Disclaimer: There is nothing to disclaim in this here story. You will need an open mind to read it, though. If you find something you think needs disclaiming, however, you are more than welcome to let me know. It wont change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To my truly awesome Beta Team. Thanks to Carol, Lisa, Marsha and Phil for the editing and for the questions, comments and encouragement. You guys ROC!
Special Thanks: To the many of you that took the time to send your kind words about A Valiant Heart. They were much appreciated by the entire team.
Authors Note: This story picks up directly where A Valiant Interlude left off. You will have had to have read it for this one to make sense. Although AVI is a stand-alone story, it is in actuality the first ten chapters lifted from this story and is the tie-in the title implies. The Storytellers Cardinal Rule is still in effect.
A Valiant Journey
He stood at the scrying bowl, watching things play out as hed expected. The dark smile was malevolent... eons of anger and unfulfilled desire made it a horrid, ugly sight. My time has finally come, he thought to himself. Revenge was going to be so very, very sweet.
"Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly."
It was another full day before the Marine was able to finally reach Reed at the breeding ranch. And then, the information she got was less than what shed hoped for, though about what she expected.
"Im sorry, Randi." Reed looked as harried as she sounded. "This has literally
been the first opportunity Ive had to get back to you. In fact, I only just got
your messages about ten minutes ago."
"You all right, Reed? You look exhausted."
"I am. I have been up for the past forty-eight hours. One of the bitches went
into labor unexpectedly, and without Tiny here to help me, it has been a little
"Is everything okay?" Despite her urgency, Randi put their friendship first.
She could sense the other womans need to vent a little.
The breeder gave a frustrated sigh. "Yeah, everythings fine... finally... but
it was touch and go there for a while." The woman sighed again. "Youd think,
with all our medical advances, wed either be able to control the birth process,
or at least have a better handle on exact delivery times." Reed gave a rueful
chuckle. "Guess thats natures way of telling us shes still in charge."
Randi had laughed with her. "I guess so." She sobered after a moment. "Reed."
The seriousness in the Marines tone caused an immediate change in the breeders
demeanor. She straightened accordingly. "Do you know where Tiny is, how to
reach him, or when hell be back?"
"No, no, and not really." They were the exact answers Randi had expected, but
had hoped against hope of not hearing. "He is supposed to be in the capital city to
meet with you and the Commandant by the end of the week, isnt he? Can it
wait til then?"
The unease she had been living with since finding Geoff recalled grew
exponentially with the Sabre pilots words. Nothing she could put into words---
just a cold unreasoning fear. None of this was revealed in her manner, though.
The warrior had stoic down to a science. "Itll have to, I suppose. Thanks,
Reed. I hope the pups will be all right. Youd best go get some rest, my friend.
You look beat."
"Thanks, Randi," with a smirk. "You really know how to turn a girls head."
"Good bye, Reed."
"Bye Randi," smiling. "See you Saturday."
It had been an uneventful but productive couple of days. Between planning for their wedding, and trying to reach Reed, Randi had prowled around Geoffs workshop, and found some interesting new toys and gadgets. A few of them made her raise her eyebrows in question, but most of them were self-explanatory. Clever, Geoff. These are very, very clever. She tucked their uses and her questions in the back of her mind for future reference.
It was late Tuesday morning when the vid phone chirped, acknowledging an incoming call. Jill answered, thrilled to note it was Geoff on the line. Her enthusiasm turned to concern when she noted he was calling from a medifac in the capital city.
"Hi, sweetheart." His voice was normal, but it was evident by the look on his face that he was in severe pain.
"Oh, honey, whats wrong? Are you okay?"
"Ill be fine, Jill. Its just my back again." She covered her hand with her mouth. She knew from times past that his pain was incredible. "Listen, Im gonna be in regen until around lunch tomorrow. Why dont you and the girls come down tomorrow morning? With a bit of luck, they will spring me from here, and we can all do the tourist thing for a few days."
"Will you be up to it, Geoff? You know how Gwen loves the museums. Thats a lot of walking, you know."
"I know. And I can always bow out if it is bothering me too badly. But I have to stay here until Friday or Saturday, and I thought you all might like to join me here."
"Im sure the girls would be glad to come down. I know they were both upset you werent home when they arrived." For different reasons too Ill just bet, the weapons smith thought to himself. "Ill see what kind of transport I can manage to arrange, and get back to you shortly."
"All right, sweetheart. Just leave me a message when you will arrive about where youll be staying. Ill find you when they release me."
"All right, Geoff. Ive missed you, you know."
"Um hmm, I do know, because I have missed you too. Ive got to go, but Ill see you tomorrow. I love you, Mrs. Goldman."
"Love you back, Mr. Goldman." The connection went dark, and Jill sat quietly for a moment regaining her shaken composure, before searching out Gwen and Randi. They had plans to make.
As it happened, their plans fell into place with relative ease. The Sabre called in a favor from a pilot friend, and they flew a private shuttle into the capital city sunrise. Jill had been anxious to get to Geoffs side, and though her manner did not show it, Randi was as well. She was certain the last pieces of the puzzle were in his grasp. She was anxious to have a bit of time to talk to him.
When they arrived, Tiny met them at the hub with a transport waiting for them. Jill went immediately to the medifac to check on her husbands progress. Gwen, sensing Tinys anxiousness to speak to Randi, offered to check them into the resort. She knew it was Sabre business, and figured they might as well get it over with sooner rather than later.
Randi escorted the bard into the hotel, and pulled her off into a private alcove on one side. Their luggage proceeded to head to the desk, where it was tagged and sent to their room. Check-in was merely a formality.
"Im sorry, love. Hopefully this wont take too long."
