Avalanche – Snippet 44
The next few hours passed too quickly for John’s liking. He and Sera ate generous helpings of room service, showered, and did what they could to rest; neither one of them could sleep, however, and opted to just lie in bed next to each other. Luckily, both of them had changed into clean outfits back at CCCP HQ before they had tried to head back to John’s squat; despite their gifts and skills, their uniforms had still taken a beating in the battle. Vickie quietly kept them updated; her invisible “eye” was scooting around quite actively, it seemed. The agents were all doing their rounds or staying at their posts; the street outside didn’t have any unusual activity, either. So far, things seemed to be on the up and up. Or, at least as much as they could be with the NSA involved. John suspected that the ink on those documents that Agent Gibson had provided them was still wet from whoever was behind this trying to make everything at least somewhat “legal”. Possibly they weren’t even legal yet…this might be draft legislation he was trying to pretend had passed into law. John had seen dirtier tricks get pulled when someone with power wanted something–or someone–bad enough; he wouldn’t be surprised, however this turned out.
Finally, there was a knock on the door. John peeled himself out of Sera’s embrace, got up from the bed, and walked over to answer the door.
“Ten minutes until we need to leave, Mr. Murdock,” one of the non-descript agents said.
“We’ll be ready in five.”
“Still with you, JM.”
“Copy. Everything is still set to record, right? No matter what goes down, our biggest gun to use against these sorts is information. Folks like these fear senate inquiries more than they fear bein’ killed.”
“If one of them so much as farts silently, it’ll be on the record. I have not stopped recording since those goons blockaded you.”
Once they were finished dressing and otherwise cleaning up, they were escorted downstairs. There was a moment of confusion and embarrassment when several of the agents that were there for their “protection” found that they couldn’t ride in the same elevator due to Sera’s wings. It elicited a shared smile from John and Sera; neither of them really cared how inconvenienced their quasi-captors were. Sera even expanded her wings slightly to take up as much space as possible without being too obvious about it. If the next hour didn’t yield something interesting or useful, John figured that he would begin to get annoyed.
The elevator trip was short. They were shuffled away from the hotel lobby, down several hallways, and ended up outside of one of the larger conference rooms; John had been making a mental note of the building layout and their route, even though he could have Vickie bring up the floorplans to his HUD. Best to stay in practice with tradecraft like that; he was still kicking himself about nearly getting ambushed by this bunch. The two agents flanking the doors stepped from their positions and opened the doors for John and Sera. Inside there were two sets of desks; one for them, and one for the people that were going to carry out this “hearing”, apparently. Agent Gibson was inside already, waiting near the far table.
After John and Sera were seated, introductions were made. Representatives from the local branches of the FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, and even a regional director for the CIA were present. That covered the feds. For the local government, there were the police chief for Atlanta proper, a liaison for the mayor’s office, and a state Senator. Finally, to round everything out, there was the Assistant District Attorney; John figured that they needed him to make sure everything stayed “legal”, or at least the outward appearance thereof.
The ADA was the first to speak. “The purpose of this hearing is to determine several things. First and foremost, the…status of two unregistered metahumans. Normally, these matters would be handled by local authorities,” he said, nodding towards the police chief and putting a hand to his own chest. “But, given the exotic nature and tentative Op classification of the metahumans in question, it has been decided that there is a potential national security risk that needs to be addressed.”
John reached out with his senses, gauging the men sitting in front of him. All of them were fearful; the armed guards were proof enough of that. They were scared of John and Sera, for a variety of reasons. There was something else behind the fear, though, at least from the feds. Avarice, naked and ugly. It fell into place for John. This wasn’t truly about security, or anything else. They wanted John and Sera. To co-opt them, take possession of them, use them as tools for their own purposes. He knew that Sera could feel it, too, through their connection.
Sera bristled. The feathers of her wings puffed out a little, and her wings began to vibrate. The feathers rustled against each other. It sounded a little like a rattlesnake.
The ADA jerked in his seat, then tried too late to hide it. He cleared his throat. “This is…a very serious matter, Mr. and Mrs. Murdock. By law, both of you have to be registered with ECHO. Given past incidents with metahumans that had abilities on the level that you do, it’s only prudent for us to act. For the safety of our fellow citizens.” John was unimpressed, and did his best to show it. The ADA looked to the others on his side of the table, then continued. “Of secondary concern is Mr. Murdock’s status in relation to the United States Army. At present, he’s recorded as being Absent Without Leave—”
“That’s horseshit, an’ I’ll bet at least one of you know it,” he exploded, letting his anger flare for a moment. “I never deserted from the Army. I got left. More like MIA, presumed dead. There’s a difference.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. He mentally started a countdown to when he’d be well and truly fed up with these proceedings. “If any of you have the clearance for it, y’might have an inklin’ ’bout what went down, an’ why I’m no longer in the Army. It ain’t by choice, or it wasn’t at the time. But that’s immaterial now, ain’t it?”
“Not even remotely, Mr. Murdock.” That was the CIA section officer. “Your…absence is absolutely germane to these proceedings, and your current status. For example, depending on how this hearing goes, we could very well take you back today.”
John couldn’t help but grin at that. “Could you, now?” He leaned back in his chair, keeping his tone nonchalant. But the implied threat was still there. He could feel the people in the room getting more and more uncomfortable. Fuck ’em. We didn’t ask to get dragged in front of a bunch of empty suits and dead-eyed bureaucrats. If they’re uncomfortable, that’s on them.
“We could try.” Agent Gibson hadn’t taken his eyes off of John and Sera since they had entered the room. John had read the man’s emotions when they first met. Gibson was a nasty piece of work, and large part of him wanted to be turned loose to capture or kill John and Sera. All he needed was an excuse and authorization. The ugly smile that crept into the corners of the agent’s mouth confirmed it. He struck John as the sort of man that would’ve been comfortable on a slave patrol, or overseeing a concentration camp. His job was an excuse for satisfying his own sick appetites, when the opportunity arose. John had met a few like Gibson; never in his own unit, but where other violent sorts congregated. Men like him always found ample work, especially with those in power.
Sera’s eyes began to blaze, deep down inside the pupils. John could feel her tensing. Her right hand flexed, as if she itched to call her sword or spear.
“Listen,” John said, leaning forward again; it was getting to the point where he had to diffuse this or just risk the pair of them walking out. “We’re not any threat to anyone. Unless they’re Thulians. We’re here to help, got it? We’ve fought alongside military units, done law enforcement work locally, and scrapped a lot of Krieger heavy metal. How would tryin’ to collar us be worth the effort for y’all when we’re doin’ just fine on our own?”
“Because, Mr. Murdock, of the fact that, while you’re helping us now…doesn’t mean that you always will. Metahumans, especially those of particularly high Op classification, are known to be…unstable. Unreliable. And dangerous.”
“Of note on that particular line of thought is the Seraphym—erm, Mrs. Murdock,” said the FBI division head. “There is virtually nothing known about you. Where you came from prior to the Invasion, where your exact allegiances are, hell, if you’re even a damned American citizen! On those grounds alone, not to mention your Op classification, we have enough justification to detain you.”