Hunters Under

The knife quivered in the center of the target. Two more soon followed, each tucked neatly into place. Benjamin Kreig walked forward and collected them -- the smiley face he'd drawn no longer really amused him, but he kept it anyway. There was no need to change target faces... sometimes he wondered if there was any need to keep practising.

How many times was he called on to throw a knife, anyway? The only time he ever used his combat knife was either to sever annoying wires, pry some offending panel open, or spread peanut butter. But throw it? Never.

Ok, once. That had been a desperate, life-saving throw in the middle of the night in one last effort to save his neck and the necks of his teammates, hitting the alarm switch just before the gate opened wide enough to set the alarm off. The team had snuck out, unnoticed, unscathed... unseen by their professors or dorm sergeant until the next day when they'd shown up for class freshly washed and pressed and no one suspected that none of them had had any sleep. Who needed to sleep before Sophomore History of Law, anyway?

He'd been a good enough shot at fifteen when Sean had first given him the smiley face target. Now, years later, he was still a good enough shot that he didn't really need the practise. As Ben went to stand again in the middle of the Supply room, the door's porthole carefully darkened, he asked himself why he was taking these pot shots. He was bored.

Oh yeah... that was why. He wished he had a Morand simulation of a computerised locking system to run through -- at least that, while not anymore difficult than hitting a target six feet away, would be interesting. And useful. It would even take longer to defeat a simulation than to throw one knife -- 8 minutes was his last record for a level Four Morand. Heck, even building a new simulation would be better than this. Sun sprints would be better.

Those were where they got you out of bed (blindfold included) in the middle of the night, took you in the back of a truck or heliocopter in a few random directions, then let you out in the pitch black night -- usually in a forest, or maybe a city... or a desert, a swamp... well, anywhere. You had until the count of twenty to decide which direction was east then you had to run towards the sun (you hoped) until you saw it rising. In that twenty count you had to find your direction, and figure out what time of morning it was so you could pace yourself. It had been fun, once they'd gotten better at figuring out the night sky constellations from anywhere on the globe. Ben remembered the surprise on their Academy advisor's face when all twelve of them requested, in their first year: Orienteering, Astronomy, Mountaineering, and Climatology. Their professors didn't know who these young men were, who had good reason to need to be able to navigate at night as quickly as possible, anywhere in the world.

Their professors had been, for the most part, old Navy who regreted the new world order. Ben didn't mind -- the Hunter Squadron was a new concept, after all, even now ten years later not everyone was convinced the Squadron was a good idea, despite their phenomenal track-record. The Hunters were an elite military force trained for combat, anti-terrorism, inflitration, espionage... all using nonlethal methods. They were trained not to kill and, in fifteen years, they had never killed any enemy targets.

They used a lot of duck tape.

None of this was getting Ben out of his current situation. He sighed. At least when Captain One had confined him to quarters, he'd had the good sense to send Kreig to the brig. Four walls with nothing but steel bars and slick walls had at least offered a challenge: escape, learn to sit quietly for 24, 48, or 72 hours, or learn not to bug the Captain or other High Brass for... well, for a couple weeks anyway. But Captain Bridger had simply locked him in his room -- his quarters, Main Supply! Geesh. Ben had done all his paperwork, updated all his files, and cleaned the darn place in the first seven hours. What was he supposed to do for the other 17 hours? Throw knives and plan his next offduty scheme?

Ben caught himself starting to pace. That would not be good. He couldn't start pacing for another ten hours, otherwise he'd go nuts. He sighed and put away his knives and target, then pulled out his boards. The boards were a pre-programmed set of circuit boards designed to allow on-the-spot entry to an external computer system -- in this case, the mainframe computer on seaQuest. He used them for things like sneaking peeks into classified files, or wandering around the World Library, or making long distance phone calls billed to Captain One's home phone.

He played for a half hour, then put them away, still bored. There was simply too much to do! This was definitely going to be rough. Ben stood in the center of his quarters staring at the walls. What now? He could reorganise the supplies... but he'done that last month for inspection. He could memorise the handbook for seaQuest, or UEO constitutional law, except he'd done that already. He knew the blueprints of seaQuest, and all the technical specs and files.... Ben stopped his pacing, and smiled at the empty air. The blueprints! Of course! He reviewed the prints in his mind. Yes, he could do it; if he got caught, well -- maybe the Captain would be sufficiently pissed to lock him in a real cell.

He had to make some preparations, first. He grabbed a small transparent screen to project some images on. He peered out into the hallway and when nobody was walking by, he smoothed it across the glass. Then he went over and dug a camera out of his kit, along with a sequencing circuit board. Soon he had everything filmed, edited, and ready. He hooked it up, whistling to himself. When he checked the display, it was perfect. Anyone looking in his window would see him sitting at his desk, or sleeping, or walking from one part of the room to another, carrying a clipboard.

