alfheim, after trying to sell a high-profile 'asset' to one of our Ops working in Project Troy.  Once we had him in our possession, he remained silent until he began to finally talk, albeit reluctantly, during which time an Incinerative Denotator went off in his chest, melting his heart and inner organs almost immediately."

"Talk about heartburn," Zach said jokingly, crossing his arms.

"Really?" Opera said with offense, eying him from across the table.  "You were with him when he died."

"Well sorry, I just saw the opportunity and went for it.  I'm guessing its too soon.  Don't bite my head off."

Globe looked between them awkwardly before continuing.  "Anyway...along with providing us with some cryptic warnings concerning the religious character known as the Deep-"

Tarot cleared his throat discreetly and Globe rolled his eyes.  "The religious figure known as the Deep, he also gave us warnings about some sort of secret group that is known to make promises at the heavy expense of those involved and they are quote, 'extremely powerful,' and are said to start asserting their dominance soon."  Globe pressed the button again and a replicate of the city appeared, re-enacting the destruction of the taxicruise and its collision with a nearby skyscraper that crumbled under its weight as well.  "Not even two minutes later, the Taxicruise 256 was detonated over the city of Asphidire and collided with the nearby Loastens Building, leaving nothing but rubble in its wake.  Graft had warned about this before his untimely death too, stating that 'something big was going to happen and would be the start of something even bigger."  Now, during Graft's autopsy, we discovered that a heart monitor had been put in place in his chest along with the Incinerative Detonator.  We linked it to the suicide bomber that was reported to have been the cause of the Taxicruise 256 explosion and learned that the bomber was set to activate his own detonator as soon as Graft's heart stopped.  Graft apparently knew this."

"So why was he putting on the front when we detained him?" Zach asked curiously.

"Because at the same time, he apparently hadn't had his plan fully laid out for him.  Also in his autopsy, we discovered a disposable transmitter like the ones we use located in his brain that was sending information to him from the moment we found him, to the moment just before his Detonator went off.  Decoding the messages, we heard this.  I'll play the most important parts."

Globe pressed another button and the room was filled with the sounds of a distorted voice that echoed throughout their office space.  "We know where you are, Morrow.  We know that you let yourself get apprehended.  We know everything you're planning.  You think that Cosmic Flash can save you?  You are sorely mistaken.  The device in your heart will eat away at your flesh like a parasite and you will feel every inch of your innards rot and melt away as you struggle to take your last breath.  We dare you to get them to come after us.  You will only be leading them to their own doom.  You wanted to give your life meaning but it was you who threw away all significance you could have held in being apart of our regime.  Doen will see to it that our memories of your waste of a life be discarded once we finally reach maturity.  Your part in our growth will be so insignificant, you won't even be apart of our consciousness as Aos.  You will be nothing."

Globe pressed the button again, stopping the transmission.  "Those were messages being sent to Graft before and during our interrogation.  They were spaced-out, sent separately over the course of that evening.  Now its apparent that whoever this is had Graft in the palm of their hand and used him to further their agenda but something they did unsettled Graft to the point where he deliberately allowed himself to be captured so he could warn us of their existence.  He soon found out that he was being monitored by them and they created a means of making sure that he didn't talk, but he was still able to give us enough to go on before he passed away."

"So what about the heart monitor and the suicide bomber plan?" Ruby asked.  "Where did that originate from?"

"Apparently, it seems that this group knew that Graft was going to cross them and used him as a catalyst for an even bigger plan."  Globe pressed the button again, changing the display on the table to show a congregation of men in robes walking together across a transparent plateau.  "Initially, we believed that this group may be linked to the Church of The Elder Brother, the episcopal overseeing the practice of Oasism throughout the North Circuit, but last night, a rather large congregation of members from the Church as well as several clergymen accompanying them were aboard the Taxicruise 256 at the time of the explosion.  I doubt this was a coincidence."

"So they used Graft as a means of launching a strike against their own religious group?" Tarot asked with worry.

"Maybe not their own.  Its possible that it could be a group of extremists who are opposing the Church.  This is further proven by the fact that this congregation was headed to Arias to engage in a protest."

"Protesting what?" Zach asked.

"A local funeral for an AC Soldier who was killed on Linaeo and brought back here for his service."

"That's sick," Ruby declared.  "How is that supposed to be righteous in any way?  He died defending us all."

"Some Oasists feel like soldiers join Star Crest because they want to kill," Tarot answered.  "They want to take lives and so the Oasists consider it 'spiritual suicide' because they are technically killing themselves."

"Do you think that?" Ruby asked sternly.

"No, of course not.  I mean, I think they have the right to be upset, but protesting a funeral is just disrespectful.  Personally, I feel like everything Star Crest does is furthering our celestial maturity, but its a touchy subject; people have varying beliefs on exactly how we should live our lives to reach that maturity."

"Exactly, which is why its possible that this group of extremists may be targetting the Church due to opposing beliefs regarding the matter and using terrorist tactics as well as allying themselves with powerful criminal organizations to gain the funding and firepower to make that happen."

"But wouldn't that be counter-productive?" Opera asked.  "I mean, I thought the whole point of being righteous and helpful towards others was so we could all reach celestial maturity and killing others for personal gain or doing other bad things would be helping the Deep get a stronger hold on us."

