Dylan crouched in the trash canís shadow. His legs spread out under the can, his torso twisted to be invisible from as many angles as possible. He held his breath, nearly choking on the stale air of the abandoned station, whenever the soldiers came close. He had been assured that they would not see him, but those assurances might be worthless, and to be seen was to court death. To be here at all was to court death. No man save the sentinels of the state had been allowed in this place for many years, be he human or not, and the regime did not look kindly upon those who violated its restrictions.
Dylan had been here before, not long ago. He had been going the other way then, coming in instead of going out. He thought he had been working in a great cause: fighting to save his people from abuse and slavery. Ed Hulver had told him so, and he had believed it, as countless of his people had believed it over the years. Ed Hulver was going to pay for his crimes, Dylan silently vowed to himself while he waited. Even if making him pay was the last thing Dylan would ever do.
It would surely be better to die making Ed Hulver pay than it would be to die in disgrace helping him. Enough leprechauns had already done that, and it was time to even the score.
Dylan had first met Ed Hulver thirty years ago. Heíd volunteered for the Royal Army, as had many leprechauns of his generation; as terribly as the English had treated them over the centuries, the rumors coming in from the continent left no doubt as to the terror that awaited them if the Germans won the war. Ed had trained him and overseen him in his earliest missions, and he had grown to love the man like a father.
Dylan had been trained as a spy, of course. It has often been said that the invasion of Normandy could never have been carried off without the help of the British leprechauns. Leprechauns had a cloaking power which nobody understood; most humans would simply not see them, even if they were sitting across from one another in a train compartment. Experiments had been conducted for decades to isolate the source of this power; mad scientists had tried everything they could to convert leprechauns into a magic elixir of invisibility. It never worked. No method had ever been devised to use leprechaun magic to hide humans from one another. But leprechauns could be used as spies -- the best kind of spies, ones who could not be seen except by a handful of perceptive humans. And, of course, the enemy leprechauns.
The Germans hadnít used leprechauns as spies. The German leprechauns were treated no better than the Gypsies and the Jews; they were rounded up and sent off to the slaughterhouses, from which they quickly escaped. German counter-intelligence had been completely ineffective against the British Leprechaun Corps, and many in the leprechaun community were convinced that this was why the Germans had lost the war.
The Russians did not make the same mistake. Rumor had it that the Russian government had been enslaving leprechauns since the time of Ivan the Terrible, but nobody in the west was quite sure. The Russian leprechauns were a timid, frightened lot, who did not mix with outsiders, and who had never warmed to overtures of friendship from foreign leprechaun communities. Those who had been captured spying in the west had invariably killed themselves before they could be questioned. Dylan understood this now, although he had not the last time he had been in this station. What else was there to do? Given the terrible evil the British planned to inflict on the leprechaun community, how could they bear to live if living meant helping the British? The only condemnation Dylan could make of them is that they had taken the easy way out, had chosen to die rather than to fight. He would not make that mistake.
A stiff wind picked up in the station, and the pacing guards turned, guns at attention, to face the track. Dylan pulled himself to his feet, and then crouched, watching. He would have only a brief moment to make his escape. He prayed, quickly, that the guards were not sensitive to leprechauns. The stones under his feet began to rumble. The light of the oncoming train illuminated the dark deserted station, blinding him for a moment or two. He braced himself. The train appeared and began to pass. Dylan waited. As the end of the train came into view, he launched himself, running across the platform towards the train. He jumped on the back of the train as it passed him, clinging to the bumper, terrified to fall.
The train passed out of the station and back into the tunnel. Dylan clenched his hands even tighter around the bumper as the train sped up. He was jolted periodically as the train lurched through the tunnel, but his grip was firm, and he did not fall. The train slowed to pass through another ghost station, then another; then it crossed the border and came gracefully to a stop. Dylan jumped off the back of the train while it was stopped, waited for it to clear, then pulled himself up out of the tunnel onto the platform.
