Date: Saturday 29 September 2040ce 2300z
Location: Desert Springs (Facility Two), Nevada (-0800)
He seems to have swung around.
The thick metal doors parted, the glare of the midday sun reflecting off the tarmac causing them both to squint.
“So is it real how,” the general asked Captain Nielson as the two waited a few moments for their eyes to adjust before stepping out into the heavy traffic of Army and SciCorps personnel.
“As real as it can be,” Nielson replied. “I’m hoping Three will be more glamorous.”
“Not nearly as glamorous as a bunch of eighties sci-fi made it out to be. Original complex is quite… Military.”
“And the new looks like SciCorps.”
You mean like this place?
“Yes, Captain,” Hitchens confessed as he motioned for them to begin walking. “It looks like SciCorps.”
“I’m still convinced he’s a spook.”
The engines of the waiting Tiv began to wind up, the ground crew releasing its anchorage.
“And he might have been, had life played him a different hand. Now he’s just…”
“Fair enough. So now that you’ve seen it all, are you still the skeptic?”
“Bet your ass I am, General.”
They reached the loading ramp and shook hands; Then, with a sense of true nostalgia for the general, they saluted not in the half-concerned manner of today’s troopers, but with the snapping sharpness of their mutual US Army origins.
We were soldiers before becoming troopers.
He turned back towards the facility’s entrance with a warm smile on his face; It survived only a few steps after returning to the artificial light of Facility Two.
Now to business.
He proceeded to Doctor Scott’s office.
“I wasn’t aware you were staying, Commander,” Doctor Scott said as he entered.
The slender scientist was tending a meter-square box full of small sprouting plants.
“Trying your hand at botany?” he asked.
“A small test,” Scott answered. “Part of a peer review for Roberta. How did the good captain like his tour?”
“The same thing I thought once you caught me up to speed,” Hitchens replied.
“That this is the second time that everything you knew had become obsolete.”
“The exact message you’re about to deliver to NES brass,” Scott pointed out. “As soon as your bird returns from dropping the captain off at FG-Nine.”
“We needed to have a discussion without the awkwardness of Nielson having to wait before or after his tour.”
“So instead he gets the awkwardness of being the only passenger on a flag officer’s private plane.”
“I think the flight crew will enjoy pampering a war hero for twenty minutes without my rank getting in the way.”
“Might make it worse.”
“Would serve him right, asking all those questions during the briefings.”
“He’s certainly learned the science. Asking the right questions, at least.”
“You certain that’s a good thing?”
“If he pulls a trooper from the program, I want an educated decision. Not a superstitious one.”
Doctor Scott rose from the plantings then, removing the skin-gloves while going to the sink.
“So what do we need to discuss?”
“Candidate Prime’s genetic profile.”
“Ah… I did wonder how long it would be before you saw it.”
“Quite the interesting maternal lineage. Three continents.”
“I know Melaku’s story. Everyone knows Melaku’s story. The paternal line seems the more interesting.”
“Of course,” Doctor Scott continued as he dried his hands. “Melaku is herself a match. A one and three, as I recall. And the maternally-locked Key.”
“Is there a point here?”
“Just clarifying your interest… Wagner, as we know, got the Key from her mother.”
“But got the Six from her father.”
“So who, then, is Wagner’s father?”
“Not the question I came here to ask.”
“Why didn’t you tell me she was a Six? And don’t give me any of that ‘unsecure line’ nonsense. We’ve been in plenty of secured spaces since then.”
“This is true. Although, I wasn’t certain it meant anything.”
“You were hoping she’d just blend in with all the others?”
“She would benefit from nearly half the population qualifying as well.”
“The genetics of this will get out eventually,” Hitchens stated. “If we reveal Sequence Six, it won’t be long before she’d identified as unique.”
“And if we hide Sequence Six, it would only be a matter of time before she’s identified as not having the other five. Her very existence is cause of some concern.”
Hitchens’ stomach took a dive, a feeling that had to have been visible on his face.
“There’s more to this than you’ve told, Commander.”
He was momentarily lost for words, unable to quite process what he felt about Wagner in any meaningfully intelligent way.
“But has to do with Melaku’s mysticism.”
“You make it sound like she inherited some Somali voodoo practice from her grandfather.”
“Somalis didn’t practice voodoo, though the Firebirds did qualify as a mystic troop, did they not?”
“There’s no secret there, Doc.”
“And yet… Their religion?”
“The answer hasn’t changed. It was obvious they believed something… But what? They never really said. They didn’t seek converts.”
“But some were converted?”
He knew that look.
“Not me, Doc. I gave up religion when a disease transformed into an army of blob monsters.”
