When Jen Walters had asked Zed how soon he expected to hear back from the recon team he sent out to investigate a Black-Oil infestation in a Rimiran colony, Zed had told her three days at best. Ten days more likely. November 29th. December 6th.

It's now January 3rd.

Thirty-eight days.

Agent B is keeping quiet, his finger poised above the comm channel on the Egg Display control panel. The other senior Agents and techs in the MiB HQ's main hall aren’t saying a word either.

No one expects good news. At this point, they just hope not to hear the worst.

"Hit it," Zed growls.

B raps the comm. Static fills the chamber until B toggles the volume down and reconfigures a few signal/noise levels.

"Agent O, this is Zed. What’ve you got for me?"

"Not much good, Chief." O’s voice is tinny. With the kind of tech MiB used that could only mean the recon team's signal is punching through one hell of a jamming system.

"Do you have control of the colony?" Every other question is secondary.

"No, Sir. We’ve established a presence, but the Enemy remains entrenched in several locations in the area. We’re taking regular fire."

"Thirty-eight days, and you’re still securing your position? What the hell happened?"

"Heavy weaponry, Chief. Plasma cannon on the high end. Rimiran disruptors up close. And reinforced defense systems. Tunnels. Supply dumps."

"And these are Oil-compromised Rimirans?"

"No, sir. As far as we can tell, the Rimirans were all wiped out within days of the invasion."

There's silence in the room as Zed meets the gaze of B and then K. Zed hadn’t even noticed when K came into the room.

With Zed distracted, B asks the question first: "Who are we talking about then, O?"

"Entities. The aliens temporarily designated as "The Masters." They’ve been hooded in every encounter, and we haven’t been able to bag a single damn one of them, so we’re still waiting on a positive identification."

"O, this is K. You're saying they match the description of the entity encountered during the retaking of MiB HQ?"

"Affirmative. That much we can confirm."

"That’s good enough for me," Zed growls. "O, what intel have you gathered on the Masters’ resistance to standard MiB armament?"

"Oh, they blow to atoms just fine, Chief. The trick is getting a clear shot. Most of their teams have had Class V Force Defenses with network support. If we bring down the generator, the rest is clean-up. But we’re taking casualties right up to then."

"How serious?" Zed’s face is a thundercloud.

"So far we’ve held the line with field treatment. We’re going to need several limb regenerations after the mission, but morale remains high."

Another glance between K and Zed. Even by their standards, the MiB recon teams are tough sons-of-bitches.

"All right, O. We can work with that. How secure is this channel going forward?"

"We’re not losing it, Chief. But no promises on how long the remaining objectives will take."

"Understood. Your first Relief Team should be making orbit in eighteen standard hours. The second left fifty-two standard ago, ETA in another seventy-three. As of this report, I’ll place a third team on stand-by."

"Confirmed and appreciated, Chief. O, out."

B returns the channel to stand-by. Silence fills the room once again.

"All right," Zed’s gaze travels around the hall. "We knew what we’d be getting into here, and it all could’ve gone a hell of a lot worse. Let’s get to work and do what we can to keep this momentum going our way."

As the agents broke into groups, K strolls over.

"I’d feel better," his voice low, "If you were even half as confident as you're trying to look."

Zed’s voice is a low rumble. "We’re getting this kind of resistance from an outlying surveillance station. What the hell are we going to be facing when we finally locate Altair IV?"
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