Atalanta Continued: Reaching Home Chapter 4-5

I included two chapters since each was short. Again I want to thank Ashleigh to help my writing readable. And I hope you enjoy this installment enough to comment or send a kudo. And I went back to the original picture.

The prisoners are safely handed over, Atalanta learns what her commission actually says and means. Atalanta has a tense meeting late with Carson and later Carson and Delarose exchange ideas.

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Chapter 4
The sun had passed its zenith as we followed our shadows towards the Miskatonic River and the meeting place. Abe was on the point followed by the prisoners, Drake, and then me and my animals.

“Atalanta mind if I ask you a question?” Drake slowed his mount until we were side-by-side.

“You already have,” I pointed out mildly adding, “but go ahead.”

“I’ve done a tour in ’Stan and now five years in this Service and I know the real deal when I see it. You’re the real deal. The question is how come. You’re too young.”

Shrugging I returned, “Lots of people start martial arts young.”

His gaze narrowed, “That is not what I meant…and I think you know it. I saw your eyes last night when you confronted those convicts. In a split second you turned into a human wolf from a Little Red Riding Hood.”

A thin smile played at the corners of my mouth; the government and Mrs. Carson apparently had good cover stories in place to explain mutant mayhem.

“It was just the light.”

His jaws bunched tightening the tendons in his neck. Finally he replied dryly, “On a need to know basis?”

Shifting in my saddle I turned to him, “Something like that.”

Abe calling out that he had spotted their camp interrupted any more conversation. Drake loosened the reins on his horse kicked his horse in the ribs overtaking Abe to breaking a trail through the snow.

Abe moved his horse to one side waiting for the caravan to pass before slapping the reins to move his horse beside mine.

“You had that figured out right,” he said jerking his head toward the campsite where smoke was drifting higher under the afternoon sun.

Nodding in agreement I silently waited.

“I was born here and lived most of my life around these parts and over the years I’ve heard rumors about Whateley Academy.”

I quirked an eyebrow and waited.

“I know the school has been around a long time and ceased operations for a few years but started back up in the 60s. And they had some serious backing to lease most of the campus grounds from the Indians.”

Interested to see what the locals think of the school and its students I nodded for him to continue.

“Indian Reservations are Federal and the Federal Government has the money and power to do what they want. So we…I figured it as a kind of spy school for the Cold-War or maybe experiments like MK-Ultra.”

Shocked I responded quickly, “You—they are partially correct. Both my parents are military and daddy was killed in the Middle East so I’m here on the military’s dime. And we don’t fit in with regular schools either because most of us are prodigies of some kind.”

“Ah,” he mumbled.

“But no CIA mind-fuck programs that I’m aware of and I seriously doubt there is any type of government agencies at play there. Many of the student’s parents have serious clout and the school is privately financed too.”

We rode in silence for a few minutes with images of Mrs. Carson in my mind. “Mrs. Carson values the school’s autonomy too much to risk it on sketchy or quickie fixes. No,” my eyes locked with his, “none of that stuff is going on out there but,” I smiled, “the lab students might accidentally blow up stuff.”

We stopped at the banks of the Miskatonic looking across the frigid waters to the camp ringed by the rocky sentinels where I had spent the night several months back.

Drake must’ve called ahead because Tom, the-man-in-charge, appeared from behind the rocky outcropping walking briskly towards us followed by two of his guys.

“Guys this is where I leave you all.”

“You’re not coming with us,” Drake asked.

“No I need to get back and if I get wet in that river it will take too long to dry out and then I’ll have repeat it crossing back.”

“Wait a minute,” Drake said retrieving his phone punching in a number and talking for a few minutes. “Tom’s going to call you,” he declared after disconnecting.

I found out that I needed a receipt from Tom for the prisoners to CYA and we exchanged the forms through our phones; electronically signing.

Turning away from the river I pointed Grey in the school’s direction and looking at the sky declared to the filly, “Step lively girl and you’ll be back in your warm stall eating oats by dark.”

She whinnied either in agreement or disbelief.

The weekend was drawing to a close as I stepped down out of the saddle at Whateley’s stables and opened the door, leading Gray and the packhorse inside.

“I see you made it in one piece,” Manny stepped from the shadows, and taking the reins of the pack horse began to strip the gear from him.

“It wasn’t too bad,” I agreed leading Gray into a stall, stripping off her saddle.

“You’re gaining quite the reputation,” Manny spoke from the adjoining stall stripping the packhorse.

“Oh,” I paused grooming Gray, “How so?”

“They’re calling you the wolf whisperer.”

