The Supervisors

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Chapter I.XII

The first days had a lot of conversation about the diagnosis. About what she needed to do, how much it was going to cost. All these horrible, stupid things you need to worry about when all that you wanted to do was lay in bed, sedentary, until the whole thing magically resolved itself. But life never works like that. And cancer requires action. So we talked. We talked about the chemotherapy. We talked about what was actually happening within her body. We talked about how it might spread. We filled our heads with all the worst possible scenarios, and hoped for all the best ones.

I went with her to doctor's appointments, the specifics thereof I no longer remember. We talked about treatments. We talked about what she could and could not do. We talked about likelihoods.

On the worst days, how long she had left came up.

But I was, in a queasy-uneasy way, enjoying myself. There were several reasons why what should have been a downright awful time in my life is now looked back upon with bittersweet fondness. First and most easily relayed: I was reconnecting with my mom. It was under the most desperate of circumstances, but there were times where the disease eating Mom from the inside out somehow managed to disappear into thin air. We did things that Mom always wanted to do: we traveled, primarily. To Hawaii, to Venice, to Greenland to see the Northern Lights, and the list goes on (though not so much further). We went each day to eat out at a new restaurant in San Diego, set within our minds the goal of experiencing every flavor available in the bay. A lot of it was Mexican. This is not a complaint.

And in San Diego, I was finally free. I wore what I wanted, presented how I wished, and told people my real name. To every stranger, I was Faeowynn, and so I could finally fully be Faeowynn to myself. One half of my closet collected quite a lot of dust and I liked it that way.

My company was ahead of the curve and had discovered how to employ me online, so I worked from home. I lost my position of controller because I was not there in person, and so became just another accountant, but they asked me several times to come back, so I felt that when I inevitably did I would be in good shape (though I tried not to think of the "inevitable"). Every day I woke up to tend to my work emails.

And speaking of emails, Tim had switched over to using them. Once he had wrangled the system, he found that he much preferred their instantaneous nature. Our email chains from this time have a marked sense of familiarity and comfort to them that our previous letters lacked. I entered a sort of honeymoon period regarding my dad. After his visit and our embrace, I felt a deeper connection to him, and suddenly things that had previously grated against me began to be seen as little, humorous quirks. Not all, I should say, but some. I even lightened up at his wanting to pretend his animals were magic. I treated it as an extended metaphor for how he saw the woodsy world around him, and from that framework, I learned to appreciate just how much my dad loved his job.

This grace period lasted a few years. But we should start them off from his perspective.


* * * * *


A light April rain sprinkled down from the gray-blue sky above, poking and patting the top of his truck as he sat, parked in the driveway of his own home. He breathed deeply, and rolled down his window. He stuck his left arm out into the rain, and let the meager volume of drops collect on his sleeve and hand. He felt as water pooled in his palm, and then eventually spilled out the side, in droplets just big enough to trace the contours of his wrist. He pulled back his sleeve to let his whole arm cool slowly in the rain, at one with his home again.

Tim opened the glovebox with his right hand and pulled out a small container. After struggling to open the container one-handed, he retrieved a half-finished cigar. Placing it on his lap, he fumbled for a lighter in the same glovebox, and came back empty-handed. Tim sighed, and closed his eyes. His arm was becoming wet, like he had stuck it into a bank of fog. He listened to the slow but regular hits on his roof, and took yet more deep breaths. In, out. In, out. In, and then out. He continued like this until he heard the door to his house open and shut.

"Honey," Alice's voice called, "why are you just sitting in the car."

Tim ignored her for the few moments he could get away with, and answered back: "I'm recuperating!"

He heard Alice approach the car and come around to his left. There was a moment in which both allowed silence. Tim would have let it go on as long as was allowed. But Alice didn't allow it.

She pulled down his sleeve, and then held his hand. "I get it. I'm really sorry to do this to you. But Anders needs you."

Tim opened his eyes, and turned towards Alice. "Anders? What's going on with my boy?"

"They have a big thing. Up at the Shelter. Came up while you were gone, no one wanted to bother you so you didn't hear about it. I think Andie could explain it better."

Tim sighed and gripped Alice's hand tighter. "Okay. I'll head up."

Alice just nodded, and let the moment stand. They both were getting wet in the rain, but neither cared. Alice's green and pink floral-patterned dress began to sag from an accumulation of water. Tim's left sleeve was gradually turning from damp to soaked. And the minutes passed by.

"Tim," Alice breathed, "are you smoking?"

Tim looked down at the cigar in his lap.

"Oh," he remarked. "No. Yes. Just this one, I got it for my birthday two years ago due to a miscommunication."

