A/N: A little explanation for those of you wondering, which will probably be a lot;
This is a short fic based on a couple random pictures I posted on DeviantArt (for anyone interested in seeing them, go to DeviantArt and search "Straif5". The three pictures in the series are "Darwin's Fist", "First Sighting", and "Second Pass"). Basically, they was taken at Scott Westerfeld's October 7th visit to Seattle, which a friend and I attended. We dressed as OC's from an this (then upcoming) fic (hence the picture title) and while we were there a couple people took our pictures along with the few other people who cosplayed.
Unfortunately, some of them didn't come out too well. My friend sent me most of the bad ones, having no use for them, and out of boredom, I wrote a little fictional setting in the description for why they were so bad and what was going on in them, based on the fic, then posted them on DA.
When my friend saw it, he suggested that I could turn them into a fic itself.
So I did. That would be this work. Which, I guess could also be read as a prequel to Darwin's Fist.
Sergeant Marasco, First Darwinist Combat Division, shifted uneasily, eyes glancing from one end of the room to the other, wishing he had his M1911 pistol at his side.
He didn't like this. He didn't like this at all.
It wasn't that his situation was bad; too anyone else, it would be wonderful. Being assigned to watch over your commanding officer at a fancy mix-and-mingle party in the frigging brand new Smith Tower, the tallest building in all of Seattle and the entire West Coast, attended by the best and brightest American and British boffins and soldiers and covered by reporters from just about every major newspaper in America would be a dream job for just about any soldier.
But Marasco wasn't just any soldier. He was a Sergeant in Darwin's Fist, America's special combat group. The best of the best, better than human. Crusher of Clankers, Defender of Darwinism. He didn't think he should be at parties; he thought he should be on the front lines, killing Clankers, or behind them, sabotaging walker production facilities or cutting supply lines. This was more of a job for one of the less-capable members of the force, like Sergeant Harkness.
But his superiors had decided that he was the best for this job, so they'd ordered him here.
And if there was one thing Sergeant Marasco did well, it was follow orders.
So here he was, stripped of most of his combat gear except for his forest-camouflage battle dress uniform, steel flak helmet, goggles, combat boots, his personal Memory Dolphin, Click, and the backpack he'd arranged to be waiting for him at the hotel, hoping for something more worrying than a pair of boffins get into a drunken shouting match to happen.
He glanced back over at his charge; Lieutenant Sophie MacPherson, second-in-command of Darwin's Fist and tactical commander for all their missions. She wasn't hard to miss; her uniform her uniform of black shirt, silver buttons, and grey pants stood out starkly against the rather calm colors of the people around her. She also happened to be the only person in Marasco's field of vision wearing glasses.
Currently, she was deep in conversation with a skinny blond boy from the Royal Zoological Society, who she'd introduced as Dylan Sharp, assistant to Dr. Nora Barlow, nee Darwin, of the same group. From here, Marasco easily could pick out they were discussing the countryside of Scotland. Something MacPherson knew quite a bit about, being half-Scot herself.
She obviously wasn't in any imminent trouble. Unless the boy got a little too much liqueur in him and decided to try something stupid. But even then Marasco probably wouldn't have to intervene. MacPherson could punch as good (if not better) as any boy he knew. One drunk Brit wouldn't be trouble. And if it got worse...well, he had contingencies.
Marasco shifted, the backpack he was wearing digging into his shoulders. He adjusted it, and it emitted a scent like almonds and a soft squishing noise as the Escape Huxley inside it moved as well.
This was Marasco's escape plan if worst came to worse; a couple steps to Lt. MacPherson, one pull of a cord, and the both of them would be airborne via miniaturized Huxley ascender, easily avoiding whatever trouble might come by floating out the large skylight over them.
Of course, there was the slight possibility of being set on fire if the Huxley got hit with something...but that wasn't too frigging likely. Most people who saw an escape Huxley were too shocked by its deployment to do anything.
Once the pack was adjusted, Marasco kept his eyes moving, sweeping everything and anything around him.
The party was in full swing; the ballroom of the hotel echoed with hundreds of voices, the clink of glasses, and the consumption of random foods. Marasco picked out a dozen different conversations, covering everything from the war to new fabs to the differences between American English and British English. Even a couple, whispered discussions regarding Darwin's Fist itself, probably sparked by people noticing the unit patch on his left shoulder; a large fist clutching a life chain.
Not that whispering would prevent Marasco from hearing it.
