Posted 03 July 2005 - 01:53 AM
Dana grew tired of watching the grey mass of the UFO dangle between the two craft, and turned back to the damaged laser pistol in her hands. For some reason, it had overheated uncontrollably and unexpectedly in the field, and now it was her job to figure out why. She picked up the radio and contacted the ranger.
"Yo, what's up?" came Doc's voice.
"Can you get O'Chez on the line?"
"Sure thing." On the Skyranger, Doc yelled out,"Rick! Phone for you"
"Yeah, what is it?" Rick said as soon as he was able to.
"Can you take a look at your laser pistol?" Dana's voice came over the radio.
"Uh... I left it with Terrick back at the pond. Just a sec. Yo! Terrick! You mind handing over that raygun?"
Terrick's face turned to one of alarm. "I don't have it," he said simply.
"What's going on?" asked Dana over the radio, not having heard Terrick but hearing Rick.
Terrick was looking a little more scared now. "It... it wasn't there when I woke up. Maybe someone else took it... or it could have fallen in the water?"
The medic who had looked after Terrick was listening in. "I was the first one there, and I didn't see anything of the sort," he said with his hands in the air in an I didn't do it! expression.
Oh, damn! thought Rick.
"What's going on?" demanded Dana.
"Uh... I think... I think the raygun's in the drink," Rick admitted.
Rick counted. Seven seconds.
"We were by a frozen pond with thin ice. I didn't think it fell in... I remember having it there. Yeah, then the sniper shot at it."
Dana was too stunned to say anything.
"I thought it was with Martin, but we were still rather close to that pond and..."
"You mean to tell me," Dana said very slowly, "that an experimental weapon, with an unpatented but Nobel Prize worthy invention, is sitting at the bottom of a lake in someone's backyard?"
Worthy of a Nobel? Rick thought? Isn't that taking it a bit too far?
Martin looked like he was feeling sick. "Maybe I accidentally kicked it or something..." He was currently wondering how long it would take for someone to guess that he had stolen it.
Meanwhile, back in the Skyranger, neurons were misfiring in poor Dana's sleep-deprived brain. Of all the... why'd they have to drop it in water? Through a miracle, one of the signals got lost and arrived instead at just the right place.
She carefully inspected the casing again, paying close attention to the seams of the casing. They were definitely not watertight. Water had to have gotten in somehow and shorted something out. The snow in the air was probably enough to do that.
The other laser, submerged in icy water as it was, probably wouldn't fire again either. The antiphoton generator didn't mix well with water, to put it lightly.
Nobody suspected that it was Terrick, and not the pond, that held the prototype laser pistol.
Back at Pine Gap, the news that a pistol had (supposedly) been left behind in a pool of water was not taken well.
"Can you turn back and retrieve it?" asked Geneva.
"Negative," responded the Osprey pilot. "We barely have enough fuel to make it back to base as it is. If we turn back now, then we'll have to make a stop somewhere and I think our 'luggage' will draw a bit of attention, eh?"
"Damnit," Geneva mumbled under his breath. Okay, time to try something new. He turned to Pickering, hovering somewhere nearby.
"Take care of that, too."
Back overseas in America, Marvin was growing very annoyed at that jet that kept following them. He wished he could swat it out of the sky like the fly it was. Every once in a while the jet would grow tired of hovering behind them and do a few circles before following closely behind again. He'd never seen a jet like that fly so slowly. It was almost as if it could hover in the air. He didn't know that it actually could.
Frozen air still came through the broken windshield and swept past him. It stung his eyes and burned his face. Marvin ignored it all and kept heading determinedly towards his destination: The city of Washington.
Gia was getting impatient. Here was this crippled and limping animal. To any predator it screamed food! yet she could not do a thing. She had her orders.
She sighed, then decided to give her comms another try. Maybe she could persuade this guy to put it down or something. However, immediately upon being turned on, it squelched out at her ears.
"-peat. Unknown aircraft, this is Captain Donald Ramson out of Bolling Air Force Base. You are heading towards city airspace. Change your course to zero-nine-zero immediately and respond. Over."
What? Nothing's showing up! Oh... The range on her radar display was currently set to just a couple kilometers. That was the best to get the most detail she could out of the ground to relay back to the men on the ground. She switched the radar back to its full range, and sure enough two contacts were bearing down on her. Command should have been watching her back and should have notified her of this much earlier.
