Fallen Stars

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Repetition 1.11

Shadows shifted around the group as they moved through the abandoned street. Ariel was in the lead, the shadows that hid them moving around her and across the others in turn. Nihilium and Raelyn followed just behind her, the man’s one working eye closed and Raelyn guiding him behind them. All three of them were practically drenched, despite the rain coats they wore – it was down pouring, storm clouds coating the sky and winds blowing the rain around in a fine mist.

“Has he seen anything yet?” Ariel glanced back to them for a short moment, only to see Raelyn shake her head.

“No, not yet,” Raelyn said when Ariel looked back to in front of them – they still hadn’t run into any soldiers, but the idea that they would be doing so soon was beyond a doubt. “Usually he sees things a lot faster, too.”

Ariel nodded and continued forward, the city had been deserted for three years and it showed. Buildings with no windows, windows boarded up, smashed-in doors, lawns that looked more like they were part of an untouched grassland that just happened to be in the middle of a concrete jungle, and even a few abandoned cars. The buildings that weren’t made to last were falling apart – wood rotting from a total lack of climate control, entire walls missing from some rooms of the apartment complexes. Some doors were blowing open in the wind, their hinges undoubtedly about to snap off.

“The port they’re using shouldn’t be too far from here,” Raelyn said, just barely loud enough to speak over the downpour, as they walked through the streets, turning to look towards the south. There was a dark body of water a few blocks down from them. Some rooftops managed to stick out of the water still – buildings that had managed to stay standing even with the water of the Ogallala Sea enveloping their foundations. But more than, oh, ten or twenty feet out into the sea and it was impossible to see through the onslaught of rain. It could have been worse, and it looked like that hurricane was hitting finally. It wasn’t a terrible surprise though – if an Angel host working with the military was behind it, this would be where they’d want it.

Ariel quickly put up an open palm, and moved to press her back against one of the brick walls on the sidewalk. Raelyn followed suit, stopping and pressing against the wall just by the redhead. She pulled Nihilium against the wall, and he slowly filled against it with her guidance – his eyes still closed, the man seemingly trying to see into the future as well as he could.

“There’s three men down there,” Ariel remarked, and a small hole opened in the moving shadows that camouflaged them – Raelyn looked through the opening, and nodded. Three men were walking down the coastline, headed towards the group’s right as they did so.“Soldiers?”

“Without a doubt,” Raelyn said as the hole closed again, the shadows moving around them still. The soldiers wouldn’t have noticed them, surely, but it was easier to just let the shadows keep around them. “We should follow them.”

Ariel nodded and started to move before there was a heavy sigh – Nihilium had opened his one working eye, and shook his head slowly.

“Nothing,” he muttered as he looked about the area. “I couldn’t see anything this time. I’m not sure why.”

“So we’re going in blind beyond what you already know?”

“Yes,” Nihilium said with a short shrug. “I suppose it’s just as well, we don’t know that we’ll die now.” He cracked a short smile, and Raelyn just shook her head.

“We also don’t know that we won’t,” she said.

“We’ll just have to make our plan work then,” Ariel said as she moved out from against the wall. “If the soldiers are down there, is it likely that’s where they’ll be boarding the ship?”

Raelyn and Nihilium paused before nodding, the man looking through the moving shadows just enough to see the buildings around them. “Looks like the place, anyways,” he said after a few moments.

Ariel led the group towards the soldiers, the shadows keeping them hidden in the dim lights of the town. If the ship was near, well... they wouldn’t see it in this weather anyways, visibility was too low. Ariel was glad they had finished driving before the weather had gotten this way.

“If this really is a cover for the ship like your Angel suggested,” Raelyn remarked as they walked, “Then the ship itself is probably in or near the eye of the storm.”

“Right. That means things are going to get pretty bad soon, then,” Ariel said as she looked around. “Any ideas where we could hide out until then?”

