(tentative title) Mutant Policies is also
cowritten by Matt Summers and JanaLee Stocks, and was
written because they'd both spent far, far too much time in the world of fantasy writing. It's a one-shot
writing, a stand-alone novel that is around 350 pages or so. It is unedited yet, so apologies for any
spelling/grammatical errors within.
“Good evening. This is Tony Grimm for News7 at ten. Our top story tonight takes us to Washington, D.C., where anchorwoman Jeannie Cox is already on the scene. Jeannie? Can you tell us a little about what happened there today?”
A box appeared in the upper right of the television screen, where an attractive black woman was waiting for her cue to begin. As she began to speak, the box shifted and filled the screen. “Thank you, Tony. Jeannie Cox here with the latest on the assassination attempt on President Kay.”
The scene switched to a presidential press conference on the lawn of the White House. A small timer in the right-hand corner of the screen indicated that the time of recording was just after five in the afternoon. “President Kay was scheduled to speak today about his controversial policies on the use of gifted specialists within the government and U.S. military.
“His policies have been questioned for their ethics and potential use of gifted humans in acts of war, similar to how his nuclear policy has been questioned. The only difference, of course, is that gifted humans are considered vastly more powerful than a nuclear warhead and much easier to hide within the general population.”
The scene flickered as an extremely tall and well-built man emerged from the barricade behind the press conference in the uniform of a secret service agent, followed closely by two other smaller men in identical uniforms. The easily recognizable figure of President Kay was walking between them, smiling and waving at the cameras as flashbulbs began to activate. Just off camera, a screeching of tires could be heard as well as some unintelligible language in a hurried and stressed voice.
“As he was approaching the podium, an unidentified van arrived at the scene. It is not yet known how they were able to get this far into the White House grounds, though investigators tell us that this information will be discovered soon. At five-o-two P.M., three heavily armed men exited the white van and began to spray the area with gunfire.”
The scene showed the moments of the van’s arrival coinciding almost simultaneously with the secret service agents pulling their own weaponry. The large man walking just ahead of the President was seen touching his belt momentarily before maneuvering his own body between that of the gunmen and the President.
“The assassins began firing their heavy automatic weaponry at the President, who had taken shelter behind an unnamed Secret Service agent seen here.” The scene froze, highlighting the big man in the center of the screen. Though the glasses obscured his eyes, the rest of his face was extremely detailed. His jawline was firm, set in anger against the assassins. His hair was blond and cut in a severe crew cut, and with the camera paused, it could be discerned that the man was in very good shape.
“The assassins centered their fire on the President’s bodyguard as the assembled members of the press began to duck and scramble for their lives.” The scene began to move again as round after round impacted into the large man. Amazingly, the man remained standing calmly, moving only to remove his own pistol from his belt clip. “Incredibly, the Secret Service agent was not only able to withstand the barrage of heavy caliber weaponry, he was even able to begin to return fire, killing one of the assassins with his first shot.”
Things happened quickly on the screen after that. The man’s first shot was rewarded with a scream of pain that quickly died off, and another staccato of firepower sounded as the agents behind the large man maneuvered their own weaponry so that they could fire from behind their impromptu cover. It was over almost as quickly as it had begun, the sounds of gunfire stopping immediately as the scene froze again when the agents stepped from behind the large man.
“Initial reports put the death toll of this attack at seven people, including the three attackers, one Secret Service agent, and three members of the press. The official word from the White House refuses to acknowledge that any of the people present were gifted humans of any way, shape or form, but it’s in this reporter’s personal opinion that there is little doubt to that matter. From Washington D.C., this is Jeannie Cox. Back to you, Tony.”
The scene switched back to the first anchorman, who nodded. “Thank you, Jeannie. In other related news, an automobile accident in Omaha, Nebraska, turned into the latest gifted sighting within the population. News7 has just received footage from the accident as filmed by an amateur photographer.”
Another box opened in the top right corner of the screen, showing a large ten-car accident that also involved a fuel tanker. A large assortment of firefighting equipment could be seen fighting the blaze as the photographer captured the moment on his handheld camera.
“This is the footage from a few minutes after the accident itself had happened. Police and firefighters were working to put out the blaze when the photographer noticed something out of the ordinary.” The camera moved to show the ambulances that had gathered and focused in on a small, indistinct woman moving between the vehicles.
“The identity of this woman is not yet known. However, eyewitness reports indicate that she moved from victim to victim, touching each one for no more than a few moments before moving on to the next. The people she stopped to touch were the ones that were the most wounded, including one man who was in cardiac arrest.”
The scene flickered as the cameraman continued to follow the figure. The woman stopped and knelt by a large man who was receiving CPR, and she touched his forehead for a moment. She was immediately told to leave by the rescue personnel that were attending to the man, until the man suddenly gasped and sat up with wide and frightened eyes.
The woman turned and looked back for a split second, and the scene froze on her face. She was a very pretty woman in her mid twenties, her features framed by long locks of curly blond hair that had escaped the ponytail that held the rest of her hair back. Her eyes were a brilliant green in color that was brought out by the bright lights of the rescue vehicles around her.
“Witnesses say that everyone she touched was somehow miraculously healed of some or all of their wounds. When an attempt was made to speak to her, however, she ran off into the night, escaping in what looked to be a blue or green car north on Interstate 80.”
The television flickered off with an electronic noise as the blond-haired man in the chair pushed the button on the remote. He stood, his large frame dwarfing everything in the room. Nathan Stevens shook his head and tossed the remote over to the bed, where his bullet-ridden Secret Service uniform jacket and shirt were dropped haphazardly.