"Randi, we knew this was something you were gonna have to take care of without me." Gwen glanced around and noticed they were quite alone and closed away from the world for the moment. She loosened her hold from the Marines, and reached up to cup her face. "You go, and get business taken care of. When this monkey is finally off your back, and you are free from your Sabre responsibilities, we will still have the rest of our lives together to look forward to. They can have a morning of your time, as long as they realize the rest of your lifetime belongs to me."
The Marine had noticed their solitude, and took advantage of the fact, pulling the bard closer to her. She wrapped her arms around Gwens back and gave her a hard squeeze. "Thank you for understanding, love."
The blonde returned the hug, before pulling back slightly to look into the blue eyes above her. "I do. Just make sure *they* understand the present reality." And without thinking, she pulled the Sabre into a passionate embrace. The kiss went on for some minutes, before dazed, Randi reluctantly withdrew.
"Oh," clearing her throat when her voice cracked slightly, "um, I dont think Ill have a problem remembering that." She smiled crookedly at the bard. "I love you."
"I love you, too. And Ill be waiting here for you when you get finished. So, hurry home to me, huh?" She reached up and traced the lightly swollen lips. "Weve got a lifetime to start."
Randi leaned in again, and recaptured the bards soft lips. It was only when her comm unit beeped that she pulled away. "I love you always," releasing Gwen and stepping away.
"Forever," the blonde answered. And green eyes tracked the progress of her lover to the transport until the vehicle was out of sight. Then with a whispered sigh, she went to the desk.
"Im sorry to take you away from her, Randi. But the way things are breaking, I thought it best to move the timetable up."
"Oh?" The Sabre was all business now. "What developed while you were gone, Tiny?"
"Ill tell you the whole story at headquarters. But it looks like your friend is behind the new revolution, and they are in the beginning stages of planning an all out war."
Nothing else was said for the remainder of the very short trip.
Gwen was startled when the vid phone chirped at her. It wasnt like anyone knew they were in the city. Of course, it could be Mother. When she looked at the ID screen, though, she frowned, until realization dawned on her. Then with a big grin, she answered the call.
"Hi, Uncle Ben!"
"Hello, Gwen! How are you?"
"Im fine, wonderful, excellent even!" She laughed and he joined her. "How are you?"
"A bit lonely, actually. Sam is out of town for the week. When your father called me yesterday, I thought we might get a bit of a chance to talk, but he is scheduled for regen for another half day. So I thought to appeal to your better nature, and invite you to have breakfast with a lonely old man."
Gwen was thinking while he spoke. Shed promised Randi to be here when she returned, but it was a good bet she wouldnt see her partner for most of the day. Besides, breakfast with an old family friend would be a nice way to pass the morning.
"Sure, Uncle Ben. Id love to. Where shall I meet you?"
"Im not far from the resort. Let me come pick you up and well ride out to Devons for breakfast. Its been a long time since we shared breakfast there, but Ill bet they remember us."
Gwen laughed again, remembering some of the many morning repasts they had shared together when she had been stationed in the city. "Ill just bet they will." She smiled again. "That sounds like a plan, Uncle Ben. "Ill see you here in, what...? Say fifteen minutes?"
"Fifteen minutes will be fine. Thanks, Gwen. See you shortly."
The bard wrote a short note for Randi and her mother, on the off chance either of them got back to the hotel before they returned from breakfast. Then she cleaned up and headed downstairs to the lobby, to wait for her old, trusted godfather.
The dark figure rubbed gloved hands together. "Soon, my dear. Very soon. You will be mine, and I will make Miranda Valiant pay dearly for what she did."
Their arrival at Sabre headquarters went virtually unnoticed, as Tiny had cleared them through the back door with the highest priority. Then Randi found herself standing in the Commandants office. Though she was not at all disrespectful in the nod she gave him, he observed that she neither saluted nor offered her hand. Jeremiah Daetwyler smiled sadly. Much had changed between them, and he was certain they would never regain the respect or camaraderie they had once shared as fellow compatriots. He offered them coffee and breakfast, then gestured her and Tiny to a seat.
"Let me just say, that Im glad things turned out for you the way they have. I dont know how you managed...."
"Please, General. This is neither the time nor the place. It no longer matters. I am here to give you my information, and then I am returning to Gwen. This is no longer a part of my life."
Tiny sat silently, eyes wide, and mouth agape. Though he had known without a doubt how Randi and Gwen both felt, he was surprised to hear the blunt fact put to the Commandant so vehemently.
"But, you cant...."
"Oh, I most certainly can. I DIED, remember? Cleaning up a mess you left. So dont you dare sit there and presume to tell me what I can and cannot do." Her voice had never risen, but she could have been shouting the force of her words was so strong. Jerry sat back after a moment, his shoulders slumping... his posture defeated. "Now lets just get this over with."
"Youre right, of course. Youve shown far more honor, given up much more than any one human being should be expected to. This is my problem now, though I would appreciate any input or assistance you can provide to ensure we end this, once and for all."
Without giving the warrior a chance to reply, he turned toward Tiny, and addressed him. "You have your reports ready?" The Navy chief nodded. "And were you able to debrief Geoff?"
"Yes, General. We went over everything on our way back."
"You were able to finish everything early?"
"He was able to see what he needed. I still have two teams out in the field, but all our information points in the same direction. They should both be in by late tomorrow night, though at this point, we firmly expect their information to concur with our own."
"Very well. Lets get down to business. Its time I finished this once and for all."
