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by Matt Dempster
Wes stared at his boss in utter disbelief. "Brenda, what the hell are you talking about?"
Brenda Washington, head of SIRECOM, reclined in her chair and regarded Wes calmly. "It's been approved by the Security council. You and the Seekers are now members of the UN peacekeeping forces around the Harrakin Occupation Zone."
Wes closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Brenda, that makes no sense. First off, the power that these aliens possess is so far off the map, I don't think a hundred Seekers would make much of a difference, let alone the twenty or so I have on active duty. Hell, even when this year's crop graduates the training program, there'll still only be thirty or so. Second, I'm not qualified to orchestrate the UN forces around that large of an area. They have generals for that. And third, there is still a lot to take care of here in the States. My team can't go gallivanting off to play babysitter to a bunch of ET's!"
Brenda sighed. "Look, Wes. You really have no choice about this. I'm not real happy about it either. I don't like having the UN interfering with US government troops, especially ones as powerful as your team. But my hands are tied here too. I managed a few concessions, and you should be thankful I even got those. Your team remains here, except for two liason officers that you choose to send to the UN command down there. You still work for SIRECOM. You have complete command of your men on any op we need to run."
Wes shook his head and stood. He looked down at Brenda. "Crap with applesauce on it still tastes like crap." He turned and walked out of the office.
Don was laying on his bed, reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair when a knock came at the door. Without looking up, he called out, "Enter."
The door slid open, and Wes stepped in. There was a look on his face that could have curdled water.
Don sat up and looked at his guest. "I take it the meeting with the boss didn't go so well."
"The fuckin' UN, Don! Fuckin' ANTARCTICA!"
"Come on, Wes. It's not that bad. At least you weren't transferred down there. This is actually an honor."
Wes looked at Don sourly. "Honor, my ass. All it means is more paperwork, and a lot more screwing around with REMF's than I really don't want to deal with. I mean, yeah, I guess I see the logic, but I don't like the UN nosing in here, taking over. And I ESPECIALLY don't like Antarctica. I HATE the friggin' cold! If I wanted to be cold, I'd go to Buffalo!"
"It's not like you're moving down there."
"I know, I know. Just pisses me off."
Wes raised a hand to cut him off, and his eyes took on the slightly glazed look that bespoke an internal dialogue with his computer. With a start, he come out of it. His face grew even angrier than before.
Don looked at him quizzically. "What's the matter now?"
Wes plunked himself down in a chair and stared at the ceiling. "That was Brenda's secretary. She just called to tell me that I have an appointment with SIRECOM's publicist at three today. I'm to dress in battle gear."
Don stared at him. "You're kidding."
Wes sighed and looked back. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
A grin started to rise on Don's face. He fought with it for a second or two, but it rolled up anyway, followed by a burst of whooping laughter.
Wes looked pained. "You could at least have some sympathy."
Don fell back onto the bed, consumed by laughter.
Wes stood and looked at his friend. "It's not that funny."
Tears streaming down his face, Don gasped, "Wes Hickman, supermodel!" and fell back again.
Wes walked to the door. "Laugh it up, wise ass. Here's the punch line. You're supposed to go with me."
The laughter trickled off. "You're shitting me, right?"
Wes gave an evil grin. "See you at three," he said, and then stepped out the door. As he walked down the corridor, he heard Don yell "FUCK!" at the top of his lungs. Wes chuckled to himself as he headed for the training area.
The misshapen mass moved down the alleyway with a remarkably quiet step for something so large. It moved past a pair of garbage cans, and sidestepped a pile of garbage. A pair of green eyes blinked in the shadows of the buildings, and the form cringed back, melting back into the shadows from which it came. A meow issued from the eyes, and a cat who had been feasting upon the decayed remains of a fish leaped down from it's perch and wandered away.
(HERE[kitty+KiTtY+]) The thing chuckled to itself, a low unpleasant bubbling noise. It moved back towards the mouth of the alley, hugging the walls. The dim light that had filtered down here revealed a huge humanoid forn, perhaps nine feet tall. Here and there, odd lumps shifted in places no anatomy should be, lifting the dark cloth the thing wore to help conceal itself. It's thoughts turned once more to it's hunger, and it crouched in the shadows, waiting for its next meal.
