Allen crashed long before the battle ended and Sylvia had given him something to make sure he slept. He awoke to find Sylvia once again snuggled against his side. He tried his best to rise quietly but by the third gasp of pain her eyes fluttered open. “I know you didn’t get as much rest as I did, so get some more rest if you need it.”
“As tempting as your offer is, Mr. Spencer, I’m awake now.”
As I struggled to get out of bed with the least pain possible, I noticed that she had fallen asleep fully clothed. That was pretty common for me but a first for her.
I started to just head out but I should have known better. “Just where do you think you are going Mister?”
“To check on the situation?”
“Yes, and you will fully intend on staying only a little while and then you will see one thing after another that legitimately needs your attention and will be there all day.” She began gathering my shower things and pulling out an outfit for me, which was odd because she usually waited until I left the room, and then I noticed that she was getting her own outfit out and getting her shower things as well!
She kissed me without asking. “I can’t take being without you right now.”
I looked into her eyes and they were heavy with emotions; fear being the most prominent. I took her into my arms and she began crying. I may not understand women, but I actually had a moment of clarity. I had dragged her into the middle of a war, and she was terrified. I was her only anchor that allowed her to keep going. I raised her chin and smiled because her face was a mess (another first) and said, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
* * *
I entered the command center with Sylvia at my side and a blush on my face. “Can I get a situation report?”
Larry looked tired but was beaming. “You got here just in time to have missed everything. The last of the Bio-soldiers are being mopped up and they just finished clearing out the base. All of our troops are either on base or heading back in. All that’s left is the clean up and the victory celebrations!” This was the signal that released everyone. There was cheering and hugging and slapping on the back (which really hurt with cracked ribs.)
The battle has lasted about twenty hours from the first contact on the outer islands until the last mobs were wiped out. As battles go it was rather short but incredibly intense. The Giant killers had lost seventeen pilots to injuries or death, which put our casualty rate at about twenty-four percent. The overall casualty rate of all forces was thirty-two percent which is around the point that units start coming apart. Fortunately, all the units which fought here were elite or special forces level troops and only a few small units had been routed or overrun. In contrast, the enemy casualty rate was one hundred percent, with 1,156,346 bio-soldiers killed according to the official estimates and 322 alien soldiers killed or captured.
The civilian casualties had been very light, with more civilians hurt in the evacuation that due to enemy action. We learned another tragic lesson when we looked at those civilians who had been killed by the bio-soldiers. Almost all of civilians killed had been in vehicles that had ended up on the battlefield. The bio-soldiers had destroyed every vehicle they had come across and had especially targeted moving vehicles. The worst incidents had happened where the bio-soldiers line of march had crossed a major freeway. There would be a lot of recriminations over this, but we simply hadn’t known.
Overall, it had been a grueling fight that had pushed us to our limits, but we had won a major victory. I checked in with generals Dupree and Hodgkin and we decided on a meeting for the next evening for all the ground commanders at the Prometheus base. I contacted General Abe only long enough to get permission to coordinate the clean up of the bio-soldier bodies and other alien materials. I was quick because I knew that as we were winding down, his command center was simply changing gears to fight the naval battle that would become known as the battle of the Southern Seas. They still had the dangerous job of locating and clearing the alien bases on the ocean floor, and there were still enough marine bio-soldiers to be a threat to even major warships.
During all of this, Sylvia had been arranging housing for the Giant Killers as the motorhomes had been confiscated by Doc Sullivan to get the wounded home. She managed to rent out an entire hotel on the Myazaki coast where a massive victory party was held that lasted three days (that I didn’t attend.) She had calmed down quite a bit with the news that the battle was over. When I said that I wanted to go visit the hospital, she said that she had some things to finish up here and said she would join me in a bit, and had Sir Jacobs escort me over.
I found Doc Sullivan drinking a long overdue cup of coffee. “Are you here to see Rico?”