"Well like we said, there are differing interpretations within the religion on how we are to reach maturity and they could believe their way is helping.  But we can argue their motives all day, the fact is, they are targetting people, killing them, and there's no telling what they're planning for the future, so now that we have a trail to follow, we have to act now."

"Any other teams being put on the job?" Zach asked with a bit of attitude.  "For something this big, they can't expect just us to be handling this."

"We're not the only team being put to work on this case but we were given priority clearance since we were involved from the start, so we have the most responsibility."

"So if all else fails, blame us.  Great."

"We're being given all of the assistance we need to deal with the situation.  So there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to handle this."

Zach shrugged and Globe rolled his eyes, continuing.  "We traced the transmission to a small conclave located on Alfheim.  Tempest, I'm sending you out there to meet up with a few assets of mine who are going to give you a 'tour' of the Oasis Palace in Wenter City.  There, you're going to find your way to Archbishop Biran and get him to give you access to the conclave."

"But Wenter City is a sovereign state," Zach said confusedly.

"Right."

"So...if they find out there's a Cosmic Flash Operative there, they'll have a bitch fit and get the whole Service shut down."

"Well no.  If you get caught in there, we'll disavow all knowledge of your employment with us so that won't happen.  So don't get caught."

Zach sucked his teeth with annoyance.  "Then how am I'm supposed to get the Archbishop to take me to the conclave if I can't tell him I work for CF?"

"I'm sure you'll think of something, kiddo."

"Damn it, Globe," he exclaimed, leaning back in his seat.

Globe chuckled lightly before turning to the rest of the team.  "You'll find your Taxicruise passport and your tour authorization papers in your personal locker and you'll find your equipment and another disposable transmitter in the excrement room of the Parko's Restaurant five miles from the city.  I want you on your way by least by 7am sharp.  I'll have the rest of your assignments sent to your Cosmers soon.  Until then, you're all dismissed."

Zach sighed heavily as his team stood up and headed straight for the exit.  As he got up to join them, Globe called out to him.

"By the way, I'm sending Jeila with you, so you'll have some company out there."

"Wait, why?" Zach asked.  "She just got back from deep cover and you're putting her back on the field already?"

"She volunteered to do it."

"And what did her Case Officer say?"

"He was all for it."

Zach looked off, annoyed.  "That girl sometimes, I swear."

"Look, I can tell her Case Officer to let her sit this one out if you like"-

"No, its fine.  She's not going to anyway.  Once she's made her mind, there's no stopping her."

Globe laughed lightly.  "Sounds like my third wife."

"Please," Zach said, throwing up his hand as if to stop him.  "Do not become the teen movie principal.  You do not want to follow that path."

Globe gave Zach a confused look before he turned and stepped out of the office where they'd just finished briefing.  As soon as he stepped into the corridor, he was greeted by Opera, who stood against the wall with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face.

"Um," Zach said, looking around curiously.  "You waiting on me?"

"Uh-huh," she said, almost with a false enthusiasm.

"You look upset.  Is this about the joke I made earlier?"

"No, this is about you potentially costing us our jobs," Opera muttered sternly.  "You need to start taking this seriously."

"Um, how am I not taking this seriously?"

"The jokes?  The tongue-and-cheekness?  The cynicism towards the mission?"-

"I was just doing that because of the whole religious context.  Forgive me for not jumping for joy over the fact that I'm going to Church"-

"I don't care how you react to it, English, but you should at least be professional about it.  Save your antics for when you're off-duty.  This isn't just a way for you to kill time now that you have nothing better to do here in the North Circuit."

"Okay, hold on a second," Zach interrupted.  "I don't appreciate you treating me like I'm new at this.  Now with all due respect, how I choose to approach the situation has nothing to do with you.  As long as I get the job done, that's all that should matter.  I may not see things the way you do, but really, its none of your business.  You don't know if this is just my way of coping with this new life and making sense of it all, so how I choose to go about it is my concern.  I'd appreciate it if you got off my back."

Opera sighed and her expression grew dark.  "You - We - are about to get into something bigger than we've dealt with before.  Bigger than this Service has dealt with before.  To say that we might be in over our heads may be a severe understatement.  This means we need to be at the top of our game.  If you fuck this up and get yourself caught in Oasis Palace, we will lose our trail.  And then we'll all be fucked.  So you need to start taking this with a little less grain of salt and handle things the right way."

"Listen, like I said, this isn't new for me.  I've done everything I'm supposed to do since I first got out on the field, and not once have I screwed it up, we've managed to get assignments done in a heartbeat through careful planning, precision, and execution.  So cut me some slack, all right?  If it makes you feel any better, Boss assigned Jeila to watch my back while I'm out there."

"What does she have to do with anything?" Opera asked with a deep sense of displeasure in her voice.

"Um, she's my friend," Zach said forcefully.  "And she's got my back.  That's what she has to do with anything."

Opera rolled her eyes and leaned up from the wall, turning to head around the corner by the office door.  "Regardless, you heard what I said.  Step your shit up or you will ruin this for all of us."

