A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters, or else at the bottom of this chapter.
Sergeant Walters parked the Humvee next to the other one, which had Sergeant Scott driving it. Jo and Hanna hopped out of that one. Alex realized they were parked behind the DHS building Jack had taken her to just the other week. She smiled as she thought about the lunch Jack had for her the last time.
Only this time, they went into a much larger conference room with a lot more people in it. Riley was there, with one arm around a beautiful woman with deep red hair, and talking to a smiling man and woman who looked older than Alex’s folks. Hanna ran over and hugged Janet, who was talking to an empty suit – which was obviously Grover dressed up in clothes people could see – and Jill and another older couple. Jack was talking to General Hammond and Major Davis. Oh! And Willow was on the other side of General Hammond so Alex almost didn’t see her!
There was a Hispanic couple that rushed over and hugged Jo, and a Scandinavian-looking couple who walked slower but still hugged Sergeant Carlson and his wife. Alex took advantage of all the running around to fly around the room the long way and give Willow a hug too.
Willow smirked, “Jack’s really grouchy, because he’s getting an Air Force Cross when what he really wanted was to get more medals and promotions for his teams. But he doesn’t know what I know!” She nearly trilled the last few words, and she bounced up and down with excitement. General Hammond gave Willow a fatherly grin and a big wink.
Alex figured this was going to be awesome.
Jack stepped over to a long table covered in food and announced, “Thanks everyone for coming and surprising the tar out of our medal award winners. Klar and Terawatt have secret identities and people to protect, but Action Girl decided she wanted her mom here, and her mom threatened me with some really big needles at my next medical unless I made that happen.” Half the room laughed or chortled.
General Hammond said, “The problem is that there’s some really clear security camera footage we couldn’t suppress covering most of the ground-level parts of the Korea battle, because only about a half of South Korea’s external security cameras were knocked out, and a lot of that footage made the international news within hours. That, plus the issue with getting the President to publicly recognize that our Orphans are the good guys, led us into this compromise. We’ve been trying to protect the identities of Major Finn and Lieutenant Lupo and Sergeant Carlson, but now everyone knows that at least two out of three of them are Orphans, and all three of them were captured on security camera footage while fighting supervillains, so we’re going to go with this medal ceremony so we have the President’s say-so that our people are the good guys. But it does expose them a little more. So afterward we’re going to be giving each of you a little extra security. Mrs. Carlson and Dr. Fraiser, you already live on protected bases, but we’re putting people into position to keep an eye on the rest of you, just in case.”
“And just how are you planning on making that work on a farm that’s a good two miles from the next farmhouse?” asked the man who had to be Riley’s dad.
General Hammond drawled, “Well sir, I was hoping you’d be willing to take in a nice college student who’s taking a sabbatical for a year or so, and is willing to work for room and board.”
“Hold on,” said the woman who had to be Riley’s mom. “You’re giving us a real farmhand who knows how to do real work around the farm, not just some guy who sits in the kitchen all day dressed in black and cleaning his guns?”
The general smiled broadly. “Ma’am, you have us confused with a different agency. I’m talking about a trained soldier who happens to have grown up on a farm in Kansas and can operate and even repair pretty much anything you’ve got, and isn’t afraid of some hard work.”
Riley’s dad smiled, “Well, with the boys gone, we can sure use the help. I was looking at hiring some help come planting season, but this would be… pretty handy. Just expect your boy’s gonna come back thirty pounds heavier, because my Marti’s one whale of a good cook.”
“Oh stop it, you’re making me blush,” said Mrs. Finn.
While General Hammond went around talking to people about the protections the DHS was putting in place now that their family member had been outed as an Orphan and also as a member of a key United States military project, Jack was walking around being friendly and getting people to go eat. So Alex got right in line and loaded up her plate and went and ate with the Finns, who were just ahead of her.
Okay, so she had more on her plate than Riley and his wife combined. And his wife wasn’t a dainty eater. She had a goodly amount on her plate.
Riley’s wife gave Riley a raised eyebrow, and he gave her a tiny shake of the head.
Oh. Alex put her hand out and shook hands. “Dr. Finn, it’s nice to meet you. And no, I’m not an Orphan, my powers just use a phenomenal number of calories every day. And yes, your secret’s safe with me.”
