“Let me call the others,” Sirvanna said.
“You don’t want to do it with just the two of us?” Ines asked. “We could make out to pass the time if we get stuck hiding in an enclosed area.”
“Don’t you ever take things seriously?” Sirvanna asked.
“I was serious,” Ines said.
Katelyn and Yuni arrived last. Katelyn was holding Yuni up.
“What’s up?” Katelyn asked. “Did you want to sneak off for a snog and needed us to cover?”
“Why is Aurora falling over?” Sirvanna asked.
“You’re imagining things,” Katelyn said. “She’s fine.”
“Tha’s right,” Yuni said, waving her finger. “am perfetly fine.” She broke free of Katelyn, stumbled a few steps and fell into Alena. She looked up, hiccuped and smiled. “Lena, I freckin love you. When… when we grows up I’m gonna marry you.”
“You don’t have to,” Alena said.
“Besides,” Katelyn said. “You’re already grown up.”
“She’s drunk!” Sirvanna said. “Where did you two even get alcohol?” Yuni was trying to kiss Alena who was blocking her lips with her hand.
“I may have borrowed some from the officer’s club,” Katelyn said. “Our shift wasn’t until tomorrow afternoon so I thought it’d be okay.”
“Were you drinking too?” Sirvanna asked.
“No,” Katelyn said. “Just her.”
“You stole alcohol to get Aurora drunk, why?” Sirvanna asked.
“I thought it’d be good for a laugh,” Katelyn said. “I was right.”
“This is a problem,” Sirvanna muttered.
“Why are we here?” Alexa said. “Forget the drunk for a second and explain that much.”
“Am not dunk,” Yuni said. “An you’re mean.” She nudged Alena. “Beat er down honey.”
“You’re here because there’s something going on at this base,” Sirvanna said. “Have any of you noticed that no planes ever come back and we never get new ones in?”
Alena, Alexa and Katelyn thought about it for a second while Yuni clenched Alena and blinked a lot.
“Are you just telling us so we can keep a look out or do you have a plan?” Alexa asked.
“I have a plan,” Sirvanna said. “Aurora and Pixie are going to take on the guard duty…”
“I don wanna!” Yuni interrupted. “I wanna take Lena inta the bushes!” She tightened her grip on Alena and glared at everyone else. “An maybe Nessy too.”
“Calm down,” Ines said. “This is a big step for the three of us, right?”
Yuni looked confused for a second and then her face scrunched up. Finally, she nodded. “Yeah, is rilly big step.”
“That’s why Alena and I have to get ready,” Ines said. “So everything can be perfect.” Yuni nodded. “So you’re going to have to let go of Alena so we can prepare. In the meantime, you can wait here with Katelyn.” Yuni hesitated but released her grip on Alena. Ines turned to Sirvanna and winked. “Go ahead.”
“While they’re keeping watch Sylph and I will subtly create a distraction,” Sirvanna turned to Alexa. “We can’t be seen and we can’t kill anyone.”
“Just get on with the plan,” Alexa said.
“While that’s going on Undine and Mara will infiltrate the command centre and get the plans out of the computer.” Sirvanna looked over at Ines and Alena. “Can you deal with the encryption?”
“Leave it to me,” Alena said.
“Good,” Sirvanna said. “Sylph and I will make sure that it’s nice and dark for you. Let’s get to it.”
“Are you sure that you can keep up?” Ines asked. “Cause I don’t want to go really slowly.”
“I’m almost as fast as you,” Alena said. “When it’s dark, anyway.”
“Good,” Ines said. “Then we can both cut loose.”
Sirvanna nodded at Alexa. Alexa glared at her and concentrated. Swirls of air coalesced around her. She released it in several rapid bursts. Each one slammed into one of the power station’s guards, slamming them into walls until they were all unconscious.
Sirvanna ran forward, grabbed the keys where they’d fallen and went inside. She fired a stream of lightning into the generators until they sputtered, fizzled and went offline. She hobbled back out, placing the keys roughly where she’d found them.
“Hurry up!” Alexa said.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” Sirvanna whispered.
“You’re so easily drained,” Alexa muttered. She grabbed Sirvanna and a funnel of wind swiftly moved them away from the station.
“Let’s go,” Alena said.
“About time,” Ines said. “I thought that something had gone wrong when it took them so long to get the power out.”
“It was only five minutes,” Alena said.
“Was it?” Ines said. “Well, whatever. Let’s show them a little dash.”
The two ran into the main base.
“Did you two see anything?”
“With the lights out?” Katelyn asked. “Let me just grab the night-vision goggles I keep in my purse.”
“I meant before the power went out.”
“Yeah. I saw some planes on the runway, crates and buildings,” Katelyn said.
“Are you going to keep changing the question or just let me answer it and go?” Katelyn asked.
“If you’ll just answer this one I’ll let you go about your business.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Katelyn said. “The power just went out. Maybe gremlins chewed the wiring.”
“Hey!” Yuni’s voice cried. “Where are Lena and Nessy? They were apposed to come to the bushes with me. I can’t go to the bushes by myself. I’ll go blind.”
