#Squadgoals, Episode 1: Introduction

Danielle Freudenberger, a young woman with the mind of an intellectual giant like Stephen Hawking typed away furiously at her computer. Her fingers strummed like manic piano keys spiking the cords as she searched for her newest subject. She leaned in to her screen, hunched over her oak desk, a familiar position she took whenever she was searching for world-altering events, devious world leaders, and in this case a new member for her world-changing group of “saviors.”

Combining all of her well-trained, focused smarts into one overall plan, Freudenberger had achieved putting together a team of variously talented people to point towards bettering the world one place and mission at a time. She had already snagged four subjects, all of whom worked magnificently well together. They were rather beyond the definition of morbid, but that was simply necessary for the work Freudenberger required them to complete. Then again, she recognized she was fairly morbid herself for even conceiving all she had created, and for the purposes she had created them. However, her group had a terrible issue with deviating from her original plans in a way that left irreparable damage and unforgiving chaos in pockets throughout the world. Although she guided them as best as she could from afar, she knew her small stature and limited physical capabilities would only impede the rate at which the missions needed to be completed. She needed a better extension of herself she could trust to send with the rest of the group. Then the unit would be more, well, unit-ly in her eyes.

Freudenberger achieved her Ph.D in Philosophy, focusing primarily on Logic and Ethics, when she was only twenty-one. By twenty-three she had achieved another degree, a Masters in biochemistry. She also had a Bachelor’s in history, focusing on major wars throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Her hyper intelligence was astounding for sure, but her peers did nothing but rib her for not actually putting it to use. Well, as far as they knew she wasn’t putting her degrees to use, but in reality she had been developing something only previously discussed in action films and fiction stories.

She accessed a multitude of personal files from universities and corporations all over the world, using her other superb intellect which was her hacking skills. She had learned that all on her own when she was in grade school.

As Freudenberger read through several transcripts, documents, assessments, and reports, she constantly referred back to her original four members’ files for proper comparison and analysis. She remembered when she chose her four members a year ago. They instantly clicked, and although they had scuffles here and there, on the field they were astoundingly seamless… If only they stopped deviating from her original plans and wouldn’t embellish their own sort of signatures and flourishes throughout missions. It had long-since become tiresome to put up with their insanity’s aftermath out in the field.

Freudenberger stopped on Spade’s file. His talents involved perfect sleight of hand, immense pick-pocketing and lock-picking skills, and some experience in the military. However, he was discharged for being a little too “light-fingered” one night in the officers’ barracks, which was supposed to be locked. Yet, it was found locked the next morning before the officers discovered that many of their valuables had been taken. Due to insufficient evidence, he was simply released without any real charges pressed.

Additionally, portions of his file indicated that Spade had a natural gift for subtly hypnotizing people just by their staring into his eyes. Although she never officially believed in hypnotism, she never risked a lingering look. She admitted his eyes were rather powerful, intense even, and held a certain mystifying quality to them. A report she once read that his high school English teacher wrote carried the statement, “watch out for the electricity in his eyes!” She had long since decided that was good advice.

The next member’s file she pulled up was the one she called “Dali.” She named this one herself. Spade had come into the group with his name self-determined years ago. She felt it appropriate for him to keep it. The other two were named by other members of the group. But Dali was the one Freudenberger named. It suited this member’s uncanny, yet massively muted ability to notice the tiniest differences which break up a pattern or stand out from monotony. Even when it seemed like one piece was simply part of the whole, Dali was the one to notice that it stood alone and had no place with anything surrounding it. From sight to sound, Dali could determine the most miniscule abnormalities and changes. She had an extensive, professional background in art which proved to amplify her abilities, including her minor work in technology repair and improvement. Only Freudenberger was bright enough to see just how wealthily beneficial such talents would be to a world-changing squad.

That word. “Squad.” Freudenberger actually hated referring to her group as a “squad” because she though it sounded so cliché and downright abysmal. However, her subjects enjoyed cementing that term to define what they were. Occasionally she found herself slipping up in her opposition, calling them “squad” off-handedly. She realized it was better to pick her battles, and convincing them to accept a new member to basically baby-sit them on missions won out against her “squad” pet peeve.

