Monday, September 30, 2013

Hazardous Duty 37-38

Chapter 37

April 1st, 1730 hours, Building 4412:   Most of the soldiers of the Provisional Security Company stood in two platoon formations in front of the Class D house picked by Thanos at random. “Listen up, people!” Colonel Obermeyer said loudly to the Special Purpose operators and Aggressors.
   “We will enjoy our shared training experience to its fullest. However, there are certain rules that must be obeyed if you don’t want my foot in your ass!
   “First rule is no contact weapons other than prod-sticks and spin-knives. Second rule is no crippling or killing blows! Third rule is both sides get the packet for two minutes before entry, then the packet gets deleted when your systems are shut down.
   “Those who have previously fought may observe from the right side of the house. Mingling is encouraged!
   “Finally, after the challenge fight, it is over! I don’t want to hear any bitching, backbiting, or fighting between you afterwards! We are a team. We still have a mission to do, and we will do it! Clear?”
   “CLEAR!”

***

   Tonya stood with Jon and Anya on the back side of the house. The operators waited around the front of the house. “Remember, they’re going to swarm you if they can, just like we would. If they try that, work it so only one can get to you!” Jon said.
   “I’m gonna kill them!” Tonya growled as Larsen signaled her to enter the building. Tonya walked to the back door, drew her knife, then entered.
   Jon was suddenly grateful Tonya only had a training knife.

***

   “How’s it going?” Fyodor asked Orel, who tapped into the monitor systems in the house.
   “About to make contact. Looks like they’re going to try an ambush when she opens the attic door,” Orel announced in disbelief.
   “Do they think really they’re going to get away with that?” Fyodor asked. “She’ll check the bedroom first.”
   “Who knows?” Orel replied.
   “They must need the two extra real bad to pull a stunt like that,” Fyodor quipped.
   “They do,” Duvalier laughed as he watched Sergeant Ochoa come into view.

***

   Tonya caught Ochoa in the “fatal funnel.” The doorway restricted the large Sergeant’s movement, and she took advantage of it.
   Tonya delivered an ear-piercing cry of rage as she slashed Ochoa’s suit several times across the stomach and right arm before he got through the door.
   Tonya used her rage to good advantage as she pulled him out of the doorway and brought the fight to Cohen. Tonya drew her prod-stick with her left hand and used it to block his vicious thrust. She reversed the prod-stick so its length ran down her forearm.
   Dropping to her knees, she held her left hand up to gain more protection from the prod-stick. Cohen made a quick slash downwards to feel his wrist go numb as she smacked his wrist with her prod-stick.
   Cursing, Cohen made a final downwards slash as Tonya slashed his suit viciously across the thighs and stomach before the helmets were turned on.

***

   “Aggressor versus the Deadly Duo! Aggressor, enter the building and prepare to engage trespassers,” Larsen said.
   Anya faced Jon. “Remember to play nice with the kiddies, rearrange the furniture, share your toys and no vivisectioning,” she said with a broad grin as she mockingly straightened Jon’s suit.
   “Deadly Duo, enter and engage!”

***

   Jon selected the upper hallway as his killing zone. As he went through the house moved a tattered chair from the left side to the right side of the hallway. Then he stepped into the bathroom and waited.

***
   Thanos easily negated Jon’s furniture rearrangement by holding his hand out at waist level. Thanos made a soft clicking noise with his lips, barely audible.
   Obermeyer understood the tone of the “click” and stepped around Thanos, her free hand held out as she took the point position.
   Jon stuck his left hand barely into the hallway and pushed the button on the backup handlight Aggressors carried.
   The high-powered light hit his opponent’s clear visors perfectly. Thanos was switching the focus from right to left when the 150,000 candlepower light destroyed his night vision.
   Jon slid into the hallway, aiming his light at Obermeyer’s face as he closed in. She blocked the light with her free hand while she reacted with a slash attack. Jon deftly threw the light at Thanos as he slid to Obermeyer’s left and slashed her left waist by the kidney, then pushed her away with his left hand.
   Thanos instinctively thrust his blade a second too late as several blue marks appeared on his forearm. Jon moved to Thanos’ right and pushed him towards the wall, delivering several slashes across his waist and upper back.
   As Obermeyer went forward, the impact of her foot hitting the weak floor was enough to break through the rotting wood.
   Jon realized instantly what was happening. “Help!” he cried as he threw his spin-knife aside and grabbed Colonel Obermeyer’s shoulder. Jon felt his balance being pulled forward until he felt a muscular hand grab a fistful of soft suit and hold tightly as they stopped Obermeyer’s fall at chest level.
   “I got you!” Thanos said reassuringly.
   “Rescuers in!” Larsen shouted as she reactivated the helmets.
   “Are you okay?” Jon asked Obermeyer.
   “I’m fine,” Obermeyer said.
   “Do you feel a burning or tingling sensation?” Jon asked.
   “No. My suit isn’t breached,” Obermeyer said as she stretched her arms on the floor beside her.
   “What does it look like?” Orel asked he ran up the stairs, followed by Anya.
   “She’s in to the chest, intact suit. Some of the wood is angled downwards so we can’t pull her up. Fyo, I need the five by ten with the pulley. Tonya, bring the saw.”
   “Human support?” Fyo asked as he pulled the precut three-meter length of wood and pulley out of the protective sleeve on the side of the wood shop.
   “Yeah,” Jon grunted as Orel and Anya approached them.
   “You two get on either side of me. Fyo, hurry up!”
   “Coming up!” Fyodor said as he maneuvered the thick wood in his hands. Orel grabbed the free end of the wood and passed it over to Anya, who put it on her shoulder. Fyo threaded a length of extrication rope through the pulley and tied it to Obermeyer’s rescue ring.
   He took the slack out, and then sat in the bathroom, put his feet against the doorframe and held the rope tightly.
   “Got her!” Fyodor said.
   “Okay, pull me up,” Jon said. After being pulled upright, he pointed to Thanos. “I want you to take over for Anya.”
   Thanos stood behind Anya, squatted slightly, then raised up to take the weight off of Anya. “I have it,” Thanos said quickly.
   Anya quickly moved away from the beam.
   “Tonya, do your thing,” Jon said. “Anya, go downstairs and keep an eye on her.”
   Tonya started the electric cutter and began to cut away the wood holding Obermeyer.
   “How you doing, Fyo?” Jon asked as he looked over his shoulder.
   “Fine. Could do this all day!”
   “Thanos, how you doing?”
   “Carried her before, no big deal!”
   “Orel?”
   “Not a problem.”
   Tonya sat the cutter down. “Pick time,” she said as she started to scoop pieces of wood and floorboard away from Obermeyer. Jon likewise removed cut pieces and tossed them aside. In a moment there was a 3-centimeter gap between Obermeyer and the floor surrounding her.
   “She’s clear here!” Tonya said.
   “Clear below!” Anya said as she looked up.
   “Down, Fyo!” Jon ordered.
   Fyodor lowered Obermeyer down slowly.
   Anya grabbed Obermeyer’s waist. “I got her!” she said as she guided Obermeyer down to the floor, then untied the rope from her rescue ring. “She’s clear!” she announced. “How are you feeling, Colonel?”
   “Fine. My ankle is a little sore, but it could have been worse. Thank you,” Obermeyer said sincerely as she looked at Anya.
   “Everyone but Rescue Team, pick up tools and wood and head out. Rescue Team, update the packet. This building just earned a Class F status.”

***

   After debriefing, Jon stopped by his room to get a pack of nicstics. He turned on his computer and grabbed his nicstics from his locker as the incoming mail tone sounded. Jon opened up his mailbox.
   A letter from Mia waited for him. It was dated February 16th. He sat down and opened it.
   “Dear Jon,
   I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just say it.
   I’m alive, but not well. I love you, but I can’t be around you. This will be the last E-mail I send. To answer one important question, there is nobody else. I’m going elsewhere to find myself again.
   When I look at your picture, or even imagine your smiling face, I see what I saw when I was trapped. It is not your fault, but my weakness.
   After much prayer and contemplation, I have come to realize that this is the Goddess’ punishment for my sins, real and imagined. I was not perfect in my love to you, and my punishment is to have touched Perfection and be denied it until I am worthy of love once more.
   I release you from your Bond, and thank you sincerely for honoring your Bond.
   If you love me, please let me find my way back to the Goddess’ favor. Find someone worthy of your love and continue your path in life without me.
Mia”

   Jon took a deep breath and thought of Mia and all she had meant to him.
   Jon realized he had been living in denial. His mental image of his life with Mia had not accounted for the brutal reality of a military career.
   She could have died that day. Or died later. I’d still be alone, he thought as he opened his eyes. At least she’s alive and getting better. I would rather have that than know she’s gone.
   “May you find the Perfection you seek,” Jon said as his world shattered.

