Where All My Troubles Began
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Secretary Charles Hanahan is a middle-aged man with a shaved bald head and mid-sized frame. Even though he’s gained a little weight over the years, he’s still quite fit for his sixty-three years. With the demands of his role as defense secretary, he has to be. He pulls a stack of manila folders from the file cabinet behind his well-worn leather chair and plops them onto his already cluttered desk.
“Well, Captain, here’s your team.”
Captain Alicia Conrad cuts an imposing figure, even seated across the table from Hanahan. With a five-foot, nine-inch frame and athletic build, she’s a formidable sight. Although possessing the defined physique of a soldier, Conrad still maintains her hourglass figure.
She has been an army officer for over ten years and comes from an esteemed military pedigree. Even with the expectation of constant readiness that military service fosters, Conrad still does not appreciate short notices. When she received a phone call the previous day from the Secretary’s office, all that she was told was, “You have a meeting with SecDef at 0800 tomorrow at the Pentagon.” No further elaboration, no courtesy, just an abrupt “click.” Given all this, it is no surprise that she responds as she does.
“Come again, Mr. Secretary?”
“You’ve been selected to lead a group of superhuman operatives under the jurisdiction of the United States government,” Hanahan responds.
“Selected by…?” The ergonomic chair creaks ever so slightly as she leans forward to hear Hanahan’s response.
Conrad smiles. “A unanimous decision, huh?”
“I’m curious, who else was on the NSC’s short list?”
“A few senior-level Marines, a guy from the NSA, and a couple of others who aren’t worth mentioning,” he says flatly.
“What about Blankenchip? I know he’s been dying to get his own special ops team for the longest time.”
“Are you serious?” Hanahan responds incredulously. His attitude is somewhat expected given that he and Lieutenant Aaron Blankenchip are not exactly on the best of terms. “We need someone who can manage a mix of egos and personalities—not a hard case like Blankenchip. Don’t worry though; he’s also on the team.”
“I see,” Conrad responds, her tone of voice barely masking her dejection.
“Why are you so worried about that anyway? What matters is that we picked you.”
“I understand, and I’m thankful for the opportunity, sir.”
Sensing the hesitance in her voice Hanahan probes further. “But?”
“I just don’t want it to seem like you picked me because of my dad.”
Hanahan and her father, John Conrad, were best friends and served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne together. They continued to maintain a close bond even after their respective retirements. Their friendship was so close, in fact, that Hanahan was named as Conrad’s godfather when she was born.
“Please, it’s not like nepotism wasn’t alive and well in this town long before your family showed up,” Hanahan responds. “Look, it has nothing to do with that; we picked you because you have what we need.”
“That’s reassuring, sir,” she says, her voice lightening up a bit.
“Besides, I couldn’t have you languishing behind a recruiter’s desk. That was supposed to be temporary while you got yourself together.”
Conrad nods in acknowledgement.
Hanahan continues, “You were always meant for greater things, Alicia.”
“What did your dad used to say when you were a kid?”
She glances down and quietly responds, “Be better than yourself.”
“Exactly. Your dad, God rest his soul, knew how great you could become.” He reaches over to grab a framed picture of him and John Conrad and gazes upon it. “He trusted me to watch over you and the twins. There is no way I’m going to allow your potential to go to waste.”
Growing somewhat uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is going, Conrad quickly shifts back to topic.
“So, why this? Why now?”
Hanahan pauses briefly before speaking. “The Minneapolis event.”
Three years prior an al-Qaeda operative named Mahmoud El-Hayek leveled the Mall of America single-handedly. This was accomplished not with a bomb but with his superhuman ability to generate localized nuclear fission reactions. He single-handedly unleashed the equivalent of a megaton yield nuclear bomb. The death toll exceeded 50,000 and left the rest of Minnesota virtually unfit for living due to the residual radiation.
“We live in a post-human era now, Alicia,” Hanahan continues. “Since the beginning of the space race, people with unbelievable abilities have popped up all over the world. Some are harmless, others pose a threat.”
“Like me?” she jokingly responds.
Hanahan smiles. “No. You are our best asset in dealing with this emerging threat.”
“You’re being too generous, sir.”
“It’s true. You’re probably the best investment ever made in military research.”
“Any threat to our security must be dealt with swiftly and lethally,” he says, his tone becoming noticeably grimmer. “I figure when you’re in a fight with a pit bull you get your bigger, meaner pit bull to deal with him.”
