Aces High

Aegis NOTI HQ, 27 August, 0500 Hours

The "Green Room" is a portable shed beside a helipad, containing a mini-fridge full of cheap beer, a cot probably lifted from an emergency room somewhere, and a folding card table. This dubious space serves as Aegis Solutions' ready-room for operations into the New Orleans Theater of Intervention ("not-i" tends to sum up Aegis employees' enthusiasm for these document-retrieval jobs, which have tended to be incredibly boring), and also doubles as an agent recreation room for short downtime periods which preclude heading to nearby Alexandria, LA.

The endless rain of the past few days has only worsened overnight. The latest news this morning is that Hurricane Katrina continues to bear down on the northern Gulf Coast, and the New Orleans area appears to be right in its path. One can well imagine the frenzy of activity sparked, the last-minute supplementary contracts that were negotiated last night… luckily, they don't pay "one" to worry about that sort of wrangling, and they certainly don't pay "one" enough to feel sorry for the boys in Legal and Billing who have to make it happen.

So as technicians on the tarmac fuel and inspect Polecat, their team's assigned Bell 412 for today's op, to make sure she can handle the pissing rain and unpredictable (but thus far flyable, or rather flyable enough for the crazed pilots of Aegis Solutions) conditions, Avery Sloan and William Hawkwood are passing the time with a bracing game of cards…


Green Room

"Because I like Crazy Eights, and if you don't well then you shouldn't have lost that last round of Gin so damn quick." Avery flipped down an eight. "Spaids."

William shook his head and rolled his eyes, taking a hit off the flask on the table. "Fine, fine, I'm just hoping I have time to kick your ass one time before they herd us onto the chopper for the day's milkrun."

"Move then, if you got anything. Looks like this is set to be the most exciting thing we do today so let's go."


Typical Merc. Complaining about a nice easy assignment. Oh well, what can one do. You play with the cards you're dealt.

William flicks out another eight, "Hearts."

Got to keep focus. Every little trick to keep my head clear. My Dealer didn't show, and all I have is enough pills to get me through a short 4 hour operation. Provided that I ration them. The Headache is starting to come. Fortunately, my young friend was thoughtful enough to bring along a flask. Gotta love that Southern Hospitality.

"So, have they told you about what our Objective is for this evening's Activities? Hell, do you even know who else is on the team? And where the fuck is the pilot?"

Avery has this sort of bemused look on her face and replies, "When have they ever told people like us anything?"

"Answered a question with a question, take a drink."

"Damnit."


The nip Avery takes goes down fiery and sweet, and for an instant brings some small part of her mind blinks back to nights spent laughing in the woods back home. Long way off now, she thinks with a chuckle. "Alright, fair enough Billy, but seriously, you tellin' me you didn't even bother to read the memo?"

The look on Hawkwood's face is a mix of blank disinterest and the distracted-pissed-off look he's had on for the entire time they've been sitting there. "Do…. not … call me Billy, Sloan."

She pushes a strand of dirty blonde hair, an escapee from her messy bun, back behind her ear, and flashes him a grin. "Well then, as for where the fuck the pilot is, my best guess is turned tail and ran when he listened too serious to the news reports on the crazy storm we're about to sail on into. Yeah, we should be so lucky, I know. Same goes for whoever else is plannin' on joining up today. Now, our goal today, well, looks like they've got us snatching up a laptop and some big stack of paper, and - now listen up, because this is as fun as it gets - we nuke a bunch of shit in some lady's office."

Avery flips down another card. "Anyway, here's hopin' they get us moving soon enough, because right now all I know about you is that you need to buy a razor, you like Wild Turkey, and uh," she flips her hand facedown on the table to reveal a parade of neon bears on the back, "you're kind of a Dead-head, and based on the sour look on your face, could get rough if I have to drag any more info out of ya."


