Planning and Execution
Cassandra: Cylee, we are planning the operation starting tomorrow morning at 9AM. Please be early. Cylee: Will do, Ms. Happy.
Which means another night in Portland, at least. Cylee flipped through her contact list and realized, not for the first time, that it was very short. Also she didn’t know anyone in Portland. Well, she knew three people, but they all worked for…whatever shady organization she was working with. She didn’t really believe they were trying to be a new Spine manufacturer, and there was something familiar about Ms. Happy.
So she could go hang out with one of them, she could sit around and do nothing for a few hours. Cylee hated doing nothing.
Three people… Ms. Happy didn’t seem like she would actually be all that fun to pal around with. She probably ate dinner in a dark room in silence, then went to bed, or worse, spent time improving herself in some way. That’s no way to make friends.
The doctor….Cylee had forgotten her name, but the list pulled it up. Dr. Patel. Probably a very nice person but probably not all that interesting.
There was the redhead and the guy whose leg she had cut…she got the feeling that they needed a little space before trying to be friends with Cylee.
And that left the shiny idiot. Silver trench coat boy. Julian. She wasn’t at all sure she wanted to spend time with him… But he could be fun. And she didn’t have a whole lot of options.
Cylee: So, what do people do for fun around here? Julian: Oh, hey! How’s it going? Cylee: I’m bored and hundreds of miles from home. Hence the question. Julian: Hah, yep, makes sense. Ummmm you realize you’re in Portland, right? This town has a centuries-old dedication to being weird. What do you want to do? Cylee: I want to not be bored for three hours, then go to bed. And to be perfectly clear at the outset, I want to go to bed alone and un-intoxicated. Julian: Got it. No wine tours and no pajama parties. Hmmmmm…so, how do you feel about food? Cylee: I am extremely pro-food. But not pro-movie, if Portland is as interesting as you say it is. Julian: Okay… tell you what, I’ll send you an address and let’s meet there in…say, 40 minutes? Cylee: Heh, sure. What’s the dress code? Are we going clubbing, going somewhere fancy, or just dressed to have fun? Julian: No raves, but also not black-tie. Casual and comfortable is the order of the day. Or night, I guess. Cylee: Gotcha. Okay, shiny silver boy. See you there. Don’t wear the silver trench coat. I’m not hanging out with a movie trope. Julian: OUCH. Right in the sartorial selections. Okay, nothing from the sci-fi-neo-noir collection. This coming from the lady who was dressed in a one piece leotard with armor and pockets. Cylee: Fair’s fair. I’ll wear something different as well. Julian: It’s a deal. Okay, here’s the pin: [map location received] Cylee: See you there.
Okay, she had something to do tonight. But…she needed some backup. kinda.
Cylee: Dr. Patel? It’s Cylee. From before? Dr. Patel: Oh, Cylee, yes! What can I do for you? Cylee: I’m going to hang out with Julian tonight for a little bit…is he safe to be around?
Cylee watched the “typing” notification pop up and disappear several times before a reply came back.
Dr. Patel: Julian is a great guy. I don’t know you well enough to give you any life advice…but if you want I will check up on you and make sure everything is okay later tonight? Cylee: That would be great. And maybe let Julian know you’re doing that? Dr. Patel: Make sense. Thank you for trusting me, Cylee. Cylee: Thank you!
Okay. Now all she had to do was get ready for a semi-date without any of her regular clothes or Mitzi’s help. Well, that wasn’t totally true.
