A Day In the Life Of: A CIC Controller
COG BARRACKS NEAR THE CIC,
“Son, I understand how it feels to be stuck back behind the lines, watching everyone you know going out without you. Having to sit around, playing all those possible tragic events your friends might be going through in your head. So I’m offering you a chance to do something for them, something to keep you sane. Something even I wouldn’t have the patience or skill to do. It’s going to be hard, I won’t lie, but I know only one other person I’d trust to direct my men from the CIC and she’s already there. Think about it.” – Victor Hoffman, offering Donneld Matheison the job of CIC Controller after his injuries.
1900 HOURS, 7 A.E.
Beep, beep, beep, beep.
Lieutenant Donneld Matheison opened his eyes sluggishly, reaching out blindly to hit the alarm ringing so close to his ear. While his conscious mind was struggling to clean the cobwebs away, his body reacted with the precision of countless days of doing the same thing. He swung his legs over from under his one sheet, a luxury these days, and rubbed his gummy eyes. With a yawn to accompany them, his eyes blearily broke through the crusty film and stared down at what remained of his body.
, Matheison thought, as he had so many times before. Where his lower legs had been before, only two stumps remained, cut just below the knee. The loss was something he had gotten over, but it still pained him to think he couldn’t go back into combat alongside the friends that risked their lives daily - which was why he had taken the job Hoffman had offered him three years ago.
Lifting himself off the bed with his heavily muscled arms, Matheison maneuvered himself into the wheelchair that crouched by his cot, its wheels scuffed and dented from the use its owner put it through. He grunted as he fell into it, pushing himself back until he was sitting straight. Grasping both wheels in his hands, he pushed forward toward the stand where his clothes lay, freshly washed and folded. He’d have to thank Anya for that later – the woman was thoughtful, even though she was probably as tired and busy as he was, if not more so.
As soon as he had dressed, he grabbed the headpiece and fitted it over his head, pressing a button on the side to activate it. Static washed in his ears as it initiated itself, the headset almost three years old now. Privately, Matheison was surprised it even still functioned, but there was nothing but the best for the COG.
“Lieutenant Matheison?” a thin, reedy voice asked in his ears as soon as the static faded away. It was one of his assistants, Walter, sounding more eager than anyone in this war had a right to. Still, the man had never seen combat outside of a computer screen, so Matheison didn’t blame him.
“Yeah?” Matheison replied as he stifled a yawn, opening his door and pushing himself into the hallway. The wheels squeaked as he turned and rolled down the hall.
“Oh, good, you’re awake. Prescott’s looking for you.”
“Did he say why?” Matheison asked suspiciously, his eyes narrowing at the thought of the politician. Being the target of the man’s interest was never good for a soldier, so Hoffman had said many a time.
“Uh. No, sir,” the man returned, drawing out the 'n' in 'no' as if he were thinking hard.
“Wonderful. Where is he?”
“In his office, sir.”
“On my way,” Matheison grunted, cutting off the connection and turning a corner. Prescott’s office was a floor up, so he’d have to take the elevator. As he waited by the lift for one of the doors to open, he sighed, looking down at his hands. Instead of the heavy callous he had built up during his many years out in the field, they were starting to look like Walter’s smooth palms, aside from the scars. He’d tried to keep his hands rough by lifting weights while he was off duty, but it didn’t seem to help.
A ding and the sound of the closest elevator opening drew him out of his thoughts. Moving himself inside, he pressed one of the buttons, hoping the lift wouldn’t crap out again and leave him stranded in a hot room for hours. That had sucked, though the following ‘rescue’ was arguably worse; they’d eventually had to grab Damon Baird to fix it. The superior, acidic smile the blond man had worn had grated on Matheison’s nerves.
As soon as the doors opened again, he pushed his wheelchair out and turned down another, dull hallway that looked as if someone had transplanted the one below up one floor. There was a certain comfortable monotony about the whole complex, even though it drove Matheison to distraction sometimes.
A few minutes later, he reached his goal, knocking on the heavy, wooden door that led into the office of one Richard Prescott; Chairman of the Coalition of Organized Governments. Not that the title held much significance anymore, what with the city of Jacinto being the last organized resistance against the Locust.
