The Rampart, the Rogue, and the Renegade
rating: +28+x

Kidnapping. I've seen this before, on TV. What does the person do? Co-operate with the kidnappers? No, that never ends well for the victim. I have to fight back. I have to escape.

Okay, how?

They grabbed me on the side of the road while walking home from the lake, but we must have passed the lane to go out toward the farms. I can feel the twisting turns; we're on that winding road that goes down by the motel. And then the highway's just past that. I can't let them take me there. I have to escape.

There's nobody holding my legs right now. The next time we're coming through a corner, I'm going to make my move. I'll kick the driver in the arm, and he'll go off the road. And then…

The black van swerved, pitched, and rolled down a rocky embankment. It had barely come to rest before Frank Whelan dragged himself out through a shattered window. He staggered to his feet, already on the move as quickly as his aching body could manage. He imagined one of the men in ski masks closing in behind him, could almost feel the grip of a black gloved hand on his collar. When he finally forced himself to look back, no one was there. Near exhausted, Frank clambered back up and onto the road.

-o-

"See anything?"

"Same as five minutes ago. Nothing."

Agent Lawrence Harrison suppressed a groan. His UIU field team had been holed up in the East Lakeview Motel for three days, and their stakeout was panning out to be a colossal waste of time. The day had seen an hour long argument over the last croissant, and the lack of AC was unbearable in the rising afternoon heat. And if the tiny rural Tennessee town even had a lake, the motel certainly offered no view of it.

"Are you sure it's not a bad lead?" asked Agent Eriksen, who lay sprawled on one of the rock-hard beds.

"The informant's reliable enough," Harrison replied, even though he was beginning to have doubts. "He swears this is the shop he bought it at, and he gave enough description to confirm it was our perp running the joint."

"Why can't we just storm in there and — " came the voice of another agent, muffled by the bathroom door.

"We've gone over this: the place is full of spacetime anomalies. This guy could go through a door in front of us and come out on the other side of the building. Heck, we go in there we might not come back out. He's gotta be outside and away from the building for us to make the arrest."

"Hey boss," Jackson interrupted from the window. "I think I see something."

Harrison leapt to his feet and ran over to the window. Through the gap in the dusty curtains, he could see a scrawny red-headed teenager standing on the road, wearing a scarf over his face.

"Poor kid looks like he's been run over with a tractor." Jackson added.

"That's not our suspect. Did he come out from the shop?"

"He didn't, but we should see if he's okay. What if he needs an ambulance?"

Harrison grumbled, but finally agreed.

"Alright. Eriksen, with me - hang back and keep an eye open. Everyone else, wait here.

The two agents descended the far stairwell, in order to discretely use the exit at the side of the building. Stepping out into the bright midday sun, Eriksen propped open the door with the toe of his dress shoe while Harrison approached the teen.

"Excuse me… Hey!" Harrison shouted.

Shit. Don't shoot me.

The voice seemed to boom around inside Harrison's head, and he froze. The scarf had fallen away from the kid's face, revealing only smooth skin where his mouth should've been.

"I'm not going to hurt you," Harrison reassured, reaching into his pocket and flashing his FBI badge and ID. "Come on over here, quickly."

A minute later, back inside the motel room with the door closed, Harrison explained to the rest of his team: "This is Frank Whelan. Kid's a can man, telepathic. He's talking to me right now."

"Really?" asked Jackson.

Yes

"Whoa, trippy."

"Not now, Jackson." Harrison wanted to keep his talk with the kid on track. "You said some people tried to abduct you?"

Yeah. A bunch of dudes dressed all in black and with masks on, they got out of a van and grabbed me. But I don't know why anyone would want to kidnap me. Actually… I think they must have been after someone else. They kept saying something about a Katie E, like she's who they wanted to get.

"Hold it," Harrison held up a hand, "these men called you 'KTE'? Is that what you're saying?"

Frank nodded. Harrison sighed — the GOC was hard to deal with on a good day, but doubly so when holding something they wanted.

"Jackson, dial up HQ. Now."

-o-

Far away in Washington D.C., Theodore McKinney settled into a polished wooden chair, at a polished wooden table, across from a wooden Polish man. Behind the stiff man was a stunning view of the surrounding area, and around him were the elegantly paneled walls. The GOC, it seemed, had spared no expense in designing their conference rooms. Reminding himself that he was not there to appreciate the GOC's enormous budget, he returned his gaze to the man before him.

