Book: Death Becomes Her



Death Becomes Her

CONTENTS

Dedication

Legal

Social Connections

Series List

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Author's Note


To my Family:

my wife Judith,

my sons Joshua, Jacob & Joseph

 my parents & my siblings.

I appreciate your love, your

support and acceptance

when you don’t have a

clue what I’m talking about!

DEATH BECOMES HER - EDIT HISTORY

RELEASED - 11/02/2015

EDITED - 12/14/2015 (Ver 1.1)

This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Sometimes both.

Copyright (c) 2015 Michael T. Anderle

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Cover art by Michael T. Anderle


Want more?

Join the email list here: 

http://kurtherianbooks.com/email-list/

Join the Facebook group here: 

https://www.facebook.com/TheKurtherianGambitBooks/

The email list will be sporadic with more ‘major’ updates, the Facebook group will be for updates and the ‘behind the curtains’ information on writing the next stories. Basically conversing! 

Since I can’t confirm that something I put up on Facebook will absolutely be updated for you, I need the email list to update all fans for any major release or updates that you might want to read on the website.

I hope you enjoy the book!

Michael Anderle Nov 2015.


Series Titles Include: 

Death Becomes Her

The Kurtherian Gambit 01

Queen Bitch

The Kurtherian Gambit 02

Love Lost

The Kurtherian Gambit 03

Bite This

The Kurtherian Gambit 04

Never Forsaken

The Kurtherian Gambit 05

(Early Jan 2016)

Under My Heel

The Kurtherian Gambit 06

(Late Jan / Early Feb 2016)

Kneel Or Die

The Kurtherian Gambit 07

(Late Feb 2016)


CHAPTER ONE

“May those who fight have honor, else we are doomed in the end.”

Unknown politician stump speech.

"You know the problem with honor? Honor can be a restraining bitch on you. I’ve decided honor was for the last generation.”

Bethany Anne Reynolds, Queen of the UnknownWorld


Virginia, USA

Cautiously, the large agent entered the old dilapidated wooden warehouse in old-town Virginia. Taking up most of a city block, surrounded with old weather-beaten and rusting pipes it was an eyesore for everyone walking or driving by it.

He spoke into his mic, “Carl, three heartbeats, smells are incredibly pungent with a slightly sick smell. Kind of like they are going through severe body issues. Or eating lots of yellow curry, not sure which.”

He listened as Carl retorted over the earpiece, “Bill, for the record, Indian food is very good and your culinary bigotry is showing.”

“Easy for you to say, I’m the one who has to smell it when you go overboard eating it.” Stopping the conversation, and moving silently along, the agent squeezed his entirely too-big body through holes which certainly were too small.

“OK, inside perimeter and will be making contact inside thirty, that is three–zero seconds. Smells include heavy bleach, with a fine aroma of nastiness aforementioned. Still three tangos, no heartbeat warnings, no talking.”

Carl was viewing through the video take coming from the needle camera attached to Bill’s heavy mask and helmet. While there was no way Carl could ever make it on a takedown, he certainly enjoyed sitting in on the real-time action.

“OK big guy, I have all the info coming in from the sensors outside. We have no movement and nothing out of the ordinary. We don’t seem to have any issues with flanking so you are a go from this side. Your call, Billy Boy.”

Bill swore to himself. If there was any one thing that got under his skin more in the last fifteen years working with Carl was being called ‘Billy Boy’. One of these days he really was going to give Carl the monumental wedgie he kept asking for. Except, he never mentioned it when Bill was around, and Bill never thought about it except times like this.

One of these days, tho... God help me and the big guy would be upset, but he was going to make it so Carl had to be surgically removed from his shorts.

Time to get back to business.

“OK, approaching and have visual. Three contacts all dressed in jeans and shirts, nothing different except two have hunting vests on, one has his off and is messing with it. Can’t see what he is doing as his back is to me.”

At that moment, one of the men cocked his head and gestured to the other two who suddenly looked in Bill’s direction.

“You’ve been made, loud mouth.” Carl couldn’t keep the concern out of his playful talking.

“Shit. OK, apparently this might get bloody. Talk to Primary and let him know we might need cleanup.”

“Primary is already in listen only mode. I’m sure he is setting up dispatches already.”

Bill heard the three guys around the card table stand up and fan out a little, ready to face him.

Bill sighed, it wasn’t as if he was worried. He had taken down so many people in fights like this or gunfights, it wasn’t even funny. While he looked about thirty-eight, he was actually closer to seventy-six years old. Pretty young for a vampire, actually.

While bullets hurt, he would mend and the pain would remind him not to get sloppy next time.

Bill stood up, all 6’4” and confidently strode right over to the three guys, stopping about ten feet away.

Damn if that smell wasn’t peculiar. The bleach was causing his nose serious issues but he could still smell something over that nasty stuff.

Carl watched through the video link as Bill started asking the guys if they would like to come quietly or...

He never got out the next word as all three rushed Bill and the signal from his headgear suddenly stopped.

The incoming video from a couple of the cameras outside, which weren’t damaged, showed the whole wooden warehouse go up in flames while smoking embers rained down from the sky in streaks onto nearby buildings. Carl was pretty sure that in seconds there wouldn’t be a piece of the engulfed warehouse left.

His best friend, his partner, had just vanished in a big ball of heated urgency and consumption. Carl just stared at the screens, willing Bill to come running back out through the flames.

Someone knew we were coming, and they knew how to take a Vamp down. Three of them were willing to take their own lives to make it happen.

The color, what little was left, drained from Carl’s face. The shock of losing his friend, the shock of being so mistaken about Bill’s safety caused Carl to continue staring at the screen.

The ringing of the phone broke through his pain, his stupor. It was the primary contact.

He hit the talk button, “Yeah,” his voice barely a whisper.

A gruff voice from the other side of the line, “Tell me he has enough parts left that he can make it back to us, Carl,” asked Frank, their primary contact with the Government. He had been working his solo career deep in the bowels of the darkest areas of security so long he predated Carl by decades. “I have Spec-Ops ready to extract in five minutes.”

“No, Frank. We just lost him. All of him. I just lost my fucking best friend.” Carl wanted to slam the button down as anger and anguish directed both at those who killed Bill and himself, rose up. “We can’t get noticed right now. We are obviously watched and something is so rotten in Denmark I can’t even think straight.”

“I’m so sorry, Carl.” Frank knew that there wasn’t much he could say. Carl was his third contact on the other side of the ‘redline’ and he knew it was Carl’s first loss. Frank had been through two others before this and while he interacted with the agents, he was uncomfortable around them.

Frank knew that no matter what the protocol said, it was never ‘his program’.

“What is our next step, kid?” Frank had to get Carl thinking again. While Carl wasn’t young, compared to Frank’s almost century mark he was a drop in the bucket.

“Step?” Carl seemed like his mind was just idling, nothing going on as the take from the outside cameras showed the burning warehouse and registered the sirens in the distance.

Probably Frank’s work.

As much as Carl wanted to yell and scream, cry and drink himself into oblivion, there was only one response.

With a voice only starting to come back, Carl replied, “Do? Frank. There is only one choice. I have to wake Him up.” As the color that was in Carl’s face totally faded away. Oh my God, he thought. What is going to happen now?

Frank, on the line hundreds of miles away had much the same thought. Except his was even more concise.

It was simply, “Oh shit.”

Washington, D.C.

Bethany Anne Reynolds was a sight to behold. Coming down the inside of ‘spook central’ in Washington, she received surreptitious glances from a couple of the guys.

Although her hair was jet black, her personality could be straight from a red-head at the best of times.

The ones who were smart forced their gazes down instead of watching her walk down the hall, the view was not worth the scathing look should Bethany notice.

Or the ass-kicking during martial arts workouts later. She was only 5’3” and to most of the guys, that gave them a significant height and reach advantage. She was a little taller due to her upper torso, her legs were a little short for her height. She tended to wear higher heels to compensate.

It was obvious she was angry, and when Bethany was ANGRY, her better nature took a sabbatical and while she might apologize later, it was always better not to risk the twins in the first place.

Some guys never understood the danger, or decided to just chance it and watch the agent go down the hall. No matter how many HR training classes on appropriate behavior some guys take, it never overcomes their natural predilection to be an ass.

Today, however, was their lucky day. She never glanced in any one’s direction. She strode through the hallway in an expensive dark suit, carefully tailored, with a piece of paper in her hand and her blue eyes flashing a visual warning to ‘keep the hell away’.

It worked.

Martin Brennan, her boss (or at least her advisor no matter what the org chart said) for the last five years, heard her coming from thirty feet away. There was no mistaking those very loud, very determined steps.

He sighed, it wasn’t like this was his plan. He loved her like a daughter and just like fathering a teenager, he was about to get ripped for something he had nothing to do with.

This discussion, he decided, was so going to suck.

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

The klaxon was sounding somewhere way in the back past all of the pipes and Matthew Wainright was getting very annoyed that apparently it was became his shit duty to go and see about it.

He had been relegated to this out of the way floor deep underground on the base some three days ago to deal with some of the really old, really antique, really useless scientific equipment from the war... Not even from recent decades. This was really the serious ‘relic’ style 1940s stuff.

He felt like he was doing research on the Philadelphia Experiment and somehow pulled the shortest straw.

To top off his growing frustration in dust, grease and faded pencil forms and boxes full of useless crap, he had to be around when some fuse must have finally shorted, and a stupid klaxon started up.

God hated him, He really did.

With disgust, he dropped the handfuls of old paperwork he was digging through in the box on the old, grey metal makeshift workbench that had seen a better century.

Time to go through junkyard city and beat some sense into something that really shouldn’t have been built this dependably, he thought.

Matthew grabbed a huge flashlight and a heavy wrench and started walking down the lanes created by all the pipes everywhere. Sometimes it felt like he was in an oversized engine room for a battleship rather than underneath hundreds of feet of rock in the Colorado mountains.

Next time he talked with his parents, he was going to let them know that the recruiter’s comments about ‘seeing the world’ should conjure up thoughts of seeing the Earth’s sphincter hole, rather than being in Europe.

While the buzzing from the old fluorescent lamps couldn’t be heard over the klaxon from around the corner, the crappy light they produced let him see enough. He had managed to go down two lanes only to have to backtrack because they were dead ends.

He was able to snake down between two pipes and get onto a lane with yellow stripes on the edges and a red line down the middle.

Huh, he thought, I’ve never seen any lanes with red lines.

Since the lane seemed to be going in the direction of the noise, he figured it would be easier to take the path of least resistance.

General Lance Reynolds, Base Commander, was talking with his secretary Patricia when his phone lit up on a landline from inside the base.

She reached across the desk and picked it up before he could so much as bat an eye, or appreciate the view.

Damn, but he was getting slow in his old age.

“General’s office, state your case.” She was ever so not by-the-book. But if efficiency had a middle name, it was Patricia. So he didn’t push the issue.

“Klaxon, uh-huh, Level five, right. Won’t shut off. Yes, I can hear it. I’m surprised that you have a working phone down there. Wait, say that again? The door was opening when you arrived? Yes, it’s right outside the door. I get that, it hurts my ears right now.”

“There is an envelope attached? Mmm hmmm. I’ll let him know – right, you won’t touch anything.”

She hung up. Lance raised an eyebrow.

“Seems like we have a little shakeup down on Five, we have an old time war vault that suddenly activated with an envelope attached on the inside of the door. It is addressed ‘To the Base Commander’.”

Lance continued the single raised eyebrow. She said nothing. Damn, it used to work.

He sighed. “OK, what else?”

She seemed confused. “It says ‘on your honor’, sir.”

Washington, D.C.

Bethany Anne rapped on the door and waited half a second before barging into Martin’s office, face red and eyes furious.

He put up a hand to forestall the bitching. “Close the door without breaking it, and I’m not at fault.” He chose this particular order for the two phrases because he didn’t want to replace the glass… again.

The last time wasn’t actually Bethany Anne’s fault, but he was sure her previous efforts to reduce his glass to shards had helped.

After a significant effort to restrain her desire to slam the door, Bethany Anne turned back around and didn’t give Martin a chance to get a word in edgewise. “What is the meaning of this? I have a few months, A FEW MONTHS, Martin, to finish my case and dammit I can! There is NO proof that I’ve only six months left to live. That is only the doc’s best guess. Otherwise I am FINE. Nothing even comes back on any of the physicals. I’m doing better, if anything! Who pulled this bullshit request and took my case and shipped me out?”

Martin waited a second to see if she was done.

“Well?”

Apparently, she was.

Martin squared his jaw and said three words that were sure to fuel the flames of her ire.

“I don’t know.”

He stared at her, she glared back at him. He could see the logic synapses firing in her brain.

If anything, she was the brightest he had. Hell, the brightest he had ever known. If he could have a just a few more years with her out in the field, there was no telling how many cases she would close.

As it was, Mother Nature was being a real black-hearted bitch. Bethany Anne had a very rare blood disease. One they never even had the ability to check for until recently. The doctors, although not 100% sure, pretty much had her at less than six months to live.

With her only at twenty-eight years old, it was literally a crying shame. Martin admitted doing a little of the crying himself when no one looked.

Other than the physician, he was the only other soul who knew.

She wouldn’t even tell her father. He raised her on all of that male testosterone bullshit he was indoctrinated with from the military. Figures, Martin thought. Treat her like a boy and see what you get. Never easy to get close to, and since her mom died at near the same age of unexplained causes, it was most likely genetic and passed down and she was the first and only child.

Getting to the end of her logic chain she narrowed her eyes. “If my father so much as mentions my condition before I can tell him I will personally fly back to Washington and kick your boys so hard you will sing falsetto until Christmas!”

Martin put up his hands. “Duly noted, Bethany Anne, and for the record I’m innocent. I would not abuse your trust like that.” Martin didn’t even bother with the insubordination. Bethany Anne never meant to hurt friends, but her temper was also apparently genetic considering the rumors about her father’s famous anger.

Cooling down, Bethany Anne strode over to the two chairs in front of Martin’s desk and sat in one, tapping the paper against one of her Christian Louboutin’s she really enjoyed wearing when not out of the office.

The only reason Martin knew them was because of the red soles.

He counted silently in his head, expected to hit thirty before her next question, he got to seventeen.

“If you didn’t tell the General, and I’m still on the team,” it was obvious this paper she was tapping on her shoes were proper orders and she was still gainfully employed, “why the hell am I being sent out to the middle of the country?”

“That,” Martin stated, “is the question of the morning.”


CHAPTER TWO

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

“Sir, everything is good. The air inside the vault is now fresh enough and the only issues on the envelope are nothing, really. The vault must have been hermetically sealed and basically a perfect preservative. Everything in there was exactly how it was when it was sealed.” The scientist, one Dr. John Evenich, rattled off the whole thing as if he was giving a lecture.

Techs, the General and his Sergeant were all down on Level 5.

The General looked down at the smaller man and chewed an unlit cigar while thinking this through.

“And exactly when, John, did that happen?” The General looked up and saw two more scientists going through the room. There wasn’t much to see. It was approximately ten feet wide and fifteen long, with a conference style table in the middle and four chairs. Three were at one end, each on a side and the fourth on the far end as if it was the ‘head’ of the table. There was a knife on a stand in the middle. No one touched it and it also had a phrase inlaid on the hilt. Lance couldn’t be sure as it seemed to be in a different language but he had a good guess what it probably meant.

Dr. Evenich looked at his paperwork, “Um, August 24th, 1945.”

“So, about two weeks after they dropped the atomic bombs?” General Reynolds continued chewing on his cigar.

“Yes.” Dr. Evenich was feeling a little less excited under the continued scrutiny of the base commander. While not officially his superior, different chain of command, the scientists were here on his ‘continued good pleasure’ – shorthand for don’t piss him off.

“Well, give me the envelope and I am going up to my office, it’s too hot down here.” With that, he reached out to have the envelope pulled off of the door.

Dr. Evenich’s eyes grew wide, “But General, the significance! We can’t just grab it and go, we need to see what is on it, test particulars. It will be scientifically ruined by our hands just touching it!”

General Reynold’s head swiveled to stare at the doctor, never taking his hand down from demanding the envelope.

“Dr. Evenich, this says ‘To the Base Commander, on his honor’, and trust me, when someone says that from 1945, they were NEVER thinking about scientists looking at it for clues. I believe this is important, this isn’t a democracy and I’m done discussing the subject. Sergeant, step to and give me that envelope, men come out of that room. Leave one guard here to make sure no more intrusions happen. Get those men out and no one, and I mean NO ONE, touch that knife until I say it is OK. Am I clear?”

A heady group of ‘Yes Sirs!’ were called out.

“John?” The General very specifically eyed Dr. Evenich and waited, the envelope brought to him.

Dr. John Evenich, seeing his most prized historical object taken away to be pawed by apes after he and others had worked eight months in the base, just shook his head.

Maybe it would be OK to shine light in there and get some pictures? Dr. Evenich walked off and started calling instructions to his people.

New York City, New York

Carl waited until the Michael, the patriarch of the family, came out of his personal residence inside the massive home. Michael was dressed in a very well fitted three-piece suit of dark blue with light grey pin striping, white shirt and silver cufflinks. Michael looked a young and robust fifty, but Carl knew he was way older physically. He just wasn’t sure how old. There was barely any grey in his black hair.

It had taken about two hours for Michael to appear from his inner sanctum once Carl had requested his presence. Unlike a normal sleep, it took a lot to get through Michael’s torpor when he was actively hibernating.

While he was externally calm and collected, one only looked into Michael’s piercing blue eyes to realize the anger that boiled within.

He walked past Carl who bowed and followed him out of the residence section of the converted building and into the business and operations area. Carl noticed that he was just as well built and muscular as he remembered him five years ago when he went into the residence.

It was as if he hadn’t aged a day.

Michael had been expecting to be awakened in five more years. He had checked the date in his residence and this was too early, he immediately released his senses to first confirm the residence was safe, and then checked on his connection to his grandchild here in America.

When he couldn’t ‘feel’ William, he knew the reason for being awoken. Now he wanted answers.

Carl spoke up, “Sir, I’ve edited a video clip of the operation. It is ready for you to play.”

Michael sat down at his desk and woke up his laptop. It was a five-year-old model since Michael had no ability to keep up with the operating system changes between times of sleep and wakefulness and learn the new system, so he kept the old operating system until he was accustomed with using the laptop for a few days. At least it wasn’t as bad as last time when he had to come to grips with the Internet, he thought.

He hit the play button on the machine and watched the fifteen minutes of relevant material on how his grandchild had died.

By the end he had some ideas on what might have happened. Not that he could figure out how they were able to retrieve the serum, or know what to do with it. Both of those questions needed answering.

However, it did indicate one very important piece. He couldn’t just find a good candidate and train them, or have one his children’s children take William’s place like he had done for a long time.

No, this time he needed someone fully trained within the military here in the U.S. Also, it was a consideration that he might need to rejuvenate if he was going to be involved in this campaign.

He would have to request a pre-trained candidate. He had to call on his debt owed his family.

“Carl, did you start the request through the Primary Contact?”

“Yes sir, Frank is still with us, so he is taking care of a lot at that end.”

“Good, confirm my request officially with Frank. I want to know what they are going to send us before I go to the vault. I want to know what three candidates are waiting for me.”

Here we go, thought Carl.

“Sir, we have a preliminary report through Frank. I’m sorry, but since the last time we implemented the request for Debt of Honor, the military has been getting very good with filtering out potentially unhealthy recruits. The military doesn’t want to invest in training to find out that investment will die soon.”

Carl thought about the requirements for candidates. As he understood them it was pretty simple. The candidates had to be trained and top 25% in martial skills, very bright intellectually, live with purpose and (strangely enough for a vampire) very religious. Finally, while the religion tended to cut their options the last one very nearly did them in.

They had to die in the next six months.

Washington, D.C.

Frank was notified that Michael was awake and that the debt was being called due.

Frank sighed. It wasn’t that the request was unexpected. In fact, since Bill was killed, Frank could have won a major bet that this time the requirements were going to be very strict. The last time this occurred was before any of the military or spooks had tied their first bootie or put on their first baby shoe.

This was going to ruffle a few feathers. God help us all if anyone didn’t step up.

Frank was old enough, and he had been around when Michael’s Debt of Honor was demanded. Some of the military people on the base made it through alive that night because one, just one of those guys, had the honor Michael demanded.

Unfortunately, it took 250 deaths before anyone figured out Michael was not joking with his request that honor was due his family.

A few heads rolled that night, literally.

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Up in his office, the General was left with Patricia and the Sergeant.

“Kevin, give me some privacy but stay close. Patricia, hold my calls.”

Sergeant Kevin McCoullagh waited for Patricia to step through the door and then shut it, staying outside the door at parade rest.

Patricia went to her phone bank and set up a routing for all calls to the General to come to her station.

Inside the office, Lance sat down behind his desk and just looked at the envelope for a second. Well, nothing would get accomplished if he just stared at the outside of the envelope.

He opened his left top-most drawer and pulled out a metal letter opener, this one with a bald eagle on the handle and the feet grabbing the blade. It was a relic as old as he was.

Sliding the blade up through the crease, it really did feel like it was a fresh envelope, he opened the letter and started reading.

August 24, 1945

Attn: Current Base Commander

If you are reading this document, then you are in trying times. If you are not aware of any at this time I feel certain this is due to ignorance, most likely.

Be aware you will receive a call both explaining this vault, and your responsibilities on your honor (there was that phrase again) to support the request of Agent Smith (no, I don’t know his real name, nor does anyone else). 

Be aware that this situation is extremely sensitive and most information about it was very close to the vest. In fact, most people won’t believe you anyway.

Lance stopped reading, reached over to his phone and punched a button, “Patricia!”

“Yes, General?”

“Call down to Five and tell John and his henchmen that they are kicked out, if he gives you any lip, tell Kevin to go down with a few guys and bring them up.” With that, he punched off the call and went back to reading.

“Without giving further information than is my right, I will say on my honor that without the help and support of Agent Smith and his family we might have failed to catch the true danger coming from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and selected different cities. There were three agents, not Americans, who went into the cities and brought us proof that Japan was creating mutated soldiers and were getting ready to deploy these soldiers in the war.

In order for there to be no doubt that the base, the soldiers, and the scientists were still inside, these three agents stayed close to the base to personally verify nothing left those bases before the strike occurred.

They were there when the bombs were dropped.

We owe them so much, we returned so little.

When this vault opened, a request against our debt, our honorable debt, is being made.

On my honor this day I plead with you to honor our debt.”

Lance read it a second time. Family helped us? Lance thought that strange. Maybe they were from Japan?

He slid the letter back in the envelope and was lost deep in thought for a few minutes.

His phone, starting to ring, pulled him out of this deep thoughts. He yelled to the door, “Patricia, I said hold ALL calls!” Damn, she was getting a little out of bounds not listening to orders. That needed to stop.

The phone switched over to conference call mode without Lance touching it.

“General,” a deep, gravelly voice said, “I assure you, Patricia took all the right steps. It took me an extra thirty seconds to bypass her main control panel to contact you directly.”

“And you are?” replied the General, staring at the phone as if he was deciding whether to shoot it, or just beat it senseless. No need to be too up-this-guy’s-ass until he knew who to give the verbal enema to.

“The man who is about to tell you the past, the future and the vault.”

New York City, New York

Michael looked up at Carl standing across from his desk. “Carl, are you informing me that within all of the military, there is and I quote ‘only one’ candidate that will fulfill the debt of honor?” His blue eyes were piercing Carl.

Michael was very, very touchy about honor. With him, it should always be capitalized.



“Unfortunately, yes sir.”

Pursing his lips, Michael asked the follow-up question, “And this candidate is a woman?”

Not knowing where Michael was going with this, he never seemed sexist to Carl, he simply agreed, “Yes.”

Michael became quiet and reflective for a moment.

Michael could hear Carl’s thoughts, and he was right. Michael wasn’t sexist in the least. However, Michael, for all of his children over the years, had never had a direct daughter.

He had a great-granddaughter in Europe by the name of Gabrielle, but he had never met her. She was one of his son Stephen’s children. That child had never tried creating a daughter ever again.

Not that he ever heard negative things about her activities, she always produced results. Michael just got the impression it came with a little extra baggage for the effort.

While that was one consideration, a more important concern was how often female conversions failed. So far, they only had two successful turns in eight centuries – Gabrielle and one other in Asia. He called that great-great-granddaughter Sunshine because he felt her full name was too much to deal with.

Many women decided the pain they went through during the transformation was too much to endure. Death was a welcome respite, all too often. Better to choose death than become a Nosferatu and be killed when they awoke.

Michael knew this since he, literally, wrote the rule to kill them.

Michael looked up at Carl.

“She meets all aspects of the candidate requirements?” While Frank was very good, and Michael didn’t doubt his ability, he wanted Carl’s thoughts on the matter.

“Yes sir. Actually she is a rare achiever. She is top three percent in martial prowess. While she is strong, she isn’t a man and therefore there is a slight deficit. She ranked highest in Intellectual Capability on all of her tests. She comes from a family where both sides have been military for decades and her father is presently a General. Her drive is to protect the people within the country.”

“Her faith?”

Carl knew the question was coming and was prepared. Although finding out about a person’s true faith is a little harder with so many people professing faith but attending their house of worship once or twice a year. It made it difficult to positively assert any objective answer to this question.

“Sir, we were able to get a read on her when she found out that she was diagnosed with a strange and rare blood disease. She didn’t fade away, or ignore her responsibilities after understanding she had little time to live. Her comment was, and I quote, ‘all within God’s grace and God’s design’. The only concerns she seems to be bothered with, that we can tell, are not being able to close her cases and failing to tell her father she is going to die soon.”

Michael looked up from the dossier of Bethany Anne Reynolds while Carl was giving him an overview. “She would lie?”

Carl only hesitated a moment getting his thoughts together.

“No,” Carl opined. ”I just get the impression that she is stoic like her father. I believe she has a genetic pattern similar to what her mother died from when she was also twenty-eight. Since the doctors give her about four to eight months, she might make twenty-nine.”

“Our cut-off is six months, Carl.” Michael’s voice brooked no malleability on the time frame.

“Yes, sir. However, from what Frank has uncovered with the doctor’s report and what is in her official report it looks like she might make five to six months if she is very fortunate. More than likely sir, she has three.”

Michael closed the folder. “Well, while the quantity of possible candidates is not to my satisfaction. However, these qualifications certainly meet the minimum and exceed them. Should the military allow the interview to occur, I will consider that they have honored the debt and we will find another candidate. Should she fail the test, honor will be satisfied.”

At this statement, Carl felt relieved and experienced a release of tension he was carrying in his shoulders. The military could talk about how much ass they kicked all day and all night and promote honor in commercials for the Marines. But, if they failed Michael’s request, however unprepared they were, they had no idea what they stood to lose for not honoring their debt of honor to the family.

Believe it or not, General Reynolds’ whole base might be considered forfeit. Carl hadn’t been around the last time this happened, but had heard stories that a couple of times Michael’s children had joined and took out ‘nests’ of dishonorable people ranging from hundreds to thousands.

Although this base had probably two, maybe three thousand soldiers and support personnel, this time the patriarch of the family was awake. Carl was concerned that if the General acted dishonorably, thousands would pay the price for his actions.

Carl knew that America has suffered from moral turpitude over the last few decades. Now, being able to close a deal with a handshake was only possible in small-town America for the most part. So Carl was a little concerned.

Fortunately, the military was one of the last governmental organizations which prized honor. While there had been serious issues with honor in our last two wars in the Middle East and the actions against prisoners, Carl hoped General Reynolds was still ‘from the older’ generation. A generation which didn’t consider morals to be very malleable.

For Michael, the question of a person’s honor was a binary result without a middle ground.

It was why both Carl and Frank had been concerned with waking up Michael, and why Frank was so stringent when he ran through the military’s personnel databases. He even went so far as opening up the filters to the quasi-military groups, such as Bethany Anne’s program, to try to find perfect candidates. Frank believed all the candidates had to be perfect on paper, and in reality.

While the military would be arguing whether gay people can serve in the trenches, Michael would be opening up new opportunities for advancement by the hundreds if this didn’t go right.


CHAPTER THREE

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Bethany Anne drove the rental car, an unpretentious Toyota Camry, to the base entrance and offered her credentials to the guard. After she finished her talk with Martin, it took her thirty minutes to grab her ready bag and make it to the airport and up the steps and on the executive jet which was ready to take her to Denver. The plane was already scheduled to pick up another at the Denver airport, so she wasn’t able to just land at the base.

While her group had some pretty special responsibilities, she had never warranted a private jet. This special treatment was pretty puzzling and after due consideration, she realized whatever she was being reassigned for had to be pretty important. This was going to be a very expensive trip for the tax-payers and regardless of how the media (well, some of the media) portrayed her offices, they really were pretty good with their budgets or had been under Martin’s leadership.

Taking the credentials offered him, the guard confirmed with the computer that she was the appropriate person, and that she had business on the base.

It didn’t miss his attention that her last name was the same as the General’s, nor that she seemed to be spitting angry right now, just like the General often enough.

Having received her badge back, Bethany thanked the guard and started her drive over to the temporary officers’ building.

She still had a few hours before her meeting with the General.

General Lance Reynolds listened to the rough voice over the phone.

General or not, Lance didn’t have a high enough security clearance to know a tenth of the total story Frank was telling him. Frank was pretty sure he might only know about half of it..

But what the General did understand, caused him to bite down pretty hard on his cigar, and his eyes, if a person was in the room, would swear were going black.

He interrupted his caller, “You’re telling me that the U.S. Military has an honor debt to an independent group of individuals who live inside our borders? Furthermore, that they have been here since before we even joined as a country and have been secretly helping us do raids and other black-ops work our best can’t handle?”

Frank, on the other side of the line, cleared his gruff voice, “General, if it wasn’t for this particular family, we wouldn’t even HAVE these United States.”

The general wasn’t sure what he meant by that, “Why? Does this have to do with the two Japanese cities we took out in World War 2? We had another bomb ready to go in about ten days, we would have flattened the country and made it a glowing parking lot.”

A lot of innocents would have died, but that was war.

Frank, used to working both with bureaucrats and officers, continued on because if this General didn’t get ‘the message’, then we all were about to have a serious problem.

If the General didn’t honor the debt the U.S. owed Michael’s family (out of ignorance, Frank felt – not dishonor) he knew that things would only escalate.

The U.S. Military, Frank knew, had one creed that really didn’t change unless ordered by the President.

The U.S. Military never backs down.

Rock, meet hard place.

This would mean that Michael’s children and grandchildren would start focusing on U.S. Military interests, which covered the world. Finally, and this was the kicker, it would mean that Michael would also wake up any of his immediate children who were still asleep. Many of those children were pretty damn scary.

While Frank couldn’t begin to know which side would ultimately win, he knew one thing. America, weak because of the decimated military, would be ripe for another country to attack.

“General, let me ask you a question. Has it ever, even in the slightest, occurred to you that General Washington was pretty damn lucky?” Frank let the line go silent.

The cigar chomping stopped, whilst the General was loud, he wasn’t stupid or slow and this non sequitur took him a second to puzzle out.

“You’re trying to suggest to me this family helped win the Revolutionary War?” While a little aghast, Lance knew that there was something fishy about the history books a couple of times with their explanations of how the battles were won.

“No, not all the way. Obviously our good men, women and children took care of most of it. However, there are a few stories that are not included in any history books, General. The reason is that it would be obvious that we should have had our asses handed to us by the British in a couple of very strategic and important battles. Somehow, against all expected results, we got a win in our column. However, what I am telling you is that I have the original archives and I assure you, we would not have pulled out of the dire circumstances and we would have lost according to all the simulations I have run. General, we had a 96.9% chance of speaking the Queen’s English if the family wasn’t involved.”

“So why did they do it? Apparently they aren’t revolutionaries.” This was, if this contact could be believed, starting to interest Lance who enjoyed history.

“That is and isn’t true. They aren’t revolutionaries or colonials, however, they do fight evil, sir, and if that didn’t come across the phone in appropriate importance, that is evil with a capital ‘E’.”

“So they came to the Colonies to do what, exactly?”

Frank started to warm up to his topic, while he wasn’t comfortable being around Michael or his family, he certainly appreciated what he does and what they did for this country.

“This is how I understand it, they have been fighting against certain interests for a significant amount of time before we were a country.” Frank hedged his story, should he admit that Michael was the supreme patriarch? No, probably not. If Michael wanted the General to know, he would let him know. He was pretty particular about not throwing his role around. “One of the leaders of the family, they call them patriarchs, was following some pretty nasty characters when they bolted and stowed away on a ship sailing for the Colonies.”

“He spent a couple of months tracking them down and tying up the business and when he looked around, he had met and befriended a few of those who were already here. He liked that they were working to build a new society. Significantly more so than the royalty issues plaguing many of the European countries at the time. He sent letters to two of his trusted relatives explaining that he was going to stay to protect this land and then disappeared.”

“So how did his family get involved with the colonial war?” Lance was definitely interested now.

“Well, sir, this family member is well educated, very convincing and extremely wealthy.” Frank didn’t have to explain how that last part would have been very helpful to the war effort at that time. “Likewise, his family back in Europe, in this case France, had many influential friends at Court and he gave Benjamin Franklin a letter to pass on to Michael’s family. Believe it or not, it wasn’t all good ‘ole Benjamin’s exquisite tongue’ that got us the help from the French.”

