Zero Dark Thirty
Roan honestly forgot how much pain he lived with on a constant basis until he didn't have it anymore. Only then did he understand his constant pill popping wasn't solely an emotional crutch. Mostly, but not all.
He straddled his bike and was preparing to leave when Gareth came jogging up to him, gun slung over his back. "Hey, Roan, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor," he began, his voice going up at the end, making it sound like a question. It wasn't, but it almost sounded like it.
"You can ask," he replied, trying not to get his hopes up. The sky behind Gareth's head had a strange cast to it, an opalescent sheen on pinkish-white, and he knew it was the pain meds. He tried not to give it away.
"I was, um, wondering if you'd be willing to spar with me at the gym sometime? Maybe give me some tips on fighting cats."
"You don't need it. You got the basics down. Just stick to your training." Hell, Crumpet had gone after a tiger and lived, hadn't he? A major accomplishment. He wasn't your average crumpet. That idea almost made Roan giggle. Man, was he stoned.
"I'd really like to know more. Hunting down cats in the field hardly adheres to training manuals."
"True. But sparring me isn't going to teach you how to hunt cats. Sparring me just gets you ready for the apocalypse."
Confusion clouded his surprisingly pretty (well, for a cop) face. "What?"
"I'm fifty pounds of bad news crammed in a five pound, person shaped sack. If you don't believe me, ask Grey Williams. Kid, I know you mean well, but you've gotten this far. You're doing something right. I can't give you anything you can use." He started his bike as he heard the familiar rumble of a news van, and he was eager to get the fuck out of here before some news jockey tried to put him on camera. "Now get out of here before they decide to make you a spokesperson."
Roan didn't wait for a reply, he simply crammed his helmet on and pulled out of there, swinging wide enough to avoid the sound man climbing out of the Channel 7 news van.
The drive home was nice, he felt almost hypnotized by the sound of the engine and the way it seemed to rattle his skeleton at a frequency just subtle enough not to be annoying. Of course it was the drugs, but the weird thing about it was he knew the pain was gearing up to come back. Oh, it wasn't back yet, but he could feel it looming, like a dark cloud on the horizon. It would be a really bad spell after the drugs wore off. He probably should eat something quick and then go straight to bed. Maybe he could be unconscious before it really cut loose.
But when he pulled up to the gates of his house, he saw a very familiar car parked out on the streets, one he saw at the funeral today. He would have been angry, but the drugs kept it all down. He couldn't get the lion out now if he tried. That was probably a good thing.
As soon as he came in from the garage, he saw Agent Flores and Dylan sitting in the living room, having cups of tea. "Do you have a warrant?" he asked, stomping towards the couch.
Dylan held up his hand in a 'wait a second' gesture, while Flores just looked at him blandly. "I didn't need one. That's not what I'm here for."
"Also I invited her in," Dylan told him.
Roan stared at him in disbelief. "You what? Why the fuck did you do that?"
"I was tired of being watched. If she wasn't going to arrest either of us, I wanted to know why she was riding our ass like a horny guy at last call."
That was a very bartender specific description. Flores quirked an eyebrow at that, but otherwise didn't comment on it. "That was quite a scene at the funeral today," she said.
"A scene I didn't cause. Why are you here?" He slammed his helmet down on the sideboard with more force than he needed, but he didn't care. He really didn't like having a Fed in his house. To make it all worse, the pain was inching back; he could feel it in the back of his head now, a minor pressure, but one he knew would build until it obliterated him. She needed to get out of here soon.
"Cutting right to the chase. You are an impatient one, aren't you?" she replied, not at all surprised.
"I'm allergic to Feds." Roan sat on the sofa beside Dylan.
Dylan gave him a sidelong glance with no judgement – bless him – and asked, "Would you like some tea?"
He shook his head, and met Flores's eyes across the coffee table. Roan would have given her credit for her excellent poker face if she wasn't using it on him. "Are you going to talk, or are you going to leave?"
With a sigh, Flores picked up her leather briefcase off the floor, and opened it to retrieve a Manila folder, which she handed to him. "Have you heard of Omega?"
"The Greek letter? Omega Man? Be more specific," Roan replied, opening the folder. He wasn't surprised to find himself looking at a dossier, the first page of which was an arrest record for a man named Robert Wayne Gunther, who was born in a place he'd never heard of (Grandville, Oklahoma), and had been arrested ten times, for everything from driving under the influence to car theft. All this by the age of thirty two.
