Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

11.3 The Reverend’s Cabin

Reverend Morrison’s cabin was about thirty minutes outside of town, in to some of the small hills in the surrounding farm country. Until he’d moved here, Walter wouldn’t have assumed there were any hilly places in Kansas—it had the reputation for being scientifically flatter than a pancake, after all. But as it approached the borders with other states—Missouri and Oklahoma at least—it did pick up hills and other interesting features. He had been pleasantly surprised to learn that when he came to the state for the first time, for College on the Army’s dime.

Now they were driving in to some of those low hills, away from the city and tucked in to a cute little hollow. It was almost pretty, in the golden light of the later afternoon sun getting ready to start setting. Along the way Gavin Neill was hardly alone in the fact that he kept giving glances to Morgan and Tania inside the van that they were all in; but he was alone in the fact that he decided to ask some questions along the way.

“Can I ask you a question without incurring an obligation?” He asked when they were about halfway in to the trip. Walter, in the front seat of the van, rolled his eyes a little bit. Morgan laughed, apparently in genuine amusement.

“Your gran did teach you well,” Morgan offered appreciatively. “I will make you this offer: You may ask whatever you like, but I am under no obligation to answer. If I answer I will do so honestly, unless I am under an obligation not to give that information away; and if so I will tell you that I cannot answer. I will also tell you if I am offended by something, rather than killing you outright for impertinence. Acceptable?” She raised an eyebrow, and met the man’s gaze. He nodded. “Very well, ask away.”

Neill was a younger man than Walter would have expected for someone in Ashland’s team, although he supposed he had been a young man the first time he’d had the dubious pleasure of working with her. He’d been a Lieutenant, and Neill was a Captain, so maybe he was just slightly boyish in his face. His eyes were certainly hard enough as he steeled himself for the first question. “Do you really take and replace babies?”

Morgan smirked. “Not nearly as often as we’re accused. Children change, and their parents blame Faeries. Children have mental health issues or disabilities, and their parents blame Faeries.”

“Sometimes young women like to go out late and get laid, and their parents say their good girl has been replaced with a changeling,” Tania piped up from where she sat. “As opposed to, you know, just needing a good fuck.”

“Charmingly put,” Morgan responded, “But not inaccurate either. Yes, sometimes we did. But it’s not legal in either Court any more, both because we find it personally repellent and because it gets pretty tricky to keep going once you all developed DNA testing and the like.”

Walter snorted. “Practical minded of you. It would be pretty rough to have someone send away for a DNA kit and instead of results the CDC shows up at their door.”

Gavin nodded, as if they made perfect sense in his world; Walter somewhat resented that, as revelations from Morgan tended to make his world make less sense than it had before. “What are the roles of the Courts of Faerie?” He asked.

“A good question,” Morgan allowed, “Because it also gets you the answer to the question ‘Was Gran right about the Courts?’ without having to work for it. I can’t go in to all the detail, both for time and because some of the inner workings are for us and us alone,” Morgan warned. “But the Courts exist to oversee the changing of the seasons. We are a part of nature, and our power waxing and waning is both a part of and is part of the drive behind the changing of the seasons.”

\Now it was Ashland’s turn to snort. “Come on, really? I’m coming around to the idea that there are county coroners who secretly have the power to tear me limb from limb, but you’re basically claiming credit for axial tilt and rotation.”

Tania shrugged artlessly, dismissing the naturalistic or scientific concerns. “Call it whatever you wish, but the Courts resonate with the seasons. Our power derives from Summer, and Winter, and we transition with them. And if we tried to stop that, to violate the natural order, it would be disastrous for your world as well as ours.” Most other people in the van wouldn’t detect the little quiver in her voice, Walter knew, but he did and he knew Morgan would as well.

That disruption had been exactly what Oberon, father to the two Queens, had wanted to do; to seize power from both of them and keep it for himself, to give himself the power to end his banishment and take what he saw as his rightful place in Faerie. That it would have caused untold destruction in both their world and the mortal world didn’t seem to bother him much, at least not that Walter had seen.

Neill apparently didn’t have much else to comment, as he went silent—apparently he had been looking for some general confirmations rather than getting in to the specifics. Which made sense, Walter supposed—you couldn’t really consider the specifics until you’d come to terms with the general.

“We’re here,” Leah announced, as they pulled around to stop a curve out of sight from the house but close enough to run to. “Plan is simple. Arm up, we go to the house, and see what’s there. If it’s bad we have backup behind us, and we can retreat; if we find Morrison we secure her and either get off site, or…you know, sit and talk.” She shrugged; that part was simultaneously the easiest to explain and the least likely to happen—at least to the cynics among them.

They pulled themselves out of the van, and spent several minutes checking their weapons and body armor—those that had them. They had opted for pistols instead of rifles, relying on Border PD’s preference for higher powered rounds instead of taking the time to get M4s from the armory. Only Ashland was using something smaller than a .45, keeping to her familiar Makarov.

When everyone was ready Walter nodded, and they fell in formation and began jogging around the bend. No one spoke, and they moved as quietly as possible, but someone with supernatural hearing would likely know they were coming no matter what they did. Probably heard the van anyway, he considered as they came around the bend.

To find a petite woman with pale, almost white hair waiting for them underneath a large umbrella. “Good evening, Marshal. I’ve been hoping you would figure things out and come speak to me,” she offered, with a slight smile that showed a hint of fang.

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11.2 Faeries (Again)

Tania smirked at Gavin’s words, and moved back toward him. He flinched slightly, and then looked disappointed in himself that he had. He glared at her as she reached up to brush his cheek with the back of her fingers. “So the Son of Niall remembers. You have the smell of the old High Kings in you. You do Niall of the Nine Hostages credit by knowing your lore.” She looked back to Morgan and raised an eyebrow. “Do you think he’d be one of yours or one of mine?”

Morgan shrugged. “Hard to tell. He has some of our heritage but it’s faint. We’d likely let him decide and honor the decision.” She gave a little smile. “Don’t be too proud we can smell Tara on you, young man; there are thousands of O’Neills running around Europe and America, after all.”

It occurred to Walter that he had never actually seen Ashland take that long to respond to some new stimulus or situation, and he probably should have timed how long it took her. “I’m sorry, you’re an adult and you just said the word Fairies and that’s a real thing?” She asked. Somehow Walter could tell that she was pronouncing it wrong. “In the words of Mark Twain, what the fuck are you talking about?”

Walter snorted. “Welcome to my world. Somehow you think after you’re told that Vampires are real that nothing will be surprising, and then you get something that completely rocks that. Although I did it in the reverse order, to be fair.”

Gavin was staring at Tania with a look that was trying for confidence and had settled on a combination of fear and resentment. “My grandmother was from Derry, and she’d tell me stories when I was a babe,” he answered.

“I thought you were Catholic,” Taito asked, the last to recover his wits, looking like he was wanting to cross himself as he spoke.

