Shijak

Edited by Martin Schiller

The crowd in the bleachers erupted in a deafening wave of cheers as I watched three figures standing in the center of the taped-off arena. Two of them were dressed in the white uniforms and protective gear of those who practiced Taekwondo.

The third was wearing an orange suit, white tennis shoes, and a blue badge with yellow lettering. It read 'ISMAL 2165-2198'. This marked him as a referee of the Interstellar Martial Arts League, or ISMAL. As for the two contestants, they were differentiated from one another by the colors of their chest protectors; one red, and the other blue.

The scoring judges sat nearby, on makeshift chairs in the northeastern and southwestern sections of the arena. And at the northernmost end, was a table where three more judges watched everything intently. Their somber gray business suits made them easy to spot.

But I was watching the man wearing the blue chest protector, and I scratched my bearded chin in anxiety.

"You are nervous, Monsieur Simon?" a French-accented voice to my right asked.

It belonged to Master Emile Moreau. Originally from Haiti, the 45-year-old was the head of the Taekwondo School that I, and the man with the blue chest protector, both attended. Looking at Moreau, I nodded sheepishly.

"I know that you and your brother have been through much," he reminded me, "but remember, Jerrod is Earth's best hope for a gold medal at the next Galactic Olympics."

"That doesn't make this any easier, sir," I replied with trepidation.

Before Moreau could offer up any words of reassurance, our conversation was cut short by a commanding, "Joon Bi!" from the referee.

We immediately focused our attention on my brother and his opponent. As they bounced on their toes and raised their fists into defensive stances, I sized the challenger up.

I'd seen the man in the red chest protector in action before. Adrian Brusseau was Rick Stewart's top student and he was one of the very best. But for some reason I found his angry glare particularly disturbing today.

As I pondered why, the ref's left foot slid back and his right hand extended, blocking the two participants. A moment later, he slid back into a cat stance, bringing his palms to his chest and cried, "Shijak!"

My brother let fly with a quick roundhouse kick. Brusseau slid out of the way, and then came back with one of his own. Jerrod was faster though, and v-stepped out of the way. Now that they had tested one another, both men circled, looking for openings.

Careful little brother, I thought.

Then Brusseau tried a fake. But Jerrod didn't act on it, so Brusseau went with a push kick.

Jerrod side-stepped this and launched a side kick that caught Brusseau right on his chest protector. The man lost his balance and tumbled backwards before landing on his pride. Master Emile and I cheered along with the crowd.

"Keuman!" the ref declared, bringing a halt to the match.

He began counting. By the time the ref had reached eight, Brusseau was back on his feet and looking more agitated. This seemed odd to me; I knew Brusseau was temperamental, but his green eyes blazed with a rage that was threatening to explode out of control.

The ref moved back as he said, "Kesok!"

The men circled one another again. Finally, Brusseau tried a roundhouse kick which my brother dodged, and received a hard side kick that sent him staggering several steps back. Then suddenly, he launched a jump 360 hook kick at Jerrod's head.

"Jerrod!" I warned.

Somehow, at the last possible second, Jerrod slid away from the kick and the crowd gasped in astonishment and applauded. Right away, he moved back in and caught Brusseau in the head with a front hook kick. Without his protective helmet, the blow would have shattered the man's skull. Instead, it sent him spinning to the ground where he landed face first, before he rolled into a sitting position. His eyes were blazing with anger and his nose was streaming blood. Without warning, he leapt to his feet with a feral growl.

The referee saw the look of murder in Brusseau's eyes. "Mr. Adrian!" he warned.

But the man ignored him, let out a bellowing roar and charged Jerrod. My brother tried to dodge the attack but ended up receiving a hard knee to his chest.

"Hey, that's illegal!" I protested.

Right away, the ref called the match. "Keuman!" He pointed to Brusseau, "Gam-Jeom!"

Brusseau was incredulous. "Deduction!?"

The referee didn't flinch however, and glared at him warningly. "Mr. Adrian!"

"Outta' my way you little piece of-!" Brusseau screamed, and to everyone's disbelief he grabbed the ref and threw the man aside before rushing at Jerrod.

"Jerrod, sir!" Master Emile warned.

"Hell, not good!" I cried, moving to intercept the man. I wasn't' alone either; several other referees were doing the same thing.

Jerrod managed to somersault out of the way as the refs and I tackled Brusseau…and then promptly found ourselves being thrown off as if we were rag dolls! I landed on my back, but I recovered enough to get to my feet.

In the meantime, Adrian Brusseau had grabbed a support for the tape fence. Tearing it off, he began swinging it around him like a weapon, with a glazed, savage look in his green eyes. I knew that look all too well, having taken a number of seminars on identifying his condition.

