Ihpkmn's Talebox

UIU Thing Part VII: It's Too Cold For You Here

January 17th, 2015
Somewhere between Des Moines and Green Pastures

Despite the fact that they had gone off the main road three or four times, the Ford Edge was still following the agents.

Quinn adjusted her rear-view mirror, trying to seem casual, but all the same, her eyes were trying to get a bead on the driver behind her. They weren't exactly being subtle, but subtlety was impossible at the moment. The entire state was snowbound, and the two cars were the only ones on the road. Despite the heated seats, both Quinn and Darnell's teeth were chattering.

"It's an airport rental." Darnell looked in the side mirror. "I remember seeing it on the lot."

"I don't think a paraterrorist organization is going to use airport rentals. Too many security flaws." She did a sharp turn onto an off-road, the GPS on the car's console complaining. "Why would a civilian tail us?"

The driver's behavior made it clear that they weren't a civilian, whoever they were. The car screeched to a halt and skid into the ice, doing two full loops before its course was corrected and it started gunning after them.

"Fuck!"

"I'll try for the tires." Darnell pressed down on the window's down switch. The car was frozen solid. "Dammit."

"Better idea." Quinn put the car into a lower gear suited for icy roads. "Hold on to something."

Darnell groaned. "Quinn, if you're doing what I think you're about to do—"

"The Bureau's good for it."

"That's what you said last time! We had to pay out of pocket!"

"They were mad at us in Chicago. This is totally different. We're important assets they can't afford to bankrupt."

With that, Quinn gripped the steering wheel tight, and slammed on the breaks, bracing herself for the loud thud that the vehicle behind them would make when it impacted.

Only, it didn't impact. Instead, it careened around them and pulled to a stop horizontally, blocking the road.

"…good news is that we won't be paying for repairs this time." Quinn's humor was without any cheer. She stood and exited the vehicle, pistol drawn. Darnell did the same.

"FBI!" Darnell called. "Hands where I can see them."

Quinn's phone rang in her pocket. She recognized the ringtone— Harley. "Don't have time for this…" she sighed.

"You better make time." Darnell lowered his weapon slightly.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"The call is coming from inside the Ford."

Quinn's eyes widened. She made her way to the front of the car. She almost dropped her gun when she saw who was inside— Harley Sterling. Her eternal fiance. Quinn's hand entered her coat pocket, and answered the phone. "Where the hell did you learn to drive like that?"

"Alaska." Harley answered as she exited the car. "Visited some friends there when you were away… two years ago? That thing in Pittsburgh."

Quinn's throat closed. She wanted to explain what it was about, but Harley hadn't signed any gag orders. Sighing, Quinn rubbed her face, and thought of an explanation around the meme.

"We're here investigating a terrorist cell with connections to…" Quinn shook her head. "Connections to my hometown."

"Your mysterious hometown." Harley hung up the phone, feeling it silly to talk when the person on the other end was in front of them. "Quinn, I want to trust you, I really do, but—"

"Then trust me!" Quinn snapped. "Harley, you can't just— you followed us from Ohio?!"

"I was on the same plane as you. You didn't even notice."

"Har, please." Quinn rubbed her face. "I'd love to tell you what I'm doing here, but—" Quinn's voice box failed her, paralyzing as the gag order activated. "I can't," she ended her sentence.

"Why not?" Harley grabbed Quinn by her shoulders. "Why can't you tell me?"

"Harley—" Darnell attempted to interject. His gag order was a bit more lenient, on account of the fact that he had training as an Anomalous Community Liaison. But his tongue froze in his throat as well. "Fucking hell."

"I'm your goddamn fiance!" Harley pulled back. "So either you're having an affair, or you've got a sword over your head on a rope an atom thick! What's so important that you can't tell me?"

"It's classified." Darnell and Quinn spoke in unison. It was a phrase they were forced to spit out by the gag orders every time either one of them was questioned about the nature of their work by a civilian.

Harley's eyebrow raised at this. "What's so important you can't talk about it?"

"It's classified." The two agents answered again. Quinn felt a sense of both pride and panic; on the one hand, Harley had already figured out something weird was going on. On the other, she wasn't sure how a gag order would respond to being pushed like this.