He allowed himself a small smile at the tones of fear in the speaker's voices and the incorrectness in their assumptions about him and his unit. After a moment, he tuned it out and glanced back at his CO. When he noticed she hadn't moved, and Sharp hadn't tried anything, he decided to do a sweep of the room for any trouble.
Starting with the refreshments table.
Marasco moved easily through the crowd, senses straining for anything out of place. To his disappointment, there wasn't anything, and he arrived at the food table without any trouble.
As he approached, the upper-right pocket of his battle dress coat wriggled and emitted a couple of soft squeaks. Marasco unbuttoned it, allowing Click to poke its head out.
Marasco glanced down at the Memory Dolphin. It was a small thing, about the size of a rat or so, based on the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, with a bit of the same life chains used in message lizards, memory frogs, and (more recently, according to Lt. MacPherson's monthly fab update to Darwin's Fist) the perspicacious loris. It also had some insect chains in it as well, meaning two Dolphins could actually communicate with each other over great distances. The upshot of which was that, unlike a message lizard, orders could be exchanged instantly between people in the field and their commanders.
Click shifted in Marasco's pocket, tiny black eyes focused on the table.
"Food." It said, voice high and quiet.
"Hungry, are you?" Marasco asked rhetorically.
"Grub, Mike Foxtrot!" Click replied, imitating the voice and phrase Sergeant Harkness usually adopted before meals in the mess.
Marasco allowed himself another small smile.
He approached the food table, reaching up to pull Click out of its residence in his pocket. The dolphin shifted in his hand, observing the available food on the table for anything that took it's fancy.
There was a lot of it; this was Seattle, after all. The most Darwinist city in all of America's West Coast.
That was why this party was here and not further south. The real point of this meeting was to promote cooperation between Britain and America now that the latter had officially been in the war for two weeks, and it certainly wouldn't do well to have meeting of Darwinists in an area that was mainly Clanker, like pretty much any city in California.
Certainly Seattle had a large Clanker base as well (it was the home of Boeing Aircraft, after all, and Marasco and MacPherson had used a streetcar to make it to the party), but unlike the practically the rest of the country, the city had struck a balance between the two, much like the Japanese that they traded heavily with. It had been necessary in the wake of the great fire that completely incinerated the city twenty-five years earlier.
It also helped that, if the Clankers decided to repeat their attack on New York here, they would have to cross all of Asia and the Pacific, and then contend with the Pacific Coast Defense Network spread all along the Olympic Peninsula to do it...
Click sighted something that it liked and almost wriggled out of Marasco's hand. He let the dolphin go, and it fell to the table with a soft thump. It shook itself, then inched to a plate of fabricated shrimp and began to gorge.
While he waited for Click to finish, Marasco glanced around the room again. The party carried on, unabated by the obviously-darkening sky Marasco could see out of the window.
Out of boredom, Marasco grabbed a tumbler of brandy from the end of the table. He slugged it down in one gulp. It was his tenth for the night, but he was part of Darwin's Fist; it would take twenty or thirty of these shots to even begin to intoxicate him.
As he was setting the glass down again and reaching for another, he caught movement out the corner of his eye. Movement itself wasn't unusual. This was a party. People moved.
What was unusual was the person moving. Marasco tracked him as he moved through the crowd.
A boy, with black hair and green eyes, wearing the same uniform that Dylan Sharp had on. The one of the Royal Zoological Society.
But he didn't look like a Brit. In fact, he didn't look like a Darwinist, period.
This characterization wasn't just guessing on Marasco's part; Darwin's Fist's training included instructions on profiling and lists of small details about people that could reveal almost everything you could ever want to know about them.
Like the non-fabricated leather of this boy's boots and belt.
The precise, stiff way he moved.
The slight jerk in his shoulders that happened every time he passed a fab.
The barely-detectable scents of grease and kerosene.
And the black, oily smudges on his fingers.
To Marasco, everything about this boy screamed one thing;
Marasco stood up straighter, fists clenched. Now this was interesting. What was a Clanker doing walking around dressed like a boffin's assistant?
He continued to watch the boy as he moved through the crowd, heading away from the food table and toward the large windows at the back of the hall.
Towards, he realized, where MacPherson currently was.
Marasco glanced over at the table. Click had apparently finished eating, and was now sitting next to the remains of the shrimp it had downed.
Quickly, Marasco retrieved it and returned it to its home in his jacket. It shifted for a moment, let out a small belch, and then poked its head out of the top of his pocket.
The Clanker boy moved deeper into the crowd. Marasco followed, at a distance.
As he followed him, Marasco kept his head on a swivel, checking for anything else strange. He didn't see anything of the level of the Clanker boy, but he did see quite a few big names in the Seattle scene milling about.
