Portal – Chapter 63

Khaleel stood in the middle of Team One as they moved through hostage rescue drill. He was cleared for duty and noticed Lieutenant Caldwell had changed the schedule overnight. The Bravo company teams were ordered to Hinkle to practice protecting a mundane target against unknown threats.

“Clear,” yelled the lead agent. The group pressed forward.

Khaleel was not sure what to say to Michael about the previous night, so he avoided him all morning. He should be dead. Khaleel admitted that part of him wished Justice had succeeded, but he did not want murder on his conscience. There was nothing he could have done to prevent it and Justice made it very clear that he would eliminate anyone that reported him. He had no choice but to stay quiet. It was Alaina’s mess and she needed to clean it up. She was the only one capable of doing so.

“Clear.”

Solid Copy, who had shifted to look like Director Lehrer, stayed a step behind Scimitar in the middle of the four-man team of agents . They were not sure why the JTF requested these scenarios with Director Lehrer as the VIP, but they practiced it repeatedly under different conditions each time. So far, they had succeeded without a single VIP death.

Even though Solid Copy was the VIP, they were still using simunitions. It encouraged everyone to be at their best, but would not kill any of the mundanes acting as the crowd of civilians outside in the EUT area. They were often caught in the crossfire during some of the scenarios. They had to exit Hinkle completely to consider the drill a success.

The team moved down the stairs to the ground floor of the BIT, the mundane agents each facing a different direction, covering their sector as Scimitar scanned in all directions. This scenario was uneventful so far and was unnerving. In previous runs, at least one of the attackers would hit ambush them in the building, using the hallways as a choke point. Perhaps Lieutenant Caldwell and the JTF leadership were testing how long it took the team to get Director Lehrer to safety. They not only had to get the VIP out alive but do it quickly before an area became overrun with hostiles, especially if Enhanced were involved.

Khalil loved every minute of it.

“Exiting,” yelled the lead agent.

The four agents, Scimitar, and Solid Copy-Director Lehrer moved outside of the BIT and like always, the mundane actors in the EUT panicked and scattered when they saw the assault team. Most of the mundanes would run away but some were scripted to act confused and run towards the VIP. At that point, the agents had to make the decision to pull the trigger or forcibly shove them out of the escape path. With Scimitar behind them, he provided a new option to block the civilians and keep the officers focused on the real threats. He was also the last line of defense against any attack.

Several of the mundanes had already been pushed to the side by Scimitar as the assault team moved towards the safety of the Hinkle exit doors. The mundanes wore light armor underneath their clothes and helmets so he did not worry about hurting them, but accidents still happened. The team was approaching the exit when one of the mundanes in a hoodie approached the team while looking down. Her blond hair was hanging out alongside white headphone wires. She was listening to music and unaware of the commotion in front of her. Scimitar was about to push her out of the way when she looked up. It was Trauma. What the hell was she doing here?

During a previous mission, Solid Copy was the aggressor and used Trauma’s shape to infiltrate the team and attempt to assassinate their mundane target, knowing Scimitar would be less likely to attack her. The ruse nearly worked, but Scimitar used the half-dome to trap Solid Copy-Trauma against the wall while the VIP escaped. During the mission debriefing, the E-Specs concluded that Solid Copy would have been injured or killed, Scimitar delaying him long enough for the VIP to escape. Lieutenant Caldwell was very impressed with his flexibility and aggressiveness and offered him a permanent spot on the hostage-rescue team. Much of that aggressiveness was from Scimitar’s rage at Solid Copy for using Trauma against him.

But now, Solid Copy was behind him as Director Lehrer. So, they either called in another shapeshifter, which was unlikely, or this was the real Trauma. She was not supposed to be here though. She always volunteered to work these hours at the clinic because Michael was there for his testing. Everyone always made such a big deal about Michael’s prototype status. He got lucky in Crawfordsville, but unlike him, Michael was doomed for a slot as support or backup. But that did not stop Kim from running to the infirmary each week to be around him.

Khaleel looked at her beautiful face, the cheeks reddened and her eyes puffy, as if she was crying. Did she tell the JTF about really happened? Did Justice threaten her? Scimitar hesitated, not sure what was going on but Trauma needed help.

The delay was all she needed. Trauma grabbed the lead agent, her hand reaching for the area around his neck between the hard armor plates. In the blink of an eye, the agent’s legs buckled as his eyes rolled back and his body collapsed to the ground. Trauma darted towards Director Lehrer, who was alerted to the attacker by the armored agent hitting the concrete sidewalk and hiding behind Scimitar. Scimitar swiped at Trauma with his shield but the smaller opponent ducked under and did a foot sweep, kicking Scmitar behind the ankles. His body, already off-balance from his shield wall, flipped backwards and landed hard on his back. Trauma jumped up and over the fallen protector, grabbing Lehrer before the other agents realized what happened.

