My first Brand NEW material.
05/04/2034 - Brisbane
0623h - The Flagg - Pacific Ocean
The aircraft carrier's deck was nearly empty on the second half of its shakedown cruise. It had launched from Norfolk a little over two weeks before and supported some of the aerial operations during the defense of New York. From there it had sailed down through the Panama Canal in a partially successful pursuit of Cobra forces, and was currently making towards Hawaii at full speed.
Only a half-dozen planes, all Skystrikers, were parked in the shadow of the command tower on the port runway, one lier Jet was being taxied to the elevator to starboard, and a Tomahawk helicopter sat on the elevated center deck being refueled for a sprint south to Brisbane Australia. A small crew worked to check out the chopper for its flight, while others worked quickly to load supplies into the hold. Flint watched the proceedings calmly from the balcony of the command tower, anxious to be ready to move. He shook his head, and turned to watch the rolling waves off the bow. After Cobra had fled New York, the intelligence department had been keeping an eye on emergency wards in various hospitals around the world, mostly in port cities to see if there was a sudden influx of gunshot victims, or other violent traumas. The first hit had come from the Princess Alexandra Hospital where seven men and one woman had been checked in in the middle of the night with severe injuries believed to be gang-related. Two concerned family members had come in to stand watch on each patient, all of whom insisted on remaining by their bedsides.
Flint had been assigned as part of a small task force to move in and apprehend the men in the ward. A simple day's flight would allow them to arrive and extract without issue it had been planned. However, one of the duty nurses had been a little too smart for her own good. On a routine examination of the patient she had detected the Cobra tattoo behind the ridge of his ear and rather than reporting it to her superiors had called the police instead. Normally this would have been a commendable effort, but one of the 'concerned relatives' had overheard the call and word had quickly gotten around to the others and now the hospital was in lockdown with a hostage situation on their hands.
The local police had managed to make things worse by attempting to negotiate with the terrorists. Now there were two dead nurses and five dead policemen, terrorized staff and even more traumatized patients. Not exactly a rousing start. Somewhere behind him, Flint could hear Lifeline trying to maintain a calm tone as he spoke to someone on the other end of the phone, but as each minute passed, failing increasingly badly.
The rest of the team was double checking gear downstairs. Widescope and Checkpoint were the front men for the inside operations when it came to that, Widescope, Bullhorn and Rook were there to attempt negotiations, Flint and Beachhead would be backup firepower, and Lowlight would provide...whatever it was snipers provided. Lifeline was of in charge because he knew one of the staff doctors in the ward to coordinate things during transit. Though by the sounds of things they either didn't get along, or something had gone wrong. Flint rather hoped the former because if things got worse, they were going to need more men. Besides, Lifeline could be more than a little abrasive to those who didn't know him well enough. Flint still felt bruises occasionally from their first meeting, even though the had both come to like and respect each other.
Down below he could make out one of the crew members detaching the fuel hose from the fuselage, signalling that the chopper was ready for takeoff as soon as the crew was in place. Flint was anxious to take off, but since they couldn't leave until Lifeline was done his call, Flint leaned on the railing and watched the ocean ahead. Unlike the beach where waves and breakers rolled in, out on the open ocean he could only detect slight, irregular undulations. The Flagg itself was large enough so that there was almost no roll to the ship in the sea. However, he wasn't sure whether that was due to the calmness of the ocean or that he was getting used to being on a carrier after three years of service during the war.
Flint hadn't had the opportunity to review the specifications for the new ship and was unaware of the double hulls, one under each runway and stabilizer planes under the water. The new Clinton Class carriers were the largest yet built and still fell into the experimental category. With the space once required to house the fuel tanks now able to carry more planes, weaponry and larger engines she was capable of pushing fifty-five knots.
As Flint watched the twin bows kick up waves to either side of the racing carrier he wondered idly what this sight looked like to the fish who happened to be in the boat's path as it came rushing onwards. All he was certain of was that he was glad he wouldn't ever have the chance to find out. Footsteps sounded on the bridge wing behind him, and he turned to see the weather-worn and mustached face of Admiral Keel Haul staring past him.
