Our analyses of the Altered occurrences by classification continue to be painfully erratic and inconclusive. After 41 years, as I’m being forced to retire to make room for younger and brighter minds, all I can include here are observations; not the conclusions I was so certain I had nearly grasped. Dozens of promising patterns, but even the few that have withstood scrutiny have revealed no grand insight to the greater whole, and the rest have ultimately proven as tangible as a pipe-dream.
I can only confidently point at two patterns as having emerged, and remained consistent, as the Altered occurrences continue to explode in ever-increasing numbers. The first: fatality rate amongst Returns remains consistent, though only if the so-called ‘Lunatic’ Returns are also treated as the fatalities that they truly are. The second: the relative numbers of each of Aron’s classifications are becoming more stable with each passing year.
The overall ‘Fatal Return Rate’ among all Altered has leveled off at almost precisely 5% over the last decade. The complete table is published in section II of this report, but the basis for the pattern I will include here. The fatalities start at very nearly 100% in the 5-7 day Vanishing range (there have been no confirmed Vanishings at less than 5 days from solstice at the time this report is compiled), and drop by almost precisely 11% for each three day interval, reaching virtually zero fatalities for the entire range above 34 days, before jumping back up to almost EXACTLY 11% again for the 88-90 range (also no confirmed vanishings more than 90 days from the solstice at the time of this report). The precision of these numbers is viewed as further circumstantial proof of some grand design behind Vanishings, and I can find no argument to fault this. What connection this pattern has, if any, to the underlying cause of all Vanishings? May that answer prove less elusive for you than it has for me.
As for the second pattern, early fears that the world would be overrun with insanely powerful Paragon and Exemplar rated Altered have been proven unfounded by this one, though there is little that would stop the relatively low numbers of these most powerful classifications from having their way with the world in any event. Paragons have been shown to consistently make up only about 1 in 2500 of the total Altered population, with Exemplars being about twice as common at 1 in 1300. This could alter drastically, and rapidly, should anyone ever solve the mystery of WHAT causes so many fatalities in these upper ranges. Indeed the number of Altered may eventually become overwhelming, but with the least threatening among them (the Lux, Physical, and Genius classifications) representing slightly more than 90% of their population, Altered will have as much to fear of a future with tyrannical and unstoppable Paragons declaring themselves as our rulers as normal humans will.
I beseech you, all of you who come after me, find out what these patterns MEAN. They have taunted some of the best and brightest minds of generations before yours, SOLVE THEM. Solve all of it, for the pure sake of science itself.
Doctor Bernard Kimmel, first page of the 28,000 page report found in his office when he disappeared the day of his retirement.
“Lieutenant Colonel Lawson, reporting as ordered, sir!” The petite brunette stood at rigid attention, hand held in a textbook salute, seeming to take no notice of the irritated expression of her new commanding officer.
The middle-aged general, his barely average height still sufficient to loom head-and-shoulders over his subordinate, continued to scowl silently for several seconds before finally snapping a salute in return. Jessica dropped her own hand in response, but remained at textbook-perfect attention as she waited for the General to speak.
“Care to explain why three quarters of MY new command is away on leave for my arrival, Colonel?” The scowl on the General’s face didn’t change, but the short woman noted the man’s gaze flicker across her posture as he spoke, and she thought she detected a hint of disappointment under the general irritation in his voice.
Was he hoping to ALSO yell at me for improper decorum? What an asshole… “Sir, there is always a huge influx of leave requests once we hit one week outside the Paragon Return window, and since there was no notice of when our new commanding off-…”
“And you think that’s a valid excuse, Colonel?” The General stalked around Jessica as he snarled his interruption. “You’ve left this command DANGEROUSLY understaffed because you didn’t think you could deny them a few days off? Even long enough to simply STAGGER your troops’ leave? Did NONE of this occur to you?”
You promised not to be insubordinate. Don’t break your promise on the first day. “Sir, Alpha and Bravo companies are mostly depleted at present, but Charlie remains at operational strength. And I’m personally able to respond to any major threats, sir.”
“And you think that YOU make a sufficient replacement for an entire company of thirty Altered soldiers?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
The immediate, confident, response shocked the middle-aged man into momentary silence. He finally stopped his pacing and ran a hand over his close-cropped salt and pepper hair as he intensified his glare. Jessica returned his cold stare with an unflinching expression of her own, until finally it was the General that looked away.
“What do you know about me and why I’m assuming command of the First AAD?”
