If I had to give this chapter a different title, one more in line with the events within, I’d probably call it Cass Takes Charge.
See, while she’d been getting more and more assertive the longer she was away from me, it wasn’t until here that she really took over and dictated to the two agents, who had considerably more experience, the course of events. This would come up again and again later on, and it wasn’t anything she didn’t know how to do. She ran her own lab, after all. But she was finally getting comfortable in the new situation she was faced with and, as is her wont, faced it. Head on.
Did you know you can now get all five of the current Cassidy Chronicles novels in a single volume? Yup, Adam went and put them all together. And he added a novelette, The Martian Gambit, about the TFS Nike and what happened under Captain Rene Mikall, a story you can’t get anywhere else. And it’s all just $9.99 for the ebook! Go ahead, check it out. And if you want to put some artwork of Yours Truly up on your walls, click the other button and see what’s out there!
Chapter 19: Out the Front Door
“I think that we’re going to need to sit down and work this through beginning to end, list all the potential pitfalls and make plans to avoid them if possible or defeat them at worst, and then we can go back to the Director and tell her what we need for support and if we need any more agents, though I don’t think we will, after all there’s you and me and Montana, and – “
Cass cut Mac off. Again. “And we’re not going to tell Talbott anything, much less ask her for anything. We need ID to match jobs within HLC and weapons. Mac, hacking HLC is your job. You also need to go to Security and get ID for the three of us.”
“I don’t need one,” said Montana. “Standard procedure is to maintain an alternate identity at all times; I have two running.”
“Good news, that. Mac? You have one as well?”
“Yes, I do, just the one required by policy but it’s current and I know all the details.”
“Can you get another one done? Montana, the second set, is it off the books?”
Christina arched an eyebrow. “How did you know that?”
“It’s what I would do if I worked for someone like Talbott. Mac, I’ll need an ID too.”
“What about your Willow identity?”
Cass shook her head. “Three reasons. If Talbott doesn’t know about it, I want to keep it that way; if she does know about it, it might not be safe to use; and I want to keep it in reserve.”
“I understand, but I really think that -”
“Good, Mac, now on your way!” As soon as Mac had retraced her steps to the elevator, Cass said to Christina, “Now then. We’re going to need some weaponry. Think you can pry some of your favorites out the boys in the basement?”
Montana’s grin was feral. “I think I can.”
Later, they met Mac back at Cass’s quarters.
“Where’d you go, what’d you get, is it anything that I can see or -”
“McAllister, shut up, for once in your life!” barked Montana. “We need to leave. Now.” Both Montana and Cass had bags slung over their shoulders, with Cass carrying a second bag.
“Clothes and supplies,” she said, tossing it to Mac. “Christina grabbed a few things from your room.”
“Yeah, you probably ought to get the lock fixed when we get back,” added Montana, already striding away.
“The lock?” stammered Mac, hurrying after them.
“And maybe the door too.” Montana shrugged, a look of contrition failing to cross her face. “Sorry about that. I just didn’t have the time to wait for the Doctor here.”
“I told you, I didn’t have all the tools I need! And you’re not supposed to call me Doctor!” insisted Cass. “For one thing, I don’t think bow ties are cool; for another, my hair isn’t wild; and finally, I’ve lost my sonic!”
“Mac, what ID did you come up with for the Doc?”
“I, um, borrowed Agent Rivera’s cover ID, I learned her password a while back, it was totally accidental but I just didn’t forget it, and even though she doesn’t look anything like Cass they’re at least about the same height and that’ll throw things off a bit since she’ll be back here while the ID is walking out the front door but I made sure I disabled that checking subroutine so we shouldn’t have any kind of issue exiting, getting in will be a problem though.”
“Fine, what’s my name?” asked Cass.
“Deety Burroughs. I know it’s a little weird but it’s what I could get quick and I have your passcard here just be glad we don’t have to do the biometrics to leave the Complex just log out of the system and a quick scan.”
“That makes me so much happier.”
The three women took the stairs to the first floor, then approached the checkpoint at the exit.
“Remember, don’t act nervous,” said Montana before leading the way. “Hi, boys!” she said happily to the two guards on duty. “Quiet afternoon?”
“Not bad, Chris. What’s going on?” said the first, passing the bag through with barely a glance.
Cass and Mac had followed closely and were now handing their bags to the guards as well.
“Nothing much, a little overnight exercise,” answered Montana, watching the other two bags sail through just as easily. “Should be back by this time tomorrow.”
“Watch out for the gators,” said the second guard. “You know about the one that got Joe, right?”
“I did. How’s he doing? I haven’t heard much.”
“He was medevac’d out to Houston. Man, the Old Lady was pissed!”
“Why?” asked Mac from the back.
“He was out on a milk run, right? Meeting Foster-Briggs and some hot-shot scientist chick she was bringing in? Now he’s missing a foot and half a leg and is gonna be doing rehab for six months, maybe a year? And you ask why she’s pissed?” The first guard gave a bitter laugh. “Wouldn’t be surprised if something real bad happened to those two ladies; Joe was always one of her favorites.”
Cass’s already-pale skin went a few degrees whiter.
“In any case, just be careful out there? We want everyone to come back safe.”
