There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Chapter 1: Insertion
San Antonio, TX, 2037
There was no noise but the faint static of her radio earpiece. Sarah felt her heart beat in dull, percussive thumps. She had her back pressed against the wall, uniform clinging to her beneath the bullet-resistant vest. The sticky air failed to move in any sort of breeze. She waited.
One floor below them, the sound of a car driving by. Sarah glanced over to the window at the end of the hallway, where Sgt. Prescott surveyed the street below through the holographic sight of her assault rifle. She steadily followed some unseen movement, then raised her left hand to signal all-clear. Sarah started breathing again. Sergeant Prescott went back to chewing gum. Her red hair was barely visible under the helmet and the goggles she wore. She was half a head taller than Sarah, almost six feet tall. Sarah looked down at her boots, swallowing. She took in a deep lungful of humid air. For a moment, she’d forgotten the heat. Now it demanded her attention again, until the next time something happened. She waited.
The gun in her hand was heavy and slippery with sweat. She was starting to get hungry and she wondered for how much longer she would be able to maintain her focus. Her heavy-duty bullet-resistant vest pulled her down and the strap of her gun cut into her neck. Strands of her own black hair had come loose from a bobby-pin where it hadn’t gone into her short ponytail. She swiped them out of her face and hurriedly pushed them back under her helmet. She waited.
She mentally went through the mission briefing again. Floor plans, escape routes. Lopez, Kobayashi, O’Donnel. Moreau. Faces and names. Detain if possible. Deadly force authorized. The hush-up-crew was on stand-by. It couldn’t be much longer. She waited.
Her radio crackled to life.
“All units.” Came the voice of Agent Shaw in her earpiece. “We have confirmation. Eight on the inside. Small arms. This is it. Code Green.”
Prescott pivoted from the window, readied her weapon and approached her. Sarah half-slid the slide of her gun back to check for a properly chambered round.
“Teams Ready?” asked the voice in her ear.
“Alpha ready,” she heard Captain Luther.
“Bravo ready,” she heard Sergeant Moffat.
Sarah looked at Prescott who nodded back at her. They took positions left and right of the door. Sarah subvocalised “Charlie ready” into her throat mic.
Eight on the inside. Sarah disengaged the safety on her gun. Her heart pounded in her ears like war drums. She breathed, deliberately and slowly.
Three strike teams, and a small army outside as backup. They wouldn’t underestimate them this time. And they might still be able to get her back before it was too late.
The fluorescents above them went out and the long corridor became a dark tunnel, lights at both ends. ”Breach!”, commanded the voice over the radio. Sarah turned away from the door and opened her mouth, anticipating the pressure of the shockwave. She felt the punch in her chest as the breaching charge on the door exploded, too loud to register as noise. She turned around, weapon raised. They plunged into a cloud of dust and the staccato of erupting gunfire.
Two days earlier:
”Director. What’s the situation?”
”Agent Zimmerman stopped broadcasting two hours ago. We sent the emergency strike team, they only found her tracker.”
“Shit. Does Mahoney know?”
”I informed her. She didn’t take it well.”
”What about the data? Did she find out anything before she went dark?”
“She saw Moreau and the Machine before we lost contact. Her snooper picked up some wireless data which we’re decrypting right now.”
“So it wasn’t a complete loss.”
“No. It wasn’t. I would however recommend not to mention that fact to Agent Mahoney.”
“Zimmerman knew the risk. She and Mahoney were too close!”
“That is beyond your authority to judge, Agent Luther. I will hear no more of this.”
“I apologize, Director.”
“Expect to be briefed tomorrow at 0700. Dismissed.”
Sarah sat in her car, in the parking lot. She’d been sitting there for ten minutes. She should get out. Go inside. To work.
She didn’t see the point. She was gone. She had lost her. Sarah had told her not to go. And now she’d been captured. Lost. Tracking signal gone.
She looked at the half-empty parking lot. The sun had just risen and it was still somewhat cool. One by one, cars pulled up and one of her fellow agents got out, busily moving towards the security checkpoint. She watched them with disinterest.
She opened the door and got out. She couldn’t just drive home again. She passed the checkpoint, got into the elevator. As she walked down the underground corridors, people were watching her. Sympathetic, worried. It made her feel like the object of voyeurism. She sleepwalked to the briefing room and got into a chair. She stared at the wall as the room around her slowly filled to the brim. Sarah didn’t notice that there were more agents present than usual. When Captain Luther entered along with the Director, the hushed whispers died instantly.
