all those who believed in the Reverence series, with a special thanks
to my editors Don Sloan and Carol Thompson. Here’s to more to come.
At Your Request
13: See You at the Gates
15: Eyes of the World
16: Weak Links
17: All of Us
the last installment, super soldier Will Marconi faced a choice
between loyalty and preserving his way of life, or throwing
everything to the wind to search for the truth. Will ultimately chose
the latter, but at great cost. Now he is prepared to make Chancellor
Venloran pay for all he’s done. The journey to take him down is
full of adversaries, both old and new…
I: THE CHESS PIECES
1 - Service
August 26, 2050 -
Des Moines, Iowa
The tall oaks were
marked with the blemishes of age, and yet they still stood twice as
tall as the cement walls surrounding them. Fiery-colored leaves
littered the neat courtyard as far as one could see. The courtyard
was filled with enormous trees, along with a few elegant,
smooth-stone benches that sat atop makeshift hills. The greenery of
the space, despite the fading of autumn into winter, was quite scenic
and attracted a pair of delicate birds. They hopped along through the
branches of a tree as if it were a massive playground, finally
settling near the upper canopy. They were soon joined by many others,
their chirping forming a chorus. Swirling winds cradled the dry
leaves in midair, offering even the departed souls a measure of
solace, a final dance.
Under the swaying,
crumpled plumes of the autumn trees, two rows of men and women
appeared. One row trudged through the grass sluggishly. The other
marched through it with purpose. The groups were nearly even in
number. The marching group wore all-black crisp uniforms and boots to
match. Each also carried in their arms M4 carbine rifles as their
beloved children. One child unto each parent, and though the M4s all
looked the same, each one had a name and a human face. One person,
the gunnery sergeant, marched out in front of this group as its
The other group wore
orange jumpsuits, their wrists bound by metal shackles. Their ankles
were secured as well, limiting the amount of movement between each
footstep. Whereas the faces of the uniformed group remained steady
and staring straight ahead, the shackled group kept their faces
downward, toward the grass. Likewise, their shoulders sagged. Tagging
along behind them was another sergeant, his Janice pointed into their
backs. For the most part undisturbed, the birds watched as the two
rows began to split away from each other, quite like watching a giant
form along the ground. The formation quickly turned into a V
before the parallel lines came face-to-face, the shackled men and
women standing with their backs against the smooth concrete wall, the
other group with their backs against the wind, standing at attention.
The sergeant walked
between the lines, a fair amount of breathing room for his wide
shoulders. He did not give the unarmed vermin his attention at all,
but glared down at his own men and women with an icy stare they’d
come to expect. Each plebe’s face was that of chiseled stone, and
with their weapons rested upon their shoulders honorably, they
appeared as perfect reflections of one another. All of them were
incredibly young, without a single scar of battle upon their smooth
faces, but the sergeant was pragmatic enough. He was sure they were
all good and ready. As he turned to march past them again, he
prepared to give them the essentials of what was about to happen.
“Every few months,
we get a payload of scumbags from our prisons,” he announced, one
arm behind his back, “and as upcoming graduates, it is your task
today to rid the country of this ration of filth. Do not weep for
these men and women. They have all been convicted of murder, every
last one of them. Some of them accidentally shot one person while
trying to kill another. Others are here for the cold-blooded
slaughter of their spouses or children, sometimes both. We even have,
according to my roster, a few serial killers in this lineup. Sorry,
folks, pleas of insanity are no good here, not in this damned good
He smiled briefly,
not to the prisoners, not to his soldiers, but to himself.
“Crime cannot and
will not be tolerated at any cost. Their names are not important. The
security of our great nation is the vital factor at the end of the
day. Now raise your rifles!”
responded in unison, among them Jacob and Neal. Alongside them were a
few fellow cadets Jacob knew closely, Angela, Victor and Miles. He’d
just met them all here, aside from Neal, but they’d become a
close-knit family. At this moment, though, they said not one word to
one another, but took aim in the silence, focusing on their
individual targets. All could hear the chirping of the birds above
them. A cool breeze snaked its way between Jacob’s fingers. He
found it all quite calming.
shots rang out. The heads bounced back a little before the bodies
tumbled over. The birds took flight. The dead leaves continued to
dance in the morning sun.
Now everyone gather your martyr and head for the trucks. Move!”
instantly began to work, a pair for each corpse, with one gripping
the body by its legs, the other by its wrists, before heading off to
their destination in a single-file line of excellence. The next
trainee platoon was arriving with the next batch of target practice.
Captain Halsey spotted Jacob Neeson, and though he eyed the man with
little subtlety, his subject paid him no mind. When Jacob was
training, he never broke his focus.
“Hurry up, boys
and girls. Remember, you still got your laps to complete. Let’s
laid motionless on the white sheets and blanket of his bunk. For what
it was worth, the alcohol kept up his body temperature in the chilly
room. He was engaged with the large mural that was on the wall
closest to him, near the exit door. He studied the epic from
top-to-bottom and back again. Ever since arriving all those years
ago, he’d stared at it every night.
Neal walked into the
bathroom, spotting a passed-out Victor lying next to a urinal. His
snoring was only matched in its uncouthness by the drool dangling
from his lip. Hayes was three urinals down finishing up and pulling
up his zipper. He trudged past the downed Victor and eyed the
half-full bottle of Jose Cuervo lying in his lap. In his own hand was
an empty bottle of the same brand of liquor, to which he found
himself smiling. It was a simple matter of ethics.
Neal watched as
Hayes, with little stealth, switched the bottles, so sloppy in his
work the empty bottle slid slightly from Victor’s hand and hit the
To both their
delight, despite the loud clank, there was no shatter.
“I thought you
were supposed to be watching Murano,” Neal said rather
matter-of-factly. “Joe said he’d get us the liquor but from there
it’s on us.”
