1515 Hours local time
(0915 Hours E.S.T USA)
The Black Raven soared over the French coastline at a dizzying 30,000 feet. Even at that altitude, its pilot could still make out the French carrier battle group assembled just offshore.
“Fuck me sideways,” Mother swore “Is that the new French carrier?”
“I’m surprised it’s still floating, Knight does enjoy blowing things up.” Rufus remarked, glancing towards the battle group below.
“Huh. It’s only a matter of time before something does blow up with your boss.” Mother replied.
As if right on cue, a distant boom emanated through the Raven’s airframe. Rufus tensed and hovered his fingers over the countermeasures panel while he assessed the situation. The Raven should have been virtually invisible on radar but he was always prepared to take evasive maneuvers just in case.
“Seems like the Frogs got a shot off.” he commented.
“At what?” Mother’s voice rose in pitch with concern.
“Not us...yet.” Rufus shrugged, thinking fast for a moment. He recognized the sound as the main cannon of a ship not an anti-aircraft weapon, meaning they had to have fired at a surface target.
Rufus shed some altitude to get a better view of the coast. Oddly enough, the destroyer had fired upon a section of road running parallel to the coast. On that road was a truck of some sort; ahead of it lay the destroyed coastline, while behind it was a drawbridge, now retracted. Rufus relayed this information to Mother, who processed this as fast as she could.
“Shit,” Mother breathed “Whoever is down there just got themselves into a fine-ass trap. That might be Scarecrow down there in that truck.”
“If Scarecrow was in that truck, who caught the attention of that patrol boat down there?” Rufus questioned, pointing to the small boat zipping back towards a destroyer a little further out. “I don’t think we’ve pissed off the French enough that they’d send a battle group after us so I’m guessing that’s Scarecrow in the drink.”
As if to back that up, near the patrol boat lay the sinking remains of another truck wedged into a fighter jet.
“That’s got to be the Scarecrow’s work.” Mother said, a slight smile creeping onto the corner of her mouth.
“Yeah, that’s sure to tick off the Frogs. They hate losing fighters at the best of times, much less this close to home.” Rufus chuckled, biting his lip as he looked around again. “Where did you go, Boss?”
A blip on his radar screen answered that for him; a helicopter made a beeline for the stranded truck. Over the course of several minutes, two figures were pulled from the truck and escorted to the helicopter at gunpoint.
“Ah, we forgot one. Pretty sure that’s Gant down there with Knight.” Rufus noted, leaning forward a little. “Can’t be sure at this distance but she’s looking bloody.”
“Odd that she’d be with him and not Scarecrow.” Mother replied. “Your boss must have earned his trust enough to let him handle her.”
“Hmm” Rufus rubbed his chin, “The Frogs would have no use for Aloysius and they wouldn’t be taking him back to their ships for any reason, they’d either shot him or try to throw him into prison again. I reckon your Scarecrow is being taken in for questioning and Knight...he and Fox are being taken to wherever this Killian fellow is.”
“Any idea where that might be?” Mother asked, voice taking on a hint of worry.
“That chopper is bound for the castle we saw on the way in, let’s shadow it.” Rufus suggested, not really sure what else to do.
Turning to follow the chopper, Rufus couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something here. Some little detail, probably not significant but it was there. Trying not to draw the attention of the chopper ahead, he tapped at his radio quickly and listened intently for a moment. It was muffled but he could vaguely pick out a few scattered words.
“Boss, you’d better not be sleeping over there.” He warned, concerned that Knight’s earpiece had been knocked out. “Come on, talk to me Boss. Give me something.”
For a few moments there was nothing but vague words and someone coughing until finally, he got a signal he knew well. Based off an old military trick but modified to suit their needs, a single sneeze echoed across the radio.
“Ah, there you are.” Rufus grinned, maintaining his distance from the chopper. “You got Fox with you?”
“You got something?” Mother asked, tapping his shoulder quickly.
“Yeah, got a signal to Knight. It’s weak but I’ve got him.” Rufus nodded, relaxing a little more as Knight came back to him with a groan. “Fox has been confirmed too. She’s with Knight.”
“Is she ok?” Mother added quickly.
“Given the fact he groaned, I’d say not.” Rufus shrugged, not liking the idea of being on the back foot in this situation.
“I hope she is. She’s a strong girl, she took a shot to the gut some years back and got out of it fine.”
Rufus nodded. “The boss got badly wounded during our time in Brazil, he’s also picked up a few more scars over the years. Judging by that metal leg of yours, it seems like you’ve had a close shave too. Amazing what the human body can do in harsh conditions. Hey, the chopper’s touching down at that castle over there.”
“Let’s take a look.”
Gliding towards the castle, something popped up on one of the screens down to the left. A relatively new system, it automatically uploaded new data from Knight’s palm pilot whenever they were in range. Most of the time, the information wasn’t of great consequence to him but this time, the screen was showing a rough map. No real indications of height above sea level but with a little calculating, he could figure out where Knight was.
“Well this is going to be fun. According to the tracker, those bastards took our pair below ground.” He groaned, scanning the cliffs below them. “Could try a bunker buster but it’s a risk.”
“Rufus, risk is my second middle name.”
“What’s the first one?”
“Ask a stupid question…”
Mother couldn’t resist a smirk while her mind went into overdrive.
“Think Mother, you stupid bitch. What would the Scarecrow do, what would the Scarecrow do...”
“Blow something up would be my guess. Seems to be a hobby of his from what I’ve heard.” Rufus suggested, dropping them down below the cliffs and continuing towards the castle. “There’s gotta be something out here. Don’t know much about who is paying for this hunt but I know something about history. Considering that castle is so close to the water, I’d guess there’s a secret underwater entrance somewhere along here. We just have to find the damned thing.”
“And soon. I don’t give ‘em more than an hour to live. It has to work, it just has to.”
“I was trying not to think about the time constraints.” Rufus groused, still looking along the rock formations. “Wait a minute, I think I got it. It’s hard to spot but there’s a dark patch just there.”
Mother craned her neck for a better view. “I see it too. The current is also behaving funny ‘round there, like there’s a passage of some sort underneath. I think that’s our only ticket in.”
“Shouldn’t be a long swim either. Rough guess, a couple hundred yards should do the trick. I could be wrong but I’ve gotten fairly good at guessing distances blind.” Rufus nodded, tipping the nose up a little. “Now, how are we going to make this work?”
Mother was already up on her feet, rummaging through the gear and armory stockpiled on the Raven. As she’d suspected, there were several wetsuits, slightly dusty but otherwise usable.
“Don’t look, flyboy.” She warned as she undressed and changed out into the wetsuit.
“Yes, ma’am.” Rufus answered in a joking tone. “You still have to tell me how we’re going to do this. Won’t work if we simply go in all guns blazing.”
“I’m going to do initial reconnaissance. Once I give the signal, I’ll tell you which part of this damn rock to blow away so you don’t turn me into fish food.” Mother replied. She strapped on some waterproof webbing and armed herself to the teeth. She swiped a pair of MP7s, a heavy-barreled M16, a Glock, smoke grenades and curiously, a set of shuriken throwing knives.
“Huh. Knight doesn’t fool around with these.” She held up a shuriken for Rufus to see.
“You got it. Then again, those are only as good as the hand that throws them, are you sure you can handle them?”
“They taught us some knife-throwing basics on one of the NCO courses I attended, I could try my luck.”
“Basics aren’t going to help. Those things don’t react like ordinary knives.” Rufus warned, glancing over his shoulder. “I know what I’m doing with them. Now, the reason I said it’s risky to try a bunker buster is that it might bring the entire cliff down on everyone and I’m not going to do that. There’s another way to do this.”
Opening a small compartment just below the canopy line, he pulled out a heavily modified palm pilot and slipped it into a specialised cradle just at the base of the control stick. Switching on the pilot, he unbuckled his harness and wriggled out of his seat without disrupting the steady hover he’d set.
“It’s a pet project of mine, a digital pilot for those times when I’ve had to leave the controls in the middle of flight. The program will drop us off, take the Raven on a twenty minute flight and be back to pick us up when we get out of the castle.” Rufus explained, shouldering out of his flightsuit. “A little privacy, Jarhead.”
“Does it work?” Mother asked, turning her back and checking over her weapon selection.
“Of course it works. This isn’t the first time we’ve used it.” Rufus snorted, letting out a curse when he cracked his head against one of the storage boxes. “It’s not a perfect solution, I don’t like leaving my Raven like this but I’m not about to leave Aloysius down there.”
“Yeah. You can always find a new bird, but not a new Libby or Knight.”
“I’d rather not have to replace either one.” Rufus returned, shouldering into a prepared weapon harness he’d pulled out of storage. “So long as no one decides to get cute and try to shoot her down, we’ll be fine.”
“I trust you’ve got that handled, I’d be pissed if we pulled them out and didn’t have a ride to return to.”
“I trust my program. She’ll be able to defend herself from enemies but computer code can’t replace the human brain.” Rufus sighed, tucking a spare pair of amber glasses into a pocket on his webbing.
Mother and Rufus leapt off the Raven just out of sight of the castle and the French naval forces, diving feet-first into the frigid North Atlantic waters. Once the two had disembarked, the black jet zoomed off into the clouds, maintaining a holding pattern in case its vaunted firepower had to be brought to bear.
“Keep your eyes peeled for tiger sharks too, wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a few hanging around.” Rufus warned, snugging his mask down properly and slipping beneath the waves.
Flicking on the lamp attached to his mask, Rufus scanned the cliff formation quickly before striking out towards the cave he could see. As a precaution, he’d secured a waterproofed palm pilot to his forearm and kept checking their location against the marker that represented Knight’s location. He just hoped that whoever was holding them had the foresight to keep Libby somewhere near him. If not, they ran the risk of getting stuck in that castle with no backup and no way out.
They swam forth purposefully, cutting through the waves with powerful strokes, while avoiding being smashed against the cliffs. Rufus led the way as he had less on his back, but Mother stuck close behind. After several minutes of searching, Rufus signed to point out a hole in the rocks about 15 feet below the surface.
“This has to be it.” Mother mused to herself. They made for the hole when suddenly, two large shapes passed into their peripheral vision. Cutting through the water with impossible grace, the pair of tiger sharks encircled the would-be rescuers. The hunters had now become the hunted.
Watching the sharks, Rufus considered their options on how to at least temporarily distract the predators. Motioning for Mother to hold back, he pulled his diving knife from a sheath on his calf and turned for the nearest shark. Kicking hard, he lashed out at the deadly creature, ripping open a wound over its gills. Kicking up, he waved for Mother to follow and swam hard to clear the scene. Hopefully that would be enough to keep the other sharks distracted for long enough for them to get out of here. Sure enough, a larger shark, at least 14 feet long, appeared and went to town on its fatally wounded brethren, as did the third shark. Rufus and Mother simply swam into the darkness, leaving the feeding frenzy behind.
Lieutenant Libby Gant, exhausted and bleeding, simply stared daggers at her captor. Even while trapped in the dreaded guillotine, she glared at the man who meant to destroy her and everything she held dear. Defiant to the end, she growled, “The Scarecrow will stop you.”
“Yes. Yes. The Scarecrow.” Jonathan Killian said evenly. “Our mutual friend. He is a special one, isn’t he?”
“He’s not your only problem, asshole.” Aloysius muttered, knocking his head against the wall in frustration.
Killian raised an eyebrow, still unfazed by the bounty hunter’s empty threats. “Indeed, mercenary . I’d bet my left leg that someone else on the council is paying you more than enough to thwart my little scheme, but that is another issue altogether.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, boy.” Aloysius sneered, still trying to come up with some kind of a plan but his options were severely limited. Killian saw this too, and he reveled in seeing his foes utterly powerless and in disarray.
“But if the Scarecrow is still alive, then yes, it is something of a problem…” Killian’s eyes bored hard into Gant’s, and she felt an utter chill race down her spine.
Aloysius knew that look, knew that Killian was not just prepared to destroy his enemy, he took complete pride in shattering them. It froze even him to his core, and he strained hard in his bonds.
“Now,” Killian said, “In any standard story, a villain like me would seek to draw out the troublesome Schofield by holding his beloved Lieutenant Gant hostage. I believe this was exactly Demon Larkham’s thinking earlier today.”
“Yes,” Gant said warily, “it was.”
“That was his first mistake.” Aloysius uttered, mind drifting back to their daring rescue on the Hercules.
“And that is where he failed.” Killian grinned evilly. “I wouldn’t take that chance if I were him. Which is why, Lieutenant Gant, I must do something more to flush Shane Schofield out. Something that will make finding me far more important than disrupting the Council’s plan. Mr Noonan.”
