1x03 - "Operation: Sandstorm"
by Zachary A. Applebee
Click to Expand
Previously on DarkWatch...
Three victims, seemingly unrelated, turn up dead in the Windy City, and Alpha's on the scene. Working with Jacqueline Macey, CPD liaison and sniffer, the operatives track the murders to a telekenetic with anger issues. Although there is some doubt to the young man's guilt, the evidence found by Alpha is enough to lock him in the Zoo, a prison for dangerous anomalies. Zebediah watches on, sure that he is putting away an innocent man...
Talbot Nox closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, enjoying the smell of the warm liquid emanating from the mug in his hands. He took a long pull from the ceramic vessel, tasting the subtleties of iron, copper, and salt. The broad-shouldered blonde rolled the liquid around his tongue for a moment before he swallowed his breakfast, the warm blood trickling into his empty stomach. For the first time since the rookie joined Alpha Team, its leader was calm.
He felt the table shake and heard the pair of hands slam against it. Ignoring his instinct to recoil in surprise, Talbot instead simply opened his eyes to observe the offender.
“What do you want, Glenn?”
Glenn Falla, point-man for Delta Team, smiled from ear to ear as the sweat glistened on his rapidly exposed scalp. Talbot could smell the endorphins and beginnings of body odor, so it wasn't an unreasonable assumption that the man made his unannounced visit immediately after his morning workout.
“You know,” Glenn replied, “you're the only one who calls me by my actual name. Not even the boss does.”
“That's because your call-sign sounds like something a nine-year-old lad would come up with, 'Blaze,'” Talbot mocked, sipping at the mug of blood again. The crimson liquid left a mustache on his upper lip. “What do you want, Glenn?”
“Help. Remember the recon that we went out on a few weeks ago? When you were on your little field trip?”
Talbot thought back, searching to remember. “I recall hearing about it after we got back from collaring that geek with the robe. Did you find anything good?”
“Yeah, we tracked down the smugglers. Turns out they belong to one of the Tongs based in LA and scheduled a meet with some buyers on Wednesday."
“Ooh,” Talbot grumbled in mock excitement. “I'll bet the boys in Hollywood are going to love working this case.”
Glenn's grin subsided a little. “Not really. Gamma got nearly wiped out a few nights ago. Got on the bad side of a Corrupted up north, only Liddy and their rookie made it. Didn't you hear about that?”
“What about Tau?”
“Serial murder investigation, special order from the boss himself.” The balding man sighed. “And don't even ask about the San Francisco teams. Something involving some man-eating pudding and--.”
“Okay, okay,” Talbot sighed. His breakfast was getting cold. “So where do I come in?”
Glenn nodded. “I'll cut to the chase. Delta's short-handed. We need more eyes in the field if we're going to pull this off.”
“I don't know...”
“Oh, come on!” Glenn pleaded. “Your FNG looks like he needs some fresh air anyway and it'll give him an idea of what a normal operation is like. From what I heard, your last one got a little ridiculous.”
“You're just jealous that you don't get to work in costume,” Talbot said with a small grin. “Tell you what: if the Director is fine with it, Alpha's in.”
“This,” Gloria Day said, holding the pistol-sized weapon out to her pupil, “is the Heckler & Koch MP7A1. Extendable stock, low-recoil, armor-piercing, and highly accurate, this baby is the workhorse of our more combat-oriented missions.”
Elliot Washington reluctantly grabbed the weapon, extending the stock and checking the sights. He nodded and set it down on the firing range's bench. Gloria rolled her eyes, picked it up, and handed it to Elliot again.
“Look, rookie,” she said, “I know you don't like guns but in this line of work you need to know how to use one. Most anomalies are not as cute and cuddly as us.”
Elliot sighed. “I know how to shoot, you know. You've seen me do it. I'm pretty good, even.”
“Have you shot every gun ever made?”
“Then shut up and shoot the targets.”
Elliot sighed again. “Seriously?”
He didn't wait for a response as he extended the weapon's stock and took aim. He flipped the selector switch to burst fire and depressed the trigger, launching two bullets through the first paper targets. He quickly swept the barrel over the next target and did the same, each bullet striking true. After each of the ten targets were punctured, he ejected the empty clip and loaded a fresh one in the same motion, flipped the safety on, and set the gun down on the bench.
Gloria looked downrange and nodded slowly. “Not bad, Washington, not bad.” She walked towards the wall, closing on the instructor's control panel. She punched a few buttons and a solid barrier raised between Elliot and the targets.
“Now do it again.”
Elliot raised an eyebrow. “How long does it take for them to switch out the targets?”
Gloria laughed. “Who said anything about switching out targets? Shoot them through the wall.”
Elliot looked at the solid wall, dumbfounded. “How?”
Gloria smiled and lightly tapped her charge on the head with her index finger. “This is where the real training starts. Being able to sense your targets is one of the most important skills for a telepath.”
“But I'm not a telepath.”
Gloria squinted, focusing on Elliot for a moment. He could feel a cold intrusion in his thoughts for a moment before the air around him began to hum with the background thoughts of those nearby.
“You are now,” Gloria said with a small smile. “Get crackin'.”
Elliot instinctively cringed, waiting for a wave of random thoughts to crash in around him. His mind was only greeted by silence, though. What he could only describe as “warm spots” buzzed from the targets beyond the barrier. The lack of agony confused the young man.
“It's quiet,” he mentioned. “Why am I not curling up into a ball right now?”
“Did you really think I would let you go through that again?” Gloria asked, batting her eyelashes innocently. “The training areas are shielded. No powers come in, no powers go out. Makes it so rookies that don't have control of their abilities don't accidentally kill someone, you know?
“Besides, you're a special case. Before you can block out background thoughts you need to understand how telepathy works. Flex your brain muscles, so to speak. Now, aim your weapon down-range.”
Talbot returned the crimson-stained mug to the window, nodding to the cook busily preparing a fresh batch. He watched hungrily as the portly man refilled the glass.
“Hungry today, eh?” the cook asked with a smile.
“Just a bit, Tony,” Talbot replied with a chuckle. “Too busy watching the football game.”
Tony the cook passed Talbot the steaming glass through the window. “You're a football fan? No kiddin'. What's your favorite team?”
“Manchester United. They seem to have had a good go at it this year.”
Talbot watched Tony's face react with confusion for a moment. “Oh,” he finally replied, “soccer! But isn't the season over?"
“Aye,” Talbot nodded. “Missed this one 'cause of work. You know how it is. Steak almost done?”
“Getting there,” Tony said. “I grabbed a fresh one just for you. I'll bring it out when it's ready.”
“Thanks, mate.” Talbot took his mug and made his way back to the table. Before he could even sit down, a dark, slender hand grabbed his mug from his clutches.
“For me?” a female voice asked, still clouded in sleep. “Aww, you shouldn't have.”
“Imogen, don't!” Talbot spun to try and stop the half-awake Imogen Natura, but it was too late. The curvy brunette expelled the offending liquid from her mouth, a splattering of crimson staining her white tank top and her exposed skin.
“Oh, God!” she spat, trying to remove the taste from her mouth. “Why don't you ever drink coffee?!”
Talbot plucked the mug from her hand. “You, of all people, should know better, considering we've worked together for five years or so. What gives with the jim-jams?”
