Training is different than I thought it would be. It’s not like fighting, not like killing, at all. I thought practicing violence would make me more of a…
I don’t feel as much like I’m not really a person anymore. I’m still afraid, especially when I get hurt and… It’s like someone else takes over, but it’s not as scary as it used to be. Deanne says it’s still me, the whole time, and she can tell. And it’s not as bad as it was the first time, back at Pearl Harbor. Or like it was back…
It looks like the war in Europe really is over. The Germans have signed a new treaty, and they’re even helping a little in some of the places they attacked. Most of the other countries don’t seem to want them to come and help though. The Colonel keeps talking about the new problems in Asia now, something about the Japanese surrender destabilizing Korea. I don’t really even know where these places are, but it looks like Doctor Kimmel was right. There’s always going to be another war.
Have to leave now, diary. I have to go and figure out the training rotation for my platoon. That’s right, I’m in charge of a whole combat platoon now. I mean, it’s not a REAL platoon, there’s not enough Altered in the military for that, but they’re calling it one and it means I’m in command of SIXTEEN other Altered. It’s almost as unbelievable as being an Altered in the first place. They all do what I tell them to, but most of the time I still feel like I’m just pretending to be in charge.
Shoot, I’m distracting myself with you again, diary. I have to go now!
“Welcome, Lieutenant, at ease.” Colonel Lester Clayton concealed a small smile as he greeted the petite brunette. The young woman looked a model of military discipline now, a FAR cry from the emotional mess he’d first met years ago immediately after her Return. “Would you like some coffee?” A waved hand gestured towards a steaming carafe on the table behind the Lieutenant.
“No, but thank you, sir.”
“How is your platoon coming along?”
“It’s slow going, sir. Having to invent new ways to train people as you figure out more of what their powers can do…” The young woman hesitated, dropping her gaze as if searching for something, before her head came up and steely resolve shone in her eyes. “They aren’t ready yet, sir. You should just send me.”
Clayton rocked back on his heels in surprise at the directness from the petite Lieutenant. “Send you where, Lieutenant Lawson?”
“We’ve all been watching the news, sir. The new war over in Korea, or for Korea, I don’t understand a lot of it; but a lot of people are dying and there are a lot of Altereds fighting.”
“Why would anyone assume that the United States is going to get involved in a war in Asia, Lieutenant?” The Colonel kept his voice and expression neutral, wanting to see how the young woman responded with no clues from her commanding officer.
“Because everyone is afraid of what will happen if the Altered and the war spill out over the rest of Asia, sir. And because I still talk with Private Gleason, sir.” There was a trace of a smirk on the woman’s face as she stated her second reason.
“Well, I won’t insult the Private’s ability to gather information then. The Korean people have been pleading for ANYONE to come in and end the fighting while there’s still a Korean people to save. Why do you feel your platoon isn’t ready for a combat deployment?” Clayton had to suppress the urge to shake his head, or growl, at the reminder of the frequently irritating Gleason, and focus on issues more relevant to the briefing.
“They… they might die, sir. I don’t want to lose any of my men.”
“And you aren’t worried about your OWN life, Lieutenant?”
“No, sir.” The Colonel met the brief response with a patient stare, waiting for the young woman to elaborate, but she simply met his gaze with a determined expression of her own.
“Dismissed, Lieutenant. Your request to deploy separately from your platoon will be considered.” Clayton returned the young woman’s salute, and watched her exit his office.
Zhang Wei sneered as he crumpled the dispatch and threw it into the dirt. Apparently the rumors that the Americans had decided to involve themselves in other nations’ matters had materialized into fact. All units were being ordered to consolidate, and to anticipate far greater resistance than what the few disorganized Korean Altered had been able to put up so far. Idiotic orders issued by morons too far from the battles to know what’s going on.
The young Chinese officer did dutifully order his company to change direction to march towards their newly ordered rendezvous, even as he seethed internally at the stupidity of doing so. Only two of the Korean Altereds had demonstrated truly dangerous capabilities, at least as far as the Chinese forces had been able to identify, and it had quickly become obvious that only their OWN Altered had been able to successfully engage with the powerful pair. Collecting all of our soldiers in large, and easy to find, formations might draw both the Koreans and the Americans to us, but it will see thousands of our soldiers slaughtered in exchange.