"Yeah, nice to see you too," Zach exclaimed after her, as she walked away and disappeared down the corridor.

10/16/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 10: Training Days





Derek Tempest was the official alias given to Zachary Pharoah English at the very start of his training with Cosmic Flash six Arian years ago.  There were two reasons for this: 1. He was known community-wide as Zach English by face and name and while he wasn't the type to get noticed immediately on the streets due to the fickle nature of the North Circuit's popular culture, working for a clandestine service with the potential of receiving a position as a field agent would make it detrimental to maintaining the secrecy of his job.  There was still the matter of his appearance, however, which was compensated for with specific technology that made him unrecognizeable to a sentient brain at first glance.  He still looked like the same old Zach English, but matching face to name for anyone that knew of his existence would no longer be a problem with the Identity Cloaking Device or "ICD" he kept on his person preventing anyone who wasn't apart of Cosmic Flash from making that distinction.  2. In order to start a new Points Account for him to receive his royalties from his tenur in MIE and his incoming salary during his time with Cosmic Flash, he needed to create it under a different name and therefore, different identity.  Tome chose the title for him, naming him after a childhood friend of his from Eden who was killed in a gun fight insuing between members of the Blackgriffon Militia and his uncle who had been visiting him in his foster home and was promptly ambushed by his enemies, also costing him his life as well.  Tome considered Zach to be such a loyal friend that he felt it only fitting.

The entirety of the process, from the moment Zach signed up to join to the day of graduation, had been strenuous.  Tome helped him fill out an application and sent all of the materials including his personal referral to Cosmic Flash for review, but because it was still one app among thousands being sent to them every day by aspiring CF Operatives, it took nearly a month for them to verify it.  During that time, Zach and Tome mourned the death of Doctor Stihl with a private funeral procession held in his honor to see that he be laid to rest.  Zach stayed in Tome's suite for the entirety of the time he waited for CF to contact him.  He met Tome's wife, Raven Knightgrief, who was human, and their two children, Comet, their son who was 15 Earth years and Amber, their daughter who was 12.  They welcomed him into their abode with open arms.  It was during this time that Tome began to tutor Zach on all things he needed to know concerning the North Circuit so that he would be able to go through Cosmic Flash's rigorous written exams with less trouble.  He was also given the state-of-the-art language exhibitor treatment Soter had brought up on the Taxicruise, enabling him to interpret all languages spoken and written in the North Circuit as english.

Several weeks after the incident with Soter, Tome revealed that Cosmic Flash had accepted Zach's application and he was set to come in for an interview immediately.  By this time, he had already taken on his alias as Derek, which Tome had notified them of in his referral.  The interview was nerve-wracking for Zach.  He was put through several impromptu training exercises as well as several written assessments testing his memory, knowledge in economics, scenario trials (determining the decisions he would make if backed into a corner or put into a tough situation), and many other more trivial evaluations.  Zach left their office without any knowledge on whether or not he'd succeeded in giving a good interview and the current Head of Service, Albion, an aging Honarian with a frigid demeanor, simply told them they'd contact him if he proved eligible for training.  Another few weeks passed and Zach finally received his sign in the form of his very own Cosmer customized just for him, the first transmission of which was a notice telling him to meet at their offices the following day at 3pm.  Tome told him that it was the closest he was going to get to a "Congratulations, you've been accepted."

On the first day, Zach was accompanied by several new recruits who had also qualified for training.  He felt a little left out, as he learned very quickly that many of these cadets had completed multiple tours in Star Crest, gaining many medals along the way, while some others had spent several years in the most prestigious academies and colleges in the North Circuit, earning degrees in things like economics, intelligence analysis, engineering, network and communications management, etc.  And then there was "Derek Tempest," who according to his falsified record, was born on Eden, went to a regular school there, and really had nothing special that warranted him being selected for training, with the exception of his personal reccommendation from the Chairman of the Unity of Stars himself.  No one there had that kind of treatment....except for another recruit: Jeila Halos.  The two were able to reconnect through their mutual employment and Zach vehemently, though playfully, denied having any part in helping Jeila qualify for training, but she still thanked him anyway.

Albion and most of the higher ups working for Cosmic Flash knew that Derek Tempest was really Zach English, but the other recruits did not, so both he and Jeila were the target of harassment and ridicule by many of the cadets on the first day.  Only on the first day though; Jeila actively proved to every single one of them that she belonged there by flooring them when she caught even a whif of gossip being uttered about her or Zach.  Neither of them were exactly popular on their first few days of training but they did meet a fellow recruit who was friendly (and lonely) enough to sit with them in the Cosmic Flash Department Lunch Hall.  He went by the name of Morgon Cypher, a young Harpeian native who graduated from a highly well-known all-Ave school, meaning he knew what it was like to be an outcast.  He had been referred to Cosmic Flash by one of his professors, who considered him one of his brightest pupils and encouraged him to put his economic knowledge to use for the good of the community.  The three got along very well and soon began hanging out more often as a trio when not training.  After the first year, they were accompanied by another new recruit, this one named Tarot Presstan, a young human who had transfered from the Motor Infantry Epsilon to Cosmic Flash.  Zach, Jeila, and Morgon were all recruits assigned to Field Training and Clandestine Service Training but Tarot, who had been referred to CF after an accident on duty left him with a metal rod in his right leg and unable to continue his tour, was there for Analysis and Engineering Training, due to his inability to work in the field.  When it was just the three of them, they had rented out their own dorm room together in the department and when Tarot joined, he was invited to stay with them.