Desperately, I searched my immediate area and saw two people rush into the auditorium. One was a human female with dark blonde hair and cold gray eyes. The other was a reptilian with a long tail, clawed hands and feet, and scaly blue skin. They were both wearing the red and gray uniform of the Galaxy Rangers, the law enforcement/military of the Galactic Worlds Alliance. And both of them were carrying X-60 shock sticks on their magnetic belts—a ranger's best friend when things got hairy. This situation definitely qualified, and I didn't hesitate. I made a dash for the female officer, and pulled the stick from her belt by its handle.

"Uh, excuse me, need to borrow this. I promise I'll bring it back!" I said over my shoulder as I ran back towards Brusseau.

Leaving the two stunned rangers behind me, I saw that the battle to control the crazed man was not going well; the group of referees had been joined by a couple of security guards, and Brusseau was throwing them all off of him. And by the unnatural angle that he held it in, and the pain on his face, it was clear that one of the guards had gotten his arm broken in the process.

I moved in.

Seeing me coming, Brusseau tried to land a side kick, but I swatted it aside with a middle block. Then I switched the shock stick on and pressed it to the man's ribs. Not even Brusseau's protective gear was a match for the jolt of several thousand volts the stick transmitted. He let out a scream of agony and collapsed to the ground, convulsing.

"Hold him!" I called, shutting the stick off.

As the refs and the guards grabbed Brusseau, I looked into his eyes and confirmed my suspicions. "Get a stretcher and strap him down," I declared. "It looks like this guy's a slammer!"

While the men secured the crazed man I moved away from them and walked over to my brother. He was being helped to his feet by Master Emile.

"Jerrod, are you all right?"

He grimaced at me. "My ribs are a little sore, but nothing's broken" Then he glared at Adrian Brusseau. "What the hell's with that guy?"

"Adrian Brusseau is a slammer," I stated.

"Pardonez moi?" Master Emile inquired, slipping into his native French.

"A slammer, sir, as in someone hooked on slam," I explained. When both men rewarded me with puzzled expressions, I elaborated. "It's a highly addictive steroid cocktail, designed to increase strength, speed, agility, and endurance…but it also has a nasty little side effect."

"Let me guess," Jerrod quipped. "It sends a person's aggressiveness quotient through the roof."

I nodded. "Yeah. ISMAL and all the major sports organizations banned it in the mid 70's. It takes a physical and emotional toll on anyone who uses it."

By this point, Brusseau was being taken out through the crowd on the stretcher. Then I noticed Rick Stewart, dressed in his school's uniform, with an angry look on his face. I also saw the scowl that had crossed Master Emile's features. Rick Stewart and Emile Moreau had been, and still were bitter rivals.

But right now, I wasn't interested in their mutual enmity. Instead, I turned to my brother, "Jerrod, just to be safe, have the medics take a look at those ribs." He tried to protest, but I cut him off. "Please do as your assistant coach says. Master Emile, if you'll excuse me."

Reluctantly, my brother indicated his compliance, and once again Master Emile's eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment. "Where are you going, Monsieur Simon?"

"To have a talk with Master Stewart and then do a little snooping," I told him.

Before either of them could say anything, I left and went straight over to Stewart. The 45-year-old Texan was cussing and swearing up a storm. "Excuse me, Master Stewart?"

The man gave me a hostile glare. "What the hell do you want? Come to gloat over what happened?"

I shook my head. "I assure you, sir, nothing of the sort. I'm speaking in my capacity as an ISMAL official. How long has he been acting this aggressive?"

Stewart nodded grudgingly. Then he answered me. "That's just it. Adrian was behaving normally when he arrived. Hell, he was excited about going up against your brother and kicking his ass. But he wasn't this ornery until…"

He stroked his thick handle-bar moustache as he thought over the events prior to the match. A second later, his face paled. "…until a half-hour after he put that derma-patch on his right arm. The guy who gave it to him said that it was a way to prevent any muscles from getting pulled. At the time, I didn't think anything of it."

"And what exactly did this vendor look like?"

Master Stewart shrugged. "Sixties to early seventies, white hair, pencil thin mustache, and wearing a dark blue vendor uniform." Then he added, "Oh yeah…and there was a patch on the left pocket of the uniform that read 'Travers' I think…yeah 'Travers'."

I closed my eyes and nodded as I mentally processed this information. Having a photographic memory, the facts were burned into my brain for all time. "I see. Thanks for the information, Master Stewart, I'll take it from here."

I turned to leave, but he wasn't done with me yet. "Mr. Wendell?"

He took a long deep breath before continuing. "Make no mistake; I don't like your Master, and we'll never be friends. But I can tell you that I have a zero tolerance policy for that doping crap! Access the information on my school's drug policy and you'll see."

"I believe you, sir," I assured him. "I honestly do."

While an ISMAL official walked over to the stands and calmed a confused and muttering audience, I looked around the room, and saw no sign of the galaxy rangers I'd appropriated the shock stick from. But I did see a man in a blue vendor uniform who looked exactly like the one that Master Stewart had mentioned.