The hot humidity hit Gwen full force as she stepped out of the cool stone building. She figured her old family friend would be there momentarily, and saw no reason to make the older man have to wait. I wonder if it is getting ready to storm? The oppressive air made the bard look toward the now fully risen sun. The haze made her hope she was right, but in the meantime.... "Maybe I should wait inside. UGH! This is...." But at that moment, Bens transport came into view, and she smiled in relief.
"Ah, my dear," he said as he opened the transport and stepped out to greet her. He took her hands in his own and they exchanged a friendly peck on the cheek. "How well you look. Come," motioning the blonde toward the transport. "Lets get out of this oppressive heat and humidity. Ill warrant well be having a storm by nightfall."
"I hope so. It wasnt this bad at Mothers, and we almost always have a cool breeze at home." She got in the transport, and immediately sighed at the cool, dry air. "Oh yeah, this works."
"Well, Gwen. You could have waited indoors."
"I know, Uncle Ben, but I knew you were due soon, and I didnt want to make you have to wait." The transport moved away from the hotel. Gwen was too preoccupied with their reunion to take note of their direction.
"Thank you, dear. You have always been so considerate and thoughtful."
"Uncle Ben, youre like family."
The expression on his face was one of sadness, Gwen noted, and she wondered what could have happened to put that look into his eyes. She mentally reviewed their conversation, then returned his gaze with a curious one of her own. "Uncle Ben?"
He shook his head, as if to clear it, and look at her again. "Yeah, Gwen. We are almost like family." He took a deep breath and glanced out the window, noting his hidden shuttle pad just coming into view. With snake-like speed, he reached across the space separating them, and hit a point on her temple, immediately knocking her out. "Thats what makes this so unpleasant for me. Its a shame you didnt use better judgment in your choice of partners. Miranda Valiant is going to be the cause of a lot of pain and suffering for you."
".... and so Geoff has confirmed the build-up of some interesting new weapons. He seemed a bit surprised at what theyve got readily available for use. He kept some for further study. With any luck, hell be ready to give us an brief overview of his preliminary findings by Friday."
"You destroyed the rest?"
"Aye, sir. That depot is no longer available."
"Are they organized?" This from Randi, who had sat quietly during the entire debriefing.
"Not as organized as they were under Ghost Rider, but they are slowly recovering and rebuilding."
She sighed and moved from her chair to stand at the window to one side of the generals desk. "It doesnt concern you that they are aware you now know of their rebuilding efforts?"
Silence followed her question as the two Sabres thought about the implications conveyed in the simple statement. Randi was the first to break the silence. "Tell me, General... why wasnt the leak plugged? Why did you make no effort to insure that the traitor was eliminated?"
He looked at the Marine, stunned. "You mean you didnt take care of the leak? I thought... I mean... things stopped... it never occurred to me that...."
Randy focused her attention on Tiny. "You said he probably knew who it was."
The large man squirmed. The intensity of the fiery blue gaze was burning through him, and making him highly uncomfortable. "Well, I thought... I mean, I assumed...."
She refocused her attention on the General. "I gave you every possible clue for you to figure it out for yourself, to insure I hadnt made a mistake." Her anger began to boil. "Whats wrong with you? And how have you managed to remain the Commandant for so long? Youre about as useless as...."
The Marine slammed her hand into the wall, insuring some serious bruising unless she got to a regen unit fairly quickly. Oh boy, that was stupid! Explaining this to Gwen is gonna be fun. Ow, dammit! That hurt! The silent conversation and thoughts of Gwen allowed her to regain control of her mounting temper, and speak calmly and rationally again.
She gave a deep sigh. "So let me understand this. Because you didnt get the name from myself or Ghost Rider, and since activity pretty much came to a halt after we died, you assumed that the problem had been taken care of."
"Well, yes." This came from Jerry. He had to physically remind himself that he was the Commandant here. He felt like nothing so much as a boy in the principals office. "I could find no evidence to confirm my suspicions, and the leak ended when you... left."
"I DIED, Jerry." She let out a deep breath. "However, that is past. What remains is the fact that the leak is still around, and its time to plug it now."
He was secretly glad the blonde woman was unconscious for this procedure. He was really of two minds about this. He could still remember the young woman as a small child---all bright smiles and laughter and sunshine. Though the families had drifted apart in more recent years, he had always kept an eye on her, taking great pride in her skills and talent. It was only with her involvement with Miranda Valiant.... Here his thoughts turned dark and trailed off.
He seriously considered using a blade. He still had the first one Geoff had created for him when the weapons smith had begun his recovery. It had taken the smith months of work, since he could only craft for a few minutes at a time because of his continued pain. It was one of his most cherished possessions, and he hesitated using it to cause the bard physical agony. It was only the desire to inflict grief on Valiant that caused him to consider using a knife.
He shook his head, and stopped the transport. He wasnt concerned that Gwen would come around anytime soon. The pressure point had seen to that. He took out a tiny laser, and lifted the small hand into his own. A scant minute late, the job was done. The man exited the vehicle, and moved to take the small blonde into his arms. He had chosen well. The private shuttle was isolated, and no one saw them board. Five minutes later, it lifted of, headed to parts unknown.
"You needed me, Jerry? I was just going to go get lunch."
"This shouldnt take but a minute, Kene. Please come in and sit down."
The dark woman shrugged slightly, and did as she was bidden. A jolt of uneasiness slid up her spine when Tiny deliberately moved to stand in front of the door. Randi never turned from the window she was gazing unseeingly out of. The disquiet that had been roiling in her guts since shortly after their breakfast arrival, had become an unnamed, unreasoning fear. She wanted this over and done with so she could get back to Gwen, and they could get on with their lives together.
