Hello Saturday, hello new chapter in the Infinite Limits story. Today it’s Chelsea at her new job on the Protector Force. I’m tired and lazy this morning so that’s the only introduction you get, but here the chapter is. I hope you enjoy it:
She never could have imagined that protecting would be like this. Hell, she never could have imagined that she would be a protector in the first place, but here she was. It was all Tom’s fault, too. Her becoming a protector and them sticking her in the shittiest of posts both. She was all too sure of that.
What had gotten into Tom anyway? Honestly, Chelsea was a little worried to have to leave Jonah home alone with him. Someone who thought it was a good idea to help Sixer trash by throwing his life away in an attempt to assassinate the Lord of Outland was probably not competent enough to raise a child, but they couldn’t afford an outside housekeeper with a new recruit’s pay—which amounted to not much more than food and boarding—and so Tom it was. Chelsea would have to climb through the ranks as quickly as she could if she wanted a proper caretaker for her son, and from the looks of it, her superiors weren’t going to let her prove herself anytime soon. So far it seemed like the only thing they were going to do was sit Chelsea behind a desk, proofreading reports or signing weapons and evidence in and out of storage, a job which made her feel no more important than a housekeeper.
Chelsea scoffed, looking around the mostly empty room—empty except for one other Officer whose duty it was to sweep and vacuum the place like he was the protector force’s actual housekeeper. That was a ridiculous saying, though, no more important than a housekeeper. No matter how often they had tried to beat it into her head since she was a child, it never seemed to stick. Even if she were on an actual protector’s beat instead of sitting behind a desk, she would feel the same way. She couldn’t help it. She enjoyed cooking, didn’t hate sweeping, and loved nothing more than to see her son growing up with every new day, getting to be a part of his life as he did. No matter how many times anyone told her that the only fulfilling path in life was to become a protector and die in the course of duty, Chelsea knew they were wrong. She also knew she had no choice but to be a protector if she wanted what was best for Jonah, though, so there was no going back.
Chelsea groaned when Officer Housekeeper—she didn’t know the man’s actual name—left the room, pushing his cart of cleaning supplies and emptied garbage. She slammed her head on the desk a couple of times, trying to wake herself from the boredom, and when she looked up, Sergeant Blowhard—another protector whose name she had yet to learn—was standing at attention in front of her desk.
“Oh, uh, hello, sir,” Chelsea said, blushing.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” the Sergeant corrected her. “And salute when you’re addressing a superior, Pardy. There’s not much lower you can go from here, but there is something below you, and trust me when I say that you do not want to find out what that something is.” He grinned an evil looking grin, imagining Chelsea in Officer Housekeeper’s position no doubt.
“Yes, sir, Sergeant, sir,” Chelsea said, saluting. As much as she enjoyed keeping her own house, she knew that nothing was more degrading than keeping the protectors’ house for them. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Well, why don’t you start by telling me why you were hitting your head on your desk, Pardy. I don’t remember seeing that maneuver anywhere in the regulation manual.” He chuckled a big hearty belly laugh, holding onto his gut as he did.
“Oh. That, sir. Well… I just kind of do it to get my head straight sometimes.”
“Get your head straight? Ha! Looks more to me like you were scrambling it. Ha ha ha!”
“Oh, well…” Chelsea didn’t know what to say. No one was supposed to see that. No one was supposed to come back to her little dungeon until shift change. And Sergeant… Fuck. She really needed to figure out his name if she didn’t want to make a fool of herself. But Sergeant whoever never came down there at all.
“Well, there, Pardy,” Sergeant What’s-his-name went on, seemingly ignoring Chelsea’s embarrassment—she hoped. “I hope your brains aren’t so scrambled you have trouble finding your way to the Captain’s office. She sent me down here, personally, to fetch you so it must be urgent. I wouldn’t want you making a fool of our little department down here so don’t do anything that you might regret.”
He didn’t have to say that again. “No, sir,” Chelsea said, shaking her head. “Or—I mean—Yes, sir. I won’t, sir. I can find my way, sir. Any idea of why she’d be asking, sir?”
