Chapter 24: Unexpected News
People could not believe the news. But it was all very much true.
Ace had stopped hundreds of kerchu prisoners that day from their escape, completely stumping the Polaris Police who worked and helped keep control of the prison. They were especially amazed and impressed with his actions that were actually captured on the security cameras, and they couldn’t leave Ace without a reward of some sort - despite him being a prisoner serving a sentence for murder.
He didn’t ask for much though; just some nanotech that he was given without hesitation, since he had some bad burns on him from helping stop the prisoners escaping.
The guards were more cautious now with the kerchu; making sure that they were nowhere near the live wires within the walls and security equipment, much unlike last time.
But the prison breakout attempts didn’t stop there.
Just weeks after the kerchu attempt, the Space Pirates tried a similar break out twice within the same week and again, Ace was nearby to help aid the guards in halting their escape with his clever tactics and skills.
To Ace, this was fun. Prison life often got boring - sometimes he didn’t get a chance to talk with anyone during the day. So getting a chance to fight for a purpose was a good and refreshing change.
Though sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder if the new guards in Zordoom were a bit too… soft in comparison to the drophyds. Either that or if the new prisoners were simply more dangerous and desperate for escape.
Probably a bit of both….
Ace believed that he was going to be spending the rest of his days here - so he didn’t mind lending a hand when times got tough for the guards. It added a spark to his relatively calm and monotonous life in Zordoom prison.
Though as more months passed by, the Polaris Police had different views on how Ace should spend the rest of his life. Or at least a few of them did, as they debated and raged on with the Judge of Igliak and other officers within the force…
”Don’t you people understand? He is a prisoner, a criminal. Despite what he has done for you, there is no reason for him to be released at such an early stage.”
”But madam, have you not seen the security HV footage of him taking on the disorderly prisoners? It is incredible!”
”Yes, yes, I know but… he wasn’t put into prison for no reason. Remember what he did 4 years ago? He killed people for sport, and not just ordinary citizens; superheroes in fact.”
”But what if he has changed?”
”But what if he’s just doing all these things to try and weed his way OUT of prison?”
”But what if it was Gleeman Vox that forced him to?”
”But what about the fact that he didn’t try to escape, even though he had quite a lot of opportunities to do so during those breakouts…”
”Okay enough! We need to come to a final conclusion. Let’s start this one by one, shall we?”
Judean the judge in the room shouted. She sighed in annoyance and looked down, deep in thought.
”So Keith, tell me about the experience you and Marcus had to endure during the first ‘breakout’”
”Well Miss. First we were tied up and had tape put over our mouths by the kerchu - who had somehow managed to put together an EMP-type device, causing our communication services to become faulty. Hardlight was walking by and he noticed us, and immediately untied the ropes…”
”Yeah, he did. And only just a few seconds after, a huge explosion detonated just metres away from us! We stumbled over but Ace didn’t leave us there as the smoke came past us. He actually took the both of us away to a safe distance. If he hadn’t come earlier, we would have been as good as dead”
”Is that so? How very… intriguing. I think I have already heard everyone’s experience, but it does stump me as to why he would even help you all to begin with. So tell me, he once was a murderous gladiator on some reality holovision show?”
Everyone in the room nodded. Judean simply could not understand. Something was missing, and she wanted to know what it was.
”I think I am missing some vital information on this inmate. Are you sure there isn’t anything else he once did; besides killing superheroes?”
”Madam! I know now; I remember hearing rumours that he once was a great superhero, several years ago… I’ll have to look into that though, since I am unsure if it is true, to be honest”
”It is true! Because I remember hearing of his successes in the Thyrullian and Solana galaxies. But I don’t understand why he turned bad though… maybe he was manipulated by wealth and fame?”
This information caught the Judge’s interest and her eyebrow rose. People in Polaris didn’t know much about Ace, besides him being a gladiator on DreadZone.
*sigh* ”this is very complicated… I simply cannot decide on what to do with him. I’ll need more information on this man before I know for sure if he is truly changing into a better person. Or if he is just plotting something sinister…”
”Maybe I can help”
A male voice spoke out from the doorway of the room, surprising everyone as they were in a private conference room on the capital planet Igliak - where no unauthorized personal were allowed entry, or even several metres near the room itself.
But this man was allowed.
He stood there; holding out his Polaris Police Force badge to prove it.
Back on planet Viceron where Zordoom prison was located, it felt as if it were an ordinary day for Ace Hardlight.
Darkness shrouded the planet in the early hours of the morning; most lights were out in the containment cell area of Sector nine. Ace lay there in his cell in an undisturbed sleep. Well, at least until his cell was opened up without any kind of warning.
”Wake up, 510D. Hardlight, Ace”
A pair of guards stood at the doorway of his cell, waiting for Ace to wake from the noises they were making.
It didn’t take long for him to turn himself over and raise his head. Ace was baffled to see the guards standing there, rubbing his eyes to get a better view of them.
”Apparently, you’re a free man on parole. So I would hurry now if I were you”
Ace went blank immediately; blinking back at the guards for a few seconds before standing up and walking over to them. He stretched out his arms before questioning.
