ASN 4.2 The Black Box

by Matt P.

“You mean a bug-out bag?” Siobhan asked as the group of them tramped downstairs. They didn’t use the basement much, primarily because everyone kind of had space upstairs. It was divided into two rooms and a bathroom; the larger room was storage from their multiple moves and is where they went. The slightly smaller room was used mostly as a study, where they went when they needed somewhere quiet to study or read. Or play on their cell phones, for all Walter knew—he tried to give his kids privacy when they needed it.

In the storage area they went, and Walter began moving large plastic bins. “No, not your bug-out bags. This is…well, this is the every little thing has gone right to hell box.” All of the bins were light objects, designed to be moved quickly. And behind it, in a dark green matte paint so dark it was almost black, was a long wooden trunk. It was most definitely not light, and he slid it out carefully.

“Has every little thing gone to hell?” Leah asked, giving the box a serious look. “Because I feel like the look of that box goes beyond ‘concerned veteran’ right in to ‘deranged prepper’.” She offered it with a smile to take the edge off, but that smile faded when Walter popped the lid off the box and showed what was inside.

“Wow,” Siobhan said simply, not coming up with more words then that. “Uh…no safe or anything? What kept us from finding that when we were 8 and killing ourselves? Or Ryan? Twice?” She asked, her eyes owlishly large. Inside the large box were smaller boxes that Siobhan recognized as the kind rifles, shotguns, and handguns were kept in.

“When you were 8, it had a lock. And your brother is resourceful, and ultimately only killable once,” Walter answered. “The reason I’m showing you this is because this is the box I keep for when the devil comes to town. And she did,” he explained, noting Siobhan’s satisfied smirk the devil was apparently a woman. “So if something goes wrong, any of you, and it is the kind of wrong that guns will help with, you come here and get it.”

Antigone leaned in, a moment ahead of Siobhan. “Guns or knives, it looks like.” Siobhan reached in to pull out a large, black handled knife in a nylon sheath.

“Did you take my knife?” She asked seriously, pulling it out of the sheath to look for the little spider logo at the top. Walter rolled his eyes and waited until she had re-sheathed it before taking the knife back.

“No,” he explained as he replaced the knife. “When you wanted a knife, I got you one I thought was good.” He looked back to Andre, Ryan, and Leah. “Siobhan asked for one for her last birthday that was, and I quote, a ‘legit shanking knife’.”

Andre blinked. “And you bought it for her?”

Walter shrugged. “When my little girl needs to legitimately shank someone, I don’t want her to have the wrong tools for the job.” He looked to Ryan, and motioned. “Anything you need to reassure yourself I didn’t throw away? Same as it always was: The SCAR-L is in our Crown Vic, and then I have the MK18 for tactical, Remington 300 for long range, and the pistols.” He closed the lid on the box, and his son helped him push it back in to place. He didn’t replace the plastic bins on it this time. At the elder Ryan’s shake of his head, Walter motioned them back in to the study.

“Alright, Walt,” Leah said as they went back in to the study and found seats. “You want to tell us about this boogie man who apparently showed up today?”

Walter moved to sit on the desk in the center of the room, looking down at his boots for a few moments to frame his words. “Someone came to Border today,” he offered to his children, by way of explanation, “that Ryan and I both knew through the military. She is phenomenally dangerous, and if she’s here then there is something else going on.”

For once, Siobhan didn’t have anything to add to that and took it in complete seriousness—perhaps on the theory that anyone her father considered to be phenomenally dangerous was not someone to joke around about.

“The one time I got to see Ashland’s record, it said that she had originally been commissioned as a Marine officer, and that she had been deployed in that capacity before she was transferred,” Walter explained. “By the time I knew her she was part of the CIA’s Special Activities Division as part of the Special Operations Group, and never met a black ops mission she couldn’t make just a little blacker.”

Antigone raised her hand like it was a class at school, and blushed a little when she realized she was doing it. “You said that with a tone…what are those?”

Walter smiled slightly. “Have you ever seen a movie where there’s a CIA operative who ends up using the heroes for their own gains, and is at best morally ambiguous the whole time?” He asked, knowing full well they had seen several of those movies together. When Antigone nodded, Walter turned his hand over in a ‘there you have it’ gesture. “That’s SAD. The SOG is a complete covert military within Special Activities, that answer pretty much only to the Director of the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, and the President. With Senate oversight,” Walter added, with a shrug at that technicality. He considered his hands for a moment and then continued. “I met her when I was assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, and we were both assigned to a counter-terrorism mission.”

“I take it this wasn’t the fun kind they make movies about?” Andre asked. Like his uncle Marshal Alexander, Andre had been a Marine and hadn’t needed to ask what Special Activities did. The question drew a laugh and a shake of Walter’s head.

“No,” he confirmed wryly. “Every time I ended up on a mission or task force after that, she was always in charge. Often having just gotten a promotion to a rank that would guarantee she was the highest ranked person working in whatever sub-unit I was in. When I retired she had the authority of a Colonel, which particularly rankled.” He shrugged. “Ashland and the things we did together were all one of the reasons I decided to retire.” His eyes quickly glanced up to Antigone, Siobhan, and Ryan, another larger reason he had decided to get out.

“Ok,” Leah said, not missing the glancing or the unspoken statement about the kinds of things Walter had probably been involved in, “But what makes her so dangerous you and Aquino both pulled a gun on her?” That silenced the room again, and all of Walter’s children looked over at him in wordless shock.

“She is relentless, ruthless, and other r-words which mean she is terrifyingly capable of and willing to finish whatever mission she is on,” Walter explained. “And that it doesn’t matter who she hurts along the way. And that’s why I told her if I ever saw her again, I would put a bullet between her eyes. And no,” Walter finished, seeing Siobhan already leaning forward to ask questions, “I won’t tell you why.”