Alice nodded.

"Just the one?"

Tim swallowed. "It was three. Just the one anymore." He met Alice's eyes. "Felt like the occasion."

Alice nodded again. "Just the one."

Tim tried on a smile. "I have no secret stash anywhere, I promise you."

"Alright," she said. "But not in front of the boys, please."

Tim chuckled. "Alright. Agreed."

He pulled her in close, and through the window of the car they kissed.

"Sounds like I have business to attend to," Tim said upon release.

"That you do. How does hot chocolate and a fire tonight sound?"

"Perfect. Love you, honey."

"Love you too."

Tim rolled up the window, closed the lid on the cigar box and placed it back, turned on the vehicle, and backed out of the driveway.


* * * * *


"A polar bear."

"Yes."

Anders sat down next to Tim in his office, minty greens and chocolate browns making up the walls and furniture. Strewn across the desk were images of polar bears — both in general and the one in question — as well as notes on sightings, maps of Clackamas County with pins where it would likely go for food, notes on how to catch it, a synopsis of the meeting held in Tim's absence in which it was decided that it could not be allowed to live in the wild, several options for its accommodations when at the shelter, what would likely need to happen to best care for it… the whole works. Through and through.

"Wow," Tim leafed through a pile of merely possible and likely elaborations on what it actually did. "You guys were really proactive!"

"We try to be," Anders smirked. "But basically we're currently in the 'how to move forward' phase. The bear looks intimidating. Freezes things it walks by. Threat to the local ecosystem, but is going to require some extensive facilities here at the Shelter. We can't rightly take it in until we have the apparatus we need, but can we leave him out in the wild? He's either going to be a threat to us here in the Shelter, or to the rivers he frequents and any random hikers that might come across him. We're split right down the middle on whether we need to contain him now or later. We've all been waiting on your voice. So now that you're here… mind setting us at ease?"

Tim took a deep breath, glancing over all the papers. "This is a lot to take in at a moment's notice," he observed. He pulled closer their ecology report, paging to the subtitle Recorded Impact. He consumed the contents. Then, he turned to Likely Impact. "Mmm," he hummed. He poked a forefinger onto the page. "Population's fragile as-is."

"From the pufferfish last year, yes."

"Mmm," he hummed again, and scooted the paper away from him. "What enclosure number are we on? Thirty?"

"We're working on thirty-five through forty."

"Oh my…" Tim placed a hand on his forehead and leaned back in his chair.

"Dad?"

"One second." He stared at the off-white ceiling, and breathed in deep once more. Maybe just a couple more deep breaths would finally bring about that centered, collected feeling he was looking for, and allow him to tackle the problem with a familiar gusto.

"I'm surprised you showed up to work at all today. I thought you were going to stay home."

"Your mom sent me."

"Of course she did. She's being a worry-wart. I wouldn't worry about it, Dad. If you need rest and relaxation, then that's what you need. If she doesn't get that then you can tell her that I said it. Alright?"

Tim slumped back down into his chair, and huffed. "The Shelter's just getting so big."

Anders nodded in agreement. There was a pause.

Tim clapped his hands together unexpectedly. "Alright! We have the space, we have the funds, we're going to go catch him. We'll house him in an enclosure alone until we can figure out how to deal with him. Biggest issue will be getting close to the guy. Think you can get Robin to wrangle a few new volunteers? Say, tomorrow or the next day? Sooner the better, I think we have this in the bag."

"Y-you do?"

"Of course I do! Since when have we not? In just over a decade of operation, I can not think of a single major screw-up."

"That's dangerous thinking, Dad."

"And if we don't deal with it, who else will?"

Anders considered. "I honestly have no idea. We've always dealt with things."

"Exact-a-ly! It's our responsibility, and waiting will just increase the damage it does, when we can reduce damage — if hassle ourselves just a little — by having it here as soon as possible. Agreed?"

"More or less."

Tim clapped his hands together again. "Alright! So, what will we need to catch it?"


* * * * *


A black sedan rode through the forest, consistently five miles over the speed limit, making headway through the shaded greenery of the Oregon woods. The highway rushed underfoot, their passage as ominously silent as it was sure.

A blonde woman in a rushed purple dress sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window. She tapped her foot on the ground, found herself snapping her right thumb and middle finger to some unheard rhythm, and blinked more than appropriate.

"Coming in hot," a Seanan McDowell pointed out from the backseat. "Or, cold." He snickered, but no one else did. Not the time for humor, it seemed. "Sorry, just the way I cope. I'll shut it."

