For those of you that have never been drugged, or forcibly abducted… it sucks. Imagine a really bad hangover, you wake up, usually half naked or in unfamiliar clothes, leading to the first questions “where the hell am I?” and “did anybody rape me?” Look around long enough and you might find the answer to one of those questions. Believe me when I say no amount of coaxing will convince you of the other in a good way.
In my case I scared the hell out of my abductors, mostly because my increased metabolism processed the dose faster than my intended target would have. It was a short scene, barely long enough to remember.
My eyes were too heavy to open but I did groan, because my head hurt, but I could feel that my center of gravity was hoisted up, I had my ass in the air with a fulcrum pressing to my junk… somebody was carrying me rather haphazardly over their shoulder. My mind focused fast enough to remember that Raynes and Parsons had drugged me. While that might concern most people, I actually took a bit of solace in the thought, hopefully it would be harder for them to figure out where I was than it was for me. Plus it is a major ego boost, if they didn’t think I was useful they’d have just killed me. Finally, I had to assign bonus points for me not being dead. Now I just had to focus my shit, get my head together, and figure out where I was, where they were taking me, why, and if I wanted them to get me there… all without arousing suspicions. I’m a master at my work, so playing dead, or at least unconscious is a freaking walk in the park.
“He’s waking up, get me a bigger dose or something else,” Raynes mentioned to Parsons. Fuck, that plan was shot to hell before it even started to take shape. A moment later I felt something jabbing me in the ass, before I went out I had time for one last thought “at least it’s not raping me… yet.” ~
I woke up when somebody hit me in the throat. “I said wake up God dammit!” I heard them shout as I rolled over, choking. I rolled off whatever they’d laid me down on and hit the ground hard.
“What… the fuck?” I managed to sputter out between gasps of air.
“Mornin’ sweetheart,” Raynes said as he crouched down beside me, he had a smirk on his face and he was all alone. This fucker’d hit me when I was unconscious.
“What the fuck are trying to pull,” I tried to tell him, but it came out as a raspy, hoarse whisper.
“Hey, shut the hell up and get dressed. The rest of us are waiting to meet ya in the other room,” he told me before he turned to walk out. I didn’t realize before that I was naked. New questions begin swimming in my mind, like ‘why the hell was I naked, and what did he do with me while I was out?’
I dressed quickly, in an outfit that was prearranged for me it would seem. Loose fitting, allowing free movement without my clothes getting in my way, long sleeves and full length pants with pockets, plenty of space for hiding things, the colors were light, soft, unobtrusive, the look was relaxed yet groomed, and targeted. The type of clothes they teach spies to wear on undercover operations. These clothes would make me memorable and recognizable when one looked at me, yet immediately I would become immemorable and inconsequential when they turned away, as you probably assumed that isn’t an easy task. Looked like I was there to work… wherever there was.
After I was dressed I followed him into the next room. It was overwhelming at first, not a large room, but busy. Raynes and Parsons sat together as they looked over two separate data pads I assumed were linked together as they looked over something.
“The timetable on this one is awfully tight, Russell. I know you’re anxious, but you’re taking a lot at face value here, which isn’t like you at all, have you thought this through?” Parsons was asking him. She sounded more like she was playing devil’s advocate than that she was trying to convince him.
“What am I taking at face value?” he asked as he turned back to her.
“King’s abilities for one, how do you know that he’s all that skilled?” she asked him.
“He survived the purge,” he shrugged.
“He was lucky, he told you himself,” she replied.
“And what was his luck if not a tool of destiny. Think about it, out of all the things that could have happened that didn’t, that could not have happened that did, this solution was the only way that ended with a survivor. Think about it, he spotted somebody else that got sloppy, then he was put on his guard and saw somebody else jumping the gun, then to cap it all off he got held up by another person too incompetent to out maneuver somebody they were holding at gunpoint,” Raynes answered her.
