As Told by Dakota Sue
“Do you think you want to go back there tomorrow?” I asked Todd as we trooped up the stairs to my apartment. He shrugged informatively and ran into my leg as I came to a sudden stop.
The door to my apartment was open.
With more fury than good sense I stormed up the remaining stairs and burst in to find Finn, Nat, and Q going through my belongings. “What the”—I began, then swallowed a scathing curse and turned it into—“the heck is going on here?!”
Finn look absolutely mortified. “Um . . . surprise . . .?”
Nat cocked her head to the side and looked at Todd, who inched backwards. “Yes, Sue, what is going on here, hmm?”
“I had a personal situation come up and I needed some time to deal with it! What the heck are you doing here?” Okay, so it was repetitive, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood for witty repartee. Q grinned at me helpfully.
“Looking for you,” Nat insisted. “Who’s the kid?”
“This is Todd.”
“Hello, Todd. Is he yours?” she asked sweetly.
I snorted. “Not hardly. I’m his legal guardian now.” Paul came wandering out of the bedroom. Were all of them in on this?
“Well, that explains that,” Finn announced desperately, scooting around me in a bid to get out the door. I snagged his sleeve.
“Wait a few minutes while I get him set up with the baby sitter, then I’ll join you, all right?”
“So why are you his guardian?” Paul interrupted.
Finn shrugged. “Hey, we were just worried. We’ll be outside, come down when you’re ready.”
I was shocked; largely because I believed him, so I squelched my temper a bit. “I’m not mad, just startled,” I said.
Nat and Q followed him down the stairs. Paul paused and regarded Todd for a moment. “High five, little dude!”
Todd gave me a questioning look. I demonstrated by slapping Paul’s outstretched palm lightly. “Like that.” The three-year-old pulled his thumb out of his mouth and gave Paul a slimy pat. Paul turned his palm over and stared at it in disgust. I couldn’t help but laugh at him.
Natori bounced up the stairs at that point and I handed her Todd and my keys, returning to street level to rejoin the others. As I exited the stairwell I heard Finn talking quietly.
“This is why I hate teams. You never know what to expect from people.”
I coughed awkwardly. “Sorry about that, guys.”
Finn shrugged again. “You’re the boss.”
“So what else is new?”
“Someone stole our cyborg friend’s head.”
“No, the one we captured. Someone broke into the prison last night and stole his head, there were no witnesses.”
“Just his head?”
“And all the information stored inside.”
“That’s disgusting. Do we have any idea who it was?”
“Not so far.”
“What were you doing last night, Sue?” Nat queried. I blinked. She couldn’t seriously be thinking that I was a suspect?
Well possibly she could. “I was trying to get Todd situated. I wasn’t exactly planning on suddenly acquiring a child. So where is Durance?”
“Getting a new eye.”
Paul chuckled. “Heh, that sounds funny but it’s true.”
“All right, all right, let’s go back to AEGIS so that Archer can yell at me and we can pick up Durance.”
The old man was thoroughly irate. Nat seemed inclined to stick around and watch the fireworks, but Finn shooed everyone out the door and left us alone. I straightened my spine and returned Archer’s glare with one of my own.
“I have seen some feckless irresponsibility in my day but this . . .”
“Whoa, whoa, excuse me? Irresponsible? Irresponsible?! I called you. I told you I’d be out. It’s not like I vanished off the face of the earth.”
His face went red and then began to break out in blotches; his voice, on the other hand, went very calm and even. “You turned off your cell phone. We couldn’t reach you.”
“Yeah, and?! All of the sudden you can’t handle things without me for one day? Oh wait! I leave for a few hours and the next thing I know my crew mates are breaking into my apartment! Well if this is how you run things without me no wonder you’re so upset!” I began to wonder, idly, whether I’d get to see someone have an apoplectic fit for the first time as Archer’s left eyelid started to twitch. He abruptly slammed his fist into his desk, startling himself more than me, I think.
“You are a soldier! You follow orders! Which doesn’t include taking a day off whenever you happen to feel like it!”
I drew myself up to my full height and glared down at him. “A soldier? I don’t remember signing any paperwork or taking any oaths. I didn’t volunteer for the military and as far as I’m concerned, that means I’m still a civilian.”
