Taking back my house.
That was definitely a thing.
I was not going to let the bastard from HLC or his goons hold onto our home for one minute more that was necessary. I would have done just about anything to get it back, but given my background was in solo work I wasn't the right person to lead this little mission.
This was the first time, but not the last, that I was grateful for the presence of Master Chief Stone.
That old lady knows her shit.
Yeah, old lady. She was born before me, did more than me, and since she's still alive she remains older than me!
Anyways. On with another chapter!
Chapter 17: This is Our House
“Cass, are you in?” Kendra’s voice was tinny over the tiny earbud. Cass, Mac, and Lisa were at a local Net Access Point. Cass had tapped into their home’s Self-Aware Response Advanced Heuristics program. Mac and Lisa were working on their own projects. Kendra, Montana, and Stone were in one of the group’s transports, parked about two hundred meters down the street, watching the house and planning.
“All the security cameras are on. Visual is clean. SARAH doesn’t report any entries since we left.” Cass suddenly giggled.
“I just thought – don’t open up the refrigerator.”
“Two-week-old egg salad.”
“Oh, crap.” Kendra shook her head at the imagined smell. “Anything on the exterior monitors?”
“Nothing, no movement.”
“I’ve tapped into all of the neighborhood cameras, both the city system and as many of the private systems that report to an outside server, and I haven’t seen anything recently, but the way your place is located there really isn’t much coverage nearby, why did you have to live so far away from everyone, I know you like your privacy but two klicks from your nearest neighbor is a little extreme, don’t you think, anyways, I don’t have anything else to say so I’ll just shut up now.”
“Nothing on IR, but…”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Stone sent an image to everyone’s padds.
“Right there, in the cliff face behind your home? D’ye see that cave?”
“Yeah, looks the same as it always does.” The cave Stone referenced was about twenty meters up the cliff, half a klick behind the house. Scraggly trees and brush grew all along the cliff face, providing good hand- and foothold for anyone out for a climb.
“Exactly. You can’t see inside the cave from the ground, but there’s a line of sight right to the house and the grounds.”
“Ah, I see what you mean,” said Kendra. “Damn. You’re right, that’s the perfect spot for a hide.”
“Aye. No good way in from above or below, not without making noise. Too much brush to rappel.”
“Sure, if we had a drone.”
Alycia spoke up. “Is there any way to the top of the ridge, besides going up the cliff face?”
“Oh, sure, there’s a walking trail that comes down to the street about three klicks further on. Why?”
“What do you think a couple kilos of Octol would do, if it were set off right above the entrance?”
Kendra studied the image again. The cliff face only rose another thirty meters or so above the cave.
“I think it would probably ruin their day. And, if we climbed down a few meters and made a bit of a channel with some more Octol, set it off in sequence from the bottom to the top, I’ll bet we could guide it right into their laps.”
“That’s one nest of vipers sorted,” said Stone. “Alycia, you and a partner are on that. Now, if my main observers were in that cave, I’d have a backup team about here.” She highlighted another location, further away.
“That’s an old cistern,” said Cass. “Used to hold, oh, a couple million liters. Supplied the neighborhood with water when the wells would run dry. I don’t think it’s been used since the climate shift brought more rain to the area twenty, twenty-five years ago.”
“It’s tall enough to see your house,” said Stone. “That’s all that counts. Mac, do you have eyes on the cistern?”
“Let me see, I’ll bet the county still watches over it, you know governments, even if they’re not using something they want to know that it’s still there, and I’ll bet that’s it, and let me just try to zoom in there, and oh crud you’re right Chief, looks like a four-man team up there, one has eyes on the house, one backing him up, and the other two aren’t doing anything, they might be rotating watches, that would make sense, I’ll bet it’s been boring up there, wonder how long they’ve –”
“I’d wager any amount that both they and the cave are in contact with at least one team of heavies, maybe more. Dr. Mantchev, are you in HLC’s systems?”
“Yes,” answered Lisa.
“Can you call up a list of all HLC vehicles, both for this location and for the HQ?”
“No problem, why?”
Stone ignored the question. “When you have it, shoot it over to McAllister. McAllister, compare the list of vehicles to any that the local systems have noticed.”
“On it,” said Mac.
“HLC doesn’t really go for this sort of thing,” answered Stone belatedly. “They’re probably going to think that they’ll be less conspicuous if they stay in-house for as much of their equipment as possible.”
“A real pro would rent, or more likely steal, locally,” added Kendra. “It’s just a tool, and you don’t have to take it with you when you’re done.”
“Okay,” broke in Mac, “I’ve got the list, and so far I’ve gotten about eighty hits, do you really think they’ve brought that many people, that’s way too many for us to handle, what are we gonna do?”
Stone sighed. “Did you filter out for anyone who lives locally?”
“Oh,” said a chagrined Mac. “Four vehicles.”
“Find “em,” ordered Stone. It took several minutes, but eventually Mac reported that all four had been tracked down.
