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?”
“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.
“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,



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.
“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,


The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 3)

I looked right at my translator.  “You son of a bitch!  You sold me out!”
One of the agents, a young man who had a much more amiable look than his ice-cold female counterpart stepped forward.
“He did indeed, American.  Loyal help is so hard to find, isn’t it?”
If looks could kill, I would have eviscerated my translator, looking right at him.  “Yeah, no shit.”
“But here’s the thing – we didn’t come here to stop you.  Now that we know why you’re here, we want to help.”  The look in his eyes was dead serious.

“Say what?!” Bethke exclaimed.  “No fucking way that the Chinese are helping an American.  They have an angle.”
I nodded.  “Oh yeah, they did, trust and believe.  But the story gets complicated from here.”
Everyone was hanging on every word.

“Why the hell would Chinese intelligence help me?”
“You’re after the North Koreans who attacked the Pacific Fleet, am I correct?”
On the defensive.  “How do you know that?”
“Your translator told us what you told the medicine woman that got you your poison  Was very specific.”  He grabbed hold of the man like he was being very chummy, but I could see that he was putting on a front.  Something very violent was happening here.  “Good on him.  Once we had that information, we could put together who you were after.  Now we want to help you kill your target.”
I was really confused.  “I still don’t get why you want to help me.”
He leaned against a black van that they had come in.  “Here’s the thing – not all Chinese hate Americans.  Well, not all Chinese intelligence, anyway.  We see the bigger picture.  America is China’s biggest debtor.  One day, the dollar is going to fall, and on that day, we can get some financial retribution.  Your nation is a paper tiger, would you not agree?”
Patriotism had never been my strong suit.  “Sure.”
“Excellent.  As such, going to war with America is a bad idea.  We might lose or win that war.  You saw the report that came out about how America isn’t as mighty as it seems, have you not?”
I nodded.
“So if you go to war with North Korea, it would make things very difficult for us.  The rhetoric in America is getting more heated by the hour.  We don’t want that.  You can see why.  If you bomb North Korea to kingdom come, we might have to step in.  Granted, we said that if they attack you, they’re on their own, but it’s a slippery slope.  Especially since America is getting very tense with us as well.”
Part of me was feeling more calm around this guy.  He was still dangerous, but at least he was being up front about his intentions.
“So imagine our surprise when we find out that a lone member of STARS is here, on a personal vendetta, getting powerful poison from an ancient healing woman with a mission to go across the border and make the enemy of our enemy pay for their transgressions?  You gotta admit, that would get our attention.”
Hard to argue with him.  “Sure.”
“I’m glad to see we’re on the same table.  So here’s my question – is all you’re here to do is kill the North Koreans responsible?”
I should probably lie about the deal for the intel, but these guys might be able to help me.  Honesty may open more avenues for assistance than dishonesty.
“No.  In order to get some of the tools for my mission, I had to make a deal with brass to get some intel from the enemy.  We think there are cracks in North Korea and this was part of it, but we don’t know why.  I was asked to get intel on that.”
Both of the agents were thinking.  The male was young, fit, and had a very handsome look about him.  It’s clear this guy was capable, but he was winsome.  In contrast, the woman with him was a little older, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her face a mask of cold-blooded killer.  I knew that the guy was dangerous, but this woman was deadly.  Was pretty sure I couldn’t take both of them.  At least not cleanly.
“What kinds of cracks?” the male agent asked, finally.
“Kim Jong Un claims that this attack was independent of him, and we believe him.  Something’s going on inside North Korea, but we don’t know what.  My mission, aside from getting revenge, is to find out.  The more info, the better.”
The female walked over to her counterpart, and they talked.  I was staring daggers still at my translator, who was looking very uncomfortable.
After a few moments, the male agent looked up.  “Alright.  We’ll help you.  This is interesting, and if things are falling apart in the current administration, that could have ramifications for China.  We are their next-door neighbors, after all.  So, here’s what we’re willing to offer – getting you in and accompanying you into North Korea.  We get the intel, take care of your vendetta, then get out.”
Now I was skeptical.  “And what do you get out of it?  I refuse to believe you’re helping an American out of charity.”
He smiled.  “Could be.  But as you’ve been straight with me, I see no reason not to return the favor.  We want the intel that you’ll be giving to your superiors.  Give us a copy, and we’ll help you with your mission.”
This was getting big.  Too big.  What started as my getting revenge was becoming a multinational mission to find out what North Korea is up to.  But what choice did I have?  Between a rock and a hard place didn’t even begin to describe where I was at.
“And how do I know that you won’t fuck me over once this is done?”
He chuckled, looking at my translator.  “Unlike your, now former, associate – we don’t stab those who help us in the back.  Loyalty to one’s comrades is extolled.  And now we are comrades, as we have the same goal.  You do for us, and we do for you.  Simple as that.”
Moment of truth.  “I’m in.”
“Then let’s be off.”  Turning to the translator.  “Ah, it seems your services will no longer be required.  And as we can’t have anything about our work with the American getting out…”  He motioned to his partner.  She grabbed him, pulled him away from the vehicle.  Putting a gun to his head, she pulled the trigger.  Man fell to the dirt, left there.  I’d feel bad, but he had double-crossed me.  You play with fire, you get burned.  That’s just how it goes.
I grabbed my case and duffel bag from the truck, hopping into the backseat of their van.  We started off, on a journey to who-knows-where.
We didn’t travel in a car for long.  They got on the horn with somebody, speaking in Chinese.  About an hour later, there was a Z-18 helicopter coming in.  Very nice.  We were going to be traveling in style.  Suits me.  I had already been sitting in a vehicle for too damn long.
It was so strange, it had been almost two weeks since I started out on my journey of revenge from JBER, now I had come this far.  How much longer would this go on?  Part of me had heard what my new “comrade” had told me about things in America getting more heated by the hour.  That was worrisome.  I needed to get this done, fast.  In truth, working with the Chinese was the best option I had, right now.

