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For thousands of years, nearly nothing has defined us as a species more than conflict.

As far back as our collective memory can take us, it's always been present in our nature, and, all too often spawns violence. In turn, violence, when allowed to run its course, breeds war.


Some of our earliest artifacts are weapons of war and depictions of their capability, like mounds of human skeletons broken by the swords of relentless warmongers, or the ruins of civilizations destroyed by war's unrespecting capacity. From the legendary battles between Troy and Achaea, through the rise and fall of empires and dynasties over the millennia, to the devastation of the first two World Wars, the tension of the Cold War, with the threat of total nuclear annihilation looming over the world, to the threat's realization in the form of the nigh-apocalyptic World War III, war seems to be a distinct part of who we are. Clearly, throughout history, the greatest threat to humanity's existence has been itself.


Yet, many glamourize and romanticize war. Soldiers and warriors turn into classic heroes fighting for what they believe. Wars become good settings for books, movies, video games. The depraved, morbid, gruesome, and bloody details are often left out, opting for the more ideal qualities of valour, chivalry, and the freedom that war seems to ensure.


For millennia, war has not changed, and some have said that it would never. But it has. On February 22, 2084, the then newly-established International Consortium of Justice and Legislation declared that the Era of Peace had begun. On that date, by order of the International Consortium Mandate, war was declared illegal by international law, and since then no wars have been fought. At least, that is what the official record says.


Since we were no longer focusing on tearing each other down, we used what was left of our resources to rebuild our world. Engineers, scientists, thinkers, builders, artists, and leaders the world over focused on building a new world. This world would be one where, unhindered by infighting, humanity would begin to solve its problems, and cement itself as the universe's first Type I civilization, all thanks to the 180 signatories of the Protocol.


But to enforce a law so sweeping, so drastically against everything humanity is, another organization had to be created. From the ashes of the United Nations, NATO, the European Union's defense forces, the East Asia Summit, the African Union, several failing defense and security companies, the militaries of over 165 countries, and countless other minor agencies, corporations, and treaty organizations - GSEC (the Global Security and Enforcement Corporation) was born. And, while there are those that inevitably dissented, the majority of the world's countries have co-operated with the Corporation's mandate. Instead of engaging in conflict against each other, countries settle their differences humanely, by debate and arbitration, and, in extreme cases, submit to the word of the Consortium and its Director. War has changed. But, this new world is not one without problems. Beneath the surface, tensions are rising. Humanity is growing tired of its legal bonds. Beyond that, despite the Corporation's best efforts, many of the world's largest cities have become pockets for massive organizations of a criminal nature. In a world of near-complete legislation and regulation, only those who live beneath the metaphorical surface can thrive.


The Corporation's legions of Defender Units, completely autonomous humanoid defense robots, roam the streets, and their army of bots scour the Internet searching for any sign of dissent. These measures were put in place in order to protect, though it is unclear what or whom is the object of their protection truly is. But one thing is clear: the Era of Peace has gone on long enough.


--------------------


"Craig.

Wake up, Craig!"


With a flash, a ray of sunshine illumined the room, and as the intensity of his bedroom lights increased, the light burned into his heavy eyelids, breaking his resolve to remain unconscious.


Sighing, Craig opened his brown eyes (which were slightly blood-shot this morning) and began the daily process of freeing them of their gound buildup, brushing a bit of his dark-blond hair off his forehead in the process.


"What time is it?" Craig sleepily inquired.


"8:46 Ante Meridiem," the eerily jovial though perceptibly flustered voice of his trusty aHome W2960, who Craig had recently taken to calling Aldrich, for reasons neither of them seemed to fully grasp, replied through the speaker-clock on his nighttable.


"Well, if that's the case, uh - Hey, wait a minute; why'd you wake me up so early?!"


"It's the Twenty-second of February, Creg," Aldrich voiced while putting a rather undue emphasis on the sibilant section of the statement.