Cylee: Mitz! I’ve got no clothes here and I have a date. Mitzi: Cylee my girl, you never fail to surprise me. One day in Portland and you’re already hooking up with the local wildlife. Cylee: No hookups shall be hooked up tonight. I’m just bored and lonely and want to see the town and not be alone. But I need something to wear. Mitzi: Let me see what you have on right now. [Mitzi has requested access to your camera] Cylee: I picked it up at a thrift store earlier, trying to blend in. Mitzi: Weeeeeeeeellll, we can work with this. Do you have another top? Cylee: I’m on my way back to the thrift store Mitzi: No babe. Look [location shared] go to this store. It won't break your bank. We can work with that flannel shirt you bought, but more as a wrap around the hips. You need a fitted top and some jeans, probably. Get the retrogrunge look, ya dig? Rat up your hair a little too. Cylee: So you’re trying to scuttle my date before it starts? Mitzi: Have faith in me babe. Let’s show your mystery man you can Portland with the best of them Cylee: Portland is a verb now? Mitzi: We don’t have time for semantics. Okay, show me what they have in stock.
And so, one hour and a couple of dressing rooms later, Cylee strutted up to the place where Julian was waiting. Strutting was her favorite way of covering the fact that she was supremely nervous. She felt supremely on display with a red-and-black checked flannel shirt tied around her waist, black fitted and stretchy top with cap sleeves, ripped blue jeans and classy-but-still-capable-of-running-fast canvas shoes, but as she watched the crowds they didn’t seem to be paying her undue attention.
She spotted Julian. He was dressed in a dove-gray button down shirt, buttoned all the way to the collar button, and slacks made of very slightly shimmery darker gray fabric.
“Well, your pants are shiny but not a less reflective than the shiny trench coat,” Cylee said.
“And you’re dressed in a tight black top, but not a catsuit. So we both lived up to the letter of the law, at least. But seriously, you look very nice,” Julian replied.
Cylee felt her cheeks get a little warm. Fortunately with her coloration it wasn’t always obvious when she was blushing. “You too,” she said. “So. What are we doing tonight?”
“Well, between now and when Anita calls to make sure you’re safe, I figured, we’d eat at this little Texicali restaurant and then head down to The Open Mind to see what’s on down there.”
“Lead on,” Cylee said. She had intentionally not apologized for being twenty minutes later, and he hadn’t brought it up. Either he was being a gentleman or was playing mind games. She couldn’t decide which was worse.
The menu at South L.A. was an interesting mix of spicy Texicali specialities and Fed comfort food. Cylee decided she was feeling adventurous and went for chipotle hush puppies and carne asada tacos. Julian ordered biscuits and mole, which, assured her, was made from spices and chocolate, not underground rodents. He said it was fine.
Their drinks came and Cylee quite visibly dipped her Augmented left index finger in the drink for a moment. Julian smiled. “What, did you think I was going to have the waiter drug your lemonade?” Julian asked. “As far as I know this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve asked me to meet you somewhere, then drugged me and kidnapped me.” Cylee responded.
Agent: The drink only contains water, sugar, and lemon juice. No narcotics or other unexpected ingredients detected.
Julian looked down for a moment before answering. “I wasn’t there for that…encounter. That was another team. For what its worth, I was against that particular method of 'interviewing', but there are other people to whom The Lady listens when it comes to high value targets like yourself.”
“And I should believe you?” Cylee said, half smiling and eating one of her hush puppies and trying to decide if she felt threatened or flattered by the “high value target” comment.
“I guess that’s up to you. For what it’s worth I think you should.”
Cylee smiled. “We’ll see how the night goes. Maybe you can prove yourself.” This wasn’t how she usually behaved on dates, but for some reason she was enjoying keeping the smug boy on the defensive. And it seemed that he was enjoying it as well.
“So are you from Portland?” Cylee asked.
“No, I’m from California, but I’ve spent the past few years in and around Sea-Tac. What about you?”
Cylee smiled again. “I’m the high value target, remember? You tell me where I’m from. I’m assuming you did your research.”
“Okay, well, without just pulling up your file, I can tell you that you were born in Alaska before it was Pacifica, you grew up on the Kenai Peninsula, your father is Filipino and your mother is from the North Slope, and you’ve basically been off the grid for the last ten years.”
“That’s…more than most people find out about me,” Cylee said, suddenly feeling very exposed. Which was stupid, of course. They clearly knew who she was and that’s why they were after her. But…they weren’t Fed. Or at least, they didn’t act like Feds. “I didn’t mean to creep you out or anything…” Julian said.