And then she just got into a chat with Mrs. Finn, who was just super-nice and insisted on being called Marti, about food and cooking, until she cleaned her plate and went back for seconds.
Then she sat down with the Lupos and talked with Jo’s parents about running their own business while she cleaned her plate. And then she went back for thirds.
She had her third plate with the Carlsons, and her fourth plate with Jill’s mom and stepdad. And she had a slice of cake with Hanna and Janet and Klar. But she didn’t eat anything while she talked with Jack and General Hammond and Major Davis about them having to go testify before a joint Senate committee on the Orphan threat. Jack was pretty snarky about the politicians, so Alex had no idea if he had smarted off to them or not.
Then they needed six cars to get everyone over to the White House for the awards ceremony. Jack was in his fanciest dress uniform, even though he grumbled to Willow the whole time about General Jackson not being willing to cut Riley a step up to lieutenant colonel. “Fer cryin’ out loud, the guy fought an unstoppable blob monster with a bottle of bleach and a fire extinguisher! I did everything except throw a tantrum and hold my breath until I turned blue, and Jackson just gave me a smirk.”
Willow grinned, “That whole holding your breath until you turn blue thing? Didn’t work on me, either.”
Jack smirked, “Well, I was just trying to get some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation out of you, not a half a ton of paperwork.”
Things went a lot smoother getting into the White House this time, even if Corinne couldn’t go through a metal detector without setting it off. But they had a full-body scanner she could step into, in a little room off to the side. Alex took a peek. Eww. Prosthetic right leg from below the knee on down, and things in her right hand and forearm that looked like steel pins and steel bracers. Jo already knew her leg would set off the metal detector, so she just went straight to the scanner before Corinne even got near the Secret Service agents.
Then they all went up to a room with a bunch of important Senators and Congressmen and some veterans of the Korean War who wanted to shake Alex’s hand. And a bunch of photographers who were all back against the curtained window. And the Secretary of the Air Force, who was a big old burly guy with white hair and a big smile.
The President came in and shook hands and smiled at people, even though his Secret Service guys were busy frowning at everyone. Alex made sure to shake his hand and smile, “It’s nice to see you again, sir.”
He grinned back, “It’s a real pleasure to greet you again, particularly seeing that you keep making me look good internationally.”
Then the President awarded the Medal of Honor to Riley, and then Jo, and then Sergeant Carlson. Alex was totally impressed, because that was big stuff. Sergeant Carlson also got another Purple Heart, because he got a couple pieces of shrapnel in him, and Alex knew how much that hurt. But there was only one other woman in history who ever got the Medal of Honor, and she was a Civil War battlefield surgeon who wasn’t a soldier and didn’t fight in a battle. Jo was the first woman soldier ever to get a Medal of Honor.
And that was when Alex found out that everyone saluted you if you were a Medal of Honor winner and you were wearing your medal. Even generals. Sergeant Carlson was no longer going to be saluting every officer on his base. Now every one of them would be saluting him every time he wore his medal.
Then the President had civilian decorations for the non-soldiers. Jill got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because she was still technically ‘officer’ Valentine and not Lieutenant Valentine, even if Jack was working on that problem. But that was still a really big deal. And then Action Girl and Klar got Presidential Medals of Freedom too, even if Hanna had to change into her Action Girl disguise first. Alex was a little surprised that Jack was okay with Klar getting outed as an ‘invisible man’ but she figured Jack was maybe okay with that as long as Grover’s identity was still secret. Maybe Jack hadn’t been given a lot of choice in the matter, since the President wanted to award medals to people and make a big deal about how Jack’s Orphan soldiers and superheroes saved the day. Alex thought maybe having to put up with those annoying Senators and Congressmen had made Jack want to do whatever it took to protect his people, and maybe this was it.
Somehow, Alex wasn’t expecting that she would get the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, which even came with an awesome sash that draped diagonally all the way around her torso. She really didn’t think that what she did was a whole heap braver than what Jill or Grover or Hanna did, because they couldn’t just fly away if things got tough, or turn silvery if someone shot at them.
Then the Secretary of the Air Force came over and presented Jack with an Air Force Cross for his work in Arizona. Riley got one too, and Jo officially got her Purple Heart for it. But there was more. The President awarded Jack the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal too. Jack seemed pretty surprised about that.
After all the handshakes, Jack stepped over to the side and said to General Hammond, “Sir, you can’t award the Distinguished Service Medal to me, that’s for Major Generals and up!”