While McKinney did not consider himself a man that was intimidated easily — you don't become leadership of a branch in the FBI if you are — he felt a telltale prickle of nervousness in his stomach. The man across from him was dressed in a silk suit that looked as if it cost as much as his unit's annual budget, and had the confident air of someone who knew all too well the power behind them.

"Greetings. I am Theodore McKinney, Assistant Director of the Unusual Incidents Unit, FBI. Now, how shall we begin, Mr…"

"Koziak. Global Occult Coalition, Public Liaison Office." the man replied with practiced neutrality. He extended a hand and gave McKinney a hollow smile.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Koziak." McKinney responded as he shook his hand. "Nice to know we're still under Public Liaison.

"We're working on it. Now, I expect we're both aware of the situation we've come here to discuss."

"The current situation, as I understand, is that a group of UIU field agents have taken into temporary protective custody an American citizen, who was the target of an attempted abduction."

"Well, I'm not so sure I agree with that terminology." Koziak leaned forward, "we are here to deal with an anomalous threat, in accordance with our mandate. If this is how you insist on hearing it, then fine: we request you return custody of our prisoner."

"Terminology aside, I'm not sure I can agree with your terms. Bearing in mind that this citizen is innocent of any criminal convictions and also a minor, how could this extradition be considered valid?"

"The GOC does not tolerate the obstruction of its mission, Mr. McKinney."

"Why not go ahead and enlighten me on the nature of this mission, then? At no point was I notified that you would be conducting operations within our jurisdiction."

"Our mission," Koziak said coldly, "is to protect the human race from anomalous threats." He punctuated each following word with a tap of his finger on the table. "By. Any. Means. Necessary."

McKinney narrowed his eyes, but refused to break his gaze.

"And our operations… don't require notification, or permission from anyone at the level where you reside." He placed a white card, with only a printed phone number, onto the table. "My men," sliding the card toward McKinney, "will have custody of the threat. This will happen within the next thirty minutes."

So much for any pretense of civility, thought McKinney. A long hard silence filled the room as he weighed up his options. Before this meeting he hadn't known what to expect, but in hindsight maybe the outcome should have been obvious. It was clear the GOC wouldn't be taking no for an answer, and McKinney knew all too well the results of any alternative action. Casualties in the field, political implications, maybe even worse. That left him one option.

-o-

"Sir, you can't be serious!" Agent Harrison was taking the call from HQ, speaking to McKinney himself.

"I'm afraid so, Lawrence. Take down this number, you're to contact their Strike Team and arrange to transfer custody —"

"Sir," Harrison protested, "with all due respect, an innocent citizen can't just be-"

"With all due respect," McKinney echoed bitterly, "this decision is miles above your head. Hell, it's above my head. But there will be blowback at an international level if we refuse to cooperate here. Now: you're going to tell them exactly where you are, you're going to stay put until they get there, and you are going to remand custody of your prisoner without any resistance. Clear?"

Harrison hung his head as his shoulders sank in defeat.

"Yes, sir."

"They're putting a clock on this, so make it happen quick."

Harrison heard the call close with a beep and set the phone down on the rough wooden dresser. He looked around the room at each member of his team. His eyes came to rest on Frank Whelan, who sat wrapped in a woolen blanket on Agent Eriksen's bed. Agent Jackson sat beside him, rifling through the unit's medkit for another band-aid. Frank peered up, the two of them exchanged a meaningful look.

In the dim light of the hotel room, with a scared look on his face and a tear in his eye from the sting of iodine, Frank looked nothing more than a scared boy. Harrison had never seen an anomaly look so human, and a pang of guilt stabbed through him as he thought of what was about to happen to him. There had to be another way, he thought.

"I have to make a call."

-o-

You sure about this?

"Positive. Jump."

Swinging his other leg over the windowsill, Frank took a moment to look Harrison in the eye.

Thank you.

"Don't waste time. Go on!"

Frank hung down from the ledge and dropped into the hedges beneath. Almost immediately a hand was on his shoulder, helping him up out of the bushes and guiding him toward a waiting car. "Got the skip," the man hissed into a handheld radio, "start the engine."

Who are you?

"Name's Soldati; that's Lehman behind the wheel. We're gonna take you outta here."

As they approached the car the trunk popped open.

In there?

