A Change of Pace – Chapter 78

<The plan seems solid.>

Daisy was standing in the corner of the tactical operations center for the joint DVA, Orlando P.D., and Protectorate raid on the gang hub. She had a full view of everything that was happening. People were moving around the room like busy bees. Printers were printing, people were pulling up information on individual laptops and throwing it onto the big flat screens around the room. Hell, Daisy was pretty sure that every type of advanced optic available was being pointed at the club.

<You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen college kids dry humping on FLIR.>

Still, despite the overwhelming amount of technology and experience in the room one thing was always for certain. A plan never survived first contact with the enemy. It always needed to be adaptable, and from what Daisy was seeing this plan was.

“Ok, everyone gather ‘round. Let’s review the last rehearsal.” Debora Phillips stood at the center of the madness gesturing for everyone to huddle up around one of the big flat screens.

Daisy could see well from where she was standing so she didn’t move. After all, she was the backup contingency if all this went FUBAR. She still listened though.

The assault element was divided into three teams and each was being assigned an area of responsibility. The club had a roughly circular outline to it. There was a dancing area in the middle with booths around it, and a separate VIP section. Each team was responsible for one section.

“This one was better than the last,” Debora offered praise where it was needed.

Daisy watched the video of the SWAT, DVA Agents and Heroes do a pretend breech of a pretend door. With the short time frame they had to get all of this done the only training area they’d been able to set up was a rough tape-outline of the building. Which was why the video was playing from an angle directly above the assault teams.

“After the first few rehearsals we realized we needed a different Hero on the dance floor.” Debora shot an apologetic look to the Protectorate’s leader.

“No apologies are necessary, Agent Phillips,” Mr. Morningstar bowed his head slightly. “Resources need to be allocated properly, and that was not the place for me.”

Debora nodded her head in return. That was a good sign. They didn’t need any dick measuring between the three bodies of law enforcement involved, and Daisy recognized the little conversation was meant to put everyone at ease. Knowing Mr. Morningstar, Daisy knew he probably wasn’t thrilled about being jostled around.

“With that said I would like to thank Amped for coming in on such short notice.”

Daisy didn’t look over at Grace dressed in her tight Hero’s outfit for two reasons. The first was to avoid anyone putting together that they knew each other. Grace might be decked out in Amped’s slightly psychedelic costume, but Daisy wasn’t wearing anything more than the plain, gray mask she’d been given. The second reason, if Daisy was being honest with herself, which she tried to be now-a-days, was because she was a little jealous of the Focus instructor. Grace still had her Hero certification and could do all this operational stuff that Daisy couldn’t.

Grace just nodded at the introduction, also keeping her eyes away from Daisy.

“Team One,” Debora addressed Grace and a SWAT sergeant. “Your entry is clean.”

The video showed the five men and Hero rushing through the imaginary front door of the club. They immediately started to fan out across the dance floor into a line with Grace at the center.

“This is the most vulnerable portion of the operation,” Grace spoke up from behind her blue and white costume. “We’ll be vulnerable here, so I’ll be providing telekinetic shielding and crippling telepathic attacks on any hostile we encounter. The real problem is ricochets.” Grace frowned. “Based on the imagery it’s really tight quarters in there, so I’m going to need some guidance on how you want me to proceed.”

The imagery was coming from several young-looking undercover cops that had infiltrated the club as normal college partiers. They had high-resolution button cameras on their outfits that was giving the operations center up-to-date footage on everything going on inside. Getting them into the club had been easy. All they had to do was pay the cover and not get caught. It was going to be what happened to them during the shooting that had Daisy worried.

Daisy had seen the issue too, and was glad Grace was bringing it up. Daisy had participated in hundreds of the raids, and done training and dry runs thousands of times; so she had a pretty good eye when it came to these types of operations. Of course, she used to be able to just drop everyone and that would be that.