But General Hammond glanced over at the Secretary of the Air Force and said, “That’s right… Brigadier General O’Neill.”
Willow giggled into her hands, because that was definitely an ‘oh holy crud’ look on Jack’s face. Only there was no way Jack would actually say ‘crud’. Jack obviously didn’t want to be a one-star, but he was stuck. He could hardly complain about it in front of the President and the Secretary of the Air Force. And General Hammond had a look on his face like ‘after all the crud you’ve pulled, you totally deserve this bit of payback, so there’.
Alex was pretty sure General Hammond wouldn’t say ‘crud’ either.
After all the handshaking and photography, the Secretary of the Air Force took Jack aside and said, “O’Neill, you put your ass on the line and made things happen, and you saved untold lives by doing so. You deserve that award… general.”
And General Hammond put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, where there was now a single great big star, and told him, “Look Jack, the SRI’s growing, and getting larger responsibilities, and we need a general in charge of it. You don’t want Flagg or Jackson appointing someone they like, say, Colonel Maybourne, to run it, do you?”
Jack immediately said, “No sir.”
General Hammond smiled, “Then you’ll just have to endure the pain. Just like I do.”
Jack looked like he was swallowing dirt, but he said, “Yes sir.”
Then George Hammond smiled, “Oh, and General Jackson wanted me to remind you of the prerogative of a new general.”
Jack’s eyes lit up, and then he winced as he realized how General Jackson had to have known this would happen, and that was why he had smirked at Jack when Jack was trying to get a promotion for Riley. Because now Jack could do it himself. Alex had to admit this was totally fun watching Jack get it after all the snarking and naughtiness he’d done. Willow was practically having a silent giggle-fit watching Jack.
General Hammond looked at Major Davis and tilted his head in a ‘come on over’ gesture. The major brought over a small box and handed it to Jack, whose eyes lit up when he peeked inside. He just said, “Thank you, sir.”
Then he walked over to where Riley was being congratulated by his wife and parents, and he said, “There’s just one more thing… Lieutenant Colonel Riley Jerome Finn.” And he replaced Riley’s gold oak leafs with silver ones. “Congratulations.”
Riley just stood there looking so stunned he couldn’t speak. Then his wife kissed him and his folks hugged him, and he was okay again. He managed to stammer out some thanks to Jack.
Jack just said, “No thanks permitted. If you weren’t so darn competent, I wouldn’t be stuck with this star now.”
Jack stalked over to where Alex was standing beside Willow, even if Alex was floating maybe half a foot off the floor. Jack scowled, “You two are like a couple seventh graders over here. Did both of you know about this?”
Alex shook her head no, but Willow covered her mouth with her hands and giggled. “George and General Jackson called me and told me why they wanted me to be here, but I had to promise not to tell anyone, not even Tera, and especially not you, or I’d have to hide out in the other room until after you got your star that is totally of the cool.”
He frowned, “I really didn’t want this. I hate being stuck behind a desk pushing papers and sending people out to get shot at, or in Tera’s case, blasted with super-lasers and attacked by indestructible hairballs and smacked around by giant mega-dino guys.”
Willow insisted, “They never established it was a guy.”
He rolled his eyes but smiled at her. “They pretty well established it’s not a ‘she’, and that’s all I’m caring about. If you want to spay or neuter your pet mega-dino, then I’m sure the ASPCM would help.”
“The ASPCM?” Alex checked.
Willow smiled, “Jack made it up and won’t let it drop. It’s the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Monsters.”
Jack smirked, “Because someone has to protect those kyute widdle blobs and silicates from those mean, mean superheroines who shock them and tie them in knots and jab ‘em in the butt with radioactive stuff.”
Alex complained, “Well, I figure it’s only a matter of time before I’ve got some jerkhead yelling that I’m biased against zombies.”
Jack admitted, “We’ve already had Finn looking out for that kind of problem in Iowa. He found two shyster lawyers, both trying to drum up class action suits against S.T.A.R.S. for killing innocent victims who just happened to be zombified already. They were going around contacting relatives of people we think got zombied, and families of missing persons who are possibles. Both legal eagles got investigated, and both are currently getting disbarred for some pretty creepy stuff they’d pulled previously.” He paused a second, “Oh, and that woman in Tromaville who was trying to sue Terawatt is now in jail for insurance fraud, filing false police reports, and some other charming cons she’s been running for years. And when they arrested her, she had five stolen IDs on her, so she’s also going up the river for identity theft and grand theft and anything else the New Jersey state attorney general’s office can dream up.” He grimaced, “She’s a real sweetheart.”
