Not only had Goldie lost her town and had her bar turned into recovery operation headquarters, but now she was being forced to cater to the Justices of the Antigone Courts. If this hadn’t happened because of mass destruction, she would have forced them to take a group picture to add to her wall. Most of the pictures were of locals, taken during town celebrations. A few, Goldie’s favorites, were prominently displayed behind the bar, over the rows of alcohol. These celebrity photos included sports heroes, authors, and one of her with Fintan the Bard. She, like most of the women her age, had once pined for the young one-eyed rascal. It wasn’t his way with words, oh, no. As an adventurer, he’d seen and done things. His worldly manner was majorly attractive. Goldie stared at the picture, fondly thinking of better days. Captain Prescott pulled her from her reverie.
“Goldie? Ma’am?” he asked again.
“Huh?” She turned around, “oh, yes?”
“I was saying, we’ll need seating and food for ten. Can that be arranged?”
“You’ve got the dining area to yourselves. Do whatever you want with the tables,” she answered.
“It’s just…well… The justices can’t be expected to eat rations. I mean. They’re the justices. I know you’ve got a kitchen. Do you have enough?”
“Captain, I usually feed half the town. And…” she wanted to say ‘they’re all dead,’ but she couldn’t. If she said it, then it was real. And, she just knew she was stuck in an awful nightmare. At any moment she’d wake up and have to get ready for work. She’d come to the tavern early to prep the vegetables for the cook, and then the bar for happy hour. “I think we can handle ten. Who gets the bill? The general or the justices?”
The captain couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. Part of him thought perhaps she was joking. He suddenly thought her cold. Even in this disaster she was the epitome of a callous business woman. Of course, once the recovery finished, she’d be out of business, but seriously? Feeding the justices was an honor and a privilege. To want payment? “I’ll have to ask General Tomlyn.”
“You do that. I’ll see what’s on the menu. Are any of them veges?”
“I don’t think so. Do you have a regular menu? They could pick something from it.”
“I usually do daily specials. Cook’s prerogative,” she grabbed the edge of the bar with both hands and held on tight. Her stomach dropped to the floor a split second before she followed.
“Goldie?” Captain Prescott darted around the bar to where she lay in a heap. “Ma’am?” He shook her arm and cooed to her. After a minute she mumbled something he didn’t hear. “What? Speak up Goldie. Wake up. You’re alright. It’s alright.”
“It’s not alright!” she screamed.
“Shh,” he whispered.
“No. I won’t be quiet. This is my bar! My town,” her face oozed tears, snot, and saliva. Her wild eyes stared somewhere beyond the captain. In a calm voice she said, “Benjamin will be unavailable to cook this evening. If your party would like to reschedule, we can check the books to see when would be better.”
She’d absolutely fucking lost her shit. Captain Prescott gently rubbed her back. They’d have to pull one of the mess cooks over. Depending on what Goldie had in the kitchen that might not be too bad.
“You’ve read the testimony and seen the damage,” General Tomlyn said ignoring the commotion. “What you may not realize: the recovery effort has met with problems at every turn. There aren’t enough workers to sift through the rubble. The longer we take, the less likely we are to find more survivors. As to the damage assessment, we can effectively wipe Avalona off our maps. There isn’t enough here to rebuild. Maybe in time, with the right planning commission and if the Kaiser believes we ought to do so. But, that isn’t a military decision. Based on everything I know about the forces in Plains Region and given the totality of destruction, I will recommend to the Kaiser that we plan a response. This travesty cannot be left unanswered. If we do nothing, we tell our opponents they are free to demolish our towns and kill our people. Unacceptable. We must respond in kind. Of course, the specifics of any such plan must be left to the Kaiser and his military advisory panel. That said, questions?”
Dagon listened and watched intently. Each of the justices maintained expressionless masks, save two. Chief Justice Adonis twitched with every mention of the Kaiser, nothing overt, a brief twitch at the right corner of his mouth as if he were holding back a smirk. And, Justice Jo Costa grimaced at the word ‘destruction.’ Dagon pondered playing poker with the other justices, as stone-faced as they were, he was certain he’d never make it out of a game with his bankroll.
“General, are we sufficiently prepared to simultaneously wage war and defend our people?” Justice Frederick Mayfield asked.
“We have the men, the means, and thus the capacity for both.”
“I see. And, will this include soldiers from the other regions?” Justice Cal Davies asked.
The general stared at the short stocky justice, “of course. Regular Militia protocol draws soldiers from all quarters and disperses them where needed.” His curt answer and slightly annoyed expression conveyed the ignorance of the question.
“Then, the other generals will be required to give their recommendations. Can we expect them here? Or, will they meet us in Ambrosia?” Justice Crimson Bohner inquired.
