Philip walked down the ramp of the plane. A wave of heat and familiarity came over him. He felt like a private again. An itch on his nose and he was back novelizing over his service in Afghanistan. Philip could not help but compare the difference now. Aside from the bluish tinge over his eyesight, he felt more confident, stronger, and eager than ever. Perhaps it was the new sensations he was feeling after his confrontation with the Storm Harvester. Perhaps it was the prospect of retrieving that mysterious plant. Either way, Philip was excited to get going on his path.
It was mid day. The sun at its hottest. But Philip liked it. It was the most wonderful shade of golden amber yellow, tweaked around the edges by a bluish tint. When they walked into the camp both Philip and Dr. Fitzsimons were presented with arms and supplies. Colonel Dresden suited up first with a Kevlar vest. A small tube poked his neck. He felt along its side with his fingers. It led to his vest. In fact, when he thought about it, his entire abdomen and back felt cool. Philip's Kevlar vest was lined with a thin layer of refrigerated water. "This is new," he said aloud. He sucked on the tube and cool H20 came rushing into his mouth. He put a camouflage vest on over the Kevlar, leaving his arms bare. Philip wrapped a utility belt around his waist and a grenade belt around his shoulder. He picked up a M4A1 Carbine with a grenade launcher attachment, and an ACOG scope, locked and loaded the rifle, and then strapped it around his other shoulder. And finally he picked up an M9 pistol, took a quick pause, put it back down, and picked up a different sidearm, a Desert Eagle .50.
"That's not all that's changed, Colonel," said one of the MP's, "Since the attack on our base last October, we've been permitted to take extra precautions." Philip loaded the Desert Eagle and holstered it. "About damn time," he said in defiance. Finally, giving it to the very organization that started all this in the first place. But still, he was happy to be back. Philip picked up extra magazines of ammo and loaded them into his utility belt, as he watched Fitzsimons get ready. The doctor already had a vest on and was putting two M9 pistols into their holsters on his hips. After that, he picked up a P90 sub machine gun with a red dot sight, and loaded up with P90 magazines. They both nodded to each other and headed into the headquarters. Behind Fitzsimons, Philip slipped the M9 pistol he put down into his belt on his back, and followed Fitzsimons into the building.
When they got into the Command Center, their team was waiting. Seven soldiers ready for combat. There was Rex the Sergeant of the platoon. He was sun burnt and his brow was heavy. He sat in his chair chomping on an unlit cigar. After Rex was Connors the heavy gunner, Faulkner their sniper, Smith and Alvarez on assault, Gibson the demo guy, and the medic Hawkins. Philip greeted them all, "What do we have so far?"
"Before you got here," Sergeant Rex explained, "We retrieved intel on the current location of the jihad sect that held you in the caves."
"Good job, boys." Philip continued, "So where are they?"
"That's the thing, Boss" Alvarez spoke up polishing his rifle, "They've rotated back into to very cave hideout they tortured you in."
"We have the entire place bugged and a hideout a half of click North outfitted with live feeds from the caves," Sergeant Rex added.
"Is anyone there now?" Philip was ready to act.
"Two sentries awaiting our arrival, sir" Smith answered.
"What are we waiting for then?"
"Orders, sir" Rex unfortunately concluded.
Philip looked over at Fitzsimons. He responded to the group, "I'll...see what I can do." Then he left the room. "Anyone know what's holding us up?"
"Afghani government wants UN troops to bring them in, not us" Rex explained.
"Do they know what happened to me in there?" Philip protested.
"They do now..." Gibson blurted out, "You think we know all this stuff from your case report? Maybe...Also might be the fact that your story has been floating around this base for months now."
"Gibbs is right," Faulkner said while spitting into a paper cup, "Colonel you're more popular than Santa over here."
"You're more popular than Godzilla." Hawkins laughed.
"You're more popular than the Duke, boss"
"Is that a John Wayne reference, Alvarez?" pointed out Rex.
"What? A Mexican can't like John Wayne?"
