Actions

Work Header

creatures of the night

Chapter Text

Broken glass littered the floor like hailstones, crunching underfoot. Most of the furniture and kitchen appliances were in pieces, with half of the debris on the street outside the shattered window being ogled by onlookers over crime scene tape. The food and possessions of long-gone patrons decorated the walls and every available surface that hadn’t been cracked in two, and the ceiling was smeared with condiments and soda. The young hostess was trembling as he took her statement, her hair in disarray as though it had been clutched in horror. Priest could recognise things like that.

“They were nuts,” she moaned. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Did they take anything? Money?”

“What? No, no – they came in here like a wrecking ball, smashing up whatever they could and making half the customers shit themselves – uh, sorry, crap themselves – and then they left.”

“They just left? They didn’t hurt anyone or do anything else?”

“No, they… Well…” The hostess rubbed her arm absently, peering into space. “It was weird, it was… Look, I don’t even know if I saw anything – probably I was just scared out of my mind -,”

“It’s only helpful to the investigation if you’re honest with me,” said Priest, schooling his tone into something avuncular. “Please.”

There was a moment where he thought she might lie to make herself seem more credible, a familiar trait in civvies, particularly in this line of questioning. But then:

 “Blue light,” she told him, thoroughly miserable. “They were sucking blue light out of some kid on the ground.”

 

The boys were prolific, Priest would give them that.

For four months Blackwing had been cognizant of a band of hooligans wreaking chaos all the way up the West Coast, leaving a trail of hysteria in their wake. It was like watching an especially single-minded tornado tear through the country, and after the fifth town had been hit Director Osborne called Riggins and Priest to her office with the same expectant fury that had precipitated the chases and subsequent captures of Projects Bel, Echidna and Marzanna. The difference in this case was her age. She hadn’t been a young woman when she took over the CIA, and now, as a sexagenarian hefting a long list of old injuries from her field agent days, the daily issues that plagued Blackwing were starting to show on her in deepening lines and white hairs. Three young men intent on terrorising a seaboard was probably not her idea of a peaceful retirement.

“Give me something, Scott,” she said, before either man had even taken a seat in front of her desk. It was cluttered with files and documents requiring her signature or attentive perusal, no doubt, and a boxy computer hummed wearily to her left, its convex screen glowing faintly blue.

“We don’t have concrete identities yet,” said Riggins, sitting forward with the file, which rustled with page markers. “The camera footage fizzed at inopportune times around their faces. My techs think it has to do with the energy output at the scene.” He was taut as a flexed muscle these days, which Priest like to contrast with excessive nonchalance whenever possible. Perhaps not here though.

“So you don’t know who they are.”

“We have rough physical descriptions from witnesses. They describe three men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, varying ethnicities, no distinguishing features outside of a lot of black leather.”

“Great. A boyband.” Osborne took the artists’ sketches of the men from him, staring at their adolescent features twisted into almost comedic expressions of rage. Some of the witnesses had been a little excitable when describing their assailants. Priest was surprised no-one had given them fangs.

“We have a tracking detail set up,” said Riggins. “The three of them resurface every few days, so if our predictive algorithms hold up, we should be able to locate them quickly.”

“Though that hasn’t worked before.”

“They can be… quite unpredictable, with all due respect, ma’am,” said Riggins carefully. “We have the input of some of expert criminal psychologists, who claim that the impulse for destruction is recurrent. They can’t help themselves. It’s almost like they’re doing it as a matter of survival.”

“They sound like rebellious children, not hardened gangsters,” commented Osborne, reclining in her desk chair with a raised eyebrow. “Trying to prove something, possibly.” She picked up a page and squinted at it. “They tend to go after one person alone in these assaults, random people who always seem to slip away before they can be questioned.” She analysed Riggins and Priest. “Are they all evading police custody too, or is your incompetence honestly that staggering?”

“We haven’t pinned down exactly why they go after these people, ma’am, it does seem random. We did manage to identify a number of the victims by witness testimony, and a paper trail, but despite being the focus of the boys’ interest they’re always just regular members of the community who claim they were affected the same as everyone else, no better or worse.” He shifted uncomfortably. “We have kept tabs on them, but it does just seem like they were traumatised by the incident and are hesitant to be associated with the perpetrators.”

“These kids have that much of an impact? What exactly is their attribute, anyway?”

Attribute. Priest swilled the term around in his mind with a degree of amusement. A cute way of referring to a living weapon, coincidentally used solely by the higher-ups who never came into contact with them.

“Neurological parasitism,” chirped Priest after a beat, because Riggins was beginning to come off a little squirrelly. Priest never minded breaking the bad news, unlike most. It gave him the chance to see what people were really made of. “The theory is that they can drain you of energy generated by your brain. The geeks in Riggins’s lab said that hypothetically, under direct contact, the nervous system would effectively shut down for a period of time, even permanently, depending on how much they absorb. So far, their escapades have resulted with anyone in a ten foot radius of their victim ending up with the symptoms of a concussion, including, I guess, these elusive victims themselves.” He smiled wanly. “I don’t think they can control it.”

“Jesus. And how do you propose we respond?” asked Osborne, who pinched the bridge of her nose, briefly squeezing her eyes shut. “Look at their modus operandi. Peaceful recruitment is out of the question.”

“Couldn’t agree more, ma’am,” said Priest happily. Truth be told, he was itching for a nice, old-fashioned melee. He hadn’t used the department’s standard issue Taser-baton since they came down the pipeline a few months earlier. Hadn’t had the opportunity. Using a glorified cow-prod on a party of little adrenaline junkies would really hit the spot after two years of speaking in undertones to small children and teenagers scared of their own shadow.

Osborne wouldn’t meet his eyes. She sighed long and deep, looking at the pictures of her family lined up before her, out of the sight range of visitors. There were probably kids, maybe grandkids in there. Priest had never bothered to ask. “I’m tired of this,” she said to Riggins. “This endless violence meted out by unconscionably powerful subjects. These young men haven’t killed yet, but if your researchers are right then it’s only a matter of time.” She tilted her head away from them, to the setting sun outside her penthouse office window. “If you can’t capture them I want you to use lethal force.”

Priest nodded idly, but Riggins sat forward abruptly, his chair screeching on the floor. “Director, please,” he said urgently. “That would be a grave mistake. We’re trying to get these people to trust the programme, to get them to work with us willingly. We’ve only brought in four other subjects so far by force, and they require constant supervision and restraint. One has to be kept sedated for everyone’s protection, they’re that strong.” He looked pained. “It’s not the way it should be. We are a research facility, not a penitentiary. Certainly not executioners.”

“That’s sweet,” said Priest sardonically, dropping his foot, balanced on his knee, to the hardwood floor with a thud. “I’ve often said this, but in my experience fools who try to ride bulls end up getting their skull staved in.” He smoothed the creases from the cuff of his jacket. “Sometimes you just gotta give up the theatrics and make beef.” He preened under a scowling Riggins, while Osborne waved him down.

