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