Hello Min

The door bangs open, admitting a gout of rain and an inside-out Hello Kitty umbrella, followed by a string of muffled, liquid curses. Chinese is a fantastic cursing language. A gust of wind rattles the shack and pushes a dripping, rain-coat clad figure inside; the slight newcomer drops a sleek black briefcase with a heavy thud and shakes free the pink umbrella. With a decisive kick, she shuts the door and then stands motionless, panting and forming a very large puddle. I can't believe I'm doing this. I seriously need to recheck my common sense.

She pushes back her rain hood with a distracted gesture and returns the stares from her new colleagues. Bedraggled black hair pastes crazy commas across her forehead. Suddenly she remembers that people smile when they meet each other, and her features tip up into a passingly attractive grin, which does not come close to her eyes. "Good morning. I'm Min. Anchee? Uh, did they tell you I was coming? I was here in town, anyway, and I just finished doing a- uh… um… some cleaning, and I got a call saying that you needed a third? Yes?" Behind her, the Hello Kitty umbrella drips an unmusical patter into the spreading puddle of rainwater. "Is there any coffee?"


Avery and William stare blankly for a thick, awkward moment as they process the intrusion of this bizarre newcomer. Avery removes her hand from her cards, still face-down on the table, and leans back in her chair, a personable grin spreading across her face. "Coffee?" She barks out a laugh that reverberates harshly in the confined space. "You must be new around here. We got your standard Natty," she jerks her head toward the mini-fridge, "and today's special, that being the bourbon, but only if I decide I like ya." Winking, she turns to Hawkwood. "Which makes you wonder why I've been sharing with a fellow who acts like he slept in the gutter last night. Min, this is Will Hawkwood, and I'm Avery. Have a seat."

Chinese, I guess, and a bit of an oddball, but hell, it'll be good to have a third along in any shape. Maybe she'll know something about this computer crap we're supposed to steal. Glancing at the growing puddle by the umbrella, she notices that the rain seems to be really hammering the shed now. "Sounds like it's really picked up to cats and dogs out there."

—-

"Your grasp of the situation continues to astound, Avery. Ignore her, Min. They don't teach manners where she comes from. There is a thermos of coffee on top of the fridge. It may still be fresh."

Avery shoots a sharp look at William. "Why didn't you tell me there was coffee?" William cracks his ten-thousand dollar smile (seriously, braces, whitening, and caps get expensive) "Because you didn't ask me nicely."

Min goes over to the fridge and pours a cup from the thermos, and takes a drink. A look of disgust crosses her face for a moment, and she asks, "I …don't think I've had coffee like this before…where does it come from?" William smiles again and says, "Oh, it's just a type that they grow over in Ireland."

At that moment, William's cell phone goes off, filling the room with the fine musical stylings of Jay-Z and his ninety-nine problems. William looks at his watch, then answers his phone.

"Steve, it's six in the morning, what the hell are you calling me for? Oh you can't make it to the poker game tonight, eh? Some special contract to fly into the hurricane this evening; sounds like fun. No, dude, I haven't read that book yet. Don't worry about the short notice Steve, I am sure that I will be able to figure out some way to replace you tonight. Hmmhmm. Yeah. Ok Steve, good luck tonight. Oh and Steve, please don't call me before the sun is up unless your house is burning down ok? Later man."

William hangs up the phone and shakes his head. "Well ladies, the good news is that it looks like we will be taking off in about forty-five minutes and our pilot is one of the best. Be warned, he is also an idiot."

—-

Anchee sets her coffee down on the card table while the disturbingly attractive Hawkwood takes his call; she shrugs out of her crinkly, see-through raincoat and tosses it on top of the briefcase without looking to see if it hit the mark. A third folding chair, leaing against the wall, quickly finds itself shaken out and put to use around the battered card table. Anchee perches on the edge of the chair and crosses her legs, revealing a bright green sock gaily festooned with double helixes. Hawkwood slips the phone back into his jacket and leans back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head. His eyes flicker to the little flask on the table, like iron shavings to a magnet.
Anchee takes another swallow of coffee, then fixes Avery with an inquisitive stare. "So, in the interest of knowing my teammates better, what exactly do you do, Avery? And William? Neither of you look like you would be the scientific type, which explains why I am here - and thus, I suspect you are the protection. Obviously, you're neither of you pilots. Yes?"