“I actually didn’t know he was here. First, how are you and how is the hospital?”
“I’m exhausted beyond the capacity for rational thought.” She laughed at her own joke. “Not really. The first of the motorhome ambulance flights will be coming back in a few hours with a load of relief doctors and I’ll get some sleep then.”
“I’m going to make that an order and get Rusty here to make sure you follow it. Now, where is Rico?”
“Second row, third bed on the right. He scheduled to go out on the next ambulance flight.”
I followed her directions and thought I had gotten them wrong until I remembered that Rico’s real name was Carlos. I peeked in and saw that he was awake. “Hey Rico, How are you holding up?”
“What can I say man? The drugs are good.”
“I haven’t heard the story, what happened?”
“We had lead our millionth mob into a tank ambush. I hear this sickening crunch and I look down and my arm below the elbow is just swinging in the breeze. Doc said that they saved my arm but I have a lot of surgeries ahead before they know if I will ever be able to pilot a suit again,” He was starting to tear up.
I grabbed his good arm in a warriors clasp. “Rico, you were my first pick for a Giant Killer and that’s never going to change. While you’re recovering you can help out on my command team. I still need your eyes, my friend.”
He let go of my hand and wiped his eyes, “Then I’ll be back as soon as the nurses kick me out.”
* * *
Sylvia fought the urge to panic as Allen walked out and she quickly headed to her room and set up a vid-call. When Angelia’s face appeared she couldn’t help but ask, “Are you alone?”
“Yes. Did something happen with Allen?” Sylvia’s furious blush answered her question. She tried to make her voice as kind and supporting as possible. “Tell me what happened.”
“I panicked. I just knew that if I let him get out of my sight I was going to come completely unglued. And when he was getting ready, I pushed things and followed him into the shower.”
“Did you seduce him?”
“No, I mostly cried on him and he didn’t initiate or I would have.”
Angelia thought about a lot of things she could say at this point but ruled most of them out as unhelpful. “Do you love him?”
“Oh, God yes! Even when I want to smack him in the head with a two by four for being so thick headed, I still love him.”
“Does he know?”
“Yes, we became an official couple after he was injured.”
“And you didn’t tell me? Never mind that. Can you handle his relationship with Lena’s alter that is not likely to change for a while without tearing Lena apart?”
“Well, crap! I’ve had him all to myself since then and I forgot about that.”
“There is a reason we’ve been taking things slowly. He’s not in a position where he can make a choice like that yet. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t date him. In fact I think it will be good for both of you, but you can’t claim him for your own just yet.”
* * *
We stayed in Japan for another week while we organized the clean up and rotated all the combat units out. One of the things that is not obvious from an outside perspective is that it takes longer to move military units out than it does to deploy them. Deploying them is relatively easy because you can do things in an emergency and worry about the consequences later. Once the crisis is over, not only can’t you take the shortcuts that you took earlier. You also often find that you need to clean up the messes you and others made earlier.
The Korean Expeditionary Force and the American forces stationed in Korea and Okinawa had to wait for the Battle of the Southern Seas to end before military convoys could be formed to get them back home. The Prometheus units had to use a hodgepodge of military, commercial and Prometheus aircraft to get them and their equipment home.
And me? Remember when I told that transport pilot to do what it took and we would worry about the paperwork later? Well, it was later. We had sent out a mountain of people and equipment on the outbound transport flights and most of it needed to return, Somehow it had been magically transformed into a mountain of paperwork that I had to go through and sign. So, I worked diligently at developing carpal tunnel syndrome. I also had to authorize expenditures for the expeditionary force. The amounts were staggering! I still have a hard time super-sizing my orders at McDonald’s. Just as I finally conquered the summit of Mt Paperwork, I got word that we were ready to head home.
I was prepared to stay on the C&C plane but Sylvia urged me to go on the motorhome and reconnect with my unit. I started thinking about how long I had stayed away and started feeling guilty on the way over. I had been so busy since my injury that the only one I had seen in my squad was Rico and I hadn’t even known he was in the hospital when I went there.
