Just a short introduction today, dear readers. For this morning’s chapter in Chelsea’s story she deals with the consequences of a criminal attack on the protector station. Enjoy today’s read, and if you do, don’t forget to pick up a copy or leave a review through this link. Now here it is:
Her heart stopped. The world spun around her. There was one body left at her feet. The others had fled, chased by the backup that arrived all too late, but Chelsea was proud of herself. She had done her duty. She had protected. She plopped down onto her seat, let her gun fall to the floor, and slammed her head on the desk three times in quick succession.
After some time alone in silence, punctuated sporadically by the sound of her head hitting the desk, an Officer she didn’t recognize rolled a cleaning cart in and set to disposing of the body which was still lying, breathless and dead, on the once white floor behind her. Chelsea didn’t react to his presence. She simply laid her head on the desk, trying to catch her breath and listening to the Officer as he struggled clumsily with the still warm body until the cart creaked away again, quieter under the new weight of Chelsea’s first kill.
She gagged, grabbing the wire mesh trash can at her feet as fast she could, but only managed to dry heave. Luckily she hadn’t been eating much lately or the can and the floor would have been covered in whatever meal came before murder. She stood to stare at the bloodstains on the floor, which would no doubt take some effort to wash away and would thus remain for a long time to come, reminding her of just what she had lived through. She looked down at her hands and thought for a second that she saw blood on them then tried to laugh the vision away. That was nonsense, insane, true metaphorically—perhaps—but when one started hallucinating metaphors it was high time to seek out psychological assistance.
She turned to look away from the blood, her entire body trembling. She had done her duty. That’s all. They were trespassers with cruel intentions, and they deserved what they had gotten. But why did she still feel so guilty about it?
She was standing there, staring off into the nothingness behind the bloodstains on the floor, when a hand grasped her by the shoulder and jerked her back into reality.
“Pardy!” the hand’s voice said, the Captain’s voice. “Don’t you go all Pardy on me, now. I know it’s your name, but unlike your husband, you can handle a little violence in the course of duty, can’t you?”
Chelsea shook her head, still not fully back to reality or completely able to understand what the Captain was saying. “Go all Pardy, sir?” She squinted, trying to be sure it was actually the Captain she was talking to and not some metaphorical hallucination.
“Like your husband, the former Officer Tom Pardy. He couldn’t handle his first kill, either. A lot of people think that’s what made him do what he did. A lot of people hope so, at least, but they’ll probably never get the chance to find out the truth now.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It doesn’t matter, kid,” the Captain said, patting Chelsea on the back. “You did good.”
Chelsea flinched away from her touch. “I don’t think so,” she said, shaking her head. “I never should have left my post to chase after them. They never should have made it into this room in the first place.”
“That was one little mistake,” the Captain said, chuckling. “We can sweep it under the rug with ease. No problem.”
“Now let me finish,” the Captain said, adding a hint of harshness to her tone which betrayed the gaiety she had obviously been struggling to maintain. “The important part is that you understand that you didn’t have a choice. You were forced to kill those intruders. Killing them was the only regulation course of action. They don’t call it a Protector Force for nothing, you know. You were forced into it.” The Captain tried chuckling again, but it did nothing to lighten the mood.
“I should have killed more,” Chelsea said, shaking her head. “I should have killed all of them.” Tears welled up behind her eyes but she fought them back without wiping them. She didn’t want the Captain to see her weakness.
“You did what you could, kid. You’re a rookie at a desk job who doesn’t even carry an assigned weapon. Another Officer was killed, you know. At least you fared better than he did.”
Chelsea cringed at the thought of Officer Janitor’s lifeless body.
“And you did me proud,” the Captain said. “Which should be bountiful for your career—as long as you’re willing to keep it up. You are willing to keep it up, aren’t you?”
“I—uh…” Chelsea wasn’t sure about killing another person, no matter how much they deserved it, but she also knew that it was probably the only way to keep her son safe under the Captain’s custody. “Yes, sir, Captain, sir,” Chelsea said, ticking off a weak and lazy salute.
“Very good, Pardy,” the Captain said, slapping Chelsea on the back. “Then follow me to my office. I have some good news and some bad news we need to discuss, and they might just be the same thing. Ha ha!”
