The command came for Colonel Jecamiah Agastya to report at once to General Swinton Chaldea’s office. Rather than using any of the advanced communication technologies available, the General sent his secretary running through the hallways of the vast command center building. The Colonel shook his head, as the out-of-breath junior officer worked to get air into her lungs. Colonel Agastya ordered the secretary to get some water and to take a few moments before returning. He would announce himself to the General when he got to the General’s office.

“That absolute cunt!” shouted the General, as Colonel Agastya walked into his office. The General waved off the Colonel’s salute, as he continued his tirade. “What in the hell does she think she is doing? That stupid, mindless, liberal, save-the-bargabuko, feed-the-homeless, pain in my ass!”

Colonel Agastya looked at the beautiful bookshelf behind General Chaldea’s desk. He saw that two of the shelves were shifted from their normal positions. Apparently, the General’s so-called vacation had not produced the hoped-for results. In actuality, it was slightly impressive, in a twisted kind of way. It was not yet lunch, yet the General showed only the slightest signs of his secret. While his thinking was clouded, his emotions twisted, and his judgment impaired, the man could continue to function, where others would simply pass out on the floor.

The General slammed his hand on his desk. “She is absolutely out of fucking order! She is out of her league! She is clueless as what it takes to maintain military discipline! She will ruin what has become the largest military force on the two worlds! We are six months into preparation for a planetary exploration mission, and her damn high-and-mighty holiness drops this crap on us. We don’t have time for this, and who gives a fuck anyway?”

“General, sir, you have me at a disadvantage,” stated the Colonel, trying not to let his feelings of annoyance show through.

“Sit down, Colonel,” ordered the General, as he gestured to the chairs directly in from of his desk. “That Ionia Villegas, our esteemed board member, just lights my fuse!”

The General tapped a few places on his desk, and a monitor appeared with the image of a young man.

“This right here. This is the problem,” asserted the General as he pointed at the image of the young man’s face. “He’s been drafted. We have to take him. He is on his way to initial training camp as I speak. I am the top military officer in the largest military ever conceived, and that stupid woman forces me to accept him into our ranks. A piece of shit scumbag that should be dead, or at least suffering his ass off in prison somewhere, but no … we’re stuck with him.”

The Colonel let the General pitch his fit and move through his tirade. Interrupting or asking for clarification would only further infuriate the irrational man. Colonel Agastya looked at the image on the screen. He appeared to the right age. He was a good-looking kid. There was nothing about the image that would cause the outrage that the General was displaying.

The General paused to take a deep breath and then continued, “What you’re looking at is a monster, a drug-dealing, child-murdering beast. I won’t have him in my military. Apparently, Ionia Villegas, that overly social activist board member, wants to help young people in trouble, and she has decided to use my military as the tool. It’s some damn pilot program that has Chairman Donovackia’s personal blessing if you can believe that shit.”

“Sir, let’s just let him wash out, or have him ‘suffer’ from some ‘random accident.’ Various programs like this have produced various results,” suggested Colonel Agastya. “Some kids that come through these programs are okay. Others, we just get rid of. In any event, right now, we are ramping up our numbers significantly. We need bodies.”

“We can’t touch this one,” stated General Chaldea.

“I don’t understand, sir,” replied the Colonel.

“Ionia Villegas’ grandnephew worked at the Morphinia Containment Company as a guard, if you can believe that,” began the General. “He was trying to protect this particular shitbag of a prisoner. I guess he told his Great Aunt Ionia about the boy, and her liberal heart bled for him. She promised her nephew that she would personally pull the boy into her damn program. The dumb nephew got killed by another prisoner when he went to retrieve the boy for transport. Ionia is treating this as the man’s last request. She’ll see that her beloved nephew’s pet prisoner is saved. Colonel, we can’t directly hurt this boy, but I order you to make sure that this boy fails. It has to be so damn subtle that no review would ever turn up anything. Make his life hell. Make sure he fails.”