William "Bill" Boeing and his wife, owners of the aircraft company that bore their name and produced most of America's high-end airships and aeroplanes. James Casey, founder of the rapidly-expanding American Messenger Company that was starting to get a choke-hold on all major package transportation. Edward Bauer, head of the company that made the uniform on Marasco's back. Katharine Cruse, young boffin prodigy and fabricator of the cloud cat and areozoan, America's answer to the strafing hawk and Huxley. Dr. Kerrigan, the mind behind the Lisk species of ground-combat fabs. Levi Blue, local inventor of many revolutionary Clanker machines, including the recently-debuted tunneling machine currently in use on the Western Front in Europe. Professor Silvertounge, the boffin responsible for the recent trend in pet fabs, what she called "daemons". Evelyn Karr, photographer of well renown, obviously here to document this party for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Adam Niles, head of Projects: LIGHTMASS and LOCUST, of which Marasco only knew the code names. Even Dr. Church, one of the fanciest of fancy-boot boffins in Darwin's Fist and the person running the show at the Woodland Park Zoo three blocks north of Marasco's house.
Nile and Church Marasco knew personally; Niles's son Marcus was also a Sergeant and had worked with Marasco before, and Church's daughter Allison was one of Darwin's Fist's special operatives and a good friend of both Lieutenant MacPherson and Sergeant Harkness.
Marasco nodded to both as he passed, and Church returned it. Niles missed him, apparently deep in discussion with Mrs. Boeing.
The Clanker boy Marasco had been following slowed. Marasco sped up, sensing a chance to finally confront him. He reached out his hand, aiming for the boy's shoulder-
And was interrupted suddenly by a long passing group of drunken partiers, connected together into a line by placing their hands on the shoulders of the person ahead of them.
To Marasco, it looked like some horrifying human centipede. He recoiled, and the line walked by him, Marasco watching it wearily as it moved away.
When he glanced back, he realized he'd lost the Clanker boy.
Marasco swore, glancing madly about. No sign of him at all. The crowd had shifted, hiding the boy better than any military stealth device that Marasco knew of. And he knew quite a few of them.
Hurriedly, Marasco changed course. If he couldn't find the boy, he could at least warn MacPherson. If nothing else, she'd want to know there was a Clanker dressed as a boffin here…
Marasco moved through the crowd with new urgency. Thankfully, the party had begun to reach the stage when most people were either slightly tipsy or full-on drunk, so he had an easy enough time getting through.
He spotted MacPherson. She was still with Sharp, but she'd apparently been joined by someone else; a girl, possibly of Ottoman decent, judging by her skin and the accent he could hear in her voice. They were in deep discussion about women's rights and suffrage and other non-military topics.
He noticed that Sharp seemed to be rather friendly with the Ottoman. Perhaps they had met some time in the past...
Quietly, Marasco sidled up to the group. As he'd intended, Sharp and the Ottoman didn't notice him.
MacPherson did. She didn't miss much. If anything, her last name should have been "Sharp".
"Ah, Sergeant Marasco. Good of you to join us." She said without turning around. Sharp and the Ottoman jumped in surprise, suddenly noticing Marasco. Now that he was close enough, Marasco recognized the second girl from the front page of the Seattle P-I; Lilit Zaven, the Ottoman Republic's ambassador's aide.
That also explained her friendliness with Sharp; there'd been mention of a Dylan Sharp in the New York World recently, regarding an incident that had happened in Istanbul a couple months before. Something about a runaway walker.
And the whispers Darwin's Fist had heard from the Republic indicated that the revolution had been helped along by British agents, including one who matched Dylan's description...
"Lillit, Deryn, I'd like you to meet Sergeant David Marasco, the soldier I told you about." MacPherson continued.
Despite his worry, Marasco found himself surprised. He'd thought the Brit's name was Dylan. Could he have heard wrong? Deryn seemed like rather strange name for a boy-
But a perfect one for a girl. And that was what Sharp was. He could smell it now. She lacked that hard, metallic tang in her pheromones that most males had.
The realization shook Marasco, but not much. He considered it, accepted it, adjusted his thinking and forgot about it.
Boy, girl, whatever. The only difference was a chromosome.
Deryn didn't seem as calm about it as he was.
"Uh, ma'am, I'm not sure-" She began. MacPherson cut her off with a hand motion.
"Marasco has no trouble with military women, Deryn. For that matter, he is rather...intolerant of people who dislike the idea. I trust him with my life." She said. "And he's kept much more important secrets than yours."