Meanwhile Ben would actually be someplace else. With the tape looping, no one would notice anything too odd unless they stood at his window and watched for two hours. If they opened the door -- well, that was the next preparation. Ben rigged a simple mike to the door, and hooked it into his ear-radio. Anyone knocking, talking, or opening the door would register and Ben would hear it. It wouldn't prevent trouble, but it would let him know to get back pronto. No point in making a pissed Captain look for him.

Soon everything was ready. Ben changed into his 'cityslinkers' -- a suit of black and grey, designed to allow camouflaged movement against a metal or concrete background. He grabbed his little dittybag, full of lockpicks and other useful ditties. He left the duct tape in his locker -- no prisoners. He left the knife -- no need for broken panels or wiring. He left the radio transmitter -- no back-up. Ben smiled and spoke in a fair imitation of Captain One.

"Your mission, Commander Four, is to traverse the entire length and breadth of seaQuest. You must at all times be unseen, unheard, and totally unnoticed. No one must discover signs of your passing. And you must return without anyone discovering you're gone."

Ben stood at attention. "I accept!" He checked his bag one last time -- securely fastened to his web harness. Then he gave his room a grin. No mere Captain's punishment would keep him imprisoned! He went to the ventilation grate, and pulled it open. "Let the games begin!"

Three hours later Ben had covered the upper four decks of seaQuest. He had crawled through every shaft, every accessway, and a few temporarily empty rooms just for added excitement. So far no one had even stepped up to the door to Main Supply. Ben had lain in the shaft, watching people walk by, thinking of excuses if anyone saw him. It depended on their rank, of course. Who knew he was supposed to be confined to quarters? By now, everyone. But he kept going: unseen, unheard, undiscovered.

In another four hours Ben had traversed the ship. Every square inch, with the exception of the crew's personal quarters, had been covered at least by sight. He'd stolen a fruit roll from a open box when a researcher stepped out of a lab; otherwise he'd left everything as he found it. Then, when he'd covered it all and was as far away from his room as possible, he made it harder. Slightly. He reached up and hit the timer on his watch. How fast could he get back?

Ben found himself grinning, feeling the rush of adrenalin as he hadn't felt in so long. It had been building ever since he had begun his plans to escape and wander around. Moving slowly had ebbed the surge of 'fight or flight' hormones. Now, though he was still moving silently and carefully, he was trying to go as fast as he could. Ben grinned into the darkened shaft. Maybe he'd thank the Captain for locking him up!

He supressed an urge to Whoop! as he crawled and ran. Captain One had never liked it when Ben tried to give away his position by yelling. Ben grinnned. One even told him once that he sang off key! Like he cared, when he was coming in under the wire for an entry. One didn't care either... he just enjoyed giving his E&E expert grief.

Ben found the home stretch vent shaft and raced homeward. He ignored his watch -- he'd find out soon enough how long it took. He realised he'd found a new game to play, giving himself a new record to set and try to break. He grinned. Maybe he wouldn't be bored for a long, long time! Ben reached the grate, pushed it off, and crawled out. Still holding the grate in one hand, he stopped the timer.

Thirty minutes, 28 seconds. Not bad! Ben smiled. Now he could see how long it took to break. He replaced the grate, and checked the door. Nothing. No one had knocked, yelled through the door -- not even a conversation outside his door. Ben took off the screen and replay, stowed all his equipment, including his camos. Dressed innocently in shorts and tshirt he danced around his quarters to work off the rest of the adrenalin.

knock knock

Ben stopped in mid-twirl. He jumped for the door and pulled it open, smiling calmly. The adrenalin was pounding. Safe by minutes! If he hadn't raced back.... He gave Captain Bridger an innocent grin. "Was there something I could do for you?"

With a measuring stare, Bridger said, "Yes, as a matter of fact... I saw the window darkened and to be honest, I had to stop and see if you'd snuck out."

Ben looked surprised. "Snuck out? Captain... didn't you lock the door?" There was that familiar sinking feeling in his stomach.

The Captain looked at him as if trying to gauge his sincerity. Then he smiled. "No, Lieutenant, I didn't. I'm glad to hear you didn't know." He nodded, mostly at Ben's look of honest incredulity. "Confinement's over, Lieutenant. You can come out now."

Ben smiled again. "Thank you sir. But I was getting ready to go to bed. Why don't I serve my last five hours, and save my time off for next time?"

"Next time?" Bridger's eyebrows went up. "What next time?"

Ben shook his head, "Nevermind, there won't be a next time."

Bridger looked at him suspiciously. Then he sighed, shook his head, and walked away. Ben watched him go, and closed the door. He wondered if he had to serve his last five hours or not. Deciding not to find out, he crawled into bed and quickly fell asleep. He dreamt about running through corriders much like those on the seaQuest, holding a large candy cane like an M-16, yelling at Commander Five to hurry up or they'd miss the shuttle off the boat to Disneyland.

When he headed into the mess hall for breakfast, he found the only open chair at a table with Commander Ford and O'Neill. With a cheerful grin he headed over with his tray. Neither man objected when he sat down, although the glint in O'Neill's eyes made him wish there had been an empty seat elsewhere. The worst part about getting caught doing something he wasn't supposed to was the ribbing he got afterwards.