Training was brutal.  They were commanded under their Recruitment Officer, Warwick Globe, a decorated Shade Alfimese with a Gung-Ho persona and an easygoing but equally harsh attitude towards his recruits.  Most of the training had been done on a space station called "The Farm" that orbited above the Arian atmosphere.  The first few weeks consisted of a lot of lap running.  In fact, when they weren't doing anything else, that was their main activity.  In between that, they were given refresher courses on gun training, obstacle course trials, timed distance running, and occasionally put through Wartigh sparring matches with one another to test their skills.  It was on the back of everyone's mind by the first month that they hadn't learned anything new or experienced anything they hadn't before during the training and were secretly doubting Globe's leadership, however, none of them ever spoke their reservations out loud.  But by the second month, things began to move along.  There was an extensive period where they had stopped from doing physical training and focused purely on sharpening their minds through mental exercises, meditation, activities to sharpen their reflexes, and lengthy studying on various topics, including the history of the Cosmic Flash Service, memorization of each profession in the Service and its purpose, and a few of the many creeds members of the Service lived by.  All of this was to ensure that they remained mentally healthy by disciplining their minds to be ready for anything.  Especially what came next.

Zach was aware that CIA Agents on Earth were forced to go through torture exercises as apart of their training to prove that they were capable of keeping calm under pressure and incapable of breaking easily.  The same applied here; in fact many of the torture techniques used on them mirrored what was done to political prisoners on Earth.  The recruits were given a specific strand of information and told to guard it with their lives.  At a seemingly random part of their daily routine, they would be "kidnapped" by CF operatives and put in an interrogation room where the torture would commence.  These tortures included electroshock, waterboarding, virtual beating (placing the victim in a realistic virtual simulation and beating them repeatedly), systematic air restriction through use of specially-made helmets, sanx burning (Sanx being a wax-like substances that feels like magma against the skin of a living creature but is actually harmless), extensive isolated captivity, and many more.  This was without a doubt the most difficult portion of the training and coupled with the fact that after each session they were forced to return to physical exercises and continue their daily routine like nothing happened made it very apparent that when Tome said it was about pushing them to their breaking point, he meant it.  But the mental training made it slightly easier to deal with than it would have been had they not engaged in it.  It was easy for Zach to find a "place of peace" through impromptu meditation that would allow him to last longer in each torture without breaking.  His average time limit before breaking when he first started was 30 marks.  After a few weeks, this extended to 50 marks, then to 5 clicks, then to 20 clicks, then 30, 50, an hour, 2 hours, 5, hours, 12 hours, 24 hours.  By the end of this part of the training, he was able to last three days without breaking and when that particular session concluded on the third day, he had not broken at all.

Further mental training after this consisted of discliplining the mind to voluntarily process images and events without having any notable change in reaction.  While strapped to a machine made to monitor their heart rate and brain wave patterns, they were forced to sit and watch graphic images and videos depicting various gruesome and disturbing events that had been recorded over time.  Part of one of the videos and the part that disturbed recruits the most, was a realistic virtual depiction of their own deaths through various means, mostly at the hands of fictional enemies.  The exercise was not meant to dissolve emotion, only to allow an operative to voluntarily keep a level head when in the face of unexpectedly disconcerting circumstances.  None of the recruits were able to go through the first day without vomitting.  This form of training caused a massively collective bout of sleep deprivation and many of the recruits had to apply for supplements they could use to get rid of insomnia.  This portion of the training was difficult as well, as each recruit had to use their "place of peace" from their meditation exercises in a situation where every bit of their mental peace was being threatened by the images they were witnessing, which varied from mangled bodies and severed limbs to mass graves and tortured and murdered children, many of which came straight from the war crimes committed by the Closs Royal Family.  Eventually, after weeks of coming to terms with the images they witnessed (most of them becoming numb to the sight after a while), the recruits were able to make it through a viewing of the images and videos with only a slight increase in heart rate, a permitted occurence.  In Zach's final evaluation, his heart rate did not change and he didn't have any reaction to the images.  He even yawned in the middle of it, which worried him.  This kind of job and its training, as he'd remembered from what he learned of the CIA, had the potential to turn a caring well-rounded person into a cold and calculating shell of a being and he was concerned that this was what he was becoming.

However, his interactions with others as time went on told him otherwise.  He still felt the same when around friends, maybe because they were going down the same route as him, even Tarot, who was enduring an entirely different and significantly less strenuous training program than he, Jeila, and Morgon were.  They had grown close over the course of that year through the mutual stress it put on them all.  Many days were spent studying together, comforting each other after a torture exercise, and keeping each other company by conversing with one another through sleepless nights brought on by their mental training exercises.  He expressed his concern for his changing nature with Morgon and Jeila only to have them put him at ease by admitting that they were suffering from the same worries.  That night was spent discussing how they might just end up becoming apart of an army of mindless drones by the end of training but in some ways they were able to make fun of the concept and come to terms with the idea of possibly losing their "beingness," a term used in the North Circuit to replace "humanity" as a concept of benevolence and altruism.  The only reason why they were able to make peace with it was because they would be going through it together, a factor that could make almost any terrible situation more comfortable to deal with.

