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Katchina had been well advised to keep her hands and legs well inside the canoe as they made the seven-hour trip upriver from Palacios, a tiny village in Honduras that she had been assured was so remote you could see the end of the world from it. It wasn't long before she saw a coral snake drop from a decaying tree branch into the water in a flash of red, yellow and black. A charming little creature unlikely to bite unless threatened, but it was enough to convince her to listen to her guides. The powered canoes chugged their old diesel engines against the current. She'd been told that the guides often took people to Las Marias, home of the Pech People and only accessible by river. But it didn't look like it. This place was bristling with life but none of it human.

“Be sure to watch out for the mosquitos,” the guide said. Kat had long since taken care of that problem. She'd become quite adept at weaving out nets that let through air and light but kept out even the smallest insects. It was a useful skill to have in a third-world nation, especially one where people could get eaten by ants.

she replied. She'd been told these people weren't exactly cut off from the modern world. Some of their sons and daughters were quite well educated, having been sent out to study and then return and aid the village. They only chose to live in a place that was, and kept very much to themselves. Communities like this were ones Kat had been looking for. This was the third such study expedition she had undertaken in her two years of research under the Centers for Disease Control and their attempts to understand the Sickness. Incidence of the sickness was truly worldwide, and Kat had gone to interview and study cultures in Mexico, Peru, and now Honduras. Other researchers for the CDC, and likely other agencies, were doing much the same thing across the Americas.

Kat had quickly learned upon reaching Atlanta and taking a job with the CDC as a researcher that they really didn't have much of a way of a plan to deal with the Sickness. Maybe another government branch did. In any event, Kat hadn't found out yet, and no one knew what was being made of the data they had gathered. The CDC had gone through the tests and research with new patients but came up without solutions. Noah had predicted as much. So for those who survived, they were cut loose with their name put in a registry. Those were turning up dead more often than not, from one accident or another.

Kat had chosen to focus on indigenous peoples, particularly those who were isolated. The Pechs, for example, had lived in remote mountain communities for the past four hundred years with little contact with the outside world. Today there were less than 3,000 remaining. The Native American tribes in the United States had been exhibiting a greater incidence of the Sickness by about four times the current average, and it seemed to be clear indication of a recessive genetic mutation causing the Sickness and magnified among small populations with less dilution of genetic material. The data she gathered appeared to support this conclusion thus far.

“They will see you before you see them,” the guide rattled off in Spanish. “They tend to watch from the shore.”

Highly unlikely, Kat thought to herself. She'd been holding the Great Power for some time, as she was now calling it. She could pick out individual insects on the shoreline. Soon she could pick out flickers of movement from behind the trees.

The canoes made landfall and Kat jumped out with her backpack. Soon a collection of people began to form, wearing relatively modern clothing, darker – skinned than most of the Honduras city dwellers. They chattered among themselves in a language Kat didn't recognize. She'd been told it was a Chibchan dialect that was only spoken in this place. Fortunately her guides could translate. The villagers started to show her pots and carved masks. Kat politely waved them off but pulled out some candy from her backpack for the children, giving each of them a sweet. “Please tell them I'm not here for trade. I am a physician and I've come to give aid to the villagers.”

The lead guide translated for her to the man who appeared to be in charge. He gave a big grin, and motioned for Kat to follow. Kat did, expecting to be led to a room where she could conduct examinations.

Instead he brought her to a field with small mounds and markers. At least three of them were freshly dug no more than a few months at most. He chattered away in Chibchan. “The elder says that they have lost three of their youth this year.”

Three...out of perhaps 600 villagers. “I mourn your loss with you,”
she said to the elder, taking his hand. “I'd like to see their parents. And any other youth between 16 and 30. And anyone who needs to see a doctor.”

