Chapter 5: Know Your Onion!

The next day, 10:00 a.m.:

FBI Training Academy, Hogan's Alley, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia

Supervisory Special Agent J.T. Hill winced as he checked off another category on his clipboard. Shaking his head, he wasn't witnessing a pretty sight. Standing at a very solid six foot five inches, the buzz cut, blonde-haired, steely grey-eyed special agent was hardly one to back down in a fight. But sometimes, just like Kenny sang, you had to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, and know when to just walk away. The man standing a few feet away from him was lacking in that innate knowledge.

As an FBI instructor, Hill often worked with other agencies and international groups to coordinate training on the latest advances in surveillance equipment. For the past two weeks, Hill was busy working with representative groups from the U.S. armed forces to train them in a new remote sensor designed to detect and monitor activity over significant distances. By attaching the sensor to a target, they had the capability to not only locate a subject but also to map out the immediate area. If the subject happened to be particularly antsy, the interface could create a fairly-detailed structural map that would assist teams entering unknown conditions, like foreign buildings. The military was testing out the equipment to see if it would assist in urban warfare conditions.

In this case, the military was training at Hogan's Alley, the FBI's realistic mock-up of a small town at MCB Quantico. Part of the FBI's broader training facilities, which included a driving training track and indoor and outdoor firing ranges, Hogan's Alley consisted of a street with all sorts of local businesses, even Chicago's famed Biograph Theater, site of Dillinger's final stand. The facades were primarily used for training, while behind the facades were fully-functioning classrooms, audiovisual facilities, storage areas, and various offices. Although not quite the sprawling city environment in which the military would employ the equipment in the field, it was realistic enough for training purposes.

This morning Agent Hill was training and evaluating two members of the special unit G.I. Joe. Agent Hill had never worked directly with Joe members and looked forward to exchanging ideas and just listening to their stories. A former field agent, and U.S. Marshall before that, Hill sometimes missed the adrenalin rush of his old jobs. The next best thing was to get it second hand. He knew the best of the best comprised the Joe team. Hill figured he could learn as much from them as he had to teach, and get a few new stories to boot. Then again, those were his feelings yesterday when it was just him in front of a classroom. This morning as he stood watching the two soldiers go through the paces of familiarizing themselves with the new equipment out in the Alley, he couldn't help to think of how wrong he had been.

The soldiers, a man with the code name Flint and a woman with the code name Lady Jaye, were in the process of going through a second round of setting up the monitoring system for the sensor. Their first attempt, while not wrong per se, just felt off to him. The soldiers were hesitant and awkward. They displayed no coordination and, in fact, appeared to be running two separate sessions. Hill couldn't place his finger on it. By all appearances, Lady Jaye surreptitiously attached the sensor to the designate target. She was almost a rogue agent though, failing to listen to, or maybe even just plain ignoring, any of Flint's observations. Then again, it wasn't like she needed them. Still, they were supposed to be partners for this exercise. Partners worked together. The equipment required that the two operators work in tandem, each one filling in for the other. Instead, he watched as Lady Jaye did her thing and then Flint did his.

Instead of improving upon their first effort, they completely fell apart on their second try. Hill glanced down at his notations on the clipboard. Flint, after a few false starts, attached the sensor to his target, a local actor hired to play the part of a shifty terrorist. Hill sensed that Lady Jaye had an inkling of where the target was but she remained silent and let Flint stumble about the streetscape. Now it was Lady Jaye's turn to use the monitor and locate the actor in the Alley. Hill knew where the actor lay hidden, but the two Joes didn't. All they had to go on was whatever the sensor picked up. Hill thought of the sensor as a tricky little minx with a mind of its own. The person on the job had to have complete control over the unit. Unfortunately, Flint wouldn't let Lady Jaye take that control. Where she had gone to one extreme, Flint slid to the other. Rather than let Lady Jaye master the equipment and play a supporting role, for whatever reason, the man wouldn't leave well enough alone and interjected himself into every step, interrupting and offering one suggestion after another. Hill wanted to take the man aside and give him a good shake of reason. Then again, Hill thought it might be worth it to head over to the Biograph, where the target actually was, grab some popcorn, stand back and watch the show unfold. Hill usually saved his bets for the Superbowl and Astros games, but if he was going to bet, he'd lay a week's wages on Lady Jaye opening up a can of whoop and decking Flint. Looking at his watch, the soldiers only had five minutes left to complete the exercise. Agent Hill shook his head, it wasn't going to happen. He checked off another box on his clipboard.

"Flint, I have it." Lady Jaye's voice was low and directed. The last thing she wanted was for the FBI agent to get involved.

"I think we can get a clearer signal, here let me." He reached a hand over her shoulder.

"Flint," she swatted his hand away, "you did your part, let me do mine."

"Hey," he held his hands up, "I'm just trying to help."

Lady Jaye let out a sharp exhale of air out of the side of her mouth, some of the wisps from her hair floating for a moment in the created breeze. She prayed for the patience of Job to get through the exercise but it wasn't happening. No matter what she did, Flint was a step off of her shoulder, just hovering there waiting for her to make mistake. She glanced over at the bear of an FBI agent and caught the subtle shake of his head as he wrote something down on that infernal clip board he carried around. She knew time was running out. Now if only Flint would step back, she could get the job done. She prayed for that patience to happen quickly, "I know, but please, I've got it." She boxed out Flint and drew the monitor around in a slow steady arc, just like Hill demonstrated. It was a rather testy piece of equipment, so sensitive that a sneeze could cause it to recalibrate. She straightened her stance, remembering Hill's advice that a steady base would help provide a steady signal. A soft tinny moan emanated from the device. The monitor swept past the theatre and the lone buzz was replaced by a quiet, barely discernible chirping. Bingo! That was the sound she wanted. An outline of the area surrounding the target began to fill out on the screen as the sensor emitted various radio waves that bounced around creating the 3-D image. Smiling, she was about to tap on the bottom to lock on the signal when from around her right side, Flint's hand appeared, tapping at the screen, thus knocking the device out of range and losing the signal.

She pivoted, her hope for patience long abandoned by the wayside, "What did you do!"

Flint stepped back, surprised, "I was just showing you, you had the signal. Good job!"

"Time," Hill called out.

"And now I don't. Thanks a lot."

"But you did."

Lady Jaye waved the device in Flint's face, "That doesn't matter now." She pointed to the blank screen, "See that, that's the look of me having just failed this exercise."

Flint shrugged, "It doesn't mean anything. We'll go again."

"Ahhhh!" Lady Jaye took a few steps away and whipped the monitor at Flint. "Just do it yourself then." She cut off Hill before he had a chance to utter a word, "And you, you stay out of this." Lady Jaye stormed off down the street and away from the men.

Flint turned to Hill, "Don't hold this against her."

"Oh I won't."

Flint smiled, "Thanks."

"But I didn't say I wouldn't hold it against you." Hill held up his clip board, pointing to a red "F" he had just scribbled next to Flint's name.

"Oh."

Agent Hill laughed, "If you can get her back here and remain in one piece, I'll give you guys another shot. No one will have to know."

"Roger that." Flint flashed Hill a thumbs up and hustled to catch Lady Jaye before she could do any damage to the alley.

"Hey!" Flint ran up to her. "I said hey!" He stopped and grabbed her shoulder, whipping her around to face him.

"Excuse me." She wrenched her shoulder away from his grasp.

"You're dangerously close to insubordination."

"And you're dangerously close to being a, a, jerk."

"Jerk?" He had to press his lips together to keep from laughing. If anything would set her off further, it would be the thought he was laughing at her.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"No, lord no."

Arms crossed, body ramrod straight, Lady Jaye tapped her foot, not willing to budge an inch. Flint sighed, reached up, and scratched that spot just beneath his beret two times; he had no idea what he had done to set her off. Granted, they still hadn't talked about what happened in her hotel room, but it wasn't like Jaye to let a thing like that stand in the way of a mission, whether on the field or in a classroom. She was serious about her work and it was one of the things he admired about her. She would be professional. He would be professional, except it hadn't worked out that way. Ever since they returned to base, he knew all the signs of being ignored. Sure, she probably thought she was sly. She wasn't. He had avoided enough people in his day to know when he was on the receiving end. Maybe what happened was really bothering her. If so, they just needed to get it out in the open. She had to know how he felt. Maybe that would help. "Um, listen, I'm, I'm sorry, I know what . . ."

The buzzing of his Com-link silenced any further rambling. With a slight shake of his head, he held up a finger signaling it would be just a moment. Everyone back at base knew they were out training at Quantico. He had given strict orders to not disturb them unless it was an absolute emergency. Yesterday, when the air conditioning stopped working in the mess hall because Dusty was trying to freeze bananas in the condenser (Flint didn't want to know why), was exactly the kind of non-emergency he was trying to avoid. Holding the communicator to his lips, he prepared himself for another mishap, "Flint here. Breaker, this better be good."

"It's Duke."

"Oh, Duke. Hey, what's going on?"

Lady Jaye, upon hearing it was Duke, took a step closer and Flint held out the Com-link so that she could listen in to the conversation.

"Flint, a situation has come up and there's going to be a change of plans." Duke was the one who had insisted that they represent the unit in the training. If he was changing plans, it had to be big. "I need you two to report to downtown FBI Headquarters STAT. You'll be prepped on arrival. Ask for Agent Derrick Miller, he'll fill you in on the details. I'm going to try and round up some help, but we're stretched pretty thin around here."

"Roger that."

