The Hands We’re Given, Event File 02

Event File 2

File Tag: Situation Assessment

Timestamp: 19:30-4-1-2155 

It was well after sunset when Aidan finally finished filling out the hours’ worth of base assignment paperwork and command invoicing to send to the Regional Hub, escaped back to his room, shut the door and tried to catch his breath.

He never should have accepted this. Him? A base commander? He could barely handle himself. He’d been an absolute mess right before Magnum had dragged him into Command training. Hell, he was still a mess. Training had just made him better at hiding it.

Raking his fingers through his hair, he paced his bedroom. It was too small to provide much room to move, but the floor didn’t creak and he didn’t have a roommate. Better than the room he’d had at the Sector hub. Better than it used to be. He had to focus on that.

How the hell could Sector think he could do this? Him, take the freaking Wildcards and bring them back into line? As a brand new commander?

On the wall, the sketch of his sister fluttered in the weak AC breeze coming through the grating. He watched it blankly for a moment, then turned to grab the data tab off the top of the dresser. He needed someone to talk to before he exploded, before he asked for a transfer on his first day. No one on his new crew was safe to expose his weakness to, and he didn’t want Sector to ship him off somewhere for another filing job or a Grid assignment because he wasn’t fit for command. That only left one person he could discuss all this with.

Well, not exactly a person, but close enough.

His fingers flew across the tab’s surface as he dropped onto the hard mattress, typing in his password, swiping his thumbprint over the reader and letting the tab scan his retina to access the hidden AI program a friend had built for him the last time his depression had really gone off the rails. As the load bar moved, he flicked his fingertip across the surface, activating the holographic projector.

The green light flashed, forming into a shuddering ball. Red and yellow ran through the sphere as the program continued to load. A moment later it was replaced by the holographic image of a young woman with ice-tinted eyes and long, blond hair.

Sometimes, Aidan wondered how much Naomi had changed since she’d posed for the pic Jackson had used to model this psychological health coaching program. He wished he could really talk to his sister. But it was better if they didn’t communicate, the way things were now. The program was better than nothing.

“Hello, Aidan,” the AI program said, her head tilting slightly. “What can I do for you?”

“What the hell am I doing, Omi?” Aidan asked, hearing the hopelessness in his own voice.

“I require more information to analyze the request,” Omi said, her voice a good octave higher than Naomi’s had ever been.

Aidan sighed and ground the heels of his palms against his eyelids. If the program was really his sister, he wouldn’t have to spell it out. But Omi only had the limited processing capacity inherent in the program on his tab. She couldn’t know information he hadn’t entered or events that happened while she was off. He had to spell it out. God that was annoying.

“The future of this whole base is on my head,” he muttered. “If I can’t get them back on track and off the disciplinary rosters every week by the end of the year, Sector’s going to disband them. Destroy what used to be the most successful base we had.”

Omi’s head cocked to the other side. Data flashed across the tablet’s screen too fast for Aidan to read. After a moment, she said, “Location: Base 1407. Nickname: The Wildcards. Disciplinary actions in the last year: one hundred forty-two. Most frequent offenders: Kevin McIllian, logistics and requisitions officer; Janice Danvers, hydroelectrics specialist; Yvonne Flesher, physical requisitions specialist; Lazarus Smith, munitions officer. Between the four of them, eighty-four of the total disciplinary actions. Number of successful missions in the last two years: one hundred ninety-eight. Average number of successful missions per base in this time frame: seventy five. Number of fully completed successful missions in the past eight months: five. Decrease in success rate of Base 1407 in the past year: eighty five percent. Increase of disciplinary issues: one hundred ten percent. Odds of successfully rehabilitating the base-”

“I really don’t need to hear that one,” Aidan interrupted. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. The odds were slim and he knew it. But he couldn’t face the idea of being the commander that let the Wildcards get disbanded.

According to the records, Base 1407 had been started twenty- five years ago as a reconnaissance and research outpost. They’d had the same commander since the base began. Aidan still couldn’t get over that. In this sixty-year old war, he’d never heard of a base commander surviving that long.

According to rumor, the Wildcards had been unstoppable. The stories about missions they’d pulled off, executives they’d disgraced by outing information to the Net, and things they’d invented were legendary. The base had been insane in their success record until the commander who had led them had developed bone cancer. No one had been able to supply the base with the right treatments. In the six months before the man’s death, everything in the unit’s record had gone to shit.

