Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – Hard Driving

Continued from Twenty-four: For The Count

Twenty-five: Hard Driving

Gurung had acquired some exemplary equipment. Alex doubted that Drift could have provided him anything similar if he had been operational somewhere like Nepal. Maybe in a few days, a week or so, but in a few hours? Not a chance.

While he had some facility with cracking encryption, Willow proved much more proficient, so Alex relegated himself to assistant. She did the surgery, he passed on the tools and gave opinions when asked. Alex figured they’d be more successful and faster with her driving.

They had turned the largest room in the old factory into their quarters and war room. A window overlooked the main factory floor, and all the disused, rusted and broken machinery there. On the far wall from the window, a counter ran the length of the room. Willow had set up there, with a military-grade laptop and the rest of the equipment Gurung had delivered, including two computer towers without their coverings, protected by a thin, plastic sheet.

In a corner of the room, a pair of burners on a gas range and a short refrigerator represented a make-shift kitchen. Food and other supplies filled the door-less cupboard space around it. At the opposite end of the room, four cots with bedding formed a sleeping area. Another room held more cots, as though the crew might actually get a chance to all sleep at the same time.

Running along the window, two folding tables set together and surrounded by folding chairs filled most of the remaining space. Miscellaneous equipment, from unused tactical radios to half-filled weapon magazines lay scattered across the table space. Three local newspapers covered some of the loose gear.

Boyle hung about near the window. He had his HK53 in hand. Tricked out with a suppressor, ACOG, and tac light, he looked the spec ops ninja of his reputation. Alex, though, knew him better than that. Boyle’s eyes met his.

“Getting bored, are we?” Boyle delivered that dry as a desert.

“Getting ready for another coffee, more like it.” Alex gestured to the makeshift kitchen in the corner. “Hop to it, houseboy.”

“For you?” Boyle flipped on his short assault rifle’s safety. “Anything. Willow, you in on this?”

Not looking up from her work, Willow grunted a reply. That apparently appeased Boyle, who went to work making coffee.

“I have to say I’m surprised to see you here, Alex.” Boyle focused on filling the kettle with water.

“Lt. Park is very persuasive,” Alex said. “And everyone seemed to think you were either buried or close to it. I figured I’d better step in.”

“Step in it, maybe.” Boyle put the kettle on the gas range. “Still, I didn’t think you’d get leave or permission.”

“I’m out of the game.” Alex put as much cold neutrality as he could into those words.

“Of course you are.” Boyle’s words had cool, amused distance.

“If you didn’t think I’d show up, funny you sent Park after me,” Alex said.

Boyle looked over, leaning back on the counter, away from the range. “I needed someone I could trust, and someone who could haul my ass out of the fire. You score on both counts.”

“So, I’m your failsafe?” That made Alex chuckle. “I’m the guy bringing the cavalry over the hill?”

“We don’t get cavalry.” Willow’s face was still buried in electronics.

“She’s right,” Boyle said. “The Stream is slim. It’s tight—no QRF, no reserves, and certainly no cavalry over the hill. Maybe some search and rescue. I might get a rescue if I send up a flare, but I’m not going to count on that. I have you.”

You have me because your team leaves you hanging in the wind. Alex didn’t let his honest reaction reach his face. He said: “Nice organization.”

This time, Willow actually stood up. Her hazel eyes had red streaks through them. “It gets results. Secrecy is a big part of that. Goliath organizations are fine for stand up fights, but you have to be lean and mean to get into the shadows and do the dirty work.”

Alex picked up the cloth on the counter beside him and wiped off his hands. “I can understand that, and it looks like you’ve got access to nice toys, but coming from Drift, I value support and assistance.”

“You think we’re done?” Willow pointed to the cloth in Alex’s hands with a micro-screwdriver. “We’re not done.”

Alex pointed to the kettle, steam coming from its spout. “Coffee break.”

Boyle scoffed, but lifted the kettle off the range as it began to sing. “Coffee’s not on yet, lazy sod.”

“Soon enough.” Alex took a seat at the long table made of the two folding tables. “How much longer you figure?”

She offered a pert grin. “Could be a couple of minutes, could be a couple of days. The equipment Gurung secured is good, very good, almost too good. Thing is, there’s only so fast anything can crunch numbers and there are only so many tricks I have to try to get around the encryption. Lucky thing is that Mr. Yu was not the most careful of users. He didn’t bother to clear his data, at least not regularly. There’s enough remanence to work with that I’m optimistic.”

“Sniper and hacker.” Alex put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “Will wonders never cease?”

“Not while you are with this crew.” Boyle slowly pushed the plunger on the French press. “I’d ask how you take your coffee, but right now it’s black or not at all.”