"Over and out." Duke signed off.

"Over and out." Flint ended the transmission, folded up his communicator, and reattached it to his belt holster, "Well, that settles that." He turned to Lady Jaye, searching for a sign in her face. She was good—and he thought he could read her—all that was staring back at him was a big blank slate. He couldn't read her to save his life. He couldn't help but feel that he was further from resolving things with her than a simple apology. Still, he would try. "Listen, I'm sorry. I can't help myself sometimes. I just wanted to help."

"Well," she turned her head, looking off toward the driving track, not wanting to look at him, not wanting to see his eyes, those eyes that could grab her and cut to her very heart. She couldn't resist and she looked up. Sure enough, he had that look on his face that could always make her smile. She was useless to fight it. The right side of her face curled up into a reluctant smile. "Maybe you could try to help yourself sometimes?"

"I'll try. I promise."

"It just makes me look . . ."

"I know. I didn't think of it like that. I'm sorry."

"Accepted."

He held out his hand, "Truce?"

She reached out and shook his hand, noticing that his touch lingered longer than necessary. It was as if he was holding her hand. She pushed the thought aside. They were partners, plain and simple. It could never be anything more than that. What happened in Kansas City was an anomaly. It was just a moment of weakness, for both of them. Besides the obvious career implications, she still couldn't shake the sting of knowing he felt sorry for her. That she was some object to be coddled. Wasn't that what he was doing during the exercise? Coddling her, protecting her because she couldn't manage on her own? She withdrew her hand and hooked her thumbs into her belt loops, ignoring Flint's perplexed reaction. With some hesitation, he turned and started heading back up the street to inform Agent Hill that their training was being cut short. She dutifully followed.

The Marine Corps Research Center, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia

Seated in front of his friend Joseph's latest toy, Mainframe let out a long, drawn-out whistle, "Wow, Joe, this baby can compute." Mainframe caressed the silicon enclosed keyboard, pausing over its responsive keys that melded to his fingertips. "Man oh man, if the Microsoft boys got their paws on this."

"Easy Blaine, this is strictly a classified prototype. No need for Gates to get wind of this one."

"I know, I know."

"You say that but then next thing I know, Microsoft is suddenly able to halve its interface timing in less than two months."

"Joseph, that was purely a coincidence, you know that." Mainframe turned his attentions back to the keyboard, amazed at just how small it was. It would be perfect for the field. Passing it back and forth between his hands, he was amazed at just how light it was. It was like holding a cloud.

"I know. But still, if Microsoft changes its platform any time soon, I'm coming after you."

Mainframe laughed, "Warning heeded. But Joseph, I could care less about your platform; it's this keyboard I love. Where did you get it?"

Joseph grabbed a swivel chair and scooted next to Mainframe, who was sitting in front of a row of computer monitors and desktop processors trying to decide which ones he would volunteer to test in real-life conditions. "The R&D boys were fiddling around with some of the equipment and trying to make it more field-friendly. The stuff we have now is too clunky. It slows us down and breaks too easy. This," Joseph took the keyboard from Mainframe and began to point out its features, "uses a honeycomb polymer so it's strong but basically made of air. The keypads are heat responsive and over here is the fingerprint scanner. I can set it up so that it responds to you and only you."

Mainframe let out another long whistle.

"So," Joseph winked, "are you game? Will you be our guinea pig?"

Mainframe grabbed the keyboard back and held up his pointer finger, "Where do I sign?"

Joseph stood up, "Come on and I'll introduce you to the new R&D guys. They'll help get the paperwork started. And trust me, there's going to be some paperwork."

Mainframe stood up to follow his friend when his Com-link started to buzz, "Just a minute." He held it up to his ear, "Mainframe."

"Mainframe, this is Duke."

"Oh hi Duke. I'm picking up some great new toys to try out."

"Sorry Mainframe but I'm going to have to cut your visit short. We've had a situation arise and I need you to report to FBI Headquarters downtown as fast as you can. Ask for Agent Derrick Miller. Lady Jaye and Flint are en route. You'll receive your orders when you've all assembled."

Mainframe tried to disguise the disappointment in his voice. It was a rare opportunity when he could hang out at the Research Center for a few days and pick up some new tools. "Roger that Duke. I'll head out pronto."

"And Mainframe, I'm sorry you have to cut your visit short. I'll try to find a way to make it up. Over and out."

"Thanks Duke. I appreciate it. Over and out." Mainframe turned to Joseph, "Well, looks like my coach is about to turn into a pumpkin. Can I at least keep one glass slipper?"

Joseph laughed, "I think we can make arrangements. Just don't break it."

