Friday, February 23, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 9

When Mark and Krueger got back to the hotel, the whole situation was already well under control; Trinity (now with slightly more clothing) and Done had taken control of the counterstrike, and now there was a whole army of pissed-off gunrunners helping them watch over the few remaining Shop operatives. Trinity looked up from her rifle, expecting Rowena to get out of the jeep, then shot Mark a look of confusion.

"I thought you were going to stop the plane!" she hissed.
"The kid's on it," Mark replied.
"That's insane."
"Yes," Krueger said, "and that's why she needs all the help we can give her."

Trinity gave him a confused look; Krueger sighed, then walked off toward's the hotel's garage.

"Equinox won't like this," she said, giving Mark a sharp glare.
"I trained her. You saw her in the hotel," Mark replied. "She's ready."

There were a few seconds where Trinity's expression fought Mark, tooth and nail, but his face didn't budge; finally, she rolled her eyes.

"You know, Simmons, when you make those calls, it's usually just your ass on the line. But you sent Rowena in there, alone and unprepared, and even if she's the second coming of the Goddess of War herself, she's too young for this. She needs more experience."
"And the way to give her experience would be..."
"I know, she has to do this sooner or later. Call me overprotective, but I'm worried sick. It's just this bad feeling in my stomach," she said.
"Maybe the calamari?"
"Murder thoughts, Simmons," Trinity growled, her glare renewed. "Murder thoughts."
"Aw, come on. Relax. The way I know her, she's already got things sorted..."


Rowena had not, in fact, made any significant progress. Her body more closely resembled a collage of dents and dings from tumbling over the metal ramp than anything from a fashion magazine, and she was wearing a freaking pajama with socks and not something more useful in a fight. Her entrance had remained undetected for the time being, but her skills and Mark's guns weren't going to help her take the plane if she couldn't walk on the floor.

The video screens installed in the walls switched on, running a soundless version of some commercials. Rowena briefly wondered why that would be, then watched the screen more, a commercial for Bluetooth headsets? That's insane.

Still crouched down behind several crates of miscellanous gear way in the back of the Antonov's cargo hold, she touched the small "sweet spot" behind her right ear, activating the voice interface of her Archer cochlear implant - a Series V, installed just before she'd gone to New York City. The device generated electric impulses that directly stimulated the nerves in her ear, which her brain decoded as a friendly - if neutral-sounding - female voice.

Crosscom standing by.

Taking care not to speak out loud, Rowena whispered in reply.

"Crosscom - Legacy - Bluetooth - Scan."

For a few seconds, there was silence; then the gadget's voice chirped.

"One Bluetooth device detected."
"Crosscom - Legacy - Bluetooth - One - Connect."
"Connected. Incoming call..."

Rowena tapped the sweet spot again; theoretically, she could've used the voice interface again, but the design team had cleverly considered a simplified interface for the more frequent functions.

"Who's there?" she mouthed.
"Paint me yellow and call me a mailbox, it works!" Krueger's voice came through.


Sitting on a camping chair in front of a hastily-assembled computer system, Krueger watched the Antonov's system readout; he'd never felt the need to hack into his own unified control software, but knowing a few of the backdoors was handy.

"Rowena, this is Doctor Krueger. Do you read me?"
"Loud and clear," came her reply, rendered in nice stereo by the computer's speaker system. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, just some tricks with astromodems, SSH and VoIP, nothing you need to worry about. I can't see you on the cameras, where are you?"


"Well-hidden," Rowena replied. "Where are the cameras?"
"Not obvious, either. There's nobody else in the cargo hold we can see from here. Can you stick up your hand?"

Rowena took a deep breath, then raised her hand beyond the crates.

"Ah, yes, I see you. Good hiding spot. I should probably put a camera there on the next refit...uh, you can take your hand down now."
"So, how does it look?"
"Not good. I'll need to focus on getting everything rerouted to the remote control system, but that will take some time. I'll hand you over to Mark, okay?"


Krueger nodded to Mark, who crouched down next to the computer system and tapped the "On" switch of his headset.

"How are you doing, kid?"
"I'm okay, but I can't fight like this."
"Bullshit. You can always fight."
"Let me rephrase that: I can't fight well like this. Now, what's the situation?"
"Cameras are reading 12 people," Mark said, watching the cycling cameras while Krueger typed furiously on the keyboard. "Four in the cockpit, 7 in the crew area, one...well, he went for a Number Two. The cockpit crew doesn't appear to be armed, but it's hard to tell. The guys in the rear have handguns - looks like Glocks to me."
"Appreciate the details. Now, how can you help me?"
"I can get you into my container," Krueger said. "There's some clothes in there."


Rowena crept towards the big white office/container; it was just aft of the ladder access to the upper deck, with the missiles spread out on the floor in the forward part of the cargo hold.

"The door code is 74860061529," Krueger's voice came; she entered the code, then opened the door, flinching with every creak it made. "I know, I should get that oiled..."
"Heads up, kid," Mark said, "the guy just came out of the toilet. He's heading towards the ladder."

Rowena noticed the screens switch off just as she pulled the outer door of the container closed and locked it from inside.

" me?" Krueger's voice came in, weaker than before.
"You're breaking up, Doctor."
"Container...Faraday...authorization signal," he said; the inner door opened as if by magic. When she stepped inside and closed the inner door, there was another signal beep from her implant - total signal loss.


"What now?" Mark asked.
"The good news is, Rowena's in a safe location, nobody gets into the container without the code or a plasma torch. The bad news is, I'm still locked out of the security systems and navigation, so I can't track them that way."
"Keep trying. We need to have a team on the ground when they land."
"They have to refuel first."
"They've been flying for ten minutes, tops. They can't be dry."
"Simmons, my aircraft happens to be an Antonov An-124-300."
"And each missile is as heavy as 20 HMMWVs, even stripped down and unfueled. The Antonov's in a very, very exclusive club of ultraheavy cargo aircraft in that it can even realistically attempt to carry four of these monsters. It's a minor miracle that we had enough capacity for some kerosene before we hit the maximum takeoff weight. If they don't refuel within the next 15 minutes, they'll have a very short flight."
"Okay. What does that tell us?"
"Two countries here have the tankers to do this, but my money's on the guys I grew up with."

Krueger briefly looked up from his screen and smiled warmly.

"The boys from Brazil."

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