When I got there I was ambushed by a “welcome home” party. Everyone was glad to see me and I was surprised by the number of minor injuries that everyone had. (It turned out that most of these were from the victory party rather than from combat.) I chatted with everyone for a while, but I soon began getting tired and headed for my room.
The first thing I noticed when I got there was that someone else had been using it. Probably Rowen. I cleaned up a few things and get ready for bed when I heard the door open. I was tackled from behind and when I tried to turn around I was thrown into my bunk. “Rowan?”
“Guess again!” She jumped onto the bed and straddled me pinning both of my arms to the bed with her knees.
When she leaned in and kissed me there was little I could do. “That was for saving my life!” And then she slapped me hard. “And that was for nearly getting yourself killed and then abandoning me till now.”
And now she was crying. It’s completely unfair when women cry. There is this deep ache inside of me that wants to do something to make things better and usually I have no idea how. I worked my arms free and hugged her in this awkward position. I managed to get her to unstraddle me and lay beside me without breaking the embrace. I began stroking her hair and whispered, “Shhh, I didn’t mean to leave you. I’m sorry.” I repeated this over and over like a mantra until she stopped crying and fell asleep.
I had never been slapped by a woman before and I deserved this one. I didn’t mean to but with my injuries and all my responsibilities it had just been pushed to the background. And then there was everything with Sylvia. I knew that you weren’t supposed to sleep with other women when you had a girlfriend, but I couldn’t figure out how this was wrong. There was so much I didn’t know about this kind of thing, but there was so much potential for hurt as well.
* * *
I awoke after a series of vague but disturbing dreams and opened my eyes to see a face staring into mine. I jumped.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Rowan!” I sighed with relief. “I’m so glad it’s you!”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Oh no! I was afraid that you were mad at me.”
“I thought maybe you didn’t like me anymore.”
“Your hugs are my favorite ever. I just got hurt and couldn’t come until I got better.”
“The others said you hurt yourself. I thought maybe you hurt yourself so you didn’t have to come see me anymore.”
“Didn’t they tell you about the monsters we were fighting?”
“I didn’t understand her story.”
“We were in our big fighting robots under the ocean when four big monsters and a giant monster attacked us.” Boy this sounds hokey, I almost stopped and then I noticed that Rowen’s eyes were wide. “One of them came at me and I tried to stab it in its eye, but I missed and stabbed it in the arm. Then it grabbed me with its other three arms and tried to pull my robot apart, but I stabbed it in its brain with my electric trident and it died. While we were fighting I hadn’t noticed it had been pulling me toward the giant monster! The giant monster reached for me and I stabbed the gun in its arm with my electric trident and BOOM, its arm blew up. This pushed me away from the monster. I decided to smack me with its tail and go after my friends.I only had one chance to save my friends. I grabbed onto its tail and climbed up its body until I was above its brain. I had lost my trident and the only thing I had left was torpedo missiles. The giant monster noticed me and tried to grab me. The only thing I could do was fire my missiles even though I was too close and would be caught in the explosion, but it was the only way to save my friends.”
I don’t think I could have made up a less likely story than that but she seemed to be impressed by it. “It is 100% honest and true. You can ask Lena. She was there.”
“It sounds kinda like her story, but you tell it much better.”
“Now, I really want a hug from you , but my ribs are still hurt. Can I get a hug around the neck?” I got a hug that threatened to strangle me, but I enjoyed it anyway.
* * *
Our return to the main campus entailed another victory party. There was an awards presentation ceremony and the Giant Killers received a unit silver star, I got received a gold star and even Rico showed to receive his gold heart. There were five impromptu interviews and promises for 7 more formal interviews. Sylvia and Lena both stuck with me during the celebration, which I’m sure will start more rumors.
