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Null sheen.
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Credit: Toben

British Columbia, Canada

Jaxon Jeremiah sat outside the hospital, alert and cautious, watching the infrequent cars which slipped past. None of them stopped. Good. If any vehicle turned up unannounced, things were going to get really hairy. Jaxon wasn't armed so heavily anymore, though he still carried a Glock and wore a protective vest under his windbreaker. He could pass for a complete civilian, at least from a distance to the untrained eye. He'd still give any attackers hell.

He kept checking the hospital, kept fearing that there'd be a roar of engines or a whine of rotors, followed by explosions and death, yet more death. As if they hadn't had enough of that. As if the survivors didn't deserve a little peace, a little time to pull themselves back together and recuperate from it all. They were scared and scarred, and some still didn't quite seem to believe it was over. Jaxon knew the feeling. All these years later, he was still waiting for the axe to fall.

His dread had eased just the littlest of bits, though, when he'd heard about the results of the assault team's run. They hadn't gotten everything done. They hadn't had time to destroy the gear keeping the collars going, hadn't been able to remove all the ranking personnel, but they'd accomplished a damn spot more than Jaxon had been expecting, and with only moderate casualties. Of course, that was just as of the last check in, right as they'd all fled. They'd been out of contact since then. Safer for everyone. The entire assault team could be dead, for all he knew.

A car in the distance flashed its headlights and turned towards the hospital. Jaxon's hand slipped into his pocket. His fingers found the grip of the Glock.

The car pulled up alongside him. Old. Red. The right car. The right driver. Jaxon was tempted to pull the gun anyways, but he'd expressed his displeasure enough already.

The door opened, and Nathan Caudle stepped out. The boy was wearing dark sunglasses. They nicely hid his black eye.

"Anything, Jax?"

"Just a murderer in shades. You think I should shoot him?"

Nate just laughed. Jaxon wrinkled his nose.

"Anyways," he said, "how did it go? Any luck?"

"A little. Looks like the folks at HQ are still scrambling to cover their asses after what we did. There's no sign of anyone looking for us. I think they're writing this one off and hoping that broadcast confuses people for a while."

Jaxon nodded. They'd been expecting a better forgery on the part of the terrorists, but what had been aired had been sufficient for most of the newspapers to proclaim the attempt a failure, and the STAR members and rescued students dead. No one had even come close to figuring out the identities of the mysterious force that opposed Danya. Someone had clearly been pulling strings at the major news services. It was totally irrelevant. Jaxon was pretty sure they'd still be able to accomplish their end objective.

"What took you so long?" he asked.

"Communications were a bitch," Nate replied. "Plus, goddamn, man, we had to land in the one town in the world without a fucking Mickey D's? I've got promises to keep."

It wasn't enough to coax a smile.

After a second of silence, Nate actually looked sheepish and continued. "No, I talked to people. We have some people in place to help us, to spring the story and all. I think it'll work."

The plan now was pretty simple. They had to blow open the story of the survivors, and they had to do it in such a way that they couldn't be suppressed or killed by the terrorists. This might have been hard, except for a few key decisions they'd made.

First and foremost, they hadn't told any of the students anything about their organization. Nate had claimed they were North Korean irregulars; Jaxon had simply refused to answer questions. They hadn't shared a single piece of information about Danya, SOTF, or the terrorist organization. They were not going to repeat the mistakes of Version Three.

Back then, the students had freed themselves, but, in so doing, they had spent a long time poking around Danya's files. Whatever they'd actually found, they'd potentially gotten their hands on information that would be absolutely devastating to the SOTF program. With the risk of, for example, the identities of his contacts and sources within the United States potentially jeopardized, Danya had put a good amount of resources into hunting them down. STAR had also been slow on the draw. By the time they'd been in position to repatriate the students, Rizzolo had already been home free and mechanisms had been put in place to prevent any word from being leaked. Danya had still held all the cards.

It was why time was of the essence now. It was why they were trying to get the kids transferred home within the week. Well, not home, not exactly. They would all need time, need time in the hospital in some cases, in intensive psychiatric care, as a whole. This was the sort of stuff that made therapists rich. They would need to be debriefed at length. Information would surely trickle back to the terrorists from that. They were counting on that fact, counting on the students' total ignorance and the fact that the terrorists were still reeling to keep those rescued safe from reprisal.

And some of them might not even want to go home. Jaxon was hoping they'd be able to accommodate any wishes in that respect, but it was pretty much the least important item on his list of priorities at the moment.

"You really think this is all going to work out?" Nate asked.

"I do. Wish it could've worked a bit better, but I think we'll make it."

Nate didn't reply.

Jaxon sighed, and examined his hands for a moment. Finally, he spoke again.

"You really still think we did the right thing?"

"Damn straight. Can you imagine what it'd be like in that hospital with Lombardi roaming around, trying to stifle them with pillows or shit like that? And they will think more next time before shooting each other. They'll have to."


They watched the traffic pass. Nate scratched his head a little, rubbed his eye.

"They'll make sure everyone gets home safe," he said.


"The good old government. It is an election year, after all, and President Bridges' numbers aren't looking so hot. Fuck, I don't think even this'll save him, but they'll damn well try. I'm tempted to go live with an endorsement for whoever's opposing that fuck. Then maybe we won't have to do all the work ourselves next time. Get someone competent in the big seat."

"Let's just hope you're right," Jaxon said.

And he did. He hoped it would all come out alright, but he wouldn't believe it until everyone was home again, until he saw the headlines and the tearful reunions. Maybe he wouldn't believe it even then. They'd come back for Dodd again, after all. This was the sort of thing you never really left behind. No matter what became of SOTF, Jaxon would always glance behind him at night when he heard a strange noise, would always tense up when he entered a plane or a bus. But it was all worth it. For what they'd managed this time, everything they'd suffered was worth it.
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