Beacham looked at me seriously.  “I’m assuming that you didn’t tell the brass about the little deal you made with the Chinese.”
I snorted.  “Do you think we’d be here talking about this right now if I had?  No way.  My ass would be buried so deep in a black ops cell that I would never have seen the light of day.  Or I would have been executed for treason.”
Everyone had looks of agreement.
“They weren’t wrong, though,” Pennyfeather noted.  “Back home it was everyone yelling for war and the orange monkey in office looked more and more like a coward with each passing day when he didn’t do anything.  Even his most sycophantic followers couldn’t defend him.  Nobody understood why this guy who said he is all about violent retribution and even threatened the leader of North Korea on Twitter was now getting cold feet.  Guess he couldn’t put his money where he mouth was.”
I nodded.  Nice to know I wasn’t being lied to, even after all these years.

We reached the base in Yanbian, and to say things were tense was an understatement.  The Chinese did NOT like that an American was on base with them.  This was an area that was, definitively, off-limits to foreigners.  But the State Security agents were keeping quiet that I was here.  Very, very quiet.  Nobody even knew.  We were greeted by people in black suits, with the military being told to keep a wide berth.  An operations area was set up nearby where the chopper landed.  They worked fast!  It was impressive.
“You can get changed inside of the tent there!” Zhang indicated.  I had grown to at least like the dude to the extent that he was amiable.  He could tell how tense the situation was, so he was doing his best to diffuse it.  I didn’t mind.  Was more pleasant than Jiao, who was as ice-cold as always.
Walking into the tent, I saw that it was secured by two women in suits outside.  That was thoughtful of them.  They nodded to me as I entered.  Going inside, it was immediately to business.  I stripped down.  Was awkward being naked in a foreign country, with potential enemies everywhere, but that’s how it goes.  Getting into the TOS had become routine, by now.  So many years into its usage, we didn’t even need the techs to assist in suiting up and getting things working.  A good thing too, as it made getting into action faster.  Part of me savored this moment, since this was almost-certainly going to be the last time I ever wore one.  My last mission as a ninja assassin for America.
Something strange happened.  In came Jiao, also stripping down.  It seems she had some gear with her.  Guess this was the women’s tent for all the gal’s here going on the mission.  As she stripped down, I couldn’t help but notice that she was in glorious shape.  A couple years older than me, but she had a fit body.  I was impressed.  Seeing me staring, she just nodded.  No words necessary.
Making sure my hood was secured, I stepped out of the room.  The women outside looked me up and down, approvingly.  I nodded.  They pointed to a big tent with lots of people around it.  I walked inside, seeing Zhang was already suited up.  Their gear looked suprisingly similar to mine.  Guess the Chinese were trying to create their own version of the TOS.  Couldn’t blame them.  This stuff was amazing.
“Ah, American!  Welcome.  We’ve come up with our infiltration plan.”  On the table came a digital map, showing the topographical area.  “We’re lucky.  The base we’re headed for is on the coast, outside of Sunbong.  The plan is that we get dropped in from the air, coming in through the pass here.”
I thought for a moment.  “This whole damn country is booby-trapped with landmines.  Aren’t we taking a huge risk by dropping in like this?”
He shook his head.  “Not as much as you’d think.  The KPA has been removing landmines from outlying structures over the years.  Partly at our request.  We were tired of having fire teams have to get called when we heard explosions.  The outlying area around the base is a bigger risk, so we will have to take a more direct approach to avoid it.  You’re no stranger to risk, right?”
Not wrong about that, Zhang.  “Okay.  What’s our exfil point?”
He pointed to the water.  “We follow the road up to the top of a cliff here.”  Images came up of a railing there.  “We can rappel down, then get picked up by a zodiac.  That’s where we’ll part ways.  We have a fishing boat that is off the coast of China that will get you to Japan quietly.  Their silence is guaranteed.  Once there, you can link up with the Americans.  But that will mean you’ll have to get us the intel before we do.  Understood?”