“I—What?” Chelsea tried to say but the Captain had already left the office.
In the hall, Chelsea picked her way carefully around the blood she knew belonged to Officer Janitor while the Captain marched unceremoniously through the still sticky puddles, leaving red boot prints in her wake. Chelsea breathed a sigh of relief when the elevator doors closed and she didn’t have to look at the blood any longer.
“Oh, I know. You must be tired, kid,” the Captain said in response to the sigh which she must have mistaken for a yawn. “But I’m afraid this bit of information can’t wait. You’ll get an opportunity for rest after this meeting. I swear it.”
The doors slid open and the Captain marched out fast, leaving Chelsea to play catch up. When the Captain swung her office door open and burst through it, Chelsea stopped dead in the doorway with dropped jaw. Sitting there, bent kneed and clearly nervous, staring out the window across the desk, was Tom. All Chelsea could do was wonder who was taking care of Jonah if Tom was there.
“Ah, Pardy,” the Captain said, crossing around the desk to take her seat. “You’re already here. Perfect. And I’m sure you know Pardy.” The Captain smiled at her own joke.
Tom stood and stepped toward Chelsea to hug her then awkwardly tried to tick off a salute toward the Captain when Chelsea didn’t reciprocate, unable to decide who in the room he should be looking at. “I—uh. Yes, sir,” he said. “Chelsea—I—”
“Yes, Chelsea Pardy,” the Captain said, “but let’s keep this professional, please. While you’re on the Force you have no spouse, you have no family, you have no one but your fellow Officers, and I am your superior. Do you understand me?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Tom and Chelsea sang in unison.
“Good.” The Captain smiled. “Now take a seat, both of you. We have so much to discuss.”
Tom sat straight back in the seat he had been occupying, and when Chelsea tried to cross to the other side, he made it more awkward than it had to be by clumsily standing up, bumping into her, and switching seats instead of simply moving his legs out of the way so she could get by. When the scene was finally over, Chelsea sat on the stool red faced with embarrassment and starting to get angry.
“Well, now that we’ve been through all that,” the Captain said, crossing her arms on the desk, “let’s talk about your son.”
“Who’s taking care of him?” Chelsea demanded, looking first at Tom then the Captain and back again. “Who?”
“I don’t—” Tom started.
“He’s being taken care of,” the Captain said. “You can trust me on that. And he will continue to be taken care of for as long as you two continue to do what it is that I ask of you.”
Chelsea nodded, not wanting to say anything to endanger Jonah.
“And if we don’t do what you ask?” Tom asked, all too confidently. Chelsea could have killed him for using “we” instead of “I”. He was trying to drag her into his sins again.
“If you decide to disobey me, your superior officer,” the Captain emphasized to remind Tom as she had only recently reminded Chelsea, “then maybe I’ll be less able to ensure your son’s safety. He was caught committing a serious crime, you know. Him and his girlfriend together. They both got off easy if you ask me.”
“You wouldn’t—” Tom said.
“How could you let him do that?” Chelsea demanded of Tom. “You were supposed to be his caretaker.”
“I didn’t let him do anything,” Tom said defensively, holding his hands up like Chelsea was going to hit him—she was getting so furious she was actually starting to think about doing it, too. “There was no way I could have stopped him. It’s not like he told me what he was planning on doing.”
“I would have known. I should be taking care of him now.” Chelsea reared back her hand to actually hit him before she remembered where she was and gathered herself, apologizing. “I—uh—I’m sorry, Captain. I—
“Shut up, both of you,” the Captain said, pushing herself up from the desk with both hands. “Enough. I told you we need to keep this professional.”
“You’re the one who brought Jonah up,” Chelsea snapped, regretting it right away.
“Yes.” The Captain smiled, much to Chelsea’s relief, and retook her seat. “That’s true. But only as insurance that you two will remain professional. As long as you do, I do. You don’t want this world here to start affecting your personal life. Believe me. It always seems to get ugly when business and the personal cross paths in One.”
Chelsea shook her head, trying not to cry. She knew Tom was going to fuck this up for her somehow. She had to do everything in her power to make sure he didn’t.
“Yes, sir,” Tom said. “I understand.”