Freudenberger ruffled her straight, long hair, scratching at her scalp. She had been searching for hours, hardly narrowing down her choices. She pulled up her third subject’s file, Primal. A tall, tan, somewhat brutish young woman, Primal had a ranting sense of humor and rather morbid, uncommon outlooks on life. She had been raised by doomsday preppers, giving her an unbreakable survivalist’s streak, and had actually spent most of her life roughing it in the country. She was a phenomenal animal trainer, breaking in horses when she was only a child and training dogs to be her lovable companions as well as obedient, deadly weapons at her command.

Regarding weapons, Primal was an enthusiast for guns and knives especially. She had incredible eyesight and aim, but preferred fighting with sturdy, sharp blades. Although she had her own private collection, Primal chose the weapons necessary for each mission, and taught the other members how to use each one they received. Her dogs (wolf-dogs, for that matter) were, however, hers and hers alone. They were her closest companions and most harrowing defenders. Freudenberger adored Primal’s instinctual abilities out in the field, but also favored her as a close friend at times. She wasn’t completely sure if she chose Primal strictly for her skills, or if the girl had somewhat manipulated Freudenberger’s approval. Primal had a gift for making people feel comfortable and open around her, which when coupled with Spade’s own eerie form of manipulation proved dastardly and entirely successful when questioning their victims… Prisoners, rather.

Reviewing her squad members helped her search for the newest inductee infinitely better. Freudenberger landed on Flyboy’s file, her final choice for the group.

Flyboy had come from a much wealthier, privileged setting than his other three companions. He was well-traveled, a car enthusiast, an excellent engineer and physicist, as well as a pilot. His family’s wealth helped him to attend the best schools and own the best forms of transportation all over the world. He was indeed a golden boy, but nothing mattered more to him than his planes and ability to fly.

Freudenberger had elected Flyboy as the overseer of all transportation to, from, and during missions. With Dali’s help, he could repair nearly any vehicle or plane, and he could always secure any transportation they needed no matter where they were. Except for that one time in the Sahara’s outskirts. That wasn’t completely his fault.

Freudenberger sank into her chair, her usually light eyes darkened with fatigue. She had been at this for hours, but had finally slimmed her choices down considerably. In fact, she felt certain she had chosen just the person she needed. She slipped her hand from the keyboard to the mouse, ready to click on the new member’s file to download it to her phone.

Once the download was completed, Freudenberger called her little “squad.” She was excited to bring the new member in as soon as possible, but that meant she had to break the news to the members as soon as possible too. She knew it was time for a little meeting once again.

****

  Primal took to the woods like a well-folded paper plane gliding on a fan’s breeze. She weaved and skidded through the mud and moss, sprinting seamlessly past scratchy limbs and briars. Her target was fast, but he didn’t know the wild like she did. The whites of round moon eyes became stark against the ever-falling darkness. Her eyes never flitted from her target. Her ears and nose were perfectly attuned to her environment, missing nothing around her.

Her target thought himself clever, as though he were actually able to outdo her in this kind of setting. A laugh escaped him when he thought, foolishly, for a moment that she would not catch up. Then he got caught right in the most tangled, thorny vines. He slowed, but didn’t stop, pressing past the spikes which dug into his denim and flesh. Primal had considerably caught up, and just as soon as he got out he expected her to fall back again. But she did not.

In one harsh thrust, Primal flung herself over the thorns, landing directly behind his heels. She reached out, fingers clad in sharp, metal, fitted armor rings. She snagged the back of his shirt, but he kept on, letting his shirt tear at her hands. He spotted another patch of thorns ahead, a wide one. He knew he couldn’t go around, he’d have to jump like she did.

He committed himself to the leap, and just as he thought he had made it over clear and free, his landing lacked any stability. His right foot came down right in the slickest, shallow bed of old mud. He had leaned himself too far back to recover at all and slid right into the mud slick on his back. The girl who had been barreling down after him all this time carefully cleared the thicket, landing with minimal slip, keeping herself upright the whole time.

She came towards him while he still lay on his back. He accepted his fate, right there in the foul-smelling muck, made slick by long-standing stagnant water. He saw her standing over him; tall, tan, a little masculine and rough. Her eyes were intense, her dark, angular eyebrows furrowed in her usual look of perturbed aggravation. Then her pink, pouty lips broke into a toothy laugh.

