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An Erinyes Adventure

The Sins of Kate Elder

by Starwolf

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Denver Metro Expressway 3.
TAC Rig En-route to Themis Denver Central Testing and Storage
10 AM:

Kate always got shotgun when in a vehicle. It wasn’t that she couldn’t drive well, or handle the weapons systems. It was simply the fact that with everything set as open as possible she was still cramped into a space smaller than she was and the com suite had the most room. Vehicles, and buildings for that matter, weren’t made to handle people as big as she was. At seven feet tall and 270 lbs. she was the largest Erinye in the Corps by far.

It wasn’t without some rewards though. While Jill had to concentrate on driving the big TAC, (Transport and Control), rig and Rita had to be alert in the cupola in case there was some unlikely ambush, all Kate had to do was monitor the communications. This gave her a chance to think about current projects she had going. And the past that led to this place and time.

Not all that long ago she’d been a well known, in some circles anyway, research botanist. In fact, he’d been a leading researcher and discoverer of many of the new wonder drugs that helped keep the tides of injury and disease back and under control. Unlike most of the other Erinyes, she could sell her patent rights and pay most if not all of her debt to Themis. But that wouldn’t prove the point she was trying to make. She’d sworn a private oath to herself that she’d pay off that debt the same way as all the others. And prove all her critics wrong at the same time.

He’d been 50 years old, 5' 7' tall, 160 lbs., pale, pudging out, and starting to thin on top. He was so normal as to be invisible in a crowd. People knew the name of Dr. Thomas Proctor, PhD, but no one knew the face that went with it. He was unremarkable in any way. Except for a secret he’d never let out in all that time.

Already suffering some age related problems and an ongoing battle with several skin carcinomas, the result of too much exposure to sunlight and other injuries to his tender skin in the past, life had been losing interest for him. After careful consideration of where his life had gone and why it had gone the way it had, he finally admitted to the problem that had driven his whole life. Or at least the amount of energy he’d put into the avoidance of the truth.

He’d never gotten close to any girl, afraid they’d discover his secret just by getting to know him, and never been interested in men, at least not as a man. Old habits die hard and there he was a virgin at fifty and no likelihood of that ever changing. Then he’d seen an article describing the Erinyes and what they were doing for Themis.

What followed was a great deal of research, some difficult requests and admissions, and then a very arduous training program after convincing the recruiters a fifty year old man could make the grade.

Very proud of making it to the final part of the program, he’d still found some things he felt needed looking into in the process. A very subtle and unrecognized prejudice in the ranks of those who should know better. No one else would agree with her, even though she tried to point it out. Long experience in scientific circles had shown her just how hard changing attitudes could be. Therefore, it was her duty to bring it to light and do something about it. No one else would. Some careful plans and graduation into and through the Erinyes Project gave her the chance to prove her point. Her willingness to volunteer for some experimental procedures that made the transformation more practical also helped.

Now she looked to be in her early twenties and larger than just about everyone else on the planet. Thick, dark red hair that went down to her middle back, a mullato like skin tone, and steely blue eyes for contrast helped to bring attention to her. She no longer blended into any crowd. It was widely rumored that she’d never be able to complete her contract because she was too big, especially for the Erinyes. This was what she was trying to get across. There was a pressure to see everyone fit into a basic range of size or types. Not that it would likely be too great a burden on those who accepted the process, but she’d felt restricted by the hidden rules and her rebellious streak came to the fore.

Rebellion had its disadvantages too. Everything had to be made specially for her and the expense of that and her food put a huge drain on her income as it was. She was also not generally suited for several of the more lucrative contracts such as escort duty and undercover work.

Then there was her tendency to take a very conservative and safer approach to some of her assignments. Collateral damage was a no-no in the current philosophy, but Kate had always felt better being safer than sorry when under fire. Especially since she made such a good, big target. It didn’t make sense to wait for someone to take a shot at you. If you neutralized the threat before they could shoot you there was no risk of getting shot yourself. Kate loved indirect fire and the advantage it gave you. But it tended to get messy sometimes. The last big mission she’d been on illustrated the problem very well.

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Several days ago,
CHARM Inc. Midwestern Distribution Point.
Denver Colorado
1 AM:

She’d been part of a nine person team sent to stop and capture some perps who were robbing a CHARM, (Conglomerate of Health and Arms Research Manufacturers), Inc. pharmaceuticals warehouse Themis was contracted to protect. It seemed fairly simple and straightforward. About twenty perps had entered the warehouse area with two small and one large vehicles. It seemed they were in the process of loading very valuable property into the large van in a cul-de-sac with only one entrance towards the rear of the compound. They’d apparently missed some of the sensor pickups on the way in and the alarm had gone out.

Tina, the team leader, was in a terrible mood for some reason. Cursing the whole time we were preparing on the way there she showed no interest in doing more than the minimum necessary to get the job done. When they got there even Kate, just out of additional training in New York, saw that she had taken what seemed like a very cautious approach in order to be certain of cutting off any escape by the roads out of the compound. It’s bad to nit pick at a leader, it’s poor for the morale and performance of the unit, but there’s always something to be said for constructive criticism, and a bit more speed seemed to be called for.

As soon as they got there Kate started to show her discomfort. She tried to point out that all the info they had on the perps showed these guys had come in with military like precision. They seemed to know exactly what they wanted and where it was, but somehow had missed taking out key sensors, Then they practically trapped themselves with only one obvious way out. They even seemed to be taking their time, like no one would bother them. Something smelled from the first, but Tina wasn’t in any mood to listen and ordered her to shut up right off when Kate tried to say more. Tina said Kate was the new kid and should watch and take notes on how it should be done. This time Kate did, but it nagged at her.

Tina directed two teams of three to infiltrate through two areas where a person could get to the target area but a vehicle couldn’t. She had Kate stay with her and Anita. Their job was to secure the way out.

Everyone else had rifles and were in the standard Erinyes battlesuits. Kate had a 12 shot 40 mm grenade launcher and her large, nearly floor length, armored coat as well. She liked the extra protection and it allowed her to carry a bit more ammo and the like.

The first thing Tina did after moving into position was to order Kate to exchange weapons with Anita. Anita had a standard 9mm auto rifle. Short, lots of ammo, high rate of fire, and seemed like a toy in Kate’s hand. Anita ended up getting loaded down with a large, twelve shot, 40mm, selectable fire, grenade launcher. She could handle it, just. Tina ordered Kate to move in closer and check out where the perps would have to come out. Kate shrugged and moved to obey her leader. But it was obvious she wasn’t too happy about the situation.

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The approach.

Feeling like a fool, but still following orders, Kate worked her way down carefully to the access road. She was sure there was more to this than met the eye and by positioning herself carefully across from the tight alley that led between the buildings to the target area she was able to use a small IR/UV enhanced scanner to get a better look. Before long she spotted two trip wires strung about 15 and 30 feet past the opening. Using those as a reference she was able to spot what she was sure were four anti-personnel/small vehicle mines strung around the opening.

At a guess, the mines could be tripped by either of the wires or also remotely triggered by someone watching from further back. Her bet was a small alcove about 150 feet farther in from her current position. If the maps of the area were correct, anyone there could watch the approach and escape farther back if necessary. They could also shoot anyone hurt or slowed down by the mines. A nasty little ambush.

The only problem was that it was also their only way out and she couldn’t see a way to get a vehicle out of there without setting the mines off. Time to talk to Tina again. Kate couldn’t keep all her anxiety out of her voice.

“Tina.”

Tina snarled back. “What is it newbie? Getting cold feet?”

Kate kept her voice controlled. Tina was too tense to tease right now. “No Ma’am. Just reporting that the entrance is booby-trapped out the yin yang. There’s got to be something else going on here.”

Tina didn’t conceal the sneer in her voice. “So they don’t want to be disturbed and want some warning if anyone tries. What of it?”

Kate remained patient. “It’s supposedly their only way out. And they’ve sealed it. My guess is they’ve got another way out. We need to get in there now, before they have a chance to use it.”

Tina was less than patient. “There’s no way we can do that without ripping the place apart. And I’m not going to let Anita here blow the crap out of the place just to make you happy. Now just wait there until we can come down and hold your hand for you if you’re so nervous about waiting there.”

Kate sighed. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I just don’t think we’re going about this right.”

Tina snapped back. “Noted. You can report this afterward. Just obey orders now until we can get out of here.”

She must have forgotten to cut off her mike, or maybe she didn’t care if Kate heard her.

“Hear that Nita? The newbie knows something about this we don’t. Maybe we should just let her run things and save us the trouble?”

Kate couldn’t hear a reply by Anita, assuming she replied to it at all. It irked Kate no end that everyone seemed determined to assume she was trying to take charge. She just wanted them to see what she was seeing. But for some reason, most people just couldn’t let it go at that. And they all seemed to forget she’d spent six years active duty in the Army after graduating from Sanford with a BS. Two of those years had been in combat as a platoon leader and company commander down in the Argentine Insurrection. She knew a bit about real combat. But arguing about it only made things worse. She had other things to worry about. Taking a deep breath she once more moved into the breach.

“Tina?”

Tina put on her long suffering voice. “Yes Newbie?”

“What are the other teams reporting?”

Tina had arranged it so each team was on its own channel and she was the only one who had contact with all of them. Not the way Kate would’ve done it, but she wasn’t the leader. All she really wanted to know was where the others were and what they were doing. Friendly fire was still a reality and she didn’t want anything to do with it if she could avoid it.

At least Tina didn’t just cut her off. But she didn’t sound happy. “Why?”

“I just want to know where they are right now. I wouldn’t want to shoot anyone by accident I shouldn’t.”

“Nice thought. But you don’t need to worry, They’re where they’re supposed to be. In fact, they’re reporting the same kind of situation you are. Looks like they’ve boxed themselves in.”

Kate pushed again. “It doesn’t sound right. I think we need to get in there fast.”

Tina gave a short laugh. “Go right ahead. But I can’t recommend trying to go through those mines without using the grenade launcher to suppress whoever is probably monitoring them. And no. I want it up here with us so it isn’t coming down there. Now settle down and wait. They’ll come to us.”

Tina was very short and to the point. The last comment had an unspoken period at the end of it. Any more communication would have bad consequences.

Kate cut her mike and snorted quietly. “Right. Like that’s going to happen. But… Let’s see… She did say to go ahead if I wanted to.”

The distance was a little extreme, but that might actually work in her favor. At least no one would be throwing anything back. She inventoried what she had on herself. There was Anita’s nine millimeter, her own .457 magnum automatic pistol, and ten grenades. Five frags, two smoke, and three flash bangs. She’d left all her extra 40 mm grenades with Anita and the launcher. Anita was in a good position to hit anyone coming out of the exit, but not anyone farther in. After Kate started she’d be on her own. At least until the others caught up.

No time like the present to get started. Any more time would only work in the perps favor. She prepared two frags, the only ones light enough to consider using at this range, and set herself. Taking a moment to concentrate on her chi she stabilized it. When she was properly calm she’d stepped out and threw the first grenade. She counted five under her breath and then threw the other. By this time Tina was yelling like mad. Kate stepped back behind cover. She’d seen someone move at the intersection when she stepped out into sight, but they’d held off firing at her. Probably waiting to see if she’d charge into the mine’s kill zones. She wondered if they’d figure out what she’d just done in time.

Tina was yelling like crazy. And she was mad and unhappy.

“You crazy Bitch! What did you do!? Now they know we’re here!”

Kate quietly answered back. “They already knew we were here Tina. Now brace yourself.”

“What?”

BLAM!

Smart people do not watch grenades go off. Kate considered herself fairly smart. So she waited and didn’t try to see what the first grenade had done.

Tina started to sound frantic. “What the hell was that!? Kate! Speak to me! Report!”

Kate calmly reported. “First frag detonated on target. Waiting for second.”

Tina’s voice went up another notch. “Second!?! Do you know how much damage those things do?! I want…”

BLAM!

Waiting about two seconds for the fragments to stop rattling around her Kate then spun around the corner and sprinted into the dust. Carefully counting her steps and leaping in two spots. She ignored the yelling in her ear as she approached the corner as fast as she could. An armored figured stepped out in front of her when she was about twenty feet from it. He probably couldn’t hear her. Not after the two blasts. He may have been trying to see what he couldn’t hear down the alleyway.

Her burst of nine millimeter rounds didn’t penetrate the armor, but it did knock whoever it was back off balance, unable to use their own weapon. Launching herself into the air, she gave the figure in front of her a two footed kick in the torso. With all her momentum, weight, and force. The figure went catapulting back into a nearby wall. The armor probably kept him from breaking his neck or back, but didn’t protect him from the sudden acceleration and stop. He ended up falling face first to the ground as she rolled over and checked for more. Apparently the others with him hadn’t had their helmets on. And forgotten to duck.

After a quick look she used a glue caster to seal the arms and legs of the moaning figure in the armor together and then to the ground. She was going to check the others when she heard someone yelling and approaching from the entrance of the alley. Tina was practically incoherent now. Realizing Tina wasn’t thinking straight Kate tried to warn her. Her voice rose to impressive levels as she tried to cut through Tina’s anger.

“Tina! Stop where you are! There’s a tra…”

It didn’t phase the raging Tina. “Shut your mouth you crazy slut! When I’m done with you you’ll wish…”

Kate never got the chance to hear what the wish was going to be. Tina missed the first trip-wire by luck but not the second. By luck, or maybe her sense of self preservation finally kicked in, Tina ended up diving to the ground. Kate ducked back around the corner and cupped her hands over her ears as a series of loud bangs went off. There wasn’t any time for it, but she couldn’t leave anyone in a situation like that.

As soon as Kate was sure she’d heard four bangs and given enough time for the shrapnel and pellets to settle, she’d ducked back around the corner and ran to the prone figure on the tarmac of the road. Another figure was running in from the front also and Anita could be heard yelling for Tina. She was obviously concerned. Kate yelled to get her attention.

“Anita! Over here! Tina’s been hit!”

Kate did a quick check of the prone figure as Anita staggered up, lugging the grenade launcher and extra ammo. Tina was groaning. It looked like the armor had held up, Kate couldn’t see any holes in it, but no one can come through a pummeling like that without injuries. The armor kept her from doing a detailed check, but at least she was alive!

Anita was gasping, but still managed to ask a question. “Is she?”

Kate became all business. “She’s alive. That’s all I know. We need to get her a medic. Is anyone covering us?”

Anita nodded. “They can be here in three minutes. What are we going to do?”

There it was. People asking her what to do. As if she had the authority to give them orders. But no one else was doing it. Training took over and Kate became business oriented again. Command came naturally under these circumstances.

“Do you have the channels for the others?”

“Yeah. 3.4 and 5.7.”

“Good! I want you to watch over Tina and make sure she gets medical attention soonest. I’ll get the others going and we’ll get these suckers before they know what’s going on. Watch those guys around the corner too. I think they’re out, but you want to be sure. I’ve got to move.”

Anita sighed in relief. “Right. Get em girl!”

Kate gave a thumbs up, tossed Anita her nine millimeter, grabbed the grenade launcher with ammo, and headed for where she was certain the bad guys would be. Switching her communicator over to the other frequencies she tried to answer the flood of questions. She had to raise her voice a bit to override the others.

“All right! All right! Calm down! One at a time! Everyone switch to channel one. Now! Rita! Jill! Report your status!”

Training took over. The two squad leaders answered as they’d been trained to.

“Jill here. They’ve fortified a corridor leading to the loading area. Looks tight. What’s going on out there? Who’s this?”

Kate put on her business voice. “It’s Kate and Tina is down. Anita’s with her. Now Rita, report!”

“Same as Jill. What’s going on? Tina’s down?”

“We don’t have much time. The plan’s blown to bits. Take out the obstacles and get to the loading area. I’m pretty sure they’re trying to get out some other way than here.”

Jill seemed surprised. “Take out the obstacles?”

Kate put some force into her orders. “Blow em! Don’t waste time! I’ll slow em down from here. Go!”

The two suddenly seemed very eager as they answered and encouraged her.

“Roger! Give em Hell!”

“Will do. Take em out Kate!”

Trusting them to be able to handle their own problems Kate rushed down the alley, trying to look all ways at the same time. Her next goal was a dogleg that must make getting in and out of there a pain for trucks. But it also blocked the view further in. In training she’d thought a great deal about the best way to use her new size and strength. She’d come up with what she called her ‘tank method’.

A tank is a big and inviting target. It has good armor, against normal small arms and even some of the heavier stuff, but they’re still vulnerable if one has time to prepare and shoot at them. The one thing that can offset its size is its speed and firepower. Once it gets moving it’s hard to target effectively and is even harder to target if it can keep its enemies heads down with its own firepower. Hit em and hit em hard before they know what’s hit them. That’s the way she figured she could make this larger body work for her. With the extra armor her coat gave her she could hold up to more and return more than she was receiving if she had the right firepower.