Avery snorts. "Figured that out when Will just told us our pilot's on his way in? Gotta be a Harvard grad, this one." Avery winks at Anchee, who returns a stern look with eyebrows slightly lowered. "Well Min, I suspect your suspectings are dead on. I'll be in charge of putting bullets in bad guys today, thanks to my trusty companion there." She gestures to an imposing bag in the corner that doubtless contains at least one substantial firearm. "I hail from the fine country of Wilkes County, North Carolina, home of the prettiest mountains and best deer hunting in the world. Will here is rotten at gin, and not kind enough to let his poker buddies know when the game's off for the night. And now you know as much about him as I do."

She chuckles softly under her breath. Heh, she ain't even looking at me when I talk. Guess Will is easy enough on the eyes. Not that I'm eager to even think down that road.


Challenge: Something in the Water

The rattle on the roof of the portable intensifies gradually over the next few minutes, as introductions are exchanged and new card-games are played, peaking out at a dull and constant metallic vibration which settles into your molars at an irritating, thought-disrupting frequency. Nearly an hour later, the tense silence of a round of gin - Will silently sullen at having to play gin again, Avery silently smug at Will's discomfort, and Anchee silently counting cards - is broken by an abrupt pounding on the door. It flies open on the third strike, letting in a blast of rain and chill air as a dark, dripping silhouette fills the doorway.

"Let's get a move on, folks! Polecat's fueled up and ready to go. I'm your pilot, St…" He narrows his eyes at Hawkwood. "…Steve. Hiya, Will."

Obviously mentally preparing a checklist of ways to make his poker buddy's life difficult later, Steve continues, "All the gear we've got authorized for requisition on this lift is in the footlockers under the lean-to beside the helipad. Grab your raincoats, come out, get your kit together, and let's get into the air. It ain't gettin' any earlier out there." With that, he disappears back out into the maelstrom, leaving the door open behind him as the rain pours in.


Anchee gulps the now-cold dregs of her coffee and slaps her cards down on the table. "Kit? What equipment is authorized? What size material we moving? I wasn't advised that I needed to bring anything extra." She lifts her thin eyebrows and flicks a questioning look at both Avery and Will as they push back their chairs and swing into motion. "All I thought I would need is my transport case," she finishes as she steps over to the high-shine briefcase and begins to shrug into her plastic-wrap raincoat. Hope we're not moving anything too large - I don't have the equipment for big specimens. Maybe Aegis does? I bet it's not good quality, though.


The instruction to get up and move is only a little brisk, but it taps Avery's brain like a command from a superior, and a little adrenaline shoots through her body. She stands up fast and knocks her flimsy folding chair backwards and it lands awkwardly on Will's bag. Time to move move move, baby girl, getcherass up and out in that shit. She pauses one step from the door, rapidly snapping up her raincoat. Speaking of that shit out there, I better do my pack-check in here where it's dry right quick. No need to inspect her rifle or pistol again, she checked to make sure everything was fine with them and her extra ammo enough times already that Will probably thinks she's compulsive. Maybe she is. Her hand brushes roughly through her backpack. Some basic first aid crap (need to see if they got anything better in the footlocker; this shit wouldn't help out a papercut), tiny binoculars, flashlight, matches and lighters, three packs of cowboy killers, spare contact case and saline, some tampons, deodorant (you really never know how long you might end up squashed in a tiny lookout with two other sweaty grunts; too bad they never seemed to discover this highly useful item themselves) and a pack of Q tips, for no real reason she's ever been able to articulate other than that Momma always used to say that Q tips come in handy at the randomest times. And of course some duct tape, since Daddy always said the same thing about that.