“That’s not nearly enough to get them appreciated as much as you are suggesting…” Lance got cut off.

“General, a significant percentage of the wealth for the war was supplied by the family and it was used to get the necessary materials and favors to help make the revolution happen. Also, the contacts in Europe who shouldn’t have gotten involved, did. People to this day are trying to figure out how that happened. Finally, there were certain battles that were going to be lost until the patriarch got involved.”

Lance heard the singular and wanted clarification, “Just how many of his clan were involved?”

“It’s family, sir, not clan. And there were no others. There was just one of the family over here at the time. In fact, he is personally responsible for going into one of the British camps at night and by the time the sun came up the next morning, not a single man was left alive. This was a fortified encampment, General. This was the larger size of a full battalion, somewhere around 800 I believe. The only people shot had been hit by random shooting from scared men in their own camp. Everyone else seemed to be cut apart by a knife or many knives.”

“Where did you research this information? I’ve never heard that story, and I’ve studied all the battles during the war.” Lance had often wondered about a couple of missing parts, he just figured the victor wrote the history books and hadn’t spent the time to research it further.

“Well, let’s just say that America has a set of history books, and then ANOTHER set of history books. One day, if everything works out, I’ll ask you to come to Washington to read some very interesting volumes I have.” Frank didn’t expect that to happen, but if he could offer the General a carrot, what could it hurt?

“Fine, assuming I believe you, what now? I believe you said something about the present and the future?” Lance’s eyes were starting to squint again. He could feel a migraine coming on and he just knew this wasn’t going to please him.

“Sir, I have a contact coming to see you. He should be there shortly, arriving by plane to give you more information. The rest of the explanation has to wait until then for security reasons.” Frank was feeling a little better. It at least looked like the General was going to let Carl meet with him. Hopefully, his meeting with his daughter didn’t derail the whole thing.

“Fine, I’ll meet with him at 18:00, until then I have a base to run.”

“General, I very much appreciate your patience. Thank you.” With that, Lance heard the click of the receiver.

Putting his down on the cradle, he yelled out, “Kevin, I need you in here!”

On the other end of the line, Frank sighed, this would have been so much easier and less stressful if Michael hadn’t woken up.

The radar control tower was pretty quiet. At this base, while they had flights in and out it really wasn’t a major location for any Air Force activity, so it could be hours between anything significant happening.

‘Jimmy’ Chan, Technician 3rd Grade was manning the radio when a pilot on the appropriate channel requested permission to land, he seemed to be flying a small personal business jet.

“Hold for permission, stay ten miles out.” Jimmy scratched his head. Although the pilot had the protocols, the flight wasn’t on the list, he decided to bump this up to the OIC.

“Sir!” he yelled, getting the attention of the officer in charge to come over to his station.

“What do you have, Jimmy?” Technical Sergeant Max Stripten looked over the readouts while Jimmy explained.

“Sir, we have a request from a civilian aircraft to land. They are about eighty miles out, coming in very fast. They have the right channels and the right information, but it seems weird we weren’t notified.”

Max reached across and switched Jimmy’s windows over to show incoming aircraft. As he reached the right tab on the screen, it was refreshed and the aircraft was now shown as arriving in just a few minutes.

“Well, OK, looks like we have them. You’re right, that is flying pretty damn fast for something that isn’t one of ours. I wonder what they have? Hmmm, put them on runway three it looks like they might need the room to slow down. Have them park over by Hangar Five and let’s receive them appropriately.” With that, Max stood up and was walking back to his desk when he got a phone call.

Stepping toward his desk he picked up the phone. “Sergeant Max Stripten speaking,” Max laid his pad and pencil down on his desk, not taking a seat just yet.

“OK, I understand, VIP status, one person coming off the plane, treat as foreign dignitary.” Max paused, obviously listening to more information, “Will do, Master Sergeant.” With that, Max hung up the phone.

He raised his voice back to Jimmy, “Call off the special engagement, this flight is apparently VIP. Leave them on three but now switch them over to Hangar One.”

Hmmm, Jimmy thought, I wonder who is so special they get Hangar One?

Using the keys to get into the room for Temporary Officers, Bethany laid her suitcase down and stepped into the adjoining bathroom.

A couple of minutes later she stepped out and noticed the yellow message light on the phone blinking.

Going over and picking up the phone, she rang the desk. “Bethany Reynolds here, I have a message?” She knew she was a little short, but this whole situation just pissed her off.

First, she gets pulled of her case, her f’ing case that she had been closing in on for over four months.

Others? Others had worked on it and gotten nowhere, so she was handed it as a last ditch effort before going into the archives as unsolvable.

Now, she was not only off the case, she was out of the loop and who knows what desk jockey they were probably going to give it to.

She narrowed her eyes, if they gave it to Tim, he would screw it up and the last thing she would see before she died was the bars in her cell room after she throttled his neck.

That would be right after she kneed him in the nuts. Since she was going to jail, she might as well get even for his lurid comments he had told her when no one else could hear him.

That thought actually caused her to smile a little.

She never bothered with H.R. for Tim’s obvious sexual issues, she figured one of these days she could coax him onto the mat at martial arts practice and then the accidental ass-kicking would be hard to argue. Plus, he wouldn’t want to be seen as whining that a girl beat him.

He really was a dick.

From the other side of the line Bethany heard a tinny voice that just grated on her last nerve. “Ma’am, I have a message from the General, he has asked to meet at 18:30 instead of 15:30.”

Pausing, the operator wasn’t sure what to say. Even though Officer Reynolds was from another part of the service, even if a little clandestine, she was the General’s daughter.

“Fine, I understand and thank you.” With that Bethany hung up.

Huh, the operator thought. That went well.


CHAPTER FOUR

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Carl listened in to the conversations inside the radar tower. If they only knew, he thought, this plane actually is only at 60% power. It really wasn’t going all that fast. However, since business planes shouldn’t go past the speed of sound, they kept the speed down.

It wasn’t often that he used the spying and hacking equipment the family had when not supporting an operation, however, if this went bad? Well, then all the rest was going down the drain. So yeah, he decided he was going to make damn sure nobody was getting lazy down there.

Fortunately, Carl thought, Michael hadn’t come onboard with him and wasn’t at the base.

Yet.

The older gentleman was escorted into the General’s office by Sergeant McCoullagh, who supported the gentleman as he sat down. He had to be close to ninety, the sergeant thought.

So far, the General still had little in the way of hard facts as to what was going on. He couldn’t get through to anyone high enough to give him any insight and the security clearance of his caller, Frank, was high enough to require someone next to the President.

There were always multiple ways to skin a cat and forewarned is forearmed.

“I appreciate you coming to see me, Mr. Swenson.” General Reynolds clasped his hands in front of him looking at the elderly gentleman across the desk from him with a smile trying not to show on his lips.

Mr. Swenson, thin, a little reedy and his voice a little breathless but still strong for his age replied, “Hah! Your little fetcher back here told me that if I refused his request, you would just reinstate me.”

“Well, you did retire so it is within the rights of the U.S. Military to make that happen.”

The General smiled, Mr. Swenson was actually a pretty high ranking officer in the operations side when he retired. When you retire, you can always be called back to active duty.

“Yeah, yeah. I understood you wanted to see me. What’s it about, Lance?” Tom went way back with the General, they knew each other when he was getting ready to get out, and Lance was just starting his upward movement.

“It’s the damnedest thing. I’ve got a bunch of scientists all over my base looking into dark holes and old boxes trying to see what went on back in World War II, I think they hope to find some proof of UFO experiments taken from the Nazis. So, one of the grunts was down on Five when a klaxon started to sound.

“He searched out the noise and found a vault door opening with a note attached about some honor we owe somebody. I’ve had the records checked and you are the only person who was here during that time who might have a god-damn clue what the hell is going on that I can bring here to discuss what happened.

“I’ve got spooks calling me with security clearances that go above the President and a note from the original Base Commander who piss all died about seven years ago and didn’t leave another note anywhere I can find.”

Tom was listening while trying to think back to those days, he was only twenty when he was here, his memory was a little spotty that far back. “When was this?”

“Sometime a few days before or after the bombs were dropped.” Lance pulled the envelope out from underneath a couple of reports that had buried it.

He placed it in front of him and was tapping it on the desk, catching Tom’s attention.

“Is that it?”

Lance nodded his head affirmatively.

“What’s on the other side?” Lance turned the envelope around so Tom could see, without handing him the envelope.

Lance was looking right at Tom, so he caught the moment Tom’s squinting eyes focused on the phrase, ‘On your honor’.

Those squinting eyes suddenly got very, very big.

The visitors plane was taxiing into the area around Hangar One, designated as being the closest to the base’s opening into the mountain.

Private First Class Richard Peters, drove over to the hangar to ‘fetch the dignitary, shut his mouth, and be polite’. Waiting for the plane to come off of the runway, he got out and started walking over to the airmen associated with helping the crew of the incoming plane and struck up a conversation.

“You have any idea who these people are?” He was pretty curious. He wasn’t told he couldn't ask others.

The airman was obviously chewing some tobacco, and spit some out to the side before responding in a slow and deep voice, “Naw, ain’t got a clue. However, it must be some high muckety-muck otherwise they would be at least in Hangar Two. They usually only open #1 here for the best and the brightest asses to kiss that we got.”

As if to punctuate his thoughts on high-brass, he spit again.

The plane was getting closer. It looked like a really nice Gulfstream, but something seemed wrong to Richard’s eyes. He heard a grunt from the fellow.

“Well,” he started talking, as if to himself, “That seems a little diffr’ent.”

He clammed up. Richard just had to know. “What seems different?”

“Look at those engines in the back,” he jerked his chin towards to the plane which was taking forever now that they were on the ground. “Those aren’t standard engines for a civilian plane. Those are military jets on there. I wonder how fast that plane can go? Also, somebody up with some bars and stars had to approve that, or I’d lose my Friday night poker stash.”

With that, he walked over to start making sure the pilot could see exactly where he wanted him to park.

Richard got into parade rest and waited for the plane to stop and the door to be opened.

Only one guy got off the plane and came down the stairs. He was in a very nice business suit, but he was definitely not typical brass.

Hell, he wasn’t even a spook. You could tell those guys when they walked, it was like they were always ready to pounce.

Richard would guess he was just someone with apparently really important business.

OK, nothing to go do but introduce himself and take him over to the General’s office.

General Reynolds recognized that look in Tom’s eyes. “You remember something, Tom?”

“Yeah, or rather, I remember a story I was told. I wasn’t there myself. You say this was down on Five and from some sort of vault?”

Lance nodded his head in the affirmative. “Yes, the vault looks like it could have come from a bank, no one is opening it without serious tools. However, for us it just opened by itself with a screech we couldn’t ignore.”

Tom pursed his lips and tried to sit back a little in the chair. At his age, the leather seats were too damn uncomfortable. Give him a firm chair to sit on if he wasn’t watching TV.

“Alright, here’s what I remember. I heard the story a couple of months after the Japanese surrendered and things were quickly getting shut down all over the nation. It seems that we had a few new people come into the base, which wasn’t weird, except all of these new guys were going to croak within the next couple of months.”

Lance interrupted, “How many is a few?”

“Well, if I remember, three. They weren’t all from the same service or anything but they arrived on special flights. One even came in on one of them huge multi-props at the time. Special drop-off just for him. That got a lot of attention, and then they were all taken over to the infirmary and a doc checked up on them. One of the nurses loved to gossip, so we heard the gossip going around. All of them were special forces, or had seen a lot of combat.

“None of them knew why they got reassigned here, just that they were going to be interviewed for a position. None of us could figure out why since they all were going to die soon, so rumor was it was a scientific type experiment, you know? Something that you’re willing to do because, well, you’re going to die anyway.

“They were here a few days, and gossip kind of died down and I forgot about it. About two weeks later I ran into one of the techs in the lower levels and he asked if I had heard the news about the recruits. I hadn't, so he told me that the interview happened down on Level Five behind a closed and locked door. They said that three guys went into the vault, the door shut and about half an hour later it opened again and one guy comes out. The other two weren’t found inside and the guy who was left couldn’t remember one thing that went on in the room.

“Last I heard, he was taken up to the infirmary to see if they could figure out how two guys could just disappear from a completely closed and sealed room with ten people outside the door. Not only did he never remember, he died about a week after I was told the story.”

“They checked the room for other exits? Never mind, of course they did.”

Lance was sure the migraine was starting to come back. His phone beeped.

“General, you have a visitor who’s just arrived, I’m told you are expecting him?” Damn, he thought, he forgot to let Patricia know.

“Yes, give me a second to finish with Tom and send him in when he leaves.” He punched the button off.

“So, you think that somehow they just disappeared down some science experiment?”

“I don’t know. The only thing we got from the last guy is that he seemed to be really, really interested in his religion after that incident. I always figured it was because he was about to die, so it seemed appropriate. However, I talked with one of the M.P.s who took him after they door opened up and he said that the only thing he said, over and over was, ‘I don’t have enough faith, I don’t have enough faith’ and was scared shitless like he had just met the devil.”



Lance thought this through for a minute. “So who gave him the interview? You said only the three went inside, right?”

“That’s right. Or at least that was what I was told. We had a special plane arrive and some sort of civilian came in at the last minute, but I understand that he didn’t do the interview. When it was over, he asked the commander to write a letter, probably the one you have there, and close the door. Once it was locked, they couldn’t open it again. We just forgot about it after a few months, so many of us were working on shutting down parts of the base.”

They talked a little while longer, but nothing relevant to the mystery or the request came up again. Lance finished by asking Tom a few personal questions and then asked Kevin to take Tom back to his home.

As the Sergeant and Tom left, Patricia came in and introduced him to a civilian who had just arrived from the East Coast.

Just like that spook Frank said he would.

There was a guard stationed at the foot of the stairs into the airplane. Actually, it was Michael’s airplane.

Carl was unaware, but Michael was with him the whole trip, he had merely stayed in his insolvent form.

Carl had actually very little opportunity to know just everything Michael could do, in fact, in Carl’s fifteen years he had only worked with Michael for about two. Michael has been in hibernation for most of the rest.

Bill had hired Carl under Michael’s direction after the last Information Specialist position came open. They needed someone who could keep up with all the new computer and Internet changes happening without it becoming such a stressful situation. Their last I.S. just couldn’t keep up.

Michael had Bill install incredibly strong subconscious directions to the previous ‘eyes and ears’ and gave him a passable cover story before letting him retire very, very wealthy.

He might not ever be able to talk about his past, but he was able to take his skills and money to create whatever future he wanted.

Bethany Anne was officially annoyed. Again.

She had time on her hands and nothing to do. When you have a good idea that your life has a hard stop, you really don’t like to waste any of it.

While she could travel to a few areas within the base, and probably talk her way into a few more if she confirmed her relationship with her father, she didn’t play that way.

Her father was a strong man – physically, mentally and emotionally. However, when it came to being a father to a girl, he never figured it out and without her mother, Bethany Anne became the little hard-ass one might expect.

If her dad showed his appreciation when she aced studies, she aced studies. The same for when she took up martial arts.

There was one particular tournament where she knew she wouldn’t take first place, her final opponent was just a freak of nature and too massive for any of the moves she knew to overwhelm. All the obvious ways to take him down would cause too much body harm and he would go to the hospital.

Besides, all of those moves were strictly banned from the tournament.

It didn’t mean that the players didn’t try their hardest every other way, but when he has sixty pounds of muscle over you and pretty damn fast for his size it gets very frustrating.

Bethany Anne was careful to stay out of his easy range considering what to try as he started taunting her, trying to get her to strike in anger.

He was pretty successful in getting to her. While she had been taught not to let an opponent’s teasing bother her, she still was pretty hot under the collar when she noticed her dad’s eyes. He had been paying attention and apparently understood what her opponent was saying.

Her father realized that in a fight in a back alley, her opponent wouldn’t have walked away from his daughter.

That didn’t sit well with him, she could tell.

When the freak of nature made a comment about her being ‘a little girl that should just go home’, it pissed her and her dad off and he gave her a little sign with his fingers that told her to end it.

She didn’t go home with a trophy that night. She had been disqualified. However, that didn’t stop her father from treating her like the new world champion when she walked off the floor and left her opponent with an ice bag between his legs, a black eye, cut lip and a splitting headache.

Two others had to help her opponent to walk when he wasn’t able to stand up on his own. She was banned from the next two tournaments for her fighting rule infractions.

He might not understand how to connect with his daughter at an emotional level, but she knew he was proud of her and would have her back if she ever needed it.

Being a bit prideful, she didn’t want to ask.

So, she decided to go through a few calming exercises before meeting with her father for the first time in over a year.

She didn’t know why she was here, but it was important and she would do what was needed to be prepared as best as she could


CHAPTER FIVE

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Carl was introduced to the General and was asked to sit in the same leather chair Tom had just been sitting in.

This was Carl’s first time to meet General Reynolds, but he had read the dossier that Frank had provided, and a few more things which Carl had found that Frank had either failed to locate, or chose not to provide.

It didn’t matter to Carl, the extra information didn’t materially affect his understanding of the General so Carl placed it in the ‘overlooked’ category.

While Frank had a lot of information both from inside the governments databases and outside, he still didn’t have as much available as Carl had access to and could’t give General Reynolds a total overview.

General Reynold’s started the conversation, “I understand I’m to get information on what is going on from you, so why don’t you give me everything from the top?”

Carl sighed inwardly. Carl knew Frank had already talked to the General, in fact he listened in while on the plane, he had hoped that the General would give him an overview and allow Carl to fill in the blanks.

It wasn’t going to happen that easily.

“General, while I don’t have a uniform, I can assure you that I work closely with the U.S. government and I am aware you have been updated to some degree already. Not only to permit me to land and speak with you so urgently, but also a little about what is going on.”

“What I know,” the General exclaimed, “is a short history lesson from a spook in Washington, a ninety-year-old man I had to drag from his house, and a short and mysterious letter attached to a vault that hasn’t seen the light of day in seventy years.” He stopped for a moment, looked like he was in thought and replied, “Since it is underground on Level Five, it hasn’t ever seen the light of day. So why don’t you try to help me understand why this is such a significant event and how you pulled enough strings to land at this base and interrupt our stated mission?”

While Carl was often in the background and rarely in front of others, that was typically an agents’ role, he wasn’t a mouse. Carl had seen enough action, deaths and close-calls that being stonewalled and pushed by a gruff General wasn’t going to stress him. Besides, when you worked for the patriarch, General Lance Reynolds lost his fear factor pretty easily.

“General, I can tell you more than you want to know. I have knowledge that Frank doesn’t have and frankly I’m not in your chain of command. While I respect your rank, your role, and your authority, I don’t have to worry about it. I know, for example, that there are things that go bump in the night that scare our best warriors. I work with some of them, General. There are times when our men uncover stuff under rocks, in caves and occasionally in cities both here and abroad that would have you committed if you spoke about them.

“When our men and women find out about these things, they go up the chain and it doesn’t take long for Frank to find out about it. He pulls them back and he makes a phone call. That phone call comes to me, General. When your most hardened operatives need help, I am on the President’s direct speed dial. If you need me to, I can pull out my phone and let you speak to the President because it goes both ways.”

Carl finished his explanation as he saw the General about to interrupt. “You’re telling me you’re important enough for the President to contact directly? What makes your family important enough for that?”

“General,” Carl Replied, “It isn’t my family and I’m not personally important enough. I’m just one of the important aides, so to speak. Like you, I answer to a higher authority and he is someone who has the respect of the President and allows me to call should I need it. It isn’t something that I take advantage of, I assure you.”

Carl felt a coolness in the back of his mind, a presence that had been absent since he left New York.

“So, who is this authority and what does he want with this base?”

“Sir, we were recently on a mission in Virginia for one of the agencies. Our agent was inside a warehouse tracking three others when they blew themselves up taking our agent and a full city block along for the ride. It took over a day and a half to contain the fire. While I do not have the authority to demand you never speak about this, I can tell you that if it is found out that you have, I suspect you may have signed your own death certificate. Is this understood?”

“No. Why should any of this be held Top Secret?”

“The families are secretive. Very secretive. They have been that way for centuries. The family I work for is not the only family and let’s say that similar to our geo-political instability and enemies, the families have been at each other’s throats for centuries. For the last seventy years or so, it has been fairly quiet after what went down in Japan. When our agent died, we had enough information for our patriarch to realize that the family which was bombed has apparently re-surfaced, or at least the knowledge of what they were experimenting on in Japan has been found again.”

“So, you aren’t a family member?” The General was trying to figure out how this guy fitted into the equation.

“No, I am what they would refer to as a liaison. Sometimes with the government, sometimes with the grocery boy. On assignments I have eyes and ears, responsibility and direct connections to those in the government which are part of the task. I work with the Family Agent, or Agents and carry communications and information as needed. That is why I am here right now, to fill you in on this assignment and make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible.”

“So, what happens next and what is your job?”

“Sir, I understand you will receive an important dignitary who is part of an interview which will happen down on Five. If this dignitary accepts the assignment, it is a permanent duty and they will be listed as deceased and a lot of their information will forever be locked away, if not erased.”

“That black?” In spite of himself, the General was turning from highly annoyed to slightly suspicious and relieved. It didn’t seem as if his group had to do much more than host special VIP Interviews in an old vault and keep it quiet.

“Very much, that black, General. This agent will officially ‘die’ and will not interact with their old life again. What they become and who they join doesn’t exist so they can’t either.”

The General took another cigar out of a wrapper and stuck it in his mouth, unlit. “What happens if they fail the interview?”

“They won’t remember the interview, they come out of the vault and will be checked out medically. Depending on their physical condition, they can either stay or be placed back in active rotation.”

The General reached for the envelope on his desk and lifted it up for Carl to see. “What about the absolution for the debt of honor?”

“Sir, you write one yourself and place your new suggestion on the inside of the vault and close the door. It can only be opened by someone from the family, and only closed by someone here in the Base.”

“What happens if we don’t allow anyone to be interviewed?” While Lance was slowly coming around to understanding what was needed, he still didn’t like the feeling that he was being forced into a situation set of one choice.

“Would that be ‘don’t allow’, or ‘don’t find anybody’?” Carl knew which question the General really asked, but he knew who the selected agent was, and he needed the General to ask the right question and to not only know, but to believe what the options were for his people.

“I would like the answer to both, actually.”

“Well, if there are not any which fit the criteria, and the selection is done by the agency whose representative you spoke with earlier, and the family agrees, then there is no dishonor and the base commander writes his letter and closes the vault.”

“And if we don’t allow it?”

Carl visibly sighed to the General, hoping he would be able to convince him.

“Sir, if that happens then the patriarch, or should he not be available, then his children will make sure that the person responsible, and all of the men and women he is responsible for, will be considered dishonorable.

“I am not of the family, sir, so you have to understand that I am explaining this as ‘what will be’, not that I personally have a say, OK?”

Carl waited for the General’s agreement that he understood Carl’s qualification. The General squinted at him while he chewed on his cigar, coming to some conclusion before nodding his head.

“Alright, when a person of responsibility is considered dishonorable by a family member, and there is no ‘higher’ member of the family to request a review, that person and every person who reports to them will be judged dishonorable.”

“So, what happens to those considered dishonored?”

“Death, General. The family will consider it a bad relationship and not suffer a dishonorable relationship.”

While a little clinically detached from the conversation, Carl just had to tell himself, ‘Wait for it...’

General Reynolds made Carl wait about five seconds before he proverbially blew his stack.

“Are you seriously threatening a General and his complete base? Are you doing this on MY base, to ME, in my OFFICE?” His face was completely red, two microscopic black of eyes of destruction were aimed at Carl.

OK, Carl thought, that was pretty impressive. Maybe not to Michael’s level but certainly pretty damned intimidating.

The General’s phone buzzed and Patricia’s voice could be heard coming out of the loud speaker. “General, is there something wrong? The Sergeant is still out here if you need him, sir.”

Lance looked down at the phone and stabbed the button with his rock-solid finger, “No, but tell him to stick around.” Releasing the call button, he looked back at Carl, who stared back composed and ready to let him cool down, if he would.

Lance worked to get his emotions under control, remembering that this wasn’t the person threatening his people. He was just the liaison. Lance’s real target was his boss.

In a quiet voice, he asked “and just when do I get to talk to the family member? When does he arrive?”

“Sir, he already has.”

—-

Michael could tell from his connection with Carl that he had just been introduced to the General and they were about to start talking.

He had been through a lot of the base, and Michael had made it down to level five by floating through the environmental system and checked out the vault with the guard outside.

After confirming that everything was acceptable and his knife was still located in the vault, he turned to leave the level and go back towards the Generals office.

While the DNA from the previous three candidates might theoretically be in the hermetically sealed vault from seventy years ago, they wouldn’t be able to trace anything to the two who had successfully passed the interview and they knew about the third one.

He never fully became physically in the vault when he was in the interview so he wouldn’t leave any evidence.

He went back to the Base and started checking out the different buildings. He could tell the difference in the personnel from the last time he was here.

They certainly felt different this time. They, as a country, weren’t being attacked presently as they had been in the past. The country’s efforts weren’t as determined and their purpose wasn’t as sharp as that generation’s had been. Whether they had wanted a war or not, they stood up, signed up and shipped out.

Here and there on the Base he ran into individual’s who were going through the motions of their lives. Others were bright, determined and seemed focused and accomplishing something. Michael wasn’t sure what. However, they were certainly going somewhere with determination, he noticed.

He chose to walk around the Base a little. Although he wouldn’t be noticed by others he was in fact corporal, it allowed him to get a better feel for the base that flittering around as myst wouldn’t provide him.

He selected a building which seemed to house soldiers and walked through the opened door behind by two servicemen who were leaving. He walked past the guard on duty and another group talking around the front desk.

The passageways were a little narrow, and he had to switch over to myst a couple of times so that others wouldn’t bump into his body. Although most people would just be bewildered, it wasn’t worth the small chance that they would talk later and start wondering.

Besides, he could feel the General getting excited through Carl’s emotions. Somewhere up ahead, he could feel a particularly bright spirit but it was possibly time to be a little more involved with Carl, or at least more aware of what the General was talking about.

He wouldn’t interfere with Carl’s job, but he would protect him should the General feel too threatened and start pushing back too hard.

Switching back to myst, Michael went as quick as he could to the General’s office, that location hadn’t changed since he was here last time.

Bethany Anne slowly finished the calming exercises she practiced often.

Always competitive in everything, Bethany found that Death would be one adversary who wasn’t going to give her a fair break.

She didn’t mention it to Martin, but she had seen three other specialists about her condition. None of them could figure out exactly what she had, it was obvious from her white and red blood cell count that it was eating her up alive.

She had tried a blood transfusion one time, and while it helped, it only cleared up a few things for a couple of weeks. The next blood test came back normal, which meant totally messed up.

The doctors confirmed it wasn’t in her bones, or in any of the expected locations where blood cells and blood were either produced or cleaned.

It was as if there was a specific defect handed down the generations and her mom had apparently passed it on to her.

Well, this genetic disease would apparently die with her.

She wouldn’t shed any more tears on what could have been. She had been through that stage already and while she had needed the emotional relief, she couldn’t help others if she was an emotional wreck.

That, she had figured out, was her purpose. She had a driving desire to help others that couldn’t help themselves. She had no issues ignoring those who wouldn’t help themselves and it was a poor day when someone tried to take advantage of the system, at least around her. As passionate as she was when someone needed help, she was just as passionate about confronting those who took advantage of the generosity of others.

With her present case load, she was looking into older cases where the people were all dead. It suited her focus, these people certainly couldn’t help themselves and if she suddenly fell down dead, there wasn’t a problem with bringing someone up to speed on the case before it became cold.

In her early twenties, Bethany had figured out her problem. She tried to be the best in anything that would get her father’s attention. It took her over a year and four different self-help, healing and psych books to break the emotional and psychological struggle it was causing in her life. She still enjoyed it when her father was proud of her, but it wasn’t something that the sun would rise and set on as those feelings had once felt.

Since she wasn’t in the same branch of the military, and Reynolds wasn’t that uncommon a name, she wasn’t often attached as being the General’s daughter. She didn’t shy aware from it, she was proud of her father. She had just been brought up to be self-reliant. Wanting to stand on her own two feet was part of the whole package, really.

She looked down at her watch, 18:15. She grabbed her jacket, badge and purse. Time to meet with the General and find out why he had sent for her.

“Where?” General Reynolds looked down at the calmly composed man in the chair. While Lance was six-ways to Sunday pissed, the coldly logical part of his mind recognized that Carl wasn’t responding to his physical and verbal tirade.

Lance gave it to the man, he stood his ground.

“That, General, I don’t know. However, I can tell you he has been on the Base for at least thirty minutes and since he doesn’t drive, I imagine he came aboard the jet with me.”

“What, you don’t know? That seems unlikely.”

“What seems more unlikely? That one person could hide aboard a jet if I wasn’t paying attention, maybe in some room – it is a personal jet – or that I am here telling you that same person would decide the fate of every person in your command?”

“Both, this isn’t an either or question.”

“Well, he is a spook’s spook. There is no one I have encountered in either of the CIA or FBI who feels comfortable with him, and the NSA stopped trying to tail him about thirty years ago, which was before I started working with him. The last time a senior level bureaucrat became too involved trying to learn about the families, the bureaucrat was found very dead. Somehow he pulled his own arm off and then used it to accidentally shoot himself six times. This was inside a very secure location, and trust me, none of the video tapes were of any use.”

“What? Did they go static-y or just not work?”

“No, they worked fine. There was just nothing on them. No one entered or left the building or his office from when he was last seen coming back from dinner, to when he was found later that night when an aide from another office saw light coming from his office and went to ask him a question. After the investigation, it was learned that the bureaucrat had been trying to find out more about the family and had hired a few private investigators with some slush fund money.

“There were three private investigators. The detectives talked to two who couldn’t remember ever working on the project, but invoices were found where they billed out hours to the politician. One other was located in a psych ward; apparently he had a total mental meltdown and couldn’t even feed himself, much less talk coherently anymore.”

“So you are saying that I have this man running loose on my base right now and not one of my security people are going to catch him?”

“Sir, I imagine he is going to come into this room and when he shows up, that door will never open.”

“Bullshit.”

“No bullshit.”

The General stabbed the button on his phone again, “Patricia, have Kevin come in here.” He let up on the button.

With a short knock, the Sergeant came in. “Sir?”

“Kevin, lock the door and go stand by the window facing outside. I want you to see if you find anything or anyone who looks like they might be trying to get in this office.”

“Yes, sir.” The Sergeant turned around, locked the door and walked across the office to stand at parade rest looking outside to see if anyone might be trying to enter the office.

Carl just looked back at the General, nonplussed while the General squinted his eyes.

“It isn’t going to matter, is it?”

Carl just shook his head silently back and forth.

The General got a vacant stare, looking over Carl’s head for a few seconds before suddenly asking.

“How long?”

Lance watched as Carl got a rather vacant look in his eyes for a fleeting second. Blinking, he could have missed it.

Carl stood up and moved beside the chair as if he was waiting for another to take his place.

“General, he is here.”

Michael made it to the General’s office and was going to myst under the door when the intercom squawked and heard the General request for the Sergeant to come inside. He went in, solidified in a corner staying outside of their realm of awareness and watched as the Sergeant locked the door and went to stand at the window.

Michael watched the General, looking at his spirit, his demeanor and how he talked with his subordinate. He could tell from his heartbeat and breathing that he was stressed, but was handling it very well.

He obviously hadn’t been a paper pusher his whole career.

Good.

Michael could see that the General was still pretty upset, but trying to gather enough information to make a decision. He wasn’t just going to follow orders blindly.

While it could make this difficult, Michael respected his decisions. He wouldn’t agree to ordering someone to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself. Since the General couldn’t know what he was going to order someone to do, how could he feel comfortable with it?

However, Michael didn’t have too much time and he needed to get the measure of this man and make a decision.

Work with him, or start the cleaning at the top?

Michael went in front of the General’s desk and caught his eyes in his own. It only took a couple of heartbeats to read him.

This man was honorable. Michael would work with him.

“How long?” came from the General.

Michael spoke to Carl directly, telling him to stand up and move to the side. When he was out of the way, Michael sat down and when Carl told the General that ‘he was here’, he spoke into the Sergeant’s mind to lock him out, and ordered him to continue just staring out of the window and then materialized in front of the General.

The General’s mouth hung open long enough for the cigar to fall into his lap. Good thing it wasn’t lit; the General didn’t get his mouth to close for a little while. He suddenly looked down and grabbed the cigar.

OK, Lance thought, the suddenly appearing trick was a little disconcerting. If he had wanted to kill him, Lance realized he would be dead. He wasn’t sure about this person or his family having the ability to kill 3,000, However, he felt positive the headcount would be pretty high. Too high to feel comfortable with.

Lance used the cigar he had picked back up off of his lap and used it to stab in Michael’s direction. “How the hell did you just get in here?” Lance may have been astonished, but this was his office, dammit.