So instead of trying to work her way up the alley carefully, she pulled the pin, released the spoon, counted to five, and tossed the frag around into the dogleg. There was a yell followed by another boom. She also heard some other explosions away from where she was. No time like the present to use the distractions and confusion. Moving up slowly now would only let them set themselves. So she just charged around the corner and up the alley. If something moved she shot an HE grenade or flechette round at it. In less than a minute she came out into the loading area and saw what the perp’s plan was.

Knowing it would be nearly impossible to escape the way they came in, they’d come up with a clever alternative. The truck they came in on was only to bring in a lift they could load the stuff and themselves onto. Even now they were preparing some balloons that would lift a cable into the air where she was sure some kind of stealth lifter was waiting to hook on to it. There was enough room for the loot and anyone who wanted out of there.

Some of the men might have had instructions to get out on foot but the booby traps made her think they’d simply wait for the word and then run. Letting the traps cover their retreat. That’s probably why she didn’t run into any more traps coming in. They’d want a clear run to their ride out.

They’d also wanted us to know they were there too. Conventional tactics would have whoever came do their best not to set off the bombs, giving them plenty of time to lift out of there in the confusion. Since everyone would be watching the obvious exits they’d probably miss the lift when it went. The perps would’ve mysteriously vanished with the loot and whoever was trying to get them would look like fools.

Unfortunately for them, Kate was a bit unconventional. As the balloons started to lift she leveled the grenade launcher and shifted the loads to the two remaining flechette rounds. Two quick shots and the balloons were useless.

She’d succeeded in stopping their quiet plan, but now she was drawing fire from several directions. It forced her to duck back into the alley. They were still confused so she was able to reload her launcher with alternating HE and flechette ammo. The first group to try and charge her position got a face full of flechettes. When they went to ground she pounded them with HE until she drew enough fire to drive her back.

They were getting organized now and she thought she might be in trouble. The launcher wouldn’t reload fast enough if they were willing to take some chances and she was sure they had some more balloons or some other way to get the cable up into the air. She knew she would have.

The rate of fire increased and she threw another grenade to slow the rush and prepared to switch to her pistol for short range combat. As soon as the shrapnel passed she stepped out and shot the last of her HE at two of the farther away shooters and the last of the flechettes into the group getting up after the last grenade blast.

Ducking back as others zeroed in on her she pulled her pistol, dropped the launcher and pulled a flash-bang. She tossed the grenade around the corner towards the approaching enemy and waited for the first one to try to get at her after it went off.

There was more shooting and several bullets hit away from where she expected them to. Then she heard Rita’s excited voice.

“Cavalry’s arrived honey! Get your ass out here and help out a little why don’t cha?”

Kate grinned. “Roger that. Don’t let them lift off. I’ll touch up my makeup and be right out.”

“Roger. Don’t take too long.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

Taking a chance, she holstered the pistol, and quickly reloaded the launcher with another HE-flechette mix. By the time she looked around the corner the fight was nearly over. The other two teams had used the confusion to move to a high position. Having that advantage and the power of surprise made the perps decide to give up fairly quickly. Kate warned the others about her suspicions of an airlift, but no one saw anything so she had to assume whoever was up there saw what was going down and kept out of sight.

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Back at the office.

Most of the evening after that was taken up in reporting on what she’d seen and done. Janice Simmons, the Regional Office Coordinator, hadn’t been favorably impressed.

If she hadn’t looked so harried she would have been a strikingly beautiful black haired woman. But her somewhat unkept hair and nervous tic detracted from it a bit. Her voice was cold as she motioned the large woman in front of her to a chair.

“Have a seat Kathryn.”

Janice was being very controlled and formal. Kate knew she was in trouble, but wasn’t quite sure for what yet and didn’t see anything to be gained by confessing to anything Janice might not know about. Looking around Kate realized there wasn’t a single chair she’d trust and the couch wasn’t much better. She stood up straight, her head nearly to the ceiling. In her best young officer reporting on a mission to the commander voice she replied.

“If you don’t mind Ma’am. I’d prefer to stay standing.”

Kate made a motion with her head towards the chairs she hoped would convey her distrust of such small and flimsy furniture. Janice stared at her for a moment, swept the room with her eyes, and then nodded. An then, taking a cue from Kate, she replied in her put upon commanding officer voice. Pointing to the written report in front of her she sighed and rubbed her temples.

“I understand. Now, let me get this straight. Tina told you to try taking the entrance if you wanted to?”

Kate answered in a completely strait and unemotional way. “She stressed how dangerous it would be, but she did say I could try.”

Janice sighed. “Tina had just come off two full shifts. I’m sure she didn’t mean for you to do that. I’m sure if she’d been in her right mind she never would’ve said or done what she did. Are you sure you didn’t know this?”

This was news to me. Kate knew Themis was taking on more jobs faster than they were getting manpower to do them in this area, but three shifts? That was a recipe for disaster. Although it did explain a lot about how Tina had been acting. Kate had been there herself when she’d been in the war. Still, It shouldn’t have happened.

Kate added some earnestness to her reply. “No Ma’am. I was totally unaware of that. I simply took her at her word.”

Janice sighed. “She needed the money and didn’t tell the dispatcher about her status. That’s going to change. It’s just too dangerous. Anyway, you then threw two grenades 150 feet?”

Kate shrugged. “I’m strong. And good with grenades.”

Janice seemed more interested now. “Obviously. Why two?”

Kate perked up a bit. This was business related talk. “I figured the first would be a surprise and at least shake them up a bit. The second was to get anyone trying to see what happened. After that I figured they’d be shaken up enough for me to get to them.”

Janice remained stern, but interested. “What about the trap? Weren’t you worried about motion sensors?”

Kate shrugged. “If they’d had those the grenades would’ve set them off. I just had to avoid the wires and I knew where they were. If you check the recordings you’ll see I told Tina about them. Now that I know how exhausted she was it makes sense why she did what she did.”

Janice nodded and then challenged. “Yes. But she never would’ve done it if you hadn’t charged in there first.”

Kate became a little apologetic. “I didn’t expect her to charge in like that, and I did try to warn her. How is she by the way?”

Janice tapped a folder on her desk. “She’ll recover, in a few months. Hopefully she’s learned her lesson. Have you learned yours?”

Kate did the innocent act. “Which one?”

Janice growled. “The one where you follow orders and don’t work on your own. So you don’t endanger the others by your recklessness.”

Kate became perky and proud. “I wasn’t reckless. I knew what I was doing.”

Janice’s answer to that was somewhat skeptical. “And you weren’t in any danger and didn’t have to be saved by the other teams? They did take out the ones attacking you didn’t they?”

Kate shrugged as if it was no great deal. “I still had a full load in my pistol, reloads for that, a frag, two smoke, and a flash-bang. I think I could’ve handled them. Especially if I got a chance to reload the launcher.”

Janice raised an eyebrow. “Right. Meanwhile, I still have a wounded employee, and more damage to the facility than I like to think about.”

Kate wasn’t apologetic in her answer. “I warned Tina. And the damage was necessary. We couldn’t have stopped them in time if we hadn’t cleared the way as fast as we did. By the time I got there they were already setting up to leave. We wouldn’t have gotten them any other way.”

Janice managed to sound somewhat incredulous. “We’re paid to ‘PROTECT’ the facility. Not blow holes in it. Do you have any idea how much damage was done?”

Kate managed indifference. “Not nearly as much as letting the stuff they had get lifted out. Some of that stuff was nasty. Who’s trying to create nerve toxins?”

Janice’s attention suddenly stepped up a notch. “Huh? What do you mean? There wasn’t anything in the reports about nerve toxins.”

Kate started to lecture. “They weren’t toxic yet. At least not that way. But I saw what was being lifted and I know what that stuff is used for in those quantities. None of it would’ve been worth what they were doing unless they were getting paid for something a lot more dangerous. I might be wrong, but nothing else makes much sense to me.”

Give Janice credit for not missing a chance to get more from the information she was getting. Instead of continuing on the same vein she quickly changed focus and leaned forward intently.

“You’re sure of this?”

Kate nodded. “It’s what I did. Before. Yeah. I’m sure. Give me that stuff and the right tools and I’ll equip a country with the nicest collection of nasty stuff they could want. If we’d leveled the complex CHARM would still owe us for not letting that stuff get lifted. Can you imagine the bad PR?”

Janice snorted. “Only if you could prove collusion.”

Kate got more animated and raised her voice a bit getting somewhat sarcastic. “All the right things? Located easily together? A plan based on a very good knowledge of the defenses? It seems a little too pat for me. I know for a fact they don’t want any of this getting out. Do you know what the fines would be like if anyone in authority learned about it? Just keeping those things together can be a capitol offense if it can be proved it was done deliberately. Doing it by accident and having that knowledge get out can still involve prison for someone and crippling fines.”

All business now Janice looked Kate in the eyes. “Have you told anyone about this? And can you prove it?”

Kate smiled. “No. And yes.”

Then Kate tossed Janice a data storage disc. Nodding towards that. “This has a recording of what I found. I included a sweep of the area and sky. We can prove it’s legit if we have to. Both time and place. Lucky for us the sky was clear. It’ll make it easy.”

Janice took the disc and put it in her secure drawer.

“I’ll have to follow up on this. You MIGHT just have saved your job. Don’t get too cocky though. I’ll be keeping an eye on you. A lot of rules just got bent and I don’t like it one bit. Do you have any idea the headaches and paperwork you’re creating?”

Kate smiled and saluted. “Yep. But that’s what they pay you the big bucks for. Isn’t it?”

Janice snorted. “Get out of here and stay out of trouble for a while. I’ll let you know if I need more information.”

Kate hesitated for a moment. “Do you mind if I do an investigation of my own?”

Janice shook her head. “Only if you can keep it quiet. I don’t want anyone catching on to this. There’s too many… possibilities.”

Kate came to attention. “You got it Chief. No one will know.”

Janice gave Kate a level stare. “Except me. If you find anything.”

“Of course Boss. I’ll keep you in the loop. I can’t do much with it anyway. That needs more push than I’ve got.”

Janice nodded. “Just remember that. Now get out of here. I don’t want to hear anything more about you for a year or two.”

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A few weeks later,
Enroute to Central.

Saluting again for the fun of it Kate had walked on out. Since then she’d been trying to follow up some of the leads as quietly as she could. The word had gotten around and no one was willing to go out with her so she was left with a load of office work. At least it allowed her to follow up some of the leads she was working on. Research is research and she guessed a lot of detective work was the same. She’d found some very interesting things. Now if she could only put them together.

Then the incoming com light started to blink and Kate had to bring her mind back to the present. A quick scan showed the call was a general call for contract work with the local Police. Trying to stretch and loosen up her tight back Kate toggled the switch allowing the communication to be read. It was a call for a Police contract.

Pretty unusual in this area. There wasn’t a lot of love lost between the Police and the local private contractors. The city government had been going through a big wave of budget cuts in the last two years. A lot of the local pols were making a lot of noise about how much more cost effective it would be to privatize the work and been cutting away at the local force as much as possible. Contracts kept them from trimming the payroll much at all, but they’d been able to force the local County Mounties to get by with older and more worn equipment.

Not that they’d ever drop the Police, and it was only a matter of time before someone came along using a ploy involving a plan to upgrade the poor, under equipped, and outgunned heros who kept the peace. And not lining the bottomless pockets of those greedy private groups whose only interest was in how much money they could squeeze from the government and its concerned citizens.

Everyone knew it, but things still weren’t too cordial. But a contract is a contract. She opened the file and sent an inquiry for more details. Soon a flow of information streamed across one of her screens.

Someone had taken the Strauss Tower and some hostages. They claimed to be a unit of the Back to Basics Popular Front. Kate did a quick search and brought up what Themis had on them. The information showed them to be hyperactive environmental activists renowned for their totally unpopular ideas involving the rejection of all modern tech and going back to hunter gatherer tribes and the like. Generally considered a joke and minor irritation, somehow they’d managed to get weapons and snuck through the supposedly strong defenses of the Strauss Private Mercantile Offices Building.

The building had been built to house the administrative offices of many of the largest mercantile concerns in the area. Security had to be tight. It was a twenty story building in the middle of a large, open park. It wasn’t connected by tunnels to any outside avenues so they hadn’t come in from below and while the building did have a scopter pad on top there was no indication they’d come in that way.

In all probability it’d been an inside job of some sort. Strauss hired and equipped their own security and it wasn’t farmed out to any private contractor so no blame could be placed on any outside source.

Themis’ information on the Backups, as they were known, made it highly unlikely they’d managed this on their own. What little info could be released before a contract could be accepted made it more than likely some mercenary help had been hired to pull this off. How they’d financed it wasn’t known yet and that detail bothered me a bit. Most mercs wouldn’t be caught dead associating with losers like this. They either were really impossibly desperate or there was more to this than met the eye. Her mental itch for such things started itching bigtime.

The job stank to high heaven, but it intrigued her too. And why would the local Police farm it out? Hostage situations normally came under their jurisdiction. And they were offering a high end payout too. Who would pay out that kind of cash if the Police would do it for a lot less? But the only way to get more info would be to sign on to a contract which would allow for the more secure info, but would also require a level of secrecy and control by the client that made her uncomfortable. She was about to wipe the message when Jill looked over.

“What’s that?”

“Some kind of contract offer by the Police. Some Eco Terrorists have taken over the Strauss Building and taken some hostages. I don’t think it’s something we should bother with.”

Jill held up a hand. “Let me look at it.”

Rita called down from the cupola. “Yeah. I’d like to see it too.”

Kate shrugged and sent it to their own monitors.

Rita finished reading it first. She seemed excited. “Wow! Look at the payout! What do you think?”

Kate shrugged again, even though Rita couldn’t see it. “Looks like some kind of set up to me. I was going to ignore it.”

Jill looked over from the drivers position and nodded. “Uh huh. I see what you mean. But it’s still a good payout and I don’t think it can be that bad. Who would risk that kind of money if they wanted a job screwed up? I don’t see where there’s any penalty clause for nonpayment in the signing contract. The only way they wouldn’t pay would be if whoever accepted it failed to do the job.”

Kate nodded. “Yeah. But they don’t say exactly what the job is. That’s the catch.”

Rita called down. “Nothing in it about a penalty for backing out is there?”

Kate looked at it again. Rita was right. There wasn’t a penalty for that. Stranger still.

Kate tried to sit up straighter and bumped her head. “You’re right. There isn’t. Let me check where Strauss Tower is.”

Looking at their position on Expressway 3 and comparing it with the location of Strauss Tower showed her it was actually just a little way off their path. There was an exit off the Expressway that serviced the area the Tower was located in and the TAC was quickly approaching it. They could be there in about thirty minutes if they wanted to go there.

Kate thought about it for a moment and then spoke. “We’re actually coming up on it. What do you think?”

After waiting for a moment Rita spoke. She seemed excited.

“I don’t know about you two, but I could really use the cash. And it’s not like we can’t back out if it turns out to be a bust.”

Jill nodded from her position. She was enthusiastic too. “Yeah. Since that last run at CHARM no one’s sent anything but this admin like stuff our way.”

Kate stiffened in her seat. “You two didn’t have to follow my suggestions like that. It’s not like I was team leader and all.”

Jill looked over. “We’re not blaming you Kate. Really. It was the best thing we could’ve done and we all know it. It’s just that we seem to be getting picked on now for doing it. Probably as examples so others won’t feel as inclined to damage as much property in the future. Still, we could use the boost if you know what we mean.”

Kate relaxed. “Uh huh. I see what you mean. Do you think they’d let us do it? And what would we use for equipment? Do we have to go back to headquarters first?”

Jill shook her head. “If we do that someone else is sure to be picked for the job. Did you look at what we’re carrying here in the TAC?”

Everyone always knew what they were carrying when possible, but Kate hadn’t realized they could use it. She started to get a little excited about the possibilities. “We can do that?”

Jill grinned and Rita chuckled.

“They want to evaluate the stuff. What better way than in the field?”

Kate chuckled a bit herself. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission? How about the contract? Doesn’t that have to go through Headquarters?”

Jill nodded towards the comm suite. “Nice thing about these TAC vans. They’re set up to act as forward command posts. All the clearances we need are in it. It’ll still get forwarded to HQ, but by that time we should know if we’re accepted.”

The three shared a grin as Kate sent in an inquiry for acceptance of the contract. Jill was right. The TAC had the necessary codes to get official acceptance. By the time they were where they needed to get off the Expressway they had the contract. And more information on what had happened and what the situation now was.

It seemed the perps had somehow totally avoided the security systems and at about two AM managed to infiltrate the building with about thirty to fifty armed people. A bit of internal security film that had somehow been obtained by a local news broadcaster showed some of the armored men being directed by a man who looked like the branch vice manager of Asgard Gem Company. So it was currently believed that he had arranged whatever was going down.