“Really? Well this is a secure facility, so I’ll have you escorted out.” He raised his hand to call security and I took a threatening step forward. Archer jumped, startled, and took an involuntary step backwards; I snagged his chair with my foot so he ended up sitting down rather abruptly.
“Listen here, boyo, and I’ll explain some of the facts of life to you,” I snarled. “We’re in a hideously unstable position with this ‘we don’t exist’ crap. We have to rely on ourselves and be self-sufficient, which means we can’t be running around after orders like a flock of chickens. You have to trust us to handle ourselves, which means sucking it up if you don’t know where we are every damn minute! This is my team and I’m running things my way.”
Archer started laughing; he laughed so hard that he had to put his head down on his desk for a moment to regain his composure. Finally, he sat back up and adjusted his tie. “Did they really break into your apartment?”
Well, there went all of my aplomb. “Yes,” I replied sullenly.
“What esprit de corps you all have. I think you are crazy.”
“So am I fired or what?”
“Don’t be absurd, we can’t fire you.”
I bristled. “So you were just giving me a hard time? Nice. I’ll remember that on boss’s day.”
He chuckled some more. “Oh, get out of here so I can get some work done.” I stormed out. I was beginning to get a sneaking suspicion that Archer was smarter than me and I didn’t like it one bit.
Our next call was almost a week later . . . at six in the morning. I left Todd in bed and phoned Natori while I walked to headquarters, trying not to trip over something in the dark and kill myself. Luckily traffic was light that early in the morning.
Archer looked pretty tired, himself. “We’ve got two situations developing, here. The AEGIS computer system is currently sustaining a massive network attack. Also, several experimental assault helicopters have taken off from Lonely Point naval base and are making straight for downtown.”
“What sort of experimental?” Durance asked.
“Remote flight network. We believe that, although there are six helicopters, there is only one pilot.”
“So, what, we take over the helicopters individually?” I asked.
“That sounds reasonable,” Archer nodded. “Q’s the only one that can fly, though.”
“I’ve done one or two flight ops,” Durance offered.
“We need to get moving, they’re only getting closer while we sit here and debate this,” Finn urged.
“Paul, you head downtown and report on the situation,” I said.
“I’ll see you there!” he said and vanished in a blur of speed.
“I can try to stop the hacker, but I need to go now,” Nat announced.
“Sounds good, unless you really want to come with us.” She shook her head. “Come on guys, let’s get moving.
Q, Finn, and Durance grabbed their gear and followed me out to the van, but Q paused just as we were about to load in.
“I can fly faster than that thing if you can hold on,” Q announced.
“Can you carry all three of us?” Finn asked.
“I think so.” A few seconds later we were airborne and closing in on the helicopter formation. I squinted, trying to determine which one held the pilot, and saw one of the big heavy monsters veer off slightly. Bingo. Q turned sharply as machine-gun fire erupted, aimed at the plaza below.
“Guys, this could get bad!” Paul yelled. There was a flicker as high-velocity throwing stars impacted on the belly of one chopper, improbably tearing a hole and causing it to lose altitude.
“Q, that one!” I yelled, pointing. He changed direction slightly and I jumped, landing easily on the door. I heard gunfire behind me but shut it out, trying to concentrate on the task at hand. I walked around the pitching gunship to the door and casually punched it in.
The pilot was wired into some kind of HUD, slumped over with drool seeping from the corner of his mouth. I thought for a few seconds and then just pulled the helmet off. Immediately the ship began to buck and rock erratically, spinning in air as though no one was at the controls, because, well, no one was.
“Hey, guys, I got our hacker. I’m uploading a virus to him now,” Nat chirped.
“Nice work, Nat, we’ll try to cover our end out here,” Finn returned.
I considered the ground below, grabbed the pilot, and jumped. I would just have to hope that the tumbling ship didn’t land on anyone. Falling, I could see that the other ships were either descending or already on the ground.
The primary ship slewed in a breeze and plummeted like a rock, below, I saw Q holding out his hands and concentrating. The air rippled with the strange energy he directed and the chopper came abruptly to a stop about ten feet off the ground. Grimacing, Q shifted it to the side and dropped it safely.
“Whew,” I remarked. “Everyone okay?”
Finn came jogging up, followed by Durance. “It looks like everyone is still in one piece. Where’s Paul?”
“Paul?” I said into the comm..
“I’m okay, just getting some medical attention.”
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