They all kicked back and had a laugh at Alvarez's expense. That is when Fitzsimons came back into the room. "Your mission is a go." They team cheered and jumped up, gathering and preparing their equipment.
Philip was handed the briefing folder by Fitzsimons, "Extract blue plant by any means necessary. Take no prisoners." Philip was taken aback. But he did not want to rock the boat, especially when he had gotten exactly what he wanted. "Are you coming with us?"
"You've got it from here, Colonel" Fitzsimons shook Philip's hand and left the room after his team.
On the way there Philip sat in the Humvee with Faulkner, their best shot. Philip's head was throbbing. It appears that spending the entire day looking at the world through a blue filter can take its toll on one's eyes. "Does it hurt?" Faulkner asked subtly.
"Yes it does." Philip said to no relief, "But its better than not seeing at all."
"What is it..." Faulkner did not know how to phrase it, "that let's you see?"
"I'm not sure. That's what I'm hope finding this plant will explain."
They got to the hideout and their armored escorts left the team. "Smith radio HQ and tell them we've made it to Zulu Point." ordered Rex.
Alvarez and Rex sat down at the monitors. They caught up on the gang's tracking and patrol routes. Faulkner sat in the blind above them and Gibson took his gear inside and began retrofitting himself. Connors and Hawkins sat around the table with Philip as Smith reentered the hideout after radioing in. Alvarez and Smith helped Rex on surveillance. They followed their Sergeant to the table and presented their plan for the op.
The Doctor who operated on Philip; the man with the gentle thumbs that plugged his eyes and started all this walked through the newly renovated cave base. He ordered his men to keep a guard. Five guards at the door, accompanied by three out on patrol, five walking the caves, and twenty more ready inside in the caves as reinforcements. The Doctor came out of the cave to inspect his troops. When he got outside there was only two men guarding the door. Before he could say anything, the Doctor was grabbed by Sergeant Rex, harnessed, and taken back up with him. The two men guarding the doorway took their masks off. Alvarez and Gibson locked and loaded their weapons. "Sarge is clear." Radioed Alvarez, while Gibson took out the C4. Together they lined the immediate inside and outside of the cave mouth. Just as they finished one of the men they subdued radio goes off. After they do not answer, Alvarez and Gibson know they have to leave. They finish up and round the nearest corner. Gibson holds the detonator in his hand. "...Going hot... " he says over the radio, switching the blinking yellow light to red.
Sergeant Rex delivers the Doctor to Colonel Dresden. Philip has him put the Doctor in a windowless room. He continues watching the cameras in the control room. The five men in the cavern hallways inform the twenty reinforcements there's been on attack and they come charging out of the caves. Colonel Dresden clicks down on his radio, "fire at will, corporal."
Philip sits back and watches them flood to the doorway of the cave, unaware it is lined with explosives. The last one to cross the C4 line trips over it and looks back. But before his revealing screams can be heard, Gibson presses the detonators and the screams are muffled by the explosions nearly bringing the cave down again. When the smoke clears all are dead. Massive chunks of the overhanging boulder now entangle the entrance. "Tangos down." responds Gibson.
Sergeant Rex returns to Gibson and Alvarez along with Connors and Hawkins. "Good job demo, ya nearly destroyed our entry point."
"You get that boss?" Rex radioed.
"I follow, Bravo team, regroup and prepare for extraction. Philip got up and left the Control room. He walked down the hall to the room where they were keeping the Doctor and entered it. Philip walked over to the table. "Do you know who I am?"
"You!" the Doctor gasped.
"So you do..."
"What a monster that plant has made you..." the Doctor spat.
Philip wanted to throttle him. If he would let his rage take over, Philip would have screamed out, "THE PLANT! YOU DID THIS TO ME!" But no, Philip Dresden was a soldier of the United States Army. He remained calm and remembered what he came out here to get.
Philip sat down across the table and the Doctor readjusted his seat upright. Philip took off his glasses. "Tell me everything you know about that plant."