It is the year 2056AD
Earth has survived the Third World War.
In the Aftermath – the Long Winter – the Portal Storms came, and with them, the malicious, powerful entity known as The One, and the link to the strange-real world of Vulfar, home of the Vulfen.
Joining forces with Humanities best and brightest, they fought the War On Two Worlds, and secured a new future for both races.
The warriors who banded together were the team known as SPEAR…
Special Purpose Emergency Assault Response
An action Crossover fanfic, written and presented by Stephen Doyle
Silverwind leaned on the wooden handrail of the veranda, blinking in the bright sunlight warming through his grizzled, rust-and-cream coloured fur. Below, the ground fell away steeply behind the wood and stone house, and the tops of tall pine trees thrust up from the side of the valley, trailing away like a sea of green, down to the wide valley floor far below, framing the city of Xerxes in the distance, set to be the new capital of Osea, after Oured had been left to stand as ruins in situ as a war memorial to the past conflicts.
Skeletal frames of buildings climbed from the urban sprawl, sharing space with tower cranes, as the city busily rebuilt itself at last, becoming a new beacon of progress and advancement. It would be a landmark for the future, much as New Olympus was becoming on Earth.
A smile crawled onto his muzzle at the sight - he had a friend down there. And under her watch, civilization was enduring.
They had all survived the worst - first of all the wars. Then the worldwide panic and terror after the discovery of the Ulysses Asteroid was made public, and the flurry of riots, and - insanely- a coup in Usea, in which he had been intimately involved.
Then had come the impact itself, and the chaos surrounding it. Following that, more wars, with superweapons originally designed to eradicate the threat of Ulysses now duelling in the skies above the worlds' continents. That had lead to the sheer manic intensity of the following years, when the portals between the Humans' Earth and Vulfar had opened, and the ancient alien intelligence known only as The One had almost succeeded in gaining control of both worlds, and through them, ushering in a new hellish order of it's own.
Briefly, the hackles at the back of his neck rose, and his ears flattened, a low growl in his throat, as he remembered the darkest days of that war.
The blood, the darkness, the fighting and the brutality of it all were always easy to find behind his closed eye – they were always there, just under the surface, waiting to jump out at the slightest trigger.
The smells of gunpowder and blood of a fight at close-quarters, and the snap of ozone from electrical systems, the smell of burning plastic, and the grumble of engines resounding from inside his tank, mingling into the horror of a pitched battle.
The terror of fighting at close range, the heat of burning metal, and the clang of shells on plate armour, the din of explosions and screams mingled with the roar and rumble of engines, and the panicked, screaming cries of men and women dying.
His artificial left hand curled instinctively with a memory, an ache in the empty socket of his left eye, beneath the black leather patch on his face. And then the darkness was chased away in the smell of warm pastries and coffee curling out of the open patio doors, accompanied by the musical sounds of a soft female voice singing.
His smile returned in force as he turned around to watch Nénah emerge from the house, her thick brunette hair falling in a rough tumble around her shoulders, still unkempt and raw from their nights' sleep, her plush and curvy body hidden mostly by one of his shirts she'd appropriated long ago for sleeping in. She gave a shy smile - at odds with the knowing look in her bright green eyes - as she padded toward him barefoot, and placed breakfast on the table.
"Morning, handsome," she churred softly at him, leaning in to kiss the side of his muzzle, slipping her arms around him in a hug that he returned.
"Morning yourself," he rumbled back, nuzzling the side of her face, before slipping into a seat opposite her at the small wooden table. The smile stayed fixed as he passed out the warm, crusty traditional Etrurian pastries between them both, licking his fingers rudely, as she passed him the terracotta butter dish, and he smeared the butter onto the light pastry, eagerly watching it melt into yellow smears.
"You look thoughtful," Nénah said after they'd finished eating, leaning back in her chair, one long leg pulled up and hugged to her bosom.
"Something on your mind?" she asked, trying to read the expression on his rugged features, her bright green eyes darting back and forth as she chewed on her pastry.
He shook his head, and then hesitated with a sigh.
"Maybe," he answered a moment later, after taking a sip from his coffee, ears twitching in appreciation of the strong flavour. "Thinking about the past, and the future, everything we've been through. Our friends - and our enemies".
She gave a short chuckle in reply, looking out, as he had earlier, to the city under construction in the base of the valley. Occasionally, sounds of engines, and construction, reached them on the wind.
"We've got a lot of both. Which isn't surprising, as part of SPEAR. And you had even more before that, 'Scarface One,'" she said, sticking her tongue out at him as she used his old call-sign, before looking back into the distance, eyes darting from detail to detail. "And we've definitely earned our peace for the moment, don't you think? We've saved the world a half-dozen times by now. Earth too, don't forget!"
He grinned back at her, and laughed softly.
"Oh, I remember that, don't you worry. Our friends wouldn't hesitate to remind me either".
