Captain Tristanidad Luciano and Lieutenant Mittelwert Padda came to attention as Colonel Jecamiah Agastya stormed into the conference room and sealed the door behind him. He had been pulled from an important meeting regarding security at all of the Donovackia Corporation properties during the exploratory space launch that was now only two days away.

“This had better be damn …” began the Colonel as he looked at the men. “What the hell happened to you, Lieutenant?”

“That’s why you’re here, sir,” Captain Luciano answered. “We have a very serious issue on our hands.”

The Colonel signaled his junior officers to have a seat. He looked across the table at the Lieutenant’s blackened eye. He knew this man to be one significant soldier and understood that he was quite proficient at hand-to-hand combat. For someone to take a swing at the Lieutenant was pretty brave or pretty stupid.

“Alright, Lieutenant, explain,” commanded Colonel Agastya.

“Sir, I’m not sure –” began the Lieutenant.

Captain Luciano interjected, “General Chaldea hit him.”

“I did not defend myself or retaliate,” the Lieutenant added, with a mix of honor and regret.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the Colonel asserted, stopping the obviously agitated men before him. “Slow it down … and explain exactly what happened.”

Taking a deep breath, the Lieutenant explained what had happened. He had been called to headquarters from Elite Forces training by the General himself. The General was extremely irate about one of the cadets, Kadamba Vorhoor. The Lieutenant explained that for the last year of Elite Forces training, they had made the cadet’s life absolutely miserable. He had the worst tasks. He went days without sleep. He was shorted on rations on long jungle missions. Every covert means had been attempted to get the kid to wash himself out, but he wouldn’t give up.

The General, in a fit of fury, had accused the Lieutenant of insubordination. For almost twenty minutes he yelled and screamed at the Lieutenant, eventually coming from behind his desk and striking the man.

“Then what?” asked Colonel Agastya.

“He started throwing up in his trashcan, and I went to Captain Luciano’s office,” Lieutenant Padda stated.

“You’ve had this kid through both initial training and now Elite training. I personally discussed with you the need to secretly make this kid miserable enough to wash out. What happened?” Colonel Agastya inquired.

“Vorhoor wouldn’t give up. We made him miserable, as you ordered Colonel, but he simply took whatever was thrown at him and just kept going,” the Lieutenant explained.

“Why don’t you go ahead and show the Colonel what you showed me,” Captain Luciano suggested.

The Lieutenant tapped a few places on the table, and a shrunken, three-dimensional scene rose from the table. The men stood up to look at the image. It was of a hilly wooded area, and soldiers were grouped in various places.

“Capture the flag,” the Colonel noted, “still one of the best training games ever.”

The Lieutenant began to explain the nuances of this particular version of the game, including the fact that it was being played with energy blasters set to stun. If you got hit, you wouldn’t die, but you would have one hell of a bruise. As always, the goal was to capture the other team’s flag and bring it safely back to your own team’s base. There were three teams. He pointed out the miniature image that was Kadamba, marking him in red. He then pointed out Kadamba’s team commander, marking him in yellow.

The Colonel watched as Kadamba’s team commander made mistake after mistake. He strolled into an ambush, and Kadamba tackled the commander, rolling and firing at an enemy position. The enemy dropped, and Kadamba pulled himself into a tree, taking out a second enemy while his commander obliviously yelled at him.

By the end of the game, it was evident that Kadamba had led the commander to an enemy flag and single-handedly repelled six of their soldiers while the commander grabbed the flag. On the return trip to Kadamba’s team’s base, the incompetent commander stepped into the open and began waving the flag as he ran up to his base. Kadamba, seeing the enemy soldier taking aim, sprinted forward between the commander and the incoming blast. Kadamba, hit by the energy blast, slammed into the commander, sending him falling forward into the grass. The commander crawled into the base, winning the game while Kadamba rolled in agony on the ground.

The Lieutenant continued to bring up scene after scene of training scenarios where Kadamba was put at a disadvantage, abandoned by his teammates, or directly set up to fail at something. In each scene, Kadamba never gave in or gave up.

“Short of shooting the man,” stated Lieutenant Padda, “I’m not sure how we could have stopped him. He’s shown more courage, bravery, and honor than any cadet I’ve seen in a long time. The thing that makes him even more impressive, from my perspective, sir, is that he didn’t have a single friend the entire time that he has been both in initial training and Elite Forces training. No one seemed to be able to do anything but focus on that scar on his arm.”

The Colonel rubbed his chin, looking at both men. The General’s behavior had been getting worse and worse as of late. Just that morning, the Colonel also had to endure another one of the General’s tirades regarding Ionia Villegas. All of his yelling and screaming was almost tolerable, but striking another officer was not.

He ordered Captain Luciano to accompany Lieutenant Padda to the medical clinic to document the injury. Military Justice Officers would meet the men at the clinic to get full statements on the assault. The Colonel ordered additional Military Justice Personnel to meet him at the General’s office. It was now time to end the illusion and charade that was General Swinton Chaldea.

The two Justice Officer’s came to attention as Colonel Agastya approached the door to the General’s office suite. Inside, the General’s secretary snapped to attention as the Colonel stepped into the room.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the secretary began, but before she could finish, a second voice interpreted her.

