To Save the Worlds - Chapter 3

To Save the Worlds
by Monica Rose

Chapter 3

There were a couple of additional salutes to the lost soldiers before Alexa was able to break away. Losing a teammate had always been difficult for Michael and it affected Alexa just as hard. She was essentially on the outside looking into a mission that had gone very wrong.

Mission planning to reduce, if not avoid, casualties had been something Michael excelled at. He insisted that all members of his squad follow the plan unless it became absolutely necessary to deviate. That let everyone know where each member of the team would be and what they would be doing.

Having paid her respects, Alexa returned to her room to change clothes again. She had not realized that women changed clothes so often. She found the door to her room open and Luk was in the process of closing up one of her suitcases.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said as he turned and bowed to her. "L instructed me to pack for you." The small god had an embarrassed expression when she looked into her bureau and saw that he had not packed the contents. She appreciated that he had chosen to respect her privacy and suppressed her amusement at the thought that Luk was like a typical guy to not to want to touch her unmentionables. Even though she herself really had not had time to get used to having lady unmentionables.

"Thank you, Mr. Luk," she said with a smile. Alexa already understood how an instruction from L was an order that was to be obeyed without question. She gently pushed Luk out of her bedroom and quickly changed into comfortable clothes that she knew she would be in for most of the coming day. She then packed a suitcase with the contents of her bureau drawers, leaving the more exotic items of her wardrobe behind, and another small case to hold her toiletries. She found herself adding some items that would never have found their way into Michael's shaving kit. She was definitely not looking forward to that-time-of-the-month, even though she could bring up the knowledge of what she could expect and how to deal with it. She thanked L or Peace for that.

Luk moved her luggage into the elevator and they went down to the lobby. L was waiting for her and handed her a briefcase, telling her that it contained plane tickets, mission briefing reports, and military documentation that she would need while she was in London. A brief look also revealed a large bundle of banknotes, with a credit card clipped to the outside.

"You should have an adequate supply of cash for what you might need to do," L said. "The credit card is anonymous and will be safe for you to use as well. You will find documents that will give you entry to the American military bases in Europe and your passport will get you past customs agents without a problem. You will be met in London."

L stopped, but Alexa could tell that he was not done speaking. She stood waiting instead of turning toward the door. He continued gravely, "Be careful, Alexa. Nyx and Erebus do not have a great number of adherents, but they have corrupted many people strictly through the promise of money or power. Trust your instincts to protect you both."

She nodded solemnly in acknowledgement before she turned away and left the hotel. Outside, Luk and Kamel were just finishing the process of putting her bags into the cab. She smiled at Luk in passing and stepped into the cab as Kamel held the door for her.

There was no conversation this time between Kamel and Alexa during the entire trip to the airport. She passed the time reviewing her plane tickets and passport. Once they reached the airport, Kamel pulled up at the curb in order to unload her bags. Once he was finished and had turned them over to the curbside check-in desk, Kamel bowed slightly to Alexa and said, "Good luck and good hunting, my dear."

Alexa returned his slight bow and responded, "Thank you, sir. I hope to see you again soon." Then Kamel was gone and she turned to the building.

* * * * *

She made her way to the airline counter and checked herself in for her flight. She found that her diplomatic passport also allowed her to bypass the security checkpoint and she headed into the labyrinth of corridors to find her departure gate.

She sensed that she was attracting attention as she walked through the concourse. The unwanted stares she received from male travelers creeped her out at first and Alexa was very aware of the fact that this was the first time she had been out in public since her transformation. The sway of her hips and the slight bounce of her breasts was completely new to her but felt natural as well. She had enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror after her shower earlier and she knew that she was attractive. She got used to it all quickly enough, knowing that she would not see these people again.

Arriving at the departure gate for her flight, she found the waiting area segregated so that the first-class passengers had a separate lounge to wait in. That meant that she would not be boarding with the passengers further back in the plane. She already knew she belonged in the first-class lounge, but she had to show her boarding pass to an employee who was acting as a gate guard for this section. Out of habit, she scanned the lounge, noting that she was briefly the center of attention again.

