A/N: This is the first of three planned one-shots that will take place within the For Her saga. Prior reading of For Her and Third Stage is recommended before reading this.
The tires of the Ford Taurus crunched on the gravel road as it slowly passed the last checkpoint. Police officers from at least three different cities had surrounded the building on all sides, cordoning off the only points of entry and exit. The window of the car rolled down so that the driver could address the officer standing near the entrance to the facility.
"Level three," he called and the driver nodded in thanks.
The car accelerated as it started down the slope towards the building. The occupants of the car noted that the gate that would normally bar entrance to its residents was smashed to bits, the pieces lying in a clutter on either side of the road. The car tilted down as it entered the intricately constructed entrance to the parking facility. The construction of the building was unique in that the offices and living quarters were constructed around the garages itself which were designed for easy access. Because the building itself was nestled in a small valley, any visitors would approach the parking garage from the top floor.
This was where the Taurus was now heading as it descended into the one lane road that split into four separate lanes, one for each of the floors. Taking the second lane, the car gingerly maneuvered itself down into the dark bowels of the facility, switching on its lights, as per the warning signs.
Such an action was unnecessary as the entrance up ahead was awash with blinking red and blue lights as several unmarked cars were huddled around the door. Several officers snapped to attention as the car parked at the entrance, ignoring any signs that said "No Parking."
As soon as the car stopped, Connecticut Senator James Fielding lifted himself out from the plush interior, an aide following closely by. He breathed in the air, saturated with gasoline and cringed.
"Christ, what a fuck-up. Of all the things to go wrong and now look. Christ Almighty."
The aide shook his head, "It's not so bad, Jim. It won't really reflect badly on you and we can shunt the heat off so the president has to take up most of the flak." The aide's gaze flickered over slightly to where two agents were pulling two body bags off the wet concrete nearby.
"You think so?" the senator asked with an incredulous laugh and a wave of his arm, stepping away from the vehicle. "From what I'm seeing, no one is going to come out of this unscathed. This isn't like the rest of the shit we get off the news. We're not entering into a war, we don't have a major security leak. No, something even worse has happened. I'm going to have to make a statement to my constituents that humanity has just fucked itself in the ass. I'm talking about the attempted mass murder of the aliens that designate themselves as 'quarians.' Right here in the town of Danbury!"
The senator groaned out loud, "They were two minutes from the border! If this had gone on in New York it would have been Ted's problem but no, it had to happen in my city, my state. God-fucking-damn it."
The aide shrugged, "You still have time before the press gets all over you. They aren't even allowed near the building so that will give you some time to get a proper accounting of the details."
"You can help me with that, Anthony," the senator placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Go inside and take a look at the place. Tell me what you find and so forth while I go talk to the brass out here."
Anthony gulped, "Won't…won't there be dead bodies in there, Jim?"
"For Christ's sake," Fielding glowered. "Be a man for once, Anthony. We're all going to get exposed to the blood and guts of this job. Might as well pop your cherry sooner rather than later."
The young man nodded nervously before turning his head over to the side, where he observed a group of troopers gather around an object that was parked in the corner of the garage. Curious, he started walking over to the group where, from between the officers, he spotted a brief flash of red. It was a shiny red, as if it was painted on a smaller object.
Anthony approached the group and the officers parted to make room for him, the senator hovering nearby. Anthony blinked and looked at the man who was writing the license plate number of the Ducati 1198 motorcycle in front of him.
"What is this?"
The man shrugged, "Motorcycle. Doesn't look like any of the staff here owned it. We're trying to find out if it belonged to any of the miscreants that-"
"I'll save you the trouble," Anthony gulped. "It's mine."
All of the officers now turned in his direction. Fielding cursed behind him as he stepped to face Anthony directly.
"Yours? What the hell do you mean it's yours?"
"I mean," Anthony stammered. "I loaned it to a friend tonight. He said he needed it for something but he didn't say."
Anthony was looking around in all directions, frightened, before he came to a realization, "Did…did you find a body in there? He would be around my age, white, brown hair."
"Not that we saw," an officer replied. "Most of the bodies in there are either quarian or human, but they're way too old for what you're describing. What is your friend's name?"
"Alec Lee," Anthony said. "He lives near here. I wouldn't know why he would come here, though."
Fielding was shaking his head in disbelief, "For the love of-… Anthony, I need you to remember everything. Anything at all. We really don't need any more nasty surprises today. Even the fact of your bike being here could tip this thing over in the wrong direction."