“I hate to say it, but he’s right, Scott,” said Osborne grimly. “You’ve gotten several dozen of these freaks, and all you’ve managed to discover is that there are probably a lot more of them. And now, they seem to be forming groups.” She stood up, her joints cracking as the men followed suit. She rolled her shoulders and pointed at Priest.

“Find them before the FBI gets on my ass again about putting them on the Most Wanted list.” She glanced down at the sketches, where one of the men was depicted mid-scream, bespectacled and skinny, the vestiges of childhood apparent even in the harsh scratches of a charcoal pencil. “I’ll permit nonlethal force only. For now.”

Riggins’s exhale of relief was audible, but none of them commented on it. She saw them out of her office with a barely veiled enthusiasm, her wrinkles like valleys across her face, her eyes shadowed by nights undoubtedly spent curved over forms and contracts and case files. It was a thankless job. Priest found he was glad to be a grunt.

He strode down the hall in tandem with Riggins, waiting to be chewed out for his insubordination. Technically Priest was supposed to report to Riggins alone, but he tended to go off-script in the field and the only one who could adapt to his… selective kind of empathy was Osborne. She saw the value in his methods, even if they repelled or mystified his other superiors, and allowed him clearance that was denied others of his rank. It paid to be unnaturally good at one’s job.

He was wondering who would come to replace her and when, and if he’d even still be around by then, when Riggins decided to empty his guts.

“I expect them in one piece, this time.”

They got in the elevator, Priest pressing the button for the basement. He was off to wring someone’s neck for the missing Kevlar armour in the downstairs lockers. Priest’s team was outfitted full-body, but some rookie had forgotten to check his back in. Ergo, someone had to pay.

“Pardon?” he said, as Riggins pushed for the second floor. Priest wanted to give him the chance to backtrack. Regain some of the dignity that evaporated when he’d been found reading a bedtime story to one of the subjects a few weeks back, a yarn that had made half the guards choke with laughter when Priest regaled them with it. The softness of the old man was the best and only joke they could tell in their position. Look at him, petting a crocodile. Sticking his hand in a pot set to boil. Pulling down his trousers and sitting in a fire-ant colony. The analogies were legion, and infinitely entertaining.

“The three boys,” Riggins clarified. “I want them in one piece. Not like the last one.”

“It was one leg,” said Priest, rolling his eyes. “She shouldn’t have tried to run.” He turned and saluted Riggins with as much flourish as he could muster. “I do my job, sir,” he said, resisting the urge to put an emphasis on ‘I’. Chain of command, and all that. “I get them in the cage, you work them over. It shouldn’t matter how it gets done, not in crazy circumstances like these.”

“They’re troubled kids,” said Riggins darkly. “They don’t deserve to be hamstrung like game. Bag and tag. No playing with your food.” The elevator dinged on the second floor, and Riggins stalked out with a face like a thundercloud. Priest wasn’t petty, but he did anticipate a challenge.

“If they bite, I’ll bite back,” he shouted as the doors slid closed again, startling other employees on the floor’s entrance hallway. “I’ll bite,” he murmured to himself, pushing up the corner of his thermal sweatshirt to stroke the seven-inch scar under his ribs, left by a kid who really didn’t want to leave his mother. You didn’t do his job for almost ten years and not learn some hard lessons. Lessons he would happily impart to the ignorant.

 

 

The van was disgusting, and the worst part was that it wasn’t even Priest’s garbage that made it disgusting.

“Do you want me to suffocate you in your sleep?” he asked Agent Wallace with a deadly calm. “Because one more cheeseburger wrapper on the dashboard and I’ll start composing your eulogy for you. You can even check it over for inconsistencies while I prepare to strangle you with my bare hands.”

Wallace dutifully scrambled into the back of the vehicle with minimal flailing, wisely taking his crap with him as he crowded their hunched-over technical assistant. Priest growled to himself, ignoring the hissed argument, and took up the binoculars again. Surveillance was a slow, tedious job, and he had absolutely hated it when he had gone on ride-alongs during his time at the academy, back when the spectacle of the FBI had been an attractive prospect. Now, as a decommissioned spy and underpaid babysitter, it was even worse. He studied the photos Wallace had taken earlier that day, of a man with platinum blond hair going into a seedy motel with a shopping bag full of what seemed to be groceries. He fit the description from the incident in Napavine, minus the dye job, but the other two and their piece of shit truck had yet to make an appearance. He snatched the file from the overhead mirror with more passion than strictly necessary, and started scanning the rap sheets of the boisterous three, mostly out of habit.

He must have been cursing under his breath, because their technician, a young woman with horn-rimmed glasses and too much hair, poked her head out between him and the passenger seat.

“Should we breach now?”

“Stop asking me that,” snapped Priest. “You’re not the tactical squad, you’re not breaching anything.”

“Sorry. It just seemed like it might be a good idea.”

Priest could barely contain his gun, which was burning a hole in his hip at that moment. “Oh, do tell. You know something I don’t?”

“Well, uh. That’s them, right? They’re following the blond guy, who I thought we were sure was one of them, so -,”

Priest grabbed the binoculars and rammed them into his optical sockets hard enough to leave a pair of coffee-ring bruises. The youth with the spiky blond hair was indeed leaving the motel, looking rather grumpier than he had going in. On his heels were the other two, a pair of kids who couldn’t be much older than seventeen, bobbing along like puppies who had just been released from their pen.

“We’re trailing them,” he said sharply to the other two, who immediately went about assembling and locking down the more delicate hardware. Without waiting, Priest turned the ignition, pulling out of their long-held position across the street from the motel and trundling after the three men, the government-issue vehicle purring as they followed at a distance, and an insufferably glacial pace. It wasn’t long before they reached a warehouse parking lot, inside of which was a nondescript car that the three subjects hopped into and started off down the road with the pathetic stuttering of an exhaust pipe on its last legs. So much for the truck covered in graffiti that Riggins’s lackeys had claimed was their sole means of transport. Another neck to wring. Priest’s knuckles whitened on the steering wheel as his imagination took off like a donkey with a slapped ass.

They stayed on the subjects as they rolled out of Milton onto the I-5, heading straight for the capital. Priest flicked on his radio. “Greene? You there?”

“Here, sir.”

“Load up your men, Greene. I’m going to catch up to them when they hit Star Lake - I want snipers in there beforehand, with your team backing me up if I signal. You know the procedure here?”

“Wait for you to instigate dialogue, surround with stealth and if required, converge and incapacitate.”

“You’re one of the good ones, Greene. Radio silent.”

Greene clicked off the frequency without further conversation, which was a rare and blessed quality in a tactical leader, and it didn’t go unappreciated by a stickler like Priest. He eased more weight on the gas, making sure to keep the ugly rear end of the subjects’ Toyota in view.

