A Calculated Response: Chapter 9

Chapter 9:

Conversations, Flashbacks, and Subtext

The newly minted Brigadier General A.W. Wright, Tony to his friends and Steadfast to those he climbed the ranks of Force Ops with, looked out from the reviewing stand at the first platoon of his new command. His Command Sergeant Major had just had the trainee leaders announce themselves and something… unexpected had happened.

Irv?’ he sent the thought out to his adjutant.

Yes sir?’ his thought was returned.

Can you explain that?

Yes sir, one of your recruits just went Bug Fuck Crazy’.

Most people would say you couldn’t glare at someone telepathically but over the years Tony had found he could somehow manage it.

Sorry sir’, came the curt apology from Irv.

Having the call sign Brief means you are supposed to inform me not give me short answers’.

Yes sir! Of course, sir! The recruit in question is Heather Fines, call sign Untouchable. She’s a powered with Manhattan level telekinesis dedicated to self-protection as well as minimal telepathy which apparently helps to guide her telekinesis’.

Manhattan class teke? How?’ Tony wished yet again they had given him more time to prepare for this command. At least he got to take Irv with him and got him a promotion of his own. It really wouldn’t befit a general to have a Captain as his adjutant.

Her range on the telekinesis has been mapped at a minimum of one point three miles at which point it was still strong enough to shatter concrete. At close range it can deform X-20 alloys’.

We can discuss the impossibilities you just quoted me but for now… What the hell is she doing in this unit?’ he shouted mentally. ‘Doctrine on powereds in Force Ops is, If and when their powers do not constitute a direct threat to those around them and can be adapted or controlled through training, psychological counseling, physical or technological means only’, he quoted it from memory, hell he helped draft the rules after Operation Praying Mantis. He stared directly at the fallen woman where D.C., two of his corporals and three of the recruits were now gathered around her.

According to her file, the telekinesis seems to have an upper limit of damage to human life. No one has been killed or seriously injured by her despite an incredible amount of area wide damage to structures and roadways. The speculation is that’s part of the interaction with her telepathy’.

Be that as it may, I want her out of the unit now’, Tony’s frustration echoed to his adjutant who knew he was only going to make things worse.

We can’t do that sir’, Irv sent back with equal frustration. ‘This platoon can’t be altered, that was part of other set of orders. You remember, the ones I don’t know about’.

Accelerate us Irv’.

Irv glanced back at the scene unfolding in the second row of the training platoon. ‘How fast?’ he asked.

Tony was a bit surprised he bothered, he knew what his answer was going to be. ‘Give us the maximum Irv, the maximum’.

Irv’s concentration became palpable to Tony, telepathically linked as they were. Then the truly unique part of his power came into play. Their thought processes were accelerated until everyone around them could barely be seen as moving. It had several advantages, it would let them discuss the situation and make plans before it was even complete. More importantly, it would keep their conversation hidden from other telepaths. At least he never heard of a telepath who could read minds going over a hundred times as fast as normal.

Alright Irv’, Tony started finally feeling safe to talk, so to speak, with his adjutant. ‘What have you learned from them?’ Tony instinctively tried to turn his head to look at the other members of his “staff” who shared the reviewing stand with them. His head didn’t actually move since he was thinking much faster than his body could react.

Not much’, unease leaking through the telepathic communication, ‘most of your staff are among the most telepathically shielded people I’ve ever come across. And that includes other telepaths and spies I dealt with during my cold war activities’.

Well, then let’s take them one by one’, he replied. The inability of Irv to read them didn’t surprise him but heightened his concerns. He took a huge risk with his career to even get Irv here with him, there were attempts to block his transfer all the way up to General Glenn’s office. He was lucky to have him and couldn’t imagine taking this command without him. Doubly so given the last minute transfer, the lack of his own staff, and having no chance to even meet his people formally before the recruits arrived. At least Irv had a few days here to poke around, he was the best ICE officer he had ever met, and it was clear someone didn’t want an ICE officer here with him. ‘Focus on the staff and NCOs attached to the First Platoon only. If you covered my entire command I don’t care how fast you keep us, someone will notice’.

Before I get into individuals, let me give you a few generalities.

Go on, the floor is yours Irv’.

All of the NCOs have been attached to the training brigade here at Camp Starlight for years. Despite that, your Command Sergeant Major, D.C. Wellington has telepathic shields just as intense as your officers’.

Interesting, Daryl has been in charge of the overall training of Force Ops recruits for the last five years. He’s one of the best drill sergeants they’ve ever had. His predecessor, Torpedo, who trained me, has nothing but good to say about him and the members of my old command who trained under him have nothing but respect for him’.

I remember Torpedo’, Irv added, ‘he trained me too, no one impressed him’.

Well Daryl did, enough that he recommended him as his replacement and enough that he told me he should be trusted without hesitancy’.

Well the details of his career are fairly straight forward. He joined Force Ops at the age of eighteen, top of his training brigade, advanced training in Infantry, active service in the Middle East for five years, two years here as Torpedo’s right hand man, then promoted to CSM on Torpedo’s retirement five years ago. There are no red flags in his file’.

Nothing unusual about any of the NCOs under him? These shields couldn’t have an innocent explanation?

Tony could feel the disbelief in Irv’s thoughts. It was the psychic equivalent of staring down your nose at someone and saying “really?”

OK I suppose not’, Tony shot back, ‘but what about the other NCOs?

You have six training NCOs and five support NCOs’. This part was familiar enough to Tony from the briefs. Most of them were more recent then when Tony came through Camp Starlight, some of the support staff was around back then. He listened carefully to see if there was anything Irv picked up on that he hadn’t.

The training staff are Sergeant Merry Poshen, Mucus; Corporal Johnathan Lee, Battalion; Corporal Terry Fletcher, Photon; Corporal Everett Dunn, Boss; Corporal Colin Osborne, Shove; and Corporal Krista Lambert, Custody’.

That was Shove who was dealing with the rowdy recruit just before right?

Yes sir, he frequently deals with the difficult cases on the first day. D.C. doesn’t want to deal with them himself initially unless he has to. He likes to set all his people up as superior to the recruits’.

Tell me about the Sergeant’.

Merry Poshen, Mucus, attached to Medical division as a trained counselor. No degree, just practical training, so didn’t receive a commission automatically. She’s powered, utilizes technological compensation, and serves as the counselor for the recruits, powered and supers alike’.

What about the support personnel?’ he asked shifting gears without getting more detail about the training cadre.

Master Sergeant Shaun Marshal is the groundskeeper, he goes by the call sign Thumb. He can modify and enhance any natural environment, that includes rapid plant growth, temperature regulation, etcetera. In addition to being responsible for the lovely grounds in the middle of the Nevada desert, he is used to shape any number of the training grounds for the recruits’.


He has two assistants, Corporal Dan Woods, Environ, and First Sergeant Simon Lawrence, Mason. The three of them basically create all the non-technological physical challenges and obstacles the recruits will deal with’.

The other two support staff?’ Tony didn’t mean to be short with Irv, the whole situation had him a bit on edge and he needed more information to deal with it.

