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  PROLOGUE 
 
INTELLIGENCE OFFICE OF UEE ARMY SPECIAL OPERATION COMMAND CENTER (SOCC), UNIT SHIELDHOUND, TERRA SYSTEM, EARTH: MAY 2938 
 
05:45z, SHIELDHOUND COMMAND CENTER, TERRA SYSTEM, EARTH: MAY 2938 
 
HOUNDS attention. Sir, all four hounds present Sir. Four you say Lieutenant?, yes....sir....one new warrant Officer by the name "Mina Hazuki" SIR. This job is about Special Operations and killing the enemy.......it's trouble and death. Don't know why they keep hand picking new meats like you Mina. Don't worry you look good soldier, fresh meat for the Vanduul or a nice slave will do.
 
Seeing the enemy coming, neutralizing the enemy....and causing trouble for others before they cause it for you or your team. On a day when there’s no trouble, something’s wrong....really wrong if you ask me. There’s always trouble for both you and the enemy. You simply haven’t noticed it yet, so you have to seek it out before it comes looking for you while your sleeping in your fart sack at night dreaming about your wild thing. Not today Hounds, today’s a normal day and we don’t have to hunt the Vanduul. LTC Julia Ark has just reported in from the TIBER System. She’s calling off the mission for the time being and she's heading to the Operation Planning Room, it's simple hounds because we have trouble. And where’s my damn hot mocha with whip cream?.
 
09:45z, UEE ARMY SPECIAL OPERATION COMMAND CENTER, TERRA SYSTEM, Earth: MAY 2938 
 
Ark lost contact with her advisor David in the Leir System. One minute he’s spying like a happy high school girl under the noses of his Lier hosts, and the next there’s an explosion with some kind of odd language in the background. Now we’re scrambling to find out what’s happened. The Pirates’s are no fool down in that system. Their commander "The Black Prince Pirate". He invited David to visit him for a good reason and in the interest of the UEE, and if he’s sane, he has to be suspicious of us. Yes, perhaps it’s all part of genuinely wanting to build bridges with UEE, but I can’t afford to assume the best. My job is about planning for the worst in this era, and making sure that it happens—to UEE’s enemies in every system, anyway. My job isn’t about waiting. 
 
The whole point of this mission, the whole raison of the SHIELDHOUND mission, is to make things as a living hell for both the Vanduul and the Pirates as we can, to keep them feuding and fighting each other while we break though and neutralize them once and for all from Lier System. But we have an operative stranded there, a UEE academic, not an experienced UEE Teir one agent like Commander Ark. So she has to extract him. I’d do the same if I were her. TIBER System can wait, after all: it’s been a terrorist haven since before the Vanduul War, and it’s not going anywhere. I think we should just glass that system, that's just me. 
 
So … where’s my mocha? Don’t make me beg, Painter. I hit the intercom. “Painter, are you still alive out there?” “On its way, SIR.....” Lieutenant Painter knows my routine, yes I do commander......This thing still on?. He’s never normally this late with my morning mocha. “Sorry. I got stuck on a call with my wife about having kids Sir.” “I’m not getting any younger and I have a child, YOU Painter.” 
 
He’s a good boy. I couldn’t wish for a better green grass lieutenant. So the coffee is on its way, -sighs- anyway. Let’s take a deep breath and assess the situation. On the plus side, we’ve managed to capture four live Vanduuls, three of which have unique knowledge from the days of the Vanduul Forerunners dating back to the Great War. With their assistance, we’re extracting a treasure trove of Forerunner technology from what’s left of the war and civilization. We’ve also arrested UEE Military top brass four-star Gen. Dr. Reed, who’s now making himself useful by incorporating that technology into SOCC (Special Operation Command Center) data base . He will now do my bidding like a dog he is. 
 
I’d call that a very productive one months’ work. Wouldn’t you? Excellent value for the taxpayer I think. On the down side, though, Davis is potentially in real danger, and by that token so are we. He’s not been trained to resist interrogation or a bitch slap. The UEE data pad he’s carrying won’t be much use to the Pirates if he’s caught, but the last thing I need is for UEE’s destabilization policy to become public knowledge to the systems like some kind of playboy magazine. 
 