The cruel voice from the desert, and ForceOps soldiers torn to pieces reminded her of why that wasn’t possible; or at least why the brass thought it wasn’t possible.

“Protect my officers with minimum civilian casualties,” the SWAT commander, Commander Jenkins, stated flatly.

Daisy saw Grace’s face tighten under her mask. <It’s not that simple.> Daisy shook her head. Grace could focus on covering the officers from potential fire or she could protect the civilians from the same gunfire, she couldn’t do both; which meant the undercover guys and gals might be in for a bad day. Trying to do both would involve too many telekinetic constructs that would strain her too much and probably not be effective at all.

Daisy felt sorry for Grace, but this couldn’t be the first time the advanced mind had been caught between a rock and a hard place.

“My only critique is for Team One to slow down,” Debora continued. “If you rush across the floor too fast then you’re going to leave gaps in your fields of fire between you and Team Two That’ll leave you both vulnerable.”

Grace nodded and turned to converse with the SWAT sergeant who was her number two.

“Team Two,” Debora moved on to address the two Heroes, SWAT sergeant, and DVA Special Agent who led the two separate sections of team two. “You come in behind Team One smoothly with only slight bottlenecking at the stairs.

Daisy watched as the ten person team two rushed in after team one. The team immediately split into two five-man sections and peeled off to short staircases on either side of the entrance to the dance floor. Team one was the team who could take the most fire due to the dance floor being in a slight depression at the bottom of the club, but team two had the most difficult clearing situation.

Booths lined the area around the dance floor and anyone of them could hold a shooter hiding under a table, or a Super just waiting for the teams to get within range of their power. Daisy watched as Galavant led one team as they slowly cleared all of the booths. The young Hero’s density manipulation essentially allowed him to be a large bulletproof shield walking in front of the rest of his section.

The Hero leading the opposite section was a member of the Protectorate that Daisy had just met a few hours ago. Matchbox was still a relatively junior Hero with only six years on the job, but she definitely had skill. A limited pyrokinetic, Matchbox could summon a fiery sword and shield that she was a master at wielding. On top of that she was fireproof and slightly faster and more durable than the average human. She wasn’t bulletproof, but her shield burned hot enough to melt bullets on contact.

Daisy watched as the small and dainty Hero, only five foot four and a hundred and ten pounds in her tech genius supplied, red, fire-themed costume, walked at the head of the team. The residual heat off of her blazing shield was nearly nothing, which seemed to defy the natural order of things, but even so her team was giving her a wide berth. Daisy couldn’t blame the DVA Special Agent and the SWAT soldiers from keeping their distance. After all, they’d been told not to play with fire ever since they were kids reaching for the stove and getting yelled at by their mother. But Daisy knew that was an aversion they needed to get over quickly if they wanted to take advantage of the cover Matchbox’s shield offered.

“Here you see it again,” Debora slowed the footage down. “Team One is pulling ahead while Team Two is clearing the booths.”

Daisy saw it. Team One was a good ten feet in front of Galavant and Matchbox, who were roughly parallel to each other. If there was a shooter or Super gang member within that ten feet they’d have a clear shot at Grace or the five SWAT members clearing the dance floor.

“We’re going to run it again after this,” Commander Jenkins gave the assembled people a hard stare. “I want this op by the books with no casualties. If that rehearsal was live we’d have people to bury and that is not acceptable.”

<That’s a reach.> Daisy didn’t want to be a Debbie-downer, but the SWAT commander was asking for a lot from a team who’d only been working together for a few hours and was about to attack a stronghold full of armed gang members and Supers.

<Tell me about it.> Grace’s voice projected into Daisy’s mind. <Of course I volunteer and get plopped right in the middle of it.>

<Just slow down and you won’t get shot in the ass.> Daisy kept the grin off her face with some effort.

<If I get shot in the ass I expect you to drop everyone in that building.> Grace’s thought was a joke on the surface, but Daisy knew it was a legitimate request.

<Of course.> Daisy would do it too.

