An Assassination, in Front of a Choir

(This story is not connected to the narrative playing out where we left off)

Who could have ever forseen that we’d be here?  It was genuinely blowing my mind.  Suiting up, ready to head out, into a mission unlike any I could have imagined, in a locale that was beyond comprehension, even for us.  If any of the others were feeling the heat on this, they weren’t showing it.  I was the only one who appeared to really be thinking about the implications of not only killing a member of our military, but doing it on American soil.  How nuts was this?!  But we hard our orders, and that was all we needed.  It’s all we ever needed.  Just had to accept that, even if it wasn’t easy.
Naturally, we all lost Existence Privileges before this mission.  Not a surprise.  This operation wasn’t even remotely sanctioned by the military at large.  It came down from the brass, so we knew that somebody, somewhere, had an operational playbook.  I couldn’t imagine how far up this went.
The briefing for this had been extensive.  Our infil point would be on the roof of the Assembly Hall, where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was having a Christmas celebration.  They were being joined by an orchestra made up of Air Force members.  Interesting.  This was expected to be loud.  All eyes would be on the stage.  This was expected to go for a couple hours, easy.  Here was the kicker – because the Mormon church is essentially a cult, with a TON of rituals and information that cannot be disclosed to outsiders, their security is no slouch.  It’s not private guards, but they cover all points of entry thoroughly.  And it got worse.  In attendance was not only the orchestra, but our target, who just so happened to be a Major General.  So there would be military security as well.  But the Mormon Church has rules about where they can be, so we could use that to our advantage.
Our custom SH-60 Seahawk could get us over the roof undetected.  This stuff had the same modifications that the Black Hawks that took out Bin Laden had.  They were infinitely quieter than the typical variety, and we would be dropped in via SPIE rigging.  So much could go wrong, but this was our best chance.  I had no idea what this dude did, but it was something bad enough for us to kill him on American soil, during a very public event.  This poor fuck didn’t understand who was after him.
We get into the building through a rooftop entrance that is only there for when cleaning or maintenance work needs to be done.  There was some work being done on the roof, which was our way to the target.  Scaffolding was discreetly set in a ring around the top of the Hall, which would allow us quick access wherever.  But we had to be absolutely careful not to make any noise.  That’s a trick, given that this is scaffolding we are working with, that will be extra difficult.  We get to where we can drive in an anchor and rappel down.  The idea was to be right above the private box that the Major General had reserved.  From there, we kill him with a poison we were given.  Fast, guaranteed to work, and would make his death look natural.  From there, we had to exfil past the guards.  We had been given drones we could use to lure away any security.  We get out of the building, and get to where a van would be parked just outside the Temple Square and leave the area.  All of this was supposed to take just under an hour.

The Seahawk took off and now I could see my sisters looking jittery.  That gave me some comfort.  When we got within operation range, we locked onto the SPIE line and then you clench your buttcheeks and drop from the bird.  Flying through the air, hanging from a line, looking at the night lights, the feeling cannot be described.  A subtle line, there is, between madness and bravery.  We were literally riding it.  Over top of our target, we disengage the hooks and drop.  You hit ground, roll, check to see no damage taken.  Was fine.  Our bird waved off.  It wouldn’t be back.  Now we really were on our own.
No time to take in the incredible view.  We had a job to do.  Could hear the music from here.  Beautiful.  I still had a large appreciation for choral Christmas music, even if I hadn’t ever really believed in the faith.  The rooftop entrance.  Rodriguez picked the lock like it wasn’t even there.  Moving fast, we saw our scaffolding.  However, something occurred to us.
<Mama, we can just use the side-access to get at our target.  All we have to do is use the same drones that were going to get us out to lure away the guards.  This makes things a lot easier.> I signed.
Pennyfeather nodded.  <We have enough line to rappel down from the roof.  I can go up top and secure us a spot where there’s a gap in their security.  Hell, I can anchor the lines so we can be ready to move the second you get up top.>
Beacham thought for a moment, then nodded.  We all handed Pennyfeather our anchors, then continued on mission.  Crow was our drone operator, so we covered her as she got them into position.  She had a Hovering Drone, With lights and potential noise-makers attached.  Lights was our best option here.  She would hold back, while me, Bethke, and Rodriguez would move up.  Beacham was on overwatch from the window above.  This had to be perfectly synchronized.  Moving up with the drone, Rodriguez pulled out her SK-20, with sticky shockers equipped.  Worse came to worse, we could knock out the security.
There’s two, with two on patrol on lower levels. Beacham sent.
Bethke and I got into position in an alcove not far from the entrance.  It was a good spot to rush when security moved.  Rodriguez was on the other side, hiding with her weapon at the ready.  The drone was in the hall.
Ready, I sent
Ready, Bethke confirmed.
Standing By, Rodriguez sent
Overwatch ready, from Beacham.
Do it, I sent.  In a flash, the drone took off.  The guards didn’t notice, it was able to move that fast.  As soon as it was out of sight, the lights came on.  Seeing the vivid display of colors, one of the security personnel went looking.  I motioned for Rodriguez, who ran forward and zapped the second with the shocker.  Bethke and I were like a flash from a gun.  We ran forward.  The Major General looked up just long enough for Bethke to grab him by the chin and shoulder and force him into the chair.  I was a split-second behind, holding his mouth shut and administering the shot.  The man looked at me and his eyes went very, very wide.  I guess he realized who was killing him, but knew now that there was nothing he could do to stop it.  If he knew that we’d come for him, did that mean he knew why?  More questions above my pay grade.  The instant he went limp, I signaled for us to go.  The drone was coming about as soon as we got out of the box.  Rodriguez grabbed it, and we ran like a devil possessed.  Fitting, considering the setting.
We threw the drone to Crow and all of us met up with Beacham who was ready.  She sent something to Pennyfeather asking for status.
Anchors attached, southwest corner.
Aye-aye.  Be ready.  We have to immediately exfil!

We got topside, then ran as fast as we possibly could to where Pennyfeather was crouched, waiting.  We all took the line out of our suits, activating our ERC-7’s.  We hooked up and all dropped from the roof without a backward look.  If not by now, then very, very soon, the other officer tasked with security would find the body and unconscious comrade.  This was a race against the clock.  Not according to plan, but part of what we are trained to do is be able to make judgment decisions on the fly to accomplish our mission.
The speed at which we were rappelling down was unsafe, make no mistake.  We didn’t have a choice.  We dropped, and I could tell that Bethke had hurt herself a little.  I grabbed her arm, but she shrugged me off.
<I can run.  Let’s go!>
<Rendezvous is 100 meters, north by northwest!  We cannot be spotted by security!>
Never has there been a more nerve-wracking time when we had to run, but also be stealthy at the same time.  Cameras were no problem, which was good because they were fucking everywhere.  It was the endless horde of military and Mormon security that were mulling about, not doing their jobs.  We kept going from cover to cover.  Suddenly, we saw that everyone was all moving in the same direction – back to the Assembly Hall!  That pegged it, the body had been discovered.  Everyone moving in the same direction gave us the opening that we needed.
We all took off through a section with trees, put there for aesthetic purposes.  The exterior fence.  Tall, beautiful, but wasn’t going to stop us for one second.  Climbing over, we dropped from the top, and now Bethke was down.  I ran over and picked her up.  There were a TON of people around!  Nobody looking this way.  Their attention seemed to be on the Assembly Hall.  Word must have gotten out that something had happened there.  Reporters who weren’t allowed to get close looking to see if anyone knew.  Chaos was working to our advantage, as we had been trained to make it.  Bethke and I rushed as fast as we could.  A van came over and slid onto the sidewalk next us.  The door opened and we all jumped inside.  The door slammed shut, and we were off.
A mission unlike any we had done before.  Killing an American, a comrade from the service, at a Christmas concert for a religious group, on American soil!  This was nuts.  Just, nuts.  My nerves were going a mile a minute.  Crow was attending to Bethke.  Didn’t look like anything was broken, but she may have a sprained ankle.  Kiddo had earned a rest.  The van disappeared into Salt Lake City.  The look that man gave me as he looked into my eyes, it stuck with me.  He knew what we had been doing there.  Knew why we came for him.  What had this poor bastard done?  Who was he?  CWO Beryl was pretty tight with me these days.  Maybe I could ask?  No, she couldn’t tell me.  I wouldn’t ask her to breach regulation for my curiosity.  He was a target, and died like the rest.  I would have to accept that.
Maybe I would go talk to her after this was done all the same.  It was really nice having someone outside of my sisters to talk to.  Let know that I had some misgivings.  Made things easier.  And she was kinda cute.  No!  Bad Quinn!  No thinking about sexy time with a superior officer.  Besides, no way she thought of me like that.  Just a nice thought.  A very nice thought.

Until next time, a quote,

“An ideal form of government is a democracy tempered with assassination.” – Voltaire

Peace out,

Maverick

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On Home, Gardens, and Babies

Kiddo and I were just wrapping up at the pool.  Her time was getting excellent.  Said she was going to try out for the swim team next year.  That made me happy.  One of the best ways to improve in anything was to have a goal to strive towards.  It helped that there was a cute boy that she liked on the swim team.  Silly girl.  But she’s young.  I could appreciate it.  Even before I realized that I was gay, there were several girls on the swim team that I had been attracted to.  It was part of why I had been so conflicted when Lulu and I were still dating.  There was just something that kept telling me that as much as I cared for him, it wasn’t the kind of love that he had for me.
Part of life had been listening to my young companion talk about school, life, boys, friends.  After the talk of how Jean had died, my life became much less of a thing to talk about.  Guess she felt guilty.  If only she knew the effect she was having on me.  I was so much more open and felt so much better about life than ever before.  Though, this was having a detracting experience on my work as an assassin.
Indeed, I was noticing more and more that my work for my company was getting difficult.  I was still perfectly amazing at it, and didn’t falter, but something that had been there wasn’t there anymore.  This feeling that I got when I was sighting down on a target.  Like I needed it.  To get away from memories and focus my mind on a task that was something I alone could do, and do well.  Instead, it felt empty now.  Emptier and emptier as time went on.  What did this mean?  I couldn’t really tell.  For years, I had gone out of my way not to think about serious things like this, no reason to stop now.
Getting into the car, I could see kiddo had that look she would get when she wanted to ask me about something personal.  I was getting very good at reading her.  Wondered if it was the same vice-versa.  Maybe something to ask, someday.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
“Nothin’.”
“It’s something.  Speak freely, sailor.”
“Aye-aye.  I was just wondering – did you and Jean ever think about having babies?”
Now there’s something that came right the hell out of nowhere.  “You are WAY too young to have thoughts about babies.  What did this come from?”
She got this little smile on her face.  “I just had this image of you two as moms.  You look hella cute.  So I wondered if you ever thought about it.  Well, not you, but if Jean did.”
“Ouch!” I exclaimed.  “That smarts.”
“Just calling it like I see it.”
I sneered at her.  “Fair enough.  Brat.  To answer your question, I remember when it first started.  We had just bought the house, before we were married, and I remember the first time she thought about it.”

I was just coming out with some homemade lemonade.  Made sure I got it right this time.  Sweet and tasty, but enough of that tingle that goes through you when you have a sour spot.  Yeah, this was fantastic.  This kind of thing was fantastic.  Really had found my niche as a cook.  Could make all kinds of food, and was getting better all the time.  Had just deep fried something the other day!  That was exciting, but I was so nervous.  Seeing two Navy women in a kitchen being afraid of a pot of oil was kind of adorable.  We laughed about it later to ourselves.  These are the days you savor.
Coming out onto the patio at the front of the house, I saw Jean putting soil in her plant boxes.  Had this idea of having a garden.  Wanted to grow stuff in it.  Just peppers, herbs, and strawberries for now, but if this worked out, she wanted to expand it.  Sounded perfect to me.  Home-grown food was always better than store-bought.  I came from a farming community, so I knew that better than most.
Seeing her working, along with the splendid angle of her butt, I was a happy girlfriend.  Thought about going over there and squeezing it, but I knew how awkward she gets about public displays of affection.  Given how much we risked when we were dating on the ship we met at, that might seem strange, but something I learned to accept about my lover – she’s something of an enigma.  But that makes me love her more.
The neighbors in this part of town were pretty alright.  This was a poor city, and crime was fairly rampant, but this part of town was okay.  Anything close to the base was.  Military prompts security, as it were.  There was a young woman out, walking with her baby on a sling.  Cute, I suppose.  Definitely not about that life, but I could appreciate it.
Looking over, I saw Jean looking at the two of them, and there was this little look in her eyes.  I couldn’t quite describe it.  A kind of misty, happy look.  Like when you have this warm pit in your stomach.  Kinda weird, but that’s the woman I love.
“I bring you drink!” I called out.
She turned around and smiled.  Coming over, I held out a glass to her.  Taking a drink, she shivered a bit.
“Strong.”
“Like the woman I’m dating.”
She kissed my cheek.  “And the woman I’m dating too.”
These summer days could last forever and I would be just fine.

“So she had baby fever pretty hard?” Emily asked.
“I wouldn’t say hard.  Not then.  But it got harder as the years went on.  I noticed the look more and more.”
“She never brought it up to you?”
Thought for a moment.  “Yeah.  Not long before she was on deployment, going mobile.”

