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Barred Owl Publishing
The Scoloderus Conspiracy
A futurist thriller of abduction, deception, betrayal, and revenge
It was an ordinary day. Professor Taylor walked to the lecture hall to deliver his talk. He would resign today; he was disgusted with the futility of university life. He did not know that within minutes of leaving the hall he would be racing against time to find a missing military leader and stop an espionage team from destroying the country. He would argue with generals, infiltrate the enemy’s site, and watch a woman die in an explosion meant for him. It began like any other day; it changed his life forever when he was immersed in the Scoloderus Conspiracy.
COLONEL ANTHONY HAMMOND SAT STARING intensely at the glowing orange embers of the small, dying fire. Occasionally a tiny flame flickered up from the charred wood and disappeared into the cool, moist night air. Smoke drifted into his face, stinging his eyes. He was tired, exhausted. He had been in the field for almost a week. They had encountered at least three detachments of Libre Voyageur Militia. Each time, the enemy offered little opposition. Their progress along the land bridge had been rapid, perhaps too rapid.
They now controlled forty miles of territory that had been a Voyageur stronghold. They were within fifteen miles of one of the LV’s major supply points. It just did not make sense. He always trusted his gut; his gut told him something was wrong.
“Colonel, you were brilliant today. You showed the LV what superior leadership can do.”
Hammond turned to see who was flattering him. In the darkness, he could see an officer approaching him from his right side. As the officer came closer, Hammond recognized him. It was Captain Marcus, a company commander assigned to his battalion about three months ago. Marcus had not been in combat prior to this assignment; however, in the past five battles, he had proven himself a capable company commander.
Marcus approached Hammond and stood next to him as he surveyed the area. Marcus touched a small communicator clipped to his collar and spoke with authority, “Command secure.”
As Marcus turned to walk away, Hammond said, “Captain, sit down; I’d like to talk with you about today’s events.”
As Marcus sat down, he resisted the panic prickling up his spine. Was he in trouble? Had he performed poorly during one of the engagements?
“Do you think the Voyageurs led us here? Is this a trap?”
Hammond’s question surprised Marcus. He had expected a critique of his performance, he had not been thinking about the enemy’s plans, only his response to them. He did not know how to answer the question.
“Colonel,” Marcus ventured, “the Voyageurs thought they could beat us. It did not take them long to find out they were wrong, so they retreated, and they have been retreating for three days. They don’t want to die in a war they know they can’t win; they know they will never have the resources or leadership to defeat the UATF Army.”
“Yes,” Hammond said. “They could be retreating. They may have been trying to get away from us; however, they never moved too far in front of our lead assault group. They just kept moving. This afternoon we had four skirmishes that all ended within minutes of each other. It was a coordinated cease-fire. I think they were leading us. They want us in this location. I think this is a trap.”
“I’ll get the troops ready to move,” Marcus said. “We’ll be out of here before—”
“Not yet,” Hammond interrupted. “We don’t know our best course of action. Why do they want us here, right now?”
“Perhaps they are going to surround us,” Marcus speculated, aloud.
“Perhaps, but there’s no troop movement to support that,” Hammond said. “A few hours ago, I sent First-Sergeant Kemp and Sergeant Ventosa to run reconnaissance. They found nothing, not a trace of LV anywhere near here. Bravo Recon reported a group of LV about four miles northeast of us: a small group of seven soldiers. The other LV squads have withdrawn further north. The Voyageurs have left us here; without a chaperone.”
“They could be waiting for reinforcements,” Marcus said. “We’re too close to their main territory; they wouldn’t just leave us here and they aren’t going to let us move north without a struggle. They must be planning something for pre-dawn or early morning.”
“Captain,” Hammond said, “tell the lookouts to increase the watch perimeter by 50 yards. Set sensing equipment to the highest levels. The LV know we are here, but they are keeping their distance. We need to be ready for anything and what we do not know can kill us. I will be meeting with the senior officers at 5:00 AM, just before sunrise; I would like you to be there. Lieutenant Colonel Zychowski can fill you in on the plans for the day and I would like to hear your ideas about the LV’s battle strategies.”
“And Captain,” Hammond added somberly, “we are in a dangerous situation. The Voyageurs are aggressive fighters. They would not leave us to rest unless it suited a greater plan, a malicious plan.”
“I will be vigilant, sir, and I will be at the meeting,” Marcus said as he stood and walked away feeling like an important member of the battalion. Colonel Hammond had taken an interest in him. He would be attending an early morning briefing for the senior battalion officers. Lieutenant Colonel Zychowski would fill him in on the day’s plans. He smiled as he imagined other briefings in which he and Colonel Hammond would discuss combat tactics and review the battalion’s performance. Yes, this was an eventful night. He used his communicator to signal the sentries that he would be approaching them with new orders, direct from his meeting with Colonel Hammond.
As Marcus walked away, Hammond turned back to the fire and he thought ‘It has been too long since I talked with a junior officer. They are always so enthusiastic and this is a good time to train them. I need to find more time for these new, young leaders. I should just give up on Zychowski and Ukiah. Major Ukiah has to do everything by the book and Zychowski does not even know there is a book. Oh well, in six months Zychowski will be retiring and in three weeks Ukiah is transferring to the 2nd Shadow Warriors Battalion. Marcus will be here a long time, he is worth the effort; perhaps someday Marcus will have his own battalion to command.’
The late night air was cool and silent as Hammond sat alone with his musings. He turned his attention back to the small fire. The embers faded slowly as he began his ‘hour.’
The ‘hour’ was an important military tradition. Every warrior had one hour in every day in which to meditate, sleep, or engage in any activity that revitalizes the spirit. Hammond typically spent his hour meditating or reminiscing about his family. Over the years, he had learned these places and memories are important. Private places only he knows; places in sharp contrast to the reality of his daily experience.
He sat motionless in a deepening trance; his breathing was slow and regular, and his heart beat at a minimum. His memories drifted to the distant past, to times and places that seemed remote. Images, sounds, and feelings that were not clear but in some part of his being he knew how they should be. He refined each part of the picture, enhanced each sensation, each touch, each thought that made the past real.