Today’s chapter, number six, brings us Officer Pardy and an animation–the first I’ve ever made–of what a protector’s facemask looks like when talking. Enjoy, and happy Saturday.
VI. Officer Pardy
Officer Pardy checked himself in his locker mirror one last time. He wanted his uniform to be perfectly up to code for his first day on the job. Assured that it was, he brushed his finger across the picture of his wife and son on the inside of his locker door, decided he would take it with him after all, stuffed it in his cargo pants, and slammed the locker shut.
Another Officer, putting socks on beside him, jumped at the sound of it. “Amaru above, Tom!” Rabbit said. “As if I didn’t have enough going on to destroy my nerves already.”
“Settle down, Rabbit,” Officer Pardy said, picking up his helmet from the bench. “You’ll have nothing to be afraid of out there. I’ll protect you.”
A couple of others getting dressed in the locker room laughed. Everyone knew Rabbit was meant to do housework. He didn’t have anything that a protector needed in him except for the blood of his hero mother. Rabbit was a liability to the entire operation, and that was a secret to no one.
“Yeah. Right, Tom,” Rabbit said absently, putting on his boots. “Thanks.”
“Hey, Rabbit,” Officer Pardy called as he walked out of the locker room. “Rabbit!”
“Huh? Yeah, Tom?” Rabbit said. “What is it?”
“You gotta put your pants on before your boots, boy. I know it’s not regulation, but it is common sense.”
The locker room burst into another bout of laughter. Rabbit looked down at his feet, realized what he had done, then got to untying his boots and getting redressed properly. Officer Pardy—the first dressed because he was the first there—marched out to the sound of Rabbit jokes.
The stark white briefing room was empty. Rows and rows of stadium chairs sat facing a tall podium on a stage in front of a screen that covered the entire wall behind it. Officer Pardy marched to the front center seat and sat with perfect regulation posture. He had to make a good impression, to set an example for the other rookies to follow. He wanted to show everyone that he was the epitome of a protector. He slipped his helmet on, and his vision shifted into darkness for a split second before the goggles measured the exact location of his pupils and projected the image of the world around him onto his eyes with far more detail—and a much wider range of vision, a full 360°—than he could ever pick up helmetless.
Slowly, the other rookies filed into the briefing room, taking their seats around him. They talked to each other, and joked to relieve their nerves, but—unlike in the locker room—Officer Pardy was all business. There was a time for play, and there was a time for work, and when your helmet was on, you knew you were working. The aura of officiality he put off was so dense that no one sat in the seats next to him. At least until Rabbit came in and plopped himself into the chair to his left.
“How do I look?” Rabbit asked, sounding out of breath.
Officer Pardy looked over at him. His helmet saw through Rabbit’s, and he could see that Rabbit was pale and frightened underneath. The helmet scanned Rabbit’s heart rate and temperature. There was nothing there but housekeeper. His chest plates were off balance and his helmet too large, but it was too late for Officer Pardy to help him with that now, so he stared straight ahead again and said, “Regulation, Officer.”
“Amaru,” Rabbit said, shaking his head. “I don’t know. Why am I here, Tom? Why am I here?”
Officer Pardy wouldn’t have answered if he could. The Captain marched in with her mustached helmet and took the podium anyway, so he didn’t have the option. The entire room stood to attention. The entire room, that is, except for Rabbit who first made a ruckus getting to his feet—almost knocking the entire line of protectors to his left down as he did. When Rabbit had finally gathered himself, the Captain said, “At ease.” and the room sat in one fluid motion, even Rabbit. Officer Pardy couldn’t help but think that the error would have been made an example of if it was made by any other Officer, but he wasn’t about to question the judgment of his superiors on his first day as a member of the force.
“Protectors of Outland,” the Captain said in a modulated voice, the mouth of her facemask flashing red, yellow, and green under her bristly, dark mustache. “Let me repeat that, Protectors of Outland. From this day forward, that includes you. You have sworn to uphold the sacred duties of Protectorship, and you will uphold those virtues or perish in embarrassment. Now, don’t get me wrong, children—because, truly, you are all still babies when it comes to the force—the worlds out there are much different than the worlds you’ve seen on TV. Life out there is real. It’s nothing like the fairy tales you learned about in school. We’re here for one reason and one reason alone: To protect the ideals of Outland. Protectors, what are those ideals?”
