CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" H.E.O. "
As the Transport Shuttle 'James Snow' swung around for final approach to the Rapid City compound Finn was able to get his first good view of the place. He instantly realized the extra week he took at Crawford might have been a bad thing.* * *
Rapid City looked nearly deserted. The pre-fab intermodal structures operating as barracks for the rotating streams of Ground Troopers were mostly sealed up, sitting in reserve status for later use during the extraction phase of the peacekeeping mission.
Finn rather felt as though he were late arriving to a very good party. James Snow landed and Finn climbed out into the cool, crisp and surprisingly cleaner air, stepping on Buffalo Commons soil for the very first time.
At ground level there was a bit more activity going on but he couldn't get close enough to pick up any of the chatter.
Finn slung his kit bag, the old style bag rather than the more common float chest, over his shoulder and headed for the door that all signs indicated was the entrance to the Command Post. He entered the room, a set up which reminded him of nearly every police station reception area he'd ever been in, and moved to the front desk.
"Senior Leftenant Sean Mitchell Finnegan, reporting in!"
The desk Corporal looked up from her paperwork without going to attention. Typical of a post in draw down, although telling of the leadership, Finn thought. "You're either very later sir or quite early."
"Whose in charge, Corporal?"
The Corporal, Hannity it seemed by the response, rose and moved to a door just back of the Squad Room. There was something fitting about the pace of her actions, Finn could almost hear the "Old Western" movie soundtrack playing as the person in the side room slid their chair back and came forward.
Finn immediately snapped to attention as Colonel Mariska Potvin stepped into view and approached him. "You're late, Leftenant!"
"Yes, sir! But I thought…"
"Don't get yourself knotted!" Potvin said, casually waving a hand, "I got the extension order."
Finn let out a sigh of relief. The extension request had been one he'd not wanted to make but he felt it his duty to see things through to their grisly conclusion in Crawford. "I am reporting for duty, sir."
Potvin held up her display, reading from it audibly enough to scare off interruption but not so loud that Finn could tell what she was reacting to. He stood there, more at attention than was required, and unwilling to relax in the Colonel's presence.
She looked at him, "Bunker Oh-Five is still operational. Grab a cot, get some rest, you can start your mission tomorrow."
Finn nodded in appreciation. The last few nights must have taken a more visible toll on him than he thought because she clearly saw his fatigue. "Yes, sir!"
He saluted her in a manner that would've made his drill instructor back at basic proud, not the knuckle to forehead salute that was so common these days, wheeled about on his heels and departed.
Colonel Potvin remained where she was, watching him go. She turned to the Corporal, holding up the display with Finn's particulars on it and said to no one in particular, "They're wasting him on this."
Potvin then returned to her office.
Finn found Bunker Oh-Five without difficulty and signed out one of the available officer bunks. The tiny room, no bigger than what he would've had on an Astral Task Force craft was, at least, all his own. For a field mission it was the first time he'd enjoyed such a luxury. He unpacked his kit bag, removing each sub-pack of particulars and placing them in the assigned slot of the slide-closet.
Then he sat down and went through the full pre-op routine with his Marwayne 500 Rifle, ensuring it was primed and undamaged, fully charged and ready to go. He slid this into the weapon resupply slot and listened carefully for the click/chirp that indicated mating. Even though the weapon was already fully loaded he wanted to make sure the power cells retained full charge for the duration of his stay here, no matter how brief that was.
* * *
The next day he awoke refreshed for the first time in almost two weeks. The air here was fantastic, sweet even, and very refreshing. Finn got up and performed his morning rituals and then moved to the Mess Bunker where he checked the DAILY REPORT looking for his name. It wasn't posted, which he thought odd. He joined the cue, loaded his tray with food and then fed on a spread more luxurious than was typical for Astral operations.
Well, he thought, with only a few mouths to feed maybe the Chef-Mats were taking more time on each meal. Unlikely perhaps but it might account for the wonderful taste.
After a post-breakfast refresh he began wandering around the compound, trying to get familiar with its layout. It was a very efficient design, eminently defendable and yet conducive to rapid commuting from each part to any other.