“So…I’m America’s attack dog now?” Conrad says sarcastically.
“No. It’s just an analogy, Alicia.”
Taking the opportunity to display her vocabulary acumen she counters, “It’s actually a metaphor, sir.”
“Same difference,” he snaps back.
She smiles. “Okay, so what have we got?”
“First things first. The name of the team is Vigil.”
“Yeah, it’s the only thing we could agree on at the NSC meeting.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Okay.”
“It’s essentially a task force created for the sole purpose of protecting U.S. interests and allies.”
“So, it’s like a super-powered CCI squad?”
The Crisis Conflict Intervention unit—or CCI for short—was a sub-division of the Army Special Forces. Several top Green Berets couldn’t even meet the strenuous requirements for membership. Their original intent was to perform, for lack of a better term, politically gray missions. For all intents and purposes, CCI was essentially a black-ops division of the Special Forces. Both Conrad and Blankenchip are former members.
“Not quite,” Hanahan responds. “CCI was strictly covert ops; this’ll have more of a public face. And we’re pulling in civilian agencies as well.”
“It’s one of the most ambitious interagency initiatives like it since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.”
He notices that Conrad’s attention is drawn to one of the files. “Still with me?”
She looks up. “Yes, go on please.”
“These people aren’t ordinary—much like you.”
“Thanks, sir, didn’t know you cared.”
“You know what I mean.”
She flips through the pages in one of the folders. “Okay, Cynthia Fighting Bull, formerly Cynthia Sorrell… Codename Pseudo.” She pauses to make an editorial comment. “We’re using codenames?”
“For now.” Hanahan replies.
“The NSC was really into the whole superhero motif hungh?”
He responds peevishly. “Maybe a bit.”
“Maybe a bit too much.” Conrad continues reading. “She’s a CIA agent in the Directorate of Operations’ Spyscape division. Age twenty six, genetic endowment: metamorphosis. Genetic endowment? We have genetic mutants on this team?”
“I believe the politically correct term is ‘Variants’,” Hanahan admonishes.
“There are two, as a matter of fact.”
“Who’s the other?”
“FBI agent by the name of John Arrowhawk.”
“The one who cracked the Kerrington case?”
“Yup–one of the youngest ASACs to crack a case of that magnitude.
“Isn’t his brother some kind of eco-terrorist or something?”
“I see. So, what’s his power?”
“He’s essentially a human power cell. He can absorb, convert, and manipulate all energy forms. You name it: nuclear, electrical, kinetic, whatever. He’s your heaviest hitter in terms of raw power.”
“Hmm, and this one?” She picks up a 4×4 inch photo of a large-framed man.
Hanahan takes the photo from her hand and draws it closer for a better look. “He’s a Secret Service agent by the name of Terrell Morrison.”
“I’ve never heard of him. What’s his story?”
“He was caught in the Houghton Biomedical Research Lab accident and was exposed to a synthetic Duritium-based reagent. As a result, he can take on the physical properties of any substance he comes into contact with.”
Conrad points to the final photo. “And the last one’s good ol’ Blankenchip. Is he the only complete normal on this team?”
“He’s not so normal, with that Battle C.A.T. suit he designed.”
“Tell me about it. How much did it cost to design and manufacture that thing?”
“About fifty million.”
“And they say we have a national debt of over 20 trillion.”
“Hey, it’s one of the perks of being in the service for as long as he’s been.”
“When I get twenty years of service can I get my own high-tech body armor?”
“Why? It’s not like you need it.”
With a smile that could melt the fiercest of hearts, Conrad replies, “That’s why you picked me for the job, right?”
“That, and you have one of the best military minds I’ve ever seen since your father,” Hanahan adds.
“You really know how to flatter a girl, sir.”
“I try. There’s a press conference at the Pentagon at 1400. I’ll see you then.”
Taking this as her cue, Conrad salutes the secretary, gathers her beret and briefcase, and promptly leaves his office.
Hanahan puts the manila folders back into the rusted file cabinet. As he clears off his desk, he glances at the ominous headline on the front page of the Washington Post that reads, “Turmoil in Lemalia continues to send world stock markets into tailspin.” Hanahan folds the paper in half and throws it into his desk drawer.
 National Security Council
 Director of National Intelligence
 President of the United States
 Assistant Special Agent in Charge
 Cybernetic Armor Technology
All Characters copyright and Trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng