Snyder smiled as McGraw’s horse landed on Boardwalk. Snyder stared across the board at McGraw’s pile of cash. One blue $50 bill, 3 pink $5s, and 2 white $1s for a grand total of $67 Monopoly dollars. Boardwalk cost $400.
“I think I’ll pass,” said McGraw.
“You can’t pass. The rules say if you don’t have the money to purchase a property, it goes up for auction.”
“Auction? Kid, I’ve got the gun.”
Snyder smiled. “I guess if that’s the only way you can win.”
McGraw sighed. “Fine! Auction!”
“I bid $68.”
McGraw stared at his $67. “You think I’ll let Boardwalk go for a lousy $68?” He slapped down his deed to Pennsylvania Avenue. “I’ll mortgage this and get $160 from the bank and bid $227.”
Snyder said nonchalantly, “$228.”
McGraw slapped down St. Charles Place and took $70 from the bank. “$297.”
McGraw turned over the Water Works. “$372.”
McGraw flipped over New York Avenue. “$472.”
Snyder clucked his tongue. He’d now gotten McGraw to overbid Boardwalk by $72. Should he really press his luck? “$473.”
McGraw threw down Illinois Avenue. “$592.”
Snyder smiled. “All yours chief.”
“I guess I showed you.”
Snyder feigned sadness. “Yes, you did.”
And I’ll show you on your next trip around the board.
A noise clanked on the roof.
McGraw stood. “What’s that?”
Hopefully Sarge. “Sounded like a cat.”
“I’m gonna check it out. First, I’ll have to get some restraints on you. Sorry.”
“Afraid I’ll make a break?”
“No, I’m afraid you’ll cheat.”
“Oh, come on, we’re so close. One more trip around the board and I’m sure you’ll bankrupt me.”
McGraw drew his gun. “Kid, this ain’t my main game. In my game, you get too distracted and it’s game over. Permanently.”
McGraw kept one eye on Snyder as he walked backwards and opened a drawer. He removed a set of electromagnetic cuffs from the drawer.
A ninja jumped down from the ceiling on top of McGraw and disarmed him.
McGraw screamed. “What the-”
A punch to the stomach cut McGraw off. McGraw hugged the ninja like a wrestler and used his weight to throw the ninja to the ground. The ninja threw McGraw off.
McGraw charged, but the ninja threw McGraw to the ground. Sitting on McGraw’s chest, the ninja wrapped his hands around McGraw’s throat. McGraw gasped for air.
Snyder dived for the gun, grabbed it, and stood to his feet. “Let him go!”
The ninja looked up. “What?”
“Let him go, or I’ll kill you!”
McGraw delivered a right hook to the ninja’s jaw that set him off balance. McGraw stood. “Thanks, kid. I could’ve handled it.”
“Sure. Tell yourself that.”
The door burst open. Cutler barreled in, his sidearm drawn. “What happened here?”
Snyder shrugged. “We were playing a friendly game of Monopoly when this ninja attacked us.”
“I sent him to rescue you.”
“Was killing someone part of the deal?”
Cutler glared at the ninja. “No.”
The ninja sniffed. “No one survives an encounter with me.”
“You’ll have to make an adjustment to that policy. I won’t have bodies piling up.”
McGraw removed a remote from his pants pocket and silenced a high-pitched whine. “Heck of a distraction, Cutler. The intruder alarm was going off, but nobody noticed thanks to your friend. Now, are you going to tell us what this mission is before I get really testy?”
Cutler raised an eyebrow. “You’re not in a position to negotiate. Pull a stunt like this again and you’re off the mission.”
McGraw’s face contorted, his voice cracked. “No, you can’t do that. The prophet who healed my kid sent me on this blasted mission. I don’t want my kid to get worse.”
“God doesn’t work like that.”
“No, this is a deal I got to keep.”
“Part of the deal is waiting. My boss said on the way over that I’ll have something within a week.”
