Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – En Route

Continued from Thirty-one: Cascade Effect

Thirty-two: En Route

Heather gripped the wheel of the SUV. Hastily acquired by Gurung and his network of contacts, it had only minimal upgrading and no armour. She felt vulnerable.

With the engine off, she waited on a small side-street. The target, so far, had revealed relatively good security instincts. He varied his schedules, he varied his routes, and he maintained bodyguards—unobtrusively. He did all the right things. It wouldn’t help him. They knew where he spent much of his day.

And that evening, they would get their target.

This was the night the team would get answers. At least, that’s what Heather hoped. It came down to this one guy, this one person. He had the answers.

Or so the Bedouin thought.

She wasn’t certain about that one. Sure, he came from the Stream, and Heather had to admit that she had grown to trust Boyle, Willow, and—almost by default—Cascade, even if they didn’t share their real names. Still, the Bedouin was different. He had a reputation, a mythology really, and the one thing the last few days had taught her was to take nothing at face value.

Looking at the photos the previous night, when he had arrived, the Bedouin’s finger had stabbed down to impale one figure. “That’s Bracebridge. I’m sure of it.”

No one else knew the name.

The Bedouin had passed the photo on to the two shooters he had brought with him: Cody and Kane, two nice, military-grade packages who stuck tight to their boss. “He was a CIA black ops handler. Not an agent or a contractor, mind you, but a handler. He did the planning and ran the operations, but he didn’t get his hands dirty. He ran a lot of ops in Pakistan and India, sometimes in South-East Asia. He disappeared in the summer of 2003. He just moved off the board. I hadn’t seen any reporting on him again, until now.”

Heather’s earpiece crackled to static-y life, speaking with Boyle’s voice. “Stand-by. Target exiting location.”

In India, she and Madison had passed on the information obtained so far about the silence-piercing devices, including the parapsych apparatus. Within 24 hours, they had a full suite of equipment, from tactical radios to sat-phones. She hadn’t asked about the contact. She assumed it was all part of the Stream.

“Target is in vehicle.” Boyle’s words came even, devoid of passion or interest. “Driver and two minders. Vehicle in motion.”

“We should take him now, today if possible.” The Bedouin had spoken directly to Heather, as though she led the team. Boyle had stood there, observing. “There are signs that they are preparing to leave, right?”

Heather had shrugged. “That’s what it looks like. Boxes and equipment are leaving, not being delivered. Our guess is that Foxtrot, the guy you call Bracebridge, is overseeing the shutdown of a station.”

“That would make sense,” the Bedouin had said. “Samson’s removal was bound to have repercussions.”

“This guy, he’s part of the rogue CIA?” Mads had taken one of the photos out of Kane’s—or was it Cody’s?—hands. “Jeez, between him and Hitch, they need to work on their recruitment.”

The subject the team had labelled Foxtrot—the man the Bedouin identified as Bracebridge—looked like a middle manager. He had relatively nice clothes. He looked soft.

But then what was that about a book and a cover?

“Do you have a plan?” Rudi had asked.

Heather had immediately noted a level of reticence about Rudi after the Bedouin had arrived. The two had spoken privately, but that had changed nothing.

The Bedouin had pursed his lips as he took a slow breath. He had then shook his head. “No, not exactly, though were this my operation, I would take him en route from the target location.”

He had said it like the operation had not become his the moment he had arrived. Boyle, to whom everyone had deferred, deferred to the Bedouin.

Taking a target in motion was tricky. Of course, the first step was to stop that motion. She started the SUV, letting it idle.

“Target acquired.” Willow’s voice came from the earpiece. Heather couldn’t hear the report of Willow’s SR-25 sniper’s rifle. “Two rounds delivered. Negative results.”

Boyle didn’t miss a beat. His voice came on immediately. “Alternate plan in action. Blockers on deck.”

Rudi gave the sedan’s location and direction over their communication link. The target seemed to follow what the team had tagged ‘route 4.’ The assault teams, Alpha and Zulu, had to get into place for this to work. The Bedouin and his Beta team—Cascade and Willow—should have swung in behind Rudi as soon as they had failed to stop the vehicle. They had less than a minute to intercept the target.

Heather threw the SUV into gear. The side street connected with most of the mapped routes, which is why she had waited there. In about 20 seconds, she pulled onto the route 4 and could see the vehicle moving toward her—a dark, European, full-sized sedan. Its speed told her that someone inside it had noted Willow’s attempted engine perforation. The target had tradecraft, and would know what that meant.

Past the sedan’s lights, she could see those of the van Rudi drove not far behind. Surely the minders inside that vehicle knew the van meant them ill-will. Did they recognize the threat of the SUV? And would Heather’s hastily improvised safety rig protect her from the worst of the impact?

She didn’t have any further time to muse. Just before the target’s vehicle passed her, she yanked hard on the wheel, punching into the front-end of the sedan, crunching through the wheel housing. Her restraints held. The reinforced SUV didn’t accordion, though everything ahead of the grill had shattered. The van ploughed into the rear of the car, lifting it off the pavement.

The three vehicles, enmeshed now, smoked and whined less than a metre from the side of a building. Both the van and the SUV had their tails hanging out onto the road. Looking to her left, Heather could see an alley. Would the target make a break for it, if he was still mobile? Another alley just past the van might look like another possible escape.

Dazed, a little nauseous, Heather struggled to get out of her restraints. She could see the rear wheels of the sedan, elevated off the ground by the van, spinning in vain.

“Beta team on site,” said the Bedouin.

About ten metres down the street, a car parked up on the sidewalk. Willow came out of the rear passenger door, her SR-25 sniper rifle in hand.

