The Truth About Killing

A few weeks had passed since that night with Ashley.  Everything that followed was about as bad as I could have expected.  After getting all the tears out, she got dressed and stormed out of my place.  Having gone back over to Emily’s, I got an absolute earful from the kiddo the next day about how much I had hurt her cousin and how she was so angry with me.  Though not just for hurting Ash.  She was also mad at me because I was about to kill myself.  That part I understood.  All the crying and yelling and asking me how I could do that.  Asking if I even thought about how she’d feel if she found out I had done that.  The words hurt.  They bit at my soul.  Between bouts of crying and yelling, she told me that if I was just gonna kill myself to not talk to her anymore.
And that’s how our PT and everything else ended.  My sources told me she had kept up with swimming.  In fact, she seemed to be doing it harder than ever.  That part made me happy.  At least some good came from our time together.  I’d take that.  As for me, I found slipping back into old routine had become pretty simple.  Shadow still joined me on my morning runs.  He loved it.  That made me happy.  I had him taken to a groomer here in town to have him trimmed.  A golden retriever mutt was a big responsibility.  The German Shepherd in him made the hair not grow as long as you’d think, but still longer than I wanted.
Before I had met Emily, and all this had happened, each day passed as uninteresting as the next.  I would do any research or procuring I needed for my next job.  There was one in my queue.  This one was admittedly a little interesting.  Killing a corporate executive, in a manner that absolutely had to look like an accident.  My sources were getting a dossier prepared on the target, and then we could have a meeting on possible methods of elimination.  A German man.  Such a shame, that one of the greatest warriors on Earth was being paid a king’s ransom to eliminate him.  Oh well.
I would go for my morning PT, spend some time playing with Natayo, do some work stuff, then have the rest of the day where I would watch movies or some other form of escapism.  Such standard days.  Nothing even remotely interesting happened.  Would have to think about how I could have my pets looked after when I went on a mission.  Maybe I could hit up Crow.  This was a nice place, and I could trust she wouldn’t trash it.  My pets loved all my sisters.
All of the good feelings in my life were slipping away.  Couldn’t talk to Jean’s family.  Didn’t even want to think about them.  They told me we were starting over, but what her father said was so fresh in my mind.  What if he blamed me too?  I didn’t like sleeping after the night of the dream.  Insomnia was all over me, but that was fine.  Meant that my pupper didn’t get to have a good night in bed like usual.  He was an unhappy camper, but he would get to chill with me on the couch, so he couldn’t be too unhappy.  Watching whatever stupid show was on Netflix.
For so long, I thought that I had it all figured out.  Then this young person came into my life, and everything I had was all fucked up.  My world was turned upside down, and I didn’t know who I was anymore.  And just when I feel like I had this shit figured out and could move forward, this happens.  What had I done?

Fate has a funny way of getting back at me at the strangest times.  She’s a mean bitch, and I had done her wrong before.  As it happened, I was getting materials ready for my next job.  I had a general idea of what I was going to do, but it hadn’t taken shape yet.  Poison was the word.  There are so many of them.  The one I was looking for had its roots in the Amazon (what little is left now), able to kill quietly and leave no trace of itself.  Would look like a typical infection.  By the time they knew what had happened, it would be too late.  The perfect tool for the criteria they gave me.
My phone rang.  Picked it up and saw kiddo’s name there.  What did she want?
“Hey,” I answered.
“You at home?” she asked.
“Aye.  What’s up?”
“I left my report at home.  It’s sitting on my bed.  Can you grab it for me?”  Her tone was so deadpan.  Only called me because she needed something.  Oh well.
“Sure.  Be there in 30.”
“Cool.  Thanks.”
A step in the right direction?  A woman can hope.  I jogged down to her place and knocked on the door.  Best to see if Betty’s there instead of just busting in, right?  Turns out, she wasn’t.  That’s when it hit me – she called me because Betty was gone.  The feeling of hope faded out, but part of me figured it’s best to try and make lemonade out of this situation.  She did call me, after all.  I missed my friend.

When I got to Olympia High School, I saw that this wasn’t much to look at.  The exterior was unassuming.  Because this is Washington, it was nice to look at from the outside.  There were kids chilling outside.  Guess they let kids go off campus at lunch.  Reminded me of where I grew up.  In fact, that’s the feeling I got here.  It really was like something I grew up with way back in the day.  Made me feel a little old as I stared at the entrance and the sign with the clock above it and thought back to when I was a kid.  Before everything went to shit, and I was a pariah.  Over half my life ago now.  At least from when I started.  How nuts is that?!

Being a freshman was the worst.  You go from being at the top of the stack in middle school to this.  It sucked.  Now I was stuck in another alien place that I had to learn all about, with people who probably were going to be dicks to me.  Only one of my friends was here.  The other two either were in a different school, or in the case of Cassie had moved.  It was hella hard, watching her leave.  Cried for ages.  Felt like I was losing more than a friend.  She was one of the few black girls in this town, and when you’re a minority in farming country, that can be a little sticky.  But she was such a great friend.  And the older I got, the more I thought something else about her.  It was strange, but with me all the same.  Maybe someday I’d figure it out.
At least big sis was here.  Though, would she want her little sister around?  I hoped so.  Lulu was glad he wouldn’t be going into this by himself, but having a big sister to watch my back sounded nice.  I pulled my backpack up and started toward the door.  Guess we’d find out what school was going to be for me soon enough.  Hopefully it didn’t suck.  In fact, I would do my best to make it exciting.  Cute boys, maybe having a car someday, and lots of fun girls to get to know.  That last thought stuck with me.  Daddy always said I was friendly.  Who knows who I’d meet.  Positive attitude time!  It was a new day.  Let’s see what happens next.

As fate would have it, things would go wrong for me in all kinds of ways.  But that was history now.  A long, depressing history of how Lady Luck had fucked me over five ways ’til Sunday.  I had the paperwork she needed, in a manila envelope.  Time to head inside.  Something caught my eye, as I headed in.  A kid, with a look on his face that I had seen before.  Maybe he’s emo?  I know I am out of touch, so maybe I’m just reading into it.  He wore this ratty brown coat, and had a duffel bag hanging down at his side.  All the alarms in my head were going off.  Something was off about this kid.  No, this was all just nerves.  Kids can be weird as fuck.  I knew plenty that people thought were serial killer types that just were misunderstood.  Had to get kiddo her paper.
I had texted her that I was arriving and she told me to RV with her at the entrance.  That worked.  Looking around at the various things hanging on the walls.  A trophy case with Lacrosse, rugby, track, swimming, and soccer trophies.  Not bad.  Back in my school, it was all about football and basketball.  Midwest to West Coast.  A larger gap then you’d think.  In more ways then one.  A TV monitor on the wall, with changing displays of things like the school lunch menu, hot items at the school store, various sporting and school events.  People looked at me like I was some kid’s mom.  I’m not that old!  Christ.
That’s when I saw kiddo heading down the hall toward me.  She had been talking to some girl.  Seeing me, her friend broke off and left.  Guess she figured we needed some privacy.  Courteous of her.
“Hey,” I greeted.
“Hey.”  There was a bit of awkwardness there.  “So, do you have my report?”
“Aye.”  Gave her the manila envelope.
“Thanks.  You’re a life-saver!  I was pretty fucked without it.  DIdn’t wanna call dad.  He’d give me an earful about forgetting it.”
I nodded.  “Well, your secret’s safe with me.”
She couldn’t help but smile.  “Thanks.”
We stood there for a bit.  Time to bow out?
“Well, I guess I should be going,” I said, finally.
Looking up.  “Wait!  So, are you doing okay?”
Thought for a moment.  “It’s another day, you know?”
Kiddo looked down.  “So, you’re not gonna, you know…?”
Felt pain inside.  “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
She nodded, then looked up.  “Yeah.  Maybe we could chill sometime?  I’ve been kind of cooped up at home.”
Felt so much better.  We were still friends, even now.  “Aye.  I got nothing going on for the next few days.”
“Cool.  Guess I’d better get to class.”
“Aye.  See you later.”
That’s when I saw it again.  The kid from before.  He was walking in, hand inside the duffel bag.  Alarms were going off in my head.  Something was wrong here!
“Kiddo!” I said, quietly, “Get behind me.  Do it now!”
Immediately she was on edge.  “Why?!  What’s wrong?!”
“Just do what I say!  Something’s about to happen.”
Emily ran to my backside, grabbing my shoulder.  She could see what I was looking at.  From the duffel bag, the kid from before produced a 12 gauge Remington shotgun.  The entire hallway was staring, with kids either running or too scared to run.  He took aim at a pretty young brunette.
Instantly my hand was inside my jacket.  From a concealed holster I pulled out my Glock26.
“Drop it!” I shouted.  “Drop the weapon!”
He looked right at me, this expression that’s hard to put into words on his face.  Like, when an animal is cornered, but not backing down.  Desperate, angry, dangerous.  A whole bunch of things.
“You shoot me and I’ll blow her brains out!” he shouted back.  Cracking voice.  What was this kid’s deal?
It was a bit of a standoff.  Washington didn’t have guards at their schools.  The shootings you see virtually everywhere else hadn’t really caught up to this state.  So for the moment it was just us.  This was bad.  His weapon was loaded for bear.  At this range, if he fired, that girl’s guts were gonna spray the floor.  Shaking hands, but his finger was on the trigger, and at this range he couldn’t possibly miss.  There was no doubt I could land a head-shot, but my range was further, and by the time I fire, so would he.  Yup, this was bad.  Really, really bad.  What were my options?  A thousand ways I could kill this kid.  Young skull.  Bullet would kill him, no doubt.  Maybe wound him?  No, then he would still kill the girl he’s aiming at.  There was no possible scenario of me firing that doesn’t result in him killing his target.  What do I do?  Kiddo was behind me, clutching me tight.  I could hear her crying.
For the hostage, she was bawling, losing her ability to stand and dropping to the floor.  Kid had pissed herself.  A sad day for that cute long skirt she was wearing.  Faculty were trying to get kids away, but I could see that plenty who had been too scared to run were glued where they stood.  There was a surreal quiet to this moment.  My training was telling me a thousand possible ways to make this kid dead, but none of them had it where that poor girl didn’t get her head or chest destroyed.
Another option presented itself – I had to keep this guy talking.  Maybe, if I could keep him busy long enough, the cops could assist in this endeavor.  Plus, there was something about him.  The look on his face, scared angry, like panicking.  If I could calm him down, maybe there was a chance.  Okay.  I could do this.
“Why do you wanna to kill that girl?” I asked.  For the first time in 15 years, my Midwest asserted itself.  This was a strange feeling.
“She’s one of them.  These fucking kids at this fucking school.”
“So you wanna kill more people?”
“Yes!”  Shaking, but talking.
“Why?  Why do you wanna kill the kids here?”
“They’re all the same!  Plastic people who you can’t tell apart!  I hate them all!”
I could feel there was more to it.
“Plastic?  What do you mean by that?”
“Fake!  They’re not real!  Everybody’s on their fucking phones all fucking day!  They all listen to the same music and do the same shit.  I can’t stand it.  None of them will give anyone who isn’t like them the time of day.  They’re fucking robots!”
Getting deeper.
“They won’t give you the time of day?  Is that it?”
He got defensive.  This look as he stood there, deliberating whether to tell more or not.  Something in his mind was clicking.  Thoughts telling him that he was on the right path.
“Yes!  I mean, no!  They just suck!”
Had to be insistent.  Some part of him was looking to talk.  “You said yes!  Are they not talking to you?”
“Of course not!  I’m that weird kid.  The smelly kid.  The kid who likes hunting and guns and has a poor family.  Nobody gives me the time of day.”
Okay, we were making progress.  “So why do this?  Why come in here and kill all these people?  You gonna kill the teachers too?”
“Damn right!  They treat me like shit too.”
Teenage angst.  All the drama.  But then, I knew at least a little of that.  “So, you kill people.  What then?”
“Then everybody’s talking about me!  Then I’m not just the weird kid that nobody cares about.  Everybody wants to know why I did it!  The news will cover it all day for fucking weeks and every person in the country will want to know all about me!”
So that’s it.  Suddenly I hated this kid a lot less.  Couldn’t let him do what he’s planning, but his motivations were starting to come into focus.
“Fuckin’ A, kid.  Being a kid nowadays must really suck.  Everywhere you go, everyone’s online or on the phone or whatever.  The Internet was supposed to connect eerybody, but instead it just pushed eeryone apart.  Can’t imagine how lonely it must be to grow up today.  Friends that exist on screens, but you have no connection to in real life.”
His hands were shaking a bit more, but his finger was off the trigger.  “So why shouldn’t I do it?!  Why shouldn’t I kill them and get them ALL talking about me!”
I shook my head.  “Kid, if you do this, yeah, they’ll all talk about you.  But you know what they’re gonna say?  What a piece of shit you are.  Asking why you are such a monster. At least for a little while.  Then the news will start yellin’ about guns and schools and they won’t be talking about you anymore.  You’ll just be part of the news cycle.”
Tears started flowing down his face.  “So then what should I do?!  What the fuck should I do?!  Kill news people?!  Kill politicians?!  Who do I have to kill to get people paying attention to me?!”
I shook my head.  “Listen, kiddo, killing people isn’t gonna help you.  It’s not gonna make your loneliness better.  It’s not gonna make the pain go away.  Take it from me, it’s gonna make it a whole hell of a lot worse.”
Now he wasn’t looking at his target.  He was looking right at me.  “How would you know?!”
Lowering my weapon, I looked past him.  “Because I’ve been killing people for a very long time.”
He was confused.  “What?  What you do you mean?”
“When I joined the military, I did it to get out of where I was and see if there was a better life out there.  Joined the Navy because I figured the best way to see the world was behind a cannon.  When my CPO asked me if I wanted to get into STARS, I figured it was a good way to do something fun.  It was a new program to show what women could do.  I didn’t realize what that meant.  They trained me to kill, then expected me to.  At first it was just when we had to, but then they realized that we had skill as assassins.  That I had skill.  It was a genuine gift I had, being able to know when and how to kill someone.
“At first it was hard.  I rationalized it, try to reason it away, but it never did.  Kept biting at me more and more and more.  But then I met someone.  Someone wonderful who changed my life.  I gave them my heart and swore that I would love until death do we part.  And that’s what happened.  Now all I had was the killing.  It’s all I know how to do.  All I’m good at.  Through a PMC company I run, I make a killing off it.  A king’s ransom.”  The pain was back inside.  “But I can’t keep doing this.  Each day I wake up, there is a little less of me inside than there was the day before.  I go through life, and I think about how I would and could kill people.  Even now, my brain is going through all the ways I can take you out, trying to find a way to save the hostage.
“I need this to stop.  Because if the day ever comes that I can’t stop myself from killing, then the last body I’ll take down is my own.  That’s better than becoming a monster, who will be hated by the people I care about.”
Emily grabbed my arm, holding tight.
The armed kid looked at me, then back down at his target.  The girl was a red, teary mess.  Then he looked at his weapon.
“So what am I supposed to do?  If everybody already doesn’t like me, what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
I let out a sigh.  “You start talking to people.  Maybe a whole bunch won’t like you.  But I bet there are plenty of kids who feel just as lonely and want someone to talk to them.  Though, for now you’re gonna go away.  You done fucked up.  Still, you’re young.  It ain’t too late for a new heading to your life.”
That’s when he looked back at me.  “Maybe for you too?”
Smiling a bit, I nodded.  “Yeah.  Maybe.”
Letting out a deep breath, the kid started lowering his gun.  Success!  Now I just had to get him to put it down, and then this could be all over.  I looked to Emily, motioning for her to stay put.
Walking over, I saw looks of approval from everybody who was viewing this from where they were either hiding or hadn’t been able to run from.  Had I just done something heroic?  There was a stellar thought.  Former killer, STARS assassin, saving lives.  Hell yeah!
Suddenly, the kid looked pale.  “Mike, don’t!”
I turned in a flash to see another kid standing there, in a camo jacket with messy blonde hair.  An accomplice!  He had a loaded .44 pistol.  Kid fired right into my gut.  In a flash, my weapon came to bear.  Blasted a hole right into his head.  He hit the deck, brain matter leaking out.  I fell to the ground, hearing Emily screaming and running over.  She put her hand on my gut.  Blood was pouring out.
“No!  Quinn!  Please God no.”  She just kept saying no over and over again and she tore up her shirt to ball up and put on my wound.
Felt the life draining out of me.  So this was it.  This was how the life of a STAR ends.  Not too shabby.  Saved a bunch of lives.  Not a bad way to go.  The voices of people who came running over and others was getting more and more distant.  This was it.  The end.  Everything was fading to black.