***

   Due to the secrecy of the operation, the graduating Special Purpose troops could not go to Five North to celebrate. General Thompson approved an alcohol waiver and several kegs of beer were brought to the Knife Combat Training Room.
   The two groups had taken measure of the other and found them acceptable comrades in arms. Walking through the party was comparable to changing channels on the holovision.
   “--told him that if my point man knew how the mine was camouflaged, he would have avoided it rather than setting it off! The FREAK didn’t get it.”
   “They never do.”
   “--No, you’re wrong, dude! The Asterians don’t have a chance for the Alliance Series this year. Fetterman’s arm isn’t healed yet. My kid throws harder than Fetterman does now!”
   “--hate the newer Firestars. They got that itty bitty engine and the battery range sucks! Get yourself an older Firestar and order the long-life batts from Enduro.”
   Orel talked with Anya and Duvalier as Thanos joined them.
   “Where’s Walker? Colonel is talking about a rematch!” Thanos laughed.
   “He said he was going to get some nicstics,” Orel replied.
   “Okay,” Thanos said. He turned and headed towards Tonya and two operators who clearly had one thing on their mind.

***

   Jon entered the room unnoticed and tapped Orel’s shoulder. “Got a moment?”
   “Sure. Let’s go outside,” Orel said as they stepped out of the room and into the passageway. “What’s up?”
   “I just heard from Mia. She’s been discharged and she’s officially ended our relationship. She’s convinced herself the Goddess is punishing her for not loving me enough or some such bullshit. I think its all nonsense, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
   “I’m sorry,” Orel said. “How are you taking it?”
   “I kinda-sorta expected it. I want to stay for a week after Hood goes so we can get Fyo up to speed. Once Fyo can handle the team, I’ll pop smoke and move out. New Palestine awaits my talents,” Jon said. “Can we do that?”
   “You’ll lose some of your acreage for terminating your tour early.”
   “Not worried about that. I think it’s time I move on,” Jon said. “Sure there’s no problem with me leaving?”
   “No problem. Are you going to be all right?” Orel said as he looked at Jon.
   “I’ll survive it. Let’s get a beer.”

Chapter 38
April 2nd, Kinshasa Hilton, Umoja:   Sarah contemplated her next move. The Nature Unleashed shoot was going better than expected. Using the Valley of the Lions as a backdrop, Kendra Wycoff was overjoyed at the enormous variety of wildlife struggling to reach the next waterhole.
   Sarah went to Kendra’s room. After being let in, she took the offered seat and asked about the progress of the calendar.
   “I have too many awesome shots already. But since I’ve been paid for the time here, I’m going to keep going,” Kendra said as she gestured to her laptop computer. “I’ve picked the best out of over ten thousand images.”
   Sarah looked at the images. Two male water buffalos fighting for dominance over a pair of waiting females. A lioness grooming one of her cubs while another played with her tail. The cheetah looking pitilessly at the photographers, the dying gazelle clamped in its jaws. The explosion of water as a crocodile attempted to snag a plains zebra. A panther lying under a tree, eyes alert for prey.
   “Those are awesome! Is there any way you can have two versions?”
   “We have several versions of each calendar.”
   “We do? I never noticed it,” Sarah said.
   “Oh yes, when you order the calendar, the website asks you if you are sensitive or underage.”
   “I never knew that,” Sarah said.
   “There are genuinely sensitive people out there, not those claiming to be sensitive to force an agenda down our throats. The cheetah picture is one of the best I think I’ve ever taken. It shows the majesty and reality of Nature in one image.
   “So we have two versions of the calendar. One for the majority of the people and one for the sensitives and children,” Kendra said as she looked at Sarah.
   “Are there two versions for the Enjoying Nature Calendar?”