"Its a beautiful sight isn't it," he growled. Flint had always thought the man's voice sounded like rocks were grating against one another in his throat, but no one could argue that the man knew aircraft carriers better than any sailor alive.
"Indeed it is sir."
Keel Haul harrumphed something that Flint decided he wasn't meant to understand and leaned against the rail beside him. A remarkable act of indiscipline. Flint was used to the regular army where officers and non-coms rarely exchanged more than the barest few of words necessary to do their jobs. Ever since he had joined the Joes he had become slightly uncomfortable with the familiarity that was prevalent throughout the organization. He actually enjoyed it, but at certain times it seemed vary un-military. Of course, the ranks still mattered, there was no question of who was in charge of whom or what, but if it was a non-combat situation, ranks seemed to fall away for all but the most dogged rule-hounds. In a way it appeared to help morale, especially given that the force was cut off from anything resembling the normal world for weeks, sometimes months at a time. Perhaps that's why Colton structure things to allow it. But then again, Colton was by far the most aloof of any officer. Flint was almost certain he had never seen him speak to anyone beneath the rank of Major. Then again, Keel Haul, Narwhal and Rey could be equally hard to bear sometimes, let alone Steely, what everyone now called the arrogant Steel Brigade Commander behind his back. And even though Lifeline tried to be helpful to those of lower rank, his abrasiveness showed through quite often. Perhaps it had to do with world weariness and the responsibilities heaped on each of their shoulders.
He shook his head and stretched, "thank you for your hospitality Admiral. We appreciate it."
Keel Haul grunted an acknowledgement without taking his eyes off the sea. Flint saluted anyway and made his way back into the control tower. Lifeline had hung up the phone sometime in the last few minutes, and was now leaning over a tablet displaying a map of the Princess Alexandra Hospital, making notations in the margins and markings where the targets were.
He looked up as Flint entered, "is our flight ready to launch?"
"Fueled up on the deck. Just need to get everyone together."
"Good." Lifeline seemed distracted.
"Is everything all right?"
"No, but it will be once we get there," Lifeline replied, picking up the tablet and a book with one hand and leading the way down a flight of metal stairs.
Flint shrugged and followed, navigating the corridors of the command tower behind Lifeline until they stepped out onto the center deck. The team was already assembled beside the chopper. They were all standing and stretching in preparation for a rather uncomfortable 11 hour flight. They had originally hoped to just be able to drive up and walk in, but with the Cobra soldiers barricaded into the building that was no longer an option. They had to go in through the heliport on the roof. The approaches were all being watched, so Flint would have to fly in well above the sight-lines of the barricaded terrorists, from the far side, and drop straight down onto the roof, then kill the engines before they could stir up enough debris or cause enough noise to attract attention.
"Lifeline, did your contact ever say what they were doing about the roof?"
"All staff that can sneak up there are cleaning it off as fast as possible. We don't need to worry about any dust or sand getting blown off when we arrive. The problem they tell me is the soundproofing, or lack thereof in that wing of the hospital. They say its enough floors up and far enough away that our arrival shouldn't be noticed. But they're still forcing the ambulances to pull up, and discharge their patients 100 meters away from the hospital so they can scan them before they enter. Anyone they think has a weapon gets shot."
"I take it one of the policemen decided to try that."
"Yep. Add four more bodies to the count."
"Hospital staff is cooperating at least?"
"For now they're just staying as far away as possible, and Cobra seems happy to leave it there. What's odd is there's no sign they've called for reinforcements or intend to leave, and yet they aren't asking for further medical care for the wounded."
Lowlight had overheard the last part of the conversation as they approached and voiced his own opinion, "its a trap to draw us in."
"Perhaps," Lifeline allowed, "or perhaps they're a diversion for something else. While we focus our attention here, the Australian Government get bombed or something worse. I can't begin to guess."
"Everybody get in, briefing will be in place of the in-flight movie."
"But I always sleep through the in-flight movie," grumbled Widescope.
"You sleep through half your briefings too," Bullhorn replied caustically.
"Good point," Widescope brightened at the reminder.
Lifeline shook his head, "lets leave the comedy until after the bad guys get shot, eh?"
