Georg made his way into the warehouse, his head still dizzy from the drinking binge he was embarking on the previous night. He hadn't the money necessary for a taxi for obvious reasons, and instead he managed to hitch a ride with Gabriel. 'Thanks again for the ride,' he said, patting the Spaniard on the arm.
'No problem,' he replied. 'Although, to be honest, I didn't really feel like coming in.'
'Well then, it's a good thing that I called you up, eh?'
'Yeah,' he said. 'Having a rich Austrian call me up at eight in the morning really motivates me to get some work done.'
'Hey, take it easy. I'm the one with the hangover here. Speaking of hangovers, why weren't you out with us last night? Mike missed your classic cabaret act on the tables.'
'You'll find out why soon enough,' Gabriel sighed. He had been in a bad mood ever since he received a rather infuriating call from Krishna two days ago. The fact that Krishna managed to get his phone number was aggravating enough, but the news he had to give to Gabriel was the equivalent of throwing a can of kerosene into a blazing bonfire. Gabriel almost wished that he had the materials to set one up himself, and maybe teach that irritating Nepalese boy a thing or two about fire safety.
Hella made her way out of the armoury with Catalina and Duncan. She drew her eyes towards the enervated man that was walking in her direction. 'Well, you look like shit,' she sneered. 'I guess all those Black Monas really did a score on you last night.'
'Yeah,' Georg grunted, not even in the mood for a friendly flirt, let alone a humorous conversation. 'Last night was relatively mild compared to what he and I have been up to in the past.'
'Yeah, that's a shame,' she groaned, adding to her faked disappointment with a wistful sigh. 'I was hoping you would be out, Gabriel. I wanted to see you and Georg cross-dress for a bit. Grigori told me that it could get pretty intense at times.'
'Oh, yeah, what a funny girl,' Georg griped, expecting Gabriel to interject and deny that such an antic ever occurred, but he merely turned and made his way into the meeting room. Hella frowned and inquired about Gabriel's seclusive behaviour, only to receive a hushed whisper from Georg. 'It's his time of the month. Best leave him be if you value your sanity.' He looked back, now finding it safe to resume normal conversation after Gabriel had moved to a reasonable distance. 'Or your free time.'
Duncan had spent the last few days helping the twins with the mechs, as per orders from Katherine. As time went on he found himself becoming surprisingly well acquainted with them and their work. He could recite many of the various tools and mechanisms of the mechs, and he was even allowed to give the MSF a test run on a few occasions. Krishna hogged the MAF for himself and decided to spray paint it red, since the whole concept of keeping your mech from being ridiculously noticeable on the battlefield didn't seem to cross his mind. 'You think they're good to go?'
Catalina looked back into the armoury, wondering if the hulking giants of steel and ceramic that were concealed by the darkness of the room were really ready to be deployed. Their test runs had returned very positive results so far, and the machines appeared to have been in sufficient condition for the crew to start training in them. After their combat abilities have been tried and tested, they could probably further equip and tweak them until they're in ample condition to start whooping some Nazi arses. She bit her lower lip and shrugged. 'Yeah, probably.'
'I hope they're as useful as you're letting on.'
'Well, they managed to take down a trio of Nazi Warhawks. Not forgetting, of course, that I've been working on them for the last two weeks.'
'Which probably gives me even more of a reason to be doubtful,' Duncan grinned, chuffed by the backlash he received. He loved teasing her, since it was really the only form of entertainment he could pry from this miserable resistance group.
Gabriel sprinted out of the meeting room with Joseph Moriarty. He had one of the maintenance personnel open the doors, before he sprinted outside to guide Grigori's filthy car inside. Georg noted the dark green door that had been slapped on in place of the one he lost at the Lac Bleu shopping centre, and he couldn't help but cackle at how it stood out among the rest of the vehicle. Grigori emerged, strolled around to the passenger door and opened it up, before he led a young Jewish boy out into the warehouse. The boy dusted off his dark blue prison uniform, bearing the emblem of the French Law Enforcement Department, and ran to join Joseph. He threw his arms around him sluggishly, highlighting the weakness in his arms. Even Joseph seemed to be putting more effort into the embrace, despite being at least fifty years older than the young man he was holding.
