The alley was immaculate. You've never seen such a spotless alley. Not a single piece of litter anywhere. No drink cups or cardboard boxes. Not even a single cigarette butt. Other than that, it could have been just about any urban alleyway anywhere in the world. Painted cinderblock and brick buildings with dented metal doors and barred windows lined both sides of a stretch of asphalt. Recessed doorways and a couple of dumpsters could provide cover for someone up to no good.
I smiled as I walked casually along the center of the graying blacktop. I was supposed to be sneaking, but I wasn't. The game we were playing called for me to make my way down the alley while reconnoitering for a potential ambush, then signal the rest of the team to close-up if the way was clear. Typical Urban Warfare Tactical Training Exercise. Or maybe in Armyese it would be Tactical Warfare/Antiterrorist Training, which would have made a more amusing acronym.
I should have been wearing one of those standard-issue Urban-camo uniforms with the black, white, and gray splotches that matched nothing and stood-out against everything, but fortunately (and typically) the quartermaster hadn't been able to produce one in my size. Instead, I was wearing a gray, seamless sport-top and a pair of black, stretch, low-rise, boyshorts which was a much more reasonable outfit for someone out taking exercise in this Georgia late-summer weather. The black, crepe-soled cross-trainers on my feet and the no-particular-color-at-all fanny-pack riding my hip completed the ensemble. My black and grey color-scheme did match the official camo colors, if only by coincidence. My argument that a girl in jogging attire was more in keeping with the spirit of the thing than one clumping along with a full-pack load-out and carrying a Heckler and Koch MP5-SD had been met with some reluctant grunts, but no real disagreement. I'd expected more of an argument from the non-com running the exercise, but he hadn't yet figured out what to make of me, so he was erring on the side of politeness.
I did get some static about the amount of exposed skin. I'd dressed as I did because I hadn't understood the use of the term 'exercise' in the schedule they handed out. I thought we were going to be doing some 'physical training' (their term), so I dressed accordingly. To be fair, the static was more of a warning about how much the simunition (wax bullets mixed with blue dye) would hurt if I got popped with one. I countered with the argument that in the real world a hit like that would probably kill me and if the exercise taught me to avoid that occurrence, then it would be well worth it. Faced with that bit of macho bluster, the static faded fast and I even saw a couple of flak-jackets get surreptitiously ditched.
This was the first scheduled event and no one here other than the few guys I'd met before had a clue what to make of me. We'd all just arrived at Fort Benning the night before and none of us had had a chance to chat. As a result, I was still the official eye-candy for most of the rest of the campers as well as the locals.
Nothing new there. I've been gawked at before. When you are female, 5' 1", 105lbs, and your measurements are 48-18-28, you're going to get some stares, especially from a bunch of mostly military and police jocks with more testosterone than plasma running through their veins. If no one had tried to hit on me yet, it was only because it was 8am in the morning and they weren't yet entirely sure I was real.
Mind you, I was actually sort of looking forward to getting hit on. From what I could see, most of my fellow campers were close to being perfect physical specimens of the human adult male. Not a paunch or a stoop among them and probably not a single IQ under 120. Most were young, not many over 30, and those that were had much of that same rigid, commanding presence that Colonel Brock typified.
Oh yes, my favorite Colonel, Brock-the-Brick was here, along with two of his Sigma 7 operators, Jonas Matuchek and Evan Cochran. Evan had been around for a while now and I suspected that he had been assigned as my permanent shadow — someone to either make sure I didn't get into too much trouble, or to rescue those poor unfortunates unlucky enough to seriously piss me off. The latter I knew to be something Brock was concerned about since my style of dealing with problems tended to be flashier than he was normally comfortable with. What can I say? Flashy comes with the territory for your average superheroine. And that brings us to me. I'm Samantha Draco, aka The Dragon.
