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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos fic: The Elephant in the Room (6/7)

September 30th, 2013 (06:08 am)
determined

feeling: determined

Previous parts and notes in the MASTER POST.



PART SIX

From his sickbed, Billy’s speech is inspirational. Rick feels the certainty of it girding him and he makes it to the parking lot before he realizes he may be in over his head.

He is mostly unarmed. He may be able to scavenge a few things from the hotel room they’d rented out when they came back to the city, but that’s not saying much. He’s also got nothing but a set of coordinates and a generally unfamiliar patch of jungle to go through. Plus, there’s a good chance the patrols will have upped their intensity, making it even more likely that Rick will encounter resistance on his travels.

Plus, he realizes grimly, he doesn’t have a car.

This is a bad idea. That’s the only coherent thought amongst everything. This is a terrible idea. He’s probably going to get himself captured or killed. Common sense dictates that he stay here. Michael’s orders tell him to stay here.

But he’s not going to. Because his team might need him, and being in the ODS isn’t about following orders, it’s about doing what’s needed. Every action from his teammates -- good, bad and infuriating -- can be boiled down to that. If there’s been an elephant in the room, that’s been it, and Rick hasn’t seen it until now.

So Rick’s going. He’ll take what arms he can find; he’ll steal a damn car if he has to; he’ll go.

Because that’s what teammates do.

-o-

Rick stops thinking. He stops worrying, he stops analyzing, he stops second guessing.

Now is the time to act.

This is why he joined the CIA.

This is what he’s meant to do.

This.

He takes a taxi to the hotel, and offers his driver all the money he’s carrying in exchange for the vehicle. Considering the state of the thing, the driver accepts, scuttling off happily down the street while Rick goes inside.

As expected, there’s not much left, but the weapons he’d carried on him during the last leg of his journey are still there. He throws together what little supplies are there, but doesn’t worry too much about it. At this point, he’s going in and he’s going out. If he needs something more than his wits and a few bullets, he’s probably screwed anyway.

Once he has that, he piles back in the car. He’s pleased to find that it is well gassed. The frame shudders a little when he starts it back up, but it runs. Pulling back onto the street, he knows the car isn’t as good as the one he’d borrowed from Jonah (the one he’d wrecked from Jonah), but it’ll do.

At least, as he drives out of the city and back toward the rainforest, he hopes it’ll do.

-o-

Every passing mile, Rick expects disaster.

He expects gunmen swarming out of the trees. He expects the windshield to be shattered by bullets. He expects an elephant trampling down the road.

It doesn’t happen.

He dares to think that maybe he’s gotten lucky this time.

But when he rounds the corner, he sees the figure running at him and barely has time to slam on the brakes, turning the car hard and cursing himself for ever being optimistic.

-o-

It only takes a few terrifying seconds for the car to stop. Rick has pulled the wheel hard, and he feels the car go off the road as it comes to a skidding halt. Instinctively, he ducks down, reaching across the seat for his gun when he realizes that it’s been knocked around.

Heart pounding, he dives lower, groping blindly across the floor until his fingers wrap around the metal hilt. Grabbing it, he brings it up, surging upright with the gun pointed out and ready to fire.

He’s so intent on showing his ability to fight that the flail and the screech that greet him take him completely by surprise.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

That’s not exactly the answer he’d expect from angry gunmen.

Curious, Rick peers over his gun and strains before he recognizes the figure half-ducking outside his stolen taxi.

“Jonah?” he asks.

From outside, the figure unfurls, and Jonah stands up. “Rick?”

Letting out a breath, Rick feels relief flood over him. Putting the gun safely away, he opens the door of the rattled taxi and steps out. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Jonah asks, sounding just as incredulous as Rick feels.

Rick shakes his head. “I mean, why are you running through the rainforest?”

“Well I can’t drive!” Jonah says, indignant. “You stole my car.”

“You lent it to me,” Rick reminds him.

“Under duress,” Jonah clarifies. Then he looks at the taxi. “Where is it, anyway?”

Rick looks at the dilapidated car he’s been driving and reddens at the memory of the ruined vehicle. “I’m sure you’ll be reimbursed.”

Jonah’s face falls. “You wrecked my car!”

“It got complicated!”

“It was my car! I loved that car!”

“It had never even been used!”

“Because it was too perfect to tarnish!”

“And it was invaluable to my escape,” Rick assures him. “Billy’s all right, by the way.”

Jonah is somewhat mollified. Still, he postures. “I better be reimbursed.”

Rick rolls his eyes. It actually feels good to win an argument, but then he realizes that Jonah has entirely missed the point. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re out here,” he says. “I mean, you never leave home.”

At that, Jonah pales. He’s sweating in the sweltering heat and he nods earnestly as he digs into his pocket and pulls out what looks like a watch. “This started beeping,” he says, holding it out to Rick. “A lot.”

Rick takes it, frowning a little. It looks like a watch, but when he gets it in his hands, he recognizes it as CIA issue. “The emergency line?”

“Yeah, man,” Jonah says. “I was going to disarm the thing when I realized the signal was an SOS.”

Rick looks at the screen, which is replaying a steady stream of blips.

“I turned off the sound -- because that much beeping is insane -- but look at the signal,” he says.

Watching, Rick sees the pattern and makes out the antiquate morse code sequence. It’s a contingency he’d only been somewhat aware of. Emergency communication systems had been standard issue, but the team had been much more interested in keeping up verbal comms over the SAT phone. The other methods, Rick had figured, were a last resort.

Stricken, Rick looks up at Jonah. “How long has this been going?”

Jonah shrugs, running a hand nervously through his hair. “An hour,” he says. “I don’t know for sure. I started running about ten minutes after it started and I sort of lost track of time.” He wheezes. “I forget how humid it is without filtered air!”

Rick gives him a quizzical look. “I thought you were done helping us.”

