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This story emerged as I thought about the role of women in the EQniverse. I didn't want to get inside the head of a female Cleric, but I wanted a woman to be in an important position. I also wondered about the nature of offenders. This Prequilibrium story is set not too far before the events in the film.

By Libby



The purposeful crowd came to unified halt as the interval siren sounded. In the main square, five hundred people simultaneously took out their PIUs and injected the amber liquid into their veins. Around them and above them, Father's soothing voice gave reason to their existence.

'Libria, I commend you. You have embraced the ideals which make our society great. You have relinquished your desires and pursued our cause with strength and tenacity. You are the.....'

Kyra Flynn listened intently as she made her way across the square to Cleric Headquarters, a grey forbidding building and an ever-present reminder of the power of the Tetragrammaton. She was a little later this morning because of an incident at her apartment block, which had caught her attention.

A Sweeper team had been dealing with a small group of offenders who had tried to steal provisions from one of the Nutrition Stores near the entrance. Normally, this would have elicited little more than a casual glance, but the aggression of the lead offender was unusual. He had actually killed or injured several Sweepers before being put down. She decided to enter this observation in her morning report. It was not an isolated incident and as such could be indicative of a more serious problem.

Over recent months, the so-called resistance had changed its tactics. Whilst many of the raids were still unearthing explosive equipment destined for the Prozium factories or  Equilibrium, small groups of offenders were actually stealing the base chemicals used to manufacture Prozium. It was disturbing.



As Kyra entered the building and strode towards her offices, she passed by the Hall of Precision, where the acolytes were deep in their morning Gun Kata drills. Slowing her pace, she observed the fluidity of their movements. She pushed her fingers through short blonde hair, smoothed her black topcoat and continued on down the echoing hallway.

Nodding to the heavily armed security guard at the entrance to the section where she worked, Kyra waited for clearance.

"Good Morning, Administrator." There was no inflexion in the guards voice, it was simply a habitual response..

"Good Morning." Her reply was equally flat.

Administration Section 7 was gearing up for another busy day. Men and women moved quietly from area to area or concentrated on their screens. The lighting was subdued. The patter of keystrokes was almost subliminal. As always, Father's gentle benediction reinforced their resolve, his benign countenance overseeing their every action.

As Kyra approached her desk, several grey-coated individuals slowed almost imperceptibly to allow her through, a tacit acknowledgement of her superior status. She took her seat, flipped up the screen and scanned the day's provisional schedule with a practised eye.

08:00: Progress meeting

08:30: A&R Sector 15

14:00: EC-10 reporting procedure update

15:30: Security matters: items missing from stores.

Of course, this was just a guideline. The day could pan out completely differently and usually did. As an Administrator First Class, Kyra's prime responsibility was to her assigned Clerics, everything else was secondary. In fact, glancing up, she could already see that she would not even make the progress meeting.

Striding between the rows of desks, oblivious to the number of greycoats who backed respectfully out of his way, Cleric John Preston dispensed with any formal greeting.

"The A&R has been brought forward. Intelligence suggests they have a substantial weapons hoard. We are possibly dealing with the new faction, so we'll need two Sweeper teams."

"Yes, Cleric." Kyra was already putting the Sweeper request through to dispatch. "Shall I put extra ammunition in the trunk?"

Preston considered for a moment. "Yes, of course. We should be prepared."

He nodded briefly, spun on his heel to leave and added, "Cleric Partridge and I will be ready to go in ten minutes."



As he left, Kyra rose and headed towards the stairs. She checked with the automotive technicians that the problem with the car had been solved successfully. It would not be prudent to be in the Nethers with a faulty transmission. She signed out the standard extra ammo kit and placed it in the trunk.

Listening to the engine as she exited the parking bays, Kyra could no longer detect the metallic grinding sound first noticed by Cleric Partridge, last week. Satisfied, she pulled up in front of the steps and the two black-coated Clerics got in.

There was little conversation during the journey, but that was nothing unusual. Kyra reflected that the two First Class Clerics had been partners for years and had the highest kill-rate. They were both exceptionally intuitive and worked in perfect unison. She had been their Administrator for almost two years and following the Council's decree had also been their driver and back-up for six months. It was a sign of the difficulties facing the Tetragrammaton from terrorists and other offenders, that she was being given additional, modified training.