The group had grown to know each other well.  Morgon was the charismatic loveable talker of the group with a quick tongue and a love for popular culture in the North Circuit; Jeila was the rarely-means-to-be-funny-but-is-actually-hilarious potential hothead of the group who was slightly clumsy but maintains that she has never actually felt the tension of an awkward moment in her entire life; Tarot was the highly intelligent, quiet, and probably most sane member of the group which he often contradicts with seemingly random jokes that rarely ever have anything to do with the conversation or situation; And Zach was the dry-witted, caring, gives-advice-but-can-never-follow-his-own guy of their group.

Even with all of the good times that were had between them all, Zach had become a little thrown off by things, particularly things concerning his relationship with Jeila.  Throughout their friendship, it had never evolved beyond just that, even though they'd had sex the first time they ever met.  He really had feelings for her, partially because of that, mostly because she was just a very likeable girl in general, but it was almost obvious that she share the same feelings, at least not in the way he did.  To siphon off his own feelings, he thought about asking her to have sex with him again but the guilt in technically using her body to help him feel more like she was showing him affection prevented him from awkwardly asking like he'd planned to and he never truly worked up the nerve to make it happen.  Things grew even more complicated when he discovered that Jeila had been having several liasons with Morgon upon meeting him, which put a strain on Zach's friendship with them both for a while, an event of which he did not speak of leaving them to wonder why he was suddenly becoming stand-offish at the time it occurred.  Because things were so different here, Zach felt like he was the only person in this part of the galaxy who felt this way.  He'd learned that even if you were married, it was socially acceptable to go "mate" with someone who's genes you admire, even if you barely know that person.  So there was no reason for him to be jealous.  With this realization, he got over his feelings and started treating them like his friends again, but not without mating with a few of the female recruits to make himself feel better about the situation.

Morgon was the last to find out who "Derek" actually was through Tarot, who recognized Zach immediately upon meeting him.  When Tarot had just come out of Basic Training and was beginning his tour with MIE, Zach had apparently held a lecture for them sometime after the assassination attempt that skyrocketed him to fame.  Tarot looked up to him and saw him as a role model for aspiring soldiers everywhere, which prompted their eventual friendship when he joined Cosmic Flash.  As they got to know Tarot, they learned that he was born and raised on Arias and was also a gun fanatic, a recovering Colenose addict (a liquid drug that can be drunk, injected, or administered as eye drops to create stimulation), and a devout Oasist.  Oasism was a monotheistic religion focusing on the belief in the "Elder Brother," a deity who is currently in a state of "raising sentient life" in the universe to reach "celestial maturity."  The Elder Brother known as "Doen" is the creator of our universe and one of many "siblings" the universe has who are all ruled under the "Grandfather," Maros, the originator of all life.

As the legend goes, Maros created a son and a daughter.  The son's name was soon stripped from him and is simply referred to as "The Deep Patriarch" or "The Deep," while the daughter became known as "Leda, the Shallow Matriarch" or "Leda, The Shallow."  Leda and the Deep were tasked with building a land that would be known as the "Grand City" to be occupied by the rest of Maros' coming offspring.  Once the city was built, Maros disappeared for many years to begin his work in creating more offspring to occupy the Grand City.  During this time, The Deep, a conniving and sinister being, decided to seduce and take advantage of Leda, a moment that would become known as "The Rape of The Shallow."  This event caused Leda to give birth to the first Ovipar, the type of celestial being that Doen would later develop into.  Upon his return, Maros, being the omniscient entity that he was, knew of the Deep's treachery and banished him to the Lost Realm.  Maros proceeded to put Leda into a deep sleep that prevented her from waking until she was completely cleansed of her abuse at the hands of The Deep.  Maros then began to raise the first Ovipar, who remained nameless in scripture, and tasked it with beginning the Chain, an effort to populate the Grand City with his own kind.  The Ovipar would create another Ovipar and raise it until it reached celestial maturity, then ten thousand years after that, that Ovipar would proceed to create their own Ovipar and so on and so on until the Grand City was fully populated.