“Come in, come in,” an impatient voice sounded from behind the door. Matheison obliged, opening the door and wheeling himself inside. A single, tiny window on the top of the far wall let in the last rays of daylight, the light sprawling over the cluttered desk in front of him. A clock ticked in the silence only broken by the door shutting.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Matheison asked with a neutral tone, his eyes begging to roll in their sockets. Even so, he kept himself under control.
“Yes, yes,” the balding, bearded Chairman said, steepling his fingers. “I want you to send a team on a mission, Lieutenant. A special mission.”
And you couldn’t ask me over the radio because...
Matheison thought inwardly. Instead, he replied, “Would I be right in assuming you called me in here because this mission requires my personal attention, sir?”
“Very astute, Lieutenant,” the man replied, his face a mask. “I’ve recently received some information on a facility being overrun by a group of deserters. I do not know how they found it, but the fact remains that they did.”
“What kind of facility is it, sir?”
“The Lethia Imulsion Facility is an important processing plant that has direct access through Locust tunnels to fuel vital to the war effort. I can’t tell you how much this factory means to the COG, Lieutenant.”
Matheison digested that bit of information, somewhat angry that the man had kept the knowledge of the facility’s existence from him. They could have kept a team on standby to repel any attempts at a take over if they had known. Still, it was water under the bridge now - what remained was a problem that needed fixing.
“Any particular team you have in mind, or shall I pick myself?”
“The Colonel has been informed of the situation and spoke highly of your abilities to handle this,” Prescott replied, pausing for a moment as if weighing the decision. “I will leave the details in your capable hands, Lieutenant.”
Saluting, Matheison turned his wheelchair around and excused himself. Blowing out a long breath, he ran his hands through his hair and closed his eyes. Reaching up to his headset, he pressed a button.
“Walter, this is Matheison. I need a list of all available Gear teams in the barracks.”
“Yes sir,” came the eager response. “Right away, sir.”
Nodding with satisfaction, Matheison rolled down the hall and back to the elevators. A few minutes later, he was back on the ground floor and heading toward the Combat Information Center. With his mind fully alert and awake, Matheison realized he was sweating – the air conditioner had to be going wonky again. That meant he’d have to call Baird. Again
Walter’s voice broke into his thoughts, thankfully, at that moment.
“Sir, there are three teams undeployed at the moment. Echo Three, Bravo Two, and Sigma Five.”
Matheison mulled the choices over in his head, rubbing his temples as he came to a stop in front of the CIC’s doors. Sigma had just lost one member of their team on the last run, so they were out. That left Bravo Two and Echo Three. Chewing on his lip, he pulled out a notebook and turned to the page Bravo Two was on, the team’s names listed in a neat row.
Corporal Michael Tarvin
Private Rodrigo Estevez
Private Benson “Ben” Rister
Sergeant William Banner
Notes Matheison had made in the margins cluttered up the page, citing behavior problems and unnecessary violence in the team, courtesy of Sergeant Banner. The rest of Bravo Two seemed to follow the man’s lead with a recklessness tempered only by their success ratio. Seven completed missions in the last month alone, though damaged property seemed to follow in their wake, from APC’s to structural damage to Stranded communities. Matheison paged to the other team, Echo Three, staring at the names there.
Corporal Syval Marov
Private Tyler Fais
Corporal Ven Salora
Sergeant Joseph Nyvar
While they didn’t have as many completed missions as Bravo Two, having only three in the last month, Echo Three seemed to be a tad more subtle. No losses of any kind stained their record, machine or otherwise. They were excellent at defusing situations and seemed to get along with Stranded well enough. Matheison amended that when he saw the note by Marov’s name; ‘Daughter killed by Stranded Gang, Blood Stream’
. However, another note scribbled on the margins next to the team’s name decided it.
‘Participated in top secret conflict in Nemaria. Suspected first contact with Locust.’
They knew how to get the job done and could keep a secret. Perfect
, Matheison thought. He reached up and initiated his connection with Walter again.
“Tell Echo Three to see me in the CIC in five minutes.”
