A/N: So, here we are. Maybe a bit early, but then I did say 'by the end of the month'. ^^; Slight crossover with the TV show Numb3rs, but only in the sense that Ian Edgerton isn't an OC; given that this is set about fifteen years before that series begins, there's no background info needed. I disclaim him, is all.
This fic is rated M for excessive and severe swearing; if God's name being taken in vain disturbs you, then you should probably leave.
Finally, massive thanks to IC Ghost for the beta.
THE ROOKIE'S HANDBOOK TO CONSPIRACY THEORY
Part 1: A Step-by-Step Guide To MacGyvering A Black Hawk
‘“Rangers lead the way”, they say, “Rangers lead the way”. Well, not without a ’Stalker to take ’em places, they fucking don’t!’
Ian’s mouth rose at the corner as he listened to the grumpy stream of words coming from somewhere behind him. ‘Are you unhappy with our position, Sparky?’ he asked in a low, deadpan voice, enough to carry to his friend and no further. The swarthy man was prone at the top of a dune, in the lee of half a building’s weathered ruin and covered in a dust-colored tarp. Chances were there was no one near enough to hear, but the desert tended to carry sound well.
He heard a rustle of movement but didn’t need to turn to know that Sparky was giving him a one-fingered salute, and he chuckled silently. A second later, his friend’s deep voice drifted to him once again.
‘An’ if you call me that again, Eagle-Eye, I’ll fucking shoot you myself and say it was enemy fire.’
‘If you say so.’ Captain Ian Edgerton scanned the twilit horizon, his night-vision scope making every shadow and dip in the sand eerily green, and spotted distant movement on a ridge. He couldn’t see whose people it was, similar as the uniforms were at this distance, though they were too far from the Humvee wreck to have been the infantry riding it—though if anyone had survived they’d be long gone by now.
He told Sparky anyway, murmuring across the small sandy basin in which his friend’s downed helo rested. His news was received with a curse.
‘I’m workin’ as fast as I damn well can, Ian.’
‘Then you clearly need more incentive.’ If the people on the distant ridge came much nearer, he’d have it for certain.
‘You’re askin’ me to MacGyver a fucking Black Hawk, Eagle-Eye, but I ain’t got the parts to put her back together again!’
Ian knew nothing about helicopters, but he knew that was something he didn’t want to hear. He’d been looking forward to get out of the damned desert. If he hadn’t signaled them for extraction Sparky wouldn’t have been downed and his co-pilot killed by the machinegun-fire that took them, but he’d still have needed to be picked up before his recon, such as it was, was any use. Hindsight screws with everyone.
‘Can we walk it?’
He knew the answer already, so wasn’t surprised by the snort which answered him.
‘Without the Princess, between the cold and the insurgents we marked prowling around—and shooting us down—we’d never make the distance on foot.’
‘So we find the parts.’
‘In the middle of the desert, Eagle-Eye? Good luck with that!’
‘You need to look down more often when you’re flying, Sparky.’ Ian’s crosshairs traveled over the sand, finding and marking the ruined Humvee once again. ‘I can see a wreck within distance of here.’
A beat of silence. ‘Really?’
‘I realize you had other things on your mind while you crashed, Sparky, but didn’t you wonder why your Humvee tail never picked us up?’
Another beat. ‘Fuck. I’d hoped they just got distracted by the skirmish up north.’
He was talking about the one the other Black Hawks on patrol had been drawn by. Ian had lost his radio to the effects of sand hours ago, so hearing the sound of Black Hawks heading past his location (due for extracting someone else, according to Sparky) had been a godsend—soon turned to disaster when they were marked while at a standstill to let him up. The lieutenant’s radio had gone when he was shot down, so the only grace for rescue was for one of the other Nightstalkers to call it in, but with the fighting going on nearby they were more likely to be listed MIA before anyone could recon the area. And by then they’d more likely to be found by the insurgents themselves. Not a good situation.
‘Sorry, Sparky. It’s north-west, maybe two hundred yards; doesn’t look in too bad a shape, but I haven’t seen any movement. If someone was there they walked away from it.’ Or were forced to. There might not be much left there to scavenge.
‘That close, huh.’ Sparky’s voice was guarded, and Ian knew he was thinking similar thoughts. He sighed. ‘Keep an eye on me, eh?’
‘Don’t fall in any dust puddles and I’ll see what I can do.’
A responding grunt; then there was the sound of movement from behind him and, as Ian put his eye back to the scope, he saw at its corner the shadow that was Lieutenant Marcus Surge creep off into the dunes.
