Baen books by mercedes lackey



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Invasion:
Book One of the Secret World Chronicle - ARC

Created by Mercedes Lackey and Steve Libbey

Written by Mercedes Lackey with Steve Libbey, Cody Martin, Dennis Lee

Edited by Larry Dixon



Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

Baen
BAEN BOOKS BY MERCEDES LACKEY


Heirs of Alexandria Series

The Shadow of the Lion (with Eric Flint & Dave Freer)

This Rough Magic (with Eric Flint & Dave Freer)

Much Fall of Blood (with Eric Flint & Dave Freer)
Urban Fantasies Series

Bedlam's Bard (with Ellen Guon)

With Rosemary Edghill

Beyond World's End

Spirits White as Lightning

Mad Maudlin

Music to My Sorrow

Bedlam's Edge (ed. with Rosemary Edghill)
The Serrated Edge

Chrome Circle (with Larry Dixon)

The Chrome Borne (with Larry Dixon)

The Otherworld (with Larry Dixon & Mark Shepherd)
Historical Fantasies with Roberta Gellis

This Scepter'd Isle

Ill Met by Moonlight

By Slanderous Tongues

And Less Than Kind
Bardic Voices

The Lark and the Wren

The Robin and the Kestrel

The Eagle and the Nightingales

The Free Bards

Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Bardic Choices: A Cast of Corbies (with Josepha Sherman)
The Fire Rose
The Wizard of Karres (with Eric Flint & Dave Freer)
Fortress of Frost and Fire (with Ru Emerson)

Prison of Souls (with Mark Shepherd)
Lammas Night

Werehunter

Fiddler Fair
Brain Ships (with Anne McCaffrey & Margaret Ball)

The Sword of Knowledge (with C.J. Cherryh, Leslie Fish, & Nancy Asire)

Invasion: Book One of the Secret World Chronicle


This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Mercedes Lackey, Steve Libbey, Cody Martin, and Dennis Lee
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com


ISBN: 978-1-4391-3419-1
Cover art by Larry Dixon
First printing, March 2011
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
t/k
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
Dedication

Dedicated to the dear friends, brilliant creators, and great souls who have inspired and guided us:

Gail Simone, Kurt Busiek, Art Adams, Greg Pak, Perry Moore, Stan The Man, Mike Grell, Matt Wagner, James Owen, Austin Grossman, Dwayne McDuffie, Alex Ross, Paul Dini, Mike Mignola, Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges, Jeff Parker, Garth Ennis, John Ostrander, Fred Van Lente, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Matt Fraction, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Howard Chaykin, Charles Vess, Walt & Louis Simonson, Ann Nocenti, Ed Brubaker, Alan Moore, Phil Foglio, Marc Silvestri, Fabian Nicieza, Chris Meadows, Doug Shuler, Dave Burns, Mike Glasheen, Jay Doherty, David Nakayama, Vince D’Amelia, Sean Fish, Michael Shreeves, Andy Wein, Scott Merry, Cedric Johnson, Alex Lennox-Miller, Dan Shull, Jake Fejedelem, Mike Eastham, Bart Heid, Josh Haycraft, Kenneth Widmer, Steven Dare, Michelle Travis, Chris Meadows, Veronica Giguere, Victoria Fulford, Stephen Zajac, David Morgan, the hoopy froods at 2000AD, our awesome pals at DC, cool cats at Marvel, Cory Doctorow, Brian Azzarello, Stan Sakai, Greg Rucka, Jonathan Hickman, Sean McKeever, Dale Eaglesham, Nicola Scott, Howard Porter, Carlo Pagulayan, J.H. Williams III, Harry Knowles & AICN, Cracked.com, BoingBoing, Wizard’s Asylum, Zeus Comics and all the amazing friends at Comic Book Resources and YABS, Comics Alliance, Scott Shaw!, Unscrewed!, Gayla, Dalton, Tiyada, Awbrey, Mr. Mike, Dale, Keith, our RPG and gamer buddies, Curt, Tammy, Alex, Paul & Tor, Joe Phillips, Adult Swim, Ken Mitchroney, Seanbaby, Chris Sims…

…and all the wild and lovable fans who give us support, smiles and good times.

Acknowledgements

But above all:

We owe this story to City of Heroes/City of Villains/Going Rogue, the MMORPG by NCsoft and Paragon Studios where all these characters first were born. They evolved, grew, and changed from their original concepts, but much of that development took place in the world of Paragon City. If you would like to play in our favorite addiction, go to www.cityofheroes.com and give it a try. Who knows? One day you might meet up with one of us.

