Chapter 43: Confirmation Bias! Get it while it’s hot!
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Meanwhile, behind the facade of a mountain…
It wasn’t a helicopter that came for Daniel Grey this time, but a jet. The dark green vulture moaned through the air like a sickly animal, propelled by four large engines that hung from the wings like overripe fruit.
Daniel sat in a sling specially designed to hold him during transit. In a strange way, it felt like his own personal throne, where he could rest and reflect on his most recent fuck-ups; total failures like this mission provided more than enough to mull over during the long trip. Of course, some of it hadn’t been in his control, but much of it was. The parts that mattered were, and he’d fucked them up beyond all recognition.
His original objective was to assess and destroy the Ultra Unit belonging to their unholy neighbors to the south, but then that blue son-of-a-bitch showed up. Donovan’s Ultra. The sole virtue of Donovan’s uselessness to this point had been his commitment to keeping his dick out of places where it didn’t belong, but good things never did last.
As for the armor from the Arkangel Compact… Daniel always expected they’d realize the error of their ways, overthrow the alien filth, and return to the flock. But they’d clearly cast their lot with the sinners now, and Daniel finally knew they were well and truly lost.
A young tech with a grease caked face walked up to him. She said, “Evening, Orion. Anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”
A few of the nerve endings inside his shoulder were alight with fire, but he waved her off and she marched away. He wanted to feel the sting of his defeat, lest he forget. Second Revelation had taught him to appreciate the value of remembrance, especially of those things he’d prefer never to think about again.
He was back at Cheyenne Mountain after an hour. The night was dark and pummeled by blustery rainfall, and Daniel’s mostly broken sensors picked up little outside the jet. If there were landing lights, he couldn’t see them.
The transport set down in a hurry, skids lurching in the gravel, and the ramp came down immediately. Daniel pushed himself up with his one remaining arm, then walked out into the storm, swaying as he went like a forest troll.
He didn’t feel the rain. He could hear it dashing against his armor and running down in smooth sheets, but it was just sensor data. He never imagined he’d miss one stupid feeling so much.
He didn’t take many steps out onto the landing pad before a small yellow flatbed arrived. It stopped in front of him and the drivers patiently waited for him.
He climbed onto the back and it took off at a good clip into the base, while Daniel sat there sullenly wondering how he’d picked up the nasty habit of leaving limbs on the battlefield. The Battle of the Ark took a leg and a half from him; he callously dropped an arm while facing Samson; and now he’d lost a newer, vastly more expensive arm while confronting demons and race traitors.
The truck delivered him to the secured chamber where Project Orion had taken shape. It was a laboratory and garage that had been his home for the past weeks, and he supposed he liked it about as much as any barracks he’d spent time in.
This return was a little unusual, though. All of the top brass were in attendance, including Colonel Galili and Major Reyes, as well as others Daniel didn’t know by name.
He hopped off the truck and it sped away while the heavy bay doors closed. He stepped up to a milling group of bureaucrats and flag officers, and rendered the best salute he could manage with his off arm.
Galili returned the salute and said, “At ease, Grey. Doctor Zakuani, get the mission data downloaded.”
The doctor rushed to comply. He was a black man with a slight frame and intense eyes; his lab coat hung loose from his shoulders like it was draped over a chairback.
Doctor Zakuani attached a cable to Daniel’s back, and his readout confirmed the file transfer. It only took a few seconds to move a terabyte worth of recordings, then the doctor jogged to his workstation and began to sort through it all.
Major Reyes looked at Daniel with eyes like flecks of quartz. He said, “Tell us what we need to know, Lieutenant.”
The man cut right to the chase. Daniel respected that. “I arrived at the objective site at approximately 1945 hours UTC, and engaged an unknown enemy equipped with alien tech. I quickly confirmed his status as an Ultra Unit, and evidence suggests he belongs to Donovan’s fleet.
“In short order, the battle was joined by two more Ultra Units, one belonging to the Western Oikeya, and the other to the Arkangel Compact. The fight continued until 1956 hours, when the unknown vessel arrived.”
