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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 20: Brown 105
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Previous chapter: Chapter 19: Slade 98
Derek did not have long to consider his newly-realized loneliness. He was enjoying a leisurely if lonely brunch of instant oatmeal and toaster pastries late the next morning when C called. He was needed, and would be picked up on the roof and briefed on the way. He should bring everything he would carry with him; a car would not be needed or useful.
With such vague instructions, he was not certain at all what he should pack. He thought his bicycle and video games were not needed, but he might well want his laptop, his parts and tools and patches, all of his weapons, clothes for Derek, Ferris, and Morach, and a number of other things including several cans of the nutritional drink that helped power his transformations. He tossed these in the backpack, but for the laser rifle which wouldn't fit so he carried it in his hand. He also grabbed a sheet from the linen closet and dropped that in the top before heading out to the roof.
Again, it was a helicopter that picked him up; he did not recognize the man who spoke his name, but didn't expect that anyone else would know it, so he hopped aboard.
"Where are we going?" he asked as he got the headset on. This muffled much of the sound of the propellers and enabled them to talk to each other by microphones.
"High rise office building," came the answer; he wasn't sure who spoke it at first, but then sorted out the several people who were riding with him. "Terrorist attack, apparently. They're holding hostages, but that's not the big deal. They say they have a bomb, something nuclear, and they'll detonate if they don't get their demands. Analysis says it's at least forty percent likely that they'll detonate either way--blow for the cause and all that, they seem to be fanatical enough that they would be glad to die here. The objective is to get inside, find the bomb, and disarm or disable it. Hostage rescue is a secondary concern; it won't matter if you get out all the hostages but the bomb blows, so we're willing to accept that we might lose all the hostages to stop the bomb."
Derek got more serious. "I know I had the basic demolitions class, but I think you're taking a big risk if you expect me to disarm a nuclear bomb, particularly if you don't know more about it than that."
"You're not going in alone. There are two people who will be with you on this. One of them is an expert on nuclear devices; we expect he could take it apart completely and give us the probability that it would have detonated and the amount of damage it would have done. Otherwise, though, he's your weakest link. He's done lots of bomb disposal work, but never been part of a strike team. He knows how to use a gun, but not well. You'll be lucky if you can get him there, but he's your best chance to stop this.
"The other member of your team has been through a lot of urban strike force missions. He's jump trained, familiar with locks and security systems, handles small explosives well, has ribbons in marksmanship, and pretty much has all the skills you'll need. But he's no better at nuclear devices than you are."
Derek nodded. "So, why am I here?"
"You're the team leader."
This did not surprise Derek. On one level, he was surprised that it didn't. However, he knew he had the experience--it was not, in his mind, significantly different from the time he, Joe, and Lauren boarded the spaceship, fought the dragons, and destroyed the ship before it crashed into the space station. Joe had been the leader that time, but he had learned a lot from it. Since then he had worked with Lauren and Bob and the others on their repeated raids against the domed cities of the vampire world. He realized that even before he met Joe he had been part of a team that invaded an underground security complex, and in fact when he was a sprite he had made a one-man--or perhaps one-sprite--raid on the human seat of government. He'd done a lot of things like this. He had the experience.
"That works," he said. "What do we know about the layout?"
"We know that all the ground level entrances are defended. There are several people at the garage entrance, several on the loading docks, a couple at the front door, and one on the back door. There's a roof door, too, but we don't know how they've defended that."
Derek nodded. "So we're not at all sure how to get inside, but we've got a bomb expert in tow who is going to limit our options on that."
"Right. We can't land on the roof, as they clearly can shoot down a helicopter. A paratrooper probably could pull it off, though, as they're not watching constantly. They come to the windows whenever they hear us."
There was no way to get the bomb expert on the roof, and no way to force an entrance from the outside downstairs. For the moment he was stumped. He hoped that when he got there he would see the answer, but somehow he thought if it were obvious they'd have found it by now.
