Monday; March 18, 1985
I pushed myself away from the computer terminal and let out an exaggerated sigh.
Greg turned in his chair and looked at me. "Done?"
"Yup. That was the last test. Pretty good timing, I'd say. We told Tamarson six months and our timeís up," I looked at the calendar on the wall, "in two days, March 20."
"Well, let's go tell the man!"
We quickly walked over to Tamarson's office. Liz, his secretary let us in. Mr. Tamarson was sitting at his desk, leafing through some papers. He looked up when we entered. "Yes?"
Greg and I looked at each other. He motioned for me to go ahead. "We're done."
His face brightened. "With the security system? Wonderful. How soon can it be installed?"
I shrugged and gestured to Greg. "Greg wrote the installation routines."
Tamarson looked at Greg. "Well?"
He thought for a moment. "Well, first I'll have to send in a selective tapeworm to eliminate the old system, then I'll have to prime the data base, and thenó"
Tamarson crinkled his eyes and cut Greg off. "How long?"
He shrugged. "I'll need full command of the computer for about eight hours but I don't trust a grunt operator to oversee the procedure. I'll stay tonight and have it up tomorrow morning."
Surprise played across Tamarson's face. "That soon?" He looked at his watch. "It's 2:00. Iíll circulate a memo telling everyone to be off by six. You two go rest and be back then. Take tomorrow off." Greg and I nodded. "What is it, Liz?"
"A call for Jeff. A Mr. Hardcastle."
My head snapped around. Hardcastle! That was Mike's codename. Why was he calling me here? "I'll take it in my office." I shook my head slightly at Greg's questioning look. I walked briskly to my office and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Storm King?" Mike's voice. Storm King was my codename.
"This is Hardcastle. We have a Code Amber Stand-by Condition. You are wanted at the Nest. Tomorrow night at seven p.m."
I digested this. Code Amber Stand-by. That meant they had a mission for me and wanted me to go to the warehouse. For the thousandth time, I wonder why they persisted in all of this cloak-and-dagger crap, even though a part of me thought it was cool, but said, "I'll be there."
"Very good. See you then." He hung up. I put down the phone and leaned back in my chair, suddenly feeling very exhausted. Three months. I'd only had three months of serious training since I joined the Clan. I'd learned much but I was still a level 10. I didnít feel ready to go out into the field. What if something goes wrong? What if I get hurt or even killed? What if I screw up and get someone else killed? What ifóstop! I can worry all I want, but that isn't going to change the fact that I have to go. Besides, I'll find out more tomorrow.
Greg stuck his head in. "What's up?"
"I've been summoned. Theyíve got a mission for me."
He closed the door and sat down at his desk. "What is it?"
I shrugged. "Don't know yet. Theyíre going to brief me tomorrow night. I'll find out then." I took a deep breath and pulled myself to my feet. "Well, enough of that. Let's blow this joint and get some rest."
He smiled. "You got it."
I parked in front of the warehouse and ran inside. Mike and three men whom I had seen about but did not know were sitting in some chairs clustered near a chalk board on one wall. Aside from them, the warehouse was empty.
"Hello, Jeff." I nodded. "These are Marc, Tom, and Gary." I shook their hands as he introduced them. Marc was a wiry young man, probably early twenties, with close cropped black hair. In contrast, Tom had shoulder length blond hair, was tall and thin, and looked in his late thirties. The most striking thing about Gary, in addition to his fiery red hair, was that not even a glimmer of a smile touched his lips. "Gary is your mission-leader and has already been informed of the situation. He'll brief you." I sat down and looked expectantly at Gary.
He stood up and opened a map which he tacked to the chalk board. It was a map of California. "This is our objective," he pointed to a point on the coast, "Westhaven, 20 miles north of Eureka. It's a small community with about a hundred inhabitants. The Blacks have a stockade about three miles out of town. They don't go into town much, so the locals don't know anything about them. They think itís a survivalists camp or something. Our sources in the area inform us that they're about to open up a gate to unleash an unknown number of powerful demons. We're not quite sure what their motives are, but if they succeed, it will take a great deal of energy and attention to deal with the problem, leaving many other areas unattended. This, alone, may be their motive."