“I can’t do it,” she said, voice low, “I just can’t hold a serious expression when you sit there covered in well-steeped tree shit.” The moon showed her skin was coated in a sticky sheen of sweat, her half-shaved head tacky with more sweat. She reached out to grasp Flyboy’s wrist, his hand locking with hers as she helped him up.

He attempted not to slip again, his colossal and lanky figure giving him no definite assurance of stability… Ever. “Hmm, yeah, thanks.” He was not at all pleased with his current condition: stinking, wet, and sloppy. “I feel like I’ve had the world’s worst one night stand.”

She ran her fingers through her ragged, damp blonde bangs. “Well, don’t say that yet. The night is still young.”

“You know, Prime, we could always-“

“No.” She didn’t even look at him, her eyes working back up the path they ran down. “None of that now.”

He sighed quietly. “As you like.” He smirked. He followed her line of sight. “Ok so I’m going back to the house, I feel gross and I hate myself now. Lead the way please.”

“Happily.” Primal led her “target,” Flyboy, back to their house in the night. The moon helped light their way, but Primal’s fine eyesight made it easy to find their way back home.

“You know,” Primal said, “you think you’d stop believing you could escape me out here. Or anywhere outdoors for that matter. I’m always going to catch up to you.”

Flyboy thought of something flirty to respond with, but thought better to give it a rest. For now. “Yeah, but all I know is to run from you when I do shit to you.”

“Well, how about you—watch that root jutting out there—stop doing shit to me.” She tugged the towering man by the sleeve so he wouldn’t trip on the root she spotted, laughing the whole time. “I mean come off it, man; eating the last of my pudding is just a shitty thing to do to anyone!”

“Yeah but your pudding is just so delicious.” He saw Primal’s immediate disapproving nod in the corner of his eye, but looked toward the lighted house ahead of them. “Funny how the others don’t even care that we fight like this anymore.” He chuckled.

She scoffed. “Eh, it’s not like we’re killing each other.” She smiled, her crooked, oddly sharp teeth glinting in the silver light.

“Like you and Spade…” He muttered under his breath, recalling the time his two companions truly and nearly did kill each other in a heated debate during one of their missions. It didn’t get brought up very often since their recoveries.

Soon, both sweaty, muddy companions reached their house. Inside were the two others. The first to greet them, or rather acknowledge their general existence, was a girl curled up on a blush and beige chaise lounge sketching away as usual. Beside her was a small bookcase filled with used sketchbooks, the lot of them only representing a small fraction of all she had tucked away elsewhere.

“Back so soon?” She didn’t even bother to glance up from her current sketch, fervently striking the led against the rough, cottony paper.

“I got him of course.” Primal began immediately taking off her shirt, discarding it in the next room. She didn’t care much about getting undressed in front of her other companions. It wasn’t anything they all hadn’t seen before during early mission mishaps, and she was more comfortable wearing less. “I’m taking a shower.”

Flyboy stopped her, “Uh, no, I’m the one covered in that ‘steeped tree shit.’ It’s not like I can go to a second shower like in the alternate house.”

Primal laughed at him. “I won, I get to shower first. It’s your fault for egging me on and your fault for falling in the tree shit. Na shledanou!” She waltzed off to the bathroom, undressing as she went.

“She’s right you know.” The girl in the chaise lounge, known as Dali, snapped her sketchbook shut. “And she’s speaking Czech again.” She was dressed in neon orange and navy pajamas, her feet sheathed in odd little octopus socks.

“Yeah.” Flyboy obviously pouted at the small kitchenette table near a window.

“You’ll be fine.” She clacked her pencil against her thick-framed glasses before twirling it into one of her many long locks. Her curvaceous body was tucked up against the back of the lounge, her legs tight against her stomach and chest.

“Yeah.” He sighed. “Just wish she’d get on board with me, even though I do act like a complete dumbass around her.”

She nodded. “I know.” When she tilted her head down into her knees, her dark curls shrouded around her. “But the word is ‘douchebag.’” She smiled. He chose not to correct her.

