His heart still hammered, but his nerves held their shaky grip at the edge of their endurance.
The guardsman he faced was lucky that they wanted to capture Benjamin alive. For that purpose, Rogan had prepared his barrier rather than his weapon. He knew himself fortunate as well, as the interloper had squeezed off three rapid, well-aimed shots almost before that barrier took hold. Without the forewarning flux surge that had warned him of the man coming through the path, the bullets might have done Rogan considerable damage.
Through his mental link with Althem, he could feel the spirit’s amusement at his mortal fright, but he had no time for her humor.
<Keep your senses on alert for Benjamin!> he scolded her.
He studied the newcomer in what little moonlight had penetrated this far into the keep and concentrated on being large and intimidating until his heart finished its drum solo. It did not matter how impervious the barrier one put up, being fired at from point-blank was rather… hair-straightening.
Nam and he were working with a good description of their quarry, the slaver called Benjamin, and this man was clearly heavier, better groomed and much older. Nam had sent him a warning that local guardsmen had flushed Benjamin out, so he guessed the interloper to be one of these guardsmen, somehow fallen through the transfer point on his own. The uniform was of an American policeman. But for the alien attire, he could have been a guardsman from any local borough back home. With those sharp eyes and that steel and sinew, he might have earned a spot in the Imperial palace guard.
This was the St. Louis equivalent of a master guardsman, Rogan decided, or possibly a centurion. This man possessed the solid carriage of a dedicated old soldier, the sort who stayed in the field long after others sought out desk jobs. He noted the Earth-style sergeant’s chevrons stitched on the sleeves, and took those for confirmation.
The man still stared at him. He was visibly sorting through his own confusion. Alert eyes measured their surroundings with momentary glances left and right, while mostly watching and keeping a bead on Rogan. After staring for a few more moments, he went to a one handed grip on his pistol, keeping it accurately trained, and pulled his radio, all while never taking his eyes off his target.
“Roy? I lost the subject. Found me a spook instead.”
He was impressed at how even the fellow’s voice and aim were, under the circumstances. He decided to holster his own firearm, but still held his knife in a guard posture to maintain the barrier. He did not know why the man had come around the corner firing, but at a guess, the cause would be something Benjamin had done. The policeman possessed far too much discipline to have a wild trigger finger. The logical explanation was that the quarry had spun this man here in the midst of a firefight.
The device had yet to pick up anything, much less an answer to his call. He radioed once more. “Dispatch, this is 3-5-48-Bravo. You copy?”
“Give it up, Guardsman,” Rogan flashed a smile at him as a peace offering. “There’s none here to receive your transmission.”
Another flux surge hit, followed by the sound of moccasin-clad feet approaching at a run. Nam emerged from around the corner and braked into a flat-footed crouch, hands splayed in guarding posture before her, with purple flux-flame dancing across her palms.
The guardsman had shifted his aim to her. The two stood locked in a standoff, Earther handgun versus Nam’s flame barrier, but she grew a bemused smile as she stood her ground, her breath steadily working as she stared him down. Rogan decided she could easily deal with the fellow without assistance, so he returned his attention to the wall.
It was time to break the tension. As he searched, he flashed Nam a wry grin. “We caught the wrong rabbit, somehow.”
Rogan stepped toward the wall and slipped past, causing the guardsman some difficulty as to which ‘spook’ to aim at. He continued around the turn in the corridor, then began studying the wall by laying his palm flat against it, to sense for flux patterning within. The Earther had just arrived, so it was good odds the path still resonated enough to trace it. To act in portal fashion as it seemed to have done, it must be a gate type, surrounding the transportee. If it was here, it didn’t matter which wall he chose.
The guardsman’s weapon followed him and then the Earther turned and followed. He remained aware of both he and Nam at the edge of his vision, but he needed to work quickly. He trusted Nam to deal with the fellow. As he scanned the wall, she apparently decided the Earther was only in a defensive posture, not threatening her, so she dropped her barrier and followed as well.
When the policeman attempted to track her with his weapon, she glanced over her shoulder at him and said, simply, “Just holster it, cowboy. We are not your enemies.”
Rogan trusted her words didn’t sound as rude to the Earther as they had sounded to him. Nam and he had equal experience with this man’s people, having done an undercover assignment together in New York for several years, but she was far better at speaking with Americans.
After several more seconds, the guardsman lowered his gun and relaxed at last.
Nam sighed and said, “It seems I made an error waiting for you to enter the offices first, Officer. I should have gone with my first instinct and followed him first.”
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