Part Two: Beginnings
I arrived at Confederation Low Earth Orbit Platform L-13 on the thirteenth of March 2015, as usual on Sundays the Station Duty Officer received me. The station was bustling with activity even though it was just before four in the morning Earth time. You see orbital time was subject to the will of earthbound people. For us, a dawn was virtually the same as any other time, as our natural dawn was much different than our clocks mandated. The SDO was a salty old man who had obviously served for years in the artificial gravity of space. His arms were thin but muscular and his eyes had an almost odd shape to them. He introduced himself as Master Sergeant J. S. Montgomery.
“Sir. I’m sorry to welcome you to the station.” He sighed and paused just long enough for me to speak.
“Why is that?”
“There has been a death sir. A suicide it seems.” He looked as though his mother'd just died.
The Master Sergeant kept his bearing and hid his thoughts well however I was getting a definite down feeling from him. I figured the suicide had to have been someone close to him, so I decided not to insult him by pressing the issue.
“Well, this is a dangerous job Master Sergeant. Now, where is my berthing? I have been on a shuttle for over six hours and I never could sleep on those damned things.” He smiled, as if forgetting the sad subject.
“Of course sir. You are on Deck 14 Level 23, the Bachelor Officer Quarters. Here is your meal card and a datapad computer to guide you around the next few days. Your orders say you’re S-2? Funny you don’t look like a typical Spook.” I frowned, he was not the first to tell me that, nor would he be the last it seemed.
“I wasn’t originally, I was an Space Corps Pilot.” His expression quickly turned cold. I had made an error in telling him. Now everyone would know. Ex-Marines were not loved or respected but like a true Marine I had never lost my pride in the Corps. The Master Sergeant quickly logged my report and sent me on my way without another kind word. Part of me wanted to beat some respect into him, but in my heart I understood his resentment. The media had made us all out to be craven killers, and if he had even shown sort of attitude to former marines he was right to be afraid.
Word spread like wildfire and by the time I reported to work in the Intelligence section on Monday the Sixteenth, no one would look me straight in the eye. No one, that was except for my new Commanding Officer, Major Johan S. Bachs.
Major Bachs was the type who never made a first impression until the last time he saw you. His demeanor was calm and well polished, showing his obvious natural skill. You sensed he would shoot up to command grade ranks in due time. I liked him immediately, but I never got the chance to I know him well.
“Leftenant.” Bachs was French Canadian by heritage, and preferred to use the French version of my rank. I think he knew just how much it irked me, but over time it would become an inside joke.
“Sir.” I was sitting at my office terminal in the S-2 section, and hadn’t heard him come in.
“We have a visit from the Confederation Diplomatic Corps enroute to Luna Base next Tuesday. I need to have a dossier on all personnel who you feel are qualified to serve on the reception committee and dining service, please have it on my desk by close of business today.” He turned to leave as I snapped a quick ‘Aye sir.’ his way. I could sense the grin on his face, for two weeks he had known about f the meeting, but he had waited until now to tell me. He was testing me, trying to see if I could stand up to the pressure of a deadline high-pressure assignment. The last month had all been tests of one sort or another. I put my less important matters aside and logged out of the datanet. Then walked into the office where the six Confederation Intelligence Agency soldiers under my direction worked. The initial discomfort they had felt with me had not gone away quite as quickly as I’d have liked, but in the workplace everyone was fairly professional.
“Gentlemen and Ladies, drop what you are doing and listen up for a minute. Major Bachs has just informed me that we are expecting quite a few rather distinguished guests very shortly. I need a general crew roster made with security clearances and past military or civilian penal infraction records. Highlight anyone you might feel would be subversive towards the Confederation Diplomats. We WILL do our best to get a reception list to the CO today.” There were instant grumbles throughout the room, under someone’s breath I caught a mention of my name and the comment that I was one of the subversives. I couldn’t help but tense up and unfortunately for me I wasn’t smooth enough to hide it.
“Corporal DeJesus, coordinate with the platform Internal Security. Please ask Major Marshall for aid in getting security up to snuff with our requirements. I expect a briefing on this before we break for lunch today.” More groans but this time no comments. I quickly walked back into my office, sighing to myself as I went.
