Agent Orange: The Satellite Send-Off.
Chapter 1: New Partner, Old Enemy.
"Hello, I'm Todd Trigger," the lanky man held out his hand, only to be rebuffed by the red-haired woman across from him.
His new partner glanced at him once and then shook her head. "Trigger? You've got to be kidding me."
"Err, sorry, but it's the name I was born with. It's kind of embarrassing." The youthful man flushed red and ran a hand through his short blond hair. "It makes me sound like some sort of cheesy action star."
"Yeah, it really does." Still the woman made no move to shake the outstretched hand. Finally, Todd let it fall to his side.
"So..." Todd tried a smile, which the woman didn't return. "...uh, I'm guessing you're Agent Orange, right?"
"What tipped you off, the hair?" The green-eyed beauty scowled in Todd's direction.
"Kinda. And I had been warned about your attitude as well." Todd shrugged. "Look, can we at least get out of this hallway? I don't think either one of us likes the idea of being partnered up together, but we can at least be civil about it."
"Humph," Orange snorted angrily. "Fine, let's get going." She started walking down the clean, anti-septic hall.
"Uh, wait a sec!" Todd raced to catch up. "Where are we going?"
"You weren't briefed?"
Orange sighed and spoke without breaking her stride. "Great, they saddle me with a bumpkin who doesn't even know what we're supposed to be doing. Just great."
"Hey, don't take out Chief's shortcomings on me." Todd was on the defensive. "Just throw me a bone, okay?"
"Fine," Orange led Todd around a number of twists and turns in the corridors as she talked. "Seven hours ago, a US missile test in the Pacific was sabotaged. Someone blew the missile up two seconds after launch. It's a miracle it didn't kill anybody."
"How? Did they use another missile, or maybe a rocket?"
"They used a satellite. Apparently, someone with a lot of skill and too much time on his hands hacked into the computer system controlling our secret Angel Strike satellite and has locked us out of it."
"Angel Strike? What's that? I've never heard of it."
"Good," Orange gave the briefest hint of a smile for the first time since Todd met her, "that means the secret part of the satellite is working. Basically, it's an advanced form of the old Star Wars defense idea. It utilizes a stunning electromagnetic beam that can scramble the circuitry of even the most sophisticated piece of electronics. Then it follows up immediately with a beam of intense heat about half-an-inch in diameter. It heats up to a little over 1,000º Fahrenheit within three-seconds."
Todd gave a little whistle as they approached a large blast-door with two security officers guarding it. "Dang, that sounds nasty."
"It is," Orange assured him. "And now it's in the hands of a madman. Who knows what carnage they could do with it." Orange paused in front of one security officer, who stepped forward with a portable metal detector. He waved it over her as she unclipped her ID badge and handed it to the other officer.
Todd stepped forward as Orange was signaled clear and he passed over his own ID and unclipped the Glock 18 from his belt and handed that over. "You don't carry a gun?" He asked Orange with some surprise.
"No, they just get in the way." She didn't say anything else as the guard handed back Todd's ID and activated the retinal scanner to unlock the secure doors. They opened with a clank and both Orange and Todd passed through into the hallway beyond.
This hallway was darker, with dim lights hidden in the walls to give it an eerie green tint. Guards were more common now, most toting submachine guns slung over their backs. There were no branching corridors, no doors along the wall, and nothing to slow them down as the two agents hurried down the hall, towards a blank metal door at the end.
With a swipe of her ID card, Orange pushed open the door and they entered a blank square room with only a table and two chairs to furnish it. Another door was directly opposite, flanked by two guards. She nodded at one of the guards and he punched in a code to open that door, and then, with Orange, Todd, and the other guard remaining behind, he passed through into yet another corridor before the door automatically shut behind him.
"Well what the heck are we doing in the Basement if our job is to stop that satellite thief?" Todd whispered to Orange, feeling quite nervous in the dimly lit interrogation room. The Basement was the lowest floor in the entire building, where the security station was, and where they kept the special prisoners. The ones they couldn't let loose into the normal prison system. These were the worst of the worst, and being down here was making Todd very concerned.
"The hacker was arrogant enough to leave a trace of himself behind in the computer system after he compromised us." Orange turned to Todd. "He left the name SKULL."