“Property. Liberty. Life,” the room said in unison.
“I said, protectors! What. Are. Those. Ideals?”
“Property! Liberty! Life! Sir!” the room sang.
“And without these basic freedoms what are we? We are not civilization. We are not human. We are nothing.”
“Hoo-ra!” a lone voice called.
“Hoo-ra,” the Captain repeated. “That’s right. Hoo-ra! Are you ready protectors?”
“Hoo-ra!” the room sang in unison.
“Today you are tried by fire. Every protector is baptized into the force the same way. If you cannot make it in Outland 6, then you are not strong enough, you are not fit enough, you are not enough to protect any of the Outlands. Do you understand me? This work is dangerous, protectors. You know what you signed up for. You’ve heard the stories of your ancestors. You’ve been trained. You know as well as you can what awaits you out those doors. So I’m going to ask you one more time. Protectors, are you ready?”
“We’re sweeping the Neutral Ground, today, rookies.” A map of Outland 6 with the section of the Neutral Ground that they would be focusing on came up on the screen behind the Captain. “We have one hundred rookies here in this room. We have countless rooms like this around Outland 1, all with the same mission. You’ve been through the drills. You know your vows. You’ll be paired with another rookie and led by a Sergeant. I suggest you listen to your Sergeant if you want to make it through this alive.”
Rabbit swallowed loud enough for Officer Pardy to hear it.
“You’ll find your partner and Sergeant assignments on your comm link and in your viewscreens. Go meet your Sergeants and do your jobs, protectors. Hoo-ra!”
Before Rabbit could check his assignment, Officer Pardy pulled him up by his collar and dragged him to stand in front of the Captain.
“Tom, what are you—” Rabbit pleaded as he did.
“Captain Mondragon, sir,” Officer Pardy said, standing to attention in front of the Captain and saluting. “Officer Pardy, reporting for duty.”
Rabbit looked at him then at the captain and half saluted. “Er—Ra—No—uh—Officer Jefferson, uh—sir, or—Captain.”
“At ease, Officers,” the Captain said, ticking off a salute herself, her arm brushing against the dark mustache adorning her facemask with the motion. Rabbit was already at ease. Officer Pardy followed orders. “I selected the two of you for a special operation.” The mouth of her facemask flashed as she spoke, but the voice modulator was off. “I’ll be joining you because I want to see how you do with my own two eyes. Do you understand?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Officer Pardy said, looking through the black mirrors of the Captain’s eyes.
“Then load up and let’s go,” the Captain said.
They got into the transport bay with three other teams, twelve protectors in formation waiting for the doors to open. When they did, the sun came in bright through the skyline and oak trees, and Officer Pardy’s helmet had to adjust his viewscreen to compensate. The trees reminded him of a park back home in Outland 1, one tree in particular he used to climb. He was caught off guard when Rabbit marched out with the rest of the troop, leaving Tom to play catch up.
“Alright,” the Captain said. The Sixers around were starting to clear out of the area, but Officer Pardy noticed a little boy going up the tree he wanted to climb. “Beta team, Sector G,” the Captain said, pointing. “Gamma team, Sector D. Delta team, Sector E. Go, go, go.”
The other teams moved out into the city, away from the Neutral Ground.
“Pardy, Jefferson,” the Captain said. “Follow me.”
They followed along the park. As they went, word of their coming passed in front of them, and the crowds dispersed like flies when swatted at. Officer Pardy was beginning to wonder how they would catch anyone doing anything if everyone knew they were coming when the Captain veered off into an alleyway.
“Alright, boys,” she said, unlocking a padlock on a door halfway down the alley. “While they’re out there, stirring up the population, we’re going to do some real protector work. You hear me?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Officer Pardy responded automatically.
“Um. Where are we, sir?” Rabbit asked, stumbling through the dark doorway.
The Captain flipped on the lights. “You just walked here, Jefferson,” she said. “You should know where you are.”
“Sector F, sir,” Officer Pardy said. “An alley two blocks east of the transport bay, sir.”
