This material starts out mine, but the briefing that Mary gets called into, was created by Brian Lumley. Australian Adventure - Day Three After a hearty breakfast of sausages and beans, tasted great, and filled a spot, but was of no nutritional value to her; she went back upstairs to to get dressed, then decided to do a patrol of the grounds. Mary posed in front of the full length mirror in one of the bathrooms, to check herself out. In deference to being in the Queensland State capital, rather than her normal fashion style, she had gone for a short-sleeved white blouse and knee-length black pencil skirt, with black heels. The intention was to pass for an office worker, if she had to go out. The tan-leather shoulder holster in her left hand was already weighed down by the Bren Ten, as she lifted it and pulled the loops up her arms, and smoothed the sleeves back along her biceps. She took one more appraisal, reflecting that fashion magazines would probably recommend a black shoulder-rig to compliment her skirt and shoes! Shaking her head at the absurdity, she then headed down to the back of the house. "Hold on Miss." A strong hand grabbed her bare arm as she made to step out the back door, its owner releasing her and stepping back as she turned in the doorway to look up at him. "Whoa." She muttered, taking in his upper form. His folded arms bulged with clustered muscles, under tanned skin than glistened with a fine patina of perspiration. Above the forearms, she could see the V-neck of a navy blue, sleeveless t-shirt, and under them, the lower legs of sideways hopping kangaroo. "Hi, you're one of the psychics, right?" His broad Australian accent, helped identify him as Warrant Officer Bygraves, one of the Australian Special Air Service men that Trask referred to as the "military commanders". She had an idea that the E-Branch head had no idea how military ranks worked, which while she did not either, she would not have classed "warrant officer" as a "commander" of anything. Still, it indicated that the Aussies were not sending their best and brightest into a fight with the Wamphyri. Their commissioned officers were staying in the barracks on this one. "No." She responded to his query. "I'm just an agent for E-Branch, providing support for the psychics." She nodded at his t-shirt. "Why aren't you in uniform? Not that I mind." "Now that we are in Brizzie, uh, Brisbane; they want us in civvies, so that we don't attract attention." He grinned down at her. "Gave me a chance to show that I'm a Roo's fan." "Kangaroos?" "Yeah, alternate name for North Melbourne. Rules' football, you know?" She smiled back up at the trooper, noting that what hair had been left by his crewcut, was quite ginger, reflecting the sunshine streaming in behind her. She could feel the back of her calves warming up from the heat. "I'm familiar with the concept. Like our rugby." Bygraves shook his head slowly, "Players run about while holding the ball in their hands, true, but there the similarity ends. If you are free this evening, and we are not on an op', I would be happy to explain the differences." She shrugged. "Its a date. Now, what was it you wanted? I'm doing a patrol of the grounds." Bygraves indicated the shoulder holster, tight against the short sleeve of her white blouse. "You don't want to be taking that hogleg out there. What if we are being observed?" "Well, Miller did a runner with all that information, right? Which is precisely why I am armed." "And what if the Opposition calls the police, saying they have seen someone prowling the grounds while armed, and the local cops raid us? This is supposed to be covert." Formal frowned. "The Opposition? What, Russian E-Branch?" "No, the vampires." "Oh." Her expression cleared as she bobbed her head in understanding, and wiped a hair strand out of her face. "I guess the term means different things to different people. So what do you want me to do?" Bygraves stepped aside, half-turned and nodded towards the shadowed hallway leading deaper into the safe house. "Come on." Mary closed and locked the back door, and preceeded the SAS officer towards the central area. The ground floor featured four long rooms, each to a side, served by large windows, either unobstructed bullet-proof glass, or concealed by net curtains. The furniture within was slightly out-of-date, but gave the place a wealthy, residential feel. The central room, completely hidden from the outside world, was filled with electronic and communications equipment, screens, and whatever apparatus was needed to make it into an operational and command centre. It was permanently manned by the E-Branch techs, Jimmy Harvey, or Paul Arenson. A trestle table in a corner to the right as they entered highly-polished sliding wooden doors, was before a tall green safe with an open door, and Mary could see racks of handguns inside. Bygraves shuffled behind the table and held out a hand for her weapon. "You can have it back tonight." She pulled at the leather strap, and started to shrug out of the apparatus. "Why tonight?" "Nightfall. We'll dole the things back out, then. But, nothing is going to happen in broad daylight, Agent." "I hope you are right." She said as she handed the rig across