- Character Bashing
- Discussion-Domestic Abuse
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Time Travel
GIZA, EGYPT – 1928
In the bright heat of an Egyptian day, a huge ancient circular artifact is discovered and dug up by the Langford Expedition
AREA 51, NEVADA – 2002
A team of armed men in night camo against the black night sky infiltrated the Groom Lake Facility. The Airforce guards were dropped quickly and silently before the men secured the main guard hut.
Five men stripped off the black camo to reveal the same air force uniform as the guards and took position in the guard hut. The others ran towards Groom Lake, they were carrying shovels and their leader consulted a hand drawn map as he directed them to spread out.
The leader tapped anxiously at his watch as twenty minutes ticked by, until one of the men whistled sharply. The others converged on his location. The leader raised his night vision goggles and crouched down to wipe away the soil and reveal the sharp gleam of a metal chevron under the light of his torch.
The whapp-whapp-whapp of helicopters grew loud and the men brought up their arms up to shield their faces from the flying dirt. Cables wound down from the helicopters and were rapidly looped and secured.
The helicopters rose again, stalled for an instant and then lifted away, bearing with them the same huge metal ring dug up the Langford expedition.
WASHINTON DC – 2003 – Present Day
Tony DiNozzo lay sprawled out on his couch feeling less like a Very Special Agent and more like a wrung out dish-rag.
He’d barely had chance to decompress from the Beniot op role before everything tipped over the edge and straight into chaos. He had no idea what Madam Director had been thinking, or if she’d been thinking anything at all. Her hatred for Benoit had twisted her into knots and she’d twisted the rest of them right along with her.
At least he’d been a willing victim. Poor Jeanne had been dragged into the mess for no reason other than who her father was. Tony knew all about paying for the sins of your father.
He stared up at the ceiling and wished he had the energy to go to bed.
The sharp blare of his phone made him jump. He rolled heavily off his couch and crawled across to the mess of his jacket. He’d missed the table when he tossed it, and hadn’t the strength to retrieve it.
Fishing out his phone, he slumped back against the wall.
“DiNozzo,” he said shortly as he wondered what fresh hell was coming his way now.
“Good I caught you.” The brisk male voice sounded slightly distracted, Tony would bet he was scanning a report as he spoke. A welcome spark of anger gave him the willpower to sit up straighter. After the week, hell month, he he’d had, Tony was in no mood to put up with that.
“’xcuse me, but who the hell are you, sir.” Because the way things had been going lately this was going to be another authority figure ready to fuck up his life some more.
“It’s Tom Morrow.”
Oh. That wasn’t so bad. Morrow had been pretty decent to him. His favorite director of NCIS by leaps and bounds.
“Good afternoon sir.” Tony glanced at his watch and realized they were well past that point. “I mean good evening.”
“Just found out about them shipping you off as Agent Afloat. Most ridiculous thing I heard in years, wasting an uncover agent of your caliber on a ship. So I’ve done a deal with Vance and you’re mine for the next six months, maybe more, depends how things pan out.”
“I – what?”
“Undercover assignment. You better get over to Homeland for a briefing in the next couple of days, we’ll want to put you under next week.”
“What?” Tony repeated more loudly. Where was this coming from? “I never agreed to an undercover assignment.”
“Son, you seriously telling me you want Agent Afloat over Undercover?”
“Well no.” Agent Afloat was a slap in the face. Tony’d take undercover in Philadelphia over that.
“Good. It’s sorted then. I’ll see you tomorrow at say, eight o’clock? We’ll get this locked down and I can reassure some people that it’s being handled.”
“Alright,” said Tony. “Eight tomorrow morning. But I’ll want to see the details before I agree to anything.”
“Sure, sure,” Morrow sounded aggravatingly confident that Tony wasn’t about to turn him down.
Which, to be fair, Tony wasn’t likely to do. Not with the hot little ball was being wanted burning away inside him. Morrow had even down a deal to get him. Granted Vance wasn’t likely to have put up a fight, but he wouldn’t have given Tony away for nothing because nobody did that.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Morrow continued.