He walked over to the closet and grimly began to flip through the remaining jackets he had within it as a knock sounded on his door. “I know, Leanna. I know. I’ll be there in just a minute.” Grimly, Nathan threw his cleanest shirt over his head and grabbed one of his remaining jackets. He moved over to the door, opening it carefully while he used his other hand to tuck his shirt into his service slacks.
By the time Nathan reached the conference room several other men had already assembled, among them President Kay and Daniel Cummings, Nathan's superior and the head of internal affairs as related to the gifted. Daniel was an older man with a military bearing and graying hair cut even more severely than Nathan’s. At the moment he was on the phone, a television in the background playing another newscast of the accident. This time it was complete with on the spot interviews, some claiming the incident to be a hoax and others announcing that the woman was an angel.
Leanna looked up as Nathan entered and gave him a sunny smile. It was no secret to anyone that she fancied the big man, and she had decided that persistence was the key to success. She offered him a cup of coffee, whispering softly. "They got a partial tag on the car. Cummings is on with the DMV right now."
Nathan nodded, taking the coffee with a murmured “Thanks.” He returned her smile with one of his own as he began to watch the interviews, unconsciously filtering out the rest of the room mentally as he absorbed as much as he could of the broadcast.
A low whistle turned their attention to the president as he rewound and played a section of the tape again. It showed a close up of the driver of the semi, who should have been burnt beyond recognition considering the condition of his rig. Save for the loss of his eyebrows, most of his hair and a faint redness to his complexion, he seemed unhurt. Like others he remembered the woman, calling her his guardian angel and insisting that she'd pulled him out of the truck and saved his life.
Nathan’s whistle nearly matched that of President Kay’s. “Damn. That guy should have been toast. She’s strongly gifted, isn’t she?” He peered at the grainy picture of the woman in question, which was displayed on another screen nearby. “Looks in her twenties. Shouldn’t she have been detected before this?”
Leanna nodded, though it was Cummings that answered as he hung up the phone. "She should have been. Why she's not in our system is beyond me." His tone was gruff and grumpy. He hated it when someone slipped through his net of operatives, especially someone so old. Usually they managed to identify the gifted in their early teens. There weren’t that many to start with, so it was generally easy; though things weren't usually so damn public. "And why she had to play hero with a camera around is another thing that I can't begin to understand."
Nathan grinned. “Maybe she’s read too many comic books? Most people have an overdeveloped sense of decency; from the looks of it, she was just trying to help those people.” He motioned to the screen where the woman’s face was frozen on the tape. “Likely she didn’t know she was being recorded. After all, the minute she realized she was being taped, she got the hell out of there.”
"Yes." The admission was grudging, and rare from Cummings. "But it still poses a problem for us. Every news station in the country will pick up that feed sooner or later, and someone somewhere is going to know who she is. We need to find her before anyone else does." His tone was dark. There were many groups that looked to use the talents of gifted folks, and many of them hardly had the best interests of the populace in place.
Leanna blinked slowly. "But her gift is benign, I'm not sure what good she'd do most folks."
Cummings frowned and rolled his eyes. He wasn't fond of the overly perky administrative assistant, he preferred his women intelligent. "What army wouldn't
want someone capable of near instant healing? How much more valuable is a soldier that can be sent out over and over again with little down time or loss of resource? There is going to be a list as long as your arm after her, and soon. We have to be faster."
“Other governments, drug lords… the list of who she could benefit is rather extended.” Nathan frowned and thought for a moment. “Tiny little girl, too. Likely she’s got family, either in Nebraska or nearby. Omaha’s near the border, isn’t it? Were her plates local or out of state?” Nathan’s brain was already going into high gear.
"Local, registered to a Dale and Louise Patterson of Omaha." The voice belonged to Shawn Stevis, Cummings' second in command. He was pulling papers off of the fax machine, apparently the results of the phone call. "Though I don't think she's Louise unless Louise has had plastic surgery lately." He passed around the papers, which showed the driver's licenses of the two. Louise was a plain looking woman in her fifties. There was a family resemblance, but she had obviously matured past the age of the woman they'd seen in the news report.
Cummings frowned, pacing the room. "We need to get someone to their house, immediately. Stevis, I want a run on airline tickets for anyone leaving the Omaha
area with the name of Patterson. If she's realized how much coverage her little stunt gave her, she'll be on the move. Run a picture search against any database we have. See if she comes up." He looked over at Nathan, looking the man over. "Think you could handle playing field agent on this one?"
Nathan grinned and nodded. "Better believe it, chief. Beats getting shot at any day." He smirked as President Kay shot him a quick chuckle. "I can pick my crew, right?"
At his affirmative nod, Nathan nodded. "Radar for comm work, Lisa for long distance and Eric for stealth. Three and myself should be all I need." He stood up, his coffee mostly untouched. "Which hangar do you want us in?"
Cummings considered for a moment, nodding at the selection of the team. "Hangar 3. The bird there was refitted over the last two days so should be ready to fly." He paused, thoughtful. "Nathan...be careful. This is obviously a woman with a developed gift, and control of it. She's valuable, but likely to be resistant. You're bringing her in for her own good. Someone is going to get to her, better it be us than one of them. Now get going."
“Can do, chief. And I’ll be careful.” Nathan grinned at Cummings before he bent down and whispered to Leanna, “Do me a favor, babe. Make sure that we have the proper landing clearances and whatnot yourself, mm? I really didn’t enjoy having to talk those F-16’s into not shooting us down last time.”