Having no place to set her carry-on items, she took over two seats off to the side, laying her garment bag over the seat beside her. She opened her purse to double-check what she was carrying with her. There were the feminine items that had made her pause earlier. In addition to her phone and passport, she saw her various makeup supplies that Luk must have grabbed from the top of her dressing table at some point.

Alexa was interrupted from her inventory by a deep voice asking, "Is this seat taken?"

She looked up to see a dark-haired young man looking down at her with a smile spread across his face. She was immediately on guard as she knew he had been sitting on the other side of the lounge when she walked in. There was also an excess of empty seats, so he had no need to sit right next to her. The man's expression seemed to say that she was expected to be happy to talk to him. The fact that he wanted to sit down beside her could only mean that he wanted to chat her up. Having no good excuse to reject him, she could only shake her head in the negative.

The intruder wasted no time taking his seat and trying to strike up a conversation. "Hi. My name is Mason," he said, half-turning toward her.

The only options available to her were to either take her belongings and retreat or talk to him. She opted to stay where she was and turned toward him a bit. "Hello." She could see being polite, but she did not want to encourage him to continue the conversation.

Mason was obviously experienced with approaching members of the opposite sex because he did not allow Alexa's less than welcoming behavior to put him off.

His tone was playful as he said, "You know, when someone introduces themselves, it's customary to introduce yourself back." Because he was smiling when he said it and he did not sound aggressive about her response, he was able to get away with scolding her and take away her ability to be rude without making herself look bad.

An elderly couple were seated not far away and they were close enough to hear any kind of conversation that might take place. As much as she wanted to shut him down, there was no way for her to get rid of Mason without appearing to be obnoxious. She knew that a woman her age would have experience with this kind of thing, but that knowledge was not popping into her head at the moment. She wished that Peace would have thought to help her with that as well.

Giving into the inevitable and unavoidable, Alexa replied, "My name is Alexa." She looked him directly in the eye as she answered him, her expression open. She was content with letting Mason carry the conversation though. If he wanted to talk to her, he was going to have to work for it.

"Are you stopping in London or will you be going further into Europe?" Mason was obviously willing to rise to the challenge.

She saw no reason to conceal where she was going as it would be obvious anyway.

"Just London. I'm not sure if we will be continuing to the continent or not."

"That's great," he replied. "I have business in London that will keep me there for a few days. Are you familiar with London and the area?"

She shrugged, realizing afterward the effect it had on her bust. She rolled her eyes mentally at how she had a lot to learn about her new body. "I am somewhat. I haven't been there in a few years though."

That was obviously an opening that Mason had been hoping for and he jumped at the chance. "I have to be in London every month or so. I'd be glad to show you around."

It was apparent that she needed to manage Mason's expectations a bit and replied, "I will have to see what my situation is. I'm meeting someone there to help them out. I don't know what kind of availability I might have."

Mason was obviously looking for someone to spend time with and he was hoping to get lucky with her. His next gambit was predictable as he tried to impress her. "I understand. I'm an attorney for Remington. We sell ammunition to the Brits and we're always having to work on permits."

Alexa nodded and just tuned out his chatter as he went on to describe the intricacies and excitement of dealing with import/export laws. She had developed the skill over the years as Michael to absorb a mission briefing while ignoring the personal tidbits that were injected by the brass in front of the room. The idea of spending her entire flight to Europe with this guy yakking in her ear held no appeal, so she needed to find a way to discourage him. A very simple solution occurred to her.

When Mason finally ran out of things to make himself look good, kind of like a peacock impressing a prospective mate, he asked her what she did for a living.

"I work in personal security. I keep my clients safe from people who might want their attention or people who might want to hurt them." It was close enough to the truth without breaking her cover.

She met his surprised look with a deadly serious expression. It was obvious that he did not believe her and he said, "You mean you carry a gun and all?"

"Not usually. A good bodyguard doesn't need to be armed."

"Well, I could still show you and your friend around London."

Alexa smiled at Mason's persistence, but she really wanted to be left alone. "I'll have to see what my fianc wants to do when I meet her."

