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The Secret Return of Alex Mack

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This story is No. 3 in the series "A Brane of Extraordinary Women". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Alex is back from her 5-day trip to Hermione Granger’s world. But she's going to need everything she learned if she wants to survive, starting with finding her world's Willow Rosenberg. (Cross with BtVS, SG-1, HP, DCU...)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General
Harry Potter > General
Stargate > General > Characters: Jack O'Neill
Television > Secret World of Alex Mack, The
DianeCastleFR132351,177,0232896487754,00812 Dec 1215 Nov 14Yes

Quick March

A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters.
A/N2: IT’S OVER NINE THOUSAND!!! You readers are amazing. I was just told that I now have over 9000 reviews total on this site, and almost half of them are for this story. Thanks so much! I love getting reviews, and I don’t insist on fangirl gushing. I like constructive criticism, because I think all of us – even published authors – can benefit from someone telling us what we’re doing wrong.

Alex got Hanna to eat, so they both had a big plate of food with the doctors and nurses and assistants. Then she made Riley eat something, even though he was too worried about Sam to think about eating. Then she got Eliza to eat a meal in her parents’ huge vehicle, which they called the CommVee even if it was lousy at the ‘comm’ part. She had a plate of food with Eliza and her mom, who was really nice. Debbie was busy on her laptop editing the latest video footage her mom had just taken, and she insisted she didn’t need to eat again because she didn’t want to get ‘fat as an orangutan’. Donny hit her in the back of the head with a banana for that, and then Debbie yelled at Donny and chased him around the CommVee. Eliza and her mom just looked at each other like stuff like that happened all the time.

Then Alex went back to the tent in the compound and had another plate of food, even if she said she was taking it to someone else. She just floated in the darkness over the tent and ate it all, then took the empty plate and utensils back.

When she floated over to where Hanna was monitoring the road to the compound, Hanna reported, “Sam is still unconscious, like she’s supposed to be. The colonel does not want to leave her side. Donny has a working vocabulary of at least fifty French nouns, and he knows some English too, however he seems to prefer French – and whatever noises he makes – and he seems to want the Thornberrys to learn his language. I tried to explain that speaking multiple languages has many advantages, but I failed to get my point across. Oh, and there are two trucks and two jeeps trying to sneak south on the main road toward us. I do not think they are friendlies.”

Crud. Alex frowned, “You stay here and don’t let anyone hostile get past you to the compound. I’ll go have a little chat with our intruders.”

Hanna pouted, “I wanted to go do the fun stuff.”

“If I mess up even a little, you’ll get all the ‘fun stuff’ you can handle.”

Hanna firmly said, “All right. But you do not mess up.”

Alex didn’t argue. She was sort of surprised to hear Hanna thought that way, but she totally didn’t have time to talk about all the times she thought she’d messed up.

She darted off in the direction Hanna had indicated. And about six hundred yards north up the road, there were two trucks with a bunch of armed soldiers sneaking up on the compound. There were two lines of guys with rifles and machine guns out in front of the lead truck. There were two open jeeps behind the trucks. One had a heavy machine gun mounted in the back. The other had a big fat guy mounted in the back.

She was really glad she’d been out in the dark long enough to have really good night vision. And she was really glad she was silently flying two hundred feet over these jerks’ heads, instead of being where they might spot her and shoot hundreds of bullets at her and maybe hit someone way downrange.

She stopped to think up a plan. Then she dove down and made one mega-fast pass down the line of vehicles and soldiers.

It was kind of tricky, since she hadn’t practiced this before. But she just used her spare tk and yanked guns out of soldiers’ hands and hurled them off into the jungle. She did it in pairs as she zoomed over the heads of the soldiers. She got maybe all but two of the guns. Then she hit the first truck with a massive blast of lightning right in the engine. She skipped over the second truck, because she had a use for that one. Then she zoomed over the jeeps. Both of them, she just pressed down hard on the gas pedal and yanked the steering wheel off to the side. The jeeps zoomed off the road. The first one crashed into the ditch on that side of the road, and the other one went the other way and crashed into a couple trees.

When Fat Boss’s jeep hit the trees, he went tumbling over the seats in front of him and ended up head down on top of his minions. The rest of his minions came yelling from in front, where they’d lost their rifles and machine guns, but they still had lots of handguns. And the guys in the other jeep came scrambling out of the ditch.

