|This story is set in the Environmental Protection universe, in which unicorns (and other ancient myths) butt up against the modern world. Power a unicorn may have, but how do you stop an entire lake from getting slimed by illegal dumping?
Go here for more information on the setting.
by Equestrian Horse Wrangler
©2004 Equestrian Horse Wrangler -- all rights reserved
There was a collective hush over the office as everyone held their breath. Gwen flicked her tail back and forth in anticipation, the other unicorns eagerly waiting. There was a flicker, and suddenly Roger appeared in front of them.
"Good job, Roger!" Gwen beamed. "You teleported across the room!"
Roger looked back and forth, shaking his head. "Man, what a rush!"
Stacy giggled. "So, how did it feel?"
Roger took in a deep breath, collecting his thoughts. "Weird. It felt like I didn't exist for a few seconds there."
"You didn't, sort of," Louis said with a smirk. "It felt the same way the first time I did it."
Gwen trotted over to Roger, inspecting him with a big grin on her face. "I'm really proud of you Roger. You have the basics down, so now you just need to practice and soon you'll be able to transport yourself much further away."
Roger nodded. He really did it! It was strange, but it just seemed to come to him when he concentrated on his abilities. His powers were just starting to reveal themselves to him, and it was both frightening and exciting. The other day he healed a fox's broken foot, and the day before that he changed a weed into a rose. It was hard to believe that it had only been a month since he had become a unicorn.
Everyone returned to their human forms, and gave Roger a mock round of applause. Smirking, he took a bow and then waved facetiously at his "admirers."
Louis smiled. "Okay everyone, that's enough back patting. Come on, the environment isn't going to save itself."
Roger grinned in response. "Actually, the environment has shown an amazing ability to repair itself..."
Louis raised his hand. "Please Roger, none of that today. Just go back to work, everyone."
The group dispersed, heading down to the second floor to their respective offices. Everyone shot Roger a congratulatory glance as they passed his room, and he waved in response, blushing quite noticeably.
It had been incredible. No words, no thoughts, no emotions could come close to describing the euphoric sensation he felt by actually being able to transport himself by the power of his mind. And what power it was! For the first time since his transformation, he had really tapped into the vast reserves of his power. He felt like he had infinite potential.
And that frightened him. Should he have that sort of power? How would he know if he was abusing it? Or using it incorrectly? Roger felt a shiver run up his spine. He felt omnipotent and clueless at the same time.
He picked up a piece of paper on his desk, trying to get his mind off that topic. It was a complaint from a local neighborhood asking the EPA to investigate possible poisonous fumes in the area. Roger sighed. Ever since September 11, people were paranoid over just about everything. The paper had been filed by the local chapter of Sierra Club, which made him roll his eyes.
Mankind and their causes. It almost seemed quaint to him now. While he still considered himself human, every now and then Roger couldn't help but feel a chuckle from his unicorn half. Thinking of humans as another species was still an alien feeling to his senses, but at the same time it felt perfectly natural.
He heard a knock on his door and he looked up to see Richard coming towards him. He folded his arms and gave Roger an over exaggerated glare.
"Don't try to hide it," he said with mock anger. "You're rather pleased with yourself. I can tell."
Roger smirked. "Okay, you got me." He handed Richard the paper he was reading. "This is a complaint we got earlier today from that weirdo Marxist group."
Richard had a perplexed look on his face and then snatched the paper. "Roger, the Sierra Club isn't a communist organization! They just sometimes blow environmental issues a little out of proportion." He paused for a second. "Of course, look who's talking. I can turn into a horned equine and talk to animals."
Roger laughed. He liked tormenting Richard. "I'm sorry Richard. You know how I like to get a rise out of you."
Richard rubbed his hands together. "Well, just don't talk to Stacy that way. Remember, she is a Sierra member."
Roger threw up his hands in a non-confrontational manner. "That's a can of worms I don't want to open."
Richard took the report and started to walk away, but paused halfway toward the door. "You know, it's certainly going to be interesting having you around for the next couple eons."
Roger exhaled. "Don't remind me."
His supervisor gave him a short wave, and then headed out of the office. Roger returned the gesture and then just scanned around the room. The building was old and falling apart. It had cracks on the walls and the air vents smelled sometimes. He had worked in government offices before, but this one was certainly a doozy. The strange thing was, it didn't have to be this way. Not with what he and the others could do. It had been nagging him for sometime, but now he had to find out about his surroundings.
Getting up from his desk, Roger walked out into the hallway, past a seemingly civil discussion between Arthur and Rebecca. They were only slightly screaming at each other over greenhouse type gasses, but by their standards it was a downright nice debate. Stacy gave him a playful smile as he passed her office, which was shrouded in press releases and other information she was meant to relay to the community. She just lifted her hand long enough to wave before a mountain of folders on her desk came tumbling down on her. Roger smiled in return, just catching the beginning of her complaints.