Master Sergeant Tina Delgado, Mindscape, and Master Sergeant Woodrow Christensen, Handyman’. Tony made no comment and Irv continued. ‘She is a high end illusionist, all senses, she can even simulate exotic sensations like zero-gravity. He creates focused temporal inversions’.

Please tell me I don’t have a time twister in my command’.

Not as such sir. He doesn’t travel time or cause others to. What he can do is rewind objects to an earlier temporal state, effectively repairing damaged items. It has no effect on people or other items which interacted with the item he rewinds. If a car smashed into a person and he fixed the car, the person would still be smashed. Same thing for any inanimate items the car may have smashed. His field is localized and contained. And it doesn’t work on living things. That hypothetical smashed person, he couldn’t do a thing about them’.

Fine then, I can see where such an ability would come in handy in a training camp. What sort of limits does he have?

Can’t do anything much past an hour and that isn’t easy for him, almost killed himself once during a mission repairing a downed helicopter so they could get out. The larger and more complex the item he’s repairing the harder it is as well. Micro-circuitry, he may have less than a minute, same for a building’.

Tony tried to nod, again the action never happened but the impression was clearly sent. ‘What training do they have?

Most of them are ETS. Mindscape tried training in ICE but couldn’t cut it. She transfered to Infantry and trained there. Environ is actually trained in the Armor division’, Irving paused, Tony waited. He knew that Irv was waiting because he was commander of the Fourth Armored Regiment before accepting this command. When Tony made no comment Irv continued. ‘His abilities convey manipulation of his surrounding but in a much more offensive way than normally seen. In addition they convey enhanced protection and survival making him suited for Armor division’.

Tony’s gaze was still locked on the fallen recruit, Untouchable she called herself he recalled. ‘Fitting name for her’, he thought to himself.

Yes it is’, Irv replied. Tony had forgotten that Irv heard everything he thought through the link, not just what he wanted to send. She was still down, the others were still in the act of bending over to check on her. They still had plenty of time with this distraction he decided. ‘Tell me about my officers’, Tony sent to Irv, this time intentionally.

It’s an interesting lot you have’, he thought across the link, ‘I assume the same orders hold true for your staff as for the recruits? No removing any of them?

Am I going to want to?

No…’ Irv replied slowly, especially considering their rate of thought, ‘no one stands out as someone you will want to remove but there are some unusual officers in your staff’.

You could say that about most officers in Force Ops’.

True… but tell me what you think when we are done reviewing them’.

Of course’.

We’ll go by rank order. You have two Lieutenant Colonels on your staff, both are ETS. You hit the mother lode because between these two they hold more patents than pretty much every other tech brilliance super in Force Ops, DARPA, and DOD’.


Well here is where the weird starts. Lieutenant Colonel Jesse Bonner, fifteen years in grade, specializes in adaptive technology including technological methods to overcome the limitations of powereds. Stationed at the HAARP research station for the last ten years, moved down when it began to be scheduled for closure’.

HAARP? That doesn’t make much sense, that’s a communications and surveillance research project, it’s not a general research facility and it’s not a place you would work on adaptive technology. It’s too far removed from the rest of the world’.

Right, almost like they wanted somewhere remote that not too many people could confirm whether or not you actually worked there’.

Are you saying it’s fake?’ Tony asked conveying disbelief in an outright lie being documented in the files.

Not so you could prove it. His clearances are all most secret. His work designated independent. But it’s not a large base and it goes out of its way to be open and transparent because of all the conspiracy theories surrounding it. You would think one of them would have managed to figure out the truth about the place’.

You’re off topic’.

Sorry sir. I spoke to two people who have been stationed there and neither ever saw anyone who fit his description’.


I don’t know but he not only has incredibly good telepathic shields, trying to listen to him gives me a headache, like being in a room with a white noise generator, it grates on the nerves. He’s the real deal when it comes to tech, probably the single best tech brilliance super at adapting powereds using tech. He’s working with several of the new recruits including Untouchable. He designed and redesigned the limiters being used on the Manhattan level pyrokinetic in the fifth row, Pyroclast. He dealt with those two as potentially dangerous without adaptation before they were called up for training. He has submitted a detailed plan of approach for several other powereds as well as supers with unique limitations on their powers that he feels that he can improve with adaptive technology. His call sign is Workaround, I’m sure you can see why’.

Get me the summaries Irv, later... I can’t stand techno-babble’.

Of course sir. Your second Lieutenant Colonel is Adam Hill, Queue’.

There was a distinct pause in the telepathic conversation while Tony decided how to phrase his next question. ‘Did a tech brilliance supply officer really name himself after a James Bond character?’ he finally asked straight out.

The mental sighs were getting all too common in this conversation. ‘Yes and no sir. He is formally listed as Queue, the word, not Q the letter. In the stories Q stands for Quartermaster. Colonel Hill has stated formally his call sign is Queue as in line up and get your new toys. The parallels are quite obvious however. He specializes in miniaturized and concealed technology which makes the James Bond parallel even more obvious’.

Wonderful, he’s a hair splitter and a latrine lawyer no doubt. I assume from your earlier comments he’s worth it?

Yes sir, he has designed many of the currently implemented concealed weapons systems in use as well as made significant improvements in standard weapons and armor. He and Workaround have a whole new series of prototypes they designed for this platoon. You will have the most advanced and technologically equipped group in all of Force Ops when their training is complete sir and we move on to the second half of the orders which I know nothing about’.

Mmmm’, came an indistinct murmur that conveyed agreement with an undertone of frustration.

Make it march’, the general ordered, he could see some changes in the figures around the woman, Untouchable, they needed to bring this to a close and then deal with that in real time.

His shielding is also high level but not as good as the others. It’s as if he is much less practiced at the techniques which grant the shielding. He is however very good at running complex calculations through his head constantly. If not for my abilities to speed up the connection I wouldn’t have gotten anything. As it is I got very little, but I could recover the image of a face he thinks of as highly important in whatever is going on. We’ll come to that in a little while’.

Major Olivia Townsend, Knightingale’, he continued with the next officer. Originally assigned as your adjutant before you became unreasonable and insisted on bringing me along. She’s now reassigned to plans and strategy.  Joined just over three years ago, directly recruited for officer training. She was Dean of Korman HCP for seven years prior to signing up. Left due to disagreements on the overall rules HCP operates under with respect to advancement and graduates. Before that she was close combat instructor for six years and had been an active hero under the name Knightingale for ten years prior. Her powers are age irrelevant. Specialized training in the Armor division. She was a travelling Force Ops recruiter until being posted here just prior to your posting. This is all confirmed. However she also has high end telepathic shielding leading me to suspect she is part of this group’.

She is HCP trained and was a hero for a long time. Wouldn’t you expect her to have such shields?

General, you don’t understand. I know the typical shields heroes have. I even know the exceptional shields a very few manage to develop. What this group has is so far beyond that as to make those shields seem almost non-existent. I don’t have issues getting through the typical shield. None of them are used to dealing with a telepath that works a hundred times faster than any other. But these shields stop me cold. All except Hill’s and, like I said, they seem less practiced. Maybe he’s so used to his normal defenses that he didn’t take the time. Maybe he was distracted, when you formally meet him you will understand just how possible that is’.

