“Book-Covers” by The Magpie Fancier.

Marion steadily drummed her fingers on the metal desktop. It was a trick that she had picked up many years ago, something that kept her grounded and relaxed in tense situations. Marion had always found rhythms and patterns to be calming. Of course, some people around her found it a little annoying. 

It certainly seemed to be annoying Colonel Blythe. He shot her a stern glance, which she of course ignored. She decided that it served him right, for taking such a deliberately long time to read through the documents she’d brought.

He was clearly unhappy about the whole situation. For a man like him, handing over control of such a delicate military situation to anyone else would be unthinkable. Being forced to hand over to a female civilian, on the wrong side of forty-five, with a name like Marion would be particularly insufferable. 

But he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, defy the orders written in that beige dossier. 

His brow twitched. Marion allowed herself a small smile. 

I’ve got your measure, Colonel, she thought. 

Marion hadn’t stood in court for years, not since she’d begun working as the handler for The Team, as she called them in her head and also in various legal documents. 

But those years working as a lawyer had taught her much. She’d met all kinds of people, and a surprising amount of people like Colonel Blythe. 

A proud military man, he was used to barking orders and having others snap to it. He was used to making all of the decisions, no questions asked, and never being looked in the eye. 

He was used to people withering around him. 

It was clearly bothering him that Marion didn’t wither. 

She didn’t blink, either.

‘Well,’ he said, tossing the documents onto the desk. ‘Nothing I can do, is there? But I’m not happy, Ms Emmett.’ 

‘I didn’t think you would be.’ 

‘Is there any particular reason the powers that be think my men can’t handle this situation?’

‘My team is a specialized one. They are particularly effective.’ 

‘A couple of Enhanced are hardly a good enough reason to take this mission from me, an established commander, and give it to a bunch of…of vigilantes! Hell, this is the military, the most popular career choice for an Enhanced. There’s practically one in every platoon.’ 

Marion smoothly slid another dossier across the desk. ‘This is a few details about my team, if you’d care to take a look.’ 

Blythe reluctantly picked it up. This file was a lot slimmer, containing only four pieces of paper. No photos attached. 

Marion had done this so many times, she could identify whose document the Colonel was looking at, simply by the half-inch of dog-eared paper poking out of the file. 

Stiff, white card for Augustus Jones, who spent his life pretending the A in A.T. Jones stood for something else. Crumpled, yellowed paper for Ivan Orlov. The coffee stain the top right corner for Louis Bonnefoy. And lastly…

‘An American, a Russian, and a Frenchman.’ Blythe muttered. ‘It’s like the beginning of a bad joke.’ 

‘Ivan will not be accompanying us.’ Marion replied smoothly. ‘He’s not an Enhanced, you see.’ 

Blythe took out the final piece of paper. This was the one with a profusion of heavy underlining and red print scribbled in the margins, so extensive that Marion could see the markings through the paper. 

His eyes widened. ‘A Berserker? Are you insane?’

‘Now, if I may…’ 

‘No, no, I can’t allow this. Enhanced are one thing, but Berserkers are quite another. They can’t be controlled, they can’t be stopped…even wild animals can be fought off, but those things…’ 

‘I assure you that isn’t the case.’ Marion interrupted him quietly. ‘Olivia is perfectly able to control her abilities.’ 

‘Olivia?’ Blythe scrunched up his brow, glancing back down at the paper. ‘It’s a girl?’ 

‘She’s a girl.’ 

Marion knew full well what was in Olivia’s file. The name would only read O. Black. 

Everyone always presumed it was another male. 

‘How do you know she won’t turn around and rip our throats out?’ Blythe spoke again. He sounded flat and resigned, as if all the fight had gone out of him. If he defied this order, he’d be court-martialed, at a trial that never happened, for a mission that never existed. 

‘She won’t.’ 

The simple statement did little to soothe him. 

‘Would you like to meet the team, before we send them in?’ Marion asked. 

Blythe looked like he’d rather eat a cactus. 

Enhanced individuals always seemed to follow a certain pattern. For example, Augustus was Physically Enhanced, and he certainly looked the part. Tall, strong, confident, the man swaggered around as if he could punch through steel doors when he felt like it. 