If that name doesn't ring any bells, then you haven't read a newspaper or watched TV in the last few months. I'm what you call 'famous' or maybe it's 'infamous'. What little footage there is of me in action gets trotted out whenever there is a slow news day or some editor decides to goose their ratings. I heard a rumor that the Discovery Channel was planning a special on people with super-normal abilities. I'm going to watch that to see if they manage to find someone else like me. I sure hope so. This stuff gets lonely sometimes.
Not that I don't have friends. I do. Just not many who know my secrets. One who does is my best friend and partner, Neeka. She's here too — somewhere. They split the tech-people out and sent them to another part of the base to put them through a series of seminars on the latest mil-tech advancements.
I see I'm explaining things inside-out again. Sorry. Bad habit. What happened was — we were looking forward to getting back to what passes for our normal lives after our last adventure when we got a call from our favorite bureaucrat, asking if we'd like to attend a special summer-camp.
Now, I hadn't been to camp since I was twelve, so I was keen on the idea from the start. Neeka was reluctant, until Mr. Solomon explained that she'd be spending the whole time buried in a bunker with all the other uber-geeks, playing with a load of ultra-high-tech computers and spy gadgets. Her hesitance vanished at that point and shortly afterward, so did she, while she was being processed for some level of clearance the name of which is never mentioned and knowledge of which is grounds for permanent surveillance. I got the better deal. I got to go off and play with the best-and-brightest members of every counter-terror, hostage-rescue, elite-police, special-warfare, and black-ops team that wasn't otherwise-engaged for the week. This was a summer camp for heroes and I was extremely proud to have been included.
All right, 'summer camp' isn't what they called it, but that's what it amounted to. The idea was to get people together from as many of the diverse special operations groups as possible and let them hang out for a few days, doing 'refresher courses' on tactics and running through exercises on the local MP, Ranger and Sniper facilities. I suspect that this was mostly an excuse to let people who normally couldn't say squat to anyone about their jobs relax in an environment where everyone else was more or less in the same situation. We still couldn't divulge the specifics of certain operations, but shop talk was otherwise encouraged.
I tried not to let the fact that these guys were mostly of the seriously-studly persuasion influence me in any way, but I could feel their eyes on me as I made my way down the fake alley and I confess that did make me strut just a teeny bit.
I was also very worried about not screwing up. I had volunteered to be on Point for this exercise — something I knew darn well was a cardinal sin in the military. But I wanted to prove as quickly as possible to anyone who might doubt my qualifications for being there that I was capable of doing the job. Now I was practically reciting it as a mantra with every step - "don't screw up, don't screw up".
I was past the first couple of recessed doorways to either side. They couldn't have provided much cover and I was sure none of the local guys who would be playing the OpFor — the Opposing Forces, as Sgt. Wilkins called them — or The Bad Guys, as I thought of them, would be dumb enough to try to hide there.
I thought the best cover for someone trying an ambush was either the dumpsters or the narrow gap coming up on the right between two of the buildings. The gap seemed a poor choice. Even I could see that someone shooting down the length of it could easily cut down an entire squad before they could escape out the other end. No, the best place to hide would be behind the standard, commercial-sized, green dumpsters. They were free-standing steel boxes on pairs of thick skids and their positioning left enough space for three or four people to either hide behind, or between one and the building next to it.
If I was wrong and the ambush team was around the corner of the building, then I would look foolish. But if they decided to take advantage of my mistake, the bad guys would have to show themselves to get at me and I would be on the other side of the dumpster when they did, putting them in the line of fire from my teammates a half-block behind me.
I inhaled deeply and then let it out slowly, the better to hear any noise the opposition might make. I practically tiptoed, my crepe-soles making my steps noiseless. When I was close enough, I put my right shoulder down, jogged three steps diagonally toward the dumpster and gave it a shove. Maybe I shoved a bit too hard. The dumpster moved with a loud screeching-scrape sound. It slid about three feet before stopping a foot away from the wall of the building. The lid, which had been propped up, fell down with a big-time clang. Barely audible under the noise of the dumpster were a few "oof"s and some small clanks of something solid hitting the other side.
.... There is more of this story ...