Operation Sub Vesuvia





Mt. Vesuvius

Briefing Video Log
"I'm Officer Jacobs, ACI, seconded to the Italian branch. Over the past 12 hours we've detected unusual seismic activity underneath Mount Vesuvius, near Naples. It remains unclear whether or not this represents natural geological activity, the precusor to an eruption, or something entirely unexpected, but other usual seismological signs are not present. We have to operate under the assumption that there could be anomalous activity at play.

Local police have cordoned off the area, and we're working alongside the Italian government's volcanologist teams to get a better read on the place. It goes without saying, but looks like I'm going to say it; a major anomalous event near a large tourist city, especially one that occurs in or on an active volcano, is of particular concern. Since Site-014 there are a lot of agencies breathing down the back of our neck, so we're looking to keep this low-profile and under control.

You'll be provided with all the ground-level information you need to liaise with local Italian ASF forces already in the cordon; we don't have enough people here to cover the entire mountain, so the locals will be in charge. You'll be inserting by air on remote parts of the mountain to avoid attention from the general public and tourists in the area. With any luck, this is just the volcano singing a new song and we can all go home. If not, we may need to escalate to a major evacuation of the city of Naples and intervene any anomalous phenomena. Good luck."

In a pale light, a series of topographical maps appeared on the wall. The projection screen flicked, flashed blue for a second as someone fumbled with the controls. One of the Site's Intelligence officers began to read off force assignments, and Lance Walker stifled a sigh. Gone were the days of just being briefed by your C.O., the information directly tailored to the unit. Now, it was all "multidisciplinary intersections" and everyone, for some reason, had to sit through the minuta of every other unit present. What was relevant to Foxtrot was really said within the first few statements of the first speaker. Teams had 24 hours or thereabouts for final prep before being ferried overseas to Italy, multiple groups also being brought in from Authority bases in Austria, Switzerland, and Algeria.

Except this debrief, there was even less detail than usual. With anomalous phenomena, there's always a punctuated element of the unknown; how it moves, how it reacts, how it escapes, how it can kill. But this time, the only real information to grip is that a bunch of highly specialized action units are going to sightsee at a volcano. There may or may not be any anomaly at all, and this was odd enough to prime unit members into a quiet antagonism toward the mission before one word of briefing. Call it not being comfortable with structural uncertainty; it is how all unit members are wired. Foxtrot wasn't an exception.

The punchline of a half-remembered joke someone had told in basic training wandered through MST agent Derrick Lance's head.

…Stand in a field somewhere and take pictures of nothing! The lives of billions are in your hands!

It had probably been funny at the time, but now he facing the sobriety of this becoming his dull reality for at least the the next week. Did he want something anomalous and terrible to happen? Would that ameliorate the prickly nature of this mission? Like having to babysit paint, like his buddy back at home said he had to do? Lance perished the thought… he couldn't prefer the endangerment of countless civilians to fix his disinterest.

He pried himself free of the uncomfortable folding auditorium seating after the last intelligence officer finished talking about challenges the assignment meant for the mechanical engineers. He pushed through the crowds of milling ASF personnel and headed out into the Site corridors. Best to make a beeline for the barracks - 24 hours was plenty of time to prepare, but if he could get it done now that effectively meant a day of free time… maybe detail cleaning his rifle and trying out that new A2 grip. There were always traffic jams when multiple MSTs deployed on low-urgency missions like this, but there was never so many of them on such a low-energy one. From what was said, it was unusual that they were sending out multiple MSTs at all…

A short tram ride and some walking later, Lance arrived at the section of the barrack wing his unit was assigned to. There was the familiar, bare-bones logo of the MST Foxtrot-04; a stylized fox with lightning bolts for legs all meeting at the tip of a "4". It was painted boldly — and quickly it seemed — above the door, though not quite large enough to cover up the rubber-stamp-shaped Hotel-3 logo it had replaced. The set-up inside didn't hide the haste with which the previous set up was cleared; stray documents spilled from leaky boxes, trash bags piled at the door. He scoffed when a stray receipt displayed some satisfied guest's credit card number along with a check-out charge… for several bawdy movies. He smirked and tore it up, taking care to separate the digits.

Lance swiped his keycard in the lock, waited for the cantankerous old thumbprint scanner to decide that he was who he said he was, and stepped through into the barracks' messy common room. Gilmour Josiah Miller, the youngest on Foxtrot-04's second squad, had beaten him home, apparently to packing too. He was slumped on one of the battered couches, nose deep in a portable game console. Lance rolled his eyes.

