“At ease, Major Blake.” The older man lowered himself carefully into a chair and turned to study the younger officer. As Colonel Barton’s recent replacement in St. Louis, he was familiarizing himself with the new command and had requested Major Blake, specifically, for this detail. He busied himself for a few moments with a stack of papers on his desk, while covertly watching the newer recruit for any signs of recognition or remembrance.
Finally, he spoke again.
“Major, we have a very important mission for you. There are still pockets of rebels out there, somewhere, even after all this time. One would think they’d have accepted the status quo by now, but…” The colonel shrugged. “Perhaps not. Colonel Barton was remiss in not following through on our original plans which, I suppose, is why I am now here.
“Please, Major, have a seat. We have much to discuss.” He shuffled the papers on his desk again, appeared to have found what he was looking for, and continued, “So, Brad, if I may address you as such?”
“It appears that you have had, in the past, some knowledge of these fringe groups, yes? And that you may still possess some familiarity with some individuals so involved?”
“Yes, sir. I know where to find them. I know them, I know how they operate. And I have every desire to bring them to justice, sir, if I may say so.”
“I’m sure you do,” murmured the colonel, barely audible. “And I assume that, given specific direction, you will be able to take out these insurgents, without any qualms whatsoever? Even supposing there are, say, a woman and a young girl among them?”
“No, sir. No reservations whatsoever. My time among those people was a poor decision on my part, and I cannot forget the things to which I was subjected during those few years.” Brad’s face was inscrutable. The colonel continued to watch him closely, for any signs of a breakthrough, any signs of wavering in his duty or, in his own case, of identification. There were none.
“That is as it should be. Very good, Major. I see we are on the same page and, if you are able to finish what was begun five years ago, you will indeed be rewarded.
“Your immediate territory will be to the south of the city, as far south as is needed. You will work with a handpicked squad and you will have much discretion as to how you perform your…er…duties. You will report only to me and, in matters of urgency, the code word “Pops” will get you through to me immediately.”
Brad’s face showed nothing, not even a tiny flicker of memory. The colonel handed him a file and rose from his seat.
Colonel Clarence Hoefer walked around the desk and closed the door. Now, his real work could begin.
For years, Co-opCom had struggled with the whys and wherefores of VADER. Why were some individuals targeted, and others seemed to be immune? More specifically, why were there so many for whom the profile was inaccurate? It was supposed to have worked a whole lot better than it had.
VADER had been developed some two decades earlier, by the Ultratron Corporation in conjunction with the new government, the Cooperative Commonwealth. The purpose was to target certain groups of people, those who were opposed to Co-opCom’s heavy-handed takeover and, in effect, stop the protest. In other words, terminate them.
The remaining population would support the government, as the government would support them, and all threats would have been eliminated. Those who now occupied certain key cities throughout the US were as sheep – as long as they were fed, sheltered, clothed, they required nothing more than an occasional sacrifice of freedom.
Guns or other weaponry were outlawed entirely, except for the military; travel was heavily restricted from zone to zone – in fact, none was allowed at all. Speech was monitored, everywhere, all the time, and one wrong word would get a person locked up for months at a time with no contact, let alone a trial or even official charges filed.
When VADER was unleashed, the plan had indeed worked on much of the population – 95% of it, which was slightly more than intended. It decimated the military, which was to be expected, but Co-opCom had been prepared with a mercenary force. No civilians had yet volunteered in this new regime.
Yet, it wasn’t a perfect system, to remove the dissidents in order to construct this so-called utopian rule. Many of Co-Op Com’s supporters were eliminated and a few, a very few, of its detractors not only lived but now were threatening the new government by their very existence.
When one could be found, and terminated, they were that that much closer to their final vision of a monarchy. And that was Pops’ promotion, based on his success in the field nearly eight years ago combined with the gross ineptitude of a certain Colonel Barton.
The years Pops had spent down at the camp with Abby and little Juliet and all the others was etched in his mind as one of the most difficult assignments he’d had to date. He’d known some of those “kids” since they actually were children, and yes, he did care about them, in his own fashion. And Millie. That had almost been his undoing.
But they were all hell-bent on making their own way, on opposing everything this new regime stood for – and he couldn’t let that happen. He had his own life at stake, his own dreams. Hell, he wasn’t that old yet. He was waiting for the right time to retire, and then he’d have anything he wanted. Anything at all.