A Punitive Lesson

My characters are almost always on the move:  going hither and yon.  Is that because I’m a rather sedentary person?  I’m usually sitting to read, write, or watch an anime or movie.  When I was young, even into college, I enjoyed going for drives, just to see what was over the next hill.

When did I lose that?  And why?

Below the fold, Sylvia gets a summons and receives some startling news.  I’m wondering when the plot will show up…

 

With a Save, To, and BCC, Sylvia tapped Send just as one of her men came up to her table carrying a flimsy.

“Apologies, Miss,” he said with a nod before turning about and leaving.  She looked at the printed words on the thin paper.

‘I need you in Austin.  Soonest.  CB’

So much for Tulsa, she thought.

“Kharachan!” she shouted for her rat-like but very useful aide for these few weeks.

She saw him slough out from between two tents; God only knowing what he’d been up to but she’d yet to find fault with a single of her orders to him.

“I’m back to the Capitol today,” she began, snapping her laptop shut and standing.  “One car.  Get me a driver and a gunner.  Tell Stricklin that once the fallout from Wichita clears I want my people here to divide.  Half of them, er, call them Task Force B, to rendezvous with Deputy Director Stephens and his men at Tulsa.  Got all that?”

“Of course, Miss,” he lisped slightly, making her reflect on the Director’s racial policies.

“Thank you, Kharachan.  I’ll see you at some point in the future!”

“Of course, Assistant Director!” he replied.

“Of course you will,” he whispered again, once she was safely gone.

 

It was a bit under two hundred miles from Oklahoma City to the Greater DFW.  Sylvia dozed fitfully in the back seat waking only at a chime from her phone.  Sitting up and looking about, they’d just reached Denton.  With a quick look at the two men in the front seats, who took no notice of her, she reopened her laptop.  After a moment a simple graphic of three interlocked rotating gears appeared with a text box below.

What now, Thaad? she typed.

Your guess was correct:  to counterbalance the Mexicans they are moving to take at least half of New Mexico.

But I had no time!  To try to lay the seeds of an organization in Oklahoma!  Sylvia’s fingers flew across the keys.

Fret not; you will.

What does that mean?

You will find out in a few hours.  However.

However what?!

I am not the only one who is not to be relied upon.

The car’s heater might have kept the late northern Texas winter at bay, but she suddenly felt as if she was caked in ice.

As their car just passed Lake Lewisville they slowed to see two armored Hummers and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on the road just ahead.  At a wave from one of the men there, they stopped.  Her driver only partially lowered his window as her gunner took his machine pistol off Safe.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the sergeant said, waving a piece of paper in his left, “but we got a BOLO for an ExComm car coming south.  I’m to pass this on.”

He carefully slid the paper through the car’s window and took a few steps back.  Seeing her name on the outside, the driver passed it over his shoulder while shutting the window against the cold.

Sylvia read the few lines.  Great.  What now?

“We’re ordered to be diverted to DFW airport,” she announced. “Why I don’t know; that place has been empty for months now… do you know the way, Richmond?”

“Yep,” her driver replied, already accelerating, albeit slowly, past the armored units.  There was a click from the gunner putting his pistol back on Safe.  “That’s a big plot of land, though.  Anywhere specifically?”

“Not according to this,” she replied, wadding the paper into a ball.  “If we’re expected here let’s hope we are there, too!”

Turning off the Interstate to the southwest she noted the grey and black smoke to the southeast, the center of what had been Dallas, was denser than she’d seen.  Ten minutes later, almost to the airport’s northern boundary, she heard her gunner mutter, “what the hell is that?” while leaning to look up through the windshield.

With a roar of jet engines – something not heard in months – the C-130 passed over them, still climbing from its takeoff.  It was such a surprise that their driver pulled to the side and stopped.  Sylvia got out to turn back north to watch it.

“Another one!” Richmond said.  She quickly turned back around to see a second military transporter fly over them.

“How many are there?” she wondered aloud.  Not just the fuel, but the manpower to do something such as this… there was only one organization in the new state with that kind of authority.  And where are they going?  To bomb Wichita?  That seems excessive…

“C’mon,” she said, getting back in, “let’s find out where we need to be.”

Some MPs at the old main entrance, upon learning who was in the car, directed them to a group of tents only about 1,000 yards ahead, just off of the road.  The watchful security, even by ExComm standards, seemed excessive to her.  As they rolled to a stop a young man quickly stepped forward and opened her door.

“Assistant Director Fernandez?  Please follow me!” he turned quickly and walked off.

‘Sudden,’ Sylvia thought.  Is he…?

He led her to a larger tent in the middle of the rest as two more flights took off.  There were half a dozen men on radios and computers lost in their tasks.  Her guide waved at the outer flap and did not follow her in.  Just inside were three more men on radios, two pouring over a map – of greater Dallas, she saw – and one more with a rifle at the next flap.  He tilted his head to indicate she should proceed.

