“Welcome back,” he said. He turned towards Wraith. “Thank you for bringing her home safely. Kinder egg?”
“I will graciously accept this token of your esteem, my Lord,” Wraith said.
“Please don’t call me that,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse us.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Wraith said. He bowed and made his way out.
He turned towards Trojan and put his hands together. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “I thought that you knew better.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know how they found…” she stopped talking the instant his hand went up.
“I’m not talking about you getting caught,” he said. “I’m disappointed that you gave up. Haven’t I always told you that your first duty is to survive?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I… I thought that…”
“I know,” he said “but rest assured that I won’t give up on any of you. Not as long as you breathe. Kinder egg?”
“Can Zhao have the egg?” Zhao asked.
“No!” Wraith declared. “It is an irreplaceable token of my Lord’s esteem.”
“But Ryu never even eats them,” Zhao said. “He just keeps them on his shelf.”
“I couldn’t vulgarly consume a present given to me by him,” Wraith said. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Why doesn’t Ryu eat the chocolate and keep the toy?” Zhao asked.
Wraith stared at her. He looked at the wrapped chocolate in his hand. He held it to his ear and gently shook it. “There’s a toy in there?” he asked.
“Why didn’t you leave any of your team behind to guard the prisoner?” Trask asked.
“Because the robots seemed to be the major threat,” Sirvanna said. “I thought that the others would be capable of keeping her securely locked up if we could hold them back.”
“I see,” Trask said. “You may go.”
Sirvanna nodded and strode out.
“Do you think her team deliberately allowed the enemy plaguer to escape?” Trask asked.
“No, Sir,” Benton said. “They acted with diligence and destroyed the robots with admirable haste. I don’t think that they could have possibly done more.”
“That’s good,” Trask said. “If I have your word on it then it should assure the higher ups.”
A soldier ran into the room and hurriedly saluted. “Colonel, Britain’s Theta Squad failed. They want your team to take over the mission.”
“Understood,” Trask said. “I’ll summon them at once.”
“Let me make things clear,” Trask said, once everyone had arrived. “Everything I’m about to say is top secret. It is not to be discussed with anyone who is not in this room. Not family, not friends, not even other soldiers. If I suspect for an instant that one of you has leaked any of it I’ll set off those bombs in your skulls.”
“Seems a perfectly reasonable reaction,” Alexa muttered.
“At least he’s not sending us to bed without supper,” Katelyn whispered.
“We understand,” Sirvanna said. “We’ll keep it quiet.”
“Good,” Trask said. He hit a button and an image of a silver haired man with violet eyes appeared on the monitor.
“He’s pretty,” Yuni said.
“Are you sure that’s a he?” Ines asked.
“Maybe it’s a very flat woman,” Katelyn said. “With a strangely masculine chest.”
“This,” Trask began “is Michael Wagner, leader of the enemy troops. He’s a plaguer. I hate to admit it, but we created him.”
“Created… him?” Sirvanna asked.
“How did you create him?” Yuni asked.
“When a man and a woman love each other very much…” Katelyn began.
“Enough,” Trask said. “I’ll explain it. It wasn’t long after the plague first broke out and the first plaguers started to emerge. The UN formed a task force to study it. Scientists from all over the world gathered in Munich. They took orphaned children from everywhere. All of whom were perfectly healthy. In an effort to study the effects of the plague, they were deliberately infected with an enhanced version.”
“That’s horrible,” Yuni said.
“It was a necessary step,” Trask said. “The children were carefully monitored through the stages of the virus. One survived the experience. His hair shifted to an unnatural silver and his eyes changed to a bright violet.”
“Michael Wagner,” Sirvanna said. “So, how did he escape?”
“There was a glitch in the compound’s security system,” Trask said. “A rather nasty one that resulted in the power going down in the entire complex. Wagner escaped in the confusion. Over a decade later, when next we heard of him he was the head of a plaguer rebellion in Japan. We sent some aid to the Japanese government, but it was too late. They’d taken over within weeks. But he wasn’t content with that. He spread his influence and conquered more and more. Bringing us to the sorry state we’re in today.”
“So we take a plane past anti-aircraft guns and into hostile territory, fight past a group of plaguers and somehow reach him?” Ines asked. “Sounds like my kind of odds.”
“Stealth is going to be the key to success,” Trask said. The jet you’ll be taking is the newest stealth model. The team we sent in before you had one of the same. They made it to his base before we lost contact. I expect you to do better.”
