Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bunnies, It Must Be Bunnies

By the time Susan White arrived on the scene, the police had already evacuated the survivors and set up a temporary perimeter. The things, whatever they were, were still loose; but at least they were contained within those boundaries. So far, anyway. They hadn't shown any penchant for climbing, flying, or leaping over things yet, though Susan knew as well as anyone how quickly that could change. But rules were rules, and the days when she could walk in and start fixing things were long, long past. They had procedures to follow now, and while she sometimes found the delays irritating, she really couldn't see that as a bad thing.

So she waited in the trailer that was serving as a command center for the local police, pretending to sip her coffee while Don talked to Captain in charge of the scene.

Don Massey was a forty-year-old ex-cop, and looked the part. His hair was neat and trim; his build was neat and trim; his mind was neat and trim. He knew the way law enforcement worked, knew how to talk to the police and be accepted as one of them. None of that was the reason he'd been accepted into the Watch, but it certainly was helpful. As a petite young woman, Susan had never been able to get the police to take her seriously. Even Don required occasional reminders.

"Nobody knows. They woke up this morning, and there were eggs all over the complex. They thought it was for an Easter egg hunt, maybe something the management had set up. And then, about an hour after dawn, they started to hatch. And inside the eggs were bunnies. Cute, fluffy, little bunnies."

"...And then they started killing people." Don's voice was a gentle rumble. "Jesus."

"Exactly. We lost the first two officers to arrive on the scene. After that, we started using the shotguns from the cars and setting up the fence." The Captain was a woman: tall, clean limbed, with rugged features and a no-nonsense manner. "We brought out as many people as we could, and ordered the rest to stay indoors."

Don shook his head in sympathy. Then he flicked a glance at Susan, but she responded with a miniscule shake of her head. Bunnies that hatch from eggs and kill people? No, I've never heard of anything like that.

The Captain saw the exchange, but kept her attention on Don. Despite that, Susan almost liked her: she wouldn't care who got things done, as long as they got done.

"You did the right thing," Don told her. "Whatever this is, it isn't a random incursion. Someone set it up."

"Better not be," said the Captain. "There aren't supposed to be any portals within miles of this place." She looked slightly affronted, but Susan had been watching people's expressions long enough to catch the hint of relief underneath.

"Has your reader managed to turn up anything?"

The Captain shook her head. "She says it's inside the perimeter, whatever it is, but she can't get a fix on it."

"All right. I'd like to take her with us, if that's okay." Don glanced at Susan again; this time she nodded. Anything that might help them track the source of this attack was welcome.

The Captain nodded. "I'll have her meet you at the gate. Do you want some men to cover you while you work?"

"Four, with shotguns - and anything they can use for armor." Susan suppressed some misgivings at that, and rose when Don did. She left her coffee, still full, on the chair.

* * *

The gate was just a section of fence where the connections were detachable. Two officers swung it open, while two more covered the opening with their shotguns.

Two officers stepped through, and Susan followed them in. The reader - a tall, pretty woman named Anita - moved with her. Like the other officers, she carried at shotgun. Susan wore a gun at her belt, but it was mainly a mark of authority; any situation bad enough that she might actually need it, pretty much guaranteed that having it wouldn't do her any good.

"They know we're here," said Anita quietly. "They're watching us."

Susan nodded. She wasn't surprised that the bunnies were more than dumb animals. This whole affair reeked of dark magic. What sort of person would hatch man-eating bunnies out of eggs on Easter morning?

Don and the remaining two officers crossed the perimeter, and the officers outside swung the gate shut again. "Slow and easy," Don said. "Susan, Anita, see if you can find us a direction."

Susan looked around, studying the complex. The apartments were built in two-story buildings, nicely maintained. There wasn't a lot of damage on the surface, not like some of the scenes Susan had been called in on, but she could see the corpses... and the pieces of corpses. The smell of blood permeated the air, making her a little crazy. We need to finish this quickly, before it spreads. She didn't know it would spread, of course, but years of working with the Watchers had given her a profound appreciation for just how bad a worst-case scenario could get.

"They're different," Anita said quietly. She looked distracted, but Susan couldn't see her actually doing anything. That was no surprise, though; with Human powers, she usually couldn't. "They're different, but there's someone looking through all of them."

Susan took a moment to translate that, and decided that Anita was talking about the bunnies - so they were individuals, summoned or created, and under the control of a single master. Good. We find the master, we end the threat. She motioned them further into the apartment complex, staying out on the sidewalk, in the open, where they had a nice, uninterrupted line of sight. She looked around as they moved, cataloging movements in the grass, behind the bushes.

"That's why I can't find him," Anita said. She sounded more present now, which meant she probably wasn't using her powers; she was just analyzing whatever she'd sensed. "His mind is too spread out. And it's definitely a him. Angry, too."

"We'll find him," Susan told her. "Stop here." This was a nice, open area, where the sidewalk forked and headed off in two directions. "Protect yourselves. Don't cover me. Don?"