“Yes sir,” said Tony, grateful he managed to avoid saying thank you. He might not have much, but until he actually said yes, he had a little sliver of advantage and he wanted to hang onto to that as long as possible.
He put his phone down and levered himself to his feet. Since there was a chance he might actually be able to sleep now, he decided he could make it to bed.
The next day he was in his very smartest suit sitting in front of Morrow and not entirely reassured by the smile on his old boss’ face.
“This is a sanctioned op?” he checked. Not that Morrow would tell the truth if it wasn’t but however he answered would give him a hint as to what was going on.
“Of course it’s a sanctioned op,” said Morrow. “There’s interest at the highest levels.”
“Oh.” That was a different kind of bad. “And why do you want me anyway? You must have Undercovers at Homeland?”
“You’re uniquely qualified.” The smile on Morrow’s face grew wider.
“Sounds more ominous all the time. If this was a movie I’d be dead by the third act.”
Morrow snorted. “No, you’re the plucky under-dog. We’ve already sent in the agent that didn’t make it.”
“I see.” They knew they were under observation and they’d already made an agent. This got better all the time. “What makes you think I’ll be more successful?”
“You’re one of the best undercover agents I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Tony was disturbingly aware of the impulse to wriggle like a happy puppy at being petted, “I don’t need flattery. Remember, it’s this or a boat.”
“Just because Vance is an idiot doesn’t mean I am. You don’t want this, I’ll find you something else to do. Now hush up and listen.”
Tony could, occasionally, keep quiet when necessary, so he hushed up.
“We have a group of Marines.”
Okay, maybe Tony couldn’t keep quiet as an involuntary, “Oh God,” slipped out at the thought of more Marines.
Morrow laughed, the bastard, “Yes, sorry Tony, there is no escape. It’s Marines again. It’s one of the reasons you’re so suitable for this mission.”
Tony shook his head, “There’s no way I can go undercover as a Marine. They’d see through me in hours, if not minutes. You need Gibbs.”
Morrow laughed again. “Gibbs? I’m looking for something more subtle than an angry tank. And no, we’re not putting you under as a Marine. You’re right it wouldn’t work. But your knowledge of Marines and the way they think should give you an in. We’re putting you under as instructor at Camp Pendleton.”
“Hey California.” Sunshine and away. What could be better?
“You’ll go in as yourself.”
Tony winced. That was going to be tough. Tony DiNardo had been difficult enough, but this wasn’t going to leave him even the smallest cover to pull between himself and the world.
“They’ve more access and resources than your average criminal,” Morrow explained almost as apology. “If you go as yourself, there’s nothing for them to find. You’ll be an NCIS agent put into informal protective custody after a risky case. As far as any records show, you’ll be Afloat.”
Tony scrubbed his hands across his face, “You’re right, it’s a good idea.” Even if it was an unpleasant one. “Should be damn near unbreakable.” Just hard, but Tony could deal with hard. “But what am instructing them in?”
“Urban survival and undercover.”
Tony laughed, “Undercover teaching undercover. I think that might qualify as Meta.”
“You’ll have a class of twenty and eight of them are in The Flock.”
“The Flock? What the hell? Is this some sort of cult?”
“We’re not entirely sure.”
“Not entirely sure? You want me to break into a covert group and you’re not even sure what they do?”
“I told you I needed the best.”
“You don’t need the best, you need some decent background. What are they even supposed to have done?”
“Far as anyone can tell they haven’t done anything.”
Tony stared, trying to project his disbelief as hard as possible. This was the most ridiculous assignment he’d ever heard of and he’d been sent undercover by revenge-mad superior without backup to investigate somebody who had no involvement in the case. How was this even his life?
“So what do you have?” he asked finally breaking when it became apparent Morrow wasn’t going to say anything. He always cracked when they tried the silent treatment, it was embarrassing.
“Okay, so a group of Marines formed a small support group after a FUBAR mission where they only came home because a USAF Major broke regs to pick them up in his chopper and flew them back on a wing and a prayer.”
“Now that sounds like a story and a half.”
“Maybe you can get them to tell you. The investigators swear they never got the full details even if they signed off on it. Anyway that’s not the issue here.”