It didn't have to wait long.
Carlos Untiveros had had a long day. A huge shipment had come in that morning, but some ass somewhere along the line had totally fucked up the paperwork. Unfortunately, since he was the last one in the chain, his boss could reach him, and bitch until he turned purple. This he had done with astounding inventiveness. Carlos took it well, knowing that the storm would blow over, but it had still shot his day to hell and gone. He was just happy to be off and heading home. And since it was such a nice day, he figured he'd walk down towards the Mall and hop on the bus there rather than from the office where he usually caught it.
Unbeknownst to Carlos, his plans were to be changed rather sharply.
The creature in the alley perked up as it's strange perceptions picked up a light spicy 'scent.' It knew that scent well. It licked it's deformed mouth with anticipation. Somewhere in the depths of it's mismatched mind the term Omega bobbed to the surface. The creature smiled, a twisting of the lips that looked more painful than anything else. It closed it's eyes and concentrated.
Carlos walked along the sidewalk, his coat slung over his shoulder and his tie loosened. he whistled out of key as he strolled through the city. As he approached the alleyway, though, he felt an odd doubling, a sort of blur of his thoughts for a second. His vision clouded for just an instant, and then he was all right once more. He shook his head slightly, and stared about him. He waited a second or two, to see if the odd effect would come back, and when nothing happened, he breathed a sigh of relief. Too much stress for one day, he thought, and moved onwards.
As he passed the mouth of the alley, he heard a voice call from the shadows. "Hey, Carlos!"
He stopped. That was odd. It sounded just like Steve Jackson , from the store. "Steve? Is that you?"
The voice came again from the alleyway. "Yeah. Come here for a sec, willya?"
Not really stopping to think what he was doing, Carlos stepped into the dim light of the alley, and peered about in the half-light. "Steve? Where are you? Are you.." A telekinetic fist grasped his throat, cutting off his words. The hand lifted him and pulled him back into the alleyway, and as he saw what had captured him, his eyes grew wide with terror. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly, only a faint hiss of air escaping from his throat as he tried to scream. For the second time today, Carlos Untiveros happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The latent Omega gene passed from his father condemned him to death.
The creature's arms closed about the weakly struggling form and squeezed. Mercifully, the shadows hid what happened. When the creature opened it's arms again, a pile of clothes fell to the ground, stained with some unnameable fluid. It pushed them about with it's toes for a second, listening to the new screaming at the back of it's mind. The spicy taste of the Omega that it had just consumed lingered. It wanted more.
The creature shambled off towards the Post Office Pavilion.
The duty officer heard the clacking of the teletype, and walked into the other room to get the printout. He scanned it, and rang his superior. "Sir, I've got a reported Omega disturbance in DC, at the P.O. Pavilion."
His superior, a career officer with SIRECOM, ran a hand through his hair. "Send it up here. I'll alert the Seekers."
Five minutes later, Teresa Yung was reading over the dispatch. "Beta level disturbance," she muttered to herself. "Strength, resistance to injury." She looked up at the captain who had called her. "Captain, cordon off the surrounding area. Get in touch with the DC police, and make sure they know to stay out of the way. Try and keep the press as much under wraps as you can."
"Shouldn't we inform Colonel Hickman about this?"
Teresa shook her head. "He's got enough on his mind. I'm in charge of the team with him and Dr. Riley gone. I'll assemble a squad and go immediately. Have a van ready for us in ten minutes." She turned to a commpanel. "Log and transmit time of depature and mission for Interface. Alert agents Ricochet, Phase, and Sonic. Full battle gear."
Wes and Don walked into the office of Simon McAlister, SIRECOM's chief publicist. Not that there was much need for a publicist there, at least not in the normal sense of the word. McAlister's duties consisted more of cleaning up the inevitable mess left by covert ops run by the agency. Thus, when Wes and Don entered his domain, his eyes fairly glowed. Finally, he thought, something I can actually advertise!