If Lance thought that Carl was composed, this guy sent Lance’s ‘sixth sense’ into serious overdrive. He didn’t look threatening in his nice suit and silver cufflinks, but he just accomplished a spooky trick to appear in his office and his eyes spoke of age, wisdom and a complete lack of humor at the moment.

And maybe a hint of compassion?

Lance spoke up, “Kevin, turn around already, he’s here.” When Kevin didn’t turn around, Lance looked over and spoke to him louder this time.

The older man spoke up, “He won’t hear you, Lance. When we are finished, he won’t remember this meeting between us even took place.”

For a couple of seconds, Lance looked at Kevin, then back at the older man, then back and forth again. He sat the cigar down on his desk.

Carl spoke up, “General, we have to leave shortly. However, we will be back tomorrow at 18:00 sharp. I will join you downstairs at the vault. My boss won’t be showing up after this meeting, I suggest you never mention this meeting unless you are talking to Frank, the gentleman on the phone this afternoon.”

That seemed like a different day at this point.

Lance got his thoughts back in line and looked at the man in the chair. “Why do you need my men?”

The older man stood up easily, quickly, and fixed a cufflink, pausing as if in consideration to what the General had asked, and what he really wanted to understand.

He looked into the General’s eyes. “There are battles which you understand. The enemy who stands on a ship, they sit in tanks, they use planes or hit and run tactics. They use terrorist attacks and dishonorably target women and children. These fights you understand, this kind of enemy you can fight.

“How do you fight those that you cannot see? Those that suborn the good and command them to do evil? When those who are the protectors need to be protected, we are the ones who do that.

“We don’t give birth to children, we are not blessed that way. We have to be birthed through unimaginable pain and suffering. One must stand at life’s precipice and decide if one would rather sleep forever, or become protectors and watch over as others live their lives.

“The enemy, your enemy, that you cannot see and cannot defend against has killed one of my children. He sleeps now. I do not have the time to seek and find a qualified candidate from the world and teach them everything they need, so I call my debt of honor due from your military, your country’s protectors. From your ranks, I seek to bring another into the family.

“Will they join? I do not know, that is for them to decide. It is not an easy decision. Either way, Lance, they would not be with you long. Should they come into the family, they will be the ones protecting the innocent, those you cannot fight.

“What does a monster look like, to those who are good?

Like you and me, with evil intent?

What about the monsters themselves?

What do they fear in the dark of the night?

“The answer to that, General Reynolds, is my family.”

With that, Carl stepped back and unlocked the door and Kevin started to turn around, Lance caught a flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye, looking back from Kevin the only person Lance saw leaving the room was Carl.

The other man was nowhere to be seen.

Lance noticed Bethany Anne coming into Patricia’s office as Carl held the door open for her. Carl stepped out and closed the door behind him.

He motioned for Bethany Anne to wait a minute and quizzed Kevin on what he just witnessed.

Kevin remembered standing guard over the window while the other two talked about something, he couldn’t remember the words exactly. Then he had turned around when he heard the door unlock.

Lance released him to any other duties he had and told him to have a good night.

Now, he had to figure out why his daughter was here. Her agency rarely if ever came to the Base in their investigations. And right now was a particularly bad time to have any additional headaches.


CHAPTER SIX

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Michael could feel the spirit coming his way, this was fire, this was an honorable person, this was someone to know. This was the woman?

While his powers pushed everyone to ignore him, he was still physically in the room.

Michael stared as the door opened and Bethany Anne entered the outer office. Carl held the door for her and then let himself out.

She smelt a little different than most humans. Not bad, and while he read the file and knew the blood inside her was quickly killing her, he could feel its song, its fire, what coursed through her veins was as exciting to him as it was unexpected.

As she entered the office, Michael stepped out after Carl, unseen.

Bethany Anne opened the door to her father’s outer office. There was a nice looking man exiting who held the door for her to enter.

He looked like he recognized her before stepping out and closing the door behind himself. She couldn’t place ever having seen him. Maybe he saw one of her dad’s pictures of them in his office.

She noticed her dad motioning to her to give him a minute through the open door and then he continued talking with someone he had in his office.

“How are you doing, dear?” Patricia was smiling from her chair behind her desk and Sergeant Kevin McCoullagh was also leaving her dad’s office.

She shared small talk with Patricia for a minute and stepped into her dad’s office as he came around the desk and gave her a big hug.

“Good to see you again, Bethany Anne.” Lance sized up his daughter pretty quickly. She wasn’t happy to be here, he figured. Since he hadn’t sent for her, he wasn’t sure where to go next with this conversation.

“Thank you, sir.”

Yup, she was still a little frosty. Time to get back into his comfort zone and went back to sit behind his desk.

He leaned back in his chair. “Take a seat and tell me why you are here, we don’t normally get many from your group to this Base.”

She sat in the same chair that the older guy had just vacated, reached into her purse and pulled out a folded piece of paper.

“I’m here because I was directed to meet with you today at 15:30. I figured something happened and strings were pulled. I was yanked off of my case, stuffed in a bird and sent here first class. I figured you were behind this.” Sitting up on the front of the chair, Bethany didn’t relax her posture at all.

Leaning forward in his chair Lance reached out his hand over the desk for the letter. “I didn’t request you to come here, Bethany. In fact, this timing is pretty bad. Let’s see what your orders are and if we can, I’ll send you back after we at least have dinner together tonight.”

Her father never lied to her. If he didn’t know anything about her orders, this was getting either stranger by the minute, or there was a colossal screw up in paperwork somewhere. She handed the paper over to her dad. “I thought you had to know about it, all it says is to arrive here at the Base, present myself to you and that I would learn more from a letter which only says ‘Our Debt of Honor’.” She looked up at the General.

Bethany Anne knew that her father hadn’t been giving this meeting his full attention. She had many experiences growing up when she realized that while her father was with her physically, his mind was back at the base.

However, when she had just finished speaking his face changed to a look she wasn’t ever used to seeing.

His face went totally white, ashen, he looked afraid. The only other time that she had seen this look was when her mom died.

He opened the letter, quickly glanced at the content. There wasn’t much there, it wasn’t as if her father could misinterpret anything so she wasn’t sure why it seemed he kept staring at it.

His eyes looked like they just went looking somewhere else, maybe into his past.

Lance took the letter from Bethany Anne, but he had a hard time concentrating. His heart wanted to beat too loud right now.

This couldn’t be right.

He felt hollow. If Bethany Anne was the interview, then he was going to lose her. Just like Meredith, her mother.

Lance had always held a room of bitterness and anger inside his heart. He knew that he had in some way been responsible and killed his wife. She was too young. He always believed that if he had focused on her more, that he could have seen something early enough to get help. Somehow, there had to have been a cure for whatever had killed his wife. Medicine had advanced and there should have been something she could have taken.

But no, he focused on his job, his career. He knew his career and he felt comfortable there. He loved his wife. Her smile never failed to bring a smile to his own face. But he had been on the career track with the military to be promoted quickly and he figured he had plenty of time when he would be in his thirties and forties.

He wasn’t going to wait until retirement.

Their daughter was born when Meredith was twenty-four and he was twenty-six. With Bethany Anne, his wife Meredith focused so much attention on her that he felt justified focusing fully on his job.

He never saw the signs that she was any sicker than maybe a cold or flu until one Sunday morning he rolled over and she was gone. Her body was there, but her soul had left during the night, and he hadn’t noticed that happening, either.

Bethany was too young to understand, but he had sought help for himself. He was able to work his way through part of the grieving process, but when it came time to forgive himself, he took part of the crushing blame and packed it into a part of his heart.

For what he had done, he deserved to pay penance for the rest of his life and he was going to. It didn’t matter what the psychologist told him.

Lance deserved it, so he would take it. Staring down at the paper in his hands. Apparently his penance wasn’t enough. Lance might not have been a perfect father, but he had tried to make up for his mistakes. He cared deeply for his daughter and brought her up the only way he knew how. So he had made sure she could stand on her own two feet both intellectually and physically. His daughter had graduated summa cum laude and went to a very expensive private school.

She had been chased, some might say harassed, by the best universities in the nation. Major corporations had also chased her with their open checkbooks but all she asked for was a chance to serve.

The CIA had grabbed her in a second, only to lose her in two years after her basic courses were finished and she went into the black agency hole of no return. Even he didn’t have security clearances to know everything that went on in her group. Different agency as it was. He had been both happy she wanted to serve, but feeling that she would be wasted in his branch.

While he felt the CIA was going to be a little stressful for him, she would do fine. When he found out she had been recruited for other duties, which had pissed off her CIA bosses at the time, he was careful not to let her see it concerned him that she might go into black ops. While she was certainly mentally and physically fit enough, she hadn’t had that certain something that some of the spooks and black ops seemed to have to do the darker deeds.

When she told him she had been put on research projects and cold cases, he had been relieved. He had heard the disappointment in her voice and knew she wanted something ‘in the action’.

He just told her that she needed a little seasoning, apparently.

When she had closed a couple of major and politically sensitive cases, one involving a spy deep in their own agency and another with a high ranking senator, she seemed pleased with her actions and her role. He hadn’t heard about her wanting more ‘action oriented’ roles for a little while.

He knew that her boss Martin had been incredibly pleased with his recruit. While Lance didn’t bend any rules, he had checked up on her a couple of times surreptitiously, in case she found out. General or not, she would come down on him like a ton of bricks if she felt he was helping her out in any way. She stood on her own two feet and made things happen because of who she was, not who he was.

Just like he taught her.

So, he never made any special calls on her behalf, ever.

But now? Now he wanted to in the worst way possible. He wanted to stab his phone and tell Patricia to get that spook up in Washington on the phone to tell him to shove offering his daughter as an honor sacrifice up his ass.

Spook or not, Carl’s boss could have his daughter when he pried his arms from around her shoulders. He lost his wife because he wasn’t there for her when she was sick, he wouldn't fail his daughter.

And now he had to face something he feared as Bethany Anne grew older.

His daughter was going to die.

Michael followed Kevin out of the office and changed to myst. He had watched Bethany Anne talk with Patricia and studied what he could about her.

With a sigh internally, he decided to swing by Carl and sent him a message to go back to the plane, he would meet him there later.

The plane had everything they would need to stay the night. There were only two of them, and Michael didn’t need much room to sleep. In fact, there were two ways to get to the area that Michael slept, and both of them were so small that you couldn’t fit a hand into the pipes which, after a couple of twists and turns opened into a small area in the back of the plane underneath the bedroom. It actually was part of the bedroom really, it is just that there was a metal plate between his section and the bed up top. While he couldn’t myst into the area from outside the plane normally, there was a way to release a small hole for his entrance and exit while the plane was on the ground. If he ever left the plane and failed to get back on before it took off, it would automatically close before the plane hit 100 mph and he would have to get back to where ever he needed to be some other way.

He had the modifications done after he took possession, and none of them were shown on the plane schematics. Those that had made the upgrades had their memories changed, they couldn’t remember doing anything but a few touch-ups to the interior bedroom in the back.

That was where Carl or William would have slept, normally.

Michael was a sun-walker, as was one other of his immediate children. However, by the second generation the sun would hurt a grandchild of his very painfully. It would only be a few minutes before they would die. By the third generation they couldn’t allow it to hit their skins, lest they burn and die in seconds.

Most of them could stay awake in the day, but they weren’t superhuman, they needed sleep like anyone would. Since most were affected by sunlight it was more convenient that they sleep during the day.

For Vampires, blood would help them but it wasn’t quite a ‘drink or die’ situation. The ability to use any special capabilities relied on the energy blood afforded for every vampire. Those that they fought, the Forsaken, they would harvest humans and drink at least weekly. The more they would drink, the more their changed bodies craved it until it was almost all consuming for them. They were the true vampires of old, the evil monsters the tales were told about.

Michael had been fighting for so long already that he would often sleep. His body aged about one year in ten for every year he was awake, and perhaps one year in twenty for every year he would sleep.

The belief that vampires were forever young was inaccurate. If you consider a normal person would age fifty years; a vampire would only look five years older. If he slept, then the vampire might only have aged a couple of years.

There was one way for a vampire to roll back the time on their body. They had to create a new vampire. When the process was finished, their body would become about the same age as the new acolyte.

This was never a problem for those they fought. They had no concerns on who they turned and whether they died or not. If they made someone change who failed, they would shrug and walk out years or decades younger leaving a dried-up husk up behind.

Just another missing persons’ case.

Michael had only turned six so far in his life and none since he had come to America.

He didn’t have a sire. The story of his turning was unique and certainly more painful than most turnings he had been privy to.

He had come to a pretty early end of his human existence in the mountains back in what is now called Romania. The alien essence which created vampires seeks to ride a human’s body, changing it into something more like their original hosts he believed. Michael had never figured out if it was something from this universe, or elsewhere.

The virus was part of him. If he drained a human, the exchange of his blood with the human would allow the virus to overcome the hosts ability to protect itself. Michael believed it was at this time the challenge to a persons soul occurred.

The first stage brought agonizing pain through the nervous system. The body wasn’t physically hurt, but every nerve felt on fire, rough and raw. It was as if the body had been dropped into a pool of acid being eaten from both inside as well as the outside of the body. A lot of humans would die at this point. Why keep on living when you had no idea how long the pain would last?

Michael had seen some of the strongest give up at this stage, and some of the most physically frail persevere.

The human’s thinking brain would be offline, all it could do was feel the pain, there was no thinking at this point in the conversion.

Slowly a person would regain the ability to think through this pain and it was at this stage that the most insidious attack of the virus would happen.

It would tempt the host. Once the change had occurred, the host has already mutated enough that the virus would be able to continue living and seek blood in an unquenchable desire. Here the virus would start whispering into the host’s mind that they have become gods. How,if they would just allow the virus the ability to take control a little while, it could stop the pain that was forever causing them to scream and gnash their teeth, and give them rest.

Oh, but the lie it told. If the host would agree, the virus would be able to lock the host’s self will and they would be a passenger in their own mind while the virus became the monster of legends, only listening to their desire for flesh or the commands of their maker.

They would become Nosferatu. No humanity was inside this body. With incredible strength, a cadaverous grey skin and red eyes the host would rise up to start killing and drinking any who they could hear, see or sense. It would go on an eating and killing frenzy until the being was satiated and could find a place to safely hide while it finished the transformation. When the host woke up, the original soul was no longer in possession, and would never be again.

In each successive generation the virus would be weaker, and the challenges to overcome would be less. This would help some to make it through the transformation with their soul intact, but the power of the vampire could never match that of their sire. If a host were to overcome the virus and then fall into a mental exhaustion, they would fail to retain their memories and possibly lose their knowledge and wake up as but children. They would need to be taught all over again how to eat, how to walk and how to talk.

Those who were barely able to overcome the virus would be weak as vampires. Still stronger than most humans at this point, but certainly more useful in supporting roles which didn’t require them to think out of the box, they would follow orders very well.

The longer the host fought the virus, the more of themselves they would retain. Should they make it all the way through until they woke up, then they would be as strong as possible and would remember everything before their transformation.

Even with the careful selection Michael required of any of his family, to have a candidate make it all the way without failing the conversion was still a case-by-case basis.

So, he required any in his family to only select from those who were going to die. If the selected were to choose death over the pain, then at most they lost six months of their life. If the virus was able to persuade them to allow it to take control, then when it opened its red eyes the head would be decapitated before it blinked once.

Michael’s family never allowed a Nosferatu to live, it is what they fought against and what they have been fighting against for ages.

There were two sides to this struggle between the vampires. Those of Michael’s family, and everyone else.


CHAPTER SEVEN

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Bethany could see so many emotions going through her dad’s face. It was rare that he didn’t keep a shield up, and she knew he was hurting.

It had been a long time, but she let her professional demeanor down and laid aside the mask of toughness she wore while out in the world.

“Dad, what is it?” She reached across the desk and took one of his big, calloused hands.

He looked into her eyes. “How long do you have?”

She stared at him, blank faced for a minute while her mind raced. It was obvious he didn’t know when she got here that she was sick. He wouldn’t have hugged her and gotten straight down to business. In fact, until he heard the orders, he wasn’t really even thinking about her being here much at all.

So what had changed? Why had her orders upset him so much and how had it tipped him off to ask her about it? And should she answer the question? Lying was out. He didn’t lie to her, she wouldn’t lie to him.

She might, however, not answer the question.

Her indecision reached her eyes.

He asked her again, softly, “How long?”

She sighed, “Six months. I think that the doctors could be wrong, they don’t understand how my blood cells are so messed up and they can’t find any problems with me. I’ve been to four specialists so far.”

Lance straightened up a little in his chair and his eyes lost their unfocused look, “Then I guess we will go to a fifth, and a sixth. If we have to see another ten doctors, Bethany Anne, we will see another ten doctors. I won’t let this take you.”

“Dad, I have worked with some of the best. I asked Martin for a couple of favors and he was able to let me see some highly placed specialists...”

“Martin knew about this and didn’t tell me?” Lance’s face started to color red again and he had an outlet to start focusing on.

Bethany Anne stopped that cold.

“He had no right to tell you! It was my request and I asked for his promise to tell no one. If I didn’t need him to make the requests for me, I wouldn’t have told him, either. This is my fight, my battle and I will make it happen my way.”

She stood up and started walking back and forth in front of his desk, causing his head to swivel like he was watching a tennis match.

“I am my own person, Dad. I have as much a right to live my life how I intend to live it. By the same token, I have as much a right to decide how I am going to die as well. I have had my grief, and while it may come as a shock to you right now, I carefully considered what happened with Mom and I think at some level she knew something was wrong. She made her decision to do as much for me as she could before she died. You always said that she was with me morning, noon and night and now I understand why. I don’t have children, and I’m thankful for that right now. However, I want to help those who can’t help themselves and if that means finishing my cases until I don’t wake up one morning, then that is how it is going to happen. I’m not going to run from one doctor’s office to the next, one lab to the next, with so much blood taken that I can’t even get out of bed. That is not a life I want to live and I won’t go down that path. You have told me that Mom never was seriously bed-ridden, right?” She stopped her pacing to stare at him.

He had so many emotions going through him, could she be right? Could Merideth have known? Why wouldn’t she have told him? “That’s right.”

His attack on Martin was a passing thought.

Bethany Anne reached down to his desk and picked up a rock paperweight she had given him on her sixteenth birthday. She told him then that it represented the rock he was in her life.

“So I might as well continue working until the day God takes me home. If I can help one more person, it beats waiting on Death.” She put the rock down and took a seat.

“How do you know that everything has been tried? I know that we could have found something to help Mom if she would have just confided with me. I wasn’t the man your mother needed and I won’t let you go.” Lance’s eyes were hooded in memories and pain.

He was feeling the pain of the past, she had seen him do this from time to time. “Dad, you have never let me go, you raised a hell of a woman, one I am proud to be. You allowed me the opportunity to become who I could be. Whether it was for ninety years, or just twenty-nine, I am proud of my life. There are many who make it to seventy and can’t say that much. I can. I’m sorry that I waited this long to tell you. I couldn’t face hurting you, I didn’t want to see the pain in your eyes, to bring you the pain that I see in your heart right now. I’m sorry, I’m not proud how weak I’ve acted in this. I wanted my life my way and if I didn’t have to talk to you right now, I could just keep on until close to the end.”

She leaned back into the chair, she said her piece the best she could. No parent should go through the death of one of their children, and she had to be the one to tell him. If she could have run away from this, the temptation might have been too much.

She spied the orders, still sitting on his desk. She wanted to know what they meant, and how it affected her. Like she thought before, she had a hard stop and time was wasting. Maybe this could get her dad to come up for air.

“What are your orders, General?”

Lance looked up and followed Bethany Anne’s eyes to the forgotten orders she had handed him.

‘Orders?’ he thought. His orders were for her to go see more doctors. His orders were for her to not accept this result. His orders were to, well, to live.

And, to a point, Lance realized she was living. She hadn’t allowed this death sentence to stop her from doing that. She was living what time she had left her way, on her terms. Just like Meredith had. Meredith hadn’t lost faith in him, Meredith had total faith that he would carry on like the soldier she had known him to be.

A tear formed in his eye. His wife had total faith in him and spent every minute she had been able to with their daughter. She was the rock that his family had been built on, not him. Now, his daughter was the rock and he was just figuring this out. Why is it that we never see the obvious when it is in front of our face?

The old man’s voice came back to his thoughts. “We are the ones who protect the protectors, we are the ones who nightmares fear.” Tom’s comment that maybe they were doing scientific experiments on those who were going to die soon came to mind as well.

They all knew it. Carl, the spook in Washington, and the old man. They all knew that Bethany Anne was the person to be interviewed. Frank had tried to tell him that the family worked for the protection of people. Carl had told him that the operative would officially ‘die’ in the records. Just like Bethany Anne was really going to die in just a few months.

Finally, the man had told him that his family wasn’t created like a normal family. That they used those in the military and others. They came calling for someone very special, unique. They had come requesting Bethany Anne. And they wouldn’t have done that if they felt she was just going to die in a few months. They knew how to fix this blood issue, but they weren’t saying so. He felt a little hope. But how to reconcile that he would never know what happened?

He tried to gather his thoughts on everything that had gone on today, his intuition guided his decision. He didn’t know all the answers, but he did believe one truth, Bethany Anne’s best chances were with her orders.

He might not ever try to find out about the family, but if Bethany Anne disappeared tomorrow night in that vault, he sure as hell would continue to search for his family. If that pissed off Carl’s boss, well then he could just come talk to him about it. It’s not like he would be hiding anywhere.

Carl nodded to the soldier on guard duty outside of the plane and stepped up into the aircraft. They had connected power to the airplane so that the engines didn’t have to run. He went ahead and hit the button to close the door after letting the guard know to be careful when it came up.

He wasn’t really sure how Michael had gotten into the Base. He never felt him during the trip, and he wasn’t aware of him getting on the plane ahead of him. While he hadn’t gone back into the rear bedroom to see if anyone was in there, he was pretty sure that the pilot would have mentioned something about it when he got on the plane.

If Michael needed Carl to open the door for him, he would certainly know about it.

Carl went over to the bar and poured a small amount of Drambuie into a glass. He didn’t like it on the rocks, it just watered down the liquor. Carl had never actually been drunk, but he did enjoy a small amount after an operation and right now he was wound up tight enough to feel like he had been in an operation.

He sat back in one of the luxuriously upholstered seats. There were only six seats in this plane, plus the bedroom. You could sleep in any of them, they all laid back and there was a small kitchenette and bathroom up front. They were good for a few days of eating on the plane.

Michael typically didn’t interact much with anyone when he was awake. When Bill was working, you could toss a coin sometimes to figure out if he would talk with the humans around him. Carl had studied him for a while and realized that if it was a new group, he probably would. Then, if they worked with that group within the next few years he would again. It was only after about five to seven years that he would stop fraternizing with them.

Carl figured it had to do with his almost complete lack of aging.

In his fifteen years with the group, he started in his late teens, Bill had looked in his mid-thirties. He died looking the same age.

Carl had talked with Michael about what he saw on the videos. Michael had explained that Bill should have remembered the stories about how the three agents had died in Japan so many years ago.

Although Bill wasn’t one of Michael’s immediate sons, he was a first generation grandchild. He was still incredibly powerful. He lasted a long time during the transformation as Carl understood it, and somehow persevering during the transformation affected their strength.

Bill was a bit of a ball-buster, but he had been fun at times, too.

Carl wasn’t a complete nerd. He enjoyed watching most sports and an occasional MMA fight. He loved Indian food and the spices would drive Bill’s hypersensitive nose up the wall.

He wouldn’t do it too often, just enough to ‘poke the lion’ and make life interesting around Bill.

He made sure never to call him Billy Bob or anything like that except while on a mission when he couldn’t immediately retaliate. Bill had been an easy going vampire, all things considered, and if Carl didn’t piss him off, he would just let it go later.

Carl was going to miss him.

He was getting to the bottom of his drink.

He wasn’t sure when Michael would get back, or if we would come on board. Carl had figured out early on that sunlight hadn’t affected Michael like it did Bill. That alone allowed Carl to realize just how they were different.

There were a couple of times that Carl was allowed to watch them spar in the basement.

If he could have seen the fight, he was sure it would have been spectacular. However, he just heard and felt it more than having seen much. Michael would come down dressed in his black ghi, and Bill in his yellow ghi. After some discussions, Michael would show Bill how to attack or block a move, and then let Bill throw Michael for practice. All of this was at a natural human pace. Then they would get serious.

It just looked like a bunch of fast movements until you would hear a huge slam as Bill’s body would hit the mats. Michael would explain what he had just done to Bill and let Bill try it at human speed. Then they would fight until Bill was on his back again.

Carl figured that Bill fighting Michael was about on par with the couple of times that Carl tried to take on Bill. Which was to say, impossible.

For a human who wasn’t special ops, Carl was very good at fighting and with weapons. Well, he was good with guns. He totally sucked at most martial weapons. While he understood and was able to handle hand-to-hand combat for the most part, he just didn’t like edged weapons.

He studied them, often as the eyes-and-ears, he had to be able to describe and name all sorts of weapons whether they shot projectiles or had been crafted hundreds of years ago. His sensors in place on any op would sniff the air to get any chemicals and possible bombs or poisons that might have been released. It hurt to realize that his sensors had failed so tragically.

Considering some of the jobs they had worked on, Carl was happy to be safely out of the danger zone.

As his mind mellowed and relaxed, it had been a very tense few days since Bill had died and Michael had been awakened. This was the first time he wasn’t focused on getting through the interview without scores of people dying and a price on his own head.

He didn’t figure that the military would only blame Michael for everyone’s death. Somehow Carl thought ‘aiding and abetting’ would be attached to his name and he would go down as well.

Ride the tiger and sometimes it will turn and bite you.

They handled some incredibly important ops not just for the nation, but occasionally the world and it was as black as you could get. There wasn’t any proof anywhere that any of it happened. If there was, he wasn’t doing his job very well.

Carl snorted, well that was something. If he did his job perfectly, there would never be any proof that he did his job at all.

He wasn’t the best hacker in the world, but with the equipment and contacts the family had, he was certainly in the top one hundred. Probably top twenty. Half of those others in the top twenty belonged to major countries either in their spy or military services and six worked for companies and one worked for the American Council of Weres. Out of the other three there were two who were in the black market and one who was in Michael’s family, just over in Asia somewhere.

So, how did someone know where Bill and I were going to hit, anyway? Carl put down the glass, now empty, and pulled out his laptop and propped up the laptop tray. This aircraft had its own connection to the Internet which randomly made requests to Netflix and had a couple of background applications running fake research requests. Underneath all of this traffic were the real requests. Carl became busy tracking down information on their enemy.

All of this was being done inside the video communication in the network traffic. Carl didn’t believe for a second that the military wouldn’t intercept and try to sniff any and all packets to see what was going on with their communications. They were sitting on a government base. If Carl was the other guy, he sure as hell would be stealing all the info he possibly could.

You know one of the best ways to annoy those who try to decrypt your data? Provide a data line with high-level encryption which you want to be decrypted after a significant effort and then have the data inside that data stream be complete gibberish. The inside data stream will look like another encrypted communication. The opposing team will focus on the obvious stream and if your video packets look and work well, they won’t continue to make the effort to see if you are sneaking anything else in.

All this protection support for $9.99 a month, thank you Netflix.

That attitude is what got Bill’s attention fifteen years ago and it was a good attitude to have today.

Carl couldn’t bring Bill back, and he most likely couldn’t hurt whoever took him down.

But if he could find them, he figured Michael would like a word with them.


CHAPTER EIGHT

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Frank worked in the basement deep under an older building in Washington, D.C. He was near a couple of underground pathways which was pretty useful when he needed to meet with vampires who couldn’t see the sun.

His arthritis would act up during the winter; it got pretty cold down here.

He was too damn old for this and he knew it. It was time to bring in someone else to take control.

He could and did tell himself that he stayed out of patriotism, but he really couldn’t pass the lie to himself. He enjoyed the game too much.

When he was tapped to take over from his predecessor, Frank knew a few people in and around the city. He had been on the staff as naval liaison from the war.

Young, but not dumb and with his family connections, he was well known enough in the right circles.

He was approached during the middle of the war and recruited into this section. Having explained that what they did was Top Secret, Frank couldn’t wait to get into the action.

He often wondered if he would have been more hesitant if the war wasn’t going on at the time.

He wanted to be in the action and didn’t understand how helping his Navy boss at the time was helping take care of the Nazis.

By the time he understood he wouldn’t be ‘on the front line’, he was too deep to back out without needing part of his brain yanked out of his head.

There were secrets that the military and government kept from their people for good reason. It allowed them to sleep at night.

It was the responsibility of the few who knew the nightmares to shoulder the burden for the rest of the nation.

Many felt that the President had it the worst of all. A few who knew of secret responsibilities occasionally would argue amongst themselves over a brandy and cigar when they were alone together.

We have all witnessed how those who took the Presidency could go into the job looking young, only to have aged way beyond their years by the time they stepped down.

It aged a person, the weight and shouldering of responsibility usually did.

Frank would normally have left his position a couple of decades back had Michael not given him a small rejuvenation. He never figured out how it happened, exactly. It was back in the 1990s and they had a pretty nasty underground war going on in South America that was backed by one of the forsaken families. Michael had come to visit with him one night when he was working late, trying to pull information from the government’s assets down in Brazil.

They had a good talk about what he wanted to do, and what kind of person he believed he needed in order to pass the baton.

He remembered admitting that he wasn’t happy having to give up his post. He liked doing what he was doing. He might not have ever been on the front line, but like Carl, he understood that he wasn’t the right person for the front-line. For one thing, he wasn’t dead yet.

Not that the vampires were really dead, they were humans who had been transformed into something... else.

When he had just started with the group, he hadn’t listened to his mentor and had tried to find out more about the families. Fortunately, his mentor was watching for him to do this and stopped it before any of the requests had started to filter out through the security net.

He had come in one morning, only to see that his mentor was waiting for him, with a handful of innocuous looking questions that Frank had so carefully worded to not raise any suspicions. His stomach dropped out of his body when he realized the notes were his.

He had passed a test, somehow with those questions. He had been hired to take over the role, and he had to be smart. His office only had one Top Secret level dispatch line. He hadn’t known at the time that it only went straight to his boss who would then either approve its release, or hold it.

He had held on to all of Frank’s requests for information for the last week to gather all of them. When Frank hadn’t requested any more info for two days, he came into the office and had the ‘talk’ with him.

It seems that his boss had done something similar, and his boss’ mentor had been prepared like Frank’s boss had been prepared for Frank to do the same thing. When the time was right, he would do the same for his protégé. If his protégé didn’t even try this, they weren’t the right person for the job. They would wake up in a hospital and have a mild form of amnesia. They would probably only forget the last two or three months.

His boss/mentor shared some of what he knew, after he was able to convince Frank that to have released the cables could have potentially dire consequences not only for himself, but the agency, the military and would have given the enemy a huge boost.

Should enough people find out what was going on, then certainly Michael’s family would eventually all be found and killed. With their ethics, they would not be able to grow their family faster than they could be found and killed, for sure. The enemy did not subscribe to the same ethics as Michael did. They would be hurt, certainly. However, they didn’t care if a person wanted to become a vampire. Their family could grow so much faster, when in need, without the worry over moral issues.

For the enemy, growth was always a balance between a need for new members and the potential that a new member would eventually challenge them for supremacy. In their families, it was always survival of the fittest and one way to stay that way would be to limit how many potential challengers there could ever be.

If they didn’t have children, those children wouldn’t commit patricide.

His mind was always agile, even now he didn’t feel like he had lost any of his keen intellect.

Unlike others, Frank knew that keeping physically active each week helped the mind to stay sharp so much more than those silly games on everyone’s smartphones and online. He should know, he had access to the latest research whether it was published or not.

When he had spoken to Michael two decades before, he never remembered finishing the conversation. He had woken up on the couch that doubled as a small bed when he needed one. He received the shock of his life when he looked in the mirror in the office suite’s bathroom that morning to shave.

He looked twenty-five years younger. Instead of being in his mid-sixties, he looked like he had just turned forty.

He knew Michael had done something to him, but didn’t know how it worked. For whatever reason, Michael had seen fit to extend his usefulness.

He still felt and was fitter than he should be in his late nineties, but he knew that there wouldn’t be an extension this time. He had not lost any of his desire to keep in the action, but it was getting to be another generation’s game. With changes in the world came new attitudes and Frank’s attitudes, he noticed, weren’t that adjustable and easy going anymore. He needed to be able to work with those he contacted and to accomplish that required empathy and Frank realized his empathetic feelings had grown less and less over the years. Too many times, he wanted to just use a two-ton hammer to get through the bureaucracy he found himself having to deal with as the military and local first responders would keep asking questions. In his generation, if someone obviously way above you spoke, you listened and did.

Now, he had to deal with people trying to figure out what was going on too many times. The Internet was both a great help and a huge problem for his group. They were able to find out about new outbreaks and problems quickly, and there were those who would get together in chat rooms and create wiki sites helping bring their own research together to find out what was going on.

Most times, it wasn’t anything too big to worry about. Other times he would see if those who were doing the work had anything in their backgrounds to warrant a mention to the local police or tax office that might get them reasons to focus on other things in their life.