I woke up in the bedroom of my house.  It was a nice, clear, sunny day outside.  Not the cloudy and rainy mess it had been.  What’s going on?  Getting up, I saw that I was wearing this cute flannel number that Jean had got me for Christmas a few years back.  Thought that burned up with the house.
Walking into my kitchen to make coffee, I suddenly saw someone sitting in a chair in my living room, facing out at the ocean.  Jean!  She was in matching PJs, a mug in her lap.
“You’re up!” she greeted.

Until next time, a quote,

“End?  No, the journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path.  One that we all must take.” – Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Peace out,

Maverick

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The Dream

I woke up in my rack.  All these years later, I recognized it in an instant.  Even recognized what ship I was on.  The USS Zumwalt.  Why was I here?  This made no sense?  Sitting up from my rack, I noticed that I was wearing a TOS.  What the hell was going on?!  Looking around the room, I saw Rodriguez’s stuff, but not the lady herself.  I stood up, looking down at my OPSAT.  Maybe it could tell me what was going on.
Osprey, what’s going on?
A brief wait.
Pierce, get on deck.  The enemy is on the ship!
I looked up, seeing right by the door, there was a QCW-05 hanging there on a hook.  There was also a holster for my Five Seven.  Why was there a Chinese rifle?  My SC-20K would be here on the ship.  No time to think about it.  If the enemy was on the ship, and I was told to get up top, I had to go.  Moving fast, always checking my corners.  The ship was silent!  Moreso than usual.  Where was the crew?  And why was it so dark?  Over 2/3 of the lights were out.  Not broken, but just out.  This made no fucking sense.  I know that Lt told me to get up on deck, but the command deck had to have people.  Why was I here if no one else was?
The walk there was so ominous.  Felt like the walls were pressing in around me.  Moved as fast as I dared.  Each clanking sound or groan of metal and I felt my nerves get even more on edge.  What the fuck was happening here?!  My training told me that it was a bad idea, but as I got closer, going up ladders and through doors, I started to run.  Had to get to the command deck, see what was happening here.  I could feel myself being watched.  What lights there were seemed to be getting more and more red.
I burst through the door, but there was no one in here!  Not a single person at their station.  Was I all alone on here?  Looking around, I saw my OPSAT had a new message.
Get to the landing pad, Pierce!  Your target is there!
Wanted to leave.  Wanted to understand.  Nothing was rational.
Osprey, what’s going on?!  Where is everyone?!  Why am I alone?  I don’t understand the mission.
Just follow your orders, Pierce.  Kill the target
.
I leaned up against the wall.  Even that didn’t help how exposed I felt.  No sound.  Just ominous silence.  The creaking of bulkheads.  Movement as the ocean tossed the ship a bit.  Not much, but enough to notice.  Some beeping at the consoles, but I didn’t know enough to know what any of it meant.  I wasn’t trained for this stuff.  Lifted my weapon.  If I killed my target, maybe I could get out of this nightmare.  As good a reasoning as I could find.  Back into the dark passageways.  The darkness got even more oppressive.  I was jumping at every sound.  Where were my sisters?  They would NEVER send one of us in solo.  Even at the most reserved, they send you with one other person.  But it was clear, nobody else was in here.  All the questions, without a single answer.
Passageway after passageway, it almost felt like every open door had a shadow looking at me.  They were filled with darkness.  Finally, I got out to the landing pad.  Bringing my weapon to bear, I sighted down on my target.  That’s when I saw them.  It was a silhouette, but they were there.  So Osprey wasn’t lying to me.  Alright, so I just kill this person, and then I get out of this mess?  Worked for me.  My weapon had a red dot sight, with an attachment of a zoomed scope to get in closer that I could flick on and off.  Nice!  Zoomed in.  Wanted to make absolutely sure that my target was dead.  As I looked through it, something threw me off.  This silhouette looked familiar.  It had a female form.  A woman as my target?
OPSAT buzzed.  Do it, Pierce!
Ugh!  Leave me alone!  Sighting back, again my aim was halted.  This person was familiar.  I knew this figure.  Wait, no!  It couldn’t be!  Stopped.  Lowered my weapon.  Stepped out onto the deck.
“Jean?!”  I called out.  “Is that you?!”  Ran as fast as I could, to reach her.  But when I arrived at where she stood, she wasn’t there anymore.  Like she had disappeared in the prevailing darkness.
Another buzz.  Dammit, Pierce!  Your target’s moved to the engine room!  Eliminate them!  That is an order!
Didn’t even care about that now.  I had to find her.  Why was she here?!  Why wouldn’t she talk to me.  Ran like a woman possessed inside.  The doors were all open, and I could feel the shadow eyes on me.  Through another passageway, until I reached my destination.  There was just enough light inside to see the same dark silhouette.
“Jean!  It’s you, right?!  Why are you here?!”  Again I ran at her, desperate to be where she was.  Right as I was about to reach her, the lights came on, blaring in my face.  Went blind for a couple.  Had adapted to the darkness.  Then they went down again, and she was gone.
“Jean!” I cried, desperately.  “Where are you?!  Why won’t you talk to me?!  PLEASE!”  Now I was screaming.
Yet-another buzz.  You have disobeyed orders, Pierce!  I will have you court-martialed if you do not follow my command!  Eliminate your target!  It’s gonna stick, this time.  No weaseling out of it with the Admiral.  Do the only thing you’re good at and kill your target!
Rage bubbled up inside me.  Fucking bastard!  I’m not a killer!  I’m an assassin!  And why does he want me to kill my wife?!  I would never do that!  Not in a million years.  I would protect her!  I’d do it now!  If they wanted her dead, I’d keep her safe.  Nobody could ever harm her while I am looking out for her.
You don’t believe that, Pierce.  You’re a killer.  We trained you, taught you, molded you.  This is all you know how to do.  You know I’m right.
That’s not true!  I was more than just a killing machine!  Jean showed me that I wasn’t just what they wanted me to be.  I was more.
How often do you think about killing, Pierce?  Be honest.
Tears started pouring down my face.  They’re wrong!  They had to be.  I’m not the monster they wanted me to be!  I got free!  I have a family again!
You’ll kill them, Pierce.  Just like you did your father.
I put that rotten piece of shit out of his misery!  After all he put me through, why shouldn’t I have been the one to finish things?!  It was quick and painless.  More than he would EVER have done for me!  He was dying anyway.  Why shouldn’t I have had the right to do that?!  Was more than those doctors were doing, keeping him alive as meat and tubes.
You didn’t do that to put him out of his misery.  You did it for revenge.
I didn’t have to listen to this!  Where was she?  I had been running down passageways, desperately looking wherever I could think.
Your target is on the landing pad, Pierce.  Eliminate them!
I wouldn’t!  We would get away from here and I would never have to think about any of this again!  We’d go home together.  I’d show her the ocean, wake up with the distant sound flowing in.  Hear her breathing next to me as we sat on the veranda together and ate breakfast.  Cuddled at night watching the moon.  I’d never let anyone hurt her.
Ran out onto the landing pad, seeing that same dark silhouette.
“Jean?  Is that you?  Please, talk to me!”  Was red, puffy, face streaked from tears.  The silhouette didn’t move.  “Are you mad?  Is that it?  Did I do something wrong?”  No response.  Just the breeze in the night air.  Tropical air.  “I’m sorry for what happened.  I would give anything for it to be me and not you!”  Dropped my weapon to the deck.  “You don’t know how hard it’s been without you.  I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.  I’m starting to think that I’m turning into a psychopath.  I need you so much.”
The silhouette just stood there in silence.
Felt anger bubbling up.  “So that’s it?!  You’re just gonna stand there and let me hurt?!  I fucking need you, and you’re just gonna stand there?!  I told you we’d be forever!  I made vows for better or for worse!  Does that mean nothing to you?!”
More silence.
“God-dammit, talk to me!”  I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Still nothing.
Drew my side-arm.  “Fucking talk to me, or I’ll open fire!  Tell me something!  Tell me anything!  Please!”
Just stood there.
“Don’t make me do this, Jean.  Please don’t make me do this.”  Sighting through the tears that streamed down my face without stop.  “Please…”
Only the wind.
“Fine.  Have it your way.”  Looking down, I fired.  The suppressed sound, ringing out in the endless night.
Just then, a light from the tower above came on.  It showed her, standing there, in her NWUs.  The old ones, blue and perfect.  I loved those things.  The green ones were so repulsive.  Blood poured out of her eye-socket, where the bullet had gone through.  The face was a mask of disbelief and pain.
“You killed me, Quinn.  You, and no one else.”  She fell and hit the deck.
I dropped to my knees.  A screaming, anguished cry escaped me, unrelenting, echoing out into the dark and endless sea.

I woke up in a pool of different hair.  Now it was dark brown, almost black.  Parts of it were streaked blonde.  She was beside me, naked, almost cuddling but not.  Sat up.  Didn’t put on a robe or anything as I stood up.  Walked over to the doors leading out onto the veranda from my room.  Walked right outside.  It was pouring down rain.  Quite cold, for Washington.  It didn’t even register.  Nothing did.  I didn’t feel anything.  Walked out onto the sopping grass, headed toward the cliff.  When I got there, I stood.  Looking out onto the drop.  I could do it.  Jump off the edge, fall, and that would be it.  Everything would be over.  I could be with my wife again.  There was this little voice in my head, telling me not to.  It sounded like someone I knew.  Who could that be?  With all this rain, it was hard to hear.
Then it got louder.  “Quinn?!  What are you doing?!  Come inside!”
Who was that?  Didn’t matter.  Nothing would matter pretty soon here.
The sound of feet stomping on the grass.  “Quinn, what the fuck are you doing?!  Get away from the edge!”
A hand grabbed my arm.  I shrugged it off.  This person was annoying.
“Quinn, what’s going on?!  What are you doing out here?!”  They sounded so worried.  Why?  Who was I to them?
Looked over, saw the hair, on this girl.  She had no clothes on, like me.  There was this look of fear on her face.
“Come on!  Let’s go back inside!  Please!”  Gentle coaxing.  She sounded so worried.  Was that genuine concern?
I looked back out at the dark ocean, how it called to me.
“Please, Quinn!  Let’s go inside!  I’m begging you!”
Confusion.  Then I saw an image in my head.  Emily!  Flashed back to reality.  The fog was gone.  I stepped back.  Saw Ashley standing there, soaking wet and looking scared to death.
“Let’s go inside!  Please!”
I nodded, starting back toward the house.  She put an arm around my shoulder, leading me in.  When we got inside, she shut the door and now I could see that she was crying.  She collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” she demanded.  “Were you trying to kill yourself?  Is that it?!  Jesus fucking Christ!  Why would you do that to me?!  Fucking bitch!”
My legs suddenly gave out, and I hit the floor, leaning on the cold glass of the door.
“I’m sorry, Ashley.  I’m so sorry.”
We just sat there, with her crying and me not having any words to say, and wishing desperately that I did.