"Gilly, you lazy fuck. Did you skip the briefing?"

Before Gilmour could respond, Lance cut him off.

"We are a team and if the rest of us have to sit through that shit, you do too. You know what, forget it - just get your ass to your bunk and start packing. We're moving out to Italy this time tomorrow to…"

Lance renewed his disenchantment with the larger reality.

"…watch a volcano go off or some shit. Or not. Anyway, what if it was Fox, not me, who found you like this?"

Gilmour sighed alongside a crass remark, something about thinking Lance was a know-it-all. He carefully and pointedly paused his game, saved it, shut off the console, sat up slowly in the couch, mimed an airy salute and, with crisp military precision, replied:

"Yooo, Joe! Sir! Calm down! Fox don't know shit about it, sir! Several steps ahead, sir! What the fuck do I gotta pack for a scenic trip exactly, sir? Flight's in 24 hours and my bag is already half-packed as it is, sir! Ready to fight the forces of Cobra, sir!"

Lance scoffed. Typical of a green to rest on the safest interpretation of a situation, even if he was right.

"You missed the briefing. It's your ass in your own begging hands if we're halfway to southern Italy and all you have is cold-weather gear. Why do I have to feel like your dad just to get you to take this seriously? For the last time, your marksmanship trophies don't mean shit in a live field."

"You just wait, once I get through sniper school, I'll be in my element and saving your ass every day. And I'll ask you to thank this gaming system you think I'm wasting my time on… how do you think I can find sights so quick? Shit, I was raised on that. I'm a poster boy for the benefits of the thinly veiled, virtual combat training of an entire generation. I have more important details to work out, especially when my more capable teammates can give the gist in one sentence. You're good at putting up with those, I'm not. That's teamwork. And speaking of sticking to what you are good at, no one is asking you to be Mr. Responsible. I made it onto this team because I can take care of myself. That's proven. We all did and don't need you to hold our hands now that we're here."

Lieutenant Johnson "Fox" Foster was standing in the entrance of the locker room, clipboard in hand. His sullen expression was stormier than usual and felt dismissive despite the summoning, but Lance took it in stride.

"What can I do for you, sir?"

Fox glanced up, then went back to scribbling on what Lance assumed was an equipment manifest.

"You yelled at Gilmour yet? Tell him to get his ass off that simulation before I come up there and kick it."

Lance smiled.

"Already done so, sir."

A locker door slammed. Foxtrot-04 member Tobias "Pearce" McCoy stalked around the corner, a duffel bag slung over his broad shoulders. There was that almost permanent expression - Pearce had a way of telegraphing his near-constant snide remarks. He was a recent transfer from the Highlanders.

"Go easy on Gllmour, Foxy. He's got the difficult task of staring at Anders' ass all day. Ever notice how he drools and walks real stiff like after being behind her in drills?"

Lance rolled his eyes, opening his locker just abruptly enough to smack Pearce on the toe as he walked by.

Fox barked. "Did they not teach you manners in Kilt Squad, Pearce? What Anders and Gilmour do on their spare time is none of your damn business. It's mine."

Pearce muttered a curse and stomped off; even the burly Scottish wasn't brave enough to try anything in front of Fox. He stopped at the base of the stairs, jeering as Gilmour came down.

"Well 'ello Loverboy. Any poetry today?"

Gilmour didn't take the bait. Lance met his gaze - the last thing they needed was Pearce starting another stupid fight just before they left. The younger man rolled his eyes and shrugged. He nodded to Pearce, then with a raise of his eyebrows gave a nod towards Fox, who was still deceptively engrossed in his paperwork. But he wasn't fooling anyone, and was ready to jump hot in at a millisecond's notice. Everyone had enough today and didn't want to do more pushups.

Pearce continued. "We've got plenty of time before we head off to the airport, maybe a soliloquy or some romantic shit about shitty assignments, huh? Anything to help me fall more in love with this gaff of a mission."

Lance hastily finished packing his kit with a frown. After, he approached the lieutenant.

"You okay, Foxy?"

Fox shrugged and continued writing, squinting his brow but not making eye contact.

"Don't call me Foxy."

“Well… all right, if you say so. But look, if you need something- say so? We're here for you, sir."

The Lieutenant took a break from his writing as he sighed. "I need you to worry about yourself first, so you can help your fellow man when they truly need it. Don't worry so much about everyone else; that's my job. I need my team focused on this mission, not elsewhere. Rule your feelings, not the other way around. That's an order."

