The Moon is not a dead world.
Lacking water, lacking air, lacking all the essential parts that make up the infrastructure of life, it never knew life. So Death and the infrastructure of death, are not things that have ever come naturally to it, either. Life eventually did come to the Moon, an import, because it could. That's what Life does. When it did, it had to claw and scrabble, dig and delve, make a place for itself. So would Death. Eventually.
In the meantime, the waiting dead…waited. Impatient, with nowhere to go. Curious, with nothing to see.
Not that that stopped them from looking.
The game was afoot. The hunters hunted, the prey prayed.
Joseph Marquand ran. It was his turn. His partners waited patiently at the covert, waiting for that which they hunted to arrive, under his gentle guidance. It would not do to disappoint them.
There! The church sign, some feast day for a saint he'd never heard of, which made it perfect to remember his directions. Turn right, he thought with grim humor, and go straight. Provided their prey obliged him by going the same way, of course. Here comes the hard part.
The Runner on the team carried no weapon, nothing to slow him. Strategy ruled this night, rather than physical prowess. In this case, little glass spheres, filled with something pheromonal and potent, would keep the prey off guard and focused. One thing the Runner needed, he had to have balls. He used them now, hurling them there-and there. His prey ran faster. So did he.
At last, the home stretch. A straight alley, no windows, no ladders, nothing but the special red carpet laid out for him, and his men just beyond, in the…tangled wreckage?
Something very large and very nasty rose from the ruins of the covert. He couldn't see it clearly, didn't need to, didn't want to. His memory could fill in the details the light of the full moon mercifully hid.
Oh, Christ, two of them!
The one ahead leapt straight up and out, landing heavily right in Marquand's path, jaws open to catch the prey running straight into them. The creature behind howled its anger, its prey being usurped by another. The one in front looked up at the greater threat.
They weren't social creatures. Nice to know, but it sucked to be the one to find out. Marquand's knees buckled.
He dove forward, right between the legs of the creature before him, onto the mat laid out for his return. Wet and slick, he slid right down into the ruined covert, even as the front beast bent double looking for its prey.
Marquand grabbed one of the fallen weapons and shot, hitting it right in the butt. Even as the beast fell, writhing, the other one leapt over it and-
Tripped. It slid forward, unprepared and unable to keep its balance on the wet mat. Marquand watched it come towards him, jaws open, as he frantically chambered a second shell and tried to get the barrel pointing in the right direction. The beast helped, catching the barrel in its mouth and swallowing it, right up to the crossbar that prevented it from getting any further. Marquand and his men couldn't chance getting bitten.
The beast slid backward under the force of the shot, until it ran into the body of its former rival, now inert. Neither one got up.
Marquand didn't wait. If they were going to get up they would have by now. His men had to be seen to. Now. If any had survived, survival being loosely defined-well, he hated most parts of the job, the Sad Duty most of all. Its only saving grace was that if it had to be done at all, it had to be done quickly.
No. No survivors. Thank God.
What a world, what a life, what a thing to be thankful for. He despised himself in that moment. What he'd become. So much lost. "I need a vacation." Department policy agreed with him, but he didn't really, and he knew it.
He knew what he needed, what he would never have again. He'd just have to fake it. Like he always did.
* * *
Joseph Marquand loved to fly. The sensations of motion, the bumping up and down, the occasional clouds, and especially the patchwork view of the landscape far below. It meant he had a planet under him, a planet with enough air to support the plane he had around him. Even if it crashed, explosive decompression wouldn't get him, nor radiation baking, sun poisoning, or the like. Those sorts of things had gotten too many of the people he'd known while he'd stood duty at the various outer bases, but he could accept them. With all the comets and meteoroids and whatnot zipping around everywhere, it was a wonder they didn't have more accidents like that. The last death, the lunar death-that had soured him on space, made him aware in his bones no place was safe outside of the gravity well of home.
It also meant he was on his mandated vacation. No more debriefings, no more therapy, no more people making him depressed by trying to cheer him up. Far from his boss, Captain Bigelow, the wrong man in the wrong place and well aware of it. Farther from his so-called brother officers, not a man among them with a hope in Hell of ever getting where he'd once been, so unable to imagine leaving for any but the worst of reasons. Farthest from the guys on his squad, a good bunch, but too few, gone too quickly. If he could still miss anyone it would be them. They'd get the job done until his return, even the newbies.
Next week. This week, well, it would be Halloween soon, and he had to get his vacation in before all the crazies-especially the werewolf wannabes and those damned psychic charlatans-came out. This week he had his reservations already made at a bed-and-breakfast in the small town of (throw that dart, boys!) Hopewell, Oregon. If there wasn't a rocking chair with his name on it on that broad wraparound porch, by God there soon would be!
The clenching of his jaw almost activated Marquand's implant by itself. He briefly considered not answering it-his mandated vacation, after all. He sighed, knowing he would. Anyone who knew his code would have to have a good reason to call him now. At least the noises of the plane would cover the conversation, muffled as it was. **Marquand.**
The name brought a groan to his throat, fortunately too indistinct to go out over the connection. His boss didn't need to know, probably wouldn't care, and might even take a perverse pride in the distinction. Perhaps if he shunted the conversation off into a harmless direction…**Johnson lose my case files again?**
Bigelow wasn't to be distracted, hard enough to do in person and impossible over a link. **Got a case for ya.** Marquand could practically hear the cigar being mashed...masticated.
Best just cut to the chase. **Why me?**
If Bigelow had even heard him it didn't show. **Two males, one white, one black, cause of death appears to be multiple lacerations, coupled with numerous puncture wounds in a semicircular-**
He recognized the description, of course; he'd written enough of them himself, and read many more. He wasn't the only lupe hunter on the force, after all. Just the most senior. **I repeat, 'why me?'**
**They found them on Coventry Base.**
**WHAT?** The people in first class probably heard him.
**Yeah, that's what I said. Triple-S is sending a shuttle for you. Meet you in Seattle.**
So much for privacy, secrecy, and getting away from it all. **Who says I'm going to Seattle? Who says I'm going at all?**
Bigelow's derisive snort was loud enough for transmission. **Come on Joe, you know what they say about Triple-S-**
**Well, no, I don't. What do 'they' say about us?**
Somehow the link rendered Bigelow's hard, icy tones perfectly. **Don't give me that 'us' boop, Marquand. They may want you, but if you think that means they want you back, you're even crazier than when you left in the first place. However, to respond to the spirit of your inquiry rather than its actual letter, the They-Who-Are-Them say 'whatever Triple-S wants, Triple-S gets.' I'll call ahead to the Cottage in the Clouds and cancel for you.**
Marquand sat perfectly still, ignoring the looks of his fellow passengers for his unseemly outburst, if he even noticed them. Probably he didn't, his mind occupied with what seemed an impossible problem. At least he could console himself with the thought of Bigelow calling the wrong cottage.
A werewolf attack? A lupe?
On the Moon?