’49 – Léo Saint-Clair (Part One)
Léo strained his sight and hearing to the outer limits of their power. It was an act of will now, as instinctive as walking, to focus on the meditation that controlled his augmentations. Causing the right blood vessels to expand or contract had taken him months to master, and for a time he feared the core design was flawed. But just as an infant learned to walk, he had learned to master his new eyes, ears, lungs, and heart. The extra power did cause the augmentations to heat uncomfortably, but Léo knew he was in no danger as long as he didn’t maintain the effort too long.
The thick fog coming up off the Nançon River made the bridge spanning the river hazy, but even that could not hide the looming wall beyond, or the massive Saint-Sulspice Gate just on the bridge’s far side. Normal eyes would have picked out little more than the wall’s shape in the dim light the few lightposts provided, but Léo’s augmented eyes were far from normal. Ultraviolet and infrared light flooded the nighttime scene, allowing him to make out the Vichy and Nazi flags hung along the wall, the guards on both the wall and bridge, and even the glint of snipers in the towers of Castle Fougères further beyond the wall.
Léo glanced at the speaker, the largest of the three figures lurking in the church behind him. The only American in the group, the man had originally spent weeks trying to communicate in his broken French. But since Léo and his compatriots all spoke excellent English, and generally used it in preference to suffering through his French, the man had long since given up the effort. Léo kept his voice low.
“Lupin was right, as usual, Captain Challenger. There’s an actual Nazi contingent here, and Fougères’ defenses have been significantly strengthened. Something is definitely going on here. As to whether the Professor himself is here… it is too soon to say. He stopped flying his own pennant after Marianne nearly killed him in Bordeaux last year.”
Challenger shifted his stance uncomfortably and glanced over at Marianne. The petite French woman flashed him a smile that appeared genuine, but lasted only a fraction of a second. Léo knew to look at her right hand’s grip on her pike, and saw her clenched knuckles were white. Marianne had been fighting the Axis since before Léo’s modern memories began, and Professor Ragnarok has been her chief target for much of that time. It was a credit to her iron will that she was able to stand, apparently calm, and wait in the church with the rest of them when her most hated foe might be asleep less than two kilometers away.
Challenger glanced back at Léo. “So, do we hit them or not? We can still cross through the water, using the bridge for cover, then sneak over the gate… ”
Marianne shook her head curtly, and her voice held no sign of the growing desire to act she must be feeling.
“Non, Captain. If Professor Ragnarok is within, he’ll have packs of kreighunds patrolling. We’d be discovered immediately. If he is NOT within, then we lack the reconnaissance to know where the high value target is, or even what it is. Lupin’s analysis can only tell us that something vital is being held here by the Boches. We cannot afford to stab blindly into a fortification this size. If Le Nyctalope,” she inclined her head toward Léo, “identifies a potential target with his observations we can consider a plan to breach. Otherwise, we wait for Fantômas to flush the target out, or contact us with a map leading to something we can strike at clandestinely. As planned.”
Challenger frowned. “We wait how long?”
Léo shrugged. “As long as it takes, or until Lupin informs us he has a better lead. I did warn you, Captain. Fighting with the Maquis de Masque isn’t like the fighting you have done with the army. We cannot engage the enemy in direct, open conflict. The unorthodox nature of our goals and agents often leads to unorthodox solutions, and those are difficult to time to the minute. Or even to the day. Schedules for our missions are approximations, at best. Fantômas has had only a day longer than we have. We should get comfortable, and rest in shifts. This may take days. Perhaps weeks.”
Captain Challenger’s jaw chewed, though he didn’t seem to have anything to chew on. He moved back from the stained glass window, where Léo was keeping watch, and sat on a pew next to a young man who made up the fourth member of the team within the church, Wasp, who was casually laying along a pew while wearing a chauffer’s uniform with a domino mask and a wasp embroidered on his shoulder.
Challenger seemed to get through whatever he’d be chewing on.
“I don’t like letting Fantômas operate on his own, either. I don’t trust him.”
Wasp, sitting up and moving next to him, clapped Challenger on the back and laughed.