For a while the ride was simple, smooth and quiet. Wallace and the tech didn’t speak except to mutter updates to each other, and Priest was busy searing the smashed taillights and dingy license plate of the car in front of them into his corneas. When the car pulled off into a small country road, it took Priest too long to realise they were heading into a forest reserve, a thick wooden signpost warning of bears as they dodged potholes.

“Motherfucker,” said Priest. “Wallace, does Greene have us?”

“Comms are patchy, but he’s on his way,” said Wallace, who was holding a headphone to one ear. Their ETA is five minutes, but the snipers aren’t a certainty in this terrain.”

“Mother-goddamn-fucker,” said Priest, as both vehicles pulled to a stop at the edge of the reserve, looming oak trees rustling in the faint wind. Blondie emerged from the driver’s seat first, a baseball bat swinging from his hand. One of the teenagers, lanky with shoulder-length hair and a sleeveless leather jacket, followed him from the passenger side with a whoop. The other one popped out of the back wielding a mallet; he was buried in copious layers of flannel and gnashing his teeth with glee.

“Stay in the van,” said Priest flatly, daring one of the agents to protest. They remained silent as he reached back for his assault rifle, checking it was loaded and pulling back the safety. He patted his chest for comfort, even though he knew that Kevlar would do fuck all if these three decided to come at him with everything in their arsenal. He got out of the van gingerly, holding the gun crooked at his thigh. He sauntered forward as though he were about to ask them for directions.

“That’s far enough, cowboy,” called Blondie, his cheeks hollowing as he drank in Priest, the sleek black van and most importantly, the assault weapon that looked like the CIA was trying to compensate for something. They definitely were.

“Sure thing,” Priest hollered back, hardening his accent to match the more languid Southwestern timbre of his pacing target, stopping just short of ten feet away. “You got a name, son?”

“Not for you.” His cohorts were pacing like distressed hounds, lurching forward as though to touch the van and then back, tittering and growling and knocking into one another.

“Come on, now. Be civil-like. For example, I’m Mr Priest. Priest, to you nice fellas.”

The man’s jaw tilted like he was considering something, the baseball bat swung up to rest against the back of his neck, held there by the pressure of his wrists and the weight of his arms. “We ain’t nice. You’re about to find that out the hard way.”

Priest twitched the hand that held the gun, just enough to draw Blondie’s eye. “Don’t get cute, now. We’re just here to talk.”

“You followed us for ten miles just to talk? I don’t like when people get too interested in me or my boys here. Especially when they got guns up the wazoo.”

Priest sucked in air through his teeth, forcing a smile. “Well, you and your buddies there have been causing a lot of trouble. That draws interest, I’m afraid.”

“We do what we have to.” Blondie shifted his weight casually, his jaw tensing. “And what we want.”

“That’s not how civilisation works, son,” said Priest, sauntering closer. Leather Jacket and Flannel made as though to rush him, but balked at a flick of Blondie’s hand.

“We’re not civilisation,” said Blondie. “We’re what’s left when you take that and other useless shit away. Now back. Off.”

Priest stopped his casual advance, contempt surfacing as his patience dwindled. “Can’t do that.” He shrugged, keeping the vacuous smile plastered across his face. “I’d love to go toe-to-toe with you boys, but I’m sportsmanlike, and my mini rocket launcher here kinda tilts the scales.  So come quietly. Or I’ll make you come very quietly.” He wiggled the gun in the air. “That’s my negotiation.”

Blondie snorted and began to stalk to the side, his head still turned as though listening for something. His ears could have pricked up and it wouldn’t have been surprising in the slightest. He whistled to his companions, who lolloped to his side immediately. The way the three of them huddled and turned outward to fix Priest in their sights was singularly discomfiting, the assault rifle abruptly seeming like a stick brandished before a charging rhinoceros. He felt, for the first time, like the prey rather than the predator, the atavistic instinct to show his belly and retreat bubbling up in the recesses of his abdomen like the presentiment of vomit. It was this, perhaps, as well as the desperate voice of Wallace in his ear telling him that Greene was held up half a mile back that made him unload half a clip across the remainder of the clearing that separated him and the subjects.

Blondie went down like a lead balloon to the soundtrack of adolescent bellows of fear, the other two prevented from coming to his aid by the bullets that pocked the ground in front of them.

“Dance, you little bastards,” Priest howled, cackling as the teenagers roared in frustration, leaping back periodically to avoid the ammunition raining gravel and dirt onto them, their car, the body lying immobile. Every time they chanced to move closer to anything but the treeline, Priest let a few shots off. They swore at him, shaking with fury and terror, but too far away to do anything besides seethe and crane their necks toward their fallen comrade. Priest wondered where this fit on Riggins’s ‘peaceful resolution’ scale, and snorted.

He was running low on ammo, so it was a relief to see Greene’s dark tactical van coming veering up the road, black-clad agents pouring out of it almost before they had come to an absolute stop.

“Darts,” he spat at them, and was gratified when he heard identical pops, neon green syringes lodging themselves in the necks of the subjects that were still standing. The tranquiliser, a special recipe ordered up by Osborne, dropped them in a fraction of a second, their aborted whines of pain echoing in the shade of the massive trees.

Priest aimed the gun at the little blond fucker’s head. He was pretty sure he was out. He pressed the trigger and was rewarded with an empty click and no exploding melon, Wallace’s gasp audible both over the comms and from several feet behind him.

“Load them up, Major,” he ordered the stolid, moustachioed man that was instructing his unit, currently boasting a disapproving glare that Priest suspected was misdirected.

He strode over to peer down at the bodies, Blondie leaking inconveniently into the soil while his companions’ chests rose and fell slowly, all ribs and holed shirts and filigreed crucifixes on cords. He tapped a finger against his depleted weapon and rolled out a knot or two in his shoulder. Just another Tuesday.

 

Greene was standing by the convoy, watching a thin-lipped woman disinfect Blondie’s injuries and remove the bullet that was still lodged under a lung. Lucky it wasn’t an inch higher, she said over Greene’s shoulder, and Priest attempted to look innocent.

“Finish up, quickly,” said Greene. “Make sure he’ll stay alive for the next few hours. HQ can sort him out properly.”

“His leg is pretty messed up too,” the field medic said curtly. “I compressed the wound, but you’re going to need to make better time unless you want him to lose it.”

They were both staring at him.

“They’re dangerous,” Priest said defensively. “And my methods might be unpalatable, but at least they’re alive.” He hooked his thumbs in his belt, surveying the prostrate young man with building animus. “Even if we know nothing about them.”

“Yes, well. That’s hardly our problem.” Greene’s cool grey eyes had taken on a sheen that hinted at a challenge. Priest scratched the back of his head, watched as the other two subjects were strapped to backboards, muzzling faceplates fixed over their slack maws. Greene’s lackeys fed IVs filled with longer-lasting sedatives into their wrists and necks, assessing their condition as they were prepped for transport. Blondie, his organs newly sealed inside him, was unmoored. And beginning to groan.

