A buzz of activity hung in the air around 1401–1409 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, as a pack of journalists made their way into the Willard Hotel. All the big names were there: Times, Post, WHiH, Planet anyone that was anyone was sending somebody to the press conference held by the Department of Extranormal Affairs. The government's newest department was creating a significant amount of noise on the political circuit. The cynics amongst them were eagerly anticipating new blood to grease the gears, expecting similar controversies to that of Homeland Security, the last department created in response to an attack on American soil. Others were just curious to see what Extranormal Affairs purpose was going to be. The Extranormal Affairs Bill which give the department life followed very typical political mannerisms in that it said a lot while saying very little at all.
This air of anticipation was only intensified by the lack of information following the bill's passing. Little was made public about the hiring and staffing of this new department with only a few key roles being disclosed. The names that were released predominantly included former members of the military and intelligence communities. Among those drawing several raised brows being the inclusion of one General Samuel Lane, an old warhawk that made his name during the War in Iraq and being one of the main playmakers in the United States more proactive counterterrorism policy. With members such as Lane, it didn't take long for the conspiracies to begin to form about a militant wing of the government seizing power. This chatter only increased in volume when it was announced King Faraday, a relative nobody when it came to public politics, but someone with many ties with Langley and the broader Intelligence community, was tapped to serve as the department's inaugural secretary.
The shakers and movers in the Department of Extranormal Affairs seemed to be playing into this aura of mystique. Where the traditional way of communicating to the journalistic community may have been a courtesy phone call or email, the details surrounding the press conference came much more traditionally. The selected editors in chief finding a spotless white envelope on their desks closed with a wax seal carrying the department's crest. Only two dozen of these letters were sent out in total, the rest having to watch the live television broadcast like everyone else.
The lucky two dozen were ushered from the Willard's lobby to a second-floor conference room. The room was spartan in its layout, at the back a table with miniature bottled water, cups filled with precision cut spears of carrots and celery, and a small selection of patriotic themed baked goods. Beyond the table was the camera equipment being used for the press conference. A small film crew worked to get rigs set up, microphones ready, and gaff tape on the ground. They were following the directions of an arthouse documentary filmmaker who had made a minor wave at Cannes the year before for her documentary on Seoul's grassroots punk rock scene. Her presence another oddity replacing a veteran C-SPAN crew that would traditionally be taking on a conference like this. The journalists filtered pass the film crew and towards the front of the room where a few rows of chairs and a lectern was set up.
As the press moved to take their seats, Agent Woo counted heads with an analogue clicker as his partner checked passes. Dressed in a finely tailored black suit with matching tie and sunglasses, Woo played the role of government spook like he was born into it. Having served with the South LA County Violent Crimes Task Force for the better part of a decade, before spending time teaching at the Macau Security Forces Training College to get back in touch with his roots. He dropped the grade book and picked up the badge again when Faraday had finally cashed in an old favor. Woo would never tell his wife, but it felt good to be back in the field.
As the number on his clicker moved closer to the magic number he leaned into his arm to cough. As he leaned in closer, he whispered into a receiver that was clipped to the lapel of his suit jacket.
"This is Fisher to Kasparov, only a few stragglers left."
"Understood, be with you shortly Fisher." King Faraday replied.
He sat in an adjoining room as he tapped the ashes of his cigarette into the soil of a windowsill planter. Faraday wore the same navy-blue suit that he had been wearing for the past thirty years. The old intelligence operator was shameless to admit he did not own a suit in any other color. It came from some old kernel of wisdom he had picked up from his grandfather years ago - "King, my boy" he would say, "suits are like women. When you find one that fits stick with it." The hand spun Italian linen wasn't necessarily the kindest to his wallet, but it breathed easily and didn't restrict his movement.
King lounging there in his chair as he took another drag from his cigarette was the complete antithesis of Carol.
Carol Danvers stood in front of a mirror straightening out her medals for the fifteenth time as she practiced smiling. It was ridiculous really, she could storm an entrenched enemy position no problem, fly a million-dollar tin can with rockets strapped to it breaking the sound barrier, but she couldn't smile. Each attempt only managing to push her further and further into demented serial killer territory. And it wasn't like this was a new struggle that she was dealing with, her parents had an entire school yearbook that said otherwise. When she was little, her mother always told her to just think of something funny in her head, but how could you laugh at your own jokes?