A few minutes later the guides hauled out her equipment into an empty hut. Her Wallet had lost even satellite signal before arriving, but she had a receiving dish with her that she could use to link up to the CDC database in Atlanta. She quickly organized bloodkits and her other equipment. She'd be able to transmit blood and DNA information straight from the site into the mainframe for analysis. It was her hope that they would be able to develop a genetic profile and test to determine whether someone was afflicted before they began to develop symptoms. She wondered who else was doing this sort of research. Probably both the CCD and China, but everyone had been very tight-lipped when it came to sharing medical research about the Sickness. Others, somewhere, had to know that it was connected to supernatural abilities, but yet by failing to share information they were letting people die who didn't need to.

Over the next few hours, Kat got typing done for the parents of the deceased, as well as all youths from 16 to 30 and the parents of two young men who had reported the same symptoms of the sickness. She also saw an ingrown toenail, pneumonia in an infant, two broken bones, and a gentleman who had a tumor growing in his pancreas. All were easily detected by a scan with the Great Power, and just as easily treated. At least she thought the cancer wouldn't return. She'd become quite proficient with both scanning for, and healing of, most minor incidences, as well as making use of natural medicines that would be beneficial without the healing. It made for less explanation. Aloe for instance was a good ointment that covered up the chill that some people tended to experience when she used the power to divine their illness. Sometimes however it couldn't be avoided, but in a remote area like this it was unlikely she'd get reported. Her biggest worry was inflaming a mob against her for witchcraft and that was unlikely.

And then there was that girl. She was about Kat's age, and had been watching her the entire afternoon. When Kat asked her to come and have herself evaluated, she just scrunched her face and shook her head with a smile. That was fine, she wouldn't compel anyone. But there was a … familiarity … that she couldn't place. All afternoon and evening the girl watched her.

Kat accepted an invitation to stay the evening, and was treated to dinner, song and dance. Some of the women invited her to take part in Miskitu Kuka Nani, called the “Dance of the Grandmothers.” Her guide explained that normally only elders could participate so it was an honor to be selected. She could honestly say she tried her hand at it. Later, as she laid her head down, her spirit was content.

The next morning as she prepared to leave, Kat checked to make sure the CDC database was done transmitting, and noticed she had an urgent message from her supervisor Rodger Kimpbell. “CALL ME NOW”
it said.

She checked to make sure the dish was aligned properly and connected the satellite link. Rodger came to the other side of the screen, looking frantic and buried behind a pile of paperwork. “Kat, where have you been? Did you fall off the edge of the world?”

“Not quite,”
she replied. “But I'm a little remote right now. What's the urgency?”

Rodger sighed. “You need to get back to Atlanta. The teams are getting recalled, everyone is being pulled out of the field. Every field resource on the Sickness and every research project is on hold. The whole department is getting reorganized. And it needs to happen, like yesterday.”

Kat blinked. Everyone was getting pulled? “What happened? A funding scandal or something? Top level resignation?”

The harried bureaucrat on the other end chuckled nervously. “Heh. I wish it was that simple. Haven't you seen the clog app-- no, of course you haven't. You're in Bumfuck Honduras. Kat, the Ascendancy from the CCD has announced that...the cause of the Powers. The CCD has people who have Magical. Powers. Kat, we're behind the 8 ball here.”

so that happened while she was upriver. “I'm packing my canoe now, OK?”
She terminated the news feed.

Okay, then. So that cat was out of the bag. Five years she'd been hiding her ability, but now what? Kat hauled her cargo to the river as she considered her next move.
Kachina slept on the redeye flight back to Atlanta. Her equipment would take a separate flight. She had a change of clothes and her Wallet, and little else. She woke up over Pensacola and had just enough time to freshen up in the airplane lavatory, where she stripped out of the tank top and jeans she'd been trekking around the rainforest in for the past two days and into a more work-appropriate white blouse with brown jacket and knee-length skirt. Her plane landed at 5 a.m., and the morning conference was scheduled at 6.

A driver picked her up at the airport and took her straight to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters. The sky was turning red in the pre-dawn as they pulled up in front of the multistory glass structure built in a slight curve, which caught the dim light and gave off an ominous glow. Red sky at dawn.

Rodger Kimpbell was already at the conference room when Kat arrived. She greeted the wiry, balding man with thick spectacles with a handshake and a tired smile. “What is this about?”
she asked him.

