Following the link with Parker’s lab, the General settled down in front of a console to browse through data from other Nations’ crime logs. Nothing absolute had popped up in relation to the killer’s MO, but like the Cherokee Nation death, the details of a similar murder could be buried in otherwise incomplete or inaccurate information. The first thing she noticed was as she had expected. There hadn’t been a death associated with a scalping in any of the Nations for as far back as the records went, and that was a couple of centuries in some cases.
After a coffee break, she searched for any prior case in which small squares of bone had been left at the scene. Since every square they had found to date had been buried, the chances of pulling anything similar out of the Nations’ records was probably in the magnitudes of zero range, but she looked anyway.
Her scan of missing persons in the Shawnee Nation by way of one of her com techs wasn’t very revealing for the local area, but showed increased reports in many other areas of the Nation. With so many bodies clustered here in this small area, it was likely they could be the missing local people, but the useful data had to be in hard copies somewhere in the region because it continued to not be in the SNIU’s horrible computer records. This helped validate her belief about the Shawnee Nation and technology, but also represented another waste of time on her part and this led to her negative thoughts starting to creep back in. She could protect herself from that kind of torment by heading out into the weather. It almost sounded fun in comparison, so she pulled on rain gear this time and went in search of captain Atwell and the last of the dig sites.
The first obvious thing she noticed as she opened the mobile command center door was a decrease in the size of the media camp. With no information leaking from her soldiers and only two SNIU agents out there in the farm field some of the local station crews had given up and pulled out. A couple of others were buried axle deep in mud and were still trying to get out of the field. The General smiled and leapt off the stairs into the muddy field. Her command center would pull them out in the long run if necessary. It would make good press for the Apache Nation as the crews that weren’t stuck filmed them in the process.
All of the canvas shells were still up and had held through the storm, but the bright lights inside now lighted up only a few. Captain Atwell had to be in one of them so she walked towards the farthest one believing he would be in the last one she checked so she might as well get the longest walk out of the way. As she came up to the mid-distance tent, she heard the captain talking inside. Her life still had some balance it seemed, so she smiled and went inside. The site crew had excavated most of the area enclosed by the canvas because the scatter pattern had been intense but also large. They had already recovered a set of bone chips from the dig, but had proceeded beyond that point to cover the whole area. The team was down nearly a foot by the tent flap so she almost took a nosedive into the giant hole as she came through. Captain Atwell was standing near the flap and fortunately helped her catch her balance after her unexpected drop.
“Sorry, General. Didn’t expect any visitors.” leapt out of the captain’s mouth before he had time to think about it.
The General gave the captain and the site crew a quick glance and said, “Thank you, captain,” as her instantaneous irritation from the near fall vanished almost as quickly as it had swelled up. The smile that had crept onto her face just before she came through the tent flap returned immediately afterwards as she surveyed the massive amount of work the team had done.
“Are you digging a basement for the tent, captain?” then came out of the General’s mouth as she decided not to filter it out.
The captain looked around straight faced and said, “No Sir, just being thorough.”
The crew continued working on as the captain then gave his full attention to the General.
“It was a joke, captain,” She eventually replied as he remained straight-faced and nearly but not quite at attention. “At ease.”
The captain loosened up a little, saying, “Yes Sir.” almost automatically in the process.
The General continued to smile and said, “That’s an order, captain.” as she sensed his tension level had barely decreased.
Reluctantly, the captain relaxed further and began to observe the site crew again.
“This is good work, captain.” She then said.
“Yes it is,” he answered, and then went on to say “it was like this when I got here.”
Seeing the entire crew give the captain a quick look, she was pretty sure that it hadn’t been. The General gave the captain a short assessment, smiling the whole time and then congratulated the crew for their work. The captain then actually smiled and she decided he was a good man on the spot. There wouldn’t be any psych evals for the captain. He had it together and didn’t need to ride on the backs of others to gain some fleeting and hollow glory. He was a good leader, one she could relate to, and he would do well in his career.
Before she could ask, the captain said, “The other crews are finishing up, Sir.” and with that she also heard the rain stop its little taps on the canvas above her.