Didn’t anyone think to bring a few space heaters, she thought unpleasantly with a small shiver.  Pushing through the next flap she drew up short.  And shuddered again.

“Hello, Miss Fernandez,” Clive Barrett said without looking up while standing before a rectangular folding table awash in paperwork and maps.

“D- Director Barrett,” she recovered quickly, “what brings you from the Capitol?  You did tell me once you didn’t trust that city to the civilians for too long…”

“Two things,” he said brusquely, “only one of which is germane to you.”

There were two more roars of jets.  He finally looked up.

He looks like he’s ten years older, she thought.  The pressure of this job?  Some faint notion of his guilt for what he has done and is doing?

Or, Sylvia considered the rumor she’d heard:  that after finally being reunited with his wife and daughter, they left him, disgusted at what he’d become.

“How may I serve you and our new nation?” she carefully asked, pointedly putting him first.

“I’ve no badge of rank to give you, so I’ll just say it straight-out:  Thomson quit,” he began, looking about and finding two camp stools for them.  He waved for her to sit, which she did.

“I’m promoting you into his place, to lead the Third Chief Directorate.  Congratulations, Deputy Director.”

She stood right back up.

“He did?  You are?”

“What,” he said slowly, while pouring two small cups of coffee for them from an old thermos, “is one of the unofficial watchwords of the Extraordinary Commission?”

“Sudden,” she replied, reseating herself, knowing how he despised any lack of self-control.

“It’s not official yet, for two reasons,” he said, pausing to take a sip.  “One, I need you back in Oklahoma for some additional work…”

That sounds ominous…

“… and two, per what you said first, I want to be in Austin when I do announce this.  There are going to be people both in the government and in ExComm who will not be pleased that a mixed-blood foreigner flew in under their noses to become one of my top three subordinates.”

She knew he always chose his words with care, this time alluding to her and Roberta’s unexpected arrival on the scene.  She thought of her acquaintance who disbelieved in coincidences.

“While I thank you for your confidence in me, sir, I don’t want to become a political burden to either you, our organization, or the new nation,” she said, choosing her words just as carefully.  “If I may speak frankly, Director, why do you place such confidence in me?  I know full well ExComm’s unspoken directive on racial matters… just now you even saw fit to bring up one of my disqualifications!  So why, sir?”

Sylvia knew that he was reserved and careful; that was not the same as unemotional.  In fact, she had cause to think that he was very emotional.  But he chose to deny that part of himself.  Still, just now, she watched a small smile come to his eyes as he finished his coffee.

“History rhymes; and this time, the roles are reversed,” he said ambiguously.  “A man with a disreputable past was once taken to be the chief lieutenant of the elected leader of a nation.  Under similar circumstances he asked much the same question you did.  And I can give you the same answer that Marius gave to Sulla:  because you are going to matter.  I don’t know how or why, Sylvia, but you are going to matter here.”

It was the third time he used her name; just as with the other two, it was when something she had done or said provoke his odd sense of mirth.

He set his cup down and stood.  She quickly drank all of hers at once and stood as well.

“I’ll… do my best, Director Barrett,” she said clearly, holding his eyes.

“I know.”  He turned to search about the table for a moment before finding an envelope he passed to her.  “Your orders for up north:  the government of Oklahoma is to be dissolved completely; they will for a year or two be under an Governor-General appointed by our President and approved by our Senate.  At some time beyond that, after the evacuation of all undesired elements, they will be integrated into the republic.”

Such euphemisms we use…

“I want this done in less than a month, Deputy Director, and I want it done they way you like it:  by the law,” he said walking back around to the other side of the table.  “Once you are finished you will come to Austin to organize your Directorate as you see fit.  Following that, I’ll have more field work for you.”

“Of course,” she turned to go, but paused.  “I won’t say it’s not my business, but as Acting Deputy Director, you did say that there were two reasons you are here?”

He first looked up then pointed up at another roar from the sky.

“The festering situation in Dallas has gone on too long and demands my personal attention,” he began, his eyes back to their soulless selves.  “We are firebombing and using chemical munitions to kill every man, woman, and child left in the city.  Resistance of any kind shall no longer be tolerated.  At home or in any lands we control.”

She turned away before he could read the disgust in her eyes.

“It is a message for both domestic and foreign consumption,” he continued to her back.  “If we are willing to do this to our own people, what will we do to the old US or Mexico?  It will give them pause.”

She pushed out the tent flaps, teeth gritted to keep her coffee down.

I’m as bad as he is, law be damned!  And with this promotion my name will be linked to his in the history books!  The lawyer who presumed to make crimes against humanity legal again!

She walked quickly to where her car had been.  It was just being driven back up.

“Did you top off the tank?” she called as her driver lowered his window.  A nod.  “Good.  We’re going back north, right now!”

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