Captain XO So how is it that an Evangelical Christian and his family ended up at Wick, with a direct association with the Airship Renegade and its crew of air pirates? Glad you asked.
The McCall family
Andrew “Redleg” McCall, Chief Gunnery Officer of the Renegade
Wife Talia McCall, married 20+ years
Oldest daughter Morgan, 18yrs
Youngest daughter Grace, 15yrs
The sounds of music and singing rang from the walls of the church as the parishioners sang the closing hymn. Andrew liked this particular song; it always helped him to focus on the pastor’s message and prepare to leave for the week. His family seemed to enjoy it as well – at least everyone was singing along – and no one was faking their enthusiasm. His daughters with their soprano and alto tones, his wife’s contra-alto, and Andrew’s tenor mixed well together, at least in his own mind. Church was always a special time for the family to be together, especially since Andrew had been gone for the last couple of weeks with the Renegade on its latest mission.
The song ended with the pastor giving a final benediction before he made his way to the doors to greet everyone as they left. Andrew watched as everyone gathered their things while he helped his wife Talia with her coat, then the family moved into the line of people, exchanging some greetings with others in the church.
“So, Andrew, where were you last Sunday? We missed you.” Andrew turned to see Steven Pare, a fellow member of the church, a local reporter, and someone from outside the Renegade that he could call a friend. “Oh, you know, just flitting about catching the sights on another one of our Captain’s pleasure cruises,” Andrew replied with a smile.
“Yeah, right, and I’m sure you don’t know a thing about a casino heist in Cypress, hmm?” asked Steven.
A slight smile crossed Andrew’s face as he thought of the mayhem that the Bold Air Hussars had caused on Cyprus, and the fun the crew had at the Captain XO’s expense when he decided at the last minute to steal a sweet little sailboat and bring it out to the rendezvous point. He swore that it was part of the plan all along, and maybe it was, but when you don’t brief your people on everything, they tend to improvise on their own and then all bets are off as to what happens next. Then Andrew replied, deflecting the question as best he could, “Hey, if you have questions about what the Renegade does, feel free to drop an inquiry with our Public Affairs Officer. You know how she loves to brag about what we do.”
Steven made a face, his last encounter with Sergeant Siobhan O’Leary fresh on his mind. “I would rather walk across broken glass then try to get some straight answers out of her,” Steven replied. “Where do you get these people?”
Andrew had a quip about HR ready to go when Steven’s wife Sarah spoke up from behind them as she was working to keep their three boys together in the line. “Would you two give it a rest? No talking about work on Sunday! You know, day of rest and all that.”
Andrew pointed at Steven and said, “Sorry Sarah, but he started it.”
At that point Andrew’s wife glanced at him, rolled her eyes, and directed her attention to Sarah. “I would have thought that by now my husband would know better than to make such a childish quip, but I can see that isn’t the case.”
“Men, what are we ever to do?” replied Sarah.
“I think they should cook dinner for us.” said Talia.
Sarah nodded in agreement. “I like that idea; it seems like an appropriate penance.”
“Did someone say penance?” Pastor Gary inquired. The line of parishioners had continued during the banter between the two families, and now they were facing the pastor. “My goodness, Andrew McCall, has your life with the Renegade finally caught up with you?” he said with a smile on his face and a knowing twinkle in his eyes.
Andrew shook his head and smiled back at the pastor, who was an American that moved to Scotland long before Andrew and his family joined the church. “If by catching up you’re referring to the fact that I’ve been drafted to cook dinner this evening, then yes Pastor, I am guilty as charged.”
“So, you’re cooking, and I get to pepper you with questions?” said Steven from the side.
Andrew gave him a sharp look and replied “No, you get to bring me pepper when I ask for it while also getting the side dishes together. It’s my turn on the grill after all.”
“Darn it, who made up these rules?” said Steven with an exasperated protest, followed by a wide smile.
Andrew laughed and turned back to the Pastor, “You’re welcome to join us of course.”
“How can I turn that down? I believe Jayne and I can be there by 3, will that be sufficient?”
“Perfect,” Andrew replied, “It’s Steven’s turn to host…”
“What?” said Steven.
“So, we will see you at the Pares’ residence by 3.” Andrew smiled at Steven while Sarah and Talia each muffled a laugh.
The Pastor smiled again. “And let me say that it’s nice to see more of your crewmates attending services. It appears you’re having a positive influence on some of them.”
Andrew got a bit confused and looked around. He didn’t remember seeing anyone from the Renegade during the service. Some visitors who were probably tourists, but no crew. He turned back to the pastor and asked, “Who are you referring to Pastor, I think I missed them.”