“I am Counselor Dominisk Nortoe,” the man began as he held out his hand to the Colonel. “I am legal counsel for General Swinton Chaldea.”

Agastya simply looked at his hand and then stared directly at the man. He had no intention of shaking his hand. He was not here to play games. It was time for the General to face reality.

Dominisk Nortoe put his hand back to his side and began explaining that the General had left the command center to attend personal business and that he would be unavailable and out of touch for the next three weeks.

“You mean he is checking into another rehab facility to pretend to deal with his problem?” barked Colonel Agastya. “Does that son-of-a-bitch really think he can blame his addiction for his recent actions and not be held accountable?”

The Colonel turned to the two Military Justice Enforcement Officer. “Get this man out of this building before I throw him out a window!”

*****

The glass was already sitting on the bar that evening when Colonel Agastya walked into the Boatman’s. As he sat down, Earmon Terman began to pour. The bartender looked at the military man with sympathy. “You’ve had a rough day, my friend.”

The Colonel chuckled as he shook his head affirmatively and took a long sip from the glass. It burned slightly on his tongue and his throat, but the flavors and the intensity of the drink were compelling. He sat the glass on the bar and studied it. Why was it that he and so many people could simply enjoy the taste and even the physical and psychological effect of this liquid while others became overwhelmed and lost control of their very lives to it? Was it as simple as the difference between want and need? He desired to blame the character of the person that let the liquid control his life, but he knew that wasn’t true. He knew too many good people who had succumbed to addiction to simply blame someone’s character.

He saw the finger pointing at his glass before he realized that it was Captain Luciano. The man pulled up a barstool and thanked the bartender as he poured another glass and refilled Agastya’s.

“Make any progress?” asked the Captain, after taking a sip.

“The General has been ordered to return within seven days,” replied the Colonel.

“He won’t be allowed to return to his home. I talked to his wife, Camdrin, and she’s done with him,” stated Captain Luciano.

“Good for her. She deserves much better than that bastard.”

The men sipped their drinks, trying to unwind after their stressful day. They both agreed that it was an incredible amount of restraint and control that Lieutenant Padda had exhibited after being attacked by the General. Neither of the men believed that they would have been able to hold back if the General had taken a swing at them. However, by not becoming physically engaged, the Lieutenant had made the case against the General stronger. Unfortunately, they both knew that General Chaldea was a very powerful man, so bringing him down wasn’t going to be as easy.

Their conversation was interpreted by the vibration of the devices on their wrists. “Well, so much for wrapping up this day,” the Colonel remarked. “Back to headquarters, we go.”

“I’ve got to hit the head before we leave,” Captain Luciano declared, as he got up from the bar. “Pay the tab, and I’ll settle with you later.”

Colonel Agastya turned back to the bar to call for the bill, but Earmon was already there, holding the folded photo in his hand. “Drinks on me this evening, Colonel,” the bartender announced, “but only if you take this with you.”

He handed the picture to the Colonel, who opened it up and looked at it again. Aridatha Dolce’s smile was exactly like he remembered. Even after twenty years, he could still remember how her lips tasted and the way she smelled. He often dreamt of those mornings when he would wake up in her arms, and the entire world was only the two of them. He looked up at Earmon, trying to find the right words to say. The bartender simply looked him in the eyes.

“It’s time for you to have her picture close to you again,” began Earmon. “In this life, my friend, there are some regrets you may be forced to take to your grave. But others, we can choose to die with those, or not.”

*****

Chairman Tomar Donovackia was on the large screen in the Executive Command Briefing Room when the two officers walked in. Most of the Donovackia Military Command was already assembled, and the last few stragglers arrived within a few moments.

“Thank you all for arriving so quickly,” began the Chairman. “Today has been a significantly challenging day for our organization. As some of you already know, General Chaldea has a personal family issue that requires his absence for a short period.”

Agastya and Luciano looked at each other, forcing themselves not to let others see their eyes rolling.

The Chairman continued, “Unfortunately, we’ve had an even more significant crisis this evening at the Donovackia Corporation launch facility.”

Beside the image of the Chairman, a video feed came up of a small bus driving across a large tarmac at the launch facility. Without warning the bus exploded, and its burning wreckage was scattered for hundreds of feet. “On that bus was the backup crew for the exploration mission to Earth and one member of the crew.”

Over the next couple of hours, the assembled military command, the Chairman, and other officials debated how best to proceed. It was agreed that it was fortunate that none of the civilian experts were lost, and while tragic, it was neither the commander nor the vice-commander that was killed in the blast. The decision was made that security would be massively boosted at the launch facility and that the mission would proceed as planned. The weather forecast was perfect, and with some experts predicting solar winds and significant solar flares within a week, it seemed the best solution.

As acting commander of the Donovackia Military, the job of finding a replacement for the dead crewman fell on Colonel Agastya.

“Colonel Agastya, the launch is in less than 48 hours,” Chairman Donovackia reminded him, as all eyes turned to look at the Colonel. “Are you absolutely certain that you can find a replacement crew member?”

The Colonel, looking at the screen, answered, “Yes, I am sure we can.

• • •

Chapter 26 Chapter 28

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