He wandered to the Information Management room where present staff snapped to attention at his arrival, a novel experience to be sure. He then proceeded to catch up on events in the mission so far. The original fifteen thousand had come through, geared up and gone out. A further ten arrived a week later, but being professional Troopers their turn-around was in hours not days. The next group, the bulk of the 45 thousand Troopers now assigned to this mission, was due to start arriving in waves some four weeks hence when the first of 12 Astral Carriers returned to Earth orbit. There were no expeditions scheduled between now and then.
When mid-day arrived he changed into exercise gear and continued with his recent regimen of hard paced running, and punishing drills, at all times staying near the compound so that should someone try to tap him for his mission he'd be visible.
* * *
By evening he still hadn't been approached. His comm-badge had been so quiet in fact that he'd gone over to Quartermaster to have it checked out. There was nothing wrong with it.
Dispirited, Finn wandered around until he heard odd sounds coming from the largest structure on base, the Review Building. He entered the darkened room to see a projected Movie, by the look of it a classic from the pre-Eco-Collapse hey days when Vid-Pics were grainy flat images.
The story seemed to have something to do with a loner, facing off against a system of injustice and corruption, in a dark future. She looked vaguely familiar but Finn couldn't place her.
Without further thought Finn, engrossed in the tale, crept forward to an open seat two-thirds from the screen and sat.
There was a relatively high suspension of disbelief required to buy into this story, for one the dark future was in fact a hundred years ago, so technically it was an alternative history. But thinking about that sort of stuff gave Finn a headache and was the reason he usually avoided Speculative Fiction.
From the sides a void spoke in a low hush that Finn didn't initially catch was directed at him. He turned, no one else was sitting near them so he must have been the intended receiver of the comment, but he hadn't heard it.
"Beg your Pardon?" He whispered back.
The woman shifted a couple of seats closer to Finn, although she was still a row behind him, "I said, it figures they'd be showing something like this."
Finn's expression told her that he didn't understand, she continued, "The Network is too cheap to subscribe to recent stuff. Basically they take whatever's free. I don't mind too much, a lot of the old stuff is way better than what they're putting out now."
Finn nodded. He could see the value of that point. He looked back at her again, an Asian woman, a Sergeant, the name on her badge read "JONES". The Combat Infantry stripe on her badge was Gold but she only had two tour markers. He asked the question he was thinking, "Why are you still at base, Sergeant?"
"No one's tapped me yet. A few of us are like that." She looked pointedly at him, "The mission is still short Officers."
He nodded. That was probably why he hadn't heard anything either. "How long?"
"Ten days. Not all in waste though, I've made some solid contacts. Given the chance I could put together a good ten person crew, but pronto."
Finn nodded in understanding and then they both drifted back to the movie.
* * *
The next day when Finn didn't see his name on the DAILY REPORT again he went to the Command Post after breakfast. This time Sergeant Talus Smith was at the Front Desk.
"Good morning, sir!" Smith was professional; a welcome change to yesterday's mid-afternoon welcome.
"Good morn, Sergeant." Said Finn, reflecting the cheeriness, "I was suppose to start my mission yesterday."
Smith turned, grabbed the Duty-Board and scrolled down it for a name matching the one on Finn's badge. "Finnegan, Senior Leftenant… Ah, here we are. Peacekeeping Squad Leader. Yes, sir."
Smith checked a second time. "Yes, sir-" the response was hesitant this time, as though that were something Finn should already know and he was being tested in some undescribed manner. "Squad Leader. Yes. That's right."
"For what routing?"
Smith looked at the Duty-Board again, "Your Expedition Outline hasn't been filed yet."
Finn nodded. The Expedition Outline detailed the territory that was to be patrolled. Without it he was stuck. "Thank you, Sergeant." He turned and left the building.
* * *
The next three days were a repeating cycle of increasing boredom. He checked with Information Management each morning to confirm the Outline was still missing and then he resumed his training regimen. No sense being idle he thought.