Alright then. Snapping everything into place and throwing her backpack on over her jacket, she flips up her hood and charges out into the driving rain, stepping over Anchee's Hello Kitty umbrella in the process. She breaks a smile. I am amazed the damn thing ain't turned wrong side outwards. Probably will be in no time flat. Better just to get wet. Which is, pretty definitely, what we're about to do.

Avery calls over her shoulder as she steps out into the storm, "Heya Will, wanna grab that flask for me? Probably gonna do us good to keep it around today. Just a bet."

Over the footlocker, she squints into the pile of equipment. It looks like a military supply store's backroom got looted and fell out the back of a pickup truck. Organization isn't one of Aegis' strong points. Gonna take some digging.



As Sloan grimly surmised, the slashing rain and gathering chill of the storm slashes wetly through your protective garments. Will Hawkwood, trailing after the two ladies and cursing Katrina's name as he takes a last fortifying slug from the flask, shuffles under the tarp and kicks open the hinged lid of a second footlocker. The technicians, dark-green poncho-clad ghosts in the morning gloom, give you a thumbs-up and decouple the last of the fuel and diagnostic lines from the whirlybird, retreating rapidly toward the portable.

Loading the equipment of your choosing into the helicopter - finding it, dragging it through 10 yards of driving rain, properly coordinating and stowing it in an unfamiliar aircraft in the dark of a storm-shrouded morning - might just be more than you can handle. But you never know if you might need something that's in those boxes…

Round 1


Steve shoulders past Will and reaches into the footlocker for a box of .45 rounds, stuffing it into a satchel. Hefting a pair of emergency flares, he glances at the three operatives with a wry grin.

"Five minutes. Don't stand on ceremony, kids. Dig in!"

He turns and bolts the intervening ten yards of mud-smeared tarmac, clambering into the open side door of the passenger helicopter and making his way forward to the cockpit to begin cycling Polecat up to take off.


Anchee hesitates at the door of the shed, then ducks back inside and crouches next to her briefcase for a final check. She unsnaps the latches and lifts the lid, silently pleased once more with her custom designed carrying case. All sample bottles and saline solution, microbial baths, and petri jelly accounted for and snug in their pyrex jars. She lifts a side flap and nods briefly at the neutralizing agents, syringes and needles ready for any emergencies. Everything buffered and cradled in squishy black poly-foam. Wǒ kào, what a great briefcase. She clicks it shut and unwraps the handles to form a long satchel-like sling to carry the high-shine case like a messenger bag.

Her hand goes to her left hip, feels the slim bulk under her black suit jacket, and unclips the bluntly formed taser from its holster. Her older brother had insisted, and had given her the ergonomic pastel-purple model in celebration of her first official job with the Triad, 8 months previously. She had enjoyed the satisfying feel of its weight from day one, the way her hand curled to its sleekness - …but I still don't like the idea of using it. Quon would be upset if I didn't take it, though. With an inward acquiescing sigh of long-suffering sisterly obedience, she replaces the little purple taser in its holster. Finally, she slips a hand into the pocket of her black jeans and withdraws a thick ivory stick; snapping it open, she unfolds the blade of a butterfly knife. Very useful in just about any situation, and lucky, too. She grins, replaces the ivory-hasped knife, and zips up her raincoat. Now for the puk gai rainstorm. Here we go. She slings the briefcase around her shoulders and dashes over to Avery and past the disgruntled Hawkwood. The rain immediately obscures all vision further than two feet away.

"Do you have a flashlight?" She yells to Avery over the pounding of the torrents, and Sloan clicks one on in the same instant. The thick beam dances over a jumble of assorted equipment that Anchee hardly knows what to do with, assuming she would even recognize some of it. She furrows her brow and grabs a box marked MRE. "Here, let me hold the light - you probably know what you're doing here," she shouts over the thrumming din.

Sloan looks up, distracted. "What? I can't hear you over the damn rain!" Min shakes her head and grabs the flashlight from Sloan, balancing the MRE box on one knee. She gestures with the beam. "Go ahead," she mouths.


Easily a filibuster. Well done! 6 dice.


