I fired a round into the leathery
yellow blob as it rolled into the air, and ducked sideways as it
the living room floor. Splinters of wood and shreds of carpet flew into
shimmering moonlit air. I leaned slightly. The floor creaked in the
There was a vibrating under the
floorboards. A lamp fell over. I leapt again, and turned to fire at the
as it rose at impossible speeds. Just for a moment, it hung... black
shining in the darkness, its formless body rising like a mushroom cloud.
My finger moved by itself. A bullet
tore through the thing. It rocketed into the far wall. For a split
stuck there, looking like a giant piece of popcorn. Its guts were a
of white fibers of unknown purpose. The 50 caliber bullet had utterly
But nearly instantly, the yellow exterior
flowed back into place. Too quickly to be believed, the thing was fully
and as angry as ever. It twisted off the wall and went through the
like a cannonball.
I dodged behind the piano for cover
at the last moment, but it was a close shave. I shouldn't have let it
me, of course. That
was my own fault.
Once more, I was left kneeling in my living room listening for the
sound of the
thing in the floor.
It occurred to me, as I eased myself
slowly into a better position to jump, that the last time we had done
creaky board had given away my position. If this thing was drilling
floorboards, it might be using some complex form of echolocation to
where I was.
There was an easy way to find out. I
raised my hand to the piano and played a loud C major chord.
The sound was cut off as the thing
came shooting out of the floor and destroyed the soundboard of the
piano with sheer
kinetic force. Strings rebounded backwards into the lid like tiny metal
as their anchoring was severed.
I shot the thing again, just to keep
it in its place. Shooting it apparently wasn't as fatal as I'd like it
but it forced a short recovery time and that might give me an opening
something else. Unfortunately, it moved too fast for my draw and
into the ground again.
So, I needed something besides my gun
to kill it. It was attracted to vibrations, so a trap might be a good
start. What specifically to use as the lethal part of said trap,
was a mystery. The ability of the thing to rapidly self-repair
indicated it had
a rate of metabolism that was in an entirely different league from
ever heard about on Earth.
Well, what was lethal in the living
room? I needed something that wouldn't just hurt the thing, but keep
Electricity? No, I had no method of using it that didn't risk
myself. Dropping something really dense and heavy on it? In theory,
first you'd need to get it stay still.
And then my eyes settled on the
fireplace. It's major disadvantages were that I didn't know if the
burn, and if it did, it might set other things on fire. Then again, my
room was pretty much already trashed. As for whether it was
neither were humans, but if you turned up the heat enough, that didn't
Worth a shot. I used the dying
chords of the piano as cover to creep to where the stereo system sat on
shelf. I reached for the nearest speaker, which was resting on a
the twist tie from the wire, and gently lowered the speaker to the
it. I swung it, gently, into the ashes of the fireplace.
I felt a little guilty for doing it.
It was, after all, one of my favorite things in the house. The first
bought with the bonus Uncle Sam had given me after my last assignment
had been this
stereo. It's maximum output volume was so high, the only thing in the
that drew more power was the dryer. Of course, if it saved my life,
That thing was looking for
vibrations? Brother, could I ever give it vibrations. I twirled the
output on the stereo to high, carefully unplugged all the other
speakers and prepared
to hit the power button.
I looked back at the fireplace. There
was a gas valve next to it. The lighting mechanism was automatic and
like a stovetop range. It was great for roasting marshmallows with the
winter evenings. I hadn't asked the sales representative how it would
roasting mysterious otherworldly creatures that attacked you, for some
Ah, well. Here went nothing. I hit
the power button and dived for the nozzle beside the stove. Mozart's
the Night Aria cut through the night at ear-damaging volumes. I had
closet opera aficionado since I left the armed services. The disk had
It had the desired effect on the
creature. It came grinding through the floor as fast as it could,
leaving behind a line of crumpled wood in its desperation to reach the
The lighting mechanism in the
fireplace clicked once, clicked twice. The creature drilled through
and rose into the air in a fountain of fireplace ash. Then the lighting
mechanism clicked a third time, and a brilliant rosette of flame
think in flame.