“I just woke up and wanted breakfast.”
“Bollocks,” Talbot replied with a grin. “You were looking to harass the rookie some more.”
Imogen shrugged her shoulders, turning towards the coffee machine to avoid his face. “I have no idea what you mean.”
Talbot laughed. “I heard about your training sessions with him. Sounds like you gave him a few bruises.”
“Well, yeah. CQC and all, its kind of the point.” She poured her coffee, ignoring the fact her team leader was examining her outfit—focusing mainly on her terry-cloth shorts.
“That outfit's a bit skimpy,” Talbot said matter-of-factly. “Trying to give our boy a nosebleed without laying a finger on him?”
Imogen was silent. She took a drink from her coffee mug to buy herself some time to think of a witty response. She failed miserably.
“Shut up,” was all she could muster when she turned to face him. “It's too damn hot in my quarters.”
Talbot made a big show of looking her up and down. “No complaints here.” He dodged a little to his left when Imogen took a playful swing at him. “Easy, Momo! I'm just razzing you!”
Imogen snorted and landed a light blow on Talbot's arm, smiling. “Where is the rug-rat, anyway?”
“Training with Sweets,” Talbot replied, sipping his mug of bodily fluid. “Firing range.”
“This early? I'm impressed.” Imogen took a seat across from Talbot. “He was always late when I was training him.”
“Well, Gloria doesn't knock him around as much.” Talbot quickly changed the subject. “How do you feel about California?”
Imogen narrowed her eyes over the rim of her coffee mug. “Business or pleasure?”
“Business,” Talbot replied. “Delta's got a lead on some smuggling ring moving merchandise, and I don't mean bootleg DVDs.”
“Oh boy,” she said. “Do we get to dress up this time, too? I have the outfit Princess Leia wore in Jedi, and not the bounty hun--.”
“No. Get some breakfast and prep for a briefing,” Talbot interrupted, standing up. “I'm going to check up on the kids. You can have my steak.”
The report from the small weapon rang in Gloria's ears as she watched Elliot firing through the quarter-inch of concrete to the targets beyond. She could sense the bullets impacting them. The telepath grinned as Elliot emptied the last of his clip.
“You know,” Gloria said wryly, “for someone who doesn't like guns, you are an amazing shot.”
Elliot ignored her, ejecting the used clip and inserting a fresh one seamlessly. “Did they start moving near the end? I felt a little off.”
Gloria furrowed her brow. “They shouldn't have. That's the next lesson.”
The door to the firing range booths opened and the sound of boot-clad feet bounced off the bare walls. “That was me, lad. Can't resist the big, red buttons.”
Elliot and Gloria wheeled around to see Talbot slowly lean his body against the wall at the back of the room. He smiled at the two as he reached into his pocket, producing a protein bar and waving it towards Elliot.
The young man eyed the foil-wrapped food hungrily and Talbot tossed it to him. Elliot tried to catch the package, but fumbled, watching it fall to the floor. He stooped to retrieve it and relieve the chocolate covered treat of its shiny covering.
“This training session is ending a bit early today,” Talbot said.
Gloria cocked her head to the side. “What gives?”
“Briefing in twenty,” Talbot replied. “Not exactly an emergency, but I figured we'd give the rookie a few minutes to clean up decently this time.”
Elliot nodded, the last bit of the protein bar disappearing into his mouth. “Have a couple more of these when we get there and you have a deal.”
The team leader snorted. “You know where the mess is.”
“Hold on,” Gloria interjected. “If we stop the session now, he won't be able to hit a moving target by the end of the day.”
Talbot made his way to the control panel and punched a button. Hidden motors groaned as the barrier rose into the ceiling. “I don't think we need to worry about that, Sweets.”
Gloria turned to inspect the now-exposed targets. Every bullet hole in every target was firmly within the bull's eyes. Elliot whistled to himself.
“Damn,” he said, “I am pretty good, huh?”
“Where is it?” Director Zebediah MacPhearson asked himself quietly, shuffling through stacks of papers on his desk.
He was not sure if it was true or not, but before the Chaotic outbreak weeks before Zebediah had apparently sent out a memo concerning brownouts. A memo he never wrote on an event that never happened.
At least, that was how he remembered it. Zebediah had poured over the system logs from that day over the past day, only to find that they confirmed the presence of power fluctuations on the day in question. Figuring that it could have been false readings from the Ark's shields failing, he continued his search for the truth in his personal records. The only problem with that plan was the abundance of paperwork he had filled out that day in response to the attacks and signing on Washington.
Zebediah grabbed his coffee mug blindly to take a swig of his favorite dark, bitter liquid. Empty. He set the container down on the stack of files he had already searched through and groaned, rubbing his temple. The brown-haired man was desperate for a distraction to allow himself some time to recharge.
The loud beep of his office phone announced the answers to his prayers.
“MacPhearson,” he answered, a bit of relief in his voice.
“Blaze, reporting in,” the voice on the other end of the line responded.
“What do you need?”
“Well, sir,” Blaze began, “I think we have a mission.”
Zebediah smiled to himself. “Well, give me the details, lad!”
Elliot was munching happily on one of several candy bars he had procured from the mess hall when Gloria entered the glass-enclosed briefing room. He resisted the urge to smile at her; he was married, sure, but that did not mean he wanted to embarrass himself by flashing chocolate-smeared pearly whites in the direction of the only female in the room. Instead, he settled for a friendly nod, which she returned as she took the seat next to him.
“Sorry that your training was cut short today,” Gloria said with a small smile. “I'm sure you're crushed.”
Elliot swallowed his mouthful of chocolate and snorted. “Are you kidding? That was the most comfortable I've felt during a training session since I started here!”
Gloria looked shocked. “Well that's saying something, coming from a man who don't like guns. Was Imogen really that bad?”
“Let's just say I'm lucky I'm not in traction, between her training sessions and that Jedi freak.” Elliot momentarily forgot about the chocolate and smiled. “And maybe I'm getting used to the guns.”
“That's because you've yet to fire at a live target, laddie,” a brogue-filled voice echoed.
Both members of Alpha Team turned to see Zebediah close the door to the briefing room behind him. The Scotsman nodded toward them and gestured to the coffeepot against the far wall. “Is that a fresh pot?”
“Should be,” Gloria replied. “Imogen hasn't gotten to it yet.”
Zebediah grunted in approval as he crossed the room, grabbing one of the empty black mugs from the pile next to the coffeepot. Gloria nudged Elliot in the ribs playfully.
“He likes you,” she said in a whisper. Elliot responded with a quizzical look, and Gloria rolled her eyes. “Dad's not usually the joking sort. Momo and I used to have a bet going on who would make him laugh first.”
“He jokes?” Elliot asked, wagging his eyebrows.
“No,” Zebediah replied, finding a seat at the head of the table and gazing out the windows to the bullpen area beyond. “And I'm pretty sure that you haven't been here long enough to be included in the pool, so don't try. We do have a job to do.”
Elliot nodded to himself and turned his gaze to the Pit as well. Talbot was weaving between the empty desks, talking to a man that Elliot did not recognize. The unknown man was all smiles, quickly matching pace with the vampire as they made their way to the briefing room.