Telling him that she was engaged should certainly get rid of him and she was right. Once he realized that she was attached and a lesbian, Mason made a lame invitation to be a guide if she was interested later and he found a reason to return to where he had been seated previously.

Alexa noticed the elderly couple looking at her with smiles and she smiled back. She shrugged and told them quietly, "Well, it worked." They had seen how uncomfortable she had been and obviously appreciated how she had gotten rid of the creep.

When her flight was called to begin boarding, she found herself called to the desk to be escorted on to the plane first. Alexa had never flown in the kind of luxury that she was presented with as she was shown to her seat. The seats in the first-class section were split so that there were two seats on each side of the wide aisle that ran between them. She was seated at the back of the section and did not appear to have someone seated beside her. A pretty stewardess greeted her as soon as she was seated and offered her a complimentary drink.

Michael had experienced quite a few benders to decompress from a mission, but it had gotten worse during the courts-martial proceedings. Now, she felt no real desire for anything that strong and declined with a smile, opting for a soda instead. Her dress bag was hung for her at the rear of the cabin and she busied herself reviewing the safety information for the first-class compartment.

Her fellow passengers were ushered to their seats as well. The section was close to being full and she saw that Mason was seated several rows ahead of her. It appeared the two of them were the only ones with open seats beside them. He looked back at her a couple of times as if he were considering asking to sit beside her, but he seemed to change his mind.

In the few minutes before the plane started to move, she took out the folder L had given her. She waited to open it while the flight attendants gave their pre-flight orientation for the passengers. She barely noticed the takeoff once she started reading. Most of the background provided had already been given to her by War, but she read through it anyway. Nyx and Erebus appeared to have been operating for a very long time and had now reached a point in their plan where they were preparing for the final stages of their plot. It was only the zealousness and carelessness of some of their minions that had brought the attention of higher powers.

There was only a single sheet of paper that referenced the chaos deities. There were no pictures, only a brief description of what abilities they might possess as mortals. Their basic ability seemed to be that they could corrupt individuals if they were already inclined in that way. They also appeared to be able to manifest rudimentary weapons as needed. Alexa reflected it was good that they had limitations. If they were able to conjure an automatic weapon of some sort, they would be very difficult to even approach.

Opening the envelope that contained Harmony's dossier, she froze. Harmony Moon was very much like she remembered her from their first meeting. There were several pictures of an attractive woman with jet-black hair, styled so that it fell just short of her shoulders, framing her face and accentuating high cheekbones and a heart-shaped face. Harmony's makeup was minimal, but what she wore made her eyes pop.

The write-up that accompanied the pictures said that Harmony had been part of the United Nations Diplomatic Corps for several years, starting out as just an assistant negotiator in the organization and quickly moving up becoming one of their chief negotiators. Alexa could understand how that could happen as the job was known to be rather high stress. Harmony had participated in several political issues across the globe, all of them successfully.

The last bundle of papers in the envelope was the planned itinerary that she and Alexa would follow. Accommodations had already been arranged for them at one of the military bases near London. She would head there when she met up with whoever was to meet her and make sure that everything was ready for the two of them. The tour group Harmony was in hiding with was due to land at Heathrow sometime after her own arrival, so she would need to scramble to be prepared. Except for a name listed at the bottom of the page with a picture, there was a warning to be very careful of who was trusted. For all Alexa knew, some of Harmony's superiors or co-workers could have been compromised.

One of the last things she had been told was that Harmony had contacted her leadership at the U N where she was and when they were to arrive in London. The tour was making scheduled stops on their way up the African continent and they would probably stay ahead of any possible violence that the cultists might plan. Alexa sat back for a moment. Harmony couldn't know that call would probably have alerted their enemies to Harmony's plans. It meant that she and Alexa would be in danger from the moment Harmony's plane landed.

She packed everything back into the envelope and took out a notebook. She and Harmony would need to remain in hiding until they heard from L. Even if she were not kidnapped to be killed ritually, their enemies might decide that just killing her would be acceptable. It seemed to her that killing Harmony might be enough if the other potential avatars had been eliminated. She had no intention of letting that happen though. She began making a list of what would be necessary to ensure their safety for an extended period. When she was done, she stowed her book away and stretched out with a pillow and blanket to get some sleep, frustrating Mason again who glanced back at her occasionally.