Avery squints and forces her eyes to follow Min's hyperactively bobbing light beam as it zips across the foot locker like she's trying to scope out the contents in an absurdly quick sweep. Raindrops roll off the brim of her green-and-brown hunter's camo baseball cap, the brim just a little too rolled from the nervous squeezes she'd give it stalking deer back home. She glances at Min's scarily perfect little briefcase, and stops just short of an eyeroll while shaking her head. She grabs a knapsack about as large as her own and tosses it to Min. "You'll want that!" she shouts to the bewildered Chinese girl, and motions for her to toss her MRE into the bag.

Lessee, what have they got for us here? Avery snatches up two more MREs, sticking one into her own bag and tossing the other to Will. Pushing aside another sack, she pulls a coil of rope into her bag, and spots some extremely sturdy-looking rainboots. She glances down at her own weather-beaten combat boots, and then over to Min's feet - which appear to be protected from the elements by some fancy-looking shoes that only go up to her ankles. "Might could do a little better with these!" Avery calls, tossing some of the boots over, and grabbing some for herself.

Next, she spots some monster flashlights, much better than the little maglight she passed off to Min, and takes one and passes the other. A handful of batteries will be useful with those, and go in right after. What else we gonna need… Trying to wake up her brain after the long period of drinking, cards and chit chat, she reaches back to the mission briefing. Shit, yeah that's right, they got us destroying stuff! Four thermite grenades and a can of kerosene ought to do that trick.

Min's eyes bulge slightly. "What are you taking grenades for?"

Avery grins devilishly. "Well they said we'd need to destroy the office stuff that we ain't taking!"

"Did they say to blow up the office?"

"…They surely didn't say NOT to!"

Min's mouth tightens with disapproval. "No, you clearly do not understand. Magnets! We need very strong magnets! To wipe the drives, yes? Degaussing? Are there any magnets?"

Avery stares blankly for a moment. "Well, if you say so." Guess this is why we're bringing her along. After a moment of shuffling objects, which are rapidly becoming soaked with slantwise rainfall, Avery holds up a four-pack of palm-sized magnets. "Yep, right here!"

Min's nose wrinkles. "These won't do. I said, we need strong ones. Magnetic degaussing needs - wait, I have some still!"

With that abrupt excusal, Min sprints off into the gale, forgotten flashlight in hand. Will and Avery stare dumbfounded.

Will hesitantly speaks up. "I uh, I think she's headed toward the parking lot?"

Avery clicks on another of the flashlights. "Sure? Hey, come on and see what else you think is any good for us in here."


6 dice again. If you guys find yourselves writing something this long, consider dividing it into two posts and saving one for the following Round.


William watches the women scurry around like chickens with their heads off, with slight amusement. It's 18 hours tops, not a fucking week. Donning the tan trenchcoat on the back of his seat, William runs out of the Green Room towards his car. Popping the trunk, he removes the false bottom and takes stock of his equipment.

Definitely will need these, doors have a nasty habit of being locked. The .45 might be a little much, its not supposed to be a firefight. Let's see…no fake badges, since apparently we have the law on our side. Hmmm, Powerbars. Whistling, William continues to rummage through the trunk, his face momentarily illuminated by the light of a rapidly tested flashlight. Finishing up he runs back through the pouring rain to the Green Room.

"What the fuck are you doing Hawkwood, get your gear!" Avery yells, shouldering a rather bulky looking pack. William flashes a smile, "Ready when you are." He walks back out of the shed, pulling out a lighter and a pack of Marlboros.

Hawkwood exits the shack, buttoning his coat shut. Trenchcoat: makes you look official, carries and hides everything you need. Subtlety is a skill lost on Avery.

As Hawkwood leans against the shack, smoking beneath the almost non-existent awning, he does one last mental checklist to see if he missed anything. I have the Bump-tool with enough different key types for 95% of the conventional locks out there. The Blackberry, with the Magnetic peripheral, as well as the Cracker if I need to do a little bit of wiring. That should cover both the electronic locks as well as communication. Wire strippers, some black electrical tape. Four Powerbars. Bottle of water. And of course the snub-nose .38 in the ankle holster, but I doubt we will be needing that. And enough "medicine" for the duration.

