For this month’s flash piece, I’m returning to Barif and the Wolves of Sorrow series. A Successful Mission Gone Wrong follows Jelayan on a retrieval mission of a well-protected green gem (August’s peridot). This story occurs after Jelayan’s book (#4) but before Hinata’s (#6) when Jelayan is still fitting into her new duties with her mate’s covert operations organization. There are no spoilers for the series’ overarching plot.
For this flash short, Kellan and Jelayan are still a relatively new couple still learning how to be in a relationship. Add in a boss/subordinate situation, and you get what happens here. A wolf who does whatever’s required to succeed on her mission, and her mate’s fury when it comes at the expense of her health. Sometimes even the most successful mission is still a failure.
A Successful Mission Gone Wrong
The gem hung suspended in a rotating case, the light sparking off its yellow-green facets. The walls of the case were a transparent alloy of intergalactic grade aramidium rated to withstand a planetary barrage. There wasn’t an obvious access point to the gem, no door latch or visible hinges. It was as if the gem formed within the case instead of being placed there.
She stalked around the case on silent feet and studied it from every angle. The iridium light wands chased the shadows from the room, but a moment of tampering caused one to flicker in erratic bursts. During one of those flickers, her shadow revealed a shimmer of light surrounding the case. She bared her fangs in a triumphant smile. Clever, but not clever enough to defeat a cat. Sneaky was in her DNA.
The shimmer indicated a complex security system. An alarm was a given as were offensive capabilities. Her first task was identifying each type of offensive attack woven into the security measures. Her real challenge, of course, was to deactivate them all without triggering the alarm.
Removing a small diagnostic bot from her pocket, she pressed her thumb to the scanner to activate it. With a soft whir, it rose to hover three inches from the shimmering barrier. It barely made a quarter way around the case when the screen flashed blue signaling the alarm. A particularly obnoxious one, too. The kind which sent silent notifications to the authorities long before it blared an audible warning for all to hear. Her growl rumbled in her chest, but she didn’t let it rise. Stealth was critical, and the Rifaniir’s hearing was keen.
Another quarter turn, and the screen flashed again. A brilliant crimson. That meant a fire or heat-based defense. She reached for her comm device, and the device flashed again. Purple, a paralyzing agent. Shit. Another flash. Another offensive color. Then another. And another.
Sand and sun, why was this gem so protected? It’s just a colored bit of rock. She drew out her comm device and read the reports. A wasteland tumbleweed had fewer layers than the case’s security programming. Disarming all the defenses would take more time than she had. She needed a shortcut.
Reading through the report again, she curled her lip in a silent snarl. This… was going to suck. Jelayan returned the diagnostic bot and her comm device to her pocket and withdrew a communications jammer. A marvel of Rifaniir technology, it scrambled all comm devices in a ten-meter radius—the holovid recorders, her personal unit, and the alarm built into the gem’s case. A three-minute window to grab the damned gem and run. It would have to be enough.
The ceiling vent remained open, the metal cage over the air duct pushed aside during her entry. There’d be no impediment to leaving the room. Leaving the building, however, might prove problematic, but she’d worry about that later. For now, she had to retrieve the gem.
She pulled on the gloves and drew the dagger she’d brought along for just this scenario. She’d get only one chance at this. Shaking her shoulders to relieve the tension, she drew in a deep inhale, released it in a slow exhale. Now.
She pushed the button on the jammer and sank her blade into the corner of the cage. For a brief heartbeat, nothing happened. Then heat crawled up her arm, searing her skin through the tactical material of her glove. Cold followed the heat, so sharp and bitter it burned almost as much as the heat. She hissed through the pain, plucked the gem from the ruined cage, and sealed it inside one of the cargo pockets of her trousers.
The knife fell from her nerveless fingers as the paralyzing agent seeped through glove. It was a blessing in disguise as she no longer felt the agony of the dual hot/cold defensive attacks. It also rendered her hand useless for her escape. An acceptable trade-off.
Jumping into the air duct, she maneuvered the grate back into position and retraced her path to the outside. The cool autumn air chased away the musty staleness of the air duct and brought a familiar and welcome scent to her nose. The wood and leather of the purest vetiver oil. The cool, refreshing bite of mint. Freshly polished teakwood warmed by the summer sun. A beloved scent. The scent of her mate.
She looked at the arm she’d secured in her shirt and grinned. He was going to be so angry with her. Gripping the rope he’d dropped from the roof with her working hand, Jelayan pulled herself toward the roof using her clawed toes in the cracks and crevices of the building’s façade. The higher she climbed, the better she heard Kellan’s mating song. The subvocal melody meant for her ears alone was a disjoined, angry buzz against her senses.