A rear window shattered. Someone from inside started shooting. The bullets impacted the SUV’s engine. In her restraint, Heather couldn’t get down, couldn’t seek cover. She wrestled with the release, her hands a bit numb.

“Cascade reports nil response.” The Bedouin’s smooth voice told Heather that Cascade couldn’t crack anyone in the vehicle, couldn’t take over someone or shut them down.

A bulky form emerged from the front passenger window. The Driver had a bloodied face and dishevelled clothing, but didn’t seem worse for the wear of a high-speed collision. He dragged an AKM out of the vehicle.

“Alpha team in place, north of the target.” That was Cody, or maybe Kane—the Bedouin Commandos.

“Fuck.” Heather hadn’t meant to say that. It slipped out. As restrained and protected as she had been, she couldn’t shake off the collision as well as that guy. “Driver’s out. He’s got an AK. Looks tip top.”

“Got it.” Willow and her very professional tone made Heather believe the driver’s lifespan was about to get drastically shortened.

“Zulu on site and ready to engage,” said Boyle over the comm..

Heather saw an impact centre-mass. The driver staggered back a step or two, but then brought the AKM up and let loose with volleys on full auto in the direction of Willow and Beta team.

“Incoming fireworks.” Heather recognized Scott. Her words overlapped with his. “They’ve got body armour or something worse.”

She didn’t say it, but she figured the bodyguards were enhanced. No one took a bullet like that, not even in armour.

Finally untangling herself, she got her hands on her C8A3 carbine. She shouldered open the door, which made the Driver turn.

Someone shouted. “RPG!”

It hit before the Driver could frame Heather. The explosion shook the SUV and Heather stumbled, falling to the ground. The shock threw the Driver back against the wall of the building. More fire from the rear of the vehicle, this time up the street past the SUV. Zulu?

The Driver rose. Behind him, Rudi exited the van. He looked rough, pale. He had a scrape on the side of his face. Raising his VSS sniper rifle, he fired twice. It looked like those shots impacted on target, but other than making the Driver shudder and stumble, they did little.

“Aim for the head.” She saw Rudi’s lips move and heard his voice through the earpiece.

The rear passenger door opened and one of the minders came out, AKM coming with him. Rudi ducked back, getting behind the van as Minder 1 fired off rounds in his direction. Driver turned back to Heather, but she had steadied herself on one knee. Carbine against her shoulder, she put two rounds into the Driver’s face.

That put him down.

Minder 1, head down, wary of the threat from Willow, turned to Heather. He went cyclical, spraying lead, forcing Heather to find cover. The SUV door was not an option—the 7.62 rounds would pass right through it. She had to get behind the vehicle.

Over the sound of rounds impacting the SUV, Heather heard the Bedouin in her ear. “Target’s in the open. Go Alpha. Go Zulu.”

She risked a peek around the edge of the vehicle, leading with her carbine. Minder 1 had advanced. He would spray in her direction, then pivot and spray in Rudi’s direction. Behind him came Foxtrot/Bracebridge at a running crouch, going for the alley nearest Heather. Minder 2 came out of the vehicle, face a bloody mess, nose looking like it had been pulped.

Without time to aim, and worried about hitting Foxtrot, Heather put a couple of rounds into Minder 1 centre-mass. She knew it wouldn’t put him down—Driver 1 had taken a bigger punch from a harder-hitting weapon and didn’t blink—but it might inconvenience him, slow him down, something.

That and she felt useless hiding behind cover in the middle of a firefight.

Kane—or was it Cody?—glanced around the side of the far alley, drawing fire, unable to advance. Rudi did the same, crouched low, trying to bring his rifle to bear, forced back by the volume of fire.

She got low, got prone. Minder 1 had to reload. She could see on his face that he knew the shit was only seconds from the fan. Someone—Willow?—tagged him right in the forehead. His body fell, hitting the wall, ragdoll loose. Minder 2 turned and sent some rounds in Willow’s general direction. Cody—or was it Kane—popped out from behind cover. He hit with each of his three shots. None got the head, but one ripped out a fair chunk of throat.

Minder 2 turned to Cody and kept shooting.

Foxtrot had reached the alley. He had a CZ-85 autoloader pistol in hand and fired wildly. Boyle, leading Zulu, slid over the hood of the trapped sedan, apparently unfazed at being directly in the line of fire. The wall beside Foxtrot, at the entrance to the alley, erupted. Scott stood at the front of the sedan, his G36C carbine putting rounds into the wall, making Foxtrot flinch, shielding his head.

Boyle got his feet solid on the ground. Minder 2 turned to him, AKM at his shoulder, dripping in blood from his neck. Rudi came out from behind cover. Minder 2 took one in the back of the skull, ripping out his face on exiting. His body fell forward, landing on his weapon.

Heather didn’t hear the two reports from the airgun Boyle held. He put two tranquilizer darts into Foxtrot’s upraised arm. All the shooting stopped. Everyone came out from behind cover as Foxtrot looked at the darts in his arm. He frowned, his eyelids drooping.

“You can’t . . .” Foxtrot drawled out a syllable of what might have been his next word, but it never fully formed. He started to raise his pistol to his head.

In two strides, Boyle was on him, knocking the gun away. Foxtrot collapsed to the ground.

“Take you alive?” Boyle finished for him. “Yes. Yes we can.”

“Incoming trouble,” the Bedouin said in Heather’s earpiece. “Contact imminent.”

“Bundle up the package.” Boyle handed Mads—who arrived over the hood of the sedan as Boyle had. “It seems this is all far from over.”

Continued in Thirty-three: Station

Don’t forget, Mundus Novit: the Changed World is now available at RPG Now and Drive-Thru RPG.

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