Flyboy had developed a crush on Primal since the day they were all called together by Freudenberger. Although most of the time he was only joking around, he always held out a little hope that one day she would reciprocate his advances, awful as most of them were. Alas, she showed no apparent interest. He still found it amusing at least to annoy her with his flirtatious behavior, and sometimes it made her laugh. Seeing her usual annoyed and enraged expression relax into laughter prompted him to not give up yet.

Dali’s head turned toward the doorway where Primal had gone to shower. Coming from the other end of the hall was their fourth companion, Spade. He looked nonchalantly down at Primal’s clothes strewn about the floor.

“I’m assuming by this trail of clothes that Primal’s back… And nude again.” He looked up at Flyboy. “Ew you stink.”

“Yeah. Thanks. Well aware of it.” Flyboy huffed.

Spade laughed. “She beat you again?”

Flyboy dropped his forehead to the table, his tight, mahogany curls pressing in backward like coils under the pressure. “I’m tired and I want to be clean.”

“I take that as a yes.” He pulled a chair out from the table, taking a seat. “I wish we could be posted at the alternate house more often. It’s bigger and I can actually go do shit by myself without someone being right there all the time.”

Dali smirked. “So you can jackoff in private?”

Without hesitation Spade snapped back, “No, you know I like to do that in good company.”

“Are we talking about circle jerks again?” Primal appeared in the doorway in a fluffy blue robe, everyone already aware she had given up on anymore clothes for the night. Her hair was darkened from the water, combed straight back like she imagined she was a 50’s greaser… Which she probably did.

“Yes.” Spade answered her. “Specifically how I enjoy touching myself in front of others.”

“Mm, yes.” She laughed. “Ok, Flyboy, it’s all yours.” She motioned toward the bathroom down the hall behind her.

Dali leaned forward, “Just the robe again?”

Primal pulled a thin cigar out of her robe’s pocket along with a lighter, and quickly lit it up. “Yeah. I mean, I don’t see a point in getting any more dressed up.” She puffed several plumes of smoke into the air to keep the cigar lit. A blackberry scent lingered with each exhale of smoke, indicating the cigar’s unique flavor. “It’s just Freudenberger, after all.”

Dali breathed in the smoke each time it wafted her way. She preferred the occasional cigarette, but Primal’s nightly cigar riled up her taste for nicotine. “Well, but I thought she was bringing someone with her?” She stretched her hand upward and out to the tall girl, but was met with one sharp, raised eyebrow.

“You said just Freudenberger was supposed to meet us here…” She glanced over at Spade who looked just as confused. “Not Freudenberger and guest. I assumed we were just going to get chewed out again for Spade’s incompetence in the last mission and hear about our new one.”

Spade protested, “Uh, excuse you, my incompetence? Had I stuck around we both could have died and then who would that help?” He pulled a deck of cards from his jeans pocket, the same one he took with him everywhere, and started shuffling it quickly yet quietly. It was his nervous habit, but he also used it as a way to keep his fingers nimble and as steady as possible. After all, the group often relied on them. “Had I not left you there, I wouldn’t have been able to work that control panel off and stop the trap.”

Primal rolled her eyes. “Whatever, abandoner. Point is, we’re all going to get chewed out then told what’s up next. But I knew nothing about her bringing anyone.” She looked back at Dali. “There’s no one else for her to bring. So what are you talking about?”

Dali rubbed her eyes from under her glasses. “I don’t know. I thought I told you guys this already. When she called she said she wanted us to meet someone.”

Spade kept rotating the cards. “Yeah, no, you didn’t say shit about us meeting anyone.”

“Thank you!” Primal leaned toward the nearest dirty plate left on the table to tap the ash stack off her cigar.

Dali watched Primal take an old, half-eaten sandwich from the plate, sniffing it. “Well, that’s what she told me. I’m sorry I apparently forgot to tell you guys this.”

Sitting at the table now, cigar in one hand, sandwich in the other, Primal let out a short whistle. Two big, wolfish-looking dogs trotted in from the next room. Both dogs were solid white with a spectacular fluffy coat and pointed ears. Their long, lanky legs and golden-brown eyes indicated their arctic wolf halves.