Spotting light ahead of them, Rufus signalled to Mother and shut off his diving lamp. Keeping his left hand on the G36 strapped to his side, he slipped a shuriken out and kicked hard towards the surface. He would only get one shot at this, one chance to make a perfect entrance and gain the upper hand in the attack. Powering steadily up, he launched out of the water and took the briefest second to look around before sending the shuriken racing across the chamber revealed to them.
Meanwhile, the man who’d been supervising the guillotine, Mr Noonan, made to grasp his hand around the guillotine’s releasing mechanism.
“Knight!” Gant shouted. “When you get out of here, tell Schofield something for me. Tell him,” Gant breathed “tell him I would have said ‘Yes’!”
With that, Noonan yanked hard on the releasing lever that caused the guillotine to drop.
With devastating force, the shuriken Rufus had thrown slammed into the upright rails of the guillotine he’d briefly glanced, blocking the deadly blade before it even had a chance to fall more than a few inches. Dropping back into the water, he turned and headed for the nearest ledge, his favourite rifle already loose and ready for war.
For several seconds, everyone stared at the quivering metal star lodged in the guillotine’s rails.
“What in the actual-” Before Noonan finished muttering to himself, his chest was turned to pulp with a hail of bullets. Mother and Rufus raced out of the pit, firing as one deadly force.
“Wexley! Get your men!” Killian shouted, wisely ducking out of the line of fire.
“You’re gonna die asshole!” Aloysius roared, aiming his remark towards the balcony where Killian had been.
Executive Solutions commander Cedric Wexley, who until then had been guarding the entrance to the dungeon, hollered for his platoon while his right hand man Drake whipped up his rifle and returned fire at the intruding force.
Mother made a beeline for Gant, avoiding Drake’s furious but unaimed shots, for Drake himself was being pinned down by Rufus’ suppressing fire.
Making sure Mother was in a good position, Rufus charged through the rising water, picking his shots to try and make every ExSol bastard keep their head down. He could see the bastard wearing Knight’s vest, halfway between Knight and Mother but his primary goal had to be getting Aloysius out of those manacles and back into the fight.
“Mother, cover fire!” He called, ducking as a wave of gunfire assaulted his position from above.
On instinct, Mother spun around and rained hell on the ExSol position, killing two of Wexley’s men and more importantly, giving Rufus the break he needed to rescue Aloysius. However, it also gave Drake a chance to take a potshot at Mother, and it nailed her right in the chest. She stumbled back but protected by the ballistic vest, she dropped behind a jutting stone for cover.
Not liking the fact Mother just dropped out of sight, Rufus swore and broke cover, vaulting over one of the random stone blocks littered around the chamber and racing towards Knight’s exposed location. Letting his rifle hang, he grabbed one of the few surviving ExSol mercenaries in the pit and calmly snapped his neck before tossing the body towards the water. Spotting Drake making a move, he went for one of the shurikens on his belt and sent it whipping across the chamber to slice Drake’s throat open in a grotesque smile.
“What would you do without me, Boss?” He grinned, making use of a piton to shatter one manacle and holding out the spare glasses. “Get organised, I gotta help get Fox moving.”
“I got it now.” Aloysius nodded, taking the glasses and plucking a spare pistol from Rufus’ belt. “Help Mother and Fox, I’m okay.”
Seeing that the coast was clear for the moment, Mother sprang into action once more. She pulled out her smoke grenades and tossed them between herself and the ExSol men, buying her and Rufus much needed time to rescue Gant. While Rufus kept them scrambling for cover, Mother rushed over to Libby and was horrified to see a gigantic wound in her shoulder, the work of the French jet that shot at her while she had attempted to escape. Despite that, Mother was relieved to have gotten to her in time.
“Mother.” Gant smiled weakly. “You came for me.”
“I always will, ma’am.” Mother cheered. She reached for her combat knife and hacked at the guillotine’s wooden frame. There wasn’t time to free Gant from the manacles that bound her wrists, so Mother chopped off the parts of the frame that the manacles were bolted to and hoisted her into a fireman’s carry.
Meanwhile, the smoke from Mother’s grenades had started to wear off. A squad of Wexley’s reinforcements rushed into the chamber, rifles blazing. Mother used her last smoke grenade on them but now running out of ammo, she was also running out of options.
“Rufus!” She hollered. “I think it’s time!”
“Yeah, I got that idea.” Rufus agreed, plucking a frag grenade from his webbing and belting it up towards the balcony above. “Have you stabilised Gant?”
“I’m working on it!” Mother found a covered spot away from the action and set Gant down. Gant’s eyes started to glaze over, and she moaned in pain. Even so, Mother could swear she heard her calling out for Shane in between her labored breaths.
“Hang on, baby. You’re going to be okay.” Mother assured her as she worked assiduously to close up the wound.
“Knight’s got a waterproof bag to put Libby in.” Rufus called, trying not to think about the real purpose of that bag. “We gotta avoid those damned sharks.”
Securing his vest even as he picked up his dropped shotgun, Aloysius skipped back across to the higher platform where Mother was working and turned to offer covering fire as ExSol continued trying to slaughter them.
“You are crazy, Mother.” He remarked, glancing down at Libby. “Hang in there Lieutenant, you’re getting out of here.”
“That’s great and all but I’m a little outnumbered here.” Rufus called, trapped on a rapidly disappearing platform with bullets raining down around him.
Mother had finally sewn up the wound and wrapped a tourniquet around it. This would have to do until they could access the Raven’s medical supplies.
Hmm , Mother mused if I were the Scarecrow, I could use a pretty damn big distraction right about now.
Seriously pissed off now, Aloysius plucked the body bag off his vest and flicked it out beside Gant before pushing to his feet and opening fire with his shotguns. The noise was almost deafening as it echoed around the chamber but the distinctive sound had another effect. Like most people, the ExSol men automatically ducked out of sight.
“Come on Rufus, move it! We’re leaving!” He roared, letting off another blast.
“Seven minutes until pick up!” Rufus warned, bolting back towards Mother’s hiding spot.
Wexley heard this and shrieked at his men to press the assault.
“Don’t think you sons of bitches are leaving here alive!” he roared, maintaining a steady volume of fire.
“Dammit Rufus, can you program the jet to get back like, now? We’ll be shark food in 7 minutes!”
“Sure, if you’ve invented teleportation tech in the last ten seconds. It’ll take us six minutes to get out of this death trap.” Rufus barked, propping his rifle on a convenient stone block and opening fire towards Wexley. “You’ll die first Wexley!”
“Worry about the escape in a minute Mother. Right now, focus on getting Gant secured and safe.” Aloysius added, double checking his pony bottle was still secure. “Did you think to bring extra breathing gear?”
Mother’s head snapped up and she pat her utility belt. She had brought only two pony bottles for the return trip.
“Uhhhh we might have a problem with that. We’ve got only two of those mini scuba tanks.” she replied.
“Should only need one to get back through the tunnel. It’ll be close but we should make it.” Rufus shrugged, nailing another ExSol goon in the head. “Would have dug out the bigger tank but someone forgot to refill it after Sydney.”
“We can discuss that later.” Aloysius growled, unhooking the last frag grenade from Rufus’ webbing and sending it soaring across the chamber. “Get her in the bag Mother, we have to go now!”
With a huff, Mother had finally worked Gant into the body bag. She wasn’t heavy but working the bag around her while trying not to shock her too much took a lot out of her.
“Alright! She’s in! Let’s bolt!”
“Deep, calm breaths Lieutenant, you’re going to be okay.” Aloysius guided, slipping the mouthpiece of his pony bottle between Gant’s lips. “We’ll get you out of here.”
“You three go! I’ll cover!” Rufus snapped, flinching back as a lucky shot zinged right past his ear.
“No hero antics! We’re shark shit without you on the other end!” Knight growled, securing his weapons and grabbing one end of the body bag.
“This coming from the idiot about to dive without his bottle.” Rufus retorted, tossing Knight his spare and turning his attention back to ExSol. “Get out!”
Mother and Knight hustled with Gant under the waves as Rufus covered their rear. When they were away, he fired off a last burst and dove in after them. Wexley and his surviving men quickly recovered and fired at him, outraged at seeing a chance for another windfall slip away. Some of their rounds had managed to hit Rufus, but the water bled almost all of their energy and the bullets bounced ineffectively off of him. Mother led the way, having the most experience going down this path. Sure enough, the tiger sharks were still lurking outside the underwater entrance. Their bloodlust not yet sated, they charged at the fleeing humans. Instinctively, Mother did a sit up in the water, causing her to tumble backwards so her leg faced the shark’s oncoming jaws.
The shark’s mouth clamped right onto Mother’s metal leg. It immediately registered this as inedible and swam over to another source of blood: Gant. Suddenly, the sharks seemed to do an about turn and fled the way they came, not daring to venture near the group. Perplexed, Mother turned around for an instant and saw that Knight was holding onto Gant’s Maghook. In the back of her mind, she’d recalled watching a documentary on Shark Week that described sharks as being sensitive to electric fields, and the magnetic charge from the Maghook must have had some kind of repellent effect on the sharks. Good enough for her.
Bringing up the rear of their little group, Rufus kicked hard for the surface and the familiar black shadow hovering right where he’d told her to be. Breaking the surface, he spat out his bottle and slipped his mask up, a proud little grin on his face as he swam closer to the Raven.
“Told you it would work Mother.” He smirked, looking up at his bird.
“Works for me, buddy boy. C’mon, let’s get her up. She’s not out of the woods yet and we’ve still got a Scarecrow to save.”
Digging a small microphone out from his collar, Rufus got into position right under his bird and whistled sharply, confident that the audio lock system would work. Originally, he’d used words but a whistle was much harder to replicate. It took a moment but the bomb bay doors snapped open and two winch lines dropped into the water beside them.
“Easy now Lieutenant, you’re safe now.” He offered, securing the first harness around his waist and getting a firm grip on the cable. “You two can argue over the second harness.”
“Take it Mother, I’m not bleeding and I’ve got the maghook.” Aloysius shrugged, looking up at the hovering jet. “I’ll get the next one.”
“Alright, Knight. Keep our ass covered.” Mother signed off and let herself be pulled up by the winch lines, holding onto Gant for dear life.
Clearing the bay doors, Rufus helped settle Libby off to the side and wriggled out of his harness, kicking it back down to Knight below. Getting up and setting his webbing out of the way, he grabbed a towel from another storage locker and tossed it onto his seat before sinking down and disconnecting his custom autopilot.
“So now what’s the plan?” Aloysius asked, slipping off the harness and hooking it up on the ceiling. “And do either of you happen to know where Schofield is? Last I saw, he was driving a burning Mack off that road right towards a French fighter jet.”
“We saw those Frenchies pick him up and transfer him to their battle group” Mother said. “I have a hunch he’ll be on that bigass carrier.”
“Well now we’ve got a bit of a problem. No doubt rescuing Scarecrow will require a lot of fancy flying but I’m not sure Gant will survive that sort of abuse in her current state.” Aloysius sighed, taking a knee and opening the bag. “You did great Libby, really great.”
“Drop us somewhere quiet for now, you two save the Scarecrow. I would come along, but I’ve got to be by my main chick’s side.”
“I know a place, we’ve been there before. They don’t ask questions about strange injuries.” Rufus nodded, shooting back into the sky. “Just tell them the Raven sent you and they’ll take care of you.”
“You can trust them Mother. They don’t care who comes into the clinic, they’ll treat anyone who can afford it. Don’t worry about the cost, we’ll handle it.” Aloysius added, doing what he could to make Libby comfortable for the flight. “They know the routine there, you’ll never even know how much it costs.”
“How do I get there?” Mother asked, a pleading look in her eyes.
“We’ll drop you off right at the clinic. They’ve got a helo pad but it works for the Raven too.” Rufus grinned, swinging them back over the French coastline. “Then we’ll come back and see how much damage we can do to that battle group.”
“I’ve always wanted to see how hard it was to blow up a destroyer.” Aloysius chuckled, stacking his vest out of the way and starting to strip off. “I really hope we don’t have to go back into that hell hole.”
“Believe me, I would come along, but someone has to stay by her side to let her know she needs to keep fighting.” Mother said, a tinge of resignation in her voice. “I think I can trust you with him, Knight. Bring him back for me, will ya?”
“Count on it Mother. Doesn’t take a genius to realise what’s going on and I’m not going to stand in the way of romance. The fact we’re getting paid handsomely for the job, well that just makes it better.” Aloysius grinned, tugging on a dry shirt. “We’ll make those frogs pay dearly for what they did to Libby, I promise.”