As near as could be figured these terrorists had killed at least three security guards and taken nearly thirty five people hostage. They’d gathered all the hostages together in a conference room on the first floor in the center of the building. The perps had allowed a live camera to be focused on the hostages so the Police could monitor the fact that they were, except for a few injuries, in good condition for now. Checks of the security logs showed everyone accounted for except five employees of Asgard Gem Co. and two security guards. The three dead guards bodies were with the hostages and been identified. Pictures of the seven missing people were available too.

Only about fifteen of the terrorists were wearing full armor. It was nondescript and those in it were basically non identifiable. Oddly enough, no armored figures had been seen entering the building when the others had rushed in. Maybe thirty five others had partial body armor at best. None of their faces were covered and these had all been identified as Backups. Odds were the armor suits were mercs and they hadn’t been seen since the hostages had all been gathered together. Considering how putting most of them together was a mistake on the part of the perps we could assume the mercs, who probably knew better, had only limited control of the operation now that the Backups had gotten into the building.

Since that time the Backups had a spokesman contact the Medias and let everyone know they had STNC aerosol bombs and intended to use the Tower as a launching point to attack the rest of the city if their demands to have a large nearby section of the city razed and returned to a pristine wild state weren’t met. They supposedly had supplies to last out some time and the building’s own security features would make it difficult to take out the launchers and save the hostages. The terrorists weren’t stupid enough to show how the launchers were set up on camera, but special sensors mounted on flying platforms had located four launchers set up on the garden roof, just under the landing platform.

They were all reviewing this and the building specs when Rita called down.

“STNC? What’s that?”

Kate went into lecture mode again. Both Rita and Jill managed to radiate a fair amount of interest. Of course their lives might depend on knowing this.

“STNC gas is Short Term Nerve Compound. It was developed to be an effective but easily neutralized nerve gas.”

“Easily neutralized?”

“Yeah, it will break down into a non poisonous compound in a matter of minutes after release. It will break down almost instantaneously if it’s exposed to higher than 600 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures too.”

“What kind of effects?”

“Similar to the old Sarin nerve gas. Nasty if you aren’t ready for it. There’s a very nasty smell to it too. It’s known as Stink Gas in some circles.”

Jill snorted. “I wonder why? Hey! You seem to know a lot about this stuff, but I don’t remember it in any of the articles I’ve seen on WMDs.”

“You wouldn’t. It’s old stuff. In fact, the last I heard it was being destroyed out west at Toole, Utah. The old Dugway Arsenal is where they do most of that. But, now that you mention it, wasn’t there some kind of mixup out that way about the time we were at CHARM?”

Jill nodded. “Yeah. Now that you mention it. But it was pretty hush-hush. No details.”

“Hmmm… Seems like an odd coincidence. Maybe whoever wanted the CHARM stuff had a backup plan in place. What they had at CHARM would be a better threat, but this stuff is bad enough to work. And it would already be in bomb form.”

Rita tapped her foot for attention. “You think they’re connected?”

Kate shrugged. “Won’t know for sure until we get a chance to follow up on it. But it wasn’t like we were looking for a connection before. I think if we approach it a bit differently we’ll be surprised at what we find.”

Rita called down. “Yeah. But it won’t help us now. We have a contract, but how will we manage this? There’s only three of us. It’ll be hard to neutralize the gas, take out the perps, and free the hostages all at the same time.”

Jill shook her head. “We don’t have to. We only have to make it possible. The Police have people on hand, just not enough. Seems there were a lot of emergency calls keeping them busy and they don’t have enough people who know what to do available. If we can open the place up for them we’ll have done our part.”

Rita was still uncertain. “The plans show armor plast windows and doors. Double hard on the ground level. How are we going to get through that fast and not kill everyone in the building? Much less find a way to stop the gas.”

Kate waited for one of the others to say something and then gave her opinion.

“Hmm… I think the gas should be our priority. If we don’t get it taken care of anything else won’t matter. But if we can take it out we should be able to free up the hostages too. Look at all these access stairs. Want to bet they’ve booby-trapped or welded all of these doors? Probably most of the secondary elevator shafts too. I’m betting they’ve kept the central main elevators working and the stairs with them clear because they’ll be the hardest to stop up if they’re attacked. Being in the center of the building like they are.”

Rita asked. “How does that help us?”

Kate drew attention to a detail she’d been looking at. “Look at where the hostages are.”

Jill grinned. “Oh! They’re right next to the main shafts. Just around the corner. Perfect!”

Kate nodded. “You guys see what I do then?”

Rita confirmed it. “Yeah. If we can take out the gas fast or quietly enough, they probably haven’t thought to secure the top of the shafts. We can use them to drop down to the first floor and use the drones to help us secure the hostages and anyone on that floor. As long as the Police are thinking they can be in shortly and clean up.”

Now that they had an idea what they were going to do it was time to look for problems.

Kate tried to work out another kink from sitting in such a tight area. “Yeah. Now, what could go wrong?”

Rita called down. “Easy. Murphy at any time, there could be more perps than we know about, the hostages might be rigged to explode on us. Though I don’t see any obvious indication of that from the feed. They could have more than one concentration of gas. If we make too much noise taking out the one supply they could simply release what they have. What stops this stuff anyway? Are we going to have to go in completely sealed?”

Kate shook her head. “No. The basic emergency injection for nerve agents is more than enough. There are some here in the emergency kits. We can use those if we have to, but I warn you. The cure is about as bad as the disease in this case. Don’t use it unless your sure you’ve been exposed to the gas. Won’t help anyone else, but we’ll be safe. From the gas at least. Our major concern will be the gas. But since we have these incendiaries in the supplies I think all we have to do is rig them to burn if anyone tries to set the gas off.”

Jill was incredulous. “That all?”

Kate nodded again. “Yeah. That’s the way the gas was made. Easy to neutralize. This incendiary stuff burns hot enough. None of the gas will get out into the city.”

Rita called down. “Uh… Wouldn’t that probably burn the building down?”

With a sigh Kate answered. “Probably. But what would be worse? You guys want out? Now’s the time.”

A slight hesitation and then Rita answered. “Ah. I see what you mean. You’re sure it will work?”

Kate tried to stretch again. “Pretty sure. We rig enough to the canisters and nothing will get out.”

Jill looked doubtful. “That’s all well and fine, but can we get enough of it up to the top of the building where we know some of the gas is?”

Pointing to the screen in front of her where she’d brought up the info on what the TAC was carrying Kate nodded.

“Yeah. The Indi-lifters. There’s five of them in the TAC. We use three for ourselves and trail the other two with what we need.”

Jill raised an eyebrow. “You have a plan already?”

Kate smiled. “Sure. Don’t you?”

With a shrug, Jill waved at Kate. “I’d like to hear yours first Kate. Just to see if we’re thinking the same way.”

Grinning, Kate stretched again and started to lay out her plan.

“Okay. First we get some more info from the cops if we can when we get there. I’m thinking if we park near the north face we can launch from the TAC. With the cover of a smoke storm, ala the TAC’s smoke grenades, we hit the nineteenth floor. From there we can get a good idea where the perps up there are. Once we know that we can make a move on them and take out the gas. Hopefully that will be all of it. I’ve been studying what we can get on the buildings elevator shafts and I’m sure we can use those to get to the hostages.”

Jill nodded. “Okay. I can see that. What do we do when we get there?”

Kate pointed to another item on the TAC’s list “Blow the doors. Use some smoke too. Release the drones and then make a lot of noise. By the time we get out of the shaft and into the room, most if not all of them should be out. We finish off any who manage to miss the drones and hold the fort until the cops get there. Shouldn’t take em long.”

Nodding, Jill had another question. “Sounds simple. What about the Mercs? Any idea where they are?”

Frowning, Kate looked off into the distance as if in deep thought for a moment.

“Hmmmm… There’s no reason to think they’ll stick around near the hostages. I suspect they have their own plans and they don’t involve being around when someone goes for those prizes. It’s not important to us unless they have gas or hostages.”

Rita called down again. “How do you figure they got in? And what kind of equipment do you think they have?”

Kate called back up. “Figure the Mercs to have pretty standard mil-spec equipment. Nothing in what was seen of them on the cameras makes me think differently. I’m pretty sure the Mercs came in about midnight and then let the others in about two.”

Rita sounded a bit confused for a moment. “Didn’t our info say they took over about two?”

Kate worked at her screen some. “Yeah, but they couldn’t have come in then. Security cameras from other businesses near the park show the Backups running in about two. With no resistance. I did a quick search for any large traffic before that and a semi type truck made some kind of delivery around midnight. I think someone needs to follow up on where the truck came from and where it went after that. It looks like they had inside help anyway. One of the vice managers of Asgard. There’s a picture of him right here. He’s listed as one of the missing and there’s some evidence that he was chummy with the mercs after they got into the building.”

With a sigh of relief Rita called back. “Sounds about right. What about heavier equipment? Do they have some?”

Kate shrugged. “Probably not. Figuring that semi was the way in. You get fifteen armed men in it and all the room you have left is for the launchers, gas, and some anti aircraft stuff. The Backups didn’t bring anything in with them from the looks of it. So that came in with the truck too. Must’ve been pretty tight in there. As for Anti-Aircraft stuff, they did damage two newsies scopters that got too close early on. Light stuff, probably shoulder fired. Just enough to keep everyone from thinking they can come in by air. I figure there’s one to three Mercs up there monitoring the gas and handling the launchers and AA. Probably a handful of Backups too. The Mercs will be armored and we need to take them out fast. The Backups will be secondary. After they’re taken care of we can secure the launchers. There’s probably a remote control for them near the shafts and I expect one or two Mercs there. We need control of that right off. Then clear the rest of the level and the landing platform.”

Jill nodded. “We can do that fast, but what about the launchers and the gas itself? How do we secure that?”

With a shrug, Kate continued. “One of us will have to stay up there to keep an eye on things. I suggest we break the incendiaries into five packs with remote sensors. Set them up near the launchers and the control so if anyone tries anything they’ll go up in flames. Bad for the building, but better for everything else. Whoever’s up top can also direct the efforts of whoever is coming in that way. Two of us will take the shaft down and get the hostages.”

Jill looked disappointed. “Who stays up top?”

Looking over at Jill, Kate replied. “Who’s best with a sniper rifle?”

Rita called down. “That would be me.”

Kate looked up. “Okay. You good pretty good with it?”

Rita chuckled. “Never liked working buildings anyway. As long as my cut’s the same I’m good to go.”

Kate and Jill both smiled and Kate nodded. “Agreed then. Let’s park this thing where we want to start from and Jill and I will check out who’s in charge out here.”

Jill waved off. “Maybe you should do that Kate. Rita and I’ll get this stuff ready to go.”

Kate glanced at her and shrugged. “I’ll need to get out to get my coat on anyway. Okay.”

They were now at the scene and with some careful maneuvering and bit of intimidation They got some of the patrol cars to move and parked where they wanted to be. It had the added benefit of bringing Captain Michael Monroe to them. Dressed in the City’s Blues, unlike everyone else there who were in assault gear, he was easy to see approaching.

Rita grinned. “There you go Kate. You’re large and in charge. Go sweet talk the nice man will you? Jill and I will finish getting set up.”

Kate sighed. “Thanks guys. You’re all heart.”

The two others giggled. “Yes. We are. Now go get em girl!”

Kate was already in her armor, something she always did when on a transport mission, so she squeezed out of the rig. She took a moment to pull her long coat out and put it on in the unrestricted area outside. Everyone around her backed up and made room for Captain Monroe. The Captain looked like he’d been planning on making a scene, but he was so surprised by Kate’s size he actually stood there gawping while she settled the heavy coat on her shoulders.

Monroe was about six three, graying, and getting a bit thick around the waist. He obviously wasn’t used to looking up into other peoples faces. Kate waited for him to collect his thoughts while studying him and the Tower.

He obviously wanted to say something else, but all he managed was a short stuttered comment at first. “Y… You’re the Erinyes?”

Kate turned back to him and smiled. On the spur of the moment she came up with a name for their little squad. “Just one of Team TAC Response. The others are preparing some things inside. You’re Captain Monroe? You didn’t have to come out to greet us. We can set up just fine by ourselves. It was a nice thought though. Good to meet you Sir. I’m Kate. Rita and Jill should be out shortly.”

Kate extended an armored hand to him. He hesitated for a moment and then slowly extended his own hand. Shaking it firmly she refrained from pressing too hard. He retrieved his hand with a sigh of relief. Then he became more businesslike.

Straitening up he growled. “I don’t need some wild, gun-happy, and undisciplined mercenaries making things worse here.”

Kate smiled brightly. “It’s good you got us then. Not any of those other goofs out there. Now. What’s the situation?”

The Captain lost a good deal of his certainty. “You… You can’t just come in here and force my men to move their cars. We…”

Kate was looking around the scene. She turned back to him with another big smile. “You’re absolutely right Sir. This IS the best place for our TAC Rig.”

A look of confusion settled on his face. “Huh?”

Kate nodded and clapped him hard on a shoulder. “We thought so too. But having it confirmed by you just makes us feel that much better about it.”

Wincing, he tried to speak again. “But…”

With her big smile in place Kate forged ahead. “Yes. We know how you don’t have any armored vehicles to spare and you really can’t beat the TAC for this kind of work. We’re totally protected from the gas and armored enough to take just about anything they’re likely to have in there. The chain gun and mortars can pin them down if they try and make a move in this direction so they can’t escape this way and you can concentrate more men in the other escape lanes. Very good thinking on your part Sir.”

His eyes flickering around for some escape, the Captain tried to speak again. “Yes I see, but…”

He waited for a moment as if expecting her to interrupt and then stumbled into his next comments. “Now see here! I can’t have a bunch of amateurs messing around with this dangerous situation…”

Kate didn’t even look at him, instead she watched as the cupola spun and jerked as a laser traced the front of the building and collected all positional and range data the cupola’s sensors could.

Suddenly she turned back to him. He stepped back as she smiled at him again. “That’s why you called for professionals like us. Shows just how in touch with the situation you are.”

Lost again he started to repeat himself. “Now see here! You can’t…”

Kate nodded solemnly. “I know. We can’t set up anywhere else. It would take too long. Good thing we’re in as good a position as we are. Now me and the others need to get ready. Let us know if you need anything. Got to get back in there now.”

Kate started to wedge herself back into the vehicle.

The Captain blurted out the first thing that occurred to him. “But… Are there any more?”

Kate stopped and looked back at him with another smile. “Oh. More Erinyes? Sure! Lots! Should be hearing from them any minute now. We were just the closest. Got to go get ready now. Glad to be able to help! For a fee of course. I’m sure you understand.”

She reached out and gave him a solid slap on the back that made his knees buckle a bit and knocked the air from his lungs. Before he could get his breath back she was already inside and had locked the door. Rita looked up from sorting out ammo.

“Well?”

Kate shrugged. “He didn’t have anything to add. Didn’t say anything about where we parked either. How soon before the others get here?”

The only others of importance at this time were the other Themis operatives. Namely, anyone with enough authority to over ride the plan the three had cooked up.

Rita grinned. “I give us about five to ten minutes max. The comm is busy with monitoring all the local broadcasts so we shouldn’t have to worry about them getting through that way.”

Looking at the Indi-lifters the others had been working on, Kate started to have some doubts. “Think this will work?”

Jill looked up from a lifter. “We’re out of contact and using our initiative. No problem! But we better get started soon or something could go wrong. Help me move the Indi-lifters into position here.”

The next three minutes were spent furiously getting ready while the Police gathered around watching. Captain Monroe had returned to his control van and didn’t come out again.

linebreak shadow

Fifteen minutes previously:
Themis Central Dispatching and Control.
Midwest Office.

Janice Simmons, Regional Office Controller, Erinyes Division Midwest, was not in a good mood. Ever since she’d agreed to take the job when Therese transferred to California there had been nothing but an unending stream of paperwork. She hadn’t been in the field for three months and the only reason she got out then had been because Themis insisted all Erinyes get at least some field work every quarter. In fact, she was overdue for her quota this quarter and the situation hadn’t improved significantly. It was enough to drive a girl to drinking. As it was, she tended to develop a tic in her left eye whenever someone even mentioned property damage and death and injury litigation.

Leaning back in her chair she tried to stretch out the nearly permanent cramp in her back and rubbed her twitching eyes. As soon as she became aware of the twitching she felt a sense of dread creep into her heart. What could be so bad she started to twitch before even hearing about it?

She took some deep breaths and calmed herself. It really was getting pretty bad when she started to imagine things like that. After all, it’d been a quiet morning. She’d even managed to make some inroads into the stacks of forms and requisitions. She might actually be able to go home on time today. Still, the promise of some down time vacation coming up next month was starting to make her a bit anxious. She almost welcomed the interruption that took her mind off the darkly looming thought of what would happen when she was gone for a week. As it was, she jumped a bit when Michelle stuck her head into the small office Janice’s position warranted.