She had switched off Command.
"I repeat. Unknown aircraft, respond immediately or we will be forced to open fire." Secretly, Gia wished they would. It would be an excuse to fire back. Wisely, she chose the talking option.
"This is Lieutenant Gia O'Connor. I am a special forces pilot tracking fleeing hostiles. I cannot comply with your directions."
In the other plane, an F-16 Falcon, Donald Ramson was not expecting this. He just wanted to get back to base. He was this close to being certified on the new plane, the Raptor. Of course, nothing seemed to make sense today. Earlier they had been scrambled, with Command in almost a state of panic. There were rumours that a freaking U.F.O. crashed into Washington itself. Now one of the contacts he was chasing claimed to be special forces? Ramson hoped that she was just a crazy civilian pilot in a small plane.
Still, he had his orders. At least she was responding. Ramson's wingmate was unsuccessfully trying to reach the other slow-mover.
"Negative, Lieutenant." He didn't believe her. "Change your heading immediately, or we will be forced to open fire." Both as part of procedure, and to give emphasis to his command, Ramson locked on with missiles. He doubted it would do anything, though. A civilian craft couldn't detect it.
Back in the Hurricane, Gia's console lit up and started buzzing at her.
"Weapons lock," it advised.
"Dammit." She getting a bit more anxious. Even though at this range she could still defend herself, no pilot liked to be shot at. More on her nerves was the feeling of ineptitude, and she took it out on this intruder. "Captain Ramson, I am flying a military prototype. If you want to shoot at me, then I hope you have your retirement money already set up because your C.O. will court-marshall your ass before you can say 'oops.' Now you can turn around and head home and forget you saw anything."
She could now just see the two fighters. They were a pair of dark points against the bright sky.
Who the hell is this lady? Ramson wondered. She certainly seemed to be way too confident for her own good.
"Miss O'Connor, Lieutenant, whoever you are. City airspace is currently a no-fly zone. Change your course immediately, or, I say again, we will be forced to open fire."
Ramson knew there was no way he could shoot. The media will be all over it, and Command would have his ass. But this lady, what on Earth was she...
"Oh my god," he let out. He and his wingmate could now see her jet.
"Bighorn," called his wingmate. He was a bit of a greenhorn. "What kinda plane is that? I ain't ever seen it anywhere."
It definitely wasn't like anything he'd seen before. Maybe she was telling the truth about flying a prototype. It certainly looked like it could take on his small Falcon easily.
Damnit. Ramson just wanted this day to be over. They were practically at the city limits now.
"Just follow my lead," he ordered his wingmate.
"Believe me now, gentelmen?" asked Gia over the comms. "The slow-mover I'm chasing is an... 'enemy of the state.' I must apprehend him before he... Where the hell did he go?"
Ramson checked his radar. The other contact had simply vanished as soon as it reached the city. He rolled his fighter to get a better look. Sure enough, the helicopter was no longer in the air. There definitely was no fire or smoke to signal that it had crashed, either. What the hell?
"Gia to base. He's gone! I repeat, the helicopter's completely vanished off my screens! And now I've got two Falcons haggling me."
"Lieutenant, get out of there, now. That's an order." It was Geneva. "Get back to base."
Dammit! Gia pounded on her console. How could he have disappeared like that? If only those damn guys didn't show up, then she could have seen where he went.
"Holy shit" exclaimed Ramson's wingmate. Ramson agreed. The prototype just just pulled up. Straight up. It shot off like a rocket, disappearing into the sky in a matter of seconds. It didn't take long for it to disappear from his radar, either.
"Uhh... Ramson to base. I've got a bit of a story for you guys..."
Marvin laughed triumphantly. His family was going to live.
"What the hell kind of stunt was that?" Red demanded. He was the first one to finish throwing up. Just a short while earlier, Rice had plummetted the helicopter straight into a busy Washington highway. In fact, they were still 'on' the highway, racing along barely a few metres above the ground. To any observer, they would have disappeared in the traffic. Marvin was lucky those other two goons showed up and caused a distraction.
His family was going to live.
Meanwhile, fifteen thousand kilometres away and almost literally on the other side of the globe, John Pickering, Valerie Deacon, and Paul Jasper were impatiently waiting for their transport to arrive. Surprisingly, Davies was also waiting with them. He had a plane or something to pick up in America.
