CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" FINESSE "
MacPherson entered the suite alone. It was a little odd not having the security detail move ahead of him to ensure the space was secure, but then this was one of the Network headquarters, surely one of the most secured and wired buildings on the planet. No doubt the room was being monitored, such was life in the 23rd century.* * *
But as he closed the door and crossed past the lavish washroom and into the main parlour he spied a woman standing at the window.
"Excuse me?" He said, trying to turn on the charm, "Either you have the wrong room or I do."
She didn't turn, didn't even acknowledge his presence, but as that icy voice began he chilled, knowing who it was. "Relax General. I'm just enjoying the view."
'She' was here. MacPherson knew this couldn't be a pleasure trip. It never was in her business. He crossed to the desk where his briefcase was already sitting and opened it. "Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you Andrea?"
"What so ever do you mean, General?"
"That colour guard, you think I didn't notice they're all Ground Ops?"
She remained at the glass, watching the movement of the town folk below as one might the subjects in an ant farm. "You're a Ground Ops General, it was only appropriate…"
"I'm the head of the entire military, if I'm going to have a security detail there should be members of each branch on it."
"We've felt the same about your normal company, and yet… It was felt you've been neglecting your Earth bound duties Generals. Consider this a little balance."
MacPherson humbugged that. "So that's what this is all about?"
"You're going to spend this conference lobbying me, is that it?"
Andrea turned to him now, it was an icy turn, the sort the monster makes just before he calmly strikes, killing everyone. "Lobbying?"
MacPherson immediately realized that was a bad choice of words.
She continued, "Lobbying would require some sort of bribe, General. Fine clothes, gifts, trips…"
He winced at each item. She continued, "gourmet meals…" a particularly damning sting, the Admiralty had assigned him a Fleet Chef, the gentleman would be arriving shortly. It was a permanent detail they covered in 'appreciation' for his remembrance.
She continued still, "…Fawning young things doting on your every word."
MacPherson's back went up at that, "She was not a gift!"
"No, of course not." Andrea paused, she'd grown to hate this evil man and his greedy ways. "All I'm trying to do General is strike a balance. I guess I failed."
"Fleet's percentage of funding has increased nearly 10 percent in the last year, at the cost of the other services."
"The money goes where it's needed."
"Apparently now." Andrea moved for the door. She stopped before toggling it open, "We've been trying to remind you that you're head of the entire military, not just the space going side of it."
Dinner time. Someone he'd never met before greeted Finn at the door. This same someone led him to the dining room without saying a word. There was something formal and familiar about the person, Finn couldn't figure out what it was.
The dining room was a well-appointed affair, which reminded him of many such evenings in his youth. The room appeared to jut out of the building, allowing light to pour in from the better part of all four walls, an odd illusion because Finn knew the exterior shape of the structure shouldn't allow for that.
A moment later General MacPherson joined him and after a few stilted formalities they sat down to dinner. It was then that Finn realized the 'someone' who had brought him in, and was serving them was a Fleet Steward. He hadn't seen a "Fleet Hop" in six years but didn't complain; it was a sure sign that this meal was going to be a cut above normal. The usual grub for a Ground Operations Officer was benchmarked against traditional home cooking, provided you'd grown up in a postcard, which Finn had not.
The worst part was that just the memory of meals from such people was enough to make Finn's mouth grow moist with saliva.
* * *
Ethan sat at the back of the monitor room glaring at the displays in General MacPherson's room. As the appetizer arrived and he saw Finn salivating he began wondered who was influencing whom. He could've resisted those charms, but could Finn? Having come from Fleet his friend would be tasting something familiar for sure, something perhaps that Finn had noticed was lacking in Ground Ops cuisine.
Ethan smiled, he recalled a period back when they'd first met where Finn, during a field mission where they were cut off from re-supply, had resorted to hunting for sustenance rather than eat the Network supplied rations. He would've gotten over that by now, wouldn't he? It's been six years!
But the memory of this very proper British gentleman turning away from the camp, heading out into the back 40 to find some poor woodland creature to cook, rather than open a package of bland wafers that the planet's top nutritionists had developed amused him no end.
Andrea entered and moved to his side while carefully studying the monitor. "Why aren't you there?"
What she was analyzing wasn't clear but whatever it was she was very intent on it. "Is he sound?"
She was referring to Finn. Ethan nodded, "he still won't talk about Farside."
She looked at him while pursing her lips. The Farside Incident was almost seven years ago.
It was mostly public record now, that one of the team had refused to talk despite some pretty heavy handed tactics with the investigators was not. They were so impressed they tried to recruit him then and there.
She looked back at the monitor again. So, that was Finnegan. "I can see it."
"Glad you approve."