Raelyn pointed towards a tall-ish apartment complex that they weren’t far from – it was about ten stories tall, but more importantly one side of it was on the sea’s coastline. From a good position in it, they could keep an eye on the sea itself while the waited out the storm. The winds picked up and Ariel’s sleeves fluttered in the distance. The raincoat’s hood nearly blew off, but she grabbed a hold of it to pull it down. Raelyn started to smile at the small misfortune that had befallen Ariel, but a gust of wind kicked up some rain that only served to soak all three of them. Silently and dripping wet, the three moved across the street – no one wanted to bring up just how miserable the weather was.

The door to the apartment complexes had been broken out – leaving only an empty doorway into a ruined lobby. The desk was broken into splinters of wood, mouse droppings littered the floor and water pooled in some of the tiles. But it was shelter from the storm – they didn’t want to have to sit through the stronger parts of the storm while waiting.

Raelyn took the lead through the apartment’s lobby, apparently familiar with its layout, and towards a small room across it – a window opened up on that side to reveal the Ogallala Sea itself, Ariel’s cloak of shadows hiding them from anyone that might have looked into the windows. The three soldiers they had seen earlier were visible through it, walking down the coastline slowly. Their uniforms and guns were visible now, goggles over their faces – they had been prepared to work in darker conditions than the three Angel-hosts.

“Get down,” Raelyn hissed as one looked towards the apartment building – the others did so immediately, crouching just beneath the window’s frame.

“We’ll keep a look out, then when we see them boarding the ship we’ll sneak aboard,” Nihilium said as they crouched beneath the window. “Once we get on board, we’ll have to be quiet of course. Then we find whoever they’re loading up onto the ship – probably your friend, Christina’s name right? Alright, good to know – and get them off. I’ll be getting the lifeboat ready, since I can’t do much in a fight,” he said to the two of them. There was a moment of pause, and the two women nodded.

The storms outside picked up, the glass-less window let in the buffetting downpour of rain that only served to make them even colder. Ariel shivered slightly, but she was smiling – she’d be able to save Christina, to make the girl know that she could trust her with her life. That she was still loyal, even if Christina didn’t know it still.

As Emmett Kingston put the glistening, emerald helmet on, his entire demeanor changed. He went from a shorter-than average, balding black man to a man of presence and stature – his dark green, leather boots rose him up several inches and his helmet created the illusion of height from its size. The visor closed tightly, and had someone not watch him put on the armor they’d have hardly believed the two were the same person. Rain pouring down made the entire suit seem to glow with a haze of water, light refracting through the droplets to make occasional green-tinted rainbows.

“Well, I can’t imagine anyone suspecting it’s you when you looks this different in your armor,” Bellona said. “The two of us, though...”

She looked down at the matching uniforms that Emmett had supplied them – they wore what were essentially green and black Letterman jackets with “EK” on the back, in an emerald-themed font. Their faces were obscured with nothing more than a hood that acted somewhat like a visor, two eye holes in it so that they could pull it down past their eyes and to their nose. Their hands were covered in leather gloves that were open for their fingers, and their pants...

Bellona shuddered – she didn’t even want to think about what their pants looked like. Even Kyosu had commented on how simply awful they had worked with the rest of the outfit.

“We look ridiculous,” Bellona finished.

“But at least no one will recognize us thanks to the hoods,” Kyosu said as he pulled his own down further on his face. His wide smile was still visible beneath the hood, and he had a bouncing movement even while he stood still. This was his chance to finally become the hero he had wanted to be – even if he didn’t have his powers back yet, he’d be able to play the role of a sidekick at least.

Bellona rolled her eyes and shook her head, but laughed slightly – it was a good enough point.

“Alright, then, you two! Your identities in this form are the Emerald Squires. As the Emerald Squires, you shall assist me in recovering Harut’s host from the ship she’ll be loaded onto so that we may user her powers to bring justice to those who would do evil in this world!”

“Where is the boat, anyways?” Bellona asked as she looked around the group. It was hard to see out to sea that far, but it was clear from the few soldiers around a make-shift dock that this was where the Angel host would be loaded onto the boat.