"S-S-Suh, Summit34! Today's the start of Summit34!"


"Aye, that's it."


Rapidly pushing his sheets off, he lifted himself from his supine position, and, scratching an annoying itch on his left shoulder, he observed "I'm about to make the biggest speech of my life in less than an hour, and I'm late before I get out of bed. No thanks to you..."


"Aye, she's not the biggest speech of your life. While I gotta admit it's gonna be a bit of a conference with a lotta big-wigs and political grandees, it's nothing you've never done.

You're the VP of one of the - if not the world's largest defense organizations,and your people love you. You've got nothin' to worry about."


"They only love me because I'm Dad's kid," Craig was quick to riposte, although he truly believed what he said. No one cared about Craig Torrey. It was always Darren Torrey that they cared about. He was the one who started the company that grew into GSEC. He was the one that stood as a beacon of hope in the midst of a tired, war-torn world presenting the solution. And now that he was gone, it just wasn't the same.


"But why am I talking about this - I'm late and no amount of verbalizing the situation is gonna change it," he said as if to clear his mind.


"I have already accounted for this happening, old chap."


"Oh, you got a plan, do you? What, am I supposed to appear via satellite?"


"My, that's not a terrible idea, that is, though I'll admit the networking session following the speeches would be a tad less personal than if you physically arrived. In any case, that isn't m' plan! See, I woke you up with just enough time to skedaddle yourself over to that conference centre, assuming you spend no more than nine minutes getting ready."


"Ni- Only nine? What's with waking me up so late?" Craig wondered as he got up, walked across his bedroom to the door of his walk-in closet, and with a swipe of his hand it opened as he entered.


"Not to rub it in, but taking into account your daily routine, this is actually quite early."


"Don't bring my sleeping habits into this," Craig retorted as he, with several swipes of his left index finger, flipped through the suits hanging on the left wall cabinet and picked out Aldrich's recommended ensemble, choosing a different colour of tie if only out of spite.


"Well, if they were more regular than maybe I-"


"Ah, let it go, will you? What's for breakfast?" he said while attaching his holowatch, clutching his selected suit jacket, tie, shirt, and pair of pants in his left arm.


"Waffles."


"Waffles? For the fourth day in a row? Why don't you ever make me something new for a change?"


"Well, maybe I would if you remembered to input those new recipes into my schema."


"Hah; AI with sass. What will they come up with, next?"


"I'm going to strike that from the official record, thank you very much."


"Uh, hey, I don't mean to question your little plan here, but shouldn't you call Rob and Dave?"


"Oh, I already have. They're a-waitin' out the door."


"What? How long have they been out there?"


"My sensors have been an indicatin' their presence out there for oh, roughly twenty-eight minutes."


"Twen- why didn't you tell me - ah, forget it. I'd better go tell them I'll be out in a few."


"Yes, Craig, I suppose 'twould be a pertinent course o' action."


Before opening his bedroom door, Craig started to slip on his pair of grey dress pants while meandering to the front door through what anyone else would have considered an extremely spacious living room, nearly tripping on his half-pulled-up pant leg in the process.


Suddenly, a glint of light caught his eye as he turned to his huge living room window, which had a rather breathtaking view of the surrounding snow-blanketed cityscape below, and beheld a gargantuan TN-46 carrier, with the now-iconic updated GSEC logo prominently displayed on its fuselage, which seemed to slowly drift through the wispy cirrus clouds above. For a moment, he imagined himself at the bridge, with all the instruments, monitors, and guidance equipment in front of him. This longing made his memory slip back in time, as he envisioned a younger Craig, fresh out of the GSEC Academy's Western Ontario campus, looking to start his career as a pilot, ready to see the world and to chase his dreams above the clouds and maybe even above Earth itself. But, at least in the universe in which he currently resided, this boy would never grow up to be the man that he dreamed of becoming. It wasn't as if he was thoroughly unhappy with the life he was living, but he never fully got over having to become the new head of the company after his father passed. His life of success and prosperity certainly wasn't what it was cracked up to be. Some would kill to be in a life as "easy" and "exciting" as his, but Craig would just as gladly give it up if it meant being able to pursue his real dream of making his own living and being able to settle down and live a quiet life with a family of his own.