“I’m outa here.” She said as she turned and took the step up out of the tent. The rain was still dropping a little from the trees, but it had otherwise stopped. Skipping the farthest dig, she still checked in on the site closest to the command center. They had been slowed down considerably by the root system of a tree they had cut down to erect their tent. If she had come across something similar in the Cherokee Nation, she would have immediately walked away. Her easy dig had been bad enough. She wondered if the captain had pushed this crew as well as the last one. He of course would never say, but it was another damn good job.
After the General ditched her mud boots and rain gear, she reentered the command center, stopping before she closed the door to observe the media camp. It looked like they would be pulling out quite a few news vans before they left the area. Rand would be proud. She then wondered if he had ever used an electric winch, but decided against it in favor of him having used a mammoth or a mastodon. Those animals should have had some pretty good pulling power back in his day. The smile remained on her face as she closed the door.
The command center was amazingly quiet for the number of people it now held. The only thing disturbing the peace seemed to be the SNIU agents’ squawky old radios. She might have had a Middle East flashback if the Apache Nation military had been using such worthless technology at the time. She didn’t have flashbacks from her childhood, but if she did the sounds would probably fit.
The squawking abruptly worsened and was unfortunately serenaded by one of the SNIU agents as he nearly yelled to override the static. The yelling quickly ended, but the squawking continued intermittently. The General walked over and took a seat in front of their monitor sized site map to look it over for one last time. They had predicted hits pretty effectively and there weren’t any other areas that she was even slightly concerned about. Her thoughts drifted to the analysis being done in Parker’s lab and she had an urge to contact them, but was rudely interrupted when one of the SNIU agents standing right beside her started yelling loudly to someone on one of their primitive radios. She needed to talk to Rand about current technology. The SNIU and probably his entire Nation could use a monumental tech infusion.
The squawking and yelling continued for a few minutes and then stopped again. After giving the SNIU agent a dirty look, the General refocused on the site map in front of her. She stared at it a few seconds before her thoughts cleared enough for her to remember she was done with the map. Before she could consider anything else, the SNIU radio was going off again and the racket seemed to vibrate her brain. This time she could pick up more from the horrible noise, and the SNIU agent didn’t have to yell quite as loud.
From what she could pick up through the static, the two SNIU agents were on the verge of being pulled from her investigation to an active search for missing children not far from their current location. She decided that the short distance between the communicators accounted for the ‘clarity’ in the communications this time. The searchers were reportedly desperate for manpower, but most of the SNIU agents were pretty well scattered around the Shawnee Nation from what she could hear. Through all of the background noise, the situation there still sounded tense. It had to be bad there for her to be able to pick up the tension. The agents out in the farm field with her were comparatively close to the search location though and would most likely be pulled from her to assist in the search. The first thought that came to the General’s mind was that she would be spared from the continued SNIU radio noise. Her brain was still vibrating from the past several bouts of squawking and if she had to endure it any longer she might throw the SNIU radios in the toilet.
The agent closest to the General then advised her that they would be leaving. She felt a little irritated by the SNIU move, but not as irritated as the radios were making her. In fact, she wasn’t upset about them being pulled at all, it was just the radios getting to her. She understood the reasons behind the move and she would have done the same thing under similar circumstances.
Even after several calls the SNIU agents weren’t in any hurry to leave the command center. The horrible squawking flared up again a few time before the General could partially make out another transmission. The situation near there had gotten a little worse when the SNIU had picked up a murder case in addition to the missing boys. A second investigation in the town now involved a man who had been brutally attacked and then died shortly afterwards. They needed more help already, so when they shifted some of their scarce agents over to the murder, they would be in serious trouble. Still irritated by the radio squawking, she decided the agents needed to leave before she lost it and threw the agents in the toilet along with their noise boxes.
It was at that very point while she was still thinking bad thoughts that Agent Green asked if she could spare some soldiers to aid in the search. Amazed by his nerve at first, she reined in her irritation and sat down to analyze her current needs at the farm field dig site. They were winding down at the site after all, and some of her crews were already struggling with boredom, or so it seemed. Thinking in those terms, it didn’t take long before she offered the help of three of her crews. It wouldn’t be their usual line of detail work, but she was sure they could lend a hand in the search if nothing else. The search wouldn’t last forever.