He shifted in his seat, and his expression turned serious, ears flattening and tail drooping. "Still," he said, cupping the Weyland-Yutani logo mug in both hands and wrinkling his nose. "I can't shake the feeling I have that there's something going on out there, something just out of our sight..." he trailed off and looked across at Nénah, who was regarding him intently, sitting straight in the chair, and holding her mug, like his, in both hands.
"It's probably nothing," he said sheepishly, and flattening his ears, bowing his head to look into the bottom of his mug and averting his single eye from her gaze. "Just worrying about-"
"Hey," she said firmly, her soft, pleasant voice with an edge to it. "If you, of all people, has suspicions, then I think they bear checking into. After all, you've got the chops to be taken reasonably about these things... but all the same - are you really, positively, sure that you think something is up?"
He gave her a brief smile - only she would take him seriously, he thought. Only she'd back him up, and trust his judgement like this. And only she, he knew, would follow him to the mouth of hell and back again on whatever hunch he had. And that, of course, was one of the many reasons they loved each other.
"That's the thing," he answered, "it feels just like... a suspicion, at the moment. Just a stirring in my fur, a scent on the wind that something's not right... but I can't ignore it, all the same – it won't go away".
Nénah nodded softly, and drained the last of her coffee, setting the brightly coloured Vulcan To The Sky Trust mug down on the wooden table, before getting up and coming around the table to hug him softly to her plentiful bust.
"We've got to head into the city today anyway, right?" she said, releasing him after he hugged her back. "Let's hit up a few of our friends, and see if we can find out anything, and if not - we'll make some calls".
"All right," he said back with a smile. "As always, you're the smart one, and I defer to your rational judgement in my moments of senility".
She laughed, and cuffed the back of one of his ears. "Flattery will get you everywhere, you old dog".
"I was counting on it," he growled back, pouncing on her and pulling her into a passionate kiss, before sweeping her, laughing and kicking, up into his arms, and back into the bedroom.
Town could wait a couple of hours.
A continent away, one of the thousands of humans who now worked on Vulfar since the War On Two Worlds also stood against a railing, but in less pleasant and peaceful surroundings. Instead, Scott Valentine grimaced at the sight before him, as swarms of personnel wearing HEV suits worked steadily at disassembling the remains of The Ones legacy upon Vulfar, and in particular, the Erusean city of Farbanti.
History had lead Erusea, and Farbanti in particular, to be a hotspot for war and violence throughout history. Located on the coast, and in what had once been a fertile plain, it had been a target for raiders from the sea, or from inland, for centuries. When the disparate tribes of Erusea had formed a government, the city by the sea had become their capital, Farbanti, the biggest city - aside from San Salvacion - on the continent.
Unfortunately, the largest fragment from the Ulysses asteroid had also impacted here, smashing the city into ruins, altering the sea level, and devastating the countries' economic and social state, as well as erasing centuries of cultural artefacts, such as sculptures, paintings, and pictures.
The Asteroid fragment had, of course, also bought The One to Vulfar, and with it, more chaos and devastation. The ancient intelligence had manipulated the Eruseans, first covertly, and later openly, into war, manipulating them into serving it's needs, with the eventual goal of causing some kind of convergence, or collapse, of the universe Vulfar was part of, and the one his Earth was part of, to allow more of its' own kind to spill into reality, taking total control of their worlds - and basically transforming Humans and Vulfen alike into a crop of food and slaves, with no free will. Hell on Earth, essentially.
The... thing had been stopped though, in a battle to end all battles, by combined human and Vulfen forces, beaten in a titanic test of force of arms and willpower, slain in it's lair beneath the crater in Farbanti. Now, the disposal of its' remains, and the remains of it's empire, were the concern of the multinational (multi-planetary? multiracial?) force that had been key to it's defeat.
The straw-blond human grimaced and ducked as a voice from below called out, and the dull boom of explosives sounded moments later, blasting another chunk of the fortress-temple into rubble. Lasers whined and fizzed below, filling the air with the stink of burning meat and ozone, as the massive bulk of the slimy, tentacled mass that was The Ones' true form was dissected and disposed of - by express agreement, it was being dissolved in acid at a remote site, with no dissection, or experimentation. The acid and residue would then be dumped into an active volcanic crater in the Vulfen Pacific Ocean, which would then be carefully monitored. Should anything remotely untoward happen to the volcano (aside from an eruption), the volcano was constantly monitored by six separate Kinetic Harpoon satellites. There wasn't enough overkill, or enough 'making sure' where the Eldritch Horror was concerned. Black Mesa teams had been thorough in their research on the disposal procedures. Dr. Freeman himself had conducted the tests… although that was nothing new.
Scott sighed and ticked off more pointless check-boxes on his PADD, the electronic device beeping in confirmation of the input. The catwalk rang with the sound of approaching footsteps, and he turned to see his partner in the observation, Jessica, walking toward him.