While she found herself able to appreciate his looks, she did not find him desirable in any way. That was not to say that there was nothing appealing about him. He was dark haired and it was easy to tell that it was his own hair. He had a strong jaw and nose that looked like he could have modeled for a museum statue somewhere. She was sure that his eyes were green and his teeth were straight. Alexa was more than a little relieved to know that the guy just did not do anything for her. That enabled her to know a lot about her inner workings. She, like Michael, appreciated ladies. She had suspected something like that from the time she had spent in the airport and doing some people watching. She just had time to really analyze her thoughts and feelings now. It also explained why the pictures of Harmony affected her the way they did.

* * * * *

She woke as the plane began its approach into Britain, glad that her sleep had again not been interrupted by her recurring nightmare. Even before she opened her eyes, she sensed a tension among the other dozen occupants in the first-class compartment. While no one was speaking, it was apparent that there was anger in the air. The flight attendant made her passage through the cabin, ordering each passenger to fasten their seat belts. The expression on her face said that she only needed an excuse to physically attack someone, though she immediately changed when she approached Alexa, asking her pleasantly to prepare for landing.

The dynamic around Alexa was totally confusing, until she realized that this was what War had warned her about. Just as Harmony radiated a feeling of friendship and cooperation to those around her, Alexa was doing the exact opposite. This meant that she would need to be careful of how long she spent in the presence of others, assuming that there was some sort of saturation period before everyone around her wanted to riot. While he had never been much of a social person, it was a bit depressing to know that isolation might be wise. She could only hope that this effect would go away when she returned to being Michael.

She was relieved to hear the pilot announce that they should prepare for landing and the plane began the process of landing. Once on the ground, she allowed the other first-class passengers to leave before she left her seat. Hopefully, their feelings of aggression would dissipate when they were no longer in her presence. She debated on changing into her Army-issued uniform and decided to continue in her business attire. It would draw less attention that way.

She thanked the flight attendant as she left the plane ahead of the rest of the passengers and went looking for the baggage claim. After that, it would be working through customs. It turned out that going through customs was not a problem at all because of the diplomatic status conferred upon her by her passport. Most of her time was spent in line behind her fellow passengers. Even with the diplomatic passport she still had to go through the formalities of immigration.

On the other side of the customs section was an Air Force captain waiting for her with a placard showing her name. Recognizing him from the picture in her briefcase, she walked up to him with a smile and showed him her identification. The description that went with the picture explained that he was a staff officer at the base. She thought that might come in handy for anything she might need while she and Harmony were on the base. He was a fairly young man, looking to be twenty-something. Which was unusual for someone of his rank. He was about her own height, which made him just average height for a man. He wasn't too bad looking though. Compared to the guy who had tried to chat her up in New York, she thought that he was pretty good-looking.

"How long will it take us to get to the base, Captain Stoddard?"

"Only half an hour, ma'am. According to the instructions Mr. Logan sent to me, you needed quarters on the base, but somewhat segregated from everyone else. Because of the drawdowns that are taking place, we have a number of houses that have been emptied out. I reserved one of the houses for you until such time as you leave. I need to tell you that no one will know that you are there though."

He gave Alexa the impression that he was eager to please, belying her experience as an officer and she had not seen many officers behave in this way. The reason became apparent once they were underway.

"How do you know Mr. Logan?" Alexa asked. To meet someone halfway around the world who knew of the elder god was a surprise to say the least. That didn't mean that Stoddard knew what L was though.

"I was a runner for a bookie when I was in my teens back in New York. I was sent to collect from someone who had lost a really big bet. I made the mistake of not counting the money when it was given to me, I can't remember why, but it came up a couple of thousand short when I dropped it off. I was already out the door when I realized that they had sent a couple of guys after me. I knew that I was in major trouble and I ran.

"I happened to run into the hotel that Mr. Logan was in charge of to hide. I was in the bathroom hiding when the two thugs they sent after me came in from the street. I guess they weren't very bright because they started yelling and throwing things around while they demanded that they turn me out to them.