"So, Kreig... how does it feel to be a free man again?"

"Ah, O'Neill, solitary's not so bad once you get used to the monotony." Ben shrugged cheerfully.

"I wouldn't think you'd want to get used to it," Ford said. Ben glanced over to see the Commander frowning.

He wanted to tell Ford to lighten up, get a sense of humour. But the straight-laced officer didn't appreciate behaviour unbecoming anofficer -- his own or anyone else's. Instead of saying anything Kreig shook his head. "It was a minor infraction--"

"It was irresponsible, and showed a severe lack of judgement."

Ben exchanged a surprised look with O'Neill. "I wouldn't go that far, sir. Maybe it was stupid, all things considered.... But if Chief Crocker hadn't decided on a surprise inspection of his staff room no one would have ever been the wiser -- and we weren't hurting anything, just bending a few rules about off-duty gambling."

"You were betting with real money, Lieutenant. That is illegal -- you should be glad the captain didn't have you arrested."

Kreig said nothing as Ford stood up, not quite finished with his meal. They watched him go, then he turned to the Communications officer. "What's his problem?"

"I'm not supposed to know. Which means there is no way I'm telling you."

"Was I gonna ask?" Ben gave him one of his better looks of pure innocence.

Tim shook his head. "I'm not talking to you, Ben."

Ben decided to give his friend a break, and turned to conversation to speculation on whether the geosciences team was going to be able to complete their project report in time to qualify for renewed funding. It didn't take long for O'Neill to forget his vow and relate what he'd heard during the last twenty four hours while Kreig had been inncommunicado.

Later that morning Ben tapped into the private dispatches log and searched through personnel records for those directed to Commander Ford. If there was anything wrong regarding the man's work life Ben would have heard the gossip before now. Therefore it was something personal, and though he would never be able to explain it to the Commander, Ben liked the man and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help.

It didn't take long to find the dispatches from home, three a day for a period of five days, ending the day before yesterday. Kreig sat for a moment, battling his conscience, then opened the first and skimmed it. Ford's sister had been critically injured in a traffic accident, caused by a driver who was severely sleep-deprived -- operating a vehicle in an irresponsible manner. It certainly explained Ford's comments to him in the mess hall. Skipping to the final letter, Ben learned that the woman was doing much better, finally expected to recover.

He left the other letters unopened and wiped all traces of his presence in the files. There was nothing he could do except not give Ford anything more to worry about for a few weeks and not give the man a hard time when he let off a little steam by yelling at him. With his sister out of immediate danger, Ford might even be ready to get rid of the stress he'd been under the last week. Kreig put the boards away and went back to his desk to think. A few drills would be just the thing, but that was Bridger's department and Ben doubted he could convince the captain to call a drill without lettting on why. It might be possible to trick him into calling a drill, but the only way Ben could think of would be a variation of Brer Rabbit and the briar patch. 'Please don't give us a drill, captain,' and Bridger would do it if he thought it was just what would make Ben's life a bit more difficult.

Kreig shook his head. Bridger didn't go out of his way to make Ben's life more difficult, he only did what he could to mess up Ben's plans for non-military, mildly-against-regulation events. He sat forward, smiling. If Bridger thought that by keeping the crew busy with drills for a day would interfere with one of Ben's schemes...

He tracked the captain, using the accessways he'd raced through the day before. In one hand was a tape recorder, set to play a tape he'd spent the last three hours creating, with his voice and a re-creation of Dustin's -- the security officer most often involved in Ben's harmless schemes.

Bridger stopped and spoke with a crewman, and Ben grinned. Perfect. He settled in just around a corner above a store room, and at a lull in the conversation, set the tape to playing. The volume had been adjusted to sound as if it were coming through a partly open door Ben was crouched above. It didn't take long for Bridger to notice, and wave the crewman to be quiet.

"But what'll we do if he finds out?" Dustin's voice said.

"How will he find out?" Ben sounded confident and persuasive. Just the thing to get Bridger suspicious. "Everything's set, we both have tomorrow off to get it all done. That's plenty of time."

"Yeah, as long as nothing happens. What if there's an alarm?"

"So, there's an alarm we dump it and try again when the crises is over."

"You're sure?"

"Trust me." Ben smiled as he saw Bridger's face -- the captain obviously did not trust him when he heard him say those words. "The only thing that can screw us up is if the alarm sounds and keep us busy all day--'

"Like a surprise drill or two?" Dustin's voice spoke in a carefully sarcastic tone. Ben watched as Bridger nodded to himself.

"Look, we--" Ben's taped voice stopped for a second, then spoke quickly, "I'll meet you later, OK?"

"OK, Ben."

With that, Kreig scooped up the recorder and pocketed it, jumped down into the empty room and headed for one of the two doors -- the one which led into the hall where Bridger was standing. He managed to look appropriately casual yet hurried, as he stepped out of the room. Ben nodded to the captain and continued down the hall. Bridger didn't say a word.