Both wolf-dogs sat on command, remained still, and were intently focused on who they considered to be their pack leader. Their eyes followed Primal’s expressions, ignoring the sandwich until she had it split up for both of them to eat. She spoke to both of them like they were children, and they seemed to love it.

“Good babies. Oh what sweet babies!” Primal squealed at them as they swallowed their portions. She only came off as cutesy and motherly to her dogs, horses, knives, and guns, and was abhorrently crude and moody to nearly everyone else. Some days, the rest of the group likened her behavior to that of a giant, bipolar cat. Anything from hunger to feeling ignored could set her off, or send her into a period of isolation from anyone other than her pets and weapons.

Spade laughed at Primal’s extreme change in tone when talking to her dogs. “So who is she bringing with her tonight?” He asked Dali.

The girl shrugged. “I don’t know. She didn’t say, I didn’t ask.”

He sighed. “Of course not.”

“Who the hell would she bring to meet us?” Primal put out her cigar in the dirty plate. “Aren’t we supposed to be kept hidden from society and the general public, so as not to be arrested?”

Spade cut the deck in half, tapping the two halves together at the sides. “Well, I doubt she’s bringing the general public with her. Or society.”

“Fucking obviously not, Spade.” She leaned back against the chair, her dogs laying down about her feet. “But seriously, who would she be bringing that she could tell them her little secret?”

“Have some faith. It’s Freudenberger. She’s crazy smart.” Dali laid back down on her lounge.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better about it, to be honest.” Spade said quietly. Quickly slipping one card out of his deck, he absentmindedly ran the corner of the card through his thick black hair. “She’s only human. And we’ve seen plenty of smart people like her make terrible mistakes. Which is kind of why we’re here.” His blue eyes flitted to Primal, hers meeting his intense, electric gaze as he flicked the card at her. His entire body had not shifted at all, only his index finger and thumb providing enough force to send the card flying toward Primal. Without a thought, she deflected the card with the back of her hand, gaining a small cut across her knuckle.

Dali rolled over to reach down for the card which skidded across the floor and stopped just under her lounge. “Please stop that. It’s quite unnecessary.” When she found it, she attempted to fling the card at Spade in his fashion, but instead it flipped weakly and unbalanced. It drifted a little past his foot, landing poorly. “Well that was pointless.” She sighed. Spade and Primal laughed.

Flyboy reentered, clothed in pajamas, curls loosened and dangling across his forehead from the shower. “Did I hear something about Freudenberger bringing a visitor?”

“Oh how the walls are thin.” Dali joked.

“Indeed, they are…” Primal glared jokingly at Spade.

He shrugged. “You know you like it.” He said in a lowered voice.

“Ok but seriously, is our boss-lady bringing someone here?” Flyboy sat at the edge of Dali’s chaise lounge. “Because I thought we weren’t supposed to bring anyone here. Or have any friends outside of the squad.”

Dali groaned, “Look, I don’t know what she said exactly, but it was something to the effect of ‘I have someone for you to meet, you’ll know more at the meeting.’”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the one who notices all the weird little details? Like, am I fucking crazy or is that not your role in our squad?” Primal snickered.

Dali just remained on her back in her lounge, her knees tucked upward to allow for Flyboy’s tall and massive body to sit at the edge. She just stared up at the shabby, cracked ceiling. “Well, it didn’t seem strange at the time. I only do stuff when we’re out in the field.”

“This is out in the field.” Primal partly joked. Their current residence was set in a field surrounded by miles of forest.

Dali nodded, “Not to me it isn’t. To me this is the closest thing to home we have. I’m completely relaxed here.”

Primal rubbed her foot across her wolf-dogs. “Well then there you go. There’s where we perpetually differ because I’m never completely relaxed.”

Spade gave a pointed, mirthless laugh. “That’s ‘perpetually’ apparent.”

Giving his best-awful seductive face he could, Flyboy winked at Primal. “I bet I know what could get you completely relaxed.”

Without any expression, Primal tapped her foot twice against one of her wolf-dogs who immediately responded and came upright. “You know as well as I that I can have Specter fetch me your tongue. So stop that or I’ll make it happen.”

“Make it so!” Dali shouted, quoting Star Trek’s famous ship captain, Picard.

Flyboy smiled and looked down. “Fine, never mind! Just letting you know my offers are always valid.”

