Commander Joseph Walsh finished dressing and picked up his satchel. Walking to the door, he took a look around at his stark apartment. His eyes took in the very few belongings he had allowed himself to acquire over the twenty-three years he'd been there.
His eyes came to rest on a framed picture he still cherished - one of the last happy memories he had before his appointment to Commander of BETA. Himself, with Crysta and Eric Wheiner, Crysta holding baby Eve as they all smiled for the camera. The date on the photo; September 6th, 2084.
Two months later, everything had changed - forever altering circumstances, a friendship in ruins, and the loss of someone very close to him.
Joseph took a deep breath, straightened his uniform, and stepped outside, firmly closing the door, and shutting out the memories for another day.
November 11, 2104, 1002h
"Good Morning, Commander. Here are your appointments, and your commitments for the day. The ceremony begins in forty-eight minutes - will you be attending?"
Joseph looked at his aide and shook his head. "I only miss one ceremony a year, Frances. This one I do not have to attend, and I choose not to attend it. I can remember my fallen comrades well enough without having to deal with a roomful of potential future memories."
The door to Commander Walsh's office slid shut, closing the dumbstruck aide off from any future outbursts.
A few minutes later, Tactical Commander N'Gata's hoverbed slid into view, along with Ranger Gooseman. "Is the Commander in?" Gooseman asked.
The aide nodded and reached to buzz them through when Walsh's door slid open. "I should have known. You've done this for the past nineteen years, Owen, why should now be any different? Shane?"
Owen's artificial voice piped up. "I asked him to be here, Joseph. He's in the same situation as you are."
Walsh shook his head. "Not really, Owen. But, come in both of you. Francis, I'm in a meeting, no disturbances. I don't care if the Crown and all the pirates attack - no visitors."
After the door slid shut, Walsh walked back behind his desk and sat down heavily. N'Gata's hoverbed slid over to the dispenser and he ordered a very strong alcoholic drink, then slid it over in front of Walsh - who downed it without even tasting it.
"Shane, sit down, or get out!" Walsh growled. "You need to learn to relax - On this one day, I'm not your commanding officer - I'm a fellow soldier who has lost comrades in action and wishes to remember them and perhaps dull the pain of their loss."
"What are you going to do?" Shane asked. "Drink yourself into a stupor and collapse into a drugged sleep?"
"One day of the year - I should be allowed if I so choose!"
"Why?" Shane demanded.
Walsh sighed, and looked out the window. "It's been what ... Twenty years now, Owen?"
You know exactly how long it's been, Joseph. It's not like you could forget - you and I both recall it as if it was yesterday."
"It was yesterday, twenty years ago..."
November 10, 2084 3am
Captain Joseph Walsh looked up from his test results with sleep-red eyes at Dr. Owen N'Gata, who had just come from the lab with the latest genetic test results.
"What do you have, Owen?"
"We have stable genome development - with the enhancements. I think we can now go to the Senate with our results and see if they want to go to stage three."
"The test subjects who volunteered to be injected with the RNA enhancers have a marked increase in all aspects of combat attributes. It looks like we have a go with this sequence as well - more than enough evidence of success to go to the committee."
The door slid open and Crysta Wheiner came in, carrying yet another batch of RNA sequences. "I think we've got a real hot one this time, guys." She said, setting the vials on the table, then pulling up a stool and perching on it.
"What do you got, Crysta?" Owen asked.
"I got a stable RNA sequence that enhances frontal lobe development in the parietal region. Psi enhancement!"
"That is news." Joseph said. "Imagine a batch of soldiers who are not only genetically perfect, stronger, faster, tougher, but with mental abilities to match their physical attributes?"
"We are definitely onto a line of development that the senate will want to pursue." Owen said, to which both Joseph and Crysta nodded.
"I know Eric will back us, one hundred percent." Crysta said.
Joseph smiled. "Of that, I have no doubt."
"Eric Wheiner is rapidly gaining power in the senate, Joseph. You have been too deeply involved in this project to realise." Owen explained. "Since the android wars, the military has been pushing for a biological expendable soldier. We may be able to develop such a soldier."
"Not for at least ten years." Crysta said.
"Perhaps ten, perhaps five." Owen replied. "The point, my friends, is that we can do this - we can make soldiers that are better than nature intended - but should we?"
November 11, 2104, 1022h
Joseph sat back and downed another drink. Shane remained in his chair, watching his commanding officer slowly tell an obviously painful tale that also, somehow, involved the weaselly Senator Wheiner.