“Come on,” Hayes
slurred. “He’s fine. Besides this is a fight he had to do
himself. I rate his performance... poor.”
With a laugh, he
knelt to look at his peer. Despite a light slap to both cheeks, the
man only briefly twitched. Hayes laughed before saluting the soldier.
“It’s not my
fault he’s going to miss this rare opportunity, but at least he’ll
have a legitimate excuse why he didn’t get any.”
Hayes let him be,
but Neal felt a certain responsibility was in order. After a swift
leave and quick return, now Neal himself sat next to the dozing fool.
With a black marker, he drew the longest eyelashes he could, making
sure to give them a certain feminine curve. On Victor’s light skin,
the marker made for excellent eye shadow and, of course, the boy
needed a mole to the left of his nose. His task complete, Neal stood
and placed the blanket from the troop’s bunk over him neatly.
Neal reentered the
main rest area and acknowledged that, indeed, Vic would miss out.
Usually the barracks were a place of absolute silence at this hour,
but tonight was a night of celebration. A banner hung from the
ceiling, a simple bed-sheet with words painted sloppily across it. At
the very least, it was pinned up horizontally. On it read,
As a token of the
trainees’ progress, the officers had deemed it fair that the cadets
get to throw their own little bash, including a rare mixing of the
male and female students. As long as there were no fights, they’d
been promised they would be free of supervision. What the party
lacked in good music it made up for in sheer noise.
Neal got a beer out
of the ice chest on the floor. It couldn’t have been a party
without the drinks, and their faithful Joe Halsey had delivered just
as he’d promised. Despite the risk of the upper brass checking up
on them and discovering the alcohol, Neal, like everyone else, cared
little. Tonight was the night. The best part was that there was still
much left to drink. Despite everyone being dressed fairly the same,
with muscle shirts or white T-shirts and wearing the jet-black
slacks, the many beautiful women had dolled themselves up
considerably. The young men were their usual animal-like selves, but
a few tried harder than others.
The blood-red floor
of the room they called home was shrouded in darkness besides the
would-be multi-colored disco ball positioned in the middle of the
room. At the expense of effort, it was where else but on the floor.
The UNR flags hanging from each bed found themselves drenched in an
odd array of colors.
Neal spotted two
people heading his way through the crowds: one a welcome sight and
the other he would tolerate.
Neal!” called the caramel-skinned woman, a beer in one hand. Noting
her curly hair and toned body, Neal maintained his poise.
“Hey, Angie, but
I’m not there quite yet,” he said as he gave her a hug.
bullshit me! Sometimes you make us look bad, squad leader,” she
intentionally, but it happens,” he said playfully.
Following behind was
Miles, in his arms a whiskey bottle. Unlike Angela, he sported no
feminine sex appeal for special pardon, making his voyage through the
tightly-packed crowd no easy task. He felt cold beer splash his neck
along with a few melted-down ice cubes.
Miles, bring that bottle this way, asshole!” someone yelled.
“In a minute, you
little dipshit!” he shouted.
“Make it quick,
you scrawny cheesedick!”
Neal could see it
was Hayes and a few of his friends, always ready for another round.
At long last, Miles reached them, roughly setting down the Jack.
that, asshole. Just because we’re in my dorm doesn’t mean I want
a whole shitload to clean up in the morning.”
man. I got it, I got it. Besides, just because you’re one of Sarge
Huntman’s favorites doesn’t make it your dormitory.”
“Soon will be by
Miles seemed amiss
at that for a second, especially at Angela’s smile, but he laughed.
“Never mind all
that bull,” he said. “Where’s Halsey at? He should be here as
“I don’t think
he’d want to soil his reputation.”
“See,” he said
with a drinker’s confidence, “I think he just wanted us to throw
some of our hard-earned money into his pocket.”
“Hey, be glad he
was even willing. We could have none at all.”
gonna make a move either way,” Angie teased.
“The ladies here
just aren’t my type, man. I need a girl with a little academic
sister,” Angela laughed. “She transferred out of here last
quarter to the R&D Studies Center in Iowa City. If you had plans
of going there, you know you’re really
“She’s some kind
of damned prodigy, I swear.”
“She takes after
her father,” Neal chimed in, “but don’t worry, I’m sure
you’ll find someone. Better act quickly, though, or else you’ll
be going lefty tonight. That oughta shake things up.” He laughed.
“You just gotta
shit on me, huh, man?”
messin’ with you, relax.”
“Come to think of
it, where’s the other star pupil?” Miles asked.
They all looked
around, quickly spotting Jacob in his bunk several beds down and away
from the commotion. With one arm folded behind his head on the
pillow, the other hand on a bottle, he looked rather still.
“I don’t get
it,” Angela said, still looking in that direction. “Why didn’t
he transfer like she did?”
“You kidding? He
doesn’t even come close to her academic averages, plus all the
extracurricular programs she constantly buried herself in,” Miles
said. “He wants to sweat it out with us.”
pride broke through on the festive night:
“Jacob gives it
his all here. It’s his path, just like it’s ours. He’s not
scared of a little combat.”
his butt buddy. Of course, you’d exaggerate it like that.”
He said this as he
stared off in Jacob’s direction. Neal, however, now turned his gaze
“And what’s that
supposed to mean?”
There was a sharp
sense of his anger in his voice. Quickly, though, he realized that
the soldier was more intoxicated than he let on. He could see it as
Miles focused on him with a goofy smile only a drunkard could give.
The following words were not worth his time, but it was too late now
to end the argument that was to take place.
“Look at him over
there. Sure, he can run team-ops, first on the track every damn time,
and, yes, no one can deny he’s a great fucking shot. But with this
gig you have to be a killer, and my argument is that a killer he is
Neal could hardly
take the suddenly haughty tone Miles had taken on, but questioning
his friend’s mettle was something he could not stand even more.