Colonel Agastya returned to his office and pulled up the boy’s file. He was of age, barely. The record seemed scant. There was no medical record or other records from the prison that he could access; they were blocked. He couldn’t even see which of the Morphinia Containment Company’s facilities had detained the boy. The record revealed only minimal information, such as his date of birth, height, and weight. This was concerning, but not surprising. The General’s hand was in this. Muddled thinking. The military training camps weren’t even within the Colonel’s chain of command, but he would take care of it anyway. This Kadamba Vorhoor probably wasn’t military capable anyway.

With a few conversations, word was out. This new cadet was to be run out of the military, but no one was to be able to trace any inappropriate behavior. It really wasn’t that difficult. Given Kadamba’s background, he’d be hated anyway. Initial training camp would be a living hell. Certainly, the boy would prefer to return to prison where he belonged.

A message flashed across the slim device strapped to his wrist. It was from Captain Tristanidad Luciano. He wanted to have a drink and maybe dinner at the Boatman’s Grub and Pub after work. Considering how his day had been, Colonel Agastya readily agreed. Plus, it was his favorite place.

The Captain was already at the bar when Colonel Agastya arrived. The bartender, Earmon Terman, signaled him to the bar and placed a rocks glass in front of him.

“You’re a good man, Earmon,” the Colonel said, as he sat down on the stool next to Captain Luciano. The bartender poured the golden colored liquid into Agastya’s glass and headed off to help other customers.

“Do you ever drink anything else?” Captain Luciano asked.

Agastya held the glass up, admiring the golden, yellow-brown color. He swirled it a bit in the glass, took a deep sniff, and then took a sip. He could taste the slightest hint of melons and other sweet fruits, coming across the smoky, slightly burnt taste of the barrel in which the liquid had aged. He set the glass back on the bar. “Certainly, I like others, but this is my favorite. And there’s just something about walking into an establishment like this one and having the bartender pour your drink without you asking.”

Both of the men laughed and toasted Earmon Terman. Captain Luciano began to say something. It appeared something serious, but the Colonel stopped him and motioned to a monitor above the bar. An old film was playing.

“This is the best part,” noted Agastya.

*

The scene was set in a bar. The main character walked into the bar and realized that there were two other men in the bar, waiting to kill him. A third assassin, having followed the main character in, blocked the way out. The protagonist walked up to the bar, looked the bartender in the eyes, and said, “Make it a double Grenadines Special.”

The bartender pulled a glass from under the bar, already full, and set it in front of the main character. He threw his head back and sat down on a barstool. “Give me another.” The bartender obliged, setting another full glass in front of him.

The camera panned to the three assassins. They smiled as they watched the bartender set a third and fourth drink in front of the protagonist. When he stood up from the bar, he staggered a little, muttering something incomprehensible. The assassins sprang to life, ready to slay their apparently inebriated prey. The man, pivoting, dropped the first guy with a solid right punch to the jaw. He flipped the second onto a table, breaking it. Finally, as the third assassin charged, he spun, grabbed a bottle, and smashed it across the assassin’s head.

The protagonist walked back up to the bar, just as the bartender set two glasses on the bar. He poured two drinks, from a bottle identical to the one Earmon had poured for Agastya. The bartender and the protagonist raised their glasses, and the bartender toasted, “Here’s to the Grenadines Special.”

*

“I just can’t help but love that scene,” Colonel Agastya confided.

“And you drink the same drink,” noted Captain Luciano.

“But, of course, can you imagine anything less?” replied the Colonel, with a smile.

Both men raised their glasses again. Colonel Agastya knew that his younger friend needed something. As he was beginning to ask, Earmon came up to the two of them. “The corner table is available.”

“Perfect timing as always, my friend,” replied Agastya to Earmon, as he picked up his glass, which the bartender had just refilled. “Sometimes, I think you read my mind.”

They sat down at the table. Captain Luciano prefaced things, as he often did, that what he was about to share was off the record. The Captain was more and more concerned with the General’s son but was relieved that the boy was able to spend as much time as he had recently with the Captain’s family.

