Needles and Haystacks
We the People
Location: Storm Shelter's Mobile HQ, Andrews AFB
Timeline: Mid-Afternoon, Sunday, 01/22/17
The custom Gulfstream G650 was the smaller of Storm Shelter's two mobile headquarters and was used almost exclusively in the Americas. Every inch of the just over 2,000 cubic foot interior had been carefully designed to accommodate Storm Shelter's needs whether it was prisoner transport or, like now, a backup facility for their mission in Washington, D.C. In addition to catering to the team's business needs, it provided the ultimate in business travel and security. The jet's seats reclined, providing a comfortable place to sleep when needed. There was also a compact kitchenette and small bathroom with a stand-up shower. Like the modern tiny houses or smaller yachts, there was a place for almost everything. The downside was that if anything was out of place, it gave the appearance of clutter.
Cade MacLeod approached the Gulfstream, unable to stop himself from stopping to admire its sleek gray exterior with the dark blue stripe that emulated a stormy sky. Carefully framed by lightning bolts, the company's name, Storm Shelter, Inc., painted in metallic silver, was easily legible. Cade boarded the jet, happy to see and smell that the caterer had already been and gone. A huge selection of Chinese and Thai appetizers and entrees were available, set-up in warming dishes in the aircraft's galley. He paused to fix himself a plate of spare ribs and egg rolls, and grab a bottle of beer from the small fridge before settling on the small gray leather sofa in the travel cabin.
Tapping the seat's controls, he raised the footrest and balanced his food on the small swing-out tray. Cade glanced at his watch and blinked bleary eyes. He'd managed to catch a couple of hours of sleep but knew he needed more. No matter what television shows depicted, people did not function if they could not get some sleep. Hopefully, the rest of his team had followed his orders and did the same. Cade had kept the hotel suites so that everyone had a place to go, clean up, and rest. They'd have to schedule their times, but it beat trying to sleep in the plane's passenger cabin.
The door to the cockpit swung open, and J.D. stepped out, looking a little blearily at the passenger area. He reached up and tugged his sunglasses off and scratched his head. "Oh, hey...welcome. I came on over to check the plane over. Servicing has been completed, and we are running fully on external power. I then caught a nap in the cockpit..." J.D. grinned. "...I am going to have one of those pilot seats put in my place...so nice." The ex-agent walked by the food display and reached for a bottle of his preferred soda which was kept on hand in the plane at all times. He then grabbed a small plate and a rib and sat in one of the seats nearby.
Cade nodded at J.D.'s report and then grinned too, "You don't look like crap considering you slept in a chair. I grabbed a fast nap and shower at the hotel," he said. "Hope the rest of the team did the same. I'll brief you on what I've learned when the rest of 'em get here." Cade's deep voice reflected the fact that very little had changed since they had returned from stashing the Vice President in their safe house. Had anything urgent come in, he'd have told J.D. immediately so they could plan their next move before the team arrived.
Luke arrived then, a tablet tucked under his arm. He ducked as he passed the cabin door and traversed the main compartment, despite the 6'5" ceiling allowing him room to stand. He yawned widely, shaking his head after. "Morning," he joked to the two other men as he gravitated straight to the coffee carafe, depositing his tablet on an easy chair on the way. Coffee first, then he would think about food.
After they had dined last evening, Vashti returned to the plane with him to set up the tablet and ensure it was hooked into the plane's wifi and the flatscreen TVs therein. Then the night was spent, not as a typical engaged couple, but in finalizing his data and presentation. It was somewhere around oh-dark-thirty, Vashti fast asleep, by the time Luke finally climbed into bed. It was a bit of a back-and-forth to and from the airplane - he was sure the USAF Security Forces personnel had their opinions about what the Navy veteran was up to! But he wanted to spend time with his fiancée, and he had work to do. Ah, the balancing act to make that work!
His coffee poured, Luke selected a small plate of chicken fingers and one of the many small tubs of duck sauce, then ambled to his tablet-claimed chair. His victuals carefully arranged on the small table next to it, he scooped up the tablet and fell into the chair in one smooth motion. He reclined, and while one hand worked to log into the system, his other brought food and drink to his maw.
J.D. held the rib and chewed along one side as he watched Luke working the tablet. "Be sure and stay out of the avionics..." The man said grinning. "...I see Pac-Man on a display screen, and you're walking home."