The door to the room opened and the unknown man entered, giving the three occupants a wave. Talbot was following close behind but stopped when his eyes met Zebediah's.
“Wasn't expecting to see you here, boss,” Talbot said.
Zebediah dismissed the statement with a wave. “Already approved. I just needed a break from paperwork.”
The unknown man shrugged as he took a seat across from Elliot. “I told you I was going to run it past him, Tal.”
Talbot went to snark back, but Zebediah raised his hand to stop them. “Before you two start bickering like the ninnies you are, introductions are in order.” The Director's hand gestured towards the unknown man. “Elliot, I would like you to meet Glenn Falla, leader of Delta Team.”
“Pleasure,” the man said, reaching across the table to shake Elliot's hand. “My friends call me 'Blaze.'”
“And I call him 'Glenn,'” Talbot muttered, “because 'Blaze' is a dumb name.”
Elliot ignored Talbot and shook Glenn's hand. “Delta Team... so you're the reason I got drafted to this gig.”
Glenn furrowed his brows, trying to remember. “What do you mean?”
“Chaotic outbreak,” Elliot replied flatly. “Wave of tar-babies. You blocked my way to the safe room with a stone wall out of nowhere. Ringing any bells?”
Glenn's eyes lit up. “Oh, with the nurse, right? Nah, you're thinking Slate.”
Elliot's eyes narrowed. “I'm not sure if you're making that up or if everyone on Delta Team has a stupid nickname.” He didn't break eye contact even while Talbot sniggered quietly to himself.
Glenn met the glare with a stony leer of his own. The two men stared at each other for a few long moments, not wavering, before the team leader chuckled.
“You're ok, kid,” Glenn said, taking his hand back. He flexed his fingers for a moment. “If it was me that blocked your way, you woulda known.”
The man flicked his fingertips off of his thumb, engulfing his hand in flame. Elliot stared at the burning appendage for a moment before returning his gaze to Glenn's calm face.
“That's enough, Glenn,” Zebediah said sternly. Glenn looked at him with a fake pout and extinguished the flame, rolling his fingers into the palm of his hand. He smiled at the rookie for a moment before his jaw dropped and his gaze shifted.
Elliot was confused. “What?”
Glenn merely pointed through the window. Everyone turned and saw what rendered the battle-hardened veteran speechless. Imogen was weaving through the desks of the bullpen, taking a similar route to the two men before her. Her hair followed her unrestrained, a shiny, wavy mass of brown. The neckline of her crimson blouse plunged to depths that would make an experienced diver have second thoughts, perfectly framed by her black pinstriped jacket.
“Oh Christ,” Talbot muttered as she disappeared around the corner. “Zeb, remind me to put in an extended leave request for Imogen when we get done with this op.”
Zebediah sighed, cradling his forehead in the palm of his free hand. “You have got to be kidding me.”
The door opened and as Imogen stood there balanced precariously on impossibly high heels the same shade as her blouse, and Zebediah knew it was no joke. She crossed the room in a few long strides, the high slit in her skirt showing off the majority of her thigh. Elliot couldn't help but to gawk.
Gloria slapped him on the shoulder hard, diverting his attention. “Manners, rookie.”
Elliot quickly composed himself as Imogen turned to him. “Take a picture, squirt. It'll last longer.” Her smile betrayed the good nature of her harsh comment.
Before Elliot could reply in kind, Talbot pulled a chair out from the table. “Leave him alone, Momo. We have a briefing to do.”
Imogen laughed took her seat as Zebediah distributed manilla folders to the team. Elliot did his best to clear his mind of the admittedly welcome intrusion, grabbed his folder and opened it. He was greeted by overhead maps of a marina, various points on the map labeled in blue with the exception of two points in red on separate docks, designated A and B. He flipped through the file looking for a profile of their intended target, but to no avail. He glanced over to Gloria, who apparently was just as confused as him.
Glenn walked to the whiteboard at the head of the table, grabbed a marker, and scrawled something on the top of the work space. Operation: Sandstorm. Elliot arched his eyebrow and grunted.
“That sound's ominous,” he commented.
“I don't think he meant to scare you, rookie,” Talbot said with a half grin as the room darkened around them. “While we were off gallivanting around with the nerds, Delta was working on a real investigation.”
“That's right,” Glenn confirmed, turning on the projector with a remote control. A copy of the map that was included in the folders shined brightly in black and white on the board. “We got word of a group of smugglers trying to import some artifacts from overseas. Once we got proof, we left it with the LA branch and they sent some of their own to take care of it.”
“I take it that went poorly?” Gloria questioned.
“Three members of Gamma were KIA,” Glenn confirmed, “and the two survivors are currently under quarantine due to direct contact with the Corruption. 'Poorly' is an understatement.
“So, the hand-off between the smugglers and the buyers is going as scheduled. Delta Team has been requested to pick up where Gamma left off, but we're only three strong and security is probably going to be tightened.”
“And that's where we come in?” Imogen asked, all traces of flirtation retreating from her voice.
“Right,” Talbot jumped in. “This should be a simple bag-and-tag.”
“Bullshit,” snorted Gloria under her breath to Elliot. “Not if it nearly wiped out a collection team.”
Glenn looked over the map for a moment, grasping a green marker. “The meet is going to take place at point A,” he said, circling it in green. “Before then, Delta is going to be deployed here. The buyers are supposed to show up early to make sure that the area is clear of threats. If they find us, they'll call the whole thing off for sure, so the plan is to take them out quick and quiet-like before they can call their friends, and then assume their identities. With me so far?”
Elliot raised his hand. “Don't you think they'd freak out if a bunch of guys with guns were waiting for them?”
“That's why we're going to be the ones at point A,” Glenn answered. “Delta only has three active members, so it should be easy to lull them into a false sense of security. Good question, though.”
“So we're going to be deployed at point B,” Talbot reasoned.
“Correct. We're going to need Alpha at point B to cover us.” Another green circle was drawn. “There's a picnic shelter right on the water here, so you'll have a good vantage point. Heard that rookie's one hell of a shot, so I'm thinking he's going to be our overwatch.”
“Your what-now?” Elliot did not like the sound of that.
“You'll be the one covering our asses with a sniper rifle. The others will be making sure that no one sneaks up on you from behind. The only thing is,” Glenn continued, looking over the map, “I'm going to need long-range shooters at each post in case things get hairy.”
Nodding, Talbot gestured towards Elliot and Gloria. “So, Gloria will go with you to the meet while the rookie will stick with us? Is that ok with you, Sweets?”
Gloria nodded. “Square by me, as long as I have access to the rifle range for the evening. Need to give Elliot a few pointers on how to account for wind at range.”
“Consider it done,” Zebediah said, rising to his feet. “Wheels up in twelve hours, and I'll have a couple of investigation teams confirming target data. The LA branch will be notified of your arrival in the morning. Be sure to stop in and say hello.”
“Well, that settles it,” Glenn said with a smile. “Any other questions?”
Elliot raised his hand again. “What are they shipping?”
Talbot clapped, sarcastic enthusiasm taking over his expression. “Oh, can I tell him? Please?” Glenn shrugged, and the vampire dropped back to normalcy. “We have no sodding idea. What we do know is that it is weaponized and could cause catastrophic casualties if it gets into the wrong hands.”
