Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Gardner nodded, already absorbed in something on his screen. Then he looked up quickly. “Drake, Marion.”
They both turned, paused in the doorway. Gardner took them in a moment, an unlikely team: Tall, young, muscular, darkly handsome Drake, the ex-Navy SEAL was a great man for action, like a well-built staircase without much in the attic; and Marion, the middle-aged mother of four, somewhat dowdy in her slacks and sweater with her short-trimmed, grey-shot mom hair, but a crack shot with that Desert Eagle of hers and a regional karate champion, as well as one of their sharpest team members. Drake did the heavy lifting in their partnership, but Marion invariably told him what to lift, and where to put it.
“I almost forgot to tell you two that N.U.N.S. is providing network security for the World Business and Energy Conference. We expect protests, not as violent as the WTO protests a few years ago, but I’d like you two to be up there prepared for whatever might happen.”
They both nodded. “Any particular time we need to make an appearance?” Marion asked, clearly thinking of her longhand notes and the shooting practice she and Drake had planned.
“Take your time,” her boss answered, “We don’t expect any trouble until the afternoon.”
“Yes, sir.” They both departed with no further ado, leaving Gardner to stare at his blank screen and think about when this unknown group would decide to stop playing around with stoplights and dams and really use that insidious back door they had planted. He shivered. N.U.N.S. would still be able to operate if they lost power—their own generator should power them for quite some time—but what would the point of a network security agency be if there was no network?
Standing in the shooting range, Drake and Marion had just finished their first round and were changing clips. Drake looked over the partition towards his partner. “So what’s this World Conference thing?”
“It’s the World Business and Energy Conference,” corrected the older woman, not looking up from reloading her favorite weapon, the Benelli M4 Super 90, a 12 gauge, semiautomatic Italian combat shotgun favored by the United States Marine Corps. She rarely got to use it in the field, tending to carry the less conspicuous Desert Eagle in her large purse, but she diligently maintained her skill with the larger weapon nonetheless. “It’s a gathering of world business and political leaders. They’re supposed to talk about various boring treaties and trade agreements, but they’re also covering some more controversial topics.”
“What topics?” Drake had long reloaded and was ready to resume shooting, but he hesitated to put his earmuffs back on. Marion’s information could prove crucial when they went up top.
“Most interestingly, they’re talking about energy practices in big factories—what big manufacturing plants should be doing, if anything, to reduce their environmental impact. This is a global conference, but many influential businessmen from the United States will be attending, and they really set the bar for other countries. China and India in particular will keep a close eye on the proceedings to see what kind of energy and environmental standards they’ll have to adhere to in order to compete in the business world in the future. If the US demands weak standards—which we have in the past—China and India will be able to continue using environmentally dirty practices without any significant repercussions.” She finished reloading and took up her shooting stance. “Of course, we’ll just have to see what happens. Popular opinion seems to be turning in favor of companies that at least give a nod to doing business without destroying the environment.”
Drake nodded thoughtfully, leaning against the partition between them. “So this is a pretty big deal, huh?”
“Sure is.” Marion pulled her earmuffs on and sighted through the ghost ring at her distant target. Drake followed suit, hurriedly pulling on his ear protection. The shooting range got remarkably loud, being totally enclosed as it was.
When they had decimated enough paper men and heckled one another enough for their “bad” shots, the partners cleaned their weapons and prepared to go out into the world and act like normal people. Drake checked his little pearl-handled Derringer, Marion felt for the comforting coolness of her Desert Eagle, and the nodded at one another. “Ready?”
“Ready.” Then again, Drake was always ready—it was Marion who always needed those few extra things. He could not understand her predilection for bringing, say, Kleenex everywhere, or lip gloss, or string, or tiny digital camera, or a pad of paper. All Drake ever needed was his wallet, keys, and pistol.
“Let’s go, then. Remember, we’re just tourists, right?”
“You betcha.” Drake followed Marion up the steep stairs and out into the noisome alley that was their front porch. Looking out into the street, he suppressed a gasp of surprise. Why, the crowds were packed in on both sidewalks and into the street, and now three quarters of them wore those green shirts.
“Whoa Nelly,” he heard Marion murmur. Keeping an eye on suspicious activity wouldn’t be quite as straightforward as they might have hoped with all these people filling the streets. She shifted her purse to a more readily accessible position, smoothed her face into an expression of bland interest, and strode out into the crowd without a backward glance. Drake would take care of her back.