Quickly rethinking the situation before her three forensic crews could move out, she felt her own Apache urge to be mobile return with a vengeance. She had been out at the site in the farm field for too damn long. She could leave Atwell to close out the dig site. Then she could travel the supposedly short distance to Hawthorne with her soldiers to assist the SNIU. She would set it up with the captain and also authorize him to pull any news vans out that were still stuck in the field. She would then have the rest of her teams meet her in Hawthorne to assist in the search if it was still necessary. It was amazing that the SNIU could coordinate anything with their ancient equipment anyway, so with the addition of the General and twelve of her soldiers, communications would be dramatically improved.
Thinking deeper, the General’s Council self took over and she decided a little effort on her part might make an impact on Rand and give her more political pull if needed in the Eastern Council. It hadn’t ever mattered up to that point, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t matter in the future. Rand obviously had a massive amount of power in his Nation and she needed to keep that in perspective. But as she thought about Rand she couldn’t help but think that she must respect and assist her elders, or ancients in his particular case. Respect or not, she then also realized she needed to stop the ‘ancient’ references before she accidentally said something along that line when Rand was around to hear her. That would undoubtedly send her political influence in the Eastern Intertribal Council into the toilet. Toilets were for SNIU radios and the agents who toted them around. She needed to watch her thoughts and especially keep her mouth in line.
A half an hour later, the General had briefed captain Atwell and was confident he could manage the site when she left to join the search. The forensic teams had already dismantled most of the tents and were packing them under the command center even though they were wet; not truly wet, because they were polymer treated and they shed water like they had been coated in grease. They would still need a little attention when the command center returned to the St. Louis, Sioux Nation Apache base.
When the general authorized the captain to pull the news vans out of the field, he couldn’t help but smile. Like almost everyone else who served under her, he knew she hated the media. He didn’t know how valid it was, but the rumors that had filtered down over the past two decades were so well known that they might as well be fact. He had already witnessed her evade the media like the plague on a few occasions and he had rarely been under her direct command.
With the captain’s broad smile, the General had difficulty controlling her own gloating feelings and she eventually cracked a big smile herself. She was bending over backwards to help the slimy media weasels and whether this particular bunch of vermin knew it or not, they didn’t deserve her assistance and they never would. If she ever got absolute confirmation of her beliefs, the media would be keeping their distance from her and then only if she even allowed them to exist.
Still smiling, the General took the driver’s seat of the Jaagé she had arrived in with captain Atwell. It took a little while for the soldiers who couldn’t fit in the other Jaagés her teams were taking to get up enough nerve to reluctantly climb in with her, but she did eventually get two takers. By shying away from her, they made things worse when they both took seats in the back. Her smile not fading even then, she made a huge shrug that the captain had to see and cranked the Jaagés engine. He continued to smile as she pulled away through the muddy field and looked back at him in her rear view mirror. He was a good officer and she was going to make sure he was promoted after all they had been through. He had gone above and beyond her expectations of him and that wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do. Soldiers had been promoted for a hell of a lot less and she would push the system until it did what was appropriate. In reality, there would be no resistance. The General was well known to avoid the political aspects of requesting promotions and this hadn’t changed when she joined the Intertribal Council. Her request would be honored immediately and with great fanfare. In spite of her own feelings for the media, the Apache Nation viewed them as a tool that was used and abused as they saw fit. The Nation’s relationship with the media had always been like that, and it was part of the reason she despised the media as much as she did.
When the General pulled out of the field and onto the poorly kept Shawnee Nation road, her thoughts about the media faded like the winding road behind her. As much of a pessimist as she was, dwelling on the contingent that had nearly destroyed her life wouldn’t get her anywhere. With a number of corrupt outside factors involved, she would never have the proof she needed. As powerful as the Apache Nation and the Intertribal Council were, there were still sinister powers working against them that were equally powerful. Their power wasn’t subject to public scrutiny however, so they wielded it viciously, and in the darker corners of the world, working against them was as good as a death sentence. Not bound by law or even honor, they were capable of anything, and the Nations’ recent history was full of the evidence of their workings. The media made sure of it, thriving on the chaos and perpetuating it like only they were capable of doing. It was a symbiotic relationship between two parasites, a relationship the General would love to take down. She tolerated the discomfort of being on the Council for that reason and for that reason only. Eventually it would pay off for her, and she was waiting for that day.
