August 6, 2077

Office of Strategic Services headquarters, Fort Meade, Columbia Commonwealth

Jason McArthur looked over the situation map. China, the U.S.S.R., and most Eastern European states were highlighted in red. Most other nations were in orange. The U.S.A., Britain, and most of the Western European nations were highlighted white. The South American and African maps were covered in an assortment of the three colors. Being part of the O.S.S. got you a lot of privileges, and that included otherwise illegal foreign goods. Jason's favorite out of the lot were the Cuban cigars. He brought out a cigar, a piece crafted by one of Cuba's finest Torcedors, and placed it at the corner of his mouth. Using his left hand, he zoomed in on the area around the Columbia Commonwealth.

Using his free hand, he used his guillotine cutter and took a bit of the end of the cigar off. He pulled his old Zippo lighter from his overcoat. Engraved on it were the words Semper Fidelis and the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor—as with most other "special infantry" inducted into the O.S.S., he had started out as nothing but a grunt in the Army or the Marines. More rarely, one would see a particularly talented sailor or airmen join the outfit. Jason lit the cigar, passing the flame back and forth underneath the cut end, and put the lighter away, back into his blazer's pocket. Simply put, what Jason had done to earn entrance into the O.S.S. was simple; he had been with the Marines in Anchorage. During the botched operation, in which he was airdropped in with the intention of silencing the artillery that had been pounding the U.S. soldiers, all of his team mates had died. In spite of this set back, Jason continued on, and stealthily eliminated droves of Chinese soldiers. Once he had made his way to the cliffside, he had single-handedly destroyed the artillery, and then rappelled down the cliff. His actions had earned him the Medal of Honor, and with it, an offer to join with the O.S.S.

Jason enabled the key on the projector. Military installations were small forts in blue. National Guard posts were a wall of sandbags, highlighted green. Missile silos were highlighted in black. Vaults were small vault doors colored in orange, and military fallout shelters were square shelter doors colored in with white. Jason swapped to the "threat view", and saw that "areas of suspicion" were bubbled in with orange, "areas of confirmed threat" were in red, and "areas of confirmed clearance" were in white. Other areas were in grey.

George Paulson walked in with a number of photocopied papers.

"Here you go," he said. George was shorter than Jason, at 5' 8", and was stubby-looking. His cheeks were painted red, and he wore wide, round glasses that never quite stayed on the bridge of his nose. His cheeks—for that matter, most of his features—seemed puffed up, and his hairline was receding. Jason took the stack of papers, blew a healthy cloud of smoke towards George, and read the first one:

From the Office of Strategic Services' national headquarters, the first line read, Addressed to Colonel Jason Stephen McArthur

Giving a snort, Jason flipped through the rest of the papers, occasionally stopping to knock ashes from the end of his cigar. George, after several seconds, waddled away, muttering something about being over-worked. Jason already had an idea as to what the brass wanted him to do, before he had even received his orders. From what he'd seen thus far, most of what the O.S.S. had been relegated to was internal affairs—like the NKVD. What that meant was interrogating people Congress secretly deemed "un-American". The last four pages were a list of potential individuals who may have Communist connections, and their addresses, as well as personal info about them. Height, weight, birth date, etc.

Lucas Gingrich stepped into the briefing room, and glanced at the map for a split second before greeting Jason. Lucas and Jason were wearing virtually the same outfits; slacks, a blazer, and a button-up shirt, all below an O.S.S.-designed overcoat. Outside, both men usually wore a trilby hat.

"Mornin' Jay," Lucas said. Jason grunted, pulling his cigar away from his mouth to return the greeting. It was only 7:00 AM, but it felt a lot later.

"How's life, Lucas?" Jason asked. Lucas was carrying a pint's-worth of black coffee in that big old, stone mug he was always toting. Jason may not have liked coffee and thought it unhealthy, but he didn't have much room to talk—not with that fat, smoldering cigar at the corner of his mouth. Lucas grinned.

"Oh, you know how it is. Regularly torturing and killing innocent civilians. Chasing the ghosts the brass hats want me to," he paused, as if regretting his own decision to join the OSS. "My whole family thinks I'm dead." George reappeared.

