• Jeff Arce/Jarce ArtThor

ParaVice: Chapter 3


Warning:

This story features mature content and disturbing artwork not suitable for all ages. Read at your own risk!


What’s in the box:

Welcome to ParaVice, a city ruled by wolves in business suits. A world on the brink of environmental collapse, collateral damage from two mega power conglomerates locked in an eternal battle for power.

Taron Odale lives in this world. But he is plagued by the past more than he is by the plights of the present. He is looking for his daughter, and he is slowly killing himself everyday he can't find her. His devastating loss has left him with a darkly cynical perspective of the universe, and a most important job that he no longer has a passion for. But a cataclysmic event will jolt him back to reality when a presidential hopeful is murdered in his city.


Story:


REGRETS

She was still so beautiful, in a sore-eye-miserable, fuck-my-life kind of way. Taron Odale stared at her from across the dining table with remorse. He knows he put her through hell. But he couldn’t stop himself. Her forlorn emerald eyes didn’t want anything to do with him yet ached for him all at the same time. She poured them dolefully into what remained of her breakfast when she could no longer keep his searching gaze. She looked so tired, so broken, used, lost—all the abovein the Are-You-Happy-with-your-life test at the back of your favorite live-well magazine. You know, the one that no human could bring themselves to answer truthfully, checking the boxes that cater more to our unrelenting ego than to reality.


She hadn’t taken a bite yet, but she twisted her fork into her meal so vigorously she left nothing desirable on her plate. The scratching of her fork against ceramic keened in his ears, and somehow raked at his heart. It broke open the frail wall he tried to convince his friends and colleagues he put up to block out all those forsaken memories hiding on the other side. His monsters in a tomb. They never actually left him, though; he just found a way to drown them in his work. Breaches were made and lawsuits were paid, but for the better part of his last few years he kept them at bay. The therapist that his good friends at Homeland Security made him see before returning back to work tried his best. But Taron was very good at portraying the level-minded characters that his peers wanted him to be. Addy wasn’t so easily fooled, though. She saw the worst in him come out. She would not soon forget it.


The cacophony orchestrated by her screaming utensils evolved into the sounds of massive, rusty gears whirring, hydraulics hissing, kids wailing in part joy and part terror. A frightened little girl cried out for him in his mind; the grip of the dense crowd like a fast-moving sea current pushing him back from her… the wheel. That carnival of fate would forever haunt him with the name of its forbearer ringing in his head: Javier Jugador. He could still see that mincing grin mocking his efforts in court… he could not bear to think of it any further. He also couldn’t keep it away. Grimacing, he at last set a firm hand over top her wrist to seize her. She glared at him, rolled her eyes, and then threw open her hand, as much to drop the utensil as to ward off his unwanted touch. The fork plopped messily into a puddle of liquified grits, egg, and whatever else had once-upon-a-time ago existed in her Bargain Sunrise Surprise Special.


“Why are we still doing this,” she asked morosely, setting back into her chair to remove herself from his reach entirely.


He dithered, not quite knowing how to answer.

“Addy, I just want…”


What?” she snapped. “To cling on to what has been dead for near over three years now?” He could offer no answer to that. She sighed, closed her eyes, and then tried again with a softer approach. “Tare,” a flutter of her lashes washed over poignant eyes, trying to keep her sadness contained. “I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep living here in this moment. You know what this is. You know why you keep asking me here. You are still trying to figure it out. Every time you ask me to meet you here, it’s… it’s always for some new reason, but the truth is the same. You are trying to retrace your steps. Turn over every stone again and again and again. But you got’em all. Hell, you probably already got the guy who took her. But it doesn’t matter, does it? We can’t pin him on this. He has too much power. And she is still gone. Look, I have moved on. I have a new life. I care about you still but bringing me back here… it’s not fair.”


“She is still alive…I know it in my heart.” That was a lie, but Taron was stubborn enough to believe it anyway.


“You lost her, and you lost the trail.” It was accusatory the way she had put it. The tears came then. It was inevitable; they always come. She sniffled as she brushed them away. “Don’t call me to this place again, Taron. And this time I mean it.” She collected her purse and stood up to leave, slamming money for the bill down on the table, bestirring enough into the action to rattle the dishware and draw curious attention.


“Addy, please…”


She shoved his pleading hand aside and stormed off for the exit.