"So? Wait!" Realization dawned on Todd. "You mean the terrorist organization? The same crazies who bombed the Olympic games? The same nutjobs who shot that Chinese space shuttle out of the sky? The same lunatics who poisoned half of the Danish parliament with anthrax?"
"The very same."
"Holy sh...oot," Todd gasped, just barely catching himself before he cursed. "Again, I've got to ask, why are we here? Shouldn't we be hunting those maniacs down?"
Orange gave him a strange look. "That's why we're here. You've heard of Savanna Venom, right?"
"The most vicious female terrorist in the modern world? Of course! Who hasn't heard about how she helped turn SKULL into the horrible organization it is today? And of course, everyone knows about how you fought her hand-to-hand on the Eiffel Tower, to prevent her from sniping France's Prime Minister." Suddenly, Todd's face blanched. "Wait, after she was apprehended, she was brought here?"
"You got it."
"Why?" Todd said, on the verge of hysterics. "She's the most evil person on the face of the planet!"
"And she's also the only living person who knows everything there is to know about SKULL," Orange explained calmly. "We've been trying to pump her for information for years, but came up empty."
"Then why do you think this time will be any different?"
Orange didn't answer. Her expression had changed, had hardened, and Todd sensed a shield had been put in place discouraging him from asking more questions. He swallowed and kept quiet, turning to face the door across from them, which was being opened again.
The guard led a manacled woman into the room. She was pretty, Todd supposed, but in a vaguely sinister way. Her hair was black and short, cut close to the head as Basement regulations stated; long hair could be used as a weapon in some instances. Her eyes, Todd noticed with some surprise, were the same color green as Orange's. Other than that, the two women looked nothing alike.
Savanna Venom had a cruel mouth, that quirked in a half-smile when she saw Orange. It wasn't a nice smile. Her skin was pale, almost waxen from being cooped up in the Basement for all those years. She moved stiffly, shuffling forward, propelled by the guard behind her, until she came to one of the chairs at the table. There she sat down and tried to adjust her featureless white jumpsuit to be more comfortable. She looked up at Orange and there it was again, that odd half-smile.
"Hi honey, what did I do to earn this surprise visit? Is it a present for being on my best behavior?" Savanna's voice was ragged and husky, as though she hadn't used it in a long time. She seemed to savor the taste of the words as she spoke, dragging each syllable out like a drowning woman taking gulps of fresh air, desperate to keep a hold on that which provided her with life.
"We need some info," Orange said bluntly. "And you're going to give it to us."
"Am I?" Savanna chuckled mirthlessly. "And why do you say that? I haven't talked yet, why should I start now?"
"Because now we're willing to deal."
"Deal what?" Savanna asked, surprise registering on her face for a brief moment. She hadn't expected this.
Orange grinned just as humorlessly as Savanna. "That depends on what you tell us."
Savanna sighed and rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "Alright, what do you want to know?"
"The Wizard," Orange said simply. "Everything you know about him."
"What'd he do, break into the Pentagon's computer network?" Savanna glanced up and lowered her hands. Orange didn't answer. "Okay, okay, just hoping for a little morsel here; I don't even get to watch the news in this place. You want to know about the Wizard, fine. He's a little dick, smarter than a lot of people and he knows it. Best computer hacker in the world, at least, he was when I hired him for SKULL. If he's still alive, I'd be willing to bet he's still the best."
"Not good enough," Orange growled. "What's his real name? Where can we find him?"
"His real name is Norman Grateful, and I don't know where he is anymore." Savanna smirked sardonically and raised her manacled hands. "I haven't really had the chance to keep up with any of my old friends, you know what I mean?"
"Well where might we find him?"
Savanna paused, a thoughtful look crossing her face. "I'll tell you, but...I want to make my deal now."
Orange suppressed another growl. "What is it that you want?" She asked, biting off the words.
Savanna looked up at the ceiling, her eyes going slightly misty as she spoke. "I want out of this pit! Even if it's just for a minute." She looked back down at the two agents facing her. For a moment, Todd felt sorry for her; and then he remembered what a cold, brutal killer she had been when she was free and he crushed his pity immediately. "I want to sit on the grass, outside in the sun, and maybe eat some pizza. Or hamburgers, or...or anything but the slop they serve in here! I just want to breathe fresh air again..." Savanna trailed off uncertainly.
"It's raining out," Orange said after a moment.
