1. Graduation by cathrl
Written for the Writers Anonymous Hook Challenge. The first few lines are the hook and were written by Lady Tragic. I changed one "could" to a "can", and added some italics to clarify the direct thought.
Usual comments apply about nothing canon belonging to me. This is consistent with the rest of my Battle AU, but isn't AU itself.
Any and all comments are always welcome.Graduation
"We're going to die, you know." she remarked conversationally.
"Doesn't everyone?" he replied.
She rolled her eyes. "I mean in the very near future."
"Proximity is relative, Katrina." She made a little noise of exasperation, and he smirked without looking up from what he was doing.
"Far closer than I'm comfortable with. Am I making myself clear?" How the hell can he joke at a time like this?
"Crystal. I'll get us out of here, you'll see." He continued to fiddle with the lock.
"Well, seeing as you got us into this mess..."
"Hey! How is this my fault?"
"You led us into a trap that an idiot child would have seen-"
"You followed me. What does that make you?"
"Besides, when was the last time G-Force did anything clever, anyway? Hey, door's open."
He'd begun to swing it open when Katrina caught his arm. "Don't make the mistake of underestimating them, Jason."
He rolled his eyes. "If we can't beat them, why the hell are we here?"
"They're good. I'm better. You're a driver. Who's decent at lockpicking, to be fair. Now, where do we go next?"
He smirked at her again. "I got us through the front door and the entry security. The interior layout is up to you. And I do hope you know what you're doing. I hear they have some serious security codes on the upper levels."
"And where did you hear that?" Katrina eyed her partner with some disdain. Working alone was much more her style. But, while she'd been given information on the internal security of ISO headquarters, she'd had none at all on how to get past the front door. Nobody except fully vetted employees went in unaccompanied. Nobody. Not delivery people, cleaners, maintenance men...Spectra had tried the lot, to no avail. And ISO's vetting procedures were frustratingly good. She knew her superiors had a couple of people on the inside - that was where the codes had come from - but it had taken months, if not years, and they were being saved for a special project, one that would end the war in Spectra's favour. Nobody was going to allow her to use one of them for her Devil Star graduation exercise. Not even if her plan did involve taking out Security Chief Anderson himself. In fact, they'd laughed at her. Way beyond her capabilities, they'd said. She should be less ambitious.
And then an old friend had introduced her to Jason Alouita, part time race driver and professional ISO chauffeur; a man who, it turned out, held a serious grudge against an organisation which had repeatedly failed to promote him beyond idiot level due to his lack of American accent and high school diploma.
Jason shrugged casually. "It's not like they make it a secret. Impregnable, they say. So, if we're to get up there and do this, you better have some damn good intel. If not, let's go kill some guards and tee them off. My career's screwed anyway."
It sure is. They'd been intercepted leaving the main elevator on the fifth floor, taken to a holding cell on the eighth when Jason had been unable to give a good reason for being there. Hadn't got much beyond "um..." confirming her suspicions as to his intelligence. She'd expected to be stopped at some point, to be honest - but had been disappointed that it had happened so early, and that he hadn't managed some sort of "looking for the bathroom" type excuse. And then startled that he'd managed to extract them from it, when, after she'd set up the security camera to loop innocent footage of them sitting dejectedly in the corner of the holding cell, she'd been unable to get past the lock. She really had thought it was all over. The reports she'd read had made it entirely clear that it was impossible to smuggle explosives in here, so she hadn't tried. No bullets, no charges, no bombs. Nothing she could use to get her out of here.
Both of them peered out simultaneously to a bonus - a deserted corridor. No need to fight their way free. Maybe they weren't going to die just yet after all. Though Jason would have to die eventually, since he knew of the presence of a Spectran mole in the building. There was, after all, no other explanation for how come she knew security codes for the upper levels. Not very bright, young Jason - but certainly bright enough to barter for his life with such information as he had, once captured by ISO forces. Commander Mala hadn't been remotely interested in him - not only was he male, doing this made him an obvious traitor, and, as such, worthless for future operations. No, she'd be leaving the building alone. A shame, since he was beyond cute, and she regretted not having found the time to sleep with him. She'd make his death quick.
