Following a lag of several days, the fallout from the General’s revelations to the Council was starting to accumulate. She assumed they had to perform analyses of their own potential danger due to the Apache breach in security. She had really expected an earlier backlash, but she guessed the other tribes and nations lacked the Apache Nation’s well-practiced abilities in terms of risk assessment.
The General had returned to El Paso in the mean time, and what was the central base of operations for the Apache Nation. The first representative to contact her two days before represented the Cherokee tribe of the Cherokee Nation. In light of their complex business dealings around the world, they probably had risk management equivalent to that of the Apache, but for other reasons, of course. Interestingly, Paul Endelphin was also the chief executive officer of the company that designed and produced the Apache Nation surveillance satellites, Syndot. She actually knew him fairly well as a result, and had been on good terms with both him and his company since the surveillance project was first envisioned. The key point here was that she had an equally involved, and almost forgotten on her part, ally in the mess. Her only hope was that his self-serving interests wouldn’t tip him out of his own spot on the Council.
As expected due to the Apache and Cherokee joint interests in the current situation, Paul presented her with the full support and assistance of the Cherokee tribe and probably other southeastern Nations if needed to negotiate the current political minefield. The offer was significant, to say the least. The Cherokee tribe was the wealthiest tribe in the wealthiest Nation of the Intertribal Council. Their interests spanned the globe and exceeded most of the other major world powers as well. Businesses held by the Cherokee tribe produced most of the Apache Nation’s military equipment and supplies, including those that were held as extremely confidential such as the weapons systems. The resulting collaboration between the Apache and the Cherokee was well known to the other tribes, and possibly envied by some. As she had noted before, she would defend the Cherokee with her life, the reasons being more complex than simple intertribal protection.
Although the Apache Nation had several other strong ties, not all of the tribes felt kindness towards them. Regrettably, they maintained enemies within the Council. The animosity generally remained sub-threshold, but occasionally rose to the surface to cause turmoil in the Council. Prominent among this group was the Pima tribe. Having briefly described the history of the Apache, the problems with the Pima dated back to the Spanish days of the southwest. The Pima had never truly recovered from the effects of Spanish rule and subjugation. A great deal of their tribal identity was swallowed up by the forced civilization, tribute, and Christianization by the Spanish invaders. In the days following the defeat of the Spanish, even at their own hands, the Pima seemed to suffer a great loss. Add this to the Apache’s former hostility towards them while they were affiliated with the Spanish, and you had the makings of a centuries old problem that may never be effectively resolved. The General actually believed they would have ultimately preferred Spanish rule to what they had now become, mere shells of their proud Hohokum ancestors. But who was she to say, never having been a member of their tribe.
Another relationship that the Apache had never been able to repair was that with the Comanche. Early on, the Spanish played the Apache against the Comanche in hopes the two tribes would eliminate each other. This deviousness by the Spanish seemed to have caused permanent and irreparable damage to the tribal relationship. In spite of the Apache alliance with the Comanche during both the defeat of the Spanish, and the suppression of the European invasion on the east coast, the two tribes never became true allies. Thinking more deeply about it, the Comanche also had Uto-Aztecan roots like the Pima. In spite of this, she still believed the two tribes’ natures were too similar and therefore aversive to an alliance. The Apache and Comanche occasionally had short bouts of cooperation afterwards, but all in all, the problems ran too deep.
This being explained, the most hateful and derogatory response the General had received to that point came from the Pima representative who also claimed he was acting on behalf of the Comanche representative. She could relate nothing even remotely beneficial from the interaction, and consequently would relate nothing at all. Needless to say, the Apache Nation would continue to protect them because they were part of the Intertribal Council and they had contracts.
The other thirty-plus responses to that point had been a mixture of positive and negative spanning the spectrum between the above extremes. There were many yet to come, and she anticipated a similar ratio of good and bad among them. The political aspects of serving as tribal representative pretty much ruined the job from her perspective.
During the course of the previous few days, Intelligence had sufficiently analyzed a large portion of the current data. With the addition of extra manpower in the form of Cherokee computer analysts provided by Syndot, they had also been able to locate the supposed entrance point used by the hacker. The backdoor had been closed, and Syndot was working to insure the encroachment would never happen again. Apparently, the hacker had been extraordinarily intelligent and sophisticated in his methods. Syndot indicated that only a few hackers known to them in the world were capable of the task, and each was known to work for anyone as long as they were paid well enough. They suggested a clandestine request for similar needs would draw out at least a few of the hackers if the proposed compensation were high and also untraceable. They also agreed to assist in the venture, if it was undertaken.