"What's their strength?" Marc asked.
"As far as we can tell, there is one Major, two lower Minors, and two guards barely into the Sensitive range. No match for three Majors and a Minor. Our mission is to go into the area, ascertain the location of the gate, and close it. Any questions?"
I raised my hand. "Yeah." I spread my hands questioningly, "Why am I here? I don't know anything about demons or gates. The three of you have more than enough power to take care of any opposition you encounter. I'll be little more than a fifth wheel."
Gary looked at me with a slight sneer. "You're here because Clan rules require four Initiates on any mission, and you are at the top of the rotation list."
Wow! What an ass! Keeping my peace, I said, "You mean to tell me that I'm going with you because Iím next in line. You have no real use for me?"
He nodded condescendingly. "That's right."
I don't like this, and I donít like the condescending voice Gary is using with me. But I have no choice but to go along for the ride; to try and learn something.
"Okay. Any other questions? No? Good. Departure is set for Friday, March 29, at 3:00 p.m. Be here with your clothes and tools no latter than 2:30. That's all."
Gary folded up his map. Tom and Marc stood and followed him out of the warehouse. I sat where I was, patiently waiting until they had left before turning to Mike. "What the hell is this? Why am I being forced to waste my time, and most likely theirs, on a mission? I'm not even needed! Rules or no, it's absurd."
Mike held up his hands defensively. "I'm sorry, but I don't make the rules. Garyís an ass, Iíll agree, but stay out of the way and enjoy yourself. View it as a free ride. Let them do all the work."
I set my jaw. "I still don't like this."
"I know. Let's go."
Gary spread the map open on the table. It was a United States Geological Survey map showing topography, roads and buildings. "Here's where we are" He pointed at a black dot on the map indicating a building. It was located in a cluster of dots; Trinidad. Another such cluster was located about two miles down the coast; Westhaven. "This is where the Blacks' compound is." He indicated a point about two miles due east of Westhaven, about a mile from a gravel pit. "Meeting them on their own turf is absurd, so we'll draw them out andó"
"Why?" I interjected. "If we hit them in their compound, we keep the element of surprise."
He looked at me, strained patience lining his face. "Jeff, this is your first mission. You're green, youíre a Minor, and you donít know what you're talking about. Why donít you sit quietly and maybe youíll learn something."
I've had just about enough of his snide remarks. "Since you have no use for me here, do you mind if I go out and wander around the town?"
"Fine, but stay out of the way." I stood up to leave. "And don't get into any trouble. We have more important things to do then pull your ass out of something." I didn't respond as I left the cabin.
Taking a deep breath of the crisp ocean air, I looked down at the small village and the ocean beyond, the sun dipping towards the horizon. We had left Carson City at 3:00 the previous afternoon and then had driven to Trinidad. Arriving shortly after dawn, we'd gotten a cabin for the weekend and had slept through most of the day.
I stretched and walked down towards the beach. Damn Gary! Why does he have to be so arrogant, acting like he knows everything? This may be my first mission, but judging by the way he is approaching the situation, I have more theoretical knowledge of tactics from Gaming, not to mention common sense, then he has from experience.
Reaching the beach, I walked north along it, letting my feet carry me while I thought. What would I do if I were in charge? Examine the site and come up with a plan. Probably a quick strike, in and out with no hassles. I stopped walking and examined the ocean. Examine the site. Yeah. I broke into a trot and cut away from the beach, heading basically southeast. The compound was up a small road breaking off from the main highway, my memory of the map told me.
Finding the highway and the service road was easy. I slowly made my way up it, sticking to the trees a short distance from the road. Finally the stockade came into sight.