Kyra's formative years had been spent in the College of Administration, a career chosen for her by the Tetragrammaton. She had been raised by them since the death of her parents when she was four years old. Very few girls were accorded the privilege, but with careful conditioning she was considered an acceptable risk and allowed, with one or two others, to be schooled with the boys, as an affiliate, until she was eight. Kyra recalled attending mathematics and Librian history with the young John Preston. Only graduates of the College could be Cleric Administrators.

Now she considered that her contribution to Librian society was increasing and that gave her satisfaction. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Ahead, smoke suddenly billowed from the ground floor window of the targeted building. Kyra swung the car left into an area behind the Sweeper teams. One wagon was already on fire and there were several Sweepers down. All three got out.

"In the future, it may be advisable for the teams to wait until we arrive, before attempting a sweep." Preston was grim-faced as he surveyed the scene.

"This really is not the usual pattern for offenders," commented Partridge. Preston shot him a glance.

The two men looked up as the Lead Sweeper approached. He seemed baffled. "They appear to have prisoners or hostages, it isn't clear. We've driven them into the back of the building. What do you want us to do, Clerics?"

"Move the remaining wagon forward, direct the hoses into that area, sweep the ground floor. We'll clear." Preston was already formulating the most effective plan as he and Partridge took up the dual Kata stance, back-to-back, weapons drawn, functioning as one. Circling slowly, relaxing into the mind-set, both men were almost preternaturally aware of any movement, however small. Only a true threat would elicit any response. That threat came from an open first floor window. The offender made the immediately fatal error of trying to take aim. The single bullet lanced through his forehead and he fell back out of sight. Preston did not even break his stride.

The two Clerics disappeared into the building and shortly after, Kyra heard the unmistakeable sound of the Gun Katas, She could distinguish two distinct patterns, recognising Partridge's staccato Kata 19 and Preston's smoother Kata 27, both totally lethal. She leaned against the hood and waited, considering that it had been some time since she had heard Cleric Partridge's fire patterns.

Sweepers and Clerics emerged from the side of the building, hauling three bedraggled women, who were alternately sobbing and pleading. At this distance, Kyra could pick up only odd words from the hysterical trio and experienced a twinge of disgust at the spectacle. Others Sweepers were carrying out various boxes, some of which appeared to be weapons. Certain boxes were familiar, others were not.

She was trying to identify them, when her focus was pulled back. The man slid over the hood and managed to get his arms around her. That he had no plan after that was obvious as Kyra bent smoothly forward at the waist, hurling the offender over her right shoulder. He landed with a heavy thud. Any attempt he was about to make to get up was ended by a roundhouse kick to the side of his head.

Reacting on reflex, Preston and Partridge had already covered most of the distance to the car. A popping sound above them caused both men to spin and fire at the same time. The dead sniper performed an almost ballistic swandive from the roof, landing feet from the pure white vehicle. Preston noted that there were three bullet holes in the man's head. Partridge looked over to Kyra, who was still holding her gun double-handed. He raised his eyebrows slightly. Preston turned and acknowledged her shot with the briefest of nods.

He sighed audibly. Observing the Sweepers loading the still sobbing women and confiscated weapons in to the wagon, he commented, "The women will taken for processing. They claim they were abducted from the city. The technicians at The Palace of justice will ascertain the truth. Some boxes carry the mark of the Tetragrammaton, the rest seem to be filled with an indeterminate substance, mainly a white powder."

He nodded at the Sweeper dragging Kyra's unconscious attacker away, glanced at Partridge and continued, "You are absolutely right, Cleric. This is a disturbing trend. There were no EC-10 items in evidence, only weapons, the powder and those women. What are they doing?"



They headed back to the City in silence, each contemplating the behaviour they had witnessed. Kyra had some thoughts, but she would not voice them unless her views were specifically sought by the Clerics.

While they were still some distance from the City, three synchronous alarms buzzed. Preston took out his PIU, quickly injected his interval, then reached forward. With a practised movement, he flipped the console between the front seats, removed another PIU, loaded it, then handed it to Kyra. She took her hands off the wheel briefly, to inject. Preston replaced the unit. Kyra looked in the mirror and nodded her thanks. Partridge was already replacing his unit in his pocket.