Several startled yells from the head of the small column of troops snapped the young Captain’s attention from his own thoughts back to the world around him. The march had come to a halt, and he could see the soldiers near the front had all raised their rifles, but there was an air of nervousness and no one was firing yet. Zhang barked out brisk orders as he strode forward, trying to prepare himself for whatever had stopped his troops. He was not expecting to encounter a lone, petite, woman standing calmly on the trail, wearing a US military uniform.
“Chen-fu yuu wo.” Zhang grimaced as the American woman butchered the Chinese phrase demanding his surrender.
“I speak your language better than you speak mine, American. You are outnumbered, you should be one to surrender.” The officer’s presence at the front seemed to be giving the troops around him more confidence, and rifles were steadier as they continued to be aimed at the woman.
“I’m glad you speak English, I didn’t have much time to learn any Chinese…” The petite brunette trailed off and seemed to collect herself before continuing. “The numbers don’t really matter, I’m an Altered. Please surrender, I don’t want to have to hurt you all.”
The Chinese officer laughed derisively at the woman’s declaration and meandering reiteration of her demand. He then raised his hands from his sides, and the ground around the woman rose up in a mirror of his motion. “I ALSO am Altered, and I don’t care if I hurt you.”
Zhang brought his hands together in a clapping motion, the huge tracts of earth slamming together to copy his action. The thunderous blast that blew the young man off his feet caught him entirely off guard. As he struggled up from the ground and noted most of his soldiers had also been taken off their feet. The American woman stood exactly where she’d been, completely unaffected by the blast. No, not unaffected. She’s the SOURCE of that blast.
“I still don’t want to hurt you or your men. Please surrender.” The Chinese man stared incredulously as his opponent made her request again, seemingly unbothered in the slightest by his attack against her.
Zhang stood slowly, examining his men as he did so. He saw them confused, disorganized, and frightened, but he also saw that spark in every eye that met his. He knew that if he ordered the attack, every man in his company would join him in attempting to battle this American foe. He then let his attention shift to the area around the woman, where the earth to each side he had attacked from was scoured away in a pair of perfectly smooth gouges twenty meters or more in length. He focused on her expression, looking for any sign of hesitation or fear in the woman’s face.
Zhang barked out a new series of orders, then raised his hands slowly over his head. “We surrender.” He had seen neither in the woman’s eyes.
It feels so strange to finally write those words again. I was overseas so much longer than anyone thought I would be. Longer than they thought ANY of us would be. It took two years, diary, but I’m finally home. The war… it almost seems silly to call it a war, there were almost no armies or battlefields like my old textbooks and training books showed. It was only three months after I got there that they announced that all of the normal soldiers were surrendered, or recalled, or…
I didn’t kill anyone that wasn’t an Altered this time, diary. I had better control, and I knew they couldn’t really hurt me, no matter what. I think that might have got me in trouble a couple of times, but maybe not really? Colonel Clayton always said I was doing an incredible job, even right after I heard him yelling at some of the Generals over what was happening. I had to kill four Altereds though. I didn’t want to, but… They were killing other people.
The first three were all Chinese Altered, two of them were the ones that attacked our command post. The reports later said they weren’t Paragon Altered, probably anyways. But Exemplar Altered are still really dangerous, and they wouldn’t stop trying to kill people no matter how many times I asked… I wish they would have stopped instead. The third was different, he wasn’t attacking soldiers, and he WAS a Paragon Altered. Some of the other officers said it was something called ‘telekinesis,’ and I had to look up how to spell that. He was attacking one of the big cities, I think it was called ‘Soul.’ I’ll never forget because he was laughing while he killed people. He was laughing… And I didn’t ask him to stop before I killed him.
