TURN 13: Infiltrators

Frederick looked thoughtful for a moment. "The security system is likely to be autonomous, but may not be. There will be publicly accessable systems within the complex. Those meant for use by their commercial clients. That might include limited access to the security system. For instance, the cameras. But I might be able to find a backdoor for more access. And with a little poking around, I might be able to find the original architect, also. We might be able to get the blue prints, see if there's anything that wouldn't be covered by the security

Frederick seemed much calmer since taking his medicine the previous day.

The team made their way to a restaurant called something Russian which translated to Flesh of Fish or some such. But it was actually reasonably nice. Not a fast food joint, but not terribly high class either. Nondecript, and that's how people liked it.

Adelaide asked Frederick, "How likely is it the space port will have a closed security system, inaccessible to the Net? To me, that would make sense, but you'd know best. And it would be an awfully striking piece of luck if we could get detailed plans of the place instead of just the usual traveller's maps, but whatever you can do."

Adelaide munched a fish stick as she thought. "We're going to want a reconnaissance of the place before we go. Volunteers?

"I'll g-g-g-go." Ed raised his hand just as she finished asking.

"I'll go," Diana said.

"And I'm in, too," smiled Addy.

Nadya looked from Addy to Ed and back again. She said, "I go, too."

"No." Addy replied. "You are our only pilot. If something happens to you right now, the whole mission is a bust. We need expendables only for reconnaissance."

Nadya's face reddened and the normally pale woman looked like she was just about ready to hit someone, but Adelaide kept her cool. "Njet!" She jumped to her feet a looked about to cause a scene. Nadya had been sitting next to Diana in the diner, but now she stood at the table with her chair tipped over behind her. Eyes were beginning to stare at the developing scene. There were a lot of expressions crossing Nadya's face, not the least of which were even some confusion and self-doubt. It was clear that there were a lot of things going on in her head that she simply didn't have the words for right now.

At Addy's words about expendables, Frederick looked up from his coffee to make a comment. "We have no expendables on this mission. If they have what you say they have, we will need everyone once we get to the station."

For a moment, Frederick looked like he was about to become Nadya's hero of the hour. That is, until Adelaide looked thoughtful and then shook her head in disagreement. "I respect what you are saying, Frederick. But what I'm talking about here is an advanced reconnaissance mission ahead of our normal mission start time. It will be dangerous because it will be purposefully testing the security for weaknesses and delicate because we can't afford to trigger them or put them them on high alert.

"In a sense, yes, I agree no one is expendable, strictly speaking. But there is an order of precedence here. Namely, if we loose Nadya right now, we don't go. Period. There's no way we can find another pilot we can trust and be ready to go at 3 am tomorrow morning. We loose anybody else, then fine. You can just hire a replacement, like you did with Chalk. Muscle is easy to find. Frederick, this means that the advance reconnaissance could use you, too. If you can't break in to security from the outside, then we're going to need you to tap into a LAN line on the inside somewhere. I'm afraid that I don't see you being any more or less expendable than the rest of us at this stage of the game."

At the comment that he might be expendable, Frederick raised an eyebrow as if to say "Maybe you are" but he says nothing. He got out his cyberdeck and hooked up to the network interface included in their dining area.

Nadya, still standing, stared back at Adelaide obviously upset. She didn't look ready to give in. Nadya looked to Diana for support.

"True, but what you are forgetting Adelaide, is that me and Nadya are probably the best suited for the job. Both of us are used to these types of mission, and have .... been created for such a thing. Besides, if you want the best results, you need to send in the best that you have." Diana said.

She gave a quick wink to Nadya.

"Now, unless someone else here has experience in doing recon, and playing the sneek and peek game, speak up now, or forever hold your peace," she said, looking around.

Nadya looked triumphantly redeemed and smiled at Diana's words. Her own motivations aside, what Diana said made sense to her, especially since she wanted them to.

Adelaide raised an eyebrow at Diana. "And of course I meant that I should take part in the reconnaissance. Between Nadya and I, I am the more experienced at infiltration. 53 successful missions without failure and 22 confirmed targets eliminated. I get in. If things go bad, Nadya gets me out. That's always been our tactic." Those numbers but a new perspective on the woman's age. It should probably have taken a between ten and fifteen years to complete that many missions, and depending on when they started her out, she could actually be around 30 years old.

Adelaide paused as she tried to stare down Nadya. It wasn't going to work. Nadya never backed down from anything. And that thought suddenly made her crave another cigarette, bad. She resisted the temptation, however, and returned to the business at hand.

"Fine. Nadya is on reconnaissance, too."

As Frederick connected, Ed's senses went wide. He turned his head every so often so as to track anyone that would be watching what was happening.

Frederick logged on and began his search. Immediately, his face went grim. A couple minutes went by with him getting getting madder and madder. A few choice explative escape his lips and in frustration him removes his visor and Jabs the off button to his deck. Putting his head in his hands, he sits and gathers his thoughts.

"The Moscow Space Launch Center has been closed down until further notice. All public Net services have been shut down as well. Our shuttle is probably on the launch pad, ready to go, and even if we get to it, they won't let us launch."

Diana frowned at the news. "Okay, what about another launch site?" she asked. "Granted this was the closest, and, I suspect, the reason it was shut down was because they suspect we are here. It would have been a logical step. So, what next? Where's the next launch site?"

Adelaide sat back in her chair and put a hand to her forehead. This was worse than she had anticipated.

Nadya did not seem bothered that the launch site was closed or not, however. "Njet. We require no other launch site. This news changes nothing. If Addy's reconnaissance does not fail, we proceed. Someone has discovered our plan. So, what? They can not stop us. I am military rated. We switch *their* bait."

Addy stared hard at Nadya trying to figure out what plan the blonde Russian had up her sleeve this time.