Jonah’s expression falters, and he suddenly looks very young. “I know I messed up before,” he says. “I was trying to help, and I nearly killed Billy. I don’t trust people and I generally disagree with the laws of most governments, but I never meant...” He trails off, shaking his head. “It was my fault you weren’t there to take the SOS. So I figured I owed it to you to come.”

“Okay,” Rick says slowly. “But you couldn’t have called?”

“I didn’t know where you were!”

“Um, Billy was dying,” Rick says. “I took him to the hospital.”

“Oh, and like a hospital wouldn’t have recorded the call,” Jonah says.

“I thought you had secure lines.”

“Well, who knows what the government is willing to do!”

Rick raises his eyebrows. “So you thought running unarmed through a jungle full of armed men was a safer option?”

Jonah blinks, as if he hasn’t actually considered that. When the realization of his own recklessness becomes apparently, his forehead creases angrily. “Well, I panicked!”

“Clearly.”

“But you know what,” Jonah says, shaking his head vehemently. “It doesn’t matter. I’m doing the right thing. There’s a problem, and you need to know about it. You need to fix it.

“You sort of sound like you care,” Rick observes.

Jonah scowls. “You’re the one who reminded that if this thing really goes south, all my work setting up here is for nothing,” he says. “If you guys go down, I go down with you.”

Rick takes a breath and lets it out. “Well,” he says. “Let’s hope none of us go down at all, then.”

-o-

It’s unexpected, but for once it seems like a fortuitous turn of events. Rick knows roughly where he’s going, and while his sense of direction is pretty spot-on, having someone who knows the area riding shotgun is actually pretty helpful.

At least, when he’s not ranting.

“The whole idea of getting help means less danger,” Jonah tells him. “Watch for the access road.”

Rick rolls his eyes. “Well, I am the help,” he reminds Jonah.

“You’re one guy! And you barely look any older than me! Are you sure you’re even a real CIA agent? You only have one gun!”

Rick glares. “You don’t know that.”

“I do!” Jonah says. “Because where else are you carrying your guns?”

“They could be stowed.”

“Oh, and that’s really helpful,” Jonah says sarcastically. “So when we get ambushed and have to fight for our lives, you can ask them to kindly stop shooting while you unpack. And watch for the access road.

“You know, I thought you would be all about minimal impact,” Rick says “Fewer agents on the ground, all that.”

“Access road!” Jonah yells.

Rick sees what he’s talking about at the last minute, and slams on the brakes while turning the wheel. The tires squeal and the car almost loses traction as it takes the sharp turn onto the dirt side road.

“Sure,” Jonah says, and he’s gripping the seat now while he scans the forest. “Except when actual destruction is going to occur. In those cases, I prefer to be on the team that is better armed and more experience and generally not likely to be entirely annihilated.

Rick gives him a look. “You’re not exactly helping here.”

Jonah scoffs. “I’m helping more than you,” he shoots back. “You’d have missed that access road if not for me.”

Rick can’t totally deny it. “How do you know about all this anyway?”

“Well I live here,” Jonah says. “I like to know my neighbors.”

“You’ve never talked to your neighbors.”

“I don’t have to talk to them to know them,” Jonah says with exasperation. “I have scanned this entire area extensively. I know every hideout, every home, every road and hidden access point.”

“So you spy on your neighbors,” Rick says.

“Something which you should be incredibly grateful for,” Jonah reminds him. “You know, it’s just like the CIA and government operations in general. To be ungrateful and critical and still leeching off constituents when it is most convenient. Oh, tree!”

“What?” Rick asks, but then he startles, seeing the massive tree looming in front of him. He veers hard, and the car tips precariously before Rick manages to right them.

“See,” Jonah says. “Saved your life.”

Rick rolls his eyes. “How far did you say?”

Jonah squints out the window. “Another five miles,” he says. “But they start having surveillance set up in about four.”

“Any way around that?” Rick asks.

Jonah just grins. “All my efforts being a paranoid recluse have to be good for something.”

Rick grins back. “I hope so.”

-o-

After another two miles, just as Jonah promised, he points out a grove of trees and tells him to pull over. Rick obeys, tucking the dilapidated taxi as best he can into the brush off the bumpy trail.

“You sure about this?” Rick asks, peering out through the window and into the dense brush.

Jonah shrugs. “I have the entire game map of the original Legends of Zelda memorized.”

Rick stares at him.

“Yes!” Jonah says in frustration. “I have an affinity for this stuff. In my head, it’s all a virtual reality.”

“Except this is real,” Rick reminds him. “If I go out there and step wrong, I could end up dead.”

“Well don’t step wrong!” Jonah insists.

“That’s helpful.”

Jonah sighs, eyes rolling in pure melodramatic fashion. “Just stay off the road,” he says. “They’ve got security cameras set up, but this is the rainforest. It’s remote. Getting electricity out this far isn’t easy, so they haven’t managed to expand their monitoring systems. But once you get about a half mile there, they’ve got a better perimeter set up.”

“What kind of security are we looking at?”

“Nothing cutting edge, but the fence is tall and they keep a consistent security patrol,” Jonah reports.

“Blind spots?”

Jonah huffs. “Did you actually have any plan before you almost ran into me on the road?”

“Oh, and like you had a better one, running unarmed through the jungle,” Rick counters.

Jonah glares. “I hate that we live in an age where the good guys have to be so frustrating.”

Rick laughs humorlessly. “Tell me about it,” he says. “Now, about those blind spots.”

“The cameras are fixed,” Jonah tells him. “Approach any of them from the back angle, and you’ve got a pretty good chance of hitting it blind. Just don’t veer too far in the other direction, or the next camera will pick you up.”

Rick mentally pictures this, then nods. “Okay.”

Jonah seems to be waiting, as though he thoroughly expects Rick to continue. “That’s it?”

