One-Man Army
By Michael J. Pfeffer

Lawndale, California
Martin & Associates Towers
4:20 PM
December 20, 1997

It was the first day of Christmas vacation for Lawndale High students. School had let
out early on account of a snowstorm the previous day, giving them all some extra time
of freedom.

It was not the same for the Morgandorffer family.

"If I ever get through this," she thought to herself, "I'm going to blow up this building."
She had been shanghaied into her father's office Christmas party. Daria sighed. She
had managed to find haven in the computer room and was surfing the Internet to keep
from getting bored out of her skull. "It'll be fun," Helen and Jake had said at the
breakfast table. "All your father's office friends always want to meet you."

"Fine, then. I'll send them a picture."

"I mean in person, Daria," Helen had said with a sigh. "Otherwise, we could talk about
you joining one of those church youth groups. You know, the one where they get all the
kids together and go caroling."

Daria glared.

"You wouldn't."

Jake had piped in around then.

"That's a great idea! They're always looking for kids to help out. Hey, maybe we could
fit you in with your school groups, too."

Daria sighed.

"Alright, fine."

She picked up a newspaper.

"But I reserve the right to leave the party itself after I do all those compulsory

She had done just that.

Now, it was several hours later. At the party, she had expressed the apathy that took
years of practice, and was able to get out of meeting all her father's co-workers and
escape to the computers. Now, she was bored again, having seen all the sites worth
seeing on the Web. Sick Sad World was showing a holiday marathon and she was
missing it. Was nothing going her way, ever?

Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
4:25 PM
Training Range Foxtrot

"Golf Zero One, this is Iris Base, come in, Golf Zero One."

Michael Andrews flicked the radio switch in his MJP-911 fighter/personal transport
aircraft. "This is Golf One here, go ahead, Iris," he radioed back. Since he and Mara
were Jewish, Christmas held nothing to them, and the Navy needed a new aircraft to
simulate the Russian MiGs coming off factory lines. The 911's shipboard computer
happened to know about Russian aircraft and could simulate their characteristics.
Michael had volunteered and Mara, his girlfriend, asked to come along to help out. She
was in the copilot's seat.

"Golf, flight plan is Tac Zulu Tango. Radio silence from now on. Iris Base Out." The
radio fell silent.

Michael took off the headphones. "Looks like the mission is a go," he told Mara. "We're
simulating air patrol over a strike zone. The Navy's sending in a few Intruders, maybe
some Hornets."

Mara looked up from the radar scope. "I'd put my money on the F/A-18s," she said.
"They're not training new pilots in the A-6s, and the ones who know how to fly them are
probably from Vietnam."

Michael shrugged. "Who's to know except the pilots? We're only playing aggressor." He
activated the ship's computer. "Hey, Eddie!"

The shipboard computer, which controlled and permeated every molecule of the
MJP-911, which strangely liked to be called Eddie, switched on. "Hi, Mister Andrews,
what's up?" Michael tapped the Nutri-Matic food and drink system. "Get me some iced
coffee with a little Irish Creme flavoring, would you?" The panel slid open. "Here you
go," Eddie piped up. Michael took the glass and turned to Mara. "Can I get you

She nodded. "Just a diet soda, I guess." Eddie slid open another panel near her and a
can of generic diet soda slid out. She took it, and the computer closed down. "Looks
like another boring run," she said.

Lawndale, California
Martin & Associates building

They had spread out throughout the building, as according to the plan. They had
downloaded vital data, they had spread and divided. Some were maitre d' s, a few
were cooks, most were waiters. It was time.

One of the waiters on Jake's floor was first to start. All the office workers and their
guests were in the reception hall, a room with marble trim, waterfalls, and Corinthian
columns. Most of these served for tactical cover as the waiter pulled a small automatic
weapon from a hidden jacket pocket and fired a few rounds into the air.

"Nobody move!" he yelled, his voice thick with an Arabic accent. The guests of the party
screamed as one. With deft aim, he shot a lawyer in the knees. "Hands in the air! Right
now!" They all calmed down mostly, and raised their hands. "If you resist, we will kill
you and the person next to you! Now, follow Achmed! Speak to nobody! Move!"

In the computer room, Daria froze upon hearing the shots. She dove away and hid
inside a closet, remembering what little spy training Michael had told her about.

"It's always best to lay low," he had said once. "A true spy doesn't try to play hero.
Espionage is about evasion, the right tactics, and the ability to function autonomously. If
you're threatened, stay out of sight and call in help."

Alright, she thought. I'll do just that. All of a sudden, someone kicked the door open and
pulled out an MP5 submachine gun. He looked left, right, under the tables, and made a
fast check around the computers, then left. Before leaving, he shot out the phone. Daria
swore after he left.