I nodded.  “That’s the deal.  Though I’ll need to make sure my bag is on that boat.  There are some things I need for my return trip.”
“Understood.  I’ll make sure it is on the boat personally.”
Very amiable fellow indeed.  Though I would never fully trust him, at the very least I could trust his motives.  We needed each other.  Once this was done, we wouldn’t anymore, and that would be it.
Jiao came to join us, nodding to me.
“This entire operation should be finished in roughly 17 hours from leaving this base.”
“Sounds good.”
“Alright then, let’s get moving.”

Being high up, so far above, chute on my back, QCW-05 hooked to my waist, and a QSZ-92 with a suppressor strapped to my leg, I was ready.  The other two were as well.  A three-man team.  Keep it simple.  They had tried to have more go with us, but Zhang wanted to keep it simple.  Fine by me.  More people means more things that can go wrong.  Had seen that with the US military.
Word came over the intercom in Chinese.  Zhang motioned for me to get ready.  Guess we were over the target area.  The rear of Xi’an opened, and we were on it.  Zhang was at the front, with my hand on his shoulder, with Jiao behind me and her hand on mine.  A blare, and he went.  Another, and I was out.  Dropping fast.  Saw him falling, did my best to stay nearby.  No idea where Jiao was, but I assumed she was doing the same.  It was so surreal.  Seeing North Korea below me, in the dark, I felt very much in my element.  For the first time, in weeks now, I felt like I was a person again.  Would I ever be able to leave this sort of thing behind?
Reached safe distance to pull my chute.  Saw Zhang pull his, waited a couple of seconds, pulled mine.  Jiao went past us a bit, then pulled hers.  Smart.  Now all of us could keep and eye on each other.  From where we were, I could see the base that we were heading towards.  It had an airfield on it.  Good.  That would make things easier.  After a long time, we landed.  I was close by Jiao, so I linked up with her after packing my chute and burying it.  Since the TOS was invisible to night vision, I had to use a blinker to signal to her I was friendly as I approached.  Once we were together, she signaled Zhang, who came in after.
Now the three of us were off to the base.  A lot of the forest was cleared, so we had a pretty direct look at where we were headed, but that was also bad because the enemy had a very large field of vision.  Anytime we saw lights, we dropped.  Not a lot of traffic out here.  Strange.  Oh well. Their loss.  We made our way across the area, using a ditch that ran along the road for cover.  A truck was going by and we dropped.  Just then, they stopped.  Oh shit!  Grabbed my weapon, ready to fire.  Jiao grabbed my arm, shaking her head.  There were some men who got out, looking over something with the truck.  They seemed to be bickering about it.  Zhang motioned for us to get up and move.  He had an idea.
We got to the back of the truck, as he was complaining.  He motioned for us to hop inside, since it was open.  I saw what he was shooting for.  We could ride this truck in, then ditch inside and get in undetected.  Saved us a lot of trouble.  In a flash we were inside, keeping low and not making a sound.  The vehicle started moving, and we were off.
A while passed, until we stopped at the gate.  Stayed put a little while longer, then the vehicle moved inside.  We left the gate area and were headed to what looked to be the airfield.  Nothing but lots of cover to get inside.  I looked to him, wondering if we should ditch, but he shook his head.  When the vehicle stopped, the people inside left.  We waited for a bit, and it was quiet.  I turned on my ERC-7, then hopped out.  The two of them looked at me like I was nuts, but I just looked around.  No cameras?  That was weird.  You’d think the North Koreans would have tighter security.  I motioned for them to come out.
“You’re crazy, American!” Zhang whispered.
I smiled, not that he could see it with the hood on.  “This suit comes with all the toys.  Now let’s get moving.”
“Right.  We have to find out where the command post is.”
“And the mess,” I added, pulling the poison vial out of my suit’s pocket.
The two gave me a look like I just told them I killed a homeless man with a hammer.
“Understood,” Zhang said after a bit.