“Hey, maybe we can sink their carrier. Palladium grenade into the exhaust should do it.” Rufus suggested, pushing his dripping hair out of his eyes.”
Mother raised an eyebrow. “Blowing up a carrier? Now you’re talking, Luke Skywalker.”
“Never seen a womp rat. Does shooting gators from a swamp boat count?” Rufus chuckled, adjusting their course a little to the north. “We should arrive at the centre in fifteen minutes.”
“Bumpkin.” Aloysius teased, running a towel over his hair.
“I’ll bear you in mind the next time I go noodling with Ralph.” Mother added. “Mmmmm, a warm catfish dinner would be great right about now.”
“Please don’t encourage him. The last time, he thought it would be a great idea to go wrestle a gator in the water.” Aloysius groaned, shaking his head slowly. “I don’t care that it was only small to you, don’t do that.”
“Then you probably don’t want to know what I did to get into that damned pit.” Rufus remarked, swinging the jet around again.
“What did you do this time?” Aloysius asked, eyes narrowing behind his glasses. “I swear, you’re getting as addicted to dangers as I am.”
Mother grinned and leaned in, always eager to hear stories of men like him running the gauntlet.
“I may have stabbed a shark.” Rufus shrugged, sounding almost bored as he said it.
“You did what? Mother, tell me he’s joking around.” Aloysius groaned, hanging his head in defeat.
“Unfortunately, I can confirm that. If he hadn’t, you’d be the one in the shark’s belly right about now.” She winked.
“You officially can’t call me addicted to danger anymore.” Aloysius protested, dropping into the rear seat. “You are fucking insane.”
“Are you calling quits on us now, bounty hunter?”
“Of course not. I’m just making it clear that I don’t appreciate my few remaining friends taking these stupid risks.” Aloysius growled, reaching forward to flick Rufus in the ear. “I swear, you’d be just the kind of guy to try and pat a damned grizzly.”
“Nah, I’ll stick to swimming with orcas.” Rufus smirked, swatting at Knight’s hand. “Stop distracting the pilot.”
“Been there, done that. Personally, I think they prefer baguette to All American.” Mother jibed.
“I don’t even want to know.” Aloysius sighed, shaking his head slowly.
“We’ll have to continue this later, there’s the clinic.” Rufus added, pointing to a collection of buildings on a nearby hilltop.
Seeing that the helipad was clear, Rufus patched himself through to the clinic’s A&E staffers.
“Clinique douze, vous me recevez? Clinique de douze, cela est Raven.” Rufus could admit his French wasn’t great but he knew enough to get by. “Clinic twelve, do you copy? Clinic twelve, this is Raven.”
“Come on, let the Brits be on duty today.” Aloysius muttered, glancing back at Mother. “Unless you’re fluent in French of course.”
“You’d think I’d know my merci from my Eiffel Tower after running up against those Frogs more than once, but no.” Mother replied.
“Go ahead Raven, we read you.” A female voice replied, her British accent familiar to the hunters.
“Good to hear your voice again Tamika. We’ve got a critical patient for you, looks like she got hit by a heavy calibre bullet.” Rufus briefed, clicking his fingers over his shoulder. “More details to come.”
“She’s been shot in the shoulder by a tracer round fired from a Mirage fighter. She’s lost a lot of blood and is barely responsive at present.” Aloysius added, leaning forward in his chair. “We’re on final approach now.”
“Acknowledged Raven, I’ve dispatched a team to the landing pad to receive the patient. Any other details we should be aware of?” Tamika confirmed, her voice steady and sure. “Her blood type would be beneficial.”
“Shit, I’m not sure but it should be on her dogtags.” Mother parted Gant’s collar slightly to get a look at her tags. “Got it, she’s AB positive.”
“You get that Tamika? AB Pos.” Rufus repeated, not sure their radio could pick up loose chatter from the back.
“We’ll have several units on standby just in case.” Tamika replied, totally calm and that was helping Aloysius stay calm.
“Much appreciated Tamika. She’s a US Marine, coming in with one of her fellow Marines.” Aloysius grinned, glancing back at Mother again. “Be nice Gena, these people aren’t used to your crass mouth.”
“Yeah, best manners down there. Your behaviour reflects on us.” Rufus nodded, easing the Raven down onto the pad and twisting in his seat. “You ready? They’ll bring a gurney in under the bird as soon as I open the doors.”
“Can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best.” Mother stripped herself of her combat gear and strapped into her harness.
“We’ll be back when we’ve secured Scarecrow. If you’re lucky, you might hear a big boom.” Rufus nodded, opening the bay doors. “Take care Gena and make sure Libby doesn’t quit on us now.”
“I won’t. I promise.” she nodded and let herself and Gant be lowered to the ground.
Rufus took off, careful not to power up while the ladies were in the vicinity of the Raven’s nozzles. Gingerly, he drifted away from the helipad before blasting the plane skywards and seawards. Within moments, a team of paramedics busted out the doors of the clinic and swarmed the gurney, hitting her with oxygen as soon as they got to her.
“Everything is going to be okay now, my friend.” A younger woman offered, resting one hand on Gena’s arm. “I am Catherine, I’ll be here if you have any questions or just need something.”
Mother nodded. “Thank you, Catherine. I have my complete faith that you and your team will take great care of her. Will you let me stay by her side after you have operated on her?”
“Of course, it’s far better for your friend to wake to a familiar face than a group of strangers. We can even organise you some clean clothes and a chance to wash up if you like.” Catherine nodded, looking at the blood on Mother’s shirt. “Forgive me, I never asked your names.”
“Thank you. I am Gunnery Sergeant Gena Newman, USMC. That is Lieutenant Elizabeth Gant, my platoon leader. She’s in really bad shape right now, but I think she’ll do just fine under your care.” She smiled genuinely.
“I heard the initial report from Raven about Lieutenant Gant’s injuries. You might be surprised to hear but we actually deal with quite a few injuries like this every year. The surgical team will do their best but there is always a chance that Elizabeth will lose some function in her left arm. Only time will tell how severe the disability will be.” Catherine warned, ushering Gena towards one door as the surgical team pushed Libby towards the sliding doors just to the left. “Don’t worry, the surgical team will take good care of her. We’re all volunteers here, we give up our annual leave to run this place.”
“And I cannot thank you enough for that.” Mother said as she stroked Gant’s forehead. “You hear that, babe? Catherine will take the best care of you.”
“Henry will lead the surgical team, he’s one of the best surgeons we have here. You’re in good hands Lieutenant.” Catherine added, pushing the general access door open. “This way Gena, Henry will let us know when Elizabeth is out of surgery.”
Ushering Gena inside, Catherine guided her past a few curious staff members who had come out to see Raven make the delivery and led her into one of the comfortably appointed waiting rooms. It was more like a basic motel room, with a bed, small bathroom and kitchenette all neatly maintained and ready for anyone that might end up here.
“By what I’m used to, this is 5 star service.” Mother commented, looking around the room. A far cry from the military waiting rooms; spare, sanitized, but perpetually filled with an air of anxiety and dread.
“We get a lot of people here who don’t want to be found, so we provide separate waiting rooms for each guest or group that might show up. There are clean clothes in the wardrobe there, I just hope there is something in your size.” Catherine nodded, pointing to a single louvered door beside the bed. “It’s not often that we see a woman of your stature here, Gena.”
“Don’t sweat it, Catherine. You’ve done more than enough for us.” She smiled. “I’m a survivor, I’ll make do with what I’ve got.”
“I do ask that you stay in here. Some of our current guests are a little trigger happy.” Catherine warned, turning for the door.
“Fine by me. I’ll need the privacy too.”
“Should you need anything else, there’s a buzzer hanging on the bed head.” Catherine added before slipping quietly from the room.
“Hey Catherine?” Mother called after her. “Thanks again, for all that you’ve done.”
“We do what we can for the victims of atrocities the world over, Gena.” Catherine replied before closing the door.
For her part, Gena partially undressed out of her gear with a sigh, relieved that she had given Gant a chance to live again, but her concern remained for Scarecrow, whom she also held near and dear to her.
“C’mooonn, Shane.” She murmured as she looked out the window. “You can do it.”
Several miles offshore, Captain Shane Schofield- the Scarecrow, lay in a most odd position. Strapped and spread eagled on a forklift, he’d just seen a fellow target of the bounty hunt, a human , consumed by the thrusters of a jet engine.
Fuck , Schofield thought to himself. So this is it, I’m about to be killed by the very thing I gave up on.
“Does that refresh your memory at all?” French intelligence agent Pierre Lefevre asked him.
For once, Schofield found himself at a complete loss, no idea as to what Killian’s endgame was.
“I’m telling you, I don’t know. I don’t know about Killian or the African countries, or if they have anything in common. This is the first I’ve heard of them.”
“Then I am afraid we have no more use for you.” Lefevre said “It is time for the Admiral and the General to have their wish and watch you die.”
Schofield’s forklift drove up the the Rafale jet’s second engine and he was elevated until he was staring right down the engine nozzle.
Meanwhile, another jet rocketed towards the French carrier group. The Black Raven shot towards the naval forces at a mind-bogglingly low altitude of 200 feet, careful to avoid showing up on radar. Aloysius, having patched up his wounds enough, donned his utility vest once more and loaded his weapons.
“Remember, you’ll only get one shot at that exhaust. You’ve got to get that grenade right down the exhaust or it’ll never work.” Rufus called, totally focused on the rapidly approaching battle group.
“I can handle it. This isn’t the first time we’ve done something this incredibly stupid.” Aloysius nodded, strapping on the RPG pack and making sure he had everything he’d need. “Just keep those damn frogs busy until I can get Schofield back.”
“I’ll keep them occupied, just don’t get distracted down there.” Rufus retorted, sweeping around and launching four missiles towards the carrier.
The army general that had been watching Lefevre’s interrogation of Schofield glared at the Marine all the way as he climbed into the Rafale’s cockpit. The French jet’s thrusters still powered up, he prepared to thumb down on the afterburners.
“Goodbye, Captain Schofield,” Lefevre said matter-of-factly. “World history will have to continue without you. Au revoir .”
Just then, a gigantic explosion boomed from somewhere above the main hangar. Everyone stood stunned for a moment, including the General who had been about to fry Schofield alive. Klaxons came to life, sirens blared, men hustled up and down the carrier’s hallways and barked orders. An ensign ran up to the Admiral and gave his shell-shocked brief.
“Sir! We are under attack!”
“ What ?! By whom!”
“It looks like a Russian fighter, sir.”
“A Russian fighter? One Russian fighter! Who in their right mind would attack an entire aircraft carrier with a single plane!”
Even though Schofield could not speak French for the life of him, he was still able to half guess the words ‘Russian’ and ‘one’. So , he thought, that must be my guardian angel from hell .
Getting into position over the flight deck of the carrier, Rufus flipped the switch that put full command of the weapons back in his hand and glanced up to the small mirror mounted high in the cockpit.
“You ready back there?” He snapped, hand hovering over the bomb door button.
“Let’s do this.” Aloysius nodded, resting one hand on his favourite pistol and clutching Libby’s maghook to his chest with the other.
“Then go!” Rufus snapped, slamming his hand down on the button.
Plummeting to the open aircraft elevator below, Aloysius deactivated the magnet before he touched the deck and started the rewind system as he rolled to a stop and bounced to his feet. Hooking the maghook to his belt, he ran straight into the main hangar with his favoured pistols up and ready. He only had a very limited understanding of carriers but he figured if Schofield would be anywhere, the main hangar was a good bet.
Back inside the carrier’s hangar bay, there was total disarray. While Lefevre and the Admiral tried to ascertain the situation, the General in the cockpit realized Schofield was still trapped behind the jet, just waiting to be executed. He smirked and once more made to activate the jet’s engines, just as a 9mm bullet went through his skull and expanded like a popped corn kernel, blowing his brains all over the cockpit. Schofield widened his eyes in surprise and turned to see a dark figure hustling towards him, letting loose a few rounds every now and then. Knight. Lefevre, the Admiral and several armed sailors came down to investigate the disturbance and all of them went down in more showers of blood. No one who dared face the Black Knight lived to tell the tale.
“About time.” Schofield greeted his rescuer.
“Just be glad we got here in time.” Aloysius shrugged, reaching up to bust open the cuffs. “Things have been a little crazy.”
Schofield dropped to the ground but swiftly recovered, rubbing his wrists. “‘We’? Who’s ‘we’? Where’s Mother and Libby?”