Part One:


The Way the World Ends

Introduction

The blue-skinned, blue-haired woman known by the callsign “Belladonna Blue” leaned into the oval hatch of the captain’s cubby. She was already suited up in her white, full-body nanoarmor, with only her head exposed. Her helmet was under her arm. “You’ve got about two hours, Vic. Make the most of it.”

Victoria Victrix nodded. She hoped someone was going to be around to read the file when all this was over.

She began to type, hesitantly at first, but picked up speed as she went to make the most of what little time there was left.

* * *


Whoever you are that’s reading this, you might not know that the real genesis of where we are now was back in 1935.

That was when the first metahumans first started showing up in Nazi Germany, paraded before screaming crowds at Hitler’s rallies. The very first to appear were Vaterland, and his sidekick, Hitlerjungend. Then came the one the rest were named for—Ubermensch. And honestly, nobody thought they were anything but propaganda blow-ups using stage magic and fakery until the Blitzkrieg started pounding across Europe. But there were more of these Ubermenschen, and all by themselves they were the equivalent of entire battalions and tank corps. For a while they had it all their own way, too.

That changed during the Battle of Britain; the waves of fighter-bombers were being led by a Nazi who had reflexes like nobody’s business and hardly needed a plane at all.

The Black Baron.

Bullets literally bounced off him. His “plane” was a frame with eight machine guns and an armored engine. He could pull maneuvers that would easily have sent anyone else into full blackout. He was an unstoppable one-man fighter squadron. And he was cutting the RAF down at the coastline.

One of those RAF pilots was Lieutenant Commander Nigel Patterson, whose plane burst into flames and disintegrated around him under the Baron’s guns.

Except “Nige” didn’t die, because something happened to him in that instant. Out of the explosion burst a fireball that was a man, who proceeded to punch holes with his body in every Nazi fighter-bomber in that formation. Then he landed on the frame of the Black Baron’s craft, ripped the control cables and fuel lines out, and punched the Baron square in the nose for good measure, knocking him out. The Baron’s “plane” folded up and plummeted. Maybe the Baron could survive bullets, but he couldn’t survive a terminal-velocity fall with an armored V-16 engine crushing him. He turned into a red smear on the ground.

Spitfire, the first of the Allied supers, was born.

Time after time, again and again, it happened during the War. Nazi, Italian Fascist and Japanese metas would show up and kick butt for a while, and then something bizarre would happen on the battlefield. Suddenly they were facing someone that could take them. That changed the way the war was fought. The metas battled it out one on one, gladiator style, leaving conventional forces to win or lose the battles. And after the war was over, the metas that didn’t much cotton to law and order just moved on to crime. Which was where Echo came in, funded by the eccentric but charismatic nephew of Nikola Tesla who had a boatload of his uncle’s inventions and the savvy to make them pay off handsomely. Echo organized the old metas from former WWII vets and recruited new ones, bundling them all into a single organization. And for a while, well, things in the world looked a lot like the comic-book writers from before the war used to picture them. Every city had its Echo HQ, and you’d see the occasional metavillain pulling off something extreme and your local Echo OpTwo or Three would take him out, either alone or with a team. People got used to it, and couldn’t remember a time without metas, actually. They collected trading cards and action figures, and wore buttons with their favorites on them, like they did with ball players. Metas got legislated, with the Extreme Force laws and the Control Officer mandate. Echo built special containment prisons for metavillains. It was a lot less scary than the threat of the A-bomb, and then the H-bomb. And a lot more marketable.

Echo’s main HQ was in Atlanta, because Yankee Doodle and Dixie Belle got married right after the end of WWII and settled there, and they were the pride of the US Metahuman Corps. Atlanta was pretty central, fairly modern, and had access to about anything, but was not Washington, DC, or NYC. Andro Tesla wanted to keep Echo away from the US centers of politics.

Then came the day that everything changed. My friends and I were right in the middle of it.

Who am I? I’m Victoria Victrix Nagy, magician, metahuman, romance writer, and hacker, at your service. I’ll try to chronicle what happened. I’m not a reporter—I’m trying to pull together notes and stories, write this all down as best I can and I hope I don’t screw it up. I’ll give you the truth, as far as we know it. You’ll know the mistakes we made, and hopefully someone will have a record of who was a hero, who gave all, and just how much we lost. And for us, for me, this is how it began.