“Brigadier General Kyle Mathis, born September 19th, 1968. Attended West Point Academy from 1986 through 1990. Served at the Pentagon, exact details of that posting classified, from 1990 through 1998. Transferred to the Second Division, AAD with a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1998, attached to General Dillon’s staff. Promoted to the rank of Colonel and given tactical oversight of the Second in 2008. Promotion to the rank of Brigadier General was announced at the end of 2011, with the intention of you taking command of the soon-to-be unified First and Second AAD with the impending retirements of both General Dillon and General Lelan. Arrived at the headquarters of the First AAD January 10th, 2012 to assume command and begin its merging with the Second Division.” Jessica knew she shouldn’t have added the final, patently obvious bit to her verbal recounting, but she couldn’t manage to stop herself in time. She did manage to contain the smirk that threatened to appear on her face, and keep her tone level, which was likely for the best since General Mathis STILL appeared to be searching for any sign of insubordination. Or maybe he just finds your face, hair, and uniform to be absolutely RIVETING viewing material…
“Not bad, Colonel.” Mathis’ tone seemed to disagree with his statement. “Got anything you wouldn’t have learned from glancing at a summary of my files?”
Jessica remained silent for a long moment, as if debating something internally, before she spoke again. “Sir, you prefer very dark roast coffee with no cream or sugar, sir.”
The General’s eyes widened for a moment as his gaze snapped back to take in the still steaming mug he’d abandoned on his desk when the Lieutenant Colonel had arrived. “Neat trick, Colonel. I don’t recall enhanced senses from reading through your files.” The glare returned, but the intensity seemed to have been dialed down a degree or two.
“Page seventy-seven, paragraph four, third bullet item, sir. It’s easy to miss; they never really paid much attention to the fact that I have better than normal vision, hearing, and smell aside from determining that I was nowhere near the level of most Sensory Enhanced Altered.”
The perfect recall of page and line number seemed to startle the General, and for a moment Jessica thought she saw a flash of worry in his eyes. Worry and… something else, before he looked away again. You’re being paranoid, he’s just surprised that you have a 153 page assessment file memorized. Don’t look for trouble with your new Commanding Officer on the first day, stupid!
“I need to meet with all the new soldiers under my command, as soon as possible. Arrange interviews with the few you HAVEN’T let wander off starting tomorrow morning. I expect to have a detailed schedule emailed by 0700. You’ll also need to meet with the Company CO’s for Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot and make sure their troops are properly added to the training rosters.”
Now he wants me doing secretarial work? “Sir, I’ll be happy to meet with the former Second Division’s company CO’s, but we have a dedicated administrative staff for everything else. I think you’ll find they’re much better at their jobs than I would be.”
“I’m assigning YOU to the job, Colonel, because YOU are the reason why most of my new command are not present.” The glare resumed its previous intensity. “I also expect you to be present for all the introductory meetings, ready and able to provide insights into your soldiers that I won’t get from reading their reviews. Dismissed.”
“Sir, yes sir!” Jessica couldn’t quite keep herself from a faintly mocking sing-song tone as she snapped another salute before turning to leave. “The General might want to make sure he checks in properly with base security and tech support before 0700 tomorrow. So that he has an active email to receive his requested schedule with.” The statement came out in a light, almost cheerful, conversational tone as she strode out of the office. She decided her turned back sufficient to hide the smirk she finally allowed onto her lips as she heard the General sputtering something behind her. She made certain to vanish the second she cleared the doorway, long before he could manage anything coherent.
Sorry, Deanne. I am being LESS insubordinate this time, though. Maybe I can really keep that promise with the one after this.
“So that’s the situation with our new General. Do I have any volunteers with a burning desire to meet the man?” Jessica glanced around at the gathered personnel, and felt absolutely no surprise when no one seemed eager to jump forward. Or even get up from their various seated and sprawled positions around the large rec area. “No volunteers means we’re doing it by rank, highest to lowest.”
“Ah HELL no. I do not want to meet the new asshole that early in the morning. Some of you Lieutenants, volunteer! That’s an order!” The command from a heavily-built blond man was given with a semi-joking tone, but the look in the man’s eyes was at least halfway serious. Shockingly, none of the lieutenants present stepped forward to volunteer despite the ‘order.’
“Cheer up, Major. I figure the General will be in a better mood during the early meetings, before we’ve had a chance to wear him down.” Jessica looked down at the half-scowling commander of Bravo Company with a deeply earnest, and entirely fake, conciliatory expression.
“I’m a little confused.” A new voice joined the conversation, one of the few women in the room standing as she spoke. “Why the hell are you down here setting this up, Colonel? Did the army decide we really CAN do everything and eliminate the administrative corps too?”
A few scattered laughs met the weak attempt at humor, with Jessica’s soft giggle briefly joining in before she answered. “He stated that this was a punishment detail because I allowed so much of his new command to be on leave when he arrived.”
Several incredulous stares were directed towards the brunette, and a few soldiers laughed even louder at the news.
“Holy shit, are ALL the Generals assholes?”
“It’s a side-effect of wearing those stars so close to your head.”
“Nah, Lelan was more of a spineless bigot.”
