JUNE 8th, 2061. White Sands Army Base, New Mexico, North American Province, 0910 local time.
“This meeting, I’m not going to put up with any bullshit,” Louise told herself. She had spent the last hours beating herself up for letting her ex girlfriend, Michelle, get under her skin. She wasn’t going to let it happen again.
Louise had arrived back at the office an hour ago after a quick trip home to pack. The briefing files had stated she had to bring civilian clothes. For now, Louise was still in uniform, though. Eleanor Lucas would be here in a few hours.
Which made Louise wonder: “Where the hell is everyone?” She looked around the empty conference room. This briefing should have started 10 minutes ago, but no one had joined her yet. She guessed she could use the time to study the files about the mission again.
Louise placed her elbows on the table. There were still a few things she didn’t understand after reading the intelligence report and mission briefing. She had made a list of questions and opened it on her terminal.
The most important question was about the source of this unexpected intelligence. Louise was a seasoned expert and experience had taught her a formal intelligence process was needed at all times.
The information in this report seemed to have the least reliable source: a human being. Witness statements could be useful, sure. But Louise always liked to see them backed up with data. And there wasn’t much of that in this file.
The only part of the report that seemed solid was the information on Eleanor Lucas. Louise had read those parts eyes wide. There was a lot there that no other Global Coalition team had ever been able to uncover. It made Louise suspect they had an informant in rebel territory.
The pictures of Lucas, especially, made Louise wonder how close the informant was to the rebel leader. Louise opened the images again and shook her head in disbelief. They had been taken surprisingly up close. Eleanor Lucas was talking and smiling in most of them.
The woman had charisma. That much was clear from every single shot. No wonder Lucas had won the election by a landslide, Louise thought. She zoomed in on Eleanor Lucas’s face. What was it that made her appearance so appealing?
“She doesn’t look like a terrorist,” Louise realized. The rebel leader had light brown hair with a curly twist here and there, and a friendly face with stunning grey eyes.
“Good morning.” The nasal voice made Louise look up from her screen with a frown.
A small muscular man was standing in the doorway of the briefing room. Everything about him was in perfect proportion. His short height left him just shy of being imposing, though.
“Come in,” Louise said. She would have preferred to address him by his name, but for some reason, no one had told her what it was. She squinted at his name tag in an attempt to find out.
“Second Lieutenant Hobbs,” he said much too casually and pulled back a chair. “I’m your partner on this mission. Let’s get started. We have a lot to discuss before Lucas gets here,” he said and put his terminal on the table.
Louise crossed her arms in surprise. Hobbs sure had a lot of attitude. “I have some questions first,” she said sternly.
Hobbs looked up with raised eyebrows. “Sure, okay,” he replied, shrugging as if he was talking to one of his buddies.
“Let’s wait for Major Becker and Captain McConnell,” Louise said coolly. “We’ll give them a few more minutes.”
“Oh, they’re not coming. It’s just us,” Hobbs replied. The sparkle in his eyes told Louise he enjoyed the fact that he apparently knew more than she did.
She looked down at her screen, thinking for a moment. She didn’t know why she had expected Michelle to be here. Now that she thought about it, she had to admit Michelle never had specifically said she would be.
Louise cleared her throat. “Fine then. I have a couple of questions I want you to answer.”
He smiled and leaned back. “Of course, ma’am.”
“And keep a lid on that attitude,” Louise said.
Hobbs shifted in his seat and nodded. Louise doubted his discomfort was sincere.
“Briefing room C, seal. Code 3876,” she said. “What was your previous assignment?” she asked once the room was sealed. She wanted to know a bit more about Hobbs first. She had no clue who she was dealing with here.
Hobbs unlocked his terminal. “Missing person investigation.”
Louise frowned. “Military?”
He tapped the screen. “Yes.” The same map that Michelle had opened a few hours ago popped up on the wall again.
Hobbs hesitated. “The Yang case.”
Louise moved to the edge of her seat. “The scientist?”
“I heard that case went cold.”
“Correct,” Hobbs said, clearly fed up with this topic. “We think she died of dehydration while doing research in the desert. Can’t prove it, though.”
Louise nodded slowly. More than one person had vanished in that desert. The conditions out there were brutal.
“Now please,” he urged and pointed at the map on the wall. “We have a lot to discuss before Lucas gets here. That woman is…” He thought for a second. “Smart.”
Louise glanced down at the picture on her screen. “She’s just a terrorist who thinks she can get away with her crimes,” she said.
“Oh, she is much more than that,” Hobbs replied. “You better accept she’s probably smarter than the both of us together or the mission will fail.”
Louise was too stunned to reply at first. “You seem to have an awful lot of respect for the enemy, Second Lieutenant Hobbs,” she finally said, icily.
The corners of his lips turned up into a thin smile. “I don’t respect Lucas, ma’am. I just know bringing her down will be more difficult than you seem to think.”