“We would be Rufus and I. Mother and Libby aren’t here, we’ll meet up with them as soon as we’re finished here.” Aloysius replied, handing Schofield a Desert Eagle. “Come on, we’re heading for the exhausts of this carrier. We’re about to make the French regret ever messing with us.”
“The exhausts? I don’t get-oh.” Schofield noticed the RPG launcher strapped to Knight’s back. “I’m guessing that’s our ticket out of here.”
“Rufus’ idea. Palladium grenade down the exhaust. This carrier’s gonna be a shipwreck in a matter of minutes.” Knight grinned, clapping Schofield on the shoulder. “I saw a jeep just over there, should make the job easier. You drive, I’ll cover.”
Schofield hopped in the driver’s seat and kicked the panels open, revealing the wires inside. With a little hot-wiring, he managed to get the jeep started.
“You ever played a Playstation, Knight?” Schofield asked, a slight joking tone in his voice.
“What do you think, Schofield?” Knight replied, taking down a couple of paratroopers trying to sneak up on them. “You need a battle buddy or something?”
“Grand Theft Auto: Carrier City. I believe we just maxed out our ‘wanted’ rating.”
“You picked the strangest time to grow a sense of humour Schofield.” Aloysius remarked, ducking a stray shot coming their way.
“How better to react to the certainty of your own death than with a little comedy?” Schofield made a 180 and gunned it for the rear of the ship, dodging stray shots and tipped-over jets.
“Get outta the way!” Rufus’ voice blasted into Knight’s ear seconds before the mighty Black Raven suddenly shot into the hangar.
“What the fuck are you doing buddy?” Aloysius asked, hunkering down in the back of the jeep.
“Trying not to get shot down!” Rufus countered, throwing jeeps, jets and trucks around with the backwash.
“Yeah, well watch out for us!” Aloysius barked, definitely worried when a fuel truck bounced towards them. “Move it Schofield!”
Schofield swerved to avoid the deadly missile of a truck as it skidded to a stop, leaking highly flammable kerosene everywhere.
“Are all your escapes like this?” Schofield bellowed above the carnage.
“Only when Marines are involved.” Aloysius shouted back, ducking as some random missile went flying backwards over their heads. “Would you kindly stop throwing shit our way, buddy!”
“Keep your shirt on, I’m out.” Rufus confirmed, turning the Raven and shooting out the port side elevator.
From his time on a Marine carrier, Schofield had a rough idea of where this carrier’s exhausts were and hauled major ass. Within a minute, they came up on a pair of gigantic cylindrical vents at the aft of the hangar bay.
“Those are the exhaust vents!” Schofield pointed out. “Make it count, Knight!”
“Right!” Aloysius nodded, getting to his feet in the rear section of the jeep. “Be ready to move Schofield. We’ve got thirty seconds to get off this damned boat once I make the shot.”
“This one’s for Fox.” Aloysius uttered, drawing his aim carefully. “Don’t fuck with a Jarhead!”
The launcher fired, sending the palladium-tipped grenade soaring into the upper reaches of the hanger, a dead straight smoke trail extending behind it. The charge smashed through the fan in the right hand exhaust vent and disappeared inside it, heading straight down towards the biggest heat source- the nuclear engines themselves. Homing on the massive amounts of hydrogen gas they generated, Knight’s grenade made contact with the engines and detonated.
Meanwhile, Schofield had floored the jeep as soon as Knight had gotten the grenade off, hurrying up the ascension ramp that allowed fuel and ammo trucks to access the flight deck. He was halfway up when the grenade went off with a muffled but dreadful BOOM !
“Figured out how we’re getting off this death trap yet?” Aloysius asked, holding on for dear life as they roared up the twisting ramp.
“I think I’ve got something. We won’t be leaving this jeep at all, not until we’re off the carrier.” Schofield replied, barely keeping his cool.
“The fuck does that mean?”
“It means don’t step out.” he said flatly. “Just let me do my job.”
“Now I’m officially worried.”
“If I fuck this up, you might break a few bones.”
The jeep shot into the open air of the flight deck, and the havoc Rufus had wreaked was laid bare for both of them to see. Smoking planes, charred anti-aircraft guns, dead sailors. One Rafale fighter - nose down, its front wheels destroyed- blocked the No 2 take-off runway. The fighter must have been just about to take off when the Black Raven had hit it with a missile.
“Hmm, that jet hadn’t been loaded onto the catapult. Fantastic.” Schofield remarked as he skidded to a halt on the catapult.
“Even Rufus couldn’t make that bird fly, Schofield. Quit wasting time.” Aloysius snarled, looking up for the Raven.
The black jet weaved beautifully through the air, trading gunfire and missiles with the French jets that had made it off the deck.
Schofield hopped off the jeep. “I don’t want the bird, I want THIS!” He reached down and grabbed the catapult hook that had been attached to the front wheel of the jet. With that, he wedged it under the front axle of the jeep and clipped the other end of the hook to the steam-powered catapult.
“Oh fuck me, this is a really bad idea.” Aloysius gulped, realising what Schofield was planning and grabbing for his seatbelt.
“My life has been one bad idea after another. Score one for the crazy guys.” Schofield retorted.
“Rufus, get back! We’re about to get a big ass boom!” Aloysius warned, bracing himself for what was sure to be a wild ride.
Schofield engaged the jeep’s neutral gear and fired at the control lever for the catapult. In a split second, the catapult engaged, flinging the jeep down the 90 meters of flight deck in merely 2.2 seconds. The jeep flew into the air, nose up, its wheels spinning, while Schofield and Knight leaped clear of it.
Just as the carrier was torn apart by a mighty blast.
Oil, weapons, trucks, planes, even entire sections of the carrier’s hull were blown in every direction, sending deadly missiles hurtling into the other ships in the fleet and a rain of rivets across the ocean. Fortunately, Schofield and Knight had made it underwater when the initial blast occurred. The shockwave shook their bodies, rattling them once more, but they quickly recovered and swam away from the sinking carrier as fast as they could, before the ship could pull them down with it.
Breaking the surface, Aloysius spat out a mouthful of water and turned back to see what had happened. Jaw dropping at the sight of the huge carrier sinking ass-end first he laughed and punched the air. Now that was an explosion.
“I hope you caught that on video Rufus. I missed all of it.” He grinned, looking around for the familiar Raven. “And as for you Schofield...I really wonder how the hell you’re still alive if you do crazy shit like that.”
“Believe it or not, Knight,” Schofield gulped fresh air as he too emerged. “That’s the second time I’ve seen that happen.”
“I don’t even want to know how you blew up the first one.” Aloysius smirked, looking up as the Raven swept into a hover over them and dropped the retrieval harnesses.
“You may yet hear about it.” Schofield said, clipping himself in.
“It’s probably in your file somewhere.” Aloysius shrugged, hooking up and shaking the excess water off as he was winched up. “Did you get that footage?”
“Of course I did. That was a bigger blast than I expected.” Rufus nodded, closing the bay doors under them. “Pretty good chance Mother heard that one.”
“Where are they?” Schofield asked.
“About a half hour flight from here. Heading there now.” Rufus replied, turning them away from the chaotic scene below and heading back towards the French coastline.
“We couldn’t risk bringing Libby out here, she was in bad shape after Rufus and Mother stormed the Fortress to rescue us. We dropped them off at a neutral med clinic not too far from here, the people there don’t care who they’re taking care of, so long as they get paid.” Aloysius explained, tossing Schofield a towel and grabbing another for himself.
“The Fortress? What happened, did you two get captured?” Schofield questioned as he dried himself.
“About a minute after you decided to use a Mack to flatten that Mirage that shot your girl.” Aloysius shrugged, spreading his soaked equipment vest out to dry.
“What happened in the castle?”
“You sure you want to know, Captain?” Rufus asked, glancing in the mirror again. “Ignorance is bliss and all that.”
Schofield’s eyes widened and he exchanged a glance with Knight, whose face again remained unreadable behind his yellow shades.
“...yes. Tell me what you know, the both of you.” He ordered, still not quite sure about what he wanted to hear.
“Killian tried to guillotine Lieutenant Gant to draw you out of hiding.” Knight offered, moving back just in case Schofield tried to take a swing at him.
“It didn’t work obviously. I caught the blade with a thrown shuriken, lucky shot of a lifetime.” Rufus added, glancing up again. “She’ll be fine, but there’s little chance she’ll ever be much good as a Marine again.”
Schofield clenched his fists, struggling to contain the fury rising in him. Twice today, people had tried to get to him through the love of his life, and he’d nearly lost her the second time. Images of Gant’s head rolling off a chopping board flooded his mind. After several moments, he calmed down and said evenly, unwaveringly, “After I’m done shutting all of these nukes down, I am going to find Killian and load him in the guillotine myself. We’ll see how he enjoys his talk of dying against one’s will then.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me, Captain.” Aloysius shrugged, slipping off his shirt and wringing out as much water as he could. “No doubt you’ll end up dragging us along on the adventure.”
“Does that mean I’ll have to murder another shark?” Rufus asked, trying to lighten the mood.
“Don’t you even start. I just survived getting shot off a damned aircraft carrier, we are not discussing your adrenaline fueled adventures.” Aloysius sighed, shaking his head slowly. “I’m surrounded by lunatics.”
‘I’m going to kill Killian, with or without you. I don’t care what your instructions are, this is between me and him. He’s just made the worst mistake of his pathetic life.” Schofield warned.
“Personally, I don’t care for the arrogant asshole anyway. World’s a better place without him. But you gotta be smart Shane, his castle is designed to stop people coming after him. You can’t go charging in there half cocked, you’ll get your own head blown off.” Aloysius shrugged, not really concerned with Shane’s tone. “I can get you in and out, what you do in his office well that’s your business.”
Schofield stopped, registering Knight’s advice at last.
“You’re right, Knight. This is what he and Demon Larkham wanted, to draw me out into the open. He’ll definitely have a trap prepared for us if we go after him on his turf, we’ll need to plan our attack on him while we work on disarming the missiles.”
“That’s more like it. I was seriously thinking you were going to try and storm that castle on your own. You don’t have any idea about the traps he’s got rigged in that place, I saw about five different ways for a man to die when we were delivering those heads we stole from Larkham. We’ll get Killian but we’ve got to be smart.” Aloysius nodded, nudging his glasses up and rubbing his eyes. “Did we restock the food supplies recently?”
“I agree. Well, what’ve you got?” Schofield asked “I hope it’s not field rations.”
“There’s a locker of MRE’s over your left shoulder Captain. Otherwise, it’s whatever you can find in that crate up the back.” Rufus directed, checking the mirror again. “Should be some granola bars in there, provided fatass didn’t eat them all.”
“I didn’t eat them all.” Aloysius protested, glaring at Rufus. “It’s not my fault you keep getting the chocolate dipped ones.”
“You won’t eat anything else you big baby.” Rufus teased, shifting in his seat.
“Are you that picky, Knight? Never expected that from a D-boy like you.” Schofield said as he perused the food locker. “Oh, never mind what I said, there’s only the raisin-flavored ones left.”
“Sweet tooth like you wouldn’t believe.” Rufus grinned, grabbing Knight’s hand when he went to flick his ear again. “Keep it up and I’ll break your finger again.”
“I am not picky, I lived off MREs for years so I prefer real food.” Aloysius remarked, tugging his hand free. “Don’t you dare break my trigger finger again.”
“ Real food?” Schofield laughed “Like what, dried gecko?”
“I’ve tried that, it doesn’t taste like chicken. Anything that couldn’t possibly be rations of any shape or form counts as real food, Scarecrow. Bonus points if I don’t have to slaughter it first.” Aloysius smirked, getting up and opening another locker. “Better feed the pilot before he decided to flip the bird because we’re ignoring him.”
“I might flip her anyway just to see you faceplant on the ceiling again.” Rufus sniggered. “I’ll take one of the raisin bars. Don’t much like them myself but at least I know there’s always some in the crate.”
“I bet I couldn’t count on my fingers how many times he’s done that to you.” Schofield said to Knight.
“Only a few times, when I’ve crossed a line with him.” Knight shrugged, fishing down a sandwich and returning to his seat. “All these years and sometimes I forget the boundaries.”
“Figures. Hey, how come you get a sandwich?”
“Oh man, did you seriously just open a damn tuna sandwich in here?” Rufus growled, picking up on the smell. “I told you no more reeking food on board.”
“There’s more up there if you want one Scarecrow.” Aloysius shrugged, tucking into his sandwich contentedly. “Just don’t forget to hand Rufus his granola bar.”
“Thanks.” Schofield said and reached for the can of tuna flakes and another granola bar.