General Jeremiah Daetwyler, Sabre Commandant, sat quietly at his desk for a very long moment simply gazing at the woman who had been his friend and antagonist, confidant and compatriot. He wondered what had happened to make her turn. Knowing it was time to take the responsibility of correcting his mistakes back into his own hands, he cleared his throat and spoke softly.
"Why, Kene? Did Grace Rivers really mean so much to you?"
Confusion crossed that dark-skinned womans face. "Excuse me?"
"Was the love affair you desired from her worth everything?"
"Im sorry, Jerry, but I am really not understanding what it is you are implying. Can you just say whatever it is you want to say straight out, please?"
The Commandant took a deep breath, and glanced toward the window. He wanted to be sure Randi had no desire to do the unmasking before he continued. The Marine never wavered from her studied observation of the world outside the office. He stood up, and circled around to the front of his desk.
"For some time, there has been a leak of information from this unit. Some of it has been trivial. Some of it..." and here he paused for another moment while he looked at Randis stiff back. "Some of it has been vital. It got our best warrior killed." Another glance toward Randi. "The worst thing, however, is that all of it has come from this office."
The light dawned in Kenes eyes, as she realized the implications of Jerrys statement. "You dont seriously think that I...???"
"There are only two people in this office who has access to all of the information that was leaked." Jerry continued speaking as if there had been no interruption. "I was cleared. You, however, were not." He gazed at her sadly. "Was she worth your soul, Kene?"
The woman sat there stunned. "I havent given any information to anyone outside the Sabre community, General. And the last time I spoke to Grace was years ago."
Now Randi moved from the window to stand in beside the Commandant. "Then you can explain to ME how she came to know things that were planted only for you---to see if you would pass them on to her. You can explain to me why she named you as her Sabre contact in the last few seconds of her life."
"I dont understand. I really have had no communication with her in years."
There was quiet, then an unseen voice announced, "She speaks the truth."
"Fine. Lets start this at the beginning, and get down to the bottom of it."
Its nice to retain Sabre perks and privileges, the man mused to himself. He had filed no flight plan; the shuttle was unregistered. All in all, very conducive to disappearing without a trace. He spared a glance toward the rear of the vehicle at the unconscious form, then returned his eyes to the rapidly moving world beneath him. They were almost to their destination, and he wanted no screw-ups at this stage of the game.
His objective came into view, and he powered down. Its perfect, he mused again. The trees ended abruptly. He dropped the shuttles altitude, hovering just above the plain. The mountain loomed directly in his path, and he circled around to the far side. He spent a minute keying in various codes and giving several encrypted voice commands. Within a few moments, a small hole appeared at his eye level... about eighteen feet from the ground. He headed the shuttle towards it, and the vehicle disappeared from sight. The hole seemed to close in on itself. Thirty seconds later, there was no sign that it had ever been there at all.
"... and that was the last time I saw her. I got messages from her from time to time, right up until the first attack. Then I never heard from her again."
"She speaks the truth," the voice intoned once again.
Randi blew out a frustrated breath, running long fingers through her dark hair. They were missing a vital piece of the puzzle, and the disquiet in her guts was becoming genuinely painful.
"All right. Lets come at this from another angle." Randi walked away from the window, and stood over the seated woman. Kene dropped her eyes after a long moment, and the Marine moved to perch on the corner of the Commandants desk. "You say you had no contact with Ghost Rider." She held up a hand for silence as the dark woman made to speak. "If that is true, and at this point we have to believe it is, then there is someone else you have been in touch with. Someone else who passed the information to her."
"Theres been no one. The only people who even knew about Ghost Rider are all Sabres. And there is no wa... waitaminute... unless... " She trailed off, her brows furrowed in deep thought. Randi clenched her hands in an effort not to shake the woman now lost in thought. Kenes lips moved silently, as she reviewed some things in her mind. She reached her astonishing conclusion, and looked at Jerry with shock in her dark eyes. "Surely not...."
"WHAT??" The Marine ground her teeth in an effort to control her temper.
"Well now, mind you, he is still a Sabre, and hes one of the four of us left who actually knew Grace before she became a rogue. But the only person Ive talked to about any of this, outside of any of our active duty staff is...."
"Ben-ramen Haamaen." Both Kene and Jerry spoke simultaneously. In the next moment, Randi was rushing from the room, hardly giving Tiny time to step out of her path. The sounds of her being violently ill were very loud in the stillness of the silent office.
"Should I go check on her?" Kene asked in concern. It didnt seem possible to be that sick for that long without physically hurting oneself.
"No." Tiny and Jerry both snapped out the answer. They looked at each other long and hard, recognizing the deep affection they each held for the Marine. The Commandant continued. "Shell be back when shes ready. She wouldnt appreciate anyone seeing her right now, I imagine. God knows, I have never seen a reaction from her like that before." The large man at the door shook his head.
"You got that right, General." Silence reigned once more, until Randi returned. Her face was haggard, and drained of color. No one made a comment, nor moved to help her. The stiffness of her posture and bearing told them in no uncertain terms that such advances would be unwelcome.
"Tiny, I need you to take me back to the hotel now." Her voice was hoarse and ragged from being sick, but she spoke with ultimate authority.
"Now, Randi? But...."
"NOW. Ben Haamaen is like family to Gwen. She would welcome him as such."
"Youre not getting it, Tiny. There have been subtle indications that Gwen might be in danger from someone. I have been putting safeguards in place. But, not knowing that Haamaen was the real problem, I havent told her about any of them yet. Ive got things ready on the island and at Midas, but nothing at Geoffs and certainly nothing here." The strain of talking was clearly evident in her tone.
"If Ben Haamaen is the danger...."
"...Gwen could be walking into trouble. Lets go."
