2.6: You Wouldn’t Do The Same, Pt. 1

Needless to say, he’ll stay away from me now.

“What does this officer- No! What do any of the people on my right know about our poverty and our struggle? They are able to enjoy their pristine lifestyle built off of our hard work! Without the Jupiter Slums, their paradise falls! Our secession that they’re fighting tooth and nail to stop would only spread the wealth to more of us! And that, my fellow Jupiranians, is enough of a reason to strike out on our own!” shouted an angry man dressed in a dirtied business casual outfit.

     Deliberately chosen to drive his point home, Stark thinks, watching the playback of the conference post the secession vote. It was too much to expect an amicable concession.

     The man has pale skin, a close-shaved head, arms and legs sculpted by hard labor, and his posture has a slight lean to it at all times. The plaque for his name reads “Banad”. Banad continued his rant even after the moderator tried to signal him to stop several times.

     “And Ms. Stark is the worst offender of the three! She may be a descendant of Saint Jupiter and Saint Juniper but the connection ends there! They selflessly paved the way for this state to flourish! She is only here to further the corruption that has poisoned that idea!”

     “Mr. Banad,” Stark uttered his name so calmly that the light tone broke his focus. She rose and clasped her hands in front of her, careful not to appear hostile. “However coarse you are, you are also correct. The legacy of Saints Jupiter and Juniper is being poisoned.”

     Now that Stark’s able to watch it back, she sees the moment when Mayor Kris visibly jerks that the news networks have played ad nauseam. The act has even been made into a joke online.

     “I did not unseal my officer authentication as a show of power but a show of solidarity. I do not wish to silence the secession completely. You are not the only one pained by the disparity of Jupiter City. Am I fortunate? Yes. Do I deserve it? Yes. My father and I worked for what we had. Do I believe it should spread? Absolutely. But secession is not the way to do it. By becoming your own city, you remove yourselves from all the resources afforded to Jupiter City. If you work with me, we can affect greater change from the inside.”

     Stark faced the crowd of gathered reporters and pasted on the smile Warden Crata forced her to practice. “I’m here to announce my run for the mayor’s office!” She shouted her next words over the reporters’ uproar. “Jupiter City is going to be different very soon! I will do my ancestors proud!”

     “Ms. Stark, stop fidgeting,” the seamstress orders, struggling to measure her body. “You do need this suit tonight, don’t you?”

     “Does the mean that–”

     Warden Crata grabs the tablet add locks the screen. “Yes, I do endorse you on behalf of the JCPD.” He answers the question he interrupted. “Now, stay still Officer Stark, and let Ms. Farrell finish the fitting.”

     “Yes, sir.”

     Crata removes the tablet and cell phone from the fitting stage, clearing Farrell’s view of the connected mirrors. He takes a seat in an adjacent chair and crosses his legs. The stage is covered by an aquamarine carpet with black metal trims. “You are in great hands, Stark. Ms. Farrell makes all of my best suits. I’m glad I can finally introduce you.”

     “I’m not,” Ms. Farrell says. “She’s not as cooperative as you are. The idea of potential energy must scare her.”

     “I just–” Her head snaps forward with Farrell’s help. “I have a lot to do tonight. And I’m…nervous about the reception.”

     “It’s not as if the race starts this year. You have time to plan the kind of boss you’ll be to me. Just remember who trained you.”

     Stark tries to face him but Farrell corrects her again. “I will remember who raised me.”

     “Was she incapable of sitting still, then, too?” Farrell asks hotly.

     “No, she was a shy girl. Quiet. It was Dumi who was restless.”

     “Ah, so it’s because of you then. You lit the fires in their hearts.”

     “I think you mean to say I raise strong, smart, independent, and resourceful young women.”

     Stark’s phone chimes. “Who–”

     Ms. Farrell turns her head again. “Don’t forget fidgety.”

     “Who is it?”

     Crata peers over at the screen. “It’s from the Dice Board and all they sent was an exclamation mark text.”

     Stark immediately grabs Farrell’s hands and moves the seamstress aside. “I’m sorry, Ms. Farrell, but may we have the room, please? I promise to be perfectly still afterward.”

     “Just know that my time does not have a pause button. Have Crata fetch me when you’re ready.” She gathers her tools and marches for the door.

     Stark holds it open for her but keeps it open a few seconds longer. Once she gets a whiff of dry fur, she pushes the door closed. It’s kept open by a soft thud for a few more seconds. Stark sniffs the air again and a tropical aroma fills her nostrils.

     Coconut shampoo?

     When the pressure on the other side of the door lets up, Stark shuts it.

     “So, you two really are working together?”

     A blanket of warped light vanishes as Reddic reveals himself and Auriel as one party with arms linked. Auriel breaks the chain soon as they’re visible. Reddic, however, surprises Stark with a hug, clapping her shoulders with a tablet of his own.

     “That was a fantastic speech! You did better than I anticipated! Reddic cheers.

     “So, it was you who convinced her to take the plunge. Our dear Syerus believes he was the catalyst,” Crata says.

     “Then allow him to continue thinking so.”

