He supposed he should be celebrating that it was only a single platoon, rather than bitching about the fact that the stinking Conundrum reps were scattered in twos and threes across the whole bloody base. ... Nah. That whole "bright side" thing had never been his style.
One step at a time. Determine which rep was the Field Leader of the occupation, and take it out, thereby inactivating the rest of the platoon. Next, destroy all the reps on the base so they couldn't be reactivated. And finally, clear out the base's personnel, essentials, and data core before Conundrum reinforcements could arrive. Of course there was that pesky quarantine issue to deal with before the people could be evacuated. And the data core was enormous; even Oracle couldn't process it all on his own. And what wasn't "essential" on a self-sufficient base station?
First things first, Lestrade told himself firmly. Find the FL and eliminate it. Logic suggested it would be stationed in the base's Command and Control centre. This theory was supported by the fact that the largest single complement of reps--seven--was collected there.
It had taken twenty agonizing minutes of traversing a mix of corridors, access shafts, and ductwork for the three of them to reach the centre. A close call right at the start had caused an adrenaline spike in each of them, but they were pros and knew how to deal.
Now Lestrade, Donovan, and the slinger whose proper name he never had learned were inside the bulkhead adjacent to C&C. The slinger--his handle, inexplicably, was Jammie--guarded the maintenance access hatch in the wall that was the only barrier between them and the reps on the other side. Donovan unpacked an earworm and aimed the listening device at the interior bulkhead while Lestrade quickly unrolled an ether-glass panel and pressed it to the same wall next to where she stood. Immediately, he could see rep-shaped heat signatures.
"Standard chatter," whispered Donovan, barely audible even though she was only a foot away from him. "Nothing to indicate which one is the FL--if it's even in the room," she added cynically.
"Thank you for that ray of sunshine," Lestrade muttered back in irritation. "From now on keep your commentary to yourself." He trained his eyes on the thermal image. "I'm only seeing five--hang on...six forms."
"One of them might have been sent off since we left the boffins."
"Possibly." It was better than the alternative, anyway. He continued to examine the image, using his soldier's perspective to filter the reps' movements.
Time they didn't have to spare ticked past.
"There!" The exclamation was little more than a breath of sound.
"What?" asked Donovan.
"That one there." He pointed to a shape at the left of the image. "It hasn't moved. Others go to it and move away, but it's staying put."
"You think they're coming in for orders?"
Lestrade shrugged. "If you've got anything better to go on, I'd love to hear it. Now."
She pursed her lips. He could see it even behind the filter mask. Managing as ordered to keep her commentary to herself, she shook her head.
The slinger's hiss startled them both and Lestrade looked at him. "What?"
"The glass." His hands full of very large gun, he pointed at it with his chin.
Lestrade's stomach sank. "Fucking perfect." In the few seconds he'd wasted speaking with Donovan, the number of reps in C&C had more than doubled. He scanned the image. There was the one he wanted. It still hadn't moved. Or if it had, it had been immediately replaced by one of its fellows.
No. He could not afford to think that way.
"Why the hell are they massing?" snarled Donovan.
"No reason that could be good news for us. Time to move."
Donovan tucked the earworm in her vest pocket and checked the charge on her weapon. They would leave the ether-glass in place for now. It was useful until the last moment. If their assault was successful, they'd claim it afterwards. If they failed, they wouldn't need the piece of tech anymore anyway.
"All right. Jammie, you're to lay down cover fire. Keep the reps confused and try not to take out any of the station's vital systems." They'd studied the C&C schematics, but that was no guarantee things would go smoothly. "Toast, you're on pick-and-choose. Just keep them off my back until I can get a shot off."
"A shot?" she echoed.
"If I've assessed this right, that's all I'll need. Ready?"
They nodded, grim-faced and determined, weapons primed and at the ready. He took his position between them and directly in front of the access hatch. He glanced to either side, catching each of them in his peripheral vision, hoping this wouldn't be the last time, and promising himself that if he lived through this, he'd learn the slinger's real name.
He raised a hand. Made a fist. Punched the controls.
The hatch slid open, and all hell broke loose.
"Baker Street, this is Silverfox, do you copy?" The reps were down. No need any longer for radio silence. But they still had to work quickly to empty the compromised base. There was no telling when the Nucleus might get it into its synthetic brain check in or send reinforcements. They needed to be cleared out and well away whenever that happened. He passed a dormant rep at the turn of a corridor and shot it through the head. Sparks sizzled and he was briefly glad of the filter mask that kept him from smelling burnt meat.
Marquardson's voice was heaven when it reached him. "Silverfox, this is Sable One on board Baker Street. It's good to hear from you. What's your status?"
"We're coming out fast and cold," he replied. "Picking up Doc and Dodger on the way."
"Understood. Base personnel?"
"All secure. I've told them to stay put until they get clearance from the Tops. Boffin Hooper is transmitting their location and the locations of the rest of the dormant reps. The base's air scrubbers are back at maximum. She estimates roughly five hours until they can cancel the quarantine." It was far from ideal, but a huge improvement over the fifteen hours it would have taken at the system's standard pace. "Tell Scotland Yard to send in the sweeper teams. Once they've neutralised the remaining reps, gear-stripping teams can enter any time. And we need Oracle and all other available receivers onsite ASAP to begin uploading. And make sure everyone is masked."
