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Undomesticated Equines

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Marshall's phone rang in the middle of Galaxy Quest, and he handed the popcorn bowl to his partner and headed to the kitchen before answering. "Marshall here."

"Inspector Mann, Allison Pearson. We have a bit of a situation. Bring your partner and meet me at your office." She hung up before he could get any details, and he shrugged before trotting back into the living room.

"Duty calls," he told Mary with a poke to her shoulder. "We've got to go in. Finish the movie tomorrow?"

She grumbled under her breath and disappeared into her bedroom, coming back out with shoes and a jacket. "Stan say what was up?"

"Not Stan. Allison Pearson. And no, she didn't."

Mary spent half the ride over promising extreme pain to both Allison and Stan if the problem wasn't a really, really good one; the other half was spent reviewing active witnesses and trying to think of potential leaks. They figure either Molly Johnson had been kicked out of her father's house - again - or they were right about the Hernandez family not being located far enough away from their mafia's home base.

The latter theory stuck in their minds as Allison ushered them in to a suspiciously Stan-less office. "He's missing," she said bluntly. "Inspector Mann, I need you to fill his shoes temporarily."

Marshall cocked his head to one side and blinked slowly. "Who's missing, Stan?"

Allison nodded silently and pointed them towards the conference room. When they'd all sat down without another word said, Mary finally broke.

"You'll have to tell us sooner or later how you know this," she snapped.

"I'm not really sure what I know," Allison replied, slouching uncharacteristically in her chair. "He called me. Not that long ago." She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and tossed it to Marshall, who automatically checked the call history.

"9:32 pm," he read out loud, catching Mary's eye. "Call lasted for less than two minutes."

She shrugged. He snapped the phone shut and slid it back towards their boss.

"He told me he didn't have much time, that he was fighting it but was about to disappear. He said..." Allison laughed, the sound already almost hysterical. "He said it was the beginning of the end."

Mary left her partner - temporary boss - with Allison, hoping he could get a coherent story out of her without slapping her across the face. She sat at her desk, checked for email and voicemail and sticky notes and coded messages, anything Stan might have left for her to figure out what the 'beginning of the end' was supposed to mean. When nothing came up, she assumed that part of the story was just crazy talk and went about investigating through the usual channels. Nothing official caught her eye, and she sighed, dropping her head to her desk.

"Call the Hernandez family yet?" Marshall asked, and she straightened in her chair.

"No answer earlier, but you know them."

"Keep trying," he said, perching on the edge of her desk. "Anything else turn up?"

"Pretty sure I would have told you if it had," she snapped.

Marshall held both hands up immediately. "Whoa. Kind of need my head attached, here." He waited for her to respond, but she only slouched and crossed her arms. "Finally got the whole story out of Allison. She's a bit of a wreck." He fiddled with a loose paperclip for a moment before continuing. "I mean, I'm not saying I completely believe anything she says, but ... Maybe it was some kind of code?"

"Spit it out already," she said tiredly.

"Stan apparently told her that ... hewaalen."

She raised one eyebrow, and he sighed.

"He said he was an alien. And, you know, end of the world, evil alien invasion his people have been trying for years to thwart, that sort of thing."

Mary didn't even try to stifle her laugh. After an hour of getting absolutely nowhere, this felt like taking a step even further backwards, and there was nothing but to laugh. "So what I can't figure out," she forced out between breaths, "is which one of them is crazy. Or maybe it's both! You can't seriously--"

"I don't." Marshall sighed again. "Time is critical, but we both need sleep. The best thing we can do right now is tell the police, even if all they do is complain that it hasn't been enough time for him to be missing. I'll call the Phoenix office in the morning and get them to send some extra people over to cover the routine stuff and start transfers of all our active witnesses who could even remotely be connected to this."

She nodded. "Don't even tell anyone else the whole alien story."

He grined suddenly. "No? Temporary Chief shouldn't establish insanity before trying to rescue alien-or-crazy real-Chief?"

"Let's just hope it is a code for something."

"And try to figure it out before it's too late." Marshall's grin was gone as quickly as it arrived. "Evil alien invasion ... I'm thinking Mexican cartel?"

"Burrito warriors." Mary yawned. "Should we bring in Bobby D on this? See if Eleanor's heard from him? Don't they keep in touch?"

"Let them sleep. No, Bobby'll still be up. Let's go home. You think you can stay up long enough to call him? I'll get up early and get back on this, but I'm done for the night."