He finally stopped outside Gwen's office, waiting patiently for a few minutes before her husband Louis finished speaking. Their conversation seemed to be half business/half personal, as it always was. He smiled to himself as Louis exited the room, and then tried to hide his amusement just as quickly once Gwen lifted her head to acknowledge him.
"Come here to gloat?" she asked, a tell-tale smile betraying the harsh tone of her voice.
Roger shook his head. "No, was just hoping I could talk to you."
This seemed to intrigue Gwen. "About work?"
"About our office building, actually," Roger admitted. "I was just wondering. Well, I had been thinking about this for a while. This building, it's not bad really, I was just curious as to why it isn't well kept up."
"It's not really in the budget to make the building look nice," Gwen stated matter of factly.
Roger nodded. "I know that. I mean, how come we don't use any of our, ah, special skills to make the place look nicer?"
That seemed to really catch Gwen's attention. "Mr. Harris, are you suggesting we use our powers to satisfy our own personal vanity?"
Roger suddenly felt pea-sized. "I'm sorry. I guess I..."
Gwen lifted her hand to stop the apology, and gave him a reassuring grin. "I'm just fooling with you Roger. But not completely. Aye, we could use our powers to make this place look nicer. But I rather enjoy it this way -- cracks and everything."
She stopped for a moment to look around her office, almost as though she was admiring it. "You see, it helps keep me modest. As I hope it does with everyone else. It's sort of a physical way of representing the fact that magic can't be used to solve everything. And that there's still work to be done."
Roger nodded. "I guess you can say it keeps us... humble?"
"Precisely," she said with a grin. "I think we need to be reminded of that every now and then. Don't want any of us getting a god complex."
That last one hit Roger hard. "You know, I was just thinking about how hard it must be to control these powers. Knowing when to use them, I mean."
Gwen nodded this time. "I understand. Trust me Roger, I'm more than 500 years old, and I still don't know everything. But I try to remind myself that my powers exist for a reason, and that I'm supposed to use them for that reason."
"I understand," Roger said. "Just was curious is all."
Gwen wove her fingers together. "And there's nothing wrong in being curious. You're still new to this, and it's natural that you'll have questions. That's what I'm here for."
Terrence Binder stood outside the restaurant, pacing back and forth madly. He was supposed to meet with Mr. Leak ten minutes ago, and so far, no dice. Of course, the longer he had to wait to speak with Leak, the longer his boss had to wait to get an update. And Mayor Brian was not the type of person who likes waiting.
Finally, a vehicle pulled up to the curb, and the passenger side window rolled down. "Get in," commanded the voice inside.
Giving the man a dirty glance, Binder rushed over and opened the door. "You were supposed to be here ten minutes ago!"
"Just shut up and get in the car," the driver said. Binder exhaled slowly, and then took a seat.
"What do you have for me?" Binder asked, shutting the door. "Is everything going as scheduled?"
The man didn't take his eyes off the road. "Everything is running smooth. As least, as smoothly as this sort of thing goes here. You know my men are spooked about these recent disappearances."
Binder nodded. "The mayor wishes to know exactly how our disposal situation is being handled, Mr. Leak."
The man shrugged. "Look, it's very simple. You can't dump your toxic waste in the river anymore, because the EPA is on your case. So you ship it to me after midnight, and I dispose of it in the lake."
Binder cracked his knuckles. "Tell me about the delays."
Leak rolled his eyes and gave an overdramatic sigh. "Look man, I told you. My men are freaked out, okay? First Fine goes missing, and then a whole team of mercenaries? I mean, wouldn't you be a little uneasy? I have to arm my men each night just to give them the confidence to go out to that damn pond."
"Mr. Leak, let me assure you," Binder said, looking him dead in the eyes, "the mayor is looking into this problem personally. So you just keep on doing what you're doing. We're going to attach a few men from our own private reserves to help oversee this operation. Will that make your crew feel at ease?"
"It might, but I'm not promising anything. Just what are we dumping for you, anyway?"
"Like it matters?" Binder shrugged. "Heavy chemicals leftover from the stacks, petrochemical residue, and other crap that's not useful anymore. Junk, really."
A facetious smile crossed Leak's face. "Just burning the midnight oil, I guess."
Binder rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Pull over here and let me out. I don't want anyone to see us together. Some people might get curious if the mayor's personal aide is seen with the top local construction contractor."
Leak's smirk widened. "You damn politicians and your reputation. Have to pretend everything is on the up and up when everybody knows otherwise."
"It's that kind of attitude that makes people distrust their government," Binder said as he stepped out of the car.
Gwen and Roger materialized in the forest, causing some animals to run away before collecting their wits and returning.
Roger shook himself off. "Woof! That still feels strange. Can't wait until I can do that!"
Gwen nodded. "It takes practice, but eventually you'll get it down pat. Now, want to race me?"
That caught Roger off guard. "Sure, I guess. From where to where?"
"Oh, the length of this shire should be fine," she said, adding quickly "Read-set-go!"
"Hey, wait!" Roger screamed, just starting to move as Gwen was already several paces ahead of him.