After that, it was mostly chasing the enemy around while they tried really hard to avoid me. I think they all knew who I was, and they were trying not to get caught because they were afraid. I’m glad they were afraid, diary. While they were afraid and running from me, they couldn’t kill anyone else, and eventually they all ran back to their own country. That was when… That was when I killed the fourth Altered. She wasn’t Chinese, she was supposed to be on our side, she was Korean. I met her a few times before… so I knew who she was when I was ordered to meet up with her near the border. We were trying to catch the last few Chinese Altered as they ran away. I would rather have let them go, but in the army you HAVE to go where they order you to go. We didn’t find any enemies, and I thought we were done, but she told me we should keep looking. She went across the border, even though I think we were ordered not to do that. I followed her, I don’t know if I should have or not, but I did. She kept going until we ran into a small town, and then she attacked it.
I tried to get her to stop. I tried to make her come back with me, but she was too angry. She wouldn’t listen to me, diary. The people there weren’t soldiers, but she didn’t care, she was going to kill them all anyways, even though they couldn’t fight. They called her a ‘fire elemental’ and she was a Paragon, like me, so she really COULD have killed all of them. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I couldn’t get out of her way either. She tried to burn me, to make me move, but I still wouldn’t, but then she tried to go around me to burn all the people anyways and I… I didn’t let her.
I was recalled right after that. The Colonel says I did the right thing, but I don’t think there actually was a right thing. I have a few weeks of leave now that I’m home though, I think I’m going to go visit my family. I haven’t seen them in a long time either.
You’re almost full, diary. This might be the last time I write in you! I’ll have to get another diary soon. But don’t worry, I’ll still keep you around forever!
It was turning out to be a SPECTACULARLY boring day. Sergeant Gary Gleason tugged self-consciously at the neatly pressed, and brand new, dress uniform he wore and scanned the crowd again for familiar faces. The new uniform bore none of his normal division insignia, wouldn’t do to inform all the diplomats and politicians that an Altered from military intelligence was milling around at the big treaty signing party after all. Gary noted with some surprise that Deanne Ritely, looking almost as out of place in her own dress uniform – And with shiny new Captain’s bars to go with it! – as the red-headed man felt himself.
A few seconds of careful listening let the extremely perceptive man know that there was no one currently with his old acquaintance, and he made his way carefully through the room to stand a few feet behind the blonde woman.
“You might as well walk all the way up and say ‘hello,’ Sergeant.” Deanne turned and winked at the Sergeant as he tried to adopt a sincerely surprised expression. “I may not be able to hear thoughts directly, but you’re still pretty obvious. Even in a crowd this big.”
“Good to see you again, Captain.” Gary smirked at the pained look on the woman’s face as he emphasized her new rank. “Didn’t think nurses ever got formally promoted.”
“They didn’t, now they do. Or maybe they still don’t, since they went and made me the Chief of Medicine for the first ACD along with the new bars. But enough about me, what have you been up to lately, Sergeant? You vanished from the base almost the same time that Jessica deployed.”
“Uncle Sam decided I was more useful in Intelligence than attached to a Combat Division. I don’t get to wear a uniform much anymore.”
“Here to make sure no one is planning anything dangerous with all the important people in one place?” Deanne’s tone indicated that she was well aware he was present far more to keep an eye, and an ear, on those important people themselves.
“You’d think no one had ever signed a treaty before, the way everyone is making such a big deal about this one. Feel bad for the Lieutenant though.”
“Oh?” Gary smiled as he found that the blonde woman could still pack an incredible amount of meaning into a single syllable.
“You know the main clause, the one where everyone is agreeing that no Paragon Altereds will be deployed outside their own country without all KINDS of permissions from the entire League of Nations? They’re all calling it ‘the Lawson clause.'”
Deanne stifled a giggle, drawing a genuinely surprised expression from Gary this time. “We’re aware, but I wouldn’t worry about that, Sergeant. Jessica is THRILLED that there is an official, international, treaty that says she isn’t going to have to go to war again. General Clayton has her lined up for nothing but training and public relations tours for the next year, mostly playing up that whole national hero angle, instead of sending her off to fight and kill the most dangerous people in the world. I doubt she could be any happier about it no matter WHAT they named the thing.”