She closed her eyes for a split second, raised her arms over her head, and made a huge arc of lightning between her hands. Then she darted a hundred feet to the side and yelled, “I! Am! Terawatt! Put down your weapons and leave instantly, or feel my wrath!” And she darted even farther off to the side, just in case.

The fat boss guy yelled something probably like ‘shoot her’ in a language she didn’t know. Riley had said French was very big in the Congo, but that wasn’t French. Lots of soldiers started firing at the spot she’d been ten seconds ago. It looked like her flash of light had done what she wanted, and everyone who had been looking her way had lost all their night vision.

She darted behind them and started using her tk to yank guns out of guys’ hands, and for the really stubborn guys who really didn’t want to let go, she used her tk to pinch their carotids closed for five seconds. In a matter of seconds, she had a road full of unconscious guys and unarmed guys.

Fat Boss clambered out of his no-longer-nice jeep and tried to shoot her with a big automatic. So she flew around to put him between her and his thugs. Then she put out her arms and put arcs of lightning between her hands.

She used a little tk to make her hair move like it was blowing in a soft breeze. “YOU DARE TO ATTACK TERAWATT?”

Apparently, he did dare. He aimed at her chest and fired. She just pushed the bullet into the ground. Since that didn’t work, he fired his whole clip at her. Or maybe it was a magazine; she needed to remember to ask someone. She just kept using a little tk to push the bullets downward. He was getting really frustrated, but his minions were freaking out. He then did the dumbest thing she could think of: he threw his gun at her. If high-speed bullets weren’t working, what was the point of throwing a little handful of steel? She bet badguys didn’t do dumb stuff like that in Selina’s universe.

She didn’t even bother to use her tk, because his aim was so bad he missed her by a mile. She just yelled, “I AM PROTECTING THIS AREA! GET IN YOUR ONE WORKING TRUCK, RETURN TO YOUR BASE, AND NEVER COME THIS WAY AGAIN! OR NEXT TIME, I WILL NOT BE SO KIND!”

She let off an even brighter flash of lightning, went silvery, and darted straight up. Then she zoomed off to the side and came down so she was hiding in the top of a big tree.

The big fat boss sounded like he wanted to go do something bad, but his soldiers wanted to get the heck out of there. They turned the one working truck around and piled in, even if it was really crowded. Then they took off, leaving him all alone with three busted vehicles. He tried to get his jeep running again, without much success. He tried to push it back toward the road, with absolutely no success. He yelled really nasty-sounding stuff at his departing minions. None of it did him any good.

He finally pulled as many guns as he could find out of his jeep, and he hurried back up the road after the disappearing truck. Alex might have had some sympathy for him, but she figured he had been planning on doing something really bad to the people in the compound. And he had plenty of weapons in case anything came after him in the dark.

Plus, a ten or twenty mile walk would do him a lot of good. He needed to lose a lot of weight.

After he took off, she flew around the road, making sure there weren’t any more badguys lurking in the brush or in a ditch. She checked the back of the truck and found big cans of water and fuel, plus a bunch of boxes of food that were marked as Red Cross care packages, so she figured these creeps had stolen them. She decided to let the doctors at the compound dole all that food out to the local villagers, where it should have gone in the first place.

She flew back to the compound gate, where Hanna was in prone position just to the side of the road in case of threats. Two of the guard guys were just standing there waiting to see what was going on. Dr. Peterson and two other doctor-types were standing there looking out into the darkness. Alex sort of wondered what they thought would happen if armed badguys came charging up the road. Okay, they had Hanna right there, and Hanna was worth at least a couple dozen of those badguys.

She flew down and hovered a foot above the ground. “Dr. Peterson, you might want to request a lot more assistance, including a much heavier guard. That was an overweight officer leading roughly forty troops armed with rifles and machine guns, plus trucks and a jeep with a mounted heavy machine gun. I seriously doubt they were sneaking up on you to hide Easter eggs around the compound.”

Dr. Peterson frowned, “Thanks. Probably one of their spies in one of the local villages told ‘em we were in trouble and vulnerable. If you’d gotten here three hours later, it could have been pretty ugly.”

She said, “Dr. Finn did warn us not to alert the local authorities.”

One of the guards sounded amazed. “So you just… swooped down and trashed an entire company of armed soldiers and their vehicles? Jesus Christ!”

Dr. Peterson coldly asked, “What’s the butcher’s bill?”

