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.

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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."

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