***

Aggressor Training Facility:
   Orel stepped into Colonel Obermeyer’s office and saluted. “Aggressor Leader Krelov, reporting as ordered, ma’am."
   Obermeyer returned his salute. “Aggressor Leader Krelov, this is Special Agent Reynolds of the Presidential Security Service,” she said, gesturing to the neatly dressed man seated next to Sergeant Major Thanos. The two men shook hands. “Please be seated."   “Thank you, Ma’am.”
   “Mister Reynolds?”
   The sandy-haired man stood and faced Orel. “I’m sorry to say there is a security threat on your team. We have to isolate him from the Vice President.”
   “Who?” Orel asked.
   “Walker.”
   “Jon Walker?” Orel asked incredulously.
   “Yes.”
   “Can’t be done, sir,” Orel said.
   “Why?”
   “He’s one of those who fought the New Palestine Liberation Army. He’s receiving a Kronskye Bronze and a Silver Lifesaving Medal.”
   “I’m sorry, but he will not be receiving his medals from the Vice President,” Reynolds said.
   “You’re going to have to explain the reasoning for that,” Orel said, his voice challenging.
   “Mind your tone, Aggressor Leader,” Thanos warned.
   “Sergeant Major, it’s not about ‘tone.’ It’s about doing the right thing.”
   “The PSS feels Walker harbors resentment towards the Alliance. Mia Fuller, his Bond-partner, was severely traumatized during operations and recently ended their relationship,” Reynolds said gently.
   “How the hell do you know that?” Orel demanded. “He told me he got the letter after we came back inside from the knife challenge.”
   “Under the Presidential Security Law, we’ve monitored Walker’s E-mails ever since it was known he would come into contact with the Vice President,” Reynolds said.
   “How does that tie in with this?”
   Obermeyer leaned back in her chair. “They feel Walker blames the Alliance for his loss, and will attempt to kill Vice President Hood in retaliation. If he survives and is arrested, it is felt that he will expose the ‘Thirteen Hour War’ at his court-martial as part of his legal defense,” Obermeyer said.
   “Such exposure cannot be allowed to happen under any circumstances. It would upset in the balance of power in Zurich as well as within the Alliance,” Reynolds said as he looked meaningfully at Orel.
   Thanos spoke up. “That’s just the preliminaries. After that it gets bloody.”
   “You’re being paranoid. Walker knows that if he speaks out, he automatically gets twenty years in Crosos for breaking the non-disclosure agreement.”
   “Better twenty than the short drop,” Reynolds replied, referring to the brutal hanging method used by the Alliance Military. “If he gets that much.”
   “May I speak frankly, Colonel?” Orel asked.
   “Please do.”
   “The PSS is wrong when they say Walker is a threat. I take it you don’t know Walker put in some time ago for Special Purpose training? He’s waiting to get his background check completed so he can start his correspondence courses,” Orel said.
   “Many put in for the training. We want only the best,” Thanos said.
   “You’re throwing away one of the best,” Orel asserted.
   “We’ll be the judge of that,” Thanos replied confidently.
   “Do you know the details of the ‘Thirteen Hour War?’ Orel asked Thanos pointedly.
   “Generalities.”
   “Do you, Colonel?”
   “Just the overall picture.”
   “Special Agent Reynolds?”
   “Only that there were a few shooting incidents between the Rodinan Warriors and the Aggressors. I didn’t know of it until recently.”
   “For some reason, the Jameson Administration decided to use the Rodinan Special Enforcement Service to build up our numbers because of a recruiting shortage. They came, and shortly thereafter we started getting shot at by forces we could not pin down.
   “Due to the legalistic bullshit they hold in high esteem in Zurich, we could not officially go into Sector Five--the Rodent Sector. General Thompson was constantly on the AIA to get the evidence the Rodents were behind the attacks on our people. Turned out they were involved in the cover up as well.
   “At higher levels, any evidence we presented was suppressed for political reasons. Mainly because Kris Jameson came up with the idea of using the Rodents as replacements. Then she became a Rodinan citizen conveniently in time to get herself elected as their junior Representative and sent back to Zurich. Think the troops can’t see what the politicians do? Think again.
   “After Team Four Twenty-five was ambushed, General Thompson decided to stop pussyfooting around and get absolutely unquestionable evidence and present it to President Jameson. He created Savior Team.
   “Savior Team was a plausibly deniable, covert recon team trained to infiltrate Sector Five on foot. I was its leader and I selected Walker for his stability and skills. Mind you, this was right after his Bond-partner had been hospitalized.
   “The Rodents came across the river and camped out on our position--with armor--on our third training mission. Walker risked his life to get the information we needed,” Orel said as he studied Obermeyer’s reaction. “When the Rodents spotted his partner, the fight started. When it was over, the six of us killed close to fifty Rodents. Seven armored vehicles came, only two left,” Orel said, enjoying the surprise on Obermeyer’s face.
   “Yes! You thought you were the only ones who could do recon patrols in dangerous places? I would like to see you walk across Sector Four without tripping any sensors. That’s what we did out of fear we might be mistaken for a trespasser or someone might be covering for the Rodents. We redefined stealthy approach. If you don’t believe me, you can talk to General Thompson right now and access Savior Team’s mission chips,” Orel said.
   “It’s nice to know that he has trust here. He doesn’t have trust with the PSS. That’s what counts,” Obermeyer said.
   “How do you propose to keep Walker away from Hood?” Orel asked Reynolds.
   “Our primary method would be to simply send his team out ahead to the site before the medals ceremony.”
   “Won’t work. Anya and Fyo--I mean Aggressors Gromyko and Senchenko--are also being decorated. They’re on Rescue Team. Walker would question why he has to leave early without his driver and information manager if rescue is so vital. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. What else is there?” Orel said expectantly.
   “We can place Walker in isolative custody while Hood is inside. We do it all the time, primarily when the VIPs visit areas where those who are on our definite threat lists live.”
   “What does that mean?” Orel asked.
   “We gather the threat and place him in isolative custody as a precaution,” Reynolds said.
   “You mean arrest him,” Orel commented.
   “It’s not an arrest. It’s isolative custody to prevent a possible attack inside.”
   “Inside. What about outside?” Orel asked.
   “He’ll be in your crane vehicle as commander. There’s no long-range weapons on his vehicle, so there is no threat,” Reynolds said.
   “That is absolute bullshit!” Orel snarled, his eyes guaranteeing more trouble than Reynolds could handle. “Lock a man in a cell because you think he might be dangerous?”
   “Krelov--” Thanos said, tight-lipped.
   Obermeyer knew Orel was about to lose his temper and spoke up. “Do you have a suggestion on how to handle this?”
   “You have two solutions. One is to ignore this so-called threat.”
   “We cannot do that,” Reynolds said.
   “Then call him in here and tell him the truth.”
   “What?” Thanos asked. “Have you lost your mind? We tell him the truth, he’s the one most likely to take a shot at the Vice.”
   “Jon won’t be anywhere near Hood after we tell him. I guarantee that,” Orel said.
   “How can you guarantee that?” Obermeyer asked.
   “Call him in here and tell him that the PSS feels he poses a risk to Hood. He’ll see that his commanding officer agrees with that assessment. I’ll suggest to him that he terminate his assignment now, rather than wait a few days. That way he can reassure everyone he is not a threat.
   “He’s already told me he was going to leave after Hood’s visit. The Yankee Trader will be dropping supplies and picking up transferees before Hood arrives. We can say he has to leave now to catch the ship, so there’s even a face-saving explanation for his hasty departure,” Orel said.
   “What if we can’t do that?” Thanos said.
   “I’m sure he can use his authority to get Walker on the ship and start him on his way out of our Army,” Orel said, gesturing to Reynolds.
   “Out of the Army? Nonsense!” Thanos said.
   “Walker’s smart enough to see the writing on the wall. After all, if he feels he can’t be trusted here, he’ll translate that to meaning everywhere else within the Army. If he isn’t trusted, why the hell should he risk his life for the Alliance on New Palestine? Bad things happen there on a daily basis. Since he completed his first tour, he can choose his next assignment. He’ll probably finish his enlistment on some peaceful backwater planet too unimportant to worry about.”
   “That’s extreme,” Thanos said.
   “Would you risk your life for a political entity that wanted to lock you up simply because you have the skills they gave you?” Orel replied bluntly.
   “Only while Hood is inside,” Reynolds said.
   “You want to keep Walker away from Hood inside. Then you expect him to suit up and go outside, right?”
   “Yes,” Obermeyer said. “He’ll be out of weapons range.”
   “Agreed,” Reynolds said.
   Orel laughed.
   “Unless Hood needs rescuing. Then what happens? Is Walker miraculously transformed into the perfect soldier who enjoys your absolute trust? Will he be allowed to get close enough to rescue the Vice President if the worst happens? When we rescue, we take our knives because they are useful tools as well as weapons.
   “Walker is the best rescuer in the Compound, if not the planet. There’s a reason he’s the Rescue Team Leader. If the shit hits the fan, Walker is automatically in charge of the rescue. He makes the decisions, not you. Given his skill level and the importance of the mission, he will go in first,” Orel said. “For all intents and purposes, Walker will be alone with Hood.”
   “What do you mean, ‘alone?’ Reynolds asked suspiciously. “I was under the impression he will have someone with him if he goes inside a building.”
   “He will. Murray, the woman who defeated Cohen and Ochoa, is his rescue partner,” Orel said. “It will be only them with Hood.”
   “She’s good with a spin-knife,” Thanos said. “I don’t see a problem.”
   “I’ll call her in here,” Obermeyer said.
   “She won’t do it. You won’t get anyone to watch Walker like that,” Orel said as he looked around the room, then looked at Reynolds. “If you think you’re going to switch Murray with one of your own, Walker will go alone--and be legally and morally correct in doing so. Risk is part of his job. But he won’t risk his life taking an untrained person inside.
   “Untrained personnel usually gets trained people killed. As a result, Aggressor-Rescuers are quote ‘authorized by civil and military law to use deadly force at their discretion to prevent unauthorized personnel from interfering with a rescue,’ end quote,” Orel said as he looked at the others before his eyes settled on Reynolds, the message perfectly clear.
   “Colonel, I strongly recommend you remove Walker from his position as Rescue Team Leader immediately and replace him with one of high reliability,” Reynolds said decisively to Obermeyer.
   “What happens after I relieve him?”
   “We’ll place him in isolative custody. If you can arrange for a suitable location, my men and I can take it from there and secure him.”
   “Try that at your own peril,” Orel threatened.
   “At ease, Krelov!” Thanos ordered, tired of Orel’s lack of respect.
   “Who will be the Rescue Team Leader?” Obermeyer asked.
   “It will have to be someone who doesn’t constitute a threat to the Vice President’s safety. Krelov, will you recommend a replacement?” Reynolds asked.
   “No. I will not stand by and watch one of my people get fucked over like this,” Orel said firmly, his eyes challenging all in the room as he stood to rigid attention.
   “Colonel, I am informing you of my intention to take this matter up the chain of command.”
   “Dismissed, Aggressor Leader.”

***

Shuttle Gondolier:

   The Boatman cursed his stupidity for taking this job. Every night he heard about Kyle Fanon and his Holy War to Spank the Alliance for Violating the Covenant. Every night, his passengers reassured themselves of their moral superiority.
   It took all of his patience not to put on his pressurized suit, pop the hatches and see how much arguing his passengers could do while sucking vacuum.
   “A mission is a mission,” he said as he forced Robert Hansen from his mind and concentrated on the planning that would keep him alive. His concentration was broken by the announcement an ion storm was in the area and his presense was requested in the cockpit to assist with landing.

***

   General Thompson returned Colonel Obermeyer’s salute. He sat down at Larsen’s desk. “I believe you know why I summoned you here.”
   “Yes, sir. About Aggressor Walker,” Obermeyer said from the position of attention.
   “That’s right. I’ve heard Krelov’s side. I want to hear yours.”
   Obermeyer truthfully relayed the events of the meeting.
   “So let me get this straight; Special Agent Reynolds says Walker is a threat. You agree to relieving Walker and then locking him up without anything more tangible than a remotely-performed psych profile? Do I have it right? Or is there something else?”
   “That is the situation, sir.”
   “The KSD is a joint-service command. The enforcement of discipline of the personnel under my command is covered by Alliance Military Regulations, the Alliance Code of Military Justice, the Soldier’s Contract and common sense.
   “Both the ACMJ and the Soldier’s Contract says a soldier being confined has legal rights. Holding a soldier against his will without due cause is legally kidnapping under the ACMJ. Preventative detention falls under that category.”
   “Sir, we could always call it a medical-based quarantine,” Obermeyer said.
   “A commander can request quarantine. Only a doctor or psychologist can order a quarantine. After the soldier goes into quarantine, he must be evaluated by three other doctors or psychologists as appropriate within twenty-four hours to determine the health risk to the command. If you are thinking you can get a doctor to approve quarantine just before Hood arrives and say, ‘sorry about that,’ afterwards, you think again. The second the doctors or psychologists determine Walker is physically healthy and/or mentally stable--and I’m sure they will--Walker has every right to demand an investigation into an unjustified detention. Absent any proof from the medical department, I will back his request to the hilt.
   “Colonel, you are not demonstrating the personnel management skills one expects of someone in your position,” Thompson said, his gentle tone deadly in its own way. A message to General Renau, backed with fact, would stop Obermeyer’s career in its tracks.
   “Sir, with due respect, we operate differently in the Forces. We often take orders from civilians directly,” Obermeyer said.
   “You are currently the commander of the Provisional Security Company, a subordinate command of the Kronskye Security Department. You work for me,” Thompson reminded Obermeyer without malice.
   “Before the Company was formed, you stood up for your troops when they felt like they were being denied a fair shake. They wanted the Knife Challenge as a means of proving to the Aggressors they aren’t amateurs and you got it for them. You were willing to let your troops risk their lives mainly for pride, but also to let the Aggressors and Special Purpose troops prove their toughness to the other, thus enhancing unit cohesion.
   “So why aren’t you standing up for one of your troops now? Is it because he’s only an Aggressor and therefore more expendable than an operator?” Thompson asked rhetorically.
   “Sir, Walker has been officially deemed a security threat to Vice President Hood by competent civilian authority. The Vice President’s safety is absolutely vital to the Alliance,” Obermeyer said.
   “That sounds nice and neat on paper. If Hood dies, the Speaker of the House becomes the acting Vice President until Jameson picks another. The Senate confirms the choice and we have a new Vice President. Two weeks later, the political honeymoon is over and it’s partisan politics as usual. What does this assignment really mean to the Special Purpose Forces?
   “For the first time, non-PSS personnel are trusted to guard the Vice President of the Alliance. If this comes off, then it proves that you do more than kill people and break things. And it will ultimately look good for the people who have pulled off such a coup.
   “But in your zeal to complete the mission, you have forgotten one vital element of leadership.
   “Loyalty. As officers, we expect loyalty out of our troops. They expect our loyalty in return. Even if you never serve with Walker again--he is one of your troops and deserves the exact loyalty your operators get from you.
   “You have forgotten that, Colonel. You have one chance to satisfactorily resolve this situation. Am I clear?”
   “Sir, yes, sir!” Obermeyer barked.
   “Colonel, you need to lock Reynolds’ heels. He is a liaison to the Company, not its commander. You will inform him that this command expresses complete trust, confidence, etcetera in Aggressor First Walker. If Reynolds does not appreciate the assessment, remind him that I am the final authority on all security matters on the planet in accordance with the ACMJ, Kronskye Security Law and the Alliance Civil Code.
   “If Reynolds has a problem with that, let me know and I will take it up him or the Vice President as needed. Am I clear?” General Thompson said, his eyes boring into Obermeyer. 
   “Sir, yes, sir!” Colonel Obermeyer said, red-faced.
   “Aggressor First Walker will receive his medals as planned and then he will suit up and lead his team when the Vice President goes outside. Am I clear?”
   “Sir, yes, sir!”
   “Dismissed.”

