Updated: Jan 30
Oct 14th, 2022 Escanaba, MI
“Anchorage... I say again, Anchorage.”
“Anchorage, good copy.”
Flintstone called back the go-ahead signal for the operation into the satellite phone before turning it off. All ears in the room perked up. The three men and one dog of SWAMT's "Bronze Team" all stopped their time-filling activities to give their leader full attention.
The team had been holed up in a squatty motel on the upper peninsula of Michigan for three days. As with any sparsely populated area in the Great Lakes region, the town was low on much to do. Everyone welcomed the interruption.
“Alright, we’ve got the go ahead.” Flint said as he crossed his arms and looked towards his team. He was backlit by the dying light in the window. His frame made him look like he could have played linebacker for the Bears in another lifetime. “Wrap up what you’re doing and be ready to brief in 5 minutes.”
The occupants of the small room each began to shuffle around. Joker had been busy clipping the nails of Knight, a 4 year old Belgian Malinois with a tan coat throughout, save for a black face and chest. As intimidating as the dog could be, he looked rather pitiful as each nail was painstakingly cut. This was not one of his favorite activities.
Roundtable and Gemini had been playing cribbage at a table in the corner. Gemini was trailing his skinny friend by 20 points and welcomed the interruption with a smile that he stretched beyond the edges of his large mustache. The smile was met with rolled eyes as they collected the cards and the board back into a travel bag.
Flint connected a laptop to the provided television. He was the eldest on the team by a decade, maybe more. He was incredibly seasoned in the field, but not so much with new-fangled technology. After some searching, he finally found the HDMI port he needed. The team gathered around in a loose semi-circle for viewing as the screen flickered to life, which unveiled a scrolling TV Guide.
“Ooh, Judge Judy is on.” Joker commented with raised eyebrows.
“Stow it.” Flint said curtly, and flipped the source channel to his laptop and the screen switched immediately to an overhead map.
The team leader spoke with a confident nonchalance, “Snatch and grab, pretty routine. The trailer is isolated. Give or take a mile and a half into a wooded plot that’s meant for logging, but isn’t on a harvest cycle for another 5 years.” “Logging forests mean long sightlines,” Roundtable chimed. He pointed to the map, “They plant them in long rows like corn so they’re easy to bring down and transport later. This isn’t the normal woods. There may be visibility of 500 yards or more depending on the angle.” Roundtable spoke with some excitement, his enthusiasm for this sort of analysis was apparent. “Do you know the direction the windows face?” Flint asked in his southern drawl. Round smiled in response, “I do, with all sightline azimuths calculated. Recommended angles of approach should be on your next slide.” Sure as rain, a click of the mouse introduced overlaid avenues of approach and rough sightline predictions from the windows on the trailer. Round could have tried to hide the pride on his face but he didn’t bother.
Flint furrowed his brow as he looked at the road well within view from inside. However, the short ends of the trailer had no windows, save for the bedroom side. That gave the team an approach completely unobservable to whoever inhabited the trailer on one side. Roundtable explained the plan he had developed for infiltration from that blind side.
“So we walk in and drive out?” Gemini asked. His northern accent made him a perfect fit around these parts. They were currently located no more than an hour from his high school town.
“Like I said, pretty routine.” Flint replied.
“And the rendezvous?” Joker asked.
“The grid is in your burner. If all goes smoothly, we’ll be driving there together to debrief the target. If not, it’s up to you to make it there. It’s not far, if you get left without wheels you’ll have the ability to hump it there overnight at a lazy pace.” Flint shot a look into the eyes of each man on the team, “But don’t be lazy.”
The entire group responded with the sort of eye contact that communicated that none of them intended to.
Flint recomposed and said, “We expect the target to be alone. We will dismount on this access road here,” he waved his mouse over the described area, “and approach from the East on their blind side. We will establish an L shape with the far side along the road to cut off any ambush. Gemini, that’s you. Then we scout. Roundtable, you’re driving. Both the truck and the drone. When we’re set, you pull into the main road a few hundred meters out and be ready for the call. Joker, myself, and the fur missile will close the distance from the short side and make entry when the time is right. Any questions?” “Yeah,” Gemini raised a hand slightly, “can I bring the chainsaw?” “Always a tool looking for a job..." The grizzled leader shook his head and smiled, "No, not this time. We try to keep this quiet. Hopefully we catch the fucker asleep. Put yourselves together.”
Joker clasped a hand on Gemini’s shoulder in consolation of his denied request with a chuckle. “Maybe next time, Paul Bunyan.” Flint began to close the presentation and power down the laptop. Before he could exit the program, the entire team had begun preparing. He gave them 10 minutes to be at the truck. They were there in 8.
Oct 15th, 2022 Escanaba, MI
“No lume, no backup, no snacks.” Joker murmured from the rear seat with a hand scratching under the neck of Knight in the cargo area. It was well after the bedtime of decent folk by a few hours.
“Like I said, pretty routine.” Flint replied flatly.
They were all huddled into a 13 year old Toyota 4Runner. Normally, the SUV would have enough space for four adult men and a dog to fit in. But that was normally. Regular people didn’t drive along closed logging roads in the early hours of the morning with their headlights off, dual-tube night vision over their eyes, and assault gear laden over their bodies.