"It's alright," Sophia said. She counted triplets in her head, seeing if she couldn't intersperse them with quintuplets. Three beats and five beats in the same span of time. Never having had music as more than a cursory interest, the challenge could occupy her the whole way there. Which wasn't terribly far, actually. And that was beginning to worry her. "Have we passed the Nexus-17 boundary yet?"

"By strict definitions, Nexus-17 is the entirety of Clackamas County, but, ah, no. If you're talking about the center of activity, we still have a ways."

"Remind me if I have anything to be worried about?" Sophia kicked herself for asking the third time. She was a woman of the books. It had honestly surprised her when Director Holman picked her out of the meeting room to visit Boring. Hell, she could count on one hand all the times she'd been in Portland on official business, and a very sizable portion of her job was writing about Portland. She could probably give a history on any given building. She'd just have to be told its address first.

All of a sudden, the trees parted and countryside greeted them. Fields and farms as far as the eye could see (before the treeline blocked it). Sophia felt a subtle uptick in her heart rate. They passed a sign that read: "Welcome to BORING, OREGON". Soon, then. It was going to be very, very soon.

"Where's the lion's share of the damage?" Sophia asked.

"Going to be somewhat in a line from town hall to the Wilson's Wildlife Solutions HQ," the agent behind the wheel explained. "Detonation occurred just east of the base, took out some enclosures. That's where we'll have to dispose of some anomalous animal bodies, and where we might find pieces left over of the bear."

"Is that really a main priority?"

"Nothing this volatile has ever occurred in the entirety of Nexus-17's documented history," Seanan pointed out from the backseat. "We didn't think it was capable of churning out something this powerful. It's possible this anomaly isn't related to the nexus at all, but it follows all current patterns despite its power, so I'd say that's unlikely. The more information we can get, the better. Maybe back in a lab some numbers could bring something to light."

"Mhmm," Sophia returned.

Suddenly, they seemed to pass some incorporeal threshold. The temperature dropped like a sandbag. The agent turned the heat on just in time for Sophia to resist the urge to curl up into a ball. Frost pasted itself onto the tips of grasses and crops they passed, and patterns of ice crawled up the windows of houses.

"Jesus," Seanan whispered to himself.

"Not the worst I've seen," the agent chuckled.

"Mmm," is all Sophia said.

The streets were eerily empty; no doubt an evacuation of some kind took place once the feds stepped onto the scene. As the sedan approached the center of town — or more like it, where the town began at all — a fog began to impede their vision.

"There was really enough humidity in the air to create a fog this thick through condensation?" Sophia asked.

"The town has been rather humid since they got that toad, if you recall. But I think that one died in the blast — Kai informed me just now that their aquatic sector is the one that took the biggest hit."

Sophia winced. "Makes sense."

They passed through the fog like a plane entering a cloud. Their speed decreased drastically to account for the visibility, and so Sophia got to take a long look at the town. What little she could see said that the town was a small, concentrated community. The buildings were dusted with a placeless snow, so that Sophia felt as though they had just dramatically increased in elevation. Everywhere, lights were out. Businesses closed. Few cars remained, and those that did were invariably governmental. The fog, the abandonment, the quasi-military vehicles… Sophia was intrusively reminded of the start to some cheesy horror film.

They made a few turns, passed by some buildings that seemed to have suffered direct damages, a burst fire hydrant covered in ice gracing the corner of one street, and were then stopped by a blockade.

A group of men, dressed in deep blue and black uniforms with small glimmers of gold in trims and badges, turned to look at the new arrival. The sedan came to a halt, and two of the officers approached the vehicle. The agent rolled down the window.

"Good day," the officer opened.

"Good day," the agent replied. "We're with the Foundation."

"You are, are you?"

Everyone in the car was already fishing for badges, patches, and miscellaneous identifiers. First, the agent flashed a Site-64 on-site agent registry. Then, Sophia and Seanan passed up keycards on lanyards that they had stashed within their bags. The officer inspected them, then returned them.

"And what business do you have?"

"Have you not gotten the order? Director Holman called forwards, got in contact with your superiors. We're here to visit Wilson's Wildlife Solutions on a diplomatic mission and we have express permission to do so from Assistant Director Avery Mandrake, acting in the Executive Director's stead due to a conflicting emergency, the details of which were denied us."

The officer looked at Sophia with a disbelieving frown. "Stay right here and let me check in."

He and his silent compatriot returned to the larger group, and began to engage in an unheard discussion.

"They're stalling for time," Seanan muttered.

"They are?"