The Sergeant eyed her suspiciously. Chelsea wanted to blush, or look away, or cover her face, but she fought all her natural instincts. “You know I don’t,” he said, crossing around the desk and lifting her from her chair by her arm. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” He took her seat, rocking back and forth as if to test its sturdiness. “Now hurry up, Pardy. I’m covering your post until you get back, and I don’t have time for this shit work—pardon my French.”
“Um—uh—yes, sir. Er—Sergeant, sir.” Chelsea saluted, starting on her way out.
“And, Pardy!” the Sergeant called.
Chelsea stopped in her tracks, turning to face him.
“Don’t embarrass me. You got that? Don’t embarrass us.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Chelsea said with a salute then marched out the door.
The Captain’s office was far away from Chelsea’s dank dungeon, no doubt, but with modern technology, even the furthest of distances was only an elevator ride away. Still, the short walk down the hall and the half-minute elevator ride felt like an eternity.
Her heart raced as she waited for the elevator to fall out from underneath her. Her palms slickened up so much she had to wipe them against her cargo pants.
She had forgotten her helmet in her haste to leave. It was probably sitting there at Sergeant Know-nothing’s feet right now. She started breathing heavily just thinking about it, and soon the elevator doors dinged open.
Would the Captain care that Chelsea had forgotten her helmet? Maybe she should go back to get it. But, no. Sergeant Angry-already would be there, wondering what she was doing back, complaining that she had wasted too much of his time already. No. That wasn’t an option anymore. She had t—
The elevator doors closed again.
“Shit,” she said. “I mean, open!”
They dinged open then she took a deep breath and stepped out of the elevator. It couldn’t be too bad, could it? Chelsea had been doing her best no matter how banal and inconsequential the job they had set before her actually was. Maybe the Captain had nothing at all to complain about, only praise in store. Chelsea took another deep breath, trying to hold that thought in her head as she marched into the Captain’s office.
“Pardy, take a seat,” the Captain said without standing from her own seat where she was staring out a long, tall window onto a snowy mountain scene. “And take your helmet off,” she added.
“Oh—uh…” Chelsea hurried to the low stool in front of the Captain’s desk—her knees bending up to her chest as she sat down—so she could hide the fact that she hadn’t had a helmet on the entire time. “Yes, sir,” she said as she did.
“Good,” the Captain said, turning and folding her arms on the desk. “Now do you know why I asked you here today?”
“No, sir. No idea, sir,” Chelsea said, shaking her head though she had a sneaking suspicion it was to talk about Tom. If Tom’s failures were going to be the subject of discussion, though, the Captain was going to have to bring them up herself.
The Captain eyed Chelsea suspiciously, tapping her fingers on the desk. Chelsea tried not to blush or break eye contact, but it was getting harder with every second and it already seemed like the Captain had been silent for an eternity. Chelsea was about to burst out talking when the Captain sighed.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t see how you could. You haven’t had any communications from the outside worlds. I’m sure of that.”
Chelsea held her tongue again. She didn’t know why the Captain was bringing her communications up. She almost wanted to cry because of it. Not because of the breech of privacy—which was all but expected in the force—but because she missed Jonah so much and still had no idea why he hadn’t even tried to contact her once since she joined up.
Then the Captain confirmed Chelsea’s worst fear. “It’s about your son,” she said.
“Jonah!?” Tears came rolling down Chelsea’s cheeks no matter how hard she fought them. “Wh—What happened?”
“Now calm down, Pardy.” The Captain slammed her hand on the desk. “Get a hold of yourself. You’re disrespecting the uniform.”
“No buts. Now listen to me. If you’ll just let me speak, you’ll see it isn’t all that bad.”
Chelsea sniffled and wiped her eyes, hating her job as a protector more than ever. If she were at home with Jonah instead of spending all her days behind a stupid desk, doing nothing useful, there would be no reason for the Captain to have this talk. Tom obviously couldn’t handle being a protector—as easy as it had been for Chelsea so far—so why would she be naive enough to think that he would be capable of the infinitely more complicated task of caring for Jonah? She gathered herself, sobbed a few more times, then nodded silently. “Go ahead.”
“Jonah’s been arrested, Pardy.”
“Arrested?” Chelsea gasped. “Is there anything worse than that?”