Wow, that was an icky way of asking what she did. “Zero. No dead bodies. Two wrecked jeeps off the road, one has a heavy machine gun someone will want to swipe unless you grab it or destroy it. One wrecked truck in the middle of the road. It has water, fuel, and a lot of Red Cross boxes you ought to grab and hand out to the people who need ‘em. The jeeps are just crashed. The truck is fine, except its electrical is fried. A good mechanic ought to be able to get all three working again. Also, there are maybe forty rifles and machine guns and forty handguns tossed off to the sides of the road, and you should get them picked up before someone else finds them and misuses them. And there’s one really embarrassed fat officer who may not take this sitting down. Even if he looks like he takes everything sitting down.” Someone snorted with laughter.

He checked, “You fought a company of armed soldiers and you trounced them, and you didn’t kill anyone? I’m impressed.”

She admitted, “I did render about half a dozen soldiers unconscious, but their friends dumped them in the truck as they retreated.”

Dr. Peterson looked down at Hanna, who was holding an M203, and he could obviously imagine how things would have gone without Terawatt. He swallowed hard and said, “Thank you very much, Terawatt. We owe you a big debt.”

She told him, “Just take really good care of Dr. Finn. And her husband. He worries about her a lot.”

Hanna piped up, “And we’d like to borrow a jeep.”

Alex was about to disagree, but she remembered one of the Jack O’Neill lessons. He didn’t make his people look bad. Maybe he yelled at them in private, but he backed them up in public. So she added, “With fuel, water, and food. We might be gone for more than just the night.”

Then she waited until the guards had moved off and the doctors had gone back to doctor stuff. She floated down almost to where Hanna was still studying the landscape. “Is there something else out there? And why do we need a jeep, when Jack’s bringing something?”

Hanna murmured, “There is something out there at eleven o’clock, maybe five hundred yards out. The night animals over there stopped making noise. And General Jack has missed his first two call-ins, so we must assume something has happened to him. Once we handle the local threat over there, we need to assess his situation.”

Crud and mega-crud.

She went silvery and darted off to the area Hanna had spotted. She knew she was there when the animals weren’t making all those noises below her. She drifted down slowly between the branches…

It was a leopard. Maybe the same leopard that had almost eaten Sam the night before. Only this time, it had something. Whatever that something was, it was almost as big as the leopard itself, and the leopard was hauling it off like it was a chewtoy. She made a mental note not underestimate the stuff in the jungle just because it wasn’t carrying guns and grenades.

She darted back and gave Hanna the news. Hanna looked like she wanted to go wrestle the leopard to see how fun it would be to fight. Alex knew she was going to put her foot down if Hanna even hinted she wanted to go track and wrestle a full-grown leopard. And if Hanna didn’t obey orders, Alex would threaten to tell Janet. And Jack. And Charlie.

But Hanna did what Alex said, which made Alex feel like Hanna had decided Alex was now in charge until someone like Jack showed up. They moved back to the compound satellite phone, which had a guy still working away on it, while another guy held a light and handed him tools and spare parts. That was a no-go.

Hanna led her to where Riley had the gunbag stashed. There was a small sat phone inside it. Alex told Hanna, “Stow your weapons and tac vest and web belt in the bag, and let’s go where no one here can eavesdrop.”

Hanna grinned, “Awesome!”

As soon as Hanna had dropped enough weight for Alex to lift her, Alex grabbed her and the sat phone, and headed straight up.

When they were about two thousand feet above the compound, Alex used her tk to unfold the sat phone and dial Willow.

“Twilight Sparkle here. Pinkie Pie has missed two parties.”

Alex glanced over at Hanna. “Rainbow Dash with Spike. Applejack’s better half was shot three times including one in the chest and is out of surgery but still unconscious. Can you contact Pinkamena?”

Willow concentrated, “Let me check... Okay, I’ve got a GPS signal. It’s south-southwest of your position and… Okay, it’s been heading that way for over an hour.”

Alex grimaced. That was mega-bad. “Can you flip his phone to speakerphone so we can listen in?”

“Already on it, Dash.”

Suddenly there was the sound of a car or truck roaring along a road. Two guys were talking in a language Alex didn’t have any clue about.

After maybe a minute, Willow admitted, “Okay, that’s not good. I think it’s Hindi or a related language, but I don’t understand it.”

Hanna replied, “Spike to Sparkle. I speak Hindi. They’re talking about Jack. They think he’s a useless idiot, but the primary bloc has put out a large ransom for Jack alive and undamaged. They don’t understand why after listening to him for ten minutes.”