When an Ovipar creates one of their own, they must travel into the Lost Realm in order to channel the energy to make this happen.  In doing so, the raising of the new Ovipar is tampered with by the Deep, who wants revenge against his father for his banishment and attempts to make this new Ovipar the one that will cause the downfall of Maros' empire.  It is up to the efforts of the previous Ovipar and the new developing Ovipar to fight off the Deep's looming evil until the new Ovipar has reached maturity.  The new Ovipar is always raised and developed inside of an egg that is laid by the previous one, which is where the name Ovipar derives from.  In this egg is a single universe where the Ovipar develops and matures by living the life of every sentient creature in that universe, thus obtaining ultimate knowledge concerning life and reaching celestial maturity.  Then that Ovipar will become whole enough to live in the peaceful and tranquil land of Grand City for ten thousand years until it is time for them to travel into the Lost Realm to create their own Ovipar through another egg, holding another universe.  According to belief, the "Elder Brother," Doen is the current Ovipar watching over our egg/universe and everyone in our universe is actually the new Ovipar, meaning every sentient creature we are aware that exists is actually one entity.  Time according to Oasism is non-linear, meaning every life being lived and ever will be lived is being simultaneously experienced by the Ovipar, so when a person dies and they travel back to the Lost Realm to be greeted by Doen, he will inform them that with each new life they live, they grow and become a larger and greater intellect, before they have their memories temporarily erased and start from scratch through birth in another life that may be one that existed before they were even born.  Once every life has been experienced in our universe, we will all become one entity with the memories and experiences of every sentient creature that ever lived in our "egg," and spend our next ten thousand years in the Grand City until its time to make our own Ovipar.

According to Oasist scripture, we are told all of this by Doen when we die and also told our given name as an Ovipar, Aos, which is part of where the religion's name originates.  It also refers to the fact that an Oasis is considered holy land, a concentrated portion of "growing maturity" within the "Egg," and Oasists often have their church's built near one.  Like any religion, there are varying practices, lifestyles, and concepts of morality derived from it, including the literal interpretation and more concrete adherence to the philosophy, "Treat people how you want to be treated."  This was apart of what made Tarot so easy to get along with.  Oasism was the primary and only religion regularly practiced within the North Circuit and though the rest of the group weren't Oasists (Zach had always been athiest, Jeila had been raised Oasist but wasn't very religious, and Morgon was agnostic), they were still respectful of Tarot's beliefs.

Four Arian years after their first day of training with Cosmic Flash, they graduated and Zach, Jeila, and Morgon became honorary Operatives of Service.  Their final test had been an exhausting one that included a written exam, an hour-long trek across a massive obstacle course, and a virtual scenario involving the capture, torture, and required escape from a ficticious rogue facility.  The three of them managed to pass with flying colors and were given a month off before officially being put on duty.  Zach spent that month using his newfound status to provide him with answers on the whereabouts of Soter and his allegiance.  Soter, who's full name, Zach learned, was Soter Rokain, had originally been a registered member of the Ichthios Chapter of the Defense Company, a sub-branch of the Artillery Corps, but had recently been linked to a shadowy terrorist organization called the Black Symphony, originating from the darkest slums of Alfheim.  It was being speculated that he had been a man on the inside working for the terrorist group, but that was where the trail went cold.  Zach hadn't learned anything more about him since and Soter seemed to disappear off the grid even with the Cosmic Flash's Analysis Branch working around the clock to find him.  Despite his frustrations over desperately wanting to secure the well-being of Doctor Stihl's family, Zach had no choice but to let it go until something else turned up.  He kept his mind occupied by going over as many of the documented assets and potential cases as possible.

Once they were put on duty, the group began to lose touch and grow apart, with the exception of Zach and Tarot.  This was because each Operative was put on a different team named after the primary Field Agent, in Zach's case, Team Tempest.  Each team consisted of approximately seven members: a Senior Case Officer who commands the entire team; an Operative of Service or "Point Man," the agent who operates in the field and is the entity of whom the entire team is built around; a Primary Technician, who provides technical assistance to the Operative including possible diversions and all-purpose hacking; an Engineering Officer, who provides the Operative with items, gadgets, and firearms to be used on the field, instructs them on how to use new devices introduced to them, and provides nominal assistance should the device or devices fail or need repair on the field; a Surveillance Analyst, who can gain access to almost any photographic equipment or virtual building schematic used by or for security in order to observe the Operative and inform them of access points, escape routes, potential threats, and points of interest; an Intelligence Analyst, who has access to the Cosmic Flash Central Database in order to provide the Operative with impromptu information on a subject relating to their current mission; and Transport, a certified expert at piloting ships and other vehicles who provides the Operative with transportation to and from locations, sometimes in the thick of chaos, and is able to provide some field assistance.

Team Tempest was unique in that it consisted of only five members.  Zach or "Derek Tempest" was its Operative of Service.  The Senior Case Officer of the team was Zach's former Recruitment Officer, Commander Warwick Globe, who had been promoted shortly after his recruits' graduation.  The Primary Technician and Engineering Officer was Tarot, who doubled under both positions, providing assistance with both due to his near genius-like intellect.  Joining Tarot in a doubled position of Surveillance and Intelligence Analyst was Opera Fiendeye, Zach's "ex"-wife after Zach finally gave in and told her that he was not the same Zach she fell in love with, prompting her to agree to a proper divorce that left their relationship stagnant and strictly professional.  The final member of the team on Transport was Ruby, a young Ave who had graduated from the Steel Wing Reserve at the top of her class and came from a family of illegal street racers on Harpeia.

After only a few missions under their belt, Zach and his team had little experience but were able handle each case they were assigned to by Warwick with the utmost professionalism and efficiency.  This one was no different.