He was talking to another Taekwondo student and pulling a small package from a blue box. Determined to speak with him, I made my way through the crowd. "Excuse me, sir…" I began.

At first, the man didn't hear me, and picking up my pace, I called out to him again. When he finally heard me he turned in my direction. The look on his face was like the proverbial fox caught in the hen house. He bolted for the entrance.

I ran after him. "Hey! Wait just a second!"

In desperation, the mysterious figure flung the box away and went out into the hallway of the Portland Convention Center. I was sure that in another few seconds, I would catch up with him.

But just before I closed the distance, he pressed something on his wrist and vanished. Right away, I knew what had just happened. The object on the man's wrist had been a light bouncer field, or as some called it, an invisibility device. Swearing volubly, I had no choice but to stop, and go back the way I'd come.

That was when I noticed a gold-colored card on the floor. Picking it up, I saw that it was blank except for some black lettering, which read 'Recording 1457542'. Making a mental note of this, I put it in my pocket and searched for the blue box. It was lying open only a few feet away, and its contents were scattered all over the carpet.

They were ordinary derma-patches, and nothing worth running for. Unless there's something in those patches, I thought. Something illegal.

Gathering them up and stuffing them back into their container, I looked around me to see if the man had left anything else behind that would provide me with clues. In the meantime, the two Galaxy Rangers were walking towards me.

The human female had a look on her face that not only made it clear that she was angry (and I couldn't really blame her. I had after all, taken her shock baton), but also conveyed that she didn't think very much of me in general. I was immediately reminded of a medieval noblewoman eyeing a peasant. Her partner, the reptilian, had a grim, beleaguered air about him, and I got the sense that the Raptorian did not like the woman any more than she liked me.

Putting on the most pleasant smile I could, I extended the deactivated shock stick to the woman, handle first. "There you are. Thanks for letting me use that shock stick. It saved…"

I never got the chance to finish what I was saying. She swiped it out of my grasp. "Next time leave the situation to me!" she snapped.

I put up my hands. "Hey, easy! I was just helping out. And anyway my little brother was in danger. Surely you wouldn't expect me to…"

"Shut up! I don't care what you were doing," she retorted. "I was about to take control of the situation when you interfered! I'm tempted to arrest you for obstructing justice." Then, before I could stop her, she took the blue box away from me. "And I want those too!"

"Hey what are you…?"

"That's none of your business. I'll let you off with a warning this time, sir. Interfere in my investigation and I will arrest you!"

The sullen Rapturian interrupted her. "Sergeant, with all due respect do you know who you're addressing? This is Simon Wendell. He's one of the best referees in ISMAL. His connections could be of use to us."

The woman rolled her eyes. "Oh forgive me, oh great and mighty Simon Wendell…"

Then she turned and scowled at her partner. "And pardon me if I don't give a flying crap what you think! This is my investigation Sssuldarth. And I will handle it in my way! Now come on, we have a suspect to rattle a confession out of!"

I didn't like the sound of that. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that Mr. Adrian Brusseau will soon confess that he is a slammer and dealer-as if it's any of your business," the woman sneered.

My eyes blazed with outrage. "Now wait just a minute! I grant you he does have slam in his system but there's more going on than you…"

"There is not!" she rejoined. "The man had slam in his system and that's all that matters. Good day!"

"Mischa, your tone is most…" Sssuldarth began.

"Sssuldarth, not another word out of you. Move!" The Rapturian growled and followed her off in the direction that Brusseau's stretcher had gone.

"You're welcome, bitch!" I said under my voice.

Someone behind me chuckled and said, "She is that isn't she?"

I faced the speaker, and was nearly floored by the sight of a slender and attractive woman. She was in her late twenties or early thirties, and dressed in a dust brown short sleeved shirt, black pants, and slip-on walking shoes. But what really stood out was her short cropped mane of metallic blue hair which fell over her left eye. I nodded to her and mumbled sourly, "And now I'm back to square one!"

"Maybe not," the woman offered. She pulled a dark blue derma-patch packet from her blouse pocket.

My eyes widened in disbelief. "How…?"

"You missed one," she said, "and I figured Mischa Anderson would do this."

"You know that woman?" I asked, even more surprised.

She grimaced. "She and I have had some run-ins. Anyway, I think you might want to get on the ball with finding the real culprit, or culprits, behind this."

I gave her a skeptical look. "Why are you helping me?" I asked. "I don't even know you."

She gave me a wry smirk. "Call me, Rachel. Let's just say I'm a fan of the martial arts and a strong believer in the law of the Galactic Worlds Alliance." With that, she handed me the packet.

"Gee thanks," I graciously told her.

"Oh, and some advice, "Rachel added, "If you want to check that derma-patch for slam, go over to the Wu-Shu tournament. There's an ISMAL referee who works for the Galaxy Rangers' Crime Lab there. And he just so happens to have a mobile lab with him that you'd find useful. Ask for Alexander Baxter and tell him Rachel sent you."