Wes and Don were not nearly as happy as Simon.
"Gentlemen!" McAlister rose from behind his desk, the fabric of his shirt straining to keep in the bulk of his potbelly as he adjusted his suitcoat. "Please, come in, sit down. Anything I can get for you? Coffee? Tea? A soda, perhaps?"
Wes settled down into the chair facing Simon's desk. "Nothing for me, thanks." Don asked for water.
Simon thumbed his intercom. "Grace, could you bring a water and a cup of coffee in here? Thanks." He let off the intercom, and sat back in his chair which creaked under his weight. "Gentlemen, let's come straight to the point. Ms. Washington has asked me to work with you on projecting a new image to the American people. We want them to see you as heroes, Omega defenders of justice. To this end.."
"Hold on there," Wes broke in. "Mr. McAlister.."
"Please, call me Simon."
"All right then. Simon, my team and I aren't heroes. We're soldiers. We do our job, and if we do it right, we end up protecting people."
Don grinned. "Speak for yourself, sir. I don't know about you, but I'm a hero. Especially if it means I get a raise."
Wes shot Don a glance. "Shut up, Riley, before I have to take you out back and smack you around."
Don raised his hands in mock surrender. "Yes sir, please don't pummel me, sir."
Simon cleared his throat. "If we could get back to the business at hand? Fine. First of all, we want to have the people become better acquainted with you. To this end we have worked out a tour of speaking dates for you and Dr. Riley.."
Wes sat forward. "Excuse me. What?"
Simon smoothed his lapel. "Speaking dates. You and Dr. Riley will speak about the project, it's aims and such, and about yourselves, your own experiences with being an omega, that sort of thing."
Simon frowned. "But, Col. Hickman, this is the best way for us to get your name out on the market. We need to show the people an example of a benign Omega, one who is a hero rather than a terrorist or a criminal. When you speak to them, you will project exactly that image."
"Colonel, if it's the speeches themselves you're worried about, don't be concerned. SIRECOM's best speechwriters will be put to work on this."
Wes looked at Simon. "I don't think I'm making myself clear. No. I will not being doing any speaking tour." He virtually spat the last two words out. "I am not a trained monkey. I already have a job. I don't have time for this sort of foolishness."
Simon shot Don a pleading look. "Dr. Riley, can you make him see reason?"
Don shook his head. "Sorry, Simon. I know better than to argue with him when he gets like this. If I were you, I'd move on to your next point."
Over the next hour, McAlister showed the two agents a masterful advertising campaign. Brochures, posters, even a TV commercial. Not to mention the possible merchandising deals that the toy and comic companies could score. NP comics had already been in touch with McAlister's people about a new line of comics based on the Seekers. Through it all, Wes sat, quiet as a stone, watching the tubby publicist as he walked them through the campaign. Again and again, Don reassured the man that it was fine, do go on.
"That brings us to my last point, gentlemen."
Don sat back. "And that would be?"
"The uniforms." As he spoke, Simon placed a set of large drawings on one of his easels. The drawings were covered with cloth.
Don glanced over at Wes. Wes continued to stare at the publicist. Sighing inwardly, Don asked, "What about them?"
Simon looked at the pair of them critically. "I asked you to come here in full battle dress because I wanted to see if I was right in my assessment of the current uniform. I was. They're too drab, too dark. We want something more dynamic, more visually pleasing. I had my designers come up with these." With a flourish, he whisked the cloth off of the pile of drawings, and spread them out on the easels. "What do you think?"
Don stared at the drawings with a mixture of amusement and disgust. Noting his expression, Simon hurried to fill in the gap. "This one here is yours, Doctor. I had them try to complememt each of your powers individaully in the design..."
Don stood up and walked over to the drawing. He bent over for a second and squinted at the picture. Straightening up, he turned to McAlister. "What are these things on the shoulders?"
Simon looked. "Those? I suppose it's armor of some sort..."
