Qatar, Arabian Peninsula. May 2nd, 2007.
Whenever someone showed up at a military base wearing a dark suit and bland red tie, you knew it was going to be a bad day.
That's what Captain William Lennox thought as he entered General Sharpe's office. He cast his gaze to the suited man with dark hair and tan skin sitting in front of the base commander's desk, one leg crossed over the other. The guy didn't seem like the typical government bureaucrat. He was middle-aged, but appeared in decent shape. Lennox also picked up an aura to this guy. He may dress like a DC desk jockey, but he had seen action before.
The Suit gave him an insincere smile.
Yeah, this isn't gonna be good.
"Captain Lennox reporting as ordered." He saluted Sharpe. The bald, stocky general returned it.
"Have a seat, Captain." Sharpe waved him to the other plastic folding chair next to The Suit.
"A pleasure to meet you, Captain Lennox." The Suit reached out his hand, that plastic smile still on his hawkish face. "The General's been telling me all about you."
"Thank you." Lennox gave him the briefest of handshakes. "And you are . . .?"
"Uh-huh." Lennox had worked with Agency types before during his Special Forces career. Some were good, others a pain in the ass. His gut told him Simmons was in the latter category.
"I'm very impressed with your file, very impressed."
"Thank you." Lennox noted the tone on Simmons's voice. He sounded more like a politician trying to garner a vote than someone genuinely impressed.
"You got two different tribes in Southern Afghanistan to work together to fight the Taliban, captured three high value targets in Iraq. Then, of course, there's your Silver Star for rescuing the crew of a downed Blackhawk under fire."
"You said you wanted my best man, Lennox is it," said General Sharpe.
Lennox let out an impatient breath. "If I may, General, what's this about?"
Other senior officers would probably get pissed about Lennox's bluntness. Not Sharpe, thankfully. The CO of Joint Special Operations Command Base Qatar respected Lennox's disdain for bullshit.
The general grinned. "I'll let Mister Simmons explain."
"Thank you." Simmons shifted in his chair to face Lennox. "There's really nothing to this mission, at least for you and your men."
Lennox said nothing, just nodded. Red lights and warning klaxons erupted in his brain. Whenever anyone told a special ops soldier there was "nothing to" a mission, the opposite was usually true.
"If there's nothing to it, why do you need someone like me? You can bring the mess hall crew with you. It'd do 'em good to get out and about."
Simmons chuckled softly. "Funny, Captain." He removed a piece of paper from a manila folder and laid it on Sharpe's desk. A red X had been drawn in an area of Southern Iraq.
"Two days ago," said Simmons, "elements of the Third Battalion, First Marines came upon a cave system approximately eighteen miles west of Basra. They engaged a small number of insurgents and discovered they'd been using the cave to store weapons and ammunition. But that's not what interests me."
"What does interest you about the place?" asked Lennox.
"The Marines found something that's . . . unrelated to American operations in Iraq."
"What would that be?"
Simmons's plastic smile grew wider. "Sorry, Captain. That's on a need to know basis."
Lennox grunted. "And I don't need to know, of course."
"Of course. I've been assigned by my superiors to collect what the Marines found. You and your men will be assigned to protect this . . . precious cargo until we return here. Then one of our planes will take it back to our base."
"Simple as that."
"Simple as that." Simmons tacked on a reassuring smile that made Lennox feel anything but reassured.
"So what's the nature of this 'precious cargo.'?"
"Okay, then. Is this thing something that will kill us if we breathe it in or make us grow an extra head?"
"All I can say is, you and your men will not need any MOPP gear." Simmons used the acronym for Mission Oriented Protective Posture, suits designed to protect soldiers from the effects of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear strikes.
After a pause, Simmons continued. "Captain, all you and your men have to do is stand around with your guns, look tough and make sure nothing happens to our precious cargo. Once I leave Qatar, you can go back to your usual Green Beret John Wayne type stuff. Okay?"
Lennox glared at him, then looked over to Sharpe. The general shrugged in resignation. "His orders check out, Captain. We're to give Mister Simmons whatever support he asks for."
"Yes, sir. If there's nothing more, I better go brief my guys." Lennox stood, adding under his breath, "Not that there's much to brief 'em on."
Lennox saluted and stepped toward the door.
He turned back to Simmons. "Yeah?"
"Make sure along with your rifles and machine guns, bring along some stuff that goes boom."
Lennox's brow furrowed. "Any particular reason why?"