Gavin managed to give a smile. “Grandma always said when you’re from Ireland you go to Church on Sunday, but you don’t enter a Fairy ring. God is all powerful and all knowing, but you don’t piss off the fair folk either.”

Morgan nodded appreciatively. “Good advice,” she allowed, before her eyes tracked back to Ashland. “The Faerie—and it is properly Faerie, not Fairy,” she explained, although to Walter it sounded more like a difference in attitude than pronunciation, “Are the protectors of this city. By custom and law it falls within our domains, and we will not be divested of that interest simply because your petty little concerns.” Walter felt her let out a little trickle of her power, just enough to set her hair moving as if in a slight breeze. It was dramatic as hell, he had to admit. “Are we clear?”

“Never let it be said that I can’t see when I’m licked,” Ashland offered, although there was an element of grudging to her acceptance. “I’ll stop trying to kick you out of the room, ma’am.”

Tania grinned, and backed away from Gavin. “She didn’t even sound sarcastic when she said ma’am, so I’ll restrain myself from saying good girl. I’ll let the others know they can come back in,” she offered, walking to the door and looking for all the world like the cat that ate the canary.

Ashland did manage to give a scowl to Tania’s back, which Walter took as a good sign and he thought Morgan allowed because they were sisters. “Do we need a cover story for why there were gunshots?” She asked sensibly.
Morgan shook her head. “No one else in the building heard anything thanks to our magic,” she explained as she moved back to take a seat. She raised an eyebrow as Ashland, Taito, and Gavin all gaped at her.

“Magic doesn’t exist,” Ashland managed a moment later, walking toward a chair as well and pulling it out to sit down in.

“Aww,” Morgan offered with a teasing smile to Walter. “And here I thought you two hated one another. But you’re both deeply into willfully denying what’s right in front of your eyes.” She offered it with a kind of sweet exasperation, and Walter rolled his eyes only to find Ashland doing the same.

“Call it ‘sufficiently advanced technology,” Walter told the woman. “It drives them crazy and helps keep your sanity in place.”

That was the last thing that any of them said on the matter of Faeries or magic as the rest of the station filtered back in. They got some odd looks, but since Taito had the presence of mind to pick up the discarded bullets and pocket them they didn’t get much more than that. Leah Silverman looked a little grumpy as she came back in and went back up to her displays. “Can I proceed with my presentation, Marshal?” She asked, pointedly looking to Walter for permission. When he nodded, she pulled out a map.

“It turns out that the Morrison family had an old cabin outside of town they purchased before their deaths and never used,” she explained. She put a picture of the cabin on the table. “The Reverend’s adopted family sold it and used it to pay for her college, and it was later purchased by a trust. That trust turns out to be run by the Reverend herself, although it apparently predates her ordination.”

“How did we find it?” Walter asked, reaching out to grab the picture and looking it over. “Nice place.”

Leah reached for another document, sliding it out on to the table. “We got a text message to our anonymous tip line with the name of the trust on it, which lead us down that rabbit hole. Bryant was working the tip line and thought that the text was odd enough to track down, so he definitely gets the salt shaker for this week.”

Ashland raised an eyebrow, and Walter leaned over. “The BPD officer or employee with the most inspired moment each week gets a gold salt shaker for some reason none of us really understand any more, but its highly coveted.” He looked back to Leah. “Do we have a team ready?” Now it was Leah’s turn to nod.

“Alright, let’s get out to the cabin,” Walter ordered, standing.

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11.1 Be Not Afraid

The conference room at the Border PD station had slowly taken on the characteristics of a war room over the weekend. Or perhaps the famed Situation Room at the White House, although Walter had never actually seen it except in movies and television. A map lined one wall with pins in it showing the locations that had been relevant or important—the hidden laboratory, Morrison’s house and church, the speak easy, and where the attacks had occurred including the Hospital.

“The girl is back with her parents, and we have units assigned to them,” Leah informed Walter as soon as he walked in to the room. She didn’t even have to look up. “With the most powerful shotguns we have, and orders to absolutely destroy the head and heart and call for backup.”

Walter nodded at that, as Morgan came in after him. “Good. As terrible as this is going to sound, I need to make sure that Annie and Bug know where she is. If not they’ll go crazy and drive me crazy if they can’t check on her, and get to her in an emergency.”

“Walter,” Ashland’s voice drawled from further in to the room, “I sure am glad that I didn’t know about your staggering disregard for OpSec when we were working together before. I would have been very disappointed.” She stepped back from the map, where she had been obscured, and gave him a very old fashioned look. “We need to talk about all of the…extraneous people that you’re bringing in to these investigations.”

Walter raised an eyebrow. “Do we?” He asked. He looked around at the room, the walls, the carpet, and even up to the ceiling. “It seems to me like this is the Police Department that I work for—that I run, currently—and that it’s all happening in my town. I’m pretty sure it’s my decision who gets told what.”

Ashland looked at him evenly, face impassive. It was only because he’d known her for years that Walter could tell she wasn’t happy—she was never happy when she was overruled or countermanded. “Give us the room,” she ordered, her fingers laced together in front of her—and the fingers tight, strained.

It was a good order—she had a good commanding voice when she needed. A couple of people even started to move out of sheer spinal reflex, before stopping. Everyone in the room looked to Walter, who met Ashland’s gaze evenly for a few heartbeats before giving a nod. “Give us the room for a few moments.” He paused, while everyone filtered out except for th two of them, and Morgan. “You’ve been giving me shit about this since we got here.”

Ashland nodded. She unlaced her fingers, and folded her arms. “Because it’s bonkers, Walter. We’re taking civilians with us in to dangerous situations, and you’re going off on…what, side quests with them?” She scowled. “I’ve been very lenient here, given I came in planning to take things over and find out what was happening.” She looked like she was going to say more, when the door opened and three people entered. Two were Ashland’s—Taito Hernandez and Gavin Neill—and one was Walter’s. Tania Summers looked annoyed.

“I don’t like being kept out of rooms, Walter. It annoys me. Is there a particularly good reason? I thought we were going to go find the Reverend,” Tania explained, and then asked. Ashland grunted, and gesticulated.

“More of exactly what I’m concerned about, Walter,” Ashland explained. “I’m pretty tired of being given the mushroom treatment about why a doctor, a newspaper magnate, and your two teenage daughters are part of this investigation.” She was visibly keeping herself under control, perhaps remembering that she was in a building filled with people who liked Walter. “And I’m willing to give you five minutes to explain before I call in other agents and take this whole thing over as domestic terrorism.”

Walter sighed, and opened his mouth to respond before Morgan stepped forward and held up a hand to him. “I can explain in far less than five minutes,” she offered with a wry little smile. Apparently reading Walter’s mind, she amended. “Without killing them.”