“Yes,” she replied, “always.” Then, Specter and the other wolf-dog ran to the front door. “I suppose our silent-yet-tiny boss is here.”

Standing at only 4’11’’, Danielle Freudenberger entered the secluded, hidden country home. She briefly greeted her members before requesting Primal to call off her dogs. They seemed much too happy to see her, and she did not desire any clumps of white fluff added to her outfit.

Freudenberger motioned Primal to sit with the others, taking Primal’s seat at the table for herself.

“So please clarify something for us.” Primal started, “Did you bring anyone with you?”

The short blonde wrinkled her nose up. “What? No, of course not.” She looked at Dali. “What did you tell them?”

Exasperated by this point, Dali rolled her eyes. “Oh my God, all I said was you said something about introducing someone to us. They’ve been pissy about you brining someone with you ever since.”

“Well, we did just find out that little detail two minutes ago.” Spade interjected.

Freudenberger waved her hands as if to erase everything that had just been said. She disliked it when they would miscommunicate and throw her off. It seemed to happen more often than she desired. “That doesn’t matter right now. Just forget about it until I get this next mission across to you, ok?”

They all nodded in reply.

As usual, she didn’t bother to banter or catch up any further. “Here’s the deal.” Freudenberger began immediately, “As zombie apocalypse savvy as two of you are, you may already have some knowledge of what I’m about to explain.” Spade and Primal’s eyes lit up, both instantly attentive to their supervisor.

“Within the past couple of years, scientists and biologists have researched a parasite that seems to force shrimp to practice cannibalism.” Freudenberger tried to ignore Spade and Primal’s increasing excitement as she continued. “Because of this, rumors have exploded amongst the public about this being a start for the zombie apocalypse. Most of them are jokes, but naturally some people take it realistically.”

Primal smiled, “Why I don’t eat shrimp is for that reason right there.”

“I thought you didn’t eat shrimp because you were raised Kosher?” Dali pointed out.

“Well… That’s a part of it. But also because of the off-chance that I could become a zombie.”

“You and your stupid ‘off-chances.’” Dali turned her attention back to Freudenberger. “So people, some we know apparently, are seriously worried about sort-of-not-really zombie shrimp?” She asked.

Freudenberger sighed. “Yes. I know, it’s ridiculous. They’re obviously not zombies, but it does worry a lot of people that they could be manipulated by this parasite or another kind to perform forced cannibalism. Obviously that is not the case as far as we know, but you know how people get…” She glanced over at Spade and Primal, still appearing vibrantly enthralled by the discussion. “However, I have located one team of scientists who are literally experimenting on this parasite’s effect on humans, as well as seeking out a plethora of barely-researched parasites and fungi that may, may, promote some kind of cannibalism or ‘zombie effect’ in people.”

“Oh my God, why?” Flyboy looked appalled, Dali matching his sentiment.

Their supervisor shrugged. “I don’t know, because the human race is fucked up. This is just one of the many reasons I put you all together in the first place. Now, before Primal and Spade explode: no, these scientists have not started the zombie apocalypse in the least. As far as I know, there’s not even any forced cannibalism between living people in their experiments.” Instantly Spade and Primal were disheartened. “But people are getting sick. They may not be eating each other, but…” She clenched her jaw.

“Anyone dead yet?” Dali asked.

“No one has been publicly stated as dead, but there are some shady things happening.” Freudenberger pulled up a map on her phone. “This started in Germany, but recently they moved to somewhere between Uganda and Kenya.” She enlarged the countries within the African map. “I haven’t specifically located them yet because I don’t believe they’ve officially settled.”

“So, what is the shady business that you were talking about?” Spade asked.

“Although it’s been confirmed that people were getting sick, there was little being done about it because the people had volunteered for these experiments. However, it was recently discovered that the subjects were not entirely aware of what was being done to them.” Freudenberger opened several pictures of the scientists to whom she was referring. “They were lying to their subjects about becoming hosts for these parasites and fungi. The subjects were told that they were the first group to try out new vaccinations protecting against parasites and fungi.”

Primal studied the pictures. “Although that is shady indeed, this isn’t really to our scale of work. I mean, I’m not hearing anything about people dying or plans to release a deadly parasite into the drinking waters of the world.”

