FEBRUARY 19, 2014
CRYSTAL CITY, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES
Colonel Harris propped himself against the wall, near the door, hoping no one in the nearly circular boardroom noticed him. Dimly lit, the room was illuminated partially by dull halogens turned low, and moreso by the disconcerting satellite images projected on the wall-sized screen at the far end. It seemed awfully warm.
Eleven figures sat in high-backed leather chairs around an oak table, ranking officers never before allowed to gather all in one place at one time, men and women whose names Colonel Harris himself had redacted from countless internal and top secret memos.
“Colonel Harris. Files.”
Harris nodded crisply and moved around the table, placing copies of a thick personnel file in front of each officer, careful not to make physical or eye contact with anyone. As he walked back to his place by the door, he suffered a sudden realization and hoped that none of the files had been smudged by the light sheen of sweat coating his palms.
The officers flipped through the personnel file, skimming quickly, picking out the relevant details from amongst the military jargon and blacked-out text. General Keyes, the grey-haired, eagle-eyed four-star running the show, cleared his throat.
“Delta Company, First Battalion, Fifth Special Forces Group,” he said, the only one not bothering to read the file. “The Ghosts. I suspect you’re all familiar with some of their work. I doubt anyone knows about all of it.”
He lifted his copy of the personnel file off the table, flipped it around to display the name at the top.
MITCHELL, SCOTT J.
“Except this man.”
Keyes turned the file, dropped it flat on the table, allowing the solid thwack from its heft emphasize his point.
“Colonel Harris,” said Keyes, turning the conference over for the moment. Harris thought about surreptitiously wiping his hands on his pants, then thought better of it and stepped forward once more.
“The Ghosts have carried out operations in Georgia, Eritrea, Cuba, Colombia, Korea … pretty much every corner, nook, and cranny of the world,” Harris began, then paused, working some moisture back into his mouth. “In the past decade, they’ve more than proven their effectiveness as a single unit working in intelligence-gathering, unconventional warfare, and direct action capacities. The recent decision to give them greater independence in the field, under Major Scott Mitchell’s immediate authority--”
“Skip the PR, Colonel,” a gravel-voiced General interrupted from the far corner of the table. “Why are we here?”
“General Keyes asked me for an assessment of future warfare, sir,” replied Harris. “Given the Ghosts’ effectiveness and high rate of operational success, I’ve recommended an expansion of the specialized program they’ve already prototyped for us.”
“And I believe Mitchell is the man to get it done,” Keyes added.
Murmurs sounded from around the table. The gravel-voiced General spoke up.
“He’s a Major.”
“He can be whatever we want him to be,” Keyes answered.
“That would require some …,” another General chimed in, “non-traditional career pathing.”
“Mitchell’s career’s been anything but traditional,” said Keyes.
“You want to bring him in?” asked gravel-voice.
Keyes eyed each of the gathered officers in succession.
“All the way.”