This story is set in the Swarm Cycle Universe created by Thinking Horndog. Any resemblance between the content of this story or any of the characters depicted herein and real persons or events is probably coincidental.
The characters in this tale are taken from a much larger work-in-progress that is proving to be much too big for a first attempt. The encouraging response I have received from readers for 'The Starbucks Incident' is motivating me to complete The Librarian and get it posted. In the meantime, I have continued Marvin Clark's tale.
I very much appreciate the efforts of Mulligan. He is patiently teaching me how to write in my native tongue. I claim full responsibility for all errors and omissions.
"Okay everyone, listen up." Sergeant Budzinski's voice echoed in the large room as he stepped off of the transporter pad. "I need all of the sponsors to collect their concubine's ID cards, make a list of dependents under fourteen that are to be picked up, and detail everyone's medical needs."
Private Williams approached Budzinski juggling an armful of the ship's PDA units. "If each of you sponsors will use one of these handheld pads then processing the lists will be easier and faster. There's a scanner along the side that can read CAP cards and most standard government issued ID cards as well."
"Are there any smokers in the crowd?" When no one identified himself, Budzinski remarked, "None, that's weird," then raising his voice again, asked, "Is anyone on heart medication or other prescription drugs?"
Marvin reluctantly raised his hand, "I'm taking some medication, but I don't think it's anything critical." He blushed a bit as he handed a bottle of male enhancement pills to Budzinski who was puzzled by the drug's name.
The AI spoke through Budzinski's implant telling him what the pills were for moment's after he read the name out loud. Budzinski chuckled and handed the bottle back to Marvin. "You're right; you'll probably want to trash these. The med lab's nanobots can do a much better job of enhancement than anything you can get Earth-side. Does anyone else have anything interesting to share?" Budzinski was chuckling and shaking his head.
Williams was fielding questions about the PDA functionality. Everyone appeared to be busy collecting the requested information.
Cpl. Miller took advantage of the lull in Budzinski's interaction with the crowd to bring an interesting readout to his attention. "Hey, Sergeant, check this out." She said as she recalled a tactical screen on her display. "Just before we dusted off my scanner registered a couple of CAP cards that entered the parking lot. There was an 8.0 female and an 8.7 male. I've got the names and profiles right here." Miller touched a couple of buttons to split the screen and show him the data on both individuals at the same time.
"Janet Olson and Jacob Caulfield, they've got to be the 'Janet and Jake' that Lt. Clark spoke of during the pickup. You're with me, Miller." Budzinski walked over to Clark.
"Excuse me, sir." Budzinski addressed Clark. "Would you know why these individuals arrived outside as we were packing up to dust?" Budzinski pointed to Miller's combat PDA display.
Clark was puzzled, "Dust?"
"Uh, in the old days when you were ready to abandon a position you'd call in slicks, unarmed transport helicopters, and dive for the doors through the cloud of dust they kicked up because they never touched the ground. They just flew low and slow until loaded and then bugged out."
"Helicopters, right," Clark wasn't sure he'd been enlightened, but addressed Budzinski's question. "My first guess would be that they were there to insure that no one fucked with Misty Nokamura, the young lady I asked you to take care of. She's a real hot babe and was ready to ship out with me, but I vetoed my dick and declined her offer mostly because of Janet. That crazy Amazon dyke would have removed my ass."
"You'd have been safely under the protection of the Confederacy. She couldn't have done anything to you," Budzinski commented confidently.
Clark laughed before advising Budzinski, "The smart money doesn't put limitations on what that pair can and cannot accomplish." Clark expanded the advice. "Three months ago Jake was a wimpy geek. I'm sure my kid sister could've bested him in a slugging match. But I've seen the scrawny little bastard in action and would NOT want to be the focus of his anger even with my fifty-pound weight advantage. He's sneaky and doesn't fight fair," Clark was frowning as he recalled Jake smashing his laptop into the head of the guy who'd just stabbed Ralph.
He continued his narrative, "I've fearlessly charged many a line of 250-pound football players who were intent on removing limbs from my body, but Janet scares me. God help the fool at Starbucks that even thought about molesting Misty. Janet would have ripped their heads off bare handed, and Jake would have shit down their necks. Some guy stabbed a friend of theirs in the Starbucks parking lot about a month ago. I barely managed to stop them before they beat the guy to death."