They were halfway out the door when Jerrys voice stopped them. "Keep us informed, Gunny. And if there is anything we can do...."
She nodded, but made no verbal answer. She was terribly afraid, from the churning in her guts, that they were gonna be too late.
The shuttle landed with nary a whisper of sound, and the engine was cut. The man exited the craft and moved to the back, and removing three key chips. He placed them into his pocket, and moved to the door. He lifted the bard out, then looked around. Though she was no heavyweight, there was no way he was going to be able to cradle her this way for the journey into the heart of the mountain.
Damn poor planning on my part, he grumbled to himself. He threw Gwen over his shoulder in a firemans hold, and moved to the elevator. "Open." The door immediately slid aside, and allowed him entrance. "Sick bay." He felt the slightest motion, but really could not feel the five-story drop, or the horizontal move that brought him right outside the medifac. He stepped off and moved to the nearest hover bed, securing the bard neatly to it. The man took a deep breath and flexed his shoulder. Been a long time since I had a workout like that. He sighed, and gently guided the floating bed back to the elevator. "Command Center."
Another horizontal move, and a drop of seven more stories brought them to the heart of the facility. From this vantage point, well over a hundred feet into the earth, he could monitor all activity for miles. No one would get near without his knowledge.
It had turned out to be a very good day for him indeed.
The Sabre pair made record time getting back to the resort. They bumped into Geoff and Jill arriving from the medifac. Randi left them standing in the lobby without a word as she raced to her room. She read the note Gwen had left, and crumpled to the ground without a sound.
A knock at the door brought her out of her despair. She donned the stoic Sabre mask that had been her faithful companion for more than 10 years, and countless missions. She wasnt at all surprised to find Tiny standing there. The Goldmans brought up the rear, concern clearly etched on their faces.
Wordlessly, she handed the large man the note, while moving to pack up the things the bard had so lovingly put away such a short time before. His shoulders sagged as he read the bards brief message and realized what they were up against.
"Randi?" The one word from Geoffs lips halted her motion, her turned back stiffening. "You wanna let us in on whats going on here?"
Tiny saw the conflict in the blue eyes that turned to face him, before they moved on to look at Gwens parents. He answered before the Marine could speak.
"We have reason to believe that Gwen is in the hands of the enemy."
He would have said more, but Jills gasp caused him to stop. "The enemy? Geoff, what is he talking about? What is going on here? Where is my baby girl?"
The weapons smith drew his wife into his arms. "Lets let them talk, sweetheart." He glared at Tiny, and the large man lowered his eyes. Randi took a deep breath, and walked over to where the Goldmans still stood wrapped tightly together. She reached for Jills hand, relieved when the woman took her own willingly. She led the woman to a chair and seated her, kneeling in front of her. The Marine never released the hand she held, taking small comfort in the firmness of the return grasp. She kept her eyes on their clasped hands when she spoke softly.
"Jill, when I died, I was, um... I was taking care of some rather nasty military business."
"Military? But I thought...." She stopped talking when Geoff placed his hands on her shoulders and squeezed lightly. She returned his gaze with one of her own, absorbing the shake of his head with a single nod of her own. "Im sorry I interrupted, Randi. Please continue."
"What I was during my service, what I did... there have been times I have had to lend my expertise since my retirement. As for what happened when I died... well, lets just say I made a very bad enemy. And now he has apparently decided to take revenge. Im sorry, I know Im not to terribly coherent right now." She sighed deeply. The Marine felt her chin being lifted, and kept her eyes down.
"Randi, look at me." Jills voice was soft. The Sabre reluctantly raised her blue eyes to meet the older womans. "Do you know who has her?" A nod. "Can you find her and bring her home?" Another nod. "Then you do it. I am right in the middle of planning a reception for your wedding, and we cant have that until yall are together and married."
Randi appreciated Jills effort to lighten the atmosphere, and gave her a small, crooked smile. Tears filled two sets of eyes, but the Marine refused to allow hers to fall. She gently squeezed the hand still held in her own and then released it. Standing, she moved to pick up her bag. Her back to the room, she sent a silent prayer to Aphrodite to keep her bard safe. Then she squared her shoulders, and became the soldier she would need to be during this ordeal. When she turned to face them again, the woman was gone, and in her place stood the Sabre.
"Tiny, you contact Reed, and have her question Kene about Bens possible whereabouts. Geoff, I need you to get Gwens last known coordinates from Jerry. I need to go back to the beach house and get my stuff."
"Now, hold on just a...."
A raised eyebrow brought silence to the group. Jill watched in fascination as the tall woman took command of the situation with ease.
"Im not asking. Tiny, Reed is the only seer I trust. She cleared Kene of being consciously involved. Now I need her to find out if Kene is aware of any possible hiding places he would have. And Geoff, I need to know where they last were. It might yield us a few clues."
"And it might be a dead end."
"Yeah, it might." She was getting frustrated and angry. "But its all weve got right now." She sighed and moved to the door. "Ill be back before the day is over. Please have the information ready for me." She left the room without another word.
There was a very long pause filled with total silence. The two men looked at each other.
"Im not letting her go alone, Geoff."
"Neither am I, Tiny. Neither am I. Cmon. Weve got things to do before she gets back."
"You ready to explain what that was all about?" Jill wasnt accusatory, but it was very clear she expected answers on this from him. He was busy sorting through a bag similar to the one Randi had been carrying.
"Its a little... complicated. Suffice it to say that Tiny and I are going with Randi to bring Gwen home."