“So what is the issue? The Marines don’t like support groups?”
“They keep a close eye on them let’s say. It’s a mix of officers and enlisted, which they don’t like, and they start recruiting. Widely. There are a bunch of them at Camp Pendleton, a few at Lejeune, some in Iraq, there are even a few ex-Marines.”
“There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine,” said Tony on automatic.
“Right. So this is an odd group for what’s ostensibly trauma support and it snagged the attention of the people who watch for these things.”
“I would have thought the first clue was Marines admitting they needed trauma support.” Tony’s mind boggled at what Gibbs would think of that.
“Possibly. Anyway they call themselves the Flock.”
“Yeah,” Tony’s brain was still turning that one over. “Perhaps not the best sign.”
“Exactly. We do not need some extremist religious group growing in our Armed Services. But when we investigated, it started to look even worse. What do you know about Einstein-Rosen space mechanics?”
“Uh. Nothing? I think maybe there was a bunch of articles about a new sort of physics a few years ago. Maybe.”
“Hmm. You know more than most. Yes there is a new branch of physics developing off the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. I understand nothing about it myself, but it’s new, the potential is enormous and there are maybe twenty scientists in the US working on it. Six of them are married to Marines in the Flock.”
“Six out of twenty. That’s more than a coincidence, but Marines are tight-knit, and so is the scientific community. Once you have one cross-over, more would always be likely.”
“There’s also two biologists, eight linguists, and three anthropologists.”
“Yes, we’re not sure what’s going on there, but it’s just more evidence something is going on.”
“Marines are allowed to marry scientists,” Tony pointed out because it sounded like they were in danger of forgetting that.
“We’re not talking science teachers here. These are all young stars rising to the top of their fields. There are maybe a hundred and fifty members of the Flock, twenty-four are married to leading scientists, eleven of them foreign nationals.”
“Okay, I can see why Homeland is taking an interest. But it’s still not illegal.”
“Who knows? Because the links aren’t just through marriage. They run a paintball tournament, which nearly eighty civilians are signed up to, including another five of those twenty Einstein-Rosen scientists.”
“Again not illegal.”
“Right, but it needs to be investigated.”
Tony nodded as if he agreed but personally he had the feeling Morrow was leaving something out of the recruitment speech. There was more, he was certain. Something had triggered this from a ‘we should check on that sometime’ to a full scale urgent investigation. He wondered if he’d get anywhere if he asked, but no, if Morrow wasn’t going to tell him, asking wouldn’t make any difference. And it would only put him on his guard, whereas if Tony played dumb, Morrow might let something slip.
“And you want me to investigate, sir?”
“Yes. They’re recruiting pretty heavily, and not just scientists, that paintball group includes doctors and lawyers.”
“And you hope it will expand to include one slightly battered NCIS agent.”
“A highly decorated agent at the top of his game. You’ll be a prime target for recruitment.”
“Then you better beef my file up a bit.”
Morrow laughed, “Your file is fine Tony.”
Tony considered. After all he’d be a way into law enforcement, the agency that dealt with Marines at that. If they were doing something that so much as leaned towards illegal they be fools not to try and get him onside.
“And you think they’re not going to be suspicious? After you’ve had one agent get spotted already?”
“That’s why we’re being up front. You’re an NCIS agent, no one is hiding that.
“And the other agent?”
“He wasn’t an agent. He was a brand new Marine Lieutenant.”
“Fuck,” said Tony. “And you couldn’t see half a dozen way that was going to foul up? What were you thinking, sir?”
“It wasn’t my plan, and for the record I agree with you. Someone high up pushed for Aidan Ford and they got him. And as you’ve guessed it did not end well.”
“So what happened?”
“They made him almost immediately. The kid was green as grass so that wasn’t exactly a surprise.”
“So what happened?” Because as morbid as it was, you could pick up a lot about a group based on how they dealt with infractions.
“They told him they weren’t stupid enough to welcome a spy and to go home.”
“Well he was luckier than he deserved.” And that was interesting, the group clearly hadn’t fallen right off the edge if that was there only reaction.