But, maybe his dreams were stupid, just unrealistic expectations that can never be met, he thought. His dad would have chimed in right about now saying that they're glimpses of a brighter future that was worth working towards. Maybe. But in any case, now was not the time to ponder such things. He looked down at himself and, upon the realization he was indeed wearing a wrinkled though presentable undershirt, took a glance at the door monitor which confirmed his suspicion: his personal guards were indeed standing in the hallway outside Room A125 of the majestic, neogothic, yet somehow modernist Elmcrest Tower, the pride and joy of the Tri-Cities.


With a tap, he unlocked his apartment's front door which nearly silently slid into the side of the wall.


"Good morning, Mr. Torrey!" remarked the obviously-a-morning-person Robert Bergeron, with his usual, somehow always genuine smile, his dark-grey uniform in rather pristine condition and a travel mug with what Craig could only assume to be his usual coffee with two shots of 10% cream inside in his hand.


"Ya, well I'm running a little late, but I should be out in about ten minutes." replied Craig, as Aldrich could be heard commenting from inside, "No less than eight if he knows what's good for 'im."


"Ah, don't mind him." Craig said with a glance toward the aHome speaker on his solid maple living room table overlooking his massive 220cm aTV. "So, does.. eight minutes work for you?"


"Uh, OK. We'll be right here, sir," Robert replied.


"Alright, then. I'll be back in a bit. Good morning by the way."


As Craig closed his door, Robert turned to his colleague, David Singh, and with one of his signature eyebrow raises, opined jokingly, "Wow. Finally got a good morning from him. That sure took long enough; how long's it been, eleven years?"


"Nah, we've got one from him before, right?"


"Maybe, but they're few and far between to say the very least."


"Ya, but what's a lowly bodyguard supposed to expect from a tycoon like Craig Torrey?" David said with a hint of sarcasm.


"Hey, at least our jobs are easy enough. I mean, who'd ever want to hurt the beloved 'Mr. GSEC?'" said Robert.


"Yeah, though maybe I could deal with a little excitement every now and again. You know, when I got into this line of work I thought I'd be putting my life on the line every day, every day a new adventure. But this job's just been the same old dull routine for a decade. Nice going, David. You really lucked out."


"Oh, please. Look, the man has some enemies. I mean, we've dealt with a ton of angry protesters. And, what about those three would-be assassins? And, what about that time when we were in HQ and those terrorists attacked? Surely that was enough excitement for you. Besides, since when is it not a good day if you don't have to face life-threatening situations?"


"Well, well... OK, you make some good points, Rob. But you have to admit some days it gets a little tedious."


"Fine, I'll agree. But, apparently unlike you, it doesn't bother me that much," Robert said.


After their conversation, the two stood in silence in the ornate hallway of Floor 125 for what seemed like several minutes, each attending to his own holowatch's notification wall. Around this time Dave took a cursory glance at Robert's watch, a ZW14, and felt a subtle sense of jealousy, before a realization dawned on him: his aW4 had technical specifications very similar to the ZW14, and a comparison between the products of Axon and ZeraTech was very akin to a comparison of, well -


Before he could finish that thought, Craig's door slid open yet again, and he exited his apartment and began walking down the hall to the main elevator. Dave snapped out of his momentary thought train, and, realizing Craig and Robert had already walked halfway to the elevator, picked up his pace to stay close.


Meanwhile, across town, at the newly-opened Jubilee Convention and Meeting Centre, the tension was rising. Thousands of guests had already started to enter the so-called "Crown Jewel of the Centre," Hall D2. As person after person flooded through the entrance corridors, the true scale of Summit34 was beginning to dawn on 23-year-old Dwight Martin, the junior security coordinator of the facility that day, who was standing near the stage overlooking the vast, theatre-style seating gallery, which looked to him to hold more people than he had ever seen in one place.