Marcus skidded down the gravelly slope with a curse, hands grazing the dirt and ankle wrenching slightly. Night had fallen properly, as opposed to the twilight it had been when he set out. He and Ian could survive for a while with the emergency supplies from the Princess, but he didn’t put much stock in the ability to survive if the Iraqis came on them and the main force was too far back to rely on a timely rescue. The Rangers and the Nightstalkers generally scouted the front together but it risked leaving them cut off if the enemy managed to separate their patrol lines. Like now.
On the plus side—sort of—the Humvee’s wreck lay at the base of the dune. Smoke still wisped around it, but to Marcus’s relief it looked like its tires had been taken out by machinegun-fire rather than an RPG. The bullet holes trailed up the side and to the front—hence the smoke—but the wreck was in good shape otherwise and probably still had most of its engine.
It was only when he was circling it, cautiously and with his hand on his side-arm, that he smelled the blood and saw, in the beam of his penlight, the red spatter on the metal sides. At least one person had been caught inside it when it was attacked. He paused, taking a shallow breath through his mouth, and went to the door.
A few moments later he came back around to the far side, where the dune sloped back down towards the one he’d crested just a few minutes ago, tucking a dog-tag into his pocket and waving off a few bugs. He slumped down against one of the Humvee’s wheels to rest for a spell, putting his head back against the rubber and wishing vaguely for a cigarette. The area was clear, as far as he could see, and when he’d looked in the vehicle he’d seen that most of the supplies inside had been looted already, which meant that the men who’d survived the attack had already been captured. The Humvee itself was still in one piece, battle damage notwithstanding, and hadn’t been picked apart by salvagers yet.
His stomach rumbled, and he grimaced. Food hadn’t been the first thing on his mind when he crashed, or even the second thing, but now that he’d stopped he was reminded that the last time he’d had a chance to eat was that morning. The only thing he had on him was an energy bar; it would suffice, but he’d have to eat quickly.
He was maybe halfway through the bar when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and tensed, his head snapping around and spare hand falling on the butt of his sidearm. He caught a glimpse of yellow or brown just before it vanished beneath the meager space beneath the Humvee’s carriage (sunk into the sand as it was) and let out a breath.
Some kinda rodent.
He went back to eating, keeping his eyes alert and his ears perked.
Slowly his head turned, and he blinked. Standing upright beside the Humvee was a yellow rat of truly horrendous size. It may have been more disturbing if he was sure it actually was a rat, given that it was topped by two long, brown-tipped ears, like a rabbit’s, or the fact that its slightly kinked tail was furry, rather than hairless like a normal rat’s, or the nearly clown-ish red circles of—skin?—on its cheeks. He was struggling to decide if it really was a rat, or a rabbit, or some hideous cross-breed, and trying to remember whether there had been any nuclear testing in Kuwait (because he was damn well staring at some kind of mutant) when its ears twitched. That was when he realized that one of them was hanging lower than the other, fur matted red.
It was wounded.
And eyeing off his energy bar.
‘Chuuuuu …’ it whimpered, the sound utterly pathetic as it hunched in on itself, and he glimpsed the thin ribs in its scrawny sides. If he didn’t know any better he’d think the thing was deliberately trying to scam some food from him, but it was a fucking mutant rat, and a starving, injured one at that; of course it looked pathetic.
Marcus never had been one to kick a downed dog. With a resigned sigh he tore a decent hunk off his bar and tossed at the animal. Its nose twitched and it came down on all fours, sniffing for the food while keeping a wary eye on him. He expected it retreat back under the Humvee as soon as it had the food in paw; instead it just plopped itself down with a grunt and started to eat.
Marcus blinked again and made a mental note to research nuclear testing in Kuwait before going back to what was left of his meal. They must have cut an interesting scene, he thought ruefully as he clicked off his light; man and mutant rat, sharing a meager dinner in companionable silence beside the wreck of a war-torn Humvee.
When he was done he just sat quietly for a few minutes, tucking the bar’s wrapper back into a pocket and watching the rat sniff the loose ground for any crumbs before licking off its paws. It was kinda cute, he had to admit, in a scrawny, underfed sort of way. He’d have added ‘oversized’, but it wasn’t, really. It was bigger than any rat he’d seen but the wrong shape in build for a rabbit or hare, and yet despite its size the size didn’t look unnatural on it.
Maybe it’s just some undiscovered species. He was in the middle of nowhere.
In any case, he’d wasted enough time, so he heaved himself to his feet, staying low, and checked his surroundings before pulling a knife and carefully prying up the wrecked Humvee’s hood. He needed to stand to see into it, to assess the damage and see if there was anything he could salvage to repair the Black Hawk with, but he stuck to the side and kept low to present less of a target.
Minutes passed. He managed to pry several things loose—wires, bolts, connective ports—to take back with him. The main problem was power; the helo’s battery was buggered all to hell. And so, he saw as he reached in and pulled it out at last, was the Humvee’s.