“Okay, Pardy,” the Captain replied, giving a thumbs up and nodding. “No need to show off. Just get out of your gear like a good little Officer and put on some of these plain clothes.”
The room looked like a giant costume closet for a theater company in Outland 3. There were shirts, shoes, and dresses piled everywhere, on top of cupboards and cubbies and hanger racks, and there were carpet-covered benches in between piles of clothes. Officer Pardy thought that there was no way that what they were doing was regulation, but he couldn’t rightly ignore a direct order from a superior officer, either, so he set to picking out a costume and changing into it.
“Um. Right here, sir?” Rabbit asked, appalled by the idea. “Right in front of—but there’s no—”
Pardy laughed as he slipped on a pair of sneakers. He wanted to remind Rabbit to put his pants on before his shoes, but he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate while on duty, even without a helmet on. When the Captain started redressing herself, Rabbit relented, too.
“We’ll be posing as your typical Sixer scumbag,” the Captain said as she got dressed. “The type of person who’s too lazy, stoned, or stupid to work, so they resort to stealing from those of us who have the common decency to earn our own living. We have intel that says there’s illegal printer activity on this very block. Jefferson and I will enter the establishment—posing as a family looking for food. Pardy will enter five minutes later as back up. Jefferson and I will procure an illegally printed commodity and arrest the operators of the stolen device. When Pardy comes in, we’ll confiscate all the printers on the premises and make arrests as needed. Now, are there any questions?”
“I—I’m supposed to be your husband?” Rabbit said.
“Yes, Jefferson,” the Captain said with a grin. “Can you handle that?”
“I—uh—yes, sir.” Rabbit blushed.
“You got any problems, Pardy?” the Captain asked.
“Sir, no, sir,” Pardy said. Not on his first day he didn’t.
“Good,” the Captain said. “Jefferson and I are heading out. You tail us and enter on your cue. Do you understand?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Pardy said.
“Let’s go protectors,” the Captain said, slapping Rabbit on the back and leading him out of the closet.
Pardy walked as far behind them as he could without losing sight. The sidewalk was full now that they were out of protector gear, so he had to stay close. The Captain and Rabbit entered a nondescript door in between two apartment buildings, and Pardy walked past it, bending down to tie his shoe and count away the seconds in his head. He whistled the Protector’s Alma Mater to keep time as he observed the area around him. He was closer now to the tree that reminded him of his favorite one to climb as a kid, and he looked up to see two little forms sitting high up in the branches. He had almost lost track of his whistling while watching them when someone bumped into him from behind and he did lose track of it.
“Watch out,” the person said, pushing Pardy away.
“Stand down, citizen,” Pardy said, standing and holding his fists up in a defensive stance.
“What was that?” The person looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language.
“I said—uh—excuse me, sir,” Pardy said, dropping his hands.
“Right,” the person said, walking away and shaking his head.
Pardy tried to calculate how much time he had lost to find out where he should be in the tune, but his eyes kept going back to the kids in the tree and he couldn’t think. He decided it had been long enough and went for the door. He turned the rusty knob and pushed, but it didn’t budge. He looked around, and a little girl smiled at him then ran away to her mom. He turned the knob again and pulled this time, almost falling over backwards when the door swung open.
The hall was dark and short. It led to a steep staircase. Pardy wondered why no one else had come in or gone out since Rabbit and the Captain had. He tried to quiet his steps but the staircase echoed everything back at him. He was at the top of the third flight, reaching out for the doorknob in front of him, when the gunshots rang out. One. Then two. Then one more.
His heart skipped a beat. He shoved the door open and swung out his gun. The Captain’s gun was pointed at a man who had his hands on his head. Rabbit was bleeding on the floor, maybe groaning, maybe not moving. A flutter of motion disappeared out a back door.
“Follow her!” the Captain ordered, cuffing the man and calling for backup.
Pardy’s legs moved before his mind did. He didn’t have to be quiet anymore, and his presence stormed through the back staircase. He was at the last flight of stairs before the purple flower pattern of her dress disappeared around the corner of the door. He scanned left and right when he emerged from the building, then followed her wake into the still busy sidewalk. He slid to a halt, almost passing the alley she went down, before following her, his footsteps echoing like a war cry. She got to the end of the alley and tried to escape into another door, but it wouldn’t budge.