"Of course. Josh, Kai, and Agent Boldary are already on-scene, and they would have had to pass either through this checkpoint or another one. They're stalling you because you are going to take Mr. Wilson away."

"Is there any way to call them out on this?"

"Not in the short term. They're going to feign confusion until they get the go-ahead that whoever's interviewing Tim Wilson has what they came for. If we push we'll be put on bad negotiating terms with them, which are paramount right now and they know that. They have the diplomatic upperhand."

"Damn it." Sophia began snapping again. This time with both hands, creating a Latin swung rhythm. Somewhere in her head, The Girl from Ipanema began to play.

In due time, the officer came back. "Alright, we need a code confirmation."

The officer brought out a small leather-bound book, an exact replica of which was produced by all members of the car. The fed pointed first at the agent.

"Big."

The agent flipped several pages. "Ignoble."

The officer checked a box, and then pointed at Sophia. "Arguable."

Sophia paged through impatiently, passing over the desired chapter several times. "Blaspheme."

Another check. "You in the back," he said, "pointedly."

"Is that the code?"

"Pointedly is the code."

Sophia felt like she was losing her mind, as more and more seconds turned into minutes. Seanan leafed through for longer than felt reasonable, and then finally said: "Mortar."

The officer checked a final box. "Alright, you're free to pass through." He waved to his group, who then pulled a car back to let them through. Words of professional thanks were muttered throughout the car, and then they passed through.

Soon, they arrived at the HQ.

The officer had failed to give them an identifying word, as was custom, so they had to pass through two layers of arduous code-giving to make it to the front doors. The building was a mixture of minty- and forest-greens, though in the penetrative fog they came out to a dull gray shade of their former intent. Waiting at the front doors were Agent Boldary and Josh Higginbottom awaited.

"Agent Reddy, Dr. Turner, Mr. McDowell…" Boldary greeted them each.

"Fill me in, Higginbottom."

The Boring Historian rubbed his temples for a moment. "Tim was just finished being interrogated in his office. Feds are covering the premises like ants on cake left out at a picnic. They're going to clear out as soon as we have enough presence to tell them to do so, but no sooner. They're being… unyielding. And I assume we won't be getting any amount of backup for another… eight hours, estimated."

"And where is Kai?"

"Mr. Boskovich is sitting down with some employees and trying to assess what can be done about any escaped animals."

"I'm certain he's enjoying this whole series of events on some level." Sophia pursed her lips.

"Mmm." Josh determined to remain mum.

Sophia sighed. "Mr. Higginbottom, lead me to Wilson's office. Reddy, come with me. McDowell, try coming up with a plan on how we're going to mitigate damages here. I don't know specifics, just, anything. Find and rope Kai into it too. We all suffer when he's allowed to be a loose cannon." They nodded. "Oh, and Boldary, stand around and look as imposing as possible. Maybe get some employees to see you around the others. We're trying to make an impression."

Boldary smirked. "Can do."

Sophia looked to Josh, who turned around and opened the glass doors into the HQ. Just like he said, officers were everywhere, taking pictures of everything, documenting up and down, talking to puffy-eyed employees, generally roughing up the place. It was a mess. And Sophia only wished that it were Foundation agents doing it instead of them.

She strode down a long hallway, covered on each side by offices either in the process of being ransacked or in the state of having been ransacked already. Josh led her down two turns, and they came face to face with a gruff looking man standing in front of the door to the labelled office of a Tim Wilson.

"Sophia Turner, Director of Containment at —"

"Yeah, yeah," he said, and simply stepped aside.

"Thank you Higginbottom. Stay here. Reddy, with me."

Sophia pushed through, and opened the door.

A man, short but only just, with a beard that was just below grizzly and a sunhat that didn't fit the occasion at all, looked up from his slouched position behind a now barren and desolate desk.

"What more do you want?" he croaked.

Sophia sat down in the chair opposite. "We're not who you've been speaking to before."

The man wheezed. "You look very, very similar."

"Let's say the notice was short." She took note that Mr. Wilson was eyeing Reddy behind her, eye level suggesting the gun hanging at his hip was of particular interest. "We're here to take you away."

"T-take me away?"

"Not for more than a few days, hopefully less than one if all goes well. You and three trusted employees of your choice. But we have to leave as soon as possible."

"Take me where? Why?"

"You aren't at liberty to know those things." Also, Sophia didn't know the answer to that second question yet. "Let's just say we want to talk."

"Are you with the government?"

"You're not at liberty to know."

"Then how did you get past the FBI?"

"You're not at liberty to know."

"Who are you?"

Sophia replied with a tight and humorless smile. "You're not at liberty to know."




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