"I appreciate the help, Rachel." I took her hand and shook it. "By the way I'm…"

"Simon Wendell," she finished, "one of the best Taekwondo referees in ISMAL. I know your reputation."

I nodded and released her hand. Then I headed for the doors.

Making my way down the hallways of the Portland Convention Center, I passed a sign that read, 'The Portland Convention Center welcomes the Semi-Annual Galactic Friendship Martial Arts Tournament of 2198', and then another that directed me to the Wu-Shu tournament.

I grinned at this, because I knew an ISMAL official in Wu-Shu who was a good friend of mine.

The moment that I entered the place, my ears were filled with the sounds of cheering fans and families watching the competitors. I also noted there were an unusually large number of security guards posted around the auditorium. The entrance-way itself had a line of competitors and there were several officials looking them over.

One of them noticed me and approached. "Uh, excuse me, sir, but no audience members beyond this point. Only competitors and officials are allowed."

For just an instant, I was a little taken aback. Then I remembered that I was in sweats and chuckled self-consciously. "Oh, sorry I'm out of uniform."

I pulled my wallet from my pocket and brought up the ISMAL I.D. in its memory. "I'm Simon Wendell, a referee for ISMAL, registration number 45x-78449."

The official took it and checked it with a scanner rod before nodding in satisfaction and returning it to me. "Sorry about that, Mr. Wendell, we can't be too careful," he explained. "So what's someone from the Taekwondo Division doing here?"

"I was wondering, is Hiromi Nagashura about?" I asked politely.

The man nodded. "Hiromi? Yeah, he's here and he just finished a match. Hold on I'll get him for you."

A couple of minutes later, the official returned. He was accompanied by a Japanese man in his mid-thirties, dressed in a referee suit. It was Hiromi Nagashura.

"Simon 'Grizzly Adams' Wendell," he said with a grin. "Konnichiwa my friend. It's been a while."

I clasped his hands, equally glad to see him, "It has. I only wish it were under better circumstances."

Hiromi's rugged features darkened. "Oh, is there trouble?"

I nodded. "Someone gave slam to a sparring competitor…" I showed him the packet as I continued. "I need to have this analyzed. Can you help me find Alexander Baxter?"

"Yeah, I can," he answered. "He's finishing up with a match right now. I'll show you to him."

The two of us walked over to an elderly man sitting in a mobile hover chair. He noticed our approach right away. "Somethin' I can help ya' with, Hiromi?" he asked.

"Not him," I said, "Me. I'm Simon Wendell, a referee from the Taekwondo division of ISMAL. I need your help on a case I'm working on."

I winced the moment I said this, realizing that I sounded like a cop from an old TV show, but I pressed on and handed him the packet. "I have reason to believe this derma-patch may have been laced with slam. Someone deliberately gave one just like it to one of our sparring competitors. Rachel told me that you could help."

"You'll have to be a little more specific than that. I know quite a few women named Rachel," he answered wryly.

All it took was my description of her emerald green eyes and the man chuckled. "I should've known that that little pixie of mine would be somewhere around here."

"You know her, Alex?" Hiromi asked.

A fond smile crossed the older man's face. "I'd better. Technically she's my niece, but she and her younger brother have been as much my kids as my biological ones since she was 10 years old. Come on, we can talk while we head over to my mobile lab."

As we followed him, I felt that I had to ask him a question about his niece. "Sir, I noticed Rachel has metallic blue hair. I take it that she's…?"

Baxter stopped the chair and nodded. "Yep, she's one of the survivors of the Abrams Virus on Mischar-12." I shivered involuntarily as I remembered what the melanin eating virus had almost done to my brother.

"She and her younger brother were among the first lucky ones to receive the Vasquez vaccine," he added. "We were a little freaked when the side effect was discovered."

"Where you..?"

The man looked at his chair and waived it off dismissively. "No. This isn't from Abrams. It's congenital. I'm going in for spinal regeneration surgery next month. Amazing how a piece of a person's skin holds the key to replacing a heart, or fixing up a spine. Modern medicine's a wonder I tell ya'!"

By this point, we had entered a small conference room. It was deserted and the only piece of furniture that it contained was a folding table with a metallic brief case sitting on it. Baxter went straight over, and pressed a button on the side of the case. When it opened, a molecuscope, a computer terminal, and a screen unfolded while the 'scopes lenses automatically lowered themselves until they were at the man's eye-level.

"Okay, Mr. Wendell" he said, "let's have a look at that derma-patch."

I handed it over, and he opened it and carefully removed the patch with a set of tweezers, placing it in the molecuscope's tray. Then he looked into the lenses and turned a dial. "Let me adjust the power and settings…"

What he saw a moment later made him whistle in amazement. "You were right to be concerned, Mr. Wendell."

"So I was correct?" I asked.

"And then some…" He looked away from the 'scope long enough to bring an image up on his computer screen. It showed various strings of protein molecules. "Tell me, how long did it take for the slam to take effect?"

