For nearly a year we have struggled to maintain our way of life. Against steep odds, we have held on and lived. However, our losses have been as tragic as they have been many, and there seems to be no end in sight. My friends, we cannot go on like this and expect to live.
Calls for reform or action have gone unheeded. Resources have been squandered. No solution has been reached and our ability to maintain the sovereignty and security of our houses has been violated. Despite many attempts to find a more peaceful solution if not a more final one, the decision was made time and again to continue the fight. My dear friend Suharto was but the last one I have lost in this tragic affair.
While Dr. Magnus has served for more than one lifetime as the head of the network and her contributions to science, society, and to each of us personally cannot be ignored, she has made a number of unfortunate missteps. Driven by the terrible loss of her daughter, Dr. Magnus has disputed every attempt made to bring about an end to this conflict. Indeed, this situation appears to have been entirely avoidable as it is a personal dispute between the head of the organization we know as the Cabal and Dr. Helen Magnus. As head of the entire network, Dr. Magnus is in a position to affect a large number of beings. With great power comes great responsibility, including keeping personal conflicts from affecting the network as a whole. In this, she has failed. While I extend my sympathy to Dr. Magnus, I cannot afford to ignore her blind need to strike at the organization that took Ashley before her time.
Before his untimely death, my dear friend Suharto and I discussed that perhaps the wisest course of action was to separate from the Sanctuary Network and continue as independent entities. The benefits to this are many as we can more accurately and freely help the abnormals in our jurisdictions, fully control our budgets, and distance ourselves from the focus of the Cabal's ire. It was his firm belief that we strike on our own, and it is in his memory that I do so now.
I hope you would all consider the abnormals of New York, and my house, as your friends and allies, and I hope that you will join me as we take these first brave steps. There is always some fear and uncertainty when change happens, but we must progress. I would hope that our independent organizations are able to maintain civil if not friendly working relationships, free from the infighting, politicking, and bureaucracy that we have all suffered through, and free from the specter of the Cabal hounding us at every opportunity.
No matter your choice, I wish you well in your future endeavors.
"I can't believe he did it," Henry growled. He angrily typed at his keyboard, revoking access from the Network's databases. More accounts kept popping up with each one he killed, like some kind of digital hydra.
"What?" Kelly, London's IT tech, asked. "That he defiled Uncle Ben's teachings or that he thought he could copy the whole Network's database?" The abnormal woman was a selkie with a thick Scottish accent. This week she had bright blue hair.
"I've just about locked them out of the rest of our finances," Priya said. The hood at her neck kept puffing out part way in a nervous tick. Over the secure video conference Henry could see the flash of fangs. "Done. I'm going to help stop that — "She cut herself off then began to mutter curses in Hindi under her breath. Priya had recruited New York's head of IT and was taking his defection personally. It was a defection, that much had been made clear by the counter measures New York was employing.
"Their email is cut from our network. I'm severing our external contracts with them. If Wexford wants to re-establish anything that's his problem," Mikal in Cairo spoke up. "I can't believe Tom would turn on us." Mikal was a normal human who'd fallen for a Jinn girl who worked for Pili.
"Tom's always been a bit of a showoff," Henry muttered. "But it's a stupid move."
"Agreed," Priya growled.
"Kinda busy here, Kate," Henry said, not taking his eyes off the screen. New York was doing it's best to break into their firewalls and take whatever they could before they were entirely severed from the rest of the network.
"Magnus is on her way back," Kate said, looking over her shoulder. "How's it going?"
"Can I rip his network down?" Priya asked, hissing more than usual. "Cut his utilities? Kill their finances?"
"Focus on the task at hand. Don't get fancy or we'll leave something open," Henry ordered.
"These systems weren't meant to be separated," Kelly groused.
Henry grimaced. He'd just spent the better part of a year fixing them so they couldn't be broken into. "Keep it together people. We've got to harden up before Tom can send any presents our way or make off with all our paychecks."
"I'll leave you to this... fun," Kate said, backing off.