Rick shrugs. “What else do you expect?”

Jonah looks like he’s ready to flail. “Well, that’s not really a plan!” he says. “How are you getting in! Do you know where to look? How are you going to defend yourself when they open fire on you? Do you think you’ll be dead before you have a chance to lead them to me and get me killed?”

“Um, how about we just assume most of that won’t happen,” he says.

“That’s why you need a plan.

“Right now, I just need to know what’s going on,” Rick says. “I need to get close and observe.”

Jonah’s mouth is agape. “You’re making me risk life and limb to observe?

“You chose to risk life and limb,” Rick points out. “I’m going to come up with a better plan than running blindly.”

At least this time Jonah’s cheeks redden. “If they come after you firing, I will leave you behind,” Jonah says, sulking.

“Gee, thanks,” Rick says.

Jonah looks miffed. Then, his expression turns pained. “Just...be careful.”

Rick feigns surprise. “Is that concern?”

“The good guys may be frustrating, but they are the lesser of two evils,” Jonah says. “Besides, I’d like Michael to owe me one.”

Rick chuckles at that. “You and me, both.”

-o-

Despite his bravado, Rick finds himself more than a little nervous traipsing the rest of the way to the compound. He’s had enough bad luck on this mission to assume anything will be easy, and if Michael and Casey are captured, then there’s a good chance the guards are on high alert.

Rick could be walking stupidly to his death. And then Michael and Casey would die and Billy would probably die doing something by coming after them all.

To think, Jonah would be the last man standing.

That’s the worst case scenario, but the truth is, Rick’s not even sure what the best case scenario is. He knows his team is in trouble -- the SOS is a pretty clear indication of that -- but he doesn’t know the extent of the trouble. They could be injured; they could be with the militia. Maybe they never made it back this far at all.

They could be dead already.

Rick’s stomach flips uneasily at the thought. He doesn’t hold much affection for Michael Dorset and Casey Malick, but the idea of teamwork is still something Rick finds he takes seriously. These men may be the ones who drugged him and ditched him in Africa, but they’re also the ones who arranged to come back for him and saved his life.

He’s not sure what that means, but this is only his second mission. He sort of planned on having some time to find out.

But here he is, running through the rainforest in Cambodia, mounting a rescue mission with parameters he doesn’t even understand with one teammate already sidelined for Rick’s poor choices.

It occurs to him that he’s been here before. This is how he felt making a run with Billy. But there’s no backup this time. There’s no last minute rescue on hold.

It’s just Rick -- and he can’t fail now.

-o-

Jonah’s paranoid, reclusive and generally strange, but he’s right on about the compound. Rick slows as he approaches, taking himself deeper into the foliage until he finds a good vantage point from the trees.

He has to stand there a moment, trying to get his heart rate to settle down, as he assesses the situation. The fence is high and topped with barbed wire, but it is nothing more than a chain link fence. Every so many sections is anchored by a tall light pole, which is topped with a visible security camera.

If Rick veers to the right of each camera, he should miss the frame. There’s no way of telling for sure, but it’ll give Rick a good chance. And really, once he gets close enough, he’ll be too low to detect.

So really, there’s just one last distance.

It’s a risk.

But Rick thinks of Billy, getting stabbed in a fight and having to be drugged to stay behind. He thinks of Michael and Casey, coming back with the mission on the line. The ODS is all about taking risks when it matters.

It matters now.

Rick runs.

-o-

Rick hasn’t been with the ODS long, but the idea of a mad dash is getting unsettling familiar to him. It’s more adrenaline than skill, and he hardly feels the exertion as he charges blindly across the distance, his sole focus on the destination.

Failure is a real possibility, but it’s not one he can entertain. Because failure is death, and if Rick dies on his second mission with the CIA...

Well, Rick’s not ready to think about that.

He’s not thinking at all.

When he gets to the fence, he’s still moving so fast that he can’t properly slow down. He slams into it, wrapping his fingers in the openings to keep himself from sprawling backward haphazardly. As he steadies himself, he works to reassert conscious thought. He’s gotten this far on pure adrenaline, but now that he’s here, he actually needs to plan.

This is what being a spy is all about. At least, this is what Rick always expected it to be. High risk situations; life and death stakes; using his wits to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

It always sounded so grand.

Now, it’s a bit less grand, a lot more terrifying.

Yet, no less important.

Resolved, Rick takes a breath and nods to himself. The fence is tall -- climbing would be stupid. Working his way to a gate would be too risky -- he’ll need to cut his way through.

Unfortunately, he’s not carrying wire cutters, but he does have a pocketknife. Getting it out, he opens it, cutting vigorously at the wires. It’s not easy work -- the broken spokes of the fence cut him more than once -- but Jonah was right about their defenses. It’s pretty bare minimum, so the metal yields under the pressure.

It’s still slow work, and Rick feels his hackles start to rise the longer it takes. He steals glances around as often as he can, half expecting to see a guard detail rounding around the fence at any moment.

He’s so distracted that when the last rung at the bottom finally gives, Rick is almost too surprised to take advantage of it. Fumbling for a moment, he puts his knife away and pulls his gun instead before ducking under the fence.

It’s a tight fit but Rick squeezes through. On the inside, he does a quick scan for security, but finds the grounds to be less guarded than the exterior. There is more foliage here, which works to his advantage to some degree, but it also makes it harder to navigate.

Trusting his instincts, he jogs ahead, keeping to the trees. He pauses periodically, listening and watching. Occasionally, he hears the sound of voices, and he starts to work his way toward them when the trees start to clear and Rick sees the center of the compound.

He doesn’t have the best view, but there seem to be a number of buildings and Rick can see some of the men milling about in the distance. They’re too heavily armed to be legitimate tea farmers, so Rick takes some solace in the fact that at least the mission was worth the risk.