“We’ll see how
your bullshit holds up in the field.”
“The field? If he
makes it that far. The exercise today already has him shaken up.”
Angela stood in
silence. Neal too was quiet for a moment. His witticism and
decisiveness were shaken by the bold claim.
“In fact, I’ll
call him on it right now just to prove my point.”
Neal was ready to
thrust himself back into the skirmish at that, but Miles put up a
hand of reassurance.
“No, no, don’t
worry. I’ll do it with courtesy,” he laughed before heading off
in Neeson’s direction. Neal let him go, not blind to the fire he’d
started. Sometimes, though, the only way to kill a fire was to let it
burn itself out.
lone soldier was atop a hill, a superlative orange sun behind her.
Neeson had always been in awe of the fact that the soldier was no
sergeant, lieutenant, or captain. She was what the impertinent would
dub none other than a “grunt.” Her neck-length black hair blowing
in the wind, her smudged auburn skin glistening in the twilight, the
battle won, she held her helmet in one arm and her gun in the air.
Despite the bandaged wound on her arm, stained with the price of
conquest, it did not appear to cause her any strain at all. Though
the soldier was not depicted with an overzealous smile, the pride was
in the eyes.
His moment of
solitude, however, was interrupted by Miles, who blocked the view of
the victorious soldier. Jacob eyed him with unabridged detest.
“You holdin’ up,
man? Looks to me like you can’t hack it.”
Jacob lay there, a
stoic look on his face accompanied by silence. The fool failed to
notice the bulging vein that had begun to creep across the man’s
forehead. For the sake of all that was dimwitted, Miles decided to go
for a more sincere approach. He was hell-bent on a response.
serious. I mean I’m just looking out for you—”
Jacob suddenly sat
up as if to strike the dupe, who flinched as if a beast had lunged at
him. The man was standing now, not an inch from the mongrel’s face.
“Miles, shut the
The man stood there
for a moment, the loud conversations all around the room seemingly
mellowed for those few seconds. Miles took his humiliation with him
and let Neeson be. With his head down and defeated, and Jacob
returning to his pillow, the party picked up momentum again.
it is a blessed Friday morning, boys and girls!” the drill sergeant
announced in the early morning chill. “Today, many of you will be
able to return home for the weekend to visit your mommies and
daddies. Those of you who retain that privilege, anyway. Today, we
will be running a training exercise similar to the one we did two
days ago but with a different ball. Rules stay
Sgt. Huntman once
more walked between the two lines. Though he faced neither directly,
instead looking up at the trees all around them, he knew both were
listening closely to what he said. Jacob absorbed every word, but his
eyes were locked onto the scared little man in front of him.
He was definitely
much older than himself, exemplified by his receding white hair and
sagging eyes, his teeth a pale yellow. Neeson could not gander at his
eyes, for the man had them sealed shut, his lips moving as if he were
speaking to Jacob. But he heard no voice. The
pathetic bastard is calling out to his deity in a caprice,
he realized. Perhaps
he’s begging that a white dove be sent down from the clouded sky
glowing with a golden aura to our amazement.
That row of men and
women, varying of age, sex and ethnicity just as much as their own
line, had that unsightly orange uniform on, if
one could call it a uniform.
With them on, none of them looked different from the other. Jacob
noted all of this.
proceed, it is important for you all to know that these piles of shit
standing before you now are filth of a different brand. They are
rapists, child molesters, hopeless dope-heads, and the mentally
unstable. Hell, what’s the difference?” The response to Huntman’s
supposed joke was a customary calm. If a joke at all, he was merely
relaying facts. “Also here are would-be gang members, harbingers of
traitors, and even a few deluxe homeless. These people are the social
waste of our society. You have been taught this since you were
enrolled in the Academy in your training pants and knew this day
would come. These people forsake everything you and I hold sacred!
That is not tolerable! Now raise your rifles!!”
efficiency and timing they did so in a millisecond.
The soldiers did as
commanded, and once more bullets raced through skull and brain
matter. The old man did not give Jacob the satisfaction of opening
his eyes for the executioner, leaving the man admittedly
prisoner still stood, and immediately everyone turned their eyes not
to the scumbag but to the soldier parallel to the target. The
sergeant was on him so fast the others couldn’t rightly say they’d
seen him move.
“What the flying
fuck are you doing?! Is your weapon jammed?!” he yelled into the
trainee’s face. Miles trembled like a young tree in a fierce wind.
“No, sir, weapon
is fully functional. The private must report that he cannot do it.”
“You can’t? What
do you mean you
Huntman delivered a
hard forehand across the trainee’s cheek, turning his pale skin
crimson. The thwack resonated through the air like ripples in a pond.
“I, I can’t sir.
I’ve been—I just can’t, sir.”
The other soldiers
looked on with not so much as a twitch in their expressions.
lovely. That’s fan-fucking-tastic, in fact. We’re gonna have to
revoke your mail privileges. Congratulations, son.” Huntman ripped
the weapon out of his hands. “You just bought yourself a ticket to
the Des Moines Corrective Center. Empty your locker, leave the gear.
The man usually in
charge of prisoner detail stepped forward immediately.
“See to it that
this pathetic piece of shit doesn’t get lost on the way back to his
“Sir, yes, sir!”
The two were off now
with Miles jogging toward the dormitory with Lee following alongside
and yelling into his ear at point-blank range. Huntman instantly
looked at the leftover prisoner as if it were deli meat that had
failed to sell.
“Damn it all, that
lousy chicken shit is gonna ruin my perfect monthly report, damn it!
Only then did Jacob
turn in the direction of the ruckus.
“Would you please
demonstrate proper weapons firing?”
