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by Nancy Ames

He was driven to the house by a small, silent, pre-occupied
old gentleman who took no interest in the vacant landscape.
When they stopped at last and he stood outside the car, the
massive building seemed like a minor detail in the naked expanse
of rock and sky.

The driver wordlessly handed him a key and set an elegant black
leather suitcase on the ground at his feet. The big man continued
to survey the house and heard nothing but the wild moaning of the
winds until the car`s door clicked shut. He lifted a hand in dismissal
and the vehicle sped away. Walking up to the front door, he felt both
alert and unaccountably irritated.

A short time later he had thoroughly searched the place and was
satisfied that, other than the usual electronic bugs, he was alone.
He had learned to enjoy being recorded, had become in fact creatively
involved in the process. The bugs were often his only witness, after all,
and while he waited for contact like this they were sometimes his only
recreation as well. Aloud, he would work out his pet, mildly absurdist
theories and indulge in some joking speculations that were much appreciated,
or so he had heard, by the "recording angels" at headquarters. It was a
bit of fun, an outlet. His real business was very serious indeed.

His real name was Broderick Johnson but he had been known as "Shiner" ever
since he returned from his first black op - in South America - with two
very black eyes. He was rarely without some kind of bruise or contusion
and he could illustrate the story of his life with the scars on his body.
Fortunately his bones were so long and heavy that they had never been
broken. Or fractured. Or bent.

Outwardly, Shiner appeared to be slow and easy-going and he could sleep on
his feet like a work-horse. But one of his favourite things to do was to
surprise an opponent with the quickness and scope of his mind. He loved
combat because he realized his best in action, but he had steadily refused
to take command in the Guard because he hated giving orders. And taking
them could be even worse sometimes. Words were too slow and clumsy. Shiner
understood complete moving situations, confident in his innate ability to
extend his consciousness into his body. It was untrained and he liked it
that way. He smiled and moved his wide shoulders.

He decided that he felt good in the house. An unexpected urging of appetite
led him across the polished floor toward the gleaming automatic dining alcove.
The interior d├ęcor of the building was done in a nice soothing army green,
his favourite colour. The structural design was both elegant and complex. The
lower levels were made out of sculptured concrete, wonderfully hardened by the
addition to the mixture of the local volcanic ash. Everything was windowless
and impenetrable, the smoothly curving walls surrounding a vast open area of
multi-level floors.

It was all arranged around a central shaft of elevators which accessed the
popular upper decks as well as the extensive underground facilities. Higher
up, there was a great deal of one-way glass, shatter-proof and angled to shed
the weather, which was quite unpredictable at this altitude. The armories
and sleeping-quarters were all cunningly hidden from the unauthorized intruder,
a purely hypothetical being.

It had all cost millions, of course, and there were several of these safe-
houses scattered around the continent. "Safe" in the sense of strong-box. Money
was no problem when so much was at stake. Again Shiner felt uneasiness moving
like electricity under his ribs.

The building sat on a low rise of land, commanding a clear view of several miles
across the wind-swept rock. Virtually no cover for hostiles out there, but he
found himself wishing that he had a dog again for the first time since old Dagger
got shot. He forgot about food and strode over to the central elevators, growling,
"Lookout Room". Almost instantly, he was at the top of the house.

The Lookout Room was large and comfortable, with big couches and low tables plus
two tall wooden cabinets. One of these contained a fine selection of stimulants.
The other offered a choice of more utilitarian equipment. He reached for a bottle
of scotch and grabbed a pair of high-tech binoculars. Then he started to take a
careful look around the wide plateau. As usual, he was commenting aloud for the
record. This communication took place in short, rapid-fire bursts.

There was purple range of silver-pointed mountains far off toward the north and
west. In every other direction, under the clear blue dome of the sky, the earth
curved smoothly away and out of sight.

This kind of country could fool you with camouflage. Shiner`s colour discrimination
was acutely developed and exercised regularly. He was allowing his eyes to wander
randomly over the barren scenery when a quick flash of light caused him to swing
the glasses onto a helicopter that was hovering above the distant mountains like
a dragonfly in the sun. Then it was gone.

Shiner felt heat moving along his nerves. Automatically, he muttered, "Copter.
North-north-west. Gone again." Then he stood up and spun around, rapidly examining
the geographical circumference. He even adjusted the binoculars and checked the
blind spot around the sun. Exhaling, he sat down again and made his brief report.
"Checked. Nothing."

Then he let his hands and the binoculars fall between his knees, leaned back against
the luxurious cushions and squeezed his eyes shut. He assessed the likelihood of
enemy activity at well under one percent, relying on a research team that had never
let him down. He put a minimum of trust in technology, which had let him down
plenty, but of course the place was stiff with automatic alarms.

Cursing freely, he sat up, put the binoculars down on the side-table, and poured
himself a shot of the excellent single-malt scotch. He swallowed it and laid his
head back again. His eyes were bright with boyish pleasure.


Author's Note: This is the first chapter of a short not-too-distant-future novel, a quick character sketch.

Posted on 06/13/2019
Copyright © 2020 Nancy Ames

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