An amused Colonel Dagon sat back on the fringe, thankful he’d passed the baton to General Tomlyn. While a great many of the questions the justices asked were seemingly absurd, Dagon knew they were framed to clarify the fine points of law that generals and colonels could care less about. Quite unexpectedly, the radio operator who’d spoken with Captain Prescott earlier, stood at attention to Dagon’s right. She waited silently, her unwavering gaze fixed on him. Dagon uneasily shifted in his chair, waved her close, and whispered, “now’s not the time.”
She glanced at the proceedings, nodded her comprehension, then leaned in whispering back, “coded message, sir.”
His flesh rippled as the hair across his body stood on end, he motioned her to lead the way, and followed her out of Goldie’s. Behind the bar lay a handful of military tents, the true headquarters of the recovery efforts. At the second tent on the right, the radio operator pushed open a canvas door. Radio equipment lined the canvas walls. Three operators, headphones on and heads down, maintained their seats when he walked in. She escorted him to her station, handed him a set of oversized headphones and indicated the talk button on the microphone.
The colonel mussed his cropped black hair, slid into the seat, and put the headphones on. “Go ahead for Dagon,” he said into the mic.
The static-filled voice of Santos responded, “when the cock crows, the crow flies. When the fly buzzes, the buzz lies. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, unless you throw one stone. Copy?”
“Copy,” Dagon pushed the chair back, ripping the headphones off his head and muttering, “thank you, soldier.” His normal olive complexion instantly faded into pale white and his hand shook as he reached for the latch on the canvas door. He needed to get back to Ambrosia on the double and Betsy, his Iago Comet, couldn’t help since she’d taken the Kaiser up the day before. He’d have to commandeer one of the vehicles from the makeshift motor pool on the other side of the mini tent city. As he made for the motor pool, he barely heard someone yelling after him. Spinning around, he saw Ensign Balin running in his direction.
The ensign slowed to a less conspicuous jog which turned into a brisk walk as he approached Dagon. “Sir!”
“I’ve completed my assignment,” Balin said with a lopsided grin.
“I haven’t time to chat, Ensign,” Dagon’s curt comment wiped the grin off his cousin’s face.
Balin held up a small black bag. “Upon your orders,” he held the bag out to Dagon, “your gear, sir.” A confused Dagon took the bag while raising his eyebrows at Balin, who answered, “anything else, sir? I’m currently unassigned.”
In politics it’s nearly impossible to know who to trust, which is why members of Mercury’s Elite Guard are vetted family members of serving Mercs, required to pass special mental and physical training, forced to undergo thorough examination by the Phoenix Rose, and scrutinized for years before reaching the first rank of Ensign. If the message was right, the attack on Poterit Don was worse than they imagined. To maintain order, Dagon would need every Merc he could muster at his side in the temple compound before the justices returned. “With me, Ensign,” Dagon ordered. He spun back around and resumed his course.
“I understand, Commander,” the haughty psychologist said from his raised seat in his uncomfortably hot office.
Commander Randle, Dante, Sr. leaned forward in his chair, pulling his shoulders back and raising himself up to eye level with the junior ranking quack. “If you understood, I wouldn’t keep repeating myself. Now would I?”
“I’m only following protocol.”
“Were you following protocol when you were four hours late to our meeting? I’d really like to see your regulations manual, doctor. I believe we’ve received different editions. You see, mine requires soldiers to muster at the appointed time and place whereas yours must be part of the newer, nicer military. Does it say show up when you feel like it? Perhaps after drinks? I believe I smell a hint of anise,” Dante acted like he was going to stand, put both hands on the arms of his chair and skimmed over the books on the shelf behind the insolent prick psychologist, “I don’t see a Reg Manual anywhere. Do you keep yours in a different location? I really do need a new copy.”
“Please, Commander,” the doctor begged, “calm down.”
If eyes were lasers, Dante would have seared the doctor’s head off. “I am calm.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Dante contemplated yanking the bastard out of his chair and giving him an object lesson in the differences between calm and not. However, he knew that the arrogant twat was doing precisely as ordered, most likely at General Peters behest. The moment Dante went ape-shit on his ass, the doctor would have everything he needed to lock him up in one of those quiet little institutions where the medication and meals are delivered like clockwork. Crazy people don’t command soldiers. All smiles, Dante stood up, “Doctor Javert, a tool cannot be fooled. You have no respect for your seniors. This incident will be reported. Good day.”
“Sit down, Commander,” Javert ordered. “It is true that in the field you outrank me. However, in this office, as the head of the department, I outrank you.” The psychologist let that sink in.
Dante stepped away from the chair and up to the desk, “rank is rank, Captain. Your position in this facility does not give you leave to order me around anymore than it gives you leave to order around one of the generals or the president. Do not make the mistake of thinking yourself unassailable.” With that Dante about-faced, took three steps to the door, and yanked the handle. The door didn’t budge.
“When our session is over, I will unlock the door,” Dr. Javert announced with the joy of prat calling Checkmate.