The Dawn of a New Day
Joakim Marks had sat in some interesting offices. As a Captain for the Army PSYOPS command, in fact, he’d had an interesting office of his own, complete with propaganda from every theatre of war that he’d ever served in. But this office was markedly different.
“Mr. Marks, you may call me Gorgon.” The woman across the oak desk was in her mid-40’s with a stern look not unlike the military brass he’d gotten used to over the years of his service. “And we will be calling you Black Sheep after today. I believe you know why?”
His time in the military had also taught him that callsigns have a meaning, though it is usually an inside joke that only a handful of comrades understood.
“Yes, I believe I do. My father heads a Strike Team. My sister is a member of the Special Observers section of the PSYCHE Division. And here I am as the only male recruit to an all female Assessment Team in Fairbanks, Alaska wearing a heavy parka in 40 degree weather. I am almost painfully aware of my callsign.”
Behind her head hung a framed painting on vellum with the heraldry of the team as well as the words: “'We Do Not Relent', Lady of Vengeance.” He could now see where this team’s nickname came from as the heraldry included the silhouette of an angel wielding swords on a gold pattern.
As if feeling the direction of his gaze and the name his mind was wandering to, she stated, “Yes, I know all of the heckling that goes on at command and the academy. I’m partial to our nickname, the ‘Golden Girls’. They are still using that, correct?” She almost smiled as she leaned back in the office chair. “Regardless, the matter at hand requires me to inform you that as a member of my team you will uphold the respect and honor that every team member before you has afforded our hallowed team. I expect no less than your best and no more than your all. Understood?”
In a different time and place, he would have snapped to attention and saluted to acknowledge the statement, but he was fast learning that a nod was enough of an acknowledgement in the far more loose ranks of the GOC. She motioned towards the door and the meeting was over. He’d stared the Gorgon in the eye and was not stone. Today was a better day than he’d thought it would be. He could only hope tomorrow would turn out so well.
7 A.M. Is Too Early
“Assessment Team 569, Lady of Vengeance. ‘We Track ‘em, you Crack ‘em.’” The lithe, Asian girl with the G36 attached to a 3-point sling belted out the lines like they were the National Anthem being sung at a “good ol’” American baseball game, with force.
Gorgon was not amused. “Zero, that is not the motto. I’ll remind you that this is supposed to be a formal training exercise.” The girl, who could not have been older than 20, giggled and then started from the beginning.
“Assessment Team 569, Lady of Vengeance. ‘We do not relent.’ Callsign Zero, Unit Combat Specialist.” As she stepped back into the loose formation before him, Joakim noticed a broad smile across her face.
Unit Combat Specialist? She couldn’t possibly weigh more than 46 kg, he thought to himself. Beside her, a thin woman in a Black Suit carrying a matching G36 stepped forward, her long brown hair pulled into a ponytail swept across her left shoulder.
“Callsign Venus, Unit Weapons Specialist.” She coolly stepped back, her gaze steadfast in front of her. Except for her thin, almost bony fingers, there was little else remarkable about this woman, which was not the case for the last member of this team.
“Callsign Ferret, Unit Tactics and Strategies Specialist.” He voice was just as apt as her appearance in relation to her callsign. In this instance, he was fairly sure he knew where the callsign originated: she looked and sounded exactly like he imagined an anthropomorphic ferret would.
“Team, this is Black Sheep. He will be taking over the role of Unit Research and Psychological Warfare Specialist. I expect you to give him the same respect that we gave his predecessors…” There was a wistful trailing off to that sentence which he understood, having lost his own comrades. Gorgon turned to him and he knew it was his turn.
“Callsign Black Sheep, Unit Research and Psychological Specialist.” As he finished, he noted a nod from Gorgon and a motion to continue. “I was an officer in the U.S. Army PSYOPS division for 8 years, graduate of University of Pennsylvania with a Masters in Psychology. I… my family… serves in other teams within the GOC and…”
“That’s enough of a background. You may join the others and we will begin today’s training exercise.” Gorgon motioned to the right of Zero and Joakim moved into the loose line all four of them formed. As he slid into position, the blaring of the alarm made him jump a bit. No one else in the room moved, as far as he could tell.
“Well then, I guess training will wait. Let’s go see what is so damned important.” This was the first instance of agitation he’d noted in the rather infamous Gorgon. The earlier outburst by Zero had merely brought a smirk to her face, but now her face was a masque of genuine unhappiness.
First Time For Everything
“Sheep, if you don’t get ahold of yourself, I swear I’m going to fucking brain you with a brick.” Venus continued to deny the veracity of her callsign. She was not beautiful in the sense claimed by magazines or popular media, nor were her words beautiful in that they generally included sporadic usage of cursing and ways in which she would murder you for whatever slight you happened to be conspiring to perform against her or the team. Frankly, Joakim had yet to figure out where she could possibly have received her callsign.
“Now pick up that fucking bottle of vodka, light that strip of white t-shirt, and set this motherfucking Red on fire before he recovers so we can get back to hot showers and reruns of ‘Dr. Who’! God damn it, I hate Nome!” The last comment was yelled over the sound of another 20 rounds squeezed out of the 100 round drum on her weapon.
The soft sound of hot brass ejecting from her rifle and hitting the snow was out of place in this scene of carnage as rounds flew from 3 other rifles into an unassuming figure less than 25 feet from the snow bank they were crouching behind. Though the subject’s clothing was torn from the constant barrage of rounds and his skin was stained red by the blood of his wounds, those same wounds disappeared at roughly the rate in which the barrage was tearing them open.