***

   Colonel Obermeyer sat in her office and contemplated Thompson’s stinging reprimand.
   General Thompson was right in some ways. Being trusted enough to guard the Vice President would add luster to the reputation of the Special Purpose Forces. It would show that the Forces could work with the rest of the Army. It would be a career-enhancing move.
   But yet Thompson was wrong about her motivations.
   Many officers believed in the “Duty, Honor, Alliance,” credo taught at AOCS, but Colonel Obermeyer lived it. She believed her duty was to ensure the Vice President did what he came to do and leave Kronskye alive.
   If Walker didn’t get his medals from Hood, so be it. He would at least get his medals.
   She knew many who should have received Gold Medals of Valor for actions performed during covert operations. As those actions were covert, those people received no official recognition of their courage. If Walker was serious about joining the Forces, better he learn that reality now than be disappointed later.
   She knew she could ask Walker about his Bond-partner and attempt to understand how he felt about her and the situation. She decided not to, because she perceived Walker as being a private person. Besides, whatever Walker said would not reassure Reynolds.
   She contemplated the psycheck. Walker had gone through dozens of psychological checks after every mission outside. He had passed every psycheck before, during and after whatever happened to his Bond-partner.
   Except for one anonymous person reading one E-mail, Walker’s mental status was unquestioned.
   General Thompson’s reprimand reminded Obermeyer she was in the Regular Army playground and the rules were different. She commed Thanos. “I need you to fetch Aggressor Leader Krelov and Special Agent Reynolds to my office immediately.”

***

   “Reynolds, is there any hard evidence you’re holding back? Threatening letters, association with people or groups who Hood dead, gathering weapons, providing intelligence, anything concrete? I need to know.”
   “The profiler who read the E-mails and looked at his records thinks--”
   “The profiler thinks. He read a few E-mails and concluded Walker is a threat, right?” Obermeyer said.
   “Yes, Colonel,” Reynolds said assertively. “He has a ninety-four percent accuracy rate.”
   “Is that the only reason why?”
   “Yes.”
   “That is not enough to justify any detention. Anything less than one hundred percent certainty is a guess. General Thompson says Walker will receive his medals as planned and then he will lead Rescue Team.”
   “Colonel, that is absolutely unacceptable,” Reynolds blurted. “Under the Presidential Security Law, the Presidential Security Service is the final decision maker regarding the Vice President’s security.”
   “You’re correct in that, however, the Kronskye Security Department is the final authority for all security matters on Kronskye,” Obermeyer said calmly.
   “Colonel, I understand your feelings in this matter, but Walker represents a threat to the safety of the Vice President. Frankly, it’s my ass if he takes a shot at Hood.”
   “General Thompson says you are free to discuss the matter with him. He has also stated that he will bring this to the Vice President’s attention if need be. I suspect that after their talk, Walker will be getting his medals.”
   “Why?” Reynolds asked.
   “Without tangible evidence proving Walker is planning to kill Hood, there is no legal reason to exclude him from the medal ceremony or remove him from his position as a team leader. You will not proceed with your ‘isolative custody’ under any circumstances. This matter is closed.”
   “Understood, Colonel,” Reynolds said, skillfully hiding the anger in his voice. His mannerisms indicated that the matter was far from closed. “With your permission?”
   “Certainly. Good night, Special Agent Reynolds,” Obermeyer said politely.
   “Night, Colonel. Sergeant Major, Aggressor Leader,” Reynolds said with forced courtesy as he stood. He left the office. The room was silent for a moment. Obermeyer looked at Orel.
   “Aggressor Leader Krelov, does this resolve the situation satisfactorily?”
   “Yes, Ma’am,” Orel said quietly. “Thank you.”
   “You’re welcome, Aggressor Leader. I trust in your discretion.”
   “I consider the matter closed, Colonel.”
   “Thank you. Good night.”
   Orel stood and saluted, then departed the room, a slight bounce in his step belying his serious demeanor.
   “Okay, Thanos. Fire when ready,” Obermeyer said.
   “Colonel?”
   “What problems do you think will arise from this?”
   “Reynolds can’t let it go. If we’re wrong and Walker decides to take his shot, it’s his ass, because he’s in charge of the PSS personnel. Obviously, his people have, or will have, the same info on Walker he does. They’ll have kittens when Walker gets near the Vice. Reynolds will have to do something to protect the PSS’ reputation, prove his authority to his people as well as cover his ass.”
   “I would appreciate a little oversight on that matter, if you please.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why voter competency testing should be mandatory.

   It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand America is in serious trouble.
   I will not pull punches.
   Both Democrats AND Republicans are responsible for setting policies that were not wise or good for America!
   How we GET OUT of this mess IS the point.
   In the end, America is in trouble because of two things. First is Barack Hussein Obama.
   The President sets the "tone" and "agenda" for his Administration. When a President picks/nominates COMPETENT/professional Cabinet members who know what their departments are supposed to do and how they should be doing it, the bureaucracy runs reasonably well.
   Obama has NOT chosen his subordinates well. They do not do their jobs well, and spend more time covering their incompetence than proving their competence.
   The second "thing" that contributed to our situation are the voters who put Obama & Company in office.
   When you elect idiots who choose fools, you cannot expect a functioning goverment to remain functioning. When you elect partisan hacks more determined to secure reelection than make America a viable nation, you cannot expect AMERICA to move forward.
  We need to cull the "low information voters" from the voter ranks. What is a "low information voter (LIV)?"
  To me, a LIV is one who has to look at his skin color to remember who to vote for. Another example of an LIV is someone who votes for a candidate because "he's cute." (no joke, I know a gal who voted for clinton in 94 for that reason--then watched her freak when he passed a tobacco tax that put her family out of the tobacco business!)
   We need voters who UNDERSTAND MORE THAN ONE ISSUE!
   To this end, I propose a test be created.
  Nothing complex, no getting too deep into an issue. For instance, gun control. Candidate A wants to ban all guns. Candidate B wants to ban some guns. Candidate C wants no ban on guns.
  The voter must know what each candidate stands for. It's that simple.
   Bringing competency back to government--THAT's the hard part.
   