Frederick flipped his deck back on and proceeded to type. He didn't bother with the visor, since he was just sending an e-mail. He typed the following and sent it to the same address he'd used to contact the two women.

MSLC closed. Need back door. Do you have acc?


It took a few minutes, but the response was fast:

Maybe. Tapped CounterStrike Security line once, collected a series of
encrypted passwords the use to contact their clients. One of them was
to access to MSLC sec alarm systems and release ECM and ground
forces -- fast response thing. Turns out the acc has been shut down. No
outside access. Someone's buttoned the thing up tight, electronically.
Maybe can use it once inside the installation.

Use your deck's unencryption for the enclosed attachment. Code is AD's
voice pattern with key word.

The email was unsigned and did include the enclosure. Asking Addy for her keyword, she complied by bending closer to the machine and quoting, "Gateway." The needed access resolved.

Frederick re-encrypted the code with his other codes, so as to have it handy.

"Now we have a code to the security system, but it has to be used from the inside. If they spot the code's usage during a trial run, it may not be available for the real thing. So, I don't want to do a trial run, it should be all or nothing."

Adelaide looked hard at Frederick, her one dark, and one odd-looking double-pupil green eye seeming to focus on something behind the thin hacker.

"This is no trial run. You have to have information. Going in there blind would be like playing Russian Roulette, no offense Ti. But you're right. You don't have to go in." She drummed her fingernails on the table.

"It must be fast and stealthy. One person. Get in, check security, get out with the information. A loss of a single individual will not hamper the team, but the benefits could mean the difference between success and failure.

"I'm going in alone. I will meet you out front of this place at 3am tonight -- no don't tell me where you will be until then. I don't need to know, and it's that much less information they can get from me if I'm captured and braintaped." It was clear what that meant. If you were captured by the military security, often they taped the brain, discarded the body as so much waste and dissected the mind using near-AI level Expert Systems. Torture was only used if they were short on time.

"If you don't see me, you're on your own. Plan for it. If you do, I'll have a route to the ship. And I think I know what Nadya is talking about. If they know we're going to try to hijack the Krupp Aerospace shuttle, then we go for a military grade escort instead. MSLC has a good many Platzwaffe vehicles at their disposal."

Nadya, who had sat back down when she had thought the argument had been won, began to interject. "No. We stay together--"

"Nadya! Shut UP! I don't fucking need you at my back all the time! I did fine without you for how long?" Nadya looked taken aback, not sure how to respond. "How LONG, Nadya?"

"Two years, three months."

"Two years. I didn't need you then. I don't need you now." The words were hard. Cold. And needed to be said. And it accomplished exactly what Addy had intended. "I will see you tonight." Addy stood and turned to go.

Nadya said nothing at all for a few shocked moments. It seemed impossible her feelings could not be hurt by that. As Adelaide walked out the front door, Nadya suddenly slid out of the booth, rudely shoving past Ti in the process, and beat a hasty retreat to the ladies room.

[Click here to see what happened when Diana and Nadya went to the ladies room. And no it's not what you're thinking...]

Gisele rubbed the bridge of her nose with her left hand to alleviate a fictional headache in an expression of frustration.

"This is all too complicated," she said very quietly, mainly to herself. As far as the bodyguard knew, she was in over her head. Secret military organizations, special security squads, international manhunts... And herself caught in the middle. It made her head swim. It frankly made her want to throw up.

And then, it dawned on her. She realized that she was the weakest link of the team. She had no experience with this sort of thing. No training aside from some hand-to-hand and limited gunplay. Frederick didn't need a bodyguard, he needed a fucking reinforced survival shelter.

No wonder she hadn't been at ease since Chalk's death. She hadn't had a good night's sleep and had been constantly plagued by these feelings of inadequacy for days. After that point.. nothing she'd done had been right. She was outclassed, outgunned, outshined. She wasn't just in over her head. Gisele felt... useless. She had called Ti expendable, when it was really her all along.

"Fuck," she hissed under her breath, then mouthed the curse several more times.

Her right hand clenched unconsciously on the table where it had been resting, drawing the fingers up tightly and digging four small furrows in the laminate table surface.

"Hey, it aint all that bad." Ti reaasured her, misunderstanding the source of her frustration.

"I mean, this is all in a day's work for you guys, right? Zip in, fly up, zip back. Hell, as the half-bright-amature of the group, I should be shitting my pants right now."

In fact, he was feeling a little better now that he had some food in him. Still, he kept looking over his shoulder like he expected Bella Lugousi to be hovering over him in a black cape and pointy teeth.

He hadn't said a word the entire time volunteers were being asked for but that was on purpose. He really didn't want to jump at the chance to go against an army of crack security or even military troops, but he knew he should be in there to handle his share.

Except that he wasn't much of a combatant. His skills were all brute force. If he had a nice sized piece of concrete to he could drop on the bad guys, great, but other than that he'd be screwed. Just in the last, what, three days he'd shown that. First with loosing his team in Moscow, then being caught completely flat footed by his new partners and almost getting killed during negotiations, and finally against Mr. Bones the other night.

What more proof did he need that he was way out of his leauge? Hell, he might have been stronger than Giselle, but where he was vulnerable she probably would have handed the bastard his own head during the fight. Or at least he THOUGHT cyborg bodies weren't vulnerable to poison. Having never changed the oil on one he couldn't say for sure.

Eating his borscht and tearing off another hunk of bread he let the raging argument unfold without his input. Looked like about every other partner/lover spat he'd seen in his life. When would people learn that you just can't mix business with pleasure? Sometimes people who were friends or even more would just get in the way. Best to keep emotions out of dangerous partnerships like this.

Oops, it looked like the cat fight was coming to a close as Addy left the resteraunt and Nadya stormed off into the bathroom. Ti really should have paid better attention but it wasn't his problem anyway.