A smile cracks across Hawkwood's face. He takes the last drag on his cigarette, throws the butt out. He exhales, rapidly firing off a series of Os. Looking through the worsening rain, picking out the route with the driest ground, Hawkwood yells, "So Steve. Is it time to go yet?"

"Move yer skinny ass Hawkwood, I am just about through with your shit!"

Hawkwood stops smiling, and takes off across the tarmac.


The fury of the storm abates slightly, and in any case spirits remain high: digging through all this junk may actually yield enough useful supplies to make this job a little easier. Getting it stowed on the aircraft remains as a challenge, especially as the rotor blades begin to spin up amid the burring snarl of the Polecat's engine, adding to the wind and rain immediately around the helicopter and forcing an instinctive hunch of shoulders and back as the fiberglass and metal whips by overhead in a blurring disc…

Round 2


Anchee splashes heedlessly through the driving rain, past the tarmac to the adjoining parking lot - if you could call it that. An oblong space of sucking mud hedged by creeping vines and untrimmed grasses, all snapping and trampled in the deluge. She tromps doggedly through the erstwhile lot to her little silver Outback, slapping up against the passenger door like a leaf sent pinwheeling by the wind. How the èrbī pilot is going to fly in this speaks volumes for his - no, for all of our minds. She fumbles out her keys and crawls into the comforting embrace of the back seat, slamming the door behind her and instantly soaking the upholstery. I know I left them in here, I just wiped for Syngen yesterday… Folders, bound case studies, empty Nivea bottles, and old floppy discs go flying as she whirlwinds through the strata of her mismatched jobs and finally unearths a thin brown box, its size belying its heavy weight. She spreads her hands over the scuffed plastic, almost spanning its length, and sighs a gust of relief. Honestly, that Avery has apparently never degaussed before - unless those tā māde magnets were her idea of a joke. She squints out the fogging windows at the tarmac, and shoves the magnet case into her knapsack, mentally preparing herself to head back into the maelstrom.


Avery grins and chuckles as the snaps the last buckle on her pack into place. "Will, boy, you better hurry up and prove you're good for something else but standing around looking pretty!" she calls to his rapidly retreating form as he jogs toward the chopper. She hefts her pack a couple of times to test the weight. Feels pretty good, not too much needed for a daytrip anyhow. Even in this shit.

The wind blasts fat raindrops straight into Avery's face as she heads to follow Will, an effect that grows worse with every step closer to the whirling blades. Still clutching her newly prized rain boots in her left hand, she grabs the door edge with her right and hoists herself in. Before looking for a spot in the cramped quarters to settle down, she turns and squints into the gale to spy a slim figure comically choosing her rapid steps through the mud. "Min, gotta go on and get muddy, we're set to leave without you!'


Anchee climbs into the helicopter, uttering a continuous stream of curses in Mandarin. She always took great pains growing up to avoid muddy puddles. To have to run through them to get to the helicopter is nigh unbearable.

Avery can't help the shit-eating grin that grows across her face as Steve goes around ensuring everyone is buckled in. This girl is going to make a boring shakedown fun, she thinks.

William is halfway through strapping himself into one of the seats in the helicopter's passenger compartment when he suddenly freezes, then shouts out "Fuck - forgot the radios!" He unbuckles his harness and jumps out of the helicopter. He hits the ground, rolls and springs up at a full sprint back to his car. Popping the trunk, he quickly grabs two short wave radio handsets and turns to run back. In the process of turning, he slips and falls to the ground, screaming a tasteful "FUCK!"

He gets up, ignoring the pain in his left ankle, and hobbles back to Polecat as fast as he can. He hoists himself back in, ignoring the looks from the women and the screams from Steve. Restrapping himself, he takes out his little orange pill bottle, and swallows a dose.

