Taurian Invasion: Epilogue


Epilogue

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!

“Uh, what…”

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.

“Lena?”

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.”

“Really?”

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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Taurian Invasion 33: Storm Warning


Section 5:

Calm Before the Storm

The next few months were very exciting to live through, but would be very repetitious to describe. We would spend a week capturing bases and killing aliens, and then we would go home and spend a week resting and healing while training new pilots. Six pilots were killed (five in battle and one in a stupid traffic accident,) and eight others were injured badly enough to take them out of the program, and another seven transferred to other units (five as company leaders.) I learned to expect two to five pilots to be out for injuries, illness or whatever at the start of each battle and ten to twelve to be out by the end.

I was lucky, as I didn’t lose any of my squad, and in fact, added another member. Lynette joined our squad on a permanent basis because I never knew when I would be needed for something else. Sureshot was promoted to squad leader to free up more of my time for command duties. It was a wild ride and just as it seemed that there was no way that we could lose, all of the remaining Taurian bases disappeared. It was like, poof, and they were gone.

Everything seemed to be at a standstill, until we lost the Reagan. It was sailing from Pearl Harbor on route to Yokosuka, Japan when it was attacked by a swarm of Kraken and Leviathan coming up from below. By the time the attackers were killed or driven off by depth charges and the like, the Old Man was riddled with holes and sinking fast. The loss of such a powerful warship and 516 of its crew was bad enough by itself but the message it sent was far worse: Humanity had lost control of the seas.

* * *

I heard my front door open, and since the clock read 7:05 AM, I said, “Good morning, Sylvia.”

“Have you eaten yet Allen?”

“I was going to have some cereal earlier, but I never got around to it.”

“Then we’re going to the Main Cafeteria to get you a decent hot breakfast.”

As I gathered up my things I decided to take a jab, “I still haven’t found any research on the nutritional value of heat.”

She smacked me in the shoulder and said; “Will you be serious. This is a big meeting with some of the most important people in the company.”

“Yes, and I’ve snored along with most of them through meetings before.”

“Why do you have to have a smart-alec comment for everything I say?”

“Two reasons, really. First, it lets you know that I’m listening to what you’re saying and second, because I occasionally make you crack a smile.”

“You’re cracked enough for both of us. Do you even know what this meeting’s about?”

‘I thought you did.”

“I was just told to have you there at 9:00 sharp.”

“I just hope it’s not another dang promotion. I’m still getting used to people calling me Major.”

“Allen Spencer, don’t you dare even THINK of turning down a promotion for a stupid reason like that.”

I gave her my best mischievous smile, “OK, I’ll be sure to come up with a better one.”

* * *

We arrived after a long drive in an area deep inside the mountain that I had never been to before. It looked to me like our weapons bay, but most of the room had been curtained off, and a large table had been set up for the meeting. The Director and Angelia we already there, and he had a big grin, which meant he was up to something. “Good morning Allen and Sylvia, I trust you two are well.”

“We’re good.”

“Excellent, how is your battlesuit company?”

“At full strength and starting to get bored.”

“Well, we shouldn’t have to worry about that for too much longer.” Definitely up to something. Other people started filing in before I could ask any questions. After everyone else had settled in, Dr Royce was escorted into the meeting from behind the curtains by his counselor. The Director stood up; “As everyone should know by now, the war has entered a new phase and the enemy I coming at us from an new and unexpected direction. They have begun sending their marine bio-soldiers against large ships at sea and have so far sunk one aircraft carrier, twenty-two cargo container ships and a tanker. We need new weapons to counter this new threat, and Herman and his people have been working hard and came up with something brilliant, as usual. Herman.”

“Ever since we got our hands on examples of alien technology, we have been trying to add this into our own systems to give us an advantage over the enemy. While this pursuit has taken us down many false paths, OW!” (Heather looked excessively innocent.) “Getting back to the subject at hand, one of our greatest achievements has been the hybrid technology battlesuit. It is not, however the pinnacle of this technology. We have to take the knowledge and experience from the hybrid battlesuit project and moved it to its next logical step. This journey required many changes to be made and there were many technical obstacles to overcome which my people worked…Ow. Without any further delays, I want to present to you the next level of battle technology: The Type IV Knight Medium Hybrid Battlesuit!”

The curtain opened and there it stood; A thirty foot tall giant; Armed and ready to take on anything that the enemy could throw at us. Part of me wanted to go over it specs so that I could see how it would integrate into our formations. The other part of me was filled with more desire than a frat-boy at a nudist colony. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open, entranced by it until Sylvia kicked me under the table and I realized that my name had been called a couple of times.

The director had an amused smile as he said, “Well, Mister Spencer, does it meet with your approval?”

“It looks awesome, but I need to run it through some trials before I can make any sort of a judgment.”

“I would have thought you had made up your mind by the expression you had.”

“I may be in love, but I think I should get to know her before I propose.” Sylvia kicked me under the table again for that one, but I thought it was funny.

As I had hoped, the prototypes were transferred to my company. We were still first and foremost, test pilots. We gained access to a third bay that housed the Knights, which I allowed everyone to visit, but no one got to pilot one until I felt that they were qualified in the simulators. These suits worked like nothing that had ever been made before, which sounds good until you realize that there are plenty of problems that no one has ever encountered before. The regular way to make something like this was to put some sort of cockpit in the thing and train new pilots from scratch, but that would have been too easy. Instead, they actually had a set of clamps that installed the Warrior battlesuits in the chest and let it control the Knight. Sounds pretty simple as we had already worked out a lot of the bugs from the Warriors, Right? It was chaos!

One of the first pilots to qualify on the Knights was Lena. She had the grace and balance to make a battlesuit do nearly anything, but after three days of trying to pilot the medium battlesuits, she earned a new nickname that stuck with her: The Demolisher! She broke four Knights in three days trying to put them through their paces. It wasn’t that she made any mistakes; it was just that the big suits couldn’t keep up with her. Considering that there were only ten prototypes total and there was a limit on how fast our repair crews could fix them, I ended up having to restrict how often she was allowed to pilot one.

With some of the spectacular falls, crashes and assorted malfunctions those early tests, the only reason that no one got killed was the decision to put a Warrior battlesuit inside the Knights to protect the pilot. I would later learn that the only reason that it had been done that way was because the designers didn’t have time to build a proper cockpit, but I wasn’t complaining. We got into a routine where we would test the Knights until three or more of them broke down and then we would go back and practice in the simulators until the research team fixed them all. It didn’t help anything that both of the Type V scout Knights had catastrophic breakdowns in the first week and were pulled by research for a full redesign.

It was total pandemonium in our unit for about a month and a half until we got the big guys stabilized enough to take them out on the weapons range. We wasted so much ammo! We were having so much fun that Sylvia had to threaten to call security on me one night to get me to send everyone home for the night. I had almost completely forgotten about the war, but that was about to change.

* * *

I was just about to go to bed when my vid-phone began singing Dare to Be Stupid. I answered it expecting it to be Sylvia making sure I was going to bed, but I was greeted by the Director. “Allen, I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”

“Sure thing. What do you need me to do sir?”

“I’m sending you some intelligence reports. Look them over and see if you can see a pattern for me.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll let you know if and when I find something.” I knew that he was up to something, but I was getting used to that. I started looking through the war reports. The Taurians had settled down quite a bit, but they would still make an attack from time to time. A ship here or there, the occasional small harbor or remote beach, but there seemed to be no real pattern, but that couldn’t be true. These were organic robots; they didn’t do things for no particular reason. I called up more and more reports until I became oblivious to anything except this problem. When my vid-phone began singing Another One Rides the Bus, I about jumped out of my skin.

“Well, Allen, what are they doing?”

“Getting ready to invade.”

“Where?”

“Tasmania, Kyushu, Cuba, Newfoundland, Madagascar, and Ireland.”

“All at once?”

“No, they’ll attack Kyushu first.”

“How do you know?”

“Body bounties.”

“Body bounties?”

“If you correct for the currents, that’s where the bodies are washing up that we are paying bounties for, and that’s where they’re massing. We need to get everything we can to Japan before they attack.”

“Why didn’t I see that before? Get some rest, son. You’ve earned it!”

The screen went blank, so I got up and stretched…and my alarm went off in my bedroom. “That didn’t take long.”

Sylvia found me a bit later as I was pouring orange juice into my cereal. “Why did you do that, you goof-ball?”

“I’m not really sure.” She took it away from me. “Hey! I might want to eat that.”

“That’s it. You are not going to work today.”

“That’s probably a good idea. Could you spread the word that everyone in the unit should take the day off? Support staff and all.”

“Why?”

“They should get everything in order. We’re leaving for Japan tomorrow.”

“I haven’t heard anything about that.”

“You’re the third one to know after me and the Director.”

* * *

I took a nap for a few hours and then I called up Tony Moore. “Hello there Major, what can I do for you?”

“Has the Director informed you about moving assets to Japan?”

“We’re in a meeting about that right now. We were planning on calling as soon as you woke up.”

“All right, what did I miss?”

The vid-phone switched to a full room view so that I could see everyone. I had never seen the Director looking so tired. “Well, my boy, we were just going over the situation that you brought to my attention and starting to brainstorm ideas.”

“We are debating where to place our assets and what to tell the world, but we hadn’t come to any conclusions yet. You were the one who saw this problem. What are you thinking?”

“I wish I had had the time to draw up maps to show you the patterns I saw last night, but I’ll try to explain it instead. I was plotting where and how frequently the Taurian bodies were washing on shore, and the bodies are definitely concentrating toward six points. The largest of these concentrations is moving toward southern Japan, and it is the closest to having all the forces in place. All of them should be in position around Kyushu in as little as two weeks, but not more than five. None of the others will be in place for at least eight weeks.”

“Is that why you think Kyushu will be first?”

“That, and it’s the force that started moving first. If we move on this quickly, we can get enough forces in position to defeat their largest attack.”

“Why Kyushu then?”

“I’m not really sure. Their strategy seems clear enough. Go for a large island near a continental landmass, If it were up to me I would have picked Hunan or Taiwan or even Borneo, but the Taurs are heading for Kyushu instead.”

“OK, let my try that a different way. How sure are you that the target is Kyushu and not something else?”

“Last night when I was immersed in the data, I would have staked my life on it. This morning, I’m less sure, but even if it’s not Kyushu, it will be close enough that Kyushu will be a good staging ground anyway.”

“I’ve been going over the data since I signed off with Allen. I think he’s right. Besides, our biggest facility in Japan is in Kyushu and it’s where we would stage anyway for anything in that region. Tony, who could we count on to stand with us there?”

“The Japanese Military have really bulked themselves up since the Troubles. They are well motivated, well equipped and well trained. The only thing that they lack is experience. We can also count on the US forces in the area and most likely the South Koreans as well. The Russians and the Chinese will have forces that can be called on for a price, but I would wait to see how much help we need before calling them.”

“Do you think that’s enough Allen?”

“The number of forces available is fine, but I really think we need to move every combat ready unit Prometheus has there. They have good numbers, but we have the experience. Plus, sending everything will let people know just how serious this is.”

“Tony?”

“I don’t know. Putting all your eggs in one basket is always risky.”

“Then you get together with your commanders and decide whose going. I’ll start things rolling on the diplomatic side.”

“Sir, May ask a question?”

“Of course.”

“Do you have someone else who can do that for you?”

“Well, I guess so.”

“Then I am going to push my luck and make a suggestion for all of us here. I just gave all of my people the day to get all of their things in order and get some rest and relaxation before everything starts tomorrow. I may be out of line, but you look exhausted, and this may be that last time that any of us get a chance like this for quite some time. With respect, I suggest that you, and all of your key people take this day to take it easy and get prepared, and tomorrow We’ll start the all out push.”

“He’s got you there.” said Angelia with a big smile, “If you get some rest now, you be able to work better and longer in the long run.”

“But…but…”

“Don’t ‘but’ me mister. You’re the one who created the monster. Now, you have to live with the consequences.”

“Very well, I see I’m outvoted here. Angelia, you spread the word to the appropriate people and counselors. We’ll all get some rest and start everything bright and early tomorrow. Allen, I expect you here in my conference room at 7 AM tomorrow morning.”

* * *

After everyone else has left Angelia turned to the Director, “You gave in way too easily on that one. What are you up to?”

“You, my dear, were right on target. I have created the monster. Since the first time I faced him in a video game, I had a hunch that he was the one. He thinks like I do and can see patterns like I can. I have been trying to figure out what the alien’s next move will be for weeks and come up with nothing. I gave him the problem out of desperation, hoping he might be able to give me some leads. He solved the problem in less than ten hours. If he’s seeing the pattern well enough to say that this is the last chance for a good rest, then I damn well better listen.”

“Are you jealous?”

“No…well, yes, a little bit. Part of me is incredibly relieved. I thought I would never find someone else who could see the big patterns like I can. Another part of me is a bit jealous that he beat me at my own game.”

“And you’re sending him right into the jaws of the enemy?”

“I know that you don’t approve, Angel, but that’s exactly where we need him to be.”

“And if he dies?”

“Then we go on as best we can. His responsibilities will take him out of direct combat eventually. We just have to trust in Providence to keep him safe until then.”

* * *

I went and checked on Sylvia at my office at the simulator bay. She was talking to several people as I arrived, so I checked to see who else was in instead of taking the day off like they were supposed to. I heard someone in my office and walked in expecting it to be Sniper. “Rusty, what are you doing here, sir?”

“Just helping out the Doc, and since when do I rate a ‘sir’ from you?”

“Because you’re an older, more experienced warrior who I respect. Besides, calling you ‘dude’ just doesn’t seem right. Anyway, could you let the Doc know I want to talk to her as soon as possible?”

“Sure thing, kid.”