"So much for calling in help," she said to herself, and made a quick check of the phone.
The bullet had only glanced the base, shorting out the inter-office circuits, but she didn't
need those. She picked up the receiver. A dialtone. Perfect. She pressed 9 for an
outside line, then 911.

Lawndale Police Headquarters

The headset rang at Dispatcher Karen McCullough's desk. She picked it up and
pressed the receiver button. "Lawndale Police. What is your emergency?"

The voice on the other end was a startled-sounding monotone. "Thank God! Listen, and
listen carefully. There's a hostage situation at the Martin & Associates building! There's
about ten or twenty psycho Arabian guys with guns!"

Karen took a deep breath and glanced at the voice-stress analyzer. The meter had
pegged at the top limit. Damn, this was for real. She spoke to the girl. "Okay, miss, just
try and stay calm. What's your name?"

The voice came back. "Daria. Daria Morgandorfer."

Karen's eyes went wide. "You're the kid with that bimbo sister my kid's always talking

Daria paused. "What?"

"My daughter's wasting her life away in the Fashion Club. If I've told her once, I've told
her a thousand times, that's no place for a teenager. They're always putting intelligence
below popularity."

Daria rolled her eyes. She didn't like the Fashion Club, but now was not the time to talk
about it! "Listen, just shut up and call in the cops! Call LAPD and get a SWAT team in
here! Get anyone you've got with weapons! Call the Air Force! Call the National Guard!"

Another pause from the police desk. "Okay, dear, I've dispatched all our local troops,
but they've only got sidearms. Los Angeles is sending us their SWAT team, but they'll
take a few hours to get here. If you'd care to..."

Daria slammed down the phone abruptly. The police wouldn't be much of a help.
Fortunately, she had a best friend who was a one man army.

Nellis Air Force Base
Training Range Foxtrot

Eddie piped up in the middle of the attack run. "Mister Andrews, sir, Iris Base is
recalling the flight. It appears you're needed in Lawndale. There's a call for you on the
private line, sir. It's important."

Michael punched the console. "Damn. We were just about to waste those Navy squids.
Put the call through, Eddie."

The speaker system crackled to life. "Michael?" the voice said. He sat up immediately.
"Daria? What's the problem?"

Mara punched a few buttons to triangulate the call.

"There's terrorists everywhere! They've taken over the building my father works in!
They've got guns and the cops won't be here for hours and..."

Mara cut in. "Terrorists? Hang on a second." She put the call on hold and activated the
radio. "Iris Base, this is Golf Zero One. Abort the mission, I repeat, abort the mission.
Condition Bravo Kilo, repeat Bravo Kilo." The Navy controllers acknowledged and Mara
turned the speaker back on. Condition Bravo Kilo meant that there was trouble and the
MJP-911 needed to respond immediately. "Okay, Daria, talk to us."

Daria started again. "There's a bunch of them, they've got guns. The cops won't be
worth anything, all they have is pistols. You've got to help me!" Michael reefed the
aircraft into a hard turn out of the Nellis range and towards Lawndale. "Okay, Daria,
we're on our way. We'll be on the scene in a few minutes. Gonna have to punch up R17
again. In the meantime, stay low and out of sight. Where are you?"

"Twentieth floor, facing Main Street. I'm in the computer room."

Michael punched up the details of the building she was in. "Roger that, I'm tracking your
signal. Out." He pressed the radio button. "Better strap in, Mara."

After he had powered up the ion turbo-overdrive engines, the MJP-911 leapt through
speeds that would break up any other aircraft not in the vacuum of space. He powered
up the internal and external weapons systems, as well as the auxiliary systems- a
searchlight, infrared scanner, radio-isotope scanner, and TV cameras. They had just
crossed the California-Nevada border and would be over Lawndale in five seconds.
Michael began to power down the ion turbo-overdrives, switching over to hover-jet
engines which would enable him to take off and land like a helicopter as well as fly at
jet speeds. He decelerated past Mach 7, climbed out of 140,000 feet, and resumed
normal civil aviation speeds. He swooped over the outskirts of the city and engaged the
reverse thrust systems. He had to slow down to a hover for landing.

In the office lobby, the partygoers were being rounded up and taken down to the
basement in the elevators- two guards with every group. Quinn, Helen & Jake were
part of the group in the first. "What is _with_ these people?" Quinn was saying. "These
guns don't go with their outfits at all! I mean, who knew that caterers were that heavily

One of the terrorists jabbed her with an MP5 automatic. "Shut up! Not talk!"

Quinn started up again. "And what's with that accent? Is it, like, Ara-Russian or

The Lane residence
4:50 PM

It was practice as usual for Mystic Spiral.

Jesse had arrived a while ago and he & Trent had started up on a different style of
"Ice-Box Woman," when Jesse dropped his guitar on the TV remote. The TV had
turned on to Channel Four, with a special report from the camera crew on location at
Martin & Associates.