Intelligence also worked through the crime scene data from the ambush site, and obtained nothing useful. Again, the killer left no trace evidence at the scene. Detailed attempts to pull a facial recognition from the satellite data also failed, mostly due to the killer’s supposed mask. Even the efforts to convert extrapolated data from around the mask into a usable face for the recognition software were disastrous, leading even once to a confirmed ID of the killer as Gandhi. As the General noted before, the satellite surveillance had its limitations.
Another interesting piece of information that remained in question involved the spraying of the sergeant’s Jaagé with automatic weapon fire. The motive for this was completely unknown. The sergeant had most likely been dead long before the killer arrived at the burial ground. The sergeant’s weapon was then left at the site partially buried in sand. Excavation around the weapon prior to its removal for processing revealed nothing of value. The weapon was also found to be functional, and the ammo fired at the vehicle came from that specific Ochnar-75, a compact automatic weapon fitted with a 75 round quick-change clip. The Ochnar-75 was issued routinely to Apache soldiers, and the one at the site had 53 remaining rounds in the clip. After the Jaagé was analyzed for trace evidence, prints, etc., the vehicle was started and operated as if undamaged. This evidence suggested purposeless violence and destruction, aspects that did not fit with the General’s previous statements regarding the efficiency of the killer’s behavior.
The pieces of the puzzle, and here she literally meant pieces, that she was most interested in were the small squares. The number that was stated earlier had not changed, even after further excavation of the burial grounds by the captain and his team. In addition, none were left at the ambush location. The seventeen pieces had been sent to Intelligence for evaluation, and their presence explained why the General made the trip to El Paso. It was difficult for her to conceal her interest in the little bits of evidence. Basically, they were the only things that had been collected from the killer. Considering his meticulous ability to act without even leaving trace evidence, their existence at the burial ground indicated they were of incredible significance to him.
On first glance, the General understood why the captain had almost overlooked the little things at the burial ground. They were indeed small at approximately half a centimeter in length and width, and were also the color of old bone. The color difference between them and the Sonoran sand at that location was negligible, and would have camouflaged them, particularly if they electrostatically attracted dust particles. Viewing them while they were spread out on blotting paper and under bright lights, she did see a tiny collection of dust surrounding each of the pieces. The squares had not yet been cleaned due to concerns regarding their makeup.
“What are your immediate plans for these?” She asked the tech who basically stood guard over the pieces.
“Well, Sir, I believe the first thing we are going to do is look at them with a low power microscope. We may be able to observe details not visible to the naked eye.”
“Excellent, Captain! When do you begin?”
“Right now, General, if that is your order.”
“Not particularly an order, Captain. Call it a request.”
“Yes, Sir.” The captain said smiling.
A few minutes later, the captain had collected a dissecting scope from the storage shelves and attached a video camera to record magnified views of the pieces. Without hesitation, he adjusted the magnification, turned the camera on, and gently slid the blotting paper holding the squares onto the platform of the scope. Pretty unceremonious for such significant evidence, she thought, but then she didn’t know exactly what she had expected.
Watching the captain as he slid the blotting paper around on the platform to view each piece individually, she felt a small amount of anxiety gather in her chest.
Abruptly, the captain stood up and said, “I’m sorry, General.”
Startled, she stepped back.
“I forgot to hook up a monitor for you to watch while I studied the evidence.”
“Oh.” she said, feeling a small sense of relief for some reason. While the captain went off to gather the other equipment he needed, she took the opportunity to look at the objects under magnification. After about a minute of staring into the scope, she gave up. All she could see was seventeen dirty little bone colored squares. They all looked more or less the same, with some being dirtier than the others as their only difference.
After this major let down, the captain returned with a cart containing a monitor and cables. He didn’t seem to notice her disappointment, so she kept her mouth shut and watched him prepare for her to observe his work.
The first thing she noticed on the monitor was that the objects seemed larger, and therefore she was more likely to catch any useful details. The second thing she noticed was that they still looked like dirty little bone colored squares. Pessimism was one of her strong points.
