Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – For The Count

Continued from Twenty-three: Me and Yu

Twenty-four: For The Count

Yu’s death quickly followed the sound of the window cracking. It meant one thing to Heather. She wasn’t alone in that assessment.

“Sniper!” Walker dropped to the floor.

The room only had two windows, but they were large and uncovered. Yu’s body lay on the ground near Madison and Becca. Boyle and Walker both crawled toward the windows, Walker to the one without the bullet crack.

Willow crouched near the door, MP5 raised to her shoulder. She fired off three suppressed shots, each one eliminating one of the trio of lights in the room.

“That explosion is going to bring the authorities fast,” Heather said.

Willow apparently agreed with her. “We need to go.”

“Right.” Boyle had reached the window. He assayed a quick, head-bobbing glance, then another, and finally a slightly longer one. “Nothing.”

Walker, at the other window, peered out. “Can’t see a damn thing.”

Becca got up on her knees and shovelled the two cellphones onto the floor, grabbing the laptop. “Get his cell.”

Madison, who had backed away from the body once everyone started moving, looked at her, eyes wide. She didn’t react, giving him a stone face and cold eyes. Madison inhaled sharply, then reached inside Yu’s jacket. He fished about for a couple of heartbeats, enough that Heather heard him gagging, then pulled out the device.

Willow opened the door and frogmarched into the hallway. Becca and Madison followed her. Once Heather saw Walker and Boyle retreating from the windows, she followed. Now standing straight, Willow already covered the stairs. Becca had her Steyr in hand, while Madison now carried all the cargo. Heather waited at the door, her MP5 ready. Walker then Boyle exited. Willow had descended the stairs. Madison and Becca were taking those stairs quick.

Boyle patted her shoulder as he passed. “Time to go.”

“What the fuck was that?” Heather asked.

“A very prepared opposition.” Boyle held his HK53 short assault rifle loosely, finger aside the trigger guard. “Yu knew he was dead the minute he stopped broadcasting.”

They had reached the stairs. Walker waited at the top and waved them past. Becca stood guard at the foot of the stairs. Madison and Willow were likely moving to the car.

“He didn’t even try to bolt,” Heather said.

“Yeah, like I said, he knew he was dead.” Boyle took the stairs two at a time. “Sure thing. No escape. Could be brainwashed, could be parapsych implant, could just be fatalism.”

Chaos ruled the streets. Only a minute earlier, Heather could have counted pedestrians on one hand and had a thumb left. Now, a real crowd milled about. Yu’s car lay on its roof in the middle of the road. The fire had spread to at least two shops near where it had been parked. Boyle’s van burned, its position shifted by the blast. Heather paused, eyes on the van.

“Leave it.” Boyle tugged at her upper arm. “It’s clean. It’s nothing.”

She followed Boyle across the street, the two of them drawing no attention. Everyone watched the fire. No one bothered with the crew of six heavily armed foreigners.

Heather slid into the back seat, sharing it with Madison and Becca. Willow sat in front, on the passenger side. Boyle let Walker take the middle, then he took the wheel. He made a very quick and precise three-point turn, and they were gone.

“Jesus Christ.” Madison clutched his hands together, rubbing. “He knew it was coming. He fucking knew it was coming.”

“It’s like a cult or something.” Becca looked out the window, but she patted Madison’s leg.

“ESPer aren’t immune to implantation,” Boyle said. “And they aren’t immune to brainwashing.”

“Where does that leave us?” asked Willow.

Madison cleared his throat. “We got the laptop and the cellphones.”

“Yes we did.” Walker slung an arm behind the seat, shifting himself to give Boyle more arm space. “And here’s hoping there’s something on them.”

Willow reached inside her jacket, beneath her body armour. “Speak of the devil.” She turned on her cell. She waited, possibly allowing the other party to speak first. “Yeah, it’s Willow . . . What? . . . Where? . . . Yeah, we know the place . . . No, we got fucked too.”

At that, everyone in the car started exchanging glances, different signs of concern evident on each.

Signing off, Willow returned the phone to her inside pocket. “That was Gurung. The safehouse got hit. Prisoners are all dead, Cascade is MIA, and Everson is KIA.”

“Digs?” Palpable disbelief infused Madison’s voice.

Boyle didn’t give Willow a chance to reply. “Rendevous?”

“Sierra Mike,” Willow said.

The car fell silent. Only the sounds of the engine and the tires on road pierced the interior. They drove far out of the city centre, to the walled wasteland of an abandoned industrial park in the Kathmandu-Patan-Bhaktapur triangle. They saw no other vehicle. They spread out warily from their car, weapons ready. Heather released a quiet sigh when Rudi approached them from the east end of the complex.

He took Heather’s hand in both of his. “I am glad to see that all of you are well.”

“What happened?” Straight to business, that Boyle.

“We interrupted an assault on the safehouse,” Rudi said. “I estimate an opposition force of about ten, five in overwatch, five on the assault team. They had no survivors. Sgt. Everson was killed by the overwatch team.”

“Cascade?” Unlike Boyle, stress and concern laced Willow’s voice.

Rudi met Willow’s eyes. He frowned. “She was gone when we entered the safehouse. All the prisoners had been executed.”

“Equipment?” asked Boyle.

“Missing also,” Rudi said. “I presume it was taken.”

“We just got totally fucked.” Madison sat down on the ground. “Totally fucked.”

“Then it’s time to stomp their fuckin’ balls.” The fury in Willow’s voice did not reach her face. “It’s time to make examples.”

“I agree,” Boyle said. “But here is not the place to plan it. Rudi, is this place clean?”