Neill snorted, and Ashland raised an eyebrow. “It’s your choice,” Walter offered with a shrug, taking a step back and to the side. He didn’t want to be in the way of whatever was going to happen next. Ashland blinked, and one hand moved to rest on her hip…near her gun.

Morgan smirked, and shared a look with Tania as she stepped forward. Both of them rolled their necks around as if loosening something, a twin gesture that revealed as much as anything how similar and related they were. The two sisters, currently both redheads, smiled at one another.

And then they changed. No longer were they two relatively petite redheads. Instead they were both roughly six inches taller than they had been, and seemed even more towering from the sheer…presence they presented. Walter could feel their power throbbing in his bones, in a filling, in his head like pressure underwater. Tania’s hair was no longer the red of a ginger but of the son, red and yellow at the tip; the color flowed like the tendrils of hair were liquid. Her skin was light brown, somewhere between a tan and actual wood. Her eyes were a deep red-brown, and glowed like an ember.

Morgan was no less changed. Where before she had been pale but healthy, her skin looked completely bloodless. Her red hair had turned to pure white, baby-fine tendrils drifting across one another like perfect snow pushed by the breeze. Somehow Walter knew it would shit with her mood. Her eyes were the dark blue of a frozen lake, a shadowy sapphire with immeasurable depths. They were shocking, beautiful, and terrifying, all at once.

Be not afraid,” Morgan commanded, her voice rich and caressing, commanding but still with a hint of frost. She held out a hand to the three agents, palm up, fingers stretched out invitingly.

The three agents did not heed her words. Ashland drew as fast as Walter had ever seen her, and had fired two shots by the time he realized what she was doing. The bullets…stopped, hovering in the air in front of the Faerie Queens. One each, still spinning from the rifling in the pistol’s chamber.

Never mind, be afraid,” Tania offered in an almost disappointed tone. The two of them blinked out of existence for a second, appearing behind them. Tania reached out to casually bat aside the guns from Taito and Gavin, who had drawn but not fired, while Morgan grabbed Ashland by the lapels and lifted her up in to the air.

We are involved because we are involved, and will not be kept away,” Morgan intoned to the woman. She hadn’t even bothered taking Ashland’s gun. Walter had never seen Ashland look so terrified, even when he had seen her acing what she expected to be her death. Walter said she would have looked pale as the grave, but he had a new definition of what that looked like from Morgan. Morgan started to glow faintly blue, and Walter could see frost forming on Ashland’s lapels where the Faerie’s fingers touched.

And then just like that, it was over. They were standing in the room again, Morgan and Tania were their normal ginger selves and it looked like nothing had happened. Except that Ashland dropped back to her feet, and two spinning bullets dropped from the air to the ground with a clink.

Only one person in the room had the wits to respond. Gavin Neill crossed himself, and gasped. “Faeries!”

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11.0 Do They Work?

BEGIN CHAPTER 11: NEW RESPONSIBILITIES

Command, Walter reflected, was half competence and half confidence. Sometimes the confidence leaned a little bit more closely in to that of a confidence job, or maybe a confidence man; but it was all about confidence nonetheless.

It was Monday afternoon, and he had finally made his way back to the hospital. He had intended to do it the next day, but then the overwhelming and very mundane bureaucracy of running a police department had overwhelmed him. It was, apparently, very inconvenient to take over running things during payday processing. And he had immediately needed to oversee both the normal weekly report to the Mayor and City Council, and of course the special supplemental report regarding the violence that had occurred.

So Monday was the day he spent most of the morning at the hospital, visiting the wounded. There would be an official ceremony later, but he had met with injured officers and the families of the deceased to give them the awards that they or their family member had earned. Like many or even most police departments, Border PD had a series of awards not dissimilar from the ones Walter was used to in the military. The officers who were injured in the line of duty would receive the Purple Shield, while the families of the officers who were killed were given their Medal of Valor. And anyone who participated in the combat would receive the Combat Action Medal. Far too many of all of them, Walter thought with a sigh.

He found himself standing in the private room where Marshal Alexander was recovering. The man was still unconscious, and looked…hollow, in the way that people who had gone through extensive surgery or illness often could. Smaller, less impressive. Alexander had always been a broad shouldered man, the kind of man who told you he was a Marine and you never doubted him. It was rough seeing him in such a condition. Walter walked up to the bed and put two medals on the table. “Don’t make me upgrade that,” Walter said softly, tapping the medal with the purple and gold ribbon.

“You won’t need to,” a voice came from the door. Morgan stepped in, dressed in scrubs and a lab coat. Her red hair was tied back in a simple ponytail. “Unless you’re doubting my skill?” She asked, arching an eyebrow. Walter shook his head, and she nodded. “Good, I’d hate to have to find a window to throw you out of.” She looked at Alexander as well, and Walter didn’t think he imagined the little bit of concern he saw.

“Do you have any idea when he’ll wake up?” Walter asked. “I wouldn’t worry, but I’m not actually cruising to keep his job, you know.”

Morgan shook her head. “It can take time to wake up from his injuries even when only normal surgery is involved. Throw in what I did…” She moved over to check his vitals on the monitor. “When I heal someone I’m not magically filling their hit points back. I’m accelerating processes in the body, bolstering them with my power—but that still takes a lot out of you. I have to be careful that I don’t heal someone to death, when they’re seriously injured like this.” She looked over to him. “Any word on your leads?”

Now it was Walter’s turn to shake his head. “We’ve been trying to find the good Reverend, but she’s either in hiding or they have her. We have Sally Smith in medical at the Station to keep her safe, but her parents were apparently targeted in the attacks because we can’t find them either. So far my first few days have been a litany of ‘We can’t find them’. Not an auspicious start.”

Morgan moved over to him, and reached up to put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll find them. Your people are good at it, and I do think we dealt them a blow by keeping the research station safe and taking out so many of their people. Autopsies are ongoing, by the way; at last on the humans. I’ve made sure to sequester the Vampire bodies until they decay.” They let that stand for a moment, looking at the Marshal and the medals on the desk next to him. “Do those work?” She asked curiously. Walter blinked. “I have some, but I don’t exactly have a mortal perspective on them as motivators to fight.”

That she had been given military awards was news to Walter, and he had to ask about that first. “What medals do you have? Tell me you’re secretly a Knight of the Garter from like the 1600s, under a man’s name.”

Morgan let out a loud laugh, almost a giggle, and shook her head. “No, not hardly. Three hundred years too late, as a matter of fact. No,” she sighed slightly. “Lady Alice Winters was very proud to have been awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal, as well as the Royal Red Cross for her service in the Great War.” Her face took on an abstracted look for a moment. “I’ve been in a lot of wars, but that one was…exceptionally terrible. And not just on the mundane side.”

Walter had absolutely no response to the idea of supernatural occurrences during World War I. “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred. Very nice,” he complimented. She gave a sheepish smile.

