Lone Star – Chapter 1

Morgan had been dreading this meeting for the past four days. He stood straighter than ever as he knocked on the door, determined to meet his fate with dignity.  And who could say?  Perhaps the inspectors inside would actually give him a chance to explain his actions?

Fat chance of that, he thought.  The Colonel’s voice called out from the other side of the oak door, and Morgan entered.

The Colonel’s office was empty except for the old man himself.  Pushing toward 70, and permanently grounded due to a spine injury many years ago, the Colonel wasn’t a bad man to work for.  Morgan had served under far worse.  The bald head was down, finishing a few marks on the paperwork before him, then rose as the old man looked his subordinate in the eyes.

“Capt. Grey reporting as ordered, sir.” Morgan snapped into an academy-perfect salute.

The Colonel nodded.  “Sit down, captain.”

Morgan looked around the office again, wondering for a moment if he was about to be ambushed, and dragged downstairs and out of the complex by a squad of Dog-Boys or something similarly degrading.  Seeing no one hidden in the corners, he slowly took a seat across from his commander.

Colonel Paterson looked up again, and smirked.  “Expecting more company?”

Morgan’s eyebrows rose.  “Honestly, yes, sir, I was.  I had figured this would be an interview with at least a pair of inspectors present.”

Paterson set down his pen, waving away the idea with his free hand.  “I already had a talk with them.”  He took a deep breath, then locked his eyes with the Captain’s.  “I imagine you’re expecting to be drummed out of the defense corps, or at the very least to lose your wings, after that little stunt the other day.  There’s a lot of rumors going around, and it’d be nice for the force commander to be ahead of them for once.”

Morgan caught himself smiling just a little.  “The attacking force that my squad failed to intercept was a distraction, sir.  It was a fairly large group of crazies and juicers on hovercycles, approaching from the northwest to draw our attention that direction.  It is my opinion that they had never expected to get as close to the compound as they did.  When I became aware of their presence, we were in the woods to the East, on the ground near a squad of Dog Boys that had hailed us during our overflight.  They reported a massive amount of un-natural energy activity further to the East, and their guess was that a Rift was being opened.  Aerial radar reported to us the presence of the hovercycles, but also reported that there were two other patrols already on the way to intercept.  In looking at the after-action report, our presence in that fight wouldn’t have mattered, even if we had gotten there in time.

“On the other hand, my team did witness a Rift being opened by a trio of magic-users.  We had a glimpse through the opening before we opened fire, and saw at least a dozen mature dragons waiting to come through.  If we had allowed them to come through, the juicers and their bomb would have been the least of our troubles.”

The Colonel’s eyebrows rose.  “Hard to believe, when that bomb made it over the wall, and went off right next to Hangar 3.  Two Death-Head transports, five Super-SAMAS, and twenty-five standard Sammies, Captain.”  He shook his head slowly.  “That’s a lot of hardware.”

“Yes, sir, but it was un-manned hardware.  A dozen adult dragons would have a chance of over-running the base entirely.”

The Colonel sighed, and nodded.  “We can go back and forth over this all we want, but you know as well as I do that it won’t matter a bit.  High Command wants someone they can hold responsible, and unfortunately, that person is you.  So for the official report, your observation of the opening Rift has been eliminated from the record, and will remain that way, Captain.  You’re a special forces soldier, so you can figure out why.”

Morgan took all of two seconds to figure it out.  High Command was doing a number of things, and first on their list was maintaining an image of how powerful the CS was.  The knowledge that three magicians could get that close to a large CS installation was bothersome enough.  Add that to the desperate need for a scapegoat, and it wouldn’t matter how much proof or video record he and his squad had brought back.

But there was more happening here, and Morgan could sense it.  High Command was moving its chess pieces around the board, and didn’t want all of its moves to be obvious.  Wherever he was going from here, his true tasking would be off the record.

It wouldn’t be hard to cover up, really.  The team that had been with him was entirely special forces, and they’d know to keep their mouths shut.  Many would most likely be re-assigned with him.  There was no physical evidence of a rift being opened out in the middle of the forest, except for the scorched trees- and the SAMAS rail-gun fire could explain that easily enough.  As for the trio of magic-users that had been opening the Rift, there wasn’t much left of them.  The SAMAS rail-gun was designed to punch holes in the toughest armor, whether on the side of a giant combat robot or a supernatural demon.  There wasn’t anything solid left of the three un-armored humans Morgan’s team had gunned down.

The silence that fell was broken only by the ancient grandfather clock in the corner of the office.  Colonel Paterson was an old engineer as well as a pilot, a tinker of the oldest kind, and had taken to re-building as many pieces of pre-cataclysm machinery as he could find.  This one didn’t even need electricity to function.  It was a quaint affectation that High Command tolerated only in moderation.

After a moment, the Colonel spoke again.  “So, in answer to the question that I’m sure you’ve been pondering for the last few days, no, you are not losing flight status, and you are not being demoted.  High Command is actually giving you a chance to make amends.  I was just going over your next assignment.”  He handed three stapled sheets of paper across the desk, and Morgan took them, scanning the cover page.

