After the mission ended he’d called everyone to the debriefing room and introduced Julie Payne, call sign Icarus, and her protector Marcus Rappaport, call sign Daedalus. Julie wore her graying brown hair in a close-cropped crew cut almost identical to the Colonel’s own hairstyle. Her build could only be described as muscular, almost to the point of obsession. She spent almost as much time in the gym as any other soldier on any post she was stationed at. Marcus fit a similar mold, though his face was scarred and haggard from encounters in combat zones he neither could, nor would speak of. The two had been a close-working pair in the program since its inception five years ago. They had the distinction, though no one would ever know it, of being the first human beings to operate in the ether using the Mark I SHOD, Situational Headgear Other Dimension; what everyone just called the Shroud.
Angela and Corporal Williams had squared off instantly with their counterparts. The handshake held too long by Williams and Rappaport was his first warning sign. Julie applying the same vise-like grip to Angela and her wincing pain was his second. Assuming seats directly opposite one another at the table should have prompted him to set civil ground rules but he’d missed that one. Now, they had to figure out how to find a man that for all intents and purposes was dead.
“Your world has been opened up, or at least it should have been,” Julie said, taking a shot at what she’d already called short sighted planning.
Julie had intended that shot to be aimed at Angela, thinking she was in charge of the group. She didn’t realize Colonel Peters himself was planning the missions currently. He bristled at that one but didn’t let on. That was one of Payne’s many faults, her failure to see beyond her nose as far as immediate situational awareness was concerned. Unfortunately, with Brandt down, he didn’t really have any choice but to pull her off the research and development group for active duty. She’d been bucking for field work anyway. Maybe she’d rise to the challenge? Only time would tell now.
“What’s your point?” Angela bit out past tightly clenched teeth.
“You are looking for him in this world. Hell, the kid here is using logic closer to our reality than you are with his whole comic book outlook,” Julie blurted, waving a hand in Billy’s direction.
“I’m not a kid,” Billy said dropping his gaze after the backhanded compliment. The two women paid him no mind, but he saw the first sergeant lay a reassuring hand on the young man’s shoulder. He needed to step in before all unit cohesion was destroyed.
“This isn’t helping,” Colonel Peters started.
“Damn right it’s not helping,” Corporal Williams snapped. His eyes snapped wide as the First Sergeant cut his gaze in the man’s direction. He quickly added, “Sir.”
“My point is we need to be thinking outside the box. You’ve all been looking for this guy and you can’t find him. So, stop looking for him, and stop looking for him here,” Julie said.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” Angela exploded. “We have to look for him if we want to find him!”
Julie turned her attention to Colonel Peters, “See? Two dimensional.”
“Stop with the insults and accusations and provide direction and planning,” the Colonel said, tired of the bickering and back-biting.
“Fine. If you can’t find the man, find the man’s friends and family. Find someone else who is distinguishing. Nobody lives on an island,” Julie said. As she sat back in her chair and dropped her eyes she added, “No matter how hard they try.”
The room sat in silence. Even Colonel Peters had to mull that idea over for a minute. They’d been so caught up in the ease with which the Guardians could find anyone whose face they had an image of that it didn’t occur to anyone to look for a different face.
“The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain,” First Sergeant Wilcox said.
“What?” Marcus asked.
“All this tech has made us soft. What we need here is some good ole fashioned gumshoe detective work,” the first sergeant responded.
“I want a dossier on Robert Dante’s family and friends so detailed you can tell me the name of his first girlfriend’s stuffed animals,” Peters said, pointing to Sergeant Sanchez.
“Already on it, sir,” she said.
“We’re going after all these people and visit each one. Evaluate the environment for any sign that Dante’s either been there or is going to be there,” Peters added. “We’re going to run recon ops around the clock until we find this guy.”
Everyone rose to get working on their portion of the tasks assigned, but Colonel Peters caught sight of Billy still sitting, deep in thought. “You don’t have something to do, Cherry?”
“Well, um, sir,” Billy started, then stopped as all eyes turned toward him.
“Spit it out son, we’ve all got a lot of work to do and so do you. You’re first up in the slot as soon as we have a target identified,” Peters added, more than a little irritated at the delay now that they had a plan and a purpose.
“Um,” he started again.
“Come on kid, we haven’t got all day,” Julie added. Colonel Peters held up a calming hand and Julie held her tongue from further comment. Billy sat up straight in his chair and mustered up his courage to continue.
“Captain Payne said we were looking in the wrong world, sir. If he didn’t leave the strip club and go somewhere in this world, maybe we could go back to the strip club and see if we can figure out what other world he did go to.” Billy suggested.
Colonel Peters and Julie locked gazes for a second. She cocked her head asking a silent question. He thought for a second and then nodded his agreement. “Suit up team. We’re going back to the strip club while Tinker’s team gathers data on known associates.”
“Comic book logic pays off, I guess,” First Sergeant Wilcox said, beaming a broad smile down at Billy as everyone in the room quickly moved off to be about their tasks.
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.