Wordlessly, he perused the rest of the food cabinet. Spam, Spam, Honey Bunches of Oats... that box of Honey Bunches looks odd , he wondered silently. He reached for the box, pulled it out... BLAM ! Schofield and Knight instinctively dove for cover.
“Jesus christ!” Schofield yelled. “Old shotgun in the box trick, Knight?!”
“That wasn’t me!” Aloysius protested, looking up from the floor. “I’m above such pranks.”
“Don’t touch my honey bunches.” Rufus growled, looking in the mirror again. “Gotta get creative to protect what treats I’ve got.”
Schofield raised an eyebrow. “Even if it means killing him?”
“Give me some credit, Captain. It was just a little cracker, all noise and no substance.” Rufus smirked, swinging the Raven around. “Make it with some food up here before I decide to dump both your asses.”
“Right. Here, catch.” Schofield tossed Rufus his granola bar, and he smoothly caught it in one hand without looking back from his flight console.
“Be thankful he didn’t use the rat trap again. Broke three fingers the last time he hid one of those damned things in there.” Aloysius groused, getting settled between a couple of crates and going back to his sandwich.
“I told you I would if you ate my caramel popcorn again.”
“I hope the only rats you’ve had up here are him.” Schofield muttered, spreading the tuna flakes on his sandwich and wolfing it down.
“I keep a clean ship...most of the time.” Rufus shrugged, glancing in the mirror again. “If you promise not to spill it, there should be some sodas in the bottom of the food locker. Make a mess and you’re scrubbing the Raven clean.”
“Of course. Who in their right mind drinks them warm?” Rufus nodded, chewing thoughtfully as he turned the Raven back to the north.”
“I...I didn’t expect to find a chiller onboard, of all things. Guess you couldn’t just let go of the creature comforts, huh?”
“We spend so much time in this plane, we had to install a few creature comforts. It’s not much, only holds a dozen cans but it’s good enough for us.” Aloysius shrugged, finishing his sandwich and tossing the rubbish into one of the crates beside the food locker. Schofield finished his too and peered inside the chiller.
“Inventory report: 2 cans of Dr. Pepper and 2 of Pepsi. What do you two want?” Schofield called.
“Pepsi.” Rufus replied, glaring into the mirror. “I can see I’ll have to restock that again as soon as possible.”
“I meant to do it a few days ago but things got crazy.” Aloysius shrugged, pushing to his feet. “I’ll take a Dr. Pepper.”
“Pepper for me too, then.” Schofield said, and tossed each of them their respective drinks before downing his. “Mmm that hits the spot.”
Satisfied that they had no tails, Rufus finished his drink and lobbed the empty can blindly over his shoulder, bouncing it off Schofield’s head and straight into the trash box up the back.
“Ah!” Schofield woke with a start.
Smirking at his shot, he turned towards the clinic below and switched frequencies on his radio.
“Clinic Twelve, this is Raven. Do you copy?”
“Go ahead Raven, this is Clinic Twelve.” Tamika’s voice came back to him.
“We’re heading in your way and could use a hiding spot.”
“Location six is available. Use the back entrance, your friend is waiting in room nine and the other woman is still in surgery.” Tamika guided, careful not to give away any identities.
“Many thanks Tamika. We’ll be there in five.” Rufus nodded, angling the Raven down and to the right. “Hang on back there, this might get a little rough.”
“ A little rough?” Schofield groaned, rubbing his head. “At the rate things are going, you seem more determined to kill me than M-12.”
“Oh grow a pair, I didn’t hit you that hard.” Rufus replied, skimming the Raven over the trees and topping the nose down sharply. “Come on baby, slip it in.”
“I hate when we get stuck with location six.” Aloysius groaned, holding on tight as the Raven bucked sharply and snapped to the right. “Hold your stomach Schofield, it’s not over yet.”
Location six was a small shed hidden right in the heart of a copse of trees just a few minutes walk from the medical clinic. From above, it looked like an impossible hiding place but a pilot with a big pair could slip their plane in from the south above the trees and disappear almost completely. So far, Rufus had been one of the few men that could successfully land inside the shed without breaking anything but it was always a wild ride. Swinging the Raven back to the left to avoid a tree that had grown since the last time he’d squeezed in here, Rufus eased her down safely and shut down the engines.
“Everyone still got all their bits and pieces?” He asked, unbuckling his harness and popping the canopy.
“I do.” Schofield replied, getting up from his seat and stretching his legs. “Knight?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Aloysius nodded, loosening his grip on the lockers beside him. “Judging by that approach, the trees are getting a little too tall for comfort.”
“Might have to see if they’ll trim the tops a little.” Rufus sighed, climbing out of the cockpit and perching on the edge. “Grab the bag and let’s go.”
“Best behaviour Shane, these people know nothing about what we do for a living and we’d prefer they don’t find out.” Aloysius warned, grabbing a small bag from one of the lockers and heading forward. “They call him Raven and I’m Avenger to them. Other than that, they don’t know anything.”
“It’s better that way.” Schofield agreed. “I guess they’ll already have heard my callsign from Mother.”
“It’s possible they heard the word but whether they figured out it’s a callsign is a different matter. We did warn her to be on her best behaviour here so she might be sticking to names instead.” Rufus shrugged, dropping to the ground. “The staff are most likely aware that Gena and Libby are US Marines but that’s not going to be an issue, these people don’t ask questions about how people came to the clinic.”
“We’re here from time to time but they’ve never seen our faces. It’s as much about protecting them as it is about protecting us.” Aloysius nodded, slipping a black cloth over his lower face.
“Great. We don’t need them knowing about the hunt either.” Schofield followed Rufus and Knight through the backdoor and up a flight of stairs to waiting room 9.
Knocking softly on the door, Aloysius adjusted his mask quickly and grinned as Mother opened the door for them. She looked like hell, half out of uniform and clearly still nervous about Libby’s survival.
“Any news yet?” He asked, slipping past her and entering the room.
“Get in Shane, before we’re spotted.” Rufus hissed, shoving the smaller man into the room and ducking past Mother. Schofield stumbled over, but regained his footing, and turned to regard Mother.
“Not yet, tough guy.” Mother replied. “She’s undergoing surgery right now, Doc Catherine said the op could take 5 to 6 hours.”
“ Shit , Mother. We don’t have 5 hours; those nukes will be launching in-”
“About an hour for the first ones.” Rufus offered, checking his watch quickly. “Aimed at London, Paris and Berlin if I recall.”
“Yeah.” Schofield lowered his voice as he heard footsteps outside, but they walked right past. “Listen, guys. I’m sorry for putting all of your lives on the line today, I really am. I had no idea these people could be so cruel as to you use all of you to get to me.”
“Are you going sappy on us now, Shane?” Aloysius asked, lowering his mask slowly.
“No, I-well, a little, I guess. I just...I just cannot help but wonder if you and Rufus hadn’t been there to save Libby.” he looked Mother in the eyes.
“That was actually kind of fun. I’ve never been much for ground operations, too big but that one was alright.” Rufus admitted, leaning back against the door to make sure no one came barging in.
“Scarecrow...Shane.” Mother said. Schofield widened his eyes slightly. “Gotcha there, didn’t I? I never call you Shane, because to me, you’re not any regular Tom, Dick, or Harry. You’re the Scarecrow, the fucking Scarecrow.” She mouthed as she swore.
“I...I am, I suppose. Am I that special to you, Mother?”
“Yes you are, Shane . You are more than my commander- you’re my best friend, my brother, and I love you more than I do my own brothers. You have done so many extraordinary things, made so many sacrifices, just to keep the world turning for another day. No one, absolutely no one, is as kind and smart and as tough a son of a gun as you are, Scarecrow.” Mother pleaded as she gently held onto Schofield’s wrists.
“No kidding, Gena. You should have seen him, he made a jeep fly.” Aloysius grinned, trying to ignore the weird feeling in his chest at the tender scene. “Never thought that was even possible.”
“So that’s how you two got off that carrier. I was a little too busy staying alive to see that part.” Rufus chuckled, briefly wondering how Shane had done that before deciding he didn’t want to know.
“I uhh,” Schofield looked down in an effort to hide his blushing. “I may have exploded the French aircraft carrier I was being interrogated on.”
“Hey, I took the shot that made it go nova.” Aloysius complained, refusing to let Schofield take the credit for that idea.
Mother grinned and laughed heartily.
“Was that that voice of god boom I heard earlier? Hahaaa I KNEW you had something to do with it. Come here, you two!”
With that, Mother drew the two men into a massive bearhug, causing them to choke on their spit.
“Hurk! Jesus Mother, you’re squishing us!” Schofield moaned.
“Ack! Hey, not cool!” Aloysius yelped, straining against her bulk. “Lil help!”
“You earned that one, Boss.” Rufus sniggered, wisely keeping his distance. “Told you those palladium grenades were good for something.”
“Hug him. It was his idea.” Aloysius hissed, starting to go a little blue in the face.
After what felt like an eternity, Mother released them from her crushing embrace. “Hooo boy. That felt good.”
“Heheh, I guess.” Schofield offered in between sucking lungfuls of air.
“Ow, I think you bruised a rib or two.” Aloysius groaned, rubbing his right side lightly. “You sure you’re not half grizzly bear or something?”
“You might be onto something there, dark and mysterious.” Mother agreed. “Listen, you two, these billionaire sons of guns are not gonna win today. You know why?”
“Why?” Schofield asked.
“Because you are going to get out there and kick their collective butt, make them pay for what they did to you and your girl, and you won’t be alone in this adventure.” She said assertively, nodding at Knight.
“Job’s not done yet. Already promised that once these missiles are dealt with, we’re putting an end to Killian and his guillotine.” Aloysius shrugged, looking towards Rufus. “After that, well who knows what might happen to M12.”
Schofield took this all in, forming a battle plan in his head. “You’ve got it. We’ve got to this for us, and for the world. First, we take out the Kormoran ships and their missiles. We’ve got 2 more teams of Marines hitting the ships in San Francisco and New York, both being led by competent and trustworthy men.”
“Who might those be?” Mother asked.
“Book II’s leading the assault in New York, the one in San Fran is being covered by Hawk.”
“Hawk? As in that Andy Trent?”
“Yeah. He passed his psych evaluation and they let him back into the Corps, with his old rank and everything. He’s a good Marine and an even better person, he’ll get the job done. Which very conveniently leaves us with the ship in Cherbourg.”
“The MV Talbot. This isn’t going to be easy. No doubt she’ll be heavily guarded and there’s still that nasty fact of the bounty on your head and mine. Soon as we’re spotted, it’s going to be hell getting anything done.” Aloysius sighed, already thinking about how to deal with his competitors.
“The Raven’s not going to be a lot of help with defense either, used every missile and most of the minigun ammo on that carrier.” Rufus added, also thinking through their options. “Biggest problems are likely to be the Skorpions and IG-88.”
“ExSol?” Schofield queried.
“Possible but not likely. They seem to be sticking close to the castle. My guess, they’re being paid extra to act as security guards for Killian.” Rufus suggested, scratching at his beard. “Zulu goes for easy targets, he’ll stay away. Ice Queen won’t risk it, not after last time. Hungarian...he’s no threat to anyone.”
“Hmm...” Schofield acknowledged as he tried to connect the dots in his head. “There’s something about Killian...when I was aboard the carrier, the French asked me what Killian was doing in several African nations, and why the Air Forces of those nations were being mobilized. I have a feeling he’s let them buy into M12’s plan to revitalize the War on Terror.”
“Africa...wait, I think we’ve got something about that.” Rufus jerked, clicking his fingers quickly and looking to Aloysius “When I got the last file dump from your pilot, something flashed up about Africa but there wasn’t time to look at it then.”
“Hang on, I’ve got the original copies here.” Aloysius nodded, yanking out his palm pilot and scrolling through everything he’d downloaded. “Ah-ha, got it. Killian visited several African cities. Asmara on the first of August, Luanda on the same day, Abuja on the fifth, N’djamena on the seventh and Tobruk on the ninth.”
“Asmara, that’s the capital of Eritrea...Luanda, capital of Angola. Abuja...that’s the capital of Nigeria and N'djamena is the of Chad. Tobruk isn’t a capital but it does have Libya’s largest Air Force base.” Rufus listed, really stretching his knowledge of geography with that one.
“Impressive,” Schofield said, genuinely in awe at the man’s capacity for general knowledge. “I have a hunch he’s promised them monetary aid in return for hired guns. Nigeria is infamous for its death squads, its Presidential Guard who have trained under the likes of the SAS. They won’t go down easy.”
“But why Africa? What’s so special about Africa?” Aloysius asked, still trying to put it all together.