Out among the pressing crowds, Drake tried to keep close to his shorter partner and thanked his lucky stars he was taller than most of the people around. At least he was able to keep her head in view most of the time, but sometimes large protest signs obscured her—signs screaming in all-capitals letters slogans such as “CLEAN MANUFACTURING IS GREEN MANUFACTURING,” “Give Us A Break,” accompanied by a picture of some fish in a hideously yellowish-brown stream, and “Boycott Dirty Business.”
Suddenly Drake realized he had lost sight of Marion among the pushing crowds, and his heart sank. Where was she? Keeping cool, he scanned the area, thinking like Marion. If she couldn’t see him, she would have placed herself somewhere he would see… Ah, there she was. She had taken shelter in the indented doorway of a nearby tobacco and gun shop. Drake carefully slid through the crowd, politely murmuring, “Excuse me, pardon me, ’scuze me,” as he squeezed among the tightly-packed people. Some of the protesters gave him angry glances or comments, but mostly they tried to give him room to pass through.
Drake felt much better when he rejoined Marion in the small doorway. “Sorry, lost you there for a second,” he said as he wedged himself nearby.
“Keep closer, OK? I don’t want us to get separated,” she admonished, and Drake just nodded ruefully. He should not have lost sight of her in the first place—in fact, should not have let such a large gap develop between them. He, too, felt more secure with his partner nearby. Marion looked out, scanning the crowd, and commented, “They don’t seem particularly angry or anything.”
“Not yet,” Drake agreed dubiously. “But it can’t hurt to keep a sharp eye out. These things can go from perfectly peaceful to frighteningly violent in the blink of an eye.”
They moved out again, chatt
ering like tourists—“Oh, look, there’s the Seattle Public Library. What weird architecture!” “Is this close to the Pike Place Market? Do they really throw fish there?” “Do you suppose the Space Needle really has a revolving restaurant at the top?”—but their eyes darted warily, judging the mood carefully. As they walked, they approached an open area near Westlake Center at 4th and Pine where the crowd pressed even more tightly together than before. Up ahead, in a normally wide open space, Drake could see a man with a megaphone standing on something—a crate of some sort?—and shouting. They could not make out the words yet, but Marion tapped his arm.
“We should see if we can get closer. The people here seem a little more…agitated than other places. You go first and I’ll follow.”
Drake took the lead, using his bulk to press through the crowd, but never failing to say, “Excuse me, can we please get through here?” or “Pardon me, do you mind if we get by?” The people still let them get through, but more sullenly, with less grace. They never said nice things back to Drake, and some of them held their ground and just ignored him.
Coming up to the front of the crowd, Drake and Marion saw a thick patch of green T-shirts and hats, all emblazoned with the EarthFirst! logo, grouped around the speaker. Now they could easily hear him:
“…These dirty business practices don’t only hurt the air, the earth, and the water! They are poisoning the Earth’s inhabitants, our brothers and sisters—the eagles whose egg shells are too thin, so they break before the eaglets can hatch. The salmon that can’t make it to their spawning grounds because of dams, culverts, and other human activities. The coral dying of overheating because of the heated spumes of waste water coming from factories. The whales whose hearing is damaged by our use of sonar. The millions of Amazonian species we don’t even know about yet that are being pushed slowly back and back as farmers slash and burn their way into the rainforest. The spotted owls that are losing their habitat to logging right here in the Pacific Northwest!
“My friends, this isn’t only harmful—it’s immoral! We have to show these businessmen and -women that we won’t stand for their running roughshod over the Earth anymore! We need to show them that we don’t want their factories! We don’t want their industry! We want to live as mankind lived for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution—in harmony with Nature, not locked in an endless cycle of destruction.”
The speaker paused dramatically, lowering the megaphone and taking a sip of bottled water. Drake drew a breath. He found himself agreeing with this megaphone man, sympathizing with the helpless little animals that were being killed by these evil corporations. It really did seem wrong to be hurting them with big, polluting industry. Drake thought of the salmon he had seen struggling up the fish ladder as he washed down the Grand Coulee Dam. Those poor things probably never even had a chance; and what about the few that did manage to lay eggs—what about their little babies? How would they get back to the ocean? Surreptitiously, Drake wiped a tear from his eye. He wanted to help. Then the speaker, apparently refreshed, shouted:
“NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT!” The crowd cheered, surging in, almost crushing Marion and Drake against the speaker’s green-clad entourage. “We don’t need big corporations or their products! LET’S LIVE AS PEOPLE ARE SUPPOSED TO! It’s our moral responsibility to live like our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom, in equilibrium with Nature.” More cheers. Marion put her hand into her purse, feeling around for the cold metal of her pistol. EarthFirst! had been known to get violent in the past, and this group was getting extremely excited. She also nudged Drake in the ribs rather hard—he seemed to be getting absorbed the talk as much as anybody else.