“And that doesn’t sound like ‘asshole’ to you?”
Jessica allowed the side conversations to run for a bit to see if any points worth expanding on came up, but most of the room seemed caught up in the debate over what exactly constituted ‘asshole’ behavior. “Also a reminder to everyone; we’ve been running things pretty informally, but the new CO is definitely one of the ‘by the book’ types. We also don’t have much to go on about the three new companies we’ll be integrating with over the next few weeks, so everyone be on ‘proper’ behavior around the new officers and in the common areas until everything gets settled.” A chorus of groans met the last announcement but the petite woman waved them off. “Just pretend General Lelan is back doing one of his inspection marathons. I’ll get everyone their meeting schedules as soon as I make the damn things.”
Jessica turned to leave after making certain that her last statement had been heard, and pointedly ignored the pleading look thrown at her by Major Gill.
Well that went about as well as can be expected. Huh, I’m actually off to do the sort of work that I expected to be doing when I ORIGINALLY enlisted. The brunette shrugged off the oddly nostalgic feeling that came over her along with the realization, and continued on her way to her quarters. This is gonna be a long night. Good thing I don’t need much sleep!
“Gentlemen, I apologize for running late.” Jessica threw up a salute in response to the three men that came to attention as she entered her rarely used office. “At ease, and please sit down. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Lawson, commanding officer of Alpha Company.” A quick motion smoothed her uniform as she seated herself behind the desk, then she leaned back and waited calmly to see which of the three men would start things off.
After a brief series of glances were exchanged, then the brown-haired man in the center chair leaned forward a bit and began speaking. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Lawson. I’m Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Garrett, CO of Echo Company. To my right is Major Clint Robbins, Delta Company, and to my left is Major Levi Torres, Foxtrot Company. And I’d just like to say, ma’am, that it’s an honor to actually serve with the Champion in person.”
Jessica nodded slightly at each man as he was introduced; and managed to suppress a flinch at the mention of her callsign. She’d known the names the night before, but the files that Second Division had forwarded had been strangely absent of any photographs of the men she was meeting. “It’s good to meet all of you. It’s my understanding that the Second’s companies were a bit more specialized than ours, but the paperwork sent over was somewhat… lacking any detail whatsoever.” The Lieutenant Colonel tried to keep her tone light as she finished her statement, but more than a trace off irritation crept through.
“Yeah, that was kind of a group failing, sorry about that.” The dark-skinned Major Torres responded with what sounded to be a genuinely contrite tone as he rubbed a hand over a completely bald scalp. “They kinda stripped most of the support personnel from the Second a bit in advance of the merger, and then when the General ordered us to get updated paperwork on all the combat troops… I’ll say ‘errors were made’ and apologize again.”
Jessica noted the complete absence of any sign of guilt in the other two men’s faces, and the way the rather heavily-muscled Torres seemed to be trying to shrink through his chair whenever her gaze swept back to him, and concluded that the ‘errors’ were probably made entirely by Torres. “Well, we’re all familiar here with problems cropping up because the politicians want to shave a little more money from somewhere and assume that we can do just a LITTLE more without, but please try to get with our administrative people as soon as possible to get proper paperwork done. Something tells me that the General will quickly make it MY fault if it doesn’t get fixed.”
Torres and Robbins both laughed their agreement of the assessment, but Garrett only smiled slightly and nodded.
“So, Major Torres, would you like to go first in correcting my lack of information on the Second’s companies?”
Torres sighed theatrically but nodded his agreement, pulling himself back up to a more alert posture before speaking. “Foxtrot Company is one of General Mathis’ pet projects; an Altered Company organized almost exactly the same way the traditional Army companies were set up. Instead of three 10-man ‘platoons,’ we’re set up with four 20-man platoons. Platoons two, three, and four are intended for long-range engagement and made up entirely of Exemplar and Potent class Altereds, with platoon one being comprised entirely of extreme-survivability Paragon class Altered for closer engagement and screening the other platoons.”
Jessica’s eyes widened at the description. “I was under the impression that standing orders still prohibited deploying Potent class in combat situations. They tend to be… fragile compared to Exemplars and Paragons.”
The Foxtrot Company CO shrugged. “Like I said, we’re kind of a pet project. General Mathis is convinced that we’ll see another real World War in our lifetime. Potent class might not tend to have any more durability than a normal human, but some of them have as much firepower as any of us do.”
“And what exactly is it that YOU do, Major?” Jessica opted to drop the original issue for now as Torres sounded more than a little sensitive in spite of his attempt at nonchalance during his explanation.
“Ah, well, I’m a Nine… Basically I’m you, only less so.”
