Barghest III – Chapter 6

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Year 2138, Day 002, Hour 0730

Oort Siege. Series of Culler attacks against the Sol Coalition in 2090-2091. Culminated in the successful test of the Oort Defense Station System (ODSS). Nine weaponized space stations at the far edge of the Sol System were activated and utilized along with the Coalition Fleet to destroy six hundred twelve Culler ships. One point six billion human lives were lost. It is considered the second greatest success in the War, after the Expulsion.

“I know, sweetheart, and I am so sorry I had to cancel our plans. These corporate negotiations are important to the coming budget, or I would have put them off. We’ll do something special, just the two of us, when I get back.”

“But it won’t be my birthday anymore.” Nine year old Clara Maker was bordering on whining, but the sad look in her big eyes demonstrated that she was truly upset. Helen nodded sympathetically at the video screen. Her trip had been scheduled for almost two years, and the plan had her inspecting progress at the Project Jagd facility and returning to Earth well in time for Clara’s party. Unfortunately, even the most preciously calculated experiments were capable of developing unexpectedly. There had been technical issues with the artificial wombs, and so decanting the thirty-four series was delayed by nearly three weeks. Helen glanced out the window in her office as the ship slowed and the gas giant Struve d came into view. It was several factors larger than Jupiter and had hundreds of moons. The complex orbital interactions and debris ring would have made any pilot think twice before attempting to get close. It was an ideal location to hide a black book operation.

“So, really, it will be as though you have two birthdays this year. And that is not something to be sneezed at, is it?” Helen watched Clara nod, resignation coloring her good manners.

“Yes, Grandma.”

“Wonderful, and if you check with your father, I believe the present I had messengered over-” there was a squeal from the other end of the call loud and high-pitched enough to make Helen’s assistant look up and her personal security guard wince. “All right, that’s enough. Have a good day, Clara.”

“Thank you! Love you!” Clara made a kissey face at the camera before the call ended.

“Everything all right, ma’am?” Her assistant asked tentatively.

“Fine, fine.” Helen waved her off and watched their destination draw closer. It was one of the larger moons, slightly smaller than Venus. The atmosphere was thick with dark purple-gray clouds. The main continent would be chilly and wet, and Helen had dressed accordingly in expensive wool trousers and matching sweater. Her thick coat and gloves lay on the seat beside her; she planned on touring the grounds of the facility while she was there. The landing procedure went smoothly and within an hour Helen was escorted into a large office that had grown cluttered over the years. Dr. Martinez was watching a video feed as she came in.

“Madam Prime Minister, I apologize. We’re in the middle of a test and-”

“No, please. I’m early. Don’t let me interrupt.” She set her bag and coat down and studied one of the many original drawings on the walls. The paper was old; the torn edge where it had been removed from an actual sketchbook was easy to see under the glass. A boy of nine or ten was crouched on the edge of a rock. His face was upturned, a look of intense excitement on his features and a long tail hovering in the air. It was quite good, and might have indicated a career in the arts for Dr. Martinez if all of her models hadn’t been classified military property.

“I can have someone bring refreshments – are you on Sol Standard, or a local Earth time?”

“Sol Standard – too many years in Paris.” She moved on to another art piece drawing while Martinez sent a message to her staff regarding a breakfast tray. The next image was a print out of a digital drawing. It was done in heavily saturated colors, dark and moody in a style reminiscent of watercolors. A boy, his body wiry in the way of young teenagers, stood in the center of a semi-circle. His face was set, his eyes dark and serious. Two other boys, one very tall and the other heavily muscled stood to one side of him while two girls were on his right. The first had rich brown hair that melded into the shadows at their backs. Her shoulder blended with that of the center boy until their clothes and bodies meshed in washed out strokes. At the far side, slightly apart from the others, was a shorter girl with a long, red ponytail. Rather than listening to the center boy, her face was turned to the viewer. Her lips twisted in a smirk and her green eyes seemed to glow.

A young person in generic professional clothing entered with a tray and left again. Helen poured herself a cup of tea, and handed a coffee to the doctor.

“Oh, thank you, ma’am.” She tucked a tablet under her arm and pointed to the video display with her cup. “You may be interested in this – they’re coming up on the latest command test.” The camera captured a wide swath of thick, grassy meadow that had been set up like an obstacle course. It took a moment for Helen to recognize the man on screen; it was his tail that finally gave him away and reminded her of the reports she had read when Project Hellhound was in its infancy.

“We have had some significant downtime while we wait for the decanting, so in addition to the commercial research we do to support the facility, I have authorized more work on a-” Martinez smiled to herself, “-pet project, so to speak. That is Bee out there now.”

“From the…” Helen had to think for a moment, “twenty-two series?”

“Yes. They experienced some aggressive aging issues, but Bee was stabilized. He ages similar to the average human. He is chronologically thirty-five.” Although the man moved with an easy sort of grace – emphasized by the swish and flick of his tail – his appearance was that of a person in their seventies. Perhaps even older. “My predecessor, Dr. Gillian, was adamant that he and any other subjects deemed not viable, but stable, should still have a certain quality of life if we are able to provide it for them. Bee was an essential component to the training of series twenty-six through thirty, and is working with thirty-one through thirty-three now. I have hope that he will be able to continue to serve in that capacity for many years. But today-”

Bee made a sharp motion with his left hand and an explosion of grass and leaves streaked across the screen. Whatever was on the training field was moving too quickly for Helen to identify, but target dummies were knocked over in rapid succession as it approached Bee. A growling sound came over the feed and the thing abruptly stopped. Helen leaned closer to the screen.

“What is that?”