“It should be arriving shortly,” Emerald Knight said – his voice seemed to change as he said it, the man taking upon the role of the television superhero fully now. His cape fell out of a pocket on his armor, and he pointed forward. As if on cue a low horn bellowed out from the sea, lights piercing through the mist and into the city. The ship’s shape was possible to make out now, a great mass of black and gray steel that slowly cut through the waves. On the side, the words USS ELDRITCH were printed in massive letters that would have dwarfed a person.

“How do you always get your timing so perfect?” Kyosu asked excitedly, “That was like a scene from the TV show!”

“Simple, Squire – I am observant! Now follow my lead!”

The Emerald Knight started to walk through the rain as the ship slowly came up to beside the make-shift dock. Its horn bellowed out again with a low hum, the sound of a car approaching reaching their ears. Bellona turned to look in that direction, where it was clear a group of military trucks were approaching. The Angel host they were after would be there, surely – there was no way it wasn’t the case.

The three trucks were army green, and looked like they had been built similarly to an armored truck used to transport money. Their windows were tinted to the point it looked like black metal from where the three stood, and the windshield wipers beat back and forth with gusto.

Kyosu and Bellona followed the Emerald Knight as he led them through the street, hiding just barely behind a ruined building. They waited for the trucks to come into range, the Emerald Knight pulling out three small emeralds from somewhere on his suit.

The first truck passed by, and continued on down the streets. The storm was stronger now than before, but it seemed that there was a clear spot coming closer now. The next two, side-by-side, passed by with a roar. Bellona stepped out without wasting a moment, the plan rested entirely on her ability to keep things running smoothly.

In a few short moments she had pulled her two pistols from her pockets. She aimed them into the air and fired. The trucks’ brake lights lit up, the soldiers ahead shouting something about someone attacking. The name “Jacques” passed through one of their sentences, and she smirked at the fact the military thought that the now infamous gang leader was behind it.

“Now!” Emerald Knight shouted, running forward – he threw three emeralds in quick succession, all three landing underneath the trucks. Time froze the moment they landed, the soldiers had no time to react.

“How long can you hold it?”

“Right now? Maybe, oh, a few minutes for now – I should be able to get more time later on.”

“That’s all I need.”

Emerald Knight rushed forward and waved his hand to the side – the emeralds he had thrown suddenly expanded and grew. Crystalline spikes shot out of them and into the truck tires, and then retracted. He waved for Kyosu and Bellona to follow as he darted across the street. With the rain drops frozen it was hard to move – he had to push them out of the way as he moved – but it was a short enough distance to get to before time continued.

They ducked into the open doorway of an abandoned, run-down building, and time resumed. Air whooshed out of the tires, soldiers shouted with panic – “Someone shot out the tires!” “All the trucks’ front tires are gone, get down!”

There was a crash as the front truck fishtailed and the back swung around. It stopped just barely before one two behind it crashed into its side, sparks erupting into the air. The remaining truck managed to come to a stop, soldiers rushing towards it. Sunlight broke through the storm clouds, and it was clear that more were on the way – this was the eye of the hurricane-like weather that had followed the boat.

“So now we wait,” Bellona murmured as she glanced outside the doorway they had entered through. The soldiers ran to the trucks that had crashed for the most part now, but a few headed towards the one that was fine. Slowly it roared to life and began to chug forward again, the tire rims screeching against the concrete.

“I think the one moving has the host on it,” Emerald Knight remarked with a short point towards it. “It’s getting attention from the soldiers even though it can move, so it’s got to be important.”

“That makes sense,” Kyosu remarked as he stuck his head out and into the open. The door on one of the truck’s passenger-sides opened and a soldier stepped out. Those around him met the new man’s presence with quick salutes, although quickly returned their attention to the trucks.

“If we can pause time long enough, I could probably sneak onto the ship from underneath the truck,” Kyosu said as he turned towards it. “I’ve done something similar before, except with less... y’know, military people. And less guns.”

“What about us? We need to get onboard too,” Bellona said as she turned her head down. “And the plan was that we stop the truck before it boards the ship anyways.”

“Not much chance of that now,” Emerald Knight said as he gave Kyosu a firm pat on the back. Kyosu cringed slightly at the unexpected touching, but said nothing as Emerald Knight continued. “I like that plan – we’ll get on the ship before it leaves with you somehow, don’t worry about that.”