The ninja frowned. “You didn’t get any calls on the way over.”
Cutler shrugged. “Oh, my boss has His devices. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get Private Snyder back to base before he gets court-martialed.”
McGraw stood. “Snyder, I was glad to meet you. Maybe we can talk again.”
Snyder shifted uneasily. “Well, next time, no gas or restraints.”
Cutler led Snyder out to a jeep. Snyder got in beside Cutler. “What’s this all about?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve got three dangerous rogues ready to do my bidding, and no idea what the mission is.”
Snyder smiled. “You get all the fun ones.” Snyder paused. “He told me my sperm donor was an old army intelligence officer. Do you buy it?”
“One way to find out. Run yourself through the paternity database.”
Jirel pounded on Nick Verducci’s hotel room door. Jirel sniffed. The fresh stench of fornication and the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door meant Verducci would not want to receive guests.
“Hey, you out there, you stupid and illiterate?” said Verducci from within.
“It’s Cutler,” said Jirel. “I want a word with you, now.”
“Give me a minute.”
Verducci came out a few minutes later in a bathrobe. “Cutler, this better be good.”
“Where’s Private Snyder? Somebody kidnapped him.”
Verducci sighed. “I don’t like hanging around here waiting for orders, but I didn’t kidnap your little buddy. By the way, I ain’t the post office.” Verducci removed an envelope from his pocket. “Somebody left this at my door. Sounds like a real nut case.”
The envelope had “Sgt. Jirel Cutler” typed on it. I’m getting too used to this. My God, my King, You know firsthand the fall assaults even your holy ones, when found in earthen tents. Guard my soul from evil, Most High.
Jirel removed from the envelope a letter written on military stationery:
I’m out of patience. Want Private Snyder back? Come to the warehouse on 3rd and 8th with the mission. Don’t come without it.
-The Impatient Warrior.
No earthly creation could harm him unless the Most High willed it, but what about the boy? Jirel lifted his head Heavenward. There had to be an answer.
Someone tapped his shoulder. He turned. A man in a brown business suit stood behind him. “Jirel Cutler?”
“I was sent to find you by a prophet in Japan. He said you’d have a mission for me.”
Jirel sighed. “I have no idea what it is.”
“Obviously, but it seems there’s been a kidnapping. I could be of assistance.”
The creep behind Snyder prodded him with the gun to a chair. “Sit down, Junior.”
Snyder sat in the chair. Staying behind him, the man began to tie his hands.
Snyder turned his head. That face! “You’re Captain Blackjack McGraw. I saw you on the back cover of our textbook on black ops. You wrote the basic text, though I think the back cover said a few minor changes had been made.”
McGraw heaved a heavy sigh. He stopped tying Snyder’s hands.
Snyder said, “The back of the textbook said you died in 67 YE. I researched it in the archives, and it said your apartment blew up. It seemed suspicious to me.”
McGraw took a chair across from him. “Kid, I could kill you for what you know, and maybe I should.”
“Why won’t you?”
“Two reasons. First, I need you as ransom so I can get leverage from Cutler. ”
“What do you want from Cutler?”
“He’s strung me along for nearly two months, and my time is valuable. I can’t afford to be waiting around.”
“What’s your second reason?”
McGraw holstered his gun and pulled a cigarette from his coat. “I tested your DNA. You’re the son of my old partner.”
“My mother never worked in intelligence. And the egg donor was a druggie.”
“No, not your mother, your father. I knew your father.”
Snyder stiffened. “I don’t have a father. Unless you count my oldest brother.”
“That answer doesn’t surprise me, kid. He didn’t know about you either, or else Jim would’ve come and got you in a heartbeat. But as far as we knew, the girls we played with were fixed.” McGraw looked Snyder over. “Yeah, you’re Jim’s kid. His grandma was white. Guess you got her genes.”