Jacob, without a
second’s pause, walked over to Miles’ place in the line and
raised his M4. The target was a fragile-looking preteen, a girl with
brunette hair and wondrous blue eyes. Her young face was rounded, her
skin riddled with sores, though there was limited healing since the
apparent incarceration. These, however, were brief observations.
Jacob only focused
on the eyes. Inside, his heart was filled with glee but his hands
remained steady. Not
today He comes, not ever.
Not a second later her head kicked back, her rapid breathing halted,
and she fell over dead.
“And Godspeed to
that poor, poor soul” the sergeant announced loudly. “Someone
like her, all these cretins, probably have the rationale they could
do whatever they pleased and if they turned to their big man in the
sky in their last few remaining hours all would be forgiven.
“Let me reiterate
something: we have the right to take life as servants of the State.
We are also preservers of this great land, and in so doing it must be
kept clean. It doesn’t matter what you see in those eyes before it
ends. They had their chance and disobeyed the laws we all must abide
by. If you confuse religion with morality, take them as one and the
same, you’re about as concrete in your beliefs as that fucking
“Sir, yes, sir!!”
registered the dose of what they all understood to be the basics.
Huntman eyed his line again, refusing to pause at the now empty slot.
“That was a
clear-cut example of a do
and a dammed don’t.
We had the chicken shit, Miles, and we have the admirable Neeson, who
in all likelihood will be able to make sergeant very quickly if he
plays his cards right.”
“Thank you, sir!”
Jacob acknowledged in a yell.
From afar, the
Administrative Center was a structure resembling an eloquent, yet
nostalgic, piece of Roman architecture. Compared to the greenery
surrounding it, the pallid building seemed almost outlandish. Still,
it rose above the trees in its wake. Watching through an office
window was Dr. Robert Neeson. Seated on the corner of his desk eating
an apple was Halsey. His face was apathetic.
“Your boy is
impressive, Robert. The squad really looks up to him.”
“I know, I know,”
the doctor said as his mind drifted elsewhere. He remained standing
at the smear-free window overlooking the trees. It provided a
strangely fantastic view. The next line of soldiers and prisoners
were approaching what the cadets had affectionately dubbed the “Skid
Row Alley Cleanser.” Today, Jacob would be visiting his father, but
this was still his home.
“Soon, my son will
be a full-fledged officer.”
“Look at it this
way,” Halsey said as he threw what little was left of his
lunchbreak into the receptacle, “at the very least he won’t take
part in the war, this ‘Great Expansion’ as we’re calling it.
Venloran boasts it’ll end before the New Year. From what we’ve
seen on the news, I wouldn’t doubt it.”
record assured that his return to his country would still be fairly
lavish. He was one of the highest-ranking personnel at this training
facility and yet he’d been here less than six months. Still, the
man looked on it all rather passively.
“Thank you, my
friend, but I’m afraid the way events are unfolding, what will it
really matter if he goes to war or not?”
“Well, tipping the
boat is a good way to get in the shitter. I consider myself lucky so
“A man behind his
desk naturally has no worries.”
Playing to the
insult like a fish on a rod, Halsey planted his feet on the floor.
Neeson faced him as the man finally stood.
you distinguished, Doctor?”
“My boy, I’ve
seen my share of blood. Their mother, my
died working in the field.”
Halsey felt the need
to pause, knowing when he’d crossed the line.
Robert. Perhaps I am getting too comfortable here.”
right, but I must let you know the day is drawing near. For me, the
time of being idle is over, friend.”
Neeson placed one
hand in his pocket, holding onto something he let no one see.
“Are you sure you
want to go through with it?”
“My children need
to see that all I told them about years ago is not dead. If I back
out now, I won’t be disappointing just myself but others I’ve
made an obligation to.”
you’ve built as well, Robert, remember that.” Halsey found a
spirited smile on his face. “I’m behind you all the way.”
Neeson returned his
gaze to the trees.
“Do you know how
old Jacob is, Joseph?”
Halsey dropped his smile. He knew something was amiss. The doctor
almost always called upon him by his rank, occasionally by his last
name. Playing the cliché mutineer, Halsey had pretty much always
referred to Neeson by his first name. Good old Neeson was a sport
about it, though.
fourteen only a month ago. But she’s changing so fast. Every time I
see her she’s got a different book. One thing I still can’t
grasp, though, is her affinity for Descartes. I keep asking her,
‘What is it you find so interesting about him?’ According to her,
his concepts are ‘perplexing.’”
“She’s taken on
religion, has she?”
“Her ideas are
vague, but there are little bubbles. I think she gets it from Emma.
There goes a mystery in itself, you see: why my wife pursued God.
We’d taken classes together at Cambridge, but she held onto it till
the end. How she would’ve loved to see Jacob and Gabriella now.”
“Some people use
it for hope. It keeps them going.”
“Yes, I’ve heard
that many times.”
“Doesn’t hurt to
“I suppose you’re
Two diminutive birds
flew back to their perch on a tree branch, huddling close to each
other. With the impending winter, Neeson surmised they would need all
the warmth their tiny bodies could acquire.
“I beseech you
because my success, even if I get that far, might be limited. I may
be digging my own grave and humans have the tendency to easily
forget. I myself once made a promise that I did not fulfill. It
me. That’s why I must do this. If things get really bad—”
“I’ll take care
of them, on my honor. I’d cast every possession of mine and then
some into the fire for the punks.”
Neeson stood there
“I know I have no
right to place such a burden on you.”
your bullshit I’d go insane. If you really do leave us, the next
best thing will be your children.”