Tony had been having these sorts of conversations with Irv for a long time. There was something he wasn’t telling him. Something he wasn’t sure of…

Irv what are you holding back? You know that never works, I can always sense the hesitancy’.

OK Tony’, Irv added using his name, not his rank or sir. That told him this was just between them and very off the record. ‘Here’s the thing. These aren’t even just high power versions of your typical shields. If anything, I would call them stealth shields. The typical telepath even an HCP trained telepath would probably miss them completely and just think they didn’t get anything from the target. My speed changes make them stand out to me but it still doesn’t mean I can get through them. I’m almost afraid to see what’s on the other side of them’.

‘Tony, having shields that good begs the question, why are they needed? Most telepaths can’t get much from a casual scan and typical hero level shields and training is enough to deal with that. These shields would take a concerted effort and deep scanning for pretty much anyone to break. So again, why do they need them?

You don’t ask easy questions do you Irv? Go on, let’s get through the rest’.

Major Cynthia Alexander, call sign Jigsaw, doesn’t tell us much about her and I can’t tell you much more because her powers are… classified’.

What? First, that’s against the doctrine for Force Ops, knowing what your team can do is necessary for preparedness. Second, how can they be classified from me, I’m her commanding officer?

That’s an excellent question. I wish I had an excellent answer to go with it. It does tell us one thing; she’s intelligence, and not communications or electronic warfare. There wouldn’t be a need to classify those’.

OK so likely not a telepath, or if she is she’s memory or dream based, one of the exotics, not strictly communication’.

I get no indication that she’s a telepath, but with this crew I have no idea if I ever would. One more thing, most of her record of service is redacted and confidential but what little there is reads about as believably as Workaround being at HAARP for the last decade. I don’t know anything about who she really is or what she’s really done’.

Right, there is always more mystery than history’.

Lastly, Captain Caleb Martins, he’s your operations officer’.

Anything unusual about him?

Yes, but not quite in the same way. He has the same shields, though if he were the only one I wouldn’t have found it unusual at all. He is an activated reservist brought in due to his prior experience which is felt to be helpful in the current climate and situation. This guy is a legend, he went through Basic and AIT in Training Brigade Alpha’.

That’s impossible, that would make him at least sixty, he doesn’t look a day over thirty, thirty five at most’.

He’s eighty one, he was born in 1933, part of his power is he ages slowly. I think if he hadn’t had such a well-known record he might have had the same sort of dossier as Workaround and Jigsaw. His call sign is Bodyguard, and this is his second time in the Army. He originally joined at the age of seventeen during the Korean War where he served with distinction winning several medals for valor and reaching the rank of sergeant. Somewhere during that time he met Captain Starlight, who was serving as an aviator.’

‘In 1957 when Captain Starlight first approached the government about supers he was one of the original group that Starlight brought forward as examples of supers. His primary career was in the Secret Service. He was one of Kennedy’s bodyguards in Dallas. There are all sorts of rumors and conspiracy theories regarding his involvement there’.

I’m sure’.

He continued on in the Secret Service and was active under Johnson and Nixon. Since he was active long before there was a Force Ops, when Nixon officially started it he trained in Force Ops as all governmental supers are required to do. In fact if he were in the Army at the time rather than the Secret Service he probably would have been one of the trainers in Alpha Brigade’.

‘Jesus’, exclaimed Tony.

After that he was involved in a number of redacted projects and finished his career in the DVA. He was retired at sixty five failing an appeal that age wasn’t the same for him as compared to others. For the last sixteen years he has been a private contractor and consultant on super affairs and security’.

Anything else?

Not about him but there are a few civilian specialists that bear mentioning’.

So mention them Irv’.

The first is Dr. Andreas Nichols, he’s head of the MCP and he has been called in to consult on and help recruit healers. I wouldn’t even mention him except he has the same shields’.

Are you sure something else isn’t happening, that something external is causing the shielding effect? Why should one of the best known physicians and healers in the country have shields like that?

Why indeed? I can’t answer that’.

Who else?

Two more. The first is a guy who seems to come in and out, I don’t know what to make of him. He doesn’t have shields and my scans haven’t detected anything out of the ordinary but he often meets with some of those with shields. As well as meeting with various others, to be honest, if he hadn’t been meeting with them I wouldn’t have even noticed him. Like I said I don’t know what to make of him. His name is Special Agent J. Alec Godwyn, and I probably wouldn’t even mention him except I’ve seen him with the last civilian specialist I have concerns over’.

And that is?

His name is Harold Brooks, Agent Brooks to be more precise, though I’m not sure of what agency. He meets frequently with Majors Townsend and Alexander, and occasionally with the others including both Dr. Nichols and Mr. Godwyn. The really odd thing is he doesn’t seem to take any precautions to not be seen. It’s like he doesn’t care if we notice him. He does have shields but I’ve barely been able to even try and scan him. I keep getting interrupted every time I’m about to.’

That’s odd’.

Oh let’s not forget about the last thing. His is the face Colonel Hill thinks is important’.

Put it all together for me Irv. What do you see?

Not to be a conspiracy nut but… there is a conspiracy here. Someone is manipulating things behind the scenes’.


Again I don’t have an answer for that but I do have another question’.


Why have all the officers, the lead trainer, and some of the civilian consultants all part of the conspiracy and then put you in command? It makes no sense. If whoever is doing this put one of them in charge, less fuss, no worries about being discovered, everything is contained. Now they need to deal with you’.

Maybe they didn’t have the pull to get one of their people in command’.

Sir, they got multiple officers appointed, several of which don’t seem to actually be Force Ops. They gave them records that will hold up to the highest level of scrutiny. This training brigade has been handpicked by someone they weren’t assembled randomly or by enlistment date, location, power types, anything. They were chosen. Do you think someone who could do all that couldn’t get one of their own appointed as commander here?

Irv, before we go on, is there any possibility that this conversation is either detected or worse, understood?

A wave of introspection came across from Irv, ‘Normally I would say none at all, now I will say I doubt it. But you need to remember my powers are common knowledge in Force Ops, and while the sheer ability I have developed with the enhanced speed over the years may not be so commonly known, we have two of the finest tech brilliance supers and a completely unknown ICE officer who might be trying to see what they can see’.

That’s a chance we’ll have to take. Brace yourself for a data dump…


Irv found himself standing in a waiting room. There was a regulation desk sitting outside a door, a picture of the President was on the wall behind it with a US flag on its left and the flag of the United States Army on the right with the blue War Office Seal set on a field of white. At the desk sat a young woman in the black uniform of Force Ops, her brown hair set in a tight regulation bun. Her rank insignia indicated she was a captain. Everything about this office screamed minimalist efficiency, from the obviously uncomfortable seats to the locations of items on the secretary’s desk.

The door had an engraved name plate next to it which read Major General Joshua Glenn. I guess a two star general rates a captain as his receptionist’, he thought.

Suddenly, Tony was standing next to him waiting for him to speak.