After spending my entire seventeen years discriminated against for being a blond-haired, blue-green-eyed white guy, I highly doubt what you’re implying, McGraw. “No, I’m not Jim’s kid. He was just the sperm donor.”
McGraw raised his hand as if to backhand Snyder, but put it down. “I guess I can’t blame you for feeling that way. God knows if I had a kid I didn’t know about, he’d probably think the same. Your dad was my best friend, though. We got in and out of many scrapes together. He saved my hide more times than I can count. He was the one guy I could always trust.”
“What happened to him?”
“In 67, he infiltrated a church in Portland. He found nothing going on that was real terrorism or a threat to anybody but the empire’s ideology. Long story short, he converted. The Empire found out, and despite all his years of loyal service, they strung him up like a criminal after beating him to a bloody pulp.”
McGraw wiped his eyes. “I realized I was wasting my life. I was earning next to nothing, and for what? I was nothing more than an agent for our traitor-in-chief and a foreign dictator with delusions of grandeur. I set that explosion and faked my own death. Now, I’ve gone into business for myself.”
Snyder heaved a heavy sigh. Just his luck. His sperm donor went and became a stupid martyr. “So what business are you in?”
“Same as before, only rather than shaking down innocent civilians, I collect art, jewels, and information that can be used to acquire them.”
“So you’re an art thief, a jewel thief, and a blackmailer.”
McGraw laughed. “You got Jim’s bluntness. Some folks would say that. But I think I’ve moved up in the world morally. When I steal art or jewels, it only hurts rich people who end up collecting insurance. When I get the goods on someone, they deserve what they get and get off a lot easier than if I gave the information to the authorities.”
Nice justifications. He forgot the part where the insurance company increases everyone’s rates to cover their losses. Snyder stared at the gun McGraw still held on him. But perhaps it’s best not to argue the point.
McGraw continued. “On the other hand, working for the empire, you oppress poor people who want nothing more than to live their lives and be left alone, that and dig into everybody’s business.”
“Things are better under Donovan.”
“Yep, rather than our traitor-in-chief, may his soul rot in Hell, now we’ve got a dictator practically still in Pampers with his own Hollywood-esque personality cult.”
“Kid, don’t trust any politician. All a man can have confidence in is his wits and a well-cleaned gun.”
McGraw leaned back in his chair. “Kid, since Jim died, I’ve been without a partner. How’d you like to come on board? I’m betting your tech skills are more up-to-date, and I’ve seen your test scores. You’ve got great potential, and those guys are wasting it.”
Fine by me. If the Empire ever finds out what all I’ve learned, my life will never be my own. “One problem. I join you, and I get my head in a noose. Serving in the Army is all that’s saving me from a trip to the gallows on a hate crime rap.”
McGraw laughed. “You think those Army boobs or some local yokels can outdo Blackjack McGraw? Between the two of us, there’s no way they’d ever catch you.”
“If they didn’t kill me, Mama would. Trust me, you don’t want Azura Borden mad at you.”
“Azura Borden?” McGraw paused. “Oh yeah, I got her file once. Harriet Tubman.”
Mama Borden spent over two decades stealing embryos from breeders. He was the last kid she freed. And the first white kid.
McGraw whistled. “Never could catch that broad. I guess she carried you to term and you owe her.”
“Yeah, and it’d kind of be hard to see her being on the run for the rest of my life.”
McGraw nodded. “I’m lucky, kid. I don’t have anybody to worry about. Wife left me years ago, and the courts didn’t let me see the kid. I knew what kind of woman the kid’s mother was. She would have told him I didn’t see him because I didn’t want to. He’s better off. His father’s dead, and now he doesn’t have to deal with it. You, you got family. So, I understand, kid.”
“When do I get to go home?”
“First of all, will you keep everything in confidence?”
Snyder nodded. “Wouldn’t they think I’m crazy if I told them I had a conversation with a ghost? If I told them about you, they’d have to rewrite too many textbooks at the Intelligence School.”