“Thanks pops. I started going through my ‘in’ box as Rusty left. It was a relief to see that nothing was so urgent that it couldn’t wait for tomorrow. I started packing up everything I thought I would need for our extended stay in Japan. Somewhere in that, Sylvia walked in and started going through the things I had set aside. “Sylvia, I have a question for you.”

“Yes?” She said without looking up.

“An important one.”

She whirled around with wide eyes. “What?”

“This isn’t going to be like any of our other deployments. Those were raids, but this is war. I don’t know how long we will be there, so I would like to ask if you would go with me?”

“To Japan?”

“Yes, I’m asking you to go into a war zone, with all its inherent risks, but I’m going to need a lot of help, and having you at my side will make things a lot easier.” I guess the idea really scared her because she was breathing really heavy.

“Let me think about that some. I mean, I would have to find someone to take over my other duties and such.”

“Let me know as soon as you decide. Can you call Angelia and ask her about bringing other counselors as well?”

“I’ll do that,” and she left the room in a rush.

Doc Simmons came in next, “You wanted to see me?”

“I take it you’ve heard about our expedition?”

“Just rumors so far.”

“The Taurians are gearing up for a big push in Southern Japan. I would like for you to round up the people and equipment for a field hospital there. I’m sure the Japanese have plenty of fine hospitals, but I’m not sure how many are out of the danger zone. This is going into an active combat zone, so I want this to be on a strictly voluntary basis, yourself included.”

“Wow, you don’t do things half-way. Can I have Rusty for the rest of the day?”

“You can have him for as long as you need him ma’am.” I met her eyes to make sure she understood the implications of what I said. She nodded and left without another word.

I punched up Tony Moore on the vid-link. “How are things on your end, sir?”

“Well, everyone I’ve talked to is ready to go fight. I just need to figure out what kind of reserve to leave here. Do you have any ideas?”

“I definitely don’t want to take any units who haven’t passed all of their certifications. I also don’t want to take any of the experimentals except for the Knights.”

“Why them?”

“Frankly, because they’re impressive looking. They will give everyone a morale boost and will make good press coverage, but the truth is that we don’t have enough of them to make a strategic difference.”

“As long as you and the other pilots understand the risks and limitations.”

“What does that leave us with?”

“36 companies of hybrid armored infantry and 53 tuskers.”

“Wow, I had no idea we had so many tanks.”

“The number includes new units in the warehouse and those that were scheduled to be delivered to customers, but are being put on hold for the time being. Do you think that’s enough?”

“Not by ourselves. They will make a powerful force, but with the number of aliens that are coming, we wouldn’t stand a prayer by ourselves.”

“Good, you’re keeping things in perspective. The Japanese and US forces will provide the bulk of the troops. We’ll go over the details in the meeting tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll be there sir.”

“Good, now go get some of that rest that you wanted for all of us.”

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Taurian Invasion 29: Taking Command


The next morning back at Prometheus there was a high level meeting. The Director addressed a screen at the end of the room on which Sniper joined the meeting. “Your decision was just a bit abrupt. What made you decide to give him a battlefield promotion at that particular time?”

“Other than the fact that it was long overdue, it was because he hesitated while in the middle of combat, while directing the battle, because he needed to give me an order. My rank, or his lack of it, was in the way, so I took care of the problem.”

“Alright, does Allen seem to be adjusting to being in command?”

“That’s it? You’ve blocked this for months causing me all that freaking grief and now it’s no big deal?”

“Sniper, you are a battlefield commander, and I am a civilian with no military experience. I have to completely rely on the judgment of the people who are in the field; and hopefully I am wise enough to not sit here and second guess your decisions from the comfort of my office. You gave what sounded to me like a valid military reason for a military decision. Unless I hear from one of my other military commanders that you made a bad decision for a bad reason, I am not going to second guess it. Now, how does Allen seem to be adjusting to being in command?”

“Like a duck to water. He is a bit hesitant about the parts that are new to him, but he leads, and so people follow.”

“Tony, what’s your assessment?”

“He’s doing well, but trying to do far too much himself. I’m putting together a list of names to form a command staff for him. I’d pull him for my command group, but he’s still too young to accept being away from the action.”

Angelia caught the General’s attention, “I might have some names for your list, if you think it would be helpful.”

“I wouldn’t dream of making the list without your input.”

“Why a command staff so soon?”

“He has a brilliant combat team that he has put together around himself, but they are not the right kinds of people to be able to help him with the types of problems he is already encountering while trying to come up with workable strategies for the war. So, he has been trying to do it all himself and its starting to show. I think that if we give him the tools, he will be able to use them properly, which will allow him to work more efficiently.”

“Herman, what is the status of the new weapons systems he requested?”

“Well the Chaff systems that he requested are not a really difficult engineering challenge. The biggest problem is to figure out what form of it will provide the greatest distraction for bio-soldiers under low light conditions. We already have several study groups … OW!” The research director looked sharply at his councilor, Heather, who was looking excessively innocent. “Where was I?”

“I was wondering how long it would be until workable Chaff units reached the field.”

“A set of working prototypes will be in Australia tomorrow.”

“Excellent. Anything else on this matter before we move on?”

“Yeah, before I go, how long until Allen starts attending these meetings?”

“If things keep going the way the way they are, I would be surprised if it was more than a couple of months.”

“Great, more waiting.”

* * *

I woke up with a crick in my neck and fifty things running through my head. I had been sleeping in an odd position and one arm was asleep and as I tried to turn and stretch, my elbow clunked into something solid and I heard a sleepy, “Ow!” I turned quickly and saw nocturnal visitor rubbing her forehead and looking at me with wide, frightened eyes.

“Sorry. I really didn’t mean to bonk you.”

She said, “It’s OK,” but her eyes were still full of fear and distrust.

“Please don’t leave, it was an accident.”

She had started to gather herself up but, at my outburst, she stopped and shifted on the bed. She looked me straight in the eye and sneered “What can I do for you Hon?”

OK that woke me up! My visitor was definitely gone. I glanced quickly at the clock which said it was five in the afternoon. I tried to convert that to what time it was at home and failed completely. “I just woke up because I had a crick in my neck. I was going to just go back to sleep when I accidentally woke you. You’re welcome to stay or go; whichever you like.”

She snorted in mixed disgust and amusement and started to get up, then stopped and stared at me intently, “You’re Allen right?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“So you’re the goody two-shoes that has everyone in such an uproar.”

“I guess so.”

“Does you neck still hurt?”

“Uh … yeah?”

“OK then, turn around.” I hesitated, not knowing what she intended. “I’m just going to rub your neck. No big deal.” I turned and sat facing away from her and she began her massage.

No big deal indeed! I had never gotten a real massage before in my life and especially not from a pretty girl. It was having quite an effect on me! On the one hand, this was completely outside of my comfort zone and I was completely embarrassed and had no idea of what I should do. Back to the first hand, I was really sore and very tense from all that had been happening and everything that was coming up. The matter was decided by relaxing effect that the massage had on me, which made me feel like I was going to melt into a puddle at any moment.

And then she started kissing my neck! Now I know it doesn’t fit the macho hero stereotype, but I nearly jumped out of my skin. Despite the battlesuit and the giant killer image that I’d earned, at heart I was still a nerd who lived with his mother, and this scared the tar out of me. I turned to ask what was going on and received the first full on kiss of my life.

She sat back and gave me this measuring look, and sighed, “You have no idea what’s going on, do you?” I simply shook my head no as I was too busy hyperventilating to speak. “Crap on a cracker, now the others are awake and I have to go.”

She closed her eyes briefly, and then opened them and looked around in a confused manner. “I think I’d better go.” Now that was Lena’s voice, but I was too breathless and confused to do more than nod my agreement and get up and out of her way. She hurried out, obviously embarrassed, which confirmed some of my earlier suspicions about her not remembering her nocturnal visits. I felt like I was near figuring out what was going on with Lena until this morning’s events. Now I was completely lost again and flustered besides.

I looked at the clock and tried to figure out how much sleep I got, but decided that it really didn’t matter. There was no way I was going back to sleep after that. I grabbed a quick shower and came back to my computer to continue working. It was actually a relief to bury myself in reading intelligence reports to find out the extent of the alien presence on our world.

I had a group of people arriving this evening (they were already in the air) to form my staff which meant that today was the last day that I had to myself. With the Chaff ordinance not arriving until tomorrow, I decided that we would take two days to get prepared for our first push. The goal would be to take out four Taurian bases in four nights. I needed to come up with at least four battle plans that were similar enough that our people would be able to get into a routine, but varied enough that the Taurians would not know what to expect. I also needed some sort of training routine for our people to prepare on, but getting the simulators reprogrammed in such a short time was simply out of the question. Besides all of that, I had to figure out what to say to the company as the new commander.

* * *

The morning meeting started as normal except that I was at the helm. “Anyone who hasn’t heard about the change in command by now really needs to get out from under your rock more often. Sniper and I have decided to trade places because he for some reason wanted to be promoted down to XO, which left me in charge. Now whenever I got a new boss, the first question I always have is what is he going to change? I have come up with only one major change that I want to make: Some journalist somewhere tried to label me as the ‘Giant Killer.’ I managed to turn that around on my first interview by saying that it was my squad name. By doing that, I wanted to let the world know that I was part of a team who did great things and not some idiot who thought that I could do it all by myself. Now that I think about it, I was wrong to limit it to just my squad. We couldn’t have done it without the rest of you any more than I could have done it without my squad. Therefore, I have made the Giant Killers the official company name.”

“Most of you were here when I was hired and you are the people who turned a series of wild ideas from me into battlefield success. We are now the most powerful and successful alien fighting unit on the planet, but I don’t think that we’ve come anywhere near hitting our limits. In two days, we are going to show the world how to drive the Taurians off of our planet.” I actually got some cheers for that one.

“What I need most at the moment is ideas and suggestions on how to improve and alter the assault we had last night. We had a great success last night, but if we keep doing the same thing over and over, they will eventually catch on and cut us to ribbons. Anyone who has a good or bad idea, please come see me. Even a bad idea could be combined with another idea to make a great idea. Feel free to come see me as often as you like and don’t worry about being a pest. If I think that you’re a pest I’ll tell you. Until then you’re a welcome guest. I’ll have some training exercises for you later this afternoon … tonight … well later anyway. Until then, you’re free. Try not to blow anything up unless it’s an alien.”

As far as speeches went, I thought it was a pretty good one. The only major gaff was that this was the first that Sniper heard that I had accepted him as my executive officer, which I didn’t realize until someone pointed it out to me much later.

I headed back to my room and continued reading intelligence reports. I got a number of visits over the next couple of hours, but I kept feeling disappointed every time I saw who it was. I tried to dismiss the feeling, but it kept bugging me until I decided that I needed to deal with it directly.

Lena came in a little while later and would not make eye contact. “You wanted to see me sir?” (She had never called me ‘sir’ before as far as I could remember, so this was a bad sign.)

“I would like you to listen to a story of something that happened to me and tell me what you think I should do after I finish. Would you be willing to do that for me?”

She looked up with a suspicious glare, “I guess so.”

“While we were in the Amazon, a little girl wandered into my room one night. She seemed lost and scared, and when I asked her what she needed, she just wanted a hug. She seemed very familiar, but I wasn’t sure who she was. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but that seemed like a reasonable request. I gave her a hug which seemed to make her feel better and I sent her off to bed.”

“The next night she returned, but this time she asked if she could stay because she didn’t want to be alone. I still wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew it wasn’t safe for a little girl to be wandering around there, so I let her stay and watched over her while she slept. In the morning she went on her way, only to return each night. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew that at least I could keep her safe. When we left the Amazon, she disappeared, and she never even told me her name.”

“Her name is Rowan.”

“I thought you might know her, but that’s not the end of the story. I didn’t see her again until last night. It might seem strange, but I was very glad to see her again, and had missed her quite a bit. Unfortunately, I fell asleep in an odd position and woke up hurting. When I tried to shift to a more comfortable position, I accidentally knocked her in the head with my elbow. This seemed to really scare her, and I tried to apologize, but she started to run away. I felt terrible and I asked her not to go, but it was too late and she was gone.”

“To my surprise someone else arrived as soon as she left. She too looked familiar, but I knew I had never met her before, but she seemed to know me. I tried to explain what had happened to Rowan, and she seemed to understand. She offered to give me a neck rub because I was still hurting. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do because she was a stranger, but she seemed to be a friend of the little one, so I let her. When she started kissing that back of my neck, I nearly jumped out of my skin, I turned to ask what was going on, and she kissed me. Now, I am not in the habit of kissing women whose name I don’t even know and apparently it showed. She stopped and told me that she had to go and then you arrived. I’m still not sure what all is going on, but I thought that there might have been some mistaken impressions that needed to be cleared up. I had the feeling that you might know these two, and I was wondering if you could give them some messages for me.”

“I think that I might be able to arrange that.”

“Please let Rowan know that I would never hurt her or let anyone else hurt her on purpose and I am very sorry that I accidentally hurt her. I miss her hugs and hope to see her again soon. As for the other lady…”

“Bubbles.”

“Er, OK. Please let Bubbles know that I wasn’t trying to lead her on in any way. I appreciated the massage, but I’m kind of shy and she really surprised me. If she wants to visit or talk to me, she is always welcome, but I’m afraid I might always be a bit shy around her.”

“Anything else?”

“Just that I want you to remember that you are always welcome to visit and talk as well.”

She hesitated for a moment, “You seem kind of busy, I’d better go.”

“Alright, I’ll see you later.”

I still didn’t know all of what was going on, but I had learned a few things and I certainly felt better. I really wanted to know what was happening, but I recognized that pushing things would only end in disaster. At the very least, our talk let me concentrate on what I was doing without being constantly distracted.

* * *

My decision to meet my new staff as they landed turned out to be somewhat of a mistake. Even though the sun had only been up for a little while, it was still hot enough to make wearing my dress uniform a torturous affair. Add to that just how much of a dust storm a jet landing on a dirt runway raises, and you have all the makings for a bad time.