“Now settle down right now, Pardy!” The Captain slapped another hand on the desk. “You can still be demoted, you know. The storage desk is nowhere near the bottom of this Hellhole.”
Chelsea composed herself. The Captain was right about that. Sergeant Ignorant had already warned her of as much.
“Now listen,” the Captain said. “And keep cool because it gets worse before it gets better. Now he and his partner—”
“Liz? No.” Chelsea held a hand to her mouth, shaking her head, and the Captain shot her a dirty look.
“They were both caught entering the holding cells from the Junior—Now wait a minute. Let me finish. They were with the Sixer, the little girl your husband helped, you know. What’s her name again?”
Chelsea shook her head. How was she supposed to know the name of some Sixer trashling? Even if it was the same scum who had already ruined her life once, she wasn’t going to learn the thing’s name. And of course she already knew Tom was involved in this somehow before she even entered the Captain’s office. Chelsea’s face turned red. She wanted to stand up, knock the stupid tiny chair over, and quit the force right then and there so she could go home and take care of Jonah the right way. But she knew that wasn’t an option. They needed a protector’s income if they wanted to support the entire family, and she was the only one capable of being a protector.
“Anyway,” the Captain went on. “Needless to say, they were all apprehended as soon as they entered secure property. The trash was taken out, the girl was punished severely, and the boy—your Jonah—was given to me.”
Chelsea sat up straighter in her seat. She regretted more than ever forgetting her helmet. She knew exactly what the Captain really meant under her veiled wording.
“Don’t you want to know what I did with him?” the Captain asked with a smile. “With your baby boy?”
“Sir, no, sir,” Chelsea said, saluting. “I’m sure you punished him accordingly, sir.” She hoped that wasn’t the case. The punishment for such a severe transgression would no doubt result in Jonah’s expulsion from the Junior Academy, and as much as Chelsea hated being a protector, she knew it was Jonah’s lifelong dream to become Chief of the force.
The Captain chuckled. “Pardy,” she said, shaking her head. “You kill me. It’s amazing how quickly your tone changes. You’re so much more perceptive than your husband ever was. You know that?”
Chelsea didn’t answer. She was perceptive enough to recognize a rhetorical question when she heard one. She let the Captain have her fun and waited on the edge of her seat for news of what punishment Jonah was suffered.
“Pardy,” the Captain said. “That is the other Pardy, ex-Officer Pardy, your husband, seemed to be able to display a particular breed of denseness the likes of which I have never seen in my long years on this Force.”
“I’m not my husband, sir,” Chelsea said a little too sharply. She didn’t mean for the words to come out sounding so harsh but she couldn’t control her tone. She was tired of paying for Tom’s sins already and the debt only kept getting deeper.
“No, Pardy.” The Captain shook her head. “That’s exactly my point, you see. You’re not him. You’re something entirely different. And that gives you a chance to make something better of yourself than he was ever able to. It gives you a chance to come out on top where he failed so miserably. You can do things the right way this time through, and I’m giving you the opportunity to do just that.”
Chelsea shook her head. This was all fluff. It was densely packed with words, sure, but weightless words, wind. The Captain was hinting at something else, some grander plan, but Chelsea only cared about one thing. “My son,” she said. “What punishment did you give him?”
“Now, I’m getting there, Pardy. Settle down. I’m trying to offer you an opportunity here. Or are you as blind as your husband was to that?”
Chelsea didn’t respond. The Captain was going to take as long as she wanted to anyway. She only took a moment, though.
“No,” the Captain said. “I didn’t think so. You’re perceptive. As I’ve said. Now, let’s get back to your son—in a roundabout way, at least. What I’ve been trying to say is that I need you to accept a promotion to fieldworker.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Don’t know why I wouldn’t, sir,” Chelsea said, trying to hold back instinctual sarcasm. She really wouldn’t have a choice but to accept the job even if the Captain wasn’t holding her son hostage.
“No. Of course not,” the Captain said. “There would be no reason for you to deny the job. There should be no reason why you won’t agree to work Outland Five like I ask, either. Then again, you don’t really have the option to request Six like your husband did, but you wouldn’t do that to me even if you could, would you?” She smiled.
The smile got wider. “Oh,” the Captain said, mocking surprise. “You didn’t know?”