“Three are together, about fifteen klicks away, parked at a hotel, the other one has been on the move but hasn’t been any closer to the house than a klick but no farther away than six, I’ve sent the makes and specs to everyone, best speed for the rover to the house would be about four minutes and about ten minutes for the parked ones, plus whatever reaction time to get their team loaded in.”
“Montana? Do we have anything that will jam frequencies?”
“We have a broadband jammer, but it’ll knock out everything, including our own systems.”
“That’s no bloody good,” muttered Stone.
“What about a focused EM pulse?” said a voice.
“Identify yourself when you join the net!” snapped Stone.
“Sorry. This is Anders. If we use a focused EM pulse, won’t that knock out their electronics without damaging ours?”
“Should do,” agreed Kendra. “Do you happen to have a pulse emitter about your person?”
“No, but I could modify a pulse rifle to fire an EM packet.”
Montana looked at Stone. “As far as I know, you’re the only person with a pulse rifle.”
Stone sighed. “Fine.” She unslung the weapon and handed it to Montana. “But Anders, I want it back the way it was afterward!” she barked.
“Yes ma’am!” answered Anders. “On my way to your location.”
“How long will it take to modify?”
“Maybe fifteen minutes, with a little help. Elle is with me, I know she’s good with her hands.”
“So,” mused Montana. “First we knock out the lookouts on the cistern, then drop the rocks over the cave. How often do you think they check in?”
“If it were me, I’d have an open circuit, but I’m paranoid,” admitted Stone. “SOP in the Teams was no less than every hour, more frequently if an unstable situation. My guess is these bozos are on an hourly schedule, maybe even less. It’s been two weeks, and –”
“Movement!” called Mac. “The parked units, they just unassed in a hurry and headed out.”
“No time for subtle then,” said Stone. “Alycia, forget the Octol, take position on top of the ridge and sight that cistern.”
“Roger,” came the terse reply. “Thirty seconds.”
“Montana, I need an old-fashioned rocket.”
“Would you settle for a fifty millimeter rocket propelled grenade launcher?”
“Oh, come to mama,” crooned Stone. Montana stepped out of the transport and started preparing the RPG. “Michael, you and your team move on the house, I want them distracted. Make some noise, be really visible.”
“We’re moving,” he replied, and he, Cera, and Celsey trotted out from the trees towards the house.
“In position,” commed Alycia.
“Do you have a good line on the cistern?”
“Not bad. There’s some foliage, but no major obstructions.”
“Take “em out,” ordered Stone.
Alycia and Bruce opened fire. They were right at the edge of effective range, and many of their rounds were off-target, but a lucky shot took out the second man on top of the cistern. The observer jumped down, landed badly, and lay still. The other two, while moving quickly, were less precipitous in their descent and made it down intact. One rushed to the fallen observer.
“Keep harassing them,” said Stone. “We just want them distracted.”
“On it,” replied Alycia.
“Montana? The cave, if you please.”
Montana raised the RPG launcher. “Clear exhaust zone!”
“All clear!” answered Kendra.
Montana took careful aim at the distant cliff face.
“Targeting…targeting…I’ve got tone. Fire in the hole!” Montana triggered the grenade. With a sudden whoosh, the small projectile launched, trailing a faint line of smoke.
The RPG flew straight and true and impacted on the roof just inside the cave entrance. A gout of flame, smoke, and rubble flew from the explosion. Montana climbed back into the transport.
“Knock, knock,” said Kendra. “Avon calling.”
“Knock it off,” Stone griped. “McAllister, do you have a location on the rover vehicle?”
“I’ve been scanning the traffic cameras, actually I have the computer checking, it wasn’t tough once I knew what –”
“Yes or No, Agent!”
“Yes, the rover is heading for the house, should be there in about a minute and forty seconds.”
“Time to haul arse,” said Stone, shifting into gear and squealing into a tight turn. “We need to be there before they arrive, otherwise what little surprise we have left will be lost. All teams except Alycia, converge on the house, double-time!”
With Stone driving, they covered the distance in seconds. Montana and Kendra burst from the transport before it had fully stopped, and Stone only lingered long enough to grab her pulse rifle before joining them.
“Kendra, this is your home turf. Where do you need us?”
“Cris, you take Michael’s team on the left side. There’s an outbuilding you can use for shelter. Master Chief, I want you, Bruce, Anders, and Elle on the right. No building, but there’s a retaining wall that’ll give you cover. Both sides have pretty good views of the road. Cass, shut down SARAH’s alarms, we’re going in. Sanzari, you’re with me. Alycia, Jesse, keep harassing those bastards, keep “em off our backs. Move like you have a purpose!”
Without waiting for a response, Kendra sprinted up the walk and palmed open the door.
“Hello Ms. Foster-Briggs, it’s nice to have you home,” came the slightly raspy voice of SARAH. “Will Dr. Cassidy be home soon?”
“Not now, SARAH,” muttered Kendra, heading for the bedroom. “Sanzari, picture window, keep an eye out. I have a few toys put away for a rainy day, but it’ll take me a minute to get them out.”