What followed was a long trek across the tarmac, making sure to avoid any patrols.  There was hardly anybody out here.  I guess they never expected for people to get inside the base.  Still, it’s standard procedure for there to be a good watch, no matter what.  Unprofessional of them.  We saw a building with cameras outside of it.  It was the only one.  That was certainly the command structure.  We marked it, then went looking for the mess.  Turns out, that was pretty easy to find.  And they were getting ready for breakfast.  Good.  Very good.  My bloodlust was back, and ready for action.  However, that would be a bit of a wait.  First things first, the commander of this base.
We went back to the command post, and I turned on my ERC-7 again.  The two really did think I was crazy when I walked inside like they left the door open.  Since the guard at the door was patrolling, they might as well have.  Getting inside, I felt kinda naked.  Drab hallways, well-lit.  This was a gamble.  But it was early.  Hardly anyone was in here.  Meant that the commander of this base likely wasn’t in here, but so be it.  I needed that intel, after all.  Now, as I couldn’t read Korean, this made things more difficult.  But I had a feeling I would know what I was looking for when I found it.
There was a large office with a big table inside.  On the desk was a series of files.  This country was so damn antiquated.  Why was there no computer?  Whatever.  Looked over some of the folders, until I saw one with pics of the Pacific Fleet.  This was it!  I took out my pocket cam and snapped pictures of every page, without exception.  Went over it bit by bit.  There were other things.  Pictures of Kim Jong Un, and different military leaders.  What was this?  Were they planning a coup?  No way to know for certain.  There was also an Iranian man, likely the one who sold them the popper planes.  Would have to have this translated, then could give my report to command.  Made a copy on a micro SD card for Zhang, then got out.  Found a first-floor window, hopped out, then rejoined my “comrades.”
“All the toys indeed.  Did you find anything?” Zhang asked.
“Aye.  A folder with pictures of the fleet, Kim Jong Un, and other people.  I got pictures of everything.”  I held out the micro SD card I made for him.  “As promised.”
He nodded.  “You kept up your end.  Thank you.  Now, we have your other mission to attend to, do we not?”
I smiled.  “Aye.  Time for some payback.”
Dawn was approaching.  I could hear the base waking up.  Chow time would be soon.  It made sneaking much more difficult, but the adaptable camouflage would change the pattern on my TOS to whatever I was next to.  It was great stuff.  We got back to the mess and saw people gathering.  Everything was regimented, including when everyone eats.  Jiao and I were in our element and we slid inside.  Bustling kitchens, but they were all distracted by the task at hand.  We were like ghosts slipping from cover to cover.  Hid under a big table when they were moving.  Finally, I got to a big pot that had the soup that went with breakfast.  Come on, move, cooky!  They did, and I saw my chance.  Opened up the vial, and dumped the whole damn thing into it.  This was gonna be good.
We exfil-ed out, and I got to a position where I could enjoy the show.  This base had thousands of people, men and women, coming inside.  They dished up, and a distinguished man came inside.  After he dished up, there was some kind of blessing or whatever said, then they all started eating.  A little bit of hang time.  Just then, several of them started reacting.  More and more and more did.  Eventually, everyone in the room was writhing on the floor in agony, looking like every muscle was being pulled in every direction.  Screaming, crying, sobbing, it was beautiful.  I wanted them to suffer, and they were.  Eventually, they stopped moving, and all the dead, broken bodies were on the floor, with twisted smiles on their faces.  Felt good.  Very, very good.
Zhang and Jiao looked right at me as I stared on, and I could tell that both of them were very afraid of me, for the first time.  After we were certain that everyone was dead, we headed for our exfil point.  The perimeter guards were called in, with the few remaining people on the base unsure what to do next.  Frantic calls, yelling, screaming, fear was everywhere.  Nobody was there to greet us on our way out.  We walked out of the base as if the place was empty.  It was fantastic.
Getting to the ridge, we took out our clips attached to lines in our suits and began to rappel down.  The zodiac was perfectly hidden inside of the rocks.  The Chinese acted fast.  Getting in, we started for the sea as the sun was coming over the mountains.  That was it for Operation Shadow Knife.  Fine by me.

