I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I’d just gotten smacked all around the training room in what I thought was a training session, and here was Colonel Morales just casually informing me in front of a room of officers that it was actually my certification test.
“Do calm down PMC Walker,” Colonel Morales said while steepling his hands in front of him. “While I do appreciate that this was a shock, and I understand a certain amount of frustration, I also expect you to have picked up some military decorum after the last few years of us putting so much effort into training you.”
Ugggghh, so Morales was going to do the ‘I’m being reasonable, why are you overreacting?’ schtick. I couldn’t help thinking that if he called me any variation of ‘Young lady’ in the next ten seconds I was going to flash fry him and consider whatever jail time that came with it as justified.
“Oh do lighten up Reginald,” Doctor Robinson said to the Colonel before glancing at me and saying “And Dani please sit down. We’re not here to ambush you. I promise.”
The last bit she said while giving the Colonel a pointed look and I realized she was right I was half out of my chair leaning on the table. I forced myself to unclench a bit and sit back down even though I can’t say I was happy about this particular turn of events and dammit now my hip was smarting again.
“That’s Colonel or Colonel Morales. Doctor,” the Colonel said, his forehead wrinkling in irritation at the breach of protocol, but Doctor Robinson just waved at him with a ‘get on with it’ gesture completely nonplussed at the rebuke and clearly not intimidated in the slightest. God, I loved that woman.
“Ahem, let us get on with it then. For the record, this meeting starts now and will be recorded and transcribed for recordkeeping. PMC Walker, we’ve gathered each of the individuals here due to their expertise in evaluating your performance today and during your time as a trainee. This program has been unique in that you’ve kept your civilian status rather than being made to enlist due to the agreement your family made with the research team.
According to those above my pay grade, your unique abilities mean that you get special treatment. Let me be clear, I don’t like that. Either you’re all in or you’re all out, none of this in-between crap, but they didn’t ask my opinion and my orders were to use every resource to train you, so here we are. If at the outcome of this evaluation, it has been determined that you passed you will be granted special government clearance equal to that of a Captain in the United States Army while keeping your Private Military Contractor designation. Furthermore, you will be issued an Alpha Level First Responder classification with the US Government. This is the highest level of classification you can hold without a Presidential Order or an act of Congress,” he finished with a look around the table before meeting my eyes.
“For the record PMC Walker please affirm verbally that you understand the nature of this meeting”, he said in that flat tone military commanders have when they have detached any personal feelings they have for the subject matter.
“I attest that understand the purpose of this evaluation meeting,” I said to an encouraging nod from Lieutenant Colonel Amin.
“Noted,” the Colonel responded and then turned to Doctor Rokker saying, “Doctor Rokker if you would please get us started with your assessment.”
With a nod to the Colonel, the good Doctor caught everyone’s eye before turning to speak to me directly and began his assessment, “No matter what your personal feelings may be about this project we are gathered here today to discuss this remarkable young woman. Ultimately the trajectory of her life will be impacted by our decision today, and while I’ve had the privilege of knowing Miss Walker since she was eleven years old, I expect all of you to give her your utmost respect and treat this evaluation with the highest order of professionalism.”
Oh my God. Doctor Rokker was going to make me cry, right here in this stupid meeting room with everyone watching. He’d always been nice to me over the years as I did testing for him and when he and his research team helped me deal with containing and then learning about my abilities. His concern and affection had always seemed genuine so to have him gently rebuke the room like this was almost more than my tired and beat up emotional state could handle. I gave him a smile and tried to play it cool as I wiped at the corner of my eye.
Doctor Robinson to his left was absolutely beaming and few others like Lieutenant Colonel Amin had small smiles on their faces. It was good to know I had some allies in the room but I wasn’t going to take it for granted. These were military officers and good ones, they knew how to separate their feelings when needed, although Colonel Morales looked like he was sucking a lemon.
“Ok now that, that’s out of the way let’s get to it shall we? As I mentioned I’ve known Miss Walker since she was eleven years old. As all of you know, most supernormals manifest during their teen years with the average age being fourteen years old. While it’s not unheard of for a supernormal to manifest younger it is exceedingly rare for a supernormal to develop at the age of ten like Miss. Walker,” he said with the air and demeanor of a college professor.
You could always tell when Doctor Rokker was engaged in the subject matter because he talked with his hands and looked like was conducting music. It was interesting being both the subject of the current topic and an observer. I found myself wanting to see where he was going next despite the fatigue that was starting to settle in.