We lay in bed, just the warmth of summer washing over us.  My attention was all over my wife’s naked body.  I had started with her cute dimples and a little mole on her chest, and had turned my attention to her tummy.  There was this little bit of fluffy there.  It was super cute.  She liked her fluffy, and I didn’t have any problem with it either.  Just that little bit.  Enough to know that she liked a good burger, but had to stay in shape for fitness regs.  So sexy.  I could kiss every inch of it.  Which was what I was doing.
“Hey babe?” she whispered.
“Mm-hm?” I said back, distractedly.
“Can I ask you something?”
I looked up her body to her face and gave her a cold look.  “Sexy wife time is about to be interrupted by something serious, isn’t it?”
“Just for a minute,” she replied, looking at me like I was a brat.
Plopping my chin down on her tummy.  “What is it?”
Her hands ran through my short, spiky hair.  “What do you think about us having a baby?”
Dammit, this was serious.  And she totally lied to me about it being a short thing.
“We have two fur-babies…”
“I know, and I love our pupper and kitty, but I was thinking about starting a family.”
Laying the side of my head on her naked tummy.  “You’ve been thinking about this for a while, haven’t you?”
A little silence.  “Yeah.  It’s just, our 20’s are almost over.  We’re gonna have to make a decision about this pretty soon.  I mean, if we don’t do this by our early 30’s, I don’t think we ever will.  I just wanna know if this is something you wanna do too.”
Time to change position.  I wiggled my way up her body, cuddling up so I could look into her eyes.  We kissed gently.
“I haven’t really thought about it too much.  Don’t know if I’d be any good at raising a kid.  It’s such a huge thing, you know?  It would change everything.  Like, you’d have to leave the military.  One of us has to be at home to look after the kiddo.  And, I’d have to think about how much longer I wanna be with the STARS.  It’s not good to have a kid when I could disappear at a moment’s notice because of a phone call.”
She nodded.  “I know all that stuff is big.  But I just wanna know – would you like to have a baby with me?”
Images came to my mind.  We both knew without saying it that she’d be the one carrying.  Her body is made for it.  Plus, all that maternal instinct with her sister’s kids, I know she wouldn’t have it any other way.  Seeing her with a pregnant belly, with me looking after her, then us in the hospital with our baby.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked the image.  I already planned to be with her for the rest of my life.  Having a family would be fun.  Plus, her mother was on us endlessly if we were gonna be giving them more grandchildren.  That woman is relentless.
“Yeah, I would like that.  But, it’s a someday thing right now.  Not while you’re still enlisted.”
She frowned.  “I could get pregnant and then be eligible for reenlistment down the road.”
That pegged it.  “You wanna get pregnant now, don’t you?”
She shook her head.  “Not until I get back from mobile deployment.  I get back, then we can do this.  Are you with me?”  There was this need in her voice, how she clutched me harder.
So many things to think about.  All of the complications.  Was I ready?  Were we?  Could we do this?  Heart beating fast.  So was her’s.  I could feel it against mine as she held me.  No sound, just both of our quickened breathing as the tension was hanging there.
“Yes.  Let’s have a baby.”
She squealed with happiness, kissing me harder than ever.  What followed was the most passionate love-making we’ve ever had.  Our relationship was going into uncharted waters.  It was scary, but I knew that together, we could handle anything.  We were Navy, after all.

Emily had those big doe eyes again.  “That’s so sweet!”
“All things considered, maybe it’s for the best that that part never happened.  I would have been a shitty mother.”
My companion shook her head.  “I think you’d be a great mom.”
Thought for a moment.  “Not a lot to go on.  My parents treated me like shit.”
“You’re not them.”
“Yeah.”  Far away and distant thoughts.  “I guess we’ll never know.”
Kiddo frowned, but that was all that was said.  Nothing else was needed.

We got back to my place.  Promised the kiddo we could hang out after we got done.  She earned it, and her dad was away on business.  Watching movie was the most likely thing, though I’d make us something to eat first.  A little bit of fried chicken ramen was sounding like just what the doctor ordered.
Getting back, I pulled open my mailbox.  Some junk mail, take-out menu (might keep that.  I loves me some Chinese), and a letter.  Who the hell would be sending me a letter?  Very old-fashioned.  Anybody who I keep up with regularly could easily contact me by phone.  So who could this be?  Pulling out my knife, I open the top.  When I opened it, everything else fell out of my hands.
Emily looked up.  “What is it?!”
“It’s from Jean’s sister!”

Until next time, a quote,

“You ever notice how few quotes there are about women in the military who are moms?” – Lucien Maverick

Peace out,

Maverick

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 4)

Given that I had no idea if I was ever going to be doing what I was trained to do ever again, there was some savoring of this feeling.  After a mission, that high you get.  Normally, I would spend this time with my sisters, decompressing.  Rodriguez would be talking about getting fucked, Bethke would be all awkward, Beacham would be groaning and trying to mediate the coming conflict, Pennyfeather would be drinking, and Crow would be sitting and listening to the wind, as she always did.  I desperately wished they were here right now.  Wished everything could be the way it was before.
What would I be doing?  I’d be thinking about Jean.  Thinking about getting home to her and jumping into her arms.  About holding her and telling her about it.  We kept no secrets from each other.  That was the rule.  She had clearance, as she was still part of IS and had been with the STARS.  We promised never to keep anything back, because we’d seen what hiding things did to us.  Talking long into the night, then one of us getting frisky.  Passionate, then tender love-making.  We’d hold each other forever.  I promised her I would.  That I’d never let her go.  Now she was gone, forever.  What could I go home to now?  There was no home.  There never would be again.  No matter where I lived, it wasn’t home.  No place that she wasn’t in would be a home to me.  Tears wanted to come, but inside I was so dead.
In my suit’s pocket, I opened it to see a white gold wedding band.  The band always matches the ring.  That’s the rule.  I stared at it, and the inscription inside
Quinn and Jean, Forever
But forever would come no more.  I burned down the home so I wouldn’t have to be there without her.  Why keep a ring if I was without her too?  I reared back, to throw it in the ocean.
“Stop!”  A voice called.  Jean?!  I looked around, but no one was there.  There was the Chinese man at the helm up top, paying attention to the sea.  Putting the ring back inside my pocket, I let out a breath.  Whatever it was, it was gone.  Time to go below and change.
It was strange, stripping down in a fishing boat.  Oh well.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  For whatever reason, it was much easier to get out of this thing this time.  My duffel bag was sitting on the bench beside me.  I opened it up and pulled out my trusty Navy hoodie and sweats.  Snug as a bug.  There was still time before we landed in Fukuoka.
Turning to my suit, I queued up a system in it.  In the event that we can’t get to base in a timely way and have to ditch the suit, this is a system that can keep its sensitive technology by being captured by the enemy.  It sends a fluid through the veins inside, igniting everything.  Naturally, this can only be done when it’s off.  Otherwise you’d have fused gore-tex to your skin.  Ick.
I took it up on deck, hitting the system.  There was a brief shimmer as lights went through it and the system blazed.  Then, flames appeared.  I tossed it into the ocean.  This stuff was basically napalm, so I wasn’t worried about the water stopping it from burning.  The last thing was secured, now I could just wait until we got back to shore.  Checked the pocket cam to make sure all the pictures were in order.  It was perfect.  I suppose I could go back now, but why do that, when I could go back with everything?  We had contacts in Japan, and unlike my former interpreter, these ones could be trusted.  It wouldn’t be as long a journey, once I got to Japan.
Just then, a sound.  Fighter jets!  I looked up to see two F-18s flying by!  So the Navy is out in force.  This close to Korea, this wasn’t good.  War really was looming.  I may be running out of time.  Sitting down, I pulled out the ring I had nearly tossed.  Held it in my hands.  Pain biting at me, couldn’t deal right now.  I put it in my duffel bag, then laid down on the bench and went to sleep.

They all sat there with me.
Beacham finally spoke.  “So, you burned the house down so you wouldn’t have to go back to it?”
I nodded.  “Aye.  I knew that if I went back there, I wouldn’t be able to keep going.  The only way I could survive was to just wall myself off from everything.  As I said, the whole idea at the end of this was to kill myself.  Nothing mattered to me.  I just wanted to get this done, then find a nice spot by the sea and die.  It was what we always talked about.”

“Where would you live, if you could live anywhere?” she asked.
I looked up from the couch, where I had been laying down with the sunlight coming in on me.  Felt like a big cat.
“Mmm, what?”
“If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?”  She walked over to the couch, snuggling up on top of me.
“I don’t know.  Wherever you are.”  Hadn’t ever thought about it much.
“Well of course I’ll be there!  Silly.  But if you could be anywhere in the world with me, where you want it to be?”
Thought for a moment.  “Never really thought about it until now.  The ocean would be nice.  Somewhere I could see or hear the waves each day.  Make us tasty food looking out at it.”
She smiled, looking up at me.  “You really are a secret squid.”
Kissed her forehead.  “You know it.”
Settling in to me, we held each other until both of us fell asleep.

“So, what happened next?” Bethke asked.
Snapping out of memory, I nodded.  “Well, after I got to Fukuoka, I said my goodbyes and thanks to the fishing boat’s captain, then made my way ashore.  My fake passport was still good, so I used it to get myself to Tokyo.  To a little place we all had been told about in Akihabara.”
Everyone knew exactly what I was talking about.

The young man’s face lit up when he opened the door and saw me standing there.
“Quinn-chan!”  He cleared his throat then continued.  “You came!  Was wondering if you ever would.”
I smiled as much as I could at him.  “Well, a girl has to keep her word eventually.”
He gave me a coy look.  “Oh, I don’t think you came here just to see me.  What brings you?”
I held out the micro SD card from my pocket cam.  “I need a favor.”
Now he got that sneaky look in his eye.  “Oh?  What kind of favor?”
Got close.  “The secret, American military kind.  Can you help me?”
He leaned in as well.  “Of course.  Though, a contribution to my lab would be appreciated.”
Shrewd.  Very shrewd.  “The United States is always happy to provide.  You know that.”
“A bingo!” he said.  “I’ll get right to work!  Come on in”
I stepped in, removing my shoes.  He had slippers by the door.  This place was an unholy mess.  It had piles and piles of tech, just everywhere.  The fact that a person lived here blew my mind.  From behind a computer, a female head stuck up.  She shouted something in Japanese in this annoyed voice.
“What’s her deal?” I asked.
“Oh, she just mad that we have a stranger in here.  Normally only lab members are allowed.”
Rolled my eyes.  “Whatever.”
He sat at another computer and pulled up the data that I had.  “Oh!”  Said a bunch of stuff in Japanese that I couldn’t follow.  “Very interesting.  You bring me some Korean secrets.  I can see it already.  Very shady, Quinn-chan…”
I sat at the only open seat in there.  “This is why it’s the American military kind of secret.  The kind you could get in a lot of trouble for talking about.  Too much to handle?”
A devilish look was in his eye.  “No way!  You need this translated, I think?”
“Aye.  The faster the better.  I have a war to stop, depending on what’s there.”
He nodded, seeing the seriousness on my face.  “Okay.  Got Dr Pepper in the fridge.  Drink up.  Will be here a while.”
“Thanks.  I’ll do that.”  This place was a mess.  So much tech everywhere.  Reminded me of some of the labs I had been to at the STARS facility in San Diego.  All their R&D teams.  Some warm memories.  Sitting down, I suddenly felt very tired.  It had been a long trip in here.  Hadn’t slept since I left Fukuoka.  He said a long time, right?  Time to get some rest.

Woke up to the female just above my face, looking down at me.  Her expression was like a scientist studying something.  The second my eyes opened, she squeaked and went running back to the computer she worked at.  Well, that gave me a fucking heart attack.  Sitting up, I opened my drink and guzzled some down.  Let my heart settle.
“Don’t mind Maki.  She never seen an American, outside of her computer.  And you’re very pale American.  She was curious.”
“Your friends are as weird as you, Toriyama.”
“Very hurtful thing to say.  Maki is very nice.  Good lab member.”
Settling back down, I shrugged.  “If you say so.”
“Good timing you wake up!  Almost finished translating.  Even put in English, since I’m nice like that.”
Rolling my eyes, I stood up.  “Yeah, you’re a real peach, T-Dog.”
He turned around, trying to do his best James Bond look.  I couldn’t help but chuckle.  He was such a goof.  Met him at a military event here in Tokyo.  Was able to impress us all with his translation skills.  He can speak 12 different languages, and while his English can be a little broken, his ability to get languages down was impeccable.  We had used him for quick work a couple times.  It wasn’t standard procedure, but he could get things done on the DL, and was dependable.  Though you did have to grease his palms, like anyone.
Walking over, I leaned on his chair, looking at the screen.  “What do we have?”
“Very dangerous things.  Made sure to get translation just so.  North Korean can be tricky.  Like how Mexican and Spain Spanish are, subtle differences.  But I know I’m right.  You find very big secret, Quinn-chan.  Dangerous one.  Your superiors want to know, right away.”
Looking over what he had written down, if I could go pale, I would.  This was scary shit.  Very, very scary shit.  The brass was right, something was happening across the DMZ.  I had to get back to the US now!  In a way that would get the brass’ attention so they would come talk to me right away.  Had an idea.
“I’ll wire you the money tonight, T-dog.  As always, nobody can know about this.  Understood?”
He just waved me off.  “Ya, ya.  I know.”
Kissed his cheek.  “Just making sure you don’t forget.”

Rodriguez was smiling.  “Glad to hear he’s still in top form.”
“So was I.  But now came to the big part.  I had to tell the brass what they needed to know.  There wasn’t time to get all the way to DC.  Especially as war was about to be declared.  So I had to get their attention another way.”
Bethke was excited.  “How?!”

I made sure that my uniform was spotless.  Had left my dress blues in a storage locker.  Glad they kept pressed.  Nothing else had gone in there since I left them.  Officer’s uniform, I still looked fly as fuck.  This literally would be the last time I wore them, so might as well make this one of my best moments.
Stepping out of my cab, I looked over the Washington Navy Yard.  This place was still gorgeous.  Had always wanted to live in Washington.  This state is beautiful, no matter the time of year.  And no snow.  Had never been a fan of the stuff.  Straightening my uniform, I headed toward the JAG office.  In my hand was my briefcase.  Entering the door, I removed my cover.  Just because I was AWOL doesn’t mean that I was going to break protocol.  This is there for a damn good reason.
When I got to the desk, I saw a Petty Officer young lady sitting there, at the computer.
“Greetings, Chief Warrant Officer.  How can I help you?”
I nodded in greeting.  “Yes, my name is Quinn Pierce.  I’m with the STARS.  I’d like to turn myself in.  Three weeks ago today, I went AWOL.  Please inform your LCO immediately, and have them get on the horn to Rear Admiral Gregs.  Tell his staff that this is a matter of national security.”
Everyone in the room was looking at me like a frog just dropped out of my ass.  Shock and awe, as Bush II would have put it.
“Aye-aye, ma’am!”
I walked over to a bench, set my briefcase down, then sat there and waited.  I was sure the Master at Arms would be coming to arrest me very soon.  Sure enough, they came to get me.  When they went for my briefcase, I showed them it was locked with a key that hung around my neck.
“The contents of this briefcase are classified TS and higher, Chief Petty Officer.  I’m afraid these will have to stay with me until I can be debriefed by the Admiral.  For his eyes only.”
He looked at the Ensign who was with him.  Was so weird, to have a superior officer staring me down, and me standing my ground.
“Per protocol, the case will have to come with us, but as the contents are secret, you may keep the key to it, and can verify it was unopened when we return it as the Rear Admiral arrives.”
“Understood, sir.”
“Very well.  Chief Warrant Officer Quinn Pierce, as per the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I am placing you under arrest for desertion of your post, along with arson of your home.”  They slapped the cuffs on me, and I was taken to a wagon to be transported to the Naval Yard’s brig.  Now I would be waiting again.  Something told me that I wouldn’t be waiting long.