Leanna beamed at Nathan and winked conspiratorially. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Good.” Nathan turned and saluted President Kay and Cummings quickly before he spun on his heel and exited out of the large chamber. He hadn’t gone fifteen steps before he pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed the internal number for the barracks.
The phone rang once before a voice picked up. “Radar here. What’cha need, Nathan? If it doesn't have something to do with that lovely piece of tail from the news, I'm hanging up.”
Nathan smirked. There was no getting anything past Radar, hence his name. Nathan never called the barracks on this line unless something was up. “I need you, Lisa and Eric to meet me down at Hangar three. I need you there about fifteen minutes ago, and I need you geared for field retrieval. No heavy weaponry, though if Lisa insists she can bring one high caliber rifle. Tell her to leave the damn grenades behind.”
“The Three Amigos, armed for greasy burgers and fries, due yesterday and with a bowtie on. Got it. We’re on our way, boss. Meet you there.” The line went dead as Nathan flipped the phone back closed and continued walking down the hallway, his steps echoing on the marble underneath his feet.
* * *
“Darlene, are you all right?”
“Yes, mom. I'm fine.” Darlene held the cell phone close to her head while she looked around, making sure no one was listening too closely to her conversation.
“You scared us half to death!” There was relief as well as scolding in the tone and it brought a smile to Darlene's lips. She'd not lived at home for years, but it was still nice to see how quickly her parents jumped to her defense.
“You know I didn't mean to. Things just...” The blonde woman sighed softly, “Got a little nuts.”
“You're on the six o'clock news, Darlene! That's more than a little nuts!” Her dad's voice bellowed down the line. “Didn't we talk about this, about keeping it a
Darlene winced. “Dad, please. You're going to blow out my cell phone. I'm not a child. I knew what I was doing.”
“Getting your gift found out?" He sighed and his tone softened. "Darlene… I know you're a grown woman and all, but now people are going to be looking for you. People I'm not sure we can protect you from."
"I know, but there was no choice. I couldn't..."
"Couldn't just let them die." Her mother finished the sentence for Darlene, her voice gentle. "No. You couldn't. Come home. We'll work through this as a family."
Darlene leaned against the plate glass of the airport terminal, watching the large planes land. "I can't. It'll bring too much attention on Derrek if I'm there. As it is, they'll come to question you sooner or later, and the only way you can protect him is if we keep the scrutiny on me."
“I've made up my mind, Dad. I'll call you when I can." She pushed away from the window as her flight number was called. "That’s my plane. I love you."
"We love you too, honey... We love you too."
Darlene closed the phone and pushed her sunglasses higher on her nose as she moved towards the gate. The sunlight caught on the streaks of bright colors that her cousins had sprayed into her hair, taking only slight attention away from the fake nose ring and leather miniskirt with matching halter-top they'd somehow had in their closet. The clothing and make up had been just about enough to send their mother into fits if it hadn't been for the hurry everyone was in.
The outfit was damn uncomfortable and Darlene swore she'd change back into her own clothing just as soon as they landed in Salt Lake City. She just had to last for the four hour flight, and pray no one noticed any resemblance between Dayna Rembrant, the name on the false ID her cousins had also come up with, and the mystery angel that seemed to be showing up on every screen she looked at.
Shaking her head, Darlene put on a look of distracted boredom as she waited in the line to board the plane. She kept a tight hold on her carry-on luggage, juggling it and her tickets as she approached the gate. She presented her tickets and was waved onto the plane with the pasted on smile that seemed required in the airline industry.
As the door closed Darlene missed the lingering look of the gate attendant, who moved quickly to a nearby phone and began dialing. The line connected as she spoke quietly, "I found her. Flight 1237. She's headed into Salt Lake City." She paused, listening a moment before she responded. "No. She's alone. You shouldn't have any problem when she gets there."
Another pause and she smiled. "I'll look forward to seeing the deposit. Take care." With a click the connection closed. Outside flight 1237 pulled away from the gate, moving towards the runway and headed on a direct flight to Salt Lake City.
Nathan smirked as the road beneath him disappeared as car ate away at the miles. One advantage he’d always enjoyed about working for the government? The transportation was top-notch. As it was, the plane had gotten them to Omaha, Nebraska in a little under three hours, which was fairly decent. Now, they were within a few blocks of where Mr. and Mrs. Paterson were supposed to live, and even now they were traveling in style.
But then again, perhaps the Lincoln was the only full-sized car they had that could accommodate his frame. Nathan grinned, shaking his head. Being tall and built had its advantages in almost every situation… until it came down to rental cars. He’d tried climbing into a Mazda Miata once.
It’d taken them about two hours to extract him afterward. Not something he really wanted to do again. He looked into the rearview mirror, noting where the other two vehicles with him were situated. Once they arrived, of course, only Nathan would approach the door.
Four uniformed Secret Service agents were going to be far too threatening to receive any form of assistance from these folks. So just Nathan would approach, and hopefully be able to talk them past any fright they may have about his sheer size.
Within a few minutes, a house appeared on the corner after he’d made one last turn. Nathan brought the car to a complete stop, disengaging the engine as his two escort vehicles disappeared down side streets. He got out of the car and mentally took stock of the actual appearance of the house, something he’d done since he’d first learned about his gift.
A decently sized house, roughly sixteen hundred square feet if there wasn’t a basement to it, and a roof that needed a bit of repair but otherwise well kept. White stucco walls and light green panel shutters on the windows created a comfortable appearance, and complimented the neatly-kept lawn and shrubs surrounding the house.
The typical Midwestern home of a typical Midwestern family. Of course, someone somewhere within the home knew who this girl was, and possibly her whereabouts as well. He grimaced and shook his head, closing the door behind him. He muttered under his breath, “Now for the fun part.”