“Fire in the hole!!” This was the first time that the meaning had been literal in all of Joakim’s military career, as the bottle broke over the figure and engulfed the man in thick flames. Venus emptied the last round from her weapon and reloaded it swiftly, surveying the now falling body as it flared up and the sounds of screaming were drowned out by a flame thrower that Joakim had not noticed in Gorgon’s possession before. It was over 15 seconds later that Gorgon brought a rather hefty “cane knife” blade down into the blackened neck of the former “Type Red”, one Mr. Lomas formerly of Nome, Alaska.
“Call in a scrub team, I want disposal to tidy this up while we’re in the air. Black Sheep, Zero, check the perimeter for anything we’ve missed. Venus, Ferret, move to the residence and start taking it apart. I want every trace of his contacts for the last 20 days. I want to know what he’s been doing since we lost contact in Prudhoe. Wheels up in 25, people.”
The various members of the team moved off to accomplish their individual mandates, each taking a moment to reload spent weapons or check their person for wounds and missing gear. Gorgon began to catalog the event in her ever present smart phone, the stylus flashing across the screen as she wrote notes on the encounter for later filing.
“Come on Sheep, standard sweep from the central point to 100 feet.” Zero smiled in his direction, then set to the task and began to inspect every spent casing and discolored area of snow within the area. Joakim turned and began to do the same in his own path away from the central point with its smoldering body. Every muscle in his body felt tense, but he’d now lived over an encounter with one of the dreaded “Types” attributed to human Threat Entities. The adrenaline was wearing off, but the high of knowing this had been the right choice for assignment was going strong. He was still riding high on that wave when things changed 35 minutes later.
Third Time’s The Charm
Ok. Fire weapon.
The checklist remained the same every time he played it through his mind. The outcome had to remain the same. There was simply no way that this wouldn’t work, which is why it came as such a surprise when he found his ear’s ringing and his back flat on the ground amidst the rubble of an aged, wooden cabin and the light snow that was still falling. He sat up slowly and looked around, finding no one else near him.
His mind raced as he tried to recall how he had ended up in this position.
“Ok. Fired weapon, check. Applied flame, check. Dislodged…no, no we never even got to the… subject. Were we even in a cabin? What the fuuu-u-u…” It was about that time that his will to stay awake gave out a second time today. Not something that happens frequently in this world, unless your head has a 3 inch long gash like his currently did.
The next moment he awoke to find himself on a stretcher beside the rest of the team with an oxygen mask over his face. He could hear mention of “a level 2 threat escalating” and “careless assessment let another one loose”. The smell of aftershave and perfume was strong enough for him to realize how many useless bureaucrats he was surrounded by.
Great. I’m fairly certain this means the mission went south… but where? I… I can’t remember anything after leaving the scene. His thoughts brought pain to the front of his brain every time he tried to recall the events that might have lead to the current situation. He was vaguely aware that someone was speaking to him to his left.
“…did…get a look… where subject.. ?” Gorgon was standing, though her Black Suit had seen better days. It looked as if the entire garment had been drug through razor wire and coated with the thickened corn meal blood used in movies.
“Black Sheep… Mr. Marks!! Did you see where the subject went after the attack?”
He sat himself up, his brain shaking clear of the cobwebs. “I’m… I’m sorry, no ma’am. I can barely…” She had already begun to move away, walking towards the other stretchers with their occupants. The entire team was down, but he could see movement from each one.
At least none of them seem to be in life threatening conditions. God, what the fuck happened to us? His thoughts began to race through all the scenarios that they’d trained for in the academy.
Type Red, subdued and burned, brain severed from body. Body packed in container under Sodium Hydroxide to ship to incinerator. Plane loaded and… that’s where the block is. His reverie was cut short by the sudden appearance of the petite arm of a business suit.
“Agent Black Sheep, I’m Ria Takana, Regional Sub-Director of Northwest United States Operations.”
Of course you are, he thought, but simply nodded at the woman who had quietly spoken the title.
“I need to get a report from each of you before we can continue the investigation into the illegal release of the subject’s remains…” Gorgon’s voice over her shoulder stopped the woman from continuing.
“I fucking told your boss and his boss and everyone up the damned chain to right outside D.C. al Fine’s office that we did not ‘release’ anything illegally. We were ambushed right inside of a Secure Zone by unknown attackers and set on fucking fire, ma’am! At no point did we ‘negotiate with terrorists’ or ‘release a dangerous subject’ or whatever other bullshit you bureaucratic assholes want to level on my team. Now get your pencil pushing ass away from my people and get to work tracking down this threat! I expect a fucking Strike Team is already en route and they need to be told what to expect, not hassled to death with paperwork and blame. Thankyouverymuch!”
The suit-formerly-known-as Ria Takana beat a hasty retreat, dropping her clipboard and leaving it behind in her swift movement away from the stretcher. The tarmac was as silent as an abattoir as everyone looked towards the two agents remaining. After a tense fifteen seconds, the bustle of movement and talking began anew, though a bit more reserved and farther away from Gorgon and Joakim.
“Hmph, that should buy us some time to figure out how we’re going to get off the tarmac and track down the two assholes that did this to my team. I understand if you’re not up to…”
He cut her off with a quick motion of his hand and pulled the oxygen mask off.
“To be perfectly honest, ma’am, I want to crush someone’s skull right now.”
to be continued