As the plane taxied to a stop, I stopped coughing long enough to recognize it as the command center that Rodolfo had brought to the Amazon. As the back ramp of the plane opened, a thin man with a crisp uniform and thick mustache greeted me with a perfect salute.

“Major Brent Jacobs reporting for duty sir!”

“Pleased to meet you sir.”

“Yours is the honor sir, as I will be reporting to you as your head of security.”

I should have said something about it being an honor to have him, but his perfect military manners, higher rank and thick British accent had thrown me a bit. I really needed a moment to process what this meant, but I didn’t get it as Major Jacobs led me inside and introduced me to about twenty people in just over a minute. Now I am very good at keeping a huge amount of information straight in my head, but there is a weakness in that I must understand each piece and figure out where it fits in relation to the others in order to do so. The Major seems to be the kind of person who has endless amounts of energy and lives life at a pace that just makes me tired to watch. These things combined into a situation where I was about to panic because I was getting serious information overload during an important event. “Major!”

“Sir!”

“I need to speak to you privately.”

“There is a conference room right here sir.”

Ten seconds of silence was just enough of a break to get myself under control and figure out something to talk to him about. “How many security personnel do you have right now?”

“None have been assigned to this command yet.”

“Then maybe you could help me with a problem. I have a tactical reserve of seventeen pilots who have nothing better to do than sit around and get themselves in trouble. I was wondering if you could find a use for them until they are called on.”

“I can think of a few things sir.”

“If you could get right on that Major, I would really appreciate it.”

He gave me another salute and executed a perfect military turn and was gone. I took a minute to catch my breath and get my thoughts in order. I had just missed a lot of important information during the introductions, and tantalizing bit and pieces of it were gnawing at my subconscious until I found out what was what. I walked back out to the command and control deck looked over everyone and picked the calmest looking one, “Can I have a word with you?” Once the door to the conference room closed, “Would you be kind enough to give me your name and tell me what you do again?”

He gave me a friendly smile that immediately put me at ease, “David Ford, military chaplain.”

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name the first time.”

“We met back in Brazil, but you were a bit out of it at the time and Sir Jacobs is enough to confuse anyone.”

“Sir Jacobs?”

“We just call him that because he’s British, says ‘sir’ way too much and because it bugs him. He’s fun to tease, but he really knows his stuff.”

“It sounds like you have all worked together before.”

“Most of us have been together for about four years now. The Director had Tony put together a military command team during the Troubles. We got to fly around the world to any trouble spot that involved Prometheus, but there usually isn’t all that much for us to do. When Tony asked us if anyone wanted to join your command team, we all jumped at the chance to do something useful.”

“Do you guys come with the flying command center?”

“I take it Tony didn’t tell you that this plane is now your official headquarters.”

“I was kidding, but it fits the pattern.”

“The Director likes to play his games, but it always seems to work out for everyone in the end. By the way, may I ask what you did with sir Jacobs?”

“I sent him to form my reserve pilots into a security squad.”

“That will keep him happy. I almost hate to get my hopes up, but do you have anything for me to do?”

“You know, there is something that would take a big load off my mind. Three of our pilots were injured in last night’s battle. I really wanted to go and see them, but I just haven’t been able to get to it yet. If you could check in on them and tell me how they are, I would really appreciate it.”

“I’ll take the Doc with me if you don’t mind.”

“Sounds good. That way I can meet him when you get back.”

“Her.”

“If it’s Barbara Sullivan, then I know her.” He nodded and I continued, “If you two could do that right away, that would be great.”

“I’ll take that as a dismissal and get right on it. Should I send someone else in?”

“I need to meet everyone, so send in whoever’s next.”

I spent the next several hours meeting the entire crew of the C&C plane. I now had a staff and command crew of over twenty people that I seemed to have inherited from the Director himself. I found myself surrounded by people who were older and more experienced than me, but who were looking to me for leadership. I needed to know one more thing before I could act, and so I called in Phil Gerard, my strategic consultant. I showed him my assault plan for the Taurian bases to keep his mind occupied and asked him to work on coming up with variants that would keep the aliens guessing. He was able to come up with so many of ideas in such a short period of time that I nearly forgot the real reason for calling him in. After brainstorming for a half hour we had at least twenty workable ideas, “What made you decide to take this assignment?”

“It’s quite simple really. I came for the same reason that I joined Prometheus. I spent twenty three years playing armchair general while spending my days selling paint. When I found out the aliens were coming, my whole life up to that time seemed like a complete waste. I joined Prometheus and took this assignment because, here, I just might be able to make a difference.”

* * *

I finally reached the haven of my motorhome. The state room of the C&C plane was mine to claim, but I really need a familiar place. After meeting everyone and giving them assignments, they started giving me reports on those assignments. I had to admit that they were extremely good and accomplished in a couple of hours what would have taken me several days. The pace was frantic and exhausting, but I felt the kind of exhaustion that you have after a day at an amusement park; so tired that you can barely smile.

Everything was ready for tomorrow. A detailed plan was being given to General Harrison so that he could go over it while my people and I slept (A sixteen hour time difference is a pain in the butt.) I opened the door to my quarters and saw that sleep would have to wait. “Hello there.”

“Hi.” It was Rowan. I thought it was from her posture, but I couldn’t be sure until I heard her voice.

“I am so glad to see you. Going a day without a hug from you is really hard on me.”

“Really?”

“Yep. How are you tonight?”

“Isn’t it daytime?”

“It is here, but it’s night at home. Besides, I’m sleepy and about to go to bed, so night works for me even if it is hot and sunny outside.”

“Sorry that I ran away. I was scared.”

“So was I.”

“That’s silly. Why would you be scared?”

“I was scared that I would never get a hug from you again.”

She gave a little giggle, “You’re funny.”

“I like you too. I like your hugs and I love your smile.” She rewarded me with a bright smile and a big hug for that. “Well, I am very tired, and I am going to bed unless you have something else you want to talk about.”

She frowned as I took my jacket off, “I know you said that you said that hugs make things better, but now that she knows I come here, she might not let me come sometimes.”

“That’s OK. I don’t want to get you in trouble. Just let her know that I said that you can come anytime you want.”

A mischievous smile appeared, “Good, cause you’re her super-lee-er, so she has to do what you say.”

“It doesn’t quite work that way, but, I’ll talk to her for you.” I finished getting ready and she moved over to give me room to lay down.

“Do you want to talk to Bubbles?”

Now it was my turn to frown, “Can I tell you a secret Rowan?”

“Sure.”

“It’s kind of silly, but Bubbles is kind of scary to me. I feel safer with you.”

“OK, I’ll stay with you and keep you safe.”

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Taurian Invasion 26: Command Decision


I came into work glad to be somewhere where I understood everything … and one look around told me that something was wrong. The development lab was always busy, loud and sometimes chaotic. There were always people in motion and (odd) things were always happening, but not today. The place was quiet as a tomb and everyone was trying to look busy without making any noise. My squad was sitting at the simulator monitoring station while an AAR (after action report) video was playing with the sound turned off while they were all carefully studying their feet.

I came up to my group and whispered, “What’s going on?”

There was silence for a few seconds before Lena replied, “It’s a good day to not to upset Sniper. Something to do with Zach.”

I added up a few things in my head, “Does he have a bottle?”

“Several, I think.”

Crud! “Where’s Rusty?”

“Hiding over there.”

I tried to walk calmly over to him. When I tapped him on the shoulder, I saw a suspicious looking welt and I knew that the situation was completely out of control. I closed my eyes and thought for a minute. I spoke without opening my eyes, “Rusty, take everyone down to the weapons lab. Have the pilots suit up and arm their suits with sniping weapons only. Go to the weapons range and have everyone qualify or re-qualify on the sniper’s course. Anyone who finishes can see who gets the best score on the skeet drills.”

“But, what about…”

I cut him off, “Rusty, I have never even considered giving you a direct order without asking your opinion or permission. I am doing so now.”

“Yes sir!”

Rusty got everyone moving, and I just stood there and watched and made sure that no one tried to stay behind. Once everyone had gone, I called Sylvia.

“What?”

She was still upset, but that didn’t matter anymore. “This is an emergency! Call Gloria and have her come to the Warrior development lab immediately. Call security and have them wait outside the doors in case I need them.”

“What’s going on?”

“Sniper is out of control and I’m going to take care of him,” and I hung up before she could ask me any more questions. I then did something I had never ever considered doing before. I went over to the weapons locker and put on a sidearm. Then I went over to the control booth where Sniper usually hung out.

I knocked on the door, and a bottle smashed against it, “I told you to leave me the flock alone!”

I opened the door, and found sniper with another bottle. He was just starting to pull his arm back when he realized that he was looking down the barrel of a 9 mm Beretta, “Put the bottle down now!” I shut the door and pulled up a chair without ever taking the gun off of him, “Now, we are going to calmly discuss whatever’s bothering you.”

“Are you going to put the dang gun down?”

“I don’t think so. You’re a trained US Marine who is currently drunk and dangerous. I’m a pansy civilian whose last hand to hand lesson was a karate class when I was twelve. You could break me in two without half thinking about it … So, what’s bugging you?” I didn’t have any illusions that the gun put us on equal footing. He could probably take me without a problem, but I thought that it just might be enough to keep his attention and make him focus.

“They want me to decide what to do with Zach’ fu … freaking body.”

“And his family?”

“They don’t give a flying fart”

“Have you asked anyone to help or have you just used it to rip your own guts out?”

“You’ve been puking hurt and busy.”

“I’m not the only person in this company … in Prometheus who can help.”

He was silent for a moment. This was going much better that I thought it would. I fully expected to have had to shoot something by now to keep his attention. As I had never fired a handgun in my life, this was probably the weakest part of the plan, but I was going to give it (if you’ll pardon the pun) my best shot.

The silence was going on too long, “Gloria will be here soon. Go with her, sober up and I will take care of things.”

“What makes you think I’ll do what you say.”

“Because you’re not fit for command at the moment, or are you going to tell me that Rusty walked into a door?” He looked at the floor and his shoulders slumped, and I knew it was over. Just in time because I couldn’t have held my arm up for much longer. (Guns are a lot heavier than they look.) My hand was shaking as I put the gun back in its holster. I was just hoping that Gloria would get there before something else happened.

It took her nearly ten minutes to get there (which seemed like hours) and he never so much as moved in that time. I opened the door at her knock, “Take him home.”

When she asked, “Can we have a moment?” I just nodded and walked out.

My hands were still shaking as I put the pistol back. I really wanted to curl up and take a nap until I had completely calmed down as I was shaking and developing a headache. I really hoped it was from stress and not my injuries getting worse again because I had just set myself up for a lot of work. First thing was to talk to security.

There were five large armed men standing outside. “What’s the situation sir?”

“Things are better. Just make sure that someone is here to help Gloria get Sniper home if she needs it.” It was then I noticed Sylvia peeking down the hall. I went over to her, “Everything should be fine now. Thanks for getting everyone here so quickly.”

“Is everyone all right? Are you hurt?”

“The situation is back under control and everyone’s OK. On the other hand, I‘m getting a headache, shaking all over and there’s a bunch of things I have to do that can’t be put off until later. I don’t know what else you need to do today, but I could really use your help for the rest of the day.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“More than anything, I need you to make sure that I’m not losing it like I did at the conference. Other than that, there are just a million little things that need to be done to clean up this mess and I could really use an extra pair of hands.”

* * *

There was an amazing amount of paperwork to be filled out over an incident like this. (If I had known how much more trouble it was to deal with an incident with a gun, I might not have used it.) I put in a request to speak to General Moore as soon as possible. I also wanted to talk to Zach’s former Counselor. After the sixth interview with someone from security, I went and checked on the company at the firing range. Everyone seemed in reasonably good spirits when I told them that Sniper was home sleeping it off. Someone had the sense to have lunch delivered to the firing range, so I grabbed some leftovers and headed back in.

The meeting with Zach’s former partner, Allie, went very well. She and Zach had been very close, and she was outraged, but not surprised by his family’s behavior. They were an anti-military bunch and had apparently disowned him when joined the US Army ten years back. She agreed to make the funeral arrangements and to call me when they were finalized or if she needed anything.

Cleaning up the mess took the rest of the day. By the time it was done I was wiped out. When Sylvia told me that I was going straight home to rest, I didn’t put up a fight.I don’t know what time I got back but I immediately crashed and slept clear through till morning.

In the morning I was informed that the entire company had been given a rest day and that I wasn’t to go in. This left only the big meeting with General Moore. I was really dreading what he might say when I told him what happened. What I really didn’t expect was for him to nearly fall off his chair laughing. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted. “I’m sorry, but I never would have expected that from you in a million years. Your decision was correct, even though you methods were unorthodox, even for this place. As second in command, it was your job to remove him while he was unfit for command. Now, do you have a problem working under him after this?”

“None at all. I certainly hope this doesn’t happen again, but I know him to be a good man and a good leader. The only thing that I’m still upset about is that the mess with Zach got dumped in his lap in the first place.”

“In the Army, that’s what is called a SNAFU. Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. Now that you are in a leadership position, it’s you job to deal with them. Prometheus has some of the best procedures to keep things running smoothly that I have ever seen, but there’s always going to be something that slips through. There were a lot of worse ways that you could have handled what happened, seeing that, I’m confident that you will be able to handle most anything that comes your way.”

“I’ll certainly do my best for you and the company.”

* * *

As soon as Allen signed off, Tony got up and went into an adjoining meeting room in which sat The Director, Angelia, Sniper, and Gloria. “He still has full confidence in you, Sniper.”

“I know. The kid has a good heart. I just wish that he was in command already. I only took this position temporarily until you found someone better. Yesterday only confirms that it’s not where I belong.”

“Sniper,” The Director snapped to catch his attention; “I remember well what you were promised when you took this position. You were also promised that you would never have to deal with any of the paperwork or arrangements if you lost someone in your company. That promise was broken and I take responsibility for that and much of the consequences.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that I screwed the pooch today.”

