Part 1: Chapter 4
The call came in at oh-six hundred hours the next day, technically three hours before either one was on duty. But then, it was an MCRT issue and well, no one else handled these things. Clay, with part of his breakfast still in his mouth, nodded a ‘hello’ to the agent in charge of today’s surprise flight to West Virginia. Swallowing, he boarded, and asked the pilot the flight’s ETA.
“Well, with the ice-snow mix, it’ll take a bit longer, but it should be about an hour, hour and a half flight.”
The pilot was a guy named Weiderman; Clay wasn’t positive what his first name was. He was of average height with thinning light brown hair and a strong nose that appeared to have been broken at least once. The pilot continued, saying, “Wouldn’t want to be you, though. I heard on the news that West Virginia’s mutant groups are nasty.”
Clay nodded. “Yeah, the media wants y’all to think that all mutant groups are bad, Weiderman. But, here at S.H.I.E.L.D. we’re a bit smarter than that, aren’t we?” Maybe six was a tad too early to deal with people who were ignorant. Well, that, and his sixteen-year-old was a pain in the ass sometimes and they had exchanged harsh words last night and he was still acting sullen this morning. Weiderman seemed to take the hint and he went about with checking the plane. Clay got situated in one of the seats and went through his carry-on bag. The great thing about this plane was he could bring whatever he wanted, and what he had wanted to bring was his .44 Magnum and his P225 Sig Sauer with Siglite night sights and K-Kote finish.
Weiderman called back from the pilot’s seat, “Hey, it’s just you and Agent LeBeau, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Clay said back. “He should be here any minute.”
Clay was not wrong; Remy entered the plane less than five minutes later. He was blowing his nose and looked altogether miserable as he slumped down in the seat across the aisle from Clay’s seat. Clay told Weiderman they were all set and as the plane took off, Clay said to Remy, “I take it the cold’s been confirmed,” the dad in him coming out slightly. “You look like a train wreck, LeBeau. Like you haven’t slept.”
“Hardly did,” Remy replied. It was true, sometime after midnight, his cold had made itself overtly apparent and he spent the rest of the night sneezing and coughing. Ororo Munroe, his girlfriend, had decided to sleep at her place that night, so at least he hadn’t kept anyone else awake.
Clay shook his head, not exactly surprised. “What the hell are you doin’ here then?” he asked him, jokingly. Today, neither really had a choice, but Remy didn’t take many days off anyways, no matter his condition. He didn’t think he could, either because he thought the place couldn’t function without him or he was some kind of martyr. Probably both.
Trying to be a good sport, Remy smiled and said, “You know, trying to give it to everyone else. Looking for attention, whatever.”
“So you’ve already been through and licked all the coffee mugs then, huh?”
Remy laughed and then coughed. “You bet.” Switching gears into work mode, he said, “Some D.C. guys are meeting us there. I don’t know who.”
“Is it gonna be bad?” Clay asked. He had only been given the order to head out to West Virginia on an MCRT case. It was the morning news that informed him that earlier this morning several shots were heard and an undisclosed informant said that they were coming from the unknown mutant community.
Remy gave a small shrug and said, “When isn’t it?” Then, after another cough, he clarified, “I’m not sure who started it or how many people died, but there were casualties on both sides. But, you know how it is with this community. Take no prisoner type.”
It was true; the mutant communities in West Virginia were mostly serpentine mutants, ranging from the physically deformed to the downright poisonous. They had a prevailing gang-like mentality, where the biggest and the loudest became the leader, and everyone did exactly what he said. The last time Clay and Remy had been there, they had rescued a girl from the ranks – a young woman named Ashley who actually currently works at The Rotunda as an administrative assistant for the rookie agents. They would not be doing the same kind of rescuing today.
By the time the plane landed in Benedum Airport, West Virginia and they had taken a car out to the proverbial ‘boondocks’, near the mountains, the sun had risen and was now shyly hiding behind milky gray clouds. It would probably rain or snow again, Remy figured, as he noticed several people standing around in the dark blue tactical combat suits S.H.I.E.L.D. agents often wore and windbreakers with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on the right breast and on the back. They were waiting for him, and as he did sometimes, he thought how far he had come in such a short time. Realizing, of course, it was because he had taken an unpopular position. He said ‘good morning’ to each of the four stiff-backed agents as he shook their hands and they introduced themselves.
