The First of Many

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Chapter 24

One hot morning, on a base in Cambodia, Hannah found herself alone in a large room, waiting for her briefing.

The room was clearly made to seat many people, but she was still alone when a single officer entered the room. She stood and saluted nevertheless, and the man waved her down. “Solomon, you're being deployed to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning.”

“What for, sir?”

“Shouldn't be hard,” he answered, handing her a photo of a rather short Asian man. “He's been causing us some trouble, and it would be preferable to eliminate him. We have reason to believe he has a hand in the recent Nuclear Proliferation incidents. Your job is to learn the names of his associates, then kill him.”

“Rules of engagement, sir?”

“Kill the target, and only the target. Only kill his guards if absolutely necessary. Do it quickly and quietly: we can't afford to make this political. You're going to pose as one of the local girls.”

“Wait,” she said. “I pose as a local girl. How far do you intend for me to go on this one?” She'd known that it would eventually come to this – after all, it wasn't unknown territory; seduction was an art form that she'd mastered by the age of thirteen – but she'd harbored a hope that she wouldn't have to sell herself off like a common street-worker.

The man raised an eyebrow, his eyes raking her up and down with frank appraisal. “As far as you have to, Solomon,” he said. “You have a problem with that?”

Hannah stopped short.

Yes, she thought. I do have a problem with that. I'm not a whore. I'm done with that life.

A sudden headache overcame her, blinding pain turning her vision white. She bit her cheek and closed her eyes, waiting it out.

You don't have a choice, a dark voice reminded her. You follow orders, Mirage, and you do as you're told. You never have a choice.

“No, sir,” she answered calmly, cringing internally. She hoped he wasn't any older than he looked.

“Good. You're dismissed.”

Hannah nodded and left to get her gear ready.

The next day, Hannah was left near a small safe-house on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital city, with one day to prepare for her op. She held in a groan and immediately entered the small bathroom, pulling out her makeup. She eyed herself critically for a moment, then sighed. Why couldn't I just be born Asian and save myself the trouble, she thought glumly.

The following morning found a young Asian woman entering the city, her chin high and her black eyes gleaming with lust. Her long black hair cascaded down her back, and her curves swayed slightly as she walked. Heads turned as she passed, and she tried her best not to grin.

Hannah walked through the city until she found her target. He was sitting at a small cafe table, watching her as soon as she turned the corner of the street.

She walked straight up to him and leaned forward to speak to him, offering a clear view of her cleavage.

The man raised an eyebrow at her. “Can I help you?” he asked, clearly trying (and failing) to hide his obvious interest. She wondered idly if he’d tried this on every woman he’d seen that afternoon, waiting for his night’s entertainment.

“I hope so,” she answered, smiling coyly as she purred out the lines that he’d agreed upon in his order. “See, a handsome man was supposed to meet me here today, and he seems to be missing.”

“Really?” he asked. “I was told to take his place, if you're willing to follow me.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “That depends,” she said testily, “On what you want.”

He grinned. “Everything,” he said.

“Everything?” she asked. “Greedy man, aren't you? Everything is a very expensive request.”

"I'll pay for whatever you cost," he said with a smirk, rising to lead her away.

His home was clearly temporary: It was a small house near the business sector, with barely any security at all. Clearly, the man wasn't expecting anything to happen to him on his vacation.

He was on her immediately, pressing her hard against his bedroom door as he kissed her roughly. She responded in kind, forcing him off her and shoving him down onto the bed.

She made quick work of her clothes, and he grinned in anticipation. “Like it rough, then, do you?” he asked.

She chuckled. “Whatever pays,” she answered, trying not to flinch away from his touch. Nine, don't fail me now... He can't be worse than you or Petrov, right?

Suddenly, there was a crash and the door exploded. Two armed men entered, and one shot a bullet clean through the man's head.

“Clear!” one called, American accent obvious.

Remembering her role before her modesty, she let out a high-pitched scream of girlish terror and dove away from them, cowering in a corner and staring at them through wide, hunted eyes, stuttering unintelligibly in Khmer.

“Shit,” one muttered, staring at her. “Nobody said anything about a civilian being here. What do we do with her?”

“Silence is cheap, with whores,” the other answered, clearly older. “Here, I should have enough. Keep the gun on her in case she tries something.”

“She most certainly will try something!” Hannah shrieked in English. “And I am not a whore, thank you very much!”

Silence.

“You're American?” The younger one asked in shock.

“Very perceptive,” she drawled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Rosie, Unit operator. Who sent you, and why didn't they tell you I'd be here?”

“SEALs,” the older one said. “We weren't warned. You have the intel, then?”

Hannah grinned. “Obviously,” she said calmly, pulling her clothes back on, rather thankful that they'd been interrupted. She shot a distasteful look at the corpse on the bed, certain he would not have been very pleasant. “Big names in the nuclear market. What part of 'don't make a scene' did you not hear in your briefing?”

"We never got that. We were told to eliminate the target by any means necessary. I'm Snake. This is New Guy until he proves himself,” he gestured to the younger man.

Hannah grinned at the familiar voice's owner. “Hey, Princess,” she said cheerily.

Princess grunted, clearly confused and irritated. “Sorry to interrupt, but we should get out of here,” he said.

“Good plan, New Guy,” Snake answered. “Rosie, is that your real name?”

“Is Snake yours?” she answered shortly.

“No.”

“Safe house's this way,” Hannah answered.

The trio left quickly and silently, and Hannah led them to the safe-house she'd been using.