From where I stood, all I could see was a ten foot tall, cinder-block wall surrounding an area about fifty feet on a side. On the side facing me was a set of hinged wood doors which appeared to open inward. They were large enough to permit a car to pass through. In the front left-hand corner was a watchtower, standing about fifteen feet tall. In it, I could see a man holding what appeared to be a hunting rifle. He was gazing out into the surrounding forest, but didn't seem to be real alert, only looking for obvious signs of approach. The locals must really not come up here at all. That is no survivalists camp. That is an armed fort.
I found a stout tree and climbed it. Resting at a branch about twenty feet off the ground, I could see that opposite the first tower was another tower that also had a guard in it. Located towards the back of the courtyard was a building about twenty-five feet on a side with a door facing the gate in the outer wall.
Guards. Even at night, they would have a full range of vision and would be able to spot anyone trying to approach the compound. We'd need some sort of cover. Memories of life in LA returned to me. The ocean on a cold night. I smiled and dropped back to the ground, heading back the way I had come.
It was dark when I got back to the beach. The moonlight reflected off of the breaking waves. Facing out into the ocean, I spread my arms and extended my consciousness across the waters, seeking a mass denser than the surrounding air. Yes. That's exactly what I need. Come to me. I felt a strong wind pick up, blowing inland. I opened my eyes and jogged back to the cabin.
They were still talking when I entered. "So we're agreed. You two will draw them out with a display of power while I slip in and sabotage their setup and close the gate." Marc and Tom nodded and Gary sat back satisfied.
"Sounds like it might work," I said, "except for one thing."
Gary looked at me, irritation obvious on his face. "And what might that be?"
"The guards with the hunting rifles."
He didn't look at all convinced. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"I decided to take a little walk up and check out the stockade. There are two guards with rifles on the towers. I seriously doubt they'd leave their post to identify a disturbance outside the compound."
His face contorted with anger. "I don't like the idea of you going out there without checking with me first. You could have jeopardized the mission." He pointed at me accusingly. "But, assuming you're right, what would you suggest, Mr. Know-it-all?"
I looked at him in distaste. "I'd wait until there was a thick fog, and then go over the wall between the towers. Two go in to deal with the gate while the rest take out the guards from inside, where they're not expecting it. That way, we get surprise and donít have any unknowns wandering around out in the woods."
"Right. Except that your plan's useless without a fog, and even if there is one tonight, it won't necessarily be thick enough."
I shook my head in disbelief at his arrogance. "You didn't even look at my bio, did you?"
He shrugged. "I glanced it over, why?"
"I'm a weathermancer. The fog should be here within the hour."
His eyes widened. "Oh."
The fog arrived ahead of schedule, rolling in out of the ocean. It was every bit as thick as I had promised, cutting visibility to about twenty feet. We were waiting in the trees near the stockade when the fog reached us.
"Okay," Gary said, "We'll wait another ten minutes to make certain the fog is stable enough, and then we'll go over the wall on the front corner between the towers. Once over, Jeff and Marc will take out the guards while Tom and I penetrate the building, locate and close the gate." Gary's condescending attitude towards me had lightened somewhat but it had been replaced by a subtle resentment that I, a mere Minor, had bested him. Twit.
We waited until the fog had thickened enough so we couldn't see the compound, before slowly moving in. As the smallest of us, Marc was to be pushed up first. Once he was atop the wall, he secured a grappling hook which the rest of us would use to make our way over the wall. On the other side, we split up; Marc down the left wall towards that tower, me down the right towards the other, and Tom and Gary heading across the courtyard towards the building. I quickly lost sight of all three in the fog.
Very shortly, my objective came into view. The tower was made of stout pine logs lashed together supporting a platform. There was a wooden ladder nailed into one of the supports. The man on top moved about, but the tower didn't sway or creak much. Good. I should be able to make it to the top before he hears me.