Bellona nodded, and stepped out of the doorway. “I’ll pause time, I can buy you a few minutes to get there before I’ll need to take a short break – if we’re going to need a full hour out of it, I can’t use it all up at once.”

“That should be enough,” Kyosu said with a short nod. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together slightly. “I’m ready, then. When will you two get onboard?”

“Hopefully not too long after you – we’ll wait for an opening and sneak on board that way. Bellona’s power will come in handy, so we’ll look for you as soon as we get on board,” Emerald Knight said as he put a hand on Kyosu’s shoulder. “Be brave and bold – you don’t need a superpower to be a superhero. You just need a costume.”

Kyosu smiled faintly, and glanced towards Bellona. She nodded, and suddenly everything stopped. Once again the world was frozen in place except for the two of them. Emerald Knight’s mouth was frozen mid-speech, and Kyosu stood still for a few moments.

“Thanks again,” he said with a short nod. “For the place to stay. And taking me to that cafe – after this, when we save Celestia...”

“Just go, Kyosu. We’ll catch up with you soon.”

Kyosu smiled and nodded. “Right,” he said as he turned to start out the door. “I’ll see you on the ship.”

Bellona put a hand on her hip and tapped her feet with impatience. “Get going or I’ll unpause time on you.”

Kyosu didn’t say a word, but laughed slightly as he started into the open. The soldiers stood like statues, the exhaust from the truck ahead frozen in the air. It was weird how things looked when suddenly time stopped, and as he pushed the air around his body he wondered just how Bellona’s Angel managed to do this.

He ducked down and underneath the high-up bottom of the truck. He flipped onto his back as he got underneath, and quickly grabbed onto some bars that didn’t look like they were that weak. His feet hooked up and above another bar, and he hoped that he’d be able to keep his hold on them when time continued.

There was a fuzzy feel in the air, and the truck began to move again. The sound of the tire rims scrapping on the concrete was worse here, and then the truck came to a stop. Kyosu tilted his head back to look forward, only to see that the ship hadn’t lowered its boarding ramp yet.

Well, he thought to himself as he looked at the gray wall of the ship, Hopefully they don’t look under here before it boards the ship...

Ami Ikari watched through her office’s window to look down at the room the ANBs sat in, the ur-fravashi inside them slumbering. She had never known that there was a window to look into this room until now, despite having been in there hundreds of times. Of course, the answer was clear: it was a one-way window, and only someone in the office could see through it.

Yet, as the new researcher stationed down there opened the small opening to look in at the ur-fravashi inside of the ANB, she couldn’t help but shiver. It felt like the being’s eyes were piercing through both the window as if it were nothing but air, even if they were clearly closed.

“I still don’t understand where you come from,” she whispered as she placed a hand on the glass, “Or what you are, biologically. But you’re... you’re awake, aren’t you?”

There was no response from the ur-fravashi, but she hadn’t expected one. “For as long as I’ve known about you, I only thought of you as a scientific curiosity. But you’ve been watching Anderson, haven’t you been?” She smiled softly and shook her head. “No, of course not. That wouldn’t be possible. You’re in stasis.”

Ami Ikari turned from the window and looked back at her own office. It was large. Too large, in fact. Her desk was twice as wide as was needed, and the walls were lined with empty bookshelves. While Dr. Anderson had, she supposed, filled them with research, all of that was gone now. All the research was on the computer that sat within the desk, a framework that she had designed working in the basement.

“Magi Morgana, activate,” Ami commanded, and there was a hum of activity in her desk. A circle of blue light came to life on the desk’s surface, and then a hologram flickered to life as a shapely woman with long, flowing robes. Her sleeves flapped with each movement of her hands, which were covered by them completely. The Magi’s smiled as she rose a hand to brush her short bangs out of the way of her eyes. Her one sleeve fell to her elbow as she did so, and a smile flashed across her face. “Did Dr. Anderson do any research on the ur-fravashi beyond their current state?”