“Not really. He was persuaded to go back.”
“Go back. After he’d been made? Was he crazy?”
“Green as grass like I told you.”
“Well his supervisor should be shot. Did they kill him?”
“No. They blindfolded him, strung him up by his wrists and took turns punching him.”
“Here’s the photos.” Morrow tossed him a couple of print outs. Tony squinted at them. There was one young torso, black skin mottled purple over one shoulder. A nasty bruise, one that would hurt, but hardly damaging.
“They take this before the rest of the bruising came out?”
“Nope. That was it. The other punches barely landed.”
“Seriously. Think they felt sorry for him. Though it might have been kinder if they had hit him when it comes down to it. The kid is a total mess. Says he betrayed his brother Marines. Won’t admit he knows anything. I had him invalided out.”
Tony groaned, “Marines.”
“Yeah, Marines. But you won’t have that protection, so watch your step.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice. So that crazy-ass supervisor? They still in the picture.”
Morrow twisted uneasily in his seat which meant yes. “After that fuck up, I took over. I knew we’d need the best which is why when I heard you were at a loose end I snapped you up while I had the chance.”
Tony nodded, deciding not to call Morrow on his non-answer. It wouldn’t get him anywhere, but god was he tired of undercover roles where he had to watch his back from all angles.
“When do I leave?”
“Here’s your ticket.”
Another non-answer. Tony wasn’t surprised to find out he was booked on a flight that afternoon. This was going to be a disaster.
It was still better than Agent Afloat. So he smiled and took it.
California was all blazing sunshine after the dull weather in DC. After flying into LA he’d driven down to San Diego and out to Camp Pendleton. Tony shaded his eyes as he surveyed the acres of land full of Marines doing Marine things, and shuddered. Why had he thought he could do this again.
“This way please sir,” said the bright young Corporal who had been assigned it to him. And god he was young. He made Tony feel old and used up just looking at his bright shiny enthusiasm.
He was ushered into an office building, relaxing involuntarily at cool conditioned air, and removed his sunglasses to appreciate the dim shade. Upstairs the Marine knocked sharply on a door and swung it open to wave him inside. A crisp as pin officer stood up to shake his hand.
“Tony DiNozzo,” said Tony, holding his right hand out to the Colonel who huffed and shook it.
“Colonel Miller. It’s good to have you on board. Even if the whole thing is a snipe hunt.”
“Really?” said Tony, restraining the urge to raise his eyebrows. He was reporting to someone who didn’t believe there was even a problem. This assignment just got better all the time.
“I like to encourage self-reliance in my men. They want to work together to help each other? The powers that be should be all for it. They’re good men, keep themselves quiet and organized. No trouble at all. Not like the godless lot brawling and drinking any free moment.”
Tony didn’t face palm but it was a near thing.
“And when that snot-nosed Lieutenant tried to turn them in for who knows what, did they retaliate? No, they conducted themselves like true Marines.”
Tony nodded, because he was still impressed at the control of that. Most in-groups tended to snap when they found a traitor in the ranks but not this one they had stayed calm and measured in their reaction. If the kid had spilled everything he knew it was doubtful they’d have got a conviction out of it. Not in a Marine Court. Colonel Miller was proof enough of that.
“Still son, I know it’s not your fault, you go where you’re sent.”
Tony smiled as meekly as he could manage.
“And Urban Survival and Undercover has potential. There’s been some good work done with sending guys in advance to mark drop sites and set up guides for bombing runs.”
“So avoid disrupting my teams and if you can show us a few techniques for slipping by patrols on top of that I’ll be happy enough. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” said Tony, reflexively ducking his head from the head slap he was expecting, despite the fact the Colonel was standing in front of him. Something in the tone of voice just set his every nerve on edge.
“Good. Then we won’t have a problem. Mackinaw!”
The Corporal opened the office door and saluted.
“Show Instructor DiNozzo to his quarters.”
Quarters turned out to be really rather pleasant. Nothing excessive, of course, but not the Spartan hell hole he might have expected from Gibbs’ attitude to home comforts.
