Late Day 888, Alchibah, Main Lab
‘‘At your service’, indeed. Ari, mijn lad, the verdict has returned: you are a schmuck. What did Abba say about volunteering, hmm?’ I leaned against one of the now-empty lab beds. Wounded came in, the easily-healed went out; the seriously wounded went to a different room, usually with my assistance as newly-in-residence junior assistant Gopher. Not that I minded overmuch; it certainly looked a lot better than getting herded wherever the overt prisoners went to. The conspicuous lack of gunfire told me that no matter how many guns were going to get shoved up my nose during this, surrender was an honorable choice among honorable warriors.
All the activity and running around I was put through did nothing to prevent me from taking notes. ‘Let the ears record while the body works,’ Ari recalled his university adviser. ‘Poor old klojo; how was he to know the UNWG wouldn’t like old-school social academics like him if they didn’t have the right fiscal outlook. There wasn’t enough time alone to get a peek at any computer records, nor figure out exactly what the structure was like outside of the areas I’d already been, but the pattern was the same. The hustle of people with Jobs To Do is unmistakable.
I closed my eyes. Tuning out the actual words, and English instead of the polyglot of Hebrew, Arabic, and the smidgen of Dutch in Abba’s tents, this all had a familiar feel to it. A discussion of a battle, a raid, so similar to the one on the slavers across the Red Sea. The Goonie leadership were taking a personal hand in helping ‘relocate’ people no one would miss, presumably for their own puerile benefit.
I realized I’d slipped too deeply into nostalgia when a hand grabbed me, and someone’s barrel found its way into my nostril. Trying to calm myself, I opened my eyes and resolved to let the command here know my vervloekte nose was not a convenient muzzle break.
The figure of Connor Benjamin looked beat to hell as he walked through the door. Of course after what he had been through, who the hell would blame him.
“Damn Connor, why so glum. Master Kyoshi is working on Jai and River’s Gold Pins for the save. Your future Son-in-Law looks like he will turn your hair gray before anybody gets him and the twins are healthy as all get out. What do you have to look glum about?”
He gave me a patented sick grin and said, “Backlash I guess, do you know how close we came to losing this. I thought Andy was just being his normal paranoid self when he set up Strike Force Rear. Damn we were just barely enough and I thought at one time we had lost it. Right up until my future Son-in-Law as you describe him, started knocking them over like tenpins. I still don’t believe he is that good!”
It was my turn to pontificate at last, “Connor, you nor anyone else and that includes Mariana got to see his medical records. You have no idea how often he was in here after a late night clandestine training session with Andy. That Boy went through hell to get where he is. There was a reason Andy did not ask you to be in on his Q course, nor Jai for that matter. Don’t worry about your Grandkids, nobody wants to frack with Scythe, much less Firebird.”
Connor actually gave me a dumb-ass grin, “I guess you are right but, I just got handed a problem.’
“You mean Cpl. Ari don’t you? He’s a weird one, helpful as all hell but; neither Andy nor Mariana will fully vet him. They say he knows passwords they know but, not the right one’s.”
“Yeah Kurt, I know stuff they don’t. There was a class of people out there who were not resistance that fought the UNWG tooth, hook and nail. He might be one of those, he’s middle Eastern so one for sure will ID him. Just try not to intervene, OK?”
“LTC, last time I checked you outrank this lowly CPT.”
Connor reached down and unsnapped the speed rig on his hip and rolled into treatment like the Warrior he was. His left hand snaked out and grabbed Ari like the head of a striking snake. The right hand shoved the muzzle of a issue .45 up his nose. “Tell me fast boy, what can never happen?”
Ari did not even blink and replied faster than he had to Andy, “Masada shall not Fall Again.”
Connor sat him down gently, holstered his sidearm and said; “Talk to me Brother.”
I regarded the Colonel silently. Raising my left hand, palm forward, to show no malicious intent, I fished a slim packet out of my cargo pocket. The colonel had no idea what I was doing, and remained perplexed when I tore the package open to reveal laffa. “Sit, please, Luitenant-Kolonel, anywhere.” Seeing no real suitable place, especially where we could remain uninterrupted, I went to the far side of the observation bed, faced the still-confused colonel, and sat on the floor. Reluctantly, he followed suit. “Theoretically,” I told him, “Our positions should be reversed.”