“My brother Reggie—Reginald, Lord Winterstoke, heir to the Earl Winters—earned the VC. We fought a rogue Dragon who had been driven mad and was butchering men on both sides,” she offered by way of explanation, and then explained no further.

Walter had to remind himself to close his mouth, to avoid looking like too much of a fool at that casual recitation. “Napoleon said with such baubles men are led,” he offered, returning to the original discussion. “I have medals which I held very dear, medals which I don’t think I should have been given, and medals I wanted to throw back at the people who gave them to me.” He chuckled, reaching up to scratch at the stubble he needed to shave from his busy weekend. “Ashland was responsible for a couple of those.”

Morgan nodded. “OK. What’s an example of each of them?” She asked curiously.

Walter thought for a moment. “My retirement award was the Legion of Merit, which is normally reserved for Colonels and higher. It was specifically approved by a four star who basically did it because he thought I should have been promoted. That was a good one.” He pondered. “I was also always proud of my marksmanship badges. I got an Army Achievement Medal when I was enlisted for scoring perfect on my rifle qualification.” Walter snorted, and Morgan gave him a blank look. “I was in the infantry, and they give you a badge for shooting well. It was a waste.”

She grinned. “Fair enough. And the last?”

Walter rolled his eyes. “When I was on a mission with Ashland we were giving her shit about CIA awards, because so many of them are classified. We call them jock-strap awards, because that’s about the only place you can wear them. So at the end of a very ugly mission she made sure I got one, so that I too could have a reminder of a mission I hated that I could never wear.”

She smirked. “So do they work?”

Walter looked back to the medals sitting next to the unconscious Marshal. “They work for what they’re designed to do, I guess. Almost nobody signs up to have a chest full of medals, and the people who do are douche bags. And in the middle of a firefight if you’re thinking about what commendation you’re going to get then you’re probably going to get shot. But when they work, when they don’t get eaten by Army bureaucracy or pettiness and they’re not a reminder of something horrific, it’s nice to know someone is thinking of you.” He shrugged. “I don’t know a lot of people who saw the ugly side that don’t have a complicated relationship with their ribbon rack. Are you unalloyed happy with your four?” He asked, in genuine curiosity.

She shook her head immediately. “Of course Lady Alice would never say so, because polite ladies don’t talk about the horrors of chlorine or mustard gas. But no, there’s a lot of death and blood there, a lot of boys who didn’t come home. I’m centuries old, but young men dying in agony never gets easier.” Walter nodded.

“Giving them out isn’t much easier,” he mused. “I’m proud of what we did, but I’d take back every single one of those medals I gave out today if it would let me have men who weren’t shot or stabbed or blown up. Or in the morgue. I always loved getting to give a well earned medal, but nothing ever makes it better when you’re looking at someone who knows they’ll never see somebody ever again.” He sighed, and looked over at her. “But it’s the job.”

Morgan nodded. “Wise words indeed. Have you…” she began, but stopped when both of their cell phones buzzed at the same time. Walter pulled out his phone and looked down to read the screen.

We found Morrison.

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10.6 Post Press

Walter stepped back in to the same conference room where they had started this whole thing. It seemed like it had been twenty years ago that Ashland showed up, although he knew that it hadn’t been. Before the press conference he had managed to get in to the green dress uniform he kept in his locker, and had even thrown on the hat that the creepy couple in town had made him when he was first hired. They’d pulled appropriate rank pins out of storage, and so he had walked out to give a word to the press looking like it hadn’t been a complete shock he had been named acting Marshal.

Now he slumped down in a chair in the conference room and reached up to undo the high collar on the uniform. “You know, the nice thing about my previous leadership career was that I was legally barred from discussing them.” Button undone, he tossed the hat on to the table. “Also if I’m acting Marshal can I switch us to a beret, or at least a traditional police hat?”

Leah, who had accompanied him back to the station while running point from her cell, laughed as she took a seat as well. She was followed by Tania Summers, Ashland, as well as Antigone, Siobhan, and both Ryans. “Not a fan of the Smokey the Bear hat?” She asked. She hadn’t bothered changing—she hadn’t been on camera.

“Not even slightly,” he sighed. “But with the outfit I can’t think of what would be better. Also I have no idea what our budget is. Also also there are literally a thousand other more important things to worry about than changing uniforms, especially since we don’t wear the whole getup most of the time.”

Ashland took a seat. “It was well done, Walt. I continue to be surprised by how many times people in Border will buy an excuse of ‘sudden and unlikely to be repeated gang attacks’ without asking why you have so many unexpected gangs. But who am I to complain. What’s next?”

Walter was about to respond to either her statements or her question, when Chief Deputy Marshal Lucy Alvarez walked in. She had been in the press conference with him, and was in a similar uniform; she took off her brown hat an tossed it on to the table next to his. “Chief Deputy,” Walter greeted her.

Lucy Alvarez was a tall, striking woman with light brown skin and dark hair she kept in a sensible bun. She was a couple years older than Walter but not by much, and she had been in the PD for her entire professional career. “Marshal,” she greeted, without a trace of bitterness or irony. “Call me Lucy. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the people in this room have some idea what’s going on, all things considered; so I’m going to cut to the chase and say that I know what’s happening too, and we can skip all the posturing.” She specifically looked at Tania—Morgan had stayed back at the Hospital to help where she could, and Tania had met them at the station—and nodded to her. “Ma’am.”

That told Walter as much as her words did, and he nodded. “Welcome to the war party then, Lucy. Here’s where we stand: After meeting with the vampire leader, they attacked. Allegedly because we were getting too close to their plans,” Walter explained. “She called it a tactical withdrawal. We’ve stopped their attacks and have to have hurt them back. But we don’t know where they’ve gone to, or what exactly they were even doing in the first place.”

Alvarez nodded at that. “So it’s got something to do with your investigation into Reverend Morrison and her background; and that research lab that you found?”

“I’ve already sent people to check on the Reverend, and the lab. We didn’t have reports of them being attacked, but that could either mean they weren’t or that they were killed too quickly to report,” Leah answered immediately. “We should know something in the next few moments.”

Ashland looked like she had been about to ask that, but settled for a nod to Leah’s answer. “Since we’re operating under the assumption that those two things are related we need to use them to find out exactly how. What happened, and what does it have to do with…vampires,” she finished, looking like she couldn’t believe she was saying that word seriously.

“And then we need to find them,” Walter agreed. “Which brings us to an interesting question…do we arrest Vampires?”

Tania laughed, a harsh sound that was at most a cousin to something actually joyful. “It’s not the normal treatment, no. Are you proposing to keep them in the basement? Or the morgue?”

Siobhan visibly rolled her eyes, and Walter scowled. “We’re the Police, Tania, which means we’re not in the business of just wasting people. At least not in this department,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “It’s worth thinking about whether or not there is a way for us to do that here.”

