So your whole life just got turned completely upside down and inside out, right? Four days ago you were just living your life, and today you’ve become one of the most powerful people in the world. One of the most powerful, and one of the most watched. The most restricted. You can’t go back to the way things were before, so now it’s time to look for a new way forward.
The Army Altered Corps can help you learn about your new life, get a handle on your new abilities, and give you more freedom than you’ll find anywhere in the private sector. Anywhere else you go? People will be afraid of you, for what you can do now. In the AAC? You’ll get to be a hero instead. A very generously paid hero at that!
So think about it. You don’t have to give an answer anytime soon. As long as you don’t do anything stupid, and end up with a criminal record, the AAC will always be looking for people with your abilities.
Standard AAC recruiting pitch for freshly Returned Exemplar and Paragon Altered.
Colonel Darrel Parsons looked up at the soft knock on his open door, then scowled and began putting away the several files covering his desk. “What can AAC Medical do for you, Colonel Lawson? Did my morning updates not get delivered?”
Lieutenant Colonel Jessica Lawson entered the large office and placed a sealed envelope on the AAC Chief of Medicine’s desk, then stood at attention. “I was ordered to report to you for a full examination, Colonel Parsons.”
The grey-haired trauma surgeon felt his scowl deepen at the unexpected answer. “What the hell are we supposed to do to examine you, lieutenant colonel?” Parsons mumbled the rhetorical question as he snatched up the envelope and tore open the seal.
The deep scowl he wore fell off his face to be replaced by a profound expression of shock. Shock that was quickly tinged with suspicion as he re-read the contents. “Is this some sort of JOKE, Colonel Lawson?”
“Not that I’m aware of, sir, but as I was not informed as to the contents of the letter just delivered to you I couldn’t say with complete certainty.” The brown-haired woman continued to stand at perfect attention, no trace of any emotion on her face or in her posture, but Parsons was certain he could hear the tightly controlled laughter just behind the words.
“At ease, colonel. Sit down.” Parsons removed his glasses as he waited for the lieutenant colonel to seat herself. “Now tell me why the hell you’re down here wasting my time?”
“As I already said, sir, I was ordered to report to Medical for a full examination.”
The colonel waited a few moments for her to continue, but the woman across from him simply met his glare with a politely neutral expression. “And?”
Lawson shrugged in response to the followup question. “And I was informed to give you that sealed letter, which I did, and now I’m waiting for my exam to start.” The first hint of a smile formed, as she continued in a lower, almost conspiratorial, tone. “I was given the impression that this was considered an extremely urgent matter and that I wouldn’t have to schedule an appointment for later, sir.”
Parsons snatched the letter up off his desk and held it up in front of his unwanted visitor. “Do you know what this says?”
“I was specifically ordered, three times, not to attempt to learn the contents of your letter, Colonel Parsons.”
“I’m being instructed, by Colonel BURGESS of all people, to do an extensive ‘brain examination’ to look for signs of ‘external manipulation.'” Parsons slammed the paper onto his desk with a brief look of disgust. “So can you PLEASE tell me, Colonel Lawson, why the hell our division’s PR Officer suddenly believes in mind control and my ability to locate and cure it?”
“I can make an educated guess, if that would be sufficient for you, sir.”
“By all means, guess away.”
“I’m reasonably sure that Colonel Burgess is upset because I’ve submitted a letter resigning my commission and he’s trying to find some way to stop General Mathis from sending it up the chain, sir.” Lawson leaned across the desk, the earlier ghost of a smile now wide and clear. “Personally, I’d be overjoyed if you could find some proof of mind control, sir. I think it would get me out a hell of a lot faster than the normal channels can.”
Parsons leaned back in his chair and blinked several times, and found himself fighting back a grin of his own as the situation suddenly made a great deal more sense to him. “Burgess must be shitting bricks by the cartload right now.”
“I try to avoid speculation on the restroom habits of superior officers, sir.”
The deadpan delivery drew a startled, but genuine laugh from Parsons, before the professional demeanor of the AAC Chief of Medicine dropped back into place. “A wise choice, colonel.
“So, retirement? What brought that on?”
“After EIGHTY years of service, I’ve finally decided I need a change of scenery, sir.” There was more than a trace of exasperation in the emphasis placed on the number.
“Getting asked that question a lot, I assume?”
The petite woman leaned back in her seat as she nodded. “And expecting to get it asked a WHOLE hell of a lot more often once it actually leaks out and becomes public knowledge, sir.”
“So no injuries, no further issues with old psychological trauma that brought this on?” Parsons pulled a few forms from a drawer in his desk and began filling them out as he spoke.
“Becoming physically injured for more than a second or so continues to elude me, and I think moving past my old psych problems is actually part of WHY I’m doing this.” Lawson’s tone became less exasperated and more interested as she realized that her answers from the last several questions were being recorded by the colonel. “This is part of the examination, sir?”
