Monday, October 13, 2014
The Magnificent Seven
The old school bus rolled up the interstate and crossed into Montana at speeds at odds with its shabby appearance. Inside it had been refurbished into a mobile transport with generous living accommodations, and more defenses than one would expect from its faded yellow exterior.
Like the bus, its passengers were more than their outward appearance suggested. There were seven of them.
The casual observer’s attention is almost always drawn first to the leopard. Though only of average height, he’s generously muscled and uncommonly handsome. He has a habit of staring down others, as if constantly assessing how their flesh might taste. Surely one so powerful in body and personality must be the one in charge.
You might think that. You’d be wrong. Watch closely, and you’ll see him defer to the diminutive woman with the striking black-and-white hair. Cool, quick-witted, quicker still in flight, the gyrfalcon commands this team. Her keen eyes miss nothing. She has commanded these commandos for five years now. Under her watch, they’ve never failed.
The two wolves are the trackers of the group. They’re so similar in appearance and personality, as alike as twins, that it’s hard to credit they’re from separate packs. The male counts coyote blood among his ancestry; the female boasts of fox. These genetic combinations make them more imaginative than the average wolf. It also makes them reckless, and dangerous. Only their respect for the gyrfalcon keeps their wilder impulses in check.
The owl is their tech man. There isn’t a system on the planet he can’t crack, no computer program he can’t hack. He likes to fiddle with random electronic devices just to see what new inventions he can come up with. He once fashioned a Taser from a garage-door opener and a TV remote. As a boy he’d had two posters on his bedroom wall: Nikola Tesla and MacGyver.
Out of the seven, most people instinctively recoil from the crocodile. He honestly can’t understand this. He’s an Australian freshwater croc, mild-mannered and a trained botanist. What the owl is to gadgets, the freshie is to plants. He can whip up a poultice or a poison with equal ease, as the situation demands. He’s also a talented cook. The team might eye his dishes sidelong, but the falcon trusts him. That’s all the others need.
Except, of course, for the assassin. The team’s hired killer trusts no one, not even the falcon. He’s an English Dorset sheep, and quite psychotic. The others don’t particularly care for him. The sheep is fine with that. Raised as prey in a world run by predators, he developed a philosophy of “get them before they get you.” When it comes to getting people, the sheep can be quite inventive. He doesn’t partake of the freshie’s meals, preferring to prepare his own food. He doesn’t sleep much either, or soundly, and often bleats wild unexpected laughter.
Given a choice, the gyrfalcon would not have had him or any assassin on her team. But she hadn’t been given a choice.
Their orders had been depressingly specific. “Infiltrate Talbot’s Peak,” their master said. “Become friendly with its people. Learn its secrets. Here is the list of people I wish you to pay particular attention to. And then, when the time is right, you will kill Dante Hancock.”