Very slowly and as quietly as possible, I climbed the ladder. As my head broke the level of the platform, I could see that the man was facing away from me, apparently unaware of my presence. However, the last rung of the ladder squeaked as I put my weight on it. I immediately leapt forward. The man spun around and pointed the rifle at me. I grabbed the barrel and jerked it to one side. The gun went off, leaving a ringing in my ears and dislodging my grip. Closing with him so that he couldn't bring the gun to bear on me again, I struggled with him for control of the weapon. He wasn't having any of that and tried to back away from me. I held onto the gun and advanced with him. Shifting my weight, I dropped onto my back, drawing him forward and flipping him over me. Suddenly, he released the gun and let out a cry. There was a loud thud followed by a deadening silence.
Oh my god! He fell off the tower. Is he dead? Please, don't let him be dead. Please, oh please, let him still be alive. I rushed to the side and looked down. He was laying on his back, he right leg bent at an impossible angle. Is he breathing? I can't tell. Have to go down and check.
Leaving the rifle, I climbed back down the ladder. The man was unconscious but still breathing. I closed my eyes and looked skyward. Thank you! I lightly probed his body. It looked like he had some cracked ribs and various other fractures, but he would recover with medical attention. Attention I didn't have time to provide.
I headed towards the door of the building. Someone came around the corner with a rifle. I froze. I'm dead. Heís going to shoot me before I can get to him. The man paused with the gun pointed at me and then lowered it. It was Marc. I started to breathe again and began to shake.
"Hey, man, you okay?" Marc asked.
"Yeah. You just scared the hell out of me. And I almost killed the guard by accident. I don't know what I would have done if I had. God, to kill a man." I shook my head in disbelief of what I had almost done.
"Don't sweat it. Itís a dirty game and sometimes, people get hurt. Besides, he would have done the same to you without so much as an afterthought." I shook my head. I knew he was right, but that didn't change how I felt.
Shortly, the door opened and Gary and Tom came out. "The deed is done. The three guys in there will be sleeping for a while and by the time they come to, we'll be long gone. Letís go home."
We pulled open the front gate and hiked back to our cabin. Quickly packing our things into the car, we left and headed south. We would stop for rest and de-briefing in a Clan-owned house in San Francisco before cutting across California towards home. I sat in the back seat, resting my head against the back of the seat. It was over. My first mission. And this was supposed to be a joy ride for me. What will my next be like, I wonder. What will happen to me on missions where I'm really necessary. I pushed those thoughts aside and closed my eyes.
We pulled into the garage of the brick house and closed the garage door. It was about three in the morning. We ensured that the house was locked tight, and went to sleep.
I awoke a bit before noon. Donning my robe, I went out into the hall. Hearing voices downstairs, I decided to take a shower before I went down to join them.
Showered and dressed, I walked down the stairs and was surprised to find Katar sitting in the living room talking with Gary and Tom. I saw Marc puttering in the kitchen.
"Good morning, Jeff," Katar said. "I was in the Bay area, so I decided to stop by and see how things went up in Westhaven. Gary tells me you and he had something of a problem."
I nodded. "You could say that. We had some disagreements about how things should be done."
He smiled. "Yes, I imagine you did. I am also informed," he inclined his head towards Tom, "that you came up with a rather unique solution to the problem. Generated a specific fog on command. That requires a thorough mastery of ones gift; control possessed by a Major."
I was taken aback by his words. So was Gary. "What? You're talking about promoting him? He was insubordinate. He should have been obeying me, not questioning my everyó"
Katar's voice cut him off with a razor edge, "Silence! You are correct, once given an order, he should, and I believe would, obey it. But you must listen to the suggestions of your companions. You were the lead, not the overlord. Changing Jeff's designation to that of Major is not a Ďpromotion', but a recognition of his magical development. Do you understand me?"
Gary seemed to wither before Katar's anger. He bowed his head and said, "Yes, Master. I am sorry."
Tom turned and winked at me. "Congratulations."
I smiled back.