1745h - Princess Alexandra Hospital
Flint set the Tomahawk down on the helipad on the roof of the hospital and hit the switch to hard-stop the rotors. It was practically impossible to make a two hundred meter straight drop and still land basically on a penny, but the avionics that were packed into these choppers had allowed him to do it. On the second try.
Lifeline looked up over his sunglasses to survey the roof, and then Flint before marking his page with a sticky-note and tucking the novel, a dogeared copy of "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" into a crack beside his seat. A quick run-through of the post-flight checklist showed everything normal, except for slightly elevated electrical use on the generator from the rotors, which could be easily explained by the headwind they'd fought on the way in.
They both surveyed the rooftop, then glanced at one another and nodded. Flint began to unbuckle as Lifeline unclipped the sunglasses from his regular glasses and tucked them into one of the white pockets on his combat vest before pivoting out of his seat, whacking his knee into the GPS monitor and cursing.
Flint suppressed a smirk as he followed him through the bulkhead into the main hold. The right-hand bay door was pulled open and the rest of the team was passing down gear to one another. Other than the slight creak of the Tomahawk settling down onto its wheels and tick of the engine's cooling there was no noise on the roof. Flint was forced to chuckle on seeing the red marks on the side of Widescope's face as the SWAT trooper rubbed his eyes before pulling his balaclava over his head; they matched exactly the floor grating of the Tomahawk.
A few minutes passed in silence before they began to risk whispered conversations. Low Light and Sneek Peak moved off along the roof carrying a grappling harness. Two buildings of the hospital sat at right angles to one another, and it was possible that they would be able to take out a few of the terrorists through the windows.
The others began to form up. They couldn't take the elevator down because it would alert their quarry; instead they made for a small side door that lead to an emergency escape. The door was unlocked as agreed and a nurse stood down a single flight of steps. His hands fingered the shells on his shoulder belts, and selected a pair of hollow-points and slotted them into the barrels of his launcher before snapping it closed. The power of a shotgun, combined with the accuracy of a rifle. They proceeded down to the second floor where their targets were holed up on the far side of an intensive care ward.
Rook lagged behind the others, seeming to evaluate ever staff member and patient that they passed, no doubt profiling them. Or planning characteratures of them for when he got back to base. His office walls were covered with ones of every member of the Joe team. Actually somewhat creepy when Flint paused to think about it, given that each probably had a summary of their psychological evaluations on the back. He and Lifeline passed through a door and into the ICU. A few patients were lined up on cots behind a desk that had been hastily cleared to make way for medical equipment that should have been in the rooms down the hall to the left. A barricade of furniture blocked that hallway to chest height, but no one could be seen behind it. A half-dozen doctors and nurses cowered, attempting to stay as far from this hallway as possible. Bullhorn began to set up his negotiation gear.
Lifeline seemed to be looking for someone who he couldn't see though.
"I'm looking for Dr. Naran," he asked the room in general.
One of the men bent over in a chair straightened and stood, "that would be me."
Flint evaluated the man, mostly because Lifeline actually seemed surprised. He had been under impression that Lifeline had known the person on the other end of the phone.
"Enbard," Lifeline replied, sounding slightly surprised, "I'm sorry, I was just expecting Chanel. She's been keeping me up-to-date on this...debacle, so we wouldn't come in unprepared. She'll be back soon?"
"If you can get to her," Enbard definitely sounded very worried, and pointed down the hallway towards where the terrorists had holed up.
You said it sir, Flint thought. So much for a bash-and-smash operation. It now was hostage rescue too. Of course, that presented a whole new host of problems. Original plan: attempt to have Bullhorn talk the bad-guys down, and if that failed, go in grenades first, guns blazing, take no prisoners unless an officer presented himself. Now they had to worry about not shooting a civilian, and not letting any of the bad guys shoot her either.
Lifeline was on the radio, "Sneek, you guys in position yet?"
"Just unpacking," crackled the response, through the encrypted channel, "give us five."
"I need eyes on the rooms stat. We have a hostage situation, and we need to figure out where."
"Oh bugger, yes sir."
Turning towards Enbard, Lifeline took charge, "do you know what room she was taken into?"
"I wasn't here at the time," a distressed Enbard replied.