It must have destroyed every terminal
control nozzle in the lighting mechanism. The fire flared into a
around the thing. As the speaker melted, the creature emitted a high
higher in pitch and far more alarming than the soprano diva.
It tried to roll out of the fire,
but I kicked it sharply back in with my bare foot. It was like how some
play soccer with a flaming ball to train them to kick it as quickly as
possible, except they probably aren't trying to turn a gas nozzle all
up as fast as they can when they do.
The thing responded really badly to
fire. All its manic energy seemed to become unfocused. It just sat in
place, desperately trying to regrow its exterior even while the fire
to ash. It vibrated and bulged, but it remained roughly stationary, and
stationary was in the middle of a raging fire, this was not a good long
I watched until it was reduced to beigish-brown
slag. I didn't even think about twisting the nozzle back until you
its flyblown remnants because they were hidden by the fire.
What remained, when the flames had
carefully been subdued, was a charred dark-yellow husk, torn and
the fire. It was mostly burned away, but apparently, it was the most
of the animal. The guts had been totally charred from a viscous sack to
thick, chalky residue.
You couldn't mistake this for
anything else. This was a peep. Someone had actually tried to kill me
peep. Actually, someone had very nearly succeeded at it. And not just
my whole family.
In the circumstances... knowing as I
did the details of the fight with, and eventual assassination of, Kristopher Kringle, AKA
Santa Claus... there
really was only one individual who could have sent it. But how could
There was a knock on the door. Well,
the neighbors had just heard the sounds of mass destruction, several
and a loud blast of Mozart music, which had probably left them totally
bewildered. Really, a visit from the boys in blue was not that
Except that, when I opened the door,
they were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a man in an extremely
well-pressed black suit, with a white shirt and a black tie. He had a
completely bald head, but a very young and bulky physique. He also had
"spook" written all over him, but possibly my military training was
the only reason I felt that way.
"Captain Mesner?" the man
said, flipping open and shut an agency ID far too fast for me to read
I shook my head.
"That's Major, and retired. Got
a promotion on an honorable discharge and a golden parachute a mile
And other perks, of course. Taxes happened to other people, now.
The man looked past me, at the
wreckage of the living room. Then he looked at me again. He raised an
"In light of current
events, I'd strongly advise that you
revise the 'retired' part." he said.
There had been words with my wife. She
didn't believe that we had just experienced a perfectly normal home
and not being stupid, she also didn't believe I'd caused all this
"I want to see the body."
I decided to take refuge in silence.
I couldn't think of anything I could say that wouldn't make it worse. I
had a body, of a sort, but right now it was on its
way to a government
lab far away.
She sat staring at me as I packed my
bag in silence. I pulled my uniform out of the closet. I hadn't even
it in a couple of months. My wife saw it too.
A look of sudden concern crossed her
"Something is going on here, Neil,
and it concerns a lot more than a burglar, doesn't it?"
I nodded, as I shoved the uniform into
the suitcase, and looked up.
"But I can't tell you what, or
how much it concerns, without endangering you."
She looked down at the floor.
"Just what happened on
your last mission, Neil?"
"I can't tell you that
Her brow furrowed.
"I'm your wife, Neil. I have a
right to know. At least a tiny amount."
"It's so classified that I
can't even tell you the names of the people involved, Honey. And it
matter because you'd never believe a word of it."
A tiny sound at the doorway dropped
in the middle of the conversation. I glanced at my wife.
"You can come in, Grace." I
My eight-year-old daughter inched
her way into the room. She saw the suitcase on the bed.
"Where is Daddy going?"
My wife smiled, in a brittle way.
"He can't tell us, sweetie. It's a big secret."