"Got it," said Don.

Susan sprinted forward. She reached the nearest pair of beady little eyes before the rest of them could react. The beast was still rabbit enough to panic and freeze, and Susan caught it by the scruff of the neck and raised it to her lips. Her fangs nudged through the fur and pierced the flesh.

Susan drank.

She heard gunshots behind her, and felt several of the bunnies flash past her, but her flesh was suddenly misty and elusive. None of them could touch her.

The bunny, half-drained, was gasping in her hands. The other rabbits had quit attacking her; she smelled like one of them, now. Susan raised her captive from her lips, brushed fur away from her mouth with her free hand, and nipped the tip of one finger. Still holding the captured bunny aloft, she let a drop of her blood fall into its mouth. It twitched once, shuddered, and then relaxed.

It was hers; she could feel it. And through it, she could feel the mind that had controlled it. "There!" she yelled, pointing at an apartment door.

She threw a glance over her shoulder as she raced forward. Don and the police officers were still standing, though one of them was bleeding from a gash on his forearm. A circle of frost surrounded them, where Don had raised his defense. While the others were still looking around, Anita was gaping at Susan. Well, she couldn't be much of a reader if she didn't figure out what I was.

The door was reasonably solid and well-mounted, better than Susan expected from an apartment complex. She hit the door and bounced, too light to break it open. Picking herself up, she tried the knob and found it locked. For a moment, she hesitated. She could hear the others pounding their way up behind her, their feet amazingly heavy on the pavement. "Come out," she called. "It's over."

Three feet to her right, a window exploded outward and a giant bunny hit the grass and sprinted away. This was no final guardian; at this size, it had to be the master making his escape. Susan flung herself after him, and skidded to a halt almost immediately. A half-circle of flames blocked the hundred-pound-bunny's way, courtesy of Don's particular ability. The master was trying to get past it, fighting panicky rabbit-instincts by sheer will, but he didn't have time to master his new form. Susan jumped on top of him before anyone had a chance to shoot, and broke a foreleg with a furious wrench.

A moment later there was a naked man laying under her, swarthy and thickly built, gritting his teeth and clutching at a broken arm.

"Be still," she told him, and he froze. "You're under arrest. My partner will read you your rights; that's the modern way of doing things. But if you don't submit, I'll settle this in the old way. Do you understand?"

The man tensed, then bowed his head. "I understand," he said, in heavily accented English.

Susan reached down, searching, following the sense of darkness and cold. It would be something on the body, a ring... an amulet. Yes. There it was, about where she expected, hanging on his chest. She reached around the back of his neck, caught the chain, and drew it off of him. She was watching carefully: he seemed human enough, but there were some beings that couldn't live without a connection like this. After a moment, she was satisfied that he wasn't one of them. Which meant she could remove the bulk of his power without killing him, which meant he was finished.

* * *

"...A resurrected Assyrian bunny-cultist with his own personal portal?" Don looked dubious. "Seriously?"

Susan nodded. "That's what he says, and I don't see any reason to doubt him. The casting of the amulet matches Assyrian patterns, and we've called in some archaeologists to question him further."

"So why the bunnies? Why that particular apartment complex? Why was he killing people?"

"It's hard to tell," Susan told him. "His English isn't that good, and I don't speak Assyrian. But it looks like he was a leader of the Gonim Fac Tern, the Priests of the Sacred Hare, and when he woke up he was deeply offended to find the symbols of his faith being used in Christian celebrations. He'd been trying to adjust to the modern world, which was how he wound up in that apartment complex, and had no idea just how widespread that particular bit of appropriation was; he thought maybe it was just his neighbors being blasphemous or heretical. So he decided to teach them a lesson."

Don was silent for the space of a deep breath. Then he shook his head. "We don't judge them," he said, like he was repeating a mantra. "We just bring them in."

Susan nodded. "Once the archaeologists get done asking him everything they can come up with, we'll work on bringing him into modern life - a bit less haphazardly than his last attempt. Who knows? Someday we may be working with him."

Don made a noise halfway between a growl and a groan. "Not me," he said. "Two cops, three dozen civilians... I'd kill him myself."

No, you wouldn't, Susan thought. Don was too much of a cop himself, too tied to doing things by the book. But I understand the impulse. "It's hard," she offered.

Don looked at her. "What about you? You keeping that one bunny?"

Susan looked away, then grinned. "Yeah. It's mine now - my own personal hellbunny, to guard my tomb while I sleep."

Don snorted at that. "I think you just have a weak spot for cute, fluffy things."

Susan shrugged. "Maybe a bit of that, too. But it should be safe enough; it can't get out of its cage, and without his portal our boy can't control it. Even if he got the portal back, he'd have to re-establish the connection directly. But, yeah - one more stray animal to take care of."

Don grinned. "Hey, that rabbit helped us find the bad guy. If you want, I'll feed it when you're out of town."

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