Everyone was looking at me wide-eyed.
“So you just strolled in there like a boss and told them to take you into custody?!” Bethke said, clearly in disbelief.
“Aye.  Strolled right in.  Wasn’t even a thing.”
Beacham nodded, taking it in.  “I remember when we got word you had reappeared.  Everyone assumed that you had gone and killed yourself.  After torching the house, we figured you had gone crazy or something.  But because we had no confirmation that you had died, we couldn’t have a funeral.  So many tears, not just for Jeanie, but also for you.  We figured one day we would get word that you had been found in a ditch or something.”
The words hurt.  I had made my sisters sad.  No wonder they had hated me.  I hated me right now.  A lot.
“Then you just showed up, out of the blue,” she continued.  “Everyone was in shock when the Lt gave us the news.  We literally didn’t believe it.  He showed us the report that he was given saying that the AWOL member of Alpha Team had been found and taken into custody, at the JAG office in Washington.  We didn’t know you had given yourself up, but given where you were, we all figured.  There were a thousand theories as to why.  One of them happened to be that you got some super secret mission that couldn’t be given to anyone else, but we didn’t get why you would go there instead of Command.”
Pennyfeather piped in, “After three weeks, we figured they had to list you as dead.  By that point, we all believed you were gone.”
“I didn’t!” Bethke said, an obstinate look on her face.  “Not for one second.  I knew that you were still alive, somewhere.  Somehow.”
Never in my life have I felt like more shit than right then.  “I…I…I didn’t want that to happen.  I just, needed to make the people who took Jean away from me pay.  Make them all pay.  It was, all I thought about.  Every second of every day.  If I did nothing, I couldn’t have lived with-”
A hand on mine stopped me.  It was Crow.  “Continue.”
I nodded.  “Aye-aye.”

Chilling in the officer’s brig.  Now this was pretty alright.  Was allowed to keep my uniform, and I hadn’t been sentenced yet, pending court-martial.  That was neat.  Sitting in a room, for a day, watching what the watch officer’s had on TV.  Had a lot of time to think.  Tried to avoid it, wherever possible.  Too much time to miss Jean.  Too much to miss everyone else.  Too much to think about what I had done, the lines I had crossed, and what would happen next.  Everything hinged on the Admiral not fucking me over.  If he didn’t keep up his end, I’d not only be disgraced out of the military, but would spend time in a real prison for burning the house down.  It was an terrifying specter, in a lot of ways.
Then there came a Commander.  Immediately I stood at attention.  Old habits die hard, I suppose.
“Pierce?”
“Aye, sir!”
“You’ve got visitors.  Important ones.”  An attending sailor handed him the briefcase I had the evidence in.  Looked it over, no evidence of tampering.
“Come with us.”
No cuffs.  Walking like civilized people.  This was nice.  We got to a room that had no windows.  An interrogation room?  Stepping inside, I saw a ton of video equipment, and a laptop.  Streaming?  This was weird.
“Have a seat, Pierce.”  The Commander indicated a chair in front of the camera.  Sitting down, I felt so uncomfortable.  At least there weren’t any blazing lights.  That would have made me figure I’d been had.  This wasn’t that strange, actually.  Reminded me of some of the podcasts I had watched on YouTube.  I sat there, with the briefcase closed on the table.
A brief wait, then the door opened.  In walked the Admiral, with a couple attendants of his own.  Everyone stood up, myself included.  He walked right over to me, with a smile on his face and an outstretched hand.
“Pierce!  Good to see you again!  For a while there, we thought you were dead.”
Shaking his hand, I did my best to smile.  Showing happy emotions was so much harder for me than before.  Happiness was the road to painful memories.  “It’s been a crazy journey, sir.”
“I bet.  You certainly chose a flashy way to get my attention.  You couldn’t have just flown to DC and talked with me there?”
I shrugged.  “War is on the verge of breaking out.  I didn’t think I had the time.  Needed something big enough to get your attention and put things on hold until you could come talk to me.”
He snorted.  “Well, you did that.  Got everyone in the Pentagon who knew about Operation Shadow Knife looking.”
“And who was that?”
“Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and the President, of course.”
Holy shit.  That was some major names that I was now a name to.  Was a little hard to believe.
“We’re going to be streaming with them all right now.  They’re queued up in the Situation Room at the White House.  I take it from your dramatic reappearance that you have something?”  There was a kind of desperation in his voice.
“Aye sir.  I’ve got what you wanna know.  I know exactly what happened in the attack on the Pacific Fleet, and why.  You were correct, sir.  It was big.  Bigger than anyone could have guessed.  And it wasn’t Kim Jong Un who ordered the attack.”
“Have a seat, Pierce.  Let’s go over what you found.”
“Aye-aye, sir.”  I sat down, and he was across from me, at another camera.  The Commander was sitting at the laptop, running the show, and their aides were on the edge of the room, taking notes.
“Start from the top, Pierce.  What have you found?”
“Well, sir, as I said, you were correct.”  I opened up the briefcase and showed a picture of the man who led the base I had attacked.  “This is Gen. Yi Jung Choi.  He is the commander of the base that sent the fighters.  A few months ago, he had convinced Iran to sell them some of the popper planes they were developing.  The stated goal was to increase security against the United States.  A goal that Iran could get behind.  Since the sanctions were lifted on imports to North Korea, they seized the day and got a whole squadron of planes to the North Koreans.  They had secretly been training fighter pilots through China.  They had tried to make an agreement through them to get planes, but the negotiations fell apart as Chinese intelligence figured out that they were planning some kind of attack against the US, and they didn’t want to be part of it.  In fact, China’s dedication to trying to stop things before they happened is worth noting.”
Had to give something to Zhang.  He stuck his neck out for me.
“However, the attack on the Fleet was not the big plan.  We’ve all known for a while the Kim Jong Un does not command the respect his father did.  That’s just common knowledge.  It seems that the tears in the military from the Supreme Leader goes far, far deeper.  There were plans for a military coup against Un.  There was one problem – he does have a large contingent of the military who is loyal to him.  In order for the coup to be as bloodless as possible, they needed a third party to assist.  Someone who had the resolve to get rid of Un, as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Sound like any nation we know?”
The Admiral had the same face he had in the car when he was taking things in.  It was such a perfect expression.  All the critical analysis, taking things in, debating in his mind.  I could watch him think for hours.
“They were hoping that an attack on the Pacific Fleet was going to be the boost they needed to get America into the fight.  Public outcry for vengeance, the far-right and their war rhetoric, and the mob mentality in this country were all solid indicators of what would happen.  Then, as the KPA is preparing for war, they could come in, do the coup with Un, and offer him up to America.  They genuinely didn’t count on the US actually believing what he said about not being responsible.  To be fair, the public doesn’t, but that’s why our dumb-shit President has military advisors.  Not that he listens to them, either.”
From the laptop, I saw the Commander silently chuckle.
“So all of this was a ruse to get us to bring down Un.  After he was deposed, wouldn’t they have thought that we would try and install a leader of our own?”
I nodded.  “Aye.  But that wasn’t a problem.  All of the major political leaders in that country are associated with the military.  Democracy exists in that country in name only.  So no matter who we put in as the puppet leader, they still get what they want.  This plan was thought out.  Our belief in Un saying that he wasn’t responsible was the only hitch.  And if Congress bows to pressure for war, it could still be.”
There was silence in the room.
“Unbelievable,” the Admiral said, finally.  “To think that they planned this all that far out.  These are some devious bastards.”  Turning to face the camera.  “It’s time we got back to the drawing board about our response to the attack.  We need to get Congressional leaders into a room.  We got some ‘anonymous intel’ straight from the source in North Korea, and can head off the plan for war.  Will also mean coming back to the table with Kim Jong Un.  His nation could devolve into civil war if he finds out the extent of this, and we don’t want our allies in the South worrying.  Not with the North still having nukes.”  He got out of the camera’s view, then motioned for them to cut the feed.  Then he turned to me.
“I gotta say, Pierce, that was some damn fine work.  I have NO idea how you got this, or got everything translated.  I’m to assume all the intel is in that briefcase?”
“Aye, sir.  Every page that I scanned, along with the translation.”
“We can trust that it’s accurate?”
“Down the characters used, sir.  The source I had do it was flawless.  They even went through potential translation issues, just so there are no mistakes.”
“And this source can be trusted?”
“Aye.  Though I made sure to grease their palms enough to have no worries, down the road.”
He smiled at me.  “Well done, Chief Warrant Officer.  Probably the last time I’ll be able to call you that.”
I nodded.  “Which leaves the court martial situation.”
He motioned for the aides to leave, along with the Commanders’.
“Yeah, it does.  But I wouldn’t worry.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re free to go.”
The Commander had a look of disbelief.  “Say what?”
He gave him a serious look.  “Your ears malfunctioning, Commander?”
Can’t imagine how small he felt then.  As much as I did listening to it.
“No sir!”
“Excellent.”  Turning back to me.  “Well then, Pierce, that wraps things up.  You won’t be able to serve in the military anymore.  But, if you ever are able to put your skills to work in the private sector, let me know.  We may end up having more work we can do with you in the future.”
I snapped to attention, saluting.  “Aye sir!”

“And that’s how it ended.  From there, I worked out how to start my PMC, then got here.  So now you know.  That’s everything.”  Finally wrapping up this tale, it felt like this massive, unimaginable weight was off my chest.  No more lies to at least my sisters.  So many other people who I would never be able to tell the truth to, but not my sisters.
They all looked like they were processing.
Finally, Rodriguez spoke.  “So, hermana, we gonna get to come chill at your swinging pad again?”
I smiled at her.  The cold feeling was gone.  For the first time, in years, I was my old self.
“Aye.  But next time you all are bringing the booze.  Bitches ain’t gonna freeload off me forever!”
We all shared a laugh, and the drinks began to be poured as we reminisced about the past.  Years of anger and pain had been swept away.  This was the best night I had had in forever.  A night I would never forget.

Later on, as they were passing out on my couches and chairs, or in Rodriguez’s case, in my guest shower because she was nearly puking, and I was cleaning up the place, Crow came over to me.
“There is one thing I was wanting to know.  You said that your plan was to get to the ocean and then kill yourself.  Tell me, what are you going to do, now that you’re here?”
Grabbing a glass, mixing up a tequila sunrise, I took a drink.  Never once did I break eye contact with her while drinking it.  Not one time.

Until next time, a quote,

“I promise, one day I will take you to Paradise.” – Count Darcia, Wolf’s Rain

Peace out,

Maverick

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 2)

“Man, you’re doing well for yourself,” Rodriguez noted as they came in.  “Never knew you were so into being rich, hermana.”
I shrugged.  “I wanted to live on the ocean.  Not my fault that it costs an arm and a leg to do it.”
We went into the kitchen/dining room and I motioned for them to eat up.  The table had been set with all sorts of treats.  Shrimp Alfredo dip, Texas rattlesnake bites, and spinach artichoke cups.  H’ordeurves for the ninja assassin’s.  I also put out some various boozes, glasses, and ice.
Beacham nodded.  “You went all-out.”
I tried to crack a smile.  Was suddenly not working so great again.  “Got a whole bunch of angry women in here.  Food and drink make a good bribe.”
Bethke, Pennyfeather, Rodriguez, and Beacham chuckled, while Crow had the same intense look as always, though she did partake.  We all sat down at the table and knew that we were going to get right into it.
“Alright, Pierce,” Beacham said, “time to explain yourself.  I expect this to be good.”
I held up a hand, walking over to where I had a duffel bag was sitting on the kitchen counter.  From it I produced a little device with antennas sticking up.  Walking over, I set it on the table, starting it up.
“A jammer?” Bethke asked.  “You really think you need that here?”
I frowned.  “All of you know how easy it is for ears to be listening.  And with what I’m going to tell you, I don’t wanna risk my or your safety.”
Beacham was now very serious.  “This really is that big.”
“Aye.”
Everyone leaned in.
“Not sure where to start.”
“At the beginning,” Crow said, finally speaking.
“Aye-aye.”  Thinking back.  “When I torched the house, I knew exactly where I was going.  I needed to find out who had attacked the ship Jean was on.”
“Why didn’t you go to the Lt?” Bethke asked.
“I knew he wouldn’t know.  And if he did, I knew for a fact he wasn’t gonna tell me.  Knowing me the way he did, after Jean died, the chances that he was going to tell me were non-existent.  So I had to go to someone else.”
“Who did you go to?” Rodriguez asked.
“To Washington.  I had to see a man at the Pentagon.”
Everyone’s eyes went wide.
“No fucking way!  I refuse to believe that you broke into the goddamn Pentagon!” Bethke exclaimed.
“You’re right.  I didn’t.  I broke into their parking garage.”
Rodriguez chuckled, shaking her head.  “You’re loco, hermana!”
I shrugged.  “Got what needed to get done taken care of.  Besides, it wasn’t that hard.  All I needed was an ERC-7.  The rest was easy.  Their security is a fucking joke.”
“So,” Beacham continued.  “Who did you talk to?”
“An Admiral, with three stars on his uniform.”
They were all in awe.