"I came out of hiding because I did not want anyone hurt on my account, but I did not see anything wrong when I stepped out. Nothing was broken or out of place. I was sure that I had heard breaking glass and the sounds of things being thrown though. Instead, there was this man standing in the middle of the lobby with two little girls sitting in front of him, looking very scared.

"He looked at me as if he could see right through me and told me that he knew that being willing to turn myself over to the men who had been chasing me was a very brave thing to do. He said that I did not need to worry about that anymore and he asked me to take the two children along to an adoption agency that he knew of. He told me that I would remember him when it was necessary.

"When he called me yesterday, I remembered everything that had happened. It was hard to believe at first."

Alexa smiled wryly at him and said, "I can understand that." She reflected on the fact that she had been a man only a couple of days ago. Who would believe that? The impression L had made upon Stoddard explained his current behavior.

Stoddard was very quiet for a few moments before he continued, "I know that this will sound crazy, but before I met Mr. Logan, I was a girl. I walked out of that hotel as a teenaged boy and never gave it a second thought. I had not even thought about Mr. Logan until I received the phone call yesterday."

She wasn't surprised that others had experienced something like she had. Obviously, L's influence in the world was more than she had thought.

"Captain," she said, "I have seen some strange things in my life. I believe you." Then she changed the subject. "Tell me about the quarters you have for us."

"There are very few residents still in the section of the base where you will be, but none nearby. Everyone is being moved out so that the base can mothball that area, but you will be able to hide there for a few weeks. I have had field rations and bedding delivered and I have put the house on a list as needing to have personal property shipped. That will keep anyone out of there and security patrols will make sure that no one is moving around in there."

"How did you go about blocking the house and getting the supplies in there?"

"I put through the appropriate forms to change the status of the house and a couple of airmen moved the rations into the house. The house is shown as having personal property to be shipped to the next base."

Alexa frowned. That meant that there were individuals other than the captain who were aware that Stoddard had something to do with the location intended to be her safe house. If she had been seen leaving the airport with Stoddard, the cultists she was trying to hide from would make short work of finding herself and Harmony. She had to assume that they were as aware of her as they were aware of Harmony Moon. Possibly even more so because she was a knowledgeable avatar with a closer connection to a god than Harmony. She would need to take steps to protect their safety.

Lost in thought, she paid only a mild interest to the passing landscape. They soon arrived at the base and were waved through the gate by the guard. The guard did not even check that she was authorized to be on the base, which concerned Alexa. It meant that the security she was depending upon might not be as good as she expected.

As they drove through the sprawling base, she said, "Captain, I will need to return to the airport to pick up a member of a United Nations delegation. Could you drop me off and come back in a few hours?"

"Yes, ma'am," the captain replied. He had kept his eyes on the road the entire trip, not being distracted by her appearance. Alexa mused silently that Captain Stoddard was either the consummate gentleman or he really had been born as a girl. Probably both.

They drove for several more minutes, navigating typical residential streets. She could see that there were entire sections of empty buildings. They finally pulled into the driveway of a well-kept ranch-style house and parked under a carport roof.

"This whole area has been vacated, ma'am," Stoddard said as he climbed out of the car. "They have not fenced this section of the base off as yet, but they will get around to it eventually. Security patrols come through here every couple of hours, so you should be okay if you do not show any lights or let yourself be seen."

Alexa had been surreptitiously scanning the surrounding buildings, determining her next step. She saw a couple of possibilities that she could relocate to after Stoddard was gone.

"I assume that everything we need is inside?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. You should have enough for several days, but I can arrange for more when you need it."

Stoddard led her into the kitchen of the house and pointed out the boxes stacked along one wall. He left a few minutes later, promising to be back in a few hours to help her make the pickup at the airport.

Alexa waited long enough for the captain to pull out of the driveway and to have left the area before she moved into action. She had seen a dormitory style building across a field that would provide them with high ground.