"Everything I saw was going as planned," she said in greeting, leaning on the catwalk rail next to him, and passing over a bottle of cold cola. "It's all being shipped off to Fort Laurent for correct disposal, all the paperwork is signed, and all the human and Vulfen forces are working together properly".
"In short," he replied to the redhead, following her gaze down to the scene below, "all boringly normal... thank god."
"Pretty much," she replied, taking a long pull from her bottle. "Still, good as it is that everything's going as planned, it doesn't make for an interesting job compared to our wartime exploits, does it?"
"Not so much," he answered with a nod, watching as a mecha removed a chunk of gross green thing, and piled it into a waiting truck. "Hardly what I'd imagined for my successful military career with the SPEAR. Still - at least there's some kind of peace"
"Some kind," she agreed, regarding the same thing.
Both of them had been mecha pilots during the war, adopted into SPEAR from MITHRIL, and had fought valiantly on the front lines, working together with the best and brightest of the Vulfen and Human forces in the Special Purposes Emergency Armed Response Group – SPEAR.
They'd been in MITHRIL, the international, United Nations Combined Forces sanctioned group. Similarly, the rest of SPEAR's personnel had been pulled from a number of existing 'Special Missions' groups from Vulfen and Human sources, and as a result the group was comprised of utterly exceptional individuals.
They had fought on almost every continent except Antarctica on Earth, and even in Orbit and on the Moon at one point. Their duties had taken them from Earth, to Vulfar, and they had been instrumental in battles to secure the Portals from Earth to Vulfar, and they had been some of the first, alongside Silverwind and the rest of SPEAR, to penetrate Farbanti's outer security perimeter. Along with him, they'd opened the way for the rest of the UNCF, and at the end, had been with him as they struck the fatal blows against The One, and liberated the last city under the elder creatures' control. But that had been what seemed like a lifetime ago, even though it was only four years.
Now, their mecha were gathering dust in a base somewhere, and they had grown older - the lines around their eyes and mouths said as much. And while they were still part of the UNCF, their duties now were much less action-packed than in days past.
"Come on," said Jessy with a sigh in her voice. "Let's get out of here, and head back to the base to file this crap".
Scott nodded, casting one last look at the work site, before sliding his PADD into its' pouch, and following her along the catwalk and down the stairs, out through a complex of prefab offices, break rooms, locker rooms, and storerooms, to a set of lifts alongside the heavy-duty ones carrying the disposal materials and vehicles back to the surface.
They rode the elevator in silence with a mixed team of Vulfen and Human personnel, who joked and murmured amongst themselves about coming off the end of their twelve-hour shift, before emerging into daylight at the top of the shaft, and the cool sea breeze.
Vehicles trundled back and forth. Big trucks carrying the disposal materials growled and whined their way from the elevators to the highway, and mecha thumped back and forth in heavy footsteps. Smaller SUV's, minibuses, and pickups carried work crews away to their accommodation, or to their homes. Most of this passed both Jessy and Scott by though, as they headed for the UNCF white Polecat SUV, Jessy climbing into the driving seat and starting the hydrogen engine with a coughing whine, and turning into the traffic.
Bouncing along the rough dirt road, Scott surveyed the scene around them, before sitting up and pointing out the windscreen.
"Look," he said, and pointed, Jessy averting her eyes from the windscreen and the drivers' HUD, to see a line of three beaten-up looking articulated panel trucks turn into the entrance of the working site from the highway, bouncing along the rutted, muddy ground and towards the craters' centre, where the elevators were located.
"So?" she replied, flicking her eyes between the trucks and the cars' HUD. "They're probably just carrying supplies or something"
"With no licence plates?" he answered, looking from the trucks to her, his eyes of mismatched colour searching her face. She hesitated, looking from him, to the trucks, and pursing her full red lips in thought, before chewing her lower lip gently, slim fingers tapping on the steering wheel.
"That is weird," she said, this time with less of the dismissive tone in her voice. "But site security should deal with it..." she trailed off, the firmness in her voice faltering, before she looked over at him.
"Well?" he said, following the trucks and turning in his seat as they grumbled past, towering over the small four-wheel drive.
"All right, you win," she said with a sigh, flashing the indicators and hauling the wheel around and pulling the SUV into the lane of traffic heading the opposite way. "But if we get in trouble, I'm blaming you!"
"Gladly," he said warmly with a smirk, shifting in his seat and tapping out a message on his PADD. There were people who ought to know if something strange was going down. And not just through official channels.
A world away, under the bright sun and sweltering heat of the Mojave Desert, Selina Tokugawa swung gently in her plush office chair in a sweltering hot conference room, and tried to ignore the fresh smell of the desert air sneaking in through open conference room windows, along with the faint cool breeze stroking her Japanese-featured face, and turn her attention back to the meeting going on around her.