“Although there were better ways to have handled the situation, I am not displeased with the result. The way that Allen handled the situation has put him closer to being ready to taking command, and that’s the goal of everyone here. The only question left is: Are you willing to continue with the project or are you planning to resign?”

“I’m getting tired. He’s never realized that every time he complains that the simulators are getting too easy, that he just trashed everything I could throw at him again. I was willing to go along until we faced real combat to make sure it wasn’t a fluke or he wouldn’t freak out when facing the real thing. He’s proved himself in combat! How much longer is it going to be?”

“Phase II of the battlesuits be ready for development by the time you get back from second combat deployment, which starts in two days. I would like to see how he does in a battle as second in command before we make the final decision. Can you wait that long?”

“I can wait, but I think you’re underestimating him.”

Tony turned to Sniper, “Last question. Will you be OK with him after that little performance of his?”

“You know, I may be losing my edge, but I never even considered that he might shoot me. The thought that sobered me was that he had never qualified with a handgun and might hurt himself. I thought he had made the mistake of thinking that the gun made him more powerful than me, so I asked him why I should do what he said. I expected him to pop off with something about shooting me if I didn’t. If he had, I would have taken the gun away from him and taught him a lesson about power.”

“He simply told me that I was unfit for command and why. I was the one who learned a lesson about power today. There is something inside him that commands and people obey. I’ll keep the rank and position for as long as you need me to, but this company already has a commander, and it ain’t been me for a while.”

Sniper stood, saluted and left with Gloria following. Angelia raised an eyebrow, “Tony, can you translate that from military for me?”

“Sniper will do whatever we ask of him, but he thinks we are making a mistake in not giving Allen command right away.”

“Any problems between the two of them?”

“Not unless Allen won’t make decisions when Sniper asks him to.”

* * *

The next day I had a newspaper interview, but Sylvia still insisted that I wear one of my dress uniforms. (I looked in my closet and one uniform had magically multiplied into five.) The interview was unremarkable until he asked some silly question about whether violence was really the answer to the alien problem. I replied that I would be quiet interested in hearing any alternative that didn’t involve death, subjugation or enslavement of the human race. He got all huffy about violence never being the answer, and I decided that he did not have a firm connection with reality and that pretty much concluded the interview.

I was very grateful that I had an uneventful day at work. Sniper was back and everything went smoothly. Sniper called us together just before quitting time, “Alright you sausages, the word has come down, and the word is we move out tomorrow evening. That means that we spend tomorrow prepping. We have a new target and a new plan. Last time the aliens threw us a curve-ball at the last second, so we’re going to try it again, but this time we’re doing it in Australia.”

“You’ll notice that your battlesuits now have your grubby kill totals stenciled on them. These will be changed between each mission, and if you think you’re being shortchanged, tough.”

After hearing that, we all had to go down to the weapons bay and check out our suits. Mine had a Centaur outline with Roman numerals totaling my kills in the outline as well as a Cyclops with a single ‘I.’ Lieutenant Spencer had been prominently added, but the best part was that everyone on my squad had also had ‘Giant Killers” added as well.

Sniper signaled me over, “As XO, your job is to go over your assault plan and make any changes we need before we get there. Got that?”

“Not a problem, sir. What do we know about them so far?”

“You’ll have to check in with Tony Moore on that one. He’ll tell you what we know.”

Sylvia took the news in a much better way this time. I promised her over and over that I would be more careful this time and come back safe.

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Taurian Invasion 25: The Interview


Angelia suppressed a sigh as Sylvia and Sukari entered the room together. Sylvia may have forgiven the offence from the last time they had gathered, but the more recent betrayal was still a raw wound. This made her fury at him being pushed to the point that he ended up in the hospital despite their promises, all the more intense. That Allen was being pushed in an effort to protect Lena could have driven a wedge between Sylvia and Sukari. However, Sylvia was a Mother bear at heart and had become protective of the broken girl as well, and Angelia had shown herself as a possible threat to her “cubs.”

Sukari was just relieved that her charge had been pulled back from the edge once again and was glad to have found a new ally. Now all Angelia had to do was somehow take these wild threads of emotions and weave them into a plan. “Welcome ladies. Now that all the chaos of the conference is over, lets see where we are and what we can do to keep our charges moving forward. Sukari, why don’t we start with how Lena is doing.”

Sukari is a matronly woman of Hawaiian and Japanese descent. She grew up in a tri-lingual household, leading her with an interesting accent, which becomes more prominent when she is upset or excited. “My girl is doing much better. Once she realized that she and Allen hadn’t done anything to be embarrassed about and that no one was upset with her, she started recovering. Allen taking most of the attention has helped a lot. About the only downside for Sylvia here is she has developed a crush on your boy and may give you a run for your money.”

Sylvia rolled her eyes and Angelia smiled at her and asked, “Well Sylvia, how is ‘your boy’ doing?”

“Physically he’s doing a lot better. He hasn’t had any episodes of incoherency in the last few days and he’s getting restless. Both Doc Sullivan and Sniper are watching him closely to make sure he doesn’t over do it at work. Fortunately, he’s a thick headed doofus and hasn’t even noticed that he’s famous. I found out from him before all the hoopla of the conference that he has never checked his finances. He has no idea how much money he has, and really doesn’t seem to care. I need to go over his finances with him carefully.”

Angelia looked thoughtful, “Do you know how much he has?”

“Over a quarter of a million last I checked.”

“I think you would be better off getting him a financial adviser at this point, as celebrities with money are going to have every two-bit con man coming out of the woodwork. We need to make sure that he is financially secure before it becomes an issue. Of course that doesn’t even consider gold diggers coming after him, which reminds me; how do you think he’ll react to the interviews coming up?”

“He seems perfectly OK with doing interviews. The doofus seems completely immune to stage fright. My only worry is that he’ll get tongue tied because he’s talking to a pretty girl.”

“He’d already our poster boy and it’s just going to get more intense as the war goes on. Keeping his public image up is mostly going to fall on you.”

“I seriously don’t think he could do anything scandal-worthy if he tried. He has no vices except video games. He has to be dragged to parties and leaves as soon as he can. He is as dumb as a brick regarding women. You would think he was gay if he didn’t blush so often around us. He’s a pure, brilliant nerd that kills giant aliens. All I have to do is see that he shows up looking presentable and on time. I think I can handle that.”

“Good. I think that means that we have the situation stabilized for the time being. Unfortunately, we know for a fact that the situation in the future is going to be dangerous in any number of ways. I think that we need to be proactive in order to meet the upcoming challenges. So I propose sending your charges on a friendly date.”

Sylvia stood up out of her seat, “Why? I mean, what good would that do?”

Angelia smiled. “In Allen’s case, he needs to be more aware of the relationships between the sexes. He is very vulnerable to manipulation and seduction by women right now and his celebrity status and travels make it a matter of when, not if, someone will try to take advantage of him. As for Lena, she needs to know that there are men out there who can be trusted and like her for who she is and not just because they want to use her. A friendly date is step one on working with both of them.” Not to mention, this would be a shot across Sylvia’s bow to wake her up to the fact that she would need to do something to get a relationship with Allen started or he might just get snatched away. “I’ll let the two of you work out the details.”

* * *

Sylvia got me up early and fussed over getting my appearance just right for nearly a half hour while giving me advice on what I should and shouldn’t say, before taking me to the campuses’ studio facility. (I sometimes wonder if there is anything that they don’t have on this campus.) The studio then had people fuss over my appearance for another half hour while people from PR and security briefed me on what I should and shouldn’t say.

I found out quickly that the worst part of a video interview is the lights. I wanted to squint at the brightness, which looks bad and I was quickly sweating in my dress uniform which also looks bad. These things are really distracting when I need to be able to concentrate on the questions. The questioner was a pretty young lady from a morning show in Denver that I had never heard of. I chatted with her for a few minutes while they were setting up the equipment:

“Is this your first interview?”

“Yeah, and I’m afraid that if I do a bad job, it will be my last. I would really appreciate any tips you might have.”

“Just try to relax and be yourself. If you could pretend that all of this equipment and all of the people were not here, and we were having a private conversation, it would be best. It’s not very easy to do, but that’s what people want to see.”

“I’ll try my best if you promise to be patient with me.”

I saw Sylvia frown out of the corner of my eye and wondered what I had done wrong. I was following her advice and trying to get the interviewer on my side by showing interest and asking for her help in her area of expertise. I decided to ask Sylvia about it later and concentrate on the interview which was about to start.

“We’re here with Allen Spencer, who some people are calling the Giant Killer after seeing him take down a giant alien solo on video. Can you tell me what that was like?”

“Despite all the training and simulations, there is no feeling I have ever experienced like realizing you have just challenged a creature that’s 50 times your size to a fight. The Giant Killers were actually taking down two of the Cyclops at the same time. If you look closely at the video, you can briefly see the other Cyclops on the left side of the screen. While I was going after my target, my squad-mate Lena was taking down the other one.”

“How did you kill a giant alien anyway?”

“Well, there are three ways it has be done. You can put really big holes in it, but this requires a tank or artillery, which we didn’t have with us at the time. You can set it on fire, but this gives it enough time to kill you before it dies, which could be bad. The last way is to destroy the creature’s mechanical core, which was the only method available to us. The problem is that their cores are only the size of a suitcase and it’s buried deep inside their body, which is the size of a bus. We had to actually jump on the things back, and stab a sword deep into the creature near its core. The sword then sent out a 50,000 volt charge which shorted out the it’s brain.”

“That sounds terrifying, weren’t you scared?”

“Scared, yes. Terrified, no. It would be really stupid not be afraid when fighting giant aliens; on the other hand these two were the squad’s sixth and seventh giant kills. We knew what we were up against, and we were confident that we could handle it. And we did handle it, but I still managed to mess myself up pretty badly.”

She leaned forward and breathlessly asked, “Really, what happened?”

Allen tried not to look at her distinctly feminine assets only to blind himself by looking directly into the studio lights. He blinked and paused for a couple of seconds trying to get back his sight and train of thought. “Everyone who has seen the video, watched me jump into the air and come down, plunging my light-saber into the Cyclops’s back, killing it. What they couldn’t see from the camera angle, was that instead of landing on my feet, I missed my footing and ended up landing on my face instead. I hit hard enough that I got a pretty serious concussion and I just now returned to duty from medical leave. Even then, I was lucky. One of my friends didn’t come back at all and another has been permanently maimed. I have read too many times where people have said fighting in our battlesuits is like playing a video game. Video games only mimic the intensity of combat, but soldiers risk injury, maiming and death every time they go out and fight.”

She seemed thrown off by his intensity and seemed to fumble for one of her prepared questions. “Speaking of battlesuits, how did you end up in the battlesuit program?”

“I was recruited directly by Prometheus. When you are hired here they give you a battery of tests, and they showed that I had an aptitude for battlesuit piloting. They offered me a place in the battlesuit development program, and I accepted.”

“I thought all of the pilots had a military background.”

“Almost all of them do. I’m the only one in the research and development company who never served in the military. It was a lot of work to catch up to where they were, but it looks like my situation will become more common as the war goes on. We need people from both civilian and military backgrounds will join us if we are going to win this war. We also have a new program where currently serving military from all over the world will be stationed with us here at Prometheus while they receive training in battlesuit piloting and form alien fighting units that can be deployed all over the world.”

“You’re piloting the newest generation of battlesuits, what can you tell me about them?”

“My company is part of the development team that is getting the Warrior Battlesuits ready for combat. These suits outperform the older Groundpounder Battlesuit in nearly every category. They are faster, stronger and more agile, which gives them an edge against the invaders. When we fight the enemy we are also testing all aspects of the battlesuits to get them ready for full production. Taking prototypes into the field is a risky venture. Sure we have the latest gizmos, but they are untested and it is our job to find and fix any flaws or problems that come up.”

“Are you confident in the eventual outcome of the war?”

“Absolutely. There is still a long way to go in this war and there are more than likely going to be some dark days ahead, but I have no doubt that we will win in the end.”

“Why do you think that?”

“So far, the aliens have failed to win even a single victory. We have consistently out thought and out maneuvered them. Even setting that aside, there is another more important reason. This is our home, and we are not giving up and letting them take it away from us. The only possible way that the Taurians could win is if we give up and just stop fighting, and that’s just not going to happen.”

That finished my first interview. I thought that things had gone pretty well and apparently so did the interviewer. “Are you sure that was your first interview?”

“Unless you count job interviews.”

“Well, you handled that like an old pro. I look forward to doing this again if the opportunity arises.”

“Well then, I hope to see you later.”

Sylvia was strangely quiet on the ride back, “Well, I thought that everything went pretty well. Did you see any problems?”

“Oh no, you handled yourself quite well.” The sarcasm in her reply confirmed that she was irritated with me.

“Do you think that they will want me to do any more interviews?”

“I’m sure that they will have them lined up for you after that.”

Now I was starting to get confused. Was she just mad or did I do a bad job? I decided to try one more question to see if I could figure out what was going on. “Did you see anything that I could have done better?”

“Didn’t Janet say you were perfect?”

OK, I was now officially lost. She was answering my question with a question, and who the heck was Janet? Oh yeah! The interviewer’s name was Janet Somethingortheother. Sylvia seemed to be getting more upset and my questions were making things worse instead of better. I decided to chalk the whole thing up to ‘dealing with women confuses me,’ and just go on with my day.

