Today, we’ve prepared a story update for you. You can read the story so far in this summary:
It is the latter half of the 2020s. After long decades of prosperity, things have taken a turn for the worse for the western civilization, which now finds itself in a decade of strife and internal turmoil. Where peace once reigned, conflict is the new normal and things are starting to fall apart as the countries of Europe as well as the United States of America are slowly consumed by a clash for dominance between the traditional political powers and newly emerged greedy, vicious corporations.
But even amongst the giants of industry and finances in the new world, there are a few of those that truly stand out, such as David Murdoch, a legendary 21st century investor known for his almost supernatural trend prediction abilities. Recently, he has founded a brand-new venture, a company called Perihelion, its goals as mysterious as the background of its enigmatic owner.
You are Samuel Thorpe, a mercenary down on his luck after a botched job in Dubai he took the fall for. Your angry musings in a Chicago exile were interrupted by an invitation to an interview. After passing a number of rigorous tests, you’ve been invited to a dinner with Murdoch. Murdoch, with his aide, Norah Ferguson, revealed his plan to you – at least your role in it. In the recent years, each major company fostered the means to project power, usually in the form of an armed mercenary outfit. The size of such outfit varies wildly, from a few platoons of elite troops to entire divisions of infantry armor. While such private units are no match for the might of the U.S. Army, the trend is clear – with corruption and incompetence rife in the upper echelons of government across the globe, the age of democracy is at an end and the era of corporations is about to begin.
Murdoch, with extraordinary prescience, recognizes the need for such an outfit of his own – after all, there’s only so much the money itself can do, the true power always comes from a clenched fist, not an open palm. He hires you to train the troops, currently located in his temporary camp in the Arizona desert. With that, he leaves you in Ferguson’s hands.
On your way there, you learn not only of Murdoch’s massive wealth, but also of his ties to the U.S. Army. Murdoch is clearly deeply embedded in the U.S. establishment and, as such, has a vested interest in seeing the United States of America prosper.
Your arrival at the camp is not met with cheers – the outfit’s de-facto leader, Gail Espinoza, sees you as a threat to her position. Due to what she perceives as bad choices in the outfit’s equipment and composition, she attacks you and knocks you out cold. Fortunately, things come to a peaceful solution later that day and the true training begins.
And now, the continuation:
- July 2028, Arizona
The night sky was giving way to early morning’s crimson. The dawn found me still lying next to a campfire, listening to the soft crackling of embers and the other sounds of a military camp slowly waking. The stench of burnt gasoline forever permeating the place was mixed with the sweet smell of freshly-made coffee the earliest birds were walking around with. One moment everything was silent and minutes after, all I could hear were shuffling feet.
Where did all those zombies suddenly come from, I wondered, as I watched the confused commotion. Maybe a virus infected us all, in which case there was no point in getting up, was there.
Alas, no such luck. With my hopes dashed by a few words of greetings uttered in a friendly but disappointingly un-zombie-like manner, I slowly got on my feet and embarked upon a grand quest to find myself something to eat and something else to shoot.
A few hours and a couple of magazines later, the news arrived.
I was just about finished cleaning my gun when Espinoza, clearly upset, waved at me from across the yard. What now, I wondered, as I washed the rest of the grease off my hands and threw the rag on an empty barrel standing outside of the tent cover.
I made my way to the command area near the end of the camp. It wasn’t a tent per se – more like a semi-permanent structure made of canvas, plastic and sheet metal, its arced roof giving the impression of a much larger space. The inside was cramped but mercifully air-conditioned, unlike some of the living quarters in the camp, which was why so many preferred to bunk outside, preferring the annoyance of insect bites from a nearby river to that of sweltering greenhouse-like heat.
Jim Twocrows was already inside, staring intently at the communications laptop in the center of a large metal desk otherwise filled with maps, folders and unwashed coffee mugs. This was a place few dared to tread, the jealously guarded kingdom of our communications officer, a short stocky Iowan by the name of Marcus Abernathy.
“What’s new, Mark!” I greeted him from the door.
He cast a sour look upon me, as he typically did at anyone who dared to trespass, all the while fiddling with the settings on another device the purpose of which I couldn’t even guess. Without giving me a second glance, he pointed at a chair next to the door.
