Court and Spark - 2
~ Initiative Command Center, Tuesday, 9:00 a.m.~
“Soldier, what’s the status of quarantine?” Graham approached the man currently on guard at the video terminal.
“What do you mean, which cell?” Graham frowned.
“All of the cells are occupied, sir.” The soldier replied, confused that the top team on base had not already heard the news. “Where have you been…sir?”
“Alpha still hastwenty-four hours of leave; I just thought I’d stop by to make sure everything was okay . Last time I checked, Finn was in the only occupied cell.” Graham sank down in the chair next to the video monitors. In each room there was at least one person … thing. “Why isn’t that one down in the holding? He’s not quarantine material.” Graham nodded at a vampire who was banging his ridged head against the wall of the quarantine cell next to Riley’s.
“The hold is full, sir. We’re just doing our best not to mix species together that fight. It’s been nuts around here. I mean, they settled down a bit around dawn, but it’s nuts.”
“Good grief, you must have half of Beta unit on the tables.” Graham noticed each quarantine hospital bed had a soldier strapped to it.
“Ambushed.” The soldier nodded sadly. “Days like this I’m thankful Zetas get to stay below ground.” He looked at the frown on Graham’s face.
“Well, can I get a close-up of the large quarantine unit?”
“You mean the one with the pretty blonde? Coming right up.” The soldier perked up, then blushed. Graham watched the largest screen switch to a view of the quarantine room Riley had been placed in. The three were sitting against the back wall, chatting tiredly. Whenever Buffy said anything, Riley would glance up at her, blush, and quickly turn to look at his shoes again. Graham had to hide his laugh at his friend’s behavior by coughing.
“Are you feeling alright there, Miller?”
“Professor Walsh!” Graham immediately stood up and saluted his C.O. “I’m fine, ma’am.”
“That’s good. You have one hour to round up your squad for a briefing in the conference room.”
“But we have twenty-…” One glance at Walsh’s glare and Graham’s mumbling ceased. “Yes, ma’am. I’m on it.” Graham took one last glance at the screen then hurried up to the Lowell House where he was guessing most of Alpha unit was still sleeping off the poker game from the previous night.
Graham went to the end of the empty hall and pounded on the door. “Gates, up and at ‘em!” He yelled loud enough so that not only Forrest, but John and Mike came to their doors, groggily.
“Walsh has called a meeting for 1000 hours. I expect you to be in full dress and in the conference room by the time she arrives. Gates, you’re in charge of making sure these two slackers look presentable by the time I get down to that conference room.”
“Aw, do I have to?” Forrest pouted. He was definitely not a morning person.
“That’s do I have to, sir.” Graham replied sternly.
“Sir, yes, sir.” Forrest responded sarcastically.
“Watch it soldier, or I’ll have you eat that sir sandwich.” Graham wasn’t in the mood for any lip.
“Cut the crap, Miller.” Forrest whined. “Just because you folded at eleven doesn’t mean the rest of us are ready for this attitude.”
Graham eyed the other two soldiers in the hall, and dropped his voice so that it didn’t move beyond the four Alphas. “Every cell in quarantine is full. My guess is Beta squad’s down. Now, if it was our unit on the front line, would you want Beta to take a nap instead of initiating rescue maneuvers?” He met each of their eyes, sleepy yet repentant. “That’s what I thought. You’ve got fifty-two minutes. I recommend you don’t spend it in the hallway.”
Lowell House included soldiers from nine different squadrons, each six to ten members strong, so that normally the activity resembled that of an average fraternity house. Today it was like a ghost town. Graham hurriedly logged onto his computer hoping to get some clue about what had happened the night before. Checking the assignment calendar, Graham frowned. Both Beta and Epsilon squads were supposed to be in house today writing up their watch logs from the previous night. Did they really lose that many to quarantine last night?
He scrolled down to read the most recent officer logs. There was the expected preliminary report from Epsilon squad captain, but Beta’s preliminary report was missing. Clicking on Epsilon’s update he settled into the computer chair. Epsilon squad had been assigned the graveyard shift, and their report on the state of the graveyards was disturbing. H.S.T.s seemed to be celebrating some holiday in three of the four graveyards they had gotten around to patrolling. Captures were high, but so were casualties. Epsilon squad had pulled in for a full retreat by graveyard four, with only two men uninjured and over a dozen H.S.T.s already brought to base. It was like the entire population of hostiles was going nuts. Glancing at the clock in the corner of the screen, Graham noticed he had five minutes to get changed and round up the squad for the briefing. He jumped up from the desk, threw on his uniform, grabbed his bag, and headed for the hallway, carefully locking his door. “Let’s go boys!” He yelled, banging on the doors of Alpha squad. “Two minutes!” Ever the conscientious officer, Graham would have been appalled if he had realized he had caused a security breach. Unfortunately, he was halfway to the conference room by the time his computer had resorted to screensaver.
Walsh’s briefing left much to be desired. She had plenty of bad news and not much to redeem it. Enough of Beta and Epsilon units were incapacitated to require the squads to be merged for daytime patrols. All squads were put on full alert. For some reason, the H.S.T.s were out of control, and it was the Initiative’s job to come out fast and strong to prevent any civilian casualties. Graham breathed a sigh of relief when Alpha got neighborhood watch. He felt sorry for Gamma when they got stuck with the forest north of campus. “Alright troops, you have your assignments. Until we get this threat under control, the search for Hostile 17 is going to have to be put on low priority. I expect you to check in here every six hours. Any questions?”
As Walsh dismissed the troops, Graham held his friend back. “Hey Gates, a word.” He pulled his friend to the side, letting the others file past him.