"Who's this Misty to them?" Budzinski asked.
"Friend, lover, confidant," Clark answered. "She's Janet's lover and a member of the librarian's crew which is Jake's only connection with either of them. Trust me, that bunch has more clout than you can imagine." Clark added. "Lesa Crews, the librarian, had Jake out of jail in time for breakfast the next morning."
"Budzinski," bellowed a man from the open hatch.
"Sir," Budzinski saluted the approaching figure.
"One simple pickup! Want to tell me why it took over an hour to pick up four little geeks?" Captain McGregor bellowed in Budzinski's face.
"No excuse, sir." Budzinski responded.
"That would be my fault, sir." Clark waded in and saluted.
"Who the fuck're you?" McGregor barked at Clark; then turned to Budzinski, "Who the fuck's this?"
Clark responded, "Acting Second Lieutenant Marvin Clark, sir. I wasn't expected and took up a bit of the extraction team's time dealing with my personal issues."
"Personal issues?" Capt. McGregor checked his watch, "The two of you, my office, thirty-minutes," he barked; then he returned their salutes and withdrew.
"Wow," Clark commented, "Sorry to have caused you so much trouble. What can I do to make it right?"
"It wasn't your fault that I was distracted, Lieutenant," Budzinski sighed, "I'm a combat Marine, not a damned babysitter. My job is to seize and occupy real estate; not coddle civilians! I hate pickup duty!" Budzinski replied. "I've never seen Lt. McGregor blow a gasket like that. This is bigger than you realize. Something surprised him, and he doesn't like surprises. Let's get your concubines setup for in-briefing. We have an ass chewing to attend."
Clark was puzzled, "He was wearing captain's silver bars, why did you call him lieutenant?"
After a deep breath and a long sigh, Budzinski explained. "I don't know how it started, but aboard ship the officers with naval duty use naval rank designations." Budzinski shook his head. He clearly didn't approve of this confusion. "You'd be known as Ensign Clark while aboard if you had duties associated with any of the ship's systems."
Budzinski turned his attention to his PDA and accessed the data being entered by the five sponsors. "Okay, this is good. No medical emergencies, so, we'll schedule everyone for a routine examination between briefings this afternoon. Next on the agenda are dependent pickups ... Jesus, Lieutenant. You've got ten kids in four locations! Dr. Brown has four concubines and only four kids to retrieve. Why do you continue to surprise me?"
"The day's not over, yet, Sergeant." Clark replied, chuckling under his breath. "The day's not over."
Budzinski looked around and bellowed, "Brown, put a muzzle on those two!" The young stuff Brown had collected were chattering like magpies. "Williams, Miller, rear guard; be alert for stragglers and strays. Will the five sponsors kindly put leashes on your charges and follow me to the briefing pod."
Clark gathered Julie Ann and Rebecca in his left and right arms respectively and set them in motion behind Budzinski with a pat on their butts.
It took fifteen minutes to get everyone settled into the various briefing rooms. Rebecca kept trying to get Marvin's attention, but there was too much going on. All she managed to tell him was, "We need to talk about Lesa Crews as soon as we can." Marvin just nodded and gave her a puzzled expression.
Budzinski checked his watch. "Lieutenant, we have just enough time to get from here to Lt. McGregor's office. I'll brief you on the way. Miller, you're in charge. Williams, you're personally responsible for Clark's two concubines."
Smiling, Clark kissed Rebecca and Julie Ann, "I may be late for lunch, loves; so, start without me." He then ran to catch up with Budzinski.
"Sir, you may be the ranking individual, but this detail is my command." Budzinski stated.
"Loud and clear, sergeant, loud and clear. I'm just a bystander and will stay out of your way." Clark's response told him that he understood the protocol to be followed. Only the person in command of a detail saluted or interacted with superiors. Everyone else kept digging holes, raking leaves, laying mines, or whatever, and they kept their mouths shut.