"Uh, Lucas?" Lucas nodded. "Yeah, call for you, from one of your contacts. One... Sarah Wells?" Lucas took a gulp from his mug and started walking. Jason followed Lucas out of the briefing room and into a room that was filled, wall to wall, with cubicles. There was a very bold line between the O.S.S. who worked here—civilians, mostly, who demonstrated a large amount of skill at certain non-combat tasks—and those who were field agents. Being an O.S.S. field agent required a great deal of numbness towards human suffering, and disregard for the laws that were established by the government. By contrast, these people tapping away at a computer's keyboard were soft. Very soft. They didn't go through any kind of training, and were never asked to disobey laws or torture innocents for the greater good of the United States. They were allowed to accumulate some weight, and weren't issued a handgun like the field agents were.

Lucas picked the phone up off of George's desk.

"Hello?" he asked. He waited a moment, listening to Sarah Wells' annoyingly high-pitched voice screeching at him. "Ma'am, I think you're overreacting." Lucas said simply, before stopping and groaning as the woman carried on. "They're selling those outfits at the damn costume store!" he snarled, raising his hands at Jason. He rested against George's desk, and let his face fall into his free hand. "Alright, alright! Me and Jay'll take a look," he said with finality, before dropping the phone on the receiver.

"Well?" Jason asked simply.

"Well... what? You know her, that woman is out of her fucking mind, and I rue the day that some asshole," Lucas put emphasis on the last word, making sure it was loud enough for all the civvies in the office to hear, "gave her my name and number. But, I digress. Let's go, my car's just outside." He said, gesturing towards the door. Lucas picked his mug up and lead the way out into the staff parking lot.

The car was a '72 Corvega. It was a big, boxy car with a chrome blue finish. It had Corvega written on the right side of the trunk—which was in the front of the car. The engine, a General Atomics International XCV32 running on Hi-Charge microfusion cells, was located in the rear; it was extremely small compared to the 10-cylinder gasoline-powered cars, but the car itself was no smaller than the designers wanted it to be. Of course, as with nearly every other car, it was based upon designs of the 1950s.

Lucas climbed into the driver's seat—for such a large car, it wasn't very spacious. He started the car and put it into first gear as Jason closed his door. They pulled out onto one of the main roads of Fort Meade, headed towards the gate. The woman lived in Burtonsville, a good distance away, but the roads wouldn't be particularly crowded. Lucas turned the radio to GNR, and a wave of ill-informed propaganda surged out at the two O.S.S. operatives. After getting a salute from the gate guards, the two headed out onto the largest road near Fort Meade, 32. Almost immediately, some simp nearly side-swiped Lucas' Corvega. Lucas laid on the horn, letting forth a string of excessively vulgar endearments.

He gunned the gas pedal—well, it wasn't a "gas pedal" in the old-fashioned sense of the word—and constantly shifted gears. The speed of the Corvega rose with each gear shift as Lucas worked his way from third gear to tenth, and he gained on the man who had nearly iced he and Jason.

"Come on, Luke," Jason protested to the other O.S.S. man's insistence of overtaking his "opponent". The dial hit 125 MPH, and was still climbing. Lucas finally pulled up alongside his competitor. Lucas' opposite was driving an antique Highwayman, a car renowned worldwide for its mileage and its spacious design. Speed was another matter completely; while the Highwayman, especially the newer models, could make zero to sixty in five seconds, the Corvega had always been capable of going from zero to one hundred in the same time, provided the driver was an expert at shifting gears.

The man driving the Highwayman seemed rather tired. Even from twenty feet away, Jason could clearly make out brown rings around the man's eyes. His stubble was rough and unkempt, and his clothes were just as grungy. He didn't even seem to notice the challenge Lucas was offering him, as he was more focused on the road. Finally, Lucas managed to overtake the Highwayman, and a smug look crossed over his face.

"Bastard," he said simply, before pretending as if the incident hadn't happened at all.

Burtonsville, Columbia Commonwealth

Jason and Lucas stood outside of Sarah Wells' home. It was a two-story-tall, cookie-cutter home in a fairly suburban area. All around were houses, each with exactly the same design as Wells' house, and in four basic colors—red, white, green, and blue. Two stories, two bedrooms, three washrooms, a garage, and some appliances. Lucas knocked on the door several times. Sarah Wells' didn't answer, not at first. Only after Lucas had nearly knocked the door off of its hinges did she finally deign to come to the door.