From a small leather pouch, the captain produced a collection of little tools, and the first of these he used was a very small brush. At that point, he began at the edge of one of the little squares and carefully brushed the surface clean. Unfortunately, the amount of time he spent on cleaning one miniscule fraction of the square’s surface proved to be prohibitively slow for the General’s attention span. At the rate he was working, the little blocks would be clean in about another month or two.
“Captain, if you identify anything interesting, have me paged.”
Lifting his eyes from the scope, the captain nodded his understanding stating, “Yes, Sir,” and returned to his work.
She would check back later if she didn’t hear anything. Whatever the squares were, they were still high on her list of importance to the investigation. With any luck, they would provide a clue to the killer’s identity.
The Intelligence Services Complex was only a small section of the massive Apache Nation military presence in El Paso. This had evolved over time, and she didn’t believe it had been originally planned to occur.
As noted in their history, the Apache were primarily nomadic early in their arrival in the southwest. Even following the creation of the Intertribal Council, the Apache way of life remained relatively unchanged in that respect for some time. The need for their help at various times and in various parts of the Intertribal Council’s domain even after the suppression of the Europeans prolonged their wandering, even while some of the other tribes, such as the Navajo, were beginning to settle down and advance their particular ways of life. During that time, the Apache had relatively little to store, nothing in terms of organized training, and no hierarchy of command. Entire extended families remained together as traveling bands, and each band determined its own course of action on an almost day-to-day basis. The bands were not exactly small, however, and they grew quickly as they traveled. Individual bands frequently grew to be the size of independent tribes, but somehow managed to act in unison with other bands during the extended period of conflict.
For reasons unknown to the General, the Apache had previously separated into regional sub-tribes in the southwest that were almost as distinct as the Apache were from the Navajo. At that time, they existed as the Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, Western, Chiracahua, and Kiowa Apache. Over the course of about 175 years, the various Apache bands slowly coalesced into a uniform tribe containing bands from all the major early geographic subdivisions. The accumulation in unified numbers that occurred during these years brought with it a greater need to also establish a home in one primary location. With the gradual stabilization of North America, the Apache were able to filter back into their earlier homelands, the southwest. No longer constantly on the move, they began to develop a more stable military structured similarly to that of the Europeans. This process was accelerated greatly by the knowledge and abilities of the immigrants that had joined with them over the course of their previous nomadic life. As a result, the Apache Nation grew in strength and stability in the El Paso area to become the world-recognized power that it was now.
The General’s quarters in the military complex were relatively well furnished even though fairly small. She lived alone, having lost her husband during the Apache’s most recent military conflict in what was called the Middle East, a region of southern Asia and northern Africa. The loss was twenty years in the past now, but she guessed she had never really recovered from it.
Over the intervening years, she rose in rank faster than most due to her extensive past combat experience and shrewd decision-making. She was now one of many generals in the Apache Nation’s military, most of which were scattered among their bases around the world. She was fortunate to have gotten one of the El Paso postings. Her responsibilities there were fairly light due to both her Council representative status and the relatively low peacetime need of her services. She probably also owed it to the Apache’s long-standing interest in keeping families together. Both her son and her daughter were stationed in El Paso now due to their advanced technical knowledge and abilities.
The Apache weapons research facility sat among the already mentioned sections of the military complex in El Paso. In alliance with multiple Cherokee corporations located nearby, the research facility kept some of the best and brightest close to home. Being of high rank, the General was privy to most of the offensive and defensive projects ongoing at any time there. In the previous few years, she had seen the development and production of many wondrous and very deadly devices, the least of which not being the satellite system she had already described. Surveillance, although important, was only a minor component of their global satellite network. The effort and expense of placing a dozen very large satellites into geosynchronous orbit basically put the additional requirement of multitasking ability into the planning process. Their military focus led to the production of massive orbital weapons platforms also capable of surveillance and communications.
When the time for launch came, the Nation revealed only the communications aspects of the satellites to the greater part of the world, and then, mostly to justify their presence in orbit. There were many other satellites up there, after all, and too much detail tended to alarm the public. Since launch, only the minor functions of the system have been utilized. In a show of great, or possibly misguided, trust, the Nation has never put the weapons systems to test since they were put in orbit. Secrecy, diplomacy and plain old card-up-the-sleeve contingencies also play a part unfortunately.
