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Chapter 1

From the sidewalk, Crazy Jack peered from behind his dark-colored bandana into the deep shadows of the alley. The brilliant heartbeat of lights from the casinos on the Isle of St. Martial made the night in this part of the city all the blacker, blinding those that thrived in the daylight. To his left, the light-skinned and bald Cecil ‘the Can’ stood. Both looked like Old West gunslingers with their black dusters flowing in the breeze from the alley. Each carried a small arsenal of firepower under their overcoats from guns to grenades. Even with such cache of weapons, any opponents would find their minds the more powerful tool they possessed.

Jack glanced at his watch noting only two minutes remained before the pick-up would be initiated. It was scheduled only a couple hours ago and a rush delivery was demanded. Jobs like this one became known as hurry-up and wait. Normally, no-questions asked secure transport from the independent Rogue Isles to the United States, Paragon City was a standard twenty grand. The caller was so adamant about the secrecy and time the package was to be specifically delivered that, their boss threw out a quote of a hundred grand and the client immediately agreed. Whatever the item was, it must have been extremely important.

Cecil gazed down the sidewalk returning the guarded stares from an older couple. They were walking arm-in-arm returning home from a late night of gambling and swiftly crossed the street, realizing something was amiss. Jack could not help but notice the wide berth they were giving them. Jack sneered, his contempt hidden underneath his mask. That was fine by him, the more people stayed out of their way the easier they could get the pick up over with.

“He’s going to be late,” Jack proclaimed returning his focus down the alley.

“Doubtful,” Cecil responded looking back to their white delivery truck, idling across the street with the rest of the team inside. “Whoever made the contract will be punctual and will arrive exactly when they intend to arrive.”

Jack glanced at Cecil pondering how his colleague’s thought process worked and how he was able to figure out what he did. Cecil was almost never wrong about his summations and to say he thought out of the box was an understatement. He saw things at angles the rest of the team did not. It was as though he could tilt reality on its side to create a different perspective. He did not doubt his peer, but tried to understand the innuendos of his statements to improve his own jumps in logic. When all else failed, Cecil ‘the Can’ succeeded.

“Military?” Jack asked.

Para-, at the least,” Cecil agreed brushing his duster aside and gripping his machine pistol. With a small silent click, the safety catch was released.

Immediately, Jack’s atomic watch beeped heralding 12:30am and like a well-rehearsed performance, car lights appeared down the alley.

Jack shook his head slowly in amazement at the accuracy of his comrade’s prediction. For amusement, his mind began to run through a mentally created list of possible organizations that could have hired them that fit the vague profile. The car traveled halfway down the alley and he walked slowly to it sensing the swing of the machine pistols hanging from his shoulder beneath his duster. Jack looked back gauging Cecil’s position behind him. Guessing where the car would stop he placed himself in a spot between Cecil and where the driver would emerge from the car. If gunfire were to erupt from their client, he wanted to ensure the safety of his coworker.

Cecil held back and signaled to their truck containing the other members of their team. The vehicle appeared to be a bigger version of the type of truck Fed-Ex or UPS used on deliveries, but that was the intended illusion. He nodded to Jack when its headlights came on and the engine revved.  Clenching his gun firmly, he slowly turned around surveying the street, if the Marcone family knew they were making deals in this district the night would get more interesting. Whoever their new client was, they knew the habits of the Family well. The rendezvous was taking place during a lull in the nighttime patrols of casino district. Even the night shift had to eat lunch. Slowly, his finger massaged the trigger.

Jack stopped twenty feet short of the car hoping to influence where the car stopped and where the driver would exit. The vehicle was a black Caddy upon closer inspection. He peeled his duster back displaying the machine pistol hanging there and lowered his mask to reveal his clean-shaven face. The client had been given pictures without names to confirm who the pick-up person was. Keeping the names secret was vital between these types of pick-ups, both for the client and the transporter. The driver-side door opened and a figure stepped out. Jack lost the features of the driver in the darkness but the rhythmic heel beat the person walked with helped to shorten his list of potential customers. He thought he caught a glint of light from one of the person’s eyes from around the large up-turned trench coat collar and grey fedora hat tipped low. He thought the driver was probably wearing some sort of advanced night vision device. The figure placed a briefcase in front of the car and stepped back to the blinding anonymity behind the headlights.