“Fuck… Tony you know how much I hate getting dumped directly into a memory like this.”

“Yeah I do,” he chuckled, “and you know how much I love doing it to you. And be glad no one can hear such insubordinate talk from you.”

“Yeah I’ve learned that much over the years,” Irv answered, completely ignoring the crack about being insubordinate. “I still don’t know how you manage it, no one else can send me directly into one. For anyone else I have to initiate it.”

“I’ve told you time and time again it’s a manifestation of my powers. Everyone thinks I’m a strongman, I’m not. I move through obstacles and it’s not a strength thing… well not exactly... it’s a matter of strength of will. It’s no different from when I walk through a wall, it’s just a wall in your mind.”

“Well walking through that wall hurts like a mother…” his thought was interrupted as the outer office door opened and let in Tony.

He looked at him closely, this one was wearing a black dress uniform with the bird insignia of a full colonel on the shoulder straps. Numerous ribbons and medals decorated the left breast, and the insignia of Force Ops, an American bald eagle clasping lightning bolts decorating each lapel.

“You did this just so you can see just how ugly you are, right Tony?”

“Shut up and pay attention Irv. Joke all you want later but I brought you here to notice anything I didn’t.”

The other Tony approached the desk where the Captain sat. “Colonel Wright to see General Glenn!” he said smartly.

“He’ll be right with you Colonel Wright. As you can imagine, it’s been busy around here. Please have a seat and I’ll call you as soon as he’s ready.”

The scene froze with Tony’s doppelganger half turned toward the chairs that lined the wall.

“What do you see Irv?”

Irv looked around the room, nothing special, a typical military waiting room. Clean, functional, none of the magazines or random paintings or photographs you would find adorning a civilian waiting room. He looked at Tony’s doppelganger, nothing worthwhile there either, it was Tony and the image was filled in by his own perceptions of himself, it didn’t reflect memory so much as self-image. Then his gaze fell on the secretary and her desk. ‘Pretty’, he thought ‘in a rather severe sort of way, Tony’s type of woman. Probably reflects his memory of her more than reality. But there’s something with potential’, he realized as he looked at what she was doing.

His gaze fell on the appointment book open on the desk, a pencil in her hands in the midst of marking something. Given the issues with electronic security, especially in a world where a person could mentally interface with computers, many had gone to keeping simple records on paper. He looked down at the book, the pages were blurred and fuzzy. Tony hadn’t paid much attention to it even though the pages would have been visible to him. ‘Probably distracted by the pretty girl’, her face was sharp and defined, a marked contrast to the memory of the book.

Oh well, I owe Tony a bit of a headache’. Irv concentrated and the pages of the book came into sharp focus. Tony’s avatar here in the realm of memory grabbed his forehead as if suddenly pained.

“Did you have to do that Irv?”

“If you wanted me to read the book I did. I had to sharpen your memory, sharp things hurt.”

“Couldn’t you have warned me? Or done it more gradually?”

“Couldn’t you have asked me to enter your memories instead of dragging me here?” he replied chuckling.

“Point taken,” he said as he and Irv both maneuvered around the desk to look closely at the book.

8:00 AM – Sens. J.R., A.T. & I.W. √ √

9:00 AM – Col. J.C.P. √ √

10:00 AM – Staff Meeting √ √

11:00 AM – Col. A.W.W. √

12:00 PM – Lunch Meeting, H.B.

The appointments later in the day were blocked from view by the Captain’s arm.

“Good eyes Tony, you caught enough of a look for me to get the whole thing.”

“Yeah, and it’s a very interesting list of visitors, I’m the most innocuous one there.”

“Who’s Col. J.C.P., I don’t know them?”

“It almost has to be J.C. Pruitt, otherwise known as Plexus. He’s my predecessor as commander of Camp Starlight and the Training Brigade.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, why didn’t they just keep him running the place? He’s done a fine job up till now and, let’s be honest Tony, you’re much more of a fighter than a teacher.”

“Be patient Grasshopper, all will be revealed… sort of. I wish we can turn the pages or look in the desk drawers.”

“You know that’s not how this works, it’s your memories we’re looking at, not the actual office. If we walked through that door now it would be an empty area, we go only follow the memory. I can enhance images and such but it’s got to be there for me to do anything with it. Anything else would be pure imagination.”

“Yeah I know but someday we need to find you an assistant who can look back in time or something, would be a great compliment to your abilities.”

“I thought you hated time based powers?”

“I do, just thinking about them and their ramifications gives me a headache. Doesn’t mean I don’t see the potential in them. Speaking of that, how many quantum powered trainees do we have?”

“First we would both need to understand what that means.”

Tony looked over at Irv and frowned. “Just answer the question without too much exposition on self-doubt if you please.”

“Well Escher warps and folds space, no true impact on time but he definitely is in that general area of power. There’s another guy who warps space but only within very limited definitions and there’s a woman who can open small wormholes within line of sight. You have a pair of twins who appear to be quantumly entangled with each other. There’s a guy who claims to see other dimensions and pulls entities out from them. One recruit redirects gravity, another creates pocket dimensions, and one actually changes reality within very specific limits. I think that’s about all the ones you might consider quantumly powered, no one deals with time.”

“Alright, let’s move on.”

The image started moving again. Tony’s other self sat down on one of the chairs to wait, Irv didn’t feel like waiting in real time so he sped up the motion and in a few seconds the outer door opened and he returned the flow to normal.

Tony’s memory of himself stood up and turned to the door. General Glenn stood there hand on the door knob but facing away, still talking to someone in the hall. As soon as Tony’s image noticed the face is stood ramrod straight and snapped a perfect salute. The General, had paused in the doorway to finish his conversation and Tony saw him in sharp relief. Two stars on each shoulder strap, relatively new for him, Irving recalled. He was fit, about six feet tall, dark blond hair going gray, kept short to military standards if not quite high and tight. ‘How much of that gray is since Meredith Falls?’ Irv wondered. He had noticeably fewer campaign ribbons than Tony did. ‘So much of his record is redacted I’m surprised he has any at all’.

Unfortunately whatever it was the general was saying was merely a buzz in Tony’s memories and the face of the person was just a blur. “This is going to hurt again Tony.”

“At least this time I’m ready for it,” he said as he grimaced and gripped his head yet again, a small groan escaped his gritted teeth. “Yeah. Not as ready as I thought.”

“Sorry. The fainter the memory, the more it hurts. This one, well you barely caught anything even on a subconscious level.”

The face of the man the general was speaking to became clear, not a man at all but a woman. She looked familiar to Irv, she was young and very pretty, the word vibrant came to mind though somehow it was superimposed with a deep sense of tiredness. “Surprised you didn’t have a sharper image of her Tony.” She was not in uniform but had a badge indicating she was an approved visitor, even with his enhancement the badge was still a blur. “Didn’t it say he was coming from a staff meeting? What’s he doing speaking to a civilian?”

“Let’s go back a bit,” Irv said while making a rotating gesture with his pointer finger as if rewinding an old fashioned tape, “and see if we can pick up the last of the conversation.”