“Yes,” Magi Morgana responded. She began to pace inside the circle, text fluttering in the air around her for a few moments. Her arms crossed behind her back, and she turned towards Ami. “There are two files on them that are not about them as they are now, but instead on their origins and their intelligence. Pretty boring stuff, if you ask me.”

“Well, I didn’t,” Ami said in retort – a smile flashed across Morgana’s face. Ami just rolled her eyes. “What kind of information did she find?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have access to either of the files,” Morgana responded. she scratched her head, before turning to look about the office. She muttered something about the office looking empty, but too quiet for Ami to catch all of it. “They’re locked to only Stoneheart’s access.”

“That’s... odd. When were they locked?” Ami pulled the office chair back and sat down, the window behind her tinting to black. Her brows furrowed in thought and she frowned deeply. “Stoneheart said I’d have access to everything Anderson did.”

“Anderson drafted them a month ago – Stoneheart locked them twenty-five days ago.” Morgana mimicked Ami’s own actions and pulled a holographic chair from out of thin air, before sitting down on it – backwards, Ami noticed. She crossed her arms over the back, sleeves hanging almost down the entire back of it and brushing her knees, and yawned. “It’d be easy to break into.”

Ami didn’t say anything for a moment, her mouth was stuck in a half-open state. She hadn’t even considered breaking into the files, and here was an AI that was developed specifically to work for the company suggesting exactly that. Morgana burst into laughter before Ami could respond though, and shook her head. “You should see the look on your face, it’s like I just told you that you were fired!” she said in the middle of her laughing. “I don’t think I need to break in though – the files are recorded with each revision, so I can just read revisions from before they were locked.”

“That sounds good,” Ami responded with a short nod. She smiled slightly, and a wall of backwards text materialized between her and Morgana. “Better than breaking in at any rate. I don’t want to lose my job, after all.”

“Oh, please, like he’d ever notice – but hey, why break in if it’s right here on his doorstep?” Morgana flicked a hand out and the wall of text rotated as if she had just swatted at it, finally stopping as it faced towards Ami. The title of the document was simple and to the point: “The Fravashi and Their Intelligence.”

The text suddenly scrolled up and out of the hologram, a paragraph expanding. “This is the interesting thing,” Morgana said as she circled the paragraph with her left hand, “It looks like the ur-fravashi are a specific breed of fravashi – possibly some form of eugenics is involved, but it seems to be a physical caste system as opposed to racial.”

“Right,” Ami said with a short nod, eyes darting through the paragraph. Another one expanded the moment she finished it, her eyes following the text rapidly. She finished the last sentence. Her mouth hung open for a few moments and her eyes widened. “They... they’re not in stasis. They’re conscious in there, watching us?”

“Yes, it would appear so,” Morgana said as she stretched her arms out. She let out a loud yawn and Ami glared at her, before the AI just laughed. “Look, it’s nothing new to me. Anderson had me help with the files. They’re a bunch of crazy-strong psychic beings that could probably destroy this planet if the ANBs ever malfunctioned. But they’ll be off the planet once Operation Eden is done.”

“Morgana,” Ami said as she leaned forward and almost into the light of the holographic display – the AI flinched for a moment, but once Ami stopped moving returned to her usual nonchalant look. “What are the minimal requirements to keep an ur-fravashi contained safely?”

“At the hottest, the ANBs could be at about ten degrees Kelvin,” Morgana responded as she rose an eyebrow. This was an interesting question, she had assumed the researcher would know it off the top of her head.

“And at what temperature do their AA fields reach a human level?”

Morgana smiled. “At nine degrees Kelvin. Why?”

“At exactly ten degrees Kelvin, what kind of AA Field readings did the ur-fravashi have?”

“High enough projection of an AA Field that they could manipulate any electromagnetic storage device in range – which increased exponentially between nine and ten degrees. Doctor Ikari, what exactly are you planning?”

“I want to talk to one of them,” Ami said with a short smile. Morgana clapped her hands together and stood up from the chair with a smile as Ami finished: “And see what makes them tick.”