The wait was interminable.  Hours went by.  Guess the guy was working late.  Frustrating, but that’s how it went.  As I was already in the car, and it was darkened, I could turn off the ERC-7.  Now it was just a waiting game.  Finally, the office was clearing out.  I saw him on the phone with somebody, looked like an important call.
The door opened.  “I understand, sir.  We’ll get this taken care of in the morning, I assure you.  Understood.  I’ll see you then.”  Shutting the door, he let out a sigh.  An older black man, who had the form of someone who has seen many things, done many things, and apologizes for none of it.  There was strength coming from this man.
“Long day?” I asked, sitting up.
He moved to turn, and I put my sidearm against his head.
“No need for this to get ugly, Admiral?”
He growled, “who the hell are you?!”
I snorted.  “You might know me, if not from my name and face than by my reputation.  I refuse to believe a file or two with my name on it hasn’t crossed your desk at some point.  I remember you.  We met in San Diego.  It was at this big event to christen the STARS formation.  You and a whole bunch of other brass were there.  It was a veritable who’s-who of the military.”
“So you’re a STAR.  Interesting.  What are you doing here?”
Dead serious.  “I need intel.”
I could see from his reflection that he was relaxing.  Now he could see what the bargaining position is.
“Intel about what?”
“I need to know who attacked the Pacific Fleet.  As in specifics.”
“And what will you do with that information?”
“What I do best.  What I was trained to do, and am the best at doing.”
His face lit up.  “Pierce.  Quinn Pierce.”
“So my reputation does precede me.  Nice.”
“It does indeed.  Tell you what, let’s get out of this parking garage and we can go talk somewhere civilized.  And you can lower the gun.”
I shook my head.  “And why should I trust you?”
“Because I think we can work together.”
Suddenly I realized that I was opening up a whole new can of worms, and this made me very, very pleased.

“You didn’t trust this guy, did you?” Bethke groaned.
“I didn’t have a lot of choice.  I needed this intel, and if he was willing to strike a deal with me, then so be it.  I was already sticking my neck out here.”
Crow nodded.  “What next?”
“Well, he got us out of the parking garage, then parked in an alley so I could change seats.  Was so weird, riding shotgun with this dude in his REALLY nice car.  All the things I’ve done, this was the most surreal.  We ended up going to Five Guys and getting some food in the drive-thru, the parking and talking.”

Sitting in that car, eating a bacon burger and fries, this was by far the weirdest night I have ever had.  No other night even came close.  Not by a long shot.  But I was enjoying the food.  Hadn’t eaten since I left, so this was nice.  Even got a shake.  My new benefactor was eating a bacon dog, nothing with it.
“So, why do you want this intel so bad?” he asked me, finally.
Chewing and then swallowing, I looked straight out the window.  “Because I want to make the fuckers who attacked us pay.”
The skepticism in his voice was palpable.  “Why is this so important to you?  What’s your angle here?”
Taking another bite, I took the time to chew and let the silence hang.  Then I said.  “They took my wife away from me.  She was my world, and now she’s gone.  I’m gonna make those fuckers pay.  In the most horrible, violent way I can.  They will pay for what they’ve done!”  My voice got more of a snarl as I went.
The Admiral nodded, chewing on his food as well.  “Okay, I follow.  But I can’t just give you this intel.  You’re part of the American military.  It would start a war if you got caught.”
“Already took care of that.  I’m AWOL right now.  Burned my house to the ground and disappeared.  By all military law, I’m a criminal.  If I were to get captured or killed, you could disavow knowledge of me and throw me under the bus.  That’s fine.”
Taking another bite, he sat there for a bit.  I could see the gears in his head turning.  This really was a man worth respecting.  He thought through everything carefully.  The look in his eyes said it all.  This thousand-yard stare going through every possible scenario in his head.  The risks, potential fallout, and options if the worst should happen.
“Okay.  You went this far, not knowing if this would work.  So you’re willing to go all the way.  I got that.  Here’s my question – if I could supply you with the intel you need, would you be willing to do something for me?”
Now we were on the same level.  Not orders, but a favor.  Despite feeling small in his presence, on bargaining position we were equals.
“I’m listening.”
“Alright, here’s the deal.  We know that the North Koreans got the planes from Iran.  Officially, the North Korean government condemns the action, saying that it’s a rogue element, but here’s the kicker – we believe them.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No, I’m not.  We believe that there is some kind of rogue element in North Korea, and that this attack was orchestrated by them.  But we need to find out who, and why.”
“If it’s some rogue military element, why hasn’t Kim Jong Un had them killed?”  I was suddenly intrigued.  My bloodlust was brought down just a little.
“That’s what we’re wondering.  We know where the fighters came from, and who ordered the attack.  For whatever reason, the Chinese were very helpful in this regard.  We just can’t figure out why this guy isn’t dead or disappeared.  Something’s going on beyond the DMZ, and we need to know what it is.  Normally we’d look into sending a STARS or SEAL team, but this is too big and the President has cold feet.  With North Korea saying they will denuclearize, I get part of it.  However, one agent, going in alone, not officially part of the United States on a personal vendetta, that covers our ass pretty nicely.  You following?”
“Aye, sir.  So, what would you need from me?”
“Intel showing what’s going on with this guy and the leadership of North Korea.  Anything you can get us.  The more, the better.  If you can get in there and get us that intel, we could lay a lot of this issue to rest.  America is still yelling for war, and the President is probably gonna be impeached because of this, but if we can get solid intel, it might help put the administration and our fears to rest.”
Never have I felt more powerful than I did at that moment.
“So, are you in?”
It didn’t take me more than a second to give my decision.  “Aye.  I was already gonna do this anyway.  But what do I get out of it?  I’m already fucked as it is.  Less jail time?”
He got a very dark grin.  “Tell you what, you get me juicy intel, and I can make your court martial smooth and painless.  You wouldn’t be able to stay in the Navy, but how does an honorable discharge sound?”
Like one of my dreams actually came true.  When I went down this path, I was certain that this was basically deep-sixing everything I’ve done up ’til now.  But here I was getting a second chance, with my revenge.
“I’m in.”
“Excellent.  Now, what do you need from me?”
“Intel on who I’m after, where they are, topographical data, and a Tactical Operations Suit.  Get me that, I’ll get you what you need.”
“Alright.  You staying somewhere close by?”
“I can get a rat’s nest motel stay in cash, no problem.”
“Alright.  Meet me here at 2130 tomorrow night.  I’ll have everything you need.”
“Aye-aye.”

Everyone was dumbstruck.
“So even when you go rogue, you’re still being used by the brass,” Rodriguez said, finally.
“That’s how the brass works,” Crow replied.
“Yeah, no shit,” Pennyfeather groaned.  “We’re just tools to them.”
I nodded.  “Aye, but I knew that.  I knew that the Admiral was just having me do IS’s dirty work.  I didn’t care.  I was gonna do it anyway.  Still, he got me the gear I needed.”

I sat in the darkness of the parking lot, eating another burger.  This was kind of peaceful.  Looking on the chaos of DC at night.  For the fact that our entire government is there, you’d think it would be safer.  But it’s not.  Funny.  A car and a white van came around the corner, parking in the same corner I was sitting.  However, I was in the dark enough to not be seen.
From the vehicle came the Admiral, being joined by a tech from the van.
“Sir, are you sure this is a good idea?  How the hell can we know we can trust this bitch?  She’s gone rogue, and is in this for blood.  That’s not a good combo!  We’re risking starting World War III here.”
From the darkness I came.  “It’s not that bad a bargain, if you think about it.”
The little man looked like he had pissed himself, while the Admiral was smiling.
“Pierce, you’re early.  Excellent.  Let’s get down to it.  Harron?”
The man nodded, opening the van and taking out a large case.
“Alright, we got you your TOS, but here’s the thing – this suit is synced to your biometrics, but it can only be used once.  Without someone to redo the syncing after usage, it’s a one and done.  Not to mention, you won’t have any of the uplinks that you do while on a regular mission.  The only perks are the suits essential functions, and the adaptable camouflage.  Since the uplink stuff uses a ton of power, you actually have some excellent power cell life.  You’re looking at 24 to 32 hours, easy.”
I took that in, making notes of the important bits.  Guess I had to go old-school with navigation.  That’s fine.  I learned from the Arabs, after all.
The Admiral looked at me seriously.  “Do you have an idea about how you will get to your target?”
“The less you know about that, the better.  Though I will need transportation into China.  Something where I can take a case like this and not be noticed.  Got anything?”
He nodded.  “Yeah, I got something.  There’s a cargo jet leaving from JFK tomorrow, 2200.  I can get you on there, no problem.  Got a name I can give them?  One that isn’t yours that can go on a manifest?”
“Sara Fallsworth.  It’s what’s on my passport.”
“Excellent!  I’ll do that.  Head to their cargo station and find a man named Dallas.  Trust me, they’ll know who you’re talking about.”
“Aye-aye.”
And that was how this mission began.  It was given the code-name “Shadow Knife.”  Where I first had a basic outline of where I was going, now I was in it.  However, once I got into China, I knew that I was on my own.  It hurt, knowing how far away my sisters were.  I wished they were with me now.

“So you did miss us,” Rodriguez said.  There was a legit smile on her face.
“More than you ever knew.  My original plan, after getting revenge, was to kill myself.  Life wasn’t worth living anymore.  Only thing that stopped me was the image of all of you in my head, crying over my grave.  Wherever that ended up being.”  Painful memories.  Gripping heart.
Beacham put her hand on mine, along with Rodriguez.  As Bethke was right next to me, she leaned against me.  We were all still sisters.  Plus, getting to unload all of this felt great.  But there was so much more to say.

China is a gorgeous country.  Westerners who haven’t been there think it’s like Japan, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, both countries would have culture shock talking to the other.  It’s so alien.  Which brought me to unloading off the cargo plane.  I kept the case with my TOS close, and my duffel bag with the rest of my gear.
Something else you wouldn’t think about working in the seedy spy underbelly is that we meet people.  Lots and lots of people.  You’d be amazed at the connections that years of being a ninja assassin had given the lot of us.  Since we had done missions in China, we had made the acquaintance of Chinese who cared nothing for their own country and just wanted a fuck-ton of money.  Which is where I found myself with a man who was going to be working as my translator.  Lanky, unimpressive, this guy could vanish into a crowd effortlessly, virtually anywhere.  He had a gift at how uninteresting he looked.  Like he was tired, bored, and unfulfilled, no matter what he was doing.
We met up at the cargo loading area.
“Hello again, my friend.”
“Aye.  Let’s not waste time on pleasantries, Liu.  We have a long way to go.”
“Perhaps you’d best tell me where we’re going, then.”
“To a village just south of Xining.  As I am to understand, it has no name, but you’ll know it when you get there.”
His face went into disbelief.  “Do you know how far that is?”
I looked right at him.  “We sleep in different rooms at whatever motels we end up crashing at.”
He groaned.  “I better be getting paid for this.”
“A king’s ransom, Liu.  Don’t worry.”  The Admiral had given me an account that I could transfer money out of that was entirely off the books.  Every branch of the military has several slush funds for shit like this.  I was told to pay as was needed, but never give account info to any other party.  Not a problem.  Liu was loyal to the almighty dollar, so give him enough and I had a guarantee of his silence.

He wasn’t kidding when he talked about how long this trip was.  We ended up crashing at several dumpy inns, motels, and even a half-way decent hotel that he could get two rooms with me not being there with him to check in and nobody asking questions.
Eventually, we did get to our destination.  This village was on no map, and few people knew of it, but we found it.  Parking the truck, we got out and immediately people were unnerved.  I guess they’ve never seen an Irish-American ginger before.  Didn’t help that this was out in the desert and I was just about paler than the sand, dressed in khaki shorts and a white button-up shirt.  I could guide ships into port, I was that pale.
We asked around.  I knew who I was looking for – a chemist who was rumored to live out here.  This woman knew a formula that I needed.  As I understood it, she was the only living human being who did.  After a bit of grilling, because the locals were suspicious as fuck of outsiders, they finally told us where our quarry was – in a ramshackle home on the edge of town.
Coming to the door, we knocked on it.  There was a bit of a wait, until a Chinese woman who looked so old that her wrinkles had wrinkles and the hair she had left was paler than me came to answer.
Naturally, she spoke only Chinese, but my translator kept pace with both of us well.
“Who are you?  What are you doing here?”
I stepped forward.  “We require your services, ma’am.”
“What kind of services?”
“There is an ancient formula that you alone know.  A poison that can kill and leave its victims with a large grin.  I was hoping to barter with you to procure some of it.”
She didn’t reply, instead looking at me.  I didn’t try and hide the expression I had.  The bloodlust was back, and I was aching to finally get to work killing me enemy.  For a bit, we just stared at one-another, with my translator just standing there, confused.
“Come in,” she replied, finally.  We stepped inside, and were greeted by a very strange array of odors.  Some of it was like spicy food, others were like strange plants, then we got whiffs of rotting things.  It was weird, to say the least.  Weirder still was that the inside of her house was filled with glass vials, all labeled in Chinese.
I turned to my interpreter, pointing to the vials.
“Medicines.  Each one has a name like an old herbal remedy from hundreds of years ago.”
“Yes,” she said, “Westerners turn to science to save themselves, but I know the old ways.  It’s why I still live at 121.”
I couldn’t help my jaw dropping.  “Holy shit…”
Liu seemed impressed as well, saying something to her in a respectful way in Chinese.
Then we got to a table she had that was covered in jars, several mortar and pestles, and random plants and juices.  This was crazy.  The fact that she lived at all was one thing, but she also had this operation going and got around worlds better than I would have ever expected at her age.
Sitting down, she looked at me again.  “You wish for the Smiling Death.  A painful way to die.  All your muscles contracting and twisting, leaving you with a grin as you go into the next life.  What do you need this for?  Speak truthfully.”
No part of me wanted to lie to this woman.  “I’m looking to get revenge against an enemy who took the one I love more than anyone in the world away from me.  They died alone, far away from me, either burned to death or drowning in the cold, black ocean.  I couldn’t even be with them, at the end.”
“A very terrible death, it sounds.  You seek violent retribution.”
“Aye.  The more the better.  I want this person and all who are with them to die in the most painful way possible.  So that’s what I’m going to do.”
She nodded, taking it all in.  After a few moments, she got up, walking over to a shelf.  Moving some things back, she pulled out a small, locked box.  The key was hanging from a rope on her neck.  Opening it, she took out a vial that was filled with a liquid that was a reddish, pinkish hue.  A strange color.
“This is the Smiling Death.  The only vial I have.  The creation process takes weeks, but the effect is absolute.  Just a drop of this will kill a man.  Put this vial in any urn of water, no matter the size, and it shall kill all who drink it.  You are hurting, in a way that cannot be described, and your pain is real.  I know it.  So many come looking for this poison, for a cheating spouse or a wronged lover, but I deny it to them.  You come to me with an open, bleeding heart, and a desire to punish the wicked.  So for you I shall give it.”
I nodded.  “Thank you.  Name your price.”
She shook her head.  “It is not money that gets you this vial, westerner.  It is the truth of the words you spoke.”  Setting the vial on the table, she smiled at me.
Now came the awful part.  “So, you are the only one in the world who has the knowledge on how to make this, are you not?”
She nodded.  “Yes.  There is no one else.  When I die, this poison dies with me.”
Taking the vial, I smiled at her.  “There are not words to describe my gratitude, ma’am.”  Standing up, I walked behind her.  Made a motion for my translator to know not to translate what I was about to say.  Took out a Chinese side-arm, screwing a suppressor onto it.
“I want you to know, I bear you no ill will, ma’am.  You’re an artist, and it pains me to do this.  However, the cost of my revenge is no loose ends.  Please understand, I have nothing but respect.”
She didn’t move or say a word as I pointed my gun at her head.  Like she knew what was coming and was at peace.  That was the hope, anyway.  A pop as the bullet went into her skull, and her head hit the desk.
Liu looked up at me.  “I hope that doesn’t mean you’re gonna put a bullet in me.”
I shook my head.  “You could have anyone was a client to translate for, and your silence can be bought.  She’s the only person in the world who knows how to make this poison, and if I can find out about her, others can too.  Can’t risk that.”
He loosened his collar.  “I’m gonna step outside.”
Nodding, I grabbed a blanket from a chair and put it over the woman’s head.
“Go ahead.  I’m gonna pay my respects.”
“Yeah…”  He left very quickly.  Guess he’s never had to deal with dead people before.  So innocent.  If I was a spiritual person, I would have said a prayer for this woman.  As it stands, I took in all of the hovel that she lived in, committing every detail to memory.  Just the sound of the wind and chatter from the village.  Voices closer.  That was odd.
Stepping outside, I found out why, when I saw my translator standing there with two Ministry of State Security agents, both armed.
“Oh shit…”

