“Lieutenant, I've been ordered to perform the aerial reconnaissance as we discussed. I will attempt to perform a pattern that I’ve trained in that will involve four passes from each point on the compass and if possible I will try to find a blind spot in coverage. Before you ask, no I don’t have any special scanning abilities however my vision is twenty-ten so I will try to get as good a look at the roof as possible,” I explained rejoining the conversation and handing the radio back to the Lieutenant.
Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “Deputy Garcia, does the drone team have a camera I could take with me? “ I asked.
“I’m not sure, but I can find out,” she replied with some excitement before remembering the chain of command. “Um, that is if the Lieutenant agrees,” she stammered.
“Get your ass in gear Garcia, I think our hero here might have had a good idea,” he grumbled watching Deputy Garcia jog over to the drone tech’s van.
“Now if I'm following your line of thought, you’re thinking you can use the camera to provide some intel the same way the drone would have. I agree it’s worth a shot but you’d better understand something right now. This is your moment of trust. If you screw this up I will be in the ear of every single star, bar, and stripe I can find to let them know exactly who jacked up this operation. Are we clear?”
“We’re clear,” I replied but couldn’t help but think of old the abrasiveness from the Lieutenant was getting. Everything was one step forward, and two steps back with him. Of course, I can’t imagine Wolf Leader helped by basically pulling rank on him and it’s almost a guarantee to make any commander sour, and so far if Lieutenant Bidwell gets any sourer he’s going to ferment.
On top of dealing with Lieutenant Sandpaper Fox was going to be on site any moment as if I wasn’t already on edge enough. I did not want to screw up in front of Fox. Not only would any negative feedback be reported to Wolf Leader which was guaranteed to ruin my day, but I just plain didn’t want to disappoint my mentor. Luckily before I could fall any deeper into my thoughts I saw Deputy Garcia waving me over to the drone van. Here goes everything, I thought as I jogged over to the van.
“What do you have for me, Garcia?” I asked the Deputy.
“Good news ma’am. Our technician here has a camera that we can wire to a battery pack that should give us about 10 minutes of video. Since the camera is a standalone component it will broadcast back to the monitors just like the drone would have. The downside of course is the way the battery pack is set up means a shorter run time,” she then looked over to a dark haired officer dressed in a jumpsuit type thing rather than a regular police uniform or SWAT tactical gear. “Technician Davis you should probably take over explaining the rest,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” replied the rather nervous Technician Davis with a nod before he turned to address me directly. “As Deputy Garcia said, the working plan is for you to carry a drone camera to you with a battery pack. This should work, but honestly, we won’t know if or how well it will work until we do it. The problem Miss...um...what do I call you?” he stammered.
“My codename Star is fine Technician Davis,” I said and gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile.”
“Ah, okay then Miss Star,” Davis began before I interrupted him.
“It’s just Star, no Miss. When you say Miss like that I…”
“I don’t give a frack if he calls you Mary Poppins!” Lieutenant Bidwell barked from behind my right shoulder. “Get this godamned shit show on the road before someone gets killed. Christ almighty, what did I do to deserve this crap today?”
Both Davis and I gulped at the same time while Garcia winced at us with a look of sympathy. The thing is the Lieutenant was right, we were losing time and Fox would be here any minute.
“I’m sorry, carry on Davis,” I said with a nod to the technician.
“Um, as I was saying the problem is that while some image stabilization is built into the camera a lot of it was built into the drone software. In order for us to get really good images, you’re going to need to hold relatively still. We can attach the battery pack to a belt but you’re going to have to hold the camera. It’s not heavy but it’s too big and awkward to attach to a helmet or glasses. Given time I’m sure we could rig something but time is something we don’t have,” he explained as he reached for a belt that had what I assumed was the battery pack in a pouch zip tied to it.
“If you could put this on while I get the cord and the camera,” Davis said as he handed me the belt.