“What’s his power?” Alena asked.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure,” Trask said. “We suspect that he exerts an influence over minds.”
“When do we leave?” Sirvanna asked.
“Right now,” Trask said. “We need to hurry before they figure out a way to detect our stealth tech. Our spy will meet you when you land. I want you to sneak into the base without attracting attention and kill Michael Wagner.”
“Because that’ll stop the entire war,” Katelyn said.
“Well, if he’s controlling everyone they might not want to fight anymore when he’s gone,” Yuni said.
“At the very least we can demoralise them,” Sirvanna said. “Let’s roll out.”
“Use your radio to call me when you finish,” Benton said. “I don’t know how long we’ll be able to wait, but we’ll circle around as long as I can.”
“Understood,” Sirvanna said. “We’ll hurry.”
She led her team from the aircraft. It was night where they landed, which was a bit disconcerting, but they had crossed several time zones. A brunette girl appearing to be in her late teens waved them over.
“You must be the spy,” Sirvanna said.
“That’s right,” she answered. “I’m here to take you into the base so that you can complete your mission.” She smiled and held out her hand. “I’m Lisa.”
“You can call me Fury,” Sirvanna said. “This is my team, Undine, Sylph, Pixie, Aurora and Mara.”
“Code names?” Lisa giggled. “How professional of you.” She gestured. “It’s this way.”
“Ines,” Sirvanna said. “Scout ahead for potential hazards and be careful.”
“Got it,” Ines said. She winked at Sirvanna. “Try not to miss me too much.”
“Did you hear that?” Katelyn asked.
Alexa nodded. “Our fearless leader used someone’s real name during a mission. Maybe she’s been replaced by a shapeshifter.”
“No way,” Katelyn said. “A shapeshifter could never fake being that uptight. I think it’s love.”
“Awww,” Yuni squealed. “That’s too cute!”
“Shut it,” Sirvanna said. “It was just a slip of the tongue. She’s an incorrigible flirt who acts without thinking. I don’t even like her.”
“That was harsh,” Alexa said.
“And with her right there too,” Katelyn said. “I guess we always do hurt the ones we love.”
Sirvanna turned around. Ines was standing right there. She looked away as soon as Sirvanna looked over. “I scouted the area. There’s no trouble in sight. I couldn’t get into the base.”
“Thank you,” Sirvanna said, her cheeks turning red. “Lead the way, Lisa.”
“Oh… yeah,” Lisa said. “Sure.”
“Hey,” Yuni tapped Sirvanna’s shoulder, “shouldn’t you apologise?”
“Forget it,” Alexa said. “Some people are just naturally cold.”
“But…” Yuni began, but she stopped in mid-sentence. Unsure of what to say.
“Don’t worry,” Alena said, slipping to the back with Yuni. “They’ll make up.”
“You think?” Yuni asked.
Alena nodded and gave her a very slight smile.
The group progressed in veritable silence. They quickly reached the base. Lisa led them to a back entrance.
“You should be able to find what you’re looking for through here,” she said, holding the door for them. Sirvanna went into the dark room first followed by the others. The door closed behind them and several bright lights came on.
“We aren’t alone!” Yuni cried, moving between the figures in the room and Alena.
“A trap,” Sirvanna said. “Dammit, I should’ve seen that coming.”
“Relax,” the feminine voice had a British accent. “We don’t have any intention of fighting with you.”
Sirvanna’s eyes adjusted and she noticed that there were five other women in the room. The one speaking had curly bright red hair.
“I’m Rose,” she said. “The leader of Theta squadron.”
“Didn’t you all die?” Katelyn asked.
“Not at all,” Rose said. “Our implants were simply shut off.”
“So, you betrayed your country,” Sirvanna said. “And we were mistakenly told that you hadn’t survived.”
“We may have to fix that,” Alexa said.
“No need for violence, Love,” Rose said. “We didn’t betray our country. It betrayed us. When we realised that it was easy to figure out where our loyalties should lie.”
“I don’t suppose Michael Wagner is around at all?” Sirvanna asked.
“He had to pop out for a bit,” Rose said. “But he’ll be back soon if you’d like to talk with him.”
“Like we’d be fooled that easily!” Alexa said. A whirlwind ripped through the room tossing furniture everywhere and scattering the members of Theta.
“Pick your opponents!” Sirvanna said. “We’ll take them out and get out of here.”
