Alan Raze, Director of Code Red looked down at the report lying on his desk with an unreadable expression. Across from him, Todd Trigger stood, ramrod straight and trying to mask his nervousness. Three days had passed since the violent confrontation at the warehouse, and after he had gotten Orange out safely, the Rapid Assault Team had no trouble handling what was left. The few gunmen still alive had been demoralized by Savanna Venom's deadly attacks and they surrendered readily.
Norman Grateful, alias the Wizard, has also been found, unconscious, next to a laptop containing all the data on the Angel Strike satellite. Mysteriously enough, someone had programmed the satellite to self-destruct, making the controller they found on the body of the Colonel useless. The whole case was a messy, tangle of pieces, each revealing a secret, and hiding another.
Director Raze sighed and rubbed his eyes with a forefinger and thumb. "I can tell you're going to be a problem," he said at last, speaking for the first time since Todd had been summoned to his office.
"Sir?" Todd asked, unsure of what his boss meant.
"Let me be honest with you," the Director said, sitting back in his chair, his expression still blank. "I wouldn't have hired you if you'd paid me. You were a good man behind a keyboard, and I sort of believed you'd have eventually ended up with our forensics department. Instead, strings were pulled, and I think you know the mutual friend behind it." Never before had Todd heard the word friend come out sounding more like fiend.
"Yes sir," Todd felt his stomach burn at the mention of his father. "And I would like to take this time to apologize for that. It was never my intention to get where I am using tactics that amount to bullying."
"I know," Director Raze said wearily. "You're a good man, Trigger, and after this incident, I've got to say, you'll make a damn fine field agent. When our...'friend', pushed you up the ranks, I had fully intended to give you an easy assignment and a good teacher. Agent Orange has a chip on her shoulder, I'm sure you've noticed, but she's still one of the best there is. I thought that spending a bit of time with her, you would end up at least a halfway accomplished field agent. But I didn't count on the explosion in Germany."
"None of us did, sir," Todd said truthfully. "It was no one's fault in my opinion." It had all been a game for the Wizard, a challenge to see how many he could kill, and how many of the survivors he could taunt. The news had came in just yesterday that Ritchie Connelly had come out of his coma, and the doctors were optimistic that he would make a full recovery given time. He wouldn't be able to work for Code Red again, but at least he was alive, and not added to the list of people the Colonel and his flunky Norman Grateful had killed.
The Director raised his brows and reached for the report. "I didn't ask for your opinion, Agent Trigger." He opened the report and seemed to be rereading a few paragraphs. "After Agent Orange was put out of commission, I thought I'd be able to put you on some other assignment; something simple to ease you in. But again, my hands were tied. I had to put you on something big, specifically the Angel Strike case. I regretted it at once." Director Raze looked up at Todd over the top of the file folder. "I thought we'd have two dead agents and an international crisis on our hands, so I did everything possible to pull you and Agent Ice off the case. And I thought I had the perfect excuse when Storm issued his ultimatum." He sighed. "But you went off on your own...and did a damn good job of saving the world a lot of grief. Congratulations, Trigger."
"Thank you, sir." Todd was still unsure where this was going.
"You've got guts and brains, maybe too much of both for a safe combination." Director Raze tossed the file onto his desk. "You don't follow orders unless they suit you, do you, Agent Trigger?"
"Sir, I follow my orders to the letter." Todd tried to keep his face from betraying the lie.
"Sure," Director Raze said sarcastically. "Only I don't remember telling you to take on Engelbert Storm, to play one-man army, to tear through Manhattan looking for Agent Orange, and to stop SKULL from using the Angel Strike as the ultimate bargaining chip against the free world. In fact, I think I distinctly recall trying to get you to come in and leave this case alone."
"Well, sir, my cellphone battery needed charging. Unreliable things, don't you know?"
Director Raze nodded and smirked. "Yes, I suppose so. You're going to be a good agent, Trigger, but a troublesome one—just like someone else I could mention." Director Raze's smile faded. "Now...with Agent Ice on leave pending her psychological evaluation and counseling visits, you're going to need a new partner. And I think I have just the person."
"Sir?" Todd frowned curiously.
"I've talked it over with the people who matter, and they agree; Agent Orange is too valuable an asset to throw away or waste on training duty. But she's also too reckless too be allowed to lead. My superiors suggested pairing her with someone more straight-laced and by the book, but I know her well enough to predict what would happen." He gave a brief, serious smile. "It would be a disaster. But you...well you're a wild card. I think you've got enough of that rebellious spark to pair off well with Agent Orange, but you've got your head on right, so you'll be able to keep her from making any of the mistakes she's rapidly becoming known for."
"Sir," Todd said hesitantly, "do you mean...?"
"Agent Orange will be your new partner. You'll be senior agent, but I know you'll listen to her advice and learn along the way. Just remember to keep an eye on her. She's made a lot of mistakes recently, but I think with a little time, she might become the agent I remember when I first joined Code Red."