"I was, none of us got a good look once they were over the barrier," explained a nurse.
"Bullhorn, if you start talking to them, what chance do we have of getting her out?"
"Depends what side of the building she's on," Bullhorn explained. "If its on Lowlight's, then I'd give us a 100 percent. If its the opposite, about 45. Given that they know that they're trapped, probably without hope of escape, and have holed up as well as they have suggests that they're not likely to be in the mood to negotiate."
"Break it down for me if you could."
"Without talking to them?" Bullhorn raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "Fifteen that they shoot her outright, twenty that we manage to delay it for a while, and something goes wrong during the extraction, a further twenty that they try to escape using her as a shield or hostage as they pull back, and either they shoot her when she's no longer useful or things dissolve into a firefight, twenty-five that we manage a prisoner exchange for one of us which would allow us some control over the situation, and a final twenty percent that we actually manage to extract her in exchange for some other concession, most likely letting them walk away Scott free."
"Basically," Lifeline sighed, "if they figure out we're here, things get very complicated."
"More or less."
"All right, what if we figure out where she is, and go in guns first?"
"We have a map?"
"Rough idea of how many per room?"
"General idea where she is?"
"Within a margin of error."
"All rooms at the same time or separately?"
Bullhorn considered, his head cocked slightly to the right, evaluating the information. "Sixty-seven that it works perfectly, thirteen that we get her out, but with minor injuries, five that we get her out with significant, but non-life-threatening injuries, and fifteen that its life-threatening injuries or fatal. Swap the fifteen and five if she's on Lowlight's side."
Lifeline nodded, and then turned to Enbard, "your opinion?"
Based on the pallor of his face, Enbard was clearly terrorised, and with pretty good reason. He blubbered, but finally managed to squeak some form of assent.
Lifeline thanked him and was back on the radio with Sneek Peak a second later. Bullhorn did not look entirely thrilled, but had started unpacking door-buster gear. Widescope had moved forward to assess the barricade, and was finding his way over a section to determine if it could be done quietly. Flint moved back to help Rook unpack the backpack of close-in weaponry. Rook selected a Colt CAR-15 carbine, H&K UMP, and swapped his usual Sig Sauer for a pair of H&K USPs. Flint swapped out his special for a Benelli M1, and FN P90, keeping his Beretta 92 tucked in his leg holster. Widescope would already be equipped for close in service, and Lifeline had opted to keep him M4, HK54 and custom ceramic Glock. Lowlight's Chey-Tac Intevention would wreak havoc from the next building without question once Sneek Peak pointed him in the right direction.
"All right," Lifeline said, walking back from the window, "Sneek Peak's got eyes on her. Second room down on the right." He pulled his tablet from a pouch on his leg and flipped it open, a map of the hallways instantly appearing on the screen with red splotches moving around in the target rooms, and one green splotch. A direct feed from Sneak Peek's infrared detector then with the captured Dr. Naran marked for clarity.
Flint did a quick count, but Bullhorn was faster.
"There's only twenty-two of them, that's two short of a double squad. We counting them as casualties or unknown?"
"Unknown," Lifeline replied, "try to keep any officer alive if you can so we can ask. Otherwise, aim for the head. Flint and Rook will take the two rooms on the left. I'll take the first on the right, Widescope, you'll take the second. There's only two guys in the third so we're leaving them to last. Sneak Peak will attempt to keep them occupied, but watch your backs. Widescope, you and Lowlight are going to be responsible for hostage protection and extraction. Questions? Good."
Widescope pulled off his hat and stuffed it in his chest harness replacing it with a riot helmet from his belt, Lifeline snapped a face-mask on his helmet, and Rook donned his Steel Brigade helmet. Flint had planned to opt for the Beret, but with another look at his five targets on the map, doffed it, shoving it in a pocket, and grabbed the spare from the gear bag.
The team followed Widescope's steps over the barricade across the hall. Not a sound was made. The other three waited while Widescope propped his shield against a wall and began applying very small quantities of plastique to the door latches and hinges of each of the doors. Each application was connected to a thin metal wire, fed to a handheld remote handed to the man responsible for the room. Conversation had died in the main area as the staff congregated to watch what was about to unfold. Something of an oversight, the sudden quiet might alert the Cobra operatives to their presence, Flint realized. Of course, they were all scared, so perhaps this wasn't the first time that they had been silent during the occupation. The lack of challenge from any of the rooms lent credence to that belief.