At least, he hopes so. If Billy doesn’t die. If Michael and Casey are okay. If Rick gets out of here...

He wants to stop the bad guys, but his first priority is his team. Slinking around the treeline, Rick makes his way to the closest building, pressing himself up along the wall and scooting around to the closest entry point.

It’s a door and it doesn’t appear well secured. Rick pauses and listens, tensing when he hears voices within.

At first, it’s a disappointment. The voices are foreign. It’s not Michael and Casey, not that it would ever be that easy. He’s about to keep moving when he catches a few of the words in the local dialect.

“...I do not want to keep these prisoners,” one of them says. “It is too dangerous.”

“It is too dangerous to let them go,” another argues.

“We do not even know if they are spies!” the first protests.

“They are hunted by the militia,” the other says. “What else would they be?”

“The militia is opposed to any western interference,” the first insists.

“I am opposed to trouble,” the second says.

“On that, we agree,” the first says. “But if we kill them--”

“We will dump the bodies away from here,” the second assures him. “They will assume the militia did it.”

There is a pause. “They are still in the utility sheds?”

“Under intense guard.”

There is another pause. “Question them,” the first continues. “Threaten them with their lives. Check their references. Do your best to ensure that they are truly a risk to us.”

“And if we can prove it?”

“Then we will follow your plan,” the first says.

“Thank you, brother,” the second says. “I promise you, I will only need an hour to get my evidence.”

“You have never failed me.”

“And I never will.”

The sound of footsteps reverberates through the door, and Rick hears the sound of another door closing. Then, silence.

Because the matter is settled. Michael and Casey will be questioned and set up before being executed.

Unless Rick can stop it.

-o-

On the way back, Rick is past fear. The mix of swelling emotions is too much to sort out, so he doesn’t even bother. By the time he gets back to the taxi, he can barely feel his heart pounding and he doesn’t realize he’s breathless until he opens the door and crashes into the seat.

Jonah yelps, wide eye as he brings up a stick to bear.

“That’s what you have to defend yourself?” Rick asks.

Jonah doesn’t lower the stick. “You left me unarmed here!”

“Well, I wasn’t going in there unarmed,” Rick points out. “And you did have the car if you needed to flee.”

“That would have served you right,” Jonah tells him. “After you crashed my car.”

“When this is done, you can do whatever you want with the taxi,” Rick promises.

“I thought I was going to be reimbursed?” Jonah asks. “Or was that a lie? It was a lie, wasn’t it? I’m so stupid. I make one stupid mistake and the next thing I know, I’m spending the next ten years of my life working with the very people who are destroying the natural order or the universe!”

Rick blinks at him.

Jonah lets out a breath, looking forlorn. “Tell me you have a plan.”

Rick has to take a few minutes to catch his breath, but he nods. “Yeah,” he says. Then he makes a face, shrugging. “Sort of.”

Jonah’s eyes go wide. “Sort of?” he asks in utter incredulity. “We’re in the Cambodian rainforest with drug dealers on one side and armed militants on another. We have a gun and a knife and a taxi, and you only sort of have a plan?”

“Well, I’m working on it!” Rick almost protests. “There are just a few details--”

“Details,” Jonah interjects. “Details that involve us not dying a horrible death?”

“Ideally, yes,” Rick says.

“Oh, good, because I sort of thought we were going to die.

“You’re not helping,” Rick tells him.

“Oh, and you are? If so, what’s the plan, o fearless leader?”

Rick glares at him. “You said the militia has a base not far from here?”

Jonah makes a face of disdain. “Yeah,” he says. “They control the main road, so they’ve got a base just up the way.”

“A few miles?” Rick asks.

“Yeah, we’re damn lucky we didn’t run into them on our way here,” Jonah says.

“You don’t know if that’s where they keep the elephants, do you?” Rick continues.

“Elephants?” Jonah asks, as though he hopes he’s misheard.

Rick grins. “It all comes back to the elephants.”

-o-

This is only Rick’s second mission with the CIA, so he’s really not sure how they typically go. But in all his training at the Farm, he can honestly say that this isn’t something he expected to come up. Elephants simply weren’t in the training materials he’d received, and yet here he is -- stalking an elephant.

Jonah directs him to the closest access point, and Rick takes the rest of the distance on foot. It seems like good luck that security here is even worse than at the other compound, and while there are ominous guards posted at the gate, there seems to be no security cameras in place. Plus, the fence itself is much shorter, so when Rick gets close enough, he merely has to time it right and jump right over.

On the other side, he move quickly. There’s fewer foliage here, so he makes a quick dash to the closest cover. It’s a hut, and he presses himself along the backside, moving around to peek out the other side.

What he sees reminds him why the militia didn’t register highly on a list of potential threats. There’s really not much there. Besides the armed guards at the front gate, the place is mostly abandoned, and Rick figures these guys have to invest most of their personnel on patrols in order to retain a presence. With the splintered factions in the area, the offensive is more important than the defensive, and it shows.

Then Rick sees the elephant.

It’s a stroke of luck that he’s just appreciating now -- with so many men out on patrols, there’d be a good chance that the elephant wouldn’t have been here. That should have been obvious, but Rick had been so desperate for an idea that he hadn’t considered all the caveats.

Now that he’s standing here, in enemy territory, looking at a penned up elephant, he realizes there are a lot of caveats.

First, he thinks he can get across the compound to the pen where the elephant is housed, but he’s not entirely sure he can escape with an elephant without being noticed and summarily shot on sight.

Second, he’s already proven that he knows how to get an elephant to charge him, but he has no idea how to make it follow him. He vaguely remembers Billy’s affinity with the animal, which is why he told himself it was possible, but given the size of the creature, Rick is having a moment of doubt.