--------------------------------------------------

The Overgate Carrier stopped by a blocked-off area on a freeway where local Orbital Police were relaying traffic around a large totalled starship that was sparking and emitting smoke from the portion of cracked transparent street it had collided with.  There to greet the group as they exited the Carrier was none other than Commander Globe himself, who stood by the blockade conversating with a few of the officers that stood around the crashed starship.  Zach led the group over to him.

"Globe, I didn't expect to see you here so fast," he said when he approached.  "I thought you were observing from the headquarters."

"I was, I left as soon as things went haywire, just got here a few minutes ago," Globe replied.  He was in a weird position between old and middle aged; he was visibly older than Tome but didn't quite have the same stress-filled elderly face of the CF Head, Albion, and instead was somewhere in the middle.  It was possible that he could have been around the same age as Albion (since all creatures in the North Circuit have similar life spans before retiring after a certain age and settling down for the next few Earth hundred years in the Elder's Domain) but was simply paying less for the stress and throes caused by the job like Albion was.  Globe's violet-colored skin was void of many wrinkles except for on his face and his dark purple hair was still as full and lucious as ever, even though his hairline was receeding slightly.  His elvish ears were different from other Alfimese being that he was a Shade and they stretched beyond his head outwards instead of up like other Alfimese.  Like most if not all Dark Alfimese, from which he got some of his traits from, he wore covers over his eyes that resembled sunglasses to help him better see at night, an attribute that Zach saw as highly ironic for their kind.  "Graft survived the crash and so did one of his men.  We're taking him in to our team's branch for the interrogation later.  Its nice to see you three spending time together again."

"Yeah, just like old times," Morgon said with a large smile.  "Good to see your old ass again."

"Keep it up, Cypher, and I might let your cover slip in front of Graft when things get hairy, so he can sic his goons after ya," Globe warned playfully.  After a few missions on the field, Morgon had been given the chance to volunteer for a new project within Cosmic Flash called "Project Troy," an effort to build a realistic criminal organization consisting of Cosmic Flash Operatives under Non-Official Covers that would make deals and operate within the North Circuit's criminal underworld like a real crime syndicate, only answering directly to Star Crest.  Inspired partially by the Trojan Horse event of Earth and the concept of the double agent, The project was set to work on a massive scale which meant it needed to be done with the utmost secrecy.  Before going to scoop up Zach and Jeila, Morgon had thrown on his ICD, as did his men in order to make sure that no one knew who he was except for Zach, Jeila, and any other Cosmic Flash Operative.

"Bullshit, Globe, we know you love your job more than that," Jeila laughed.  "You'd get fired on the spot."

"You underestimate the amount of hatred I have for being called old," Globe joked, before a loud clank came from the starship.  They all looked back at it briefly as loud screaming began to come from who they figured was Mr. Graft, being kept inside the ship, restrained, and growing increasingly angered by his defeat.  "He's not too happy.  Me and Tempest will have a look at him.  Halos, you come too.  Cypher, you hang back, can't risk him finding some way to turn off your ICD or deducing your identity through your interaction with us."

"Understood," Morgon said, backing away from the blockade and heading back to the Carrier.  "Just head back when you're finished and I'll contact my people to let them know we're about to transfer him back to headquarters."

"Okay."  Morgon walked away and Zach and Jeila stepped through the blockade, following Globe towards the ship, the door of which was open on the side facing away from the road.  When they circled around, they could see two officers standing over Graft, who sat with his legs crossed and his hands held behind his back with futuristic restraints.  His one unconscious man had been escorted out and the rest of the ones that Zach had taken out earlier or were killed by the crash lay scattered across the crime scene around them.  At the sight of Mr. Graft, Globe dismissed the officers, who left Graft's side and walked out of the ship to make way for the others.  When the three of them stepped into view, Graft looked up at him with a bruised and battered face and smiled.

"Never thought I'd see the day when I'd let myself get caught by a bunch of government sheep," Graft muttered with a slight lisp caused by a few broken teeth.

"That's exactly the reason why I'm here right now," Globe said with authority, stepping into the ship with the others behind him.  "We know you were aware that you were going to be ambushed at the scene of the exchange.  What we aren't aware of is why you made it so easy for us to catch you.  What exactly are you hiding?"

Graft began to chuckle lazily.  "Um...well its quite simple really, I'm hiding a rather large stash of Points in an off-planet account that I don't want anyone to know I have.  That and tons of Earthly porn magazines under my mattress at home.  Is that the answer you were looking for?"

"You do realize that there's no way out of this, right?  You're done.  Your organization is done.  Do you know how many high-profile gangsters we've detained who tried to get themselves out by attempting to escape through varying means?  Pretty much all of them.  Do you know how many have succeeded?  None.  So whatever you have hiding up your sleeve, its not going to work.  We will find out what it is and we will stop it like we've done time and time again."

"You seem pretty sure of yourself, Mr. Globe, do you really think you stand a chance against what's coming for you?" Graft said, leaning his head back confidently as Zach and Jeila looked on in surprise.  Mr. Graft knew who Globe was before he even introduced himself.  Globe's expression didn't change but he too hadn't expected it.  "Your lackies over there, Ms. Halos and Mr. Tempest, who actually isn't going by his real name, are writing their reactions all over their faces.  It seems I know more than you expected.  And I don't break to torture very easily, so if you want to know what I know, I'd say its best to ditch the threats and start with the bargaining.  It'll probably be much faster."