The next morning the drills started. By the end of the day everyone was grumbling but Ben was pleased to see Ford looking much calmer, even smiling to a few people at dinner. He didn't smile at Ben, of course, but that didn't matter. Kreig felt like whistling as he headed back to Supply, but he had to act a bit put-out for a day or two, in case Bridger wanted to find out if his 'counteraction' had worked. Once in the privacy of his quarters, he gave himself congratulations. Score one for the Morale officer! Grinning, he got back to the work which had been interrupted by the constant drills.

Several days later Ben was sitting on the bridge at his station. He was bored. Again. He didn't want to make another run through the ship too soon, otherwise it would get too old, too fast. Although, he realised, he could do it from different parts of the ship, to different part, creating an infinite number of possible routes to race. He could get the best times for any two points of the ship, find out which combination of pathways was best, using both access tunnels and hallways.

Ben smiled to himself, new plan in mind, and turned his attention back to his station. He could make a map. He'd have to pull a hard copy of the blueprints of the boat. He could even, if he wanted, enter the times into the ship's schemes, in tiny print under all the other detail, as just another fact about the ship. Ben sighed silently. Maybe he'd be better off just making the runs. Just his luck someone would notice.

Within two months Ben had made a run from every disparate part of the ship, to his quarters, or to the shuttle docking bay midship. He had started penciling in times on his map and charting the best paths. He'd already decided that sticking to one type of passageway was not the way to go -- it was much quicker, once you figured out a route, to change periodically, even if dropping down into a room and running across to another panel was risky. But he could move faster when the routes didn't go over the hallways with their open roofs and floors, and the accessways often wandered over them.

Ben was happy, truly tickled with his new game. He knew in a year or so he'd be bored again. Last year he'd discovered a new path into the main world-military archives and had spent the next several months wandering into classfied documents and computerized store houses reading things he shouldn't have been allowed to see. Most of it was stupid, anyway -- labs' research, officer's evaluations, political transcriptions of silly committe meetings. It was nothing anyone would want to know, which was why he didnt feel guilty for doing it. Besides, he sharpened his Entry & Escape skills by raiding his (and other) government's classified files. It was what he was doing now, he reasoned. Moving silently and quickly through a ship was all part of the training.

Ben smiled. His job was fun! As long as the captain didn't find out what he was doing... It kept him off One's back, though. He grinned, remembering how he'd called Captain One within two months of his 'exile' into a Lieutenant's position as Supply Officer almost two years ago. He'd complained (whined, really) that he was bored. True, he'd chosen Supply and Morale, but he was still bored. He'd told Captain One to fix it.

Captain One had told him it was going to be a challenge of his naturally creative talents at finding new and unusual things to occupy his time. Then he'd stuck his tongue out at Ben (in response to Ben's rolled eyes) and told Ben to call anytime he had a real or imagined problem.

Since then Ben had only called to complain about losing poker money to a creep who'd used a marked deck and wouldn't give back the winnings... knowing he was safe, as the game had been seriously illegal. Somehow the IRS had learned that said sore winner had undeclared income and had investigated.

It always rang either as he stepped into the shower, or drifted off to sleep. Ben rolled over and pulled out the rigged board which let him accept calls coming in on a secured 48 link from North America. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Ben let the channel open. "Four here. Go ahead."

One's familiar voice came on line. "Report Station Gamma. Number Two Alert. Acknowledge."

The sleep was vanishing quickly. "Acknowledged. ETA 2 hours." Ben swung his feet to the floor, letting the board close the circuit as he let go of the switch. He always knew exactly how far away he was from home base or from any of the auxilliary bases -- one of the little details it was nice to keep track of. Captain One had eleven men to call, making him wait while someone figured out arrival times was rude, not to mention a waste of valuable time. Ben dressed quickly in his day uniform. He'd change into his black suit on the Sea Crab... assuming he could steal one. If not, he'd requisition one and explain when he got back. ("You requested use of a Sea Crab for an hour... it's been four days. Where have you been?" "Uh, sir... there was this sea monster..." No, he'd used that one already.)

Grabbing his gear bag from the trunk he kept hidden in the jumbled array of supplies, Ben locked up his boards and files, and left Supply. He wondered what Bridger was being told to explain the disappearance of his Chief of Supply and Morale. Probably just a back-dated request for vacation time. Ben smiled. He took more vacation days than anybody on the seaQuest... didn't anyone ever notice?

As he prepared to launch, Ben received confirmation from the bridge of his supply run request. Apparently Captain One was already on the ball. It was nice of him to tell Ben what his cover was, before he needed it. Ben whispered to himself, as he launched. "Supplies. Meeting Sergeant Lander. Medical, chemical, degradable supplies. Request dated three days ago. In case anybody asks...." He grinned. Apparently One was expecting a short mission. Supply runs usually didn't last several days.