Welcome to our nightmare.

Chapter One:


Before The Storm

Mercedes Lackey, Steve Libbey, Cody Martin and Dennis Lee

Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Eisenfaust

I Minus 24:00:00 and Counting

Eisenfaust hunkered in the shadows of an alleyway outside a bar. At the end of the block, a stark white wall terminated the nighttime darkness like a false horizon, surrounding a brightly lit tower with windows as slender as a man’s arm: the Echo Security Facility, one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the United States of America.

He had survived the plane crash—as Germany’s greatest pilot, he knew how to ditch a plane—but he hadn’t counted on the flimsiness of twenty-first century aircraft; his broken arm throbbed, not quite healed yet.

Better than the fate his pursuers had encountered in the Andes. He almost wished he was back in the jungle stronghold, just long enough to mock the Commandant who had stolen his beautiful Valkyria from him.

Ah, Effi. Your betrayal cut deep.

He would not fall prey to the foolishness that won Valkyria. Eisenfaust had fought for the Fatherland, for his fellow Deutschlander, for the freedom his people deserved. But this…this was madness.

And in keeping with his nom de guerre, he’d crush it under his fist. But he needed allies, and he needed time to plan.

Slowly, he made his way down the dim street to the Echo compound. These American Ubermenschen would surely be surprised by the identity of their uninvited guest.

The guard at the gate eyed him. “The campus is closed, sir.”

“I wish to speak to your commanding officer,” Eisenfaust said. “Fetch him at once.”

“Ah…right. You’ll have to come back tomorrow. We open at nine a.m.

“I have no intention of waiting.” Eisenfaust scowled at the enlisted man. “Your commander—bring him.”

A second guard stepped out of the booth, wary of the increasing tension in the air. “We can’t do that, sir. Please step away from the gate.”

Eisenfaust cursed under his breath. Even the Allied Aces had shown him more deference than these flunkies. He pointed at the security tower. “That is my destination. If you cannot assist me, step aside.”

Both guards reached for their sidearms. Moving with the inhuman speed that made him Germany’s greatest aerial ace, he swatted the guns out of their hands before they could level them in his direction. The two men gasped.

With his good arm, he flattened the first guard with a blow to the chin. “I will find him myself!” he exclaimed furiously. The second guard knelt to seize his gun; Eisenfaust booted the man in the side, hurling him back into the booth.

With a contemptuous sniff, he kicked the guns aside and walked to the door of the detention facility.

In wartime Eisenfaust would never have been so careless as to simply leave the guards unconscious, but his goal was not to kill these men. He was here to make his presence known. Eisenfaust opened the glass doors, approving of their weight; the bulletproof glass was two inches thick and obscured the lobby.

“Stop right there, mister.” The speaker was a fine example of American manhood: tall, wide-shouldered, a face with mongrel features, topped with a swath of light brown hair. His black Echo uniform sported epaulets decorated with the Stars and Stripes. A thick metal gauntlet on his right hand glowed with plasma energy—and was directed at Eisenfaust.

Gute nacht, my friend. I am told you have rooms for rent.”

A score of Echo guards with rifles lined up behind the meta. “We have plenty of room for punks who smack our people around. Don’t make me use force.”

“Good. I was hoping to speak to someone with authority.” He drew himself up into a salute. “I wish to turn myself in.”

“Now that was easy.” The meta motioned the guards forward, who circled Eisenfaust. “Take him in, boys. Watch those hands.”

Eisenfaust gestured to his broken arm. “You have nothing to fear from me, young man. I am a colleague of your father’s.” A guard handcuffed his wrists, eliciting a wince of pain.

“I doubt that. Pop died over twenty years ago, and I don’t think he ever managed to buddy up to a German after the war.”

A tinge of doubt crossed Eisenfaust’s mind. “I…I am sorry to hear this. He was a fine warrior, the best I ever faced.”

“Huh?” The metahuman looked at him closely. “Now you’re messing with me. You can’t be a day over thirty.”

“You are correct, in a sense.” The shackles clanked as he offered his hand. “I am Oberst Heinrich Eisenhauer of the Uberluftwaffe of the Third Reich.” He paused, enjoying the look on the young man’s face. “Your father, Yankee Doodle, knew me as Eisenfaust.”