As the blonde-haired woman gave out a defeated sigh, Faraday piped up from his chair.
"Loosen up Danvers, you look like somebody just shot your dog."
"Easy for you to say, you aren't the main event."
King stood up grinding the butt of his cigarette into the planter. He had the rigid locked-in perfect posture of a career military man; his 6'1" stature giving him roughly three solid inches over Carol. Despite being on the far side of fifty, King managed to fill out his suit quite nicely, he adhered to a strict physical fitness regimen to combat any ill effects that his advanced age and lifetime pack-a-day habit may have brought. As he walked over to the mirror were Carol stood, he licked two fingers and flattened out an unruly strand of white hair.
"Danvers, I spent years using media to influence foreign elections to suit our great country's many interests. And in that time, if I learned anything it's that the media loves a good story."
"So what? I love cake but I still know when I'm eating a shitty one."
"Well good thing we aren't feeding them cake then. And even if we were, any cake will taste good after being starved for weeks. We've been denying them any information for weeks and now they are just begging for any little morsel we may dish out. Trust me Danvers everyone in this country is going to know who you are by the end of the day."Yeah as that girl who can't even smile right
Carol thought to herself as she followed Faraday out of the room and into the hallway.
King straightened his tie before entering the conference room. He gave a small wave as the clicking of cameras filled the air like rain rolling off a roof. He walked towards the lectern at a controlled pace, giving the cameras all the time, they needed to track his movements. Despite being a spook for most of his life, Faraday navigated the crowd like he was a movie star. From his first step he made it clear that he was in command here and everyone else was just along for the ride.
As he got to the lectern, he made a show of pulling a piece of paper from his suit pocket. It was a piece of loose leaf, the edges off kilter in a way that suggested he had just torn it out of a notebook moment prior. It echoed another man called King, who finished his "I Have A Dream" speech in the Willard's lobby several decades prior. Of course, in King's case, the paper was blank, an artist hired to rip, wrinkle, and fold it in such a way that created the most aesthetically pleasing mimicry of frantic energy that money could buy. Another prop in the carefully planned show that was unfolding in front of a nation's eyes.
Clearing his throat Faraday began to address a waiting populace.
"Thank you, members of the press, for joining me here today, as well as all of you at home watching this live. Today is a monumental day in the history of our great nation, because today I get to introduce to you the future of American security & safety. Before we begin, I believe introductions are in order, my name is King Faraday and I will be serving as your newly appointed Secretary of Extranormal Affairs.
What is Extranormal Affairs you may be asking? All of you, I assume are painfully familiar with the attacks the befell New York and Star City. I will be frank with all of you, we were unprepared, and we paid the price. The Department of Extranormal Affairs was created to ensure that we are never unprepared again. By committing to developing our state of readiness and enabling proactive measures against potential threats we, will ensure that no Extranormal threat is able to devastate our people in such a way again.
But our mission isn’t just preventative, it is also about building bridges. The only way our new department's mission will ever come to pass is through the aid of those among us that possess abilities and understanding far beyond our own. As many of you undoubtedly know it was many of these exact kinds of individuals that at the end of the day were essential in stopping the attack on two of our greatest cities. And so, it is our intent to foster dialogue and communication between the everyday citizen and these remarkable individuals. For it is the belief of myself and the entire department that we will work better together.
To that end, I would like to introduce you to a very special individual. Many of the bravest members of our armed forces community know her personally and those that don’t, know someone that was saved by her. She is one of our own having graduated near the top of her class at Colorado Springs and afterwards serving with Air Force Special Operations Command with distinction for several years. And yet she is also unlike us with abilities that most of us could only ever dream of. In this way she has a foot firmly planted on each side of the divide, and if our mission goes according to plan, will help erase that divide from our vernacular completely. When she is on mission, we call her Warbird, but today I will introduce her to you under a different name. Without further delay, it is my pleasure to introduce you all to Ms. Carol Danvers.”
