|The Transformation Story Archive||The Silver Dawn|
Duties and Responsibilities
Feb 3, 1997 Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
"You're a hard man to find."
"I try to be." He stared out over the waves crashing into the rocks below and seemed oblivious to the icy wind that blew in from the gray water of the Atlantic. Elizabeth Walker pulled the hood of her parka further out and crossed her arms to try and stay warm.
"Have you heard about Firebird?"
"Scarpelli gave me a call last month to offer me a spot."
"You didn't take up the offer."
"I don't anything to do with it. I'm retired."
They stood in silence, the wind picking up the spray from the rocks and forming an icy sheen on the ground just in front of them.
"We need you."
"You've been doing alright. Three hives busted up already."
"With a loss of seventy-three personnel. Including Hanes."
"I'm sorry to hear that. He was a good man."
She turned to him angrily. "What the hell is the matter with you? Why are you acting like this?"
"You met me two months ago. Hardly enough time to make a judgement on how I act."
"Bastard." She stomped back to the Blazer parked behind her and started off in the direction of the main road to Halifax.
Taggert Shannon stared motionless at the restless sea.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
"Didn't work, did it? I told you." Scarpelli leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.
"What's wrong with him?" Walker slumped in her chair and ordered a glass of water. She brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and tried to ignore the stares from the other people in the hotel bar. Even in loose wool sweater and jeans she attracted undo amounts of attention. Two months was not nearly enough time to get used to it.
"Did you read the report on the Montreal incident?"
She frowned. "I can't remember the details but it was bad wasn't it?"
"There was a riot after the change. Lots of damage and casualties. One of the ones killed was a cousin of his. He thinks he should have checked before he fried Weinberg, made sure there was no booby trap."
"What? There is no way anyone could have thought of something like that!"
Scarpelli finished the beer in front of him. "He doesn't need a logical reason to feel guilty."
The television did nothing to take his mind off Walker's visit. CNN was covering the latest attack, a suburb of Munich where all the people had changed genders, and CBC was showing a special on a series of cults that had popped up. He shook his head in disgust. People roaming around hoping to be caught in a cloud. Even with the information that the odds were good they would change into something not better or cute and furry some idiots thought it was their ticket to a better life. Morons.
He clicked off the TV and tossed the remote aside. He wanted nothing to do with this debacle anymore. Causing it had been enough. He picked up the photo on the table beside him and stared at it. Sharon had been a lovely woman, married to an up and coming physicist. Gone, first changed into an hermaphrodite and then beaten to death by a terrified mob. Darrin had not spoken to him at the funeral. No one blamed him for causing the clouds. No one knew that he killed the mad scientist.
It had been easier thinking of the victims as abstract concepts. He had almost managed to convince himself that he did not bear responsibility.
Feb 9, 1997 Fort Bragg, North Carolina
The first round penetrated the left eye of the combat target. If it had been real it would have blown off the back of the head and splattered brains on the wooden impact wall behind. The second shot would have broken ribs and ripped the heart into ribbons. The third would have destroyed the liver, causing death of painful internally bleeding. The last would have left the target a eunach.
Master Segeant Sam Heinz whinced as he peered down the range. "Was that last shot really necessary?"
"It was an accident," Walker said as she flicked the safety and placed the automatic back in her belt holster. She set her ear protectors on the hook beside her and waited. The target slid closer and Heinz pulled it off the mount.
"Accident my ass." He picked up a used target and pointed at the one large ragged hole in the center of mass. "Anyone who puts fourteen rounds in eight seconds in the same place does not have 'accidents' like that." He shook his head. "Quit showing off and get down to the rifle range."
"Yes, sir." She saluted smartly and left the range. Heinz shook his head and replaced the target.
"She's learning fast?"
Heinz spun around and looked at the man in the black trenchcoat who stood in the door. He grinned and and extended his hand to the newcomer. "Well, she's the best student I have had. Present company excepted."
Shannon shook his mentor's hand and then looked around. "Improved the place a bit, haven't you?"
"Keeping up with the times."
"What are you up to these days?"
"Oh the usual. Always a new bunch of would-be Rambos rolling through. Come on." The old soldier led the way through the complex to the outside rifle range where a half-dozen people stood on the firing line with a wide assortment of weapons. Sam Heinz made sure that every one of the students assigned to his facility were intimately familiar with a wide array of weapons, a utility he had learned in four tours of Vietnam and numerous missions that the United States would not admit to.
Walker watched them come out and looked evenly at Shannon as he and Heinz approached her firing station.
"Change your mind?"
"Maybe. I see you've been practicing."
"You inspired me."
"You shouldn't be. The path you've taken is not a pleasant one."
"Oh really, sensei? I think I can manage. I'm stronger and faster than most people and I can shoot better than almost everybody." She raised her M-16 to emphasize her point, squeezing off five rounds and knocking five cans off a wall one hundred yards away. She lowered the gun looked at Shannon smugly.
He held out his hand and motioned for the rifle. She handed to him and he quickly raised it, holding it in one extended arm and squeezed of a single round. One of the remaining cans bounced high in the air. Walker stared wide-eyed as he handed the weapon back to her.
"You're a better shot than almost everybody. If you want to keep doing this your egotism has got to go." He turned away and left the range, hearing Heinz commenting as he did.
"I taught him that."
Feb 10, 1997 Arlington, Virgina
They jogged through the mist of the early morning through the park and crossed a small stream over a rickety footbridge.