“Jan?”

Nearly falling out of her chair in her effort to control her start she growled at the person in her doorway. “Huh! Oh, Michelle. You’re not bringing in any more paperwork are you?”

Michelle did a passable job concealing her giggle, but her amusement still echoed in her voice. “Nooo. You threatened to shoot me that last time I did. I’m just piling it up next to the door out here. You better move the pile soon though or the Fire Marshal will have some paperwork of his own for you.”

Janice almost got sick to her stomach before realizing that Michelle was only kidding. Then she started to worry about why she was taking an obvious joke so seriously. Maybe she needed to move up that vacation time? Then she saw the other girl was still in the doorway.

Michelle had a concerned look on her face. “You okay Jan?”

Janice quickly collected her thoughts. “Oh! Sorry Micky. Lost in thought for a moment. What can I do for you?”

Michelle smiled. “That’s better Jan. You haven’t called me Micky in months I think. And I really didn’t want to bother you with this…”

Janice was startled to remember that she was being more formal as of late. Being the Boss sucked sometimes, but she felt she couldn’t relax in front of the others. Bad for discipline and all. Then the second part of the statement sank in and the feeling of dread came back full bloom. The tic in her eye sped up.

“Didn’t want to bother me with what?”

Michelle managed to look and sound evasive. “Well, I’ve been monitoring the comms and a contract came through just now I thought you should see.”

Janice felt a headache start up. “What is it?”

Michelle, seeing the look on Janice’s face blurted the info out in a rush. “An open contract to assist the Police in a terrorist/hostage situation at Strauss Tower.”

Janice was confused for a moment. “Huh? The Police are asking us for help?”

Michelle nodded. “It’s an open contract for anyone willing to join in.”

Janice sighed in relief. “Sounds fishy to me. We should probably just stand back and keep an eye on the situation. But you know that. Why bring it to me?”

Michelle looked pensive and Janice’s headache, just going away a few moments ago came back full force. Michelle confirmed her bad feelings about it.

“Cause we didn’t stand back. We’re signed on to aid and assist already. I thought you might know something about it.”

Janice stood up suddenly. “Whaattt!! I never approved this! What’s going on! Has someone hacked our system?”

Michelle shook her head. “I don’t think the system’s been hacked, but it does appear that someone used pre approved acceptance codes to get the job.”

Janice sat back down. “Who? Where?”

Michelle looked at a paper she was holding. “I think it was someone in TAC Rig 3. But it’s listed as doing convoy duty for some gear Central wanted evaluated. I don’t know why they’d override protocol to take the job. Especially since as you said it looks screwy.”

Janice gave a resigned sigh. “Who?”

Michelle scanned the paper again. “It’s checked out to Rita Heyworth, Jill Sandoval, and Kathryn Elder. You remember how we were trying to make an example of them so the others would be a bit more careful about property values.”

Janice got a sinking feeling. “Yeah. I remember. You can’t punish someone for doing the job and getting it right, but we do need to make everyone think about what they’re doing. I assume Kate probably had something to do with this. She’s nothing but trouble. When they get back here I want them in my office immediately. Don’t give em a chance to equip and head out. Got that?”

Michelle looked pensive again. “Uh…”

Janice sighed again. “What now?”

Michelle cleared her throat. “I don’t think they need to come back to equip.”

Janice sat straighter. “Why not? It’s a hostage situation! They wouldn’t be crazy enough to risk the hostages by going in unprepared.”

Michelle stepped all the way into the office. “Here, look at what they were transporting first.”

Michelle handed over a hard copy list. Janice quickly scanned it and went pale. “Have you contacted them? Told them to come back here?”

She shook her head. “I tried. But the channels seem to be busy. That’s one of the reasons I brought this to you.”

Janice slammed her hands down on her desk as she shot to her feet. “Oh shit! They’re gonna do it! Michelle! Get everyone you can! And I mean everyone! Get them on the roof in three minutes. Anyone later will be left behind! And be sure to get us enough air power to lift us all. Move!”

The office became an ants nest of activity as everyone tried to comply with the new orders. It was still seven minutes before the first copter managed to lift off and head for Strauss Tower. A cursing Coordinator making everyone else in the copter wish they’d caught one of the other rides lifting off behind them.

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Command post Police Reaction Force,
Strauss Tower incident.
Three minutes later:

Captain Monroe had already been having second and third thoughts about the wisdom of doing what he’d done. It had seemed the perfect idea when Harold Finn approached him three months ago. He and Harold had grown familiar with each other in their Army days and never lost contact afterwards. Monroe had gone into the family business of law enforcement. Harold had formed a moderately successful mercenary force, Finn’s Fighting Brigade.

Harold had joined him for a drink after one of the last fiasco of a budget meetings with the City Council. A few drinks later and Harold had the perfect plan to increase the reputation of the Police and discredit the contract services. Harold even agreed to do most of the work gathering a suitable ‘terrorist’ force and giving them enough support to make them a threat, or at least look like one. All Monroe had to do was keep Harold posted on what was happening and see to it that the contract services would be there. The contract service could be lured into a situation where the Police would have to save them. Making the services look like fools and the Police look like the only ones who could handle these problems, more especially if they had the equipment they should have. If more of the same could be arranged they could manage to discredit the contract services enough to give the Police some real leverage in the negotiations for more support from the local governments and keep the money now going to the contract services closer to home.

Planning had gone well up till the invasion of the Tower. A lot of things happened all at once, making sure there weren’t enough trained personnel who knew what to do responding to the call had been too easy. But something must have gone wrong. At least three people were dead already and it looked like more would soon follow. Harold hadn’t mentioned a thing about the gas threat either. Then, these Erinyes show up. Harold had assured him that none of the truly reputable services would take a job like this. Too much was happening way too quick for his peace of mind. He finally overcame his qualms and making sure he was alone pulled out the phone he was to use to keep Harold up to date on what was going down and when. There were two rings and then Harold answered.

“How is it going out there Mike? It’s a little early for the assault isn’t it?”

Mike couldn’t keep a whine out of his voice. “Things are getting a bit tense out here. There wasn’t supposed to be any killing. Then there’s the threat of that gas. You know we aren’t equipped for that! Only the two SWAT teams have suits and breathers. The best the rest of us have are the old masks and I’m not sure it would be enough if they gas us.”

There was a sigh on the other end. Then Harold cleared his throat.

“Okay Mike. I’m on it. Sorry about those guards. They tried to resist too hard and some of the Backups got too rough before we could stop them. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs and all that. It won’t happen again.”

Anxious still, but already grasping at the proffered help, Mike asked the next question he had. “And the gas?”

Harold’s voice radiated confidence. “Don’t worry about that. I had to convince the Backups they’d have an ace up their sleeve. Gas canisters was the easiest way to do it. Don’t sweat it. I’ve taken care of that angle personally. Besides, it’ll add some drama don’t you think?”

Mike’s voice quavered. “Uh. Yes. I guess it will.”

Harold’s voice took on a patience coming to an end and I’ve got lots to do tone. “Now. Was there some other reason you contacted me?”

Mike’s voice rose in pitch. “Yes. The Erinyes just showed up. Seems they took the contract.”

Suddenly Harold’s voice was all business. “Erinyes! Hell! You’re not letting them run the show are you?”

Mike blustered, but he was getting the feeling things weren’t working out as well as he’d hoped. Harold sounded worried now. “Of course not! No one’s going to do a thing until I tell them too. They just showed up and said they’d need some time to set up. My orders are very explicit and clear. No one does anything unless I…”

POP! Pop! Pop! POP! Pop! Pop! BANG!

Harold’s voice got louder. “Mike! What was that?!”

Mike was nearly whispering as he realized what must be happening. “No… They couldn’t…”

Harold was yelling now. “Mike! What’s going on? Answer me!”

Mike was still whispering. “They… They couldn’t have…”

Staggering to the Command Van door, Mike was met by an visually impenetrable barrier of mist. The sounds of a war were coming out of the mist. Then he dived to the ground as bullets went flying by him.

Harold wasn’t sounding panicked, but he did seem angry. “Mike! Mike! Speak to me!”

Mike started to yell back. “Harold! It’s started! I don’t know how or why but all Hell is breaking loose here! You’ve got to make sure the hostages are alright and nobody finds out about the gas!”

Harold’s voice was a loud growl. “Damn! I’m not ready yet! Mike! Get control out there and stop this. I’ll do what I have to here. Just stop everyone out there. Don’t let them do anything. Got that?”

Mike wasn’t sure what he could do, but arguing with Harold right now didn’t sound like a good idea. “Uh… Right. I’ll do that. But…”

There was a click indicating the line had gone dead. Mike Monroe was now on his own.

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Inside Strauss Tower.
First floor.
A few moments before:

Mateo Longo was proud of how he’d handled himself after the first problems he’d had. No one could ever accuse him of being a coward now. He’d hesitated when they’d had to move the bloody bodies of the guards. The others had been ribbing him mercilessly since. Now he’d placed himself in the middle of the lobby out in plain sight of all the Police and Newsies who cared to look in and watch.

All the others had dug in behind cover, but he wouldn’t hide! They’d have to go through him first if anyone wanted to get further than the front steps. Of course. The presence of nearly two inches of Armor Plast (TM) windows had something to do with his bravado. Even though nothing short of an anti tank round could penetrate them. And with the hostages and the threat of gas no one would dare anything like that.

There had been some new activity just a few minutes before. A big armored truck had pulled into the area in front of the building. It had caused a bit of a stir. The Captain of the Police had even gone out to see what was going on. Some big person had come out and talked to him and then gone back into the truck. The Captain had hurried off into his command vehicle. Shortly after that three figures had come out of the truck and set up five odd looking devices in front. Mateo noticed the cupola of the truck turning and experienced a feeling of uncertainty for a moment. To prove he wasn’t as scared as he felt just then he raised a finger in the direction of the odd truck.

He noticed some flashes coming from the cupola and registered a flash from one of the figures in front of the truck. For one brief moment he was aware of an odd circular mark in the window in front of him. Then the superheated depleted uranium shards struck his torso and he was saved from ever having to worry about how others saw him again.

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First assault:

After the Captain had backed off no one else bothered to mess with them as they prepared the Indi-lifters for the coming action.

Indi-lifters were based on a very small version of a scopter. They relied on following a retracting cord up to a quarter of a mile in length or a short probe on the bottom which was fifteen feet long. This allowed an a person to bring a fair amount of gear up to about twenty five stories in height in a short period of time. The small but intense suspensor fields could stabilize and lift up to four hundred pounds. They were too small to pilot easily. Stability required the cord or probe. If either of those was compromised then it became very unstable. The guide cord was shot up and attached with an adhesive anchor to where you wanted your equipment to go or the probe was extended to lift it in a straight line up. It would retract along that guide cord in a short arc to the desired position the anchor was attached to. If anchored it could also be used to raise and lower its payload in a straight line up and down.

Disadvantages were that you needed a clear line of approach and the lifter and contents were a tempting target that couldn’t dodge. If the line broke the only option was a quick descent to the ground. Hopefully in one piece. Efforts had gone into making it faster, but then they could only carry 350 lbs and they were still vulnerable. Efforts to add armor had failed miserably. Still, some were kept around in case a situation arose where they might be used. This group had a new line guide system that was to be tested for durability.

A situation with a clear line of ascent and concealment or cover was very unlikely, but the girls had come up with a plan. It would force them to cause enough of a distraction to draw attention from their efforts, but it seemed workable, and they knew someone from the front office would be there soon. They had to move. Fortunately, no one seemed inclined to try and interfere with them after the Captain left.

The roof was covered for the most part by the raised landing pad. Taking the first floor would be pointless without neutralizing the gas, but if they could neutralize the gas they could probably get to the hostages fast enough to help them. Taking the roof would require some way of surprising whoever was in control. They had the roof and the air over it covered. And they knew someone would have to fight through defenders and any traps they’d set to get up to them through the building. This would give them plenty of time to set off the gas launchers. So they probably weren’t expecting anyone to try and take the roof until it got dark and there was a chance of sneaking someone on to the roof. It wouldn’t be dark enough for that for at least four to five hours.

The girl’s plan revolved around this idea. Everyone was expecting this approach. No one expected anyone to try anything until dark. Now was the time to surprise them. The question was to somehow conceal their actions in broad daylight and plain sight.

The first part of their plan was to convince everyone that the action was taking place on the ground floor. This was easy. One of the experimental items was a new 30 mm Barrett’s Auto Anti Tank/Armor Rifle. The BAAT had a fifteen round clip with the ability to fire a selection of sabot, HEAT, HE, and flechette anti personnel rounds. At this time they hadn’t found a way to rapidly select from the different rounds so the current SOP was to have a clip of each and use the rapid clip exchange feature to give it more flexibility. The worst feature was its weight. With a full load out of extra ammunition it was almost 20 lbs. With extra ammo it was nearly impossible to carry for most people. It was assumed these features would improve as the need for better ways to handle the newer personnel and light vehicle armors grew. For now, they just wanted to develop the technology to a working state it could be improved from. Fortunately, Kate wasn’t most people. As soon as she picked it up Kate exclaimed she’d have to have one.

Jill was able to carry a light chain gun. The LCG used a specialized .25 cal round and put out enough hard ammo to cut through most armors in tenths of a second. It also chewed up the surrounding area fairly badly. Still, they needed some firepower and it fit the bill.

Rita would be the odd one out. She was carrying a long .308 auto sniper. The 4–16X scope and the specialized barrel and ammo making it effective out to nearly a mile against unarmored targets and effective against even most new armors at short ranges.

The Indi-lifters were set up to target the nineteenth floor windows. They’d be able to lift up to 400 lbs., but only for a short period. Kate would go up with only her standard equipment and the BAAT with a clip of each ammo because of the weight limit. They loaded the other Indi-lifters with what they could and hoped to be able to use. When they got there they would pop entry holes through the inch thick Armor Plast with shaped charges and move on the roof defenders and the gas. But first they needed a distraction and cover.

One of the terrorists was making a point of standing in plain sight, taunting them with his confidence. He made the perfect target for the plan.

They’d programmed the TAC to launch smoke canisters in a carefully timed pattern. The first part of the barrage would lay a screen around us up to the front of the building. The next wave would probably be considered a mistake or miss by most everyone else. It would create a column of smoke right up the side of the building. The smoke was designed to foil most known forms of observance and targeting, but the Indi-lifters had already been targeted, so they didn’t need to see where they needed to attach and the smoke didn’t stop them from performing their duty of lifting the girls to the desired floor. They still needed a very noisy distraction to cover the sound. That’s where the unfortunate terrorist came in.

The two inches of clear laminate armor wouldn’t shatter under the impact of the sabot round. But it wasn’t enough to stop it either. Shattering into several super heated pieces it proceeded to slice the unfortunate terrorist in two and the pieces ricocheted around the large entryway. Nobody else was hit, but it did force them to put their heads down. Four more rounds came through the front, not breaking the panes, but leaving fist size holes and allowing at least some of the smoke to penetrate into the room and forcing the terrorists to keep their heads down some more.

Seconds after the AT rounds stopped coming through the front there was a huge burst of flashes and sound. There was too much smoke to make out any more than the flashes but there were several impacts on the front panes and the distinct sound of automatic fire. One of the terrorists panicked. Fearing what the sounds and smoke meant an attack, he raised his automatic rifle over the desk he was behind and started to fire in the direction of the entrance blindly. Soon others joined him and the lower lobby was filled with flashes, ricochets, smoke, and confused yelling.

The distraction packs dropped in front of the building continued to send out bursts of gunfire like blasts at random intervals. Police, thinking that maybe they were being fired on returned fire. The armored panels were able to stop or deflect the vast majority of the shots. The three injuries that resulted from this firefight were actually caused by random ricochets. Most of the rest was wasted ammo. But it served its purpose well. Nobody was overly interested in the column of smoke climbing up the front of the building.

That, and the sound of the firing, covered the Indi-lifters ascent and the opening of two large holes into the nineteenth floor windows with shaped charges.

Quickly, knowing it was only a matter of a minute or so before someone realized what had happened, the three figures moved to the central part of the building near the main elevators. Using the plans of the floor above them they quickly forced a small probe through the ceiling and released several small spybots into the next floor. Using these they were able to quickly pinpoint the three mercenaries and five other terrorists on the roof. One mercenary and two terrorists were stationed at the portable console that controlled the launchers. Another, with two more of the terrorists was checking out the side of the building the smoke and noise was coming from. The last merc was watching over the anti air equipment. The last terrorist was with him. Both the ones at the control console and the anti air equipment had a good position to cover the entrance of the elevators and main stairs. It was assumed the other exits were booby trapped and possibly sealed in some way. There was only one way to approach them by surprise.