"Let's just chalk it up to the old saying, 'Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.'"
Lennox didn't think he could grow any more suspicious of this mission, but Simmons proved him wrong. He looked over to General Sharpe. The concern in the other man's eyes was evident. Lennox easily read Sharpe's unspoken message.
Watch your ass.
With one final, wary look at Simmons, Lennox exited the base commander's office.
You bet your ass I'm gonna watch my ass.
Lennox tried to reign in his apprehension as he marched along the tarmac with the seven other men in his unit. He eyed Simmons standing by the open rear ramp of a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor. The guy still wore that damn dark suit of his. Lennox, meanwhile, was loaded down with his usual combat gear, along with some last minute additions. He had attached an M203 grenade launcher under the barrel of his M4 rifle. Two 12-round bandoliers of extra grenades criss-crossed his lean torso. He also carried extra hand grenades and four blocks of C4.
If Simmons wanted him to bring stuff that went boom, Lennox was damn sure going to load up.
"Look at that asshole." A tall, slender black man next to Lennox nodded toward Simmons. "Just standing there like he owns the place. I haven't even met the dude and already I don't like him."
"Just wait," Lennox said to Technical Sergeant Robert Epps, the Air Force Combat Controller assigned to the team. "When you do meet him, you'll find out he's even a bigger asshole."
"I don't know, Captain," A stout Hispanic man with two-day old stubble spoke. "This whole thing sounds pretty sketch."
"You don't have to tell me, Fig," Lennox answered Staff Sergeant Jorge Figueroa.
"I mean, what the hell's so friggin' top secret this douchebag can't tell us?" Fig shifted the AT4 rocket launcher slung over his right shoulder.
Epps looked over his shoulder at him. "Maybe they found Osama bin Laden's address on a Post-It note."
"Maybe they found a crashed UFO," said a skinny soldier with glasses. "You know, like at Roswell."
The beefy soldier behind Sergeant Donnelly groaned. "You don't really believe that bullshit, do you?"
Donnelly swung around, walking backwards as he spoke with First Sergeant Lieberthal. "C'mon, Top. How many stories are there about the US Government hiding evidence of extra-terrestrial life?"
"How many stories are there about vampires and leprechauns? Doesn't make them real, does it?"
"Whatever this dipshit Simmons is gonna have us do," said Epps, "I just hope it doesn't get us all killed."
"Amen to that." Lennox took a long pull of water from the nozzle of his Camelbak. It wasn't even 1300 Hours yet and already the temperature was in triple digits. Sweat slid down his round face and dampened the close-cropped dark hair under his desert boonie hat. It was bound to be a hell of a lot hotter when they reached Iraq.
"Gentlemen." Simmons smile looked even more fake than the average stewardess welcoming you aboard an airliner. "Good to see you all. Let's get squared away. Iraq awaits."
He turned and strode up the Osprey's ramp.
"Yup. You're right." Epps looked at Lennox. "He's an even bigger asshole than I thought."
The Spec Ops team headed into the cargo hold of the V-22, with Donnelly saying, "I hope the in-flight movie's good."
Minutes later, the tilt-rotor, with its shark-like fuselage and massive wingtip propellers, was airborne and heading northwest. Simmons ignored the team, which was fine with Lennox. He had no interest in getting to know the jagoff who wouldn't tell them dick about this mission. He just pressed his back against the aircraft's hull, staring over the heads of the soldiers across from him. Lennox prayed everything went smoothly and Simmons would be out of his hair, and his life, as soon as possible.
He turned his thoughts away from CIA dickheads and "need to know" missions and thought about his wife Sarah and their two-month-old daughter Annabelle.
The daughter he had yet to see.
A lump formed in his throat. Lennox couldn't think of anything more he wanted in his entire life than to just hold little Annabelle in his arms.
One more month. Thirty-three days to be exact, then he'd rotate back to The States.
He looked at Simmons. Unless this asshole gets me killed.
Something buzzed in the CIA man's pocket. He pulled out a satellite phone. "Simmons . . . what?"
The shocked tone in Simmons's voice made the other soldiers turn to him.
"When . . . How . . . I thought it was stable. How the hell could a sinkhole form . . . Get it covered, ASAP . . . I don't care with what, I want covered. Now." He thumbed then end button. "Dammit."
Simmons shoved the satphone in his pocket and stomped toward the flight deck.
Epps leaned closer to Lennox. "That didn't sound good."
"No, it didn't."