Tony’s doppelganger dropped the salute moved backwards to his seat again, the door closed with General Glenn withdrawing from the room and then it all started to replay again. Tony’s previous seat was right next to the door, so as soon as it cracked open, sound carried to his ears, it was so low pitched it was no wonder Tony only registered it subconsciously.

A woman’s voice came from outside the door, “I’ll finish what I’m doing and be available in about a month.”

“Good,” replied General Glenn just as quietly, “I need another set of eyes I can trust outside the command structure. I’m not so sure how much I can trust them.”

“I wish I could be there sooner. Too much to do still, too few of us strong enough to help.”

“Don’t worry about it. The recruits will be in red phase for the first three weeks anyway. You wouldn’t have much time to deal with them. Turns out your friend, Mr. Burgess, will have his work cut out for him. I need to cut this short. Expect to hear more details from me within the next twenty-four hours.”

With that the General turned into the waiting room, saw Tony standing there and returned the salute saying, “At ease Tony. Let’s go into my office and talk.”

Tony’s doppelganger followed the General into his office. It was larger than the waiting room, divided into two areas, a large wooden desk on one side and on the other a small conference table with a smart board set on the wall. The table was rectangular and had five seats with keyboards and track pads set before them.

The General sat down behind the desk and with a gesture Tony followed suit opposite him. On the desk were a small plaque and a picture frame angled so that it could be seen from both sides of the desk. The image of the plaque was blurred but the picture showed a woman, about fifty and a young man who looked about twenty. He was lanky, with long blond hair, there was a clear resemblance to the woman in the photo but also to the General.

“Your son?” Tony’s image asked the General.

“Yes,” replied Glenn, “as you can probably tell from the haircut, he didn’t follow me into the military.”

“Not uncommon to see that.”

“Oh don’t get me wrong, I am immensely proud of him. He made his choice and I supported it.”

“I’m sure he will continue to make you proud sir.”

“Hmm, yes…” he said a bit more distractedly.

After a few seconds of silence the General redirected the conversation. “Tony, how long have you been in charge of the fourth armored division?”

“Six years sir,” Tony’s image answered.

“That’s a fairly long time. And in that time how much action have you seen?”

“We’ve been deployed on seven combat assignments and backed up three others.”

“Sounds like you might be ready for a change of pace.”


“Pause it Irv,” requested the actual Tony.

The scene froze, a shocked look starting to form on Tony’s face.

“What do you think I’m thinking right here Irv?”

“Probably happy, getting a promotion, though I would guess looking at your face that it came as a complete surprise.”

“Unfortunately you would be wrong. I figured I screwed up on one of those active assignments he asked me about and I was about to be retired and put out to pasture.”

“What? Why? You’re a superb officer. You have one of the best reputations in the entire army let alone in Force Ops.”

“Yeah I always thought so, I’ve strained to be absolutely transparent and above the board my entire career. You ought to know, you’ve been my adjutant and ICE officer for the last ten years. I brought you with me from my prior assignment, and you got your oak leaf when I got my bird. I kept you for my whole command of the Fourth.”

“So why would you think you were getting canned?”

“You’re an ICE officer, not in the command line so this might be something you don’t realize. How many generals do you think there are in Force Ops?”

“Huh, I never thought about it. I could find out quickly enough but given the specialized nature of the branch, no more than five.”

“Definitely not more than five,” he agreed with an odd tone in his voice. “At the time of this conversation there was exactly one, General Glenn the branch commander.”

“Wait he’s the only general in all of Force Ops? Last I heard there were thirty thousand members of Force Ops. Yes its small compared to the entirety of the army but that number seems like it should have a few more in the upper echelons.”

“You just hit on the main issue.”

“I did?”

“Thirty thousand supers and powereds, those sorts of numbers make politicians nervous.”

“Well sure I suppose, but they’re Force Ops, they are serving their country.”

“Yes and there is relatively little open prejudice against supers though there is a fair amount against powereds, even among supers. Maybe especially among supers. But there is a great deal of subtle controls exerted on them. The laws governing heroes for example make a great deal of sense most of the time but they are very limiting. You would be hard pressed to find many examples of openly super politicians, I can’t think of any who are powered.”

“OK but…”

“And within Force Ops,” Tony continued not letting Irv interrupt with his question, “there are no generals with powers either super or powered.”

“Wait so General Glenn…”

“It’s a fairly open secret among the command officers. We all know Colonel is the best we can hope for.”

“So you…”

“Why don’t you hit play again Irv?”

Irv nodded, unsure what to say. With a small mental push the scene began to play out toward its conclusion again.

Tony’s image was obviously starting to react when Glenn held his hand toward him palm first and said “Hold on a moment Tony, don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not talking about retiring you, quite the opposite.”


“There’s a change coming. A fairly major change, my promotion to Major General was part of getting that ready.”

“What sort of change Sir?”

“Well it’s all in this brief,” he said as he took out a leather folio embossed in gold with the seal of Force Ops and passed it to Tony, “the first sheet in there gives your orders and the next step. But to be utterly brief, you are being promoted to Brigadier General and transferred.”

“Promoted? But sir, there...”

“Yes, yes, I know there are no generals in Force Ops who are actually super. There had to be a first and I can think of no other officer who would do us as proud as you. Steadfast isn’t just your call sign, it’s a reflection of your personal character.”

“Wait a sec,” Tony said, coming to a sudden realization. “If I’m being transferred who is getting command of the Fourth, sir?”

“Just like you Tony, always worried about those under you. Well don’t worry. Max Reese is getting your old office and he’s getting informed of that right about now. He’ll be a short colonel just after the official transfer.”

“Max is a good man sir, he’ll do the Fourth proud.”

The images froze again.

“What do you really think of Talos being given command of the Fourth?”

“He’ll rise to the occasion and he’ll learn that not everything can be smashed out of the way.”

“I hope so, there’s something about turning into a fifty foot tall steel man that makes one think smashing is the best way to handle problems. You were just about the only one in the division who he couldn’t beat.”

“Yes, he is one of the most powerful of the entire armored division, not just the Fourth. Now he needs to be more than just powerful. If I could learn, so can he.”

“For the sake of our colleagues there, I hope you are right. I’ll start it up again.”

“Anyway, as I was saying, you are being given your star. From here you go to take command of Camp Starlight.”

“Camp Starlight? Sir you’re putting me in charge of the training brigade? What about J.C. he’s a fine man, doing a fine job.”

“He is, and he may end up in charge there again, though it would be damn hard to go backwards and right now I have another idea for where I would like to position him. This assignment is temporary for you.”

“I’m confused sir. Why formally transfer command if this is temporary?”

“It’s a confusing situation. In a perfect world we wouldn’t be doing things this way. It’s not close to a perfect world.” He looked closely at Tony. “How much do you know about the Meredith Falls situation?”

“I’ve read all the dailies sir.”

“That’s not what I asked Tony, how much do you know. How many of the eyes only documents have you seen?”

“Some sir, no way to be sure how many of the total, I don’t know the total.”

“Your assessment of the situation?”