Now that the War was over and long-gone, attention had turned instead to the opening of more portals between Earth and Vulfar to increase trade, as well as the completion of the New Mombasa orbital elevator, and the construction of another elevator on Vulfar. Around the conference table were gathered a gaggle of brilliant Vulfen and Human scientists... although the problem with gathering such minds together was that none of them could ever agree on anything, and they were all fiercely opinionated about everything that came up. She was no exception, she would readily admit, but she equally found the whole thing boring - working with others was often fun, but this time, they were spending too long going around in circles. It was a far cry for her from the exciting days she'd spent working with the men and women of the SPEAR group. She'd been as vital to the group as the shooters and pilots had been in those days.
Looking around the room, at the serious faces, the abundance of sweaters, shirts, smart trousers, loafers and lab coats, she let out a long slow sigh, and reluctantly listened as one of the scientists with a severe look to him, wearing a pale blue shirt, and with greying hair and round-rimed glasses, explained in deliberately precise, German-accented English, the power requirements of opening another trans-dimensional portal, as well as the theories behind it - which were already well-known form studying the extant portals.
Finally, she was bored, and sat forward in her chair.
"Doctor Mueller, that's all extremely interesting," she said loudly, ladling on the sarcasm as thick as she dared, "but it's also completely irrelevant," she added, smiling broadly and beautifully to the others gathered around the room. She knew that, older men as they were, the perky-looking goth-styled, Japanese-Australian girl in the ripped jeans and mesh T-shirt over a black halter neck had their attention. The men were curious, and the women were disapproving or jealous, she thought with a snigger. She didn't especially care either way - it was what was comfortable for her.
"The gateways we've all observed and analysed in excruciating detail have been identified as being the result of Higgs-Boson particle interactions through the Xen border regions. Dr. Freeman and the Lambda group already proved that they're generated by the interactions between sub-atomic particles and masses, and the Strange Particles native to Xen interacting with our natural worlds result in the formation of the gateways.
"We know we can generate those particles, with a complex Particle Accelerator like the one here at Black Mesa, and we also know we can control and move them using strong magnetic force generators. The power requirements can be dealt with by using multiple-stack fusion reactors, like we use for Naval Battleships. To pump out some more juice, we can use a direct plasma injection as a fusion supercharger".
There was a brief silence, and then a round of intense gabbling around the table, and with a smirk, she sat back, sipping from a bottle of Bundaberg root beer, meeting the eyes of the slim, narrow-faced and goateed brown-hair glasses wearing scientist at the head of the table, who smiled silently, and shook his head.
Her attention was drawn away from Doctor Freeman's eyes, as the gabbling died down to Mueller and a Vulfen scientist, a buxom red furred vixen-like woman with the surname Saram, she remembered.
Selina listened intently as the Vulfen supported Selina's arguments, overturning Mueller's conservative arguments for further testing and experimentation, and arguing instead for progress and increased practical experiments. Selina could see that the others around the table were mostly in agreement with Saram and herself, rather than Mueller's' views. Freeman in particular was nodding, his hands steepled together on the tabletop.
"If we wait any longer, we might as well not do anything," Selina declared archly, grinning at Mueller's exasperation. "Progress isn't made by waiting and seeing," she said, drumming the bottle. "Practical experiments will get us somewhere!"
"Quite right," agreed the red-furred, black-haired Vulfen in a slightly accented voice of well-clipped tones. "We know what we need to do - so why wait?"
"Because we don't understand the side effects or the risks!" Mueller cried. "Anything could happen - we don't know how to attune the Gateways to open to Vulfar - they could open onto anything! Don't you remember the Portal Storms?"
"But from analysis," countered Selina, the Vulfen nodding and leaning forward as if to side with her, "All of the particles we've created and monitored so far, and have tested and measured the resonant frequencies and waveform patterns of, have been matched to those that have opened into portals to Vulfar. We have no reason to believe that any others we attempt to open ourselves will emerge anywhere else. We don't even know if it's possible for them to open somewhere else. We've done everything short of exposing them to the Xen element!"
"Exactly - we need to model that reaction first!" exclaimed the German, wiping his glasses on his shirt. "We should test the theories and model them first-"
"But modelling will not achieve the same as practical results. And there's no guarantee that modelling will show exactly the same results as an actual experiment will achieve. We should conduct the opening of a portal under controlled conditions, at a remote location!"
Silence hovered over the table, and remained, except for the shifting of bodies, coughs, and the shuffling of paper all was silent until Gordon Freeman sat up straight in his seat, and spoke with a firm, even voice, focusing everyone's attention. He rarely spoke, and when he did it was usually worth listening to. The man was a certified genius, and no-one could tell where he got his ideas from. Of course, he had that in common with everyone else around the table – that was why they'd all been called there.
"An acceptable risk," he said with a smile, his accent softly tinged with California. "There are plenty of acceptable locations we can use. And we can agree a timetable at a later date. For now, let's take a break".
Everyone agreed to that without incident, and rose from their seats. Selina tapped the Vulfen on the shoulder as they walked out into the sunshine through a large glass door, many of the scientists spreading out into groups and muttering amongst themselves, or lighting up cigarettes.