“Enough,” she said before leaving.


Suddenly the waitress was there with an apathetic but awkward smile. “Is everything all right?”


The question did not need an answer. Somehow Taron guessed what she really meant to ask was, could you please go now?


They all knew the story and they all blamed him, marking him with baleful glares.


Why he chose to continue living in this cruel, unforgiving city of Tikawacha was mostly beyond even his own understanding. Besides being a mouthful of a name, the city was nothing short of a tumor on his heart—on the world, even. The only answer he could offer was that ParaVice was harboring the monsters that stole away his daughter. And of course, there was the job. Taron knew the city like nobody else could. He was raised on the streets. He understood how the organism of crime operated there. And that is just what it was in ParaVice: a living, breathing, rapidly spawning organism. It was a virus and it was contagious.


The people elected him to take charge of the offices of the Department of Civil Wellness because they believed that as a long-standing resident, perhaps he could have the tenacity to at last clean up their beloved city with cunning efficacy. But like all others who tried before him, he was failing at that task. He was a vessel designed to absorb the sins of a failed justice system and take them with him to his inevitable resignation. Then another sacrificial lamb will take the podium to do it all over again.


Even the smell of the city was sick. He stepped out from the old diner and into the musty stink of horrid pollution.


This is where it all began, this is where it all ended, he reminded himself, thinking back on that fateful day. ParaVice was where he was orphaned, made to hunt rats for survival, and worked hard to get his way through to a higher education. This is where he earned his prestigious titles, met his wife, and fathered a child of his own. This is where he gained everything and lost it all. It wasn’t so long ago when he had been selected by the city council to head off a counter terrorism agency with the TCPD. His office was established to extirpate actors of highly corrosive criminal activity. Gangs, cults, and would be terrorists who could disturb the stability of his jurisdiction were the target, and his city was Tikawacha, known by the denizens as ParaVice.


The chief of police employed their help in a high-stakes case. It would be this investigation that would change his life forever. He directed a team of investigators in pursuit to expose a Don who was behind a major human trafficking scandal within the city limits. It was estimated to pull in a purported dollar amount of over ten billion of undocumented revenue. The suspected Don was offering up slaves for mega-manufacturing companies trying to worm-hole their way through the working class to save millions. Worse yet, the target in question served his sinister clients their more carnal desires as well. Kidnapped girls were forced into prostitution and were made to perform the most ungodly acts in order to slake their salacious appetites. This was Taron’s primary drive for success. He wanted to bring the Don down, and he worked passionately in his efforts. Some would argue that he worked too hard. Long hours of his time were spent obsessing over details in wire-tap transcripts. He also served as a field agent alongside his men in many of the busts. His fatigue would ultimately cost him the case, and his daughter. But as a father himself and an orphan, he felt it was incumbent upon his soul for him to see it through. But he failed them. Much to his chagrin, he would be cursed to carry that loss on his shoulders until the end of his living days.


The on-going generational contest between gas and electric offered him his next dilemma for the morning. Should he escape this embarrassing engagement with his loving and understanding wife by train or by taxi? The latter would offer him a back seat to sulk and think on his misfortunes quietly, perhaps maybe even engage in a strangely affable conversation with the onboard AI computer that operates the vehicle. He found them oddly charming. There was something oddly maudlin in their antiquated good humor. Either this or he would risk boarding a vessel that would be much faster but filled with curiously displaced souls searching desperately for human conversation in their otherwise oppressively automated worlds. It was almost a sick joke to retrace how hard humanity fought to surrender the small things they had long taken for granted just so the expediency of moving elements that made up their lives could go ever-slightly faster. One cellphone with a novel touch screen interface, a beloved household name and comprehensive access to the internet changed the world so much and so fast. What it has become in only a decade was no longer recognizable to that primitive time before.


It is no wonder the wayward spirit of what remained of civilization liked to cling so wistfully to nostalgia; especially when something that once came so naturally as a simple friendly greeting had suddenly become such an alien encounter in their world. Only way to do that now was to be a masked stranger waving, and poking idiots at random on a social media site. They are quick to trust in strangers with witty profile names before they would ever dare answer a greeting from a real live person without clamoring for the can of mace in their pockets.


Nevertheless, he decided on the train. The trip to his next destination would be quicker that way. And besides it was good to remind himself now and then what it was he was still trying to fight for.