Freudenberger smiled. “That’s what I thought when I was first reading up on this. Then I found a couple of articles that Germany’s government had actually withdrawn from the public. They were seeking out their media outlets and actually filtering them. I was only able to hack into a couple of these files from their government, but from what I was able to read… Well, the scientists weren’t entirely unsuccessful in their conquest.”

“The government was behind these fuckers’ zombie apocalypse experimentation?” Dali inquired.

“No. They definitely weren’t. They didn’t know what was going on. Like I said the scientists had been lying and they were very careful about not being noticed in their work. Although it obviously didn’t last very long before they were caught, they still were able to achieve some nasty shit.” Freudenberger spoke frankly at this point, which scared her squad a little.

She pulled up one of the best articles which the German government had withheld from its public. It was complete with a picture of one of the experimented subjects. “Look at this. One of the parasites or fungi these guys used actually did settle into this subject’s brain and directly influenced the subject to practice… Self-cannibalism.”

The picture was horrid. A young woman was chained by the ankles to a chair, one arm raggedly chewed off just above the elbow. She was pulling what was left of her arm toward her mouth, about to bite down into her bicep. Her tongue was grotesquely twisted outward as though she were going to drink the dark, coagulated blood from her arm.

“Awesome.” Spade said, his eyes lighting up like a charge. Primal seemed similarly approving of the photo’s morbid appeal. Flyboy and Dali both looked a little sick, but also a little disbelieving.

“This isn’t for real.” Dali stated.

Freudenberger leaned back in her chair. “Well, I thought that too.  I wondered if the government had simply wanted these articles and Photoshop masterpieces pulled from their media because they were just crazy rumors meant to incite panic in their society. What government would want all that noise after all? But, upon further research into their classified files… This picture is of the Chancellor’s niece. The only thing being said about her over there is that she was lied to and got sick when participating in the experiments.”

Dali’s brow scrunched in thought as she reached out for Freudenberger’s phone. “Wait a second.” She scrolled back through the pictures of the scientists, then to the grotesque photo of the armless, shackled girl. “Oh holy shit.”

Freudenberger grinned. “Yep.”

The other three began clamoring over the phone, looking up at Freudenberger often.

“She was one of the scientists?” Dali stared at the picture.

“Yes. Well, she was actually an intern desperate to achieve her PhD so she jumped on the first internship that finally called her back.” Freudenberger reclaimed her phone. “Although according to her transcripts she was decently intelligent, she wasn’t necessarily the best candidate for serious internships in her field. She had very faulty theories about finding a parasite that would eat cancerous tumors. No one took her seriously, but her uncle’s money and her ability to pass all her classes kept her in school. Obviously, though, she had a difficult time finding an internship which was necessary for her to finish her degree.”

Primal nodded. “The deceitful, crazy-ass scientists were the only ones interested in her.”

“Yep.”

“And apparently she tried it out on herself or they talked her into being a subject.”

“Yes again. I just don’t know if it was voluntary or if she was forced to do it.” Freudenberger closed all the articles and images except for the one of the intern, the German Chancellor’s niece, attempting to eat herself. “I don’t know what lead her to this point, and I don’t know if she was cured or died. But I do know that she is not with her family nor at any hospital in or around Germany. In fact, no one seems to know where she is and no one is talking about it. No one’s allowed to talk about it anyway.”

“I bet the team of scientists took her with them, or she died and they dumped her along the way.” Primal stated. “And what’s the deal about running off to Africa?”

“More willing, more easily manipulated subjects probably.” Spade suggested. “I mean, if they hit a small enough village, they could do a lot of damage without being noticed too quickly. They could go pick up random natives throughout the country and never get caught… Or they could get killed by the people warring down there. Our problem would be solved.”

Freudenberger sighed. “Well, you’re probably not wrong. But I’m making it your responsibility to find out whatever the fuck it is they found out. I have no idea what they are planning on doing with this fucked up thing they found. But I’d rather not eventually hear about it on the news after it’s too late. You guys are going to find this team of scientists. You’re going to get what information out of them that you can. You’re going to try to find the Chancellor’s niece if it at all possible. Then once that information is gathered up, we’ll figure it out from there.”

