Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to its respective owners. Standard lack of ownership applies.
Author’s Note: There’s a lot to like about the Season 8 comics. Too bad it’s just so poorly executed. If ever a time that the designated hero (Jabootu’s definition) came into play. Serves me right for actually buckling down and reading the thing.
The thrum of the twin engines travelled through the metal shell of the helicopter, through the seats bolted to it, and into the back of the former Marine Corps staff sergeant. He was tense, as were the rest of the men on the chopper, though he didn’t show it. Running a hand through his close cropped sandy brown hair, he looked to his right, and up the wide aisle in the middle. The lights were dimmed and red for the flight, but he could still make out the rest of the people on the chopper. It was his team now apparently, and he should probably start thinking of them that way.
He couldn’t say that he knew any of them particularly closely, but they were all bonded in at least one way. Every person on his team had lost something, a son, a brother, a wife, or even something as metaphysical as honor. When he had first heard of the operation, he had thought that it would have been nearly impossible to find enough manpower with the right skills and the right motivation. But, that was before he had fully understood the sheer ruthlessness of their common enemy. And nothing made faster allies than shared atrocity. It was probably the first time in modern history that so many nations were cooperating militarily, and normally that would be something to be praised. But, the reason for it all shadowed the nearly unprecedented cooperation.
“We going to be there soon, Joe?” Chul-moo Pak asked, looking at the former marine. His face was drawn and he was tired, but the same could be said for all of them. He had not been in the best shape, and the training that they had been going through had been difficult. But, the cold fire of his shame drove him.
Joe turned his head to face the Korean. The accent was heavy on Chul-moo’s voice, the man having been born and raised in Seoul. Joe might have thought that odd, all things considered, but it was a time for odd things. He remembered how he had come to be on the helicopter.
“McCullough, James, staff sergeant, First Recon Battalion.” The man took a seat without greeting, putting a file folder down onto the smooth metal table. He looked up, piercing blue eyes taking in the man in front of him. McCullough was Force Recon, and looked every bit of it.
“I already know who I am,” Joe almost growled, temper short. It had been that way for the last couple of weeks, ever since he had learned of his brother’s death. At the very least, he had been able to go to the funeral. Closed-casket to be sure, but others hadn’t been so lucky. Those closest to the site of impact, had empty caskets. Closure was still hard in coming, considering the circumstances. No matter what was in the coffin. “Who the hell are you?”
“Jim Bishop,” the man said, unaffected by the tone of the other man’s voice. He understood the feeling, and knew that it wasn’t personal. He frowned slightly, knowing what the man was going through. “My condolences for your loss.”
Joe just looked the stranger in the face, not saying anything. The hum of the air conditioner filled the silence as he gauged him. Joe could see that, despite the hard eyes and stone face, the man was being truthful. “Thank you.”
“I know about your somewhat less than subtle attempts to find out the details behind what happened to your brother, and the rest.” Bishop turned the thin folder around and pushed it across the table, though he left his hand on it. “It’s a complicated situation.”
“It was a terrorist attack.” Joe said, looking down at the folder. He recognized it as a folder from JAG; the United States Navy had been in charge of the investigation. Although he did know from news reports that the FBI had been involved as well. “Not all that complicated.”
Bishop took his hand off of the folder, gauging the man’s reaction. He had spent over three decades having to read people, and he could do it well. McCullough wanted the truth, but he wasn’t impetuous about it. And his anger wasn’t misplaced. “What have you learned?”
“That terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda approached the USS Paul Hamilton while it was at a fuel stop and detonated an explosive against the hull,” Joe replied, pretty much just retelling what had been reported on TV. It had been how he had found out about the attack, and the memory was burned into his brain. He could damn near recite the thing word for word. Looking up, he stared at the other man, and made no move to pull the file towards himself. “Thirteen killed, twenty-two wounded. On the ship, at any rate. There were other casualties.”