“Dope him,” said Greene, freezing in a manner that was almost eerie when Priest placed a hand on his arm.

“Actually,” he said pleasantly, “I’d like a few words with the boy.” Greene was about to snap a tendon in his jaw, but, as Priest suspected, he wasn’t about to duck away first. He patted the major the way one might a precocious intern. “All above board, of course. It just seems like an opportunity to learn some real info here.”

“He’s not entirely stable,” interjected the medic, glaring at Greene. The man in question cuffed Priest’s hand away with an ugly expression on his face.

“You get two minutes. I have a schedule to keep.”

“Ten,” said Priest with a toothy smile. “Tell your superiors it was my prerogative to delay if you have to. If they still have a problem, instruct them to take it up with Scott Riggins, or the director for all I fucking care. I need some time.”

Greene snorted and strode in the opposite direction, snatching a clipboard from a rather bewildered agent hovering by the pair of unconscious subjects, and flipping through it with a vein popping in his head. Most of the agents that had been tasked with clean up and assessment were standing around awkwardly, clearly ready to make tracks and uncertain as to why they were remaining in a civilian park, exposed. Priest figured he’d leave that particular issue up to their fearless leader. He jerked his head at the adjacent tac van impatiently, and the medic scrambled out of the convoy with only mild outrage. He shut the back door on her gormless face and sat down on a first aid crate across from Blondie’s gurney.

“You awake?” he asked, unshouldering his rifle. Earlier, he’d swung it over his back more as a statement than for function, but found he quite liked the feel of having something so deadly in his grasp, so casually accessed.

“No point playing possum. Or opossum. Whatever that weasel-lookin’ fucker is.” He cocked the hammer with a loud click, gratification spreading through his veins like piss through jeans when he saw the kid flinch at the noise. He leaned forward and flicked him on the nose, veering away when Blondie started to writhe in his restraints, spitting obscenities.

“Easy, tiger,” he murmured, pressing down on Blondie’s shuddering shoulder with the barrel of his very imposing, and plainly very effective gun. He slid it towards his clavicle and Blondie stilled, breathing laboured and eyes wide with a visceral hatred.

“You’re gonna have to calm way down, or my pugnacious friend out yonder is going to come in here with the cavalry. That would waste my time, and result in considerable unpleasantness for you.”

“Where are they,” Blondie snarled, and Priest might have been intimidated but for the glistening at the corners of his eyes. He really did look young this close up, Priest thought. They had left his glasses back in the clearing beside the pool of his blood, one lens cracked, the other five feet away and nearly hidden by dust. Underneath he was all bone, a canvas of bruises; some yellow with age, others fresh as budding flowers.

“Your partners in crime are under our custody,” said Priest gregariously. He sat back a little on his crate and admired the sleekness of his weapon by aiming it every which way. Blondie’s voice cracked when he spoke.

“Are they hurt? Did you – were they shot? Or -,”

“Calm, calm, remember?” said Priest, triumph expanding his chest until he felt like he could fill the van, crushing everything else in sight. “No getting worked up, ruining those lovely new stitches of yours. It’s just you and me in here, having a chat. Being nice.” He placed deliberate and excoriating emphasis on the last word, still fingering his gun. “Now, son, why don’t we start at the beginning? Tell me about yourself.”

“Fuck off.” The kid’s eyes were bright, his skin ashen. Blood was smeared under his nose and at his temple, matted in his bleached hair. If he was in pain, he wasn’t showing it.

“All righty, we have a limited window here, and a Major Problem - if you know what I mean - who is just itching to light my ass up with some pansy ass formal complaints to management, so I’m going to get straight to the point,” said Priest, sighing. “I want to know who you are, who your buddies are, and where you came from. Add in why you’re running around sucking the life force from every pedestrian you encounter and you might get booted from my shit list. Might.” He winked. “You are awfully irritating.”

“Why the hell would I tell you any of that shit?”

“Those boys out there,” said Priest, revelling in the apprehension that suddenly caught the air, static before a thunderstorm. “You seem to be invested in their wellbeing. It’s sweet, really.” He set the gun across his lap and dug in his pockets for a minute, holding up a forefinger for patience until he found it. “Ah,” he said, brushing lint from his butterfly knife and holding it up so it was in plain view for the kid. It dully reflected the bleak sunlight from the windshield, the woods and milling civil servants beyond it barred from them behind a partition grille.

“Do you want me to make a cryptic comment about my skills with small stabby things like this?” inquired Priest. Blondie had turned the colour of cement. “Or will I just come right out and say that I will personally bring you an eyeball or a few fingers unless you tell me what I need to know?” He opened the knife with a manoeuvre of his thumb, the blade springing out with the grind of metal on metal. He found he was in a superlative mood, genuine amusement at the present situation gnawing at his cheeks until his mouth was gaping like a simpleton. He’d never had this much fun on a job before.

“You don’t need to do any of that shit,” said Blondie, his teeth clenched. He strained against his shackles again, sweat trickling from his hairline as he grunted with the effort, looking around the van with rolling eyes. He reminded Priest of a horse delirious with fever, back on the farm he’d grown up on. A bullet had ended its rampaging. It was a pity a similar solution would be so frowned upon in this case.

“I’m waiting,” Priest sang, tapping his foot in a jarring rhythm.

“I’m Martin,” the kid said miserably. “The boys are Gripps and Cross. We found each other about three years ago.”

“How?”

“Sniffed ‘em out.”

Priest furrowed an imperious brow, twiddling the knife between every finger of his right hand over the newly christened Martin’s face. “Without the bullshit, remember?”

“I’m not lying,” he said hotly. “I could – I could feel ‘em. The way birds know how to fly south or something. I found ‘em because I would’ve died otherwise.”

“You teens and your dramatics,” said Priest, though his interest, a wily thing, had been piqued. “Go on. Where are you from? Where did you find them?”

“I’m from all around,” Martin grunted. “I came from Texas. I found Cross in Colorado and Gripps in Illinois. We kept moving after that.”

“In that shitty van of yours? Where is it?”

“Hidden,” he said, satisfaction creeping into his tone as he fixed Priest with a faint smirk. “We knew the pigs were on our ass so we ditched it.”

“And that worked so well,” Priest replied, finding the subject’s persistent recalcitrance niggling. Discomfort didn’t sit well with him. He wasn’t one to abide it without finding something to punch. “No matter. It’s not like you’ll ever be driving it again.” He allowed the reality of Martin’s immediate and dire straits to settle in while he hunted around the van, happily surprised by the administrative gear stored in a briefcase that had been left on another crate, that one full of unused restraining equipment. He nabbed a notepad and ballpoint pen and settled across from Martin again.