He poured his energy into his legs, kicking madly at the ground to propel himself through the clearing. The rush was incredible. Roger felt a natural high as he rocketed along the ground, each hoof hitting the ground in expertly timed rhythm. Gwen had just come to a stop at the edge of the shire and was spinning around as Roger began to slow down to make his own turn.
He managed to spin around in midair and hit the ground running, closing the gap between himself and Gwen. The wind straightened his mane and tail, and he could feel his hooves eating away at the grass as he pulled himself closer to Gwen. With less then half of the field left he caught her, both unicorns running neck and neck. He gave it all he could, and blasted past her. The tree line was getting closer and closer. Victory was in his grasp. He could already taste his triumph.
Then there was a brief flash behind him, only to be accompanied by one immediately in front of him. Roger came slowed to stop just as Gwen manifested at the finish line.
"Beat you!" she said, beaming with a look of conquest.
Roger panted for a few seconds, and after catching his breath he fumed. "You cheated!"
Gwen gave a whinny laugh. "I just said I'd race you. I never said how."
Roger grumbled, defeated by her logic. Gwen laughed again and then trotted over to her groaning charge. She playfully rubbed her nose on his cheek.
"I'm just playing with you Roger," she said. "You won. You can really move when you want to!"
Roger finally chuckled, looking at the ground. "No, that one's yours. You outsmarted me."
The mare just smiled. "You're the perfect gentleman, Roger."
It wasn't long after that when the animals seized upon them. Roger tried to hide behind Gwen, but it wasn't long before he was inundated with woodland creatures. Squirrels ran up his tail, birds landed on his back and rabbits chased each other around his legs. Roger felt very ill at being made the center of so much loving attention.
"They really like you, pet," Gwen said with a wink.
Roger just rolled his eyes as the animals began to chant "modest unicorn!" again and again as though it was his theme song. He really hated the label, both because it was annoying, and also because it was true. Which made it even more annoying.
He looked back and forth at the animals. He sighed, and then looked at Gwen. "We really shouldn't encourage them like this. It will spoil them."
Gwen nickered, balancing a bunny on her head. "Nonsense! They love our company, and who are we to deny them? After all, it is our duty!"
Duty. That word struck him hard. It reminded him of something he wanted to ask. He had had a thought the other day, one he felt was a pretty important. A quandary that had been gnawing at him for a while.
"Gwen, I want to talk to you," Roger said, his voice taking on a serious tone. "There's something that's been bothering me for a while."
Gwen blinked. She read Roger's empathy, and could feel that this was important. "Okay Roger, go ahead."
Roger looked back and forth at the animals around him, and then at Gwen again. "The day you transformed me and Jason, you told him that we must never be seen in our true forms by humans. I backed you up at the time, thinking that it had something to do with being captured. But now that I know more about us, I know for certain there is no way we can ever be detained. We can either call out for help from other unicorns or simply just teleport away."
Gwen nodded. "Go on."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, why the big secret? How come it's okay that we can show animals what we look like, but we have to keep hidden from humans? Couldn't we do more good in the world if we worked with mankind?"
Gwen smiled. "It's a jolly good question, Rog. And it deserves a good answer. You are aware of course about all the different magical species inhabiting this Earth, are you not?"
Roger nodded, and Gwen continued. "Of all the sentient beings on this planet, mankind is the only one without any magic powers. That's an important thing to keep in mind. Just a few thousand years ago, mankind was barely managing to eke out a rude existence. Now, look at him! He's built skyscrapers to the heavens, machines that can travel underwater, and has even been to the moon. All these achievements have come without the benefit of supernatural powers."
Roger stopped to consider this. Human beings had managed to accomplish some pretty impressive feats -- when they weren't being distracted by wars, that is. In fact, sometimes the wars themselves were the main driving force for change. Despite any shortcomings of the breed, humans were definitely a remarkably innovative species.
Gwen took a serious tone. "Mankind is meant for something. Something very special. In fact, humans are already special. Their creations, the things they have made, still continue to astound us unicorns. We may be able to live for millions of years, but human beings, in their relatively short lifetime, can do so much that is beyond what one would expect."
She paused for a second, to glance at the animals surrounding her. "You asked why we magic folk reveal ourselves to animals but not to humans. The reason is very simple: animals are not sentient. Although we can communicate with them, the most they can do is inform us of anything out of the ordinary. They have no true desires: just the primal urges to eat, sleep and procreate. On the other hand, humans, as I said, have managed to do great things without the overt benefit of magic. We may pitch in behind the scenes from time to time to help things along, but we keep our interference to a minimum."
"Oh yes," Roger said with a guilty smile, remembering their activities with the petrochemical plant. "We certainly do that, eh Gwen?"
Gwen smirked, and then continued: "However, if we showed ourselves and our abilities to mankind, that would destroy everything that it had worked for. You see, mankind is a noble species, but it can also be a lazy one as well. It's in man's nature to take for granted the gifts that are given to him. Humans would come to expect us to solve all their problems for them, even the ones they were capable of solving themselves. They would have no more difficulties, but at the same time, they would have no more dreams, either. The species would grow stagnant, and eventually disappear, and that's something that we can not allow."