They were mumbling to one another, the clamour of their voices gradually rising. Gabriel stepped forward and rubbed Joseph on the back. He remained quiet, respecting the tearful reunion that was taking place.
Georg walked towards Grigori, who was helping himself to a unopened box of cigarettes. 'What's going on?'
'That's the Rabbi's son. He was locked up a few days ago. I happened to know one of the Sergeants on duty at the station, so he let him out for good behaviour.'
'And I couldn't be any more grateful,' Joseph whimpered, squinting his eyes to prevent the puddles of tears within from slipping out. 'Thank you, Grigori. You are a good man.'
'Unlike those cocksuckers,' the boy spat. His pronunciation was a bit off, Georg thought, but he could see the episodes of convulsion and heartache in the boy's eyes. His face looked exasperated, further highlighted by the bruise below his left eye, while the wound above his other eye had been sealed with a luminescent liquid, the dull sheen suggesting that it was nano gel. He dove into his father's arms again and sniffed, reminding Georg of the dream that keeps revisiting him almost every night. He shook his head in disgust.
'Why was he arrested in the first place?'
'He left the neighbourhood without his star. It's usually punishable by a fine, but some officers are known to abuse their authority,' Grigori explained.
Joseph escorted his son out of the warehouse, quietly scolding him for the inappropriate language. He made it as far Grigori's excrement-stained car, before he turned to the group. 'I need to get him out of these rags. I should be back in a few minutes. Start the meeting without me, if you must.'
'Will do,' Grigori affirmed. Joseph always joined in on their meetings, as the group heavily appreciated his constant contributions to the war effort despite his illness. The secret asylum, the deliveries, the food his friends provided. It was a major risk to his community, as the slightest hint of their presence would lead to Strasbourg's law enforcement knocking right on the neighbourhood's front door, murdering and butchering lord knows how many civilians in the process. Grigori acknowledged this great deal of courtesy, so he had no quarrel with picking up the man's son. 'It's disgusting behaviour, isn't it?'
'Appalling,' Gabriel stated. 'Even after all these years, shit like this still has to happen. I mean, he was only a friggin' kid! Who forgot to wear a stupid little badge! Pathetic!' He strained his jaw and slammed his boot against the wall. He returned to the meeting room, joining up with Duncan and Catalina in the process. They tried to console the abhorred Jew, but he rejected their advances swiftly, demanding that he be left alone.
'Well, now we know why he's in such a sultry mood,' Hella said.
Grigori sighed. 'Gabe tends to exaggerate on a lot of things, but for once I can understand his anger.'
'He's from Spain. I mean, it's a cesspit down there.'
'Cesspit is putting it very lightly. Things here are bad, that I don't deny, but they don't compare to living conditions down there.' Grigori has embarked on a few drug shipment escorts around the northern parts of the Iberian Peninsula in the past, vowing never to go past the fringes of the country again after witnessing the fates of some of the people down there. The incapacitating heat, the deficient economy, the rampant crime levels. 'I mean, the place is right across from North Africa. Spain is a literal warzone for drug manufacturers who try to transport their goods through the likes of Nazi Egypt and Algeria, right into UCN and MEU territory. Huge market for drug abuse and wholesale down there. I've been to el española a few times and believe me when I say that it ain't pretty. The only use the Nazis have for them is the army. That's it as far as I can tell.'
'He's obviously been through this kind of shit before.'
'Undoubtedly. It's those kind of catastrophes that give us the courage to fight. Not just for the Jews or the Spanish, but for the whole damn continent. We're all in a bad situation right now, and what happened to the Rabbi's son is minor compared to things that go on every day.'
'Words taken right out of my mouth,' Hella stated. She had a look at Georg, slightly put off by the fact that he's remained quiet throughout this whole incident. She could see the nervous look on his face. The slight twitch of his eye. The pursing of his lips. The hole he was boring into the ground with his unbroken gaze. 'I'm surprised that the rich boy hasn't said anything.'
'Oh, oh yeah. I agree! Horrible behaviour by the Nazis! Disgusting, repulsive,' Georg stammered, neurotically reciting every piece of disapproving vocabulary he could think of. He paused to let his words sink in, but he wasn't fooling anyone by the looks of it. Grigori blew a wad of spit on the ground and wiped it away with his foot, giving Georg a fairly impetuous glare at the same time. Georg knew that he was merely adding credence to the Belarusian's theory; that his mindset was getting in the way of his duties.