"Can you nod yes or no to my questions?"

"It's classified." Quinn twitched. She hadn't meant to say that, she'd meant to nod. She tried again. "It's… class… ified…"

"It's classified!" Darnell yelled, in a tone that sounded like he wanted to scream 'Oh, shit!'

Realizing the two of them would be of no use, Harley stepped to their car and removed the GPS navigator, and the keys. "Latitude and longitude… that's only another twenty miles from here."

"It's classified," Quinn agreed. Actually help me, she thought internally.

Harley put her hand on Quinn's shoulder. "I'm going to assume that whoever is at these coordinates can… help with whatever the hell this is."

"It's classified." Darnell had an affirmative tone to his voice.

Harley rolled her shoulders. "Okay. In the car. I'm driving."

"It's classified." Quinn smiled. She bundled herself closer, looking at their rental. "It's classified?"

"I've got the keys and locked the car. Now get in— we're going to get buried beneath the snow."

Darnell and Quinn looked at each other side-eyed. Darnell climbed into the Ford's back seat, while Quinn climbed in the front passenger's seat, next to Harley. They drove on.


Fifteen miles later, Harley tapped Quinn on the shoulder. "Okay, questions and answers time." She turned on the radio. "NPR is 95.3, pop station is 101.5, country station is 106.5. NPR is yes, country is no, pop is for when you need to answer the same again. Got it?"

Quinn's hand shook as s he forced her way through the gag order, turning the radio to 95.3.

"Okay. Are you having an affair?"

Quinn turned the dial to the sound of Billy Ray Cyrus.

"Are you really hunting a terrorist group?"

All Things Considered from NPR News came on.

"Are you really heading to your hometown?"

Uptown Funk came on, followed by the soothing sound of Audie Cornish's voice.

"Does this have anything to do with 'Jemma'?"

Quinn's hand pulled away. She wanted to ask where she had learned that name. Darnell knew it, but he didn't connect the dots.

Quinn turned the dial to the pop station, and then back to NPR.

"Okay. And does this have anything to do with 'Samson Cooper FUCKING HELL!"

Harley swerved the van to avoid a chunk of ice the size of a large dog that had just been hurled a them by something. It clipped the driver's side mirror and obliterated it. There was no wind, no cars, nothing that could have thrown it— nothing except the shape of a person about thirty feet away, down the road from them. Blocks of ice floated in the air around it.

"Quinn." Harley's eyes met her wife's. "I'm going to ask point blank, and I want you to answer truthfully: is what the Unusual Incidents Unit does legitimate?"

Quinn's hand seized up, and she felt like she had just stuck it into a thorn bush as it had been set on fire. She pulled it back, letting out a cry of pain.

"…I'll take that as a yes."

Harley swerved the car to a stop after a few more paces. Then, from her pocket, she produced a penknife knicked the skin on her forehead, before handing it to Quinn. "After you cut yourself, slouch down. It only needs to look convincing for a second."

Quinn nodded, and put a cut across her hairline, wincing as she felt her roots split. Darnell got the knife next, and put a cut on his temple. They all began to bleed.

They slumped down as the figure approached the car. Quinn could hear his footsteps outside; they must have weighed a ton. The door to the passenger's side opened, and she heard a familiar voice speak into a communicator.

"Command, this is Agent Coteaux. There's a third party in the vehicle. What should I do?"

It took all of Quinn's self-control to not look at him. Asher Coteaux, of the Storm family. The mayor had to institute a law in Green Pastures so that he couldn't make every school day a calamity day with his control over snow.

"No, I don't know their relation. Might just be an Uber driver— they ditched their car a while back." There was a pause in the speech. "I don't think anyone's going to believe what she saw." Another pause, and a sigh. "Yes, sir. Will report in when it's done."

A pistol was cocked. Quinn suddenly realized that her holster was a few pounds lighter.

She turned, finding Harley holding one of her childhood friends at gunpoint. "You doin' all of this?" She asked, undoing her seat belt.