"... live reports around the clock from Channel Four. To repeat, this is Kelly McFadden
reporting from the Martin & Associates legal building, where a terrorist situation is
taking place." Trent almost dropped his guitar. "Sources from the Lawndale Police
Department have told us that there is a terrorist force occupying the building that police
officers are ill-equipped to respond to. A call was placed to emergency services
earlier... do we have it on tape? Yes, we can now play the call that informed the police
of the events transpiring." A picture of a tape recorder came up in the background as
the TV showed a transcript and audio playback of the call. "Oh my God, that's Daria!"
Trent exclaimed.

Jesse shrugged. "Looks like she's in trouble, dude," he said.

Trent piped up. "C'mon, we've got to go help her!" He threw his guitar onto the couch
and started to race out the door.

"Hang on!" Jesse yelled to him. "I've just gotta close down here."

Trent yelled back at him, "Forget it! Come on!" as he started up the Tank, their
drummer's van. Jesse lovingly placed his guitar down and rushed after Trent. He had
the passenger-side door open, and Jesse was only able to get in partially before Trent
revved the motor and drove off. Jesse pulled himself inside and closed the door as they
drove to the center of town.

The flight in the MJP-911 at R17 and excess speeds was always frightening, but
frighteningly fast, too. They had reached Lawndale in just a few seconds and landed by
the congregation of police cars and astounded officers. The cops had taken out their
standard-issue Beretta 9mm pistols and formed a defensive perimeter around the
parking lot of the building. They would need help. Their heaviest weapon was a
shotgun. Michael opened a side hatch. "Don't panic, officers, the situation is going fine."

Mara emerged from the fighter. "We're taking tactical control of the situation," she said.

The obese officer in charge stormed up to them. "What the hell do you think you're
doing!" he shouted at them. "This is police business! The situation is under control!"

A burst of gunfire erupted from the roof, and the police officers ducked behind the
perimeter. The fat police sergeant waddled behind a car and curled up into a ball.

"You police, stay back! Stay back or we start killing hostages!" came a voice through a
megaphone. "We release demands soon! You stay back!" and the voice fell silent.
Michael and Mara had stood bravely throughout the fusillade of bullets fired into the air,
and were brushing off loose dust.

"Under control?" Mara asked. "Looks to me that you need help. Anyone got a radio to
LAPD open?" The frightened sergeant held her a large UHF radio set. She dialed into a
frequency and spoke orders to the waiting communications officer.

Ten minutes later, the plan came into being. The Los Angeles Police Department SWAT
team was en route, but not by the usual industrial-size police transport vehicle.
Lawndale was about fifty miles from LA and it would take an hour to arrive via
rush-hour traffic. Instead, they would contact the San Diego Naval Base, who
dispatched a CH-53E Super Stallion troop transport helicopter to the LAPD
Headquarters roof to retrieve the team and fly it to Lawndale. The SWATs would take
up the interior perimeter and move in whenever possible. Then, Mara had contacted the
adjacent Naval Air Station a few miles inland. Two Navy F-14D Tomcat fighters would
form an air patrol over Lawndale, and four Marine AV-8B Harrier jump-jet fighters would
fly close air support, helped out by the MJP-911 fighter. Michael had already taken to
the air in the 911 and was flying lazy racetrack ovals around the building and parking
lot. The Tomcats would be arriving on station soon.

Over the streets of Lawndale
5:12 PM

"Striker Base, this is Striker One, how copy, over?" The Super Stallion, loaded down
with troops, was darting between buildings. The huge Sikorsky helicopter had been
designed in the 1960s for clearing mines in Haiphong Harbor, Vietnam, and had been
converted to special-ops, cargo transport, and infantry-carrier roles. It was now
transporting ten LAPD SWAT officers and six Navy SEAL commandos. They would be
working together when ordered, but all sixteen men agreed one thing- they resented
being under the tactical control of a civilian. "Roger, copy, Striker One. You're cleared
to land at point Bravo. Report to Alpha One upon arrival." The pilot gave two clicks of
his microphone then switched off the radio. The terrorists could be listening in. Point
Bravo denoted right by the police cars, and Alpha One was Michael.

Corporate Drive
Lawndale Police Outpost Zulu
5:15 PM

The CH-53E flew in at low altitude and pitched upward, using the huge main rotor to
slow itself to a hover. The pilot landed right beside the police units and all the SWAT
and SEAL troops disembarked and moved out of the way as the chopper touched
down. They moved as one unit and marched up to Michael. Two officers walked
forward. One of them was obviously police, all his men were wearing bullet-resistant
vests with the initials LAPD on them. The other led five soldiers, all of them very heavily
armed, dressed in black Mustang commando uniforms, geared for infiltration. Both
officers saluted.