Wha should she do? Cylee’s mind was racing. If they knew who she was back in Alaska they must know who she is, and they could turn her in or expose her…perhaps that was the plan. Find someone over whom you’ve got some blackmail. Keep them on your side or give them to the feds. She wondered if she should leave now, just abandon everything and maybe try to make a new life in Canada.
“Maybe this was all a bad idea,” Cylee said and Julian interrupted.
“Listen, if we were trying to turn you over to the Fed we could have done so long ago. That’s not the goal here, Cylee. The Lady has big plans and is working to make some real changes that will help all of us. We did some research and found out about you, that’s all. This isn’t a trap. This is just dinner. After all, you called me.”
“Well, that’s true, at least.” Cylee agreed.
“Tell you what, let’s finish dinner, go to the Open Mind like we planned, and call it a night. I was hoping to impress you with my scintillating conversation and charming wit, but I guess we need to work on a more basic level, like “having any form of trust” first, huh?
Cylee looked at him. This was stupid, but she wanted to trust him. Julian was annoying and smug and right far too often for his own good, but she didn’t feel like he was a bad person, for all of that. Still, she couldn’t just…
“What did you have in mind?” She asked.
“We’ve got a job coming up. Watch how I work with and for you on that job I promise I won’t let you down. I promise that you’ll be impressed at how I handle my part of the operation. And if there’s any sort of tactical error, I also promise I’ll make it right.”
“Want to make it interesting? How about we make a little bet?” Cylee said. She was opening herself up for a fall here, but she wanted to see where this went.
“Oh? What did you have in mind?”
“How about this,” Cylee said after a moment’s thought. “We go out again, in Seattle. If you impress me, I’ll pay for dinner that night.” She smiled, hoping that he wouldn’t see the blush in her cheeks. This was a stupid bet, high school stuff. Of course, she never went to high school…
Julian sat back, his grin boyish. “Deal.”
“Okay then. It’s a second date. Now… What is the Open Mind?” Cylee asked, eating a little more. She felt free, she felt happy. Was this what it was like to grow up normal? Where silly things like “dates” made you happy?
“Oh you’ll hate it. It’s an 'improvisational theatrical collective', according to their site. What that means is that every 'performance' is an unscripted 'experience' put on by a more-or-less assigned member—or members—of said 'collective'. They go on stage and explain their feelings for as long as it takes, using whatever props or metaphors they can lay their hands on. It’s widely considered the dumbest thing in Portland, and is therefore extremely popular amongst connoisseurs of fine irony.” Julian said.
“Bold move, planning a first date around something so terrible. But hey, you said you’d show me weird and this sounds like it’ll either be entirely predictable or totally weird. Oddly enough, I’m in.”
Julian bowed his head in mock theatricality and Cylee cut him off before he could say anything, just to keep him slightly off balance.
“BUT! You have to tell me why you call Ms. Happy 'The Lady'.” Cylee said. She didn’t really care, she was just fishing for something that would throw him off. But to her surprise it seemed to hit Julian harder than that. For once he seemed genuinely speechless. But not for long.
“How about…how about that’s a 'second date' conversation?” Julian said at length. “A guy has to preserve some sense of mystery, after all.”
Cylee considered. She didn’t really want to scare him off, but she also didn’t want to let him win. But you have to pick your battles, she decided.
They finished their dinners, chatting idly about their food and the people who (they hoped) were out of earshot. Julian paid for dinner and they walked to the theater where The Open Mind “performed”, if you can call it that. About an hour into a long, screechy monologue using a disturbingly mangled ventriloquist’s dummy as a metaphor for government and/or parenthood—Cylee couldn’t quite tell which, or perhaps they were one and the same to the person on the stage— She received a message.