to him, and received a plain grey lottery ticket stub in return. She held it up. "What's this for? Nobody else has a Bren." "Procedure." The warrant officer turned and placed her gun on a shelf in the safe, and closed the safe, spinning the combination. Straightening to face her, he volunteered to join her on patrol. Mary shook her head. "I expect you would be too much of a distraction, Warrant Officer." * * * * The safe house exterior was aluminium cladding designed and painted in an imitation of timber, not very well when you were looking at it close up. The gated drive that wound down to the road, was lined by palm trees, and lawns, the grass dried to straw, surrounded the house on all four sides, with high stone walls minimising observation from outside. Anyone climbing over those walls would be unlikely to get far across those sprawling lawns without getting spotted. Though if they had to dig their guns out of the safe, she didn't know how much help the early warning would be. Round the front, on the gravel-laid drive, two saloon cars had been laid on for their use. Bullet-proof windows, armour-plating, all the vehicular defensive mod-cons. After checking out the cars, Mary stood on the drive, hands on hips, squinting towards the horizon to see if she could spot any nearby buildings. In her view, any observer would need a ladder placed against the outside of one of those walls, steal a fire engine - for the ladder, a telecoms truck - for the cherry-picker, or a helicopter. Funnily enough, helicopters were the eventual focus of the briefing that Liz Merrick stuck her head out of the front door to call her in, to attend. Everyone was in the centre room by time the two women arrived in there, the Arcateenian surprised to spot a new face - David Chung - an Anglo-Chinese locator that Trask had left in London to run things there. When did he get here? She thought, noting that the lucky attendees, including Liz next to Jake, had seats; then was pleasantly surprised to spot Bygraves signalling herself, patting the chair beside him on the front row. She smiled gratefully, and planted herself among the abbreviated row of soldiers, crossing her pale legs. "Much appreciated," she whispered to him. "No worries." She heard muttered queries of "What's with the Whisky Tango?" from some of them, but any investigation of what they meant, would have to wait until after the briefing. Trask, citing a query from someone at the Gibson Desert camp, presumably one of the locals, as to why they did not capture a vamp for study, gave a comprehensive run-down on the Wamphyri threat, and how they compared to biological warfare "Think of it this way." Ben suggested. "Men have devised chemical and biological weapons, toxins and living viruses, that could wipe us all out - destroy Mankind itself - if they were to get out. We keep these things in secure laboratories where we study and develop them. Well, when I say 'we', I mean men, 'scientists'. In outlawed lands mainly, dabbling in a mostly outlawed science. For happily, a majority of governments have long since banned such agents; they deem them simply too terrible to for study or development. And they are right." Mary felt a pleasant shiver go through her as she felt a light sensation on her bare knee, her SAS neighbour's rough palm having settled atop the crossed legs extending beyond the hem of her skirt. She glanced down, then, suppressing a smile, returned her attention to Trask. "But the unpleasant fact is that because some people continue to experiment with this stuff, our people are required to follow suit in order to find vaccines and antidotes. They don't want us to be caught with our immune systems down, as it were. So yes, these terrible poisons exist in just about every country capable of handling them. But by God, you'd better believe they take damn good care not to spill the stuff." So, to summarise, Formal thought to herself, everyone signed up to banning the things, but ultimately nobody takes a blind bit of notice. "We all know that the Richter scale is the yardstick for the power of earthquakes. But if it was the measure of all potential disasters, then to cover man-made biological weapons, it would have to stretch from nine to ninety, and to cover the Wamphyri, it would have to cover from ninety to infinity! That's by my personal scale of reckoning, and I am not wrong." Mary leaned slightly towards Bygraves as Trask looked around his audience, and whispered, "I hate when he sit on the fence about things." The soldier shushed her, but she sensed amusement from him. "And remember, our man-made toxins and viruses aren't bent on escaping; they aren't sentient! But only imprison a vampire, and he is thinking from that moment on, how to get free. He wants to be free, like you, and wants you to be a prisoner, like him. A prisoner of something growing inside you, that will gradually make you someone - something - else. Something other." Trask looked over their heads to the people in the rows behind. "So then, now maybe you can see why we cannot suffer a vampire to live. The point being, we really won't suffer a vampire to live. Be sure of this: if you get infected, there is no cure. Which means we'll kill you." A