Until next time, a quote,

“What have I…what have I done?” – Heero Yuy, Gundam Wing

Peace out,

Maverick

The Submarine Mission (Part 2)

John was smiling at me.
“Em was right, listening to you tell this stuff is pretty awesome!”
Ashley was right there with him.  “Oh yeah!  I can’t believe they had you do this kind of stuff.”
“And you volunteered for this, right?” he asked.
I nodded.  “Aye.  I wanted advanced combat training.  My CO in A School just happened to make me an offer to get into the STARS program.  Sheer chance got me everywhere I went.”
“Well, I guess I can’t fault serendipity on this.  After all, you saved my little girl.”
That made me feel good.
“Anyway, you were saying?”
“Things were about to get a lot more complicated…”

The Colonel looked back but couldn’t see me in the gloom.  I think his eyes went big.  A little hard to tell in night vision.
“Who are you?!”
“I’m with the STARS.  We’re here to get your package.  The SEALS are coming in to save your ass, but we need to secure that first.”  My voice was right in his ear, not more than a butterfly’s wings whisper.
He nodded.  “Damn right.  What’s in there is a matter of national security.”
“Then we don’t have much time.  Where is it?!”
A brief pause.  “It’s hidden in the ventilation in the bathroom of my cabin.  Room 2D.”
Typed into my OPSAT to Beacham.  Got that?
Didn’t have to wait long.  Got it.  Oscar Mike.  Head back to the rally point with Crow.  We’re almost done here.
I turned back to the Colonel.  “Alright, sit tight.  The cavalry is almost here.”
“Sounds good.  Thanks.”
I put his gag back in, then had to navigate the shadows again.  Suddenly, a voice came on the intercom.  It was shouting something in African.  I stopped dead.  Where I was had excellent darkness.  If the enemy was going to be moving, I had to see where they were gonna go.  Looking around with night-vision, the enemy looked nervous.  Really, really nervous.  Had we been discovered?!  This was bad.  If they knew someone was onboard, then they’d turn the lights on.  If the lights come on, I’m fucked!  We’re all fucked.  I have no doubt between Crow and I we could easily kill most of these guys, but the chances it wouldn’t involve hostages was nil.
Hands shaking.  Had to get moving.  To get away from being so damn exposed.  Just then, I felt something.  We were moving!  The ship was moving, and picking up speed.  Oh shit!  Now I really had to get moving.  The enemy all seemed to be looking outside, as if into the distance.  Were they trying to see if a ship was out there?  What was going on?
A buzz on my OPSAT.  Well, no one was looking.  Rally at the RV!  We’ve got trouble.  It was Beacham.  She didn’t have to tell me twice.  Slipped through the dark spots, getting back with Crow.  I slipped my camera out the same window we came in.  The enemy was toward the front of the ship.  What were they looking at?  The vessel was turning.  Trying to get away from something?  Hard to say.  My night-vision didn’t show me much.  Paranoia?  That would make some sense.  They’ve been sitting here for a bit, and clearly are wondering why the ransom negotiations are not happening.  I’d feel skittish too.  Oh well.  No time to ponder.  We had an RV to get to.  Slipping out the window, we had to move faster than we really should have in order to avoid detection, but then got back to the fan-tail and got behind the cargo container.
Bethke and Rodriguez were waiting.
<Where’s Beacham?> I signed.
<No idea.  We were told to wait here.>
So now we sit back and find out what the hell we’re gonna do next.

The wait went on for what felt like an eternity.  The vessel was moving as fast as it could toward the horizon.  Given the position of the north star, we were headed west.  Toward land?  If we got to shore, with their reinforcements, we were in a world of trouble.
Finally, Beacham appeared from the other side of the container, with Pennyfeather.  They had the case!  What did this mean for us?
<Alright, we have the package.  Now how do we get the hell out of here?!>  Rodriguez signed.
Beacham leaned back, thinking.  <This is a sticky spot.  The tanks are gone.  That’s a guarantee.>
I leaned over.  <What about the SDV?>
She cued up her OPSAT, looking down at it.  <It reads as still attached, but there’s NO way we could hold our breath that long.>
This was bad.  An attempt to turn us into poster children to avoid the rumors with the Navy was blowing up right in our faces.  Could only imagine what the Lt was thinking right now.  How much did he know?  Integrated suit tech only picks up audio.  Glad he wasn’t hearing anything right now.
<Why not finish the mission?> Bethke asked, finally.
We all gave her a luck.
<We just talked about this, kiddo.  We can’t get back to the sub without our air tanks.> I said.
Crow had been looking up, face to the wind.  Now she looked at us.  <She means finish the rest of the job.>
Beacham was confused.  <You mean…?>
It clicked.  <She means save the hostages and kill the enemy.>
Bethke nodded.  <Hell yeah!>
Everyone got serious.  We had been told no Fifth Freedom.  But we were also told if things went south, we had secondary orders allowing us to kill the enemy.  So what do we do?
<We have no way off the ship, and they’re heading west.  Land is that way.  If we get back to shore, we’re in real trouble.  Then it’s not a mission to jack a ship with the SEALs.  It’s an assault with the Air Force and Marines.  This hits all the points he told us about when Fifth Freedom was granted.>  I thought I made a good argument.
Beacham nodded.  <You’re not wrong.  Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do.  Audio in Blackfoot.  No OPSAT communication.  I know it breaks protocol, but I don’t want Lt knowing what we’re about to do before we do it, once we break from here.  Hooyah?>
<Hooyah!> we all signed.  Still cool that we had worked out a sign for that.
<We’ll split up in threes.  First, we have to take out the patrol teams.  Pierce, you’ll take Crow and Bethke and clear the starboard side.  The rest will come with me and we’ll clear port.  We meet at the front.  Challenge is ‘Lynx,’ countersign is ‘Eagle.’  Understood?>
I nodded.
<Okay.  We have to move fast!  The enemy cannot know what’s happening!  Lure the enemies guarding the outside of the ballroom away from the door, then take them out.  Only shoot when you know you can make a kill.  Otherwise use your knives.  Once we clear out the guards, we’ll go inside and take care of the ones looking after the hostages.  Once that’s done, we’ll leave two there, then head up top and take out the captain and bridge crew.>  She took a deep breath, looking right at me.  <You ready?>
<Hooyah.>
In night-vision, I could still tell she was smiling.
<Then let’s move out!>
Into the darkness, six women disappeared again, where even the Reaper couldn’t find us.
Coming to the ladder at the rear, I held up my hand for them to stop.
Turning to Crow.  <You the upper deck.  Remember, only go after what you can kill.  Feel free to use shockers against them, just make sure to take them out if you do.>
She nodded, going without a word.  I motioned for Bethke to stay on my six.  We moved silently, still being careful around light.  I made a point that I wasn’t going to use my guns.  This was gonna be silent.  Heard a pop up top, hard to distinguish in the waves.  Nice.  She was already bagging them.  We got to where the door was, seeing the same two guys we had left out their previously now back at their posts.  I pulled a circular small disc and slid it across the deck just out of sight of the door.  Was a little worried I would slide it too far, but was right on point!  Hit the trigger on my OPSAT.  It made this repeated low noise.  The two looked over.  I pulled out my knife, looking over to Bethke, who did the same.  This close to the entrance, we couldn’t have them wondering if there was gunfire.
First one enemy came over, leaving the other by the door.  Shit!  Was hoping to get them both.  Right as he was reaching out into the dark to see what it was, I grabbed that arm and pulled him in.  Before he could make any noise, I plunged my blade into his neck.  A gurgling sound, then nothing.  He went limp.  Was glad this dude was part of a malnourished part of the world.  Otherwise this would suck having to hold him up.  He was heavy enough as-is.  Exhausting.
Bethke did some fast thinking, tapping on the railing.  I looked over at her, furious.
She looked back, shaking her head.  The dude looked over, heading over quickly.  So, he wanted to make sure his friend was okay.  Guess that’s his own weakness.  Bethke grabbed him, plunging her blade in and slitting his throat.  Holding him over the edge, letting gravity do the work.  I decided to unload my cargo over there myself, as gently as I could.  With the boat going as fast as it could, noise wasn’t the biggest issue to do water dumps.  At least not on the first deck.
We knew there was no way to avoid the lights at the front, so we activated the magnetic gloves and hopped the side and shimmied across the side until we got past the exterior lights outside the ballroom.  There were three enemies up here.  Saw two shadows at the far port-side.
“Natayo” I heard in my ear.
“Ksikkihkini,” I replied.
{Weapons free.  On three}
Pulled my five-seven, slipping over the deck.  Flashes was a risk, but the enemy coming out to investigate worked to our advantage.  Land was in the distance, getting closer.  We were running out of time.
{One.  Two.}
Grip tightened, ready.  {Three!}
We opened fire.  A suppressed pop dropping one.  I was about to drop the other when a flash from above.  Looked up in a flash to see Crow with her SK-20C.  Show-off!  Pennyfeather dropped the last.
They came over.
Beacham smiled.  {Well done.  Alright, we’re gonna head up top.  Let us know as soon as you secure the hostages.  We will take out the Captain.  Rodriguez is waiting outside the window into the upper level of the ballroom.}
I nodded, cuing up her and Crow.  {Make your way inside.  When we are inside, we will signal.}
Noise of acknowledgement from Rodriguez, nothing from Crow.  With no one outside, we hopped back over the railing and made our way across to where it was safe from enemy view.  Had to leave the bodies there, but we would deal with them in time.
Finally, at the window we had used last time, Bethke and I got inside.  The enemy was looking around.  I could tell that some of them were confused.  They were looking outside, as if wondering where their comrades were.  We had to strike now!
{In position!} I said, voice barely a whisper.
{In position,} Crow replied.
{In position!} Rodriguez said.
{Smoke them.}
Flashes up top, pops.  Bethke and I marked and took out the four down here so fast that it was like it hadn’t happened.  The hostages saw their captors dead and all of them were fidgeting, eager to be free.
{Hostages secure!} I sent to Beacham.
{Copy.  Breaching the bridge.}  Over the line I could hear a door opening, confused voices, pops, then nothing.  {Bridge secured!  Let’s clean out the rest of the ship.}  I could hear the engines stop.
I told Crow to meet me at the RV point, while telling Bethke and Rodriguez to stay here and keep this location secure.  Do not free the hostages.
We got there together, then headed toward the door marked for authorized personnel only.  Opening it, we saw one man standing there, smoking a cigarette.  No time to be subtle.  I dropped him.  The noise made another man poke his head out of a doorway.  Crow smoked him.  The two of us cleared the rooms with dishes, food, supplies.  It was such a skeleton crew among this lot.  Even moreso after we dispatched man after man.  Finally, we got to where the engine room was.  All the noise in there, they hadn’t heard a damn thing from us.
We slipped inside, seeing three men mulling around.  Guess they were content to just chill here.  One person could do this job.  Two at most.  On a civilian ship, this was such a joke.  Oh well.  From an elevated position, it was child’s play.  The last three of the pirates died within a hair’s-breath of one-another.  Not one of them had time to really think about what or why.  Their lives just ended.
It was surreal how easy killing came to us.  Before this, we’d have a guard or two, maybe a high-value target that we had a perfect sight on, but now we could see that killing really did come easy to us.  It was genuinely freaky.  You just keep doing it, and eventually you realize that your ability to make people dead just gets better as time goes on.  Should I be afraid of this?  I unnerved me.  There was this moment, looking down at the dead men on the floor, and I felt some strange new emotion.  Shook my head.  Just nerves.  Nothing more.  I was overthinking it.  Not a habit I want to fall into.  Saw that break a TON of people in boot.  Time to get up top.