Don threw back his head and laughed. Simon pursed his lips and looked at Don with a disapproving expression. "What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry, but you couldn't fight in this stuff! Look at this! Like this leg band with all the pouches? This thing would fall down arond your ankle in a second! All these doodads would just bollix you up! not to mention, this costume you want Teresa to wear? How does it stay on? What, is it painted there?"
Simon tried to protest. "But.."
Simon and Don both turned to see Wes getting up from his chair. His metal arms flashed as he brought them down in a slashing gesture. "I've had it with this shit. Simon, these are crap. You want new uniforms. Fine. I will design them. We might even wear them. You want to have posters and all the other crap. Fine. We'll let you take some pictures. But let us get one thing clear."
Wes moved toward the chubby PR man. He bent over him, speaking directly into his face like a drill sergeant to a new recruit. "I will NOT allow my team to have it's time wasted with this shit. You will NOT pester us for anything related to this. We will set it up once and once only. If you want more, we'll talk about it. But you will not, I repeat, NOT bother me, or any of MY team with this bullshit on speaking dates and photo tours. Am I making myself CLEAR?"
Simon shook his head yes, his chins shaking. "Quite, sir."
Wes looked at the man for a second or two more and then spun on his heel. "C'mon, Don. I want to check the reports on that Omega at the Pavilion."
Don loked askance at his CO. "What Omega?"
"The one Teresa took a team to deal with."
Don nodded wisely. "Oh. THAT Omega."
The black armor stood in the center of the room. Even with the bright examination lights turned on it, it still seemed to swallow up all the illumination in the lab. The spikes and points gave the armor a deadly feel, even as it stood immobile, indifferent to all the probes that were made by it's examiners.
Dr. Kevin Marshall leaned back in his chair and stretched. He had been working on the data given to SIRECOM for days now, and even though it was in letter perfect English, it still made absolutely no sense. The blasted armor had an atomic number of 127. That made no sense. Even the idea of atomic sized nanotech machines, clustered together to form this incredibly dense material seemed nonsensical. They still couldn't get into the damn thing, to see if there were any internal controls or functions. Frustrating.
Marshall stood and glared at the enigma sitting in the middle of his lab. Muttering imprecations on the object of his study, he walked over to the coffee machine. The brew had been sitting there for hours, and could probably have kept Rip van Winkle awake. Marshall sipped from his cup and picked up a folder from his desk. He flipped it open and read the results of the laser scans they had attempted earlier. Muttering to himself, he scanned the page. "No more success achieved..impenetrable...seamless..."
Suddenly Kevin's head jerked up and he stared about the room. He called out, "Is somebody there?" No one answered his call. He frowned. Everybody was at lunch for another half hour. There shouldn't have been anyone in the lab. Dismissing the voice as a trick of his imagination, he resumed his perusal of the notes.
The whisper came louder this time. Kevin dropped his cup and it hit the floor, exploding like a bomb, ceramic shards flying everywhere. The notes hit the floor as well. They lay in a rapidly expanding pool of coffee as Kevin stared about the room fearlully. "Who's there? Dammit, Jones, is that you?"
The whisper was very loud now, almost a static in his ears. His eyes wandered about the room, searching for the source of the noise. His eyes glossed over the armor, and then were drawn back and locked there. He stared at the black suit, unable to look away from it.
Slowly, Kevin got up from where he crouched and walked over to the suit. His eyes traced it's curves, took in it's blackness as if it was the first time he'd ever set eyes on it. His hand stretced out, seemingly of it's own volition and rested on the chest plate.
The metal warped, shifted, and flowed over his hand like water. It coursed halfway down his forearm before stopping and solidifying there. It's shape became that of one of the armor's gauntlets, as as he looked at the armor, he noted distractedly that the right hand of the armor was missing.
With a mystified and slightly awed expression, Kevin took his hand away from the suit slightly. He turned the gauntlet this way and that, watching the black metal eat up the light. He flexed the fingers, forming a fist. Suddenly, the desire to put on the entire suit was very strong. It could be his, if he wanted it. He put his hand forth.... and the gauntlet streamed from his hand back into the metal of the suit.