Willow asked, “And what about the lawsuits from the Spencer Estate and the Kort family and the Prescott Trust and all those guys?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “They’re just legal smokescreens to confuse dumb people before any jury trials start. The civil lawsuits will have to wait until the criminal prosecutions wrap, and given that there may be multiple separate death penalty trials in this mess, I’m figuring they’ll get to the civil suits maybe in the year 2525.”
Alex found herself all alone on the Cessna going home. The Carlsons and the Finns and the Lupos were all being put up for a night at a really nice Washington hotel, and from the quiet little argument Jack and Willow had, Alex was guessing Willow was footing the bill and not letting Jack or the SRI pay her back. Plus, Jack and Willow were staying somewhere in the Washington area overnight. And Janet was taking Hanna and Grover back home.
Alex got a lot of studying done using her tablet, even if she kept wondering what she could do to help Corinne Carlson. And she kept wondering… why ‘foot the bill’? She finally looked it up using one of Willow’s little apps that searched a bunch of word wealth and word origin sites. Willow was the most amazing programmer ever.
She got home in the middle of the afternoon. Everyone wanted to see her medal with the sash and everything, and her mom called Ray over to see it too. It was only after everyone had seen it and admired it and Shar got to try it on for a few seconds that Ray asked, “Where are you gonna keep it?”
Oh. Right. Alex Mack couldn’t be seen with something like a super-fancy medal that only Terawatt and a few other people ever got. Crud.
And she couldn’t call Jack or Willow to ask, because it was evening there, so they were either eating out or doing something in a hotel room that Alex not only didn’t want to interrupt, she didn’t even want to think about.
She sent Willow an email, and hopefully Willow would get back to her after she got back to California. Which would probably be Monday, if she knew Willow. Alex put the medal and the sash back in their special case, and she tucked it under her lingerie in her underwear drawer, and she hoped nobody burglarized the house and ransacked her underwear in the next day or two.
The whole ‘who might be an Orphan’ deal really started to explode that week. The joint Congressional hearings got hours of play on CSPAN-III. Several big political figures who were under thirty-two were getting pressure to resign or not run for another office, even if maybe they weren’t Orphans. Some of their political opponents were insisting crazy things like ‘who knows whether you are because maybe your parents lied on your birth certificate when they got you illegally from a foreign orphanage so maybe you’re not even really an American’. Several big-name young stockbrokers and money market managers who were in the 25-to-31 age bracket were finding huge numbers of people were withdrawing their money because they didn’t want to fund another Umbrella Corp.
The top athletes in that age bracket were being examined under a microscope by every sports reporter on the planet. The USOC and the IOC were talking about banning all athletes 25-to-31 who were orphans born mid-summer and adopted as babies, until someone could come up with a genetic test. Important researchers and scientists in the age bracket were finding all their work was being scrutinized and re-evaluated. There was a huge flamewar going on dozens of websites where pro-Willow people were arguing with anti-Willow people about whether her software was the best thing ever, or part of some fiendish plot to take over people’s computers.
Several possible-Orphan politicians and soldiers in countries like North Korea and Afghanistan suddenly went missing. No one knew if they had been kidnapped or assassinated, or if they were fleeing to some top-secret Orphan hideaway, or what. In northern India, Khan Noonien Singh was making a big stink about how this was a sign his political enemies were out to get him by any means possible. Two dozen other possible Orphans around the globe were insisting the same thing because their political enemies were using this against them… but Alex knew they might also be evil badguys.
Alex didn’t like it, because she was pretty sure that not all these people getting the short end of the stick were really Orphans. Some of them were just born at the wrong time.
When Jo drove up Sunday afternoon for kung fu class, she hugged Alex and said, “Thanks. My mom and dad thought the medal was great, but they couldn’t stop talking about how I knew Terawatt and Terawatt wanted to sit with me and wanted to talk to my parents like they were someone important.”
“I… Well, they were nice.”
Jo just gave her a big smile. “Anybody else who could do what you do would be a stuck-up bitch by now.”