Dr. Patel: Cylee, are you okay? Is everything good? Cylee: Yes, and thank you for checking in. Julian has been a perfect gentleman, although we’re currently at the Open Mind and it’s making me reconsider…well, everything. It’s quite bad. Dr. Patel: What is that? Are there drugs? Cylee: Oh, no, nothing like that. No, if anything it’s worse. It’s performance art. Dr. Patel: Goodness. I see I need to have a talk with our Julian. He likes to come off as quirky and eccentric but there are some things you just don’t do. Well, if you’re willing to tolerate it I guess you have to accept some responsibility. Listen, it sounds like you’re okay, but will you send me a message when you get back to your hotel?
Cylee smiled. She’d only met this woman but somehow she felt like she had a new mom.
Cylee: I will, and thank you again, Doctor Patel. Dr. Patel: You’re welcome, and call me Anita. Cylee: Ok. Thank you, Anita.
“Hey stop texting. She’s just gone off stage. Either she thinks that was enough and something else is about to happen, or she was serious about getting some lighter fluid and burning the vent dummy. Either way things are about to get good,” Julian said.
Three days later, Cylee was sitting with her back against a tree, just after dusk. She ran down the salient points of the plan in her head, simple as they were. Six trucks in the convoy, driving two across, three back. The truck that was most likely to have the package would be in the middle rank, on the side closer to the edge of the road, not near the center. Five identical boxes inside the truck, one would have the tracker placed by their corrupted security guard. Get the package, roll out into the darkness, try not to get shot.
Cylee sat and watched the grass sway. Even without her Third Eye she could see little disturbances, made by little lives out there in the grass. That one four meters downhill was a rabbit, those two to her left were mice playing. Her uncle taught her to hunt like this, after her dad went back home. Not that they “lived off the land” or whatever. Mostly they lived off of Permanent Fund Dividends, her mom’s job, and money and healthcare from their Native Corporation on the North Slope of Alaska, back when it had been Alaska. The Native corporations had fallen on harder times as oil was outlawed, but they had invested well and still had a fair amount, much like the state of Alaska, back when it had been Alaska.
Her uncle had liked to hunt, and wasn’t sure how to interact with a little girl, so her took her hunting. Showed her how to see what was going on around her instead of moving through the world like she owned it.
“Be a part of the scenery and everyone else can be an actor for you to watch,” her uncle had told her, and she nodded in solemn if somewhat confused agreement. “Move around and everyone else is just watching you, you’ll never see them.” He finished, his voice quiet, emotionless; he was focused on the other actors in the forest. Slowly he pointed, showing her where to look but not saying anything. Over time Cylee—no, back then she had been “Karen” or even “Ka-Li”, an abbreviation of her first and middle names—Over time she learned to see the grass that moved out of sync with the wind, to hear the rustles of other actors moving.
And then, less than a year later, Pacifica picked her, and taught her to use those instincts to hunt people, and to use technology instead of instinct.
If she wanted to, she could engage her Third Eye, track the rodents by their body heat, transmit their locations to her pistol, and swiftly and surely end each of their little lives. She didn’t, she wouldn’t. But now it was so easy, and felt like cheating, somehow.
Her clock beeped. Two minutes to be in position. She checked the feed from Julian’s “distraction” car; there were headlights coming. She checked the GPS and found the trucks bearing down on her position at roughly 120 kph. She stood and headed down to her position, just north of the distraction. Hopefully the distraction would stop all six trucks and she could get to her target while it was immobile. But it was possible the target would keep rolling, and she was in place.
Cylee pulled her magnetic grapple free, ensured the harness was fastened properly, and that she could reach the disconnect mechanism. The second to last thing she would want was for the grapple to come off her when she needed it. The last thing she wanted was for the grapple to stay attached when she needed it to drop.
“T minus twenty, Intercept,” Cassandra said over the comms channel. “Intercept is a terrible nickname,” Cylee thought, not for the first time.
“Target sighted. Rolling.” Julian responded.
Agent: He’s too late; he’s not going to hit the lead truck.