“Live free of corporations! Live by our hands, in balance with nature! No more traffic jams and CO2! No more gigantic power plants spewing NOx, COx, SOx into the atmosphere!” More cheering, lots of cheering. A young man in the shadow of the speaker caught Marion’s eye. He had a laptop open and looked very absorbed. He kept glancing up at the speaker, as if expecting a cue. The speaker shouted, “It’s time to act now! Let big business know—No more dependence on power sources that destroy Nature!” and suddenly, shockingly, all the lights for several blocks along completely shut off in a darkening cascade along both sides of the street. Business went dark, windows suddenly becoming mirrors. The speaker continued hollering into his megaphone, but he was drowned out by the crowds yelling and screaming, but Marion was already moving, dragging the absorbed Drake along.
“Drake,” she shouted over the tumult, “We’ve got to get that guy—those guys!” Laptop boy had seen Marion obviously pushing through towards him. He immediately slammed the computer shut, hurled it into a bag, and slung it across his shoulder. His friend, another clean-shaven, harmless-looking young man in an EF! T-shirt, started helping clear a path for the laptop operator, shoving roughly through the milling crowds, Laptop boy following closely in his wake.
“We’ve got to get them!” Marion yelled into Drake’s ear, and he nodded alertly.
“I’ll get us through.” His voice’s rumble carried beneath the general chaos. Marion stepped into the lee of Drake’s path, allowing him to move snowplow-like through the excited people. In the background, Drake heard a smash of a plate glass window. Now people were running all over the place, throwing rocks, waving signs, and shouting about bringing down big evil corporations.
Fortunately for Drake and Marion, the crowd actually began thinning out a bit at that point. Many of the more peaceful gatherers faded unobtrusively onto side streets, slipping away to bus stations and nearby parking lots to avoid real trouble. This allowed Drake, with Marion right behind, to move more and more quickly, dashing after the duo up Pine Street towards Nordstrom, Pacific Place, and a greater crowd density. Soon Drake was running all-out, settling into his endurance pace that had won him 10 K races in the past. He kept his eyes locked on the two youths ahead of him, the one with a computer flailing awkwardly against his back. He didn’t notice Marion slowly dropping behind, or hear her cell phone ringing insistently.
When Marion’s cell phone started its irritating jangle, she thought about not answering. Normally, she could keep up with Drake, at least for the short-term; but this ring was Amanda’s, and Amanda almost never called her. It was probably an emergency, but this was an emergency too! In a split-second decision, Marion slowed to a fast walk and flipped open her phone.
“Hi, honey, what’s wrong?” She couldn’t keep the anxiety out of her voice. Drake was keeping a close tail on the two young men, and it looked like the one with a laptop was being hindered by the computer banging around his legs.
“Mom, I like totally forgot my Chemistry homework? And it’s like 40% of my grade?” Amanda sounded near tears, but Marion could hardly stifle her tsk of annoyance.
“Sorry, dear,” she said in her sternest mother voice. “You need to be responsible for your own homework, and if you forgot it… I can’t cover for you this time.”
“But Moooom! I’ll fail!” The hysterics were clear in her teenage daughter’s voice now; Amanda hit a pitch usually reserved for shattering glass and driving dogs insane. Marion had lost Drake in the crowd now, but she had seen him turn onto 7th Avenue in a quick flail that caught her attention. Marion turned onto 5th Avenue and walked briskly to parallel his course, trying to keep available to help her partner.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she t
old her tearful daughter, “but I can’t bail you out. I’m in the middle—” A crash of glass nearby, accompanied by angry shouting, pulled her attention to her immediate surroundings. Things were starting to get a little out of hand down here, and she couldn’t afford to have her attention diverted with teenage disasters. “I have to go,” Marion told her in a very brisk, businesslike tone. “I’ll see you tonight. Good luck, dear.” And before her daughter could protest, Marion snapped her phone shut and jogged through broken glass, trying to act unobtrusive as police moved through crowds…
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.