Duo wouldn't need to get out of bed for another two hours yet. My hands got itchy, wanting to follow the lines of his body and feel that tangibility for themselves, but I didn't want to wake him. I slipped out of bed before I gave into the temptation, gathered my clothes silently, and headed to the bathroom.
Breakfast was an easy habit these days. I watched the slow rising of the sun as I munched my toast. The atmosphere of Earth made it mellow, smoothed it out to a soft drift into wakefulness, but daybreak was different in the colonies. It was a heady sense of anticipation, and then the light spilling over the curve of the colony like an intense revelation. Or, as Duo put it once after a late night/early morning movie, it was the sort of sudden splash one expected would kill all the vampires after a long night of undead rampaging.
I loved him anyway.
After breakfast, I still had a few minutes before it was time for me to leave. I decided I could sneak back into our bedroom for a quiet good-bye.
He was wrapped around my pillow when I returned. I didn't want to wake him, but he stirred as I closed in on his position, and in a moment of indulgence, I decided it wouldn't hurt to nudge him the rest of the way into wakefulness. I sat on my side of the bed and waited for him to fully register my presence. I didn't have to wait long.
"Mmm," he sighed sleepily. "Time already?"
"Aa." I pushed his bangs from his face. "Don't wait up for me."
He snorted. "Like I was gonna." With a lazy stretch, he opened his eyes. "You got your gear all together?"
"You helped me pack it last night."
"Did all your homework?"
"Got your lunchbox?"
"I'm not a kid on my first day at school, Duo."
"Got your jacket?"
Now that one, I conceded to. I lifted the uniform jacket in my hand, showing it off to him before I shrugged it on. It had barely even settled before Duo's hands were smoothing it over my shoulders. He tugged the collar into place, fingers playing with the bump in the seam for a few seconds before he deemed it ready. He finished the routine off with a hug, falling into the embrace like he could go right back to sleep there.
At length, he released me and pushed at my shoulder. "Well, get a move on, then. I'll see you when I see you."
I kissed him first, then did as I was told. My situation sat on an awkward threshold. I wasn't deployed in the field very often, which gave Duo less to worry about. He didn't like it very much when I left without him. One small incident of disappearing on my own and being held prisoner in an abandoned military base and eventually ending up in a short comatose state, and suddenly people start worrying every time you go out that one day you're not going to come back in one piece. But at the same time, he sometimes worried if maybe I was out of practice with this whole wetwork thing. I wasn't.
It was amazing how things could snowball so quickly sometimes. Agent Nilsson had been released for lack of evidence, but naturally the local agency kept close tabs on him. He guarded his actions very carefully. Fortunately for us, however, some of his associates did not. He made casual contact with an Agent Rimes at a neighboring office. The message seemed normal, but it must have been a pre-arranged signal. Rimes was not nearly as clever as Nilsson had been, and the Preventers were able to pick up the scent again.
One clue had led to the other, and suddenly there was a stronghold in the countryside that represented a clear threat to the stability of the region. Using the fake badges, along with other contacts and their established history in the area, the insurgents had been slowly stockpiling arms, technology, and connections. We didn't yet know what they planned to use their stash for, if anything, but it was time to put them out of commission, before we found out after the fact. Now that their operation had been compromised by the pursuit of the falsified credentials, we couldn't be certain that they wouldn't pack it all up and move to a new, secure location.
Perhaps the local offices had needed Preventers assistance in tracking down the multi-jurisdictional leads, but when the time came to put together a three district strike force, they moved swiftly, assembling a squad of the best SWAT forces in the area.
Teams like that needed coordination. Intel was key to an operation of this nature, and that was where I came in. The case had taken off without us as the local forces pursued the leads with no more need of our assistance, but the call came in to the office on Tuesday. They were putting together a raid, and someone with a skill set like mine would make the mission run much more smoothly.
When I met the men that I would be working with, we sized each other up. They were veterans for the most part, confident in their skills and their practice. I could see that I didn't impress them much, but I was used to that. Once the briefing got underway and I brought up important points necessary to the safety of the team, proving that I had both technical expertise and practical knowledge of troop movement, that I was familiar with interior tactics from a friendly and enemy perspective, I had what I needed from them: their respect and their trust.