Fuck. He dropped his hand and let his head droop to his arm with a thud. Without power, they couldn’t move. Without power, the Princess was dead, and there was no chance anyone would come back to salvage her even if they made it back on foot.
The shrill cry made his head jerk up and instinctively he threw himself to the side as the over-loud rattle of gunfire cut the night. Sparks rained down on him as bullets impacted the steel side of the Humvee; heart pounding, he covered his head and crawled away as fast as he could, his fingers groped for his sidearm.
The machinegun-fire stopped and he pushed himself up. Drawing his Glock, he aimed it in the direction of the attack in a smooth motion and prayed that sand hadn’t jammed it.
He only got two shots off before there was movement to his side and he ducked. The butt of a machinegun glanced off the back of his head and for a pain-filled moment the world spun around him; he tried to stand and lurched, falling against the Humvee.
Shaking off the disorientation, he looked up at two figures shadowed by the night and packing those annoying AK47s. His sidearm was still in his hand and he raised it automatically, but what the fuck could a 9 mil do against a couple of assault rifles?
Movement beside him made him flinch away; a weight bounded off his knee and a small shape hurtled at the men. He had time for a brief, hysterical note to himself never to feed an energy bar to a mutant rat again, because it apparently made them rabid, when the air was lit with a bolt of electricity, scored by the shriek of a suddenly frightening beast and the screams of dying men.
Silence fell. Marcus sat up slowly, blinking against the after-image burned into his retinas and breathing through his mouth to ward off the unmistakable smell of burned flesh. For a moment he was suspended, dazed, in time—then a small hopping figure appeared on his knee.
He flinched and jerked away, shaking the thing off him and pointing his gun at it as it hit the sand with a grunt.
What the fuck is this thing?!
His hand still shaking slightly with adrenaline, he stared, white-faced, at the mutant rat past the barrel of his gun. It picked itself up, looking irritated—could mutant rats look irritated?—the round fur-less patches on its cheeks still sparking slightly and looking redder than they had before. For a moment they stared at each other, Marcus’s brain turning over frantically.
It saved me.
Twice: first by warning him that there was someone behind him and then by electrocuting the two enemy soldiers. Electrocuting them. The fucking thing could generate electricity.
… wait, what?
He didn’t get a chance to follow that thought through but it didn’t matter anyway because it had pretty much burst fully-formed into his head. In the same instant the night air carried the sound of foreign shouts to him; without a thought he was on his feet, jamming the gun back into its holster and snatching up his penlight and the meagre, scattered pile of parts before turning back to the rat. It wasn’t standing in the sand where he’d left it, and for a moment his heart fluttered and he panicked; then—
—he saw it perched on the edge of the Humvee, tail and ears twitching and haloed by static.
Oh fuck no, he ain’t wasting whatever charge he has left before he powers my Princess!
With his spare hand he snatched the rat up by the scruff of its neck, unable to restrain a yelp of pain—echoed by the rat’s grunt of surprise—as his fingers twinged with static. Then, tucking the wriggling rat beneath his arm, he turned and sprinted (staggered) off into the night, wondering when the fuck he was gonna wake up in some Iraqi’s cell and how he was gonna explain a mutant, electricity-generating rat/rabbit hybrid to Ian.
Ian scanned the dunes with his rifle, the night-scope tingeing everything a brighter green than it had in the twilight. He could still see Marcus’s figure moving towards the Humvee and kept his sights on the lieutenant, but there wasn’t much good keeping an eye on him if he didn’t see trouble coming beforehand. Best if he could keep it from reaching the other man at all.
He shivered, then steadied his slightly-trembling hands; a chill had fallen with the night, and although the sniper still had his gear from his recon trip it was still damned cold. He hoped Marcus kept moving; the sand will have retained some heat for the journey to the wreck, but most of that would be gone by the time he came back.
Movement captured his attention, just tipping a sand dune not far from the wreck—Marcus had vanished, but Ian could see a beam of light flickering intermittently around the basin where he was. Ian trained his sight on the motion to the side, keeping his breathing even and hands steady. They weren’t allies, he could see; their clothes weren’t uniforms as much as mismatched clothes pretending to be so, and their hair and faces—what he could see of them—were distinctly Middle Eastern. They were frighteningly close to Marcus, but they weren’t getting any closer … for the moment.
He switched his view to Marcus once again, and his gut chilled at the sight of a group of figures creeping up on the wreck—and the beam of light was steady, indicating that Marcus hadn’t seen them.
He didn’t really think about it; a moment after this realization he had a target in his sight and caressed the trigger. There was no gunshot, his rifle silenced as it was; he was a scout, there was no point in advertising his presence with noise. He almost regretted it now—what the hell was Sparky doing?!