McGregor's clerk cleared them into the landing coordinator's office exactly thirty minutes after McGregor had told them to show up. Budzinski followed Clark through the hatch into the office. Clark stepped aside and stopped a pace behind Budzinski who saluted and announced, "Lt. Clark and Sgt. Budzinski report as ordered, sir." McGregor glanced at Clark before returning Budzinski's salute. The significance of Budzinski being the only one to speak was clearly not lost on McGregor.
"At ease, men," McGregor said evenly. "Step out of the shadow, Clark. I believe you're the key player in this debrief." McGregor waved a hand at Budzinski. "Budzinski here let his guard slip and put several of the sponsors in his care at risk. He and I will talk about that later. I wanted Sgt. Budzinski here to assist in discovering what you and your associates are planning, Lt. Clark."
McGregor looked up at Budzinski, "The one truly inspired thing you did today, Sergeant, was putting a tracer on Miss Nokamura." Clark remained stationary, only his eyes flicked toward Budzinski. McGregor was watching him for a reaction.
"She was whisked away from the extraction site by Janet Olson, Ralph Peterman and Jacob Caulfield, and taken to a conference room in the main library at Georgia Tech where they were joined by Susan Delaney, Lesa Crews, Toby O'Malley, and Gloria Sanchez. Numerous phone calls originated from that location after a concise briefing by Ms. Nokamura that lasted less than two minutes. The meeting was adjourned and the participants scattered less than ten minutes from when they entered the room. It was a very impressive performance for civilians, very impressive indeed."
"You have excellent control of yourself, Lt. Clark, more than I would expect from simple ROTC training. Notice the small smile of satisfaction, Sergeant. He has a right to be proud of his associates. They had to have planned for this contingency. I'll bet Clark can detail chapter and verse about who was contacted from that room, and where they can be expected to converge in what, another two or three hours? Observe and learn, Sergeant. Lt. Clark, the floor is yours."
"There was no subversion or disrespect intended by any of us, sir." Clark explained. "I couldn't be sure Ms. Nokamura would be able to contact anyone in time to put things together. If things progress as planned, you can expect a small group to assemble at the main pavilion of Crestlawn Cemetery at four o'clock this afternoon. I expect most if not all of my dependent children to be there with their biological fathers. They will also try to locate Professor Avalareddy's wife and bring her along with my prospective concubines Sasha Morgan and Millie Anderson. I don't expect Jacob Caulfield, Janet Olson, or Toby O'Malley to be present. They'll probably enlist the help of some of my football teammates to ensure that all remains quiet."
"Gift wrapped with a blue ribbon, Sergeant." McGregor stated. "One small addition, Alicia Morgan's four children and her soon to be ex will also attend. And Rebecca Lawrence is a widow. I don't think we can expect her dead husband to show up. And why should we not expect Ms. Olson, Mr. Caulfield, and Mr. O'Malley?" Clearly he knew the answer to this question.
"They're not ready to emigrate, sir." Clark responded. "My extraction is a fluke, and I'm not a key player in Lesa's plan. They, on the other hand, are pivotal."
"Yes, I shudder to think what that may be. The lowest CAP score of the three is Ms. Olson's eight point oh is it not?" McGregor remarked. "Care to tell me what grand scheme they have in mind?"
Clark shrugged, "Actually, there are many of us with lower scores who participate in one capacity or another. It started when one of the librarians, Lesa Crews, invited my Literature study group to her house. She was looking for a sponsor willing to take her and her kids to a colony world. It's not an uncommon practice these days."
"Somehow it grew from trying to get lucky enough to be with your sponsor when a random pickup happens, to organizing a community of sponsors with something special to offer." Clark paused to gather his thoughts. "Lesa has convinced Congressman Worley to host an event in July. In attendance will be Ms. Olson, Mr. Caulfield, Mr. O'Malley, Admiral Benjamin Grayson, and key members of his physics department at MIT. These people are not botanists with a CAP below eight. If you want a brain trust of top minds in armament development, you won't want to miss this party. It will be THE event of the season. If Lesa gets the mix right, and I have full confidence in her ability, you should come prepared to accommodate at least 200 emigrants. Most of them will expect to be kept together. All they'll need from the Confederacy is transportation to a safe colony with enough space for them to work and some specialized support equipment to begin turning out weapons the likes of which even science fiction writers have not dreamt."
