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Fort Freak

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Fort Freak

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Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: Wild Cards: Book 21
Book Type: Anthology
Genre: Science-Fiction
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In 1946, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It killed ninety percent of those it infected. Nine percent survived, mutated into tragically deformed creatures. And one percent gained superpowers. The Wild Cards shared-universe series, created and edited by New York Times #1 bestseller George R. R. Martin (called "the American Tolkien" by Time), is the tale of the history of the world since then-and of the heroes among the one percent.

Now, in the latest Wild Cards mosaic novel, we get to know the hardbitten world of Manhattan's Fifth Precinct-or "Fort Freak," as cops and malefactors alike call the cop-shop where every other desk sergeant, detective, and patrol officer is more than human.


The Rat Race

by Cherie Priest

Part 1.

LEO BRACED THE PHONE against his ear with his shoulder while he rubbed at his eyes and groaned. He muttered, "Jesus Christ, not another one."

"Another what?" asked the woman on the other end of the line. When he didn't reply fast enough, she demanded again, "Another what, Dad?"

"Another streaker. Tinkerbill's bringing her in."

The unclothed party in question was pretty, blond, and in her twenties. She was also glowing with a fizzy pink aura, but the aura couldn't be construed as clothing, and anyway, the sparkles had been Bill Chen's contribution. They'd wear off by morning. Probably.

Leo dropped the receiver away from his mouth and hollered past it, "Somebody get that kid a shirt or something!"

Bill blindly grabbed a squad jacket off a coatrack as he ushered the protesting prisoner toward booking. He threw it over her shoulders but she almost shook it off when she turned around to tell him, "You're making a mistake! I ... I didn't just grab my keys and leave the house like this, you have to believe me!"

"I believe you." Bill said it deadpan, with his peculiarly childish voice. Speech like that shouldn't issue from a man of his size and shape--six and a half feet from toes to cap, and wide as a firehouse door. He shuffled his beefy shoulders and shook his head, prodding the still mostly naked woman barefoot along the dirty floor of Manhattan's 5th precinct.

They don't call it "Fort Freak" for nothing.


Leo returned his attention to the phone and said, "Melanie, I'm sorry, honey. You've caught me at work, here. You know how it is."

"Oh, I understand. How can my pitch possibly compete with a room full of naked people?"

"Just one. One naked person."

"Look, Dad. Quit putting this off."

"But what if I don't want to move to..." He fished around on his desk, looking for the brochure she'd sent him a week before. He found it buried beneath three or four unofficial "in" stacks of reports, court documents, file notes, and case reminders. The paperwork drifts smothered everything, including the nameplate: DETECTIVE-INVESTIGATOR, 1ST GRADE: LEONARD STORGMAN.

His daughter impatiently supplied, "West Palm Beach."

"Yeah. Florida." With the vibrant sales brochure finally in hand, he skimmed the tagline: First planned adult community exclusively for jokers! And he sighed. "I know you've worked real hard, pulling this together, but I don't think I'm ready for an old folks' subdivision."

Leo stuck a finger in his shirt collar. He pulled the sweat-dampened cloth loose and let it fall back against his neck. August's dank mugginess pressed inside the old building, and the precinct's vintage air conditioners valiantly wheezed and rattled, but did little else to address it. He nearly shuddered at the thought of such excessive warmth all year-round.

"You don't think you're ready to retire either." Melanie's voice shifted, slipping from hard-nosed community planner to wheedling daughter in a snap. "Dad, I wish you'd just think about it. Come down south! It's nice here, and I live here--and it would make me feel better to know you're nearby, in case something were to happen."

"I'm turning sixty-two, not ninety-two. I'm not going to slip in the tub and break a hip."

"I'm not trying to imply--"

He cut her off. "Sweetheart, I know you're trying to help. But I don't need help yet. I need some time to think, and--" His end of the conversation derailed abruptly, distracted by a pair of swinging hips in a pencil skirt, spotted across the precinct floor. He mumbled, "Hang on a second."

The hips disappeared behind a column. It wasn't just the shape of the hips that had his attention; it was something about the gait of the walk, and the curve of the body. He knew that walk. He knew that body.

The woman emerged from the far side of the column, her backside facing him for a moment while she paused to speak to someone. Then she said, "So long, David," and turned around, and paused. She scanned the room.