Chapter 2 -
6, 2065- Birmingham, Alabama
turned over in the large bed, its warm comforters and heavenly
pillows now inadequate. He watched as Aliss sat up from his slumber,
now sitting on the edge of their mattress. The lamp in the room
slowly turned on, though it remained dim. Nathaniel marveled at the
muscular physique of his beloved in the newfound light.
know you could still be sleeping,” Aliss said as he ran a hand
through his blond hair.
know, Aliss, I know. I have to get up in two hours anyway for work,
so don’t worry about me.”
that case, I should make you some coffee. Hazelnut or Vanilla?”
stood up now, getting ready to head for the shower. Upon turning back
to face Nathaniel, he was met with sad eyes. Damn
it to hell.
Aliss looked away, heading toward the elegant bathroom. As the tall
blond man searched the drawer for toothpaste and his toothbrush, he
still felt those eyes glaring at him.
is it, Nate?”
had known this was coming. He’d been hoping to avoid this by
leaving slightly early, but it hadn’t worked. Nathaniel peered down
at the velvet blanket, his dark curly hair hiding his eyes. The thin
man was far less sculpted than Aliss and he spoke with a soft voice.
no word on when you’ll be back?”
tall man relented. He walked back over to the bed, sitting close to
his husband. Their hands touched, and their eyes met once more.
think we both know I’ll be on duty till that coward shows his face.
The second I put him down, I’ll be on the first flight back to
saw that smile he cherished, and the two shared a kiss.
better, Head Commander,” Nathaniel said. He used his thin fingers
to move some of Aliss’ hair into the comb-over he loved so much.
the wall next to their bed was a picture of Aliss, but fully donned
in his military uniform. He was posing with a peace sign in the
famous Cretins Corners from the Museum of Revolution in Cuba. Behind
him was the Reagan of yesteryear, but the painting had him depicted
as a comical sheriff.
as possible, the door to Andrew’s room was opened. The pair gazed
at the sleeping boy as if he were a dream. With cautious footsteps,
Aliss treaded over to him before kneeling at his bedside. Nathaniel
stayed in the doorway in his robe, teary-eyed. Aliss planted a kiss
on the child’s forehead. Though he stirred for a moment, he did not
wake. The soldier felt his own eyes water now.
right, see you tomorrow. Thanks again,” said the young woman as she
gathered up her purse and dinner, preparing to exit the car.
problem. You just get some rest,” advised the driver.
will. I promise,” she replied as she stepped out onto the sidewalk.
“You have a good one.”
shut the door, but the passenger window was still open. The driver
took a sip of her coffee.
give me that. You were kind of sloppy today.”
woman merely nodded in response, the other driving off. She was at
her apartment building at long last. She was still in her scrubs,
exhausted, and holding a large bag of warm food. It would probably be
her food for the next day or two. Recently, she hadn’t been in the
cooking mood, not for a while. You’re
that’s what she always blamed it on.
cold air was enough to wake her even with her jacket on. Even with
her modestly thin form and youth, the darkness under her eyes seemed
to add on age. At the entry door, she fumbled for her keys before
dropping them. The woman could only sigh just as a voice broke the
felt herself quiver at the sudden break of silence rather than the
man’s entrance itself. She turned to see a decorated serviceman who
tipped his military cap to her. Her eyes drifted down the street to
see a black Chrysler under a tree, tinted windows and all. Down the
steps of the stairs, on the sidewalk, two fully armed UNR soldiers
stood at attention. The young man seemed gentle enough, though he did
have a pistol holstered.
looks like a decent load,” he said warmly.
Yes, thank you. You’re with the PSID?”
Howarth, Head Director of the Public Services and Inquiries Division
at your service, ma’am.”
saw the confounded look on her face. Dawn was breaking, and the first
peeks of sunlight struck her face. Despite her clear fatigue and
troubled eyes, for a split second the captain was caught up in ogling
at her. Go
Viramontes, you scheduled to meet with me at 6:30 a.m. today. I
called you yesterday to confirm this.”
that, the woman’s face changed from confusion to embarrassment.
that’s right! I’m so sorry I had to stay a little longer than I
only put up a hand.
need to apologize. Working late nights is a job in itself.”
get used to it, though I sometimes make a poor showing.”
me three cups of coffee to make this miracle happen.”
two of them laughed before she made way for him to pick up the keys.
As they entered, the soldiers remained statues, staying posted on
their exact spot on the sidewalk. Their ride up to the fourth floor
was a pleasant one, chatting as they walked down the hall toward
odd thing about getting home from work when everyone else is waking
up is, sometimes you can’t even sleep,” Howarth said.
usually find a cold one helps with that,” she replied.
a bad remedy, Ms. Viramontes.”
call me Alyssa.”
entered her room, the captain setting the food down on her table
without taking a seat and removing his black leather gloves, which
revealed smooth hands that matched his caramel-toned face. He also
removed his hat, under which was a taper fade haircut, but he did not
remove his long black trench coat.
began to unwrap what she supposed was her breakfast, an enormous
steak-and-egg burrito. Howarth made his way around the small living
room, noting the small knickknacks. On a slim table against a wall
close to the door he spotted a few family photos, most noticeable one
with a woman in the arms of a man. Interesting,
but it can wait.
saw the young man stop his stroll, having taken notice of Cassie. The
little pyramid shaped object sat on the coffee table in front of her
beaten couch. He knelt like a child inspecting a wounded bug.
this the series seven P.E.C.?”
is, but Cassie here is a piece of shit. Stupid virus knocked her out
a week ago.”
