Chapter 6

Guardians and civilian functionaries bustled past Devrim as he made his way toward Zavala's office in the Tower. The greying scout took a deep breath and was discomforted by the assault of body odor, pollution, market spices, and the sharp sting of aerosolized Ether. He suddenly yearned for the clean forest air of Trostland.

He knocked sharply on the office door and opened it tentatively. Zavala beckoned him in.

The scout sat beside the commander's enormous desk, which was cluttered with minimized displays and blinking holographic reminders. Each, Devrim assumed, was an urgent communique awaiting orders.

"Thank you for stopping by," Zavala said. "I know you're busy."

Devrim arched his eyebrows. "I suppose that's relative, Commander." He gestured to the field of demanding messages.

Zavala dimmed his desktop display with a wave of his hand. "That's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. As the Vanguard has grown over the decades, leadership is getting further and further from the civilians we're protecting."

"I can imagine," Devrim replied sympathetically. "It seems as though the Tower grows taller every year."

"Indeed." Zavala fixed Devrim with an inscrutable look. Was it fatigue? Regret? Resentment? The moment passed.

"We need a fresh perspective from the ground," the Titan continued matter-of-factly. "Someone who understands both the Vanguard's missions and the civilian populace. An attaché of sorts, who can help us coordinate with local governments. I'd like that person to be you."

"Ah," Devrim replied. He had feared something like this was coming. "Marc would be thrilled. He's been hounding me to get out of the field."

"Then perhaps it's time."

"I appreciate the offer," Devrim replied tactfully, "but I'm afraid I'm not ready to put my rifle down just yet. My knees aren't what they once were, but with age comes clarity. I used to think working recon made me reclusive. But now, I rather believe it's the other way around."

"What you're describing is public relations," the scout continued, "and I couldn't imagine anyone less qualified than myself."

"I understand, but… recon is risky work," Zavala objected. "The longer you're in the field, the greater the chance that something will go wrong."

"That's true," Devrim admitted. "But as dangerous as it is in Trostland, no battlefield frightens me more than this one." He gestured again to the barrage of unanswered messages. "I'll take my chances with the Shadow Legion, thank you."

Zavala leaned back in his chair and frowned. "I'm disappointed." He turned his attention to the array of messages. "But… I understand. Not a day goes by that I don't miss the field. Actually seeing results, instead of just reading about them."

The commander sighed. "I accept your decision. But if Marc ever asks me why you're still in the field, I won't lie," he cautioned.

Devrim chuckled nervously. "That's a different mission altogether."