Colonel Peters stared at the spot where the complex wires and life support systems usually stood keeping Brandt, Guardian One, alive. The burns covering much of Brandt’s body had been severe enough to warrant him being moved to the actual infirmary. Brandt resisted but the doctor had won that battle.
Across the room sat an empty chair similar to a dentist’s chair though much more padded. Resting next to the chair was the complex shrouded helmet Billy Ransom wore to enter the ether. A smudge of blood stood out on the side of the helmet where Billy’s broken nose had bled only an hour ago. Colonel Peters removed a handkerchief from his pocket and meticulously wiped away the offending smudge.
“Colonel Peters,” Sergeant Sanchez’s voice said out of the loud speakers. He looked up and saw the woman looking down at him from the observation windows in Heaven, the control room for their operation. She silently waved him up. He nodded as he turned and left the room. Two flights of stairs later he met Sergeant Sanchez in the middle of the control room.
“Yes, Sergeant. What is it?” he asked.
“Sir, it’s a virus,” she simply said.
“A virus? How?” he asked.
“We think it got in via one of the porn sites Private Harrow visited. It downloaded a key logger, a worm, and something else we haven’t isolated yet, but it’s into all of our systems. We can’t go into the ether again until we replace every computer and server connected to Heaven’s systems,” she said with a note of solemnity in her voice. Colonel Peters stood in stunned silence unable to think past the news he’d just been given. “For what it’s worth, sir, we’ve isolated and removed all the infected files, but we couldn’t scrub them.”
“Can’t you just reformat everything and start over installing the software?” Peters stammered.
“Protocol says complete hardware replacement, sir. Everything has to go or we can’t go back on line,” the Sergeant replied.
“We don’t have that kind of time, Sergeant. This guy has a target in mind, today or tomorrow, max. We have to be on line right now. I don’t care what you have to do, but find a way to get Guardians Two and Three back out there,” Peters said, slipping and using Billy’s formal call sign for the first time.
“Sir, I haven’t even looked at the paperwork…” Colonel Peters knifed his right hand through the air between them.
“I don’t care how you do it, Sergeant. Do you want to see that ball field a smoking ruin on tomorrow’s news cast?” The Colonel waited for the image to fully form in Sergeant Sanchez’s mind. All activity in Heaven had come to a halt as the Colonel’s voice had taken on a command edge. “I didn’t think so. Make this happen!”
Colonel Peters spun and headed for the stairs. He’d been told before that he had a flair for the dramatic. This time he decided to let that work in his favor, he hoped. He exited the stairwell and headed for the infirmary to check on Brandt’s condition, the short walk allowing him to lower his blood pressure. By the time he walked through the infirmary doors he was back on an even keel. The sight of Brandt swaddled in gauze in an oxygen tent shot his blood pressure back up though.
“Hey doc, how’s our boy doing?” he asked. The attending physician was someone he wasn’t familiar with but he could tell who she was by the rank insignia of a caduceus on her uniform.
“Are you his commanding officer?” the doctor asked harshly, ignoring the inequality between her captain’s rank and his full bird. “Because if you are I may have you up on charges waiting this long to bring a burn victim like this down here.”
“At ease Captain,” Colonel Peters said, taken aback by the onslaught.
“I will not at ease. Any officer this neglectful of his wounded is a blight on the Army,” she responded with a full head of steam.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Captain,” Peters said adding emphasis to the doctor’s junior rank. “I’ll have you know those injuries occurred just over an hour ago, and your medics were tending to him less than sixty seconds after they occurred.”
The doctor stopped in her tracks and blinked at the Colonel. Peters sensed he had the advantage and the tactician in him took over.
“Further, I have logs to prove that, so unless you want me to write you up on charges for insubordination, I suggest you take a moment to gather yourself before we continue this conversation.” He crossed his arms and assumed a resting posture of indifference. He felt neither restful nor indifferent about the situation.
“Sir, um,” the captain started turning and looking over her shoulder at her patient. “That’s not possible, sir.”
“Why not?” he responded.
“Sir, the majority of the burns are already infected. That kind of infection can only happen after days of inattention,” she said.
“One hour and fifteen minutes ago,” he said. “I need to talk to him.”
“Oh, you can’t. I mean, he isn’t conscious,” the Captain quickly corrected.
“Why is that?”
“The amount of pain killers we had to give him.”
“I need him functional soonest,” the Colonel said. “Can you stop the pain meds?”
“We could, but he’ll be in a lot of pain. I don’t know if he’ll be any good to you, sir.”
“Stop them. That’s an order. I need him,” was all he said.
“Under protest, sir. He’s badly injured,” the Captain said.
“Noted. Lives may depend on having him available.” The Captain came to attention and saluted. Colonel Peters returned the salute and walked out of the infirmary. If Brandt wasn’t able to go back into the ether he’d have to get another Guardian over here immediately. That would literally take an act of Congress, and he didn’t like talking to Senator Radcliff, especially with news like this.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.