Roger nodded. "I think I understand. We can't help them, because we would be doing a serious disservice to mankind's destiny."
Gwen shook her head. "Oh, no dear! I didn't mean we can't help them. As I told you, we're the planet's sentinels, and it's our job to look after every species, mankind included. It's just with humans, we have to be a bit more careful. Let me put it to you this way. You're a Christian, correct?" She paused as Roger nodded. "Do you honestly think God wants us to micromanage His favorite creation? Or more specifically, that we possess the knowledge to do what He chooses not to?"
Roger beamed. "I guess not. Thank you Gwen, you certainly helped me out."
Gwen stepped forward and nuzzled his cheek. "You're most welcome."
Roger smiled. "No kiss?"
Gwen shook her head again. "Sorry, the nuzzle will have to do. My Louis isn't that understanding, if you catch my drift."
The stallion and the mare both exchanged a brief laugh, and trotted into the woods to check on any developments.
Richard was waiting when Gwen and Roger materialized back in the conference room. He had his feet propped up on the table and his hands crossed behind his head, whistling to himself.
Gwen returned to her human form and promptly placed her hands on her hips. "Are you feeling quite comfortable, Richard?"
He smiled. "Yes, I am actually. Thanks for asking."
Gwen shook her head in disbelief. "Well, good, because it's not like you have any work to do or anything."
Richard's eyes widened. "This coming from someone who takes off in the middle of the day to run through the forest?"
Gwen opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. He had her there.
"Actually," Richard said, moving his feet from the table and standing up, all in one move, "I was waiting for Roger. I needed someone to go out on an investigation with me."
A perplexed look crossed Gwen's face. "Roger? What about Arthur or Rebecca?"
Richard shook his head no. "They're already out doing something else. Louis and Stacy are busy too. I figured Roger might like a chance to do some more field work. Besides, it's related to that complaint he got earlier."
Roger shrugged. "I guess I can go. There wasn't anything pressing I needed to do." Roger of course did have things to do, but being a government employee it meant he was of course a master of the art of procrastination. "Sure, I'll go."
"Great!" Richard said.
The two men made their way to a company van and then headed to the site, bringing a menagerie of equipment with them. The van reeked of both cheap odor purifier and various chemical solvents. The passenger side window was an unexpected blessing for Roger.
Various concerned citizens had called the authorities about mysterious vehicle driving through their communities at late hours of the night. Police searched the Patterson Lake area, but found nothing suspicious. Richard's intuition on the other hand failed to be so easily satisfied.
As the car traversed the lanes of the city, he noticed that Richard had a pretty big smile on his face, and stopped twiddling his thumbs long enough to find out why.
"What are you so happy about?" he asked.
Richard chuckled. "Just glad to be going out on a job. I used to be field agent myself, did you know that? It's been a long time since I actually did some leg work."
Roger nodded, unsure of this revelation. "So, why are you going out on this one?"
Richard's demeanor changed. "I've always been curious about global warming. I'm trying to discover if poisoning water supplies actually effects the overall temperature readings of a given era."
"Oh," Roger responded, his voice a bit too eager to drop the subject.
"What?" Richard asked, reading Roger's body language.
Roger sighed. "I'm not a very big proponent of the theory of global warming."
Richard chuckled as he turned the van toward his destination. "Never heard global warming be called a theory before. Always figured everyone was in agreement on that one. Interesting."
Roger shook his head. "I don't believe in global warming at all, actually."
Richard about swerved off the road at these words, and Roger quickly grabbed the dashboard to avoid being thrown around the cab.
"Hey, watch out!" Roger screamed, before realizing he didn't have to worry about being killed anymore. Still, they shouldn't be endangering the lives of people who are still subject to normal rules of life and death.
Regaining his composure, Richard quickly brought the vehicle back under his control. "I'm sorry, I just didn't know how to respond to that. I mean, not believing in global warming?"
Roger calmed down, holding his hands out in front of him to steady his nerves. "Look, I just think it's a lot of paranoid hooey."
Richard brought the van to a slow stop, having arrived at the lake. "What are you talking about? You are aware of course that numerous well respected scientists support global warming as a very real epidemic effecting this planet."
Roger shook his head. "Those same sort of scientists used to believe in global cooling up until the late 1970s. Personally, I think the whole thing was cooked up by anti-corporate activists as a scaremonger tactic."
Richard sneered at that remark as both men exited the vehicle. "That's a little thin, don't you think? After all, we've only been measuring climate patterns for the last century. Who knows what we'll know in the future?"
Roger bit his lip. "It's not that I don't think that there's cause for alarm in some areas, I just think that sometimes people blow the issue completely out of proportion." He paused for a second and then shrugged. "Why don't we just ask some of the elder unicorns? I'm sure they've been around long enough to know if human activity is warming the planet or if the Earth just naturally goes through different climate phases."