They snapped from their banter when the beef medallions arrived. Ethan's own mouth grew moist in a burst of saliva. He couldn't recall ever eating like that and here he was now, forced to watch while others consumed with great relish a meal fit for gods.
* * *
MacPherson watched Finn carefully. The Senior Leftenant wasn't young, and he wasn't that old either. He had the look of a career officer, and had a fair number of service markers on his sleeve. He should be at least a Captain by now, if he wasn't, which he wasn't, the better question was 'why'?
"Tell me about yourself, Leftenant."
"You were in Fleet…"
"I was with an Advanced Tactical Squadron."
ATS groups were the cream of the elite pilots. MacPherson couldn't figure this out. "So what happened?"
"Sir?" It was so old news to Finn that he really didn't know what the General was asking.
"Burn-out? Crash? You lose your flight rating? Insubordination?"
"Absolutely not! Sir."
"One doesn't just walk away from ATS, Leftenant."
Finn placed his fork back on the table beside his plate and quickly dabbed his mouth before taking an even more formal posture. He was buying time. He knew it, General MacPherson knew it. Even their audience on the other end of a vid-connection could see it.
"Leftenant, don't make me order up your file."
"I was a member of the 655 Squadron at Farside."
MacPherson leaned back. If there was a higher grade of cream in the cream at the top of the elite the 655 were it. The General's blood boiled at the thought of how the Military was forced to treat those people. Each one of them had not only risked their lives to save everyone, but they did so knowing full well that should they survive, their careers were probably over. There was no greater sacrifice for a career officer to make.
"They drummed you out of Fleet?"
Finn immediately perked up, "No, sir. They broke us up and transferred us to the postings in the outer system."
MacPherson's jaw dropped. The Outer System was a dream assignment for most pilots. The fastest, most powerful, fighter craft roamed billions of kilometres of open space, during year long tours on the largest space vessels ever built, while training with thousands of like-minded folk for the ultimate battle. Every time the Admirals spoke of it you could almost hear the symphonic strains of an award winning musical score start up.
"So what happened?"
Finn looked at the General with confusion, "Sir?"
MacPherson held up both hands, he motioned with one, "you were assigned to the Outer System," then, he motioned with the other, "you ended up in Ground Ops. What gives?"
"I refused the posting."
"I wished to remain relevant."
"The front lines are out there, Leftenant! 'There' is where the next Great War will be fought."
Finn looked at the General. He wanted to speak but knew there was nothing he could say that couldn't be construed as insubordination. MacPherson saw it. "What?"
Finn shrugged, returning to carve another slice of the beef. "It's not my place, sir."
MacPherson reared up. He didn't like being patronized, particularly by a subordinate. "Mister Finnegan. If you have something to say then I expect you to."
Finn leaned in, he measured his words, abandoned a few versions of what he thought and then, after licking his lips, he turned to the General. "There's an old joke, sir. The First Armoured Brigadier and the Seventh Army Commander meet in the middle of Red Square, Moscow, and as they're shaking hands one says to the other, 'so, how did the space war go?'"
MacPherson leaned back continuing to look at Finn while he chewed on that thought.
"It doesn't matter where the battle is sir, the prize is always going to be Earth."
MacPherson nodded. He took his napkin and dabbed his own mouth before putting it aside, then took a thoughtful sip of his Chardonnay and after letting the liquid drain down his throat he spoke. "Let me ask you, Leftenant. What do you think of this whole Buffalo Commons situation?"
Finn stopped mid-chew and looked at him. His brow furrowed as he finished chewing and swallowed. "Buffalo Commons, sir?"
Most people on the planet had never heard of the place until the recent events in the news, but the region had dominated the news cycle for the past week. "It's all over the news, Leftenant."
Finn nodded, "Forgive me sir, I was rather heavily invested in a series of training ops until just before coming here. I haven't had the luxury of catching up on current events."
MacPherson started laughing, a deep chest expanding laugh the likes of which he hadn't had in nearly a decade. "That is too much…"
Finn didn't understand the joke. MacPherson was tearing up at the hilarity of it and his mirth was rekindled in another spate by Finn's feigned ignorance of the irony.
Between chortles of laughter the General managed to squeeze out, "The idea, Leftenant, of sending in an Agent of Influence and failing to brief them, I find very terribly amusing."
* * *
Andrea looked at Ethan accusingly. "You didn't prep him?"
"I didn't know he'd been incommunicado." He should've. As he thought about it he recalled that Finn was somewhat notorious for being behind in current affairs.
"He'll be fine," Frohman said, without conviction while thinking to himself, "come on Finn, be fine."
She looked at the screen with a sneer, "You don't toss a babe to the wolves and expect it to survive, Ethan."
* * *