With the return to her quarters for the first time in over a month, the General had the opportunity to try relaxing for a change. The thought was irrational of course. Whether it was her nomadic Apache blood, or a fear of growing moss on her backside, She hadn’t ever been good at ‘taking it easy’ as some people called it. She thought she must have hit the ground running the day she was born. Today was no exception.
The return to her quarters did, however, avail her of the new technologies added to her system while she was away. High command did have its privileges, particularly when they were duty related. By this, she meant the advanced communications links just installed with instant connect video capabilities. She now had the capacity to immediately contact any base or facility in the Apache Nation no matter where it was in the world and communicate with full visuals. The technology was powered by the satellites and would be useful while she was in her quarters. With the exception of this day, she would probably rarely use this particular setup. She practically never stayed in her quarters. Elsewhere, she did use it almost daily.
Without another thought, she spoke loudly at basically nothing. “Video on. Connect to Intelligence, Lab 14.”
Instantly, she had a view of the entire interior of the lab from slightly above eye level. Only two people were already present and working at that hour. Really, the only one she wanted to talk to was Captain Daniels, the tech working on the squares. Fortunately, he was one of the two in the lab, but appeared too busy to notice the large wall screen had lit up with the General’s face in its center.
“CAPTAIN DANIELS.” She said loudly.
Startled, the captain practically jumped out of his skin, hitting the scope with his hand as he looked up.
“General, I didn’t realize you were connected.” He responded with a slight flush of embarrassment coming to his face.
Smiling, she recalled his abrupt move that had similarly startled her the day before.
“Have you uncovered anything of interest?”
“Well, Sir, not really. That is unless you’re interested in a set of nicely polished, perfectly shaped chips of material that appears to be bone.”
“So far, General. I worked late into the night, and managed to clean eleven completely and carefully examine them. None of them have markings or other features that would particularly distinguish them from each other at this point.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, Sir, I guess not.”
“How can you tell if they’re really bone?”
“I’ll have to take a microscopic section to absolutely ID the material.”
“Is that necessary?”
“Finish cleaning the other pieces, and I’ll check back again later.”
“Yes, Sir. What about the section?”
“Hold off for now.”
At that, she cut the connection to the lab manually. She still believed the squares, or chips, as the captain called them, were important. She also still had hope that some of them might have identifiable features. Her hope was fading, however, and she suspected the captain would ultimately have to cut one up.
The large wall screen also had a wall-mounted tuner so that it could be used as an entertainment device. Settling into a chair, he decided to watch the world news on the Nationwide News Service. NNS had effectively been developed by the Intertribal Council to provide unbiased coverage of world events. Unbiased was a questionable concept, but in general, the news did capture a large percentage of the major happenings from around the world. Notably, events that could impact the Council or any of the specific tribes were the most frequently and intensely discussed.
The first story or part of a story in this case, focused on the turmoil currently evident in the Intertribal Council. News agencies were not allowed in the Council Chambers, but could wait outside for interviews of the representatives. She hadn’t seen any when she left the Chambers, but she was sure there were at least a few in the building. There almost always was. It wouldn’t have taken much to get their attention, and the noisy chaos that day probably drew them in like flies.
At that point, several days after the Council meeting, the newsagents were basically trying to get update interviews from the scattered representatives. Few appeared to be talking, but then everybody else may have given interviews shortly after the meeting. She had no idea, because she never watched the news, and they all knew she never talked to reporters. If anything major were currently going on with any of the representatives, the story would still be hot. By the look of this news segment, the topic was already in a downward spiral. The lack of contacts from representatives the day before had also pointed in that direction.
Refocusing her thoughts on the news, the next story immediately caught her attention. With growing horror, she listened to the announcer intently. There had been a murder in the Cherokee Nation’s territory. A small boy playing in a wooded area stumbled across the body, and his parents had quickly notified the local authorities. The boy and his parents were all very upset in the interview, and a little difficult to understand. According to the reporter at the scene, the site team had just arrived and was beginning a thorough investigation. A short clip of the interview showed the boy, probably about four or five years old, saying “it don’t got no hair”. That was all they showed of the boy. The reporter confirmed that she had seen the body briefly, and the hair had apparently been removed. She also believed she had seen bone on the top of the head, but this seemed unlikely to her and was probably a trick of the light. The announcer then came back on, and stated they would show follow-ups as they gathered more information.
