In the span of 24 hours, Goldie’s Revenge had gone from tavern to recovery operations to temporary court for the Antigone. From the alcove left of the entrance, Justice Frederick Mayfield addressed his colleagues, “we’ve gone in circles for two hours. Without more information there is nothing for us to discuss. This day began with our debating the legitimacy of declaring war in the Kaiser’s stead. We were then sent here to meet and advise the Kaiser, who has not graced us with his presence. Here we stand, ordered to the seat of the attack and still no Kaiser. How certain are we that that missive was genuine? If the Kaiser is going to meet us, shouldn’t he have been here already? If he’s not going to meet us, how long should we stay? I say that after our meal, if the Kaiser is still a no-show, we demand General Tomlyn make ready for our transportation back to Ambrosia. Do I have a second?”
“I second,” Justice Travis Scott practically shouted.
“The matter of leaving has been moved and seconded,” Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis said, hiding his delight behind mundane procedure. “We are adjourned. Finish dinner. After which, we order the general to prepare transport.”
“Chief Justice, do you think this the proper course?” Justice Moira Thibodeaux asked.
“I think the motion has been carried,” Adonis replied.
Justice Thibodeaux sat back into her rickety wooden chair, half-heartedly using her fork to push a tomato into a leaf of lettuce, while watching the other justices. Seeley Songtree hadn’t touched her dinner, rather she’d sipped her drink, and stared at the pictures behind Goldie’s bar. One picture in particular continuously drew Seeley’s gaze, and Moira made a mental note. Also ignoring their food, Jo Casta and Crimson Bohner were much too occupied whispering amongst themselves regarding the devastation. Moira caught snippets of their conversation every time Jo moved, which was quite frequently considering Jo had a tendency to bob her head when talking. Only Levi Bayleaf persisted in glancing at Adonis, as if holding back the words he deigned to say. Watching Bayleaf, a normally verbose man, resist the urge to speak was like watching a gasping fish flop around on dry land. His mouth opened and closed, his right hand raised and fell, and finally he heaved a great sigh. After which he picked up his glass, took a deep swig, and then repeated the actions. The other men were silent, staring absently at the table, and unconsciously spooning food into their waiting mouths.
Skidding to a stop, Patrick Field stared down Faith Gryphus Lane. Amidst lazy wisps of grey smoke sat an old green militia truck, the bed of which was surrounded by a troop armed with canes and walkers. Warily, Field approached the group of retirees. The closer he came, the more his hair raised, his stomach twisted, and his nose and eyes burned. A stench, quite similar to that let off when the crematorium was fired up, permeated the air. He desperately wished he’d gone to the Templus Ministrae first. Whatever had happened, no fire trucks or other emergency crews were on the scene. Sitting in the back of the truck was a distraught, one-eyed young man that Field had glimpsed mere hours earlier, when he’d run to the Phoenix Rose for help from Santos. How like days ago those hours now seemed. Though Field recognized Colonel Gawain Dagon, he resisted the impulse to run up to the man who was speaking with the young man.
“I know it’s not easy,” Dagon consoled the youth, “but you have to pull yourself together and tell me what happened.”
“Dead,” he hissed. “Cain’t you see?”
Squeezing through the retirees, Patrick Field changed his mind about interrupting, “Colonel, a moment. Please.”
“The Colonel is busy,” said an officer who looked like a younger Dagon, “what do you need?”
“A message for Colonel Dagon.”
“Give it to me,” Ensign Balin ordered.
“I will not,” Field snapped. Over Balin’s shoulder, he shouted, “Colonel Dagon! I was sent by Commander Felis.”
At the commander’s name, Dagon spun around, and saw his cousin detaining the groundskeeper. “Ensign,” Dagon said with a slight nod. Balin stepped out from in front of Field, who covered the short distance in two quick steps. “What is it?”
“Commander Felis sent me. He didn’t know you were here. Uh,” Field scanned the faces of the aged onlookers and chose discretion. “I’ve a message.”
Impatiently, Dagon tapped his foot, “well?”
Even though Patrick had not been ordered to relay Santos’ message to Colonel Dagon, he decided it was the only viable option. After all, Commander Felis hadn’t known that the colonel would be at the scene. Field whispered the ridiculous code, and then for good measure added, “if necessary, I can take you.”
One who hesitates long doesn’t become leader of Mercury’s Elite Guard. In an instant, Dagon gauged the groundskeeper’s bearing and made his decision. He ordered, “Ensign Balin, stay with this young man. And for Mercury’s sake, call the fire department before we lose this whole damn neighborhood.”
