By Jason Ulloa
Original story by Moonsong
Continued with her permission.
Jack slowed the vehicle to a stop as Diane pulled out the map and checked their position. As he watched her determine their location with the GPS system, he felt a bit more confident in their probability of success. It was a good thing that she asked about renting one along with the Jeep he rented.
"Okay, we're about 21 miles due south of the proving grounds," Diane concluded, looking up from the map and pointing slightly toward her right. "If we head in that direction, we should get there pretty soon."
He nodded and threw a quick glance to the back, where their gear was sitting in a large dark green bag. Inside the unzipped bag he could see the guns that they borrowed, along with their binoculars, folding knives, lockpicking tools, wire cutters, extra ammo clips, silencers, flashbangs, and their holsters. Behind the seat, there were a couple of red, plastic fuel canisters, both of them completely full. They were in a desert, after all.
"Think we should gear up, Diane?" he asked, jerking a thumb behind him.
She glanced at the bag in the back for a moment and nodded. "We're close enough. They'll probably see us coming, so we can't waste any time once we get there." She reached into the back and grabbed the bag as Jack turned the engine off. "If we're lucky, we can be in and out of there before the sun goes down." She pulled out her gun and an ammo clip from the bag and gazed down at them for a moment. "If we're really lucky, we'll have Hotaru and Ryoku with us, too."
"If they're there, right?" he asked, hearing the worry in her voice as he pulled out his own gear from the bag.
"They're there," she stated, her eyes narrowing in resolution. "They have to be." She shoved her clip into her gun with a loud click.
Jack stared at her as she pulled out the rest of her gear from the bag. From the way she was methodically performing her tasks - from attaching the silencer to her gun and placing it into the holster to arranging the rest of the loose equipment into small pouches that hung from her belt and holster - he could tell she was trying to keep her mind off the possibility that the children might not be there. There was also the possibility that even if they had been there, they could've been moved again.
The Nijizuishou trail ended here. That didn't necessarily mean that their trail would end here as well. And if they couldn't get a lead here...
"Ready, Jack?" Diane asked as she slipped her holster on over her shoulders.
Jack blinked as he was brought back to reality. "Almost," he replied, returning to his task.
She went back to her seat, but hesitated before climbing in. "...Jack?"
"Hm?" he said, pausing for a moment and glancing up at her.
She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated again. Her gaze dropped down to the dry, arid ground at her feet as she tried to will the words to come out.
The blonde agent shook her head and gave him a crooked smile. "Forget it. Now's not the time to be thinking negatively." She hopped back into the vehicle and slammed the door behind her. "Now hurry your ass up. It's hot out here and we don't got all day."
'So, that was on her mind, too,' he thought as he finished preparing and climbed into the Jeep. His eyes took on a more determined cast as the engine roared back to life and they continued their southern advance.
Jed stepped into the Surveillance Room and glanced over to where Mel was standing, studying one of the many monitors that lined the console in front of him. The guard, whose shoulder Mel was viewing the monitors over, continued to go about his business while pretending that he was still the only occupant of the room.
"You sure it's okay to let them sneak in here?" Mel asked without moving his eyes from the top center screen, which displayed an unidentified vehicle approaching the compound.
"Max's orders," Jed replied with an indifferent shrug of his shoulders. "Besides, it doesn't matter to me where I kill them, just as long as I get to kill them."
Mel glanced at him over his shoulder. "Personal?"
"They've seen my face."
The silver-haired man nodded and turned his gaze back to the monitor. It made sense. Of course, he'd want to kill anyone who could act as a witness against him.
"Besides, it does make some sense to have them come to us where we can kill them on our terms."
Mel nodded again, then tilted his head as if considering something. "Any word on what to do with our two guests?" he inquired as he gave Jed another glance over his shoulder.
Jed frowned as he gave the question some thought. Max had given him the go-ahead to use his own judgment concerning his captives. Returning them would be too much trouble, even if he wanted to use them for ransom. Besides, he didn't even need the money. He could just kill them, but they were still useful as bargaining chips. After all, those two were part of the reason the detective and that woman were after him.
"Keep an eye on them," he finally replied. "They're part of the reason our guests are here."
"Should we move them?"
"Maybe. Leave them where they are for now. I'll figure out where to move them later. Where's Zed?"
"Blondie?" Mel asked with a small hint of annoyance in his voice. "He's probably playing around with that kid again." He let out a small, annoyed sigh. "He always does it at this time if he's not working on something else. I'm surprised he hasn't killed the boy by now."
Jed's lips tightened in a barely perceptible frown. Sometimes Zed's tendency to hold a grudge went too far. With a light, irritated snort, he turned and left.
Once the Proving Grounds came into view, Jack stopped the vehicle and brought out his binoculars. Beside him, Diane did the same.
A quick scan showed that although the compound wasn't that big, it was still decently fortified for what was supposed to be a privately-owned test site. The area was surrounded by a chain-link fence that had a large coil of barbed wire on top and a security camera mounted on every corner. There were a couple sentries walking patrols, but not too many to make it impossible to sneak up to the compound.
