Moms sat behind one desk, Nada taking his place behind the other. They were standard government-issue gray desks and they faced the door from opposite corners of the CP. Surprisingly a plump armchair was in the center facing them.
Kirk suspected a trap, perhaps no support in the seat, and sat down gingerly. But the chair was firm. Even comfortable, which further aroused his suspicions.
Moms started. “Every unit I ever went into, when I met the CO, it was always a series of warnings. Don’t fuck up. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Behave. And I’ve walked into a lot of units in my time. Your experience?”
Kirk ran his career reel through his head. “The same, Ms. Moms.”
“Save the Ms. shit for Ms. Jones. There’s no Ms. Or Misters here. I’m Moms. That’s it. You’re Kirk. He’s Nada. I heard Doc out there. Just Doc. Got it?”
“Just Doc. Got it.”
Moms smiled slightly. Kirk noticed a bend in her nose and knew it had been broken and badly set a long time ago. Dee’s nose had the same crook. From Pads’s fist. Kirk pulled his mind back to the present as Moms continued.
“The ceremony outside is real. The people are real. We’re very happy to have you on the team.” She glanced to her left. “Right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Nada was pulling open a drawer in his desk and glanced up. “Thrilled beyond words.”
“If you notice, we don’t wear rank, we don’t have patches or tabs or badges. I know you’re proud of them, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t do medals, we don’t do plaques or memorials or any of that. But you are still in the service, okay?”
“We work for Ms. Jones. Who exactly she answers to, we don’t know and we don’t have a need to know. She did the ‘things that go bump in the night’ schtick, which she alternates with some other stuff for new people, but officially Nightstalkers is on call to deal with extraordinary emergencies. That includes incidents involving nuclear, chemical, and biological material. Doc will get you up to speed on what you need to know in that area and our special gear to deal with contingencies. A lot of the times we bring scientists with us. Nada interrupted him, but putting it simply, Doc is a genius in a whole bunch of fields I can’t even pronounce.”
“Yeah,” Nada snorted. “I remember you wrote Genius on the board when he in-briefed with Ms. Jones.”
Moms ignored him. “Doc has what we call the Acme list, after that company the Roadrunner always bought his stuff from in the cartoon.”
This time Nada actually laughed as he started piling up binders on his desktop. “Yeah, Mac wanted to call him Roadrunner. Beep beep. He’s always interested in figuring shit out. Keep an eye on him with that. You can get killed while figuring shit out.”
Moms continued. “The Acme list contains the names of a whole bunch of scientists who are on call to the government. We Zevon them—”
“Excuse me?” Kirk said.
“Zevon,” Moms repeated. “It’s an alert ring tone on their phones. You’ll understand soon enough; hopefully not too soon.”
“Good luck on that,” Nada muttered as he took out an alcohol pen and began thumbing through a pocket-sized acetated pad.
“Working with those from the Acme list can be a pain—”
“Working with Doc can be a pain,” Nada said to himself, checking the binders against his small pad.
“—but they’re the experts. They tell you don’t touch something, don’t touch it. They tell you to flame something, flame it. They tell you to run—”
“You’re fucked,” Nada said.
“True,” Moms said. She stared at Kirk as if reading him. Seeing how he was taking it. She must have liked what she saw. “Okay. There is an event that’s our primary mission, and actually prompted the founding of this unit many years ago. Something you’ve never heard of.”
“Join the rest of the world,” Nada said.
“Rifts and Firelies,” Moms said.
Kirk blinked and hoped for amplification.
“No, I can’t tell you what a Rift is,” Moms said, deflating his hope. “No one can.”
“Not even Doc,” Nada added.
“But Fireflies—” Moms began.
“We kill,” Nada finished for her.
“Fireflies come through Rifts,” Moms said. “Anywhere from one to fourteen, which happened back in ’68, and is the record.”
“That must have been a motherfucker of a firefight,” Nada said enviously.
“Doc will give you more info on this topic,” Moms said, “but simply put, Fireflies are things that come through Rifts, and our best guess is that they are some sort of energy being or probe that can take over an animate or inanimate object.” She stopped because of whatever she was reading on Kirk’s face.
“They can go into things and animals,” Nada tried to explain. “And take them over. So anything around you can be under the control of a Firefly.” He thumped his desktop. “A Firefly could get into this desk, then slam shut the drawer when I put my hand in to get something. With enough force to chop my hand off, ’cause they enhance whatever they’re in. You kill an animal they’re in, it ain’t enough. It’s got to be flamed to cinders. Roland does most of the flaming. Once the creature is reduced to pretty much nothing, the Firefly floats out of the body and dissipates.”
“They can’t jump from one place to another,” Moms said. “Once they go in they’re stuck—”
“Until we obliterate what they’re in,” Nada said.
“They can’t go into people,” Moms said.
“Not that we know of,” Nada warned. “Or yet. Whichever.”
That one stopped Moms for a second, then she went on. “If they get into an inanimate object, then we have to blast it, break it down, crush it, blow it apart—whatever—depending on what the object is. There is a critical point at which the object no longer has what Doc calls a sufficient level of integrity that the Firefly can survive in, so it finally just lets go and leaves and dissipates. I know this is all a bit much, but like I said, Doc can explain it better and more thoroughly. Okay?”