“You are familiar with the specific details?”

Jack nodded, “Immediate delivery to Paragon City at the highest level of security. Delivery is to occur exactly twenty-four hours from now at the drop of point in Paragon City, United States.”

“And if the case is compromised I will know.”

“Of course,” Jack said. Nobody seemed to trust them even though not one package had ever been delayed. There had been some close calls, but Out Source Inc. was the premier dirty job organization in existence. Their motto, ‘Have Thugs. Will Travel.’ was the catch phrase and it was well known in the underworld. Out Source Inc. also had a public image like all good illegal institutions. Their boss, nicknamed the Out Sourcer, made sure of that. He walked to the attaché and picked it up, “Considered it delivered.”

“You must adhere to the delivery time tick-tock. Any delay will be considered non-delivery and the penalty will be enforced.”

“OSI is the best,” Jack said spinning and leaving his words to fade in the darkness with his footsteps. Penalty indeed, Jack thought. Whom do you think you’re talking too?

 He hastily walked over to Cecil noting the reflection of light off the alley’s buildings indicated the Caddy was backing out. Their white delivery truck sped through a u-turn into a screeching halt and Cecil gripped the passenger side door handle opening it in one motion. In a blink of the neon marquee lights Jack leapt inside followed by Cecil. Already they were down the street when Jack handed the briefcase off to Jimmy ‘the Fish.’
            “Council,” Jack guessed wanting to catch Cecil’s reaction.

“Bah,” he responded dismissing the guess with a wave.

*****

Jimmy settled down at his mobile worktable already guessing the weight of the briefcase by touch. He set the case on the scale noting his guess was only off by a few ounces. Calling up the manufacturer’s website, he compared the weight to the specifications listed thereon. Now knowing the exact weight of the case he turned to the array of portable equipment installed in the truck to determine its contents.

The OSI truck looked innocent enough from the outside, but truth be told it was probably one of the most sophisticated high-tech vehicles on the planet. Fed-Ex and UPS would consider the custom option packages overkill for their line of work. The CIA, FBI, Arachnos, Malta, or other governmental bodies would kill to have this large truck if they really knew the details of its capability. First, it was a state-of-the-art command post with encrypted real-time video and a full complement of secure voice communication gear. Comparing it to the U.S. Army Land Warrior program would be like comparing the Pong video game to any of today’s Multi-Massive Online Role Playing Games. The installed equipment racks and cabinets held a mini-laboratory and first aid station. It was fully armored carrying its own compliment of small arms and self-defense measures. The body of the vehicle was covered in an electronic skin that allowed the truck to change colors or even add digital placards. It could doppelgang into any programmed service or delivery vehicles making it excellent for surveillance or escape-and-evade operations.

Jimmy had helped his boss, the Out Sourcer, and TT, the driver, build the vehicle. He was responsible for most of the electronics and software incorporated into the mobile command post. Jimmy, although he preferred James, had graduated MIT at age twenty bored and unchallenged with what job offerings he received. He really did not like the idea of the corporate world and ended up taking a job with a super black operations group known as Malta before deciding to try his hand at freelancing. Having to fake his death to leave the non-existent organization, he surprised himself and ended up taking the lucrative position with OSI, founding its entire electronics division. The company offered benefits, excitement, and proved it could eventually rival even Malta in scope. He was called ‘the Fish’ because the Out Sourcer referred to his phishing and hacking skills often. The name stuck among the lower educated, much to his amusement.