“A long chain of coincidences, since when do you truly believe in fate?” she asked him.
“Fate I’ve always believed in, it’s coincidence I have trouble with. I believe he was trained better than the others, or that his training held better than the others, if any one of them had been as prepared as he is, they’d be standing here now, but they weren’t, and since the wraith program started, he’s only the second person to EVER make it out alive, not as impressive as myself I’ll grant you, but the foundation is there, it’s up to us to build on it,” Raynes argued with her. At this point all I understood is that they were talking about me, and hiding a great deal of what they meant.
“And his good fortune is the only redeeming feature?” she asked suddenly. Now she sounded like she might just be starting to believe her own arguments.
“You say it was his fortune, and for the missile strike I’ll grant you that luck played a major part, but what about after? He was in the middle of a containment zone in Clete, he evaded it, went to his safehouse, killed at least one person and blended in for ten blocks, all while being seriously wounded. Once there he formulated a plan for escape, managed to obtain a considerable amount of intel and then set out to find me. His investigations of me found you, whom he nearly managed to abduct, save for YOUR good fortune to have been meeting me, about HIM. Only two times after the missile strike did luck play a part, and neither of those involved his own luck,” Russell countered her. “Again, I’m asking you, ‘what is fate if not the convergence of fortune and skill?’,” Raynes pressed her.
She sat there for a time as if thinking it over, but whatever protestations she had were quickly quelled as I approached. “King, I see you’re awake,” she said civilly. I suppose I was expected to ignore that I’d just heard their disagreement, I figured I’d let this conversation play out.
“How long was I out?” I asked her.
“Drugged for about two hours, then we had to put you on ice for a few days, glad you thawed out in time,” Raynes told me.
“In time for what exactly?” I asked him pointedly.
“I won’t lie to you, we have an operation that needs your… personal expertise,” Parsons told me.
“Pfft. First rule of lying, make it believable, he knows we don’t know his MOS, at least not his real MOS. The boys in the program aren’t all that bright sometimes when they coble this stuff together. They made him a carbon copy of me... on paper at least. I’ve known every worthwhile sniper from section 7, and if you weren’t from 7 and I haven’t heard of you, you’re not a sniper… least not from Clete,” Raynes told me. They were probing me, he was using a very direct approach, he was short on time for something.
Section 7 is the Ranger section in charge of arctic warfare, it takes a special bunch of shit to handle the cold, especially in terms of guns. Most wraith snipers are from 7 because of it, you can train an arctic sniper to shoot in any conditions, but you can’t always train any sniper to shoot in the arctic. It’s about learning how to make your shots in the blinding snow and howling wind, how to keep the action from icing over in the cold, and how to keep the barrel from exploding during a shot after the frigid temperatures make it especially brittle. I hated my time in section 7, most wraiths do, but the arctic has some of the most extreme conditions we can learn to fight in.
It’s a personal habit of mine not to give too much away to people, so I didn’t much feel like answering Raynes directly. Instead he began looking at me closely. “ Stop me when I’m wrong. Your fur is lightly colored, and a little bit thinner than one would expect from a stoat, that with the dry skin evidenced by constant scratching leads me to believe it was someplace arid, more than likely desert. You scan the area immediately around you rather regularly, suggesting that you are used to ambushes, makes me think of urban warfare, not exactly a stretch considering how closely resources are guarded in a hostile environment, most fighting will be close to an oasis, and most oases are close to cities. Even for a spy you are very alert in your surveillance, you watch for all the earmarks that everything is not as it seems, not the big signs anybody could spot, but smaller things. Then there’s the look in your eyes, a hard look, suffering was involved, but not the kind where you strangled a puppy to save it from torture, the helpless kind. Not a suffering born of failure or false helplessness. Your suffering is born of true helplessness, you weren’t helpless because you didn’t act, but because you couldn’t. The sort of suffering a person experiences when they’ve seen men, usually good men, probably friends, maybe even a partner killed, despite doing everything right. You’ve come to terms with it. The way you survey things ties into that… innocuous things killed them, little things, things they didn’t see, things you didn’t see, that should have told them it was going to happen. Assuming all of my premises are correct… you’re an EOD tech,” he outlined it for me.