"Let's take a break," Shannon said.
Walker stopped and looked back at himn but he raised a hand. "Yes, I'm tired and you aren't but I don't have the benefit of a superhuman body."
They sat on a convenient fallen log. Walker picked up a dead branch and twisted it idly in her hands.
"Tell me something."
"You. You know everything about me including what I look like naked but I don't have the faintest idea who you are."
"I like it that way."
"Well I'm a scientist despite the fact I look like a porno actress and I can't stand not knowing. So let's do some analysis. You're Canadian. You've had military experience. You're smart. You have an IQ around 130..."
"One hundred forty-nine."
"...and it's still less than mine."
"God save us from arrogant scientists."
"I thought you already did that."
Shannon stood. "Let's go." He began to jog down the path and Walker shook her head and sighed. She easily caught up with him and fell into an easy stride.
"Tell me about Firebird."
"It's sort of a successor to Event Horizon. You'd recognize most of the same crew. We're supposed to coordinate the search and destroy missions against the hives."
"Why the term?"
"Hives? What do you know about them?"
"Only what's been in the news." Shannon was beginning to breathe hard. "The ones that were found were hidden and defended well."
"They're like bee hives. When they're under attack the bees fly out to save the hive and attack anything that moves without regard for individual survival. That's what's made this so difficult. We have to fight an entire army, usually with a lot of innocents. The only thing we don't have to worry is being changed ourselves."
"Yep. Everyone advances under cover of the pulse projectors. The nanorobots themselves emit a signal when operational so we can track them and get advance warning then zap them."
"Why not nuke the hives?"
Walker looked sideways at Shannon. "I assume you mean using one to generate a pulse and not actually destroying the entire area."
Shannon didn't reply.
"Anyway people are nervous about other people tossing nukes around and secondly it has too much of a footprint. We can't control it enough to make sure we don't fry something important. Finally, we have no idea how many of these things there are so we don't want to get too used to dropping bombs. That leaves conventional military action."
"So why are you trying to be a soldier?"
"It's what I'm good at." They stopped beside Walker's car, parked at the edge of the park. "They did some tests. I can't be a computer scientist anymore. I can use computers, I can even do basic programming but everytime I try to do something only an expert could do I blank." She sounded bitter, Shannon noted.
"What I can do is fight. It's been hardwired, probably the second time Weinberg went after me and removed the slut condition he left me in the first time. Ask anyone. I was rated a fourth degree black belt in five martial arts two weeks after starting lessons and five minutes after you left me on the range the other day I was doing your little trick with my off hand. No one really knows why, it's just there."
She started the car and they began the trip back to Washington.
"So, are you in?"
Shannon sighed. "Yeah, I'm in. Not like I'd argue with a ninja like you."
Project FIREBIRD Operations Center, Washington, DC
"Tag! Glad to have you back!"
"Dino." Shannon shook Scarpelli's offered hand and looked around. The clinical white walls, flourescent lights and numerous people were a far cry from the mess at the Black Hole. Without having to beg for money and support the skilled people from Event Horizon had gone to town like a sailor with a no-limit credit card.
He was ushered into a glass-walled conference room that overlooked the main command center. A short man stood at the head of the table and looked at Shannon critically.
"So the famous Mister Shannon deigns to dignify us with his presence."
Scarpelli coughed. "Taggert Shannon, this is Senator Andrew Shumar."
Shannon did not offer his hand.
"The senator is the observer for the President."
"I take it you weren't in town in December."
"I was in Europe."
"On government business no doubt."
"Are you implying something, Shannon?"
"Oh, no. By the way I loved that piece on '60 Minutes'."
The senator's face turned red. "I want this man out of here."
"Apparently all the jackasses weren't confined to the Capitol."
"Get this man out!"
"I don't think so, senator." Shannon turned and saw a tall woman flanked by two hulking men who screamed Secret Service. Shannon nodded politely to the First Lady but she took his hand and shook it firmly. "My husband was pleased when he heard you agreed to join the project."
"How is the President and your daughter?"
"They're just fine. I think Andrea has a crush on you."
Shannon gave a wry grin. "I'm afraid I'm a bit old to be dating a teenager."
"Well you are cordially invited to dinner tonight at the White House. It's good to see you again. Senator."
She left the room and Shannon had the satisfaction of seeing Shumar's face drain of blood. Scarpelli was carefully examining the wall for imperfections and Walker was trying very hard to disguise a smile as a tic in her cheek. Shannon very deliberately pulled out a seat, placed his feet on the conference table, laced his fingers behind his neck and smiled at Shumar.
"Now, Andy, you were saying something?"
Shumar stormed out of the room. Scarpelli whistled and Walker jumped into the seat next to Shannon and demanded an explanation.
"Andrew Shumar was with Intel when he was in the Navy. I met him when he was assigned to NATO in Brussels and was supposed to provide backup info for the peacekeeping mission on the Iran-Iraq border. He screwed up and as a result four peacekeepers were captured because he was too busy attending an embassy function to forward a message from a source inside Iran. They spent a week as prisoners, escaped and and finally walked to Turkey. The Turkish military flew them out and they told their story. Shumar resigned to avoid a major blow-up between Canada and the US."
"You seem to take it rather personally."
"I ruined a good pair of boots. Now, how about you tell me all about this so I don't look like a fool in front of the President?"
Duties and Responsibilities copyright 1998 by Keith Morrison.
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