“So,” Elliot followed up, “basically what you're saying is that we don't know what the target is, but if it gets out there it could kill millions?”
Imogen suppressed a smile. “Just another day in the office, rookie. Put on your big-girl panties and deal with it.”
Margaret Rumsfeld stretched her thin arms behind her back as she walked into the mess hall. The smell of burnt coffee wafted into her nostrils as she checked the clock on the wall. Midnight-thirty, she thought to herself. Twenty minutes away from the sick and needy.
The mess was usually empty at this hour save for the cleaning crew and maybe a small gaggle of nurses gossiping over coffee, but Margaret's usual table was occupied. The young man was hunched over a steaming beverage, his heavy eyelids drooping.
“Elliot?” she asked.
The young man gave a half wave. “Hey, stranger. Like the hair.”
Margaret self-consciously ran a hand through the choppy blue mess on top of her head as she poured herself a cup of coffee. “Thanks, I just felt like something different. What are you doing up?”
Elliot met the nurse's gaze. “Can't sleep.”
Margaret pulled up a chair, settling into the padded seat. “Why not?”
“The clowns will eat me.” The tired young man smiled and took a sip of his hot tea. “Naw, just a little homesick, is all.”
Examining Elliot from across the table, Margaret rested her head on her free hand. “That's not exactly unheard of around these parts. The new guys take a little bit to fully adjust. Miss your wife?”
Elliot nodded. “Yeah, I miss Chloe. You know, it didn't really hit me until I had enough time to just sit still. I've been doing all this running with training and the mission and have been focused on that, and then I go to bed tonight and then boom! Insomnia.”
The table was silent for a few minutes, the ticking of a near-by clock and the drip of new coffee filling the void. Margaret was supposed to be on her break but found herself working through a diagnosis for the newest member of Alpha Team. The nurse could vaguely remember when she was recruited the the Institute and the feeling of not quite belonging. Her old life was a faded memory, though, and not something easily dredged up after all these years.
“Did you have a family?” Elliot inquired, finally breaking the silence.
“At one point, yeah. I was young at the time—thirteen, maybe fourteen? Anyway, I went through the same thing you're going through right now, but with my parents.”
“Oh,” Elliot grimaced. “Do they--”
“Know what happened to me? Yeah,” Margaret finished. “I was a bit of a 'problem child,' and they were looking to off-load me onto someone else. That 'someone' just happened to be Director MacPhearson.”
The pair again fell into silence as they finished their beverages.
“You know what helped me with my transition?” Margaret asked.
Elliot gave her a blank stare. “I'm not a telepath. Well, not right now, anyway.”
“We have a therapist on staff,” she continued, ignoring her companion's snark. “His name's Carmichael. If you want, I can let him know you might be visiting in the next couple days.”
“I'd appreciate that.” Elliot gave Margaret a tired smile. “Any other tricks that would work in the short-term?”
“There's always sleeping pills.” Margaret stood from the table and beckoned the young vore to follow. “Come on, my break's almost over. I'll get you a 'script.”
Imogen breathed in the steam as hot water pounded against her tan flesh. Her dark hair hung in wet tangles from her head, soaking in white suds. Her muscles were relaxed, her mind was clear, and her stomach was full, courtesy of the rookie's breakfast. He would learn that over-sleeping is a bad idea before a mission. She would not say she was happy—she had not been for years—but she could settle on content. Well, almost.
The woman's thoughts kept returning to the new guy, and Imogen had to admit that she was impressed. Elliot was insane; a wild-eyed child with a lack of discipline but an abundance of tenacity. She could respect tenacity, especially when it had saved her multiple times over the past month. His natural talent with firearms and abilities was astonishing. Although she normally didn't go for the skinny boys, she thought she would make an exception...
Imogen jerked out of the trance-like haze of day-dreaming, interrupted by her phone ringing. “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols echoed from her living area.
She enjoyed the warmth of the water for a few more moments as punk rock reverberated in her eardrums. Relenting to her phone's siren song, she exhaled slowly, emptying her lungs and focusing.
The music stopped. The water from the shower head had stopped, too, even though Imogen could see that the knob for hot water was cranked all the way open. She slowly pushed aside the vinyl curtain and strolled leisurely to where her silent phone was sitting, her body tingling. The nude brunette gingerly picked up the handset, looked at the screen, and smirked.
Imogen took a slow, deep breath in, releasing the energy she was building. Her phone began vibrating and playing the garish punk rock as she shifted back to the normal flow of time. She quickly thumbed the green accept key and placed the handset to her ear.
“Natura,” she answered.
“Momo, it's me.” Talbot was talking in a hurried tone, much like he was when they were in the mess. “What the hell is taking so long? We're running behind. Hell, the rookie beat you, and he missed breakfast.”
“Oh,” Imogen replied in a mock-disappointed tone. “You're not going to ask me what I'm wearing?”
“You finished breakfast about twenty minutes ago, lass, and you run like clockwork.” His observation, while true, was uncharacteristically gruff. “I know you just got out of the shower. So, make yourself decent and get up here.”
Before Imogen could snap back, the little speaker on the phone clicked to inform her that Talbot hung up. She grunted and tossed the phone unceremoniously to the couch. She wouldn't let that phase her because she had more important things on her mind. Things like picking out an outfit for the day.
The wind roared across the tarmac as Glenn pulled his go-bag and weapons case out of the back of the black SUV. He tossed the bag to the tall man behind him, a flicker of a smile crossing his face.
“Think fast, Cy!”
The light bag sailed through the air and James “Cyclone” Manar caught it easily by the nylon handles. In the same motion, the bag found a comfortable place on the man's shoulder as they both made their way to the Gulfstream waiting for them.
“Slate's already on Viper catching up on some beauty sleep,” James mentioned.
“Hmph, figures. Was she at the Griff all night?”
The question did not have to be asked. The Black Griffon, one of the local bars, was the popular hang-out for the off-duty team members. Last night was karaoke night. Glenn knew that, coupled with her twelve-hour leave, meant that Slate was nursing the mother of all hangovers in the back of the jet.
“She wants to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for when its go time,” Cyclone laughed. “Between you and me, I think she showed up early so she wouldn't miss the flight. No sign of Alpha yet, though.”
Glenn waved it off. “That's fine, we still have fifteen minutes until wheels up. Is the coffee on?”
“Fresh pot. I know how cranky you get in the morning.”
“And that's why you're my number two,” Glenn said, slapping Cyclone on the back.
They reached the steps of the Viper when a second black SUV pulled up to the plane. Glenn saw Alpha Team pile out of the vehicle, pre-packed go-bags in hand. The group made their way to the plane, the new guy giving Glenn a small wave.
“Hey there, nugget,” Glenn greeted. “Ready for a trip to the beach?”
“Mm-hmm,” the young man mumbled. Even though Elliot's aviators, Glenn could see the shadows of a sleepless night on the visage of the brown-haired man as he sidled past him into the cabin.
The two women greeted him with silent nods as they made their way into the cabin as well, but Talbot was standing at the bottom of the stairs, motioning for Glenn to come down.
“Uh-oh,” Cyclone muttered from above, “looks like our favorite blood-sucker has something on his mind.”