”…what? Okay, I am in no mood for random jokes. I would rather get back to sleep if you don’t mind-“
”It is no joke, Hardlight. Come with us, you’ll see…”
The guards both turned around and gestured Ace to follow them. He wasn’t sure what else to do – besides obey. And so he did, following them instead of staying behind.
It was around 5am in the morning on this planet, and Ace yawned, still slightly groggy from being woken so early. He felt quite bored, walking between the two guards down the hallways and up the elevator shafts.
”Okay I think you two are mistaken. I am serving a life sentence here… there is no way I’m free to go. It doesn’t make any sense…”
The guards didn’t respond this time. Ace could only shift his eyes at their ignorance, and give off an annoyed sigh.
What is wrong with these idiots…
The three of them entered the final elevator cabin, the one that will lead them up to the first level - Sector one - of the prison. Ace hadn’t been up here ever since his arrival at Zordoom four years ago. He was truly bored now, still bothered about being taken out of his cell without a notification what-so-ever. He knew that he’d just end up back down there again, after the authorities realize their mistake. At least that’s what he thought anyway.
The elevator finally came to a halt at the top, stopping suddenly. The guards were standing still with Ace centred in the middle. And the doorway opened up from the sides, slowly but surely.
The guards walked out of the shaft with Ace following by; looking down at the steel floor. He was very quiet, and uninterested with what was going on around him. The guards moved away from his sides however and then he looked up, finding it odd how they were no longer leading him towards the place they intended.
But his thoughts swiftly changed as his attention suddenly switched to something else in a distance, ahead of him.
He stood there frozen, wide eyed. His heart also stopped for a moment…
A trio of familiar faces awaited him in a distance. I was almost too hard to believe; in fact, he didn’t believe it. Perhaps this was another freakish dream?
They walked up closer to him slowly and he was simply too astonished to do anything now; be it a dream or not.
The plump, robotic woman in the middle rushed up to him quickly and greeted him with a kindly hug. It was so sudden that he was too overwhelmed to even respond, but he felt the embrace – that’s for sure.
”You ARE alive…! Oh how much we missed you…”
Now he knew for sure that this was real. The metal embrace was all too familiar, from a long time back. It was Bettilena, as well as Kurt Swiftblade and Aster Aftershock – people he thought he would never see again. Bettilena still looked exactly the same, but Aster and Kurt had changed; no longer wearing superhero outfits, and they had aged slightly over the years.
He was unsure how to respond to this affection, thus Betty stopped - taking a step back to look up at Ace, who was quite a lot taller than she was. He was still too baffled to say anything in return.
Kurt walked up to them, stopping just short of him to give him a nod and a slight smile,
”Greetings Ace. It has been a long time… hasn’t it?”
He held out his hand in a form of a handshake. Ace was still speechless, but he slowly placed out his hand as well, accepting his handshake.
”Yes… it has…”
”It is good to see that you are still alive though, and kicking. Even better to hear of the helping hand you’ve been lending my old friends…”
Kurt told him, continuing to give off a welcoming grin.
Ace felt so awkward. He wasn’t sure if he was happy to see them again, or if he was truly uncomfortable with this reunion. He took in a deep breath before saying,
”I am… sorry if I seem a bit silent. It is just that… I never thought I would get to see any of you again. This all just came out of nowhere…”
”Aww Ace, don’t worry; we understand. We are delighted to even get to glimpse of you. Come on Aster, come say hello!”
Bettilena turned to Aster and beckoned him to come closer. Somehow, Ace could notice the uncertainty in Aster’s expression. But despite that, the blarg still smiled.
”Good to see you again, Ace”
He placed out his hand as well to shake hands with Ace.
Ace began to feel more at ease now, coming to realize how friendly they were towards him, even after all the horrible things he did; which he knew he’d have to apologise for any time soon.
Aster and Bettilena then turned around, waiting for Kurt to do the same as he continued to look at Ace. Kurt observed the differences in Ace’s appearance since he last saw him in person more than 10 years ago; when Ace was just 17 years old. Along with the scars, he looked a lot rougher, bigger and more mature looking.
Kurt wanted to know for sure if Ace had changed since DreadZone though, and Ace could notice this in Kurt’s eyes, with the wary and curious expression.
”Well Ace, come this way. You’ll be joining us shortly”
Ace’s jaw dropped a bit.
”What… why? Even after-“
”Yes, we know what you did. All of us do. But the authorities have given us permission to rehabilitate you on parole. I was once part of the Polaris Police Force you know, many years ago. This is the galaxy me and Bettilena came from”
Ace now remembered. He knew that Kurt was once a police officer and it all made sense now. Kurt walked over to Betty and Aster, giving off Ace a hint to follow them. He didn’t want to offend them and so he followed.
Ace, Betty and Aster waited outside an office that Kurt was in, having a discussion with the other officers inside. It took a while, and the sun was already shining outside, with the light gleaming through the windows. But it didn’t appear to bother Ace, since he was now fully awake and still quite astounded by what was going on.
