Skip to content

Category Archives: Rita

No Time, spoke the clocks, no God, rang the bells,
I drew the white sheet over the islands
And the coins on my eyelids sang like shells.


His hat’s a Borsalino, silk-trimmed, just like on TV. He dons it smoothly.

“Yes,” he says. His voice is different, though: clipped, calm, professional. “It was necessary to temporarily achieve a measure of protection against agencies desperate to conceal their existence. Fame served admirably.”

She hesitates. He smiles.

“Your skills will prove invaluable, Ms. Fairfields, in completing my squad.” He gestures, and three of the most dangerous women on earth step forward. “Rita: Tina, Sandra, Mary. You see,” and there’s a ghost of a laugh there, “those who joked about Numbers One through Four were more right than they knew.”


The Cold Man has a severe, chattering stutter, something she didn’t expect from somebody with his curriculum mortis. Thirty-two professional icings, fewer than sixty bullets.

“N-ni-n-nice to mee-m-m-meet y-you,” he finally manages after bowing to Rita, hand in glove. “H-h-h-hear you d-do-d-do ex-ce-ek-excel-e-excel–”

“Charmed,” she’d said, but now, watching by remote, she’s not so forgiving. “He’s just walking in!” she says urgently. “There’s temp-variance alarms everywhere, dogs, who knows –”

Sandra leans over and taps the infrared. Impossibly, he disappears in a wash of blue.

“Why’d you think we called him that?” she asks, amused. “Because he talks funny?”

The Cold Man

The Cold Man can feel the cards tumbling in his head as he runs unaided, every step a guess on broken ground. He doesn’t sweat, but he can still smell his own fear. No doubt he’s not alone.

He shouldn’t have to work like this. They’ve done something here beyond electric fencing–he can shrug that off–and he can’t get grounded. He feels the bullet whine past, a soft tug of air. He’s probably got ten seconds.

Cards shuffle, wash, flip: a Lady. Good, bad–

At nine seconds he dives, finds the ley trunk, is gone faster than air allows.


“Updates?” comes the crisp question. Slatt spots black boots in a reflection and thinks, SWAT. Sure.

“Fifteen minutes until the next scheduled call,” he says without turning. “We’re trying to get a dye pack together, see if they’ll take bag man’s offer–”

“Prediction: dead hostage. Two hours.”

“Well, why don’t you go get them?” He means it ironically.

“Fifteen minutes. Yes.” The voice is dead calm. Slatt, cold in realization, turns at last: not SWAT after all…

The Ad Hoc moves, then, improbably quick, flickering toward the barricade like a bad special effect. Slatt shivers. Those guys freak him out.

The Cold Man

The Ad Hoc is deadly calm, switched down to conversation. The Cold Man remembers them as harsh and robotically terse, but this one’s voice is like butterscotch.

“Your attributes are both unique and essential to the operation,” it purrs, “and it’s known that your fidelity has an excellent return on investment.”

“Th-think ab-abou-ab-at-about i-it?” He manages. “G-gotta pi-p-p-piss.”

It nods like a drinking bird.

In the bathroom, thinking fast, the Cold Man drops his gaze from the wall to the urinal. The bulbous head of its pipe-cap doubles his reflection, makes it reversible: one trunk, two heads, like a playing card.


Rita’s vaguely aware that she’s dreaming. The Cold Man is in her dream, and he’s sitting at a table with other men. There’s something wrong with them: a flickering in peripheral vision, a cruel and articulated menace, hint of beetle-wing sheen.

The Cold Man removes his hat. His head has shrunken and withered, and his eyes are darkly enormous. “I am jessed and hooded,” he tells her, and somehow this makes a terrible sense. “They have made of me a dog to hunt.”

A deep gasp of cold air, and her hand is on the Glock before she knows she’s awake.


The Great Zaganza furrows his brow, stretches out one hand and says “Nothing’s jumping out at me,” and then something does. It gives an impression of mostly teeth.

Rita tackles him hard as Sandra pivots in, hammering the thing down with one arm. It bounds up, snarling, high-pitched. Rita throws Zaganza aside and scrambles for her holster, too slow–

Zip. Zip. Mary’s silencer jerks twice; it hits the floor with a wet thud.

“Corticophore,” she says. “Smells psychoactivity. Guess you’re the real deal, Z.”

Zaganza’s cheek twitches. He’s very pale. Rita has difficulty getting an exact count of the creature’s mouths.


The little bird defecates like clockwork, one more step in an automated dance: walk walk walk pause, inspect, walk walk, drop, leap back into flight.

The Ad Hoc catches it out of the air with a kind of mechanical gentleness: its hands are like steel, Rita knows, but she’s sure the bird isn’t bruised. Yet. It doesn’t cry out, just tries to watch its captor with one eye, then the other.

“A decision,” says the Ad Hoc flatly.

Nearby, a white moth flutters around, resembling nothing more than a paper circle caught in the wind. The Ad Hoc opens its hand.


In the days since they put her into the dark, Rita’s had plenty of time to wonder whether the Cold Man’s life is worth it. When she couldn’t decide, she passed the hours exploring something new inside her: something that was once warm and scattered, now tightly aligned, a cold and perfect checkerboard.

Then they open the lid, and take the heavy dollars from her eyelids.

“You are of the Numismata,” says the flat voice. “You are of the Coined.”

Rita opens her eyes at the cold touch, and everything’s etched in silver. She’ll never be warm or see color again.


The Ad Hoc catches the bullet, of course, but doesn’t seem prepared when the catch fails to stop it. The bullet careens off a thick conduit and then the concrete floor, trailing Ad Hoc, until they bury themselves in a stack of foam insulation.

Rita lowers the gun and walks up to it. She doesn’t smile, but her mouth quirks. “Hi,” she says. “Go ahead and tell your friends their pet isn’t unique anymore.”

She pries open one of the Ad Hoc’s eyes. Its pupil is clicking and fluttering, an inhuman twitch, like the wing of a beetle in a web.