“And you agree to follow orders like a good protector?” the Captain asked.
Chelsea stared at Tom, dreading the answer.
“I would never do anything to hurt Jonah,” he finally said, not making eye contact with either of them.
“Good,” the Captain said, smiling. “That’s all I needed to know. I’m guessing you can’t wait to hear what I have in store for you, then. Am I right?”
Neither Tom nor Chelsea answered, both tired of her games, no doubt.
“Well, it’s pretty simple, really. We’ve found the masterminds behind the terrorist attacks—including the latest, Pardy, the one you were instrumental in putting an end to.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Tom asked.
“I’m getting there, Pardy,” the Captain said, hesitating. “Uh—er, Pardy Two. That’s going to get confusing, isn’t it? Either way, you two, Pardy and Pardy Two, are going to go undercover to apprehend or assassinate—your choice—the Sixer trash that was responsible.”
“Assassinate?” Chelsea said. That was escalating things rather quickly considering this was only her first day out of the desk job.
“Your choice,” the Captain repeated, shrugging. “That’s why I said or. Apprehend or assassinate. Though assassination’s not as expensive, assuming you are successful. None of those storage fees, you know. Ha ha!”
“But why us?” Tom asked.
“You,” the Captain said, looking at Tom, “because you already know the targets.”
“Anna and Rosa,” he said, shaking his head.
“The very same,” the Captain said with a big smile. “They are responsible for your attempted assassination of then Lord Walker. They orchestrated the attack which you, Pardy One, just helped to foil. And they no doubt had a hand in the Christmas bombing of the walls between Five and Six.”
“But why us?” Chelsea complained, still unable to believe how far Tom was pulling her into paying for his mistakes. “I’ve been sitting behind a desk for the entirety of my very short career and he’s been dishonorably discharged once already. There has to be somebody better you could choose for this job.”
The Captain chuckled. “Oh, there are plenty of protectors who are better trained or more experienced, and they could no doubt perform much better under the given circumstances. That’s not a question. But sadly, they’re all preoccupied with other—more above board, shall we say—missions. If I had the luxury of going to them, then trust me, I wouldn’t be here arguing with you two to do it.”
“And how are we supposed to trust you when you killed Rabbit?” Tom asked, and Chelsea cringed again at his use of the royal “we”.
The Captain laughed. “Alright now, Pardy Two. It’s not the time to be bringing up nonsense like that. You’re in no position to say anything about Rabbit—or anything else that went on that day, as a matter of fact.”
“They didn’t have any guns,” Tom said and Chelsea was on the verge of hitting him again. Didn’t he care at all about Jonah? If he did, he wouldn’t be arguing with the Captain after the threats she had made.
“If they didn’t have guns then, they do by now, boy,” the Captain snapped, sneering. “You keep bringing up ancient history that it would be in your best interest for everyone to forget. The less we remember about it the less we’re reminded of your traitorous and unforgivable actions which we have yet to sufficiently punish you for. Do you understand me, Pardy Two?”
“Then why am I here if my actions are—” Tom started to say, but Chelsea couldn’t take any more.
“Shut up, Tom!” she yelled, slapping his arm. “Fuck! Don’t you care about your son at all?”
“I—uh—” Tom looked hurt. “Of course I do. I—”
“Then act like it and shut the fuck up. It’s that simple.”
The Captain chuckled, shaking her head. At least she seemed to be enjoying this. “You know, Pardy One’s giving you some good advice there, boy. You’d do right to listen to her.”
“But—” Tom protested.
“No buts,” Chelsea said, shooting him one last look which he finally acquiesced to.
“Well, do you two lovebirds finally have that out of your system?” the Captain asked to no response. “Good. You’ve had a rough day—the both of you—so I’ll try not to get too angry over your insolence. For now you two need to go ahead back to your quarters and get some rest. We’ll be expecting you bright and bushy tailed at oh six hundred hours tomorrow morning. Your mission can’t wait any longer than that, I’m afraid.”
Chelsea nodded. “Sir, yes, sir.” She could definitely use the rest and some time alone to process the day’s occurrences.
“And what about you, Pardy Two? Can you handle that?”
“I haven’t been assigned any quarters, sir,” Tom said, trying to avoid eye contact with Chelsea who did not like the sound of what was coming next.
