Report 10

Whether you call it martial arts, self defense, or simply killer fighting moves, hand-to-hand combat is a mandatory skill for any high-danger occupation from espionage to the military to the work done at Griffin. Every Griffin trainee goes through a stiff regimen of regulated diets, forced runs, and brutal combat sessions that have earned the nickname "speed bag rounds", "speedies" for short. Speedies consist of one imposing instructor whaling on various trembling newbies, the "baggies", for the greater part of six hours during repeated half-hour bouts, three to five at a time according to the baggie's training level, with only three-second breaks in between. Those gulping water like fishes and collapsed along the sidelines are supposed to watch to see how it's done. As crazy and disorganized as it may seem, by demanding this much from us we learn our skills so effectively and quickly that the technical instructions of Probationary Combat Courses, "brainers", almost aren't even needed.

Embedded Engagement Report 10-1

I had the luck of running right into the combat specialist Pixie Cut, who took great pleasure in trying to knock my head off. I ducked and shoved back, trying to convince her not to kill me. She only moved a few steps, so I snapped my leg out with a harmless kick to the kneecap. Once I had the breathing space, I reiterated, "I said Code DA."

"Yeah, and I said to kill you," Pixie Cut snapped back, with a brutal right hook I barely dodged followed by a left to my ribcage that made me see stars.

I jumped back for room, then spun sideways and behind her, replying between moves, "I told them—not—to hurt anyone." I back-kicked Pixie Cut's legs from the rear, hoping to get her down long enough to gain the advantage.

Before I could get off a, "Didn't you hear me?" she stepped sideways, grabbed my foot, and pulled me downwards from between her legs with a thump that knocked my breath out. "Please," she grinned, "don't flatter yourself. I'm the superior fighter here."

Not wasting my breath with a reply, I kicked up with a grunt and slid myself across the floor, grabbing Pixie Cut's ankles for leverage. She went down harder than I had. I finally dragged some air back into my lungs and rolled over, diving forward to crash down on top of Pixie cut's stomach with the pointiest weapon handy, my elbow. "That was for making me sit down there," I said to my winded opponent. Rolling her over and sitting on top as was only socially allowable in marriage and life-or-death combat situations, I grabbed her own rope and wrapped a few turns around her wrists.

Flopping like a fish, she managed to knock me off and started running for her nearest companion. I squinted through the fog and saw that Dave and the chemist were already well constrained, with the computer geek being tackle-dragged in their direction by a swarm of kids. Kate, Nate, and Alex appeared to be on guard duty with Shorty and Dave and a blessedly sleepy Sammy; and Robert was carefully clubbing Geek down with his joined hands, assisted by a less-sluggish Macey. Matt and Alicia were dueling with the senior agent, and Mr. Muscles was under attack from Sarah and Kendra. Ben directed his efforts towards keeping Mrs. Boom-Boom away from a partially-dismantled microwave from who-knows-where, but he seemed to be losing the fight. He was the obvious choice for Pixie Cut, and she took it, scuttling toward the pair with a slight limp, hands still held behind her back. I ducked my head and charged, tackling her to the ground with a flying leap that would make an NFL halfback proud.

With a sharp right I shut her up for a little while, finished tying her up, and whistled to Robert and Macey, who were just finishing up with Geek. Combined, we managed to get Mrs. Boom-Boom away from the microwave and pinned down by the weight of a fifteen-year-old boy, a scrawny female lycanthrope, and a very large male nearly as big as Mr. Muscles. Dividing up a sizeable cache of explosives from various places on her person, we soon had her and Pixie Cut restrained in a very undignified fashion with Shorty, Dave, and Geek.

By this time, we had four-to-one odds between good fighters, and Mr. Muscles went down before Robert and I could make it over there, taken out by the old bait-and-switch tactic. Kendra pretended to drop her shoulder, giving Mr. Muscles a clear shot at her head, and Sarah ducked in under his blow for a jab with his own mini-tazer. (It looked like they all managed to come armed.) Kendra didn't even need to duck.