Kevin stepped back, shaking his head as if to clear it. He needed some air. All this work..he was hallucinating. He walked to the door, but as he was about to step through, his eyes were drawn back to the black armor dominating his lab. A slow, unbidden smile crossed his face, and stayed there as he walked out of the lab.
The van screeched to a halt in front of the main doors to the Post Office Pavilion, and the team of Seekers piled out. Both Sonic and Ricochet were already glowing with their kinetic fields, and Sonic kept switching his batons from hand to hand anxiously. Teresa jogged over to the nearest police cruiser. "Officer. We're the agents from SIRECOM. I need to speak to your commander."
The officer pointed out a man dressed in a suit, standing over by the SWAT team van. Teresa made her way to him and introduced herself. "What's the situation inside, Lieutenant?"
"The creature is tearing up the place. Breaking windows, throwing chunks of flooring, general destruction and mayhem. We have three injured civilians already. We're not certain if everyone made it out of there. There may still be bystanders inside. We've cordoned off the area, and kept the press back, as you requested. We have snipers on the roofs around here, but they won't do much good. We think it might be bulletproof."
Teresa frowned. "You say creature. What exactly do you mean?"
The lieutenant gestured. "The thing is eight feet tall, at least, and looks to be very misshapen. It doesn't talk, it just howls incoherently. We're not certain that it's human."
Nodding, Teresa thanked him for the information and jogged back to her team. She motioned them closer and began to outline the plan of attack that they would use.
"All right. Obviously, the rogue has TK and enhanced injury resistance. Possibly bulletproof. He or she may have other abilities, but hasn't evinced them yet. Therefore, I want this by the numbers. Phase, I want you and Chris to harry him, get in close and distract him. I will attack at long range and try to disable him with a minimum of injury. Bill, you get in close if my attacks don't work and try to take the Omega down that way. Clear?"
"Check," said the three agents in unison.
"Ok then. Let's go to work."
The four Seekers moved into the deserted Pavilion. They could hear the bellows of the rogue echoing through the empty building. The legacy of destruction left in it's wake was plain. There, a chunk of flooring thrown through a storefront. Here, a phone booth ripped out of it's mooring. Water from a crushed fountain spilled across the floor, forming puddles which the team sloshed through.
Chris looked around and whistled softly. "I'll admit it. I'm impressed."
Teresa gave him a sour look. "Be impressed later. Let's nail this guy first. "
As they neared the creature, the team spread out. Phase, Counterpart and Sonic hugged the walls, while Ricochet sprang up to the upper concourse. Teresa poked her head around a wall, and suppressed a gasp of shock when she saw what had caused all the damage.
The rogue stood nine feet tall. Its ratty cloak was thrown back to reveal arms and hands sticking out all over it's chest and back. There were multiple bumps that stuck out all over the body, each about the same size as a human head. The skin was deep red, almost blood red. It's face was twisted and deformed, the lips pulled into a snarl. The creature flung the chunk of floor it had been holding over it's head down the length of the mall. It crashed into one of the far walls with a resounding boom. It faced the sky, and howled again. Then, suddenly, it whirled, body held in a low crouch. It looked directly at the Seekers hidden along the wall. A cruel leer touched it's mouth, and a long tongue slithered out to moisten it's lips. In a hideously garbled voice, one that sounded like a group of people babbling all at once, it called, "OMegA! hhuNgRY!!"
Teresa took a deep breath and stepped out from the shelter of the wall. "By the authority invested in me by Special Intellegence Resources Command, I am hereby placing you under arrest. Will you come peacefully?"
With a snarl, the creature pointed one of it arms at her and loosed a beam of searing heat. Teresa dodged at the last second, and the beam passed her by to impact upon a potted plant. The plant was reduced to cinders in a second. Pyrokinetic, she thought. What else can that monster do?
Standing, she winced in pain. The back of her uniform was singed, and she could feel the beginnings of a nasty burn back there. She watched as Phase moved in, blinking in and out, distracting the creature. It would swing at him with a massive fist, only to meet solid air, and be hit someplace else. The sidearm Phase carried was virtually useless, so he continued to pound on the creature, hoping for a weakening of it's defenses.