Two minutes later there was a knock at my door. Still tense from the little show I had put on moments earlier I snapped a quick ‘ENTER!’ not bothering to control my tone of voice. Slowly and almost hesitantly the door began to creep open. At knee high there were tiny fingers pushing it open, a child. Slowly the kid peeked around the corner of the door, trying his best to be stealthy. I almost laughed as he lost his balance and practically fell fully into my office.
“Jesse! God damn it son! If you aren’t the most awkward boy. You must have gotten that from your mothers side.” The voice came from behind him, deep and serious most of the time, Major Thomas Marshall picked his son off the floor, and effortlessly tossed him up on his rather large shoulders. I finally gave in to my laughter and waved the Major in. Major Marshall was a bear of a man; I’d often wondered how he’d ever pulled duty on a space station, let alone in one of the system patrol shuttles. He never seemed to show the muscle or bone breakdown the rest of us suffered for living in the lowered gravity of the platform.
“That was quick Sir. Did DeJesus already tell you...” he interrupted.
“Jon, actually I was chasing Jes. He wanted to see our new war hero with his own eyes, despite the fact his teacher told him you would sneak into his room at night and space him.” I frowned. Obviously Marines were still less liked than I imagined. To be compared to the monster under the bed was not a positive thing. Jesse could obviously tell the comment bothered me so he smiled and that served to lighten my mood.
“Don’t let it bother you Jon, I was a Marine also. People get to know you and the stigma is hard to keep. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind sharing your war stories with a fellow ‘Devil Dog’.”
“Most definitely not Sir.” He let Jesse down and took a seat before my desk.
“Relax son. No formalities when we aren’t talking business. So let’s get the business over with shall we?” With each second I grew to like him more.
“Now then. If you provide me with a list of the delegates and personnel involved I’ll be sure to tailor the arrangements. You have a good crew, give them reason and they’ll move the moon so you can pass unhindered. They respect honesty. ” He sighed and made a mocking roll with his eyes.
“It’s the damnedest thing I ever saw. Spooks who are honest with each other!”
“What will happen next? Politicians will actually give a frag about the people?”
I smiled. “ Somehow I doubt that Sir.” He laughed and let Jesse go.
Jesse began to bolt around the room, picking through all my things, looking at each plaque and award as if he were recording them for posterity. Suddenly he stopped and began pointing and jumping up and down excitedly.
“Mister Danger, my daddy has one of those!” I smiled at the slip with my name, and looked to see just what had excited him. Stunned, I must have let my jaw drop, because the Major laughed again. Jesse had pointed up at my Meritorious Combat Citation. My one moment of glory in the whole little war, I had fired my retros to intercept and stop on of the orbital EVA pods from careening wildly into space. The act had been singly responsible for a landing me back at base waiting structural repairs while some of the more intense fighting occurred. In the inquiries, that action probably had helped me transfer over to the Confederation without much more than a background check, all I had was memories and that fragile little piece of faded paper. I almost hadn’t hung it on my wall, but that infernal pride of mine encouraged me, public opinion be damned.
“Yes Jesse I’m sure he does.” Before I caught them, the words leapt out. I regretted the comment a moment later when I saw the look on the major’s face harden a little. Obviously I wasn’t the only one haunted by his past.
“One of these days, when you’re older I’ll tell you how I got that.” I told Jesse
He beamed with anticipation.
“I’m older now than I was a second ago. Tell me!” I couldn’t control myself and let a laugh slip. ‘Smart boy’ I thought.
“ Well Jesse, how about when you get old enough not to fall into my office.” He frowned for a second and then continued his inspection undaunted. It wasn’t three seconds later that he found something else to occupy him.
“Yuck! You fly?” His tone was utter disgust.
“I did once. I flew space fighters.” He sighed, and looked like he had lost his new hero.
“Flyboys don’t really fight. They just push buttons like computer men. You’re no hero!” Dejected he slumped down and sat next to his father.
“Jesse! There is no reason to insult Lieutenant Hazzard. He was a Marine, and he saw action. Respect a man who can survive combat sane enough to go on.” Tom’s voice was stern and Jesse immediately spouted a respectful apology.