Third, this is an elephant. Rick is planning on coaxing an elephant away and leading it several miles through the rainforest before provoking it to charge all over an enemy compound. As far as plans go, this one is sort of crappy.

Somehow, Rick thinks the ODS might approve.

He takes comfort in that, and glances toward the entrance before deciding to make his move.

-o-

The elephant is at the back of the compound, close to the forest. The fence is somewhat taller here, presumably to keep the elephant from escaping, and there are two wide gates, one at the front and one to the back. This is convenient, and Rick jumps back over the fence and makes his way to the rear exit. There’s a path that leads through the woods, which is another boon, and Rick is pleased to see it is relatively well hidden.

This might just work.

Digging in his pockets, Rick finds the lockpick kit he’s had stowed there since he joined the Agency. He hasn’t had an opportunity to use it, and he finds himself strangely gratified.

Of course, he nearly drops it. Face flushed, he curses while he tries to keep himself together, his fingers shaking as he raises the pick to the padlock. The clank of the metal seems ominously loud, and Rick looks up, feeling sweat start to trickle down his cheeks. There’s no sign of anyone coming, so he turns his focus back to the lock and keeps at it.

The seconds are agonizing, but the lock finally clicks and Rick nearly cries in total relief. Hurried, he doesn’t bother to stow his lockpick properly, hastily shoving it in his pocket while his stiff fingers undo the latch.

When it’s open, there’s a sense of triumph.

Followed quickly by the recurring realization that he has no idea what the hell he’s doing. Stealing an elephant? That’s his master plan? Michael and Casey came in with guns blazing; Billy never even flinched at the idea of peril when he was dying from an infected knife wound. And Rick’s going to steal an elephant.

It’s a good thing this stuff will probably be classified; no one would believe it anyway.

The elephants seems oblivious to Rick, munching happily on what seems like hay near an enclosure.

For a moment, Rick’s afraid to move. He’s had nightmares about this stupid elephant, and the idea of accidentally spooking it is undesirable to say the least. But he has to make some contact with the elephant or he’s come this far for nothing.

He hasn’t come this far for nothing. He’s a CIA agent. He’s part of the ODS. They’d do it for him.

At least, he’s pretty sure they’d do it for him.

Edging inside, Rick is slow and careful, trying to recall Billy’s ease with the creature. He reminds himself that it must be somewhat domesticated, so as long as he careful, he should be okay.

He should be.

With as much resolve as he can muster, Rick continues his approach. After a few feet, the elephant seems to notice him. It goes still, and Rick freezes too, and for a moment, they stand, staring at each other.

Carefully, Rick lifts his hands, hoping that the universal sign of non-aggression is recognized in the animal world, too.

It seems to work, at least to the extent that the elephant doesn’t decide to trample him where he’s standing.

Quietly, he makes a show of opening the gate all the way, stepping clear of it and gesturing out. “There you go,” he says. “All clear. You want to go for a walk, don’t you? A nice walk back in the rainforest? Now’s your chance.”

The elephant looks unimpressed.

Rick sighs. He should be used to this by now, but he sort of wants to believe that even if he can’t impress his teammates, he could hold sway over an elephant.

Like everything else, it’s going to take some work, though.

The good news is that Rick’s good. He’s untested here, but he can prove himself.

He will.

With fresh determination, Rick starts his approach again. He keeps his hands out, inching toward the enclosure where he can see the extra food is stored. “Let’s see,” he says, opening the bin carefully, eyes still on the elephant.

There’s hay and grass and apples.

Now, Rick’s not an elephant, but given the choice between hay and apples, he knows what he’d pick. Since the elephant already has plenty of hay and grass, the apples seem like the best choice.

Not that Rick has a lot of other options.

“Okay,” he says, bending down and scooping up an apple. He holds it up, showing it to the elephant. “You like that? Nice, crunchy apples. A real treat.”

The elephant looks interested.

Or Rick has lost his mind.

Maybe both.

Either way.

The elephant moves toward him, just a few steps, and Rick panics slightly, tossing the apple. It hits the ground just shy of the elephant, who snaps it up greedily with its trunk.

Encouraged, Rick lifts the entire bin of apples, moving his way backward toward the gate. He glances nervously toward the far end of the compound but the fact that no one seems to be following him is only a moderate relief. He is still luring an elephant with apples, so it’s not like he’s out of the woods.

Literally.

But he’s too far in to back out now, so he keeps moving until he’s out the gate. Eager for apples, the elephant follows as Rick moves steady into the rainforest.

-o-

It feels more ridiculous than it sounds.

After all, Rick is walking through the rainforest, luring a full grown elephant by a trail of apples. It’s easier when they get to the main road, but Rick knows the risk of getting caught is more pressing there.

Of course, the Rick of getting trampled by the elephant is an ever pressing concern, but Rick doesn’t let himself think about that. Instead, he keeps walking, dropping apple after apple.

It’s a tedious walk, and even though the elephant seems content to move at a steady clip, it’s still several miles. The fact that Rick’s afraid of getting shot at makes it all the more stressful, so when he reaches the pull of where Jonah first dropped him off, he feels both relieved and terrified.

If he goes farther, he’ll tip off the cameras. This is the point of no return. This is the make it or break it moment. Rick’s on his own now. Billy’s in the hospital, still recovering from sepsis. Michael and Casey are being interrogated with the threat of execution pressing and real. Jonah is hidden a few miles up the road, hiding in the taxi, ready for the final escape.

Now it’s up to Rick.

And the elephant.

Putting the remaining apples down, Rick steps out of the way. “Okay,” he says. “Go.”

It’s a simple order, and Rick’s not actually sure why he thinks it’ll work. Maybe his success so far made him overly confident; maybe he just doesn’t know what else to do.

He gestures forward emphatically. “Go on, now. Go!”

The elephant snuffles, inching closer.

“Go,” Rick says again, trying to sound firm.

