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[Fiction] Dying Thunder


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“This situation is completely unacceptable.”

Without looking up from the dossier, the forcibly calm voice continued.

“I was assured by your people, Torbuld, that the psychological profile of the subject all but guaranteed another episode by this point. And what exactly has he done since his return last December? Precisely nothing. He has been a model citizen. No attempted rapes. No attacks of any sort. Not so much as an airspace infraction.”

“Sir,” the head of Psy-Ops offered in a defensive voice, “nova psychology is still not an exact science, but we have every reason to believe that he will eventually…”

“Eventually?” Dr. Torbuld flinched at the interruption. Despite the even tone, he knew just how grave the situation was when the Director actually interrupted someone in mid-sentence; it was one of the man’s defining personality characteristics. “We do not have until ‘eventually,’ Doctor.” He tapped the manila folder twice in rapid succession. “We are well past the point of dangerous indicators, and this business has been allowed to proceed entirely too long. In case your department has been asleep for the past six months, let me remind you that what we are seeing here is full-fledged India Syndrome… and we are seeing it in the United States. This isn’t some third-world backwater; in the heart of a first-world nation, there is a growing cult worshipping – out-and-out worshipping – a nova, and said nova is reveling in this role.”

“If I may, sir,” a woman’s voice said. “The majority of this cult is an indigenous population that has long existed at the fringe of American society. That said, we have seen some disturbing trends in the surrounding mainstream population. As conditions improve on the reservation, there’s a certain amount of jealousy, as might be expected… but there are also a surprising number of non-indigenous converts. Given the surprising strides that have been made so far at Pine Ridge, and the poor economic conditions in the upper Plains states, we could be looking at a significant portion of southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming turning to this cult as a means of hope. From the latest indications, the subject would be happy to have them, so long as they pledge themselves to this ‘Old Ways’ doctrine he and his wife have been touting. Speaking of which, we have every reason to believe that, despite her seeming position of co-leadership, his wife is effectively a victim of his cult. My department is of the opinion that if the primary subject can be removed from the situation, she will be unable to maintain the cult; simply put, without him, she has neither the power nor the inclination to continue as a godhead.”

Torbuld threw a look across the table at his colleague. For her part, Dr. Buechel stayed focused on the Director, her eyes not so much as darting in Tobuld’s direction. She still felt his eyes on her, though, and from long association, she knew what he was thinking. They all break eventually, he had told her during one of his moments of frustration, and when they do, they keep breaking. The lot of them are fundamentally unstable, and it’s just a matter of plotting out the behaviors. No doubt, he was still fuming that his careful analyses and calculations had fallen short in this case.

The old man sighed, his first overt expression of emotion in the meeting, however slight. “Legal,” he asked, “I already know the answer, but does your department have anything helpful to offer?”

“No, sir.” Much younger than the others gathered, the head of Intergovernmetal Affairs was visibly nervous as he delivered the bad news. “The subject has, as you said, been a model citizen ever since his return. And courtesy of the level of liberties granted to anything calling itself a religion in the U.S., there’s nothing we can really use to force Washington’s hand on shutting him down. I’m sorry, sir.”

Surprisingly compassionate eyes looked at the young man from over the dossier. “Nothing to be done for it; I certainly know as well as you the legal roadblocks that operations can run into in America.” He sighed again, then turned to the newest face at the table. “Operations?”

Despite the best materials, there was an audible creak as the Deputy Director of Operations turned to face his boss. Every effort had been made by Medical to provide him with as close to a full range of mobility as possible, and the goal had been met, but the exoskeletal rig was not silent. Still, it was better than what he would likely have experienced without the organization’s support in his recuperation and therapy; without the rig and banks of implants, the damage to his spinal column would have left him a helpless quadriplegic.

“As we know, the subject is remarkably resilient. This is, after all, a nova who survived being skinned alive by his own claws. The subject has also proven resistant to any number of supposedly Titan-level inhibiting agents, as the Windy City Knights discovered during his brief stay with them. In short, containment is out of the question.