"Holy shit," Budzinski breathed reverently.
"Holy shit, indeed, Sergeant," McGregor agreed. "And what is your part in all of this?"
"None, other than an expectation of using some of the weapons they develop." Clark answered. "My role in Lesa's plan is nothing more than that of a supporting gopher. I was very serious when I told Cpl. Miller that my immediate goal is to be a platoon leader. Sitting in a lab dreaming up cool shit is not my idea of fun."
"Sergeant, how many gophers do we have with a CAP greater than seven?" McGregor asked.
"I dare say none, sir." Budzinski replied.
"I want Lt. Clark's training accelerated, see to it Sergeant. Dismissed." Budzinski saluted; then turned with Clark and both left the small office.
Budzinski scowled, "Christ, lieutenant, he's pissed about the fast one you pulled with that chick Misty. Let's see if we can't complete your in-processing and medical scan before 1600 hours."
Clark froze in his tracks. "Holy shit, I just realized that I'm going to have four demanding women in my quarters tonight. How soon can I get that enhancement package?"
Budzinski started laughing, "You had everything worked out except for the little detail that can get yourself fucked to death, didn't you, sir?"
When they arrived at the briefing room, Cpl Miller approached with a grim expression. "Sergeant, the younger children on our list have been checked out of school and daycare by their fathers. We're trying to intercept them."
"It's okay, Miller, Lt. Clark here has it under control. We need to arrange a dependent pickup in the Crestlawn Cemetery at 1600 hours. Everyone should be waiting with bags packed." Budzinski smiled as he added, "Anything else on your mind?"
After a quick lunch, Clark was directed to a small alcove adjacent to the main briefing room were he was given the standard lecture for sponsors. It included his privileges and responsibilities for the concubines and minors in his household.
Rebecca finally managed to corner Marvin when they were between scheduled activities. Foremost in his mind was the realization that he had not yet sampled any of Rebecca's carnal offerings. He pulled her in for a lingering kiss and thorough tactile examination of her posterior.
She was genuinely reluctant to interrupt his line of thought, but. "Listen, I truly hate to distract you from what you're doing to my nervous system, but we need to talk about Lesa. She's more than she appears to be."
Puzzled by the choice of words, "What do you mean 'more'? She's smart, good-looking, well organized, and very well connected. Plus, she throws one hell of a party."
Rebecca smiled, "I doubt you know just how well she can party. She's everything you say plus passionate, reliable, and totally ruthless with anything in her way."
"Just how well do you know her?" Marvin was intrigued by the changes in Rebecca's facial expression from one of fond memories to one of loathing as she spoke about Lesa.
Looking him in the eyes to get his reaction, Rebecca told him, "Well enough to swap husbands with her from time-to-time." Marvin's eyes popped and jaw dropped, but Rebecca continued, "Lesa and I met at Vassar when I was a freshman and she was a junior. A mutual friend introduced us to 'The Three Musketeers of MIT' during a spring break at Daytona. There were six of us: Charles Lawrence, Randy Philips, Franklin Crews, Karen Wallace, Lesa Gotti, and me. We became almost inseparable after graduation."
Marvin remained frozen in stunned silence as Rebecca continued. "Jeff, Randy, and Frank formed a partnership, and with a few backers they had a promising future in offshore mining. The three of them died when the ship they hired sank. Lesa became a daemon-woman when we found out that the ship's inspection records had been falsified. She went after everyone involved with a vengeance. She used investigators, lawyers, and hired muscle; pretty much in that order. While I can't prove it, I'm convinced that she or her father ordered the deaths of those responsible, including at least one who was killed in his prison cell."
Marvin shook his head in an attempt to sort out his confusion. "That's not exactly the way I heard the story. How could she have gotten to someone in prison? Do you really think she's capable of having people killed in a way that appears like suicide or an auto accident?"
Rebecca nodded, "Oh yeah! I'm not sure why she refrained from killing them herself. Perhaps because the police were hounding her for the brutality her 'investigators' employed while questioning some of those peripherally involved. Out-of-town talent was used for the rough stuff and nothing ever came back strong enough to stick to her."
