Prologue

Thursday 27 November 2031ce 1300z
Reno, Nevada (-0800)

“You’re doing what?!”

The voice rang out from a tent within a sea of tents, an exclamation certainly heard by many in the vicinity.

Some, even, were likely to recognize the voice, being that of the young man believed (falsely even if just barely) to be the lover of the woman who’s tent it had come from.

That, however, was not the first thing Sergeant Wagner of the Nevada Resistance realized about Harper’s sudden outburst.

Instead, the combination of emotions she witnessed colliding in Harper’s tone gave her a sudden new insight into her longtime friend, and the realization that he had changed. And she watched those same emotions begin a slower, but certainly more obvious, series of displays on his face. Harper had become one of her mother’s creatures, no longer truly a friend, but a fanatic who has begun to cling to the fanatical notion that he owned his idols.

It was immediately clear to Wagner: She had presented a course of action entirely contrary to what Harper believed she would do, his reaction being as if she had chosen not to do what she must!

And the only person to ever insist that Wagner must do something was her mother.

This sudden change in perception, however, did not reveal itself; Having grown up under the watchful eye of a woman able to read the subtlest of emotional signs in a person’s face and mannerisms, Wagner had learned to hide her true feelings and desires as a simple survival trait.

Instead, with the honed-skill of a Resistance-raised trooper, she changed her tactics to meet the immediate situation.

“Leaving,” she said. “Arizona, probably.”

Harper’s face was an explosion of emotion.

“That’s insane!” he half-yelled, now seemingly aware that others had likely heard him earlier but still in the thrall of his inner turmoil.

That did not hurt so much coming from a man she now saw as less than human.

“You’d be throwing a lot away!” he continued, obviously ready to grasp every official reason he could recall. “Forget retirement… Yeah, who else has earned a full package at seventeen? Hell, the average age of the Firebirds is thirty-eight. But, yeah, forget the house with fertile dirt around it three states away from an active war zone. Let’s also forget about the promotion they’re ready to give you. Your own command. A real leader in the war effort.”

There they were; The words her mother had always used to describe the future she believed her daughter was destined to inherit from the father that abandoned them both before the war had even started.

It was also clear that Harper had yet to learn that the officer’s commission had already been offered.

And declined.

For his part, Harper finally managed to reach a point where he wanted to say more but had no clear idea of how to do so without giving himself away, ignorant as he was of having already done so.

That made it time to out maneuver him.

“Look,” she started. “I’m clearly not leaving now. Transfers don’t happen overnight… Even for the exalted ‘Angel of Reno’.”

Her tone expressed the displeasure she had for the newly-bestowed title, and she could now see the subtle changes in Harper’s muscles and skin tension that came from hearing it.

Harper would forever remain a fanatic in her eyes.

“Usually three days,” she continued. “And that’s for organized states connected to the AN networks. But I’m not interested in anything like all that. I don’t need… Hell, I don’t want ranks… Or medals. Or anything else. We’ve had none of that for seventeen years. There’s still a war out there, and I’m not interested in sitting here, or at some retirement home gifted to me by Alaska, Greenland or wherever. And I’m not interested in moving troop markers around on a table in some safe command center just because we took the state back.”

“You took our state back!” Harper corrected her while gesturing at two medals pinned to the tent’s fabric by their frames. “Yes, that piece of metal may not mean that much to you, but it and the people wearing it… You and the Firebirds! Those mean everything to the people right now. You can’t… Just leave like this. Not now. Not with everything starting to move the way it is.”

She looked towards the medals, the Nevada Sunburst and Reno Starburst, both in silver.

“There’s time to think about this,” she lied. “There are fronts in every direction… Colorado, Arizona, the southern border’s becoming more intense now that the Resistance south of Mexico City finally has some real leadership and the Caribbean Navy is pounding the shit out of Panama.

“This war is far from over… We’re troopers, not politicians. Let’s get out of here.”

“Are you sure this isn’t Outliers?”

“No… Of course not. We both got evaluations; You know I’d be in Francisco getting treated if I had any issues.”

That was the third lie she told that night.

She no longer wanted him to come with, but she had determined that insisting that they talk about it later would buy her some time to put plan to action.

That, however, would depend on how urgently he was compelled to report the discussion. Chances were good, though, that he’d have his marching orders from whomever was giving them, her mother or General Hitchens, when he returned the next day.

The final deviation from her intended plan was to see him to the tent’s entrance flap and kiss him goodnight; The invitation to spend the night she had originally intended given up for the ghost, and she hoped the kiss didn’t seem different and lacking from their previous intimacies.

“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” she falsely promised just before closing the flap.

A moment later, she opened the computer console on the writing desk. Shuffling through her messages, she found the transfer acceptance from Colorado Resistance, the response to her filing three days prior.

All she had to do was send her confirmation and then report to the first CR base or outpost she could find; Likely hitching a ride via ground transport to Salt Lake, and then another one to the Colorado border.

She confirmed without hesitation, then logged out and retrieved a box from under her bunk, its contents the few personal items she possessed. From it she withdrew a beaten book that contained years of dreams recorded from her childhood until shortly before the battle that pushed her out of her mother’s shadow and into the uncomfortable brilliance of the global spotlight.

She flipped the pages and considered bringing it with.

Her dreams, at least those which seemed important enough to record, had become rarer and rarer. And the book, already damaged from a decade of use by a child living (and fighting) in the Nevada Resistance, would be subjected to even more now that she was an adult.

Colorado, she understood, was one of the most dangerous and active war zones north of the artificial line that signified where Mexico once began.

She put the book back into the box, resolving to purchase one of the new datapads that were coming into popular use.

The two medals were retrieved and tossed without ceremony atop the book, and with a swift motion, she pulled the shipping seal shut.

The box secured under one arm, and her duffel flung over shoulder, Wagner headed out into the encampment before Harper, Hitchens, her mother, or anyone else could arrive to stop her.

Her intention was to never return, forever leaving behind Nevada, her mother, and all the people like Harper who believed her to be more than a seventeen-year-old girl fighting for humanity’s survival.

As well as all the reasons she now had to suspect that, quite possibly, they were right.

Horribly, terrifyingly, right.

Chapter 1.00: The Past