Part IV: G.I. Joe Special Operations: Endgame
Chapter 63: Operation
"All right, listen up, everybody."
The briefing room quieted as Flint called for their attention. "Lieutenant General Johnson's been in close touch with Chief General Hall at SouthCom HQ, in Miami. This is a special operations mission officially being called Operation: Endgame, and our directives are to rescue General Hawk and Olivia Benson, and to capture or eliminate Cesar Velez. Deadly force is authorized to carry out this last directive, against all hostiles." The look he shot at Scarlett was full of meaning; Scarlett nodded slightly in understanding. She was authorized to shoot Sandra Velasquez if the opportunity arose; the thought filled her with angry satisfaction. While normally she didn't like killing, in Sandra's case she would make an exception.
"Your primary objective is to rescue the hostages and above all, ensure Alex's safety. There will be no repeat of what happened on the last mission. A team of six will be leaving within the next two hours from here. This team will consist of Private Alex Cabot, who, for purposes of this mission, will be codenamed White Queen. Scarlett and Snake Eyes are also going, not only on direct order from the President but also because you two are the best we have at close quarter and hand-to-hand combat. Gung Ho will be going as the mission's weapons expert," and Flint ignored Gung Ho's sigh of relief and the way Ettienne's hand slipped into Alex's. "Beach Head will be going as the mission's commander; Private Cabot, you will obey every order given to you by Sergeant Major Sneedon without argument, no matter what you personally may think. Is that understood?" At Alex's nod, he continued. "The last member of the team will be Cover Girl. From behind, Courtney and Alex look similar, and someone who hasn't met either could easily mistake her for Alex. Between Beach Head, Gung Ho, and Snake Eyes, chances are vanishingly small that anyone will be getting at the female half of the team." A hint of smile cracked his features as he saw the significant looks the guys exchanged with each other. He also didn't miss the eyerolls all three women exchanged at this display of male protectiveness. "Stay in populated, civilized areas at all times wherever possible; it is too easy to hide a significant force in jungle or wooded areas, as you all very well know. However, I believe Chief General Hall has made some provisions for his own jungle experts to join you should it become necessary.
"You'll take a single vehicle out to Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn; Colonel Michael Gold, the Garrison Commander there, will have a Gulfstream awaiting you. The Gulfstream will take you to US Army Garrison, Miami, where you will then meet with Chief General Hall himself. The Chief General has already arranged for you to have seats on a commercial non-stop flight from Miami International Airport to Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Medellin, but before you leave the States he will brief you on what plans we have in place.
"As much as we dislike not having a clear battle plan in place prior to a mission of this magnitude, in this case we do not see an option. With General Hawk's and Olivia Benson's lives in the balance, and Alex Cabot's prior example of what this unstable individual is capable of, we cannot take chances; we must appear to be abiding by Cesar Velez's stated plans while attempting to lay plans of our own to counter whatever he may throw at us. General Hawk's personal communication line is being closely monitored for any further contact; it has been isolated and the security codes have been changed so that that will be the only means by which Cesar Velez will be able to contact us to arrange the exchange of Alex for General Hawk and Olivia. By the same token, since we want him to know that we are apparently acquiescing to his demands, you will be issued two sat phones; one coded to Hawk's personal communication line base by which I will pass along his instructions and a second phone that will be on a private coded frequency that we will use to communicate and coordinate our efforts both here and at SouthCom. Do not mistake the two phones; we are proceeding under the supposition that Velez will be monitoring the line coded to General Hawk's frequency and we do not want him to get even the slightest hint of the true depth of our operation.
"Keep in mind, people—this is important—there will be no exchange. It is not an option. Your sole purpose is to provide a visible lure to draw Velez out into making a move. I have it on the Chief General's authority that there is already a sizable military force in Medellin, carefully maneuvered into Colombia from Manta Base in Ecuador over the last week. With such a highly-ranked member of the Colombian government so closely implicated in this whole deplorable situation, it has been decided that the Colombian embassy will not be alerted to this operation on their soil until after it has been completed; so those military operatives currently in place are deep undercover and will not acknowledge your presence there, nor will you acknowledge that you know they are there.