"There's nothing else, Jim!" Anthony snapped. "If I knew anything about this I would have told you firsthand!"
Fielding nodded and raised his hands, "All right, Anthony. But I want a check to be run on your friend. I believe you, but I also want to gather more evidence before we bring this to a close."
"In any case, we'll look over this after I talk to the agent over there," Fielding gestured to a man dressed in a snappy black suit with a badge that read "NSA." "You can go ahead now, just let me know what's what, okay?"
Anthony pushed past the group and over to the door at the far end of the garage. It had been manually held open so he just simply stepped inside. Walking into a carpeted highway, an officer directed him to the left and he gave him a nod. He continued on until he saw a sign on a nearby door that read "Security Station." Seeing that the room was occupied by a lone trooper, he ventured in.
"What do we have?" Anthony asked, flashing his government badge.
The officer's eyes flashed to the card before responding in a shrug, "Nothing. All the hard drive decks are smashed." Indeed for when Anthony approached the desk, he could see thousands of bits of metal and plastic strewn across the floor, next to the smoking hulk of what used to be a computer server.
"You mean to tell me that the security system was down the entire night?"
"Up until someone got in here and completely trashed the place. Usually there would be a backup but the reports don't mention any inflow of data on anyone else's end."
Anthony frowned, "I thought that the server here was programmed to send all information to DC. Why can't we analyze it from there?"
"Because it runs on a timer. The server here only uploads all information twice a day every twelve hours. Based on the timing of the attack, the equipment here was destroyed before the next cycle was due to send."
"That seems inefficient."
"We had no choice when deciding the connection speed. DC is a couple hundred miles away and we can't really afford to slow down the connection for a single second when we are uploading terabytes of information every single day."
"It would have been more helpful had the quarians were originally based in DC," Anthony muttered under his breath. Without acknowledging the man further, he wheeled out of the room and continued on his original path. As he turned the corner, his breath caught in his throat as he saw a form slumped against the wall, leaving a smear of red.
He closed his eyes in panic before opening them slowly and walked over to the body. This man was large, muscular, and had short brown hair. He didn't recognize him but his gaze could not be torn from the hole in his head, which had stopped leaking blood long ago.
Backing away, he heard the clattering of cameras and peered into the next room where he noticed a group of three agents were documenting another body. Anthony stepped into the room, a closet more like, and could only discern the outline of what looked like an environmental suit.
Anthony's mouth opened slightly when he realized he was looking at the limp form of a quarian. Red blood had pooled around the body, the helmet torn off. Anthony could only catch the faint white of hair and grey of its skin before he felt a hand tapping his shoulder. Startled, he turned around to witness two men standing before him.
Like the men he had seen milling about in the garage, they were also dressed in sharp, black suits. The badges on their chests also read "NSA" although their nametags read "Perez" and "Donaldson."
"Mr. Wyatt?" Perez asked. "We got a call that you were stopping by. They said you might need an escort."
Anthony's face flushed at the fact that Fielding had saw to babysit him. Despite his assured exterior, the man still didn't fully trust him! He loved working for him but the senator could be so enraging sometimes.
Pushing down a snarky comment, Anthony replied, "I…I would appreciate it. Thank you."
Donaldson shook his head, "Terrible tragedy."
"What's that?" Anthony cocked his head, only partially listening.
"This whole thing," Donaldson gestured as the trio began to walk down the hallway in the direction of the ballroom. "It's not our place to say anything but I'm quite angry at what transpired last night."
Anthony scratched his head, "Do you know what exactly went on? We've been getting sporadic reports of the situation and no one seems to have a clue."
Perez nodded, "We believe we know."
Anthony wanted to ask the agents what but they were playing the pronoun game for a reason. They were going to tell him eventually, they just needed to wait for the opportune moment. They reached a large set of double doors and pushed it aside. Anthony's eyes widened as he took in the sight of the room. It stretched for a few hundred meters from one side to the other. A few of the walls were covered with mirrors and the floor was strewn with tables and chairs, several tipped over from the remnants of what appeared to be a firefight.
This is where the quarians ate, Anthony thought.
Truth be told, he had never laid eyes on the Danbury complex from the interior before, let alone the exterior. The more he traveled into the depths of the facility, the more impressed he was at the foundation and construction, as well as the fact that several hundred aliens had set foot in this one location as it was the first place many of them went after landing on Earth.