Henry didn't hear her go.
Kate and her Old Friend met Helen at the door. John had teleported them just outside of the shield and both of them had hurried inside. Kate's arm was in a sling and Helen would have preferred she was still in bed, but it was likely she'd need Kate's help to coordinate if anything else.
"See that John has a meal and then goes to bed," Helen said nearly shoving John at her Old Friend. "He's exhausted."
"Helen, I am fine!"
"I'll see to it."
John glared up at her Old Friend.
Helen put a hand on his arm. "John, please."
He focused on her, inscrutable for a moment, then nodded mutely.
Helen squeezed his arm. "Thank you."
"Awesome. So, boss," Kate said, as she handed Helen a computer. They began to walk toward the elevators. "Hank's busy locking New York out of everything. He's got the global Nerd Herd doing a lot of technobabble. It seems to be going okay, but New York is trying to yank a copy of everyone's database and Hank said something about clusters."
"New York houses one of our data clusters."
"Hank said he backed it up."
Helen blinked. "He did?"
"Yeah, is that good?"
"It means we won't lose access to that data once we sever ties with New York." Helen felt sick saying it.
"So that's good?"
"It's something. What else?"
"Well, everyone is freaking out and Will is playing secretary again."
"The FBI agents?"
"Rescheduled," Kate said. "They left after we got word about New York."
"Do we have a time?"
"Penciled in for tomorrow."
"Well, we should have things sorted out one way or another by then," Helen said. She rubbed her temples.
"We repelled them. We almost had Mr. Wood, but they sent in a heavily armed extraction team before we could secure him. Maria is rebuilding a wall, and her network and utilities should be back momentarily if they aren't already. Perhaps twenty casualties."
"That sucks, but it could be worse. I've been keeping word of New York and Rio on the down low here. Helps that most people are asleep right now." She pressed the down button for Helen.
"Thank you, Kate."
Kate shrugged her good shoulder and entered the elevator with Helen.
Will fought the urge to rub his temples as the Heads of House fought over what to do next. At least they'd quickly come to the consensus that New York be severed from the rest of the network. Wexford was attempting to call everyone, but thus far, Henry and the other IT guys were blocking him. The order had come from Magnus over the phone. If anyone was independently speaking with Wexford, they weren’t admitting to it.
The relief he felt when Magnus walked into the room was a near-physical thing. She handed Kate the special Super-Abnormal weapon and removed a tactical vest and her side arm. Kate took those to the armory. Helen placed her hand on Will's shoulder and squeezed.
"Everyone," she said, stepping into the pickup area of the monitors. "Maria sends her regards and thanks you for your support." She nodded at Declan and Pili. "Your teams were key in our success. Thank you."
Will stepped back and ran a hand through his hair and over the back of his neck. It was going to be a long night.
Kate came downstairs the next morning, and she brought backup. She planted herself between Magnus, Will and the bank of monitors. "You. Bed." She ordered, looking from one to the other. "Now," she added when they didn't move.
"Kate, while I appreciate —"
"No. Bed. Now. You'll go or I'll have Biggie here pick you up and carry you there."
Will and Magnus frowned. Her Old Friend crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a very stern look.
"Kate," Will said.
Kate gave him an even look. "I'm armed."
"Nope. I even got Henry to take a nap. Tesla is back and babysitting the computers. Biggie and I got some shut eye so we'll hold the fort until you get some rest. The Feds are coming back this afternoon. Do either of you really want to have those conversations when you’re sleep deprived?"
Helen put a hand on Will's shoulder. "Perhaps a few hours rest would be beneficial. Everyone else has taken a break," she indicated the now silent monitors.
Will sagged like a deflated balloon. He nodded and trudged off toward the elevator. Helen handed her computer to Kate and smiled at her Old Friend. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, please wake me two hours before our guests are to arrive? I'd like some time to freshen up and eat."