“Yeah, what’s the what?” Forrest asked, having recovered from his morning hangover. The threat of H.S.T. revolts was a wonderful sobering agent.
“Can you get the guys suited up and ready to go? I’ll meet you in the commons room. I want y’all dressed in civvies. Oh, and make sure everyone’s radio has working batteries. Beta and Epsilon units were a bit distracted last night and might not have taken the time to charge them out. If they’re not fully charged, make it so. I don’t want anybody to fall out of communication range.”
“Yes sir.” Forrest answered, before frowning. “Why do I get the feeling you’re about to do something stupid.”
“I need to talk to Riley.”
“Ah, because I was right.” Forrest answered smugly.
“Just get on it, okay. Stall for a few, I’d rather have us over prepared than taken out like the Betas.” Graham answered.
“Gotcha. Tell Iowa he better get his ass back on the front line.” Forrest answered.
Graham nodded, knowing it was the closest Gates was going to get to saying he missed Riley. Of course, all of Alphas were going to miss Finn today; there wasn’t a better man to have at your back. Graham hurried down the corridors until he reached the Zeta captain, who was checking the boards in front of the containment areas. “I need to speak to Agent Finn, he’s in quarantine unit 4.”
“Their scheduled check up is soon. I’ll walk you down there and get it out of the way.” The squad captain nodded. “So do you have any idea why Finn is still in there with the civvies? He’s not contaminated, nor are they for all I can see. It’s a waste of a good cell, and after last night, space is at a premium.” The captain engaged in chitchat while the two strode to the end of the hallway, pausing occasionally to run their clearance cards through various doorways.
“I intend to find out.” Graham replied, not quite sure he should offer any speculation.
Stopping in front of the room, Zeta captain radioed the observation room, which programmed the door to open. He braced himself in the entryway, and called for Finn to step out. Riley quickly moved to avoid the door which was on a timer to close automatically after thirty seconds. “You’re to attend to your personal routine, Finn, but first you have a visitor.”
As the captain stepped aside, Riley expected to see Maggie Walsh ready for another round of questioning. He couldn’t help but grin like an idiot when he saw it was Graham. Miller offered him a hand to shake then led him down the hall to the showers.
“So how are things going?” Graham asked, standing outside the stall as Riley took care of his business.
“Oh, just grand. Give me a tent with a sleeping roll and a campfire, and it’ll be just like boy scout camp.” Riley replied.
“You were locked into rooms with blonde coeds at boy scout camp? Man, I should have gone to camp in Iowa.” Graham teased, missing this joking with his roommate.
“You know what I mean.” Riley rolled his eyes. “So what’s up?” Riley moved to the sink where he brushed his teeth.
“Everything.” Graham sighed, leaning against the locker room door. “It’s complete mayhem out there. Even if Walsh wanted to put the two civvies in different cells, she can’t now. Every single quarantine room is full. It’s just weird. It’s like the H.S.T.s are having a holiday.”
“Well, could it be a holiday?” Riley asked. Graham just gave him a withering look. “I’m just saying, if you find out what they consider a holiday you might find out how to stop them, without having to capture every single H.S.T. in this area.”
“Well, Alpha’s on neighborhood detail, so it’s not like we’ll have much of a chance to ask today.” Graham answered, frowning.
“Yeah, well I’m stuck in a cell with a librarian and a … Buffy.” Riley replied. “I’m not really in a position to do much. Although… nah, that won’t work.”
“What won’t work?”
“Well, it’s just, the librarian. He knows a lot about what’s going on. I could ask him. Maybe he knows.”
“Yeah, but even if you ask him, there’s no way to tell me what to do.” Graham frowned.
“Hmm. The old high school is considered neighborhood, right? Why don’t you check there and see if there’s any good books lying about that might have information?But be careful; I can’t help thinking there’s something off about that place.”
“Well, that’s better than any suggestion I had. Thanks.” Graham sighed. “So is everything okay?”
“Yeah, Zeta’s been really good about letting us out every three hours or so.” Riley nodded, trying to keep a positive outlook.
“That’s good. We can’t wait to have you back, sir.”
“Yeah, I bet Gates is having a field day.” Riley muttered, washing his hands and face. He sighed when he noticed how scruffy his face had gotten. His mother would not be happy at all if she knew he’d gone so long without a shave.
“He said to tell you that Iowa better get his ass back on the front line.” Graham smiled.
“Yup, that’s Forrest.” Riley grinned.
Zeta captain knocked at that point. “Sorry to interrupt, but your ten minutes are up.”
“On my way.” Riley called out, heading for the door. “Thanks for stopping by. I want to know what Alpha is up to.”
“Yeah, well, hopefully you’ll be back with us soon.” Graham answered, following Riley out of the locker room. Riley didn’t bother to answer that. He wasn’t sure he would ever be going back.
Zeta opened the door, and Riley stepped back into the quarantine room. “Summers, Buffy!” The captain called out. Buffy ran for the door, where the captain quickly caught her. “Whoa there miss, wouldn’t be trying to make a break for it, would ya?” He teased.
Buffy glanced back through the door. Giles shook his head no, so she relaxed into the hold. “No, sir, I would never do anything like that.” She offered her saccharine sweet smile to the Zeta captain as he led her to the girl’s locker room.
“So.” Riley started, sitting down next to the librarian. “One of my guys was out there with news from the outside.”
“He says it’s getting bad out there. According to him, the H.S.T.s are celebrating. My mom would say it was like the cat was away so the mice would play.”
“Dear lord.” The color drained out of Giles’ face.
“What?” Riley didn’t like that look on Mr. Giles face at all.
“I think you may be right.”