Wilkins was somewhat distracted as he continued to perform checks on the nonresponsive guardsman with a very worried expression and muttered under his breath, but he answered eventually. "I've never seen weather like this, not even in Alaska, and God knows that was bad enough. And to answer your question, Lieutenant Fields...not much recently." Wilkins frowned and listed off items slowly; around him, some of the mixed troops had begun heating MR Es. They were a motley of Air Force security, National Guard, and Massachusetts State Guard; the NCOs were busy taking roll of their respective units. "There's the air contingent, a squadron of helis. The different battalions in transit. The Air Force intelligence people, the armory, the Army camp next door—" From time to time the belt radios crackled; the winds seemed to be dying down in intensity, losing their feral howling quality, though still extremely fierce. Between the storm clouds and the darkening evening, visibility outside could not have been more than a generous ten yards. What news filtered through the clipped radio reports were bad: radars out, flightline out, men gone missing—the list went on. "—eat sigs in the perimeter," someone's voice announced, tinny from the radio speakers. In a moment the hangar had gone deathly silent. "Moving heat sigs on camera 23 north." "Base, can you confirm it's not one of ours?" asked someone else on the same net. "Possible but unlikely. Heading south on—just lost that camera. They're hostile." Wilkins and Price grabbed for their weapons. "Heathrow," they said simultaneously, Wilkins in surprise and shock, Price in grim certainty. Around them the mixed platoon came to life; there was surprisingly little shouting for the reservists, but the disorder was evident. About half had night-vision equipment ready, and their equipment was older but functional. The Occulus team was easily the most senior group present.
"Tourist cover, wizard group," said Karla to Paxton. "New England looks lovely this time of year. As for you, Miss Szymanska—" keeping her mild tone "—I intend nothing radical. But neither caliber is obtainable commercially, and I would rather use our contacts in Russia for other business, so being able to manufacture new ammunition would be helpful. I need an original for that." Turning to Lita: "There are odd rumors at a site in Catalonia, near the French border. This group may have the most experience of anyone still active to deal with it. I can say no more for now."
"We thought that too, yes," said Diaz. "The Army has approved infantry patrols to probe the borders of the spell, if it is there. But it is strange: if it were this should not have showed up." He pointed at the photographs of the second set of buildings. "I have put in a request to involve the French. The border is less than a kilometer away, and there is a gendarmerie detachment at La Vaill." He pointed to the relevant sections of the map. Indeed, the international border ran along the ridgeline; the castle lay just south, within a literal stone's throw of French territory.
edited 8th Oct '12 3:04:49 AM by hotelkilo
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.
Wilkins nodded rapidly to Fields' remarks as he strapped on his gear: rifle, flashlight, helmet and a heavy scarf, which did not look Army-issue. Price, who was rather more practiced, adjusted his balaclava and tested his radio headset. Immediately a problem presented itself. The base security radios, carried by the Air Force police, used one frequency; the radios of the Occulus team used another. By sheer bad luck no Ratelo personnel from either the State or National Guards had made it into their hangar. That meant no radios to coordinate with the other Guard personnel. Some rough shoehorning had gotten the personnel arranged: two improvised squads of National Guard and a squad of State Guard, five Air Force policemen. None had ever gone up against hostile magic, though a number were Afghan veterans. Few machine guns and rockets, no fancy gear; the best they had were personal smartphones. No thermal imaging, attempts at sending the feed from the base TASS thermal cameras to the smartphones having been dismissed out of hand, and there were no security stations in the hangar itself. Limited night-vision that was only barely better than the naked eye, so badly did the blowing snow obscure it. Worse, the uniforms were a mixture of forest and desert-pattern camouflage, hardly optimum against white snow. Most worryingly of all, there was no unified chain of command. That much was being demonstrated by the near-argument taking place between Wilkins and a Security Forces corporal. "Look, sir, my orders are for us to take the lead. We know the terrain," said the corporal insistently. "I mean, shit, maybe your people have orders from the snake eaters, but we don't, we have superseding orders. And right now—" patting the radio at his hip "—we've still got an intact commo link with the colonel. As long as we are on this base, Air Force orders take precedence." "And what is your colonel saying?" asked Wilkins mildly. "Let the ETS handle sweep duties and AFSF making a perimeter, sir," said the corporal. "Army troops to not get in the way. No offense, sir, but it's gonna be hard enough without a hundred extra warm bodies confusing everyone."
"They may not yet have gotten over the border, but they may soon, and I want permission beforehand if they go north," said Diaz. "And, missed shots will land on their ground. I want to start no firefight with frightened gendarmerie." He pointed out the relevant features on the map. "Loose scrub, old trails over the mountain, easy to cross country. Permission rather than forgiveness, as the yanquis put it, yes?"