It wasn't more than another few minutes before they arrived; the helicopter set down on a roof pad, and he was pointed toward a makeshift catwalk that led to an adjacent building, where there seemed to be quite a few people, a communications center, and surveillance equipment trained on another building across an open space. Derek grabbed his gear and scampered across the bridge, then attempted to find who was in command. It wasn't necessary.
"Ah, here's our boy," a young man in civilian dress said. A man kitted in military strike force gear looked over.
"Boy is right," he said. "This kid is the team leader?"
"I know he looks young, but he will surprise you."
Derek walked up to them. "Derek Brown," he said to the man in the suit, looking the soldier up and down as if assessing him. Really, he looked good, but Derek was a bit annoyed that his abilities had already been questioned, and he wanted to give the impression that he was not entirely satisfied with his help. "I've been briefed on the entrances and the internal situation; is there anything I don't know yet?"
"I believe you know everything we know."
"Have we determined the security on the roof door?"
"I'm afraid not. We can't get a clear reading on anything over there."
"What about a count on the terrorists?"
"Twenty individuals have been spotted, but we know there are more than that. We also think they have about thirty hostages, but we don't know where these are being held."
Derek looked out at the building. "The back door seems to be the weak point on the ground," he said. "They've only got one guy on it, apparently assuming he'll alert them to any effort to enter that direction."
"That seems correct; they don't have people watching that we've seen."
"But," the soldier said, "assaulting the back door would be suicide. They'll have time to respond before we can get inside."
"Yes," Derek said, "but only if their man on the back door is able to alert them."
"So we have to get inside to take out the man on the back door, which will let us get inside?"
"No," Derek said. "I'm going to get inside, through the roof, and open the back door for you. You're going to meet me there and bring the bomb expert with you."
"This is ridiculous," the soldier said. "You've got no chance of getting from the roof to the ground alone."
"I need you," Derek continued undeterred, "to bring some of my gear; I'm going in light and fast, taking out the enemy along the way, and meeting you there. If I'm wrong, then you can come up with another plan; but I think this can be done. Where's the bomb expert?"
"They're bringing him up now," the suited man said.
"Good. I should meet him before I go. Meanwhile, I'm going to need to change." He looked around and picked a quiet corner of the roof, and headed over to it.
He was serious about traveling light; he wasn't going to be able to carry much and accomplish this. He took out Ferris' robe and Morach's clothes, along with the darts, arrows, the bow and quiver, and a few tools. Then he closed his eyes and thought of Ferris Hoffman.
The blaze of light almost certainly caused everyone to turn toward him; it couldn't be helped, and there was no sense worrying about it. He slipped out of the now oversized clothes and into the robe, strapped the dart apron to his waist and put the rest of the gear in his pockets. Everything else he packed in his pack, securing the laser rifle to the outside and keeping a few cans of his beverage on top. Then he carried the pack back to the others.
"What the--" the soldier began.
"Need to know," the suited man said.
"Call me Ferris Hoffman, if you like," Ferris said. "By the way, what do I call you?"
"Lieutenant James Calloway," he said. "What are you?"
"As the man says, that's need to know. What you do need to know is that I've done this kind of thing before in places you didn't know existed--a spaceship and an underground complex among them. I've been at this for about half a century, and the things I can do and the ways I do them are almost certainly going to surprise you. I don't have time to brief you on everything that might happen, so you're just going to have to keep up, lieutenant. You're also going to have to deliver my pack and my rifle to me downstairs, because I'm not going to be able to fly with them in hand, and I think flying is what I've got to do to make this work. Oh, and if the pack suddenly vanishes, my boss will let you know what to do next.
"Where's the bomb expert?"
"Here he comes now."
This man was probably fifty or so, hair graying, a bit overweight and clearly out of shape.
"Get him suited up in something protective; I don't want him shot. I'm team leader; right now, I'm Ferris Hoffman, but that may change, and we don't have time to explain it to you. Lieutenant Calloway is going to be responsible to bring you inside through the back door once I've taken out the guard there. I might look different then, but you'll know me.
"Don't dawdle. I don't know how long it will take me to get downstairs, but I'm not planning any side trips."
He turned and walked away from them, then, after taking a deep breath, he leapt from the roof, hoping to glide across to the other building.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
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