Once we were out to see, there was a fishing boat not far from a Chinese naval vessel.
Zhang held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure doing business, American.”
“Likewise, Zhang.”
He went to go onto the Chinese ship.
Jiao came over, leaning in close.  Her accent was incredibly thick.  “The person you lost, your husband?”
I shook my head.  “My wife.”
Her eyes went big, then she nodded.  “I see.  Sorry for your loss.”
I finally felt connected to this woman.  “Thanks.  Be well.”
I got onto the fishing boat, and we started for Japan.  Now came the last leg of my journey, and finding out how this all ended.

Until next time, a quote,

“Turn and face the Sun, you bastard.” – Aloy, Horizon: Zero Dawn

Peace out,


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.”
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.”

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.”
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,


The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 1)

I got word from Bethke, the others were ready to gather.  However, they didn’t just want to hear bits and pieces.  I was being told that they wanted the whole story.  Only if I was willing to come totally clean with them would they listen to what I had to say.  That was unfortunate.  All my efforts to keep them out of this, and they were for nothing.  But they had a right, didn’t they?  After all, it was me who ditched them.  I had to take responsibility for that.  I did do wrong by them and they were owed a proper explanation.
Told Bethke to relay to them that they are putting themselves in danger by wanting to know the full story, but she hit me right back saying they don’t care about that.  They want the truth, and that’s the only way they’ll listen.  Spent some time in my darkened home, watching the lights on my Christmas tree and listening to choir music.  While I never believed in God, choir Christmas music of the religious nature never bothered me.  It was still beautiful.  Over the last few months, I had been opening up more and more to people.  I had made a friend and have learned that I can still live, not just wake up and go through the motions.  It was like rain on my parched soul.  Maybe a little more wouldn’t hurt.  I mean, it’s my sisters.  My STARS sisters.  If I couldn’t trust them, who could I?
Finally, I got on my phone to Bethke.  Let them know to assemble.  My place.  I’ll tell you all everything.