And there’s another fly paddling around in the sticky ointment of this mess. There’s no lid on TIBER now that the Vanduuls’s collapsed in that system. The rebels, pirates, and gold sellers can come and go as they please—not just human rebels, pirates and gold sellers, alien malcontents too—and the black market’s flooded with hardware and vessels from TIBER. Everyone’s dusting off their old grudges. We shall be busy very soon you think?. 
 
But on balance … things could be worse. Ark’s doing well: she’s proving good in the field, although I hope she doesn’t get a taste for it. She’s my anointed, my heir, my successor. The office of SOCC will be hers before long, and she has to fill this chair. I have to admit there’s a deliciousirony in having the predecessor of Lisa Ark's head up the agency. SHIELDHOUND is shaping up, too. There’s a lot to be said for a mixed bag of oddballs and young adults who has seen Rambo for the first time. A hand few of Hounds, a wise Commander and a civilian linguist. It’s a strange squad. The best ones always are. Ruthless and loyal, as I said. I like ruthless and loyal, command and control is the key to any tactic operation. 
 
The door opens and Painter trots in, balancing a steaming cup and a small plate with a smile on his face. “Here you go, Sir,” he says. “And... honey roasted cookies. That was the cookies you wanted, yes?” He makes it sound like a strange perversion. It’s hard to find honey roasted cookies these days. “Indeed it was,” I tell him. “Perfect for dunking. I insist you try some.” “Okay, Sir. Thank you.” It’s not just to maintain morale around here you know. This is my conscience intervening. The older I get, the more I find myself imposing affection and generosity on those around me -coughs-, as if that can atone for all I’ve done and not done....why the hell are you looking at me like that Painter?. Anyway.
 
I dunk the cookie in the mocha, hold it in the hot liquid for exactly four seconds, and then remove it with soft golden look from the cookie. This is perfection Painter. Honey Roasted Cookies are baked so hard that in a few seconds they absorb just enough coffee to soften the outer layer, but not enough to make them soggy like a pair of bags on old women.... They yield to the bite, then the interior snaps and gives up its sweet, honey. A lesser cookie would dissolve and sink to the bottom of the cup in surrender. Have a cookie. Forget whatever that junior officers call me in uniform. I regret a great deal. I don’t regret much of the dirty work I’ve done -smiles-, but I think I do regret the SHIELDHOUND program. I regret it not only because it was built on something utterly wrong to just throw lives at the Vanduul, but also—mainly—because the likes of Dr.Reed can only do what they do if the likes of me let them, knowingly or otherwise. 
 
I should have kept a closer eye on him -slams the coffee mug on the desk-. I knew what he was like all this time. I know what everybody’s like in and out of the UEE, just like this dam cookie. That’s my dam job. I can remember far too much, so many things that I wish I could unsee and unheard in the early days of the war. Life’s perverse -pffft-. Most people in their sixties worry about losing their memory, not about being tormented by its clarity in the small hours each sleepless night. But such is power. You get it, then you do things with it, and then you have to live with it all like a bad mark on your head. 
 
I won’t apologize for saving my world from terrorists and aliens because it's my dam job. I don’t owe God any explanations when the time comes for me. Reed’s an atheist, so he can look forward to it all being over, really over, one day I hope. But I’m … agnostic. And the closer to death I get, the more I’d prefer God to exist. I have some questions for him, like God will their be more of these dam honey roasted cookies up there?. I’m great with questions. If he made us in his image, why didn’t he make us nicer, kinder, gentler? Or did he make us like this just to see how vile an organism we could become? -spits on the floor- What kind of person would God would make us?. -throws mug against the wall with coffee flying everywhere- 
 
Painter sticks his head around the door. “Are the cookies okay, Sir?.....UGH HE'S GOING TO KILL ME!” he asks. 
 
“Glorious and thanx for asking, more cookies” I say. “UEE ARMY SOCC put their hands in this so called dam unit "SHIELDHOUND" that Dr.Reed created, UEE ARMY SOCC had better have a supply of these dam cookies.” I tell you Painter, if you can't find anymore of these cookies. You can kiss your balls good bye!.... "YES SIR, I WILL FIND THOSE COOKIES THAT YOU LOVE AND CARE FOR SIR, PLEASE I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE KIDS ONE DAY SIR!".

Edited by CODENAME: レイブン

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