The walk up to the house wasn’t even one hundred feet, but it felt like a much further distance. Nathan always disliked this part of the job, because if someone knew he was coming and wasn’t particularly happy about his arrival, they might get a shot or two at him before he had a chance to revert to one of the materials built into his belt. He’d nearly died more than once; it wasn’t something he enjoyed at all.
However, nothing untoward happened as he reached the door, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Then, without further ado, he knocked on the door three times, carefully.
It was actually the neighbors that had noticed Nathan first, an down the street the time was checked and money exchanged hands, along with some good natured cussing at the government for not waiting another half hour before sending someone to check out the Pattersons. Unlike other places in America where sightings of the gifted had sent the neighbors into a panic, this neighborhood seemed to be mostly ignoring what their fellow residents might or might not be associated with.
After a few moments the door opened a crack, held shut by a chain set fairly high on the door. A plain looking woman, matching the driver's license picture of Louise Patterson, peered through the opening. She frowned and shook her head. "I think you have the wrong house. I'm not seeing any salesmen today."
As she spoke a window from the second floor opened a crack and three teenagers fought for space to watch the stranger and their mother. Comments about Nathan's height and good looks could be heard if the listener was paying attention, including a rather ribald pondering about what he must look like under the suit.
Nathan chuckled, ignoring the ruckus he could hear above him. “Mrs. Patterson, I assure you, I’m not here to sell you anything.” He turned his jacked cuff around to show his identification card. “My name is Nathan Stevens, and I’m from the U.S. Secret Service. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a word with yourself and your husband.” He smiled in a friendly manner and added, “Please.”
There was a moment of silence before the woman replied quietly, "Just a moment." The door closed again and he could hear her calling for her husband, managing to stay just this side of calm.
The window above opened and the oldest of the three teens leaned out. She was wearing a short cut tank top that showed off her assets rather nicely; at least she thought so, even if her parents didn't agree. "Hey! Tall blond and gorgeous. What’cha doing down there?"
Nathan looked up at the teenaged girl, unconsciously comparing her to the photo they had of the woman they were looking for. Similar, yes, but not the person they were looking for. He politely smiled and waved back to them as he waited for the door to open.
The teen pouted as it didn't seem she was going to be able to get a rise out of the agent. "Aww, man..."
The door opened again, this time fully. The man who answered the door would have been of impressive height and stature, as he was a former football player in his youth; but in comparison to Nathan, just about everyone seemed smaller. Dale Patterson frowned, looking up towards the window first. "LuAnne, you get back in the house and put on something decent. Right now!"
There was a startled noise as the teen disappeared from the window, tugged inside by her sisters.
Dale turned his attention back to Nathan, looking him over before stepping back from the door. "Louise said you wanted a word Mr. Stevens, but I don't know that we have much to tell you… but please, come in." The room that the door opened into was a fairly appointed room with pale green walls that matched the shutters and detailed, but not overly expensive, furniture.
Louise was inside, setting a tea tray down on the coffee table. She was nervous and needed something to do with her hands.
"Thank you." Nathan ducked his head as he entered the house. He looked around for a moment before he seated himself near the coffee table. He looked up at Mrs. Patterson and smiled warmly. "Please, ma'am, relax. You've done nothing wrong, and there honestly isn't anything to be worried about."
Louise frowned at that, settling on the love seat. Dale joined her, quietly slipping an arm around her shoulders. "If that were entirely true you wouldn't be here, would you Mr. Stevens?" Dale's voice was calm, and his presence seemed to help bring some of the same calm to his wife. "So what is it you want from us?"
“Well, I’m sure you know the full reasoning behind my visit.” Nathan motioned to the television. “By now, I don’t think there’s a place that the Secret Service could visit without people assuming we’re chasing after this girl. However, please… we’re not like that, not by a long shot.”
He smiled warmly and opened his briefcase, taking out two pieces of paper. He handed the papers to Dale, who scanned it quickly before handing it to his wife. “As I said before, my name is Nathan Stevens. Though I do work in the Secret Service, my role is more within the division regulated for relations of and with citizens that are gifted.” He smiled. “Or, to make it less wordy, I work with the gifted.”
“Now, I won’t beat around the bush. It was your vehicle that was at the scene of the latest gifted sighting, and if you don’t mind the compliment, Mrs. Patterson, the family resemblance is obvious.” Nathan took out another piece of paper, this one a picture of the woman from the television. “I would like to speak with her, and discuss with her some options she has for the future. For, as you might know, the U.S. government actively employs those with gifts, both for their own protection as well as the protection of the non-gifted civilians.”
“However, I also won’t lie to you.” Nathan’s face grew grave. “There are other people that will be searching for this woman, and their intents will be much less honorable than my own. Which is why it’s imperative that I speak with her soon.”
Husband and wife exchanged glances before Dale spoke. "She isn't here, Mr. Stevens. And all she wants is just to be left alone." Darlene had been calm when she'd come home, but certain that she had to leave. Dale could see why now. It'd been no secret in the family that Darlene had a gift, no one talked about it and she didn't make a scene, so it'd never been a problem until now.
Louise was quiet a moment longer before asking softly. "And what happens to her if she does talk to you and still doesn't want to work with you?"
“We don’t force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, Mrs. Patterson.” Nathan carefully replaced the photo back into his briefcase and set it beside him, the lid still partially open. “Though obviously we’d like to take her in under our wing, if she doesn’t want to work for the government, no one is about to insist that she does so. She’ll have to have some form of bodyguard for a while, though, at least until this whole mess finally dies down in the media. After that, we’ll provide her with some communications devices so that she can get in contact with us anytime…”
His voice dropped as his briefcase began to ring. He frowned and opened it up further, removing the cellular phone from within. “Excuse me, folks.” He opened the phone and growled, “What’s up, Radar.”