“It’s our greatest fears come true, except the source isn’t a foreign power. It’s a bunch of home grown nut jobs.” He paused for a second realizing the candor with which he spoke and added. “Sorry sir, I will avoid such descriptives in the future.”

“It’s a very astute observation… when it’s just between us.”

“Yes sir.”

“A plan has been formed for Force Ops to take the lead in the fight against these and other… nut jobs. You are to be in charge of that initiative. However the current mandate of Force Ops does not allow for domestic activity. As such a new unit is being formed with that very mandate. You are to be in charge of that unit from its inception and training through its deployment. Tomorrow the recruits assigned to that unit arrive at Camp Starlight. They are to be the First Platoon of the Bravo Tango Training Brigade.”

“Sir, why not just transfer experienced men over to the new unit? That way there wouldn’t be a significant lag for training before they are active and in the field.”

“There are a number of reasons, the biggest of which is political. If we transfer current Force Ops members this will look like Force Ops as a whole is being given a mandate to operate on domestic soil. We aren’t we aren’t looking for such. We don’t want it to appear that we are. We can get away with transferring senior officers to the new unit, it takes years to train and season anyone above a second louie, but we need to build the core of this unit from scratch. Once their training at Camp Starlight is complete they and you will be transferred to a new base we are currently building for you. Until then you train them. For at least the first year they are out of the Training Brigade they will be a sum of your command, a bit over one hundred total including officer cadre and support staff. If successful, additional platoons will be trained and the command will expand. If not successful… well let’s not bother with that, I have every confidence in your abilities.”

“Thank you sir, I won’t let you down.”

“Included in that folio are briefs on the five officers I am transferring to your command specifically for this platoon. In addition six recruits have been identified as your platoon guide and five squad leaders, they are all targeted for OCS. Each has unique skills which will help you as this develops. Major Olivia Townsend will be your adjutant and she…”

“Excuse me sir?  I request to transfer Captain Irving Gill with me to serve as my adjutant. I’m sure Major Townsend is more than adequate for the job but given the short time I have to prepare and the delicacy and importance of this assignment I think having an adjutant who I know well, know their ins and outs, their abilities, and what I can count on them to do, would be of great benefit.”

“I’m sorry Tony, that’s not going to be possible.”

“But sir…”

“Tony even I get orders from above. The officer cadre for this assignment was chosen above my level.”

“Sir I don’t see how I can accept this assignment then.”

“Tony, the only way you could refuse is to resign your commission and leave Force Ops. There’s no going back.”

“Yes sir! I understand that.”

The image froze once more.

“Tony,” Irv said, “did it really happen that way or are you misdirecting your memories to play a joke on me.”

“No Irv, this is exactly how it happened.”

“You actually almost blew your promotion, hell your whole career, just to bring me along?”

“Well I didn’t think it would come to that, but yeah I did.”

“But why?”

“Because I knew I would need you; because something about this whole situation was already tickling my subconscious; and because everything seemed wrong somehow, too fast, too last minute, too thrown together. I need what you can give me and that was worth the risk.”

“Well I appreciate the faith in me.”

“Irv, in ten years you’ve never let me down. Don’t let this be the first time.”

“No sir!”

The image moved forward once more.

The images of General Glenn and Tony stared each other down for at least five seconds of silence.

“Why?” asked the General.

“Sir, you have indicated how important this assignment is. You have insinuated consequences for failure. I need every asset I currently possess and then some to give you the best chance of success. And going against those monsters who claim to be acting for our people while killing, maiming, and torturing them while telling us that acting out of necessity is tyrannical… well for that I want to win.”

“There is another level here Tony. You know what your being a general in Force Ops means don’t you?”

“I think so sir,” when Glenn waited for more he continued. “It means that when you leave your posting there is a good chance your replacement will actually be a super.”

“Tony, I’ve been working toward that goal for years. Don’t you want to advance that goal?”

“Yes sir, I truly do sir,” Tony replied with increasing formality. “But, that’s just another reason why I need Brief with me. Another consequence of failure neither you nor I want to see happen.”

“Alright Tony, I’ll get you Captain Gill, not sure how yet, but I’ll do it. But you listen closely. Remember what I said about you, that Steadfast wasn’t just your call sign but a reflection of who and what you are? Well that’s why you got this promotion. We need you in charge, I need you in charge. There were other names suggested to lead this, people outside of Force Ops. It took a great deal for me to convince the powers that be that it had to be you. If you resign or fail, well let’s just say I used up a decade of you owe me one’s for nothing.”

“I understand sir, I won’t let you down.”

The conversation was interrupted by a buzz from the intercom. The voice of the Captain from outside came over, “Sir, you wanted me to remind you that your next appointment is off site and you need travel time to get there.”

He pressed a button on his phone, “Thank you Jean, I’ll wrap things up.”

He looked back up at Tony’s image sitting across from him. “Sorry to cut this short. I’d like to speak more though, perhaps it’s best if I just send you on your way. Expect a set of orders for Major Gill by the end of the day.” The change of rank was definitely not lost on Irv. “Get out of here, read that folio carefully. It has everything you’ll need to know.”

Tony stood and saluted, “Yes Sir!”

He turned on heel and walked to the door. Just before he opened it General Glenn interrupted. “Tony?”

“Yes sir?” Tony replied pausing in the act of opening the door.

“It goes without saying that our discussions regarding my plans and your request didn’t happen. The orders contained in that folio, other than the transfer, are for your eyes only, understand?”

“Yes sir?”

“Good, that will be all.”

Tony finished exiting the room.

“Is that it?” Irv asked breaking up the silence as they followed Tony’s image down the halls of what Irv just realized was the Pentagon.

“Not quite, give it a few more seconds.”

Just before reaching the exit a Captain called out to Tony. “Sir, Colonel Wright?”

Tony turned and faced him, non-descript, thirties, good shape, no features that Irv could really enhance much.

“Sir,” he said saluting, “I have a message for you,” and he handed him a sealed envelope bearing his name.

“Thank you,” Tony replied returning the salute. “Who is it from?”

“I’m not sure sir. It was given to me via secure courier with the instructions to tell you to open it when no one could see it.”

“That’s it? A simple envelope, open when no one could see it?”

“What’s your name and posting?”

“Captain James Anselm, sir. I am posted to operations here at the pentagon… I’m a secure courier for the mail room.”

Irv glanced at his insignias, not Force Ops, just regular army. Tony’s doppelganger seemed to have reached the same conclusion and dismissed him.

Outside Tony’s image called for his car.

“Rank hath its privileges,” the real Tony said, “and right now I was going to utilize the privilege of having a driver and a private car.”

The scene moved forward and Irv and Tony were sharing the back seat of a town car with the memory of Tony as he pulled out the envelope.

He opened it and inside was a blank sheet of paper. He held it up to the light to see if he could detect any sign of writing of any kind. This didn’t make sense at all what…

Heya Steadfast’.

Irv was surprised, a telepathic message inside an accelerated telepathic memory dump. He couldn’t tell if it was from within or without.

“Calm down,” Tony said, “I was receiving a telepathic message. This is the memory of that, not someone managing to accelerate their thoughts and dive some awful number of layers deep into our heads.”