"Hey, Gisele, wanna pass the pepper?" The big man asked the bodyguard. Noticing Slave as well, a thought passed through his head.

Gisele slid the plastic pepper shaker over to Ti, abandoning her table vandalism for the moment. Any more blatant and they'd charge her for the damages.

"Does she ever eat? And how come you guys can talk to her but I can't. Do you all have radios implanted?"

"Yeah, it eats. But not like we do, at least. Anything that's still got biological parts needs nutrients, and some baby food just mixed with water is cheaper than lab-made solutions." Gisele ignored the fact that even she didn't eat the same way the rest of them did. With remarkably less biological matter, she didn't need as much food for her system.

"And yeah, basically we do. Some of us anyway, but that's the only way it *can* talk. If it was going to be out in open space, it didn't really need to be able to talk to anyone, did it? There'd be nobody to hear." She surreptitiously unfolded a paper napkin to cover the damage to the diner's table. It wouldn't be discovered until the group was already long gone.

"And whattya think about that?" He continued. "I don't know about you, but sometimes I'm not even comfortable going up tall ladders, let alone hitting orbit. NO idea how I'm going to be handling zero-g."

Gisele made a soft 'hmm' sound. "Treat it like swimming. That's what I've heard anyway. Never done it myself, either."

As he continued to spoon the thick soup he also noticed Giselle not eating.

"So I guess it's true, then. You're a conversion too?"

He slurped his drink.

"What's that like? Can you feel anything or is it all just cold data? I know it must be nice to be without a lot of the frailties we mortals face, but you know... I think I'd actually miss sneezing."

She stared at the table for a moment, sliding the paper napkin across the damage she'd done. "It's not as bad as all that. Everything still feels real. It's not like they skimped on the sensory input."

She snaked out a hand to pick up Ti's fork. He wouldn't need it for eating the soup. "And anyway. Things are... better now." She balled up the stainless steel fork like it was a piece of waste paper and dropped it in Ti's lap. For the first time in a long while, she smiled.

A while later, a more composed Nadya left the lady's room, eventually followed by Diana, who had slipped away sometime in the conversation.

It was generally agreed that some rest was in order before it was time to go, so a cheap motel was found that accepted cash only and the group retired for a while and rested. All too soon, the tired bunch were dragging themselves out of bed and getting ready to go.

Nadya was outfitted and fully armed and armored in her traditional loose fitting, white clothes and armored jacket. She was packing plenty of heat as well.

Ed dressed up in his work clothes.  His pants bloused over his boots, face paint on in the perfect locations, his hair, already being short, was held in place by his boonie cap.  His dark gloves laped over his wrists and his fatigues picked up any slack.  He checked his side arm and ensured his staff was easily accessible.  When asked if he was ready he replied clearly "Blue, up" followed immediatly by a thumbs up.

Frederick rose and showered early, having set his skull comp to wake him at a specified time. He dressed in his armorweave outfit and emptied his backpack. Rigging a shoulder harness to his Cyberdeck, he strapped it on, much as the combat specialists in the group might have rigged a shot gun for quick access.

Also from the backpack was pulled a more traditional hip holster with a 9mm automatic in it. As he strapped it on, the others could see the clear pocket on the outside contained a Heer issue weapons permits. The name was clearly the skinny hacker's, yet he couldn't possibly have been in the military. He was too young and to weak. Yet hadn't he said something about being wanted in America?

Finally he pulled a small metal case out that looked something like an eyeglass case. Opening to check it's contents, the group could see it was a hypodermic and a vial of medicine. Pulling them out, he quickly draws himself a dose and injects in in his upper arm. Replacing them in the case, he slips the case into a pocket on his thigh and prepares to leave, weapon and deck in plain sight.

Ti awoke in his customary boxers and stretched, flexed and rotated his neck to work out the last of the kinks he'd accumulated. Being seriously injured plus having undergone invasive surgery tended to slow people down a bit, but thanks to Ed he was feeling all right.

After dressing he drank his breakfast once more and donned the heavy, recently cleaned armored long coat and checked the action on his new revolver. Satisfied that the auto functions were working properly and the firing mechanism was smooth he returned the blaster to its holster. Same thing went for the big-bore scatter gun, which he held in his left hand while drawing the Jackhammer once more and posed for a few seconds before the room's mirror.

That's when he realized he was being scrutinized by his partners for his macho antics.

"Uh... just checking the balance."

"Right..." Gisele chided him. "'Are you talking to me?'" she said in her best fake American accent. She didn't know if Ti would get it, but it was terribly funny to her. She even laughed a little.

It took Ti a moment to penetrate the bad accent, but his face lit up as he
caught the reference.

"Am I talkin' to you? Am I talkin' to YOU?"

He looked around the room.

"You don't see anyone else here, do ya? I MUST be talkin' to you!"

"Pacino in Taxi Driver, right? How about this one... Seeing as the .44 magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world and can take your head clean off, I know what you must be thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five. Well, to tell the truth, in all the excitement I kinda lost count myself. So here's what you have to ask yourself..."

"Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk!"

The pistol went away once more and the shotgun muzzle lowered and was concealed cleverly beneath the coat. One last look into the mirror and a hand through his thick, black hair saw Ti ready to leave.

On the streets he once more became nervous, sure that any second now someone would recognize him and drop a dime to the Michaelovics. Standing before the resteraunt he spotted Vincent 'the squid' Squicenzi walking by. Imported heat from the south, The Squid would have sliced open his own dog if he'd thought there was money in the pooch.

Nasty fellow, Ti had once called friends.

Standing tall and thick in his ominous grey coat, he appeared the obvious sentry and didn't carry a subtle, casual air at all. Anyone who'd see the group would instantly know something was up by his stiff, purposeful eyes.

