I want to thank my amazing beta, Trish, for investing her time and mind on this work, helping me make it better. You are truly great!
Maureen, my queen of inspiration :) probably would never even try writing a multichapter fic, if it weren't for you, so thank you. I hope this story won't disappoint you.
To the readers - it could be classified as a "what if" story, but I am more into calling it a slight AU considering that I changed a few things, but the main plot stays the same. The current events of the plot will be interlaced with flashbacks to the past.
Multiple Threat Alert Center
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
The heavy, regular sound of marching is not uncommon within these pastel walls. The footsteps always echo in the same steady rhythm, even with dozens of sailors walking in different directions through the recently refurbished Naval Support Activity building. The familiar tempo, somehow always resounding in the background of everyday work, often works as a steadying point. Yet, as she follows the stocky Petty Officer Delgado down the corridor in the less crowded, and heavily guarded wing, she feels her heart pounding in sync with their loud steps.
Being called in by her own CO rarely gets her blood rushing and pulse quick, but an unexpected command to report to the MTAC has never happened before.
Catherine has been in the Center exactly two times in the past ten months since her transfer to Bahrain, both being a necessity of her work. They had both been scheduled in advance, and approved by a vastly high chain of command, for the purposes of assembling and crossing data for an ongoing operation. Being pulled away from her work by a Petty Officer stating that the Captain himself requests her presence in MTAC immediately, however, is definitely a first time occurrence. One that raced her heart for a second as she stood to attention, the gears in her mind processing all the possible reasons behind that command.
The walk from her station takes less than five minutes, but the time seems to stretch, prodding her mind with options. She keeps breathing steadily, the regular, shallow intakes of breath slowing her heart rate and letting her regain full control over her nervously trembling body.
There's not a chance that any aspect of her work might be questioned - she pays attention to details and protocol. Though, admittedly, there are a few stains on her impeccable resume, minor regulation breaks and acts conducted under the radar. A part of her instinctively raises the fear of it being discovered, but the logical part of her mind assures her that wouldn't be the way to handle it.
No, there is definitely something else at stake.
As they approach the two-winged, code-secured door, two guards instinctively tense, briefly glancing at them. Recognizing the officer escorting Catherine, they shift their gaze back. Petty Officer Delgado quickly taps the code into the panel and the doors open with a swish.
Contrary to many beliefs, the Multiple Threat Alert Center is not an enormous room, often portrayed as a resemblance of an academic auditorium combined with NASA's headquarters. Granted, it is quite spacious, but only with a few people working in it. One of the walls consists of screens, like big glass tiles joined in one surface, usually displaying a geographical profile map with pulled up files of currently conducted missions. Catherine's gaze slides along the long, black counter on the left, with a set of computers, exactly four people working on them, their fingers scrambling over the keyboards.
Her eyes shift towards two men directly opposite the entrance, under the row of clocks displaying different hours in time zones all around the globe. Captain Hasting's presence is not surprising, he is said to be visiting MTAC regularly, persistent on being up to date with every detail, but the dress blues he's wearing suggest he's been - just like Catherine - unexpectedly pulled from his occupation, probably some official meeting.
And this is a detail indicating the situation that brought them both to this place is serious, making Catherine's palms sweat as the natural fear creeps in.
Petty Officer Delgado nods shortly, leaving her standing on the spot, while he strides towards the Captain and Lieutenant, with whom he speaks. Their gazes shift up to glance at her briefly, both quickly returning to their previous conversation. Catherine knows the protocol, so she stays in the exact same spot, waiting to be approached or summoned.
She quickly gives up the attempt to read the Captain's body language in hope of getting any hint from the way his rigid body reacts to the Lieutenant's report. As far as she knows, they might not even talk about anything that involves her anyhow. Instead, she slightly turns her head, looking at the wall of screens.
The combined glass tiles display a satellite image of what seems to be a foreign area, the main focus the remains of a burning convoy. Splashes of dark green suggest an open, though secluded, space, a valley with the wilderness around and an outline of hills in the background. Burnt pieces of vehicles are scattered across the road, along with parts of military equipment. For someone who has seen the aftermath of bombs exploding, fallen soldiers' bodies and clearly recognisable - and Catherine, unfortunately, has seen it before. There's also an upturned transportation truck on the side of the road, a chain of bodies fallen all around it, probably killed while protecting whatever, or whoever, was inside of it.
The whole image is suddenly disturbed, when a set of three screens on the leftmost side black out, only to, within a few seconds, upload an enlarged personal file. A combination of pictures and reports, which Catherine knows all too well, makes her heart stop in its rhythm.
The unhidden smirk on the cold, scrawny face of Anton Hesse, brings back a flash of memory, renewing the bitter, metallic taste in her mouth and the numbing pain.
Eyes drifting back and forth between Hesse's photo and the ongoing scene of the attacked convoy, she notices a silhouette still moving close to one of the bodies.
Can it be Hesse himself? Is he the one responsible for the attack on military transport? If so, then why isn't he retreating?
Catherine's train of thoughts stops abruptly as she notices a tall figure approaching her, from the corner of her eye. The Captain's body is rather lanky, still holding the remains of illness he fought with recently. But his eyes are still bright and attentive, his moves energetic and sharp, distinctive for most of military men. Standing to attention, she stares ahead, saluting him. "At ease," something in his tone increases her worry and she clenches her hands harder, blunt fingernails digging into the insides of her palms.
Not daring to avert her gaze, though it tempts her to look at the satellite image to check on that one survivor, Catherine keeps her eyes fixed on a far point. Looking up at the man before her, when he speaks to her directly, in a tone much softer, but filled with compassion.
The Captain's eyes bore into hers as he says, "Lieutenant McGarrett, there's been a tragic incident."