Louise sat up and leaned forward, meeting his gaze confidently. “I’m an expert in my field, Hobbs. I can handle Lucas.”
Hobbs didn’t even blink. “It would be a big mistake to underestimate the enemy when there is so much on the line for you, ma’am.”
“Is he threatening me?” Louise thought in shock. Why did this guy feel comfortable enough to practically mock her? She would talk to the Captain as soon she left this room, she decided. For now, she would put him in his place.
“How about you start acting like a professional or I will have you removed from this mission,” Louise said evenly.
Hobbs took in a deep breath. After a moment, he nodded and looked back down at his terminal. “Permission to brief you on the terrain, ma’am?” he asked seriously.
“Go ahead,” Louise said.
4 hours later, Louise was sure her head was going to explode. She had not taken a single break during her meeting with Hobbs. Her stomach had been growling for the last 2 hours. A headache was making it hard for her to think.
She needed to talk to the Captain and try to get some answers about this annoying new partner, though. She would have to be careful about how she broached the subject, of course.
That’s why she needed a short break first. The hallways seemed to close in on her as she made her way to Jim’s office. She was relieved to find him alone and staring at the wall.
“Coffee break?” she croaked.
Jim turned to look at her. It was only then that Louise noticed the map he was studying.
“Ah, guess you got the briefing too,” she sighed.
He nodded and pushed himself up. “Yup, we’ll be ready to receive any reports you send us.”
Louise nodded. “Your team will update the Fireblue database while my team processes the evidence?”
Jim stretched his arms above his head. “Uhuh.” Reddish stubble was starting to show on his cheeks. “Weird you’re being sent into the field, huh?”
“Being stuck with Lucas wasn’t on the top of your bucket list either, I’m guessing,” he said and winked.
The comment surprised Louise, and she laughed. “Hush,” she then said and looked around to see if anyone had heard them.
She closed the glass door of Jim’s office behind her.
He grinned. “They’re all in briefing room G. Don’t worry.”
Louise rubbed her eyes tiredly. She noticed a strand of hair had escaped the tight elastic band and was tickling her cheek.
“It’s still so hot in here. No news on the air conditioning?” she asked.
“Nope. How did it go with the Major?”
“Oh, God.” Louise shook her head. “Let’s not talk about that.”
Jim raised his hands. “Okay, but when you get back from your mission, I’m going to ask again.”
She rolled her eyes. Jim propped his hip against the edge of the desk.
“Have you seen the intel?” Louise asked, desperate to change the topic.
“You getting the same vibe?” she asked.
He nodded seriously. “Lots of details, but vague on who the source is.”
Louise walked over to the map on the wall.
“My spidey sense is tingling,” she said.
Jim laughed. “Not the spider man stuff again!”
Louise turned to meet his gaze and smiled. “I found a 1st edition of a Spider Man comic last week. On paper and everything.”
Jim grinned back. “Must have cost you a fortune.”
“Yeah.” Louise shrugged and studied the map again. “Seriously, though,” she said. “What are we missing?”
Jim walked over. “I don’t think it’s up to us to ask questions.”
Louise closed her eyes briefly. She knew he was right, of course.
“Yeah, okay. There’s no reason to not trust the intel.”
“Exactly. You know asking questions will only get you into trouble, Lou.”
Louise rubbed the back of her neck. “And here I was on my way to the Captain to ask where the hell my partner came from.”
Jim met her gaze, his eyebrows raised. “Sounds like a bad idea.” He crossed his arms. “Is he that bad?”
Jim made a face.
Louise sighed. “I need to go grab a bite before Lucas gets here.”
“Alright, let’s see if there’s some of that schnitzel left,” he joked to lighten the mood. It was their thing. They never let the awkwardness set in.
Jim locked his terminal, making the map disappear. “Why on earth is she coming here?” he asked.
“She wants us to believe she’s innocent.”
“Yeah, I know, but still…” He shook his head. “Those rebels did everything to disconnect from us. Blew up bridges and everything. Why the change of heart?”
Louise lifted a shoulder. “Maybe it’s not a change of heart. Maybe she’s doubling down. Playing us. My partner Hobbs certainly seems to think so.”
Jim gave her a concerned look. “Be careful, Lou. I’ve got a bad feeling about Lucas.”
Louise blew out a breath. “I will.”
Jim was still staring at her. She widened her eyes. “What?”
“Okay,” he said, “How much time do you have?”
Louise glanced at her watch. “An hour. Let’s have some real food before I step into the time machine and get sent into the past. God knows what they’ll feed me over there.”
Jim chuckled. Louise laughed along with him, she had made the joke after all, but a dreadful feeling in the pit of her stomach was already killing her appetite.
She was extremely nervous about meeting Lucas in just 60 minutes. Her spidey sense was usually spot on after all.