“That… okay yea, that does sound like Jessica, doesn’t it?” Gary shared a laugh with the blonde officer.
“You should go visit her, when you get back stateside. She doesn’t have that many friends, you know.”
“You know how it is, they keep piling an impossible amount of work on me, and there’s that whole ‘be executed for treason if you go to any of these places in the US’ thing. It makes it tricky to keep in touch.”
“They added the first… No, not because the ACD is there, because Altered Research is still there too, isn’t it? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to get executed for treason too.”
“It was great seeing you again though, Captain.” Gary turned to start making his way back through the crowd after offering the sentiment, and was a little surprised to be stopped by the firm grip of a feminine hand on his shoulder.
“They make these wonderful devices for the past few years, Sergeant, called ‘telephones.’ Perhaps you’ve heard of them?” Deanne continued pulling long enough to get the taller man turned completely so she could stare him directly in the eye. “Keep in touch with your friends, Sergeant. That’s an order.”
Gary suppressed a chuckle, and snapped a salute instead. “Yes, ma’am!”
Larry Myers shook his head dismissively as he crumpled his newspaper and tossed it carelessly into the street. Nothing but page after page of nonsense about these ‘Altered’ super-people and some stupid treaty. Waste of a perfectly good nickel. The middle-aged man kicked at the sidewalk in frustration as he turned to head home.
A piercing scream from somewhere behind him froze the man in his tracks for a moment, before he whirled to look for the source. Larry may not have been the most physically imposing specimen, but he prided himself on not backing down, especially when it sounded like someone needed help, and he was hardly alone as he spotted at least a dozen other men on the street searching for the source of the cry.
A second scream echoed through the streets, cut suddenly short with a flash and a tremendous crash of thunder. Larry cursed and looked to the dusky sky, but saw no sign of storm clouds. The man continued to stare upwards in confusion as he spotted something else, a vaguely-person shaped silhouette hovering in the sky. As he stared the figure suddenly lit up to a painfully bright incandescence, and waves of electricity poured off of it to smash into the buildings around and street below. The thunder drowned out hundreds of frightened cries as terrified Bostonians fled from the horrifying spectacle.
Larry stood, flat-footed with shock, and stared for several long seconds. He could hear it, though only just barely over the continuous crash of thunder. The brilliantly glowing figure casting lightning bolts in all directions was screaming, constantly. Like a person in unimaginable agony. When Larry turned to flee, it was not from fear of the mindless destruction caused by the endless rain of electricity; it was to escape the sound of those awful screams.
Deanne Ritely stopped in surprise, well short of the massive metal door she’d been rapidly approaching. The flight back from Geneva had been agonizingly long, even though she and the General had left within an hour of hearing the news from Boston. The update three hours later had left Deanne certain she would be coming back to another night of talking her friend out of the vault the smaller woman called her room. But the door, all several tons of it, stood slightly ajar; and the mind Deanne sensed on the other side was far calmer than she could have hoped for.
“You might as well come in. It’ll be a change of pace from the usual ‘trying to get Jessica to come out.'” The voice that called through the open door was more than slightly raw, as if its owner had spent a great deal of time yelling, or crying, recently.
The blonde woman carefully made her way to the narrow gap, and after a moment’s examination gripped the edge to attempt to widen it enough to more comfortably squeeze through. Deanne nearly fell to the floor as the door swung easily several inches from her first pull.
A tired giggle came from the room, and Deanne recovered her balance to see the tired expression of her friend watching the antics in the doorway. “It’s big, but it’s balanced so a normal person can open or close it, as long as it’s not locked.”
“So I’ve discovered. A bit nicer than the original sleeping vault I made them build for you, huh?” Deanne made her way into the room and seated herself in the sole chair. A quick swivel of the seat had her facing her friend where the smaller woman sat cross-legged on the bed.
“Col-… General Clayton said it had to be upgraded because he was afraid someone would get trapped in my room somehow if the door was left that heavy. He never did tell me why someone would be in my room to get trapped in the first place though.”