He didn't have any comments to make about the MSLC defenses. That was the job of the planners. As a hitter, it was Victor's job to break things just so long as someone pointed them out.

As Ti watched both Frederick and Ed leave he couldn't help but think of how obvious the group would be on the streets. First there was cammo paint and now this bizzar abberation of combat gear. How could they not be spotted? The SS could probably observe them from orbit given their outlandish appearance.

Then he caught his reflection again and realized that with someone this good looking in the group they couldn't stay hidden for long anyway.

"How ya' holding up, Gis?" He looked to see if the bodyguard was still feeling the anxiety.

Gisele had dressed like she had lately, with a bit more of a street-thug flair. Big black boots, black jeans, and a dark grey tanktop. On top of that was her heavy armored trenchcoat and a pair of mirrored shades. With her hair pulled back, she looked ready for anything, but still no more suspicious than your average street punk. No camo facepaint or ammo belts strapped across her chest, but the sort of quiet menace common to people in biker bars. What lay under the coat was another matter entirely.

Packing her favorite .40 and a few spare clips, she'd also asked for something larger. She wouldn't need it on the station, but getting there was the hard part. Getting to the shuttle would take the most firepower, from what she'd heard, and she wasn't going in unprepared.

If anything, Gisele seemed more at ease than anyone, though it could have easily been a front. "I'm fine. I don't feel like dying today." She was a bit kinder to Ti than before. Even more odd, she was also nicer to Aleph.

Soon the group was out front of the restaurant to meet Adelaide. 3 am sharp, and the place was dead silent. A few minutes went by as the group restlessly waited. There was no sign at all of Adelaide.

Then Frederick noticed a small data disk lying on to of a newspaper vendor. Curious, he put the thing in his deck and discovered a pre-recorded message, with both voice and data. After verifying it was clean of viruses, he played back the message over the deck's speaker, volume on low.

"I have been able to scout the target and determine weaknesses in the defenses. The bad news is that there is a platoon of heavily armed Battle Frame troopers in command. I saw that personnel carrier that passed on the road outside of the place. I guess luck just isn't with us on this one.

"They have a large number of minor support personnel there as well. The commercial field and spaceport terminal are heavily staffed and guarded. Someone knows exactly what we are after and they mean to stop us.

"Included on this disk is all the data about the security systems I could gather. I've also downloaded some basic maps one usually gets as a visitor, but I've marked a path of least resistance. You will see that it does not lead to the commercial fields where the Krupp ship is seated.

"They will be expecting us to go for that ship, and I have decided not to disappoint them. I've currently returned to the MSLC and am waiting there. At the first sign of trouble, I'll be making a noisome break directly from the Krupp shuttle. Follow the path I've indicated. It will lead you directly to the military sector. There are two armed escort shuttles and one heavily armed Corvette. We don't have the personnel to fly the Corvette, but Nadya can easily handle an escort shuttle. Take one of them. If you can, sabotage the others.

"Don't wait for me. I'll draw all the attention I can to give you a chance to escape, and you are going to need every inch of lead to make it. Good luck, and good bye."

The data on the disk was intact and placed in simple compressed image format.

Nadya, eyes wildly furious at the news, smashes the newspaper machine with a couple kicks. Straightening her coat, she seemed to calm down and then turn and march back into the van.

Diana moved to her side, and put a hand on her shoulder.

She wasn't really sure what exactly she could do for her lover. She was well aware that she and Adalaide were extremely close, and that their rather public break up was somewhat final. She just wished it hadn't had to have been done that way, if just to save Nadya the grief she went through now. "Hey, honey, relax, okay? Everything will be just fine." She whispered.

"Adelaide did a stupid, adolescent, rotten thing! Now she gets herself killed to make sure we go through with the mission. Stupid!!" Angry or not, Nadya was probably right. Still, it would seem a waste not to take advantage of what Adelaide tried to do.

Before getting ready to go, Diana checked weapon inventory and frowned over what they have. She asked Ti if he knew of anywhere to get any "serious hardware".

"Well, as long as they haven't been raided in the last couple of days, sure. I know a couple of fixers who'd be able to set you up... 'course, you couldn't let them see my face or we'd all be in hot water."

Nadya seemed to be more her normally cool self due to Diana's kind attention as the topic was changed from Addy to buying weapons off the street. The team tooled about in the van for a little while until Ti identified a location where they could pick up some weapons, but stayed in the van as someone else made the contact.

"Okay, how about a name they trust that we could drop?" Diana says. "That might help. I think we are going to need some serious firepower to really pull this off. At least one or two assault rifles, and a variety of grenades, from flash bang to fragmentation, to white phospherous." She says.

Ti tried to come up with a good one, but he was afraid to show his face. Therefore, the team was able to get access only to some flash and tear gas grenades as longs as small (legal) arms since the sellers wouldn't trust complete strangers enough to sell them anything highly illegal.

Diana assembled her shopping list and ordered the purchases as Frederick shelled out the cash for them. Diana ordered a 5.56mm Semi-Auto Assault rifle with 500 rounds of ammo, a selection of smoke and tear gas grenades, extra 9mm ammo for her SMG (30 rounds). They also had one pair of Blender mines, which she happily took off their hands.

"Say, is there anyway we could disguise her? Maybe get some molded latex to use as skin?" Ti suggests. He was referring to Aleph. "How long would that take?"

Nadya turned in her seat to look in the back of the van. "Not a bad idea, Ti. Such things are often used to hide cyberware. It is unlikely a standard place will be open at 3 am, but maybe we find a street doc, da? We should go quickly if we do so, though. Adelaide waits for us."

"Well, I'd say it was too late to do anything about that now. Maybe after the mission we can get her covered, though I don't think she looks half bad as is," Ti said. "Why don't we head straight for the base, then. Might as well get it over with."