“Right away, sir!” Walter replied, cutting the circuit. Matheison smiled humorlessly, somewhat bemused as he backed into the heavy, push-in doors. They opened with a clacking sound, almost masked by the noise emanating from inside. Aids ran around finishing their last bits of work before they clocked off for the day. A pale, blonde head struck out vividly against the gray walls and carpeted floor.
He rolled to the woman, tapping her on the shoulder as he drew close enough. The woman jumped, turning around and gracing him with a small frown on her lips. Matheison privately wondered at the woman’s beauty, similar to her mother’s angled features.
“It’s time already?” she asked, stifling a yawn and scratching her head as she took the headset off.
“Yup. Shift’s over, Anya. You look like you could use the rest.”
“It has been a busy day,” the woman agreed, stretching her arms in the air and her shapely legs out. Once she had worked the kinks out of her spine from sitting in the chair all day, Anya stood up. Her heels clicked against the floor where the carpets separated, her unassuming gray skirt and shirt accentuating her curves. It took a minute for Matheison to recover from it all.
“Yeah. And I’ve got a long, busy night ahead of me,” Matheison replied, crossing his arms. “Thanks, by the way. For the clothes.”
Anya looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment before she got it, her face lighting up into a smile. If Matheison still had legs, they would be jelly at the moment.
“It’s no problem, Donneld. It gives me something to do when-.”
“When you’re supposed to be sleeping?” Matheison cut her off, smirking at the woman. Anya smiled and shrugged sheepishly.
“Yeah. Anyway, good night, Donneld,” Anya said, walking away. Matheison stared at her as she walked away, turning to the desk she had vacated as soon as she exited the room. Maybe he’d ask her out for a cup of coffee when he got off work. With a grunt, he grasped the chair Anya had forgotten to move aside and set it against the holographic table behind him. Wiring his headset into the computer in front of him, Matheison set to work at seeing which teams he’d have the pleasure of tasking tonight.
Another clack-bang sounded behind him a few minutes later. He saw the immense forms of two Gears in the reflection of his screens and twirled himself around.
“Gentlemen,” he started, looking up at them. They had their arms to their foreheads, staring blankly ahead; Matheison recognized the stare, having been on the other end of it more than a few times.
“Hoffman’s asked me to task your team with a mission. We’re out of Gear teams at the moment, and you’ve had a couple days rest,” he continued, leaving out the fact that it had been Prescott who had technically asked. Realizing they were still saluting, he quickly returned it, eager to get back to the task at hand.
“We’re ready to go, sir. Bartch was going to have us train the recruits, but we can always do that some other day. What’s the mission?” Sergeant Nyvar asked, his eyes lighting up. Matheison decided he would be frank with them.
“Prescott,” Matheison said disgustedly, “recently divulged some new information about an Imulsion plant right on the outskirts of Ephyra. Apparently, the plant has been reclaimed by a group of Gears who decided the COG wasn’t their cup of tea. They’re cranking out fuel at a steady rate and we want the facility before the Locust find out it's working and overrun the place.”
Matheison wheeled over and pressed a button on the terminal beside him, accessing the schematics of the facility that Prescott had been so kind to provide. He pointed at one of the rooms somewhat in the center of the schematic.
“This is where you’ll be headed, the control room. Your goal is to arrest the ex-soldiers who are running the place and, if worst comes to worst, defend it from any Locust incursions. Make no mistake, gentlemen, this facility is a dire need by the COG, so don’t blow anything up we might need to use later. Questions?”
“Guess we can’t take the Centaur I just fixed, then?” the other Gear asked, his salt and pepper mustache moving with his lips. Oil and grease stains covered the man’s fatigues, lending credence to the statement. Matheison thought for a moment, then decided secrecy was better than firepower.
“No, take an APC. I’ll be monitoring your progress from here via your bot, Sparks. Dismissed.”
“Yes sir,” the replied, saluting again and turning on their heels. Matheison heard them talking over their orders before the door shutting cut them off. He was confident he had made the right choice in teams. Now, he had to get back to the drudgery of tasking seven other Gear teams at once.
“Control,” a rough voice grated out over his speakers, as if summoned by his thoughts. “This is Gamma Four. We ran into a bit of trouble with the Jacinto architecture. Mind leading us out?”