During his run he'd frequently come across Jones and what he figured were some of her prospective team. Each time she'd ask if there was any word yet, each time he responded, "Negative, still no outline."
Each night he'd eat alone, but after the sunset he'd drift over to the Review Building for a different evening's entertainment.
It was almost like being on holiday.
* * *
Victoria Wells came out of her tiny quarters on the second floor of the General Quarters building, the only permanent establishment with beds at the base, and she stretched as she stood on the balcony hallway that ran across the face of the structure.
The air was fresh, the heather of distant pine and other flora nearly created a dream environment, as though she'd taken residence up in a bouquet. But she found she was going to bed at the ungodly hour of ten in the evening each night from lack of stimulation and was sure she was aging at a faster rate than she normally tolerated.
One of the Network Infrastructure Advisors she'd met with on occasion to hammer out the actual logistics relating to Cheyenne Dam #1's ramp up to full operation came towards her from the end steps. Wells thought it was to ask her something before she remembered Charlie's room was only a few doors past her own.
She stepped forward, putting her hands on the old wooden railing, feeling the natural fibre for the first time and wondering how anyone tolerated its rough texture, when she saw Finnegan breeze past on his run. She looked at him with absolute wonder and spoke without thinking, "What is he doing?"
Charlie stopped and looked at Finn, "Looks like the Four Minute Mile." He resumed his transit without further comment.
Victoria's face wrinkled up in confusion, well, her nose crinkled a bit. It was as much wrinkling as she did. "Four minute what?" She'd never heard the word before.
She watched as Finnegan raced around the courtyard and then, realizing he was going to come back her way a third time, she moved to the steps and went down to ground level.
It took some doing to get the Senior Leftenant's attention; it took a bit more to make him realize she wanted him to stop. Despite the punishing pace he'd been on he heeled before her barely sweating and only moderately out of breath. This one was in fine shape she admired, and then snapped her attention back to business.
"What are you doing here, Leftenant?"
Was everyone a smart mouth? "Why aren't you on peacekeeping duty?"
"Haven't received my Outline yet."
Victoria stopped, stunned. This must be his first command. "Leftenant, you don't wait for the outline, you submit it."
Finn looked at her, could it really have been that easy. She continued, "The moment the white pips flared on your epaulets you were in charge. You need to sit down, figure out what resources you need, what Troopers are available and what vehicle you can get and then you need to put those logistics together and go."
"Where?" It was a big territory.
"Check with the board. Anywhere someone isn't is fair game. Choose a route and file it."
"And just wander about?"
Victoria stepped closer, oh the fun she could have with this one. "This is a mission of influence, Leftenant."
"Aren't they all," he said without thinking, certainly without realizing he was repeating an earlier exchange.
"Quite." She smiled, he might be on a steep learning curve but he'd get to the top soon enough. Victoria liked him, on many levels, and instantly understood why they wanted to recruit him, "Just make a presence, track the problems and step in where you can. This won't be like any other tour you've ever been on so take the title literally at first, and keep the peace."
"Aye, aye. Thank you, ma'am."
Victoria waved casually as she continued on to the Information Management center. She'd be smiling the rest of the day, and no one else would know why.
Finn turned and began a circuitous route looking for Jones. He found her by the motor pool inspecting one of the new Grav-Assisted Troop Carriers that was being uncrated. He came up behind her, "Sergeant."
She turned at the formality of his tone and responded in kind, snapping to attention, "Sir!"
"How soon can you get a Squad together?"
"W5, sir?" She meant Who, What, When, Where and Why. He knew the term; noncoms throughout the service used it regularly.
"Ten troopers, long-term patrol, ASAP, out-there, and because its what we do."
"Ten minutes if the word is given."
"It is. Send me the names and then make it happen, Jones."
Jones smiled a very happy, broad smile, "Aye, aye. Sir!"
Finn turned back for his bunk. He'd shower, change and pack before sitting down with the Duty Roster and plotting out what areas weren't being covered. He'd have the names by then, he was sure of that. Then he could file HIS EXPEDITION OUTLINE.
* * *