“Now, with that out of the way, a number of termination methods have been considered. Again, the problem is one of resilience; he can take pretty much anything our field agents can dish out. We really only have one option here.” An option that should have been taken a year and a half ago, he thought to himself, before you idiots stopped me. A seething rage started to build within the Deputy Director, but he clamped down on it with an effort; it would do no good, and anyway, he was about to have his revenge.

The reply was not news to anyone at the table. That fact did nothing to clear the sense of gloom it created from the air. After long moments, Director Harris broke the silence. “Very well.” A half-dozen pairs of eyes stared at him with as many different emotions.

“Some ground rules, however. Not in a populated area. No baseline human collateral damage. No targeting beyond the subject. And no apologies to the U.S. government, Legal; work with Intelligence to put together something that shows that time was of the essence, but stand your ground when they voice their complaints. They signed on with us; they can defer to our judgment regarding what is and is not an imminent threat.”

He let it sink in, then: “You all know your parts. Operations, proceed. And remember, Grayson: I will not tolerate any violation of the ground rules.”

Within his carbon fiber exoskeleton and the broken body therein, Deputy Director Mark Grayson grinned a maniac grin.

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Everything in its place. That was the guiding philosophy behind the office of Sheriff William WhiteElk. The graying man sat behind an uncluttered desk, flanked by shelves bearing codebooks and mementos of over a quarter-century of service in tribal law enforcement.

Right now, the two people sitting across from him – people from two of William’s least favorite acronyms – were discussing something that was very much out of place.

“So you see, Sheriff,” said the man with credentials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “this situation has really gotten to the point where something needs to be done. And that’s why I spoke with Special Agent Graham about bringing this to you. Her people believe that we can bring this to a resolution with a minimum of trouble. I’ve heard her plan, and it makes sense. But we really need to have you onboard to make this go smoothly.”

“Thank you, Special Agent Merriam.” A carefully earnest smile played across Janis Graham’s face; there was still some lingering distrust in the Sheriff, she knew, but said distrust was focused much more on the face value of her FBI badge, rather than the false credentials backing it up. “My office has the means to effect an arrest in a safe fashion for Mr. ThunderHawk. The problem is that what is safe for him isn’t safe for a baseline… and for that reason, we think it would be best if we can convince Mr. ThunderHawk to come to a pre-determined and prepared location. We’ll be more than happy to provide you with additional manpower to make certain that the location is clear of bystanders for the duration. But a key factor here is the need for secrecy; as I’m sure you know, most of your department sympathizes with Mr. ThunderHawk.

“In fact, we are aware of your own sympathies in that matter,” the Directive agent continued, “and so I hope you understand that we are putting our necks on the line in trying to work with you on this. But what it really comes down to is that we don’t want any innocents getting hurt when we bring him in. If were very lucky, he might be cooperative enough with us that he can be released before anyone beyond the scope of this operation is aware he was gone, though we certainly can’t count on such an optimistic outcome.

“That said, we also know that, unlike those other members of your department, you are not a subscriber to the Cult of Wakinyan.”

William WhiteElk sighed. “No matter how much I like Daniel, no matter how long I’ve been a friend of the family, you’re right. I care for the boy… but I don’t and can’t worship him. It’s just… wrong. And it’s doing things to my tribe that.…” He sagged slightly, and for a moment looked twenty years beyond his true fifty-three. “He’s turning the spirit of the whole tribe away from true faith.”

With practiced ease, Janis turned what should have been a smirk of victory into something that all but the sharpest judges of emotion would mistake as a gentle smile of sympathy. “For what it’s worth, Sheriff, I wish we didn’t have to put you through this. But we’re dealing with a particularly difficult case here, in that Mr. ThunderHawk has a marked distrust for law enforcement officers other than yourself. And I know that we’re asking you to betray that trust. I can only say that what we ask you to do is what you already know it to be: for the good, not just of the Pine Ridge Reservation, but the entire Lakota tribe.”

“Now, here’s what we’re hoping to do….”

As William listened, he had to admit that it was a solid plan. Daniel would be sure to respond, and given the limited road access, it wouldn’t be difficult to keep civilians out until afterward. The gadgetry the pretty young FBI agent described certainly sounded feasible enough, especially after she mentioned that some of the powerhouses from Project Utopia had help in the testing; if something could hold Pax safely, it could hold what Daniel ThunderHawk had become… he hoped.