“And that’s all true,” Bishop said, meeting the marine’s eye. “But, the explosive that was used wasn’t some crude shaped charge. It was a UGM-84, Sub-Harpoon…it was one of ours.”
Joe narrowed his eyes as he processed that new fact. That hadn’t been in any of the news stories that he had seen or read. “How? Stolen?”
“Not exactly,” Bishop answered, waving a hand at the folder. He waited until the marine had opened it up before continuing. “It was modified to be able to be launched independent of a sub, and forensics managed to pull a serial number off of the debris. We tracked it back to a shipment that was sold to South Korea. It was on a Chang Bogo class attack submarine, the Na Daeyong.”
“What are you saying?” Joe asked, confused. He doubted that the Koreans had decided to sail a quarter of the way around the world to attack an allied ship.
Bishop leaned back into his seat, resting his hands on the table. “The Na Daeyong was stolen out of dry dock about six months ago. The Koreans have been looking for it without success, but it’s been kept quiet so far. Badness all around.”
Looking at the file and glancing over the report, Joe could see that the investigation had been vigorous. More than that, the Korean government had apparently been rather open in their request for help, something that couldn’t have been easy for them. They were worried, and considering the reported armament of a Type 209 submarine, it was well founded.
“So how did a Korean missile that we sold them end up in the Arabian peninsula?” the marine asked, knowing that he wouldn’t like the answer.
Bishop didn’t say anything for a moment. The completely true answer to that was even more complicated than what happened, and wasn’t something that he was ready to give up. His years in the CIA had taught him the value of keeping track of what information was let out, and to whom. Still, he had to tell the truth. Bishop knew that it was the only way to get the marine to trust him. “Short version was that the submarine was moved around, its important parts ended up in Tibet for some reason. Arms sales, though it’s an odd place for it.”
He reached over and pushed aside a few pages from the report until it showed a copy of an intelligence photo that had been taken in Lhasa. Pointing a finger down, Bishop designated a particular figure. The figure was in movement, so it was a little blurred, but it was clear enough to make out identifying features. “Ashraf bin Suleiman. He’s Malaysian, and a buyer and dealer for Jemaah Islamiah, though he also has some loose connections to al-Qaeda. We don’t know exactly how he found out, but he was in Tibet two months ago, buying a significant amount of defense tech. Communications gear, computer hardware, and weapons. We’re still trying to track down the rest, but this was the buyer. He traded a significant amount of Chinese weaponry, assault rifles and SAMs mostly. But, we think that some South African grenade launchers were included, you get the idea. The theory is that he was mostly acquiring assets of a strategic nature, but there it is.”
Clenching his jaw, Joe just stared at the picture. The man was smiling as he sat at an open air café, looking altogether entirely too pleased with himself. He ruffled through the rest of the documents, but there were no other pictures. “Who were the sellers?”
That was where it got even more complicated. The CIA man sighed almost inaudibly, distaste for the situation having to be kept under wraps. “What I’m about to tell you is classified. And completely the truth. You need to understand this, the world is different. And I don’t need to tell you that the bad guys can look like anybody.”
Joe just nodded.
Pulling a photo from his pocket, Bishop placed it on the table’s center. It was a color picture snapped from quite a distance away with a telephoto lens. Digital camera technology had advanced quite a bit over the years, and the figures were striking in their clarity.
The marine just stared, puzzled by what he saw. His brow was furrowed as he took in the sight of two young women in their early twenties. One was dirty blonde and the other had dark brown hair, and despite the local dress, they looked as American as he did. “What?”
“Yeah, I know the feeling.” Bishop had had his world turned upside down as well, but he had recovered quickly. In his line of work, one had to roll with the punches. It was the only way to survive. “The blonde was identified…Buffy Summers, that’s her real name. California native, as of the time of the picture, she was in Tibet illegally. We can’t figure out how she got there either. ”
“And the other?” Joe asked, looking up from the picture. It was hard to imagine that there would be Americans supplying weapons to Islamic terrorists, but he had no reason to doubt that it was the truth. That type of thing wasn’t unknown either, as distasteful as it was to think of it. Still it was hard to imagine that an American woman would be ideologically affiliated.