“No offense taken Jesse. Is there anything else Sir? I have to get that list compiled by Close of Business.”
“Nothing I can think of Lieutenant.” Major Marshall smiled, offered his hand and shook mine with a firm ‘Welcome aboard We’ll swap war stories another time.’ and was gone. For the first time since I had arrived I knew I had a friend. I smiled, letting the past few minutes drift from my mind. I sat at my desk for a full hour collecting my thoughts as the preliminary data rolled across my screen. My name was tagged as questionable, just as I expected. I removed my name from the list, reviewing the other five or so at the same time. I didn’t expect to have any problems with the recommendations so I forwarded the list to Major Bachs personally by Fourteen Hundred hours. He smiled, accepted the list and dismissed me without comment.
I remember walking out with a feeling something was wrong, and as I passed Major Marshall going into the CO’s office I knew something was up.
“Mister Hazzard. I wanted to ask you earlier if you wouldn’t mind joining my wife and I for dinner this weekend. It slipped my mind.” We all had quarters here, but most of us maintained apartments and houses dirtside where we went on leave and conducted our earthly business. The station spun at a comfortable .8G rotation, but families were not part of the crew. I knew the Major lived near Houston, and regular shuttles ran back and forth. Space A travel had modernized to include that regular shuttle or any other LEO to Earth transports.
“Certainly sir. I would be delighted. I suppose your wife can cook a hell of a lot better than the galley chefs in the officer mess.” He smiled and nodded.
“Well then we’ll expect you around seventeen thirty, hopefully you will have recovered from your wetdown by then.” I knew my eyes had widened to an unusual size and I imagine I looked like the stunned idiot I was, but to my credit, Major Marshall ignored it.
“Yes, Captain. Your promotion came through this morning. The CO and I both wrote sterling recommendations to command based on the reports of your last CO and your war record. Confederation Headquarters obviously approved. We can’t have our Chief Intelligence Officer, which by the way is a Captains billet, being a First Lieutenant now can we?” I must have tensed up a bit, then I noticed the CO standing behind me, a sharklike smile on his face. I realized then that I had been set up all along. Little Jesse, the security list, all of it was another of Major Bachs tests.
“Welcome Aboard!” I said sarcastically. Both men rolled with laughter, and for the first time since I had lost the Marine Corps, I felt at home.
“Carry on Leftenant.” The CO barked.
“Aye Sir.” I walked off; wondering just what the next seventeen-month tour would be like under these two. I felt a mild headache coming on so I let it go and went back to my office.
Two days later, Captain Hazzard reported to work. I could almost feel the extra bar weighing heavily on my shoulders as I walked into my office at zero six thirty. The Confed delegates were scheduled to dock on station within three hours, and I knew that everything had been prepared. I listened in on the Enlisted passdown, interjecting my few words here and there about general diplomatic security, conversation and manors. To my surprise, none of the crew seemed to even guffaw, which was something I had been accustomed to from the last few weeks. I thought I had earned their acceptance at last.
The shuttle arrived two hours behind schedule. Ever suspicious I asked that a more thorough ID check be performed. I knew the diplomats and aides would be a little more than unhappy at being overly scrutinized, but the planet below was not a peaceful one, and the Confederation itself, like all human governments, was factional. The delegates disembarked and passively filed through the security checks. Major Marshall had given me full control of the security forces covering the visit, and the job of organizing the festivities in the evening.
A familiar delegate representing Western Europe walked by me, slowed down and stopped, turned and waved me directly over to her. She had alabaster skin and red hair that burned like the sun. Her eyes pierced me like the cold blue steel of a sword. I knew before she spoke who she was. It was my job to know.
“Captain?” Her voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant but it seemed more a rhetorical statement than a question.
“ Yes Ma’am.” I felt odd calling a thirty-year old woman ma’am, but it was the proper response. I could see her whitish cheeks blush a little as she noticed my inspection. She definitely showed Scotch-Irish traits. The fact that her given name was Caitlin McCrerry alone didn’t leave much doubt about her ancestry. Everyone involved in the orbital revolt knew of Caitlin because she had been a negotiator for the United Nations during the crisis. She in fact had been the only civilian other than the media to gain any concessions from the Orbitals. She had secured some of the military and research databases of the station in exchange for transporting the families of the revolting scientists and workers dirtside.