Whatever the fuck the DVA and ForceOps wanted from her, she wasn’t going to let one of her friends get turned into Swiss cheese for “what ifs”.

“Team Three.” Debora and Commander Jenkins had moved on to the final assault team after a few more recommendations for Galavant and Matchbox.       

“Yes,” Mr. Morningstar smiled with KaBoom standing stoically at his side.

“Your entry is clean.”

Unlike the first two teams that were going in through the front door, team three was going in through the rear where a staircase led up to the club’s offices. The imagery from the office area showed that it was crowded with people, and everyone in the room knew that was where they were going to find the most gang members. Daisy’s guess was senior lieutenants at a minimum, which meant that there would be a Super brawl.

She hoped that the single undercover they had in the office area wouldn’t get squashed in the fighting. And then there was the unknown of the VIP section. They didn’t have any eyes or ears in there.

“We’d like to be issued a few more flashbangs.” KaBoom stated as the tape showed them throwing four mock versions of the grenades into the taped outline of the room. “If some of the stronger Fist Supers we have on record are present then we might not have enough. Ideally, I’d like something capable of confusing a mid-level strongman.”

Flash bang grenades came in a variety of potencies, and the ones that could confuse a decent strongman were the top of the line models. Which meant they were really expensive and could be lethal if used against humans.

“Negative,” Debora shot down the request immediately.

“With the number of people in that room they can’t all be Supers, and a bunch of dead college party students is not something the city needs after the blackout.” Commander Jenkins added.

<He’s got a point, but that doesn’t make Morningstar or KaBoom any less screwed.> Daisy felt bad for the top two Protectorate Heroes, but there was a reason they were the team’s leaders. They had the experience to survive this.

“The clearing of the room is on point,” Commander Jenkins praised the footage of team three clearing the main room and side room attached to it.

Daisy didn’t know if it was because the commander was on team three or not, but she saw a whole lot of shit that could go wrong up there. <It could buy Topher’s raid all over again.>

The botched police raid on the Fist safe house was still fresh in her mind. Topher still hadn’t gotten back to where he was before taking a shotgun blast to the chest. Thankfully, her boyfriend was going to be manning the outermost perimeter and directing traffic away from the scene. It was not a glamorous job, and it was probably the last thing Topher wanted to be doing, but Daisy was glad he’d be safe.

<Without those grenades they’re going to get chewed up.> Grace shared Daisy’s questions about team three.

KaBoom was good. He could absorb the kinetic forces of a decent number of bullets and strikes from the gang members and then dish out the hurt. But unlike Daisy, he couldn’t do offense and defense at the same time. Daisy was a rarity among absorbers being able to do offense, defense, and multiple absorptions at the same time. She took that power for granted, but she knew other absorbers didn’t have the same luxury.

Mr. Morningstar was also good, after all he was a Hero with multiple decades under his belt, but he was vulnerable in this situation. He would be priceless in getting any civilians out of the line of fire, but the Supers could be a problem. That was one reason they were doing the raid late at night so the Fist members had plenty of time to party. An intoxicated mind was an easy mind for Mr. Morningstar to influence. Still, one stray bullet was all it was going to take to kill the older Hero. Being in the rear of the team helped, while KaBoom led the charge, but knowing Mr. Morningstar, Daisy knew he probably didn’t like that either.

<It’s just a day full of disappointments for you.> Daisy thought. First there was Amped being brought in, and she had noticed he wasn’t saying much when it came to the raid.

<You have no idea.> Grace added, then went on to explain how Mr. Morningstar was under harsh criticism for the recent blackout and gang growth in the city by the DVA. <They think he’s lost his touch.>

Daisy didn’t like that combination. Mr. Morningstar was a proud man, you only had to take one look at him to see that. If he went into this op trying to prove something there could be problems. Ideally, Heroes should be above that type of thinking, but despite their incredible abilities they were only human.