Willow whimpered a little. “You guys can rescue him, right? I mean, if they’re speaking Hindi and talking about the main bloc, they have to be Singh’s people. So… lots of really dangerous Orphans.”

Crud. The India bloc had Jack, and they had to be chasing after Karen Ross and the Walsh bloc, and both of them were heading into that really dangerous area of the Congo. But Jack was way smarter than he pretended, and the India bloc guys were obviously too stupid or too arrogant to spot that. And Jack’s GPS signal could lead Alex to them. However…

Alex said, “We may have another problem here. Can you get Princess Celestia on the horn?” She hadn’t thought she would ever need to use all of Jack’s silly codenames, but she needed this one now.

Willow told her, “Give me five minutes. I’ll call when I’ve got the Big Cheese.”

“Great. Dash over and out.” Alex used her tk to get her tPhone to link up with the sat phone courtesy of one of Willow’s apps, and then she dove with it and Hanna toward the ground.

Hanna ignored the fact that she was heading downward really fast. “What problem are you seeing?”

Alex pointed out, “Riley. He’s a wreck over Sam, and he may not be ready to go run away from her and dive into a dangerous op.”

Hanna said, “I did not think of that. So it is a good thing Janet has been giving me driving lessons. And Mr. Lester at school. And Jack and Charlie took me out several times and showed me some really fun stuff.”

Alex figured that ‘fun stuff’ in this case was probably a really dangerous ‘evasive driving’ course plus stuff like bootlegger turns, which Alex had seen in movies but had no idea how to do in real life.

Still, they would need to take food and water and fuel and all of Hanna’s weapons, and there was no way Alex could carry Hanna and all that junk too. So they needed a jeep. And maps. And Riley’s sat phone. And maybe someone who knew where they were going and who knew how to get there and who also knew who wasn’t supposed to be on the roads when they met people who might really be badguys.

Alex really didn’t like the idea of taking an innocent ‘local guide’ into what could turn into a warzone. She hadn’t even liked the idea of letting Azure Crush onto the beach at Santa Monica, and she had really been cranky about Jack bringing Pyre along to find and rescue a trapped superheroine.

She touched down and lowered Hanna to the ground. Hanna slipped back into her web belt and tac vest, and then arranged the sat phone next to the gunbag. They hurried over to the ‘recovery area’.

Alex was expecting something like out of old World War II movies, complete with a dirt floor and moldy-looking canvas. But it was a sparkling-clean white hospital-like thing, and it had a solid floor that looked like it came apart in big rectangles for easy transport. And there was a nurse on duty at the doorway who stopped them. “I’m sorry, but no one’s allowed in here unless they’ve washed up properly and are gloved and masked.”

Alex could look over at the far end and see Riley in a mask and gloves and surgical garb, sitting by Sam’s bed and just holding the arm that wasn’t getting an IV in it. He obviously didn’t want to leave Sam’s side while she was still out cold from the anesthesia. No, it looked like he just needed to hold her and cry. Alex really worried that Riley couldn’t be a useful soldier right now. She knew she would be a total basketcase after that telepathy-nightmare thing if she’d called home and some stuff out of her nightmares had come true.

The nurse crisply told her, “We don’t yet know if that aspiration with that makeshift three-way tap is going to be enough to repair the pneumothorax, or if we’ll need to go in again. Thoracic surgery is never simple, and there may be infections or complications from trying something like aspiration in the back seat of a jeep without adequate antisepsis. Then you just never know about gunshot wounds. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Alex’s tPhone buzzed in her sleeve, so she grabbed Hanna and flew a hundred feet away from the recovery area while Hanna sprinted alongside her. “Terawatt here, with Action Girl.”

Willow’s Autotuned voice said, “Hang on a sec, I’ve got him.”

And General Hammond’s strong, reassuring drawl came through. “Terawatt? Acid Burn says you’ve got a problem and needed to talk to me?”

“Yes sir, sorry about the time,” Alex said. “I need your advice, and possibly your orders. We got to the Congo and rescued the Doctors Without Borders compound, but Colonel Finn’s wife was shot three times, including once in the side of the chest, and she had to treat her own pneumothorax while she waited on us. She’s out of surgery now, but still unconscious, and they don’t know if there will be serious complications from all this. I’m really worried that Riley won’t be useful as a soldier right now, and I really don’t want to make him leave her side.”