“No!” she screamed, beating her fists against the door. “Damn you! Let me in! No!” She started to cry.
Pardy pointed his gun at her heart. “Freeze.”
“Fuck you.” She didn’t turn around. She just kept banging on the door.
“Put your hands in the air and turn around.” Sweat started to pool on his forehead.
“Fuck off!” the woman yelled, not looking at him.
“Please, ma’am. I don’t want to have to hurt you. Turn around slowly and put your hands on your head.”
She turned fast. Pardy took a step back, his heart skipping a beat. “Oh yeah?” she said. “I’m sure she didn’t, either. Is that right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, ma’am. Just put your hands on your head, and we’ll get this all sorted out. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have no reason to worry.”
“Her!” the woman yelled. “That—that—that fucking woman! She was a protector. And you—you are, too. Aren’t you? You fucking pig!”
“Please, ma’am,” he said, adjusting his grip on his gun. “Put your hands up.”
“No.” She shook her head, stepping closer. “You. You put your hands up. Do you hear me? You!”
“We didn’t have any guns,” the woman said, chuckling or sobbing, Pardy couldn’t tell anymore. “None of us. Just think about that, protector. Think about my daughter who won’t see her parents ever again because you were protecting us.”
“Ma’am,” Pardy said.
“You heard me,” the woman said. “Fuck off!” She took a step toward him, or reached for something in her dress, or—something—Pardy didn’t know.
But his finger reacted before his brain did. The gun blast went off and she fell. He caught his breath for a second, his gun poised, and reeled at what he had done. The world spun around him and he wanted to pass out. He fell to his knees at the woman’s side, pressing on her chest to stop the bleeding.
She coughed. “H—How—”
“No, I’m…” He pressed harder. What had he done? As she took her last spluttering breaths, he tore the silver butterfly off her neck and shoved it in his pocket.
A group of protectors in full gear swarmed into the alley around him. They asked him questions he didn’t remember answering. They didn’t seem to matter. They said that the Captain would be waiting for him at headquarters for debriefing. They said he was a hero, that they had found a stockpile of illegal printers waiting to be distributed. They patted him on his back for that, and no one asked him where his gear was or who the woman dying in the alley was. No one asked why he had shot her. No one told him how Rabbit was doing. He probably wouldn’t have heard them even if they did.
He made his way through the crowd of protectors, bunched up in the alley, out to the main drag that ran along the Neutral Ground. The sidewalks were empty again and he could finally breathe. He took a few deep breaths and sprawled out on his back in the grass, staring up at the trees, at the clouds that passed through the holes in their canopy. He laid there and stared at nothing, asking himself if this was what the job was. Was this protecting? Was this what he had signed up for? Why would anyone agree to this?
He stood and brushed himself off, taking a few more deep breaths. This wasn’t the reaction of a protector. He knew that much. He had followed direct orders. He did nothing wrong. He had nothing to worry about. The rest would have to wait.
But still. He wasn’t ordered to kill her. She reached for something, he told himself. She had said that they didn’t have guns, but that’s what a Sixer would say to catch you off guard. She was raving. What was she saying besides that? She must have been in shock from finally getting caught. That’s what it was.
She said she had a daughter.
Pardy wanted to sit down again, but he fought the urge. He pictured his son living in an orphanage because he and his wife were killed in the line of duty. He pictured the look on his son’s face when he heard the news, the tears and the crying. He swallowed hard, shoved it all back down into his subconscious, and marched to the costume closet to change out of those dirty rags of clothes and put back on his clean, white, regulation protector gear.
The transport bay was empty when Pardy got there. Everyone was either cleaning up the crime scene or still parading around their designated sector, putting on a show. He stared at the doors as they closed, imagining the Captain’s response to his actions, wondering where Rabbit was and if he was alright, and generally trying not to picture that woman’s daughter or his own son’s crying face. The transporter stopped, the doors opened, and Pardy realized he was facing the wrong direction.
“Rabbit. Is that you?” a modulated voice came from behind him, followed by eerie laughter. “No, eh. It’s Pardy,” the voice said. “But he looks like he’s seen the ghost of Rabbit, doesn’t he? Ha ha ha.”
