Jason could feel the fog of sleep fading. He didn’t want to get up. He wanted to rest. He felt so tired. As busy as the work of Crescendo kept him, Jason valued any hour of sleep he got. But why was he asleep? He remembered something. A mission? Yeah, he was on a mission. What happened.
His mind moved slowly, making it quite a chore to get in touch with reality. It was like someone had simply turned his brain off and it was having to reboot. He faintly remembered feeling like this once before, but couldn’t remember when.
His eyes creaked open, only to be flooded with an intense white light. He shut them. Too much brightness for his sleepy eyes to handle at the moment. Clack. Clack. Clack. Someone was walking his way. Whoever it was, they were wearing heels, as normal shoes would have made a duller sound. If they were wearing heels they were a woman. A woman meant he was no longer near the field as field agents were always male.
Clack. Clack. Clack Female members of the military did not wear heels as part of their uniform, but rather, boots. Heels were part of the uniforms for female officers in the Society Intelligence Magnet. The SIM formed a better part of his worst memories. Was he in some kind of SIM building?
Clack. Clack. Clack. The floor was either wooden or tiled. Tempo guessed tiled, based up the slight ceramic tone to the sound carried. Tiled surfaces meant the surface was meant to get messy as it was easier to clean than carpet or wood. What would kind of room would a SIM building have that could get messy? His only thoughts were their labs for experiments and their infirmaries. God, he hoped it wasn’t a lab. They had promised him eight years ago that they were done experimenting on him.
“Jason Vernal Lightfoot. Call sign: Tempo. You know, I always wonder how you military boys come up with your call signs.” Chatty. Definitely someone from SIM. They always talked casually right before they meant to do something horrible to you.
“I didn’t come up with my call sign, ma‘am. It was given to me.” He made sure to use the proper titles until he found out what her rank was. SIM officers had a history of being bitchy when they felt they weren’t getting their proper respect.
“Right. You’re part of a shell force. Your names are picked for you when you’re selected for service. I forgot about that. Been so long since I’ve dealt with anyone from a pure shell force.”
Why was he here? His mind was clearing. He remembered being attacked. Maybe he was in an infirmary. “Ma’am, where am I? I don’t remember coming here.”
She sighed. He could hear her open up some kind of binder. “You don’t remember yet? Your unit was attacked. You were going after an Odreili operative that goes by the code named ‘Burn.’ Do you remember any of this?”
Tempo nodded his head, he did remember that. He recalled removing some traps Burn had set for anyone coming for him. He remembered being annoyed with Cadence. He set up and then, something happened. His mind was still foggy on exactly what that something was though. “Yeah, it’s starting to come to me. That’s right–Staccato entered the target’s cabin and he wasn’t there anymore. Then, I remember… I remember an explosion. That’s right! An explosion of green fire. What happened?”
The woman pulled something out of her binder. “This ‘Burn’ guy seemed to be ready for you.”
“Impossible. I swept the area for traps. I used my shell’s stealth field to enter without being seen. He couldn’t have known we were converging on him.”
“I should correct myself then. He wasn’t ready for you, but shortly before your attack, he was warned of your unit’s position and intent to apprehend him. Burn simply stepped into his shell and readied himself for a fight.”
“There were rumors of Burn having a shell but I saw none when I swept through that cabin.”
“Seems he was able to hide it very well then. We’re not sure how exactly. You see, it seems his shell is a Skulk-class, just like yours. He had a stealth generator. That was how he disappeared when the soldier you called Staccato entered. He snuck behind Staccato and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. How he defeated him is still a mystery as it seems Burn began his fight by disabling Staccato’s communications unit. Either way it’s very impressive. If memory serves me correct, Staccato pilots a Mammoth-class. I don’t know many Skulk pilots that would dare attack a Mammoth head on.”
“I sure as hell wouldn’t.” Jason may have been a Skulk pilot but there was no way he’d dare fight any Mammoth in close-quarters. They were designed to dish out punishment and lots of it. Skulks were mostly designed for scouting and sniping. He had heard of a few pilots who used their stealth abilities to fight up close, but he’d never seen anyone who could do that and survive for very long.
“Anyway, details are still sketchy, but from the intel we’ve gathered we think Burn quickly disabled your friend and then got the hell away from that cabin. A few moments later the cabin blew up. Military investigators are still searching through the wreckage to see if any data can be salvaged.”
Jason decided to test his eyes against the harsh light in front of him. He squinted at first and let his eyes adjust. “I remember the green fire then… then I was attacked? Yes! That’s right, I was attacked. I was attacked by four shells. Two Element-classes and two Engineer-classes. The Elementers were yellow and blue. The Engineers were white and red. It was the strangest thing because the blue and red ones appeared to be…”
“Y… yes. Ma’am, how did you know that?”
He could hear a small amount of amusement in her voice. “I’m privy to some intelligence that someone like you just wouldn’t know.”
He grumbled. SIMs were always so damn arrogant. As his eyes adjusted more, he glanced at the woman. She was very short and had brown hair. “Fair enough. So what happened to me? I remember them… that’s right. After the yellow, blue, and red one teamed up to disable my suit, the white one used a shell-pilot impeder and knocked me out. More Odreili agents? I didn’t think Odreil had shell teams with that kind of fire power.”
“They do, just not as many as the SOC has. But they were not Odreili agents. They are members of an Eremmian resistance cell.”
“What? An Eremmian insurrection group has a team of four shells at it’s disposal? How the hell would a bunch of rabble-rousers get shells of that caliber? They looked and performed like they were made by true shell technicians and operated by actual shell pilots.”
She laughed at him. God, this woman was maddening. “They don’t have four shells. They have six… and growing.”
As his sight grew sharper, he saw that the woman was wearing a white lab coat. She looked to be in her late 20’s but he got the feeling she was a bit older. Under the lab coat she wore a green shirt that displayed a hint of cleavage. Her toned legs were framed by a short black skirt. Definitely not a SIM uniform. But if she wasn’t SIM, what was she? “Six? You have to be kidding me! How can you be so sure?”
“Because, honey, I’m a part of that cell. I’m part of the Eremmian resistance. You are currently our guest.”