“Wait a second. What would happen if the major world powers descended into anarchic warfare?” Rufus asked, eyes widening as he realised that they were in big trouble.
Schofield looked up, his mind in overdrive. “If the traditional Western powers go into a decline, China, India and Africa will all step up to the plate. Africa in particular still has vast untapped economic potential in terms of resources as well as manpower.”
“You’d see some old scores settled, that’s for sure. The Serbs would go go after the Croats, the Russians would wipe out the Chechens and that’s not even mentioning everybody who wants to nail the Kurds. Then there’d be the opportunists like the Japanese in WWII. Countries seizing the opportunity to grab resources or territory: Indonesia would snatch East Timor back…” Aloysius nodded, his understanding of global politics coming through strong.
“But what’s any of that got to do with Africa?” Rufus pushed, still sorting through what it all might mean. “We’re still missing something.”
“National Security Council Planning Paper Quebec 309.” Schofield said at last.
“Huh?” Everyone blanched at him.
“In the event of a conflict involving the major global powers, it is highly likely the poverty-stricken populations of Africa, the Middle East, and Central America- some of which outnumber the populations of their Western neighbors by a ratio of 100 to 1, will flood over Western borders and overwhelm Western city centers.” He recited as if those words had been burned into his mind. “This is no coincidence, ladies and gents. Time and again, the angry and despairing workers of nations the world over have risen up against their masters. The French Revolution, the rise of communism and the Soviet Union, now Killian wants to usher in a new era of African dominance.”
“Killian is an anarchy nut and as bad as this all sounds, it’s not big enough. This plan doesn’t create enough chaos to guarantee total global anarchy. There’s still something we’re missing. Check the missile list again, maybe there’s a clue there.” Aloysius sighed, scrolling back through all the documents he’d hacked from Killian’s computer.
Schofield swallowed, and sifted through Killian’s version of the list of target cities. The last attack was to be carried out by a ship called the Arbella, using a cloned Jericho-2B missile loaded with an American W-88 nuclear warhead. The Jericho, Schofield thought with a chill, was an Israeli-made missile. A wave of dread swept through him as he plotted the missile’s launch point and its target destination.
“Ok...the launch point is in Yemen, and it is headed for...god help us all.” He said as his jaw slackened.
“What’s up, Scarecrow?” Mother asked with concern.
“Mecca. Killian wants to ignite war between the Arab nations and Israel AND their American backers. Muslims in the Western world will sanction jihad.”
“Fuck me sideways...that’ll be a bloodbath. The first global war between a religion and a nation. No Westerner will be safe anywhere.” Rufus breathed, shocked by the daring move.
“It gets worse. Think about the date today. October 26, it’s been staring us all in the face and we totally missed it. It’s the first day of Ramadan. The most provocative day to possibly launch such an attack.” Aloysius groaned, disgusted that he’d missed such an obvious clue. “My god, I don’t even want to think about what’ll happen if that missile gets through.”
“There is still a shred of good news: the Jericho won’t be launched until 1400 hours New York time. We can still patch a call to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to strike the launch site, there’s no way we can make it there to disarm the missile in time.” Schofield said.
“Thank fuck for small mercies.” Aloysius groaned, slumping onto the bed. “We’re going to be busy as fuck until this mess is over with.”
“I know, Knight. Therefore you’re getting your ass off that bed, we still have half an hour to kill the Talbot and much as I do it, I don’t like cutting things close.” Schofield offered his hand.
“Come on, you can power nap during the flight.” Rufus grinned, cracking his back sharply. “You’ll be fine.”
“Bloody taskmasters, the pair of you.” Knight grumbled, grabbing Schofield’s hand. “Sure you’re right to stay here Mother? We probably won’t be back until after we’ve saved Mecca and slaughtered Killian.”
“Well, Libby needs someone to wake up to when she’s done with the surgery...but I may kill myself from boredom first.” Mother replied, a thoughtful look on her face. “Screw it, I’m coming with you guys. If Knight and Rufus can trust these people with her, then I sure as hell will. This is what she’d want anyway, for us to get our jobs done.”
“Hey, if these good folk can keep Aloysius in bed and out of trouble for three months, they can keep Libby safe for a day or two until we can get back.” Rufus chuckled, his smile growing when Aloysius flipped him off.
“Glad you’re all onboard.” Schofield smiled. “C’mon, it’s time we saved the world.”
“You say that like you’ve done...forget it, you probably have.” Aloysius sighed, slipping his mask up. “We’d better let Catherine know what’s going on.”
The group quietly slipped out of the room, just as Catherine passed by. She blanched at the motley gathering of battle-scarred men and woman.
“Relax Catherine, it’s just been one of those days.” Aloysius shrugged, touching her shoulder lightly. “We’ll be back for Gant, we’ve just got some other business to attend to first. Keep her safe for us, we’ll square the bill when we get back.”
“Of course Avenger.” Catherine smiled, running one hand through her hair. “We’ll make sure no one finds out she’s here.”
“Hey, Catherine?” Schofield asked “When she wakes up, tell her...tell her that we’re going to make Tuscany happen.”
“I will certainly do that Mr Schofield.” Catherine nodded, pointing to his shirt. “Next time, leave the name tag in your pocket.”
“Will do. Thank you for help and service, Catherine, you have no idea how grateful I am to you and your team. You’ve just saved the life of a beautiful woman.” Schofield reassured.
“Take comfort in knowing our surgical team will try everything to get her back to her best. When you get back, we’ll have her patched up, cleaned up and ready to go home.” Catherine promised, meeting Shane’s gaze. “She will have limitations but they’re trying a new technique that should improve her chances of regaining some use of her left arm.”
“You have our thanks, Catherine. We’ll be in touch when we’re on our way back, I’d really appreciate it if you could keep Location Six open for us.” Rufus nodded, glancing at his watch again. “Should be tomorrow but we’ll see how we go.”
“Of course Raven, I’ll make sure someone is always listening for the call.” Catherine grinned before turning and continuing on her way.
“I’m glad she’ll be okay.” Schofield said as they began to walk briskly back to the Raven.
“I hope they don’t have to amputate the arm.” Mother added, “although if they fit her with a cybernetic arm like they did with my leg, I can’t say that wouldn’t friggin awesome.”
“Gena, there’s every chance she’ll get to keep her arm and have some function in it but perhaps not enough to remain on active service. We’ll just have to see how the surgery goes.” Aloysius shrugged, pushing the door open and leading the group back towards the hidden shed.
“Depending on her surgeon, they might be trying to rebuild the brachial nerve with nerve tissue harvested from elsewhere in her body.” Rufus shrugged, remembering something about a few neurosurgeons trying the new technique with great success.
“And I read something about cells and nerves being grown from scratch.” Mother added. “They might be pioneering it here for all we know.”
“That would have been helpful a few years back.” Aloysius muttered, absently rubbing at his left hip and the burn scarring hidden there.
“Don’t even think about that.” Rufus sighed, squeezing his shoulder lightly. “Up you get. Make sure you hold on tight, it’s gonna be a wild ride out. If anyone needs to pee, now’s the time.”
Not overly surprised when Shane and Aloysius both bolted for the trees, Rufus helped Mother back into the silent jet and started his pre-flight routines. Once the pair were onboard and holding on securely, he double-checked that Mother had a firm grip before lifting off and swinging hard to starboard then snapping to port as soon as he cleared the building. Pulling the nose up, he cleared the trees and raced into the open sky, heading straight towards the English Channel.
Battered, bruised and thankful that the hell was over for the time being, Rufus eased the Black Raven back into her hiding spot at Clinic Twelve and silenced the engine. Unbuckling and pushing the canopy open, he grabbed his mask and dropped down to ground level. After everything he’d endured, his balance was still off and he landed on his ass with a groan. He would have ended up on his back but managed to grab his pant leg and stay partially upright.
“You okay buddy?” Aloysius asked, climbing down carefully and taking a knee beside him.
“Yeah, just a little unsteady.” Rufus nodded, lightly touching the dark bruises around his eyes. “I’ll be happy if I never have to eject at that speed again.”
“I’ll be happy if you never get shot in the back again.” Aloysius remarked, peering over Rufus’ shoulder at the three holes torn in his flight suit. “At least your kevlar held.”
“Thank fuck for small mercies.” Rufus agreed, pushing up onto one knee. “I must look like a damn raccoon with these bruises.”
“At least you’re not the only one.” Knight grinned, getting up and helping Rufus to his feet. “Come on, Libby’s bound to be waiting for her Scarecrow to return victorious.”
Schofield dropped out of the Raven’s cargo hold and landed firmly on his feet, exhausted but triumphant. He was still in a state of semi-disbelief at the events that had transpired over the past 24 hours, but he’d get over it, as he’d always done. After stopping the cloned Jericho over Mecca, it’d been his turn to be captured and taken prisoner by Killian, but he’d broken free and after a vicious battle with his Cedric Wexley and his ExSol guys, simply allowed Knight to hurl Jon Killian out of his own castle into the ocean below.
“You two alive under there?” Aloysius called, slipping his mask up and managing to hide most of his bruises.
“Yeah.” Schofield responded, fatigue creeping into his mind.
“I feel like I could sleep a week after this.” Rufus grumbled, still a little unsteady on his feet but at least he was upright.
“Seconded.” Schofield agreed. “Anyone up for a slumber party after this thing blows over?”
“Does Mother snore?” Aloysius asked, glancing up at Rufus. “One chainsaw is bad enough.”
“I am not that bad.” Rufus protested, stretching out his back tentatively. “Oh yeah, gonna be feeling that for a while.”
Schofield lifted a finger and lowered his voice, “Don’t mention this to her...but yes. She won’t take it well if you comment on her sleeping habits.”
Noticing that Mother hadn’t emerged from the Raven, Rufus carefully ducked under his bird and poked his head up into the bomb bay. There she was, slumped near the food locker and snoring away like an old A-10 Warthog. Figuring she’d be pissed if he woke her but even more pissed if she missed seeing Libby, he climbed up and took a knee beside her. Reaching out, he gave her a shove and was definitely surprised when she grabbed his wrist in a bruising grip. Grabbing her wrist in return, he heaved and twisted, managing to drag her from her spot and drop them both out the bay doors with a brutal crunch.
“Okay, not smart...think I just broke something.” Rufus groaned, definitely feeling something wrong in his back, right around his sixth rib on the left side.
Mother roused to her full six foot two and stared daggers at Rufus “What the fuck is your problem? Can’t you let an old girl sleep?”
“Old girl? Sounded more like a Warthog in full battle mode.” Rufus countered, sitting up carefully and clutching at his ribs. “Besides, would you rather sleep or see Libby?”
“Listen, buddy.” She advanced on him, but halted at the mention of Libby’s name, at the same time Schofield turned around and called back to her.
“Morning, mum. Everything alright back there?”
“If you two are done lazing around down there?” Aloysius added, nudging his glasses up and rubbing gritty eyes. “I’d like to get moving so we can actually sleep someplace safe.”
“I’ll sort you out later.” Mother narrowed her eyes and stalked past the lot of them.
“I’m not scared of you.” Rufus retorted, crawling out from under the Raven and easing to his feet with a groan.
“Oh grow up, the pair of you.” Aloysius sighed, shaking his head slowly. “We’re all exhausted and tempers are fraying. Let’s just get inside so we can rest and recover.”
Schofield gently held Mother’s wrist. She attempted to push his grasp away but was too tired to fight anymore. “It’s alright, Gena. He didn’t mean to start something with you, it’ll pass.”
“It’d better.” She muttered as the whole group made their way in, faces sour and sore.
Taking the lead since he looked a little less battered than Rufus, Aloysius headed straight for the desk and tapped lightly at the surface to get the attention of the dark skinned women sitting there. Instantly she looked up, eyes hinting a smile but her lips turned down as she took in the battered group.
“Hey Tamika, we’re here to see Lieutenant Gant.” Aloysius uttered, checking around to make sure no one else was lurking around. “And we’re going to need a nurse to check us over. Had a rough 24 hours.”
“I can see that.” Tamika nodded, glancing down for a second. “She’s in Room 24. I’ll arrange for a couple of the nurses to meet you there to examine your injuries.”
“Thanks Tamika, you’re a gem.” Aloysius grinned, turning back to the group. “This way.”
Leading the way through the twisting corridors, Aloysius stopped outside one door among many and motioned for Schofield to open it. It made more sense to have a familiar face leading the way and hopefully, it would put him in a better mood.
“She’s your girl, make it count.” He grinned, still checking to make sure no one was paying them any attention.