Rudi crossed his arms as he faced Boyle. “Gurung said it is. We completed a sweep, but we lack the proper equipment.”

“Gurung would know.” Boyle’s eyes moved over the assembled group. “We’ve been kicked, and we’re hurting, but we aren’t out of the fight. This is about to get very intense, so if anyone wants to pull out, now’s the time. Dyck is already back in American hands, I presume.” Boyle waited for Rudi to nod. “So it’s likely known that we’re in the middle of a clusterfuck. This would be a good time to cut losses.”

“While it is considerably unprofessional, I have a strong urge to strike back,” Rudi said. “I usually do not allow myself the luxury of revenge. I believe I will indulge myself.”

“Yeah, that,” said Walker. “Playing us is one thing. This is something else. We still have a mission. Maybe the targets and parameters have changed, but show me the plan that doesn’t go to shit at kickoff.”

Boyle stood there, not speaking, his gaze moving among the group. Finally he waved everyone forward. “Right, then, let’s get inside. Let’s figure out how we’ll go about stomping and whose balls we’ll target.”

Heather helped Madison to his feet. He dusted off his butt and adjusted his jacket. “I’m feeling pretty lost here, boss.”

“You know, there’s nothing wrong with you heading home, letting the chief know what’s going on.” She didn’t meet his eyes when she spoke. She half-hoped Madison would do it, would leave. She wanted him around, though. She trusted him.

“I couldn’t,” Madison said. “Not now. That’s not to say I didn’t think about it when Boyle floated it. But Walker’s right. So are Rudi and Willow.”

Walker hung back from the group, watching Heather and Madison. He waited for them to catch up. “You two should seriously consider what Boyle said. Now is a good time to bow out.”

“Why does everyone want me outta here?” Madison put on a smile, but Heather didn’t believe it. “I mean, I’m not the only one missing a shower or two, you know?”

They joined everyone inside the abandoned factory. Gurung had set up shop in the office section—dusty, decrepit and poorly lit. It reminded Heather of the old factory in Raxaul where Hitch had duped them. Over on a side table, Madison dumped the laptop he had taken from Yu’s, then the cellphones, once he fished them out of his pockets.

She accepted a cup of coffee from Scott. He looked bad. She had never noticed the lines on his face before. Maybe he hadn’t had any. He looked worn. She imagined she looked worse.

Boyle touched the laptop Madison had brought. He stood there for a few more heartbeats. Heather wondered if he were praying or planning. She’d welcome either.

“Okay, we’ve been hit hard, but we aren’t out.” He turned to face the room. Unlike Scott, the situation didn’t seem to effect Boyle. His voice still had steel in it. His eyes still had fire. “We still have leads, and we need to follow those.”

“We need to recover Cascade,” Rudi said. “That is our priority.”

Scott seemed to straighten, to puff his chest out, like he was on parade. “That’s what I do. Give me Walker and Park for support. I’ll run this down.”

Madison held up his hand. “Just a moment, I agree about getting Cascade and all, but I figure she’s going to be with the CIA faction. We find them, we find her. We find her, we find them.”

“We don’t know who has her,” Boyle said. “Whether it’s our rogue CIA or not is immaterial. The mission is the priority. I want to recover Cascade, but she is secondary. We need to find who ran Yu. We need to find who hit our safehouse.”

“If you are concerned about the mission, we should prioritize recovering Cascade,” Rudi said. “She will talk, if they do not simply excavate her mind.”

Boyle shook his head. “There’s nothing she can tell them that they don’t already know.”

“No way, that is unacceptable.” Madison had colour in his face again. “No fuckin’ way we leave her until later. Listen, you might be big scary Tangible ninja, but you don’t run this show. Right now, I’d be saying Walker does.”

Walker leaned against the wall, arms crossed. “You’re wrong, Mads. Boyle is running the show, and he’s right. Mission first.”

Willow kicked a chair, knocking it away from the long table in the centre of the room. “I know I don’t get a vote, and I know what I signed on for, what she signed on for too, but I can’t fuckin’ believe you’re going to abandon her.”

“Not abandon,” Boyle said. “Never abandon.”

“It’ll be too fuckin’ late.” Willow’s volume was perilously close to shouting.

“They will make her talk,” Rudi said. “Whether she has anything to say or not is moot. They will make her talk, and if they are using an ESPer, it may not kill her, but it will be her end.”

“Will you people listen?” Madison did shout. When faces turned to him, he took a breath and then spoke in a more controlled tone. “There are two possibilities: the rogue CIA took her or Yu’s people took her. We have two leads. For Yu—” Madison gestured to the laptop and cellphones on the sidetable. “And then there is the Vladivostock shipment. It might be Yu’s group or it might be CIA. Whatever it is gets us one step closer to at least one of the targets. Doing the mission still gets us closer to Cascade. Now let’s stop arguing about this and do something.”

Boyle’s brow creased as he stared at Madison. A slight smile touched his lips. “Well said, Mr. Sinclair. I agree. We have two leads and we should begin on them immediately. Gurung, I want you and Rudi on the Vladivostock shipment. Any information you can get. Walker and Park, you are support and overwatch. Carry heavy. Scott and Willow have the skillset necessary to begin work on our electronic leads. Jeffries, Sinclair and I will walk perimeter. Questions?”

Nothing. No one spoke. Heather caught Walker’s eye. He looked grim. He had his game face on.

“Good enough,” Boyle said. “Assume you are being watched at all times. Assume that as soon as one of us is vulnerable, cut off from the pack, one of our two enemies will remove that person. We are in a bad place. Let’s see if we can’t dig ourselves out.”

Continued in Twenty-five: Hard Driving

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