Aleph broadcasts: //This unit must remain hidden.//

Ti, not having the ability to hear a word Aleph says, dilligently digs around in his ear with his finger, wishing for a more appropriate tool for the job like a car key.

"Hey, Ti, you know the city, if you were in a crunch, and need to see a street doc, at this time of the morning, who would you go to?" Diana asked.

"It doesn't have to be perfect. It's not even permanent," Gisele interjected. Something cheap would do. She could brush up the rest with some makeup so as to pass for human for now. No sense in wasting good money on the thing.

Inwardly, Ti realised that this was a good thing. Whatever made the group less conspicuous was certainly welcome, but he had his doubts as to Aleph's reactions. How much humanity was left beneath that chrome shell? How would she react to the false face, not her own?

It must have been difficult for her to adjust to the blank dome where her features had been, but what if instead she saw a grotesgue mockery of flesh not her own staring back? Not just a stranger, but a false one at that?

For all he knew, it could set her into a psychotic rage or drive her catatonic. Who knew if she was prepared to accept the shock of what that must carry.

Well, this was all assuming that she still saw in the visible specrturm. He didn't think she completely relied on her radar for input, in fact it would be probably be difficult to make fine repairs using that alone, but anything was possible.

"I don't know... maybe we should just go?" He made an obvious show of checking for tails.

But yes, in fact Ti could remember at least three different streetdocs they could use that do business all night. The closest one was Doc Sparkz. He ran a fairly lucrative business patching up ware used by the mafia and didn't ask any questions not directly related to doctoring.

Moments later the van was pulling in to the back alley adjacent to the Doc's place of business. It was an old brick and glass warehouse with many windows missing and replaced with boards. Trash littered the street and newspapers fluttered in the moody but cool breezes. Ti pointed out the entrance to the place and Doc Sparkz was quick to arrive at the door, less than a minute after the first knock.

For a meager 100 marks, the doc was able to produce a reasonably believable disguise for Aleph, not only including realistic skin and hair for Aleph's head, but also including synthetic skin "gloves" that went up to Aleph's elbows. With a shirt on, she could pass as reasonably human. A closer look would probably give it away, but even then, she'd just be viewed as a cheap model cyborg conversion -- someone who was unable to afford a higher quality body like Gisele's very human and purposefully ordinary looking one.

Doc Sparkz amicably tossed in a basic speech synthesizer for free since Frederick was perfectly capable of hooking it up himself (and so was Aleph, but it was much easier to do if someone else did it) and such devices were very cheap.

In all, it took merely 30 minutes out of the team's evening and they were soon headed south toward the MSLC.

The center itself seemed a forest of launch towers and pads from the distance, but as the van closed, the sheer scale of the complex hit the team members. Massive rocket engines bore small payloads (atomic engines were not permitted to operate in the atmosphere). Once beyond the upper atmosphere safely past the polluted and quite volatile upper atmosphere, lauch rockets would be ejected and small, powerful atomic rockets could be used to rapidly accelerate a shuttle into a proper trajectory.

Spotlights strobed and wandered everywhere over the grounds, their powerful beams visible even miles up the road. It was obvious even from this distance that the place was on high alert. Small lights flew among the giant rockets, moving in and out as they patrolled. Diana's acute vision could even pick out the detail at night. She identified them as BattleFrames, souped up for flight and on patrol.

Frederick could immediately see the value of Addy's map. Approach toward the normal parking area was indicated, but a manhole was identified as have minimal security. Adelaide thoughtfully identified several sections of tunnel right on the perimeter of the place that could provide someone a chance to tap into thick bundles of various types of network wires, mainly fibre. This could provide a link into the security system, which was crucial to cripple. From there, Addy marked a path of least resistance to the military quadrant of the Launch Center, but noted that although the path was only patrolled by a couple easily avoided BattleFrames, there could be standard security foot patrols that would have to be neutralized extremely quickly to avoid ending up with the whole platoon of BattleFrames coming down on the team.

Frederick suggested that he and Gisele go first. Straight into a tunnel so he can hopefully shut down the automated defenses. He warned them though, that shutting down the systems could alert the gaurds that something was going on.

Ti questioned this tactic. "So by the time the rest of us catch up, they've posted eyes along every sqaure inch of the perimeter? I don't know about that. What if we came in with you, but kept out of the way until you shut down the base?"

Ed nodded at this portion.

"And how much can you deactivate? Is there anyway you could put a virus or something into the battleframe systems? I imagine those thing take a lot of computing power to keep running, if we can drop them, this whole thing just became less lethal."

Frederick looked irritated. Kind of like he though Ti didn't have any right to question his abilities.

"I won't know how much I can deactivate until I get in there. I should be able to shut down everything attached to whatever system I plug into. I somehow doubt that includes the battleframes, but you never know. Once I have the system down. Keeping it down shouldn't be much of a problem. It depends on if they have an autonomous backup system or not. Backup systems usually aren't autonomous though."

Gisele nodded at Frederick's plan. She was new to the whole 'military assault tactics' business, and it sounded like a reasonable idea to her. And yet...

"Tell us the plan, Nadya. We don't have a lot of time to waste bickering. Split up or not?"

Diana pulled up to the end of the massive, but empty MSLC parking lot with lights off. There were no gates and Adelaide made no indication of security this far out. This way, the team would be exposed on the ground for a minimum amount of time, without the van's approach being obvious.

Nadya looked at Gisele and replied, "I just drive the ship. This was your idea and Addy's idea." She paused to consider for a moment, however, looking back into Gisele's hopeful eyes.