He let out a longing sigh. God, I miss my car.


Truth be told, he was much better off without his license. The bottle was always waiting for him back at his condo. A car would just get in the way of drinking time.


These days he despised his job. He loved to investigate, and to solve cases. He loved to help people, and to disrupt malign activities. Yet, there was something about the office he could not trust anymore. Some strange insidious sense of waiting disaster skulking in the shadows. He did not understand it, and he could not shake it. There were too many legal restraints that intervened and conveniently vitiated his work. Too many guardrails blocking him. With the government constantly hanging an imminent death by abolition over their necks at nearly every turn and bend, it was quite easy to detest. He was stuck in quicksand, the forces surrounding him pushing his head under. But still, it was his duty and his burden to carry. Not to mention, old habits die hard. Just ask his recycle bin and the hundreds of empty bottles of bourbon there within.


The air-conditioned passenger cab was a blessed respite from the insufferably tropical heat that was encroaching deeper and deeper upon the northern hemisphere. He fell lazily into an empty seat and loosened his tie. He swatted away the sweat beading on his brow, basking in that glorious cool air. Before long, the bleak silhouette of the diner where he had his very last taste of complete happiness only a few years back was swallowed up by the hungry smog, which seemed to devour every building in seconds as the train made its way. The smog was ubiquitous in the city, and its ebb and flow were so capricious that it almost felt organic. Like a living breathing dragon that wanted to gulp down the world and chuck it back up after the beast has had its fill but was too cruel to let its victim go.


Droplets of dew dotted on the window.


Taron looked up. The clouds were strange. They were stirring and stretching across the sky with raged fingers, like those fake spiderwebs you got at the Halloween store. That summer was impervious. Rain could try but would fail in the stomach of the beast, though in the Midwest their cities were enervated by floods and implacable storms. Cities were drowning, and rivers were growing. In the west, record breaking wildfires were raging, scorching the mountains, and choking the skies under a scourge of inundating smoke. Far east, underdeveloped cities were plagued by oppressive heat that climate experts have proclaimed will only get worse in the coming years, quite possibly rendering some regions of the world uninhabitable. All, or most of their worldly troubles initiated by an unyielding billionaire contest over energy, whilst the lesser tiers of human society, with no other compromise or solution, heedlessly top-off their tanks and burn their fuel. Insufferable environments were causing a surge of movements all across the world, intensifying issues over border control, class warfare, and thinning resources. These plights triggering armed conflicts beyond count, and therefore dumping more fuel into the war machines trundling on and on, and the jets and battleships moving about to engage would-be threats. The mechanism of annihilation turned up on high. They were dreadful times indeed.

Here is why we can’t have any nice things.


The train was suddenly in the black gullet of a tunnel. ParaVice was gone on the other side of her rounded, titanium walls. It was a magnificent piece of man-made marvel. The super train could transport passengers on its state-of-the-art rail that transitions seamlessly from underground/underwater tunnelways, to towering bridges at mind boggling speeds topping at around 400 plus miles per hour. Since its grand opening it has laid waste to the Rail District nearest to the docks. The old industrial rail community once helped to construct the original foundation of this city. It was a pinnacle piece of Neuterra’s origin. Now it was an abandoned ruin, and generations of locomotive engineers reduced to penurious exiles to a new world that wanted to forget them. The new super trains were operated by computers. Artificial Intelligence stole the mantle. All of the main lines into the city coalesced at a mega hub in The Neck located in-land at Northern Pumpkin Cross: a quaint little village and historic tourist attraction. It is at the hub where the denizens of ParaVice could take their refuge in case of an emergency evacuation.


In the cradle of the machine awaits your salvation.


It was the great brainchild of inventor, politician and Imhullu CEO Felix Leistungberg, a recluse multi-billionaire who built his massive empire on a high mountain range in the north. There, his precious windmills fuel the headquarters, whereas nuclear power and fossil fuels feed his customers throughout the rest of the globe. Felix built the trains in ParaVice only to flex against his major competitors in the city—mainly one. He was another troublesome fat-cat businessman that Taron has long suspected of criminal conspiracy. But he was also a target, lightyears out of his reach.