The three had brought the five Indi-lifters in with them. Unloading them had taken seconds. Each of the girls had one lifter with them and a few other bits of equipment. The rest was put aside for now. In the next few seconds each of the girls moved to a position planned for before, depending on what they found with the spybots. Each then placed a shaped charge on the roof over their heads and stood on the Indi-lifters they’d brought with them. Kate counted down.

“Three, two, one… Now!”

Shaped charges broke the roof/floor over their heads and the Indi-lifters shoved the three up through the gaps. Shrugging the debris off Kate shot the merc near the control panel. The AT rounds punched right through the armored man. Rita shot one of the terrorists there at the same time. Jill’s chain gun was winding up and she swung to cover the three out at the buildings edge. By the time they turned around it was too late for them. A stream of slugs ripped into them before they knew what was happening.

Kate and Rita both fired about the same time as the second terrorist at the consol tried to bring his rifle up and six targets were accounted for in less than five seconds. The other two were stationed up the stairs leading to the landing platform and required a different approach.

While Kate and Rita moved to cover the stairway, keeping them from moving out onto the garden floor, Jill grabbed her lifter and moved under the edge of the platform. In moments she was on the platform and moving towards the entrance, using short bursts to keep their heads down. As soon as she knew the upper part was covered, Kate pulled out a frag grenade, armed it, counted to five and tossed it up the stairs. The blast tore the upper part of the stairs to pieces and wrecked the AA equipment at the same time.

In a few seconds they’d made sure the last two enemies were down and Kate headed to the consol while the other two checked the roof for any holdouts and covered the main entrances. Kate quickly checked the consoles. She pulled several cords and wrecked the batteries. She looked around and then called to the other two.

“Hey you two! Have you checked the launchers?”

Jill looked up from her position covering the elevators. “Yeah. What do you need?”

“How many canisters?”

“Four each at my two. Rita?”

“Same? Why Kate?”

“I’ve got four more here. That makes sixteen. What I’d expect to find in a pallet of this stuff. I think we have all the gas. By the way. This stuff here is rigged to blow in place, right near the building’s air intakes. Don’t mess with the launchers. Just place the incendiaries and leave them. Also, the launchers were on a timer to launch in about 45 minutes, along with the canisters opening here. Jill, can you tell where the launchers were targeted?”

“Let me check. Hey! Can you stop them from launching?”

Kate nodded. “Yeah. Nearly as I can tell they didn’t rely on a code, just a key to arm them. I’ll make sure there’s no surprises, but I’m thinking we can turn these off and no one will get hurt.”

“That’s a relief. You want to know something else odd?”

“What?”

“The two launchers I’ve checked were set to launch at the area just around the building. Not at the rest of the city.”

Rita called from her position. “Same over here. What’s going on?”

Kate nodded to herself and then explained to the others.

“I think there’s more to this story than we know yet. I’ve got the consol taken out now. No one’s going to launch anything from here, and the incendiaries should keep anyone from doing it manually. Rita, We’re leaving you to make sure no one tries anything and to guide in any help coming our way. They’ll almost certainly come in this way. Jill, you’re on me.”

“Roger!” Rita waved and moved to where she could watch and cover the entrances and sky around the roof. Jill, nodded and waited for Kate to make the next move.

It had taken nearly three minutes to secure the roof. Smoke was still coming up from below, but it had thinned a great deal. The firing had also stopped. Someone was sure to figure out what had happened soon if they hadn’t already. The two Erinyes moved to the main elevator doors. A quick check showed no booby traps.

Jill looked over. “What does this mean Kate?”

She shrugged. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t want their escape route cut off. Let’s open these doors.”

“Right.”

In moments the doors were open and the empty shaft was reveled.

“Hey! Look Kate. Ropes.”

Descent ropes had been rigged into the shaft. It was obvious the people on the roof weren’t relying on the elevator to get them out of here.

Kate smiled. “Wanna bet the elevators are no longer running?”

Jill snorted. “Uh uh. Suckers bet. Makes sense though. Makes everyone coming up have to use the stairs. Bet they’re rigged too.”

Kate nodded. “Yeah. I don’t trust their rigs. Let’s use the Indi-lifters like we planned.”

“Okay.”

In moments the two had the Indi-lifters rigged and were ready for the descent. The Indi-lifters were able to lower them down the shaft at a controlled rate. It was risky. If anyone found them in the shaft before they were ready they would be in a hazardous position. But nothing happened to stall the descent. Soon they were at the doors to the first floor. Kate whispered.

“No elevators. Must be at the bottom then.”

Jill nodded and answered quietly. “Makes our job easier.”

“Yeah. As long as they don’t come up. Bottom’s three floors down right?”

“Uh huh. At least the plans show three basement levels. Let’s rig these doors before someone gets smart.”

“Right.”

In moments they had the large shaped charges in place. Using the Indi-lifters they moved back up about two floors and each prepared a drone. The drones had been developed to help in risky places where you needed to get a camera or special packages into an area. In this case they didn’t need cameras, but they did want to deliver a special package before they entered the room where the hostages were being held. One of the experimental designs they’d been delivering were packs that the drones could carry which gave off a high frequency sound that produced pain and unconsciousness in unprotected victims. There was some doubt about their effectiveness since most armors were protected enough to only allow some discomfort and specialized ear plugs gave complete protection and still allowed normal hearing. We were wearing such plugs. It was unlikely the terrorists had anything more than standard earplugs if they had anything at all. No one had seen the mercs in the cameras recently and Kate suspected they wouldn’t be seeing them here.

There had been enough warning so far that there was a good chance at least some of the terrorists had taken precautions, but that wasn’t the goal with these. The greatest hope was that the drones would knock out the hostages and they wouldn’t have to deal with any of them popping up and getting in the way. If they got some of the terrorists it would be nice, but not necessary. They’d also rigged the charges with smoke producers which would put out a smoke that they had IR sensors to see through. It was also hoped the smoke might cover the drones, which could fly very quietly. Giving the Erinyes another advantage.

Kate finished with her drone and looked at Jill who nodded back. Then she triggered the charges.

With a WHUMP!, the doors of the elevators went flying out into the hallway. They released the drones which were programmed to fly into the hostage room, emitting their stun sound the whole time. Jill and Kate couldn’t hear anything unusual, but when they got out into the hallway they found about ten terrorists who had been waiting for them crumpled in heaps on either side of the door. The smoke prevented anyone from seeing if they’d been downed by the drones or the blast.

Jill lead the way to the hostage room. The smoke actually gave some cover right up to the door. The two girls sprang in and swept the area for targets. There were three standing figures and Jill and Kate wasted no time sweeping them with fire. Jill had already spun the chain gun up to speed so her shots were almost immediate, sweeping the room in a quick arc. Kate simply started from the opposite direction and fired at any standing target. Jill then took a position where she could cover anyone in the room or trying to come in the other door and Kate turned her attention to the way they’d come. She saw two terrorists come rushing down a corridor towards them, but before she had to fire they grabbed their heads and crumpled. This scene was repeated two times. She only had to shoot three who didn’t seem seriously affected by the sound. Kate heard the chain gun spool up twice in that time. Then they got a call from Rita.

“Heads up guys! Help is on the way!”

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Approaching Strauss Tower:

Janice had been examining the information on the job when news reached them that some kind of fight had broken out at the scene. Dreading the worst she monitored the communications coming from there. Using a combination of the news medias live reports and the feeds from the forces on site she was putting together a picture of what was happening.

Apparently the three girls had come up with a plan and started without any other backup. At first it looked like they’d done something really stupid and tried a frontal assault, but as the smoke cleared all that could be seen was a pock marked front of the building. Firing stopped almost immediately and the ranting of Police Chief Monroe to cease fire could now be heard over the remaining din. No sign of the three Erinyes and their equipment could be seen. They might have been in the TAC, but it seemed unlikely.

The pilot signaled her.

“We’re about a minute out Ma’am. They have AA. What are your orders?”

“Straight on to the roof. Be ready to use counter measures if we’re fired on, but we have to get there fast.”

He hesitated for a moment. “It’s very risky Ma’am. I can’t recommend it loaded like we are.”

Janice’s voice became hard and no nonsense. “I know it. You have your orders.”

He was unhappy, but not about to go against her either. “Yes Ma’am. Straight in, as you order.”

The tension in the scopter went up considerably. No one liked being a siting duck. Especially when there wasn’t anything to do except hope the pilot was as good as they were paid to be.

Then Janice got a signal over her secure tactical radio.

“Incoming choppers. I have you on IFF as Erinyes. Please respond. Over.”

Janice stiffened for a moment and then relaxed. “This is Janice Simmons, Coordinator. Who is this?”

An excited voice answered her. “Janice! This is Rita Hayworth. You are cleared to land. I repeat, you are cleared to land. Please be careful to avoid the areas I’ve marked as we’ve got them covered by proximity detectors. It would be a bad idea to set them off.”

“Where are the others?”

“They’re securing the prisoners, but we could use some help securing the building. There’s just not enough of us to go around here.”

Janice added some reproach to her voice. “You should’ve thought about that before starting this hare brained scheme!”

Rita’s reply was lighthearted. “We knew we could count on you to get here quick Jan. It was just that we had to act fast, before they could prepare for us.”

Janice sighed. She obviously wasn’t going to intimidate the three. Time to get to work. “Alright. What’s the situation?”

Rita became businesslike. “We have the roof and have neutralized the launchers and gas. Kate and Jill tell me they’ve secured the hostages, but need help to secure the rest of the building. No additional fatalities to hostages that we know of.”

“Damage?”

Rita answered with a shrug in her voice. “Some. Nothing too extreme, yet. But if you set off those proximity incendiaries I wouldn’t expect a big return on the deposit.”

That ‘yet’ of Rita’s had her worried. And Janice really wanted to know why her girls had rigged up incendiaries in a building they needed to keep in one piece. “Incendiaries? Why?”

Another vocal shrug. “Kate says it’s the best way to neutralize the gas if anyone tries to set it off.”

Janice quickly reviewed what she new about the gas. Then she looked over at Annie McDermott, who was listening in and was the only person she knew right off had a good idea what was being used by the terrorists. Annie gave her a thumbs up and nod.

“Right. Okay. We’ll be there in seconds. Guide us around your little traps. Which floor needs securing most?”

“We’re totally secure here. The first floor is the one that needs help right now.”

“Roger. Wait for us.”

Janice turned to Annie, who was also a patrol leader on this run.

“Okay Annie. I want you and the first two furies down to the first floor pronto. Secure the hostages and prepare the way for the rest to clear the floor. I’ll make sure the roof and gas is secure and then send more help.”

Annie nodded. “Okay Jan.”

Annie then turned to the remaining six Erinyes with her.

“You heard it. Down we go and secure the hostages. Any questions?”

Everyone remained silent. Annie nodded and gave Jan another thumbs up. By then they were descending on the roof platform. They could see Rita waving them in. As soon as they were about three feet off the platform the eight Erinyes sprang out of the copter and it moved off to make room for the other two coming up immediately behind it. Jan pulled Rita aside. She waved the others on.

“Alright Annie! Down the shaft to the first floor. Go! Okay Rita. I’ll bring the others in. You make sure everyone stays away from the traps until we can disarm them.”

Rita nodded and followed the others down the wrecked stairs. Glancing at that Jan wondered what Rita thought counted as damage. Then she turned her attention to the approaching copters and directing them in to land.

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First Floor:

The terrorists had stopped trying to rush the girls in small groups. It was likely an all out push from one direction or another was next. So far, they’d taken out three armored mercs, leaving probably twelve to fifteen unaccounted for. These were worrisome, but they hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them other than the three on the roof. They’d also accounted for about twenty of the supposed thirty plus terrorists. These were the ones who seemed to be trying to get the hostages back.

There’d been an explosion a while back down in the direction of one of the emergency stairs. Probably someone of trying to use the stairs to either flank them or go to the roof. The possibility of terrorists actually clearing those routes worried Kate and she warned Rita about it. But there wasn’t anything they could do about it now. Their problem now was keeping the hostages safe.

Kates IFF light started to blink and she carefully looked towards the elevator shaft. A hand extended out, covered in Erinyes armor. It made a hand signal she recognized.

She spoke quietly into her mike. “I got you. Be aware that the way seems clear right now, but I expect that to change shortly. I’ll cover you just in case. Watch your backside though. I don’t want to shoot through you.”

“Roger Kate. It’s Annie. Seven coming in.”

“Roger Annie. Seven coming in.”

Telling Kate there were seven coming in might seem a bit redundant, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone had hitched onto a team to get into a secure area. Kate carefully checked Annie as she came in. She checked the rest. Soon all seven were in.

Annie tapped the side of her helmet. “Hey Kate. What’s that annoying buzz?”

Kate waved at the circling drones. “Sonic stunners. Don’t get out of your helmets just yet.”

Annie nodded. “Right. What do you need?”

Kate kept her eyes open for attackers while she listed what needed to be done. “Some help covering these doors and someone needs to go through and make sure the hostages are okay and we don’t have any ringers in them.”

Another quick nod and Annie turned and snapped out orders. “Got it. Jennie, Bert, and Fay. You check out the room. Be sure to look for surprises. Kim, Lina. Help Jill. Pearl, you’re with me and Kate here. Let’s get some nets strung okay?”

Kate glanced her way quickly. “You got some? Good idea. I’ve been worrying they’d get smart soon and start throwing grenades down this way.”

Nets were meshes designed to be strung into halls and doorways to keep unwanted items like grenades from spoiling your day. They only worked once usually, but it was enough to give you a chance to suppress anyone from trying a second time. In moments, Annie had one strung up down each corridor we were covering while Pearl and Kate made sure she was uninterrupted.

Kim did the same for Jill’s group. Soon they were as secure as possible, but something kept bothering Kate. She started to mutter to herself. “That timer on the gas. It means something. But what?”

Annie glanced here way. “What’s that Kate?”

Kate froze in deep concentration for a moment and then nodded to herself and started a quick check to see if her equipment was secure. As if getting ready to move out. She spoke to Annie as she did.

“Annie. You guys have it under control here. Jill and I have some unfinished business still.”

Annie gave her an incredulous look. “What? You can’t go running off. Janice needs to talk to you.”

Kate shook her head. “That can wait. Jill! Get over here. Sorry Annie, but I’ve got to do this. I have a bad feeling about it and I trust my hunches. Send help when you can.”

“But…”

“Later! C’mon Jill. Watch out for the net.”

Jill moved up next to Kate. “Where we going?”

“Down.”

“Why?”

“Remember those timers on the gas?”

“Yeah.”

“What if there were some other surprises? Gives us about twenty or thirty minutes I figure to find out before things get critical.”

Jill looked doubtful. “If there’s no way out why would the mercs do that?”

Kate nodded. “Exactly. We don’t have enough data yet. But I know where to find it.”

Jill shrugged. “Okay. But we’re pretty badly outnumbered here.”

Kate grinned. “Yeah. And there might be some more hostages and want to bet the bottom of this shaft is rigged?”

Jill grinned back. “You make it sound so easy.”

Kate gave a small wave dismissing Jill’s worries. “I always was too much of an optimist.”

Jill nodded. “Yep!”

“Hey!”

They both suppressed nervous giggles and got down to business.

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Basement:

Major Harold Finn’s day had been going fairly well to now. Up to now his plan had come together like clockwork. Even leaking that bit of film to a concerned local journalist of Tim, the vice manager of Asgard Gem Company, directing some of his men had gone well. Everyone would be sure to blame the guy for everything. With someone like that to use as the fall guy leader of the escapade he wouldn’t have to worry about people feeling a need to track him down for revenge either. Maybe it had been too easy. Now with things drawing to a close it was starting to look like Murphy was being to take an interest. Just goes to show that all plans have to be worked on while in progress.

He’d been working on this one for years. Ever since two of his good friends managed to get hired onto the private security staff of this tower. He happened to know one of the older vice managers of Asgard Gem Co. too.

He was now moving to see if the part of the plan the manager, Tim Galagher, was in charge of was going smoothly.

Tim was walking beside the larger, armored man and thinking about how his part was working also.

Tim Galagher had been hoping for more advancement than he was getting. Now it was certain he was going to be passed up for further promotions until he quit, retired, or got fired. He’d related all this one night to a friendly drinking buddy who’d listened with great sympathy to his woes. Even buying the drinks for him. Over the years, his old friend Harold had stayed with him when others gave up. They never stopped telling him to either do something about it or stop complaining. Harold never seemed to get tired of listening to him though and didn’t try to tell him what to do.