"Wow, thanks for watching my ass in there," Selina said with a grin. The Vulfen wagged her tail and chuckled, ears flicking back and forth in amusement. "My pleasure," she replied in the same exotically accented tones. "I can't stand people holding back when there's an obvious course to go - we can see the theory in action. There are already the open portals to Vulfar!".
"I know," said Selina with a smile, leaning against the wooden railing to the patio, and looking over her new friend. She was much more conventionally dressed than Selina, in a smart black pencil-skirt and a purple T-shirt, but the multiple piercings in her left ear, and two in her right, as well the curl of patterned dye creeping up over the shirts' neckline and below her right sleeve hinted at a subtle streak of adventurousness alongside her professionalism and academia.
"Talian Saram," the Vulfen said, giving a slight bow, and poking her wet black nose towards Selina in a traditional Vulfen greeting, before offering her hand in a more human one. Selina smile, taking the white-furred appendage in her hand and shaking it warmly, marvelling at the way the white fur blended into the red further up around her elbows, and again around her cheeks and throat. Vulfen were so... exotic, and fascinating to her. She was reminded of her friends, Silverwind, Nénah, Red and the rest - she hadn't heard from them for a while. She suddenly realised Talian had been speaking, and she wasn't listening.
"I'm sorry," Selina said sheepishly, turning her attention back to the Vulfen. "What were you saying?"
"I asked if you'd like to get a bite to eat once the meeting is over? Is that how you say it? I'm still learning some English, and I find it hard to get the uh, colloquialisms, or 'slang' right sometimes".
Selina beamed and nodded. "That is how you say it, yeah. And I'd love to - I know plenty of good places in Black Mesa Any food you like in particular-"
Talian didn't get a chance to reply before the bell rang to summon them all back into the conference room, and they took their seats again - this time next to one another.
Silverwind looked at himself in the mirror, shrugging his shoulders into his checked shirt more comfortably, and rolling up the sleeves to just above his elbow. As he looked at his reflection, he appraised what he saw - rugged Vulfen features, showing the stress of his life of warfare - grizzled, greying fur around his nose and the end of his muzzle. Grey overtaking the brown in his thick hair - which had grown shaggily out of its' once-regulation haircut. Similarly, the now off-white fur on his chin had grown out into the beginnings of a beard, and the ruffle of fur on his cheeks had straggled out. His eyes had lines around them - even the missing one, with it's attendant scars peeking out from under the patch - and his muzzle had its' small nicks and scars, as did his ears. His body was still trim and taut - he refused to let it wither or grow complacent, and the relatively remote location of the mountain-side house was good for exercise - he walked the mountains a few times a week, as well as chopping firewood, and doing various work to the grounds. And besides - he enjoyed exercise. Well, a bit. When it was something more interesting than mindless PT, and was something like hiking, or cycling.
Of course, by rights his physique should have deteriorated much, much faster than it had. After all, he'd been a pilot during the Belkan War in 1995, and that was fifty-five years ago, when he was barely more than twenty... and he looked to be in his mid-forties now.
He'd never quite worked that one out - but knew that somehow, it had something to do with the experimental procedures he'd gone through as a volunteer in the Scarface Squadron, under the auspices of the Elysium Organisation. Red - dear Red, his best friend of all, the only person equal to Nénah in his world - had undergone the same treatments too, and had the same... situation. He'd never know what the true point of it had been though - Elysium had been revealed as conducting their own master plans for the world after the Usean Coup attempt. The Zealots Special Forces unit were deployed covertly after the incident, and wiped them out - or so it was hoped. Nothing else was ever heard of them, at any rate.
Brushing aside the uncomfortable reminder of his past, and the troubling problems of his life and existence - for now - he turned his attention to more immediate concerns. Nénah had dressed quicker than him (for once), and was busying herself in the kitchen and utility room, gathering together what things they needed for the journey into town. Silverwind, on the other hand, turned his attention to something else. Leaving their bedroom, he trotted down the steps into the second level of the house, where the storeroom, den, garage and workshop were located, and stepped into the workshop, flipping on the lights, and digging a key out of his pocket.
He hesitated at the front of the big grey metal cabinet that held his and Neenah's selection of firearms. Would he need a gun? Should he take one? The feeling of deep unease had grown stronger since their conversation earlier in the morning, even despite the brief respite their lovemaking had given him. But now it was like a hovering presence just out of his sight, pressing down on him. If something were to happen, would being armed make a difference? He was licensed and authorised to carry a firearm in public, as long as it was concealed, and he could provide just and proper reasons for using it. He was even allowed to draw it and fire it in the course of action, due to his Double-O ranking with the Interplanetary Intelligence and Law Enforcement committee as an 'active reserve' member of SPEAR. Nénah, Red, and many of the others shared the same status.
