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The important thing to know is that Mobile Task Force Alpha-44 had no nickname. The crisis that had erupted over the last few years had left precious little time to develop unit cohesion and the camaraderie that led to the formation of a common identity - Agents were thrown together haphazardly, given the barest minimums of equipment and training, and told to hunt down and contain the outbreak by any means necessary.

The Task Force leader, a 'senior' agent no older than thirty, spoke tersely to the assembled group. "Our mission is simple. The skip is located somewhere in this ten-block radius, according to Espionage. Forty-three and Forty-five are also on-task to make sure this area gets canvassed fast. Don't worry - you'll know her when you see her. Early teenage girl, minor psychic-sympathetic influence combined with spatial anomalies. Almost certainly embedded with the local populace, turning them against us. Keep a good head on your shoulders and we'll all get out of this fine. Espionage says these… creepy-ass sigils are good at dampening her influence, so make sure you tag her with one if you get the chance." Nodding to the table, the Agent indicated a pile of cloth hexagrams. "Just press it against her, we'll stitch them on later."

Solemn-faced, the Agents filed forward, collecting their tokens. 43 had started an hour ago; 45 would start an hour from now. Morale was low. The teams were already well-recognized in their current duty station of Amsterdam, and the prospect of another set of raids had no one particularly eager to move. All of them knew their duty, however, and the thought of shirking never crossed their minds.

The Task Force lead was all business as he sent them about their work. "You know your orders. You're expected out there in five minutes. Forty-four, dismissed."

The drizzle of rain and the cool evening air did nothing to lift the team's spirits as they knocked at the first door. A wary eye peeked out from a crack, looking at the agents in uniform. "Can I help you?"

The squad lead nodded to the older woman, rattling off the cover story that they had used hundreds of times before.

"Evening, ma'am. We're with the constabulary-" he flashed a badge, "-and we've reason to suspect that there's a violent criminal hiding in the vicinity. We'll just be coming in for a quick inspection, if you don't mind?"

The tone of his voice left no room for refusal, and after a few long moments in the rain, the door opened and the team entered. The sweep was conducted quickly, and finding nothing, the team was back out in the rain.

Alexander piped up, his tone conversational. "Chief, not sure if I'm disappointed or not, no lie."

The lead (44-1 according to mission documents, 'Chief' to everyone else) raised a brow. "Oh?"

Realizing he may have overstepped, Alex was hesitant to continue. "Just… not gonna cry if 43 finds her first, that's all."

Chief chewed on this for a moment, pondering it. His reply was stern."I don't like bagging and tagging skips any better than you do, Agent, but I can tell you that you sure as hell don't want to explain to Command why we covered a third as many households as 43 or 45."

"Oh, right. Right. No, I didn't mean to say-" Alex's furious backpedaling was cut off by the senior agent's tense conclusion to the discussion.

"Of course you didn't, Agent. Let's keep moving."

Rain and cold were oppressive, to be sure, but far worse was the reception Amsterdam gave the agents on patrol. Windows closed, children were pulled from windows, and lights winked out as the team rounded corners. The team closed ranks as they continued down the dimly lit streets, bunching together less for heat than for warmth. The task force had been assembled three weeks ago - they hardly knew each others' names, but out here tonight? They were the only friends they had in the world.

The lead spoke up, and the rest of the team's shoulders sagged with relief - anything to break the godforsaken silence. "Hey, Jake." The lead's voice was nothing like the tense, angry words he had used earlier… now it was the voice of a man twice his age, full of a defeated sort of regret.

The chipper response was forced and everyone knew it. "What's up, Chief?"

Chief's mood was downcast, but he looked Jacob dead in the eyes when he spoke. "Sorry for biting your head off there earlier. Shouldn't have done it."

Jacob's response came automatically. "No, Chief, mission comes first, you're-"

The Chief cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Naw, son. This is shitty and you know it. I know it. It's not the same."

Jacob shifted his weight from foot to foot awkwardly, pausing a few seconds before replying."Well, uh… apology accepted, Chief." Another pause. "We still gotta check these houses."

"I know, I know," the Chief replied, his tone resigned. "Let's get to it."