“Section 4,” I started to say. Section 4 is desert warfare. “Division C,” I continued. Division C of section 4 is stationed out of Arzhad, a city along the southeastern part of our border with Celestia, right in the middle of the desert, the designated DMZ between Clete and Celestia, a war zone, where minor skirmishes and engagements are known to break out, usually started by guerilla fighters or insurgents ambushing enemy troops. “Squad 12,” I finished it. Squad 12, Division C, Section 4… Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
“89 is tough. I don’t envy what your service must have been like. As a sniper, you could tell when one of your own was going to die… they made a mistake or got careless. Not like a EOD tech, where most who enter as a conscript won’t live to see the end of their two years. You never know when an 89 is going to punch out early,” Raynes told me. He didn’t have that usual condescending smirk on his face, even when he’d praised me in private before, he’d seemed smug. Now he was reverent… he respected bomb technicians, he’d probably lost a close friend as one.
“What are you saying?” Parsons asked him.
“He’s saying two years is a long time when you’re MOS starts out 89. Most of us don’t make it out of the gate,” I told her.
“The gate is the first year; the ‘gateway’ when most conscripts decide to either finish out their hitch and move on, or if they’re in it for life. 89 is somewhat unique, it’s the only support role with such a high turnover rate… hell, its one of the only roles period with stats that high. In Clete, they’re stretched so thin, every squad has an EOD tech, but not every tech has a squad… one guy might be working EOD for five or six different squads, and a tech is never off duty as long as they’re still active, at best they’re on call. They get woken up at all hours of the night, drink enough caffeine to give a chipmunk the jitters, then they’re expected to remain still and calm enough to work on some of the most lethal and delicate equipment in the service. Between the wraiths, the rangers, and the corps, I served fifteen years, my hardest year wasn’t as stressful as his easiest. You wanted to know the surest measure of his skills, then you can skip all the commendations, he served ten years as an EOD tech. I’ll bet you a thousand to one he’s the only career 89 within three years of his graduation that’s still alive,” Raynes tried to lay it out for Parsons.
“Support role, you mean he isn’t battle tested?” Parsons asked us with a somewhat concerned look on her face.
“I’m from Clete,” I answered her plainly. She didn’t seem to understand.
“Every marine is a rifleman. Every Ranger is an exemplary marine. Every WRAITH is a paragon among Rangers. You don’t get into the program without extensive vetting and backing, not to mention a handful of kills under your belt. I said you could skip the commendations, not forget them,” Raynes explained it to her.
“Why would the commendations be real if the service record isn’t?” she asked us.
“The reason for the medals might be false, but they’re presentation is public,” I told her, again she just looked confused.
“People saw them getting pinned on him,” Raynes told her with a roll of his eyes.
“You said you had an op that you needed my help for?” I asked them.
“It’s a bit of a delicate situation really. A member of the Alliance’s staff has been abducted lately, he was handling a deal with the Hounds when they decided to grab him instead, now they’re trying to use him as leverage. Even under normal circumstances the Alliance doesn’t negotiate, but this is one of those things they really can’t afford to been seen tied to,” Parsons told me.
“Why can’t they be tied to it?” I asked her.
“Because the one they kidnapped was an Alliance agent, he was spying on the Hounds. A few weeks ago Alliance headquarters was running some backdoor programs to take a peek inside the Hounds databases where they found a recording of an alliance agent killing the leader of Celestine dissonant group,” Parsons said.
“So… the Alliance doesn’t want to be seen as tied to a political assassination?” I tried to piece together what they weren’t saying.