Glenn motioned to the cabin of the Gulfstream with his thumb. “I think I know where this is going. Make sure Alpha's comfortable and full of caffeine.”
Cyclone disappeared into the plane as Glenn descended. He reached out his hand, which Talbot took in his own firm grip.
“How did you sleep?” the vampire asked.
“Never better,” Glenn replied, “knowing that I'm just about to put this case behind me. The paperwork has been killing me.”
“Yeah, well if we actually turn up with smuggled goods, it will only get worse before it gets better.”
“Don't remind me,” Glenn groaned. “Maybe I'll pawn it off on Slate.”
Talbot stifled a laugh. “You do that. Should be interesting to see what wonderful things she can do with your corpse.”
“But her handwriting is so nice.” Glenn rolled his eyes. “But let's cut to the chase: you beckoned?”
Nodding, the team leader continued. “Just a minor request: you and I have worked on different operations in the past and I know that you like to run your mouth telling war stories.”
“Aww, don't want to look bad-ass in front of the rookie?”
“No, more like I don't want you to make a fool out of me by bringing up some of our more...colorful operations.”
“Ahh...” Glenn trailed off, lost in memories of missions past. “Good times. Don't worry, Tal, mum's the word.”
“Hold on a minute,” Elliot shouted over the roar of laughter, his mouth half full of protein bar. “That actually happened?”
Gloria and Imogen had been watching Glenn tell Elliot stories of Delta's old operations for the better part of an hour from the vantage point of the sofa, bemused at the newbie hanging over the back of his seat excitedly listening to all the details. Imogen could still see the weariness on the younger man's face, but his actions were telling a different story altogether.
“Sure as shit,” Glenn giggled from across the Viper's cabin. “Polka-dots and everything!”
“It's true, I was there, too,” Cyclone gasped, holding his midsection.
Doubling over in laughter, Elliot wheezed, “But where did he hide his swords in that frilly thing?”
“You know, I never really found out,” Glenn said, the laughter dying down.
Talbot glowered from the cockpit door. “You don't want to know. Ten minutes until touchdown. Is someone going to wake sleeping beauty in the back?”
“I'm up, I'm up,” a gravely voice protested, a hint of an accent coming through.
The blue curtain parted around broad shoulders and a short woman walked through. She scratched her scalp through her crew cut and yawned. Locking eyes with Elliot, she stretched her hands behind her back.
“Hmph,” she muttered, “air's a bit more bumpy than usual.”
Looking the woman up and down, Elliot furrowed his brow. Turning to Imogen, he asked, “Who's that?”
Glenn gestured towards the small woman. “Ah, you two haven't been officially introduced yet. Elliot, this is Sasha Ormurav.”
“They call me 'Slate,' comrade,” she added, her Russian accent coming through clearer. “I trust there are no hard feelings from the outbreak a month ago?”
Elliot shoved the memories of the stone blockades and crashing waves of shadows out of the way as he regarded the Russian's steel-hued eyes.
“We're ok,” he finally said. “I'm still breathing. No harm, no foul. Elliot Washington.”
Slate avoided the rookie's outstretched hand. “Forgive my rudeness, but I do not wish for any unexpected earthquakes, vore.”Elliot slowly lowered his hand as Slate snaked around him, avoiding contact. The seatbelt light came on and he promptly took his seat, securing the belt snugly. Talbot squeezed past him and slapped his shoulder playfully.
“You know,” Elliot muttered, “I don't think that it works like that. Especially in mid-air.”
“Don't look so glum, lad,” the vampire said, taking the seat directly across from him. “She's part of the old guard and is set in her ways. Back when we first encountered the vores, all it took was a touch and they were turning your powers against you.”
“Huh,” Elliot grunted, turning his attention out the window. Los Angeles sprawled out underneath them in the mid-morning light, the sun glinting off windows as small dots raced along the freeways. He recognized LAX from the air when the Viper turned on approach, surprised at how large it appeared compared to the images he frequently saw on a television screen. The rookie had a feeling that this was going to be a long day.
Gloria pulled her windbreaker tighter around her thin frame as she exited the terminal. Imogen was waiting outside, sitting on a bench while watching the taxis and shuttles filter in. The skinny blonde took a seat next to her.
“I thought California was warm,” she grumbled.
Imogen chuckled. “It's February. The only places that are warm are Arizona and Florida. This is still better than home, though.”
“I'll give you that.”
Imogen stretched her legs out in front of her, considering her feet for a moment.
“So, where's everyone else?”
“Clearing our cargo and contacting the LA branch,” Gloria mentioned. “Apparently, Talbot's been out here before.”
“Well, I'm glad at least one of us has.”
The two women kept an eye on the exits of the terminals, trying to catch a glimpse of the teams as they exited. After about ten minutes, they spotted Elliot and Talbot weaving through the throngs of arriving passengers.
“Ladies,” Talbot said, nodding his head.
“Where's Delta?” Gloria asked.
“They're getting our hotel rooms worked out,” Talbot answered. “We're going to meet up with them at HQ.”
Imogen cocked her head to the side. “And where would that be, exactly?”
“You're standing on it. LAX is one of the busiest airports in the world and has a lot of checkpoints. You didn't think we didn't have any of our own, did you?”
Elliot inspected the blank concrete walls of the hallway, following a few steps behind the rest of the group as they stepped off the elevator. While impressed with DarkWatch's ability to hide their facilities in plain sight, he had to question their taste in interior design.
“Would it kill someone to throw a poster up or something?”
Talbot scoffed, looking over his shoulder. “What, and put up a neon sign, too? Do you realize how many mundanes would be enticed?”
"What do you mean?”
Gloria fielded the question with ease. “Do you realize how many normal, everyday people we have to turn away at the gates?”
“Humans are curious by nature,” Imogen added. “Most of the time they're just bored kids, but that's beside the point. We get quite a few aimless wanderers, even at our small-town location.”
“Drunken frat boys,” Talbot growled in disdain.
“What happens to them?” Elliot pondered. “The ones who wander too close, I mean?”
Gloria shrugged. “We feed them to the people in the Zoo. I heard our Jedi friend has quite the taste--”
“We give them Class-A Amnesiacs—forgetfulness pills, essentially—and dump them on the quad.” Imogen scowled at the young blonde she interrupted. Gloria raised her hands in resignation.
“Oh, come on,” the telepath pleaded. “I really had him going there!”
“Yeah,” Elliot interjected. “She was making me hungry.”
“Lad,” Talbot grumbled, “you're always hungry.”
Closely approaching the end of the hall, Elliot could see a nondescript door between the groups in front of him. Talbot rapped on the painted steel and a few seconds later the door swung inward. A broad-faced man was semi-silhouetted against the bright light within.
“Didn't think I'd see your ugly mug again,” the man said.
“Good to see you too, Romeo,” Talbot replied, shaking the grinning man's hand. “Why do they have you underground? I thought they'd have you and Big Bird running cargo.”
“I was Gamma's ride a few nights ago,” the pilot sighed. “We had an unwanted passenger who was a little rough on the chassis, so Bird's getting fixed up. They figured I could handle guard duty for a few days until I get my wings back.”
Romeo peeked over Talbot's shoulder. “Looks like the gang's all here. Who's the new guy? That rookie everyone's been talking about?”
“Everyone?” Elliot asked. “Seriously?”