Then one night Harold asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to get back at his employers. Tim had been surprised at how bitter he’d become, but it didn’t stop him from signing on with Harold. His life as he knew it would be gone. He’d have to leave everything behind. But for some reason he couldn’t stop himself. Soon he was in too deep to even consider it. The stress of waiting had nearly killed him. He was being treated for ulcers constantly but finally the chance to strike had come. All the parts of the plan were in place. Using his authority he was able to smuggle the mercenaries that Harold provided in when one of the largest shipments of gems to be distributed to the North American Federation was actually stored in the Asgard vaults in the basement of Strauss Tower. Harold had also provided a cover distraction and a plan to escape. He’d been surprised to find Harold there and in charge of the mercenaries. He was starting to realize he’d never known much about Harold to begin with, but things had progressed to the point he couldn’t turn back.

He wasn’t too worried though. Harold was his friend and Tim himself was the one who made this whole thing possible. Only he could’ve opened the vaults without destroying the gems. Only he could’ve arranged things like he did. Harold owed him too much to let him down now.

Together they moved into the offices of Asgard. The other four employees they’d needed to get the vaults open glared at their betrayer and cowered from the man who’d so callously tortured them to get their cooperation. The five men Harold had assigned to collect together their haul gave Harold a thumbs up and one pointed to six large black satchels and then at the employees.

“We’re ready to go when you are sir. What do we do with these?”

Harold acted unconcerned. “Put them in one of the vaults. It’ll keep them out of our hair.”

“Yes sir! You there! Move it!”

The head secretary, Susan Thrasher, protested.

“But. Who will be able to get us out? Only we know how to open them. If…”

“Move it Lady! I can put you in there dead or alive. No problem for me which one. I’m sure someone will figure it out before you starve. Now move, before my trigger finger gets itchy.”

In desperation she turned to the one person she hoped could help them. “Tim!”

He held up a hand to silence her. “Do it Susan. You know he’s right. Someone will be along soon.”

The frightened girl was going to say more but the guard put his rifle muzzle up to her head and she shut up and let them herd her and the others into the first vault which was quickly shut.

Harold looked at Tim. “You care about her?”

Tim shrugged. “She’s a good worker and not a bad girl to know. But I don’t care enough to try and take her along. It’d be too dangerous. Getting them in there just helps move things along. How are your plans holding up?”

Harold shrugged. “Cary reports the diggers will be through shortly. Pretty much on time. I wish we didn’t have to cut it so close, but any digging before we took out the ground sensors would’ve given the plan away. I have to thank you though Tim. We couldn’t have pulled this off without you.”

Tim sighed with relief. “Thank God! You’re sure there won’t be any evidence left behind?”

Harold shook his head and smiled. “No. No incriminating evidence will be left. Between the gas and the demolitions we’re going to use to level this place there won’t be a scrap of evidence for them to follow to us.”

Tim looked a little nervous. “Yeah. No witnesses either. I feel a little sorry for some of them, but I guess we can’t afford to leave anyone who knows us behind.”

Harold clapped him painfully on the shoulder. “I’m glad you understand it so well Tim.”

Harold then fell a bit behind as he and Tim headed to where Cary and his two assistants were opening a large pit in the floor near the central elevators. By using shaped charges, the engineers had managed to peel back the floor and the under foundations down to the bedrock and then some. Tim was distracted by what the engineers and the other mercenaries were doing. Cary looked up and gave them a thumbs up.

“I can hear them! They’re right below us. You might want to set the timers now. We’ll be on time. As soon as they’re done below us I’ll fire the last charges and we’re out of here.”

Harold smiled and got jovial. “Thank you Mr. Cary. You’ve earned your pay today. Now Tim…”

Tim had a chance to feel the hairs start to rise on his neck. The realization that his part of the program was over suddenly had him feeling vulnerable. The miners and others had turned and were all looking in his direction. He slowly turned back to his friend who was standing behind him. Harold had his pistol out.

“I’m afraid things aren’t going quite as planned. Seems some skilled mercenary types showed up and jumped the gun. And things were going so well till then. I’m sure the terrorists haven’t figured out what we’re actually doing and would’ve held the building for us until the gas and demolitions did their job. Now we’re going to have to rely on the demolitions to do it for us. They might set off some of the gas too if we’re lucky.”

Tim went pale. “But…”

Harold moved so no one would be in his line of fire. He seemed very happy. “Sorry old friend. I don’t need you anymore and let’s face it. You talk too much and know too much. I can’t say it’s been nice. You’ve nearly driven me insane with your whining, but all good things must come to an end. I’m afraid we need your cut to be able to conceal our trail good enough to avoid repercussions now. Besides, no one would really believe that the Backups could’ve pulled this off but a manager in the company…”

“But…”

Tim was staring into the barrel of Harold’s automatic and trying to think of anything to say to get him to change his mind, but the oddly gleeful look in the eyes of his supposed friend made his heart nearly fail him.

Harold aimed carefully. “Sorry Tim. It’s time to say goodbye.”

The explosion at the elevators killed the two men in security uniforms standing near them and sent a wave of concussion down the hallways that literally threw everyone else to the ground. Tim fainted at the flash, assuming it would be his last conscious moment. He was already on his way to the floor when the blast hit them, rolling him into a corner of the room.

The armored figures had started to pull themselves off the floor when two more armored figures came charging out of the dust of the explosion and opened fire with some sort or rapid fire automatic and a heavy rifle of some sort.

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A Minute Before:

It was almost certain the car below them had been rigged in some way. But the escape ropes from the roof also ended here so it was likely it wasn’t an automatic trap. The question was how it was controlled. Kate decided to take a chance and hanging just off the top of the car she carefully opened the roof hatch. Looking in she could see explosives strung around the walls of the elevator.

Winding herself back up to the next floor she joined Jill where she had opened the doors. It had been a risk, but seemed unlikely that anyone would’ve rigged these doors with traps.

Jill whispered. “Well?”

Kate whispered back. “It’s a trap alright. But I think I have the key.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.”

Kate pulled out her last remaining shaped charge and wrapped this around her second to last frag grenade. She’d only been able to find three frags in the TAC.

“I’m bettin this will set off anything down there and clear the way. Could get hairy after that. Ready?”

Jill grinned. “No. But it’s not like we can change our minds now. I hope you don’t want to watch what you’re doing cause I’m closing this door the second you drop that.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Kate pulled the pin and dropped the bundle towards the open hatch. Jill pulled the door closed and then huddled behind Kate who pulled up her coat as extra protection in front of them. A few seconds later there was a blast that buckled the door.

Kate sprang up and pulled at the door which didn’t want to open. Then she backed up and kicked the door. Finally tested beyond its limits the door groaned and tilted enough to let the two pass. Just before they did so a large part of the roof of the elevator fell past them and crashed into the rubble below.

Not allowing the dust of that to settle the two leaped down on top of that and rolled into the remains of the area in front of the elevator shaft. Rushing into the open area beyond they found several armored figures getting up off the ground and pulling themselves out of a hole in the floor. Not wasting any time they opened fire on the disoriented soldiers. One who was away from the others ducked into a corridor nearby. Two others ducked back into the hole, but four others who didn’t have time to reach cover went down in moments.

Jill had come out near an alcove that had some rubble in front of it. She ducked into that as soon as she couldn’t see any more targets. Kate looked around and found herself in a very open situation. Thinking fast she grabbed her last frag grenade and tossed it into the hole in front of her.

“GRENADE!”

As soon as this sailed into the hole the two in it came flying out and headed for the corridor the first had disappeared through. She’d have shot them, but her clip was empty and she didn’t feel she should waste the time switching when she could use it to get out of the line of fire. Jill might have been reloading or simply not willing to risk hitting her teammate and didn’t fire either. As the two lucky soldiers dived around the corner Kate dived into the pit.

As soon as she was in it she changed the flechette clip into her rifle and grabbed up the unarmed grenade she’d thrown into the pit. As she looked for the grenade she noticed what looked like shaped charges arranged in the hole and could hear and feel some thing going on beneath her feet. Even as she watched she saw several green LEDs on the charges change to red.

“Awww Crap!”

Kate threw herself out of the pit and over some of the earth piled nearby. She heard someone firing and a bullet pulled at her coat even as she rolled over and behind the mound. Then with a WHUMPF!, the charges in the hole went off and the sound from below got much louder. In fact, the sound became that of machinery fighting with itself in a very destructive manner. Whatever the machinery below was, it came to a screeching and rattling stop in moments. Kate didn’t have the time to worry about that now. Pulling the pin from her grenade she tossed it towards the corridor the firing had come from.

“Grenade!”

Someone fired several rounds at the area she’d thrown from. Obviously they weren’t going to be fooled the second time.

KABLAMMM!

The concussion pushed her to the floor for a moment and debris rained down on her, but as soon as the blast was over Kate was up and charging the corner where the corridor was. Firing several rounds of flechettes ahead of her. When she reached the corner she found two armored figures lying there. She fired a close range burst into each of them and then moved to the next corner where she found a small trail of blood. She was about to continue when her earphone bleeped. It was Jill.

“Kate! Where are you?”

She clicked her mike. “I’m up the corridor to the next corner. Looks like the grenade took out two of them and wounded another. I was going after him.”

“Wait for backup!”

“Can’t. Got to keep on him. But keep and eye out there and don’t let em flank me.”

“Kate!”

“Out! I gotta go!”

Kate didn’t have time for talk right now. A quick glance around the corner showed a short corridor leading to a door with a frosted window in it. It was cracked but showed no other damage. It also looked like it opened towards her. After a moments consideration she shot out the window. Another glance showed it opened out into what looked like a finished hallway, similar to what you’d expect to find in an office building. Not the maintenance corridors she was in now.

Carefully moving forward she tried to get a look into the corridor without exposing herself. Something told her she shouldn’t stick her head out into it. The trick was figuring out which direction the attack would come from. After she knew that, it would be a lot easier to find a way to counter it.

Unable to get a good view in either direction without exposing herself or letting whoever was out there know where she was Kate decided on another method. She had two flashbangs and a smoke left.

“Rats! There ‘s never enough frags when you need em. Maybe they’re nervous enough to be spooked.”

Kate quickly strapped a flashbang and a smoke together. Pulling both pins she tossed the bundle out into the corridor. It was too much to hope that whoever was out there would shoot at the bundle and she wasn’t disappointed in that. But in moments the corridor was filled with noise, flashes, and smoke. She pulled the door open and then shut it as hard as she could. Nothing could be seen and the other distractions made it difficult to hear anything but whoever was down the corridor to the left opened up anyway. Bullets from an automatic rifle went bouncing down the corridor.

In a break in the firing Kate dove through the now empty window in the door, rolling to the far wall. Firing from a prone position she fired the last of her flechette rounds down the corridor. Aiming for where she thought the fire had come from. There was a choked yell from that direction and she switched in the HEAP clip. A short rush and she almost fell over a body with a perforated face shield. He didn’t appear to be injured in any other way, so she was pretty sure he wasn’t the one who’d left the blood trail earlier.

Looking around carefully she brought up a mental picture of the structure. This had to be the area just outside the Asgard offices and vaults. An inkling of what might be happening stirred in her brain, and a reason to hurry up what she was doing.

She clicked her mike and whispered. “Jill.”

Jill sounded nervous now. “Yeah?”

“Do you have contact with anyone up top?”

“Annie.”

“Good. Tell her to get some bomb squad people down here ASAP. I suspect the building’s been rigged to blow.”

Jill sounded even more worried. “You sure?”

“No. But do you want to take that chance? And be sure to tell them there are still hostile types down here.”

“You’re full of good news today.”

“Yeah. Must be my bright and cheerful nature.”

“That’s right. Should’a named you Buttercup.”

“That’s the LAST thing I need. Keep it to yourself, okay?”

Jill’s voice had been relaxing during the conversation. Now she almost giggled. “Uh, might be a little late for that.”

Kate was suddenly worried. “Why?”

“We were patched in to my broadcast upstairs. I’m sure Annie and whoever else was listening heard it.”

Kate groaned while Jill just giggled.

Then Kate sighed. “Can’t do anything about it now.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing, Do you have the elevator and that hole under surveillance?”

“Yeah. No one’s coming out this way. I thing the machinery in the hole is jammed in there too. At least it sounds like someone is trying to get it to move.”

“I bet they want it out of there ASAP. But as long as we have them stuck here I don’t think the mercs will blow the place. Anyone sending help yet?”

“Annie said some were on the way. Didn’t say who.”

“Okay. Be on your toes. I might just be flushing a few your way soon.”

“Be careful Kate. You’re out on a string there.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Well, here goes. Good luck!”

“You too.”

Kate figured the next step would be to check out the office area. If nothing else it would possibly give her a better idea of what was going on. Areas like this were nerve racking. There were lots of areas to hide and if you didn’t have someone to watch your back it might be easy for someone to sneak up on you from behind. But waiting in place wasn’t going to find the mercs either.

She debated switching to HE and just blowing away possible ambush areas. But, it would damage a lot of property that someone would want to make her responsible for if she couldn’t justify it, and two, it would let the bad guys know exactly where she was. She preferred to stay hidden as long as possible in this situation.

Moving quietly was one of those things you learned either before or after you joined the Erinyes, but you did learn it. The office seemed very quiet when she got there. Almost an anticlimax. Then she noticed that things were disturbed in the office and the door leading to the vaults was wide open. Figuring now was as good a time as any to check those out she moved carefully into the room.

So quietly in fact, that she stepped between two desks and the two mercenaries crouching behind them before she or they were aware of it. They’d been waiting to ambush anyone moving into the vault area, relying on sound to tip them off when someone was there. This time it didn’t work for them.

Kate snapped her rifle around, whipping the barrel into the helmeted face of the merc to her left. She used the momentum of the turn to lash out with a side kick at the one to her right. The one on her left was knocked into the desk he was behind and the other was catapulted away and through an office partition.

The one she hit with the barrel came up and tried to clinch with her. Grabbing and pushing her barrel up and away he tried to bring his shorter rifle to bear. She dropped her rifle which had the effect of dragging her attacker off balance, wrapped her large left hand around the barrel and grip of his rifle so he couldn’t fire it at her, and wrapped her right hand around his upper left arm which despite the design to give as little grip as possible, still allowed her plenty of leverage as she fell backwards, brought her feet up and launched him after his buddy.

He sailed right into the other merc who was attempting to stand and they both collapsed into a heap. Kate didn’t waste time trying to get her rifle but turned her roll into an assault on the two before they could get back up.

As they were struggling to untangle themselves she snatched away their rifles and tossed them behind her. The one farthest from her tried to roll away and grabbed for his pistol. The other sprang at her and tried to stab her with a Monospike that popped from above his wrist.

A Monospike is related to the new monomolecular edged weapons, but designed to be stabbed rather than slashed into the opponent. An excellent close in weapon for the new hard armors it had a weakness where the new soft armors were concerned.

Monomolecular blades relied on their ability to cut through just about anything. Hard armor rigidity actually accentuated their effectiveness. Soft armors used a new sticky string technology that only blunted broader impact blows, but worked very well against anything that managed to cut them. When cut, the strings became charged in such a way that they glued themselves to any surface in contact with them, effectively making the item a part of the armor until the charge wore off. The monomolecular blades ability to cut actually worked against them in this circumstance.

Kate’s coat was heavily impregnated with sticky strings. As the point of the spike penetrated the sleeve she brought up to block the blow it essentially welded itself to the sleeve and being attached to the armor it also locked the opponents arm in place too. She used him as a shield as she closed with the man who’d pulled his pistol, pinning them both to the ground while she ripped the pistol out of his grip and tossed it towards the rifles. Springing up after that she spun so as the twist the arm attached to the spike behind her opponent. With her strength and leverage she managed to dislocate his arm before the strings lost their charge and released the blade.

Throwing the whimpering man aside she faced off with the other who’d managed to get to his feet.

He couldn’t see her smile through her helmet, but it was obvious she was amused. “Ready to give up?”

He hesitated and his bravado was lacking, but he replied anyway. “Why should I?”

Kate shrugged. “Cause you don’t have a chance and it’ll save you a world of hurt.”

He shuffled a bit to get his balance and shook his head. “Naw. I ain’t given up to a freak like you. You Erinye bitches all think your hot stuff. Let’s see what you can do against a real man.”

Kate smiled behind her face shield. “You asked for it.”

He leaped forward with a yell, ducking low and trying to sweep her feet out from under her. She braced herself and his foot thudded against her armored ankle and stopped. He tried to follow through and hook a leg and trip her that way. And when that didn’t move her tried to use his wrist spike on her face.

With a growl she grabbed the arm and twisted him over on top of one of the desks. She then drove her fist straight down into his faceplate. The desk bent and his faceplate crumpled under the armored blow. All fight went out of him as he tried to cradle his damaged nose under the crumpled plastic.