“You’re going to have to be a little less vague, Major. Also, at a guess, I’d say you’re at least twice my size, so…”
The other two men laughed as Torres flushed slightly and sighed. “Short-range teleportation, I can go farther than you can in one jump, or at least farther than the file SAYS you can go,” the Major paused briefly and shot a questioning look at his new superior, but continued quickly when she didn’t respond. “But you can jump five or six times faster than I can. I’m considered top-tier invulnerable, same as you, but I don’t have any kind of accelerated healing. I’m also rated as top-tier for physical strength, and I can generate aimable concussive blasts. Like I said-…”
“Like me, but less so.” Jessica nodded her agreement as she met the man’s eyes, then turned to look at the other two men. “Next?”
“I suppose that’ll be me.” Major Robbins stood as he spoke and adopted a casual ‘at-ease’ position. “Delta Company is, frankly, the boring company coming in from the Second. We’re organized exactly the same as Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie; We have seventeen Paragons and thirteen Exemplars. A little lighter on Paragon Altered than the other companies, but almost ALL of our Exemplar class are curve-breakers. I, personally, am a Nine. Standard material Elemental; just about any kind of metal. My effective manipulation range is roughly six hundred meters.”
The seated woman nodded at each detail of the Major’s statement, and tried to hide her surprise at his unexpected surge towards proper military decorum. “Thank you Major. Colonel Garrett, I believe that just leaves you?”
The brown-haired man nodded his agreement and sat up straighter in his seat. “Well, since I enjoy talking about myself I’ll start there instead of my company.” The other two men feigned exasperated groans, but Garrett ignored them. “I’m an Eight, tentatively classed as an enhanced energy Elemental. As far as can be determined, I can manipulate kinetic energy to an extreme degree anywhere in my line of sight. Something we have in common, Colonel, we’re both the only documented Altered of our exact types, and we’ve made several scientists cry as they attempt to quantify what we can do.
“My company is a VERY non-standard makeup.” Garrett looked as if he were searching for words, then simply shrugged as if giving up. “We’re the Army’s dirty little secret. The entire company is formed of Paragon level Altered, and we have our own completely independent CIVILIAN support personnel. This is due to the fact that almost the entire company is made up of convicted criminals who were offered access to a rather extreme work-release program.”
Jessica practically bolted out of her seat at the conversational bomb just dropped in her office, but the brown-haired man across the desk raised a forestalling hand and continued before she could interrupt.
“Each of the six squad leaders is genuine military, and we make up the most powerful Altered in Echo. None of the convicts serving with us were arrested for violent crimes.”
“That’s to be expected, considering no one has figured out how to cage a Paragon that WANTS to be violent yet, Colonel. We don’t ARREST those ones.” Jessica’s voice was cold, and it seemed to take a visible effort to keep herself in her seat. “I assume this is another of the General’s projects?”
“And an entirely successful one so far, Colonel.” Garrett maintained an earnest expression in spite of Jessica’s extremely doubtful stare. Finally it was the petite brunette who sighed and looked up at the ceiling.
“Let me assure you, Colonel; Echo has their own living quarters and their own training arrangements. We aren’t asking you to bring them into your base and integrate them directly with the existing companies. They’re on the outside looking in, and they’re under STRICT supervision. We’re tasked to do the jobs that you don’t send a career soldier to take care of.”
“God dammit, but that sounds like something I REALLY don’t want to know about, that I HAVE to know about.” Jessica sighed again. “I need full, detailed files on ALL of your people, including their ‘civilian support’ by tomorrow, Colonel Garrett.” Garret looked agreeable right up til the timetable was announced, but the smaller woman talked right over his burgeoning objection without pause. “This is NOT negotiable. I need to know who these people are, what they can do, and exactly what kind of clearances are involved. I ALSO need to know what kind of ‘jobs’ Echo has been taking care of, but something tells me that I’ll have to take that one up with the General.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Garrett’s tone was a combination of annoyed, cold, and smug as spit out the short reply.
“Well then, Majors Torres and Robbins, please have full dossiers for your soldiers submitted by the end of the week. Colonel, I would be sorry to give you so short of a timetable, except after what you dropped on me with no warning I think I’ll call it even. I suppose I might as well get Secretary MacAllistair involved now, it might shorten the period where General Mathis and I have to scream at each other by a little bit. Dismissed, gentlemen.”
The three men stood, saluted, and filed quickly from the room. Even though they waited til the door had closed behind them to begin their whispered conversation, Jessica’s keen ears easily caught the first few exchanges. My, what a surprise. No new friends made today, and Garrett wants to ‘teach me a lesson.’ I think I might actually be pissed off enough to let him try… She shook her head quickly, attempting to banish the thought. No, bad Jessica. That would definitely NOT be a step towards making anything better. Jessica opened a drawer and dug out the ancient Rolodex that she insisted on using over a digital contact list.
So, which call to make first. Secretary of Defense to schedule the shouting match; or therapist to schedule a nice, long, crying session. Decisions decisions…