"Excuse me?!?" Her hands rested on her hips, and she looked at him with fire in her eyes. "I understand your desire to go, Geoff. Shes my daughter too, dammit!" The fire turned to tears. "But you are just out of regen for a chronic back problem that has plagued you for years. And Randi obviously has the experience and training for this kind of thing. You dont."
He was quiet for a moment, considering. "Yeah, I do," he answered her calmly. "Those are our girls, Jill, and Im gonna make sure they come home together. They deserve that much. They deserve so much more." His voice had become a mere whisper by the time he finished, and he looked to his bride of thirty years with tears in his eyes. "They deserve a lifetime together, like you and I have had. I intend to make sure they get that chance."
Her gaze had softened with his words. "You just make sure you bring yourself home to me," she said, realizing she would never talk him out of this. "We still have a lifetime to finish together."
He took her in his strong arms then, holding her for all he was worth. Her acceptance and faith meant so much to the Sabre. It would be a strength he would take with him. He had a feeling he was going to need every ounce he could get.
"Are you up for this, Reed?" Tiny questioned his lover. He had explained the situation to the seer as soon as he had arrived back at headquarters. It was rare that the unit used a person with Reeds gift in such a way. It was accurate, but terribly draining on the individual seers. Several of them had actually died of exhaustion or exposure to the emotions of another being. She had been brought in to insure that Kene didnt lie to them, and she was very near exhaustion now. Could he ask her to risk her life for this?
"Even if I wasnt, love, Id still have to try." He nodded his head, knowing that would to be her answer regardless of the danger to herself. It was one of the things that had made her such a good Sabre. It still was. She lowered her voice, forcing him to lean down to her level stretched out upon the couch "Athena came to me last night. Their link cant be broken, Tiny... not again. Neither of them will survive it." She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I cant...." She smiled when he tightened his fingers convulsively around hers. "WE cant allow that to happen. They are destined."
Now it was the mans turn to draw a deep breath. He hadnt realized they were destined. But thinking about it now, he understood full well. A bond like theirs was deep and abiding, and to have it broken, especially now that it had been consummated.... He shuddered in pure horrific reaction. He had seen what their break-up had done to Gwen before. He was certain no one wanted to see Randis response to the same situation now. Even losing Reed, as hard as that would be for him, would be nothing compared to that.
"All right, sweetheart. You get some rest. Ill talk to her first. Maybe we can do this the easy way."
The shuttle touched down with a whisper. Geoff had been fast, and Jerry had cleared channels enabling her to make it back to the beach house in record time. She wondered how long it would take Tommy or Ella to make it over, since they werent due back for another few days. Her heart clenched at the thought that shed had to return alone, then she pushed it aside. They would be coming home from this together, or not at all.
She walked slowly into the small room that held all her Sabre tools. Her armor hung neatly as she had left it; the cleaning closet beside it stood empty. Her weapons stood at the ready, and she inspected them carefully with a grim smile. Then she moved with precision, gathering the items this mission would require.
Shed just stepped out of her ritual shower when she heard movement at the front of the house. You never disappoint me, Tommy. A bittersweet smile appeared on her face and she reached for her short robe. Tying it off, she went to meet the man she called brother.
He knew the moment he saw her something was terribly wrong. He opened his arms, and she went to him willingly, though she never lost her composure. Her mask was in place, and he shuddered at the thought of what could have put it there. He stroked her back gently for a moment before she pulled away from him, and moved out of his arms completely. It was at that precise minute that he realized she was alone.
"Randi?" It was all he said, but it was enough.
"Someone took her from me, T. Ive got to go find her and bring her home."
He wasnt sure what to say at that point, so he offered his support to her in the best way he knew how. "You do that, little sister. And you come home safe as well. Youve both got a nephew to help us raise."
She smiled at his effort, and kissed his cheek. Then she went back to the bedroom to dress.
The armor was surprisingly light, given its strength. It was a kevlar/titanium blend that made up the outfit, with a polymer underlay that protected her more vulnerable areas. She slipped into a black T-shirt. The polymer wasnt particularly comfortable against bare skin. Socks next, then the pants, and finally the over-shirt. She stepped into her boots, tightening the laces to make the fit snug. She looked at the mask, shaking her head lightly before tucking it into a secure place in her belt.
Now it was time to add the weapons, and the grim smile returned. She had never expected, never planned to use these things again. Slowly, she added her boot daggers, thigh knives, samurai discs, crossbow, bolts, and both stun and laser guns. I feel like a fucking walking armory. You are, moron... that is the whole point. Now lets go. Weve got work to do.
Wonderful... I am now fully certifiable... arguing with myself at a time like this. Damn Valiant! Get your head on straight. Gwen is depending on you here.
That thought was enough to bring her back to herself with a start, and she grabbed the bag that held a few of the other toys she thought might be useful. Stepping out into the living area, she was surprised to find not only Tommy waiting for her, but Randall, Ella, and...."Uncle?"
The elder Mr. Steele came to stand in front of her, looking eye to eye. He awkwardly took her hands, and said quietly, "Ive missed you, Randi. Welcome home." He pulled her into a brief, fierce hug. Now you go fetch that lovely young lady of yours. I owe her an apology."
The Marine raised her eyebrow in question, but there was really no time for answers. She would get them when she got back. She nodded an acknowledgment of his words, and he stepped back, allowing his grandson to take center stage.
"WUV!" The child yelled, and leapt into her arms. She caught him easily, cradling him gently for a long moment before kissing his head and handing him back to his mother. He struggled, unhappy with the transfer. Ella took him, and gently admonished the Sabre.
"You be careful, and yall both come home safe." She reached up and pulled the dark head down, placing a kiss on her forehead as though in blessing.
