Chapter #0



Chapter #0

Persona non grata


February 2nd 2021

Virginia, Nebraska

West Point

The automatic door that led to the indoor gun-range slid smoothly to the side. Catherine Dowling strode into the room like she owned it yet the three occupants barely acknowledged her presence as they continued their conversation. Still dressed in dirt covered fatigues having been ordered to immediately report to her commanding Officer Dowling waited patiently. Two of the men, her commanding officer Colonel Bishop and the recently promoted Lieutenant Colton were also dressed in military-issue combat-fatigues while the third man was dressed in an expensive looking neatly, pressed dark-blue suit and red tie.

The signHic-Sunt-Logo-Stone facebook twitterificantly older, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested Colton looked on quietly as the man in the suit and his superior talked quietly. Their Commanding Officer’s, currently intentional, disheveled and totally unkempt appearance was totally counter to his reputation for un-paralleled tactical precision on and off the battlefield. However, it was clear that despite attire, when the Colonel spoke the man in the suit listened.

Dowling as per military protocol stood to the side and waited for her superiors to finish talking with one another. Not long after the man in the dark-blue suit walked past Dowling.  Acknowledging her presence, for the first time, with a polite nod he left through the same door that she had entered.

“Was that Senator-?”

“Un-officially…,’’ the Colonel interjected picking up an OICWv2 assault rifle from a nearby table with assorted selection of assault rifles and hand-guns. “…yes. Officially – he was never here.”

Shouldering the rifle he burst-fired the weapon down-range at a few paper-targets.

Dowling smiled and turned to Colton who had been simply standing silently, at ease, with his arms behind his back even before she had stepped onto the gun-range.

“Wuss,” she teased the much older man playfully.

Colton huffed grumpily,


The Colonel stopped shooting and passed the beefy assault-rifle to Colton.

“I think I preferred it when you two didn’t get along. By the way, Colton you’re right… that thing kicks like a mule.”

Dowling took the weapon from Colton aimed down-sights at the paper targets down range.

“You familiar with the OICW v2, Cat?”

Dowling held the weapon in front of her and looked at it thoughtfully before placing it a table,

“The Objective Individual Combat Weapon version two point zero – combination 5.56mm compact assault rifle  that  operates using a hybrid direct impingement short stroke piston firing system with a mounted computer aim-assisted 20mm semi-automatic, magazine fed grenade launcher. Its modular design platform allows for the addition of components to enable conversion of the weapon to multiple configurations such a Squad Assault weapon and Sniper-riffle. A new weapon… for a new war.”

“What do you think, Colton?”

“I think my single-action revolver suits me just fine. Doesn’t jam or give me instructions on how to shoot.”

“If your part of this out-fit, Old man… you’ll have to start using one just like everyone else.”

“All this high-tech shit just makes them rookies over-confident and more likely to panic when they don’t work as advertised. Plus I’m pretty sure if the time ever comes and I need one of these ‘fancy-toys’…,” Colton picked the weapon up from the table and looked it over again thoughtfully. “…Chances are- I’ll be able to pry one loose from some young hot-shot’s cold dead hands.”

Dowling interjected impatiently,

“Colonel, with all due respect I doubt that you called me here to listen to you and… ‘Socrates’ here debate philosophy.”

Colton huffed derisively at the insult but, to his credit, stayed silent.

Colonel Bishop smiled.

“I called you here to update you that P.O.T.U.S. has given the Secretary of Defense full oversight and responsibility over P.W.R.  So we answer directly to him now though we will still be operating out of Mc Kinnley Towers New York.”

Dowling nodded in understanding.

“Also in light of this ‘adjustment’ his protégé, Undersecretary Nkembwe has requested that her call-sign be changed from ‘Red Queen’ to something more… appropriate.”