“One moment, Gamma Four,” Matheison returned, looking to the screen the team was on. Their JACK ‘bot was transmitting a feed of dust and grime covered Gears, their faces unhappy at the prospect of being stuck in a failing infrastructure. A quick look at the three dimensional map later, Matheison continued. “Move forward fifty meters and turn right. Use your Lancers to cut through the wall and then turn right down the hallway at the first intersection. You should be able to find your way out from there.”
“Much obliged, Control. We’ll radio if we have any trouble. Gamma Four, out.”
“Roger that,” Matheison replied, cutting the circuit. The screen next to Gamma Four’s showed another squad pinned under a barrage of fire from a Locust war party. Adrenaline flowed through his veins as he pictured the sounds, sights, and smells - echoing explosions and rifle fire, blood misting the air as a grub fell to the earth. The stomach churning stench of fear. He initiated the circuit, watching with trepidation as the sun slowly started sinking below the horizon. The Kryll would be out soon.
“Sigma Two, this is Control. You look like you could use some help.”
“Matheison? Where’s Anya? We’ve been trying to get a hold of her channel for the last ten minutes!” the voice came over the headset, accompanied by the sound of a grenade going off. “Justin! Left side!”
“I’d ask you to check your watch, Corporal,” Matheison replied hurriedly, “but it looks like you don’t have the time. A pair of Boomers are converging on your location. Recommend retreating to higher ground. Roofs would be optimal - the lights should protect you from the Kryll.”
“F*ck. Justin, we’ve got Boomers incoming! See if you can take ‘em out with the Longshot!” the Corporal said instead of replying. With the man’s orders being carried out, the Corporal returned to the radio. “Any suggestions on how to get to the friggin’ higher ground, Control? We’re pinned between the Locust and a hard place. And I kind of don’t want to be either Kryll or Grub food tonight.”
Matheison turned to the map behind him, trying to figure out a solution to the situation. A blue facsimile of a Raven glowed on the display near the team’s location. He checked the serial number, switching to the bird’s frequency.
“KR-Eight Zero, this is Control. Copy?”
“Roger that, Control. Got some shop for us?” the pilot, Gill Gettner, replied fiercely. Matheison could almost picture the feral smile on the woman’s face.
“Affirmative. Head to grid zero-three-eighty. Sigma Two’s in a bit of a pinch and they’d probably appreciate the help.”
“Tell ‘em I’m on my way, Control. Time to f*ckin’ fry some uglies.”
Matheison didn’t bother wasting time to reply, instead switching back to Sigma Two’s channel.
“Corporal, you’ve got a KR on the way. She should be able to give your team some cover while you get to the roofs. ETA’s less than a minute. Hold out until then.”
“We’ll friggin’ try, Control, but I can’t make any promises. Those Boomers are making our lives hell,” the man yelled over the mic. “Sigma Two, out.”
The next few hours were filled with much the same, Matheison quickly and efficiently tasking the COG forces against the Locust. The tension of making decisions that could either cost or save lives was starting to wear on him. An assistant deposited a cup of coffee by his hand during a moment where he was free, so he grabbed it and chugged it down, ignoring the intense pain the scalding hot coffee yielded. However, the combination of caffeine and agony of scarfing it down served to keep him awake and alert.
“Matheison,” a voice said from behind him, causing him to drop his cup as he jumped. The porcelain thudded against the carpet, thankfully empty and not shattering into a million pieces. He turned his chair around to see a grim, short man standing behind him with a green cap covering his balding head. Hoffman.
“Sorry, sir,” Matheison apologized, reaching down to grab the cup and restore it to its previous position. The Colonel shook his head in understanding.
“It’s fine, son,” the gravelly voiced man replied, putting his hands behind his back as he stared at the screen. “Doing a damn fine job with my men. Just came down to check how you’re doing.”
Matheison nodded, removing one of the headset’s earpieces from his ears out of deference to the man that allowed him to continue serving. There wasn’t much he could do right now, anyway.
“Fine, sir,” he spoke, pausing as he thought of at least twelve different adjectives to describe how not fine he really was doing. He had a feeling Hoffman knew, judging from the slight deepening of the frown on the man’s lips. “Just frustrating not being out there myself.”