They both nodded and Kate made a little shooing motion with her bad arm. "If either of us finds you're awake before four, we're drugging you." She smiled sweetly, but Helen could tell she was serious. There was concern under the bravado. Touched, Helen smiled warmly at her, and then did as she was told and went to bed.
Agent David Simms and his team arrived precisely on time. He appeared to be less distant than their first meeting, but he still wore professionalism like armor. Agent Angela Coulton, she noticed, didn't shake hands. Her expression was one of sympathy and she nodded politely to the group. Nikola whisked Baxter off almost as soon as the man had arrived. Helen was confident that Nikola could keep the man out of their network, and out of Henry's hair, until things were more secure. Agent Abigail Corrigan smiled cheerfully and seemed to be the happiest to be back, though Helen wasn't sure how much of that was curiosity and how much of that was Will.
"Dr. Magnus, my colleague and I have some questions for you, and your second. Agent Baxter has already gone with one of your technical advisors. Abby?"
Abby nodded and stepped up to Will with a notebook. "Is there a conference room or —?"
Will looked her way and Helen nodded. "The southeast sitting room should be free at this hour." Looking a little anxious, Will turned to Abby with a professional smile and escorted her away.
"Shall we go to my office?" Helen asked.
"Please," Simms said, indicating she should lead.
Helen led the way and watched the agents out of the corner of her eye. Simms looked around with seeming curiosity, though the intensity was far from casual. Will examined things like that, and if this agent was half as perceptive as Will was, she would need to tread carefully until she knew his ideology and orders better. A small frown had begun to form on Coulton's face. Helen caught the full effect as she held the door to her office open. It wasn't angry, which she supposed was good, but it was concerned. Simms seemed to notice too and the two agents exchanged a few brief words she couldn't catch. Helen took the opportunity to text her Old Friend to ask him to bring coffee and tea. They seated themselves around the coffee table and Helen asked.
"How bad was it?" Simms asked without preamble.
"I'm sorry?" The forward question caught Helen off guard, though she scolded herself for being surprised. Perhaps she needed more sleep… and a vacation. A long vacation.
"You said one of your network locations was hit by this terrorist organization. One in Brazil, I believe?"
"I can't help but notice that everything seems much more subdued around here," Coulton said.
Helen weighed how much she could, or should, say. "Rio was attacked," she said. "In this case, a mercenary force was contracted by this organization. We know they were involved because they have a special operative they frequently send against us. This operative was rendered unconscious, but they sent in a special extraction team. They were positively identified as being Cabal forces."
"Tell us about this Cabal," Simms directed.
Helen bristled for a moment, but forced herself to become calm. Lashing out wouldn't help. She took a moment to gather her thoughts.
"It sounds like something out of a bad movie or perhaps a conspiracy theory, but I assure you they are very real." She took a breath and let it out slowly. "You've seen the beings here?"
"Bigfoot was quite pleasant to converse with," Agent Coulton said with a hint of a smile.
Helen's lips quirked. "He can be a bit gruff but he's a gentle soul." She continued, "The Cabal is an organization that seeks to profit from abnormals, and unlike my own, they don't particularly care who they hurt or how they achieve their goals. They have the money and the power to cover their misdeeds. Speaking as a scientist, I find their methods to be highly unethical at best." She forced the fist that had formed to relax. "Dr. Zimmerman can personally attest to their unsanctioned human experimentation. My Old Friend was infected by a virus of their making which nearly killed him. They are responsible for the assassination of a colleague of mine in Indonesia." Helen swallowed. "They killed my daughter."
Coulton rocked back a little, as if she'd be socked in the gut. Helen caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and studied the agent thoughtfully. She composed herself quickly, but Helen saw the fist she was making around her pen.
Simms clicked his pen. "Let's start at the beginning then. When did you first come into contact with them?"