After a minute, Widescope gave the thumbs up from his door. All eyes turned to Lifeline who balanced the remote on his knee. Rifle in one hand, he held up five fingers, then started dropping each one in sequence, ending with his pointer finger which he poised above the detonation button, and then pushed. All four charges went off within half a second of one another.
The door was still clattering to the floor when Flint threw a shoulder around the door frame and started marking targets. The Benelli M1 barked once, twice, and a third time before his opponents got a shot off in return. Forced to duck back out, he noticed Rook was out of the hallway and into his room, Lifeline was reloading, and Widescope was standing framed in the doorway firing off 3-shot bursts from his Walter P99 through the slot in his shield which was clattering with bullet hits which were quickly tapering off.
As he observed this, Flint pulled a flash-bang from the back of his belt, and armed it for proximity, tossed it into the room, waited three-count for the explosion to dissipate, and swung back in. One opponent was shaking his head and upright, but the other remained hidden. Until shots started spraying from under the bed. Flint hopped on top of a chest by the door, but not before he felt at least one slam into the side of his armored boot. Ten seconds later the shooting stopped and the other man had to reload, Flint threw himself forward and over the bed, grabbing the man by the collar and shoving the rifle under his chin. Officer's Mark on the helmet. Damn.
A couple whacks of the man's head against the wall rendered him limp, and Flint pulled the plastic ties from a pouch and started to bind his hands and ankles. He was barely finished when the man started to come to, but Flint was able to pull him out of the room before disarming him. Looking around as he tossed the last spare ammo clip aside, he noted Rook was splattered with blood from wrist to elbow. Concern was quickly replaced with understanding as he noticed the interrogator wiping the blade of a trench knife on the uniform of a Cobra trooper who's head was lying a very unnatural distance from his body. Widescope and Lifeline could be heard talking in the room with Dr. Naran.
Another successful operation then, he thought, hauling the hostage out to the main room, kicking aside the barricade as he went, but deliberately whacking the officer against some of the pointy parts. Bed restraints were found and the man tied down.
A few minutes later, Lifeline and Widescope followed Rook back into the main area, a tall and extremely attractive raven-haired woman leaning slightly on Lifeline's shoulder. Enbard Naran shot to his feet and hurried towards her.
"Just a twisted ankle when she ducked," Lifeline explained.
Effusive thanks followed from both Narans and many of their coworkers, though a few of them were looking at Rook's arm with mild discomfort.
Its a hospital people? Shouldn't you be used to blood?
Once the formalities were completed, attention turned to the officer.
"Where'd you find this guy Flint?"
"Being a coward, like most terrorists. Hiding under a bed."
"I'm shivering," Lifeline replied before bending over to pick up his medical case and placing it under the bed.
"I thought we were supposed to be killing them, not helping them," Widescope joked.
"That's what got me in trouble," Chanel Nara replied.
Lifeline slotted a scalpel underneath the man's large toenail, and started right in. "There should be two more members of your team hiding around here somewhere, who are they?"
So much for good-cop-bad-cop, Flint thought, we're going straight to talk-or-I-make-you-wish-you'd-never-been-born-cop.
"You think I'll talk?" laughed the terrorist, "to you?"
"Listen," Lifeline paused, picked up the man's helmet, checked the sigil on the front, and continued, tossing it aside, "captain. I am a surgeon. My job is to cut into your flesh, through your muscles, and sever your bones, all while keeping you very much alive. Now, usually we do this with anesthesia so you have no clue what the hell I'm doing. Now. Take a minute and imagine that without the drugs. No? Alright."
Lifeline didn't give the man time to answer before shoving the scalpel roughly in and twisting. A scream flowed from the man's mouth, whether due to surprise, pain, or the unbearable combination of the two, Flint wasn't entirely sure. More important was that Lifeline's eyes hadn't left the man, but Rook was now focusing intently on the face of one of the orderlies.
