Nicole lowered the night vision binoculars from her eyes. Not for the first time she wondered why she was standing on the slope of a hill looking at what she was looking at—what she had been looking at on and off for over two days. Nicole knew, after a fashion, what the unassuming concrete building in the distance was. But she was possessed only of vague impressions of its interior and how it related to her days’ long life. This knowledge was not unlike a great deal of knowledge Nicole found herself in possession of. She seemed to know much and suspect still more. But understanding—understanding felt constantly out of reach.
Why are you here?
Nicole posed the question to herself yet again. She was supposed to be doing something else. Ever since her emergence, she’d heard the echo of instruction and—in the beginning—been content to sit and wait as it commanded. But time passed quickly, and mounting questions quickly outnumbered what meager answers Nicole possessed.
So Nicole had come to the hillside. And she kept returning.
The woman replaced the binoculars. Activity outside the facility intensified: a helicopter had landed and two men stood outside, waiting to board. Both men wore suits; one of them carried a not inconsiderable bulk while the other, a redhead, stood taller and slim.
The word had plagued Nicole for the length of her awareness—a word heard in her escape maybe? The moments surrounding her emergence and escape remained hazy. She knew the word set her apart from everyone else she had encountered since gaining her freedom. She didn’t understand why. On the surface, Nicole resembled any other woman. That her olive-complexioned body was so much more fit than the apparent average didn’t strike her as odd—certainly not enough to explain how she could look no different but still know that she was.
In the distance, the helicopter lifted off and started toward the horizon. And then Nicole got a front row seat as events spun madly out of control. At the outside of her range of vision, Nicole saw a small group of soldiers—or men and women that looked like soldiers—advance on the facility’s entrance. Quick flashes of light heralded rockets and grenades smashing into the building’s side; explosions followed fast on their heels. Another rocket streaked off after the helicopter. Nicole followed it with her eyes…
And then darkness overcame her.
Tomas Lehman watched the initial advances of his raid from the near distance. Pulling together so many men for an operation of this size had been difficult; his guerilla faction was set up in cells, and no one cell had the manpower and firepower to take on this job. But the intelligence from his man inside MasterSoft, Bradley Riley, promised significant gains if the raid was successful. And so it was a risk worth taking. The exhilaration Tomas felt at watching the men of the European continentalist movement—his men, men he had inspired—flood into this supposedly secret and secure facility matched little else he’d experienced in his life.
The destruction on the edges of the facility proved even more incredible upon close examination. Tomas entered the building through the hole blown where its main entrance had been. He heard isolated pockets of gunfire further in. Immediately before him, bodies littered the floor—all wore civilian attire and some wore lab coats, so none of those casualties belonged to Tomas’s side. The resistance leader stepped over the bodies as he took in the space around him. He shook his head at the lack of greater security. Secrecy could go only so far; Jameson Masters was an arrogant and foolish American. Tomas had hardly needed proof of that, though.
A woman clad all in black—apparel that mirrored Tomas’s own—approached.
“The facility is secure,” said the woman in a noticeably French inflected German. “The trucks are on the way in.”
Tomas nodded at the report from Martine, his second. “Prisoners?” he asked in response, his words sounding much harder in his native German than Martine’s had.
“We took six alive, most of them project staff from the look of it.”
Tomas nodded. There was one man somewhere in this increasing mess of a secret lab—one man that he had been directed to take alive. Tomas could only hope that man had survived.
“Secure them all,” Tomas said after a few seconds.
Stepping away from Martine, Tomas closed in on the sole reason for his gambit. At the center of this facility’s largest room, ten transparent plexi cylinders stood eight feet in height; one of the cylinders was empty. The remaining nine held grown adults—young looking—suspended in a lightly green tinted liquid and connected to the cylinders’ bases by a collection of wires; Tomas knew from Bradley that these unconscious, unaware “people” were as human in biology as he was—grown rather than naturally bred. As for the missing tenth prototype—where it could be found was a question Tomas didn’t require an answer to. He had the rest.
“We think Bradley was in the helicopter we shot down. With Jameson Masters.”
The statement didn’t register with Tomas for several seconds. As it did, he couldn’t deny the thrill a physical blow to Jameson Masters elicited—even more so, the prospect of his capture. But as the initial excitement washed over him, the practical concerns reasserted themselves.
“Do we know where they went down?”
Tomas clenched his teeth; it had been too much to hope for.
