From the Story Arc: One of Two
(posted Friday, January 12, 2007)
Petrograd was probably surprised to find the Commissar bent over the reprogramming pad on one of the lesser-used teleporters. He was probably even more surprised to see she had a "Secret: Authorized Users Only" document in one hand while hunched over the keyboard.
"Commissar... I know we are nyet often zapping the 5 meters to Kings Row, but what in the hells are you doing to my teleporter?"
Bella stood up so quickly, she whacked the back of her head on the cowling, saw stars, and found herself sitting on the floor, with the list of classified teleporter codes still clutched in her hand. "Ow," she said weakly as Petrograd sprayed her with the obligatory hypo.
As soon as the medpack was stowed, he chuckled. "You are still nyet answering my question."
"I..." How was she to explain this obsession, this certainty, that if she had only been faster, smarter, less frozen in place like a rabbit, she could have done something, saved Zach? Or at least, gotten there in time so that he wouldn't have...been alone? We should have been together, she thought, bleakly. "I'm trying to figure out how fast I could reprogram one of these things for the Pentagon," she said, finally. "If I had just been better on the uptake--Petro, I have to know." But inside, she was sure. She could have gotten there. Her powers and Zach's together--they had worked it out, choreographed it, there was nothing they couldn't stun or even knock out. If Weaponized had been stunned, he couldn't have triggered his internal bomb. Or at least, he couldn't have grappled with Zach. Zach could have gotten away. He'd be alive now, if only--
Petrograd was staring. Finally, he heaved a shrug and sighed. "If we are going to do this, at least we can do it right."
It only took half an hour to set up. The old Samsung, wrenched from its dusty perch in the rec-room, sat with the flashy 'Breaking News' graphic frozen on its screen. Tool chests lined one wall away from the pair of teleporters, and the universal remote sat duct-taped to the nearest console directly in front of the eager hands of Waitron. Bella was just reaching for her code book when Petro slid her something approximately the size of Paragon's Yellow Pages. The cover said "F.E.M.A. Emergency Transportation Protocols, 2005-06," and dogged post-it notes stuck from the dusty corners.
"Please... Waitron will get the soft parts, I will to handle mechanics, but I am needing you on the phone."
"On the phone?" Bella blinked at him. "Why on the phone?"
Petrograd tilted his head. "Teleporting into the nation's capital? In the midst of a metahuman terrorist attack? If NSA scramblers did nyet chop you to bits, the CIA's ECM barrier would sure to fry you. Nyet to mention sharpshooters. Is only one way in, and that is through bureaucracy."
"Oh. I guess I should have known that." But she'd never had to port into the capitol before. "Don't they have some kind of bypass for people like us?"
"Da, they give us book. Other people are nyet even supposed to have teleporters."
She turned to the first post-it flag. Seemed simple enough. A phone number--"OK, so I call this, and they give us the go-ahead, right? You want me to actually make a call?"
"Nyet, it would probably just confuse them. Petrograd thought a moment. "Waitron, can you be explainink to Comrade Vickie situation? Her people are being FBI, I am thinking she knows runaround. Besides, knowing her, she is probably having the book."
Waitron nodded, and then went still. Being a robot, she didn't have to pick up a phone to call any of the comrades, especially not now. Since the Siege, she had a plethora of internal comm electronics installed. A moment later her eyes glowed a little brighter. "Vickie is prepared, Commissar, Comrade."
Petrograd stepped over to the console, nodding. "Alright.... go." He thumbed the 'play' button, setting the news report in motion.
A recording of something else started as Waitron flicked a switch. A babble of voices. "Commissar! Come quickly!" was the most coherent of the lot. "Now..." Waitron seemed to be watching something none of them can see. "Commissar, you have jumped over your desk...now you are at the rec room door. Now they have made room for you in front of the television."
Bella snatched up the phone and dialed Vickie's number.
"National Security Agency."
"This is Commissar Belladonna Aura, CCCP. Two of our people are combating a metahuman terrorist in the Pentagon--"
"Transferring you to the Pentagon, Commissar." As Bella bit her lip, Vickie audibly counted off seconds. "Pentagon Emergency Desk. The Pentagon is on full lockdown. I am transferring you to--"
"Wait!" Bella said frantically. "This is Belladonna Aura of the CCCP, and you have two of my people there combating--"
"I'm sorry, the Pentagon is on full lockdown, Miss Aura, I am transferring your call to the FBI Terrorism Desk." Vickie sounded adamant, and Bella watched helplessly as the all-too-familiar news report continued to play, precious seconds being wasted as she waited for another transfer.
The whine of a power-wrench overhung Vickie's count, and as Bella looked up Petrograd was already waist-deep in the guts of the teleporter. Mumbling almost to himself, Petrograd counted off his own steps. "Cowling off, bypassing CPU." Welding-sparks flew. "To be getting ready with codes, Waitron."
"Yes sir!" the robot replied.
"FBI Terrorism Desk. Can you confirm your identity, Commissar? Standard voice-print."
"This is Commissar Belladonna Aura," Bella said, her voice getting a little shrill even though this was only a simulation. Because it was beginning to feel...real.
"One moment. Voice-print confirmed. Can you confirm those are your people out there, Commissar?"
"Yes!" she all but shouted. "I need clearance for an emergency teleport in there to get them backup!"
"I'm sorry, Commissar, I have to transfer you to Homeland Security--"
"NO!" she did shout this time, but it was too late. Vickie was already counting off seconds again.