The woman of the hour closed her eyes and exhaled as she tried to expel the tingling sensation which was causing her lungs to seize up. Standing in the hallway by the same door that King had entered moments earlier, she half-listened to Faraday. She had heard the newly christened secretary give the speech at least seven times during their car trip to the hotel. The words were already solidified, but each variation he would change his dictation and inflection in subtle ways. The meticulous way in which he hung on each word reminding Carol of an old fling who worked at the Smithsonian telling her why the old renaissance masters marble sculptors were so impressive, it was because they were about subtraction. Painting she told her was about addition and so wayward mistakes were easier to fix, but sculptor was about subtracting and that was permanent. That’s how the white-haired man went over his speech, the subtle cutting away at particular pauses and moments of emphasis to give a new angle that would reshape the work.
The words all too familiar at this point, she waited absentmindedly for her cue. Most of her attention was drawn towards wrestling with the other thoughts that were racing through her head. The primary one was that she didn’t give her parents a courtesy call before the conference went down. None of her family knew about the whole “super powered government” agent deal, they just knew that she did work for the Government that she wasn’t able to talk about. The first that they would be hearing about any of it was going to be with the rest of the country. Carol could only imagine the angry string of text messages and voicemails that her mother was going to send her way. Her father would try to do damage control of course, but being an undercover superhero was a lot bigger than hiding a rescued stray cat in your bedroom for a month, and when Marie found out about Apollo, Frank had only managed to reduce her sentence to one long month of nothing but chores, homework and sleep. And now the Danvers’ matriarch babied old Apollo like he was her long-lost child or something.
Was it okay to feel nervous about your entire way of life changing? Since her last day at the Academy life had become at least partially defined by the bureaucratic masquerade. A system of security clearances, long established cover stories, and the type of lies that after a while just ended up becoming fact. A structure of organized hoops and dotted lines to at least create the facade that somewhere in the chain of command that someone knew what they were doing. After all, if the public even understood half of the uncertainty that went with protecting and securing the interests of the world’s biggest superpower, Danvers was sure they would wonder where all that money for drones and the NSA was going. But now in a way, Carol was being liberated from that structure, though if she was being honest, it felt less like being freed of something and more like being pushed out of the nest.
Though if that was the case, she only had herself to blame. She was given ample opportunity to turn the offer down and the DoD would have been more than happy to keep her for themselves. She couldn’t though, Danvers wouldn’t have necessarily described herself as religious despite growing up in a family of self-identifying Ulster Protestants, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that doing this was what she was put on the Earth to do. She believed tremendously in the Department of Extranormal Affairs intended message of collaboration and acceptance. A fundamental idea that at the end of the day you were always better trying to build a bridge than burn one. It was a simple choose to her really, it didn’t take more than a casual observation of any playground brawl at the local school, violence always ended up breeding more violence. Healing only was able to happen once you put the swords down. It was time for Carol to put those beliefs to test, to make them more than just moral philosophizing done in the dead of night to bring her own demons to rest. And that all started now.“…it is my pleasure to introduce you all to Ms. Carol Danvers.”
There was a moment before Danvers had entered the room, while Faraday pivoted his torso and extended his arm to greet her that their gazes met. In that brief fraction of a moment as the perfect blue of the sky collided with the deep earthen gray all that needed to be said was. A playwright from England once said that all the world was a stage and now for just a few minutes that stage was going to belong to Carol. She nodded her head in affirmation, smacking a palm across her right shoulder to get the blood pumping again and then she stepped in from the hallway.
The blonde-haired woman had to fight the urge to block the flashes from the cameras. The rapid fire clicking that preceded each shot sending an involuntary shiver down Carol’s back as they sounded eerily like the punctuated staccato firing of a machine gun emplacement. There was no moment of reprieve as each barrage of flashes followed closely on the heels of the last volley. Somehow though, despite the efforts to seemingly blind her, Danvers was able to make it to the podium.
Standing there she felt like a specimen on display. Bright lights from either corner of the room brought in by the film crew were centered on the podium radiating heat like two miniaturized suns. As sweat began to build on her brow, Carol looked out onto the crowd but only found shadows looking back at her as the lights swallowed any significant detail from their facial features. The conditions were at least vaguely familiar to her, having been cast as the corn stalk in her preschool thanksgiving play, but they were still unwelcome. The world watched on in a stretched out and agonized silence, as Carol took a few seconds too long to get adjusted. The ease and command that her boss exerted moments earlier replaced with an awkward anticipation. Gripping the edges of the podium, she forced out a slow and shaky breath as she looked down at the podium, King’s artisanally disheveled paper still sitting where he placed it. As she exhaled, she looked back up at the journalists and too nervous to think about it, Carol produced the easiest smile in her entire life.