More laughter. Pardy clenched his fists, marched between the two laughers, bumping their shoulders with his, and stomped down the hall to the debriefing room. They would have to wait until he was off duty before real justice could be served.
The debriefing room was smaller than the briefing room. It was more intimate. There was one long table with chairs all around it so the protectors could sit facing each other. It was empty when Pardy went in, so he took the middle seat to wait, straight-backed and full regulation. He had a long time to continue his cycle of thoughts concerning the Captain’s reaction, Rabbit’s health, and the woman’s son before an Officer came in and told him the Captain would speak to him in her office.
Her office was bigger than the debriefing room, and her desk was almost the size of that table. The Captain was sitting in a big, leather chair with her mustached helmet on the desk. Two low, soft stools sat on the floor in front of Pardy, and there were no pictures or decorations on the walls besides her Captain’s diploma and a copy of the Protector’s Manifesto: Property. Liberty. Life. framed on one wall. The Captain had her back turned, staring out a window that made up the entire back wall of the room, overlooking a beautiful snowy-white mountain view. Pardy closed the door, marched up to the desk, and said, “Pardy, sir.”
“Yes, Pardy,” the Captain said. “I know.” She didn’t turn around when she spoke. “Take a seat, please. And take your helmet off.”
Pardy struggled down onto one of the stools, his knees bending up to his chest. He slipped off his helmet and breathed a deep breath of air tinged with stale liquor. He had nowhere else to put his helmet but the floor next to his low seat, so he did just that.
“You did good out there, Pardy,” the Captain said after a long silence. “I’ll start with that. You did good.” She nodded, still looking out the window.
Pardy took another deep breath and nodded himself. That was one less stop on the cycle of worries.
“And no, Pardy,” the Captain went on. “I don’t mean you did well, either.” She turned around as she said it. “I know my grammar. You did good and you did it well. You understand?”
“Good,” the Captain said, smiling. “Very good. Pardy… Now—before we get on with this debriefing, I need to ask you a question.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Whatever you say, sir.”
“Good, Pardy. Good, good, good. I get it. You do it by the book. Chain of command. Follow every regulation to the dot. Do what you’re told not what you want. I get it. That’s why I chose you today, Pardy. You know that, right? You’re top of your class, a physical specimen, the perfect candidate for promotion through the ranks. Do you agree, Pardy?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“Haha. Of course you do, Pardy. I knew you would. Now, how much are you willing to do to get that promotion?”
“Whatever it takes, sir,” he answered without hesitation.
“You need to think about this, Pardy,” the Captain said, shaking her head. “Whatever it takes leaves open a lot of possibilities. What if it takes breaking regulations? What if it takes ignoring your superior officers?”
“I don’t follow, sir.”
“I didn’t expect you to, Pardy. That’s why you’re so perfect for the position. It doesn’t matter anyway. I just needed to plant the seed, see how you’d respond. Regulation response if I’ve ever heard one, Officer. Regulation response.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The Captain laughed. “Pardy,” she said. “You’ll have my job yet. Hahaha. Now, let’s get down to it.”
“Why don’t you start by telling me what happened after you left the room in pursuit of the suspect.”
“Yes, sir.” Pardy nodded. “I followed the suspect down the back staircase and caught up to her in an alley a block and half west of the back exit. She was attempting to enter a domicile through a door in the alley, but the door was locked. She yelled at me, reached for something in her dress, and I dispensed justice. At that time backup arrived and I left the scene to come here for debriefing.”
“In her dress, Pardy?” the Captain said, frowning.
“Let me ask you, Pardy.” The Captain grinned. “Have you ever worn a dress?”
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Have you ever worn a dress?”
“No, sir.” He shook his head.
“Did you see me wearing a dress out there?”
“Do you know why?” the Captain said, raising her eyebrows.
“Because it’s not easy to hide a gun in a dress, Pardy. Especially the kind she was wearing.”
“I didn’t know, sir.”
“I know you didn’t know, Pardy. But I know. And now you know. And, another thing. She yelled at you?”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded.
“What did she say?”
“She cursed, sir.”
“Haha. Oh, sweetheart,” the Captain said, smiling and shaking her head. “She cursed? That’s adorable. But we’re both adults here. What did she say?”