They piled on to an inconspicuous cargo plane, tail emblazoned with the emblem of an Authority front company. The pre-flight briefing indicated nothing untoward in Naples and tension was about as low as Lance had ever seen. The flight was long and routine; painfully so. Altimeters at 15,000 m, the rumble of the crowded cabin was intercut with the snores of those gifted enough to treat such flights as time machines. Those awake joined into the burble of conversation and the occasional burst of laughter or outrage from one of the MST units in the back who had brought along a movie. Except for the one tolerating it all in silence.

Lance cast a tired eye over the cramped area of seating reserved for Foxtrot-04. Pearce was devouring his own personal trashy action thriller with Nicolas Cage.

"Why Nicholas Cage?"

"Because it is stupid."

"Don't think I've heard that one."

"Yeah well. There's too much to think about. Sometimes, it's nice to just lower your guard and embrace the potato."

"How Scottish of you."


"Why did you leave the Highlanders? Can't imagine you were looking for assignments like this, especially compared to the cut-throat pace of that unit."

"… McKinley."

"Oh, I heard she was a hard ass."

"Yeah and I loved that about her. But… well, let's just say I'm old school. I think that some women get some jobs just to spite the men. Prove they can do it too, when no one asked them to. Dropping skills to become a newbie in an unfair game, because not to somehow makes them lesser. I've seen one female recruit, couldn't tolerate the thought that a Mossberg 590 A1 wasn't her optimal weapon. Took it as an insult. She could shoot it alright, but it never looked natural, you know? And she knew it more than anyone. But never changed weapons, only got more dead-set on it. Something about that didn't sit well with me."

"Did something happen to her?"

"Yeah. She became McKinley."


"Sometimes it's bad to be promoted over a group you used to be a part of."

"No prophet is welcome in his own home, right?"


Next to him, Fox was asleep, his resting expression impossibly more dour and miserable than when awake. Gilmour and Anders' seats were empty… likely in the back for some… morale. He figured the loadmasters would keep the two from getting too handsy but if the stories Gilmour told around the bunks are true… maybe not. The MST's other squads were napping, chatting, snacking, or staring out the tiny porthole windows at the endless sea that passed below them.

Lance shifted in his seat, trying and failing to ease the cramp in his lower back. He chewed on his psychology. He looked over at Fox and tried to siphon his mood, remembering his words.

A distorted voice over the comm broke the attempt: "15 mikes. 15 mikes."

They piled out of the convoy of Italian military trucks. Dusty air and a rocky mountainside greeted them that, under other circumstances and less punishing heat, Lance would have found picturesque. The place was bustling with Authority personnel from all divisions. He recognized the half-buried monastery from the briefing photos- the anti-vehicle barricades and razor-wire fences that surrounded it were new, though. Who were they trying to keep out… or in? The rumble of the trucks pulling away segued into the roar of generators as a Containment team started inflating portable research labs in front of the monastery gate.

The crowd of MST personnel lined up in front of an incongruous folding table covered with computer equipment that had been set up under an awning. The needs of the operation demanded that none of them carry full military kit- but all of them were armed, with service weapons that were easily concealable. That was another old MST joke- that their real uniform was the classic oversized windbreaker and slacks baggy enough to hide a machine pistol or two in the waistband.

A sun-drenched, sweaty man wearing some kind of Italian policeman's uniform accompanied by an elderly monk in robes approached the table. Really odd duo to see. The policeman unfolded a chair, climbed up, and gave them all a wave.

"Can you hear me in the back? Yes? I'm Jacobs. You probably saw my pretty little prerecorded briefing sometime yesterday. Time to get to work."

He indicated the monk.

"Engineering and non-combat folks, Brother Pauli here will be showing you where to set up."

A monk? Engineering?

"Don't worry about the language barrier. He probably speaks English, French, and Latin better than any of you. I know a few of you are with Research- head in the main monastery doors, second room on your right. It's hard to miss it. All of you will see lots of places with lines of yellow tape on the floor- some areas will have guards already posted. Don't cross the yellow lines, don't bother the monks. Do not speak with them if they know English besides Brother Pauli. We good? Get to it. Brother Pauli, if you please."

The small contingent of Containment and Research staffers broke off, lugging heavy bags of technical equipment and a few dollies piled high with what Lance assumed were telecomms antennae. Jacobs caught his breath and turned to the remainder.