"What do I look like, a zoomie?" Luke quipped with a smirk, using the slang term for Air Force members. "Though if I were to do so, it wouldn't be Pac-Man, but Galaga."
"You have good taste in games, I'll grant you that." J.D, said as he fished out the local newspaper from a side pocket of the chair and spread it open
"God, that smells amazing." Tessa's voice piped up from the door where she'd just boarded the plane, the scent of food wafting through the air. She and London had completed the autopsy in the wee hours of the morning, so sleep had been a very welcome thing. Snagging a plate, Tess grabbed a few egg rolls and a couple of fried prawns, drizzling just the lightest touch of sweet and sour sauce over each. "What'd I miss?"
J.D. let the upper half of the paper fold forward a moment. "Cade and I need more sleep, and Luke has good taste in arcade games."
London exhaled slowly before boarding the plane and greeting the rest of the team. Like the others, she was exhausted, but more than that, she'd been bothered by observing the recent autopsy more than she had cared to let on. It had taken her some time to fall asleep, which was why, to her dismay, she was the last one to board the plane. She offered a small apologetic smile to everyone as she arrived, not bothering to hide traces of her fatigue or her melancholy. She knew she wasn't alone in those feelings and she trusted this group quite implicitly. Her weariness was obvious, but just as she was about to offer apologies first, her nose caught the scent of the deliciously catered Asian cuisine. "My God, is that chicken pad Thai with Thai spring rolls and crab Rangoon? All I need now is an ice-cold Dr. Pepper, and I will almost feel human," she joked weakly. She briefly considered offering a joke about a potential last supper, but considering the circumstances and the fact that she was supposed to be the emotionally supportive one, she thought better of it.
Cade smiled as each member of the team arrived, and J.D. traded quips with them. The humor did not bother him in the least. Often, in times of extreme stress, people resorted to joking to alleviate their tension. Cade found it natural, understandable, and to a great degree, reassuring. It meant his people were coping. Under the circumstances, with perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, it let him know that his people were functioning at their best.
"Help yourself, Ridley. You'll find sodas in the mini-fridge. I believe there's Dr. Pepper included," Cade drawled in response to London's comments. He took another swig from his beer, stopping short of sighing as the frigidly cold beverage slid down his throat. He wasn't worried that the beer would impair his ability to function. It would take way more than one to impact him. Besides, it just didn't seem natural to have barbecued spare ribs and no beer.
"Okay, who wants to go first?" Cade asked. After a few moments, he grinned, "Awwww, Y'all are shy, so I'll go first." He took a drink of his beer, "First, I requested we hold our meeting here instead of at the BOSI headquarters because we don't know how deep this conspiracy goes. I trust Frank Dalton, and I trust you guys. Claire Cameron can probably go on that list too, but it's been a lot of years since I saw her last. We'll use their resources to augment ours, but we'll play things close to the vest."
"I sent Ross Hawkins back to Montana to coordinate access to her systems. Luke, I want you to help Vashti set up here on the plane. She and Hawkins will make sure they can backdoor into all the systems they need to keep mining for the Camulus fragments." Cade paused, got up and carried his disposable plate to the trash beneath the galley sink. Returning, he again settled on the sofa and put the footrest up. "J.D. and I made it the Vice President's allegedly secure location and successfully moved him. We met with well-armed resistance on our way in so someone got word to the bad guys. BOSI is cleaning up, smoothing things over with the local LEOs and trying to make identifications. The Vice President and his family are in a secure facility with Akela Noelani and Grayson Tregarth. President Dalton refuses to leave the White House."
Cade glanced over at J.D., "Anything to add, boss?" The two men usually shared the job of leading the team under Tregarth's capable management. This time, since they were now convinced that the White House and other agencies had been infiltrated, they wanted Grayson to help guard the Vice President in case everything went pear-shaped. With J.D.'s family being high-risk targets as well, Cade was deferring team leadership duties to him.
J.D. had been sitting quietly listening to Cade go over the details thus far. "Not much other than we need to keep making forward progress. Whoever we are facing started out ahead and while we have closed some of the gap it's not enough so far..." J.D. then looked around at the team members in the cabin. "Also, I want all of you to be extra careful. These people have their own trained shooters and the longer we try to get in their way the more we will draw attention to ourselves. If they realize they can get rid of some or all of us they will try. If they leave us alone they are just endangering their plan and that won't be allowed to continue. Keep your eyes open all the time from now on."
