Vigilance. Diligence. Humanity.
Motto taken from the National Normative Policy Division Officer Handbook, Third Edition, Washington D.C., Office of the President
Manic grinned at his wagon mates in the warm confines of the forest- green six-wheeled APC. One of the men, Chandler Krakowski, was a new kid, fresh from NPD selection. He met Manic’s eyes unswervingly through the clear blast-shield on his helmet.
“You ready?” Manic said through his smile. At work, his smiles were always genuine, if not necessarily mirthful.
“Yes, Sergeant!” Krakowski said.
“’Cause you look a little nervous. He look nervous to you, J.T.?”
Manic’s best friend, James Theodore Jackson, a giant of a man twice even Manic’s bulky size, nodded sagely. He wriggled his broad shoulders under his body army and cleared his throat. “He does, bro. Big time.”
The other officers in the wagon laughed the easy laugh of veterans.
“Don’t mind Sgt. Cruce,” said Chief Miller, boss of the wagon and elder statesman of the team at age 40. He kicked Manic’s shin guard. “He likes to eat ’em young.”
All the sixcops laughed, including Manic. Beneath the red operating lights inside the vehicle, Krakowski appeared to relax a bit. The light spasmed to green as the wagon jerked to a halt. The men reacted automatically, jumping out as the tailgate fell to the ground with a clang. Above them, secure in her revolving turret, Sgt. Jane Bennett opened up with the .50 cal, placing five precise laser-sighted shots that rattled Manic’s helmet, comforting and invigorating.
The officers fell into formation against the heavily armored wagon for cover.
“Yep, deev at high noon,” said Dumb Tony—Officer Anthony DeAngelo—over the officers’ headsets from his position behind the wheel. “Come on in, boys.”
The officers left the safety of the APC, weapons held tight to their bodies. Dumb Tony clicked on the PA system and ran through the standard announcement: “Threat, threat, threat. Attention citizens. This is the National Normative Policy Division. Please evacuate immediately. Threat, threat, threat. Evacuate immediately. Threat, threat, threat.”
Almost since its inception, the agency had earned the incorrect abbreviation “NPD.” Some joked that it stood for Normative Police Department. The joke was not a stretch, although Manic and his cadre were not sworn law enforcement officers.
Not for normal people, anyway. Not for real humans.
Civilians were already on the move. Per usual, the announcement functioned as an afterthought—no norms stuck around when an NPD wagon rolled up, green beacons flashing bright in the Los Angeles night.
Even amidst the panicked populace sprinting away from the NPD vehicle, there was no mistaking the Level Six deviant running away from them in the city park. The thing, apparently male, stood well over three meters tall. Manic guessed it was a psychotic to risk coming out of whatever cesspool it called home. The Level Six boasted a third, muscular arm jutting from the center of his torso. A third, limp leg dangled from his hip, giving his attempted run a gangly gait. The “six” wore no shirt, revealing lean muscles. Its jeans had an oval cut out of them to make room for its extra appendage.
The six seemed to be screaming something, but Manic didn’t care what. He would have spit if not for his face shield. Damn things disgusted him endlessly. Five years on the job and still they made his soul queasy, no matter what perverse shape they came in. But at least this deev could be readily identified. The ones who couldn’t, the ones who blended in . . . they were the real threat.
“On it!” Manic said gleefully into his mic, plucking a cylindrical grenade from his tactical vest. He threw the canister expertly toward the six while his buddies took up flanking positions and moved in, ready to unload a variety of incendiary and armor-piercing rounds into the six if the grenade failed to do the job.
Among his many martial talents, Manic had a hell of an arm, and the entanglement grenade landed perfectly, just beneath the fleeing monstrosity. It exploded instantly, sending electric, crimson tendrils up and around the extra-limbed deviant like a cocoon, wrapping him tightly and bringing the deev to the ground. Often called net bombs by civilians, the small canisters were designed to burst and fling a double-dozen sticky, stretchy strands of fibrous material based on the molecular structure of spiderweb onto a target. A neat little toy, one that hadn’t yet failed to give NPD cops at least a second or two of time to further restrain a deev.