“Do you like it?” Martinez was smiling, obviously pleased with the results of whatever they had been testing. “It is a Micas Immanis – not the original species, of course, those are far too large and aggressive for our purposes. Gillian kept a small breeding pack at Erasmus Station for genetic samples. Once we finalized the sequencing for the Legion, we needed to find a new use for them under Project Jagd. Our xenobiologists felt they had been in captivity too long to be released into the wild.”

“It is smaller than I imagined.” It stood still and Helen could get a good look at the creature. Its head was even with Bee’s elbow, and she estimated it weighed as much as a small pony. The fur was a creamy caramel. With its short snout, pointed ears, and forward jointed knees it looked like a cross between a jungle cat and a bear.

“Yes, that was part of our genetic modifications. We wanted them to be easier to handle and more economical – you wouldn’t believe how much one of the full-grown ones can eat.” Martinez zoomed in on the two figures and put a finger to her communications implant, speaking quietly, “Bee.” The man and animal both stiffened at the sound of his name. “Go ahead and start the game.” She gestured for Helen to watch and spoke at a normal volume. “Pre-Invasion Earth forces often used animals as companions for soldiers. Trained them to search out bombs, guard buildings or units, attack and immobilize enemy combatants.”

A pattern of low growls and huffs came over the feed.

“My great uncle was in the last Middle-Eastern conflict. He had a…malinois, I believe.”

“Then you’re familiar with the utility. Really, this began as more of an exercise to keep the staff occupied during downtime, and give the subjects some exercise, but I think there will be some economical and valuable applications.” A metal door set flush with the ground opened and a platform began to raise. Secured to the four by four area was a Culler. Extremely angry, and extremely violent. “We haven’t tested on-command kills yet, so this will be interesting.” She tapped on her tablet and the restraints fell away from the alien’s legs and talons. It shrieked and dug in its lower claws, the sound of curling metal loud even through the speaker.

The Culler charged at Bee and the test subject, but neither moved. It got within fifty meters. Fifty. Twenty-five. Ten. Helen glanced at Martinez from the corner of her eye, but the woman did not blink. At the last possible second Bee repeated the slashing motion of his hand and the animal surged forward. It was over in seconds. The Culler was a twitching mass of pink-grey pulp and the subject was pressing its head up into Bee’s outstretched hand, searching for praise.

“That went rather well, I think.” Martinez took a long, satisfied sip of her coffee and tapped her implant again. “Good boy, Bee. Excellent work. You both deserve rewards, and I’ll see you after lunch.” Helen couldn’t miss the way the man almost vibrated with happiness – not unlike the animal he was petting.

“I haven’t eaten yet this morning,” Martinez continued, shutting of the video feed. “If you would care to join me, we can go over the next eight-quarter cycle and then we can head down to the incubation levels. We’re anticipating decanting to begin around ten hundred hours or so.”

“How long will it take?” Helen seated herself at one of the two chairs around a small worktable. Martinez cleared away some drawing samples and a box of what appeared to be children’s toys, then relocated the tray of food.

“Oh, the bulk should be completed within the week, but with the delays during implantation with this series, we expect a few to lag. We may not be finished for another week after that.”

“Well. I had hoped to see every individual. If things look like they will take that long, I’ll need to make some additional adjustments to my schedule.”

“Of course, Prime Minister.” Martinez handed her a plate with fresh fruit and a small pastry. “And once they have all been moved to the Early Childhood Barracks, we can maintenance and re-calibrate the artificial wombs for the thirty-fives. Barring any unforseen problems, the Project Jagd target population of five thousand should be mature and ready for the field by 2156.”

“Hm.” Helen nodded and swallowed a bite of danish. “Tell me about your changes to the training program.”

Year 2152, Day 328, Hour 1130

President-Elect Yardley pinched the bridge of his nose. Whether he was feeling incredulity or anger, he couldn’t decide, but it was giving him one hell of a headache. Helen Maker had created an elite band of special forces, utilizing banned GMH technology and what he could only guess were highly suspect psychological conditioning techniques. And those same units had been operating among the Coalition without public knowledge for twenty years. Aside from the two people in her office, she had explained there were fewer than fifty people outside of the base the Legion operated from who knew of their existence. Yardley wasn’t even sure where to start.

“This Legion-”

“Keres Legion,” Helen Maker supplied for him. “I have no doubt that the Secretary of Defense will give you a much more comprehensive briefing than I could. Oversight of military operations was never my purview.”

“I believe there are quiet a few things, Secretary Maker, that were never your purview but seem to have been arranged by you regardless of that fact. Things like authorization and permission don’t seem to have affected your actions for quite some time.” He was angry, he decided. So furious that there weren’t words, weren’t expressions adequate for it. If he had been speaking to a fellow officer, he might have put his fist through their face. As it was, he ground his back teeth together and tried not to yell as he stared down the placid woman across the desk from him.

“Captain Yardley, while I could debate issues of morality and governance with you all day,” she smiled and it was a condescending, amused thing that set his blood boiling, “I believe we have more important matters to discuss than actions that cannot be undone.”

His knuckles were turning white where he gripped the arms of his chair. “Is there some other horrendous clandestine project I should know about? Are there any other laws you have broken – ethical lines that you crossed – while spending trillions on black book research and operations?”

“Sir,” she chuckled and he nearly came out of his seat. “This meeting is going to run long as it is. And you have other places to be today. However, there are a few other items we should touch on, before you start planning your new Cabinet.” She flicked her fingers across the surface of her desk, bringing up a holographic screen and forestalling his initial reaction to tell her to go fuck herself. Video of soldiers – too young to be anything but rookies but moving in such perfect sync they couldn’t possibly be new recruits – began to play.

Project Hellhound was, as I said, dismantled with the successful formation of Keres Legion. However, their great promise – which has been more than delivered upon – lead to Project Jagd. I think you will find we are more than ready for the next phase of this war.”

To Be Continued