Aidan sighed. If he couldn’t pull this off, Base 1407 would go down in the rule books with one last procedure before they got disbanded. He scrolled over the addendum tacked to the bottom of the file, and Naomi read it aloud.

“Base 1407 is remanded for a six month period of review. It is suggested by this Sector that, should it prove impossible to bring Base 1407 back to full function, this base be used as a case study. Long term bonds formed between personnel and a single commander can, should the commander be incapacitated, become detrimental to morale. In the case of base failure, it is suggested by this Sector that the Regional and-or National Command Council put in place a cap on the number of years a commander may serve on any base.”

“Shit. I didn’t need to hear that either,” Aidan grumbled. “Please rephrase for clarity,” the program stated. Aidan sighed. “Don’t give me any more statistics okay?”

“Okay. Would you like me to continue with an observation?” “Sure.” “Your body heat is elevated and your speech patterns indicate anxiety. You would do well to take several deep breaths and consider the situation. You are not the only one upon whom the fate of this base rests, Aidan,” Omi said, her voice oddly gentle. She reached out to place a holographic hand on his shoulder. “You cannot be responsible for the fates of others. That is their choice.”

Aidan shook his head. “As commander, it’s my job to look after the people beneath me. If I can’t make this work, they don’t have any other options. Neither do I. I’ll end up filing papers for a jackass again when I screw this up. If I’m lucky.”

“As commander you can only do so much. It is not psychologically healthy for you to blame yourself for the failings of your crew.”

Aidan groaned and stood to begin pacing the small room again. “I should be able to make them all succeed again. Pull them together. Something. They did incredible work until Taylor got diagnosed. Then they all turned into rebellious shitheads.”

Omi’s digital laughter was soft. “Your own file is not without signs of rebellion.”

“And how did you get access to my original file?” Aidan spun to face the psychological health coach hologram, folding his arms over his chest.

Magnum had promised he’d sealed the file containing Aidan’s own disciplinary write-ups and the depression diagnosis from before he transitioned, which meant it was off the secured web of decentralized networks the Dusters used. If it was off the GreyNet and off his personal tab, Omi shouldn’t have access to it.

The holographic girl smiled. “Jackson coded your history into my data banks, in anticipation that you would require a companion who fully understood your circumstances.”

“Of course he did.” Aidan groaned and took up his three-step pacing once more. He shouldn’t have expected any different from his former roommate and favorite coder. For the first time in months, he wished the guy had been buried in a grave that he could visit to leave flowers or something instead of being scattered to the winds. Fucking Viper-drone bombings.

He shoved the thought aside. This wasn’t the time to dwell on the past. He was here, with the Wildcards, facing his first command. He couldn’t spend time moping.

“My point,” Omi said after a moment, “is that you have a relatively effortless way of bonding with your new command.”

Aidan threw her a dry look. “Tell them I was assigned female at birth and got written up for self-harm when I realized I couldn’t get help at my home base? That seems like a brilliant idea. Yes, let’s tell them my deep, dark secret and hope they don’t do the same thing everyone else did.”

Silence held the room for a moment, broken only by Aidan’s breathing and the thump of his boots on the prefab floor.

“Perhaps begin by telling them how you disobeyed direct orders to save your friends on Base 46,” Omi suggested quietly. “That may be a better first impression.”

Aidan almost thought he heard his sister’s rampant sarcasm in the voice. But the AI hadn’t been programmed with cynicism.

“I already shot my first impression,” Aidan grumbled. He paused in his pacing and braced himself against the wobbly little chest of drawers. “I asked for coffee.”

The miniature cooling fan in the tab whirred as the holographic projector taxed the system and Omi tipped her head. “I’m sorry, I do not seem to have a protocol against this action recorded. It is a reasonable request. Does Base 1407 have differing protocol that has not been recorded?”

Aidan sighed as he pushed himself away from the dresser and began to unbutton his shirt. The chest binder digging into the skin under his arms was only making everything about this situation worse. At least that was something he could change. Omi was the one person—well, semi-person, he supposed—that he had felt comfortable undressing around since he had begun the hormone treatment.

“Not that I know of. They’re just out of coffee, and I sounded like a selfish jackass asking for it.”