We got back to the deck and joined up with Beacham and the rest inside of the ballroom.  They had turned up the lights and were now undoing the zip-ties on people’s wrists and ankles.  Needless to say, we were so fucking boss right now.  The gentleman of the old couple was talking about how we reminded him of soldiers back when he served.  That made me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Mama walked over.  {Want to call it in?}
I gave her a look.  {You sure?}
She had a cruel grin.  {Well, if someone’s about to get yelled at by Osprey, it might as well be you.}
Bitch.  I cued up Lt on the comm.
“Sir, all hostages secured.  All hostiles terminated.”
There was a pause.  “What?  What the hell’s going on, Pierce?  The ship has been moving.  You’re damn-near at their port!  What happened out there?”
Leaning up against the wall, I sighed.  “The enemy started moving in to the shore.  Our air tanks were gone.  Our only option to finish the mission without the enemy getting back to shore was to take quick action on the secondary orders we were given.”
Could almost hear that smile of his where he’s annoyed, but proud at the same time.  I think the annoyed bit came from his part of the post-action report.
“Well shit.  Guess the SEALs are gonna be unhappy.”
“Hooyah, sir.”
Heard him chuckle.  “Fair point, Pierce.”
“Sir, you’d best get a ship over here.  We can get it back out to sea, but we got a whole mess of people, all of whom are looking to get home.”
A pause.  “Copy your last, Pierce.  I’ll get the Zumwalt.  She was coming in to pick us up once the job was done anyway.  I think the sub crew is eager to leave behind the FDU, anyway.”
That hit home.  “I take it that the mission was a failure, sir?”
“That’s a big negative.  Got a whole bunch of crew here impressed.  But one sub does not a Navy make.  Baby steps.”
“Aye-aye.  Provide the RV coordinates.  We’ll see if we can get this bucket moving.”
Ending the comm, the Colonel came over.
I snapped to.  “Sir!”
He shook his head, giving a halfhearted salute.  “As you were, sailor.  Technically I’m not on duty.”
“You still outrank me, sir.”
Man gave me a nod.  “What happened to the SEALs mopping up?”
“Change of plans.”
“Did you secure the briefcase?”
Beacham walked over.  “Aye, sir.  It’s on the fantail, by a cargo container.  I lashed it to the railing.”
“Can you go get it?  The contents of that case are a matter of national security?”
This confused me.  “Then what the hell was it and you doing on the (Redacted), sir?”
“I can’t tell you that, sailor.  I’m sure you know how this goes.”
“Aye-aye.  Need to know basis.”
“That’s right.  But I do owe you one.  You ladies are pretty damn cool.”
“Thanks, sir.”
To say that we were the most popular people on that ship was a gross understatement.  We were the shit!  The most badass women ever to sail the international waters.  It helped that we looked the part in our TOS’s, weapons in hand.  So we had one sub and one crew of a French cruise ship on our side.  I’d take that.

John nodded.  “I remember reading about that.  A crew of a ship taken hostage, rescued by the all-female unit of the Navy.  I’d say I can’t believe it was you, but given what you told me, I can now.”
“It was a PR coup for the STARS.  The first time when the Navy and the military at large looked at us as more than just a bunch of chicks in uniform.  Now we were a unit, with accomplishments that could be respected.  All the cable news coverage of us from the people we saved.  It was pretty great.  Bethke was wishing that we could go on TV.  Not me.  The idea of being in front of an audience is my personal nightmare.”
Ashley nodded.  “Oh yeah!  Right there with you!”
“Well, you made a believer out of me, Quinn.  Em was right.  You are one hell of a soldier too.”
Another thing that made me warm and fuzzy.
Emily pouted a bit.  “Kinda makes me wish she had come with us to Uncle Richard’s for Christmas.  Bet they wouldn’t have been trash-talking a gay girl when they found out you’re a super awesome ninja soldier!”
I smiled.  “Well, in a perfect world, kiddo.  But I got my fur-babies home.  That’s what matters.  They probably are missing their mama.”  There was that feeling again.  The thought that I was close to figure out what I was missing.  Christmas?  Yeah, that was part of it.  I wanted to spend Christmas with her.  What else was it?
John got up.  “Yeah, we’d best be getting to bed ourselves.  Work and school tomorrow.”
Kiddo pouted more.  “Ugh.  Fine.”  Came over and gave me a hug.  “See you later?”
“Maybe tomorrow.  I have some work stuff myself.”
“Okay.”

Ashley walked me to the door.  I could tell she was eager to talk to me, privately.  We stepped outside into the chilly night air.
“Listen, Quinn,” she started.  “I’m feeling like I don’t want the night to be over.  How about you?”
Backed off just a bit.  “What do you mean?”
She sighed, hanging her shoulders.  “Do you need landing lights or something?”  A little pause.  Choosing her words.  “Look, you’re super awesome.  You’re fucking hot.  I’ve never met anyone like you.  And I know you’ve been looking.  So, are you interested or not?”
Ball was in my court.  “I…I don’t know.  I think so.  But, I don’t know if I can do something serious.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.”
Stepping closer, a devilish grin on her face.  “Then let’s not be serious.  I got out of a pretty shitty relationship myself.  Wouldn’t mind having some fun, since I’m here.  How about you?”
That look in her eyes.  It was a needy look.  A lusty look.  The itch was out of fucking control.  It was right on my back, screaming at me.  Take this late-20’s girl home and stick nine meters of tongue in her to drill for uranium!  Fuck.  If I didn’t do something about this itch, it was gonna drive me insane.
“Nothing serious.  Just fun?”
Now right in front of me.  “Just fun.”
Looked right into her eyes.  “Alright.”
“Then let’s get going.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Decades of denial, is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am!” – Scar, The Lion King

Peace out,

Maverick

The Submarine Mission (Part 1)

It was game night at John’s place.  Had several chums from his office there, and it was pretty fun.  Even Betty showed up.  Most recently we were playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf.  I kicked so much ass at this game!  My poker face is impeccable.  Not a single person could play me.  Managed to convince Emily that I was a villager.  Bad move!  Felt like such a boss.
A few rounds of this, some pizza, and everyone getting in on it.  Some Apples to Apples after that, a nice way to level off the night.  Once his chums were leaving, things got quieter.  Ashley was also there.  I couldn’t help but notice the looks she was giving me.  She really is cute.  Curvy in all the right places, with a little bit of fluffy.  The more I got my feelings back, the more I realize how much I have been wanting the little things in life.  Good company, fun games, and if this itch wasn’t gonna get off my back, to deep-six between her legs with a torpedo.  Never before had I noticed it this hard until now.  Every once and a while it would be on me, but right now it was in overdrive.  Magazines tell me that women hit the peak in their 30’s.  I’m starting to think they’re on to something.
We all ended up in the living room on the couches, telling stories.  Ashley told one of a client who was all pissed off that child support wasn’t going after her ex-husband, because she saw him on the street corner begging for money.  Wow.  There’s petty, and then there’s that.  Emily told a story about her and her dad being on a hike in the mountains, with her falling and breaking her arm.  Her dad carried her down the entire mountain, not setting her down once.  That was super sweet.  Could see John having more than a little pride on his face.  Betty told a story of one of her children getting kicked out of school for the day and her beating their ass.  You don’t fuck with a southern black woman.  Poor kiddo should have known better.
Getting toward the end of the night, Betty and her husband went home.  Now it was just the four of us.  Had a nice buzz going from this rather splendid spiked hot chocolate that I was given.  Had pumpkin spice Baileys in it.  Very good stuff.  This drink needs a name.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.
“What about you, Quinn?” John asked.  “I bet you have a thousand stories from your time in the Navy.  Em can’t stop talking about how cool you sound when you tell her stuff.  Never goes into detail, but says you are so cool.  Got a story for us?”
Ashley sat forward.  “Oh yeah!  You gotta give us one!”
Well shit.  They had me there.  And John had trusted me enough to open up his family and his life to me.  I couldn’t get as deep as I had with kiddo, but they deserved something.  He wasn’t wrong.  There were a thousand stories I could tell on a bad day and still have thousands more.
“Alright, I got one.  Lemme tell you a story about a mission where our insertion point was a submarine…”

Let me tell you something about life in the STARS – you never really know where exactly your next job is gonna take you.  Nowhere was this more apparent than below decks on the USS Iowa.  It had just come from its shake-down cruise, and now was pressed into service.  Not a second too soon, because there was a mission that the STARS were commissioned for.  Why did they have us doing this?  Because this is how it work.  It’s a test, you see.  The Navy had this long-running gag about us.  Called us the FDU, or Frigid Dykes Unit.  Why?  Because we are seen as cold-blooded and gay.
I’m not here to call men in the service all horny dudebros.  Not even remotely.  Granted, sex crimes in the military is a huge problem that all female recruits are given education in boot.  But when you are part of a combat team, and training with other combat teams, and you are a woman who doesn’t put out, you get a reputation as gay.  You’d think this sort of shit would stay in the Army.  I expect them to be the types who ate paint chips as kids.  God knows, they do enough to prove me right on that front.
The brass needed us to earn some respect.  Do something big in a typically bro-tastic environment.  I say typically because there was more changing than just us being in this submarine.  The USS Iowa was the first of its kind in an entirely different way, which was part of why the lot of us were able to be in here.  This sub was the first one crewed entirely by women.
Something to know – up to this point, there had NEVER been a submarine with a full-time female crew, because there are some things about subs to know.  In a submarine, you have absolutely ZERO privacy.  None whatsoever.  And since you have to maximize space usage in one of these things, you can’t just have cordoned off space for women.  There had been attempts to have women on a sub, but the results were disastrous.  Sex crimes were insane, often the chick was used by the crew.  It was horrible, and the Navy goes out of their way not to talk about that.
This ship was different.  All of the talk about equality, and the brass wanted something they could show off.  So, they put out a billet asking for volunteers for a brand new program.  Instead of trying to integrate men and women onto a sub, why not have one exclusively for women?  The concept was ambitious, and could have ended disastrously.  However, female recruits jumped at the opportunity.  It was a chance to do something really cool, and show the boys what we could do.  The obligation was massive, and the expectations were not reduced, but those who volunteered proved that they were ready for the responsibility.  The shake-down run of the USS Iowa was a proving ground for new tech, as well as a new idea in practice.  Made the Navy look REALLY good.
But this was still a proving ground for the STARS in a place where people could see what we were capable of.  Just meant that we were among all those of the same gender.  It meant some changes to how our operation worked.  Instead of our typical Lt, we had Lt. Sarah Joliffe.  A very calculating woman, but not outright cold, she was a rad type.  We had worked with her before.  It also meant that only our female techs were with us.  Not that the rest hadn’t seen us naked before, but there were rules to protect all involved.  Only made sense.  Rodriguez joked that I must be in my zone here, and I’d be lying if it wasn’t pretty rad.  Being around fit women, who were totally cool with being naked around one-another.  Candyland, for sure.  A pity there is ZERO chance of privacy in this joint.  Otherwise I would be all about it.
As it happened, one of the techs came over.  They had learned how to be quiet.  Making noise on a sub was a good way to get your ass kicked.  Especially people who slammed doors.  Being quiet was second-nature to us, but they had learned.
“Alpha Team, you’re up!” they said.
Getting up quick, we rushed out.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the looks I got.  Oh, if only this joint didn’t have some privacy.  The things I would do.  No!  Bad Quinn!  Dirty thoughts can do more than sink ships.  They can sink careers too.  Besides, I didn’t need CWO Beryl up my ass.  I really didn’t.

We got to the Control Room, with Lt and the Sub Captain standing at the CON.  They were looking at a digital map of what appeared to be a ship.  We lined up and came to.
“At ease.  Alright, STARS,” Lt began.  “It’s time for us to get to work.”
“Yes sir,” Beacham replied.  “What’s the mission?”
“You’re going to be infiltrating an enemy vessel.”  He pointed to the map.  “This is the (Redacted).  It’s a French vessel that’s been commandeered by African pirates.  The passengers are being held at the center of the ship, and demands are being made to ransom them.  However, we have another problem.”
The screen changed to show a man in an Air Force officer’s uniform, holding a briefcase.
“This is Colonel (Redacted).  He was in possession of a briefcase containing high-value information.  There is a monitor on it in case there is an attempt to force it open.  It has not gone off.  We believe that the Colonel hid the case before he was captured.  That information CANNOT fall into the pirates’ hands.  They aren’t stupid.  They would know that a ton of nations would be chomping at the bits to pay top dollar for this.  Your mission is to go in, ascertain the location of the case, and liberate it from the vessel.”
“This a smash and grab, sir?” I asked.
“That’s a big negative,” Lt replied.  “The enemy cannot know that we are aboard.  Once you have secured the package and exfiltrated, a SEAL team will go in to mop up and rescue the hostages.  But they aren’t in position yet.  The USS Idaho is deploying them, and it hasn’t reached deployment radius.  We’re in position, and the longer we wait, the more chance there is of the enemy discovering the package.  So you’re up.”
“What’s our infil point, sir?” Pennyfeather asked.
“You’re going to be taking an SDV from here and coming in under the vessel.  You’ll attach a magnetic hook to the vehicle and then surfacing.  You will ascend the ship using magnetized gloves.  This is top of the line gear, and you get to be lucky enough to field test it.”
Everyone smiled.  I could see Bethke’s excitement at getting to test a new toy.
“You’ve done some training with this stuff, but this isn’t a simulated setting.  This is the real deal.  Once aboard, you will RV with the Colonel and get him to tell you where the package is, then grab it, and exfil the exact same way you came in.  Keep in mind, you’ll have to lash your tanks to the side of the vessel with another mag hook.  Turn off the pressure and keep them just below the waterline.
“Let me make one thing clear – you do NOT have Fifth Freedom for this operation.  We cannot risk any dead crew that would incite the pirates to attack the prisoners.”

