Chapter 1: December 2076 - A visit to the Big House

Katie looked through the window of the limousine at holiday shoppers and businessmen as they rushed through the wintry weather. The mix of snow and rain reminded her of the pack's territory in the mountains west of Bear Lake. Adam and the pack were there, probably in the lower valley regions along with the game.

The chattering of her co-passengers intruded on her thoughts of home. The women complained bitterly about the weather and how they had to bundle up in heavy coats to survive. One gave Katie a jealous look, dressed as she was in nothing more than leather shorts that were generously called skimpy and a vest that was worn more as an accommodation to social convention held closed by a single braided leather loop and bone toggle. The only concession she had made to the weather were booties. They were much like the foot coverings she wore to keep from slipping on hard flooring. These that Niabi had made, were much thicker and extended up her leg ending well above the ankle. They were much better at protecting her foot pads against the ice, snow and cobblestone sidewalks. She made a mental note to thank the teenager when she went back west.

Katie mentally shook her head at the complaining women.

You waste effort complaining about things you can do naught about.

Reaching out mentally, Katie found her cub's father snug in a den with Pup and Wind Glider, the pack's alpha bitch. Adam growled his displeasure at her being so far away. Mentally she caressed his head and reminded him that she would be home as soon as she could. Adam grumbled that it wouldn't be soon enough. Katie laughed and suggested that he play with the pack females to take his mind off her.

She let the connection go as the limo turned through the east gate of the White House. Driving up the slight rise they were treated to a view of the beautiful holiday lawn decorations alongside the ugly defensive measures that had been implemented around the President's residence. It was a stark reminder that some MORFS survivors were not happy with the country's government and took unpleasantly direct methods to petition it for the redress of their grievances.

When the vehicle stopped, a smartly dressed woman opened the door and directed them through a set of double doors, guarded by a pair of Marines in their Service's dress blue uniform. Adam had good memories of the Marines who had worked alongside him on long missions in the bush doing things he'd rather forget, but couldn't. She had to control the urge to return the pair's salute as she walked through the doors.

Just past the door, the group was held so they could remove overcoats and check their umbrellas and scarves. The cloak room attendant looked at Katie expectantly. Katie shrugged slightly and stripped off the wet, beaded booties and slid them into a large paper bag and handed it to the attendant. From there an usher and a pair of cheerfully bright faced teenaged interns herded the group from the cloakroom towards the interior of the building.

Together the group was passed through a security checkpoint that was no more than a pair of velvet ropes hanging from short, portable brass posts. Katie felt the tickle of a telepathic scan as she passed through a second, more obvious security station. Since no alarms sounded and the three Secret Service agents standing nearby didn't close in, Katie assumed that the fake mental persona she used to shield her own mental abilities and memories hadn't tipped anyone.

Katie garnered more than the usual passing glances by staffers going about their business as the group was led down a long hallway.

It was plain that they were not used to seeing someone her size or dressed in homemade clothing walking about the White House. Leather, either real or faux, had become socially unacceptable in the time since she was last in civilization. Meat, real meat, had come off the menu at many fashionable restaurants in the Capitol Region, including the hotel where she was staying. It had been replaced with textured vegetable protein. The mere idea of calling reformatted soybeans, celery and carrots meat was enough to sour the woman's appetite.

Katie was glad there was a butcher shop not too far from the hotel and that the head chief was happy to put his five star caliber culinary skills to use for a barbaric meat eater.

The group turned into a hallway that ended in a pair of very large, very impressive, floor to ceiling doors. As they approached, Katie could feel the pressure of a psionic suppressor field building against her temples. The suppressor field was weak, more of an annoyance than an real impediment to using her ability.

Large, framed oil paintings hung on two walls in the reception hall while windows, no doubt armored, running from just above the floor almost to the ceiling made up the outside wall. A large stone fireplace was the centerpiece of the fourth. In the corner by the windows, a chamber music group played quietly. Throughout the room were holiday decorations. Christmas 2076 was only two weeks away.