"It was by accident," Helen said, watching them both carefully. She was being studied too, she knew. They appeared sympathetic, and though Helen was loath to place herself in debt to any government or agency, allies were few and far between these days. "We were investigating rumors in Scotland. It was supposed to be a routine trip, but it became anything but... "
Helen watched Simms as she recounted their first exposure to the Cabal, when she, Ashley, and Will had discovered the Morrigan. Simms in turn checked with Agent Coulton's reaction every so often. At first Helen wondered if perhaps she was new and he was unsure about his rookie, but then Helen realized that wasn't the case. Helen switched her focus to Coulton. She was very good at keeping her face neutral but there were small signs beneath the surface, easier to see if one were looking for them.
As Helen's story came to the part where Ashley had died, Helen noticed the Agent seemed to be fighting back tears. Helen herself felt that way.
"Perhaps we should take a break," she indicated the coffee and tea that had been left.
Coulton got up and paced to the shuttered window without a word. Helen let out a breath and faced Simms.
"She's an empath."
Steve was up and about for an early dinner. He nodded at Will politely as he carried his plate of burritos and bag of funions. Chuck followed with cups and a bottle of soda. One of the satyrs trailed behind, carefully balancing a plate of nachos. They looked a bit determined. Will realized they were likely going to watch something together and had decided they'd have a normal evening despite the chaos. Abby watched them with round eyes.
"So, you all seem to be taking this rather well," Will remarked as they continued down the hall.
"It's a lot," Abby admitted. "Uhm, before, you talked about this stuff. Back at Quantico, I mean."
Will nodded. "Yeah. Got me kicked out of the Bureau, but I ended up here." He shrugged a shoulder. "I think I can do a lot of good here." And in learning the truth, he had settled some very old fears.
"What do you do here?"
"Same thing I used to do. Profile cases for Dr. Magnus and evaluate patients. There's some conflict resolution and occasionally a little bit of counseling."
"Sounds like you keep busy."
Will chuckled and held the door open for her. "Well you'll find that Magnus has us all wear a lot of different hats. I'm nowhere near as good as A – as good as she is in the field, but I like to think I get by."
"You paused there a moment." Abby took a seat and smiled pleasantly, waiting for him to fill in the details.
Will knew that smile. He used it often enough. Will sighed and sat in the opposite seat. "I was going to say I wasn't as good as Ash in the field. Ashley was Dr. Magnus' daughter." He nodded towards the outside wall. "The people we're in conflict now —"
"The Cabal, you called them."
"Yeah. They killed Ashley."
"Killed her?" Abby blinked. "Was this reported?"
Will winced and rubbed the back of his head. "It's a little more complicated than a simple murder, but that's essentially what they did." He and Magnus had discussed what they would and would not say. Now that the FBI was involved it was better to deal with it as best as they could and be up front about certain aspects. Magnus reasoned it might keep them from becoming too nosey.
"Maybe you should explain," she said, eyes narrowing slightly. She wasn't looking at him the same way anymore. Maybe she hadn't been the whole time and the good-natured cheer had been a front. In either case, Will needed to say something before she got the wrong idea.
"If you look her up, you'll find that Dr. Magnus has started the procedure for having her declared missing as a precursor for having her... for having her legally declared dead."
"But you said they killed —"
Will held up a hand. "I did. Just let me explain. It's complicated, remember?"
Abby settled back a little and made a little gesture for him to continue.
Will took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he told her the whole story of the Cabal, starting with his experience as a hulked out prize fighter and then their larger attack. He explained about the virus, but avoided calling it "biological warfare", because that was a buzzword that could kick over a hornet's nest they wanted no part of. He explained that in an effort to gather more information on how to counteract the virus, Ashley and Henry had been captured, tortured, and allowed to escape so Ashley could somehow be recalled after stealing valuable Sanctuary secrets.
"I don't know exactly what they did to her," Will said, looking into the distance just off Abby's shoulder. "I've been trying to decide if it was hypnosis, or something I haven't ever seen before, or if they had some kind of abnormal controlling her like a puppet."
"You don't think she would have gone over on her own then?"
"No.” There was no doubt on that. “Never. Not Ashley. Speaking as one professional to another, that's just not in her profile. There was some external factor at work."