"It's a cult down in Springdale, Oregon, a heavenly piece of nowhere far from Portland. That man there, Robert Gunther, is leading the cult that calls itself Omega, under the name Felix Leopold."
Roan scoffed. "Okay, as fake names go, that sucks. So does that cult name. Omega, really? He sucks at names. He should give it up. "
Flores nodded. "He should. But he seems to be popular."
Roan sifted through the files until he came to a brochure. It was nothing special, it was probably a full color printing job from the Kinko's, but he realized soon the pamphlet was all about infecteds, how the virus was all about Darwinian adaptation, and the government's and police's heavy hand and aggressive action against infecteds was part of a deliberate campaign to stop humans from evolving further.
Even from a cursory scan, it was clear this didn't make a lot of sense. It was a lot of government conspiracy nonsense (like they'd have the competence to pull something like this off), but Roan had to give the lunatic who wrote it credit for trying to stick to science-y sounding stuff, instead of giving into religious mania like Divine Transformation did. This was a science-y church! Was that supposed to make it more legitimate somehow? "Well, this is batshit," Roan said, handing it to Dylan so he could look at it.
Flores almost got up, but settled for scooting to the edge of the couch and frowning. "This is for your eyes only."
"I'm going to end up talking to him about it anyways," Roan said, sifting through the other papers in the file.
"You can't even pretend you'll keep this secret?"
"Nope." Most of these files seemed like standard stuff, but then he came to what looked like a list of guns and ammunition, and he found a brand new interest. "Shit, they're an apocalypse cult?"
"We believe they may be planning a violent incident for Virus Recognition Day."
Virus Recognition Day was not a holiday, and it wasn't known beyond infecteds and their allies, but it was August tenth, when the CDC officially revealed the existence of the cat virus. Charities usually tried to raise awareness of the virus and funds on that day, while Divine Transformation usually had a big do.
"To what end?" Dylan asked, surprising everyone in the room. "Wouldn't violence be counter to their message that they're the greatest thing since the iPad?"
"No. If you read further into the file, you'll find that Felix, as of late, has been advocating an armed uprising against normals for the betterment of humanity."
Dylan looked adorably befuddled by this. "How does killing people help them?"
"By killing normals, presumably it creates more safety for the infecteds to propagate and evolve humanity." Roan guessed. "Am I right?"
Flores nodded. "Shockingly so. Are you sure you've never heard of them?"
"No, I'm just a good guesser."
At her dubious look, Dylan said, "He is, really. Watch Jeopardy with him. He guesses the right answer ninety percent of the time. It's super annoying."
"Hey, I only guess about eighty five percent of the time," Roan replied. "I do know some stuff."
"Do you have a comedy routine for everything?" Flores asked.
Roan shook his head, while Dylan nodded. Oh hell, let her guess.
After a moment's pause, she went on. "They've actually been pretty smart about their gun purchases, taking advantage of loopholes by buying at gun shows and on craigslist, but they tripped up when it came to ammunition, buying some online and others in bulk at the Wal-Mart. Doing some field work, we were able to back trace maybe a handful of weapons sales, although we're sure it's the tip of the iceberg. Since they've been buying ammo in great quantities, we have to assume they have a jaw dropping stockpile."
"What is it you expect me to do about this cult?"
"Infiltrate, find out their plans."
"Oh hell no," Dylan exclaimed, before Roan could say anything. "He is not going into some killer death cult. He doesn't work for you people."
"Honey, I can handle this," Roan told him, then faced Flores. "I don't work for you people."
She sighed heavily, and ran a hand through her hair, probably trying to keep herself from pulling her service weapon. "We think you'd be ideal to infiltrate the cult."
"No, I'd be the worst person in the world," Roan countered. "Surely they know who I am and who I work for. I'd probably get a bullet between the eyes before I could say a damn thing."
"We're assuming you're so much their ideal, they'll be willing to overlook your known associations."
Roan took a moment to parse that sentence. Did that make any sense? "Um, what?"
"If you read through all their nonsense, you'll see that they think that, if enough infecteds breed, eventually there will come along a child who isn't physically and mentally damaged, but achieves the perfect synthesis between human and virus. The apex predator who will knock plain old homo sapiens off the top of the food chain."