It was the CS Military’s standard forms for a change of posting.  He had expected a two-page form.  The third page was only added to the packet when there was a change of command authority.  Morgan had only expected to be notified of losing his command authority, which would be only a paragraph.  He flipped back to the third page before finishing the first two, going over the summary, and was surprised again- he hadn’t expected to be allowed to command a squad again for a good long while.  He was wrong- the force roster listed a full squadron of SAMAS.  Where was the penalty part of this posting change?  He flipped back to the first page, scanning again, and finding his answer.  His eyes went wide.

Lone Star. They were sending him down to Lone Star, the underground laboratory in the middle of what was once Texas, the secret research facility where the Coalition States grew all of the mutants it used in its military structure.  Every one of the mutant canines, affectionately called Dog Boys, had originally come from that one, gigantic facility.  His new command was the air wing attached to Mutant Containment and Recovery, the group tasked with finding and retrieving runaway mutants.  Major Winston Clavell’s infamous unit.  His squad would be allowed the option to transfer with him.

Morgan let out his breath, more sharply than he’d intended.  “Well, sir, it isn’t the window-seat posting I’d expected,” he said, referring to the sort of assignment that would let you watch as the rest of the world went by.

“No, Captain, it is not.  They expect you to report for duty in three days, so you’ve got some time to relax.  If you’d like to silence the rumor-mill out in the mess hall, I’ll leave it to your discretion.  But the troops would love to have something new to talk about.”  The Colonel shrugged.  “Perhaps I could tell them you really were having that affair with Lt Sigmund.”

Morgan snickered, then stood.  “My luck hasn’t been that good, sir.”  And, he thought silently, doesn’t look like its getting any better.

*****

He was almost finished packing when he heard the knock on the door. Morgan zipped shut his travel bag, then turned toward the door when he heard the electronic code chime.  Whoever it was either had the access code to his quarters, or had hacked the lock to get it open.  He stopped in mid-stride as the door opened.

It only opened far enough for a slender woman in standard arming-clothes to slip inside.  It looked as if she had been wearing a full suit of dead-boy armor only minutes before.  She shut the door behind her quietly, then turned to face him.  He didn’t recognize her – blond, excellent shape, a thin face and penetrating blue eyes – but she apparently recognized him.

“Captain Grey, I apologize if I’ve startled you.  Please sit down.” She motioned toward the chair, pulled away from his desk.

“And who are you?” he asked, standing still.

“I am Colonel Tarin Bronson of ISS, and I’m here to discuss the tasking order you were given today.”  She produced a palm-sized personal computer, and while it first displayed the standard pattern for a Staff Sergeant, the image shifted to a photo-negative version of a LT Colonel rank insignia.  After a long pause, she put the computer unit back into her breast pocket.

Morgan nodded, then slowly lowered himself into the chair.  “So you’re here to tell me why I’m really being transferred.”

“Yes.  We’ve been waiting a while for an opportunity like the one you gave us, so while it may seem to you that this is moving quickly, the pieces have been in place for some time now.”  She strode forward, then sat on the edge of his bed.  Her eyes locked on his own.  “ISS has great concerns about the situation at Lone Star.  We’ve had two official investigators killed while on duty there, presumably by enemy ambushes.  We’ve come to the conclusion that the only way for us to get an accurate idea of the true situation there is to try to infiltrate an ISS officer into the line soldiers.”

Morgan nodded, following her trail of thought easily.  “And since it would look suspicious for any ISS officer to get transferred out to a standard front-line unit, you needed to go out-of-house.”

“Yes.  Special Forces was the obvious choice- we need someone who has high security clearance, who is used to evolving conditions and can discreetly observe events around them.  Your transfer will look enough like punishment duty for your alleged screw-up, with your past record being the reason you weren’t sent right into the Magic Zone.”

Morgan suppressed a chuckle.  A transfer to the outskirts of the Magic Zone in the old Ohio Valley had been what he had half-expected.  It was the normal punishment-post throughout the Coalition States military, right on the edge of a part of the world with so much magic energy in the earth and the air that a rift could open up pretty much anywhere.  And through those rifts could come- well, anything.  Fire-breathing dragons, 6-armed demonesses, shape-shifting horrors… all the things that the CS was formed to protect people from could be found in the Magic Zone.  The life-span of troopers on long-range patrols in that area averaged 18 months of duty.  Special Forces troops out there lasted only slightly longer.

“Was it ISS’s idea that I was charged with a negligent decision, when my unit should be credited with halting a major attack on this installation?”

“That was my idea, Captain.”  She fixed her eyes on his, and her stare was ice-cold.  “There are greater forces at work here, and perhaps someday the record can be amended.  You’ve been Special Forces for four years now- being an unsung hero is nothing new.  But for now, we need you down at Lone Star.  We’ve lost two skilled investigators down there, and it has become clear that we need an operator with your skill set.  Your job there will be simple – keep your eyes open.  You know the basics of the CS laws governing genetics, bionics, and mutant experimentation.  Within the next two weeks, you’ll learn those laws chapter-and-verse.  And if you see anything that crosses the line, you’ll report it.  I don’t want you to think of yourself as investigating any one person out there.  Just report what you see.”  She pointed to his own personal computer, sitting on the desk next to him.  “Don’t transmit any information directly from that device; we can’t risk a wireless signal getting intercepted.  Your computer-dock in your new quarters will have a hard-line connection to us waiting for you when you arrive.”  She stood, and moved toward the door.  “And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, Captain, what will happen if you mention this visit, or me, to anyone.”

He nodded, then watched her leave his quarters as quietly as she had come.

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