Corporal Mackinaw saluted him and called him sir. Tony wondered what would happen if he told him not to because he worked for a living, but he was here to work not poke at Marines, so he just said thank you.
After he’d unpacked and taken a twenty minute power nap – power naps were amazing and the only reason he’d survived the last few years with sanity intact – he set off to investigate his new surroundings.
Camp Pendleton was a nice and organized buzzing hive of activity. Tony felt like he was in enemy territory. It wasn’t even the investigation he was undertaking, but these were all Marines, and Tony had never measured up to Marines. He remembered freefalling out of that plane on night maneuvers, the sensation was so eerily similar to how he felt now that he actually checked there was solid ground beneath his feet.
Then he straightened his shoulders and walked with purpose, because he might be beat but like hell was he going to admit it. Anyway, he was apparently so good at Undercover he was teaching a course in it – and how had that happened anyway – so this should be a piece of cake.
He knew he’d been settled close to the barracks that housed most of the enlisted members of the Flock so he paused a small dusty sports field to watch a loud game of shirts versus skins touch football and tried to see if he could spot any of his suspects.
When the game paused one of the men spotted him, nudged another, and suddenly all the players were staring at him, the ball landed not too far from his feet and one of the men was jogging over to retrieve it. Tony had to admire the op-sec even if the high level of co-ordination verged on the suspicious. Most of those present looked like to be members of the Flock.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the jogger, stopping just far enough away of Tony not to be deliberately intimidating, and not incidentally just far enough away to react immediately if Tony tried anything. Very, very good op-sec. The jogger gathered up the ball and stood there rolling it from one hand to the other, completely casual except for the poised stance and hard eyes.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you before, sir?”
“I’m a NCIS agent here as a new Instructor. Urban Survival and Undercover. Your boss needed a specialist so they sent me over from DC.” That was as much promoting of himself as he could manage without being too blatant. He straightened himself drawing on all his experience to look as casually competent as possible,
“You might even be one of the students they have lined up for me. Bates, isn’t it?”
“Sergeant Bates,” said Bates. He nodded, and it was hard to tell under the Marine mask, but Tony thought he was impressed at being recognized. “The new course sounds interesting. We’re looking forward to it. You’ve spoken to Colonel Foster already?”
“Uh no. I met a Colonel Miler.”
“Ah, okay then.” Bates actually produced a smile then.
Tony stared. That had been a trap. Alright there was definitely something going on here, that way was way too much caution for an average Marine when he was secure and on base.
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Bates turned slightly and sent the football spiraling back to his team. “I’ll you in class, sir.” He took a step backwards, clearly ready to turn away.
Tony wanted to curse. He’d told Morrow his file needed polishing up to attract attention. Bates had the perfect opportunity to draw him into conversation and turned it down. If Morrow’s theory was correct he should be falling all over himself to befriend an NCIS agent. Even if they didn’t want to recruit him, they should at least want to get him onside and neutralized.
“If sure we’ll learn a lot from you,” Bates continued as Tony just kept awkwardly standing there. It was polite and respectful, earnest even – and that was when Tony realized his mistake.
Cults didn’t recruit the confident and savvy, they recruited the nervous and ill at ease. Tony was playing this one all wrong. He let his shoulders slump, let some of his misery at misjudging things so badly, and the whole situation itself, show.
“I’ll do my best.”
It was then he realized he’d made a tactical error. Acknowledging the misery he’d been resolutely ignoring for months had been a stupid idea. Now the weight of it made him sway and he wasn’t sure his knees would hold him up. Mostly he wanted to crawl into hole and never come out.
He managed some sort of smile for Bates and hastily backed off. He was in no condition to try and pull off an undercover role right now.
Bates looked distinctly like he was cursing inside the privacy of his own head.
“Hey sir,” he said, “You play football?”
“Yeah, but – ” Tony began, Bates had already grabbed his forearm.
“Come on then sir. You can be on my team.”
Tony wanted to protest and go off and have his nervous breakdown in private, but he was already screwing this job six ways to Sunday, he couldn’t turn down this chance to get close to his targets.
The football players all stared at him with big wary eyes as if Bates had dragged a live bomb into the circle and not one slightly dented NCIS agent.