   

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hazardous Duty CH 35-36

Chapter 35

Aggressor Training Facility:
   “The purpose of this exercise is to practice slide and glide across a beam of weakened wood,” Tonya said as she looked at the four meter long, five by ten centimeter stud mounted between two sets of concrete steps outside of Cherry House.
   “The wood accurately represents what you will find in Class D buildings, which is the worst you will be expected to handle. Only Aggressor-Rescuers enter Class F and Z buildings,” Tonya said. “In some Class D homes, cheap wood was put over the floor joists.
   “The cheap wood failed, and often the joists are the only thing remaining. At this time, each of you will climb the stairs, cross the beam, then go down the other stairs.”
   Colonel Obermeyer climbed the stairs and stopped at the top step. “Remember that you need to slide across the wood. Avoid bouncing,” Tonya said.
   “Right,” Obermeyer said, tight-lipped as she carefully stepped onto the wood. “Slide across it,” she said to herself as she slid her leading foot forward and gradually applied weight to it as she brought her trailing foot forward. She continued carefully until she reached the other step. “You heard the instructor, get moving!”
   Sergeant Major Thanos was next. He weighed 30 kilos more than Obermeyer, all of it muscle. It took him a little longer, but he slid across it easily enough.
   “Next!”
   Sergeant Duvalier stood on the beam. He moved too fast and started a slight bounce on the beam. The slight bounce was enough to cause it to break. Duvalier managed to turn his fall into a respectable roll that brought him to his feet.
   “Not good enough, Duvalier. Back of the line,” Obermeyer said.
   “Yes, ma’am,” Duvalier said as he trudged towards the end of the line.
   Tonya replaced the wood, tossing the old pieces aside. “Next!”
   Five more pieces were broken by others before Duvalier took his place at the top of the steps. Duvalier put his weight on the wood, and it creaked. Confident that he would cross, Duvalier sped up his pace and broke the wood again.
   “Duvalier, talk with Thanos about technique before you try again,” Obermeyer said.
   “Yes, ma’am,” Duvalier said chagrined as he walked over to Sergeant Major Thanos. Several Aggressors stood behind Tonya, observing the exercise.
   Others who had broken wood managed to cross successfully while Duvalier worked with Thanos on his technique.
   Duvalier climbed the steps and broke the wood again.
   “Ma’am, either I’m too heavy for this or they’re playing games with me,” Duvalier said to Obermeyer.
   “You’re not heavy and it’s not games. It’s technique,” Thanos said firmly, his tone indicating Duvalier’s accusation was unappreciated.
   “Duvalier, sometimes it takes a little practice. I’m going to put you with a guy who had a problem with the beam. Aggressor Leader Carson, can you give me a hand?” Tonya said.
   The tall Aggressor split off from the group. Tonya introduced the tallest Aggressor on the planet to Duvalier. After a few moments of discussion, Neil took Duvalier aside. “I thought it was my weight too,” Neil said as Tonya replaced the wood. “It’s not so much a weight problem, but a weight distribution problem. I’ll show you.”
   Neil climbed the stairs and slid to the theoretical weakest point in the beam, the exact middle. “One thing about wood here is that it’s sometimes brittle. The chemicals dry it out and alter the wood's properties. You could walk normally across this wood anywhere else, because the wood has more strength and some flex to it. But wood here becomes brittle, so when you start a bounce, the momentum causes it to break.
   “Now the main thing to worry about is losing contact with the beam or putting your weight on it too fast,” Neil said as he slid almost to the end of the beam, gently turned his body and slid back to the center of the beam.
   “If you lose contact with the beam with one foot, you obviously have all your weight on the other. I want you to watch my feet,” Neil explained gently to Duvalier. Neil slid across the beam, keeping his feet on the beam and his weight evenly distributed.
   “Remember, when you step, you start a bouncing effect and that builds momentum. The momentum multiplies the effect of your weight and causes the wood to fail.”
   Duvalier suddenly saw how Neil managed to move across the beam. “I get it now,” Duvalier said as Neil stepped off the beam. Duvalier got onto the beam and got almost to the end before his eagerness broke the wood.
   Tonya hid her eye-roll and knew it was going to be a long day.

***

   The elite soldiers gathered around the carpeted platform inside the Monastery, wearing soft-suits, helmets in their hands. Jon looked at them.
   “All right, this is an accurate representation of what the floors can be like in a Class D building,” Jon said as he pointed to the carpet. “On the surface, it looks safe enough. Carpet often hides weak spots in the floor.
   “Carpet holds water, and that in itself is naturally bad for wood and nails. A raised appearance looks like a tiny anthill under the carpet. That’s a sign of the wood is retaining water out of proportion or warped wood. Either way, don’t step on it.
   “A sunken appearance indicates the wood has given way or has warped downwards. Sometimes the weight of the water, coupled with the weakening effect of the atmosphere can pull the carpet loose from the wall, causing a possible trip hazard. Another reason why we taught you how to slide and glide.
   “When water gets on the carpet, the carpet fibers absorb the water. This has three possible effects. In time, the weight can pull the carpet loose from the wall and follow the contour of the damaged floor. It will look like a dried-out puddle. Sometimes it can stretch the carpet. No joke, stretch the carpet. That’s because the chemicals in the air have somewhat altered the carpet’s qualities.
   “Or the carpet stays nice and taut because you have high-quality carpet and proper installation. But the atmosphere has been working on the carpet. Like everything else here, carpet has been weakened by exposure to the elements. Never, I say again, never count on carpet to support you because it looks good and tight.
   “Tight, fragile carpet is the worst, because the carpet can give the image the floor is intact. You know you’re walking on ‘brittle’ carpet when you hear a slight cracking sound as your feet bend and sometimes break the fibers. So if you were to step, and find where the wood has collapsed, you go right through the floor. Don’t count on the carpet holding you up under any circumstances. It can tear as easy as paper,” Jon said as he covered the hole in the carpet.
   “At this time, put your helmets on. Colonel Obermeyer, give me an up when your people are ready.”
   “Yes, Aggressor Instructor,” Obermeyer said as the soldiers put on the helmets. A few minutes later, she gave Walker a thumbs up.
   “Platoon! Attention! About, face!” Jon ordered crisply. The platoon faced away from him, except for Colonel Obermeyer, who always went first for training. “You are to cross from one side of the platform to the other. There are nine damaged spots in the floor besides the two I shown you. You must avoid them all to pass this station,” Jon said as he turned off the lights. “Gromyko?” Jon said. Anya entered the code that disabled the night vision and thermal systems in the helmets.
   “They’re down,” Anya said as she consulted the monitor.
   “Colonel, you’re up.” Jon put on night vision goggles to critique the Colonel’s technique. “Begin.”
   Colonel Obermeyer made it exactly five steps before she found the first hole under semi-tight carpet. She stopped and slid around it.
   “Good! Your feet can feel what the floor is doing. Let your feet be your eyes.”

***

AEDF Headquarters:

