Chapter 1

At the rating's permission, I entered the office to see my superior standing, back to me, watching a ship, a Tawara-class I thought, eclipsing the camera that broadcast the never-changing view of Poseidon.

"Lieutenant Stewart," He said without turning, "we have another assignment for you. One you REALLY won't like."

"What is it this time, Commodore?" I must admit that I moaned, "Run buck nekkid through a swarm of Sa'arm?"

"We want you to go back to Earth," said the Commodore, "We want you to help extract a high-value individual."

"Don't you have Marine extraction teams trained, armed, and eager to do this kind of thing?"

"They have been deployed and have been ... unsuccessful." The Commodore growled, "This may be due to the confluence of the individual's unconventional world view and his very high potential CAP score."

"How high?"

"Possible 9.7+"

"Potential? Possible?" I smelt something very fishy. "Can't the AIs settle on a score? What's the problem?"

"He hasn't taken the CAP test."

"How can you determine his CAP score without his taking the test? If you can, why bother administering the test?"

"While you have been racing around this Spiral Arm, gathering unto yourself the Laurels of Victory, things on Earth have gotten worse for us. The more xenophobic have gotten militant. It wasn't very coordinated at first, but the Central Command, especially Miles Chandler, the Director of Evacuation and Colonial Operations at Earth'at station, doesn't like the way things are headed." He snorted.

"First, there were the testing center bombings. Some frustrated loser's suicide sparked a wave of violence against Confederacy offices. Then the nutcases tried to shoot up pick-ups after the shields dropped. DECO revised their Marines' Rules of Engagement during extraction and allowed them to shoot first and not wait for someone with a gun to drop a couple of sponsors before reacting.

"That seemed to help things. Then we noticed that some random civilian shootings started to appear as non-random. Candidates for targeted extraction because of their high CAP score have been turning up dead. The first deaths were crude hits, mostly gang-style drive-by shootings, but then the killings got more creative, car accidents, poisoning, execution-style shootings. The group calling itself "Earth First" started calling media outlets, taking credit for the killings. People started hiding their CAP scores. Now Earth First has started targeting men who are obviously traveling in a group of women, assuming they are prepacks.

"Last week in Portland, Oregon a group of eight women and a man were entering an upscale restaurant for lunch. After they were seated, two men and a woman wearing black hoods exited the kitchen and opened fire on the group with automatic weapons. As they fled the scene, they littered the area with 'Earth First' flyers. The group they murdered was a wedding party, bride and bridesmaids, accompanied by their gay male wedding coordinator. A communique released two days later said that it was regrettable that innocents died, but that their 'Direct Action' team saw that many women with a man and thought 'High-CAP prepack' and so the deaths were the fault of the 'Oppressive Confederation.'"

"Confederacy," I said, reflexively.

"Central Command's DECO didn't want to stand by passively. They started with the assumption that if they could identify the markers of a possible high-CAP individual, they could isolate him or her before they appear on the terrorists' radar. So, DECO started running regression analysis on the publicly-available records of already-extracted individuals that turned out to be high CAP scorers. The results looked promising, so they had the AIs hack into other, private human databases and the correlation looked even better."

"But one individual has blown the lid off the analysis. Almost every leading indicator is maxed out. DECO, specifically Miles Chandler, wants this individual to test so that they can confirm empirically that their regression model is right. But, more importantly, they want to remove that individual from Earth First's reach. They've got a hard-on over this one."

"So what's the problem? If DECO has got tough, competent Marine teams, why do they need me?"

"He is the 14-year old child of a Brotherhood Fellowship family," said the Commodore. "He has been covertly approached, and has refused, to take a CAP test."

"So stage a black-bag operation. Have a team snatch him at school, at the park, hell, at home."

"That's just what we can't do. The Confederacy is being called 'kidnappers' because we accept volunteers as young as fourteen and because we remove minor dependents, regardless of the wishes of left-behind parents. The Navy Intelligence command, N2, has been arguing that if we grab a kid who has refused to test, well, any cooperation we have with local law enforcement would evaporate like spit on a griddle."

I felt something very bad coming on. "Doesn't that kind of settle it? If he's an adult according to U.S. and Confederacy law, then he made an adult choice."

The Commodore rocked back and forth on his heels the before he replied. "DECO doesn't think that he's made an 'informed' choice. DECO put the pressure on the Navy to contribute to the solution or to butt out."

"Miles Chandler just doesn't like the choice the kid made," I said.

The Commodore turned to me, his shark-like grin making my stomach sink. "Then it's up to you to help this kid make the 'right' choice."

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Fa/Fa / Military /