“I already called,” a cracked voice chimed from the veterans’ gallery. Dagon looked, but couldn’t determine the voice’s owner.
“But, sir,” Ensign Balin objected.
“Once he’s cleared, bring him to HQ,” Dagon said.
“Yes, sir,” Balin sighed.
Motioning Field forward with one hand, Dagon said, “lead the way.”
Though no longer spry, General Marshall Michaels’ hearing was fine. As he circled around the back of the white marble Caliber family mausoleum, he heard Ensign Osborne cussing through the thick underbrush. Osborne’s wind-carried vulgarities ended mid-sentence, when General Michaels reached the back of the mausoleum. The general froze, listening hard, but hearing only the soft whistle of wind upon leaves. Quick as his shuffling feet and cane could carry him, Michaels finished circumnavigating the mausoleum. A break in the shrubbery, slightly larger than the one Ensign Osborne had taken, allowed the old man to ease through. Once through the outer layer of shrubs, the break opened onto a well-used animal trail, which the general apprehensively took a step and a pause at a time. Three feet in, he heard rustling. Two feet after that a branch snapped behind him, with as much speed as he could manage he spun toward the noise while raising his cane. His left ankle twisted in the effort as his cane caught on the tree next to him. Dropping the cane, he threw out his arms to brace for impact. He landed with an umph, a crunch in his right wrist, and a shooting pain that ripped into his brain. He involuntarily hollered out, “sonofabitch!”
“Sir?” Ensign Osborne called out from deeper in the underbrush.
“Here,” the fallen general responded.
Osborne shoved through the brush, rushed to General Michaels side, and panicked when he saw the old man sprawled on the ground. The lieutenant is going to kill me, Osborne thought, while saying, “what happened, sir?”
“Heard a noise. Tripped,” Michaels whispered.
“I found another arrow, but nothing else.”
“Did you hear that?”
“I don’t he—oh.” Ensign Osborne slowly stood up, cocking his head to the side, and turning toward the noise. With one hand he patted the air next to his thigh, while he used a swift flick of his other wrist to fully extend his collapsible baton.
Pacing the inside of the Comm Tent, General Tomlyn waited for the radio operator to reach Plains Region HQ in Ambrosia City.
Finally, the corporal waved the general over, “Plains, are you ready to receive?” He nodded to no one, then stood up, “copy.” Handing the headphones to General Tomlyn, the corporal pointed to the mic, “she’s all yours, sir.”
“That was part of the hold up, sir. We’re good now.”
“You got the Top?”
“Good,” General Tomlyn said. “Now, clear everyone out.”
The corporal hesitated for a moment, and then tapped the shoulder of the other three radio operators, indicating the door with his eyes. When the soldier who’d handled Colonel Dagon’s messages raised her eyebrows, the corporal shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Go ahead for Top.”
“Verify. Two to tango.”
“Top, something’s amiss, copy.”
“Copy. Uh. What is it, sir?”
“You tell me. Track,” General Tomlyn glanced at the scrap of paper he’d taken from the motor pool, “201. Report location. You see anything funny, you keep it for me. Eyes and ears only. Copy?”
“Out,” the general didn’t wait for a response. He dropped the headphones in the seat, and then strode out the canvas door nearly knocking the corporal down. “You,” he pointed at the female soldier he’d ignored earlier, “walk with me.”
“You,” without waiting, he stalked down the path.
Confused, she stood there watching him leave. The corporal punched her in the arm, which was enough to move her. Punching her own hand, with narrowed eyes, she mouthed, “get you,” and then jogged down the path to the general. When she reached him, she said, “Sir?”
“First, you interrupt recovery ops with indistinct chatter. Then, you interrupt a meeting with the Justices to tell Colonel Dagon something. What was so urgent?”
“Coded message, sir.”
“Don’t know. One of the Mercs, sir.”
The general stopped walking. Turning to the woman, he said, “what do you know?”
She met his gaze, took a deep breath, and with surprising clarity said, “I know radios, sir. I know I wasn’t lying when I tried to tell you about the static and the beeps. After Colonel Dagon received his message, I continued to listen. Twenty minutes ago, it started up again. Here,” she shoved a piece of paper at the general, “I can’t read it, but I’m convinced it’s a message.” She shrugged her shoulders, “do with it as you will, sir.”