“So,” asked straight-laced BIA imposter Mirriam, “are you onboard with us on this?”

Afterward, Sheriff William WhiteElk would be surprised at how quickly he made his decision. This was the sort of question that should have produced several minutes of anxious consideration of moral quandaries. But the truth of the matter was that his mind was made up before Agent Graham had finished the technical description. For the tribe, for the People…

“I’m on board.”

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*Hawk says someone’s coming.*

Wakinyan smiled as the words came into his mind. *I know, tawicu; I see the Jeep from up here. It’s just Sheriff WhiteElk, love; you can go back to sleep.* Indeed, looking down from the peak of the sacred mountain he had claimed as a home, sharp eyes the size of saucers watched the Sheriff’s vehicle snake its way up the twisted, treacherous road that led to the cave, a cloud of dust trailing behind.

Through the link that his mate had forged with him so long ago, the mighty thunderbird felt a series of hacking coughs tear through her fragile body as she sent what amounted to wordless thanks. With concern, he felt her try to settle back into what had been passing for sleep before her animal friend’s mental cry of warning. The smile fell from his beak, replaced with a concerned frown as he was given just one more sad reminder today of the truth about the “nova” who called herself Ptesan-Wi.

She had been ministering to the needs of a sick family three days ago, in one of the farther corners of the Pine Ridge Reservation; by the time she had finished the long flight home to Inyan Kara on her bentwood-and-leather “snowshoe”, he could see – and feel – that there was something wrong. By that night, she was down with a fever; by the next morning, it was clear that she had something that no nova would ever experience: the flu.

Carefully and quietly closing the link as he had learned to do over the two years the pair had spent together, some fourteen feet and two tons of griffin gave a heavy sigh. Wakinyan had always been careful to tell Ptesan-Wi that it didn’t matter to him that she was what she was, whether it be an “anti-nova” as Alchemist had postulated or a “mesmerist” as Samhra had conveyed or something else entirely. But always, there was a small measure of sadness and worry, one that he kept – he hoped – away from the reaches of the link. That she could never bear him a nova child – or any child at all, without Neil’s generously offered help – bothered him, but not as much as his other fear. For the past decade, nova medical research had come to the same conclusion, one that the huge griffin’s physiology fit to a tee: that massively healthy novas, those which were almost iron-like in their stamina, could reasonably expect to live for centuries to millennia. But what of Ptesan-Wi? Would she remain young and spry and by his side through the ages, or would he have to watch his love, his tawicu, grow old and die in his arms? This illness of hers hinted darkly at the latter.

The great beast who had once been Daniel ThunderHawk spread mighty wings and caught Wakan Tanka’s breath, soaring into the blue skies above Inyan Kira, circling his beloved home – and the home of his beloved – before sweeping in a broad arc to intercept the vehicle while it was still far from the cave. Ptesan-Wi was not taking visitors, and it was a ruse that Wakinyan was willing to help maintain. Illness was deeply frustrating to her; it served as an all-too visible reminder of her genetic reality, but more than that, it vexed the self-identity that she had developed since her mate’s return home. Goddesses don’t take ill, she had said, and neither should I. Our People cannot know about this, that I have not yet stepped above this weak flesh. Wakinyan had frowned at that; he knew by now that the death of a local boy, a rapist of Lakota girls, at her hands had torn at her soul, and that this decision of hers that she really was the White Buffalo Calf Woman, returned to usher in the Fifth World, was the scar tissue that had formed over the brutal wound. None of that changed his longing for the innocent, wide-eyed girl he had come to know and love a scant two years past.

Sheriff WhiteElk braked the Jeep to a rough stop; a cloud of dust swept past and farther up the trail for a bit, unconvinced of any merit in this ‘stopping’ business. Huge wings swept the stubborn motes scattering a moment later, and Wakinyan settled to a remarkably graceful landing scant feet from the car. The occupant was treated to a sight seldom seen, as the incredible creature before him seemed to shimmer, an iridescent sheen washing over it as it wavered and then shrank in his sight, reforming as a young Lakota man wearing denim and a familiar, easy grin.