Finally, Partridge spoke. "Consider this. A man ceases his interval and becomes an offender. What if his motives are not governed by a need for intellectual or spiritual enhancement, or to experience feelings simply for their own sake. What if he feels he can profit from it, from trafficking in weapons and human life. Perhaps it is about supply and demand, about power and wealth?"

Kyra looked in her mirror. This wasn't the first time she had heard Cleric Partridge give what amounted to an impassioned speech. She glanced at Preston. He seemed unconcerned.

Instead, he turned to his partner. "The women claimed a man called Cyrus was intending to sell them to someone, although they could not furnish a name. The weapons were still boxed and possibly had an alternate destination. As yet, the powder is an unknown. Administrator Flynn, what do think?"

Kyra was caught off-guard for a moment. When she spoke, her response was measured. "I cannot comment on the women or the powder, but several of the boxes looked identical to those reported missing from Stores. The bar codes will confirm it. That means there must be someone on the inside. I have a meeting at 16:00 relating to missing items. I'll see what I can find out." She hesitated briefly, glanced in the mirror. "Are we still on for practice?"

Preston looked up. "Of course, 17:00 in the Hall of Precision."



In a way, Kyra looked forward to the training sessions. There was a calming simplicity to some of the opening sets and she was able to clear her mind of the clutter of the day. Usually, she would progress through to some of the easier Katas and even some practice with the Katana. However, today was different and she was thrown three times before Preston remarked on her lack of focus.

She sat on the floor and shook her head. "The meeting did not go well. It appears those weapons were upgrades for the Sweepers. We recovered less than half today. The Chief Administrator is instigating a Level 5 investigation."

Preston nodded thoughtfully. "We'll be going into Sector 9 tomorrow. By then, the Technicians may have got something out of that offender you levelled. Meanwhile, take position, Set 6."

Kyra got up. She was going to have a few bruises by morning.



Later, Preston was in the changing area, fastening the buttons on his topcoat, when Partridge appeared.

"Useful session?" he asked.

"Fine," replied Preston. "Administrator Flynn is progressing at an excellent rate. It was a good decision to train her further."

"Agreed," murmured Partridge. "That headshot was quite difficult!"

Preston looked over at his partner, ignoring the comment. "What have you discovered ?"

"According to the chemists, the white powder is actually a narcotic derived from the base chemicals which make up Prozium. Some offenders apparently use it as a .....mmm...re-cre-a-tional drug." Partridge sounded out the term. "The man Flynn kicked in the head was full of the stuff, which probably explains his foolhardiness."

Preston pursed his lips, shaking his head. "We'll be taking two teams into Sector 9 tomorrow. Clerics Morgan and Ryan will be our back-up. Flynn will pick us up at 08:00."



The journey to Sector 9 was not as Kyra had envisioned. There was a great deal of talking. She drove steadily while Preston confirmed their situation.

"So far, we have a name, Cyrus, three female offenders with no further usable information and an unco-operative accomplice with a headache."

"Not a good start," agreed Partridge. He looked thoughtful.

Kyra was about to ask about the powder, but at that moment, the supposedly repaired transmission began to shudder and the car ground to a halt. The second white car drew alongside, black tinted window already dropping. Both Preston and Partridge got out of the now silent vehicle.

"We will continue with Clerics Ryan and Morgan," Preston told Kyra. He flagged down the nearest Sweeper Truck. "Two Sweepers will remain with you. We'll pick you up on the way back."

Without a backward glance the two Clerics got into the other car and sped away. The Sweepers watched as Kyra popped the hood and peered at the slightly smoking engine.



The intelligence for the Sector 9 raid indicated it would be a full-scale operation. It was correct. Partridge volunteered to stand guard by the entrance, whilst the other three followed the Sweeper teams inside.

During the next fifteen minutes, the three Clerics were engaged in several high-level Katas. The building was a single storey warehouse, packed with fuel and explosives. However, those offenders captured appeared to be of the 'regular' sort. There was no evidence of upgraded weapons or white powder.