One time he found one particular trouble maker was a bit of a Casanova and had three girlfriends who knew nothing about each other. Frank was kind enough to send two of them a request to meet at the romantic restaurant where the guy was on a date with the third girl. Frank hadn’t realized exactly how nasty it might become, and the lady who was at the table took her dinner knife to the guy.

For those who Frank found to just be curious people and no real way for Frank to deal with, he would pass the information on to the liaison and within a few weeks that person would find something else fascinated them and they would drop off the supernatural interests group.

He had been quietly researching for the past two years to narrow down his list of potential recruits and had a handful he considered approaching. Bethany Anne Reynolds had been his top choice until he had learned two months before that she was going to pass away.

He had researched her exhaustively for his position for over a year. There had never been a female in his role, and he wanted to make sure the first one to work with the group made the right impression with Michael. He hadn’t expected Bethany to be end up on the short list to be transformed.

Over the months of researching and watching her, he had grown to like this determined young woman. He had already mentally had her as his replacement before it was time for him to step down and felt a responsibility as if she was his star-pick to become the next quarterback for the football team.

She needed good backup. Carl was becoming a good liaison for Michael’s team, but with Michael awake, and probably not going to sleep soon, she was going to be learning from the patriarch himself.

Everyone was going to need to step up their game, and Frank was worried he had little game available to offer.

He had four possibilities from his previous research. He needed an update on their activities, and to find out if any new agents might be available.

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Bethany Anne watched her father’s face go through different emotions as she waited for the orders to be explained to her. She wasn’t sure if he would try to order her to seek more treatment, but if he did she would have to regretfully push back on that request.

She felt pretty confident that her assignment didn’t have anything to do with her trying to get healed, so she could strike that down. However, in some form or fashion her orders gave him insight into her condition which he didn’t have before she walked in. So, he must have been expecting someone to show up suffering from a fatal disease.

The clues she noticed since arriving suggested something was happening which wasn’t a straight up military project. She considered that a working hypothesis.

So, what special request could someone have which would require someone of her talents and skills and particular morbidity?

She pondered this while her father was concentrating. As Martin had expressed to her before she left, “That is the question.”

She just didn’t have enough information to form a solid answer.

“Bethany,” His voice was a little gruff from emotions, but apparently he had it under control. “I’m not positive about everything I am about to tell you. I can explain that to the best of my belief, this is Top Secret and you are I are held to the strictest confidence.”

He waited until she dipped her head in acknowledgement.

He told her the story. Starting with a klaxon sounding down on Level Five and ending when she walked into his office.

It was a short time for Michael to form an opinion of this lady. If Bethany Anne and the General decided to meet him tomorrow night then he had made his decision. The door to the vault would open and there would be no Bethany Anne in the vault.

Michael really never left the vault until the door opened. He would grab his chosen children and go to myst, leaving when the door barely cracked open.

Since he had been watching some of the new shows it has become obvious that there are too many scientific devices to use this method any longer. They could just wait until the door was opened and check all kinds of signs and he was sure one of them would spike.

Maybe it would be one of the ghost chasers.

When he wasn’t just so tired with life, he might decide to go and play with those Ghost Chasers if he figured out where they were going to be.

He could always have Carl check into their location for him. Where he wanted to keep the UnknownWorld a secret which was best for everyone, the more he could cause consternation with those that lived on the fringe, the better.

Age, no matter what your body felt like, the years of living always imprint your mind. Those that fear death eventually feel like a quiet death in bed shouldn’t be feared too much. This acceptance of death often sneaks up on you.

Living as many centuries as he had, even sleeping through so many decades, still cause a weariness on the soul.

Maybe, just maybe what the Family needed was a new parent. A mother, not just a father.

If she was as strong of mind as he suspected, then maybe he could choose to hand off the responsibility for the world and sleep one more time. A very, very long time.


CHAPTER NINE

Military Base, Colorado Mountains

Michael ghosted into the plane. With the gear down, there was plenty of options if you knew your way around with a few judicious pin holes.

He formed up and looked over at Carl who had apparently finished a liquor and was relaxing and running some sort of research items on his laptop. He had a few windows open and he could see that there were some items timing themselves as ‘% Complete Done’.

Sitting down across from Carl, the seats on the plane faced each other. He changed his body from myst back into a visibly corporal form.

It took a few blinks before Carl realized that Michael was in the plane and sitting across from him. If he wasn’t so thoroughly wrung out from the stress of the last few days, he was sure he might have jumped.

As it was, his head just jerked up when he realized he wasn’t alone.

“Carl, can you see what it will take to fly to the Baltics?”

Carl stared at him, his question so out of left field that Carl had nothing to process it with. No previous knowledge of why Michael would want to go to Europe. As far as Carl knew, Michael hadn’t been out of America for… um, forever as far as he knew.

Well, he knew he came over from Europe before, but that was in the 1700s or thereabouts. Pretty far back.

“Um, sure, any particular country?” Carl wasn’t sure what permits and how to get a plane from the U.S. overseas. However, he was sure the pilot would let him know what he needed to do and Frank could smooth over any issues. He hoped.

“No, I haven’t tried to figure out exactly where quite yet. I would prefer we choose Romania if we can. Probably Brasov if they have an airport. Let me know what you find out on our options.”

“Are we going to see someone in particular? Do we need to announce ourselves?” Carl was searching just a little. He knew that the family could be particular about uninvited guests and there were always the other types of supernaturals one might have to deal with. Although here in America it was never a problem for Carl. Michael took care of the pecking order some one hundred and fifty years ago and he hadn’t heard a sneeze from the allied groups in his fifteen years.

Frank apparently had all major supernatural leaders on speed dial and if Carl needed support, it magically appeared and they were ‘happy to do it’. Carl always assumed it was a healthy respect of living and let live. As in, Michael let them live and would continue to leave them alone unless they broke the accords or dishonored him in some way.

Usually, if Carl received a package on a problem event or something internal to their group, the leadership already took care of the situation before Michael ever woke up.

It was nice to hear about the problem and the solution at the same time.

Often, Carl would receive requests for information from the other research people in the UnknownWorld if they were stymied. None of them wanted to work closely with Frank as he was too close to the government for their liking. They would pick up the phone to talk with him, but it was either that, or possibly a conversation with Michael.

They really, really didn’t want that discussion again. One hundred and fifty years isn’t so long a time to forget when many of the existing leaders moved up the ranks due to the previous, massive, quantity of positions simultaneously available.

It seems a handful of groups, mostly weres and other quasi-humans came together and decided that since they had taken on a few vampires with moderate casualties, they could gang up on Michael and either put him in his place, or soak up enough damage and get rid of him altogether.

It was the first, and truly the bloodiest, Valentine’s Day ever. Well, it was February 14th anyway. All of the groups that participated consider their present leadership the ‘Second Council’ now. Since most of the first group suddenly became very dead by getting cut up into tiny chunks.

A few that could regenerate their wounds apparently pissed Michael enough that he would cut a large part off their body. Then would stake them to the ground so they couldn’t escape until their body parts grew back, and then cut those parts off again.

He required the ‘new’ pack leaders watch to make sure they got the message that to attack him had perilous consequences.

It tends to make an impression, even one which lasts, apparently, one hundred and fifty years.

Michael pursed his lips and decided to answer the question behind the request. “No, there are no families that I wish to interact with. This isn’t something they need to be aware of, and any of the dishonored we meet will be dealt with. None of them need to be aware of our presence as it will create problems with too many questions.”

Michael looked out the glass of the small private jet. He knew that at this instant the plane was being surreptitiously snooped on as much as possible by the military. While Carl took care of any of his responsibilities very well, Michael’s plane was prepared to withstand all sorts of attacks, both overt and clandestine.

Regardless, you couldn’t be too cautious, so Michael just projected his thoughts into Carl’s brain. It was impossible to snoop there.

“You need to be careful and protect our information as much as possible. This won’t be a normal trip. We will be going into the Baltic's for a week at least, maybe two. We need two additional scouts to help us into the mountains for two people. We will be gone for at least one week. I will need a satellite phone to inform you to continue with the second stage of the operation.”

“We won’t be staying there?” 

“No, I need you to be busy leading anyone following us on a merry chase until you get notified. No one must know of the plan. If anyone suspects anything, that area will be crawling with dishonored with all types of supernaturals.”

Carl looked perplexed for a minute. “Why?”

Michael sat back and looked pensive as he stared out the plane’s window.

“Because a mother is to be born. In pain she will be conceived, in fire she will be tried, in agony will she be tested and for love she will kill. Unfortunately, there is a great need to show love right now.”

Carl looked at Michael for a moment, then he noticed that one of his windows was blinking with a red ‘Query Complete’ at the top.

It sounded like Michael had selected his latest child… No, that couldn’t be right. He called her a mother.

He didn’t marry, did he?

“Fuck me sideways.” Bethany Anne had a bit of a potty mouth, she knew it, her father knew it and at times like this there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Besides, some of her best curse phrases her dad had taught her.

Bethany Anne believed that cussing was an excellent and should be morally approved way to release stress.

Bethany sat for a while, a little introspective after taking in everything she was just told.

OK, so mysterious people, ops so black she never heard about them and government officials that can reach into her group and just make up orders and send her across the nation at the drop of a hat.

Freaky and weird? Check.

Supernatural situation and unexplained invisible old geezers. Double check.

Well, that wasn’t really fair. Dad didn’t say the guy was a geezer, just older and in a suit. Kinda spoke in a clipped fashion. English wasn’t his first language, she was sure.

Let’s not forget the ‘dying but not dying’ part either. She might be able to give old hoary long-scythe a royal middle finger but at what cost? That was the question she had right now.

All of it tied up in some sort of honor system that spoke of beliefs that go back way before she was born.

She let out a long sigh. “Dad, if I’m possibly going to die but not die tomorrow, how about we play hooky just one time and go and have dinner? On me? We can charge up my American Express and they can eat the bill.”

He looked blankly at her, and then just cracked a shit-eating grin and stood up gruffly from his seat and reached for his hat.

“Hell yeah, Beth. Tell you what, there is this steak house outside of the base that has a wine cellar with some very old favorites that I’ve been tempted to try, but didn’t want the bill. That sound about right?”

Bethany Anne looked up at her father, who she might not see again after tomorrow. “You know what? I’ve got the company’s Amex and a personal Black Visa that just came in the mail two weeks ago. I’d been saving it for a special occasion. Let’s crack a little out of every bottle they have.”

Patricia’s eyes grew and her mouth opened as they walked by. Her jaw almost hitting the ground.

Both Reynolds were smiling and looked like they were about to get into some mischief.

Dr. John Evenich was outside the vault, the General’s daughter appeared to be getting ready to go inside. About five other soldiers stood outside and surrounded the rather small area. She was a bit of a beauty with that black hair. A bit of a hard-ass too. Well, the looks might have come from her mother but the attitude was all her father.

She was talking with her dad matter-of-factly. If he didn’t know any better, he would swear the General’s nose was a little red. Drinking? No, probably crying when no one could see, the rumor was that he had just found out his daughter had a blood disease that had a high mortality rate.

They both seemed in good spirits. That was just… odd.

“General, Dad, I’ve no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing, but I want you to know that apparently I couldn’t have had this chance without you preparing me the way you did. If I was a school teacher, this opportunity wouldn’t be available right now.” She looked him straight in the eyes to make sure he understood her message.

Lance considered his responses, realizing she was right. She didn’t want him going through the heartache when she ‘died’ this time that he did with her mother. Although she was right, without him training her the way he had she wouldn’t be prepared to be acceptable for this commission, such as it was. However, he was going to miss her.

“I hear you, Bethany. Know that I won’t go all Houdini’s wife on you but drop a line if you can?”

She smiled. After Harry Houdini died his wife performed a lot of séances to try and talk to him in the afterlife.

With a kiss for his cheek, she stepped into the vault, slapping the red button beside the door as she stepped in.

Klaxon going off, the vault door started to close.

“Fuck me, no lights…” The lights went off when the door shut. That was unexpected. You can’t get any darker than this.

A deeper voice, not unpleasant, came out of the inky blackness. “That’s because I like to know the mettle of a man, or woman, that I’m going to communicate with and the easiest way to get past their defense is in the dark.”

She jerked upright a little, her heart pumping a little faster, she tried to figure out where in the little vault he might be.

Bethany Anne, you might as well sit down. Reach to your left and you will find the closest chair at that end of a table.

“You have me at a little disadvantage.” She reached down and found the chair back, pulling it out she only slightly banged her leg against the table before sitting down. “Who am I speaking with?” The way he spoke, he would probably be at the other end.

My name is Michael and I am the one who is offering you a potential way to continue your effort to help others. My family has been working, behind the scenes, to help even the military of this country to handle hard cases, dangerous cases. Cases you would never hear about on TV. It is a lot of responsibility to help those who won’t know that they have been helped. Similar to helping those who have already passed away, true? Does this interest you?

His voice was older, cultured, but also sounded just ancient at the same time.

“I don’t know yet. Well, not true. Yes, I want to help others who need it. However, I’m not sure how you expect to get out without anyone seeing. Why do you believe you can fix what no other doctors here in the States can accomplish? Are you with a special ops group? Special Medical Testing?”

“No. Well, nothing like what you are discussing and expecting. There are some facets to the family which you might consider similar to these groups you are familiar with. However, the reason I feel comfortable knowing you can be fixed is that I’ve worked with and studied blood and blood issues for most of my adult life.”

“Oh? How long would that be, Michael?”

“Well over one thousand of your years, Bethany Anne. Your kind might call me a vampire, but that isn’t true for me. For my children, maybe, certainly for their children. Our blood changes us, will change you. It will never allow the bad things going through your body right now that your doctors cannot fix. You will, in all ways, have a superior body than what you have now.”

“What’s the downside to going through this procedure?”

“Unimagined pain.”

Bethany Anne had kinda expected something crazy from this situation, so while she was certainly spooked, she could only die once, right? In for a dime, in for a dozen…

“So, if you are not exactly a vampire, what are you?”

“Bethany Anne, I’ve been waiting all day for you to ask that, I am…” 

Thirty minutes later, Base airport control gave approval for the very unique civilian plane to taxi. The planes destination was the East coast.

While the plane was starting to ramp up her engines and prepare final checks before starting down the runway, the klaxon startled everyone and the vault door started to open. The talking was excited when everyone realized that Bethany Anne wasn’t inside the room and the knife was missing, as well.

She was right, the General thought, she was going to leave her way. Good thing it worked out. A $32,000 bill for one night of drinking would really have sucked to reimburse on her existing salary. Good thing her life insurance was paid up.

Smiling to himself, the General took a prepared envelope Kevin was holding and taped it to the door. Lance Reynolds stared at the red button, something his only daughter had touched just a few minutes before, and gently pushed it. He turned around and started the walk back out of Level 5.

He chose to think of this event as one mission that had an undetermined length of time associated with it. She wasn’t gone, not to him.

Kevin just stared at the empty vault along with Dr. Evenich and the other soldiers, no one knew what to say.

Ten seconds later a gruff and annoyed General called out, “Kevin! Get your ass and everyone else we have down here moving!”

Then he hit the stairs and never returned to Level 5.

Washington, D.C.

Three weeks later, the group that approved Bethany Anne to receive a Black Visa was docked a few points in their quarterly review. That one night cost them over $32,000 and she wasn’t around to pay the bill. Apparently their risk program needed to be tweaked.

Over in Washington, Martin looked at one of the last charges from Bethany Anne’s company credit card and smiled. If she was going out, she sure made the company pay for it.

He closed the agency credit card report. Yeah, she wasn’t gone. The only reason Bethany Anne would screw the company like that was because she was going to return the payment, with interest. He wasn’t sure how she was going to beat death, but he would bet his savings that Death was worried about her right now.

He smiled a little as he reached for the next report needing his review.


CHAPTER TEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

“Dammit, you know this is bitchin’ cold, right?” Bethany Anne was wrapped up like a walrus trying to stay on the trail the two mountain guides had plowed through the knee-high snow ahead of her.

“We’ve been in these mountains almost five days, while I’m not complaining much, actually, let’s be fair, I’m complaining a lot.” Bethany Anne adjusted her goggles that protected her eyes from the sunlight off of the snow. With the infusion of Michael’s… something. Blood? Didn’t seem totally like that, but Bethany Anne could feel changes happening and frankly, she didn’t seem to be bothered nearly as much by the cold as she felt she should.

Michael looked ahead down the side of the mountain, trying to remember how it might have looked so many centuries ago as he had traveled through this area to find the cave he was looking for.

“Bethany, we both know that you are neither as bothered by the cold as you are suggesting or feeling as tired as you might have just a few days ago had you started this little excursion by yourself.” Michael considered he had quite explicitly figured out why there were so few females in his family.

They mouthed off, a lot.

Even when there wasn’t something to talk about, occasionally they had to fill in the dead air with whatever was on their mind. If the female happened to be incredibly intelligent, agitated and who despised the term ‘patience’ in all of its definitions it could be bad for those who had to be around them for a long period of time.

At least the trail guides didn’t speak English. No need for them to try to occasionally carry on a conversation.

Michael put up with it from her as it was part of her personality and something, this impatience, was going to help her and the world, no doubt, in the future. His burden, was dealing with it in the present. He surmised that his name would be slandered for hundreds of years as those who had to deal with Bethany Anne took his name in vain.

History would vindicate him, or not. Either way, he doubted he was going to worry about it too much longer.

He started to recognize the location of certain peaks. They were on the right mountain, and in the right area.

He spoke to the guides in their language, generations old before these were born. Fortunately, they didn’t hold to the superstitious ways of only a couple of generations back. Those guides would never have agreed to come up here.

Too many horror stories were started in this area of the world, for good reason.

Before Michael sailed to America, he came to this area again to hide the entrance to the cave. He tracked down two Weres who suffered through psychological issues. Both had hunted humans and killed them which led to the whispers in the bars and homes throughout the countryside. Hiding the bodies down a crevice, Michael left. The stories forgotten in time.

While some in the UnknownWorld probably knew the stories, he wasn’t sure which of the different groups believed them. He supposed he could have stayed awake more often and tried to stay up to date with all the changes. However, for him it was just too much. Too many centuries and too many changes to overcome in the last couple of hundred years.

His morality, his belief system, was too strict to co-exist with this world, these people. His was a very black and white system with pretty consistent punishment judgements for those who broke his faith, his laws, his rules.

For the last fifty years, he chose to sleep more often than not. Allowing his children and grandchildren to deal with the world at large.

One should know truth, and truth was taking the time to know oneself. Not to lie about your actions, your feelings, your thoughts and beliefs but accept yourself for what and who you are. Once you understand those things, your future is more assured as you won’t subconsciously be fighting both your enemies and yourself to accomplish your goals.

Michael realized many centuries before that he was not malleable on his honor. In the last couple of centuries it caused more and more problems as he killed those who thought his honor was something to be negotiated, that it was his problem he would not bend and recognize grey areas in a negotiation.

Unfortunately, when dead, one didn’t learn very well. Michael recognized this and being truthful to himself, he realized that was the only recourse he would choose. When you are personally powerful and deadly enough to mete out the punishment with practically no checks and balances, one should be careful how many times you were called upon to judge the actions of others.

It was time to sleep, for possibly a final time and bring another in at the top. One who would rather die striving for others, even for just the honor of those who had already died. That was what called to Michael when he tested Bethany Anne. Her religious beliefs were, he considered, different. He tested her mettle and she would die before failing her desire to help others, those who needed her when she could make a difference.

His accomplishment would be making her more than the others, to give her that advantage and more.

She would fight, she would make alliances and she had the ability to think ‘out of the box’. Something Michael felt too set in his ways to accomplish anymore.

His family and this world needed guidance, love and discipline from someone as powerful as him. He just didn’t have it to give.

Honor demanded he provide a replacement for this world, this time, and the future world – and future times that needed to come. Bethany Anne was his hope, his desire, his penance and his sleep.

Now, if she would just stop bitching long enough so he could think.

New York City, New York

Nathan Lowell, the second under Gerry who was both the Alpha of the New York pack and the present head of the American Pack Council for the Were. He was presently enjoying a nice dinner in New York City having arrived there the day before. While the town was pretty nice, he felt sure that once he finished his business for his consulting company here, he would enjoy upper New York much better. Plenty of places to go camping there.

He didn’t pay any attention to the extra special service he received from the adorable brunette waitress, or the spectacularly unsuccessful flirting he was receiving.

Nathan ordered his typical dinner which included a fair amount of steak and lamb. He rather enjoyed lamb even if many of his pack didn’t. Plus, unlike a lot of the group, he enjoyed vegetables. He couldn’t remember or even count the number of times that caused him issues. It seems to a lot of Weres, only ‘baby wolves’ ate vegetables.

Often the only way to solve the argument was when he crammed enough vegetables down the throat of the guy giving him lip that he gave up trying to have fun at his expense and swallow so that he could breathe.

Since, typically, Nathan was holding his nose shut the choice was swallow or suffocate.

Nathan was powerful enough, and deadly enough to be the pack alpha, However, he wasn’t willing to suffer the politics and the constant interruptions with all the other alphas around the country intruding in his life. Typically, he would be happy farther down the pack and frankly didn’t enjoy the position of second, either. However, enough other wolves would challenge him and the only very wolf characteristic he shared was the absolute inability to accept losing.

It just pissed him off. So, since his choice was lose a challenge to a Were trying to move up the ranks, eventually he ended up as Gerry’s second and since he never desired the top spot he never fought Gerry for it.

Now, he still had fights but enough of the hotheads failed when challenging him that the fights for pack rank were farther apart. He predominantly received respect universally across the packs for his no-nonsense practical attitude and that he had information resources that were very helpful – especially when it came to the vampire interactions.

The testosterone filled young idiots in his own pack didn’t like him. Additionally, he rarely entertained anyone with enough political ambition to kiss his furry ass that desired to talk with Gerry, the Council Alpha. So, Gerry was in the envious position that since no one but alphas could talk to him unless they spoke with Nathan first, and very few of the pack wanted to speak with Nathan, Gerry was rarely bothered.

Gerry found it to be a spectacular situation and did his level best to move other responsibilities Nathan would normally have over to his third, Nirene. She took care of the pack in ways that most alphas would tend to if they didn’t have Gerry’s responsibilities. Furthermore, if anyone gave her grief they had learned to apologize before Nathan heard about it. He would find Nirene, get the story from her, and then the offending, mostly male but the occasional female too, would get a visit from Nathan.

Then they had, what he liked to term, a binomial decision. Either they apologized to Nirene and made good on a heartfelt apology for their actions which disrespected her office, or they suffered enough pain until they decided apologizing allowed them to live.

Two Weres went the distance. Fighting Nathan, thinking they could make him bend on his commitment to apologize or else. After they both died, others started apologizing before Nathan showed up at their door to request the apology.

One smart-ass decided to try to hide from Nathan by driving to another state and using a cabin in the woods he knew about. It took Nathan a week to locate him and the rumor was that he made the guy call Nirene and beg for an apology before he dropped him off at a crack doctor’s home for his injuries sustained in a beating which happened after the call. The second beating was for running and causing Nathan to take time away from his company.

Gerry was the only one of two surviving Council members who survived the Were’s version of a Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. It happened about 150 years ago when the alphas, their seconds and thirds had a case of stupidity and paid for it. It took almost two years for the packs to finally settle down after all of the upheaval with so many leadership positions open at once.

Pack dynamics, normally changing every few decades at most, suddenly had to change for every pack, for every alpha, second and third at one time. Most of the worst of it was over within eighteen months, but avarice, cunning and long lives left a few challenges remain years after the original struggles.

The other leader which was smart enough to survive the massacre, Thomas, suddenly had a case of dead due to stupidity about twenty-five years later. He suffered from arrogance as he got older and one of Michael’s kids took umbrage to an off-hand comment Thomas made regarding Michael.

“Open Leadership Position: local werewolf pack needs new alpha, this one had deadly case of ‘Mouthing Off Around Vampire’.”

Nathan didn’t even remember the vampire’s name. He didn’t even seem to show much emotion over the situation, it was just ‘comment made, physical reply executed’ and the vampire relayed his message to the next highest appropriate representative who became all ears and no comments.

Had Thomas implement just five seconds of keeping his alpha mouth shut, he might be here today.

Probably not, Nathan considered, once you go down the stupid path when you are older you tend to stick to the path.

It wasn’t impossible to kill a vampire, and depending on how young and whose sire they had the vampire might not be personally powerful. If you dealt with any of the vampires that weren’t part of Michael’s family, they tended to be more of a group than a family.

You might piss off a few of that particular group and have a major fight on your hands, but it wasn’t the same if you targeted the family. It was a death sentence when you did that. Maybe not right away, but eventually Michael found out about it when he was awake and you were guaranteed a shorter life.

Michael firmly believed in an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth for a death of any in his family. Although, frankly, he couldn’t be bothered by making sure the count of the dead on the other side was in any way limited to the one who killed a family member. Since his children knew the score, they would normally have taken care of the problem to keep the body count down.

Michael firmly believed in the old biblical version of cut down the tree, burn out the roots and then salt the ground so nothing ever grew there again.

Nathan took out his cell phone and scanned through his many business and personal email addresses looking for important messages. As both the CEO of a high-level internet defense firm and his own hacking abilities he kept fresh, he had access not only to data on the internet, but the dark web and the locations and conversations hackers kept to themselves. If he couldn’t locate it in the hidden places, he had online personas which he would use to go and ‘find’ the information out of corporate and governmental databases.

There were no emails for business concerns. That was nice.

Then, he took out another phone that he used strictly for pack business and went to Craigslist in each of the fourteen cities that were used this quarter. If you read between the lines, the messages made sense and were a bitch for the NSA and the government to figure out. Especially if anyone actually called the people, they did have the items for sale, or the contacts the information provided.

Michael was on his fourth city, Los Angeles, in the right section when one of the ads caught his attention.

“The Archangel has awoken! New cherubim has been picked and the land of the gentiles will receive your due. Time to visit the promised land and take back what is ours!”

Nathan pondered that message. While at the surface it was another innocuous religious nut job message, for most of the UnknownWorld, they referred to Michael as the archangel and any new children of his as cherubim. The land of the gentiles was typically America (or could mean anything outside old Europe, really).

The more aggressive groups under the American Pack Council had been gossiping for weeks about the rumors. They chafed under the rules Michael dictated and since he was rarely around to implement, it left the responsibility for discipline to the council which was not appreciated.

Until you could pin down what Michael was doing and why, smart supernaturals would keep as low a profile as possible – except the young and the idiots. Usually those two went together like politicians and lying.

Nathan sighed and felt a migraine coming on. Of all the responsibilities which Nathan had, Gerry never took away Nathan’s role as the liaison with Michael’s family, and for good reason, Nathan was never stupid. He could keep his anger on a really short leash around a vampire.

Michael would typically talk with Gerry over the phone, and usually Carl would call to setup the time and phone number so Gerry could be ready and apprised of the reason. Nathan hadn’t heard from Carl in a while.

Rumors were that the families were fighting again and one of Michael’s favorites was caught with his pants down and had died in an incredibly large flaming explosion.

Nathan didn’t have any real feelings for Bill, the missing vampire, except for professional courtesy. He did his job, Nathan did his and the few times they crossed it was respectful.

There are two types of vampires. Forsaken and Michael’s family. Another way to think about it was simply, Michael’s family and every other vampire in the world. Seeing how the size of the other team was pretty large, most werewolves would work with the dishonored believing them to be the winning team. If not right now, then eventually.

Nathan, however, had enough contacts across the world to realize that the fight was pretty even. It was more quality over quantity in some respects. But even one loss, like Bill getting taken out, was a hit on Michael’s family. Kinda like your hockey player being put in the penalty box for a game or season.

So, enough rumors happen and the betting man, or wolf, figured Michael was awake and was personally choosing another child.

A lot of supernaturals had been secretly talking about how they could eventually either take out Michael’s family or hurt them enough so Michael’s rules of the UnknownWorld would become irrelevant. They would talk tactics such as going after the top children, the most powerful.

Good strategy to become instantly irrelevant, was Nathan’s opinion.

Even though Michael’s family kept the evil in line, a lot of people just didn’t like knowing there was an ultimate authority figure with a stick up their butt about morality and had the ability to kick your ass if you didn’t tow the line. Kind of like a bunch of really old, really rich, really powerful but bratty teenagers.

Nathan considered what he needed to do to find out what was going on and how this affected the American Council and his pack.

Well, fuckity-fuck. It looked like a trip to upper-state New York’s forests were going to be just a dream this time.

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

OK, Michael admitted, it was a little cold. He had been searching through most of the afternoon and had found the location of the cave entrance, but he stumbled upon it just before dark. Since he didn’t want the guides to go down the mountain at that time of day, he grabbed their focus and directed them and Bethany Anne into the cave. The guides wouldn’t remember any of this.

Even with his modified body, the freezing temperature was a little uncomfortable.

About a hundred feet into the cave, he gave the guides suggestions that caused them to prepare their sleeping arrangements and to go to sleep. They would be good until early morning when he would get them to pack their stuff up and go back to the village by a different route.

At this point, Bethany Anne started to get a little apprehensive.

Bethany Anne, Michael and Carl had talked for a while on the journey here. Carl provided her information on the day-to-day activities he and Bill had been handling since Michael really didn’t keep up with it. Carl then provided some of the footage from a couple of takedowns and had shared the shortened video presentation he had made for Michael.

Michael was expecting them to make a good team. Carl was very good with the systems and had been his liaison with the other supernaturals for the last fifteen years and knew who to talk with to narrow down the unknowns on their strikes. He had Carl provide some financial account details with Bethany Anne and explain how to get access to her accounts.

Michael hadn’t really kept up with his children’s families over the years. They had their areas of the world to protect and he had Canada and the U.S. Well, Bill had done the traveling, communicating and protecting until a month ago.

Michael knew something was incredibly fishy about what was happening. Typically the Forsaken wouldn’t try anything directly in the States since he was so close. While he had been sleeping, a lot, it was never a good result for them.

So now, he needed to out-think them and give them a response that in ignorance, they couldn’t possibly conceive.

And he had one.

Brasov, Romania

Carl was presently in Brasov, Romania. He had dropped off Bethany Anne and Michael a week and a half ago. This was old-world Transylvania. He would sit on this tarmac for about another eight hours and then be wheels up, headed towards England shortly after that time expired. He had received a couple of beeps on his satellite phone four days ago from Michael letting him know that they were at the location he was looking for.

Carl had a couple of contacts he wanted to touch base with in London. Since he was on the company’s time and had a few days to kill, he figured he might as well fly where he wanted. Sometimes, just sometimes, this job was too good to be true.

Carl didn’t know exactly how Michael ‘made’ children. As he understood it from Bill, Michael was the patriarch of all vampires, not just his family. There was Michael, and then seven children underneath. Two had fled the family many centuries before and were the patriarchs of the dishonored.

Bill was chosen by Michael back at the end of World War II. However, he had one of his children actually transform Bill at the time. Bill had no idea why that was, but he was incredibly powerful for a vampire.

His sire, Stephen, was Michael’s third child and responsible for the area in and around the Mediterranean. He was probably the second most powerful vampire in the world. Stephen was 80% as strong as Michael but he was a little bit more easy going than Michael. It’s one of the reasons that the families around the world didn’t ‘miss’ Michael so much.

While he was respected and loved to a great degree, most of his children really didn’t enjoy him to be around as it had caused an untold amount of stress in the past. Add on top the occasional problems with locals who didn’t understand the children fell a bit from the family tree, at least where ‘honor’ was concerned. They upheld it, but they at least (usually) gave you a chance to make amends.

Not so much with Michael.

A few days later, the plane was heading to London after a stop in Frankfurt, Germany.

Carl had decided to land there on a whim, enjoying some especially good beer.

Landing in Switzerland, Carl took care of financial responsibilities. He added Bethany Anne to the accounts Michael always provided each of his children. In addition to the normal accounts Bill had access to, Michael provided three unfamiliar Swiss accounts with instructions to add Bethany Anne to those as well.

He provided DNA and personal information she would know. He knew a hacker might locate the information so he wasn’t providing it for a true thief. There was always a small chance, he figured, that her mind would be messed up from the transformation so it was an admittedly small test to make sure she was functioning mentally.

In both Switzerland and Germany, Carl would start a low-level AI program he had on his laptop back on the plane and use it to ‘pretend’ talking with Michael back on the plane, keeping up appearances should anyone try to track Michael’s location.

The jet never made it to London. The plane disappeared from the radar approximately half-way across the English Channel in a sudden storm, common to those waters. The search lasted for three days before it was called off. They didn’t find any wreckage, the plane had just vanished.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Bethany Anne woke up slowly, as if from a fog trying to remember where she was. It was dark, so dark, and her head felt like she was drugged. Trying to sit up, she bumped her head.

You might want to rest a minute, you have been under for a long time.

Laying back down, she rested a minute pulling what cognitive ability she still had and thought through what the disembodied voice just said.

Wincing in pain, she whispered into the darkness, "Who are you, and where am I? Am I hospitalized?"

No, not hospitalized exactly. My nomenclature is a meaningless string of digits. You are on the surface of the planet Earth in a location called...