:Ricochet to Counterpart. You all right, boss?:
"Counterpart here. I'm fine. Hold back on your attack for a minute or two. Let's see if we can wrap this up." Reaching to her side, Teresa opened up the pouch at her belt that contained her spheres. She picked out three and held them tightly in her hands for a second. When she opened them, the balls had turned black, with a red shimmer around them. Over the radio, she signaled Phase to get clear, and then, in a smooth swing, lauched the spheres at the floor at the monster's feet.
The resultant explosion knocked him off his footing and sent him carrenning into one of the few fountains he hadn't yet destroyed. The spray soaked his red skin as he climbed out, growling deep in his chest. As he regained his footing, a shimmering blue cone of sonic force struck him square in the chest, driving him back yet again. Sonic stood, batons at the ready, watching in case that was unsuccessful.
Teresa signaled Phase to resume his attack, and then called Sonic. "Counterpart to Sonic."
"I'm going to hit him directly with a spread. If that doesn't work, move in, and take him down the hard way."
:Yes sir. Sonic out:
Teresa charged up another trio of spheres, and stood, waiting for an opening. Once again, she yelled for Phase to move clear and threw her spread. The spheres impacted, one on the knee, and the other two on the chest. The creature screamed and clutched at itself. Blood ran from twin craters in it's chest, and as it staggered, it became apparent that it's knee was not in good shape. It howled and started to fire off random heat blasts. Dodging easily, Sonic moved in for the attack, and Phase began his harassment of the monstrosity one last time.
Sonic ducked under the wild swing of an arm and struck at the creature's midsection, mostly to test the resonance. The baton connected, but as he was drawing it back to prepare for another strike, one of the little hands on the torso gripped the baton with amazing strength. It only held for an instant. The main arm came arond again in a sweeping backhand which slammed Sonic against the wall. He slid to the floor, dazed and bleeding. Teresa moved in. Bill was injured, and her weapons were the only thing that seemed to do anything to the rogue. This had to be finished now. AS she circled, looking for her opening, an invisible hand grabbed hold of Phase during one of his blinks. He tried to phase out, but the hand tightened it's grip, squeezing the breath out of him. His face turned red, and he began to gasp soundlessly.
Then, from above, a red streak hurtled into the creature's back. The force of the impact knocked the monster off-balance, and disrupted it's concentration. Phase collapsed to the floor in a limp pile. Meanwhile, Ricochet had gotten a bounce off of a nearby piller and was slamming into the rogue again. The thing seemed slightly dazed. It looked around and tried to keep up with the streak of red light that had bounced up toward the ceiling. It struck the floor about 10 yards back, and then arrowed straight for the monster. Ricochet flipped over, and hit the monster feet first, a double kick that should have sent him through the wall.
His feet stuck to the creature's body instead.
To Teresa, it seemed to happen in slow motion. Chris' feet became somehow mired in the creature's back. They area there seemed to be somehow blurring, and Chris' feet were sinking farther into the flesh of the monster. She heard Chris scream, and saw his face twist with pain and fright. She leaped forward in a long tackle, and hit Chris with the full force of her weight. The impact ripped him loose from the creature's body.
Chris moaned in pain as the creature howled behind them. Teresa spun, a sphere in hand, in time to see a huge fist loop down and smash into her face. She was flung backwards and landed heavily, losing her grip on the sphere. It rolled into the water, and detonated, sending a spray to cover the area.
Through the mist, the creature charged. Teresa got into a low crouch and prepared to defend herself. The creature punched, she blocked and blocked again. She tried to wheel around and get behind the monster. As she pivoted, one of the lesser arms snared her wrist, twisting it painfully. She stopped, and tried to free herself, but it pulled her into the embrace of the monster. The arms closed about her body, and darkness closed over her eyes.
Seconds passed. The creature stood still for a moment, and then opened it's arms wide. The black Seekers jumpsuit crumpled to the floor. the creature regarded it a moment, and then threw back its head and howled to the sky.
Did I actually kill off a character? Would I do that?
Read and find out! Plus more on the mysterious armor and Wes' UN misadventures!
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