"Okay. I tell you then. We split up and some of us will get left behind or worse, I think. We stay together, watch each other's backs like Brandenburg Kommandos. We don't have enough manpower for two teams now. You thank Addy for that. We go, go fast now. Anyone can't keep up? Then you and Ti carry them. Someone get hurt? You and Ti carry them. Slave, help Ti unless we need you to cut a way in somewhere--"

A mechanical monotone cut Nadya off: "Not Slave. Aleph."

Nadya looked at the painted sockets that served as Aleph's false eyes and nodded, accepting the correction. "Aleph."

Nadya continued, "-- Frederick is veteran, he knows what to do. You ask him, too.

"I will not slow down for those who can't run. When we get to the military escort, I fire up engines. No waiting. We just go. If you are on board, then you make it. If you are not..." She didn't need to finish the sentence. It was clear that she felt the level of risk here was too high to risk the group's mission for the sake of individuals.

Nadya checked her weapons and motioned for the rest to do the same, making sure the action on her own Jackhammer and silenced MP10 submachine gun was clear and working smoothly. When everyone was ready she motioned to Diana and they silently slid the van's side door back and jumped out, each covering a different field of fire. Soon the group was hustling to the indicated manhole, Diana leading and Nadya at her shoulder. The two women made excellent point "men" due to their stealth and battle readiness.

The first part went smoothly. Most of the team members were not stealthy, but with two trained agents in the lead, they were able to spot possible fields of view by passing security personnel and halt the team to wait for them to pass by.

The trip to the designated manhole entrance was fairly short, as it mainly just crossed the parking area and quad parking ramps. Soon Gisele was dropping people down the manhole, to be caught by Ti's strong arms below, speeding their descent. Pools of cold water bit at the feet quickly numbed them, but the team sloshed quickly down the tunnel. Stopping at an 'L' shaped turn, Frederick was able to identify the cables Addy indicated on the map. Around the corner would probably be a security camera and a sealed door.

Ti thought it was bad timing to have him be the first down the manhole, as he was likely to be the slowest mover of the group. That created an instant bottleneck, but at least it meant people wouldn't be leaving him behind... yet.

He huffed and chugged along the open asphalt like a locomotive up a hill but made it.  Enhanced musculature already fired up, he dropped neatly down the hole and caught the others like children.  All but the two conversion jobs, whom he assumed didn't need his assistance anyway.  If they did, then he'd take the bruises 'for the team' without complaint.

Once his hands were free, the Jackhammer and assault shotgun appeared as if by magick and he took up the rear.  He was tough enough to absorb a strong attack from that direction and keep firing.  For a little while at least.

Locked, cocked and ready to open fire at the slightest provocation, Ti followed the group.

Ed took a few seconds and 'searched' for any other forms of contact. However, no psychic emanations were in evidence.

Aleph started catching on, self-initiating a radar burst to sweep the area surrounding the group.

Frederick activated his cybersystems and quickly striped the optical cable he needed. Plugging his deck into the cable, he quickly searched for a login routine. Once found, he examined a list of commands and routines available to him. While considering his options, he prepared an invasive program (virus) to automatically reinitiate the routines he'd select if they finished, or if the system was rebooted. He looked for something that would completely cripple the system, like low-level network diagnostics and repair. He also was searching for a list of attached system types.

Victor stood guard nervously as Fred did his work. The two guns bobbed with practiced ease in both of his hands, one being guided by the newly implanted weapon link and the other going by the 'point and click' philosophy. His oncentration was focused on the pistol as the scattergun only needed to be given a vague direction to blast and the cone effect should take over from there.

Internal Systems responded with a login prompt that also carried a Message of the Day:

"I'm sorry," said a feminine voice in German. "The MSLC is currently shut down until further notice. Unauthorized access to the the system will be met with lethal force," the voice continued pleasantly. "Have a nice day, and thank you for Launching the Moscow Way!"

Once he began intrusion measure, Frederick knew it was a matter of time before CounterMeasures detected his assault and countered. He started a clock on the iDeck(tm).

5 Seconds.

Frederick quickly loaded his Deck with the Code Screen III and internal SkullComp with the Stealth Sniffer to check packets for encrypted passwords. Here, Frederick knew that their enemies had made a mistake. There was no Sys Admin currently watching the system, and no Expert Systems. However, the power of the pack of mainframes protecting the Space Center's systems was formidable. Frederick made a mental note to get his Sniffer upgraded ASAP, but was just able to grap one packet he thought could contain authentication. If he could masquerade as whatever user this was in the system, there was a chance he could get farther than the annoying login prompt.

15 Seconds.

Next, Frederick loaded his Decoder VII. This was top-of-the-line, and required for his job against America last year. He just happened to make his own copy of the program before he turned it in to Resources. The program instantly went to work decrypting the packet. The first attempt attempt failed and Frederick slapped the wet sewer wall in frustration.

25 Seconds.

Taking a deep breath, Frederick tried again. The packet was captured, wasn't going anywhere. It was just a matter of time before his systems cracked the encryption. He looped the task, rapidly creating a script that would keep retrying until he had success. Frederick was thinking bad thoughts about mainframes.

55 Seconds.

At last!! Frederick cracked the system encryption and the userid for HSCHMIDT, password Crush20The31#Resistance. Whoever this 'Schmidt' was, he seemed to have an attitude. No matter. It was time to try the login.

"Login accepted," decreed the pleasant female voice over the iDeck's audio. "Welcome, OberLeutnant Schmidt. We are happy you have chosen to police the MSLC today. How may I be of service?"

"Let's see what's available," Frederick muttered to himself. He keyed in a request for status on all major security systems.

65 Seconds.

"All systems, operational Oberleutnant. Please select from the following menu."

On screen, a list of items showed up:

1) Closed-circuit security video menu. (requires retinal scan verification)

2) Security Roster

3) Security Augmentation Systems (new and temporary. requires retinal scan verification.)