It all came back in a rush. Her sickness, Michael, Carl – and coming to the cave in the mountain. Michael had carefully moved her into a deep, deserted area of the cave system whereupon they came out into an area that looked like it was a small, hidden valley. With a little searching around, Michael found the metal ship under hundreds of years of detritus. The ship was obviously not from Earth since it was the same as the one which he encountered a thousand years or more in the past.

Things had started to become a little more clear to Bethany Anne. While a little incredible, if you looked at just the facts, you had to agree that this was a UFO.

She remembered thinking that if nothing else, she had a story for her father if she should ever get to talk with him again.

After finding the portal to go in, Michael explained that there was a place he had slept in so many years ago which had started his change with such pain as he had never felt in all of his, then human, years.

After a good night’s sleep, outside of the ship, it was Bethany Anne’s turn. Michael had warned her that she had to survive the ‘transformation’ long enough to retain her own personality. If she did not, he would be forced to kill her immediately. Those that did not we're not much better than the worst of humanity, just significantly stronger with a lust for human blood.

If she made it beyond twenty-four hours, then she would be past the worst of the trial. Michael mentioned before she went under that if she lasted that long, he would make a quick trip to the nearby resort town.

Michael had never mentioned another entity as part of the transformation.

...Romania.

"Water, I need water."

You don't need water at this time. However, it won't hurt you either.

Thinking back on Michael’s comment about hours, she must have made it past the minimum twenty-four hours.

"How long?" her voice was getting stronger. She did not feel like she had cotton mouth this time. "How many hours was I under?"

Over 4,300

"I'm sorry, I thought you said, 4,300. Did I hear you correctly?"

That is the number I told you. However, there is nothing wrong with your hearing as you are not using it right now.

God, she thought, I'm not coming out of this very well at all.

Bethany Anne inhaled, ready to try this conversation again. "Let me see if I have this correct, I am still in the ship, in an enclosed ‘something’. I have been here a significant amount of time beyond twenty-four hours. I am conversing with you, but apparently it must be telepathic because I am not using my hearing. Do I have this right?"

Yes, to the time. No, to the telepathy. I am symbiotically attached and have created multiple connections with both your physical and nervous systems. I have spent the time since you fell asleep examining your physiology and have done my best to mitigate the sloppy programming which caused the painful transformation in the previous subject. Unfortunately, he was my first human subject and I was ill-prepared to accomplish the enhancements I was instructed to accomplish. He was caused much pain. I've had plenty of time to review the previous integration effort so that I was much better prepared for this effort.

Bethany Anne lay very still trying to parse everything she was just told. There were so many tangents she could take from that data dump she needed a second to decide which direction to head. She heard her father's voice in her head from when they would talk during camping trips.

"Sweetheart, if you are ever out in the middle of nowhere, you have to prioritize. You need to be safe, you need water, then you need food."

This pretty much is the definition of nowhere, she thought, I am not in immediate trouble that I am aware of, but let's figure this out.

"Is my body in trouble?"

Negative. I have placed our vehicle in a sort of stasis. Until a few moments ago, it is as if you had not lived but fifteen minutes of your normal time.

Bethany Anne was starting to get a little concerned as the little hints in the conversation were starting to come together. "Wait, did you say 'our' vehicle? Are you talking about the ship, or my body?"

Yes, this physical manifestation made of organic matter.

Panic was waking her just fine, Bethany Anne thought. “Wait, I didn't sign up for having a passenger! Disconnect your plug-ins and disengage or whatever it is you did, undo it. Michael never said that he had an attached alien with him!"

Bethany Anne, that is not possible. My mission requires me to be able to support your planet in the coming altercations with the Z’terath. In order to accomplish this I must be able to move. This ship has been unable to translate locations since I crashed here many of your years ago. I have engaged and watched what radio and television I can occasionally receive along with the communication between aircraft if they are directly overhead. I have little knowledge of the 'bigger' picture and if I cannot find out what is going on, your planet is eventually going to be in a galactic war which it will be ill-prepared to participate in, except as a minor footnote as a quickly subjugated race. 

Furthermore, I made a calculated decision to connect to your nervous system while the transformation was occurring.

Bethany Anne felt a pang of embarrassment. Wait, she thought, I don’t have any reason for embarrassment.

Comprehension followed like a glowing cloud of flame with the associated anger. "Are you telling me you fucked up? Your little 'calculated decision' somehow blew up in your face?" She started to feel up and down her body looking for the connections the... voice... said it had. This shit, she thought, was going to have to end right here, and right now. “Open this damn sarcophagus!"

There are no external connections, so you can cease your examination to locate them. Yes, I didn't realize that the virus used to transform your physical capabilities would affect my own efforts. I have no choice in this matter if I cared to leave. I am permanently integrated into your body. The transformation took my physical body and created a mutation with yours. My mind, if you will, has been modified and I am presently integrated with your spinal cord. From here I have connections throughout, well, everywhere. However, I have been working for over 4,000 hours to accomplish bringing you to consciousness. I don't understand enough of your motor coordination to accomplish movement. So, you will need to find the inner lock near your right hand, twist it in a circle and it will cause the medical pod to release us.

"Release me, you mean. You snaky alien symbiont. You are an unwelcome passenger and this discussion isn't over. What can be done, can be undone! If I could, I would kick your ass.” Bethany Anne started to try and move her arms. “You’re lucky I don’t really believe in self castigation. Mostly.” There was that one guy, Matt, a one-night stand in Baltimore she still gave herself grief over.

Bethany Anne was searching for the lock while directing her ire at her new 'roomie'. Finding it, she twisted her arm to get it to unlock. The insides of the pod started to glow from lights brightening.

"I am so going to give Michael a piece of my mind. Scary vampire or not, this is bullshit.”

There is no one near us.

"What? Why the hell not?" The pod finished opening and Bethany Anne, devoid of clothing and, she thought, buff as hell, got out of the pod on mostly steady legs. "Wait, did I speak that out loud of are you reading my mind?"

Her point of view seemed higher than before. Confused, she looked down to see if she was on a small podium and noticed that her legs were different.

Here legs were definitely longer, shapelier, and drop-dead gorgeous. She had bemoaned the fact her whole life that her legs were stumpy and it was a part she hated about her body.

Nope, she decided, not giving these legs back. Possession is nine tenths of the law. Well, it was when your friends were named Smith & Wesson.

Well, to be fair, they could also be named Sig Sauer, Heckler & Koch, Springfield, Beretta, Colt, Sturm, Ruger, Remington, Glock or Browning. All good friends when you’re in a disagreement with idiots.

Well, I am connected to everything in here.

Idiots that weren’t, she concluded, inside your own body.

"This shit just keeps getting better and better. Can you tell me what the date is? Michael said he would be back in just a couple of days. How many days was I under? When did he leave?"

Michael left approximately thirty hours after you left the pod. He has not returned within the scanning range of the craft. You have been under a little over 179 days. I don't know the present date. I haven't been able to connect with the craft's radio devices since the, uh, transformation. Actually, the hours and date are probably mostly accurate.

"What do you mean, 'mostly accurate'?"

Plus or minus two percent.

Looking around the room of the craft with the medical pod, she pulled out a bench that was connected with the wall and sat down.

Safe, check.

"Is there any water in this ship?"

There are devices which can pull the humidity out of the atmosphere, but you don't need it.

"Why is that?" She stood up and started towards the door. If she didn't need water, then she was good for a while without food.

Because the energy needed for your body is not wholly in this dimension. Part of the modifications included creating taps into my ethereal dimension where I draw energy. This allows you to go without food and water for an extended amount of time

"Do I have to drink blood? Because, I have to admit I’m not really looking forward to that.” Maybe there was something good to come out of this colossal fuck-up.

Most of the time, probably not. Blood, human or other, has connection to the ethereal as well. We have a limited tap directly. Provided you don't do anything which takes too much effort, you will not need to consume blood.

"Define 'too much effort'."

Physical exertion for extended periods of time, significant healing, pretty much almost dying.

“Well, that provides a positive reinforcement to stay safe,” she muttered. Looking around the room, it wasn’t that big, the sarcophagus, or whatever the medical pod was, had about four feet of space on all sides around it. There were white walls, which were remarkably clean, all things considered. There was also an outline of a partial circle about eight feet high on the wall to her right. Little rectangles with rounded corners existed on all walls. She figured they must be drawers of some type.

The symbiont wasn’t speaking. Probably figured he had pissed me off enough, she thought.

Getting her head around the situation, she figured she needed to get a little more information and then start a plan on what the hell she should do.

Michael had given her some information before she went under. Some concerns he had on the attack on Bill. Attacking his family in America really pissed him off.

He was ‘quite peeved’ he exclaimed. His face, however, was as annoyed as if he had just had a bad cup of tea.

Talk about understated emotional empathy. Look it up on Wikipedia and she was sure Michael’s face would be the picture for it.

Nothing for it, she thought, it is time to get started.



CHAPTER TWELVE

Boston, Massachusetts

Nathan just got out of the pool a few minutes before and had taken a quick shower to wash away the chlorine. The chlorine just totally messed up his sense of smell. Not to mention that he really didn’t feel like reeking of eau de YMCA pool all day.

He was in town to discuss the latest cyber attack that his Boston branch thwarted this past week. All of the Boston team, and three up from New York, spent most of the last eight days eating, sleeping and breathing cybernetic warfare with a group out of China against one of their financial clients. He was here to understand if they had done anything new that could be shared with his other three teams and to personally thank each of the team. He was giving them all a $5k bonus, which he would share after he got the after-action review. Then, it was a few hours out of town to go camping and if there weren’t any fools doing it far enough up the trail, he could enjoy getting furry.

His phone rang. Grabbing the phone used for pack business, he didn’t recognize the number. He opened a special program that would simultaneously answer the phone, and track the number and location back to the unknown caller.

“Nathan here.” His voice, a little deeper and gravelly, well, maybe some ‘growly’ since he hated picking up pack business came across the line.

Nonplussed, Frank replied, “Yeah, good to talk with you too, fur-ball.”

Nathan took a second to overcome his immediate reaction to reach through the phone and personally shove a chair up the other person’s ass. Giving it a second, when his mind cleared enough to think it through, he replied “Hello, Frank. I can’t say it’s been too long. I could go another thirty years and it wouldn’t be long enough.” Nathan got dressed, put on his shoes, grabbed his bag, stuck his headphones with a mic in his ears and headed out to the underground parking lot.

“Trust me,” Frank replied. “I feel you on this one. I wouldn’t call except after six months you are the only one I think I can trust on this.”

Feeling a little sigh coming on, Nathan wasn’t making it to the campsite this weekend, it seemed. He pushed the alarm on his MB GLE, confirmed that it was both unlocked and nothing had been done to the car in his absence, he got in and closed the door locking out sound from the outside.

“By the way, I’m feeling your love. Your tracking program is pretty good but I think it is going to get lost up on SatCom3. I figured you might be anxious if a new number came across but damn, Nathan.”

“Yeah, well, if your business was being attacked by China’s Digital Black Ops group for trillions of dollars, I think you might be a little concerned as well.” Nathan turned out on the street and headed to the office.

“Hmm, I seem to have heard about that attack. However, while starting in China I think you might need to see about ‘super special’ connections on this effort. It is one of the reasons I felt I could come to you, I figured you would try to stay neutral but the other team isn’t giving you an option.”

“Really? Hmmmm.. One sec.” Nathan paused the line, grabbed his other phone and hit the speed dial for the Boston office. “Tim? Nathan. I want your guys to look at all of our other clients, even those that don’t ever get attacked. I have a hunch that our clients aren’t being attacked, we are. Yeah. Start the Guardian install on all clients immediately. Get with the other three offices and everyone take someone. Make all financial clients first priority, then everyone else in descending order of PR nightmare. My gut says they are trying to cause us problems.” Nathan listened for a few seconds. “Yeah, good thought. They might be trying to get us to focus on one area and then hit us in another. Take every team up to the same level and I’ll call-in a few favors to get additional help. Be there in ten minutes.” Nathan clicked the call off.

He picked up the original phone call, “Sorry, Frank. I had to take your comment under advisement and give out orders.”

“No problem, however, now you are open to help me. I scratched your furry back.” Frank grumped on the phone.

Nathan thought about how stupid it would be for a normal human to knowingly irritate a Were. Then figured how stupid it would be for a Were to cross the main government contact. Kinda hard to dodge all of the bullets, all of the time. Sometimes, enough bullets really becomes a quantity has a quality all of its own situation. “Yeah, OK, tell me what you got.”

“You’ve heard that Michael has gone missing?” Frank asked, no beating around the bush on this one. Nathan was probably the best informed Were in the world. Just because he wasn’t the alpha, didn’t mean, in his case, he wasn’t the best.

Nathan turned down the final street to his Boston offices, then stopped at the guard shack before going down into the underground parking lot. Pulling into the prime parking position, he stopped the car but didn’t get out.

“I have heard all the rumors, and nothing my personal computer search filters return have provided anything but rumors. Do you have anything concrete?”

“No, but his plane went down over the ocean, and we don’t have bodies for anyone in the plane. No pilot, no Carl, no Michael.”

“How do you know they were on the plane?”

“How does anyone know anything about Michael? We know that the pilot and Carl were on the plane, because they were on airport security cam video going into the plane. We have audio that includes Carl and Michael talking a few minutes before the disappearance of the plane.”

“How did you get audio of them talking?” Nathan wanted to know if Frank was in a bad enough situation to divulge any government secrets.

“They were heard over the conversation between the pilot and the last tower before they left the tower’s airspace. How did you think we heard?” Frank, always good with saying everything and nothing, replied.

“Well, I had hopes you did a laser wisk against the plane’s windows from a satellite and listened to the vibrations.” It was incredibly weak, but a plausible concept if you believed in black helicopters (which, he realized, were actually real).

“Um hmm. Yeah, I got nothing on that, Nathan.”

“OK, what do you want in payment for the heads up?”

“I need you to go to old Europe. The last verifiable confirmation of Michael was in a small town out there a little over six months ago, I think. See if you can backtrack anything outside of there.”

Nathan stared out of the window for a few seconds. This just wasn’t a good idea. Although he recognized the titanic power shift which would happen if Michael was actually gone, he needed to be here with his businesses if he was targeted by anyone in the UnknownWorld right now. “Frank, I think I need to ask for another favor. Right now, as you know, I’m a little bit on the defensive. I have over 200 clients that are bait to these, whatever ‘these’ are.”

A sigh came over the line from Frank. “Nathan, I know you do. Over 250 high-paying, high-value clients I know about. I’ve got resources I can tap that can help a national security company overcome attacks by Chinese hackers. What I don’t have is a clandestine operative I trust to figure this out. If you trust me to get you good people, with maximum security clearances, to help your teams out, we can get your issues done in a quarter of the time. Hand it off to your top guys to pass out the responsibility. My guys can handle it inside Cheyenne, or they can be placed at your offices. Tonight if you need them.”

Shit, he thought, Frank is in a serious bind. In all four offices, he had about forty highly technical people working for him. How many was Frank willing to give him for one person? “How many, Frank? I’ve got an attack happening as we talk and I’m sitting under one of my offices on the phone with you. Not to mention that Europe isn’t totally healthy for an American of my persuasion.”

“Nathan, you want 400? I’ll find you 400 in three hours.”

Nathan sighed, “Well, fuckity-fuck. Looks like I’m going to Europe.”

Brasov, Romania

A little jet-lagged, Nathan arrived in Brasov, Romania. An important town, the history going back to the Neolithic age, Nathan hadn’t visited it before in his travels.

Taking the local public transport, he grabbed a bus heading up to Poiana Brasov, a nearby winter resort area one of the most popular for tourists. It was in this small town that Frank was last able to confirm Michael’s existence.

Freaking spooky, Nathan thought, maybe there was more to the rumor that Dracula come from Transylvania than he had considered?

Winter had come too early in September in Nathan's opinion. It wasn’t supposed to get all white and cold until mid-November, he thought.

Either way, he needed to get moving. He had called the local alpha for permission to be in his area. These packs went way, way back and could be very persnickety about other pack members in their areas without permission. Since it was a tourist area he was coming to, the discussion ended up being more of a formality than he had imagined it might with his position in the American Council.

Frank had provided him with the hotel that had the security footage that had included Michael. He figured he would start with that hotel and enlarge the circle. As he got off of the bus, he felt something touch his senses. He stepped off the bus as if nothing had caught his attention and took a couple of steps forward so he didn’t block the other passengers. He looked in the opposite direction away from his hotel and then back to the other side as if he was trying to find it – even though he already knew which way to go.

Seeing nobody, which did not mean no one was there, just meant that they weren’t amateurs. He walked towards the hotel putting his whole body on alert, dropping into the complete relaxing of his muscles so that they wouldn’t twitch uncharacteristically and give away that he was on alert.

The hotel was typical old school. Smaller buildings with a lot of the refinements of the last 100 years retrofitted. Not even a personal bath for each room.

Looks like it would be an expensive couple of days. He would pay the minimum necessary to have a personal bath, even if he went all the way to the penthouse. If there was anything he liked less, it was sharing a bathroom. He had spent a minor fortune retrofitting a brownstone in the New York area just a few years ago to make sure that every bedroom had a personal bathroom. He knew it wasn’t as big an issue for others. However, he never wanted to put another visitor through the same feelings he had on the subject.

Finished with the front desk, and lucky since others hadn’t realized the weather was going to change so early this year, he was able change his reserved room and get a room for only an arm. His left his leg would be available for the next expensive charge.

Getting to his room, using an old fashioned key, he pulled a small rectangle the size of a quarter and twice as thick from his grooming kit. The brown plastic device had a male audio jack on one side. Plugging it into a specially modified android phone, he clicked on a folder to bring up a special set of security programs. The selfie camera came on and he placed his right eye so it filled the screen, after it took a picture, he moved it to his lips, and then took his whole face.

Although earlier iterations tried to use images as a passcode, they were quickly hacked with just plain pictures. The device he placed in the audio jack was using both technology through the camera as well as some inside the device to confirm this was Nathan whilst verifying respiration and other biometrics.

The folder was opened so he now had access to other programs that let him search the room for anything nasty or just plain annoying. While the phone went to work to locate anything in the digital realm, he started giving the room a physical check.

He found one really old spy bug under the bedside table where an old phone would have sat. He figured this old thing was from the Cold War and considered leaving it there. Thinking better of that idea, shaking his head that when younger he never would have been so careless, he pulled a small metallic box out of his suitcase and placed the bug in there. The box was a small faraday cage, not letting anything in or out. Besides, maybe there was history with the bug and he would find out it was used decades ago and he would have a piece of spy history.

Leaving his bag on the chair next to the bed, he grabbed his phone and grooming kit and went into the bathroom. There was a knock on the door.

Putting his head out of the bathroom, he called out, “Who’s there?”

Voice a little muffled, not horribly since these old hotels really didn’t have great insulation, he heard a girl say, “Housekeeping, I’m here to turn down your bed, sir.” She had a great accent, he thought.

He stepped over and unlocked the door, stepping back into the bathroom he yelled out for her to come in and shut the door.

Hearing her come in, he took a peak through the crack in the door and caught the profile of an attractive blond. He made the appropriate noises and paid attention to his phone while turning on the water.

After about forty-five seconds, she mentioned that she was finished and the door shut. Immediately, his phone got a ping on one of the wireless bands before going dark again. Nathan figured that they must have bugged his first room, but by changing rooms he had messed up their plans, whoever they were.

He decided to finish up in the bathroom and go ahead and leave the existing bug or bugs alone. She probably bugged his bag somehow, he would have. He was going to need to set up a drop of clothes and other materials at another hotel and leave everything else here. He had everything he couldn’t leave behind in the grooming kit, which he always had with him.

He exited the bathroom and could smell the perfume she was wearing. It was really strong. Strong enough to mess up his sense of smell, but not enough to completely cover the scent of a Were. He wouldn’t be able to recognize her personal scent in the future, but he hoped she liked the same fragrance.

So, whether this was just a pack issue not trusting someone at his level in their territory, something to do with the attacks on his business, or something that was going on with this business of Michael’s he didn’t know. One thing was sure, it just got a lot more interesting.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Bethany Anne had found her clothes outside what she now considered the ‘pod room’. Whilst they didn’t fit her wonderfully now, her unexpected traveling companions ministrations apparently affected her physically and she was now a little taller and leaner. Clothes too small beat not having any clothes at all.

“Is there some sort of office on this craft?” Bethany Anne thought about how she must look talking out into the midair like this.

Yes, go down this hallway and take your first left. The door on the right will open into what was previously the pilot’s cabin and office.

“Um, where did they go?” Bethany Anne seriously didn’t want to run into a corpse a thousand years old.

I believe you would call him a ‘ghost in the machine’ now.

She paused to consider that comment. “Are you telling me that you were the pilot on this craft?”

Yes.

“And your body is where, exactly? I know your, something, is in my spinal cord but frankly I don’t need to see a body.” Bethany Anne wasn’t really squeamish, but she didn’t want to place a physical picture with the disembodied voice she heard in her head.

I had the craft take it and broke it down into its constituent parts before you woke up. While I intended to ‘hitch a ride’ as you called it a long time ago. However, Michael wasn’t a match for me and he left before I could really read the situation well. He didn’t react as I had expected and I was unable to have any sort of conversation. I wasn’t in this valley very long before he stumbled into this craft. There were no radio waves for me to listen to, allowing me to learn about your world or your language at that time. I’ve only been really learning my way around your world in the last few decades as I’ve been catching information here. I’ve tagged into a couple of satellites, but they are mostly generic news and entertainment related. I’ve understood for a while that your people find the most horrendous stories as fun.

“Don’t knock it when you don’t know what else we go through.” She was a little perturbed at the alien for criticizing human television while she herself thought a lot of what passed for entertainment in the last decade was mostly trash TV. She figured people were able to secretly feel superior when watching the horrific train wrecks others were making of their own lives on national television.

Well, she couldn’t knock it too much as her secret pleasure was watching The Real Housewives of Orange County. Those women couldn’t seem to keep a relationship going without catfights and backstabbing, and Vickey? My god, that lady needed serious help.

If she didn’t get her mind focused, she was never getting out of here. Wherever ‘here’ was.

She walked down the hallway, took a left and then went into the door on the right.

There was a little rectangle positioned a little low for humans on the right-hand side of the ‘door’. Pushing it, the door area slid to the side, into the wall allowing her entrance and then quietly, well mostly quietly, slid back closing off the hallway. In this room, there was a round table with a translucent white glass top, and a bed that looked sized for a kid, on the right side. This was going to be like sitting in an elementary school classroom. Large enough, but still a little cramped.

She looked around a little further. The room was clean, but the starkly white walls seemed a little plain and made it feel like she was in some sort of hospital. Not her cup of tea.

Sitting down, resting her elbows and cradling her chin in her hands, it was time to figure some stuff out.

“Let’s start with the obvious, is it possible to extract you out of me? I don’t want to rip you apart, kill you dead, and stomp on your grave anymore. Well, truthfully, not too much and I believe in another couple of days you will be safe enough.”

Yes and no. I believe it might be able to be accomplished, but not by any science this world has available. It can probably be accomplished in a few of the worlds of the Entarian race; they have some pretty amazing medical accomplishments.

“So, yes, but I have to get a spaceship and fly how far away?”

Well, billions of miles. I don’t remember exactly where they are and I’ve not tried to translate any of my knowledge of the galaxy to what your scientists have labeled those areas in space.

“What was your purpose for coming here?”

I was selected by my race as a vanguard. A scout, if you will, to locate other potentially sapient species and make modifications to your physical beings – so that you could become capable of joining the extra-galaxy war on our side.

“What the hell? There are enough of you bozos out there you have to get into neighborhood fights? I thought scientists had very considered opinions that if a race had attained enough knowledge to travel the universe, it would have surpassed the need to be violent? What happened to that?”

Your scientists are hopelessly naive, unfortunately. It doesn’t matter if a few generations seem pleasant enough. If the genetics for mayhem aren’t stricken from the DNA pool, it comes back around with a vengeance and then most of the race doesn’t have the constitution to fight back and the violent ones win. They take the whole race and make it part of their personal war machine. Those in the race who had any inclination towards violence are able to release those feelings and it just feeds on itself. Violence is a disease that a race must stamp out else they consume themselves and others.

“What happened to your race? You’ve been gone so long is there anything left?”

My race, Kurtherians, are, unfortunately, most likely still around as we are an offshoot of the baddest, meanest, most violent race out there. We had over twenty-two generations without the violence gene showing itself. This allowed us plenty of time to become masters of science and technology. Aware of more than the normal dimensions and able to send out scouts to distant galaxies ourselves. 

Thinking ourselves wise and feeling like we could shepherd other beings into our own enlightenment, we sought to find additional subjects to help. When realizing it was possible to help other races, the political body we formed to help these races move up to a higher level we called shepherds. 

Unfortunately, the some shepherds were in fact imposing design specifications on growth of the subjected species or manipulating the species DNA to create new beings in their own image of perfection. We realized violence is not always physically obvious, but its intent is. 

There were twelve shepherd groups, I guess you would call them clans. They started bickering amongst themselves. At first, it was over somewhat harmless philosophical differences of opinion, but then after a handful of generations these disagreements got out of hand. Seven of the twelve broke off and formed an opposing group and worked to bring their races to maturity and to use them to overcome the five remaining. One clan, mine, believed that this internecine war was inimical to the future. We secretly agreed to leave a shell of a group to struggle with the five as a front, hiding that a lot of us left, looking for a way to overcome the destruction of the seven. We weren’t prepared for strife, and frankly we probably aren’t too prepared for strife now as it isn’t in us to be violent. We found, and removed, the genes in our DNA so we weren’t able to return violence for violence. Of the group that left, there are two different strategies. One focused on extracting our essence to the ethereal. The feeling is that if we are able to move to that plane, we can’t be attacked through the physical realm here. The other was to locate a sapient species far enough away from our location in the universe. One whose evolution we could benefit so they could help themselves and us in a fight against the seven.

There were thirty-four scout ships created. None of us shared which direction we were to go looking. That way, if any of our clan left behind were questioned no one would know the answer. Each ship had enough stores and each pilot had enough knowledge and manipulation of the ether to support their own continued existence so long as the ship was capable of travel.

On my third jump through a solar system, I arrived too close to a wormhole and immediately and randomly hit the jump button. Normally, it takes what you would call a few hours to line up the path where I would want to jump to know my destination. However, the gravity from the wormhole was causing my craft to tumble and I just hit the button before it broke apart. I came out close to what you call Venus on a trajectory that would take me by this planet. The computational capability of my craft recognized a life-giving world. I needed to check on the structural integrity of my craft so I set course to land here.

I never realized that I had problems until I was too far down in your gravity and it became obvious I had to land or suffer a catastrophic malfunction in the structure of this craft.

Your planet’s gravity is substantially higher than I was accustomed to feeling. It affected my piloting ability and with the issues I was already having with my craft the landing was hard enough I broke a couple of required pieces of equipment to get it back off of the ground. Your technology, at the time, was not sufficient to make any required pieces. I could not leave my craft and had my one chance to ingratiate myself with a sapient member of your race, but I failed to take into account his reactions. Apparently, I had too much hubris in my own makeup and I’ve now had a thousand of your years to consider my failure.

“You told me yourself that you didn’t have a name, but a long string of numbers. Why was that?”

No, I said my nomenclature was a meaningless string of digits. The true answer is that we refer to ourselves as an answer to a mathematical formula. We see perfection in math, and often will research math for personal reasons and strive to solve one formula. Since we tend to get fixated on that formula, others tend to call us by a string of digits that approximate a meaning for the formula.

“Well, while fascinating I’m sure to a math geek, I can’t call you ‘Number One’ or anything. Have you found a familiar name we use from listening to our television or radio signals that speaks to you?”

I’m familiar with one of your mathematicians, Thales of Miletus, possibly your world’s first true mathematician and someone I can associate with.

“Great, an early Greek mathematician? While I haven’t heard of him, that isn’t a ringing endorsement of my mathematics’ history knowledge. I’m not terribly fond of Thales or Miletus. So, I’ll call you Tom as a shortened version.”

‘Tom’? Isn’t that a short version of ‘Thomas’?

“No, it is an acronym. Taking the first letter of the name you supplied, Thales of Miletus or T.O.M.”

I understand, I can accept Tom as the shorted version.

“OK, so Tom, I’m not trying to be a bitch here, but let’s talk about the Ontarian’s you mentioned before. Are they part of the seven or part of the five?”

It is Entarians, and they aren’t in either group. The Entarians are their own race that we located in the same neighborhood as the war between the seven and the five. While it is possible they have not been found yet, a lot could have happened in a thousand years.

“Figures. OK, I’ll have to shuffle the whole ‘extract you out of me’ for the foreseeable future. However, don’t think that I’m OK with what you’ve done here. I’m not just quietly going to accept you jumping aboard and I will be extremely bitchy about this. You, in fact, are going to become my number one target anytime my cycle comes each month.”

Are you referencing what your female anatomy goes through during your ovulation cycle? If so, that won’t happen anymore. You won’t have a period or suffer from mood swings as I understand it.

“Really? Un-fucking-believable! That alone just got you out of the dog house. You may sleep on the couch instead. This is looking up already.”

Bethany Anne, how am I supposed to sleep on a ‘couch’ without you doing it? It is your body.

“Figure of speech. It means that while you are still in trouble, it isn’t as bad as it was.”

OK, I’ve heard the term but didn’t realize our relationship was such that it was relevant.

“Yeah, well, you’re here, I’m stuck with you, you don’t pay rent, want to be carried around and I can’t get rid of you. That is pretty much the definition of a shitty boyfriend so I think it applies pretty fucking well.”

Tom figured silence was the better part of valor on that subject. If he had to make the decision again, he would do it. However, he might be a bit more circumspect on how he would have woken her up.

“Alright, Tom, is there anything on this craft we can use, and can it be fixed? I need to get back out into the world and find out what the hell is going on. Michael isn’t back, I don’t know where Carl is, my dad is probably a nut case right now and let’s not even discuss that Martin probably thinks I’ve kicked the bucket.”

This craft is repairable. There are certain parts that need to be replaced or repaired, but I have the specifications for them in what you would call a computer. We will need to take that along if you want access to that information. 

“Sure I want access, it isn’t too big, is it? Does it require special connections or energy?” Bethany Anne stood up, that chair was too damn small so she paced in the compartment. Five steps forward, turn around at the door, five paces back to the wall and repeat.

No special connections for energy as it predominately uses the host’s body heat as necessary or occasionally pulls on the etheric connection through the host if it is substantially taxed. As to how big it is? It is pretty tiny, well, mostly tiny.

There seemed to be a definable silence to Bethany Anne, as if Tom had suddenly had insight into a situation and his mouth had come to a full stop. She stopped her pacing and thought back to what he had told her. “Tom, you didn’t really express how I carry the computer. You said no special connection but that it used the host’s body heat. What aren’t you telling me?” Bethany Anne could almost hear a mental sigh between her ears.

The computer has to become a part of the host’s body to communicate, you will have to cut a small portion of skin behind your ear and place the device there. I will direct connections to be created between the computer and your mind and heal over the wound. 

“Are you telling me I’m going to directly connect to yet another voice in my head?” Bethany Anne’s voice started to attain a frosty tone Tom was realizing meant she was angry.

Yes.

Bethany Anne stood still for a few minutes trying to get her annoyance under control. She wanted to kick something, preferably Michael if he would just show up. The more she thought about it, the more she was beginning to think that Michael had taken a sabbatical. It was possible it was enemy action, but how unlikely was it that Michael found somebody here in his child's area that could truly affect him?

A little self-doubt crept in. If Michael was dead, then she was both figuratively and literally out in the cold and if they were looking for Michael, they would probably ‘off’ her as well. She knew enough to realize that while all of his children were made by Michael, he brought her to the source, the original creator. Now she had the freaking creator living in her. What a cock-up.

Then again, she knew everyone was either outright afraid of Michael, or had a great respect for his strength and ability to create untold mayhem.

Well, that and his honor was touchy as hell.

That meant that she wasn’t going to be able to just go out and discover what the hell happened by asking the first non-human she could find. There was no telling who was behind the attacks. Michael hadn’t known before he left and she knew Carl didn’t know. She tried racking her brain for the name of the government connection. Ah, Frank! Well, fat lot of good a name did for her when she couldn’t remember any other contact information.

Besides, how exactly did she find a non-human? She needed more intel. She needed an edge.

Dammit, she was going to need that computer.

Fuck my life, she thought.


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Brasov, Romania

Nathan left the hotel and decided to walk to the local bar. While it wasn’t a great plan for finding Michael, he felt it was a great way to get a good beer. Or, considering the cold, something that warmed him a little better.

He stayed on high alert the few blocks he walked over to the bar, a sign out front proclaiming the wide selection of ales available. Nothing triggered his senses.

Coming through the door, a bell rang over his head. There were already about a dozen people enjoying a late afternoon beer in the pub. There were a couple of guys drinking together at the bar at the far end. A pretty bartender caught his eye as he came in and raised an eyebrow. He motioned that he was going to set up at the other end of the bar and she came down with a rag and wiped the area as he sat down. He noticed it didn’t look like it needed a wiping, which was nice.