Wasting no more time with the groaning men she glued them together and to the floor. She then retrieved her rifle and took a quick look into the vault area. She noticed that three of the four vaults were opened and a quick look in those showed many drawers and cabinets ripped open and several of the contents spilled in glittering displays on the floor. It was obvious they’d grabbed what they thought would get the most money or be less trackable and left the rest. A well planned operation from the beginning and requiring inside help if the fact that the vaults hadn’t been broken open to get into them was any clue.

She would’ve continued checking the place when she got a call from Jill.

“Kate! I think someone is coming this way.”

“Roger! I’ll be right there!”

She wasted no time heading back the way she’d come. When she reached where the door into the maintenance area was she noticed it had been opened and hadn’t been able to close again because of some of the debris scattered around. Someone had evidently circled around while she’d gone the other way.

Then she heard the sound of the chain gun and return fire. Charging down the hallways she came to the last turn before the entrance into the area where the hole had been dug. The sound of fighting had stopped. She was about to chance a look around the corner when she heard a man yell.

“Erinyes! Listen to me! I’ve got a remote detonator here. If you don’t let me go I’ll blow us all to Kingdom Come! I mean it! We’ve rigged this place to blow. Your only chance is to let me out of here.”

Jill yelled back.

“How do we know that? And how do we know you won’t just blow everything after you’re out?”

“I’ll give you time to get everyone out so there won’t be a point in me blowing it. As for the explosives, you’ll just have to take my word for it.”

“I’m not in a position to consider your request. Let me get my Coordinator. She’s got the authority to deal with you.”

“Get her fast then! I’ll give you five minutes. Then all bets are off! I don’t have all day.”

“I’m getting her! Hold your water for a bit.”

“You’d better! I’m not joking here.”

“Neither are we. Hold on while I contact her.”

Kate chanced a glance around the corner. There were three armored men with six large black satchels. One of the men was at the corner and kept looking around it towards where Jill was dug in and blocking their exit. The one looking around the corner had something in his hand that might be the detonator he was talking about. There were several first aid patches on his left leg and he seemed to be favoring it. The other two appeared to be guarding the satchels. In them was probably the reason for all this mayhem.

Kate stayed back and observed the mercs with a small button cam. The situation was a standoff. She could probably take the men and kill them, but she had no way to tell if the switch was a dead switch or not. She was close enough to listen to what they were talking about. The two at the satchels were nervous and looked to the injured one as a leader if their deference was any indication.

“Do you think they’ll let us go sir?”

“Yeah Dawkins. I don’t think they have a choice. If we blow this building they lose no matter if anyone is in it or not. Until they get someone down here to disarm the explosives we have the upper hand. Too bad the tunnel down to the old mines is blocked. Did Green say when they could get it open when you talked to him?”

“He says we’re truly screwed there. It was blown too soon and some of the tunnel fell on the digger. It’ll take a week at least and equipment they don’t have. Our only way out is up.”

“Damn Cary! Why’d he have to blow it so quick?”

“Probably trying to fry the big bitch who chased em out of the hole with that trick of hers.”

“Shut up Kline. I know why, I just wish he’d waited until they’d managed to pull the digger out before he did it. He’s dead anyway so there’s no point in bitching about it. Heard anything from Mitchel or Ino?”

“No. I thought one of them tried to send something a while back, but it was cut off. These second rate communicators don’t work for beans down here.”

“It was what we could get. And I’m starting to get worried. I better see if they’ve got their commander available.”

“It’s only been two minutes. I thought…”

“Don’t think Kline. I’ll do that. I’m not about to dance around on their string. They’ll do what I say or pay the consequences.”

He got up and glanced around the corner towards the elevators.

“Hey! You out there! I’m not waiting forever. Where’s your boss? We talk now or I start to get nervous. And when I get nervous, stuff starts to blow. Get me?”

A voice I recognized as Janice’s answered him. Her voice was calm and confident.

“I can hear you just fine. Who am I talking too?”

“I think you should tell me first bitch. You have any authority? Or do I have to start shaking things up to get any attention down here?”

“I’m Coordinator Janice Simmons and I have authority to discuss terms with you. Now, about your surrender.”

“You think I’m going to fall for that? Like someone with any authority would come down out of their comfy business suites and get their hands dirty, much less risk getting a building dropped on them to talk to me. Stop trying your intimidation games and patch me through to someone with mojo or I start blowing the place right now.”

Contempt dripped from her voice. “For your information, Erinyes don’t operate that way. We’re all expected to be ready to take the field at anytime. And kick butt when we do, so don’t try and scare me either. We’re both professionals here. If you’ve got something to trade we can work something out. If you don’t you won’t get anything. It’s as simple as that. You obviously don’t want to die now. So let’s talk shall we?”

“Nothing to talk about. We get out of here or the roof comes down on us. Simple as that. And how am I expected to believe you have authority to fix things. Even if I accept you’ve got authority, what about the Police?”

“We? Just a moment ago it was just you. And the Police aren’t here. They’re still out sitting on their bums outside. You can deal with me or no one.”

“Then I’ll deal with you and I have a few people with me who are coming along.”

“How many?”

“A few. I’ll be more specific when I’m sure we’re on the same page. Now, since you’ve wrecked the elevator, I think I’ll want us to use the stairs instead. I’ll take responsibility for clearing them, though I wouldn’t follow to closely if I were you.”

“I’m not ready to say anything about being responsible for the destruction of the elevator, but it does seem to be out of commission right now, so stairs would make sense. Is there a particular set you want to use?”

“The central ones would be best.”

“Fraid not. There’s been a bit of a dustup up there and it wouldn’t be safe. Still a few holdouts. The west corner ones should be okay. No one holed up there.”

“I think we’ll use the central stairs anyway. Just make sure your holdouts don’t cause too much trouble.”

“If that’s the way you want it. When are you leaving?”

“No time like the present. We can’t expect the Police to keep sitting there all night.”

“Okay. If you insist. How do you want to do this?”

“I’d feel a bit more comfortable if I had some assurances that you weren’t going to try something stupid.”

“What do you suggest? And what do I call you besides Hey You?”

“Call me Captain, and a hostage would probably be the best way to keep things from getting out of hand.”

“Well Captain. Who do you suggest? You’ve already got this building and whoever’s in it at your mercy. That’s assuming you’re telling the truth.”

“I’m telling you the truth. And if you need some proof you could have someone check the bottom of the east access stairs. Don’t mess with what you find. It’s rigged to trigger if disturbed, but it’ll prove I mean business. As for a hostage, how about you? If you’re so important, no one would risk any stupid moves.”

Janice didn’t even hesitate. “It’s against or policy to do things like that, but if it will keep you from blowing this place then I’ll agree.”

“You’ll need to get out of your armor. No tricks.”

“If you insist. It will take a minute. Get together anyone going with you. I’ll be right over and we can start.”

Kate watched as they huddled together. She listened in while they decided what to do.

“Have you been able to contact anyone while I was talking?”

“No Captain. Not a peep from anyone. I think we have to assume they’ve captured or caught the others and since they came from up that way we might have to assume they’ve got the gas too. Can they do anything about the explosives?”

“Given enough time they might. Cary didn’t have enough time or equipment to do anything fancy. They’re not rigged to blow any way except for this remote or a timer, but until they get some people down here and find the five mined areas they can’t do a thing.”

“You told them about the stash under the east stairs.”

“Yeah. And that should draw their attention from the others. Besides, it only proves we’re serious. I figure at best it would take them five to ten minutes minimum to disarm any they find and they don’t know how many there are. Even if they find all five of them right now we can expect to be safe from attack for at least five to ten minutes. All we have to do is get these bags up top of one of the nearby buildings and Leroy will snag us out of here. They don’t have anything that can catch him once he gets going. After that we’re home free.”

“Why not off this roof?”

“Too hard to clear all the floors to the top. We just don’t have the time. If we go next door we should be able to get up quickly and get out of here.”

Just then Kate got a quiet signal from Jill.

“Kate. Can you hear me?”

Kate couldn’t speak without warning the three mercs, but she could use the clicker function in her communicator.

“Click.”

“Can you talk?”

“Click, click.”

“Do you know where the mercs you know of are?”

“Click.”

“Do you know how many there are?”

“Click… Click, click.”

“Yes and no or you don’t know. That doesn’t help much. Can you take out the ones you know about?”

“Click… Click, click.”

“Hmmm… This is going nowhere. Do you know where the leader is?”

“Click.”

“Do you have him under observation?”

“Click.”

“Good. How many with him?”

“Click… Click.”

“Two. Total Three?”

“Click.”

“Do you think there are others?”

“Click… Click, click.”

“Well, Janice has a plan. Keep your eyes open for more of these Bozos. I’ll monitor the channel, if you click we’ll know about it.”

“Click.”

While this was happening the three mercs made their plans. The leader who was called Captain armed himself with a pistol. His other hand was occupied with the detonator. The other two were loaded down with three black bags each. The bags were so heavy the men weren’t likely to be able to fight well even though they had rifles ready. Captain was listening to the front and stiffened suddenly.

“What do you know? There’s someone coming. Want to bet it’s some kind of stand in?”

Janice’s voice answered him in a very business like voice.

“I can hear you just fine and I’d never put someone else in this position. See? No surprises. Now. Are we going to get going?”

Janice had appeared from around the corner and the three men stopped and stared at her. Probably because Janice had stripped down to a pair of panties and stood in front of them naked except for that. She did a turn in front of them so they could see that she wasn’t carrying anything.

Captain was the first to start recovering but seeing how they were all so entranced with the naked beauty in front of them Kate decided to take advantage of that and moved quietly up behind them. Janice saw her coming but made no indication she had. Kate was behind the two with the bags in moments. Captain tried to get control of what was happening again.

“What the hell is this?”

Janice shrugged. “You said no tricks. Does it look like I’m carrying anything? And my being without armor makes me more vulnerable don’t you think? Now, are we going to get going?”

Captain stepped forward and pushed his pistol right between her prominent breasts.

“If you think for one minute I’m falling for any of your tricks you can forget it. Now tell me what you’re up to right now or I blow you away and then this building.”

Janice shrugged and put her arms out towards her sides. This drew even more attention to her. She smiled then. I couldn’t help noticing the nervous tic and harried look were gone and she was radiating confidence and even a bit of enjoyment with the situation. The latter was probably giving Captain fits. He was probably used to intimidating people. Having a naked woman at gunpoint who didn’t seem in the least worried probably wasn’t helping his mental state right now.

She smiled. “You got me. You’re so sharp. It’s probably why you’re the Captain. If you must know I simply wanted to get close enough to take you out and I didn’t think you’d let someone in armor get close enough. Isn’t that right Kate?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

None of the three had seen Kate approach and all three jumped when she spoke. The two with bags tried to turn around, but stopped when they found themselves looking down a 30mm barrel and the .457 respectively. Both knew they were dead if they moved. The Captain, who towered a good six inches over Janice was distracted enough that he couldn’t react fast enough and found his pistol being twisted from his grip. He staggered back and brought the detonator up in front of them. He was becoming somewhat panicked.

“You crazy witch! Back off or I blow this place! What are you? Insane!?”

Janice brought his own pistol up and pointed it between his eyes.

She smiled. “Go right ahead. I’m afraid it won’t work though. We found your little surprises several minutes ago. I just needed to distract you long enough to disarm them. That’s done so you can’t do a thing with that. Give up before you get hurt.”

He still wasn’t thinking clearly and continued. “You’re all insane! I could kill us all right now!”

Janice shrugged. Despite the situation, that movement still drew the men’s attention. “Go ahead. But I warn you. If you try and trigger it I’ll shoot you anyway.”

He froze, starring into her eyes and not seeing any indication of doubt in them. Either she was telling the truth or was a first class bluffer. And he couldn’t be sure which it was. In moments several more Erinyes came around the corner. Some moved further into the building and others moved to where they could cover everyone. His resolve broke under the icy stare of his naked opponent and he carefully lowered the detonator to the ground.

“Okay. I give. Turn us over to the Police then. I’m not risking any more with you crazy broads.”

Two Erinyes moved up to cover him while he carefully dropped his other equipment. Annie brought up Janice’s armor and she started to get dressed. Captain was still watching her and cleared his throat. Janice noted it and spoke in a happy conversational tone as she dressed. No one would guess by her voice that she was dressing in front of men who’d been willing to kill her just moments before.

“Yes Captain?”

He nodded in her direction. “You don’t wear a uniform under that?”

She shrugged and grinned at his response and discomfort.

“These things are tight enough without making it worse. Besides, these are our uniforms, when we’re not wearing something else. Any more questions?”

He took a deep breath. “Not right now.”

“Good. Would you mind telling us how many of your men there are? And if you know how many Backups we’d appreciate that too.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you. Sorry.”

Janice smiled. “That’s okay. We’ll find out on our own.”

Kate stepped forward. “Ma’am?”

“Yes Kate?”

“I think each set of armor has a Monospike in the wrist.”

“Good. Everyone get that?”

There were a number of nods and replies over the communicators.

Janice waved at the men. “Okay. Girls. Get these guys secured. About these bags…”

Kate filled her in. “I think they’re from Asgard. Their vaults were opened.”

With a suddenly intense and serious demeanor Janice nodded and motioned some of the girls to take charge of them. “Ahhh… I see. Well, we’ll have to hold on to them until Asgard can get us a listing so we can return it to them. And someone see about checking where that tunneler was coming from. There must be some kind of passage down there if the buildings sensors didn’t catch any digging before now. Catalog whatever’s in these bags. Be sure to use SOP doing that. We don’t want any questions about what was in them.”

Three of the girls took the bags and headed upstairs. Janice motioned to Kate. She became all business. “Kate, I need to talk to you.”

Kate managed to look surprised. “Here?”

“No time like the present. Give us some room girls.”

Everyone moved away, taking the prisoners with them.

Making sure everyone had moved out of easy hearing range Janice said in a low and non carrying voice. “Now. Kate. Report.”

Kate put on a questioning look and whispered back. “About?”

“Everything. Don’t try and tell me this wasn’t your little idea either. I know better.”

“But…”

“I’m waiting, and I don’t have a lot of time.”

Kate sighed. “Yes Ma’am. Well, let’s see. We saw the contract and felt it was a good chance to pick up some money, so we signed on with the Police. Then we used what was in the TAC to take out the gas, terrorists, and these guys.”

Janice kept her voice low, but it clear she wasn’t amused. “You took a lot of risks! Endangered everyone, including me! What do you have to say about that?”

Shrugging, Kate leaned the huge rifle against the wall, leaned against the wall, and crossed her arms. “We knew what we were doing. They were expecting an attack from the lobby or the air. When we came up through the floor they never had a chance. With the gas out of the formula it was fairly easy to free the hostages. It wasn’t until then we figured they were up to other things and so we came down to check that out. I’m pretty sure this was the last of them and Jill and I had them covered.”

Janice snorted. “Except for the mines.”

Kate nodded. “We’d have gotten to that too. Thanks for handling it for me though. Made it a lot less messy.”

Giving a small bow, Janice asked another question in a condescending tone. “And do you know where the mines are? And how many?”

Kate straightened. “But… I thought you already…”

Janice shrugged. “I couldn’t be sure. But the situation was already all screwed up. Nothing to lose as they say. Henrietta thought she had them, but there wasn’t any way to know we had them all. Now answer my question.”

Kate became thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. “They mentioned five, including the one under the east stairs.”

With a sigh of relief, Janice nodded. “Makes sense. That’s what Henrietta thought. She also figured the most likely positions. So it looks like we’ve got them all. That just leaves clearing the building of the other traps.”

Kate stood straight and picked up her rifle. “Where are the Police? I expected them down here before now.”

Shifting her combat harness, Janice snorted. “They’re just sitting on their butts out there. Whoever’s in charge isn’t letting them move an inch.”

A distracted look flitted over Kate’s face. “Hmmm… You know how much I like conspiracy type explanations and I don’t want you to just throw this idea out because of it, but don’t you think things are a little fishy here?”

Janice nodded. “I’ve thought about it, but without proof it would be a disaster to even suggest it.”

Kate shrugged. “True, but it does seem odd to me. I wouldn’t turn our mercs over to anyone right off. And I’d be especially careful with my counts where those black bags are concerned.”

Janice gave Kate a ‘I wasn’t born yesterday’ look. “Always. It won’t be the first time someone tries to pad their total, and if the Police are in on it we don’t want to take any chances. They’d just love an excuse to cause trouble.”

Kate shifted around some of her equipment. “Yeah. But you might want to have someone check the scan logs of the TAC.”

“Oh?”

“We… Uh, I had it set to scan and record as much of the local communications as possible, decoding anything it could at the same time.”

Janice glared at Kate. “Do you have any idea how processor intensive that kind of work is? No wonder we couldn’t get through to you.”

Kate managed to look a bit startled. “Oh. I guess it WOULD do that wouldn’t it. Newbie mistake. Sorry.”

Janice snorted and started for the corridor leading to Asgard’s offices. “Like Hell. But it might just get us some important info on who’s involved.”