A few days later, I was in the kitchen cooking up some stuff for us to munch on.  It was a nice distraction from the butterflies in my stomach that were raging like never before.  As is typical, Emily was there with me.  She was happy I was taking this step.  To be honest, so was I.  While the nervousness was there, I couldn’t help thinking that burying the hatchet was pretty great.  But there was a little bit of melancholy too.  Where this conversation was going to go.  My young companion had something on her mind, I could tell.
“If you keep not telling me what’s on your mind it’s gonna drive me nuts, kiddo.  Speak freely.”
“What happens in the Navy when someone dies?  How do they tell you?”
Stopped what I was doing, nodding.  This was gonna come up at some point.  It’s finally here.
“Well, the CACP, or Casualties Assistance Call Program, designates a CACO to notify the next of kin.”
“Casualty Assistance Calls Officer.  They’re the ones who notify the Primary Next of Kin, and the Secondary Next of Kin.  The initial notification is done in person.  Always.  From there, they help with funeral planning…counseling, dealing with the financial stuff.  At least, I think that’s how it goes.”
She tilted her head.  “You don’t know?”
I nodded.  “Yeah.  I only stuck around for the first part…”
A brief pause.  “What happened, when Jean died?”
Another long pause.  Emily had proven herself trustworthy.  I had a right not to tell her, but there was this little voice in my head, almost with Jean’s voice, telling me to open up.  To not keep things bottled up inside where it will hurt.
“She was with the Pacific Fleet.  When you’re a reservist, every few years, you have to spend 6 months mobile.  We had planned out that she would do her time so that her deployment could end in time for Christmas, which was when Alpha Team would be inactive.  We really wanted to finally have a Christmas together in our new house.  Bought it before we got married.  This was really important to us.”
I sat down across from Emily.
“It was a week before she was supposed to get home when it happened.”
“When what happened?”
“When the Fleet came under attack, by North Korean forces.”
“They had gotten some ‘popper planes’ from Iran.  These little fighter jets that they manufactured themselves.  They were given to the North Korean military and snuck in when sanctions were lifted because the President and Kim Jong Un were BFFs at the time.  We lifted sanctions because they are promising to denuclearize.  Perfect timing, all things considered.  Anyway, Iranian officials were able to get in a squadron of planes to North Korea.  A few days later, they attacked the Fleet when a small squadron of ships was on patrol.  The ship Jean was serving on was part of that.”
“Oh my God.  What happened?”
“As I understand it, the popper planes knew that their attack was likely a suicide mission, so rather than risk getting shot down, they unloaded their arsenal and then went on suicide runs.  Like the Kamikaze planes in World War II.  Part of me wonders what the Iranians thought of that when they realized they just shipped away millions of dollars worth of military aircraft only to watch them all either get blown up or blow themselves up.  To be a fly on the wall.  But yeah, Jean’s ship was attacked.  They were damaged from a missile strike, but still functional.  Then one of the planes decided to go on its suicide run.  There was a huge explosion.  It’s believed that munitions were ignited onboard.  The whole thing was a giant fireball.  It sank pretty fast.”
She sat there, with this awkward look on her face.  “How did you find out?”
“About the attack?  That shit was all over the news.”

A call, at 0400.  Who the hell is blowing up my phone now?!
I picked it up groggily.  “Hello?”
“Pierce!” It was Rodriguez.  “Turn on the news!”
“The Pacific Fleet is under attack!”
In an instant, I was out of bed and running to my laptop.  Left a very angry pussycat wondering what the deal was.  Turned it on and went to Google.  Live coverage was everywhere.
“This morning, at 1:41 Pacific Standard Time, the Pacific Fleet came under attack.  It’s unclear at this time who the attackers were, but the information coming in from the Pentagon claims that they attacked in fighter jets, while a small squadron of ships was on patrol.  They came in quickly, and appear to have exhausted all ammunition and then made suicide-runs into the ships themselves.  At this time, all flights in and out of the United States are grounded, and the President has declared that there will be retribution for this, when the culprit is found.  At this time no nation has taken responsibility for the attack, and the investigation is still ongoing.”
Never have I felt more naked, literally and emotionally, than I did right then.  Fear was clutching at my heart.  I had to get in contact with Jean!  Right the fuck now!  But it hit me – her ship is IS.  I knew that communication with them was limited.  Fuck.  Somebody at Command could get me through.  I knew they could.  Ran upstairs, throwing on my black NWOs for the STARS and running to my front door.  Had to get to base.  Lt would have a way to get in touch with her.  I knew he would.

“When did you find out her ship was attacked?”
“Not long after I got to base.”

