Come my brethren, come and pray with us! We welcome all to our faith, wholly uncaring of how you came into this world, or the path you have tread up to this point. We welcome wholly both our Ascendant brothers and sisters, and all of those who have not yet been called to serve our Lord in his new host of angels. Come, and learn the absolute DEPTH of the sheer pointlessness of the political struggles between nations. The supreme idiocy of turning on our fellow man for any slight, real or imagined. Learn the truth of this world, that so many choose NOT to see.
This world is caught in a far larger struggle than any mortal trial could ever approach. The ultimate conflict between the Good and the Evil, a battle that will be waged by the chosen servants of God Himself against the agents of the Prince of Darkness, Lucifer. New Hosts of Angels and Fallen are arising on earth, for we are Ascendant, not merely ‘Altered!’ We who accept our angelic gift, and the burden it represents, have been returned for a purpose, and we must never stray from that purpose! We must do all in our power to protect the world, and all its many innocent souls, from the wanton destruction caused by those fools who make pacts with the Fallen, thinking they will somehow be the first to withstand such taint with their mortal minds intact.
Those who are as yet ungifted, rejoice with those of us that have chosen to take on this burden, this unfathomable task presented to us by our Lord! Mourn, and forever honor those who choose death over the tainted gifts of the Fallen! Offer your deepest reverence even to those who choose not to acknowledge the source of their grand gifts. They are our brethren, and powerful agents of our Lord whether they choose to acknowledge it openly or not.
The Ascendant known as Champion may still refuse to see the world as it truly is, but the guiding force in her soul; none other than the greatest Archangel, Michael; does not allow her to ever shirk her duty. For longer than most of us have walked this earth, she has served and protected us, so we will continue to revere her, and pray for the day she acknowledges the truth!
– First Sermon of the Church of Ascendance
Jessica looked up at the dark, imposing building in front of her. A truly upscale restaurant, the sort that cost more than she would ever seriously consider paying for food, and one that was clearly closed for the night. Jessica stared at the closed door in front of her for several long seconds before reaching forward to knock on it. After a long moment of silence was the only reply she received, Jessica reached forward and knocked again. Much louder, the second time.
Decades of practice with this particular ritual kept her from jumping in surprise when the door was abruptly wrenched open, and a massive, clean-shaven man stared down at her with an unsavory gleam in his eyes.
“I think you must be lost, little one. This establishment caters exclusively to a MATURE clientele, and it has closed for the evening.” The man spoke with a heavy, and obviously faked, French accent as he waved dismissively at the tiny woman.
“Jean, get the hell out of my way or we’re going to find out how ‘immortal’ you really are.” Jessica smirked as the massive man shrank back for a moment in melodramatically fake fear, before he lunged forward to envelope her in a bear-hug.
“It has been too long, ma petite amie.” The accent was nearly gone now, save for the actual words IN French. “You have missed so many meetings, we worried you had decided you were better off without us.”
Jessica returned the hug, and even allowed the large man to use it to drag her inside before extricating herself. “You know how it is, Jean. My ever revolving life as the army’s greatest killing machine and most powerful PR engine really eats up all my free time.” The pair made their way through the front section of the business, and towards a lit room in the back of the building.
“My friends, look who has decided to grace us with her presence!” A few polite cheers met Jean’s announcement as he escorted Jessica into the small room.
Jessica found herself swept away for several minutes, people that she thought of as barely more than acquaintances greeting her with the enthusiasm normally reserved for a long lost friend or family member. Jessica smiled as names and faces came back to her, pulled easily from her nearly perfect memory, and she even managed to remember a detail or two to tease someone with as she moved to find an open seat in the haphazardly-arranged circle. She also noted a few suspicious glares from people she didn’t recognize, but those were something she’d come to expect at these meetings.
Eventually, the rest of the circle also reassembled, with everyone except the massive host finding their seat and allowing the room to settle into silence.