"Now then, the rest of you- in no particular order. Sierra-Eight, you may recall you passed a collection of shipping containers on your way in- your advance team set those up this morning. They should still be working there. You'll get your marching orders from them. Uhhh…"

He consulted a tablet computer.

"Right. Alpha-Three, Containment wants help getting the field hospital set up, and you're qualified, so congrats- you're all medical orderlies for the time being. Don't complain about the job, brag about the pay. Field hospital's just over there- drop your stuff and get cracking."

There was a groan of disappointment from the Scavengers, many of whom were weighed down with gas mask containers and other protective gear. You could nearly hear the morale drop. A universally-thought phrase almost painted itself in the airborne dust: What the hell are we all doing here?

"Would you rather we had dangerous anomalous shit for you to respond to? Seriously? Just because we don't have a kaiju doesn't mean this isn't a big operation. Get a move on. Next, Ex-Ray-Six, ACI have a listening post set up in the old stables- the little building down to the right over there- they'll get you kitted out as need be. So far we've been lucky and not seen too much social media chatter, but that may not remain the case. ASF personnel- ah, here's Captain Olivetti, he'll get you set up, go with him… and that leaves Foxtrot Four."

The few squads of Foxtrot left from the crowd gathered closer. Jacobs waved his tablet.

"At the moment, nothing more exciting than perimeter patrol, I'm afraid. This is a big mountain, lots of paths on and off to cover. Establish your posts and capture what you see. The lives of millions may be depending on you. Remember, you're not confronting, just observing and reporting- let local police handle moving people out of sensitive areas. Squad leaders, when you've got your computers synced to the local tactical network you'll find your patrol assignments have been set up. Don't forget to grab lots of water from the supply tent and for Christ's sake put on some sunblock if you haven't already- Medical says it's melanoma by noon if not. Any questions? No? Get to it. And have fun- you may have noticed this place is gorgeous. Take it in for fuck's sake."

They'd been out on the peak for only a couple hours and were already more than halfway through their water rations. All but Anders; her's was enviously full. The benefit of a smaller body and less heat production.

This kind of patrol work wasn't bad- it basically amounted to sitting high up with a pair of binoculars and taking notes. Like birdwatching with HK53s.

"Christ, it's too fucking hot," Pearce muttered, for probably the hundredth time. "Hey hun, mind if I borrow some water. Don't worry, I'll give it back."

"Fuck yourself," Anders responded swiftly.

"Maybe you could help me with that too."

No reaction.

"I doubt that monastery had air conditioning," Lance said, fanning himself with his sweaty baseball cap. "And besides, the view's great. We have the occasional breeze, which is more than those indoors can say. I can think of worse places to be."

They were perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the grassy sweep of the mountainside with a view of Naples that belonged on a postcard. The sun cast glints of white fire off the ocean waves.

Gilmour, who was lying under a camouflage net for shade, poked his head back out and gestured at Anders, who handed him her bottle.

"Lieutenant Fox? Did they give you an idea why the Authority deployed, like, six MSTs from halfway across the world to watch a mountain? Couldn't they have accomplished this with a few drones or something?"

Fox was mechanically sweeping the hillside with his binoculars, and didn't look down.

"Don't know, don't care."

Gilmour seemed about to say something in response, something he wasn't sure was wise to ask, and looked to Lance for a hint. But Lance had two eyes in his binoculars, scanning the terrain. There was a very long silence before Lance spoke up.

"What the… guys, take a look at this. Second ravine on the left, by the big olive tree. Something is reflecting the sunlight strong."

It took the rest a second to find them- a small squad of men.

"I see 'em, Lance. Gah-damn… that's bright… what… are they wearing?"

"Italian Army, right? We were told there'd be some patrols," Pearce scoffed.

Pearce pondered. "Why would Italian Army be carrying AN-94s? They use AR70s. And hell, that guy in the back is carrying a RPK-74. Lieutenant Fox, sir- the armed ones are in some heavy geothermal protective gear as well… looks like fire-retardant flight suits, gas masks… flight helmets?”

“Do they know something we don’t? Or are they just being really really careful?”

“The other ones have silver heat-resistant suits, that's what's catching the sun. I can't imagine they'd wear those bulky things just to be careful… they're too hard to move around in to make them practical field gear."

"Hence the armed escort."

"Just look at them! They're waddling." Gilmour laughed.

“Should we call it in?”

Fox frowned, then nodded.

"Gilmour, call it in. Well-spotted, Lance."

Lance couldn't help but smile.

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