“Okay, I buy it. You like having this information and the less people who know it, the more it means. You get to go home when Cutler comes and lays out the plan.”
“What if he doesn’t know?”
McGraw stood up and backed up to a cupboard with his gun trained on Snyder. He opened the cupboard and pulled out a Monopoly set from the top shelf. He brought it over to the table and holstered his weapon.
“Then, we’ll be here a long time. I’ll be the horse. Want to be the race car?”
Jirel stared down at Lieutenant Colonel Dread. The human’s stench of murder, rape, lust, theft, and deceit made portable toilets smell sweet by comparison.
Dread sneered. “Sergeant Cutler, I’m issuing a warrant for the arrest of Private A. L. Snyder for being AWOL.”
Jirel raised his hand. “Sir, begging your pardon, he was kidnapped.”
“Sir, with all due respect, his quarters had traces of gas.”
The thin Colonel laughed. “Oh, really? And why might someone want to kidnap Private Snyder?”
Jirel sighed. He had a good guess, but the answer wouldn’t be believed and, if it were believed, would create unnecessary complications. “Sir, I’ll find out all I need to know if allowed to investigate.”
“Sergeant, Quality Assurance needs it’s NCO. Snyder, on the other hand, is human refuse. Trash meant to be bred out of our species. He must die. If not now, then later. Now is the time.”
“Isn’t it odd, sir?”
“Isn’t what odd, Cutler?”
“That human refuse found the diary that you’ve taken so much credit for finding in recent days.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Snyder told me about finding it before you sent him off to that wilderness camp so you could steal all the credit for yourself.”
Dread cursed. “So what do you want, Sergeant? A promotion. I can arrange it.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“What’s your price to keep this quiet?”
“Sir, I’m not for sale!”
Dread cursed. “Maybe that wasn’t the best phrase to use with a black guy. I meant no insult. All men have their price. What do you want?”
The human spoke without knowledge. Jirel took comfort in that they’d be too busy cowering from the light to concern themselves about what he looked like in his true form. “I want Private Snyder back.”
Dread smiled. “I never took you as the type. Lover, eh?”
“Oh? Read Animal Passion by Switzer, Sergeant. You’ll find it liberating. According to Switzer, the only reason to care about anyone is if they meet your sexual needs, or you benefit financially from the relationship. We all want only those two things, whether we admit it or not. So what money can you make off him? That’s the only other option.”
Such evil men fall into when they cast aside Imageo Deo. “Sir, with respect, we don’t have time to debate philosophy. Private Snyder is in danger out there.”
“Cutler, I’ll give you a 24-hour leave. You have that much time to bring him back or you’ll both be declared AWOL. I’ll enter the leave into the computer.”
“I’d like a copy on paper, Sir.”
“That’s so antiquated.”
“A signed paper copy can’t be removed from the system the moment I leave and give you pretext for declaring myself and Snyder AWOL in less than 24 hours.”
Dread walked to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of bourbon. He took a sip and laughed. “Wherever did you learn of me? Very well, Sergeant. A paper receipt signed in my own hand. But remember, twenty-four hours, or then you and your precious juvenile delinquent will both have a serious, dare I say, lethal problem.”
Jirel sighed. If the colonel tried to shoot him, he’d be very surprised by the results.
The blood rushed to Private Snyder’s head as he hung upside down with his feet shackled to a plumbing pipe. He wiggled his legs. The shackles had some flexibility. Maybe enough.
He thrust himself up and grabbed the pipe with his left hand. He scrunched his body tight and reached into his shirt pocket. The creep that kidnapped him had taken his lock-picking kit. He reached into his right pants pocket. No Swiss Army knife.
He stared at the red shimmering object on the ground. I’m certainly not going back down to get it.
Last shot. Wallet. Snyder grabbed the bar with his right hand and let go with his left. He carefully moved his hand towards his back left pocket, where his wallet was. One false move, and the wallet would fall to the ground and out of reach.