John was confused.  “Fifth Freedom?”
“The freedom to break the law for the greater good.  In other words, the freedom to kill.”
He looked very serious.  “Damn.  But I guess that’s the military for you.”
“Aye.  Like you wouldn’t believe.”

TOS suits were made for all kinds of work.  More top of the line gear.  They might be so damn uncomfortable and skin-tight, but you work with the tools you have.  Comfort is not a huge thing in any branch of the military.  Why should the Navy be any different?
As we loaded up, Lt came up to where we stood.
“I know I’m sending you into the meat grinder on this one, ladies.  The expectations are sky-high.  So listen, consider this an auxiliary command – if there is a situation in which violence is the only option, in order to maintain secrecy or secure the lives of hostages, you do have Fifth Freedom.  That is not official, but it is something to know.”
Beacham stepped forward.  “We have our orders, sir.  We’re wasting time.  As you said, the longer we wait, the more risk the hostages are in.”
All of us nodded.
Lt smiled at her.  “Alright then.  Good hunting, Alpha Team.”
We all came to attention and saluted.  “Hooyah!”

A SEAL Deployment Vehicle was loaded up in a launch platform accessed through one of the exterior hatches.  We all went through, checking our gear.  Dive equipment, prepped and ready.  Pressure is good.  Seals are good.  SC-20K, with Five Seven sidearm.  Both loaded, but also come with airfoil and shocker rounds, for non-lethal take-downs.  There are also the cameras with the spikes in them that can be drilled into most any surface.  Great way to get a good view.  With their integrated mikes, you can also catch conversations.
The vehicle is piloted by two people.  In this case, Beacham and Bethke, who have had training.  The rest of us hang on to the hand-holds.  Once we have the air flowing in the tanks, the submariners seal the access hatch and we are on.  It’s pitch black when the lights go down, but the red emergency lights come on.
“Prep for submersion and depressurization.”  A voice said in our ear pieces.  We all got into position.  A loud echo sound, then water flooding in.  We trained for diving off the coast of Anchorage, I shit you not.  This south African water was a wonderful escape by comparison.  A bang, then the front of the launch tube opened with bubbles coming out.  Beacham looked back to each of us.  We held up the ok hand sign.  Then, the motor came on and we exited.
Normally, there would be some talk of course, speed, and destination, but the STARS are silent.  That’s just how we roll.  OPSAT was monitoring all of us, and I guarantee the CON was watching all this in real time.  The show had begun.

Time seems slower, underwater.  That quiet sound of life in the dark sea.  That fear as you wonder what sort of monsters are deep below you.  Open ocean always did freak me out a little.  I blame that fucking British dinosaur miniseries that had the giant sea monster coming up from the gloom with open jaws.  Fuck sharks!  That’s the shit that gave me night terrors when I was doing dive training.  Looked over at the others.  Just nerves, I told myself.  Crow looked at me and nodded.  She was so quiet, but had a very nice part of her as well.  Part of me wanted to get underneath the quiet and see what she’s really like, but sometimes you just gotta accept people for who they are.
We came up under the target boat.  Just a little bit of build-up underneath of grime.  This was a new ship.  Beacham brought the SDV to a stall.  The ship was just floating.  Guess they were waiting for the negotiations for the hostages.  Once stopped, we disembarked.  Bethke opened up the cargo section and took out one of the magnetic hooks.  Such cool stuff.  Coming up underneath, she attached it with a little thud.  Nervous, but Beacham looked to us.
<Stay calm,> she signed.  <The enemy won’t even notice that inside.>
The line was attached to the SDV, and we ascended with another hook and line.  We made our way just up to where the water line was.  From there, we had to act fast.  We attached the hook and line.  Pennyfeather attached the other end to the SDV.  From there, we all took off the tanks, turned off the air pressure, and clipped them onto the line.  They were secure, for now.  So long as the ship didn’t go anywhere in a hurry, it would be alright.  Surfacing, we activated the magnetic palms and feet.
A question – have you ever wanted to be Spider-Man?  Because I shit you not, that is EXACTLY how we felt slowly making our way up the hull of this vessel.  There’s cool, there’s really cool, and then there’s this.  I took point, with Crow right behind me.  The rest waited at the waterline.  Avoid chance of detection.  The moon was coming in and out of the clouds.  A little worrying, but just a little.
This next bit was so damn tricky.  I cannot tell you how nervous this made me.  Crow came up and put her arm around my waist with the hand on the hull.  She looked up and nodded.  I disengaged my hands, pulling out a small wire from the wrist of my suit.  At the end of it was the tiniest camera you’ve ever seen.  I had it go up, looking over the top.  There was one guy on this part of the ship.  It was by the fan-tail.  He was smoking a cigarette, looking both nervous and bored at the same time.  Is that a thing?  If not, he made it one.  After a bit, he put it out and started moving away.  That was our cue!
I motioned for the others to come in behind.  Taking my goggles out of a sealed part of the TOS, I put them on and switched them to thermal vision.  The back of the ship had a big cargo container not far away.  That was perfect!  Not only did it shield us from moonlight, but it made a nice landmark as a rally point.  I motioned for Crow to indicate to the others to follow me.  Coming about, I pulled my primary weapon and readied it.  There was a gap of a few seconds.  Regularly made sure that our lone guard didn’t come walking over.  On the upper decks, there was a sense of order to this.  These guys weren’t fucking around.  The nervousness was real.  I think they knew that the longer there was no response, the worse their position got.  Which meant that their incentive to keep all the hostages alive got worse.  They might be looking to kill one or two to show they mean business.  We had to act fast.
Beacham came up last.  Making sure everyone was safely aboard.  Good commanding officer.  Since she had rank, and definitely the leadership disposition, we just put her in charge.  There was a title she had been given, but I could tell that it stuck in her craw.
<Alright, we gotta move quick!  The enemy is getting antsy.  Pierce!  I want you to take Crow and get to where the hostages are.  Lt gave us emergency Fifth Freedom, but we are NOT going to disobey the primary orders, understood?!>
<Hooyah,> we both signed.
<Okay.>  She looked across the fantail.  There was a large pole where the flag of the vessel was hanging.  <Bethke, I want you up there!  You’re on overwatch.>
<Hooyah!>
<Rodriguez, you watch her six!>
<Aye-aye, Mama.>
That got her a mean look.  Part of why she had that nickname in the first place.
<Pennyfeather, you are on duty when Pierce gets word about the case.  We’ll have to go intercept it.  Understood?>
<Yes ma’am.>
<Alright then.  Let’s move like we have a purpose.>
Crow and I disappeared into the night.  They were keeping the running lights on, but the lights inside the rooms were very, very dim.  Smart.  If you’ve ever turned on your kitchen light and tried to look outside, you can’t see shit.  They were leaving their visibility as large as they possibly could.
Long gangways on the deck, we made our way silently.  Anytime we had to go under a light, we would make sure there was no one in visual range.
A comm from Bethke.  We’ve got 12 enemies patrolling the hull.  Six on each side.  There are three decks, with ladders on each side.  The enemy is alternating between decks.  I can’t keep you updated regularly.  The bridge is at the top deck.  There is a big open area in the center on the first deck.  The bulk of the guard are at the entry-points for that.  I would guess that that’s where the hostages are being kept.  This far away, thermal ain’t gonna see shit.
So that’s the score.  Sounds like we knew what to do.  God only knows how many are inside.  Though, now that I thought about it, probably not many.  This wasn’t a huge cruise ship.  The smallest I had ever seen, now that I thought about it.  Oh well.  Made our mission that much harder.  Bigger ships meant more places to hide.  Here, it came down to being very, very careful.
Bethke provided locations as best she could.  I send a Comm to Osprey to forward us the ship schematics to our OPSAT.  Look at the screen on my arm, I went over.  There had to be a way into that room that didn’t involve the exterior.  Found it!  There was an interior entry, but we would have to go along the length of the passageway on the first level.  With virtually no room to maneuver in there, and us having to go past windows and the lighting in there being much better, I hated this.
We started toward the door, then Crow grabbed my shoulder and stopped me.  There were no lights, but out on this fantail, I cannot tell you how exposed I felt.  Looked back fast, but saw her taking her goggles off, eyes closed, as the breeze blew past.  I’d seen her do this before.  It was so strange.  Then, she motioned for us not to go there.
<Why?!>
The look in her eyes said one thing – trust me.
Well shit.  I wasn’t much for going in there anyway.  Let’s see where her idea took us.  We went over to the flush deck, but saw where the enemy was just down the way.  I looked at her, with an expression of – now what?
She turned on her mags on the hands.  I saw what the method was, but to what end?  I made to follow suit, but she stopped me.  Pointed right at this spot.  Again, sitting in an exposed position.  Fuck me.
In a flash she was over the side.  Brought my weapon to bear, looking down the sight.  The ladder going up to the second deck was at the far end of where they were standing.  At least I didn’t have to worry about someone coming up on my six.  Not that they could.  It takes a special kind of man to sneak up on me.
Got a buzz on my comm.  Cued up OPSAT.
Prepare to move.  Fast!  It was Crow.  I was already crouched.  Lowered my weapon, ready to move.  Thermal showed a small device go flying into the overhead, just down from their position.  It started making a low beeping sound.  The three guys there looked, and two started to move toward it.  The third guy decided that he was going to go inside.  That’s it!  My padded feet made no noise as I went across the deck as fast as I dared.  Crow pulled herself up right behind me. Using thermal, I had the camera look under the door.  Tons of signatures!  Perk was, the guy who went in was now talking to another dude inside.  Seemed very busy.  Worked for me!  Crow hit the sensor to turn off the distraction on the sticky camera.  One of the windows was open, and it wasn’t under a light!  I pulled myself up by the ledge below it, dropping myself inside.  Crow did the same.
Queued up the others.  We’re in.  Stand by for coordinates of the package.
Now to figure out where the Colonel was.  This room wasn’t as stocked as I expected.  There was access to the second deck via a ladder at the far end of the room.  A chandelier hung on the ceiling, but was off.  Only the room lights were on.  Again, not to reduce visibility and also not to give away where the hostages were.  Not that any reasonable person wouldn’t guess in here.  Still, can’t be too careful.
There were six men inside.  four on this level, around the perimeter of where the people inside were.  They were gagged with zip ties on their wrists and ankles.  Where we were was comfortably without lighting.  It was so quiet.  Eerily, ominously quiet.  I turned on night vision and started looking around at the hostages.  Scared families, scared couples, scared elderly people, and then someone who looked more scared than the others.  He was right in front of a darkened space.  They kept them all bunched up here.  Hair trimmed, no facial hair, and everything was pressed.  This was our guy!
I motioned for Crow to stay here.  It was my turn to get some impressive maneuvering done.  Making my way past them, I was a ghost’s shadow.  Not only did I have to make sure that I didn’t alert the guards, I had no desire for the other hostages to know I’m here either.  They could give me away in any number of ways.
Got past one couple and smelled piss.  They probably didn’t let these people use the bathroom.  Gross, but I could see why.  Couldn’t risk it.  Then, after getting by a kid cuddling to their parent, I reached our target.
From behind him, I put a hand over his mouth and pulled him into the dark.
“Sir, Chief Petty Officer Quinn Pierce.  I hear you got a package that needs retrieval.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller

Peace out,

Maverick

Talking Until the Morning Light

I remember her and I had talked after the mission.

The next morning we stayed in bed.  I told her what had happened.  I know Crow said it would never leave us, but part of why I was able to keep going was that I never kept anything from my wife.  Even back when she was my girlfriend, that’s just how it was.  She had TS clearance, after all.  It wasn’t some big deal.  She also knew that what we talked about stayed between us.  I just had to be honest with her.  It’s what had kept me from those self-destructive tendencies that was outlined in that report I read.  The reason why we were together, us being able to talk.  It felt so good getting this all off my chest.  More than you can possibly understand.  Would play with her hair as I talked.  Just running my hands through it or making little braids in it or just flopping it around.  It’s ironic, because she played with her hair when we got nervous.  Sometimes that meant we would both be playing with it at the same time.  We made a super cute couple.
After I was done, she sat up and turned around to face me.  When I would play with her hair she would have her back to me.  Was less awkward that way.
I looked into her eyes.  “What do you think?”
There was a pensive look on my wife’s face for a while.  “I can see why that would be scary to see.  I’m so sorry that you had to see all that information about you.  There’s a reason the IS’s files are kept confidential.  It’s not good to know what the brass thinks about you.”
This confused me.  “You don’t seem too freaked out by that.  What am I missing?”
She cuddled up with me, giving me a soft kiss and then laying into me.  “I’m not surprised, because that sort of thing is not too weird, really.”
“What?!”  This was freaking me out even more.
“If your job is to run a military, and part of that military is a black ops group of all-women, and you expect them to do dangerous, scary things, you have to know where their heads are at.  You have to.  Otherwise, you risk a lot of shit.  It’s not that they are secretly plotting or there is some conspiracy.  It’s just them making sure that their assets’ heads are on straight.  Or not straight, in our case.”  She giggled, kissing me.
“But they knew what we were up to.  It was something they kept track of!  Why should they care if I’m gay and what I’m doing with my love life!”  I got more and more afraid the more I thought about it.
“Baby!”  She could feel my fear, cuddling closer.  “You’re scaring yourself.  Don’t do that.  It isn’t that complicated.  Your CO just happened to be gay.  So are you.  And your file talked about you having destructive habits with that.  We talked about that the night we first got together, remember?”
I thought back.  That was true.  It’s why she wanted to get to know me, because the me in real life was different than the one in the file.  What drew her to me.  She came to respect me.  Okay.  That made sense.
“Alright.  I get that.”
She resumed cuddle position.  “Okay.  You were scaring me too.”
Felt bad.  “I’m sorry, love.  I didn’t mean to.”
Kissing my neck.  “It’s okay.  I get why you’re scared.  But you know, there’s another way to look at this.”
I looked down at her.  “How’s that?”
“Lt didn’t talk.  They wondered if he was in on it too.  None of your sisters did.  You said they suspected a relationship before me transferring off the team and us coming out.  They didn’t know for sure.  So none of Alpha Team told them anything.”
“And neither did you,” I added, smiling at her.
She laid her head against me, then nodded.  “That’s right.  I would never do that.  Never do anything that would hurt you.”
Where did I get a woman this wonderful?