Dowling shook her head,

“This is because of that whole ‘Talbot Ruth thing’ isn’t it? I told you a bullet-“

“Talbot Ruthe is inconsequential. Martyring someone like him will cause more problems than they’ll solve. Besides how many people do you think are willing to take the word of a man who thinks that the internet can be used to send information back in time?”

“That madman successfully hacked into our international defense grid to prove that theory.”

Dowling reminded.

“Let It go, Cat.”

“Very well, Sir. Is there anything else?”

The Colonel inhaled sharply,

“Yes. There is one more thing….,” the Colonel paused for a moment.  “It’s about the A.C.E.S. candidate: Nathan Benjamin.”

“What about him?” Dowling challenged. “He failed to make the cut.”

“The team would benefit from having someone with his skill-sets. So I’m recommending his immediate induction to the A.C.E.S.”

“Sir, may I remind you that he failed to score in the top ten-”

The Colonel cut her off, “By one percent. I reviewed the documentation. He failed because of his interview scores. Colton and I both gave him eights and you gave him a two. Had you scored him one point higher he would have made it into your precious top-ten.”

“Colonel, his psychometric profile indicates that he has border-line passive aggressive tendencies and impulse control issues!”

“And yours says that you’re a sociopath. And Colton’s a pacifist-“

“Well, one out of two ain’t bad,” Colton chimed in.

The Colonel frowned at Colton who walked away pretending to study the assault-rifle he was still holding. Bishop returned his attention to Dowling.

“And Colton’s voluntarily fought in every major conflict over the past forty years. Those assessments don’t mean squat on a battlefield when things go wrong.”

“This is because of that Senator that was here just now… isn’t it?

“No. it’s because he speaks eight languages. “

“Wonderful… we have software-”

The Colonel raised his voice,

“Dowling! This is not a negotiation. And the A.C.E.S. is not a democracy!”

The subordinate officer held her tongue and glared at the Colonel fiercely.

Taking a deep he Paused for a moment and continued calmly again,

“The Senator didn’t bring up Benjamin. I did.”

“This just keeps getting better-”

Bishop cut her off and continued.

“He said that Benjamin risked a court-marshal while on medical leave so he could bring home his friend’s casket. He escorted the Senator’s son’s casket back home, Cat!”

Dowling turned away angrily and folded her arms.

“I’ve only ever known one other soldier to have done something like that….”

Dowling’s aggressive demeanor softened slightly as she turned to face Bishop again,

“He’s going to need to train more… to be brought up the standard of the others.”

“That’s your job, Cat. And I’m sure he’ll be up to it.”

“He had better be,” she added sternly.  “By the way for the record: he dies in the field it’s on your head…not mine.”

She saluted her superior sharply and turned on her heel. Bishop let her leave. As she made her way to the exit she nodded respectfully to Colton. The grizzled soldier, still holding the beefy assault-rifle, mirrored her gesture as she left the empty gun-range the way she came in.

The Colonel whispered softly to himself  as he watched her leave,

“It always is…”

Colton noisily placed the rifle back on the table on purpose to get his attention.

“Now unless my hearings gone or I’m losing it (like everyone says behind my back)…,” Colton announced loudly. “I’ve been here the whole time and… you and that Senator never mentioned Nathan Benjamin once.”

“I told her what she needed to hear, Colton. And like I said that soldier has a useful skill-set and this isn’t a democracy…. Sides I got a good feeling about this Benjamin kid.”

“Since we’re on the subject t and all… you ever pull that –“tell you what you needed to hear” shit on me?”

The colonel smiled and headed for the exit.

“Every god-damned day, Colton.”

Colton followed his commanding officer.

“Frankly speaking, Sir, it’s been my experience that your feelings are usually a whole lot more trouble than they’re worth. And given what we’re supposed to be dealing with in this out-fit – that kid will probably be dead inside a week anyway-”

“…or just maybe - he might out live us all, Colton,” Bishop added.

“Yeah…I doubt that,” the older man replied sarcastically as he shook his head in amusement at the thought. “Well I just hope he lasts long enough to become interesting.”