He grabbed the wallet, pulled it out and put it in his shirt pocket. He grasped the bar with his left hand, let go with his right, and held the wallet with his teeth. His right hand searched for his back-up kit. Thankfully, the creep had failed to notice the wallet. Most people didn’t carry them. With the ICA microchip, all anyone carried in their wallet was family photos, movie store memberships, library cards-and lock picks.
Snyder picked the lock. He smiled as first the shackle on his right leg opened and then the one on his left.
Freed, his legs released his body from the extreme sit-up with great relief. He dropped six feet down to the floor, picked up his pocket knife, and walked to the door. Locked from the outside. He delivered two kicks to the lock and the door gave way.
In front of him lay a hallway leading to a staircase. He made for the stairs, his Swiss Army knife drawn.
A heavy object poked his back. “Where you think you’re goin’, Spunky?”
Snyder stood in Dread’s office. Dread, sat behind his desk smiling wide. “Snyder, take a look, I brought some stills.”
He placed a holocube on the desk and pressed a button to go through the images inside the basketball-sized device.
“This is me with the Steward . . . This is me with the Emperor and the Steward at dinner . . . This is me with the Steward, before I got to use the public harem on the Emperor’s dime . . . These are pictures of Congress waiting for my speech, there’s the Commanders of the Armed Forces, the Supreme Court, the Diplomatic Core . . .
“And this is a picture of me walking down statuary hall, flanked by leaders of Congress . . . And this is me entering the Capitol to glorious applause. I actually saved the audio.” Dread pressed a button and applause streamed out.
Dread turned to him, beaming still wider. “So, that’s how my time went. How’d you make out, Wilderness boy?”
“Permission to speak freely.”
“Oh, of course.”
“You stole my work and took credit for it. You’re a dishonorable man and you’ll be exposed. Corporal Redondo and Captain Gooding both know the truth.”
Dread smirked. “I believe that you mean Staff Sergeant Redondo and Major Gooding? Gooding has been promoted and taken over his own listening post in Washington State. As for Redondo, he has filled a vacancy in quality assurance.”
“You promoted him two pay grades.”
“I have to admit he had more honor than Gooding. He wouldn’t sell you out for one pay grade, but two-everyone has their price. The witnesses will say the same thing. You weren’t even here when I discovered the journal.”
“Computer logs will say otherwise.”
“I kindly had your computer upgraded. Unfortunately, in the process, all your data was irretrievably deleted. So, if you want to tell crazy stories, go right ahead. No one will believe a punk from JD discovered anything. You are good for nothing but the gallows, and I will see to it you end up there as soon as possible.”
Dread opened his drawer, pulled out three knives, and slapped them down on his desk before Snyder. “Do you want to do something, punk?”
Snyder stared at the knives, his blood pumping pure fury through his veins. He imagined slamming one of the knives into Dread’s heart and twisting it.
He forced his breathing to slow. No. That was what the creep wanted. “Yes, sir. I’d like to return to duty.”
“By all means, Private.”
Snyder walked back to Operations. What can I do to Dread?
Ideas rolled through his head, but none untraceable enough. Staying alive would have to irk Dread enough. For now.
He walked to the break area. Sergeant Redondo walked out of quality assurance.
Snyder saluted. “Sergeant! Sir!“
Redondo returned salute. “You’re ticked off, I know. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve learned how to work the system. We do the grunt work, COs get the credit, and we take whatever crumbs that are given us. Now, you know it, too.”
“Sir, I’m forever grateful, sir.”
Redondo will have a hard time writing me up for deadpanned sarcasm.
Jirel sat in his office. Snyder rushed in grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Sarge, I got the goods on Ivan.”
Jirel smiled. “Well done!”
“Thanks. I handed the information over to Dread, and as a reward, he’s sending me out for six weeks of Wilderness training.”