Thinking back on it, there was a period of time that she had to be somewhere else and we had just come out as a couple.  Orders came in moving her to a mainland IS base in Colorado.  Those were the hardest days.  Long distance relationships almost never work out, but we did.  It didn’t help that I was mobile for the longest time for full deployment. We had an AOI that included multiple missions, so we were stuck out there.
Our ship had strict rules about when we could use platforms such as email and secure lines.  When we didn’t have clearance, it had to be physical mail.  That was such a long time.  Or it felt that way, at least.  Part of my journal writing came from that.  Before I had that as my zen activity, I would just talk to Jean.  Coming out was so great because it meant no more sneaking around, but for a long time, it made things so much harder.  But I remember our first reunion.

Driving in to Aurora, Colorado felt pretty alright.  The weather here was pretty great.  A nice, cozy 70 degrees, with it hanging around 60 no matter what.  A pale Irish girl could grow to like it.  Got to the gate and showed my ID.  There wasn’t much of anywhere that this little gem couldn’t get me into.  Pretty great stuff.  A perk of being part of a special branch of the military, I show up somewhere, they just assume I belong.  May not always get respect, but I could at least get recognition.
This place was so fly.  Could see an F-15 taking off, with a couple more on the tarmac waiting to go behind it.  There was also a C-130 coming out as well.  Were the fighters as escorts?  Precious cargo?  Probably thinking too much.  Can’t do that in the military.  Unless you had a ton of rank.  Then they care what you think.
I hadn’t told my girlfriend that I was coming today.  Given the amount of letters we had sent, I knew what housing unit she was in.  On-base housing.  It was posh as fuck.  Could see the spouses of men on base chatting on a lawn, along with, kids playing around.  Easy to think this place was somewhere out of Leave it to Beaver.  Felt out of place, the chick in a red sedan, driving up to one of the homes.
While Buckley was an Air Force Base, IS had a steady home here because of their need to work with imaging done by satellites.  This place was all about space stuff.  The orange monkey in office was talking about moving forward with a Space Force, so this might end up being where it is headquartered.  A neat thing to think about.
I pulled up at her unit, putting it in park.  Decided to show up in uniform, just to look my best for her.  It was my NWUs.  Had to enjoy this while I could.  They were talking about changing us over to these green uniforms that I thought were the most hideous things in the world.  Not that it would matter for me most of the time.  In mission I had my black NWUs.  The only unit that had them.  They had to distinguish STARS from the rank and file on a ship.  There were rules about it.  Singled us out a bit, but we did look cool as fuck in them.  Put my cover on, then walked to her front door.
Hit the doorbell, slinging my gear bag over my shoulder.  It opened with Jean on the phone.  She looked up and saw me and her mouth dropped.
“Mom, I gotta go.  Tell Dad I love him.  No, I really have to go.  My girlfriend’s here!”  With that she hung up.
“There room at this joint for two?” I asked, winking at her.
“Oh my god!”  She jumped into my arms.  Way too much woman for me to carry like that.  We fell backwards, with me laughing on the ground.
“Silly woman!”
She got up, helping me up as well.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?!  I would have ordered us pizza or something!”
“That would be nice.  But the look on your face!  Totally worth it.”
Shutting the door, she wrapped her arms around me.  Those lips.  Those perfect, perfect lips.  I never wanted it to end.
“You are so mean!”
“That’s a big affirmative.  I’m a horrible mean person.”  Couldn’t get the smile off my face.
“So, how long do you have?  Alpha Team’s still active, right?”
“Aye.  I could be called in at any time, but for now deployment is over.  If any missions come up, I’ll have to go.”
She smiled at me.  “Okay.  Well, put your stuff in my bedroom.  It’s upstairs.  I’ll get on the phone and order us something.”
A thought hit me.  “I know how to cook some stuff.  Got any fixin’s around here?  I could whip something up.”
An even bigger smile.  “My girlfriend can cook.  When did I get so lucky?”

Sitting across from Crow, I looked down at my hot chocolate.
“I’m surprised,” she said, “that you recommended the Navy to your young friend.  After everything that happened with us there, it would be hard for me to do.”
“Like Jean said, that’s just how it goes.  We knew that the brass had to see us as expendable.  Besides, kiddo wants to go to space.  How many teenage girls actually wanna do shit like that?  I mean really?  Can you think of ANY girls you grew up with who talk like that?”
She gave me that little look one gets when they admit you’re right but don’t want to say it.
“And if you’re gonna be part of the Space Force, you gotta be a pilot.  Only branches you can do that in are the Air Force or the Navy.  Didn’t want her to be one of the Chair Force, do we?”
A little chuckle.  “Definitely not.”
More silence between us.  With Crow, there was a subtle language to her silence.  It never felt awkward.  There was this nice bit of quiet where she communicated with her body language.  It’s hard to explain.  You ever have that friend who their body language speaks volumes to you?  That’s what we had.
“She’s been good for you,” she said, finally.
“Kiddo has given me a reason to live again.  I was always a little sister, growing up.  Followed Big Sis around like a stray puppy.  It’s kinda nice, being on the other side of that fence.”
“That’s how she sees you?”
“It’s not something we’ve ever talked about in so many words, but I think so.”
Nodding.  “I’m glad.  The wind doesn’t cry for you anymore.”
All this time later, years gone by since we were together, since we had been on a mission, since I had ever thought about her saying she heard messages in the breeze, and her saying that still made me warm and fuzzy inside.
“I hope not.”
More silence.
“Getting too old for this work,” she said, finally.  “Thinking about quitting.  The others are too.”  Then she looked right at me.  “What about you?”
I didn’t have a response for her.  I still don’t.

Until next time, a quote,

“I can remember, when I was a little boy, my grandmother and I could hold entire conversations without ever opening our mouths.” – Mr. Halloran, The Shining

Peace out,

Maverick

The Binary Compound Mission (Part 3)

An American?!  What the hell?!  This was so strange.  There were so many unanswered questions.  So many things that I didn’t know.  I was sure there was a story to this, but the mission was clear.  There was a job to do.
I pulled my knife out, silently approaching.  Put my hand over his mouth, then drove it into his neck.  His eyes opened, looking right at me.  I knew there was no way he saw me, but still, I could tell that he was looking right at me.  There wasn’t fear there.  Wasn’t anger.  Wasn’t even surprise.  Just this quiet, steady look.  I could feel those eyes looking right through me.  This person was beyond dangerous.  Part of me knew that if I hadn’t gotten the drop on him, I’d be dead.  There was no question about it.  There was no way I could take this guy in a fair fight.  Slumping back, as he died, those eyes still looked right at me.  It chilled me to my bones.  I’ve slipped the knife into all kinds of people, but no one like this.

“So, what did you do?” Emily asked.
“I had my orders.  Took out the target, then got out of there.  Job well done.”
She nodded.  “You all are so cool.  Ever figure out what he deal was?”
Shook my head.  “Nope.  Not something we get to know.  Part of being a weapon, as opposed to a person in IS.  They get to have answers.  We don’t.  Curiosity really does kill the cat in our line of work.”
“That makes sense.”  She turned her attention back to my pets.  A girl loving cute animals.  That was fine by me.
Here’s the thing – what I told her was a flat-out lie.  There was more to this story.  A LOT more.

Looked over at Crow.  <What the fuck?!>
<This is strange.  We should see if we can find out why he was here.  I think command would like that.>
Made sense to me.  Looked down at my OPSAT, but saw that it was being jammed!  This dude has a full-spectrum jammer!  And it was on, too.  Clearly it hadn’t alerted him to our presence.  Must be a short-range device.  That meant we were on our own.
There was a device on the table, but I stopped before I went after it.  Something told me not to.  Looked around.  A gear bag, similar to the military.  Walked over, opening it up.  Inside was a black portable hard drive.  It had a kind of lock on it, that required a thumb-print to enable use of the device.  Clever.  Thankfully, we had the dude here, and he might as well be helpful.  Took it over to where he lay, blood seeping out of his neck.  Those eyes were still on me!  My hands shook as I grabbed his and put the thumb on the thumb-print scanner.  It verified, then opened up.  I took out a cord wired into the suit.  While comms were jammed, I could still look into devices.  Plugged into the USB slot, and pulled up information.
Everything was meticulously organized.  The first was by locations.  This was where it got interesting.  We had the Middle East, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, Russia.  What the hell?!  From there, it broke down by dates.  I went in and saw that this went back years.  Many years.  At least a decade.  Who was this guy?!  No name.  There was information about passports used, weapons, logistics, organizations, and then objectives.  That got our attention.  This dude was into all kinds of dirty work!  He was arming guerilla rebels in Africa, Kurdish fighters in the Middle East, drug cartels in Latin America and terrorists in South America.  This was nuts!
This man had been everywhere!  A kind of contract terrorism, being done by an American.  You hear about stuff like this, but never see it.  Then, we stumbled onto a gold-mine.  IS, ISR, MIC, CIA, all kinds of documents from ALL the different intelligence sections within the American government and the military branches.  This man had been given actual documents by our brothers in arms to go and perform terrorist actions!  Did that mean that the brass had signed off on this?!  Was America directly funding terrorism?!  Something like this would cause World War III.  Without a second thought.  Not only had this guy done stuff against our enemies, but our allies as well.  It was frightening.  My two comrades looked so uneasy.
I ran through the objectives.  Training forces, arming forces, carrying out objectives.  It was black ops stuff, just like us.  Just like the STARS.  But maybe this wasn’t that big.  Anyone with access to the right areas could get this guy all of this information.  So it may not be a big conspiracy.  It may be a smaller one.  There was information of a contact that supplied him with data drops at different locations.  No names, or places.  However, there were communications that he had saved.  Screen-caps of conversations, along with saved ones from secured messaging from his own system.  This dude had some programing experience.  Interesting.  This person told them to do all of these things.  It was someone in the military.  So was this guy.  Or at least, he had been.  At one point.  A lot of things were falling into place.
Pulled up more information.  A couple years ago, the information dumps and objectives stopped.  It was as if their contact had disappeared.  So this guy had decided to go dark.  For a long time, there was nothing.  A couple years ago?  Thought back, to the mission in Utah.  The killing of the Air Force Major General.  Could it be?  Nah.  No way.  That’s too convenient.  But it did make some kind of sense.  Had there been a rogue element, acting alone?  Did the military find out and have them whacked?  Was this clean-up?  And why was he making the bomb?  For what objective?
Pulled up more stuff, and saw that they had commissioned this weapon some months ago.  It was to be delivered to a warehouse in Virginia, just outside DC.  He knew something!  Information had reached him from a secure source that the military was after him.  So the goal was what, exactly?  Saw clippings of a gathering of military officials a few days after the weapon would be delivered.  There was more.  He was also planning on delivering a clone of this hard drive to WikiLeaks the same time that the weapon went off.  So that’s why he wasn’t surprised with me killing him.  He knew that someone was already after him.
I saw another file.  This one got my attention – STARS.  It lined out information about our organization.  I saw the breakdown of Bravo and Charlie teams, along with plans for integration of more after a PR sweep could be done securing funding.  Saw outlines of missions, their perfection.  Notes made about the efficacy of our work and how it was a testament to good training and using women was smart, as the goal to help the unit and collaborative efforts could negate more of the moral quandary.  The moral imperative would be the biggest issue for women, but the assumption the brass made was that so long as there was unit cohesion in the extreme, the need to look out for each other would save us.
There was more.  I saw my name!  CWO Quinn A Pierce.  It gave a breakdown of my psychology.  From a fractured home, few friends, slow to trust, eager to prove myself, wanting to escape the life I lived, lesbian, prone to self-destruction.  It was scary to look at this stuff.  Felt my hands shaking.  Crow put her arm around me, crouching down behind me.  Later on noted my relationship with Jean.  Suspicion that the relationship had begun while under her command.  Notes from the brass to forego punishment due to operational efficiency, and that if either myself or Jean was punished, that might endanger my longevity with the STARS.
So they did know!  They always knew.  Suspicion of growing attachment to LCO, suspicion of relationship, breaking protocol and being advised to take action against us, then countermanded by the brass.  Suspicion of Lt knowing about this and deliberately lying out of a loyalty to his shipmates.  I thought I had been so clever, so careful.  Turns out, nothing is a secret in the military.  Kinda felt like crying, but didn’t want to show weakness in front of Panther.  Maybe when it was just me and my sisters.
I looked up at him.  <Do you know sign language?>
<Rusty, but works.>
<Good.>  I looked to Crow.  <I don’t think we were supposed to have seen this.>
<The brass knew.  This mission was to clean up.>
<Aye.  So what do we do with this?>
Looked at both of them.  We stood there in silence.
<Destroy it,> Crow signed, finally.
<You sure?>
<Yes.  This cannot get out, and when the (Redacted) find him, they’ll get into it the same way we did.  This has to be destroyed.>
Panther nodded.  <Yes.  Agreed.>
<And we tell them nothing!> Crow insisted.  <The truth about what we know never leaves this room.>
<Sounds good,> Panther agreed.
<Aye.  No arguments.  Let’s get out of here.  The guards could come in at any second.>
We exfiled out, rejoining Rodriguez at the base of the tree.
<What did you find?>
<The one who made the bomb.  Eliminated him.  Let’s get back with Beacham.>  I didn’t tell her about the small, portable hard-drive in my suit, pressing against me.  I knew what to do with it.