"LAPD SWAT division, Bravo Platoon, D troop, reporting, sir! Lieutenant Aaron Smith, in

"SEAL team Seven, we're all present and accounted for, kid. I'm Major Samuel
Wallace. You're in command here?"

Michael unfolded a floor plan of the building, ignoring the SEAL's comment. "I've done
an infrared scan of the interior with my ship," he gestured to the MJP-911 sitting
dormant a few feet away. "Most of the hostages are on the twentieth floor, and others
are in the basement. So far, they've had no demands, other than that we stay back."

The SWAT leader spoke up. "What's your plan here, sir?"

Michael held up a hand. "Forget the formalities. We're working together, I'm Michael,
not Mike. The plan is, you guys are our ace-in-the-hole. When you're ordered in, you'll
ingress through the sewers while the SEALs are inserted via the roof."

Wallace put a grappling hook launcher onto the table. "See this, kid? It doesn't go up
two hundred feet. The helicopter makes too much damn noise, so what are we going to

Michael smiled. "My MJP-911 can take you guys. Plus, you'll need silencers on those
M-16s. One gunshot and the terrorists start shooting hostages. For now, relax. Eddie's
providing food and drinks. Just get on line," he pointed at a queue of people, police and
pilots alike, lined up at the door of the MJP-911, "and when you get to the hatch, just
tell the computer what you want. I'll talk to you guys when we finalize the tactics."

The SWATs and SEALs stood fast. Their commanders looked at each other and
shrugged in unison. The soldiers all raced off to the line. None of them had eaten dinner
and had had a meager lunch. The elite SEAL troopers, the best commando unit in the
world, were fighting with each other over who got in line first. It took five police officers
and a few warning shots from one of Michael's laser rifles to get them in order.

5:26 PM

A medium-sized black van drove up to the police barriers surrounding the streets
approaching the Martin & Associates building, and Trent and Jesse leapt out. They
were restrained by two beefy police officers. "Hey, man, let us go!" Trent shouted at
them. "Stand fast, citizen. The situation is under control, and only police are allowed
past this point," one of the officers said.

Trent narrowed his eyes at them. "Listen, I've got friends in that tower! You let me
through right now, or I sue your ass faster than you can say 'police brutality!'"

The officer took out a radio. "Alpha, this is post zero-two. I've got two vagrants trying to
get in, your orders?"

The radio crackled with Mara's familiar voice. "Post two, this is Bravo One. Alpha is
busy at the moment. Who're those two trying to get in?"

The officer pressed the 'transmit' button. "Well, I..."

Trent shouted into the mouthpiece. "Mara! It's me and Jesse! Come on, tell them to let
us through!" The other officer managed to put a hand over Trent's mouth and drag him

The radio crackled. "Post Two, this is Alpha One. You will let them in immediately, I
repeat, Priority one status immediate. Do you copy?"

The officer frowned. "Copy, One. They're coming through." The officer let go of Trent
and they pulled back the barriers to let them through. Trent frowned at them one last
time, started the engine on the Tank, and they drove up the road to the police outpost.

One hundred miles northeast of Lawndale
5:32 PM

To the north of the city of Lawndale was mostly empty alkali flatlands, sparse of life,
empty of population. Nobody ever came around that way, which formed perfect cover
for the fuel trucks to stay in. Their charges would be arriving soon.

Akbar Malakhi lit a cigarette and stared at the horizon, searching the skies. He was not
concerned with igniting the aviation fuel in the surplus Russian fuel trucks around him.
He was only concerned with getting out of this damned barren wasteland. He took a
long pull on the cigarette and stared out at the horizon again. He was looking in the
wrong direction when he heard the heavy baritone sound of rotors beating. He turned
around slowly and saw the four large helicopters rushing in at low level. They pitched up
in a stopping maneuver and landed in almost military precision. Their massive
five-bladed rotors kicked up clouds of dust as they descended, as the powerful attack
helicopters landed. The four deadly Mi-24 Hind-D helicopters, loaded to bear with
rocket pods and anti-tank missiles, and low on fuel, had touched down, noticed only by
Malakhi. Four pilots and four gunners disembarked and unraveled fuel hoses to each of
their aircraft, filling them up with JP-4 fuel. About fifteen minutes later, with no words
spoken, the pilots disconnected the hoses and reeled them back in. They reboarded the
helicopters, powered up the engines, and took off. They assumed a slow southwesterly
course at low altitude to conserve fuel and not be detected by any air traffic control

Back at the fueling site, Malakhi lit another cigarette. He opened the door of his '73
Ford Galaxy, a junk car that barely moved, and drove south, towards Mexico.

Lawndale Police Outpost
6:04 PM

Michael was munching on a sandwich provided by Eddie and looking over diagrams and
charts of the building obtained from town files. "What I see here, Lieutenant," he said to
the SWAT team leader between bites of turkey and bread, "is that the sewer runs
through a maintenance tunnel under the building. That connects to the main storage
area. You can use that, but you're the SWAT. What do you think?"