"Repeat, Ciagen confirmed." His voice didn't shake. Why should it? Ciagen was one of the newest, slickest, most advanced wiring boards ever used in a lock-out system. "Does anyone know the second verse to 'She's My Baby And You Ain't Gonna Take Her'?" Ben spoke into the radio set next to his throat. Nobody answered, he didn't expect them to. He didn't need any distractions. He carefully extracted the tools from the ditty bag strapped to his chest, to gently snip apart the chemically treated computer circuits. He'd started singing the country song moments ago, when he'd been working on the plate covering the system's wiring.

Kreig always sang when he was working, unless he really needed to concentrate. As much as One and the others teased him, they preferred it when he sang. Ben gave himself another moment to think of the next verse, and chose something else. "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush." Ben heard brief, muffled snickers over the comm as he looked at the shiny glass circuits before him. Step One towards Target Acquisition.

Ciagen wires were the hottest thing on the market. Ben had played with them five years ago, when their inventor had designed them for military use. The Hunters got to play with all the new toys before they reached the rest of the military. One said it made sure their skills remained the best in the world. The rest of the Hunters said it kept One's reputation up. Then again, they liked playing with the new toys so they didn't say so where their captain could overhear.

The door slid open, silently. "Four. First door open." Ben snuck inside, looked around. Nobody home. "First door go." He entered the dark hall; the dimlight scope above his left eye swung down easily with the push of a finger. Ben peered into the darkness, switching from magnified light, to infrared, to sonar. Empty. Perfect. He moved forward, letting the nearly silent pings of the sonar relay guide him through the building. He remembered how hard it had been to learn to use the darn thing, but once he'd gotten the hang of it he'd used it every chance he could. He found it more accurate than infrared and it didn't have the risk of hurting his vision with the starlight scope should there be a burst of light. It was a new toy that hadn't reached even the military yet.

Ben moved quickly as possible. The rest of the Team would be entering soon -- he'd need at least a ten-minute lead on them to get the locks open and ready for their infiltration. That was his job -- Entry and Escape. He led the team in and out, clearing the way by opening locked doors and disabing the alarms. Whether it was a manned entrance like this one, or a computerised search and rescue, Ben was always point man. It gave him a lot of leeway.

He got to sing into his mike, even offkey if he wanted to.

So far the building was deserted. Ben knew he would encounter somebody before long. The Durani Army wouldn't leave the stolen files unprotected -- files which would allow the possessor access to the major sources of oil and gas in South Asia. The Jamacian dictator had stolen them at great cost; now the Hunters were going to steal them back. It seemed an odd combination, Jamacia versus South Asia. But South Asia claimed mining rights on the ocean floor adjacent to (or on top of, depending on who you asked) the Jamacian People's Own Ocean. The two countries had been at odds for several years fighting the occasional battle which had never quite yet degenerated into war.

If the Jamacian goverment used the files to gain control over the oil fields, South Asia would launch attacks which would without doubt lead to full-scale war. Regardless of the politics involved, the United Earth Organisation had sworn to uphold peace. In this case it meant sending in the world's elite squad in to retrieve a handful of manila folders. Ben hoped no one in Durani's army had done the bright thing and used a copier. Searching for and destroying an unknown number of copied files could take a long time.

Ben already had the Sea Crab out for 32 hours. How was he going to explain this to Bridger? Got lost? Ran out of gas? Met a girl? Ben smiled. The captain would at least believe the last one, even if it wouldn't get Kreig out of trouble. He didn't worry, One had probably already taken care of it. One always had before, though he never did seem to be concerned about his officer's reputation aboard the seaQuest.

Kreig began humming to himself, letting the noise filter through the sonar. The hallways were clear and the rest of the Team would be entering the first gate in one more minute. He'd better have the next obstacle clear before then. He followed the hall which would take them down into the main section of the undersea fort. 'Municipal Building', according to public records. A well armed, well-secured city court house. Yeah, right.

With Ciagen wires? Ben didn't buy it. What city government building had two locks on every single door, anyway? He crouched next to the second door. Behind this one should be the main building, the part which didn't show up on the publically accesible building plans. This part housed an Army and a small stack of stolen files. Ben whispered into his mike, "Four. Door two reached. Two locks."

He began on the first lock. It was a combination lock based on twenty-year-old safe locks where you typed in anywhere from five to ten numbers, and it opened. If you missed a number, it wouldn't open. Usually it would also trigger an alarm.

Fortunately Ben didn't have to mess around with figuring out the code. He pulled the numbers board out of his ditty bag. It was a pre-programed device which attached to the little computer chip monitering the lock and told it in no uncertain terms that the code had been entered. Ben pulled out his knife and pried off the cover panel. It only took a few seconds to snap on the board, and let it open the lock. The second lock was trickier.

The second lock was an old fashioned key lock with four tumblers. Ben wanted to bang his forehead against the wall. Tumblers! What had he ever done to deserve tumblers? He whispered a quick, disgusted "Shit," into the radio. "A tumbler lock! What jerks." He took a long, thin scalpel out of his bag. The all-purpose slicing, dicing, picking tool useful for cutting string, stabbing offending fingers, and holding up tumblers. Ben grumbled again and began working.