“So welcome to everyone, old and less-old,” Jean paused and looked around the room until a few strained chuckles responded to his apparent attempt at humor. “We have a few true newcomers tonight, and one returning celebrity that I’m certain all of you recognize. I will remind you all once, and only once; everything you say in this room will stay in this room. We are here to help and support each other, leave your judgments, your professions, and everything else non-productive at the door.
“As I am already standing, I suppose I will start our little meeting off today. Good evening everyone, my name is Jean.”
Jessica joined the rest of the room in the expected chorus reply. “Hello, Jean!”
“Just last month, I celebrated my one hundred seventieth birthday. I managed to surround myself so with fine food, finer friends, and all manner of distractions that I completely avoided, for the first time in a decade, falling prey to pointless rumination comparing the world now to the world I recall in my fonder memories.”
Jessica sat quietly, and listened, as the circle each stood and spoke one by one. She listened as they shared their own experiences, though she only offered the basic greeting of her own name and age when her turn came. Jessica had discovered Jean’s semi-monthly group, ‘Immortal Anonymous,’ almost two decades ago. It had never occurred to her before that day that she wasn’t the ONLY top-tier regenerator, and functionally ageless person, in the world. Jessica had found herself coming to the meetings whenever she felt in need of grounding ever since.
And back on active duty tomorrow, I’ll need all the grounding I can get. Jessica’s expression soured for a moment as she contemplated what was most likely waiting for her upon her return to duty, but quickly dismissed those thoughts to focus on what the next person was saying instead. The soft smile quickly returned, as she focused fully on the stories being told, some of them even about events she could actually RELATE to, growing up.
It’s nice, once in a while, to not be the oldest person in the room, after all.
“Welcome back, Colonel Lawson!”
Jessica was a little surprised at the cheerful greeting that met her as soon as she exited her quarters, and more surprised to see who was offering them. “Colonel Garrett, good morning.”
Garrett smiled as he caught the unasked question behind the greeting. “General Mathis asked me to personally relay the findings of the investigation to you, as he’s being unavoidably shipped out to deal with the related political fallout.”
Better him than me. Jessica managed to conceal a smirk as the thought shot through her mind, and focused her attention back on the conversation. “I’m assuming that nothing unusual was found then?”
“Directly to the point! I like that, colonel.” The brown haired man smiled and presented a thick folder to the much smaller woman. “All the base logs, and everything the techs could think of, all point to no one being in contact with Lieutenant Tythen for over an hour before your and Major Torres were sent to take him into custody.”
Jessica took the offered file and began paging through it rapidly while nodding along with Garrett’s summary. “And… huh. No smoking gun, but at least they listened to me about PAD being un-confirmable in this case.”
“Well, yes…” Jessica looked up from the file with a prompting expression as her fellow officer trailed off. “The official investigation opted to make no mention of PAD specifically, citing only an apparent undiagnosed mental disorder, but the media that picked up the story tossed the ‘Altered Dementia’ label on it anyways.”
Jessica sighed at the news, then shrugged. “Can’t really control what the media are going to do with anything we give them.” She finished scanning the various summaries and closed the folder. “This is a lot more thorough than I was expecting, even with General Mathis promising he’d push for a real investigation. I’ll have to remember to thank him when he gets back.”
“Ah, about that.” Jessica stifled a groan as she recognized the new expression her fellow lieutenant colonel was wearing; the bearer of bad news. “You might not be seeing much of the general for a while, on account of Alpha’s new orders.”
“And these are orders that you were tasked to relay, Colonel Garrett?” Oh shit, it’s worse than I thought. That’s not ‘bearer of bad news’ expression. That’s ‘better you than me.” Damn karma is fast some days.
“Alpha Company is to report to the First Division’s public relations officer for a full briefing on temporary reassignments during the ‘damage control’ phase of this incident’s resolution. Briefing is scheduled to begin this afternoon at 1300.”
Jessica didn’t bother to stifle the groan this long. “Did the general say how long we’re going to be stuck on the media circuit this time?”
“I believe you’ll have to speak with Colonel Burgess about that, ma’am.”
Jessica debated screaming her frustration for a few seconds, and ultimately decided against it. “Thank you, Colonel Garrett. If there’s nothing else, you’re dismissed.”