I put the belt on and snapped the buckle before adjusting the belt to fit over my pants and asked him, “Does it matter where I position it?”
“Anywhere is fine as long as it’s comfortable to you and won’t interfere with the cord.” came the muffled reply from inside the van. A second later Davis popped out with a camera about the size of a medium sized smart speaker and a small coil of cord. As he walked over he plugged the cord into the camera and handed it to me. “Garcia, give me a hand would you? I want to make sure this battery pack is secure in case she has to move abruptly. Hold her cape off to the side please,” directed Davis as he adjusted something on the pack I couldn’t see.
With a final tug on the pack, Davis seemed satisfied it was secure and plugged the cord from the camera into the pack before standing to face me and announcing, “I think we’re good to go,” while pushing his hair back with his hand in a nervous gesture.
“When you’re in position I need you to press this button,” he said pointing to a small black button on the back of the camera. “After that, the camera will do its thing. Just remember to point it at what you’re looking at. The steadier the better. Don’t worry about framing the shot, just get the important bits in view. I can control the thermal imaging and zoom from my workstation here. And congratulations you are now the most unique drone the city has ever employed.”
“Thanks...I think,” I smirked at Davis before turning to Lieutenant Bidwell. “Oi, let's do this. You were right we’ve wasted too much time, and it’s time we figure out what these bastards want. What channel are your radios on so I can communicate?”
Davis chipped in from his workstation with “One fifty point three,” before the Lieutenant could reply. “Oh, and remember you’ll have about 10 minutes to broadcast video. After that, we’ll be blind and you’ll just be holding a paperweight.”
“Got it,” I shot back as tapped the frequency into the tiny control panel under my wrist on my left sleeve. The S.T.A.R. frequency was hardwired into my earbud, but I could add additional frequencies using the micro panel. I don’t have a lot of tech built into my suit but I do have a mini panel that shows me the time and gives me some limited functionality with my earbud. Supposedly the tech gurus back at the S.T.A.R. base are working on something for my collar that would use voice commands but it’s been months so I’ll believe it when I see it. Evidently being able to generate heat and shoot concussive energy blasts is hard on equipment and hard to design for. Go figure.
“Star, radio check. Copy?” I said into my collar mic and waited for a response. “Copy, Star confirmed. We have you on comms.” crackled back the reply from Davis. “Comms established and confirmed. At your signal Lieutenant. I said as I started floating above the ground”
The Lieutenant pinched the bridge of his nose, took a long exhale, and then looked at me before simply saying, “Go.”
So go I went. I launched straight up into the air in a trajectory that took me away from the mall as I worked on gaining altitude and setting up an approach arc. As I completed a turn about four miles out from the mall in an attempt to be extra careful about being spotted, I was slapped in the face with a professional grade panic attack. It suddenly came crashing in that these were real people, with real bad guys shooting real guns and Christina and Amber were in there. All I’ve ever wanted to do is use my abilities to help others but at the moment I just felt like the twenty one year old college student I was. What the hell am I doing? I’m going to screw this up and get my friends killed I morbidly thought as the wind ripped past me. Looking down I could see my hands were shaking as I held the camera, and it was a testament to the training that Fox had drilled into me that while all of this was happening I had completed my arc to come around the backside of the mall. Hovering a mile up with the wind whipping my hair and cape around me I breathed raggedly for about a minute before calming myself enough to do what I was sent to do. Carefully holding the camera in one hand, tapped my earbud and announced “Star on station,” into the air.
“Great. Now how about attempting to be useful, we’re running out of time before this blows up one way or another,” came the gruff voice of Lieutenant Bidwell.
“Star? This is Garcia. We’ve been tipped off that the media has gotten wind of the situation and is probably already on route.” said Garcia into my ear followed quickly by some lovely background expletives by the Lieutenant before Garcia could kill her mic.