“She told me to fuck off, sir. She said you killed her husband, sir. She said they didn’t have guns and that she had a—”
“Alright, Pardy,” the Captain said, waving her hands. “Alright, I get it. But I’ll tell you this: If you ever want a chance of getting that promotion, you have to leave out the part where she said she didn’t have a gun. She had the gun out already. You can’t hide anything that’ll get through protector gear in a dress. You got that?”
“No, sir,” Pardy said, shaking his head.
“Pardy,” the Captain said, sighing. “She didn’t have a gun. We didn’t find a gun on her. She was telling the truth. You leave that part out in the official report and you come out better for it. You got it?”
“Uh—er—Yes, sir,” Pardy said.
“Uh—er—Yes, sir,” the Captain mocked him. “You sound like Rabbit, Pardy. Get it together.”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded.
“That’s better. And about Jefferson…That was a necessary casualty in the war on injustice. You understand that, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Pardy said. He didn’t understand, but he didn’t know how to say no again.
“Then you might survive yet, Pardy,” the Captain said, smiling. “If you stick with me you certainly will. You got that?”
“Good. Now remember what I said and go fill out your reports. You’ll have your choice of patrol for the coming week if you play your cards right. And that’s the first step in a long line of them to your promotion, Pardy. By that time I’ll have a goatee and I’ll remember what you did here for me today. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Pardy said. They weren’t clear, but again.
“And do close the door behind you on the way out,” the Captain said, turning back to the view and waving him away. “So many people forget to do that it’s ridiculous.”
“Yes, sir.” Pardy struggled up out of the stool, grabbing his helmet and slipping it on, then took extra care to close the door as quietly as he could behind him.
The report form was already up on his computer when he sat down. He stared at it, not wanting to fill it out, not sure if following the Captain’s orders was up to regulation, and groaned. Of course he knew that following her orders was regulation, but was it still regulation if she was ordering him to break regulations? Never before had he been faced with such a paradox. All through school his education was simple: Follow the rule of law and protect the essence of society: Property, liberty, life. His teachers ordered him to complete assignments, and he followed through. That was how simple the job was supposed to be. But this, this was different. The Captain said that the woman he had killed wasn’t lying. She said they didn’t find a gun. Did that mean that none of them had guns? Who fired the shots? Who shot Rabbit?
He realized he didn’t even know if Rabbit was still alive and called down the room to another Officer who was doing busy work at her desk.
“Didn’t make it,” she said, happy to take a break. “Ironic almost, dying in action just like his mother. A hero’s bloodline, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Pardy said. “A hero.”
“It’s just a shame it had to happen on his first day, though, you know. We all ribbed him, but he was a good guy. No protector deserves that. Not even the least of us. But you and the Captain showed them, didn’t you?”
Pardy didn’t answer. He stared blankly at the forms on his computer until the other Officer went back to her’s.
If they didn’t have a gun between them, then the Captain killed Rabbit and they didn’t show anyone anything but that it was okay to kill protectors. But why would she do that? Why would she want Rabbit dead? She was a protector.
They did have a 3D printer. A whole stack of them, apparently. A printer was as good as a gun. A printer was an unlimited supply of guns, bombs, and any other weapon your heart could desire. If they had even one printer, then at least one of them would have a gun to protect it. The denizens of Outland 6 would do anything to get their hands on a printer, including perpetrating violence against one another, and they wouldn’t stop at violence against protectors. Pardy had learned that through his studies of the historical arrest records.
But she didn’t have a gun. That woman didn’t. She was unarmed, and he shot her. He killed her. He heard her yell at him, telling him to fuck off. He heard her crying and pleading to whoever was behind the locked door to let her in. And he pictured her daughter. He pictured his son. He was a protector. It was his duty to uphold justice and what did he do? He killed a mother, created an orphan, and had been praised as a hero for doing so, not only by his fellow Officers, but by a Captain who said that he had what it took to climb the ranks to his dream job. So why was he having such a hard time accepting it all?
He knew he had only one option he could live with, that there was only one regulation course of action he could take. He set to filling out the report. The orphan girl would have to wait just a little bit longer for justice.
# # #
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