Lennox chewed on his lower lip as he turned toward the front of the Osprey, where Simmons was demanding the pilots go faster.
What the hell did we get ourselves into?
Soundwave, in the form of a communications satellite, stared down at the Earth, just as he had for decades, since the almighty Megatron assigned him to this world. An ugly world. Too blue, too white, too organic for him. He preferred the vast, metallic landscape of Cybertron, or the other worlds the Decepticons had mecha-formed.
But this was his mission, assigned to him by Megatron. He would perform it without question, without complaint. Hopefully, he would find what he'd been searching for all this time. The key to restore not only the Decepticon army, but Cybertron itself, to its former glory.
At least the humans kept him entertained. While they may be small, frail and made of flesh, they had excelled in their capacity to destroy one another. Granted, their weapons were primitive compared to those wielded by Transformers, but they still slaughtered each other in droves. He pulled in video feeds of helicopters firing rockets at a group of so-called terrorists in Afghanistan. Another group of so-called terrorists fired primitive – even by human standards – rockets into the small nation of Israel. Tuareg rebels and army troops traded small arms fire near a village in the Kidal Region of Mali. Even outside of the war zones there was plenty of violence. Police in New York engaged in a gun battle with a group of White Supremacists. A human who apparently consumed a large amount of the mind-altering liquid known as alcohol led police in Manchester, England on a high-speed chase that resulted in damage to a dozen vehicles. Civilians and riot police clashed in Rio de Janeiro over . . . something. Soundwave didn't know exactly what. Maybe some government policy, maybe a sporting event. Humans did not need much reason to act like savage organic beasts.
They may destroy each other before we have the opportunity to do it.
Soundwave was watching a video of a group of bearded men beheading another man in the name of the entity they worshipped when his sensors picked up a harsh, clicking sound. He shut down all other feeds, concentrating on the new signal.
This was it! This was what he had been searching for for the past few decades. Finally, the rebirth of the Decepticon Empire was within their grasp.
"Soundwave to Dirge. Signal detected. Transmitting coordinates. Move to secure."
Bumblebee knew how important his current assignment was, how the very future of the Autobots might depend on it.
Still, how could he not have fun on Earth?
He sat in the parking lot of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, one of those large, indoor shopping structures the humans loved so much. His sensors had tapped into various computer networks, broadcast antennas and satellite dishes. If "the signal" was anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, Bumblebee would detect it.
But he did not pick up any signal today, or any other day during his sixty plus years on Earth. He might have succumb to boredom had it not been for two of the humans greatest inventions.
Radio and television.
"Do you still think I'm crazy standin' here today? I couldn't make you love me, but I always dreamed about living in your radio. How do you like me now?"
Joy flowed through Bumblebee. He so enjoyed Toby Keith, and Clint Black and Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and Aretha Franklin and Within Temptation and thousands of other singers and bands. And new ones debuted on the airwaves every year, like that Taylor Swift female. What a voice she had!
I love Earth. But he knew the day would come when his mission here would be over. Either he found what he'd been looking for all these years, or Optimus Prime would recall him. Maybe it would be tomorrow, maybe it would fifty years from now. But it would happen. Sure he had countless hours of music, TV shows and movies stored in his memory banks, but he would miss out on all the new ones the humans came up with year in and year out. He'd also have to give up his latest chassis, a gold and black Chevy Camero, his coolest one ever.
But I am keeping my Earth name. He'd grown fond of it, much more than his Cybertronian name.
Bumblebee switched from the radio to the TV, picking up Doctor Who. He couldn't even begin to point out all the scientific inaccuracies of that show. Still, it was entertaining. He also had to admit the Daleks were badasses. They could probably give the Autobots a heck of fight, if they were real.
Or imagine them against the Decepticons.
How many of those murderous rustbuckets could the Daleks destroy before –
"Heeeey, Bumblebee!" A high-pitched, nasally voice came over his radio.
"I read you, Powerglide. What is it?"
"Are you ready for this? I found it."
"The signal!" Powerglide blurted. "You know, the thing Optimus sent us to planet for how many years ago?"
Bumblebee found himself lost for words. It took a second to process. The signal. The signal. Could it be true? Was the end of this mission within sight?
"Where is it?"
"The Arabian Peninsula. I'm transmitting rendezvous coordinates to you now. Let's move on this, Bee."
"I'm way ahead of you. See you soon."
Tires squealing, Bumblebee peeled out of the parking space and sped off.
TO BE CONTINUED