VELVET GLOVE, IRON FIST - Act III - Patrick Forsythe


            The colonel was waiting when the platoon came off the orbital shuttle from the EFS Prince of Wales. Captain Forsythe wasn't sure if she was happy, pissed, or something in-between. He guessed it was better to keep it safe. "Good morning, sir."

            "Same, captain." Maria Nostros replied; a neutral tone, nothing to get a bead on her emotions.

            "Where do you want my platoon at, sir?"

            "Patch, you can stow the sir shit. Tell your sergeant to send them over to Zero-Two-Three Barracks," she pointed at the row of similiar, non-descript buildings, "right over there."

            Patrick turned around to face al-Hajj, only a couple steps behind him, "Sergeant, tell the men to fall out and head to Barracks 023."

            "Yes, sir." Salah nodded and started barking out to the platoon. "Let's go, you maggots! On the bounce... move!"

            "Patch," Maria called the captain back, "follow me."

            Patton Base was probably the oldest military base in the Federation, besides the training camps on Phobos and Deimos, orbiting Mars. The place was almost a seperate suburb of the capital city, along with all the other infinity of suburbs surrounding the center of the Federation. It lay just inside the inner ring of the city, allowing the massive horde of TI families that lived here easy access to the metropolis. There were multiple blocks of temporary barracks, single barracks, married housing, PX's, theatres, a massive school, and even a full 21-hole golf course. It was probably the best military stop in the Federation, due to the fact that no one got stationed at Patton Base unless they had done their time. It was a place for generals and politicians; a token defense for the planet that looked good on the evening news.

            The colonel said nothing all the way to... well, wherever she was taking him. He quickly got lost along the infinity of whitewashed buildings and carbon-copy headquarters. Finally she walked into one of the HQ's, the Crusader division's building. Taking the lift to the lower levels, they walked out into a electronic salesman's wet dream. Monitors flickered, computers hummed, and all of it had a certain un-life to it. Nostros muttered, almost inperceptible except to Forsythe's ears. "2nd Platoon. They handle the entire comm and e-traffic for the division. However, Squad Four is left open for the kind of assignments that other platoons can't handle. Such as your case."

            Patrick said nothing, letting the colonel lead him through the rat's nest of cables until they reached a seperate section of the basement. Closed off by only a row of monitors, there was 4th Squad, working on processing the information from the enormous megalopolis that was Avalon. One of them stood up when the colonel approached. "Captain Forsythe," Maria introduced the man standing, "this is Spec Corporal Nathan Witherspoon, 4th squad leader."

            "Pleased to meet you, sir." Witherspoon saluted. The man's hair was greying, his uniform was messy, and he looked more like a professor than a soldier. In fact, if he had a pipe in his mouth, the picture would be perfect. However, the title "specialist corporal" was almost never used. It was an honorary term, meaning this guy was important, and not be insulted like any other NCO.

            "Any luck tracking Cortez?" Patrick replied.

            "Nothing solid," the spec corporal turned toward one of the computer stations. He tapped something into the keyboard, lighting the monitors around him with various snapshots, some from vidphones, private security cameras, ATM's, and even others from long-range military cameras. At first glance, all of them looked different, but then he saw the similarities. Same build, same walk, same look to all of them. "Apparently this Cortez got spooked five days ago. We had only managed to get a lock on his image before he decided to drop out of sight. Then nothing. So I had PFC Moss run a multi-layered spatial comparison on our system. The computer came up with a couple thousand matches, so..."

            "Wait," Forsythe stopped him in the middle of his lecture, "you did what?"

            "Multi-layered spatial comparison. We were looking for people with the same build as Cortez, though not necessarily the same face." Nathan sighed for a second, as if an errant student asked a stupid question. "But like I said, the computer came up with a couple thousand matches, so we tried a silhouette search through those matches and narrowed it down to twenty."

            Now it was Maria's turn to be confused. "Silhouette search?"

            Witherspoon turned toward her. "We analyzed Cortez's silhouette from the solid material had. To put it simply, we looked at his shadow, something that the spatial comparison doesn't look for. In a way, they're almost as good as fingerprints."