Yep. He was spitting mad. He might even bite her. She hoped she could get him naked first.
Once on the roof, he took one look at her tucked arm and bared his many fangs. “What did you do?”
“Succeeded.” Jelayan patted the pocket containing the gem. “Let’s go. We have forty-five seconds.”
Kellan returned the rope to his belt, scooped her into his arms, and ran. They raced along the rooftops, leaping from building to awning to outer staircases. As she’d trained with the Rifaniir, they’d learned from her. The members of Kellan’s covert operations incorporated many of the wolves’ sneakier tactics such as maintaining the high ground whenever possible. The ambush predators of Barif cloaked themselves in their natural camouflage and took down their prey from the shadows rather than strike from above. Jelayan taught them to rethink that strategy more than once during training.
Her device gave a quiet ping just as Kellan slowed his run. His chest heaved from the exertion, his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat, but they’d reached their destination. She slipped from his arms and unlocked the roof’s access door with her code and palm print. Together, they stepped onto the lift platform.
“You need a medic.” Kellan’s voice was hard, the obsidian stars in his beautiful eyes fading to leave a barren landscape of fury. “How, exactly, did you circumvent the security around the gem?”
“Stop snarling at me, Kellan.” She bared her own fangs and hissed. “The mission brief said quick and quiet, so that’s what I did.”
“Fuck the brief! Tell me what happened.”
A low growl rumbled in her chest. She might love him more than life itself, but she wouldn’t tolerate that tone. Still, he was not just her mate but her superior on this mission. She told him and finished with, “Remember when I asked for a copy of the cage’s scan? I had the tech team scrub it of all identifying information then took it to Talish. He has an artist’s soul, but he also built Sorrow’s best weapons. He saw a weakness in the design.”
Kellan pinched the bridge of his nose. “You punched through the defenses?”
“Yes. Hit the weak spot, grabbed the gem, and got the fuck out. Mission accomplished.”
An hour later, Jelayan was able to remove the glove and feel each of her fingers again. Movement remained jerky as the nanos sought and neutralized the last of the paralyzing agent. There’d be no permanent scarring, though the doctor had berated her almost as much as her mate. This, the medic had told her, was how stupid people died. Now that she was no longer hopped up on adrenaline, she had to agree.
And she finally saw through Kellan’s anger to the soul-deep worry beneath it. She’d scared him. Scared her beautiful, playful predator so badly he hadn’t let her out of his sight since the rooftop, his subvocal song a constant hum of anger, fear, and a love so deep it still stole her breath at times.
“I’m sorry,” she said in their quarters that night. He’d made love to her that night with excruciating tenderness. Her heart broke at the realization of how much she’d wounded her beautiful predator. “I should’ve discussed the plan with you first and found an alternative. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”
“That much energy, that much pain could’ve killed you.” He held her tightly against his body, his face buried in her hair and his legs trapping her, but it was the faint tremors she felt against her back which shattered her.
“I read the reports,” she whispered, covering his hands with hers and lacing their fingers together. “I brought the glove to mitigate the effects, chose a non-conductive blade from the armory. I hadn’t expected that much power in such a small target.”
“If you were one of my operatives,” he said harshly, “you’d be busted down to novice in Ray’s security division. I don’t sacrifice my people for a mission, Jelayan, and you’re not just an operative. You’re my mate. My fucking heartbeat.”
“I know, honey, I know.” Tears stung her eyes at the anguish in his voice. “I’m so sorry.”
“A month.” His fangs sank into her shoulder, the bite possessive and commanding. A dominant predator reprimanding his mate. “You’re now riding a desk for a month. No training. No teaching. No fieldwork. Maybe during that month, you’ll learn you have value.”
“Okay.” No part of her fought the punishment. Her wolf whined at hurting this Rifaniir who’d stolen her heart. Her cat retreated deep inside her mind leaving only her human self. “I truly didn’t know it’d be that bad, Kellan. I never meant to scare you.”
“I know, kitten.” Something relaxed inside her at the familiar, loving endearment. She hadn’t shattered them completely, hadn’t caused a permanent crack in their relationship. Anything else could be fixed. “Just, take better care of yourself. If not for you, then for me. I’d be lost without you.”
Rolling over when his hold relaxed, Jelayan wrapped her arms and legs around him and held him as tightly as he’d held her. “I promise.”
She sealed the vow with a kiss. And when he demanded her total surrender, she gave it to him. Sated and sleepy, she pressed her lips to his chest over the steady beat of his heart.
“I’m yours, Kellan Avelaño. I won’t forget again.”