Next I went to the hospital where I got to get a shot IN my eye and then they glued my eye shut again. They said that my ankle was healing nicely, but I should stay off it as much as possible. Ribs are problematic as they are constantly being flexed by breathing and other such extreme activity. They gave me several things to help keep me from coughing and told me not to drive or operate heavy equipment for a while.
It was good to be home even though there was so much to do. I had Sylvia start a list of the things that I needed to work on and by the time I got home it had fifty-three items. Sylvia helped me unpack and then picked out a nice outfit for me. I had a private meeting with the Director and then Sylvia and I would join The Director and Angelia for dinner.
Sylvia had given me reason to regret not being able to help her unpack but I was happy as I rode the cart to the directors office. (I let it drive as per doctor’s orders.) When I opened the door to the Director’s office, I thought I had somehow gotten the time wrong because there was a whole room full of people there for my “private meeting.”
“Come in Allen.”
“Did I get the wrong message?”
“No. I just lied about this being a one on one meeting to fool your counselor.” OK. This was definitely not business as usual. I looked around the room and no one was reacting like that was a joke. I sat down at the indicated chair. “This is my personal council where we face the hard questions and make the hard decisions.”
Angelia’s eyes bored into Allen. “We are considering asking you to join, but we have some questions for you first”
Allen quickly took in that Sniper, Rodolfo and Tony Moore were also staring at him intently. Tony was the one who asked, “During the battle of Kyushu, you were able to find the Taurian base and discern the enemy plan. You immediately turned over the information to General Abe and risked untold number of lives by prolonging the war. Why was this?”
I thought for a moment before answering. “To hide the information from him would have been a betrayal of the trust put in me by the Japanese people and the general himself.”
Angelia asked, “Was it an easy decision?”
I sighed, “No … No it wasn’t. I have a hard time giving up control. I had to not only give up control to someone who had good reason to make what I felt was the wrong decision, I also gave him a plan to minimise the damage if he made that decision. It helped that the general was a man of greater wisdom and experience than me.”
Rodolfo speared me with the next question. “What if instead of instead of General Abe, they had placed some politically connected fool in charge?”
“I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if I could have handed such a decision to a man I didn’t trust.”
The Director stood up and began to pace. “Many years ago I began to realize that the decisions I made would help or harm millions of lives, sometimes at the same time. I realized that I needed people that I could trust to not only serve as a sounding board, but could overrule me if I made a mistake. This council has served that purpose well and though we disagree from time to time, I have never regretted this decision.”
“I had high hopes for you since I faced you as the Alphan Dominion in Peace of Iron. In every situation we have put you in you have exceeded our expectations. Every time you did, we gave you more authority to see if you could handle it, and the cycle repeated itself. Finally, two weeks ago, I gave you a problem out of desperation that I couldn’t solve … and you solved it.”
Angelia indicated for Tony Moore to continue while she calmed the Director down. “Without your insight, Kyushu would have fallen and we would be embroiled in a massive campaign to get it back. The military casualties alone could have been in the hundreds of thousands, not to mention the civilian casualties that I cannot even begin to calculate. Then the next series of invasions would have hit and humanity would have been fighting for its very existence.”
“Just as important as the victory in Kyushu was the warning that it gave us. Every major power is now arming for full scale war. You pulled out a miracle victory and people changed their hope from Lieutenant Spencer the Giant Killer to Colonel Spencer the General. We need you here to be a part of the planning here at the highest level so that we can act as quickly as possibly instead of going through intermediaries.”
Sniper finally chipped in, “We put you in command because you flipping belonged there. If you didn’t belong there we would have had a bloody mutiny on our hands. You may be a flocking genius with a battlesuit, but you’re also a blasted genius as a general. You may still be a snot nosed kid, but that’s why those of us who have been around the monkey loving block a few times have your back.”
Angelia held up a hand before he could continue and took the floor. “A few months ago, you met the Director and I for the first time and you seemed confused and scared by our machinations. Now you don’t even seem surprised. How much of this had you guessed?”