Richard chuckled. "I could, but I'd rather find out for myself. That's my human half still at work, so to speak."
Opening his mouth to respond, Roger shut it just as quickly. He couldn't find any way to really respond to that remark. It appeared that Richard had that effect on people.
The two men set about the area, sifting through anything that looked suspicious and taking chemical samples. Richard, having forgotten about the tedious nature of collecting samples on site, grumbled to himself to pass the time. Roger just thought about the sanctuary of his nice air conditioned office waiting for him to take his mind off Richard's mumbling.
After checking the oxygen levels of the lake, Richard came over to Roger. He shook his head in disappointment, making Roger give him all of his attention.
"It's definitely got what we like to call 'sludge' in it," he said, lifting the beaker to show it to Roger. "Abnormally high amounts, as well. Someone's been dumping here recently."
Roger sighed. "What do we do now?"
Richard lowered his arm. "We take action. Let Stacy handle the legal aspects of it. The rest of us are going to deal with this through... other channels. But first, let's find out what our snitches have to say."
The word "snitches" put Roger off guard. "What do you mean?"
Richard smiled. "Our stool pigeons -- and stool squirrels, blue jays, chipmunks..." Roger rolled his eyes and nodded in comprehension.
The two entered the forest and once they were out of sight of the homes in the distance, took their bestial forms. Roger and Richard trotted between the trees, calling out to any animal in earshot.
"Listen up!" Richard demanded. "We need your help. The humans who have been coming here late at night in the big trucks are harming the water. We need you to keep an eye out for them if they come back."
Roger watched the various animals murmur in agreement. He jumped in, adding, "If you do see anything, well, tell a bird and have them come see us, I guess."
Richard laughed, and Roger just dragged a hoof across the dirt.
"Yes unicorn, we will," a rabbit said. The rest of the forest echoed the sentiment. Roger and Richard both departed once the local wildlife started getting too happy. There was only so much that either equine could take.
"You know," Richard started while driving back to the office, "I've always liked animals. I really enjoy the way that nature just responds to us. It's so peaceful."
Roger sighed. "Yeah, but they're on their best behavior when we're around. It's not natural for all those different creatures to be all buddy-buddy. Once we're gone, they go right back to eating each other."
Richard grimaced, his good mood spoiled. "Yeah. Anyway, we're going back to tell the others what we've discovered. The lake isn't at dangerous levels yet, but there's no sense waiting until somebody dies to take action."
"That's very good Jason!" Gwen said, as the young boy stood back in triumph.
On the table before them was a pile of gold coins there had not been there before. Louis smiled and Stacy clapped, stepping out the way to avoid her foot being stepped on by the elated young unicorn.
"Sorry, Stacy," Jason apologized. "I'm just so excited. First time I was able to transform something. I mean, I think it counts as a transformation, right?"
Gwen laughed. "Yes, dear, technically you transformed the air molecules. And you did an excellent job!"
Everyone basked in the glow of Jason's accomplishment until the mood was broken by Richard and Roger's arrival.
"Gwen, we have a problem up by the lake," he said as he walked into the conference room. "I..."
He was silenced by everyone else's stares. Gwen crossed her arms, and Louis shot him a perturbed look.
"Richard," Gwen said sternly, "We were just in here working with young Jason. Try not to just burst in and interrupt us."
Richard put his arms behind his back and apologized. Roger turned over to his son, surprised to see him up at his work. He then caught sight of the mound of gold coins on the table, and his jaw slowly dropped.
"J-Jason," he stuttered, his eyes locked on the precious metal, "did you make that?"
Jason beamed with pride, a big smile across his equine lips. "Sure did! It was fun!"
Roger slowly rubbed his hand across his face. "This is going to cause me some trouble. Don't know how, don't know when, but somehow this power is going to come back and bite me in..."
Gwen broke in. "Don't worry Roger, Jason and I have already had a little chat."
Roger nodded reluctantly, while spying a mischievous smile on Jason's face. Oh yeah, he thought, this is going to be trouble. Before he could further lament any future dilemmas that might arise however, Richard continued informing the others of what they had learned. There was various discussion on how to treat the issue. Louis and Richard both wanted to make a public announcement. Gwen had other ideas.
"If we do it, then we won't catch the culprits responsible," she said.
Louis crossed his arms and grinned. "Honey, remember that we kind of have our own way of... dealing with things."
She giggled at that remark. "True. However, remember who we represent. I want to punish lawbreakers through legal means. We can't solve every problem simply by transforming someone into an animal. Sure it's fun, but still, not everyone deserves it."
Louis sighed and then nodded. Roger in turn couldn't help but feel a little tense at this conversation. It seemed Louis enjoyed his magical powers a little too much. Transforming the occasional scumbag was one thing, but using it as a blanket punishment for all offenders seemed a little radical.
Don't worry, a voice suddenly said in his head. He turned to face Gwen, who was smiling as she sent him another telepathic message. We try to keep things civil, she thought at him, adding with a snicker, Most of the time.