“How impertinent!” Rose cried. “Take them alive, and try not to hurt them too badly.”
Sirvanna fired a bolt of lightning at Rose. The other woman didn’t flinch when it hit her. She fired a blast of crimson energy back that hurled Sirvanna into the wall.
Ines went after a tall blonde woman. Just before she could reach her, her feet were floating off the ground and she couldn’t move forward.
“Same as Katelyn, huh?” Ines muttered. She spun herself around as quickly as she could, trying to break free.
Alexa floated towards a middle aged woman with graying black hair. She hurled a gust of wind at her. The older woman gestured and the ground broke through the floor to shelter her.
“Don’t underestimate your elders!” she said. Chunks of the ground broke free and hurled themselves at Alexa.
Alexa created a funnel to toss the projectiles aside. “Maybe you should retire,” she said. “Before you get hurt.”
“Alexa, behind you!” Alena’s voice called. Alexa looked back. An earthen hand squashed her into the ground from above.
Katelyn tried to keep track of her opponent. The brunette looked like a body builder. She had disappeared the moment Katelyn had approached her only to reappear behind her and vanish again when Katelyn had telekinetically thrown a chair at her.
Katelyn gathered all of the furniture in the room in a swirl around her. Where was she?
“Thanks for the lift.” Katelyn looked up. The woman was sitting in one of the chairs. Katelyn hurriedly tossed it away, but she vanished again before it hit the wall.
“Can we not fight?” Yuni asked. Her opponent looked like she was still in primary school or barely out of it.
“Why?” the girl asked. “Because I’m young?”
“Well, kind of,” Yuni said. “I wouldn’t want to be a bully.”
The girl giggled, approaching Yuni. “You’re funny, but this is a fight and I’m going all out!”
She grabbed Yuni’s arm and tossed her as easily as she might throw a doll. Yuni soared through the air, Ines managed to catch her before she hit the wall.
“Thanks,” Yuni said. “I think that would’ve killed me.”
“Maybe,” Ines said. She took Yuni to Sirvanna, who was dodging another of Rose’s blasts.
“Stop shooting her with lightning!” Ines said. “Didn’t you notice that she only fires her thing after she gets hit by yours?”
Sirvanna paused. “I must be distracted,” she muttered. “What do you want?” Yuni fired a beam of light over Rose’s head, temporarily blinding her.
“We have to run,” Ines said. “We’re making too much noise.”
“Reinforcements?” Sirvanna said.
“Only a matter of time,” Ines said.
“How do we get away from them?” Sirvanna asked. “You might make it but the rest of us would get caught. Unless…” She stared at Yuni. “Unless we can use our powers creatively.”
“I think I overdid it,” the young girl said. She turned to Alena. “Are you stronger than your friend?”
The lights went out throughout the room.
“Grab Yuni and Sirvanna,” Ines called. “I’ve got Katelyn and Alexa should be able to move fast enough on her own.”
Alena nodded. She ran forward, punched the kid in the gut as hard as she could and grabbed the two women, one in each arm.
“What happened to the light?” Katelyn asked.
“I absorbed it,” Yuni said. “It was Sirvanna’s idea.” She hugged Alena more tightly. “This is kind of fun.”
“We’re not clear yet,” Sirvanna said. “They’ll follow as soon as they can.” The lawn around them lit up. Alena fell forward in a heap with Sirvanna and Yuni. Ines put down Katelyn and ran back.
“Sorry,” Yuni said. “It came on to fast for me to react.”
“No choice,” Sirvanna said. “We have to take a stand.”
“There is a choice,” Ines said. “You all run to the rendezvous point. I’ll hold them off.”
“I can’t allow that!” Sirvanna said. “I’m the leader, I should do it.”
“I’m the only one who stands a chance of holding them off and making it back in time for evac,” Ines said. “Besides, I’m just an incorrigible flirt. If something happens I won’t be a big loss. Now go!”
“Follow us after five minutes,” Sirvanna said, her voice shaking. “Without fail, okay?”
She and the others ran as fast as they could, leaving Ines to intercept Theta.
“Hurry aboard!” Benton called. Yuni got on first followed by Alena, Katelyn and Alexa. Sirvanna stood with her feet barely on the ramp. Looking back.
“Come on,” she muttered. “Hurry up.”
“Is that her?” Yuni asked. The group looked intently at a figure in the distance.