“And what did General O’Neill say?”

Alex grimaced. “That’s the other part of the problem. The Collective’s main bloc sent a team here after something that’s not going to be puppies and rainbows. The India bloc sent a team, too. They captured Jack. He’s alive, but everybody’s heading south-southwest of our position into a region that our local expert tells us is so dangerous that even the jungle wildlife avoids it as much as possible. No one knows what’s there. The Collective probably has a better idea than anyone else, which is not encouraging. Under normal circumstances, I’d insist on going with Colonel Finn and following his orders, but right now I don’t think he’s in any shape to be on this op. Especially after what those hostiles did to us in Midwich, and then he found out that some of his telepathy-induced nightmares were really happening to his wife.”

“And do you want to go off with no one but Action Girl?”

Alex admitted, “No sir, but I don’t see that I have a choice right now. If the India bloc doesn’t kill Jack, they’re going to turn him over to the main bloc, because we just found out that Walsh’s bloc has a big bounty out on him.”

“Terawatt, I hate to do this to you, but you’re the leader on-site. You need to assess whether Colonel Finn is safe to take along. That’s something I can’t judge from way over here. If so, get him moving. If not, you need to undertake this op without him, and with whatever assistance you deem fit. This is why they call it the ‘burden of command’.”

Alex felt the ball of ice in her stomach getting even bigger. “Yes sir. If you can get any folklore or history experts on this so we have some sort of idea what we’re up against, we would really appreciate the help.”

“That much, I can do. Sorry to be of less help than you need. But any intel you can give us will help.”

She said, “Well, I suspect Acid Burn has a recording of what she’s downloaded from Jack’s phone, including what they’re saying about Jack and their mission, but it’s all in Hindi.”

“I can get translators on that, even if there may be some sensitive intel.”

Alex mentally crossed her fingers and said, “Thank you, sir. Over and out.” She hung up, wondering what her next step needed to be.

“Sounds like you need a local guide,” said Eliza from right behind her.

Alex managed not to spazz out or shriek or anything. Hanna didn’t even react, which probably meant Hanna already knew Eliza was really close.

Okay, Hanna was obviously ready to take Eliza along, even if it was right into a warzone. Hanna just did not think about risks the same way that regular people did.

Alex carefully said, “I would really like to take you along. You have some really useful superpowers, and you know the area a lot better than we do, and you can ask for help if we get in a jam. But this is likely to be really dangerous. They shot Dr. Finn just because she looked like an Orphan, and they killed more people, and they would have murdered all the rest of the compound if you hadn’t come along and gotten the generator working and helped Dr. Finn. When they get where they’re going, they’ll probably be ready to do a lot worse. And now we know there’s another gang of these Orphans driving after them, and that’s going to be messy when they fight it out for whatever they’re after. I think you need to stay here with your family.”

Eliza hooted at her chimpanzee, who hooted back. They got into an angry argument for like a minute. Finally, Eliza grouchily said, “Well I’m going. Someone’s a big chicken and wants to stay here.” The chimpanzee looked pretty grouchy, too. It did everything except pout and cross its arms.

Oh wait, there was the big lower-lip pout. Man, that chimp could give pouting lessons.

Alex insisted, “We haven’t decided if you’re going with us.”

Hanna pointed out, “She knows the jungle a lot better than we do. And if there’s a firefight, she can use the jungle vines and get out of the area faster than anyone except you.”

Eliza piped up, “There’s a couple herds of elephants I know that are down near there a lot of the year, so I can hitch a ride home if I need to. My parents won’t mind. And it’s not like I’ve never been shot at before, or had dangerous things come after me. Lions, tigers, sharks…”

“Wow, a shark!” Hanna said eagerly. “Tera would not let me dive in the water and fight the sharks we found.”

Alex pointed out, “They happened to be great white sharks that had been mutated into shark-monsters by mad scientists. And we didn’t know if there were other things in the water too.”

Eliza admitted, “Well, I didn’t fight the sharks. I just didn’t get eaten. Some animals just don’t want to listen.”

Alex gave her the best Terawatt glare she had. “I think that your parents might have something to say about your joining this mission.”

“It sounds like a wonderful adventure!” Sir Nigel crowed excitedly, like he had no idea his daughter was about to go do something really dangerous. Okay, something else really dangerous.

“You’re a chip off the old block!” Lady Marianne Hunter Thornberry told her younger daughter, like Marianne had done this kind of thing all the time when she was younger.

