Date: Thursday 16 August 2040ce 1825z
Location: SciCorps Academy, Reno Nevada (-0800)
What an amazing machine.
The technological wonder was something to behold. He’d heard of them before, the holographic projector consisting of two wide but shallow domes of reflective black glass, one on the floor and the other on the ceiling.
And the machine did put on a most impressive show.
For just the moment, Captain Nielson tried to focus on the machine itself.
The information gained from that show was something he wished to avoid thinking about until he had to.
“Doctor Scott,” General Hitchens began, “can we have the room?”
“Certainly, General,” came the response.
Captain Nielson gazed at his hosts as they left the room.
The first was Doctor Scott, a tall scarecrow of a man who appeared frail even within the dignified looking SciCorps uniform.
Contrasting harshly from him was Lieutenant Yamada, a strong and youthful woman in the bright white of the NES Navy.
He had originally found her French-Canadian accent to be comical-seeming coming as it was from the mouth of an Asian woman, but he found no humor in her now. It had been Yamada who worked the controls of the holographic projector, narrating the material as it was presented, though Doctor Scott had at times halted the presentation to explain some of the more technical and theoretical issues which Nielson had inquired about.
He watched them now as the red light dimmed, replaced by white light as the door was opened to indicate that the room’s security features, just as impressive as the projection device, were temporarily suspended.
He seems satisfied…
The red light returned once the door was closed.
He turned then, looking General Hitchens in the eye.
“This doesn’t seem the slightest bit Frankensteinish to you?” he asked bluntly.
“That’s just a bit dramatic,” the General replied.
The General reflected for a moment, and then shrugged.
“Why bring this to me?” Nielson asked.
“Because we need a skeptic.”
And I certainly fit the bill there, don’t I?
“In case things go wrong,” Hitchens replied. “Someone giving the orders who won’t hesitate to call an all-stop if need be.”
“I’m not a command officer,” Nielson reminded the General, pointing at his own rank insignia.
“After your experience in Lone Star, you’re just one exam away. Only reason you haven’t taken it already is that you haven’t applied.”
Fact was, he’d never considered becoming a command officer, even though the choice restricted his rank within the post-Invasion military. He had taken the Field Command Exam before the Lone Star Offensive, which was significantly harder given his near-total lack of combat experience; Base Command was more about procedure and custom.
And Texas was a fluke. I was never supposed to take command of shit.
It was there that the two had become friends, knowing one another only professionally through tactical briefings and strategic planning sessions. But Hitchens had also known that Generals Walters and Billings had ignored Nielson’s advice, seeking to besiege Houston too quickly in order to claim an early trophy for themselves. Hitchens, legend had it, called NES President Childes and threatened to pull out all SWS support unless the NES forces in Oklahoma and Louisiana were placed under Nielson’s command.
Shifting command of the SWS forces attempting to bridge the Rio Grande to Nielson as well was performed by Hitchens himself, most likely with General Melaku’s blessing.
Fluke or not, you made friends in the highest of places.
“So who’s the spook?”
Doctor Scarecrow is more accurate.
“Does he know the Famine Years are over?”
“I’m inclined to think he looked like that even before then,” Hitchens remarked. “He’s exactly what he looks like. SciCorps officer in charge of the project. The era of ‘spooks’ is long over.”
“So how did NES intelligence get involved?”
Oh, for the love of God…
“Don’t give me that look,” Hitchens snapped, though with little anger. “You got the Introductory Video. Accept the assignment, and you’ll get read in to far more. But until you accept the assignment…”
“Fair enough, General,” Nielson said, then took a deep breath. “Y’know, I’m something of a hero in El Paso. I could just retire there. Settle down.”
“Sitting between two fronts waiting for the end to come while enjoying your celebrity status?”
That put the seriousness back into the air quickly.
And the clock is ticking…
“Can it really be done?”
The General considered for a moment, then nodded. “I believe so,” he stated. “Doctor Scott has been pursuing this for… A very long time.”
“And can it be undone?”
Nielson saw a twinge of discomfort on Hitchen’s face; This was a question that had been asked before, and likely never answered to anyone’s satisfaction.
“I don’t know,” the General admitted. “That’s why we need a skeptic at command.”
“To pull the plug?”
“To grind it to a halt… Or pull someone out for their own safety. Then bring it to me. Doctor Scott doesn’t outrank you, but you’re not authorized to call it quits and send everyone home, either.”
So I’m the Tenth Man.
“Very well, General,” he said. “I’m in.”
God help us all… If my wife doesn’t kill me first.