Victoria was strapped into a hard plastic seat in the back of the smallest personnel transport helicopter she had ever seen. It was all hard angles, flat black and had multiple hatches that would allow the passengers to jump out of it individually. The chopper didn’t have any tail rotor, instead there were two rotor blades on the top that rotated in opposing directions which she supposed kept it stable in the air.
The team she was with was also a surprise. They wore the same flat black Kevlar body armor she had been equipped with and each had their own set of weaponry and tools strapped in convenient locations or stowed in handy pockets. That wasn’t too surprising; she’d seen her share of movies after all. What really was interesting was that they were all female.
When she had arrived at the recon point with the Lieutenant, she had been directed into the back of this tiny helicopter and given her gear, then told to put it on. This involved stripping to the skin and while she was only half dressed she heard a vehicle approaching. A group of soldiers in full dress emerged from a Humvee and began unloading equipment. Victoria couldn’t quite reach one of the straps that tightened the Kevlar armor but one of the soldiers approached carrying an awkward case of ammunition and pulled it tight for her. She looked like she was in her late twenties or early thirties, slightly taller with a tad more muscle mass though, and her gear had seen some serious use.
“Damn, you put this on like a pro ‘cept for this bit here. It’s a real pain in the ass to reach unless you don’t quite follow the regs and do it second to last instead of last then it don’t get away from ya.” The girls’ voice sounded rough, like she’d been shouting for hours or smoking for years.
“Thanks. I’m Victoria, all this is pretty new to me.”
The girl offered her hand and Victoria shook it, “Dace. It don’t seem like any of this is new to you at all. Shit I’ve seen veterans with years’ experience who don’t know how to gird themselves the way you’ve done. You even have the quick release done right. How’d you learn to do that bein’ as you’re a civi and all?”
“Civi? Oh, civilian. It comes with a manual; all you need to do is read right?” Victoria was pretty sure Adam was to blame but wasn’t about to reveal that particular bit of insight.
“You must be the quickest fuckin reader I’ve ever met; you’ve only been in here for about five minutes.” Dace shrugged, “Anyway, come on out here and meet the team. We’re gonna get you in and out and get that doctor of yours while we’re at it.”
They walked out into the small parking lot where five other women were loading weapons, testing equipment and double checking the fit of their gear. Dace raised her voice.
“Listen up!” The others stopped what they were doing immediately and turned to look at her, “This is our cargo. Goes by Victoria for this exercise she’s Vic. Vic, meet the team, Shai on recon, Sky on sniper, Kim on demo, Link on com, then there’s me and Fats on point.” The young women all nodded in turn as they were introduced, “I’m captain of this mission and also flying this rocket. Any questions?”
“Do you know anything about the layout of the boat?” Victoria asked.
“Negative, she’s a custom job and the shipyard where she was constructed suffered an unfortunate fire right after her maiden voyage.” Dace gave her an appraising look, “You sure you ain’t done this before?”
Victoria opened her mouth to respond and then stopped. She could see a line drawing in her mind’s eye and those ghostly orange letters floated across her vision telling her this was a blueprint of the Misery. “OK, I’ll see what I can do for us then. I need paper and a pen.”
Dace raised an eyebrow but handed her a small notepad and pencil. “Whacha gonna do? Draw me a floor plan?”
“Yes, let me concentrate.” Her head throbbed the way it always did when Adam was forcing data on her conscious mind. She tried to relax and let the information flow from her brain to the paper. In a matter of minutes she had sketched a rough outline of the ship, the doors, windows and rooms as well as quick notations about each one.
“I heard about this. I heard about it but I didn’t believe it.” Fats was staring at her, “You’re Project Sixteen aren’t you?”
“Cut the chatter Fats, we got work to do.” Dace looked at the sheets of paper Victoria had handed her, “These accurate? It’s all our asses if you give me shitty intel.”
“Yes, they aren’t to scale I don’t think but the layout should be good.” She rubbed her temples, “I’m not sure where we got that from but I don’t think that’s the final draft. There may have been some minor changes to what room is where but the general layout is definitely accurate.”
“Let’s move out people, I want to be bustin into that boat by 0430!” They all ran into the chopper and strapped in. Dace flicked a few switches and as the rear hatch closed the engines began to wind up.
Fats was sitting next to Victoria and staring hard at her. “So why do they call you Fats?”
“I play trumpet. Fats Domino is my inspiration.” She said, still staring. “Is it true? Are you Project Sixteen?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.” Victoria said.
“Hey, that shit’s classified.” Said Shai, looking up from the drawings Victoria had made. “You say these aren’t to scale but they look pretty precise to me. Where’d you get this intel from?”
They were all looking at her now. “I have a friend who is a serious hacker. We were looking into this before Kate called me in and he pulled them for me. If I’d had more warning I could have just printed them, lucky for us I have a photographic memory.”
“Ready to depart, you bitches better be strapped in if you have time for idle chatter!” Dace shouted over her shoulder.
“Ready for takeoff Captain!” The unit replied in unison.
The chopper felt like it was launched from a catapult; Victoria felt the G forces press her into the molded plastic chair. Without being belted in she would surely have slid out of the chair and onto the floor but the straps on her thighs kept her firmly in place. There were no windows to see out of, but she knew the ground was falling away quickly. After a couple seconds, the craft stopped rising and shot forward with astonishing speed.
“So rumor has it you’re proficient with a pistol is that accurate Vic?” Sky looked at her from across the cabin. “What model do you favor?”