 “Well,” Jack said staring at Jimmy from his usual seat behind the driver, TT. From the seat, he could roll the chair back on its track and overlook several of the video monitors and graphic displays.

Wiping his hands on his orange t-shirt to remove potato chip crumbs, Jimmy finished affixing the sensor package to the briefcase and dialed a carrier frequency with a spectrum analyzer. He already had algorithms running on the trucks onboard computer with the briefcase’s current weight in an attempt digitally scry the contents. The chemical sniffer had already found and identified explosives and the smart digital table it laid upon determined the mass and center of balance. Jimmy placed an electronic stethoscope around his ears and fired ultrasound waves into the case. He grimaced annoyed that it also picked up the snores from Mickey Mayhem who was sleeping wedged between counters along the back doors. Scratching his head and playing with one of his dreadlocks, he sneered at the arsonist disgust. Mickey was a continual annoyance to him whether awake or asleep. He was not sure why the Out Sourcer even kept him around, his wacky conspiracy theories only compounded situations. The mobile imaging unit beeped heralding the end of its warm-up period. The Fish padded down his jean pockets trying to remember where he put his lock picks. There had not been a locked device or item, digital or physical he failed to get into. The skill was one of the unadvertised talents a bored MIT student could learn during class.

“Well… no microphones,” Jimmy said fidgeting with the analyzers tuning knob, “but looks like it is transmitting and receiving a full duplex signal.” Luckily, the onboard computer of the analyzer was running software he wrote located the digital frequency the briefcase transmitted and decoded it. “Generated by what appears to be typical off-the-shelf tech using one of Longbow’s algorithms. My guess is the satellite track is for GPS, reporting the condition of case, elevations, remote detonation… stuff like that.”

“Longbow,” Jack said, “I am pretty sure that guy wasn’t a member of that organization.”

Cecil looked directly at Jack and shook his head in agreement. From the front passenger seat, he peered into the side mirror watching for anyone following them. His keen mind was already working though Jimmy’s initial analysis and decided to put the gears of their organization to work. He gripped his cell phone already putting the final details in order for a decision he knew was to come.

“We’ll need to find a naturally occurring damping source before I even attempt to open this case,” Jimmy reported. “Also detecting plastic explosives, I’ll know more when I hit it with the imaging unit.”

Jack did not like the fact they were carrying a bomb, but it was not the first time. He was not worried yet; OSI was too good at getting the job done for anyone to blow them up without reason, although he knew that day would come with continued success. Their competitors despised and cursed OSI’s efficiency. He looked to Keith Morgue posted at the back doors leaning over Mickey and starring out the back windows for signs of a tailing vehicle. “Anybody following us,” he asked.

“No sure yet,” Keith responding keeping his vision focused on the light traffic behind them. “The night is still young.”

“Karen,” Cecil said speaking into his cell phone. “We need to schedule an accident on Port Oaks at the corner of Main and Recluse. We’ll need a traffic jam to go along with that as well. Have Daryl call me to work out any details. We expect to make landfall in thirty-five minutes.”

Jack, Jimmy, and TT all looked questioningly at Cecil.

“The overpass,” he explained. “Underneath it blocks cell phone signals and any radio traffic. Whatever’s transmitting in that briefcase will be blocked. The place is probably some frequency dead zone Arachnos designed.”

Jimmy smiled and nodded making the final calibrations to the imaging unit.

Catching the ferry from St. Martial to Port Oaks was uneventful. The ever vigilant and superstitious Keith thought they had acquired a tail a couple of times. Rubbing his rabbit foot helped hide the team, or so he believed. Whatever happened he was determined to let Mickey sleep. Mickey was too high strung anyways and when things were c it was better they did not have to deal with his paranoia. Keith often wondered how the thug slept when conspiracies lay around every corner. Perhaps it was a testament to the bond each of them felt.  Although, they were the best money could buy the short time they had worked together proved each had the others back in tight situations. They had some personality issues in the team, but Out Sourcer put together a team that meshed well and cliqued under the worst conditions of the criminal underworld. Keith could imagine the women of the Out Source Assassination Squad experiencing a similar camaraderie, for they also had the same level of experience they did. They were more indirect behind-the-scenes operation, while Keith and his comrades preferred the direct confrontational approach.

