“What have pretty boy and little miss colourful come up with?” Are the first words Sanjiv says in Dana’s ear once they are aboard the strike teams’ insertion transport. The craft is a mixture of helicopter, drone and airplane but not in the ways you might imagine.

The director and her former friend are stood close together in a far corner. None of the strike team pays the pair any mind. They know better than to risk the ire of their boss, especially when she looks as pissed and determined as she does right now. None of them can remember her ever having worn a look as stone faced as she is right now. It’s scary to be honest, not that any of them have plans to admit as much. They might once all of them can be sure she has no chance of being within earshot, until then they’ll keep tight lipped, gaze averted and focus on whatever this deployment they are being sent on is. That too makes this an odd occasion because the director has never gone on a drop with them. She has her own personal security if she needed an escort; and it’s more than a little strange for neither of them to be here. The one, sure, because he’s her glorified driver, but the other, that’s a different matter entirely each of them feel.

“They’re going to rewind time.”

“You do get that it doesn’t work like that, right?” Is the response that follows what can only be described as a confused recoiling from Sanjiv.

“I am, but I think I get what they’re planning.”

“Then fill me in.”

“The virus, they think, is working off a timer. The fragment is linked to the world outside which provides time within the simulation, so if they cut that wider connection off…” The director is leaving Sanjiv to work out the rest. He’s a smart man, he should be more than capable, as is proven the case when he replies following a short period of consideration, “They will no longer be tied to time flowing as it should and can wind the clock back. Doing that will stop the spread?”

“They seem to think so and I have no reason to doubt them.”

“Risky. What happens if they’re wrong?”

“You know full well, we both do, and so we both had better hope.”

Dana doesn’t have to say it, Sanjiv is aware what she is hinting at; that if they don’t succeed Warren really will be lost, for good this time. A mass of bile forms high in the middle aged man’s chest as he stands there unable to consider anything except the possibilities that he has no influence over.

The director catches sight of the disgusted look on his face, the one that is the result of the taste Sanjiv has at the back of his throat. It’s vile and makes him want to spit. He resists the urge but doesn’t change what Dana says to him next, “He’ll be OK. It’ll be different this time. There are more of us. We aren’t alone, we aren’t locked out, we…”

“I know Dana, but let me do the interrogating when we get in there.”

“Sanjiv…” The tone of the directors’ voice is soft, which is most unlike the woman, as anyone bar Sanjiv and Warren would know.

Her hope is that this softening might tempt her former friend to rethink his demand. She understands why he has issued it but does not think him being the interrogator, as he has dubbed it, would in any way be for the best.

“Don’t try and stop me. We might have been friends once but… This is my forte. I’m good at interrogations like you’re good at running the agency.”

“Arrival in thirty!” Is the call that comes over their earpieces.

In response, the strike team, all sixteen of them, ready themselves. A final check of their weapons, limited chatter and they’re on their feet ready to be dropped. They could not look more at ease if they tried, especially the team commander who saunters over to Dana and Sanjiv carefully. After all, he is not about to tempt fate and invoke the wrath of his commander seconds prior to a deployment.

He doubts there is much more damning for anyone’s career than that and he likes the position he is in.

“Director, we need to get you both affixed to the lines for the drop. You’ll be near the rear.”

“Fuck that, we drop first!” Sanjiv erupts returning to his trademark lack of social tactfulness.

The look of shock on the strike team commanders’ face is plain for anyone to see, thankfully only Dan and Sanjiv are able to.

“Apologies Commander, we will follow your lead and your expertise for the drop, but we must be among the first to enter.”

“Yes ma’am, however I must stress that I have no idea what we’ll be walking into. You going first, the both of you, might be a tad reckless. Would you consider allowing us to secure?”

“You heard your orders commander, now jump to them.” Again Sanjiv strikes with his lack of tact forcing Dana to carefully navigate the situation.

“I’ll consider it Commander; just get us on the ground for the time being.” It’s the only response Dana can think to give that’ll not result in a disagreement that the director fully understands, and comprehends, both sides of without involving her own opinions and preferences.

Thankfully, the strike team commander, ever the consummate professional, replies with a succinct nod as if he understands her predicament. He does not but nevertheless turns and leads Dana and Sanjiv to the lines. He personally affixes them to the lengths from which they will drop and offers the director a word of advice for her descent. He doesn’t offer the middle aged man who is accompanying her with the same courtesy. A little petty act of revenge but nothing that will cause him any harm, other than maybe a fluttering heart when panic sets in, no less than the commander feels this unknown quantity deserves.