“No, Pardy,” the Captain said. “You haven’t. And you won’t be. You’ll be staying with Pardy. There’s limited space with all our new recruits, and this is the best we can do for you—all things considered.”
Chelsea scoffed, shaking her head. So much for having no family when you were on the force. “I won’t—”
“You will do as I order,” the Captain cut her off, slamming a hand on the desk. “I thought we’ve been over this already. Or do you not care about your Jonah either?”
The way the Captain said “Jonah” sparked a fire inside of Chelsea which took all of her willpower to contain. She didn’t dare speak for fear that opening her mouth would let it all out in one burning, explosive burst. Instead she just nodded.
“Good,” the Captain said, turning to look out her window. “Then get out of my sight. I need my own rest. I don’t want to see another Pardy’s face again until the mission tomorrow. You got that?”
Chelsea stood and stomped out of the room without waiting for Tom to follow. She had taken care of enough of his problems for him, he could find his own way in the worlds from now on. The elevator doors were sliding closed between them when he stuck his arm inside, just in time to pry them open.
Tom stood in the now open doors sheepishly, not making eye contact, trying to put on that puppy dog face he always used when he knew he was in trouble, but being cute wasn’t going to get him out of this one. “Well, are you getting in or do you plan on standing there all night?” Chelsea snapped.
Tom stepped in, still avoiding eye contact, still making puppy dog eyes, still without a word.
“Quarters,” Chelsea said, staring straight ahead at the closed too late elevator doors while the floor fell out from underneath them.
Neither Pardy said a word before the freefall stopped and the elevator doors dinged open. Chelsea marched down into her door near the end of the hall, slamming it shut before Tom could catch up. She went to order a meal out of the printer in the kitchen—one continuous room along with the entryway/living room—and Tom came in to take a seat on the couch.
“I don’t see why you’re so mad at me,” Tom said after a short time of silence, only filled by Chelsea’s ordering from the printer.
Chelsea scoffed as she took her food out of the printer and into the living room to sit behind her dinner tray, in her favorite chair, and watch some TV while she ate.
“It’s not like I wanted any of this to happen,” Tom said. “I only did what I thought was best for Jonah.”
Chelsea dropped her fork on her plate and stared at Tom, shaking her head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Of course I’m not kidding you. I did what I thought was best for Jonah. What else—”
“What else?” Chelsea scoffed. “Let’s see… What else, besides throwing your life away by attempting to assassinate a Lord and retainer, could you have done to keep your son safe? Well, Amaru, Tom. I don’t know. That’s a hard one.” She tapped her chin and crossed her eyes to drive the sarcasm home. Even Tom couldn’t be dense enough to miss that.
“Well, of course it sounds stupid when you put it like that,” Tom said, looking genuinely hurt. “But it wasn’t like that at the time. You weren’t there. It jus—I—It seemed like the right thing to do, the best thing to do at the time.”
Chelsea scoffed. “And does it still?”
Tom shook his head. “I can’t answer that, you know. I mean, I’m different now. I’ve seen how things turn out if I attempt the assassination, but that’s not to say that things couldn’t be worse right now if I hadn’t done what I did in the first place.”
Chelsea chuckled despite her anger. “I don’t see how they could be much worse than they are now, Tom.” She went back to eating her food and half-watching the TV.
“It’s not that bad is it?” Tom asked. “At least we’re together, you and me.” He smiled an unconvincing smile.
“And what about our son?” Chelsea asked, standing and throwing her mostly untouched meal down the trash chute. “Jonah is the most important thing in my life, the only thing that matters to me at all anymore. Don’t you understand that?”
“Of course I do. He’s all that matters to me, too. It’s not like I asked to come back here. If I had a choice, I’d be back at home with him.”
Chelsea shook her head, not sure of the implications of what she was hearing. Had he had a choice before then? Did he throw his life away on purpose, so he could get out of the Force? Who was this person she was talking to, and where was the Tom she had married? “Then why are you here?” she demanded, getting heated. “You’ve been able to do a pretty good job of keeping yourself off the force up until now.”
