“Explain,” Colonel Peters snapped at the speaker phone.
“No way that snot-nosed boot is stronger than me,” Julie Payne said, chuckling and rocking back in her chair.
“Shut up, Payne,” Peters barked without looking at the captain. He had had enough of her attitude. Maybe a public wrist slap would do the trick. “Continue, Tinker.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate Guardian Eight, Icarus. Yeah, his signal is dirty and convoluted, but it is more powerful by an order of magnitude. If he ever gets ahold of how to structure his thoughts, he has the potential to be stronger than even Guardian Two,” Sergeant Sanchez, call sign Tinker, said.
“Stronger than Scott?” Angela whispered.
“First Shirt, you find that boy and you take hold of him like he was your very own,” Peters said.
“Precious cargo, roger that sir,” First Sergeant Wilcox acknowledged, standing and exiting the room with a purposeful stride.
“When we find him, no one visits that kid unless I authorize it,” Peters said. “Go back a second Tinker. You described Cherry’s signal as dirty. Can you expand on that?”
“Not really. I mean, sir, when I compare his stream when he pushed the target and Icarus’ data stream when she touched the floor, I can see packets of information that are similar. Both data streams have these nonsensical bits that break up some of the packets, interrupt their connections, and so on. Cherry just has more of them. They’re bigger and more complex,” Sergeant Sanchez’ voice responded from the speaker.
“So, what do those intrusive data packets represent?”
“I don’t know, sir, I mean I’m not actually in his head hearing his thoughts.”
“I know you can’t read his mind, Sergeant. That’s not what I’m asking. If the more organized data is the desired activity of pushing or touching something, what do the other data packets represent?”
“Well, any other thought, I guess. Anything that intrudes into the focused activity.” Julie Payne sat up in her chair.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Sergeant. I’m completely focused when I’m inside,” she insisted. “It’s what the shroud was designed to do.”
“Yeah, but it’s a crutch,” Sergeant Sanchez said. “You still have a fully physical body that is conscious and awake back here in the real world. You still get itches, you cough, you’re breathing, etc. All the autonomic functions of your body still send input to your brain. Sometimes that input interrupts what you’re trying to do is all.”
“So I’d have to be dead to be fully inside the ether?” Julie asked. “I’d be all-powerful then?”
“I don’t know about all-powerful, but you’d certainly divest yourself of a large portion of the interference that holds the Guardians back, yeah.”
“Maybe I should just go kill myself while wearing a shroud and whack this guy Dante in the ether then,” Julie said, chuckling softly and then stifling the laugh before stealing a quick glance in the colonel’s direction.
“I don’t think you’d get all the power right off. I think there’d be some amount of time for a learning curve while your psyche adjusted to the new existence,” Sanchez said, taking the joke as a serious suggestion.
“You mean there really is life after death in the ether?” Daedalus asked from his position behind Julie.
“There’s always been life after death, Staff Sergeant,” Angela whispered across the table. “For those who believe.”
“Oh please, save us from the evangelicals,” Julie said, waving a dismissing hand and refusing to even look at Angela.
“Enough,” Peters said. “This isn’t a religious debate. You two get to the Pit and get ready for the op. Tinker will have your target on your screen by the time you get there. The rest of you turn to and let’s get this guy.”
The conference room emptied as though Colonel Peters had the plague. That was fine with him. If having the commander in a foul mood was what it took to get these people motivated to do their jobs, he was willing to be pissed off for the next month if necessary. He owed Senator Radcliff a progress report, and beyond failing at nearly everything they tried, he didn’t have much good news. Perhaps he could delay his report until Angela had a chance to try her healing thing on Brandt. Having Guardian One back on line would at least be a bright point in an otherwise dismal report.
The sound of the conference room speaker phone hanging up broke him from his reverie. Peters stood and headed for the door. He turned in the hall and headed for his office. He didn’t want to actually send his report to the senator yet, but he could at least begin drafting it. The report didn’t actually have to be sent until the close of business tomorrow, which gave him a little time. Maybe Angela and Julie could find something, but at least with them out there looking he could report with hope on a new tact for finding Dante.
A soft chuckle escaped his lips as he recalled Julie’s explanation of where she thought Robert Dante went. He cut the chuckle off as the image of her wounded hand sprang, fresh, to his mind. Images of the lemurs he’d seen on Angela’s and Billy’s screens from Private Harrow came to mind also. Suddenly the idea that Dante was hiding in Hell wasn’t as farfetched as he’d initially thought. But didn’t you have to be dead to go to Hell? Could you get to Hell in the ether? Was the technology of the shroud that allowed a Guardian to travel around the planet capable of such travel if Hell really existed? Did it exist deep inside the planet as stories had portrayed for so long? Would a Guardian become all-powerful if they died while wearing the shroud in the ether?
Colonel Peters reached his office door and shook his head slightly, rubbing his temples with one hand while opening the door with the other. He’d never really thought that deeply about Hell, or Heaven for that matter. Thoughts of what happened to a person who died while in the ether brought him back to Scott’s last mission. He’d died while in the ether wearing the shroud. Everyone agreed it had been a release from a struggle for the man and that he’d gone on to a better place, but now he began to wonder if Scott really had gone on to anywhere. Was he still out there in the ether, haunting some fixed place, maybe even this base? What was Hell anyway, or Heaven for that matter?
The final question stopped his hands as he started to log into his workstation. He sat back in his chair and stared blankly into space for the span of several seconds. His right hand drifted toward the top drawer of his desk, on the right hand side, almost of its own volition. He wasn’t sure why he was opening the drawer until he saw the cover of the black book sitting there where he’d left it from his reading earlier. He pulled it out and began reading where his fingers lead him, seeking solace and answers to the myriad questions that plagued his mind.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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