"Just for a few miles; the gocks have eyes all over these roads. You can ride up front once we're in the clear."

Mentally cursing his luck, Frank crawled into the cramped trunk. He squirmed, trying to find a comfortable position as he listened to the two voices coming from the front of the car.

"Site-17, you said?"

"Eventually, I'm guessing. After assessment at a Research Site."

"Make a call-ahead, let em' know we're en route for our handoff."

"Sure," there was a click as a radio turned on, "Soldati, MTF Epsilon-6. Subject acquired."

And with that, Frank felt the car start to roll away.

-o-

Back in the motel room, a harsh knock at the front door announced the arrival of the GOC Strike Team. All five of the large men pushed their way into the cramped quarters, as if to establish that they owned the place.

"Alright," barked one of the GOC operatives. "Where is he? Where's our target?"

"Alright, alright," Agent Jackson said as he squeezed through the group of GOC agents, "calm down, soldier. Kid's just went to the john a minute ago — "

Without a second's hesitation one of the GOC men turned around and kicked open the door to the bathroom.

"There goes the deposit," Jackson whined. "That's taxpayer money y'know—"

"It's empty!"

Jackson peered over their shoulders into the bathroom, looked at the open window on the opposite wall. "Oh, damn…" he muttered, feigning surprise.

"He couldn't have fit through there though," Agent Eriksen piped up.

"Well," Jackson reasoned, "he was kind of a skinny kid."

"Quiet!" The GOC team leader bellowed. "You left the anomaly unsupervised?"

As Agent In Charge, Harrison was turned to for an explanation. He cast a reproachful gaze at his men, though privately admiring their acting chops. All he could offer was a helpless shrug, but this was enough to drive home the grift.

The GOC team leader gave an exasperated sigh. Turning back to his own men, "He can't have gone far. Move out!"

The GOC soldiers filed back out of the room, talking into their radios about direction of travel and establishing perimeters and, at every opportunity, cursing out the FBI.

-o-

Allowing, through negligence, for a person in protective custody to evade their security detail and flee the location.

That was the disciplinary review's assessment of what had transpired. After hearing an earful of it from McKinney, Harrison trudged back to his tiny office. He told himself he was lucky to still have the job. A couple months of probation was a small price to pay for an innocent life saved.

Among the mail waiting on his desk, one particular parcel caught his eye - Sweepstakes Contest Promotion. No return address. "Huh, bet I win the grand prize," he muttered sarcastically.

Inside, Harrison found two separate communications. One was an intel package from Agent Noah Soldati: the shop in Lakeview was just one location the perp used for sales; his main warehouse was where the goods could be seized - maybe even him too. An address in Oregon was included.

Setting the letter carefully on the corner of his desk blotter, he turned his attention to the second envelope.

To: Mr. Lawrence Harrison, c/o Unusual Incidents Unit, FBI

From: Frank Whelan, Site-17

Hello,

I've never been great at writing letters, but I couldn't find another way to reach you.

First, I wanted to let you know I made it. After you got me out of the motel, they took me to this other place. I don't quite remember what it was called, but I remember the cold walls and prodding needles. It felt like a prison - like a punishment of some sort.

I guess I've always been a prisoner, one way or another. At home, I played with my brothers, fought with them over a million stupid things, stole their video games, the normal stuff. But I've never been anywhere outside of my tiny town in Tennessee, never met anyone outside my family, and never gone to a school outside or talked to anyone that isn't related to me. I've been hidden my whole life. Now I'm stuck in this sickeningly white cell like a prisoner for the crime of being born an anomaly, and I'll be a prisoner until the day I die. And when I die, I may as well have never existed at all.

I know there's a lot of bad things in the world, but I mean it when I say being an anomaly is the worst. It's so, so lonely when you're someone that can't exist. ████. ████ ██ ██████ █ ███████ ███ ██████ ████ ███████ ████.

But you know what? I'm alive. Life's not all bad. After a couple weeks, they took me to another place called Site-17. It's not so bad here - they let me write this letter, for one. I get to go outside sometimes. My room - they keep telling me not to call it a cell — has a nice view of the sky. I'm probably better off here than anywhere else.

So I guess this whole rambling letter is just me trying to say thank you. Instead of seeing me as an anomaly, you saw me as a person. You chose to save me even though you were ordered not to. You're the reason I still have a life. And that's a lot more than the GOC could ever give me.

May we meet again,

Frank

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