"I talked to the competitor's instructor and he said it took half an hour," I replied.

Baxter stroked his chin, considering this. "Half an hour. That's unusually fast for slam. Usually it takes twice as long…unless…"

He looked into the lenses of the 'scope again and adjusted the dial some more. Several seconds later, he nodded to himself. "Ah-ha, here's why it took half an hour! Someone introduced dimethylsulfoxide into this new type of slam."

One of my personal areas of interest was pre-spaceflight era martial arts, and I knew right away what he was talking about. "DMSO, huh?" I inquired. "That stuff's as old as Hershey bars and Harley Davidsons. Well, I have to give this dealer his due. He certainly knows his history—and his chemistry."

"Yes, he does, "Baxter agreed.

Hiromi looked at both of us in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"DMSO is a chemical that athletes used to use back in the 20th and 21st centuries—before we came up with better things," I explained.

"It's really kind of interesting how the stuff worked," Baxter volunteered. "You see, in oxygen breathing creatures there are little sacks in the lungs called alveoli. They carry oxygen to the bloodstream from the lungs which allows the muscles of the body to function. DMSO promotes circulation by opening up the blood vessels of the body. And in sports, the more oxygen the muscles get the better they're able to function."

Hiromi's eyes brightened in comprehension. "And by promoting the circulation of blood it prevented and eased pulled muscles. Interesting indeed."

I nodded. "Now if DMSO were mixed with this new slam…"

Hiromi's features became grave. "…it would allow the slam to take effect that much quicker," he finished.

"Exactly, now it's all the more important that I find this guy," I answered. "But first, Mr. Baxter, a question; what's with the heavy security?"

Hiromi and Baxter's faces flushed and my mental alarms went off. "Let me guess, one of your competitors in sparring suddenly went berserk?"

"Not just one, but two!" Baxter stated. "They were near ready to tear each other apart. It took every judge and ref just to incapacitate them."

I gave them a sympathetic smile. "I understand. Are either of the competitors' trainers around?"

Hiromi thought about this for a moment, then, "Yes, Master Jay York is still here. Should I bring him?"

"Yes."

Hiromi left and when he returned he was accompanied by Master York. The man bowed to me and I returned it.

"What can I do for ya?" York asked, his voice thick with a Brooklyn accent.

"I'm Simon Wendell," I said. "I understand one of your students was involved in an altercation earlier. I'm asking because there was a similar incident in the Taekwondo division and I believe they're related. Tell me, did anything happen say, half an hour before the incident that seemed odd?"

York took a moment to ponder this and then he answered, "Yeah, now that I think of it. This old guy was like eh…givin' derma-patches to my student. Said it was to prevent any muscles from being strained. Next thing I know, he gives my student's competitor the same thing. That was say…29 t'30 minutes before they went nuthouse!"

"And this old guy had a full head of white hair, a pencil thin mustache, and was dressed in a dark blue vendor uniform?" I asked.

York nodded emphatically. "Yeah, yeah that's him!"

"Thank you for your time, sir," I replied. "Good luck in the tournament."

With that, the Wu-Shu master left us and I checked my watch. Seeing that it was 10:54 AM, a cold chill went down my spine. My brother's next match began in a half-hour.

"I gotta' go folks! Mr. Baxter, call up the Convention Center Head of Security and tell him to meet me in the Taekwondo auditorium, and then get ahold of the Galaxy Rangers. Hiromi, pass the word along to all the refs and judges in all the divisions about what's happened."

As they hurried away, I headed out of the auditorium, pressing my com watch to contact Master Emile. When the Haitian's face materialized, he looked relieved.

"Simon, where have you been?"

"Looking into Mr. Brusseau's psychosis," I told him, "and I've made some disturbing discoveries. Someone's been giving athletes derma-patches laced with a new type of slam. The situation's worse than I thought."

"That's an understatement sir!" Master Emile replied. "While you've been gone two more sparring competitors, and several others in the other divisions have suffered Brusseau's symptoms." The concern etched on his face mirrored my own.

So our slam dealer is still around, I thought angrily. He was jeopardizing the health and well-being of athletes. But why?

"Sir, I think you'd better meet up with me," I said, "Until this is solved, it would be best if we went around in groups of two for better protection."

"I agree, Monsieur Simon," he returned. Then he pressed something out of sight and added. "I have your location I shall meet you, as you would say, halfway."

"Will do." I shut off my com watch and kept moving.

I was so deep in thought, that as I came around a corner, I didn't notice that I had been followed until I felt a pair of metallic laser pistol barrels pushed against my back. Chiding myself for not paying better attention, I hazarded a glance over my shoulder and saw a pair of large muscular men in business attire and sunglasses.

"Oh goody it's the goon squad how positively…cliché!" I said in an annoyed tone.

"Not a word," one of them warned, "walk!"