“Intercept, speed up, you’re not going to make contact.” Cylee said and started running to make up for the difference. In her HUD she saw multiple scenarios, Julian’s heavily armored SUV against the trucks at different speeds.
“I got this, Zero.” Julian responded. “Impact in three, two…oh.” Cylee watched Julian collide with the second truck, pushing it sideways but not stopping the target truck. The two following trucks swerved and utterly failed to stop, colliding with Julian and his victim.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, go get our target!” Julian called out over comms.
The three trucks that had escaped sped on. “Amateurs,” Cylee muttered under her breath. A real hauler gang never split the convoy. Not even a Texicali smuggler gang would abandon half their people like that.
One of the two lead trucks fell back behind the target truck. “Total amateurs,” Cylee said, unshipping her long rifle off her back and finding a good vantage. Julian had said they wouldn’t need long range weapons. But then Julian hadn’t ever been in a real fight.
Cylee saw the trucks come round the bend, their GPS signals overlaid on the actual vehicles in her vision. She aimed for the grill of the target truck…
Her shot connected and ignited, a bright white magnesium that was probably doing expensive things to the radiator of that truck, but wasn’t enough to stop it. The flare might blind a human driver, but it appeared that the electronics in the truck could still “see”, as it didn’t slow down at all.
She aimed at the front passenger-side tire next and missed, throwing up sparks in front of the truck. The next shot connected and the truck had to slow down a little, but these haulers were built with dual-wheel axles fore and aft, so it could still keep rolling.
Agent: It’s down to 50 kph, still too fast. Cylee: I’m aware.
The lead truck passed Cylee as she took aim at the center of the third wheel on the target. This time she shot for just off the center, hopefully right about where the brakes were. Her shot hit and the truck started wobbling, slowing. Good. Now all she had to do was run up to where it stops, and climb in the back door—
The follow truck slammed into the decelerating target truck, burying its cab into the trailer.
“They’ve got their own people in there! What is going on?” Cylee almost screamed into the comms.
“Looks like an accident, I don’t think they would have done that on purpose,” Cassandra said. Meanwhile the trailer of the target truck ripped free of both trucks and rolled over, off the road.
“You still need to find a way in,” Cassandra said. Cylee rolled her eyes.
“Do I have any cover? Anyone who can help? Intercept? Big Red?” Cylee had insisted on Isaac and Howard collectively having the moniker Big Red, mostly to annoy them.
“ETA two minutes, Zero,” said Isaac.
Cylee growled. Two minutes would give the haulers time to form up around the stricken trailer. She had to get in before that. The lead truck had pulled over and was heading back, and the drivers from the target truck were already on the ground, flashlights searching the grass for their attacker. Cassandra said they were more or less in her employ, but Cylee wasn’t sure they would recognize her as a co-worker, so to speak. She dodged around their search beams and headed closer to the trailer, coming up around the back of the rear truck. “Hey, Zero? Bad news. One of the trucks from this pack got loose, they’re headed your way, and I think they’re going to catch up with you before Big Red does.”
“Acknowledged.” Cylee subvocalized. She was too close to the haulers to actually speak out loud now.
Cylee: Agent, how many people are inside the target trailer?
Agent: Probability is that there are two people in there. Data is inconclusive. They are unlikely to be a significant threat.
Cylee: Well, obviously, but I don’t want to hurt them either.
Cylee moved out to the tall grass on the far side of the road and observed for a few moments. She could see “Big Red’s” GPS dot coming from the north and the new batch of haulers coming from the south. It looked to be a dead heat. If either the undamaged front truck, or the newcomer truck were to get to the package they’d recapture it and haul out of there… there’s an idea.
Already the haulers were digging in the target trailer, and Cylee was relieved to see that the two riding in the trailer were sitting in blankets on the side of the road instead of laying under them.
“Big Red, can you circle around my position and engage the incoming truck?”
“Affirmative, Zero. But we thought we’d set up a roadblock?”
“Why bother? This truck is already going where we want to be, at least within a few miles. Just keep everyone distracted until I say otherwise.”