   “Send them to my office,” Andre said tiredly as he ended the com call.
   “What’s going on?” Ryo asked.
   “The ABI wants to talk to Sarah.”
   “That will be slightly impossible,” Ryo said impishly as Harold tapped on the door, then peered around the corner.
   “Come in, Harold,” Andre said as he rose.
   “Andre, These are Special Agents Yancey, Ameche, and Ketcham of the ABI,” Harold said.
   Andre stood behind his desk. “Thank you, Harold.” Harold left quietly, closing the door behind him.
   “Mister Galavotti, we would like to speak to Sarah Lindstrom please. She is a suspect in a murder investigation. Where is she?” Ketcham said.
   “Your own agents should be able to tell you precisely where she is. She’s been under nearly-constant surveillance since we were released. I know where she is, and I’m not watching her like you all are.”
   “Then tell us where she is,” Ketcham demanded.
   “Miss Senai, would you please excuse us?” Andre asked emotionlessly.
   Ryo thought she knew Andre’s voice and its variations. This one was one she had never heard. “Andre--”
   “Please. I have something that needs discussing.”
   Ryo left the room hurriedly, closing the door behind her.
   “Mister Galavotti, by law you are required to assist us. Failure to answer our questions could lead to obstruction charges,” Ketcham said formally.
   “Shut the fuck up!” Andre roared as he pointed an angry finger at Ketcham. “I’ve had it with your puerile games!”
   “Mister Galavotti, please calm down,” Yancey soothed.
   “Fuck calm! Sarah’s has been under surveillance since we were released after your snowflaking exercise. You should know exactly where she is at all times, right?
   “Agents of the local office,” Andre said as he gestured to Ketcham, “have been trying to provoke Miss Lindstrom into violent action. She’s been under constant surveillance. Anyone she talks to is instantly questioned,” Andre said as he saw the confused look on Yancey’s face. “Anything to pick a fight, all neatly sanctioned by the so-called law,” Andre said as he looked at each agent.
   “You want to arrest someone? You want violence? Here I am. Take your best shot,” Andre said as he smoothly opened up his desk drawer to reveal a pistol. He raised his right hand to shoulder level, fingers slightly curled. “Now you can say I was reaching for a weapon too. Let’s go.”
   The agents’ eyes widened and hands started moving towards concealed holsters. Then they hesitated.
   “What’s the matter?” Andre taunted. “Three on one is the established force ratio. You might manage to kill me and be a hero this time around,” Andre snarled as he looked meaningfully at Ketcham. “Let’s go.”
   Ketcham saw the pitiless eyes of a shark looking at its next meal.
   “Not so fast to talk trash or threaten when the victim isn’t scared of the badge, huh?” Andre taunted, a contemptuous smirk on his face.
   Ameche slowly sat in one of the chairs placed in front of Andre’s desk and put his hands comfortably on his lap. “Jennifer, why don’t you take a seat? I think we need to have a discussion with Mister Galavotti.”
   “I think I shall,” Yancey said, wondering what Ameche was up to. “Walt, would you please wait outside?” Yancey said, her words a request, her tone an order. Ketcham nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.
   Andre carefully sat down and looked at the ABI agents. “Let’s start again, shall we?”
   Yancey was confused at the sudden change in Andre’s demeanor. “Why the change in attitude? Two seconds ago, you were ready to fight,” she said.
   “I’m still ready to fight,” Andre said as he glanced at the pistol.
   “So why this little scene?” Yancey asked cautiously.
   “Call it a final warning,” Andre said coldly, his eyes focused on Yancey. “I know what legitimate surveillance is. You know what it is. Ketcham and his pack of idiots should know what it is.
   “The agents in the local office have been using the investigation into Kendall’s death and Kronskye’s Revenge as an excuse to harass Sarah for pressing for a reinvestigation into her sister’s death and designing the program that proved the ABI planted evidence on us,” Andre said as he noted their surprised looks. “You believed they were performing surveillance? Questioning people? I’ve never been a cop, but even I know when you do surveillance, you don’t immediately question the people your subject talks to. You watch them because questioning always gets back to the subject. Makes the subject more cautious. Ask yourself why would they immediately question people Sarah talks to? Harassment. After three or four questionings, people would start to shun her to avoid being hassled by those so-called law enforcement officials.
   “That’s the game they’ve been playing. They hide behind their badges while they cross the line between legitimate police work and harassment. You might want to take this up with the appropriate people in your chain of command,” Andre said.
   “Mister Galavotti, do you know where Sarah Lindstrom is?” Ameche asked politely.
   “Yes. She is onboard the Yankee Clipper, outbound to Umoja. The reservations for her trip were made some weeks ago. That is why I’m surprised that Ketcham even asked, given the surveillance. A check with Zurich Customs Control can prove this.”
   “I see,” Ameche said and rose. “Mister Galavotti, thank you for your time.”
   “You’re welcome,” Andre said as he rose and extended his hand. Ameche shook it.
   “Wait outside, Vito,” Yancey said softly. Ameche nodded silently and closed the door.
   “Mister Galavotti, don’t even think you’ve won anything. You ever, ever try a stunt like that with an agent again, they’ll drop you like a bad habit and walk away clean,” Yancey said icily. “That is not a threat. That is a warning for your safety.”
   “Before January, I would never thought I’d have to draw on a cop. Ask anyone who was on the raid team about our response when the ABI executed the search warrant. Sarah told me she had her people against the wall in search position before the raid team entered her staff’s offices.
   “We obey the law, and we expect you to obey the law too. When you act professional and perform your duties in accordance with the law, tinged with the right amount of courtesy when appropriate, you get full cooperation.
   “When fools like Ketcham get on a power trip and play The Role, thinking I’m going to piss my pants in terror because he has a badge, people like me become highly motivated to shoot people like him. Then good people like you have to arrest or shoot me. With that comes problems. You think you have problems with people dressed as Aggressors killing politicians and corrupt bureaucrats?
   “Imagine what happens when the people I know decide to create job openings in the ABI.”

***
   “Back to Washington?” Ameche asked after dropping Ketcham off at his office.
   “Yes.”
   Ameche pulled out into the street. Yancey looked idly out the window. “Vito, when you raided the AEDF, you said something about feeling guilty?”
   “Yeah. My team went for the computers. When we came in, everyone was against the wall,” Ameche said. “Well, one pregnant woman sitting in a chair with her hands on her head. She was about to pop.”
   “No problems?”
   “I think I could have walked in, shown my credentials and a warrant, said ‘please’ and gotten the same response.”
   “I see.”
   “What did you tell Galavotti after you chased me out?”
   “I told him he the next time he tried a stunt like that, some agent was going to cap him and walk away a hero. I think he got the message. I’ll put his response in our file on him for a laugh.”
   Ameche pulled the car over. “What did he say?”
   “Umm, he said that if we had problems now, imagine what happens when a bad cop arrests or shoots him. Then he tried to scare me with talk about his ‘friends’ creating job openings in the ABI if that happens. Pure bluff,” Yancey said.
   Ameche looked hard at Yancey. “They don’t teach bluff in the Special Purpose Forces.”

Chapter 35
AEDF Headquarters:
   Harold saw the familiar return address on the E-mail. He smiled as he opened the E-mail from Sarah.
   Harold,

   Just about to hit Transit to Umoja and thinking of you trying to keep control of our pack of maniacs.
   By the way, did you get my car fixed?
   Hope you’re not tormenting the maniacs too much!
   Sarah
   Harold wrote back.
   Sarah,
   The maniacs have been fed, beaten, and locked in their cages. I’ll be taking a couple of personal days off soon. My brother Joe is coming home on leave.
   The competition is fierce and everyone is getting really paranoid about security. Today, nine attacks, nine failures. Elise is wondering if you’re really going to pick her!
   Your car is fine. It was only a loose wire causing your dashboard lights to flicker.
   Art and Randy E-mailed. They said they are having too much fun, and will bring back that rainbow starfish.
   Your humble and underpaid subordinate,
   Harold

***
   Harold was enjoying his time as the temporary head of AEDF security. He knew he worked with good people, and that meant few problems.
   The only thing he didn’t enjoy was hearing Assembly Maniac’s diabolical cackle over and over as the staff members took turns during breaks and mealtimes trying to win the vacation.
   He heard a loud round of laughter, and wondered if Sarah had set the challenge as a distraction to test his leadership skills.
   He stood up and peered at the “status” board, mounted on the wall, visible through the one-way glass. He looked at the meeting area and saw most of those who were “at lunch” were huddled around the computers.
   Harold walked through the cubicle area to the meeting area.
   “What’s so funny?” Harold asked.
   “There’s more to this program than meets the eye,” Elise said.
   “Oh?”
   “When we were getting kicked out before, the computer went into standby. Now it does something different when you try an attack. Sarah has a sense of humor,” Fiona said as she looked at the computer.
   Assembly Maniac had been replaced by a picture of Sarah. “Larry, at this rate, I will see you nude before you see me!” computer-Sarah said as she waggled a disapproving finger. 
   “Larry, think with your brain, not your genitals,” Elise laughed from her seat at the other computer, where she had been setting up a program.
   “Anyone else before we go back?” Fiona asked.
   “Me!” Elise said brightly.
   Computer-Sarah appeared on the screen two minutes later. “Elise, I bet there’s a little exhibitionist in you, with your repeated failures.”
   “Come on, Harold, give it a try!” Fiona said. Harold shook his head. He went to his regular cubbyhole, selected a chip for an old attack program and returned. He inserted the chip and began to run the program.
   Computer-Sarah put her hands on her hips, looked downwards slightly as if Harold stood nude in front of her. “Is that all you got?”

***

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco:
   Robert Hansen saw a tall redheaded woman wearing a neat blue dress. He was instantly reminded of Sarah as he sipped coffee.
   The women in his life had been less than beautiful, too subservient and lacked the intellect to discuss even rudimentary politics. They were out of his life almost as fast as they had entered.
   Until Sarah.
   To him, she was the Perfect Woman. Beautiful, far from subservient and extremely intelligent, Sarah would be a good mother. Three children will do nicely, one being the required son to continue the family line, Robert thought as he imagined the future.
   “You have a good taste in women,” a short man with a thick Gallic accent said as he sat at Robert’s table.
   “As do you.” Robert smiled.
   The man stood up. “Let us stretch our legs and see where she takes us." Robert paid for his coffee and followed the man outside.
   They discretely followed the woman through the crowd, until she saw them. She smiled invitingly and stopped at a sports car.
   “I must leave you. The lady may favor you if you do not move too quickly,” the man said as he turned and walked away.
   Robert walked up to the woman and smiled. “Hi,”
   The redhead opened her door. “Get in.”
   Robert got in, feeling very unsure of himself.
   The woman didn’t look at him directly as she started the car and merged with traffic.
   “Robert Hansen, you have approached the right people in the right manner. What do you want?”
   “I am looking for the Boatman.”
   “You found him,” the woman said and pointed to the dashboard-mounted com. Robert picked it up and touched the blinking button.
   “Hello?”
   “I am the Boatman. I understand you have a problem,” a Germanic voice said.
   “Yes. Did you get the information I sent?”
   “Yes, very amateurish to give so much information to a perfect stranger. Be very lucky that it was one of my people and not the police.”
   “It will not happen again.”
   “Good. The fee is ten million credits. All in advance.”
   “I did not know it was so much,” Robert said innocently.
   “Do not attempt to haggle with me. My price is non-negotiable,” the Boatman said brutally.
   “My source was correct then,” Robert said quietly. “I take it you will help me?”
   “Pay the woman,” the Boatman said.
   Robert reached into his pocket and withdrew a money card as previously instructed.
   “Take the scanner from the glove compartment and scan the barcode. Then hold the readout display up,” the woman said.
   Robert did so. The account number for the offshore bank account appeared on the screen.
   The woman glanced at it. “Run it through the scanner, input five nine seven four Alpha into the code prefix and thumbprint it.”
   Robert swiped the card through the scanner, then put his right thumbprint on the 2 centimeter scan pad. A green light blinked. Robert moved his thumb, and the woman reached over and put her thumb on the pad. The green light blinked rapidly and then went steady again.
   The offshore bank had just transferred 10 million credits from Robert to another account.
   “The transfer is complete,” the woman said aloud.
   “Good,” the Boatman replied. “Mister Hansen, gather your friends.”