Smith put down the M-16 that he was inspecting. "Well, kid, I think that it's a pretty
good plan, to tell you the truth. How did you learn all this?"

Michael smiled. "I read a lot." He handed the map to the SWAT team. "Here, guys, look
this over. You're going in through the crap tunnels." He took one last bite of the
sandwich and walked over to the 911.

Mara was inside, powering up the systems and frantically trying to get Eddie on topic,
and off the question of her wanting a cold beverage.

"Look, you worthless sack of silicon," she was shouting at it, "I need control of the
tracking systems, the missiles, and any other weapons under your junky command!"
With that, she hit it.

Michael took her hand. "Relax, hon. Here, watch this." Michael pressed a red guarded

"Combat mode, consent approved, switches cold," he said to the computer.

Eddie's voice became terse and fast, unlike the friendly tone it was moments ago.
"Combat mode active. Consent engaged. Weapons safe."

Mara sighed at him. "We've got company. The Tomcats are bugging out, and the
Marines are refueling. It'll take about twenty minutes for them to get off the ground, and
their weapons are showing faults. They're going to head back to base and re-arm.
That'll take an hour, but radar keeps picking up these." She punched up a display and
pointed to four flickering dots. "They're about twenty miles out, moving slow, probably
rotary wing aircraft."

Michael shook his head. "I hate to contradict you, but they're too slow. Look- 10 knots.
A chopper would be at a crawl going that speed."

Little did they know that the objects they were tracking was in reality a cloud of birds
startled by the Hind-D choppers shortly behind, using the valleys for cover.

Mara shrugged. "I guess so, but we're pretty unprotected on the ground. Michael

"Not really- watch this." He pressed a few buttons and flipped a switch. A tiny claw shot
out towards the nearest power line. It attached itself and began to draw power. A
shimmering field surrounded the MJP-911. "Force shield. It surrounds the aircraft like a
tight seal. We can even go in and out, it just deactivates around the hatch."

Mara shook her head. "I don't even want to know where you got the design for this."

Martin & Associates Towers
6:15 PM

Daria was constantly pacing and trying to access the computers. The terrorists had
probably cut the power, but the computers were still working. She was vainly trying to
hack her father's account and password. She knew that it was JMORGAN, but the
password was still a mystery. She tried "Quinn," "Helen," and "Daria," but still to no
avail. Next up. She tried "Lawndale." Nothing. In a sudden flash of inspiration, she tried
"Middleton;" her father's alma mater. The login screen vanished to the desktop menu.
She was in. There wasn't too much to do, but it was close. She accessed a
speakerphone system and dialed Michael's number in the MJP-911.

Lawndale Police Outpost
That same time

An additional fleet of police cars and officers had responded from other towns to the
terrorist call. There were about twenty police cruisers and thirty officers from scattered
towns near Lawndale. Two Marine AH-1 Cobra gunship helicopters were on patrol to
replace the Harriers. The defensive perimeter had begun to encompass the entire area
around the building and parking lot, and the officers were constantly keeping their
shotguns and rifles aimed at the top floor. A large police truck had just arrived, and its
driver was unloading...

"A speaker system?" Michael exclaimed. The driver nodded. "You bet. I'm from the
Psy-Ops division of LAPD. We're going to hook up the stereo and blast loud tunes at

Michael began to snicker, then exploded into full-fledged laughter. "Let me get this
straight..." he said between laughs, "You're going play music at them and hope they
give up?"

The police technician affixed him with a firm glare. "You remember Panama, kid?" he

Michael shrugged. He probably hadn't been born then.

"We blasted Noriega with Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin, and he came out and
surrendered without firing a shot."

Michael shook his head. "Well, we've got plenty of space and time. Go ahead. Need
some music?" The technician nodded. "I've got some in my ship. Hang on a sec, I'll go
get them." He put down the details for the speakers and walked into the MJP-911.
"Eddie, I need my CDs, if you don't mind," he told the computer. Instead, it responded
with "Sir, you have a call." Michael went into the cockpit and brought in the incoming

"Michael! What's going on out there?" Daria's voice shouted at him. Michael squelched
out the static from the background. "Daria, just hang on. The cops are here, we've got
a SEAL team and SWAT platoon out here. The terrorists have hostages, so they have
the upper hand right now. Do you need anything?"

"Yeah. I'm not comfortable up here without something to defend myself with."

"No problem. What do you need? Beretta? MP5? M-16? Rocket launcher?"

There was a pause. "I need an infantry rifle, two Beretta pistols, and plenty of ammo
for each."