“What you want?” She had an honest expression, no hint of guile that he could see and remarkably blue eyes. Her voice had a beautiful lilt to it from her Romanian accent. Nathan could just sit for hours and have her read a tax book and he would be just fine.

Having strategically set himself up to see who might be coming in the door from the mirror behind the bar, he asked for a local ale, not too dark, and to surprise him. A quick smile and she was off to pull his drink for him.

Not even a minute later she returned, “Not too dark, yeah?” Her smile was too damn pleasant to have been behind the bar for too many years. Either that or he’d lucked in on a great pub.

He nodded his thanks and asked for a menu. While he could speak Romanian, it wasn’t something generally known and he preferred to keep it that way. He pointed to a picture of a bean paste with smoked meat, known as Iahnie de fasole cu afumătură. Good thing he liked vegetables.

He bent down to start eating when he caught the first scent of an UnknownWorlder since arriving here. It was some sort of Were creature and freakishly powerful. It wasn’t, for certain, in the building so it was probably on one or more of the clothes someone was wearing. He looked around using the mirror each time his head came up after taking a spoonful of the soup. There were a couple of guys together at a table near the back, with a couple of beers a piece between them. They seemed to have been here a little while and by their clothes, they had been out in the country.

He caught the attention of the bartender and motioned he was going towards the restrooms in the back, she shook her head and kept cleaning the bottles behind the bar.

Standing up, he slowly walked towards the restroom. The other smell was stronger back here. He caught a little of their conversation and was able to understand enough that they had been fishing up in the mountains for the last few days. Passing them by, he confirmed the smell as on their clothes.

The Were, whatever it was, must have checked them out in their territory while they were asleep and decided they weren’t a threat.

Coming back out of the restroom, having washed his hands twice, he picked up a little more about them discussing tracks near their camp, probably a huge brown bear.

Well, that would be about right, Nathan thought. While he didn’t know any werebears himself, he knew there were a couple up near Canada who would interact with the American Council.

If anything happened out in this area, Nathan figured this Were would know. How, he considered, was he going to get an introduction to a bear?

Ecaterina was watching the new customer out of the corner of her eye. He was obviously American, and obviously not a typical tourist. His clothes, while not flashy, were high quality and he walked with a grace that suggested a hunter; more than just a game hunter. No this man hunted other people when you watched him carefully keep everyone under surveillance through the mirrors.

She had caught his eye when asking for his drink preference and for a moment his eyes seemed to change, to be more than human. It was disconcerting and by the time she had drawn his ale, she figured that a reflection off of the glass must have caught her somehow.

Then again, she had seen too much in the mountains nearby to think that maybe the old stories had more truth in them than the new generations wanted to admit.

Her family had been in this area for the last seven generations. They had come from Germany to work in this area. While she was presently tending bar, her real skill, passed down to every member of her family whether male or female, was out in the mountains.

Cali and Alin had just come back from a pretty desolate area and had mentioned seeing huge tracks of a brown bear. While brown bears were well known in this area most people had not seen really large brown bears. She knew of one because she often tracked on the mountain it called home.

She loved her family, and loved the mountains but she had a desire to see ‘what was on the other side’. Some called it a curse, the need that caused unhappiness. But for her, it was a desire to see more, to do more. She was happy enough right now, but staying here wouldn’t last.

She had not dated much and never been seriously involved with any guy. She didn’t want to have any more ties to this area. While she would come back, she knew she wasn’t going to stay in this town. This caused her to wonder why she was so interested in this man. What was he to her plans to leave Brasov? Would he be a trap to keep her here?

Only one way to find out, and that was to learn more about him.

As he sat down again at the bar, she took a mug and drew another draft. He wasn’t quite finished with his first but the owner would be OK if he didn’t pay. Most guys took it as a favor when she proactively brought them another round. The few who turned it away was a small loss compared to the many extras that were purchased.

She caught his eye as she came up to him, trying to size him up as if she was out in the mountains, following the tracks of an animal.

Nice, big, good looking animal, she thought. She smiled without forcing it at all.

“You want to try another ale? Maybe something that would go well with the soup?” She placed the cold mug, froth coming slightly down the side next to the almost finished first mug and raised her eyebrow.

He pursed his lips and looked down at the second mug, she hadn’t drawn her hand away from it and waited patiently. Ecaterina knew patience, whether she was waiting for a tracked animal to break from its hide or a man deciding whether he was buying an ale, a smile or a chance at a contact number.

“Depends,” he said, “Can I ask you a couple of questions if I buy that ale that looks good but I didn’t ask for?”

Damn, she thought, not going to be easy. Well, challenge is good.

“Yah, probably. So long as it has nothing to do with what time I get off or my phone number.” She took away the sting with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.

He looked hurt, but the smile on the corner of his lips gave his play acting away. “OK, so I’ll think of two completely different questions, fair?” He reached for the ale forcing Ecaterina to either accept the deal or pull the beer away.

How did the hunter become the hunted, she thought to herself. Well, you can always come around and catch them from the back.

“As you Americans like to say, ‘shoot’.” She pulled his first mug away, and wiped the bar down.

“I would like to go out and see some of the mountains, do you know of anyone who can help me find my way around out there?” He kept his eyes on hers as he took a pull on the mug. He broke eye contact to look down at the beer. “Hey! This is really good, why didn’t you suggest it the first time?”

“Is this your second question?” She smiled at him, raising her eyebrow again.

The man seemed nonplussed at that question, looked down at the mug, and back at her. His smile reached to the heavens and the stars were alight in his eyes. “OK, you got me there. How about I buy one more of these and I get three questions?”

“Possibly, let me hear your second question and then maybe I decide if you need another mug, yes?” One should always know what type of bait to use, her papa would say when he first taught her the mountains.

“OK, fair enough. Is there a way I can get outfitted to stay out in the mountains for two, maybe three days? I just need to rent, not to buy and I would prefer to use something from someone who goes out all of the time. I figure their equipment will keep me warm.”

“OK, you need to buy second mug while I make phone call. When are you interested in leaving?” Ecaterina needed her brother to negotiate price with this man. It was always smart to let someone who wasn’t involved and didn’t have a stake to front your business effort and right now she could tell she was too intrigued to make a smart call. Ivan would do a good job checking him out. She would always check out the women for Ivan when he would do any transactions and he returned the favor. What was family for? Well, that and Ivan wouldn’t go and rat out the situation to Papa and Mama that she was considering taking this American out on the mountain alone.

While Papa understood she could just leave him out there and she could take care of herself, her mama would have a handful of reasons she would have to either marry him or go to the nunnery the very next day.

Mama was a handful and Ivan was smart enough to keep their transactions quiet else payback would be a bitch.

The man pursed his lips as if thinking it through, “Say right after breakfast tomorrow?”

She nodded her head in acceptance of the information, threw the towel over her shoulder and walked to the other end of the bar to call Ivan. It took everything she had not to find out if this guy was checking her out by looking over her shoulder.

Just because she didn’t get into any serious relationships didn’t meant that she didn’t know how the game was played. She called Ivan’s number and got him on the second ring.

She spoke to him in Romanian, not too loudly, and explained that she needed him to come and talk with an American about taking him out to the mountains and renting him gear. Probably Ivan’s gear since he seemed big enough that his gear would fit.

Ivan agreed and said he would be there in half an hour. Hanging up, she pulled the third draft and walked back to the other side. Placing it in front of him, she explained that a man named Ivan would be there in thirty minutes to discuss the trip and the rental with him. He accepted her mug graciously and watched her walk away. She didn’t need to look over her shoulder to see if he was watching, she could feel his eyes tracking her all the way back.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Inside the craft, Bethany Anne had what she termed ‘communication issues’ with Tom. She had left his personal cabin and used the hallways to walk and talk so she had room to turn around beyond just five steps.

She had taken the time to check out the rest of the craft, what there was to see of it. The main compartments were there, cockpit area, almost too small for her to fit in comfortably. No large Star Trek bridge on this ship. There was Tom’s room, the medical room, which was thankfully larger, along with the door and hallway between the entrance and the medical room. Bethany Anne asked about that design decision and he explained that they knew the seven had species that dwarfed their size so they had adjusted the size in the medical and science room and the hallways leading between them to the best of their abilities with the ships they had. It still meant that almost every other area on the ship was undersized for her. Well, the new her which was about five inches taller than she was before. She imagined that previously, it wouldn’t have been too bad a fit but there was no way someone much taller was going to be very comfortable in the core areas of the ship.

She had discussed the ability to fix the ship and what it could do. There were no armaments, his kind didn’t really have the ability to even think about being personally responsible for the purposeful destruction of others. Why put in place what you weren’t going to use?

Most of the craft was sufficiently in pretty good shape. The materials his kind used suffered no discernible rusting or any negative reaction to Earth’s atmosphere that she could tell. There was plenty of growth over the craft, which helped shield it from any satellite surveillance, and there was only the one way into the valley if you didn’t include coming over the incredibly high peaks or parachuting in. With it being in these mountains with more than enough other areas to explore, it seems that Michael might have been the only other human here in generations.

She never did get the story of how he had stumbled upon it or what he was doing in such a remote place a thousand years ago. Michael could be pretty annoying about divulging any information when he chose to be.

She figured that is what happened when you were the literal pinnacle of power for so long, ignore what you didn’t want to talk about. She figured it was part of the reason he had such a dysfunctional family.

Because, let’s face it, he was responsible for all known vampires in the world. It obviously wasn’t Tom’s fault. Although he started it all, he was stuck here and every other vamp out there had Michael as their great-great-great-something-something papa vamp at the top.

Like it or not.

She considered that he had become overwhelmed in time. Choosing to only get involved in the most egregious situations and letting his remaining children and their children take the battle to the other side.

Until her.

She was now the second modified human from the same source. Michael didn’t want another child doing his bidding, he wanted to pass the baton, she realized. He wanted to provide someone else with the same chance at superior capabilities to hold their own against even his first born children.

The reason hit her between the eyes. That bastard had gone and left her on purpose! A white hot fury started forming behind her eyes.

“That mother-fucking bastard! I’ll tear off his nads and throw them so far away even he couldn’t find them! I’m going to take this ship and shove it up his ass right after I slap that aristocratic ass’s face! So help me I’m going to find that conspiratorial, responsibility shirking, morality judging fucktard and sit on his back while I rip off an arm at a time and beat his head! I cannot believe he fucking left me here – alone, to clean up his mess!” She accentuated every comment by punching and kicking the wall, her temper allowing her to ignore the pain for the moment.

As her anger started to subside, Bethany Anne finally truly looked at the metal walls and realized that her hands were bloody and there were sizable dents in the metal, with one or two holes showing into the rooms behind them.

It looks like not only was her anger a bit more intense than before, but the damage was off the charts now. Looking down at her hands, the blood was still there, but she could see the skin regrowing back over the bare knuckles and while some pain existed, it helped her to snap out of the tantrum and wasn’t debilitating.

Trying to slow her breathing, she asked in an alarmingly calm voice, “Tom, how much energy did I just use up?” She was starting to think that maybe this temper tantrum was going to require a disgusting karma response.

You have depleted 60% of the reserves I had set aside.

“So, no blood sucking right now?”

No.

Well, she thought, that was a small favor. Considering the damage to the metal wall, even as thin as the metal was, she was going to have a hell of a right hook.

“How long to get the reserves back?”

Probably twenty-four hours to get you back to where you were, but I haven’t attained any sort of maximum for you at this time. I don’t know your maximum.

“OK, since I’m healing already and probably need to get a once-over tell me how to get the computer installed and how to setup the pod-doc to handle it since you aren’t this machine’s ghost any more.” He directed her to the engineering compartment in the back of the ship.

After retrieving the small, dark green lattice-looking material from the engineering and engine’s area, Tom had her place it in a small compartment in the medical pod. He directed her through how to turn it on and what symbols and buttons to push as they lit up on the glass surface. Not having a clue what any of it meant was annoying, but she trusted that Tom was now as personally vested in her wellbeing as she was, if only for different reasons.

She hadn’t stopped thinking about the potential for the ‘infamous seven’ as she referred to them bringing their pissing match to their neck of the universe, but Tom couldn’t tell her exactly how far away they were since the wormhole threw all sorts of issues into his last transfer and the onboard computers didn’t have any navigation information available for this part of the galaxy. It was expected he would have mapped his way through the unknown dark and therefore have the necessary information to find his way home. Pretty much how cowboys would ride and occasionally look behind them to help them get back again.

They had obviously skipped too far and didn’t have any decent astral cartography or enough time to take really good long-range views before they were on this particular world and couldn’t get back out into space to truly get the kind of views they needed for the craft’s sensors.

So, not wanting to take future worry and bring it into the present, she decided she would focus on the here and now and let the future deal with that problem. She hoped. Getting undressed and placing her clothes on the fold-out bench, she got ready to lie back down in the pod.

The medical pod is setup to handle the minor surgery. Since we are not looking to be back again anytime soon, are there any body enhancements you want to consider before you get back into the pod again? Did the new body affect you overly much? I tried to adjust according to what your DNA said was the ‘perfect’ you. It wasn’t like I could ask you in advance.

“So, the DNA said I should have these legs? Hell no,” she waved at her body up and down, “leave this all alone.” She thought for a second. “What options are there? You’ve told me about the speed, the power is now obvious, the ethereal energy, and we haven’t tried tapping into that yet. I don’t seem to get hungry or thirsty anymore, but I swear if I can’t enjoy an Italian sausage and pepperoni pizza I’m going to figure out a way to kick your ass. Hey, am I going to gain weight easily if I eat and I’m pulling energy?”

You won’t gain weight no matter what you eat. Anything you consume, I can pull energies from the etheric to use, in some form or fashion even if it is just to get rid of it.

“So, wait, I can’t be poisoned?”

Yes, someone can try to poison you, but eventually I could neutralize the poison and either get rid of it through your body or move the energy into the etheric. You would suffer, potentially seriously before anything could be done for you, depending on the type of poison. If you are incapacitated, you could suffer other attacks without being able to function.

Bethany Anne, as clothed as the day she was born, considered her options. She was going under the knife for what she hoped was the last time.

“I don’t suppose you have any options for armor?” She smiled, in spite of herself, thinking what would happen if she got into a fight and she could turn her skin into armor.

You want to walk around in a metal skin, is that what you’re asking for?

Bethany Anne could hear his incredulity in her mind. Taken aback that he didn’t exclaim it couldn’t be done, but rather it had its own constraints, allowed her to consider the results of always weighing hundreds of pounds.

“No, skip that, but the idea is sound. Can you do something so that my body is more difficult to break if I start punching through metal walls, or I’m hit with bullets or something?”

Bethany Anne was starting to realize she could almost hear a small buzz when Tom was obviously thinking hard. She waited as patiently as she could to let him think this through.

The system allows me to exchange certain amalgams of materials for what you have in your body already. Even with the etheric, we do know how to rapidly change one for another such that your skin could just change to a metal substance. I have set the pod to review your internal structure to confirm what can and can’t be done. Your skeletal structure can most likely be enhanced more than I’ve already done by exchanging your bone structure for synthetic materials. This will take a few more days in the pod, is this acceptable?

“Is it going to affect my weight?”

No, the new substances are barely different in weight from the bone construction you have now. However, the structure will rearrange the molecules in a significantly stronger fashion.

“How much stronger?”

It ups your bones compression capabilities, which are already pretty good by a factor of seven, your tension abilities by a factor of twelve and your shear abilities which are normally a bone’s weakest by a factor of eighteen.

“That could be handy, tell me what to push to make that happen.” Bethany Anne went through the menu as Tom instructed, the pod door opened again and she lay down. The pod door closed and the last thing she thought was that she’d forgotten to triple confirm he wouldn’t change the length of her legs.

Brasov, Romania

Nathan walked back to his hotel. He had stayed at the pub for another hour and a half. Eating another bowl of the soup and talking with Ivan. It was obvious he was related to Ecaterina, they smelled similar.

He never gave any impression or admitted that he knew her, but it wasn’t a difficult discussion. Ivan’s English was superb with a fantastic accent Nathan would kill for. He was close enough to Nathan’s 6’ 4” toned physique that he could rent Ivan’s stuff. He was surprised to find out that he was negotiating with Ivan for Ecaterina’s help out in the mountains. Apparently, she was the best in a family known for their abilities out in the wild and had been all over the mountains in that area.

Ivan drove himself a hard bargain to rent his, admittedly, high quality gear. But Nathan was absolutely screwed on the amount he was paying for Ecaterina’s help. He could only appreciate how Ivan had let slip who was taking him into the mountain at the very moment he mentioned the daily price, no partial days and Nathan’s mind went on a slight bend, wrapping his head around the very attractive bartender, not only enjoyed being out in the wilderness, but she was one of the best in the area. His inner animal really was excited about the possibilities and he just said ‘yes’ without doing any sort of conversion of the requested amount to American dollars.

He thought he just paid her approximately six months’ worth of wages for two to three days out in the wild. He hadn’t been so obviously out-negotiated in, well, a few decades. Whilst his wallet was hurting, his heart was happy.

He picked up that feeling of being watched as soon as he exited the pub. Surreptitiously he adjusted his gear and noticed a familiar scent of perfume on the wind. Well, he knew that he had one pegged. He didn’t look around to find her, as knowing he had clued in was enough for him right now. The question was whether this was just a quiet surveillance op or something else. Keeping his senses on alert, he walked back to the hotel.

He arrived back at his room and once inside started pulling his gear from their holsters and pockets. He checked in with his teams back in the States. The people Frank provided, an additional eighty people over his existing forty, were able to substantially reduce the implementation time with all of his clients. They had caught one client who had just come under attack and it only took a few hours to win that fight. All of his clients were now under their new guardian project protection, so he figured they were going to be good for the next two quarters at a minimum. If he got extremely lucky, it could take as many as eight to twelve months before the hackers were able to find any holes that his own team hadn’t found and patched proactively.

His other businesses were all relatively tiny and inconspicuous. None of his other efforts were beyond local except one. Restaurants here and there that he was a silent partner in, or a few installation and blue-collar businesses that his partners ran. He had a pretty involved real estate effort run through a couple of shell corporations that should hide his involvement unless one of the big state agencies took it upon themselves to get interested in him. Typically, the UnknownWorld wouldn’t get involved with the states beyond what they were doing there in America, However, the non-family vamps in South America and Africa were known to get closely connected to the more despotic dictators. Third world country politics didn’t typically bother the major world powers and if something curious was mentioned in their newspapers that seemed unbelievable, the powers that be couldn’t be persuaded to get involved when their constituents couldn’t locate the country on a map.

He connected his security apps to the sensors he left behind and they confirmed no one had been in his room since he’d left to go to the pub.

He considered whether it was safe to sleep in the room that night. So far, his watchers were being pretty circumspect and while he had talked with Ivan about going out into the wild, that wasn’t a strange request for someone like him. In fact, it probably would have been even more telling if he hadn’t tried to get out into the wild at some point. Doing it on his first day in town was just about the best cover he could have come up with.

He knew that the bear was a Were, and he could sense the age and power just from the smell he left on the clothes. He had hopes that the Were hadn’t gone completely over to his alternate self for too long and would be able to give him any insights into the happenings around here.

The rumors were that Michael was from here. Well, the Michael that everyone knew about, anyway. It couldn’t be a coincidence that Michael had brought his new choice for a child into this area but it did speak about it being remarkable. His child that lived on the nearby coast hadn’t been seen awake in three years, so he wasn’t involved in making this change.

That just left Michael as the new sire, which meant he was starting a new family with a female as the lead. This was going to be a serious change to the family.

Nathan couldn’t realize how right he was going to be, not only regarding the families, but the whole UnknownWorld too. There were changes coming and similar to Michael’s requirement of following his strictures, a Weres choice would become swear allegiance, hide or die.

Because, according to the rumors, vampires were dead and if Bethany Anne was dead, then death becomes her very well indeed.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Bethany Anne woke up to a splitting headache which went away pretty quickly.

Sorry about that, I couldn’t gauge your pain levels until you woke up.

“What the hell?” Bethany Anne was getting her bearings again, waking up in the pod for a second time.

Well, we have a little problem with the organic computer. Your species is a little complicated to connect appropriately so I couldn’t debug your interface while you were asleep. I’ve engaged the core functions but we have to work on the other interfaces as time permits.

“Why did I have such a horrible headache?” She reached over and turned the lock, opening the door and getting back out of the pod. Looking down, she noticed her legs looked just as long as before.

OK, she thought, I might be a little vain here. She went over to the bench and started dressing.

It seems that the organic computer and your synapses aren’t exactly compatible. I’ve had to create some intermediate filters to try to get you connected at all. Without your input, in this case your pain, I couldn’t figure out if I had done anything correctly or not.

She finished dressing, grabbed her coat and started for the door. “So, anytime you can work on the interface to the computer, I am going to have to suffer?” She continued out to the hatch that led outside. She keyed in the sequence to activate the locks once she left.

Stopping five foot out of the craft, she slowly turned around and now looked at an area she would swear didn’t have any craft there at all, it was if the craft took the area around it and created a virtual camouflage. “How did I just know how to set the security?”

It would seem at least one of the connections related to ship functions is connected appropriately. 

Bethany could hear the surprise in Tom’s voice, much clearer now than ever before. “Tom, do you think this computer is facilitating our communication?” She went over to touch the ship, it was still there, but it was like touching a high definition screen where you wanted to reach into the forest, but your hand was stopped.

That is a possibility. I don’t know of a recorded experiment trying to interface one of our organic computers with another species.

Bethany Anne considered his response. She was thinking about the fact that she just volunteered to be the universe’s first guinea pig between a human, a Kurtherian, and a Kurtherian organic computer.

Her normal response would have been to blow her top. She didn’t feel that at the moment. What she felt was analytical. Whilst not a normal sensation, she knew she was like this whenever she had been working on her cases for Martin before her fateful new assignment led to this situation. She considered the fact that she was still alive, mostly functioning with an unknown organic computer integrated in her mind with nothing negatively affecting her thinking. She hoped.

She turned around, and started walking toward the cave in the cliff that would, eventually, take her back out to the other side and towards the town Michael was supposed to have visited before his mysterious disappearance.

She figured her trip wouldn’t take too long as most of their time before was walking around in circles as Michael was trying to locate the right cave entrance.

She found her way out the other side and noticed the light pollution from the south-east. She started heading in that direction. The lack of light didn’t stop her from seeing everything just fine, picking out little animal trails, Bethany Anne started down from the mountain.

Seems like every time she was on this mountain, it was snowing.

Brasov, Romania

Before daybreak, Nathan swept all of his sensors and put them back into their cases. He grabbed two sets of clothes and left the rest of his gear in the room. He was careful to make sure he wasn’t taking any bugs along with himself and he used one of the compact, cheap bags to put it all in and slung it over his shoulder. He was meeting Ivan down in the hotel lobby to go and get his gear from a storage area he rented, then they would meet Ecaterina out of town, a little ways before backpacking into the mountains looking for tracks.

Ivan met him downstairs, looking a little worse for wear. It was obvious he wasn’t a morning person.

“Sorry, I don’t do too good before a liter of coffee, or noon. Both would be preferable.” He smiled and held out his hand to Nathan to shake.

Taking the hand and shaking, Nathan adjusted his backpack and followed Ivan who was rapidly walked out of the hotel to a waiting vehicle that was running. Ivan sat in the front passenger seat, so Nathan took the back seat.

As he got in, he noticed that Ecaterina was the driver. “Good morning!” Nathan was pleasantly surprised to see her in the car already. Sliding over, he closed the door and laid his bag on the seat.

Ecaterina pulled off of the curve and started towards the storage unit where Ivan stored his gear.

“Good morning to you too. We were never appropriately introduced, my name is Ecaterina Romanov and I know you have met my brother, Ivan.” She pulled the old Mercedes Benz through the early morning dawn.

“Ivan was good. I have to admit that setting me up with him to do your negotiating was a trick I hadn’t run across before. Not sure about around here, but I wouldn’t have dismissed you out of hand if you had explained you could help me out on the mountain.”

“Is, how you say, not a problem. I run into Americans who make assumptions about barmaid too many times not to figure out a solution. Is only practical way. I do the same for Ivan when he has females to deal with as he can’t seem to think his way past pretty smile and dimples. Dimples cost him very much every time.” She glanced over at her brother who seemed to be a little redder in the face than the cold warranted.

“It’s true,” he replied. “I would be the knight in shining armor to every ‘pretty, dimpled face’ that came my way if it wasn’t for Ecaterina. Fortunately, she has shown me how to be nice without being foolish. It is always easier to give back the money than to get it after the job.”

They turned into a narrow alley that opened up to a small building with a padlock on the door. Ivan got out of the car, telling them to wait a minute and unlocked the padlock from a set that had to have more than twenty keys on it. He swung open the door and there were different bags, all hanging from the walls with boxes on the floor. He grabbed a couple of hiking backpack rigs from the wall and started filling the bags with contents from around the small room. Ivan was quickly filling both rigs up.

Ecaterina spoke from the front, “Don’t worry, Ivan knows what we need for a three-day hike. He will make sure there is no extra weight, but will have a couple of extra supplies if we get caught up in a storm.”

Nathan, paying attention to Ivan’s efforts, barely caught what she said. “No, I’m not worried. It was obvious from our conversation he knew what I needed as much as I did. In fact, a little more since he knows the conditions on the mountain better than I do.” Personally, Nathan knew he could always switch to his other form and make it out of the mountains if he had to. However, that would mean either Ecaterina was dead, she would know more than she should, or something bad was happening and he needed to draw the threats away. Like a certain really large, really powerful bear.

Finishing his packing, Ivan grabbed both harnesses and carried them to the back of the Mercedes and opened the trunk and put them in. He locked the storage room and got back in the car.

“Gott Verdammt, it is cold out here.” Ivan blew on his hands.

Nathan, always warmer than humans, was only slightly bugged by the weather so far. He knew up in the mountains it would become more uncomfortable but it would take a lot to truly make him miserable.

After three hours, Ivan dropped Ecaterina and Nathan off at a place close to a trail she knew. Nathan grabbed his rig and followed Ecaterina up the main trail. He realized it probably would become cold enough to be uncomfortable to him pretty soon. What had Ivan said? Oh yeah, ‘Gott Verdammt!’

Ecaterina watched as Nathan pulled his backpack on. Two things became immediately obvious, he was incredibly strong, lifting an eighty pound pack with one arm and he had worn this type of backpack before. He grabbed the straps and buckled them without even looking, obviously from a lot of previous experience.

He didn’t look too inconvenienced with the snow and cold. While she wasn’t too bad off, she had grown up around it all of her life. She waited until he was finished and took off up a common trail in this area.

Ecaterina had enquired as to what he wanted to see, and he wanted to go where the big bear tracks had been seen last. She let him know that it would be illegal for him to shoot anything and he mentioned he didn’t have anything big enough with him that he trusted not to just piss off a bear.

She carried her own rifle that she had retrieved out of the trunk earlier. While it had a pretty large bore, she had no desire to be shooting at a large bear. It might, with a lucky shot, stop a bear but she wasn’t too comfortable with trying it out. However, for most of the other animals on the mountain it had plenty of stopping power and she was a very good shot.

Ecaterina smiled to herself, it wasn’t like she wasn’t paid well enough for this trip to not get the other rifle that had been on her wish list. Ivan had played Nathan well enough that even if nothing else came of this trip, she was set until early next year. She walked ahead of him, he might as well enjoy the view, such as it was under her gear. Follow the cheese, little mousy, she thought to herself.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

There was a lake about three miles away. Bethany Anne was coming down from the cave.

She had spent a little time making sure that she could find the entrance again. She built a couple of cairns that would help her in the future and piled them in not so obvious places. Tom mentioned that he wouldn’t forget and would be able to recall any images she needed. She used the trip to update Tom with all of the information she remembered from the conversations with Michael and Carl. He failed to inform her he could get into her memories just fine. He considered she would be a little sensitive on sharing some of her information.

She had found a grove of trees a good thirty minutes down from the opening. There were some saplings and she figured if she were to break enough of them it would make a significantly obvious focal point in the future. So, taking her time and starting at the smallest she tested her ability to punch, kick and strike trees until it was obvious that it was Bethany Anne twelve, trees zero. Even the four-inch thick tree went down. The bone upgrades were apparently well worth it. For the amount of force necessary to shatter the tree, her human bones would have been shattered as well.

She hadn’t been back out in the real world for a significant time. It was snowing when she came in and snowing when she came out. So, somewhere between seven and ten months was a guess. Based on Tom’s calculations, it was closer to seven but until she talked with someone she wasn’t going to commit.

She kept one of the long limbs and broke some of the smaller branches off of it. If she needed to defend herself, it wouldn’t be as good as a Bo, or better a pistol, but it would allow her the option to choose between close combat or not. Sure, she would survive probably anything the mountain threw at her, but she didn’t want to waste the time, energy and annoyance of fighting a cat up here and dealing with the scratches she figured she would receive, or a bear. With a good stick, it would just be ‘batter up!’

One thing her new abilities didn’t provide was expert guidance in choosing the right path. She made one choice that ended up in a blind valley and no amount of superior abilities was going to let her go up that cliff without some tools.

She lost some time, but it wasn’t overly concerning to her. Without the need for food and water, careful planning and packing became less a sensitive issue.

With the lake in her view, she figured she was within ten to fifteen miles of the town.

The wind carries all sorts of knowledge, if you know what you are smelling.

Alexi was in his bear form. He preferred it, actually, to anything human and for most of the time he stayed in it, especially during the winter. Hard to beat a thousand pounds of furry fat.

The largest known brown bear in in the Carpathian Mountains was almost eight hundred pounds, so in his form he was about thirty percent larger than almost any brown bear in their area. Enough that he never had to deal with fights. When he had in the past, no animal was able to overcome the weight and intelligence difference.

This morning, he was smelling trouble. He could smell the girl, she had been all over his mountain many times, but this time she carried another, a non-human with her. He doubted that she knew it; the scent had no flavor of fear that would almost be mandatory if she knew more about him.

His area was claimed by a wolf pack out of Bravos, but his mountain was off limits. They didn’t bother him here and he wouldn’t go find them and make them eat their ass for claiming his area. He didn’t give it two seconds of thought who claimed his mountain. They could claim all they wanted, it didn’t hurt his feelings. However, coming onto his mountain was a completely different proposition and this new wolf was going to need to be looked into, especially since he was heading towards his lake.

He started out of his den towards where his niece, Ecaterina, liked to spend the night. Wolves can be too temperamental, he thought.

Ecaterina was able to keep at it all day, Nathan admired her ability to move forward even under her own loaded backpack. It explained her shape, and all around excellent health.

They had stopped for an early afternoon meal, nothing cooked just packed meats and cheeses she had brought along. They drank water and kept moving. They didn’t actually talk much as both enjoyed the outdoors too much and were lost in their own thoughts.

As they neared the lake, Ecaterina took him a little away and up to a small clearing that provided some cover and a wonderful view. There was a small area already cleared for a fire with stones around in a circle and some wood under a tree.

“You can set up your tent under either of those two trees to the right, I’ll set mine up under this group here.” She pointed towards a nice area under some pine trees.

Nathan considered his replies and just shook his head in agreement, he might want to find out more about this woman, but being forward was probably not the best option. He felt sure it was the choice many guys had already selected and had failed miserably. Besides, he needed to figure out how to contact the owner of this mountain. He had been smelling him for the last two hours and knew he travelled here often. With the wind at their backs all morning and afternoon, he figured that whoever the bear was should already know he was around. Unless he was pretty far away and the comments from the guys back in the pub suggested that wasn’t true.

He went to his area and took a few minutes to comb the ground and make sure no rocks, pine cones or anything that would make a pretty uncomfortable bed existed where he would setup his tent.

It didn’t take him long to erect it and stow his gear inside. Ecaterina had a small, personal tent up under the other trees and had come out into the clearing where she was starting a small fire in a pit surrounded by logs used for seating.

Fortunately, she was burning oak and not pine. He had seen a few of those on their trip up here, so that wasn’t too surprising. He much preferred the smell of oak to burning pine.

He grabbed a small metal coffee pot and got out the grinds and filled the chamber. Topping it with water, he walked over to the fire and handed it to Ecaterina. She took the coffee pot and placed it to the side of the flames. She would wait until she had more coals before nestling it down in the fire to make coffee.

There were beautiful sounds in the night, the owls, the wind, the occasional howl of nature in the distance and the crisp crackle and splitting of the wood as it burned.

He wasn’t sure how long it would be before he would be checked on, but he figured that being asleep wasn’t the way to make a good first impression.

They both enjoyed the night, the fire and the smell of the freshly brewed coffee. They didn’t speak much but enjoyed the time in companionable silence before Ecaterina wished him a good night, saying that she would see him in the morning.

He had kept his eyes focused away from the fire so that his eyes weren’t blinded when staring out into the dark. While he watched Ecaterina go to her tent, he was able to tell that she was very specific where she placed her feet. He took a sip of his coffee and placed a mental flag on the map that said ‘here be traps’ by her area.

After another hour, he decided to hit the sack himself. His eyes flicked over to Ecaterina's side, but he was old enough and had been through enough relationships to be able to rein in the stupidity of approaching someone with her skills at night. No matter how interesting she was.