'You're telling them today?'
'Gilbert wants it done by next week. These mechs are really stirring up the local resistance members. At the rate things are going, I can't stall him for any longer. It has to be us.'
'You sound nervous.'
'The attack on the train cost us a few men, and we barely managed to make the whole operation worth undertaking in the first place. Imagine what an attack in the middle of Frankfurt would do to us.'
'Well, it's better than sending an army in and getting them slaughtered before they can even get into the damn city. You guys are pretty sneaky. You guys know what you're doing.' There was a pause. The clinking and banging of some metal could be heard in the background. A few snaps and crackles followed. 'Hold on a sec.'
'Are you in the middle of a gunfight or something?'
'No, no, no. They just opened the firing range.' The noise died down. All that could be heard was the man's broad breathing as he rushed into another room. 'Hey, you get our drop-off yet?'
'Gilbert said that one of his platoons picked it up a few nights ago. Of course, as expected, a very generous amount was delivered to us upon receiving the package.'
'Good. Use it and use it well. By the way, if you get th-'
Faint bouts of chatter could be heard from outside. 'Yeah, I'll have to call you back.'
Reese snapped the phone shut and piled it into the cupboard next to him. Gabriel, Catalina and Duncan entered. Gabriel, as was to be expected, was sulking and avoiding eye contact with any of the individuals standing around him. Catalina and Duncan were conversing away, discussing the latest advancements in technology, although it was immediately clear from the mindless nodding that Duncan didn't have the slightest idea of what she was talking about. Reese improvised by taking a gun from the cupboard and loading it into his pocket, while simultaneously tossing the phone into the dark reaches of the top shelf. 'Hey guys.'
'What's with the gun, Reese?' Catalina sneered. 'You're not actually going to start shooting people for a change, huh?'
'You never know,' Reese smiled back, taking a second to nod at Georg, Hella and Grigori as they joined the gathering. Krishna piled in behind them with a cup of espresso in his hand. He apologised for his late arrival and threw himself down by the computer to the far right of the room. 'Where's the Rabbi?'
'With his son,' Grigori said. 'I picked him up this morning.'
'Jesus. How's he holding up?'
'Terribly. Not surprising considering that he's only a kid, and that he spent the night in a cold jail cell.' He trailed off into a mumble. 'Not that you'd know anything about that or anything.'
'What was that?'
Not the best of starts, Reese thought. Krishna was busy tapping away at the computer, dragging different images to the trio of monitors that glared at him as he worked away. He started to transfer various images and bodies of text to the projector in the middle of the room. Catalina attempted to hog the machine for herself, claiming that she could move the files faster, but Krishna twirled his back towards her and waited for the transferral to finish. After a few seconds, he turned and nodded to Reese.
'Sorry, I'm late,' Katherine whispered to Grigori as she wrapped her arms around his groin. He smiled and pecked her on the cheek, before she clicked her fingers and pointed at Duncan. 'Hold up, he's not supposed to be here.'
Catalina hopped up in front of Duncan and assumed a defensive pose. 'Why not? What's wrong with him being here?'
'These meetings are for priority personnel only. You said so yourself, Reese.'
'Unfortunately, I did,' Reese said as lightly as he could. He remembered his old days as a mere Private, spending the bulk of his time scrubbing toilets and serving in the mess hall, while ultimately being denied the chance to raise a gun and shoot down the enemies of peace and prosperity. He shared Duncan's pain at the hands of this judgemental woman. 'I'm sorry, Duncan. You have to go.'
Catalina cursed to herself, flipping off Katherine as she attempted to further explain herself. Duncan, wishing to avoid provoking a cat fight between the two, accepted his dismissal and left the room without any argument. He waited until he was outside and until the door was shut, before raising his fist and punching the wall. The wave of kicks and slaps that followed eventually resulted in a pair of maintenance personnel having to lead him off the premises. It was a good thing that Catalina wasn't around to see such a demoralising expulsion. He felt ashamed already, so he was at least grateful that he managed to hold his anger in until he was out of earshot.
