Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Fiction for January 2, 2009

For the first Friday Fiction of 2009, I thought I would post an excerpt from the only remaining novel that I haven’t featured on this blog yet. “Lana’s Pack” was my NaNoWriMo project for 2007, and was another idea that I’d been thinking on for a long time. While it originally was intended to be a standalone story, the more I thought about the plot, the more I realized it had a strong potential connection to the Pod stories. It became book # 5 in the Pod series, and was a lot of fun to write.

The Prologue introduces one of the main characters, Ray Bittman, as he is handed what will become the most unusual assignment of his career. The story is seen primarily through his POV and through the POV of the title character, Lana, as their lives converge because of the Pack.

Lana first appeared in a supporting role in the previous Pod story, “Merrowsong”, and ended up as one of those characters that begged a story of her own. I had first thought to give the role to Marcel Cardan, but in the end decided Lana’s association with the Cardan family in that story was a great catalyst to propel her into this one.

Lana’s Pack
By Rick Higginson

Sunday, 10:02 a.m.

Deputy Marshal Raymond Bittman followed the lab assistant through a series of hallways and secured doors. His assignments usually started in jails, prisons, or his office in Sacramento, not in some secluded research facility in Nevada, and he fought back feelings of annoyance at having his Sunday morning interrupted for what should be someone else’s job. They passed through one more set of doors to arrive in a small, densely organized office, where the middle-aged man at the desk did not bother to look up at them.

“Thank you, Simons,” the man said, turning the page of a stapled stack of papers. “If you would, please, see if the coffee is ready and bring me a cup?”

“Yes, sir, Dr. Sonders,” the assistant replied. “Marshal, would you like a cup as well?”

“Thank you, I would; just black is fine.” He turned back to the man at the desk. “Dr. Sonders, I am-”

The doctor held up one hand to forestall the introduction. “One moment, please,” he said, turning the next page. His eyes scanned down the sheet before he folded the pages back to original order and set it to one side. He looked up with an appraising gaze and his expression became dourer. “You are the Federal Marshal sent to assist us with the retrieval?”

“Deputy Marshall Bittman, Dr. Sonders,” he said, displaying his badge for emphasis. The doctor’s condescending tone did little to assuage his worsening mood. “My team is gathering as we speak, though I must say I can’t understand why my office has been called in on this assignment. We track dangerous fugitives and return them to custody. From what I have heard of this case so far, this is more in the jurisdiction of the FBI; you had a security breech and property stolen. We don’t investigate break-ins and we don’t recover stolen property, unless it’s in the apprehension of a felon.”

Sonders folded his hands in front of him and leaned back in the chair. “Do you have any idea what we do here, Marshal?”

The assistant returned with the coffee, and Ray thanked him as he took the cup. He took a sip; it was average tasting but properly brewed and welcome. “Well, considering that the rumors are your perps were members of an upstart animal rights group that is calling themselves ART, for Animal Rescue Team, I’d say it’s a safe bet that you do animal research.” He pulled over a chair and took a seat, tired of waiting for the doctor to extend the courtesy of offering it to him. He noticed the man hadn’t acknowledged the arrival of his coffee, either.

“We do genetics research here, Marshal. Our job has included studying the work of Anthony Marcel, Daryl and Geneva Malach, and others, along with seeing how their theories and techniques can be applied in more practical and acceptable ways. The animals that were stolen are more than just research animals; they are genetically modified prototypes and case studies.”

Cocking his head to give the man a sidelong glance, he folded his arms across his chest. “I thought in the wake of what Marcel and the Malachs did, such research was illegal?”

“It is illegal to perform such research on humans, and I assure you, Marshal, we are doing nothing on human subjects. Additionally, I assure you we are doing nothing as extensive as what Anthony Marcel accomplished. The truth be told, I would love to be able to duplicate Marcel’s success, but even after studying it for over twenty-five years, we still cannot figure out how he managed what he did. No, what we’re doing is much simpler, and could best be described as shortcutting around many years of selective breeding. We are accentuating potential that is already there, even as a breeder would do over many generations of purposeful breeding. We’re just not taking many generations to reach the goal.”

“That still doesn’t explain why a team of Federal Marshals has been tasked with this and not an agency more suited to such work.”

“These animals are considered classified, and the National Security Advisor felt it best to get them back as quickly as possible. To that end, she elected to call in the agency with the most experience in tracking escapees. I really could not care less who they send, as long as I get my animals back.”

“How did these activists get access to this facility if these animals are classified? I passed enough security doors just getting to your office to have frustrated an accomplished spy; a bunch of bunny huggers should never have gotten inside the outer gates.”

“We’re looking into that; we suspect they had inside help.” He handed over a sheet of paper. “Most of the animals have tracking collars and RFID chips, though my tech weenies so far haven’t managed to get a lock on the location. One of them suggested maybe the thieves knew about the tracking and have taken measures to block it. This is a list of the frequencies and ID codes for you, and this-” he handed over a photograph. “Is what we suspect is their vehicle. All the security video for the time of the break-in was deleted, but they didn’t go back quite far enough and left us with a second or two of this van driving by the gate.”

He took the photo and sighed. “This isn’t much to go on; no license plate, and in the lighting it’s difficult to tell even what color the paint is.”

“I’m told the U.S. Marshals are the best for tracking down people with minimal information; maybe that’s why you were assigned this task. If you can find the thieves, you should also find the animals.”

“To think I had to skip teaching the Bible study at church this morning for this,” he said, wondering who the pastor would have found to fill in for him on such short notice. “You do understand, Dr. Sonders, that this isn’t our normal quarry. We as yet do not know who our thieves are and whether they have priors we can work from. We have no established patterns to base reasoned behaviors off of, and we don’t even know for certain the thieves will keep the animals. They may transfer them to some rescue society, release them, or keep them in a remote, shielded location. My team will do their best, as always, but this is going to be new ground for us.”

“Just make sure you’re paying more attention to getting my animals back than to studying some antiquated religious texts.”

As difficult as it was to believe, the man’s disdain was worse than before. Rubbing his forehead, he overlooked the doctor’s attitude. “Are any of these animals dangerous to the public? Is there anything my team needs to know before we potentially face them?”

“They’re animals, Marshal; they have some genetic enhancements, yes, but they are still just animals. None of them was bred to be vicious, nor do they carry any diseases. All have been properly vaccinated and kept well-socialized. However, it would be remiss to not remind you that, as with any animal, they might react in unexpected ways if cornered or threatened. Use the same kind of caution you would when approaching any animal that doesn’t know you yet.”

“You do understand that I will hold you personally responsible if any of my team or anyone nearby is injured by one of these animals because you withheld information?”

“If any of the stolen specimens were particularly dangerous, I would tell you,” he said, turning his attention to his computer. “Simons will show you to the enclosure the animals were stolen from, in case you can gather some evidence there.”

Ray turned to follow the assistant; rolling the sheets of paper he’d been given, he was just about to step through the door when Sonders called after him for one more comment.

“Oh, and Marshal Bittman? It should go without saying that these animals are very valuable. I trust you and your team will make the utmost effort to insure they are returned to us healthy and unharmed.”

He took another sip of coffee, letting the hot liquid stop him from saying that it wasn’t the animals he was considering harming.


Joanne Sher said...

Now I need to read this book too. Excellent job with dialogue, as usual, and suspense. Just GOTTA know what these animals are!

Hoomi said...

Heh heh. The Marshal will be asking that same question before too long in the story.