The meta looked from the hand to Eisenfaust’s face. “Bull,” he said at last. “He died fighting the Allied Aces. In 1945.”

“Then your father told you about me. Clearly you carry on his legacy.”

A succession of expressions passed over the American’s face so quickly that anyone lacking Eisenfaust’s metahuman perceptions would not have registered anything but a frown: first surprise, then reflection, then the cold, strategic calculation of a man used to secrets. His bluff bravado returned in less than a heartbeat.

“As Yankee Pride, yeah. And we’re a little too savvy to let some Nazi fetishist get his rocks off by pretending to be a dead Nazi war criminal. Did you leave Hitler’s brain in your Panzer tank out front?” Yankee Pride backed off as Echo guards seized Eisenfaust’s arms, wrenching his broken arm. “Put him in a holding cell under suicide watch until we can ID this wingnut.”

The guards began to drag Eisenfaust down the hallway towards the cell block. He called out: “Ask your mother! Or Liberty Torch! Or Worker’s Champion! They knew me. They feared me! They will recognize me!”

“Save it for the shrink, Fritz.” Yankee Pride replied. He tapped at controls on his gauntlet, gesturing oddly at Eisenfaust for a moment.

Eisenfaust calmed himself. He assumed the Americans would be suspicious of a man claiming to be one of their country’s greatest foes. He would overcome their doubts.

“You’re taking me to a cell?” he asked a guard. “Is it secure?”

“No one’s ever gotten out of Echo,” the man sneered.

“That’s admirable.” Eisenfaust gave the man a prophetic smile. “But it’s who will try to get in that concerns me.”


Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Callsign Belladonna Blue

I Minus 6:37:22 and Counting

The name on her badge said “Bella Dawn Parker,” but Bella’s Las Vegas Fire Department callsign was “Blues.” Not because she sang them, but because she was blue—blue-haired, blue-skinned, a metahuman.

Metahumans didn’t stand out in a city like Lost Wages, where you could stand waiting for the bus next to a Russian acrobat, a seven-foot-tall transvestite in Cleopatra drag, a guy with an albino anaconda wrapped around his shoulders, and five Elvii, and all anyone wanted to talk about was the Rebels’ football scores.

She was the rookie in Station 7 of the Las Vegas Fire Department, alternate driver of Rescue 2, Paramedic Parker, EMT-4, the highest EMT rank there was, and not so coincidentally a registered OpOne with Echo Rescue.

There’d been a huge dump fire earlier that had taken hours to put out and had occasioned a three-station roll-out, so everyone was starving. They all rolled back about 2 a.m., oh-dark-hundred, and it was her turn to cook, which mean they were getting spaghetti, easy to reheat. Rarely did anyone in a firehouse get to finish a sit-down meal.

She lounged back and watched the guys trundle in, mostly still wet from showers. They still stank a little of burnt rubber.

“Hey, Blues?” One of the other rookies looked over at her as he was dishing himself out red sauce. “How’d you get to be EMT-4 so fast? You’re only what—19? 20?”

“I slept with the instructor,” she smirked. “Naw, it’s actually a lot less dirty than that. I started taking the EMT courses while I was still in school. They needed me at ball games and stuff, and they wanted me legal. I got the jumpstart ’cause Echo Rescue tapped me for the touch-healing when I was twelve.”

“Damn, there goes my bet…”


New York, New York, USA: Callsign John Murdock

I Minus 6:22:17 and Counting

John Murdock sat on a bench in an out-of-the-way corner of Central Park with his face buried in his hands, laden down with a feeling that could only be described as “soul-weary,” assuming there were such things as souls. Since he’d found this spot, he’d never seen anyone else use it. Possibly because it was a frequent target for pigeons. With his eyes closed, he tried to shut out the happy ruckus of ordinary folks having a cheap good time.

In the middle distance, he could hear a street preacher sounding off. And then, from somewhere behind him, the sirens of three cop cars wailed as they gave chase. He’d stopped looking for somewhere to hide whenever he heard sirens about a year ago, but the sound still made his nerves twitch.

Whoever they were chasing wasn’t giving up without a fight.

Probably there was no one in this park who could hear what he was picking up: the sounds of gunshots under the sirens. Single shots, all semi-auto. Handguns, then.

Then he picked up something else. Microjets, tearing through the concrete canyons, on a vector that would converge with that of the sirens.