Leo watched. He cataloged her like a piece of evidence.

Her hair was shorter now, and smoother, and a little darker--almost a true brunette. The full curve of her cleavage and the dip of her waist were a little more pronounced. One hand on her hip. One hand hanging at her side. Posture off-kilter, just enough to look casual.

Her big black sunglasses were identical to the ones he'd seen her wearing last, but that was twenty-five years ago. Funny, how styles come back around. Funny, how he would've known her anywhere, even after all this time.

The lens-covered eyes settled on him. The corner of her mouth crept up, pulled by a string of nostalgia until it'd drawn her lips into half a smile.

From the phone Leo heard: "Dad?"

He said, "Honey, I have to go." He hung up. Slowly he stood, matching his rise to her approach--so by the time she was in front of his desk, he was on his feet. He said, "Wanda?"

And she said, "Leo." Wanda Moretti pushed the sunglasses up onto her head, then changed her mind and folded them into her purse. "Been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yeah. You, uh ... you look great."

"Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself."

Leo Storgman did not often feel self-conscious. He'd had plenty of time to get used to his appearance--two decades since his card had turned. But he fidgeted now, scratching at the back of his sticky, wet neck, jostling the houndstooth newsboy cap he often wore. It sat comfortably between the thick horns that curled out from either side of his head.

"Aw, now. You don't ... you don't have to say that. You haven't changed a bit--not a goddamn day. We both know I can't say the same."

"I didn't say you hadn't changed. I just said you didn't look bad." She didn't bother to hide her appraising gaze. "I'd heard, and I'd wondered. But you still look likeyou."

"Eh. Wasn't born looking like this." He made a little gesture with his hands, displaying the way they'd become bone-white, almost translucent except for the scum-green liver spots that speckled his knuckles. Similar patches blotched across his mostly bald head, right down into the ring of graying hair that held his hat like a nest. "But it could be worse."

He was careful to pin his eyes to hers, if only to keep from looking over her shoulder, or over his own shoulder at the crowded, chaotic room. Many of his fellow civil servants had drawn much stranger and worse transformations.

By the soda machine stood beat cop Rikki Michaelson, a small, greyhound-shaped woman using her slender, pawlike hand to press for a Dr Pepper. Leaning against the wall beside her was Lu Long, with the bulky, elaborate head and upper torso of a Chinese dragon. He was wrestling with the tab of a Pepsi can, his heavily clawed fingers ill-suited to the delicate task. And beside the captain's office door Leo spied public defender Charles Herriman, his prosthetic hands wrestling with his latest case files. It almost looked like he had the situation under control, until his cell phone rang and the juggling act fell apart.

Wanda reached for the back of the chair that faced Leo's desk and asked, "You mind if I sit down?" Without waiting for him to respond, she took the chair and settled into it, putting her purse and an expensive-looking leather satchel on the floor by her feet.

"For old times' sake?" he asked.

"For old times' sake, sure. And official business too--something weird, that's for damn sure. But to tell you the truth, I didn't know if I'd find you here. Couldn't remember exactly how old you are."

"Still have five months on the clock."

"I hope they're an easy five months. I'd hate to see you go out with a bang."

"Easy. Sure." He glowered mournfully at the drifts of paperwork and loose filing, and told her, "This week alone we've got streakers, inconveniently coincidental burglaries, and an uptick in the usual gang bullshit. The Werewolves and the Demon Princes never did get along, but it's getting nasty out there."

Wanda shook her head and sighed. "You remember that case back in, oh, I don't know. Must've been '89 or '90. That gangbanging joker who got real high and then ate somebody's poodle?"

Leo let out a short bark of a laugh. "Yeah, I remember it. Haven't thought of it in years. Did you do the court-reporting on that case?"

She said, "No, wasn't me. I was gone by then."

"I heard you got married again." He'd heard she'd married up.

"Yeah, back in '88, but it didn't stick. And I left court-reporting, too. Went into real estate instead."

"Like you always said you would. I remember you talking about it, but I didn't know you'd gone off and done it."

She grinned. "Got my license and started moving houses, condos, what have you. It worked out better than sitting around a courtroom, tapping till my fingers were raw. Kept the kids fed better, too."


Copyright © 2011 by George R. R. Martin


Fort Freak - George R.R. Martin

- valashain