“Not too often they let a team keep a vore as a pet. Scuttlebutt's been pretty focused on you. Well, and maybe the fact that you ripped apart a Corrupted with your bare hands,” Romeo replied with a chuckle. Noting Elliot's sour expression, he added, “No offense, kid. Most of your kind we come across anymore is insane and trying to bite a chunk out of us.”
Stepping out of the way, Romeo let Alpha Team into the security checkpoint. Imogen gave him a wave as she passed.
“We keep him well fed,” she said, “but the jury's still out on if he'll nibble on you for want of a candy bar.”
“Har, har,” Elliot grumbled.
Romeo directed the group to a white line painted on the floor. Once the four soldiers were situated, he looked them all over for a moment. Content with what he saw, he nodded.
“Looks like you're all clean,” Romeo confirmed, looking over Imogen a second time. “Although I might need to take a closer look at you, my dear.”
“In your dreams, fly boy,” Imogen giggled.
Romeo shrugged, smiling. “Can't blame a guy for trying, eh? Head on in. R&D is expecting you.”
“Great,” Gloria said with a grimace. “More new toys.”
Talbot lead the way as the team went through the sliding door in single-file. Elliot lagged behind, wondering with his weary mind what horrible new machinations were waiting for them in Research and Development. Nothing comfortable, he figured.
Elliot slowly released a lungful of air, desperately willing himself to fall asleep. The motel bed's mattress was uncomfortably unyielding to his spine, the air conditioner was making the room painfully chilly--at Talbot's behest—and the snores of his teammates were near deafening. Counting his blessings, though, he noted that at least the black-out curtains on the wall were working wonderfully.
His sedatives lying in his bag in the closet, Elliot regretted his decision to not take him. He wanted his mind to be clear for the task at hand and knew that the pills would only serve to slow him down if and when it came to the time he needed to take a shot. Knowing this, he came to the conclusion that being a little tired was better than being doped up on sleeping pills and shooting his team mates.
Right now, though, he felt he was dead wrong.
Fatigue ached through his bones as his head reeled from exhaustion. The string of sleepless nights over the past week had been taking its toll and Elliot prayed that he would be able to make it through the operation in the evening. He rolled over to check the digital clock on the shared night stand between the beds.
6:49 pm. Almost two hours until deployment.
Elliot took another deep breath and held it momentarily, trying to will his brain to shut off and sleep. But this would not happen, he knew, so instead he mentally went over the mission plan in his head for the twelfth time since he closed the curtains. If he was going to be tired, he would at least be tired and prepared.
Glenn checked his watch. 11:52 pm. The operation was going smoothly; the group that had arrived early were disposed of in an easy fashion and defensive positions had already been decided on in the event the mission went south. Cyclone and Slate were sitting on the nearby bench, dressed in the procured clothing of the advance guard. Things were going swimmingly.
With less than ten minutes before the meet, Glenn keyed his Bluetooth headset. “Delta Lead to Alpha, you guys in position?”
“Sure are, Delta,” Talbot's response came, tinny, through the cheap earpiece. “Care to turn on your beacons so we can use our new toys?”
Glenn motioned to his teammates before pushing the button on the hidden device. He double-checked the LED on the metal disc attached to his armor—all green.
“There you go, Alpha,” he muttered. “Should be lit up like Times Square.”
“Ugh,” a distinctively feminine voice replied. “Blaze, blue is not your color.”
“Shut up, Imogen,” Glenn said with a chuckle. “I'm making the call for radio silence. Creeps are going to be showing up any minute.”
“Roger that, Delta,” Talbot confirmed. “We'll be watching you from here. Alpha, out.”
Glenn left his earpiece turned on as the van pulled up. Six heavily armed men piled out the back along with one well dressed individual. Something was wrong.
It was over in a flash. Before he knew it, a burlap sack covered Glenn's eyes and he felt a needle pierce the skin of his neck. He reflexively tried to ignite his attacker, but the only thing he could accomplish was straining his muscles against the rapidly tightening binds. A sliver of fear began to root itself in the veteran leader's gut.
They knew we'd be here.
Elliot clutched his weapon close to his chest, bouncing around the back of a requisitioned van. Street names and locations blurred on his eyepiece as they barreled towards the objective. He did not like changes in the plan, he decided, as he maneuvered his hips in a bid to relieve the uncomfortable pressure on his groin. Imogen took notice.
“Got your boys in a bind?” she asked, a shadow of a smirk crossing her face.
“Like you wouldn't believe. Why does this stuff have to be so tight again?”
The three members of Alpha in the back of the van could hear a tiny sigh though their tactical earpieces. “It applies pressure to the internal organs to help you adjust to extreme conditions, maximize efficiency of the bodily systems in a combat setting, and stop bleeding if you're wounded.”
The van jostled as it hit a bump in the road and Talbot winced through his balaclava, holding his elbow against his side. “Good to know that the lasses I grew up with had an advantage in a fight, I guess. Don't see how this could stop a bullet, though.”
“They're made for stealth, genius. You're not supposed to get shot.” Imogen snarked. “Also—much more comfortable than a corset.”
Talbot gave her a dismissive wave, still rubbing his side. “How's the weather up there, Sweets?”
“Cloudy with a chance of death by sniper. Judging from the roving patrols and the recent shift change, you'll have some resistance on the inside, too.”
“Oh yeah,” Elliot grumbled, gesturing towards the vampire. “'Easy bag and tag,' you said. And yet here we are, three hours later, about to get shot by angry men with rifles.”
“Sod off, boyo,” Talbot snapped, commanding compliance with his stern gaze. “You have a green light, Sweets. Be a dear and swat some of those flies for us.”
“You got it, boss. Three, out.”
An operative leaned around the back of the passenger's seat, waving to get Talbot's attention. “We tracked down Delta, sir! They're inside. Uploading the target info to your visors now.”
Three tiny blue pinpricks appeared on the transparent plastic before Elliot's eye. A quick message popped up above them, identifying the three captured operatives.
“ETA sixty seconds,” the driver of the van added.
Talbot gave the communications expert a nod. “Is their earpiece still on?” The tech affirmed that it still was “Let them know we're almost there and to keep their heads down. We'll get them out in one piece.”
“So, um,” Elliot began, fidgeting some more, “how is this going to work?”
“Well,” Imogen said, fiddling with the safety on her weapon, “we go in, shoot everyone that isn't Delta, grab the stuff, and then boom. Miller time.”
The van shook and the sound of metal rattling against the chassis momentarily drowned out all other noises. Elliot was startled by the cacophony, clutching his weapon tightly.
“Perimeter breached!” the driver shouted. What sounded like heavy rainfall echoed throughout the passengers' area as the targeting data fed to their head-mounted devices lit up like a Christmas tree. “Ten seconds, and the area is hot.”
“Just the way I like it. We are weapons-free,” Talbot commanded. “Take out anyone between us and that door!”
“Deep breaths, rookie,” Imogen added.
“Three, two, one, contact!”
Talbot threw open the rear doors of the van with one hand, his other extending his MP7 in the widening gap. The vampire rolled out of the vehicle onto the concrete below, bringing his weapon to bear on targets in the distance. Imogen exited an instant later, shifting before she even hit the ground. Elliot, on the other hand, was hesitant. The rookie took a deep breath, checked his weapon, and leaped from the rear of the vehicle, making a bee-line to the nearest cover he could see.