“Sit. Don’t speak. Listen.”
Contrary to the man, Jim’s – I just couldn’t bring myself to ever use his surname, after the first day he was to me as he was to everyone, just “Jim” – look was rather amused, as he mockingly crossed his mouth with his finger and shushed me. Next to him, Espinoza (here I couldn’t bring myself to use her first name) smacked her lips and tried to look patient when she clearly was not.
After a few moments, the screen lit up with both an office and a person I recognized. Espinoza sneered.
“Nice to see you too, Gail,” replied the young black woman coolly. “And Jim.”
The tall Native American simply nodded in acknowledgment.
“Now then. I have news for you...”
“Took you long enough...” muttered Espinoza.
Undisturbed, the woman on the screen continued.
“Mister Murdoch sends greetings to all of you and is pleased with your progress. Soon, you’ll be ready to become his extended arm – or his clenched fist.”
Espinoza narrowed her eyes in reaction and Jim shifted his position uneasily, silently folding his arms.
Ferguson clearly noticed. “How are you happy with the arrangements and the tech?”
“Well...” I started... but Espinoza was faster with her situation assessment.
“The camp’s shit, the tanks are shit, the guns are shit... everything is shit, Ferguson. Some idiot decided to paint the tanks black and we have a bunch of coyotes and a drunk-ass sheriff in the neighborhood. How’s that for a report huh?”
“Right, thank you for the eloquent report, Gail. Let’s tackle this one by one. Colors – we’ll repaint those tanks, okay? When you return. Just... write down your preferences or something, we’ll figure something out. The tech, that’s another matter. Luckily for you...,” she smiled suddenly, “we’re way ahead of you. Tomorrow, you’re going to visit your army neighbors, there will be a gift waiting there for you, courtesy of Fort Irwin. Mister Murdoch called in a few favors and I’m sure you’ll be pleased.”
She suddenly grew more serious.
“Certainly pleased more than the U.S. Army, so... we don’t want any incidents, understand?”
Espinoza rolled her eyes, pouted and suddenly she strongly resembled a petulant schoolgirl more than a hardened merc.
“I’m serious, Gail,” Ferguson pressed the matter, leaning forward as if trying to impose the notion by her will alone. “This is important, not just for me but for him. Do you understand?”
Ferguson scoffed, shook her head and broke the connection.
“Warmaster? What was THAT about?” I asked, curious.
“That’s her title. And yeah, I’m serious,” she smiled.
“Murdoch loves such titles. God knows why. Like old Rosenstein... you met him?”
“So, he does like spy stuff, right? Clandestine voodoo and shit like that. Skullduggery bullshit. Today, normal people call this Intelligence. Not Murdoch though... he calls him the Spymaster.”
Huh. I shook my head and shrugged.
“Alright. So what does our ‘Warmaster’ do then?”
And there’s that smirk again.
“Glorified secretary, that’s what. Drew up a few plans and suddenly she’s treated like royalty, the bitch...”
She stopped, looked at me and sighed.
“Fine. She knows her stuff. Educated and all that. Just... she’s just...” her look grew distant for a moment but she snapped out of it almost immediately.
“Let’s just go. One day, I’ll tell you about our glorious Warmaster... one day...”
That was odd, I thought, as I followed her out into the sunlight and another glorious day of training.
The next day turned out to be just as interesting as Ferguson had promised. A military jeep came to the camp in the morning to pick me and Espinoza up. With a healthy bit of schadenfreude, I noticed it was the same driver that had driven me here earlier. Someone up the food chain must really hate his guts, I smirked quietly and sure enough, the driver just waved us in and the whole trip passed in silence.
The real surprise awaited us at the airbase. Unlike before, the whole place was literally packed with armor. Tanks, IFVs, APCs, armored cars – hell, some stuff I haven’t even heard about – stood in rows around the runway, ready to be inspected. Swarms of U.S. troops bustled around them, some cleaning them up, some refueling and rearming them and some simply gawking. Some troops were blasting music from behind a maintenance shed and the whole scene felt like one giant fair.
Even Espinoza was not her usual sarcastic self and stared at the hubbub.
“Well then,” I remarked, “What the hell are we supposed to do here?”