The late afternoon was spent gearing up, arming ourselves with the best the requisitions office had to offer, plus a few choice pieces that I had brought for myself from Preventers HQ. We shipped out in early evening into our ready positions, and when night fell, we moved in.
Our target was an old industrial complex. Expected resistance force of thirty. We were fairly certain that the majority of the insurgents did not stay on-site with the stash, but that was a sacrifice we were willing to make in exchange for claiming their resources as soon as possible. Our immediate objectives were to cut them off from the bulk of their stockpiled arms, and to block them from the elimination of their data centers.
Capt. Friedman hovered over my shoulder, watching me work as I initialized and calibrated the sensors I had directed his men to deploy. Each sensor device could be remotely controlled, and I tuned each of them until they collectively delivered to me a complete picture of the enemy force over the six central screens in front of me.
First came the heat scan. I relayed the troop counts to Friedman. There were a few sentries monitoring the perimeter, but they were not on full alert. Their people were spread out, which would work both for and against us. It was easier to face smaller groups of foes, but that meant the later groups would be more prepared. Our approach possibilities did not allow for enough stealth to take all of the men out quickly and quietly.
I located the resources squirreled away within. For ease of transport probably, the stockpile was kept mostly on the ground floors. There was a shipping bay providing access to the outside, but it was locked up tight and well-guarded. The position was defensible from their point of view, but that also meant it would be easy to pin down the guards in that area and block off access to the weapons from the rest of the men. Unfortunately, we couldn't stop the guards from making use of the weapons themselves. The troops holding that position would have the most difficult time of things, depending on how lucky they were. I left the logistics of the swift surprise attack to Friedman to go install the last of the interfaces I would need for maximum information.
Making sure my gear was secure one last time before stepping out of the van that was my command outpost, I ran low and fast behind cover to the pole hosting the cables leading into and out of the building. While it was possible that I could have left this task to one of the others, discussion had revealed myself to be the best person for the job. The force had strong offensive experience in raids, but there was no reason to risk the electrical work to people with no prior history in dealing with such things.
That hadn't stopped the squad from assigning a shadow to me. Despite the competence I had demonstrated during the mission briefing, planning, and beginning, Officer Dennis' duty was to cover me, and/or keep me out of trouble. Since work behind the scenes didn't always translate into good field skills, I couldn't be offended. If I were in their position, I would probably have assigned an unknown agent backup as well. Since the officers were elite, and I had no intentions of starting anything prematurely with the men inside the building, I was sure I wouldn't be babysitting. All the same, it felt odd having someone at my back with whom I was not familiar.
Foregoing the safety straps that workers typically wore to keep themselves attached to the pole, I caught the bottom rung of the maintenance 'ladder' and pulled myself up silently, scaling the tall wooden pole to the top. It was thick enough to provide some cover, but annoyingly enough, the rungs were not aligned to the cover position. At the top, I braced myself on one rung, and wrapped my other leg around the pole, freeing my hands to pull my equipment out of my vest.
It was a simple enough job to accomplish on auto pilot. With a scrap of my attention, I kept an eye on Zero's internal diagnostics. He didn't like our proximity to the power cables. The buzz set my hair on end, and the stray electromagnetic interference danced prickles across my brain. I assured Zero that I didn't like it any better than he did and finished my job as efficiently as possible. Once my feet were back on the ground, I nodded to Dennis and we returned to base.
Back at the van, Friedman was revisiting the mission plans with his men, but he took a moment to confirm with his man on the ground that all had gone according to plan. Dennis assured him that it had, but I heard a strange tone mingled in with his reply. Incredulity, perhaps? No matter. I slid back into my seat in front of the monitors and checked my uplink. With all systems green and no sign of alert from our target, I snuck into their network to see what I could see.
Pinging down their connection, I could make a rough estimate of the location of their data centers based on the response time. Cross-referencing the numbers with the physical map, I narrowed the possibilities down to a single room and notified Friedman of my find. Access to the data room was far more central than the weapons store, so preservation of evidence was going to be tricky. Friedman glared surprisedly at me when I told him that hopefully the would-be terrorists wouldn't consider the information on those computers to be critical to their operation. Apparently, he had hoped there was some network magic that I could do to make the machine erase-proof. There was a thing or two I might be able to do to keep them from wiping their drives, but there was nothing I could do if they decided to put a bullet through them.