They had picked the ride up locally from some forgettable used car shop on the cheap, using the account afforded to them from the DOWA. The Toyota had too many miles for the model year, but they didn’t care. Gemini had walked in with a forged driver’s license and cash in hand. He told the dealer that temp plates were fine, he’d pay the taxes at the DMV later. Of course, they didn’t plan on retaining the vehicle long enough to bother registering it under any identity, real or invented. Slimy used car dealers didn’t know enough to ask questions. Especially when they saw the money on the table without so much as an attempt at haggling.
Most of the team wore a heavy jacket of some make. Both Joker and Gemini bore the familiar brown Carhartt that all the local hayseeds loved. Roundtable had adopted the other local fashion in black and red plaid, while Flint remained steadfast in his gray and green mountain jacket. Crye “Jumpable Plate Carriers” were affixed tightly to each member of the team. All included a varied and personalized mismatch of pouches and gear related to each member’s role. Only Gemini brought a true backpack, no one intended to be here long. The pack was filled with the usual contingency of medical gear in case things went much more wrong than they hoped.
Roundtable had found a comfortable way to wedge the grip and magazine of his short barrel BCM rifle between the center console and the seat. The suppressor rested against the floor and traced back to the stock under his arm. It made the rifle easy to grab, and more importantly, comfortable to drive with. In the back seat, Gemini and Joker had their rifles slung and resting between their legs. They tried not to let the barrels and suppressors bounce between their shins too hard. Flint was the only one without a suppressor. If he could, he was going to bring along his favorite tool. The M110 SASS was a semi-automatic sniper rifle with a large scope and offset reflex sight. A sniper by training, old Flintsone was never a fan of bringing something that couldn’t shoot as far as he had the ability to. He did, however, have a suppressed Glock on his right hip for the occasion.
Laden with their tools, they all bounced over the rough gravel road that led them into the woods. Roundtable guided the SUV down the gravel trail slowly and with the headlights off. He utilized his night vision entirely to navigate the ruts. The passengers braced themselves against the doors and handles to avoid repeatedly jostling into one another. Knight squatted in the back and used his legs like a suspension system, ears tucked to show his displeasure.
The dim laptop mounted in the center console gave Roundtable the info he wanted from the fullscreened GPS window. Slowing to a stop, he nodded to the team that they were at the drop off point. The driver spoke, “This is it, from the truck you will strike due east. 2.2 clicks to the trailer. Don’t forget your checks.”
All four men in the truck looked down at their Geiger watches. Luckily, there were no readings. The research was still fuzzy as to the mechanics of it all, but the use of magic left traces of radioactivity. For this reason, those practicing the art enjoyed places of seclusion or great barrier abilities. Caves and abandoned cabins were popular haunts.
Three men and a dog emerged from the vehicle. The wind picked up at just the right moment to remind the team that they were both on the edges of winter and Canada simultaneously. Joker shivered and grumbled under his breath about the cold as he made a visual search of the immediate area for traps. Gemini breathed the frosty air in deeply. It was both refreshing and nostalgic for rural kid from the pinewoods.
Joker then attached a long lead to Knight’s harness and gathered up the slack into a D-ring on his belt. He would keep his newly excited canine close until they were at the stopping point for the final approach. No one wanted the dog to wander around bushes and trees in which the leash may get snagged as they traversed through the dark forest. The moon was already hidden by dense cloud cover, and the shadowy green conifers made the situation that much worse.
The group began their movement, walking in a parallel front spaced 25 meters apart. They made progress slowly and nonverbally. This wasn’t a race, Flint reminded them.
Every one of them paused occasionally to observe the area heavily and monitor their Geiger watches. Rune makers were notorious trap manufacturers and the leading cause of death for DOWA agents. When they felt safe to do so, Flint would sweep the path ahead with a powerful black-light. Some oils and lubricants would glow under such illumination. A few of them being the types that were often used in manufacturing hybrid magical/mechanical devices.
Knight’s long snout was tracing the forest floor constantly. His tail swished rapidly as the dog was happy to have a job to do. Unfortunately, he was not trained to sniff out traps. Dogs could only be scent-trained for one general category; and Knight was a natural man-tracker. Somehow, Joker thought that Knight could tell that man-tracking was exactly what they were up to.
After observing the safe departure of his teammates, Roundtable put the 4runner into gear and keyed on the teams' radio, “Roundtable en route to POI Denali. You should reach phase line Yellowstone in 10 minutes. Over.”
It only took a couple of minutes to wheel the vehicle around to the proper position. Round wasted no time upon arrival. The drone case adorned in stickers from his favorite bands and video games was retrieved from the cargo area, and the quad rotor laden with both regular and infrared cameras was launched with the skillful routine it has been launched with a hundred times before. The small craft zoomed high into the night and floated over the target area.
With a wide and high view, the pilot observed the screen. He immediately identified the blinking IR identifiers on the tops of each teammate’s helmet. They dipped in and out of the tree cover. Yet, Roundtable was able to keep pretty easy tabs on their progress. He twiddled a toothpick in his mouth as he spun the controls with almost boring familiarity.
The toothpick went stationary as he turned the cameras over the trailer itself. “Uh oh...” Roundtable muttered to himself. He zoomed in to make sure he was seeing things correctly. Unfortunately, he was. Where there was only supposed to be one vehicle... there were now four.