“Oh?” He still had not figured out what I was doing.
“Yes. This is more your house than mine. Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam ha-motzi le-chem min ha-Aretz. Amayn.” I tore the bread in two, handing him one of the chunks. “May you, through me, be welcome in the tents of my father, Avram ibn Mordachai, emir of al-Yaram al-Bedu. We are brothers-in-arms; we fight the same enemy, for the same reasons. Israel, Massada, has never fallen, besieged as we are.” I looked at the uneaten laffa in his hands, and pointedly took a bite of the piece remaining in my hand.
Benjamin looked thoughtful, then muttered to himself, “Well I will be a sheep-dipped asshole. If there were more that 10 or 15 of the old Desert Warriors left running around, it was 20 more than I knew about.” I didn’t think he meant for me to hear, so I waited passively for him explicitly respond to me. He appeared to catch on to what I was waiting for, deliberately eating a bite. “Just how long have you been in hiding,” he asked me.
I looked at him with a ghost of a smile, “Hiding? When did you choose to hide here, rather than back home?”
“Well, it was before I got my ass taken down by a Female and a Medic. That’s for sure.”
“Touché. Granted, you’re Runners – but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have security leaks. And yea, even some of us lowly grunt types know that. What I know or can guess at, in the wrong hands, might lead to heap big trouble. Then again, I’m an asshole and what I know – if I don’t shade it this way or that – is at least three years wrong. Abba always was fond of quoting Magnus: “trust, but verify.” And be ready to kick ass. I’m not in position to do the latter, but the former would give this camel a warm fuzzy feeling.”
He nodded, then shot something out of the blue at me. “Know anything about carpentry?”
“Carpentry? It’s a family secret that we’re closely related to one carpenter…” I chuckled, not thinking he meant anything theologically, “but I’ve done some as barracks-punishment in a place called Coronado.”
“OK, drag your carcass up to Ft. Stuart in the morning. Look up a guy by the name of John Pierce, I’ll let him know you are coming. He is the General Contractor around here and soon to be my Son-in-Law, also with him around nobody will worry much about you. You’ve seen him before, the Big Major who was in the chameleon suit. Pay’s better also.”
I stood, offering my hand to him as he rose. “One thing on orientation: I didn’t do too much sightseeing before this interview. Where’s Fort Stuart from here?” What it was, I figured, will be shown once I got there, whatever it was.
“When you exit here, head around to the north-northwest.”
“Thank you.” I took a couple of steps towards the door, and then stopped. This was going to take some getting used to, after all. I turned back to face him. “Sir.” Rather than wait for the responding salute, I head back into the cold. The landscape looked just as I remembered – white, with more white coming. Beurt, just what I need for a walk.
I struck out of the hospital area in the direction Benjamin told me to head once I got my bearings. After trudging through the thick snow, seeing nothing of any other life, I made out a wall in the haze ahead of me. “Finally. I’d be pissed if this was some joke.” However, when I reached the ‘wall’ instead of finding human construction, I found a cliff face. “Ha Ha. I hope he’s laughing.” I checked my wrist comp for an area map. If the vervloekte thing was to be believed, this ridge leveled off to the west. Only one way to be sure. Fortunately, the snow had thinned considerably by the time I got to the end of the ridge-wall. I could see a structure off to the north, more or less where I would have reached had I not had to detour around the geography. After another few minutes of slogging, I came across a proverbial beaten path. There had been enough traffic along this path that, being charitable, I could imagine Benjamin believing I already knew about it. If I were being charitable. Either way, I made it to the palisade in short order.
“Stop and identify yourself!”
“I am Ari; Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin told me to come here and ask for a John Pierce.”
I waited, and then an equally bundled figure approached. “You said you were sent to find me.”
“That’s right. I was told you were in need of a carpenter. Well, now you have one.”