“None of this was on purpose, okay. I made some stupid decisions, and I got kicked out, and now they installed a draft so I’m back in. They kick me out when I want to be here and they bring me back in when I want to leave. What am I supposed to do, huh? I’m just a lowly Officer with no say in the matter.”
Chelsea shook her head. “You’re supposed to protect your family,” she said. “Your son.” But with as little agency as she had been able to enact for herself since she’d become a protector, Chelsea was starting to understand where Tom was coming from—even if she still wasn’t ready to forgive him for his actions.
“There’s no use in arguing about it, anyway,” Tom said. “We’re here now and we can’t do anything about that. We might as well try to make the best of what we do have.”
“Which isn’t much,” Chelsea said.
“Which is each other.”
Chelsea really looked at Tom for what must have been the first time since she had left home to become a protector. She pictured him as he was back then on that day, standing next to Jonah, shaking his head, pleading with her to stay, trying to lie to himself that they could make a good life for Jonah on a two housekeeper income. He had taken it worse than Jonah who just stood there, still as a toy soldier, and when she went to hug her boy and say goodbye, he stepped back and ticked off a salute. She almost lost it then. Back then, when Jonah had saluted, leaving her no choice but to salute back then turn around and leave him, and just then, when the look of Tom’s puppy dog eyes sent the memory of it all rushing back to her in pictures and sounds. She fought the tears off both times, though, this second time staring coldly into Tom’s eyes to say, “We don’t have anyone, Tom. You heard the Captain. We have no family now, only the Force.”
“Well that didn’t stop her from holding Jonah hostage to blackmail us with, though, did it?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re right about that.”
“That’s because we do have a family, no matter what they say. And no matter how hard they try to split us apart, we’ll always stick together.” He paused, waiting for a response, but Chelsea didn’t have one. She still didn’t know how much she could trust Tom after what she had been through because of his mistakes. “For Jonah,” Tom added and the tears finally won out on Chelsea.
She stood and walked away from Tom, hiding in her bathroom to keep her weeping secret. Tom would just try to comfort her if he saw her crying, and she didn’t want to feel his comforting touch just as much she did want to. She still wasn’t ready to forgive him, though, so didn’t won out over did. Her crying under control, she fixed her hair in the bathroom mirror, tying her ponytail tighter, then went back to sit in the living room and watch TV, avoiding eye contact with Tom again.
“What do you think she did with him?” Chelsea asked after a few minute’s silence, turning off the TV but still staring at the black mirror that was left in place of whatever police procedural was on the screen before.
“I don’t know.” Tom shook his head, shrugging. “Nothing yet. I hope. She seemed to have treated him well when he was arrested.”
Chelsea cringed. She had almost forgotten about the arrest with Jonah’s new danger. “How could you let him do that?” she demanded again, still not satisfied with the conclusion of their earlier, more public, argument.
“How could I stop him?” Tom asked. “His partner was out there, too, you know. Are you calling her father a bad parent, or are you just calling me one?”
“No, well, but I—”
“You would have been asleep the same as me,” Tom went on over her. “You would have been left to wait and react the same as I was. It wasn’t my fault. Children will be children, and there’s no changing that.”
“No, well—” Chelsea hesitated. Tom almost had a point. Almost. “If you hadn’t gotten mixed up with that Sixer trash in the first place, Jonah never would have had a reason to go to the holding cells. So the situation might not have been the result of bad parenting directly, but it was your fault in the end anyway.”
Chelsea braced for a response but none ever came. Tom just sat staring at his feet and shaking his head. Chelsea felt guilty for hurting him like that, but only for a moment, then she remembered that he deserved it. “Well,” she said. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Nothing,” Tom said, still staring at his feet. “There’s nothing I can say. You’re right about that.”
Chelsea should have been happy to finally hear him admit to being wrong, but for some reason, it only made her feel worse, more guilty, as if she were kicking him while he were down. “Then what were you thinking when you did it?” she asked.
“I thought I was protecting Jonah,” Tom said, his voice on the verge of breaking. “I thought it was for the best.”
Chelsea couldn’t stay mad at him any longer. She crossed to take a seat on the couch next to Tom and pat his back. “You had no choice,” she said, trying to reassure him. “They take control of your entire life here. It was the Protector Force that made you do it. That’s why they call it a force.” She tried to chuckle even though she thought the joke was even stupider the second time around.