“If that was the only thing it would have been remarkable, but the first manifestation resulted in an energy expulsion in her childhood home which fortunately didn’t cause much damage but resulted in Miss. Walker entering a comatose state. The aforementioned energy expulsion registered as a blip on NASA’s Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor which measures the Sun’s energy input to Earth. Fifteen days later a stronger blip registered on the TSSI which we now know correlates to Miss. Walker coming out of her coma and her abilities fully manifesting. This second expulsion of energy was much stronger and damaged the hospital that she was staying in. Officially it was listed as an oxygen tank explosion as there was nothing to indicate Dani was manifesting during her time at the hospital prior to the expulsion. NASA still investigated of course but with no concrete evidence, it was decided there wasn’t enough to go on and filed it away.
Much to our surprise approximately one year later the Walkers came to NASA Headquarters asking for help. After running some tests we realized that Miss. Walker was the anomaly that was recorded by the TSSI. In just a year Miss. Walker’s abilities had advanced to the point where she was able to discharge a form of bioenergy, albeit without any control, therefore endangering those around her. The speed upon which Miss Walker’s energy abilities had grown was relatively unheard of and at this point in her development at the age of eleven, she would already be one of the strongest Sigmas ever recorded.
It was determined at that time by myself and the administration that we should enter into a special agreement with the Walker family as Miss. Walker represented an unprecedented chance to study an early manifestation of unusual strength. Her tests were indicating that her body was still in flux and that she was going to manifest additional abilities giving us an opportunity to try and understand what made her manifestation unique. It was felt that it would not be in our best interests to antagonize the family as any research could prove invaluable.
As part of this agreement, we would help the family with containing and controlling her abilities and the Walker family would cooperate with us for one month each year to do extensive testing at our Washington DC facility. At this point, it was believed by myself and the other researchers that Miss. Walker was a developing Quantum level Supernormal. As I’m sure you know only point five percent of the world's population are Supernomals and Quantums are a statistically tiny portion of the point five percent and there are only a handful of known Quantum Supernormals in the world. Having the ability to study a Quantum at such an early stage of development would be invaluable to helping understand Supernormal abilities and why some manifest more than others.
The point here is, not only did we have a chance to help a young girl and her family but also to have the chance to study the growth of one of the rarest Supernormal classifications from a young age. Working with the Walkers has indeed been a great privilege and we have made significant strides in our understanding of Supernormal abilities. For example Miss. Walker's ability to absorb cosmic and solar energies and convert them to bioenergy has applications for creating new energy sources and we’ve made some strides toward replicating them to a degree.”
“Apologies Doctor but could you start wrapping up? There are a lot of us to get through,” Colonel Morales interjected while the good doctor paused for a breath. I hid a small smile behind my hand because even if the Colonel gets on my nerves we both knew what would happen if Doctor Rokker got on a roll talking about his research.
Doctor Rokker nodded to the Colonel with a sheepish green, “Yes, yes of course. My apologies everyone, it’s just I do so love to discuss my research. To the subject at hand, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to watch Miss. Walker go from a scared little girl to the determined young woman you see before you today. She’s gone above and beyond to help master her abilities and has provided this country with invaluable research data. All of this has caused her and her family great hardship but she has always faithfully risen to the challenge and always with a positive outlook.
Do not doubt her dedication to wanting to help others just because she does not want to enlist in the Army. I believe in her and I believe in her character and I think we would be foolish to not do all we can to support her.”
And with that, he sat back down next to Doctor Robinson who beamed at him and good-naturedly bumped him with her shoulder. As far as good starts go I couldn’t ask for much better than that.
“Thank you, Doctor. Since Doctor Rokker is here representing the research side I wanted to let him go first but now we're going to move into hearing from those of you who have been part of this training program for the last two years.
As you are all aware the US Government fields multiple first response teams housed across the country and these teams are tasked with responding to incidents that require a specialized response. Sometimes that involves helping with things like a natural disaster, but more often than not it involves responding to a Supernormal incident. Whether that is a control and contain op for a powerful manifestation, stopping a rogue threat like a powerful Supernormal criminal, or in especially bad cases, a Supernormal gang war or industrial espionage operation. Essentially if local and state enforcement can’t handle it but it falls short of a full military response, we get called out.
While these first response teams are not classified or clandestine they are also not public. This initiative would be the first in a new model of public teams built around the idea of maintaining a public profile. What this means is that the S.T.A.R. team will be positioned to be directly in the public spotlight. So with that in mind, I’m going to turn it over to Lieutenant. Colonel Amin who is our public relations expert.”