He made a snap decision, opening the safe in the wall next to the gun cabinet, and pulling out his and Nénahs SPEAR ID, before opening the gun cabinet and taking out a Seburo M-5 handgun and a covert small-of-the-back holster, with a spare magazine, and then withdrawing the same for Nénah. He also took out a lock-knife, and tucked it into an ankle sheath, before closing and locking the cabinet - Just in case, he told himself.
"Silver?" Nénah called, and he turned away from the cabinet, her ID and weapon in his hands as she put her head around the workshop door. She hesitated as she looked at his face, and then at the objects in his hands.
Wordlessly, she reached for the gun, magazines, and holster, and slipped them into the waistband of her jeans at the back, arranging her shirt to fall over the top and hide the bulge, before tucking the ID wallet into her hip pocket.
"I thought I was going to have to convince you," he said, as they climbed the stairs, and locked the front door, heading out to the car. Nénah shook her head, her auburn hair shimmying with the motion.
"No way," she said, with a serious tone. "If you're going armed, I've learned enough that it's worthwhile to do the same thing. I just hope we don't have to use them".
Silverwind slid into the Mustangs' passenger seat, while Nénah took the drivers' side. He leaned back after buckling his belt and curled his lips into a grimace, his ears flattening back briefly.
"Me either," he said with a sigh. "Me either. Let's go".
Red stepped out of the elevator into one of the many grey, functional and featureless corridors that made up the inside of Public Security Section 9's HQ. A nondescript office block in New Port City, the capital of Recta, Section 9 was an international Intelligence and Security agency, with a major role in counter-terrorism and military liaison, and even had links back to Earth. Many of it's current personnel were, in fact, exchange personnel with similar agencies on Earth.
At the moment though, he was concerned with the PADD message he'd received from Zaffy - it said simply, that "Friends found something, get to work".
Knowing who their friends were, that meant if something bad was happening, it had the potential to get really bad if they'd discovered something serious - and he knew well enough what it was like to be a Trouble Magnet. He sighed as he passed by one of the human personnel on exchanged from Rainbow, who gave a smile and a nod, which he returned, before stepping into Zaffy's office.
"Hey sweetheart," she said, looking up as the door slid closed behind him, flashing him a beautiful smile. He couldn't help but smile back as he met her eyes - she was still the most gorgeous woman he knew, and he still felt lucky that she'd been happy to get together with him. Excitement danced in her purple eyes, and the smile fixed in place on her slender muzzle, as she beckoned him over to her desk, and the holographic screens floating a few inches above its' glassy surface.
"What's up?" he asked as he leaned on the desk beside her chair, squeezing her hand gently as she did the same to him. "Your message sounded serious. I had to drop Raia off quicker than she liked. I think she was worried"
"We'll make it up to her later," Zaffy answered, her ears drooping - she loved Red's daughter as much as he did, even though she was from a previous marriage. The little girl was only four years old, and remembered her mother enough. But she'd bonded well with Zaffy, in no small part due to Zaffy's own efforts to get on well with the little one. It helped that she still had a child-like sense of fun apart from the professional face of her work.
"But this is important right now - Scott pinged me a message from the Farbanti Decommissioning site. He and Jessy were there, working for the UNCF inspecting the disassembly procedures."
"Bet they must've been thrilled," said Red with a smirk and a twitch of his ears. "I'm surprised they put up with such a tedious duty. Surely MITHRIL must have something for them?"
"I think the Tuatha De Danaan is in a refit at the moment, or something. So Jessy and Scott took some volunteer duty in the meantime. Anyway, they were leaving the site, and saw a convoy of some suspicious looking trucks-"
"What does a 'suspicious looking truck' look like?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. In reply, Zaffy bought up a picture Scott had sent from his PADD's camera. It showed a battered-looking grey articulated truck, with mirrored glass one-way windows, and notable, no number plates or other identifying marks - there was no company insignia, and even the manufacturers logos' had been removed.
"Okay, I'd say they were suspicious, all right. Especially because there's so many of them, and there aren't any other trucks like that in the picture".
"Exactly. So I dived onto the 'net, and had a look into the traffic monitoring for those trucks, and guess what? Couldn't find out much about them, other than that they came through the Gateway Highway yesterday night at ten PM, and then parked up in a mass car park overnight, and there's no camera footage of anyone entering or leaving them either, might I add".
Now Red's sarcasm died away. His brow furrowed as he looked closer at the records Zaffy had called up on the screen through her cybernetics, flicking between them with gestures at the screens.
"Hmm, that's worrying. If there's no traffic records-"
"Now that's the thing - there are traffic records - they've just been hacked, and re-written to look legit. I probably couldn't have done the job as well, and I only picked it up, because I know what I'm looking for. If I had to say, I'd guess someone used a CI to do the job for them. Which narrows down our search a bit, as we know there's only a few CI's that would be directed to do such a job"
"So, they came from Earth originally?"