Echo jet pack. Whatever the perps had done, it had to be bad to earn them metahuman attention. Tough luck, chumps. Cavalry is comin’. He leaned back, sighing heavily. Like you’re one to talk, chump. Every time he heard something like this, ten years of training to protect the innocent warred with five years of paranoia, but as ever, survival instinct and the paranoia won. The sounds ended with no way of telling the outcome—other than that the meta with the jets had clearly triumphed, since they spun down a minute after the shots ended.

He shook his head. Things, little things, really hit home for him when it was bright and sunny out, like it was today. There were days when he wondered why he had ever been born. They were happening a lot more often lately, and this was one of them. And “never been born” all too easily morphed into “better off dead.” He was close, close to that point of no return, but he’d kept on living so far and damned if he was going to give up now. Sheer stubbornness maybe, or just the bargain-basement revenge of outliving the bastards that had put him in this position in the first place.

He stood up, tired of feeling sorry for himself. He started walking away from the park, skirting on the periphery of the tree line, and kept going for several blocks, letting his mind go blank. Funny how people thought of New York as a terribly dangerous place to live. In fact, it was more like a series of vertical villages: people knew each other, went to the same little snack shops, bought milk at the same bodegas. The fact that he didn’t belong in any of those little enclaves, made the gloom wrap around his soul even tighter.

Eventually, he found a bar; a real Irish neighborhood joint that must have been there for a century, the sort of place that firefighters and steel workers went to after putting in their shifts. Alcohol wasn’t really a cure, but it sure worked wonders for the short term. Six a.m. might be early to start drinking by most people’s standards but nobody in this bar was keeping track.

But he wasn’t going to get any trouble here as long as he didn’t start any himself. At six feet even and 200 pounds, he wasn’t huge, not by the standards nowadays, where you saw Echo metas that were the size of park statues, but he wasn’t a pip-squeak either.

Mostly, though, it was the way he moved and held himself that made trouble avoid him, recognizing him for a fellow predator.

Inside the door, he looked up. There was a patina of hard use and age on everything. He strode up to the bar, spying a whiteboard listing the drink prices. Cheap. It was the first bit of good news he’d had all day. Money was running out. It went fast in this town, even when you were sleeping rough and making do with the showers at the Salvation Army. Be time to find a job soon, under-the-counter pay, shady construction work, janitor…he hoped he wouldn’t have to go on the gray side of the law. Still, he figured that he had enough to get drunk with, and maybe even some money left over for half of a decent meal. Or one full meal at a soup kitchen and a real bed at a flophouse.

John sat down hard on the wooden stool, resting his elbows on the worn counter in front of him. The barkeep was busy having a conversation with a middle-aged couple at the right end of the bar. John knew what the barkeep saw: a customer maybe, but one that wasn’t going to spend a lot of money, even by the standards of this place. Clothing nondescript. Jean jacket, white shirt, and cargo pants; clean, but they had seen too many hard wearings and washings. His brown hair, a little too long and uneven, hadn’t seen a barber for a long time. Compact muscles and expressionless gray-green eyes, like two cold pebbles, also said he might be trouble, as did the callused knuckles. Fingerless gloves. Fistfighters tended to wear those. John rapped his knuckles against the counter a few times until the bartender tore himself away; he was an older man, with shock-white hair and a day-old stubble shading his chin. “What’ll it be?” he asked, his tone shaded with impatience as well as wariness.

John looked up wearily, meeting the bartender’s eyes, and shoved a ten spot toward him. “Whatever’s the house special.”

“House rye, dollar a shot, coming up.” The barkeep really was in a hurry to get back to the conversation. He shoved a half-full bottle—John’s eagle eye measured the contents as just about ten shots’ worth—and a shot glass across the counter at John, and turned back to the couple. He resumed his banter, stopping short to eye John up. “We’ll be having you pay as you go, too.”
Echo Headquarters, Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Eisenfaust

I Minus 02:32:15 and Counting

By day, the Echo detention facility hummed with energy. Metahuman prisoners could not be afforded the same liberties as conventional convicts: no exercise yard, no recreation room, no library. Even the classic prison pose, leaning against the bars with hands useless and dangling, was denied them. The reinforced steel doors contained grills that afforded a limited view of the corridor.

Some deemed it cruel. Most considered it necessary due to the unique nature of the metahumans. Ordinary criminals could be disarmed, metas couldn’t. Metapowers were, by law, lethal weapons that had to be registered with local law enforcement and the government.

