As Told by Dakota Sue
I rubbed my bruised shoulder and grimaced for probably the seventeenth time as I walked back to my apartment. Just when I started to think I might be improving in practice I followed it up with some damnfool stunt like shooting Durance in the back. Then I got “killed” by our mock opponents. Archer was so furious that he didn’t even bother to chew me out, he just sent me home early. I wasn’t sure which stung worse, the bruises or the humiliation.
I chose an inopportune moment for a dramatic, long-suffering sigh and tripped over a Fedex box someone (probably the Fedex man, but you never know) had dropped carelessly on my front stoop. I staggered off to the side and sat ungracefully on some flowers, mashing them badly. Grumbling under my breath, I picked up the box and read the return address.
“What the heck is Eb doing, sending me packages?” I demanded as I stomped inside and threw the parcel onto my desk. The condo was still almost as bare as when I’d moved in; only the tasteful addition of some undiscarded pizza boxes indicated that someone was actually living in the place. I gathered them up and tossed them in the dumpster. Good riddance.
Destructive urge assuaged, I ripped open the Fedex package and dumped the contents on my desk; a short stack of manila file folders. “Natalia Stewart,” I read aloud, then my brain caught up with events and I realized what this must be. I considered for a moment how best to tackle the surprisingly large mass of information and decided that pizza was definitely in order. Shortly thereafter I was ensconced in my comfy chair with my favorite junk food, browsingthrough the peculiar lives of my newfound comrades.
Reading someone’s personal history can give you a really skewed perspective. You lose any ability to differentiate between what they’ve done and what happened to them. I caught myself beginning to wonder whether I’d make it out of practice alive with these psychos guarding my back and forcibly put an end to that train of thought by throwing the files across the room.
“All right, Sue, now you know where they come from, you’ve seen enough. So what do you do? Let’s assume for five minutes that Archer knows what he’s doing . . .” I snorted. “Okay, okay, never mind that, let’s remember that you’re not exactly helpless, eh? You’ve been living with supers and crazier people since the day you were born.” I got up and paced around the living room a few times.
“What you really have here is a bunch of confused people that don’t know what they’re doing in life and have nowhere to go. They’re outcasts, useless, surplus to requirements.” I frowned. “If I were the suspicious type, and I am, I’d almost think that someone wanted this project to fail.”
At that, I began to smile. Grin, actually. With lots of teeth.
Even with that new incentive, making it through the remainder of training was no party. The final mission was plagued by communication foul-ups. That, and I stretched our resources too thin, trying to cover too many options at once. If Paul hadn’t stumbled on the guy we were chasing and gotten Durance to plug him, I think we’d still be looking for him. One of these days I’m going to have to learn not to fly by the seat of my pants.
I waved to Finn in the parking lot as I headed home, a real AEGIS agent at last, for all the good it did me. In the mood for some company, I stopped by the Sentry Statue in the park and looked up at Centurion’s bland face. I was disgruntled to find that someone had beaten me to it. I was about to leave when something about him jogged my memory.
“Funny how people just walk by it without noticing,” I addressed him.
He glanced over at me, “It don’t mean the same thing to folks that it did just a few years back,” he said. His Irish accent was pronounced. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Lots of people have accents. Some are even authentic.
“Commemorating an event is not the same thing as remembering it,” I remarked, sticking out my hand. “I’m Susan.”
He shook my hand perfunctorily. His fingers were thick and gnarled, heavily calloused. “Call me Mick. Most of you Yanks do.”
“Well, if you ask us to, you can hardly complain, hey? You remind me of someone.”
“Heh, I get that a lot.”
“I just got here a couple of weeks ago, so I still find the place surprising.”
“It’s a nice town, and it ain’t ever dull.”
I chuckled. “Nice to meet you, Mick.”
“Take care, lass.” He gave the base of the statue a friendly slap and wandered away. My phone started to beep.
“Time for you to earn that paycheck, soldier.” It was Archer, curse him. I hadn’t even had dinner yet.
“Is there a better time?” I sighed in resignation and headed in.
Archer was waiting for us in the conference room. I peeked in and saw him standing beside the podium wearing an even more dubious expression than usual while Paul fiddled with some presentation software, trying to get it to work. I grabbed my uniform off the shelf, Paul’s complaint trailing after me to the locker room: “PowerPoint? Where did you find this antique piece of junk?”
By the time everyone had assembled they’d apparently managed to propitiate the computer spirit, because some building blueprints were splashed over one wall. “Approximately fifty minutes ago a metahuman-led group infiltrated the German Embassy. It being after business hours, the building was mostly empty, but reconnaissance indicates they’ve gathered the remaining civilians on the sixth floor, where they’ve been holed up since then. They have refused any attempts at communications, so it is not entirely clear what they’ve done with the civilians. We can only assume that they are being held hostage.”
“They haven’t even given demands?” Durance asked.
“Frankly, we have no idea what they’re after.”
“What about their equipment?” Finn continued.
“AK-47’s and a few MP-5 submachine guns, from what we can tell. They appear to be lightly armed. SWAT has only positively identified two metahumans, one very hairy, the other an over-muscled brute. That’s all we’ve got; I suggest you get going.”
I stood. “Yeah, let’s go.”