A tear welled up behind Chelsea’s eye but she could fight this one. She had cried over Tom enough already. But still, it was hard to believe that even he could be so stupid as to request Outland Six. Though there really was no reason for the Captain to be lying to her about it now.
“Whatever,” Chelsea said. “When do you need me in Five?”
“Oh, you don’t care?” The Captain smiled. “I guess I see why. There’s nothing you can do about it anymore. Is there? No. But you can still help your son. I had a nice little chat with the boy, you know. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and a bright future. If you play your cards right.”
“What do you want me to do?” Chelsea was getting tired of this Captain and her games. She wanted to stand up and rush out right then but she knew she couldn’t.
“I want you to go back to your desk and take the rest of the day to think about what will happen to your son if you don’t do exactly as I say. Then I want you to imagine something worse, and still, I promise you, you won’t be close to what I have in mind for him.” She grinned. “I guarantee it.”
Chelsea sat on her hands so she couldn’t swing at the Captain who chuckled at the sound of Chelsea’s annoyed foot bouncing under the desk.
“Good,” the Captain said. “You seem to be getting it. Go on back and mull it over now.” She turned to look out the window again. “And be prepared tomorrow. You have a promotion ceremony to attend. You’re the guest of honor.”
Chelsea stormed out of the room before the Captain was done talking. She slammed the door closed behind her, not caring what the Captain thought, then stomped through the hall to the elevator and screamed at the top of her lungs while the floor fell out from underneath her. She had just enough time to take a deep breath and compose herself before the elevator stopped and its doors opened onto the surprised face of Sergeant Blowhard.
“Oh—uh—Officer Pardy,” he said. “I was just coming to find you. I left Officer Janitor at your station.”
Chelsea didn’t care who was there. She just wanted to get back to her desk and be alone for a while—and maybe beat her head on it’s hard surface a few times—but she couldn’t even escape the elevator because Sergeant Clueless was blocking her way.
“Well, then, Officer,” he said, not budging. “How did the meeting go? You didn’t manage to embarrass me, did you?”
Chelsea shook her head, biting her tongue. “No, sir. I—”
“Well spit it out, then. What did the Captain say?”
“A promotion, sir. She offered me a—uh—a promotion.”
“A promotion?” Sergeant Disbelief chuckled, holding his belly. “You’ve got to be kidding me. For what? All you do is sit behind that stupid desk all day.”
Chelsea was pretty sure that all he did was sit behind his own desk all day—and a bigger, more comfortable desk at that—but she didn’t want to draw the conversation out any longer. “I don’t know, sir, but she told me I was being promoted.”
“But, no.” His face was turning red now. “I would— Someone would have told me if you, an inferior in my department, were getting a promotion. I would have known.”
Chelsea shrugged. Obviously not.
“What did she really say? You can’t hide your punishment like this, you know. I’ll talk to the Captain myself if I have to.”
“Go right ahead, sir,” Chelsea said, stepping to the side so he could get in the elevator and out of her way.
“Well—I—uh… I will, then.” He stepped in and Chelsea hurried past him toward her office. “Just you wait and see.”
Officer Janitor let out a huge sigh of relief when she came in. He looked utterly terrified to be sitting behind her desk. “Thank Amaru,” he said, standing up and brushing off the seat behind him. “This is your job, right? I hope you don’t need to check anything out because I don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m supposed to be doing here.” He scurried back to his supply cart and checked it to make sure everything was in order.
“Yes,” Chelsea said, taking her seat. “You can go.” And she didn’t add, “please”.
“Amaru serve you,” Officer Janitor said with a little bow, pushing the cart out of the room. “I don’t know how you stand such responsibility.”
When he was finally gone, Chelsea slammed her head on the desk three times in quick succession. Why did her life continue to get worse?
No. She knew why. Tom was why. Even though his failures were so far away, they still rippled out to fuck her little world up.
All of a sudden her world literally shook. Her desk rattled, and not from her tapping feet or slamming head. Gun blasts went off in the hall outside, and Chelsea paused, frozen in place with shock.
Her heart beat faster and her hands slickened up. Her stomach gurgled. She had to react but how? Her muscles were ready before her mind was and they jumped into motion.