“I knew that you were manipulating my rise in rank and notoriety. I knew that you had set me up as a war hero and I was trying to work with you as best I could because I knew the importance of that goal. I also understood that you needed me in a position to see everything so that I could help make plans for the war. I still not sure what all the jumps in rank are about, but I can now see that value of me being in a command position and having a command team surrounding me. It still feels wrong to let others fight for me when I can still fight for myself, but I understand the why of it.”
Angelia turned to the Director. “Ha. This time I was right.” She turned back to Allen. “You don’t understand the importance of titles because they don’t make any difference to you. You are just going to have to take my word on this that it is really important to the world at large and there is good reason for giving them to you. By the way, the rank of colonel is permanent now and you will be assigned the rank of general for the next battle. It’s all about giving people the perspective to see the ideas and abilities that you bring to the table and have them take you seriously. Now, do you have any questions?”
I thought for a moment. “Why all the secrecy?”
The director looked sad to the point of brokenhearted. Angelia reached for his hand but he said, “No, I’ll answer. You have probably heard some of the conspiracy theories regarding Prometheus. I thought it all silly and harmless, but my security people didn’t, so I took many of the precautions that they recommended. Then the troubles started to get violent. People started attacking and bombing symbols of capitalism like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Several groups of loons got together and decided to destroy the masterminds of the military industrial complex.”
“They were given access to a national guard armory and they attacked not only our headquarters, but the homes of all of the Prometheus leadership and every business that we partnered with that had a Prometheus logo. By the time the day was done, 152 people had been murdered, and 82 of the attackers were dead. Angelia and I had been lured to a fake meeting and were ambushed on our way there. Our driver, Charlie Burns, was killed when a rocket hit the engine. The only thing that saved us was the fact that we were in a car that a couple of my engineers had tinkered with as a prototype armored vehicle. Joe, our security man, had a sniper rifle hidden in the car and he managed to pick off a few and get the rest to keep their heads down until Sniper lead a rescue mission. I lost a number of friends, and a lot of employees and my chief financial officer and his whole family were slaughtered by these maniacs.”
“You probably heard in school how that, when the news broke, the corruption was traced all the way to the president. And we, through no wish of our own, were right in the middle of all that. There were five days between the time the president and his group tried to suspend the constitution and when they were arrested for treason. We spent all of that under siege by federal law enforcement agents who had been instructed to seize everything we had an kill us as soon as we were out of the sight of the public. Seizing a weapons contractor is easier said than done, especially when a number of agents defect to your side.”
“In the aftermath of all that, we had to decide what to do. People had been murdered simply because they were associated with us. Did we simply clam up and stop being a part of the community? Should we just cut off all of our business partnerships? Publicly we did. We bought this campus, fired all of our leadership, and ended all our partnerships. In reality, we simply made everything we did anonymous. The campuses became fortresses and we eliminated our tracks from the world. In a strange way, we became the conspiracy that we were accused of being.”
Rodolfo continued the narrative, “Now, the few of us who are publicly known must stay behind our fortress walls or travel like thieves in the night. I have had six attempts on my life and the Director has had many more. We put up with all this because we do believe we are making a difference. If you are looking for public acknowledgements of what you have done, then this is not the place for it. On the other hand, I believe you are the kind of man who does deeds because they are the right thing to do. That is the kind of man we need here.”
Angelia caught his eyes. “If you do join us, you can’t tell anyone, even Sylvia. You are not even to hint about any of the things discussed here unless you are in private with one or more of us. This is for their safety more than anything else. So, Allen, would you like to join us?”
I thought about it for a moment to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. “If you think that I can be useful, then I would be honored to join.”
The Director rose, “All in favor of Allen Victor Spencer joining us say ‘aye’”
“Aye” It was unanimous.
“The name of our council stated as a joke and is now just ironic. Allen, welcome to the Prometheus Conspiracy.”
To be Continued …
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