'I think we should just get started,' Hella suggested.
'Right, here's how it's going to go down,' Reese began. As he spoke, Krishna tapped away at the computer, powering up the projector in the centre of the room. The cylindrical hunk of metal rose from the floor, sparking a bright green schematic of an immensely detailed glass building, with a tall brick building covering it from behind. The image flickered as the rest of it loaded, represented by multiple arrays of transparent lines and vectors. Grigori killed the lights, causing the projected image to dye the entire room green.
'I did the CG,' Gabriel muttered as he cleared his throat. All he received was a few overwrought grunts from the group, making his last few days of effort all for nought. 'Just incase any of you were wondering.'
Reese raised his hand and twirled it. The image rotated in accordance with the motion of his hand, revealing the boundaries of the structure to his subordinates. Once the whole design of the schematic had been seen by Georg and the others, Reese reset the image and clicked his fingers. 'This, my friends, is Fort Bockenheim. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than a mere recruitment centre. In reality, however...' He dragged the schematic towards the roof, snapping another image into place. It was stylised in exactly the same manner as the previous image, only that this time it displayed an underground warehouse. 'It acts as a proving ground for the surface fighters that we captured a few weeks ago. Alongside that, it keeps a very plentiful stockpile of them on the premises at all times. This new band of fighters will give us the tactical advantage we need to push through and secure more ground for our resistance.'
'You do realise that this base is in the middle of Frankfurt am Main,' Grigori outlined bluntly, not impressed with what he was being shown. 'I mean, is this little proving ground underground or something?'
'According to our agents in Greater Germany, yes.'
'Yeah, our agents,' Grigori growled with suspicion. He stepped forward and jabbed the image with his hand, which buzzed as his skin came into contact with the hologram. 'How the hell do we secure something like this? Unless Gilbert has some way of getting nothing short of an army into downtown Frankfurt, I don't see this little plan of yours turning out so well.'
'We don't need an army,' Reese beamed, unsure if his staged confidence was getting through to his soldiers. 'We have ourselves and a few friends in Frankfurt.'
'Yeah, your contacts. Contacts that you still refuse to tell us about.' Grigori slammed his meaty hands down on the desk in front of the projector, causing it to tremor and subsequently crackle the hologram on display. Krishna didn't delay in trying to fix it back up with a few frantic taps of his keyboard. 'I mean, there's the resources that you've gotten for the surface fighters, made even stranger by the fact that they're brand new weapons. Now, you've got these friends in Frankfurt who claim they can get us into the most heavily defended city in Europe. Where do you come up with this bullshit?'
'Grigori, give it a rest,' Hella said.
He continued on, sparing no time for the woman's complaint. 'Then again, ye yanks have a strong reputation for lying all the time.'
'That is simply not true,' an elderly voice from behind gasped, followed by a prolonged fit of coughing. It was already clear who had entered the room before the group glanced back at the door. 'There are many people out there who are sympathetic to our cause. We shouldn't be aloof in the presence of these people. We should be embracing their generosity with open arms, Mister Khrushchev.' Joseph Moriarty entered, supported by one of his students. The man was looking frailer than usual, much to Gabriel's apparent shock. Which wasn't all that surprising when he thought about it. The man just reunited with his beaten and bruised son after he spent several days in a cold, stale jail cell. Gabriel was impressed that Joseph mustered the strength and mental capacity necessary to return to the warehouse.
'Precisely,' Reese continued. 'Gilbert was a Nazi colonel at one point, and look at what he's done for us so far! One of our contacts reckons that he can get us into Frankfurt, alongside a few reinforcements from Gilbert should we need them.' He brought the main building back into view, momentarily brightening the whole room as it snapped into place. A bright red square pinged into view at one of the gates at the other end of the building, before it started to glide towards the back of the base, leaving a dotted trail behind as it moved. 'Squad One, or Indigo squad as Catalina likes to call it, will consist of Gabe, Catalina and two armed personnel. Indigo will proceed towards Gate four. They will receive support from Squad Two, consisting of Katherine and several of her subordinates, providing cover as they proceed through the gates.'
'Let me guess,' Katherine sighed. 'I have to take Duncan along with me, don't I?'