“Is something wrong with your partner?”
“Oh, nothing much,” Katelyn said. “She’s just been suffering from insomnia. She’s just wondering where our replacements are.”
“Are you sure because it sounds like…”
“Do you have time to keep asking questions?” Katelyn asked. “Shouldn’t you be checking for possible infiltrators?”
“Oh, right. Well, keep on guard. We may have intruders. You may want to get the rest of your team together.”
“I’m sure they’re around,” Katelyn said.
Alena was fast, Ines had to give her that. Not as fast as her, of course. The two rounded a corner and went past a couple guards fumbling about in the dark. Ines spotted a flashlight up ahead. She surged forward, wrenched it from the soldier’s hands and threw it to the ground. Alena quickly joined her and the two continued on their way.
Sergeant first class Elizabeth Shaw looked down at the ground. When had she dropped her flashlight?
Alena and Ines finally arrived at the command centre. There were two high ranking officers chatting in the dark. Ines ran forward and bludgeoned each of them with a monitor in the span of a few milliseconds.
“You didn’t have to knock them out,” Alena said.
“How else were we supposed to get the job done?” Ines asked.
“Take a laptop and go,” Alena said.
“Well, where’s the fun in that?” Ines asked. “Besides, aren’t they fixed so they can’t access certain files outside of this room?”
“That would ruin the point of a laptop,” Alena said. She grabbed one. “Let’s just go before they fix the power.”
“Did you get the information?” Sirvanna asked.
“I’m about to,” Alena said. She opened the laptop. “We have to hurry though, before they shut us down remotely.”
“Won’t it be a while before they figure out it’s missing?” Sirvanna asked.
Alena glanced at Ines. “Ordinarily.”
“What did you do?” Sirvanna asked.
“I may have beamed a couple old white dudes with a monitor,” Ines said.
“What were you thinking?” Sirvanna asked.
“I thought that the computers were position protected,” Ines said.
“They don’t do that with laptops,” Sirvanna said.
“How am I supposed to know?” Ines asked. “I don’t use computers. They’re too slow.”
“Will you two just shut up so she can work?” Alexa asked.
Sirvanna bent down slightly to look directly in Alexa’s eyes. “I am in charge. If you’re going to continually undermine my authority then you and I are going to have words. Understood?”
“Fine,” Alexa said. “Continue yelling about things that can’t be changed. I don’t care.”
“I’ve got it,” Alena said.
Sirvanna looked at Alexa. “We’ll finish this later.” She turned to Alena. “What’s going on?”
“They’re abandoning the base,” Alena said. “They’re moving all of the planes and vital supplies elsewhere.”
“And what’s our role?” Sirvanna asked.
“We’re a trap,” Alena said. “They’ve been running news stories about how this base is going to be a vital part of our offensive. They’re trying to lure the enemy into attacking while there’s just us and a skeleton crew. Then…” she trailed off.
“That can’t be good,” Ines muttered.
“Then?” Sirvanna asked?
“Then they detonate a nuke they hid beneath the base,” Alena said. “Hopefully taking out a large enemy force with minimum casualties.”
“They’re going to nuke us?” Sirvanna asked.
“Well, I could probably outrun it,” Ines said. “But I’m not strong enough to carry more than one person.”
“We should bail,” Alexa said.
“We can’t,” Sirvanna said. She tapped the base of her neck. “Explosives, remember? We do need a plan, though.”
“Maybe I could race to the sub-level and disarm it,” Ines said.
“It won’t work,” Sirvanna said. “For one thing, it’s going to be heavily guarded. For another, you don’t know how to disarm a nuke. You could very well blow us all up by mistake.”
“Do you have a better plan?” Alexa asked.
“Well, no,” Sirvanna said. “But there has to be something…”
“One other option,” Alena said. “But you won’t like it.”
“What is it?” Sirvanna asked.
“They won’t have to detonate the nuke if the enemy doesn’t fall for the trap,” Alena said. “And they won’t fall for the trap if they know about it.”
“We send them a message!” Ines exclaimed. “We warn them away and then we don’t have a problem.”
“That’s treason,” Sirvanna said.
“Wouldn’t want to betray the guys controlling us with threats of violence, would we?” Alexa asked. “What exactly do we owe them? I don’t remember being asked to get blown into molecules for the ‘greater good.'”
“Could you do it without getting traced?” Sirvanna asked.
“If we hurry,” Alena answered.
“Do it,” Sirvanna said. “As soon as you’re finished I’ll fry the laptop. Then Sylph will scoop it away in a tornado, hopefully it’ll be dropped over a river or something. When that’s done we rejoin Pixie and Aurora and look busy until the alert ends.”
“Will Jenny hand Zhao the mallet?”
“Sure,” Jenny picked it up and handed it to the smaller woman.
“Thanks to Jenny,” Zhao said. “Could Jenny lift this apparatus for Zhao?”
“Roger,” Jenny grabbed the mechanical monstrosity and easily picked it up. Zhao moved underneath it and go to work. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Jenny can ask Zhao anything,” Zhao said. “Zhao will do anything for Jenny.”