“Something’s up, boss. If those good folks in there will let you turn on the damn TV, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m already headed back to the plane. By the time you get there, it’ll be fueled and ready to go.” The phone line went dead as Nathan closed the phone and, after meeting the Pattersons’ eyes for a moment, silently reached forward and picked the television remote off of the coffee table.
The television flickered to life as cartoons began to dance across the screen. Nathan frowned and flipped until he found CNN, which was covering a live event at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
“… initial reports are at sixteen dead as the masked gunmen continued to chase after the woman. The scene is still chaotic, though local police tell us that they think the gunmen have left the airport at this time.
“Eyewitness accounts apparently indicate that six men approached a woman after she’d disembarked from an airplane not thirty minutes ago. Some words were exchanged, after which apparently one of the men pulled out a weapon. Chaos ensued as the woman attempted to escape, darting into the crowd of passengers as the men all pulled weaponry and began to fire.
“Initial reports indicate that these men are perhaps part of the same group that attempted the assassination of President Kay earlier this morning…” The television winked off again as Nathan clicked the button and stood grimly, looking to the Pattersons for a moment.
Louise looked to be in shock and began to cry. Dale stroked her hair, hugging her to his chest. "Shuuush, honey, it's going to be okay." He looked up at Nathan, his mouth opening to speak, but he was interrupted as LuAnne came flying down the stairs.
"DAD! Dad! Darlene is on tv again. Oh my Goo..." She jerked to a halt as she got a better look at Nathan. The teenager blinked slowly. "You...you're that guy that works for the president, ain't you?"
"LuAnne...that's enough. Go back upstairs." Dale's voice was firm, a father's command to a daughter that he loved and wanted to stay out of the issue going on. He patted Louise's back gently and then extricated himself and moved to the door. "Mr. Stevens...please..." He opened the door, waiting until Nathan had exited and then moving to stand outside with him. "This is all very upsetting for my family, Mr. Stevens. Darlene is my favorite niece and we owe her a lot. Whoever those men were..." He shook his head, looking older in just the last five minutes. "Her folks live in Utah, but I doubt she's going home. She's too smart for that. Hopefully she's too smart for the folks chasing her too. If you can help her... well... I wish you the best of luck."
The man paused, as though going through an internal battle. "She drives a beat to death Chevy and has an unlisted cellphone. You find those, she won't be far."
Nathan nodded as he pulled a half-dozen business cards out of his briefcase before snapping it closed. “Call her family. Tell them that if they see ANYTHING out of the ordinary, to call this number. Matter of fact, tell them to go ahead and call the number… And call this number yourself as well. We need to get both of you some guards. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least for these people, if they can’t get this Darlene to come to them, to use one of you as bait to bring her.”
He shook his head. “I’ll arrange for someone to be here as soon as possible.” He placed a large hand on the man’s shoulder. “We’ll do what we can to protect her, Mr. Patterson.” He paused for a moment before he continued, “Your daughter was exactly correct, by the way… I do work for the president.” His eyes twinkled. “You might even have seen me on the television during the assassination attempt this morning. Ruined my suit and everything.”
Dale looked at Nathan for a moment and shook his head. "I'm sure new suits are hardly an issue." The words were wry. "Go on now. I need to see to my family, and you have other problems to deal with." He paused, thoughtful. "By the way.... Darlene keeps a shotgun in that truck of hers." Without another word he opened the door and walked inside, leaving Nathan alone on the walk.
Nathan walked calmly to his car, aware that three pairs of teenaged eyes were on his every move again. He chuckled as he got into the car, drawing serious only once he’d closed the door. The easy part was over with… now came the hard part. Finding the girl before she was either killed or recruited to the wrong side.
And it looks like the other side had already elected on her removal. Tires squealed in protest as Nathan gunned the car, leaving a patch of rubber behind him as he headed back to the airport as fast as it was safe to do so.
"This is turning out to be a very, very bad day." Darlene whispered the words under her breath as she crawled under her truck, looking for the key that was suspended on the undercarriage. Every time a car went by, she just about jumped out of her skin, which was making getting the key and getting out of here difficult. Things had seemed to been going so well. The flight was quiet except for a three-year-old that was fascinated by her hair, and the food had even been halfway decent. Everything had been fine until she'd been approached in the airport...
Darlene growled as she reached for the key, which was dangling just out of reach. The whole idea of the back up key was a good one, but it had to be high enough not to fall off or be too easily accessible. It'd been easier to leave the key here than bother with airport security. Considering that armed gunmen had been allowed in the terminal, she wondered idly if she should have just taken it with her.
Her fingers closed on the key and she pulled it loose before sliding out from under the truck again. Her skin was smudged with grease and splatters of blood. The blood wasn't hers, but she felt as though it may just as well have been. It was her fault...damn this damn gift.
As Darlene pulled herself into the truck, she heard a shout from across the parking lot. Without hesitation, she jammed the key into the ignition, turning the engine over and pulling out of the space. The thump of more gunfire set her heart racing and she stayed as low as she could as she drove for the exit. One round impacted her outside rearview mirror, which shattered the casing and sprayed glass and plastic behind her as she drove away.