Friiiick was all I could think. I stupidly hadn’t even thought of the media when I rushed over here. No wonder Wolf Leader sounded ready to rip my head off and go bowling with it. If I survived this and they let me do it again I’ve got to get better at it. I took my training seriously but clearly my mental game needed work, stupid and impulsive. The pit in my stomach clenched hard enough to make a diamond, but I gathered what was left of my dignity and vowed to see this through. I simply couldn’t let those people down and I needed to take responsibility for injecting myself into the situation. All right Dani, shit together time I thought as I touched the earbud again and said “Star, beginning reconnaissance.”
I put both hands on the camera, positioning it so that I thought it was pointing down at what I thought was the correct angle, and propelled myself forward to begin the pass. I’ve been clocked at a little over 200 mph which is not the speed I’ll be going during this pass as I doubt the camera is rated for that level of speed. The science side of the S.T.A.R. Team has a theory that my abilities aren’t fully mature yet and that my true top speed is yet to be determined. Sure it sounds cool, but it’s actually pretty scary. Humans are not meant to go that fast, especially without assistance.
I’d gone about a mile or so when my earbud crackled to life with Technician Davis frantically saying “Turn on the Camera!”. I quickly pushed the button and reminded myself to get out of my head as the scenery sped past below. It took less than a minute to reach the mall and fly over in the first pass. I already could see that I was right on my initial assessment when I flew in that the roof exits were covered but this time I thought I could see a sniper set up. I was really hoping I had the camera aimed in the right spot but couldn’t take my hand off the camera to activate my earbud at this speed so I settled for just getting the pass done.
As I flew over the police line I caught the Lieutenant and Deputy Garcia looking up as I sped over their heads in an arc that would set up the next pass across the roof east to west having completed the north to south pass. Again I came to a stop a few miles out and about a mile up to hover. I did take a second to note that my hands had stopped shaking and took that for a good sign. Putting the camera in one hand before activating my earbud I spoke into the wind “This is Star, pass one complete. Please advise on camera placement, speed, and altitude.”.
“Star!” the earbud crackled to life “That was amazing! How do you control your propulsion and altitude?” came Davis's excited voice into my ear. “The physics and propulsion dynamics would need…” the thought was never completed because he was swiftly interrupted in the background by a sharp “Davis!” by Lieutenant Bidwell. “Sorry sir.” I could hear him mutter as his mic clicked off. I know I shouldn’t but I couldn’t help but grin at Davis joining me on the Lieutenant’s shitlist.
The line crackled to life again with a very sardonic Lieutenant Bidwell saying “Technician runs his mouth tells me that your camera placement is fine as is the altitude although closer is better. Your speed might be a little too high as the images we’re a bit blurry using the wide angle lens.” I then heard him say in a tone that would be dry for a desert, “Anything else Davis?” as he spoke off to the side. I could barely hear Davis reply “No sir,” and couldn’t help but feel a little bad for him. “Proceed with the next pass. Deputy Garcia will relay instructions as needed.” The Lieutenant finished with the line going dead.
Alrighty then, no point in wasting time, so I steadied the camera and shot off toward the mall. I tried my best to gauge my speed but it’s hard to tell just by feel and the fact I couldn’t activate the earbud or use my mini display proved to be much more of a problem than anticipated. I made a mental note to have a chat with the tech team at the base, and I couldn’t help but think that this was one of those operational challenges that Fox was always reminding me about. Which reminded me I hadn’t heard from Fox. He should either be on-site or close by now. I’ll have to try our S.T.A.R. frequency when I get a chance. I could really use his advice right now.
When I was within a thousand yards of the rooftop Garcia chirped into my ear that I was still too fast and the camera needed to be tilted down more, which I hurried to do. As I flew over the roof my blood ran cold as from this angle I could clearly see that each roof entrance was guarded by individuals in what looked like military grade tactical gear and that there were indeed what looked like snipers set up on approach. This was bad, very bad, and quite frankly overkill for a mall. I couldn’t help but wonder just what the hell was going on here as I sped up and zipped overhead.