“So. You’re a Captain now?”
I nodded respectfully.
Though I had seen her on one previous time, we had never been introduced. I knew we had never spoken before.
“Yes. As of the first.” It was as dull a response as I could muster. I had lectured my staff this morning about avoiding just the situation I found myself in.
“Have we met?” I asked, though I knew the answer well enough.
“Not personally, but I know you pretty damned well through your Confederation Security file. If memory serves me you were at the assault on the Orbital. You even got a Meritorious Citation for Gallantry during that engagement. My how the mighty fall.” Her tone was polite, but I had to hold my swelling anger in check.
“Those files are ‘Eyes only’ Ma’am. You must have had good reason to search them.” I felt the anger begin to rise and knew it best to take my leave. “If you will excuse me I have duties to attend to, have a pleasant visit.” I turned and walked off before I could hear her response. I kept away from Ms. McCrerry for the remainder of the introductions, watching as the remaining delegates filed through. Too many of these people I knew personally from the war crimes trial, and the ceremony that had followed in which I was awarded the commendation. I reconsidered what my staff had meant when they had insinuated I would be hostile toward the delegates. I had thought my professionalism would keep me from reacting, but I was finding with each passing moment, it was harder and harder not to react. It was a disappointing realization.
Once the bigwigs had been processed I knew I would have a break to relax before the dinner ceremony. I left one of the sergeants in charge and retired to my cabin; anxious to let the emotions of the morning encounter ebb away.
I walked back to my quarters and found they were already open, and occupied. The door was slightly ajar and I could hear sound from within. I reached for a sidearm, remembering too late that I had surrendered it upon leaving my post. Whoever was inside made no attempt at being stealthy so I entered.
“Captain Hazzard.” It was a woman’s voice with a thick scotch-Irish accent. At first I suspected it was Caitlin McCrerry, but as I looked through the divider and into my kitchenette I knew it wasn’t. I had apparently surprised her.
“I had expected you later, you gave me no time to prepare.” She was smiling. The frustrations of the morning hadn’t faded, and I found myself getting angry again.
“May I help you Miss?” She shook her head, and pointed to the small couch, coming from the kitchenette and sitting down. She was all of five foot two, with long black hair which fell in an orderly manor straight off her delicate shoulders to the nape of her back. I didn’t move, and her smile faded.
With a sigh she said,” I knew this wouldn’t work. Caitlin told me you were all business. No fun at all I suppose.”
‘Fun?’ I thought. The anger I had been internalizing finally boiled to the surface.
“ If you don’t mind, these are private quarters. I do not remember inviting you in, nor do I remember seeing you on the access and boarding roster. That alone is reason enough for me to shoot you. Get the hell out or I will.” Instinctively I reached from my sidearm again. It was still missing. She laughed and didn’t move.
“Hmm... Maybe I misjudged you, Caitlin never said you had such fire in those steel blues of yours. I like a man who can give orders.” She stood, walked over and purred as she ran a finger across my chest. “I guess the Marine Corps did teach you something.” I grabbed her arm hard and fast, pulling it away from my chest. Before I knew it I was lying on my back. A searing pain lanced through my neck where she straddled my head with her knees. “Ah, I am surprised,” she smiled a Cheshire grin. “I’d never have figured you’d like the rough stuff.” She tightened her grip, and I felt my head swim. I began to lose consciousness from the lack of blood. A second later, she released her vise grip and clarity returned. She looked down at me with a pitying expression.
“Let’s be a civil, shall we lover? I’d hate so much ta kill you before we’ve been introduced.” I couldn’t even growl in anger, so I feigned at nodding. She loosened the grip all the way and stood up, stepping beside me and offering her hand. I took it and with surprising strength she helped me to my feet.
“Whoever you are, right now I could give a Fuck!” My voice was like gravel and I began to rub my neck. “ Get the hell out.”