“How did you get involved in all of this?” Jenny asked.
“Jenny wants to know more about Zhao?” Zhao gave her a wide grin. “Okay, Zhao will tell her story. Zhao met the Professor before he gained an army or even a land. It all happened twelve years ago when Zhao had only just entered adolescence. She became very sick. The authorities told her parents that she was going to die anyway, so that they had to end it quickly before Zhao’s plague could infect anyone else.”
“That’s horrible!” Jenny cried.
“Maybe, but Zhao’s parents believed it. So Zhao was tied and weighted down. Her parents watched as she was thrown from a boat into the east China sea. Zhao thought that she was going to die without growing up or learning what it meant to fall in love, but Qinglong was looking out for Zhao. Before her lungs burst she felt the weight falling from her legs and a force pulling her up. She found herself in a small boat with a silver-haired youth a little younger than she was.”
“Wait,” Jenny said. “He’s younger than you?”
“Zhao is older than she looks,” Zhao said. “And Professor seems older because of his hair and demeanor. In any case, Zhao was delirious. She warned him that he would catch the plague from her. Professor pointed to his hair and said that Zhao didn’t have to worry. He’d already had it. He told Zhao that she could survive it too if she was strong. Then he smiled and offered Zhao an egg.” Zhao smiled. “She had never had European chocolate before. It was the best thing Zhao had ever had. The smooth texture was perfect and the little bear inside was cute. And…”
“You don’t have to describe kinder eggs for me,” Jenny said.
“Oh, right,” Zhao said. “Zhao managed to eat the egg. Professor took care of Zhao while she was sick. He caught fish for her, cooked them for her and even washed her. By the time they landed in Japan, Zhao was feeling much stronger. Professor spoke to the coast officials in Japanese so Zhao doesn’t know what he said, but was able to get permission for himself and Zhao to land. Zhao and Professor lived alone in a small apartment that he did odd jobs to afford. One day he brought home a severely wounded Naoko. Professor nursed her back to health like he’d done for Zhao. Shortly after that Zhao, Professor and Naoko embarked on their brilliant quest to save the world using Professor’s brilliant plan, Zhao’s inventions and Naoko’s Naokoness.”
“I get the feeling you’re leaving a lot out,” Jenny said.
“Did Jenny want every single detail?” Zhao asked.
“No, that’s okay,” Jenny said. “It must’ve been hard for you.”
“It was difficult at first,” Zhao said. “But Professor gained new comrades wherever he went. Then Jenny joined after the Australia campaign and Zhao finally learned what it means to fall in love.”
“Why?” Jenny asked. “I’m nothing special.”
Zhao shook her head. “Jenny is special. When Professor asked the gifted of Brisbane to join him Jenny was the only one who did it without any hesitation. Jenny has always had her own brand of courage and more determination than anyone!” Zhao reached up and gently touched Jenny’s cheek, leaving a greasy handprint. “That’s what makes Jenny special.” Jenny pulled her head back. “Can Jenny not look past Zhao’s body?” Zhao asked. “Does Zhao just look too young?”
“That’s…” Jenny hesitated. “It’s not that It’s just… Your hand was really filthy.”
“Then Zhao will try again after work when she’s washed,” Zhao said.
“I’m just so glad that I can feel safe as a valued part of this army,” Katelyn said. Sirvanna had just finished explaining what they’d found.
“Did you cover for us?” Sirvanna asked.
“Totally,” Katelyn said. “I told them Alexa and Alena were checking the perimetre for intruders and that you’d taken Ines to the barracks for some inappropriate conduct.”
“Pixie,” Sirvanna began.
“Kidding,” Katelyn said. “I told them Ines was doing a quick sweep and you were doing executive things. Although I suspect that’s actually just code for sitting on your bum.”
“I mished you sooo much,” Yuni said. She was hugging Alena’s arm. “I waited for you in the bushes forever, but you weren’t there. I was sooo lonely I jusht had to take care’a myself.” She snorted loudly. “Is akay though. We’ll get to it next time.”
“I’ll have to fill Aurora in again when she sobers up,” Sirvanna said.
“I’ll take care of it,” Alena said.
“Really?” Sirvanna asked. “I’ll leave it to you then.”
“Are we really safe?” Alexa asked.
“Well, I doubt they’re going to go on a suicide run,” Sirvanna said. “We can only hope.”
Ellsworth is a trap.
“I know,” he said. “Trojan told me.” His chair turned to face her. The little mutt was in his lap and he was stroking it with one hand. “But how did you find out?”
Someone sent a message.
“Interesting,” he said. “We may have friends on the other side.”
Does Trojan still dot her js and is with hearts?
“Well, yeah,” he said. “But her quirks are unimportant. She’s a very skilled operative.”
She’s a twit.
“Be nice, she’s our precious comrade. I don’t see why you can’t just be courteous towards her.” He gently lifted the mutt who writhed around in his arms. “Try to find out who our friends are. We must thank them.”