Her added strength helped her move everything from the house and into the taller building in just a few minutes. She had been prepared to force an outer door and was happy to find that everything had been left unlocked. Once inside, she scouted the apartments on the top floor to find a spot that could be their base of operations for the foreseeable future. She wanted to make sure that they could see what was around the building and still have a defensible position. Their supplies were quickly moved from the entrance, the effort barely a strain on her.

Satisfied that they would be moderately comfortable with some of the abandoned property left by the previous occupants, Alexa took advantage of the active utilities to shower and get her hair washed. She had found towels in her luggage and gave a silent thank-you to Luk's thoughtfulness. She dressed in casual clothes again to maintain her anonymity as much as she could.

She returned to the house to be picked up by Stoddard. The wait gave her a chance to really think about the whole situation. After the missile attack on the village and the horrific images of the people who had died were shown around the world, Michael had found himself almost starting to believe that he had somehow given a green light to the massacre. The grief he felt had driven him to the brink of ending his own life as if that would somehow atone for his crimes.

A narrative in the papers she had been given explained much of what happened in Afghanistan. Michael's team had been intended to be killed in the missile attack. The plan was to inflame tensions against the presence of foreign military members and his team would not be around to say that they had not ordered the attack. When they had all survived, the plan had been changed to blame Michael. By causing his suicide, he could still be blamed. He had been a stronger individual than had been anticipated and he had foiled Nyx and Erebus' plans. Then events had been contrived by L to lead him directly to Deity Arms and to his current situation. In the face of these revelations, how could he have refused to be the protector for anyone? For L, it must have been a foregone conclusion that Michael would agree to their request. It made her feel like she was a puppet and that other people were pulling the strings.

Her expression tightened in anger at the thought that the attack on that village had been directed at her as well. While the gods in Deity Arms might have known that something like it would happen, they could not be expected to stop all of the horrors in the world, that was something that was the responsibility of the men and women living in the world to do.

She opened the folder she had been given in New York to look at things one more time. Harmony Moon had been successful at negotiating treaties and cease fires across the world. Sadly, those agreements did not always hold for more than a few months. Alexa suspected that these failures were not due to any shortcoming on Harmony's part, but due to the interference of Nyx and Erebus. It was apparent that the two goddesses had been active in the world for a long time, trying to destroy it.

Her reverie was disturbed by the sound of Stoddard's car as he pulled into the carport. She verified that it was Stoddard in the car before she stepped out of the house. As she was now in uniform, they exchanged salutes before she got into the car.

Stoddard was now driving an official looking car with diplomatic plates. When they arrived by the passenger pickup area, he parked in a space marked for official use only.

Before she left the car, Alexa took out a pair of ceramic batons from her purse and slid them up her sleeves. She saw Stoddard watching her and said, "These are a better alternative to a gun or a knife. You can incapacitate an opponent with a single strike and no one will know that you have done anything. There is no collateral damage either." She smiled. "They can be taken through airport security without a problem too."

Stoddard nodded in acknowledgement. "I'll have to look into that training. It sounds like it might come in handy."

Leaving with the car, she walked into the waiting area, finding the place crowded with a combination of disembarking passengers and people waiting to pick them up.

Alexa stopped just inside the entrance to the area and scanned the area. It was essentially the airport baggage claim with carousels leading down the concourse. There was a single set of doors between the baggage claim area and the customs security area. Two guards stood at the door to prevent entry from outside as well as to keep incoming passengers from leaving before they had dealt with customs agents. Access to baggage claim was virtually unrestricted, with the doors to outside transportation opposite the baggage claim area. White the guards were armed, they would not leave their posts unless there was an emergency, so she discounted them.

Her military experience helped her to identify those in the area that would merit attention. The majority of the crowd was obviously waiting for someone, some patiently and some displaying varying levels of annoyance at the wait. There were a few groups that stood out to her. There was a couple off to one side who appeared to be husband and wife, but she pegged them as police by the way they studied everyone in the same manner she was. They would be the ones to act first to any violence. There were three pairs of men who seemed to be focused upon the exit doors from the secure customs area. Their posture and the tension in their bodies suggested that these were the ones she could expect trouble from.

