Panko

I feel like such an idiot. I destroyed my life. Shot it, stabbed it, even blew it up. Now I’m rotting in prison, and I deserve what I got. Life sentence, only because the death penalty is outlawed in this star system.

I served four terms as a designated marksman in New Babylon. Not a sniper, mind you. Those are the guys who go off alone and call-in airstrikes, scout and harass the enemy. I was attached to a squad, watching their backs, providing long-range direct fire in support of my team.

My last tour, one of my squad mates, Corporal Walton, introduced me to Panko. It’s a reference to breadcrumbs, which is itself reference to some ancient fairytale they used to tell kids to keep them from wandering off and talking to strangers. I wish I’d paid more attention when my parents had told me. Would’ve kept me from deep diving into the Panko conspiracy theory.

I got hooked. It made too much sense. The politics of war, the economy, the way all our politicians lie and rob us blind. It was more than that. It was a community of vets. A place where you could say the kind of things you’d get disciplined for in real life. Free speech, political incorrectness, a real open forum.

The truth in it all through was that we were all slaves. Slaves for work, cannon fodder, or sex. It had evidence, leaked documents. They laid out the whole thing, Command Intelligence, The Children of Ibreheim Religion, and the Socialist Party were all a Cabal designed to traffic children to pedophiles.

I couldn’t resist diving in too far. I joined the military to protect the weak and downtrodden. I’d spent years of my life humping in the desert getting blown up and shot at and although it wasn’t all action, it was boredom more than anything, digging holes just to fill them back up, passing out Soccer-Balls and bottles of water and candy to kids. But I was still out there, every day, waiting for a plasma mortar to come screaming out of the sky onto our position.

That’s when I found the Vali. It was a subgroup within Panko. Named for an ancient god of retribution or revenge or something like that. We were the guys who were going to do something about it. We weren’t going to suffer the Cabal’s plan to take the world. We would fight back, and we would do it with the skills that they gave us fighting their wars.

After a few months, a man contacted me. It was at O’Sullivans, a pub I went to after work regularly. He was wearing a tailored suit and recently shined shoes. The whole get up must’ve been six months of my pay. He flashed a Homeworld Security badge at me, but didn’t give me enough time to read the name or check the face. Should’ve been my first warning, but that’s how they always do it in the holoprojector films.

“Corporal McClintock, I’ve been looking for you.”

“What’s this about?”

“Are you familiar with a group known as the Vali?”

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” The group was very anti-government. It wasn’t a crime to participate, but I figured he was here to investigate something. I was wrong.

“You are. Let’s cut the crap. We’ve seen your record, we’ve read you writings on the various Panko and Vali forums. We know your heart is in the right place…”

“… but?”

“But what?”

“I just assumed you were gonna say but.”

“No. We were going to ask how far you are willing to go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Myself, some of my fellow agents, we don’t like what is going on. What our peers are doing, what our bosses are doing, what the politicians are doing.”

“And?”

“And we’re tired of the red tape. The inability to arrest, the laws designed to protect abusers and trap victims. The national security protections. All of it.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“Your longest confirmed kill was at two thousand meters, wasn’t it?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well, don’t make me spell it out for you.”

“I’m not a killer for hire.”

“We wouldn’t pay you, anyway.”

“Then what’s in it for me?”

“Say, there’s a guy, a real dirtbag, you know the type. You read about them online every day, claim you wish you knew real names, real places, had true, hard intel. That’s what I’m offering you. A chance to do something about it. Real. Hard. Intel.”

“This sounds an awful lot like entrapment.”

“Then you know I can’t legally arrest you for planning to kill someone I told you to kill.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch. I give you names and where to find them. You do the rest. You get caught, I don’t exist. It’s that simple.”

“I’m in.” I said, a naïve fool. He gave me my first target. I feel no remorse for killing him. The target was a hovercab driver. I can’t even remember his name. The cabbie sidelined as a pimp. I saw him do it during my preparation, so I know he was guilty. Lived in an old apartment building riddled with drug users. All the cameras were sabotaged by the dealers. He pimped out young women looking to get high, and I broke in one night, shot him and tossed the place to make it look like a burglar looking for drugs. Easy pickings.

That’s how it started at first. The targets were all dirtbags. Real pimps, real drug dealers, guys with tattoos up and down their faces. I must’ve killed a hundred of them. Then the assignments got more subtle. I was sent after cops, allegedly crooked cops. Heck, even a judge.

The last target, the one that got me caught, was a Command Intelligence analyst. One assigned to investigate my alleged Homeworld Security agent. It didn’t throw them off our trail. They busted him, he sold me out. I never talked against him. I thought I was protecting my brothers, my fellow Vali. I didn’t know he sold me out. Not until he testified at my trial.

Turns out, he was a mid-level enforcer of the Chinglanic Cartel. My targets were all targets of the cartel. The criminals I’d killed were all rivals, or had fallen behind on protection payments, or the like. The cops I’d killed were the ones who had refused bribes, or busted cartel members.

The Vali, the whole thing, we were all puppets of a gang. We thought we were protecting women and children, really we were working for their oppressors. Ignorant soldiers fighting for our enemies instead of against them. I can’t believe I was so stupid.


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I've been playing around in my mind with various conspiracies I could tack onto the reason for the existence of a certain Q-'nonsense theory. The idea of a cartel using it to manipulate someone into unwittingly becoming a hitman for them was too compelling not to make a story about. What are your thoughts on it? Comment below.

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