“Let me just get this down. Riggins is a real stickler for details and he gets shrill when he’s pissed.” He permitted himself a coarse laugh as he scribbled. “Any family?”

“No.” The response was quick, practically drowning out Priest’s last syllable. He grinned.

“I can make this much worse for you, Frosted Tips. Names and addresses. We need to make sure no weeping old lady is gonna be scouring the country for her sweet little boy – and if she is, we need to be on top of that. Out with it.”

Martin was silent, his pulse a jumping spasm next to his throat. Either he’d pass out or Greene would have a tantrum before long, and neither was conducive to his business. He approached him and knelt by the gurney, his hand snaking over the crease at his elbow and squeezing.

“I can make this so, so much worse, kid. You really have no idea.”

“Fuck. You.” The words were launched like pebbles at a vicious dog. Priest let his fingers glide over the linen wrapping Martin’s leg.

“I’m sure you can endure quite a lot of pain, Martin.” He masqueraded sympathy, his delight barely veiled. “You seem to have been through a great deal.” He rested his palm over the bandage, holding fast when Martin jolted his knee. “Those lads out there, though… They’re green as grass. They won’t last five seconds. Do them a favour. Do yourself a favour.”

“My dad’s a whiskey-soaked piece of shit who won’t care where I am,” he hissed. “I don’t know where the fuck he is and I don’t care. That’s it.”

“And the other two?”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“You can lock my dad up for all I care, but the guys’ families ain’t do shit. I’m not letting you go out and murder them just so they won’t make trouble.”

Priest’s hand was getting warm where he still gripped Martin’s leg. He considered his options; some involved a lot of Martin’s blood but also yelling from Osborne and Greene. Some had no blood but every answer to every question he could devise, though still a lot of yelling. It really was a bitch having someone tell you what to do. Then again, that meant that ultimately, the responsibility wasn’t entirely his. He withdrew his hand and wrote carefully on the notepad. Riggins needed something to fill his afternoons for the next while anyway, and Priest sure as hell wasn’t about to exert himself for what would be a spectacular, but thankless performance.

“For another day,” he said kindly. Or some version of however one sounded when one was. They both started at the hollow pounding from the rear doors.

“One minute,” he bellowed at the sound, and turned back to Martin. “What is it that you do? The blue light? Why do you do it?”

“Because we have to.”

“Because you’re addicted to the violence?” He knew the hunger was writ clear on his face, but Martin was slipping away, his skin shining with sweat.

“We’re starving,” he said, anger bleeding through his exhaustion. “It’s not our fault. We saved each other. This is how we survive.”

“By causing terror.”

“Yes,” he snarled, and then the door was slammed open, Greene’s silhouette advancing like the Grim Reaper, garbed in black.

“You’re done,” he proclaimed, and Priest balled his fists to keep from propelling them into this idiot’s teeth.

“So soon?”

“We have to move the prisoners now,” said Greene, who was already pushing back the doors and summoning his agents. “Sir, please remove yourself from this vehicle. We have to load the other two subjects.”

“Naturally.” Priest glanced back once at Martin, who was fading fast. He stepped back into the clearing, smoothly making way for the men and women with backboards toting limp bodies, IV bags hoisted over their heads.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said softly, looking at the sparse notes he’d accrued from the conversation with Martin. Wallace appeared out of nowhere, a thick satellite phone in his hand.

“Sir, it’s Agent Riggins,” he said as he covered the receiver, eyes round in awe. “He sounds mad.”

“Must be Tuesday,” said Priest tonelessly, mesmerised by the motions that were ensuing before him, three deadly little bastards being boxed and shipped without him, his oversight, his awareness of what people could do when the normal restrictions of humanity were no longer in place.

But.

Not his problem.

He tipped his rifle into the passenger seat of the tac van, thrusting out a hand for the phone.

Chapter Text

Priest was observing, in relative peace for once. The higher-ups had radioed in about a quarter of an hour earlier, clipped reminders about his report on the confrontation; it was supposedly important, and currently non-existent, unless the blank sheaf of paper on his desk counted. Priest was fairly certain it didn’t.

He touched the trigger of his brand new Colt with the pad of his finger, lightly, the way a child might prod a colourful insect. He was being watched while he himself spectated, but he wasn’t bothered by it.

There was a clang as the steel door behind him was shoved open, then footsteps. A hand, tentative and about as welcome as liquid shit, rested on his shoulder. A small consolation was the sudden way the weight disappeared; unconsciously retracting from an open flame.

“Priest. Didn’t expect to see you down here.”

“You don’t have to pretend to be civil,” he replied, dropping the caress at his holster. “We’re not friends, Riggins.”

“Some might say civility is to be practised with greatest aplomb among those who aren’t your friends.”

Priest beheld Riggins, shifting his stance into more of a slouch. “You really haven’t changed, have you?”

Riggins had been grey as slate even before Priest left for Afghanistan, but now he was hurtling towards fifty, his uneven stubble more salt than pepper. His skin was folding like gravity held a personal vendetta and his arms, legs and face had ballooned alongside his already notable beer gut. Priest was surprised to find it gave him little satisfaction to be confronted with the reality of his next decade. He turned away again, pursing his lips. “Can I help you with something or are you just here to gloat?”

“Gloat? Why would I -,”

“Surely nobody benefits more from Osborne’s heart exploding than you. I would’ve thought all the sanctions on your little pet projects would have been lifted by now.” He traced his mouth with his thumb and forefinger, relieved to find it free of any crusting blood. “No more rules.”

“You’re wrong.” He sounded upset. “Osborne was passionate about Blackwing, even if its upkeep proved to be more of a challenge than what we’d initially anticipated.”

“And now what? Our new honcho doesn’t like your monkeys?” He rapped the bars of the cell in front of them, and was rewarded with a distinct growl, faint skittering like human nails.

“Stop.”

Priest smiled at Riggins, a void of empathy. He wanted it to be apparent, wanted there to be no more misunderstandings between them. Perhaps their vocations complemented each other, but their outlooks contrasted like night and day. “Do excuse me. It’s been so long since the things I hated couldn’t fight back.” He cast a longing glance into the dark depths of the cell, its occupant wreathed in shadows. “You get to missin’ it.”

“Director Luther is behind this facility,” said Riggins icily. “But he doesn’t allow for collateral. His priority is civilian safety and secrecy.” His voice turned bitter. “If anything threatens that, he’s not afraid to adopt… well, methods that you will probably find to be to your liking, actually.”

“Tell me, Colonel. It is Colonel now, right? Have any tweeny boppers been guillotined since I went overseas? Is that why you’re so prickly?”

“I’ve kept this place in check,” said Riggins. He was worrying at the hem of his department-issue CIA jacket, an ugly windbreaker that looked to be brand new. “I protected the subjects the way I always have.”

“Of course,” said Priest. “I’m sorry I missed the executions.”