Ashland looked over to Tania, squinting. “Can someone adequately explain to me why the owner of the local newspaper is sitting in on a strategy meeting of the police department?” She asked. Walter shook his head.

“Nope,” he offered simply. Tania bared her teeth to Ashland, apparently content to let that serve as her answer. Ashland didn’t look particularly impressed by the answer, and for a moment Walter was worried she was going to press it and they were either going to have a problem or he was going to have to explain that Faeries were real too; but after a moment she apparently thought better of it and shrugged.

“Fine, not my department, I’ll look forward to seeing my name in the local paper. Senior Special Agent, technically,” she pointed out, giving Walter a falsely angelic smile as she used what he knew to be her cover title.

“Alright,” Walter interjected before anything else could be said. “We’ve all done enough for tonight. Everyone go try to get the sleep you can, we’re going to have long days coming up and we’re going to need it. I’ll message if anything comes up.”

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10.5 The Hell I Am

“The hell I am,” Walter responded immediately, looking to Leah to see if it was a particularly odd joke. The rest of the room was deathly silent, as befit their circumstances. Antigone and Siobhan were looking at him with owlishly large eyes, and he had to shrug at them.

Leah walked over to him and held up her phone. It was opened to a picture, of a letter on what Walter recognized was Marshal Alexander’s desk. It was on the official stationary of the department, and someone had typed and printed a letter on it.

In the event of my death or incapacity, I hereby appoint Deputy Marshal Walter Richards as Acting Marshal of the Border until I return, he is confirmed as Marshal, or someone else is appointed per city law.

William Alexander, 29th Marshal.

The signature was the only part of the letter in pen, and it was in blue ink for good form. Walter stared at it dumbstruck. It wasn’t dated, but he recognized the signature as the Marshal’s handwriting.

“This can’t be actually legal,” Walter finally responded as his brain overcame its bafflement. “There has to be more to appointing an acting Marshal than the previous one writing a letter at who knows what time and saying it’s so.”

Leah shook her head, as she held the phone out to show the others in the room as they came up to see. “In the event of incapacity or resignation, the Marshal can declare an Acting Marshal for up to 30 days without anyone else’s involvement. In the event the incapacity lasts for more than 30 days or after 30 days in case of a resignation the City Council can vote to remove the Acting Marshal. But if they don’t do so within 7 days the appointment is confirmed.”

That caused Ashland to blink. “That’s a terrible way to run any part of a government, and I think you know it. But it makes at least a little bit of sense,” she offered, looking over to Walter. “You know your shit and your clued in to the things going on in town.”

“Chief Deputy Alvarez is probably going to be a little bit hot under the collar about it, I’d wager?” Taito put in. “Like you pointed out, you’re jumping the chain of command in a major way. Still, if it’s legal…”

Andre shook his head a little. “It’s more common than you think. Uncle Will wasn’t a Chief Deputy Marshal when he was named Marshal. It’s not uncommon for one of them to end up with the job but it’s not uncommon for it not to be one of them either.” He shrugged. “We do things strange down here, but it is what it is.” He looked at Walter directly. “You’re the Marshal of the Border until you’re relieved or confirmed.”

There was a long moment of quiet in the room, as everyone took that information in and processed it for themselves. Some other officers trickled in, apparently having heard word as people back at the department texted their colleagues with the news. Men and women drawn and wan from an evening’s wild rid. Everyone looked tired, and concerned. Which isn’t surprising, Walter thought. I haven’t been with the Department that long; I’m an unknown quantity in a time of crisis, and nearly everyone liked Alexander.

Walter shook his head to clear his head of the shock and confusion. Or terror, he thought to himself. “Alright. I don’t know what the hell that means in the long run, but if we’re not doing something then we’re getting behind. Patton always said the best quality in a leader is making decisions.” He looked to Leah. “Until we get settled, you’re basically going to be chief of staff and public affairs officer. Have Alvarez tell the press I’ll give a press conference in…” He looked down at the watch on his wrist. “Forty-five minutes, at the station.” He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, nodding to her.

Leah’s eyes went wide, but then she nodded. “Got it. I’ll make the call,” she responded, standing up and moving for the door. She paused. “I won’t let you down, Marshal,” she offered, nervous but proud.

Walter turned to Andre next. “Until I get back you’re in charge of working with the wounded here. We’ve got injured cops who are going to be even more nervous. Take some officers you trust that people like, and go see them. Reassure them, console them, make sure they know we appreciate them. And get me a list of who is injured and how badly.” Andre nodded, standing, and Walter held up a hand. “You’re going to need to do some first contact with families, especially of our KIAs. It’s going to be terrible, but I need someone who can do it.” He reached his hand out, and Andre shook it.

“You got it. I’ll grab DeAngelo and Dunbar and we’ll get to work,” Andre agreed, before he pulled Walter in to a quick man hug. “You’ve got this, Marshal,” he said quietly before he pulled back and let go. With a little salute, he walked out the door and called out to the two officers he see.

Walter turned to the other officers in the room, taking them in one at a time. He made sure each one got at least a brief moment of eye contact that was obviously for them. “We’re in a rough spot right now, but we’ve been in rough spots before. We got through them before and we will get through them now. The city is safe, or as safe as it can be for the moment; and we’ll be out there to keep it safe again. Tell your family, tell your friends. Whatever else happens, the Border PD is still here and still protecting the city.”

He watched them draw a measure of confidence from his words, from the confidence he was throwing out at them as desperately as possible. He got a couple of grins, a couple of wry salutes, and a general feeling they had their heads back in the game as they walked out of the waiting room. The moment the last of them walked out, Walter saw Morgan standing in the corner—apparently having snuck in. Or cheated with what Walter would never admit was magic.

“I can see why your soldiers would be so loyal to you, Walter,” Morgan offered appreciatively. “You gave people a mission and a sense of normalcy. Something to believe in. Do you think you can pull it off?”

Walter let out a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, and shrugged. Ryan Aquino came up and clapped him on the shoulder. “Walter was the best. The Army lost a hell of a lot when they used him up. What do you need from me, boss?” He asked. Walter glanced over to Morgan.

“Can I borrow your knight as a bodyguard? They took out one Marshal, I wouldn’t put it past them to try again,” Walter asked, and explained.

Morgan nodded. “He’s yours until either of us need to call him back, but we’ll try to be sure we give you enough warning,” she agreed. “Speaking of, they didn’t take out one Marshal. It took a significant amount of my significant skill—and a lot of sufficiently advanced technology,” she allowed with a little bow to Walter. “But Bill is going to pull through. He’s got a long recovery ahead of him, but screw them they don’t have him.”

That drew a round of applause from everyone in the room, and smiles all around. “Alright,” Walter said after a moment. “We’re all exhausted but I’ve got a lot of work left it turns out. If I let you drive as fast as you want, will you drive us back to the station?” Morgan let out a laugh and pulled out her keys, walking toward the door.