Kurt came out from the office after several minutes. He was also holding onto crate, that had Ace’s inmate number printed on the front of it. Walking over towards Ace, he handed it to him,
”These are your belongings”
Ace took a look inside the crate and he was quite stumped with what he saw.
His HL Launcher was in here, in the same condition as he last saw it. But not only that, his DreadZone outfit was even in here too, along with the armour pieces.
”Why did they keep these?”
”Well, like with all prisoners… they keep their belongings. Just in case they were to be released later on or be used as evidence. And they found your belongings to be relatively harmless, so they kept them locked away in here”
Ace peered down into the box again. He didn’t want to look at that outfit though, as it gave him bad memories of his time at DreadZone, accompanied with a slight feeling of guilt.
Instead, he took out the HL Launcher, examining it carefully and placing it into his hand. It was still functional - the blue lights in the centre switched on as soon as it detected his warm palm, holding it up by the handle of the weapon. He turned a switch on the side, allowing it to lock up and compact away into its smaller form.
For some reason he felt that he should keep it. It was something he built as a teenager, so it had some personal value to him.
”I don’t want the rest”
Kurt looked a bit surprised with Ace’s response, but he took the crate from him and looked down into the box. He grinned slightly, noticing that Ace no longer wanted his DreadZone belongings. He took it over to a disposal shaft and pushed it in. It vanished down the chute.
Kurt walked back towards Ace and the others, leading the way for them as they headed outside of the prison.
Ace was still quite speechless with all that was happening. He still found it difficult to speak with them. Kurt and the other two former superheroes realized this too – giving Ace time to think to himself.
They walked down a docking platform towards the parking area, where a few other spaceships were seen. Kurt opened up a small shuttle ahead of him.
He followed them in and walked inside. He realized this was a transport ship – to take them up to their main spaceship. Ace went in to sit down on one of the chairs, close to the window on the far left. Betty came to sit in the chair next to him, giving him a warm smile as he looked back, noticing her presence. Kurt went to sit in the pilot seat in front while Aster sat near Betty.
Ace still couldn’t look anybody in the eye for long. It was too hard… but he couldn’t stand being silent for much longer. He wanted to know why they were doing this.
”Why did you come back for me?”
”Because you’re family”
Kurt replied, already starting up the engine of the shuttle and piloting it up off the ground. Ace looked up at him now, feeling a slight bit of comfort from his response.
”After we found out you were alive in Zordoom prison, we wanted to see how you were doing. And when we heard of your good behaviour in prison… I helped convince the Judge to let you out, as a test for rehabilitation”
Ace felt very unsure about all of this. He was a prisoner, a murderer even. He felt as if he didn’t deserve this second chance.
”But why? Even after my involvement with DreadZone?”
”Do not forget about the good deeds you did in life, Ace. Nothing changes the fact that you saved millions of citizens during your time as a superhero, defeated General Devan, and saved the Bogon and Thyrullian galaxies…”
”But that still doesn’t change the fact that I’m a murderer…”
”Yes, I know. But now you have a chance to redeem yourself… and helping the guards in prison was a great start. You even put your own life on the line”
”I only did it… because…”
Ace trailed off, not too sure with how to respond. He wasn’t even entirely sure why he bothered help the guards. Maybe it was just for the thrill of it? Even though he did risk his life, and receive injuries in the process.
”You don’t need to be a superhero, but you can become a good person again if you try… as a Galactic Mercenary. Like me nowadays. But I must warn you though. If you ever commit a serious criminal offence again, you will get the death sentence. As I was told by the Judge on Igliak…”
Ace could only think about what Kurt had said. Quite obviously, Ace didn’t want to be a gladiator again, nor was he in any mood to go around killing people out of spite. He simply wasn’t like that anymore - he didn’t even kill any of the prisoners during his time at Zordoom. No matter how rude and cruel they were.
”I won’t anyway…that’s not what I do anymore”
”That’s good to know”
Kurt was already piloting the ship out of the atmosphere of Viceron now. Ace looked out the window and saw the prison become small and faint in the distance. And eventually, he could see the round shape of the planet from the views of space.
As they were now further from the planet, Ace turned around to look ahead of him, seeing Kurt fly the ship up towards a larger one – that looked a lot like the old Sonic Starfighter. He started to remember what Slim Cognito told him in prison a year earlier, remembering that the Sonic 6 were sentenced to 10 years community service. Ace felt bad about this, and he looked down.
”I just wanted to say… that I am sorry. I regret ever leaving you, and it will always be my mistake. Clearly I can’t change what I’ve done at DreadZone, but I’ll never make those kinds of decisions again. Either way, I am relieved to see that you are well. I had no clue what happened with you guys after all this time”
”Oh Ace… I forgive you. And I’m sure everybody else in the team will too…”
Betty replied, looking over at him and smiling. Ace found it a bit hard to smile back though, but he did slightly, appreciating her kindness.
”I am very happy to hear that from you, Ace. I appreciate it. But I must advise you that the rest of the team probably won’t be as forgiving and welcoming as we are”