Captain Luther stepped forward. He spoke with urgency and authority. There was no greeting, no pleasantries.
“Information recovered by agent Zimmerman tells us that in seven hours, there will be a Syndicate meeting in San Antonio with several key players.” An excited buzz went around the room and died again as Luther raised a hand. “The division has called in all forces to disrupt this meeting in an attempt to capture these figures, eliminate the Syndicate threat and, if possible, recover agent Zimmerman.”
Sarah swallowed, wide awake, her heart suddenly racing.
A woman and two men lay with their cheeks in the dust, hands cuffed behind their backs. Five dead bodyguards lay sprawled on the floor, pools of blood blooming around them. Guns got picked up and unloaded, corners got checked. The dust slowly settled.
Sarah manhandled one of the other captives onto her back and shoved a gun in her face. The woman was Kimberly O’Donnell, head of the South African slavers. She wore a face cut from marble, hard and flawless.
“Where is Moreau?!” Sarah yelled at her. Her ears were still ringing from the gunfire. Her units had been using suppressors. Their targets hadn’t.
O’Donnell spat. “Fuck you, bitch! She’ll come for you next!”
Sarah knelt down and punched her in the face. Captain Luther and Sergeant Prescott watched her disapprovingly, but knew better than to intervene. They knew what brought them here.
”Where is she?!” she yelled again. Around her, agents were nervously scanning the second-floor warehouse.
“I know who you are, Sergeant Mahoney. Moreau got your cute friend.”
There was a short pause, and O’Donnel smiled. Her teeth glistened red.
“She wants you, you know? To complete the pair.”
She tried not to let it show that it got to her. She leaned in close. She couldn’t quite suppress her voice trembling a bit.
“Listen here, you fucking monster. I could just execute you right now, right here on the floor. And every second I want to do just that a little bit more. Maybe your Japanese friend here will be more talkative after he’s got some of your brains on him. One last time: Where. Is. Moreau.”
She pressed the gun against O’Donnel’s throat, finger on trigger, ready to make true, when she heard distant gunfire. She looked up and around. Muffled sounds of footsteps came from beyond the burst-open doors, getting louder.
“Why don’t you ask Delta team, bitch?” spat O’Donnel.
Suddenly, Sarah was on her feet, hand on her radio. She opened all channels. “Code Omega! Code Omega!”
There was no answer.
“Our radio is jammed!” exclaimed Luther, gun already at his shoulder. The operatives eyed each other with a mix of deadly seriousness and shock. “Spread out! Take cover!”
They immediately scattered into the rows of high and densely packed shelves around them. She readied her gun, heart pumping fast. They had forty-seven men and women outside. They couldn’t possibly have been taken out. That would have taken a small army, she thought as she ran.
Suddenly, she was alone. Everyone else had vanished from sight. She heard the commotion outside. A drum roll of combat boots. Twenty shots left in her magazine, three more magazines in her vest. Exits to her left, right and at the far left of the other side, behind nine rows of shelves. She turned off the safety as the steps got louder. She knelt down behind a pallet of cement bags.
She was invisible from the door. She waited, carefully peeking between two boxes on the shelf between her and the door. Eight black-clad commandos stormed in, guns ready. They didn’t wear heavy body armour, but tight suits. She suspected Kevlar with ceramic scale inlays. Top of the line. Prohibitively expensive. They carried rifles and grenade launchers.
They were all women. Syndicate. Fuck.
This was catastrophically bad. She played through scenarios in her mind and discarded them all. Tactical analysis: I’m fucked.
She subvocalised into her throat-mic: “Eight bogeys north side, heavy armour and weaponry.”
Nothing came back. There would have been static had the hardware not filtered it out.
She swore silently under her breath and shook her head. She checked the gap she’d been spying through again. The Syndicate commandos were already spreading out in groups of two. Three raised their grenade launchers, one of them in her direction. Without making a conscious decision, she fired at them.
The suppressed shots screamed through the dusty air and one of the commandos dropped. The others scattered, and two grenades got launched her way, trailing white gas. She didn’t have a gas mask. She fired two more bursts and downed two more. They did not fire back. The gas grenades landed behind her and to her left. She held her breath and pulled a magazine from her vest in a practised motion while ejecting the old one with her other hand. As if by her signal, shots started to ring out from different directions all around the warehouse, and by the time she pulled back the charging handle, the noise all around her was deafening. She leaned out of cover to fire another burst, but the commandos were gone.