I hear quite often about the recent update, but I’m pretty sure
it’s a problem with the software itself. May I take a look?”
save me a trip to the blood suckers.”
hands were already at work on the toy-sized ruby-red device’s
for the password?”
no, it’s more fun this way.”
stopped her chowing and walked up to the edge of her couch, gawking
at his work. The machine glowed a bright maroon upon activation, but
the light softened after a few seconds. As he fiddled with it, a
holographic beam shot into the air and expanded so that the image
became a simple square, looking like a cutout of a meadow floating in
the middle of the room. In the center of it was a tiny display box
awaiting the password. However, with more clicking, somehow the
request was bypassed and he was at the starting menu. Still, a
warning popped up.
it’s supposed to be voice-activated. You don’t happen to be a
tech whiz? Any second now it’s gonna lock you out.”
not done yet…”
simple square became a complex 3-D polygon of light, a soft blue in
hue. Each face of the polygon was a different menu, one Internet
access, another full of games along with many more applications. He
strolled through the many options by sliding through the holographic
menus with but his pointer; left, right, up, down, even diagonally.
the code I’ve added should deter any malfunctions in the software,
both foreign and homegrown.”
I’m grateful. I could use a refresher course on programming.”
be glad to teach you. Perhaps over coffee sometime.”
found an excuse to look back at her burrito, hoping to God she wasn’t
blushing. She gathered herself, but in those few moments Howarth was
standing once more and looking at something else. It was behind the
polygon on the wall in front of them both, next to the window. It was
a gorgeous painting of Clint Eastwood as The
Man with No Name.
From the piercing eyes down to the gleam of the revolver in his hand
and cigarette in his mouth, Howarth was in sheer awe.
a hobby of mine. My dad would have loved it.”
sure he would’ve. You put my own work to shame. I’m afraid I’m
terrible at portraying people of all things.”
Howarth, I hate to be blunt but this is about my father, isn’t it?”
assertion finally tore the Head Director’s gaze away from the
this does go back to him.”
walked over to her small rounded kitchen table, pulling out her chair
for her. Only after she was comfortable did he seat himself.
tell me I’m under investigation,” she said
that’d be insulting. I just thought it’d be proper to pay you a
visit considering all that’s happened. Sorry to say this, but one
of my other specialties is playing shrink.”
you going to take notes about me as well?”
I suppose I’ll stick to the essentials.”
put her beer down, now feeling her stomach gurgle. Work had been able
to take away the ordeals of life, even though only with more work,
but it was comforting. Now it was bubbling back to the surface. Until
the captain, she’d been considering taking down that painting. Now
Alyssa saw how much she needed it to stay where it was. She wanted to
burst into tears, rest her head on the man’s shoulder, and just sob
on and on till there was nothing left. She refused.
can I really say? I mean I hadn’t seen my father in years,” she
trailed off, “since I was a kid, in fact. The news of his death hit
me, and I honestly I didn’t know how to react.”
found herself unable to look him directly into those stabbing dark
brown eyes. The eyes seemed to pierce right through her ruse. She
needed a different channel to flow down on.
guess when it all comes down to it, it’s my mother I think about
the most. She’s taken it so hard.”
Viramontes,” the man shifted in his seat, “she had been doing so
well prior. The doctors do say she should make a full recovery,
imagine she’ll stay off the booze after an experience like that,”
Alyssa muttered. “Thing that strikes me the most is how much she
cried for him despite all these years of telling me she hated him.”
like this a person’s real emotions come pouring out, often without
warning. Has anyone been in contact with you during this ordeal?
Anyone at all?”
few relatives made phone calls, but nothing of real significance, I’d
felt a warm hand on her own. Alyssa looked down at it, as if
confused, before looking back at the somber face of the man. He
leaned forward slightly.
know it may not seem like it, but there will be justice for you.”
get out of your hair now, Alyssa. I’m sure you’re dying to get
got out of his chair at the table, heading for the door. Alyssa
understood despite the lack of words. She walked the captain to the
door, opening it for him.
wouldn’t be offended if you had a plate or two,” she offered.
love to, ma’am, but I’ve got to keep busy if I ever want to make
corporal,” he said as he tipped his hat with a smile. Apparently,
he could read faces and reached in his pocket, producing a small
you ever need to reach me, this is my personal number. Don’t
hesitate to ask.”
felt herself smile deeply, exposing her dimples.
Captain. Remember, you promised me coffee.”
know just the place,” he said sincerely. “Be seeing you.”
Honors Hall was normally unoccupied even before everything had become
undone. It was meant to be a room where heroes were to be revered for
all eternity. It was never to be a battleground, but the scars were
impossible to miss. Kearney walked past the golden-brown pillars,
several of them having bullet holes and some blown apart by
scarlet walls won’t do anymore
he thought objectively. The color had symbolized the blood of their
enemies, but now all it reminded anyone of was the horror that had
taken place there. The short but beautiful Dr. Hamilton was beside
him. She had always been timid, but it showed now more than ever.
went out of her way to avoid even the smallest of cracks on the
marble floor. Her eyes darted about incessantly as well. Is
she afraid ghosts still wander the place, or is she worried because
she thinks an enemy soldier is hiding behind one of those pillars?
Kearney could see her believing either of the two, and so he took no
chances and addressed it.
refrain from staring every which way once we meet with him” Kearney
Hamilton suddenly realized what she was doing and instead began to
follow Kearney’s lead: keeping her eyes forward at all times. Right
on time as well, for up ahead was their Chancellor. He was standing
before the remains of the cyborg statue. Though it had fallen, it was
still mostly intact. The statue of Venloran himself still stood, and
the UNR symbol on the wall behind it was unscathed as well.
Hamilton, Kearney, good morning to you both” he greeted as they
Chancellor” Kearney replied.
honorable sir” Hamilton said, “I wanted to reassure you that Dr.
