He awoke to annoyance and sobbing. The former was with himself; the latter, for a change, was not his own.

Fucking idiot, McGee thought to himself. After that stunt, he surely looked like a lunatic. That part he could handle; the problem would be if the message were too easily dismissed with the messenger. Yes, he had listed autonomy among the measures that would have to be a part of the larger plan. But autonomy was supposed to be the means, not the ends. Pushing independence right out of the starting gate would paint all their security and environmental concerns in a very suspicious light; they’d look like manufactured issues to support a grab at a global stage.

But by now, Willie Ortiz was surely gone on his diplomatic errands, and there wasn’t much McGee could do other than hope Willie was a very convincing speaker.

Then, the sound of that sobbing brought him back to the moment. Definitely a female voice. McGee felt concern, but didn’t dare pry. Besides, he doubted she knew he was conscious. How to discreetly alert the other person that he was awake, without her thinking he knew she was crying?

Better think of something, Marine, he thought. Because he had to pee. Now.

He carefully moved a leg, just enough to create a sound of shifting under his blanket, and inhaled loudly through his nose as if just awakening. The sobbing halted abruptly. Good. There was a clearing of a throat and some activity, then the curtain was pulled back.

“Good morning, Sir,” smiled Roos just as brightly as you please, though her swollen eyes gave her away as the source. “It’s zero-six-forty. How are you feeling?”

McGee nodded. “Better. Lots better. Ugh, I can barely believe what an ass I made of myself.”

Roos grinned. “Literally. Half of Valhalla got a look at it,” she snickered. “That was probably the first bare ass most of them had seen in years.”

McGee rose from his bed, and calmly waved Van Rhijn off as she began to react. “It’s okay, Roos,” he smiled. “I just need to use the head before I explode. Er, the washroom.”

She grinned again. “‘Head’ is fine. I speak fluent Navy. I trained with the Korps Mariniers in Norway. Call it the shithuis if you like; I don’t care.”

From behind the bathroom door, McGee’s voice carried interest. “So you were military in Holland?”

“I was a sergeant in the KMar. A gendarme. Sort of like military police, but also like your U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Border Patrol… you Americans have way too many law enforcement services, do you know that? Just have one fucking marechaussee.

She yawned and stretched as a flush and a running sink answered from inside. McGee emerged, still drying his hands. “So how did you end up here?”

“It was the time in Norway. I loved it, even the cold. It was like nothing out of any normal human experience, you know? So when this opportunity opened up, I signed.”

“You like it here, then?” McGee smiled.

“Things have gotten a little complicated the past few days. People don’t even seem to know what to call you, or me, or themselves for that matter.”

Ha! Well there’s Item One for the agenda, I suppose: what to put on the damn stationery. Well, we’re never gonna be anyone’s notion of an army; and I doubt the term would leave a good taste in the local mouths anyway. By treaty, this continent is supposed to be permanently demilitarized.” McGee shrugged and smiled. “I guess your marechaussee is as good a term as any. You haven’t been sitting here waiting this whole time for me to wake up, have you?”

“No, today is my elective workday,” Roos answered, helping him back into bed. “On an elective day I can work anywhere I want, so I chose here. The timing couldn’t have been better, though. Sir, you need a briefing. A lot has happened since your presentation.”

“Yes, Dr. Bell told me. The vote for autonomy.”

She nodded. “Did he get to tell you why opinion shifted in your favor so quickly?”

McGee just stared blankly, and Roos’s face exposed her uncertainty whether to go on. Eventually, she nodded and proceeded with firmness.

“Sir, routine patrols have turned up something… disturbing. You really need to see this.”

Roos took out her mobile phone and paged through some photos. “These were sent to Ops from a patrol about one kilometer out from El Dorado Station.”

There were several photos of a frozen body, in a military uniform, cordoned off and kept in place as found. “We make the uniform out to be Cuban, issued within the past five years. But of course there’s no way to be sure yet whether he’s really Cuban, or military, or whether he was here on any kind of official business.”

McGee nodded. “Do they have the resources for a proper forensic examination at El Dorado?”

“Yes,” she nodded, “and after the vote, El Dorado Station was given permission to bring him in and look him over. We’re still waiting on reports. But there’s something else that needed to be brought to your attention personally. And… quietly.” Roos paged a little further and handed the phone off to McGee, who looked over the new images in confusion. Then again, in disbelief, and finally, outrage.

“God… fucking… damn it… !” he growled, dressing hastily.


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