“Nice to see you again, Daniel,” William WhiteElk called out as he stepped from the Jeep, dedication and pride doing its best to hide a wince at pain in his legs and back, pain that had grown more pronounced on long drives these past few years. “Don’t get this particular treat all that often these days; wish I was bringing better news to greet it.”

Wakinyan may have looked like Daniel, but there was no belying an inhuman grace as he stepped forward to take and shake William’s hand; even in this human-like seeming, he was still every inch the god that he had been for years now. “Hope it’s not about that keg, Sheriff,” he joked. For the past few years, Wakinyan had taken to sweeping down to the nearby tribal store and snatching a keg of beer when the thirst took him; despite the payment that always followed, he was still technically underaged, and even on the reservation, the laws had not yet caught up to the reality of the new gods that walked the earth.

William managed a snorting chuckle at that before shaking his head. “No, nothing quite that good, I’m afraid.” His eyes looked past Wakinyan, coming to settle on the peak of the sacred mountain behind him. “There’s an anti-Indian group – bunch of white supremacists, really – that are going to do a ‘commemoration’ of the acquittal of General Nelson Miles… and they’re gonna do it at Wounded Knee. Bastards snuck the permits through quietly with the BIA; with things as they are, I didn’t get them on my desk until a couple hours ago. But the words already out, and I think some of your young… ‘braves’ are going to show up in a counterdemonstration.” Distaste played across the Sheriff’s face; if Daniel took it for his feelings about white racists, or even the young Lakota that were calling themselves Wakinyan’s Braves, so much the better.

Wakinyan/Daniel nodded. “You’re thinking I should head over there, give a reminder – to both groups – that turning to violence would be a really bad idea.”

For his part, William managed a grim smile. “For someone who didn’t stay in school, you’re pretty sharp, Daniel. That was pretty much my idea. Go show the flag, and it might keep everyone calm. Hell, it might convince those bastards that this whole thing wasn’t so good an idea, and send them packing.”

“So when is this happening?” The young nova’s concern was obvious; he was dedicated to trying to keep the peace, WhiteElk knew… and the old Sheriff hated himself for having to do this.

Looking at his watch, the old man said, “Three o’clock; you’ve got just about an hour to get there. Sorry I couldn’t let you have more lead time, but you know how little the BIA thinks of bringing me up to speed on things like this in anything resembling time… and with the explosive nature of this thing, I didn’t want to call it up to you over the phone.” And they know just how long it takes you to fly there, Daniel, and want you there on their schedule. A sickening pain that grew in Sheriff WhiteElk’s heart had nothing to do with the long drive or the losing battle with age.

The young man – the young nova that had once been a boy named Daniel – looked at William for a long moment with his glowing blue orbs, and finally caught the older man’s eyes. The Sheriff felt like all of his shame, his anger, his dismay at what had to be done here today was like blazing neon in his eyes, almost feared that the young man – or maybe his increasingly alien ‘wife’ – was looking into his soul, and that all of this was for nothing but a final loss of friendship.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity under that deep azure gaze, Daniel nodded, even as he began to waver and grow into the majestic, inhuman creature that was Wakinyan once more. “I know it was hard for you to come to me with this, Sheriff, but thank you for trusting me with it. I don’t have much time, so I’d better go. Thanks.” Enormous wings spread once more, and the mighty thunderbird took to the Dakota sky once more, circling the mountain once before flying off like a shot to the east.

Watching him leave, Sheriff William WhiteElk thought about Wakinyan’s last words. For the life of him, he couldn’t say whether the nova knew the truth of the situation; his parting words could have worked either way. But for the first time in many long years, an old man felt something stir in his soul, and felt distantly familiar wetness form at the corner of his eyes. Standing in the dust of a lonely road while watching a thunderbird disappear into the eastern sky, he whispered, “Wakan Tanka, have mercy on my soul.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

[OOC: The IC time of this post is 3:00 PM Central US Time, 7 Aug 2017.]