I received an answer seconds later as the car stopped in front of an unlikely couple – a colonel (I suppressed my urge to salute) and a young, slender black woman I was already familiar with.
“Took you long enough to get your feet dirty, Ferguson,” Espinoza remarked sourly.
The woman smiled in response.
“Gail. So nice to see you. Again.”
She nodded at the colonel, who just shook his head and went off. Her expression grew serious.
“Like I told you before, nobody’s too happy about us being here, so behave, you two.”
I simply nodded. I didn’t see Espinoza’s reaction, but Ferguson seemed satisfied.
“As you can see, Mister Murdoch’s been able to pull a lot of strings to make this happen, so we now have limited access to, simply put, America’s stock of pretty much every vehicle you might run into anywhere in the world. They do keep their training facilities well supplied and now we get to benefit.”
“Anyway,” she concluded, “walk around, pick some vehicles you’d be interested in and we’ll arrange a temporary loan from the military. Just don’t go too wild. Even Perihelion’s coffers aren’t endless.”
Nodding at both of us, she joined the colonel waiting nearby, his expression sour and stance betraying impatience. He clearly didn’t want to be there, I noted, but had no choice. Now that was something to see – putting an American colonel into a situation where he had no choice must have taken, contrary to Ferguson’s claims of limited resources, a tremendous amount of influence, money, or both.
Espinoza shrugged and started making her way through the throng of curious soldiers. With our weekend warrior clothes, we did not stand out too much but we weren’t exactly blending in either and, every now and then, a GI Joe gave us a dirty look. Espinoza didn’t seem to mind though as she was soon jumping from one vehicle to another like an unsupervised kid in a candy store. Not sure why, but it did lift my mood to see her enjoying herself.
In the meanwhile, Ferguson and the colonel moved to a truck painted in Perihelion livery and, at his orders, several soldiers started carrying large boxes of what looked like some high-end hardware outside and moving them towards what I thought was some kind of underground storage entrance.
Once again, I shook my head. Politics, I thought. Murdoch was probably smuggling some shit south of the border, something he didn’t want me to know about, and we were here as a safeguard in case anyone tried something funny.
What a safeguard we were, bickering over paint jobs and tech, I thought. With a chuckle, I followed Espinoza into the fray.
“Well, what are you thinking?”
These past two days had been a nightmare. We picked several promising vehicles and had them moved to our own camp for the troops to check. As expected, each of us had a different idea what to do, what to buy and what to recommend, but Ferguson’s last instructions (before she boarded a helicopter home) were clear – we were to agree and present David Murdoch and her a joint decision about what to do with the Perihelion outfit. Who to let go, what vehicles, uniforms, small arms and about a thousand other things to buy and, most importantly, the overhead.
We all somehow felt like this was above our pay grade, like this was all another test, perhaps to find out how we’d tackle a challenge and get along. If that was the case, we were about to receive some fat Fs. I wasn’t about to give up without a fight, though.
“So,” she started, rubbing her temples, “we’ve got a few options. We need a tank detail, that’s for sure...”
Damn right we do. I’m NOT giving the Black Mamba up!
“...but a small one might do just fine. Then we have the infantry, they need something to ride in. APCs, most likely, but Mechanized Infantry’s a nice concept and the troops are familiar with it. Or,” she concluded, “we can go the airborne way. Airmobile light units, light tanks... I bet the old man can get us some pretty awesome toys from his U.S. Army buddies.”
Frowning, I shook my head.
“I feel like we need to pack a punch, you know.”
A slow, tired nod was her reaction.
“You know what? Let’s gather the troops and talk it through, so we can FINALLY get to some business. Oh and do me a favor and change your shirt, will you? That hole,” she waved vaguely towards a rip near my waist, “doesn’t exactly scream ‘professional’. Don’t you have a better one anyway?”
I stopped mindlessly fidgeting with my knife and put it away.
“Yeah, I do. All my good stuff’s in a duffel bag, stashed in a dumpster at the foot of a skyscraper in Dubai along with my other shit. I really need to do some shopping,” I mused.
“Take a car. Walk. I don’t care. Just look presentable.”
“Roger that, ma’am,” I saluted mockingly. She was right though. We all need to get a grip, rather sooner than late. With that thought I walked outside to find Jim.
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