For this month, have a sneak preview of the Kickstarter-exclusive Skin Horse bonus story, “Night Milking,” detailing a rather odd day on the job for Unity during the period she was employed by the government cheese folks.
* * *
Unity was not sure whether or not she believed in God, but the Upper Midwest at night was evidence enough that if He did exist, He certainly enjoyed scaring the crap out of Himself.
For the one thing, it was very quiet. Unnervingly so. Unity had become used to the low-grade diplomatic bustle of McLean, Virginia (the only city Unity could come up with that was named after a kind of disgusting hamburger sammych from the 1990s), so being out in the middle of screw-all silent nowhere was profoundly unsettling to her. There were lots of comforting city-noises whose absence Unity was feeling very keenly at this point. She missed the screams, for one thing. She missed the sounds of tearing metal. She missed the wail of distant emergency sirens that confirmed the authorities were looking in completely the wrong place for whatever it was she had just done to cause the screams and the sounds of tearing metal.
No doubt about it; it was just too quiet around here for Unity’s taste. The lowing of the cattle in the gritty, institutional dairy farm in the valley below came as little comfort to her. Squinting in a businesslike fashion, she gave her distant mission objective a critical look-over. The squat, bunker-like concrete barns of “Big Mike’s Diamond Flame Dairy” did not evoke in Unity’s mind the concept of either diamonds or flames. Having not seen the presumed founder “Mike” yet, she had to reserve judgment on that part, but absolutely everything else about the farm was incredibly inaptly-named.
Her brow furrowed, Unity dropped a pair of night-vision goggles in front of her eyes. The night-vision goggles were absolutely unnecessary; it was a clear, crisp night in the early autumn, and a bright full moon hung nonchalantly overhead. That said, it was Unity’s private opinion that the night-vision goggles looked totally rad and badass on her, especially when paired with the jet-black infiltrator suit she was wearing today, and that counted for a lot. Plus, they turned everything a very relaxing shade of green.
After alternately looking at the dairy farm in two different colors, Unity summoned every last scrap of her diligence and work ethic and blipped a few buttons on her wrist-mounted holocom. She wondered as she did so (not for the first time) exactly how Temporary Emergency Food Assistance managed to score all these wonderful toys. With a burst of static and a shower of luminous sparks, a tiny three-dimensional image of Unity’s immediate supervisor appeared above her wrist.
“All right, agent,” said the tiny holographic rendition of Christine Wing (TEFA Operations Director). “By now, you should be at the outer perimeter. Operation Diamond Flame is in no way going to be a standard extraction. The FDA has tipped us off to the presence of genetic anomalies in the milk coming out of this region, and we’ve traced it back to the specific dairy you should currently be looking at. We need to make certain the cheese coming out of this quarter is safe for our nation’s vulnerable citizens and also is not going to create some sort of mutant biohazard crisis.” Director Wing rolled her tiny holographic eyes. “I’m not saying that’s what we have on our hands, but Diamond Flame is importing exponentially more dairy cattle than any operation of similar size should be, and we’re also getting heightened reports of animal attacks and missing persons in your immediate surroundings. I’m beginning to get a flare-up of my ‘something’s terribly wrong here’ ulcer. God knows the last thing we need is another King’s Crossing.”
Unity was actually a little miffed at Director Wing. If God indeed knew that the last thing needed was another King’s Crossing, she was going to be very disappointed in God and would under the circumstances consider a strongly-worded letter threatening to formalize her agnosticism. She was pretty sure that was how that sort of thing worked. She was also certain she was defining all her religious terms correctly. Anyway, point was, King’s Crossing was awesome, if you were the kind of revenant who liked vicious shape-shifting aliens and their vicious shape-shifting human-turned-alien progeny, and Unity sure as hell was exactly that kind of revenant, so long as she was allowed to punch them.
She began to realize that she was tuning out the rest of Director Wing’s briefing and wrestled her attention back on task the same way she had once seen a guy in Oklahoma wrestle a fully-grown bull. “—aser wire and security cameras,” Director Wing was saying, “and I sure as hell don’t know why any legitimate dairying operation would need those. For further information, consult the complete briefing dossier broadcast via Lambton Worm, cipher key Bravo-Bravo-Tango. Good luck, Agent Fairweather.”
“What the what?” Unity said, out loud. Agent Fairweather? Had she somehow gotten the wrong holocom? The answer came to her in a flash—she must have somehow accidentally picked up Agent Fairweather’s holocom! Unity mentally retraced her steps, and decided that the swap probably happened after she’d chewed off part of Agent Fairweather’s arm and then stuffed her into a locker. Unity had to chuckle; what a hilarious mixup! She’d certainly share many laughs with her fellow agent once they were both back at HQ.
For now, though, she had a mission that needed doing. As usual, Unity decided to say “screw you” to the complete briefing dossier; she’d decided long ago that complete briefing dossiers were for the kind of person who would sit through a whole movie twice in order to hear the commentary track. Unity sure as hell was exactly not that kind of revenant. Also, HQ was broadcasting it over Lambton Worm, which was one of those stations that seemed to play nothing but little bits of froofy Jethro Tull music in between some bored chick reciting numbers. If they actually ever did broadcast any complete briefing dossiers, Unity kept tuning in at the wrong times, because all she ever got was the music and the bored number-chick. She decided it was all for the best, anyway. Briefings were for wusses. Real field agents followed instincts, not instructions. Kind of like the time Unity had been ordered not to eat an entire Douglas fir but she had followed her instincts to eat it anyway.
The other thing was, it was pretty obvious what had to go on here. Penetrate installation, find secret stuff, punch a lot of people, bring secret stuff back to HQ, possibly punch some more people once back at HQ. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Diamond Flame Dairy was shaping up to be a real cracker-box mission. Just about the biggest threat Unity could think of was the razor wire she had briefly heard about in the briefing. She retrieved from her satchel a roll of exceptionally heavy carpeting, tougher than the stuff she used for similar insertions past plain ol’ barbed wire, and spent a few minutes unfurling it and fluffing it out. Yeah, Unity was pretty certain she could handle razor wire.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Agent Unity’s roll of exceptionally heavy carpeting lay in pieces near the outer perimeter of Diamond Flame Dairy. The other thing lying in pieces near the outer perimeter of Diamond Flame Dairy was, in fact, Agent Unity.
“Ohhh,” said the largest remaining part of Agent Unity. “Laser wire.”