“Quarterback goes deep and nabs a score,” Dumb Tony joked from the wagon cockpit.
The other officers slowed their approach, keeping their weapons trained on the twitching deviant. Manic got there first, as he usually did, the only one on the team not actively slinging his weapon.
“All right, Crackhead,” he called to Krakowski after ascertaining the deev was contained. “Welcome to the team. Tag him and load him up.”
Krakowski’s eyes widened briefly. “By myself?”
“What’s the matter?” asked J.T., putting a calloused palm on Krakowski’s shoulder. “Didn’t you do any deadlifts during selection?”
“I know I did,” Manic said theatrically. “Lots of ’em. Like, dozens.”
“Squats, too,” J.T. agreed. “You gotta lift with your legs, you know. Some of those sixes get pretty big.”
Everyone but Krakowski laughed and moved back toward the wagon, leaving the junior member to figure out if his new teammates were joking or not. Manic cast a glance behind him as he walked with his team, and caught the multi-limbed man in the net glaring hatefully from between two of the net’s tendrils.
“Ew doan unnerstan!” the six said, his mouth muffled by the netting. “Mmm naw uh siss!”
“The hell you looking at?” Manic snarled, and raced back to give the detained six a kick in the flank.
“Manic, whoa, hey,” J.T. called easily. “C’mon, you’re scaring the locals.”
The normal humans who had run scared from the six drifted back toward the scene now that NPD had things well in hand. It happened like that every time. Not a brave nor daring soul among them until the deev was packed up nice and tight in NPD netting. Or dead. Manic didn’t blame them; they were the reason why NPD existed, just like they were the reason local cops existed or any other federal agency existed. Most men and women were sheep, and needed sheepdogs to keep them safe. He treasured and savored that reality.
“Did you get him?” J.T. said to Sgt. Bennett.
Bennett leaned back in the turret, keeping the barrel in the direction of the deev but tilted up, providing cover for Krakowski as he struggled with the six’s weight. “Damn skippy,” she said. “Bounced five rounds right off his ass. Didn’t make a dent.”
“Man,” J.T. said as the men gathered around the wagon to watch Krakowski curse and drop the six. “Is it just me or are they getting tougher?”
“Fifty cal to the butt cheek,” Manic said, not quite with respect. “That ain’t nothing.”
J.T. coughed, hacked, and spit into the grass as the other team members muttered their agreement. “What if they’re all evolving, man, you ever think about that?”
“Nope,” Manic said. “I gotta be able to sleep, bro.”
J.T. laughed, which triggered another cough. Manic started to ask what he was coming down with, but two norms cut him off.
“What was all that about?” said a young man, who wore a logo T-shirt that made Manic ball his hands into fists: a black numeral six with a red line and circle over it. A protest symbol sweeping the country. What would have otherwise been an insignia meaning “No More Six,” the nation understood to mean “No More Classifying People As Sixes.” The logo essentially demanded Manic no longer have his job. Classifying, apprehending, and icing sixes like the one just a few yards away was his day-to-day routine.
A young woman sporting white-girl dreds and a face full of righteous indignation stood beside the young man. They were both Manic’s daughter’s age. Hell, maybe they even went to her university. It wouldn’t have surprised Manic in the least; they were in the neighborhood.
Manic raised his hands. “Hey, easy there, pal. You’re safe now.”
“That’s not what I asked, officer. Why did you open fire on that man?”
“Here we go,” J.T. muttered as the rest of the team turned their attention to Manic. They knew where this was headed.
“Okay, sir?” Manic said with faux patience honed during his years with LAPD. “I’m gonna need you to just step back.”
“I will not step back, officer. I want to know why that man was fired upon.”
Manic pointed his index finger, weapon-like, at the young man’s chest. One of his sixcop buddies sucked in a soft breath between his teeth, probably calculating the kid’s odds of going home with his lips intact.