Until next time, a quote,

“I would sooner destroy a stained glass window as an artist like yourself.  However, as i can’t have you following me…Please understand, I hold you in the highest respect.” – Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride

Peace out,

Maverick

Bad Dreams, Bad Behavior

You never stop to think what will happen if you do bad things for good people.  It’s a strange concept.  The idea that you will have to use underhanded tactics against those who you have as an ally, or those who seem to have done nothing at all.  But you have orders and those orders are absolute.  You are told what to do and you’re expected not to argue.  That’s just how it goes.  In the STARS, it was something we became very familiar with, after a while.  In my current job, since I’m loyal only to the almighty dollar, I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore.  There’s no allegiance.  I’ve killed snitches for cartels, I’ve stolen plans from the SAS as a contract to the Chinese.  It’s just how things go.
But some nights it came back to me the moral grey area and how I felt about it back then.  Which led to the dream that I was having.  It was a memory, of one of the most nefarious things I’ve done.

Being in London in this outfit was so strange.  Wearing a TOS and sitting on a rooftop across from the Rosewood was just bizarre.  ERC-7 equipment kept us out of the feeds of cameras on our way up.  Pennyfeather was our operative inside.  The one of us who stood out the least.  She had family in Britain, along with dual-citizenship, on her mother’s side.  Joked that when she got old, if America didn’t have universal healthcare, she’d move to the UK so she wouldn’t be bankrupted by being old.  Made sense to me.  Kinda jealous.  Sure, we all have VA coverage, but that has SO many pitfalls.  Trust and believe.
The operation was simple – find out if a British intelligence agent was selling secrets to a Muslim extremist group.  There had been a number of suicide bombings of safe houses in the UK, and while they were busy with bureaucracy, we had actionable intel that we could get proof of the betrayal tonight.  Which brought me, Beacham, and Crow to this rooftop, with Bethke providing exfil support in a van parked down the street and Rodriguez with Osprey to get mission changes to us in real time.  Given that she’s Latina, she would most assuredly stand out in this country.  Sucked having to make her the odd woman out, but that’s just how it goes.  We’ve all been there.
Pennyfeather had used a gyro cam that she mounted to the bottom of her table to keep a steady watch on her targets, while sitting at the bar with a laser mic to keep word, while she drank fine wine and sat with a book that she pretended to read, which just so happened to have the mic inside.  Fit right in.  This was a ritzy place, after all.
Target was a black man, sitting at the bar alone.  This might end up being a wild goose chase, but it’s on government dime, and the military budget only ever gets bigger.  No worries here about running out of fine wine money, but she was being smart and sipping it slowly.  A classy woman wouldn’t suck it down, after all.
Her phone acted as the communication with us, with no access to outside networks except for a direct link to our comms.  The system was very thorough.  It didn’t even have WIFI connectivity potential.  A semi-smart phone.  Like the middle achieving student in its phone class.
New target entering.
Camera zoomed in on a man coming and sitting next to him.  They seemed quite chummy.  He was a white man, dressed like any person you’d see on the street.
Text from Rodriguez – Positive ID, Andrew Monroe, British national, radical Muslim, known connection to terrorists.
So we had it!
Fifth freedom granted? Beacham sent.
Must confirm intent first.  Continue monitoring.
They greeted each other cordially enough.  Very close.  Talked about the “football” game (Europeans and their shit about calling soccer “football.”  I don’t even like that sport and I think it’s just them trying to be obstinate), their respective families.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, the target put something down on the table.  A flash drive?  It looked like one.  They exchanged farewells and the target left.
Get that drive! Rodriguez sent.
Beacham cued up her list.  Pennyfeather, can you lift it?
Aye.  Audio going dark.  Maintain visual on primary target.
Aye-aye.  Do us proud.
I cued up the feed for the gyro cam on my screen and watched her get up and go over to where the men sat at the bar.  She played coy, hitting on the man with the drive.  Our target was getting up as if to leave.  He paid his bill, then headed out of the bar.
I looked over at Beacham.  <What’s the play, Mama?>
She signed, <Feed shows him not heading toward the exit.  Looks to be headed back to his room.  We have an angle from here.  Keep monitoring.>
Cuing up her comm.  Bethke, keep an eye on the entrance.  If he leaves, let us know.
Aye-aye!
Things got tense.  Looked back at the feed, and it showed the man with water spilled on him from what appeared to be a clumsy waiter, and Pennyfeather headed back to her seat.  Damn she’s good!
Once she was back at her table, we got some info from a USB cord adapter she had in her purse.  It pulled up the flash drive and its content.  We hit the jackpot!  This had the names of operatives, their locations, their targets.  However, this dude also had the names of other people.  Targets that we had gone after!  Not only was he selling out British intelligence, but he was selling out the STARS too.  Did the enemy know about this?  Questions WAY above my pay grade.  But he was connected.  We couldn’t legally connect this to him, since we weren’t officially in this country.
What’s the play? I sent Rodriguez.
A brief pause.  Fifth freedom granted.  Eliminate the officer, capture the Muslim.
Showtime.  Switching my SC-20K to sniper mode, I took aim.  His room had a great angle from here.  It was so calm tonight.  With the built-in suppressor of this weapon, I could kill this guy with only the birds being annoyed.  Would have to do this in one shot.  The man had come in, taking off his dinner jacket.  Looked to be relieved.  Long day being a traitor?  Don’t worry, buddy.  It’s gonna be over real soon.  Turned the TV on, got up to head to the window.  Cracked it up.  Cool summer night.  Need some fresh air?
Beacham nodded.  <He just made this easy.  Clearance to take the shot.>
I nodded, zooming in.  Nominal wind factor tonight, angle was clear, distance wasn’t severe enough to factor in gravity.  This was too easy.  He stood at the window, looking out.  Was taking in London.  Made sense.  He worked outside the city, at a mobile base.  No word on what he did.  Didn’t really care.  He was dangerous, and now we knew he was a traitor.  A sudden end to a career.
Took in a breath.  Pop!  Trail into the night’s sky.  Hit him right in the chest.  Lived just long enough to look in my direction and realize what had happened before he hit the floor.
Pennyfeather, lead Monroe outside, ditch him at the port side facing the wall.  Once there, grab him, Bethke.  After ditching the target, head into the alley and we’ll RV.  Once the target is secured, head over to the other side of the street and park in the alley.  We’ll lead up there and head back to Osprey.
This mission was strange.  The feeling of killing British intelligence officers without telling them anything was weird.  We just came in here and offed this dude.  No trial, no nothing.  Just a straight-up execution.  British police would be investigating.  Would they ever know what a piece of shit he was?  More questions above my pay grade.  Not a great night.  Would talk to Beryl about this.  She had come to me and been very open to talking further.  It was getting easier to talk to her.  In fact, I liked having an outlet that I could trust.  Nothing we talked about reached the Lt.  Just two girls having girl-talk.  Navy girl-talk.  Was still weird how she was being nice to me, but I’ll take it.

Was woken up by a call.  Checked the time – 0040.  Who the hell would be calling me at this hour?!  Saw the ID – Emily.  That had me immediately on edge.
“Emily?!  What’s going on?!”
The sound of really loud noise was in the background.  Music.  Dance music?  What the hell?
“Quinn?!  Quinn, I need your help.  I’m at the Aston Manor!  Came here with a girl and her friends and they ditched me.  I’m all alone and I don’t know what to do!”
In a snap I was on my feet.  “Stay right where you are!  Are you in a place that is visible to staff?  Like near the bar or something?”
“Kind of.  I’m against the wall not far from where the DJ’s playing.”  So hard to hear her over the noise.
“Alright, stay there!  Don’t you move from that spot!  I’m coming right now.  Not kidding, Em.  You don’t move from that spot!  No going to the bathroom, no leaving for any reason.  Understand?!”
“Aye-aye!”
I ran to my car and once it was on hit the gas.  What the hell was she doing at a nightclub?  How did she even get in?  Lots of very good questions that I was going to ask her and get answers to once I got there.

I was dressed in my trusty Navy hoodie and slacks when I arrived.  Didn’t even bother with the line.  Walked right up to the doorman.
“Hey, you can’t just walk in here!” he said in a way that was feigning professionalism but clearly was not fucking around.
“Did you know you have an underage kid in there?  She’s been there with a whole bunch of other underage kids.  Now, I’m going in to get her and take her home.  Either you can let me do that, or you can stand in my way and we can see how ugly this gets.  You’ve been on all night, right?  Man, I’d hate to think what your boss would do if he found out you let minors into a club that serves booze.  Wouldn’t you?”
The bouncer went pale as a sheet.  “Oh fuck.  So you’re just going to get the kid and take them out?”
“That’s right.  Let me in and we can keep this nice and quiet.  I think that’s best for all of us.  But as I said, your call.”
He grabbed the door and opened it.  “Alright, no problem.  Just get the kid out of there, would ya?”
“Aye-aye.”
Stepping inside, I was greeted with a smell that was most foul.  A concoction of BO, deodorant, perfume, and booze.  This smell was sickening.  I’ve infiltrated through sewers and that smell was less repulsive than this.  How could people stand this?  Then there was the music.  Blaring, horrible, ear-raping dance music.  This scene has always been a mystery to me.  Even at my most rebellious, I was going to trucker bars or places where the management were scumbags and didn’t card.  It was nothing like this.
Once inside, I went to the wall nearest the DJ.  There, holding a small pink purse, stood Emily.  She was dressed in a much more revealing than I would have thought she was capable of pink top and black skirt.  Very cute, if I was much younger.  Another thing to add to the list of questions I had.
As soon as she caught eye of me, she ran over and hugged me.  “Quinn!”  Kiddo looked scared to death.  “Can we get out of here?!  Please!”
“Damn right we will.  Come on!”
Got to the door an exfil-ed the club.  Was glad to put that smell behind me.  So disgusting.  As we exited, the bouncer saw us, and as he looked over my young charge, he went pale again.  Guess he remembered letting them in.  How was this guy so dumb as to think she was of legal age?  SO many questions I had.  Maybe I’d come back and interrogate this guy.
We got into my car and it was dead silent as I turned on the engine and we headed out.  The silence persisted for a while.  Saw Emily shaking, turned on the heat.  We sat in dead silence for a couple more minutes.
“Alright, kiddo.  Start talking.  What the hell were you doing a nightclub?  And you better not lie to me!”
Tears started running down her face.  “I’m sorry…”
“Don’t apologize, Em.  Explain yourself.”
She looked up at me.  “Are you gonna tell my dad?”
“That’s part of what we’re gonna decide here tonight.  You tell me what happened, and we’ll see if I talk to him when I get you home.”
Looking straight ahead, she nodded.  “I’ve never done anything like this before.  But Jenny Marshall started talking to me a while back.  She’s the most popular girl in school.  She doesn’t talk to people like me.  So when she told me to come sit with her and her friends during lunch, I was shocked.  Was cool being included with some of the most popular girls in school.  She’d text me, ask what I was into, what I liked to do for fun, if there were any boys I liked.  I told her about Drew, and she was like, ‘he’s gonna be at the Aston Martin tomorrow!  I’m going with some friends.  You should totally come with us!’  I’m all like, ‘But how will we get in?’  She says that she’s cool with the bouncer at the door and can get us all in no problem.
“So I told dad I was going to stay at her house tonight, and when I got there she helped me pick out a cute outfit.  Said he’d love it.  We got in her car and she picked up her friends, then we went to the club.”
My analytical side came on.  “Was she tight with the bouncer?”
“I don’t know.  She just flashed her tits and that got us in.  Not like all the way.  I think she had a bra on.  I don’t know.  But when he asked us how old we were, she just showed some tits and that got us through.  Bet she didn’t even know the guy.”
Ugh.  “Charming.  What happened next?”
“We went inside and I was so awkward.  I just stayed by them and looked to see if Drew was around.  He was.  We ended up talking and he was super nice.  Even convinced me to go onto the floor and dance with him.  That part was fun.  After a while, I had to pee.  So I did that, but when I got back out, everyone was gone.  Jen, her friends, Drew, everybody.  I was so scared.  I looked everywhere!  Soon I knew they had ditched me, and I figured they did it on purpose.  I didn’t know what to do.  Was so fucking scared.  All I could think of was calling you.”
Sighed.  What a stupid kid.  But then, she can afford to be stupid.  And her motives weren’t just her trying to get drunk and party.  That’s what I was trying to do, back in the day.  More specifically get drunk.  The more the better.  She just wanted to get closer with a boy she liked.  One who apparently is a piece of shit, underneath it all.  Decision making time.
“Are you gonna tell my dad?”
I gave her a very cold look.  “I should.  Do you have any idea how stupid what you did is?!  How much danger you put yourself in?  Those places are filled with drunk idiots, and there are plenty of guys who have liquid courage in them and can be capable of anything.  The risk you took was unbelievable!  You know better than this.”
She put her head in her hands.  “I know.  I’m so sorry, Quinn.  I just, the coolest girl in school was talking to me and the boy I liked was there.  I just wanted to talk to him.  He’s never even looked at me before today.”
Teenage stupidity.  But does that condemn her?  I could already tell that her father would be furious if I told him.  Was what she did worth that?  My inner memories of being a teenager came back.  Slipping back into my window while completely wasted, with mom and dad suspicious of me when I was hung over the next morning.  And I snuck into much seedier bars than that club.
“Alright, tell me this much – you ever gonna do something this stupid again?”
She shook her head.  “No!  I can’t believe they did that to me.  Guess all of them were in on this.  They lured me in there to do this.  Even Drew!  That fucking asshole!  They didn’t care what happened to me.”
“No, they didn’t.  I tell you right now, it’s taking a lot to not go find those assholes and smash their fucking faces in.  But do you get why what you did was stupid?”
“Yes!”  She was barely keeping composed.  “I was an idiot.  I know.  I just wanted a boy to notice me…”  Now was really where the waterworks came out.
It’s funny, I’ve always been in a position where a girl noticing me when I was younger was just a cute thought.  After the first girl I had a crush on, I just assumed girls weren’t into other girls at school.  God knows, they all treated me like shit because of being outed for liking girls.  What is that feeling like for straight girls?  The need for a boy who you know likes girls to notice you, and the chance to take a stupid risk to get him to that point.  Did that make sense?  I suddenly had a ton more sympathy for her.
“Okay.  Here’s the deal – I’m not gonna tell your dad what you did, on the condition that you NEVER do anything like this again.  Not even kidding, I find out you did something this dumb again, you better believe that there will be hell to pay!  Understood?!”
“Yes ma’am…”  I can’t imagine how small she felt just then.  Reminded me of when I was dressed down by superior officers back in the Navy.  During boot, there were some POs that were no joke.  Images of being in PT gear, getting screamed at while I was doing air-chairs ran through my mind.
“Okay then.  Let’s get you home.”
“Wait!  Can we get my clothes back?  If I go home dressed like this, Dad will know something’s up.”
Not a bad point.  “Aye.  I take it that they are at Jenny’s place?”
“Yeah.  Should still be in her room.”
“Understood.”