“Slithers weren’t exactly blobish.”
“When they were happily eating vegetation, they were.”
The worm-like creature would relax its form and spread out over a large patch of organic materials if it sensed no animals nearby.
“But,” Doctor Scott interjected then, “you are still a man of faith.”
“Deist, at best. Something greater, for which ‘God’ is a placeholder.”
“Does that not agree with your atheism?”
“Sounds like you lean pantheism.”
“The universe has proven itself too confrontational for me to find much comfort in that.”
“So what is the connection?”
“Connection to what?”
“Melaku’s faith and Wagner’s father.”
Are you playing games with me?
“What are you getting at?”
“Well, Melaku’s faith has always been a subject of speculation ever since she became famous, though if they were tight lipped before, they got more so after the world started watching them. But we have your accounts, and a few others. And I think I’ve found a pattern no one else has.”
“The most common proverbial references I’ve gathered are ‘Deus’ and ‘The Father’. The former seems most often used in regards to fate, justice, and even simple luck. The later, however, had a more interesting connotation. It was most often used when regarding their duty, or in hopes of intervention of some kind.”
“I’m not sure I understand the distinction.”
“Consider, for a moment, all the times you’ve heard ‘The Father’ muttered by one of the Firebirds. Imagine, if you will, that they aren’t talking about ‘God’ in any sense. Rather, they are considering the actions and subsequent wants of a person. A living person. A person outside, or above, or simply secretly in command of Nevada Resistance.”
“Are you calling Melaku a pretender?”
“Not at all. She was absolutely the best Resistance commander to ever stand against the Invaders behind the lines. But I also think someone put her in command of Nevada. And I think that someone did as they could outside of Nevada to stem or redirect the flow of biomechs from uncontested hives away from Nevada.”
“Now you’re saying Nevada got off light.”
“No one got off light, Commander. Stop reading into simple statements of fact.”
“Your suspicions don’t qualify as facts.”
“But I do have a most interesting collection of facts that I’ve based my suspicions on.”
“I didn’t take you as a conspiracy theorist.”
Doctor Scott mock-gasped. “General!”
“That’s what it takes to get you to call me by my actual rank?”
“Says the general that calls me ‘Doc’.”
Doctor Scott turned to a cabinet, retrieving two glasses and a bottle of whiskey.
“It’s not a conspiracy theory,” the scientist said while pouring. “A conspiracy theory attempts to make itself impervious to contrary facts. I stand fully prepared to be wrong.”
“So you intend to test it?”
“Not certain how, but I suspect Wagner herself will produce additional evidence.”
“Evidence of what?”
“Did you review her family relations?”
“You mean the two below-thirty percent possible paternal relationship matches?”
“In a secured space.”
A Red Room?
It didn’t occur to him that anyone would have a classified familial match.
“What’s there?” he then asked with some trepidation.
“There’s a ninety-nine-nine match,” Doctor Scott said. “Different mother.”
“Well, of course different mother… A half-sibling?”
“A half-brother? Not in the census?”
“Not in the census.”
He identified one qualifier that narrowed the list down.
“Someone who’s DNA you have. That would be… David?”
He couldn’t believe it.
“Truth,” Doctor Scott said.
“David’s at least twenty years older than her.”
“Another truth, yes.”
Didn’t know Melaku was into older guys.
“How… How is this possible?”
“How is any of it possible? Look how we got here. How this place got built. Why it was built. What we’ve built here. What we’ve brought here.”
“Jesus, Doc,” he said, the realization that entire decades of his life were beginning to morph into a clearer picture.
For a moment, it was as if he could sense something, but not identify it. Something intangible, just beyond his grasp. Something unknown, but of which he had been a part for a long, long time.
Like a plan.
It was very similar to his feelings about Wagner being Candidate Prime.
“I’m going to wrack your brain one more time,” Doctor Scott said. “About the night you met David.”
“I’ve already told you all I can remember,” he insisted. “All of it.”
This was not an exaggeration; They were at DeKalb, a secured outpost a hundred miles from the Illinois front, and he had separated himself from his troop to get drunk and then put a bullet in his head. He could remember the drinking part, then a barely-remembered conversation with someone he could only describe as a male-voiced fuzzy blur, and then he sobered up while returning to his troop with David, his caretaker Mary, and a mission.
There was nothing more to remember, and so nothing more to tell.
Scott’s implication, however, was obvious.
“You think I met their father?” he asked glumly.
“More than that, Commander,” Doctor Scott said. “I think their father is The Reverend.”
This whole time…?
“Yes,” Doctor Scott said in the tone characteristic of his reaching a conclusion. “The paternal line is, by far, the more interesting.”
He emptied the glass with one swallow.