"Okay, Rambo," Michael said in reply. "I'm sending them over. Hang on while I
triangulate your position." He took an AK-47 rifle, two Berettas, five clips of ammo for
the rifle and ten magazines of pistol bullets. He loaded them into a static object launcher
and pressurized the tube. By then, Eddie had located the room she was in. "Here you
go, Daria. I'd recommend stepping to your right." He lifted a guard and pressed a red
button, and the packet went flying. The package flew upwards on a ballistic arc,
crashed through the window to the computer room and landed safely. Daria opened up
the foam-encrusted package, revealing the requisite weapons. "Thanks," she said over
the phone to Michael.

"No problem at all. Just stay low. There's some food in there too, in case you get

Downtown Lawndale
6:30 PM

The terrorist crisis was almost two hours in the running.

A group of citizens had gathered at the edge of the restricted area, and the guarding
officers were debating with each other whether or not they were in violation. They were
watching the building, and like the lone man at the fueling outpost, looked the wrong
way when they heard helicopter rotors.

The Mi-24 Hinds raced over the streets of Lawndale en route to the terrorist-held
building. They had made contact with their co-conspirators inside the Martin &
Associates towers and were briefed. They would attack their targets in less than sixty

Michael was running a check on Eddie's systems and weapons subsystems when his
ship's radars picked up four incoming bogies. He checked to make sure they were real,
then radioed one of the Marine gunships circling overhead. "Charlie one, this is Eagle
base. Are you picking up targets..." he checked his scope. "..bearing two-zero-zero,
angels point zero zero five, range zero-six miles?"

The gunship pilot radioed back frantically. "Eagle, get off the ground and get those cops
under cover! Attack condition red! Repeat, Red Alert! Red Alert! Incoming attack

"Jesus!" Michael dashed out of the MJP-911. "Get under cover! Prepare for imminent
attack from the air! Take cover! Dammit, Stinger crews, stand by to engage! I..."

He was interrupted by two explosions from overhead. The Hinds had engaged the
Cobras with their SA-14 air-to-air missiles and shot them down.

Mara rushed up, taking cover from the raining debris. "My God, they're attacking! Get
airborne! Come on!" she yelled, rushing into the fighter. Michael followed her in, shutting
the hatch and engaging the systems. "Eddie, get us off the ground! Combat mode,
consent switch off, weapons free, batteries released!"

The takeoff of Michael's personal ship was always spectacular, but an emergency
order made it like being in a fight and a car wreck simultaneously. As the police officers
were rushing behind a small grassy area, decorated with shrubs planted by
landscapers, the SEAL team was hoisting a FIM-92A Stinger shoulder-launched
surface-to-air missile launcher. When Michael sealed the hatch and activated the ship,
Eddie rotated the vector-thrust nozzles straight down and kicked the engines to full
power. The end result was the ship climbing fifty feet into the air and retracting the
gear. Two SWAT troopers were blown over by the windblast, but the SEALs were able
to lock onto one of the rapidly approaching Hind attack choppers.

Michael reefed the MJP-911 into a hard right turn and engaged the radar autonomous
track systems, or RATS. The RATS system automatically tracked and attacked targets
designated hostile, leaving Michael and Mara free to fly the ship and track the choppers
with other weapons. The bay doors opened. "Four Mockingbirds ready for launch, and
hot damn, those Hinds are close! I'm not sure whether the missiles will track or miss, so
stand by on those turret lasers, Mara," he said over the intercom.

The rotary launcher ejected one Mockingbird air-to-air missile, then rotated one-eighth
of a revolution, ejected another, and completed the cycle twice more. "Fox one! Four
Mockingbirds in the air!" Michael exclaimed. The missiles tracked the Mi-24D
helicopters with their on-board radars, but they had not acquired their targets as they
rocketed past the slow-moving choppers. The missiles shut themselves down in mid-air
and self-destructed.

"Damn! The Mockingbirds missed! Turret lasers have acquired... JESUS!" Mara yelled.
The Hinds, moving like prizefighters, had pivoted in mid-air and loosed a barrage of
rockets from underwing pods. Five of them hit the MJP-911, almost penetrating the
shield barrier. "We've taken a hit! Shields holding, but not for long. Tracking...
tracking... laser firing... got one!" she shouted as the lasers opened fire, exploding the
Hind and damaging another.

"Nice shot, Mara! Okay, let's get the others. Hang on, I've got them." Michael raced
past the three surviving Hinds and pivoted in mid-air, using the unique vectored-thrust
systems of the 911. He was closing to Gatling gun range when they opened fire on the
police positions below.

The Hinds each had four UV-32-57 rocket pods each, and unleashed a salvo of twenty
high-velocity rockets per chopper at the police defensive positions. The rockets were
designed for combat, to destroy armored personnel carriers on the battlefield, and they
worked a deadly rain across the police cars. A long string of explosions shook the
ground and destroyed most of the cars, but thankfully, the only casualties were some
spilled coffee and sprained limbs, thanks to Michael's decisive warning.