quiet murmur rippled through the ranks. "Oh, it'll be clean. But it'll happen. A moment after one of us - I include myself - shows up positive, he also shows up dead..." Mary was quite relieved when her boss moved onto a comparatively more pleasant subject. Geography. "We think it's likely that our quarry has a hideout in the mountains. Where they come from, the Wamphyri are very fond of their aeries - the places they live - the higher up, the better. Unfortunately, that does not tell us very much, doesn't narrow down his or her location. For as you know, as well or better than I do, there are mountains galore around here. But there's also a paradox in that the Wamphyri do not go much on sunlight." A snicker went through the crowd. Bit of a fragging understatement. "Wierd, wouldn't you say, that our friends has chosen to set up show here? Well, maybe not. You see, our friend is not dumb. He knows that we know his habits, and that we have known of his 'invasion' from square one. That means he also knows this is the last place we would think to look for him. Trouble is, he might already know that we have located and dealt with Bruce Trennier, which in turn means he may already be expecting us. We could have already lost the element of surprise." "So how are we going to find them?" A voice piped up from the audience. "We have a couple of days before our back-up squads, and our big ops vehicle are in situ. And that has to be one of our first priorities: to find obscure and non-obtrusive sites, with access to principal mountain approach, where we can harbour these men and vehicles when they arrive. So, as of noon today, we'll be air-mobile again, but not in the jet-copters that you have grown used to. They'll be on standby in hangars at the airfield where we came in. There is a firm in town which does aerial sightseeing trips by helicopter, north along the Coastal Range to Gladstone, and south over the MacPhersons and along the Richmond Range as far as Grafton. Which is ideal for our purposes, as it covers the ground we are interested in, and the pilots will have first-class local knowledge. Alas, we cannot simply commandeer this firm, men and machines, but we will want the final choice of where they fly. I will later contact Prime Minister Lance Blackmore, to see what he can do." Trask then assigned the people who would go on the choppers: "Military commanders, you will be looking for naturally concealed campsites for your contingents, harbour areas, and access routes. And you'll also be checking your maps, doing an aerial reconnaissance of the entire area. As for my people:" He shifted his gaze to look at the E-Branch operatives in the room. "We'll be scanning the mountain heights for our quarry. In truth, we don't really know what we're looking for. But it won't be all blind luck. Two of my men, Lardis Lidesci and David Chung, are specialists in this area. One of them will go on each chopper" Trask stood up from his perch, signalling that they were in the endgame of the meeting. "Okay, that's it. From midday or thereabouts, we should have these planes at our disposal. Get your maps, cameras, or whatever you need, sorted out now. As for myself, as much as I would like to be going with you, someone has to mind the shop. Dismissed." There was an instant hubbub in the room as everyone rose of their chairs. "Really?" Mary whispered archly to Bygraves, uncrossing her legs and rising, remembering to tug her skirt down. "No-one corrects him on the 'military commander' thing?" "What? It's deadset." He frowned down at her with an amused expression. "We are military, and who do you think commands the diggers?" "Diggers?" She echoed, frowning right back at him. One of the other SAS men leaned in, this one in red t-shirt and khahki shorts with the bottoms rolled up to make them even shorter. "That's what we call soldiers, Miss. Diggers." Bygraves nodded. "Deadset." A piercing whistle turned heads back to Trask, who signalled that he had more to say. The noise level dropped. "One final reminder. This is a covert operation. Try not to give anything away to these civilian pilots. Have a set of answers ready to hand. For instance, you could be fire chiefs carrying out preliminary aerial surveys, ensuring there won't be a second Great Fire of Brisbane. Something along those lines. I'm sure you'll think of something. That's it, and I hope I didn't bore you too much. Gentlemen, thanks for your time and attention..." Bygraves turned to his fellows. "Alright, you heard the man. Start working out what we need. Who wants to be Quey (Quartermaster)?" One soldier raised a hand. "Good. Let's get to it." "See you later." Mary called softly to her departing friend, as he and the other SAS sol- diggers, filed out of the Operations Centre. To be continued... Thanks to: Wikipedia page (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Australian_English_military_slang) for Aussie military slang. Very interesting stuff. The North Melbourne Football Club (http://www.nmfc.com.au/the-club/history) for Bygraves' guernsey (the sleeveless t-shirt business) design in 1997. The Australian Explorer website (http://www.australianexplorer.com/slang/behaviour.htm) for general Australian Slang.