Sergeant Paloma Paz and her Primo Donnas crew hold the Midinoch Anti-Incursion Division’s record for demonic suppression operations. Nobody slaps down Realms-Next-Door nasties better. Whenever a multiversal rent pops up somewhere in Novo Midinoch, they’re scrambling.
As their custom Acero-Leona J42 combat trikes roar up Valiant Avenue, Paloma calls for intel. “Tell us what we’re looking for, Sara!”
Sara “Bellum” Bentley is the big-brained psychic at the centre of the surveillance network. She’s strictly rear echelon. She sees the Realms-Next-Door so clearly, she has no attention to spare for anything else. She hasn’t been licensed to ride for years, much less carry electroplasmic weaponry.
“Massive ruptures within Fallowfield Mall,” reports Sara. “Multiple fissures detected. What I’m seeing looks like someone stuck a pelican head on top of a giraffe’s neck and painted it radioactive green.”
“Maracorva demons!” Paloma has been around so long, she’s forgotten more varieties of monster than most people have heard of. She remembers these ones well. “Last time they were in town, we called them Gulpers.”
“Last time they were in town, it was two of them,” cuts in the weary growl of Division Chief Watanabe, who only leaves her MAID HQ officer quarters once a day, to walk her pugs. “It’s getting worse, Sergeant Paz.”
Officer Kelly Rothe, better known to MAID fans as Kelly Both-Barrels, is only interested in numbers. “How many targets, Central?”
“Minimum of a dozen.”
So many? The Chief was right; it’s a bad situation. Paloma swears in three different languages.
“I guess there’s no news like bad news, huh Sergeant?” Officer Verity Sweet keeps herself so far below the radar she not only doesn’t have a nickname, but even most hardcore Primo Donna-spotters don’t realise she’s on the team. Ninjas might wish for Verity’s natural stealth, if they’d ever heard of her.
“Stay clear of their beaks,” orders Paloma. “Believe me, you don’t want to spend any time in a Maracorva bill. It’s like climbing into a body hammock made of acid.”
Engines roar as the Primo Donnas blast through the gap left for them in the tight-packed security cordon around the mall entrance. Already the crowds are chanting their names – not Verity’s – and singing their theme songs as they dismount and gear up.
They have the latest equipment: body armour layered with ballistic and anti-corrosive weaves, state of the art helmet sensors; and shotguns primed with shells of silver nitrate, rock salt and unstable chronidium scraped from the sizzling umbra of interdimensional wormholes. Everything a well-prepared girl needs when unwanted guests drop by.
Paloma likes to deliver a pep talk before an operation gets hot. “Division Chief Watanabe wants us to get to the bottom of this surge. And every person behind us expects us to keep them safe from the monsters. Let’s not disappoint anyone!”
“Primo Donnas!” shouts Kelly, and the watching crowd take up the chant. Paloma stays quiet because she hates her own singing voice. Verity stays quiet because she’s snuck inside the mall without anyone registering her absence.
Paloma says, “Let’s get in there before she vanishes completely.”
The mall is empty of crowds but the screaming, hooting monsters make it seem busy. The Maracorva have split up, and spread out. What are they up to? Paloma doesn’t like guesses, but she remembers how smart Maracorva are. They’re planning something.
The first one they encounter has a bill swollen up like an inflated toad; it has swallowed the entire perfume counter staff of Kilbey’s Department Store. While Paloma and Kelly pepper it with distracting shotgun blasts to its belly, Verity finds a nearby open portal. She ignores the infinite ultraviolet haze and unpleasant scorch oil smell coming from the other side. Unhooking a small mobile field disruptor from her backpack, she batters the portal’s fringe with electroplasmic waves until it begins to resonate at a slightly higher frequency.
The Maracorva squawks in alarm, opening its fat pelican-bill. Ladies tumble out onto the tiles, their white uniforms now scorched and pitted with holes, and their faces puffy and red. They look back at the staggering, howling giraffe-demon and run screaming for the nearest exit.
“Clear!” yells Paloma, as the last of the perfume counter attendants scrambles past her. Kelly Both-Barrels drops her shotgun and charges the Maracorva, kicking it square in its bristly breastbone with both feet. The demon staggers and totters backwards, stepping through its own multiversal portal and vanishing. Verity reverses the electroplasmic field, siphoning off stabilising chronidium particles until the portal collapses and dissipates.
“One down,” says Paloma, “but there’s still another -”
“Look alert, Sergeant,” warns Sara Bellum over comms. “The remaining Maracova are reconfiguring to compensate for the loss. I think they’ve formed a-”
Paloma finishes the thought. “A summoning circle. For something big.”
“Too late,” says Verity. “Look.”
The Maracorva have surrounded the plaza’s ornamental fountain garden. Electroplasmic energy crackles between them, and spikes toward a hub centred on the splashing fountain.
As the Primo Donnas move into firing positions, an enormous figure, twice the fountain’s height, takes shape.
“On my mark,” says Paloma, as the smoking figure hardens into the shape of a huge woman, rocky and muscular, with a coal-black bob for hair and eyes like smouldering coals.
“Release your hostages or we’ll shoot!”
The volcano woman says in an avalanche voice, “Let them go.”
The Maracorva open their bills. Shop attendants, customers and cleaners tumble free. They run and crawl to safety. The Maracorva pay them no attention; as portals appear they step through and depart.
“They were not prisoners. They ran too slowly, and so required shielding from the portal energies.”
Surprise, Paloma asks the volcano woman, “What do you want?”
“The Realms-Next-Door are tired of fighting. I am Ambassador Tor. I wish to be friends.”
The Primo Donnas lower their weapons. “You mean, no more attacks?”
“Not from the Realms-Next-Door.”
“But other places?”
“Worse places, yes.”
“Oh,” says Paloma Paz. “Then how do you feel about joining the Primo Donnas?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
This one is entirely written at the behest of my daughter, who requested a story about a “lady cop who fights demons”. I may have drifted slightly off my brief, but I’m confident the gratuitous mention of pugs will claw back any lost credibility. Writers are always being told “Write for your ideal audience,” which is much easier when the audience in question is specific about her requirements.
Hopefully the rest of you are also charmed by gratuitous pugs.
Did you seen my news this week? Two of my stories were nominated this week for Aurealis Awards (the annual Australian SF, fantasy and horror fiction awards).
Scroll down to the next post for the details, and if you’re curious to read the stories ahead of the announcement of winners in early May, you can read “A Moment’s Peace” in A Hand of Knaves, and “The Dressmaker and the Colonel’s Coat” in Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales.
(Sorry today’s story is slightly late – I didn’t notice that the upload scheduler was set to tomorrow).