“Number one, he ain’t no man,” Manic said with a savage smile that made the hippie girl take a half-step back. “And B, you were just given an order by a federal officer, you might want to obey it before things go badly for you.”
The kid crossed his arms, lifting his chin. “He was looking for help. I heard him.”
“Is that right,” J.T. said, as Manic’s smile twitched. “Now what kind of help might that be?”
At this, the kid’s face clouded a bit. “I’m not sure. But when people saw him and called you guys, he just started screaming. Kept saying he was a four.”
“Oh yeah?” Manic said. “Lotta fours running around with six freakin’ limbs, meatpole?”
“Possibly! Physical birth defects do still happen sometimes, officer!”
“All right, you little—!”
Chief Miller stepped into the fray. “Sgt. Cruce, stand down.
That’s an order. Young man, it’s time for you to clear out.”
“Aren’t you going to write any of this down?” the kid asked, looking at Miller.
“I know I got a good memory,” Manic said, well past the point of knowing what was good for him. “How about you, Chief ? You got a good memory?”
“Manic . . .” Miller warned.
“It’s just, he wouldn’t stop screaming,” the kid said. “Instead of running, he kept screaming. ‘I’m a Four, I’m a Four,’ over and over. He said, ‘It’s not my fault.’”
“Uh-huh,” Manic said, with as much boredom as he could fake. “Well, why don’t you put all of that into an e-mail to me, and be sure to CC I Don’t Give A Shit. A six will say anything when he knows a deev wagon’s on the way.”
“Don’t call them that,” the girl said, piping up for the first time. Manic traded glances with his teammates, who then stared impassively at the witnesses, the stony glare of warfighters that made lesser folks crumble.
“We’re done here,” Manic said. “Thanks for the info.”
He and his team turned to go, but the kid wasn’t finished. “Hey!” he barked. “They’re people, you know!”
“Manic—” Chief Miller said, again, but by then it was too late.
The big sixcop spun and grabbed the kid by the front of his shirt, slamming him into the side of the armored vehicle. The team jumped to pull him off . . . but not very quickly. The girl whined at Manic to let him go, her words flailing uselessly in the warm air.
“Listen, meatpole,” Manic snarled into the kid’s shocked face. “That three-armed motherfucker took five rounds of fifty-caliber rifle shot and they bounced off his hide like a racquetball. That sound about right, Sergeant?”
“That’s affirmative,” Bennett called lazily from the turret. She’d kept her gaze trained on Krakowski and his struggles with the netted six.
“So when he decides to come after you and your little girlfriend there, who’s gonna bail you out, huh?” Manic went on, nose-to-nose with the young man. “You think about that.”
Several hands were on his shoulders and arms now, not restraining so much as cautioning. NPD got away with a lot while on a call, but even a doomed lawsuit wouldn’t reflect well on Miller’s squad.
“Drop it, Manic,” J.T. said amiably. “Come on, you don’t want the paperwork.”
Manic gave the kid a none-too-gentle shove into the steel plate of the wagon before letting go and stepping back. His teammates welcomed him in, keeping hands on his armor in case he decided to jump again.
“Just remember that!” Manic snapped at the kid. He turned on one Lalo boot and let his comrades lead him away, pretending to say to them, “Ungrateful Level Three tango.” He made sure the words landed on the kid behind him, who now—wisely—decided to keep his own counsel, and who likely had no idea that tango stood for target in NPD parlance.
Once the kid and the girl had been escorted away from the wagon, Manic’s team burst into laughter. Manic, still genuinely outraged at the kid’s attitude, took an extra minute before he could join in. When they heard Krakowski—now and forever known as Crackhead thanks to Manic—hit his knee on the deev wagon’s tailgate while he struggled to load the six inside, it brought out another round of laughter from the vets.
Manic sucked it all in, loving his place in the world. He went on laughing long after the others had stopped, because he knew it wouldn’t last forever.
Hell. It wouldn’t last the night. He still had an appointment to keep.