"Hey, Martin!" A deep, vociferous voice caught him off-guard. As he turned his head to discover its source, he felt a suprising-yet-oddly-comforting hand tap his shoulder. "So, how's it goin'? Lotsa people, huh?"


"Oh, hi Mr. Andersson. Ya, it's quite the crowd," said Dwight as he looked behind him at Troy Andersson, the senior security coordinator, who was essentially his boss, or at least the next in his "chain of command," as Troy affectionately called it.


"Hey, have you seen anybody famous, yet?" Troy asked.


"Um, Don't think so... I think most people here are mid-level GSEC and government employees like us."


"Ha; well, they better be! It's our summit after all. Oh, say, if you look over there you can catch a glimpse of the Director. She's lookin' like her normal self - grim and unemotional as ever. And get a load of that crazy hat!"


"That's the director of the IC? Adah Ritonga?" he asked with an outstretched index finger to who he believed to be her.


"What? No, not her. Over there," Troy said as he pointed toward the actual Director, a middle-aged east-Asian woman with large, circular glasses who, either because of her position or her personality, appeared somber and very stressed. Her outfit seemed to add to her emotional state, as she was arrayed in a long black dress with an equally-sweart cloche hat with a black rose decorating it. At the sight of her, Dwight gulped, partly because of how utterly dour she looked, and partly because he knew she was the current director of the International Consortium, the most powerful government body in the world, and she was, (save for the personal guards that sat beside, in front of, and behind her) at least partially under his protection. "Woah, you're right. Hey, Mr. Andersson, I really wasn't expecting this. This - this whole hall is filling up with people - really important people. And a lot of them, at that."


"So, you think you can handle it?"


"Well, uh- I was kinda hoping you'd show up. This, it's the biggest thing I've ever done."


"Eh, don't sweat it, kid. Stay in this industry and you'll be protecting princes, generals, music idols, corporate big-shots, and presidents," Troy said confidently, as he too stared out into the filling hall to try to come to grips with the immense scale of the conference. While he knew Dwight was near the top of his class in the University of Toronto's BSec program, and that he was expertly trained under one of his former co-workers, Miles Pritchard, he still had a sense of uneasiness. Perhaps it was because he saw Dwight as a younger, more naive version of himself. Or maybe, maybe he just had a bad gut feeling about today. He rarely had them, but when he did he they seldom came for no reason.


"Sure, but you have to admit this is a lot for a newbie like me," Martin replied after what seemed to Troy like several minutes.


"Maybe. But if things get weird, you always got the DUs to back you up," mentioned Troy as he pointed towards a few of the heavily-armed GSEC security robots stationed at the door, and his personal uneasiness subsided partially at the sight of them.


Sighing, Dwight nodded in agreement, adding, "Just hope we won't have to use them. At least not today..."


Just then, a buzz and beeping tone came from Troy's communicator. He unclipped the blocky antennaed unit from his belt, stared at the screen momentarily, then depressed the call switch on the third attempt (after mumbling something about the bad design of the tiny toggle and how it always took him several tries to use it) before finally raising it to his ear.


"This is Troy. So, where's the fault?"


By this time Dwight was making quick, nervous glances toward Troy, digging his nails into his left palm while hoping against hope that Troy didn't have to leave him running the show alone.


"Aw, come on. You don't need me to come check on that." There was a pause.


"Y- You need me, don't ya? Alright, fine, fine. I'll come down there and take a look at it.'. No, it's not a big deal." Looking at Dwight he added the dreadful sentence, "He'll be fine. I'll be down in a bit, see you in a few, Tracy."


Troy ended the call, and, placing the comm unit back on his belt, turned to Dwight and said, "Looks like Tracy needs me in the "bowels" of the Centre to fix something in the old security systems. You can manage here, right?"