“Zero, this is not the plan we agreed to,” Cassandra said, her voice more stern than usual.
“Agreed, HQ, but it’s the one that will work.”
Cylee found a tree near the foremost truck and got up into the branches to wait. She saw Big Red bounding over the landscape in an offload vehicle, all big tires and lights. She saw the rear truck catch up to the accident and position itself sideways across the road.
Big Red lit up every light on their vehicle and did a very good job of attracting attention. The haulers weren’t stupid; they didn’t leave the package unattended, but they were distracted enough. Cylee climbed up the side of the front truck and lay down flat under the aerodynamic facade on the top of the cab, connecting her magnetic grapple to the cab for extra support.
“I’m in position. Let them chase you off, Big Red. Can anyone get ahead of this vehicle before we reach Seattle?”
“We will have an extraction team for you outside of Tacoma, Zero.” Cassandra said.
Howard drove his contraption dangerously close to the stricken target trailer, then disappeared into he night when the haulers opened fire on them.
“We are out of range and safe. Good luck, Zero.” Isaac reported.
As expected, the haulers moved the package—and all four decoys, unfortunately—to the foremost truck. Then the rear truck and the new target started north again.
Agent: There are now four people inside this trailer. Breaching and escaping seems unlikely.
Cylee: Can you…connect to the truck’s electronics? Agent: Perhaps. We can’t hijack the truck, if that is your plan. Cylee: can you make the accelerator stick for a while? Agent: We believe we can do that.
“Intercept, can you get TAC strips at the rendezvous point?”
“We can do that, Zero.”
And then…the trip got boring for a while. Which was insane. Here Cylee was, sitting on top of a truck going fully 120, filled with people who would shoot her on sight, but with nothing to do for a while. She checked her pistol, cleaned her rifle a bit, ate a few bites of the protein bar she brought along…
Ugh, finally. Tacoma, 20 miles. “Okay, I’m starting the operation. Have the TAC strips ready and someone prepared to pick me up.”
This part required some skillful maneuvering. Cylee reattached her grapple to the top of the truck, then slid down the side and planted a small explosive on the lock on the side door. Back to the roof, and slide quietly along the roof to the back door. Her sensors picked up the rough positions of the four people inside, probably near the back… good.
She planted another explosive on that lock, then triggered the side door one. The door flapped open but was secured quickly. She slid along the roof… someone was probably standing at that side door. She then blew the larger explosive on the back door, which flapped open wildly. One person fell out. Amateur. Still, down to three. While the other two were near the back and the guard on the side was distracted Cylee yanked the side door back open, grabbed the top of the doorframe, and kicked the guard full in the chest as she let herself in. She then jumped over his prone body, grabbed one guy and slammed him into the other guy. They both went down for a moment trying to figure out how to stand back up and Cylee triggered the beacon that would show her Augments which box to take. In her HUD one box lit up bright orange.
Someone had alerted the driver and the truck was slowing down. She didn’t have a lot of time before she got two new friends to play with.
Agent: It’s a decoy. The real one is in this box.
A different box lit up green. Cylee grabbed the green box, kicked one guard back down on top of the other and was thrown bodily from the truck by the side-door guy.
She held the box tight as she rolled, hitting the grapple disconnect with her free hand. Her suit had good armor but not quite good enough. She tumbled end over end into the ditch on the side of the road where she lay scratched and bleeding.
Cylee: lock their accelerator! Agent: You could have told us earlier. But we anticipated your plans. Locking…
The truck started going faster, and a few hundred meters she heard it hit the TAC strips, all twenty wheels going flat.
“Almost at your location, Zero. You okay?”
“Fine, Big Red, fine. Just get here.”
The SUV pulled up and Cylee yanked the back door open, threw the package in and jumped in behind it. She pulled the door closed and noticed Cassandra sitting in the back seat, holding the package.
“Thank you, Ms. Happy.”
“I suppose there’s no point in telling you my last name is Vance?”
“Awww, when did you change it?”