“The Force may have been the reason I killed that girl’s mom, but they had nothing to do with the rest of it. That was all me.”
“No, but—” It was true. It was all Tom’s fault, but she didn’t want to rub that fact in his face any further than she already had. Tom had suffered enough for it already, just as she had. “But you wouldn’t have ever met that girl if you weren’t forced to kill her mother, right? So maybe they did kind of forced you into it.”
Tom shook his head, staring at the floor, and Chelsea found herself grasping for anything she could say that would make him feel better. Nothing seemed adequate. Then she remembered the rest of her day. She remembered all she had been through, even before the Captain had brought up the danger her son was in, before Jonah’s danger wiped every other concern from her mind, and she knew what she had to say. She let go of Tom’s hand and tried to stare at the same point on the white vinyl floor that he was staring at. “I killed someone today,” she said.
Out of her peripheral vision she saw Tom staring at her in horror. “No,” he said.
She nodded. “Yes.”
She had expected a barrage of questions to avoid, but Tom just shook his head in silence. After some time of it, mulling the incident over in her head, she finally said, “How did it feel when you…”
“When I killed her?” Tom finished Chelsea’s sentence for her. “When I killed Ansel’s mom?”
Chelsea only nodded. They didn’t need many words after so long together.
“What was it like for you?” Tom asked.
Chelsea thought back to the scene at the precinct. It seemed like it was a million miles away and eons ago. It probably was, even though it was only an elevator ride away and earlier that day. She looked down at her hands and could almost see the blood that was never really there. She felt the gun recoiling and remembered the euphoria as the bullet she had fired ended one of those scumbag’s reign of terror once and for all.
Euphoria? No. She couldn’t have.
She had just killed someone. Human beings weren’t supposed to feel euphoria at—
“Well?” Tom urged her on.
“I asked you first,” Chelsea said, trying to deflect the attention from herself.
“I felt like I wanted to throw up,” Tom said, shaking his head with a disgusted look on his face—the one he always used to wear when he was changing Jonah’s diapers. “It was the most horrible experience in my entire life, and I will never do it again. No matter what the Force threatens.”
“You’d even risk our son?” Chelsea asked, trying to ignore the fact that Tom had reacted to killing the way that she had thought she would have before she knew better, the way she thought she should have even though she hadn’t.
“Of course not,” Tom said. “Why do you think I’m here right now? But I’ll do everything in my power to make sure I never have to kill again. You’ve done it yourself. You know what it feels like to kill someone. Don’t you think the same?”
Chelsea pictured the scene. The adrenaline rushed through her body from even replaying it in her brain. She was there again, firing those same shots, and she didn’t feel the same way he did. She would go back and do it again if she had the chance. Again and again, even. She longed for a gun in her hand. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow when she could put her newfound joy into practice.
“No,” Tom said, standing from the couch and backing away from Chelsea into the kitchen. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Chelsea realized she was smiling and wiped it off. “What?”
“You—you enjoyed it, didn’t you? You would do it again if they asked you to.”
“I did what was best for Jonah,” Chelsea snapped. She didn’t know why she felt the need to defend herself against the worst parent and protector in the history of existence, but she went on anyway. “I did what was best for the Force.”
“You killed someone.”
“Someone who deserved it. I killed someone who would have killed me if they had the chance. I did what I had to do.”
Tom shook his head. “There had to have been a better way.”
Chelsea scoffed. “Says the failed assassin. You’ve got to be kidding me. Who are you to give me lessons on morality?”
“But I know that what I did was wrong. I’ve admitted to that. You, you’re—”
“I’m protecting our son,” Chelsea said, stomping a foot. “I’m doing what you should have been doing all along. You can shut up about it and sleep on the couch, but I’m tired of listening to you. Good night.”
Tom tried to protest, but Chelsea wasn’t having any more. She stormed into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. He’d just have to wait until after the mission if he wanted to discuss the matter further.
# # #
And so there it is. The next chapter in the Infinite Limits saga complete, and Tom’s on the protector force again. To find out how Tom and Chelsea fare as partners keep reading along every Saturday on the website here or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks kindly for all your time and interest, dear readers. We do nothing alone.