CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" FINESSE "
Finn was very confused now. An "agent of influence"? What in Pete's name was the General talking about? He waited until his superior had regained control of himself.* * *
As MacPherson began to suspect that Finn didn't know his part in this play, a sly grin crossed his face. This room was no doubt under surveillance, his whole life, no doubt was under surveillance, Andrea's earlier comment about Delilah confirmed that. So if they were watching now, as he was sure they were, then this might be a good time to reinforce his beliefs in a forum where they wouldn't have an opportunity to respond.
He sat forward after folding his napkin and placing it beside his plate, "Buffalo Commons, Mister Finnegan, is an expanse of supposedly untouched territory between the two Americas, on the south border of WestCan. It was an area most believed had depopulated during the early days of the Eco-Crisis, certainly after the collapse of the Heartland Free States. An area we thought we'd left to return to nature."
"A large area?"
"Just shy of 1.67 million square kilometres."
"A considerable space."
"Indeed. The problem is that some people have been looking to return to the region, repopulate it. Developers have plans for new cities, all the things that go with the return of a booming planetary economy."
Finn couldn't see the problem in that. People wanted land, there was land, and others wanted the profit involved in developing that land. Sounded like a simple commercial venture, certainly nothing requiring the military. He said so.
"Yes, well the problem is that the territory wasn't unpopulated. Squatters and generation farms and such have been in country for well over a hundred years and didn't take too kindly to others showing up with freshly minted deeds. A real pickle."
Finnegan was intrigued.
"So the problem now is, what to do about it? Some people are arguing that we should send in thousands of troops. Lay the ground; build a nation. Others, like myself, believe that we should halt any further occupation until teams of advisers can go in country, meet with the residents and determine ownership. It's their land, they have first entitlement."
"Agreed." Finn knew all too well what he'd do were someone foolish enough to show up at his ancestral home claiming ownership. His family history had some stories that indicated his was not a new feeling. The big surprise was that all this could occur without him hearing anything about it.
MacPherson smiled. "The bureaucrats are going ahead anyway. They've set up a base of operations at Rapid City, South Dakota. The WestCan Police Force has the contract to establish a Constabulary, and they want Troops mobilized. In fact some have suggested a full peace keeping mission."
"Which you don't support."
"Correct." MacPherson leaned back, "the Constabulary they're putting together will be far better prepared to go in, meet with the people, lay the foundation of a workable relationship, and set up their nation from within."
"Agents of Influence," Finn offered.
MacPherson smiled at the irony of the term being used for his plan. "Yes. Quite good, Leftenant."
MacPherson prepared for the slam dunk, "It's not like the Mounties haven't got experience with this, they did the same damn thing to the Canadian west almost four hundred years ago. And look at how well that went."
Finn nodded as he picked his fork up and dug into another piece of the beef medallion. He was about to bring it to his mouth when he paused, "But those forces weren't police, they were British Army."
"The Great March of 1873 was made by Troops of the British Army. The red serge tunic of the Mountie dress uniform comes from that."
While Finn returned to his meal MacPherson's face drained of colour. He flustered a moment and then he remembered a standard retort, which he offered, "We can't just invent Troops, Leftenent. Where would you expect to populate such a mission?"
Finn paused a second, literally just a second and then plainly responded, "I know the Commandant at Camp Lejeunne is always boasting his recruits are being trained for rapid deployment. There are six other camps just like it, that would net eight to twelve thousand troops. Fully supplied and ready to go."
The General was stunned, "Recruits? You're actually suggesting we send in raw Cadets?"
"It's a humanitarian mission General, not a combat zone. And it's meshes quite well with the curriculum being taught. They've got the mobile habitats; and they're constantly looking for places to practice field deployments anyway. Besides, they're already funded, are they not?"
Ethan turned to her with a sly grin on his face. "Out of the mouth of babes…"
* * *
Finn was surprised to see Ethan as he left the General's suite. The two walked in silence for a moment. Ethan nearly had a skip to his step while he beamed, hoping Finn would say something that gave him an "in". Finn didn't.
"So?" He said finally, his patience worn.
Finn paused and looked at the Major more than a little surprised. Frohman almost seemed giddy, excited, like a child on the last day of school. It was odd to see such enthusiasm from his mentor. It was also contagious. Finn smiled, getting caught up in the energy and then he stopped, cold.
"Am I an 'Agent of Influence', Major?"
"The General referred to me as an 'Agent of Influence'."
"Are you sure?" Ethan had a terrible poker face. Finn said as much.
"Yeah, sort of."
Finn was adamant now, "How was I supposed to influence him?"
"MacPherson's been spending too much time with 'Fleeties'," Finn bristled at the phrase, he didn't like the inter-departmental rivalry between Fleet and Ground Ops, mostly because he'd been in both branches, "he needs to get back to his roots."