We arrived at Jenny’s home.  As with most of the people in this part of Olympia, her family was well off.  The lights were off.  I parked some ways away.
“What are you doing?” Emily asked.
“I take it that you aren’t looking to talk with Jennifer again, correct?”
She shook her head.  “I don’t want to think about that bitch right now, much less see her!”
“Alright then.  So here’s what I’m going to do – sneak in, get your clothes, sneak out.  You can change at my place and then we get you home.  Understood?”
“Aye-aye!”  The color was coming back to her face, even if her eyes were still puffy.  Was nice to see her smiling more.
“Wait here.”
I got out, locked the door, then disappeared into the darkness.  This was the strangest infiltration mission ever.  Got to a window that wasn’t open, but getting it open was no problem.  Not a shock, no alarms.  Typical suburban family.  Back when I was with the STARS, these were the “dream missions.”  The kind we can dream about but will never happen.  Once inside, I made my way around.  Where could her room be?  That’s when I heard a noise.  Terrible Ariana Grande music (the only kind that her and any other modern artist can make) was playing.  A good sign that that’s a teen girl’s room?  There was a noise coming from inside.  A sound that I was very familiar with.  Easing the door open very, very slowly, I peeked inside.  A boy who I assumed to be this Drew character was plowing her.  Again, charming.  But their attention was focused elsewhere, so I slipped off my shoes and then, without making a sound, slipped inside.
Saw where clothes that were clearly not theirs were sitting.  Grabbed Em’s shirt, pants and regular shoes.  Just as I was about to leave, I saw something – a phone that was clearly Jenny’s, just lying on the floor.  Hm.  Should I have some fun with this?  Her and this asshole need to pay, after all.  Might as well do that.  I slipped the phone into my pocket and headed out of the room.  Never have I had to be a ghost while two teenagers are fucking.  Definitely not the high point of my infiltration career.
Once I got out of the room, I saw that there was no lock screen on her phone.  Wow.  Did this girl even care if everyone went through it?  Guess not.  There were an ungodly amount of pics on here, so many of them of her naked.  Ew.  Do teenagers just not care that this shit will follow them around forever?  I guess not.  Well, time to use this against her in the worst way.  I cued up a list of every single girl that she had in her Contacts, dumping naked pic after naked pic on them, along with saying how she wanted to have sex with each and every one of them and how she is madly in love with them.  That should get some interesting reactions, right?  Washington is a very progressive state, but rumors of her being gay and sending naked pics to girls should at least cause some fun reactions.  Would be worth seeing what happens, right?  Oh, and I sealed it by telling them to make sure people know that she’s openly gay and proud of it, that she’s been tired of being in the closet for so long.  This should be fun.

After a while, I got back to the car and saw Emily looking very nervous.
“What took you so long?!”
“Sorry about that.  Just saw a golden opportunity.  Let’s get home.”
My companion gave me a look.  “What did you do?”
“Nothing…”
There was a look showing she didn’t believe me, before she took out her phone, as teenage girls do.  That’s when her eyes went wide.
“Holy shit!  What is this text Jenny sent me?!”  She looked right at me.  “You didn’t…”
“To every single girl in her phone.  I wonder how many of those were family.  Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
The two of us laughed all the way home.

Until next time, a quote,

“I think I’m a good bad influence.” – Chloe Price, Life is Strange

Peace out,

Maverick

Camaraderie Between Branches, and Sisters

Another evening at the pool.  I was upping when we would meet.  I got membership to come here anytime I want, and she’s my extra.  Gotta love how everything works here.  Kiddo is improving, slowly but surely.  Things at work were still quiet.  Led to me having a lot of time to think.  I told Emily she could come over and hang this weekend.  She’d been hinting at finishing where we’d left off with decorating, but one step at a time.
Each night she’d ask me mostly stuff about the Navy.  Ever since our last personal stuff conversation, she’d been quiet about that.  Gotta give the kid props, she knew decorum for this sort of thing very well.  So many people have no sense of tact, it’s nice to see someone so young with such a developed sense of it.
On this night in-particular, we were headed home.  Kiddo was clearly done in.  She’d hit the water hard and pushed herself further than usual.  For a while, it was very quiet.  Was noticing the feel of hair moving around on my head.  Did that mean it was growing?  For whatever reason, I was okay with that.  Maybe it was time to grow my hair out.  I could tie it back without a problem.  With how many times I’d seen Jean do it, I knew the drill.  Her hair got to the point that it was long enough that she was sitting on it for a while.  Those memories made me smile.

“It’s down past my butt.”
I looked up, laughing.  “What?”
“My hair!  It’s down past my butt.  I’m sitting on it.  Should I get it cut?”
Coming out from the kitchen, I looked her over.  I loved her hair so much.  So long and poofy, flowing and beautiful brown.  I could stare at her forever.
“Looks fine to me.”
She gave me a critical look.  “You’d say that no matter what.”
Shrugged.  “And it would be true.”
“I’m being serious.  It’s almost to the point that putting it in a bun is difficult.  So should I cut it?”
My utilitarian side came on.  “If it’s a problem, then yeah, go ahead.”
That face she made when she was thinking, but didn’t like the thought too much.  Not sure there’s a word for it.
“Yeah, I suppose.  But I like my long hair.  And my wife doesn’t seem to mind it either.”
“It’s true.  She doesn’t.  I asked her once.”
Got another ‘really?’ look.  I chuckled.  Went back into the kitchen.
“Be honest, do you think I should cut it?”
“I’m being honest.  If you think it’s a problem, cut it.  If not, don’t.  You are making this really complicated.”
“That’s what I do.”
I groaned.  “I know.  You’re weird.”
From behind me, she came into the kitchen.  “Yeah, but you love me for that.”
I put my arms around her.  “Maybe a little.”  A warm kiss.  Was this going somewhere fun?

The darkness being punctuated by the street lights.  It was serene.
My young companion looked over at me.  “Hey Quinn?”
“Aye?  What’s up?”
“Did the STARS ever work with other branches of the military?”
I thought for a moment.  “Sure.  Sometimes we’d have missions where we were teamed up or moving in tandem with an operation that another branch had going on, or needed their intel or mobility to get things done that we didn’t have the manpower to do.  Like when Delta Force had an operation in the Middle East, but they needed someone who could quietly get into an enemy outpost while they drew their fire.  That was a hard mission  Had to move around an already hectic place without being noticed.”
“Was it weird working with other parts of the military?”
“Not particularly.  We had our own chain of command and it was always made clear that we did things our way.  By the point that other branches asked for our help, they knew what that meant.  The STARS built up a reputation pretty quick of being deadly, quiet, and dangerous.  When we landed in some base, people there would instantly wonder why we were there.”
“Bet that didn’t make you many friends.”
“Not among the Army or Marines, but the Navy was fine.  Even had a few chums in the Air Force.”
“Got any fun stories about working with another branch?  You know, that you can tell me?”
A bit of thinking.  “Alright, I got one.  Alpha Team was tasked with working with the Army Rangers in another Middle Eastern country.  Can’t say where.  We were going to hit an enemy munitions factory in a part of the country nobody had ever heard of outside of those with VERY specific intel sources.  Can’t say too much about that.  Our job was to go in and set explosives, get intel on the enemy forces in the area.  Simple enough.  The Rangers were there to mop up once things went loud.
“It was going pretty great, until we set the explosives and got a nice little map detailing enemy positions in the area.  Commander of the place was too busy plowing a local to notice when Bethke went in and knicked it.  She was always the one we tasked for jobs that involved sticky fingers.  You saw how small she is.  That woman could make things disappear without anyone noticing.  It truly was a gift.  There were no security cameras in there, so getting in and out was a stitch.”
Now my companion was awake.  “What happened next?”
“Well, we were headed out of the base, ready to blow the charges and get the party started.  But when we got back to the RV, we noticed that the Rangers were gone.  Needless to say, this had us all kinds of nervous.”

<So where the fuck are they?> Pennyfeather signed.
<I don’t know.  I can’t get them on the horn.  It looks like their transport left with them.>
Crow was low to the ground, looking at the tread patterns.  <They left in a hurry.>
Everyone was on edge.  I checked my SC-20K.  Switched it to assault rifle mode.  Hadn’t used a single round, so it was ready to go.
<We close enough to reach base?> I asked.
Beacham nodded.  <Aye.  Been trying.  No word from Osprey.>
<Shit…> we all collectively groaned.
<Something happened, didn’t it?> Bethke asked, finally.
<That’s the obvious assumption, aye.> Mama Beacham noted.
<So then what the hell are we gonna do?!> Rodriguez signed.
<We can’t leave the explosives in there armed.  The longer we wait, the more chance the enemy has of finding them.  The whole reason we came here was to cripple them,> Crow replied calmly.
Pennyfeather nodded.  <She’s right.  No sense leaving the job half-done.>
<But with the Rangers gone, it would be for nothing.>
I shook my head.  <We can cripple this factory.  If nothing else it will hurt their munitions production for a while.  I’m down with that.>
The others nodded in agreement.
<Alright, but then how the hell do we get outta here?  The enemy is gonna come looking, and there’s no way to completely cover our tracks in the desert,> Rodriguez signed.  Not a bad point.
<We drive.> Crow replied, pointing to a shed not far from our current position.  Out front was a transport truck.  That wound do nicely.
Beacham finally looked up.  <Alright, here’s what gonna happen.  I’ll take overwatch here on the ridge.  Bethke, you, Pierce, and Crow go down and secure the vehicle.  If you encounter resistance, mark them and Pennyfeather and I will take them out.  Hooyah?>  We had created our own sign for this word, as none existed
<Hooyah!>
Like ghosts, we vanished into the night.  Goggles on, there was nobody there.  You’d think their perimeter guards would be out here, but I guess not.  Lady Luck was on our side.
Bethke came in from the front.  No moonlight tonight.  We really were ghosts.  Just then, a heat signature!  Switched to night-vision, saw the enemy clear as day.  Some poor idiot looking to take a piss.  Unlucky for him.  Crow motioned for me to take care of it, since I was closest.  She and Bethke went for the vehicle.  Pulling out my knife, I sent a blip to Beachman via the screen integrated into my arm.  She pinged me back.
Got him.  A hole appeared in his head, with the sound of a suppressed pop.  Deserts are quiet and sound carries, but this wasn’t obvious enough to be noticed.  He fell back, and I pulled him into the dry brush not far from the road.  Got a ping from Crow.
Vehicle secured, Oscar Mike.
Another from Beachman.  RV at ridge base.
I ran over to where it was.  They started it up and I hopped in the back.  Bethke did as well, pulling out the detonator switch.
We’ll be out of range at RV.  Permission to detonate?
Light it up.  That was all the permission we needed.  She held up her hand.  3. 2. 1. Fist!  Huge flashes of orange could be seen lighting up the night.  Crow hit the gas and we were moving.  Got to the RV point with Beacham jumping shotgun and Pennyfeather jumping into the back with us.  We blazed out as fast as the gas pedal would take us.  Lots of yelling and expanding fires as we left.  Mission accomplished.  Now we just had to find out why Osprey had gone quiet and the Rangers had left.