Alex admitted, “I grew up with enough ‘mean girls’. I don’t want to be one too.”
Jo muttered, “Yeah, well Azure Crush is sure working it pretty hard these days. She was a complete dicktease to Carlson until I gave her the 4-1-1 on his wife.”
When everyone else was in their gi, Alex had to fly upstairs, do a silvery quick change into her uniform, and fly back down the stairs.
She landed in between her mom and Shar. Jo glanced at her watch, “Thirteen seconds. Pretty da- darn impressive.”
Alex said, “Yeah, it’s a better secret-identity-saving power than laser beam eyeballs or something.”
“Honey, you haven’t fought someone with laser beam eyes, have you, because you haven’t told us about that,” her mom checked.
Alex said, “No, I was thinking about Cyclops. In the comic books? X-Men?”
Shar helped, “You know, the dorky guy Wolverine hated on in the movie?”
Alex’s mom smiled at Shar and teased, “I don’t know how you can keep all these imaginary superheroes straight when you still have trouble remembering the difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.”
Shar loudly protested, “It was just that once!” She looked at Jo and whispered loudly, “But it tasted really icky.”
Yeah, that had been the worst chicken tetrazzini in the history of tetrazzini. Alex still said, “Accidents happen, and we won’t make that mistake ever again, will we Shar?”
“No way José!” Shar insisted. She made a yuck face and a pretend-gagging noise.
Alex’s mom just smiled, “And don’t worry, Jo. I’ll check Shar’s chicken tetrazzini before it goes into the oven from now on.”
“Me too!” piped Shar. “Now I ask Uncle George to taste it!”
Alex’s dad just rolled his eyes a little. “I guess my first initial stands for ‘guinea pig’.” But he couldn’t help smiling some too.
Then kung fu lessons went really well, and dinner got prepped while Alex did her private martial arts lessons with Jo. They went inside, and Jo whispered, “It would be really funny if it was chicken tetrazzini.”
It wasn’t, but it was a really yummy chicken and rice casserole with little button mushrooms and sliced artichoke hearts. And ‘science cookies’ for dessert. While Alex had been in Washington, her dad had shown Shar how to make a meringue and they’d baked meringue cookies, and her dad had told Shar how making a meringue and baking it right was just chemistry. And they were mm-mm-good, so that pretty well proved her dad’s point right there. She didn’t know anybody else whose dad could make perfect meringue cookies, because her dad was pretty awesome for a dad.
The week started off with the same old stuff, especially at school. Or maybe it was because Alex had ended up spending nearly six whole hours doing serious schoolwork on Saturday while flying to and from Washington, D.C. Although she did get an email back from Willow that said Alex should just leave all her Terawatt medals and stuff with Jack and make him have to store them and clean them and all that stuff. Alex made a mental note to take her medal along the next time she did anything with the SRI, so Jack could store it for her in someplace safe.
On Tuesday, she gave a talk to the Photography Club about how she got her big breaks as a photographer. She had to lie about the Terawatt part, though. Okay, she had to lie a lot. She went with the standard story she’d been telling people, about spending six or seven months working with Louis and sometimes Nicole and Robyn listening to the police band hoping to catch Terawatt in action. And she fibbed that she got her break with Willow Rosenberg by sending her a packet that included what she wanted to achieve with her photography, and how she planned to do it, and what her qualifications were, and a two paragraph piece on why she thought she was the best person for the job, and a collection of some of her best photos so Ms. Rosenberg could see that Alex actually knew what she was doing. And she had no idea a friend of Willow’s would hear about Alex’s project and ask to see the photos and send them to someone he knew at Newsweek. And when the news about the Orphans exploded on Tuesday and she called Ms. Rosenberg to see if she was okay, she got the offer to come do an interview because Ms. Rosenberg trusted her, and by the end of the interview, she was getting to call Ms. Rosenberg by her first name! And Willow was really very nice, and she was very shy when she wasn’t being CEO Rosenberg, and she liked to spend her time programming and playing video games and reading, and she wasn’t at all like you’d think an Orphan would be. That part totally wasn’t a lie, because Willow was a really great person.
