2 Years Before Event
As she approached the door to her boss’s office, Natalie Tessier felt trepidation. She had an inkling of what they were about to ask her. And she honestly wasn’t sure how she was going to feel about it. She enjoyed very much working with FEMA in the Cascadia region. But over the past ten years, though she’d originally tried to hide her ability, it had become if not common knowledge then at least an open secret. Pulling in a breath and letting it out slowly, she knocked on the door.
“Enter!” came the feminine voice from beyond.
Nat entered the office and smiled at Andrea. “Hey lady. You wanted to see me?”
The petite brunette looked up, her smile faintly strained. “Hey yourself. I know how the grapevine around here works… I’m betting you already know what I’m about to say, huh?”
Nodding slightly, Natalie sighed. “Yeah. Powers That Be have got wind that I’m a healer.” Her tone was resigned.
Andrea Denning sat back in her chair and rested her elbows on the arms of her chair, rocking it just a bit on its swivel. “Yeah,” she agreed with a wry grimace. “It was only a matter of time and we both knew it.”
Nat nodded. Her boss was a close friend, and she knew that Andrea had done her best to keep any whiff of powered healing out of it. But survivors of things talked. “So,” she asked, “what are they asking for?”
Andrea made another face. “It’s … not really a request, Nat,” she told her friend quietly. “This is a full-on transfer. As in you take the job they’re offering or I’m instructed to tell you that you’re fired.”
Natalie looked shocked. “Holy hell,” she breathed. The PTB weren’t playing around! “So… where am I going?”
Andrea breathed out a small sigh, partly of relief because she didn’t want to be the bearer of this news and she was grateful that Nat was taking it so well. “St. Louis,” she replied.
Wrinkling her nose, Natalie rolled her eyes. “Thrilling,” she retorted sardonically. “And what is it that they want me to do there?” As if she couldn’t guess. The answer was not what she was expecting, though.
“They want you to serve on the St. Louis hero team, the Guardians.”
Natalie was dead silent, staring at Andrea with her mouth slightly open as if she wanted to speak but could find no words.
“Yeah,” replied Andrea, unable to stop the chuckle. “I kinda thought that’s what you’d say.”
WHAT?! “Wait. What?” Nat demanded in a choked voice.
Andrea nodded. “Because of your experience with us and because of the benefit having a healer on site in any given Powered conflict for both heroes and civilians caught in the crossfire, basically you’ve been ‘recruited,’ if you want to call it that.” More like drafted, but that was just her opinion. “They want you to serve as the team’s liaison with the local disaster recovery teams and law enforcement any time something happens. You’ll officially be part of the Guardians, with a pay raise within FEMA commensurate with your expected activities.”
Natalie was still struggling to comprehend. “But… I just heal people. I’m not like those people on the Powered teams!” she objected.
Andrea shrugged a little and gave her friend a helpless look. “What are you going to do?”
Natalie blinked several times and sighed. “Well… I guess I’m going to take the job, being as they’ve left me little choice with this brand of arm-twisting. Sure, the raise sweetens the deal, but my arm is still being twisted,” she complained mildly.
“Well, I have a little bit of good news for you. I wasn’t going to let them just send you out in the wild without anyone to watch your back,” Andrea told her. “Jared Norris is being reassigned as well, to act as your ‘handler,’ so to speak. To keep them from over-using your ability.”
Natalie considered. She’d worked with Norris before. He had a calm disposition, a cool head under stress, and he wasn’t afraid to get in someone’s face when they needed it. Hers included. So… “Yeah,” she admitted slowly, “If he wants the job, I’d feel a little better with someone who already knows the ropes as they pertain to me.” She’d occasionally had people she’d saved come back to her and demand why she hadn’t saved one of their loved ones too—survivor’s guilt was a bear and they needed someone to blame. She was the easy target because it was her job to choose who needed help first.
Andrea nodded. “All right. That’s settled. You have a week to prep for the move. Norris actually left this morning to get set up out there and make sure the people in charge in St. Louis understand your power limitations and to be very clear that it’s his job to protect you from unreasonable demands.”
Natalie blew out another slow breath and nodded as she stood from her chair. “Well… I guess I better pack, huh?” She grinned a little. “Drinks on me tomorrow night?”
“Better believe it, girl. We’ve got some serious drinking to do,” Andrea laughed.