“This is Tony DiNozzo. He’s the new instructor for Urban Survival. He’s on my team. Better get your shirt off, sir.”
Tony undid his cuffs and shucked his shirt.
“Hey,” said someone loudly. “You’re as much of a Frankenstein as the rest of us.”
“Smitty!” scolded at least six different voices.
“God damnit,” said Bates. “Is some manners too much to ask for?”
“It’s okay,” said Tony, amused. “Hazard of the job.”
“That one on your arm is spectacular,” said Smitty, bright-eyed with interest. He was another of the Flock.
“It was just a graze, but it got infected and keloided up.”
“Is keloided up even a word?” demanded yet another Flock member, Lopez.
“No it’s two words,” said Smitty and promptly got punched.
“He’s the instructor,” said Bates. “If he says it’s a word it must be a word.”
“Just don’t try and use it in scrabble,” Tony advised. He wasn’t sure why but he was feeling much better. Maybe it was the football. Football he could do.
“Come on, let’s play,” whined somebody Tony didn’t recognize from the Service Jackets he’d been given to look through.
“Sure thing.” And then the ball was flying through the air and the game was on. They were playing rough touch, which didn’t surprise Tony, but nobody knocked him over, which did. Bates and Lopez kind of hovered around him until they worked out he knew what he was doing and then they let him get on with it. Which should have ben embarrassing but was actually rather nice.
Then they realized Tony knew how to really throw, it was his leg that had been damaged not his shoulder, and they were romping home.
“Ringer,” screeched Smitty when they stopped to draw breath.
“Yeah,” said Bates. “You’re really good Professor.”
“I am not a Professor,” said Tony. “But I could have played professionally though, if I hadn’t fucked up my leg.”
“Pretty cool, Professor.”
“I am not a,” Tony started to shake his head to emphasize his point and suddenly staggered as he went all dizzy. Bates grabbed at him, and dodging meant Tony staggered again and then suddenly he was being lowered to the floor by at least three sets of careful hands.
“Geez Professor, are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” He was too. Mostly anyway. He swallowed hard and firmly insisted that he was not going to disgrace himself by throwing up. He’d only played a game of touch football, for heaven’s sake, he couldn’t be that damn tired.
“Sorry about all this. I know I’m being a nuisance. I think I must be over-tired.”
“Uh huh,” said Bates as he crouched down in Tony’s field of view. “Did you hit your head? Let me see your eyes.”
Hands curled towards his head, but Tony really couldn’t take a head slap right then and woozily dodged, his own hands coming up to protect his head. Several voices shouted and he cringed, ducking down as best he could.
“Hey,” snapped Bates. “Back off and give him some room. Smitty make yourself useful for once and grab me a bottle of water.”
Feeling less crowded, Tony breathed a little easier. “I’m fine,” he insisted staring at the dusty ground because he couldn’t quite bring himself to look anyone in the eye.
“If you say so,” said Bates. “Now if I promise not to touch you, will you look up for me so I can check you don’t have a concussion?”
Tony looked up quickly, “I’m fine, I didn’t hit my head.”
Bates sucked his breath through his teeth as he considered the matter. “It does look like you’re tracking. Can you follow my finger?”
Tony just wanted all the fuss to stop so he didn’t argue and followed the finger with eyes.
“Alright then. We haven’t killed the new instructor. That’s something. May I check your temperature?”
“If you must.” Tony waited to see where he was going to produce a thermometer from, and was shocked all over again when Bates raised his hands and, signaling his moves like Tony would for an assault victim, placed one hand on his shoulder and the other on his forehead.
“Okay, you don’t feel too hot, and you’re still sweating so that’s good. I think if we just you down over here for an hour or so you should be fine.”
“I am fine,” Tony insisted plaintively.
“Which is why you’re so exhausted you nearly passed out on us. You’ve only been running around for half an hour and you look like you’ve just made it through boot. So can you please sit quietly for me and drink some water? If you fall down and crack your head, I’ll be doing laps for days.”