"Got it in one. And that narrows things down even more. Time to make some calls, I think. And after that-"
"Time to make a few visits?" he said, hesitantly, meeting her eyes. Zaffy nodded, her lips thinning out of a smile, into a tight expression.
"I'll call a few people," he said in an even tone, looking at the image of the trucks again, and feeling a weight settle over his chest. Something was going to happen - soon.
Nénah had driven them down through the twisting turns of the valley road with her usual skill, riding the gas and brake with skill the whole way down the switchback road that twisted past the other houses that were their nearest neighbours - none closer than a quarter of a mile, some that close down the slopes - and flashing past the logging and hiking trails leading off to fire watch towers and campsites in the pine woods. Slowly, the road had gotten busier, and the buildings more frequent, as they'd dropped towards the valley floor, eventually joining the M23 highway that wound across the valley floor and towards New Xerxes.
Both she and Silverwind had been quiet all the drive down, lost in their thoughts, aside from the join in singing with the tunes on Nénahs' PADD plugged into the Shelby Mustangs' stereo. Nénah wove the car in and out of the traffic, staying under the speed limit, but enjoying the experience of driving as the city rose on the horizon, the suburbs flowing past the elevated roadway on both sides.
"Almost there," she said airily, breaking the flow of the classic rock on the stereo. "I'll park us up near the Centrum, and we can go speak to Diana"
"Good plan," he replied with a nod. "She'll have heard about anything... untoward that might be going on".
He gave a brief smile as he thought of the CI that had been his aide, companion, and confidante during the War On Two Worlds, and had aided them all with the abilities that only an artificial intelligence could muster. Now, she was the heart of the new city, providing information and organisation to the thousands that lived there, and the thousands upon thousands more that would join them.
Nénah took an off-ramp, and followed it down, dropping the speed on the silver-grey Mustang, flowing into a stream of less-distinctive cars, the Earth-made car turning heads as it growled its way through traffic and headed past the bases of towering Arcology-blocks and futuristic-looking buildings spaced with construction sites and developments, and the vibrant splashes of green parkland and open spaces. They rumbled past the ornate fronting of the new Xerxes Memorial Museum, and then Nénah pulled into the Centrum Plaza, the towering, yet elegantly designed, building rising above them in its multiple towers.
She pulled the car over into a roadside space, and switched off the engine, which quietened down with a grumbling burble, as the grey-and-black spotted Vulfen patted the dashboard cowling with a fond smile.
Silverwind slid out of the seat, and stood up, stretching and blinking in the sunlight and fresh breeze curling in across the plains and into the city. Here, the noises and sounds of construction were louder, mixed in with the rumbling rush of distant traffic, the distant honks of car horns, and the wail of emergency sirens going back and forth on whatever daily domestic business went on in a city this big. Closer than that were the rush of water from the Centrum fountain, and the excited burble of voices from tourists and workers going about their business.
The slam of Nénahs' car door closing bought him back to reality, and he leaned on the roof of the Mustang, looking across at her.
"Still feeling all right?" she asked, giving him a half-smile and flicking hair out of her eyes as she leaned on the drivers' side roof, a bag over one shoulder. "Seen anything suspicious?" she added, looking around the plaza. He did the same, wincing slightly at the bright sunshine, and the glare reflected from the rooftop solar panels and the fountains' water.
"Not yet," he said after a moment, standing back up off of the car, and stepping onto the pavement, reaching out one hand to her, as she stepped up next to him, taking his right hand in her left, as they walked towards the Centrum entrance, hand in hand and both scanning the area. A human family passed them, the children laughing and playing games, running along behind each other, the father nodding as he passed them by. Nearer the fountain in the centre of the plaza, a busker played old tunes on a guitar, while a woman sang - not well, but not badly, and a small crowd watched. A pair of teenagers played laser-tag between the UNCF flagpoles near the Centrums' entrance. Pigeons and songbirds gathered around a bench where an old black-and-white furred Vulfen woman threw breadcrumbs into the tiles.
It was peaceful, quiet, and altogether, nothing out of the ordinary for a summertime weekday in the city in peacetime. A calmness settled over him somewhat, and he smiled at the scene, stopping outside the wide, tall, glass entrance doors to the central Centrum tower, turning to Nénah to speak, before his words were drowned out by the rumbling engines of two heavy articulated trucks, thundering past them on the roadway, and turning into the underground garage entrance. They both winced at the noise and ducked slightly, ears flattening and noses wrinkled - the trucks must've been ancient. The normally clean-smelling air from the exhausts was tinged with chemical scents, much sharper to Vulfen senses than human ones.
"Wow, way to ruin the moment," grumbled Nénah, looking after the trucks as they descended the ramp into the underground parking area. "Jackasses," she muttered, flipping an obscene gesture their way.
"Not just Jackasses," he added, with a frown, following her gaze, his tail twitching and ears perked in curiosity. "There's something about those trucks - none of them had any markings... Or licence plates..."