Globe licked his lips sharply and smiled.  "You, my friend, are an entertaining fellow.  I can see why you made it to the top of the food chain in your organization at your age.  You know how to make a person believe like you are just so much greater than you actually are.  But here's the thing.  You don't have any information we can't get on our own.  Sure, you know who we are, which is enough grounds for us to kill you immediately by the way, but if there's a leak, we'll find it.  If someone out there has our NOC list, we'll find them.  If people know our secrets and they're selling them, we'll find them.  Cosmic Flash has existed for thousands of years, Mr. Graft, we have experienced it all.  Whatever your plan is, its been foiled already."

"Past experiences do not determine future events, Mr. Secret Agent, that's something your parents should have taught you.  Oh, right...There's no way for them to have been able to."

Globe's expression suddenly became serious as he turned to Zach and Jeila slightly.  "I would like for you to leave me and Mr. Graft alone for a little while.  We'll meet up again at HQ for debrief.  For now I've got some business to attend to."

"Before you 'deliver the pain,' Mr. Globe, there's one thing your friends should know as well as yourself," Graft mentioned seemingly offhandedly before his stale smile began to slide from his face.  "The Deep....his grasp on us is much tighter than you think."

"The hell are you talking about?"

Graft's smile reappeared and he leaned his head back onto the cold steel wall at the back of the ship where he sat.  "Nothing.  Nothing at all."

"Okay, if you're done with your dumb ass religious talk, I think I'll have my say now.  And let my fists do the talking.  You two head on out and tell the OP to keep their distance.  When I'm done with him, he'll have to take his boots off to take a shit."

Shrugging, Zach and Jeila stepped away from the ship and before long, they could hear the pleasant sounds of grunting and pounding flesh echo from the vehicle's interior.  They let the Orbital Police know that Globe was still questioning the suspect and a team would be by to handle his extraction momentarily.  As they walked back to the Carrier, the two continued to converse.

"I miss Globe and his nonsensical zingers," Jeila said with a smile,.

"Yeah.  If there's anything his Shade status is going to provide for the rest of creaturekind in the North Circuit, its a broken down and simplified version of the Agnathan language."

"...that was a terrible joke."

"Wow, just shoot down my dreams, why don't you?  That's okay.  The next time you make a stupid joke, you get no pity laugh.  Absolutely zero."

"I don't care," Jeila smirked.  "I'm naturally hilarious, so I won't have to worry about that."

"Well I'm sorry everybody can't be your Chris Farley."

"Who?"

"Celebrity from Earth.  He's hilarious."

"Knowing your humor, I highly doubt that."

"Okay, now that's just mean."

Jeila smiled and tossed her hair in his direction as she walked ahead of him to the Carrier where Morgon was waiting in the front seat.  When they approached, he stepped out to greet them.

"So how's it look?" he asked.

"Well he's not really saying anything," Zach answered.  "Just trying to make it seem like he's one step ahead of us."

"Which he might be," Jeila added.  "Seeing as he probably let himself get captured since he didn't even have a back-up plan like you anticipated.  You know, other than the decoy.  Plus, he knew who we were.  Globe too."

"He knew who Derek was?" Morgon asked in slight surprise.

"He seemed to," Zach said.  "For a second I thought it was maybe because Jeila let it slip when she intentionally blew her cover to draw him out of hiding."

"Are you serious?" Jeila asked with slight offense.  "You really think I'm that dense?  I didn't even blow my cover using my real identity, I used a fake cover identifying myself as an asset to Cosmic Flash from Alfheim, so however he found out who I really was and who you really are wasn't because of me.  I made sure I was clean.  Honestly, I can't get over the fact that you're doubtin' my skills like that."

"Well, you deliberately doubted my comedic prowess just now, so consider us even."

Jeila slapped Zach on the arm and Morgon laughed.  "Well did he happen to say anything else or allude to anything while you guys were in there?"

"Well he said something about The Deep having a 'tighter grip on us than we think,' whatever that means," Zach said in thought.  "I honestly never took Graft for the religious type.  Probably uses 'the Deep' as a means of justifying his lifestyle."

"Yeah," Morgon responded.  "Such a weird thing to say though.  He's probably just trying to throw us off.  What's Globe up to now?"

"You know him," Jeila said, shaking her head and pointing over her shoulder.  "He's doing that unleashing-pent-up-anger thing he does every now and then on things that irritate him.  Albion is going to have some questions concerning certain bruises and cuts on the suspect once Globe gets back for debrief."

"He'll just say they were sustained in the crash, knowing him," Zach mentioned, chuckling.

"Probably," Morgon said.  "So what do we do until then?"

"Globe told us we should head to the nearest pub back on Arias on our trip back to headquarters and get completely shit-faced," Zach said with the utmost confidence.  "To celebrate Jeila's safe return.  He told me specifically to order the Congo, so I could get extra buzzed.  His words.  Exactly."

Morgon and Jeila snickered in amusement before Morgon pulled out his Cosmer.  "I'll go ahead and take your word for it.  Calling for another Overgate to take us to the Taxicruise Landpad now."