They were walking to what looked like a staircase in the middle of the room but Anthony could now see a body strewn at the foot. He walked up to it and winced. This man had a hold through the side of his cheek. Evidentially a bullet had entered one side and out the other, smashing his teeth all over the floor. Anthony looked away as Donaldson started to talk.
"Funnily enough, most of the humans that died here were shot using projectile weapons. Our weapons, to be precise."
"I thought that the quarians had permission to use their own guns since the increased attacks."
"Apparently they had help from an unknown source. Check out this poor bastard right here." Donaldson and Perez gestured towards another body of a human, face down in an enormous pool of blood. Anthony fought to keep his breakfast down as Perez slowly turned the body over, giving him a good look at what exactly killed this man.
His neck hung in tatters, flesh and sinew were dangling from a gigantic hole. Anthony could see several tendons and tubes from the gaping wound. He gagged and the agents lowered the body to the ground, the grievous wound out of sight.
"Based on ballistics, we can determine that a fifty caliber round struck this prick in the neck, which completely removed it. If he had been standing a little longer I don't think his head would have stayed attached for very long."
Did…did Alec do this?
Anthony slowly breathed in and out, still trying not to vomit, "Do we know who he is?"
Perez shrugged, "No ID, but we did get fingerprints. Should have proper documentation within a week."
"A week? You can't find out who he is until that long?"
"You've been watching too much TV. A proper fingerprint test takes two weeks on average. The only reason why it's so short this time is because everything here is being placed on the priority schedule. A lot of pressure is being put on this for no fuck-ups."
"Great," Anthony groused. "But do we have a motive?"
"Yep," Donaldson said as he lifted the sleeve of the dead man, revealing an elaborate tattoo of Jesus nailed on the cross with the words "Hallowed in thy Name" written on the top.
"We've been able to surmise that these killings were deemed to have a religious connotation based on bystander accounts and careful estimation."
"You mean you're not entirely certain?"
Perez now interjected, "We never managed to arrest anyone related to the killings. Our preliminary estimations are established on the evidence that all of these members possess tattoos pertaining to the subject."
"And the fact that every one of these characters looks like they just stepped out of Ben-Hur," Donaldson added with a laugh.
"That, and the fact that any aggression aimed at the quarians in the past had all been religiously affiliated. No one group has ever maintained exclusivity to this fact, it's just that there are some people out there who are particularly adamant that quarians are the spawn of the devil, or some shit like that."
Donaldson shook his head, "Rather fucked up if you ask me."
Anthony wiped his mouth, "Jesus. So, how many dead?"
Perez took a moment to pull the numbers from his head, "Approximately two dozen quarians and eleven humans."
Donaldson now edged toward the staircase, "There's also one more thing that we haven't mentioned yet. Just up the stairs."
Anthony was grateful for the reprieve as it meant that he could no longer linger in the presence of the two dead bodies. The air was starting to stink, making him feel even more light-headed. Gratefully, he followed the agent, Perez trailing closely behind.
The stairs were steep and there was a faint chill in the air. Anthony deduced that they were heading toward the roof. It was the only logical explanation but what exactly was up here? There was the quiet roar from a nearby helicopter, now he knew that they were definitely headed toward the roof.
As they turned up another flight, Anthony paused as he saw a large form blocking half of the path. He moved against the railing as he gasped, fighting to control his terror but Perez grabbed his arm in reassurance.
"Relax, pal. He's been dead a while."
The thought was not immediately comforting to Anthony as the agents moved over to the limp body. What concerned him about this fact was that the body was clothed in the uniform of a police officer, and that officer had three large holes in his torso, the flesh around it shredded. Perez moved around the body, which Anthony could now see wore a name tag that read "Broughton" on it.
"See the entry wounds here?" Perez pointed. "No human weapon could do that much damage at close range."
"How…" Anthony breathed. "How can you tell the range?"
"Based on the body's position. He fell immediately after he was shot and he hadn't been moved afterward. There are no areas for someone to utilize a sniper weapon for someone on the roof unless they had to be carting a Barrett at point-blank range, which is highly unlikely. However, I doubt ballistics will be able to recover any bullets because the only weapon that could do this would be a quarian weapon."
"You're saying…that they shot a police officer?"
"Either that or a member of our fan club down there managed to get their hands on one of the shiny toys. We can't really do much at this point aside from speculate. There are just too many unknown variables in this mess."
Like Alec. What happened to him?
