Damon and Virgil kept close to their armored escort, mimicking Danny’s movements precisely as in turn followed Aurin’s directions.
They thought out each step meticulously. Keeping an eye on every angle, they watched for anyone who might see through their cloak. If any personnel came within even a dozen feet, they would stop dead in their tracks and wait for them to leave. Though this slowed them down considerably, all three of them knew they would only get one chance to do this.
Moving through Nellis was no walk in the park.
Their first destination was the underground black site, far beneath the sweeping air base. According to Aurin, there were four entrances to the site, lifts of varying sizes—one designed for cargo and vehicles, hidden in one of the hangars; and three for personnel only, each one tucked away inside nondescript buildings around the base. With specific instructions, Aurin led them to the closest personnel lift.
“There, right there,” Aurin told Danny, prompting him to stop.
“Uh, Aurin,” Danny whispered in a voice so low he himself struggled to hear it, “we’ve got a bit of a problem…”
The building had a single entrance, a plain door, with two men in regular USAF uniforms standing on either side. With a quick scan, Suo confirmed that there was no one else inside the building, and neither of the guards outside looked particularly threatening, even though they each had a personal sidearm. Even so, Danny and the others were still not ready to give away their presence.
“Relax, would you? I told you I have this under control,” Aurin almost groaned before going quiet again.
Danny, Damon, and Virgil each waited nervously, watching the two guards, wondering what might come next. A few seconds after Aurin went silent, one of the guards put a hand to his ear, listening to a radio. At this distance only Ridarin could pick up the transmission and the guard’s reply—something about immediate reassignment to another location. After conveying the message to his partner, they both walked away from the door, down the way, and around the corner—out of sight.
“Told you,” Aurin said as they made their way to the now unwatched door. “These people trust their radios way too much. They hear a familiar voice on the proper channel, with all the proper codes, and they just assume the person on the other end is who they claim to be.”
Danny reached out to a keycard slot on the doorframe, syncing with it through his net, unlocking the door. The three of them piled into the building quickly, not wanting to risk anyone seeing a door opening on its own. Once the door was shut softly behind them, they waited for the sound of the lock clicking back into place before Danny dropped the cloak.
“To be fair, Aurin,” Damon said through his own radio, “I don’t think anyone here was prepared to go toe-to-toe with someone like you.”
“Let’s keep moving,” Danny said, walking deeper into the building. He breathed deeply, trying to keep calm after their stroll through such restricted areas, trying not to lose his cool as he prepared for what would come next. “Where’s this lift, anyway?”
“Secret, secret,” Aurin hummed.
The ground beneath their feet lurched then sank an inch; the center portion of the room’s floor had lowered itself just enough for Danny and the others to get the picture.
“I would love one of these,” Damon muttered to himself.
“Listen up, boys, because I’m only going to say this once,” Aurin announced to the three of them. “I can get you down there, I can screw with their radios, pretend to be people I’m not, and I can even make their security systems think you’re not there—but I can’t make you invisible to the naked eye, understand?”
“Sorry I can’t help you guys more,” Danny said to Damon and Virgil.
“We’ll be all right,” Damon assured him. “Besides, you’re needed elsewhere. It’s easier for prisoners to go missing without notice when you’re busy with a surprise attack.”
“Once you’re in,” Aurin cut in, “keep your heads down, get our people, then head for the other lift I told you about. I’ll take care of things on my end; you two just watch yourselves.”
“Understood,” Virgil and Damon confirmed.
“I can’t promise you guys any sort of timeframe,” Danny admitted, “but I guess I don’t need to tell you to hurry. I’ll keep the heat off until you’re all set. Let me know the moment you’re ready to get out of here, and I’ll make sure the coast is clear.”
“Thank you, Daniel,” Damon said in a gentle, though resolute voice. He looked the young man before him in his artificial eyes, still feeling his friend’s presence behind the azure glow. “We’ll bring all of them back, you can count on us.”
“You can count on me, too,” Danny replied in the same fond tone, nodding to the man who had mentored him in war for this long. “Good luck, to both of you.”
Danny stepped off the sunken portion of the floor, leaving Damon and Virgil some room.
They each checked their equipment, then checked one another. They each had an L85A2 assault rifle clipped to their vests, an L9A1 semi-automatic pistol strapped to their right thighs, plus a few smoke grenades, among other things—all from Virgil’s private cache. Ultimately, they hoped to not need a single bullet; if all went as planned, they would extract their targets without anyone being the wiser.
Even so, there was still security to be found in certainty, what little they could get, especially when preparing to enter perhaps the most secure facility in the world. If 85-11 really was less than half a mile beneath them, then they expected the US to spare no expense in security. Double- and triple-checking everything was not just excusable, but required. However, while Damon and Virgil felt that common anxiety before an operation, they felt no real fear. After all, Aurin Enqelin had already proven himself formidable.
“And we’re moving,” Aurin sang as the floor lowered at a steady rate, carrying Damon and Virgil down with it.
A reinforced steel cover slid automatically over the opening the lift left in the floor, veiling the two men from Danny’s sight as they continued their descent.
Leaving the lift behind, cloaked once again, Danny trekked across the base on his own, heading for the position they had determined ahead of time. No longer having to worry about concealing anyone but himself, he felt almost nonchalant, moving likewise, as if this were nothing more than a pleasant walk. Still, the weight of what was coming was not lost on him, not in the least.
“You should know they’ve stocked this place with some extra firepower,” Aurin warned him. “They may not know you’re here, but they sure are paranoid about what they’re cooking up down below.”
“That doesn’t bother me,” Danny muttered, ignoring his own nausea. “They don’t stand a chance against Ridarin anyway. We just need them to think they do, keep them occupied long enough.”
“It’ll be trickier with your little caveat to the plan…”
“I’m not going to kill these people, not if I don’t have to. This isn’t that kind of mission.”
“How fascinatingly hypocritical of you. Was Valiya correct about you and my daughter, then?”
“This isn’t hypocrisy,” Danny said firmly. “What happened on Zero Point… that was before I had as much control as I do now. I’m not going to kill these people, not because they’re from my planet or my country, but because I don’t have to.”
“Suit yourself. But it’ll be harder to make this look good without making examples of a few people along the way.”
“I’m going to assume that’s coming from the you that hasn’t had human contact for almost two hundred years,” Danny replied.
Aurin sniggered in his ear. “I forget how much I like you sometimes.”
“They’ll be reaching the black site by now,” Danny said, stepping out onto the first runway adjacent to the rest of the base. “Might as well get started.”
Turning about, he could see people all around him, mostly techs working on a couple nearby F-35 fighter planes. Danny materialized two M4 carbines, modifying them, then dropped his cloak. Not waiting for anyone to see him themselves, he aimed at one of the fighters, one he was sure no one was inside or nearby, and opened fire. His rounds pierced the plane’s fuel tank, detonating the contents inside. Next, he opened up on the sides of a couple buildings, keeping his line of fire at a relatively safe distance from anyone.
The people immediately around him ran away in terror as a number of marines came out to meet him. They were already geared up and ready to go, as if they were waiting for but a moment’s notice to leap to action.
Taking in a deep breath, Danny prepared himself further. He hated this already, but he knew it would have to be done, and he knew he was the one who had to do it.
Just a few minutes, he told himself. Just a few minutes, and they’ll be out.