Alzey smiled, but got up only languidly. "Lovely, lovely. But don't go anywhere yet, grasshopper, we've got us some planning to do first." He scratched at a lock of white hair, the continuation of a scar that ran down his temple and eyebrow. "David Xanatos I'm not. Closer to Wile E. Coyote, in fact, and this is what happens when you go in without any sort of planning beforehand: the roadrunner does a number on you and runs off, meep-meep." He pulled out a grimy-looking notebook and a chewed-looking pencil, writing as he talked and walked. "I'd rather catch my bird this time, and for that, I'd prefer my newest bestest friend not to go charging into a mousetrap. I'd hate to have to pay Karen for a whole new house." He drummed his fingers on the frame of his blue VW Beetle for a moment. "Okay. Let's see, now...first stop, the British consulate. Ain't too far from here. ...what?"
England/Boston/Group US: Chessie & Paxton
The next hour went by quickly. Charmdrummer dropped by, his mood having improved from sulphurous to merely foul, and took command of the group; from there, a quick break to let his team take what they could, a re-brief on the communication coins, and an interminable wait at the Ministry before the Portkey away into the consulate. They popped up in the Boston consulate with diplomatic tags, thereby preventing the disappointed and very suspicious-looking guard from rifling through bulky bags and overcoats. In the lounge, Alzey and Grace-Ann were waiting. Alzey at least was all smiles and cheer. That is to say, he handed a tote bag to the already-overloaded Charmdrummer and said, "Hi, Nigel. What kept you and who are your friends?" "Alzey. Insouciant as ever," growled Charmdrummer. And in response to the unanswered question: "No, don't ask me where he pulled 'Nigel' from. God knows where he gets those nicknames. Alzey, I hope you've got a good reason for pulling me across the pond this time. These two are Szymanska and Nott. Be so good to introduce me to your veela friend, will you?"
England/Group Spain/Barcelona: Lita
In contrast with the five-hour time difference between London and Boston, the move to Madrid and thence to Barcelona was done with a comparative lack of fuss. After that, a car rental, an old and unremarkable Peugeot that lacked all modern amenities that stray magic might wreck; north along the E15, through the hills of the Colserola and the coastal plains. Karla was a steady, cautious driver, wearing the face of a middle-aged woman who could have been Lita's aunt, and who upbraided her teenaged niece in shrewish and provincial (not to say unnaturally fluent) Spanish when they had to pull over for gas or for food. Unusually for her Karla visibly enjoyed herself in putting on the role of the chattering, nosy relative; they made a welcome break, she told Lita in one such outburst of garrulity, slipped in between descriptions of untold relatives for the benefit of the bored gas-station clerk, from the deadly silence and terse questions of the game she had devised for Lita. She called it Kim's Game, and it involved counting and tracking cars and trucks ahead and behind in the great moving mosaic of Spanish traffic. There were plenty of opportunities to practice in the innumerable times she doubled back along winding twisting side roads or choked boulevards, alternating between law-abiding meekness and bursts of sudden boldness and dash to maneuver into gaps in the traffic. Lita, at least, could not see any obvious trails, while Karla stayed cryptically silent on the subject aside from the endless questions: was she certain of the truck? What color and make was the sedan? Was it driven by a man or a woman, and where did it exit? After each endless barrage of question and answer she nodded either in satisfaction or amusement and allowed Lita a break before she would start again. Thus occupied it was early evening when Karla with an exhausted Lita in tow and supplying only cryptic answers to her questions knocked on the door of a modest house, ancient and battered, but with a front yard kept desperately neat and a lemon-tree bearing the remnants of an unseasonably late crop. It was out in the countryside, perhaps an hour north from Barcelona proper, much closer to the eastern arm of the Pyrenees and to France in the north. On the third knock its owner answered, swept the visitors with a well-practiced, too-innocent, disarmingly-open smile, forgot all pretense and swept up Lita in an embrace. Karla stood silently with a rare unguarded half-smile, before she addressed him: "I am glad you retain such fondness for your granddaughter, Mr. Garza. As you see she is safe and well, as I have promised." Still clutching Lita in his arms William Garza squeezed his eyes shut, and when he spoke in faultless English there was no heat, no anger, in his words, only a sigh of gratefulness: "And damn you, too, madam. Damn you and thank you for bringing my granddaughter here."
edited 11th Oct '12 1:53:09 AM by SabresEdge
edited 11th Oct '12 6:31:19 PM by Faramir
edited 3rd Nov '12 4:37:52 PM by FirockFinion
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.
edited 27th Oct '12 1:46:11 PM by Windee
The corporal protested, but he did forward the recommendations up the chain. The commands came back down after a short delay, with much protesting but the acknowledgment that the Army troops might be useful if they stuck close to the hangars and the other buildings; no straying out and getting lost. "If we babysit each squad with a team we wouldn't have enough people to guard the flightline, sir," said the corporal. "That's AF's job," came the reply. "Sweep close to the hangar and flightline, and keep the Army troops close to wherever they're bunkered down. That will free up people. Don't worry about the runway or the tarmac, you will not be sweeping that far out."