She turned to Marasco and smiled. "Isn't that right, Sergeant?"
Marasco nodded automatically. It was right; just last week, he'd kept the plans for a new airship in his head for Boeing while the company was being swept for Clanker agents. And he was still keeping more, most of which MacPherson couldn't mention due to their high censorship level.
"Yes ma'am." He said, snapping a pair of sharp salutes; first the standard fingers-to-forehead, then the one unique to Darwin's Fist; right fist raised to head height.
In his rush to get these formalities over, his words came out as one word; yesmaam.
MacPherson seemed to notice his hurry. Her eyes narrowed behind her glasses.
"Something wrong?" She asked, voice suddenly serious. Marasco felt the worries that had been nagging at him since he first saw the Clanker boy evaporate. When Lieutenant MacPherson got serious, things got ugly for whoever was up against her.
"Yes." Marasco glanced at Deryn and Lillit, then back a MacPherson. "No offense, ma'am, but-"
"Got it." MacPherson turned, and was about to say something to send the two girls off when someone called out "Ah, perfect!"
Marasco turned to see Miss Karr approaching, her camera slung around her neck. Behind her came a small entourage of people, most with cameras or notepads or both. Reporters.
"Barking spiders..." Marasco heard Deryn whisper. "It's Malone. And Rogers."
"I could deal with them..." Lilit whispered, reaching into her dress pocket for something. "And I'm sure this Marasco would be willing to help if he knew why..."
Before he could ask what she meant, Karr eased Marasco to the side and took MacPherson by the shoulder.
Marasco instinctively reached for his M1911, intending to use some .45 caliber leverage to persuade Karr to release his CO. Luckily for Karr, neither his pistol nor its holster was there.
MacPherson noticed and made a quick, sharp motion with her hand. To anyone else, it would have looked like she was shaking her fingers out. But Marasco knew it for what it was; a hand-sign meaning standdown.
So he stood down, backing away a bit. Miss Karr moved MacPherson into a pose with the other two girls, and two of the group from her following, a woman who's notepad indicated she worked for the SanFranciscoInquirer, and a younger girl carrying a camera almost as big as her head, apparently this reporter's photographer.
This must be the "Rogers" Deryn had mentioned; Miss Adela Rogers. Marasco remembered her from the briefing he'd been given a month before. And "Malone" must be Eddie Malone of the NewYorkWorld. Marasco didn't need the briefing to know him; he'd read the man's articles. He'd been the author of the one on Deryn and the more-recent ones on the investigations into the Goliath incident.
Both of them had been tagged in as "threats to concealment"; unusually thorough and possibly unscrupulous reporters who wouldn't hesitate to print anything they might find out.
In Darwin's Fist slang: "Dead meat".
Marasco glanced over at MacPherson. She was gamely following Miss Karr's instructions, waiting while the photographer positioned her subjects the way she wanted them. First Miss Rogers, then her photographer, Lillit, Deryn, and finally her.
"Perfect." She said, stepping back to admire her work. Marasco could smell brandy on her breath, and wondered if the woman was slightly tipsy. "You were right, Mr. Malone. This truly will be a fine addition to my "Darwinist Collaboration" exhibition."
So that was what was going on; Miss Karr was borrowing MacPherson for a photo op. Made sense; nothing showed a true Darwinist than a Darwin's Fist uniform bearing a Lieutenant's bars.
"Told you." Malone's voice called from the crowd. Marasco couldn't see the man himself, blocked as it was by part of the crush of reporters, but he could tell approximately where he was by where the voice came from.
Marasco moved, sliding into the crush of people until he found where Malone should be. Sure enough, he could see the man off to his left. Currently, he was staring though his camera, checking the picture. Marasco turned so he was facing his CO and moved in closer, a little in front of Malone but well out of his camera angle. He wanted to catch the el-tee the moment she stepped off this line.
There was some shuffling, then a moment of silence while Malone lined up the final shot and Miss Karr quickly stepped out the picture.
"Act professional!" Malone called.
Most of his subjects promptly ignored him. Deryn and Lillit struck relaxed poses, Miss Rogers held up her notebook so the title of her paper was clear, and her photographer glanced over at something out of Marasco's view.
Only MacPherson followed Malone's order. She saluted smartly, boots snapping together loudly.
Malone's camera went off with a flash and a soft thud that only Marasco heard as the fabricated firefly in it's flash dropped from exhaustion. It had gotten dark enough now that the flash was needed to make the picture visible.
The flash, though it hadn't been pointed at him, partially blinded Marasco, sending stars skittering across his eyes.