"Homeland Security. Can you confirm your identity? Standard voice-print."
She felt her temper rising and reminded herself that it was Vickie on the other end of that line and she was just going by the book. The damned book.... "This is Commissar Belladonna Aura of the CCCP and I need clearance for an emergency teleport--"
"Listen lady, if you think I'm just gonna let a goddamned commie--" Vickie was doing a fine imitation of someone with a chip on his shoulder and a Federal sinecure in his back pocket. Bella lost her temper.
"Those are my people out there fighting your damned fight without backup and without a field medic, dammit! Now I need emergency clearance to get them the backup that you pencil-pushers haven't authorized and I want it right now! You think a field medic is going to punch holes in the Pentagon?"
"Ah...out of my hands, lady. Fight's moved to Dulles. Transferring you to FBI field command."
Bella heard a whine as the teleporter built up power, and could've sworn she heard Petro on his own countdown to a loud 'fwhoomph.' "Ah, da, that's the fuses blowing, only enough power for short range. I will to run line to generator." He hopped from the compartment and ran off in search of the thick black cables.
"FBI Dulles. Agent Scott. Those your people out there, Commmissar?"
Bella resisted the urge to scream. On the TV, the fight was playing out on the airport tarmac. "Yes!" she replied. "One of them anyway--that is Commissar Bestial Boy, and I need authorization for an emergency teleport for his backup."
"Wait just a moment, that's--"
Suddenly, and Bella had no idea how Vickie was doing this, a half dozen people got on the simulated channel at once. FEMA, someone else from Homeland Security, CIA, NSA again, someone from the Defense Department, Airport Security, the Air Force, DC SWAT, all of them talking at once, arguing about not whether she should get clearance, but who was authorized to give it to her. No one wanted to. Everyone wanted it to be someone else's problem, and yet, at the same time, no one wanted to give away a precious bit of his authority. Precious seconds ticked by as they argued, until finally it was NSA that overrode everyone, rattling off some regulation or other, and agreed to give her the go-code. She rattled it off to Petro.
Petrograd jammed a cable into the machine, kicking a silver box labeled "Safety" from the side of the console just as red lights flared up. "Waitron, the code! Commissar, get ready!" He chucked her aid bag onto the pad.
She flew over the desk and tumbled onto the Porter after it, as Waitron's fingers flew on a keypad. And then--
The television screen went white. Waitron wordlessly shut down the keypad. Petrograd offered Bella a hand up from the cold grating.
She felt like bursting into tears. Instead, she took the hand and averted her eyes from the screen. "That--that was wrong. We need to do it again. They wouldn't have--"
"Commis.... Bella... I sent Vickie my tapes. Remember, in Rec Room, 'Transportation to Washington'? I... I tried. They would."
"They did." It was Vickie's voice over the speakerphone. "And they'd do the same thing again. Bell, there was no way in hell anyone was going to get there in time unless they'd pulled off a miracle. And then, chances are, even if Archangel Michael had come in with flaming sword and all, someone from the Air Force would have shot him out of the sky with a Stinger."
It all ran out of her at once; anger, frustration, even guilt. She looked at Petro's helmet. She was getting pretty good at reading him. Inside the armor, he was sagging in defeat. "Oh...govno. Petro..." She groped blindly for the edge of the table and gripped it to keep standing.
Petro stared wordlessly, the armor locked in the joints to prop him up. Then he chuckled hollowly. "You remember, when the Faultline portal was out for week after that? It was nyet a burnout... it was my fist through the console. Sometimes... sometimes there is just nothing we can to do."
Over the phone, Vickie sighed. "Bell, break out the vodka if you need to. Petro, while I have you, the folks got you that contact you wanted. You'll be working through the 'Spook Squad,' FBI Metahuman. Your liaison will be my old mentor, a Navaho named Hosteen Stormdance. Let me know when you want to be there, he'll meet you at the airport."
Petrograd straightened, resolve, a flicker of anger, maybe even... satisfaction, coming to Bella, muted, through her shielding. "Ah, spaceeba... I'll... I will to head out after this is cleaned up, and talk to John. Am I having flight clearance?"
"Yeah, got that sorted, you can come in under your own power, you'll be landing on Pad 12E, Washington Reagan. ATC will give you directions. That's the FBI Metahuman landing spot for self-powered flyers. Just get airborne, contact ATC and tell them you're liaisoning with Stormdance at Reagan."
"Spaceeba bolshoi... I will... I will to do my best."
"You'll like Hosteen. His idea of Homeland Security is a dozen Native Americans with right-to-scalp." The click signified Vickie hanging up. Bella shook her head. She wanted to...scream, cry, rage. She did none of these things.
"I don't know what you're up to, Petro, but...Vic'll have got you someone that can keep even your profile lower than an ant's socks, I'm sure. Good luck with it." She felt empty. She had been so sure...and now...at least the guilt was giving her something to think about, obsess over. Once again, it seemed, there was nothing to do but mourn, and keep up the brave face.
Put yourself in the attitude of prayer, and prayer will come. Sera had quoted that at her...
Maybe if she pretended to be all right for long enough...she'd start to be all right. "I'll get your leave of absence in the works. How long do you think you'll be?"
Petrograd considered a moment. "Only a few days. It will be quite a long operation, but I am only... laying the groundwork."
"OK, just don't decide you need to hare off to South America," she said, heading back to her office. "One Unter is enough."
"Never was crossing my mind Commissar." Petrograd chuckled as Bella walked away, "Nyet, running was never crossing my mind."