We RVed with Beacham and the rest.
<Mission accomplished?> she asked.
<Aye, Mama.  All taken care of.  Client eliminated.>
Pennyfeather looked over.  <You find anything showing who this was, or why?>
<Negative.  Did as thorough a search as we could.  The guards were right outside.>
Beacham nodded.  <That’s fine.  Head to the zodiacs.  We’ll give our debriefing when we get back.>
Making our way back to the beach was much faster.  No alarm or sound at all.  This place was still a ghost town.  Figure that would change in the morning, but we weren’t going to be anywhere near.  Checked my OPSAT.  0310.  Not even close to sunrise.
We saw the SEALs in formation, waiting at the zodiacs.
Frost came over.  “What’s the status?”
Panther stepped forward.  “All tasks accomplished.  Enemy eliminated.  Job well done.”
“Glad to hear it.  I’ll signal the Chinooks, and we can get out of here.”
Crow took position at the back, and I sat right in front of her.  When we got the signal to RV, we got moving.  Back out on the water, with the air on our faces.  Everyone was facing forward, with me tasked to watch our six.  Crow nodded to me, and I pulled out the drive.  We were far enough out that this would sink to the bottom.  Water damage would make it unreadable.  Even if somebody found it, and by some miracle the device still worked, it wouldn’t open without the dead American’s thumb-print.  There was a protocol on it to flash-dump all the data if it was ever compromised by someone trying to get around security.  No one would ever know who this belonged to.  I slipped it into the water by the zodiac.  Floating into the abyss, never to be seen again.  Just another piece of litter from a disgusting species.  Fine by me.
Our birds came in, and we docked.  Crew pulled us in, then we took off.  To begin the long flight back to Zumwalt.  I suddenly wanted to sleep.  A lot.  Wanted to talk to my wife.  To be in her arms with her telling me that it was okay.  I felt so much less safe than I ever had before.  The STARS wasn’t a safe place now.  Would it ever be again?

This mission, and what Crow and I learned from it stuck with us.  The night that they had come to my place and I told them everything, her and I got to talking.

Felt so great, having my sisters back.  We were laughing about old war stories, mistakes, funny things, the dude who we had to ice in the john while he was having horrible diarrhea.  It was great stuff.  Everyone was getting more drunk, save for me.  I noticed Crow wasn’t going at it too hard, but she had never been much for the wasted life.  Rodriguez was dancing to some Mexican tune, making Bethke blush when she was trying to get her into it.  It was like our 20’s had never left.  29 forever, as many women would say.  Not me.  With all that had happened, my 20’s felt like a sad dream from another life.
As I was cleaning, Crow came over to me.  She motioned to speak to me in private.  We went into the media room, where I had my huge TV, along with some comfy chairs and couches.
<There’s something I wanted to ask you,> she signed.  Man, I hadn’t done this in forever.  Like riding a bike.
<What’s up?>
<You did that job for the brass, but do you think you’re being used like that guy?  That they’ll ever come for you?  You’re in his same position.  Killing for money.>
<I don’t do contract terrorism, Crow.>  Suddenly felt very insulted.
<I didn’t you did, but you can’t deny there are similarities.  I just need to know if you’ve got your bases covered.>
Was less insulted.  She still cared.  That night had never left me.  <That’s why I do this as a PMC.  Not completely in the shadows.  If they whacked me now, there would be an investigation.  They don’t want that kind of heat.  And I had done right by them.>
<Okay.  I got you.>  She came over and hugged me.  “I’m sorry, about Jean.  We all loved her too.”
I hugged her back.  “I know.  And I’m sorry about abandoning all of you.”
She pulled back, but stayed close.  “You never abandoned us.  Just left contact for a little while.”
Such a sweet-heart.  Made me smile.  A real one.

The night I lost faith in my belief in the military and what they stood for, when I realized that I was truly just a cog in the machine, was that night.  Whatever illusion I had about what we were doing, and who we worked for, it all left that night.  It’s what made being away from my wife so hard.  I remember what happened when I got home.

It was 2100 when I got back home and walked through the door.  She was still up, so I opened it and went inside.
“I’m home!” I called out.  Could hear her scrambling to come over.  Wrapping her arms around me, she kissed me deeply.  Water on my parched soul.  I needed this so much.  More than almost anyone in my life knew, save two.
“I missed you!” she whispered in my ear.
“I missed you too.”  More kisses.  Didn’t want it to end.  Needed it not to stop.
Pulling back, she smiled at me.  “You should have told me you were getting home.  I’d have picked you up.”
“Sorry.”  There was a distance there.  She could sense it.
“Sweetie, what’s going on?  Are you okay?  Did something happen?”  Could feel her hands taking mine, holding them.  It hurt.
“Can we go to bed?  I wanna sleep, but I need you in bed with me.  Can we do that?”
She nodded.  “Of course.  I just cleaned up from dinner.  We can go now.  I’ll turn all the lights off and make sure everything is put away.  You go up and get your uniform off.  I’ll iron it tomorrow.”
“Thanks.”  I shambled up the stairs and into our bedroom.  I dropped my gear bag, then started stripping down.  Got completely naked, then into bed.  Sleep was close, but I needed her.  I needed my wife.  Couldn’t sleep alone.  Not now.  Heard her coming up the stairs, looking at me.  My back was to her.  I preferred to left side of the bed, so that’s just how that went.  Looked over as she came around to her side, also naked.  She got into bed with me, cuddling in close.  Feeling the warmth and softness, I immediately clung and pressed into her.
“Honey, what happened?!  I can tell, something’s wrong.  Tell me what happened.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.  Just hold me, okay?  Hold me and tell me everything will be alright.  That you love me.  Please.”
Could feel her tightening her grip around me so hard.
“Everything will be okay, Quinn.  I promise!  I’m not going anywhere.  I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Jean.  With all my heart.”  That feeling, my heart and her heart beating so fast against one-another.  All the sex in the world hadn’t been as intimate as this.  When you are bare naked in front of someone, not just physically, but emotionally, and they took it all in and gave it back to you.  There would never be anyone like that again.  Ever.

It was coming back to me, bit by bit.  Something I had lost, or forgotten along the way.  It had to do with Jean, and what led up to her going for mobile deployment.  What was it?  Why couldn’t I remember?  I remembered everything else, so why was this so lost?  Hard to keep in mind.  At the storage unit, in a different name that had never been on the books, I went inside.  Hit the thumb-print on a box that secured it, opening it.  Saw the journals.  Went and pulled out the one that I had been keeping at that time.  Looked at the entries.  Saw the one labeled Binary Compound Mission.  Found the name I was looking for.

The Man Who Opened My Eyes

Until next time, a quote,

“There’s a clock tower in Hereford where the names of the dead are inscribed. We try to honor their deeds, even as their faces fade from memory. Those memories are all that’s left, when the bastards have taken everything else.” – Capt. Johnathan Price, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Peace out,

Maverick

The Binary Compound Mission (Part 2)

“What’s it like, waiting for a mission?  Do you all have zen things you do?” Emily asked.
“Sure.  Everyone does.  Bethke would train.  Pennyfeather would read.  Rodriguez played video games in the rec room, usually with as many guys as she could.  Beacham would go over things in her head.  I could always tell that she tried to look at every angle before doing anything.  I bet she was one of those seamen in boot who would worry if she got everything just so.  That can work against you.  Seen too many who are like that, and then get their head so far up their own ass that they make mistakes trying to do it right.  Surprised she wasn’t one of those people.  Crow would do this kind of meditation.  She’d just sit criss-cross on the deck, listening to the wind.  I’ll never know if she can actually hear it speak to her, but I believe it when she says it.  All the times that she has been right because of things she says she hears, it’s hard not to.”
Kiddo was smiling.  I think she liked the idea of me and my sisters and the camaraderie we had.  She’d lost a lot of friends, over the years.  Some of the time it was problems, others to growing older and shifting priorities, and then there were those who turned out to be be different people than she expected.
“What did you do?”
“I wrote.  Had these little journals that I would write things in.  We weren’t supposed to, but I learned how to hide things in my gear bag.”
“Those journals still out there?”
Yes, but she didn’t need to know that.  “No.  Burned down when I destroyed my house.  Memories that were worth losing.”  In reality, I had put them in a storage unit years before.  Didn’t tell Jean, either.  The meditation included a whole bunch of things that were not something anything ever knew.  Things I wanted to keep with me.  A kind of penance, for the work I did.  Because I didn’t do the writing before a mission.  I did it after.  Inside them were all the names of everyone I killed.  Or, if I didn’t have a way of knowing their name, as much as I knew about them based on what I saw.  You have no idea how many names and facts about people are in those journals.  It was in my will that if I should be killed in the line of duty, Jean would get them.  I’d have to amend that.  Would probably have them destroyed now.  My wife is dead, and my secrets might as well die with me.
“Anyway, we were on the USS Zumwalt, headed to our mission.  We got called into the Briefing Room at 2000.”

I sat, writing in my journal.  Another day, same shit.  Whose name would I be adding to the list today?  Didn’t even know what this mission was called yet.  Would figure that out soon enough.
Rodriguez stuck her head in.  “Briefing time.”
Nodded, putting the notebook into my gear bag.  “Aye-aye.”
It was interesting, I was CW04.  I was the second-highest ranking member of our Team, outside of Beacham.  She was LCO, during missions.  Didn’t feel like any of us had any rank over the other.  It really didn’t.  We all were in this together.  Maybe that’s the best thing.  When you don’t feel like some kind you are superior to anyone else.  Just one of them.  Made me glad I wasn’t in charge.  I don’t know if I could handle that kind of responsibility.  Glad Beacham could do that.
Walked over to the BR and saw the SEALs sitting and waiting on one side of the table, my sisters on another.  Chilled with them, while Lt and an IS  Ensign came into the room.  We all stood at attention.
“Take your seats.  We have a lot to discuss.  This is Ensign Markus Mills.  He’s gonna be giving us the briefing on this OP.”
Sitting down, I felt a sense of unease from both of them.  Moreso than usual.
“Thank you.  As you may have guessed, this is bigger than your standard mission.  This is a joint task force of SEALs and STARS, for one purpose – to get ahold of a binary compound and the mechanism associated with it.”
Now we all were confused.  “A binary compound, sir?” Frost asked.
Lt stepped forward.  The image on the screen in front of us showed two chemical symbols, which I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were.  Chemistry was never my strong suit.
“A binary compound is when two chemicals come together to form a new one.  We call this compound Chaos Fuel.  It was originally discovered when a chemist was trying to find an alternate fuel source to gasoline.  It was an ambitious project, but uncovered one of the most deadly chemical formulas known to man.”
The Ensign stepped back up.  “That’s correct.  Chaos Fuel is one of the most unstable compounds we’ve ever seen.  At least when these two chemicals,” he cued up some molecule formulas that I did not understand at all.  “are mixed.  Separate, they are not especially dangerous, but mix them together and you get a compound that is appropriately named.  This stuff is unimaginably dangerous.  It is not only flammable, but also can be made active by moving it too fast or too suddenly.  It can produce incredibly large explosions, but that isn’t all.  After the explosive part of it detonates, the flame aerosolizes a gaseous form.  This gas is incredibly toxic.  One whiff of it is guaranteed death, no matter what.  That’s not all.  It adheres to clothing, so if you get it on you, then touch whatever you were wearing while in the contaminated radius, you will still die.  It gets through the skin layer quickly.”
Well, I felt like shitting my pants.  Looked at my sisters and they seemed to feel the same way.  Then looked over at Panther and his shipmates.  The man himself was taking it all in, serious but composed.  His comrades ran the gamut from stone-faced to having the same nervousness we did.
“I take it the enemy has this Chaos Fuel and we have to deal with them?” Beacham asked.
“That’s right,” Lt replied.  “This is a two-pronged mission.  You are to secure the device, at which point the SEALs team is going to extract it.  They are specially trained for HAZMAT situations.  The device would keep the two chemicals separate, so you have to absolutely make sure that they do not mix!  Once they do, they are unstable in the extreme.”
“Our intel points that the device they have created has some kind of explosive component, and that it may in fact be either part of or a completed weapon.”
Panther and I looked up at one-another.  We each had the same thought.
“Sir, if this is a weapon, why aren’t we just blowing this thing up, wholesale?” he asked.
Lt pulled up a map on the screen.  “Because it’s in (Redacted).”
All of our eyes went wide.
“You’re fucking with me…” Bethke groaned.
“Sir, this is playing with dynamite!” Frost said, dead serious.
“Yes.  Our intel points out that someone in (Redacted) was hired to make the weapon, and deliver it to an unknown client.  This is where the STARS come into play.  While the SEALs are going to transport the device or weapon, you will be tasked with finding out who the client is, or if possible, eliminating them.  You will have callsign Panther to act as your interpreter for any text or audio you get, as he is fluent in (Redacted).”
We all nodded.  This was starting to come into focus.  There was surely more they weren’t telling us, but that’s how it goes.
“Your infil point will be here.  You’re going to go in by zodiacs.  We’ve traced the device to this town just up the way from there.  You can get there on foot.  This is not a military installation, so security is minimal.  Whoever commissioned this weapon is keeping this low-key, so they don’t have the invading (Redacted) military watching out for this spot.”
“They’re still gonna be all over the (Redacted) Sea, sir.” Pennyfeather pointed out.  “We can’t get the Zumwalt in close enough.”
“Correct.  You’ll be launching the zodiacs from CH-47s.  They will get feet wet, you launch, then it will take off.  Timing will be critical.  When you are looking to leave, you’ll have to coordinate closely with them to make sure to minimize chances of detection.”
The Ensign changed the screen over to a satellite view of the village.  It was such a quiet hamlet.  A bummer place to make a bomb.  “We have reason to believe there may be private security forces in the town.  It involves the mysterious client who wanted the weapon.  Fifth Freedom is granted for both the client, the person making the device, and any security forces they have.”
“However,” Lt cut in, “there are to be no alarms raised.  We cannot risk an international incident.  Hooyah?”
“Hooyah,” We all said.
“Alright.  Once done, the SEAL team will contact the CH-47s and you will coordinate with them to exfil.  It’s a new moon tonight, so there is no way to track the choppers outside of night vision.  You all will be ghosts out there.  The birds will take off at 2200, and we expect you back before daylight.  Understood?”
“Aye-aye!”

