Mary Musgroan looked around the dimly-lit front office with disdain. After months of preparation that were not only arduous but also humiliating, what had she accomplished? She was in disguise as a human, droning on in an earthbound government facility that was neither efficient nor mission-critical. Her commander insisted that it was, but Mary knew better.
Her human coworkers, who were as unattractive as they were stupid, shuffled from desk chairs to the counter and back again. There was no military discipline here, no uniforms, no respect for rank. In Mary’s eyes such casualness was horribly lax. Employees appeared to process paperwork for fellow humans, but more often just gossiped about topics of cosmic importance, like sports and the weather and the movies. Most of them had bellies the size of melons and brains the size of fruit flies.
“Good enough for government work” was a slogan Mary had never heard before working here. It perfectly summarized her undercover assignment at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Somehow—nobody knew exactly—Mary had acquired the unique position as the Central City DMV Tech Floater. That is, she not only handled the front counter but also worked with maintaining the office copy equipment and computer systems. And when necessary—like today—she filled in as a driving test examiner. The examiners were a cut above the others, better paid because their job involved health risks.
Were they kidding? What health risks? How could Mary explain the joy of performing an equipment check for a running automobile? Vehicle emissions came flooding from the exhaust system, a cosmic soup of deliciousness: hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. About the only thing humans did right was to invent the internal combustion engine. And what must they do now but rage over pollution and carbon monoxide? Humans were such fools. They deserved extinction.
“Ms Musgroan!” said a whiny voice. “Do you mind?”
It was Mr Barkiss, Mary’s boss, the would-be king of the DMV dunghill. He was not much to look at, a balding man with a comb-over and a jaunty goatee. He grew hair where he could, she supposed. Fortunately, her infiltration duties hadn’t included seducing him. Barkiss jerked his head at her section of the counter. Mary grimaced and shuffled over.
Sure enough, a young man was standing there, her three o’clock appointment. He looked uncomfortable. Mary made no move to reassure him but scowled at his paperwork, sucking on her teeth. She sighed heavily, for every blank was correctly filled in. Then she looked to the older woman behind him. “Bring the car to Bay C. Leave the engine running.”
And then Mary smiled, displaying her teeth like a vampire. She also chirped that perky human slogan, “Have a nice day!” Her coworkers said this a lot, as if cheerfulness could make up for incompetence. Where Mary came from, only stupid people smiled. The boy and his mother moved away with pleasing haste.
Mary’s spirits rose even more when she came out and saw the vehicle—an ancient olive-green pickup. It was not much to look at, but the exhaust fumes were enough to send her into a swoon. Because of its age, the truck wasn’t required to pass the DEQ emissions test.
Mary made a note of this on her clipboard and then grimaced. Her commanding officer wanted the DEQ master system sabotaged, and Mary hadn’t done it. Well, so what? Shape shifting enabled her to assume human appearance without detection. But what else could she do in an office environment? What, was she supposed to morph into a stapler and infiltrate security? Please.
With the exterior inspection in order, Mary pulled open the passenger door and heaved herself in. The turn indicators and seat belts were functional. The boy sat gripping the wheel, splotches of red disfiguring his neck and face. Good, he was nervous. And the manual transmission would add to his discomfort, Mary noted. But the rubber seal on the shift was torn, allowing exhaust to enter the cabin. She breathed deeply, feeling better than she had in a long time. Perhaps she wouldn’t take him on the one-way-street left-turn trap…
“Back up and exit the parking lot,” she told him. She was pleased to see him check his mirrors and manage the clutch, not because she wanted him to pass, but because she enjoyed the noxious air. The longer the exam lasted, the better.
“To the end of the street, then turn right,” she barked. This would lead him to a round-about, every teen’s testing nightmare. Was it too much to hope that it would be crowded with cars? She saw him reach for the radio dial. “No music, or I’ll sing,” she threatened. “And you do not want to hear me sing.”
The young man made a strangled sound.
“Say that again,” demanded Mary.
“Y-yes, m-ma’am!” He swallowed hard.
And then Mary heard a familiar buzzing sound. It was not her cell phone. “Drive on,” she told the boy. “Cross the railroad tracks. But don’t forget to stop first.”
Slowly she brought out the communication device and held it to her ear. “I’m with a client,” she said softly.
“Lieutenant Aya.” It was her commander’s voice, curse him. “The emissions testing facility functions normally. You must reset it at once.”
Now it was Mary Musgroan’s turn to swallow hard. There was only one way to gain access to the security system: Barkiss.
The boy came to the tracks. He hesitated and bungled the clutch. The truck jerked to a halt. Panicked, he restarted the engine.
“Drive on, drive on!” Mary shrilled.
The boy found his voice. “But what if there’s a—”
Mary interrupted. “There never is a train here, you moron! There’s no gate! See? The tracks are nothing but rust!” She reached for the radio dial and snapped it on.
While Linkin Park blared, she spoke to her commander. “There are complications with the security code. It is necessary to tread carefully in order to avoid detection.”
“Detection,” he said, “will soon be inescapable, Lieutenant! We move forward according to plan. Reset the system tonight or face termination!”
The line went dead. Mary Musgroan sat staring at the communicator, torn between shock and rage. Rage won. How dared he threaten her? The swine!
Well, she decided. If the gloves were coming off, why not use violence on Barkiss?
“Back to the DMV office, human scum!” she barked. Sure, she could shape-shift into a wolf or a horse, but then she would have to run. Why do that when this human could drive her? “Turn around! Now!”
“Here?” he squeaked. “But it says no U-turn and—”
“We all have to die sometime, vermin!” she shouted.
When the young man saw Mary’s expression, he did as he was told.
To be continued tomorrow…
Don’t miss our Book Giveaway!
Three prizes to three lucky winners.
Robin Helm is offering one (reader’s choice) of her Guardian Trilogy novels and Laura Hile, two copies of Mercy’s Embrace, Book 1.
It’s easy to enter, simply post a comment here. Leave your email address like this: “Laura AT laurahile.com.” Shipment is USA only. One entry per person.
Winners will be chosen and announced on October 25, 2012.
Are you unfamiliar with our books? Read on…
The Guardian Triology by Robin Helm
The powerful and imposing Xander, chief of all guardian angels, has protected exceptional humans from demonic forces over the course of ten millennia. In 1989, he receives an unusual assignment which will forever change his ordered existence. Will he lose the battle for his own heart while guarding supernaturally gifted Elizabeth Bennet from the evil which surrounds her?
Mercy’s Embrace by Laura Hile
Laura Hile’s joyous Regency novels feature Persuasion’s snippy Elizabeth Elliot and her desperate search for a husband. But she’s not as smart as she thinks, and that’s where the fun begins. Romance, adventure, and all your friends from Persuasion are waiting. And then there’s the dashing and dangerous Admiral McGillvary…
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Laura and Robin
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