The concrete barrier was heavy, easily absorbing the impacts of the bullets heading in Elliot's general direction. Shivering in fear, he peeked above his cover in an attempt to double-check the positions of the red diamonds on his HUD. Muzzles flashed in his general direction and he ducked back, swearing. Examining his surroundings, he noticed a door to the warehouse on his left along with the guard detail bringing their weapons to bear. Behind them were the small, blue diamonds that indicated Delta's position. Without a thought, he raised his weapon and fired. The silenced reports were lost in the din of battle, but the shots hit true to their mark.
As his two targets crumpled to the ground, a cold knot formed in his stomach. Elliot had never killed a man, nor ever dreamed that he would have to do so. All he wanted to do was retch, cry, and hide, but his training took over.
“Doorway's clear!” he called out.
“Got it, lad,” Talbot responded. Keep it covered and move up!”
His body on auto-pilot, Elliot bolted from cover towards the door. He could hear bullets whizzing past and feel their impacts with the concrete underneath him as they missed their mark. Sliding behind the barrels outside the door, he shivered as the whines of ricochets echoed through his head. He hunkered down in a crouch, trained his weapon at the door, and promptly voided his stomach of its contents. Talbot was close behind, wheeling around the barrels and stepping directly in Elliot's sick.
“Ugh,” the Brit said in disgust. “We can't take you anywhere, can we?”
The door behind them suddenly opened, the sound attracting the attention of the two members of Alpha team. Three guards, decked out in Kevlar, had their weapons trained on them at close range.
“Hold your fire,” the apparent leader of the guard said into a shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie. “We have them at the door.”
“Stand up,” another one said, motioning towards Elliot. The young man slowly complied, his stomach still cramping. “Put your weapons on the ground and your hands behind your head.”
“Easy, lads,” Talbot said calmly as he complied with their demands. “We're putting the guns down.”
“Sorry, guys,” they heard Gloria say over the radio, “I don't have a clear shot.”
“Shit,” Elliot murmured, laying down his own weapon. Before he could raise his arms back over his head, he doubled over, retching on the closest guard's boots.
“Oh, God!” The guard shouted, rubbing his boot on the concrete to remove the vomit. “This is just gre--”
The guard's speech was converted to gurgling as a knife crossed his throat in a gust of wind. As he fell to his knees, a dark blur of hair and armor spun to the next guard. Imogen's boot connected hard to the knee, bending his leg in an unnatural position as she grabbed the third guard's weapon. Wrenching it from his arms, she used it as a cudgel to cave in the leader's skull before pressing the barrel of her MP7 against the forehead of the now disarmed man and pulling the trigger.
The three members of Alpha team stood still for a moment, drenched in splashes of crimson. Imogen discarded the stolen weapon while Talbot recovered both his and Elliot's. The rookie was leaning against the wall, face first, dry-heaving.
“What's his problem?” Imogen asked.
“I think he got his first kill,” Talbot muttered. “You're all good, rookie?”
Elliot remained silent but gave his leader a thumbs-up. Pushing himself off the wall, the young man wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his armor and took a deep breath. Talbot moved towards the door, opening it and peeking around the frame.
“It's clear,” he announced, “but it looks like close quarters from here on.”
“The rookie and I will go on ahead,” Imogen mentioned. “You won't be able to shoot straight with that wrist.”
“Right,” Talbot grunted, flexing the offending joint. “I'll try to cover you from here. Be careful.”
“You too, old man.” Imogen said with a smirk before heading through the door. “On me, Elliot.”
Imogen took point and Elliot followed, both moving in a hunched-over fashion as they traversed the pallet-filled building. Ahead of them three guards rounded a corner, immediately highlighted by three red diamonds. Before they could react Elliot placed two rounds firmly within each of their chests, dropping them to the floor silently. The pair paused for a moment, waiting for more reinforcements. Encountering none, they slowly began moving again.
“Good to see that the link works,” Gloria said in their ears. “If you see the bad guys, they pop up on my scanner too. I'll be able to give you some cover.”
“Through the walls of a building?” Talbot asked. “Really?”
“I'm using a rifle made for shooting tanks, Tally,” the young woman chuckled. “Sheet metal ain't got nothing on me.”
“Cut the chatter,” Imogen commanded in a whisper. “Now is not the time to be geeking out.”
“Roger,” Gloria replied, slightly dejected.
The pair continued down the lane of wooden crates, stopping at each intersection to check for surprises. Elliot checked the distance to their target on his HUD. Seventy yards. Almost there. Echoes of an argument made their way towards the duo; Elliot could not understand what was being said, but he clearly recognized Glenn's voice in the chaotic noise.
“That doesn't sound good,” he muttered, quickening his pace.
Imogen nodded in agreement, matching her step with Elliot's. After a short moment, Imogen signaled to her partner hold their position. Ahead of them, they could see a group of people assembled, most armed. The guards were gathered around two crates. A tall, brunette man stood tall in the center, yelling down at a seated Delta Team and demanding the identities of the intruders. Red diamonds appeared over each man there, minus the three captured DarkWatch operatives. Rolling behind a crate to his left, Elliot quietly checked the magazine in his weapon.
“Great, now what?” he whispered into his earpiece, glancing at Imogen, who was hiding behind the opposite crate, for guidance.
“Gloria,” she said quietly, “can you see this?”
“That's...” The blonde paused for a moment, apparently taking in the situation. “That's a lot of red.”
“Think you can hit the guy closest to our boys?”
“With my eyes closed.”
“Flash and clear on my mark,” Imogen responded, procuring a concussive grenade from her belt.
“Don't you think Delta would be a bit pissed about being blinded and deafened?” Elliot asked, furrowing his brow.
“Better to have your ears bleeding from one of these than a bullet in the brain,” she shot back. “Let me know when you're ready, Glory.”
“I was born ready, Momo. Let's do this.”
Tension filled the air as the argument became more heated. Watching Imogen slowly remove the pin from the nonlethal bomb, Elliot tried to control his breathing. The cold knot was quickly forming again in his gut; he knew what he had to do, but he was not looking forward to it. Imogen's gaze met his, and she nodded.
“You take the guys on the left, I got the right. Ok?” She waited for Elliot's silent confirmation before continuing. “Good. Three, two, one....”Imogen tossed the grenade behind her, over the crate into the crowd beyond. Elliot could hear the panicked shouts before he covered his ears, anticipating the blast. It sounded like the world exploded around him. Even though he was prepared for it, Elliot's ears rang slightly.
The world seemed to move in slow motion as adrenaline flowed through his veins. Elliot rolled out from cover and brought up his weapon, aiming towards the closest guard. He felt a pang of guilt as he shot the stumbling man but ignored it, closing in on his next target. Stealing a quick glance towards Delta Team, he saw their captor's head disperse into a pink mist as the anti-tank round from Gloria's rifle impacted it, leaving a crater in the concrete floor below. He snapped between targets quickly, firing two or three rounds into each disabled man, not waiting to watch them crumple to the floor.