For now, though, he was still useful, since he'd proved himself better at picking locks than she was. She led the way down the corridor, ducking both of them into a closet once to avoid a civilian worker strolling casually, coffee mug in hand, presumably looking for a refill. Katrina rolled her eyes at the thought of the young woman with green eyes and a matching tint in her hair, neatly and professionally dressed for office work, using an area of the building which held prisoners as a shortcut. Maybe the much-vaunted security of the ISO building was simply a myth? It certainly wasn't much in evidence here.
"Which way now?" he muttered, louder than she'd have liked, as Green Girl disappeared round the corner.
"Put this on." They needed to get across the building entirely, to the north-west corner, where the elevator went up to the highest security levels, and even if their escape hadn't been noticed (which it surely hadn't, since there was a complete lack of any alarms or consternation) there had to be somebody with some brains in here. Someone who would notice two people walking around dressed exactly the same as the two prisoners in Cell Five.
Jason wrinkled his nose at the grey cleaner's coat, but put it on without a murmur over his T-shirt and jeans. She went for a blue tabard with floral ties, rapidly changed her hairstyle from neat chignon to floppy ponytail on the top of her head - which, coincidentally, hid most of the surface-level blonde streaks so obvious before - and put in a pair of coloured contacts carried for this purpose. Nothing startling, just brown instead of grey. 'Changing your appearance with whatever's available' was an important course in Devil Star training. She'd achieved top marks. Even the neat white blouse looked entirely different once she undid the cuffs and rolled her sleeves up to the elbow, and a couple of dusters and a spraycan of something suitably cleaner-appropriate in the pockets of the tabard completed the image.
"Now," she said to get his attention, "we simply walk to the security elevator together, I input the code, we get in and go up to floor thirty-seven. At that point, follow me. Don't speak, don't get in front of me. No heroics. I'm trained for this and you're not. You'll only be in my way. Understood?"
He nodded, fiddling nervously with something in his pocket, and she opened the door and walked out, careful to project the right image. Not confidence, exactly, surely no cleaner could ever feel at home surrounded by this many high-powered officials. Just a sense of being in a familiar place.
No, he wasn't very bright. He'd clearly misunderstood her instructions, staying carefully behind her all the way across the seventh floor. She only hoped it didn't look too odd, but on the one occasion that she tried slowing down to indicate that he should walk alongside her, he failed to take the hint, slowing down to match. Katrina sighed inwardly and carried on. Hopefully onlookers would think he was new here, and too shy to walk alongside his mentor and make conversation.
They garnered a few curious glances from people who they passed in the corridors, but nothing more. The security guards in the large open communal space at the centre of the building showed no interest in them whatsoever, and most of the people congregating there were in groups, conversing with their colleagues, relaxing in the easy chairs reading the paper, waiting at the coffee machines. Not looking at a couple of random janitorial staff. The man at the elevator - young, heavily built to the point where she was surprised he qualified for active duty at all, and with his hair slicked down with what was apparently an entire tub of hairgel - did no more than run a laviscious glance down her, from bare neck to short skirt to what were, if she did say so herself, particularly shapely legs, and wave them to the security code panel. This one, she knew. Eleven digits, and properly random ones at that. This certainly wasn't anyone's birthday or some mathematical constant. Not one she knew, anyway - and she'd memorised at least twenty, the most common numbers used in every branch of science, used by arrogant scientists who thought that pi was a secure password or safe combination that only they would ever think of. Idiots.
She felt her nervousness growing as the elevator rose rapidly through the building. Was this all too easy? Did they really not check the identity of people accessing the top secret floors, floors whose offices were occupied by the men and women who coordinated the war effort? Were they about to be met with gun barrels as the elevator doors opened. Were they going to floor thirty-seven at all, or had they been identified and diverted?
She could only presume not. The security on the lower floors had been tight. Tight enough to catch her, after all. Maybe up here they relaxed, certain that nobody could get this far.
"How are you going to take him out?" Jason asked suddenly. "You don't have a gun, it would have shown up on the scanners."