“Now, I'm chock covered in makeup,” she said as they entered, “so I'll be a while. If one of you could radio in for Evac, that would be great.” With that, she left to the bathroom, leaving the two men alone.

As soon as she was gone, Snake snorted. “Delta's getting desperate,” he muttered. “Women in the field. How the mighty have fallen.”

"What's wrong with Female operators?" Aedan asked.

"Females can't stand up to what we do," Snake said.

“How so?” He asked. “She got the intel, didn't she?”

“Oh, they can do undercover just fine,” Snake said. “Hell, they can do it better than we do. In combat...” he shook his head.

“What makes them any different?” Aedan challenged.

“Men have better reflexes,” Snake said. “We have a naturally greater muscle mass, and higher lung capacity. It's proven fact. There's a reason we're only integrated on paper, New Guy.”

“I guess we believe in two different things,” Aedan answered. “I believe there's no reason why a woman shouldn't be an operator. She wants to serve her country, let her. I knew a female operator in Rangers once. She saved all of our asses by climbing onto a T-90 and blowing it up from the inside. Nearly died in the process.”

“That's why I'm the boss, and you're the New Guy,” Snake grunted.

Suddenly, something silvery whizzed past Snake's head. The pair whirled around and stared in shock at the intruder.

A woman stood before them, and their first reaction was to stare in awe.

Aedan's first thought was that she was hot. His second thought was that she must be an angel. His third thought was that she looked awfully familiar.

Hannah had washed her skin of its yellowish tint, now fresh and pale and creamy, gentle curves filling the cameo she wore. Long blonde hair streamed down her back like threads of sunlight and gold, and bright green eyes gleamed with something dangerous. In her hand, she held a second knife.

“Nice reflexes,” she sneered sarcastically. “Princess, I fight my own battles, kindly don't defend the fair maiden. Snake...” she turned to him and took a deep breath. “First, you really shouldn't talk about people behind their backs: the walls aren't as soundproofed as they look. Second, although it's true that men have a denser muscle mass and higher lung capacity, it's been proven that women have better reflexes, a more analytical mind, better foresight, and more developed instinct. Third, I'll have you know I completed all training with the same standards as the men. Fourth, instead of complaining about my existence, you should have radioed in for evac like I asked, and fifth, don't say things like that in front of Mike or Hunter if you value your continued good health. Do we understand each other?”

“Quite,” Snake answered drily.

“Good,” she said. “Now, since you clearly can't do anything on your own, I'll radio in myself.”

She did so, and connected quickly.

“Hey, Viper,” she said as the line picked up. “Put me through to command, will you?”

He's sleeping, Rosie. What's up?

“None of your goddamn business. He could be in a coma for all I care. Wake him the fuck up. I have two SEALs in a safehouse and I don't know what to do with them.”

A moment's silence before the CO answered. Solomon, this better be good.

“We have two SEALs that were deployed for the same op as I was, sir. The target is dead, I have the intel. We need evac, but I don't know where we're headed anymore.”

We'll send someone to take the three of you to us. We'll notify their CO. Oh, and Rosie?

“Yes, sir?”

Try to avoid biting any heads off. I know they're just SEALs, but killing them isn't worth the paperwork.

“Thank you, sir.” Hannah signed off quickly and turned to the two SEALs. “It's just us for a while, boys,” she said, sounding more than a little threatening.

"Hey, New Guy, she's all yours," Snake said.

"Say what?" Aedan asked.

"Seeing as though you still haven't proved yourself yet, you get to talk to the D-girl."

“We didn't learn about this in BUD/S!” Aedan argued.

"Well, you're learning it now." Snake ordered.

“Such love amongst brothers,” Hannah said with a grin. “Hey, Snake, this how you treat your rookies?”

“How do you treat yours?”

“Well, they tried treating me like that, but then they got me drunk, and shit hit the fan. I do remember Hunter's hair being spray-painted pink, though.”

"Well I'll leave you with my new guy," Snake said. "New guy, entertain her."

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “What, scared of me, are you, O great and glorious Dragon?”

“Not a chance,” Snake retorted. “Tell me, Rosie, what's it like to be in the second best unit in the military?”

“I don't know,” she snarked back, “How is it?”

“Shut it, Girl,” Snake spat angrily.

Hannah stopped speaking abruptly, her jaw shutting with an audible snap. There was silence for an instant as the two SEALs wondered what had happened.

“The Hell was that?” Snake asked finally.

“Nothing,” Hannah answered stiffly. “The chopper'll be here soon. Don't call me Girl, Dragon. I've done nothing to you.”

Aedan frowned. "Rosie... is this about the whole touch thing?"

Hannah glared at him. "No," she growled.

“Then what is it?” he asked.

Hannah glared at him harder. "I don't need to explain myself to you," she snapped.

“Hey, I didn't mean anything,” he said. “No need to snap at me.”

Snake frowned. “How do you two know each other?”

"We met when she was in Rangers. Blackburn, Wraith, Blank, and myself saved her and her team."

“Saved?” she asked. “Last I checked, I saved your sorry ass from a T-90, not the other way around.”

"Well yeah. Anyway, I didn't mean to upset you. I'm just trying to help."

“I know,” she muttered. “I just get... touchy.”

"It's okay. I understand. I'm here for you, okay?"

Hannah snorted and rolled her eyes. “That's what they all say,” she muttered. “I don't need a knight in shining armor, Aedan. Last time I had one of those, he tried to shoot me when my back was turned.”

“Why?”

“None of your damn business.”

The group fell into uneasy silence until the chopper arrived.
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