chapter three
Part One

The chime was unusually early, and unusually different from her wake up call.   She tried to roll over to tap the snooze but couldn't, at first she couldn't remember why that would be.

Victoria Wells eventually opened her eyes and stared, past the silk drapes framing her floor to ceiling window, at the city skyline, while a string of vehicles made their way over the city in the Executive Toll skylanes to their various destinations.

She knew from the light streaming in her window that it was at least Seven AM which didn't explain the alarm that continued to bleat.   She hadn't set it, certainly not with that bizarre rhythm.

Finally, tired of the sound, the dull throbbing it created in her head, and the overly brightness of the sunlight, Victoria rose from her bed, letting the silken sheets cascade from her body.

She shuffled across the warm floor, to the window first, tapping the activator that drew the blinds, oblivious to the fact that she was not only nude, but perfectly lit in the stark sunlight, and visible by anyone who happened to be at their window in the buildings opposite hers.

Victoria didn't care.   She was a true 23rd centurion, and certainly the least likely person to have any confidence issues.   If the overweight writer across the street, who always seemed to be glued to his window, enjoyed the view, it didn't matter to her.

What did matter was that the light was now a fraction as bright as before and she could open her eyes and look around the room to try and find the source of that incessant noise.

It was, it turned out, her Link.   Sitting on the end table, on the far side of her bed.   The side beyond the lump in her bed which she then remembered was Svend, or Bjorn, or David.   His name wasn't important either.

Victoria went around the bed and picked up the Link, muting the beep and toggling the volume down, way down, before activating it.

Commissioner Maxwell's name was on the display, along with a video image of the grizzled old bird.   She held the link up to her ear, automatically trigger it to both low volume privacy and voice only reply.

"Yes, Commissioner?"

"Did I wake you, Vicky?"

She bristled at the familiarity that Maxwell felt was his right.   It was none of his business whether she'd been up or not quite frankly and she didn't like the abbreviated version of her name that he continued to evoke.

The Commissioner had seen her talking up Svend, or Ripley, or whatever his name was at the party last night.   But he had also left earlier than she had.

The dirty old fart was hoping to glean gossip from her, as usual.   She almost didn't participate but somehow through the fog came the reminder that Maxwell had connections she needed from time to time to do her job properly.

"I would've had to have slept first for that to be the case."  She purred.

"Been up the whole night again?"   Ah, the old man was predictable, wasn't he?

"Not as much as he was."  It was a clumsy innuendo but the best she could do through this mental climate.   "What can I do for you, Commissioner?"

She could hear the old goat chortle on the other end.   Were he half as witty as he thought himself a retort which might have led to sexual harassment charges would've crossed his lips.

"I've been asked to assemble a Committee on Buffalo Commons."

Three expletives collided in her mind, each hoping for release at the same time.   As Resident of the WestCan mission, the Great Plains territory of Buffalo Commons was technically under her jurisdiction, but the place was a wasteland and no where near comparable to the penultimate luxury of 23rd Century Calgary.

Victoria held her breath, hoping against hope she wasn't going to hear what she feared most.

"They're recommending Military intervention, maybe even a full Peacekeeping Force."   That would be a tough sell Victoria thought, particularly under the current political climate.   Then again, changes were afoot.

Maxwell continued, "We need a full Intel briefing pronto."

"On Buffalo Commons?"  Victoria was incredulous.   She new about the problems but nothing was in place.   From the dailies she knew that they'd only just begun putting together assets for the region.   Even the LIVE EYES were stretched to the limit trying to gather intel on that place!

"Contact Fiche and whoever else you need.   And be prepared to set up a mission inland.   Looks like Rapid City is going to be COD".  COD was insider speak for Center of Deployment.

The line went dead and Victoria's jaw hung slack as she moved back to the window and parted the blinds enough to peer out.  She had no idea where Rapid City was but one things was for sure.   It wasn't Metro-Calgary.

* * *

"What's my target?"

Fiche smiled, it was so nice to speak with someone who knew the game as well as he did, well almost as well.   He missed Victoria.   Pity she had tried to oust him like that, they complimented each other so perfectly otherwise.

But where Fiche was only concerned with getting results, Victoria liked the hunt, the game as she called it.   He couldn't be bothered with soft skills, didn't even like face-to-face contacts, for him it was all about the intelligence.

He paused then.   To think it was just ten years ago that the two of them were recruited by General Browning to form Strategic Intelligence.   Ten years...   How time rushed by as you got older.

She didn't look it though, still as fresh faced as that first day.   Radiant even.   So much for good living keeping you healthy.

No one lived a more hedonistic life than Victoria, at least no one he knew, and yet, looking at her on the display Fiche could almost fool himself into thinking she was still in her twenties, while he looked like he'd been on the receiving end of a harsh desert wind for the last decade.

Must be the stress, he'd have to do something about that one day, work will kill if you let it.

* * *

The Float Display kept pace with Victoria as she moved to her settee and laid back, hoping it wouldn't be for the last time.   She was leaving right after the briefing for the mystical destination of Rapid City.

She put the name in the interface's 'answer box' hoping to learn why such an oddly appropriate name existed for a place the Network would be using as it's base of operations.   She was more than a little disappointed to discover it was named after the nearby Rapid Creek, she didn't need to go any further.

Beside Fiche's image she could see the increasingly massive briefing file scroll by.   With a quick glance here and there she saw why, Information Management was padding the report with everything they could, even century old topographical maps.

It would be the largest file of misinformation in history, and that was saying something.

"We want support for a full PKF."   That got Victoria's attention.   In the nearly 40 year history there had only been thirty peacekeeping missions and none of them had been open lid, no limit operations.   She smiled at this, their timing couldn't have been better, three weeks ago such an idea wouldn't even have been floated in this climate, but all that was going to change soon.

"OK."   She was nodding now, considering how this would play out.   Roth-Mackenzie would go for it in a heartbeat, her family was still pissed about the Heartland invasion a century back.   Odd considering how much it had benefitted them.

Newhaven Senior wouldn't have any problems, war was good for business, so long as it didn't last too long, but Newhaven Junior would be a problem.   She didn't like instability and being on two boards made her twice as cautious.   That would take a bit of convincing too because neither of her concerns were going to benefit from this action.

Then again, the current situation in Buffalo Commons was very unstable, and very close to Rigel operations in southern Alberta.   That might be the swing motion.

* * *