Victor seemed to accept the change of subject, grabbing the chair Matheison had moved earlier and sitting down on it backwards. Matheison raised an eyebrow, glancing over at the assistants dancing around the room, trying not to look at their leader.
“They need to see me relaxed, Donneld. Good for morale and all that jacksh*t,” Hoffman muttered the last. “What’d you think about Prescott’s little secret?”
“Typical,” Matheison uttered before he thought about it. “Uhm, I mean, it was-.” Hoffman raised a hand, forestalling his excuses.
“I get it,” the man said, the frown lightening up into a grimace. “Saw you chose Echo squad. Any particular reason?”
“They’re more subtle than some of our other teams, sir,” Matheison replied, thinking back to the note. “Experienced in stealth missions back in the Pendulum wars, as well as the situation in Nemaria-.”
“Which is supposed to be top secret, Lieutenant,” Victor scoffed, bringing up a hand to stifle a yawn. “But you’re right. Good choice.”
Matheison inclined his head at the praise. He was beginning to feel relaxed again.
A beep from the console beside him robbed him of that feeling. He looked over to it, seeing the signal from Echo Three’s bot being surrounded by many red dots - Locust forces. There were little blotches of static extremely close to the team’s position as well, similar to the interference a Seeder put out, though smaller. Hoffman noticed it too, waving for Matheison to alert the team. The cripple raised his hand to his ear, returned the headset to its rightful position and opened a circuit.
“Sergeant,” he said after watching Nyvar turn around in surprise. “You need to move, now. Satellites have detected a sizable force of Locust heading your way.” He swiveled the bot’s camera to look out through the back of the APC. “Also, there’s some kind of interference where you are on the logistics map. It’s nowhere near what a Seeder would put out, but it’s enough to make me worry.”
“Yes, sir. Ven and Marov just went out and looked arou-.” The man cut off as the sound of gunfire rang over the channel. “Ty, shine the gun’s light on Sy’s location, now!”
Then the circuit cut off, leaving Matheison with nothing but static washed feed through the camera. He tried to get the sound to return, pressing buttons and switching channels. Nothing worked.
“What happened?” Hoffman’s concerned voice came from behind him.
“I don’t know. The sound just suddenly cut off!” He tried raising them on another channel, piggybacking off a Raven in the area. “Echo Three? This is Control. Sergeant Nyvar, please respond!”
Matheison gave up on the sound, instead looking at the screen to take stock of the situation. Two other soldiers, a big mountain of a man and the mustachioed man from earlier ran into the vehicle, turning around and shooting into the night. Matheison idly wondered why there were no Kryll. Then the video feed went off, too. The dot on the logistics map showing the team’s location winked off.
Static washed over the screen and Matheison’s headset. He frantically flipped more switches and tried to figure out what was wrong with the feed. Minutes flew by as he tried to get the team back on, dread threading its way down his back.
“Donneld,” Hoffman said after awhile. When Matheison didn’t respond, still trying to raise the team, the Colonel gripped his shoulder. Matheison slumped in his wheelchair and closed his eyes. He brought his hands to his face, sliding them down until they covered just his mouth.
“You did everything you could, Lieutenant,” Victor continued, squeezing Matheison’s shoulder again.
“The bot must’ve taken a shot,” Matheison said dully, not really believing himself. The anguish at seeing a squad go out of commission was finally hitting him. He went back to work, trying to use the satellites to locate the team. Unfortunately, there were none over the area the team had disappeared.
“Satellites should be back around in the morning. Six hours from now,” Hoffman stated, letting his hand drop from Matheison’s shoulder. “Nothing we can do ‘til then.” When Matheison didn’t respond, Victor blew out an audible breath. “You need a break. I’ll call Anya and-.”
“No,” Matheison said, shaking himself out of the funk. “No, I’ll stay. I can’t let her work my shift, too.”
“Alright,” Hoffman grunted. “You find out anything about Echo Three, you let me know, alright?”
Hoffman’s boots tapped away, leaving Matheison to his miserable, stinking job. Being a CIC Controller really, really sucked.