Finn didn't understand. His expression gave it away a moment before the light came on, "So, you're surrounding him with Elite Ground Forces so he'll…" Think, Finn, think! "It's about money!"
Ethan smiled. This kid was good. He nodded. "We pushed to get a Ground Ops Commander in charge of the military two years ago so we could even out the funding imbalance, since MacPherson took over though funding for Ground Ops has dropped more than ten per cent."
Finn was uncomfortable with the political end of funding, both services needed more, "If the Admiralty is able to make the better case for more funds then..."
"It's nothing about case arguments, Leftenant. It's all about spending the extra cash they're already getting to wine and dine the one who signs their cheques. General MacPherson needs to be reminded there are other forces under his command, which is why the six of us are leading "Green Teams" that will do everything possible to keep the 'Fleeties' away, and show him not all of the 'best and brightest' wear blue."
You couldn't argue with that logic. Finn knew all too well funding was insufficient for field teams. Armour was lacking in key areas but more importantly Troopers were spread too thin on some important missions and that increased mission failure rates.
"So how did I do?"
Ethan stopped; his expression grew serious very quickly. Finn turned to him, "Surely you were watching."
Reluctantly Ethan nodded, he held up a portable display for Finn to see, "He's signed off another ten thousand Troopers for the area. Good job, Leftenant, we'll make a spy of you yet."
Finn chuckled at the thought. Spies... what an outdated concept that was.
* * *
Andrea stared at her reflection in the mirrored door of the elevator as it ascended. My goodness, she thought, what the last few years have done to me.
It hadn't seemed that long ago that she and Victoria were both traipsing around the Globe, spacesetters in the Titanium Age of travel, marking their conquests in ways that sometimes made her blush to think about, though usually they brought a wry smile to her pursed lips.
Sure, the tight bun she kept her hair in did nothing to soften her looks, but it was eminently functional and that seemed to take priority these days. In fact, as she thought about it, "functional" was the guided principle of her life now.
Still, why did they have to put these damn mirrors everywhere? It was bad enough aging, did one have to witness it as well?
She glanced at her chrono, ten seconds, nine, eight, seven... A final tug at the dress, a final flick of that wayward lock and...
The elevator stopped at the 3rd floor and its doors opened revealing the towering form of an Amazon woman in Station Security togs with the name "HARGITAY" on her nameplate. She eyed Andrea keenly before determining that she wasn't a threat. Silly Trooper.
Then Hargitay stepped aside, allowing her V.I.P, Bradley Robinson, to enter alone. He looked tired, a fact Andrea noted, another indication of how intense the negotiations were going. The doors closed cutting off the din of a packed conference and the elevator resumed its ascent without further delay.
"Packed house." She said plainly.
"True." He replied warily while watching the indicator track their ascent.
"So, we've got ten thousand Troopers out of the old goat..."
Robinson's finger came up rapidly and his intense gaze put an end to her sentence immediately. He reached over and tapped in a series of codes that brought the elevator to an immediate stop and then pulled out a small comm-unit, at least that's what it looked like, and as he held it up, he slid a trigger active which caused the device to emit a gentle and soothing hum. Only then did he say anything.
"You've got to be more cautious than that, Leftenant."
"I'm sorry, sir." She'd never directly spoken with Robinson before, despite being present for many of the meetings with him at the Strategic Intelligence center on Station Five. He was definitely more threatening in person and doubly so in such a confined space. Andrea found it quite invigorating.
"MacPherson has released ten thousand Troops to the Buffalo Commons mission."
"It's not enough."
Andrea was deflated. It was five times what they had currently. "Maybe once they get in-field we can..."
Robinson cut her off. He was speaking with a supernumerary and knew there was little point in doing so, but he was also mad as hell. "We need more than a few thousand recruits to do this job! We need trained specialists, a wide range of skill sets! Buffalo Commons is bigger than the Sudd. We should have at least as many Troopers!"
Andrea knew it wasn't about size, the Sudd was a war zone, the Network was the only thing halting decades of genocide and dictatorships. By comparison Buffalo Commons was a bar fight. It was probably why MacPherson didn't see the need for large-scale operations.
"General, with all due respect, it's hard to justify Troopers on the basis of size."
Robinson glared at her. It was bad enough he couldn't convince others, but his own people? "The Sudd has infrastructure, running water, the mechanisms of government, electricity, everything. Even the highways in the Commons are grown over rubble."
"Ten thousand is a good start."
It wasn't good enough, Network operations for the quarter would have their budgets locked in days. He reached over and reactivated the Elevator allowing it to resume transit. As it arrived on its floor and the doors opened, Robinson started out, but stopped and turned to with his most intense look yet, "Fix it, Leftenant!"
He left and as the mirrored doors of the elevator closed Andrea looked at her reflection and noted she'd just aged another year.
* * *