Barghest – Chapter 13

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A Lie Has No Legs

 

Hour 1700, Day 002, Year 2131       One week after Malak’s test mission.

Centennial anniversary of biological terrorist attack on US corn production. World cereal markets and related livestock markets crash. Starvation rates in developing nations skyrocket as exports dwindle. Although seed manufacturers develop resistant strains, the disease spreads to Africa, decimating more than 50% of grain produced and consumed on the continent. An estimated 400-650 million deaths are tied to the attack.

“You have reached your destination,” the transportation AI stated in a soothing British accent. Soledad Venegas stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. It never ceased to amaze him how fresh the air in the deep farming country of the United States was. He knew it could not be attributed entirely to the environmental efforts of Congress; the area had simply never been close enough to any heavily populated areas to experience the smog and acid rain that had plagued his home city of Rio. He stretched and grabbed his bag, waving to the security personnel that were nonchalantly guarding the farmstead.

A voice called out from the shadows of the open barn door, “Be with you in a moment, Soledad.” The Representative shivered under his wool coat. Thankfully, no wind blew, but early January ensured that there was a hard crust of snow on the ground and his breath was visible. A grey speckled horse was lead out of the barn by an older woman. Her long, white braid was topped with a worn brown cowboy hat. Thick, serviceable denim pants, a heavy coat and well-used boots gave her the look of a seasoned worker.  She pulled off a leather glove as she drew close enough to shake his hand.  “Glad you could make it.”

“I’m only sorry I missed the holidays, Helen.” He smiled and quickly put his own hand back in his pocket. “Was the weather cooperative?”

“A white Christmas, as you can see,” she nodded at the large snow piles in the yard. “Santa had plenty of space to land the sleigh. Come on, I’ll walk you to the house.” Helen turned, clucking at the horse, and began a leisurely stroll. Venegas slid the strap of his bag over his shoulder and followed.

“The little lady of the house was excited for her presents?”

“You would think my granddaughter was turning ten, instead of two. Waiting by the fireplace until she fell asleep there. And of course my son spoils her something terrible.  Still, I reminded her you were coming, so I don’t think you’ll get away without a gift of your own.”

“Oh, I remember when my children were young,” he chuckled. “I brought something I think she’ll like.”

“How did it go?” The question was asked in the same tone, as though the conversation was still focused on weather and holiday plans.

“As expected. General Batma appointed Colonel Thomas to oversee the Legion.” He patted his chest pocket. “I’ll have to destroy it later, but I made you a copy of the mission film – it was quite remarkable.”

“Legion,” Helen snorted. “Batma could have had a career in marketing. I told him it was unnecessary to give them their own designation – it will draw attention before we are ready for it.”

“Ah, then you will really be pleased that Thomas has apparently already named them. Keres Legion, he calls them. Although why, I have no idea.”

“Well, aren’t they just full of creativity,” she murmured. Soledad couldn’t tell if she was irritated or pleased. “The Keres were old gods that carried spirits to the underworld.”

He whistled, making the horse’s ears flicker. “That explains their motto, Born for death.”

“Those two are like peas in a pod. I wonder if Batma was aware that Thomas has such a flair for the dramatic.” Soledad shrugged and they walked in silence until they were nearly to the main house. Two stories of old-fashioned white painted clapboard and large, four pane windows was decorated with lights and garland. “Gillian and Batma know you’ll shut down the program?” Helen looked at him for confirmation.

“Oh, I was very convincing. Even left in a huff.” He stopped and turned to her before they came into earshot of the guard on the front porch. “The twenty-eight series are performing well in preliminary trials, and the twenty-nines have passed the benchmarks for their maturation rate. The thirties will be ready for extraction soon, on the schedule you dictated. I signed off on the budget to complete their training before the mission report came in. No one will be surprised when there is no funding for another series.”

“Good.” She placed one gloved hand on his sleeve to keep him from moving. “Soledad,” she said seriously. Although she had more lines between her brows and around her mouth than when he had first met her, Helen Maker was still a beautiful woman – blue-eyed and pink lipped. And even stronger and more determined than she had been at the start of her career. “I know you could have moved on to the Senate years ago, or retired, but I needed you on the Oversight Committee. Thank you.”

He covered her gloved hand with his bare palm. The cold stung his skin. “What are old friends for?”

“Favors?” A smile quirked her mouth. “There is another issue we need to discuss, before you leave on Monday.” Venegas repressed a sigh. Helen was a very old friend, but she was tenacious and dedicated to goals he could only understand a fraction of. A door banged open and a squeal interrupted further conversation.

Venegas held out his arms with a grin as a bundle of pink snow pants and black hair nearly tumbled off the porch in excitement. Blue eyes just like her grandmother’s sparkled with happiness. He quickly stepped forward and swept her into a hug, “Happy Birthday, Clara!”

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