Emily was on the edge of the figurative seat.  “So what happened to the Rangers?”
“Turns out, they got called back to base.  Something had happened.  We RV’d with a battalion of grunts on their way back to base when we got the news.  A whole horde of enemy forces had decided to seize the day and attack the base, hoping to burn the evil Americans out.”
“So what did you do?”
“Well, we had some decisions to make in regards to that.  Dawn wasn’t too far out by the time we got back to base, but still far enough out for it to be dark.  It was chaos.  The Army and Marines tried to lock down the entrance to the base, but the most they could do was block traffic.  We ditched the truck a few kilometers back.  No sense trying to get through.  After all, we were better out here.  Beacham had a plan.”

None of us could believe this.
<You’re nuts!> Bethke signed.  <We’re putting ourselves at risk of friendly fire and enemy fire!  That’s insane!>
<Not really.  The enemy has VERY good positioning.  Those hills are covered in rocks that provide excellent cover.  They can spray and pray all day, won’t do much good.  We use the ridge above the firing position of the enemy.  We pick them off one by one.  Once the ammo is used up in our MAWS, we head home.>
<It’s still not the best spot to avoid friendly friend, Mama,> Rodriguez replied.
<It’s a risk, sure, but we can take a hit or two.>
<Yeah, unless they hit us in the head,> Bethke groaned.
<Just keep to the rocks and follow me.  We get to our firing position, stay prone, pick off only the ones we can see aren’t going to be noticed, the risk is nominal.  Trust me.>
Everybody groaned, but we all mounted up and started to move.

It was slow going.  Everybody was on edge.  Whizzing gunfire and impacts in the surrounding area were not helping.  Something people don’t tell you is that in actual warfare, the amount of bullets used to enemies killed is usually insane.  You’re expending a TON of ammunition, hoping you’re gonna hit the enemy over vast areas of distance.  Granted, all it takes is one bad hit to incapacitate or kill you, so this is a strategy that works, but it’s still a dangerous proposition all the same.
Which lead to us all sneaking through rocks like shadows that much more harrowing.  Friendlies were firing all over.  There would be some flares to give light, but the enemy knew the terrain and was staying hidden very well.  That’s not to say that they were totally owning.  In reality, we’d seen some corpses every now and again that happened to be an open position.  Explosions as tanks or mortars would go off.  Thankfully, that was less of a risk because we were so far away from the primary area of engagement.
Pretty soon, we were safely out of any risk, but went prone all the same.  The six of use lined up at the edge of a ridge overlooking the area.  Bethke was put on watching our 6 detail, while the rest of us got to work.
<Remember, pick your targets as ones that won’t be immediately noticed and having the enemy wondering who took them out.  Loners, and collaborative takedowns of singular or small teams of targets are the word.  We CANNOT get noticed out here.  Hooyah?>
<Hooyah!>
Pulling out my SK-2o, I switched to sniper mode and took aim.  Prone was very nice for this.  Sure, the chest was tight, but that’s how it us in this suit anyway.  Looking down the sight, I saw that the enemy had indeed built good lines to move and keep mobile so that our forces couldn’t get a consistent bead on them, using rocks to slide across areas without being seen.  It’s good stuff.  There were dozens of them.  Dozens upon dozens.  You don’t see coordinated attacks like this often.  RPGs firing at tanks and Strykers, with infantry putting down heavy fire on the base.  This must suck for them.  All the lights in the base illuminating where they are, not a damn thing on the enemy.  But that’s why we were here.
Saw a nice little guy who were looking to move to a new vantage point.  Right as he lowered his weapon, I took my shot.  Round went into his spine, just below the neck.  He was dead before he hit the dirt.
<Nice!> Rodriguez signed.
I shrugged.
Beacham and Pennyfeather were great at coordinating.  Those two had such synergy.  They wiped out three of them that were moving to get RPGs to a group that was out.  As if it hadn’t happened, they were down and the two were looking for other targets.  Rodriguez pointed out two that were side-by-side, laying down suppressing fire for their RPG teams.  It was spray-and-pray for both sides.
<I got the one on the left.  You get the other guy.>
She nodded.
Pop, he drops.  Another pop, so does the dude next to him.  A round whizzes by over our heads  Geez!  That was nerve-wracking.  Not looking to deprive my girlfriend of me coming home by friendly fire.
Over the next 20 minutes or so, we keep picking them off.  It’s tedious, meticulous work, but we cut their numbers into thirds.  Cut their numbers down by at least a fifth.  Maybe a quarter!  It’s impressive, for a bunch of ninja snipers.
Finally, with the sun coming up, the enemy realizes that their numbers are too depleted to continue.  Not to mention they are starting to wonder how the Americans are cutting their numbers down by whoever is all alone or with just a buddy or two.
We keep down as they head into the hills to disappear.  Wonder how far they’ll get.  Given how the Army is probably jonesing to pay them back, not very is most likely.
Just then, the comms turn on.
“Glad to see you getting back to base in one piece, Alpha Team.”  It was Lt, or Osprey, as we put it during missions.  A seahawk, seemed fitting.
“Aye-aye sir.  Figured you could use a hand.  Wish you had had the Rangers tell us the mission was FUBAR before we got our feet wet.”
“Rules of engagement are silence when you are inside the enemy’s area.  They knew that.  We would have come for you if you hadn’t come back to base.  I was confident you’d take care of this.  Mind telling us where the enemy is headed?”
“Sir, enemy is headed south by southwest, moving fast along the hills using the rocks as cover.  Following them is gonna get pretty damn difficult before long.”
“Don’t suppose I can take you with that?”
“Daylight isn’t a good luck for us, sir,” Beacham said.  “Besides, we’re almost out of ammo.  Not good to get caught with your pants down and only a sidearm between you and the enemy.”
“Aye.  Alright, head back to base.  I’ll expect a debriefing.”
“Aye-aye, sir.  Oscar Mike, out.”

“Whoa!  So you just decided to help out?  Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Well yeah.  Wasn’t the point.  The enemy was dug in, and we could get at them from an angle they didn’t anticipate.  It was the most logical thing to do, rather than go back in and be put into battle with the more likely potential of getting shot.”
She shook her head.  “You all are so badass!  Wish I could be cool like that.”
I chuckled.  “We trained to be as good as we were.  And you will become pretty badass yourself if you become a fighter jockey.  Trust me, those guys are awesome.”
That put the smile on her face again.  “Okay.  So, was the Lt grateful?”
“Aye, something like that.”

“You all are idiots!”
Beacham nodded.  “Aye sir.”
“You could easily have been killed by friendly fire.  Did none of you think of that?”
Standing at ease, we looked at each other and said nothing.
“Of course.  All for one, one for all.  Ugh.  Well, you’re not dead, so I guess somebody upstairs likes you.  Not bad work.  We started to notice the enemy fire was petering out there, and some muzzle flashes from above the enemy that wasn’t at us.  Seemed weird, until we got a drone’s eye view of the situation.  You all will be looking at a commendation.  But let me remind you – you all are idiots!”
Everyone was smirking.
“Alright, you dumbasses, you’re dismissed.  Go get out of TOS and you have liberty.  I expect a detailed post action report, understood?”
We all came to attention.  “Aye-aye, sir!”
As I headed out, looked over at Beacham and smiled.
<Well done, Mama.>

Until next time, a quote,

“I’m just calm under fire.  I’m not intimidating at all.” – Keenan Wayans

Peace out,

Maverick

Lost Sisters, Old Wounds

Winter saw things decidedly getting quieter in my business.  After being paid a king’s ransom by commoners in Puerto Rico in order to get rid of a cartel boss (those poor saps.  They didn’t seem to realize another one would replace him within days), I had been having a very quiet beginning to December.  As such, my home life was able to resume a very quiet pace.
The cartel job was pretty great.  Most jobs, I have to plan everything down to the smallest detail.  I have to ponder about political fallout, make sure I use weapons that leave no trace, if the goal is to have this be seen as an accident, or to have weapons from an enemy nation if it’s to be seen as a political assassination.  Same deal with poisons.  Use ones that are known to specific regions, so as to confuse investigators.  But cartels are no fuss, no muss.  Sure, it’s a sticky job.  Jungles in Puerto Rico are hot as hell, and humid to no end.  Good way to clean out your pores.  Not even kidding.  Spend some time in a rain forest and your pores will be clean as a whistle.  All the gunk will be sweated out.
Sneaking in through the jungle to their estate.  The guards are so unprofessional.  They all seem to be operating under the assumption whoever is a threat will be coming through the front gate.  They probably aren’t entirely wrong.  Given the rival cartel business, it’s who I would be most worried about.  Face painted and in striped fatigues like the undergrowth.  Thick jungle doesn’t have as much undergrowth as you’d think.  The canopy blocks all light.
Once I got close, climbed the canopy to get a good angle.  Found the perfect one.  Wrapped a rope on the branch.  Since it could support my weight, it would be perfect to rappel down.  Always make sure to have your escape route ready before taking your shot.  The angle was on the guy’s office.  He was in there now, arguing with some of his men.  Looked to be very heated.  Decided to wait.  Had a hunch that it would be better.  I could take him now, but the alarm would be tripped, and I’d rather have a quiet escape.
After a bit, and a green boa constrictor coming to say hello (I like snakes, so that was cool.  Got a pic on my phone), the argument ended and his men left.  The boss was alone in there.
Time to get to work!  Raised my rifle, checked my suppressor, and took aim.  The sunlight was behind me, so I didn’t have to worry about my scope reflecting light.  This was almost too easy.  Guy pulled out a cigar and lit it, sitting back at his desk.  Another day in the life of drug kingpin.  He was bent over his desk, so his head was a small target, but with his back to me, there was lots of room to pick how to kill him.  Wind factor was negligible.  Wind getting through thick jungle is a joke.  It doesn’t happen, period.
Took a deep breath, held it.  The suppressed snap of the gunshot.  I had a specially designed capturing device on the outside of the ejector port to make sure the casing didn’t fall.  I didn’t like to leave a trace.  The rope, I would, but it was the kind you could get at any hardware store.  Not chance of anything being traced back to me.
The bullet zipped through the air, busted through the window.  It blasted right through his backside, ripping it open.  I aimed for where his heart would be.  Hit my mark, too.  He crashed to his desk in an instant, never to rise from it again.  Another person dead, in the endless war of drugs that America keeps going by keeping it illegal.
Sent the text to the person who made the contract, made sure the payment cleared, went home.  Would have sucked if I would have had to make violent retribution on some poor people because they didn’t pay, but they knew the cost of doing business with my company.  Most who make that leap do.  Stories of clients who jewed me on my payments suddenly having misfortunes of their own were whispered among those who wanted to do business with us.

Now, as December began, I was with Emily helping to put up my fake Christmas tree.  I normally wouldn’t have bothered, but she was so adamant about doing so.  Apparently she is all about this holiday.  For me it’s just memories I’m trying to escape, but her optimism was rather infectious.  I couldn’t help but find myself just rolling with it.  If nothing else, it was something to pass the time.  There’s only so long I can stare out at the ocean and think about whether I should do some PT or just take a nap.  Naps are the greatest thing in the world.  So weird how I hated them as a kid, but as an adult I can just do that.  The perks of age.
“You don’t have a star for the top of your tree?”
I shrugged.  “You’re lucky I have lights and ornaments.  Hell, that I have a tree at all.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Well, we are so getting one!  One of those shiny ones with the lights!  Those are pretty.”
I shook my head.  “Sure thing, kiddo.”
“Trust me, it’ll be awesome!  Well, at least you have lights.  And garland!  It’s in pretty blue!  Why’d you pick blue?”
Look down for a moment.  “It’s my favorite color.”
“That makes sense.”  As she was getting out stuff from the box, she looked up.  “Was that the color of the engagement ring?”
Perceptive little one.  “Yeah.  It was a sapphire.”
Her eyes widened.  “A real sapphire?!”
“Aye.  A pretty penny, but worth every cent.”
“Wow.  So, does that mean you were the one who proposed?”
I nodded.  “Aye.”
There was this knowing smile on her face.  “How did that go?”
“As well as I could have hoped…”

It had finally arrived.  I knew it would fit.  Had found out her ring size and made sure the jeweler had gotten it right.  Looking at the ring, it was so incredible.  A sapphire ring, in white gold, with leaf designs around it that had smaller white stones in it.  The stone wasn’t huge, but that was fine.  I was content to just have it be what it was.  Everything inside me told me the time was right.  We’d been living together for a year.  Bought our first house.  My sisters were wondering why she or I hadn’t popped the question by now.  It was just so different.  Looked up all the things about how to propose.
For the first time in forever, my hands were shaking.  I was going to do it this morning, at breakfast.  We both had the weekend off.  Drill weekend for her was last week, so we had all the time in the world.  She talked about us going out to Seward for a couple days, as Monday was a federal holiday.  Told her that sounded awesome.  If this went well, it really would.  Of course, she’d probably nuke the plans after people get told and everyone has to see her.
Getting posted at JBER had been good for her, because her parents and big sister live up here.  For me, it made little difference.  The STARS teams are told to go about their lives until we get a call about a mission.  At least when our team is active, which Alpha was right now.  Things had been quiet.
Told her I’d make us some breakfast.  Waffles sounded nice.  With maple syrup.  None of that weird American syrup that has the consistency of snot.  I don’t get who can like that stuff.  It tastes like sugar.  Raw sugar.  As I made them, I would sometimes put my hand in my Navy hoodie and play with the box the ring came in.  I would do it as we were eating.  That would work, right?
Jean looked up at me, seeing my expression.
“Everything alright, love?”
“Yeah.  Just got some stuff on my mind.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“I will, when breakfast is ready.”
Her little smile as she nodded.  I could look at that forever.  “Okay.”

