Devon Carter hated guns. It had taken years for Carlton to convince him into letting him set up a workshop in the old unused garage. He nearly fired Carlton when he discovered the Haymaker and a handgun hidden on the Oceanus. That he had been grateful for Carlton bringing the arsenal into his home was well out of character, but given the circumstances it was understandable. But this request was making Carlton worry about his boss’ mind.

     “I want you to take my family to the gun range,” Carter had said. “Make sure they have something powerful to train with. Drill them until they don’t flinch, until they don’t feel the the recoil, until they are able to fire their weapon accurately and without hesitation. Make it a crash course–I’ll give you one day, but I want them to be prepared to fight for their lives by the end of it.”

     Carter’s request was completely out of character, and the kind of training he was asking for was rarely a good idea. He knew the military drilled like this, but they still required weeks of training to consider their troops ready for combat. He had to ask his boss if he was sure.

     “Without a doubt,” Carter had said. “We’ll even teach them to fight dirty if necessary. We don’t have the luxury of time.”

     “Has Fiona ever shot a gun before?” Carlton had asked. He knew Steven had, and he was a decent shot. But like her father, Fiona disliked guns. She may have hated them even more, and with Pepper having taken a liking to the Beretta, Carlton didn’t have any weapons suitable for a beginner.

     Now, Carlton’s unease was being replaced with awe. They had only been at the range for an hour or so, but it was clear he had underestimated the others. Roderigo’s skill was nothing surprising–Roderigo had been certified a marksman in both pistol and rifle, so the ease with which he handled the .308 and his own Bulldog didn’t surprise him. Steven had clearly had some practice he was unaware of–he was firing off copper slugs from the trench gun with remarkable speed, and still getting good accuracy at 100 yards. Beside him, Pepper rapidly emptied the Beretta’s magazine, placing each shot almost dead center in the target. She wore a subtle look of disquieting glee, which nonetheless seemed to increase in intensity with each pull of the trigger.

     Fiona however was busy with his 1895. As she stared down the sight, she seemed extremely nervous–her legs were stiff, her body pulled nearly sideways, and the rifle rocked with each breath. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he he attempted to guide her body into the proper position. “You want to try to keep your body squared,” he said. “Feet shoulder length apart, left leg slightly forward and a little bent, and the right leg should be straight. Don’t stiffen it.”

     “Okay.” She adjusted her position and swallowed hard.

     “This gun has a hard kick,” Carlton said. “I can get you some factory ammo, which should cut that down a little.”

     “I’m fine,” Fiona said. “Let’s get this over with.”

     “Okay, aim down the sights. You want the front sight to be level with the rear, but don’t focus on it. Focus on the target instead.”

     “Got it,” Fiona said.

     “Squeeze the trigger,” Carlton said. “Don’t yank it; that’ll lift the gun. Squeeze, like you would a lemon–”

     The thunderous boom of the rifle echoed across the range. Steven stopped shooting and whistled in awe. Even Pepper turned to catch a glimpse. Fiona herself seemed fairly unfazed as she lowered the sight back onto the target, flipping the lever and ejecting the spent round. “Interesting,” she said, squeezing the trigger again. As the echo subsided, Carlton could hear Steven say, “Sweet Jesus.”

     Carlton couldn’t believe it. The highest amount of recoil beginners were comfortable with was usually around twenty pounds per second; his custom load was closer to thirty. It hadn’t fazed her at all–she’d fired both rounds without so much as a flinch. As he watched, she fired the next round with equal skill, placing the bullet very close to the bull’s eye, and with a quick flip of her wrist she fired the fourth and final round without so much as a grimace. After cycling the round, she looked up at him and said, “That’s the last one isn’t it?”

     He flipped a switch, causing the target to pull up to the booth. She’d been shooting at a hundred yards, and the pattern was about two and a half inches wide. This wasn’t just good for a beginner–it was downright impressive. With a smile he pulled several rounds out of his pocket and said, “Now let’s reload and do it again.”

