Planning and plotting – things Mac and Cris were always good at.
But now they had the input from Master Chief Stone.
Made a huge difference, because the Chief brought a definite mindset to the whole rescue plan; where Mac would hack, and Cris would crunch, Stone would smash.
Put it on your calendars now: November 24.
Because Adam is going to do a blockbuster sale and promotional blitz that day!
He’s going to be all over the web, including at least one (and maybe two) LIVE appearances, PLUS giveaways and contests and all sorts of other fun things.
MOST of this will be on Facebook (see the button below), but he’s also going to be on the Meet The Author Podcast at 7pm EST (4pm PST) on the 24th as well.
Don’t miss out!
Chapter 3: From My Friends
They were in yet another hotel now, bigger, more secure. They’d arranged for storage for the Bugatti, as neither Mac nor Montana felt confident enough to drive it. They had retrieved all of Cass’s belongings, though.
Their team was gathered, introductions made, weapons issued. It was dinner time, and they had gathered in the conference room for a briefing.
“We’re secure,” said Mac, her usual voluble nature suppressed by the number of people she was addressing.
“Good job, Agent.” Montana had decided to behave more formally, as many of her team were hardly more than acquaintances to each other, brought together for an off-the-books job through a mix of personal favors and called debts. “As of now, we are go. The mission is simple: extract Dr. Aiyana Cassidy from the main complex of HLC by whatever means necessary. Period.” She looked about at the gathered faces.
“This is a purely volunteer mission. Nobody has sanctioned it, least of all OutLook. If any of us are caught, you’re looking at jail time at best, and I guarantee that Talbott won’t be pulling any strings to get us out. We know that HLC plays dirty. Jail time might be looking pretty good if you fall into their hands. As such, if anyone wants to back out, now’s the time. You can go back to your lives, your assignments, and nobody’s going to say a word.”
Thirteen determined visages stared back at her, impassive. Then one hand was raised.
“Master Chief? You have a question?”
“Many.” Stone’s voice carried a hint of an Aussie accent, a remnant of a childhood spent roaming the planet with her UNSEC father. She stood, revealing her tall, athletic frame, seemingly untouched by retirement. “One for now.”
“Are there any restrictions on force?”
“You want a formal ROE, or the short version?”
“Whatever it takes. HLC has already demonstrated their willingness to use deadly force. I see no reason to show restraint.”
Stone nodded. “Good enough for me.”
A young blonde woman, slim but athletic, stood, still in the uniform of the Northern Imperium Navy. “What exactly is the plan?”
“Smash and grab.” A murmur arose from the room. “People, we don’t have time for anything fancy. Our window is currently less than thirty hours and closing fast. “
She gestured to Lisa, seated to her right, “Dr. Mantchev has gotten us the floor plan for the area we’re targeting.” A schematic appeared on the plasma wall screen behind her.
“As you can see, it’s isolated from the main building. Access to the building is limited to a single corridor, here, while we intend to gain entrance through emergency access doors here and here.” Indicators popped up on the display as she spoke. “Mac will trigger a fire alert for that wing; that should close down the corridor on both ends with fire doors on either end. If not, well, someone can always start a real fire.” Montana grinned at that. She nodded at another. “Yes, Cera?”
“I don’t like this; it seems half-assed and stupid! Why aren’t we going through channels?”
“Dr. Mantchev?” Montana sat as Lisa rose.
“Aiyana is my friend,” Lisa said, repeating what had become her mantra. “She risked everything to save me, defied your boss to save me, left her wife behind to save me.” Her voice cracked as she continued.
“I lost my husband when these bastards stormed our house. There was no warning, no negotiations; they came and killed him and dragged me here. I hate them,” she spat, “And I want them to hurt. I want those bastards to pay for what they did, and I want my friend back!” She paused a moment to regain her composure.
“Whatever is going on here – whatever is rotten at HLC – goes right to the top. Kaine is just a symptom; capturing Cass is just a symptom; killing Kevin is just a symptom. The fact that your Director sent other agents out to stop Montana, McAllister and Cass tells me that SHE has something to hide, too.” She shook her head. “It’s a hunch, I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if there was a connection. And that’s why you can’t go through channels.”
“A hunch?” asked an incredulous Sanzari.
“A hunch,” agreed Lisa.
Sanzari looked around at the others. “Works for me,” she said, and sat back down.
Montana stood again. “Anyone else? Or can we get on with this?” When nobody spoke after a minute, she nodded sharply.
“I would like to avoid killing anyone just yet.” She raised a hand to forestall the incipient protest. “YET. Don’t go in shooting, don’t go in thinking of what the body count could be. If it happens that some of their security goons resist too much, then take them out – quick and nasty will get us in and out with the least risk to ourselves. But – and I can’t stress this enough – unless someone makes a threatening move towards you, it’s live and let live. That especially goes for the workers. They’re just trying to earn a living, and this has nothing to do with them. Got it?”
She got a ragged affirmation to her question.