“You’re handling this a lot better than I thought you would.” Deanne opted to move directly onto the matter at hand, her ability cluing her in that any roundabout approach would probably lead to the pair talking in circles forever.
“It was… I think I’m different now.” A faint smile crested the brunette woman’s lips for a moment. “I was actually mad, like REALLY angry, when Sergeant Maxwell got everyone’s attention to watch the news. Someone was destroying a city, in MY country, and the first I heard about it was from a TV news show. And then I was even angrier when I went to Major Kilven and he ordered me NOT to deploy, he said we couldn’t deploy domestically without special permission. But then he wouldn’t call anyone to try and GET that permission. He just kept telling me, all of us, to standby until we got orders. So we waited, and we watched, and lots of people were dying, and…”
“Did Kelvin finally grow a spine? Or did someone call down and-…”
“I went without orders.” Deanne’s mouth snapped shut at the content of the unexpected interruption.
“Huh. You’re right, you are different. I think you’re finally all grown up.” Deanne smiled warmly as she responded.
“I went out there to kill someone, against orders, and you think that’s a good thing? It just means I really AM a mon-…”
It was Jessica’s turn to be interrupted, as her friend quickly closed the distance and wrapped the smaller woman up in an enveloping hug. “DON’T say that, don’t even think it. You didn’t go out because you wanted to KILL someone, you went out because you couldn’t stand the idea of not trying to SAVE everyone else. You’re a good person, and a HERO, and the only reason why half of Boston is still standing.”
The petite brunette remained motionless for a moment, then tentatively returned the taller woman’s embrace. The two remained like that for over a minute, before Deanne sensed that the comfort had sunk in to the needed level and pulled back to seat herself again. “So, details were a bit sparse on the trip across the Atlantic. Does anyone know why this guy decided to destroy Boston?”
“He was broken.”
The blonde woman responded with a confused expression, and the brunette vanished from her spot on the bed. Deanne barely caught a glimmer of motion from the corner of her eye before her friend was back at her original position, clutching what looked like a research folder in her hands. “When I finally got there, he was just floating in the sky; glowing and shooting lightning everywhere. It was almost the same as the Japanese Altered back at Pearl Harbor, but this one… He didn’t react when I showed up. He didn’t even seem to notice me, he just kept pouring electricity out everywhere. When I got close, just before I… I saw his face, I looked in his eyes. He was screaming like he was in the worst pain imaginable, and his eyes were completely lifeless.
“When I got back I tracked down Doctor Kimmel, and I asked him about it. He got that look he gets, you know? Where he looks really excited and really nervous at the same time. He told me it had never happened with a Paragon before, but he gave me this to read.” Jessica passed the folder to her friend.
“Examination of the Altered Lunatic Phenomenon?” Deanne’s puzzled expression returned for a moment, then memory kicked in. “Wait, I remember this. The third result from a Vanishing, the really rare one, where the person survives but is completely insane when they Return.” Color drained from the blonde woman’s face as the full implications hit.
“Yeah. That’s what it looks like when a Paragon comes back completely insane. I think it would be a good idea if the General could cancel the public relations stuff for a couple of weeks around the solstices.”
Deanne could only nod slightly, mind processing a myriad of nightmare scenarios, as she continued to stare at the folder in her hands.
Dear Diary 2,
Happy 1955, diary! I don’t seem to have nearly enough time to write in you, diary 2, in spite of promising myself that I would do better with you after diary 1 was full. So much has happened since I last wrote in you- Wow, looking back I’ve only filled up ten pages since I bought you. Ten pages in ten years, at this rate I won’t EVER need to get Diary 3! Oh, never mind, I guess I will. I almost forgot…
The study they started on me just after the Boston incident was finished last week. The new director of Altered Research, Classification, and Assessment sent me the results. I kinda knew, but now it’s official I guess… I’m not aging, as far as any of the scientists can tell. And some of them are Genius-type Altered who are SUPER smart. I didn’t really think about, I think I might have been trying not to think about it really, but last time I went home I remember seeing some of the photos that mama has of me on the wall… I look the same in all of them, just with different ranks on my shoulders. Unless someone ever figures out a way to kill me, I might live forever. So I probably will need a Diary 3 at some point.