* * *
Nathan swore softly under his breath as he read the latest figures from Salt Lake City. Seventeen dead, over a hundred wounded, and the people responsible had gotten away clean. From eyewitnesses, their runner had gotten away as well. Darlene Patterson. Twenty-four years old, had a driver’s license for six years. Medical student at the University of Utah, no former acknowledged instances of being gifted. Straight A student if you didn’t look at her physics class… and now running from people that were trying to kill her.
He sighed and shook his head. At least the Patterson families had cooperated. Already, both houses had armed surveillance around them, with orders to shoot any threatening activity. Cummings was currently speaking with the girl’s family at length, and Nathan was waiting word back from him on their next step.
According to Radar’s estimate, they were about ten minutes outside of Salt Lake City. Of course, they weren’t going to bother going to the airport directly. The jet was VTOL capable, so they were going to touch down somewhere north of the city, somewhere along the lines of where approximately Darlene had fled toward.
He glanced over at the computer screen as a beep sounded, indicating a data transmission was coming through. “Nathan here. What’ve you got, Cummings?”
"License plates on the vehicle you're looking for, and a list of relatives in the area. Her family is being cooperative, but I'm not sure that's going to last." The older man sounded surly, which wasn't particularly remarkable. He disliked working with civilians. "I’m sending a download with the plate information, updated pictures and phone information. Put Radar on it. We also have confirmation that the shooters were from the Kabal de Mar. The same group we've been having trouble with. We need to get her into custody before anyone else gets killed in the process."
Cummings was quiet for a moment before continuing, "Another interesting bit. Local authorities took one of the shooters out, the one that'd been closest to the Patterson woman. The weapon they took off of him was melted." He waited for the significance of that fact to sink in. "Find her."
"Melted?" Nathan frowned, thinking. "Did the authorities find anything else unusual? Like, say... perhaps bullets or casings that have also been melted down?" This was an unusual piece of data, and Nathan honestly didn't quite know where it fit in the puzzle piece that was Darlene Patterson.
"Several of both." Cummings was unusually sedate, which meant he was worried. If the melting of high-grade metals was connected with this girl, then her gift was not the benign expression that had been previously determined. He didn't like surprises, and this situation was filled with them. "We need information and we need to find her."
“Can do, chief. Over and out.” Nathan pressed the button to close the connection and waited patiently while the printer spit out the reports Cummings had sent to him. Once that was done, he ripped the paper off of the tray and walked forward to the cockpit, absently glancing at his two companions.
Radar was in the pilot’s seat, casually making adjustments to their flight path on the computer before him with one hand while the other hand rolled a pencil around the black man’s knuckles. Radar was much smaller than Nathan, though his time in the service had beefed him up considerably. The bald man turned and grinned as he approached. “Man, that explains the shift in the plane’s aerodynamics. You walk forward, it changes our lift.”
Lisa shook her head, her brilliant red hair just touching her shoulders. Her deep green eyes fixed Radar with a look as she said, “Ignore him, Nathan. What’ve you got?” She adjusted her lithe form around so that she could take one of the papers from Nathan’s hand.
“We’ve got a frequency on her phone, a phone number, license plates and an updated picture.” Nathan grinned. “Oh, and some more information about her gift as well. Cummings isn’t sure how the two tie together, but apparently it’s defensive as well. Melted at least one gun and a few bullets and casings along the way during her escape at the airport.” He looked around again. “Where’s Eric?”
"In the hold, goofing with the new gear he brought." Lisa's response was distracted as she read through the report, whistling at the picture of the slagged weapon. "That's not just melted. Son of a bitch...that's just...the thing is fused." She passed over the picture, shaking her head. This sort of information was rather impressive and worrisome all at once. She idly wondered if this Darlene even realized how much she could do. Most folks didn't when Uncle Sam found them. It'd taken her three years to get her gift under control. Lisa flipped to the next page, arching her eyebrows as she looked at the current photo of Darlene Patterson. "Hrm...she's cute."
“Yeah, cute. And if she can do this to a weapon, also damned deadly.” Nathan handed the picture to Radar, ignoring the catcalls and wolf whistles from the man. “But to heal and do this sort of thing? I think Command’s at a loss as to what sort of gift this person really has, deep down. You guys got any ideas?”
“Maybe she melted ‘em with her foxy looks!” Grinning, Radar handed the picture back to Nathan after a long, lingering look. He grinned up at the big man and shrugged. “Hey, man, I call ‘em like I see ‘em. You know that.”
Lisa reached over and slapped Radar in the back of the head. "Get your mind out of the gutter. A chica like that wouldn't want anything to do with a git like you."
Radar rubbed the back of his head, protesting. "Ouch! What'd you do that for? It's not like you'd stand any better of a chance. I bet she doesn't swing that way, kinda looks like the All American sweetheart type."
The comment brought a frown to Lisa's lips and she considered slapping him again before a look from Nathan calmed her temper. "Yeah, whatever."
“Settle down, you two.” The humor was evident in Nathan’s voice. “Remember that, first of all, we have a job to do. We can work out who gets to date her after she’s working for us. In other words, LATER.” Nathan collected up the paperwork before a thought hit him.
He turned to Radar. “Do me a favor, will you? Patch me into this phone number.” He held the number up so that Radar could see it.
Radar grinned. “Mama Bell, here comes Radar!” Instantly, the phone next to Nathan began to ring, though no one had touched the first button. Nathan picked up the phone and listened as the phone on the other end began to buzz.
Lisa rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to the report on the slagged metal. That was the most interesting bit anyway.
The phone rang several times, seeming like it was going to go to the answering machine. On the last possible ring the line opened and a musical female voice spoke.
"Mum? I can't really talk right now."