They were silent for a moment, listening to the ambiance of the basement. It was rather like that of an asylum, distant shouts and rattling metal and pattering feet going nowhere.

“You never answered my question. Why are you down here?”

“Same as you, Colonel,” replied Priest, eking out the word until it was a slur and clapping Riggins on the back none too gently. “Duty.”

Riggins was still gawping at him, so he rolled his eyes and pointed at the cell to the right of them. “My business is in there. See, I’ve been notified that a new retrieval is in the works. Something special, a nice alleviation to the dry spell I hear has gripped this hellhole for a couple months.”

“That – that’s none of your concern. Agent Choudhary is currently heading a team that is researching -,”

Priest blew a raspberry with as much gumption as he could summon from the depths of the contempt he had nurtured for Riggins over a period of almost fifteen years. Spittle flecked the metal grate opposite them.

“Director New Boss handed the case to me. Seemed to think my record was more reassuring than some greenhole straight out of the academy. Go figure.”

“Your record.” Riggins had turned slightly purple. “We need him alive. I made that clear.”

“Your execrable success rate in preventing civilian casualties has not made that clear, however,” said Priest in a song-song mockery. “The fact of the matter is, this dastardly mission has been delegated to me. And I came into this fuckin’ -,” he surveyed the dripping ceiling and exposed brick walls, “workhouse from Oliver Twist to get my final tools.”

Riggins once again appeared lost at sea, so Priest directed his attention towards the cell with near comical deliberation. Riggins digested the information in fits and starts, comprehension dawning as he rounded on Priest with a sneer, broken capillaries on his nose flaring.

“Ramirez should’ve hit you harder.”

“True. I’m barely showing.” Priest framed his face with his hands, knowing the dusky bruises beneath his eyes would be almost invisible in the dim overhead lights. “Poor man can’t even punch right. Ah well. If I’d been ejected from the fast track to Director for whistleblowing I might get ornery too.”

Riggins’s jowls were quivering. “They can’t do this. The treatment of these children -,”

“Children?” Priest brushed none too politely past Riggins and turned on his radio again.

“Requesting - for fuck’s sake, tell Johnson I’ll file the fucking thing later – requesting security in Block A.”

“What are you doing?” The old man was crowding him now, fear leaking through the façade of rebellion he’d plainly been trying to insinuate was genuine while Priest had been away.

“This ain’t a summer camp, Colonel,” said Priest, as a pair of security guards marched towards them, gaits uneven from the amount of tactical gear they had strapped on – everything from breastplates to oxygen masks. Lord have mercy. “Bring me the oldest one,” he told the guards, excitement pooling in his stomach. Sniping villagers and torturing prisoners of war was a kind of fun, he supposed, but it became more of a peer pressure thing when you weren’t even the best at it halfway across the world. Here, in a government rat hole only a few miles from the local 7-Eleven, he truly relished in the grand old U.S of A and his own pursuit of happiness. His beam was white and wide and likely blinding for Martin, who tottered out and absorbed him with vague, then stunned recognition.

“Hello, Martin,” said Priest. He reached out, ignoring the way the subject recoiled, and curled his fingers around a hank of brown hair at the side of his head. “The trends sure have changed.”

Martin, restrained on either side by security, simply stared. His skin was near translucent, his eyes sunken and red-rimmed. He was a long way from the tall, wiry youth that had wielded a baseball bat like a broadsword all those years ago; he practically swam in his Blackwing overalls, his posture hunched and defensive. Veins protruded across his skin like a topographical roadmap.

“Fuck you. Still,” he rasped, and Priest couldn’t help but chuckle, slapping Riggins on the chest in his mirth.

“Not so much a child now, is he?” he proclaimed, as Riggins chewed the inside of his cheek in obvious distress. Priest made a show of examining the dull corner of Martin’s cell that he could see.

“No crew?”

“Diego – I mean, Project Incubus number three – has scheduled feeding at this time,” said Riggins tightly. “Given adequate time to process your visit, whatever its purpose might have been, I could have relayed to you the timetable -,”

“Yawn,” drawled Priest. “Where’s the other one. Number two, I’m guessing.” He only just resisted giggling.

The guards looked uncertainly at Riggins, who shook his head. “Isaac is unstable right now. He cannot be moved.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Martin shrewdly, unblinking as he watched Riggins’s uncomfortable fidgeting. “Your motherfuckers pumped him full of so much shit he can’t hardly speak.”

“Martin, I -,”

“This is all very fascinating to me,” said Priest. “But as I’ve stated, there’s a job that needs finishing. One will have to do. Load this little freak into the convoy, would you?” he asked the guards, who began decorating Martin with all kinds of silverware to prevent anything more active than a brisk shuffle. Riggins took his elbow and attempted to drag him to the side of the scene, an impetus Priest dispelled with a look. They paused, still within earshot of Martin, whose dejection had neither increased nor diminished with the new manhandling.

“What are you planning to do?”

Priest folded his arms, watched the wary guards snap cuffs and a faceplate to the subject. “Containment is the priority. To contain, you first have to locate.”

Riggins straightened. “Agent Choudhary -,”

“Was getting nowhere.” Priest nodded at the guards and they started to move, the tinkling of chains following the procession in an eerie echo around the corridor. One of the guards fell back to shut the cell door and lock it; Priest imagined he saw a hand emerge from the shadows to scrabble at the door frame before the image was replaced by more flat steel and thick bars.

“I’ll have him back before supper,” said Priest, leaving in the wake of the discount Jacob Marley. “Hell. Might even have a guest with me.”

 

***

 

The incidents had been scattered, and so received no more publicity than a few brief columns in The Idaho Statesman; the citizens of Boise, however, were all in a tizzy. Priest leaned against the side of the van, flipping through the hysterical reports with an unnerving amount of déjà vu. It was as though it was six years earlier, the crimes the same – breaking and entering, reckless destruction of property, physical assault. The cameras were better this time around, though. He slipped the CCTV screenshot from the paperclip, fixing the black-and-white scream to memory.

The day was hazy and humid, the last vestiges of summer being wrung out by the dwindling August afternoons. Priest swiped an arm over his brow and hit the van with a sharp bang of his fist. Wallace, his once-pudgy cheeks angular without the baby fat, stuck his head out.

“Sir?”

“Anything?”

“He hasn’t spoken since we picked him up, sir. I think he’s sulking.”

“Let him,” said Priest, analysing the street on which they were parked with relentless threat assessment grinding away at the back of his mind. “He got us to the town. If the CIA can’t find this idiot teenager with the details we’ve already got, he kind of deserves to be free to irk society.”