“We will be. Come on Mac, Deety.” With that, Montana led them out the doors and off the property. The sun was still mid-way in the western sky; they probably had at least three hours of solid light before it became hazardous. Walking up the old Esplanade was quick and easy, but when they neared the park Montana led them to the west, along the outside walls, rather than into the park itself. After a few hundred meters, Cass asked, “I thought – that is, when we came into the city, we walked through the park. Shouldn’t we go back out the same way?”
“Kendra tell you why?”
“Something about it being safer than Canal, I think.”
Montana nodded. “True. But this time of day, the nightcrawlers are all hiding out, waiting for dusk. We’re making good time; we’ll make better time if we stick to the roads.” She glanced behind them.
“Besides, if we went through the Park, I wouldn’t have been sure.”
“Sure of what?” said Mac, peering back herself.
“We’re being followed. Don’t turn around again; trust me.” She slowed her pace.
“Are they, what did you say, nightcrawlers?” said Cass, a shiver in her voice. Despite her newly revived prowess in capoeira, the prospect of facing off against hostiles didn’t excite her.
“Frak me running,” muttered Cass. “I thought we’d got away clean.”
“I didn’t,” said Montana. “I’m just surprised it took them this long to make their move. We may have been a few minutes ahead, but they’ve made up the ground.” She reached into a pocket, pulled out a pair of sunglasses, and made a show of cleaning off the lenses.
“I count four. Katzell, Williams, DiFiore, and maybe Cross. Good. The only one I’m worried about is Katzell; the rest should be easy. Mac, take out DiFiore. Doc, Cross is probably the least-experienced, so you shouldn’t have any problems. I’ll take out Williams first, with her wrist she won’t be any problem, then Katzell. Everyone clear?”
By now the group following them was less than twenty meters away. Montana dropped her bag, letting it slip without resistance from her shoulder, then twirled and charged at the surprised agents. A bare moment later both Cass and Mac were hard on her heels.
Montana hammered into Williams, bowling the smaller woman over and smacking her head against the concrete. Katzell was quicker on the uptake and dodged out of the way of the first rush, but Montana corrected and wrapped him in an arm tackle. The two went down, rolling across the pavement, grasping with one hand and pounding anywhere exposed with the other.
Mac, despite her diminutive size, had learned much from Master Cordova. DiFiore was taller by at least ten centimeters and outmassed her by a half-dozen kilos, so Mac danced just outside her reach, feinting and bobbing, until DiFiore lost control and charged at her. With that opening, Mac kicked out at the exposed solar plexus, snapping the bigger woman over and following up with a solid chop to the neck which brought DiFiore to her knees. A final sweeping kick to DiFiore’s head and she was out.
Cass immediately settled into her ginga, rocking from side to side, waiting for the other woman to make the first mistake. “What’s the matter? Can’t make up your mind?” taunted Cross.
“I know what I want to do,” said Cass levelly. “Just want to give you the chance to change your mind so I don’t have to hurt you quite so badly.”
“You really think so?”
“I do,” said Cass. “Come over here and I’ll show you.”
“If you insist -” and Cross lunged, throwing a furious combination of punches and kicks at Cass. Cass avoided the ones she could, absorbed the ones she couldn’t, and was launching her own attack even as Cross was pulling her arm back from her final punch. Cass opened with an elbow to Cross” cheek, spinning around, leaping into the air, her foot burying itself in Cross” side. Cass continued over Cross, landing behind her opposite side and jabbing hard into the kidneys. A final sweep at Cross” ankles, and she was on the ground as well.
Cass looked around. Mac was sitting on the dazed DiFiore’s back, Williams was unconscious, and Montana was just finishing with Katzell. One arm hung limp at Montana’s side; it was obvious that Katzell had proven more of a challenge, but Montana gave one vicious kick to Katzell’s chest and he toppled backwards. He landed awkwardly, with a terminal-sounding crack.
Montana stood, chest heaving. “Damn. He was a tough old bastard.”
“You think he’s dead?” asked Mac.
“If not, he’s doing a fine imitation.” She pointed to the body. His head, on landing, had wedged into an old storm drain; when his body continued pivoting, his neck was shattered.
“N-n-now what?” said Mac.
“Get the rigger tape,” said Cass. “I have an idea.”
It was only a matter of moments before the other three were bound. Heads pointed out, feet in the center, the women’s feet were taped one to each of their neighbors, making it nearly impossible for them to stand. Additionally, their hands were bound behind their backs, taking away even that little bit of leverage.
“Should we ask them anything?” said Cass, eyeing DiFiore, the only one still alert.
“No, no time. We need to get out of here sooner than soonest,” replied Montana. “This might buy us an hour, maybe ninety minutes.”
Cass thought. “Where’s the highway from here?”
“A klick, maybe. West of here. You have a plan?”
“Better. I have a car.” She pulled the keys to the Veyron from an inside pocket. “It might be a little crowded for you two; Mac will have to sit on your lap. But, it’s only about twelve kilometers away, and once we get there, nobody’s going to have a hope in hell of catching us on the ground.”
“What’s so special about this car?” asked Montana, wincing as she picked up her bag.
“You’ll see.” She picked up her bag and Mac did the same. “Twelve kilometers? No time to waste, then.”
They set off again, but this time with Cass in the lead.