"Is that why you're
I tousled her hair.
"I dunno. I think it's going
pretty well, considering I told Mommy about my trip an hour ago or so."
She looked at the clock, in case,
somehow, she had misremembered the time. Then she looked back at me.
"That was a dumb thing to do,
Daddy. No wonder she's mad."
I gave an exaggerated shrug.
"My bosses didn't tell me until
half an hour before that."
She held up a tiny finger.
"Hang on. That was when the burglar
came in. I remember, because Mom and I were in here with our guns, and,
looked at the clock because it was still dark outside."
Grace could shoot with enough
accuracy at a range of fifty yards to qualify as a police officer, and
could take the tip off a pencil in one shot at that distance. Any
made it past me would have a nasty surprise waiting for them.
I nodded at her.
"And then my bosses came, and
told me where the burglar had come from. And now I'm going to go find
of the burglars so they can't ever come and hurt you."
She pondered this, for a moment.
"Be careful, Daddy. Burglars
can be dangerous."
"Not as dangerous as I'll be if
he isn't careful." said my wife, "Now, go back to bed, honey. I need
to have a few words with Daddy."
After my daughter had left the room,
she turned to me.
"Listen, Neil... classified or
not, one day I am going to find out what all this is about."
She stopped me before I could say
anything else, and kissed me. Then she looked deep into my eyes.
"So just you come home safely,
because otherwise I'll never get to interrogate you. Because I don't
these bastards are, but I know they messed with the wrong man." She
squeezed my hand.
"Good hunting, Neil. Wherever
"Let's not mince words, sir.
This is about killing the Easter bunny, isn't it?"
The man turned his head to the side,
"How did you guess, Major?"
"The peep was a good tip-off. I'm
going to ask you point blank, mister... whatever you name is... did you
The man leaned back into the leather
seat of the towncar.
"Names don't mean much, but you
may call me Weiller. I'm not at liberty to say how much we knew about
"I see. So, you did
know. You put my family in a lot of danger by not telling anyone, you
that? Stupid danger, too. I'd bet my mortgage that
this is connected to the
death of Kringle. There can't be that many people masquerading as
figures out there. And if that's true, it means Nordland had files on
He remained impassive.
"There are rules, Major. Clearances
and secrecy. Surely a military man like yourself can appreciate that?"
"Ah, yes. Very important, those
clearances are. Otherwise people might get information they need before
problems get critical, and constantly putting out fires gives such a finished
look to a government, doesn't it? No, don't answer that. I already know
enamored you spooks are of your Chinese walls." I took a deep breath,
forced myself to relax.
"I want the team I took up last
time. They're the only men on the planet who know the first thing about
expect from this op. And don't even think of trying to say no. If they
where my family lives, I will damn well handle the situation as I see
He raised a hand.
"I am already arranging
protection for your family. As to the other item... you will certainly
take the same team. I have gotten reports that they all sustained
Why do you think I showed up so soon after the attack? It was
prudent to send someone to ensure your safety."
I stared at him.
"How well do you think you did
at that, Mr. Weiller?"
He gestured expansively at me.
"You're still alive, aren't
you? I am, however, adding a member to your team."
I didn't even have to think about
"No you aren't. One, there is
no way that this person knows a thing about this op, and a slide show
going to be preparation enough. Two, they have never worked with my
before. Teams like mine drill until we know the other guys better than
ourselves, you get me? Add a member and this assassination mission
"On the contrary, Captain
Edridge has just as much experience with these assignments as you, and
a special extra concern on this mission which only he is familiar with."
I nearly broke out shouting right
then, but something about the way he said "these assignments" stopped
me. I narrowed my eyes.
"There's already been another incident
just like these, hasn't there?"
A pained look flashed across his
I leaned back and stared at the
"Stupid. You're all so damned
stupid. Okay, fine. Tell me what this extra concern
is, that you
consider worth jeopardizing the mission."
