As Told by Dakota Sue
The helicopter rocked violently as the purple beam impacted somewhere in the back. I clung to my seat as Q seized the controls from our erstwhile pilot and somehow managed to level us out, although the old whirly-bird registered her feelings about this situation via a great deal of choking and stuttering.
Durance started to fiddle around with one of the machine-gun mounts while muttering under his breath. I considered the wisdom of remaining in the chopper during the forthcoming gunfight and decided the ground below, studded with pine trees, was a far more promising option.
I hesitated just before jumping and glanced at the other members of the crew. “Any volunteers to hit the dirt and see what’s up?”
The blond guy, whose name was so unfortunate that he actually allowed people to call him Finn, hooked an arm around my shoulder. I grabbed Paul before he could protest and the pretty lady, Nat, joined us as we launched from the stricken helicopter with all the grace and panache of an overweight rhinoceros. We hit a pine tree and it bent, creaking, under the weight, my legs absorbing most of the impact, so we wound up on the ground more or less intact, albeit thoroughly covered with sap, pine needles, and bits of bark.
The machine gun stuttered a few times and was quiet; shortly afterward Q piloted the helicopter to a fairly neat landing on the concrete just a few miles distant. Show-off. The rest of us, save Paul, who disappeared almost immediately, were forced to trudge through the woods to meet up with the others again.
So jumping wasn’t really necessary. I maintain that it was the best idea I had at the time. Never mind anyone else’s ideas. I’m not a mind-reader, you know.
By the time we arrived Paul had opened every single one of the crates stacked around the edge of the helipad and scattered what appeared to be a decent amount of equipment around. I noticed a familiar-looking blue handle and retrieved my fire axe from the pile. “So that’s what they did with all of my stuff. I was beginning to wonder.”
“They’ll have seen the helicopter land,” Q remarked. “We need to move.”
“Let’s go. Paul, scout us a path to the building we saw, if you would. Finn can take point, Durance and Q on the flanks, Nat in the center.”
“I’m on it!” the speedster announced and vanished yet again. Finn shrugged his shoulders and began leading the way up the trail, faint metallic noises following him as people checked their gear.
I poked at the little communicator-thing I’d found and nearly dropped it when Paul’s voice came through, loud enough to startle nearby birds into flight.
“Oh for crying out loud. Where is the volume control on this thing?”
Durance took it from me, adjusted it, and stuck it in my ear all in one smooth, practiced motion.
“Let me see . . . alpha, bravo, coca, delta . . .” Finn stopped and gave me a dirty look so I shut up.
“Ah, team, I got trouble,” announced Paul. “Some kind of plant thing tripped me up and now I’m stuck.”
“Figures,” I growled.
“I’m about 2 km ahead of you, I got a woman in a red cloak here . . . ARGH!” There was a brief pause. “I’m taking damage here!”
“So get out of there. I’m moving to intercept, someone else take point,” Finn spat out and began to run. I sprinted after him, catching up after only a few strides.
“Macguire, I don’t think you’re going to get there in time,” I explained as I hurtled past. I wasn’t sure I would, but I could at least try. I poked the communicator until it shut off; when I could hear Paul squawking I jumped up into a tree to survey the situation. I could see two feet and one hand waving furiously from under a mass of vines not far ahead. Nothing else looked immediately threatening, so I jumped down to try and cut him loose. Hack. Hack. Nothing.
“I thought you were stronger than this!”
I was going to make a cutting remark when I noticed a blur detach itself from the rest of the forest; I jumped just as it resolved into a man with long, bladed fingers, who promptly tried to take a chunk out of me. Luckily my bits all seem to like staying attached for now, because they got me out of the way before I really knew what was happening.
I thumbed the comm. switch while pulling my axe out with the other hand. Two other figures had come into view on either side, one a woman wearing a long red cloak, the other a man in a blue outfit who was playing with sparks of brilliant purple energy.
“I’ve got three people here that I can see, one red lady in the trees ahead, a guy in a blue shirt, and this guy”—I swung the axe mightily—“who I’m attempting to hamstring.”
He didn’t quite manage to dodge and went down in a heap, almost on top of Paul. Seconds later I also went down, throwing myself flat to avoid a ball of sparkling white light from the red lady.
“Durance here, I’m leaving Mr. Black to you, since you’re in a friendly-rich environment. Bye-bye, Mr. Blue.”