The team left their truck parked on the ferry to Port Oaks with Mickey still snoring away his paranoia. Jimmy continued his analysis of the briefcase and the others patrolled the deck ensuring they still had not been followed. Arriving on the island the team left for their rendezvous with their traffic jam caused by an automobile accident.

“All right,” Jack said snapping his cell phone shut and staring momentarily at his team. “Our transport to stateside is waiting for us now. Everything is a go.”
            Mickey finally awoke from his nap.

“Damn,” Mickey cursed rubbing his unshaven face. “Meh be needin’ a shave, ‘da babes at Pocket Dee’s be like’n soft skin.” Running his fingers through his orange Mohawk, he winked at Keith.

“We are on a job right now, that’s gonna have to wait,” Keith said shaking his head. Mickey was not the lady’s man he believed he was. He thought the orange Mohawk clashed against Mickey’s dark skin, but oddly, it matched his amber eyes.

“Bah…,” Mickey yawned deeply shaking off the final embrace of sleep. “’Dis a bloody milk run. Only good t’ing ‘bout ‘dis is ‘da aliens can’t find meh.”

“Ayeee!” Keith exclaimed waving his hands in front of him. “You’ll curse us.” He spit on the deck of the boat and turned around in place mumbling some ancient ward of protection that sounded like gibberish. His hand went to his left pocket were he removed his lucky rabbit’s foot. He brought the stuffed paw to his lips and held it to his forehead. He forcefully closed his eyes continuing to mumble the gibberish and rubbed the luck charm.

“Bah,” Mickey replied removing the butane lighter clipped on his belt. Only ‘da rich guys ‘dat believe ‘dey’s important pay for our best security like our pigeon did.” He paused sniffing the air slightly and wrinkled his nose. He sniffed the air more and followed the scent trail to the briefcase. “Hey, what wit ‘da Tovex?”

Jimmy’s face crinkled and said, “Huh?”

“I smells Tovex,” Mickey said rubbing his hands on his grey t-shirt. “You know… ‘da stuff they made to replace dynamite. I can smells ‘da fresh batch of ‘dat any where.”

“My sensors indicated plastic explosives,” Jimmy corrected stabbing the screen of the analyzer.

“You’s believe’n ‘dat over meh nose?” Mickey complained pointing at the analyzer as well.

“Uh, yah,” Jimmy chided. “It’s millions of dollars worth of hardware over your buck ninety-five education.”

“Whatever man, meh knows ‘dat water gel explosive anywhere. You’s can keep your jillion dollars of equipment.”

Jimmy opened his mouth to correct Mickey on the price of the equipment, but stopped short. He promised Jack they would not argue. He swallowed his pride this time for the better of the team, once again.

TT laughed at the duo from behind the steering wheel his large hands gripping the tiny circle giving one the illusion he was bigger then he actually was. Not that he was small by any means-- at three-hundred pounds of muscle the steering wheel just exaggerated it even further. TT wore expensive impervium-plated chains as though they were pieces of jewelry around his meat-slab arms and thick neck. He was the Out Sourcer’s personal bodyguard when not running with the team and needed to look tough all the time. Hidden behind his high-tech sunglasses, he wore even at night, was a calm individual tempered with philosophy and internal chi, unless you crossed him. Opponents unleashing his fury found his great might and mutant invulnerability growing by the second. He was also built like a mountain with the strength to match. Driving the truck became his responsibility because nobody could handle anything on four wheels, or two, like he could. His driving skills while exceeding that of a getaway driver or Formula 1 racer were nothing compared to his knowledge of automobile maintenance. If trouble occurred, he would step out of the vehicle and prove the massive visage was no illusion.