But the elephant lifts his trunk, tapping Rick fondly.

On the one hand, Rick supposes it’s nice to know the creature doesn’t want to kill him. On the other, Rick needs an angry elephant, not a docile one.

Rick picks up an apple and throws it down the path. “Go get it!”

The elephant merely pats Rick’s head with its trunk. It might be endearing in other circumstances.

Like if his team wasn’t about to be executed.

The frustration is mounting. Rick’s worked so hard at this, and he’s risked so much, and here he is. His plan may be ludicrous, but it’s so close to working except now that the elephant likes him too much to charge.

It’s almost unfathomable.

And Rick can’t take it anymore.

He’s endured so much; he’s been through too much; he needs this to work.

Now.

“Just go,” he hisses, flicking the trunk away. “Just go and get angry and trample the whole damn place! All I need is for one last thing to go my way, and I do not want it to be blown by an overgrown mammal who is addicted to apples!”

The elephant looks forlornly at him.

Rick actually stamps his feet. He doesn’t care if he looks like a spoiled toddler. He doesn’t care if it’s unprofessional or unbecoming or anything. He doesn’t care.

He just wants the damn elephant to move.

“For the love of God,” he says. “Just go!

Rick’s arms flail, and the elephant startles. Snuffling, it takes a step back before lifting its trunk and trumpeting. Rick’s eyes go wide, and he’s about to protest when he realizes this is what he wanted.

When the elephant charges this time, Rick doesn’t panic. Instead, he dives behind a tree, watching as the beast thunders past him, straight down the road.

Breathless, Rick stares.

This time, he’s the one who follows.

-o-

The elephant is surprisingly fast, and Rick finds himself sprinting to keep up. He’s already hot and exhausted, but he puts all his energy into this run. Like his life depends on it.

Like the lives of his teammates depend on it.

Suddenly that’s the most glaring elephant in the room yet: that his team cares about him.

And that he cares about them.

Priorities.

They made their choice, now Rick’s making his.

As the elephant tramples toward the front gate, Rick pulls wide, moving toward the location he last entered, and knows this time he’s coming out with his team.

Or he’s not coming out at all.

-o-

As crazy as it had sounded, the elephant turns out to be a better distraction than he might have expected. He also takes some solace in the fact that he’s not the only one completely freaked out by a rampaging elephant.

He hears the yells and then the sound of crunching metal, and he makes it to torn part of the fence in time to see the elephant flinging the mangled front gate with its trunk. The men are converging, running from all parts of the camp, and Rick uses this distraction to slip through and start his sprint across the lawn.

He gets to the first building, where he’d overheard the conversation earlier, and he’s just made it around the back, scoping out the rest of the area when he hears the sounds of gunshots.

Startled, he looks back toward the chaos, realizing one caveat he’d failed to appreciate. The elephant is a good distraction, but it’s not an impenetrable one. The idea of the creature getting hurt for his rescue operation is not what he bargained for. Especially not when they’d finally been getting along.

The intensity of the sudden concern is a bit irrational, but not unwarranted. Rick hadn’t wanted to sacrifice anyone, and that includes the elephant. But as he looks back toward the entrance, the elephant is charging forward again, knocking a group of men out of the way as it moves toward the far side, taking the men along with it. He can’t help but grin. Rick’s the one with the plan, but the elephant is certainly holding its ground.

Besides, this all can’t be for nothing. With renewed determination, he turns his gaze back around the compound and scans the buildings. Some have been left open; a few are secured. There’s a smaller one, still locked and darkened.

Rick remembers the mention of utility sheds.

It’s his best guess.

Glancing toward the melee, which the elephant is still winning as it decimates a truck, Rick knows he only has one shot at this.

So he’s going to make it count.

Resolved, he breaks into a run, streaming across the distance with every ounce of strength he has. He feels exposed; he feels tired; he feels terrified.

He feels exhilarated.

When he gets to the building, he almost crashes into it. There’s just one door at the front, and he searches his pockets frantically for the hastily discarded lockpick. When he gets it out, his fingers are tingling with adrenaline as he works the inner gears, shifting and poking before it finally gives way.

Rick flings the lock away, stuffing the lockpick back in his pocket as he swings open the doors.

It’s dark, but Rick can smell the blood. He squints through the gloom until he sees two faces in the back.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Casey says.

“We owe Billy twenty dollars,” Michael remarks.

Rick moves in. “What?” he asks, scooting closer until he sees them more clearly. They’re ziptied to a series of sturdy pipes.

“Billy bet us that you’d actually do something useful on the mission,” Michael explains as Rick kneels down and pulls his knife. Michael’s got a large cut on his forehead, which has spilled blood all down the side of his face. His lip is split and his nose is bloodied and he looks generally worse for wear.

Casey’s somewhat better off, with a bruise on his cheek and a dislocated shoulder. “And I bet that you’d do something stupid and get yourself killed,” he says as Rick makes short work of his zipties, too. “So really, I think I only owe Billy ten, because the kid mounting a rescue is pretty stupid.”

“But hopefully useful,” Michael says, rubbing his wrists. He tries to push to his feet, wincing a little. Rick instinctually reaches out to balance him, and is surprised when Michael doesn’t pull away. Instead, he looks at Rick critically. “Tell me you have an exit plan.”

Rick opens his mouth, then closes it. He nods. “More or less.”

Casey rolls his eyes. “Why am I guessing it’s the less?”

“We may get to hold out on paying Billy after all,” Michael says.

Rick sighs in exasperation. “Or you could stand here and keep arguing until they come back and then no one is getting paid anything!”

“The kid has a point,” Casey says.

Michael seems reluctant to agree. “Okay,” he says, eye on Rick. “What next?”

-o-

Now that it’s up to Rick, he’d like to think he’d have something brilliant to say. A perfect plan. A genius offering.