Most of the staff had averted their eyes, or at least looking extremely uncomfortable, but this man was transfixed, and his hand had slipped behind his back. As Lifeline moved the scalpel to the next toe, the man's arm started to swing around far too rapidly for Flint's tastes, and he went for his own sidearm. Rook was much faster. The orderly's arm had just moved from behind his back to his side when Rook's three-shot burst took him directly in the heart, throwing him back into a bed, and over it to crash to the floor. He was over to the far side of the room an instant later.
"Dead as a brick."
Lifeline still stared into the captain's eyes. "Loyalty among terrorists. An amusing concept. Now," Lifeline began to push under the next nail, blood beginning to trickle down the side of the scalpel, "you only need to remember one name. Much simpler isn't it. Who is the last member of your team? Keep in mind I can do this nineteen more times before I start the bad stuff."
"Bring it on," grinned the terrorist through yellow teath.
Lifeline simply shrugged and proceeded to 'bring it'.
Nine toes and ten fingers later, the man lay whimpering on the floor, but still refused to give a name. Lifeline looked minorly annoyed.
Flint had seen him annoyed only once before, and had been on the wrong end of it. He almost pitied the man on the floor. Almost.
Lifeline pulled his medical kit towards him, and opened it. He extracted a pair of defibrillation paddles. Unplugging the cord from one, he set the unit to charge, then turned back to his...patient. A few deft movements of the scalpel later and a square inch of skin and muscle had been removed from the bottom of the man's foot, exposing tissue that those who worked in the ward were probably quite familiar with, but Flint prayed he'd never have to see again in his life. Several of the staff had turned attention to those they had moved into the available wards, trying to avoid the gristly scene. Only the Narans remained, looking extremely disturbed. Lifeilne reached in with the scalpel and pulled away a line of white tissue that held no special meaning to Flint, but clearly did to Lifeline.
He heard Enbard groan, clearly understanding something Flint didn't. Lifeline rested the scalpel on the man's foot, then taped it down to the floor with three lengths of surgical tape. The man was in no position to get up and run, so the move made no sense to Flint until Lifeline picked up the bare wire end of the now charged defibrillator in his pack, and touched it against the white tissue. Something from high school biology twigged in his memory, the brain was grey matter, nerves should be too then, right? Oh.
A single tap of a finger to the console in his medical kit, and the man on the wrong end of the wire began to convulse and scream. It lasted only a couple seconds before the charge dissipated, and the man lay still panting, crying, and bleeding from where he's bitten something in his mouth.
"Now, who is the last man on your team?" Lifeline asked, apparently the soul of patience.
The man's speech was slurred so badly that he gave up and raised a shaking arm, pointing towards something. Flint followed the shaking finger until it locked unerringly on Enbard Naran. Bullhorn and Flint's weapons were up in a second, but so was Lifeline, one hand shoving Flint's gun down, the other covering Bullhorn's muzzle, "wait!" Widescope paused, rifle slightly lowered, but still in position to fire if one of them twitched the wrong way.
Shock clearly reigned on the faces of both Narans, but Chanel was the one to move first, stepping in front of her accused husband, "you can't!"
"Chanel," Lifeline said calmly, "step aside please." He continued to redirect both Flint and Bullhorn's weapons.
"You can't possibly believe...him!" Naran gasped.
"Enbard, I've only met you twice, so I don't know what to say. However, I know Chanel well enough to trust her judgment, and I can't see her marrying a terrorist."
Both seemed to relax for a second before Lifeline continued, "But. I would be remiss if I didn't at least check. I'm going to have to have Rook check you out. I'm sorry. If you'll just submit to a search."
"This...this is insane!"
"Edwin," Chanel pleaded, "you can't."
Flint had to bite his lip. Some months back, Lifeline had been called to review a squadron of Cobra North troopers from Toronto who were set for execution. One had been a high-school classmate of his. His response to the man's begging for consideration had been to put a bullet through his forehead. This hesitancy was strange. Choosing his words carefully, Flint merely said, "I'm sorry Dr. Naran, but if you didn't know Lifeline, you'd probably be bleeding on the floor at best right now. Really, if we're wrong, we can apologize later." Best not to get into details he figured, especially given how Rook was inching up behind the two of them.