4) Flight Status

**Alert Status: Green**
(observe Red Ball for emergency conditions)

First checking the Launch Status and Security Rosters to get information about the current situation. Only after he had all the useful information from those areas did he fire up his Override program and go after the Security Augmentation Systems.

Flight Status: No launches expected. All launch preparations were halted as of 3pm yesterday afternoon. Advise public that business will resume as soon as the current security crisis is resolved.

Security Rosters: Security is doubled, with TranSecure personnel hired to fill in the ranks. There are currently 25 four-man patrols watching the launch area and running regular patrols around the inner portion -- a 15 square mile facility. Automated Security only has been emplaced to clear the no-public zone around the Launch Center.

12 BattleFrames including one officer in a specialized frame has been placed on loan from the military to reinforce the admittedly weak and cobbled-together MSLC and TranSecure forces.

In addition, the attached Platzwaffe detachment is on medium alert status, prepared to assist the civilian side of the Center.

Special Orders: In the event a hostile terrorist force attempts to seize control of a shuttle, ABSOLUTELY NO EXPLOSIVE OR HEAVY ORDNANCE ARE TO BE EMPLOYED! HIGHLY VOLATILE fuels are present in the launch area. While Standard Flame Retardant Armored Materials are always used in the construction of commercial and military spacecraft, an accidental ignition would prove immediately lethal, although a chain reaction is unlikely due to spacing and concrete ramparts.

2 minutes 5 seconds.

Now Frederick moved to go in deep and mess with the security. After loading the Override VII program, he went to work on the dangerous part. This system was very powerful and very well protected, however the Remote program was able to launch a minor virus that would disrupt random video cameras for the next 8 minutes. That would give away the fact they'd been hacked but it no longer mattered because a system-wide broadcast message announced "Intrusion detected: Potential security breach. Please save and secure all data and log off nonessential users."

This was familiar to Frederick's practiced eye. Now a live Sysop would be contacted and he'd be logging into the system any minute. When that happened, the full power of the system would be used to try to locate the physical location of intrusion. Since the Center is offline, they already know the breach had to occur within the compound, somewhere.

The question was, would random glitches in the video security system provide them with enough of an edge? Could Frederick risk staying online and pressing the Override attack?

Frederick suddenly found himself saying something he never thought he'd ever say. Especially to non-Arians. "Go. Leave me and move. I'll catch up if I can. They'll find us in a couple minutes, but we need more protections. So, go."

Frederick didn't know if any of them would stay behind to protect him. But he felt he had to press the Override.

Ed prepaired to leave at the request. He looked back at the hacker and nodded. Waiting for additional assistance, Ed looked down the length of the corridor. Ed identified the door at the end of the tunnel that would take them all officially inside MSLC. He also identified a camera which swiveled to aim directly at him and a machine gun mount that suddenly clicked and whirred to life.

Throughout the tense minutes of Frederick's hack, Gisele put her back to the wall and kept looking side to side. Idly (or perhaps nervously), she fingered the hammer of the Jackhammer revolver, and must have checked the safety on her .40 at least three times. And she kept rolling her left wrist, as if to keep it limber.

Then Frederick told them to go on without him. And for a moment, Gisele hesitated.

Rationally, she knew that taking as much force as possible would help to break through any resistance they found, and ultimately that getting up in the shuttle was the most important thing. And yet, this was exactly the sort of thing she was hired for. To protect their hacker in exactly these sorts of situations.

Unsure of what kept her rooted to the spot, her thoughts trailed slightly. Gisele didn't even know if she was just staying because it was her job, or that she was afraid to die in the firefight above ground, or something else. There was this certain... rapport she found she had with Frederick.

But screw that.

"You heard him, go!" She pointed with her .40 down the sewer tunnel Addy's map had marked, her tone of voice obviously intended to spark the others to quicker action. She knew that once the rest had started off, she'd still be right where she stood.

"No dice, Supergirl. You're gonna need more than this zoner to watch your back when the trouble starts. I'm staying."

Ti's voice held a no nonsense tone that would brook, absolutely, zero argument from Giselle. He'd already lost his best friend in the world by bugging out of a hot situation and wasn't looking to repeat the action this soon. Unfortunately for Giselle and Fred, his presence would have to be tolerated just a little while longer yet.

The team steadfastly stayed rooted to the spot. Perhaps remembering Nadya's words about not waiting for stragglers and Frederick's value to the mission kept them from abandoning him to his work. Still, having told them to leave, whatever happened, Frederick's conscience might at least be clear.

Frederick re-launched Override, focussing on the security systems once more. He was met with astounding success this time, as he took advantage of a loophole in the system.

Frederick disabled Security Video, Security Gun Emplacements, Wireless Communications (Security Channel), Code Key locks on doors, Alarm Systems, and Rader. He had managed to cripple the MSLC, at least until a Sysop managed to get things back online again.

Once these were done quickly quickly pulled off his visor and unplugged his deck. Quickly he shoved the whole thing in his backpack, and started down the hall.

"Let's go. That's as dead as it's going to get. We still need to watch out for military units."

Seeing that support was a little slower than expected, Ed moved on down the corridor. He was in the front and moving on the balls of his feet. He didn't even think about it, he just did it. Instictivly he drew his side arm, checked the ammo, and chambered a round.

The group showed remarkable solidarity in sticking by their hacker as he concluded his riskiest piece of business. Fortunately, they barely had to wait at all.

Edward took the lead in front of Nadya and Diana as they proceeded down the hall. The now-dead camera and weapon mount stayed silent and immobile as he tried the door. Amazingly (and probably due entirely to Frederick's efforts in hacking the system), the door unlatched and easily swung open. Soon everyone was moving double-time down the much cleaner hallways beyond. No longer was the floor reeking with icy cold stagnant water which smelled like the GM's toilet.

