The basic premise behind “Competition” comes from a natural offshoot of the corporation-centric world “The Duel” was set in: that, in this near-future, corporations have taken over much of the roles once performed by the public sector. In this case, it is policing.
Reg closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. The headaches were coming more frequently. The doctors at the company clinic told him they were temporary and would go away once his body adjusted, but it had been three months and they seemed worse than before.
“Headache, Reggie?” His partner, Alice, asked from the passenger seat.
Reg nodded. He hated the name “Reggie”. It was the nickname of a five-year-old boy, a boy who cried, alone in the woods, for hours straight when he heard someone he didn’t even know died. His most embarrassing moment in life was when his step-dad found him wailing into a log in Capitol Forest.
“What’re you cryin’ fer?” The large man snarled.
“I don’t know…” Reggie wailed.
“I don’t know, what?”
“I don’t know, sir.” Reggie sniffed and wiped his nose. He refused to look up.
“You look at me when I’m talkin’ to you, boy. You’ll damned well give me respect. I took over raisin’ your ass when your pussy of a dad couldn’t hack it. I take care of your mom. I take care of you. You’ll give me respect or I swear to God I’ll beat it outta ya.”
Reggie looked up at the large face, red with anger and possibly drink, through watery eyes.
“Little pussy. Just like your dad. No wonder you’re out here cryin’ like a bitch. Get back home. Your mom is worried and I don’t need that kind of pissiness in my life right now. Got enough troubles without you being a girl.”
Reg opened his eyes and blinked against the dim light of the cloudy sky.
“Have you seen the doctors?” Alice pressed.
Reg shook his head, “Nah. Not since last month. Doc told me it would get better with time.”
“Yeah, but three months? It normally takes like a month, tops, to get used to the augments. I dunno. Maybe it’s in your head…”
Reg looked over at her to see if she was joking.
“I mean…yeah, it is in your head – but is it real? That’s all I’m saying.”
Reg’s planned retort was interrupted by the comm system.
“Peacekeeper Nine One Boy, this is Dispatch, over.”
Alice tapped the microphone hugging her jawline.
“Dispatch, this is Nine One Boy, go ahead.”
“Nine One Boy, we got a disturbing the peace call off Mud Bay Road Northwest. Address should be on your console.”
“Roger, Dispatch, we’re on it. Nine One Boy out.”
Reg ran his hand along the touchscreen in the center of the car until the map zoomed into the marked location. A flashing red icon showed an unresolved call.
“Plot route to destination.”
The console blinked and updated with a highlighted route to the call.
“Is that UP jurisdiction?” Reg asked, looking to Alice.
“No. The Parkway is the border. I think Redstone responds to most of the calls west. Corporate must be gunning for more territory again.”
Reg shrugged. “Whatever. I guess I’ll go manual then. Make sure we beat the competition.”
Reg fired up the lights and sirens on the car and grabbed the wheel. The electric motor whirred to life, shooting them out into traffic. One of the reasons Universal Protection hired Reg was his driving skills. He weaved around traffic with ease, ignoring the car’s loud wails of warning when he was too close to another vehicle. His eyes were on the road and the overlay projected on his window showing the route, obstructions, and distance. Next to him, he knew Alice was accessing all the information she could on the address.
“There’s no firearm registration information for this address, but at least one person living there served in the Army in the teens. We should probably assume he has some sort of firearm. The crazy vets usually keep them.”
“Great. Probably some Constitutionalist nutjob then. Those old vets always seem to be like that.”
“Yeah. I’m going to fire up my reflex program just to be safe. You might want to do the same.”
Reg frowned. Between the headaches and the relative newness of the augments, he wasn’t sure if he trusted the programs over his own brain. His only experience with them was in training. Granted, his natural reflexes were somewhat reduced after the surgeries, and the reflex programs corrected for it, but he didn’t know if he could trust the program and the hardware to do the job without his help.
“Reggie? You loading the programs?”