The Hinds had overflown the defensive positions when the SEALs, trained in combat,
returned fire. Five of them had hoisted Stinger missile launchers into position and locked
on. Wallace was leading the counterattack.

"Tracking target, at my twelve o'clock! IFF negative! Clear me to shoot!" one of his
troops shouted.

Wallace narrowed his eyes and let the distance open up a bit, then yelled "Clear to fire!
Batteries released! Nail that rat bastard!" With that, three missiles took to the air.
Meanwhile, Michael had aligned the M61A2 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun and was
firing bursts at the helicopters. He was able to rake the tongue of fire across two of the
choppers, damaging them.

The Hinds were caught by surprise by the two-pronged attack. Two of the Hinds fell to
ground-launched Stingers and one of them was able to evade. He was out of Stinger
range, but not from Mara's turret lasers. "Tracking... tracking... got him! Laser firing!"
she said. A lance of azure light shot out, tracing a line across the Hind's fuselage. The
laser burst found a fuel tank.

The Hind shook the sky in a ball of fire. The shock wave rocked the MJP-911 and
shook up a few buildings. Some windows broke, some kids got scared, but that was

Michael landed the MJP-911 near the blazing police cars and pulled a cassette tape out
of the ship's stereo. He helped Mara out, and handed the tape to the LAPD Psy-Op
technician. "This is a tape of rock and techno music I made," he told the tech. "It's loud
enough for you."

The technician took the tape wordlessly, cranked the volume up to full, popped into the
stereo, and pressed the play button. The thudding techno sounds of Orbital's The Saint
resonated into the air.

The battle was over... for now.

Martin & Associates building
7:00 PM

A gunshot shattered the window on the top floor, and the police officers trained their
guns at the broken window. No more shots followed. Then, it started to rain.

Photocopied flyers.

They slowly floated and wafted in the breeze until one of them landed in Trent Lane's
hands. He read it. "Hmmm... 'To those Americans who hold our brothers hostage- we
now reply in kind. Release all Arabians from your jails and return them the land that is
theirs! We will hold your hostages, all thirty-nine of them, until you comply.'" He walked
over to Michael and the SEAL commander, who were watching the flyers float slowly to
the ground. "Hey, guys, check this out!"

Jane, who had just arrived, took the flyer from her brother as Michael and Major
Wallace grabbed their own from the sky. They all read it slowly. "Wow," said Jane.
"And to think, that all this time their legacy of battle didn't manifest itself. Well, well,

Michael had a resolute look on his face. "Lieutenant Smith! Get your men over here!
Wallace, better assemble your SEALs." The officer saluted and walked off to retrieve
his men. Smith and his SWAT team marched up.

"Sir! SWAT division..."

"Yeah, yeah, Smith, save it. You guys are out of here, got it? I have a plan. You and
the SEAL Team are heading back to the city. It's been fun, yada, yada, yada. See ya.
The Super Stallion will take you back."

With a dark look in his eye, Smith ordered his men back on the bulky transport chopper.
The SEALs followed. Mara saw the soldiers depart, and turned to Michael with a
question in her eyes.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Michael sighed. "Those troops are too damn obvious. It's like they say, if you want
something done, do it yourself." He was walking into Eddie's weapons locker. "Eddie,
open up." Mara followed him inside, where Michael was putting on his combat harness.
"I need two Berettas, an M-29 grenade launcher, two bandoliers of grenades, ten clips
each for the Berettas and an M-16, a few first-aid kits, and the usual." Eddie extended
a few drawers with the requisite ammo, and the guns themselves extended from racks.

Mara was amazed at the array of ammo. "Don't even tell me you're going in yourself!
Why is it always Mister Hero? The SEALs could have done this in a snap! They're
trained in this sort of thing!"

Michael was draping the bandoliers of grenade ammo over his shoulders. "Those
terrorists hold the upper hand right now. If they see a massive armored force even
coming near that building, they start shooting innocent people."

Mara crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, fine. But how are you going to get

Michael smiled. "You weren't around when Daria and me bugged Quinn's date." He
took one of his invisibility belts off a rack and put it on. Pressing the button, he and his
massive armament load vanished into thin air. "I just need one of these..." he said,
taking a grappling hook launcher, "and I'll be off. I'll be back in oh, say, a half hour. Hold
down the fort, okay?"

Mara rolled her eyes. "So you're just going to go in and kill them off? How will you live
with yourself?"

"Easy," Michael said from invisibility. "The bullets are designed so that they only deliver
a mild electric stun charge. They'll be out for about two hours." The grappling hook
launcher floated away. "See you later."

Mara shook her head. "Eddie, I need something really, really strong."