Chief stepped into a doorway, a slight overhang sheltering the team from the rain as they took a short breather. The fatal resignation to complete their task, the dogged insistence that this mission - as all others prior- be seen through to its completion weighed on them like a cross. The lead raised his hand to rap on the door and paused. Breaking this moment of respite seemed almost a crime.

Tap tap tap. "Sir? Ma'am? Anyone home?"

Silence. "Give 'em a minute, they're probably asleep or somethin'."

"Shut up, Alex." Chief's tone was weary, monotone, and utterly lacking in malice, as if he were reading off a script. In the three weeks they'd been working together, this had become Chief's favorite phrase. The others had taken to running a tally of how many times Alexander was told to 'shut up' during a given mission. Tonight, though, it elicited none of the usual laughs.

"Yessir." Alex grinned nervously, looking back and forth between his team members. None of them mirrored his grin.

Another unanswered knock at the door. "HELLO? IS ANYONE HOME? THIS IS THE CONSTABULARY."

Only silence replied.

"Arright, Four, get the picks, we're goin' in."

Wolfgang - the poor bastard went by 'Wolf', and no one was willing to call him that - nodded assent and slipped forward, quickly plying his trade with the door.

"Wolf's" face screwed up with concentration as he worked. "Gotcha, Chief. It'll be just… a… sec-*click*- got it."

The door swung open to pitch black silence. Inside the building, the sound of the pattering rain outside was muted, and only the sound of boots striking the hardwood floor filled the room. Peering around anxiously with their flashlights in tow, they began to search. "I don't think we're gonna find nobody here, chief."

"Shut up, Alex." This time the tone held a bit of steel behind it.

"Yessir." Alexander's usual grin was gone, and his contrite reply put an end to the discussion as they searched.

Alexander was right. Half an hour wasted looking for a hiding place in that house and not a thing to show for it, Chief cursed to himself. They should've been in and out, got this damn mission over with a half-hour sooner.

Jacob chirped, far too cheerily for the gloomy evening, "How much we got left, Chief?"

Chief's tone was sullen, resigned. "We got five more blocks to cover."

Hopefully, Jacob pressed. "Think 43 or 45've found her yet?"

"Naw. We would've been radioed."

Alexander and Wolfgang shook their heads at each other as Jacob continued to needle. "Chief, last time they did-"

Cutting him short, Chief's temper finally snapped. "Jake, God help me, we're gonna check the damn houses even if they find her. We're doin' this right. Stop hopin' and get to workin'."

"Sorry, Chief. Sorry."

"Damn right. Now come on."

Four blocks remained when they came to the house. A courteous knock at a door, and a suspicious eye peering out. "Sir, we're with the constab—"

"I haven't seen anything tonight, sirs, and I can't help you."

"Excuse me?"

"There's nothing I can help you with. Have a good evening."

Only Chief's boot in the doorway prevented it from closing.

"We'll be inspecting the premises now, sir."

"I- I- of course."

Shouldering into the door, it opened with only token resistance as the team brusquely strode past the man. The terseness of the initial conversation spoke volumes, and muscles tensed as the small squad prepared for a confrontation.

The confrontation never came. It was anticlimax defined, as they searched the house. The spatial anomaly was textbook - a bookcase pushed in front of a door, hiding an extension to the house that never could have fit. A terrified little girl, huddled in the corner, sobbing helplessly as Chief picked her up. The rest of the team screened the family out - they would be processed as well, screened for potential abnormalities, but in all likelihood they would simply be dosed with amnesiacs and released, Alex told himself as he pushed the defeated-looking father away.

"We've been looking for you for some time, young lady."

She didn't respond, but her father did. His voice was almost disbelieving, each word exacting its brutal toll on him. "Two years, now. Two years we've been hiding."

Jacob spoke up. "That's over now, sir. I'm sorry it had to be this way."

Chief cut in before the father had a chance to formulate a reply. "We are too. Four, hit the radio, let 43 and 45 know what the situation is."

Wolfgang shrugged apologetically. "Can't, Chief, they don't speak German, only Dutch and English."

"Get Alex to do it, then, I don't give a shit."

"Got it, Chief."

The father stepped back, hit a wall, and slowly began to sink down. Rather than speak, his chest began to heave with sobs. While Alexander contacted MTF-A-43 and 45, the Chief carried the young woman out.






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