"That sounds-" Nénah was cut off as her PADD pinged in her thigh pocket, and Silverwinds' did the same. They exchanged wary glances, and then drew out the thin electronic devices, tapping their screens to bring up the messages. Zaffy and Red appeared on both, the message playing the same.
"Silverwind, Nénah - it's been a long time. We've missed you both, and hope you're both very well. So it's such a shame we've had to call with business, and bad news. Scott sent a message to us at Section 9. He was at the Disposal Site in Farbanti, there's something suspicious going on there. We thought you'd better get a heads-up too - we've sent them to everyone in the gang, just to get the message out there. He saw trucks like these-" a picture appeared over the message "-at the site, heading for the work area. We don't know what's going on yet - but it could be something bad. Let us know if you see anything - we'll be in touch soon. Take care of yourselves, we hope to see you soon. Always the best to you both, we send our love".
Red and Zaffy were probably their closest friends amongst the SPEAR team - and all of them were close friends. Silverwind felt a flush of warmth rise through his body, his tail wagging slightly as he thought of Red and Zaffy - it had been a long time since they'd all been together - too long, he thought, since they'd all been able to enjoy each others' company and spend time together.
But he had to push pleasant thoughts of their times together aside for the moment, and refocus his mind - the message had been clear. Something was going on, and the trucks they'd just seen were part of it. He exchanged glances with Nénah, who nodded.
"You go in through the front," he said to her with a firm tone, sliding the PADD away, and drawing his gun instead, flipping the safety off. "Let Diana know what's going on, and see if you can get hold of Jed. He'll get this place locked down double-quick. Then come find me - I'll go through the basement, and keep an eye on whatever's going on in those trucks".
"Right," she said with a nod, slipping her own PADD into a pocket, before leaning in to give him a swift kiss on the lips, and then darting up the steps into the Centrum.
Pressing the flush of warmth and love to the back of his mind for the moment, he took his M-5 in a two-handed grip, and darted forward in a hunched run, leaning against the thick concrete wall of the parking entrance, before taking a snap-glance around, and then darting down the ramp, gun muzzle pointed groundward, his single eye darting from side to side, as he headed out of the warm sunlight, and into the dim murk of the car park. Mechanical sounds floated out towards him from the cavernous garage, and he twisted his lips into an uncertain expression as he was swallowed by the gloom.
Scott and Jessy had parked up the SUV once the trucks had pulled over at the other side of the crater, at the secondary Disposal Storage Area, where lines and lines of sealed crates and containers stood in rows, waiting to be shipped out on flatbed trucks to the base where they'd be rendered down into chemical waste. Jessy had parked the white-painted 4-wheel drive behind one of the huge dump truck haulers, and the pair had slid out, and then moved silently, drawing their Seburos at an unspoken agreement, moving with careful, precise movements between the stacked containers and parked construction equipment toward the sound of raised voices and mechanical sounds. The noise of the work site was far behind them now, drifting on the wind, mingled with the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore only half a mile away.
Scott paused as they reached what they guessed must the be the second to last row, holding up a hand for Jessy to wait also, the redhead nodding and leaning against a container too, her gun held two handed and pointed down, his the same. The blond switched his handgun to his right hand only, and drew his PADD from an inside jacket pocket, tapping a couple of commands, and whispering to the device.
"Nagase. Kei. Call"
The glossy surface of the device lit up with a circling pattern of lights, as it rang through to Nagase, their contact for the overseeing staff of the disposal site. Part of the Vulfen Independent States Allied Forces staff overseeing operations at the site, she was also the liaison between ISAF and the UNCF.
"Valentine?" said a quiet woman's voice at the other end of the line, quiet enough that even Jessy couldn't hear it. "What's going on?" she asked a moment later.
"Listen," he said quietly and in a low voice. "We've spotted something suspicious at the disposal site, and we're investigating. Just in case anything goes down, can you get someone here to give us some security backup?"
The former OADF fighter pilot at the other end of the line paused, evidently trying to digest the sudden information.
"Suspicious? What do you mean? Who is it-"
"If I knew that, it wouldn't be suspicious, would it? Look, they're in unmarked trucks, nothing like any of the others on the site. And they've parked away from all the activity to load, or unload, something. It all looks suspicious, okay? And there's only Jessy and I here to deal with it. So we need some backup!"
"All right," she answered, more confident and firm this time. "I'll get someone to you ASAP. Try to be careful, and hold anything going off until backup arrives!"
Scott's answer was to hang up, and he nodded to Jessy. She returned the nod, and took the lead, raising her handguns' muzzle and moving slowly and confidently around the corner, eyes darting every which way as she moved, scanning for threats. Scott followed her up, covering her and moving a short distance behind, trading carefully over the uneven crater floor. They reached the last corner of stacked containers, the roof of the trucks' trailers visible over the top of the bright orange-and-black striped containers, pausing before they swept around, guns aimed ahead.
And instantly dived for cover, as a Landmate battlesuit opened up on them with a handheld machinegun….