Jack called her the next day on the tPhone to give her a heads-up. A bunch of veterans in Congress and the Senate were raising a huge stink about the NID and some Pentagon higher-ups mistreating a handful of heroic young soldiers who just happened to be stronger and faster than other soldiers. And the Congressmen didn’t want to lose our super-soldiers if there was any chance the U.S. might soon be facing other countries’ super-soldiers. Jack was ecstatic because General Jackson told him that he might finally get those promotions he’d been begging for. And the NID was in even more trouble. Jack was just still kind of cranky that he got promoted right out of a field command.
On Saturday, she spent the afternoon with Ray and had dinner at his house. And then they went to see a movie which looked really funny in the ads, but it turned out the only four funny moments in the whole stupid movie were in the commercials already so there was nothing left to enjoy. And the wacky girlfriend who looked so fun and entertaining in the one-minute ad turned out to be the most annoying person ever when you had to sit and watch her for an hour and a half. By the end of the movie, Alex didn’t want the guy to marry her, Alex wanted him to push her into a big mud puddle and go back to his old girlfriend who was quiet and not a complete nutbar.
When the movie ended, it didn’t sound like anyone else in the theater enjoyed the movie either. She couldn’t remember hating a romantic comedy that much in ages. Maybe she liked “From Justin to Kelly” even less, but it was pretty close.
They walked out, and Ray looked at the scowl on her face. He said, “Thank God! Because if you liked that turkey, I was gonna write rom-coms off our date list forever.”
She complained, “What were we thinking? That was so horrible! And the thing with the kitty that was so funny in the ad? Yuck!”
Ray agreed, “This is even worse than those movies that are supposed to be comedies but nothing in the ad is even close to funny. This tricks you into thinking there’s something funny to go see, and it makes you hate the stuff you thought was gonna be funny from the ad. It’s like the evil twin of romantic comedies!”
A couple behind them heard Ray and yelled, “Amen, brother!” Alex and Ray laughed all the way to his car.
Alex used a new Willow app on her phone to immediately go to half a dozen movie rating sites and give that movie a really awful score, and maybe it was mean, but she wrote: the only funny part was the rude comments after we left the theater. Okay, that wasn’t nearly as rude as a lot of the other comments she saw people had already posted. She read some of the really mean ones to Ray as he drove out of the parking lot. ‘Silence of the Lambs was a better rom-com than this turkey.’ Wow, that was snarky enough to be from Jack.
At least Ray took her to an all-you-can-eat buffet for a ‘late night snack’ and he got two big plates of food. She got two big plates, and also got half the food off his plates, so the manager didn’t notice she was eating a lot. Although Ray did eat a ton of dessert too. Alex just had some chocolate pudding, and some chocolate cake, and some apple cobbler, and some peach crumble, and some coconut cream pie that wasn’t as good as it looked, and some soft-serve ice cream.
And more of the chocolate pudding. With a bunch of the soft-serve mixed in. And some chocolate syrup on top.
And then, while Alex was leaving church Sunday morning, her tPhone buzzed inside her bra. It wasn’t like she was as stacked as, say, Terawatt or Azure Crush, so she couldn’t just hide stuff the size of a phone in the cups of her bra. But she was wearing a nice church dress with one of her nicest bras, and she had her tPhone tucked under the bra’s band over her sternum, so it didn’t show.
She waited until she was in the car before she used her tk to slide her phone down over her stomach, under her skirt, and out at her knee. It was a text from Jack. conf call w fbi @ 1200 b there or b square
The FBI? The only thing she could think of was the FBI guys who hadn’t been happy with A.L. Mack but had still given her a card. But she couldn’t see Jack having an SRI conference call over that.
She told everyone she had a conference call she needed to be on at noon in the home office. So, once they got home, she did a quick change into some overalls and a t-shirt, ate a fast lunch, and got ready.
At a couple seconds before twelve, she dialed into the SRI’s private conference call number. “Terawatt here.” She figured she’d rather be a couple seconds early than be the one Jack teased about being late, because Jack did stuff like that.
Jack’s voice came on, “Team One already here, with Harriman and Team Terawatt.”
Alex complained, “Can we not call it Team Terawatt?”
Graham’s voice was already saying, “Team Two here, minus Sergeant Carlson, who has a couple days leave.”
Riley’s voice came on, “Davenport team here. Finn, Valentine, and Marshall.”
Willow’s heavily AutoTuned voice came on, “Acid Burn here. Who’s still missing?”