Schofield blushed slightly and took a half-step back. “Well...I haven’t quite figured out what I’d like to say to her yet. I think it’s better that Mother go in first.” He turned to her and motioned “Ladies first, after all.”
“Huh? What...you’re her number one, after all she’s gone through she’ll want to see you.” Aloysius groaned, hanging his head. “Just get in there, she’s probably worried that you did something stupid...again.”
“One of you get in there before I do. I doubt she wants to see me first.” Rufus hissed, trying to ignore the burning in his ribs.
Mother took up on Schofield’s request anyway and slowly opened the door, peeking in to see if Libby was awake. She was like a sleeping cherub, the morning sun dawned on her golden locks, usually bunned up but now flowed from her scalp. Her left shoulder was swathed in multiple layers of bandages, some kind of tubing poking out from the layers in a few places and all kinds of equipment that Mother couldn’t possibly name had been hooked up to her. Libby had been on that edge between sleep and consciousness when Mother trundled in.
“Mother.” she greeted her with her trademark smile. A weak smile but it instantly lit up the entire room.
“There’s my foxy mama.” Her gripes with Rufus all but forgotten, she too grinned a toothy grin and walked almost directly into Libby’s bed, hugging her gently. “You made it.”
“You did, too.” Libby replied softly. “Who else is here?”
Getting worried that someone might spot them and start trouble, Aloysius swung the door open and quickly shoved Schofield through before letting Rufus slip inside. One last check and he joined the group in the private room, closing the door with a secure click.
“Buddy, sit down and try to relax. The nurse should be here in a minute.” He sighed, tugging his mask down. “Good to see you again Libby.”
“Sounds good.” Rufus nodded, removing his mask and heading for the only chair in the room, sinking down with a soft groan. “Hey there Lieutenant.”
“Hi...Rufus? Is that your name? I’m sorry, I’ve just gotten up.”
“Yeah, Rufus McKenzie.” He offered, lifting his gaze. “Not surprised you don’t remember, you’ve been through a lot.”
“So have you guys.” She slowly lifted her head, fixating her vision on the two most battered and bloodied figures in the room. Knight...and Schofield.
“It’s been tough on everyone but pretty sure you take the cake. Never known anyone to survive what you did.” Rufus agreed, finally managing to find a comfortable position.
Everything else became a blur as her boyfriend, the Scarecrow, shuffled up to her.
“Shane…” her eyes widened, emotions starting to well up inside her.
“Hi, Libby.” Schofield replied, and plopped onto her, squeezing her for dear life.
“A-ah, Shane! You’re suffocating me!” She groaned, even as her voice began to crack. Schofield backed off a little to see that she’d stained their cheeks with tears, but there was no mistaking that look of worry melting into immense relief.
“Take it easy, Shane. I know you’re glad she’s safe but come on, she’s just had major surgery.” Aloysius groaned, sliding down to sit on the floor.
Libby turned and looked Aloysius in the eye, past the cold gaze of his yellow lens, into the well-meaning heart that truly represented the bounty hunter, and gave him a grateful nod, one convened from one warrior to another. Letting his walls down a little more, Aloysius smiled softly and returned the nod slowly. He tried not to let her see how absolutely exhausted he was but he had a feeling that she could tell anyway.
“Never did pass on that message for you, Libby. Guess I don’t have to now.” Aloysius shrugged, leaning back against the wall.
“What message?” Libby blanched and turned to Schofield, who smiled abashedly.
“Libby… I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”
Perking up, Libby lifted her head ever so slightly. “Yes, babe?”
“I...I think we should make good on that Tuscany trip this year, after all this blows over. The weather’s great.”
“Ohhh Shane.” she giggled. For a tough as nails warrior who could be the most devastating force on the battlefield, he was too dorky for her to not laugh around him. “Of course we’ll go. We’ll make it happen.”
“Your shoulder, how is it?” he added quickly, maybe too quickly.
“Ahh…” she paused, her grin starting to waver a bit. Schofield could read her face like an open book, and he tensed, awaiting the worst.
“Smooth, Shane, real smooth.” Aloysius muttered, rolling his eyes behind his glasses.
“Leave him be, we can’t all be ladies’ men.” Rufus sighed, glancing at Aloysius for a moment.
“Catherine said the round took a chunk out of my trapezius. Bad news is some of the nerves have been completely severed, I may never regain a complete range of motion without more invasive surgery. Good news is the round was so fast, it went straight through so it ended up being a clean wound, and it didn’t touch any of the arteries either.”
“Thank god.” Schofield hugged her again, but lighter this time. He had a sinking feeling about her not regaining full mobility and was anticipating she’d receive a downgrade of her medical status. This meant being relegated from frontline ops to driving a desk if she chose to stay in the Corps, but he didn’t care. Libby was alive and that was all that mattered.
“Well, it could have been worse I suppose.” Rufus shrugged, hissing softly as that made his ribs ache more. “Uh, should someone contact your other friend and let him know you’re all safe.”
Just then, someone knocked softly at the door before swinging it open slowly. Rufus and Aloysius barely had enough time to get their masks up before two nurses entered and closed the door behind them. One redhead, the other a brunette.
“What have you done this time, Raven?” one asked, taking note of the way he was sitting.
“Someone has clearly been up to no good, look at these bruises.” the other nurse tutted, looking at the dark bruises around Shane’s eyes.
“Shane, meet Marie and Jacqueline. Marie’s the redhead. Ladies, meet Shane, Libby’s other half.” Aloysius offered, perfectly content to let the nurses worry over the others first.
“Pleasure.” Schofield extended his hand to both nurses, but shook them with uncharacteristic limpness. The time zone hopping was getting to him.
“You call that a handshake, Scarecrow?” Mother chuckled. “This is how you do a handshake.” She gripped both their hands, enough for Jacqueline to go bug-eyed.
“Forgive them, ladies. Americans are always so brutish.” Rufus offered, a soft Irish lilt covering his usual drawl. “I may have broken a rib or two in the last few hours.”
“Well then, we’d best get you out of those filthy clothes and take a look.” Marie nodded, moving away from Mother and coming around to help Rufus out of his flightsuit.
“And what about you Avenger?” Jacqueline asked, turning her attention to him as she gently massaged her aching hand.
“Actually, I’m not that bad off this time. Few cuts and bruises, bit of a headache.” Aloysius shrugged, looking up at her. “Take care of the others, I can wait.”
“No bullets this time?” Jacqueline questioned, one eyebrow lifting sharply.
“Nay, t’was my turn.” Rufus admitted, leaning forward a little more as Marie slipped his kevlar off.
“I think we could use some fresh threads, too.” Schofield said, starting to remove his heavier gear.
“Of course, we’ll bring you some clean clothes as soon as we’ve finished tending to your wounds.” Jacqueline replied, helping Aloysius to his feet. “You know the routine.”
“Yeah, I know. I really hope no one is shy, down to skivvies so they can check you over properly.” Aloysius directed, meeting Mother’s gaze as he shrugged out of his vest.
Mother exchanged a funny glance with each of the guys in the room, and then with the nurses.
“I can assess you in the other waiting room, miss…” Marie said.
“Mrs Newman, call me Gena.” Mother replied.
“Sure, Gena. Follow me, please.” With that, the two ladies left and headed into the next room.
“Please be nice Gena.” Rufus muttered, managing to peel his undershirt off before standing slowly. “Uhh, sorry about all this Lieutenant.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Schofield reassured him “Things always blow over with Mother, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t get back at you later in some silly way.”
“That’s good to know, Captain, but I was talking to Lieutenant Gant.” Rufus corrected, turning around and revealing the tattoo covering his back.
Still bright, despite the fact it was at least six years old, it captured an appaloosa bronco in full rear, a cowboy sitting firm on his back with his hat held high. Above the cowboy, two flags flew proudly over his shoulders; Irish and Texan. Below the horse, he carried two eagle feathers, each one decorated with a red spot.
“Well, the cowboy’s dead and the horse got shot in the rump. Third one missed, right between the hat and flags.” Aloysius guided, dropping his shirt to the floor.
“Talk about lousy shooting.” Rufus smirked, propping one foot up on the chair and working on his laces. “But it certainly explains why I’m aching so bad.”
“Huh?” Schofield blanched.
“Come on, you don’t think it’s just a little weird that two near-strangers are stripping off in front of your girl?” Aloysius remarked, slipping off his t-shirt and adding it to the pile.
“As for his other comment, he’s letting me know where the worst bruising is.” Rufus added, switching feet carefully as he lifted his gaze. “I just know it hurts, not exactly where I got hit.”
Schofield turned to Libby, and she shrugged. “I saw nothing.”
“Love that show.” Aloysius chuckled, also working on his boots. “Come on Schofield, the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can all get some sleep.”
“I will see that some extra mattresses are bought in for you as well.” Jacqueline offered, gaze sweeping the room and cataloguing injuries.
Schofield thanked the nurses, just as Mother walked back in, now dressed in skivvies and some of her wounds having been cleaned up.
“Damn! I always heard that Marines weren’t scared of anything. Gotta be gutsy to walk around unfamiliar places in your underwear.” Aloysius teased, kicking off his boots and dropping his pants only to discover a trail of dried blood down his inner thighs. “How the hell did that happen?”
“What did you do?” Rufus sighed, tucking his boots out of the way and letting his flightsuit fall.
“I’m pretty sure I got shot in the ass somehow.” Aloysius sighed, mentally bracing for some sort of crass comment from the Marines in the room.
Mother sniggered, looking to Schofield and Libby for approval. “And I thought my brother-in-law’s hemorrhoids were bad enough.”
“Gena, you’re becoming a real pain in the ass.” Aloysius growled, yanking off his socks.
“Bad choice of words.” Rufus sniggered, sitting back down and rubbing at his aching ribs.
“It’s never dull when you two are around.” Jacqueline remarked, circling Aloysius slowly. “I’m not sure I want to know how you managed to get shot in the ass, Avenger.”
“Honestly, I have no idea.” Aloysius shrugged, padding over to the unoccupied bed against the wall. “I didn’t even notice it.”
Doing this awkward looking forward flop onto the cot, Aloysius groaned softly as he finally got to stretch out and rest, even if it was on an uncomfortable hospital bed. Eyes drifting closed, he slipped his glasses off and held them securely as Jacqueline started with her physical examination.
“Anything I should know about?” Marie asked, her full attention locked on Schofield for the moment. “I will bring you an ice mask for your bruises shortly.”
“I will be fine, Miss Marie. Just please tend to Libby and the rest of them.” Schofield pleaded.
“Ah, for once you bring us a gentleman, Raven.” Marie laughed, resting one hand on Shane’s shoulder. “Very well, Capitaine, but do not think that you will escape without at least a basic health check. It is clear you have taken a beating.”
Gliding past Shane, she stopped by Libby’s bed and scanned the equipment quickly. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Better, thank you.” Libby replied. “My head’s less foggy now than it was after surgery.”
“I must say, you’re better behaved than some of our patients.” Marie remarked, checking the bandages wrapped over Libby’s shoulder. “At this rate, you should be safe to fly home in a couple of weeks.”
“I’m betting on it. You’re coming with me, Shane.” she turned to Schofield.
“Naturally. I’m getting sick of this French hospitality.” he remarked drily.
“I said home, Elizabeth, not off on another misadventure. It will be many months before you are fully healed.” Marie warned, turning her focus back to Shane. “Be careful what you say, Capitaine, many people here would take offense at such words.”
“Don’t take it personally, honey babe.” Mother chipped in. “He only has this freaky tendency to run into renegade French commandos wherever he goes.”
Schofield choked to stifle his laughter. This was not going to be the last he would hear from Paris.
“Ahh, he is much like Avenger then.” Jacqueline piped up, looking over her shoulder for a moment as she finished cleaning up the blood on Knight’s ass. “Cannot stay out of trouble.”
“Lass, you have no idea.” Rufus groaned, shaking his head slowly. “I vote we never, ever let these two work together again.”
“Hey!” Aloysius protested, flipping Rufus off behind Jacqueline’s back.
“Either way.” Libby grinned and reached for Shane’s arm with her good hand. “No more missions eh, Scarecrow?”
Schofield warmed to her gentle caress, her delicate features, that winning smile. His life with her was one he wanted to treasure forever and ever.
“Yeah. We’re going home.”
“Might have to be a commercial flight, not sure I’ll be flight ready if I broke ribs.” Rufus warned, trying to work through the pain. “We’ll cover the tickets though, least we can do after all this.”
Schofield thanked him for the generosity, but something clicked in his mind. Knight- a bounty hunter, certainly wasn’t doing this, all of this for free.
“Knight, next room. Something we need to discuss in private.”