Abby nodded. "Okay. What then?"
"We saw her six weeks later and she was... Different. I wasn't even sure any of Ashley was left. They did a lot to her." Will grimaced. "You've seen the studies of people captured by cults or the kids taken in by armies or gangs? It was worse than that. No recognition, no reaction, no personality. Just her orders. I have never seen brainwashing like that, Abby. It was like someone had taken this energetic, brash, impulsive, funny kid, and replaced her with a focused attack dog."
"Dr. Magnus' daughter?"
Will nodded. "And that wasn't the worst."
Abby blanched. "It wasn't?"
Will shook his head. He told her briefly about what they'd done to the others who'd been kidnapped. He paused then told her about the attacks on the other Sanctuaries, leaving out the teleporting and the word "Vampire." because that would just derail the conversation.
"They attacked London and... We tried to stop them by luring them into a trap." Will rubbed his hands together.
"She died there?"
"You lost someone else there."
Will looked up at her. "We lost a lot of good people there," he correctly, voice gentle. He took a minute to study his hands, regain composure and think about what he'd say next. He knew he was being studied and that she could read between the lines about as well as he could. He didn't care. It felt good to share the secrets with someone else.
"They were able to escape London, but we took some heavy casualties. A good friend of mine was killed trying to buy the rest of us time to set up for them." He let out a shaky breath. He couldn’t quite bring himself to say Clara’s name out loud, even if talking about everything was helping him immensely. "We came home and then they attacked us here, thinking they could kill the whole network if they won. They almost did."
He explained the events of that day briefly, before coming to the end of Ashley's life. "We have an energy shield around the Sanctuary. It prevents certain dangerous abnormals from getting in or out. Ashley regained enough control she was able to drag another victim through this shield before she lost control again and killed her own mother." Will looked up at Abby. "There wasn't a body to bury."
Abby swallowed and nodded. "And Magnus had already reported her missing, hoping the regular authorities could help you search for her."
Will nodded, looking at his hands again. "They killed her. She wouldn't have done any of those things willingly, and when she was able to fight off control, she eliminated the threat to her family. That's the Ashley Magnus I knew, not the automaton. It – She sacrificed herself for the good of others, but she wouldn't have been in that situation if the Cabal hadn't left her no other choice."
A moment of reflective silence fell between them. Will couldn't help but recall all the other casualties of the war since its beginning.
"Dr. Magnus must have taken her daughter's death very hard."
Will's lips thinned. He nodded. "It hurt. She didn't get much time to grieve before our facility in Berlin was firebombed." He looked up at her. "But as much as she'd love to see these people go down, it's not her white whale. She's devastated, what parent wouldn't be? But she's resolved to make sure that everyone else is safe." He shrugged a shoulder. "I think it's what Ash would have wanted. Yeah," he chuckled, "She would have kicked some ass too, but only so far as it made sure her family was safe."
"What's happened since then?" she asked.
Will rubbed at his eyes. "Oh, what hasn't happened?"
"Just start with what happened next."
Will gave her a wry look. "You're playing therapist?"
Abby shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe a little. You look like you need to talk about it all and I get the full and complete profile."
"You still think we're a danger to the country?"
Abby shook her head. "No. Dr. Magnus is in good standing and the word from on high was to check the situation out. If someone in her network cried wolf, well, there's probably some kind of wolf there."
"You're surprised?" She frowned a little. "And suspicious."
"You don't know the year we've had."
Abby flipped to a new page in her notebook. "So tell me."
Will thought for a moment, then nodded. "If it helps us get some breathing room." He blew out a breath. "So, that blitz attack shocked everyone. Ash… Ash hauled the operative with her into the shield. The explosion... "
"What happened after that?" Abby asked, prompting him to move forward in his narrative.
Will winced, remembering Magnus crying. She never cried, at least not so openly. Like seeing a parent cry, it was upsetting on a fundamental level. He was fairly numb to it now, but the incoherent loss still made his insides twist.
"Their last operative escaped."