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Taurian Invasion 24: Consequences of the Conference


I woke up in the hospital the next day. I spent most of the morning getting sick with Sylvia refusing to leave my side. When I stopped heaving, I tried to go over everything that had happened the day before to see what I had done wrong. Wow, what a list! I couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem to have any sense at all! I collapsed or nearly collapsed at least three times that day and all I could think about was that I couldn’t stop because I might look weak. On top of that, I had completely lost my temper when someone had made a very predictable comment. To round out my evening, I had babbled in front of a bunch of very important strangers while drinking everything I was handed. I don’t even like wine! Sylvia kept trying to get me stop and rest and I fought her every step of the way. “Silvia, how bad was I yesterday?” “What do you mean?” “I was going over yesterday in my head, and some of the things that I did don’t make any sense, although they seemed perfectly rational at the time. Was I that incoherent?” She looked thoughtful, “You have been having incoherent periods since you got back, where you will ask the same question or say the same thing several times in a row. That’s how I know when you need to rest. Yesterday it just got worse and worse and resting didn’t even seem to help after you collapsed on stage that first time.” “I remember that I needed so desperately to get everything done, that nothing else seemed to matter. I remember that I knew I wasn’t doing well and you trying to get me to stop, but … I just couldn’t stop until just keeping going was the only goal.” “It’s something that Savants do. You get tunnel vision and forget everything else. You were already hurt, and the Director was there encouraging you every step of the way. He was doing the same thing, obsessing on his goal and forgetting everything else. I’m really mad at Angelia right now because she could have put a stop to it and she didn’t do it. I just cant figure out what they thought was so important that they would push you like that when they knew what shape you were in.” “I’ve been wondering that myself. Once the presentations were done, anyone could have given them, but they seemed to think it was essential that I was the one to do it. And then there was that stupid dinner party.” “You know, I’ve always dreamed of going to something like that, an elegant state dinner with important people from around the world, but last night was a nightmare. Do you even remember anyone who you met?” “A couple of the US Secretaries, but after that it was a blur. Toward the end, I couldn’t even see people’s faces anymore. Some of that was the alcohol. I don’t even know how much I drank, but someone kept handing me glasses, and I was thirsty from all the talking I was doing.” “You did drink a lot, which surprised me because I thought you didn’t like to drink.” “I don’t. I kept hoping that the next glass would be something besides wine.” “Why didn’t you say anything?” “I honestly couldn’t figure out how to. It seems silly to say now, but it was really beyond my capacity at the time. You were the one person who was really looking out for me and I didn’t listen to you. If anything like this happens again, I’ll know better.” “We are to join the Director and the Chief Counselor for dinner again tonight as long as you are doing well enough. The Director would also appreciate any appearances you feel like making during the rest of the conference.” “Would you mind if I left those decisions up to you for the rest for the week? My judgment doesn’t seem to be exactly sound these days.” That got me the first real smile I had seen all day, “Well, before we do anything you have a doctor’s appointment in about an hour. Once we see what they say, we can decide from there.”   * * *   The Director and Angelia were sitting in a small conference room as she finished a phone conversation. “Allen is doing fine and on the road to recovery. The Doctor was more worried about the alcohol he consumed than the fainting spells.” “I pushed him pretty hard. I hope that he isn’t angry, that would make things a bit awkward.” “Sylvia is the one you need to worry about. She was so angry last night that I was afraid she might resign. Losing her and breaking their partnership up would be much more difficult to deal with than Allen being upset.” “I know. I normally wouldn’t have pushed things so far, but it was an emerging situation and I was playing it by ear. In the long run, this is going to be an important turning point and his part will have been essential.” “That does not mean that an apology and some strategic bribery are not in order. You have made her completely rearrange her life so that she could get him ready for the conference and nurse him back to health.We also promised her that she could pull Allen if she thought he wasn’t doing well and then we broke that promise. They were both pushed to their limits to pull of this coup of yours.” “Yes, I know, and I already have Allen’s reward lined up. You decide what Sylvia has earned, because I’m sure she’ll like it better than what I would give her.” “I think I might be lower on her list than you are, but that’s my own fault.” “What happened?” “You’re not the only one with things up their sleeves. Unfortunately, I got caught this time.” “This is certainly rare. Is there anything I can do?” “No, I can clean up my own mess.” The Director found himself at a loss for words for a moment.With nothing else to add he decided to just move on. “So what’s next on the agenda?” “Herman has been bursting at the seems to tell you something. Heather said she had to practically sedate him to keep him from breaking into the conference this morning.” “Well then, we should see what he wants.” Herman rushed into the room clutching a laptop, with Heather in pursuit. He cued up a file, “Listen to this!” An odd indistinguishable mumbling could be heard beneath a loud buzzing sound. “We’re still trying to figure out how to filter out all of the interference from the signal, but this is audio feed from the aliens. We have actually broken the code heard their voices! We got one of the devices from the latest alien control room working and we have been getting these signals all morning.” “Have you sent any of these recordings to the sound lab to see if they can remove the interference electronically?” “No, we’ve been trying to fine tune the signal.” “Herman, here’s the plan. Record everything you get while you work with the receiver. Send everything you hear to the sound lab so that they can try to clean it up. Send both the original and the cleaned up recordings to the people at NASA.” “I can do that easily enough.” “This doesn’t sound like anything we’ve gotten before. Why is that?” “This device works on completely different principles than any transmitter that mankind has ever used. My people have at least five competing theories about what makes it tick. I’ll get back to you when there is progress on that.” “Let Tony know which machine it is so that he can add it to the list of objectives for the current assault. Speaking of which, how is Phase II of the hybrid project coming?” “The Type IV battlesuits are in final assembly and testing and will be ready for development in a few days. The Type Vs are on schedule and should be ready in two or three weeks. The Type VIs are giving us fits though. We just started a full redesign of the circulatory system.” “That’s excellent progress! As disappointing as setbacks can be, don’t forget just how much progress you have made. What’s the status of Phase III?” “We are at least a year from development there. There are some parts that we can’t even start until Phase II is in production.” “We need those units as soon as possible, but I understand that some things just take as long as they take. Have you made any progress on any of the other machines?” “Well we figured out machine is related to their traveling ability, bet we still haven’t received one that is in good enough shape to even guess how it works.” “Keep working on it and I’ll see if we can get you one that’s in better shape next time. I always look forward to your reports, Herman; they always give me so many new ideas to play with.” After Herman and Heather leave Angelia shakes her head at Herman’s antics, “Heather needs to know if she did the right thing in delaying him.” “Yes, she did. Although there were several things that he said that were very important, nothing there was actually urgent. Herman was just excited. Although, send Tony my way the next time you see him. He needs to be briefed on some of this.”   * * *   The rest of the day, I spent at Sylvia’s discretion. I encouraged her to pick our activities and even got her to talk about herself a little bit. She likes the outdoors, especially since her job keeps her indoors all the time, which led to a walk in the park. It was nice to get some fresh air, and nicer to see her more relaxed than any time since I met her. While we were walking, we worked on proper etiquette and manners for the formal dinners that we were expected to attend for the rest of the week. Sylvia guided me through dinner and all the social things that went along with it. I was still lost as to what I was supposed to do half the time, but I managed to avoid any major mistakes with her help. Dinner conversation was actually the easiest part as everyone seemed to want to hear about fighting aliens. I just waited for someone to ask me a question, and I was off with a story. Otherwise, I just stayed quiet and listened. After dinner, I met up with the company for a little of our after dinner down time. Apparently, they had completely reprogrammed the simulators to be consistent with what we had found out about Taurian behavior, and Sniper had been running them ragged on training days. I took a lot of grief for making their lives harder, but I was just glad to reconnect with them. The next day I had no set schedule before dinner, so Sylvia and I spent nearly the whole day at the park. I even found out where Silvia lived that day. There are a number of apartment buildings and family neighborhoods in the hills of the campus. She had an apartment where we had lunch. She seemed to be embarrassed that it was so small, but I thought it was cute (if a bit girly for my tastes.) I don’t know if it was the fresh air and relaxation or what, but the symptoms from the concussion faded over the next week to the point that Silvia set a doctor’s appointment for me for the morning after the conference ended. As fun as some of this was I was starting to get anxious to go back to work. My mind was beginning to wander to some of the problems that I had set aside, and Sylvia was beginning to notice. She said that it was OK but I could see that it made her sad. When I joined the company for downtime that evening everyone seemed happy to hear the news. There were lots comments about my laziness and all of the things that they had been saving up for me. I kind of expected that kind of thing from my squad, but the excitement was coming from everyone, including the new replacement pilots. I passed my medical exam with flying colors. The only restriction I had was that I was not to break anything open with my head for the next month under any circumstances (Doctors trying to be funny; so sad.) Sylvia looked like she was about to cry when she dropped me off at work, but I got a sad smile when I sad that I was looking forward to seeing her this evening when I got off. It was so good to get back into the swing of things. Despite all the threats of reprisals, it became quickly obvious that they were treating me with kid gloves until they were sure I was up to speed. Even Lena seemed to be coming out of her shell and talked to me like normal. My first day back at work went pretty well overall, but I did have to admit that I was more exhausted than usual by quitting time, despite the fact that it had been a short day for me. I almost fell asleep twice before dinner and I did drift off once while at down time with the company. On the way home, Sylvia caught me completely off guard, “Now that you’re back at work, PR would like for you to consider doing some interviews.” “Who would want to interview me?” “Just about everyone, according to PR. They all want to hear from the pilots of the newest alien killing machines. PR really wants you to do the interview because the next choice is Sniper.” I winced at that thought. Sniper was a great guy, but his quirky method of speaking might not go over so well. “OK, when would we do this and how many interviews would there be?” “We could start tomorrow morning before we take you to work. How many there were after that would depend on how well you did on the first try. How are you at public speaking?” “Being in front of a crowd doesn’t bother me. Being in the middle of a crowd bothers me.” “I should have known that from how well you did at the conference. If you can give interviews half as well as you did your presentations, you are going to have a lot of interviews to do.” “I’m willing to give it a go, and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.” After she left for the evening, I went to the computer instead of going to bed as I was supposed to. Those creepy feelings were getting to strong to ignore, so I decided to do some digging. I did a web search on my name and and was floored by what I found. There were already dozens if not hundreds of articles which mentioned me by name as a battlesuit pilot. Much of the battle footage that I had used in my presentation was now all over the web as well. I was already a celebrity, no wonder they wanted interviews with me. A little more digging found that Prometheus was actively encouraging this. The company’s press releases and press kits were the source for most of the information that was being used about me. I turned off the computer and actually went to bed, but sleep did not come easily. Everything was pointing me to one conclusion: They were holding me up as a “War Hero.” My first reaction was that the idea was ridiculous; I hadn’t done anything braver than anyone else. But, there was more to being a Hero than being heroic. Everyone in my company was heroic, but to be a Hero, you have to catch people’s attention and imagination. There has been a tendency in certain quarters to deny that heroes exist, especially war heroes. The reasons for this are simple: They believe that everyone is equal and therefore extraordinary people like heroes can’t exist, and they also believe that war is completely evil, and therefore good things like heroes can’t possible come from it. In the past it was very popular to tear down heroes by finding their human flaws and using that to say that they were never heroes in the first place. They then started holding up people who did things that they approved of as alternative heroes. This was all well enough as long as we were safe and threatened by nothing, but the invasion shattered this. The guy who started the local recycling drive just doesn’t hold up when aliens are threatening to come in and slaughter your family. People need someone who gives them hope and makes them feel safer; they need a War Hero. A war hero allows people to stop worrying and to go on with their lives despite the threat. The real question in my mind was could I be the kind of person that could be seen as a hero? On one level, it seemed so silly to me. I still felt like the loser nerd who couldn’t hold a job for over six months. On another level, I could see the need for someone to fill the role, and I was in the right place at the right time to do it. People were scared of a real and clear threat; they needed someone to believe in. I had all of the support I needed here. I had people who would show me in the best light and others who would keep me from doing stupid things to ruin it all. One of the biggest pitfalls for would-be heroes was to start believing the hype. People have a tendency to idealize (if not idolize) their heroes. I wasn’t worried about that because I just plain didn’t have the self esteem to believe that I was better than everyone else. I am also completely lacking in the belief that I was destined for greatness somehow. Some heroes got that to work out for them somehow, but it usually got in the way of most people. I was also unafraid of being in the spotlight and public scrutiny. I had certainly made my share of mistakes in life, but I had always done my best to do the right thing and had a pretty clear conscience (one of the few good side effects of having no life.) I finally decided that I would play the game, but I would go in with my eyes open. Doing my job would always come first. I was determined to always be a warrior and never let myself become a media plaything (a LOT easier said than done.) They would have to work around my duties. I started trying to plan just what I would say in the interview and somewhere in there I fell asleep.

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Taurian Invasion 23: The Conference


I had Sylvia escort me to conference center early the next morning. My excuse was to find a small out of the way place to set up a cot in case I needed to lay down, but I really want to see who was coming and who was already there. The conference center was by the main (impress the visitors) entrance, and there were already a lot of visitors. Young men in uniform and business suits were everywhere. They were still setting up when I went in, and by adding a couple of questions while figuring out where to set up my cot, I was able to find out that the Lecture hall was being set for 300, but catering was setting up to feed 600. I then allowed Sylvia to drag me back to my apartment for a quick nap before I got ready for the conference.

This was more than a conference, this was an international incident. Now, I was no expert on military uniforms, but it seemed obvious even to me that a number of the uniforms were not from the US and were not the same as each other. Also, almost all of the men and women that I saw in either uniforms or suits were young. This meant that they were for the most part security and staff for the attendees, rather than VIPs who had been invited.

So, why was I in the middle of all of this? Somehow, I was essential to this conference. It wasn’t what I had to say, that was simple enough that nearly anyone could have said it for me. For some reason, I had to be there personally, and that’s what didn’t make sense to me yet. If I could figure that out, I could figure out why they were treating me the way they did.

Sylvia knocked on my bedroom door, “Allen, it’s time to get up and put your uniform on, then come out here so I can make sure it’s done right.”

I followed instructions, and came out to find Sylvia had changed into a formal dress. She looked stunning. Calling upon all my grace and charm, I said, “Wow!” She gave me the first smile I had seen in a while and straightened a few things on my uniform. “Rats, I forgot to have someone fix the rank on my uniform.”

