Chapter 9, part 2
The Trader Emergency Coalition
4 years ago, outer sector, southern frontier, remote TEC training facility
Archie turned his head.
"Kol, the sergeant wants you in his office, now! Move it!"
Archie jogged out of the gym grimacing. They had gotten over the power of his father's name fast. He turned down the hallway and slowed to a walk once out of eyesight of Jorge and his sadistic eyes. The man could see like an eagle. Coming into the sergeant's office, Kol came to attention and saluted.
Sergeant Willcocks looked up. "Take a seat, Kol."
Kol sat cautiously down in a seat across from the sergeant. He never took on that kind of tone with anyone. What was going on?
"I've received orders from Kitalle, Kol," Willcocks said slowly, watching for a reaction. Archie gave him none. "You are to report to the TEC offices in Kitalle's spaceport as soon as possible. Without haste."
Archie frowned. "What for, sir?"
Willcocks shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, son. All I know is they need you, and they need you now. They sounded pretty anxious. Maybe it has something to do with your dad."
Archie shook his head. "No, it won't be about Admiral Kol."
Willcocks caught the tone in Archie's voice, but his curiosity got the better of him. "What do you mean?"
Archie stood up and headed for the door. "We don't have much of what you'd call a 'father-son relationship.'"
8 years ago, galactic position 305, 835, planet christened "Liberty"
aboard the capital ship Provians
Kol took a deep breath. "And...that's what happened."
Judman stared at him incredulously. He was not the only one. A flock of men surrounded Kol on every side, listening to his story. Kol sweated freely. No matter whether they called it debriefing or any other form of the word, it was as good as an interrogation. Without the needles and hot irons.
"You say you killed...twenty of them?" Major Hurkin said disbelievingly, "Impossible. No man could shoot half as well as you claim."
"That can easily be determined," Judman said slowly, probing Kol with his eyes. Kol felt like he was being x-rayed from head to toe. Whatever the result, it seemed to please Judman. He stood up. "Gentlemen, I propose we resume our inte...our mission debriefing at the shooting galley." Stars crossed, the man didn't have to laugh like that!
Following the men ahead of him, or herded as Kol perceived, they eventually ended up at the shooting gallery near the rear of the ship where crewmen spent idle time practicing their marksmanship. Only during extremely idle time. By law there had to be a shooting gallery on every major ship, but there had never been an instance where a rifle had needed to be fired. At least not until Kol. Things were changing now. Kol followed the men who followed Judman over to the farthest aisle down the row, where he handed his pistol over to Kol. His intention was obvious. Kol took the gun and steadied it against his arm, squinting to make out the target that was little more than a white and red blur, but Judman shook his head.
"You had no time to aim on the Vasari ship. Here is what I want you to do."
He turned Kol around so his back was facing the target, and moved Kol's arm so it could be fired behind his back. Kol stared at him.
"That's right, Kol, behind your back. Without you seeing. That's as good a match as to what you claim on the Vasari ship that I can devise. If the other men have no complaints?"
The men shook their heads numbly, intent on Kol. Like they would ever argue with Judman on anything. Sighing, Kol tapped a beat on the pistol's trigger, adjusting his grip. Then he fired, once, twice, three times. The shots echoed and all the men jumped. Grimacing, Kol looked over at Judman. It was that fool man who made them all forget to put on earplugs. Then he turned back to the men, waiting for the barrage of hostile admonishments, as it appeared obvious that he could not shoot worth scrap. He had no idea how he performed as well as he did on the Vasari ship.
But the men said not a word, they only stared at the target in stark astonishment. Kol slowly turned around, his mouth flying open. It had never occurred to him that those shots might actually hit. But there they were, one between the center circle and the next encircling line, and one...Kol gaped. One had hit the center dead-on. He turned to Judman, speechless. He was smiling.
"Kol," he said, clapping him on the shoulders, "I have something I need to discuss with you..."
The other men watched them go, stunned. The slowly turned their heads from the mysterious Crewman that had suddenly achieved so much to the far off target with a hole in the perfect center. It was impossible...no human could...but he could. The Crewman could. The Crewman was a true Marksman.
Judman lead Kol to his own private quarters, where he shut the door and turned on Kol quickly.
"You are a Marksman. Why didn't you say that earlier?"
Kol stared at him. "I'm...what? A marksman? What's so special about that? Any man with a rifle is a marksman."
"You don't remember..." Judman muttered, "you don't remember..."
"What don't I remember, sir?" What did this have to do with his shooting? What did this have to do with him?
"Back some fifty years ago, not too long, but long enough, the government of the largest Trader world began a project called Operation Bullseye."
The name sparked inside Kol's head. He saw flashing lights, gargled voices, men screaming, the sound of gunfire off in the distance...Judman's words came through to him in a haze.