Dylan gave Roan a knowing sidelong glance, but Roan just shook his head. "That's fucking nuts, and cruel to the kids born of this experimentation to boot."
"Perhaps, but that is a big tenet of their philosophy."
"If I know anything about cults, it's that they hate me as much as I hate them. I'm technically the fucking god of Divine Transformation, but do they worship me? No. I actually believe every alternate Thursday is the "Burn Roan McKichan in effigy" night. I don't imagine Omega seeing me any differently."
"They very well could. Especially if you give them a demonstration -"
"No," he interrupted. "I'm not a performing monkey, and I'm not what you think I am. I've listened to your proposal, and I'll call you." He closed the folder and tossed it on the coffee table.
She made no move to pick it up, eyeing him skeptically. "So you can live with them possibly committing a terrorist act one month from now?"
"No, but it's not a fair question to ask. I'm not your man."
"If not you, who?" She sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees, her body language conveying urgency. "Look, I know you're being protected, but it can't last forever."
"Pardon me?" Dylan edged forward, looking like he was ready to take a chunk out of her, but Roan held out his arm protectively, letting him know he could handle it. Well, in theory he could.
"You know damn well what I'm talking about. The Seattle PD has closed ranks around you, happy to have their own superhero, and Doctor Rosenberg has used her considerable power to keep you pretty well shielded from the medical community. But it's impossible to keep a secret like you, especially in the day and age of camera phones, for long. Do you think they can keep you hidden forever? It's only a matter of time."
Roan found himself trying to tamp down his rage, which is why Dylan's outburst caught him off guard. "Bullshit," Dylan exclaimed."You know nothing. You have rumors and hearsay, otherwise you'd have burned him to the ground already. That's why you've been following him. You're hoping to catch something, some proof you can take back to your bosses. You think, just because I served you tea, that I didn't notice you were on a fishing expedition with all your questions?"
Roan stared at Dylan in open shock. Most of the time he was the serene, placid Buddhist, but he did have a temper. It just took a lot to bring it out.
" ," Flores began, her voice even and professional. Only a brief spate of rapid blinking gave away any surprise that it was Dylan, the quiet partner, calling her bluff. "I assure you -"
"We've been more than polite. You can leave my house now."
Flores' poker face could no longer hold. Roan wondered if she had some kind of dossier on Dylan that told her he was mild mannered and milquetoast, the shrinking violet somehow pared off with a monster in human form. Beauty and the beast. Only she was unaware that beauty needed to be tough to hang with the freak for so long. It was just a different kind of toughness. If he felt bad for her, Roan would have told her that yeah, it sometimes surprised him too. "I was -"
"You heard my husband," Roan interrupted. "Did he stutter? You can go now."
Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly for a moment, like she couldn't decide how to respond to that, but eventually she just stood up, shouldering her bag. "I didn't mean to offend anyone. This is important, Mr. McKichan. We want to stop Omega before it turns into a disaster."
"You should," Roan agreed. "Sounds bad."
She gave him a blistering look he was honestly expecting, and left without further comment. Roan couldn't help but notice she left the file behind, which probably wasn't a coincidence. "The nerve of that woman," Dylan said, picking up cups from the coffee table. "Threatening you. If they knew a goddamn thing, they'd be dangerous."
"You're hot when you're angry," Roan said.
Dylan put the cups in the sink, and gave him a look that suggested he wasn't amused. "Ro, this is all kinds of fucked up. You realize that, yes?"
"Of course I do. My life is all kinds of fucked up. If things weren't fucked up, I don't know what they'd be." He reached for his phone, and tried to ignore the growing throb in his brain. Yep, this was going to be a bad one. Dylan was going to say something, but Roan held up a hand to stop him as he listened to a familiar automated message. "When you get this, Holden, call me. I have a job for you."
As soon as he hung up, Dylan leaned against the breakfast bar, a hand on his hip. "Holden? Really?"
"No one does infiltration better than him." He'd be happy to be whatever it took to get in the door, and his mask would never slip, because he'd been a prostitute for years, which seemed like the crash course, street level equivalent of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He could be whoever he needed to be to get through the day. And then, when the time for action came, he'd surprise the hell out of everyone. He was like a nasty bomb in a pretty package, and no one ever realized it was a weapon until it was too late.
The weirdest thing of all? If he ever told Holden that, he'd probably be flattered.