Jacques walked across the concrete parking lot slowly but surely, flames billowing behind him. Every step he took left a small flame, and where his right hand should have been was nothing but a constantly burning flame. It took the form of his hand, yes, but it wasn’t as if it worked much like one.

Trailing behind him was a group in black hoodies, skull-flames on their uniforms to mark them as members of the King’s Foot. Police cars sat in burning husks around the gang, bodies in and around them catching fire. Only a day ago this had been nearly overwhelmed by officers, but Jacques had struck back – and hard – when the federal agents had came into the visitor’s center.

After killing the hostages himself, he had led the counter-attack. Up against his control over flame, the police had nothing to defend themselves. Riot shields and armor stopped bullets, not flames that could spawn even on the inside.

“Boss, they’re all dead now – I think we won,” a fat, Hispanic man on his right, assault rifled tightly gripped in his hands. “I mean, what do we have to gain by going further?”

“We can strike fear in them,” Jacques said as he kept walking. “The King’s Foot must crush his enemies, after all.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like we can fuckin’ dom the whole motherfucking army, can we? I mean, if this was a dick contest they’d have the world beat – we’re not even a fuckin’ city worth.”

“That’s why we’re going to strike fast and take control,” Jacques said calmly, the flames growing slightly. “We have a right to our own land – and we’ve claimed the Badlands.”

The fat man said nothing, only nodded. It wasn’t a good idea to question the King too much, he had learned that when Jacques’ last second in command had done so.

There was a crack in the distance – the fat man fell to the ground in a heap, a hearty SLAP echoing from his sudden impact with the concrete. “Shit, man!” he shouted out, hands going to his his right knee – blood was spilling out just as fast as his screams of pain.

“There’s a sniper,” Jacques said as his flames roared hotter – the gangsters following him stepped backwards and glanced between one another. A few murmured, but they were mostly silent as they watched the fat man on the ground, screaming for help. “Come out and fight, motherfucker!”

Another crack followed, another man hit the ground. His hands went to his knees as he screamed just like the other man. The others backed up slowly and glanced at one another, murmuring slightly. “Get out of here,” Jacques snapped at them. The two men on the ground were still rolling in pain, but he paid them no mind – they were, he assumed, safe.

He walked forward and down the hill, through the ruined parking lot. Smoke wafted across his face and he smirked. He passed through the smoke and stood in front of the flaming cars, the wind blowing across his face. There was no one that he could see clearly from here, the sniper was probably too far away to see.

Jacques heard an engine puttering in the distance, and turned to see a long, black car driving up the road towards Mount Rushmore. “So,” he said as he clapped his hands together. The flames disappeared and he rolled his head to crack his neck. “You’re the one that the sniper’s working for?”

He went to crack his knuckles before he stopped, his left hand about to grab onto the stump of his right arm. He swore silently and crossed his arms instead, watching as the car approached. They had gotten a message across to him, and while he didn’t like that they had shot two of his men... well, he’d listen to what they had to say.

The car pulled to the side of the road, the windows tinted to a near black. It was impossible for him to see into the vehicle, and he watched without a word as the passenger-side door opened. The man who stepped out wore a black suit and tie, and had slightly colored skin with a tint that gave an Oriental vibe to him. His comb-backed hair was black like ink. His eyes were the same color. A smile came across his wrinkled, yet hardly old looking, face as he pulled a suitcase out of the car. His smile that was slightly too wide for a normal human’s face.

“I assume you are Jacques Bryant the Third?”

“Yeah, and who the fuck are you, Jackie Chan?”

The man laughed and shook his head. “Who I am does not matter.”

“It doesn’t matter? I’d like to know who the fuck took down two of my men, you bastard-”

“Mr. Bryant, please, relax – your compatriots will be fine. In fact, the man I represent will be more than happy to pay for their medical bills.” He smiled wider – his mouth looked like it was something out of a cartoon.

Jacques said nothing in response, and while he shivered just slightly at the sight of the man’s face he didn’t look away. He stared into the man’s eyes, only to watch as they changed from black to a bright red. “What the f-”

“I am the representative of my client, who does not desire his name to be disclosed at this time. He does, however, want to offer you an agreement.”