“Oh, uh I guess I’ve only ever fired a Smith and Wesson nine millimeter Sigma SW9VE. I found it to be accurate but a little on the heavy side and I didn’t like the trigger action.” Victoria stopped for a moment, “I don’t really know much about guns.”
“Well we don’t use nines here. Lightest I’ve got is a forty four.” She opened one of the steel cases that had been brought onboard, took out a holstered black pistol with a silencer affixed to the barrel and a half dozen loaded magazines. “Here, this should do.”
Victoria unclasped the chest harness of her chair and took the holstered weapon, holding it gingerly. Leaning forward, she carefully put the tactical harness on, shifting the holster so it sat comfortably just above her left hip. Finding a few handy pockets she slid the magazines into balanced positions, then put her harness back on. She looked up to see Sky watching her intently.
“Yeah. I can tell you’ve never handled a weapon before.” Sarcasm dripped from her voice, “Look, why don’t you drop the ‘little Miss innocent’ act all right? We know you’ve had tactical training and a lot of it. The only question you’ve asked was related to the mission, you haven’t had any problems gearing up; shit I still have trouble with these fucking Kevlar suits. You didn’t even need to be told which seat was yours and you haven’t made one single mistake.”
“Project sixteen.” Fats said, “I knew it.”
“What the hell is project sixteen?” Sky asked, “I don’t remember that briefing.”
“Sleepers, like in the ‘Bourne’ series. You know, civies who get brainwashed to do specific tasks without knowing about it, then someone gives them a string of words or a key or something and they flip a switch and become cold decisive killers or whatever right?” Said Link.
“Naw I heard it was some brain implant that they can control with microwaves or by radio.” Said Kim, “You been captured by aliens lately Vic?”
“Are you referring to Adam?” Victoria lifted her hair, showing the prosthetic where it bolted to her skull. “He’s not brainwashing me or anything, he’s my artificial spine and he might have military funding but he’s not some military project. Before they gave me some software that let me see wireless Ethernet communication, but it went slightly wrong and crashed us.”
“That’s some heavy shit.” Said Fats, looking closely at her head. “Why’d you let them do that to you? Christ you must have a screw loose.”
“It was either that or spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I got cancer and there was pretty much either chemo and being paralyzed and sick until I died or this. I chose to retain my mobility. It was a big risk but it played out pretty well for me in the end.” Victoria let her hair back down.
“What’re those plugs? Do you jack in like ‘The Matrix’?” Asked Link.
“Link’s obsessed with that movie, she thinks it’s going to be the next big plague or something.” Said Fats, rolling her eyes.
“Wait, you called it Adam right? Does that mean it has personality or something?” Link’s eyes widened, “It’s not an AI is it?”
“Oh shit, here we go, now she’s not gonna leave you alone.” Said Sky, “You got her started and now we’ve gotta deal with this shit for the whole flight.”
“Button up back there, we’re making our approach.” Dace yelled. Everyone put radio earbuds in their ears, leaned back and grabbed the handles on the sides of their seats. Victoria had already fitted hers into her ears and just relaxed; knowing that fighting the G forces was pointless. The chopper banked in a hard circle.
“Something’s up Dace, the boat’s dead out there.” Link said quietly, coming in loud and clear in Victoria’s ear, “No power signature coming from anywhere. They can’t be jamming us, maybe there’s some mechanical failure of some sort.”
“No, they have something on there that is masking their emissions or confusing our equipment.” Said Sky, “I can’t see anything through my scope except for infrared and there’s a lot of heat coming from it. The main source is from the very center, the spot Vic marked as the operating theater.”
“I’m setting us down here; this thing’s supposed to float. We’ll use the water jets to get in closer.” Dace said and in moments had put the chopper down on the water. “Sky, you’ll stay here to cover our asses from unseen threats. Link you set up com and make sure we stay connected.”
The side doors opened and the team all grabbed what looked like torpedoes from a rack on the wall. Victoria saw them pull handles from the sides and followed suit. They all slid into the water and activated the jets which pulled them through the water.
Damn, this was like a Bond movie! Despite the tension of the moment Victoria couldn’t help but enjoy herself. The water was cold but calm, their movement was swift and effortless. As they reached the edge of the craft, the sound of metal crashing against metal reverberated through the water and the dim lights they could see now that they were closer flickered.
“Now’s our chance, let’s move. Sky, clear our entry” Dace said, and they affixed magnetic tethers to the side of the boat in order to keep the tiny jets from floating away before quietly making their way over the railing. Two clanking noises, like the sound of someone dropping a bolt on the steel deck were quickly followed by the sound of two bodies falling with a clatter.
“All clear Dace.” Sky said, “I’ll keep your exit route open.”
Once on board, Fats tossed the bodies overboard after taking the radios off their belts. She handed one to Dace and kept one herself. With hand signals they coordinated their movements into the ship. Quickly and efficiently, Fats and Dace dispatched anyone they came across. Armed guards took a bullet in the eye; anyone unarmed took a fist or rifle butt to the chin or the back of the head.
They passed by a room with an airlock door that had a small but very thick window. Victoria glanced through and clearly saw Eugene’s face look up from a computer screen. The recognition and shock on his face confirmed that it was him. She stopped in her tracks, throwing the signal to the rest of the team as though she was the leader and that’s when she realized blood and pieces of bone and brain were dripping down the window. Then Adam took over.