Diaz nodded. "I do want to keep this as secret as I can," he said. "But the French will know anyway if anyone escapes north, and that I am afraid of." He reached for his phone. In the next room the inquisitors prepared their translation, typing slowly but surely; Colom had retired to a bunk prepared for him. When he walked through the corridor he still appeared wild-eyed and disheveled, twitching occasionally like a man newly awakened, and watched in some wonder by the other policemen. Diaz had ended his call. "The full translation should be ready in a few hours, but the basics are as you heard. Many, many questions without answers." He leaned back in his chair. "Now...the army company will draw a loose perimeter around the castle, but none of the soldiers have experience dealing with magic. Your advice would be appreciated—the Major has requested your presence, but so has the Police team with Colom."
William Garza released his granddaughter, looking unsurprised but disturbed, and turned to Karla with an anxious frown. "Have you honestly not told her?" "I had thought that would be your prerogative," said Karla. "Would you mind if we stepped in?" The dining room: a rough scatter of books and odd handiwork (Lita recognized some past pieces she hd done), flower vases lining the walls with fresh petals, and a centre bowl of oversized cherries the size of apples, all kept unnaturally neat and ordered. An ancient black typewriter perched on the far end, with finished sheets in a neat stack and a paper halfway through. Beside it lay a pair of horn-rimmed reading glasses. William offered a cherry to his granddaughter, looking more pensive than Lita had ever seen him, and invited Karla to sit on a couch facing him. "The Maturin report is nearly finished. I had not expected you until the evening," said William. Absentmindedly he reached sideways to ruffle Lita's hair; they were all speaking Spanish, William with his odd halfway accent between Catalan and English. "That will keep. You said, on your last visit, that you would do your best to limit Lita's involvement." "As best as I could," said Karla. "I do not fully control events. The domestic competition had recruited her first: I had only one chance to catch her. After that...my instructions were explicit." "You mean to draw her into the old Q network," said William. His eyes were focused and accusatory, and Karla met his gaze only after a heartbeat's hesitation. "Yes," she admitted. "She and her group had the most exposure to the neighbors of anyone comparable, and my predecessor had arranged for the relevant strings to be immediately pulled upon the recruitment of anyone like her. She has also demonstrated remarkable talent—" "I did not spend twenty years looking for moles behind every rock and bush and wondering if every nighttime knock on my door would be a wetwork squad so that my granddaughter would have to do the same!" William had raised his voice only minutely, but there was real anger that flared in his voice. "Your predecessor had put an end to all that after Voldemort fell; the Q networks were to be permanently wound down! You are undoing the promise that he made to—" William sustained a hot pitch of anger, but already it was clear it could not last; his voice trembled and faded, and now Karla had regained her mental balance, sitting with granite impassivity. "Made to whom, Mr. Garza? To whom? Certainly not to me. Not to himself, either, not after he read through the old reports—many of which were drafted by you. You know the founding circumstances in 1940 as well as I do. You know that this war will be even more terrible than the Great European Conflict unless we somehow prevent its escalation and stop the djinni from coming out of the bottle—or have you forgotten that? 'Look to dogs, camels don't react?' My predecessor was explicit on that score, because he had the precedent of his predecessor to draw upon—a man you knew very well." "Don't pull this 'we' business on me. I was there before you," said William, but ashen resignation had replaced anger. "But for God's sake. My granddaughter. What's this about the American CIA?" "You knew the first Irregulars: pickpockets, thieves, smugglers," said Karla. "Playing cowboys and Indians with the Baker Street boys and C's people. Lita has survived the opposition through no small talent of her own. She is easily one of the most suitable candidates I have, and the competition will be happy to reclaim her as one of their own. Would you want that for her?" There was a long pause. "No," said William, closing his eyes. To Lita he seemed very old. "But how I wish..."
Everyone in Boston, you get a round or two of talking to each other. Make friends and the like. I know that I've gotten three of the least garrulous players, but it's good practice, and totally not because I'm out of ideas for a 3AM post, no sirree.
edited 28th Oct '12 3:28:15 AM by SabresEdge
edited 2nd Nov '12 8:46:28 AM by Faramir
For lack of anything better, the engagement plan saw the various State and National Guard troops stay close to their hangars and the nearby flightlines, the better to avoid getting lost in the snowstorm, while Air Force troops swept the more distant locations; buildings and parked aircraft were, by consensus, the obvious targets. Price was back to his perpetual pre-combat scowl. "Stay with this platoon," he said. "They're right about getting lost in the snow. Your decision to form up with the different squads or keep our own unit integrity." Inconspicuously and almost without explicit orders, Captain Wilkins had gotten Air Force and Guard personnel organized, matching up radiomen to maneuver squads. "Remember: there are many more American troops wandering out there," he said. "Don't shoot them by accident." At a last exchange of instructions with the senior NCO, Wilkins joined the "command group" of the Unicorn personnel. Quietly, to Price: "Should you warn them about the runways or shou—" He was interrupted by the chatter of rifle fire outside the hangar, followed by the whump of a recoilless rifle, familiar to Fields from his own Guard days. Instantly the sergeant of the National Guard squad threw open the door and filed out with his men, helmeted heads and clicked safeties, one by one disappearing into the whirling snow.