The Team had almost reached him when he finally opened the door. Five was going to tease him unmercifully about getting slow in his old age. Ben opened the door a bit and peeked through. Nothing. One reported that the Team was only two minutes behind him. He'd scout the adjoining rooms, then wait for them. Ben slipped the door open farther and snuck into the room, listening to the sonar pinging against his jawbone.

He dropped to the floor as the waiting soldier stepped into the room ten feet away. Ben secured his boards and lockpick with one hand and grabbed his knife with the other as he moved forward. He switched to infrared long enough to verfiy his human target, and threw. The blade stuck in the man's calf and Ben jumped to grab him, cupping his hand over the man's mouth. He had the man down, his wrists and ankles taped together and mouth taped shut when the Team entered.

Commander Two came over and nodded at Ben's work. The field leader gestured for Five to take over point -- Five was their best hand-to-hand specialist. Two didn't bother saying they were to consider themselves discovered. They let Five lead them away from the door, and down into the building with knives, ropes, and tape at the ready.

Sometimes Ben wondered at the danger in facing an armed enemy with only knives. Granted, it made things more fun. But really -- wasn't it a little insane? Ben started silently singing more nursery rhymes.

The files were waiting for them.

Twelve hours later O'Neill sat at his station on the bridge of the seaQuest, monitering local and earth-wide communications. The seaQuest was ten miles off the coast of Brasil, collecting data on the shifting tetonic plates. Several universities had already requested copies of the data as soon as it was compiled. The geology staff on board had apparently turned down several good bribes to prevent other researchers access to the information. O'Neill had promised that everyone would get it simultaneously... although the offer of a free vacation in Greenland had sounded nice.

"Captain! I'm picking up a Code One distress call!" O'Neill called out. He reached over to play it over the speaker, even as the captain was ordering him to do so.

"This is Captain One, calling any UEO or allied ship in the area. Please respond. This is Captain One calling any UEO ship in the area--"

Bridger motioned for O'Neill to open the channel. O'Neill spoke quickly, "This is the UEO seaQuest. How can we be of assistance?"

"SeaQuest! This is Captain One of the Hunter Team. We need an emergency extraction! Location: Jamacian People's Own Ocean Community Municipal Undersea Court Building. Repeat -- twelve man extraction, Jamacian Undersea Court Building. We are under fire. How soon can you respond?" The man's voice was soft, urgent, and utterly under control.

Bridger and the others were amased at the identity of the caller, but Bridger answered immediately. "This is Captain Bridger. We can be there in twenty minutes, Captain One. According to our radar there are no closer ships in the area. Can you hold on 'til we arrive?"

"We'll have to, seaQuest. Try and swim downcurrent, eh? One out."

Bridger was pleased to see Ford had already given the order to increase speed with a heading towards the Jamacian courthouse. "Is there anyway we can get there sooner?" Bridger asked.

"Not unless the currents change. We'll be heading directly into a strong one for the next five minutes," Ortiz replied.

Bridger nodded. He didn't have to tell them to hurry. The Hunters were everybody's heroes -- even the civilians on board traded stories about them and their missions. Most of what anyone knew was rumour, but that only fueled the gossip. Several people on board owed the life or safety of someone they knew to the Hunters. Bridger's own son had once been rescued, along with his entire squad, by the Hunter Team.

The geology staff didn't even squawk when they found out why the ship was leaving the Brasilian coastline.

Fourteen minutes later, Ford spoke up. "Captain, it looks like we'll arrive three minutes early."

Bridger nodded. "Good. O'Neill, raise the captain of the Hunter Team."

"Yes, sir."

A moment of silence, then, "This is One, go ahead seaQuest."

"Captain, we'll be in position in three minutes. What do you need us to do?"

"Excellent!" The Captain's strained voice noticably perked up. "My Team is at the northmost section of the main building. We can get out, but only if we have someplace close to run to. We'll be in a damaged runner sub, can you pick us up as close to the canopy as possible? We have some injuries. I don't know if the Jamacians will shoot at you," he added as an afterthought.

"We can handle that. We'll be at the northmost section in two and a half minutes."

"Thanks, seaQuest. I'll let 'em know they're going to be rescued a bit early." The radio went off again. Bridger looked to Ford, only to find that once again his second-in-command was already giving orders to have the seaQuest head for the north section and for a medical team to stand by in the shuttle bay.

Ford's youngest brother had been rescued by the Hunters a couple of years ago. Ricky'd driven him crazy, refusing to answer any questions about the two he'd met. Ford knew it was classified information, but he'd only been three years ahead of the Hunters' class in the Academy according to popular rumour. He often wondered if he had known any of them but none of his classmates had ever admitted to discovering the Hunters' identities.

Five minutes later they saw the runner sub in the water above the canopy heading their way. The seaQuest had its guns trained on the considerably cowed Jamacian Army. Once the sub was safely behind the seaQuest and ready for docking, Bridger and Ford left the bridge and headed down to the shuttle bay.