“No, that’s right. You went up a pay grade when you became a squad leader.”

“You would think that someone would tell me that.”

“I would think you would have noticed that from your bank account.”

“Well, I haven’t checked my bank account in … ever?”

“What do you mean you’ve never checked your bank account!”

“Going to the Amazon was the first time I left the campus since I arrived here. There really wasn’t any need.”

“Allen Spencer! I swear that I would hit upside the back of the head if you didn’t have a concussion! Listen, we don’t have time for this Savant lapse right now. We’ll go over your finances this evening when we get back.”

While we were heading to the convention center, she gave me a crash course on how I was supposed to act and how to escort a lady to a formal event. I got the part about how I was supposed hold her arm, mostly, but the whole secret handshake thing completely eluded me. (OK, they weren’t really secret handshakes, but there were different handshakes for different people, and I just got completely lost.)

I escorted her to a small conference room off the main meeting room, and found General Moore, Rodolfo, and his wife, Carmen, already there. The general seemed pleased to see me, “Allen, how are you feeling?”

“Better, not 100 percent yet, but I think I can survive this.”

He turned to Sylvia, “Has Allen been briefed on today’s events?” She just stared at him and put one hand on her hip and he tried again, “Have you told Allen what’s supposed to happen today?”

“No, because nobody told me what’s going on today. They just told me to have him here appropriately dressed and on time.”

“Crud! OK, this is our annual conference where we tell the world everything Prometheus figured out about the aliens this last year. Well, actually, this is the first conference, but we promised everyone that we would make this an annual event. Your little insight into why the aliens shoot some people don’t shoot others is going to be our key point in our alien psychology presentation.”

“So, would this be a bad time to mention that last night I figured out the pattern of tactical deficiencies in the deployment of bio-soldiers by bases in the absence of on site soldiers?”

General Moore was silent for a moment, “Say that again without all the big words so I can be sure of what you just said.”

“I think I can show why the Taurs have been so much dumber in the last few battles than they were otherwise.”

“And you have proof?”

“I have a full presentation 90% done that shows all the evidence. I think I could have it done in a few hours, but my recent injuries left me where I get tired really easily.”

The general whipped out a phone so fast that for a split second, I thought he pulled a gun on me. “Angelia … Get the Director to small conference room 16, ASAP. … Yes, this is top priority … Allen just blew the conference wide open.”

I sat down at the conference table and a computer seemed to appear out of nowhere (it was actually built into the table.) I was getting what I had of my presentation ready when Angelia and the Director arrived. “Allen, my boy, what have you got for me.”

“It’s not finished, but I’ll show you what I have.”

I showed them the combat overviews and footage followed by the how the game would play out in roughly the same situation. The game did not always play out exactly the same, but the parallels were obvious. The clincher was when I showed how the limitations had worked out to our advantage in our battles against the alien bases. Every time that the bases had been faced with a second threat before the first had been resolved; it ignored the second threat entirely.

“So, what’s missing?”

“I still need to contrast what happened in earlier battles with alien soldiers present, and to show where the bio-soldiers have certain built in reactions that can still be dangerous even when the base is distracted.”

“Then we will provide you with a computer, and you can work on it while you’re sitting up there. At least you won’t be as bored as the rest of us.”

Angelia cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention, “Sylvia will be watching over Allen the entire time making sure he doesn’t get too tired, and if she thinks he is getting too tired; he WILL take a break.”

And thus I found myself sitting at a table with many of the most powerful people in Prometheus, facing the audience. The podium where people made their presentations was between us and the audience, which made it just a little less awkward. I was kind of disappointed that I would be too busy with getting my second presentation ready to watch the other presentations until I realized that the screen was behind us and I couldn’t really watch them anyway. Sylvia made me take a break after about an hour, “so that I would be rested enough to actually give my presentation, rather than just collapsing in front of everybody.” She was right, of course. My vision had been getting blurry again near the end and I passed out as soon as I hit the cot, which had been moved to the small conference room. I hated feeling weak, but with both Sylvia and Angelia there I went without protest.

Then it was my turn. The presentation was not easy to watch, as I had to show many actual pictures of the dead in order to illustrate the point (I left out the pictures with dead children because what I had to show was horrific enough.) Everything went extremely well until the question and answer period, when someone asked the wrong question and I shot my mouth off again. Some officer asked if it would be possible to build a backpack based weapon that would allow us to walk among the enemy and destroy them at will. Without thinking I spat out, “That’s a stupid idea!” I really need to learn not to pop off like that, but I had already let it out so, I was forced to justify my outburst. “If we use the knowledge properly, we can save an untold number of lives. If we abuse this knowledge, we will be throwing all of those lives away. Our enemy is sophisticated enough to both create these biological weapons systems and to cross interstellar space to reach us. I think that they are capable of reprogramming their minions to shoot everyone instead of just people carrying things.”

“As it stands we have figured out one of the ‘rules of the game’ from the enemy perspective that correspond to our Geneva Conventions. This seems to be their way of saying ‘we kill enemy soldiers, but we leave innocent civilians alone.’ It seems to me that we always want to try to play by these rules except for the most extreme of circumstances. This gives the civilian caught in the battle zone and the wounded or lost soldier a chance that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Beyond all this, it will allow us to do the one thing that we have failed to do in this war: Communicate something important to our enemy! Despite any other differences we have, we share this one value: We do not slaughter the innocent. Yes, we could get some easy kills, but I think that if we go in that direction, we could easily start on a path that leads to a war of annihilation, and I can’t foresee any circumstances where that would be a good thing.”

When I finished letting all of that out, I was completely drained and the room started spinning. I had to grab the podium to keep from falling. I vaguely heard someone dismiss the assembly for lunch and someone came up on either side of me and half carried me back to the conference room. They laid me on the cot and I was so exhausted I couldn’t even move, yet for some reason sleep wouldn’t claim me. I lay there for a while listening to people move about the room. I felt a nurse come and check on me, but I couldn’t make my body obey to even answer her questions.

“He seems to be OK, just out cold. What happened?”

Sylvia’s voice seemed weak, “He was doing just fine. He was getting a little worked up over the last question, but nothing worrying. As soon as he finished speaking, he turned pale and almost fell down without any warning. You can watch the video yourself. He was fine one minute and collapsing the next.”

“I’ll be back to check on him in an hour. Call me if anything happens. If he’s not better by then, I’m taking him to the hospital whether the Director likes it or not.”

“If you think he needs to go, I’ll back you and Angelia will back me.”

“He may have just fainted from all the excitement, so I don’t want to jump the gun.”

“I hope that’s all it was, but he’d be mortified if that was what happened.”

Their conversation seemed to fade out and I may have dozed a bit, because the next voice I remember was Angelia’s, “How is he doing?”

“If he doesn’t wake up soon I’m taking him to the hospital.”

The Director’s chimed in, “Did the nurse check him?”

“She seemed to think that the big goof just fainted, but I can’t help but be worried.”

“We’re all worried about him.”

“Then why are you pushing him? He’s not well!”

“Everyone said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as he took it easy. This is a critically important meeting that is going to affect the course of this war. Even if he doesn’t give his second presentation, he has already made a difference.”

“By collapsing on stage?”

“You were watching him and not the audience. He had a group of the most powerful men in the world completely spellbound. His presentation was very harsh, but it was the first to bring the danger and loss home to everyone. He made them realize that people are already dying, and if we didn’t do something, there would be a lot more people who will end up like those poor souls. His next presentation will show them that our enemies have flaws and can be beaten. He made them care, and he will give them hope. If we don’t have these things, we will lose the war. That is why I am going to have him give his other presentation if he thinks he can handle it.”

“And if he can’t?”

“Then I’ll do it myself and just hope it’s enough.”

* * *

When I woke up, you cannot believe how happy I was to be able to move. It sounds silly, but I was really afraid that I’d done something stupid and paralyzed myself for life. Sylvia was sitting beside me reading a book. She looked very relieved when I sat up, “How are you feeling Allen?”

“I think I really needed that nap, but I’m ready to go again. Is there any lunch still available?” I didn’t really answer her question, but the previous conversation had stung my pride more than a bit. I had basically passed out in front of everyone, and now they were all worried that I was too weak to continue. I felt a bit weak and shaky, my vision was a bit fuzzy, I was developing a headache, and was starving besides. But, I wouldn’t have admitted if you put a gun to my head!

Sylvia went to get me a plate of food, and I staggered over and started working at the computer again. I was determined to get this presentation done if it killed me. Luckily, I was almost done. I was just going over everything to make sure it all made sense when Sylvia returned with the food. I scarfed down a couple of bites, but when it hit my stomach, it was all I could do to keep from losing it then and there. So much for showing no weakness in front of Sylvia. I was forced to only take one bite every few minutes to keep it down; even then I gagged several times but tried to hide it. I knew if I didn’t eat, I wouldn’t be able to continue, but it was the hardest meal I have ever eaten.

I rejoined the meeting after a short nap and put the finishing touches on my presentation. It was still two hours until my second turn, which was enough time to get thoroughly bored with listening to presentations I couldn’t see. I started to play solitaire on my computer, but the screen refused to come into focus. I might have dozed off a couple of times, but I felt pretty good when I went to the podium again.

I began showing both tactical overlays and battlesuit camera footage of where Taurians were making glaring errors in combat, and how we were taking advantage of it. And then the unexpected happened; People started cheering when I showed the parts where we devastated the bio-soldiers. When I got to the part where Lena and I took down the Cyclops simultaneously, I got a standing ovation. It hadn’t even occurred to me that people would get this excited. Everyone calmed down a bit when I got to the parts about how bio-soldiers were dangerous even without orders, and how much more dangerous they were when they had soldiers riding herd. Despite this I received a second standing ovation at the conclusion of my presentation. I think I blushed.

I managed to keep my feet until I got to my place at the table, but I was shaking all over. I didn’t complain when someone (General Moore I think) helped me back to my cot in the meeting room. It was odd; training and combat had never been this hard. I decided that getting injured in battle sucked big time. In the movies, the hero shrugs off being shot, beaten, stabbed etc. without it affecting him at all. I just hit my head and I couldn’t function for over a few hours without collapsing, and it was five days later. I decided that it would be a good idea for me not to get injured anymore.

I heard Silvia talking to the Director and Angelia, but I couldn’t make it out and fell asleep. I really wish I had heard what was said because when I woke up, Sylvia was there and she was pissed. “As soon as you feel up to it, we’re going to dinner.”

“OK lets go,” trying to sound casual. I felt terrible, I probably looked terrible, but I would have rather gnawed my own arm off than admit I was weak at that moment. I think that I usually have better judgment than this (others disagree), but for some reason, because I felt bad, I couldn’t admit that I felt bad (at the time it made perfect sense to me.)

On the way over to one of the more elaborate and expensive dining rooms at the cafeteria, Sylvia was mumbling to herself. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I swear that it was definitely unladylike. She composed herself and was all smiles to everyone we met, but she had a grip on my arm that left a bruise.

The room was filled with older men in uniform and expensive suits (at least I assume the suits were expensive. I couldn’t tell a cheep suit from a designer one to save my life.) These were the powerful elite, the advisers to presidents, prime ministers, and kings. I felt more out of place than if I had wandered into the women’s rest room. I was introduced to dozens of Very Important People. The only two I recognized were the US Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security. I soon found out that there was a rhythm to these things. I would be moved to a group and seated, everyone would be introduced, and I would tell the story of how I gave myself a concussion taking down a Cyclops. After doing this about twenty times, I couldn’t even make out faces anymore. Drinking several glasses of something along the way probably didn’t help at all. When I sat at a table and went into my story without realizing I was talking to the Director and Angelia, Angelia decided that it was time for Sylvia to take me home. I remember getting into the cart, and that was it.

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Taurian Invasion 22: Homecomming


Part Three:

Homecoming

 

We were greeted by a cheering crowd of several hundred Prometheus employees when we landed. It was mostly friends and family and co-workers, but the Director and a number of the Prometheus higher ups were there as well as a sizable media presence. No one had warned us about this, so none of us were dressed up, but no one in the crowd seemed to care. They were happy to see us and we were happy to be home.

There was a joyous confusion as people were reunited, as well as a speech by the Director, but I missed it all because I was escorted by the nurse directly to a waiting car and driven straight to the campus medical center. Despite the fact that I had two good nights of sleep and lots of naps besides, I was still tired all the time and had constant headaches and occasionally blurry vision. This apparently concerned the doctors because they put me through a series of scans and tests, and finally decided that I had bruised my brain. They put me off of piloting until I was medically cleared and said I could only work light duties with a restricted schedule.

I checked and found that both Derrick and Mike were here, so I visited with them for about an hour before I started feeling bad again and I headed home. One of the nursing assistants drove me back and escorted me all the way to my room … where I found a rather pissed Sylvia waiting for me.

“Allen Spencer! Where the heck have you been?”

“The hospital?” I said tentatively.

Her demeanor shifted immediately, “Are you OK? What happened?”

“I missed a landing while I was in the jungle, hit my head and got a concussion.” (Yes I had been rehearsing what I was going to tell her in my head to make it sound as innocent as possible without lying.)

“Well, I was ready to put you in the hospital myself for ditching me when the plane landed. What did the doctors say?”

“I have light duty until my symptoms get better.”

“I mean about your head.”

“Well, they did an X-ray of my skull and didn’t find anything,” giving her a mischievous smile.

“Funny mister,” not looking amused.

“I’m just get tired really easy and then I have headaches and sometimes feel sick. The doctors just said to take it easy and things will get better on their own. Can I sit down now?” (Yes, I was playing the sympathy card because she was looking irritated again and I was really tired.)

“If you’re not feeling well, then you’re going to bed mister.”