"The station got a lot of these sorts of calls last night," Bobby said, handing Mary the box of donuts and following her into the house. "Lots of people who up and walked out of the house, telling their friends or families that they just had to leave, very sorry, but the end of the world is coming."

Marshall looked up from the blender. "They all said the end of the world is coming?"

"Variations on that theme. And no kids missing, either, so nothing we can do but tell them call back when their friends have been gone long enough to call it missing persons."

"Nothing to suggest kidnapping?"

"Not a thing."

Mary sighed. "I need a smoothie before we have to think about this."

"As my lady commands." Marshall slid a glass towards her, filled one for himself, and offered a third to Bobby. "Berries and banana."

"Just a taste." A moment later, he held his glass out for more. "Mary said you were going to call Eleanor this morning?"

"No answer. I'll try her again later."

"And what happens when she's gone, too?"

Marshall groaned and joined his partner at the table. "God, I hope not."

Bobby pulled out his phone and wandered out of the kitchen to make a call. "I'll see what I can find out," he called over his shoulder.

"You okay?" Marshall asked Mary quietly. She shrugged. "I know it's morning, but you're still pretty quiet."

"I just keep thinking," she said.

In the silence that followed, they both drained the last of their smoothies, and Marshall tucked the toes of one foot onto Mary's chair, under her thigh. "Yeah?"

"When it was just Stan, I could make sense of it. Taken by someone, probably related to the job, his end-of-the-world spiel some sort of code to help us find him. I guess he would have found time to call; maybe they were chasing him and he knew he couldn't get away, just buy enough time to let us know what was going on. And he called Allison because she has more pull than either of us where it matters to get the big guns looking for him." She sighed and wrapped her hand around his ankle. "I don't know what to do with all these other people saying the same thing. It's too unlikely for them all to be in the same situation. I'd say it was a giant practical joke, but that's some planning. And there's no way Stan would do that to us. He knows exactly how many people we have to move, how much manpower it's going to take to deal with him missing, not even counting looking for him." She glanced at Marshall and grinned. "And it would have to be something serious for him to let either one of us be in charge of the office."

Bobby laughed from the doorway. "You have a point there," he said, then raised a hand defensively as Mary glared at him. "I wasn't eavesdropping! That's the only thing I heard." He pointed his cell phone at her. "Bad news, though. If your Eleanor's last name is the Prince I seem to remember it being, her neighbor called her in as missing."


Marshall kicked her gently.

"Extenuating circumstances!" she argued.

He shrugged, obviously unconvinced. "It is bad news. I guess."

"You guess? She could have helped us!"

"How, exactly? Do you think she has favors to call in on invading alien governments?" Marshall raised an eyebrow, and Bobby choked on a laugh.

"Jesus, Marshall!" Mary shoved his foot off her chair. "Can't you be serious for one minute? Eleanor is missing. Stan is missing. And you're supposed to be the big boss, but you can't stop cracking jokes. I know you've been in WitSec longer than me, but I'm starting to think Allison made a mistake promoting you, however temporary."

"What the fuck?" Marshall asked, his voice somehow reassuring and accusing at the same time. "This is how we always get things done. Keep it from getting too stressful so it's easier to actually think. What's going on in your head? Why is it suddenly so terrible-"

"Because you're in charge now." Mary stood up abruptly, crossed the room, set her glass down in the sink with a clatter. "You can't just ... You're in charge, you know? You can't just go around acting like a total dumbass."

Marshall spared a brief apologetic glance at Bobby before replying. "It's not like I'm playing the fool in front of big brass or anything. It's just you. And this is pretty stressful, being put in charge like this, so pardon me for trying to let things be normal when it's just us. It's sort of the only way I can deal right now, so you're really just going to have to deal with it."

She spun back towards them, eyes wide, and took a deep breath to respond, but Marshall's phone rang and he held a finger up as he answered.

"Marshall." He nodded as the person on the other end spoke, then said, "Sounds good, Charlie. Yeah." He waited again, eyes still on Mary. "No, we'll head over now. Make her some tea or something. Get the biscotti out of my desk, she likes that. And, uh, don't dismiss anything she might say, but don't freak out, either. We'll fill you in when we get there." He snapped the phone shut but didn't lower his silencing finger. "Allison's at the office, apparently a little wiggy, according to Charlie. We're going in. Is this," he gestured between them, "going to be a problem for you?"

"Jesus, Marshall," Mary repeated, a little resigned this time. "We're partners, right? Let's go." She paused at the door to look at Bobby. "Coming?"

"End of the world? Wouldn't miss it."