Memories of that moment flashed in Daniel’s mind, the twinkling star that descended from the heavens on silver wings. His decorum crumbled. “Then an angel appeared to us, sirs.”
“Come again?” Galili said.
“An angel flew down from the ship. I mean, I’d swear to God it was human, but like one right out of His workshop. It spoke with the most beautiful voice… this creature, sir, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was… perfect. And it struck the Oikeyan Ultra down, then fucking anointed us its emissaries.”
A murmur shot through the officers, and when it passed, Daniel thought he could see confusion and hope in their eyes. That seemed to reflect his feelings all too well.
“What was its message?”
“Well…” Daniel said, thinking back over the scene. “It spoke some language I’ve never heard, but Donovan’s Ultra was able to communicate with it. What he told me might be bullshit…”
“Mr. Grey,” Major Reyes said flatly.
“He said it was the Nefrem prince. It’s gone to war against its kind, and it wants us to join it… apparently, it’s not prepared to take no for an answer, though. I’m to bring our answer by tomorrow.”
“How do you think it would react,” Reyes asked, “if we told it to go fuck itself?”
Daniel held his tongue for a moment. “From what I’ve seen, Major… it would kill us all.”
The officers talked among themselves while Daniel beat away on a problem: why had Donovan hidden this about his boogie men? He ranted on about the monsters from the stars, but he never once mentioned they were human… let alone such perfect humans.
In the past, he’d thought Donovan was an incompetent and misguided coward. Now, he realized the truth was even darker… Donovan was a damned liar.
“We need to ally with the prince,” Daniel said.
Eyes turned on him, angry but inquisitive.
“It’s Second Revelation,” he said, and Major Reyes rolled his eyes.
Daniel began to recite scripture: “The Adversary will beset the Earth with his demon armies who will rake the cowardly with their horrible claws, and seduce the avaricious to taste of their poisoned fruit. Only the pure and brave will have strength to oppose them. We the faithful must choose ourselves, and for our righteousness and piety, the Lord will send his angels to walk among us and fight by our side. Thus shall we stand victorious and walk the road to life everlasting in the savior’s warm embrace.”
Stunned silence greeted him.
Doctor Zakuani finished the passage. “For the universe is our eternal dominion… and the Lord’s only son, our immortal king.”
Major Reyes looked to be chewing on a mouthful of nuts and bolts. He’d never been a true believer, and casual heresy ran rampant in his wing of the organization. He stroked his beard tensely and said, “Your dog is foaming at the mouth, Galili.”
“You will address me,” Daniel growled through a slashed speaker.
Reyes barked, “I’ll address whoever I damn well please, soldier!”
Daniel’s voice came slow and powerful. “How can you hope to win without the Lord’s love in your heart?” he asked. “If it isn’t faith, what drives you, Major?”
“I have faith, you fucking idiot. But I’ve also got enough wits about me not to fall for every crackpot full of bullshit that comes spewing in my direction. This insanity needs to stop.”
Daniel Grey realized that deep down inside, he agreed. The insanity was weakening the Union and leaving them ripe for attack; it needed to stop immediately.
He sweapt across the room so quickly that no human could have reacted in time. He gripped the major’s head in his hand, lifted him off the ground, and crushed the feeble brain inside his skull.
Screams erupted from the other officers, and Daniel saw it only as craven faithlessness. If they had felt God’s touch as he had, they would understand that all strength arose from His will alone… and they’d know that once embraced, no force could defeat them.
These empty suits weren’t brave enough to spit in the face of demons, nor proud enough to march in the company of angels. The duty fell to him to cull them from the crusade.
The slender doctor stood unmoved by Daniel’s brutality.
When Daniel was finished, he stopped and allowed the fresh blood to wash off his non-stick armor. It pooled under his mechanical feet, and washed down the single, central drain.
Next will be Chapter 44: To Live and Wander, either later tonight or sometime tomorrow.
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