Alex rose and moved to get mugs. “You know, if the rest of the team saw you making me coffee, they’d just about shit.”

“If they knew you half as well as I do, they’d shit themselves for certain.” Boyle filled a mug from the press.

“Walker knows me.” Alex presented a second mug. “Rudi’s pretty much up to speed. Heather’s knows enough as well. No one seems worried.”

“And Rudi’s usually a pretty good judge of people.” Boyle winked. “He’s gone soft. Behind the desk too much.”

Alex handed Willow a mug of coffee. “He’s still got the stones. He still moves fast enough and hits hard enough. I’ve seen him in action.”

“Son of a bitch.” Willow carefully put her coffee down and started working the laptop. “Son. Of. A. Bitch.”

“What she means to say is: I found something.” Boyle wandered over, in no rush, coffee in hand.

Peering over her shoulder, Alex saw data compiling from the hard drive. “So you cracked it?”

“Some of it.” She pointed to the two computer with their clear plastic covering. “There’s lots of crunching still going on, but I’ve got some reconstructed emails and documents. I’ve got a contact name. Samson. I’ve also got blueprints and specs for the cell phones Yu and his crew were using.”

Boyle peered over Alex’s shoulder to peer over Willow’s shoulder. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“I’d put money on it.” Willow picked up the cell phone that had been on the counter beside her. She dialled, her eyes not leaving the laptop screen. “Mads, it’s Willow. Get up here on the double. Bring Jeffries.” She put down the cell phone. “All their tech, all the stuff they are using to cut through the silence, send out a signal. It can be tracked. We’re being tracked.”

Alex considered the two cell phones they had taken from Yu. “What are our options for communication? How do we stay in contact without being tracked?”

“We’re out of luck,” Willow said. “The cells can be tracked or triggered even when powered down. Only way to stop the tracking is to remove the battery. I’m not certain there’s not a secondary powersource for the tracking chip, so that might not even work.”

“That’s how they found the safehouse, how they’ve ambushed us,” Boyle said.

“And they know we are here right now.” She turned away from the laptop. “Leave it running to get what it can, and let’s gather up our stuff. We’re going to need to haul ass.” She dialled the cell phone again.

Mads and Heather burst into the room, weapons ready. Mads panted like he had run a marathon. Heather didn’t seem fazed.

“What the fuck?” Mads looked at each person in the room in turn. “Seriously, chicken little, the sky apparently isn’t falling.”

“Yu’s people are tracking us.” Boyle held out his hand. “Give me your cells.”

“Gurung isn’t answering,” Willow said. “Neither is Walker.”

Alex looked up from packing their few supplies. “That’s not good.”

“Understatement.” Willow dialled again. “Do we know where they are?”

Boyle shook his head. No. “We move to the rally point, await them there.”

“And if they don’t arrive?” Sinclair still stood near the door. He hadn’t moved. “If we get rid of the cells, there’s no way to contact them.”

“If Gurung is with them, they’ll likely find us,” Boyle said. “If not, well, Rudi is damn resourceful.”

Sinclair held up his cell phone. “But not for long. Not if they can be tracked.”

Boyle stared at Sinclair and the presented cell for a few heartbeats. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing. Alex held a can of beans in his hand. It struck him: they might just have lost more of the team. Maybe none of them would die, but they would be gone. It would be this five that would need to finish the mission. He didn’t like that idea.

Willow’s cell phone rang. She looked at the number before answering it. “Gurung? Okay, Rudi, listen, Yu’s people can track the cell phones. You need to dispose of yours and meet us at the rally point. Right.” She turned it off, and then dropped it on the floor. “That’s settled. Pack up and let’s get out.”

“What about the Yu’s hard drive?” Boyle asked.

“There are risks to taking it with us, but I think they’re warranted.” Willow had begun to disconnect all the electronics on the counter. “We need to find Samson.”

“Samson?” Sinclair looked up from where he was getting the bedding all together.

“Yu’s contact,” Willow said. “Looks like a main node in the network.”

“Shut everything down and pack up,” Boyle said. “There’s a chance they’ve been monitoring us using the phones. They’ll know we know. The opposition may be on the way already. We’ll take the drive with us, but we need to go now.”

“Shutting down,” Willow said. “I’ll need a moment to make sure everything’s tight.”

Alex took Sinclair and Jeffries with him to the sedan—this one as shabby and worn as it appeared, coming from Gurung rather than Boyle. The sedan loaded up, Alex took his MP7 out. Jeffries caught the hint, and got her MP5.

“You’re our runner, Mr. Sinclair,” Alex said. “Finish loading. Get everything you can, but be quick. I have a feeling we don’t have much time.”

Continued in Twenty-six: Overt Sly

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