The sub docked; Bridger and Ford stood out of the way of the medical team waiting with stretchers and med kits. Captain One had already radioed ahead, detailing what injuries they had and what aid was needed. Dr. Westphalen was waiting nearby, ready to send one man as quickly as possible to MedBay. Other medical staff would tender immediate aid to the others here before transporting them.

The hatch opened and black suited figures began emerging -- the first two carrying a third to whom Westphalen went, a nurse dragging a stretcher behind her. They got the man on the stretcher and borne away before the others even managed to get off the sub. The seaQuest officers watched as the Hunters emerged, the uninjured helping the injured off.

Bridger was about to step forward to an older man he thought must be Captain One when he saw an injured man being helped off the sub. Lieutenant Benjamin Kreig was holding his arm as it bled from a deep wound in his bicep, griping to the man who was holding his elbow. "I told you those weren't blanks. Stupid training army getting mixed up with the real army. Ow! Careful!" Ben said to the medic who was ripping the cloth away from the wound.

"Sit him down," the medic told the uninjured man, who nodded and helped Kreig down onto the deck. Kreig rested his head against the wall as the medic cleared the sleeve out of the way. Bridger saw the skin was completely gone, muscle and bone showed clearly along a cut nearly five inches long.

"Do you want something for the pain?" the medic asked. Ben shook his head, then as his face grew suddenly pale, he mouthed another curse. The medic felt his pulse, then told the doctor behind her, "I think he's going into shock."

"What? Why?" The Hunter who was still next to Ben asked.

"Because it's safe to, now," another Hunter answered from behind them.

"Yeah, you don't want him going into shock while people are still shooting at us," a third said. Bridger noticed that in spite of their words, they weren't really joking -- not until their teammates were officially declared 'going to be all right'. They carefully put Ben on another stretcher, and took him and two other injured Hunters down to the infirmary. The last had only required stitches across the forehead and he remained behind with the others.

Finally Captain One stepped forward, and shook Bridger's hand. "I really appreciate this, Captain. Oh, by the way, your Sea Crab is in Florida. If you can drop us off there, you can pick it up."

Bridger was still staring. "That... that was my Supply officer."

One nodded. "Yes. And that was also Commander Four, my E&E specialist."

Bridger stared for another minute, remembering that Robert had said it was Four and Five who'd rescued him personally. Feeling more than a little stunned he said, "I suppose I'll have to be nice to him now."

The other man laughed. Then he said, "Captain, I don't suppose you have a few extra bunks? My men have been awake for 44 hours."

"Of course! Right this way..." He lead them out of the shuttle bay, heading for guest quarters. That was his Supply officer! A Hunter!

Maybe he was having a bad dream. There had been avocados in his dinner, after all. Bridger shook his head, and decided to ponder it later. He showed the Hunters the guest quarters. Without much talk, most of the team headed straight for their bunks. One and another man remained in the hallway with Bridger and Ford. One made introductions. "Captain, Commander, this is my second-in-command, Commander Two." The men exchanged brief nods. "If you could take us to MedBay....?"

"Of course, Captain." Bridger headed towards the MagLev, then turned back to Ford. "Commander, have Chief Crocker keep the personnel clear of the guest quarters' corrider."

One nodded his appreciation. When they reached Medbay, the two Hunters headed immediately for their men. The one most badly injured was in surgery. The others were being treated on the tables. One and Two began making rounds, softly asking how their men were -- not interupting but letting their team know they were there. Bridger watched as One teased Ben about his choice of rescue ships. Ben tried to deny he'd had anything to do with it; it sounded to Bridger that the two men had a long standing tradition good-natured aggravation. He smiled briefly -- he approved of someone giving Kreig a hard time.

It was hard to accept, though. Even standing here watching his Supply Officer talk and joke with the other commandos, obviously at ease, Bridger couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. A glance sideways told him Ford was having the same trouble. He leaned over, keeping his voice low, "Kinda makes me want to apologise for all the bad reviews I've given him."

Ford grinned, and shook his head. "Oh no, he earned those bad reviews. But now I understand why he thought he could get away with it."he glanced over with a hint of a grin. "Because he can."

Bridger laughed. When he saw Kreig glance his way and grin he headed over. The medic had finished wrapping a bandage on his arm and left him with a stern warning not to pop the stitches. She smiled at the captain as she moved away. Kreig leaned back on the bed and rested his head on his good arm. "Sorry about the Crab, Captain."

"I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you." Bridger glanced around at the black suited figures. "I figured you'd gotten into trouble, but I didn't imagine it would be something like this."

The Hunter on the next bed laughed. "Figured you'd get in trouble, eh, Four?"

Ben gave the man a glare. "Like you're any better. I heard your CO had to reprimmand you last week for -- what was it? Toothpaste in the milk dispenser?"

"I never! It was the salt shaker. Made it look perfectly OK when it was really glued solid."

"Are you all like this?" Bridger asked in amused disbelief. Kreig turned back and gave him an expression he recognised -- pure innocence. "I'll take that as a 'yes'."