Bishop shrugged. It belied his displeasure with how little they were able to find out. Even working with allied, and not so allied nations, under a UN mandate, didn’t mean that the world was an open book for them. “We’re working on it. Not American we think.”
“Why?” It was hard for Joe to comprehend, but the confluence of events around the world had resulted in his brother’s death, and he wanted to understand. Two wars, and he knew that it wasn’t as simple us versus them. International relations was never so easy.
“I’m sorry,” Bishop said quietly. He shook his head sadly. “We had a man on-site, he got us the imagery, but we don’t know much else besides that. He was tracking bin Suleiman, but it’s been hard going. The man’s slippery. And he’s gone. Anyway, it could be ideological, it could be for monetary purposes. We’re still looking into that angle.”
“So why are you showing me this?” Joe asked, eyes turning hard as he gathered himself. The idea that this Buffy Summers had stolen and sold missiles for money stuck in his craw. If there had been ideology involved, at least he could have understood the motivation. “There are many other people that want to know the truth too.”
“You’re right. And there’s more.” Nodding, Bishop looked away. He remembered when he had been filled in on the truth. In his years of service he had been party to any number of nasty things, and guilty of more than his fair share of crimes. But, for all he had done, all of his sins, he had done it for a righteous cause. And had done it well. And when it came time to give an account, he knew that the world would be a better place for his actions. It was why he had been tasked with his current objective. “I’m putting together a special team. You have the right skill set. We’re going after them, wherever they end up. But, there’s more. The people responsible…it’s distasteful. It’s going to be distasteful and I need people that won’t flinch. Still, it needs to be justice, and if all you want is vengeance, then you’re not what I need.”
There was Twilight, but administrations change, and what seems reasonable after catastrophe becomes a kneejerk of a mistake in the harsh light of day. It’d have to be dealt with, but he’d cross that bridge when he came to it.
“What’s the target?” Joe asked.
“Sorry.” Bishop shook his head. “You want the rest of the truth; you have to go all in. What do you say?”
Nothing was said as the question hung in the air. But, despite the lack of response, Bishop knew that he had the marine. He could see it in his eyes. He could see the vengeance, but there was more. The loss had not turned to mindless grief, the marine was too professional for that, and he wanted justice.
“Joe?” Pak asked again. He watched as the American focused on him. The former marine was a man of few words, though he didn’t take it personally. It was odd, in a way. Most of the time, in situations like this, the Americans and perhaps the British always had the predominant roles. But for this, operationally speaking, Joe was the only American on the team.
He wasn’t normally so reflective, but he was that night. Loss had touched them all, and most were still trying to deal with it. He had perhaps lost the least, and though a newer member to the team, he was not the newest. That privilege and curse was reserved for the Frenchman. Or French woman, to be more accurate.
Chul-moo snuck a quick glance towards the blonde haired woman. It was obvious, and pain was readily apparent on her face. The memory of her husband’s fiery demise as he flew over Tibetan airspace in a commercial airliner was haunting her still. It probably always would.
They had all told their stories, each supportive in turn. It was a bonding experience, and helped them all work through their individual furies. There were no secrets amongst them. Even among those that had been inside of it longer.
Joe followed the Korean’s gaze. That slayer thing. Some people, mostly women, held it up as some sort of modern day Amazon feminist thing. Not all of them though.
He didn’t say anything about it though. Marie would have to learn to deal with it, as they all would. Shifting his gaze back to Chul-moo, Joe nodded. “Yeah. We’re almost there.”
Buffy Season 8 #22: Theft of South Korean submarine.
Buffy Season 8 #28: Stripping of submarine for illegal arms trading.
Buffy Season 8 #29: Downing of airplane, with no presented attempts at positive identification.