Eisenfaust paced his cell. After his death-defying escape from the clutches of the Thule Society, confinement was maddening. These imprisoned men and women were scum, and to be interred with them, even by choice, grated on his nerves.

The grill at the foot of his door slid open to admit a tray with his lunch. “Guard,” he said. “I have waited for your commanders to speak to me for far too long. Where is Yankee Pride?”

“Out doing his job,” the guard answered abruptly.

“Why has he not contacted me? I told him I have critical information, a matter of national security.” Hand pressed against the door, he perversely longed for the typical iron bars of a jail.

“Sure you do.”

The guard tapped a button with his foot. The serving grill slid shut with a final clatter. He stepped back behind the food cart.

“You’re all in terrible danger,” Eisenfaust said, his voice becoming strident with urgency. “Please, you cannot ignore this threat for long.”

The guard sighed. He leaned against the door. “Listen, pal,” he said. “If it’ll shut you up, I can tell you this: they’re sending an Echo Support detective down here to interview you after lunch. Save it for her, okay?”

Without another word the man wheeled out of sight. Eisenfaust stepped back, mind racing. A detective? Hardly an official, but at least someone who was trusted to report on matters of consequence.

He felt momentarily giddy. “Danke,” he called down the hall.

“Dankay? What kinda nonsense you spouting?” The rough voice came from the cell directly across his. The face behind the grill was black; blacker than a human should be.

Deutsch, mein freund. German. It means ‘thanks.’ ”

“You ain’t been here long if you’re thanking the COs,” the black shape said. “You probably think you’re in here by mistake.”

Nein. I asked to be here.”

The voice laughed, a coarse bark. “Didn’t know stupidity was illegal.”

Eisenfaust scowled. “I suppose you’re incarcerated for rudeness.”

Again, the staccato laugh. “Not me. Robbery with metahuman powers. Aggravated assault. Resisting arrest.”

“You’re lucky Echo is so permissive. I’d have killed you on the spot.”

“Oh ho ho, big man. You’re scaring me. What’re you in for?”

Eisenfaust thought for a moment. “I killed one hundred and twelve men that I know of.”

Silence fell upon the corridor around them.

“Yeah?” The black shape moved away from the grill, his voice smaller.

“Yes. Shooting. Bombing. By plane, by pistol…two with a knife. One with my bare hands.” All necessary deaths in wartime, he told himself, though in this den of thieves he took some relish in trumping their claims. No criminal can exceed the sins of a man at war.

“Damn.”


“So in my eyes, you’re all mere amateurs. Worse, your crimes were committed for selfish reasons. I fought for my country.”

Every ear seemed to be turned to their conversation. Eisenfaust flushed. His story wasn’t for these lowlifes; only Echo and their metas were his peers, regardless of what cause they served.

A high-pitched voice sang out from his right: “He shut you up good, Slycke!”

“Go to hell,” Slycke rumbled. “My daddy served in ’Nam. Killed him a dozen gooks and brought back their fingers on a string. This guy ain’t no different, except…” His voiced trailed off. “Who’d you serve under?”

“Haven’t you guessed?” Eisenfaust paused for effect. “Adolf Hitler.”

The corridor erupted with angry shouting. The guards came through in squads, banging on the cell doors with energized prods and calling for order. Eisenfaust took his meal to his seat and smiled as he picked at the cornbread and ham. Soon he’d meet with the detective and give her enough tidbits to earn him an audience with the master of the house.

Alex Tesla.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Victoria Victrix

I Minus 02:23:56 and Counting

Victoria Victrix Nagy stood in her cozy living room, surrounded by the sandalwood scent of her candles, by the armor of her shelves of books and music and movies, and stared at the closed door of her apartment, gathering her strength and her courage. She was about to do battle, as she did about every two weeks, and the fight was going to require every resource she could muster. She checked, once again, to make sure that her protections were in place, that she was covered from chin to toes with not so much as a millimeter of skin exposed. The battle she faced was inside herself, and she faced it every time she had to leave her apartment.

And it wasn’t getting any easier for standing there.

She took a shuddering breath, felt her throat closing, her heart racing, heard the blood pounding in her ears. And the fear, the terrible, blinding, paralyzing fear spread through her, making her knees weak, her hands shake.

But there was no choice. She had to eat. It was time to do the grocery shopping, panic attacks or no panic attacks.






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