The women who had entered with Katie immediately headed for the snack tables set up along the wall from the fireplace to the windows. Katie circulated around the outside of the room, avoiding as much as possible, the various clusters of people. There were thirty or so people in the room and all were MORFS survivors. Most were hybrids of one form or another.

Katie recognized many from her internment camp. Slight nods from each of them acknowledged the others' presence. The camp had very strict restrictions on residents talking among themselves. Violators had been punished swiftly and brutally, some fatally. Three years later the inhibitions, enforced by the guards' extreme cruelty, remained.

The suppression field ratcheted up in intensity just as the chamber quartet struck up an abbreviated version of Hail to the Chief. Katie and the others in the room turned towards the doors to watch President Iris Pratt stride into the room trailing an aide and a security agent. A number of people applauded while the President smiled politely and starting shaking hands and speaking with her guests. Katie watched the woman as she circulated around the room, then moved so that she was positioned in an open area in the President's path.

The aid whispered into the President's ear as they approached. Katie could see through the professional mask the aide wore to the contempt hiding underneath.

"Miss Miller, how do you do," President Pratt said a friendly smile on her face.

"I'm well, Madam President; it's Milner." Katie said taking the offered hand. "I want to thank you for your actions in pardoning all of us who were held in those so call education camps."

"I was my pleasure, Miss Milner. It was a short sighted program that the previous administration thought would solve the problem of MORFS victims who believed they were outside the laws of civility. I understand that you weren't a resident when the pardons were issued."

"Resident, I see that the real term for us never made it this high." Katie said. "We were prisoners, Madam President. As you said, it wasn't of your making, but I know we're all glad that you corrected it." she said reaching into the pouch hanging on her hip, "I have a small gift to remind you of the residents of those prisons, something that reminded us, every day, of how this government of the people viewed us."

Katie brought out a leather wrapped package from the pouch she wore, bound with a rawhide thong and handed it to the President. Mrs. Pratt took the package and tugged the wrapping off.

"Very interesting covering," the woman said pulling it open. "Leather?"

"Elk hide," Katie replied. "My pack mates and I brought the animal down. A local Shoshone tribe tanned the hide for us. My pouch and clothes are made from the same animal."

"There are no elk in Georgia," the aid blurted out.

"Neither are there any Shoshone, Miss Kates," Katie said looking at the aid. "My pack lives in the Tetons."

"The Tetons?" the aid repeated, "That's all wilderness. Guns aren't allowed there."

Katie chuckled.

"We're wolves Miss Kates. We don't hunt with guns, only fang and claw."

"That's barbaric," the aid said quietly, looking slightly queasy.

Katie gave the woman a wolfish smile.

"That's Nature, Miss Kates," Katie said staring into the woman's eyes, seeing the fear there. The same fear she had seen in other eyes, the camp guards and staff, and more than a few mundanes she'd met in D.C. while walking the streets around the hotel.

It was the same fear Adam had seen in the eyes of his targets during his years of military service, just before he slaughtered them. Seventy years of living with the MORFS epidemic hadn't eased the unconscious, primal fear most normal humans had of the syndrome's survivors, especially hybrids like herself.

Katie turned her attention back to the President who had unwrapped the box and paused a moment to look at the wolf's head carved into the lid. The woman looked inside and lifted out the battered leather and metal collar.

"That," Katie almost spat the word, "is what I wore, every day, for nearly three years while held in the camp, Madam President." Katie said her voice dropping almost to a growl. "Most all of your guests here wore something like that. It has a locator, so our keepers could find us, spikes on the inside so they could shock us when they thought we needed it, and an explosive to decapitate us. A number of my fellow residents were killed with a device like that during our confinement."

The aide looked as if she was going to be sick.

"That, Miss Kates," Katie nodded towards the collar, "is truly barbaric.