'Of course,' Reese confirmed, much to Katherine's chagrin. 'You'll need to clear the gate of any armed personnel so Indigo can proceed unhindered. Indigo squad will be equipped with EMP grenades for disabling any security equipment in the vicinity.'
'Seems a bit risky,' Georg said, easily backed up by his years of breaking into heavily defended compounds. 'This is a military base after all. They won't take kindly to cameras going off all of a sudden.'
'The building that Indigo will be proceeding towards houses the main security hub.' With a click of his fingers, Reese brought up a tiny light green dot, highlighting a secluded room on the second floor of the bricked building. A line of text, reading "security room" in German, hovered over it. 'The base's commanding officer, a female major general, will be performing an inspection on the premises next week. That is when we will strike.'
'Wouldn't that be even more of a reason not to attack? A general is bound to be very well defended.'
'Naturally, that would be the case.' A red arrow pinged in the middle of the courtyard in front of the glass structure. 'However, inspections will always begin near the front of the building, and usually involve a face-to-face inspection of the troops stationed there. The bulk of the men on duty at the base will gather in the courtyard during the initial stages of the inspection. That's when Indigo will move in. They'll sneak their way through the gate, deploy EMPs at any nearby CCTV stands, and promptly make their way inside and take the security room. Gabriel will loop the camera feeds with Catalina's assistance, while their escorts will promptly dispatch any resistance you encounter. Once that has been achieved, two teams will infiltrate the premises, work their way down towards the proving ground and secure as many of the surface fighters as possible. As you can see here, there is a garage that leads directly from the underground warehouse to the surface. The two teams can make their escape there. We will have transport vehicles waiting for them there.' Several multicoloured squares swam throughout the interface, marking their destinations for each squad. The group felt dizzy just looking at them, let alone actually listening to Reese's plan.
'This isn't a plan,' Grigori said. 'This is a clusterfuck! We're banking on luck here!'
'Our agents know the premises well and the timetables-'
'The last time we relied on these agents of yours, we lost five men to a trio of freakin' Warhawks!'
'Alright, just hold up for a second!' Reese roared, clenching his fists in an effort to calm himself. These constant interjections were making the whole situation just that little harder to explain, which wasn't a surprise considering that Grigori was in the room. He took a deep breath and resumed. 'I understand that we're undertaking a slightly risky operation here.'
'Slightly,' Grigori mimicked in a comical manner. A quick slap and an angry whisper from Katherine quietened him.
'But we will have reinforcements on standby should the situation go FUBAR. They will be settling in a pair of storehouses that our contacts have secured for us and can be deployed on the base within a matter of minutes. You and Faustin will be leading them should the push come to shove.'
'Are these some of Gilbert's men you're talking about?'
'Well then, we're fucked.'
Reese, suffering from a fit of anger, rolled his eyes towards Krishna. The image flickered and burst into a wave of bright lights, before reassembling into pair of blueprints, detailing the MAF and the MSF that Georg piloted. Even just looking at it made Georg's internal organs pulse with anxiety. 'Well then, Grigori, perhaps you'll be happy to know that we will have two of our own mechanical fighters on standby to assist us as well! They've been fully repaired, tested, and are more than ready to go!'
The group's response was unremarkable to say the least. They just gazed at the image, unsure of what to make of this sudden announcement. The plan was finicky, that much they could all agree on, but whether or not it was all worth their lives was a divided issue. Gabriel remained cloistered, Georg and Grigori lacked any sort of confidence, while Catalina and Krishna expressed nothing but praise for the supposed brilliance of Reese's plan. Katherine, Hella and Joseph remained divided from the rest, figuring that it could either go extremely well or horribly wrong.
'Who's piloting the mechs?' Katherine inquired.
'Oh yeah,' Gabriel croaked, with a mixture of anger and angst. 'Who gets to pilot the only two mechs that those two fucks actually bothered to fix?' Catalina and Krishna attempted to explain themselves with all sorts of technical jargon, which eventually bubbled into a full-on argument between the three of them.
'Well, that explains why he's in such a bad mood,' Georg whispered to Hella.