“Not very nice, or very professional Captain.” the comment struck home, and I relaxed. “I came thousands of miles just to meet you John-boy. Now be a nice farmer and let me say my piece.” I nodded.
“My name is Sheila. Sheila McCrerry.” The name shocked me a little “Now is when you respond ‘Nice to meet you Miss’ Captain.” That Cheshire Cat grin returned.
“Very well Ms. McCrerry, since you already know who I am I have to ask what you are doing on station and under who’s authority.” I paused and rubbed the sore area of my neck unconsciously.
“I don’t care if your sister or cousin is a delegate or not.” Sheila smiled.
“Sister actually, I was raised by our mother in the States, Caitlin stayed with ole Dah. We’re still rather close though.”
“Well, thanks for the genealogy lesson. Shall I escort you to the brig, or do I need to get the handcuffs?”
“Oooh, you are full of surprises Jon Hazzard! Bondage doesn’t seem your style.” She giggled, and I wasn’t getting anywhere so I let go of the bad cop routine. She had already demonstrated my strength and size were not necessarily an advantage here. “Well then. Since you say you’ve come all this way to talk to me, and you have gone to the trouble of gaining passage through station security, I’ll hear what you have to say.”
“Suddenly all ears are we luv? Well a girl does like to keep one guessing.” Her impish grins were beginning to grate on me.
“In this case though I believe you get the facts without any games.” Her voice softened, and she seemed to lose all the misceviousness and humor she’d been projecting the last few minutes. An Aire of professionalism covered her like a cloak. As suddenly as that she was all business.
“Captain. May I call you Jon?” she sighed and pushed her bangs back with her hand. Her accent was noticeable American now, no hint of Irish Brogue.
“No.” I was not very pleased.
“Very well. Captain Hazzard, I am a courier for the Confederation Security Bureau. I was instructed to contact the G-2 officer here on station and deliver a set of confidential orders secretly. The orders were addressed to Captain Straub, your predecessor, but since his suicide you..”
I interrupted. “Suicide?” It occurred to me that I had never asked about the suicide when I had arrived. This was the first time anyone had mentioned it was my predecessor. I had assumed he had been transferred, and the staff never spoke about him.
“Yes. As I was saying. You are now Intel Officer on L-13 so the orders transfer directly to you.”
“That is not standard protocol.” I inserted, she nodded and continued undaunted.
“These are special orders, not directly tied to the man who receives them.” I knew she was lying now, but I didn’t interrupt. “You may be a better replacement for him than we thought. If my gut’s right you’ll do a far better job anyway.” The situation was becoming confusing, but I continued listening.
“Your service record speaks for itself, not many men fare as well as you did before a board of inquiry. In fact that performance is one of the reasons you were given this assignment, despite the fact the top brass do not favor former marines.”
“Is that so? Well please pass what you have to pass Ms. McCrerry, I have a dinner to attend and I’d like to prepare.”
She shook her head a little. “It’s all spit and polish with you isn’t it flyboy? Well what if I could offer you a reinstatement of flight status?” I hid my excitement. Flying had been my life, and I craved the adrenaline of pushing gravitys like a strung out heroin addict. She knew which buttons to push and when, so I could sense this was a calculated move and decided not to play along, despite my desires.
“That part of my life is over Ms. McCrerry. Now I must ask you to give over the orders and stop wasting time.” Flippantly she drew a data chip from her flightsuit.
“There you go Cappy!” The old Sheila resurfaced: accent, attitude and all.
“Have fun.“ She got up and walked toward the door.
“Oh by the way, I’ll be here at thirteen hundred sharp to pick you up for dinner. Young Captains shouldn’t go to social gatherings without a beautiful date on their arm.” I sighed, and watched her go.
The encounter had left me with butterflies in my stomach and the strong feeling I was being played like a puppet on very short strings. I didn’t like being a pawn in anyone’s game, especially by someone who knew enough about me to tempt my cooperation using my flight status. I knew that these orders had never been intended for my predecessor, and if they were important enough to sneak a courier aboard then they definitely would not be transferable. Deep down I knew it was Caitlin McCrerry behind it all, but I had no idea why.