     “Okay.” Fiona seemed rather matter-of-fact about it, not the attitude of someone who hated guns, nor that of a naive beginner. This didn’t surprise Carlton as much as he thought it would, but then again, he knew it wasn’t exactly out of character for her. She was always emotional–known for shedding a few tears during a chick flick and being able to crack wise with the best of them when feeling ornery–but Fiona was always dead serious when it came down to business. If there was a problem, she solved it. If there was a deadline, she made it. There was no rushing to get the job done, no stress, and no panicking; she just did the task and hand and moved on to the next.s.

     She watched intently as he flipped the lever open, and held a single round in his left hand. “This gun reloads a little differently than most,” he said. “You want to open the lever, and set the bullet in like so.” He placed the cartridge rim-down in the front of the port, and slid it back to the rear. “Now, you rotate the top of the bullet down, like this,” he said as he flipped the bullet forward. After pressing down for a half-second, there was a soft click. “Now you try.”

     With surprising ease, she inserted the bullet exactly as he had shown her, and within a few seconds she had placed the remaining three rounds into the magazine.

     “That’s… pretty good,” he said. Carlton was amazed at how quickly she had taken to the weapon. He watched with a crooked smile as she raised the gun back onto the target.

     “I’ve spent years sifting for teeth half the size of a penny in river banks,” she said. She flashed a sly grin, and aimed the gun down the range once more. “If nothing else, it’s done wonders for my motor skills.”

* * *

     “They make good paperweights is all,” the man said, handing the paper bag to Carter. “They’re legal to own, but that’s it. I definitely wouldn’t let the cops catch you with them, and if you do, you didn’t get them here.”

     Carter pushed his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. “Relax, I don’t intend to use them on anything human.”

     The shopkeeper flinched. “Hybrid then?”

     “Of course not. If it bleeds red, it won’t ever see them.” He stopped for a moment to question himself–was Blades’ blood red? He let the thought pass as he looked toward the ammo counter. “How much are the magnums?” he asked, pointing toward a blue box labeled Seahawk Custom.

     “What caliber?”

     “.45,” Carter said. “250-grain hollow point.”

     “Fifty-six bucks.”

     “I’ll take four boxes,” Carter replied.

     “Right.” As the shopkeeper grabbed the boxes, he kept an eye on Carter. It was no wonder he was wary; Devon Carter being in his shop was unusual enough, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was some sort of sting. Carter noticed, but said nothing. The less this man knew, the better off he’d be.

     “Anything else?”

     “Steel slugs,” Carter said. “Twelve gauge, two-and-three-quarters of an inch. I think they’re called tandems?”

      The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow. “Serious stuff,” he said. “You know how hard it is to stop those, right? It’ll put a hole in a tree trunk and keep on going.”

     Carter put on his most convincing smile. “Relax, I know what I’m getting into.” Kind of, anyway, Carter thought. It’s not like I’ve fired a gun before.

     “Four boxes of .45 NAACO, three boxes of the Russians and two… paperweights. Will that be all?”

     “What about surplus?”

     The dealer frowned. “What kind of surplus?”

     “.30-06. Steel core M2.”

     “Nothing human?”

     “Of course not,” Carter replied.

     “Well, there’s nothing strictly illegal about those,” the dealer said, reaching under the counter, “but there aren’t many things worth shooting with steel-core. They’re old anti-materiél rounds, and honestly, you’re lucky I even have any.” He placed an old ammo box on the counter. “There’s 20 rounds in here. That’s all I’m going to give you.” He eyed Carter warily for a moment, and snorted. “I won’t lie. Honestly, you’re asking for a lot of firepower that I can’t see much use for. And considering you’re… new here, I should probably be on the phone with the ATF right now.” Then, with a sigh he said, “But since you know Simon….”

     Carter removed his credit card from his wallet. “So… what’s the damage?”

     “One hundred fourteen dollars and sixty-seven cents,” the dealer said. He eyed Carter one last time as he swiped the card.

     As Carter left the shop, he stared down at the bag. Opening it only a little, he took out a box of slugs and wondered if they’d work. Guess I’ll have to find out, he thought. He may not have liked Carlton’s idea, but they had to fight back somehow.

     He just hoped the effort was worth the risk.

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