“Part of?” Parsons looked up to make eye contact, without ceasing his writing of the lieutenant colonel’s words. “Colonel Lawson, this IS your examination. I can put you in every medical scanner in the building, and every one of them is going to return the same, solid, unreadable image. Modern medical science, even the beyond-cutting edge stuff we get to play with because of our close association with ARCA, is completely useless when dealing with you. With ANY top-tier invulnerable, for that matter.”
“So, we just sit here and talk for a while and then you consider the examination done?”
“No, we just SAT here and TALKED for a while.” Parsons heavy emphasis on the past tense drew a hopeful smile from the woman across from him. “Now I put my conclusion in a file, and forward it to General Mathis. If you were wondering, my conclusion is ‘Lieutenant Colonel Lawson is not suffering from any form of external manipulation that can be detected by medical science.'”
“Colonel Burgess is likely to be unhappy that the examination was so short and… non-invasive. Sir.”
“If Colonel Burgess would like to come down and complain about it, I’ll be happy to explain things to him. Maybe give HIM a thorough examination to look for sources of external manipulation.”
Jessica giggled, then stood and braced to attention again. “Thank you for your time, Colonel Parsons.”
“Thank you for not wasting more of my time than was absolutely necessary. Dismissed.”
“Explain this to me.” The tone of voice from the middle-aged man behind the desk was thick with exhaustion, but still carried an unmistakable note of menace. “And, make sure you explain this in such a way that it makes some SENSE, colonel.”
Jessica turned her attention from the weary form of her commanding officer to the profusely sweating form of the AAC’s senior PR officer. Next to her she could see Lieutenant Colonel Garrett watching with almost as much interest as she was, though his expression was also mixed with confusion about why he’d been invited to this particular meeting.
“I was simply covering all possible contingencies, General Mathis.” Jessica had to give Burgess some credit; in spite of his appearance he at least SOUNDED completely confident in his response. “I will grant that this was considered to be among the MOST unlikely, but-…”
“The real reason. NOW.” Mathis no longer sounded so tired as he cut the rotund colonel off.
Burgess sighed. “The NIA wanted enough time to run a thorough check on Lawson to make sure that this wasn’t some kind of preparation for a defection of some sort.”
Jessica felt the restraining hand on her shoulder as she angrily rose to her feet, and ignored it entirely as she took a step forward.
“That one had nothing to do with me!” Burgess held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, but managed to hold his ground as the much smaller woman approached him. “I don’t even know how Deputy Director Cooper found out about it before I did, but he put in the request with MY superiors. I didn’t have a choice!”
“Sit down, Colonel Lawson.” The general’s attention was still fixed on the nervously shuddering form of Colonel Burgess as he issued the order.
Jessica took a deep breath, then complied with the order. Behind her, she could hear Garrett let out a sigh of relief as she did so.
“I submitted a copy of your letter, informally, all the way up to the Sec Def. That would, most likely, be how the NIA got involved. Cooper, most likely, made sure he was the bearer of bad news since the two of you seem to enjoy antagonizing each other so much.” The general stood and came from behind his desk to loom over the still shaking PR Officer.
“Now, with all of that wrapped up, let me offer a reminder, Colonel Burgess.” Mathis’ voice was filled with barely controlled anger. “You will remind your superiors in the PR Corps that they go through ME for shit like this.
The middle-aged man turned his attention to the still seething Jessica, glaring at the exchange from her new chair. “And YOU, Colonel Lawson, will not take this shit so personally. With the exception of forgetting to inform me, EVERYONE was just doing their jobs. We investigate EVERY Altered that applies for separation from the service.”
That last bit of information drew shocked looks from both lieutenant colonels, and a renewed look of terror from Burgess. “You don’t, I mean, that is, it’s not-…”
“Shut up, colonel.” Mathis growled the order as he moved to sit back down and turned to look at Jessica and Garrett. “Think about it for a second, both of you. Garrett, you’ve probably seen enough eyes-only, beyond-top-secret crap to fill an encyclopedia. Lawson, I don’t even want to THINK about how many books you could fill if you felt like it. Everyone in the AAC, and ARCA for that matter, gets just as thoroughly vetted on the way out as they do on the way in.”
Jessica found herself more upset that she hadn’t already figured this stuff out than she was at the revelation itself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Garrett nodding a slow acceptance.
“Now that all of the deeply unpleasant shit is dealt with for the moment, let’s move on to the actual reasons for this meeting. Colonel Burgess, you can give her your pitch now.”
“Colonel Lawson,” Jessica felt a deep sense of dread at the suddenly earnest and cheerful demeanor on the PR Officer’s face as he stepped forward to launch into his speech. “As you know, we’ve hit several major setbacks with our attempts to remove the major roadblocks that prevent the AAC from doing their jobs PROPERLY. Posse Comitatus is, sadly, still in effect, and more deeply entrenched than it’s been in decades. However, with your plans to retire and return to civilian life, a great opportunity is presenting itsel-…”
“No.” Jessica struggled not to laugh at the pained expression on the colonel’s face when she interrupted him. It took her a long moment before she remember to add. “Sir.”
“At least hear me out!”