After I got the waffles on a plate, I grabbed the cinnamon butter I made (found a knock-off recipe of the kind that Texas Roadhouse makes.  That shit is delicious!) and syrup, bringing it to the table.
“Oh, thank God.  I’m starving!  That smells so good!”
We dished up and dug in.  Girl was like the wolf.  I was just happy to be here, in this moment.  Stomach going fucking crazy.  Just do it!  Do it now!
“Hey, J?”
“Hm?” she answered distantly, still eating.
Hands shaking uncontrollably.  “So, this is good, right?  Where we are right now?”
She gave me a look.  “Yeah.  Why do you ask?”
Reached into my pocket.  “Well, I was kinda thinking about something.  Been thinking about it for a while now.”
She stopped eating.
“Any chance that you’d like to do this forever?  By being my wife?”
My hands were so out of control I dropped the box on the table.
“Shit!”
Her own hands shook as she grabbed it, slowly opening it.  Eyes were getting misty fast.  When she saw the ring, her hand went over her mouth.
“Oh my god, Quinn.  It’s beautiful.”
“Thanks.  But, I mean…will you marry me?”
Tears were going down her face as she looked over at me.
“Of course I will!  Oh Quinn…”  She was immediately in my arms, holding me, then kissing me.  Both of us started crying and laughing.  It was such a confused, joyful emotion.  I’d never experienced it before in my life.  Still kinda felt like throwing up, but right now I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Emily had those big doe eyes that women get when they hear stories like this.
“That is so sweet!”
I snorted.  “I was such a nervous wreck for days leading up to that.  Good thing there wasn’t a mission.  I would have been fucked.”
“Screw that.  So, who wore the gown?”
I gave her a look.  “And what makes you think that both of us weren’t in uniform?”
That hard look that only a woman can give.  “One of you did.  I don’t buy for a second that neither of you did.  Not one!”
Letting out a sigh.  “Yeah, she did.  I mean, with how fast her mother was up our ass to plan this out and to make sure her daughter had a beautiful dress, it couldn’t be any other way.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, you won’t catch me DEAD in a dress.  Not today or ever!  Even as a little kid, I hated them.  Made mom mad when I would be wearing jeans and a t-shirt to Mass on Sunday.”
“So you were in uniform?”
“That’s a big affirmative.”
“Did you get one of those cool officer uniforms?”
“Aye.  By that point I was a CW03, so yeah, I got to be looking fly as fuck in a ceremonial dress uniform.”
“Cool.  You have a picture?”
“How did I know you were going to ask.  Yeah, wait one.”  I got up and headed into my bedroom.  The picture was on the dresser.  Looking at it, I smiled.  Felt good to have these muscles working again.
Walking back in, I handed it to her.  There was me in uniform, full dress blue, as it was autumn.  To my left were four of my sisters.  Thinking back to how angry the process of picking them had been, since I knew the others would be pissed.  Right next to me was Rodriguez.  She was my closest hermana, and Best Woman.  Then there was Bethke.  The runt of the litter, I was always a big sister to her.  Then there was Crow, our Blackfoot tribe member.  A woman of few words, but when she spoke you knew she meant it.  Finally, there was Beacham.  Kind of the Mother Hen of our group, I knew I’d have to have her with me as my groomswomen.
“Oh my god.  Her dress is beautiful!” Emily whispered.
“Aye.  It belonged to her mother.  They had some tailoring done to it, and then it became hers.”
It wasn’t extravagant.  White and simple.
“Who’s next to her?”
“Her Maid of Honor, Karen.  That’s her big sis.  Then there was Petty Officer Montgomery.  Those two were close friends on base.  Her friends Nicole and Samantha.”
“I didn’t know she had a sister.  She’s pretty too.”
A little chuckle.  “Oh yeah.  Jean always went on about how her sister was prettier than her.  Not in this jealous sorta way, but always super serious.  She genuinely believed it.  Made me laugh every time.”  Warm memories.

I laughed.  “You keep saying it, but that doesn’t make it true!”
Her indignant face was so adorable.  “But it’s true!  She has always been prettier than me.  Look at this picture of us when we were babies!  Tell me I’m wrong!”
Laughed harder at this.  “You are so ridiculous.”  Leaned in close and kissed her.  “I love that about you.”
Gave me the mean face, but kissed me back.  “You’re just saying that ’cause you’re biased.”
“Well, I mean, if I thought she was gay too, maybe I’d have to reconsider…”  Had that faux-whimsical look on my face.
“Oh that does it!”  And we started wrestling again.  These little moments were great.

Kiddo looked right at me.  “Were you tight with her family?”
The gripping feeling was back, holding tight and not letting go this time.
“That’s one of those things for another day, kiddo.”
She frowned, but nodded.  “Okay.  Promise?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
Looking at me in uniform, she asked who was next to me.  I told her their names and who they were to me.  Crow was always someone I felt I could talk to.  She was the one who helped me pick out the ring.  So few words, but that woman was dead serious, and I always felt like she could balance out my more cocky moments.  When she said something was a bad idea, we listened.  Said she could hear voices in the wind telling her when a course of action was a bad idea.  Given how her gut instinct was always on the money, I never doubted.
“You all look so cool.  I think I would be in uniform too if I was getting married.”
“What if he wants you in the dress?”
“He’ll know that I’m gonna be rocking it in uniform.  He has a problem with it, Navy forever, biotch!”
Both of us laughed.
There was a knock at the door.  We both looked up.
“Hm, wonder who that could be.  Be right back.”
Kiddo got back to the tree as I left.  Guess Christmas was back in the driver’s seat again of today’s interaction.
When I got to the door, I opened it and went pale.
“Bethke!”  Her ginger face hadn’t changed.  Still that same youthful appearance.
In a flash, she took a swing at me.  Training immediately kicked in.  I stepped back, taking proper stance.  CQC with someone who knows what they’re doing.  This could get ugly.  But then I remembered, we had done this before.

Full-contact sparring.  Now this is what we’re talking about!  I loved that they just let us do this.  It’s all highly supervised, of course.  Lt would never let us risk an injury that would jeopardize the mission, but we were allowed to fight it out in a full-contact ring.  Given how tight we get run, Command knew that on a ship, it was good to give space to let us work out stress.  Not to mention, this was a great way to work out grudges amicably.  Something about fucking someone up helped you come to terms with whatever their transgression was.
Which was where Bethke and myself found ourselves now.  Two gingers on a team meant that there was going to be some dust that got kicked up.  We’re too hot-headed for there not to be.  And the runt had been grinding my gears for a while now.  She had youthful anger, but I had stamina.  My shit-kicking years were behind me after I joined the Navy.  She was still working shit out.
I kept my distance, just countering her blows.  Kiddo was trying to use aggressive tactics to overwhelm me.  For a lesser combatant, that would be smart, but I know what I’m doing.  She’d wear herself out quick.  Blocking, deflecting, getting in a couple hits when she left obvious openings.  Soon, she left a big one, and I took it.  Grabbed her arm and used it as leverage to get behind her.  Threw her to the mat and held her there.  Judge called it.  Chief Warrant Officer Beryl was cheering as I stood up.  Since when is she on my side?  Weird.
I helped Bethke up, and we shook hands.  She was breathing hard, but clearly had worked some shit out of her system.  Smiled at me.
“Damn, Pierce, I thought I had you there for a second.”
“Not a day will go by that you’re ever gonna have a leg up on me, Bethke.”
She gave me that rueful look, but it was in good fun.  Bonding between sisters, what better way than kicking each other’s ass?

Our fight took us through the entry way into the kitchen.  Bethke was far more reserved.  She learned from our last bout.  Emily stood up, looking scared.  Had to keep this in the kitchen.  Wasn’t going to risk getting her involved in this.
“Why are you here, Bethke?”
“Lt told us he found you!  Didn’t take me long to track you down when he told us what you said to him.  You’re gonna pay for ditching us!”
“I’m not apologizing for what happened.  I know the choice I made.”
“Fuck you!”  Now she was on me.  This kind of fight was easier.  A fury of trained attacks, trying to get inside my defense.  Reach was what I had on her, since I was a fair bit taller.  If she could get close, it wasn’t great.  Anyone who’s ever seen two people who know how to fight go at it, you can testify that it is impressive to watch.  Most fights are short, since people have limited energy and hitting someone hurts.  But we knew how to be smart, deflect blows carefully and not rely on our fists.
“I’m not the girl you fought last time!  I’ve grown since then!”
Blocking her and pushing her back, I nodded.  “I believe it, Bethke.”
“I don’t need your approval anymore!”
Now the blows were coming really fast.  She knew what the gambit was, and now was going all-or-nothing.  It was hard to keep her back.  I was being pushed out of the kitchen, and this was not good.
“Stop-it!” Emily screamed.  “Stop trying to hurt Quinn!”
Bethke’s attention was diverted for just one second, and that was all I needed.  I locked my leg around hers, bringing her down.  In a flash, I was on her.  Grabbed her arm and twisted it around her back, burying my knee in to hold her down.
“Are you done?!”
“Fuck you, Pierce!  Go to Hell!”
“I ain’t letting you up until I know you’re gonna chill.  So are you fucking done?!”
She struggled for a minute, trying to break free, but it was clear she was pinned.  Tears started flowing down her face, with her roaring like a wild animal.  After another minute, she lay still and cried into the floor.  It was a sad cry, with genuine pain mixed with shame for having to be seen like this by someone she was trying to hate.  Someone she used to respect.
“I’m gonna let you up now.” I said with the authority of a superior officer.  I might not be anymore, but it was a tone I still could do.
Rising, Bethke sat up and stayed there on the floor.
I looked over at Emily.
“Go home, kiddo.  We’ll pick this up later.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with this crazy bitch!”
Breathing hard, I looked at her.  “It’ll be okay.  Trust me.  Go on home.  I’ll call you later.”
She gave Bethke an ugly look, then headed for the door.  Shutting it behind her, the house was strangely still, save for the Johnny Mathis Christmas music in the background.  Walking into the kitchen, I grabbed a towel, wetting it a bit.  She nailed me good one and it broke skin on my face.  Wiping the blood off, I tossed it to her.
“Here.”
Catching it, she wiped her face.  My former little STARS sister stood up, walking over to the counter where there were stools and having a seat.
“You okay?” I asked.
She shook her head.  “No.”
Nodding, I went into the fridge.  Pulled out a bottle of Kahlua, vodka, and cream.  A White Russian sounded pretty good right about now.  Pouring the drinks, I slid one over to her, being careful not to get too close.  I had just given her a potential weapon.  She look at it, then took a drink.
“Still can make a good drink, I see.”
“Yeah.”
We awkwardly sat there, drinking and looking down.
“Why did you come here, B?” I asked finally.  “Was it just to pick a fight?”
She shook her head.  “No.  I wanted answers.  Figured if I kicked your ass, you’d be more likely to give them to me.”
I sighed, sitting down on the counter.  “You didn’t have to fight me to get answers, Bethke.  I would have told you what you wanted to know.”
A saddened grin.  “Okay, maybe I partially came here just to fight.  You had it coming.”
Taking another drink.  “Well, I can’t argue with that.”
Finishing it, my former sister looked at me directly.  Her eyes all puffy from crying, with dirt on her face from the floor.
“Why did you leave us, Pierce?”
Thought for a moment, then finished off my drink.  “Because I couldn’t get you all involved in what I was planning to do.  I knew that it was almost certain that I would go down in flames for this. I couldn’t do that to you and the rest of Alpha Team.”
“We would have gone into Hell for you!  After when they did to J, we all wanted revenge.”
“I know that!  Don’t think for a second that I didn’t.  But I wasn’t going to let you all have to bear that weight for me.  This was my burden, and I was going to have to pay for it.”
“But you didn’t!  That’s what pissed us off.  You got off scot-free.”
Shaking my head.  “I got lucky, Bethke.  Damn lucky.  The person who gave me the intel I needed was willing to make a deal.  So I did.  I was prepared for this to end with me being tarred and feathered at court-martial.  Dishonorably discharged and being spit on by the Navy forever.  Dumb, stupid chance saved me.”
Her eyes were wide.  “Who gave you your intel?!”
“I can’t tell you that.  I guarantee that everything that happened with me and them is locked away in a black ops file that is redacted to beat the dog in some secured vault of IS.  I’d be putting you at risk by telling you.”
“It goes that high?!”
“Aye, it does.  I knew who would have the intel I needed and I went to get it.  Part of me figured I would be killed getting that far.  Was the hardest mission I’ve ever done.  Things just played out the way they did.”
The fire in her eyes had faded, now replaced by trying to comprehend what she was told.
“Why didn’t you come back to tell us that?  Everyone was so angry when we heard the news about your court martial.  If you had told us…”
“If I had gone back in there after that, there would be a whole bunch of other women trying to kick my ass.  And I couldn’t take all of you.  You can’t know how hard it was to think about my sisters hating me.  But that was the price I paid for going as far as I did.”
Standing up, brushing herself off, she set down her glass.  She started walking toward me.  I tensed up, but she stopped there and held out her arms.  Set down my drink as well, letting her approach.  We hugged gently.  Just like my little sister all over again, with her burying her face in my chest.
“I’m sorry, Bethke.  I’m so sorry.”
We held each other for a while.  Finally, she stepped back.
I looked at her.  “Can you tell the others?  Let them know why I did it?”
She shook her head.  “No.  You can.  They need to hear it from you.”
Looking down again.  “I…I don’t think I can face them.”
“Let me make the call!  Alpha Team isn’t active right now.  They would come if you called.  Let me gather them, and you can tell them what really happened.”
My hands were shaking again.  I nodded.  “Alright.  Make the call.  Tell me when they can gather, and I’ll go.”
“Aye-aye!”  The youthful smile was back.  That look she had when she made big sister happy.
I walked her to the door.  Offered to make dinner for her, but she wasn’t interested.  Needed time to process everything.  I got that.  Gave her my number to call after she had gotten the others together.  She said that it would take some time to get everyone in the same place, as they could be doing who knows what, and Pennyfeather was on her honeymoon with that guy she had just started dating before I left.  Guess they are going strong all these years later.
As she was walking out, she turned around.  “I’m…sorry, for hitting you.”
I smiled at her.  “Don’t be.  Like you said, I had it coming.”
That moment had us standing there, just looking at each other, and the bonds we made in combat spoke.  We understood.  Time to call Emily and tell her things were okay.

Until next time, a quote,

“From stranger, to  battle buddy, to family.” – Anonymous

Peace out,

Maverick