Dread is up to something. “Snyder-”
The Spirit checked Jirel. Let him go.
Jirel smiled. At last, he’d heard something! He’d never had this little contact from his Lord on assignment before.
“Sarge?” asked Snyder.
“Oh,” said Jirel. “Have a nice trip and be sure to check out thermal underwear. It’ll be cold at night this time of year where you’re going.”
“Yes, sir,” said Snyder.
A crisp early November breeze whipped around Snyder as he knocked on Mama Borden’s door, back in dress uniform for the first time in six weeks. Wilderness training had been his first opportunity for combat dress since Basic, but Christians had rather negative associations with the Imperial combat uniform and it’s faceless helmet. What the folks who killed their vocal relatives and pastors wore. So he changed before coming here.
Mama Borden would be tickled pink. He hadn’t been away this long since he was fourteen, when God stood by and let his egg donor kill Grandma. The druggie sold her own mother for a fix. And had wanted to sell him again, too.
Mama Borden peaked out the living room window, showing an orange, green, and black splash of dashiki caftan that matched the cloth wrap hiding her beautiful natural African hair.
A few seconds later, the door swung open. Mama Borden embraced him with as much force as a woman in her sixties could manage. “Anny!”
Snyder coughed. “I had a day off after wilderness training. So, I thought . . . Mama, you can let go.”
Mama Borden released him. “Cerulean, Damian, Anny’s home!”
“Did they hang him?” asked Damian from the kitchen.
Snyder shouted, “Yes, that’s why I’m standing at the door!”
Damian shouted back. “She didn’t say how you came home!”
The eldest Borden brother emerged from his workshop in blue coveralls spotted with white paint. The forty-four-year old virgin who’d dedicated his life to taking care of his mother and seven adopted siblings, which included Snyder, was probably at least as old as his sperm donor.
Cerulean extended his paint-stained hand. “Son, welcome home.”
Snyder returned Substitute Daddy’s firm handshake. “Good to be back, Sir.”
“Come on,” said Cerulean. “Mama’s got some stew on. There’s plenty for you.”
“No, there ain’t!” echoed Damian from the kitchen. “I ate it all.”
“Boy!” said Cerulean. “You’re not too old to whip.”
“I’m twenty!” screamed Damian.
“Boy, as long as I can whup ya, I can whip ya.”
Snyder followed Mama and Cerulean into the kitchen. Twenty-year-old appliances dominated, but Cerulean had gotten fresh tile laid a couple years back. The cabinets were Cerulean’s own work and had been there as long as Snyder could remember.
Damian stared at Snyder’s dress uniform. “Hey, Empire Joe. You almost look like a man.”
Snyder smiled daggers. Damian and the Babe had tormented him the most. “Same to you, Damy.”
Damian grunted. Snyder took a seat in an old kitchen chair that Cerulean had saved from a dump and refurbished.
“Where’s the Babe?” That should have been his nickname.
“Out with friends.” Cerulean paused. “He won’t be back. Unless you want me to call him.”
“Nah, don’t bother. He won’t care. No one in this family does but you and Mama.”
An objection filled Mama’s eyes, but she sighed and began serving the meal instead. Mama put a bowl of stew in front each of them and grabbed one for herself. She sat at the head of the table in a high backed chair. “Cerulean, say the blessing please.”
Cerulean and Snyder removed their hats. Cerulean sent Damian an icy stair and Damian removed his.
“Lord,” prayed Cerulean. “We thank you for bringing Anny home to share this meal. We pray, Father, for this we are about to receive, make us truly thankful. Amen.”
Snyder always wondered about that prayer. The only way he could think of to be made more grateful for food was if he was really starving. He didn’t want to be made truly thankful. But he knew better than to argue with Cerulean.
Cerulean said, “Hey, Mama, let me turn on the news.”
Mama grunted. “If you must.”