Well, now only enough for 14 hours, but fuck does my ankle hurt.


The Aegis team huddles in the helicopter, acutely aware of the whistling wind and curtains of rain falling just outside the (open) sliding door of the passenger/cargo compartment of the Bell 412. Their eyes meet uncertainly for a moment, thoughts whirling in three very different minds to see if there's anything else they've forgotten…

Steve leans back and gestures at the headsets slung on hooks next to each seat, then at the one already clamshelled over his ears, and howls to be heard over the din of the storm and the rapidly intensifying roar of the engine.

The helicopter shifts slightly in a particularly strong gust, and seems to dance as it settles due to the uneven lift across the rotors.

"All set, ladies? Then shut the goddamn door and put on your headsets, let's get going!"



Liftoff


Anchee tightens her grip on the seat as the helicopter prances a few feet across the tarmac, feeling disgruntled about the sopping state of her footwear. It was worth it, though – and I also remembered that ID badge, thank the ancestors. Good thing – anyone looking at these two scruffs with me would automatically try to stop us. Steve roars a wordless challenge from his front seat perch, fighting the bucking winds with a fierce grin of questionable sanity plastered across his tanned face.

“Everyone strap in, we ain’t gonna stop and pick you up if you fall out,” cries Avery through the crackle of the headphones, as the engines throb mightily, sending waves of vibration through the craft. “Will, you wanna get that door already? It won’t shut itself, if you were hopin’.”

Min rechecks her harness and shakes her hair free from the raincoat’s pull, noticing Will’s drawn, tight expression as he leans forward to pull down the craft’s door. I wonder if he’s really injured? I hope not… With a frown tugging at the edges of her mouth, she settles back in her seat and begins to go over a mental checklist one more time, shooting surreptitious glances at her coworkers every few seconds. The familiar rush of adrenaline before any job begins to surge, and she takes a deeply satisfied breath, wiggling her toes in her drenched boots.


The lurch of the chopper is beyond mind-rattling. Avery hadn't been too worried about the trip, given the bumpy missions she'd had to grind through in Iraq, but there is absolutely no comparing the unpredictable pitch of Steve's flying to anything she has felt in her life. A little bit of stomach mastering and jaw clenching does the trick, though, and she reflects over the day's mission. "Good job guys," she crackles through her headset, "think we got more than enough gear to guarantee smooth sailing today. Eh… after we *URK* … get on the ground, I mean."

Steve twists in his seat to say, "Sorry! Had to dodge a pigeon. Conniving bastards."

Steve's a kooky guy. She turns to give her companions an amused look, but her brow suddenly furrows. Is Will okay? If that smug ass managed to get himself damaged this early in the day - well, he - he can't have any more of my bourbon.


As the throbbing of his ankle is slowly drowned out by that familiar euphoria from the drugs, William begins to settle in and enjoy the flight. Steve is the best, and flying with him is so fun. He lets out a loud whoop in time with Steve's own, trying to bury the creeping feeling of dread arising from his sudden twist of bad luck. Chemicals and Adrenaline, always makes a body feel better. Well that, and some damned luck. With that William sits back, enjoying Steve's mad ride, as much as any sane man can.


Polecat hurtles and wobbles through the driving rain and unpredictable winds. The small square of tarmac is quickly lost from sight, shrouded in Louisiana greenery and grey, whirling sheets of rain and mist. Climbing rapidly, the helicopter finally lurches into a cloud, visibility dropping sharply to zero before opening up again as the pilot, cursing and snarling at the "damned inconvenient weather," finally drags the mission above the worst of the storm and into sickly morning sunlight.

The rivers of water running down the viewports clears quickly in the still-significant wind, revealing the nearly-unbroken mass of dark clouds between the chopper and the swampy terrain below. Steve consults the instruments for a few moments, getting the bird turned to face southeastward, toward the massive, distant darkening over the Gulf, lit from within by countless flashes.

The Aegis mission hurtles toward New Orleans and the worsening maelstrom.

—-Fin

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