“No, the man they killed was a member of the Celestine royal court. A powerful lord who continued to speak out against what he considered the weakness of adhering to strict Alliance rules, he was trying to rally support from the common people to incite change in the High Command of the Alliance via a coup. He was stating that with a concentrated military strike that Celestia could ultimately batter the Alliance into capitulation, ultimately giving Celestia control over the Alliance...,” Parsons started to reason it out for me.
“And people were just LETTING him say this?” I asked her.
“He wasn’t exactly saying it aloud, he was holding rallies and such for a stronger Celestia, for greater involvement in the Alliance, we only uncovered his intentions when we began investigating him,” Parsons explained.
“Why were you investigating him?” I pressed.
“Because the Alliance gets a little curious when a person who was entirely against his nations membership has suddenly become such a supporter. They welcome true support, but not blindly, they looked into him,” Raynes told me.
“Which means they were spying on him, probably uncovered his intentions in a private letter to a member of the Celestine High Council, which would be encrypted in some way, the decryption to which I highly doubt you had just lying around,” I told them.
“He sent it to ANOTHER member of the High Council, another one of the holdouts against the Alliance, it was meant to persuade him, which it did, and it set things in motion. The High Council was supposed to have a secret meeting later this week to discuss the possibility of sending sleeper agents to work for the Alliance,” Parsons responded.
“So… is this about how you got the letter then or how you decoded?” I asked her.
“Neither, the persuaded lord informed his son, who has startlingly different views on the Alliance, who then informed us. We sent an agent into neutralize this threat under the guise of the persuaded lords men,” Parsons finished her narration.
“So why does the recording matter if it looks like the job was done by a member of another lords men?” I asked them.
“Because, he was wearing another lord’s colors and managed to avoid being seen by the guards, but the face was widely recognizable as an agent of the Alliance,” she explained.
“So the Alliance can’t stand the embarrassment of being seen doing this?” I was thoroughly lost now.
“That is part of the reason…,” Parsons started.
“It was MY face. The Alliance isn’t as much afraid of somebody seeing me, they can claim plausible deniability after all, I wasn’t one of theirs, I’ve gone rogue in the past it must have happened again, but-,” he started.
“But you’re from Clete, and the Alliance is worried that if a former-Cletian agent is seen assassinating a member of the Celestine High Council that the people of Celestia will attempt another invasion of Clete, the first one was a bloody affair, this one would test the bonds of countries to one another… it would rip the Alliance in two, not to mention start one hell of a war,” I finished it for him.
“They’ve run every conceivable scenario and the way it plays out, Clete is owed a lot of favors from a lot of people, but Celestia wields their supposed moral authority over enough that some nations will rally behind them, especially if they view Clete as the aggressor. Clete might say that I’m a rogue agent, but Celestia will answer by saying that they programmed me to hate Celestines, that my attack was a direct cause of their conditioning. The end result is the same… everybody dies,” Raynes said gravely.
“How long has the agent been in their custody?” I asked him shortly.
“Two days,” Raynes answered.
“Two days? You abducted me before that you said… why the hell did you abduct me?” I asked him irritably.
“Because I knew I might have a use for you at some point… didn’t expect it to be so soon though,” he answered.
“Two days, they haven’t gotten to the tough part of interrogation yet. I mean they’ve grilled him pretty hard, told him what he’s in for… maybe even started pulling fingernails, but his training should stand up to all of that. Why all the alarms, why bring me in the early in the game?” I asked him.
“He doesn’t have any training,” Parsons answered. And there it was. Stewing underneath all this tension was a bomb like that.
“What the hell were you thinking sending an untrained agent into the field for something like this?” I asked Raynes in a severe tone.
“We didn’t have time to line it all up like they like to in Clete, the Hounds sent messengers to each and every major player in the world that they were going to be auctioning something huge off. They gave us twelve hours to get somebody on the inside. We knew they had a tech spot and we had a man who was vetted out the ass. He’s an agent-in-training with the technical knowhow to infiltrate them undetected, crack their security and grab the file we needed. We were in a hurry, and he was eager to prove himself,” Parsons answered me.