A distant figure fell. He chambered another round, finding and downing a second target, and then a third, when the final two reached the wreck and took unknowing refuge in its shelter. The sound of gunfire hit the night, followed by the sound of a 9 mil. Ian was still searching for contact when a sudden white burst burned his night-scope green and staticky, and he pulled away with a bitten-off oath, blinking rapidly against the residual shapes lingering before his vision.
When it had cleared he was back on the sight, and his jaw tensed; the group over the dune were shouting, moving toward the wreck. When he flashed across to it he was relieved to see a figure in full sprint toward the helo.
The crosshairs drifted back towards the dune, and grimly he chambered a round and rested his finger on the trigger.
Marcus heard them first. He didn’t bother to look around, knew better than to; he just trained his eyes on the stars he’d used to mark Ian and the Princess’s location once night fell and kept going. The mutant rat was stuffed down the front of his flightsuit to make it easier for him to run, the animal some weird tumor of heat at his chest.
He never actually heard the warning shout, the one which would tell him they’d seen him, but he marked it when one of their voices cut off suddenly and was followed by angry and panicked yells. He grinned viciously.
That’s Eagle-Eye for ya.
He crested a dune and found himself looking down on the sleek black figure of his Black Hawk; he couldn’t see Ian, but then the man’s low voice came from somewhere to his left, near a crumbling line of bricks.
‘Nice of you to join me.’
‘Shaddup,’ Marcus growled in response, skidding down the dune and nearly colliding with the Princess’s hull.
‘Don’t take your time, Sparky,’ Ian warned, echoed by the faint chambering of a round, but Marcus just grunted in reply, scrambling into the cockpit and, ignoring the body of his co-pilot still strapped into the chair, dropping to where the helo’s engine was spilled across the floor. He worked quickly, removing the blown battery and rerouting everything so none of it would blow (hopefully) once they were in the air. He couldn’t hear any more shouts, only the faint click as Ian chambered round after round and the slight whoosh as he fired.
Funny, y’always think these things will be loud.
And then it was: machinegun-fire ripped at the top of the dune, and Marcus flinched in surprise, hoping it had missed his Ranger friend—confirmed when, in a lull, he heard the click of the sniper rifle. Hastily he unzipped his flightsuit and yanked the mutant rat out of its impromptu nest by the scruff of its neck. For a moment it blinked at him sleepily; then it yawned.
Marcus didn’t really have time to be incredulous, but he managed it anyway—the fucking thing fell asleep!—as he taped wires to the rat’s cheeks and set it down in the cramped hollow he’d made for it. Considering how charged the animal was, he ran the risk of overpowering half the engine, but he didn’t have any other choice. It shook its head uncomfortably, probing at the wires with some expression which might have been a frown—if mutant rats could have expressions.
‘Okay, rat,’ he breathed, and poked it. ‘Do your sparking thing, we gotta get outta here.’
It tilted its head, and once again Marcus had the vague sense that it knew he was trying to communicate something and was trying to figure out what.
Marcus growled and poked the rat again—and again—and it scowled (there was no other word for it), ears flicking irritably and cheeks sparking. For a moment there was a whir in the engine and the rat jumped, sparking again in alarm and making the engine hum a second time.
‘Go on, that’s it,’ Marcus said, relieved, and poked it again on the belly, but more gently this time. The rat looked at him, surrounded by a definite air of confusion.
‘Yes, c’mon!’ Another poke.
Marcus wasn’t sure what did it. Maybe it was his tone of voice; he used to have a couple of dogs who never responded to his words as much as his tone, and right now his tone was relieved and encouraging whenever the damn rat sparked for him. Or maybe it just got annoyed enough with his poking. Or maybe—and Marcus couldn’t shake this feeling, no matter how much he told himself that surely animals couldn’t really understand the urgent complexity of a situation like this—but there was something so very intelligent in its eyes that he thought that, maybe, it understood the situation after all.
Whatever the reason, it sparked again, and this time didn’t stop, a low hum of a grunt coming from it and its face screwing up as it concentrated, sitting on the metal floor. The helo’s engine turned over, its rotors starting to spin, and Marcus hastily replaced the side—loosely—to protect him from stray static. He heaved himself into his chair, snatching up his helmet and strapping himself in. He could barely hear the sound of shouts outside, his fingers flying over the console, but he couldn’t miss the pounding of the wall behind him that he hoped was Ian signaling he was in and not an Iraqi deciding to massacre his Princess.
Marcus didn’t hesitate; the helicopter rose into the air, lurching and lumbering and not at all graceful or steady, spinning in the direction of the UN’s collective forces to the vain symphony of machinegun-fire behind it.
To be continued in Part 2: Five Reasons Why Mutant Rats Don't Belong On A Military Base