“We have a limited window, and it’ll be close enough as is.” Tomas shook his head. “No, concentrate on the facility—the prototypes. And we need the computers’ drives—not just the data. Quickly.”
Tomas had chosen his men well. The job was done with minutes to spare. He was among the last few men leaving the facility and walking toward the remaining trucks. With the extra cushion, the trucks would be long gone in the time that was left. In the background, a flash of sound and burst of flame signaled the charges going off: the last artifact of the raid and the most expedient way of removing evidence.
“We’re light two men.”
Those words greeted Tomas as he climbed into the last truck. He turned to look at Martine sitting behind the steering wheel.
“Two men on the perimeter; they had reported finding someone alone observing. They haven’t checked in since.”
Tomas silently cursed his good spirits. Two men—potentially three pending Bradley’s fate—lost.
“Then they’re on their own. They can’t compromise us either way. And we don’t have time to rescue prisoners or recover bodies.” Tomas pointed forward. “Let’s go.”
The truck rumbled forward, following the rest. Though the operation’s ultimate success—if it succeeded at all—was far from realized, Tomas found himself surprised and elated by how smoothly it had begun.
A job that starts badly never ends well.
That simple truth was one of many rules Christian lived his life by. And his brain had been insistent on reminding him of exactly that truth for the last two days.
The job should have been simple: a woman would be waiting at a predetermined location; Christian was to arrive there, take possession of her, and transport her to a second location for delivery. Which meant that the moment Christian arrived at the first location and found no one to take possession of, the job had already veered dangerously toward disaster. But prior working relationships counted for a lot, and the relationship with this particular employer was longstanding, lucrative, and seldom problematic. Further, Christian’s intended cargo could be tracked. So two days later Christian drove across the Spanish countryside somewhere—if the middle of nowhere could be called “somewhere”—following an elusive signal.
As frustration led him to massage his shaved-smooth scalp, a beep drew Christian’s attention to the modified GPS on his dashboard; from the sound, Christian knew his quarry was close at hand. He dimmed his headlights and pulled off the road. As Christian stepped out of his car—a move that was as unnaturally stiff as every other upright movement he made—his right hand passed over his shoulder and hip holsters, an unconscious act to confirm the presence of weapons Christian already knew he wore.
Taking an initial step across the dirt and overgrown weeds, Christian pulled out first a gun and then his pad. The app he called up on the pad tracked the same signal as the GPS on his dash. The woman he sought was close. Christian stepped lightly as he approached, mindful of the sound of every footfall.
The sight that greeted Christian surprised him; for a moment, he debated turning around, leaving well enough alone and finally calling the job a failure. A lone woman stood on the hillside, her attention focused on something in the distance. As Christian watched, two men approached the woman from behind—apparently unknown to her. The men wore all black and—to Christian’s eyes—wanted to look military. Of the two black clad men, the one in the lead came up behind the woman, and, with the butt of the rifle he held, hit the back of the woman’s head; she crumpled to the ground.
Christian had seen enough. With virtually no delay after the woman was knocked out—a circumstance that ultimately made Christian’s abduction of her easier—Christian raised his gun and shot two quick rounds, one into the head of each of the men in black. As they fell to the ground—just as quickly but more violently than the woman—Christian stepped closer to his true point of interest. The description provided matched the woman exactly—a brunette with hair barely to her ears, olive-toned skin, twenty-something in appearance—and the tracking app confirmed the signal came from her. At last, Christian’s chase had ended.
Flashes of light in the distance drew Christian’s attention. Knowing that none of the individuals—or former individuals, for that matter—at his feet would be a problem, Christian reached down for the night vision binoculars the woman had dropped. Christian directed his newly assisted gaze toward the flashes of light. The sight that greeted him was a concrete building under assault from men, explosives, and small arms fire. Christian knew the look of a building intended to be discreet and secret. From the violence surrounding it, though, that intended subterfuge had failed—and spectacularly so.
Long since dispossessed of unnecessary curiosity, Christian dropped the binoculars, content to ignore the growing spectacle in the distance. Bending down, Christian lifted the woman up and threw her over his shoulder with hardly more care than he would have a bag of potatoes. He carried her back to his SUV and tossed her in the backseat, taking a moment to zip tie both her hands and feet. Locking the woman in the back and stepping around to the driver’s side, Christian was happy—at last—to have something go right.
The Loyalty of Pawns is now available at Amazon.com and on Kindle!
The Loyalty of Pawns
copyright 2013 Theron Couch
The Loyalty of Pawns
copyright 2013 Theron Couch