Instead, as he leads them back to the door, he glances out and sees that the elephant is still doing its job, though it is being more effectively herded now. Their window of opportunity is fading.

Which is why Rick has one plan, and one plan only.

“Okay,” he says. “The plan.”

“I can’t wait to hear it,” Casey snarks.

“We are sort of counting on you,” Michael tells him.

Rick’s stomach flips. He swallows. He nods. “Okay,” he says one last time. “Run.”

-o-

It’s not a brilliant plan, but it’s also not a bad plan. For once, his team doesn’t question him, following close as he darts back through the compound, hoping with all he has that the elephant is still proving to be an apt distraction.

Glancing back, he sees Michael limping but keeping up, and Casey is rapidly starting to overtake him. Rick nods toward broken spot in the fence. “Right, right, right,” he mutters, pushing himself for a final burst of speed to cross the distance and go through first.

The wire cuts at him, but he ignores it, instead using his vulnerable fingers to hold back the metal to let Casey and then Michael slip through. Michael is heavily winded when he ducks through, pausing to rest his hands on his knees.

Casey is more primed. “We’re not running the whole way, are we?” he asks. There’s no trace of snark this time.

“No,” Rick says. “Jonah’s a few miles up the road.” He looks at Michael. “You going to make it?”

Michael straightens, sucking in a decided breath. “I’m a runner,” he says.

Rick looks concerned. “You sure?”

Michael pushes him. “Not much choice anyway,” he mutters. “Now go, or all of this is for nothing.”

Rick has to concede that Michael has a point. Sparing one last look at the grounds, where everyone is still huddled around the now-calmed elephant, Rick starts off again into the rainforest, his teammates not far behind.

-o-

Rick’s in good shape, and he’s been working with a lot of adrenaline, but after a mile, he recognizes just how much running he’s done today. His head hurts and his stomach is cramped, and his lungs feel like they can never get enough air. Michael and Casey are the ones who are hurt, but Rick finds himself half staggering the last of the distance.

He’s beginning to feel disoriented, and his legs are like rubber, and he begins to wonder if he’s missed the car, if he’s screwed this up.

He blinks, trying to clear his vision as he slows and comes to a stop.

Michael thuds to a stop behind him, panting audibly. Casey passes him, looking around skeptically. “This is it?”

Rick tries to wet his lips. “I, um--”

Casey turns back. “Do not tell me you’re lost.”

Rick furrows his brow. “Not lost,” he says. “Just...”

Casey groans.

Michael staggers closer. “Just think, Martinez,” he says, listing badly. “You know where you’re going. You just have to think.

It’s a surprising voice of confidence, and Rick is so shocked that he forgets for a moment how tired he is. He forgets about his legs feeling like jelly and his stomach trying to cave in on itself and the marching band in his ears. He thinks about the rainforest and Jonah and the grove of trees.

His eyes brighten. “Here,” he says, running forward and to the left. “Here.”

“I think you may be delusional,” Casey is saying, but Rick doesn’t listen. Instead he pushes through the brush, step by step until he sees the taxi hidden just off the shoulder.

“Here!” he says again, excited now as Jonah looks relieved through the window. “We made it!”

-o-

“We’re going to die,” Jonah says. He’s been relegated to the passenger seat as Rick takes the steering wheel. Michael and Casey are tucked safely in the back, and Rick can feel their eyes watching him as he moves the car down the road.

Rick sets his jaw. “We’re not going to die,” he says.

“We’re totally going to die,” Jonah says.

“They didn’t even see us,” Rick reminds him. “We got away clean.”

“They have security footage,” Jonah points out. “And when they find two missing prisoners, they’re going to know something happened.”

“Well, that’s why we’re leaving!” Rick says, glancing back.

Michael looks pained; Casey looks annoyed.

“We’re going to die,” Jonah moans this time. “I never should have left home. I never should have helped the CIA. I never should have started illicit practices in a time of unparalleled governmental spying! I can’t believe I’m not even going to live to see the technological apocalypse!”

Rick glares at him. “You’re being melodramatic.”

“Maybe about the technological apocalypse,” Jonah concedes. “That will just be a farce constructed by world governments to stop the freedom of information and control the restless masses.”

Rick has to grit his teeth together. “We are not going to die,” he says again, as firmly as he can.

He sounds convincing, emphatic and sure, and Jonah seems ready to drop it when there’s a loud bang and a jerk, and the car goes flying through the air.

-o-

When they’re airborne, Rick grips the wheel like it will make a difference. He holds on tight, because this is all he has, this is his last plan. There is no backup; there is nothing.

There’s just this.

If Rick loses control now -- he loses everything.

And then the car hits the ground. Metal crunches and glass breaks and everything goes dark.

-o-

He’s moving.

This is an odd sensation, since he’s pretty sure he’s not moving himself. In fact, he’s fairly certain he’s mostly unconscious but that doesn’t change the fact that his body is dragging across the ground, cut on metal and glass before he’s pulled to his knees and forced to face the sunlight.

He winces, and it takes a moment for his vision to clear. When it does, he sort of wishes he were still unconscious. Because Michael is there, looking ready to pass out. Casey is next to him, looking raging mad. And Jonah is at the end of the line, tears streaking down his face.

They all have guns to their heads, a line of militiamen behind them.

Just like the one pointed between Rick’s eyes.

Swallowing, he wets his lips, and looks up at the man holding the gun. He tries to smile. “There must be some misunderstanding,” he says in the local dialect. “We’re tea farmers.”

“Who stole our elephant!” the man said, almost spitting the words. “That is an unforgivable crime!”

Rick blinks, mouth open. That’s not exactly the response he was expecting. “Um,” he says. “The elephant is okay.”

“Do you think that makes it acceptable?” the man jeers. “The elephant is life to us. So I shall take life in return.” He moves away from Rick, the barrel of his gun dancing between Michael and Casey. When it settles on Jonah, the asset nearly starts sobbing.