Standing up with a nod to Colonel Morales she began, “To provide some background since the introduction of the internet there has been a dramatic increase in incidents involving Supernormals that require the intervention of law enforcement. Incidents of industrial espionage have doubled in this time period, and quite honestly the interconnectivity provided by the internet has made being a Supernormal more dangerous than ever. Statistically speaking Delta Class Supernormals are the most at risk after registering. Now granted with the size of the population the odds of being abducted or killed are still statistically low per individual, but it’s still rising at an alarming rate.
The Government feels that with the increasing number of Supernormal incidents having a team in the public eye that the public could identify with is a project with considering. The idea of course is by giving a face to the first response team that the public will see that the Government is doing something to protect the citizenry and conversely, the public will identify with the team and put their support behind the team.
In order to make this team more personable it was decided to provide the public with a ‘face’ they could identify with. Someone who is not a soldier and can be looked to as a role model, and this is where Dani comes in and why she is not an enlisted member of the military.”
At the mention of ‘role model’ Brunner couldn’t help himself and rolled his eyes while snorting and mumbling “Role model, riiiight,” as he slouched in his chair.
God, he’s such an insufferable a-hole. To make matters worse he caught me glaring at him and threw me a wink. God, the urge to shoot him the nuts with an energy blast was off the charts.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to as Colonel Morales might be many things but someone who puts up with shenanigans in a meeting is not one of them. He snapped “That’s enough from you Mr. Brunner. You’ll have your chance to provide your relevant feedback when it’s your turn.”
Damn, Colonel Morales just reversed global warming with the ice in that response, but it warmed my heart to see the asshat humbled. In true douche fashion, he slouched more and crossed his arms all sulkily. Dooouuuche.
“As I was saying,” Lieutenant Colonel Armin started again while giving Brunner a very deserved dirty look. “Dani's status as a civilian willing to put themselves in the line of fire is a good look. It shows that individuals can make a difference and that the Government and military are willing to be creative, and Dani’s status as a PMC provides enough legal structure for Army leadership and for the White House to sell this to Congress.
Now that all said, this project carries considerable risk. First and foremost to Miss. Walker herself as she takes on missions. It will not take long for her to be outed as a Quantum and the optics of her getting hurt or killed will not be a good look for the Government. Additionally should Miss. Walker not be effective in the field and worsen a first response by negligence that will open all of us in the program to litigation and will most certainly draw the eyes and oversight of Congress. So there is a huge upside to this program but as I’ve stated there is also considerable risk.”
Flicking her gaze toward me for a moment I knew that everything the Lieutenant Colonel was saying was all true and that this was exactly what an evaluation should be doing, but it was still damn uncomfortable to have to sit here and listen to it. I wanted to argue points and make bold declarations but I also knew that for the most part, none of this was personal. Still, hearing it put on front street like that was making me antsy and I was trying my best not to fidget in my chair.
“So to start wrapping my portion of this eval up it’s felt by many that the potential upsides to this program are worth the risks of any downsides. I concur with this line of thinking. I have been working with Miss. Walker for the last two years to understand how to navigate the public relations aspect of this work and while I still think she is rough around the edges there is really no way to know if anyone is ready for the spotlight until they are in it. Having gotten to know Dani I feel like she has what it takes to make this work,” she finished and sat down with a nod to Colonel Morales.
“Thank you, Miss. Armin. Next, I’d like to move to the field training team. For the past two years, primary training has been assigned to Captian Williams, Chief Warrant Officer Brunner, and Master Seargent Takahara. In case you aren’t familiar with them they all served as members of the Green Berets, Hound Team. After Hound Teams’ dissolution, they were assigned to this program while the Army figured out their new assignments. Captain Williams if you would,” he said with a ‘go ahead’ gesture.
“Sir,” Captain Williams said crisply as she stood to begin her portion of the evaluation. I caught her eye briefly but her expression gave nothing away so all I could do is cross my fingers. I don’t think Captain Williams disliked me per se but I also knew this wasn’t the assignment she wanted.
“Firstly I want to say that I don’t necessarily disagree with the objective of this program and I hold no ill will toward PMC Walker but I do have to question why the military would want to entrust something like this to a civilian. That said, upon my assignment here to the STAR Project my orders were to provide every effort to train Miss. Walker and my team and I have done our very best to fulfill that objective.