***

March 10th, AEDF Headquarters:
   Harold smiled confidently as he sat down at one of the computers and logged in under his account name. He put the chip Sarah had given him into the computer.
   After a moment, the screen went black, and white letters appeared.
   Name the file you wish displayed.
   “Cats,” Harold typed in quickly.
   The screen went blank again and was replaced by the Assembly Maniac.
   “You broke it,” Fiona said as she poured a cup of coffee.
   “New program. I thought about what Sarah said about cooking and ingredients. So I cooked up a little program to check not only the words, but the arrangements of the letters,” Harold said.
   “What happens if it doesn’t work?” Fiona asked as she took a sip of her coffee and watched as the Assembly Maniac harrumphed and walked away.

***

Kinshasa Hilton, Umoja:
   The Migration was not what Sarah had expected. This was far larger, as if the animals knew about the planned strip mine and wanted to walk over the ground one last time.
   Sarah had watched a cheetah ambush a herd of gazelles, dragging one to the ground less than fifty meters from the awed photography team.
   As the dust cleared, Sarah had her rifle aimed at the cheetah, anticipating an attack. The cheetah looked fearlessly at Sarah over the sights of her rifle as it held onto its dying prey, its eyes warning all not to interfere.
   After washing off the dust of the day’s work, Sarah plugged in her Journcomp. After signing onto the Nets, Sarah accessed her E-mail.
   A letter, dated March 10th was in her box. Sarah opened it.
   The picture of Sarah being licked by Aerlyn’s cats filled the screen.
   Her jaw dropped. Harold had done it! Hood’s ship had entered the Maxton Wormhole on the 7th, and the basic math told her April 6th would be the earliest possible date Hood would arrive on Kronskye.
   “Thank you, Harold,” Sarah said quietly as she signed off and accessed the account Fiona had created.
   Robert was a persistent person. Idly, Sarah opened the first one, apparently written a few hours after she had departed. It was obvious Robert was smitten with her, for there were two letters a day until March 9th.
   She wondered how she was going to handle his persistence when she got back to Earth as she opened the E-mail dated March 9th.

   Beloved,
   I have to go away to take care of some business, then take a little hunting vacation. I really wish we could hunt together on Umoja, but maybe next year? I think of you and your hurts, and hope I am man enough to take away the pain.
   All my love is yours,
   Robert

Chapter 36
March 30th, Aggressor Training Facility:
   Colonel Obermeyer thought about the operators under her command. Each was a veteran of covert actions so classified God was not on the need-to-know list. For the last twenty-three days, they drove themselves to master skills the Aggressors took for granted. Long experience taught her the quiet operators were the ones to worry about.
   She left her office and went to the quiet passageway, knowing her troops were catching up on sleep from the grueling 38-hour test. She pulled a whistle from her pocket and blew it loudly. Sergeant Major Thanos stepped out into the passageway, his uniform rumpled as if he had slept in it.
   “Formation!” Thanos bellowed as he stepped out of his room, causing Obermeyer to cringe at the power of his voice.
   “Sergeant Major, how many times have I told you not to shout in my ear?” she said reproachfully as she looked up at him.
   “I’ve lost count, Ma’am,” Thanos barked as he tilted his head sideways.
   Obermeyer saw her people standing at attention.
   “Face, me!” she ordered. “Double time, march!”
   Obermeyer led the elite warriors to the tube that connected the Monastery to a shuttle-capable airlock. The tube was empty. “Halt! Center, face!”
   The soldiers faced each other. “Jones, Rafael, secure the hatches. The rest of you take a seat. It’s free-fire time,” Obermeyer said as she sat on the deck with her operators.
   Obermeyer waited until the hatches were secured before speaking. She knew the passageways in the Monastery were monitored, and she didn’t want anyone listening in on this conversation. “I’m hearing rumbles of discontent and you know my policy; bring me your problem and bring me a potential solution if you have one. Cohen, fire,” she said as she pointed.
   “These people have way too much attitude! I’m sick and tired of being talked to like I’m an idiot. They talk to us like we’re the cherries. I’d love to see one of them pull some of the ops we’ve pulled,” Staff Sergeant Cohen said loudly. 
   “What is your solution?” Obermeyer asked Cohen.
   “We need to show them why we’re Special Purpose, and reinforce the fact why they’re not,” Cohen said proudly.
   Obermeyer understood Cohen’s frustration, but she knew there was something else eating at her soldiers. “What else?” Obermeyer asked as she saw one of her men raise his hand. “Bolcas, fire.”
   “Ma’am, I think the problem is that we’re not being allowed to really prove we’re not cherries. They say we’re Aggressor-qualified and gave us the Shields. It looks good for the old promotion packet. But it’s a giveaway and that’s what has me pissed. We have not been tested like Aggressors,” Bolcas asserted as some of the other soldiers nodded their heads affirmatively.
   “What do you mean?”
   “My cousin was an Aggressor a few years ago. Said they went one on one with an Aggressor with a training knife in a building for their final test. They did the individual travel, team travel, then fought an Aggressor at the end of the day in the dark without aural or visual systems. After over thirty hours of no sleep, I might add. He failed the knife test twice before he got his Shield. Said it was the roughest training fight he’d ever been in. They don’t give anything away to anybody!”
   “We decided to delete the Knife Challenge portion of training for safety reasons,” Thanos said.
   “That’s right, Sergeant Major. Their knife-fighting technique is very good. I hope you learned something,” Obermeyer said.
   “With due respect, Colonel, I think the knife-fighting portion was bullshit,” Sergeant Ochoa, a large Samoan, said.
   “Why?” Obermeyer asked as she humorously contemplated the concept of a small Samoan.
   “These people are only setting themselves up to die when they leave. They slash and slash, rarely go for a stab and place more value on a cut suit than cut skin. You fight like you train. They’re training only to slash suits. They pull their fancy blades when they leave, someone is going to carve them up because cut suits don’t count.”
   “Their asterisk drill is some of the silliest shit I’ve ever seen!” Carter added derisively while she scratched her hair. “I can dissect one of them in about two seconds flat.”
   “They try to sell their slash-at-the-asterisk drill as the best thing since canned beer. The style is bullshit,” Buford said supportively.
   “They don’t know the real truth of knife-fighting,” Rafael said.
   “Ochoa’s right. You can’t hurt them unless you cut them! They don’t want to try their style against us because they know we’ll kick their ass.”
   “Yeah, I think they’re avoiding that with a ‘we don’t want you rubes to get hurt’ attitude,” Sergeant Kimber said.
   Obermeyer knew exactly what the problem was. The omission of the Knife Challenge was perceived as a way to avoid embarrassment against real killers, or as a subtle insult by saying her operators were unworthy of being tested.
   “We know the problem. Now give me a solution,” Obermeyer said.
   “We have the time. Ask for the challenge fights and let us show them we’re not cherries!” Bolcas said. “Let us prove we’re better with the knife than they are!”
   Obermeyer heard murmurs of approval.
   “Know the one I want?” Cohen asked. “I want Walker. He talks a lot of shit about knife-fighting, but you know the saying. Those who can do, do. And--”
   “THOSE WHO CAN’T BECOME INSTRUCTORS!”