I stopped currying Gray to look at Manny who was watching me across the back of the pack horse. Hugging Gray’s neck, “I couldn’t let them eat Gray, could I,” I asked in my best little girl voice.

Manny laughed, his teeth gleaming, “Don’t give me that brat routine; it won’t work with me.”

“You got me,” I agreed continuing to groom Gray and then feed and water her. “The pack would have worried the animals enough until one broke loose and run off. Either that or one of us would have had to have stayed up all night taking potshots.”

“I know,” Manny replied as he walked over to stand beside me. I reached inside my coat removing the concealed carry holster, and pressing a hidden button released a latch on a cover that opened revealing a locked metal box. I used a key attached to a lanyard around my neck to unlock it and place my weapon and magazines inside and then locking it back up, pushed the cover into place.

“Let’s see your new papers,” Manny drawled. From an inside pocket, I produced an ID wallet and opening it revealed the nickel star inside a circular design with words, ‘Special Deputy United States Marshal’ emblazoned on its circumference.

“The paperwork is behind it,” I added handing it over.

Manny after looking carefully at the badge dug out the folded paper, and opening it began to read. An amused smile erupted into loud guffaws as he bent over laughing.

A heavy chunk of cement settled in the pit of my stomach.

“I take it you didn’t read it,” Manny chortled holding up the paper.

“No why, what’s wrong with it?”

“This Tom Wilcox must have big brass ones.”

“Manny I swear I’m going to deck you,” I cried clenching my jaw, “if you don’t tell me what the hell is going on. It is a commission isn’t it.”

“Oh, it is a commission alright,” he replied amid another round of chuckles.

What did Manny mean by that comment? What had I signed? And what had Nick O’Reily signed off on?

“Then what’s so funny?”

Manny straightened up and using the back of his hand wiped the smile from his face, “I can just picture Wilcox as he wrote up this commission, and Nick’s reaction when it crosses his desk,” he replied a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“This,” he held up the paper shaking it, “is a permanent temporary reserve deputy status.”

“What does that mean,” I frowned wrinkling my forehead.

“It means that instead of being temporarily deputized for the manhunt you are a permanent member of the US Marshal Service in the reserves.”

“The reserves,” I replied tasting the word “doesn’t sound too bad.”

Manny stepped closer lowering his voice, “It means you can be called to active service at any time and for up to six months at a time.”

“For real?”

Manny nodded, “for real,” he echoed.

“What do I do,” I asked raising my hands.

“We’ll call Mr. O’Reily; he needs to know.”

Chapter 5

I looked past Mrs. Carson, focusing on a strand of her hair that curled around her ear. The security chief was sitting in the meeting as well. Mrs. Carson and Delarose had grilled me about the manhunt details; and then asked for more details. I knew the interrogation techniques used which began to annoy me. But they were designed for that purpose.

It had been a hard three days battling the weather and the elements. Being a girl had the advantage and disadvantage of being underestimated. Well if I was honest being a young girl was the bigger slight and I was more than willing to take that edge in a fight. But there were times when I’d like every interaction not to be a battle of wills like this weekend. I would have preferred to be at the other end of the reservation and not deal with any of it.

I was getting pissed off and needed a distraction to keep my mind otherwise focused. I looked closer at the earring in Mrs. Carson’s right ear. At the spiral’s design, at the juncture between metal post and flesh.

“I just need an accurate detailed report for my records,” the Chief of security was saying, “and the best time to get that is when it is fresh in your mind.”

As I zeroed in, a vein on Mrs. Carson’s ear began pulsating; I recalled all the images, sounds, smells, and words since I had sat down. Into that midst I began a countdown from a hundred by threes and fours recalling the earlier conversation with Mr. O’Reilly.

“Manny to what do I ascribe your call?” Manny had taken it upon himself to make the call we both knew had to be made—and the sooner the better.

“Wilcox has some big brass ones, he kind of screwed you over.”

“I’ve met him,” Nick replied dryly. “What did he do?”

He swore softly when Manny told him.

“Just so you know I’ve got you on speakerphone and Atalanta is beside me.”

“Sorry.”

I waved off the apology, “I don’t understand the problem.”

“It’s more of a case of working at cross purposes. I knew what Wilcox wanted and he knew what I wanted from him.”

“And that was what,” I interjected.

“Administrative cover; he hoped you’d fall through the cracks.”

Wilcox hoped that his duplicity wouldn’t become known and he’d have it to embarrass Nick with in the future. And I became another asset or liability to track.

Mrs. Carson paused and pulled at that ear lobe, “Incidents happen which frankly is why this school is isolated and located where it is; just so we can contain incidents that do happen, and, or, to distinct one-time events. I don’t want a repeat of last year with the Kimbas where Boston led to NY and with each garnering increasingly publicity.”

