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Unread 1st of March, 2005, 21:46
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Nightcrawler [GM]

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Issue #3: Those Who Write New Values On New Tablets

Lake Silverwood Golf Club, Upstate New York.
18th hole
9:58 am, January 17th 2010.

The End of the World: Day One

Philip Mouse, Senior Administrator of the Centinel Foundation, squinted into the winter morning sun. His eyes were lined with crows feet, such was the habitually of this behaviour. Nevertheless, he couldn’t make out where his ball had landed, but long practice with the feel of club and tee told him it was easily on the green.

“Hole in two, again...” he sighed, as the black helicopter dropped from the sky with a hiss of antisound-baffled rotors.

He ambled over to his wheeled robobag, rangy, outdoorsman’s frame moving easily under the loose slacks and shirt he wore. By the time he had slid the nine iron back into place, a thin figure with his black coat snapping in the downdraft was striding towards him.

“Morning. I don’t suppose you’ve joined me for a game?” Mouse drawled to his Special Executive Assistant. The clammy-skinned, pale-eyed man hunched his shoulders as a barrier against the noise of the copper, and shook his head slowly, eyes locked on his superior. Mouse, for his part, clicked his fingers at the robobag, which trundled after him, following him towards the hole. The SEASA had no choice but to follow.

“Sir...” the lizard-faced bureaucrat whispered as they walked. “If you spent more time at the Centinel Building, you might be aware...”

Mouse chuckled. “Oh, I’m fully aware of what’s going on. I just don’t think that my personal touch would change anything.”

The sinewy man sucked cold air through thin, colder lips. “Hmmm. Sir, I find your attitude unacceptably blaze. The activation of the... reserve unit Q. The contamination of the Mechanic. The invalidation of Bolt. The defection of Wreck. The Madison disturbance.”

“’Reserve unit Q?’” Mouse laughed as he circled around a sand trap. “Really, Bates. He isn’t part of your chamber of horrors and more. Call him by his codename, at least.” Mouse’s tone hardened a little. “And your forgetting... we kept a thousand guns off the streets. O’Malley goes on trial tomorrow. The Brotherhood suffered the worst public relations disaster in their hillbilly history. The Mechanic is not contaminated... you forget, this agency is not your private fiefdom. We share resources. I hold high hopes that Bolt can be rehabilitated... hell, he’s already given us a lesson in why we should NOT keep secret from ourselves. Any breach in security caused by Quantum can be ameliorated...”

The Senior Administrator bent down and plucked a weed off the manicured grass. “My god... the groundsmen are getting worse every week,” he muttered. “All right... granted, Wreck was a mistake. We will never deal with an amoralist with kid gloves again. Next time, our terms or a term in Stranglehold. And yes...” Mouse turned his weathered face upwards, and gave the sky a look of regret for a moment. “Yes... we screwed the pooch in Madison. We shouldn’t have let them get separated, become independent... but we can recover form that...”

“No, sir, “the SEASA cut in, his voice a stiletto hidden in silk. “The mistakes have been comprehensive. Systematic. Fundamental. They are not ‘heroes’. We must never elevate them that way. They only serve our interests if they are treated as what they are... soldiers, tactical weapons. You have allowed your romanticism to cloud that vision, and that is a weakness that our more ruthless enemies will exploit.”

Standing on the edge of the water hazard, Mouse turned sharply, and scowled. “Soldiers? Goddamn it. Goddamn it... we tried that, if you’ll recall? InterForce? The worst, most psychotic mistake in foreign policy we ever made...”

“Again, you fail to understand. InterForce was... impure. After all, six of seven were non-American. It existed to further the interests of the G7, not America. The nations that contributed to it are now numbered amongst the very threats we seek to counteract.”

“This is about the Project, isn’t it?”

“This is about control. It has always been about control. You never had the courage to control the Centinels, Philip. You never had the courage to maintain them. That fell to me. Now, it all falls to me. And yes, to the Project.”

The ex-Senior Administrator turned and looked out over the golf course, considering the consequences of the fact that a man to whom informality was like garlic to a vampire had called him by his first name. Meditatively, he said “You know... I never did manage to get below par two on this hole.”

By the time the helicopter took off again, the water hazard was slowly turning red as Philip Mouse’s body floated in it, face down, with a bullet in his brain stem.