"I don't mean to get into trouble, Captain," Kreig began. He ignored his teammate's snort of laughter and continued. "I just get bored--"

"And lose all common sense," Two said as he stepped up beside Bridger. Kreig gave his teamleader an unrepentant grin. Two gave Bridger an apologetic smile. "I hope he hasn't been too much of a pain."

"Well..." Bridger wondered if he should answer honestly. He glanced down at his Morale Officer. "I can overlook it. All things considered."

"Yes, speaking of which," Two shot Kreig an unreadable look. "You understand we'll be transferring him off seaQuest."

"I was getting to like it here." Kreig shook his head. Bridger noticed, however, that the protest wasn't sincere. He knew Kreig did like it aboard the seaQuest but he obviously understood the situation. Bridger had rarely had the opportunity to see Kreig behaving like a military officer -- and was impressed to see it, now. He'd always doubted whether Lieutenant Kreig could be trusted to take a serious situation seriously. Apparently Commander Kreig was another matter altogether.

"Don't worry," Two smiled suddenly. "We'll find something nice and safe for you to do."

"Safe? Don't you mean boring?"

"Someplace you can't get into trouble."

Bridger laughed at Kreig's look of horror. "Oh come on! You wouldn't! Please, not another two-man outpost, I promise I'll behave...."

The trip to Florida took only a couple of hours which was all the time Westphalen and her team needed to get the injured man through surgery. Transportation was waiting to take him directly to the base hospital. The rest Hunter team slept nearly the entire way; two men went with Kreig to the Supply room to pack up his belongings.

Bridger was pleased to discover that before he'd even been able to order his personnel to silence, no one who had seen the Hunters had said a word. A short meeting with Captain One reassured the other man that their identities were safe -- even if someone eventually spilled the beans the Hunters would be long gone and out of reach. Official transfer orders came through for Lieutenant Kreig, shuffling him off the seaQuest and out to a base in the middle of Ontario. Bridger noted that the personnel contingent was listed at 136. He knew that Commander Four of the Hunter Team -- whatever his real name turned out to be -- was not going to Canada at all. He hoped it wasn't a two-man outpost; whoever was stationed with him would go absolutely bonkers.

Now he stood in the shuttle bay waiting for the Hunters to take their leave. seaQuest engineers had made enough repairs to the damaged sub they'd arrived in that they could use it for transport. One hadn't wanted to leave the incrimminating evidence of a stolen sub on seaQuest. Commander Ford stood beside him, saying nothing as the Hunters gathered. The medical transport had already left with the critically injured man -- Westphalen had told him that barring unforeseen events he would recover completely.

When Captain One stepped up to Bridger, Ford moved away. Kreig had arrived with a bag in one hand, his other arm in a sling. Two of his teammates were toting five more bags and began loading them onto the sub. Ford saw Kreig glance his way and handed his bag to another man.

"Commander," Kreig gave him asmile. Typical, wide and cheerful as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Ford held out a hand. After a moment Kreig shook it. "Thank you."

Kreig didn't blink. Instead he nodded, and said, "Ricky's a good kid. Kept his head the whole time we were under fire.

"You remember him?" Ford was surprised. he'd been under the impression that the Hunters went on a dozen missions a year -- he'd counted back over every shore leave and supply run Kreig had taken in the time he'd been aboard. Some had been accounted for, others had made him wonder.

"Of course... when I came aboard seaQuest I recognised your name." Kreig shrugged.

Ford didn't know what to say. He'd expected to explain himself, maybe tell the other man he was glad he'd been wrong about his judgement of Kreig's abilities as a naval officer. His carefully thought-out speech vanished, though, as Ben gave him another lackadasical grin.

"He plays a wicked hand of Hearts, though. I still owe him $50."

Ford said nothing; after a short pause he simply held out his hand. "I'll see that he gets it." Behind them, the other Hunters laughed. Kreig looked astonished but when Ford's expression didn't waver he reached into a pocket and pulled out his wallet.

He handed over the money and Ford smiled. "Glad to see you honor your debts."

"Yeah, yeah..." Ben's cheerful grin had vanished. He looked over as One headed towards the hatchway and the others began to board the sub. With a serious look he turned back to Ford. "It's been a pleasure serving with you, Commander. I... I'm glad your sister's OK." With that he turned and headed for the sub.

Jonathen watched him go, jaw hanging open. "How did you know--?"

Kreig glanced over his shoulder. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to wrap you in duck tape." Then he dissappeared through the hatch. Ford didn't move as the rest of the team climbed aboard and spun the hatch closed. He heard the sub's engines kick on, and moments later he felt the vibrations as the sub unclamped from the seaQuest.

He realised Bridger was standing at his shoulder. "If he weren't gone, Captain, I think I'd..."

"I know what you mean. I'm not sure if I'm going to miss him or not." Bridger turned to leave. Ford followed, with a last glance towards the hatchway as if to see a sign that Kreig and the Hunters had been there. there was nothing. He headed into the hallway.

"I hope he left his reports on my desk. They were due two days ago."