"What was a police chief doing here? Shouldn't he have brought backup?"
"That is the standard procedure. Either he was in the neighborhood when the attack started or he was involved in the operation in some way."
Perez nodded, "Oh yeah, corruption can't exactly be ruled out here. We can't find out just by looking at his wallet here so an investigation will have to be opened. The senator is going to love this, corruption in the police force relating to an attack on the quarians. This will make the headlines for weeks."
Reaching the roof, Anthony grabbed his jacket tighter as the wind buffeted his frame. He shivered and moved his arms up and down to warm himself up. The body in the middle of the landing pad now warranted his attention as he saw several figures standing around it. Now jaded to the horrors of this place, he stole across the pad until he was part of the circle, examining the corpse.
Much like the officer, the wounds on this man were large and gaping. A hole had punched through cleanly where his sternum should be. The organs inside were missing pieces and some had gotten jumbled around from the intruding force and gravity. The most disconcerting feature was the fact that the man's lower jaw was hanging in two pieces from both sides of his neck. Blood had completely soaked the man's front and had coagulated into a large pool around him, making the floor sticky.
Sighing, Anthony rubbed his eyes, "Another quarian weapon?"
"Yes," Perez said. "Curiously, those weren't the only wounds on him, right here you'll see-"
"I don't want to see any more," Anthony interrupted turning away. "Just describe to me what's on the body."
"The curious bit is that there appears to be a pair of wounds on the man's foot and chest that look to have been caused by a bladed weapon, such as a knife."
"And that's odd how?"
"It means that we have no clue on the chronology when our mystery man obtained these wounds and the circumstances. Was he in a fight with a person before someone else intervened? Did the person he was fighting miraculously grab a weapon in desperation? This is the thing which everyone will despise us, the government, for. That we will never know what exactly happened here. It's a bust, all of it."
"Fucking nightmare," Anthony groaned.
Donaldson snapped his fingers, "Didn't you say that your friend had borrowed your bike to come here?"
"Yeah," Anthony nodded. "My friend –Alec- he said he needed it…"
"Was he among the list of the deceased?"
"No. No one has seen him. I don't know where he is."
"Did you try calling him?"
Oh shit. "No…" he blinked. "I haven't."
Grabbing his phone from his pocket, Anthony clicked his screen so that he opened the text function. Writing a brief message, he waited for the icon to designate itself as "sent." However, a few seconds later, the screen flashed "Person Unavailable."
What does that even mean?
He shook his head, "I've got nothing."
Donaldson shrugged, "Well, we'll keep an eye out for him. If he isn't here then I don't know where else he could be. Apart from being on that ship, of course."
Anthony whirled, "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that we can't discount the possibility that your friend might have taken a one-way ticket off this planet. 'Flew the coop' I believe is the appropriate expression."
"But why would he do such a thing?"
"You're his friend, you tell me. Perhaps he watched Close Encounters one too many times and got some crazy idea in his head that he could go into space. You never know."
"I think he would have told me if he was doing something stupid like that."
"At this point, the conclusion is rather moot. It's not going to affect this investigation in any form, just one more annoying variable for the forensics teams to pore over. Heh, I wish them all the luck in the world at this point."
Perez walked over to pat Anthony on the back, "Don't worry. If you're friend isn't found here then he's probably alive and well. Wherever he might be. Now, is there anything else you'd like to see before we go?"
Anthony slowly gazed across the roof. The mist of the morning was beginning to burn off as the golden rays of the sun shone through the clouds up ahead. The burnt orange of the leaves caused the entire area to glow with a warmth that seeped into his skin. He breathed in the dank, musty smell one last time before turning to both of the agents.
"No. I'm ready to go."
Being careful to avoid the pool of water near the curb of the garage, Anthony stepped out of the building and back toward the black Taurus that was waiting just feet away.
Leaned up against the side of the car was Senator Fielding, smoking a cigarette and shaking his head. Spotting Anthony, he flicked the but away and ground it with his heel before addressing him.
"So, what did you find?"
Anthony numbly replied, "Not…not much. Just a bunch of dead bodies."
Fielding moved over to put a hand on the young man's shoulder, "I know it isn't easy, son. I'm sorry that I put you on the spot there, Anthony. I just…I'm mad as hell that this had to happen and I wanted an opinion from someone I could trust."
The senator's words made Anthony glance up, "I…I don't know…what else to say, Jim."