“Sorry,” She started out “it’s a little bright up here.”
Her words hung in the air for a moment as the blonde fought the urge to sprint out of the room. Thankfully, one of the journalist’s chuckled and a few others followed. Carol wasn’t sure if the journalist was laughing at her or with her, but in the moment, she didn’t care either way. The laugh dissipated the tension in the room, as Carol could feel the heavy knot in her chest start to loosen. Flickering her eyes quickly to her left, she caught Faraday stone-faced and standing to one side, but ever so slightly he nodded his head in approval and confirmation to continue. Having caught her own momentum and unwilling to let it go again, Carol practically jumped to the next comment.
“My name is Carol Danvers, but I guess you all know that already don’t you? I am a superhero and I will be working with the Department of Extranormal Affairs to bring back a sense of normality, to allow our great country to heal the wounds that have been unjustly placed upon it. And it is my hope, that along the way, I can inspire some of you to do the same…”
The script that a gaggle of speechwriters had worked hours on painstakingly crafting for her had gone straight out the windows. The words became muddle and key points lost in the haze of the moment unable to find purchase upon her tongue as she spoke. Despite going off the range the journalists seemed to respond well to her comments as she reinforced many of the same talking points that Faraday had hit on previously. Her primary focus being on a message of unity and community building rather than the disciplinary side of Extranormal Affair. Hopeful in tone and assertive in her convictions, through the course of her speech citizens of not only the nation, but the world watched as Carol slowly came into her own. And at the end she gave an even bigger smile than before as she looked out into the crowd.
A forest of hands sprouted from the seats as the eager journalists all began to try and get Carol’s attention. Peering into the crowd, she picked a hand jutting outward from somewhere in the middle. The lights still made it hard for Carol to get a look, the journalist’s face still covered in shadow. Though as she peered forward Danvers was able to pick up on two details: The first was the man’s long white hair pulled up into a tight ponytail; the other was the slightest glimpse of the man’s eyes. It was the eyes that made Carol freeze, she’d seen those eyes on only two kinds of people before: those that were about to kill themselves and those that were about to kill somebody else. The blonde could hear the smile on his voice as he spoke, his voice distinctly light and velvet smooth, like a cold glass of water on a hot summer’s day.
“Have you ever seen a man explode Ms. Danvers?”
Time slowed down to a crawl around Carol as her human/kree adrenaline gland kicked into overdrive as her “sixth sense” kicked in. She watched as the white-haired man’s skin began to crack and flake away as pulsating red energy poured through rapidly forming cracks and fissures. Her options were limited, if she broke the sound barrier she was at risk of permeant deafening the people with less than superhuman eardrums, the bomber had intentionally positioned himself in a location where she also couldn’t safely let off an energy blast without hurting the other journalist. The only real option she had was trying to absorb whatever energy that the man was about to release. And so, she moved.
In the blink of an eye, Danvers vaulted over the lectern and bolted forward like a bullet through the air. She outstretched her right hand and gritted her teeth as she flew directly at the “journalist”. The last she saw of his face was a haunting wild grin before it vanished consumed by the red energy. As the man combusted and the energy rocketed outwards Carol attempted to absorb it. Like smoke being pulled into a funnel the energy pulled towards her. She could feel it begin to course through her veins, but the energy was too much for her to handle, it felt like liquid metal coursing through her body and she couldn’t hold on. The explosion spilled back outwards filling the space as it went, and the last thing Carol saw before the darkness took her was an angry wall of red as she felt the heat and heard the screams.
The world, through the lenses of one of the still functioning television cameras, watched in horror as there was a bright flash followed by heavy smoke. And in the middle of that smoke there was a newly reformed figure who emerged from his cloud of death. The white-haired man’s hair was no longer in a ponytail and he was now wearing something closer to a skintight jumpsuit, but the manic grin still clung to his face as his eyes were bright with bloodlust. He stalked up to the camera slowly and with inhuman strength yanked it up and into his hands so that the whole world could see his face.
“The meek shall inherit the Earth no longer.”
And with that he threw the camera to the ground; as the picture faded into static, he to faded into the smoke.