They also promoted me to Major this week, even though I keep telling them to stop promoting me. They keep giving me new ranks like they think it’s some kind of reward, but it’s just more and more and MORE responsibility, and more people trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be leading from the front when I’m out in the field, which is REALLY stupid, diary. Even if we have three more Paragon Altered with us now, none of them are as strong or as hard to kill as I am!
They made Deanne a full Colonel at the same time they promoted me, and I think she was REALLY mad about it. She says that General Clayton is trying to set everything up so that they’ll have to promote her to be in command of the Army Altered Corps when he retires. I won’t say it out loud, though Deanne probably knows anyways, but I think she’ll be the best commander ever. Deanne keeps threatening to retire, but I know she won’t really. After everything she went through to try and help me when I needed it, I know she won’t give up when she can really do good. I’m sure of it.
Anyways, I’m headed back to monitoring diary! There were four recorded Vanishings on June 29th, and the first possible Return will be in less than an hour. I hope it isn’t another Lunatic this time.
Colonel Deanne Ritely stood expectantly in front of the General’s heavy wooden door, arms crossed and facing out at the hallway with a neutral expression carefully plastered across her face. When a petite brunette woman appeared from thin air directly in front of the blonde, neither showed any sign of surprise.
“Colonel. I need to speak with General Clayton. NOW.” Anyone familiar with the two women would likely have been shocked at the icy tone in Major Lawson’s voice.
“He’s already doing everything he can, Major. You’re still needed on alert. We’re only a few hours from the first Nine’s Return.”
“PEOPLE ARE DYING!” The facade of composure fell away from the shorter woman, her voice cracking with emotion as she shouted. “It shouldn’t matter what country they’re in, we have to… I should be helping them!”
“The New German Republic and the Soviet Union have both made it clear. If any foreign Altered deploy into the situation in Italy, they will consider it a nullification of the treaty.” Deanne’s impassive expression finally slipped, and tears showed in her eyes. “Both of them are just LOOKING for an excuse to start the next Great War, Jessica. We CANNOT be the ones to give them that excuse. As many people as are dying now, it could be a hundred times worse.”
“HOW? How could it be worse? There’s a Lunatic Eight tearing his way across Italy, moving north. He’s destroying everything in a TWO MILE swath. I’m probably the only thing that can stop that, and if someone wants to start a war over that then I can just go visit THEM too.”
“If you two are going to keep shouting at each other, you might as well come inside.” The deep voice of the General echoed through the wooden door. “You should probably both see this, anyways.”
Deanne tried to recover the expressionless mask at the General’s last words, but she knew immediately her friend had seen some of her despair slip out. The look on the brunette’s face was both questioning and slightly accusatory, but the blonde simply shook her head softly and opened the door. “He’s right, you should see for yourself.”
The two women made their way into the well-furnished, but utilitarian, office to find the General watching the large wall-mounted monitor intently. Jessica gasped in surprise as she realized what the screen was showing, a far better aerial view of the destruction taking place half a world away than any of the news agencies could get footage of.
“I thought we couldn’t deploy to Italy!”
“We, as in the AAC, absolutely cannot deploy internationally barring very explicit circumstances. Hopefully after this mess is resolved, those circumstances will be amended to allow a direct invitation from the country in question to supersede the opinions of other nations in the area. This operation is being carried out by the USAF, though their payload was developed here.” The General leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment, looking suddenly FAR older than his 64 years. “The Italian government, what’s left of it anyways, finally gave us the last authorizations we need.”
“Authorization for what?” The petite brunette’s tone was confused. “FOR WHAT?” The repetition held quite an alarmed note, as the view on the screen showed several large objects plummeting towards the circle of destruction far below.
“For ARCA’s top project.” Deanne was the one that finally answered the question, her voice a barely audible whisper.