The smoke from the grenades was all around her now. Her goggles kept her eyes from burning, but she couldn’t hold her breath much longer. Moving from her position might get her killed.
She darted in the direction of the loudest source of gunfire, keeping her head down and her right shoulder close to the shelf next to her, hoping for the smoke to clear. It didn’t. It seemed to have filled the whole space. The inside of her nose started to burn. She couldn’t hold her breath much longer. The smoke got thicker again. Visibility was zero.
She tripped over something and pulled in an involuntary breath. Her sinuses and lungs exploded in pain. Riot gas. She coughed and retched as her insides burned. She somehow got herself up and looked at what she had tripped over. The body of Captain Luther lay before her face-down. She gasped in another lungful of fire and doubled over in pain, when suddenly a hand grabbed her. She squealed and raised her gun.
”Don’t! It’s me!” said a raspy voice. She looked up and saw Sergeant Prescott. She was missing a sleeve of her shirt and had something tied around the lower half of her face.
Suddenly she felt stupid.
”Cover me!” she wheezed, pulled a knife from her belt and cut off her own sleeve.
After another painful half-minute breathing felt deeply irritating instead of agonizingly painful.
“We need to get out! Luther’s dead!” she said.
”I know! Everyone else, too—we got some of them, there were just too many! We are cut off from all exits and I don’t know if anyone else is still around! They must have ambushed our outside team.”
”They didn’t shoot me,“ she said.
“Yeah, me neither. We’d be dead if they did. They are doing the Syndicate thing. Keep one bullet for yourself,” said Prescott. She didn’t manage to keep the dread from her voice at all.
”Do you have any more breaching charges?”
“Yes,” Said Prescott.
“The wall over there, quickly! I’ll cover you!”
Prescott got to work and placed three charges in a triangle on the wall. The smoke was starting to clear. There were footsteps not far away.
“Ready when you are,” said Prescott, gun back in hand.
“Wait,“ shouted a muffled voice from inside the smoke.
They both turned and pointed their guns at the figure emerging from the smoke, only trained discipline keeping them from immediately shooting the woman that stood there, hands raised.
The woman wore a gas mask, and a black, skin-tight suit.
”Hello Kate,” said the woman and nodded at Prescott. “And hello, Sarah.”
She gasped. “Oh God! No!”, she thought. They’d been too late. But… how?
”I send you regards from Mistress Moreau. She wanted me talk to you because she hoped you wouldn’t shoot me. I hope so, too, by the way,“ she said with a nod and a shrug.
“Don’t do this to me, Lilly!” cried Sarah. The gun in her hand trembled.
”Mahoney. We need to leave. Fuck this,” said Prescott.
”Sarah, Kate. It’s over. We have you now. Please just give up,“ said the woman in the mask.
“Lilly! How?” Sarah blinked hard to get rid of the tears in her eyes.
“Yes, it’s me, Sarah. We’ll be together again.”
“What did Moreau do to you? It’s only been two days.”
“Fuck this!” cried Prescott and set off the charges. The wall behind them exploded and the blood-red light of the evening sun burst in.
”Mahoney! Now!” yelled Prescott and jumped out of the newly-formed hole in the wall.
“You don’t have to go, Sarah! Please, just give up! We’ll serve together!”
Something inside of her died. A deep and heavy coldness enveloped her. She’d lost her. She should just shoot her. This wasn’t her. She raised her gun with trembling hands.
“Sarah. Please!” said Lilly and Sarah knew she couldn’t do it. With a sob, she turned and jumped into the light. She landed next to Prescott in the dusty warehouse back lot, rolling to break her fall. They picked themselves up and started to run for the emergency evac point. Sarah just hoped that there was someone left to exfiltrate them. She looked back.
In the hole in the side of the warehouse stood Lilly. She had pulled of her gas mask and her blonde hair fell across her beautiful face. She looked annoyed as she yelled after them: “We’ll get you, honey! You’ll lick cunts all day long and love it!”
Prescott broke her stride, turned, and raised her rifle, finger on trigger. Without thinking, Sarah tackled her. A burst of shots pocked the wall ten feet to the right of the hole.
“No!” she cried. “I can’t let you kill her! Let’s please just get out of here!”
A bullet impacted the ground next to them. Prescott fired a burst in the direction it came from and then they ran. They turned a corner, and another, and another, each time without dying. As they fled, shots cracked behind them, and none hit. When they reached their destination, the black Van was indeed there to pick them up.
Shaking, exhausted and bleeding they escaped.