Trying to look nonchalant I shrugged and did as told. I was certainly scared, but I'd been in this type of situation before and I knew that I had to bide my time until the moment was right.

A few seconds later, we turned down another hallway and came to a restroom. "Stop here," one of my captors growled.

"Gee, aren't we 'Mr. Conversationalist'" I said, sarcasm dripping in every word.

I felt one of the pistols push up against my back and tried hard not to grimace. "That's a real smart mouth you got there, wise ass!" the second goon snarled.

"Let me make this clear to you, Mr. Wendell. We know you've been bothering a client of our boss," the first one said menacingly, "The experiments on the test subjects will continue. No questions, no interference!"

Is that all you see these athletes as? I thought, outraged. But I kept my tone cheerful. "The problem is that as an ISMAL official, I swore to protect the health and well-being of these competitors."

I felt the pressure of the laser pistol in my back again. "That wasn't a request!" the thug barked.

"Pardon me if I don't beg for mercy," I retorted, "but I've fought Haitian street gangs who were ten times scarier than you! And even if I hadn't, my moral stance ain't changing! So you can go tell your boss that he can blow it out his ass!"

One of them deactivated the safety on his gun. "Why I oughta…!"

"Monsieur Simon, is everything all-?" Master Emile asked from behind us.

He never finished his sentence. As the two men turned and began to level their pistols at him, I twisted around, catching one man in his left knee with a low side kick even as I grabbed the other one's arm. Before he could do anything, I pulled it to my right shoulder…and was rewarded with the satisfying snap of his elbow breaking.

Simultaneously, the man whose knee I'd kicked got another surprise. There was a blur of motion and he found himself on the receiving end of a flying back kick to the face from Master Emile. At the same time, I slammed an elbow into my opponent's ribs and then kneed him in his face.

This was why I didn't spar. I'm a dirty fighter.

The two men went down in groaning heaps of pain and Emile looked at me with a wry smirk "Your mouth landed you in more trouble?"

I rubbed my long black hair and gave him a sheepish grin. "Uh…yes sir."

Master Emile shook his head and sighed. "Here is another reason you should have me close by. That mouth of yours may get you killed someday."

I chuckled. "Duly noted, sir. Meantime, we need to call security."

"No need!" a gravelly voice said. A group of men were approaching us, dressed in the gray uniforms of convention center security. Leading them was a tall granite jawed man who looked to be in his early fifties.

"Bruce Stryker," he said. "Head of Security. Mr. Baxter let me know what was going on."

Master Emile and I shook his hand. Then I explained what I knew so far. Mr. Stryker thought about it for a long moment, and then said, "A drug peddler, huh? Well no stinking pusher's gonna' continue operating on my watch!"

Then he regarded the two goons, and a look of recognition came over his features. "Well, I'll be-."

"You know these people?" I asked.

He nodded as he removed halo badges from their coat pockets, "Yeah I've seen these guys on the Galaxy's Most Wanted. They're galactic mob enforcers."

"What are mafia goons doing at a martial arts tournament?" Master Emile asked. "And how did they get security clearance?"

A thought suddenly crossed my mind. "Wait a second…" I said. "Sergeant Mischa Anderson seemed awful eager to make Adrian Brusseau confess to being a drug dealer. And what's even more puzzling is how she got ahold of his name, since ISMAL only gives out athlete information during an emergency. Gentlemen, methinks we have more than one wolf in the fold. Mr. Stryker I need your help…"

I pulled the gold card from my left pants pocket, "Can you I.D. this?"

I handed it to him and he looked it over carefully. Then he nodded. "Yep, just as I thought. This here's a PT-60 holographic recording card. A bit on the old side technology-wise but still useful. Why?"

"Just a hunch," I replied. "Now, if you and your men could come with me?"

The man inclined his head in agreement and had a couple of his men drag the prone goons away. "So where to? And what's going on?"

"I would like to know the same thing, Simon." Master Emile said.

"If I'm correct, then we're about to get to the heart of this mystery," I told them.

We headed back to the auditorium where the Taekwondo tournament was being held. Sure enough, it was quieter than when I had left it and there was a definite aura of tension in the air. As we walked in, my brother approached us.

"Big brother, you are a sight for sore eyes," Jerrod smiled. "You'll never believe what happened while you were away."

My own face was a mask of grave concern. "I know, Jerrod. Master Emile told me everything."

He shook his head. "That's not the only thing. While you were away, some old guy offered me some derma-patches. He said I would need them to help avoid pulling any muscles."

Oh hell, I thought, the blood draining from my face faster than a laser gun firing. "Did you use any of them?" Everyone tensed.

But my brother gave me a reassuring smile and shook his head. "Hell no, something about that old guy gave me the creeps. So I turned him down. I didn't even touch those things."

I let out my breath and so did my companions. "Smart move, Jerrod. Those patches were laced with slam."

"Oh shit!" he spat.