You got it. Sorry for the unorthodox method for contacting you but I’m sure this is secure, I’m not really sure about much else these days’.

Listen, this will last for no more than a few minutes. There wasn’t a great deal of space in a single sheet of paper, especially when the envelope was encoded with a push for no one to think about it too much but just get it into your hands’.


It’s truly amazing the sort of tricks some advanced minds learn along the way. I’m not going to tell you who did this but I trust them at least as much as you trust Irv. OK?

OK. So what is this about?

First congratulations. I may have beat you to Colonel but you actually managed to make General, you bastard’.

‘Thanks, love you too. How’s your niece?

No time for pleasantries outside of the mandatory congratulations. Listen close and take this to heart. There is more hidden shit going on here then I’ve seen since the whole Overton nightmare. Something huge is happening and you get to be at the center of it this time. My sources haven’t been able to tell me much more but all the movers and shakers are moving and shaking. I’m watching where I can, and remember if you need it, I have some utterly trustworthy and dependable contacts outside of Force Ops. If you need me you just better make the contact as secure as this one’.

And without even a goodbye, the contact ended.

“Now stew on that one too Irv. And while we have a few seconds, here take a look at these.” Tony plucked the folio from the hands of his image. The whole dreamscape faded away leaving the two of them floating in a white area of nothingness. The folio remained in Tony’s hands. “The orders you don’t know about, all of them.” Irv knew Tony didn’t take this lightly, he was told they were for his eyes only and, despite the fact that he wasn’t actually looking at them with his eyes, he was violating his orders showing it to him. A minute later, as he read the contents of the folio, he understood why.

“Tony, I…”

“Not now, it will take too long and we need to get back. We can’t afford to end up standing motionless when the rest of those around us try to figure out what’s wrong.”

“But Tony…”

“Later,” and with that Tony apparently walked back through the walls of his mind. Irv’s vision cleared, though it felt like he had a spike digging around behind his eyeball. He focused once more on Heather Fines. She was still down on the ground. He checked his watch, ‘good, no more than five or six seconds passed. If anyone out here realizes what happened in there…


David was feeling a bit overwhelmed. Starting in boot camp was not easy, they hadn’t gotten to their first physical exercises, he hadn’t been dressed down by a drill sergeant, he hadn’t even gotten the crew cut yet. There was an emotional impact of just being here.

Being an empath wasn’t easy. He had control of his powers, he could damp it down, but something always leaked through. Telepaths he knew described it as a background buzz, like being in a party and hearing snippets of conversation all around and every now and then catching something that made sense. It was the reason powered advanced minds sought solitude. For him it wasn’t a constant buzz, it was a constant tug on his own emotions.

He spent the whole bus ride alternating between jittery nervousness and being weepy. Trapped in a small confined area with more than twenty emotionally charged people it was bound to leak through. He had stopped going to the movies because if it was a comedy his own amusement was amplified by those around him had him falling out of his seat. If it pulled on the heart strings enough to cause a tear here and there he was weeping uncontrollably as the sadness doubled and redoubled with each person.

Of course at the end of the bus ride he had his own embarrassment to deal with. He was on the second bus where they seemed to put all the hyper-testosterone strong boys. As typical for their type one of them got it in his head he wanted one of the women. Luckily he had a jacket with him he could keep on his lap to cover his “embarrassment”. Oddly enough despite rejecting her suitor in a very physical manner, the woman he was hitting on was just as aroused as the testosterone boy. Then he realized, it wasn’t any attraction to the man that was arousing her, he didn’t sense any of that, it was the fight itself.

He was a bit shocked and was very happy to hear the Force Ops soldier come on to the bus and instruct everyone to get off the bus rapidly. Walking off the bus reminded him of other embarrassing times in high school when he had even less ability to block the emotional leakage than he did now.

What am I doing here?’ he thought to himself again as he made his way off the bus. ‘I can’t believe I was stupid enough to join Force Ops in the first place. The surge of patriotism following Meredith Falls had so many people thinking about joining up. The same thing happened after 9/11 but then I was too young to sign up so I never acted upon it’.

He looked around the grounds just like he had checked out all the people on the bus and again he couldn’t believe he was put around so many obviously combat heavy supers. They knew his powers. He told them everything about them when he signed up. He figured he would be trained for espionage or something. ‘My power’s no good for combat, I can read a mob but I can’t affect them, the telempathic part only works for one person at a time. It doesn’t make any sense for me to be here with these people’.

If he had a little less moral character, he could have used his powers for unbelievable personal gain and, let’s face it, as much sex as he wanted. If anything, it probably kept the women away. He was so nervous about accidently misusing his powers in that way, he was lucky he wasn’t still a virgin.

Right now, having stepped off the bus, that nervousness, that emotional instability, that sheer impact was amplified by seventy some odd people with various super powers and fed directly to him by his own power.

Not two minutes after he got off the bus, as he was milling around at the edge of the crowd, trying not to immerse himself in that sea of emotion, he felt a sudden surge of aggression from on the bus he had exited. The man, whose desires had caused him some embarrassment on the bus, came flying through the wall of the bus and landed twenty feet away amid the milling recruits.

A surge of anger hit him like a hammer. He found himself joining the others surrounding the recruit and the Corporal cheering for a fight to start. Before it could however he felt a sudden surge of panic behind him, he turned to see a young woman standing there and he felt near terror from her. Before he could react to her emotion, the ground began to shake slightly like an earthquake and as suddenly as it started, it all stopped, the tremor, the terror from the woman, and the immediacy of the fight.

David turned back to face the would be combatants and a voice rang out saying “Everyone fall in! Line up by the numbers you were given at the transportation center! Attention to the reviewing stand!”

The crowd around them dispersed but the strongman in ripped clothes wasn’t ready to go. David sensed continuing aggression from him, anger, shame, pent up sexual frustration. He was a seething cauldron of emotion and it was still about to boil over. He turned his power on him, he didn’t know what the rules were in such situations. He really didn’t care at this point, he knew what the right thing to do was. He damped it all down, he slowed the anger, removed the shame and replaced it with feelings that he was better than that, better than this scrawny man in black standing in front of him, he linked the sense of sexual conquest to keeping his cool, telling him subtly that if he didn’t explode it would impress the woman he wanted. He didn’t dare increase those desires to feed it further, he wouldn’t be responsible for rape, or given what he saw on the bus, more likely attempted rape.

He pushed it all into the strongman who hesitated, looked over at the people lining up and then back at the black uniformed soldier and said “Someday soon you and I are going to have to try that again. I guarantee a different outcome,” before stalking off to find his place.

Breathing a sigh of relief David found his number, twenty seven, in the second row. He noted with interest that he was only five spaces away from the woman who had such a fear response to the almost fight. ‘How is she going to make it in the army if she can’t take a fist fight? Even a super based fist fight’ he wondered as reached out carefully with his emotional senses.

She barely registered. Maybe it was just the sudden shock of it, an adrenaline fueled reaction and now she has it controlled. ‘Well one less thing to worry about’, he thought as he listened to the new commanding officer of this base and then was told to choose a name for himself.