“Something? So you don’t even know if this is it?” I asked them.
“It wasn’t, we just assumed this was it, instead they had the launch code to a now defunct Therian nuclear missile, but our interest got them digging, and eventually they found what they had, now they’re working on decrypting it, evidently they caught our man in the process of extracting it, and to buy some time he instead re-encrypted it,” Parsons told me.
“If this guy dies, it’s on the Alliance,” I told Parsons as I jabbed a finger in her direction.
“No… it’s on me,” Raynes said as he remained seated. “This whole fucking mess is on me if this goes south.”
“You’re burned, so you can’t go in obviously, do you have any agents to accompany me on this?” I asked him.
“We have another agent on site already, she’s inside and waiting for word from us to proceed,” Parsons said, Raynes seemed to be retreating inside himself as we spoke.
“Alright… let me know what I’m getting into,” I said with a resigned sigh.
“They haven’t cracked it yet, but they’re going to hold the auction in a few hours. We pissed them off, but we still have money, so you’ll go representing the Alliance… or representing a friend of a friend of a friend… you’re technically the Assistant Vice President of one of our dummy operations. The agent inside was sent to act as your bodyguard, she’s waiting there with the cover that she was added to your security detail last minute, she arrived from Celestia while your connecting flight out of Haven was delayed. She has the tactical ability to assist on this mission, but Raynes didn’t trust her with the finer details of the operation… he didn’t want to give her the lead of the infiltration crew,” Parsons laid it all on the table for me.
“Why don’t you trust her to lead?” I asked him.
“I don’t know anything about her training or her loyalties. She was a bounty hunter or a mercenary or something like that with a… intersecting interest in our case, somebody she’s supposed to capture or kill is going to be there, and to complicate things a bit more, she trained briefly with a Hound, or she fell in love with one or some other nonsense like that. Long story short, I’m not sure she can do the job, and if she can, I’m not sure I can trust her,” Raynes explained in a disinterested tone.
“So let me get this straight, you don’t know how competent she is, or how loyal, so naturally you’re sticking me with her as my only backup?” I asked them.
“Only for the first phase. Once things start to calm down I want you to excuse yourselves for something, you’ll come up with something. Then you have to slip past the guards, again how you do it is up to you, and then you’ll take out the power, once again, up to you. After that you just have to find a way to make an entrance for us, that’s up to you too, and I’ll come in with a tac team to help get our guy clear,” Raynes finished explaining the plan.
“Wow… you’re leaving a lot of options up to me. Also, you left out the part about how I get armed and armored for when the shooting starts,” I pointed out.
“Well… that’s up to you,” Raynes told me with a smirk.
“So, to be clear… you’re not sending me in there with much. I have some sketchy instructions, a fellow agent who I may or may not be able to trust, who may or may not live up to that trust should I choose to give it to her, no weapons, and no armor… did I miss anything?” I asked them.
“Only the part where you’ll be surrounded by some of the most notorious thugs, gangsters, and just general scum the world over; who will have guards that are more than likely dressed to the nines and armed to the teeth, and will probably put up some heavy resistance once the tac team arrives,” Raynes shrugged.
“But don’t worry. I’ll be in your ear the whole time, we have a pretty detailed building layout that you can look over, and a brief list of the players for you to look over,” Parsons chimed in.
“Great… when do I start?” I asked with a resigned sigh.
“You just did. Get to work, study up and have a plan put together in four hours, you’re going in tonight, you’ve got an auction tomorrow,” Parsons said formally, she was trying to dismiss me, but she wasn’t a soldier.
“If it makes you feel any better; nobody raped you,” Raynes said with a grin as he headed toward the hall.
“It doesn’t… because I don’t believe that!” I called after him.
“I know,” he shouted over his shoulder. Even with his back turned I could tell he was smiling.