“Well there were a couple of gentlemen sitting further back behind you, they arrived after we started and looked a bit uncomfortable. I’ve never seen them before, but they didn’t look like the normal tourists that were sitting near you. I don’t see them now; they must have ducked out during the closing music.”
“I’m sure they’ll grab me during the week” replied Andrew. He shook the pastor’s hand again, glanced around one more time, noticed their kids had already snuck around the conversation and headed to the car on their own, then headed out with Talia. After walking out, Andrew and Talia waved to the Pares as they arrived at their Range Rover, only to find Morgan in the driver’s seat, a smile on her face, with Grace sitting next to her doing her best to appear angelic.
“I think we’re being chauffeured to lunch” said Talia.
Andrew was still looking around trying to spot the two who the Pastor had been referring to, but most people were heading out and he didn’t notice anyone milling around. He looked up to see his girls, and all he could do was smile. “Ok, who am I to argue.” He opened the back door of the Range Rover to help Talia in, then he walked around to the other side, still looking around but not seeing anyone. Why was he suddenly uneasy? It was over two years since Utah and nothing had happened since they had arrived in Wick, courtesy of the Renegade. No news that would put the family on someone’s radar, no intel that anyone was looking for them here, nothing to indicate that “normal” wasn’t normal anymore.
Thinking he was just being paranoid, but deciding that it wouldn’t hurt to be cautious, Andrew realized that this would be a good time for Morgan to get in some practice. Decided, yeah right, his kids had already decided who was driving, Andrew was a passenger at this point. At least this way he could act like he was in charge by giving Morgan some instructions about how he wanted her to drive. Plus, as a passenger he could keep a better eye out and call the S2 without also having to worry about driving.
“Ok Morgan, take us to the Pares’ residence, but I want you to assume you are being followed, so drive appropriately.”
Morgan gave a chuckle. “Alright, one evasive and round-about route coming up. Help me navigate little minion.”
“Aye aye, Captain!” said Grace with great deal of enthusiasm. “You are clear to the left, let’s go.”
Morgan put the Range Rover in gear and started to drive, taking turns at random, but only the turns that would keep her going in the general direction of the Pares’. Grace kept up a running commentary on the pattern of traffic to their front and announcing when lanes were clear for Morgan to change lanes or turn.
“Any particular reason why she should take this kind of route?” asked Talia in a low voice, hoping to keep the girls from hearing her.
“Practice,” replied Andrew and he took her hand, “and just in case. Something doesn’t feel right but I’m not exactly sure why.” He shrugged and kept looking around at their surroundings.
Talia looked a little worried. The Pastor’s comments about Renegade crew and Andrew’s nervousness did not lend itself to being reassured. “You don’t think there were any crew in the service, do you?” she asked. She had gotten pretty good at picking out Renegade crew members whenever she was in town, though she never confronted any of them to ask.
“It’s always possible, but it’s not that easy to find a Baptist church in Scotland. I would expect a crewmember that wanted to go to Church here would end up in one of the many Presbyterian Churches first. Plus, I make it a point to put eyes on all the crew so I know who they are, and I don’t remember seeing anyone today.”
Still not reassured, Talia decided a direct question was best. “Do you think we’ve been found?” she said with a bit of nervousness in her voice.
“Babe, I don’t know” Andrew replied with complete honesty, “but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. We’ve been here for two years and nothing has gotten me nervous yet. Well except for having two daughters of dating age that is.”
“Hey, Daddy?” said Morgan.
“Yes, Princess?” Andrew replied, looking forward towards his daughters.
“First of all, I heard all of that, and second there may be a car following us” Morgan said matter-of-factly.
Andrew got still in his seat but continued to look around as casually as he could. “Why do you think they are following us?”
“They’ve made the last 2 turns with us after pulling in from a spot along the road, and yes, I’m being pretty random with my driving.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed, good job. What kind of car?
“It’s a dark sedan, I can’t really see the driver to describe him, but there are at least two people in the vehicle, driver and passenger.”
“Ok, make your next turn as soon as you can, I’ll turn around to eyeball them after you do.”
“Yes sir, coming up.”
Morgan made a right, taking the Range Rover down a new street, this one a secondary road that fed into the A99, one of the main highways through Scotland. Andrew immediately looked back over his right shoulder, his left hand pulling free the Beretta Px4 Sub-Compact from his waist holster and he held it down at his side. A black sedan crossed through the intersection a couple of seconds later, not making the turn. The driver did not turn his head at all, but the passenger was definitely looking around at them. Andrew couldn’t tell if there was anyone in the back seat.