Click. His weapon was dry and the two men ahead of him began to regain their footing. Remembering his training sessions with Imogen, he planted his right foot and spun, connecting his left with the face of the closest man. The sickening crack of broken vertebrae reverberated in his skull as he leaped towards the last target, pinning the guard to the ground. Elliot's fist found the soldier's throat hard, collapsing his victim's trachea.
“We're clear over here,” Elliot confirmed, shoving the guard's weapon out of reach. “How'd it go for you?”
The rookie stood up and looked for his partner. Imogen laid there on the ground, clutching at her chest. He could tell that her breathing was labored as Elliot quickly rushed towards her, ignoring the writhing trio by the two crates. He slid into a crouch by her side, setting his empty weapon on the ground and checking her pulse.
“Imogen!” Elliot hissed, moving her arm away from her chest. “Were you hit? Where were you hit?”
“I'm fine,” she wheezed, trying to shove Elliot away. He grabbed her hand and held it still, trying to find the wound.
The young man could clearly see the point of impact. A large portion of Imogen's armor was misshapen under her breast, crumpled inward. Three slugs were embedded in the metal plating beneath the outer fabric. Without thinking, Elliot pried one of them out. The woman beneath him hissed in pain, making him pause.
“You know,” Imogen growled, trying to force her hand be still and not strike the helpful rookie, “if you wanted to cop a feel, you could have just asked.”
The radio hissed to life, Talbot's worried voice replacing the momentary static. “What's happening? Is everything ok?”
“Imogen's been hit,” Elliot returned, trying to keep his voice steady. “I don't think the bullets got through the armor, but she's having problems breathing.”
“I'm fine,” Imogen coughed. “Just have the wind knocked out of me, that's all.”
“On my way,” Talbot returned, ignoring his subordinate. “Gloria, meet up with the van and have them bring it around.”
Elliot continued examining the armor, checking for penetration, while his heart raced. Imogen grabbed his arm firmly, looking him in the eye.
“Rookie,” she said, her breathing starting to come easier, “I am ok. Calm down and help me up.”
Elliot considered this for a moment before nodding hastily and grabbing her arm. With a tug, Imogen was on her feet, clutching at her ribs with her free hand. Once steady on her feet, she gave him a smile and a pat on the shoulder.
“I'm a tough old bitch,” she reasoned. “It'll take more than a few bullets to put me down.”
“Doesn't matter,” Talbot shouted, running towards them from the shadows. “I'm still sending you to medical when we get back to base.”
Imogen grunted in displeasure, but Talbot disregarded her. Instead, he was helping Glenn to his feet, undoing the bindings on the other leader's wrists. Glenn flexed his now free appendages, glaring over at Elliot.
“We're fine too, by the way!” he shouted towards the rookie.
“Be easy on him,” Talbot muttered calmly. “It's the lad's first fight.”
“What about the Chaotics?”
“It's different when you kill men instead of monsters. You know that just as well as I do.”
Elliot helped the other two members of Delta to their feet. “Don't worry,” he jested as he undid Slate's cuffs, “I promise I won't register on the Richter scale.”
Imogen made her way towards the nearest crate, resting her hands on the worn wood. “I wonder what the hell is in these things. There was, like, a full regiment protecting them.”
“That one's open,” Cyclone said. “Take a look and see for yourself.”
Talbot and Elliot lifted the top panel off the container, revealing the contents. The light bounced off the vacuum-wrapped packages within. They could make out the metal objects within the clouded plastic packaging, seemingly attached to slabs of meat. Little lights of varying colors blinked, imbedded in the metal. Talbot placed an ungloved hand on one of the packages. Warm.
“No fucking way,” Imogen gasped, backing away from the crate and covering her mouth. “I can't believe it.”
“What is it?” Elliot asked, looking over the odd cargo. “What the hell am I looking at?”
“Damn,” Talbot muttered. “We need to get these back to base immediately. Zeb's not going to like this....”
Zebediah shuffled through the stack of papers on his desk, taking note of memos that he had sent out. Finally, he came across the one he was looking for: standing orders to find the cause of some brownouts. He checked the signature and it was definitely his, but he could not recall sending the paper to the Command room.
“Something's not right here,” he mumbled to himself.
The phone on his desk rang and he jumped. Zebediah asked his secretary to hold his calls, but it seemed that she had not heeded his wish. Such is life.
“MacPhearson,” he answered lazily, putting the memo down.
“Um, is this Zebediah MacPhearson?”
Zebediah furrowed his brow. “Yes? Who is this?”
“Oh! I'm, um, Destiny Lockhart.”
“Destiny Lockhart, as in...the pop star?”
“That's me!” The answer on the other end of the line was bubbly, and all Zebediah could do was rest his forehead on his free hand.
“How did you get this number?” he asked, his gaze sweeping over the mysterious memo. Something's not right at all...
Elliot was picking up his anti-nausea medication from the LA's Medical Wing when he heard Imogen shout at who he assumed was a careless nurse. He held his lids half open, still exhausted from the sleepless night they just returned from only an hour ago. His stomach problems were beginning to subside, but he asked for the medicine anyway just to be on the safe side.
The young man thanked the pharmacist with slurred speech and turned to head to his quarters before the horrible realization dawned on him: he had no idea where he was going. Elliot grumbled to himself quietly as he took a seat in the waiting area. He quickly decided to use the area for its intended purpose and follow Imogen after the staff was finished with her.
A television mounted in the corner of the room was broadcasting the local news, so Elliot tried to focus on following the story. His eyes grew heavier as the female reporter on the screen began covering Destiny Lockhart's farewell tour. Disinterested, the young man closed his eyes and began to doze.
Elliot awoke with a start, Imogen hunched over his reclining form. He could tell that her chest was still sore from the way her left arm hung at her side.
“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” Imogen wheezed. “Decided to wait for me?”
“And grab a few meds for myself,” the exhausted man replied. “My stomach is still doing back flips.”
“Still messed up from the mission?” Imogen pursed her lips for a moment in sympathy as the young man nodded. “You know, its normal to feel like that after you kill someone for the first time. Just means you're human.”
“Yeah,” Elliot glumly agreed, “it is a bit different when they're not just growling oil slicks with legs.”
“Tends to be.”
On shaky, exhausted legs, Elliot attempted to stretch his back. “Do you ever get used to it? Killing people, I mean?”
Imogen thought over the question carefully before answering. “The brain is a highly adaptable organ, rookie. It can get used to anything. It doesn't mean you'll start to like it, though.”
Elliot shrugged. “Maybe I just need some rest to help me get through this.”
“Considering you fell asleep in the most uncomfortable chair in existence, I agree.”
Imogen smiled and ruffled Elliot's already messy hair. The pair turned to walk out of the Medical Wing, but Imogen stopped without warning. Her younger companion took a few steps forward before he noticed. Turning towards her, he silently pleaded to just continue on in hopes of restful bliss.
“Elliot,” Imogen started, but paused. “Thanks.”
Before Imogen could continue, a buzzing on her hip interrupted the pair. As she checked her phone, Elliot's went off as well, causing the stash of snacks in his pocket to reverberate. He retrieved the device and checked the screen. Talbot. He sighed, cursing his luck.
“Mission?” he asked.
Imogen looked up from her phone with a pained expression. “Mission.”
Continue reading: Special - "Somewhere" by K. B. Cribbett.