Reg brought his left hand up to the microphone on his jaw and brushed his finger along it. The menu screen superimposed over his vision. He flicked through the options before finding the reflex programs. He had three choices: passive, active defensive, or active. He chose the middle one.
“Going active defensive, Alice. I’m not sure I trust the augments – what with the headaches.”
“Gotcha. I’ll take point then.”
The distance between the icon representing the house and the icon representing their car closed on the overlay. Just a minute or two to destination.
“Peacekeeper Nine One Boy, Dispatch.”
“Go ahead, Dispatch.” Alice answered.
“Chatter suggests Robert Sam en route.”
“Roger, Dispatch, will be wary.”
“Great,” Reg said. “It looks like we’ll have some competition.”
Alice frowned. “I don’t know. We got a head start on them.”
“Here’s hoping. Don’t need Redstone mucking things up, especially if someone is armed.”
The highlighted route on the overlay turned red and flashed, indicating they were within a few hundred meters of their destination. Reg turned the car over to automatic control and unbuckled himself. Alice did the same, and readied her sidearm.
The car stopped in front of a small house with chipped and faded blue paint. The rusted remnants of a wire fence hung in defeat from askew posts. A dented mailbox sat out front. Nobody was outside.
“VOX active. ARN online.” Alice said, touching her microphone. Reg copied her, switching his computer to voice-activated mode and turning on the Active Recording Network.
Alice moved to the side of the porch – nothing more than four concrete blocks sunk into the wet dirt and supporting a few sagging boards. Reg took position on the opposite side.
“No sound inside,” Alice whispered. Her words carried over the radio.
“Want me to knock?”
Her head jerked in a quick nod, eyes focused on the door, sidearm at the ready.
Reg reached over and pounded hard on the door, three times. His friends called it the “authority knock” – you somehow always knew three firm, crisp, and loud rapports on a door meant someone in authority was knocking.
“This is Universal Protection. We are responding to a complaint at this location. Come out peacefully and identify yourselves.”
Silence answered them. Reg counted to ten before looking Alice in the eyes. She nodded. He removed a palm-sized package from his pocket and stuck it to the door, under the knob. He pushed the button on it and turned away.
A brief flash and loud bang followed as the “knocker”, as it was nicknamed, exploded and sent the door flying open. Terrified screams came from inside, and, before the smoke was clear, Alice was up and through the gaping hole. Reg followed.
The house was dark and filled with smoke from the shaped charge. Reg took stock of the situation. The computer highlighted one warm form in the shape of a human body, on the floor. Two exits popped up in red with projected kill zones outlined. A blue border tracked Alice as she moved to the prone form.
“She’s unarmed. Conscious.”
“Roger.” Reg replied.
Alice addressed the woman, “Is there anyone else here?”
The woman moaned. Knocker charges were designed to incapacitate anyone on the other side of the door. They worked well.
“She’s still dazed. Tag her. I’m going to search the house.”
“Roger.” Reg removed the tag from his belt and approached the woman.
“You are being detained by licensed security agents in the employ of Universal Protection under the authority of the City of Olympia and the State of Washington. This is a civil matter and not criminal. Should formal criminal charges be brought against you, you will be placed under arrest at that time. I am placing a tag device on your neck. If you move too much, the tag device will engage and deliver a shock.”
Reg put his knee on the woman’s back. He couldn’t tell if she understood him or not. She seemed pretty out of it. He could see some blood running from her nose and mouth and her face was swelling. Either something from the explosion hit her, or someone else did. That could explain the call.
He pressed the tag against the back of the woman’s neck and activated it. LEDs flashed red.
“The tag is now active. Please refrain from excessive movement.”
The woman turned her head. He could see one of her eyes. It rotated to stare up at him. It was red and swollen from tears. There was something chilling about the stare – it seemed devoid of any emotion.
“Don’t worry,” he leaned in, “we’ll catch him.”
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw a mixture of fear and relief wash over her swelling face.