She positioned herself close to the customs exit doors so that she could reach Harmony well before her problem people could act. She was happy to see that they only glanced at her on occasion, another sign that they were not just waiting for friends. Anyone else would have been looking at her much more closely. She noted that she was even attracting looks from women around her.

The glass walls and doors for the secure area were frosted to keep anyone from seeing in. But even though she could not see Harmony, something caused her to come to a state of readiness. It was not too much longer before Harmony pushed the door open and stepped into the public area, carrying a single bag. Alexa hardly let her through the door before she was in front of Harmony and stopping her in place.

Alexa found herself enthralled by Harmony's gaze for a moment as their eyes met. Harmony seemed to respond the same way. She quickly brought herself back to the moment though.

"Harmony Moon, I am Major Alexa Davis. I've been assigned to be your protection and we need to move quickly." She paused long enough to see Harmony nod her agreement and continued, "There are men here who mean to kidnap or kill you. We need to get you out of here and to the car. Please stay close to me. Do you understand?"

Even after having just told her that they needed to move quickly, Harmony seemed to be frozen to the spot. The moment was broken when someone following Harmony asked to get by. Alexa felt awkward for a moment, like a teenager facing their crush for the first time and smiled uncertainly at Harmony.

She put her hand on Harmony's elbow to both pull her along and to guide her. Moving through the individuals either sitting on the benches or milling around, she could see that two of the three groups of thugs she had identified were moving to intercept them before they reached the doors. They found themselves stopped by the four men with the other pair blocking them from retreating back into the press of people. This actually worked in Alexa's favor as most people would not see what was going to happen.

Alexa pushed Harmony out to arm's length to put some distance between them. As she did so, the batons that she had slid up her sleeves came down into her hands. To those who were able to see the confrontation, it looked similar to a ballet movement. Almost faster than the eye could follow, Alexa stepped up to the four rather large men and struck each one multiple times.

Most males instinctively move to protect their privates in a confrontation. Alexa dropped to one knee and delivered strikes to kneecaps and shins followed rapidly by blows to the forearms, anywhere muscle was thin along the bone. Even the toughest attacker would succumb to a broken kneecap or shin bone. Two of the four were disabled almost immediately and the other two quickly followed. In the space of seconds, the four of them were on the floor with broken bones or were unconscious. The ones still conscious were screaming in pain and already drawing attention from the crowd and the police in the area.

Not bothering to give her handiwork a second glance, Alexa pulled Harmony along again and they quick stepped to the door. The remaining two thugs stepped around their injured cohorts and hurried after the women. Once outside, Alexa waved at Stoddard and they hurried to where he pulled up. Alexa pushed Harmony into the back seat, practically throwing her bag on top of her, and climbed in after her as the car pulled away from the curb and cut into traffic.

The erstwhile kidnappers who could still move ran out of the building and saw their tail lights disappearing. They ran along the road to where cars were parked for the purpose of waiting for arriving passengers. Climbing into the first car as it started moving, the car behind it also began following. They were gone long before police officers ran out of the exit to look for them.

* * * * *

Stoddard drove like a race car driver for several minutes, weaving through traffic as best that he could. Not knowing whether they were being pursued or what car might be chasing them, the best plan of action was to put as much distance between themselves and the airport as quickly as possible. It was a good plan as his changing lanes and cutting off other cars served to slow traffic behind them to a point where the cars chasing them were unable to get any closer to them. The best that could be done was to get a description of the car they were chasing and the license plate number.

Alexa had been watching the traffic behind them through the back window of the car and had spotted the cars she suspected were chasing them. She could see that they were unable to gain on them at the moment, but that could change once they left the local streets and were on highways and expressways. Looking forward, she could see that a traffic signal was about to change.

"Captain, get through that traffic light!", she ordered. "If you can do that, everyone behind us will be held up long enough for us to disappear."

"Yes, ma'am," he responded.

He accelerated and proceeded to go around the bus ahead of them, cutting off the car in the lane beside them and winning a blast of their horn. If a traffic officer had been present to see how Stoddard had been driving, his motor vehicle privileges would have been suspended and his superiors probably would have shipped him home. Fortunately for them, there was no one to stop them and they roared through the intersection just as the signal changed over to red. Behind them, the rest of the vehicles they had been sharing the road with dutifully halted at the light. The cars that had been chasing them were hopelessly boxed in.

