Although not all agents in the JTF rated to wear Harris armor, they were all combat trained. Everyone, including the drivers and command staff, were ordered to don armor, standard ceramic plates and Kevlar helmets, and sweep the campsite for colonists. They did actually have a good piece of intel, there were a lot of families with children in the camp.
The agent in front signaled to stop with a clenched fist. They were following an old drain pipe to find the opening, looking for anyone that might be hiding in there. An animal was growling in front.
“Brown, this is McIlroy” Michael heard on his EComm. He recognized it as the agent leading his group. Michael looked at the pipe, noticing several cracks and holes in the concrete structure, likely from age and neglect. At one time, this area would have been crawling with kids and parents trying to escape the urban life. Now, rural people escaped to the urban life for survival.
After he debriefed on his confrontation with Mother Nature, Lieutenant Caldwell added Michael to the cleanup team with Cortex. The JTF agents on the team paused when the group leader stopped and appeared to engage in small talk with each other. Cortex was scanning the wooded areas nearby, looking for ambushes. For the most part, the mundane agents ignored the Enhanced recruits.
“Yeah, we have a large dog just inside the drainage pipe. It won’t move and it’s growling at us.”
Michael felt his finger slip in a hole in the drainage pipe. It was not very large but it would be enough for him to drop a portal inside. He created the link, looking inside the pipe. It was completely dry with very little natural light. The area brightened as the light poured in from Michael’s side of the portal. The sun was low in the horizon but it was a lot brighter than the darkness inside.
As he swiveled the portal around, Michael spotted a shoe. As he continued to rotate the portal, the shoe turned into a foot then a leg and body. From behind the body, two small eyes appeared.
“We’re running out of light,” replied Agent Brown, “and the Lieutenant wants the sweep done. Just shoot the damn dog and keep going.”
“Wait!” Michael yelled. The agent already had his rifle down and his finger was moving to the trigger. As the agent pulled the trigger, Michael grabbed the barrel shroud and yanked hard, forcing the rifle to shoot the three round burst in the sky. Michael’s momentum took him into the agent, both landing hard on the ground. As Michael stood up, a Sig Sauer P220, the standard sidearm of the JTF, was shoved in his face.
“What the hell is wrong with you, freak? How did you get up here?” shouted the JTF agent. He gripped the P220 with off-hand, trying to steady the weaving pistol. The growling dog, frightened by the gunfire, did not hesitate and escaped in the forest.
“Listen, I saw…,” Michael started.
As he looked into the agent’s eyes, he could only see fear. This was likely the first Enhanced combat the support crews had experienced. It was the first major combat operation anyone could remember in a decade. None of the agents, except Caldwell, were even in the JTF at that time. Everyone in Bravo company lost at least one friend today. They were on-edge now, just trying to survive until the ride back to Indianapolis.
“No,” the agent replied, “you were in the back when we stopped. Only Justice is a Speedster in your group so there is no way you could have made it up here unless you lied about your powers. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The agent flinched his P220 slightly. He was openly accusing Michael of being a traitor.
“Will you listen, please?” Michael pleaded. “I saw something…”
“Answer me! How did you get up here so fast?
“Agent! Put the gun away!” shouted a new voice.
“No! This piece of shit just attacked me. His ass is going to Leavenworth. He’s just like the others.” The JTF agent appeared to get angrier and more frightened as he spoke, the gun wobbling in his hand. Michael was sympathetic. Scimitar was still under Trauma’s care. He suspected that Khaleel would stay there as long as possible to remain near Kim.
“Lower that weapon, now, Agent McIlroy! This, ‘piece of shit’, saved Team Four from Mother Nature. Mundanes were in the APC. They killed Acosta.” Michael knew his supporter was Team Leader Four. He was one of the few armored agents still active in the operation, partly due to Michael’s rescue. “Do it or I will put you down.” Michael heard the familiar click of the M4 safety.
McIlroy lowered the .45 pointed at Michael’s face as Cortex moved in the pipe. The Mentalist could sense what Larson had seen with his portal.
“Got her,” Cortex yelled coming back out, pulling a small girl with him. She did not put up a fight or even appeared capable of it, her skin covered in dried blood, her pale skin and brown hair muddied after hours of hiding in the dark sewer. Her body was stiff in panic mode, her stare wide-eyed as she saw the JTF agents and Enhanced.
McIlroy holstered his pistol and turned his back to Michael, throwing up his hands. Michael could hear his rantings about freaks taking over as he walked away.
Team Leader Four flicked the safety back on his M4 and grabbed the girl from Cortex. “I’ll take her back to Trauma and radio the CO to have you two lead the teams and sweep areas first to search for more injured and non-combatants.”
Michael looked at Cortex and thanked him with a nod. He did not need Cortex’s mental power to understand the sadness behind his eyes.
“There’s another body in there,” Cortex said flatly. “That little girl watched her mother die.”
Michael had seen her briefly, her body bleeding from several bullet wounds, before spotting the girl. He shook his head, he had a job to do and the nightmares could wait.
“Let’s go see how many we can save.”
Justice finally arrived back to the HQ Stryker, filthy and exhausted. He was missing for several hours with search teams scouring the forest for him. They had found the two snipers he incapacitated but he had vanished with the colony Speedster.
“Scott!” Lady Justice cried as she ran to him. She hugged him tightly.
“Where the hell have you been, Justice?” demanded Caldwell, giving Lady Justice a moment for her hug and reassurance.
“Halfway to Illinois and back, sir…” began Justice, reciting his pre-planned report.
In truth, Larson had caused him to kill that Speedster so he had to get rid of the evidence before he was removed from the JTF program and barred from using his power’s again, or went to Leavenworth, where Larson should be now. He had dismembered the body and tossed it in various locations, all across western Indiana.
He came under fire a couple of times by hunters who thought he was a deer, but he avoided them and kept moving. Out here, finding a body part was not that unusual, no one would report it. Finding a complete body, especially if it was identified as an Enhanced, would raise suspicions and the JTF would get involved.
After he dumped the body pieces, Justice found a stream and scrubbed most of the blood off his skin and uniform. He was a brawler, a little blood was not unusual, but he needed clean off all traces of the other Speedster.
“He knew the area,” Justice continued with his story, trying to capture the attention and sympathies of his audience, “so catching him was difficult. I finally grabbed him but he had backup waiting and they opened fire on me. Instead of fighting them all and risk killing the mundanes, I retreated and came back. It took a little time to retrace my route and get back here.”
“You did the right thing, Justice,” Caldwell said, smiling. “We’ve had enough killing today.” He considered the mission a success, even with the casualties. Intel had really screwed up and this could have gone a lot worse.
“Lady Justice, your team did well,” commended the CO. “I’ll have my report to Director Lehrer as soon as possible after we wrap up here. Again, thank you all for your outstanding work.”
“Agent Prescott. Agent Edwards. Please take your recruits home.”