Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
The evening with Art and Lisa gave Scott a lot to think about as he drove out of Denver. Before the meal was over, Art expressed his surprise that Scott had gotten out and hadn't gone for an officer's commission.
"It came so easy to you. We could all see that," Art had said.
Scott had entered the Marines a grade ahead of his peers thanks to college credits. He made corporal at the end of his first Afghanistan tour, and sergeant before he deployed for the second.
Their captain had repeatedly pushed Scott to go for a commission. Art's admission that the company head shed thought he'd be a natural to try for Special Operations Command selection confirmed to Scott that he'd made the right decision. Either choice would have been a disaster.
He'd have made a career of it, he thought, if it weren't for his unusual abilities. Even without his mental enhancements, he was still preternaturally quick and inhumanly strong. He was always on guard against revealing his differences.
The wounds he received in Afghanistan came closer to revealing that nature than anything else had. He'd been so busy trying to save Art's life, that he'd forgotten what his body did when damaged. Forcing his wounds to reverse the speed healing had been a painful lesson.
On that day, he swore he'd never use his abilities again.
The strange truth was that he was a better Marine after he rejected his abilities. With the distractions gone, he turned a corner. He liked leadership, loved the Marine mission and lifestyle. The Marines in turn expressed interest in him. He was promoted twice and took advantage of additional training, but not all the stresses had gone.
After making sergeant, he'd gone to a short three-week Marine Martial Arts Instructors school before deployment back to Afghanistan. He'd nearly blown it when the intense training started to push his reaction times and autonomous reflexes. He knew then that he'd have to leave when his enlistment was up.
Officer selection, or any kind of Special Operations program, came with intense scrutiny and would have eventually revealed his more unusual nature. Better to slip back into obscurity than risk exposure. He would miss the Marines and the family it had given him. Maybe, if he were lucky, he could re-create that for himself.
After an hour of driving, he realized he'd been riding in silence and tuned the satellite radio to a favorite station. His preference for old country songs had been a source of amusement in his squad and the platoon. He'd learned to tolerate rap, death metal, and everything in between, but still loved the simple honesty of the music that had been his only source of entertainment as a boy.
Levall, Texas, his next destination, was some six hundred miles to the south. The terrain after Denver was mostly flat and reminded him of home. Funny how it had taken leaving, he thought, to realize that Fort Stockton and West Texas really was home.
He didn't mind that he'd be taking a two-year detour to Northwestern Texas State University. It was Texas and he'd be only four and a half hours from home.
The miles clicked by with steady precision.
He crossed into the Oklahoma Panhandle and toward Texas. Seeing more and more license plates from home warmed his soul. Oklahoma, he decided, was acceptably close to perfection. Old state rivalries looked silly in retrospect. Still, he took a deep breath as he crossed the Lone Star State border.
The 'Welcome to Texas' sign was next to a grain elevator. He was so happy, he almost stopped to take a picture.
The road felt smoother and the air a little cleaner. It wasn't really, but it felt that way to Scott and a smile was fixed on his face.
A couple of hours later, he took an extended meal-break in Amarillo. Amarillo could have easily been mistaken for just another big cow town, if not for the Pantex plant where the nation built and disassembled nuclear weapons. Then there was the familiar silhouette of a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying near the airport. They built them here, he remembered.
The shadows were growing long by the time he reached Levall.
Levall was located between Lubbock and Wichita Falls, north of Abilene. The university town's nearest neighbors, Guthrie, the county seat to the west, and Seymour one county to the east were tiny in comparison. The population was forty-two thousand, not counting the Northwestern Texas State University enrollment, which added another eight thousand. The city had an interesting history; it was established in the early 1800s by a railroad baron, and settled primarily by German immigrants. The university had started as a teacher's college after the First World War and Levall grew with it. Scott had liked the city from the first time he visited.
He took a room at a hotel near downtown and went for a walk.
The campus was the heart of the city, occupying land only a couple of blocks south of Main Street. Areas near any college or university are usually vibrant places and downtown Levall was no exception. City ordinances mandated a historic look for the city center. Historic preservation was the watchword. Antique black lampposts dotted every corner. Business owners were encouraged to maintain and restore original building facades. Numerous trees lined the streets. Restaurants and bars blended in. Levall had character, part classic American small town combined with the dynamism of collegiate energy.
Scott soaked up the atmosphere as he walked. Listening to the sounds of live music leaking from a small coffee shop, he knew he would like attending NTSU. He could have applied and been accepted to any school in the nation with his grades and personal history. He'd thought about the Ivy League, Northwestern, and even Stanford, but opted for more familiar ground. He didn't want a big school in a densely populated area. He'd visited Columbia and Yale two years earlier on leave and came away impressed by the schools, but disheartened by the people and places. They weren't him.
Scott crossed Main Street and entered campus grounds a few minutes later. The central administration building was the most prominent feature of campus. The building had the look of an antebellum courthouse crossed with a church cathedral or capitol building, surrounded by wide lawns. Quads, Scott thought, making the transition to university terminology in his mind. He could be happy in Levall.
In the morning, Scott ventured to the campus Veterans Services Office. NTSU had a great reputation with veterans and the office had its own corner in the administration building. He was early, so he took a seat in a row of chairs outside the office door. A poster on the opposite wall read, "Veterans, Ask About the New Waiver.'