Luke popped his last chicken finger in his mouth and tapped at his tablet. "I may have a little more to close that gap," he added post-swallow. Another tap on the tablet activated the flat-screen display at the front of the conference room. "My apologies for the Death-by-PowerPoint, but it is how the Navy trained me to brief." He grinned disarmingly and pulled up the first slide, a comprehensive list of everything he and Akela collected. "The FBI was pretty thorough in their review of the crime scene. Pretty much everything was corroborated with their own list." He tapped the tablet and red lines struck out nearly the entire list on screen. "But we managed to find a couple interesting tidbits they hadn't."
Another tap and the screen then displayed a picture of the embossed tiger calling card. "We found this tucked in a book. No idea why the FBI missed it. At any rate, I ran it for fingerprints, and the only match I could find was to a known Triad terrorist who died two years ago." The next slide showed the mugshot of a mid-twenties Chinese man with a red DECEASED stamp across the file. "Liu Chao. His Chinese alias translates roughly to 'Jade Falcon'. He was killed in 2015 in a firefight in San Francisco with a rival gang, and his body was recovered by law enforcement. How or why his fingerprint ended up on that card I couldn't hazard a clue."
The next slide showed what appeared to be a series of short dashes, with varying shades of grey. "We found numerous trace biological samples. Most of which matched the victim." He paused a moment as the memory of the gory scene replayed in his head. He frowned and shook his head to refocus and continue. "But in review of the DNA sequences, I found one that had a high probability of being another person entirely. This sequence," a hand waved vaguely to the dashes, "is that individual. I need to send it off to another agency to assign an identity, but... One, I don't know who to trust, and B, I don't know which agency would have the data we need." His eyes flicked between the others before he flipped to the penultimate slide.
"The last item we found was this binder full of, well, terrible fanfiction." The slide displayed a selection of text, mainly Harry Potter being angsty and emo. "But after further analysis, it was much more than that." The last slide came up, virtually identical to the previous one, except the wording had changed entirely. "After inputting a decryption key, this is what came out. Basically, a crash course on the Camulus System, including instructions on how to use the keys." He left the slide up on the screen for their perusal. It wasn't the entire document, but a meaningful portion. His tablet was set aside to indicate he was finished.
"Great work, Luke!" Cade grinned at the younger man. "Let's see if Vashti can worm her way into the BOSI network and scan for a DNA match on that sample without arousing too much interest. We can also forward it to the Flathead County Sheriff in Montana. Flag it for the sheriff's eyes only. He can be trusted and the most I'll owe him is a case of good Scotch." He turned his attention to Tessa, "Tess, find anything of significance in the autopsy?" The autopsy results and any forensic evidence would have to have been sent to the FBI task force working the Secretary of Defense's homicide, but Cade had asked Tessa to share it with BOSI's facility. He needed to ask Luke if his miniature lab on the plane could handle running parallel tests to validate the findings from both of the other agencies.
Washing down a bite of egg roll with some water, Tessa swallowed and wiped her mouth before answering. "It was fairly routine." She answered with a faint shake of her head. "COD was extreme blunt force trauma to the head and face." Oh yeah, that had been pretty damn obvious even before they'd done the exam. "She had ligature marks on her wrists, which showed evidence that she'd been restrained for quite some time." Looking around, Tess almost felt bad about the next thing to come out of her mouth, considering they were all eating. "The victim did have her eyeballs removed, just plucked from the sockets like a melon baller. The work was neat, precise." She glanced up at Case. "The anger behind the force, you could see it. She had seriously pissed them off."
Cade managed not to grimace at Tessa's report, "Were her eyes removed antemortem or postmortem?"
"Taking into consideration how much damage there was to her face and head, it had to have been before death. There was almost no damage to the eyes themselves. The cuts where they were removed from the sockets were clean, which suggests a sharp instrument was used rather than them being physically pulled out." Tessa replied, feeling her stomach roll over at the thought. "The amount of pain she had to have been in was astronomical, she probably went into shock pretty quick."
This time Cade could not help stop from physically grimacing at the information. It also deepened his anger and growing hatred of their foe. Raging that such violence and brutality had been unnecessary would not help the situation. He felt sure the other members of his team felt the same way. "Anyone want to add anything else before we wind this down and get back to work?"
Before the discussion could progress further, both Cade's and J.D.'s cell phones rang. The messages they received were brief. Cade looked at his team, "The President has received the demands. J.D. and I have to head to the White House. Be ready to meet again at a moment's notice."