A sudden flash completely whited out the visual on the large monitor, fading quickly to static. After a few seconds, the view switched again, to a much more distant vantage. The screen was lit up with an enormous fireball, rising into the sky in an incandescent mushroom shape. The impossibly powerful Jessica actually wobbled slightly on her feet as she realized what she was looking at.
“Deicide. They… They’re using it where there’s still people. THERE WERE STILL PEOPLE THERE!”
“Is now a good time to point out that NEITHER of you is supposed to know that project Deicide exists?” A pair of angry glares turned to the tired man in the chair, but he had already raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Not that it matters at this point, since the whole WORLD knows about it now.”
“And this is supposed to be BETTER than sending me out there? How many people just died? How many people that I could have SAVED?”
“How many more people would have died if you HADN’T been able to stop that one, Jessica.” The mournful tone in her friend’s voice snapped the brunette’s attention away from the General and back to Deanne. Tears fell from the taller woman’s eyes. “If you go out there, and you don’t come back, then THAT,” a shaky finger pointed at the image on the monitor, the firestorm STILL unabated. “Becomes our fallback option for the next Lunatic that shows up HERE. After you we have a Nine and two Tens, and about two dozen Exemplar level that could MAYBE make a difference against a Lunatic Paragon.”
“I won’t die. Ever. Not while THAT is the only alternative.” The shorter woman spoke through her own tears, but the note of resolve in her voice was unbreakable. “Now, General, please order my immediate deployment to Italy.”
The last statement drew bewildered looks from the other two in the room, until they both followed the Major’s gaze and saw the image on the monitor had changed again. The unending conflagration had shifted from an uncontrolled storm of destruction to a swirling sphere, pushing slowly north.
“That’s impossible…” General Clayton tried to form more words, but found his mouth too dry to get them out.
“Tell the Germans and the Russians that I’m headed to Italy. See if they still want to stop me after THAT just failed. But I need those orders NOW, if you want me back in time to monitor the Returning Nines.”
“Consider yourself ordered, Major.” The General’s eyes were still glued to the images on the screen.
Jessica turned to leave, but stopped as she felt a hand on her shoulder. “If you don’t come back, they’ll still try to use Deicide. You HAVE to come back.”
The brunette woman turned to look at her friend, then came to attention and snapped a perfect salute. “Yes, ma’am!” As soon as the words were out, the shorter woman was gone.
Dear Diary 5,
You should be my very last diary, diary. I still feel weird writing in you, a little electronic screen, instead of on real paper with real ink. I guess I’ll get used to it eventually. I don’t have much time to write today, but I feel like I need to do it. I need to talk to somebody, and… I don’t have anyone else. How sad is that, diary?
I buried my best friend today. My last friend. She was the smartest, bravest, best person I’ve ever known. She was my commanding officer, or at least my ranking officer, for over fifty years. She was still my friend for another twenty after that. She died of old age, and I still look like I’m 24. I… I have to go and meet the new General later today. The last one, the one that replaced Deanne, he wasn’t very good at his job. Why they let someone who was afraid of Altereds be in charge of the AAC I’ll never figure out. I don’t think the new one is going to be any better. Deanne made me promise not to be insubordinate, though I haven’t been very good at that for a long time. She also made me promise that I would find a better way, better than what we have now. I don’t know if I can keep that promise either, diary. Things don’t seem that bad now, I’m kind of afraid of what will happen if I try and change them. Then again, I’m not sure if I can really tell what the world is like anymore. I’ve been in the military for so long, I’ve always had orders to follow, even if sometimes I didn’t follow them or did things without them, that’s always been there.
I haven’t been afraid in a long time, but I’m afraid now. I’m afraid that I’ll do the wrong thing, that I’ll mess everything up now. I don’t have my friend to guide me, to tell me what the right thing IS. She kept telling me that I was always the one that REALLY knew, but I don’t know now. I know I need to try and keep my promises though, and that means I need to show up on time to meet the new General.
So, this chapter ended up snowballing on me quite a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that it REALLY should have been two chapters, but it was so short in my original outline I didn’t think it would stretch this far. In the distant future, when I am editing this all into an ebook format, I expect to fix this! For now, enjoy the conclusion of the prologue!