The team followed Addy's map as close as they could. As long as they were underground, it seemed like they could avoid most if not all the security patrols. However, all too soon they came to a point that Adelaide recommended to exit the sewer system and continue forward on the base proper. At this point, they should come up beyond the main terminal buildings and come out in a gigantic hangar.

However, Nadya pointed out some concerns. "I do not think Addy went this way personally, because there was weapon mount and camera. She would have had to move above ground and trace route by manhole covers. That means she could not have known if we could bypass more security by going further underground. What you think, Diana?" Nadya stopped Diana by touching her arm and catching Diana's eyes with her own.

Gisele and Frederick, who were immediately behind them couldn't miss Nadya and Diana's familiar movements. They truly seemed a matched pair, as comfortable being near each other as lovers would be. Diana had seemed extremely flirtatious and open about her lust and Nadya barely less so just yesterday. Now they were much more professional and not giving in to such distractions. However, there did seem to be a bond forming there. Gisele certainly didn't miss the adoring look Nadya sometimes gave Diana in spare moments. The interesting thing was that whatever kind of relationship was forming between them was having a very positive affect on the two Splicers in terms of efficiently working together.

It was exactly the kind of thing that made unattached people feel pretty lonely, actually.

Gisele made a soft non-commital sound at the public display of affection. Kind of a snort, but kind of not. Jealous? Never.

From the map Frederick had, it looked like from here on out it would be mainly dodging security patrols until they made it onto the Platzwaffe base. There, they'll have to break in and make a dash for an armed escort. That would make a disturbance, but Addy said she'd provide a distraction they couldn't ignore when they were detected. Preferably, that wouldn't be until everyone was safely inside a ship and starting engines, but realistically things never seem to be quite that simple.

"Sewers..." Ti thinks. "I like the sewers idea. Keeps us away from the guards and out of the line of fire. There couldn't possibly be anything wrong with that."

"I mean, okay it's dark but we should have lighting for most of it if not all." He wished that he'd brought a flashlight with him. Maybe next time. The dark never really bothered him much, anyway. Most of the time he had a lot of fun in the dark with silky sheets and soft skin sliding against him.

In fact, the only time he'd ever really had a bad experience in the dark was whennn....

"Wait. Sewers. Sewers are close in and dark. They're wet, the kind of environment that might appeal to..."

A thousand images flashed through his mind from nearly every horror movie he'd ever seen. Tentecles and claws, teeth and extending jaws snap around his mind. Blood spurted from a multitude of directions and flowed on the floor. Screams echoed from the walls and Dante cried out....

"No..." Ti breathed harshly as his knees buckled beneath his feet and he fell to the floor behind the group.


Frederick spoke up authoritatively. "Get a grip, Ti. You're already in the sewers. But I think we should head up. I didn't have time to access the Military systems. When we get to the Platzwaffe base it'll be a whole lot easier if we're already above ground."

Ed nods once at this. He was not sure of this teams strengths, but if what they needed was up above, then he would go there as well.

Gisele reached out a gentle hand toward Ti's cheek, fingers outstretched casually as if to stroke or comfort him. She smiled a bit, tenderly, and then smacked Ti across the face.

"Get on your feet. We're going topside," she said matter-of-factly, reinforcing Frederick's command. Turning her back on Ti, a muttered curse akin to "fucking claustrophobics" could be heard.

Ti flashed Giselle a vicious 'You BITCH!' look as he regained his composure. Red faced not just from the blow, but also from the embaressment of acting like a rank amature, he moved with the group in brooding silence.

Aleph kept pace with Ed at point, except that she's crawling on the ceiling, her head rotated 180 and tilted down to scan the passage ahead. She staggered her radar sweeps to random intervals to avoid being targeted herself.

"Then perhaps we should go up top." Diana says. "If that is where Adalaide thinks we are going to be coming from." She says.

Everyone seemed to agree, more or less, to head up topside. Ed was still in front so he was first up ladder rungs. However, the manhole cover was sealed from above.

Everyone seemed to agree, more or less, to head up topside. Ed was still in front so he was first up ladder rungs. However, the manhole cover was sealed from above. Aleph cut it open with her mouth-mounted laser.

Once the cover was free, Aleph shoved it aside and stealthily poked her head above to check the area. There were a large number of objects which reflected the radar, much of it related to parts of rockets, fuel containers, mobile racks of tools, etc. And there were indeed a group of four moving humanoid forms walking along a vector that would take them further away and around the far side of a gigantic, treaded rocket mover. After a few moments pause, Aleph was able to detect no further motion in the immediate vacinity.

The map indicated a path through this hangar, then outside, dodging around large vehicles. Soon the team was out of the sewer and ready to move again.

Things went pretty well until the team approached the side exit. There they discovered a security group of four men armed with pistols and batons talking quietly amongst themselves as they came through the door toward the team. Fortunately, everyone managed to keep quiet and they hadn't noticed the teams approach.

Ti made quiet, smacking noises with his meaty hands and pointed towards the guards. To emphasize the point, he also drew one extended finger across his windpipe, slowly.

Diana nodded, understand what he was trying to say. She counted herself, Nadya, and Ti, held up three fingers and shrugged her shoulders as if to say who was the fourth? She also removed her own knife, and got ready to pounce.

Nadya pointed at Ed and made a head motion, encouraging him to be the fourth. That would make it one security man each, but they'd need coordination to pounce on them simultaneously. Fortunately, there were a number of storage crates to aid Ti and Ed, who were not so much the Stealth experts.

Flexing his strong hands, Ti grinned at Nadya and prepared to crush the life out of one of the guards.  If he got in fast, he should be able to squeeze hard enough that all the man could do was squeek and squish.