Thorton has gotten your request, but he hasn’t had time to
thoroughly look it over. He sends his apologies.”
new interns can wait. I did, after all, stress just how important
this matter was.”
not that. It concerns the latest patient you’ve sent us. His
recovery has met some…troubling roadblocks.”
something happened to him?” Venloran asked with worry. The
trepidation in his voice confounded Hamilton. She’d never heard it
in the best of care, sir, but there appears to be some confusion”
she made sure she said the next part with extreme delicacy,
“regarding the orders for his surgery. Surely just a slip-up on our
orders were clear” Venloran stated.
explained that to him, but every attempt to get him to comply has
resulted in him only demanding ‘more’. So far he’s turned down
all surgery attempts.”
hate to be blunt, but can’t you just put him under and proceed from
there?” Kearney asked her.
brought that up with Dr. Thorton, but he said denial of the general’s
request could result in a psychotic break. We may need the assistance
of the Head Commander if we’re to get anywhere. I-“
won’t be necessary.”
the word of their Chancellor, both of them fell silent.
is a way to fulfill his request” said Venloran, both arms behind
his back. There was no more uncertainty in his tone, “Weapon
Project IV will be implemented immediately. His choice to be its
first recruit is his own.”
We will start preparations within the hour.”
interrupted Kearney politely, “it’s almost time.”
nodded, “Alright, and Hamilton, tell Thorton that this conversation
isn’t over. Once this matter has been seen to, I want him to start
digging into those files I sent him. Project Spartan is of the utmost
Hamilton prepared to say something, second guessed herself, and
instead said “I will inform him, Chancellor.”
and one more thing: All work for this project is only to be carried
at UNR HQ. I’m giving your team a generous schedule as well. By the
end of this month I require only a data report. By the next, you will
have something of practical use for me. I expect great things,
the doctor could not hide the sheer surprise on her face, she only
nodded her compliance and bowed.
Chancellor and his assistant departed for the elevator as Hamilton
headed for the door to the roof. There waiting for them was Aliss
Howard, fully donned in his overcoat and SSF armor. He clicked the
button for them and stood aside to let them pass.
car is ready and waiting, sir” the cyborg reported.
joined them inside and positioned himself in front of them both. As
the doors began to close, he peered at the Honors Hall. All
it is now is a desecrated crypt.
The elevators doors shut and the machine lurched into motion as they
moved downward. Our
sight for commemoration and pride turned into the sight of our
greatest betrayal and our greatest mistake. Unit 21, you will not be
allowed to get away with this.
3 - Reflections
October 6, 2065 -
Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.
been six months of picking up the pieces since that horrid day. Even
though much time has passed, we are all here because we refuse to
forget. Chaos flew free for only a brief while, but, as all can see,
the effects of that single moment were devastating. I owe it to every
family out there to say that I am truly and deeply sorry. Our
soldiers served admirably, and they shall rest eternal in the Elysian
stood at a familiar podium in Rock Creek Park, behind him but a few
seated in chairs while many thousands stood before him. The clouds
above were a sickly gray, but pokes of the sun’s radiance managed
to squeeze between the cracks. It was a pleasant enough day, even if
the occasion was one Venloran wished did not have to take place. In
his brief pause, he looked over the scarred faces of his audience. It
wasn’t just his men who had suffered. It’d been his country, his
people. The man felt anger and anguish all at once.
I gather us all here for S.S.C. Unit 23 in particular because people
tend to forget things that can hardly be called minute details. This
valiant soldier died keeping me safe. Valerie Iglesias was the single
child of Erick and Sally Iglesias, who are deceased. She was buried
alongside her parents, but her memory will not fade! Today is October
sixth, the day The Expansion was brought to an end and we truly
became the UNR! She and Luis Viramontes both helped bring this dream
to fruition years ago and fought for the UNR endlessly. Even so, we
have had incidents of people questioning the merit of the SSF.
never turn on our heroes just because we may be confused or even
terrified! Now is the time for us to pull together! We all need to
remember one thing above all: the cost of insurrection is always
tragedy! It always has been thus. The remaining scum will be hunted
down. Retribution will be delivered and justice will be dealt. We
promise this to the republic, to the families, and our honorable
service men and women will carry it out. These atrocities will not be
allowed to continue!”
was applause, but the Chancellor could only partly enjoy it. There
were no howls of ecstatic pride, no cries of battle eagerness, only
mere clapping. From his fever pitch, he now descended into something
I wish to commemorate our valiant as we will always continue to do
so. Let it also be recounted that the quest for justice is perennial,
stepped away from the podium as Major Johnson rose from his seat.
When he spoke, his lips nearly pressed against the microphone.
front of the crowd, a rifle party readied themselves.
followed the order simultaneously.
round of shots exploded to life. Each person amongst the crowd did
not budge an inch, even though with that single shot each of their
hearts had bounded quite wildly. This was true of everyone there, all
except for the Chancellor. The following shots only caused his fist
too far away from the podium, on a field of grass where trees had
been removed, a large circular wall stood. It was around seven feet
tall and was composed of smooth gabbro. This monument had but one
opening where the enormous number of citizens could enter. Once
inside, mourners were surrounded by the reflective walls. As people
paid their respects, flowers piled up immensely.
and decorated servicemen and women alike placed their gifts at the
base of the wall. Each one of them stared into the face of the
structure. Engraved in it were the names of all the soldiers who had
died that day, but above all those names there was an inscription
which was also larger: Nitimur
Every person there may not have known each and every last one of the
names on the plaque, but it had been hammered into them the meaning
of that phrase.
Kearney, and the entire UNR Cabinet were all amassed at the site.
They were the first to enter. Aliss Howard accompanied them. He stood
by the entrance as they walked around, analyzing the wall. Of all
those names he read, only two gave him pause:
S.S.C. Unit 18 and S.S.C. Unit 23. You two, and your friend, you all
have left a mark in your own way.
we never had a chance to catch up.
Johnson himself took a slow stroll. He knew these faces in a
different way than anyone else did. Fellow soldiers viewed them as
now gone brothers and sisters. To Johnson, it was as if he was
looking upon the faces of his own beloved children. Children that had
been snatched away. His chest lurched, as a feeling of helplessness
set in deep.
