“Colonel, before you say anything, First Sergeant Hargrave didn’t have anything to do with it. He just let me use his store room.” Billy wasn’t really trying to deflect the lecture he knew was coming. He was just trying to make sure none of the colonel’s anger ended up directed at someone who’d helped him, and Gideon Hargrave had certainly helped him.
“Don’t, kid, just don’t. We’ve known Cookie a long time. We know he’s a good man, son,” First Sergeant Wilcox said, laying a comforting hand on Billy’s shoulder before he closed the door and took the seat next to him. “This ain’t about him. This is about you and what you done.”
“Or failed to do,” the Colonel said, seating himself behind his desk. “Where are you Billy?”
Billy’s mind went blank for a moment. He wasn’t sure exactly what answer Colonel Peters was looking for or how he should answer it. He could say in his office, but that was probably too sarcastic and he’d just get him more angry, he just wasn’t sure what he point he was trying to make. “I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do. Where are we, what is this place?” the colonel added to his question.
“A super-secret Army base?” Billy asked, really trying to answer the question.
“A super-secret Army base. Yes, precisely. Who is on an Army base, Billy?” he asked.
“Umm, Army guys, uh, soldiers?” he guessed.
“Yes, soldiers. What do soldiers do?”
“March around and clean stuff, I guess?”
“Why do they march around and clean stuff?”
“Because somebody told them to.” He knew where this was going now.
“Because someone told them to do it. What does the Army call it when someone in the Army tells someone else in the Army what to do?”
“Right. Orders.” The colonel paused keeping his eyes locked on him. Billy wanted to disappear, to shrink away to nothing or jump to another place like he could in the ether by just thinking about it, but he knew the only way to get out of that room was to sit through the lecture and endure it. “Why do you think the Army uses orders instead of requests?”
He hung his head. He didn’t know where this was going anymore. “I don’t know.”
“That is clear. Yes, you don’t know or you wouldn’t have disobeyed my order to assemble in the Pit for an operation. The Army obeys orders because commanders need to know that when they order their soldiers into battle they all go. If all the soldiers don’t execute the orders they’ve been given the commander can’t be sure his plan to defeat the enemy will work,” the colonel said, starting to allow some emotion to enter into his voice.
“But you didn’t have a plan. We weren’t going into a battle. We were just looking for Robert Dante,” Billy argued, thinking he saw a hole in Colonel Peters’ logic. Then it occurred to Billy that maybe the colonel did have a plan he just hadn’t told everyone. His voice fell off a little as he tried to cover his own lapse in logic, “At least you didn’t tell us you had a plan.”
“The commander doesn’t always tell his troops the entire plan. They don’t need to know all the details, just the ones that affect or might affect their mission,” the colonel said. Billy thought it might be good if everyone knew the plan from the start but he decided not to say anything.
“Yes, sir,” was all he said. The colonel paused for a bit. Maybe they were done? Maybe he could leave now? He looked up to see if he could go, but the colonel still stared at him intently. He looked at First Sergeant Wilcox who seemed intent on cleaning his nails at the moment. Finally, the colonel broke his stare and began to straighten his already straightened desk.
“If you were a soldier of mine, I’d take a rank from you and some of your pay. As it is, you’re a civilian contractor and I can’t do any of that,” he was thankful for that. He’d signed some sort of contract with his parents when the Army had brought him here that mentioned being paid, but he hadn’t paid any attention to it. He’d just wanted to get out of that house and away from those people anyway he could. Right now he wasn’t so sure that wasn’t a better place.
“As it is, I’m just going to restrict you to your room. You are not to leave the barracks area without First Sergeant Wilcox except for chow. If you aren’t in your barracks at any point when I look for you or don’t come when you’re ordered to report I’ll revoke your contract and have you put in prison for endangering national security,” the colonel said in a matter of fact tone as though he were ordering a hamburger off a menu at a fast food restaurant. “Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Billy said.
“Good. You can explain to First Sergeant Wilcox how you got into the Ether without a shroud or the use of any of this billion dollar equipment that is currently running through used game consoles and antiquated laptops,” the colonel added. He looked like he was about to add something else when a knock came at the door, and it opened. Sergeant Sanchez poked her head in and coughed as she looked at the grim faces looking back at her.
“Sorry sir, but you asked me to report to you as soon as we had a guardian in the Ether. Icarus reports she can’t find Dante, and all my instrumentation seems to indicate his signature doesn’t exist anymore, like it did before.
“He’s dead again?” the colonel said.
“Yes, sir. It appears as though he’s dead,” the sergeant said. “Again.”
“He’s not dead,” First Sergeant Wilcox added. “No way.”
“No, he’s not. Thank you Sergeant. Keep a guardian in the Ether at all times. We’ll have them on two hour rotations until we find this scumbag,” the colonel ordered. The sergeant saluted and beat a hasty retreat through the door. He leveled a finger at Billy and said, “That means you too, Billy Ransom.”
Billy stood up deciding to try and beat a hasty retreat as well. “Yes sir,” he said and moved to the door. First Sergeant Wilcox stood as well.
“A moment please First Sergeant,” Colonel Peters said as they both looked at Billy. First Sergeant Wilcox remained standing but stopped heading to the door. Billy took that opportunity and made good his exit.
In the corridor outside the colonel’s office he didn’t need to hear the beginnings of the conversation to know it was about him. He hoped the first sergeant wasn’t getting in any trouble over him, and he hoped Gideon wasn’t in any trouble either. He wondered if he’d be able to speak to Hugh or Planche but he doubted it as they were in cells the last time. He had so many questions and it seemed like everything was working against him getting any answers. He wondered if he’d be able to enter into the Ether from his room in the barracks. He could at least try. The thought gave him a little hope and joy, which spurred his steps in that direction.
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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