“Ok people, let’s run it again.” Debora ended the review and headed for the door.

Like the SWAT commander she was also on team three.

<A lot of chiefs and not enough Indians.> Daisy thought it would be smarter to split them up, but she was just a special consultant. Her job was just to sit there and step in if things went wrong.

<Or if I get shot in the ass.> Grace added as she left the room.

<Or if you get shot in the ass.> Daisy corrected herself.

She couldn’t bring herself to laugh a second time. She was starting to get a bad feeling about this. At the very least, Topher would be heartbroken if something happened to his big sister.

 

***

 

The next rehearsal was good, and the last one was even better. Debora moved forward confidently with her DVA issued Colt at the ready. Team three streamed into the tape box denoting the layout of the club’s hallway and VIP/office area. The whole team moved quickly down the twenty-yard-long hallway, and then Debora and two other SWAT members split off from the main team before they reached the main room. They stacked against an imaginary wall with Debora in the third position. She tapped the person ahead of her on the shoulder, and the second person tapped the large man in the first position who was armed with a deadly looking shotgun.

“Agent Phillips,” a hurried voice squawked over the earbud Debora and everyone else in the operation was wearing.

With an exasperated sigh Debora waved the other members of her team to continue with the rehearsal as she stepped back.

“Go.” She stated simply.

“We need you at the back here at tactical.” The voice was shaking with either fear or excitement.

“We’re in the middle of our final rehearsal,” Debora replied back forcefully. She couldn’t think of anything more important.

“Trust me, Ma’am, you’ll want to see this.”

“Fine I’m on my way.” Without a word to anyone Debora stalked out of the warehouse they were using for rehearsals and over toward the tactical operations center.

The building was a small business office that had been confiscated by the local PD and DVA. The owners were being substantially compensated for their trouble and their silence. Debora would have preferred a different setup, but you couldn’t beat the location. They were only a few blocks from the club. Getting the assault teams into position after they were ordered to breech would be quick.

Debora stalked up the back stairwell, which was very similar to the one she’d be charging up later, and knocked on the back door. A uniformed officer opened it, scanned her I.D., checked to make sure the picture on the I.D. resembled the woman standing before him, and then let her in. She gave him a brief nod for his vigilance before continuing her stalk to the main room.

“What is going…?” She stopped abruptly when she saw who was in the room.

“Hey, Deb.” A tall man in a slightly worse from wear uniform waved at her.

“Chris, what the hell are you doing here?” Debora immediately started to worry. Her younger brother wasn’t standing up straight and he was favoring his injured side.

“I’ve got some information for you,” Chris pointed over to the corner where two men in very expensive suits sat watched over by his girlfriend.

Daisy, Debora still couldn’t believe she was the actual Reaper, hovered over them threateningly. The two men seemed to instinctually flinch away from the famous Hero. <I bet she’s one hell of an interrogator.>

“We observed these two men entering and exiting the club earlier tonight.” Chris explained. “They entered with a group of women and left without them.”

“That isn’t anything to go on,” Debora frowned, turning her attention away from the well-dressed men and to her brother.

“Normally no, but the women were all tied up and chained together. Then these guys ran when we tried to stop them, and we’ve gotten positive hits through the DVA’s database since we brought them in. These two lovely gentlemen are lieutenants of the Diablo Cartel out of Columbia. They’ve been on our gangs and narcotics squads’ list for almost two years.” Chris looked like a kid in a candy shop, and Debora knew why.

<This is a big bust.> She felt good for her brother. Even injured and on the outskirts of the action he’d still been able to do some good.

“So we’ve got them on resisting arrest, accomplices to a slew of narcotics felonies, and we’ve even got a cherry on top.” Chris produced two evidence bags with about a dozen smaller baggies of white powder in each. “We can add possession and intent to sell. All together we can probably get them fifteen to twenty, but after their cartel lawyer gets involved probably closer to five.”