Tony sighed with relief. Alright that made more sense. Of course they wouldn’t want him to damage himself while nominally under their watch, but,
“It’d be fine. I wouldn’t let them blame you.”
Bates smacked his forehead with the palm of hand. “That’s great and all Professor, but how about you just don’t crack your head open and that way nobody has to be blamed for anything.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They plunked him down on a blanket with the other guys sitting out and refereeing that round.
“Keep an eye on him, Reyes. Make sure he takes small sips,” said Bates. “He drinks too much too fast he’s gonna puke and that’ll do him no good at all.”
“Yes mother,” Tony without thinking about it, and then cringed.
“Well he’s got you pegged Bates,” said Reyes. “Go throw the ball around. I’ll watch out for your lamb.”
“I’m fine,” said Tony, but he closed his eyes and maybe dozed off for a bit. When he drifted back, he kept his eyes closed, hoping to pick up gossip if nothing else.
He was rewarded when the players changed over and those sitting out that game gather around the nearby cooler for water and a scowly growly voice demanded, “I thought we decided we were going to keep our distance from the shit-hot NCIS agent?”
“Oh shut up, Hester,” said Bates. “What was I supposed to do? Leave him to sink? Gonzalez and Larsen are in that Urban Survival class. They’d have him for breakfast.”
“But still,” Hester argued.
“But nothing. And he isn’t a shit-hot NCIS agent. He’s a fucking exhausted one. He needs a month’s leave, not being thrown to the likes of us.”
“So what you going to do about it?”
“Get on to the Major. We’re obviously missing intel. Whatever they sent him here for, it wasn’t to teach an urban tactics course.”
“You think it’s a punishment detail?”
“You saw him, twenty minutes of football ran right through his reserves, and he’s clearly in shape. Would send a guy in that sort of condition out on duty?”
“No,” admitted Hester.
“I don’t know what his bosses were thinking,” snapped Bates.
Tony was trying really hard not to react to the fact the Marines had seen him for approximately an hour and could already tell he was being punished. Because although this assignment technically wasn’t a punishment, Agent Afloat had definitely been intended that way. And apparently it was written all over him.
“The Major will sort it out.” Hester sounded utterly confident and rather as if he thought the Major could walk on water if he took a fancy to it.
That probably wasn’t a good sign.
A pretty young woman with long dark hair was packing a suitcase. Another young woman was sitting cross-legged on her bed watching her, she ran an agitated hand through her short curly hair,
“I don’t understand why you’re packing so much. You’re only going for a ten days.”
“I want to be sure I have everything I might need.”
“But three suitcases, Rafaela.”
“I can fuss if I want to. Because I don’t think you’re planning on coming back. You’ve been obsessed with America since Nursery school. It’s all you could talk about for years. You practiced English til I swear you don’t even sound Portuguese any more. You steered clear of anyone who even looked at drugs in case it ended up on your record and they refused you a visa.”
“Are you getting to a point any time soon? Because I have a plane to catch.”
“Promise me you’ll come back.”
“I don’t know what you’re fretting about. I have a return plane ticket booked the week after next.”
“That is not a promise you’re coming back.”
“Here, hold the suitcase down for me while I zip it up.”
“Yeah, that suitcase is never going to close. Do you want to borrow one of mine?”
“Can I?” Rafaela asked eagerly.
“Why not. It will just mean you’re taking four suitcases of stuff for a week and a half. That’s not ridiculous or anything.”
“Shut up, Mari.”
“What I don’t understand if why you never went earlier. You could have spent a whole summer there if you went while you were at University.”
“I had to go at the right time. Otherwise it might not work out.”
“Well it still might not work out but I have to try.”
Mari shook her head in mock despair, “Sometimes I swear the pixies got to you and turned your head.”
“Maybe they did. Now are you going to lend me a suitcase or not?”
“You are a crazy person. And yes I’ll get you a suitcase. You just better invite me to stay with you in America.”
The California Tech – And next Wednesday we welcome Dr Rafaela Esposito to Caltech. She will be giving a lecture on ‘Programming Einstein-Rosen Space Mechanics’ followed by two workshops on Friday and Saturday. Sign up now because they’re going to be popular!