We piled into an unmarked black van, the preferred transportation of secret government agencies for longer than I’ve been alive. I’m still not entirely sure why; we probably could have walked the six blocks in less time than it took us to make it through traffic. SWAT had blocked off the area around the Embassy, bringing the city streets to a grinding halt.
I was prepared for a lengthy argument, but we were waved through without any fuss whatsoever and pointed to the overall operation commander.
“Any new developments?” I asked him while my crewmembers pulled their gear out of the van.
“We’re about to launch an assault.”
“Could you hold off on that for maybe twenty minutes?”
“You’re our metahuman support?”
“I suppose you could say that.”
“Fine, twenty minutes. You can access the building through the underground parking lot, over there,” he nodded off towards the side. “My men are already in position at the stairwell.”
“Do you have a comm. frequency we can use?”
He handed me a walkie-talkie. “Just use that if you need us for anything, although I can’t imagine why you should.” He scowled abruptly. “Go in, do your job, and don’t get any of my people killed while you’re at it.”
Finn hooked his comm. over his ear and headed into the building, effectively ending the conversation. The rest of us formed up behind him and followed. We passed two SWAT teams; they watched us go by in silence. Finn pushed open a fire door and peered up the main stairwell, then glanced over at the elevators.
“Which? A couple of us can try the shafts while the rest test the stairs,” he offered.
I considered. “I’m thinking that you can take the stairs with Durance. Q, Paul and I can go up the elevator shaft.”
He nodded. “You want us to wait at the top or what?”
“Go ahead.” I pushed on the doors of the nearest elevator until they opened, revealing a dark empty shaft beyond. Q stepped in and silently floated upwards while I padded along the wall, Paul in tow. I paused on the fourth floor and gestured to Q.
“The plan indicated that there’s a second set of elevators across the way, you take those.” He nodded and gestured; the doors opened silently and he ghosted away down the hall. I waited for a few seconds at the sixth floor exit, then murmured into my comm., “Everyone ready?” I heard either static or faint assent. I wasn’t sure which. My palms were sweating uncomfortably. “Move in, drop the first person you see. Finn, Durance, you’ve got the North end, Q, you’ve got West and South, Paul and I will take East and south.”
I wrenched the doors out of the way and Paul burst through them like a cannon-shot, the blast of his passage nearly knocking me off the wall. There were two gunman in front of me, one now sprawled on the ground; the other one got my shoulder in the gut and joined his companion.
Everything got very quiet. I peeped up over the cubicle wall to see Q disarming two terrorists that appeared to be stuck to the ground. He grinned at me. “Gravity.”
“Just a sec . . .” he finished immobilizing the second guard and there was a faint collective sigh of relief from the huddled office workers. I surveyed the rest of the office. I could see Finn and Durance at the stairwell entrance, but nothing else moving. I could hear something, though.
“Someone’s working in the NW corner office. Paul, check the offices on the south end really quick, make sure no one’s down there.” Finn jerked his head towards the northwest corner, I nodded and he stalked that direction, Durance following and covering his back. It was nice to see them working together so efficiently.
“There’s some sort of activity in the central conference room here,” Paul informed me. I worked my way down the hall and joined him at the door while went the other way, checking the rooms as he went.
There wasn’t much time for strategizing, so I went for something simple; I booted the door. A horrendously hairy man snarled at me, leaping up from the woman he’d been abusing. I pulled out my fire axe and let him have the blade in his neck. A bright cascade of metal stars flew around me and dropped another gunman before he could fire, then everything was still once again.
“Finn, you and Durance take that office!” I told them, just as Q came over the comm. “Well, shit,” he announced informatively. Paul vanished, I ran as fast as I could. I had just rounded the corner when Q came flying out through the wall, slamming into the floor. Presumably he was still alive; certainly he was still squirming and swearing, so I dodged around him. The world came down on me, a crushing weight beyond what any human had ever been built to take.
Luckily, I’m not, quite, human. Momentum carried me forward into Q’s massive assailant, seven feet tall if he was an inch, maybe five hundred pounds and all of it muscle. Q’s warped physics didn’t appear to have slowed him a bit. I ducked my head and plowed into him like a locomotive.
A gun went off somewhere as I tried to shake off the daze of hitting that brute while straining against far too many G’s. He didn’t appear to be moving, and neither were the more ordinary gunmen sprawled around the place. Funny, this looked to be the ladies’ room.
“That’s it,” Durance announced. “We’re secure.”
I staggered out into the hall and almost fainted when gravity snapped back to normal again. I thumbed the switch on the SWAT radio. “We’re clear, you can come up!” I flicked it off again. “Good job, everyone. Q, are you much hurt?”
“Pride yeah, skin no. First real hand-to-hand with another meta.”
“He was a big guy, that’s for sure. All right, crew, off we go.”
The SWAT commander looked over at me as we trooped past him and out of the building. “Thanks for the assist.”
Durance leaned over my shoulder. “Their leader was a cyborg, working on the computer in the office. He’d pulled up a list of German adoptions in the area.”
“Don’t look at me. I tried to get a copy but someone had to call SWAT in so there wasn’t time.”
“Damn,” I muttered.
“Oh, I got it,” Paul chimed in helpfully.
“You what?” I asked.
“I have perfect recall, and I read really fast. You know,” he continued, bouncing to a new subject, “those hostages looked sort of squashed.”
Q shrugged. “Better than being shot.”
Finn frowned at us in silence.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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