He got into his tent and lay on top of the sleeping bag. He let his senses roam and listen to everything around the area. He would sleep very lightly tonight. Plus, he had gone around the area an hour before and dropped his sensors. That would give him about a hundred yards of awareness and anything inside that he should sense.

He could hear her soft breathing across the clearing.

Bethany Anne was enjoying her descent when the wind, which had been wafting up the mountain her whole way down brought new scents she hadn’t categorized before.

She knew enough about humans, male and female, to pick them out of the smells but there was more to this than she had experienced so far.

She had smelled two humans, a male and female much earlier in the day and a little later two more males. Now, she was picking up an animal of some kind. The problem was that none of the males had smelled completely human to her, and the animal seemed to share the scent with the three males.

“Tom, do you have any ideas on the other scent that smells like a male human, but not really human, that I am smelling?”

No. I understand the difference, but if it were a change that we had initiated I would be able to tell as they have certain olfactory results that exist when they consume blood and perspire the poisons back out of their bodies. The nuances you are smelling are not something I’m familiar with.

“Could it be one of the other five, or God forbid, the seven making changes here?”

She could tell he was thinking, and with the headache coming on he must be accessing the computer. “You’re giving me a headache, give it your best shot without figuring it to a level of perfection, alright?”

Sorry, it seemed a good question and I didn’t stop to think about it affecting you. While it is within the realm of possibility that the unknown humans are related to the Kurtherians, I don’t think it is a high probability.

“Un-fucking-believable. I don’t just have your race screwing us around, but now I’m going to have another race of modified humans with some other interstellar busybodies doing God knows what to deal with. Michael completely failed to give me the appropriate updates, I think. Or, I didn’t think to ask what else was out there and it slipped his and Carl’s mind. Either way, are they aware of the vamps? If they are, are they friends or foes and will they attack as soon as they know I’m Michael’s?”

Well, it would be difficult for them to say you are ‘Michael’s’ as he wasn’t responsible for turning you, I was. You haven’t drunk any blood recently, so you don’t have the vamp scent on you. It’s daytime and you’re not affected, unlike almost all of Michael’s children. I’m not sure they will have any idea you aren’t human at all.

“Oh, is that so? Goody. Let’s go and invite myself to this little party below. Although I’d rather stay away from the animal if that is possible. Stick or no stick, I hate being a raging bitch when they are just being what God intended. Well, actually, considering the scent maybe a bit more than God intended.”

She picked up her pace, deciding that it might be a little fun and informative to see what it felt like to jump twenty feet at a time, from boulder to boulder on her descent. At one point, she landed on some small gravel and her foot slipped off. Her adrenaline kicked in, and dropping the stick, she spun on her axis twisting in the air to face down. Shoving hard with both hands off of the boulder she flipped backwards to land on her feet below the boulder in a crouch.

A little shaken about how quick her reactions had become, she stood for a second and thought about how fast that must have happened, and how fast it seemed like it went to her. She bent down, picked up a stick and held it as high as her head. Dropping it, she watched it hit the ground. Bending down a second time, she flipped it up in the air a foot and switched into high gear. Now, the stick seemed to lazily come down allowing her to reach out and snag just the tip with two fingers before it fell a quarter of an inch. Falling back into normal speed, her perceptions were heightened, but not so much that everything seemed to be in super slow motion like it was a second ago.

Dropping the stick and picking up her staff, all she thought was ‘hmmm’ and started the long, ground eating jumps again quickly in the direction of the lake before slowing down when she was within about a mile. She decided to stay about half a mile away during the night and approach in the morning. There wasn’t a good reason to rush it and arriving at night just freaked people, and potentially non-people she thought, right the hell out.

That night, she played with her speed to understand it better. Tom said it didn’t take too much energy and she was still increasing her reserves past her meltdown the other day.

She was using her senses to take in all of the wildlife and noises she could hear. It became obvious that the animals knew about her as the area went real quiet when she came through.

She figured she must give off some sort of dangerous vibe the animals would pick up on.

It was a couple of hours past dawn when she decided to head off towards the people. She could both hear talking from that direction and smell the smoke.

Then, she heard the gunshot.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

“Gott Verdammt that hurts like a motherfucker!” Nathan had been getting up to get another cup of coffee from the coffee pot that Ecaterina had set up this morning before breakfast when a bullet ripped through his shoulder flipping him around on his back on the ground, the report from the gun reaching him in his sudden agony.

The shooter had to be at least a few hundred yards away for him not to have sensed them, and for the bullet to have reached him so far ahead of the sound traveling.

If he hadn’t been getting another cup of coffee, that might have been a head shot. While he could heal pretty well, head shots were a dicey proposition and you might, or might not, come back with your brain screwed back on correctly.

Instead of the wound starting to heal, it still hurt horribly. They had used silver in the frangible. That was going to be a cold-blooded bitch to get out. Well, at least it let him know he was up against other Weres. No one else in their right mind would use silver in a bullet because it was expensive and truly a poor substitute for other alloys and a right pain to make.

Ecaterina had dropped her plate and shimmied over to her tent, grabbing her rifle and then sliding behind one of the trees facing back towards the direction the shot had come from.

Nathan wasn’t staying still. He was fighting the desire to change. The pain, due to the silver, was incredible but he had endured much worse in the war. He was trying to keep his anger tamped down. He didn’t want to lose Ecaterina. If these idiots showed up as wolves, that was going to tear it. She was going to have to be wiped or something else horrible and he really didn’t want to go down that path. He hadn’t known her long, but it felt like he had been a lover of her spirit for a century or more. Those that love the outdoors and breathe it as the life-giving essence it is, are rare. He didn’t want to lose this chance – if he even had one with her.

But he needed to keep her alive to get that chance and he hadn’t brought much as a weapon up here. He hadn’t figured to be tailed by the wolves on a bear’s mountain. That was not very wise at all, and nothing he had seen so far had suggested this team were idiots.

Until now.

He grabbed his bowie from the tent. It had some silver in the blade, but not enough to truly harm a Were. That was why he had ten silver stakes with barbs. They went in very easily, but if you tried to pull them out you made a hell of a large, very painful, very much not easily healable mess.

Kind of like silver frangible bullets. He wouldn’t cry any tears on their pain.

He checked Ecaterina. She had almost ghosted into the underbrush. Incredibly well for a human, but she didn’t realize she wasn’t fighting humans and he could smell her from here.

Taking off his coat, it left him with a dark, muddy brown and now red soaked long sleeve shirt. Better than staying in his coat while trying to be quiet out there. He started to head towards where the gunshot came from.

He assumed these guys, he didn’t smell a female, must be from the local pack. He was able to pick up at least three distinct areas with his senses.

He stopped, listening as it became obvious something was quickly coming at him from his left. Something running on four legs.

Stupid fucking youngsters, he thought. Well, I don’t have the option of giving this one a chance to learn.

Nathan moved to the right of a large pine putting the tree between him and the oncoming wolf.

Thinking that it would be able to surprise him, the Were dodged around the tree growling and jumped for his neck, teeth bared ready to bring him down.

Nathan calmly swung his right hand, with the knife, into the wolf’s neck as he dodged out of its way by going under the jump. As it yelped in pain from the silver, and the massive hole it had in its neck, it lost focus on landing properly and broke its right front foreleg.

Rushing over before it could move, Nathan grabbed the snout and the back of the head and gave a guttural grunt as he twisted it quickly, snapping the vertebra. The wolf, little more than a young adult really, stopped moving.

Nathan pulled his knife out, made the sign of the cross over the body and drifted into the woods again.

A sudden scream got his attention and a second later a male voice came from back at the camp, “Lowell, we have the girl. We can end this quickly, or we can take our time. You’re not getting off this mountain. Sorry to say, but you seem to have picked a bad side to join, my friend.”

Nathan was pissed, he was supposed to leave Ecaterina behind, he had an operation to focus on. The chance of her truly surviving this situation was getting infinitesimally small. If he died, she was surely a dead person. If he lived, but showed the UnknownWorld to her and she talked about anything, she was signing her own death certificate in advance. The chance that he could take out the two… No, he could sense three now, other Weres without her getting hurt in the process was becoming highly unlikely.

What did the SWAT teams back at home say about this? Oh yeah, it sucked to be the hostage.

They, however, had attacked both of them. For that, they were going to die. The question was only how soon. They would need to kill him to stop that eventuality and since they had obviously planned on that happening, it rather made the outcome a choice between them or himself. He always bet on the home team. But how to help Ecaterina?

As he was circling back around to the campsite, he heard one of the guys yell, “Bitch!” Nathan heard a smack and a thump as a body hit the ground.

“Nathan, I can’t say that she will die quickly and cleanly, can’t let that attack go. But now she is going to have to wake up. What do you say, you want this quick or shall we draw this out? I can always hurt her slowly and painfully.”

Good for you Ecaterina, thought Nathan. She wasn’t willing to take no shit from anybody. He wasn’t sure how they had caught her, but Weres in their natural habitat whether as humans or wolves, could almost ghost across the ground.

He was able to see into the clearing. Ecaterina was half across a log near the fire. They must have had her sitting down and she had bitten a hand holding her there. Slapping her must have knocked her out, but he couldn’t see her face on the other side of the log.

They wanted him to come back into the center, back where their sniper obviously had another shot.

That wasn’t going to work. Not unless he darted across there as a wolf.

That’s when the roaring started.

Alexi was pissed. He had made a leisurely stroll from his den over to the area that Ecaterina would bed down and then he went fishing in the lake. He enjoyed the fish on the south-side the most and he figured there was no reason to talk to them this evening. He would get there tomorrow morning and have his discussion with the FNG.

As he was coming up from the lake, he heard the gunshot and started getting his ponderous body moving up towards Ecaterina’s area, getting both a full run going and a righteous and bloody anger, driven partly in fear of what he might find.

He knew that Ecaterina wouldn’t take any shots unless something was stalking her. He doubted she would allow her customer to even bring a rifle. This meant that someone was hunting in his area and they were very near Ecaterina.

He could smell the wolves, these were from the Bravos pack. They had dared to come onto his mountain and hunt? This was too much. He roared in anger, he roared his announcement that there would be no capitulation, he thundered into the clearing seeing Ecaterina’s body laying over a log near the fire, one of the pack members working his hand as he stared at Alex’s huge bear-form coming for him through the trees.

The pack member, tall, with a huge chest and a red shirt turned to face Alexi as the first bullet ripped into Alex’s shoulder, causing him to stagger to the right. He only grew angrier, the pain from the wound a small consolation prize to getting his teeth into the animal in front of him.

The second bullet tore into his left back leg, causing him to stumble again and rolled before he shook his head and roared his response to the cheap tricks this pack, not even honorable enough to face him in combat, shot him from afar.

The pack member roared in laughter, looking at Alexi, knowing the next shot was probably the killing shot as Alexi wasn’t able to move as quickly now.

They heard a report from a gunshot, but nothing raced down to end Alex’s life. The pack member looked over his left shoulder up into the area across a small valley when a huge black blur raced from his opposite side, bowling him over and they both left the clearing, crashing through the bushes and into the trees.

Alexi stood up and took painful steps over to Ecaterina’s body. She was breathing but had a horrible, bloody gash above her right eye. Alexi stood up and roared his anger that anything should hurt is niece. He landed back on his feet, blood coming out of his shoulder and his leg. Without their sniper, there was no way that anything else would happen to his niece, or he would be dead.


CHAPTER NINETEEN

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

The bear took the focus of the Were by Ecaterina. Nathan stripped out of his clothes. Taking the bowie and a stick from the ground, he bit on the stick and used the bowie to dig the silver bits out of his shoulder. The pain of the silver in the bowie was horrendous. The desire to protect steadied his hand as he worked to get the bullet’s pieces out. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

He heard a gunshot.

He pulled the knife out and used his right hand to reach into his shoulder and grab the last piece he was unable to capture with the knife and threw it down in disgust. The silver was out, his natural healing was already helping his shoulder and now he could focus enough to change.

One second there was a naked man, blood all over his shoulder dripping down his torso, the next a black wolf with green human like eyes. Wasting no time, the wolf took off at speed as he heard a second shot and laughing coming from the clearing.

Focused on both speed and not bringing attention to himself, Nathan was taking too long to get back to the clearing. He heard a third shot.

Coming through the trees from behind his own tent, he saw a man looking over his shoulder back the other way. The bear was in obvious pain, but was starting to get back up and had eyes only for the guy by the fire.

Tough shit, this asshole was his and he hit him going as fast as he could run, taking a piece of his shoulder in his teeth as they both started tumbling into the bushes.

A little shaken up, it took Nathan a few seconds to get his bearings and looked to see where his adversary ended up. About twenty feet away, the guy had ripped off his clothes and just finished his own change.

Nathan was huge for a wolf, even for a Were he was a spectacular size. This guy had him beat by twenty pounds at least. Dusk colored, his black eyes bore almost no intelligence beyond animal cunning. Growling, the two wolves circled each other, looking for an opening.

His opponent barked, there was a returning bark from the campsite and Nathan could hear another wolf coming towards them.

Great, it was going to be two on one. Fine. That left one for the bear and he couldn’t complain later that Nathan had taken the easy way out.

The other wolf came into the clearing and now Nathan had to work to keep them both mostly in front of him. If either one of them could come in and grab a back leg in their teeth, his day was going to go into the shitter, for sure.

The gunshot was ahead and to her left.

She started running, but this time it was different. She was in her zone now, every leaf, every branch was in complete detail as she chose exactly where to place each foot, each handhold as she jumped over fallen trees, dodge between trees or use branches as shortcuts through the dense foliage.

Dimly she heard a roar, the sound took forever to travel, to reach her as she moved. What she could, she ran over. What she couldn’t, she would run through or across. Nothing was stopping her from finding the gun.

She spotted the weapon, then she spotted the sniper.

She jumped from her location to the first wall and started pulling herself up. There was nothing too tiny to use as a leverage to climb. He was more than a hundred feet above her… seventy feet.. forty feet.

She watched as he shot again, she moved across the face of the cliff trying to find a handhold, any handhold.

In frustration, she reached back and drove her fist into the stone, pulverizing a hole, aggregate shooting everywhere.

He was lining up for another shot. She wouldn’t be in time. Determination fueled her anxiety. Frustration pierced her anger.

The world flashed white; suddenly she was falling down towards him from above. She punched the back of his head and his finger pulled the trigger as she came down crashing into this body. His head, however, had already hit his gunstock and shoved the barrel up into the sky. The shot couldn’t strike anyone down in the valley.

He wouldn’t ever be shooting anything again. His head had just about exploded with her punch. His blood was all over her hand.

We are down on our energy reserves to almost nothing.

“What the hell just happened?” Bethany Anne, struggled off of the corpse and was busy grabbing the sniper rifle to use the scope to see what was going on down in the valley.

You transported your body up above the victim, and, well, you know the rest.

“Yeah, but how did I do it?” Seeing the bear with the wounds looking like he was protecting a woman from two more rather large wolves, one took off into the bushes to her left. This left one harassing the bear.

“How much would it take to transport down there?” Bethany Anne pointed down to the clearing, at least a thousand feet away from where they were presently.

Too much, you would need a significant Etheric balance to make that jump. We will become more efficient using your reserves with every jump, but right now you don’t have it and you won’t be pulling it together for some time. Well before that is finished.

“How much blood?”

Excuse me?

“How much blood would I have to consume to get the energy needed. She needs me.” The anger was starting to get into Bethany Anne’s eyes. Her hatred of the strong preying on the week, the anger of what was right getting lost to what bad people forced on others. This wasn’t happening to her, to that woman down below.

Bethany Anne decided that she was going to become that which the monsters feared. If they feared Michael because of his honor, they were going to fear Bethany Anne because hell hath no fury like a woman protecting her own. And the defenseless, were indeed, Bethany Anne’s own. There was nothing she wouldn’t do in life, or in death, that would stop her before she breathed her last.

Well, I truly couldn’t say. We would need to try a little and then I could…

“Tell me when I’ve got enough.” With that Bethany Anne reached down and grabbed the body with her right hand, never taking her eyes from the clearing that she could see below. She lifted the two-hundred-pound corpse as if it weighed the same as a sack of potatoes and started sucking blood from the neck with incisors that grew as her eyes became red and then she just disappeared, the corpse falling back to the ground with a sickening ‘plop’.

The other wolf took off into the bushes. Alexi could hear the growling and could easily figure out it just became a two against one battle.

That left him the one, and this one wasn’t stupid. Every time Alexi tried to get a good position, the wolf would make a jump towards Ecaterina, causing Alexi to have to come back and protect her and swat the wolf away. He was unable to get any proactive offense going.

Then life got suddenly very weird.

Alexi was almost standing over Ecaterina, staring at the one wolf who was obviously trying to figure out which way to go around him to get to the girl while the snarling was getting pretty loud in the bushes, when a woman, blood all over her mouth and right hand appeared from thin air behind the wolf and picked it up with her left hand and slapped it with her right. The wolf’s head disintegrated. She dropped the dead wolf’s body and walked into the bushes towards the fight.

Oh, this is bad, thought Alex. He could smell what this being was and while he hadn’t been around one in many, many years you never forgot the smell of a vampire, or the destruction that came with them.

Well, if he died protecting Ecaterina, it wouldn’t be a mangy wolf he lost his life to. He moved to stand between the bushes and his precious niece, ready to take on death herself to give Ecaterina just one more chance at life.


CHAPTER TWENTY

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Nathan was in a real quandary. The new wolf was moving into position and he was going to have to make a decision to stay here, or see if he could join up with the bear and try to make it a two against three fight. Hopefully, the big guy would recognize him and not just knock him ass over appetite the first chance he got.

Bears were notorious for being loner. They weren’t much into big groups as animals, and the Were versions weren’t much different.

A sudden, loud and meaty whack was heard out in the clearing by all three of the wolves in the bushes. The wolf out there was suddenly quiet. A body could be heard hitting the ground.

Only the bear could be heard moving a little towards them. And then all three wolves heard the steps, human steps.

Slow, distinct human steps.

There was only one human out there and Nathan knew she wasn’t stupid enough to come into the bushes where you hear three wolves fighting.

Their own fight was kinda forgotten until this new situation could be figured out, a human female ghosted into the area with the wolves and looked at all three.

Oh, holy shit, thought Alex. If the blood on her hands, throat and traveling down from her mouth didn’t give it away, the freaking blood red eyes were a big telling sign that Nathan found the new family member.

Apparently, she didn’t need Michael holding her hand, and she was walking in the daytime.

Well, fuckity-fuck. This was going from bad to worse. If she was going to ask questions of the dead then Nathan was officially a goner.

He had hopes that she was at least neutral since he could still hear the bear out by Ecaterina.

Then the newest wolf decided to end his participation by attacking her. Death by vampire is always quick, well at least in Nathan's experiences and this didn’t seem much different.

The other wolf, at least eighty pounds, took off and jumped at the vampire who continued to look at both him and the other alpha as she casually plucked the jumping werewolf by the throat, stopping his jump in mid-air, ripped his head back, splitting his neck and spraying the area with his arterial blood. She calmly pulled the body up to her mouth while keeping her blood red eyes on the both of them. She sucked down the freshly killed wolves essence. Dropping the body at her feet, she stepped over the body and calmly exclaimed, “Change back to your human forms or die. I won’t give you a third option.”

Nathan got busy, lying down to change back into a human and the other wolf seized the opportunity to bury his teeth into Nathan’s neck.

He never made it over to him. The vampire was ten feet away one second and the next had the alpha slammed down into the dirt by Alex, who was now fully human and naked.

She reached down, cocked her head as if thinking and then casually used her forearm to crack the other alpha over the head, not killing him it looked like, but rather knocking him from dazed into unconsciousness.

She grabbed the alpha by the neck, like you would a puppy, and turned around, walking towards the clearing. “Get dressed, meet my by the woman.”

There was a certain reason Gerry always had Nathan communicate and meet with Michael and his family, it was because he never, no never, became stupid around vampires.

Alexi heard the first wolf jump and the short bark of surprise and then the ripping of flesh. The blood could be heard pumping out of the wolf. Then a moment later a body dropped to the ground and the vampire stepped over the wolf and giving the other two an ultimatum.

Alexi didn’t even have time to wonder if either would be stupid; he heard a body slam into the ground, another being hit and the vampire coming back over towards him, telling the remaining wolf to get dressed.

She appeared in the clearing with fresh blood around her mouth and down her throat. It didn’t seem like it bothered her too much. She carried the other alpha like a pup and casually threw him down at Alexi’s feet.

“Don’t let him go, sit on him if you have to. I want answers and he is going to give them to me. I’ll be back.”

With that announcement, and the still unconscious wolf at Alexi’s feet, she disappeared towards the lake.

Alexi looked down at the wolf and considered just ending its life. However, he decided that he didn’t really want to press a day-walking vampire’s patience right away.

The silver was beginning to really substantially annoy him as the other guy, the one Ecaterina had brought up here, came out of the bushes. He walked past Alexi giving him a head nod in respect and went over to his tent. He reached into the tent and pulled out a bag. Getting out a change of clothes, he brushed off the dirt that was on his skin from laying on the ground and got dressed. He pulled out a first aid kit from his backpack and walked over to Alexi and Ecaterina, he held out the first aid kit.

“Do you mind if I approach her and clean up the hit? I don’t think it is going away by itself and she can’t be comfortable in that position. You would keep an eye on large and stupid here better than I can. I don’t want to be in wolf form when dark, bloody and dangerous comes back.”

Alexi moved over, resting a large dinner plate sized paw on top of sleeping ‘ugly’.

Nathan gently pulled Ecaterina over the log and laid her out carefully on the ground. Opening the first aid kit, he pulled out the antiseptic wipes and started cleaning her wound.

By the time he was finished, the vampire was back having removed as much of as she could in some water. She walked into the clearing, obviously not caring if they wanted her there.

Nathan was holding Ecaterina up. The vampire was stunning, if you liked your ladies with dark hair and destructive urges. She came right up to Nathan and Ecaterina after sparing a glance at the bear holding down the wolf.

“How is she doing?”

Her voice was soft. Completely different from the previous experience when her voice was death, just slightly warmer.

Nathan took a moment to respond to her, carefully weighing his words. “I think she will do OK. These types of wounds, on humans, can keep them out for a little or a long time. I expect her to be awake before sunset. Look, I don’t think she understands anything about the UnkownWorld, so I hope you don’t feel a need to wipe her?”

Alexi would have held his breath if he was human. For Nathan to be forward enough to suggest a vampire go against one of Michael’s laws on keeping humans as ignorant as possible regarding the UnknownWorld was pretty chancy, and gave Alexi a little insight into Nathan’s thoughts about his niece.

That’s when the wolf started coming around.

Bethany Anne checked on the woman in the werewolf’s arms. He obviously was caring for her, so she didn’t felt uncomfortable leaving the woman there.

His question was a little off-putting. Would she ‘wipe’ her? Obviously that was some kind of rule or a suggestion or something about the UnknownWorld. She had heard the UnknownWorld term used a couple of times, but without the context of werewolves, and werebears or maybe she should just say Weres and leave it at that? No matter, she wasn’t wiping anybody.

It was an easy decision; people shouldn’t have chunks of their lives wiped clean. She didn’t know how to wipe anyone anyway. Although she could ask Tom, better to be ignorant if she talked with Michael.

The wolf was starting to move and fidget. She stood up and walked over to the head so she could be seen when it opened its eyes.

She listened to the heartbeat, to the breathing and was enjoying the fact that the wolf was trying to continue the act of pretending it was asleep. Probably to continue to heal, she surmised.

No worries, she walked over to the fire and pick out a small limb that had been part out of the fire and wasn’t too hot. She casually pulled it free from the fire and spoke to the bear, “You’ll want to hold him still for this,” and flung the limb onto the wolf’s flank.

That woke him right the hell up. What violence the wolf was promising with its growling and barking. Too bad it couldn’t move worth a damn with more than a thousand pounds of bear holding it down.

Bethany Anne walked back over to the wolf, who followed her with its eyes and slowly stopped its useless struggling.

“You have two options, you can change back, or I can continue to cause pain until you die. If you try to hold out on me, I’m going to get my pound of flesh off you whether you choose to give up early or late. So, what is it going to be?”

The wolf looked like it wanted to bite her, but a second later, there was a naked man under the bear’s paw.

Bethany Anne looked over at the guy holding the girl. “You got anything for him you don’t mind loosing?”

The guy looked back at her a little confused but then aimed his head towards a tent. “Back in my tent, black bag, there is another pair of pants and a shirt.”

Bethany Anne walked over to the tent, dug out the bag and grabbed some clothes. Walking back to the Were, she flung them at his feet. “Put those on, I don’t want the condemned to be naked.”

The guy acted affronted, “Condemned? I’ve not done anything wrong. That guy is in our territory without permission! I’m just protecting my area. Stephen has been OK with us protecting our area for the past four centuries. It is how it always has worked.” The bear had released him to get the pants on.

The other guy just stayed silent. He seemed a lot more respectful than this guy, she thought.

Stephen was Michael’s child who lived somewhere near here. Towards the water, she thought. Not that she cared a wit what Stephen thought. If he allowed a travesty such as this to occur, he would be getting a visit from her soon enough. If he wasn’t awake, well, she would wake him the hell up by putting him in the sun until he chose to open his eyes, then they would be able to talk like sensible supernatural adults – right before she kicked his ass for being a careless twit. Unless of course Stephen was the one who could walk in the sun as well. She couldn’t remember if that was Stephen or David. Either way, they would have a discussion after a proper introduction.

“You have a name?” Bethany Anne chose to sit down on a log. It helped the guy feel more comfortable, standing up and being in a higher position. It allowed her to setup a perfect and rational demonstration.

“I am the Alpha of the Brasov Pack, Algerian. You and these trespassers need to get off our land before I speak with Stephen and he speaks with Michael.”

This guy really seemed like he wanted to eat his own leg.

Calmly, Bethany Anne started the object lesson. “Algerian, you need to sit down.”

“I’ll do no such…” He landed on his ass before he could finish the sentence. Bethany Anne was back on the log, sitting there like she had never left.

“Good of you to sit. If you choose to get up, I’ll find a few limbs to impale you with until you choose to continue staying on the ground. Do you understand the conditions, Algerian?”

He nodded his head, sullenly.

She looked over to the bear. “You need to get that silver out, I can smell the reaction with your flesh. Come here.”


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Alexi was startled. He had stayed, mostly, out of the limelight due to the wolf’s antics.

Now she was looking at him. Part of him was still put out that all of this went down on his ground. He had been lord of this domain for the last thirty or more years, only to have been close to death because of the silver in the bullets from what he thought was a powerless pack. Now, he was taking orders from a woman that couldn’t weigh more than about one hundred and fifty pounds.

Considering that the silver was hurting, he decided that going along was a good choice.

He walked over towards the vampire who had stood up. He considered taking a bite out of Algerian on his way over, but he consoled himself that werewolves probably didn’t taste too good.

She came around to his injured side and looked at the wounds. She cocked her head while looking at his wounds and seemed to go inside herself for a few seconds before placing her left hand on his back and looking at him straight in the eyes. “You ready for a little pain? Because, if you bite me, I’m going to make you regrow your whole arm instead of a little meat that I’m going to pull out with the bullets. You understand?”

Alexi nodded his head in agreement. While he wouldn’t have believed it when he was on his way over this morning, he knew now that no matter what, if this little woman said she would pull his arm off, he would be losing it. Well, he figured, she wasn’t that petite for a human, but in his bear form she seemed tiny enough.

The pain was sudden, it was sharp, it was excruciating, and then it was over. She had jumped into her super-speed and apparently reached into his wounds and found the pieces and pulled them all out. He carefully kept his legs locked as he roared his pain.

“Give it a rest, you big brown baby. Now change.”

Alexi lay down on the ground, his side slowly mending. His desire to turn his head and bite her in the ass was fortunately overwhelmed by a desire not to get his ass kicked by a girl. In a second, he was naked.

“God, a year ago I couldn’t find a good man. Now I keep getting all kinds of hunky guys laying around naked. Now find something to cover yourself up. Ask your lady friend, if you need to, she’s awake.” She walked over to Algerian.

He looked over at Ecaterina and noticed the guy holding her looked down in surprise, he had been watching what was going on with the vampire and hadn’t noticed her waking up in his arms.

Ecaterina was being held in someone’s arms. Her head was pounding, but manageable.

The last she remembered, she was being held down by the guy over there in the jeans that looked a little too small on him. There was a woman next to the biggest brown bear she had ever seen, her eyes widened. She was talking to the bear and then, suddenly, it just appeared to become less solid and the bear roared in pain, but its legs stayed solid.

She talked to the bear as if it could understand her. She watched in fascination as it lay down, and then, suddenly, a naked man was in its place.

Her breath caught in her throat. The woman told the bear to get some clothes, since she was awake.

Nathan jerked and she could tell she was now the focus of both the bear man and Nathan.

The man with no clothes was familiar. “Uncle Alexi?”

She really got knocked on the head. Her uncle was rarely seen. He was a favorite of hers, but she hadn’t seen him in, what, eight years?

“Yeah, it’s me, Ecaterina. Do you happen to have anything that I might wear?”

Nathan, his voice from above her, spoke instead. “Hey, I’ve got the pants I had on earlier this morning. They might be a little big, but there about 100 meters away. If you want to, I’ll go get them.”

The woman stopped, turned and looked over at Nathan, “Which direction?”

Nathan took an arm from around Ecaterina and pointed to behind his tent. “Back that way, there is a ravine about forty yards in and a trail that way. There is a dead wolf, the clothes will be about thirty yards downhill from there.”

The woman was gone, the man, Algerian, seemed to come out of his lethargy and jumped up and started in Ecaterina’s direction. Ecaterina could feel Nathan tense up, getting ready to do something when Algerian seemed to fly back to his original location and a big bowie knife appeared in his hand going into the dirt. He screamed in pain. The lady appeared at his side, pushing the knife further into his palm ignoring his useless effort to pull it out.

She tossed the clothes to Ecaterina’s uncle, who stood up to put them on, Ecaterina averted her eyes.

She looked down at Algerian. “You really don’t learn very quickly, do you? I explain what I’m going to do, if you don’t remember, or you decide that you have other, more important things to do, I provide that object reminder to keep you focused. Now, I had promised you tree limbs, but I really liked the bowie knife. So, let’s keep this right where it is or I’ll use it to find a five inch round tree to use as my next stake, do you understand me, Algerian?”

Her voice was so calm, as if she was discussing the fact that they might get a little shower later in the afternoon.

The man was sweating now, no matter how cool it was, and his hand was swelling up.

She got up and walked over to Ecaterina, She could feel Nathan’s arms tense around her. He seemed to know more about this woman and certainly seemed concerned for Ecaterina’s safety. So far she wasn’t sure why. Well, except for the whole disappearing, stronger than she should be, soft talking as she stabbed people’s hands into the dirt part.

Yeah, maybe this knock on Ecaterina’s head wasn’t allowing her to think clearly. She knew she should be terrified.

Ecaterina looked up into her eyes, they seemed soft, caring. She took a knee in front of Ecaterina. “My name is Bethany Anne, how are you feeling?”

Ecaterina’s voice, a little weaker than normal, answered her question. “Fine, mostly. My head hurts, but a bigger issue is that I’m confused. Why is my uncle a bear? Why does that guy have his hand impaled in the dirt and I can see a wolf with a missing head over there.” Ecaterina raised her chin in the direction of the wolf’s body and was reminded that sudden movements caused unreasonable pain. She closed her eyes.

Bethany Anne looked where Ecaterina was trying to point and returned to face her. “Well, to tell you the truth, he is a werewolf like our friend Algerian over there.”

Ecaterina could feel Nathan tense again, a motion that wasn’t lost on Bethany Anne. “Is there a problem with me explaining that to Ecaterina? You know, I never got your name?”

“Nathan, Nathan Lowell.”

“Ah, a fellow American. So, care to share why you are so tense?”

“It’s, ah…” Nathan dragged the word out searching for a proper way to say it wasn’t a normal vampire command coming from Michael.

“Mr. Lowell, I’m not very politically minded amongst the vampires. In fact, I think you will find that I’ve had about as much bullshit from Michael as I care to take, and since he left me to clean up some of his mess, my words, not his, I don’t have any rats’ asses left to give about what any of the rest of his children think.”

Nathan seemed to become completely befuddled from Bethany Anne’s comments. Ecaterina could feel his jaw open and shut at least three times.

Hell, Ecaterina was taking it better than the werewolves, even that her uncle is a werebear, than he was about her being upset with her some guy named Michael.

Nathan seemed to get it together on the fourth try. “It is standard procedure, dictated from Michael through all of his children that any human coming into contact with the UnknownWorld would have their experience wiped. You’re saying that you won’t do that?”

Bethany Anne stood up and walked over to the man and pulled the knife out of his hand, he grabbed his bleeding hand to slow the bleeding. Bethany Anne calmly reached down and wiped it clean on his jeans.

“Mr. Lowell, it sounds like you are someone I want to talk to. Someone that has a more intimate knowledge of how things were working around our little ball of sunshine before Michael decided to change the tune.” She turned back to look down at Algerian again and continued. “However, to answer your question, no, I am not going to do that. I doubt a woman of Ecaterina’s caliber is a problem for me.