Martin had balked at being set loose outside the Nevada state border; he had just stood there, swaying in a patch of sand in his brand new and rather ill-fitting clothes, twitching under direct sunlight. Whether the thought of leaving his disturbed companions behind had held him back, or merely suspicion at the motive for his release, Priest hadn’t been able to care. If it took another spray of bullets to set him off at a run, well, Priest wasn’t going to apologise for getting the ball rolling. Maybe the manic laughter was a bit much, but the Blackwing agents were unique in that very little had the ability to truly freak them out anymore. They had simply flicked on Martin’s intravenous tracker remotely, informing Priest that the glowing red dot was their quarry. A rollicking four days had ensued, with them keeping their distance and allowing Martin to roam, whether he ran, hitched rides or terrorised a cab driver out of his vehicle. They had reimbursed the dithering old man, to be fair, but the conflict threw up new red flags for the mission. Priest didn’t fail to notice Agent Kane noting down the exchange with a perked eyebrow.

“Civilian contact,” Kane told him when he saw him staring, as though it were an explanation, and Priest had crushed a headset with one hand, an empty smile plastered to his face.

Martin had taken them all the way to Boise, Idaho, where a peremptory scan of the local news feeds from the week before had immediately produced something of interest.

Unidentified teenager destroys magazine stand before running from police; is Boise’s homeless problem to blame?

Man left unconscious after attack by unknown teenager – no leads on assailant.

Windows of TJ Maxx broken by lone youth; is it time for the return of the Idaho Scared Straight ™ programme?

After scooping up Martin with far less aggravation than before – Wallace had practically humped the tranquiliser gun with his enthusiasm to ensure Priest chose it rather than his AR – they had fallen back to scope the place out. Priest was melting in the wet heat, even without his Kevlar. The other three agents had pinioned themselves with all kinds of tactical gear, and were huffing and puffing inside the van because of it. Priest had taken one look at the wide open face of the kid in the blurry photo and decided to go without; projectiles weren’t the weapon of this breed of freak, and would only restrict him if he was trying to get close.

“Sir?” Wallace’s balding head had popped out again.

“What?”

“Colonel Riggins made contact with the mother via Interpol. Jacob Vogel is the name, sixteen, ran away a year ago, from -,” he checked a notebook. “Vancouver, Canada, if you can believe it.”

“Why didn’t we know this before?”

“CCTV couldn’t get him before. Static instead of footage. It was just luck that this one across the street caught him.”

“Mmm.” Opposite their van, through the window of a restaurant, a stout man was yelling something at a crying waitress. Priest focused on the file again. “So he’s the instigator of all these reports from up and down the coast? It’s a miracle Riggins picked up on it.”

“Well, we had three similar cases to draw from.” Wallace, glowing from what he must have perceived as tangential praise, withered slightly under Priest’s gaze.

“I just don’t know why he stayed around,” said Priest, shutting the file with a snap. “Whole wide continent and he ventured south of the US, then north again, then repeat - if he is the one responsible for all those incidents, he would seem to have a homing beacon.”

“For what, sir?”

Priest diverted his attention from the rotund patron in the restaurant, who had abandoned his tirade to look at something he couldn’t see, and peered inside the van. Martin was in a straitjacket, wedged between Agents Kane and Hensgen, wrapped up tighter than a Christmas present. His eyes were flinty and unforgiving above his muzzle.

“I have my theories,” he said.

Wallace’s inquiring response was interrupted by a crash from across the street, glass flying into screaming customers sitting in the sun outside the restaurant. Martin, who had been sitting more or less docile for several hours, suddenly began to twist, knocking into the agents as he strained with unprecedented strength towards the exit. A growling had begun to rumble from deep in his chest, startling Priest and causing Wallace to yelp as he stumbled backwards and tripped onto the sidewalk.

Priest turned to the restaurant, where a distinctly high-pitched shouting was pealing out from the shattered French windows, the crying waitress running for her life away from the scene with her fat customer on her heels. Without missing another beat he snatched his automatic rifle from the rack inside the door of the van and began stalking across the road, cars screeching to a halt either side of him. He coasted over the hood of a rusty truck, aiming the gun at the windshield when the owner bellowed in protest. He shoved panicking diners aside, firing off a round to create a clearer path, and stepped over a shower of glass shards into the establishment. It was emptying fast, leaving the individual carousing on top of the bar in plain view.

Jacob Vogel looked young for sixteen, his face round and guileless in its present joy. His hair was shaggy and matted where it brushed his shoulders, his clothes ripped at several joints, worn and covered in stains that could have been anything from food to engine oil; there were splatters on his knees and abdomen could have easily been blood. He was gambolling from one end of the bar to the other, leaping over taps with abandon and successfully preventing the scandalised bartender from slipping past him. As Priest watched, the boy crouched down, cowing the man in front of him back against a glass case of bottles. The subject opened his mouth and the man started to shudder, blue mist seeping from him in a cloud that Jacob swallowed whole, his skin taking on an incandescent sheen as he did so.

“I’ll be damned,” said Priest, mesmerised, then shook himself once. He studied his gun a little ruefully, loath to interrupt what was turning out to be a spectacular light show, and in the process caught sight of a fire extinguisher, bright and inviting not three feet from him.

“That’s one way to get two birds,” he said, slapping the gun on a vacated table, hopping over a chair and liberating the canister. He aimed it at the subject, smirking.

“Yippee-Ki-Yay,” he muttered, and unleashed several gallons of foam on Jacob Vogel, beckoning furiously at the still-petrified patron as his attacker shrieked and tumbled off the bar. The man got up off the floor in a veritable trance, waddling out of the restaurant in the same direction as the customer stampede looking as though he’d received a singular blow to the head. He was still perpendicular to the carnage, though, so Priest was willing to mark this one down as a win.

He let the empty fire extinguisher fall to the ground, taking up his gun again as he crept nearer the bar. There was a litany of crunching behind him as Wallace jogged up, dripping with sweat.

“We can barely keep him locked down,” he panted, as Priest kept going, roving the snow-capped furnishings for motion. “Priest, sir, Project Incubus number one, he’s not responding properly to sedatives, he’s incredibly volatile -,”

“Shut up, Wallace,” said Priest. “And bring the van around.”

“Sir?”

“Pull up to the door,” said Priest, foam caking his trousers as he swivelled to confirm that the doors were transparent. “Now.”

“Yes – yes, okay sir.” He was gone again with more interminable crunching and several curses as he skidded through Priest’s handiwork. Jacob was groaning on the other side of the bar, covered head to toe in what looked like cake frosting. He looked surprised to find himself at the business end of a gun.

“Howdy, son,” said Priest. “Take it real easy, now.”

“Who are you?” His voice was tinged with a whine, his mouth pressed into a pout as Priest took up a defensive position directly opposite him.

“I’m Priest. Your new best friend.”

“I don’t have friends, douchebag,” he barked, jumping up with an abruptness that made Priest clench the trigger. “Especially not friggin’ priests. Get the hell away. I’ll pummel you into the wall. I’ll punch you into another planet. I’ll kick you into another universe.” He was getting riled up, eyes flicking every which way. Searching for something.

“You okay there, son?”