“Tristanidad, I’ve known you a long time,” Colonel Agastya patiently told him. “I can tell when you are hedging and failing to get to the point. What’s the real problem here?”

The Captain looked down as if he was contemplating whether to say anything or not. His face firmed with resolve, and he began. “The General’s wife, Camdrin Chaldea, broke down while she was picking up Mungo last night. We were outside, and no one else was around. She was obviously upset. I asked what was wrong, expecting her to say nothing as she usually does.”

“And last night, she finally said something?” asked Colonel Agastya.

“She said that the General forced himself on her the night before,” revealed Captain Luciano.

“He raped her,” stated the Colonel, without much surprise in his voice.

“I tried to tell her to call authorities, but she quickly recanted her story. She said that she must have been delusional. I don’t know what to do.”

“There’s little you can do, Tristanidad, especially if she won’t do anything for herself,” Colonel Agastya responded, sympathetically. “Rape is a terrible thing within a marriage, and way too often it goes unreported. Just keep being a friend to Mungo. I am going to share a few more things with you about the General. You can’t share this with anyone.”

Colonel Agastya told his young friend many of the things that he knew about the General. He had cheated and done a crazy amount of illegal drugs while in infantry school. He was known as a problem. Even after he met his wife, he continued to party. Eventually, he married and began to create a grand illusion. A bit of undeserved luck on the battlefield launched his command career.

Sometime, a dozen years or so before, he began to drink. He and his wife had their first two children, a boy and a girl. Life seemed ideal from the outside, but they wanted a third child, and the General couldn’t perform well. The pressure of a growing command career was weighing heavier on him than he could handle. He turned to the bottle to drown the emotions. Oddly, even though he had been a party animal in his youth, he hid his drinking. They would even hold formal dinners at the house. He would serve alcohol, but would rarely have very much, at least, where people could see. He had managed to hide the drinking from everyone, including his family.

The truth is that he really was an emotional midget, to begin with. He rarely talked to his own kids. From the outside, he appeared to be an involved father but almost nothing to do with their upbringing. No matter what they did, it wasn’t good enough for him. He would pass his edicts of how life should be through his wife. The oldest son was forced into the same infantry school that his father attended. The boy hated it. When he finally followed his own passion, which was science, the General had pranced about like it was his idea, stating that it was his fantastic parenting and genes that created such a fine young man.

The boy had completely lost his temper at a graduation ceremony a few months before. He told his father that he was useless and that he could simply go straight to hell. The boy hasn’t spoken to the General since. The daughter had a similar experience. She was also forced to attend infantry school, but she went AWOL last year. The last that anyone knew was that supposedly she became a mountain guide on the other side of the planet.

Two years ago, everything fell apart for the General. Camdrin, his wife, found him at the bottom of the stairs passed out. She tried to get him help. He would pretend, get treatment, and play along, but the drive to suckle on that bottle was just too much. She threw him out last year. When she finally let him move back in, she experienced the same thing she had described to the Captain.

“So, the man really is a monster?” asked Captain Luciano.

“Pretty much so,” replied Colonel Agastya.

“Why is he in such a position in life?”

“Some people are masters of illusion, and General Chaldea is one of them.”

“He really shouldn’t be in command, or be married, or have children!” declared Captain Luciano.

“Captain, we need to be very careful. He has many friends, most of whom know nothing of his secret. Those that do know are being very compassionate, as they truly know so little of the man. He is digging his own grave. Of that, I am sure. I’m just working to minimize the collateral damage. Please just be a friend to Mungo. He needs that right now.”

“What about Camdrin?” asked the Captain.

“Sadly, until she decides to do something, she’s stuck,” Colonel Agastya declared. “She has to find the strength to leave him on her own. It’s not right. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. Just be patient. He’ll eventually destroy himself.”

• • •

Chapter 16 Chapter 18

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