It took a moment longer than the mundane agent, but Director Lehrer collapsed to the ground, vomiting profusely as the other agents open fired on Trauma. She was struck repeatedly by the simunition rounds when the horn blasted overhead, the same one used during Butler basketball games.

“Cease fire!” screamed Lieutenant Caldwell. The three standing agents immediately stopped firing.

“Ow, those things hurt” Trauma whined playfully as Scimitar reformed his arms. Solid Copy-Director Lehrer was on his hands and knees trying to avoid falling face-first in his mess.

“You okay?” Scimitar asked Solid Copy as he shifted from an older Caucasian to a younger Chinese body and face. They were close enough in clothing size that Solid Copy did not have to change first.

“Yuck,” Solid Copy replied wiping his mouth with the coat sleeve that belonged to the real Director Lehrer. “I haven’t puked like that since the last time I went sailing on the bay.”

“Oh, stop whining you big baby,” teased Trauma. “I only gave you a bad case of vertigo.”

She might have been the successful attacker this scenario but she was still a healer. Solid Copy was fine, his breakfast all over the sidewalk. Scimitar was reforming his arms but only his pride was wounded. The mundane agent was still not moving.

“Oh shit, hang on,” Trauma said as she moved to the downed agent. She reached under his helmet gently, stroking his cheek before he started to move again.

“What the hell happened?” he asked, looking up to the pretty blond Enhanced who just kicked his ass.

“I put you in hypoglycemic shock.” His eyes looked at her confused. “ I dropped your blood sugar like a diabetic. You’ll be fine now. Sorry I was so rough but I needed you incapacitated quickly.”

A new set of armored footsteps arrived, surrounded by several E-specs recording the results of the scenario. Lieutenant Caldwell held out his hand for Trauma.

“You okay, agent?” he asked looking down with a smile on his face.

“Yes, sir,” he replied. Scimitar reached down and helped the unsteady agent up. The E-specs left Caldwell with the agent and Scimitar to hold a private debriefing and starting interviewing the other agents first.

“Director Lehrer is now dead, gentlemen,” Caldwell said flatly. “He died from a massive heart-attack induced by his attacker. She might have been eliminated but you have failed to protect your VIP. What happened?”

Scimitar kept his head up. He knew the only way to really learn was to fail in the simulator, but it hurt a little more because Trauma beat him. They could not afford to fail in the field.

“My fault, sir,” Scimitar admitted. “I recognized Trauma and hesitated. I was confused for a moment because Solid Copy was behind me. I didn’t anticipate her to be the aggressor in this scenario.”

“I failed to engage the aggressor when she had breached the defense perimeter,” the mundane agent added. “I was too late to react and she was fast. I had no idea what happened until she woke me up.”

“Correct and correct,” Caldwell assessed. “The team failed because of emotional attachment and complacency. The JTF does not just raise the threat condition to Level 2 lightly gentlemen. If an attack happens, I can guarantee you that it will not be with rifles and grenades. You must anticipate an Enhanced force multiplier. Recruit Tyler is highly skilled at manipulating the body functions, mundane and Enhanced. She could have killed either of you with a little more time. Let’s reset the scenario and try it again. ”

“Good work, Trauma,” Caldwell said nodding to her.

“Thank you, sir.”

As Caldwell walked away, Scimitar looked at Trauma, his eyes pleading for an explanation.

“Where did you learn to fight like that? What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Sorry, hun. A lady doesn’t kiss and tell,” she proclaimed. She leaned close to Scimitar, her eyes narrowing. “I resigned, Khaleel. I couldn’t face Michael knowing what happened. Justice can’t be allowed to get away with this.”

“Kim, please. Stay out of it. Justice is crazy.”

“Maybe. But that asshole is going to learn that the hills of Kentucky breed some very mean women. Alaina is not the only bitch in this bunch.”

Scimitar had a sick feeling in his stomach. She had offensive abilities and she was now training to hurt, even kill, with them. Everything had changed because of Michael.

—–

Director Lehrer and Agent Thorton stood alone in the observation booth as Bravo company trained. It was Lehrer that suggested Solid Copy morph into him. There might come a time when Solid Copy would be needed to keep Maze from hunting him down. It was an option that needed to remain open.

“What do you think, sir?” asked Agent Thorton.

“I want the girl with me,” Daniel laughed. “ She is a healer but obviously has some potential as a weapon.”

“Do you think Bravo company and the recruits can stop Maze from coming after you?” Thorton asked.

“No. You have never seen an Enhanced like Maze. We don’t have any idea what he can do, if anything at all, but he has a gift for coincidences. Entire buildings have dropped on top of him and he stood exactly where nothing touched him. He’s patient, smart, and very deadly.”

Thorton was shocked by the assessment. Maze was a legend with law-enforcement and criminals alike but he had never met anyone that knew him.

“So, what will you do?” Agent Thorton asked.

“Caldwell isn’t the only one with surprises.”

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