“Can you at least let Jacqueline finish stitching me up first?” Aloysius groused, lifting his head again. “Come on, I took a bullet in the ass for you.”
“When you’re done.”
“This had better be important. I’ve earned a chance to rest.” Aloysius sighed, dropping his head back into the pillow. “Fucking Marines.”
“I heard that Avenger.” Jacqueline warned, swatting him in the shoulder. “You mind your language or I’ll get Suzanna in to patch you up.”
“I’ll be good. You don’t have to get her.” Aloysius insisted, trying to ignore Rufus’ stifled sniggering.
When Jacqueline had finished up with Aloysius, he duly followed Schofield into the vacant room Mother had changed in and locked the door behind them.
“So...Knight. You’ve been oddly generous.” Schofield said.
“What are you hinting at, Schofield.” Knight asked, watching the other man closely.
“You have proven yourself a great friend and ally today, but alas, still a bounty hunter.”
Knight narrowed his eyes.
“Fret not, I’m not judging you. We’re the exact same thing, only that we are on different payrolls. Clearly, someone is paying you way more than the sum on my head to justify you saving my ass in the first place. Care to share?”
“I already told you, my employer isn’t up for discussion. But I will say this. Strictly speaking, my contract ended when you disarmed that missile over Mecca. My job was simple, to keep you alive until 12 Noon, 26th of October or until such time as your reason for elimination has been utilised to its fullest potential. This is the first time I’ve ever gone beyond the letter of a contract before. Honestly, I thought about leaving you in that dungeon, your purpose for elimination had been utilized to the fullest by then.” Knight explained, refusing to meet Shane’s gaze.
“Then why? Why did you come back for me?”
“I saw the way your men and women stood by you through everything that went wrong over the last 24 hours, and I chose to stay and fight. Loyalty isn’t something that simply happens, Shane. It is always predicated by an independent selfless act: a supportive word, a kind gesture, an unprovoked act of goodness. Your people are loyal to you because you are the rarest of men in this world. A good man.” Aloysius continued, uncomfortable with talking about this face to face. “You won my loyalty, a feat that no man has done since...well since Rufus and I were betrayed in Yemen back in the 90s.”
Swallowing quickly, he stepped forward and placed his hands on Shane’s shoulders, trying to ignore the fact that they were shaking slightly. He just hoped Schofield put it down to exhaustion and not nerves. He would never live it down if anyone realised he got supremely nervous whenever he had to talk about trust and make promises.
“I don’t trust easily, I can’t anymore. That said, I will make you a promise, a promise I’ve only ever made to one other person. I never even made this sort of a promise to my wife because I knew I couldn’t keep it for her.” He offered, dropping his gaze for a moment. “Anytime, anywhere, if you need help, just make the call and I’ll be there.”
“I guess I just try to do the right thing. Knight...the way you put your life on the line today, I wasn’t expecting it to be out of loyalty, but I’m happy to be wrong. I’ll definitely be in touch if I need your help again.” Schofield replied earnestly.
“Loyalty has a funny way of sneaking up on you like that, Shane. Hell, I never expected I’d end up with Rufus’ loyalty and considering he risked the Raven to save Libby, I’m guessing you’ve got it too now.” Aloysius shrugged, lowering his hands slowly.
“I suppose I owe you my life, though?” He asked with slight suspicion.
“Well...I wasn’t going to mention it but I reckon I saw six moments where you would have died if not for me showing up. Not to mention the fact that it was my gear that led Mother to your location in the guillotine.” Aloysius replied, relaxing a little more now that the trust issue was put aside. “Buy me a few beers and we’ll call it even. No point keeping a tally, right?”
“Sure it was yours and not one of Rufus’ play things? But it doesn’t matter either way. Thanks for being there for Libby and Mother.”
“We don’t really go in for that yours and mine stuff.” Aloysius shrugged, thinking back to that daring rescue Rufus and Mother had pulled off. “Little tip, if you want to let Rufus know that you’re thankful to him, don’t say it with words. Buy him a good bottle of scotch, he’ll understand. Actions speak louder than words and all that stuff.”
“I figured. I have a bottle way back from when my grandpa served, it’s been sitting at my place collecting dust; real vintage stuff, he’d tell me. If you guys are up for it, I’ll host a barbecue over at my friend’s chalet, all expenses paid by yours truly. We’ll open up the bottle there.”
“Whoa, now that’s making a grand gesture Schofield. I’m not even going to ask how you have a friend with a chalet, I honestly don’t think I want to know. You set the time and date, we’ll be there.”
“We ought to discuss this with the others. C’mon, time we got back to them.”
Still a little uncomfortable being in his underwear in front of Libby and Mother, Rufus tried to ignore his discomfort as he set on the bed and lifted his arms so Jacqueline could strap his ribs firmly. Once that was done, he could finally get some sleep and that was really all he wanted right now. Marie had just left to organise the mattresses and some ice masks; the room would be seriously crowded once she was back with enough beds for everyone.
“Hey, kids.” Schofield greeted, oddly chipper.
“Whoa” Mother widened her eyes “Did Knight give you a big-time pep talk?”
“Not quite. I was wondering if you fine people were up for a barbecue, say around Christmas, at Hawk’s chalet.”
“Since when did Hawk have a chalet?” Mother asked warily.
“He didn’t quite know what to do with all the restitution and back-pay the Corps gave him for the ICG mess, so he decided to invest in the holding company for the Blue Diamond Chalet. It’s just a stone’s throw out from Norfolk.”
“Sounds better than the usual Christmas celebrations.” Rufus remarked, grunting softly as Jacqueline pulled the strapping tighter. “Normally we’re either flat our working or holed up in some hotel somewhere.”
Schofield looked to Mother and Libby, seeking approval.
“I’m bringing my Ralphie and those Britney Spears fans of my nieces, if I can peel their screens from their damn cartoons for one afternoon.”
“Brilliant, Mother. Babe?”
“Uhh, really stupid question but who is Ralphie? I read up on Schofield, wasn’t exactly time to get a full background on everyone he worked with.” Aloysius sighed, looking around the room slowly.
“The Han to my Leia, the Aragorn to my Arwen, my prince fucking charming, the love of my life.” Mother announced.
Lowering his arms slowly, Rufus shuddered as a rather unflattering mental picture popped into his head unexpectedly. Groaning softly, he glared at Mother for a moment.
“Seriously, thanks for that charming image of you in that damn slave bikini.” He groused, twisting around and stretching out on his front. “That’s going to take a few drinks to kill.”
“Oh man, did you have to share that image?” Aloysius groaned, looking at Mother again and barely managing to suppress a gag at the very idea. “Some things really don’t need to be spoken aloud.”
“How are you liking that sleeping ‘Hog of yours now, hmm?” Mother gloated.
“Hey, you can’t blame a guy for being honest.” Rufus protested, burying his face in the pillow. “Not my fault you snore really bad.”
“Keep digging, buddy. You’re almost to Australia.” Aloysius sighed, shaking his head slowly. “Mother, if it makes you feel any better, he says I sound like a Blackhawk.”
“And you’re gonna need a medevac Blackhawk if you don’t end this now.” Mother shot back.
“Guys, enough!” Schofield interjected. “Seriously, Christmas barbecue, yay or nay?”
“Provided no one decides to hire us for a festive hunt, we’ll be there.” Aloysius shrugged, crossing the room to help drag in the first mattress. “It happens sometimes, we get a bonus for giving up the holidays.”
Working quickly to haul the mattresses in and spread them out on the floor, Aloysius gratefully accepted the ice mask Marie handed him and sunk down on the mattress nearest to where Rufus was already settled. Sliding the mask over his face, he settled on his stomach and hugged the pillow, his glasses clutched firmly in one hand.
“You have still not let me finish your check up, Capitaine. As you have seen, it is no big problem.” Jacqueline insisted, stopping right in front of Shane. “What are you hiding?”
“Huh? What do you mean ‘what am I hiding?’”
“Look around, Captain. Everyone else is one step away from baring all and you’re still mostly dressed.” Rufus replied, accepting his mask and settling back down. “Plus the fact that you keep dodging your check, you must be hiding something.”
Schofield shrugged and started undressing too, oblivious to anyone’s judgment. Like Knight, Schofield’s body had been a mass of healed scars and bullet holes, and he was willing to bear all of them, except one.
“If you would rather keep the glasses, that is fine.” Jacqueline nodded, examining Shane closely. “This is an unusual graze on your neck, Captain. Very similar to the one we found on Elizabeth’s neck.”
Schofield had completely forgotten about that one. He locked eyes with Libby in a moment of total, primal fear.
Mother and Aloysius sniggered away, while Rufus was completely bemused.
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Jacqueline. They probably scraped their necks squeezing out of tight situations.” Aloysius offered, still sniggering as he tried to cover for the pair. “I’d be more concerned he cracked a rib or two during the ejection that gave him the facial bruises.”
“I-I’m fine, thank you very much. Tis but a scratch.”
“Hmph, always it is the Americans giving us trouble.” Jacqueline scoffed, reaching for the antiseptic and dabbing at the scrape on his neck. “Enough with the tough man act. If something hurts, speak up.”
“It doesn’t hurt.” Schofield murmured, letting her finish patching him up.
“Seriously? After everything you’ve done in the last 24 hours, nothing hurts? You are either completely insane or a supreme adrenaline junkie.” Aloysius remarked, shifting into a slightly more comfortable position on his mattress.
“To be honest?” Schofield chuckled “I’m too tired to hurt, but I have a feeling that ejection’s going to hurt like a bitch in the morning.”
“Yup and you’ll end up with one hell of an interesting bruise pattern to show for it.” Rufus agreed, partially curled up just to fit on the cot he’d taken over.
“It’s already starting to show.” Jacqueline smiled, lightly touching the bruising over Shane’s shoulders. “Get some rest, you will be safe so long as you stay in this room.”
“I hope so. Thanks, Jackie.”
Gathering up their equipment and supplies, the two nurses left quietly to get back to their rounds, allowing the exhausted team to get some rest and recover from their misadventures. Snagging a blanket from under Rufus’ cot, Aloysius dragged it over his back and kicked it over his feet as he settled down. Grabbing another blanket from the pile in the wardrobe, Shane sunk down onto the mattress nearest Libby’s bed, rolling up and snugging down the cold mask to ease the swelling around his eyes and help with the headache also building. Dropping her blanket close to hand, Mother dropped down onto the last mattress, right in between Schofield and Knight. Flipping over onto her side so she could keep an eye on Libby, she relaxed and let her mind drift a little, listening to the calm breathing of her friends on both sides.
Schofield slowly let his mind drift away, reflecting on all that had occurred in the frenetic and bloody 24 hours. A fraudulent mission, devised to lead him into a trap, so as to prevent him from stopping the military industrial complex and an anarchic psychopath from destroying everything he held dear. Killian was dead, but his thoughts turned to the rest of Majestic 12. He could not, would not let them lay a finger on Libby, Mother, or his new friends. This in mind, he gripped Libby tighter and pulled her in, not wanting to lose her ever.
“Shane!” Libby hissed “I can’t breathe again.”
“Ah. Sorry, babe.” he apologized as he loosened his grip.
“What was that for?”
“I’m sorry, I...I almost couldn’t be there for you.”
“Honey, it’s ok.”
“No, it’s not. As long as M-12 exists, you, me, none of us will be safe until I’m dead or they’re behind bars.” Schofield sighed.
“Quit worrying about M-12...they’ll get what’s coming to them.” Aloysius promised, tugging his blanket up a little more. “They crossed a line and will be dealt with accordingly.”
“Ooh, sounds like we’ll be trying a few new tricks.” Rufus added with a grin. “I’ve always wanted to try chemically inducing a heart attack in someone.”
“See? They’ll take care of things for us.” Libby soothed. “It’s time we got some rest.”
Schofield buried his face in Libby’s neck and closed his eyes, mumbling a sleepy “I love you” to her as sleep finally overtook him.
“I love you too, Shane.” Libby replied and kissed his forehead, falling asleep in his warmth.
“Get some sleep buddy, we’ll worry about contacting Buck later.” Aloysius muttered, listening closely to make sure everyone else was safe.
“Sounds like a plan.” Rufus agreed, letting go of his concerns and drifting into a peaceful slumber.
Dozing peacefully, Aloysius smiled faintly as he was surrounded by the familiar sound of Rufus snoring away behind him as Mother started up on the other side. Hearing the door open, he tensed for a moment but relaxed again when he hear Tamika mentioning that she was just leaving them clean clothes and towels. Once she was gone and he was satisfied that everyone was sleeping soundly, he finally gave into his need for sleep and crashed out.