"Chief General Hall will provide armament and weaponry once you get to Medellin; he has had a number of items smuggled in via those operatives from Manta. However, knowing our penchant for exotic weapons, he has said that if you decide to carry your own he will clear it with Miami International's airport security. So if you want to carry something else, you can; just remember to travel light. This will not be an extended, drawn-out mission. Our timetable, even taking into account Velez's unpredictability, is two weeks, tops." He made a wry face. "I know that's what we were told the last time, but we do mean it this time—and we have the might of the American military to reinforce that schedule, which was something seriously lacking on the last operation. There will be no such lack this time, are we clear on that?" Around the room, heads nodded. "All right. Grab your gear, remember to pack light, and good luck."
"Scarlett!" Cover Girl sprinted to catch up with Scarlett and White Queen as both women headed off down the hall. "Hold on a minute."
"What is it?" Scarlett frowned.
"My hair." At Scarlett's puzzled look, Cover Girl said, "If I'm going along as Alex's decoy, I should look like her, right? So can you cut my hair the same way you cut hers?"
White Queen stared at Cover Girl. "Courtney…you have beautiful hair…it'll take forever to grow back out. Are you sure you want to—"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Cover Girl nodded emphatically.
"Okay." Scarlett nodded. "Let's head back to my quarters. White Queen, you should probably go pack. And check on Ettienne; poor man looks like he's ready to chew holes in the wall for worrying."
Cover Girl grinned wickedly. "I'm sure you can think of something to distract him…" The three women shared snickers, and then Cover Girl headed off with Scarlett.
Alex had already packed in anticipation of this; she'd tossed a few changes of regular clothes, her fatigues; the knife she already carried, snugged into its sheath in the small of her back, a spare pair of boots. After a moment's hesitation, she tossed another change of clothes in the small case. Olivia wasn't wearing any clothes. If they took them from her she'll need something to wear, and she might have injuries like mine. She closed her eyes for a moment, fighting dread, then chose a pair of soft, lightweight pants and a hoodie that Olivia had sent her.
But there was one more thing she needed, and she went in search of the one person who could give that to her.
Gung Ho looked up at the tentative tap on his doorframe, saw Alex standing there. "Hey," he grinned. "Finished packing so soon?"
She smiled shyly as she stepped into the room and slid an arm around his waist. "I was already packed. I've been ready for this for the last week, ever since we knew we were going to go to Colombia." She gave him a gentle kiss.
He felt the tentativeness, something he hadn't felt since that first night. Since their afternoon in the shower she'd approached their relationship eagerly, taking as much delight in exploring his body as he did in hers. "What's wrong, Lexi?" It was his private pet name for her; she had said she hated 'Lexi' because her mother used to call her that, but he'd called her 'Sexy Lexi' one evening in the heat of passion. She'd laughed at him for the longest time, and then afterward admitted that she liked it coming from him but he'd better not say that in front of anyone else! He, happy to see her laughing and enjoying something, promised.
"Do you have any pictures of you?"
He frowned. "Why?"
For answer she held up the locket around her neck. "I'd like a picture of you to go in here next to Liv."
"Oh sweetheart. Of course, Alex." He sat down on his bed, opened his night drawer, and took out a shoebox. "Here. Pick one you like."
She sorted through the photos as he rummaged through his drawers, then held one up. "This one. I like this one."
He took one look at it and laughed. "You do know that one was taken of me one night a few years ago when I was out on a bar crawl with Wayne and Courtney?" he sputtered. "I actually don't even remember who took it."
"Yes, but…you look like you're having fun. I like your smile. I want to carry that around, so that…" she choked on the words.