"Yes sir," Todd said, trying again to keep his face neutral and failing to contain a faint smile.
"Let her know that after her leg heals up, she's back to work." The doctors had examined Orange's shattered ankle and deemed it fixable. It would take time, but they suspected she would be back in prime shape in a few months with no adverse effects. She was strong and determined, and that helped the healing process greatly.
"You've also got some free time, starting now. Spend it wisely and I'll see you again in a few weeks. You can go now." Todd turned and was at the door when Director Raze called out, almost as an afterthought, "Oh, Agent Trigger, one last thing." Todd turned back. "Do you have any idea who set the Angel Strike to self-destruct? The boys at the Pentagon have been riding me pretty hard about it."
"No idea, sir."
Director Raze looked at him very closely, almost as though he were inspecting him, like a jeweler examining a fine diamond, searching for the flaw that would reveal it as a fake. Finally he nodded and smiled. "I thought as much. Well, I'll tell them to be thankful more lives weren't lost and that no terrorist group has control of the satellite. Thank you, that will be all."
As Todd walked down the hall leading to the elevators, he wondered if Director Raze had seen through his lie. He had found the Wizard unconscious next to the laptop before he heard the gun discharge that alerted him to Orange's location. After checking out the laptop and discerning that it did, indeed, control the Angel Strike, Todd had decided to put an end to all the trouble once and for all. It was too powerful a weapon, and much too dangerous, for anyone to control. Now, at least, it wouldn't cause any more problems.
Orange leaned against the railing, watching the boats in the harbor head in to dock. The sun was going down, casting its vivid rays across the sloped lawn of the park in one last, futile attempt to retain its dominion over the city. But, as it did every day, it failed, and the shadows lengthened, welcoming in twilight's gentle caress.
"Hey you," came a voice from Orange's right.
She turned and saw Todd standing there with a smile, his coat open and billowing in the warm breeze. "Hey yourself," she said, mustering up a smile of her own. Her leg still hurt, but it was a dull ache at the moment, wrapped in a cast and supported with a metal frame, it was still agitated to painful heights every time she moved. The doctor had told her to rest and try to avoid moving it whenever possible, but she soon ignored that order to get some fresh air.
"So, I just had a talk with the Chief," Todd said, moving up to stand next to her.
Todd nodded. "Yeah, it looks like I'm still going to have a job. And so will—"
"Hold up," Orange said, turning away briefly to savor the warm breeze that passed over her face and lifted her hair for a moment. It felt so pure and undemanding. A warm brush with a lover's hand. And then it faded and she turned back to Todd. "How about you tell me everything over a drink or two, sound good?"
Todd blinked, taken aback by the sudden offer. "Sure," he said immediately. "But didn't the doctor say to stay away from alcohol for a while? Especially with the painkillers you're taking?"
"I stopped taking them yesterday morning; they made me loopy. A shot of bourbon is the sort of painkiller I prefer."
"Okay," Todd agreed with a smile. "Hey, after all the stuff you've been through, being kidnapped by Savanna Venom and all, you deserve a drink or two!"
"Yeah," Orange said, looking away again. She hadn't told the truth about Savanna's escape, and since no one seemed to know what really happened, she played along with the kidnapping plot. Savanna's clean getaway bothered her, especially since she was the one behind all of it. She had let a dangerous killer loose, back into the world where she could fade away and end up anywhere. Who knows where she would go or what she would do?
But that was a problem for another day. Right now, Orange just wanted a drink and to ignore the seedy world of spies and violence for a while.
"I've got to head back to my apartment and change," Orange said. "And since I'm not allowed to drive, how about you pick me up in an hour?"
"Sure," Todd said as Orange started limping off. "Hey!" He called back, suddenly thinking of something he desperately wanted to know. Orange turned back with a raised eyebrow. "What's your first name anyway?"
Orange was surprised by the question but laughed and opened her mouth. One of the boats pulling into the harbor sounded its horn at that exact moment, effectively censoring what she said.
Todd blinked and took a few steps closer, cupping a hand around his ear. "What? Sorry, I missed that."
Again, Orange opened her mouth and began to speak. "K—" and now a siren wailed nearby and a car's tires screeched in protest as a driver braked too fast.
Todd shook his head, walking right up to her. "Sorry but this is turning into a bad vaudeville comedy."
Orange smiled. "I'll tell you later, okay? Over that drink you'll buy me."
"Okay," Todd said, and watched Orange leave, heading for the street. He waited a moment, laughed, and headed for his own apartment. Things felt good now. He didn't have to chase anybody, there was no shooting, the world wasn't in immediate peril for the night, and he was going to have a drink with his hero, and his new partner.
There were plenty of problems he had to face, including the escaped Savanna Venom, his father, and his new, more permanent position as a Code Red field agent. But all of that could be handled another day.