I snorted and said, "Understatement of the year! Anyhow, I need your help. You got your holographic card player somewhere?"

"I'll get it," he said. Then he jogged away.

A few minutes later, he returned with a small rectangular device with multicolored buttons and a small lens protruding from it.

I led everyone over to a spot under the bleachers that offered us some privacy and Jerrod handed me the player. With my brother supplying the instructions, I activated the hologram mechanism so we could all see the contents of the card. When I pressed the red play button, I was rewarded with a three dimensional image of the underground parking lot beneath the convention center, and a group of people.

Two were dressed in Galaxy Ranger uniforms, and I recognized one of them as Mischa Anderson. Her partner, a brunette male in his mid-forties was also someone I knew. From the news.

"No way…" I said aloud.

"What is it?" Stryker asked.

"That's Captain Eric Hudson, the C.O. of Galaxy Ranger operations here in Portland," I answered. "And that woman is Sergeant Mischa Anderson, I ran into her earlier."

A nasally voice spoke from beyond the view of the hologram, "Everything is in place. I can begin the experiments with the new slam immediately."

"And what of our delivery boy Travers," Hudson asked. "He might decide to spill the beans on this little operation."

I could almost imagine the unknown speaker's dismissive look as he said, "Pssh, don't worry about him. He's been permanently disposed of!"

Hearing that, my blood ran cold.

Then Captain Hudson looked at Sergeant Anderson. "Does Sssuldarth suspect anything?"

An arrogant smile crossed the woman's face. "He doesn't and as long as I'm watching him he won't!"

The Captain smiled confidently and regarded the hidden speaker. "The galactic mafia and I have invested heavily in this experiment. This new form of slam you've invented had better be everything you've promised. I've already had to take several pay cuts to throw Internal Affairs off my trail, Dr. Bryant!"

We all gasped as I pressed pause.

"I'm having an attack of déjà-vu, here," Stryker said. "I know that name from my Grandpa's fighting days."

"As are we all," I replied. "Dr. David Bryant is the grandson of Dr. Alex Bryant, the inventor of slam,-and one of the old Terran Empire's chief butchers!"

"So it is the grandson of a known war criminal who invented this new slam." Master Emile observed soberly.

"Cha-ching, jackpot!" a familiar female voice chimed.

We all turned with a start to see Rachel's familiar figure coming towards us. "Rachel?" I asked quizzically.

I felt someone nudge me and saw the wolfish grin on my brother's face. "Wow, big brother, your Grizzly Adams look finally landed you a total babe!"

I glared at him. "Oh, shut up!"

To my surprise, the Chief of Security smiled and said, "Ah Sergeant, I thought you'd be somewhere around with everything that's happened."

I just barely kept myself from falling over in disbelief. Then I glared at Rachel, "Excuse me, would you care to explain?"

She gave me a sly smile. "Allow me to fully introduce myself; Sergeant Rachel Beck of the Galaxy Rangers. I've been working civdigs with Internal Affairs and Horatio Stark investigating corruption in the Portland precinct."

My face furrowed. "Okay, ya' lost me. Who's Horatio Stark and what does 'civdigs' mean?"

Master Emile explained it to me. "Horatio Stark is a kind of super cop. He and Internal Affairs cleaned out a corrupt Galaxy Ranger force that was operating back in Haiti. Civdigs is Galaxy Ranger talk for civilian clothes."

Rachel came up to me. "I really have to thank you, Mr. Wendell. Because of you, we have all the information that we need to break up Hudson's operation, and arrest him and that witch Anderson."

Looking down at the 5'6 woman I could see the appreciative look on her face and the eager sparkle in her aqua blue eyes. "Glad to help. If you need anything else just ask." I said.

"Noted!" she nodded.

By now, my curiosity was getting the better of me. "So, let's see what else is on this recording." I pressed play and the recording resumed.

Hudson was speaking. "Have we a contingency plan if the slam doesn't work or things go better than expected?"

"I've already picked a target," the unseen speaker replied. "The chump's name is Adrian Brusseau. I put enough slam in his athletic bag and enough information to ensure that people see him as the slam distributor."

"And if his instructor Rick Stewart gets suspicious?" Mischa asked.

"Well I am a first rate mechanic as well as a chemist. Accidents happen."

The three of them chuckled nastily and I felt like I wanted to vomit or tear something apart with my bare hands. "That's enough!" I said in a hoarse whisper as I shut off the holographic recorder.

Rachel gently took the device out of my hands and I turned to Stryker. "Mr. Stryker, I want to help catch these sons of bitches. These three have just crossed a very dangerous line with me!"

"By all means," the man agreed. "Just leave something for the Rangers, okay?"

At that, our group moved out from behind the stands. Then I caught sight of the old man I'd been after since this whole thing began. My vision went red and from somewhere behind me, I heard someone, perhaps Rachel, point him out as I closed the distance between us.

He still hadn't seen me. He was too busy trying to convince an athlete to buy his derma-patches. I was almost on top of him when I called out, "Hey, Doc!"