Nathan sighed. If she couldn’t talk at the moment, it meant she was still being chased, most likely. Which meant that his words had to be exactly placed, or he’d spook her further. “Darlene, this is Nathan Stevens from the U.S. Secret Service. Your parents gave us this number to contact you, and I’d like to reassure you that they are at home and safe. First question is, though… are you still being pursued at this time?”
There was the sound of a muffled curse and the honking of a horn before she spoke again. "Is there anyone out there that isn't pursuing me?" Her tone was sharp and angry. It was fortunate that he'd assured her of her parents' safety or she already would have hung up on him. "I just want to be left alone. Is that such an extraordinary request?"
“No, it’s not. Unfortunately, as you’ve likely noticed, things have already progressed far beyond that point.” Nathan paused for a moment as a screech of tires echoed through the phone. “We’d like to assist you, if at all possible. The first problem, of course, is your pursuers. Can you tell us your location? We are just outside of Salt Lake City at the moment, and can catch up to your vehicle easily as we are in the air at the moment.”
He glanced up at Radar as the man motioned to catch Nathan’s attention. The screen before him had already tri-located her antenna signal, and a slim electronic dot was moving north on the screen just past Kaysville and had just pulled off of the I-15 and begun to weave through town.
"No, I can't. I have no evidence that you are who you say you are, or that even if you are that your intentions are any better than theirs. Damnit!" The curse didn't seem directed at Nathan in specific, the sounds of traffic snarls and popping of weaponry echoing through the phone as it dropped to the floorboard of the truck, leaving the line open, but no one, figuratively, home.
Nathan frowned and placed the phone back on the receiver, though the connection itself remained open and on the speakerphones. He glanced over at Radar, though he could feel the plane under his feet already shifting its movements to head north. Wordlessly, he nodded at the man before he sat down, listening to the sounds of pursuit coming from the phone.
Darlene slouched forward against the steering wheel of the truck, resting her forehead against the frame. For the first time in her life, she was grateful that construction was a constant hazard of living in Utah. Driving through a construction zone in ways and at speeds that were beyond dangerous had been the only thing able had shaken the dark SUV from her tail. There was a part of her that wanted to have a nervous breakdown and start sobbing, but that part was being over ridden by self-preservation. After a moment of reflection, she decided that she could likely leave the truck parked where it was. Out in front of a repair shop was a good spot to leave it, because itt looked like it belonged there… which it did, but that was neither here nor there at the moment.
Darlene gave herself a little shake and straightened. She needed to get something to eat and oil for the truck before she could get back on the road. There was a Wal-Mart a few exits north of here where she could get new clothes and more gear all at once, if she’d been fully successful at leaving her pursuers behind. It ticked her off that she'd lost her luggage at the airport, since that left her with the contents of her backpack and little else. It was another hour and a bit to Brigham City. It all seemed very doable... at least if she didn't think too hard about the ‘people trying to shoot her’ part of the equation.
She sat up straight, turning and pulling the seat of the truck forward and fishing around until she came up with a battered Levi jacket and a New York Yankees baseball hat. The jacket smelt of engine oil, but she didn't mind. She tucked her hair up under the hat and slipped out of the car, taking a moment to grab her wallet and phone and shove them into her backpack before slinging the backpack onto her back. Just maybe she could pretend to be just another student without drawing any gunfire for a few minutes... maybe.
Darlene gave the truck another look before she turned her gaze to the street. She didn't see anything troublesome, at least not immediately, and she quickly dashed out across the street, heading for the Food Town and the hopes of something with chocolate in it.
Ten minutes passed before a dark green SUV pulled up next to the truck and came to a stop. Four men quickly exited the SUV, leaving one man in the driver’s seat. The four men were dressed for the town, in business suits and neatly pressed slacks… until one noticed the automatic weaponry in their hands, shattering the perception of business men out on the town.
One of them spoke something quickly in another language and motioned toward the truck, then pointed to one of the other men who quickly moved over and began to search the truck. The tall redhead quickly relayed orders to the other two, who nodded after a moment and tucked their weaponry away slightly as they began to move into the town to continue the search.
The leader turned then and smirked at the driver, his green eyes sparkling with the thrill of the chase. When he spoke this time, his voice was perfect educated English. “We don’t want our prize to know we’re here. Move that back about two hundred feet and keep an eye out.”
As the SUV began to back up down the street, the man smirked again and tucked his own weapon away underneath his jacket. He began to walk down the street casually, an off-pitch whistle of some obscure tune on his lips. His eyes darted around until he spotted a grocery store with the name “Food Town” emblazoned in large neon. Still whistling, the man angled his leisurely stroll so that he would pass the store.
* * *
“Looks like it’s stationary, boss. She’s somewhere in Kaysville, and though it’s still moving around a bit, it’s not nearly the speed of a vehicle. Best guess? She’s on foot, looking for a bathroom or a potty. ETA is about five, ten minutes.” Radar still hadn’t looked at the first map or screen beyond that which he used to control the flight of the plane.
Nathan chuckled. “You know, Radar, you still wig me out when you use your gift like that.” He returned the smirk from the black man before he turned to Lisa. “Do you see anyplace we can land this bird around there?”
“Let me check.” Lisa stood until she could see clearly out of the plane’s windshield. Her hand reached out to Nathan’s shoulder to steady herself as she concentrated. As her gift kicked in, the world around her blurred… until a small town came into focus, though the movement of the plane was still making it difficult for her to get a full visual on the town.
Her voice was distant to her ears. “No… no place in town itself… can land north of the town… too jerky, need to sit back down.” Lisa closed her eyes as a wave of nausea made her almost fall over.