Roger shook his head in resignation. It seemed to be a joke, he told himself, but with Gwen, could you ever really tell?
Nervous. It was the only way Leak could describe the scene. There was a feeling of worry and indecision among the men. Some wanted to go home, others were anxious to get started. They stood around in groups, waiting to either be given orders or be sent away. Organized chaos.
11 o'clock at night is no time for such disarray. He hopped into the center of the mob, signaling for their attention.
"Look," he said, "I know a lot of you are spooked by what's been going on here lately. A handful of disappearances, all seemingly connected in some way or another to the plant."
"It's not just a handful," one person said defiantly from the crowd. "This has happened before. It's just been quiet for a while. But now..."
Leak put his hand up. "Yes, but it's different this time. We've got protection. Mayor Brian has flown in specialists from California. They handle this type of thing all the time."
There was some reluctant acceptance among the crowd. Leak turned to the security force, five men armed with submachine guns and shotguns. They seemed cool and collected, ready to deal with anything. That seemed to calm down some of his men. Others remained skeptical.
"Being armed didn't seem to help some of the others," the loudmouth said.
Leak sighed. "Look, it's a simple matter of risk. You take it on any job. You could get killed delivering a package. But what it all comes down to is money. You need it, I have it. If you want to get paid, I suggest you get ready to ship this stuff."
And that was that. In the end, simple arithmetic won out, and the sludge was loaded up into the back of the trucks. Leak knew his men wouldn't let him down, not out of loyalty but out of necessity. The men he attracted to handled this job were not of highest moral fiber. Many were drug addicts, others degenerate gamblers and still others were just greedy people. In the end, it's never hard to find people willing to do the job as long as the price is right.
Roger lay back sluggishly in his recliner, staring up at the ceiling. Another Friday was about to pass. In the background he heard his son bragging to his wife. It was clearly way past his bedtime, but it was the weekend, and this was a special case. He watched his wife respond with mixed emotions. Smiles to compliment her son's, but also a look of reservation between her grins. This was clearly difficult for her.
It was getting late though. He wanted nothing more than to slip into his covers and find his way to blissful slumber. Sleep was calling, and he wished to answer it.
So, knowing his luck, he wasn't terribly surprised what happened next. There was a flash in the middle of his living room, and suddenly a familiar looking unicorn standing between him and the rest of his family.
"Roger," Gwen said. "I'm sorry to disturb you so late. But we need you. Normally I'd just 'call out' mentally for another unicorn to come, but I know your teleportation skills are still limited."
Gwen paused to take stock of her surroundings, and then noticed Claire to the right of her. Claire's eyes looked like they were going to fall out of their sockets. There are just some things that a person can't comprehend, and this was certainly one of them.
"Oh, pardon me, ma'am," Gwen said. "Sorry to burst in on you like this, but we needed everyone that was available. I hope you don't mind me borrowing your husband."
Claire just absentmindedly shook her head, her eyes still bulging. "Um, what are you going to do?"
Gwen smiled. "There's some bad people at work right now, and it's our job to stop them." She turned to Roger. "We got word from one of our flying friends that some suspicious looking humans were at the lake. It seems some unicorn told them to get in touch with us." Gwen winked. "Good show, Roger. You're shaping up to be a good guardian."
Claire just shook her head, cradling her forehead in her palm. "Flying friends? Guardian? Oh Roger, what have you gotten into?"
Gwen gave a whinnying laugh, which startled Claire. "Don't worry, love. We'll bring your husband back in one piece."
Jason broke in with a big smile. "Can I come too?"
Claire's jaw dropped. "Absolutely not! You're not going to run off to do God knows what with these... people."
Roger stood up off the chair. "Your mother's right Jason. You stay here."
Jason kicked at the ground. "Aw man, I never get to do anything fun."
Roger walked over to Gwen, and then peered over her neck to catch sight of his family. "Next time we do something as unicorns, I promise I'll let you tag along Jason. As long as it's not dangerous."
Jason seemed to perk up at those words. "Really?"
Roger nodded. "You have my word. But right now, I need you to be the man of the house and look after mom. That's your duty now. Can you handle it?" Jason nodded, and he turned his attention to Gwen. "How long are we going to be gone?"
Gwen smiled. "Shouldn't be more than an hour or so. Depends on if we have to do anything drastic or not."
Claire shook her head again, and Roger defensively raised his hands to calm her down. "It's okay, dear," Roger said. "I've done this before. Okay Gwen, do it."
Claire turned her eyes as the unicorn and her husband disappeared with a flash. She turned to Jason. "I hope he knows what he's doing."
Jason smiled. "Don't worry, Gwen's a nice lady. Besides, he has to help people. It's what we do."
When Gwen and Roger arrived at the woods, Louis, Stacy, Richard, Arthur and Rebecca were already waiting in their unicorn forms. Roger took a moment to steady himself, using Gwen for support.
He shook his head, regaining his senses. "You know, you took an awfully big risk just showing up at my house. What if I had someone over or something?"