Cerulean fetched a remote out of a drawer, settled back at the table, and pressed a button.
News Anchor Don Trapp appeared in the dining nook’s window. “In other news, decorated Imperial Hero Colonel Paul Dread is returning to his post in Nevada after addressing a joint meeting of Congress where he received the Imperial Medal of Distinguished Service from Donovan the Steward for revealing the many nefarious deeds of Ivan Dimitrov, thus showing why he deserved to be executed.”
Snyder spit out his stew. “What?”
Dread appeared in the window. “I’m just pleased to have been able to serve the Steward. That is honor enough for me.”
Snyder cursed seven ways to Sunday.
Cerulean boxed his ear. “Boy, watch your mouth!”
Snyder stood. “That fairy took credit for my work. I’m going to kill him.”
Damian said, “Good, kill ’em. Then they’ll hang you.”
Mama put down her spoon. “Anny, come with me.”
Snyder walked outside with Mama. She settled on the porch swing. “So, what did you find?”
“Ivan’s diary. He was running the mob on the side. He sold tainted meat on the black market, killed people, and didn’t even care, Mama. He was a monster.”
“And that’s been exposed. You did the right thing, and I’m proud of you.”
“But Dread took all the credit. He sent me out in the wilderness while he wined and dined with the Steward.”
“So you didn’t get any credit?” Mama Borden pushed herself up and walked over to a berry bush. “Nothin’ good ever gets accomplished by folks waiting for someone to throw them a parade, Anny. I saved plenty of babies, but only those I raised myself even know my name. The IBI dubbed me Harriet Tubman, and some folks I knew actually thought ‘Harriet Tubman’ was a hero, but they never knew it was me.
“There are some things in life you’ll do that other people will take credit for. And the most important things you can do, you can’t take credit for. But God sees, and He knows. And He is a just Rewarder.”
Snyder stiffened and folded his arms. “I don’t believe in your God.”
“Oh, Anny, don’t try and fool your mama. Be mad at Him all you want, but you believe. And whether you believe it or not, boy, He cares about how you feel right now. And neither He nor I want you to do something stupid that’ll get you killed for no good reason. So you didn’t get to go to Washington? You didn’t get to dine with that slick Steward, or with Emperor Herald, the Devil himself. You didn’t get to sleep with enslaved concubines-”
“No one gets to sleep with Donovan’s concubines. He doesn’t share.” Why he even had any didn’t make sense, considering the headlines the Steward got in the gossip rags. Always some new famous or random girl the Steward was caught in bed with.
“Regardless, this is just not something God willed for you to have.”
“Good to know the Man upstairs is pulling against me.”
Mama shook her head. “He’s pullin’ for you, but not everything you can have is good for your life or your soul. Ya hear?”
“Yes, Mama.” But he was still ticked at Dread, and God could go on his list as well.
Snyder sat at his cube. He took a drink of coffee. Okay, I can hack into the QA system and delete observations of situations where I look the other way at Christian messages, but if I am stealing information from one of the sergeants, I’m going to get caught. I need something permanent that nobody’s going to find out about.
He looked at top his screen. “Logged in to SecureEmpire.mil (American Province).” He snapped his finger. The computer that ran SecureEmp would have all the passwords on it, including master passwords.
Snyder cracked his knuckles, and began the process of accessing the password file. An hour later, with a few interruptions for some “urgent” situations, Snyder was in. He sat back. I could create a master user here and nobody would notice. Yeah, right.
Snyder skimmed the master users list.
Admin . . . Yeah, let’s hijack the user name of the guy who runs the system; he won’t notice.
DonovanS . . . I don’t have that big of a death wish.
Snyder rubbed his chin. There was a username nobody had bothered with in a long time, seeing as Ivan swung two years ago as of last November 21st. Apparently, the Steward saw no reason to delete his predecessor’s ID. Snyder accessed the user profile and memorized the password. “I wonder what other doors you can open?”