Michael, unseen and unheard to all around, walked out to the parking lot. He elevated
the grappling hook launcher to the top floor, where his computer had last located Daria.
He pulled the trigger, and with a _phoont,_ the hook flew up and smashed itself into the
window near where the packet of ammo had insinuated itself earlier. Daria had seen
the hook fly up and hid herself under a table, fearing a terrorist attack. She noticed the
launcher base fly up on its own, and an "oomph" from where it landed. Suddenly,
Michael shimmered into being. He brushed some errant glass off his arm. "Did I miss
anything?" he asked with a smile. He handed her an M-16, a bandolier of grenades,
and Beretta pistol. "You've got to get out of here. It's gonna get really hairy."

She took the pistol, put in a clip of ammo, and chambered a round. "And miss the fun?
Forget it."

Suddenly, the door was kicked open, and one of the terrorists leapt into the room,
brandishing an MP5. "Hands up!" he shouted. "Don't move!" The gun clicked as he
disengaged the safety.

Michael tilted his head. "You know, I've heard that threatening a secret agent can be
hazardous to your health." With a flash, reached under his arms, pulled out two pulse
pistols, and fired five blasts towards the terrorist. He collapsed in a heap from the stun
energy. Michael put the pistols back in their "ace-in-the-hole" holsters under each of his
arms. He handed the grappling hook to Daria. "You'd better get out of here. It could get
very hairy, very fast."

Daria sighed, then tied the grappling hook around her waist. She checked to make sure
the rope was secure, then walked to the window. She nodded to Michael. "Thanks for
the help, Michael. I owe you."

Michael nodded and smiled. "Tell Mara I love her."

Daria rappelled down the side of the building.

Michael took out a pistol, armed it and chambered a round. He would save the M-16 for
desperate situations, because he thought it was best to fight it out at close range. He
pulled out his grenade launcher, pulled out the barrel, took a grenade projectile from his
bandolier, and loaded it into the launcher. The readout from Eddie had shown that there
was about ten terrorists in a room across from him. He flipped the barrel of the M-29
up, and it locked into place with a _klunk._ He lined up the sights of the launcher on the
adjacent wall, ducked behind a table to avoid the shock wave, and fired the launcher.
The grenade flew out and blew the wall inwards, flattening two terrorists. Michael took
out his other pistol and fired both Berettas two-handed. He took down three more
before they returned fire. He managed to duck out of the way and return their shots,
and soon, he was the sole survivor from the cloud of smoke. He tightened the red
bandanna around his forehead and headed towards the elevator.

A few minutes later, he had cleared the other floors. The remainder of the terrorists
were bound and gagged and up on the roof, ready to be retrieved by the police. There
was still one matter- getting the hostages out. They were under heavy guard- the
terrorists had set up armored pillboxes in front of the hostages. They were really
heavily defended, so something would need to be done.

Michael was sneaking through the ventilation shafts, and had been doing so until he
could get to the basement. He was just about to the first pillbox...

The terrorist in charge of the right pillbox was starting to get sleepy. Nothing had
happened. Granted, some shots were exchanged, but were shortly silenced. The
intruder was probably dead. He glanced at the hostages, sitting on the floor, talking
between themselves. It was pretty boring...

There was a tap on the floor, and the terrorist turned around to face the barrel of an
M1911 Beretta pistol. Swearing to himself, he held out his hands as Michael cuffed him
and tied a gag in his mouth.

Michael took control of the pillbox's miniature cannon. He targeted it on the left pillbox,
but the other terrorists must have heard the commotion. Shouting to each other in
Arabic, they opened fire on the captured pillbox as one. The hostages shouted and ran
for cover. Michael ducked inside the armored pillbox. He saw one of the terrorists
arming a grenade launcher, and he closed his eyes and prepared for the end...

Only to hear screams and curses in Arabic as a machine gun took them down.

Mara was standing in the sub-basement entrance, holding an M60 heavy machine gun,
ammo belt draped over her shoulder, and a grin on her face.

Michael leapt out of the pillbox and smiled at her. "Better be careful," he said. "You're
turning into me."

Mara dropped the machine gun and ammo with a clatter to the floor. "Well," she said, "I
guess there's two of us in the world now."

Michael put his arms around Mara's waist, pulled her close, and kissed her. They held
each other until they remembered that the hostages were applauding them.

Lawndale Police Outpost
7:30 PM

The last of the terrorists were being driven away in LAPD paddy wagons, and Daria
was sitting in a police medical unit, a blanket draped over her shoulders, Trent close to
her, and a cup of hot cocoa in her hand. She was still recovering from her near-death

The hostages were being taken to the station to issue statements, but were released
early after Mr. and Mrs. Jake Morgendorffer complained about illegal search and

Michael and Mara were last reported to be heading towards the Caribbean for a
Christmas vacation. They came back married (unofficially, the ceremony was
performed by a local rabbi- they didn't want to wait forever until they could be

By any other name, it was only a little more ordinary than usual that Christmas.

A light snow began to fall. It built up and accumulated up until New Year's Day.