“Good call, Morgan.” Andrew said while still watching the rear. “I’m not certain there’s a problem, but you did the right thing.”
“Do you want me to pull over and we switch places?” Morgan replied.
Andrew started to get out his cell phone. “No, keep driving. Be a bit more direct in the route, only turn off onto routes with traffic. Everyone else, get ready, just in case.”
“Got it,” said Morgan as Grace and Talia started to grab their own firearms. Talia had her own Px4 Sub, while Grace had recently started using a Ruger SR22. She was getting better with her mom’s Berretta, but still not proficient enough to carry her own. The family had drilled this before, and Andrew liked how everyone simply complied. Pistols came out, safeties were checked, and extra magazines placed where they could be grabbed easily. Morgan kept driving, but Andrew knew that her Glock 26 was within easy reach under her skirt in a thigh holster while her own extra magazines were in her purse.
Andrew pulled up the Renegade S2 section on his phone and hit the number. It rang twice and then he heard “This is Jerri.” Awesome. It was the actual S2 and not one of her staff. Jerri only took on the sharpest intel personnel, but most of them were focused on the Renegade’s own High Payoff Target list; Payoff being literal in terms of cash value. She had a few others that tracked military and police forces, but Jerri was the only one that really did counterintelligence for the crew, if you didn’t count the Captain. If anything was afoot in Wick, then she would know about it.
“Deuce, it’s Redleg.” Andrew glanced around as Morgan made the turn onto the busier street. Nothing caught his eye immediately.
“Good morning Redleg, what can I do with you? Have you finally realized that your church is really part of the brotherhood of the Illuminati and now you want to renounce it?”
Andrew could hear the smile, and any other day he would happily engage in the banter, but not today.
“You’re on the right track. It does involve my Church, but visitors, not members. Are you tracking anything in Wick that should be making me nervous?” He looked around again and locked in on what looked like the same vehicle waiting at the next intersection.
Andrew heard Jerri get serious. “Besides the usual that you attend an Evangelical church in Scotland? No, what do you have?”
“Black Audi, tinted rear windows, at least 2 pax.” Andrew followed the vehicle as they drove past, it turned to follow them. “Church pastor thought some crew were in the service today, but I never saw anyone I recognized, then my oldest noticed a vehicle following us. We E&E’d away but they just pulled back in behind us. It doesn’t feel right.”
He heard Jerri typing furiously as he talked. “No, I don’t blame you. It doesn’t sound right to me either.” She paused and Andrew heard more typing, before she spoke again. “I’ve got nothing more than the typical reports of reporters and intel types trying to get info on us. Nothing that may be targeting you or anyone else specifically. Why would anyone in Wick be following you?”
Andrew took a deep breath, then he replied. “Jerri, widen your search parameters to include a cult called Gilead.”
“What?” That request caught Jerri off-guard. “Isn’t that the group that The Handmaiden’s Tale show is based on? Somewhere in Utah last I heard?”
Andrew could hear more typing and he knew she was going to need a more detailed explanation from him, but that would have to wait. “Yes it is, yes they are, and I’ll explain later. Right now I just need to confirm or deny my own paranoia.”
“Ok, let me…”
Andrew didn’t hear the rest as suddenly Grace screamed. “CAR!” followed by Morgan yelling “BRACE!” He ducked his head and grabbed the seat, the phone momentarily forgotten while his wife did the same. Then the crash and the windows on his side shattered, showering the inside with glass. They didn’t roll, whoever hit them didn’t T-bone the Range Rover, but they did broadside them on the left side. He felt the car braking as Morgan fought to keep control. Apparently, the lessons she got from Matt, the former law enforcement officer now turned Air Pirate, were paying off. Andrew felt the bumps of the curb and then the vehicle started to bog down in the grass.
They stopped moving, and Andrew’s head came up. He saw an SUV, a Mercedes by the look of it, not too far away with side impact damage and a weapon pointed out of the rear passenger window. “GUN!” Andrew yelled and he lifted his own weapon, flipped off the safety, and fired two quick rounds at the other vehicle, before ducking down to make a quick evaluation of the situation. “Talia!” Andrew yelled in question to his wife.
“I’m good,” she replied as she glanced out of her side of the car but not seeing anything immediately threatening. “Morgan?”
“That was fun! Did you see how I kept the car upright and didn’t lose control? Oh, and I’m fine!” yelled Morgan. She sounded way too giddy for someone whose life was currently in mortal danger, but that was better than the alternative of screaming hysterics.
“I agree with Morgan, that was fun,” shouted Grace, “but I think we need a music soundtrack next time…MORE GUNS!”