The team approached their traffic jam and went underneath the underpass. TT innocently slowed to a stop at the early morning or late night traffic jam. He beeped the horn to add the effect they were upset about the situation.

“Alright, it’s a go,” Jack said to Jimmy as he stepped out of the truck with Mickey and Keith. Jack had procured a briefcase of seed money from a locked safe in one of the compartments. He tucked several envelopes containing several hundreds of dollars cash each into pockets nestled next to his automatic pistols. Each car in the traffic jam was visited by him and by sleight of hand delivered the bonus to each employee. That was how OSI worked, and paid its people well. If it were not for the stream of crooked money running into the company payments like this would not even be possible. The organization prided itself with employing the unemployable. Everyone could have job for a price.

Jimmy immediately went to work focusing on the elaborate locking mechanisms on the briefcase. There were many different ways to see inside a briefcase and several ways to read information stored in any form of digital media without removing the devices from their shipping container. Sometimes though, care had to be taken to penetrate the package and remove the item to read it.

OSI may have been the premier organization to use for deliveries besides all other dirty deeds, but truth be told they were also recording information from these packages for their own data files. It would be collected, catalogued, and stored to be assimilated with all the other data. This information would help OSI keep ahead of competitors and prove convenient in acquiring new technologies and sometimes just plain dirty laundry on companies and individuals. They had never been caught collecting this information in the past and Jimmy was not about to start. All safety protocols were followed to ensure their data collection would go unnoticed.

“I’ll be damned,” Jimmy exclaimed. The briefcase seemed to carry no electronic media; their client went old school and must have held a hard copy of whatever the data was. Well, he guessed it did because the thickness of the foil sealed bag the material was in looked like it held a manual.

“Watcha’ got?” TT asked turning from the driver’s seat.

“Someone used a Crey Crypto-Seal bag to protect there data from prying eyes.” He pointed at the black rectangle in the middle of the screen hidden between wires and cylinders of other materials. If the foil-like bag had not been present, he would have been able to read the ink through the layers of security. The ink added a different mass to the paper an imaging unit can easily identify.

“You can’t do it?” TT asked furrowing his brow. “I thought the Fish could get to everything.”

“Please,” Jimmy said glancing at TT feigning offense. “I got a pack of those in a drawer here. I’ll be in this case within five minutes.”

“Ha!” TT exclaimed. “I go three Ben Franklin’s that says you can’t.”

Jimmy smiled getting immediately to work. He quickly set his tool kit on the table and unrolled the fabric revealing the tools of his trade. Bypassing the four point magnetic switches at the corners, he snipped the explosive wires. Next, he flipped a switch that cast a dampening field over the truck jamming all frequencies. Now that the truck was naturally blacked out, the jam would go unnoticed. It was one of those just in case safety protocols he followed.

Slowly he opened the case shining a flashlight through the wires and rolls of explosives. He hated to admit it, but Mickey was right. The plastic explosives looked like dynamite, but the name Tovex was printed on the wrapper. He rolled his eyes. Four other pressure switches underneath the foil package were next and with those bypass he took a moment to review the GPS circuits and electronic. He expected and found an alarm trigger and knew the battery would have to be pulled before they left the underpass. That would take more time to rearm because it probably held a dead man’s circuit.

“Mickey may get to use some of his skill other than snoring tonight,” Jimmy said.

He collected his winnings as soon as the foil packet was proudly displayed on the smart table.

“You’d ‘da man, Fish,” TT said ticking off the seconds on his watch. “Three minutes thirty-four seconds.”

Jimmy slid a pocketknife down the foil wrap and removed the thick stack of documents bound together by plastic binder like a term paper for school. He could only stand slack jawed at the insignia that was emblazoned on the cover. Never would he have expected to see it.

“What?” TT asked puzzled at what would shock his friend.

“We’re frell’d!”


TO CHAPTER 2 > 






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