There was a loud crack but no visible effect on the two inches of dirt that I could see. Shortly thereafter there was a loud scuffling noise from about where I judged the red lady to be; I peeped up cautiously and saw Finn jump to his feet beside her unconscious body. Score one for the good guys. Nat vaulted over me, red streaks of fire flaring from her skin, and assaulted my blade-fingered friend, but he lunged out of her way. Purple energy arced overhead.
I grabbed the wannabe ninja. “Give it up! You’re beat!” He went limp, not resisting, just as Finn fired his shotgun at something in the trees. Nat pointed a finger and there was an explosion of flames. Something fled, yowling, as the man in blue fell to a crackle of automatic gunfire. For a moment there was silence.
“Will someone PLEASE get these things OFF me?!” Paul demanded. “I think our ‘hostage’ situation turned into an ambush.”
“Yeah,” Finn remarked. “You make excellent bait.” Nat made fire and helped Paul out of his confinement while I slapped handcuffs on our prisoner.
Q and Durance joined us, the metal warrior cleaning his rifle while the pilot tapped away at a laptop he must have had in his gear. “We have two targets left, QuickDraw and Agent Alpha, according to this.”
I gaped at him.
“Agent Alpha is a hand-to-hand expert, and QuickDraw is an excellent shot,” Q continued.
“You tell us this now?!”
“Like there was time before?!”
I grimaced. “You have a point.”
“They are probably in the building ahead, waiting for us,” Durance remarked.
“Standing around here only gives them time to regroup,” Finn added.
I shrugged and started marching, taking point myself this time.
“I’ll go to the roof?” Paul asked.
“Might as well.” I said, “be careful this time, though. We’ll join you shortly.”
We hurried, favoring speed over stealth, but I still heard a muffled conversation going on behind me. “I’m feeling inadequate here,” Nat complained.
“You did fine,” came the reply. Sounded like Finn.
“I’m off my game. Can’t be off my game.”
My comm. went off again. “Hey, I found another bad guy. Agent Alpha, I believe.”
I groaned. “Any bets as to whether he’ll actually run away this time?” No one answered, but the entire group began sprinting through the trees. We fetched up on the side of the building.
“Shooters on me!” Q announced. I frowned, then saw the sense of what he was doing as he lifted off the ground carrying Durance with him.
“Melee on me, then, I guess.” Even carrying Finn and Nat I went up the wall like a gecko. We arrived just in time to see Paul get flattened by a man in a black outfit. The three of us barreled into Agent Alpha while Durance and Q traded shots with another guy, presumably QuickDraw. Paul sat up, woozy, obviously trying to decide what to do.
“Go check on the hostages!” I yelled.
“Roger!” He vanished through a trapdoor in the floor.
“I’ve never lost one of these exercises . . . “ Alpha gritted out. “Quickdraw!”
I glanced over just as that notable pulled out a remote and dramatically pushed the button. A blast rocked the building, showering us with junk, but it came from several meters over to the side.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” Q quipped. “You lose, give up.”
He snarled soundlessly for several seconds, then went limp. Gradually we untangled ourselves and climbed to our feet.
“Paul, are you okay? The hostages okay?” I asked the comm. There was a lengthy pause, then I heard an unusual sound; the speedser, breathing hard.
“Yeah, I think we’re okay.”
“Good job, everyone,” I said, nodding. I had to admit I was impressed. Nat echoed my sentiments.
Q pulled out a flare gun and fired it into the air. Very shortly afterwards a few jeeps and sedans pulled up alongside the building. Archer got out and walked towards us. I jumped down and stalked towards him.
“Do we pass or what?” I demanded as soon as I was within speaking distance.
“You succeeded, but I don’t see how you could have managed to be any more sloppy.”
“What do you want? We have no command structure, so we have no idea who’s calling the shots.”
“I thought you were in charge,” Paul commented from right behind me. I turned to look at him while Nat had a brief but intense whispered conversation with Archer.
“And I was, but only so long as you continued to think so.”
Archer cleared his throat loudly. “Now, as I was saying, you lack discipline, teamwork, and some of you seem to have a death wish. However, the other team never made it to their base camp, and Agent Alpha used lethal force against orders. But you still managed to succeed. So, you get the job. Congratulations, Project 615.”
“So who is in charge, then?” I continued, refusing to let the issue die.
“Are you volunteering, Page? Or will you change your name and run off if faced with a little responsibility?”
I glared. I hate government types. Always they try to do research to impress you. And always they get it dead wrong. “Yes, I’m volunteering.”
“Good, because if no one volunteered Powers was going to assign Agent Alpha to this squad.”
Durance shook his head. “I’m going with the lesser evil.”
“Cool!” Paul announced. “Team leader buys!”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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