“You had no knowledge of their supply depletion,” Omi said. “You cannot be held accountable for reasonable actions taken in ignorance.”

Aidan resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he shrugged out of his shirt and tossed it on top of the little dresser. “You’d understand if you weren’t just a program.”

He could feel the holographic eyes on his back as he grabbed the hem of the old black binder and worked the coarse mesh up through a practiced series of squirms and wiggles. The fabric scraped across his skin in the usual places, but at least he didn’t get stuck this time. That was embarrassing, even when he was alone.

If this command had worked out, he might have gotten a chance at a real fix for the way his body was. But the chances of that already looked like they were going down the toilet.

“Aidan,” Omi said after a long moment. “You are being foolish.” Despite himself Aidan chuckled. He rubbed the tender spots around his diminishing breast tissue a moment, then dug in the top drawer for his patched pajamas. “When am I ever not foolish, Omi? That’s why I asked Jackson to build you for me. To smack me around when I need it.”

“I do not have the physical form necessary to accomplish such a task.”

“It’s just an expression.” He slipped into his pajamas and retreated to the bed, flopping down with a sigh. He still wasn’t entirely certain how he was going to deal with his new base, but at least the bad binder seam wasn’t rubbing his armpit anymore. “If I’m being so foolish, what do you suggest I do here?”

Omi’s head tilted, the green light that formed her holographic shape flickering. Data flashed across the tab beneath her image. “According to the Democratic State Force Command Handbook, section three, subsection A, ‘a commander’s duty, first and foremost, is to unite their base for a common goal, and to ensure the survival of their unit to the best of their ability.’ I suggest you attempt to do that.”

Aidan ran a hand over his face. “That was already the plan. It’s the smaller steps that are tripping me up. How can I unite them for a common cause if they don’t trust me? How can I make them a functioning base again if they think I’m some dumbass who asks for coffee when there is none? How can I follow my orders when I’ve got a crew of people who actively disobey command and threaten people with wrenches? I’m not going to act like Dad and slap people down, I won’t. But I don’t know how to get these people to listen.”

“You must make them trust you.” More words and numbers sped across the tab’s screen as Omi accessed the GreyNet again. The cooling fan whirred louder. “There is a limited amount of data available about the personnel on this base, beyond their disciplinary actions. Perhaps gathering more information would be wise.”

Aidan dropped his hands from his face to give the hologram a mock-horrified look. “You mean actually talk to them? I can’t do that. Commanders aren’t supposed to fraternize with their subordinates, you know that.”

Omi blinked. “Sarcasm is not advised at this time, Aidan.” Aidan smirked. “Yeah, I know. You keep telling me.” Closing his eyes, he considered the idea. Talk to his crew and get to know them, huh? Aidan could have kicked himself for not thinking of that earlier. It was the easy solution. Figure out the people under his command, what they wanted from a leader, how they needed him to support them. Be there to hold them up, not to smack them down. That was what Magnum had said in training, wasn’t it?

“I’ll schedule some debriefs in the morning. Try to talk to all my officers, at least, and get a better sense of what’s happening here,” Aidan promised as he leaned further back against the cool prefab wall. The thin pillow barely cushioned the small of his back. “Thanks, Omi. That’ll be all tonight.”

The AI smiled just a little. “Good night, Aidan.” He tapped the screen of the tab to shut off the holographic projector. The tab clicked quietly and the lines of code that had been flashing over the screen disappeared, leaving him back at his cluttered menu screen. He made a quick note to schedule meetings with his various officers—Officer McIllian in Logistics and Requisitions, Officer Carlan in Command, Officer Frachette in Finance, and Dr. Corson in Medical at least. Ideally, he’d have a quick debrief with everyone and get to know them a little before taking charge in more than name, but he wasn’t certain he’d have the luxury of that much time.

The officers would have to do for now. Note made, he flipped the tab off completely and lay back, staring blankly at the ceiling. The lights faded into the soft orange of night cycle and he sighed.

One month. He’d agreed to try this crazy idea of Magnum’s for one month. Was he going to last that long? Would the crew actually take to him? Would he be able to pull them together enough to avoid disbanding?

He couldn’t focus on the fear. He couldn’t let himself fall into that dangerous spiral. Then he’d certainly fail.

And he owed it to the Wildcards, to the rest of the Dusters, to at least try.