Nathan helped her back to her seat grimly. It was extremely difficult for Lisa to use her gift while moving… she’d been born with the gift of what the lab techs called eagle sight. If it was in her line of sight, she could see it if she concentrated hard enough. When she was stationary, she could see over fifty miles if up high enough and with little obstruction.
Which made her the perfect sniper. The only disadvantage was that it took her a long time to get her eyesight back to normal, during which point she was almost useless. Nathan made sure she was back in her seat firmly before he turned to Radar. “I’ll get down there the hard way then. I’m headed into the back for my pack and whatnot… let me know when we get within dropdown range. Eric’ll be going with me, of course.”
“You got it chief. Dropdown in six and a half minutes.” Radar’s eyes unfocused again as he returned to his world of electronics, letting Nathan leave the cockpit quietly.
* * *
Darlene moved quickly through the store, keeping her head down and drawing as little attention as she could manage. There was a little TV on in the front of the store where a bored cashier was whiling away the hours until he got off. The store was tiny, a mom and pop type establishment of the type that was rapidly disappearing in society. She checked through the basket on her arm, verifying that she had everything she'd thought of thus far. She really needed a bigger store for proper gear, but it would have to do for the moment; she had stuff for making sandwiches, three king sized chocolate bars, oil for the truck, and three bottles of water. She hesitated over a bag of chips and grabbed a couple of apples instead, arguing with herself that nutrition should win out on this occasion.
The blond woman made her way to the front of the store, trying not to fidget as the cashier took his own sweet time about ringing up the order. While he check edthe price on the water, she glanced up and out across the street. What she saw brought her to a stop.
The SUV parked next to her truck...
~Dammit...~ She managed not to say the word aloud, quickly paying for her shopping bag. As she looked up a second time, she found herself staring at a man dressed in a business suit who was looking right back at her. His green eyes caught hers, and the man suddenly broke out into a leering and malevolent grin. The expression on the red-haired man’s face made her blood chill and sent a wave of panic through her.
Darlene could feel her heart racing as she quickly grabbed the bag, heading towards the store's second exit. There had to be more than just the one of them and they were here and she wasn't in the truck... She pushed the door open with one shoulder and darted behind a large dumpster, trying to get her bearings. How was she going to get to the truck? This day was getting worse as she went.
Aware of the way her blood was surging, Darlene broke a piece off of one of the chocolate bars and slipped it into her mouth. She needed some kind of energy boost, and chocolate fit the bill in her mind. Slowly, she edged along the building until she came to the corner. The man she'd seen was nowhere in sight, but that didn't mean he wasn't still out there. She was sure he'd seen her.
“Going somewhere, Darlene Patterson?” A calm voice said behind her in perfect English. “My dear, you are making this a very entertaining run… so please, let’s keep it going, shall we?”
Darlene spun on one heel, taking a step away from the voice. How had he come around so fast? The thought barely had time to register before she was running again. She darted between a large stack of crates, bringing them down behind her as she skidded around the corner. The grocery bag was slowing her speed and she pulled the chocolate bars out before dropping the rest and lengthening her stride.
The man smirked as the crates blocked his way. He spoke into a small mike attached to his shirt. “Coming your way, fellas.” Still whistling, the man turned and headed back into the store as the sound of gunfire echoed through the alleyway.
* * *
Nathan hadn’t had his helmet on his head for two heartbeats before Radar’s voice echoed through his ears. “Boss, we got gunfire coming from down below. Looks like we’re not the only ones that have noticed she wasn’t in her vehicle anymore.”
“Roger that.” Grim, Nathan adjusted the parachute on his back one final time. “Eric’s already gone ahead. I’m jumping in the count of three.”
“Roger. Give ‘em hell, boyo.”
Nathan didn’t reply as he moved to the open door of the plane. He attached the ripcord to the line and counted to three before he stepped out into the oblivion beyond.
Immediately, his chute whipped out behind him as the force of the wind stopped even his bulk from plummeting to the ground. The jet moved quickly north, leaving Nathan about two hundred and fifty feet above the town and with a full view of the entirety of the small town below.
The first sounds to reach his ears were gunfire and screaming. The main center point of the conflict appeared to be relatively close to what looked to be a small grocery store. Nathan aimed his chute toward the store, wondering idly how far down he’d be able to get before someone began to shoot at him.
His question was answered relatively quickly as one of the men below him looked upward and shouted something. Immediately, two of the men near a green SUV turned their weaponry skyward.
Nathan sighed. He was still over a hundred feet in the air… HQ wasn’t going to like the collateral damage, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that at the moment. Before the first round was fired, Nathan reached down to his belt and touched a small sliver of metal sewn into the cloth.
His gift, activated by his mental command, wrapped itself lovingly around the composition of the metal. Even now, Nathan thrilled at the feeling of the change… his gift was what the techies called molecular mimicry.
Essentially, he could touch any inorganic substance, and he would assume the properties of it entirely. Plastic, stone or metal; he would be a living entity made entirely of that substance, and had bits of each sewn into his outfit for appropriate usage. His outward appearance would not change, making it easy for him to still blend in with regular humans if called for. His already visibly impressive strength increased proportionally with his mass, making him quite a powerhouse when made of a heavier material.
Though now, the heaviness of the material wasn’t necessarily an asset. The moment his body made the conversion from flesh to the hardened steel in his belt, the parachute folded in on itself, unable to carry the sudden and massive increase in weight.
Nathan fell the remaining ninety feet quickly, impacting with the pavement with a loud crash. He pulled himself out of the small crater he’d created and faced down the men with automatic weapons with a grin.
“Let’s dance, fellas.”