     “Surely, you didn’t come here just to congratulate me,” Stark says.

     Reddic doesn’t lose his smile but its energy diminishes greatly. “Your speech worked too well. Mr. Banad had a change of heart.”

     “Isn’t that a good thing? His working-class perspective is imperative for my campaign.”

     Reddic taps his fingers on his tablet, then hands it to Stark. “It’s not going to happen.”

     Stark’s eyes widen with terror once she gazes at the screen. The scene on display shows a crucifixion of not just Mr. Banad but a woman and two young boys also in the middle of the street, all of them constrained to iron crosses with barbed wire.

     “His assassination was a message,” Auriel says. “Every soul in the Slums will know about that within the hour. Whoever was using him will find another pawn, and no words will sway them this time.”

     “I inspected the bodies as much as I could before they were noticed. I couldn’t learn much. The iron is recycled if that helps at all.”

     “No. Armory Lane alone recycles a ton from unsold products. Sifting through every shop in JC for a match wouldn’t be fruitful. They were too careful. I’ll–”

     “You’ll leave this to the appropriate officers,” Crata says.

     “I can’t leave things now. I have to solve his family’s murder,” the officer argues.

     “It won’t do you any good, Stark. You’d be stalled by your primary lead, as you just admitted. There are no witnesses, and if there were, they made sure none will come forward. The length of the investigation would only diminish your image in the eyes of the Slums residents. Your failing to solve the murder would collapse any chance of you winning the mayor’s office.”

     “Then, I, what, just twiddle my thumbs in the meantime?”

     “No. You release a heartfelt statement regarding his death when you’re called upon to do so. You promise that the Slums officers will investigate the matter and steer clear,” Crata instructs.

     “Also, go and enjoy your time at Four Hearts while you can. Auriel and I will aid the investigation as much as we can in your stead. Besides, I may have let it slip to Nuria you’re on the way,” Reddic says.

     “I–” Stark sucks in a breath. “That’s not fair, Reddic.”

     “Underhanded is his specialty, after all,” Auriel says snidely.

     Reddic doesn’t mind her insult. In fact, it makes his smile brighter. “Let us do what we do best. You finish getting dressed.” He links arms with Auriel again and camouflages them both. “Oh, and pass my hug to Nuria, would you?” his voice calls from the air.


     Stark obliges once she maintains her footing- angling to keep Farrell’s suit clean- the phoenix tackling her from the sky with a loving embrace. She makes sure to pack extra warmth into her embrace from herself to Nuria.

     “About time you came back! Where have you been? And what’s with the suit? A little fancy, don’t you think?”

     “What? This old thing?” she says to distract Nuria from its true importance. At least, for the time being. “It’s not nearly as cool as…wait, what are you wearing, young lady? And why are you flying around in that?”

     Stark gestures at the tight red skirt that stops above her knees, cut low in the front and the back. Stark isn’t concerned about the lack of shoes, however, since that’s the norm for Nuria while she’s air born. However, the skirt and skimpy attire are new.

     “Oh, you know, I’m actually running late for a meeting but I’ll be sure to–”

     The soft crack of a boot scraping the ground behind Stark alerts her of an attack just in time. She puts her hands on Nuria’s head and forces the phoenix to squat with her. A woman wearing the black security uniform sails right over them. They curse when they and their sheathed broadsword hit the ground.

     “Damn it! I was so close that time!” Lauron whines.

     “You sure were. I didn’t even hear you coming,” Nuria says. “And what’s with your getup?”

     Lauron stands and slams her fist against her chest. “You’re looking at Stark’s unofficial deputy! Once I successfully sneak up on her, it will be official! I was so close just now1 Raaaah!”

     “You didn’t make me an unofficial deputy,” Nuria says, clearly disappointed by the oversight.

     Stark looks down at Nuria and Lauron, the two of them so much like her old friend, Dumi. It’s no mistake why she’s gravitated to them both. “Nuria, would you like to be my unofficial deputy, too?”

     “Do I get a cool uniform, too?”

     “No,” Stark says flatly.

     “Why not? Lauron got one.”

     “Nope! I had this custom-made!” Lauron shows Nuria the back of it and vertically, white letters spell the phrase “Security On Site!”. “Nice, right?”

     “Hell yeah!”

     “How’d you know I was here?” Stark asks.

     “Officer Roark sent me a tip. See, I’m already getting the lingo down!”

     “Right. Well, I’m on my way to Officer Roark now. Care to join me?”

     “For official police business? As if I’d say no. You coming, too, Nuria? We could give you an undercover assignment with that outfit,” Lauron says.

     “Rain check. Got somewhere else to be for now. I’ll see yah later!” Nuria races away.

     “All right, later!”

     “Have a good night,” Stark says gently.

     The officer gathers her unofficial deputy and guides her toward the security building. She peers over her shoulder and smiles bittersweet. She’d rather not have seen Nuria dressed that way but feels more at ease when she sees the young phoenix checking her attire nervously every other step.

That girl is always zero to one hundred. She’s gonna give these boys heart attacks.

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