This was Dwight's chance. All he had to do was convince Troy that there was a good reason to stay up with him. He made rapid glances throughout the crowd, almost hoping to see a fight or similar incident occur that would give him excuse to keep Troy there, as he could say something about how his crisis management skills weren't what they should be or something. Just something. Anything! But Troy was waiting, and had been for what must have been at least 15 seconds. Knowing he had to start, Dwight opened his mouth and blurted "Well, to be honest, I, uh..."


"Aw, you'll be fine. Just keep an eye on things, use your comm if you really need me. I better not have to come back up because of something you could handle. And if things really get bad and you can't get ahold of me, here's the controller for the bots." Troy pulled a small, black square from his pocket and handed it to Dwight, who cautiously closed his hand around it and nearly dropped it when the device activated and the holograph buzzed inside his hand, after which he quickly opened his hand to reveal the unit's holographic interface, which displayed in large letters AUTHENTICATION REQUIRED.


"Careful. This thing automatically activates when it senses extreme stress. You feeling okay, Martin?"


"Oh, uh, I- I'm fine. Just need to calm down a bit; this crowd's making me anxious."


"You think something's gonna happen?" Troy asked.


Yes! Here was Dwight's chance! He had to choose his next words wisely.


"No- well, I'm not sure. Something about this whole conference just makes me uneasy."


"I feel ya. But you'll get used to the stress soon enough; trust me. Look, I better get going; there's a fault in the security systems downstairs and for some reason they only want me to look at it. Man, once people know you're good at something you'll never hear the end of it. Oh, I should probably show you how to use that thing."


"The controller?" Dwight asked, desperately trying to at least postpone Troy's departure, as he really didn't want to handle the entire security situation on his own, without the decades of experience he knew Mr. Andersson had.


"Yep. Okay, so right here it wants authentication. Since this is my personal remote I just hold it up to my face while holding my index finger over it so the sensors in there read my eyes and heart or whatever. But since you're gonna be using it I'll put it on sudo mode."


"Sudo mode?"


"Ya. I just enter the admin password and it lets anyone use it for a bit. Give it here and I'll set it up for ya."


"O- K. Here you go, Mr. Andersson."


"You can call me Troy, ya know? But, I guess I don't really mind a "Mr." every now and then." After a few taps and swipes, he said, "There, it's all config'ed and ready to go if you need it; just clip it onto your watch's expansion port and the interface will pop up. Alright, here ya go; I gotta zip."


"Um... OK. See you later."


Troy began to walk away, leaving Dwight the only security manager for the entire hall. The people who ran the JCC prided themselves on having top-of-the-line automated security equipment. In fact, they were so convinced that the Centre's systems would be able to protect the Centre's guests from any threat that they had purposefully hired less than twenty people to manage the entire system. The newly-delivered Units (which, of course, displayed the logo of their manufacturer, ZeraTech) were said to be the latest and greatest in human-like automated defense and crisis mitigation technology. Dwight frankly had his doubts, but he did know what we was getting into when he applied for this job, though he didn't think he'd actually get chosen for it. Although, he thought, maybe there was a reason why they hired him straight out of training: maybe they were desperate.


Mostly frightened, though also a bit excited, he stared into the massive crowd that had formed in the huge room. As the sunlight poured through the all-glass ceiling, he took a deep breath, and reluctantly looked behind him to see Troy exit the hall through one of the two exits several metres to his rear. To his right he beheld the main stage, where the opening keynote was about to be given, or so the schedule had said. But a quick check of his watch revealed that that may not be the case, as no one was even on the stage yet, and the speech was set to begin in two minutes. Dwight started to worry about that as well, then, realizing that wasn't in his job description, he breathed a sigh of relief. As Craig Torrey, the Vice President of GSEC and the Chair of GSEC North America, finally stepped onto the stage several minutes later, Martin slyly muttered to himself, "And so it begins..."

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Matthew Piercey
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Author Works

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