Two years ago when I was assigned to this posting, Miss. Walker was a freshman in college with nothing but idealist notions of saving the world. It is my hope that we have managed to drill a healthy dose of realism into her during her time in the program, and while I may still have my reservations, I cannot in good faith stand here in front of you and say that Miss. Walker has not applied herself to learning everything that we have attempted to teach her.
However, in my opinion, it’s dangerous to put an untested rookie in the field, especially one with her strength. Again I want to stress that Miss. Walker has given me no reason to think she is not genuine in her desire to help others but she is also impulsive, emotional, occasionally headstrong, and green to the dangers that someone on the front lines will face. With the attention this position is going to garner I can’t help but have reservations.”
Well ouch, kinda? Maybe? I dunno. I can’t say what she was saying didn’t ring true even if I wish it was a little more ‘She’s got this’ in tone I thought to myself while absently rubbing at my sore hip.
“Miss. Walker carries a lot of potential and already has some of the strongest abilities I’ve ever seen which is not a surprise considering her Quantum status, but any solider will tell you it’s not about just having power. It’s knowing how to use it. It’s knowing how to read a situation and using the best methods and tactics to facilitate the best outcome. It’s being able to make hard decisions when all that’s available is to choose from bad and worse outcomes. Worst of all it’s knowing that sometimes you can’t save everyone or sometimes anyone.
I have done my best to drill into Miss. Walker tactics and field operations. I think today’s exercise showed that for someone without formal military training, she has taken those lessons to heart and while her run was far from clean she displayed tactical thinking and thought to safeguard the target and minimize civilian casualties which I take as a success.
While I’m certain that Miss. Walker will put in the work, my caveat is that I can’t help but think someone with her power level needs more training and that a top-notch support system needs to be put in place if this project is to be green-lit for field deployment,” she finished and took her seat.
“Thank you, Captain Williams. I appreciate your feedback and I acknowledge that this posting isn’t what you had hoped for, but nonetheless, your professionalism is noted,” Colonel Morales said to the Captain in a rare show of public respect. It was both refreshing and piqued my curiosity as to whether there was something more to it.
Colonel Morales shifted his gaze to Fox and I knew he was going to go next. His opinion was the one I most looking forward to hearing and yet also dreading. In general, Fox wasn’t much for long winded anything so this was going to be interesting. He wasn’t giving anything away either as a glance at him revealed his expression was the very definition of neutrality.
“Master Seargent Takahara if you would please,” Colonel Morales said with a nod to Fox.
Fox stood up with a fluidness that belied how much his shoulder had to be hurting him and I couldn’t help but be envious. My hip was starting to ache through the painkillers and I kept having to shift in my seat to get comfortable. Honestly, while the outcome was important I was rapidly getting to the point where I wanted this meeting to be over. I was running on fumes and just plain physically and mentally exhausted no matter how much accelerated healing I was supposed to have and just wanted to go lay down. Right then my stomach growled as if offended that I had forgotten it, so I mentally added hungry to my list.
My attention snapped back to the room upon realizing Fox had begun his evaluation, “My primary assignment the last two years has been as Miss. Walker’s combat instructor. My objective was to provide her with as much training in combat techniques and martial arts instruction as possible. While her abilities don’t primarily lean toward hand-to-hand combat the foundation it provides allows for the proper growth and application of other techniques. Understanding and recognizing different schools of combat is key to defeating and disarming them.
Together with Captain Williams, we worked on threat assessment and how to take down enemies with the correct amount of force for a given situation. Considering situational awareness is one of the hardest things to teach, it was our goal to provide the best fundamentals possible without being able to do fieldwork. I am pleased to say that Miss. Walker has been an exemplary student although I caution that I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to master everything we’ve thrown at her. She has the ability to build upon these skills with continued guidance and practical experience.
In addition to the conventional skills we trained on we’ve also worked on unconventional skills, like how to use or not use her enhanced strength, how to fight in flight, and performing powered breaches for example. Miss. Walker’s ability to fly meant that time was spent on tactical recon while her energy discharge ability meant we worked on the accuracy, strength, and stamina of her discharges and how to apply them offensively and defensively amongst many other skills.
All of these things you saw on display in today’s exercise. Do I think there are things that could have gone better? Like Captain Williams, I do, but there are always things that can be improved. For example Miss. Walker was a little passive at the beginning and ended up getting ambushed by the sniper while later she let her impulsiveness get the better of her by rushing the sniper’s nest which allowed me to close on the target, but overall I am pleased with the outcome. While I will not lie and say I went full out in the exercise, Miss. Walker did indeed rally to put up a solid resistance and protected the target at the cost of herself when I chose no joy.