Slowing only for corners and curves, Stoddard got them onto the motorway that would take them back to the base. At Alexa's suggestion, they exited almost immediately and they followed the trunk road back toward the airport. There was enough traffic on the motorway that would keep their pursuers from realizing that they were not actually in front of them.

Driving at a more sedate speed, they returned to the airport and Stoddard pulled into a long-term parking lot. Once they were stopped, Alexa collapsed in relief for a moment. They could be sure that they would not be found now.

The quiet moment was brief however as Harmony rounded on Alexa. "Who are you and what is going on?"

Alexa took a moment to study her before replying, "I told you who I am and that I am your security detail."

Harmony waved her explanation away and said, "Yes, I know that. I was given your name and description when I called my offices on our stopover in Egypt. I want to know where my original security detail is and why we are driving through the streets of London as if we were in a rally race."

Alexa met Harmony's gaze, a grim expression on her face. Looking her in the eye again gave her the same funny feeling up her back and in her belly, but she ignored it.

"I'm afraid that the security detail you were travelling with in Africa died when their plane was shot down during takeoff. I'm sorry." Alexa knew that the expression of sympathy meant little to the other woman, it certainly did not make her feel better at those times when she had been told that one of her men had not survived a mission.

Harmony could only look at Alexa, absorbing what she had just been told. She had been told that there was a serious threat to her life and that the only way to protect her was to send her off by herself, but that knowledge had been on an intellectual level. Now she was being confronted with the reality of the situation.

Alexa continued to speak, more to fill the silence than anything else. "They knew that there was a threat of some sort to your life and that is why they put you into that tour group. They did not know the particulars of the threat though."

"Did anyone claim responsibility?" Harmony asked. Many times, rebels claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack for the sheer intention of making their opponents aware of how much they were hated.

"No one has stepped forward as yet," Alexa replied. "In this case, we really do not expect anyone to do so. We believe that it was an attack directed at you specifically by some sort of death cult."

Harmony shook her head in disbelief. "That doesn't make sense! I'm just a negotiator for the United Nations."

"They must feel that you and your work are some kind of threat to them." Alexa told her. "When the report came in that the plane was shot down, I was put on the next plane to make sure I was here when you arrived. I think that your phone call alerted the cultists to the fact that you were alive and where to find you."

Harmony took a deep breath as she absorbed the news.

"You think that these people tonight are the ones who are after me?"

"Yes," Alexa replied. "I've been instructed to get you to a safe house and to protect you until they have been stopped. I've been told that actions to neutralize them are being taken."

She looked between Stoddard and Harmony. "We can hope that we decoyed them by what we just did, but they could double-back at any time. We need to get out of sight and back to the base. We're still close to the airport, so we should be able to find a car rental agency."

They crossed the parking lot, taking advantage of larger vehicles in the lot to screen them from view as much as possible. Luck was with them as their would-be kidnappers did not drive by on the streets around them, whether because they had not realized the ruse or their search had not brought them back to this area as yet.

As Alexa had hoped, they found a rental office and started the process of renting a car. While the clerk was resistant to leasing a vehicle to a member of the military and someone who was not a citizen of the country, a smile and a request from Harmony seemed to smooth the way. Alexa noted that Harmony was aware of the affect she had on the man, but she said nothing.

In the end, Stoddard was able to rent a car and they were soon back at the base. They saw no suspicious vehicles along the way. There was a brief stop at the gate as the car did not have the decals required to be waved in, but Stoddard's identification satisfied the guard. Alexa again noticed the poor security, as the guard waved them through after only looking at the captain.

They were at the safe house in just a few minutes and Stoddard dropped them off at the door. Alexa diverted him from escorting them inside by suggesting that he needed to get out of the area. She thanked him for his assistance during the evening and led Harmony into the house, explaining that they were in a section of the base that was being shut down, so they needed to keep their presence secret.

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