Clay did not offer his hand, but instead they saluted him and he them, for he had been in the military and apparently, so were they. Remy cleared his throat, his attention shifting to the all-terrain vehicles and the hiking equipment. The number of serpentine mutants that lived here numbered in the upper hundreds, but they were all spread out along the base of the mountains.
Each community lived in a similar style, in small groups of houses, caves or huts, depending on the civility of the leader of each group. Oftentimes, though, the disturbances took place within the groups that were the most visible, and thus, the most civilized, imagine that. Remy suspected if there was gunfire, it would be one of the largest groups that were involved. They were given the simple codename of WV Zone 2, because that was where within West Virginia they lived.
The four agents, plus Clay and Remy, began the hike to Zone 2, which was only a fifteen minute walk down a steep hill. One of the agents, who had introduced himself as Agent Tanbura gave the sit rep. “It appears that the assailants came down just as we are and took the community by surprise. The locals, an old baseline couple within hearing distance, reported they heard the shots around twelve thirty. Several of them, lasted maybe ten, fifteen minutes. They called the cops, after it was all over, but of course, by the time anyone responded, nothing much could be done. The locals usually deal with complaints in their own way here, anyways, and according to the log books, no one responded until two hours later. By that time, everyone who had survived was gone.”
That was usually the downside to dealing with mutant tragedies; they wouldn’t necessarily have to be tragic if people would respond in a reasonable time. The job went from assistance to clean up due to negligence and an unaware public. In the clearing below, now visible, there were four houses, a larger one in the middle, triangulated by three small ones. Smoke billowed out of the chimneys – each house had at least three. Because of their cold-blooded physiology, they required the use of extra fireplaces.
Remy had processed what Agent Tanbura had said, and he replied with, “Are you referring to the victims or the assailants when you say ‘survived’?” He felt as if he were preparing himself for an answer he did not want.
“Both, sir,” Agent Tanbura replied. “Unless of course, the assailants got all of them.”
Remy tried to remember just how many people lived in WV Zone 2. Thirty, forty; he wasn’t sure. Agent Tanbura continued with, “We’re gonna be shipping out bodies for most of the day. Can only do it by helicopter.”
Remy shut his eyes for an instance and whispered, “Jesus Christ,” and he was unsure whether he meant it as a swear word or a prayer. His thoughts drifted to Ashley for a moment. He remembered very clearly her dirt and tear streaked face and a shivering dog next to her, both begging in their own way for salvation. She used to live here, in the house on the left, some of her family still did. Or did before today that is. He pushed that away quickly. Clearing his throat, he said, “Do we know who’s responsible?”
This time Agent Waynesboro answered. She sounded like she was forcing her strength, “It appears a sect of The Purifiers are responsible, sir.” She pointed to one of the houses, not the main one, and said, “On a cursory glance we found what appeared to be a dead man wearing a robe similar to what The Purifiers wear. However, we didn’t move him and he was on his stomach, so no insignia could be found.”
As protocol mandated, no one touched the scene before the medical examiner and forensic photographers, and Remy and Clay met the gray haired ME at the door to the main house. Dr. Carl Bridges looked grim and professional, as he motioned that both Remy and Clay should come in. “Careful where you step,” he said.
Clay and Remy took one step inside onto a plastic tarp, and put on shoe covers over their muddy boots, before venturing further into the small house. A smoky metallic smell was sharp and overpowering, but not nearly as much as the carnage that was before them. Clay stepped as close to the wall as he could; the scene before him was terrible, but he had been training for half his life to hide it. Bodies, both big and small, lay strewn about, many of them riddled with gunshot holes, and others with their faces cruelly bashed in. It looked like exactly what it had been – a representation of hate.
He eyed his under the weather partner who was not as accustomed to tragedy, nor would he ever be able to handle it as a military man would. Remy did have some practice keeping himself in check, and though he was doing a pretty good job hiding it, Clay could see right through it.
The main house had one family room, serving as a kitchen and a living room and it had six off shoots, all narrow hallways that led to bedrooms and bathrooms. Because it was the main house, it was the biggest and the most ornate. However, the other houses were built in a similar style, one large room, and small offshoots, maybe three or four, all equipped with fireplaces, which was why there was such an overpowering smoky smell.