“I said, got it?”
This time the answer was more cohesive. She paused a moment, fixing them with a look, before moving on.
“Our weapon is speed – speed and surprise. Our two weapons are speed and surprise and our devotion to our friend. Three – never mind. You get the idea. We’re going to get her back, hopefully without any losses on our end.” She stopped, looked around for one particular face.
“Master Chief, you’re in charge of the assault. I’m sure you have the most experience. Sanzari, you’re her second. The rest of your team…” She trailed off, thinking. “Mac? I’ve got a pretty good idea, but I need you to check the records; I want to be sure who has the most hand-to-hand training. Top four go in with Stone and Sanzari.”
“On it, Cris,” answered Mac. Stone and Sanzari separated themselves from the group slightly. Montana waited a moment for Mac’s info to hit her padd, then spoke again.
“Cera, you’re in charge of the distraction team. Big, and noisy, but a little distant. As soon as their reaction force is moving towards you, I want you and your team to run away.” She started pointing at people.
“You, Alycia, Bruce, Michael, Elle, and Mac. Mac, you’re going to spoof those systems. Get Alycia to help; she’s done this sort of thing before.” Adams, a medium-height brunette with smiling eyes, nodded in agreement. “Lisa, you and I go in with Stone’s team. That would be Jesse, Joyce, Alivia, and Celsey. Right. Cera, you and your group plan over there; Stone, our group over here.”
After the inevitable confusion was over, the meetings resumed. Cera and Mac plotted their diversion, while Stone, Montana, Mantchev and their team studied the layout and potential paths to HHG42. Finally, after about three hours, the plans were as settled as they were going to get, and Montana brought the entire team back together.
“They interrogate Cass in a little over twenty-four hours,” she began without preamble. “From what Mac’s pulled from their system, they’re going to move her from the psych wing to the security offices to do the interrogation. It’s a purely internal move. That makes it easier for them to stack the deck in their favor. Not only would I lay the security personnel on heavy, but we’d do it in the middle of the night, the prisoner disoriented and confused, and a minimal amount of personnel on the property. Like I said, that’s what I’d do, if I was in charge and anticipating an attempt to break her out.” She shook her head. “That’s why we’re gonna hit them tomorrow afternoon.”
Shocked murmurs rippled through the group. She hadn’t announced her timing before; only Mac and Lisa knew.
“It makes sense!” she insisted over the hubbub. “YES, there are more personnel, but there are way more office drones than security. In the confusion of a fire alarm? The more bodies we can choke the corridors with, the better!”
Surprising everyone, Mac spoke up. “That’s why our escape vehicle is a fire rescue truck, it’ll blend in with the others, it looks totally legit and should help us get away clean, even if we get caught in the area we can simply mingle, the response will be from multiple stations, multiple units so we will be able to slip unnoticed through the other responders, it might get hot under the uniforms but it was the best I could do on short notice and at least there’s an outfitter nearby I was able to find for the real thing so we’ll blend in better.” She sat quickly, as if shocked by her own actions. Montana couldn’t hide a smile.
“Fifteen hundred tomorrow. By then the regular workers will all be thoroughly immersed in either work or watching the clock, security will be readying for a shift change at sixteen hundred and be at low ebb, and, with any luck, the two regular guards they have on Cass’s door will be pretty well zombied out too. Mac, any change in their status?”
“No, none, they’re always there, at least one of them, usually both, neither leaves for more than an hour at any time and I just don’t understand it!”
Joyce spoke up. “Sounds like REM Replacement Therapy.”
“What’s that? Stand up,” ordered Montana.
Rosenfield stood. She resembled a traditional therapist more than an experienced combat medic, but none who knew her doubted her abilities. “REM Replacement Therapy. We’ve played with it for extended tours, especially low-personnel undercover missions. Basically, the restrictive factor in long-duration missions is sleep, or lack thereof, and specifically REM sleep. Back in the 21st, some psychologists and biologists theorized that, if they could stimulate the brain into REM sleep quickly enough, then a human would require much less sleep.” She frowned. “Best I’ve heard in practice is a half-hour of RRT substituting for about four hours” normal sleep.”
“Okay, so they’re using this RRT thing. What does that mean for us?”
“Well – mentally, they’ll be sharp. Even a little bit edgy; the artificial REM state tends to produce more nightmares. Physically, they’re going to be exhausted, slow, clumsy, uncoordinated – even though their brains will function normally, their bodies aren’t rested at all. Sort of a reverse zombie effect, brain functioning but body not so much. That is, for most cases.”
“In a few cases – and this is why we dropped the program – the subjects can go into what we called “attack zombie” mode. Fast, vicious, unthinking, unfeeling, virtually unstoppable.”
“Oh, wonderful. Master Chief? Thoughts?”
“Take them down as soon as we see them. Avoid hand-to-hand at all costs.”
Montana nodded. “Got it. Okay, anything else?” When nobody replied, she said, “Right. Let’s be about it, people.”