Book 5, Progeny of Evolution
The Second to Last Mission, 2050
With a grind of mulch, Major Cassie White adjusted position. An orange-lashed, green eye pressed against the lens of the gun sight. Small fingers caressed the knob, fine-tuning the focus. With an eighth of a turn, the target solidified to a crisp, clean image.
“Do you have this, Shaughnessy?” Cassie awaited her subordinate’s reply.
Lying prone side by side, the damp rich odors of the jungle floor filled her senses. “I got him, Boss.”
Cassie ran her tongue over the gold front tooth, a memento from a rite of passage early in her career. “Okay, you’re up. I’ll be second gun.” A subsequent adjustment of position crimped the thick letters sewn into the right cuff. CDF they read—Combined Defense Force—the title of the unified branches of the U.S. military.
The target, a dark-suited swarthy man with a striking black goatee, had exited from the rear passenger compartment of a limousine parked in the driveway of an expansive villa. A minor prince from one of the new Middle Eastern sultanates, he ran afoul of U.S. interests through his drug dealings. After exhausting the usual diplomatic supplications to desist, the American government put him on a Mission List. Cassie’s team drew the assassination assignment.
How uncomfortable the prince must’ve been in the dense humidity of Central America, she mused. Anticipating imminent relief inside the air-conditioned villa, he had no idea Cassie planned a quicker end to his inconvenience. Behind him trailed a trio of wives, more comfortable in their loose-fitting garments. Each woman wore a pastel-colored, hooded robe that covered everything except for the top half of her face. Despite being almost a mile away, Cassie’s optics revealed detailed facial features. Dark, forbidding eyes peered over the veils.
“Any time you’re ready.” Cassie ignored her own discomfort, the omnipresent dampness wrapped in the jungle humidity. Within hours of arrival, her shoes filled with a smelly spongy wetness that defied the most sophisticated efforts of waterproofing known to podiatry.
The sergeant inhaled. With lungs filled to capacity, he held the breath. From the corner of her eye, Cassie watched as a lean finger slowly squeezed the trigger.
“Hold! Hold! There’s a wind change. Hold for update.” Smedly, the forward spotter cried his warning an instant too late. The final word faded into the rifle’s report. The vagaries of wind speed and direction had doomed the shot.
In order to get a wider field of vision than the gun’s telescope offered, Cassie rotated helmet binoculars into place. Her heart pounded with anticipatory frustration as she stepped up the magnification. Part of the security entourage crowded around someone lying on the ground. A flutter of pale blue fabric, visible between the throng of moving legs and bent backs, told Cassie the shot had missed. Four guards lifted the corpse of a wife aloft. When they carried her off, a thin trail of blood splatters followed the morbid little procession. The target cowered behind the shield of his bodyguards.
“They’re ranging your position,” Spotter Smedly reported. Listening antennae, separated by a half mile, turned toward the bearing of Shaughnessy’s shot. Despite the sniper rifle’s silencer, sensors detected the report. The lines would cross at approximately Cassie’s position. On either side of the villa, a brief metallic glint no doubt made every heart on the mission team shudder. Every heart, that is, but Cassie’s. Hers continued on its steady pace as if on a picnic at a stateside park.
Sergeant Shaughnessy nudged her ribs. “Time to clear out, Boss.” The warmth of his breath on her neck evoked memories of shared intimacies from off-mission.
Locking her eye to the sniper scope of the long-barreled weapon covered in shaggy camouflage, Cassie waved him back. “Get everybody to the rendezvous point. I’ll be along.”
“Getting him was a long shot anyway.” Shaughnessy applied tentative pressure to her shoulder, encouraging her to follow. “Let the flyboys take it from here.”
Stretched out prone, Cassie remained focused on the gun sight. “I’ve never had to use an air strike to finish a job. I’m not going to start now.”
“Sergeant, you have your orders. See to them. Move out.”
For an instant Cassie thought how much she sounded like her mother, Samantha, a lycan, who as CEO vaulted the multinational corporation Coven International, Inc., or CI to world prominence. A mother-daughter relationship forged in Hell if there ever was one.
A light tap on her ankle brought her back. “Okay, Boss. I’ll hold the chopper as long as I can.”
Shaughnessy deserved more than a curt dismissal. Her tone softened. “Don’t worry, I’m right behind you.”
While preparing the shot, her sergeant’s footsteps faded into the general jungle noises. Along the way, he murmured rendezvous instructions to the forward observer. Then she hunkered down as the first rounds of return fire probed the thick foliage. Inches above, sharp whistles ended in abrupt smacks.
Under the circumstances, almost any other person would’ve dumped their bowels, but Cassie settled into a serene clarity. Bullets impacted everywhere while she set an eye to the sighting scope. From a mile distant, her stone-cold stare willed the target to be still. Two seconds, give me two seconds. The demand repeated in her mind.
Ten meters away, a spray of heavy caliber rounds stitched a diagonal pattern across the broad trunk of a tree, saturating the area between knee and shoulder height. Cassie had chosen her cover well. A small berm of dirt, now churned by the avid fire, proved impenetrable. The shots that got through flew at least a foot above her diminutive motionless form.
The prince refused to abandon the protection of his guards’ bodies, but the crouch he assumed had to be uncomfortable. Sooner or later he’d rise to shift position. All she needed was a foot’s worth of elevation to get off the shot, and ten minutes to clear out. How many times had she been in this situation, waiting for the prey to make a fatal mistake?
Prey? A grin crossed her lips. She wondered if this was the same delicious surge her parents experienced when they used to hunt. Two seconds and it’d be over. From head to toe, her body froze with breathless anticipation. Inside, the adrenaline powered hurricane continued.
At times like this she felt most alive. Afterward, the clock would strike midnight. Cinderella’s ball would end. Cassie would return to the people and mundane events of everyday life, but for the next few minutes it’d be all six horse carriage, footman, with a Prince Charming waiting.
A tanned, narrow face with a goatee peeked above the heaving and swaying human shield of dark jacket backs.
“You’re mine now.”
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