Dylan looked around. This station was a stark contrast with the station he had left behind. The air was thick with tobacco smoke, and the flicker of the fluorescent lights gave him a headache. The platform wasnít crowded, but it had a fair number of people milling about; enough that the law of averages said someone should be able to see him. He ducked behind a trash can.
This was the moment of truth, the hinge on which Dylanís destiny hung. He took a deep breath. A single tear ran down his left cheek as he reflected, one more time, on the betrayal he felt: a tear for his family, doomed to suffer extermination at the hands of the British, a tear for his friends, a tear for himself. He had no choice, he knew, but he wished things were different; perhaps everyone wished things were different, when the moment of sacrifice came.
Dylan closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. He walked up to the wall on the north side of the platform. There was a single brick which was slightly off-color. He looked around to make sure that nobody was watching him; then he rapped at the brick, three times in rapid succession, then three times slowly, and three times again. The floor opened out underneath him, and he tumbled into the opening. The ceiling closed above him as he fell.
Two leprechauns stood in the opening, guns at attention. "Agent Morris," one said, "welcome home. Weíll take you to debriefing now." They gestured at an open door on the west side of the clearing. Mike nodded silently, his anger building. How could they play along? Didnít they know what they were doing? He looked up at their faces as they ushered him towards the door; he saw no expression on them whatsoever. The guards wore the expressionless visage of a determined soldier.
Dylanís body shook with rage as he approached the door. His pulse quickened, and he began to tremble, both with anger and with fear. The guards knew. They had to know. Worse yet, the blankness of their expression meant that they knew that he knew. They had to protect the secret; they knew that if word got out, the entire leprechaun corps would collapse, and England would be aflame in civil war. They werenít leading him to a debriefing; they were leading him to death.
As Dylan approached the door, he paused for a second. Suddenly, he turned. He kicked the guard to his left with all of his strength, knocking him over, then jumped on the other guard. "How could you do it? What did they promise you, that youíd survive while the rest of us died?" he ranted, loudly, as he pummeled the guard with his fists. The guard stared at him in surprise and horror, taking a moment to react; then, dropping his gun, he grabbed at Dylan, thrashing wildly with his arms, trying to wrestle him to the ground. Dylan slipped out of his grip and deftly snatched the gun.
"Traitor! Iíll give you the death you deserve," he shouted, then pulled the trigger. The gunshot echoed across the cavernous room. Dylan smiled gleefully, then turned to shoot the first guard.
The guard had picked himself up off of the ground and stood, gun ready. He smiled as Dylan caught his eye. "Another bloody commie traitor, are you?", he snarled, and shot Dylan through the eyes. Dylanís body made a satisfying thud as it hit the ground.
Ed Hulver, operational director of the British Leprechaun Corps, puffed thoughtfully on his pipe as he finished reading his daily briefing. He tapped it absent-mindedly, then laid it on his desk and stared into the fireplace. The lines on his forehead deepened into painful furrows. He turned to the orderly who stood, waiting for him to finish with the report so it could be shredded.
"Damn," Ed swore, then picked up his pipe and puffed on it again. "He was a good man."
"Theyíre all good men, sir," the orderly replied.
"I canít imagine what Iím going to tell his family. Heís been with us for almost three decades. We owed him better than this."
"They understood the risks he ran. We all do," the orderly reassured him.
"Five years weíve been doing this. Five years weíve been sending men in to find out what the hell theyíre up to. And every one of them ..." Ed paused here, unable to continue. "Every one of them comes back like this. What are they doing over there?"
The orderly stood silent. Heíd seen this mood before. A few moments passed with no sound other than the crackling of the fire, then Ed Hulver spoke. "We have to figure this out or we could lose them all. God knows there arenít that many left." He pulled a large folder out of his desk and handed it to the orderly. "Prepare another mission. Find me our best leprechaun and start training him. We have to succeed this time."
"Yes, sir," said the orderly. He took the folder. "May I have the report back, sir?"
"What?" Ed looked startled. "Oh, yes, that." He handed the daily report back to the orderly. The orderly left.
Ed stared long into the fire, ignoring his thoughts, trying to lose himself in the flame. A single tear ran down his left cheek.