"Whaddaya want?!" the woman screeched as she opened the door. She was short and fat. Her body was covered up with a robe, and her hair, a grainy sort of blond, was full of curlers. Her expression changed when she saw Lucas standing there in the doorway. "Er, come in, please..." she said quietly. Lucas and Jason exchanged uncertain looks. The latter discarded his almost burnt-out cigar on the lawn, and the two entered Sarah's house.

"We're just here to discuss your claim," Lucas began. "Before we get started, I have to say, you're starting to sound an awful lot like the boy who cried wolf. Understand? Practically none of the people we've interrogated on your behalf have brought up leads. Maybe one in a hundred, and I'm not getting paid enough to get a bad rep for bringing up dry leads. It's a waste of my time and the government's money."

Sarah seemed completely undeterred. She gestured to the dining room, and she took a seat at the head of the table. Lucas and Jason stood.

"Do you two want anything?" Sarah asked, gesturing to the nearby fridge. Jason shook his head, and Lucas glared. "Well, you know the Kings' Hotel in, er, Silver Spring? The tall casino building."

"Yeah," Lucas said, "what about it?" Jason looked around as the two others conversed. The house was extremely plain; the walls were all painted in solid colors, and the furniture followed suit. The tables and chairs had practically no embellishments whatsoever, and the floor was concrete covered over by thick browned-by-age carpeting.

"Well," Sarah said, stretching the word as if preparing to go off on some long spiel. "What my friend Frank, uh, Frank Phillips, tells me -- he works there, a bartender -- is that a group of strange people all the way from San Francisco have been staying in the hotel for the last couple months! And they've been acting pretty weird, always on the roof."

"You don't think they could just be tourists? This whole commonwealth is chock-full of history." Jason suggested.

"Oh, no!" Sarah waved away Jason's assertion, "Frank said they were always making calls, and that they were speaking some odd language -- not English, anyways. They also had an accent."

Lucas looked at his watch.

"Oh!" he said, acting surprised, "It's already that time. Me and Jay've got another person we have to meet with today," he said, letting himself out of Sarah's house. Jason followed and quickly closed the door behind him.

As they climbed into Lucas' Corvega, Jason asked, "We have another meeting?" to which Lucas snickered.

"No, you moron. I just can't stand that person," he said, getting out of the suburbs and back onto the highway. "We may as well go off to the Kings' Hotel, though."

"You don't actually think anything's going down there, do you?" Jason asked.

"Well, not really. But in this day and age, who the hell knows? It'd be worse for me if something bad happened and I knew the perpetrators' whereabouts beforehand." Lucas said. Sarah's paranoia—she had reported several hundred people in less than a year, most of them being complete strangers—seemed to be rubbing off on him.

Kings' Hotel, Silver Spring, Columbia Commonwealth

Lucas and Jason stood outside the Kings' Hotel, a highrise of about forty stories tall, looking at the unembellished entrance. It was one of the few well-known casinos on the East Coast, after the Anti-Gambling laws of the 2060s were passed, outlawing all but historically significant casinos, rivaled only by the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. And, so Jason believed, the casino lived up to his expectations of a casino, at least so far as his expectations went—fun games and good drinks were all he wanted if he was willing to shell out thousands of dollars at a casino. Lucas thought they didn't hold a candle to any of the West Coast casinos.

After quickly preparing and lighting another cigar, Jason followed Lucas into the casino. It was day-time, as a matter of fact it was only ten in the morning, so there were very few people in the casino. Mostly it was the employees of the stores getting ready for the night. Friday, after all, was the beginning of the weekend, and as such was one of the more popular times when people wanted to go to a casino. The place was well-lit, and, apart from Jason's lingering cloud of smoke, seemed clean enough.

Lucas headed towards one of the casino cashiers, a young man who didn't seem quite old enough to be in the casino at all.

"Hi, I'm looking for a Frank Phillips." Lucas said. The cashier, who was stocking the registers and checking the stockpiles of chips, gave Lucas a quick, annoyed glance and stepped away from the counter.

"Just one moment, sir," he said, quietly. Lucas grinned, and looked around. He'd been in the Kings' Casino multiple times, but never had he been there when it wasn't crowded.

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