"I am not at liberty to
I wondered if government agents actually
knew anything. It was hard to tell extreme secrecy from a total lack of
content. Not that the two were mutually exclusive, of course. I pointed
finger at him.
"You'd better make that
protection for my family very, very good, Weiller. From what I've heard
mission so far, you're determined to get us all killed."
I didn't meet Captain Edridge until
the briefing. He was pretty much what I expected, from a man who had
Weiller. You saw all sorts of ways of wearing uniforms in spec-ops...
couple of survival courses and espionage missions and tell me that you
don't think of clothing differently, too. You came to understand a
uniform as a
way of showing unity of purpose, a way of distinguishing skill and
station at a
glance, a way of identifying friendlies... an extremely valuable tool,
words. But still a tool, and hence, not always applicable.
however, was that special breed that
maintains a love for a well-pressed uniform that transcends mere
usefulness. It looked like it had been tailored around him this
could have been right off the cover of a military magazine, no
needed. He had short, neat black hair, and an air about him which
that not one of those hairs had ever been out of place, and none of his
plans showed it on the schedule.
Since he was apparently coming,
whether I wanted him to or not, I did my best not to hate him on sight.
Everyone else was there, too. I
found out later that almost all of us had eventually settled on fire as
of killing the peeps. All ten of the original survivors had gotten a
was generally agreed that Thyger's method of trapping it in a wall safe
C4, and setting it off, was the most appropriate to the situation.
the most cathartic.
mad. The families of Buckley and Pearson
had also gotten peeps, and that really twisted at my gut. They had been
in action on the mission to assassinate Kringle. And just to make sure
personal, Pearson's grave had apparently also been desecrated... his
been stolen. Whether the Bunny was holding it for ransom, we didn't
least that wasn't a problem for Sergeant Buckley. The way he died, he
even had a grave.
The briefing was, well, brief. We
didn't really know much. Our presumptive target was the Rabbit. He'd
sent us a calling card. From documents in Nordland, we knew he was on
We knew he had driven the human inhabitants off the island with
and raised some kind of EMP shielding over the island. We estimated the
to coincide with when the peeps were sent, using a variant of Kringle's
teleportation delivery systems and some as-yet-unidentified aircraft.
turned maneuvering anything more technologically advanced than a
the island a tricky proposition. We'd made a deal with the Chilean
to keep it quiet for now. It wasn't exactly going to go down in the
impressive cover ups. It was home to a couple of thousand people.
We didn't even really know what he
looked like. But Weiller had a theory.
"There are ancient records of a
race on Rapa Nui known as the Hanau Epe. Reports are a little mixed on
exact appearance, but some translate their name to mean 'long ears'.
also been described as 'white'."
There was a long silence. Dorhaise,
the medic, was the first person brave enough to reach the obvious
"I'm sorry... do you mean to
imply that these are actual giant rabbits? Not just a person pretending
"Captain Edridge would be the
expert on that. He has extensive background in animal physiology and I
he has recently gained a great deal of experience in what we like to
Edridge sat up slightly, which was a
feat, given his ramrod-straight posture.
"I've done a little research on
the matter. Actually, extremely large rabbit breeds exist in captivity,
from issues with genetic linkage, I find no convincing evidence of
harm. Whether their physiology would scale all the way to human size is
but the exact dimensions of the Hanau Epe is also uncertain. To
the basis of available information, we cannot rule out the possibility."
Edridge pronounced his phrases as
carefully as he dressed. He stiffly slid a file to me from across the
halted in front of me with the edge exactly parallel to the table. It
some papers on rabbits. I handed it to Dorhaise.
"Okay, Weiller. We'll expect
the unexpected. Now, would you care to tell us how we're supposed to
get on to
Weiller smiled. He had the least
pleasant smile I'd ever seen on the face of someone I wasn't allowed to
"Perhaps now would be a good
time to reunite you with an old friend." he said.