“But Sylvia, this is so sudden.” She stiffened, and I knew that I had just gone over the line. I have a tendency to go overboard in my jokes especially when I was tired, didn’t feel well or was nervous. Currently I was all three, and so I hadn’t though before speaking. Before coming to Prometheus, I never thought before I spoke, and had probably been offending people right and left without even noticing it. This turned out to be one of Sylvia’s big pet peeves. She was constantly pointing out my thoughtless words and making me aware of when they caused damage. I still wasn’t very good at figuring out why I upset people, but I was getting pretty good at spotting when I did it.

I appeared to have pulled a dozy, because she stopped talking completely. I really don’t like upsetting people, but I seem to have a knack for it. I had only seen her this upset a couple of times when I had really insulted her (unintentionally of course.) I went to my room without saying anything else to stuff my foot further down my throat. When I came out a few minutes later I was surprised to find her still there. She had her back to me working at the computer, “Do you need something?” She didn’t sound angry anymore.

“Just a glass of water and some pain killers.”

“OK, but you should rest after that. Don’t get distracted with anything else.”

This was not the reaction I expected. The last time she got this upset, she was mad at me for days. My head hurt too much for me to figure this out at the moment, so I chalked it up to the mysteries of women and went to bed.

 

* * *

 

 

I woke up again mid-morning and was surprised to find Sylvia still there. It was well past the time which she usually dropped me off for work and went about whatever she did with the rest of her day. She was very secretive about that rest of her life, and whenever I asked, I was told that it was none of my business. Despite the fact she came and went as she pleased in my apartment, I actually had no idea where she even lived.

“Aren’t you here kind of late?”

“My job is to look after you when you’re not at work. Since you’re off work until you get better, we get to spend a lot more time together.”

“The doctors just said I had light duty.”

“Yeah, well that got changed.” She was more pissed than I had ever seen her and I was starting to get scared.

“On another subject, I hear that you and Rowlena got quite a bit closer on this trip.”

This was not going to go over well. I decided to stall for time while I tried desperately to get my thoughts in order. “Where did you hear that?”

“Rowlena was bunking in a room with three other women during you trip and there were a number of nights that she never returned to her room. At this point I would be surprised if there was anyone in your company who didn’t know about it by now, and I’ll be surprised if there is anyone in Prometheus who doesn’t know about it tomorrow.” At this point I was beyond busted, but the best was yet to come. I had taken a seat at the table and she walked and loomed over me. “Now, what two consenting adults due in their down time is between them, but I am responsible for your welfare, so you just might have mentioned that when you fell and got a MEDICALLY SIGNIFICANT BRAIN INJURY, THAT YOU DID IT ON THE BACK OF A GIANT KILLER ALIEN!”

Knowing that I was about to die, I may have whimpered a bit.

She turned her back to me and continued in a much softer, but no less harsh, voice, “Now, Mr. Spencer, I am responsible for your physical and mental well being. In order for me to do so, I need accurate information. Lying to me is a major problem that interferes with me doing so. If I find that you are lying to me again, I will find someone else to do this job. Are we clear Mr. Spencer?”

I mumbled, “Yes ma’am.”

“Now, what have you had to eat today?”

“I had some toast on the plane.”

“Well, in that case, I am going to pick out an outfit for you, you are going to get dressed, and then we’re going to go to the Main Cafeteria where you are going eat a healthy meal. You will then attend a company debriefing at 12:30 where you will inform them that you have been relieved of all duties until you have been medically cleared. As soon as that is over, I will pick you up and you will return to your room and rest. Is that clear Mr. Spencer?”

“Yes ma’am.”

 

* * *

 

After dropping Alan off, Sylvia hurried to her own meeting. When she opened the door, she saw Angelia, whom she’d been expecting, and Sukari who she hadn’t, although it did make sense for her to be here.

Angelia started the meeting, “Well ladies, your charges improved quite a handful. Sukari how is Lena doing?”

“Not well. The girl was ready to come apart at the seams. I would pull her in a heartbeat, but that would only make things worse. She gonna be in a bad way for quite some time.”

Angelia looked more sad and apologetic and Sylvia had ever seen her. “Unfortunately, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Before this conference is over, what they both did is going to be news all over the world.”

Sylvia was becoming both horrified and confused, “How is what they did news?”

Angelia reached over and patted Sylvia hands, “Not that. Sorry, I need to back up a few steps so that were all on the same page. During this last battle, Allen and Lena both managed kill a Cyclops single-handedly.”

Sylvia gasped, “Isn’t that one of those giant killer aliens?”

Sylvia nodded, “Yes, and the two of them ran up behind two of the Cyclops, jumped on their backs and stabbed him through their cores with a sword like a pair of synchronized swimmers. This kind of heroics is just the kind of thing that people need to hear at this point in the war to give them hope. Unfortunately, international acclaim is the last thing that Lena needs right now. Sukari you need to tell her about your charge.”

Skari sighed and took a deep breath, “You already know my girl is a Savant, and is fragile. But, you don’t know that a lot of bad things happen to her before she comes to us. I hate going into that, but what you need to know she broke and she broke bad. She now have multiple personalities, which cause all sorts of problems. Alan rescue her when she got hit in the jungle. This would not be so bad, but the next day Zach got killed, and she lose it that night. Back before she come to us, she used to trade sleeping with men for safety. These is not an uncommon thing for girls who live on the street. Because the boy save her, she go to him for safety, but it not Lena who go to him, but one of her alters. Lena has no idea what happen until it’s all over the company. And the worst part is nothing actually happened. Your boy Allen is a gentleman and he not touch my girl. I talk to her alter baby girl, and she say that all he did was give her hugs and sleep beside her.”

Sylvia blushed and said, “I think I screwed up. I laid into Allen really hard today, and I think jealousy may have been a bit of factor.”

Angelia got up and moved behind Sylvia and began massaging her shoulders. “Sylvia, there are a few things in Allen’s file that I deliberately left vague. You know that he has a very low social quotient as a Savant. Well, in his case it goes beyond that. As part of one of the social batteries, he reported that he is never been in a romantic relationship. Despite his brilliance in other areas, his understanding of relationships is about that of the 10-year-old boy.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that?”

Angelia sighed deeply, “Because I’m a meddling old woman. One of the reasons I set you up as a team is I thought the two of you might make a good match.”

Sylvia turned around in her chair and stared at Angelia aghast, “Are you serious?”

Angelia stared back evenly, “Sylvia, you know quite well that guiding the relationships far charges is part of our duty as counselors. You just seem to have forgotten that even if you are a counselor you’re one of my charges as well.”

Sylvia turned beet red and buried her face in her arms on the table. “Well shit!”

Angelia went back and sat down. “Which brings us back to the situation at hand. We have two fragile Savants who are on the verge of becoming international celebrities. Lena is at her psychological limits and Allen is at his physical ones. We need a plan for what we do from here.”

 

* * *

The debriefing meeting was kind of boring, as we are going over stuff that we had already been through. The only really interesting part was when I found out I’d been nominated for the Gold Heart. I was under the impression that you had to be injured by the enemy to qualify for one. Apparently, you just had to be injured while in action with the enemy and me hitting my head on an alien counted. We were promised at least a week before another assignment, unless an emergency came up. I really hoped I felt better before the week was up, because I really didn’t want to be left behind.

Poor Lena spent the entire meeting looking at her shoes. I really wanted to do something to clear things up but due to Sylvia’s training I knew that anything I did would just make it worse. I hoped to find a way to talk to Lena’s counselor Sukari. I knew her by sight and by name, but I didn’t think that I had ever said more than hi to her. She would have a good chance of knowing what was going on with Lena. I probably should have asked Sylvia to arrange a meeting, since they were both counselors, but I decided to wait until she had time to calm down some.

When Sylvia came to pick me up, she was so calm that it was terrifying. She showed no outward signs of anger, but she studiously avoided looking directly at me. The meeting would not be here for a couple of days and Sylvia would be my constant companion during that time. I was pretty sure that doing exactly what she said in the mean time increased my chances of survival dramatically.

She was very good about not letting me overwork myself, and keeping me current with my medications and consequently, I was not sick nearly as much. Unfortunately I had little to do, and this brought back an old foe that I had not faced since coming to Prometheus:

Boredom.

Therefore, it seemed natural to me to fall back on my old crutch:

Video games.

All my old games were still at my mother’s house on my old computer. This lead me to search the company computer system to see if there were any available. I think I’ve mentioned Prometheus makes video games. What I hadn’t realized, was that they let their employees do most of their beta testing. Besides this, you can also get all their current games at a really good employee discount. But, what really caught my attention was that all of their games that were currently out of print were available for free.

This set me on a trip down memory lane, as I remembered all the hours I used to spend on these old games. I loaded up a couple of my old favorites, and enjoyed wasting couple of hours on them. I was looking for my next diversion, when I ran across a medieval real-time strategy game. Just seeing the name was enough to bring back in memory that been floating around edges of my mind for days. The game had an odd system for controlling individual units and formations. Each unit could be assigned a level of independence on a sliding scale. The less independence, the more likely it was to follow orders. The more independence it had, the more common sense the unit seemed to have. Units that had no independence would blithely ignore enemy attacks that were destroying them if they were doing something else. This worked out really well on the lower levels when you could pause every time something happened. But on the highest level, you were not allowed pause the game. The first time I played at that level, I found my troops being annihilated. The problem was that I was still trying to do everything myself, and there was just too many things going on the same time. I now remembered vividly sending a column of troops to take up a defensive position, and while my attention was elsewhere, an enemy unit had come up from behind and destroyed them completely.

This is exactly what the Taurians and are doing! This meant that the controllers in the headquarters were only capable of paying attention to one thing at a time. They expected soldiers that they sent out with the bio-soldiers on task, but when we had shown that we could eliminate these soldiers at will, they stopped sending them with the bio-soldier mobs.

Once we eliminated any alien soldiers riding heard. distraction became the key to fighting them. Catch the controller’s attention in one area, and all its other units were effectively paralyzed. I immediately began checking the data from the battles against enemy bases, but I already knew what the answer would be. I had seen it with my own eyes. Now, all I needed was the data to back me up so I could tell everyone else.

The night before the conference, I worked on putting all my information together until Sylvia threatened to give me another concussion unless I went to bed. The conference was in the morning, and I wasn’t satisfied that my theory was ready for presentation, but since the conference agenda was already set, that probably really didn’t matter.

After she left I was getting ready for bed and stood up right into a cabinet door I had left open. This was not particularly noteworthy as I am somewhat of a klutz and had done similar things many times, but this time I actually saw stars, fell down and blacked out for a bit. I got up, to another pain pill and forgot about the incident.

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Salvar 17: Consecration


“It is my hope that this place will become more than a place you stayed. I truly wish this to become a home for those who live here and that the time will come that this will only be the first of many places where our peoples live side by side. To meet, to connect with and to understand people other than humankind has long been a dream for humanity. This place represents the first concrete step in making this dream a reality.”

Speech by Donald Ray, the Director of Prometheus Corporation At the opening of Leotaur POW Camp #1 AKA Leotaur Camp

* * *

The Director looked around the Leotaur Camp after the speech and ribbon cutting. The place was still spartan, but he could see where homey touches had been added here and there. The speech had been attended by a few of the Leotaurs, and it was his first chance to see one up close. They were a beautiful people, both at rest and in motion. They were also massive. The leader of them was nearly eight feet of muscle and power and probably weigh at least 500 pounds. My party consisted of Tony, Rodolfo, Angelia, and I. We were set next to eat lunch at the Community Center (which someone had renamed with a handmade sign the Centaur Center.) Rodolfo was busy chatting with one of the Leotaur females in the Leotaur language. The language’s cadence reminded him vaguely of Gaelic, but as he spoke neither language, he had no idea if there was any actual correlation.  Tony was in an intense conversation with the Leotaur leader that had him looking thoughtful.

Angelia leaned over and said, “The Leotaurs are making connections. This is better than I thought.”

“Yes. I had hoped for something like this eventually, but this is already happening. My dear, this may just be awesome.”

Angelia looked sharply at him. Awesome was a word that he saved for special occasions when he saw big things changing in a good direction. Once again she wished she could see what was going through his mind. Long ago he had promised her that they could change the world together and he had fulfilled that promise many times over.

They entered the community center an the first thing he noticed was the lack of chairs. There were folding chairs along the walls, but the Leotaurs obviously could not use them. The human staff grabbed their chairs on the way in, and most likely put them back on their way out. The tables were spaced out a bit more than was usual to accommodate the Leotaur’s long lower torso. A central table had obviously been prepared in advance with chairs nameplates in appropriate places. The Director helped Angelia to her seat and then took his. The Leotaurs sat down with all their legs folded under them.

The Director turned to the camp director and asked. “Is Leotaur food compatible with Human digestion?”

Jeff chuckled, “More than human food is with Leotaur tastes. The have more sensitive taste ans smell than we do, so their food tends to be a bit bland, but I find that judicious use of ketchup and steak sauce can make up for it. It’s funny that even though the’re form another world, the eat a lot of the same things we do and they have taken a real liking to potatoes and fries.”

The Director’s party all ordered a human portion of the Leotaur course. (The human portion is a plate, while the Leotaur portion is a platter.) When the food arrived, the Leotaurs sang a short but solemn song before eating.

Jeff noted, “That seems to be the Leotaur equivalent of saying grace. Not all of the Leotaurs do so, but Salvar always does.”

Angelia gasped when the Leotaur leader took out a pair of simpler prosthetics with a fork and a spoon on them … and then casually took off his hand. She looked around the room and became aware that all the large gloves that the Leotaurs wore were actually prosthetics for where they had had their hands cut off. She tried to keep herself calm, but she could not keep the tears from flowing. Her empathy for all the pain and suffering as well as finding the courage to begin again just overwhelmed her.

The Director leaned over, “Are you OK?”

“I finally understand why we must fight and why we must win this war. I need to cry for a bit, but I’m OK.”