"It was a project designed to create super soldiers, not some neurotically enhanced part-machine cyborg, but natural, all-human super-children. They fiddled with the DNA code of less than two month-old embryos, trying to unlock the certain biological patterns that would allow extra sharp reaction times, pinpoint accuracy, and other such traits. After many failures, unfortunately, the succeeded. This was twenty years later. At this time, the rest of the Trader world was just learning of this government's atrocities with unborn children, and they called together the largest fleet known to man since the great pirate wars and blockaded the planet, demanding they stop their experiments. The government conceded, and Operation Bullseye was shut down. Except rumours were spread that the government had had enough time before the fleet arrived to ship off the women with the genetically enhanced children in cargo ships. Apparently the pattern they created made the child have an inborn sense of militarism, and every child successfully "unlocked" would find their way back to the government through unheard of military achievements someday. The government firmly denied these rumors, and acted quickly and forcibly against any party that voiced these suspicions a little too loudly, of course, but the rumor persisted."
Kol's mouth hung open again. He could see where this story was leading up to. He looked down at his hands. Was he some sort of biologically enhanced monster?
Judman looked down at him almost in kindness. "Before I continue, let me say this. The government released all of its notes concerning Operation Bullseye, and its...projects...were and remained most certainly human. There is no doubt about that. There was not a large enough difference in their DNA to qualify them as non-humans. And that's saying a lot, most creatures have 98% of the same DNA as humans."
Kol nodded dumbly. It made no difference.
Judman continued. "Time passed and the incident gradually faded from memory, until ten or so years ago when certain disturbances began occurring throughout the military. Young men, some only Crewman like yourself, were displaying huge amounts of skill at the very attributes Operation Bullseye improved. The government of that one world, still in power, was brought before TOC. After weeks of ongoing persecution, the leaders eventually admitted that the rumors of smuggled children enhanced by the project were true. A great effort was then made to contain these men, who were growing unruly. Most of them were now alone before a ship's entire whatever-thousand crew, and some on planets where the numbers were even higher. But they fought their way to freedom and established a hidden base among the stars. Some say its in an asteroid, some say its hidden among the smog and fumes of a gas giant, where they claim these people have adapted to withstand. Nonsense of course. But the military did capture a few of them. The Jackal, the former Commodore of this very ship, was a Marksman. He was brought out of maximum security prison to lead this fleet against the Vasari. Still, even all these years later---although ten years doesn't seem too long, it passes slowly in men's minds---even now the military sometimes receives messages from the Marksmen, a name they made for themselves, and they were far from cordial. I think the initial shock in the shooting gallery stunned the others into silence, but I cannot say for how long. Your safest bet is to leave the fleet now, there has to be some scout ship or the like preparing the travel back to the home worlds, and you should be on it ready to contact the Marksmen. They will be able to provide for you."
Kol stared at him. This was an incredible amount of information to digest all at once. His brain worked feverishly, pumping through information almost as fast as he heard it. Idly Kol wondered whether that was part of the "enhancements" or not. He was still a scientific experiment, no matter what Judman said about it being perfectly natural. He was a test project, and that was how it was.
"I will not run away." The words surprised him coming from his mouth.
Judman's eyebrows raised. "But the others will recover their shock of having a Marksman in their midst quickly, probably by now they are already shaking off the surprise, and they will alert TEC command immediately after. You will die if you stay!"
"I will not run." Repeating it seemed to strengthen his resolve. "I will not run."
"Then what will you do?" Judman said exasperatedly.
"You said I had a promotion coming, did you not?"
"It will be very hard for them to charge a superior officer of a crime, especially if they are charged for treason by that superior officer."
Judman slowly nodded again. "And in all the muddle..."
"I can...convince them...to change their story." Kol's eyes looked murderous.
Judman stepped forward. "I will not condone murder on my ship!"
"I will not kill them," Kol said softly, remembering how his interrogation had felt. Almost as if they had been probing with the needles and hot irons, he had said. He could produce those easily enough. "Now tell me my rank."
It never occurred to Kol that he might not over rank the other men.
Judman stiffened. "I am honored," the word was near enough spat out, "to be the first to welcome you to your ship, Commodore."
Kolls mouth dropped.
"This ship will also hereby be known as the Trader Defense Network's Aegia, due to the TEC protocol of renaming a ship for a new commander."
Kol looked stunned. Whatever he had been expecting, it was not this.
Judman clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, up on your feet. There you go." His former stiffness over the fate of the other men seemed to have disappeared.
"Just to let you know," Judman continued calmly, "I will be with you at all times, helping you along until I see that you are able to handle yourself. Alright?"
Kol swallowed and took his first breath in what seemed like minutes. "It would be...good...to have you along."
Judman smiled. "I thought it would be, Marksman. Now come along, I have a Commodore's uniform to fit you into."