Cove, Bowie, Maryland
moonlight reflected magnificently off the flowing waters. Among the
reeds and tall Wye Oaks, a structure stood, not having been born from
nature’s gentle caress. Twenty-five hundred square feet and
sporting a second-story deck overlooking the scenic Patuxent River,
the shoreside lake house was also surrounded by trees, giving the
manmade structure a very earthy tone. Unlike the dark forest, though,
the house was lit up in a spectacular fashion.
the house in the blackness were several men, weapons in hand and
full-on camouflage, makeup donned. Shying away from the light, these
soldiers listened closely, not to the music and laughter emanating
from the house but instead to the ambiance of the woods. The chorus
of crickets, the rustle of leaves and branches toyed around by
passing wind and not a single footstep.
pair were holding their position in the shadow of a large tree, the
men puny in comparison. Surveying the house with a night vision
optical that turned the area into bright shade of greens, the soldier
put up his hand. His partner took out a pen-cap-sized flashlight,
blinking it twice. Off in the gloom and quiet, who knows how far
away, there was a return of two blinks.
that a thud came from around the tree, the heavy thud accompanied by
the snap of a twig. Both soldiers went into action immediately,
approaching the target from opposite sides of the great oak. Their
eyes were fixed on the man standing there in his overcoat, his face
shrouded in the night and his breathing calm. It was the gunmen who
for a moment thought they were dead.
just what I wanted to see,” said the figure, nodding his head. “Our
boys staying frosty.”
one of the soldiers relaxed, the other stayed on edge. He put his gun
down, but his chest did not rest.
you dog,” said Jackson. “A lack of confidence in your fellow
in the night’s shade, both could see a faint smile on that face.
go turning me into an asshole. I’m just making my rounds. Report?”
Five, clear, not a soul.”
man’s penetrating eyes drifted from the familiar friend to the
presumed irregular. The soldier could feel its stare.
him shaky, Jackson, but keep his gun pointed at the potential
is just another word for liability, so will do.”
right, carry on.”
near-silhouette straightened its long tan coat before walking away,
the sheen of his combed-back blond hair dazzling. It wasn’t long
before he was gone.
creep me the hell out.”
may be one of them, but believe me, Aliss Howard’s a real national
walked into the kitchen, every granite countertop covered with food
being prepped by professional chefs. He looked at his watch for a
second and then back to the workers before him. The room was heavy
with spices and sauces, paprika and parmesan, a real variety for the
temporal lobe. Dazzling as all the colors and smells were, Kearney’s
focus was elsewhere. The head chef seemed to sense an observant eye
upon his work and, upon seeing the well-dressed man, rushed over to
sorry we’re a tad behind, sir, but the ham took longer than
much as it would please Kearney to sing an ear-shattering symphony
into the man’s ear, he intended to preserve a calm image of
himself. He wouldn’t let his own turbulence interfere with his
quite all right. Just get more champagne and wine out there, please.”
away, sir, right way.”
the snap of a finger, two servers carried out platters topped with
fine glasses. Kearney allowed them to exit through the doorway before
he, too, entered the living room. It was here the enormous number of
guests were being entertained.
wooden cathedral-like ceiling was as high as thirty feet in the
middle of the large room with a stunning crystalline chandelier for
all to gawk at. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed the stone fireplace
and gave a view of the river close by. Kearney wandered through the
crowd of chattering people, one arm behind his back. He met greetings
with mere nods and possible conversations with simple excuses of
preoccupation. He reached the fireplace and stood close to its golden
warmth, staring into the fire.
I haven’t seen you since Carl and I arrived.”
man turned to see Janet Venloran wearing an exuberant dress. The
sight was seldom, usually seeing her in one of her businesslike
suits, and it caused his processing some back log. Beside her was
also another woman of similar age, pale in color but with marvelous
Venloran, Mrs. Johnson,” he said with a weak smile, “enjoying
aren’t we especially formal tonight?” Jessica commented.
right. You’ve been running around all night.”
is business,” he coolly responded.
this is a much-needed lifting of spirits and you’re doing the same
placed a hand in his pocket.
suppose you’re right.”
you won’t mind taking this,” Jessica offered. Kearney looked at
her hand, barely noticing she held two glasses of wine.
on, I know you,” Janet teased.
gave in with little fight, and the moment he did both women raised
having a long and prosperous life,” Jessica toasted.
three each took a gulp of their drinks, the two ladies downing theirs
in an impressive finish. Seeing the half-full glass, Janet laughed.
lost your touch?”
and steady, just this one time.”
of which, when are we meeting this fiancé of yours?”
took another drink before answering, a nice slow one.
won’t be coming tonight.”
placed his drink on top of the canoe-shaped coffee table, right next
to a vase of dried hydrangea. A mixture of blue-violet, they were a
splendid sight. He placed one leg over the other as he sat back on
the cinnamon-colored futon. Venloran devoured the last of his
assorted crackers, also placing his plate on the table. In a matter
of seconds, a server swooped by and picked it up.
you like another helping, sir?”
had more than enough, thank you.”
server bowed before departing, leaving the two to themselves.
Oswald’s eyes were still on the luscious bouquet, noting how the
fragile treasures retained their beauty even in death.
really is a substantial get-together, Venloran,” he commented, “and
a hell of a house.”
a summer home, really. Housekeepers spend more time here than I do.”
I’m puzzled as to why you decided to throw this thing.”
the day of our memorial, yes, I’m aware.”
been rumors circulating in the media pools.”
me, I already know. I myself vetoed the stories.”
knew whatever territory the conversation veered into, his Chancellor
would be the one power. But he knew Venloran well enough to know the
man never imposed a natural-born “sovereignty” in his arguments.
Self-assured as he was, he was still by no means a claimer of
I can only assume that this renegade cyborg is still out there.”