"So that if the worst happens you'll have something to hold onto." Ettienne dropped to a crouch in front of her where she sat on the end of his bed. "Alex. I said it before, and I will say it again. On my honor as a Joe, we will get you in and out. Safe. I swear it."
"Flint said the same thing."
"No, he didn't. He promised you we would get you in and out. He never said 'safe' because we knew the deck was stacked and there was a good chance that we—and you—would get hurt. This time it's different. We have backup; we have the entire American military behind you and the President himself has ordered us to put your safety first. We all know that if you don't come back it will be more than our jobs, our commissions, riding on this. Our peace of mind, our faith in our training and everything we believe true about ourselves will be called into question if you don't come back. If something happens to you I will never forgive myself."
"Seriously, Alex. I mean it. I love you and I will never forgive myself if something happens to you."
"Never is a very long time." She lifted her chin, looked him in the eye. "Then how's this. I swear that I will follow the orders given me knowing that they are in my best interest, so that you don't have to mourn me."
"Perfect." He rose from his crouch, kissed the top of her head as he deftly twitched the photo from her hand. "All right. If you really like this one," and his aggrieved face as he said that made her giggle, "then I'll cut it down for you."
A few snips with a pair of nail scissors later and Ettienne's picture was tucked into the locket beside Olivia's. When Alex kissed him again it was still tentative, and he shook his head as she left his quarters so he could continue his packing. She's still uncertain whether she's coming back. While I don't blame her after what she's been through, I wish she could understand this time's going to be different. Unnoticed by him, his hands curled into fists around the shirt he was holding. They will have to kill me before they lay a hand on her.
He returned to his packing.
"Are we all here?"
Flint, with Lady Jaye beside him, looked at the six Joes striding in unison toward him. Yes, there were six; in her fatigues, White Queen was indistinguishable from Cover Girl; even their hair was cut the same, a fact which made Flint raise an eyebrow. "Corporal Krieger, you changed your hair," he said with mild surprise. As much as Courtney was a tomboy, her hair had been the one vanity she allowed herself; long thick golden waves that Lady Jaye had privately admitted to him once that she envied, although Flint liked her short brown curls better himself.
"Girl's got a right to change her mind." Cover Girl said tartly, and he held both hands up in a gesture of surrender, noting as he did the smile Beach Head tried to hide.
"I'm not arguing." It would make her job as Alex's decoy more effective. Over the last three days Alex had immersed herself into the routine and drills at base; she moved like them, marched like them, even carried herself like them. She and Cover Girl could now almost be mistaken for twins.
Scarlett and Snake Eyes were both dressed in solid, unrelieved black; well, Snake Eyes always dressed like that, even in defiance of regulations that said he should wear fatigues—and who in their right mind would be stupid enough to point out to him that he wasn't in uniform? Half the new recruits on base were too intimidated to even talk to him when they first met him. But Scarlett was now dressed in similar garb, from neck to toe; the only difference was her thick ponytail of red hair, a startling color contrast against the black clothing. And that told Flint more about her state of mind than anything; Scarlett was now in full battle mode, and she would stay there until the mission was completed.
"All present and ready to go, Sir!" Beach Head snapped to attention and saluted, swiftly followed by the rest of the team. Flint snapped to attention and saluted back.
"All right. Get going. Remember to keep in touch on the second satphone, remember the first one is reserved only for those things we want Velez to know." And with that, he stepped back and watched as the team of six made their way across the concrete lot of Fort Wadsworth to the waiting Hummer that had been sent from Fort Hamilton.
"Having second thoughts?" Lady Jaye asked quietly from where she was standing beside him.
"You know something, Allie? It's funny but I don't. Not like we had with the last mission. I don't know if it's extra security in our information and our backup, but I feel better about this one than the last one." He sighed as the Hummer pulled away. "Well, whether I do or don't, it's a moot point. Operation: Endgame is now underway."