There had to be something more to the story to gain immediate attention from NNS. Murder was relatively common throughout the Intertribal domain, and only unusual or sensational cases generally made it onto the Nationwide News Service. Although unconfirmed, her fear was that another scalping had occurred. It seemed possibly over reactive, but it was still the feeling that had crept into her gut. The sergeant’s death was eating at her, she decided. She would have to wait on more details, and her current reaction would probably seem ridiculous in the long run.
Leaving the tuner on, the General worked on getting ready to leave her quarters again. It didn’t take much effort. She traveled light, and kept what personal items she needed at several of the places she stayed most frequently. The military or the Council generally provided everything else.
While waiting for responses to the Council meeting during her stay there, she had also managed to meet with several local tribal officials from the Apache Nation. They mostly wanted to discuss the issues brought up by the various representative interviewees from the other tribes. What this amounted to was a concern for the financial interests of the tribe. Since a large portion of the Nation’s income came as a result of its military, would the breach in security affect the bottom line?
Unlike the militaries of other world powers, a central governing agency such as the Intertribal Council did not control the Apache Nation’s military. It functioned on a contract for services basis, and no country in the world was its equal. All of the Intertribal Council Nations paid for their services, as did many of their allies to one extent or another. The Nation’s military services were not cheap, but she would have guessed they were far better and less expensive than anything the individual Nations could have provided for themselves. The Apache military were specialized after all, and they dealt almost exclusively in that specialty.
The Apache military focus left other Nations the opportunity to focus their attentions and resources on other important aspects of their own specialized trades. This system would have been impossible to implement in the early days of the Intertribal Council due to the independent natures of each of the tribes. All were used to caring completely for their own needs by whatever means they had each developed, and trust was clearly a major issue. But centuries of intertribal peace along with constant mingling of the tribes had generated trust in the Apache’s abilities as well as their honor. The other tribes had basically learned that the Apache would not take advantage of their military might and had cultivated their own aptitudes into successful means to support their people.
As a result of the security breach, the tribes of the Intertribal Council had reason to worry about the Apache’s abilities. They alone stood watch and protected the others’ interests. Should the other Nations change decades of near single minded focus on other things, or continue to contract for Apache services?
To the General, the answer to them all was fairly simple. There was no way they could develop effective militaries in the short term due to a long list of reasons. Generating and maintaining a military was expensive, very expensive. Training soldiers took time, and a fairly established and rigorous system. Development of new military oriented technologies was also costly, and required a certain expertise in fields that were otherwise of minimum use. Diversion of manpower and other resources would detract from their current interests. This would reduce their financial ability to both sustain a military, and more importantly, survive. Other, less important factors also came to her mind, but the major points were significant enough to calm the local leaders. She believed also that the other tribes in the Council had come to similar realizations over the previous few days. Ultimately, nothing would change.
What still bothered the General was the possibility that aspects of the sergeant’s murder had been engineered to cause turmoil in the Intertribal Council. Infighting in the Council, a sign of broader intertribal hostility, could potentially bring an end to centuries of relative intertribal peace. Like the continued and centuries old problems the Apache had with the Pima and the Comanche, most other tribes had their own intertribal issues. Some of these conflicts flared up to be newsworthy at times, and took little provocation. As an adjunct to their usual duties, the Apache military had assisted local militias several times in maintaining the peace. It generally never got that far, but agitants arose in almost all societies at one time or another and the current one was no exception.
Of course, the scalping and sacred ground violations that caused her to call for the Council meeting should have worked in the opposite direction and led to greater unity. When the meeting had been initially called, she felt a sense of universal fury from the other representatives. They had all, in their not so distant pasts, suffered similar atrocities. Had she not revealed the satellite breach, the outrage would have continued towards the outside where it justifiably should have remained. But that took her back to second-guessing… What was done was done… She had shown continued honor and respect for the other tribes by her revelations. In the long run, she had to remember that fact.
An hour and thirty minutes later she decided to call the local law enforcement agency covering the new murder in the Cherokee Nation. She hadn’t seen anything new reported by NNS, other than their usual speculative bull. Although a long shot, her gut told her she had to assess the situation anyway. Ignoring gut feelings usually led to regrets, and she had enough of those to keep her occupied for a while.