"Karen and I got scared and didn't want our kids near such an angry and vindictive woman. The two of us moved our kids out of the building where we had condos on the same floor as Lesa's condo. I haven't had contact with Lesa for three years, up until she called about a month ago. I don't know why she wanted to mend fences with Karen and me after years of silence. I seriously doubt she's feeling guilty about anything, though. The cold person who emerged in the aftermath of our husbands' deaths could never be capable of remorse or guilt."
Marvin was again stunned speechless. He just gathered the naked woman in his arms and held her. Thoughts of sex had been banished from his confused brain. "People can change," he told her, "I changed when some friends woke me up, and I stopped drinking."
Pvt. Williams approached and cleared his throat. "Excuse me, sir. Sgt. Budzinski asked that I escort you to the dependent pickup. If you'll get Ms. Swanson we need to proceed to the transporter pod."
Budzinski was taking no chances. He wasn't sure he could trust this librarian and a bunch of football players to keep things under control. She had chosen a wide-open space that should have a minimum of traffic for the pickup point, but they could still be ambushed. He had his entire platoon transport to the Confederacy Liaison office and approach the cemetery disguised as a funeral procession, complete with police escort.
The escort was real, and the motorcycle cops broke off and left the area as the line of cars entered the main gate of the cemetery. Nothing appeared suspicious until the procession broke into three groups. Only the hearse continued to the pavilion and the lone figure of Sgt. Budzinski emerged from the passenger door. The two squads deployed with auxiliary transporter pads east and west of the pavilion giving them two avenues of retreat if the wheels suddenly fell off. Budzinski pulled a third transporter from the back of the hearse and watched as all of the vehicles exited the grounds.
At four o'clock a lone vehicle entered the gate and pulled off of the lane near the pavilion. A lone figure in a dark suit stepped from the vehicle and approached Budzinski. The AI alerted Budzinski that the individual had about a kilo of hard steel in his left armpit. Ralph approached the towering figure and held out his own CAP card as he asked, "May I see some identification, please?" Budzinski verified that the individual standing before him was Ralph Peterman before handing over his military ID for Ralph's inspection.
"I apologize for the cloak-and-dagger routine," Ralph expressed sincerely. "I have a small scar on my ribcage that says not everyone is happy about the Confederacy's Earth emigration policies. I was attacked in the parking lot of the very Starbucks that you visited this morning."
Budzinski nodded; then pointed at the small bulge in Ralph's jacket. "Do you really think that would have gotten you out of here had I not been who you expected?"
Ralph shook his head, "I really don't even know how to use it. Lesa gave me a quick just-in-case lesson, but I'm depending on her and her friend to keep me safe. She told me to get low to the ground and dive into that open grave if violence ensued." Ralph pointed to a fresh pile of dirt near the pavilion. "I'm to just keep my head down and trust her friend Barrett, whoever the hell he is, to be my guardian angel from afar. Please excuse me while I give her a shout."
Under Budzinski's watchful eyes Ralph pulled a cell phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial button. "Hey Lesa, meet Sgt. Raymond Budzinski. Sergeant, she would like for you to wave if you know everyone in the two groups milling around the grounds."
Budzinski scowled at Ralph, but raised his left arm for a moment. He was annoyed that the drone flying overhead hadn't spotted a sniper in the vicinity. The AI would automatically drop the interdiction field around them as soon as anything went wrong, but he knew it'd be too late for at least one member of the platoon. Damn these people.
Ralph put the phone back into his pocket. "Thanks Raymond, we'll be joined shortly by the people you came for. An armed escort'll accompany them. My friend down at the gate will alert us if there're any party crashers. Please ask your people to not overreact."
Misty stepped out of the shadows and returned Ralph's wave. It was clear that Budzinski did NOT like this. He didn't like this at all, but keyed his implant to brief Corporals Miller and Carson. The shit just kept getting deeper.
Several cars parked across the road from the cemetery began making their way up the hill. Misty checked the occupants of the vehicles as they entered the gate and got into the last one for the ride up to the pavilion.