"Oracle is deploying now. I'm sending a slinger with him just in case. Relaying the rest to Scotland Yard now. Anything else?"
Lestrade allowed himself a small smile at the thought of the things he wanted to say to her. "Nothing I'm sharing over open comms. We'll be at the rendezvous point in six minutes."
"Looking forward to it."
He was pretty sure he heard a matching smile in her voice. "Silverfox, out." Six minutes until he could get out of this fucking filter mask. Sure, he and the others would still have the tedium of the de-con procedures to get through, but even that couldn't spoil his good mood.
They reached the place where Doc and the others waited.
"I told Molly you'd be successful," Doc said. "Well done."
"Thanks. Time to clear out." Lestrade turned to Hooper. "Oracle will be here very soon, and more receivers are coming after, probably with the gear-strippers."
The boffin smiled, relief written all over her expressive face. "Good. I've already prioritised the system files. We can begin the upload as soon as he's here."
"Are you staying to guard Oracle?" asked Doc. Fair question, since that was Lestrade's assignment more often than anyone else's.
"We're not behind enemy lines any more," was Lestrade's answer. "Let's go. People have work to do here, and we're going to be in the way any minute now."
"Right." Doc bid Boffin Hooper goodbye just as Oracle and another Scotland Yard slinger reached them. Both were masked, of course, and a little out of breath. They must have jogged most of the way from Baker Street to have gotten there so quickly.
Lestrade nodded at Oracle and looked at the slinger. He was solidly built, handsome, crew-cut, and probably less than half Lestrade's age. "What's your handle?"
"Shag," answered the young man.
"Of course it is. He's all yours, Shag. Bring him home safe."
"The rest of you, move out."
It was a quick trip back to the rendezvous point and soon they were through the airlock and on board Baker Street. They entered the decontamination room and Lestrade pulled the filter mask off his face at last. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and relaxed.
"Greg? Can you hear me?"
That was a stupid question for Doc to ask, he thought. Of course he could hear him. He was standing right there. Greg opened his mouth to say so, but couldn't get a word out. His mouth was suddenly as dry as a desert.
"Here. Have some water." John held a cup close to Greg's mouth and placed the end of a drinking straw between his parched lips. "Slowly."
Greg did as he was told. He sipped the tepid liquid until he'd drained the cup and John took it away.
"What--?" He cleared his throat. Memories began flickering like an old 35mm film with several frames missing.
"That 'stomach flu' you self-diagnosed nearly killed you," John admonished. As tellings-off went, it was mild. Milder than Greg deserved, he suspected.
"But--" Fever. Stomach pains. Nausea. Vomiting. What else--?
"Appendicitis," John answered his incomplete thought. "And it burst, too. Lucky for you that you were on your way into work anyway, you daft git. Donovan rang 999 when you collapsed."
Oh shit. The missing frames fell into place. He'd been out sick for days. Wednesday morning he'd convinced himself that he felt a little better. He'd thought he could make it into the office for a half-day at least. Catch up on some paperwork. Put out any fires. No such luck. He'd keeled over while stepping out of the lift. Practically fell on top of an unsuspecting sergeant. Lucky? More like cringe-worthy.
"How long--?" Damn. His mouth was still almost bone dry. He turned his head on the pillow, the oxygen tube digging uncomfortably into his cheek. "Water?"
John poured another cup and again held it for him until he'd had enough. Greg moved his head away from the cup and said, "Is this damned tube necessary?"
John gave a single low chuckle. "No." Setting aside the cup, he removed the offending device. Greg immediately felt like a brick had been lifted off his face even though thing couldn't weigh more than a few ounces.
"Thanks. Afraid to ask... Where's Sherlock?"
"God, no." He could too easily imagine the enemies Sherlock was presently making at the Yard and the many, many ruffled feathers Greg was in no position to smooth.
"Don't worry. It's some mess of Mycroft's. Another potential royal scandal, he said. Something to do with a coronet, but don't tell anyone I told you. Sherlock wasn't going to go, but the nurses threatened to confiscate his violin if he kept playing, and after that his pacing around in here was driving me mad. I told him I'd text him when you woke up."
"Don't. Not yet." Greg couldn't imagine Sherlock pacing by his hospital bed. By John's, yes. He'd witness that. The idea that Sherlock had done the same for him was...unsettling.
"DI Marquardson is on her way down from Edinburgh. She called to let me know not half an hour ago. She couldn't get away before now."
"She shouldn't have worried." Greg closed his eyes. The room was dark and quiet, and he was so tired.
"Yes, she should."
John's comment only made the vaguest impression on him. He was drifting off.
"Greg?" John's concerned voice seemed to come from far way.
"Just sleepy," he muttered. Or thought he muttered. Had the words gotten out of his mouth?
They must have because now John sounded content. "All right. Sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."
"Like hell. I'd get my ass kicked by at least four people if I left you on your own."
Greg tried to add up who they would be, but came up short. He snorted a soft laugh without opening his eyes. It was good to have mates. "Wake me... Sophie..."
"I will. You rest."
Greg's sleep was pleasantly undisturbed by dreams.
The End...For Now