Chapter 05: The Briefing

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Twelve hours passed.

Then, Hawkins sent out the call, his voice piping in across the Atonement, filtered through the shipwide communications network. The survivors found their way to the briefing room, navigating through the steel corridors of the ship, until they were all seated around a large table of polished wood. The pedestal of a holographic projector studded the center of the table. The SI personnel and mercenaries noticed four new faces among them. At the head of the table, Director Hawkins sat behind a screen, bathed in its green glow.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, his rough voice cutting through the chatter, "before we begin, I'd like to introduce four additional members of the team. While you all represent those in the field who have the most hands-on experience with Rogue Ops, these four represent the Galactic Alliance's role in this endeavor."

Hawkins introduced them one by one.

Callistair Ward, who insisted they refer to her as Callie, was a Sergeant in the Special Operations branch. She was tall, well-built, and grim. Her black hair was cut short and her blue eyes gleaned with both intelligence and implants. She had led, under Hawkins's orders, her Spec Ops squad against a Rogue Ops outpost two weeks previously, not long after the discovery of the former Dark Operations' betrayal. The outpost was a base of operations for one of the cells. Not only had it been abandoned and wiped entirely clean of data, but it had also been rigged with traps. Callie had lost her entire team investigating the outpost.

Duncan Kato was a short, stocky, grinning man of Japanese-Scottish ancestry. He excelled at disarming and constructing explosives. Anything and everything relating to explosives, he loved. He'd started out with half a decade in the Marines, followed by twenty years as a demolitions expert in Special Operations. He seemed utterly at ease in the stark confines of the briefing room, if anything, he looked comfortable and almost like he might break into laughter. Occasionally he would run a hand through his close-cropped brown hair, the only real tell he had that he was just as anxious as the others to figure out what their mission was.

Colin Epps was also Spec Ops. He was a dour-faced, gloomy, dark-skinned man whose bald head gleamed under the bright lights of the conference room. He slouched in his chair, his arms across his chest, and looked very put-upon. He explained, in unhappy tones, that he'd had a successful twenty five year career as a corporate technician, flying out to the frontier to run maintenance on starter colonies and distant research outposts. Then, when that got to be too boring, he'd signed up for the Army and then pushed on into Spec Ops. He'd retired from another thirty year career the previous year. The only thing that surpassed his technical knowledge was his unhappiness: he'd discovered that after a lifetime of excitement, he couldn't live with the boring routine of retirement and had reluctantly taken on this assignment.

Finally, there was Genevieve Topaz. She was perhaps the most disturbing person in the room. Her job description pegged her as an actual assassin, one of only several dozen, who had previously been on the Galactic Alliance's payroll. She had worked with Dark Operations before they went rogue during the war to eliminate some of the GA's most lethal enemies. She sat in her chair, utterly motionless, and stared at the others with the flat, insectile calm of a praying mantis. She was very small, very petite, and very pale. Her hair was close cropped and stark white. Her eyes, too, glowed a pure white, like burning gems inside her narrow, pallid face.

"So, now that you've all met each other, we can get down to business," Hawkins said at the end of his introduction.

"Um, whoa, time out," Drake replied, sitting up. "I...am I to understand this is the support you're giving us on the ground?" he asked.

"...yes," Hawkins replied after a moment.

"This? These four? No offense, you all sound like certified badasses, but...where's the Army? The Marines? A fully outfitted Spec Ops squad, for Christ's sake? Am I to understand-are we to understand that it's just the eleven of us against Rogue Ops?"

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