“No,” Rick says. “I’m the one who took it. If someone has to be punished, you punish me!”

“Martinez, what are you saying?” Casey hisses.

“Tell him we can pay him,” Michael says.

Still gasping for air, Jonah is almost hysterical. “I really don’t want to die!”

“No one’s dying,” Rick says in English, keeping his eyes determinedly on the man. “You are a man of priorities. You protect what matters. Surely you will understand that I am the same. I did what I had to do to save those that matter to me.”

“At my expense!” the man roars back.

“We can get the elephant back,” Rick promises. “We can make this right.”

“Yes,” the man says, stepping closer with a stoic look on his face. He lifts his gun toward Rick once more. “I believe we can.”

Rick’s out of options; Rick’s out of plans. Rick’s priorities are in order, and Rick’s made the best choices he can in any given moment.

Mostly, he’s saved his team.

He’s okay with the rest.

He takes a breath and lets it out.

He’s okay.

He closes his eyes.

-o-

There’s no bang.

There’s no pain.

But there’s a squeal and a screech. Yelling erupts, and Rick opens his eyes in time to see a car careening down the road, straight at them.

Still on his knees, he’s too shocked to move. Michael dives forward, and Casey hauls Jonah with him, smashing into Rick until they’re all on the ground.

The impact is resounding, and for a moment, Rick’s ears ring so badly that he can’t tell what happened. He blinks a few times and realizing he’s staring at the blacktop. He blinks a few more times, and his ears pops, and he sits upright with a start.

The fast upward motion makes his head spin, and he’s hit with a wave of nausea. He doesn’t have time to think about that because he’s staring at a car.

The vehicle is unfamiliar to him; it’s also stopped within a few feet of him, having decimated the line of men holding them guard. It’s too much of a coincidence to be real, but if he’s here with Michael, Casey and Jonah...

Rick’s eyes widen.

The door opens, and the tall figure staggers out. Billy looks ghastly and pale, supporting himself heavily on the cooling hood of the car. He’s panting, and his eyes look a little glazed even as his eyes lock with Rick’s.

“Did we do it?” he asks, the words jumbled and accented. “Did we get them out?”

Rick is still staring, even as Michael and Casey pull themselves upright, too.

“Yeah,” Rick says, because he has to say something. “I think maybe we did.”

Billy grins in total relief. He nods. “Good,” he says, nodding again. “Good.”

Then he promptly passes out.

-o-

Rick was the first one off the ground, but Michael and Casey beat him to Billy’s side. By the time he gets there, Michael is already on his knees, rolling Billy over while Casey is lifting the Scotsman’s shirt.

Slightly woozy, Rick has to brace himself on the car as he looks down. At first, all he can see is Billy’s clammy face and Michael’s shaking fingers before Michael sits back on his heels. “He’s alive,” he sighs.

Casey gently undoes the bandage. “He’s healing, too,” he reports, putting the bandage back in place.

Rick shakes his head. “But why is he here?”

Michael actually laughs as he looks up at Rick. “You actually have to ask?”

Rick stares at him.

Casey rolls his eyes. “Why are any of us here, genius?”

“Priorities,” Michael reminds him. “We all need to make the best choices we can in any given moment.”

This is true for Rick. What’s harder to understand is that it’s true for them all. It means Rick’s willing to risk everything for the mission, for his team.

It means they’re going to return the favor.

That’s the elephant in the room, the only one that matters.

“Okay, then,” Rick says. “Why don’t we get out of here?”

“Finally!” Jonah cries, coming up from behind. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Too many dramatic rescues. Don’t you guys know James Bond is a fictional character?”

Michael rolls his eyes, helping Casey heft Billy up until he’s slumped between them. “You want to drive this time?” Michael asks.

“Nah,” Rick says. “I think this time I’m good.”

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: October 10th, 2013 11:36 pm (UTC)
Whew! what a wild ride!

I LOVED this, but I have to admit, I'm exhausted from reading it. It had every element I LOVE about your stories. I love that Rick goes all out to rescue Michael and Casey, the former bruised and cut and the latter with a dislocated shoulder and yet they still function! So ODS!

I LOVED that Billy made a bet with Michael and Casey that Rick would do something useful in the mission, it's SO Billy to have such faith in Rick so early on! It makes a connection to Core Fortitude later. It just delights me.

And need I have to tell you how much I SIMPLY ADORE that you had Billy come to the rescue! I mean, I can totally see it!!


Fave Parts:

“Billy bet us that you’d actually do something useful on the mission,” Michael explains as Rick kneels down and pulls his knife. Michael’s got a large cut on his forehead, which has spilled blood all down the side of his face. His lip is split and his nose is bloodied and he looks generally worse for wear.

-- so easy to imagine.

Rick’s eyes widen.

The door opens, and the tall figure staggers out. Billy looks ghastly and pale, supporting himself heavily on the cooling hood of the car. He’s panting, and his eyes look a little glazed even as his eyes lock with Rick’s.

“Did we do it?” he asks, the words jumbled and accented. “Did we get them out?”

Rick is still staring, even as Michael and Casey pull themselves upright, too.

“Yeah,” Rick says, because he has to say something. “I think maybe we did.”

Billy grins in total relief. He nods. “Good,” he says, nodding again. “Good.”

Then he promptly passes out.

-- I JUST LOVED THIS NO END!!!! Is it any wonder we write Billy like a superhero? The man is practically Batman, defying all physical injury!



Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 28th, 2013 02:17 am (UTC)
Re: Whew! what a wild ride!
billy knows

This fic got a bit out of control. Originally I wasn't going to bring Billy back in to the ending rescue but I missed having him there, so it only seemed right to bring him back. I wanted the team together!

Thanks :)

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