“Got it, boss,” answered Sanzari, positioning herself to see clearly. “Don’t dally.”
“Not a chance,” said Kendra. “SARAH, security override 1, 1-A, 2-B.”
“Authorization Kendra, Zero, Zero, Zero.”
“Authorization accepted. Security measures activated. Access to magazine granted. Omega sequence priming, five minutes for full activation. Does this mean we’re having uninvited guests?”
“Yes, SARAH,” said Kendra, charging through their bedroom and diving into their closet. At the back, she pushed hard on the wall and a concealed door sprang open revealing a weapons stash. Kendra only paused for a bare instant before grabbing a phase rifle, a pair of holstered pistols, a bandolier loaded with energy packs, and a bulging ruck.
“Mac, where are the other transports?”
“Still on the way, maybe five minutes.”
“Sanzari! The rover here yet?”
“Not yet,” called Sanzari.
“Cris, Chief, if you want anything heavy, send someone inside. I’ve got some toys and I don’t mind sharing.”
“Bruce is – cancel that, the rover just pulled up.”
The enemy’s vehicle shuddered to a stop behind Stone’s transport. Doors opened and a half-dozen armed men poured out.
“Hold fire until they’re all clear,” ordered Stone.
“Mac, I need you to slow the others down. What can you do?”
“Do, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, I’m sitting here in a computer lab, oh, yeah, right, a computer lab and I’m tapped into the city network, well, the first thing I can do is play with the traffic lights, they’re not going to risk running red lights, not in a town like this with so many security-conscious people, but that’s not going to do it all, I’m going to drop their identifications into the police database and send a citizen’s report with their location, maybe they’ll react fast enough to pull them over before they get to you…” Mac’s voice trailed off, but the tap-tap-tap of her fingers on the keyboard could be heard.
“Anything you can do,” agreed Kendra when she could get a word in. She dropped down next to Sanzari.
“Nice,” said Sanzari enviously as Kendra unslung the phase rifle. “Got another one?”
“No, sorry,” said Kendra, scanning the front through the sights. “But if it comes to it, there are some goodies tucked away in the pack. How about a warp grenade or two?”
“You play dirty,” admired Sanzari.
“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying hard enough.”
“Fifty meters,” said Stone.
“Anyone have a clear shot?” commed Kendra.
“We have three of them coming in stupid,” said Montana. “Standard tactical formation, but they don’t know crap about cover.”
“Nothing good, but I think we can keep “em honest.”
From the left side, a sudden fusillade of mixed fire – flechette and HE darts – erupted. The three presumptive HLC heavies fell without even raising their weapons. Their counterparts on the right, noting the fire, pivoted, exposing their silhouettes to Stone’s team. It seemed that all of Stone’s team were toting energy weapons, like the Master Chief’s pulse rifle. Nothing visible gave away their murderous assault, only the sudden eruption of mortal wounds on the would-be invaders.
The entire engagement took less than three seconds.
“Cease fire!” called Kendra. “Chief! Montana!
“We’re on it,” answered Stone. Whatever orders she gave couldn’t be heard, but soon enough her people were moving out, weapons ready, checking their targets. Montana’s team was doing the same on the left.
“No survivors,” said Stone.
“None here either. Fish in a barrel,” commented Montana.
“Clean it up. Maybe we can suck the others in.” Kendra turned her attention away from the front. “Alycia, report.”
“They haven’t gone anywhere,” she reported. “The one that jumped seems to be down for the count. The other two are doing their best to stay out of sight, but we each have enough of an angle we can see the whole cistern. They can’t hide, we just can’t hit them.”
“Mac? How goes the delay?”
“They’re hitting every red light, the police have been alerted and have dispatched three cruisers to deal with a report of drug runners. Oh, wait, they’ve spotted them, I can see through their onboard cameras, yeah, the transports are pulling over, looks like they’re trying to avoid trouble.”
“That’s them done for a while,” said Stone. “Even if they get the whole “drug runner” bit cleared up. I’d give you a stack of dollars as tall as I am that they aren’t licensed in Sonora for the gear they’re carrying.”
Kendra exhaled for the first time in what seemed like hours. “SARAH, stand down case Omega. Authorization Kendra 1, 1-A, abort.”
“Case Omega cancelled.”
“Chief, I need you to take care of those last two stragglers.”
“Right-o. Come on, you lot. No time for rest yet.” Stone and her team trotted off to their vehicle.
“Cris, get their transport, drive it behind the house. Then we’re going to have to police the bodies, get them under cover. Time to clean up.” She paused. “Mac, how’s it going?”
“Oh, they screwed the pooch, I think they have half the police in the county surrounding them, something about unauthorized weapons, I don’t think they’re going anywhere but to the station.”
“Okay, wrap it up. Cass, time to come home.”
“You have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear that!”
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but we should have some breathing room. See you in a bit. Out.”
Kendra stood. “SARAH, how much freezer space do we have?”