Please, let them not have a microphone in here... She favoured him with a particularly furious stare, and showed him the Devil Stars' latest toy. Literally, a one-shot gun, made entirely from plastic, powered by compressed air, and deformed beyond reuse by the first firing.
"It's a hairbrush."
Well, duh, don't you think they'd have taken it from me if it didn't look completely innocuous? Actually, had she been running this security operation, she'd have taken it away in any case and left the pair of them sitting naked in the cell with an actual person watching over them. Instead there had been a peremptory search for weapons, they'd left her with her handbag, and used a security camera. G-Force might patently not be stupid, but she really didn't think much of the rest of ISO Security right now. Though, of course, she reminded herself, she'd been unable to get out of the cell. The hardware of ISO's security systems was impressive. Relying on technology this completely, though, would be their downfall.
She showed him the hidden spring, opening the end of the handle to reveal what was unmistakably a gun barrel, and he grinned. "That'll work."
The elevator slowed smoothly to a halt, and she took a deep breath, typed in the code required for this floor, and gathered herself as the doors opened. No hail of bullets greeted her, and she forced herself to relax her shoulders and head out casually, glancing at the numbers on the doors.
She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but this wasn't it. This was completely different to the facilities occupied by the Spectran leadership: Lord Zoltar and her own Commander Mala. No plush carpet and opulent curtains, no designer wallpaper or furniture or oil paintings. There were the same greyish hardwearing carpet tiles, the same bland cream paint, the same light wood used for doors and frames, as there had been lower down the tower. The ceiling was lower and the corridor narrower, but that was only to be expected in less of a thoroughfare. Only the names on the doors told her how important the people who worked here were. Names she'd been taught to hate, most right at the top of the Devil Star hit list. If only there had been some way to bring in explosives. She could have taken out the entire top echelon of ISO with one well-placed blast.
Of course, had that been possible, she wouldn't have been here at all. It would have been a senior Devil Star's assignment, not something she'd been allowed to take on as a graduation exercise. Even this, one single assassination, had been initially considered a joke. Something she wasn't ready for. Well, she was here. She'd show them.
Jason continued to shadow her, three feet behind, stopping behind her as she entered the next and final code at a glass door blocking the continuation of the passageway. The guard here was small and scrawny, younger even than the last one, seated behind a desk and apparently playing computer games on his screen; he did no more than glance at the cleaning materials in her pocket and nod casually. This was it. Her target's was the only office beyond this point, plus those belonging to his immediate support staff. She was within feet of Anderson's inner sanctum, beyond the last defences. She closed her hand around the weapon in her pocket as the door clicked shut. She'd made it.
"Wha --" Jason began, and she shushed him furiously. There would be a showdown very soon, but the closer she could get before it happened the better.
The second door on the right was the one she wanted, she knew. Just a doorway, this one, without even a door in it. There should have been a secretary at the desk, but it was deserted, a folded paper sign with "back shortly" scrawled on it dangling over the top of the monitor screen.
To the right of the desk, the door she wanted was ajar. No ostentation here, either. Just a simple plate, black plastic rather than brass, with "Anderson, D." etched into it in white. Katrina took a deep breath, stepped silently up to it, and pushed it further open.
She'd been told that Anderson's desk faced the door, that she'd have no time for planning once he saw her. It was true - but he wasn't at his desk. The only person in the room was a man with his back to her, dressed in the mismatched jacket and trousers which Anderson always wore, considering the wall-sized bookcase along the far side of the room. Twenty feet away, further than she'd have liked for a clear shot. Katrina pulled the gun from her pocket and exploded forwards. She'd take three strides before he could turn, and shoot him in the chest as he presented it to her.
Half way through the first step, iron hands locked her arms to her sides, her feet were swept from under her, and she landed flat on her back hard enough to make her see stars.
"That's far enough," her partner's voice said.
"Jason...you idiot!" she shouted, too furious to think straight, assuming only that he'd decided that the kill should be his.
"Me? Oh, I don't think so." And the tone was different. Cooler, more competent. Not only that, but the man turning round from the bookcase was far too young to be Anderson. Too short, too. And entirely unworried by the fracas.