***

   After sending the operators back to their rooms, Obermeyer and Thanos walked down the empty passageway. “What are you thinking, Thanos?”
   “This is both a good and bad idea.”
   “Explain,” Obermeyer said.
   “Good to give the troops a chance to strut their stuff and prove to the Aggressors they’re not cherries. Bad, because this could boomerang on us. The Aggressors could easily whip our asses with the knife,” Thanos said.
   “We’re good, but we don’t train with the knife like they do. They train two hours weekly, including full-contact sparring sessions,” Obermeyer said.
   Thanos nodded. “Our people forget Aggressor knife training is geared towards teaching those with minimum or non-existent knife skills. They’re not out to actually kill the trespasser in the building, but drive him outside so he can be killed or captured.”
   “That is the whole purpose of the training. It teaches kill points, but discourages killing until you’re outside because of the building condition,” the petite Colonel said.
   “I’m surprised we haven’t stolen one training technique from the Aggressors. The clear shield with the asterisk for teaching slashing attacks,” Thanos said.
   “Really?”
   “The asterisk helps develop a mindset of slashing from various directions and gives you a target to focus on. The shield allows the person behind it to focus more on the student’s knife technique rather than worrying about getting hurt.”
   “Write it up as a Training Improvement Recommendation on the way home. I’ll endorse it and send it to Training Group,” Obermeyer said professionally.
   “Yes, Ma’am.”
   “What do you think about their style overall?” 
   “It is a simple, attack-oriented style that can be learned quickly.”
   “I noticed you talking with Walker on several occasions. Any thoughts?”
   “He reiterated that Aggressor-style isn’t set in stone and that we should use whatever works. He mentioned that his Bond-partner was a college-grade fencer, and she learned new techniques and incorporated them into her style,” Thanos said as he contemplated a trained fencer using the Aggressor style of fighting.
   “Colonel, I’m afraid our people think ‘whatever works’ means just going through the motions and using what they already know,” Thanos blurted as he looked at Obermeyer.
   “I believe quite a few of our people went through the motions during classes. We pride ourselves on our knife work, but they’re the ones with the reputation for it. I think showing our people something new might not be a bad thing,” Obermeyer said idly.
   “I noticed nobody mentioned that they’re not only teaching the knife. People get really paranoid inside the buildings. They use the knife to show you can fight in the buildings.”
   “You’re very observant,” Obermeyer said dryly.
   “Only had to keep one eye open in class to learn that,” Thanos said as they turned at an intersection. “What are you going to do?”
   “Looks like I need to pick a fight.”

***

   “You want to do the challenge fights? Even though we decided the knife testing was not needed, given the mission and all of our people are good with knives?” Larsen said as she toyed with a stylus.
   “Correct,” Obermeyer said as she remembered the initial meeting that identified the training the elite warriors needed to survive outside. With the exception of the challenge fights and vehicle driving, the Special Purpose operators had done everything an Aggressor did.
   Obermeyer initially feared for the safety of some of the Aggressors. The little Colonel never knew Larsen feared the Aggressor-Rescuers would hospitalize the Special Purpose operators with their advanced knowledge of how to use a building’s condition as a weapon.
   “To be honest with you, some of my people want to test themselves against your people. In a way, this would be very beneficial,” Larsen said wistfully.
   “A good way to take the measure of each other. The knife is the common theme to our unit reputations. My people have done everything except for the knife-testing. They feel cheated out of something they’ve been trained to do. It’s like getting a sexy man into bed and then reading a book,” Obermeyer said with a crooked-tooth grin.
   Larsen activated the com. “Aggressor Leader Krelov? Come to my office immediately.”

***

   Colonel Obermeyer walked down the passageway, her Aggressor helmet in her hand, followed by Orel and Thanos. They stopped outside the passageway where the Special Purpose troops were berthed. Obermeyer blew her whistle, then put a finger in her right ear.
   “Formation!” Thanos shouted. “Quickly! Quickly!”
   Obermeyer removed her finger from her ear and watched the operators stand by their doors. “All right people, listen up. We are doing the Knife Challenge!”
   The operators cheered lustily.
   “Knock it off, the Colonel knows you’re happy,” Thanos said loudly. The operators quieted instantly. “Pay attention.”
   Colonel Obermeyer took a piece of paper from her helmet, then handed the helmet to the nearest soldier.
   “Every other troop take a tag from the helmet and pass it on,” she said. The helmet made its rounds quickly.
   “Aggressors have a tradition for knife-testing. You will write a doom-on-you-gram and address it as ‘Dear Whatever.’ Be as vicious and violent as you want. Tell the blue shirts how they’re going to die, die, die on your blades! Tell them how you’re going to teach them nobody outdoes us when it comes to the knife!”
   “HOOAH!” the operators shouted loudly, broad smiles on their faces.
   “When you sign your letter, do not, I say again, do not, use proper names. Repeat!”
   “Do not use proper names!” the operators shouted.
   “Good. When the fight is over, it is over. Because we still have a mission to perform, and we will perform it!”
   “Colonel, we’re out of tags!” a Corporal said as he held the empty helmet.
   “Some of the tags have the number two on them. That means some of you can team with your buddy and fight one of your instructors,” Obermeyer said.
   “We felt you guys deserved a fighting chance,” Orel said.

***

   With great amusement, Orel instructed the team to report to the Instructor’s Lounge.
   Anya came in first, freeing her hair as she did so.
   “Pick one, Anya,” Orel said and gestured to two piles of envelopes on the card table. “Left for women.”
   “What’s this?” Anya asked as she looked at the envelopes.
   “Obermeyer talked Larsen into the Knife Challenge.”
   “I thought we weren’t doing the challenges,” she said casually as she took the top letter.
   “We are. Be advised, you might get multiple attackers.”
   “Lovely,” Anya said as she opened the envelope and read the letter aloud.

   “Dear Aggressor,
   "Hi, I’m the Psychotic Slasher and I’ll be your executioner today.”

   “Is this the best they can do? ‘I’ll be your executioner’?” Anya mocked.
   “They’re not living up to their reputation as being creative thinkers,” Orel lamented.
   Anya wrote her reply on the back of the letter, then stuffed it back into the original envelope with the notation of “Return to Loser.”
   Jon entered the lounge and went to the soda machine. “What’s up?”
   “Obermeyer’s people want to challenge us. Take one and kick someone’s ass.”
   Jon pulled the soda out of the machine. “I’m trying to get into the Special Purpose Forces, not get rejected!”
   “Make them reject you because you’re too vicious for them,” Orel commented as he gestured to the pile.
   Jon picked up the top envelope and opened it.

   “Dear Egressor,
   “Due to recent budget cuts, two of us are forced to use you as a qual-target. We really, really promise not to hurt you too bad!” was written in a flowery, feminine hand.
   “You will be known throughout the Alliance as the Egressor, since you are going to become the fastest man alive when you run from us. My partner will have a radar gun to get you into the Alliance Book of Records,” was written in a masculine hand.
   “The Deadly Duo.”
   “Deadly Duo? Sounds like cartoon characters I used to watch when I was a kid!” Jon laughed. He pocketed the letter and walked towards the candy machine.
   Tonya and Fyodor entered. “Hey you two, come here and take an envelope,” Orel said to them.
   “What for?” Tonya asked.
   “Challenge letters from the operators.”
   “I thought we weren’t doing that because they’re going outside for less than a day with us,” Fyodor said.
   “They think we’re not doing the challenge because we’re afraid of a real fight,” Orel said as Tonya took her letter. “Larsen couldn’t let that slide.”
   Fyodor sat on the couch, opened his letter and read it aloud.
   “Dear Cherry,
   "You only think you know what knife fighting is. Waving your blade in the air is nothing. Making contact is everything. I’ll teach you what it’s like to make contact.
   "The Teacher”

   “This one will be easy enough to respond to. Can I piss on the letter and send it back?” Fyodor asked lightly.
   Tonya opened her letter as she walked towards the couch. She stopped suddenly.
   “What?” Anya asked.
   Tonya crumpled the letter and threw it down. Her eyes narrowed as her face turned a deep red. A primal growl erupted from her small mouth as she turned and kicked the couch Fyodor sat on, moving it almost a meter. “Hey!” Fyodor shouted indignantly.
   “I won’t need a spin-knife, because I’m gonna rip their balls off with my bare hands!” the diminutive brunette screamed angrily as she stormed out of the lounge.
   “Note to self; do not piss Tonya off,” Jon said dryly.
   Anya picked the letter off the floor and read it. “Uh, oh.”
   “What?” Orel asked.
   Anya read the letter aloud.

   “Dear whatever you are,
   "We have come to the conclusion you are totally undoable. We feel we can speak on behalf of the lower creatures as well.
   "Two guys who wouldn’t do you on a dare”
   “What set Tonya off?” Bill asked as he came into the room and looked over his shoulder at the passageway.
   “Pick a letter,” Orel said nonchalantly when the distant sound of a garbage can being kicked reached his ears.

***

   “Dear Walking Eagle,
   "You’re so full of it you can’t fly.
   "The Cherry who will teach you what contact is.”
   “Dear shortchanged males,
   "I’ll help you get the two extra so you can finally break even. Someone else will have to help you get another two extra so you can finally score at the zoo.”
   "The Goddess”
   “Dear Dead Duo,
   "There’s no budget cuts on Kronskye. I’m getting two targets. Bow down to me, mere mortals, for I am the elite.   "The Aggressor.”