            "Why haven't I heard about this before?" the colonel asked.
            The spec corporal smiled. "Because I only thought of it yesterday."

            "So where is Cortez now?" Patrick brought the conversation back into focus.

            "We had a lock on him about two hours ago. Then he changed faces and we lost him."

            "Where was he before you lost him?"

            "Artsy-part of town, Right Bank of the Elysium River. We caught him coming out of a place called O'Kim's five seconds after this guy came out." He punched up another picture, some other greying guy in a suit. "His name is Charles Babbage. Executive Vice President for O'Reilly, Inc."

            Maria let out a whistle. "Damn. What is Cortez doing talking with those high rollers?" Everyone knew who O'Reilly, Inc. was. Probably the most powerful  of the old Harrington daughter corporations; had their hands into everything.

            "Not sure, but we believe..." A loud beeping cut Witherspoon off. The spec corporal turned on a dime and looked over at one of the monitors. "Moss, report!"

            PFC Moss turned out to be one of those girls that you thought only existed on fashion magazines or advertisements for Brillcream. Almost angelic, dampered only by her dark brunette hair and her messy uniform, she seemed out of place for a surveillance group. She placed a pair of ugly black glasses on her face and looked at the screen. "We've got a positive ghoul passing through one of our etheral scans."


            "City Hall Station, suborbital platform."

            "Get me a punch-up."

            Moss moved fast with her fingers, finally clicking up a picture of the ghoul passing through the gate. The face wasn't Cortez's, but that didn't mean anything. Witherspoon came closer to her station and said, "Check the silhouette."

            The girl punched some more buttons and an outline passed over the still picture. Even though the gate obscured some of it, it seemed to fit, after adjusting for camera angle and time of day. "I've got a 83% match. He's Cortez."

            "Where's the sub-orb going?" Maria asked.

            "Oxfordshire." Moss replied.

            Nostros read the puzzled look on Patrick's face. "It's an exclusive suburb on the far side of the planet."

            Forsythe thought quickly. "Where does Babbage live?"

            Moss typed away until finally she came back with, "Oxfordshire."

            "Bingo." Patrick smiled. "Have you got an address?"

            "Yes, sir." the girl replied, ripping off a print-out, then handing it to the captain.

            Forsythe took the paper greedily, then looked over at his boss. "Sir, permission to go to Oxfordshire and retrieve M. Cortez."

            Nostros gave him a sly look. "Granted."

            He was out the door faster than his legs could carry him. "Sarge?" he called into his com unit, "get the troops ready to move. We've got a bead on this bastard. I'll call in a shuttle and we'll nab him!"

            "Yes, sir!"


            Outside the Babbage estate (which was the smallest house in town, from what he had seen), the members of the 42nd Platoon moved into position. "This is the cap. Call out."

            "Squad One, ready."

            "Squad Two, rock-n-roll!"

            "Squad Three, set."

            "Squad Four, ready."

            "All squads, this is the cap. One and two, flank the grounds. Three and four, enter the building. Three is to secure the first floor and provide crossfire for the grounds. Four is to secure second floor. Do not fire maximum ammo unless absolutely necessary. This guy isn't a leech; we need to capture this mother. Ready? Go."

            In their chameleon suits, the dim light obscured everything; the only sign of the platoon was the rustling grass. In his command suit, though, the captain monitored the progress well, moving swiftly through the brush, and then entering the building.

            "So far, so good." Squad Three chimed out.

            "Cut the chatter, freak." Corporal Mokumbo, standing right next to him in Squad One, "Scan."

            "Squad Four here. 1st floor's clear. I've got thermal footprints going up."

            "Follow them up, corporal." Forsythe replied, watching their dots move through a diagram of the house, constantly updated by sat data and the suit computers.

            "Squad One, we're on the 2nd floor."

            "Take it slow, corporal. Don't spook the spook." The captain heard something through Squad Four's microphones. He switched his small screen to Corporal Samson's camera.

            "Uh, cap? We're getting com echo." Apparently he'd heard it, too.


            Just then, there was a bright blaze across Samson's screen. The color of a plasma bolt fired; somehow Cortez was ready for them.




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.