There were many more sentries patrolling the interior of the compound, especially near three major areas. The first area was a hanger and air strip, presumably for test aircraft and the like. There were a couple of what looked like jets and fighter aircraft, probably for government contracts or something. One or two looked like experimental aircraft, or at least a type of jet that neither one of them had seen before.
The second area was a launchpad with a rocket sitting in place. More than likely, this rocket was carrying the satellite with the last Nijizuishou inside it. The rocket was supposed to launch sometime that day, and indeed, it looked like it was being prepped for launch. Small tendrils of smoke were wafting from the bottom of the rocket, a portent of things to come.
The final area was a large building that was more than likely the main control area for the entire Proving Grounds. If Hotaru and Ryoku were here, they would definitely have to be in that building. While they were in there, they could also stop the rocket's launch and recover the final Nijizuishou to boot.
"Those cameras are going to be a problem," she reported as she scanned the outside of the compound. "From the looks of things, I don't think we'll be able to get any closer without avoiding notice."
"Should we wait until dark?" Jack suggested as he put away his binoculars. "We might be able to sneak in that way."
"That might be best, but do we have that much time?" she countered as she lowered her binoculars, her lips tightening in irritation and worry. "The longer we take, the more time they'll have to prepare for us."
"What's the alternative? Guns blazing? We're not exactly equipped for that."
Diane grimaced. Their options were dwindling. "We don't have time to wait. We should stick with the original plan, but we'll have to assume they already know we're coming." She took another quick glance through her binoculars. "Fortunately, it doesn't seem like they have a lot of guards."
"This *is* supposed to be a test center and launching site for an aerospace corporation," Jack reminded her. "It'd seem pretty strange to staff the place with enough security to defend a small military base against invasion."
"You'd think so," she said as she put her binoculars away. "But, there's still more here than what you'd expect a privately-owned test site to have."
"You think the guards know what's going on?" he asked, his expression concerned. "I'd hate to think we'd have to shoot anyone who isn't involved."
Diane snorted. "Jack, Hotaru and Ryoku are in there. They're involved."
Jack said nothing as he turned and exited the vehicle, shut the door, and started for the security fence near the gate. Diane quickly did the same.
There were a few rocks and boulders to take cover behind, but there was a twenty foot gap between the closest boulder and the fence. Even if no one had seen them by now, they would be seen for certain once they tried to rush the fence. And even if they reached the fence unseen, they had to cut through it, since the ringed barbed wire on top was too big and thick to cut through with the cutters they brought with them.
The two shared a look and exchanged a grim nod. There was no other choice but to go forward.
"Yes, I see them," Mel acknowledged as he observed Jack and Diane rush the fence on the monitor. Once they reached the fence, the pair brought out their wire cutters and started cutting a hole in the fence.
"Hmph. Told them they should've electrified it," he grumbled as he shook his head and grabbed a radio. He started to leave but stopped before exiting the room.
"Keep an eye on them," he ordered, turning toward the guard. "Pass the word. They are not to be engaged by anyone but Jed, Blondie, and myself. Everyone else is to herd them toward the cell block. Silent alert mode.
"Once they get to the cell block, then sound the alarm. It'll be easier to take them out if they're inside trying to get out rather than outside trying to get in, especially if they have those two kids to worry about." He turned to leave again. "Keep me posted on channel 3."
"Understood," the guard replied and turned back to watching the monitor as Mel left.
Jed turned the corner and continued to stalk down the hallway toward the holding cells in search of Zed. After taking a few steps, he spotted his target coming down the hallway from the other end.
"You," he said, pointing an accusative finger at the man as he glared at him. "Where do you think you're going?"
The blonde man halted and frowned. "I'm going to check on the prisoners," he replied, staring back defensively. "It's my responsibility to keep tabs on them and make sure they don't escape."
"It's also your responsibility to make sure that our package is prepped and ready for shipping," he countered. "Is it?"
Zed's mouth tightened as he went quiet.
"I thought so," Jed continued. "Look, we've got company, so get your ass over to the control room and make sure everything's going according to plan. The last thing we need is for our guests to screw everything up."
"All right! All right!" he growled as he waved Jed off. "I'll take care of it."
"Wait," Jed interrupted before Zed could leave.
"What?" he growled, not bothering to hide his impatience.
With a scowl, he thrust a hand in his trouser pocket, fished out a small set of keys, and flung them at Jed, who snatched them out of the air, indifferent to the fact that the keys were headed straight for his face.
Zed's scowl deepened as he whirled and stalked off, grumbling under his breath as he went.
Hotaru figeted with the bottom corners of her uniform short as her gaze kept jumping between keeping an eye on her recovering boyfriend and watching the door. It was usually around this time that the blonde man came to "check" on them. Of course, this was just an excuse to beat on Ryoku for a couple of minutes, and then fix a cold gaze on her as if to remind her why he was doing it. She needed no reminder.