Knowing that crime was the hand that laid out the track for this train, Taron had to bite down hard on the bitter irony of it all. The one thing he has been working most of his life to repel was helping to mature the city—keeping her breathing. It made him sick to admit it, but evil was saving ParaVice. Not justice, not well-fought legislation. A blood-thirsty shadow government was the new frontier, the new promised land. Unchecked evil refortified her foundation, and it was made so to serve those who built it. Like a citadel with a protective curtain wall, the heart of ParaVice was armed with a dazzling skyline of towers ruled by malevolent kings. The poison within was funneling into every major institution in the city. Drug dealers, kingpins, warlords and mob bosses were upgrading their status to the likes of billionaire CEOs, lawyers, governors, senators, and even presidents, or they were carrying them on their checkbooks. But of course, the first settlers of The Great nascent Nation of Neuterra were considered traitors of the crown, were they not? Weren’t they criminals? Didn’t they have to do some dirty shit to keep hold of this land? Thievery, bribery, trickery, slavery, and mass murder—was this not the recipe for colonialism? And how could we expect to flip over that half-cooked burger onto a clean plate of democracy without getting blood on our aprons? Maybe nothing has changed.


Taron chased that grim reverie out of his mind. The more he tried to unravel its raw truth, the closer he got to the devil dancing behind the curtain.

They don’t want to be saved.


And why should they? Look at them. So complacent… So morbidly content. A culture married to their prison cells like chattel, like hostages with Stockholm syndrome. His fellow passengers were frozen in time, droning like zombies gleefully lost in their smart phones, watches and digital tablets. Why do we need so many variations of the same damn gadget virtually responsible for this implacable decline of human civilization?


The world beyond their illuminated touch-screens moldering away. The natural augmented by new tech to sedate and replace them; to isolate them. Computer imagery painted right over nature’s original masterpiece. New toys to pine over; to trade one’s countless hours of hard labor as libation to the lithium-powered God of our modern age. Repackaged like it’s something new, but it’s all the same shit with a slight tweak in its operating system. All of it for what? The consumers end up consuming their own inescapable vanity so gluttonously they are forced to delete or block any hint of blemish that might remind them of an imperfect mortality. Mobile bread and circuses. Corporate sorcery seducing them. Like the lusty work of a cozening vampire, the masses are willingly, eagerly, absolutely swooned off their feet and coaxed into their hungry bellies. It is an abduction of the mind. Digital slavery. And they are happy little prisoners. But they weren’t happy, were they?


The sullen goth-kid seated across from him was clad in black: black lipstick, black eyeliner, black hair, and milk-pale skin. Mommy must be proud. Her matching spiked bracelet and ornate choker glimmered manically under the soft aisle light running along the cab. She turned from oppressively saturnine to unexpected delight by whatever horrible thing she might have discovered on the Internet just that moment. The sudden vagary in her spirit did not bode well for Taron. Her face was almost melting into the ardent screen of her phone. The light emanating from it encircled her irises with white rings like a demonic possession, completing her themed attire. Taron could see the words stamped across her t-shirt and rolled his eyes.

TAKE ME TO

SECTOR 3


A desolate, forlorn image of the distant, crimson planet which housed the famed interplanetary colony was emblazoned beneath it. He recalled arguing his opposition against the expedition a time or two with his daughter. It used to be that dreamers reached for the stars metaphorically, now they really wanted to be blasted off into space in a sardine can with a vain quest for another New World in which to escape. Perhaps they forget history with so many quixotic fantasies of the future blotting out good sense. The early pioneers who founded this country travailed greatly to reach it, and many died anyway trying with costly but nugatory affect to preserve their colonies. The solution of course was championed by way of plague and murder. We’ll talk about that next week, kids!


But the universal acclaim for the colonization of Dera was an all-new sort of pandemic, the political kind. Imhullu backed the expedition with a robust advertising campaign, riding on the winds of impending doom. Companies like Imhullu and its opportunistic captain poisoned the oceans, the soil, and the air, yet they used our dire to swindle investors. Now Imhullu had billions locked up in their bank, and very little on Dera. It is a treacherous dead planet far away from any of the resources needed to sustain life, and in the ten years since the first cornerstone for Sector 3 was planted they have been unsuccessful at almost every other next big step for man they tried to pursue. The Dera mission was never truly meant to succeed, however. It was a publicity stunt for Imhullu’s coveted quest to appropriate NEOSA. With the power of the eyes in the sky they could do more spying, they could corner the military market, and they could literally ascend to the throne of the heavens and sit upon the life-bearing planet as a conquering God. But neglected, misguided kids that hated their dads seemed to think there was a future waiting for them where they could finally be liberated from a world, they so very much loathed. Bold suicide dreams just seemed so much easier than cleaning up their rooms.