Jack said, “Well, you would be the last one on the call, except the Feebs haven’t bothered to join the call they chose the time for. They didn’t like going with Sunday, but I reminded them we have stuff that crops up unexpectedly, like saving South Korea from supervillain teams or stopping silicates all around the world.”
Alex smiled to herself, because she knew the real reason Jack did these calls on weekends was because she was in high school classes on weekdays, and he was hiding her secret identity.
A voice Alex didn’t know blared, “Special Supervisory Agent Lewis Erskine and Special Supervisory Agent James Rhodes of the FBI Counter-Terrorism Unit in D.C., with Special Agent Thomas Colby in the field.”
Jack snarked, “Well, thanks for being very special there, even if you’re specially late. We’re all on the call already.”
The voice cleared his throat and said, “This is not a convenient time, Colonel O’Neill.”
“That’s Brigadier General O’Neill, Agent Erskine. The President promoted me yesterday.”
Alex smiled to herself, because Jack was really sticking it to these guys, and she could tell by the silence that the FBI guys didn’t know whether to believe him or not. She would’ve been pretty darn suspicious, especially since she knew Jack could be a real stinkbug when he wanted to be.
There was some whispering Alex couldn’t make out, and then the Erskine guy said, “Yes, General O’Neill. And congratulations on your Air Force Distinguished Service Medal.”
Okay, coming up with that intel that fast meant they were pretty competent even if Jack didn’t seem to like them, and that they had to have their very own ‘Acid Burn’ type right there and feeding them tidbits of data. So Alex was going to be really careful if she needed to say anything.
Agent Erskine said, “Ever since your group alerted us about Clare Tobias and her attempted terrorist attack in Cupertino, we’ve been investigating. Andrea Harrison, the woman Tobias was claiming to be, is a real member of that security group, and has been missing since that day. Her apartment didn’t show any signs of breaking and entering, or any disturbances. Her car was found in the parking lot at the Cupertino building, with Miss Tobias’ fingerprints on the steering wheel and stickshift, superimposed over the fingerprints of Miss Harrison. We interviewed Miss Harrison’s associates and friends, and were able to put together her morning. She left the apartment as usual, and went to a strip mall not too far from her place of residence, where she got a frappacino, extra shot of espresso, non-fat milk, extra foam, with Sweet’n Low she brings in herself instead of one of the regular artificial sweeteners the store stocks. Her usual. A longtime friend of hers works the morning shift as a manager four days a week, and Miss Harrison regularly dropped by on those days to say hi and get her coffee before driving to her assignment. Our people found seventeen coffee spills ostensibly where someone dropped their coffee on their way to their car or while getting into their car. This happens often enough that the strip mall has someone wash the parking area down late at night two or three times a month. We were fortunate to get to the site before the wash-down.”
Another voice took over. “We took samples of all the spilled coffees from the pavement and sidewalk, and had them analyzed in the Quantico labs. One was definitely a frappacino with extra levels of caffeine, non-fat milk, and Sweet’n Low added. The sweetener is distinctive, because it has saccharin, dextrose, and cream of tartar in specific relative concentrations. And since the store doesn’t carry Sweet’n Low, this is highly likely to be a coffee spill from Andrea Harrison. We have no proof that this is the only time Andrea Harrison ever spilled her coffee there in the last two weeks, but it is possible this is where she was snatched.”
A third voice added, “Agents in the area blanketed the corridor between that mall and the Cupertino building. You sent us the clothing Miss Tobias was wearing at the time, and we were able to recover microscopic traces of pollens and weed seeds off her pants cuffs, and soils and some fine rocky materials off the soles of her shoes. Our forensic mineralogy and forensic botany people were able to help us pinpoint where Miss Tobias must have gone, and that led us to one of the local Bay Area parks. After an extensive search, we found where she buried the body of Andrea Harrison. If you hadn’t alerted us that Tobias was an Orphan with unusual strength and speed, we might have had trouble interpreting the results of the medical examiner. Someone grabbed Miss Harrison’s head and broke her neck, with an extremely violent injury between her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. But the bruising is consistent with a woman with Tobias’ hand size. Normally, we associate an injury like that with a large, powerful, violent male who has had certain types of military or intelligence training.”