He hadn’t considered this. He wasn’t going to be a hero who needed a name to be known by, he was in Force Ops, he assumed he would just be Private Gill. He picked up and attached the communication disc as instructed and tapped it twice when told to.

He heard, “Please state your call sign”.

What name should I choose?’ he wondered, ‘this is a big deal, this is how they are going to know me, the response it invokes when people hear it will be something I sense from now on. It’s got to be a good one’.

Any number of names ran through his head. Emo… Passion… Eros… Enflame… Dampen… none of them fit right.

After a few moments of silence the disc repeated, “Please state your call sign.”

He thought about his power. He was an advanced mind but not a telepath or teke. He was about emotions, the emotion that lay below the surface, the story that people kept off their face and tried to hide in their secret heart. He sensed things no telepath could sense. He read the emotional subtext and if wanted to he rewrote it.

Wait, there’s something there’, he thought. ‘Subtext… yeah I like that’.

“Subtext,” he said speaking into the disc and after a second came the response.

“Call sign accepted.”

After a few minutes the drill sergeant informed them that they would be divided into five squads, apparently each row was a squad because the first member of each row was the squad leader. At least he wasn’t in with the testosterone laden strongman. His squad leader introduced himself as Cameron Burgess and took the name Kiai. ‘Must be a martial artist’, he thought. He sensed an incredible calm and focus from him but there was something below the surface, something powerful, he couldn’t tell more without a going deeper than was smart right now. There was time. He would get to know everyone’s emotional state and hot buttons before too long.

When each of the squad leaders had gone the drill sergeant called for the platoon guide, whatever that was. A woman who was standing out in front turned to face them. David thought she was quite pretty, she was radiating a sort of smug satisfaction but there was frustration underlying it and a bit of well concealed fear as well. With a smile on her face, but no actual happiness beneath it, she said “Victoria Raines, Precise.”

From all around confusion sprang up. ‘Precise is the name of a super villain. Why would she take that name unless she was that villain?

Suddenly there was a spike of terror in his row, ‘damn it’, he thought, ‘that’s the same woman who had a fear spike earlier. This time I can…

David’s thought was interrupted when suddenly everyone surrounding the woman except for the man immediately behind her flew away from her. The ground rippled in concentric circles around her and she became a torrent of fear, confusion, self-loathing, and deep, deep sadness.

Her terrified voice wailed out “I’m so sorry!” and she did something with her arm and suddenly collapsed leaving everything still and people picking themselves up.

He couldn’t sense anything from her anymore. That was impossible, he even sensed emotions from unconscious people, as long as there was brain activity there was some basal level of emotions. Without realizing he was doing it he ran to her. He arrived at the same time as the drill sergeant, an unbelievably beautiful woman from the first row, and their squad leader. A moment later two corporals, a man and a woman, and another recruit, a man from the last row arrived. The recruit immediately knelt beside her laid his hand across her forehead. The female corporal was trying to get to her but there just wasn’t enough room.

“Flatworm!” shouted the drill sergeant, “Don’t you dare heal that woman or burnout anything you find in her system.” Then he tapped the disc he wore on his wrist and shouted into it, “Everyone else stand down, no one else approach this active situation.” His order was immediately transmitted to everyone’s disc and though they stirred, no one else approached.

“But drill sergeant, she’s in a coma,” replied the man from the last row, Flatworm apparently. “Whatever she took has her so deep she’s barely alive.”

“That’s the idea mister. That may be the only thing that prevented her from flinging everyone here halfway to the moon.”

“It’s a failsafe device,” explained the woman who had taken the hand of the unconscious girl, “it was given to her to control her powers if she needed to.” Her voice turned to a whisper, “she’s a powered and if she loses control it could cause a lot of damage.”

David stared at her, he was transfixed by her beauty, he wished that his power worked on himself because if he couldn’t calm his rising emotions he was going to embarrass himself again.

“What can we do,” she asked, “something set her off, she had already taken what was essentially a tranquilizer.”

“Wait a minute,” exclaimed David, “was this triggered by her fear?”

“Well from what I was told,” the beautiful woman answered, “her emotions play into how her ability reacts. Strong emotion, strong reaction, fear triggers it to protect her. But why would she suddenly think she needed protection?”

“Her,” David said while gesturing at Precise with his chin. “Her fear started right after she announced who she was.”

“Who is she?” asked the beautiful woman.

“You never heard of Precise? She…”

“Never mind!” interrupted the drill sergeant. “You, Subtext,” he said pointing right at David. “You can sense her emotions?” When David nodded he added, “and you can warn us when it’s about to get out of control?”

“I can do better than that drill sergeant. As long as I can focus just on her, I can keep her emotions blunted. I can suppress the fear completely.”

The drill sergeant stood up and looked at the man standing to the left of the collapsed girl. “You, Focus,” he said, “you are now number twenty seven, go take that place.” The man dusted himself off and walked to his new spot, David’s spot.

“Subtext, you are now number twenty one.” He pointed down at the unconscious girl, “this is Heather Fines, her call sign is Untouchable, and the two of you are now battle buddies until I personally say otherwise.”

“Battle buddies?” when the drill sergeant didn’t reply and simply looked at him sternly, he added “umm battle buddies drill sergeant?”

“Better. We will be explaining the concept of battle buddies soon but essentially the two of you are a pair, you are assigned bunks together, you do everything together, you do not separate unless you are given permission to do so and in this case permission only comes from me or my superiors. Got it?”

“But… umm… drill sergeant what about the shower and the bathro… I mean the latrine?” he asked remembering the military term.

“Welcome to Force Ops co-ed training son. When dealing with supers and powereds and the training we need to do in such a short amount of time, modesty is thrown out the door. I’m sure you can control the emotion of embarrassment in addition to fear.”

‘For her maybe,” David said under his breath.

“What was that?” he asked at the top of his voice.

“Umm, nothing drill sergeant!”

“Damn right it was nothing. You, Flatworm,” he said pointing at the other man still bent over her, “bring her around slowly. Subtext you keep her locked down. I get a tremble and you do fifty pushups. I get hurled and you better hope it kills me. Mata Hari,” he added addressing the gorgeous woman still holding her hand. “Get back in line, now!”


Everyone was watching Heather as she was brought to consciousness once more and met her new battle buddy. No one was paying much attention to the reviewing stand where an interesting conversation was taking place.

Cindy leaned over to Olivia and in a low whisper said “see I told you we needed the ‘weak-ass empath’, but no you wouldn’t believe me.” Then she winked and stuck her tongue out at Olivia.

“Alright, alright, yes we need the weak-ass empath,” Olivia agreed. “I guess keeping him to get control of her ridiculous powers is worth it.”

“It’s a biological solution,” said Jesse, suddenly leaning between them pointing to the earpiece of his ridiculous glasses indicating he heard their whispers. “Use one weak super to control one incredibly powerful powered. I was so intent on finding a technological solution I never thought of this, even after I saw the roster.”

“None of us thought of it,” Olivia said, acknowledging their screw up.

“None of us had to,” added Cindy with a self-satisfied smirk on her lips.