Tommy didnt say a word. He simply lifted the bag, and walked over to the door. He escorted her to the waiting shuttle, and only then did he release his hold on the bag. Now he took her in his embrace once more, and she returned it warmly, accepting the strength he offered. "Come home safely."
Randi stepped into the shuttle and stood at the door. Then she answered him with the thought shed had earlier. "Either well both come home, Tommy, or neither of us will."
He understood all too well why she said that, and he gave recognition to that fact with a nod and a small salute.
Then the shuttle doors closed, and she was making her return flight toward the capital city. The man stood there silently, watching the craft rapidly vanish from sight.
"Will she be all right, Tommy?" Ellas question was soft. She had no desire to awaken the child who had just calmed down and fallen asleep. Her father-in-law gently pried the exhausted child from her grip, and continued back toward the Steele manse. Tommy waited until the older man had passed from hearing before he answered.
"One way or another they will, sweetheart." And Ella knew, by the look in his eyes, and the tears resting on his cheeks, that this was not going to be an easy vigil.
Jerry sat quietly at his desk, head cradled in his hands for a few minutes after his conversation with Geoff ended. When did I lose control? He groaned silently. When did I lose my honor? He took a deep breath, and came to a decision.
He turned to make a vid call, his attention momentarily caught by the woman who had been his compatriot for nearly thirty-five years. She stood at the window Randi had abandoned, looking out unseeing at the landscape in front of her. She had been in the same position for nearly half an hour.
"Kene?" He waited. "Kene?"
She didnt turn, but answered him with a resigned tone. "Yes, General?"
He came to stand behind her... close enough to touch, but not crossing that line. "Kene, weve been friends for a very long time, and youve never lied to me. So I have to ask now... did you know Ben was in contact with Ghost Rider?"
Her shoulders slumped, knowing there was no good answer. "No Jerry, I really didnt. We didnt even talk on a regular basis; just if there was action somewhere or interesting Sabre news. Hes the only old buddy we have left from way back, besides Geoff, and I was pretty sure you kept in touch with him."
Neither of them heard Tiny McCall step into the room. The open door greatly aided his stealthy approach. He stood silently... listening.
"Youre right. I did. But up until Randi died, and Gwen went on her walkabout, we never discussed Sabre business outside of the few missions he was a part of."
"I was a fool."
"You were too trusting." The Commandant paused, thinking. "Did he ever talk to you... let you know things that were going on with him?"
The woman thought for a long moment. "Some. Nothing that would be helpful now though, I imagine."
Tiny pushed away from the door and spoke for the first time. "Did he ever mention any special places? Somewhere that could be used as a hiding place now?"
Both Sabres whirled away from the window at the first words from the Navy chief. He waited patiently with his arms crossed. Jerry crossed to sit on a corner of his desk. Kene closed her eyes and put her folded hands to her lips while she reviewed some of the information she and Ben had exchanged. She cringed inwardly as she realized how stupid and careless she had been. Finally, she opened her eyes and regarded the two men.
"I can only think of three possibilities." She drew a deep breath. "The first option would be his boat. As a Sabre, he never had to register it, and since he lives on an inlet, it would be very simple to launch it without anyone really noticing it."
Jerry moved around to sit at his desk once again. He dispatched a nearby Sabre to check this information.
"The second option is possible, though Im inclined to dismiss it. It is a small cabin on a lake in the plains. He was telling me about it once when we were talking about comm upgrades. Said hed never gotten reception quite like he did there."
"So what makes you want to dismiss it?" This from Tiny.
"Its too wide open, from what he said. No good way to conceal someone, especially considering he had neighbors."
The two men nodded in agreement with her logical conclusion, and Jerry motioned for her to continue.
"The last... well, I think it would be the best place to take her. Especially if the idea is to keep her separated from the gunnery sergeant. Jerry, do you remember years ago, when we got a chance to study some of the old battlements? A few of the fortresses that remained after the Great War?"
The Commandant looked at her blankly for a minute, before comprehension lit up his eyes. "You think he took her to the mountain?"
"It seems the most logical place to go. You remember his fascination with the whole place, and it really wouldnt be hard to upgrade the facilities. No one knows its there."
"Excuse me... hold on just a minute there. How can no one NOT know there is a mountain around?? Thats a pretty damned big object to try and hide."
"No, Tiny... you misunderstand. The mountain itself is hidden in plain sight. It is what is held within the mountain that no one remembers."
"And what secret does the mountain hold?
Reed appeared in the doorway as she asked her question. She had been resting on the couch in the adjoining room, but the conversation had gotten too interesting for her to remain out of it. The Sabre pilot was still drawn and pale looking, and Tiny immediately escorted her to the sofa along the far wall. Kene walked to the office door and shut it.
"What I say now, stays in this small group. Except for sharing it with Randi...."
"... and Geoff," the Navy man broke in. "We will be going with her."
The woman looked at him like he was nuts, before nodding her head in agreement. "He knows most of the story. It wont hurt to fill him in on the details, but otherwise, everything stays between us. Years ago....
They had been young, and very drunk. The mission had been a success and they had all been glad to survive. So of course they had felt the need to celebrate. It had been their small unit--- Jerry, Geoff, Ben, Kene, Grace, and four Sabres who were no longer living to tell the tale. Their discussion turned to some of the wilder myths and theories theyd heard.
"Im not kiddin, man. Its the gods honest truth."
"No way, dude. They were never that technologically advanced."
"Im telling you, Ive seen the plans."
This argument was taking place between Gunnery Sgt. Jerry Daetwyler and the usually silent Sgt. Ben Haamaen. Ben had a habit of never speaking until he was sure of his facts, and this made the others sit there and listen.
"All right then. This is something I want to see for myself."