This time instead of setting up another pass I looped out in an arc to bring me around and behind the police line. We had talked about making about four passes but having seen the setup on the roof I wanted to get on the same page as the Lieutenant and find out where Fox was so I poured on the speed and made it back to the command center in a handful of seconds.
I came in relatively hot which in hindsight was not the smartest thing to do to a group of police in a tense standoff with unknown terrorists. Now I don’t completely understand how my powers work but aside from the air turbulence I make when flying I also have a bit of an energy wash. It’s subtle, sort of like when looking at a hot road and seeing the heat haze. I touched down right by Davis’s van with a whoosh blowing loose paper around and evidently scaring the hell right out of everyone.
Lieutenant Bidwell spun around and drew his sidearm with Garcia not far behind him with a bunch of SWAT Officers drawing down on me as well. Davis for his part just exclaimed “Holy!” and fell off his chair.
“Geezus on the Christ! Are you as dumb as a box of hammers?” the Lieutenant exclaimed while once again giving me his favorite death glare. “Clear, friendly!” he yelled at the officers who then thankfully aimed their guns elsewhere. He and Garcia holstered their sidearms and ushered me under a little canopy that pulled out of Davis’s van while Davis attempted to find his dignity and righted himself in his chair at the little makeshift workstation that was under the canopy.
“That was pretty damn stupid girl. You keep telling me you have tactical training but I’m really not sure. Who was your teacher, Bugs Bunny?” the Lieutenant fumed at me when suddenly a voice from behind him said, “No, I am,” and for the second time in the last few minutes the Lieutenant almost jumped out of this uniform. As he spun he reached for his sidearm, a hand in a black glove shot out and grabbed his arm while saying “That’s not necessary Lieutenant.”
When my brain finally engaged I yelled out, “Wait, wait, wait!” and as everyone looked at me all I could squeak out was, “He’s with me! My unit commander mentioned earlier when you spoke to her that our infiltration expert was en route. Well, this is Fox from the Superhuman Tactics and Response Team, S.T.A.R. for short, it’s the first response team I’m attached to,” I rapidly explained.
I’ll say this for Fox, he’s the most menacing average person you’ll ever meet. There’s nothing about him that screams black ops, but that’s partially why he’s so good at his job.
“Greetings Lieutenant Bidwell,” Fox said as he removed his hand from the Lieutenant’s arm. “I will be coordinating infiltration with you and your team. Now if I could get a Sit-Rep from Star I would…”
“Now wait a goddamned minute. I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are. You don’t just show up out of nowhere dressed like Neo from the Matrix and start giving me orders on how to run my op!” Lieutenant Bidwell exploded. Evidently, he’d had enough of the outside interference. “You can take your skinny ass from a team nobody has ever heard of and take this girl dressed like a flag and kindly remove yourself from my command post. Now!” he yelled.
Oh crap. I know that look on Fox’s face and I knew for a fact the Lieutenant wasn’t going to like what came next. I glanced at Garcia and Davis and they had the same look I’m sure I had which was the look kids get when their parents fight.
Fox just looked at the Lieutenant with so much disdain it was painful before saying, “One moment Lieutenant. I had hoped to avoid this and get right to saving the hostages but I guess you’re going to need to do this the hard way,” and then he stepped away from the Lieutenant and touched his earbud and spoke into the receiver. “Fox onsite confirmation, zed, ten, fourteen, sixteen. Confirm contact made with Stella. Local control is hostile. Requesting relay of authorization of deployment to LEOs on site,” only to follow that up a moment later with “Roger Astraea. Will proceed,” to whatever the reply was on the earpiece. Fox then turned to Lieutenant Bidwell and said, “You’re going to want to answer that,” with just the faintest hint of a smirk.