Oh crud, what if Eliza’s mom really had done dangerous stuff all the time when she was younger?

Debbie just rolled her eyes. “And don’t expect me to save you this time.”

Sir Nigel added, “It sounds like these blighters are off searching for King Solomon’s Mines. There’s always someone who thinks it’s a quick trip to riches. H. Rider Haggard supposedly based his work on the story of the city of Zinj, which was a rich trading kingdom for perhaps centuries. In my personal opinion, they must have been based around one of the local volcanic areas, because some of what the Zinji traded were unpolished diamonds, and metals for weapons. But according to some historians, the Zinji were probably wiped out in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by Colonials who had firearms that the Zinji couldn’t outfight.”

Marianne insisted, “That’s all folklore. And if the Zinji were really wiped out, their home city wouldn’t be dangerous now. It’s probably just a roadless area with a large population of leopards and other predators, so Eliza should be perfectly safe.”

Jack woke up when the truck hit some bumpy patches of road. He made an effort to go back to sleep, because there was nothing he could do yet, and the more sleep-deprived his guards got, the more advantages he would have later.

But before he could doze off again, the trucks braked to a gradual stop. Fu Man-new leapt into the back of the truck and growled at the guards, “Fine! I am doing as you have insisted in whiny voices for over an hour!”

Jack managed not to laugh. He opened his eyes and smiled, “Oh, hi. Decided to drop by and talk weaponry some more?”

The guy glared in raw frustration. It must be really hard being so smart and correct and perfect all the time, and having minions who didn’t grasp your amazing greatness. The guy sat as the trucks started up again, and he snapped, “What do you know of the lost city of Zinj?”

Jack went for the annoying thing people said he did really well. “Zinj? Isn’t that what Californians call red wines?”

The guy whirled on his minions and snapped in more Hindi, “See? The man is a fool!”

So Jack said, “You’re probably talking about what in Western literature is usually called King Solomon’s Mines or something like that.”

Supposedly Super-smart Leader Guy paled slightly. He also did a lousy job of keeping the shock off his face. “How do you know about that?”

Jack shrugged. “It’s famous. There were a bunch of fictional books written way back before I was even born, and believe me, that’s a long time ago. That particular one’s been made into movies or mini-series maybe four or five times. And then there were some Tarzan movies – you know, Edgar Rice Burroughs – that went off on that general plotline. Back when jungle action was a viable movie genre, it was one of the most common plots. Just ask any old white American dude about it.”

The guy pushed, “And what defenses would a place like that have that could stop a team of… what you call Orphans?”

Okay, so maybe they thought their first team got wiped out by what’s there, rather than the people from the primary bloc. Jack asked, “How do you know that they didn’t get wiped out by Walsh’s side?”

The guy admitted, “Our Team One reported back and said they found the remains of Walsh Team One, which had been slaughtered by animals despite the liberal use of submachine guns. Then they went silent as well.”

So someone on Walsh’s side was a mole for Singh’s side, and Singh sent guys after Walsh’s forces so they couldn’t acquire… something. If these were really that much like King Solomon’s Mines that it spooked Fu Man-new, then it could be gemstones or precious metals. Walsh was bound to have people who did something besides lick her boots. And Jack’s IT people had found a number of possible-Orphan scientists and engineers who could do all kinds of interesting things with large rubies or large industrial diamonds or large deposits of all kinds of nifty metals.

Jack decided to cause a little more trouble. “But were they really taken out, or did they pretend to be wiped out so they could loot the place without Singh knowing? After all, they’re your Team One, not a bunch of mere humans. Maybe they decided to set up a secret Africa bloc.”

The guy looked like he’d just been sucker-punched. For arrogant, over-confident Orphans, these yahoos sure were easy to manipulate. He growled at the guards to watch Jack, he signaled for the trucks to stop again, and he jumped out of the truck. Then the trucks moved on, while he did something in the other truck. Jack was going to guess frantic communications with Singh’s people back in India.

The trucks stopped again fifteen minutes later, and Fu Man-new hopped back in to ‘interrogate’ Jack some more. He adjusted his belt and told Jack, “Our tactical experts have already considered that.”

“Good. So you already know you could be facing Walsh’s people, or your own Team One, or some kind of natural threat. By the way, Walsh’s group is probably being led by a woman named Karen Ross. That ring any bells?”

“We know all about her,” the guy lied really badly. He even adjusted his belt again. It was a shame Jack couldn’t get this guy in a high-stakes poker game.