“Hey dad,” Siobhan said softly as they walked toward the door. “That was really cool.” She reached out and squeezed him in a hug.

“Acting Marshal probably comes with a pay raise too, right?” Antigone asked.

“Probably,” Walter agreed with a shrug. Antigone and Siobhan grinned at one another.

“Dibs on a new car!” They said in cheerful unison. Walter let out a startled laugh before they all started laughing, the load lightening slightly as they shared the moment of levity.

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10.4 Border General Redux

“Glad to see the hospital hasn’t changed in a couple of hours,” Walter grunted to himself as he pushed in through the door. The call had come in over the radio while they were driving, that the Marshal had been taken to Border General and that he was in critical condition. They had promptly done a U-turn over a median, scared the living hell out of a bunch of random citizens, and reconfirmed their commitment to not letting Ryan Aquino drive city vehicles ever again.

“I’d like to stop coming here,” Antigone agreed as she ran up to meet them. She and Antigone had been driven to the hospital, after insisting they were not leaving their father alone again, in a car driven only somewhat more sedately by Morgan. At least she can teleport them out in an emergency, Walter thought grimly.

Morgan charged ahead in to the Emergency Room and grabbed a doctor she recognized. Within a few moments of cajoling and almost yelling she had something in her hands that she was reading off of. “He’s in surgery for multiple shrapnel wounds. They’ve stopped him from bleeding out, but it’s still going to be touch and go while they’re trying to get the pieces out.”

Walter nodded, resisting the urge to reach out and read the document because it would literally do nothing helpful and would probably only annoy Morgan. “Is there something you can do to help?” He asked quietly. She was a doctor, so it wasn’t an unreasonable request; but they also both knew he wasn’t asking about if she could help with the sutures.

“Oh good fuck yes,” Morgan answered, baring her teeth in a fierce look that in no way resembled a smile. “They shot the Marshal of the Border, that signs me up to do whatever I want. I will go slap the shit out of Death if he steps in to the room.”

Walter blinked a bit, and caught the chart as she tossed it at him. “I thought you were death?” He asked, not even mostly kidding.

“Fine…” Morgan huffed as she stalked off in the direction of the operating room. “Any other deaths.” She gave a little wave as she all but ran off, moving through the crowd toward the room with such ease that Walter assumed magic had to be involved. That left Walter, Siobhan, Antigone, Ryan Aquino, Ryan Richards, Andre, and Leah with nowhere to go but the waiting room.

Which they found currently occupied with Ashland and Taito. The broad Master Sergeant was sitting in one of the chairs in his shirtsleeves, while Ashland was standing and pulling on a new white dress shirt. The old one was on the chair next to Taito, ripped and blood stained, and Walter could see fresh bandages on the woman as she started buttoning up her shirt.

“So much for never letting them see you bleed,” Ashland commented wryly. She glanced down at her jacket and tie and apparently decided they were lost causes, so she reached up to spread her collar a little bit in order to make it look purposeful.

“I’ve seen you bleed before,” Walter answered as he went to drop down in to a chair, looking at the two of them. “How bad up were you?” He asked, his eyes glancing back to the bloody shirt again. The others found seats as well, with Ryan Aquino particularly making himself comfortable while the other Ryan went to huddle with his sisters to speak quietly.

Ashland looked at the shirt as well and shrugged. “Not too bad. A couple of stitches. The kid is out right now because he took a little bit more when the building exploded, so I’ll be looking to balance that out in my ledger.” She rolled her shoulders a bit before she grabbed her bloody shirt and tossed it in to the wastebasket in the corner. “We need to talk about what happened tonight. You have someone dealing with the press?”

Walter looked over to Leah, who nodded. “Chief Deputy Alvarez is second in command, and I assume she’s taken charge of the situation along with the PAO. Not really our monkeys or our circus,” Leah answered.

Ashland nodded. “Good. I can throw the weight of the FBI behind whatever the cover up is, which brings me immediately to the next point: What in the entire fuck happened tonight?” She leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “I got to watch a man get speared through the chest by a piece of rebar and pull himself up it to try to stab us. I think he died in a fire but I can’t be sure.” She shook her head, grimacing. “That’s a new nightmare for me, Walter, and I’m completely opposed to new nightmares.”

Walter leaned back, looking down at his shoes and tapping them for a moment. “If I tell you, you aren’t going to believe me,” he offered with a shrug. “I’ll tell you, I’m tired of people not knowing about it. But you won’t believe me.”

Ashland laughed, and it was both a little bit better and slightly fragile—like she was doing more work keeping it together than she was letting on. Walter blinked slightly at the sign of weakness, torn between distrusting and belief. “Walter, I guarantee you I’ve never been more receptive to whatever it is you want to tell me. Do we need the room?” She asked meaningfully, looking around the room. Walter shook his head.

“No, everyone here knows. Alright,” Walter sighed. “The honest to God, I am not bullshitting you and I have not gone crazy answer is that they’re vampires,” he answered plainly, in a tone that said he clearly expected they would laugh him out of the room. Taito blinked, and Ashland clearly looked like her first instinct would have been to disbelieve—but when no one else in the room even looked askance at it, and considering the weirdness she had apparently seen, she didn’t.

Instead she let out a little laugh. “OK. Vampires. Tell me about vampires, Walter.” She looked like she was surprised to have said the words, despite earlier protestations to the contrary. Walter opened his mouth to say something, when Leah’s phone started buzzing and she answered it. Everyone looked over to her curiously, and she blushed slightly—before she went pale.

“What is it?” Walter asked. Leah held up a hand to cover the receiver on her phone, before remembering it was a smart phone and she could just mute it.

“Walter…there are reporters down at the station who want a statement from you,” Leah explained.

Walter blinked. “I guess someone saw me jumping around town?” He asked. Leah shook her head. “Why then?”

“Because apparently you’re the Acting Marshal, Walter,” Leah answered.

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10.3 A Little Bit of Heat and Light

Somebody had once told William that grenades were nothing to be afraid of. “Just a little bit of heat and light.” He hadn’t been afraid of them—he’d just had a healthy caution born of war movies and the fact that they were literally designed to blow people up. Of course trying to explain that respect to a Marine Drill Instructor was an exercise in futility, so he had overcome it. Because that’s what a Marine does, and what he did. But he disagreed it was just heat and light; he didn’t like fire.

The real nightmare was later, a firefight in Vietnam. A buddy of his threw a grenade too low and it bounced off of a log, right back at them. The buddy didn’t make it out, nor did another friend. He could still feel the scar it had given him when it rained.

The fact that the building was on fire was what made him think of that, he knew. He had to shake it off, the prickling fear that rolled up his neck and tingled on his scalp, before it distracted him too much. He had plenty to be afraid of without the terror of a flashback to something that had happened over 40 years before.