I was starting to have some genuine concern for our good Lieutenant at this point. As red as he was couldn't be good for his blood pressure. Just as he opened his mouth to reply his phone rang. Not the police radio. His PERSONAL cell phone and whatever number that showed up on the caller ID caused the Lieutenant to transition from red to white. He picked up the call and all I could get out of the one-sided conversation was a series of “Yes, sirs,” stammered into the receiver. The one time he attempted to get a “But sir, this is highly irregular.” in, he didn’t even get to finish, only to follow up with another “Yes, sir.” a second later. This was clearly not a conversation he wanted to have and when it was over he just kind of stared at his phone for a moment and gathered himself before addressing Fox, “Well it looks like this is your Op now.”
I had to admire Garica’s loyalty in that she immediately became indignant and blurted out “But sir!” which confirmed what I had already figured out, that beneath his gruff exterior the Lieutenant was a good person.
“Stand down Officer,” he said addressing Garcia but loud enough for some of the officers who had been eavesdropping to hear as well. “Somebody much higher than you ever want to speak to has orders for the Master Sergeant to take over command of this operation with all due support from Michigan City’s finest.”
“Relax Lieutenant Bidwell. I have no desire to take over full control of this op. What I am going to do is take over the infiltration planning and I hope I can count on you and your team to help us get in there and rescue those hostages,” Fox said to the Lieutenant in that disarming way he had. It was both magical and infuriating watching the Lieutenant’s anger drain from nearly apoplectic to earnest professionalism at the mention of hostages.
With a visible sigh, Lieutenant Bidwell faced Fox and asked, “What do you need and what are your thoughts on how we get in?”
Nodding and moving back to Davis’s work area Fox replied, “First things first, need a sitrep. Star, your reconnaissance in addition to whatever intelligence the SWAT team has gathered will help us formulate our entry and extraction plans. Alright Star, time to use all of that tactical and infiltration training Wolf Leader and I have been trying to impart.”
I took a deep breath and started, “I completed two passes of my reconnaissance flight carrying a drone camera. We’ve yet to review the footage but I’ve confirmed that we have at least 3 hostiles on the roof set up in sniper positions. All looked like they were wearing body armor and from an earlier drone flight, we know at least one is carrying what looks like a TAC-50 sniper rifle although I think it would be prudent to assume they are all carrying equivalent military grade weapons. Based on the quality of the gear I would err on the side of caution that they came equipped to appropriately repel or hold a moderate frontal assault.
Additionally, the precision with which they infiltrated and took over the mall has my gut telling me that they have access to the building’s schematics and are a professional outfit. All the approaches are covered making any approach problematic and the terrorists have refused all communication. My guess is they are there for something or someone specific and that it’s taken time to lock down and find said items or persons. Once that goal is achieved they will transition to their exfiltration plan. Lastly, at present has been no indication of any of them being Supernormals,” I exhaled hoping that I hadn’t missed anything vital.
Fox nodded with a concise, “I concur,” and then turned to Lieutenant Bidwell and asked, “Does the MCPD have the mall’s schematics?”
“Davis! Pull up the floor plans for the government ninja”, snapped the Lieutenant to a flustered Davis.
“On it sir,” said Davis as he worked the computer station to bring up the files while I on the other hand was lost in thought. What could possibly be worth taking hostages at a shopping mall? It’s too professional to be a burglary. That would have been a simple smash and grab or would have been done after hours. They’ve got to be looking for someone, but who and why?
“Star? Star!”I realized Fox had been saying my name and snapped out of my fugue state with a start and mumbled “Yes sir!” Smooth Dani, real smooth I thought as I imagined my stock as a first responder plummeting.
“As I was saying, the Lieutenant and I have an idea of how we might breach the building. I would like to get your thoughts as It’s going to be beyond dangerous with the limited information we have, and I’m going to need you to be front and center,” Fox said with a strong serving of rebuke in his voice.
Damn, that stung. Fox was the type of mentor in that he could throw me all over the training facility and I wouldn’t think a thing of it, but a simple, “I’m disappointed,” wrecked my day. Time to pull it together and show his faith in me was not misplaced.