During the warmest times of the year, the serpentine community members would spend most of their days in the big family room, dubbed the ‘summer’ room. But as the weather turned, it was more common for them to spend most of their days, especially the younger ones, in their bedrooms, conserving their heat.
Remy thought of the layout of the house because it was easier than seeing what was before him. A lot of the former occupants were dressed in pajamas, the younger ones in footed pajamas. Surprised from their sleep by a force that wanted nothing more than to eradicate them because they were different.
Dr. Bridges said, “More than likely, the assailants dropped some chemical substance in through the fireplaces, without an analysis, I can assume it reacted with the fire and sent the group to the main room, almost as if they were to evacuate. But they were surprised here. Same with the other houses. A lot of the older victims have gunshot wounds, large caliber, hunting rifles. Many were finished off with blunt force trauma, the butt of the gun, most likely. As for the younger, some died probably of smoke inhalation, some blunt force trauma.”
Remy said, “How many do you think there were?” He meant Purifiers. He avoided looking real close at the blunt force trauma inflicted on the small faces littered around him.
Dr. Bridges replied, “Well, from body count alone over twenty assailants. But, whatever they used to get here, most likely the large vehicles that left the tire tracks, are gone. So, who knows how many survived?”
There were maybe three different tire marks, one more possibly in front of another, marked off by tape at the clearing where they had parked. How many people could fit into a truck? At least twenty people died, and at least one person per each vehicle left. It was probably a two-to-one fight; two mutants versus one Purifier. Remy sincerely doubted any of the Purifiers were women or children, though.
Dr. Bridges continued, basically reiterating what Remy had thought out. “So at least three people were able to get away.” Changing the subject, he said, “Take notice of the rate of decay here and here, and also the damage to the walls.” He pointed to two different Purifiers, whose skin was bloated and showing large areas of raw exposed skin. He also pointed to a wall where the paint was removed and in its place was a yellowish residue. “Venom. They fought back.”
Since the Purifiers were here, in the homes, no one thought that the serpentine community of West Virginia had started it, or had drawn first blood. But, twenty dead baseline humans was not a good thing for baseline-mutant relations. Remy didn’t have anything to contribute, so Dr. Bridges continued with, “I have finished the on-site examination, but I would prefer you did not move them for identification purposes at this time.”
“Of course, Dr. Bridges,” Remy responded automatically, and almost too politely. “If you would call me when you’re ready for autopsy, I’ll identify them then.” Turning to Clay, he said, “We’ll need the photographer’s discs, too.”
Clay nodded, but didn’t turn to leave the room. To Dr. Bridges, he asked, “Is it possible that we could have a total body count of the residents? Just in case some of them survived?” He too, was trying to remember how many lived in WV Zone 2. He thought maybe closer to fifty.
“Yes, I can see to that,” Dr. Bridges replied.
Clay and Remy walked out of the big house and looked around at the other houses, the fires steadily dwindling. Remy said quietly, “How could they all have died from twenty some people?” He had his hands shoved in the pockets of his coat and the red flush on his cheeks and nose stood out against his face which was paler than usual.
“It was a blitz attack. They had them scared, and caught by surprise.” Clay knew what Remy was thinking, and said it for him. “They have come a long way from when we got Ashley, more civilized, more trusting. But, this isn’t our fault, Remy.”
“That’s bullshit,” he said, almost in a hiss, which was somewhat ironic since they were in a serpentine community. He coughed and continued, “We’re the ones who made them more civilized.”
Clay would have none of it. He shook his head and replied, “Civilization didn’t kill them. The Purifiers did. And they are the only ones responsible here.”
Remy said nothing. Just coughed.
“Our priority right now is determining whether anyone survived,” Clay said quietly.
“They wouldn’t be here, then,” Remy replied, and he sounded harsh. “But I think I might know where they are.” Remy thought of Ashley again, and her dog, Trust. Ashley was legally blind, by baseline standards anyways, and the thought of having a seeing-eye dog had thrilled her. It was the happiest Remy had ever seen her when she chose Trust out of a litter of golden Labrador pups. “Let’s go for a drive.”