Home > Marked in Flesh (The Others #4)(10)

Marked in Flesh (The Others #4)(10)
Author: Anne Bishop

“That leaves the rest of us,” Pete said.

“That leaves the rest of us,” Burke agreed.

“If you’ll pardon me for saying it, you’re all screwed,” Shady said. He poured cream into his cup and then filled it with coffee from the pot sitting on a thick cloth pad. “You should start laying in supplies while you can and start thinking about how to survive.”

“Is it definite?” Burke asked. “Is the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations going to war?”

“They are. And not among themselves, which, frankly, is what the people of Brittania were hoping they would do. They’ve been stockpiling food and weapons and supplies for a while, but now the signs are out in the open, with troops being transported around the Mediterran. They don’t have enough land to grow the food they need to feed all their people. That’s the truth of it. So the question we’ve been asking is this: is Cel-Romano going to try to grab the human part of Brittania, since we’re the closest piece of human land to them, or are they going to try to annex some of the wild country, gambling that they have the kind of weaponry now that will eliminate the shifters who currently inhabit that land?”

“The shifters wouldn’t be the only earth natives living on that land,” Monty said.

Shady nodded. “I know that. Most people in Brittania may not have dealings with them, but we are taught the history of our land, so we know why very few humans go past the low stone wall that runs the width of the island and separates the land the world itself gifted to us from Wild Brittania. Just like we know that the tales told by the traders who do venture beyond that wall and return alive aren’t embellished.”

“If Cel-Romano is trying for a land grab, why cause trouble on this side of the Atlantik?” Kowalski asked. “Cel-Romano can’t bring an army across the ocean.”

“No, indeed,” Shady said. “Even a fishing boat is carefully watched. Troop ships would never be allowed to reach land.”

“Food was smuggled out of Thaisia,” Burke said. “Troops could be smuggled in. If offered enough money, ship captains will try to slip past whatever is watching.”

“None of this addresses the threat of extinction,” Monty said.

“There’s nothing we can do about that, Lieutenant,” Burke said gently. “We just keep the lines of communication open. We provide assistance where and when we can. And we hope that we continue to balance whatever foolishness other humans instigate.” He looked around the table. “Anything else?”

Michael Debany shifted in his chair. “Captain, you said the information shouldn’t leave this room. Does that mean not saying anything to the girls, because”—he looked at Kowalski—“they’re meeting with Meg this morning, so they might know about this anyway.”

“I don’t think Wolfgard told Ms. Corbyn about the earth natives’ decision,” Monty said. “But he may have shared something else with her that he didn’t share with us.”

“Need to know, gentlemen,” Burke said. “For now, that excludes the girls. Next week, the Courtyard will have guests, and the girls don’t need to be wondering about every word or gesture, afraid that it will be the thing that tips the scales against us.”

“So business as usual,” Louis said.

“Yes.” Burke pushed away from the table. “If that’s all . . .”

A dismissal.

Monty caught a ride with Louis to the station, which allowed Kowalski and Debany to talk between themselves on the way back to the Courtyard, where Debany would put in a few hours helping Eve Denby and the girls before reporting to work.

“Have you talked to Officer Debany about a new partner?” Louis asked.

“Not yet,” Monty replied. “Even with the hazard pay that comes with working on this team, no one has made a request to be the fourth man.”

“Well, it’s not just dealing with humans who want to start trouble, is it? Anyone on your team is expected to interact and spend time in the Courtyard during off-duty hours. Even officers who won’t hesitate to back you up are going to think long and hard about that.”

“About being branded as Wolf lovers.”

“It’s not just the man who gets branded,” Louis said quietly. “And it’s not just people who interact with the Others on a daily basis. My wife and a neighbor—a woman she’s been friends with for years—went shopping the other day. Carpooled to save gas. They parked in the general area of the shops. Two butcher shops, two blocks apart. One was showing an HFL sign in the window; the other shop doesn’t support the movement. My wife’s friend went to the shop with the HFL sign—a place where you have to show your HFL membership in order to be served. My wife went to the other shop because we’ve agreed that we aren’t going to be a part of the HFL in any way.”

“What happened?” Monty asked.

“The friend didn’t say anything, but the car was gone when my wife finished her shopping and returned to where they’d parked. The woman, friend and neighbor, just left without her and hasn’t spoken to her since. Gods, they used to watch each other’s kids, used to have a night out once in a while—dinner and a movie that the husbands and kids didn’t want to see. And now . . .”

“The lines are being drawn.”

“Yes. I just hope there are enough of us standing on this side when the time comes to hold that line.”

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