Well, he could. 

Reflexively Enhanced people, such as Louis, tended to laze around a lot, almost as if they were conserving their speed for a later date. 

Not many people managed to get close enough to a Berserker to get a good look. 

Augustus and Louis didn’t cause too much of a stir in the military camp, but Olivia, as always, had everyone’s attention in a matter of seconds. 

It was usually the hair that did it. 

Marion vaguely remembered that Olivia’s hair had been a mousy, indeterminate kind of colour. That was years ago, before…everything. Now, her hair was a vibrant, sugary pink. 

Goodness knows how much bleach and hair dye was needed to maintain that. But maintain it Olivia did. 

Olivia stepped happily down from the truck, a good head and shoulders shorter than her two companions. She waved at Marion and Colonel Blythe, and was duly beckoned over.

Marion wondered where Olivia had managed to get combat boots in that shade of light blue. 

‘Are those regulation?’ Blythe snapped. 

‘Oh, yes, of course.’ Olivia laughed. ‘I’m not going to come into a military zone without the proper equipment, am I?’ 

‘They’re hardly subtle, Olivia.’ Marion chided gently. 

‘We’re not here to be subtle, though, are we?’ 

‘Get into position.’ Marion said, a hint of snappishness in her voice. She didn’t like how Olivia could make her feel off-balance. Perhaps it was Olivia’s cheerful disposition, just teetering on the brink of madness. Perhaps it was those large, grey-green eyes that never seemed to blink. 

Either way, Olivia’s smile never faltered at Marion’s tone. Without so much as glancing over her shoulder, she gestured to Augustus and Louis, lounging in the background, and led the way out of the camp. 

The building the were laying siege to was dark and silent. One could almost believe that it was abandoned, but a panel of grainy TV-screens, relaying video footage from the hidden cameras inside (Marion didn’t even want to think how they’d gotten those cameras inside) told a different story. 

‘There’s about forty people in there, by our count.’ Colonel Blythe appeared at Marion’s shoulder. ‘All armed. I’m not sure your team of three people is going to make much of an impact.’ 

Marion ignored him. 

The two Enhanced were heavily armed, toting guns and knives strapped all over their bodies. Olivia was more lightly armed. 

‘Why on earth does she have an axe?’ Blythe said. 

‘She prefers it. She does have a gun, I believe. A handgun.’ 

‘A handgun?’ he repeated incredulously. ‘Oh, this is ridiculous.’ 

‘Now, Colonel. You should know not to judge a book by its cover.’ 

The three walked openly up the front door. On the cameras, Marion saw that activity inside the building had increased. She got up, shouldering past Blythe. 

Marion never liked to watch the next part. 

She’d seen Enhanced switch on their powers more times than she cared to remember, and it was interesting to see the correlation between natural hair colour and skin colour and the change in eye colour. She’d written a paper about it, ten years ago. An Enhanced, or indeed a Berserker, tapping into their powers would result in a physical change in iris colour. Augustus, for instance, had tan skin and brown hair, and his eyes changed to a vivid red. Louis rarely went out in the sun if he could help it, so his skin was pale, almost grey, and his hair a dull blond. His eyes were yellow. Not gold, yellow. 

Of course, Olivia’s natural hair colour was not pink, but it contrasted rather prettily with her unnaturally turquoise eyes. They practically glowed in the dark. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Marion saw Olivia balance delicately on one leg, aiming a kick at the front door. 

It should barely have made a dent, but the door caved in, frame and all. Olivia stepped neatly over the threshold, followed by Augustus and Louis. They disappeared from view, swallowed up by the dark and deceptively quiet house.

Glued to the screen, Colonel’s Blythe’s eyes widened. ‘Don’t you want to see this?’

‘No, thank you. I’ve seen it before.’ Marion answered. She’d known all along he would never believe what her team was capable of. He would have to see it for himself.

The screaming would start in a minute. 

To check out more of The Magpie Fancier’s work, go here.

3 thoughts on ““Book-Covers” by The Magpie Fancier.”

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