The great, soaring blur of gold that was Wakinyan rode the warm updrafts of the plains, the swift ringing cry of a raptor on the hunt calling the clouds down around him like a cloak. The storm came to his calling, great rolling black clouds that swirled down toward Wounded Knee like the breath of some vast leviathan plunging from the sky. Thunder crackled with the rage of a god, and in the heart of the storm a golden gryphon spread his wings and began a predator's stoop through the roaring storm.

Kneeling in his well-concealed foxhole below, a carefully camouflaged man fought to keep his terror out of his voice as he clicked his secured sat-phone open.

“Forward observer seven-three-five reports that target has entered the killbox. Time on target is four minutes. ” The officer designated Sensor One spoke the words with crisp, professional inflection, as though there was nothing unusual about one of the most powerful novas on Earth flying into a carefully arranged trap. But then, if he'd been the sort to crack under pressure, he wouldn't have been at the installation codenamed Hammer Command in the first place. It might be a deathly-dull posting, but nobody selected for assignment there was anything less than at the top of their field and not one of them had showed sign of anything but the utmost loyalty to the Directive. Most importantly, not one of them was anything other than human. After all, there was no point in having an ace in the hole if you weren't sure you could use it.

Captain Katherine Sinclair, ex-SAS, CO of Hammer Command and officer of the watch, leaned back in her chair and took a slow sip of her coffee before she replied. “Confirm target's approach and vector.”

Sensor Two's taut tenor called back to her. “Quantum sensor crew three-five-six confirms incoming quantum signature. Comparison with target profile indicates a rough match. Slight adjustment to bearing rate, time on target is now three minutes twenty seconds.”

“Excellent. Patch all further updates directly to Targeting.” Sinclair tapped a switch on her desk, bringing up the secured video-uplink. “Sinclair, code alpha alpha seven three zulu. Initiate call with DDO, codeword Birdhunt.”

“Is Wakinyan still dancing to our tune, Captain?”

Mark Grayson's voice was nothing but professional, but the burning hate in the eyes that stared from his shattered face was enough to give even a consummate soldier like Katherine Sinclair pause. She held herself very still for a single heartbeat, then gave her superior a curt nod. “Forward observers confirm that the target has entered the killbox. I request formal authorization to release the weapon, sir.”

“Authorization granted, Captain. The word is Snapcount. Now kindly patch your tactical data and satellite recon to my screen; I want to watch this.” The low, grating hatred in Grayson's voice filtered through her earpiece, and it took all of Katherine's discipline not to wince. It's one thing to do the job, but Jesus…. Grayson's eyes held hers through the video connection for another moment, and then his ruined hand creaked into view as he reached for his keyboard. “DDO, out.”

A glance at the clock reassured her of the time, and Katherine allowed herself another sip of coffee to wash the taste of her... respected supervisor out of her mouth. Still, orders were orders, and she'd stopped up all pity for the boys in and out of uniform she'd killed across the firing lines over the years. She'd be damned if she was going to waste a drop on that thing wrapping itself in storm clouds. Her voice, when she spoke again, was hard as steel and as cold as a winter London morning. “The word is Snapcount, and time on target is two minutes. Call the board, people.”

“Sensor One, green.”

“Sensor Two, green.”

“Engineering, all up and operational.”

“Tactical... ready.”

“Something the matter, Tactical?”

The Captain's tone of slight displeasure sent a cool rush of ice up Specialist Arthur Huxley's spine which he told himself firmly was in no way panic. Just opening night jitters, Arthur. Keep your pants on. Adjusting his fingers on the keyboard again, he tapped in an extra correction to his firing solution before answering. “Sorry, Captain, all green here. Hard to get a solid lock through those clouds, even with the thermal scanners, but I've got it now.”

“All right, gentlemen, weapons free. Tactical, prime the KEI.”

“Sir.” Huxley's fingers danced over the keyboard, a thin line of sweat sliding down his back. He was an acknowledged expert in long range ordinance and computer programming, one of the few people who's successfully used Hammer even in simulation. None of which, at the moment, did the least to sooth his ragged nerves. He checked the activation code one more time, then rapped the 'send' key sharply. Hold onto your hats, boys and girls....

