chapter six
Part Ten

Finn led MacPherson out from his suite and with the help of two other guards cleared the way to the lift.

It opened a moment after cueing to reveal a short, well-dressed woman.

Finn quickly scanned her Ident, confirmed she was a registered guest and then stepped back allowing MacPherson to enter the elevator.

Finn was about to follow him in but the General stopped him with a raised hand and a knowing wink, "It's alright, Leftenant, I can handle this alone thanks."

Was he kidding? The old dog thought he had a chance with this woman? Against his better judgement Finn nodded and stepped back allowing the two of them the trip alone.

* * *

As soon as the door closed MacPherson's mood soured and he turned to Andrea, "What do you want now?"

"I wanted to thank you for the extra troops."

"But...?" he said expectantly, there had to be more or she wouldn't be here.

"It's not enough."

Of course it wasn't. MacPherson sighed. "It'll have to do."

"You saw the projections. Two thousand settlements of at least 500 people spread out over a sixth of the continent. Ten thousand troops won't cover it."

"They're not supposed to cover it, they're just to buy you some time."

"For what?"

"For your political masters to realize this isn't a military matter. The troops will support operations around Rapid City. They'll make a show of force where you need it, but it will be just that, a show."

"And if we run into problems like we did at the dam?"

MacPherson had been waiting for her to bring that up. He reeled on her finding reserves of energy he thought were long gone. "That problem was entirely avoidable."

"Six people died!"

That was a higher number than he'd heard. He wondered about that but didn't stop to ask. "Because the military rushed in where it didn't belong! If the Network had met with the locals, explained what was happening ahead of time, and why, the whole thing could've been avoided."

"There was no way to know that ahead of time…"

"There wasn't? You were watching the whole thing unfold."

This was getting dodgy. "There are no overheads in the area?"

"I don't know how Andrea, but there's no way that Task Force happened upon the situation by accident. Someone called them in, and they had to have been watching events unfold for that to happen."

She tried to interrupt; this was going nowhere. "General..."

"I've read the report Lieutenant! The unfiltered version too! The Senior Engineer of that project would've negotiated a peaceful settlement to the whole affair if Cimarron hadn't charged in like that. The military wasn't needed for that crisis, and our involvement led to deaths, deaths that belong on the heads of your masters Andrea, not mine."

They stopped when the elevator did and stood away from each other, both stewing with unsaid rebuttals as the doors opened. Ethan stepped in making an awkward situation doubly so.

Andrea knew the General, who knew her back, and she knew Ethan, who knew her better than he liked to remember; but neither of them knew just how well everyone knew each other and neither was willing to engage her in conversation for fear of revealing anything questionable.

They reached the 3rd Floor, the door opened to reveal O'Neil, one of the other members of the detail, who took over the escort detail of taking the General to the Assembly. MacPherson brightened visibly as he left the shrew behind.

When the door closed again only Andrea and the Major remained. As the elevator began to ascend again he watched her in the mirror. The light was unflattering, an odd thought considering that between them both he'd aged more.

A moment later she spoke, "I don't know what we're going to do."


Tomorrow was the last day of the conference. Any impact they were going to make was going to have to be soon. "You've seen the reports."

"Ten thousand more troops. You should be celebrating."

"Heartland Forces had nukes Ethan, no one knows where they are, or who controls them. Ten thousand green recruits just aren't going to cut it."

Ethan paused. The mood of the elevator just grew grim; nukes could do that to a conversation. "Does he know that?"

"If they go off who ever is around gets fried. Who wants to be the Leader that ordered their troops into that?"

"But if it's the right thing to do…?"

Andrea shook her head; Ethan was such an optimist. "The head of Ground Forces," His name was General Baril but Andrea deliberately skipped that, "he understands what is needed, and he'd love to send five percent of the force from every other mission in tomorrow. If only MacPherson wasn't stopping him."

Ethan shrugged, "Who gets the job if MacPherson retires?"

Retire was a word that had double meaning in their line of work. It could take the normal definition, but it was also a word they used in place of 'assassination'.

Andrea looked at Ethan, she knew what he was asking; "The term is four years Ground Ops, committed." It meant the Network would have to replace MacPherson with another General, "but we can't do that."


"Because any accidents are going to get a full inquiry. The budget would be frozen until the inquiry was done and by then it would be too late.

"If some crazed lunatic rushes out of the crowd to kill him I'd say step aside and let them, but we're not going to be that lucky."

Nothing more was said as the elevator continued up toward the spire. Somehow the tiny unit began to fill with natural light, it was one of the true miracles of this building.

Finally, the elevator came to a stop. It was the observation deck of the second spire. Somberly Ethan departed, moving across the reflective floor that made it seem as though he were walking on the clouds above the building. The doors closed again and this time when Andrea looked in the reflective surface of the doors she saw herself smiling.

* * *

Finn was worried about his friend. Ethan had been in a foul mood since the previous night, and didn't want to discuss it. He suspected it was because Finn had been invited to eat with the General while his commanding officer hadn't.

The food had been fantastic, Fleet meals always were, and Finn was sure Major Frohman had never been treated with such. But it wasn't his place to make it up to the Major either.

They stood at the far end of Assembly Hall waiting for their detail to move. General MacPherson was standing near the Chief Executive of the Network. The exchange was cordial, nothing important was being discussed but protocol required they have some privacy.

After an eternity Ethan leaned into Finn, "He sure is working the crowd, huh?"

Finn glanced out at MacPherson, it was true and the General did seem quite good at the politicians game. "It's probably how he got the position in the position in the first place."

Ethan nodded, almost absent-mindedly. He hadn't even heard Finn's response. That seemed unusual.

"What do you think of this situation in Buffalo Commons?"

Finn was startled by this conversation. It was unlike the Major to bring up policy, particularly relating to decisions made by superiors. It was certainly unusual to do so while in such close proximity to the maker of that policy.


The rebuke was evident. Finn didn't think it was proper. Ethan shook his head impatiently, "half this conference is talking about it Leftenant. It's not a state secret."

Still... Finn considered discretion the highest goal. He wasn't sanguine about discussing it.

Ethan persisted, "I don't see the point in sending anyone in at all if we're only committing to a half measure. And frankly, it doesn't even seem like we're committing to that much."

Finn couldn't argue that point. Buffalo Commons was an area nearly the size of the Province of Quebec, more than twice the size of Alaska and almost half that of Europe. Twelve thousand troops -- ten grand of which were going to be greener than the hills they were training in -- weren't even going to be enough to count the buffalo, and they had a more important mission than that.

"What would you suggest, Major?"

Ethan shrugged. "There aren't many options, and they're all pretty dramatic."

Finn looked on as General MacPherson continued his social meeting with the leader of the free world. Finn thought of a line from an old theatrical presentation he'd seen years earlier. "Woe be to the leader who sends his own on an immoral mission."

Ethan did a double-take at Finn, "Pardon?"

Finn looked at his commander. They've known each other a long time, been through the worst. If he had someone he felt comfortable confiding in certainly it was Major Ethan Frohman. But he was first and foremost a Trooper. He stood tall and firm, straight and at attention. It almost worked. A moment later Finn let out the deep breath he'd held in.

"It's not our place to second guess Command."

"But...?" There was always a 'but'.

Finn spoke in as detached a manner as he could muster. "A leader who risks his troops with half-measures doesn't deserve their service."

Ethan looked at General MacPherson while those words echoed in his mind.


* * *