“I’m responsible for your safety as well as another 400 students and additional 200 instructors and support personnel. The best means to accomplish that goal is keeping a low profile and keeping quiet that this is an academy for mutants.”

She stopped to drink from a decorated mug on her desk, “Publicity—even good publicity—is something we can do without here. I see events happening with you, wildlife tagging leading to deputizing leading to…something else and each with more complexity. The only difference,” she smiled wryly, “between you and the Kimbas is that there is only one of you.”

“But I don’t see--.”

“—and that’s why we’re asking these questions and for the details, so you will see.”

“Ahh.”

The chief’s buzzer beeped interrupting the debriefing. Mrs. Carson checked her watch. “I think we’re done here,” clearly dismissing me. I remained seated causing her to look up.

“Did you have something to add?”

“Yes—yes I do,” I replied evenly. “I appreciate your position but I do feel the need to point out all that I’ve done to contain events in-house since I’ve landed here. My kidnapping attempt at the train depot in Dunwich was a failure on your end here which I did my best to keep quiet. The Christmas calamity happened in part because the school wasn’t equipped properly to meet my requirements; requirements that you determined. Again I declined to press charges to keep fallout localized and I’m recording and tagging wildlife as a favor to the school and to the Medawihla Tribe. And,” I paused taking a deep breath drawled, “This weekend I was where I was supposed to be doing what I was supposed to be doing and again I’ve kept the school and the tribe out of it.”

Silence settled over the room, Mrs. Carson’s ear reddened and another vein developed a tic, “Anything else,” she asked her voice rising.

“No,” I replied calmly, “I believe that’s all I can think of.”

“You may leave then.”

I nodded as I got out of my seat and walked to the door closing it softly.

The two adults watched the teenager as she left the room, the latch clicking loudly as the door slowly closed.

“She’s right you know,” The Chief observed after a minute’s silence.

“I know,” the Headmistress wearily agreed turning in her chair to pour coffee into an empty cup.

“Coffee,” She asked holding up the carafe.

Holding up his hands palms out the Chief replied, “No.”

“You’re right and she’s right; almost everything she has done has been accomplished with little fallout.”

“You’re concerned about her being a Natural,” the Chief ventured with a burst of insight.

“That’s part of it,” Mrs. Carson agreed, “another part is she’s due for a misstep.”

“You’re hoping she screws up?”

“No, not hoping,” she responded quickly, “I believe it is inevitable though.”

“The sooner the better,” Delarose prompted.

“I hate to say it but yeah; I feel the longer she lasts the bigger the fallout.”

“The school survived Team Kimba’s first year,” he reminded her. “But there is something else about Atalanta or her story that bothers you?”

“I do find it odd that as a military family her mother never gave mutation a thought when her son became her daughter and especially as a doctor. It also seems strange that designating Atalanta as intersex also served to obfuscate her possible mutant status. And then a Seal that doubles as a contractor for a project inspired by Atalanta’s change just happens to be on site to train her. And then the head of DARPA just happens to be in Utah where Atalanta is hospitalized and he just happens to know her Seal instructor.”

Stroking his chin Delarose replied, “That’s a lot of coincidences I admit, but to what end. Do you think the military has a secret project?”

“How valuable to the government would a process be that produces mutants…and yet not produce mutants?”

“Come again?” Delarose asked perplexed.

“I don’t have the details worked out yet but what if a two step process has been discovered with the second step erasing or masking mutant markers?”

“A process for activating the mutant gene complex and then masking that mutation,” Delarose squinted at his superior.

“Something along those lines, yes; but what if—“, she snapped her fingers, “they have discovered a way to control the BIT producing specific Exemplars.”

“Like Atalanta?”

“Like Atalanta,” she agreed.

“Nice theory but you need to be careful you don’t fall down a rabbit hole following it,” he warned frowning.

“I know,” she replied distracted then whirling around asked, “Can Sam be trusted?”

Delarose took a step back his pupils expanding, “Yes of course Sam can be trusted,” he returned firmly.

“I’m sorry that was a poor choice of words. I know she can be trusted; I’m not concerned that she’d betray the school no I was wondering if she can find out anything from Mr. Black.”

“I’m sure she would feel him out.”

“Mr. Black’s loyalties lie with Atalanta so I don’t expect you or I could pry any information from him, but Sam might; given their backgrounds.”

“I’ll ask her,” Delarose assured her.

“Keep me informed,” Mrs. Carson directed him ending the meeting.



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