Taron’s quiet cynicism stalled when it suddenly dawned on him that every person on the train was staring down at their phones with the same startled expressions on their faces. Like they were all at once quickened from a coma to a world on fire. He thought maybe Goth-kid just stumbled upon some sick video that tickled her strange fancy, but something rather substantially significant was indeed happening after all. He hadn’t turned his cellular device back on yet. He hated that thing. He liked to avoid gawking at the geopolitical nightmares-turned-partisan-fueled-click-bait until he was back in his office. There, it was at least subdued by the stultifying nature of routine. A couple nearest to him appeared disturbed and appalled as they shared in the information streaming from their phones. Goth-kid was beaming as she read on, her dark eyes big and glowing, her tiny pink mouth quivering ever-so lightly like an anime character’s strangely orgasmic gyration to an unexpected revelation. Exuberant color infused her dead-as-a-corpse face. She smiled. That’s when Taron knew it had to be bad. Night-Ghouls never smile for anything good.

In the back someone lamented, “Oh, dear God, no...”


There were so many different reactions, a wild blend of emotions, but somehow, he suspected it was all spent on the same breaking story. He clambered for his phone from the breast pocket of his blazer. He switched it on. After the manufacturer’s logo had dissolved and the apps artfully materialized on the screen a message pinged at the lower corner. It read in big bold urgent letters:


WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!


After a pause for the processor to recover from a rebooting lag, another message pinged, importunate and demanding:


TURN ON YOUR DAMN PHONE, NOW!


It was his Assistant Chief of Staff and Lab Technician at The Department of Civil Wellness—or as he liked to call her: his babysitter, curtesy of a very poor decision on his part and the good people at Homeland Security. When Apprielle Manx IM’d you it meant trouble. She was in no good mood to be ignored. He could feel her angst in every bold-faced character smoldering on his message bar. In nothing short of panic, he hurriedly navigated to his web browser and jumped straight to the news crawl. What he found there, burning in the first three top headline articles, loosened his jaw in stunned disbelief. And suddenly he had become one with the cult of misery surrounding him.

He had completely forgotten that the presidential hopeful was even in town. It was unprecedented for any political figure of such high caliber to drift so far off course. The city was dangerous, overwhelmingly Left leaning, and the majority here were the kind of poor that was bad for your health. There were no electorates of any value in this place. All the locals could vote on one single candidate and still their collective vote would mean next to nothing. It wasn’t the ideal place to plan a campaign rally. This man was different, however. He held a long-standing controversial war against the criminal entity that has purloined ParaVice and her weakening judicial institutions. The Tikawacha office for the Department of Civil Wellness alone was staring at an uncertain future where government funding was waning, and malicious influences were surging. The few natives to the city who still dreamed of a religious, conservative resurgence had rejoiced to learn that the hard-lined, televangelist provocateur, and formal senator went out of his way to schedule a stop in ParaVice upon his heavily publicized Campaign rout. Of course, it was all for show. No vote from this city would help him, but the eyes watching him around the world would see a man poised to set his hands and knees in the dirt of bottom-feeder society where no one else would dare venture. An expensive political stratagem to nab a grass-root following on his slimy base. Small-minds clung to that sort of farcical charade like flypaper. It would in the end prove useless to anyone who truly needed his promises to come to fruition.


For Taron Odale, there was already too much to feed his anxiety without the blood-thirsty high that was redolent in the very spirit of this particular presidential race. He abandoned the historical event far from his immediate concerns, and even opted to cast away his own vote for the first time since becoming a registered citizen. But the news update that was suddenly staring up at him from his phone made him cringe. Now it was his concern, eclipsing everything else.


PANIC IN PARAVICE:


As news of the horrible demise of Republican hopeful Senator Joel Moor hits the streets…


…His Ugly Remains Savagely Festooned on the Penthouse Floor of Star Pool Tower…


…butchered beside his friend and top campaign contributor, the famed billionaire movie mogul John Winston…


Two high-profile murders on one fateful night in ParaVice! Why were they there?

And just like that, Taron joined the rest in a black hole of digital carnage. He could not believe what he was reading, nobody could.





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