"Even better. Just take me out there and let me feel the rain soak into my skin. Please," Savanna pleaded with them, "please just give me that and I'll tell you everything you want."
"Yes! I'll give you names, addresses, passwords, anything I can remember. Just let me taste the outdoors again." Savanna opened her mouth to say more, but her already broken voice cracked a little more and she turned away, trying to hide the tears that slid down her cheeks.
Orange hesitated for several minutes and watched the deadly criminal. Something in her harsh gaze softened for a moment, and that seemed to displease her. The coldness returned to her eyes and Todd was sure she was going to deny Savanna's request, but then...
"You'd still be shackled," she said."
Savanna looked up, sudden hope in her damp eyes. "Yes," she said earnestly. "And you could have a gun jammed into my back for all I cared. I wouldn't be able to try anything anyways, not here."
"Humph," Orange nodded to the guards. "I'll take her out of here; you two remain on duty."
One of the guards chewed his lower lip. "I don't know about that...Ms. Venom isn't even allowed to leave her cell without orders signed in triplicate. Letting you bring her out of this room, out of the Basement even, well that's just..."
"What I'm going to do," Orange finished for him. "Whether you like it or not."
The guard sighed. "Okay, but she's your responsibility once she leaves this room, got it?"
"Trust me, I can handle her."
The rain poured down in an endless torrent, turning the lawn around the compound to mud and immediately soaking through their clothes, even though Orange and Todd stood under the overhang of the concrete building.
Savanna stood, handcuffed and shackled as before, out in the middle of the cement path leading to the gate. She had her face turned up to the gray sky, letting the clouds drench her to the skin. She was smiling, enjoying her first taste of freedom in years. The taste of it, the smell of it, the feel of it, it was all so wonder to her.
Sighing, Savanna continued to stand there under the ceaseless downpour for several more minutes before she finally lowered her head and shuffled back to the two agents watching her closely.
"Thank you," she said, letting Orange lead her back into the lobby of the blank square building that housed the main offices of the government agency known only as Code Red. Inside, they led her over to a couch where they sat her down and stood over her, ready for Savanna to make good on her part of the deal.
"There you go," Orange said, "now give us what we need."
Savanna wiped water from her eyes so she could see better; she had a pleased smile on her wan face. "What, no small talk, honey? Okay, okay, he's what I know about the Wizard. SKULL wouldn't move him around too much when I worked for them, mostly 'cause they feared losing him to Interpol, the CIA, or any of the other alphabet soup do-gooder agencies. But they also kept him in place because he's a major germophobe; he doesn't like the real world, finds it too dirty and unclean for himself, so he lives in his computers. And since SKULL was determined to keep him happy, they kept three ultra-secure safehouses that they would periodically move him between. No one else was allowed to use those safehouses, ever. And if SKULL's still got him, I be he's still at one of those locations."
"Give us these locations," Orange said, crossing her arms.
"Okay, you might want to get a pencil and paper." Savanna waited until Todd found a little spiral-bound notebook and a stubby, well-chewed pencil. "Okay, they're all in Europe, beginning in Spain..."
It wasn't long before the two CR agents had the locations written down, along with the various security codes and security precautions SKULL had used when Savanna had still worked for them. Some of them may have been outdated, but it was still the best lead they had. The Wizard was the hacker SKULL would have most likely used to crack the security surrounding the Angel Strike satellite, and Code Red's own expert computer genius, Malcolm Kase, had been unable to find enough digital evidence to track the weaselly thief. If he hadn't been arrogant enough to leave that one bragging taunt in the data trail, then they wouldn't have gotten even this far. With Savanna's Venom's help, they might just be able to punch a major hole in SKULL's impressive organization.
That is, if the former terrorist had really helped them at all, and didn't just feed them some false info to put them on the wrong track. Todd brought this possibility up as Savanna was led back down into the Basement where her cell awaited her.
"No," Orange said, with an odd expression on her face as she watched Savanna be led away. It was almost as if she knew something that made her sad, something that weighed on her. She shook her head and blew a strand of her deep orange hair out of her eyes. "Savanna Venom is many things, but she isn't a liar. Just trust me on that, okay?" She turned away, heading for the exit.
"Uh, okay, where to now partner?" Todd added that last part with a hopeful smile that faded as soon as Orange scowled at him.
"We're going to get a strike team together and hit each of these safehouses at once. We are going to catch us a Wizard."