“So is there anyone here who does NOT understand what your company will be doing for the next two to three months?”
A stifled chorus of groans erupted from the assembled members of Alpha Company at Colonel Burgess’ use of the word ‘months’ in his question.
“Sir, I don’t understand ANY of this.” A lanky red-haired man in the back of the room stood up as he spoke. “How is putting all of us on a bunch of news shows gonna make the public forget about Tythen’s fuc-… er, foul-up, sir?”
“The objective, Lieutenant O’Malley, is not to make the public FORGET anything. An open and public presence by the most recognizable force in the AAC, that being your Alpha Company, will show the people that the military is taking this matter seriously and being open and transparent in our handling of it. Trying to encourage the public to forget about the unfortunate incident would be viewed by some as an attempted cover-up.”
“So instead, we cover it up by talking about the parts we’re allowed to talk about until everyone gets bored and moves on to something else.” The blonde woman that spoke up paused for a long moment before adding, “Sir.”
Nelson sighed and glared around the room as a few of the soldiers didn’t quite manage to stifle chuckles at the woman’s analysis. “In blunt terms, you’re correct, Captain Adains.” The colonel smirked as his statement caught the entire room off guard, even allowing him to spot a moment of shock in their CO’s normally unfazeable expression.
“The media has decided to stir this incident up into another big PAD scare, and it’s going to be YOUR job to get the whole thing under control. That means the most boring assignment you could possibly imagine. You will be given talking points, and you will NOT deviate from them under any circumstances. Everything you say, every expression you make, everything you DON’T say; it will all be analyzed and dissected by both experts and crackpots on all sides of this issue.
“For the next couple of months, you will all have daily briefings regarding the current status of this situation. You will receive more prep time for a five minute news spot than most politicians go through prior to national debates. Those lucky few of you who regularly appear on longer segments will be praying for a war to break out, just so that you have some means of escape.” Colonel Burgess was smiling fully now, having finally managed to hold the rapt attention of all thirty members of the company.
“Make no mistake, you are going out to do battle with an enemy the same as any other mission. The enemy you’ll be fighting is intangible, and the theater of war will be almost purely mental, but it is vital that we win. We cannot allow the public to lose their faith in us, and our ability to keep them safe. You all have your first wave of assignments, and the full materials you need to study have been emailed to you. Dismissed!”
The colonel was grinning hugely as Alpha filed out of the briefing room, finally feeling like he’d figured out how to receive the respect his rank should have afforded him all along from the combat troops. That expression soured quickly when he realized one person had stayed behind, and he found himself looking down at Alpha Company’s petite commanding officer.
“Excellent speech, Colonel Burgess.”
“Thank you, Colonel Lawson.”
“I think you surprised us all with that level of honesty, sir.” Nelson was about to respond, but Lawson continued before he could. “That honesty, I feel like I should return it, with an honest question, sir: what’s so different about this time?”
The colonel’s earlier grin failed to return, though he put in a good effort at summoning it. “I’m afraid I don’t follow, Colonel Lawson?”
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had an unfortunate incident involving a civilian death during an emergency assistance call. Hell, this isn’t even the first time the officer involved IN the civilian death ended up summarily executed by ME. What makes it so different this time?”
Nelson debated the question for several seconds, before deciding to continue in the same vein as earlier. It got some respect from her company, maybe it’ll finally get me some respect from the great Champion herself. “There’s going to be a major effort to resurrect the bill that will end the Posse Comitatus Act. It’ll be happening right after the end of the next Paragon Return window, assuming there’s at least one Lunatic event. If the public can be persuaded NOT to focus on this most recent, and tragic, incident, then your people might FINALLY be able to really protect our people, colonel.”
Nelson watched as a stunned expression overtook Lawson’s normally stoic face for a second time; this one persisting much longer than the last. “Thank you, Colonel Burgess.” When the woman finally spoke, her tone sounded like her mind was still quite far away. “That is definitely something to think about.”
“It is at that, Colonel Lawson. It could be the start of a truly great change for our country.”