“You want me to become some flavor of civilian defense contractor that the army can use to skirt around the letter of the Posse Comitatus Act, and play the whole thing as the best positive publicity ever. I get to be your proof of concept, and speed the process of getting our military deployed domestically. Am I close?”
Burgess went speechless with shock, and turned to look to the general for support. Mathis, however, seemed to have suddenly found the contents of his coffee cup utterly engrossing, and didn’t meet the colonel’s frantic eyes.
“Well, somewhat correct, Colonel Lawson…” Burgess spoke slowly as he sought for some workaround. “But, the public relations work will be completely different this time! You won’t be a military officer, so you’ll get to be more approachable, more humorous-…”
“Still sounds like a lot of coaching to give carefully prepared speeches that aren’t supposed to sound like carefully prepared speeches.” Jessica waved a hand dismissively. “Sir, you do realize that part of what I’m expecting to get out of retiring is NOT having people telling me what to do at all times, right?”
“You’d be working with Echo Company, we could set the whole thing up like a PMC, with you as the chief executive! You wouldn’t be following anyone’s orders, you’d be giving them!”
“Except where I’d b taking orde-, sorry, CONTRACTS from the military that would require me to report to someone who tells us what needs to be done and when it needs doing. And, of course, all that PR coaching still sounds an AWFUL lot like people telling me what to do.”
“You’ll be paid TEN TIMES your current salary!”
Jessica started to respond, then stopped. After a moment’s consideration, she started laughing.
“Is that not enough? I’m sure we could negotiate on that figure!”
“How much do I actually get paid right now?” Jessica barely got the question out between her laughs. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve actually looked at my pay records since they passed that last big incentive bill in the 80’s.”
Behind her, Garrett coughed loudly to cover up a chuckle. General Mathis, still behind his desk, didn’t bother as he shook his head.
“This is extremely inappropriate behavior, Lieutenant Colonel Lawson!” Burgess’ face was an interesting shade of scarlet as he shouted over the continued laughter.
“That is true, Colonel Burgess.” Mathis had gotten a hold of himself quickly and stood as he spoke again. “Colonel Lawson, stop laughing and give Colonel Burgess your answer.”
It took Jessica a couple of tries to get fully under control, but after a few seconds she managed to bring herself to her feet and braced properly to attention. “Thank you for your offer, sir, but I must respectfully decline.”
The PR Officer’s face started to darken to a slightly purple color, when the general spoke from behind him again. “Thank you, Colonel Lawson. At ease, and please be seated again. Colonel Burgess, thank you for your time today, you won’t be needed for the remainder of this meeting.”
Mathis clamped a strong hand on Burgess’ shoulder as he finished speaking, and he led the still sputtering, enraged man out of his office. “And colonel, I fully expect there will be more offers that you would like Lieutenant Colonel Lawson to consider. Make sure to limit those offers to one per day, and schedule them with the admin staff in ADVANCE. That’s an order.”
Before Burgess could respond, the general had ushered him through the door and closed it firmly behind the man. Upon returning to his desk, he looked out at Jessica’s still grinning face. “You can quote your entire file from memory, but you seriously don’t know your own salary?”
“Sir, no sir. File doesn’t change much, and the salary thing hasn’t ever really come up, sir.”
Mathis shook his head in disbelief for a moment before he continued. “So, on to more relevant business. Lieutenant Colonel Garrett, within the next two weeks you will be taking over as CO of Alpha Company. That new position will include an increase in rank to full colonel, and you’ll also be the new First Division field commander.”
Garrett suddenly sat up straight and looked EXTREMELY pleased. “Thank you, si-…”
“Oh COME ON!” Jessica interrupted with a plaintive cry. “Didn’t I just turn this down?”
“Are you being insubordinate intentionally and hoping for some sort of disciplinary action, Colonel Lawson?”
“Is there any chance that said disciplinary action would result in a more immediate separation from the service, sir?”
“In that case, entirely unintentional, sir. I apologize profusely for my error.”
Mathis sighed at the patently false, but very sincere sounding, apology. “As you’ve apparently already surmised, you’ll be taking over as CO of Echo Company. The actual transfers will not be for another three weeks, so I expect you both to work closely together in preparing each other for taking over your respective companies. This will NOT be the indefinite assignment you’re worried about, so sit down and let me finish talking.”
Jessica froze, halfway out of her seat, and dropped back into it with an impatient look at the general.
“Now, Colonel Garrett is going to be doing a LOT of public relations appearances, and you’ll be stuck tagging along on a lot of those, Colonel Lawson. Garrett is also going to have to be primary responder to any emergency calls we get, so expect to spend a lot of time in monitoring from here on out, colonel.
“We need to give the impression of a torch being passed, old guard moving out to make room for the new guard, that sort of thing. We need the nation not to panic when it’s announced that the Champion is retiring. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Both officers responded simultaneously, though neither with much enthusiasm.
The general nodded, and offered a grim smile in response to the lack of energy. “Good, so move ahead according to that plan until some idiot leaks something and it all goes to shit. Dismissed.”