It is my opinion that Miss. Walker should be passed and cleared as First Responder with the caveat that like Captain Williams she is provided an elite team to support her,” he finished with the briefest of nods to me before sitting down.
Oh Fox, you don’t know it, but you are going to get the biggest most embarrassing hug at an awkward time of my choosing. I couldn’t help but think on aggregate I was doing ok and that barring anything drastic coming from left field there was a good chance that I would pass the evaluation.
“Thank you Fox,” Colonel Morales said as Fox retook his seat and then looked to my right and said the words I was hoping he wouldn’t, “Chief Brunner, please share your feedback.”
Oh, hello left field. Seriously universe? What did I do to piss you off? I grumbled mentally as asshat Brunner hoisted his six-foot, two-inch frame up out of his slouch to stand with a scowl and a nod to the Colonel.
“Sir, I was assigned the primary task of training the civilian on weapons systems and making sure they were fluent in the use of standard US military arms. I served to help train her in tactical shooting with Captain Williams and Fox and it is my opinion that this is a waste of resources. This effort would have been better served by going to someone in the service who deserves the opportunity and has put in the time. While the civilian was able to learn the basics of most firearms and weapons systems, I would not trust her in a firefight and would not feel comfortable with her covering my back much less to be able to hit the broadside of a barn,” said Brunner with more and more heat to his words as he spoke.
“There has to be a soldier who is capable of filling this role. I’ve dedicated my life to the service of my country and I would gladly step up to…”Brunner continued heatedly until he was abruptly cut off by Colonel Morales.
“Thank you, Chief Brunner, we’re here to assess PMC Walker. While I have no doubt you would serve to the best of your abilities, the last time I checked you couldn’t fly, shoot energy from your hands, and weren’t classified as a Quantum level Supernormal. The whole point of this is that we have a unique opportunity with a Quantum Level Supernormal and it is our job as assigned by the President themselves to properly evaluate Miss. Walker and feasibility of this program.
It is noted that you don’t like Miss. Walker but for the record she was able to learn the basics of what you were assigned to teach her. If you have problems with your posting and assignment feel free to set up a meeting to discuss it with me through my aide. Now, you can sit,” he said with a steely tone, and for a second I saw something dangerous pass through Brunner’s expression before evidently thinking better of it and sitting down and folding his arms. This might be the first time I ever really saw him as dangerous and not just a nuisance.
I glanced over to Fox and Captain Williams and they both looked unhappy at Chief Brunner’s diatribe. Fox looked like he was trying to drill a hole through Burnner’s thick skull and Captain Williams was wearing a frown that I would bet dollars to doughnuts was loaded with a conversation the first chance she got with the Chief. Seriously one of these days I was going to have to find out what the deal was between the three of them and what happened with Hound Unit.
After that, the rest of the meeting went by relatively painlessly even if it did retain a little bit of an undercurrent of unease after Brunner’s statement. It turned out the young officer with the auburn hair was a Communications Seargent newly assigned to the base whose name was Heidi Spinklemann. She was brought in to give her opinion as an outsider on the training operation and was the voice on the other side of the comms in the training exercise. She had an easy nature and even though I’d had very limited interaction with her I couldn’t help but find myself liking her. Her feedback ended up being mostly positive giving me kudos for not giving up on trying to maintain contact with Overwatch.
Major Zeit went after Seargent Spinklemann and gave a tactical review that essentially stuck with the theme that I didn’t screw the pooch, but could've done better. Overall I was getting a real B minus, B vibe from my performance. My math professors would probably agree that this was my wheelhouse I thought depreciatingly.
Last to go was Dr. Robinson but she kept it pretty short and really just summed up my physiology and affirmed that I had passed all the psych tests. After Doctor Robinson finished Conlel Morales asked everyone but the senior officers to leave and for me to wait outside to be called back in.
Brunner wasted no time leaving and glared at me as he passed by my chair and disappeared out the door. Major Ziet gave me a smile as he filtered out and Seargent Spinklemann slipped out while Fox made his way over to my chair.
“Need a hand,” he said, as he saw me wincing as I got up out of the chair.
“Nah, I got it. Besides you don’t look much better than I do,” I said with a chuckle.
“True, true,” he shot back as we limped and walked out of the meeting room with the stealth aide again appearing out of nowhere to close the doors.