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Fungus Among Us (IC)

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Late December, 2009: Dasht-e Lut, Iran

An unmarked Bell 214A flew silently above the abiotic desert of Dasht-e Lut. The heat of the night air was stifling, even now in the region's winter season, and the crew and passengers of the helicopter were drenched in sweat. The chopper carried six figures in desert camo to an isolated research base in the dead center of the desert. Kristian Gerber was among them, and he was running a last minute check on his gear. An M4 assault rifle with four extra magazines, a Berretta M9 with a mounted flashlight and two extra magazines, two fragmentation grenades, one flash-bang, one green smoke grenade, a Mk. III tactical knife, a gas mask, and an electronic tool kit. "Ready to rock," he said under his breath to no one in particular.

The cabin light changed from red to green and a heavily muscled man with a salt-and-pepper crew cut and Texas accent called out to the rest of the group, "Time to party, y'all!" The assembled soldiers lined up in a disciplined fashion and readied their repelling gear as the Texan swung open the side door. The rythmic thumping of the rotor blades kicked up a cloud of dust as it hovered some thirty feet above the rocky desert. One by one, they descended into to sandy vortex, taking up position as the rest of the team formed up. When the last man had hit ground, the chopper pulled away.

"This is Big Bird. Going back home."

"Copy that, Big Bird, we'll call y'all when we need a ride outta here," the Texan spoke into his tactical headset. "Alright, ladies, y'all know what I want. Target is half a klik north'a here. I want three two-man groups at'a fifty meter spread. Gerber, you're with me."

Kris kept low, his eyes aimed down the sight of his rifle for any signs of trouble. The landscape itself was a barren, rocky desert, devoid of even sun blasted shrubbery. Nothing except the strike team moved on the blazing sands of Dasht-e Lut, their passage marked only by their footprints. The sliver of moon high in the cloudless night sky was their only light source, though the composition of the sand reflected the light well enough to see by.

"So, Gerber, 'sit true what they say? Who trained ya, I mean?" Tex asked when they were well out of earshot from the other two groups. "I don't much care if it is or aint, but that's a helluva rep!"

Kris continued to scan the horizon through his scope as he answered, appearing every bit the professional the Texan assumed him to be. "People talk, whether they know what they're talking about or not," he spoke in a low, hushed tone. "Why, would that be a problem if I was?" he asked nonchalantly, though he already knew the answer. If it wasn't for that reputation, he would've never been hired on for this job.

"Naw, kid, was jus' wonderin' is all," he answered with a sidelong glance.

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They had walked for nearly a hundred yards and still Kris couldn't see anything that looked remotely out of place. "Hey, Tex, aren't we supposed to be looking for a weapon depot or something?" he asked the older man. He had been briefed on the op, but the information he was given was scarce at best. All he knew was that a team was needed to infiltrate a secret weapon R&D facility, collect intel on the current project, and take it back to the Iranian government for a quick paycheck. Nothing too hard.

"Sort'a, kid. It's un'nerground, so we aint gonna see the entrance till we're right on top of it. No worries, though. Ol' Tex has a nose for this sort of thing," he cracked a grin at the younger man. "'Sides, we got three teams looking for it, won't take long at'all."

The pair continued for another hundred yards when their tactical radios crackled. "Tex, the hell is this, a snipe hunt?" asked a gruff voice. "There ain't s**t out here, man."

""Aye, 'e's right," another voice chimed in, demure and Irish. "Lest ye count blazing sand and poor company." Laughter came across the radio, quickly followed by a sharp retort from the first voice. "Yeah, good one, Maeve. Go f**k yourself."

"Cut tha chatter, Brock, and watch yer goddamn language," barked Tex over the radio. "We got a lady present, not to mention Gerber's virgin ears listenin' in."

Another burst of laughter at Kris's expense came over the young man's tac-com, and he bit back a harsh reply. "Just yankin' yer chain, kid," Tex teased him.

"Whatever," he said to the Texan. He continued to scout the area for signs of an underground entrance for another fifty yards when another voice came over the radio.

"Tex, this is Warchild. I think I found it, but..." the mercenary sounded puzzled. "I don't know how to explain it, better see it yourself."

"Ya'll heard tha man, group up on Warchild!" Tex commanded. "Gerber, I want you to hold back a couple meters."

Kris nodded an affirmation, though he was unsure of the reason behind the apparent concern. He could take care of himself, probably more so than anyone else on the team. Why was he being babied?

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