The first time he visited after their transfer to their new shared cell - which was actually one of their old cells, but with actual furnishings in it, such as a mattress for their bed (all furnishings were removed since the cells weren't being used for so long) - he brought them the old guard uniforms they now wore. The uniforms were the same size and while they were loose on Ryoku, they were way too big for her. They didn't provide any belts, so she ended up discarding the pants. It was just as well, as the shirt was so large; it went almost to her knees.
While it felt good to finally have some clothes to wear and to finally be able to see her boyfriend again, it wasn't without its price, as the silver-haired man had told them. Ever since their abortive escape attempt, the blonde man tended to visit their cell quite often and at the same time on each visit. After he brought the uniforms on his first visit, he backhanded her across the face, telling them that what they were getting was more than they deserved as prisoners. Ryoku started to leap at him to keep him from harming her further, but the blonde man had already pulled out a gun and had it leveled at her head.
From then on, it was the same routine. The blonde man would show up with gun drawn and demand that she approach him while Ryoku remained on the other side of the room. He would then strike her once, whether it was a backhand or a slap across the face or a quick punch to the stomach, then shove her toward her boyfriend. After that, he would approach Ryoku and proceed to punch and kick him until he was satisfied. Most days it was over very quickly, but there were a few where he would beat on him until he couldn't stand anymore. With the man always holding his gun pointed at her, there was nothing Ryoku could do to fight back or even defend himself.
Once again her eyes trailed back to her boyfriend, who was lying down on the small bed they both shared. The cell seemed to be designed to hold one occupant only, so they had to share everything in it. There was a lot of embarrassment the first few days, but they had quickly overcome that out of necessity.
Ryoku had a lot of bruising all over his body and a little bit on his face as well. Most of it was concealed by the uniform he wore, but she knew it was there. He slept a lot as of late, mostly to help his body recover after particularly severe punishment. She noted - and with some private jealousy - that he recovered quickly. It took her much longer to recover from lesser treatment.
It was nearing the time of the blonde man's usual visit. Of course, there was the off chance that today would be one of the days when he was too busy, but those days weren't that often.
Echoing footsteps down the hall made her breath catch in her throat, as it always did. The familiar feeling of futility bubbled up in her mind, as it always did. She sat down on the side of the bed and gently shook him awake. Ryoku's eyes opened and met hers with a silent question, to which she nodded confirmation.
Ryoku sat up slowly and turned to look at her. His eyes seemed very weary, but still held the same determined gleam that always helped her gather her courage. She had to keep believing that they would eventually be rescued. All of their suffering would not be for nothing. Besides each other, it was all they had left to cling to.
Hotaru reached for his hand and squeezed it as the usual clicking and clanking of the key entering the lock and the tumblers falling into place seemed louder than it should be. It thundered ominously as the door slowly opened to reveal... a different blonde man? She felt Ryoku stiffen beside her, obviously just as surprised and confused as her.
The other blonde man looked at them, shook his head and sighed, seemingly to himself. "That idiot needs to learn some self-control," he muttered under his breath and gave them a second, more scrutinizing look. He nodded toward Ryoku. "Can he stand up and walk?" he inquired as he directed his gaze toward her.
"Y-Yes, he can," she replied, unsure of where this was going. Hopefully, not to another beating. Or worse.
The other blonde man nodded as he regarded them thoughtfully for a moment. "You two will come with me. Try to run and I'll kill you both without hesitation." He patted a closed holster at his hip for emphasis. "Understand?"
"Yes," she replied. Beside her, Ryoku just nodded his agreement.
"Good," the other blonde man nodded as he turned to leave. "Now, get up and get moving." He stepped outside the door and turned back to them, waiting for them to follow. Without a word, the two both stood up and exited the cell. The other blonde man gestured for them to start walking down the hallway, which they did, with him following close behind them and directing their path.
Where that path might lead, Hotaru didn't want to think about.
To Chapter 47
Author's Note: Okay, yeah, over a year. Sorry. I am juggling several stories and real life, so you'll have to cut me a little slack. Hope you don't mind. Anyway, real life decided to kick me in the nuts at the beginning of the year, so I've been a little slow at getting back into the writing spirit. Especially when it concerns this story. Now, it's a good story and all, but I'm just not as into it as I used to be. I feel as though I've an obligation to myself to see it through to the end, though, as it is my sophomore story, as well as being over a decade old. It's nearly done, though; just about two or three chapters left. Personally, I'd be amazed if people were still reading this since the beginning, when I first started this story. It's a nice thought, although I kinda doubt it. Oh, well. I'm going to try and get the next chapter out earlier than next year. Really. Next chapter: The escape and the beginning of the final confrontation.
Disclaimer: All original materials belong to their respective owners. Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi and a bunch of big companies. No copyright infringement is intended. This story belongs to Moonsong and myself, and I would appreciate you emailing her or myself for permission before posting it anywhere else. Thank you.
Prologue Copyright © January 24, 2000 Moonsong.
Other Chapters Copyright © August 12, 2000 Jason Ulloa.
All Rights Reserved.