“Too slow,” Alena said.
“It’s them!” Alexa said.
“Hurry up and get in!” Benton called. “We have to go!”
“We’re waiting right here until she comes back!” Sirvanna cried.
“No time,” Alena said. She pulled Sirvanna in. The ramp closed behind them.
“Ines…” Sirvanna whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.
“We have to go back!” Sirvanna said.
“We can’t go back,” Benton said. “We have to head back to base and make a full report. Maybe the Colonel will let you go on a rescue mission afterwards.”
“No point,” Alexa said. “Face it, she’s gone. They straight up murdered her and came after us.”
“She’s alive!” Sirvanna said. “We just have to save her.”
“It’s wishful thinking,” Alexa said. “They aren’t going to take the risk of her escaping or being rescued. Not during a war.”
There was silence for a time.
“She’s alive,” Yuni said, softly. Everyone turned to look at her.
“How would you know?” Alexa asked.
“Because that Rose lady told her people to take us alive,” Yuni said. “If they wanted us alive it wouldn’t make sense to kill her.”
“That’s right!” Sirvanna cried. “She did say that.”
“She’s been in there a while,” Yuni observed.
“Maybe she’s working hard to earn a promotion,” Katelyn said.
“Don’t be crude,” Alexa said. “They’re obviously arguing.”
“Why would they be arguing over a report?” Yuni asked. Alena’s hand came to rest on her shoulder and she looked over at Alena who shook her head.
“Not the report,” Alena said. “Ines.”
“Please let me rescue her,” Katelyn said, doing her best Sirvanna impersonation. “I’ll do your taxes. I’ll divide by zero. I’ll even learn to cook.”
The four heard a door slam and Sirvanna strode out.
“When do we leave?” Yuni asked.
Sirvanna looked over at her. “We don’t,” she said. “There will be no rescue mission. We’re giving her up for lost.”
“No way,” Yuni said. “But that’s too cruel!” Tears fell from her eyes. “It’s just too cruel.”
“We’re to standby for further orders,” Sirvanna said. “Return to your rooms for the moment.”
She strode away, lost in thought. She didn’t even hear anyone behind her until “So, you’re giving up?” a familiar voice asked.
She turned around to see Alexa walking behind her. “We have our orders,” Sirvanna said.
“Oh right, I forgot,” Alexa said. “Orders are everything.” She got right in Sirvanna’s face. “We’re such a lucky squadron to have a leader like you. Anyone else might have succumbed to their humanity and done something unthinkable like disobeying orders. How fortunate for us that we don’t ever have to worry about you doing anything so unexpected.” She turned away from Sirvanna and walked off in the opposite direction.
“Stop crying,” Alena said.
“I’m sorry,” Yuni sobbed. “I can’t help it.” She loudly blew her nose. “It hurts when you lose someone, you know?”
“I don’t,” Alena said.
“You don’t feel sad?” Yuni asked, still sobbing.
“N… Well…” Alena looked over at Yuni. “Seeing you cry makes me feel sad. So, please, stop crying.” She gently wiped Yuni’s eyes with a fresh handkerchief.
“Where’s Fury?” Trask asked.
“Maybe she went to powder her nose,” Katelyn suggested.
“Benton,” Trask called. “Find Fury and bring her here.” Benton saluted and moved to comply. “As for the rest of you,” Trask said. “I called you over here for a specific purpose.”
“We’re all getting a vacation and free ponies?” Katelyn asked.
“Not even close,” Trask said. “With the unfortunate loss of Undine we’re going to have to recruit a new plaguer into the squad. I’ve brought some dossiers for you to look at. I’d like you to pick three suitable candidates.”
“Too soon,” Alexa said. “Ask later.”
“It may be short notice,” Trask said. “But remember that Undine sacrificed herself for this country. The best way to honour her memory is to press on.”
“Colonel Trask!” Benton’s distraught voice came in over the radio.
“What is it, Benton?” Trask asked.
“I just found nearly three dozen soldiers suffering from severe electric shocks, Sir,” Benton said. “And the new stealth jet is missing.”
“Well, well,” Alexa said. “I guess she is human after all.”
“Should we activate Fury’s implant, Colonel?” Benton asked.
“No,” Trask said, after a long pause. “We’ll let her go. If she succeeds we can take credit for the operation. If she gets herself killed we can report that she went off on her own. Either way she’s sure to cause a lot of damage.”