He saw the grenade roll in to the room and immediately recognized it. The U.S. had been using the M67 fragmentation grenade since the 1960s, after all; when you’d used one you tended to recognize it. How a bunch of vampires turned terrorists had ended up with some was a problem for quartermasters. He just had to not get blown up.

He dropped his rifle, grabbed Sergeant Fox and hauled the man ahead of him before he jumped. He felt the grenade go off more than he heard it, the thump and rattle in his body that told him he had probably been a little bit too close. But he also had very little time to worry about that, because he knew they would be following up on the grenade attack. He landed hard on the Sergeant and rolled off, pulling out his sidearm with a groan…

Only for it to be kicked away by a boot, the crunch and sudden pain in his hand telling him that he had probably just broken a finger or two. The man above him was tall, buzz cut, cruel looking. He had a semi-automatic pistol in his hand, and pointed it. It was funny what you noticed when you were about to die.

“I think you’re supposed to say that you’re too old for this shit,” the man offered with a cruel grin.

He thought it was terribly funny that he’d die to some human asshole, not even a vampire, who also happened to be casually racist. Not actually funny, but terribly funny.

“You’re too old for this shit,” a voice came from the side. Then there was a gunshot, and a splatter on the wall, and the man fell off of him. “What a terrible line. Come on, Top, let’s get you out of here before they blow the damn building.” She grunted, and reached down to grab his arm and pull it over her shoulder. It was the woman, Ashland, that Walter hated so much. Right then he would have taken a rescue from the devil himself, so he wasn’t going to complain, especially as he realized he was bleeding fairly intensely from his side and was losing feeling in his legs. “Shit, you’re bleeding out. Taito, get the Sergeant and haul ass!”

He was impressed at the woman’s ability to carry him, but he must have blacked out at some point because the next thing he knew he was outside of the building. And then the building was exploding, a horrifying sound of metal shrieking and brick flying everywhere. His last thought before the darkness came again was that it was just a little bit of heat and light…

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10.2 Aftermath

Walter lost track of how many different fights he had been in. It was possible that he had never been in so many different fights in one day, let alone in a few hours, at any point in his life. 32nd and Main had turned in to the West District Police building, which had turned in to Border Power and Electric, which had turned in to an alley outside of the hat store. He was exhausted, and he had run out of ammunition for his rifle, and he was down to a single full magazine for his pistol as he walked out of the alley and looked to Morgan. “Where next?”

Even Morgan was starting to look exhausted. She had explained that showing up with the force that they were was far more draining than just showing up, and that the amount of interfering metals he was carrying added to it, as did the fact that she was giving him some of her energy during the process to keep him going. “I’ve got juice for one more, and we’ve got two left. Far west side of town or far east. There’s no radio report, I just know where there’s fighting—but not much more. Your call,” she breathed slightly.

Walter winced a little bit. “Absolutely no intel on either?” He asked, drawing a shake of her head in response. He nodded, acknowledging the limitation and not blaming her. He sighed, and pulled a coin out of his pocket. “Heads west, tails east.” He flipped the coin—a nickel—and watched as it spun through the air. He was tired enough to not even bother with catching it, just following its path as it flopped to the ground with the visage of Thomas Jefferson staring up at the sky. “West it is,” he offered, rolling his shoulder.

Morgan looked around for a moment, and spotted an honest-to-goodness old fashioned phone booth—albeit one covered in graffiti and with the phone long since gone. “How quaint,” Morgan breathed appreciatively as the two of them slogged toward it. Walter pulled out his radio and toggled it.

“Badge 928 to all units, two ongoing firefights remaining in city. Badge 928 going to reinforce units on the west end of town, find and reinforce units on east end. 928 out,” Walter spoke in to the radio before he put it back on to his belt. “Best we can do if we don’t have the time or juice to hit both. Ready for sufficiently advanced technology?”

The power with which Morgan rolled her eyes could have probably juiced a helicopter to get them where they were going. “Get in the goddamn phone booth, Superman,” she commanded, and Walter obeyed.

**** ****

What seemed like four hours later but was probably no more than about forty minutes, Walter walked exhaustedly in to the Border PD main building to weary but excited applause. Almost the whole department had been called in during the evening, and as the fighting had died down they had made their way back to the main office for debriefing and treatment of minor wounds. Walter saw far too many wounded, and far too many not there—either at the hospital for more serious injuries or dead—for his liking.

Andre Alexander came up with a stack of documents in his hands as the applause was dying down. “Walt, that was a hell of a thing you did. There’s a lot of people here who would have been a lot worse off if you hadn’t run yourself through the ringer.” He reached out and squeezed Walter’s shoulder as Leah Silverman came up with another pile of documents.

“Initial reports,” she explained, walking with Walter to one of the big conference tables in the main entryway. “We’ve got a lot fewer KIA than we could have, although we’ve got a lot of wounded. And the media is going crazy—we need to say something to them.” She also held something out in her other hand for him to take—a Border PD coffee mug filled with what it was designed for. He took it gratefully and downed a long gulp of it. Andre offered a similar cup to Morgan, who gave him a grateful smile and took it as well.

“God that’s simultaneously the best and worst coffee that I’ve ever had,” Walter offered almost reverentially. “Did everyone get here alright?” He asked a heartbeat later, still holding the coffee like he was trying to absorb it by smell. Leah nodded, and motioned to one of the conference rooms, which Walter began walking toward tiredly.

“Your daughters and their friends are all here, as well as the girl from the hospital and Ryan Aquino are all in there. We’re waiting for some of the final clean reports, we’ve still got units out in the city we don’t have contact from. And some smaller incidents we don’t think are related; people taking advantage of the ‘riots’,” Leah offered with a wrinkle of her nose. They went through the door to the conference room, the same one they had sat with Ashland in not long ago. As soon as he passed through the door he was smothered in hugs from his children.

“Thank God you’re OK!” Antigone breathed as she squeezed him.

“And you were worried about us doing crazy shit?” Siobhan’s comment was playing it more cool but she was hugging him no less tightly. He wrapped his arms around them, squeezing and reassuring himself that they were wholly safe as well. “We’ve been following your reports on the radio.”

“We were going out of our minds!” Antigone agreed, her voice somewhere between an admonishment and a gasp of relief.

Siobhan, as usual, had a slightly different take. “But it was kind of amazing, you were kicking ass all over the city! No wonder they clapped when you came in!” She sounded proud of him, which warmed Walter’s heart a little bit even through the weariness. “BPD should invest in teleportation, looks like it works pretty well.”

Walter snorted and pulled back from their hugs, looking over to the others. Lacey, Monica, Scotty, and the girl from the hospital looked similarly shaken but not particularly worse for wear. He opened his mouth to ask how they were doing, when the radio on the table crackled to life. A panicked voice came through on an all channels broadcast.

“Badge 344 to all units. 10-34 at McPherson Warehouse. Hundred is wounded. I repeat, Hundred is down!” The terrified voice came through. Leah, Andre, and Walter all stiffened, and Andre cursed.