'That's enough!' Reese ordered. 'Gabe, it doesn't matter if your mech has been fixed or not. The fact of the matter is that I need you on the ground with Catalina.'
'Let me pilot one of the other ones,' he pleaded. 'Catalina doesn't need me. She can muck about with those security cameras just fine!'
Reese shook his head and made it clear that he wasn't willing to make any exceptions. Gabriel kicked the projector, announcing that he had enough of the bullshit that was being relayed to him, before he turned and marched out of the room. Joseph followed and attempted to console his livid student, but failed to convince him to stay. 'Well then,' Reese continued awkwardly. 'That leaves just two of you.'
Georg looked around, noting that everyone was backing away from him and Hella. He felt a chill crawl its way through his spine. 'No way,' he stuttered. 'I am not getting back in that thing.'
'I agree,' Grigori said. 'Georg isn't ready for this kind of warfare yet. He's better off sticking with what he's good at. Heck, maybe he could stay with me and Gilbert's men during the operation.'
'What do you mean?' Georg challenged.
'Well, you know. You're not very good with heights, right?'
'Yeah, I know that. But I don't need your reassurance. I can speak for myself, thank you very much.'
'Georg,' Reese continued immediately, hoping to prevent another argument from breaking out. 'You piloted the FAUN like a natural. At least, according to what Grigori told me.'
'I was exaggerating,' Grigori claimed.
'What do you mean by FAUN?' Georg asked.
'The FAUN is a special forces design of the MSF,' Krishna explained, fingering the blueprint on the left. 'Equipped with a fusion generated shield, HALDRON-32 missiles and a...', he paused to look over some notes he had stored on the computer, '...plasma knife thing, the FAUN possesses the versatility of an MSF and the agility and speed of an MAF. I'm talking about speed that rivals a damn fighter jet, and bulk that can withstand the biggest of explosions. This thing is deadly. You're lucky to be even piloting it in the first place!'
'But I'm not piloting it! Not now, not ever!'
'I'll pilot it then!' The group watched Hella as she approached the projector and waved her fingers at the FAUN. 'Grigori is right. Georg doesn't have the skill or the brevity to pilot such a mech. For all we know, he could be dead by tomorrow!' She looked back at him and smirked, almost as if she was trying to send Georg a message of some sort. The jealousy that spread across his face was all too much of an indication that her ploy was working. 'We need someone who's reliable. We need someone who can stay alive for more than a few seconds in the middle of a battlefield. I believe that I would be a suitable candidate for such a role.'
'I won't allow this,' Grigori shouted. 'If I have to pilot it, I will! But I will not have these two risking their lives in such a death machine! Reese, choose me if you have to!'
Reese was weighing his options. The job was complicated enough as it was, but now he had people arguing over who should pilot the FAUN. He didn't think that such a decision would have been so difficult. If Georg was so terrified of being up in the air, then perhaps having him pilot it would present more risks than benefits. Grigori had reportedly been quite efficient when he piloted the MAF, but his stubborn nature was proving to be a problem. Reese wanted Hella to tag along with him to the base, since her slender body and sharp wits would undeniably be of use to them when they would attempt to steal the mechanical fighters in Frankfurt.
'I'll do it.'
'No, Grigori,' he growled. 'I can do this.' He could feel Hella's keen eyes burning a hole in the side of his skull. This is what she wanted all along, he thought. That woman was far more intelligent that he initially anticipated. 'After all, I can't let my emotions cloud my judgement, right?'
Grigori could feel his stomach churn and this throat clog up. He couldn't speak out, fearful that he would make a hypocrite out of himself. He grunted his approval and looked away.
'Great,' Krishna screamed, applauding Georg's bravery. 'We can begin training right now. After all, we have a whole week to prepare, right?'
'Precisely,' Reese affirmed. 'I'll get in contact with Vice Commander Girouard and let him know that we're good to go. I'm confident that we will all succeed.' Reese smiled at Georg. 'You ready to begin?'
He couldn't back out now. Not in front of Grigori and Hella. No, he had to go on. But even just looking at the hologram made him queasy. The hulking titan known as the FAUN would undoubtedly extract years' worth of sweat from Georg's brow, a realisation that made him quiver in fright. He looked up and put on the bravest look he could muster. 'Absolutely.'