“You’re not my dad. I mean, I’m pretty sure,” said Jacob, gnawing at a hangnail. “Can’t you feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“I gotta – gotta go somewhere. You really can’t feel that? Cheese on rice, it’s crazy, it’s zapping me, it’s like…,” Jacob froze, immobile as if he’d been electrocuted. His gaze had landed on something behind Priest, who heard the van roar to a stop outside the swinging gilded doors of the restaurant. In his periphery he saw Wallace slide open the door to the back compartment, Kane and Hensgen propping up a barely conscious Martin, whose head was lolling like someone caught in the throes of a nightmare. He made a series of hand signals to Wallace, who nodded wide-eyed and dug for something in the passenger seat before sprinting out of sight. Jacob was still unmoving, staring through the glass doors at the peculiar scene beyond. In the distance, there came the unmistakeable squall of police sirens.

“You want to come with us, Jacob?” asked Priest, who really didn’t want to have to pull rank for a bunch of hick cops, nor be liable for the kind of paperwork that would result from silencing a bunch of mouthy officers of the law. “You can walk away with me, right through those doors.”

“Who is that?” said Jacob reverently. He was wringing his hands, inching forward and then scrambling back, as though burned.

“My associate. You want to meet him?”

“I feel like – I feel like I know that guy,” he said. “Do I know that guy?”

“Only one way to find out, son,” said Priest, angling his body so that he didn’t miss so much as a breath from Jacob, but his arm was free to catch the tranq gun that Wallace tossed to him from outside the French window frames. Jacob wasn’t fazed in the slightest, still encapsulated by Martin’s rapidly weakening state.

“Why’s he here?”

“For you,” said Priest, firing a dart directly into Jacob’s carotid when he turned to Priest incredulously, his childish features full of hope. The boy hit the ground in a heap, Martin finally crumpling in Hensgen’s arms. Wallace was cheering from outside the restaurant, periodically scolding frightened but curious bystanders when they got too close.

Priest tucked the gun under his arm while he hefted the subject over his shoulder, calling for Wallace to shut the hell up and rendezvous with the fucking van already while he made a beeline for the doors. The sirens were deafening, and it was becoming clear they had seconds, not minutes. He all but tossed Jacob at Kane, getting in the driver’s seat and revving the engine to encourage Wallace.

“The CCTV, if it worked from a distance before -,”

“Director Luther has an understanding with the tech expert in the county Sheriff’s department, sir,” said Kane, as he set Jacob on a backboard and began attaching restraints and an IV. “It’s been taken care of.”

“I’m sure,” said Priest, barely waiting for Wallace to launch himself into the passenger side before taking off, running several red lights in the process of making it onto the highway, eager to leave the city in the rear-view mirror.

“It’s taken care of, right?” he told a reproving Kane coyly. Beside him, Martin and Jacob were sleeping like the dead, cadaverous in so many senses of the word. They breathed in tandem the whole way back to Blackwing, and didn’t stir once.

 

***

 

Director Luther was a stern, robust man with a square jaw, a barrel chest, and incongruously delicate spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose. Over their wire frames and under a frown he watched security unload Jacob and Martin onto gurneys.

“All present and accounted for, sir,” said Priest, waving Agent Johnson towards Wallace, who could use some desk jockey work to deflate that head of his. He hadn’t stopped prattling about their mission since they got back, and Priest’s trigger finger was itching again. “And alive, by the way.” He winked at Riggins, who was straining his neck beside Luther to ensure Martin didn’t accidentally break a nail or something.

“And this boy – Vogel – he had the same M.O. as the other three?” asked Luther, grim.

“Yessir. Anarchy, blue light, the whole shebang.”

“Absolutely fascinating,” said Luther, watching them switch out Jacob’s IV for something with a little less kick. Too much of the good stuff and their organs start to liquefy, which Priest had seen first hand with a girl who insisted on climbing the walls. She’d come down fairly quickly after a while.

“They’re the only subjects to display similar attributes,” said Riggins, a little unsteadily. “We didn’t think there would be more after we got Martin, Dieg – I mean, Martin, Cross and Gripps up near Seattle.”

“Well, better the devil you know, eh?” said Luther, elbowing Riggins good-naturedly. “They were the star attractions when I first visited the facility back in September. You know Amelia, from the Nourishment division, she was raving about them. Weirdest shit she ever saw. And that woman has a face tattoo, so her bar has to be high.”

Priest couldn’t help himself. “How weird?” he said, as Incubus project number one and the Incubus project in training were rolled past them.

“It’s just the rumour mill, you know how these insular intelligence organisations can get,” said Luther, grinning conspiratorially. “She told me they’d had finally done it. That Riggins and his team had finally discovered monsters; three little bona fide vampires.”

“Just because they look like the Lost Boys,” said Priest with a laugh, but he didn’t want to admit it made sense. Riggins had left them behind, trailing after the subjects and plying their guards with questions. When will they be fed, do you know the weight, height and metabolism of Mr Vogel, can you wait a few minutes so I can calm down the others, please, they’ve been savage all week…

“Excellent work today, Mr Priest,” said Luther, pumping his hand. “We’re glad to have you back with us.”

“Glad to be here,” said Priest. In truth, he’d expected to return to the base with some sense of triumph akin to when he’d captured the first three Incubi. That feeling, though short-lived, had energised him, secured more than eight new subjects in a span of two months. He’d been a champion, star of the show, until the subjects started coming in less and less frequently, like animals that had been overhunted by a new predator to the ecosystem. The drying of that well had taken him to the Middle East, and he’d come back ready to sink his teeth into a bloodlust he knew he excelled in exercising. He did. He had.

He touched a space just below his ribs, pressed a little. He imagined a scalpel pressing and pressing until there was no more resistance. By now Priest knew the bits and pieces zipped up inside the human body, knew how to get to them and where they slid when that zip was opened. He knew he was full of the same mincemeat, but it didn’t feel like it. He thought he might press and press and press and come out the other side with a clean scalpel.

He thought about earlier, about standing opposite Jacob Vogel and putting down his gun. That had seemed prudent, a way to get into the boss’s good books. Now he imagined plugging the sixteen year old boy with the same bullets used against tanks in Kabul. He thought, looking at Luther’s mossy teeth bared in a convivial exchange with a subordinate, that he would probably be here doing the same thing had he chosen lethal force. He thought maybe the scalpel would come out red.

“So what’s next for you, lad?” piped up Luther as they began the long trek back to the administrative offices. “Staying on? Riggins keeps telling me I should evert all military personnel from the retrievals, can you believe that? When I’ve half a mind to send drones to pick these mutant things off one by one, no harm necessary to innocent people.” He guffawed. “But then, no Blackwing, I suppose.”

Priest hadn’t realised he was still prodding at his centre mass. “I’m staying,” he said. “I want to see what I can do here.”

It would come out red. A few more, a dozen more, and he’d make sure it was red all over.