Chapter 02: Bureaucracy

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Allan studied his commanding officer as they navigated the brightly lit corridors of the facility. Questions flickered in his mind, some of them coming perilously close to being asked, but none quite actually making it that far. Captain Carpenter was a slight man. He had a small build and he might have hit five and a half feet. The Captain kept himself in shape but it must have been either out of habit or vanity at this point, because Allan was pretty sure the last time he'd held a gun was easily over a decade or so ago.

Carpenter was competent and prudent. He'd proved that much since Allan's tenure at Lansing began. He seemed good at reading people and he had an unnerving habit of abruptly falling into deep silences and boring into someone's eyes with his own. Allan had seen the man dozens of times over the past year, mainly because he insisted on performing as many mission briefings as humanly possible. He had the calm, studious voice of a museum curator.

Allan had come to rely on Carpenter. Trust him. As he would with any commanding officer worth their salt. But that relationship had been going south recently. He had the distinct impression that Carpenter had been looking for some excuse to hand him an extended leave, or, if need be, suspension. The only problem with that notion was that Allan was good at his job. As he retreated further into himself, shedding his emotions and concerns, he became that much better at completing his tasks with military precision.

Only now Carpenter might have found his excuse.

They turned another corner, passing a pair of technicians who fell silent as they spied both the base commander and local pariah, and came to Carpenter's office. Carpenter moved into the office, around his desk, and took a seat. Allan looked around as he moved towards one of two chairs positioned in front of the desk.

Carpenter's office spoke of a man who knew that offices were supposed to have something called 'personality' to them and thought that he might try and find some. There were exactly two holographic 'paintings' on the wall that cycled through absolutely meaningless abstracts and second-rate landscape holos. His desk was large and flat. A built-in terminal occupied the center and a small orbit of infopads and Styrofoam cups cluttered the rest of it up. Besides holos, the desk and the chairs, there was literally nothing else in the office.

Behind Carpenter, a broad, single pane of glass offered a view on the facility grounds where something that might resemble a park with handfuls of trees creating small copses around a man-made pond of crystal clear blue water resided. Allan tried to enjoy the scenery for just a short moment before giving up and taking a seat.

For a long while, Carpenter simply fixed Allan with his patented stare. Allan allowed himself a small smile when he realized that it wasn't working because his face was hidden entirely behind his visor.

"Allan," he said, finally, "I want to slot you into another team."

Allan blinked in surprise. He remained silent. This was probably about as far away from what he expected as possible. He'd been readying himself for some mandatory vacation time or leave without pay or even suspension.

What the hell was this?

"I'm sorry?" he managed.

"I know. My superiors want me to at least put you on medical leave or mandatory vacation, but...well, things have been busy lately. Something's been happening...out there in the wastelands. That's why the base is so depleted. But that's not relevant to this conversation. We've received a distress call from an isolated communications relay pretty far out in the middle of nowhere. It's gone down and subsequently comms are down in the region at large. All I've really got at hand is a team that just lost their Sergeant and you've just lost your team so..." He shrugged. "I guess it's going to have to do...let me see your face."

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