How to Win Friends & Influence People
Whomever it was that said, “No man is an island”, obviously the source hadn’t ever met a SOG agent.
He might not be alone planetside, but it was close enough to the same. The rest of the SOGs were so scattered, so entrenched and hidden. The support staff was staged off-planet—nearby, but certainly not close enough to drop in for a spot of tea. He was, for all intents and purposes, on his own. Not a single shred of his kit, outfit, or weaponry was traceable.
Plausible deniability. If he got in a bind or fell into Doctrine hands, the Alliance wouldn’t even bother denying he was theirs. He wouldn’t be a blip on the radar. His cover story for being here would be weak, at best, should he be connected with the Alliance.
Given his prowess as a linguist, he could keep them guessing for a while if he were caught. He let the memories of SpecOps training resurface then; the immeasurable time out of time, spent in sensory deprivation in enemy hands, being tortured, questioned, assaulted, abused. His handlers had mercilessly put him through anything and everything, pushed at his psyche, sense of self, and loyalties.
There was one thing they hadn’t done, though. And because of that, he hadn’t broken.
He could still feel the faint scars on his back sometimes, from that final beating, when his handler had gone further than intended out of sheer frustration. They were a web of lines across his shoulder blades; Mike used them as a reminder that where one man had stopped, the enemy who caught him would pick up the reins with gusto, given the chance.
As far as the Alliance was concerned, he had no rank, no affiliation, no serial. He didn’t exist. The only way to determine otherwise would be to scan his skull.
On that tiny sliver of datachip was a code. A ciphered code that only the SOG headquarters had the key for. It linked to a database file somewhere with his vitals, his military record. His birth name.
Andrew Miguel Villanova, age 32 standard years. Sixth-degree black belt. Graduated suma cum laude, Alliance Military Academy. After that, his file degenerated into acronyms, with the layered encryption of secrecy clearances dictating just how much a reader might be privileged to see.
At times, he suspected that even he didn’t have sufficient clearance to read everything in his own file. ADoD was always good for a laugh.
They’d dumped him on this gods-forsaken planet because of his linguistic skills. It had taken a little time to learn the rudiments of Cirrokan, a little longer to pick up the nuances of an authentic accent—but only because he obsessed over the slightest sound. With a little encouragement from Cirroko’s merciless sun, the influence of his mother’s dark skin and his father’s sun-loving complexion had his skin as dark as the natives.
He knew he wouldn’t pass for one of them upon close inspection; too healthy, too tall, too…honed. And the eyes didn’t quite fit. The changeable hazel stayed dark so long as Mike remained calm, cool and collected. Which was why his training came in handy. Look inconspicuous. Look natural. Lie, with every inch of your body. Radiate the belief that you belong, that you aren’t of consequence, that you aren’t worth noticing, and your body language will do the rest.
He’d mastered that particular skill, that being who you believed yourself to be. A little too well, his handlers said. He passed his final test without them realizing it. There was a briefing he wanted to hear, so he walked into a closed session of ADoD’s Joint Chiefs, sat down and inserted himself into the discussion on the state of Doctrine affairs in the Cirroko planetary system. He’d done it so smoothly that none had ever been the wiser.
The Primus Inter Pares, every bit as fooled as the rest of the Chiefs in attendance, had not been pleased. “Get him planetside. Now,” had been the official Alliance response to the detailed explanation of his infiltration. And it hadn’t been a friendly tone, either.
So…yeah. No friends were waiting back there at ADoD, that’s for sure.
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