The captain watched as the General ripped through the muddy field in her Jaagé following the other three Jaagés that had already moved out. He then looked over at the half-dozen news vans still stuck in the mud and chuckled a little to himself. There was only one forensic crew that hadn’t broken down their site and he would have to give them the O.K. to stop digging. He imagined the tree roots were a nightmare and the team could be stuck there for days if he pushed them to keep searching. They had already found a set of bone chips at the beginning of their dig, but he had encouraged them to go wider just in case. Of course they had only gone on to find frustration, but they had gone on with the work as he had requested.
Turning away from the stuck vehicles, he walked around the command center and went directly to the only remaining tent. As he pulled back the flap, he saw that the crew was still meticulously clearing and cleaning the root system. They still hadn’t found anything since the initial set of bone squares.
“Let’s close up shop.” He said as they turned to see who had come in.
It would be a little while before they had everything packed away, but he had a few other things to tend to. The command center needed to be made road ready and then there was the news people to deal with. In all likelihood, a Jaagé could pull them out and he wouldn’t have to wait until the command center was in position with its winch.
When he returned to the command center, he ordered another forensic team to assist in the breakdown of the last tent. He then ordered two other teams to work on digging the media wagons out of the field. The soldiers stared at him for a second and he knew what they were thinking.
“It’s a specific request from the General.” He said in an explanation he didn’t really have to give.
His statement only prolonged the stare for a few seconds and then the soldiers were out the door. He could hear them chattering before the door closed. The rumors about the General were universally known and generally easily understood by the soldiers in the Apache Nation.
What he and most other people had heard was that the media was in some way responsible for the death of the General’s husband back in the Middle East War. Like they were frequently allowed to do back then from what he understood, the NNS had embedded a reporter in her husband’s unit. It was extremely common and the General herself probably had one in her own unit at the time. The Apache Nation had once encouraged it basically as publicity to promote the Nation’s military effectiveness and therefore gain more contracts for their services. In essence, it was business and business can be as ruthless as war. This was particularly true in the Apache Nation’s case when it came to their military. As the sole financial foundation of the Nation, serious self-promotion had once been seen as a necessity. It still had its benefits and the Nation continued to have extensive interactions with the media. The relationship was no longer as reckless as it had been though and the soldiers all knew this had only come about after the Nation lost the General’s husband and his unit in the war. There had never been absolute proof, or at least none that the Nation allowed to exist after the fact, but the almost universal belief was that the imbedded NNS reporter had somehow leaked the unit’s position and compromised their mission. The true cause may have been plausibly deniable, but the end result sure as hell wasn’t. Her husband’s unit had been ambushed and wiped out so quickly that they probably never knew what hit them. The journalist hadn’t been with them on the mission for some reason that was difficult for him to explain away afterwards, but the media monsters protected him like he was a hero who had miraculously survived his unit’s destruction. He had survived all right, but it was far from a miracle. The initial investigation had hinted at the true cause, but had abruptly been shut down. By the time anyone was able to investigate why it had been terminated; any evidence that would have led to the cause was reportedly not to be found. The captain had only been a kid at the time, but he remembered it like every other Apache who had been alive during the Middle East War. He could still see the image of the General on the news back then, although she was younger and a captain at the time. She had pushed for more to be done, but she didn’t have the power then that she had as both a General and a Council member currently, and the event had faded into the past for most people outside of their Nation.
The captain ordered the remaining soldiers to ready the mobile command center to move out and then got to work himself stowing away anything that they had used while there that wasn’t nailed down. There wasn’t much, but order was the military way and it was never worth the risk of coming across a higher-ranking officer in a really bad mood.
They were actually road ready in a few minutes with most of the command center’s components being automated. The jumbo tires on the rig then pulled the command center out of the muddy field like it was an empty cardboard box. The Jaagés weren’t doing as well with a couple of the media vans, the news crews having buried them even deeper in a frantic effort to follow the General earlier as she whipped out of the field. The soldiers were now to the point of using two Jaagés at a time to drag the last vans out and the first media crews to be pulled out were laughing and filming the spectacle like they had never been stuck themselves. With the power of two military Jaagés in tandem potentially capable of ripping a van in half, the event was pretty entertaining to the soldiers as well and it was over before they had gotten a chance to enjoy it enough. What they were heading to would be light duty though, so they were still happy as they hit the old road in route to the search.