As he blinked in an attempt to recover, he suddenly felt his skin crawl, his combat danger sense kicking in. He could feel someone else's eyes on him and the group...
While Malone fed his firefly some sugar to get it up and ready again, another, smaller flash illuminated them. Neither Malone or anyone in the group seemed to notice it. The subjects of Karr's picture started to relax, undisturbed by the sudden flash.
Marasco saw it, but he didn't immediately think it was real. His vision was still recovering from Malone's flash, and he wasn't a hundred percent sure it wasn't another after side effect.
Then came another one. This time, Marasco was sure it was real.
Cautiously, he glanced over his shoulder, barely moving his head and using his peripheral vision to its furthest extent.
There; the Clanker boy from earlier, looking at something in his palm. Marasco couldn't see it very clearly due to the crowd and it's position just out of his range of vision, but he could guess pretty well what it was;
A concealed camera, probably one of the new Mark 1 "fly cams" that the British had recently developed.
And, judging by the angle the boy had been standing at, he hadn't been looking at the group.
Marasco's insides clenched. This was not good. Darwin's Fist had standing orders to stay out of any papers, news reels, personal pictures or official reports. Basically anything that could tell anyone something about them.
Thankfully, the group seemed to be breaking up now. Rogers and her photographer were talking with Miss Karr and Malone, and Deryn and Lillit were moving off, waving to MacPherson as they departed.
Marasco hurried to his Lieutenant's side.
"What's the snag, Marasco?" MacPherson asked out of the corner of her mouth while waving back at Deryn and Lilit.
"We may have just been burnt, ma'am." Marasco replied, just as quiet. "There's a Clanker here, running about dressed in a RZS uniform. And I think he just took a picture of us with a fly cam."
"Hmmm." MacPherson didn't seem very concerned with this development, considering how it had been she who gave Darwin's Fist the "no intel" mandate. "That wouldn't happen to be him, would it?"
She pointed, and Marasco followed her finger. Sure enough, she was pointing at the Clanker boy, who was now moving through the crowd. In the direction of Deryn, he noticed.
"Yeah, that's the bitch." Marasco growled. "You want me to take care of him?"
"No." MacPherson replied calmly. Marasco jerked back, startled. That was something he'd never expected to hear; Sophie MacPherson telling him not to kill a Clanker.
"Ma'am?" He asked in surprise.
"You heard me correct, Sergeant." MacPherson continued. "Now, would you kindly escort me out? We have a streetcar to catch."
"Uh...aye." Marasco muttered, extremely confused. MacPherson offered her arm, and he took it, leading her easily through the crowd.
"Ma'am, no offense-"
"Outside." MacPherson ordered. Marasco quieted, understanding. She'd explain everything once they were outside.
Thankfully, the main room of the Smith Tower wasn't very long. Marasco shouldered the door open into the cold, damp night. It had rained while they were inside, and the concrete sparkled with puddles and dew.
"I know what you're going to ask." MacPherson said, before Marasco could open his mouth. "And don't worry. This is all according to plan."
"Plan?" Marasco asked, once again surprised. MacPherson smiled darkly.
"Of course. Do you really think we would waste a couple hours of our time simply meeting people? No, Sergeant. The point of this little party was to get Darwin's Fist noticed. And in that case, you preformed you part admirably. And I must applaud you on your choice of people to expose yourself to."
"Oh?" Marasco raised an eyebrow. "Who would those be? The Clankers?"
"No. The RZS. That "Clanker boy" you saw is none other than Aleksander Ferdinand himself."
"Ferdinand?" Now this wasinteresting. "As in Austrian Alek?"
"One and the same."
"So that's why you had me let him go." Marasco muttered, nodding. "Probably would have caused an international incident if I nailed him, wouldn't it?"
"That, and with luck, he'll show that picture he took of you to his boss before he gets around to making out with Deryn."
Marasco paused, unsure of what to say to this.
"Uh...yes, ma'am." He finally said. MacPherson grinned again.
"I need your dolphin." She said, holding out her hand. Marasco fished Click out his pocket and handed it to her.
While MacPherson used Click to give a SITREP to their boss, Marasco looked up into the darkening, cloudy sky. A smile crept onto his lips.
There was only one reason that Darwin's Fist would break cover; they were about to go hot. It looked like he was going to get his wish to fight Clankers granted.
Sure enough, the moment she finished her report, MacPherson tossed Click back to him and ordered;
"Ready up. We deploy to the Western Front tomorrow."
Marasco smiled broader and cracked his knuckles.
"Yes ma'am." He said. "Ready when you are."