Chapter 130 – Picking Up The Pieces
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Cassandane returned only fifteen minutes before the operations team. She debriefed all of them with clinical efficiency, first praising the veterans of the Pittsburgh battle in a neutral tone, then offering the briefest words of encouragement to the disheartened group from the capital. Once she had a general idea of the situation, she released the troops to personal time and called the senior leaders meeting to order.

Sam had barely sat down in their meeting room when Mike dropped the question on everyone's mind. "Where were you today? We really could have used you, boss."

"Surveying our new base. As you learned today, the relationship between the EDA and our host nation is not stable. My intention is to move us at the end of the next training cycle."

"Move to where, exactly?"

"Nunavut, Canada."

Sam rubbed at her temples. "Is it going to be cold there?"

"Extremely cold," Cassandane said. "But we will be far from any vulnerable civilian population and harder for enemies to reach."

Mike cleared his throat. "We lost a soldier."

Cassandane nodded. "An inevitable consequence in this profession. Soldier Woodrow Robinson will not be the last of us to die in battle. His family will be compensated for their loss."

"Nope," Varanelli said, "according to his will, he left only a single dollar to them. Woodrow held the opinion that his kids had already taken their inheritance. Especially the son."

"That is unfortunate for them," Cassandane said. "Our priority at the moment is planning the move to Nunavut."

"Our priority should be teaching the entire EDA our classified techniques," Mike said. "Today's tragedy could have been avoided."

For a moment, Cassandane's placid features crinkled into annoyance. Then it was gone. "We can spend five minutes discussing the events of today. Go ahead and make your case, Mike."

"My case? What the fuck, Cassandane? Woodrow was one of us."

"I am aware of the fact."

"He didn't have to die."

"Very rarely does a soldier die under circumstances that are strictly necessary. Battles, unfortunately, are not fought with foreknowledge of the outcome of every choice. We make the best decisions possible with the information we have at the time. The death of one soldier in exchange for the lives of approximately twenty enemies is not a terrible outcome. If I had the foreknowledge that an attack would happen today, I would have been with your team. If you had the foreknowledge that your team would be in trouble, you could have altered your strategy. Perhaps if we had trained the operations team in corona wrestling they would not have lost a life. Then again, corona wrestling as a skill almost requires mindvasting to be effective. It might not have altered the outcome at all.

"My overall assessment is that the EDA did good today. It could have done a little better. It could also have done a lot worse. We cannot afford for members of our organization to become emotional at every death. We have many enemies. Nallit and the terrorists he trains. The Fleet. Nations who oppose the existence of the EDA. The Chekowan when they arrive. We will lose a lot more lives. If you think that is a reason to become despondent, then let me remind you that our mission is the preservation of this planet."

Sam glanced around the room to see how the others were taking the confrontation between Mike and Cassandane. Jimmy and Erica, much like Sam herself, looked like kids caught between mom and dad having a fight. The tension built, then Mike hunched down with his arms crossed stubbornly in the pose of a man ready to surrender if he could receive a minor concession to assuage his dignity. "I trust every single person in the EDA with my life. I want to teach them everything."

Cassandane's nod almost defied perception. "Very well. All current kinetics may be trained in corona wrestling. Inform them that this information is classified and that there are grave consequences for disclosing it. The non-kinetics do not have permission to learn the existence of the techniques. They will be limited to the knowledge that kinetics are receiving special training to combat other kinetics. Any future EDA recruits will need to be explicitly cleared before they can be trained in corona wrestling."

"And what about the other classified techniques?"

"Teach the teleotics full body hardening under the same restrictions. As far as metabolic hacking is concerned, I don't think anyone is skilled enough to learn the technique yet, with the possible exception of Sam."

At the mention of her name, Sam froze. She did not want to be part of this exchange. After her dismal performance as a leader, she didn't think she should even be involved in these meetings.

"Have we adequately addressed the issue?" Cassandane did not wait for a response to her query before she turned to the next topic. "Going forward, the priority of the operations team is preparing for survival in arctic conditions. I selected a site on Ellesmere Island that is hundreds of miles from any human settlement. It is quite harsh there."

Sam raised her hand. "Why are we going to the arctic?"

Cassandane tilted her head as she looked at Sam. "We are going somewhere that our enemies will have trouble reaching and there will be little risk of civilian casualties."

"You know I'm from California, right? I mean, Northern California, but that's still not snow country."

"I have faith in your ability to adapt, Sam. Mike and Jimmy, I expect you to spend the next several days researching affordable housing options. We will need a battery system to power the camp, but don't bother with electricity generation. We can use the teleotic talent to recharge the batteries. We will also need insulated facilities to store and dispense water for bathing and cooking. Figure out how to create a cheap water distillation setup that uses the kinetic talent as a heat source. And plan to purchase a lot of grow lights, because I believe I can excavate garden caves from the walls of EDA Valley."

Sam watched as Varanelli scribbled down notes. The woman turned to her and made an eek expression before jotting down another insane requirement -- a sewage treatment system that could compost human waste and food scraps. She squeezed her eyes shut and did her best to pretend she was back on the Angelship, taking care of Cabbaginos in a peaceful, warm building alongside the other women.