Pickering cast these thoughts aside, and again reviewed the mission profile in his head.
One - Gather information about the humans who were present at the recovery site.
Two - Attempt recover of the alien Plasma Pistol that was taken by one of the civilians.
Three - Negotiate with the United States government to maintain favour.
Four - Oversee the installation of an X-COM Agents program in North America with the intention of discovering possible human-alien coalitions and alien infiltration. Aside from just wanting to get out of the office, this was the main reason Pickering, the head of intelligence, was leaving.
Five - Recover the abandoned laser pistol. Pickering wondered why it was even given its own spot on the mandate.
John decided to only take two people with him. Valerie was a smart girl who would be a great asset overseas. An introduction to field work would be a good thing for her, too. Jasper's squad was still decimated, so he wouldn't be missed too much. However, Genega still only reluctantly let him go. As a spook already, he knew a lot about field work. Hopefully his combat experience would not be needed.
They would rendevous with the other agents in America. Technically John probably didn't need to go see them, anyways. They were trained professionals, and meeting them in person wouldn't tell them much that couldn't be sent over the phone. However, John quietly omitted that fact when convincing the Commander to let him go.
In the distance, the three agents and pilot could now see the headlights of the incoming plane in the dim light. Their ride was here.
As soon as Donald Ramson stepped on the tarmac after climbing down from his F-16, one of the groundcrew had a message for him and his wingmate.
"Colonel wants to see you two." He jerked his thumb needlessly in the direction of the command center. The lights were on to ward off the approaching darkness of dusk.
Lieutenant Ryan "Bladder" Sheedy (who recieved the unfortunate callsign due to repeated practical jokes) looked expectantly at his wingmate. Are we in trouble? he seemed to ask.
Captain Donald "Bighorn" Ramson (much more lucky in his callsign) shrugged. "I don't think it could have gone better."
"Captain Ramson, Lieutenant Sheedy, please sit," was the first thing the Colonel had said after the usual military exchange of salutes was finished. The face of their commanding officer could often be seen with a warm smile. This was not one of those times. His wrinkles, one of the many drawbacks of age, seemed to be much more apparant than normal.
"First thing first, I want to say, personally, that I could not have expected any more from you two out there. Needless to say your orders did not leave you with much room, and the situation was definitely unique. However..." The Colonel looked over a piece of paper in his hands. Ramson wondered how many times over he had read it.
"I have my orders from high up... to say that this event never happened." Uh, oh, thought Ramson. It was definitely some high-end top-secret military project.
"Both of you did not observe a high-performance military aircraft," the Colonel continued. "As such, you will not mention its existence, or should I say non-existence, to anyone." There was barely a hint of a smile on the commander's face at his little joke.
"Because you two were not distracted by this third party, the report will state that you failed to deter or apprehend or even track a non-compliant civilian, possibly criminal, helicopter entering Washington airspace, which subsequently escaped detection."
Ryan's face hardly contained his shock. This was hardly fair!
"I'm afraid I don't have much choice in the matter, gentelmen," their C.O. admitted. "These things... happen. That's why I have chosen to give you the... appropriate punishment... of flying the midnight shift." The grin in his eyes belied the Colonel's serious face. "Goldsmith and Fehr will just have to cope with turning in early."
At last the older man's face broke into a warm smile. "That's all I can do." He stood up and saluted. Sheedy and Ramson followed suit.
"How can they do that? Just up and slap our wrists just because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time?" Ryan complained to his senior, who also doubled as a wingmate and good friend.
"It's just because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Donald answered back. "We're lucky we got off as light as we did. What's a midnight shift compared to the stockade or losing some stripes?"
The two were resting on their bunks, with the intention of stealing some sleep in the first few hours of the early winter night. The next several minutes saw no more conversation, but neither pilot could find the room for sleep.
"You got that weird feeling too?"
Ramson waited for a few seconds before answering back.
"Yeah. I got it too."
"What's it mean?"
"It's the stink of them guys who can't stand you knowing anything," Donald joked.
"Yeah..." Neither man could shrug off the omen so easily.
They spent the next couple hours talking about other things. Donald's family. His younger daughter was so proud of her latest craft from school. His son was starting to get interested in some of the girls at school.
Ryan's girlfriend. He was asking how you know when she's 'The One.' Karissa was as close to perfect as possible.
It would be their last such conversation.
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