Grace lifted her Ruger to point it towards the right windows, leaning back some to avoid her sister, but held her fire. Andrew popped up again, looked out the left side, and saw two men with weapons drawn approaching the vehicle, neither one looked like police. Again, the Beretta came up and he fired off another two rounds, targeting the guy on the left. He saw his target fall as the other guy jumped towards the hood of the SUV. Andrew started to turn, trying to get a shot off at him when he heard both doors on the right side being jerked open, and arms reached in to grab Talia and Morgan.
A shot rang out, and the goon coming after Talia collapsed onto the ground while she kept her weapon trained out the same side, looking for another target. Up front, Grace screamed and fired several shots from her Ruger. Her target fell as well, but a side part of Andrew’s brain wasn’t sure if it was from the bullets, fright, or laughter. The guy at the hood of the car came up to see what the screaming was about, and Andrew fired another two round that spun him around and he dropped.
“Morgan!” yelled Andrew, “Get us out of here!” He started to swivel around to see who else may be around and saw his first target rising back up and taking aim at him. Andrew’s pistol came back up, and this time he aimed a little higher letting the recoil bring his sight-picture higher still so his next shot caught the goon in the neck. Again, he staggered and fell, but only to his hands and knees. “I think these guys are on something!” Andrew yelled, then he put what he hopped would be a final round through the crown of his target’s head. He fell over onto his side.
With that shot, the slide locked back on an empty chamber. Andrew started to shift his weapon in order to change magazines, when a hand reached up, grabbed the weapon, and pulled it down to wrench it away. Andrew’s first though was that the guy from the hood of the car had apparently crawled up and was now trying to take away the pistol. His second though was one of astonishment since he had punched two rounds into him. What the heck were these guys on? Captain XO required his crew to be proficient with firearms, and Andrew took it seriously. He knew he hit the guy by the hood with two rounds in the upper part of his chest. Even if he had body armor, they were high enough to get past it, or at least knock the wind out of him for a few minutes instead of seconds.
Then the Range Rover jerked forward and started to turn left, but it felt wrong and Andrew wasn’t certain they would get far at all. The guy outside still had a grip on the Beretta, and unfortunately leverage was moving in his favor. Andrew was debating if he should let go or not when he caught a glimpse of another vehicle racing in to crash into their left front. It happened too fast to do anything, and the combination of the crash and the goon pulling down on his pistol caused Andrew to pitch out of the window. Instinct took over and he tucked as best he could in order to roll out of the fall, except his legs were flaying wildly and a college tumbling class was far in his past, so instead he had to settle with a controlled crash to the ground on his back.
In addition to contributing to Andrew’s removal from the Range Rover, the crash also caused Grace to slam into the dashboard, knocking her out. Her Ruger flew out of her hands and dropped onto the seat next to Morgan, who scooped it up and looked frantically for a spare magazine rather than trying to get under her church coat and dress so she could retrieve her Glock. Grace had just reloaded, but with the additional vehicle that meant more bad guys and Morgan would prefer to have more than the 10-round magazine at the ready. Talia also saw the new arrivals and yelled “You watch this side, I’ll get the new guys”, and with that she fired methodically and non-stop at the attackers that emerged from the right side of the new vehicle while Morgan began firing double-taps at those on their side.
Talia hated guns, and she hated shooting. Andrew made everyone practice, and she agreed with the reasons why considering the circumstances of their escape from Utah two years ago, but she still didn’t like it. The smell of the gunpowder, the loud cracks, and the jerk of the pistol in her hands were not things she enjoyed. Despite that, she was determined to never be a victim again. Each round that she fired was deliberately aimed at the face of one of the attackers that were coming for her family. Andrew would disapprove, but she couldn’t hit anything if she just aimed center-mass like he tried to teach her. So, she started to picture those that had attacked them in Utah, specifically the leadership, and aiming for their smug, leering faces.
It worked. She found that with an incentive like that, she was able to center herself and her accuracy improved dramatically.
With four rounds, Talia dropped the four that emerged from the new vehicle and were advancing on Grace’s door. Then she spotted one more target, someone facing away and headed towards Andrew, so she turned and fired, and then the slide locked back on an empty magazine. She started looking for a spare when hands reached in and grabbed her from behind. At that moment she realized Morgan had also stopped shooting.
Andrew’s first thought after crashing onto his back is that he still had his hands on his pistol. Knowing that the guy that helped pull him out of the Range Rover was still holding onto it as well, he immediately rolled over to his left and broke the other guy’s grip. Then he planted his right hand down, brought his left leg in, and pushed off to lunge forward and pistol-whip the guy as hard as he could.