"Yes." Asher's voice was filtered, with a hiss— and it was clear why. The lower half of his face was obscured, possibly replaced, by a metal apparatus that had the look of a set of teeth. It seemed that Grassroots wasn't one for subtlety among its field operatives. The rest of their body was concealed beneath what seemed to be winterized camouflage. "I presume you're her girlfriend."

"I prefer wife."

Asher shook his head. "Why ain't she talkin'?"

"Can't," Quinn said, instead of 'It's Classified'. "Well, fuck. I guess I can now."

"You know him?" Harley had to raise her voice during the latter part of the question to compensate for Quinn opening and shutting the door of the Ford.

"He sat behind me in AP Social Studies. Copied off my work." Quinn grimaced. Why was the gag order not working? She wasn't complaining, just confused.

Darnell stood up from the back seat of the car and drew his weapon. "Harley, I appreciate what you're doing, but I think you'd be better off giving Quinn the gun. We're better equipped for this."

"Are you forgetting I was in the arm—" Before she could finish her last syllable, she found her hands burning with cold. Ice had formed on her fingers, and the gun she was holding was suspended in a web of frozen oxygen.

Asher took the gun and aimed it at Harley's head, eyebrow raised. "No magazine."

Harley was bent over in pain, but managed to retort, "Of course I unloaded it. I'm out of my league, here."

"They always forget about the bullet in the chamber." Asher pressed the gun up against Harley's head.

"No!" Quinn dove to try to intercept Asher, as if she could stop a bullet up against someone's skin. But her progress was impeded by a wall of ice so cold that it felt like she was ablaze.

"Sorry, Quinn." Asher forced Harley down on her knees. It was only now that Quinn realized that his hands were mechanical.

There were three shots— Darnell. The bullets left trails as they burrowed into a solid block of ice that had appeared before them.

"Didn't want this, but after what they did to the town… they deserve it."

"She's not with them!" Quinn begged. "Asher, please, you're better than this!"

"Maybe once."

Asher pulled the trigger.

The empty chamber clicked.

In a moment of surprise, he forgot to put up anything resembling a shield of ice. His left shoulder was hit by a bullet, and his right temple was hit by a sucker punch from Quinn.

"I fucking love you." Quinn pulled Harley to her feet and gave her a tight hug. "But if you ever pull that shit again I will kill you!"

"Uh, Quinn?" Darnell searched his coat for the appropriate restraints. "Does the term 'frostbite' mean anything to you?"

"Right, right." Quinn blinked her eye— blood from the cut she had made was getting in it, and freezing. She placed Harley in the passenger's seat of the car and turned the heat up to full blast.

"Lucy," Harley panted, putting her hands up to the dashboard, "You got some 'splain' to do."

"I'll explain once we get there."

The snow was starting to clear, even as Darnell loaded his prisoner into the trunk. The appropriate restraints were less handcuffs, and more a full-body collapsible iron cage that went around everywhere but the mouth. "It's gonna hurt your MPG," Darnell panted as he climbed in the back, "But it'll be safe."

Quinn started the car. Five miles later, Harley's eyes widened at what was on the horizon— a massive structure of earth, popping out of the ground without any regard for the surrounding geography, looking to consume the town beneath it like a tidal wave of dirt.

"Is that—" Harley asked.

"My hometown."

They passed a long-faded sign which read "Green Pastures, Next Left".

UIU Tale Series With No Name Part VIII:

Nx-Zone 42
Civilian Designation: Green Pastures, Iowa

Earth hung over Harley's head as she was escorted out of the car by agents in tactical gear, and led in a direction opposite from Quinn and Darnell. Three-hundred feet above them, dirt and bedrock and god knows what else defied gravity and loomed over the town.

Quinn MacAllister squinted up at the northern end. "Corn seems to be growing nicely this year."

"You can't be serious." Darnell turned his head, and saw stalks of green growing on the underside, in rows. Beyond that were fields of trees, bushes, and vegetables. "How in the hell…"

"When you've got people who can control earth, weather, and plants in your town, you don't really need to step into the fields." She rolled her shoulders as she followed the liaison. "And that's a good thing, honestly."