Kate looked calculating for a moment. “Would we make anything on exposing it?”

Janice shook her head. “Not nearly as much as using the info properly will. You know a lot about conspiracies Kate. But leave the politicking to me, okay?”

Kate got a sour grapes look on her face for a moment and then both of them spun around with their weapons pointed at one of the nearby walls as a small groan came from that direction. One of the piles of rubble moved and the two were on it in a moment. The others who’d been watching the conversation from the other side of the room had immediately tensed when the two had spun around. Weapons were pointing everywhere, looking for targets.

A figure moved in some of the rubble. “Aaaah! Please! Please don’t kill me! I’ll do anything!”

Janice was tense for a moment, and then relaxed a bit. But she didn’t lower her weapon as she moved closer to get a look at the groaning man. “Say Kate. Doesn’t he remind you of someone?”

An older, somewhat balding, and battered man in civilian clothing was trying to shield his face from the flashlight Janice was shining in his face.

Kate nodded, but continued to watch him carefully. “Yeah. I think this is the manager Asgard was missing earlier. I wonder where the others are? Hey you! Where are the other four employees who were with you?”

“Please! I’m hurt. I need help. I Auuugh!” He’d tried to stand up, but grimaced in pain and sat back.

Kate quickly put aside her rifle and knelt next to the man on the floor. She started to check him over quickly.

She was anything but truly apologetic as she forced him to lay back into the rubble. “Opps! Sorry about that. I get distracted when there are unsolved mysteries hanging around. Now, I’m an EMT. Let me look at…”

The man struggled weakly to push her away. “Aaaaagh! Please! No! They’re in the vault! They’re in the vault! Haro… Those men. They locked them in after forcing them to help them get the vaults open. Please! You’ve got to believe me! H… The leader of them was going to kill me! That’s the truth! Please get me to a real doctor! Please!”

Kate’s hands hovered over the man, as if waiting for something. “What about the two missing security guards?”

He tried to squirm away, but was blocked by some rubble and the wall. “There were two guards working with the men who did this. I think they were over by the elevator the last time I saw them.”

Kate took a quick glance in that direction and the ruble in front of the elevator. “Oh. Then how do we get them out?”

The man was confused by her comment. “Who?…”

Kate sighed like she was reaching the end of her patience. “The people locked in the vault.”

She started to check him over again and he tried to squirm away.

He was gasping in fear, pain, or both. “You can’t… Please! No! I’ll tell you! Just don’t…”

Kate stopped and waited. “Well?”

With a gasp he fell back into a lying down position. “Emergency override code. It’ll open the vault.”

Pulling her hands back, she squatted next to him. “Where do we get it?”

Holding his side he gasped out his message. “Contact Asgard Corporate Offices. They can get it. Now, how about a doctor?”

“We better wait until the others are taken care of. It shouldn’t take long to get someone at Asgard to get us the info.”

The figure on the floor went even paler.

“No! I need a doctor! You can’t do this! It could take days before they release those codes!”

Kate shrugged. “I’m sorry Sir. But if they can’t help us we may need to have you available for whatever help you can give us. And this is still a combat zone, so no doctor yet. However, I’ll try to make you as comfortable as possible…”

He tried to curl up for a moment and then groaned. “NO! Please don’t! I… I’ll tell you! Input FTRE IS 2 BRGHT. It’ll get you in! Now PLEASE! Get me to a doctor. I’m sure some of my ribs are broken.”

Kate nodded. “Yeah. I think you’re right. We should get someone down here. Janice?”

Janice shrugged. “I’ll take your word for it. We should see what we can do about that vault. Annie!”

“Yes Ma’am?”

“Make sure this gentleman stays here until the docs can get to him. Get his name and any other info you can. Keep two people with him at all times. Get the necessary paperwork going to hold him. We think he may have more info for us.”

“Yes Ma’am! Where will you be?”

“We’re going to check out this vault situation. Anything else to report?”

“We’ve secured the building. No sign of any more hostiles. Working on clearing traps right now. Should be done here in about three hours. Should we let the Police in?”

“No. Too dangerous now. We’ll handle things from here. Tell them we’ll be sending out the hostages soon, but no one comes in until we’ve cleared the building. Be sure to get statements from everyone and prepare any of the terrorists and mercs who survived for transport to our own holding cells.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“If they insist we will let the Police send in some observers, but it’s at their own risk. And they’ll all be escorted. Got that?”

“Yes.”

Janice started for the offices. “Okay Kate. Let’s go check this out.”

“I’m right behind you.”

Janice paused and motioned her ahead. “No thank you Kate. Walk in front please. If anyone is left down here they’ll see you first.”

Kate grinned and moved quietly ahead. “Thanks Chief.”

“Think nothing of it Kate. Now put that mass of muscle to work protecting my ass instead of getting it into trouble.”

Using her button cam, Kate checked each corner and then carefully moved on. But her voice remained relaxed and conversational. As she cleared each area she’d motion Janice to follow. “Yes Ma’am! You sure you don’t want some more trouble? You seem to like it a lot.”

Janice snorted. “I’m sure. Don’t strain yourself trying to find more.”

Kate grinned again. “It’s no trouble at all. I think it comes naturally to me.”

Janice nodded, even though Kate was concentrating on the hallways ahead. “Yeah. That’s what I’m afraid of. You’ve been to these vaults. Lead the way.”

Kate waved her forward. “Yes Great Leader. Right this way. Don’t mind the mess.”

Janice looked around. “You did this?”

Kate shrugged. “I had some help.”

Janice shook her head. “Yes. I can imagine.”

When the two got to the vaults there were three Erinyes searching the mess and watching the two mercs glued to the floor.

Janice raised an eyebrow. “You like glue don’t you?”

Kate smiled. “It works, and it’s easy to carry.”

Janice nodded. “True. Do you think this code will work?”

Kate got serious. “It’s not a standard code. Too short and not enough numbers, but I suspect our little manager knows more than he’s letting on right now.”

Janice snorted. “There is that. Be my guest and put it in then.”

Kate moved over to the pad and then hesitated. She looked back at Janice. “Not afraid of booby traps are you?”

Janice stepped back. “Not when you’re taking the risks.”

With a sarcastic smile Kate turned back to the pad. “Thanks.”

Janice managed to sound smug and a bit impatient at the same time. “Your welcome. Now get those people out of there.”

In moments the code was in and shortly after that the huge door began to move. Yelling and screaming could now be heard also. This quieted as soon as the vault opened enough for the four people inside to see out. They started to back up and Janice stepped in front of Kate. In a calm voice she addressed the people inside.

“It’s okay. We’re here to get you out. Don’t let Misszilla here worry you. Call her Buttercup. She’s on our side, most of the time.”

Kate winced and then carefully moved to where she could cover them all as one of the girls stepped forward. Despite her obvious fear, she put on a brave front.

“I’m Susan Brecker. Senior Secretary. Who are you?”

Janice was calm and polite. Susan and the others started to relax a bit. “I’m Coordiator Simmons. Themis, Erinyes Division. We’re here to rescue you. Do you have any injuries? And do you know of anyone else who might be locked away or held somewhere?”

Susan stood up straight and answered carefully. “I’m afraid not. Mr. Galagher was working with the men who attacked us. But he went with them. I know there were some people upstairs, but I don’t know anything about them. One security guard was shot by two of the others when he tried to lock us in our offices. That’s all I know.”

Janice gave a small bow and turned around. “Thank you Miss Blecker. Kate?”

Kate shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I’m just muscle, remember?”

Janice ignored that and turned back to the people in the vault. “I’ll take that as you don’t have anything to add. Now. How about you all come out and sit over here while we check out the rest of your vault.”

Miss Blecker looked like she was going to protest for a moment, but Janice saw it and explained calmly before she could say anything.

“It’s okay. All our operatives are wearing cams and sound recorders. We won’t be doing anything illegal. You’ll be able to request those records as a matter of course as this is investigated. But we do need to secure the building and that includes checking out this vault.”

Miss Blecker nodded and went to join the others while Kate and Janice checked the vault. Someone had tried to bring some order to the mess in it, but other than that it looked like the other vaults that had been open. Soon the all clear was given. All terrorists and hostages were accounted for. Miss Blecker and staff refused to leave the company property and in the interests of keeping on their good side they were allowed to watch everything that went on in the offices.

Police investigators were soon on the scene too. Poking into everything they could. Miss Blecker actually put out a temporary contract with Themis to keep all unauthorized people out of their offices while the investigation proceeded and repairs and cleanup was done. Soon an audit would be completed and a comparison with what we found in the black bags would show that the mercs had almost gotten away with over 120 million in gems and jewelry. Given a likely 60 to 80 percent to fence them and they still would’ve made over 20 million or more on the heist.

Themis asked for and got a reasonable finders fee to return them AND got a contract for consideration of more work with Asgard and some of the other businesses. Overall damage was comparatively light. The worst could be argued to have been the result of the terrorists and mercs actions.

There were the inevitable unreasonable death and injury actions, but nothing unusual there under the circumstances. All in all, Themis came out looking good to the clients and public. After Janice talked to the Police Chief the Police were also spouting praises about how well Themis had handled the situation and thanking them for their hard work. Themis of course made a point of saying how well the Police had handled their part of the operation and what a shame it was they hadn’t had the right equipment for some aspects of the job.

Later, a team of searchers would find an old mine that wasn’t on the more recent surveys. This was where the diggers had come from. Anyone who had been there had fled already but efforts to find them and the mysterious Leroy and his flying machine were now in progress.

Still, none of that made any difference when Kate got called into Janice’s office a little while later.

Janice was looking harried again. Piles of paperwork scattered on her desk. She glared up at the tall figure before her. She nearly snarled.

“I imagine you’re proud of yourself. The way this has all worked out.”

Kate managed to look innocent. “No Ma’am. I was just doing my job.”

Janice held her hands up. “Making me crazy?”

Kate nodded. “That too.”

Janice glared at her for a moment and then sat back in her chair. “Well, I’ve received a notice from the DC offices. They say they need some people with some experience against terrorists and conspiracies. You came to mind immediately. With the boost to our budget we just got, the Home Office has allowed how we can expand our employment status to match the new need. While it still leaves us a bit short, I’ve decided that it might be in the best interests of Themis if we share your expertise a bit with other parts of the organization.”

Pulling a large envelope out of a pile of the paperwork Janice tossed it at Kate. “Here are your orders. You have two days to arrange things here and then you get a train to Chicago and then to DC. You’ll report to your new supervisor there.”

Kate kept her face emotionless and came to attention. “Yes Ma’am.”

Janice waited for a moment, watching for a reaction. When nothing happened she started to close the interview. “Any questions?”

Kate started to leave but stopped and turned back. “About the BAAT?”

Janice nodded. “I’ve put in the necessary paperwork. As soon as the tests are done you get first dibs. We’ll have it sent to you with any ammo. But you’ll have to wait until they’re done. And if you can get permission from your supervisor you may be able to purchase it for yourself. I don’t think anyone else would want it and you might still be able to get it at auction if they won’t let you buy it direct. Keep in mind that maintenance on a unique firearm like that will be difficult and expensive, not to mention how difficult it will be to get the specialized ammo.”

Kate smiled. “Yes Ma’am. I understand, but it fits me so much better than anything else I’ve found. I think it will be worth it. Thank you for your help.”

Janice waved her out. “If you say so. Now, leave me to my Paper Purgatory which you put me in. Good bye. And good luck.”

“Yes Ma’am. Uh…” Kate hesitated, waiting for Janice to look up again. Which she did.

“Yes?”

Kate stood at attention, asking more formally than Janice could remember her ever speaking. “Permission to speak candidly?”

Janice looked at her curiously for a moment and then nodded. “You’re not my headache anymore. Say what you have to.”

Kate relaxed and smiled. “You look a whole lot better out in the field than you do here. You did look pretty good and a lot happier. Have you considered doing more outside work? I bet you’d be a lot healthier.”

She looked at Kate for a moment and then sat back and waved at her desk. “And who would do this?”

Kate shrugged. “Delegate a bit. Willow would be pleased as punch to get a bonus to get some of this organized for you and truth to tell, I bet she’s better at it. You’re a great field operative. I’ve seen you in action, and then some.”

Then Kate chuckled. “But let’s face facts. You’re going crazy in here. Let up a bit and let some of the others handle some of this. You’re only doing it like this because you assume it’s a pain for everyone and you don’t want to put something like that on anyone else. You remind me of one of my old commanders in the Army. He was a great guy and concerned for all of us. But he wouldn’t let up and let us help him. Almost killed him too. Got an ulcer that ruptured in the field. We barely got him back in time. He almost had a heart attack again when he got back and found out we’d managed the paperwork and other officework better than he had. You need to let up before it does the same to you. Just try it out. Give Willow a chance as exec and I bet you’ll see improvements before you realize it. Both for you and this office.”

Janice sat there staring at the large girl for a few moments. Then she shook her head. “Is that all?”

Kate got serious. “It’s what’s important. Just think it through and give it a chance. That’s all I’m asking. Good luck to you too. I think I’d also like to arrange for my stuff to be shipped in a rental mover instead if you don’t mind. Just cancel the train. I won’t fit in the train well anyway. Let me just use the money for my own move if you please.”

Janice sighed. “More Paperwork.”

Kate shook her head. “No. I took the liberty to have Willow show what she can do for you.”

She then pulled out a packet of papers and put them on the desk in front of Janice.

“All you have to do is sign here and it’s done. Check it over of course, but I think you’ll find it’s all in order.”

Janice shook her head. “You just can’t operate the same as everyone else can you?”

Kate shrugged. “Fraid not. My problems tend to be bigger than others. I’ve had to learn to cope.”

“Riiiight.”

Janice quickly looked through the papers and then grudgingly nodded.

“Makes sense. I’ll sign. Now get out of here.”

She quickly scribbled her signature and tossed the paper back to Kate. Kate saluted and exited the room. Janice sat there several minutes, just looking at the door and then at her desk. Finally she leaned forward and pushed an intercom button.

“Willow?”

“Yes Janice?”

“You waiting for this call?”

“Kate said you might be calling soon.”

“Care to come in here and discuss some things?”

“I’d be happy to. By the way, are you as good looking as Kate says?”

“Uh… Maybe I’ll show you sometime.”

“Really? I’ll be right over!”

The line went dead and Janice sat back. Then she started to chuckle a bit.

“Damn! You think of everything don’t you girl? I’d pay to see the look on the face of whoever get’s you now. I wonder how you knew about Willow?”

Janice sat back with a smile. Maybe things were going better than she thought they might. Now that the giant was out of her hair she might be able to relax a bit.

linebreak shadow

On the way to Chicago.
Rented moving van:

Kate looked up occasionally in reflex, just to be sure everything was working properly. The van was on automatic pilot and shouldn’t need any supervising, but she just couldn’t bring herself to trust machines completely. She remembered too many times and stories where things had gone wrong when people forgot how fallible the things were.

Satisfied that everything was running smoothly she went back to studying the files she’d managed to dig up on the operatives in the DC area. It never hurt to know as much as possible about who you were working with and against. The normal files you could easily get hold of really didn’t tell you much about the person, though you could tell a bit about them from where they’d come from and what they were doing.

For a moment she experienced the old feeling of loss. Having to move on from someplace she’d started to grow accustomed to. But there was nothing to do for that. She’d stay in contact with Rita and Jill. Hopefully, they’d be able to tell her how her plans for Willow and Janice worked out. And maybe they’d be able to work together again in the future. Finding people who understood and appreciated her was difficult at best. Still, there were more people to get to know where she was going. And maybe she’d find that someone special. The old pain and anger came and went quickly. There was always that hope. These files wouldn’t tell her that, but they might help.

There were also the files on the area and what was making the news and what wasn’t. Terrorist activity seemed to be up. That would explain the need for experienced operatives. But was it maybe the part of something bigger?

Trying to stretch and relieve some of the discomfort of the confining cab of the moving van, she turned her thoughts to the exciting thought of being near a place renowned for the complexity of the plots hatched in its vicinity.

Finis

Comments   

+1 # Podracer 2016-11-11 21:32
Erinyes Enjoyment :lol: Many thanks for hatching this plot.
Did the girls really pick those names them selves? Or were they given a list to pick from - by Starwolf...
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0 # AceDreamer 2016-11-15 15:46
Nice story! I think this is the one of these I've enjoyed most, so far. It's not easy standing out in a group that itself stands out.

Might want to check the tense in a few places, changes from 'they/them' to 'us/we' a bit unexpectedly.

I'd certainly be interested to see more in this setting!
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0 # Phoenix Spiritus 2016-11-15 16:04
Hi Ace,
This is a repost of a story that was on the old site. We haven't heard from Starwood for a period of years, so it's unlikely there will be follow ups to this story :sad:
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