Agent Erskine took over again. “Once we were reasonably certain that Miss Harrison could have been snatched from the parking lot of that strip mall, we also knew that someone had to have been watching her for some time and building up a file on her to facilitate Miss Tobias’ insertion. We’re going through security cam footage from every shop in that mall, plus every security camera within two blocks, because we need to find her fellow terrorists. And we searched the surrounding area in case the vehicle Tobias arrived in might still be in place. We found an old Econoline van parked a block and a half away. Clare Tobias was using it as an RV. It had food, a camp stove, a sleeping bag with camp mattress and camping pillow, a suitcase of clothes, a makeup case and four wigs and several hanging bags of disguise outfits for her, plus a metal case with gaskets for an airtight seal. Its interior was all foam rubber except for a small depression just large enough for that vial she was carrying.”
The third voice came back. “We traced the van back to a used car lot in Milwaukee, where a woman who could have been Tobias in a brown wig and disguise makeup bought it for cash using faked credentials. But there is more mileage on the van than a direct drive from Milwaukee to Cupertino would rack up. There’s just enough extra mileage to make a detour to one of a hundred different cities near one of the possible routes: Green Bay, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, Kansas City, Denver, or anything within eighty miles of Cupertino. We have field agents checking every one of those possibilities.”
Jack said, “Good. Because if Clare had to make that detour to get that vial, then you guys have a pretty big corridor along I-80 or I-90 to search on. And you have to assume it could be another major terrorist threat.”
Agent Erskine asked, “How large a terrorist threat do you have in mind?”
Jack snarked, “Ever heard of a little place called Beirut?”
One of the FBI guys choked.
“Yeah. We think this is the stuff our Orphan terrorists used on Beirut. And also on Lanzhou, China. But they have to make it up in batches of thousands and thousands of gallons, so they can hit an entire city at once. Our best guess so far is they need it in liquid form, so they probably insert it into the city’s water mains just downstream of the primary water treatment plant. So you’re looking for a medium to large city with water mains accessible just downstream of the water treatment plant, near some sort of light or heavy industrial plant or factory or even warehouse where they could synthesize enough of this crap to flood the city water lines and poison most of the population.”
Agent Erskine politely asked, “What does the toxin do? And is there an antidote?”
Lieutenant Marshall explained, “It’s a prion with special chemicals tacked on so it targets particular parts of the brain. It creates permanent lesions so you think everyone you see is an enemy, and you have no control over your aggression anymore. The victims will kill anyone they see, hunt down and kill anyone they can find, and not do much of anything except hunt and kill. Expect they’ll stop noticing things like pain and physical injury and ordinary bodily requirements like food and water and sleep. This is what we think happened in Beirut and Lanzhou. Overnight, most of the population turned into berserk killers who attacked anyone they saw with anything they could get their hands on. If you can’t find these guys’ secret lair and cut off its connection with the city water lines, we could end up having to nuke Denver. Or Chicago.”
Agent Erskine sounded a little shaken, but he said, “Thank you for the update, general. I need to allocate more agents on this ASAP.”
Jack waited a few seconds and then asked, “Are they really off the call?”
Acid Burn muttered, “Hang on…” And after a couple more seconds, she answered, “Yep, they’re definitely disconnected and they can’t drop any eaves.”
“Great. All right, these guys sound a lot more competent than some of the Feebs I’ve run into in the past. But there’s no way they’re prepared for several Orphans and a factory full of Mad Human Disease. Burn, work with the Pep Boys to map out every decent-sized city in Clare’s travel corridor, starting with Milwaukee and points a little east, just in case the detour was to go run over little old ladies at a retirement home or something. Find the water treatment plants and check if they’d even catch prions. If not, the insertion point could be anywhere, and the Feebs need to be alerted about that. If so, check whether the city has any viable insertion points that meet our criteria. If we can eliminate any cities based on that, let the Feebs know too. And if you can come up with a short list of buildings to check for this threat in any given city, let the Feebs know that as well. Also, if you can send them emails so they come from Fox Mulder in the Bureau’s basement, I’d appreciate it.”
Jack was so bad! The FBI guys would be totally not happy if they got email that looked like they were from ‘The X-Files’.
A/N: Inspector Lew Erskine and his sidekicks Jim Rhodes and Tom Colby are from the 1965-1974 television show “The F.B.I.” Assume they are in later seasons of the series but with an adjusted timeline. Now repeat after me in a deep, serious tone, “A Quinn… Martin… Production.”