Right after the doors open and the first of the strike team begin to drop. Dana makes the mistake of dropping her gaze to find the floor below her is no longer there. Her eyes go wide but she soon recovers and discerns that if anyone caught sight of her reaction they do not show it.

The commander appears again, counting, the next wave drop and then another after that. More counting follows prior to Dana, Sanjiv, the commander and are dregs of the detachment plummeting from the interior of the transport and to ground.

Regrettably the commander discovers the middle aged man with the director has not been fazed by the descent, pity he thinks for he’s right back to barking orders as if he is in-charge. No one pays him any mind as protocol dictates they should not. He’s an unknown, a variable that appears to be here out of courtesy and nothing more. The commander does hope he isn’t meant to be the directors’ replacement, not that he is aware of her planning any sort of retirement.

While she might be a hard woman she is at the very least sensible and knows when best to defer to those with greater knowledge on matters than her own. This guy, well if he has any abilities of the like the commander cannot see them for they must be buried deep down beneath the bravado and flashes of pent up waiting violence that can be glimpsed in his eyes.

“This is it?” Sanjiv says looking up at the shell of an old office building, clearly disused and having seen far better days.

“Commander, proceed as planned, we will stay back.”

“What? Dana, you can’t be serious! We need to get in there, we need to…”

“I’m the director, Sanjiv. The team are only going to secure. They aren’t going to do the work for you. You’ll get that pleasure yourself. It isn’t what they’re paid for.” Dana makes sure to keep her tone hard as she criticises her former friend and pours insinuation as if it were fire meant to brand him for all eternity.

“Fine.” Is the hesitant acceptance that comes following a deep sigh of frustration.

The glint in Sanjiv’s eyes suggests it isn’t fine but Dana doesn’t rightly care. This operation isn’t about what he wants; it’s about what is best for its successful completion. Her strike team know better than to eliminate a target of import, they aren’t shadow killers like Sanjiv is now.

Right then is when Dana feels a buzz fills her one ear; it’s the unmistakable rumble of her earpiece informing her of an incoming call. She accepts the connection without checking who the caller is. It can only be one person; all other numbers are diverted to her assistant. Not that the director ever alerted her assistant to that, or let them know she had ever been back into the building. They didn’t need to know. Her responsibilities could wait, and would continue to until… Answer the bloody call! Dana does and immediately asks without waiting, “Update Russ.”

“It’s Lika, director. It worked. We’ve stopped the decay. Warren is safe, for now.”

The director breathes a sigh of relief, much greater than she ever thinks she has prior to this in all her life and that includes when Sanjiv had agreed to come with her. Still, part of her wishes that he hadn’t, but she knows that’s unfair, a result of the situation and tensions between them. After all, he has as much right to reunite with Warren as she does.

“Thank you Lika. Offer my gratitude to Russ to, will you please?”

“I will director.” Is the off-balance reply that the colourful haired young woman gives without doing a very good job of masking that she clearly wishes to say something else.

“Speak plainly Lika, what is it?” Dana hopes Russ and she have found something that might suggest who is behind this and why, but Lika does not and instead queries, “Have you found out who’s did this?”

“No, we haven’t yet but…”

“Director, the building is secure. But you need to see this.” The commander informs with a serious look etched upon his face. It’s impressive for he has looked serious since the moment he appeared on the roof of the agency building they departed from.

“Lika, I need to go. I’ll make contact once I know more.” With that Dana ends the call and follows, with Sanjiv, the strike team commander.

They enter the building, a fire gutted space comprised of nothing but the supports that keep it erect. Every surface is charred black but seems otherwise undamaged.

Evidently the fire which ripped through here did not do so recently. Dana wonders who might own the building and whether they know they have an occupant. Time will tell on that for she will have someone dig into the history to see what can be ascertained. It might prove fruitful, it might not.

Having finished climbing a set of concrete steps the trio headed by the commander in an arrow shape formation stride across this open floor to a set of walls also comprised of concrete. Into one is cur a single doorway and within that doorway is a heavy looking metal door.

The commander indicates where best it would be to stand for the director and her associate. No arguments are forthcoming and so with a silent look the strike team commander asks if they should breach, Dana nods eager to learn what is inside. After all, a concrete box inside a fire gutted building is indeed of interest and not what she had been expecting. Yet, clearly the concrete inner box was not present when this building was afflicted by flames and heat.

The metal door explodes outwards, clanging when it slams to the floor beneath their feet. Dust fills the air leaving the director unsure as to whether she has ever felt such anticipation before in all her life.

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