Lifeline nodded and sighed, "please, it will only take a few minutes, and we can rule you out. I hope."
"This is intolerable!" Enbard was getting visibly upset, but Chanel was starting to come around.
"Honey, if you- NO!"
Too late, in turning she'd seen Rook.
"Do it!" Lifeline snapped quickly.
"NOO!" Chanel screamed, as Rook fired two wires from a tazer into Enbard's shoulder, dropping him convulsing to the floor.
Instinctively Chanel reached to help him, but Lifeline was already there pulling her back. Things could never just be simple could they?
1745h - Princess Alexandra Hospital
It had taken a half-hour for the effects of Enbard's tazer incident to wear off enough for Rook and Bullhorn to question him. He'd lacked the Cobra snake tattoo behind an ear, but that was no longer a guarantee. Only one in ten Cobras captured or killed during the Battle of New York had borne them. Speculation had it that they were rewards rather than standard issue. It had become clear quickly though that Enbard had absolutely nothing to do with Cobra, in any capacity. He was good at his job, and came from a well-off family, but subterfuge was not a strong suit. Profuse apologies had followed.
This had prompted a now decidedly angry Lifeline to return to the Cobra officer Flint had been guarding and drag him into an unoccupied room. No one had stuck around to watch the result. Lifeline had left the room in a black rage and put several shots into a security guard three wards down. The officer had left the room in a blood-soaked body-bag and headed straight for the morgue.
The team had then proceeded to perform a final security sweep of the hospital, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Now Flint and the crew were just packing up to leave.
"That's the last of it," reported Sneek Peak, carrying a bag full of blood-stained refuse over a shoulder. They would haul away all the mess to the dumpsters, leaving the hospital to just repair and re-paint the walls.
"All right then, I think everyone else is on the roof, I'll just get Lifeline." Flint patted Peak on the shoulder.
"Hope he's in a better mood now."
"Don't we all," Flint laughed as they split up at the stair well.
Flint rounded the corner, probably faster than he needed to and almost bowled over a nervous looking nurse. They both apologized and hurried on their way. Pretty though Australia was, Flint found it entirely too hot in this hospital. He pulled himself up short as he saw Lifeline and Chanel standing in an empty ward. Much though he intended to walk away he couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation.
"Really Edwin, don't worry about it. I know its war. I couldn't do that to him, but," she paused, and let out a ragged breath, "if you hadn't, who knows what those two would have done. I'll never forget what you did, but I'll also never forget WHAT you did."
"All right. I still wish you hadn't had to see that." he shook his head, "I'm just glad your all right,"
"Still keeping an eye out for me after all this time," Chanel smiled.
"I try. Speaking of, you have learned to use a map. Right?"
A laugh bubbled from her throat, short but sweet, "No, but I know where everything is here. I think."
"Even the terrorists?" he teased.
A full laugh now, "fine, ALMOST everything. Though you aren't perfect either."
"Yeah," Lifeline looked awkward, scratching at the back of his neck, "sorry about that, but when that guy-"
"Don't worry. You had every right to check. Better safe than sorry, and thank you for trusting me."
"Never been a bad idea before.... Well, except for 'turn left here'."
A shared laugh, a moment of silence, and then Lifeline spoke again, "still like it down under?"
"You know I'm not made for Canadian winters."
"Hey, it was worth a try," he smiled, then sobered, "Your absolutely certain that you don't want us to check the rest of the patients out? I don't think another try would end as well."
"Really Edwin, its all right. If they were bad guys they'd have tried to shoot you already. You and the boys made quite a name for yourself last week. Even we had the newscast on the whole night here. Only time I've ever enjoyed a night shift really."
"A fair point," Lifeline pretended to check under a table anyway. "To be honest, I wouldn't have minded just settling down somewhere without all the fame."
Chanel blushed, and looked down, "be careful, I do like having you around."
"Well, if you stop patching up the terrorists, there will be a lot fewer people around to shoot at me," Lifeline grinned back. And yet Flint detected some sadness in his eyes.