Into our TOS’s and then off to the choppers.  The zodiacs were already inside, along with two crew on the birds to give us a push when we got to the target point.  It was scary dark tonight.  Lowered my goggles.  These things still wowed me.  Night vision, thermal, and even a kind of sonar, using sounds to give image to something.  Like how Daredevil sees the world.  Let us see through walls, no joke.  It was bananas stuff.  Best tech that money could buy.  The SEALs were looking very professional.  They didn’t have as much cool tech as us, but they were loaded up.  Saw Gorilla had a pretty huge pack on his back.  That dude’s callsign was totally fitting.  He was built like a tank, and dumb as a stump.  That’s mean, I suppose, but he really was.
Everyone loaded up, and we were off.  We were trained to be as silent as possible, but part of me wished that I had someone to talk to right now.  Got a private message on my OPSAT monitor on my arm.
You nervous? It was Panther.
Aye.  You?
Just a little.
Glad it wasn’t just me.  The gentle hum of the birds.  These had been decked out too to make as little noise as possible.  Stealth was becoming a big thing in the modern military.  Couldn’t blame them.
Traveled for what felt like an eternity, but my OPSAT told me it was 0010.
A voice came on the comm.  “Prepare for disembarkation.”
The panel at the back opened.  Night vision showed us the water coming up beneath us.  It flooded inside.  Feet wet.  The crew was drilled and gave us a push.  Once we had exited, Bethke hit the gas and we were on our own.  Looked over to see the SEALs going out as well.  In so much darkness, it was kind of ominous.  Two boats moving, just the sound of the motors and the wind passing us by.  Beacham was at the front, Pennyfeather right beside her with her weapon raised, looking through the scope.
Signed to her, <Beach is clear.>
Mama looked at us behind her.  <Alright, prep for landing.>  She sent a message to the SEALs conveying the same.  They landed right beside us.  The second we hit sand, we each jumped off and pulled the zodiacs on the shore.  The SEALs were very tactical, quietly going through the military checklist.  For us, there were no words needed.  We knew what to do.  Everyone got their weapons ready.  We divided into teams of three.  Rodriguez and Crow were tasked with me.  We moved up, following the topography toward the village.  Beacham told the SEALs that we would take point.  Being invisible was what we did, and if there was private security in the area, we had to know.
The utter silence of the forest as we moved through it.  The occasional cracking branch, but we knew how to be careful about this stuff.  A breeze passing through.  A cold one.  Shivered a bit.  Crow looked up, the two of us stopped.  She nodded to continue.  Couldn’t discount her wind message.  Even if I didn’t really believe it, she had something we didn’t.
Saw buildings ahead.  This was a very quaint little Eastern European community.  Could almost imagine growing up in a place like this.  Everyone is family, and looks out for each other.  If that sort of community wasn’t usually so hateful of the gay community, it would be just the kind of place I’d like to live.  Especially this close to the sea.  We stopped, seeing our comrades position on a ridge across the way from us.  We took out our weapons.  Down the scope we looked.  True enough, there was private security in here!  A bunch of mean-looking hombres, all clustered around a couple of buildings.  One was a very plain-looking home, the other looked to be some kind of motel or inn.  A place where people could stay.  That pegged it – the client was here.  So the mission was go on both barrels.  But first, we had to find the weapon.
A message from Beacham.  Pierce, we’ll take overwatch here.  Your squad will go in and find the weapon.  Mark targets and we’ll provide cover fire.  Remember, no alerting the locals.  Only kill targets if you must.
Made sense to me.  We quietly slide down the hill we were at, careful to make no noise.  It was kind of scary how good we were.  Saw our SEAL companions taking up overwatch where we were, waiting.  Our formation was standard cover approach.  First one would move, then the other, then the last.  It was slower, but minimized detection.  There were a couple ways into this place.  The first was the front door.  That was out.  Two people covering it at all times, and one guy patrolling the perimeter.  That was a no-go.  As was eliminating the patrolling security.  That would get too much attention.  He wasn’t going around the entire perimeter.  At least not now.  Thermal showed he had been, but I guess the guy got tired of doing that all the time, and would occasionally stop and talk to his fellow guards.  When the spoke, it was in Russian.
A message came to all of us on our comms from Panther.  They’re talking about leaving tomorrow.  The “package” is nearly complete.
Uh-oh!
Saw our infil point.  There was an open window on the second floor.  I walked over, dropping down to give a boost to Crow.  She went up, then stopped.  I could tell, she was using her sonar imaging.  Looking down, she nodded.  Boosted her up.  Once she had a hold, she locked her legs on the sill and held her arms down.  Helped Rodriguez up.  Lastly me.  We dropped in and I could see this was an office of some kind.  Pulled out my tiny light.  Made sure the others stood in front of the windows, to minimize detection.  It showed a blueprint, along with chemistry stuff, but it was all in Ukrainian.  Oh well.  Would be worth having.  Snapped images with my pocket-cam, then we moved on.  A sound!  We stopped.  Weapons at the ready.  Turned on my own sonar imaging.  Saw something a room ahead.  Imaging showed a sleeping body.  Whoever lived here.  Guess they weren’t working overnight.  With our weapons ready, we opened the door and headed out into the hall.  There was someone downstairs, on the couch.  The TV was on, but they were clearly asleep.  As shadows, we went into the bedroom of the sleeping person.  Covering Crow, she slipped her blade into their neck.  They only had time to wake up and think about it before they perished.  Part one of the job was done – kill the bomb-maker.  Down the stairs was always tricky.  A loose or old board was all it could take to raise the alarm.  Like phantoms, we got around the sleeping security.  Given what we were going to be lifting out, we couldn’t afford to leave this person alive.  Rodriguez pulled out a syringe we had with a poison that hit fast, and was painless.  She slipped it into his neck, and the fellow only seemed to show some discomfort, before then going back to sleep.  In a few seconds, he wasn’t breathing anymore.
From there, we descended.  The sonar imaging was detecting sounds from the basement.  The logical place for the bomb.  There was no one else in here.  Thermal or otherwise, we just saw the slowly fading images of the two we had killed.  Descending with the same quietness, there was no security set up around the device.  I guess they figured nobody would know this was here.  What poor fools.  But then, who would know that a bunch of ninja assassins would come looking for a bomb?  Hard to believe, if you didn’t know about this stuff.
The device was large, with two tanks which I guessed housed the chemicals, and a center piece which was likely the mixing and explosive sections.  On the other side of the room was a shipping container.  So they were planning on moving this in a box and shipping it to their intended target.  Clever.
Got on my OPSAT.  Weapon secured.  Send in the SEALs for extraction.
Beacham. Affirmative.
Frost. Oscar Mike.  Saw your infil route.  Will follow suit.
The wait was an eternity.  Finally, we heard them descending the stairs.  Nowhere near as quiet as us, but they weren’t so bad.  They signaled friendlies approaching, then descended to the basement.  Gorilla proceeded immediately to unpack of a kind of gear.  It looked like a kind of net, with four hooks on it.  Designed to be carried between them?  Clever.  And the hooks could be put together for lowering it.  Very nice.  They had some pretty heavy-duty rope as well.  We covered their six as they moved back up to the top floor.  Beacham gave the all-clear for security, and then Frost, Nickel, Prison, and Metal dropped down.  Gorilla and Panther secured the net with the weapon and began lowering the rope.  That thing must have weighed an unimaginable ton, but if you looked at Gorilla, you wouldn’t have noticed it.  That dude really was a tank.  I get the feeling he could be hit by a car and it would hurt, but how much actual damage would it do?  Freaky.
Once it was lowered down, Gorilla jumped out and they secured it to harnesses between them.  That’s when Frost turned to us, as we had also descended.
“What’s next for you?” he asked us, out loud.  Amateur.
Pointed to the OPSAT.  We go for the client.
Panther looked over at him.  “Sir, let me go with them.  They might need translation.  We need to figure out who this guy is, and what they are after.”
Frost thought for a moment, then nodded.  “Alright.  We’ll wait for you at the zodiacs.”
The lot of them disappeared back into the night.
I looked over at Panther, pointing to the OPSAT.  If you’re gonna stay with us, you do what we say, when we say it.  Understood?
He just nodded.
Beacham.  Alright, make your way to the inn.  And make sure the SEAL doesn’t fuck up.
Was already way ahead of her.  The four of us moved away from the home.  We headed down the street from the inn, wanting to get a nice view of the situation.  There was a square ahead with absolute shit lighting.  In fact, all of this place did.  Time seems to have left this entire little hamlet behind.  It’s like somewhere from the 1980’s.  Did the Cold War ever end here?  Hard to say.  In any case, we saw that security here was far, far tighter.  This was a high-value target.  The guards were all in suits, like members of the Secret fucking Service.  It was unnerving.  There was no route I could see in or out of this place that didn’t have a huge risk of being seen.  They covered their bases pretty well.
Crow tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at something.  Switching to night vision from thermal, I saw what she was on about.  It was a tree!  Big fucker, too  Must have been many, many years old.  I saw what she was on about – the branches went right up to the side of the building!  And they looked big enough for support our weight.  Well, the weight of us STARS.  It was a risk to have the SEAL with us take the branch up there.
I motioned for everyone to follow me, staying low.  We avoided all the lights, then got over to where the tree was.  I motioned that I would head up first.  Had to make sure if this things’ branches could do the job.  Climbing without making noise was a trick, but it wasn’t like this was our first time down this rodeo.  Getting up there, I hooked on to the branch above me, in case it broke.  Couldn’t be too careful.  Making my way along, I found that this really was a godsend.  It could easily hold my weight, that of my sisters, and part of me wondered how many of us at the same time.  That meant that Panther could make the trip.  I got to the edge, switching to thermal.  Time to find out where this client was.  From the tree, the trick was skirting along the edge of the building.  All of these windows opened, and I didn’t see an alarm on any of them.  As I said, the Cold War left this place behind.
I moved along them, with Crow coming up to the tree, hooking on to my line I left.  Several rooms were empty.  Then, jackpot!  One with a single occupant, and I could see two thermal signatures just outside the door.  This had to be it!  Send a comm to them to make their way up.  Crow was like a monkey born, right behind me.  Rodriguez made her way up, and I could tell Panther felt very vulnerable.
Signing with one hand was tricky, but doable.  I looked to Rodriguez.
<Stay groundside and spot us.  Send Panther up.>
<Aye-aye.>
His coming up less graceful, but he got it done.  Definitely wasn’t as used to building-scaling the way we were.  Dude wasn’t looking down.  I opened up the window slowly, making sure not to make even the slightest sound.  Then, holding on above, I lifted myself and slid inside.  Lifting my weapon, I looked down at our shadow client.  Crow was right behind me, with the same grace.  The two of us turned around and assisted Panther inside.  This was where he was a little more graceful.
I turned it back to night vision, and stopped.  The other two did the same.  We all had the exact same thought in that moment – this is an American!  What the hell had we just gotten ourselves into?

Until next time, a quote,

“It’s hot as hell in here.” – James
“You see it too?  For me, it’s always like this.” – Angela, Silent Hill 2

Peace out,

Maverick