Lt was already there when I arrived.  So was Bethke, Crow, and Beacham.  Guess they hadn’t gone home yet.  The others had, but I knew that they would be coming back as soon as they could.  All hands on deck, as it were.  The base was absolutely crazy with activity.  The Air Force was launching F-22s when I arrived.  Those things were so cool.  I hate to seem disloyal to my Navy brothers and sisters, but those were the coolest planes.
When I saw them all sitting there, I nearly ran over.
“Sir!” I shouted.  “I need to get in contact with Jean’s ship!  Now!  Like, right the fuck now!”
He had a serious look on his face, then motioned for Bethke to secure the door.  Once it was, he looked right at me.
“Pierce, there’s something I need to tell you.  Since all of you have TS clearance, I can, but let me make clear that you haven’t heard anything, understood?”
“Aye-aye!  What’s going on?!”
He got close to us all.  “I just got word from Naval Command, in the list of ships that have been attack, CWO Beryl’s is among them.”
That’s when my heart stopped.  Right then, right there.  She’d been attacked!
Tried to hold it together.  “Do we know the status of the ship?”
“Negative.  So much information is pouring in right now, and we’re trying to get it right.  The Fleet has gone to the attack site and an investigation is underway of what happened, along with salvage operations of both personnel and materials.”  He put his hand on my shoulder.  “Pierce, as soon as I know, God as my fucking witness, I will be there to tell you.  In person.  You have my word.”
Nodded, feeling tears coming up on me.  Never in my life have I felt more helpless.  Crow came over and put her arms around me.  So did Beacham.  That’s when I cracked.  Tears were running down my face.
“Go on home, everybody,” Lt said.  “There’s nothing you all can do here right now.”
Beacham smiled at me.  “Come on, Pierce.  Let’s go to my place.  I don’t want you to be alone right now.”

“When did you find out she died?”
“Standard procedure is that if a ship is destroyed, and the search party doesn’t find survivors within a couple days of searching, they declare them killed in action.  They never found out she died.  They never found anything at all…”

Days had gone by.  Endless day after day, with me waiting for word.  Lt promised he would.  All he had said now is that her ship was destroyed, and they were looking for survivors.  I told myself that she’d be alright, that somehow she would have gotten out of this okay.  She’s resourceful, after all.  Probably with some group of people doing everything they can to stay alive.
But now it had been three days.  That long, and no word.  There was this cold feeling inside me, and I could feel it growing all the time, as the realization was coming to me of what the situation was.  I just didn’t accept it.
Then there was a knock at the door.  My guts were turning, looking at it.  Each footstep had that colder feeling getting deeper and deeper inside.  Then I opened it, and saw a man with a single gold bar on his collar.
“Chief Warrant Officer Quinn Pierce?” he asked.
That’s when it happened.  The cold feeling overtook me.  I felt nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all.
“Aye,” I answered.
“You are the spouse of Ensign Jean Beryl?”
“My name is Ensign Martin Thacker.  May I come in?”
I nodded, stepping aside.
He removed his cover and stepped inside.  Proper decorum, as always.
“On behalf of the Secretary of the Navy, I regret to inform you that your wife has died.  Her ship was attacked and destroyed.  After extensive sweeps for survivors, she was not found.  When we exhausted the possibility of finding anyone else, she was declared killed in the Line of Duty.  At this time, since no remains were found, we are unable to transport them back to you.  We were also unable to recover any personal effects, as they sunk with the ship…”
He kept on with his schtick, prepared and rehearsed and done with all the professional and dignified poise that one is to expect from a CACO.  A testament to their program and how well it trains people.  But I wasn’t listening.  My eyes were a thousand yards away.  All I felt was cold and dead.  Part of me had died.  Why didn’t Lt do this?  He said he would.  He promised!  But then, there are rules to these things.  Once an official determination was made, there probably wasn’t anything he could do.  Otherwise it would be a breach in protocol.
The dead feeling was everywhere.  From my head all the way down to my toes.  All I could feel was ice cold.  A new thought came to me – I’m going to make them pay.  I’m going to make them ALL pay!  Only I can.  The government trained me to be a killer.  It’s time to go kill the people responsible for taking my wife from me.
“Ma’am?” he asked.  Guess he noticed I wasn’t listening.
“Are you alone here?”
“I”m always alone, Ensign.”
“Is there anyone who can be with you right now?”
I looked him right in the eye.  My sisters would come running, but I wasn’t going to do that.  Other things to do.  Couldn’t get them involved in what was coming next.  This was MY burden.  No one else’s.  Nagging thoughts, horribly guilt.
“There’s no one.”
“Not your commanding officer?  I can arrange for them to come be with you.”
I got very close.  “Listen to me, Ensign – you did your spiel, and it was professional and lives up to the Navy standard.  But I’m one of the STARS.  So I’m telling you, right now, get the fuck out of my house.”  That’s a moment when I made a choice about what to do next.  I had just threatened a superior officer.  But my resolve didn’t waver.  Never broke eye contact.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“That’s not your concern, Ensign.  Now go.  Tell them you did a splendid job.  That’s all you need to do.”
This moment passed between us where the Ensign’s dedication to duty was faced with the understanding that he might be in real danger if he stays here further.  The STARS had a reputation now among the Navy.  He was measuring his response.  Smart man.
“Here’s my card, ma’am.  I’ll be providing continued assistance for funeral arrangements.  I’m sorry for your loss.”
He left, and now it was quiet.  Darkness, with only the light of the Christmas tree I had worked so diligently to set up.  Seemed an awful reminder now of where I was at, and what I had lost.  Rain falling outside.  In winter, rain.  Kind of fitting, really.