A number of people at the reception had gathered around the trio. Several murmured their agreement.

"You are a danger to the public," Miss Kates hissed. "You should all be locked away."

The President turned towards the aide, a surprised look on her face. She thought she knew her staff better than this.

"According to whom?" Katie replied simply. "I wasn't tried by a court of law, no evidence was presented against me. When I was kidnapped by Homeland Security shock troops, the court had just dismissed charges against me for killing a man who'd attacked members of my church. The sitting grand jury, a group of ordinary, everyday citizens, hadn't been persuaded by the district attorney's office that there was enough evidence to prove the charges against me and returned a 'no bill'."

"That just proves that you're a danger," the aide said, venom in her voice.

"It proves nothing, Miss Kates. I didn't know until a year after my escape that I never touched the attacker. The brother of the infant girl being baptized electrocuted him. I was caught in the blast and knocked unconscious. Simply put, I was collateral damage. But, because of my past, I was the one investigated and charged. I'm pretty certain you can find videos of the incident on Furtube."

"We have a right to our existence, Miss Kates," Katie continued, shifting slightly to look directly into the woman's eyes. "It's written in the Declaration of Independence of this Nation that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

"My Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness doesn't include being locked in a cage and beaten like an animal, punished at the whim of some sadist, or killed by a rabid fundamentalist who thinks I'm an affront to God," Katie said evenly, staring at the aide, her expression hard. "I cannot be deprived of my life or liberty without the due process of law and conviction of the jury of my peers." Katie took a step forward, deliberately invading the aide's personal space. "Or, does the Constitution and the other guarantees the Founders put into place not apply to humans like us?"

A few people in the group applauded and there were several amens as well. The aide swallowed nervously and looked away.

"My apologies, Madam President," Katie said, turning to the dark skinned woman. "I seem to be standing on a soapbox."

President Pratt and a number of people standing around them chuckled.

"No, no, your feelings are certainly justified, Miss Milner," Mrs. Pratt said, "We all need to be reminded, at times," the President gave her aide a pointed look, "of our basic freedoms and that we in government serve the people, not the other way around."

The President moved past Katie to greet other guests until a second aide came in and whispered something. Automatically, Katie focused her ears on the pair.

" ... they could be anywhere by now, Madam President," the new person whispered.

"Find them and be quick about it. We don't need the press telling the world that two six year olds outsmarted the Secret Service," the President said hurriedly.

The aide nodded and started to walk away. Katie cut the woman off and bent down to deliver her own message. "Start in the kitchen."

The woman threw a questioning looked at Katie, who just nodded.

By the time the reception ended the aide was back, working past the other guests who were being led back to the public entrance. The aid walked directly to where the President was standing and whispered into her ear. They both glanced over at Katie and the President nodded. The pair walked over where Katie stood alone by the window.

"I assume the children were found?" Katie asked quietly as they got close.

"Yes," the aide said, "right where you suggested. How did you know?"

"Its afternoon, about the time most kids would be getting home from school. Snack time," Katie said simply.

Before either of them could say anything, the door to the room was pushed open and two children hurried in, closing the door after them. The children were giggling mischievously then turned to see Katie and the other women looking at them.

The President and the aide were forgotten as the children focused their attention on the tall wolf. Their mouths dropped open in surprise or shock, Katie wasn't sure which, but she had seen the look often enough from children in the past. Dropping to all fours, Katie approached the young boy and younger girl stopping when she was nose to nose with them. She gave each one a sniff then licked their cheeks which got the typical little kid reactions, ewwww's followed by giggles.

Katie sat down on her haunches and stared quietly at both of them for a moment before reaching into her bag and pulling out a pair of small boxes. She handed one to each child who quickly opened them and pulled out beaded necklace inside. Hanging from the necklace was a stone carving of a running wolf.