"There's nothing else that needs to be said. Come on, let's get back to work. Let the authorities make the snap judgments. We're all along for the ride now."
Opening the door wide for the young man, Anthony slowly maneuvered himself into the car, scooting over to the side so that Fielding could sit down immediately. After the door closed, the driver depressed the gas, sending the powerful car out of the garage and back into the bright, streaming sunlight. Both men held up their arms to protect their eyes, caught in the dazzling rays. Fielding sighed as he adjusted his back to the seat.
"Wish I had a goddamn drink about now. I don't even care if it's eight in the morning, I need a scotch."
Anthony didn't know how to reply to that so he just nodded, hoping that the senator would catch the quiet reaction. Fielding stroked his chin, feeling the budding burrs before cocking his head as he turned to his young aide.
"Anthony," he asked. "Why do you want to be a politician?"
The question caught him off guard. It was such a direct query that he was not even prepared to utter a single word. He fumbled for a minute before regaining his composure.
"Why…why do I? I guess…it's because I…I want to make a difference, I guess."
Fielding shook his head, "A clichéd answer. That isn't good enough. Why do you really want to be a politician, Anthony? I'm your friend here, be honest."
When he took too long to respond, the senator answered in his stead, "Power, Anthony. Everyone who ventures into politics wants power. No one will ever admit it, but greed is the glue that holds the cracks of this rotten country together. There is some part of us that craves domination over others, to be able to influence others with a mere word. That is a tantalizing prospect, Anthony. I know it is what you seek."
Anthony breathed, "It seems wrong…to say such a thing, I mean."
"And it is wrong! It is wrong for other to put personal gain over the greater good. But that's what humanity is about. We are not selfless creatures, we think only of ourselves. In the most extreme cases of course. Take, for example, those quarians. They are the epitome of what you and I would call an extended family. Everyone has to think of others before themselves. It's their nature, it's who they were born to be. That isn't so with us. We are incompatible species, Anthony, because we do not want the same things."
"Even though they came here to help us?"
"Aha! And now you see the dilemma. They came all this way to enlighten us, to help us. They did not need to do such a thing. We would have been fine remaining blissfully ignorant of their existence but they came to us out of their own will. Our world, my boy, is not meant for anyone other than human. We pushed them away because we are monsters underneath. We let our desires get the better of us."
Anthony leaned over to the man, "Why are you telling me this, Jim?"
Fielding gave a sad smile, "Because we can be better, Anthony. The quarians were proof enough of that and we squandered our chance." He sighed before continuing, "Don't try to make politics your life. It will change you, consume you, until you're a different man at the end."
The rest of the trip passed in silence as both passengers solemnly stared out the windows at the blurry background rushing by, quietly reflecting on the day's events.
He took a deep breath as he let the dark encompass him. He moved a hand up to rub at his eyes, briefly pushing his glasses out of the way. His hands folded in front of him as his leg tapped at the ground in anticipation. He took a brief moment to look around the office to study it, gazing with curiosity at the amount of accolades the man who actually inhabited the office possessed.
Out the window, he could see a light mist coat the parking lot below. Yellow streetlamps blossomed out from the night, casting beams across his face. He turned to the door as an aide came in to alert him. Waving him away, he quickly stood up and adjusted the chair back to its original position. Sighing in excitement, he quickly stalked out of the room and into the hallway, headed towards the nearby elevator.
To his surprise, the elevator was already open, the lone person inside holding it open. Giving a nod, he entered and the other man let the door close. They now had the perfect amount of privacy for the next few seconds.
"Mr. Speaker," Lieutenant General Palmquist, Director of the NSA, intoned.
"Director Palmquist," Anthony Wyatt, Speaker of the House, answered.
"Everything is all ready," the man said, giving a grin. The man was in a good mood, oddly enough.
Anthony took a quick breath as the elevator resumed its descent. His fingers twitched and his glasses felt heavy. He quickly pushed them back on his face as he tilted his head in Palmquist's direction.
A/N 2: So, I wanted to go in a different direction for the universe that I created and develop my favorite villain a little more, humanizing him and making Anthony a more sympathetic character to the audience.
Like I mentioned before, I have only interest in writing one-shots for the For Her saga from now on (no, there will not be a Fourth Stage). The next few stories are meant to whet your appetites while I continue to plan out my next big story, which I'm quite eager to start. Once I finish with this set, I will begin production on what I imagine to be a blood-soaked epic.
"Exhilarating, isn't it?"