Owen's hoverbed glided around the desk to hover beside the massive bay windows.
"They're assembling in the main hall, Joseph."
"I know." Walsh replied, then looked back at Shane.
November 10, 2084, 1120h
Two hours later...
"...and that, gentlemen and ladies of the Senate, concludes our proposal." Owen finished. He nodded to the fourteen members of the military appropriations committee and sat back down beside the other two.
The senators talked among themselves for a moment, and Crysta caught a friendly smile from Eric - which meant the overall feeling was good. Finally, Senator Reinz, head of the committee, stood. "Fellow Senators, Doctor N'Gata, Captain Walsh, Doctor Wheiner - we have fully read and reviewed all of your findings for the past two days, and with this final batch of results, we are pleased to give you the go-ahead for the Wolf Den project. Your choice of location in New Mexico is approved, and construction will begin immediately. This project will be coordinated by Dr's N'Gata and Wheiner, and overseen by Commander Walsh - Congratulations, Commander - We have been authorised to uprank you in view of the importance of this project. Good luck to you all. We expect quarterly reviews."
November 11, 2104, 1040h
"It went downhill from there, Shane. So very fast, and without warning. We got approval to begin the project, but that meant that other projects had to be cut, scrapped. One of them, run by a Federation Scientist would have equipped all our armed forces with nanotech defence systems to enable them to adapt to attack, much like your biodefences. That scientist went ... overboard - he found out who had been successful in the tender, and went after us. He found Crysta and Joseph first."
November 11, 2084, 0920h
Joseph escorted Crysta to the hovercar and held the door open for her.
"I'll just drive you to the station, then I've got to go and see about them packing up the rest of the lab, Crysta."
She shrugged and secured her belt. "Not a problem, Joseph. Eric is expecting me at the ceremony in an hour anyway. Are you going?"
"I should - in fact, yes - I will be there. It might be the last time I see a full military ceremony for a few years, depending on how things go." He started the engine and the car smoothly lifted off, then swung down the road and began to steadily accelerate towards it's destination, sixteen kilometres distant.
A few k's down the road, Joseph noticed a flashing red light on his console. "That's odd, I'm low on rotor fluid." He said, leaning forward to tap the indicator. Crysta screamed, and Joseph snapped back to attention as he swung the controls hard over to swing out of the way of the over hovercar coming directly towards them. The two cars dodged, but his rotors struck the other car's fins and Joseph felt the engine die. The car slammed into the ground.
He shook his head to clear the cobwebs even as his nose alerted him to the new problem. Fuel, lots of it, and the acrid smell of smoke and hot rotor fluid. He pulled the quick-release on his belt and leaned over to snap Crysta's belt. It came free, but as he tried to pull her free the fire erupted around them.
November 11, 2104, 1045h
"The next thing I know, I'm lying on the ground with a medic treating me for third-degree burns and being advised that the other occupant of the car was ..."
"She'd died in the crash, Shane." Owen finished for Walsh, who suddenly stood and walked to the windows, gazing out blankly, lost in memories.
"The other car, who was it?" Shane asked.
"Lazarus Slade." Joseph answered, his voice husky and raw. "He fled Earth after the accident, and began his campaign of terror in the belt. Once we had the hyperdrive, and tourism between the worlds of the Federation, he vanished from this system. We caught him last year, but he managed to escape again. He's never been tried for that crime - but Wheiner never forgave me for not hunting him down, or for driving Crysta to the station that morning."
"He never stopped the Wolf Den project though." Shane said.
"No - the supertrooper project continued - but without the enhancements to the parietal lobes that Crysta would have provided. That's why you are still susceptible to mental intrusion, Shane. Without Crysta, we couldn't do anything about it. Her specialty was mental perceptions."
"Eric Whiner kept a very tight leash on us throughout the entire project - always pushing us to produce better and more dramatic results. He wanted the project to be his wife's legacy - but he pushed too hard. In the end, he destroyed it, and with the outbreak, his vendetta against Joseph became too ingrained to back away from.." Owen explained.
"So what happens now?" Shane asked.
"We survive. We continue to do our jobs, and we try to remember without pain that which hurts us the most - the loss of friends and family due to our carelessness, or vanity." Joseph said. Then turned and looked at them both.
"I think I should be down there. Would you two care to join me?"
"Of course, Commander."
Joseph walked to the door and palmed it open. "then let's go down to the main hall and join our comrades in remembering those who have fallen in the line of duty. Let the past become just that ... the past."