The meal went on and the Director learned the names of the four Leotaurs at his table. That Salvar had three of the few females in his household was a matter that made the Director’s curiosity itch, but years of training by Angelia was able to restrain it. Salvar and Favla were obviously talented and already working for him with ties to his leadership group. This merited more attention from him, as it could accelerate a number of his plans greatly. He just needed a way to get them more involved as soon as possible.

When the dishes were cleared, Tony spoke softly to Salvar. “Now would be a good time.”

Salvar stood and moved a little ways away, and then turned toward the Director. He prostrated himself, laying with his face on the ground, “Dee-rect -ter, will you hear what I have to say?”

The Director was caught completely off guard by them. Angelia prodded him and he said, “Yes, of course.”

Salvar raised his upper torso off the ground. “The Leotaur here have been made family by our pain together. We have named us the Leotaurs of the Human Family. This was not done easy. Our own people betrayed and cut us apart, while your people rescued and healed us. We have decided to join our walk with yours and serve your plans. Further I promise myself to do everything I know for you to help in this war. I was once called the Voice of Saving and served as the great war-leader and general of the Leotaur. I now give all of my strength and mind to you, and the Leotaurs of the Human Family will also give all to you.”  Salvar then abased himself once more.

The Director was thinking furiously. This changed a lot. But he had to stop to address the Leotaur before him. “Get up Salvar. I accept you as champion and war leader. I accept your people as my own people. I am dedicated to bringing this war to an end, and you will be a crucial … important part of that. Will you be my strength and stand beside me until peace … is between our peoples?”

Salvar rose to his feet, “You have my promise before the One Speaker.” The room erupted in cheers and stomping from the Leotaurs and applause from the human staff.

* * *

The Director boarded the helicopter for the ride home. He had approved Salvar adding more Leotaurs to the security force and had watched him run through the weapons course twice. He was an amazing warrior and he needed to find him a place in the leadership quickly. He found out from Tony that he had already solved the problem of the exploding control rooms, which would mean more intact prisoners and technology. He has the potential to change so much, but I can’t just hand him power and authority without causing a huge backlash. Where can I place him that will let him earn it himself. The Director sat up and laughed to himself. Suddenly all the pieces fell into place. The sound dampeners were working as the helicopter took off and headed home. The director called up a vid-link on his tablet and waited until it was answered. “Herman I need you to build a specialized battlesuit for someone.”

* * *

Salvar watched the king of the under-mountain realm leave in his flying mechanism. The consecration had gone well and the king had accepted both him and the clan. Tomorrow he would induct both Giggles and Bulgur as reeves, That would free him to serve as the king’s war-leader. The only problem with being the king’s war-leader is that it would take him away from Favla’s side and this was not good. She was an amazing doe, but she was still fragile. For that matter, so was everyone in the entire clan, himself included.

He walked up beside his mate and she leaned into him. “Gracious doe, things have been happening so fast that I have not been able to consult with you as I would like. Although it is late, I wish to hear any wisdom my mate has for me.”

“Noble stag, to deal with a urgent matters is why we have leaders instead of just councils. We do need to set up a council as well.”

“I had not thought that far ahead. I am glad that I have such a capable doe by my side, for I make far too many mistakes on my own. Are there other matters that we should attend to as clan leaders.”

Favla laughed and then looked down. I was relieved when I realized that she looked embarrassed rather than fearful. “My mighty stag, I take it that you have not worked closely with a clan council before. The workings of councils was much of what my family did. There are a multitude of things that need to be done and recorded.”

“My gracious doe, could I beg your assistance in these things as I have no knowledge in such matters? Perhaps your cousin Sadra might help as well?”

“I will consider it noble stag.”

“Is there anything that this humble stag can do for the beautiful and accomplished doe that stands before him?”

Her attempt to look proud and aloof was broken by a giggle. “At least you have a silver tongue to persuade the council with. Do you have anyone whom you would see in the council?”

“Tebdur, Darca and Favla are the only ones that come to mind, and perhaps I am a bit biased on that last one.”

“My mighty stag, you are forgiven, you do not need to continue to flatter me.”

“My gracious doe, I truly believe that you would be an asset to the council with your knowledge of other tongues, your skill as a scribe and association with the Chaos-Kin. My only hesitation is that as your mate, I am not the appropriate one to nominate you.”

“You, mighty stag, will set my thoughts with the birds if I am not careful. Was there anything else noble stag?”

Salvar sighed, “Gracious doe, as I have embarked upon the path of the war-leader again, there will be times in which I will be temporarily parted from you. I am worried that you may feel betrayed by this.”

“My noble stag, If it were just you and I and your departure would leave me alone again, it might be too much for me to bear. But, besides becoming my mate and companion, you have given me kin, clan, and home once more. I will miss you terribly because you are my mate and my love, but my family and clan will keep the screamer form entrapping my mind.”

Salvar’s eyes misted over as this was the first time she had declared her love for him. Then he realized that he had never declared his love for her and felt immediately remorseful. “My dear gracious doe, how could I be so remiss as to not declare my deep and abiding love for you. You have given me such joy, comfort and peace as I have not felt since before I went off to war after the desecration by the Winged-Kin. You have stirred in me an attraction such as no doe have ever done. I wish to declare that i will love you forever, but I dare not lest I anger the One Voice. There is so much I wish to do and provide for you, but I can only start with my abiding affection.”

“You words are a true song to my ears, mighty stag. Come, let us return to our home, lest I behave inappropriately in public.”

* * *

Angelia accompanied the Director back to his office. Once the door had shut, she confronted him. “Don, did you know?”

“I had hints from reports, but never expected something like that, Angel.”

“They have savants among them. Salvar is definitely one and I’m pretty sure his mate, Favla is one as well. I need to get them counselors at once. Hell, I need to get the whole camp counselors, but where do you find counselors for Leotaurs?”

“The same place you find counselors for anyone. You find people who care and are willing to be a part of their lives and you teach them from there. Eventually you will find counselors among them, but that will take more time than we have now. When you can’t do what you want to, then you settle for what works until you can do things right.”

“What about the other aliens?”

“They’re probably in as bad a shape physically and mentally as the Leotaurs are.”

“I’ll need to get people in position as soon as possible. I also need you to get as many prisoners to us as you can. We don’t need than to be abused by humans as well.”

‘What about the soldiers we capture that weren’t maimed by their own people?”

“Honestly, I don’t know yet. We will have to get people to look into that kind of stuff and report on it before I know what to do.”

“What does your gut tell you?”

“Right now, it wants to string them up by their eyeballs, but I’m angry right now, so I’m not listening to it.”

He laughed, “I do think that bringing people from other races into the fold may be a key to winning the war, but I’m pretty sure that this is going to take any number of approaches. Just what we needed, my dear, a big complicated new project for our spare time.”

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Taurian Invasion 14: Answering the Call


 

A lot of people left our traditional down time get together after dinner early that night. I was one of them. I knew I had to think everything through before I made a decision.

Sylvia followed me to my room afterwards and sat down at the table, “OK! Sit down and spill it bud.”

“I just don’t want this to be the moment that I look back upon and say ‘if I had just done something else I wouldn’t have screwed up my life.’ I want to be sure before I commit myself to this.”

“So … sounds like you know what you want to do, but you’re just not sure that it’s the right thing to do.”

“I just don’t want to be foolhardy because it sounds so neat.”

“This really scares you, doesn’t it?”

“History is full of people who died because they didn’t know what they were playing with. Madam Curie died of cancer only a few years after making all of her wonderful discoveries because she had no idea that radiation was so dangerous, and thousands of Americans died because of their work on the atomic bomb. All of the scientists who were part of the race to isolate elemental fluorine died because of it.”

“So is it fear of the unknown or the fear of dying that is bothering you?”

“Neither, they don’t scare me at all! And that’s what scares me. Alien technology, the possibility of combat, the great unknown: I’m facing all of them, and all I can think of is just how awesome these new battlesuits are. You would have to be some kind of nut for these things not to scare the pants off of you.”

She got her ‘OK, now you’re just being a dork’ look, “So, you’re terrified of not being afraid? Allen Spencer! That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard you say! Fear is a feeling. Feelings don’t come just because you think they ought to, at least real ones don’t. So, you’re not afraid right now and maybe you ought to be: So what! Feelings alone are a bad basis for making important decisions. So, the fact that you don’t feel something that you think you ought to is a good basis? That doesn’t make any sense even to me.”

“I just didn’t want to do anything stupid.”

“And yet you just did, because you were trying no to. Allen, just make your decision and go on with your life. OK?”

A few minutes later I dialed up the Adjutant General number, expecting to get his answering service. Surprisingly, he picked up almost immediately. “Ah, Mr. Spencer. Have you made your decision?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve decided to join the new project.”

“Have you talked this over with your counselor?”

“Yes sir.”

“Excellent, I’ll send you the directions to start at your new work location tomorrow. I’ve also authorized your promotion to second lieutenant. It’s been in the works, but this seemed like a good time to make it official. Congratulations lieutenant on both the new job and your new bars.”

“Thank you sir. I’ll do my best to earn them.”

“You already have, or you wouldn’t have gotten them. Don’t worry though, you still have plenty to earn ahead of you.”

 

* * *

 

A little over a month later, there was a meeting in the Director’s office. The Director, the Chief Counselor and the Adjutant General met along with Herman Royce (the head of technology) and his Counselor Heather. The Director started the meeting, “Before we get to the main topic of this meeting, Tony would you be so kind as to give us an update on how the war is going?”

“Prometheus forces have assaulted five alien concentrations in conjunction with allied forces and have captured our first alien prisoners.We still do not know how they are moving their troops and what happened to the missing people in these areas. Each of these concentrations seemed to have a central base where all bio-soldiers originate and are maintained. With each assault we have learned more about our enemies and their technology. Using this knowledge, we did a before and after global satellite image comparison for things that are about the right size and shape to be more of the bases. We already have literally hundreds of possible matches, all of which must be checked out individually on the ground. The scale of the scouting alone will be far more than our current forces can handle in any kind of timely manner. We don’t even have enough people for reconnaissance. If they start going on the offensive, we are completely screwed.”

“Angelia, how are our recruitment efforts going?”

“We are trying to overhaul our recruitment procedures to handle large numbers of people without giving up on thoroughness. The good news is that they tell me that we have decreased recruitment and processing time by 60%. The bad news is that we need to do it at ten times even this rate to evaluate all of the candidates we are finding.”

“This leads me to the conclusion that we have run out of time, and are not going to have the manpower to take care of the problem ourselves.When I thought that we were dealing with a few aliens in isolated locations, I began planning based on these assumptions. I’m afraid that this was a mistake and we may have to take some desperate actions to make up for it.”

“I can modify and implement one of the other plans, but I need to know where we stand now. Herman, how do the hybrid suits compare to the currently deployed battlesuits?”

“We are trying to work out some problems with musculature in the shoulders currently and are making good … “

“That’s not what I asked, Herman.”

“They are superior to our strictly mechanical suits in nearly every way. I expect them to be ready for deployment in three or four months.”

“Tony, in your judgment, if the hybrid suits were deployed, just as they are now, would it substantially increase the strength of our forces?”

“Yes, if our troops had them now, it would both increase their effectiveness and decrease their casualty rates, although I agree that they could be improved with a few months more work.”

“Herman, I really hate to do this to you, but I am going to junk all of our careful plans and throw everything into high gear. I want you to begin production of all three phases of the hybrid program. Our development team is going to be deployed into combat while continuing to develop the hybrids. Tony, you are going to shift a great number of our forces to creating anti-alien units in any national military that will work with us. If they don’t have the proper equipment, we’re going to lend it to them. Getting enough forces trained and ready to face this threat is top priority. It no longer matters who or how.”

Herman had his face in his hands, and spoke without even looking up. “I can start production on phase one and two immediately, but phase three is still being designed. It may be as long as a year before we can start production of those units, even accelerating the program as much as possible.”

“Then we will work with whatever we can get. I don’t like this any more than you do, but the pattern I see emerging tells me that time has run out. If the aliens go on the offensive, we are going to have a disaster of unimaginable proportions.”

As the three men began going into greater detail of the coming changes, Angelia motioned for Heather to lean over and they spoke to her in a low tone. “Can Herman handle this change?”

“Give him two days to shift mental gears, and he will throw everything he has behind the new plan. But, expect a lot of verbal explosions and broken equipment in the mean time.”

“I’ll send warnings to the appropriate Counselors and leave handling your Savant up to you.”

 

* * *

 

When the word came down that we were going to be deployed against the aliens, I was excited and a bit nervous. I thought it a bit ominous when there was still so much work to be done on the hybrids, so I cornered Sniper and asked, “I thought that we weren’t going to be deployed until we gave them the green light on the suits. Why the sudden change.”

“Well there seems to be two basic reasons. One: The alien problem is worse than they thought. Two: They seem to think that we are so flipping good that we can fight aliens and develop the stinking suits at the same time.”

“Well, we are that good.”

“Damp right. I’m breaking the company into five man squads with two reserve pilots, and you’re gonna lead one of them.”

“Me? With all these combat veterans around?”

“Allen, I’ve been putting you in the lead a lot in the sims, and that’s no accident. People listen to you because for some dirty reason they trust you. You also listen to good ideas when are given to you, and seem to think well when things get hot. That’s what could make you a ruddy good leader. Think about who you want on your squad, and if you get at least four of them to agree: Bamm! You’re a dank squad leader. The rest of the week is just going to be combat sims for you to work out any bugs in your group and work on creating your own beaming combat style.”

“What happens if I turn out not to be what is needed?”

“Then I pull you so fast that you’ll think it was some dream from drinking bad hooch. Don’t worry. You think that I would give a job like this to a dirty civilian like you if I wasn’t double sure you could handle it?”

“I won’t let you down Sniper. It was just kind of unexpected, that’s all. Give me a little while to process it and I’ll be fine.”

“Think about it, get over it, and do your blinking job and everything will be great.”

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