I was not the least bit surprised that the senior agent had proved the most difficult enemy. He'd been smart enough to control the situation from the start, and now he kept Matt and Alicia from gaining any ground with expert ease. He crammed them into corners, backed into places where their path towards him was choked out by walls and other barriers, and did everything he could to make sure the pair was focused less on him and more on staying out of each other's way; I could tell, however, that Matt and Alicia were wearing him down bit by bit despite this, trading blows and conserving energy and generally avoiding conflict with each other. Normally, forcing two assailants together is like fighting one ineffective buffoon with two contradictory heads, but the duo seemed to know each other's moves so well it was like they were reading each other's minds.

I whistled in amazement and kept back out of their way. "They seem to be handling him just fine," I remarked to the rest of the pack as I searched the thinning fog for my RV. I spotted it and trotted over to get ready to go, leaving Matt and Alicia to take care of things with Mr. Forget-Me in their own way.

End Embedded Report

The cops finally broke through the door to the sound of shrill alarms. "What the—" they began. Kate and Nate stood alone in the middle of the floor, tightening the knots on the big rope holding the separately-trussed Griffin team together. "See ya later," they called in unison. The cops might have had something to say, but I'm fairly certain any words dried up as the sound of an engine ripped through the smoke. The twins bounded past the smokescreen and into the RV, which was unfortunately piloted by Robert. The bound team's futile cries provided a nice backdrop as Alicia tossed a bomb picked from Mrs. Boom-Boom's pocket at a wall and we drove out the gap with the RV, which now had a few new decals on the side and some faux license plate letters capped over the real ones. I was watching the unlicensed, under-aged teenager's driving, but Alex couldn't resist a final farewell. "Sayonara, suckers!" The entire pack and I laughed.

After a very scary road trip that had me—and everyone but Sammy and Macey, who were too out of it to notice—in alternate moments intensely terrified, impressed, and just plain certain of imminent death, Robert stopped his evasive maneuvers for a quick change in driver. With me wedged between Ben and Cub with a kid each and Matt too likely to fall asleep at the wheel, I predicted Alicia would step up to drive, and I wasn't wrong. She seemed to be the lead female, and besides Joanne wasn't any good with most cars anyway. Or at least she hadn't been; maybe there were a few more skills than wicked fighting moves that life on the run had taught her. At any rate, she was busy watching Alex, who for some insane reason needed to be convinced to keep her seatbelt on and not go exploring the RV. In a way, Alex reminded me of how Joann had been when she was that young, which was why the two made such a good match for each other. Joann had experiential knowledge of exactly what Alex could get up to, and judging by the lack of major scarring she did a pretty good job of keeping her from succeeding enough of the time, which was all anyone had ever been able to hope for with their type.

After that, things were pretty normal, so I got the chance to get to know the pack a little better. Kate, the kid in my lap, proved to be a constant chatterbox, babbling adorably away to Nate so my right ear and Cub's left were probably aching, and then numb, and then beyond recovery. Sammy, being a baby-on-the-verge-of-toddler, was pretty quiet for most of the ride, except for when he woke up and made a general nuisance of himself until someone managed to calm him down. Getting a real look at Sarah, Kendra, and Macey for the first time, I could see that the closely-knit trio wasn't quite as old as they seemed to be; even accounting for what the lab techs called the Lycanthropic Age Appearance Distortion Factor, Sarah looked barely out of high school, Macey appeared no older than twenty, and Kendra couldn't have been much older. That meant that they probably weren't "mature females" yet, and with that kind of mature/immature ratio the DeMain pack was definitely in a growing period.

Following several rounds of the Alphabet Game, a sore shoulder from Punch Buggy, and enough trips to the bathroom that the toilet was probably straining its fixtures, Joann made the call we'd all been hoping for. "Got it," she called softly, and the welcome words were enough to stir even post-change Matt.

Stretching, Matt looked to me imploringly, which I took as the enormous complement it was. For an Alpha to defer to an outside authority for that long a period was almost unheard of, but luckily I managed not to be shocked enough to miss the exit. I nodded my silent suggestion, and with each and every kid and the Three Wolf-sketeers hanging on his every word, Matt said, "Go for it."

Alicia turned onto an exit marked by a crude, dirty sign, THISWAY for SHADYQUIRRELCAMPGROUND, amid thunderous cheering and applause.