Gwen smiled. "Don't worry. Right before a unicorn teleports, we have a sort of sixth sense that lets us know if we're going to be in danger when we arrive at our destination. We sort of project our mind to the area before our body to let us know if everything is okay."
Roger nodded, before something else struck him. "Hey, wait a minute. You were surprised to see Claire sitting there."
"Yes, I was, but that doesn't matter," Gwen explained. "You see, our power only tells us if it's safe or not, not who's going to be there. Any human being who knows about the existence of unicorns but means us no harm isn't considered a threat. Presumably your wife fits into that category. When you're more used to your powers, you'll understand."
Roger reluctantly shook his head. "Okay, that makes sense, I guess."
Louis stepped forward. "We have some business to attend to. There's a bunch of people over at the lake dumping toxic waste into it."
Roger nodded, and the took a step back from the others to make room. He concentrated , and then shifted into his alternate form.
"How do we handle this?" Stacy asked, flicking her tail passively.
Gwen cracked a demure smile. "I suggest we just spook them. Keep actual contact to minimum this time, and avoid it altogether if possible. I want some people in jail this go around."
Louis nodded. "Agreed. Richard, you and Roger take that truck on the end. Arthur and Rebecca hit the workers dumping in the lake, and me, Gwen and Stacy will handle the hired muscle."
"Muscle?" Roger asked.
"Gunmen," Rebecca said. "It seems we're doing too good of a job around here. The mayor must have brought them in to protect his brother's dumping operation."
"Okay," Louis said. "Let's deal with this swiftly and cleanly. We want the police to hear the commotion, but we don't want any civvies getting hurt. We'll all meet up again over at that hill before we leave."
They all nodded nodded, and then broke into their assigned groups.
Over at the lake, Leak was getting a little antsy. It was a foggy evening, which helped give them cover, but it also made it nearly impossible to move quickly. Only half of the load had been dropped, and they had already been here for half an hour. The barrels were unmarked, and with three different plants in the area it made detection after the fact unlikely. Still, there was always the threat of getting caught red-handed. Mayor Brian could control a lot of things, but if Leak got caught, he was on his own.
"Keep it going, keep it going!" he demanded, walking back and forth anxiously. "We don't want to be here all night!"
He watched as the men, all covered in white biohazard suits, worked diligently at rolling the drums into the lake. He looked over to the man nearest him, armed with an Uzi. He had a stone face, and seemed to be elsewhere. Leak just shook his head, and continued over to one of the trucks. All of a sudden, there was a loud screech and all the men hopped back as the straps holding the barrels broke. The drums spilt down onto the ground making loud clangs, and Leak ran his hands through his hair furiously.
"Are you trying to get us caught?" he screamed.
"It's not my fault!" one of the men yelled in return. "Something must have damaged the straps. Look at them!"
Leak examined the straps and saw that they were indeed frayed. As of a sudden he heard something. Movement coming from the woods.
"Leave this place!" a ghostly voice demanded, and was soon accompanied with galloping sounds running the length of the tree line.
"What the hell?" Leak demanded. "Turn on that floodlight and scan the forest!"
A light came on and traveled across the the tree line, but the fog coming off the lake made it impossible to get a clear view. Leak looked and saw that some of his men were getting nervous. He turned to his muscle, and pointed toward the trees.
"Go over there and check it out!"
One of the men nodded, and started with two others toward the trees. They vanished from sight for a few moments, and it was eerily quiet. Leak wiped some sweat from his forehead, and waited for something to happen.
When the screams finally came, everyone around him stepped back in shock. After a minute, the stillness of the night was punctured by various small arms fire. The workers saw traces of automatic fire through the dense mist and a shape or two every now and then, but nothing definite. Leak clenched his fists together tightly. Everyone within a mile was going to hear all this noise!
And then, just as suddenly as it began, it stopped. Silence. Dead silence.
"Oh my God..." Leak said under his breath. His men seemed to mimic his response, slowly backing away from their barrels and heading toward the vehicle.
All of a sudden there was a loud thrashing from the woods, and one of the gunmen came out of the trees, his jacket torn and shotgun splintered.
"Monsters!" he screamed, stumbling in front of the men. "I don't know what the hell they were, but they weren't human!"
Suddenly, the spectral voice from the woods began again. "You have violated this sacred place. The penalty is most severe!"
"Yes," added a second, equally disturbing voice. "For violating this land, you must die!"
Some of the workers actually tripped over themselves at those words. Leak, trying to maintain some semblance of order, turned to the two remaining gunmen.
"Open fire, damn it! Kill whatever's in there!"
The two men steadied themselves, and opened fire. The sound of machine gun fire was accompanied by that of bullets eating away at bark and bushes. The men continued firing, trying to zero in on the source of the sound. When they were both spent, the men ejected their empty magazines and wordlessly inserted fresh ones, content that they had taken care of the problem.
A laugh erupted from the woods, wiping the smiles off the various men's faces. "Puny humans and your worthless weapons! You can't kill us! Now you must suffer!"