She scooped up her helmet and slammed it on her head first thing. She regretted forgetting it once already today and she wasn’t about to let that happen again. As her eyes adjusted to the helmet’s cameras, more gunshots rang from outside. It sounded like a war zone out there.
She ordered up a gun from the armory—she wasn’t assigned one for normal duty but was almost certain that the gunfire outside was cause enough to implement emergency procedures. When she was sure her gun was loaded and ready, she pressed her back to the wall right next to the office door and took a deep breath. The gunfire had stopped but the assailants would no doubt still be out there. It was now or never.
She took one more deep breath and kicked the door open, pointing her gun out to look up and down the hall. The normally pristine white was marred with splatters of red, still bleeding bodies strewn across the hall. Here and there were a couple of dirty clothed pieces of trash who looked like they had come from Six. If anyone deserved to die, it was them, but Chelsea was remiss to see that the third body in the hall was clad in protector’s white and lying next to a supply cart.
She ran to him and knelt at his side. Officer Janitor was still bleeding and having some trouble breathing, gasping for air with every breath. “It’ll be alright,” Chelsea whispered, brushing hair from his eyes.
Janitor coughed from deep inside his lungs. “I— They— Get them. Kak kak. Get… Them…” he managed to cough up before his lifeless head slumped to the ground.
Chelsea took a deep breath and tried to wipe away a tear but her helmet’s face mask was in the way. Blinking the tear away instead, she stood in a rage. Scumbag Sixer trash had been responsible for enough misery in her life, it was about time they started paying for all they had done.
She sprinted down the hall, toward where she thought the gunfire had come from, and pressed her back against the wall. She took a deep breath then turned quickly around the corner, pointing her gun, to find no one, no bodies even. At the same time, two shots rang out from the other end of the hall and Chelsea only barely dove out of their path.
She crab crawled up to another wall—her back now to her office and the assailants—and took a few deep breaths, trying not to panic.There was no more gunfire. The Sixers were probably rifling through her stock already. Now was the time to make things right.
She jumped up and spun fast, pointing her gun down the hall that was still empty of any living person. She jogged to her office door, slammed her back on the wall next to it, then pointed her gun inside.
“Freeze fuckers!” she yelled, accidentally squeezing the trigger and letting off a string of bullets into the room. One body fell to the ground as the others dove for cover. Realizing what she had done, Chelsea jumped to the other side of the door, taking cover herself. Good thing, too, because a barrage of bullets came flying back soon after. The Sixers had obviously gotten into the weapon stock, exactly what Chelsea was trying to prevent. She was pretty sure nothing could get worse when:
Chelsea turned to see the Captain—mustachioed helmet giving her away—yelling from down the hall.
“What the fuck are you doing? Don’t you know what’s going on?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Chelsea called back. Of course she fucking did. “We have intruders, sir.”
“Intruders?” the Captain asked, moving closer. “Way down here? I thought they were all in the holding cells.”
A round of shots rang out from Chelsea’s office, embedding themselves in snug little holes in the wall across the hall. The Captain slid on her ass to put her back on the other wall, right next to Chelsea’s.
“Intruders, sir,” Chelsea repeated, smiling for some reason, though the Captain couldn’t see it.
“I see. Well, take care of them, Pardy.”
“Take care of them?” Chelsea chuckled. “Do you know how many there are? How many guns they have now? You take care of them.”
“Now, Pardy, you listen to me. If you can’t take care of a storage desk, then how can I promote you to street work? No, you’ll take care of them yourself, and your son will thank you for it.”
Chelsea scoffed. “You’re not going to be able to hold this over me forever, you know. My son won’t always be a student.”
“But I’ll always be his superior officer.” The Captain smiled. “And yours. And I’ll make both of your lives Hell if you don’t do everything I say.”
Chelsea shook her head. “This is only the beginning. You’ll never let me out from underneath your thumb, will you?”
“Not at this rate I won’t.” The Captain laughed. “So get going or find yourself deeper in debt.”
“I… Fuck.” Chelsea had no choice. She took a quick deep breath, reassured her grip on her gun, then stood and fired blindly into the office, hoping for the best.
# # #
There it is, dear readers. Hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to pick up a copy here if you want to read the whole book. Have a great weekend.