Three

On the outside Piro looked calm and collected, but on the inside he was a mess. After repeated attempts Erika failed to reacquire the tracking signal, and Largo fared no better. Largo ran diagnostics on all their equipment, but everything checked out. That left only one reason why they couldn't detect a tracking signal - It wasn't there. This meant that whoever had the weapons knew about the tracking beacon and knew how to suppress it. The ramification was that they were dealing with someone much more capable and dangerous than anyone had anticipated.

Piro was very concerned. AJAT's primary mission was to gather intelligence on terrorists. The rationale was that teams made up of Japanese and American personal would not be suspected of covert operations, and so far it had worked very well for the other teams. His team had been groomed especially for stealth and espionage. Breaking into a well guarded facility that was most likely on guard for such an attempt was not their forte. There was no way he was taking his team in after those weapons.

Piro told Largo to put the drone in an auto pilot loop flying around the residence while he contacted Colonel Sonoda. After bringing the colonel up to date Piro said, "Honestly sir, I don't think my team would have a chance of retrieving those weapons. Whoever we're dealing with is just too well prepared; there's no way we could surprise them." After a brief hesitation he added, "And sir, I don't think a second team will even the odds much. It is my recommendation that we enlist the help of a SEAL or Ranger unit, if we can get approval."

The colonel didn't respond right away. When he did he said, "I see. The general won't be happy, but he'd be less happy about losing that equipment. I think I can get you a SEAL unit, but it's up to you to keep those weapons contained until your support arrives. What's your plan, captain?" Piro responded almost instantly, "Well sir, Escobar's residence has a heliport. Do we have the authority to take out anything that tries to land there?" The colonel hesitated, then said, "This could get messy, but given the circumstances I'll give you that authority." After a moment of consideration he asked, "What if they try to leave by ground?"

Having already worked out a plan, Piro answered, "Due to the location of the heliport, we can't cover it and the front gate unless we split up. I'm reluctant to do that because we have very little information on their surveillance capabilities, and the best spot to watch the front gate offers poor natural defenses. There wouldn't be a place to hide the vehicle nearby, so whoever took that position wouldn't be able to make a quick get away. My plan is to mine the front gate with our vehicle's screw mining system, and then we'll take position to cover the heliport. If anyone tries to leave through the front gate we will see them with our reconnaissance drone. If we take out the lead vehicle, then hopefully no one else will be able to get out. Also, we'll move into position to stop anyone who tries. If anyone does manage to get by us, we still have the drone to follow them."

"Impressive Captain," replied the colonel. "It's a good plan. Hopefully you'll be able carry it out before they try to make a move. I'll update the general on the situation and I'll try to get you that SEAL unit ASAP. Good luck and godspeed, Sonoda out." With that he closed the connection.

Piro wasted little time briefing his team on the plan, and within minutes they were heading for the residence. On the journey Largo programmed the mining system to be initiated from a single button on the dashboard, while Erika monitored the residence and scouted for the optimal location to cover the heliport from. Kimiko and Piro discussed various scenarios of what they might encounter when they reached the gate, and reviewed what their responses would be. When they were a mile away Piro pulled over so everyone could put away any suspicious looking gear, and so Kimiko could get out a road map. He also had everyone check their concealed weapons, just in case. Once he was satisfied, he said, "Looks like we're ready to go. Everyone stay calm and we'll be out of here in under five minutes."

As they approached the gate, Piro pulled the SUV off the road and stopped a few feet from the gate. He hoped that no one would come to check on them since the residence's wall blocked them from view. As soon as he put the SUV in park he hit the button on the dash that would lay the mines. The mines looked like large screws with a rock on top of them. The deployment system would screw the mines into the ground far enough that only the fake rock would show. The softer ground on the side of the road would make deployment of the mines much quicker.

Thirty seconds had passed and the mines were partially deployed when the gate opened and a guard emerged. The guard carried an AK-47 and wore a communication headset. He walked around the SUV looking in all the windows before stopping in front of the driver's window. When Piro rolled down the window the guard asked, "Perdido? Lost?" Piro smiled nervously and glanced at the guard's gun before nodding his head and saying, "Yes - Si, Lost. We're tourists, turistas staying in Pereira." He gestured towards the map and said, "Pereira, donde Pereira?"

The guard smiled at him and then held up his hand and said, "Momento." Then the guard walked over towards the gate and started speaking into his headset. Piro was able to hear enough of the guard's words to gather that the guard was telling someone that they were lost tourists. When the guard finished his explanation he nodded his head a few times, then returned to the vehicle and started giving them directions. Just as the guard started talking Largo coughed, which was the signal that the mines were deployed. Piro was anxious to go but he knew he had to wait until the guard finished, so he just kept nodding his head as if the guard's broken English directions were perfectly clear.

Piro was just getting ready to thank the guard and tell him that he thought they could find their way when he heard Kimiko gasp. When Piro looked to see what had startled her, he saw about ten armed men streaming out of the gate. When he looked back at the guard he had been speaking to, he couldn't help but notice the AK-47 pointed directly at his head.

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