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Monday, April 21st, 2679
"Private Wyeth, it's time to wake up. HEY! Get up!"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm up," I moaned and turned over. Susie mumbled something in her sleep I didn't catch.
"Oh, no, you don't, Abby! Wake up! It's 0330, and Sergeant Thawell is expecting you at 0430. Rise and shine!"
You're not supposed to shoot the messenger, but at 3:30 AM, Miss Manners was fast asleep and wouldn't hear the gunshot.
"Computer, deactivate internal voice mechanism."
He chuckled. "Not that easy, kid. You did that once, and once is all you get. The only way to get me quiet is to get out of bed and trudge out that door."
"Mike? Shut up."
I must have drifted off again, because suddenly I heard Thawell's gravelly voice chewing rocks right next to my left ear.
"Where ARE you, Wyeth? We're waiting! It's 0445 and I'm sending Hernandez up to your quarters now with the override codes. You better be decent!"
He no sooner finished speaking than there was a pounding on the door and I heard it open. I leapt out of bed, grabbing a pillow to cover my front. I did wear clothes to bed, sort of. They were cloth, and they hung on me after a fashion. But strong argument could be made about their purpose, or lack of.
"You just stay out there, Drew! I'll be ready in--"
"HA! Gotcha!" Mike laughed triumphantly. "Now get moving! It's 0335. Oh, by the way: Good Morning, Abigail!" He laughed again and shut off.
"Abby? Are you up?" Susie was propped up on her elbows in the half light, looking toward me. Because of my skills in the puterverse and our close friendship, Susie and I had been roommates for two yearsnow.
"Yeah, I'm up. Sorry about the noise."
"You stayed up too late again, didn't you?" She yawned. "You've got to cut down your time in the puterverse when you pull early duty. Sooner or later, Mike will run out of ideas, and you'll oversleep. Again."
I harumphed and pulled out clean clothes. Snatching up my sidearm and holster, I headed down to the showers, thinking back to the first -- and only -- time I'd been late to duty. Thawell gave me such a splendid five-minute cussing out on the uselessness of a soldier who reported late that I couldn't help but admire him. The man had a true gift. He never once repeated himself. I should have taken notes, he was that good. After I finished an additional ten-hour shift cleaning the hanger, I had to look up at least a half-dozen of his words. Three weren't even listed. One was illegal.
I made it to the hov carrier with plenty of time. I'd met up with Sarah, Kate and Lena in the showers as usual, so we were in a group when we showed up at the armory to get issue. Dusty passed out short-range laser rifles to each of them and a nullifier and quiver of holoknives to Sarah. Since this was a combination rescue and quick strike raid, Sarah had left her heavier armor stowed away, and had on only four layers of micro armor. I didn't get any extra ordinance. My skills lay elsewhere on this trip.
Thawell was waiting for us at the hover carrier and nodded as we entered. We went in and settled in for departure. They took seats along the starboard side; mine was the one at the terminal, port side, just behind the cockpit.
The hover was capable of holding twelve personnel and three crew. It was the size and roughly the shape of a small bus, though of course it used an inverted gravity ion drive. It was completely enclosed and sagged slightly in the front, where it was plated. Entrance was through a ramp in the rear. With us on board, there were still four more to go, not counting Thawell. It was normally pretty crowded, but since this was a raid using light equipment, there was extra room in case we could pull out some ripes. While we waited, I fired up the terminal and began reviewing the mission. Following protocol, I kept the field tight, forcing me to keep my head still as I viewed.
By the time I had finished, the last of the team was on board and buckled in. Thawell locked up and the hov moved off. The craft moaned and creaked as it passed through the pressure shield. The terminal flicked off for several moments as all access was cut off, then resumed normal operation once we cleared the negating field. The hov leveled out as it reached the top of the shielded ramp and moved out onto the desert floor. Through the front portal we could see the darkness of the arid wilderness. There were no lights of any kind, not even navigational. We were kind of stuck up about our privacy. I looked up through the top portal and saw the pitch black of the desert night sky, dotted with thousands of stars. The total elimination of pollution made for spectacularly clear air. The vehicle started ambling off to the north. Too much speed would leave a heat trail. It would be at least five minutes until we cleared the minefield and could begin phased travel. As I said, we were pretty touchy about our privacy.
"All right, listen up." Thawell's grating voice called for all our attention. I looked at tonight's squad. Besides my three friends and me, there was one other woman, six men and Thawell. Pretty even split. I knew them all quite well, and could probably give the mission briefing as well as Thawell. Of course, if I tried, Thawell would dump me off while we were phasing and let me swim home through solid rock.
"Wyeth." I pulled up a solid hologram in the middle of the group. Thawell continued. "Okay, here's the target. It's a riping facility located inside a legitimate parts factory. Ninety percent of the personnel and equipment manufacture solar shielding for the ball chasers. They are NOT the target and must be treated as innocents. No weapons except when necessary, and only disabling charges can be used. Marks!" A big man in the back with a swarthy face and slow smile looked up. Cradled in his right arm was a heavy caliber slug gun. "You use that cannon tonight anywhere outside of a real fire fight, and I'll issue you a popgun like Wyeth's. Permanently." Marks smiled his slow smile and looked over at me. I smiled back. Aaron was my wing man on nearly every mission -- Sarah was my other wingman -- and a better one I couldn't ask for. Unless it was for someone whose eyes, smile, and voice didn't set my heart to thumping. Thawell continued.
"As I said, ninety percent of the area is legit. It's the other ten percent we want to take out. That section is located here." I magnified the display and let it flow in the direction most of us would be taking to break in. Their gazes followed it carefully, as though their lives depended on it, which they did. Our target was buried deep inside the complex, an intentional ploy to use innocents as shields. NATech Supreme didn't miss much. Including cover-up, I thought. It had taken me nearly two weeks to pin this facility down, and even then it was because I got lucky. That made this pretty hot property.
"We're looking for a total clean-out. It's unlikely we'll find any rescuable ripes, but if we do, it's SOP. The rest will need to be sacrificed. May God have mercy on their souls." A few crossed themselves. "The location is cross-planet, higher latitude. Total allowed mission time is twenty-two minutes." Several surprised looks at the longer than normal time. Thawell jerked a thumb at me. "Our resident girl genius has a couple of new tricks, so we get an extra six minutes. Use 'em right."
"Sergeant?" the pilot called back softly. The hov's drive was completely silent, and even a vehicle equipped with a MacDonald phaser could travel almost without sound.
Copyright © 2005 Peter Prellwitz