He went into the e-mail server and typed in Ivan’s name and password. A mail box came up with 600 messages, the last sent five days after Ivan died, from a John Kinsey. Subject Line: Rot In Hell.
Snyder smiled, chuckling. “Mr. Kinsey, don’t you know? There’s no e-mail in Hell. Or if there is, it’s all spam.”
Snyder went over to personal folders and saw one labeled “Journal.”
An alert popped up. Snyder scanned the offending web page. A short story with a character named Donovan, but didn’t have anything to do with him. Snyder marked it as innocuous and returned to his find.
Snyder went into the journal and was prompted for a password. He entered Ivan’s password and was in. Snyder went to the search box and entered a search for “Taint.”
March 23, 66 YE
A black marketeer advises me that some of the food was tainted. I couldn’t care less. If those traitors want to eat, they’ll buy my food. I’ll see to it.
Snyder gasped. “Jackpot!”
He began to read through the journal, and memorized dates, names, locations. Nobody would have a problem with Donovan killing this jerk by the time he was done. Ivan deserved to die. Donovan killed him. That made him a hero.
Forty minutes later, Snyder had found enough to hang Ivan, if he hadn’t been already. He moved the journal onto Ivan’s general access page in a subdirectory then went in and edited the server logs so that it looked like Ivan accidentally hit a wrong button and made his private journal public hours before his execution.
Snyder went to the public location of the diary and began to print it. His workstation asked him three times to put the document on an Iboard instead before the printer tray came out of the right “drawer.” With the cranky computer reluctantly spitting paper into the printer tray, Snyder pressed the page button.
Corporal Redondo walked over. “What is it, Snyder? You haven’t had a question for me since you got here.”
“I don’t have a question. I need to see the captain. I hit pay dirt.”
“Well, let me take a look.”
Sure and let you look like you found it. Not a chance. “Sir, this is my discovery.”
“How do you know the captain will want to see it?”
“The captain? Forget him. Donovan the Steward will want to see it.”
“I’ll page him.” Redondo hurried back to his own cube.
Captain Gooding walked over a few minutes later. “Private, this had better be important. I was in a meeting.”
Snyder saluted. “Sir, I apologize. There’s no rush. These are merely papers that prove Ivan was a Machiavellian traitor and double agent.”
“All right, well don’t-” The captain’s eyebrow arched. “What did you just say?”
“I found Ivan’s diary. Apparently he made a mistake and put it on the viewable server.”
The captain grabbed the pages and gasped. “We’ve got to see Major Dread about this.”
Two minutes later, they stood in Dread’s office. Dread seemed to overflow with delight. “Well done, captain, well done. May I talk to Private Snyder alone?”
Captain Gooding left. Major Dread said, “Perhaps I misjudged you, private. I think this is a find worthy of a reward.”
So the pale jerk was coming around. Maybe this would work out. Dread wasn’t entirely sincere, but he had a more positive posture. “Thank you, sir.”
“Snyder, you need additional training, and you’re not going to get it sitting in an office chair. I received a flier just last week for Wilderness Training.”
Snyder’s eyes widened. He’d always wanted to learn how to survive outdoors. This would be perfect. And it’d get him out of this straight jacket and back into cammies for a few weeks. “I’d love to go.”
“Splendid.” Dread turned on his computer and pulled up his folder. “The next training starts in 1800 hours. There’s a $75 late registration fee, but the Empire will be glad to pick it up. I’ll order a helicopter to pick you up in 0200 hours ”
Something felt wrong. “That’s a little soon, sir.”
Dread sent him an annoyed look. “I can understand where you’re coming from, but the next training session is in six weeks. Granting leaves like this is dependent on staffing requirements. We can do this now, but I can’t guarantee we can in six weeks.”
Snyder sighed. And by then, the Major’s gratefulness may have worn off. “Well, if you put it that way, I’ll go pack.”