Almost thirty six thousand kilometers above Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a steel flower blossomed against the cold light of the stars.

The cold, crawling feeling of being watched slithered through Wakinyan's node, but he brushed it aside with a regal call of challenge. Let the puny white hatemongers see him come. Let them watch the fury of the storm god descending on them and whine their fear. This was Lakota ground, sacred earth; let them tremble at his coming.

“KEI confirms target lock. Time on target, forty seconds.” Huxley was sure the entire room could hear the hammer of his heart in his chest.

If the Captain heard it, at least, she gave no sign. “Lock in firing solution, Tactical.”

His fingers seemed to hit the keys almost of their own accord, deft despite their subtle trembling. “Locked in.”

Sinclair counted off the silent seconds, set her coffee down, folded her hands. “Match bearings and shoot.”

The satellite designated Hammer V accepted an encrypted pulse transmission from its control bunker, compared it to the authorized command list in its central core, then pinged acknowledgment back to the expert systems already fine-tuning Arthur Huxley's targeting numbers; .03 seconds later, an optic signal flickered down a narrow cable to one of the slender black cylinders suspended from the open 'petals' of the satellite and .1 seconds after that, the locking clamps snapped open and the first booster stage snarled to life. Time from release to impact was projected at 2.7 seconds, a number Huxley barely had time to read before it became entirely irrelevant.

Stormclouds ripped apart around the brilliant column of light like water beneath a crashing boulder, the rippling crackle of tortured air shattering windows as far away as Kyle and Pine Ridge, and in a single molten heartbeat the sky reached down and smashed the offending speck of gold to earth with all the violence of a thousand thunders. Nothing mortal should have survived such a blast, but what had called itself Daniel Thunderhawk was far more than mortal; pain that should have driven any living thing insane scarcely daunted him, but he slammed the door in his mind which joined him to Ptesan-Wi shut to shield her from the shattering backwash of agony. Even so, miles away his mate thrashed against her bedding in helpless shock as a fraction of her beloved's pain wracked her slender frame.

The great gryphon staggered to his feet, splintered wings already knitting themselves, shattered eyes and ears already mending. A few seconds, a few heartbeats, and he would take to the air again.

He wasn't going to get them.

“Target is confirmed as still mobile.” Something between awe and fear tinged Sensor Two's voice. “Arrays suffered heavy damage from the strike, but I repeat, target is confirmed as still mobile.”

“Again.” Sinclair's voice was hammered steel.

Three seconds.



The sky roared again, the hand of God turned into a slap, and hypervelocity uranium bolts smashed into Wakinyan's battered body with enough kinetic energy to rival a tactical nuclear strike. The rolling thunder of sonic boom mingled with his bone-shaking roar of pain, diamond hard bones shattering like glass, quantum energy lashing through him in a desperate struggle to heal the massive injuries before the next blow. The massive nova struggled to rise on shattered limbs, primal animal instinct refusing to acknowledge the limitations of broken flesh and blood. Confused, distorted images poured from his fractured thoughts into Ptesan-Wi's mind, his iron will the only dam to keep the pain from swamping her completely, and with a last heaving effort he tore the link apart with a blazing burst of quantum energy.

“The bastard's still moving!” Sensor One swore colorfully in his native Russian, fingers dancing over his panel. “I don't know how, but the bastard's still moving!”

Sinclair's knuckles glistened white on the arm-rests of her chair, but her voice never wavered. “Tactical, go to rapid fire, pattern Ragnarök three.”

“A...Affirmative.” Huxley felt bile at the back of his throat, but forced it down and brought his fingers down on the keys again. “Firing pattern Ragnarök three, online..”

Three blazing columns of light crashed to earth, closing around Wakinyan like claws of thunder, and the soil of Wounded Knee shattered skyward as though the ground itself were trying to hold back the storm of rampant destruction. The last thought of Daniel Thunderhawk flickered through the disintegrating remnants of his node, racing the intersecting shockwaves shattering flesh he'd thought would last for eternity. Ptesa...

He never finished her name.

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