They had just put the necklaces over their heads when the door opened and a Secret Service agent walked in followed by a woman. It was obvious from the children's reactions that they had been caught by their mom, again.

The mother, a tall, leggy woman dressed in a business power suit and wearing expensive high heels looked down her nose at Katie, disgust plain on the woman's features. She snapped her fingers at the children. Katie stood and stretched to her full height. She looked down at the woman and gave a faint growl. It was only seconds before a look of fear flashed over the woman's face and she dropped her gaze.

Katie motioned to the children and they carefully walked to their Mom and took hold of her hands. They both waived as the woman led them out into the hallway leaving the agent with the President and her aide in the room.

Once the door was closed, Katie let loose with a rumbling growl.

Katie turned and saw the President and aide giving her surprised looks.

"Some people should not be raising children," Katie said quietly, gathering up the discarded boxes.

"Excuse me?" the President asked.

"Oh, Ms. I'm the second assistant diplomatic liaison to BFE who just left." Katie motioned with her thumb over her shoulder. "She was making plans to beat those two wonderful children once they got home for embarrassing her on the tour." Katie said looking weary. "I explained to her what would happen if she did."

"How will you know if she did, or not?" the aide asked.

"Miss Carrolton, if I can reach the Tenkei orbital city from Yellowstone Park, I can reach Georgetown from my hotel room." Katie said, then smiled, "Once I get out from under this psi field," Katie thumbed her temples.

"You're that powerful?" the woman asked, her eyes betraying her alarm.

Katie nodded.

"Then what's to stop you from reading my mind?" The President asked.

"From this distance, technically nothing. The security types would have to turn up the suppressor field to the point where mundanes couldn't function, or drug me unconscious." Katie eyed the slightly nervous Secret Service agent standing behind the President. "On the other paw, it's ethically wrong to wander around in someone's head without their permission." The woman smiled at Miss Carrolton's surprised look. "Shocking isn't it, that some of us actually play by the rules."

"Don't condemn all of us, Miss Milner," the President commented, a note of tiredness in her voice. "This is Washington after all and the ... political realities of this city make ethics an unaffordable luxury at times."

"Which is why I live in the wilderness, Madam President," Katie replied quietly.

"If I might ask, Miss Milner," the President began, changing the subject, "Why didn't you stay on Tenkei after your escape? You could have stayed there and lived comfortably until the pardon. The governing body there had made it abundantly clear through the press that they would not have extradited any of the escapees."

"Tenkei is a lot of things, lots of people, lots of space," Katie looked at both women, "but, it's not natural. I spent as much time as I could up there before I had to return to the wild."

The blank looks on the woman's faces prompted her explain further.

"Under all this fur, I'm more wolf than human. The lupine part of me won't be tamed, it fights being in captivity, it has to be free. It's the reason I live in the wilderness, where I don't have to live by anyone's rules other than mine and Nature's."

"Is that why you were such a problem resident?" Miss Carrolton asked.

"It's not in my nature to submit willingly to anyone or anything, Miss Carrolton," Katie replied, "except my mate."

Miles away, in a small business office in The Crystal City Underground, the chime on a desk computer signals the arrival of an email. The man standing at the desk slips a colored folder into collapsible keeper and closes the flap. He stares at the monitor for a moment, debating whether to open the message or not. Stepping away from the desk, he walks to a wall safe, opens the unlocked door and places the keeper inside. After securing the door, spinning the combo lock and removing the cylindrical key, he steps back to his desk and opens the message.

A picture of his target fills one screen of the dual monitor setup, he scans, line by line the description and other information his handler has provided. With a mouse click, the man shifts to the target's MORFS registry record. He absorbs the information on his target's psionic abilities, physical evaluations and ratings. Of special interest are the entries covering the deaths before being taken into custody.

Another mouse click brings up an internment camp record. For the first time, the flicker of a smile touches his lips. He closes the file and brings up the email that carried the original files.

He types one word before clicking the SEND button.


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