“Your eyes just changed color, what the fuck are you? And if your client doesn’t want me to know his name, how can I trust him?”

“I am an Angel host, of course,” the man responded with a shrug. He pulled the briefcase up and held it in one hand, the other going for the latches. “As for my client, he is offering you funds for doing favors – he approves of your ambition towards liberty.”

The man opened the suitcase, revealing stacks of hundred dollar bills. Jacques’ eyes widened and he felt his jaw drop slightly. He couldn’t count it, but he knew from just seeing the stacks that in the suitcase was far more money than he had ever held in his life. “In exchange for his funding, he requests that you bring as many Angel hosts as you can find to one of seven drop-off points, which will be supplied upon your agreement.”

“How much is in the suitcase?”

“Two million dollars.”

“Alright. I’ll bite – that’s a lot of cash.”

The man laughed and closed the suitcase. His latched it tightly, and put it down onto the ground. Slowly he walked back to the car, only to open the back door on the passenger-side again. “Get out of the car, doctor.”

A woman in white slowly pulled herself out of the car, her white button-up long enough that it ran almost to her knees. Beneath it she wore a pair of white pants, and she pushed her glasses up towards her bright green eyes, the frames pushed into her hair as she did so. She held in one gloved hand a medical bag with a red cross on it.

“This is Doctor Anna Lee, an employee of my client’s. He is giving you her services as a medical expert and a supply of equipment in case of any injuries.”

She put her left hand forward, and Jacques took it for a quick handshake. “You’re not quite what I expected, you look like you haven’t slept in days.” Her red lips flashed a short, half-second smile – and then, just like that, her smile was gone.

“I haven’t.”

Anna paused before nodding, and then turned towards the man who had introduced the two of them. “Do you accept my client’s offer?”

“Yeah, I’ll take the cash and the good doctor,” Jacques said with a short nod, and then walked forward towards the suitcase. “Is your client going to give me more money as I go?”

“Of course – he expects you to need more when you’ve used this money. You did say that you wanted the Badlands and Black Hills, did you not?”

Jacques paused – how had the man known? Was there someone in the King’s Foot that was talking? Or had they been bugged? But he smiled after a short few moments, putting on a show. It was a lot of money he was getting – and the doctor didn’t look half bad. “Yeah, that’s right.”

“I wish you a good day then,” the man said with a short nod. “The suitcase has instructions to receive more funds and deliver Angels hosts inside. Do not cross us, Mr. Bryant.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Jackie Chan.”

The man laughed as he opened the passenger-side door. “Next time you see me, we’ll see if you recognize me.” He sat shut the door with a bang, and the car began to roll off.

Jacques turned to look at Anna, who was watching the two with a bored expression. He stepped towards her and crouched so that their faces were level, and leaned in close. He turned to look at the car, and then back at her. She had no reaction to his proximity other than a twitching eyebrow as she tapped her left foot in.

“What the fuck is that guy?” he asked.

“It’s a shapeshifter. No idea if it’s a man or a woman, or it’s age. Kind of unnerving, though.”

“Gives me the spooks,” Jacques said with a short nod. “Well, your boss’ sniper took two of my men down so it looks like you’ve already got work cut out for you, cutie.”

“Don’t call me cutie,” Anna responded as she started to walk ahead of him. “I’m a medical professional, not your harlot.”

“Alright, calm down Doc. So you’ve got all you need in that first aid kit then?”

“Yes, for the wounds they have at least. But you’ll have to get me more supplies if you expect me to be any good for any serious injuries,” Anna said as she walked. Jacques started to open his mouth as he followed her, suitcase in hand, before she cut him off: “I know what wounds they have because I was told it’d be their knees getting shot. Now let me do my job.”

Jacques smiled as he watched her, following a few steps behind. He hadn’t expected an opportunity like this one to come up when the sniper had taken out two of his men, but he was glad it had. And while he was stuck on the fact that his funds were coming from an anonymous source...

He shook his head. It didn’t matter where he got the money as long as it kept coming.

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