Chanel laughed, but it was hollow. "Edwin I-" she broke off, seemed to rock on her heals then placed her hands on his shoulders, and leaned forward to kiss him.
Flint felt his eyes bulge as Lifeline's arms snaked around her waist in return. One of them broke the kiss, and Chanel looked down at his shoulder but didn't move.
"Don't. Please don't say it."
"I miss you. I've always-"
"I know," she sighed, laying her head on his shoulder, "I miss you too."
"That's not what I was going-"
"All right," Lifeline sighed, sounding defeated. "You sure your all right?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"OK," Edwin rubbed her back lightly, "if you need anything at all..."
"Don't worry," she kissed him again, "I have your number." And with that she stepped away. "Be careful. And do keep in touch."
Lifeline looked slightly disappointed, and responded with a sad smile, "you too."
Flint made his escape before either of them noticed him standing there and hurried up to the Tomahawk on the roof, assuming Lifeline would follow when he was ready.
He only had to wait three minutes for both Lifeline and both Doctors Naran to arrive on the roof. Enbard shook Lifeline's hand and Chanel hugged him, perhaps for a little longer than was absolutely necessary. Flint heard the cargo bay door close and a minute later Lifeline took up a seat beside him in the cockpit. Flint had already completed the pre-flight takeoff and prepared to start the rotors as soon as the Narans were out of the chopper's downdraft. Once they were, he eased the throttle open and lifted off, Lifeline waved to the two doctors until the chopper banked and then sighed.
"So," Flint asked, trying to appear innocent, "how do you and Chanel know each other?"
"Hmm? Oh, we met during our undergrad. We've been good friends ever since."
"Oh. An Ex?"
"No. It never...no."
Flint waited, letting the silence stretch, then asked, "what never?"
Lifeline glared at him, and remained stubbornly silent.
It was a good ten minutes before Lifeline finally sighed and started to talk. "Its the classic story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy asks girl out. Girl already has boyfriend whom she marries two years later. Boy has to move on." Lifeline shook his head, "we were taking different degrees at the time. We just happened to take a couple of classes together. Pure chance. Most people in the different streams never meet each other. Of course, the kicker is that she mentioned a few times that she would have taken my degree if she'd known about it when she started. I couldn't ever help but think that things would have been very different if we'd met...sooner."
"Geez, I'm sorry to hear that," Flint sobered. "Well, look at it this way," he said, faking cheerfulness, "if it had worked, you wouldn't have met Bree, and you two would be fighting for the top spot on the Forbes 500 rather than sharing it."
Lifeline laughed bitterly, "much more than that. The world would have been a very different place."
"You know your picture is beside the definition of Ego in the dictionary right?"
"I have my flaws, but I'm not delusional. If I'd been dating Chanel I wouldn't have met Bree, your right. But that has far more consequences than you realize. You know the Phoenix engine?"
"Self-powering, electrical generator that never needs to be recharged. Pure clean energy with no input. Of course."
"The original idea wasn't Bree's, it was mine. Admittedly, my concept wouldn't have worked, she did all the tweaking to get it to function, but it would never have worked without both of us."
"I'm not finished. And the cures I developed for AIDS and Cancer? The original idea to use a targeted parasite rather than a virus or drug was hers. I had to do the genetic engineering to get it to work, but the thought never occurred to me. More than that actually, I wasn't even doing research in that area. And of course, without those..." Lifeline allowed himself to trail off.
Flint's mind reeled however. The Phoenix engine had completely restructured "green" energy and Edwin's cure for AIDS had forced several African nations to withdraw from the war with less bloodshed than had been expected. That was to say nothing about how he used the licencing rights for cancer cures as a political bludgeon after the war, both for peace and human rights.
"Well," Flint managed, "that worked out for the best then."
Lifeline's mouth curled in one corner, "I suppose."
"You suppose? Seriously? If you could go back, and do it all over again, with her this time, would you really?"
"You know, Bree asked me the same thing a few years ago. I told her that if I had the option I wouldn't change a thing," Lifeline responded before opening his book and turning his attention away from the conversation.
His next sentence was so quiet that Flint pretended not to hear it over the blades of the helicopter. "Its the only time I've ever lied to her."