Katrina knew she'd been had. She'd never graduate as a Devil Star now. Never get out of ISO custody, and they'd strip her of every piece of information she had before they left her to rot in a cell. There was only one thing left she could do to preserve her honour. The gun was angled at her leg, preventing her from shooting anyone else in the room. She pulled the trigger. The sharp pain in her right leg told her she'd hit her target. Now all she had to do was wait for the poison to act.
Hands were suddenly stripping her skirt off. "Mark, she shot herself. Some sort of needle. Get Medical here!"
She was part lifted, then a ruthlessly tight tourniquet locked round the top of her thigh, painful enough to bring tears to her eyes. She knew it would make no difference. Already the edges of her vision were beginning to creep in, and the world was blurring. It was in her system, and there was no antidote. She was dying, and would be dead long before a doctor could get here. She might as well ask.
"Who are you?"
The voice was full of regret. "I'm the Condor. And you've been played from the moment you walked through my door."
He wasn't stupid. Never had been. She was the only idiot, and she'd paid for her arrogance with her life.
Her vision went black, the world went silent, and then there was nothing.
"She's gone." Jason stood up and walked to the sink in the corner of the room to wash any trace of the poison from his hands. "Sorry, Mark. I should have seen that coming."
"I'm not sure anyone could have stopped her shooting herself." Mark raised his eyebrows. "Well, I guess you could have had her point that thing out into the room. I'm glad you didn't."
"Not worth the risk. I could have gone for a disarm, though."
"We can try it in training. One dead Devil Star more, though...I really don't care." He stripped off the jacket with a grimace. "Man, I'm glad we don't have to wear formal. Jason...you okay?"
The other turned, jaw set hard, but there was something in his eyes that matched the slope of his shoulders.
"When did you figure out she was Spectra?"
Jason snorted. "The moment she hit on me and I fell for her? Nah, she wasn't my type, and she wasn't very good at hiding what she was interested in. It was obvious."
"It would be nice, just once, to go out with someone who wasn't working for the enemy?" But there was humour back in his tone, and Mark grinned with him as he used the jacket to cover the face of the dead would-be assassin.
"What did she know?"
"Not much, just enough to confirm that we have a leak. Three codes, all for locations where she'd have been stopped as unknown personnel if we hadn't pulled the usual guards off. She couldn't even get out of the cell. She was just a kid, Mark."
"A kid who'd have shot Anderson without a second thought."
"She'd never have got anywhere near him."
"And let's keep it that way." Mark straightened up, and spoke into his communicator. "Team, we're done."
By the time Mark had changed out of his middle-aged administrator outfit and back into his own far more comfortable clothes, the rest of G-Force had reached Anderson's office and were similarly stripping off their disguises. Princess looked particularly disgusted as she dropped the neat charcoal pencil skirt on the floor.
"How do women wear those things? I couldn't even move!"
"You looked very fetching mincing down the corridor, I thought!" Jason chuckled.
She just looked at him, eyebrows raised, and went to help Keyop, who had a button from his security uniform caught in his hair.
"And as for Tiny... I nearly lost it when I saw him!"
Their pilot ran his hand over his slicked-down hair. "What, you don't like it, Jase? I thought it would be a great new look. I can see it now...me on the dance floor...girls all around..."
"Killing themselves laughing at the guy with the concrete hairdo..." Jason chortled, ducking out of the way of the swat Tiny aimed at him, and dropping his cleaner's coat on the floor with the rest. "Come on, guys. I need a coffee before we go tell Grant he's got nobody to interrogate."
"Except for grilling you for every word she ever said," Tiny responded, a glint of revenge in his eyes. "Every grunt...every touch..."
"Ah, shut up!" Jason shook his head, taking one last glance at the body on the floor. He'd not been joking, arrogant teens weren't his type at all, and he'd never have given her a second glance had it not been part of his job.
But, despite his personal dislike, and the fact she was working for the enemy, she'd been little more than a child...and now she was dead. She had miscalculated just about everything else today. That was the one thing she'd been right about.