All of that sounded great to Debora. These scumbags getting taken off the street was good for her baby bro’s city. But that was big picture. She was more interested in how this was going to affect their upcoming op.

“You said they were in the building earlier?” Debora asked, swiping a binder from a nearby table and walked over to crouch in front of the two men.

“If you gentlemen assist us with this we can put in a good word with the District Attorney. You won’t avoid jail, but we might be able to reduce your sentences. We know a lot of the prisons in the area have heavy cartel influence. Maybe you can get placed in one of those instead of those run by the Aryan Brotherhood. You’ve got a much better chance of surviving if Rebel’s followers don’t get a hold of you.”

Both men looked at Debora with blank expressions. “No hablo Inglés.” One of them finally spoke.

“No hablo my ass,” Daisy growled from behind the men slapping both of them in the back of the head. It wasn’t a hard slap, but it still earned the Hero a glare from the DVA agent.

“You don’t need to speak English to help us.” Debora opened the binder and showed the men the contents. “Just tell us if you’ve seen any of the people while you were inside.”

Both men looked at the binder and then at each other.

“You are going after the Fist.” One man spoke in perfect English.

Debora nodded.

“Why didn’t you say so?” Both men smiled at Debora. “We’d be happy to comply with the authorities in matters related to that despicable street gang.”

“What happened to the no hablo Inglés?” Daisy looked like she was going to smack the two men again, but a pointed look from Debora made her back down.

“Trauma is a funny thing. When your police officers assaulted us we were afraid for our lives and ran. Your country has a problem with policemen attacking unarmed people. We have seen the news, and didn’t want to be hurt.”

“Bullshit,” this time Debora didn’t stop Daisy from smacking them, and hard.

<At least we know what their defense is going to be at trial.> Innocent minority getting harassed by the police.

If Debora hated anything, it was people taking advantage of the situation for their own gain. And this little incident wasn’t going to do anything to help build the relationship and trust that the community needed. The fact that they were known cartel members who were found with enough cocaine to kill a person would become a secondary concern in the upcoming media spectacle.

<That’s then. Let’s focus on now.> Debora pushed down the anger, and pointed down at the binder.

“Just tell us who you saw inside.”

The two cartel members did just that, coupled with loud complaining about imagined injuries they’d sustained when they were tackled to the ground. Thankfully, there had been a camera on them the whole time so they’d look pretty stupid if they actually tried to put that shit into their countersuit against the city. Debora hoped they tried, that would go a long way to undercut their credibility.

“Commander Jenkins and team leaders report to tactical for last minute briefing.” Debora announced over the comm as the uniformed police officers pulled the cartel officers to their feet and walked them out the back doors toward waiting patrol cars.

Three minutes later they were all standing in the same places where they had the review before their last two rehearsals. “We’ve got some new intel.” Pictures appeared on one of the big flat screens. “We’re got positive I.D.’s that these known Fist members are in the building.” There were three pictures on the screen, two women and two men; one of which was just a black silhouette with a question mark on it.

“They go by the street names: Big Mike, Torch, Rat, and finally Squid. I know everyone here knows that Squid is the boss. If we can grab him then that will cut the head off the snake of this organization. On top of that,” people around the room were already smiling. “Our intel shows that Squid has met personally with the wanted supervillain, Wraith. If we get him then we get one step closer to the person suspected of assassinating Hunter.” All the Heroes around the room nodded, their faces more determined than before.

“All of the suspects are known to be in the VIP office area. With this new knowledge we need to change our plan.”

“How?” Commander Jenkins didn’t look thrilled about making any changes right before they started the op.

“We need more firepower on Team Three.” Debora stated matter-of-factly before turning around to look into the far corner of the room, prompting everyone else to follow her gaze. “Our specialist, Code name Broken Arrow will be coming with us. Unless that’s not ok?”

Everyone watched as the Daisy stepped away from the corner and smiled. “What are we waiting for. Let’s go take down some bad guys.”

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