Astrometry Department, U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington, DC

John Harrison enjoyed playing tour guide with his old Navy buddy, Hector Delgado. John thought of all the trouble he and Hector used to get into at Great Lakes during basic. Both natural-born jokesters, they couldn't help themselves and soon found camaraderie as they discovered new and even less efficient ways to clean latrines with toothbrushes. One of their instructors once threatened to personally lock them up in Davy Jones's locker, throwing away the key so that no one would ever find it. Those were the days when they were young and carefree. But life and the Navy assignment system intervened and soon enough he and Hector were stationed across the world from each other with only time for short visits here and there. Despite the distance, their friendship flourished and Hector remained his closest confidant, serving as John's best man at his wedding, much to his bride's dismay, and just two days ago, as his daughter's godfather. It was a stroke of good luck that Hector was able to attend. Hector was now assigned to the G.I. Joe team and free time was scarce.

"And over here is the largest telescope on the grounds. Acquired in 1873, it was the world's largest refracting telescope until 1883, when it was surpassed by a telescope built for the Imperial Russian Observatory."

"Oooo, the Russians. I say we take it back."

"I wouldn't worry about that. There are even better ones out in the world today. Let the Russians have their day. Besides, this telescope here was used in the discovery of Mars' two moons. It's now chiefly used for determining the orbital motions and masses of double stars using a special camera known as the speckle interferometer, and for planetary satellite observations."

"Wait, what did you say? Speckle egg meter what?" Hector wrinkled up his nose.

"You don't change." John shook his head, "Never mind, let's check out the lab."

The men meandered across the observatory grounds to the Instrument Shop, where John was employed as Head. A navigation buff, John had worked his way up to ship's orienteer before being assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in California. He graduated with a Master of Science Degree in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography. Prior to being stationed at the Observatory, he served at the Naval European Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Rota, Spain. Hector had visited John once while he was stationed out there, and was asked to never come back again, and not just by the Center. John was pretty confident Hector was kicked out of the city. He just couldn't remember and Claire, John's wife, forbid her husband to even mention that night.

John opened the door to the shop, letting Hector inside.

"So this is the fancy pancy laboratory where you build a better watch. I have to say though, my Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking. You can't compete with that."

John pointed out the various instruments to Hector, "This shop is state of the art and we have the latest in Computer Numerical Control Machines and Inspection Equipment. The shop can design and manufacture instruments with precisions in the micron range with a wide variety of materials."

Hector rolled his eyes, "Is this the tour you give to the politico big wigs?" He then pretended to snore.

John punched Hector in the shoulder, "Please, just let me practice. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. We can't afford to have our budget cut any more than it already is. If they can see with their own eyes what kind of work we do here and understand its importance to the Navy, maybe we'll have someone lobby for us for a change. I know they don't fund us directly, but I'd like it if they were at least thinking about us."

"You know I'm just playing with you. John, if this was my Navy, you'd have your budget and the Marine's too."

"Thanks. I appreciate it."

Hector motioned the man forward, "Please Captain, explain all this stuff to me. It looks like it does a lot of, um, stuff."

John chuckled, shaking his head back and forth, "You never disappoint. That's what I like about you." Taking a breath, he squared his shoulders and prepared to start his pitch again. "This is the instrument shop. It supports the mission of the Naval Observatory to observe the positions and motions of celestial bodies for astronomical and navigational purposes and for the derivation and broadcasting . . ."

Hector's Com-link started to buzz. "Man, can't I get a day off. Sorry John." Hector answered the call, "Shipwreck here."

"Shipwreck, Duke. I need you to get downtown."

"Duke, this is my week off. I promised you, I'll take on the entire weekend duty roster if I could just have this one week."

"I know, but we're spread thin and you're my closest guy."

"Well pretend I'm not close."

"Can't do that. I need you to report to FBI Headquarters and ask for Agent Derrick Miller. He'll give you your marching orders. I promise, if you finish this up by the weekend, you can have it off." Duke paused, "I know how important this is to you. I promise you'll get your time with her."

Reluctantly, Shipwreck conceded defeat, "I'm holding you to your word Duke. I'm not letting her down. I already have a bad enough reputation with Claire."

"Tell John and Claire hello and congratulations again. Over and out."

Shipwreck glared at the Com-link for a moment before reattaching it to his belt. "Should have forgotten the stupid thing at your house."

"And you know Claire would have answered it in a heartbeat." John retorted.

"Yeah, well, maybe I could have lost the message. Man, I'm sorry John. I really wanted to have time with Brigid. I've never been a godfather before. I'm going to do it right. No dating before 21 and anyone who tries will find a horse head in his bed."

John placed a hand on Hector's shoulder with a solid grip, "I know. She'll be here waiting for you. We all know what you do is important and this could happen. We'd still pick you anyway." John started to walk out of the shop, "You know, it was Claire's idea."

"Claire's idea? Man, childbirth knocked a few screws loose."

"No, it just helped us all realize what's important."

"You're trying to make me cry. It won't work. Now lead the way and get me downtown."