With that, the trees began to shake, their long branches thrashing about violently.
"Dear God!" one of the workers screamed. "The forest is alive!"
All of the sudden, the sound of galloping started up again. The was a loud sound of metal being bashed, followed by the din of a large vehicle creaking. The men turned their eyes just in time to see a truck tip over and crash on its side, spilling out the giant drums in its bed.
Pandemonium reigned. Both vehicles and humans crashed into each other in the desperate attempt to flee the area. A tree fell down across the trail leading back to the road, preventing any vehicle from passing. One truck tried to make it over, but got stuck, the front half trapped in an elevated position.
Several men screamed in pain as they were knocked to the ground by mysterious creatures. Others ran hysterically into one another, all the while Leak standing completely still and shaking uncontrollably, looking down at his outstretched palms and trying to get a grip on the situation. One overstressed gunmen opened fire in the direction of the screams, a stray round striking the gas tank of an overturned truck and sending the vehicle into flames.
When sirens finally signaled the arrival of the police, the men abandoned their vehicles and ran toward the officers for protection. Men thankfully surrendered to the cops, laughing with hysterical relief as they were tossed into the back of heavy transport vehicles. Several policemen entered the forest, looking for signs of the attackers, but found none.
The unicorns all watched this from the safety of the hill. Roger couldn't help but notice that everyone was flicking their tail in triumph, himself included.
"Man, Arthur," he said, laughing to himself. "How did you and Rebecca do that thing with your voices?"
Arthur just snickered. "It takes some practice."
Gwen laughed herself. "Not bad yourself, Roger. You and Richard turning over that lorry was an inspired touch."
"Thanks," Roger responded. "But that strap I chewed through tasted nasty."
Richard just giggled. "You should have just used your horn to sear through it! That's what I did."
"Hold up a second," Stacy said. "Who's that guy who's dressed normally?"
Gwen peered down. "It's Spencer Leak. I didn't figure he would be here."
"What?" Rebecca asked, scanning the crowd. "If he's been arrested, that's going to be a big deal! Where is he?"
"Right there," Gwen said. "They're loading him in the back of that Black Maria."
Louis just rolled his eyes. "We call them paddy wagons on this side of the pond, dear."
Gwen rolled her eyes as well. "Whatever. But Rebecca's right. Leak is a big name, and if that's really him, we should expect this thing to blow up big. It might even go all the way to the top."
Roger liked the sound of that. If this whole scene works it's way all the way up the chain, there could be some serious effects on the future of the town.
"Okay," Louis said. "It's after midnight. I suggest we all get home and get some rest. I take it we're going to be really busy come tomorrow. Gwen, can you drop Roger off at his place? Then I'll see you at home."
Gwen nodded, and within seconds the hill was empty.
The next morning, the press was all over it. Police gave reports of monsters attacking the workers with a certain incredulous smile on their faces, and the reporters had a field day with it. But mostly, they focused on the main details, which included a big name construction contractor getting busted at the scene. Names were given, and people were indicted. Even Leak dropped a dime on his employers to lighten his sentence. It was beautiful.
Roger couldn't help but beam with accomplishment while reading the morning paper. Jason also smiled as he watched the morning news, taking a break time and again to laugh at the reports in between bites of his cereal. Claire meanwhile kept looking back and forth from the television to her husband. He gave her a very telling smile, but said nothing.
Just then, the phone rang. Roger dropped his paper and answered it.
"Hello? Oh, hi Louis!"
Louis smirked on the other end, as he saw the reporters snapping photos of the toxic waste barrels. "Watching the news?"
Roger nodded. "You know it. They say that two of the shooters are still missing."
Louis sighed. "Yeah, well, Stacy took a shotgun blast to the face, and it kind of pissed her off. She managed to get two of the gunmen before Gwen and I kicked the other one out of the way and towards the clearing. Don't worry though, the lake now has two more raccoons to help keep the place looking messy."
Roger chuckled, and Louis continued. "Think you can come down here? I know you're not a field agent, but we need everyone we can get. It'll just be for a few hours."
Roger smiled. "Not to worry, I'll be there. I'll see you there in a little while. Bye." He hung up the phone and turned to Claire. "I have to go back to the lake. I won't be there too long."
Claire exhaled. "You're going as a unicorn again?"
Roger smiled and shook his head. "No, no. Just a plain old human. The EPA has been called in to investigate the scene. I'll probably be handling the paperwork."
Claire sighed, and nodded her head. "Okay. Well, just do a good job."
Roger stood up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for understanding. I'll be back soon."
His wife gave him a crooked smile. "You just do what you have to do."
Roger smiled in return. "I will. Jason, if you can get dressed in ten minutes, you can come along."
Jason beamed at those words. "You know I can!" He was already halfway up the stairs by the time those words reached Roger.
Claire just smiled. "This is still going to take some getting used to. But I think I'll be okay with it eventually."
Roger nodded. "We'll work this out, Claire. I promise. But right now, I have a job to do."