“In the news they told us that our limp-dick President wasn’t going to fuck up North Korea’s business.  It was too ‘politically volatile.’  He was too chummy with Un, and he didn’t want to make Russia mad, since they are tight with North Korea and he was Putin’s BFF too.  We bombed some stuff, put in more sanctions, and that was it.  A ‘measured response.’  That wasn’t what I wanted.  I didn’t want something ‘measured.’  I wanted something ugly and horrible and violent.  I wanted something that would be remembered for a hundred years to come.  And that’s what I was going to get.”
Emily was crying.  She came over and put her arms around me.  There was the same cold feeling.  It had been with me all those years, but now had waved more than I ever thought possible with this young person, and what they had brought to my life.  Wasn’t ready to face all of my feelings about this.  Not yet.  Maybe someday, but not right now.  But I did hug her back.
“Thanks, kiddo.  When I made my plan, I put all the things in this place that mattered to me in my duffel.  NWO for the STARS, my Five-Seven sidearm, some civvie attire, my Navy hoodie, and a flash drive with all the memories that we had together.  After that, I siphoned out the gas from Jean’s car, and I lit the place up.  The home that the two of us had built together.  That night, I burned it all to the ground.  So many memories, utterly destroyed.  But that’s what it was, to me.  Destroyed.”
My companion looked up in shock.  “I can’t believe it!  No wonder her parents are mad at you.  Wasn’t the wedding dress in there?”
“Aye.  Everything was.  Her clothes, the dress, everything.  All destroyed in one night…”

I splashed the gasoline around, careful not to get any on myself.  This stuff would vaporize quick, so I had to light it up fast.  Taking out the engraved lighter I got from Charles, I started it for the last time.  Shadow and Natayo were on their way to her parents’ place.  They were sad to leave, but that’s how it goes.  If nothing else, that is one memory that had to survive.  Then, looking at the place with all the memories we hoped to make, I tossed it into the pool of gasoline I had made.
The flame spread quickly, as I hiked up my duffel bag, and got moving.  It was time to get to work.

A knock at the door.  “That’ll be them.  Time for you to go home, kiddo.  You can’t be here for what comes next.”
She nodded, stepping back.  “Okay.”  She grabbed her coat and put it on.  As we got to the door, she turned around.  “Hey Quinn?”
“Thanks for telling me.  I know it couldn’t have been easy.”
The smile came back.  “No sweat, kiddo.”
Opening the door, I came face-to-face with all the women I had turned my back on, years ago.  That woman inside, who would always have been there for her sisters came back in a flash, and I was smiling as I looked at them.  Despite the negative emotions, they all nodded or smiled back.
“It’s good to see you all.  Come on in.  We have a lot to talk about.”

Until next time, a quote,

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Peace out,


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.
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?!”
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?”
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.”

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?”
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,


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
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?>
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,