Startled, the old man turned, and then ran like a mouse who had just sighted a cat. I broke into a run, and he ducked under the tape and ran into the arena area, interrupting a match.

"Stop that vendor!" I yelled.

The competitors, the referee, and several officials tried their best to tackle him, but the man proved slippery for his age, and evaded them, heading straight for the exit. Seeing where he was going, I raced over to the judge's table and leapt onto it. As he drew close, I tackled him.

Our struggle lasted only for a half a minute before I had a hold of the hand that was trying to activate his invisibility device. My other arm was around his throat.

"Don't make a move, asshole!" I hissed. "You've hurt a lot of innocent athletes and I'm a hair's length away from snapping your neck!"

Wisely, he complied, and I felt someone put a hand on my right shoulder. It was Rachel. "It's all right, Simon, we'll take it from here."

I released my grasp as Rachel cuffed him and removed the light bouncer from his wrist. "David Bryant," she told him, "you're under arrest for conspiracy, distribution of a controlled substance, illegal experimentation on a sentient race, and murder!" Then she handed him to one of the guards, and read him his rights.

"But where are Mischa Anderson and Captain Hudson?" I asked.

An angry female voice interjected. "What the hell's going on here!?"

Mischa Anderson and Captain Hudson were storming into the auditorium, with an angry Sssuldarth in tow.

I growled as I faced them. But then I felt a strong hand restraining me. "Easy son, easy!" Chief Stryker said.

Taking his advice, and a deep breath, I approached the two conspirators.

Captain Hudson saw me coming, but he addressed Stryker. "What's the idea detaining our chief informant? If it hadn't been for him we'd have never discovered that Adrian Brusseau was the man behind this slam in-"

"Bullshit!" I shouted.

Sergeant Anderson's lips curled into an angry frown. "You, I should've known you were the one behind this. Just for that I hereby…"

"You'll do nothing, Mischa!" Rachel snapped. Hudson and Anderson's faces went slack in astonishment and Sssuldarth stared in stunned shock. She smiled at the trio, but it was a nasty expression. "What's the matter, surprised to see me?"

Hudson pointed an accusatory finger at her. "What are you doing here? I ordered you transferred to the Mars settlement!"

"And it almost went through," Rachel replied. "Captain Horatio Stark intercepted it and had me transferred to his new command as C.O. for all Portland operations."

My anger couldn't stay contained any longer. "It's bad enough you use athletes here as guinea pigs! But when you plant evidence, frame an athlete, and plot his teacher's murder, that really ticks me off!"

My outburst surprised them and Anderson finally noticed me. "What are you talking about?" he demanded.

Rachel produced the holographic player. "Mr. Wendell means this!"

She pressed play and every audience member and referee in the room was treated to the same recording that we had watched. When it ended, the room was deathly silent.

I broke the spell. "I guess the Doc didn't trust you two, or the galactic mafia. Not that I blame him."

"It's over, you two," Rachel told them. "Your little operation has been exposed. Come along quietly."

A deadly smile crossed my face and I cracked my knuckles. "Please. Resist."

As one, they both tried to activate the light bouncers they were wearing on their left arms. Before they could reach them though, Rachel and Master Emile stepped in and dealt them right hooks to their jaws. They crumpled to the ground, stunned.

"Perhaps that will teach you not to mess with martial artists!" Master Emile snapped.

Shortly afterwards, a group of Galaxy Rangers arrived and took the two officers and Dr. Bryant away. Chief Stryker went with them.

Watching them go, Master Emile winked at me. "Well, I imagine that you and Miss Beck have much to speak of. Est-ce pas alors? So, I will see you in a few minutes."

I actually blushed. "I'll be there shortly sir." He and Jerrod departed together.

Ssuldarth, who had been standing by the entire time, took my hands in his, and shook them. "I cannot thank you enough Mr. Wendell, for exposing that vile woman," he said "I always suspected there was something rotten about her, but couldn't prove it."

Just then, Rachel rejoined us. "Sssuldarth, Captain Stark wanted me to inform you that you're being reassigned as my partner from now on."

The Rapturian male sighed in relief. "Just like our academy days. I look forward to work on Monday."

But Rachel wasn't quite done yet. "Simon, I have a personal favor to ask of you."

"And that is?"

"Would you care to join Sssuldarth and I for a few rounds at O' Hare's?"

Her invitation caught me completely off guard. "Isn't that the famous historical bar and grill in Northwest Portland?"

"And…" the Rapturian volunteered, "the favorite watering hole of every off-duty Galaxy Ranger in the Portland area."

"It'll have to be after the tournament," I agreed, "but yeah okay."

Rachel rewarded me with a dazzling smile. "Excellent."

After giving her my address and com watch number, she and the Raptorian headed out to join the other Rangers.

As for me, I made my way over to Master Emile and Jerrod. I had a spring in my step.