“When do we leave?” Flyboy asked, ready to round up whatever jet they needed.

“Well, you’re leaving soon, but not for Africa just yet.” Freudenberger began typing into her phone. “My guess is that these guys are going to lay low for a few days, regathering anything they need before embarking on whatever the hell it is they’re thinking. Not to mention, they don’t want to cause any upset too quickly while the Chancellor is still freaking the fuck out. So, for the next three days you guys are going to go on a little pre-mission.”

The foursome looked at her quizzically. Freudenberger smiled at her phone before turning it to her squad. “See her? This is who you will be meeting soon.”

Spade and Dali leaned in to look closely at the pictures of the dark haired, copper-skinned girl. “What did she do?” Dali asked.

Freudenberger laughed. “She didn’t do anything wrong. She’s going to be your fifth member.”

Spade leaned back, Primal looked adamantly unimpressed. Flyboy remained silent, but Dali appeared to be the only one intrigued.

“What does she do?” She asked politely.

Freudenberger put her phone away. “Her name is Delia. She is going to basically be an extension of myself since I can’t physically go with you on your missions. She’s highly intelligent, surprisingly fit and able-bodied, and has demonstrated epic management skills. To put it bluntly, she’s going to be your handler when I am unable to communicate with you. She will technically be my assistant who will take over for me when I am not present in either body or voice.”

“You’re sending a handler with us? What the fuck?” Primal questioned.

“Well, you all seem awfully inclined to make such a huge mess every time I entrust you with the safety of the world, on multiple occasions almost getting caught, killed, or worse.” Freudenberger’s tone became increasingly stern. “I can’t afford in any aspect to keep cleaning up after you. I’m tired of covering your tracks. And it’s not because you’re bad at what you do. You four are the best for what I need. But you all are very lackadaisical when it comes to how you go about this. You may think it’s fun to get shot at, to torture criminals for information, and to blow up churches with pedophilic clergy members still in them,” she glanced at Primal and Spade, “but it’s noisy. It’s loud. It’s noticeable when you divert from the main path, when you make your own decisions instead of wait for my response. However, to be fair, I understand that on numerous occasions you were in situations wherein you could not reach me nor could I reach you as quickly as the time demanded. This is all why Delia will be going with you. She is me when I cannot be there. This is not up for further discussion.”

The four sat silently, nodding, understanding Freudenberger’s reasoning, but obviously unsettled by it.

“It doesn’t seem right to be told we basically can’t have a personal life at this point, and suddenly we have to make friends with a new member who’s not been with us since the beginning.” Spade said.

“I agree. I feel like she’s coming in too late in the game. It’s going to be difficult to get her acclimated to us, and I don’t know about everyone else but I have little patience for bonding with anyone new right now.” Primal looked over at Flyboy and Dali, who remained silent.

Freudenberger huffed. “I’m not concerned about you making friends with her. Honestly I’d rather you all be separated in that regard. She’s meant to be your secondary supervisor, as I am your primary supervisor. I would rather she not get all close and personal to you all. Don’t ruin her.”

“No promises.” Flyboy blurted out, immediately regretting he said that in front of her.

“All right, we’ll give this a shot.” Dali remained abnormally calm, as usual.

Spade sighed, “I’d like to know what we do if this doesn’t work out the way you want it to. What if she isn’t what you think she is? What if you end up disapproving?”

“I won’t.” Freudenberger responded tersely. “You will be the ones to ultimately approve or deny her. It will be on you all to bring her into this group. You will find her. You will convince her to accompany you. You will bring her back to me. I will fill her in with you all assisting me. You will help her become quickly accustomed to how this whole ordeal operates, and you will all go together to Africa. I know that once you get to know her over these next few days you won’t want to leave for Africa without her. If by some godforsaken reason I am wrong and it doesn’t work out, then you also get to decide what to do with her and I will never again breathe a negative word about how you handle your missions. All right?”

All four were immediately smiling, joyous over the thought of breaking in someone new, of having control over their fate in their squad.

“I think we’re all one-hundred percent in agreement to that.” Primal said, and was met with mumbled approvals all around her.

“Good. She’s in New Orleans. Go get her.”

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