After Grace had disappeared they managed to snag a copy of the plans for further study---not a difficult task considering the fortress had long since faded from public memory. It was some months later, after Ghost Rider had made her first attack, before they were able to get some time off together, and do a little investigating of their own. What they found....
"What we found was an impenetrable stronghold, which, though it was developed more than a century ago, was quite clever. If he has been able to fortify it, and modernize its systems...." She let the thought trail off as its implications sank in.
"I agree with you, Kene," Jerry finally spoke. It would be our best bet. Tiny...."
"You and Geoff still have your uniforms with you correct?" knowing they had returned to the city directly from their last mission. The Chief nodded. "Good. I need you to go to Supply and get uniforms for Kene, Reed and myself. Grab whatever tools you think would be useful for this little expedition. Kene, you come with me. We need to find those plans and have them ready for Randi when she returns. Reed, you stay here and rest. Well need your piloting skills later."
Reed nodded, and promptly fell into a deep sleep. The two officers moved down the corridor toward the old record room. Tiny stood in the middle of the office, shaking his head at the bizarre turn of events. Then closing the door softly, he headed for Supply.
Geoff wore a bittersweet smile. It had been a long time since he and Jill had been quite so... furious in their lovemaking. Not that their sexual relationship was lacking, but with his wife knowing the danger he was walking into.... He smiled again. Quite the little tigress! He looked at the timepiece on the bedside stand again, and gently extricated himself from her arms.
"You leaving me already?"
He gently kissed her cheek, smiling into her sleepy eyes. "Yeah. I gotta get a quick shower and go. Randi should be back soon. And Im expecting an important package at headquarters right about now too."
She didnt say anything for a moment, though her eyes spoke volumes for her. And when she did, she gave a small nod of understanding and support. "I love you," cupping his cheek. "You stay safe and come home to me."
"Ill do my best." It was the only promise he could make her.
He tucked the covers back in around her. I will not cry, she chanted to herself. I will not cry.
His shower was short, and it wasnt long before he stood before her as the Sabre he had been... the Sabre he still was. She kissed him hard, and sent him on his way. The door closed gently. Then she broke down in tears over the mess she felt responsible for causing, scared of what the cost of fixing it would be.
Randi stood stock still as she re-entered Jeremy Daetwylers office at headquarters. There before her very eyes was a tableau shed never thought to see. Tiny and the General were standing in the middle of a holo-mock up of... something. Kene and Geoff were talking quietly off to one side. Only Reed was silent, still resting on the couch. Each of them was in armor, weapons prominently displayed. On the large desk sat some of the items shed seen in the weapons smiths workshop.
She shook her head, trying to clear it, sure that what she thought she saw was coming from her imagination. There is no fucking way.... But at that very moment, the Commandant caught sight of her standing there, and welcomed her in.
"Randi, come in. Your troops are here, and we await your orders."
She looked at him, confused. Then the reality of his words hit home, and she shook her head again. "No, sir. I dont think so. This is something I need to do alone."
"No, maam. I dont think so. You went off alone once, and look where that got you. No, this time we do it by the book, and that means were your back up. Got it?"
She held his eyes for a long moment, before turning to look at the remainder of the team. Each of them, even Kene, made it clear she was not going anywhere without them. She dropped here eyes in defeat, though secretly she was grateful for the support. Around her rose a collective sigh of relief. The biggest hurdle had been crossed.
"Let us show you what we have so far." The group moved over to the holo-mockup. "Kene helped us narrow down the possibilities of where Ben has gone, and we all agree her conclusion is sound and logical. It is also going to be extremely risky to try to penetrate."
The Marine looked at the older woman with a bit of trepidation. While her head understood that this was a chance for the colonel to recover her honor, and try to make up for leaking information to the enemy (however unwittingly), her heart wasnt nearly as forgiving and accepting of the circumstances. Randi turned her attention back to the Commandant.
He was, at the moment, waiting for the Marine to refocus on him. There was too much at stake for her to miss something. He understood well her ambivalence, feeling the same way---both about himself and Kene. But this was something they needed to do, both of them... as much for Gwen and Randis sakes as for their own.
He resumed speaking, the sharp three-dimensional visuals helping them to greatly understand the challenge that awaited them.
"So he has her inside the heart of the mountain." Randi was speaking, studying the holo, and trying to form a clear picture in her mind. She was still trying to digest all the information Jerry had given her.
"We think so, yes. This facility was carved into and beneath the mountain itself more than a hundred years ago. And it is part of this chain of mountains right here. The mountains make it difficult to reach, and the meadow area has been created at their base. The forest area ends here," pointing to an area a good mile from the mountains base. "And its a given that he will have put security measures out to stop you from coming in." The Marine nodded her head in agreement.
"Actually, Ive got something that might help in that area." Geoff reached back to the desk, and removed a small box. "Ive been working on some small prototypes of this for a while. Mike was good enough to go to the workshop, and send these out to me." He pulled out a small, mirrored device. "These can be set to reverse the polarity of any stream he has running, without disrupting their flow, and setting of internal alarms. Depending on what hes got going, they could be pretty useful."
"This," holding up another object, "will arch any type of force field he has, without breaking it. Again, so as not to alert him to our presence."
Randi nodded her comprehension, impressed with the array of toys they had available for this mission.
"I want one thing understood here." Randi captured the eyes of each team member. The air around her suddenly crackled with tension. "This bastard is mine. I will deal with decimating his ass. Is that understood?"
Every person in the room nodded their understanding. Geoff wanted to say something, not liking the look in her eyes. He could only hope they found Gwen alive and in good shape. He couldnt imagine the cost to Randis soul otherwise.
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