Soon enough, the time for plans was over. It was time to engage the enemy forces and break all of our carefully laid plans. I watched as the blips on the map arranged themselves into the proper formation, keeping an eye on the body signatures on the monitors to track the enemy status. After I confirmed that all of the players were where we expected them to be, Friedman gave the go-ahead for all forces to move out.
They quickstepped forward, and I cut the building's lines of communication as they burst through the back door just in time to catch the two men guarding the side entrance by surprise. Monitoring the base's traffic and seeing no disturbances, I let the team know that no one had been called to check out their sector. They appeared to be unnoticed so far.
At the fork in the road, about a third of the team moved toward the rear in the direction of the weapons cache, and the rest moved forward. My monitors reflected my split attention. Once the teams signaled that they were ready, I cut the power to the rear of the building. The quiet as everything powered down suddenly was immediately evident, and as the enemy hastened to the rear to investigate, our forces rushed in behind them, closing them into a smaller workspace and cutting off their access to most but not all of the stash.
Weapons fire brought the rest of the building to an alert state, but once the power had gone off in the rear, the SWAT team had gassed the offices where many of the men were sleeping, waiting for their guard shifts. I notified Alpha team that two of the rebels had managed to stumble out under cover of the smoke. One waited around the corner, looking dazed but mobile, while the other dashed up the stairs to meet up with the rest of their command crew. A few of our team members stayed behind to secure the sleeping prisoners, and the rest poured up the stairs to greet the remainder.
I guided them through the halls, and on Friedman's mark, I cut the power to the rest of the building. The upper levels had more windows, yielding more moonlight by which to see, but we still had the advantage. I kept an eye on the siege in the weapons room while tracking all of the men upstairs, calling out cover positions and spying flanking maneuvers before they could become a real threat to our men. More gas was deployed, and one of the bad guys inside shot out the windows for ventilation.
The sound of the shattering caused me to glance out the front of the van toward the building, and in the side view mirror, I caught sight of an old pick-up truck moving cautiously down the main access road with its head lights off. The muzzle flashes and loud reports of the weapons would have made it immediately clear what was going inside. Surely they would not be so self-sacrificing as to try to storm our team from the rear.
I notified Friedman that I would be unavailable for a short while, swept the interior of the van looking for something useful, found nothing, then slipped out the front passenger side door, not closing it hard enough to make a sound. I laid low, and when they approached the van, their pseudo-stealthy movements indicating their ill-intent, I slid around to the opposite side while maintaining cover. Only two pairs of feet were visible underneath the van, and a good look at the truck showed that they were all there was.
Continuing around the vehicle, I caught them about to fling open the sliding door, guns at the ready to slaughter anyone hiding inside. A chop to the neck felled the first man. As the second man swung his gun in my direction, I grabbed his hand and sidestepped him, pulling him forward as I did. He stumbled over the fallen body of his comrade, and I aided his imbalance with an open-palmed strike to his lower back. The gun came loose from his grasp as he tripped, and I applied its butt to the back of the man's head.
Satisfied that they were down for the count, I re-entered the van and took in the information on the screens. I quickly informed Bravo that there were three men huddled in the back of the weapons room, apparently holding a conference of some sort. Hopefully they would surrender soon and end the stand-off. One of the bad guys on Alpha's side was getting close to the data, but a grenade convinced him to flee the area quickly. Officer Bradley had been inordinately proud of himself earlier that evening when he had showed off the duds he carried as part of his arsenal. I had to admit they were effective as a diversionary tactic.
As an afterthought, I informed Friedman that the situation on my end had been resolved. Seeing that nothing else required my immediate attention, I went back outside to bind the two men with some cables, then returned to my position.
Once the guys upstairs were taken care of, the guys downstairs folded easily enough. I called in the buses that were on standby just outside the range of the conflict. There was a lot of handcuffing going on, and then the injured were hauled away. Final score: one bullet hole on our team, five on theirs. One of their men was critically injured, but otherwise, it was a good raid.
Now came the fun part for me: pulling rank to try and claim the data for my office. Always a delicate operation when it wasn't your men that had just risked their lives to get it.
last modified : 5/2/2007 23:41:10 PST