“Holy crap! What just happened to him?” Sergeant Sanchez asked. Colonel Peters wasn’t sure either as he tried to make sense of the data streams coming from Billy Ransom. He crossed the short distance to the observation window again and looked down into the Pit.
Billy sat up in his hospital bed as two medics helped him remove the helmet and electrodes the guardians used to enter the ether. First Sergeant Wilcox paced back and forth, clutching his rifle as though squeezing the weapon might produce faster results. The First Sergeant shot a worried look up at his commanding officer. All Colonel Peters could think to do was give his oldest friend a thin smile and a thumbs up. It didn’t seem to help.
“Every sensory feed spiked to levels I’ve only seen one other time,” Sanchez said, making eye contact with the Colonel. They both still remembered that one time. Everyone did.
The day Scott Carpenter died every piece of electronic monitoring equipment in Heaven spiked and then suffered a catastrophic failure. It took them a month to rebuild after that incident. They still didn’t know what had really happened. All they knew after the smoke cleared was that Scott Carpenter, Guardian One the strongest member of the team, was dead; and he’d felt no pain at his passing.
“Cherry, confirm; you’re alright?” Colonel Peters asked over the net.
“Yes, sir. I’m fine. Just a little tired is all,” Billy said smiling up at the Colonel now that the shroud of electrodes was removed from his head.
“Angel Eight, get him checked out in the infirmary, then some chow and rack time. He’s earned it,” Peters said.
“Yes, sir,” Wilcox replied. “Come on kid. Let’s see what cookie has brewing in the chow hall.”
“Sergeant Sanchez, page Guardian Three to the Pit please. We need to locate that soldier who just breached my facility with that, that…” He struggled to find a name his brain didn’t reject, but every time he settled on another noun he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Only one word truly felt right, and it fit. “We need to find Private McCoy and that demon ASAP.”
“We’re really calling them that, sir?” Sergeant Sanchez asked.
“Tell me a word that fits what you just saw better?” Colonel Peters asked. Sergeant Sanchez blinked once then returned to her console and sent out the requested page.
“Guardian Three, report to the Pit for immediate deployment,” the Sergeant said into her microphone.
“Getting hooked up now. What’s my target?” she asked as she entered the Pit and began preparing the electronics near her couch.
“Watch your monitor, Three. We need to find the soldier in the video feed who disappears with the,” Peters hesitated again, but only for a second. “The demon. We have got to find that kid.”
“Roger that,” she said, turning her attention to the video display showing the freckle-faced red headed young man being engulfed in the black smoke coming from the floor around the demon’s axe. A second later she said, “Oh this kid should be easy to find. I just hope I don’t end up in Ron Howard’s bedroom.”
A few minutes later, Angela settled the shroud over her head and initiated the startup sequence as the helmet covered her eyes. Colonel Peters walked back to the monitoring console and the black display labeled Guardian Three. A small point of light appeared on the monitor, which usually meant the guardian was searching for his or her target. In Angela’s case that dot usually expanded quite rapidly to become the image of a location. This time, the dot held steady.
“I thought you said he’d be easy to find?” Colonel Peters questioned over the net.
“Having a little trouble concentrating, but it feels wrong. No, not wrong, off somehow, like searching for Dante,” she said.
“Dante? What do you mean?” Peters asked.
“Like he doesn’t exist,” she responded. “Yeah, just like Dante. He’s either dead or, well, gone like Dante.”
“Unacceptable,” was all Peters could say.
“I’m sorry Archangel, he’s just not there,” Angela responded.
“Is there anything you can do Sergeant?” Peters asked Sergeant Sanchez as she studied her instruments.
“Sorry, sir. Same situation. I just make the conduit the Guardians use to do what they do. I don’t know how they actually do what they do,” she said.
“Maybe we need to change that,” the Colonel said thoughtfully. He thought a moment longer and came to a conclusion. “Sergeant, you have a new assignment. I want to know how the Guardians do what they do.”
Sergeant Sanchez blinked as she held her commanding officer in her gaze.
“You have the full resources of this base and my position as its commanding officer at your disposal. Anything you need that I can provide, you have,” he said in a very formal tone. Heaven came to a complete stand still. “You are relieved of all other duties until that question is answered.”
Corporal Domenech came to stand next to Sergeant Sanchez. Both he and the sergeant starred at Colonel Peters. Sergeant Sanchez looked up at her junior NCO who looked down at her, then they both settled their wordless stare back on the Colonel.
“What?” Colonel Peters asked. “You haven’t trained the Corporal to do your job?”
“Um, I can do it sir,” Corporal Domenech said.
“Yes, sir. He can. That’s not the problem,” Sanchez said rising from her chair.
“Then what is?” Peters asked.
“Sir, the eggheads from Georgia Tech who built this system for us spent eighteen months pouring over data from Guardians One and Two and they couldn’t figure out how they do what they do. I’m just a Dogface in the Army who’s been trained to run it. How am I going to figure this out, sir?” she asked.
“You’re the Dogface who rebuilt this system after the catastrophic failure with just phone and video support from those Georgia Tech eggheads, Sergeant. You’re the Dogface who has cobbled together this bastardized abomination from personal computers, Xboxes, and Gameboys. You’ve been in operational control of this system and responsible for its maintenance for the last two years,” the Colonel stepped in close and lowered his voice as he finished his statement. Sergeant Sanchez and Corporal Domenech reflexively assumed a position of attention as he moved closer. “And I just told you, you’ve got the full force of my position as commander of this facility, which includes my ability to contact Senator Radcliff, the ranking member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. I can requisition you God’s gym shoes if you need them.”
Sergeant Sanchez and Corporal Domenech arched an eyebrow in unison as they understood the scope of that last statement.
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.