Rodger shrugged. “You know as much as I do. We're reorganizing somehow. We will find out.”

She nodded and took a seat. The main conference room was arrayed in an optimum fashion for news or press conferences, with chairs arranged in tiers around a central podium. filled up with about a hundred staff members, from field operatives to desk workers.

At six a.m., a middle-aged woman came to the podium. Kat immediately recognized her as Jeanavette Edmunson, Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Good morning,”
she said. “I want to thank you for the work you have done. You have provided a significant service to our country in the furthering of our understanding of the anomaly known as the Sickness. There have been recent reports of people developing supernatural abilities in connection with the Sickness. To address the issues of national security involved, the President of the United States has ordered a reorganization of all government assets related to this anomaly.”

What kind of reorganization? A new department or bureau being formed? Kat wondered what it would be called...and who would be in charge. The military would love to get its hands on people able to use the Great Power and turn people into weapons. It made her feel sick to her stomach just to think of it. The memory of Jerome came back to her.

The secretary continued: “Due to the immediate security concerns, until such time as the reorganization is complete, all assets including this team are immediately reassigned under the authority of the Department of Defense, under the care of the Army National Guard. Your new team leader should be arriving momentarily – ah, here he is. Major?”

The door had opened while she was speaking, admitting three men in green multicam print uniforms. Two wore black berets. They had pistols strapped to their hip and short barreled, stubby rifles hanging by straps across their chests. The third, a burly man with close-cropped peppery hair and a prominent nose, sporting a gold oak leaf, strode up to the podium.

“Madam secretary,”
the man barked, as she yielded the podium. “Good morning,”
he said. “I am Major Colton P. Harris, A.R.N.G. This team is now under the authority of the Department of Defense. You will be individually briefed before leaving today on your new SOP and security protocol. Until then you are all AFI.”
What was an SOP or AFI? Kat tensed as she tried to follow.


It was hurry up and wait today. After the conference, the team had been released to their offices to AFI. Which she learned meant awaiting further instruction. All computers and networks had been frozen and taken offline. They were told to stand ready. Just before 2 p.m. Kat was called into what was now Major Harris' office.

Major Harris didn't stand from behind his desk. “Katchina Makawee, GS-6.”
She stuck out a hand, but he just looked at it. “Take a seat.”

She withdrew her hand and managed a weak smile. This man seemed quite cold. “I'm happy to meet you,”
she said. “It's been a pleasure for me to work --”

“Sir. I'm happy to meet you, sir.”

“Uh. I'm happy to meet you, sir.”
She wasn't so sure about that anymore though.

He cleared his throat and glanced down at a touchscreen. “Miss Makawee, do you know what the key to winning is?”

She frowned. “The will to win? Willingness to sacrifice?”

He blinked. “Intel. You know where the enemy is and what he plans to do, and get there before he does.”

“If you say so, sir.”

He glared at her. “Of course I say so.”
He looked back at the touchscreen. “Your department hasn't had much success finding out about Native American incidence of Sickness which means we don't know anything about who can do what with these superpowers.”
Kat swallowed as he stared back at her. Did he know something about her? Am I busted?

Blessedly he continued. “I see that you are a member of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. What's left of them. We have learned that the Native Americans are having some sort of super secret conference and we think it has to do with this based on the timing. We have been able to submit you as a delegate for your tribe. Go there and find out what you can.”

Kat jerked back in her chair. “You want me to use my tribal affiliation to spy on my own people? I am not okay with this at all.”

The man slammed down his fist on the table. “You are an employee of the government of the United States of America and this is an issue of national security! Is that understood?”

Kat recalled the armed soldiers. The best way to get out of this was just to agree. Unless she wanted to storm out of the place – literally speaking. For the moment, she was upriver without a paddle. “I understand perfectly, sir.”

The man gave her a crack of his lip as a smile. “Good. You leave for Albuquerque immediately. Don't forget to pack sunscreen.”

Continued inPowwow

Edited by Katchina Makawee, Aug 14 2016, 04:28 PM.

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