Oh wait, this already was a high-stakes poker game of a sort. And the guy still had no idea what Jack had for a hole card. In fact, the guy was assuming Jack had a busted flush. Jack was figuring he had three aces hidden up his sleeve. Maybe even four.

Four plus a wildcard, if he included the fact that he knew about Karen Ross and these guys didn’t. He had remembered the name off Willow’s Orphan list. He lied, “So you already know she’s an expert in…”

“Of course we know.”

“…mime. A graduate of Clown College, even. Summa cum rowdy.”

Fu Man-new puffed himself up and glared at Jack furiously, “You DARE mock me?”

“Of course I dare mock you.” Jack was not about to tell these dorks that Karen Ross had been a telecommunications expert in a big Midwestern telecom that was a subsidiary of Umbrella Corporation, and that she had vanished about the time that the FBI was trying to round up the Orphans that were a part of that disaster. If he remembered correctly, her training was in physical engineering and civil engineering. If there really were mines at this place, then she probably didn’t have the training in mining engineering that her team might need.

So Jack asked, “Do you have mining engineers and civil engineers and all that jazz? If you’re looking for old mines, you’re gonna need guys who know how to assess tunnels for safety, and how to shore up old tunnels, and how to use explosives to do excavation.”

“We do not need that. We will capture the enemy miners and force them to cooperate with us.” But the guy hitched his belt up again.

Jack just nodded, “Well, that’s reassuring.” Like he believed anything this bozo said.

Alex sat in the shotgun seat of the jeep, wondering how people could think she was such a great superheroine when she couldn’t even keep from getting bamboozled over bringing Eliza along.

Not only was Eliza in the back seat, but so was Darwin the chimpanzee. And Hanna was driving really fast down a not-exactly-perfect road with no headlights on.

Okay, as long as no one in the car turned on a light, Hanna could look out the windshield and see just fine. Hanna had awesome night vision. Alex even had her tPhone stuck in her sleeve so the light from its screen and keyboard was masked, because she was on the phone with Willow a whole bunch. Willow was following the GPS signal from Jack’s phone, and mapping that to road maps and geological maps and contour maps. And Eliza had already pointed out roughly where on the map was the ‘don’t go there’ spot her animal friends had warned her about, and it looked like they were headed down that way.

The jeep was in really good shape, and the doctors had loaded up the back. So with only three people and a chimp, plus the ability to scavenge for food as Eliza and Darwin usually did, Alex figured they were set for about a month. There were a bunch of five-gallon jerry cans of gas, and several of water, and even one of motor oil. There were spare tires strapped down on the roof, along with a box of tools and spare jeep parts that fit inside the stack of tires. They had a couple cases of MREs and a big box of energy bars. Plus the food supplies included a hand-operated filtration pump that could turn river water into potable super-clean water so they could fill their water cans again. They also had a nice medical kit that Alex wished she had training on, and a sat phone and Riley’s base system for their comms, and all of Hanna’s weapons plus some of Riley’s ammo just in case.

They still didn’t know why the guys who had kidnapped Jack had stopped a couple times. Alex was pretty sure ruthless Orphans didn’t just put their hand up and ask to stop the car so they could go potty in the bushes. And these bushes weren’t really safe to go walk around in at night.

But having GPS on the badguys meant that Willow knew when and where the badguys had turned off a nearly-paved road and moved onto dirt roads. Hanna had been driving a lot faster than the badguys were going, but she had to slow down once they found the dirt road the Orphans had taken, because the road gradually became really bumpy and it was hard for even Hanna to see every bump and hole in the darkness.

Hanna asked, “Tera, can you fly maybe four miles ahead and come back, so we will know if there are any traps or ambushes up ahead? We may know how far ahead that phone is, but that is not the same as knowing how far ahead every one of the enemy is.”

Alex told her, “Sure. Just make sure you don’t damage the jeep. I don’t want to have to explain to them how we wrecked it just a couple hours after we borrowed it.”

She rolled down her window and went silvery so she could dart out of the jeep and take off along the road. So… four miles out, then flying back. Since she was doing at least a hundred twenty miles an hour each way, it only took her a little under four minutes to get back to the jeep, and then she just rode along until Hanna had covered the section Alex had just checked. She did the out-and-back check half a dozen times before the path Willow was tracking veered off from the dirt roads into recently-cut jungle.

There was something shiny down on the jungle floor, so she zoomed over to check on it.

There was a wire cutting across between two trees at about shin height. Uh-oh. Boy, it was a good thing Hanna was driving without lights and Alex’s night vision was as good as it was going to get.

She used her tk to lift some brush and junk up, and there were two claymore mines. Someone – someone from India – really didn’t want anybody to follow them. Or really didn’t want anybody escaping past them and getting back to Wacky Maggie.

But claymore mines were something she knew about. She knew how to set them up, and how to detonate them, and what it felt like if you didn’t get out of the blast zone. Ouch.

She just used her tk. She pulled the blasting caps out of the claymores, then rolled up the wire, then found the trigger systems at one end of the tripwire. She undid that too, and called Willow.

“Dash here. Did Discord East stop on this spot?”

“Let me check recordings… Umm, looks like it. For about four minutes. Why?”

“A really nasty boobytrap.”

“Ick. Okay, let me adjust my tracking system so I’m monitoring every couple seconds instead, so if they stop at all, I can let you know.”

Alex mentioned, “They’re Orphans. They may just need to have their truck slow down to jumping-out speed.”

Willow suggested, “Figure two trucks minimum. They took Jack’s truck, but they wouldn’t be hanging around hoping to find some decent stuff to drive. They probably had at least a truck, maybe two or a truck and a jeep, before they caught him.”

Great. Alex just said, “We’re moving off the established roads into stuff that looks like it was really recently cut. Maybe a week or two ago, because stuff is only just growing back. But some trees are bulldozed over and shoved out of the path, and the brush is cut down to the ground, so the first people in here must’ve had pretty heavy-duty equipment and wanted to bring trucks or jeeps in.”

Willow made a few ‘hmm’ noises. “I better look into that. Seems like pretty specific heavy equipment. Unless the badguys brought it with them from wherever.”

Alex waited another couple minutes, and Hanna drove by. Alex dove into the window and deposited the claymore mines and the rest of the gear in the jeep. The claymores went in the very back, and the blasting caps went in the glove compartment. She explained, “Discord East didn’t want anyone coming or going. They planted two claymores to stop unwanted guests.”

Hanna smiled, “Excellent. Claymores make good defensive weapons, and I did not have any.”

Eliza asked, “Aren’t claymores big swords?”

Alex explained, “These are claymore mines. Imagine a really huge grenade that only explodes in one direction.”

Eliza checked, “You picked ‘em up so no animals are gonna get hurt, right?”

Alex told her, “No people either. They’re really nasty.”

Willow called back. “Dash, Sparkle here. Another stop sixteen miles ahead of your current position. Forty-three minute stop, then they moved on, but not fast.”

“Dash to Sparkle. Roger that. Spike’s driving about sixty miles an hour, so we’ll be there in sixteen minutes.”

Hanna complained over her earjack, “Spike here. I am driving at less than twenty miles an hour. The path is more than wide enough for a jeep, but it is not even.”

“Sparkle to Dash. Well, you’re catching up on them pretty fast. They moved on, but right now you’re only about twenty-two miles behind them.”

“Dash. Keep us informed. Over and out.”

It took about an hour to get to the next stop where Team Discord East had stopped. Alex flew out of the jeep when they were still two miles from the point, and she flew on ahead.

Oh crud. There were a bunch of dead bodies. Dead bodies that had been here for days, not brand-new dead bodies.

And what was wrong with her life that she could tell that kind of stuff now?

She flew around at treetop level to get a good look at the mess. It looked like two trucks that had been left there, plus some big stuff that had been parked on more cleared space and was now gone, plus an encampment with dead bodies and dead gorillas all over the place. The encampment and the two trucks were totally wrecked. Then two more trucks were parked way behind the encampment, with more dead people and dead gorillas between the trucks and the encampment. The gorillas were all shot full of bullets, and the people were all ripped apart by angry gorillas. Ick. And then some stuff had gone on ahead of the encampment toward what looked like a big volcano that was smoking away and really uncomfortably close.

Eliza’s father had talked about a volcanic area. It looked like he’d been right.

She flew lower. The dead people in the encampment looked American. Well, American or European. The dead people between the camp and the far trucks looked like they were from India and Asia. Okay, she could make a couple guesses what that meant.

And someone had come along really recently and cut a couple of the gorillas open like they were lab animals. Yuck.

She landed to get a better look. And that was when over half a dozen live gorillas charged at her from every direction.
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