“That’s the Marshal!” Leah gasped, as they all started for the door.

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10.1 Semper Gumby

“Does your mere presence make Vampires flee?” Walter asked as the closet door closed behind them. He knew he would only have a few seconds, so he asked the first question on his mind. “And where are we going?”

Morgan shot him a look and a little bit of a grin. “Of course it does—I’m the Queen of Winter, and they are most definitely not. But mostly the fact that I’m massaging a hole in time and space means anyone vaguely supernatural can feel it coming unless I take effort to hide it.” Her grin turned a little but lupine as she held out her hands to begin doing whatever it was that she did. Blue light began to expand off of her hands, frost licking the walls across from her fingertips. “And if I can’t outright fight for the side I want to, then I can damn well make my allegiances known in other ways. They’ll feel me coming.”

Walter raised an eyebrow, and resisted the urge to comment on her phrasing, when he felt the now familiar feeling of being folded in on himself and the world shuddered. It was cold, whatever flashing space he took between worlds, and the world was a swirl of blue in light and dark shades. It felt both…formless and purposeful at the same time, and it felt like it went on for longer than the few moments that he objectively knew it was. When it was done he was in another closet, this one stocked with office supplies rather than janitorial ones, and he reached for the door.

“Where are we?” He asked curiously, waiting for an answer before he opened the door. “And are these vampires or humans?” He did a quick mental count of how many bullets he had and quickly made sure that he had his other magazines—but even so he wasn’t sure he’d have enough for what he had to do.

“32nd and Main,” Morgan answered immediately. “I heard it as one of the firefights on the police radio that was going the worst. I think Andre and Leah are here. Ready?” Walter nodded, and then they bolted out the door. Which was dramatic, but apparently they were just in the supply closet of what looked to be a small law or accounting firm right off of the street. He started to look over his shoulder at Morgan before he saw through the window that he was overlooking the firefight. “Yes, I can pick a good spot, now go save your friends,” she offered, walking casually to the window to watch. “I believe it is just humans here.”

Walter grinned. “See you on the other side for round two,” he offered, before moving quickly to the door, keeping low to make sure that he wouldn’t be seen. In dark clothing in a dark building at an oblique angle it wasn’t likely—but he didn’t want to make it easier, either.

Outside there were two police cars forming a barricade, behind which officers were clustered with service pistols and a few rifles, with most wearing bullet proof helmets and jackts. On the other side there were a matching pair of carefully parked SUVs behind which hid a much greater number of people wearing armor and helmets and almost universally holding automatic weapons of some kind. He winced, because that was a serious imbalance of firepower, but there wasn’t a lot he could do. He pulled out his radio, and switched it to the police frequency but kept the volume just barely on. There was every possibility they would be monitoring police frequencies, so he had to come up with something that would let Andre and Leah know that something was going to be happening without tipping off what it was. He only thought for a second.

“Badge 336,” he murmured in to the radio, using Andre’s badge number. “Semper Gumby.” He watched one of the police officers behind the car, otherwise unidentifiable, take a quick look around before he returned his eyes to the fight. There’s Andre, and he now knows what’s coming, Walter thought. The enemy closest to Walter perked his head up at this new intrusion to the chatter he was clearly monitoring, although it was clear he didn’t know what it meant, and he looked curiously around…in the wrong direction.

There, Walter thought as he opened up the door cautiously. The Rangers Rules, both in ancient form and modern, tell an Army Ranger to wait in ambush until their fire is doubly frightening and that after firing an enemy could be rushed with hatchets. Walter wished he had his hatchet with him, but he figured an orichalcum knife would due. He pushed the door open and, just as the man at the end of the line was starting to look back, threw himself out in to the street at a full run. He braced the hand that held the gun against the hand that held the knife, holding it like he would a flashlight in a standard shooting stance.

He was firing before his other foot hit the ground on the first step of the run. Each of the enemy soldiers was wearing body armor and a helmet, so his shots had to count—and he made sure they did. The first one took the soldier listening to police radio chatter in the side of the head just below the helmet, dropping him instantly. The next shot had been intended to do the same to the following man, but he turned at the sound of Walter exiting the office building so the bullet took him directly on the chin. The third soldier in the row figured out what was happening more quickly, but by then Walter was to the rear of the SUV that acted as half of their barricade, crouching down low. Since they had been parked hood to hood this gave him his own little bit of cover, although he was only too aware of how little cover it was.

But that was alright, he knew, because his job now wasn’t really to take down more of them—but to distract them so they would keep making mistakes. He leaned around the rear of the car and fired two rounds quickly at the next two men in line, purposefully aiming low. One hit the target in the calf and the other forced the fourth man in line to dance back. Walter finished off the man he had shot in the calf with a double tap before he crouched back around to cover because he was out of ammo. The fourth man who had jumped back realized a second too late that doing so left him exposed to the other police officers, who obligingly dropped him with a shot to the upper neck.

Walter ejected the magazine from his pistol and was just slamming the other one in place when one of the men burst around the end of the cover to try to take him out. Walter saw the barrel of the rifle sweeping toward him and desperately threw up hid left arm to block its descent. The man fired and Walter cursed at the spray of gas—and the volume of the gunshot so close to his face—but the bullet flew wide and embedded itself in the asphalt. In return Walter brought his own pistol and jammed it up toward the man’s chin to try for a killing shot; but the other man was too good for that and blocked it as well. That left them each out of position and each blocking the other man’s gun, with the first man to break the stalemate likely winning.

Walter dropped his block of the man’s rifle but stood up quickly, slamming the crown of his head in to the man’s chin. It dazed Walter slightly but did worse to the soldier, sending him stumbling back a bit. That was all Walter needed to take the orichalcum dagger he held reverse gripped in his left hand and bury it in the man’s throat. He dropped to the ground as Walter turned desperately back to the other soldiers…

To find them fleeing as the Border PD advanced toward them, the fight having turned against them because of the flanking maneuver. Walter breathed out, panting slightly as Andre and Leah ran up to him in full tactical gear. “Holy shit, Walter, that was incredible,” Leah breathed.

“Incredibly stupid, you could have been killed…but thanks for the help,” Andre offered with a shake of his head. “Semper Gumby, huh?” He asked. Walter smirked as he leaned down to pick up one of the discarded automatic rifles. It was an M4A1, and Walter checked the magazine before grabbing another one from someone who was no longer using it.

“Always Gumby?” Leah asked, parsing the Latin and looking at Walter curiously.

“Marine lingo,” Walter answered. “Always flexible. I can’t stay, I’m playing pinch hitter for the whole department thanks to some sufficiently advanced technology.”

“Magic,” Leah corrected helpfully.

“Never,” Walter responded immediately. “You guys alright here while I go help elsewhere?” When they nodded he returned it, jogging back toward the office where Morgan waited to go to their next site.

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