The Clerics left the clean-up to the Sweepers and headed back via the broken-down car. Cleric Morgan, riding in the front seat, next to his Administrator, was the first to notice the abandoned vehicle and the two dead Sweepers. The extra ammo kit in the trunk was missing. There was no sign of Kyra Flynn.

Preston carefully examined the ground around the car. Bending down, he reached behind front offside wheel.

"What have you found?" queried Partridge.

"Administrator Flynn's PIU."

Partridge's eyes flickered. He turned away.

"If we're to find her," continued Preston, "We need to gain information. I suspect she has been taken by the other faction. We have the opportunity to put an end to this, once and for all."



Although she had returned to consciousness several minutes earlier, Kyra remained still, her eyes closed, listening. She could hear male voices some distance away and female voices much closer. The floor was cold, hard and smelled vaguely musty. She opened her eyes.

About two meters away, slumped on an old, dilapidated couch, two women were watching her intently.

One of them, dark haired, wearing a shabby blue dress, raised her head and sniffed, "You must've put up a hell of a fight for them to use the knock-out stuff on you! I can see why Cyrus fancies you. Don't get many City types around here."

The second woman, equally grubby in a red sweater and green pants, refastened her untidy brown hair with a black band, swung her legs around and sniggered, "I'll bet that's why Marty's limping. She prob'ly kicked his ass!"

Kyra eased herself into sitting position. A nylon rope round her right ankle tethered her to an old radiator fixed to the wall. She checked for any damage, but apart from a few bruises and an odd taste in her mouth, she determined she was uninjured.

"They won't hurt you any more than they have to," the first woman commented and then, obviously mimicking someone continued, "Don't touch the merchandise!" Both women laughed.

Kyra still did not speak. She looked at her wrist, but her watch was gone.

"What time is it?" she asked, a chilling thought half forming in her mind. Her topcoat was gone ,too.

"Dunno," snickered the second woman. "Prob'ly about dinner time 'cos I'm hungry. You hungry, Suze?"

"Yeah." Suze got up and went to the door. She called out, "Hey, Cyrus! Your package is awake and Tash and me are hungry!"

Kyra's head snapped up at the name, but she said nothing. The door opened further and a man entered. Kyra observed him with a trained eye. He was not what she had expected. Cyrus was tall, immaculately dressed in a black suit, black shirt and black tie. His hair was well groomed -although the style was definitely not one the City's Personal Appearance Technicians would consider appropriate. His smile showed perfect dentition and Kyra thought she could detect a scented smell. The man was a walking EC-10 violation.

He regarded her with dark, cold eyes. "Well, you're quite a bonus, I must say. You'll fetch a fine price. I have just the client?." His voice trailed off and an unpleasant smile crossed his clean-shaven face.

He pushed a chair across to Kyra and motioned for her to sit. She ignored the chair. Cyrus shrugged. "You'll be our guest for a few days until I can make arrangements. Pity that flashy car of yours was broken. Could've got quite a bit for that. The stuff in the trunk was a nice surprise though."

A flurry of replies raced through Kyra's mind, mostly based on what the Grammaton Clerics - and an image of Preston in full Kata stance rose up - would do to Cyrus and his EC-10 friends. However, she kept her counsel and simply stared at him.

Cyrus ordered the woman called Tash to fetch some food. He warned Suze to keep an eye on their guest. He had things to attend to in Sector 12 and would be back later. He left, whistling.

Kyra patted her pockets, then turned to Suze. "Where is my coat?"

Suze smiled. She definitely did not have perfect dentition. "What d'you want a coat for, sweetie? You're not going anywhere just yet." She leaned forward and hissed, "You want your little black unit, don't you? Well it's not here. Is it time to dose? I haven't a clue - haven't dosed for years. Gonna enjoy the next few days, watching you come down...." She sat back, nodding.

Kyra felt the first stir of panic. How long since her last interval? She couldn't remember. What would happen to her? She didn't want this. Her entire existence was predicated on being free from the 'dizzying highs' and 'abysmal lows' of human emotion. She couldn't do this. Fighting nausea, she began a silent mantra, the one Cleric Preston made her recite before each practice. Gradually, she restored her equilibrium.


Dizzying Highs & Abysmal Lows - TII

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