“Of course you don’t trust him. Lupin doesn’t trust him. I would guess no one trusts him. He’s a murderer and a madman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he has chosen to support the Vichy, given his ties to Germany. But he didn’t, and he’s nothing if not prideful. As long as he sees the occupation as the greater insult than working with us, he’ll hold up his end of things. At least that’s what Doctor Sun keeps telling me. And the Doctor has a great deal more experience with him than any of us.”
Challenger frowned, but leaned back and relaxed into the pew. Despite his size he blended into the shadows of the darkened church well, thanks to his dark green uniform, standard issue for an American Army Ranger save for the arming sword slung from his belt between a canteen and an ammo pouch.
“And were is Doctor Sun? Wasn’t the plan to rendezvous here?”
Léo winced at the entirely-American pronunciation of rendez-vous, but nodded.
“Yes Captain, that was the original plan. But after arriving and doing a brief recon, the Doctor felt it wiser to stay in reserve and I must say I agree. We may need to move swiftly through the streets, or flee into the swamps, and in either case the Doctor is better served ensuring our… transportation… remains in top shape. It… it does require regular maintenance, and if it’s spotted by sympathizers who get word to any member of the Zweckforschung, much less Ragnarok… ”
Captain Challenger gave a wry grin. “It… it is pretty distinctive, isn’t it?”
“Not always,” Wasp interjected. “As long as the Doctor isn’t threatened, and it can restrict itself to roads, it’s a fairly typical Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Unusual, sure, but not unknown. Heck, Lenin had one, though his was a halftrack. It’s sound is distinctive, sure, but if it’s not running, it can blend in fairly well.”
“Oui,” replied Marianne, with a slightly longer-lasting smile. “But a stationary car isn’t very good back-up, no?”
Wasp opened his mouth, but his retort was lost as the room’s shadows were replaced for a moment by glaring brightness. Light briefly flashed through the church’s stained glass, flooding the interior with a riot of colors. A split second later a thunderclap shook the rafters, and the shadows rushed back. Léo spun to look out the window, his optics picking up a billowing column of smoke, throbbing with infrared light, gushing up from somewhere within Castle Fougères, well beyond the Saint-Sulspice Gate. A second sun-bright light flashed within the interior of the castle grounds, his augmented eyes automatically tinting to prevent blindness as the glare of temporary daylight presaged another church-rattling explosion. One of Fougères’ far towers, barely visible even to Léo, was now missing its upper half and belching fire and soot. He spoke without turning away from the scene outside.
“That would be Fantômas. We should presume he’s flushing prey toward us.”
“Holy mackerel.” Challenger replied quietly.
Sirens began to wail, first just within the castle grounds but shortly thereafter throughout the surrounding town.
Marianne had flattened herself on the far side of the window Léo was looking out of, cracking it open so her unaugmented eyes could see better.
“I think he’s got them thinking it’s an air raid, targeting the castle itself. If they have anything crucial, they’ll certainly move it. But will they take this road?”
“Fantômas knows where our vantage was. If he’s flushing a target, he’ll have ensured they’ll come by here. I have no idea how he’ll have managed that, but his record speaks for itself. Wasp?”
The young man hopped to Léo’s side.
“Dash across the street to the cobbler’s shop. Stay out of sight! Depending on what the Nazi’s are moving and how they’re transporting it, we may need to have you slip on board, rather than ambush them. Use your best judgement.”
Without a word, Wasp jogged to the church door. He barely seemed to open it, slipping through and disappearing quickly into night which was quickly adding smoke to its concealing cloak of fog.
Another explosion shook the church.
“Good lord almighty!” Challenger exclaimed. “What the blazes is he using to hit them as hard as an airship barrage?”
Marianne shrugged. “Perhaps an airship. Or warheads smuggled in on hay carts. Or he may have found their munition dump and spread around their own bombs. Fantômas is a maestro, and his preferred symphony is mass murder. He set fire to an entire city to cover a single art heist, killing thousands to modestly enrich himself. He’s the Devil, and I put nothing past him.”
She turned to Challenger and gave a toothy, decidedly predatory, smile.
“But for now, he’s our devil.”
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