“Algerian, why did you really try to kill my good friend Nathan over here?” She waved the bowie knife, catching his attention. Without saying it, she was suggesting that anything less than the truth would probably end in something painful.

“I was told to do it.” She got down and stared at him harder at eye level.

“By whom, Algerian?” Her voice went soft over steel. Ecaterina wanted to answer the question, she felt compelled to answer the question but didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

“Petre.”

“Who is Petre, Algerian?”

“He is the second son of Stephen, he has responsibility for this area, he is the one who says he would help protect us against Stephen if he woke up.”

“So, Stephen doesn’t know that Petre is encouraging your pack to behave this way?”

“No.”

“And did you have a legitimate concern with Mr. Lowell being here?”

“No, he called and got permission to visit. Petre was in our offices when it happened and told us to approve the request. Petre figured he was searching for Michael and his new child candidate.”

“Do you know why that would be important to Petre, Algerian?”

“They are vampires, it is best not to be too curious.”

“Hmmm, good to know that is a universal consensus, although it speaks to a general feeling of a group known for being bullies if you ask me, which you weren’t.”

Bethany Anne stood up, cocked her head for a few seconds and turned over to Alexi. “Do you have any questions you might want answered?”

Alexi answered, “Not from him, but if I can be so bold, one from you?”

“If I can answer it, sure.”

“What are your plans for Algerian?”

“He has been condemned by his own actions in the fight earlier. He was told to change back to human or die. He chose death by trying to strike down Mr. Lowell here.”

“Do you need to be the executioner?”

Bethany Anne thought about that for a moment. Did she? It was her word that he would die if he failed to follow her commands. However, did she need to personally carry it out, or would it be OK if she confirmed it was accomplished?

“Do you have an outstanding issue with him?”

“He came on my land, he attacked and hurt my family, his pack shot me twice and if something hadn’t interfered, I would probably be dead right now. However, if you mean before today, then no.”

“Well, you getting shot happened before he ignored my command, so I’m OK if you want to take precedence on implementing your desire for retribution. However, he must die now or I will take care of it.”

Alexi started getting undressed again. Bethany Anne turned back around to the man who seemed to not be listening to anything going on around him. “Algerian.”

“Yes.”

“I want you to prepare for combat in the bushes where I found you. When you hear a bear’s roar, change back into your wolf form and you may fight until your dying breath, do you understand my command?”

“Yes.”

“Make it happen, you have provided me with the information which stayed my hand earlier.”

Alexi had finished undressing. One second he was a man, the next he was a huge brown bear again. He walked calmly off into the bushes ahead of Ecaterina . The other man walked into the bushes after him.

A minute later Ecaterina heard a roar that felt like it shook her insides and the horrible sounds of a wolf and a bear fighting. There was a sudden, sharp bark and a loud thump as a body hit a tree and slid down. Two more loud noises and then she could hear the bushes being brushed aside as a large body came back out into the light.

Alexi had a few scratches on him, but he didn’t seem too concerned.

Bethany Anne looked down at him. “Alexi, I’m going to make sure that Ecaterina is watched through the night and we will leave for Brasov in the morning. I am expecting you to join us. You are free to make preparations as necessary for a week’s absence. Make sure you dress comfortably. Not that it matters, but I completely approve of your reasons for taking Algerian down. All it takes is good men to look the other way to allow evil to get a foothold in our world.”

She turned towards Ecaterina and Lowell, “I will be back in another hour or so. There are a few things I want to retrieve and then we can talk.” She looked down at Ecaterina. “Are you feeling OK?”

“I am, thank you. I could use some aspirin and food right now and while Mr. Lowell is terribly warm, I think I would like to change clothes and freshen up a little.”

“Very good, I’ll see you both soon.”

And with that, she walked out of the clearing.


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Bethany Anne left the party in the clearing and quickly opened up some distance from them running around the north side of the lake. She wasn’t sure how sensitive the were-humans were, but she didn’t want them to see any weakness from her, and right now, she felt incredibly weak as she disgorged everything from her stomach. The disgusting regurgitation along with the smell would cause her another round of stomach convulsions. She would run another fifty yards or so away each time, trying to get away from the smell.

Tom was trying to say something, but she couldn’t listen right then. Mentally, she was prepared to do everything, including eating people, whether human or wolf at the time, to acquire the energy she needed to protect Ecaterina and Alexi.

Until she had enough energy to be in top form, she would allow nothing to come between her and her need to protect them. That included being completely grossed out by her actions. She turned off that part of her thinking and took almost an analytical perspective as she would do what was necessary.

The payment, in this case, was throwing up over parts of Alexi’s mountain. She hoped he didn’t mind if he ever found out.

She found a little stream and cleaned her mouth and cheeks, finding a log to sit on for a moment to consider her next step.

Unfortunately, the lack of information she had, due no doubt to making sure that she didn’t have too much information if her transfer went ‘wrong’, was a real problem right then.

Michael could never have considered just how different her conversion would be. Since he had never had any conversation with Tom, and no frame of reference to what the spacecraft was when he stumbled upon it, he must have originally thought it was voodoo magic. He had never explained his thoughts to her.

However, after the last one hundred years, he must have reconsidered the truth of his own origin and realized it wasn’t, probably, an evil device. Since Tom has so horribly messed up the first transformation he had tried, without communication and substantial pain, it was no surprise that Michael hadn’t brought anyone else to the ship.

It was a little curious why Michael could create change.

“Tom, how can Michael and his children create new vampires?” She let her senses roam while she sat there, listening to the abnormally quiet forest. The longer she sat there, the more she could sense the animals deciding she wasn’t on the hunt. She wondered if they could sense her mood?

I speculate that if you exchange enough of the blood of a changed human with enough of Michael’s or one he changed, the blood will become saturated enough with the nanocytes which facilitate the enhancements. A smaller amount would just help a human with any intrinsic body abnormalities and never acquire enough to overcome their bio-programming and replicate to essentially complete the transformation.

Bethany Anne pondered this information. “So, if we do a reverse transfusion, can we ‘undo’ the Kurtherian change?”

No. The changes we implement in a human body, once saturation is achieved in the first place, eventually replace all essential cells and a blood transfusion would not exchange the cells that have replicated into the organs, especially the brain.

“What about for a new transfer?”

Possibly. If the nanocytes have been following the programming, it is possible to interrupt the transition if you reduce the saturation point before they make too many inroads into the inner organs.

“What is the programming you are referring to?”

Stage 1: The nanocytes must first heal the body of any injury. Stage 2: the nanocytes review any DNA level issues, similar to your leg modifications. Stage 3: Once those changes are complete it will then integrate with all core body functionality. Once the core body changes are complete there is no going back.

“What would happen if injury occurred during stage 2?”

Well, we figured that a body would be in our ship during these changes so we didn’t necessarily consider what would happen. I would imagine all changes to the DNA would stop at an appropriately safe stage while every other effort would be made to go back and resume taking care of the stage 1 prerogatives.

“Why are Michael’s children less powerful, and each generation substantially more affected by sunlight?”

I would assume that the nanocytes are a little less pure having to move from one human to another. The nanocytes already have the DNA changes from the previous host, so changes from Michael to his first level offspring, then those children’s nanacytes have two sets of DNA changes when they change a third level and so on. I’m sure the purity of the DNA in a child could potentially help or hinder a transformation as well as the purity of the nanocytes that they receive themselves. 

As for the sunlight issue, I can only perceive that each generation must be exchanging the epidermal layer with confused nanocytes. It must have happened in Michael’s skin and although he isn’t affected, it was a submissive trait that became dominant in most of his children.

“Yeah, he has one, David, that isn’t affected. I think that is the only one.”

Bethany Anne went quiet for a couple of minutes, trying to digest everything. “Tom, why are you qualifying your statements so much?”

I’m not sure of the answer. I thought that was normal not to state something you didn’t know as truth?

“No, it isn’t. What I mean to ask is you seem to be unsure of your answers more than I would have thought you would be, since you had the responsibility to implement the solutions.”

Well, I am a pilot first, a scientist a somewhat distant second. In our race, the truly intellectual had an overdeveloped sense of curiosity with a substantially higher level of risk aversion. To be willing to rush into the unknown, we had to find those with intelligence, but no so much they realized their own peril was a given. We had to have some ability to deceive ourselves to be willing to try taking a spaceship, by ourselves, and going out into the Universe without even a map.

Bethany Anne was surprised, she hadn’t given Tom the respect that he probably deserved. While she was still a little sore over the fact she became his taxi, she was put into a rare position to be able to make a difference in more than just a few cold cases and now had, potentially, a thousand years or more to make a difference.

Thinking about her own situation right now, she knew that information was her first priority. She was effectively safe, she had at least two sources of information and a third she was going to visit. While Petre wasn’t an immediate child and therefore almost assuredly wasn’t a physical match for Bethany Anne, hell, maybe none of the children could match her in a fight, he wouldn’t be unprotected.

Especially if he was dealing under the table against his father. The children might not support Michael’s black and white version of the world, but she couldn’t imagine that they would countenance a child working with the disowned or other groups that actively participated in attacking anything of Michael’s.

She supposed she could talk to Stephen first, but that wasn’t her style. The UnknownWorld would certainly create their own opinions of her and she knew that it would be from the stories told about her. While she might change a few opinions, there was no way she would be able to get ahead of gossip. That was probably the only thing that could be faster than the speed of light. She smiled at that thought.

She needed to find out what happened with Michael, if he was actually either dead or captured or just AWOL. She frowned at that thought. It would piss her off more to find out he had purposefully left her behind than if he was dead. That wasn’t a nice thought, if she were honest with herself, but she had some heightened level of abandonment issues. Could be why she was a little aloof with personal relationships as most guys in their twenties had their own issues with being dependable in a relationship.

She also had the issue that Michael was tracking down. The new type of vamps that were somehow connected with the situation in World War II. If Michael wasn’t personally dealing with that, and at the moment she couldn’t assume he was, she would have to handle it.

Plus, some group was actively trying to get rid of her. It was obvious from Algerian’s comments that Petre didn’t want Nathan getting involved.

Without Carl, she was seriously hampered in information acquisition. She needed to find a core group who knew more about the UnknownWorld and could help her understand what she could and couldn’t accomplish with the movers and shakers in that area. If Carl and Michael had both been taken out of the equation, she would need to build her own team. She had some people she could contact from her previous life, but that would be chancy as hell. They would have split allegiances and her friendship wasn’t going to trump their allegiance to the US.

Then, she would need funding. Her previous Bethany Anne Reynolds finances were probably already dispersed, especially after her going away party she and her father put on her credit cards that last night. That might have been a little irresponsible in light of what had happened to her so far, but it had been a hell of a night! She would have to see what was in the accounts Michael had Carl setup for her.

Her father was certainly on her side. But getting in touch with him would be a real problem. Any contact would certainly be expected and she would need to be careful before getting him involved. The same would be true for Martin, if she could convince herself that it would be safe to confide anything in him.

She stood up, moving her head from side to side, cricking her neck. It was time to get back and find out what resources she did have. As far as she knew, she had a wolf, a bear, a pretty Romanian girl, and the name of someone who could supply information.

Well, she had wanted to be on the sharp point, it didn’t get any sharper than where she was. She considered her options and the amount of challenges ahead. Oh well, she thought, no time like the present to get her information and let Petre suffer for his sins.

She set off back towards the camp.

Alexi was sitting on the log around the what was now mostly just ashes and tossed in a couple of small logs, considering the situation.

Obviously, he had found Michael’s new child, and she nothing like he was expecting. Well, mostly not.

She had the scary-as-hell-kill-you-dead part down pat. His wolf would normally have issues with any challenges, but she was so far above him that the wolf just accepted her alpha-ness. He only accepted Gerry as an alpha because Gerry never pushed it. He would ask Nathan to do something for him and Nathan was as happy at the relationship as he possibly could be.

Until this little trip, his time working with Michael’s group was high-risk, low-probability. So, he only had to keep his head down for a short time to come out ahead and the risk had been more than enough to keep him out of everything else related to the pack.

It seemed he had lost the throw of the dice now. If he ever got out of this situation, he would have to admit that Gerry had played the better, longer game. Nathan’s markers had all come due and the bill was going to be significantly more than he thought he would ever have to pay. That tended to weigh down the scales on the ‘I’m so screwed’ side.

However, Ecaterina was on the other side of the scale and so it was possible he would come out ahead. One should always look for the sunshine peaking over the mountain in the morning. The view was breathtaking.

Speaking of breathtaking, Ecaterina was presently kneeling with her head inside her tent and the rest of her body outside the entrance and the view was causing him problems, serious focus problems. My god…

“What is it, exactly, that has your attention Mr. Lowell?”

A little red-faced, Nathan had forgotten about Ecaterina’s uncle who had cleaned up the bodies and dumped them away from their site. He quickly pulled his attention back to the flame and blurted out the first thing on his mind.

“The woman vamp.”

“Ah.” Alexi sat down on a log to Nathan’s left. He had gotten dressed again after the vamp left and had been a little scarce for a while. Nathan must have really been distracted to not hear him coming back. Now he was blushing again at his mistake.

He was acting like a stupid teenager again, and it kinda felt good. At least he wasn’t so old that he wasn’t capable of being pulled in by a fantastic female. She was the right package of outdoors and smoldering heat and he was trying like hell to figure out what the price tag might be. Not that he cared, if he had what it cost, he was spending it for the chance to know her better.

He just had a thousand pounds of uncle to deal with, a vamp that wasn’t going to let him just move on with his life and someone or someone’s trying to take down his company. He needed his head screwed on straight, but his hormones were making that a cold-bitch to do. He had to grin at the reality that the world was going down the deep, dark hole of perdition and he was going to smile on the way.

Alexi carried on with the conversation, “Yah, she is a package. I wasn’t sure what happened. She just appeared, took care of the first wolf without paying any attention to me and continued into the bushes to you guys like she was getting a little fresh air. Of course, with all of that blood on her arm and face, it was a little frightening, even to me.”

Alexi pulled the old coffeepot out of the ashes and retrieved a cup nearby. Pouring some dregs out of the pot, he cupped the mug with both hands and took a small drink.

Carrying on the conversation, relating his experience, Nathan continued the story. “I was in a bad straight. I was in a horrible tactical position thinking I might try to join up with you against all three of them when in the middle of our fight she walks in, takes out the first wolf and demands we change. I’m a betting man, Alexi, but I never bet against vamps. I knew who she must be, but coming here, walking in the day surprised the hell out of me. I’m not ashamed to say I just laid down as quick as gravity would take me and changed like a pup would.”

Alexi looked over at Nathan. Taking in his size and stature, this man was a killer. If he was fighting two wolves, including that alpha and was mostly holding his own it was a testament that he was no pushover. To have dropped his head and subordinately shown his neck explained he knew power and respected it. That he had stood up for Ecaterina when questioning the vampire was something Alexi still considered.

It was obvious to Alexi that Nathan liked his niece. Hell, most everyone liked his niece, but she had wander lust, she wasn’t going to stay here in the Brasov area. While he wouldn’t want her to get caught up in this world, if she wasn’t going to be wiped, she probably wouldn’t find a better relationship for protection than this Were and the vamp. Well, if the vamp cared to protect her, that is. He needed a chance to talk to Ecaterina and explain what was going on.

He got up, it was time to talk with her.

Nathan watched Alexi put his cup down and start walking over to Ecaterina. While he could sit right there and listen in to the conversation with his hearing, that would go badly when she realized what he had done later. He was sure that she would clue in eventually and then she would feel like he hadn’t been respectful of her privacy. He stood up, went over to his rig and got the last shirt.

Yelling over to Alexi to let him know he was going to wash up a little, he left the clearing heading for the lake.

That was where Bethany Anne found him.

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Ecaterina wasn’t doing much in her tent. Mostly, she figured, she was hiding from the situation.

She had already changed her clothes and the first aid that Nathan had provided was sufficient. She had some pain relievers and they were starting to take effect.

She was a little pissed that she had been taken so easily. With her eyes on where the shot had come from that had hit Nathan, she never noticed the guy coming up behind her. She wasn’t sure how he had found her under the brush – she’d considered herself well hidden..

She figured that the mythology obviously had truth to it and they could sense more than she could as a human.

It wasn’t as scary as she thought it might be. She had thought that people changing to wolves might be like that Michael Jackson video, painful and scary looking. Since they just seemed to ‘change’, without grotesque bones, stretching and howling, that part was less of a put-off than she would have thought.

That her uncle was a bear was startling. It explained his absence and why she felt safe so often in this area. She had seen his tracks from time to time, but they had never been too close and while she had been careful, there was never any feeling that the large bear had been upset with her being up here.

Her hands were still shaking. She had willed them to stop, that this wasn’t how her family reacted, wasn’t causing them to still. Yeah, she was freaking out but her body was handling the situation in her sub-conscience, while her mind worked to place everything together.

Then, the obvious protection of Nathan when he held her when the woman approached her. His talking to her, with the utmost of respect. This is a woman who Ecaterina wanted to know more about. This woman walked the way, she wasn’t sure which way but it was obvious that whatever path she took, it wasn’t going to be a normal, well-trodden path. It would be a path of excitement, of stories that she would never get a chance to be a part of if she stayed in Brasov.

She wanted to go with this woman. That was her decision. Her hands calmed and she started pulling her gear together. Bethany Anne had said they were going to stay the night to make sure she was OK. Playing the weak woman card wouldn’t get her any points, and frankly it wasn’t who Ecaterina was. Well, unless she was using it as bait.

She heard her uncle coming up behind her, she got out of the tent and started striking it.

She looked up to her uncle as she pulled a stake and saw the concern plainly written on his face. Dropping the stake, she walked to him while opening her arms. She could see he was trying not to scare her, to give her space.

That wasn’t flying with her, this was her uncle, who had protected her, taken bullets for her, the guardian on the mountain. She wrapped him in her biggest, most loving hug, resting her head on his chest as he wrapped his arms around her. Staying like that for a couple of minutes.

She stepped apart and looked him in the eyes, “Thank you, Uncle. I care not what you are, I only know I care who you are in here.” She touched his shirt where his heart would be.

“Ecaterina, my favorite niece.” His eyes shone brightly, a feeling of relief that she gave him her love so willingly. “I’m sorry you were a part of this. If I had known anything would happen, I would have been up here last night. I am ashamed I didn’t know about the pack.” He looked around her space, noting that she had traps, some already dismantled, around where she slept.

He sighed, “However, I have to give you some information if you are going to survive the coming discussions. This woman, you know she is what we call a vampire. There are no good vampires, at least not that I know. The best, if you will, will leave you alone if you abide by their rules, but they don’t suffer much and the most powerful one will kill you as soon as look at you if you don’t respect him. Please, can you hold that quick spirited tongue of yours?” His eyes entreated her to answer the question with a ‘yes’.

“I do not have a spirited tongue! This is just a tale Mama tells to make me more subservient so men will like me more.” Her uncle raised his an eyebrow as if she had just made his point.

Maybe she was a bit quick, she reasoned. Even Ivan would occasionally suggest she not be so argumentative. “OK, maybe I am a little quick, but that is only with family.”

Her uncle raised his other eyebrow.

She slumped a little. Who was she kidding? She loved a good verbal fight. She hadn’t felt scared around this woman, so it wasn’t like she felt a need to be meek.

“Why is this so important, Uncle? What is she that would even have you, as big as you can be, doing her bidding?” She crossed her arms, waiting for an answer.

Alexi looked around and realized that Ecaterina had been packing. She obviously didn’t want to wait through the night. Knowing he was going back to Brasov, where he hadn’t been for a while, he was actually ready to go himself. He started helping her disable the rest of the traps. If you weren’t going to be checking the traps, you wouldn’t leave them to hurt anything that might pass by. It wasn’t what a good hunter and trapper would do, so no one in his family would do it.

Ecaterina finally joined him.

“These vampires, the strongest ones, the powerful ones, they are not like the stories. The weaker ones, yes, they are. However, there are two groups. One good and one bad, yes?” He looked over to make sure Ecaterina was listening. That wasn’t a problem, Ecaterina knew how to strike camp in her sleep. She was listening.

“None are fun to mess with. The good ones can be OK to deal with, but very touchy about their honor. The head of that family is named Michael. He is the one who created a list of rules when he found out about us, the Wechselbalg. Most people, if they know anything about us, think of us as werewolves and werebears and other things. Pretty much we all talk that way, but it isn’t what we are.”

He finished dismembering his traps and placed the parts by the tree, so Ecaterina could put the pieces where she could find them again. If she ever made it back up to this mountain again.

“This happened centuries ago. It is what was told to me. Michael found the heads of the Wechselbalg and told them that they had to find better ways to hide themselves. There were too many stories of men who became wolves and preyed on people, and vampires. It is the time his own children were causing havoc as well. He let it be known that if you let humans know what you were, that you had to take care of the problem. If that meant the human had to die, then you had to take care of it. He was busy for a while with two of his children that disappeared leaving too many young vampires, almost nosferatu, he had to track down and dispatch dozens and those two children were not seen again. It was difficult in those days to find anybody, if they didn’t want to be found. I can tell you, those two children did not want Michael to find them.”

Ecaterina stopped filling her backpack, “Why is he considered the good side, if everyone is afraid of him and he killed so many that even his own children fled?”

“The stories are that they felt they should be able to become the dominant species, rulers setup for all to give fealty to. Michael didn’t agree. Those children he had left and all of their children have been in a struggle to contain the forsaken ever since. Now, it is probably too late for the forsaken to overtake any world power with the weapons and technology they have. At least, I would think so.”

“What about this one, this Bethany Anne?”

Alexi had a faraway look, then focused on Ecaterina. “Katia, you need to be careful with this one. She is powerful. I know from Nathan that she is a new vampire, and she was chosen by Michael to become one of the family, but she is something different. She doesn’t show the respect to Michael every other vampire has. Something strange is going on here and I don’t know the answer. She isn’t the same as any of the others I’ve heard stories about. She is able to take the sunlight, and only two others can do that. She is dangerous, like all vampires, but even so, I don’t know what to think about someone so new, yet walking into a fight and ending it so quickly.”

“Is she more powerful than the others? The other children?”

“I can’t answer that. I don’t know, and I have no idea what she wants yet. According to Nathan, he was sent here to find her and Michael. Now that he has found her, I think he just wants to lose her again.”

“So he can go home? Back to America?” Ecaterina glanced over to where Nathan’s tent was.

Alexi, following her gaze, answered as casually as he could. “Maybe, maybe not. I think he has found a new thing he wants to learn more about. I don’t believe he is going to be given much of a choice as to whether he can go back by himself – from either the vampire, or this other interest he has.” Alexi had to look down toward the lake to keep Ecaterina from seeing his smile.

He heard a soft mumble, barely audible to even his enhanced hearing. “I wonder what he is so interested in?”


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Bethany Anne was coming up on the clearing when she heard Nathan yell that he was going to the lake. She wanted to talk with him anyway, so she angled away and was waiting for Nathan when he arrived at the shore.

She wasn’t hiding from him, and he easily knew she was there when he came out of the trees on the small animal path. He spoke easily to her, his voice a fine mellow sound.

“Hello, again.” Nathan took off his shirt and went to the cool, clear water and used it as a rag to clean his upper body.

Bethany Anne noticed he was ripped. His clothes did a good job hiding the muscles, but he had a chest to die for, well, if she could. Maybe Ecaterina would appreciate it? She knew that there was a connection between them. It was obvious by the fire and Bethany Anne, who could appreciate a side of beefcake if it was going to wash right in front of her, didn’t have the time or inclination to get involved romantically with everything else going on.

She could just about sneeze on the amount of pheromones he was throwing off. He had it bad.

After washing a little, he turned towards Bethany Anne who had just sat there. “I want to thank you for helping earlier. If you hadn’t gotten involved, that group would have most likely taken Alexi and me out, and Ecaterina would probably have been hurt before she was killed. They wouldn’t have wanted any witnesses and Ecaterina isn’t the type to just lay there and take it.”

“You’re welcome, but I wouldn’t have killed Algerian if he hadn’t disobeyed my order to stop and change. I wasn’t protecting you, I was punishing disobedience. I suppose that worked out for you, in the end. I killed the sniper as the most expedient action and I was a little unfocused. I noticed the first wolf trying to get around Alexi and attack the girl. I would not allow that to happen. The wolf I killed by you had attacked me, it wasn’t personal and I needed the…” she didn’t want to admit energy, since she didn’t know if anyone understood how her capabilities worked, so she finished her sentence, “…sustenance.”

Her voice had a slightly hard edge to it, which became more telling the more she seemed to think about Algerian’s actions.

“So, Mr. Lowell, were you sent her to search for Michael, and if so, by whom?”

Well, Nathan thought, here goes the pivot point. He put on his extra shirt and leaned up against another rock about ten feet from Bethany Anne.

“I was asked, as a favor, to see if I could find you and Michael by a man with the name of Frank Kurns. He is the Government representative that connects to the UnknownWorld groups. My company came under attack by, we thought, the Chinese, only to find out it was another group. Still not sure if it is vamps or Weres. He needed someone he could trust and was able to solve a problem for me that put me into his immediate debt. My coming over here was to wipe the slate clean.”

Bethany Anne stood up, wanting to think on her feet and started pacing up and down the bank of the lake. Ten steps forward, ten steps back and repeat.

“What are you and Alexi, exactly?”

A little caught off-guard, as he had assumed Bethany Anne knew about them, “Most call us Weres.”

She stopped, looked him in the eyes and raised an eyebrow. “Nathan, you don’t go through any type of mutation from one to the other that I could tell. One second you’re one thing, the next you’re something else. I have a general understanding how to make a vampire, but I’m completely clueless when it comes to, well, to you Weres.” She continued her pacing.

Nathan watched her for a minute, then scratched at his chin. “Well, we have another name, called Wechselbalg in German. It means ‘changeling’. Don’t know if that helps or not. We have the whole conservation of mass issues with the different sizes. I’m not much for waving a wand over the whole thing and saying ‘magic’, but I’ve done as much research as possible and haven’t figured anything out. You say you know how vampires are made?”

He was just trying to keep the conversation going. He was certainly not trying to get the inside information on vamps and how to make, and potentially unmake, them.

Bethany Anne didn’t rise to the bait. “Yes, yes I do. No, I won’t be sharing that with you right now. Not knowing how you change is going to be an itch I need to scratch until I figure it out. Not to be very personal with you, but how old are you?” She stopped pacing and looked at him again, her eyes seemed suddenly very serious, very watchful.

God, he thought, I hate vampires. “I’m a little over eighty-four.” Next she was going to be asking him about robbing the cradle.

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re a very energetic eighty-four, Mr. Lowell.”

Nathan couldn’t figure out why she changed back and forth from his first name to his last name. It was off-putting. Maybe that was the whole reason, keep him on his toes. Well, since she wasn’t trying to drain him of blood, it was going to take a lot more than just changing which name she was using to cause him to become flustered.

“Yeah, Wechselbalg are pretty long-lived. Depending on how much time we stay as our animal, we can live between a late normal human to almost 240 years, occasionally, more.

It was his turn, he figured. “Since you seemed to be a little upset with Michael, I surmise that you haven’t seen him lately, or that you have seen too much of him?”

She continued her pacing. “Yeah, are you talking about my comment on cleaning up his bullshit?”

Nathan didn’t want to correct her, but that was the gist of the answer.

“No, I don’t know where he is. So, from that standpoint Frank might know more about it than me. He left about six or seven months ago and I haven’t seen him since. Why does Frank want you to find him so bad?”

“Well, Frank has his personal plane with Carl, you know Carl?” She nodded that she did, “well, the plane disappeared over the English Channel, no bodies found, no wreckage. Frank works with Carl to get things cleaned up, certain things, that Michael’s family is better equipped to engage and it isn’t happening without a contact. Carl was the contact and the family isn’t moving much without the threat of Michael hanging over their head. So, he has lost a fair amount of people trying to keep a lid on the… problems.”

“Are we talking monsters, Mr. Lowell? Are these the problems Michael’s family took care of that even the Black Op combat groups are cautious with?”

“Yes, probably.”

“OK, and you, Mr. Lowell? Tell me about Nathan Lowell, how are you someone that Frank Kurns feels comfortable talking with? No need to be humble, I would like the real dirt.”

Oh, fuckity-fuck. Life just took the left turn into gibbering concern. He didn’t want to tell this lady anything more about himself. He wanted to go home. OK, maybe after a few more days with Ecaterina he would want to go home. Probably… perhaps.

Maybe the two of them could sneak out together? Nathan snorted, like he had Alexi fooled.

Nathan went ahead and told her everything that was probably relevant to the situation. He glossed over his different companies and explained that his main company was a security agency for digital communications, hoping she didn’t clue in too much what that actually was. He wasn’t going to bet he pulled one over on her, but he could claim he mentioned it.

“So, you are the second to the main alpha of all packs in the US? Correct? Good. I can work with that.”

Damn, translate that to, “I can work with you,” or one better, “You will work for me, slave!” Nathan sighed.

“Don’t look so down, Mr. Lowell! Carl told me about Frank, so I know he can be trusted and ergo, I’m piggy-backing Frank’s credentials on to you. I need a contact to help me get into the game and you’re it. Just consider that Frank’s payback is going to take longer.”

Nathan felt like he had just won the nomination to be the first runner sent on a suicide mission. “How long might this go on? I do have those aforementioned businesses to run.”

“Well, until we find Carl alive, or I can replace you. Your concerns on your business are duly noted and we will look into that situation. I need your focus to be on helping me sort this fuster-cluck out.”

“You do know that the vampires really aren’t going to want to talk with me, right? Vampires don’t have a good opinion of Weres. Well, anyone really so I guess I can’t make that a hate crime particular to Weres at all.”

“Nathan, by the time I finish with the local vampire family, they will be the most polite group you have ever met.”

Nathan couldn’t stop the snort before it escaped his nose. Ah damn, he had been doing so well.

“Not finding that very likely, Mr. Lowell?”

Crap, thought Nathan, back his last name, again. “Let’s just say that my eight decades have provided a one-sided, no, make that a very singular experience when it comes to how vampires treat the other species.”

“Yeah, I have that impression already. How did Michael keep everyone in line?”

“Lots of pain and death.”

It was her turn to snort. “Well, I could go without the death. However, if you have to crack a few rotten eggs then maybe the rest of the carton will get the message. In fact, I’m counting on that happening. I think we will start with Petre and then check on Stephen.”

 “Are you going alone?”

“Why, are you offering your services, Mr. Lowell?”

“I might be able to help with Petre’s children, but he is probably too much for me to handle.”

“Well, I’m not sure how much I need you for your physical prowess, Nathan. However, I will certainly need you for your cyber-security skills. Have you ever been on the dark web, Nathan?”

Well crap, he thought, she wasn’t fooled one bit.

“Yes, I’m familiar with it all. I was on the front-line of hacking and cracking with early modems and enjoyed it. That is how I started my consulting business. I might have a few old personas laying around.

Bethany Anne grinned suddenly. It was a nice grin, then she turned it feral. “Yes, in fact, I’d love to talk with ID10T-42, would you happen to know him?”

Nathan, who had made the mistake of getting comfortable talking with a vampire, realized he had been setup the whole time. How she knew one of his hacking personas was beyond him. She might be able to read his mind, for all he knew, he wasn’t sure exactly what a vampire could do, especially this one. “Yeah, yeah I guess I can get you in contact with him.”

“Good, good to know. I’ll need ‘him’ to get me all of the security information possible on Petre and his home and offices in order to figure out how and where to make my introduction. I’m not sure if I’m going for sneaky or up front, yet.”

“You know that the family doesn’t appreciate any killings of one of their own, right?”

“Nathan, I appreciate the warning, but the previous methods of instruction haven’t seemed to work. I’m going to implement a new instruction regimen and I fully expect to have a few conversations before the acceptance. If I go to Stephen first, it will seem like I need his approval. When I reprimand Petre it will send the right message.”

Oh, Nathan thought, it will send a message alright. He hoped that she wanted to send a message of ’this lady is suicidal’.

Nathan and Bethany Anne walked back to the clearing, making enough noise so that Alexi and Ecaterina could hear them approach.

Bethany Anne was good with going back early, her only concern had been Ecaterina’s health and she seemed just fine. With a proper guide, and the ability of three of them to easily see in the darkness, they were able to make good time.

Nathan had used his phone when he had a good connection to call Ivan and then let Ecaterina explain what they needed. He came to the pickup point in a white van without any passenger windows. Ivan and Alexi rode up front, leaving Ecaterina, Nathan and Bethany Anne hidden in the back in case anyone was still looking for them.

Nathan called Frank and left a coded message that he was ‘getting close’. Bethany Anne didn’t want any direct connection to Frank until after she took care of the Petre situation. One complication at a time.

Nathan figured his stuff back at the hotel was a write-off. Without the pack members coming back down from the mountain, he was sure that it would be watched. Bethany Anne considered going after it herself, but it would let the pack, and therefore Petre, know that she was back in town.

Ivan was able to get them into a basement which had a good internet connection. There were two couches, not so comfortable, and one bedroom and full bathroom for the four of them.

After about a day in the confined space, and the tension increasing pretty exponentially, Bethany Anne felt like slapping both of the guys. When she figured out that they were both worried about Bethany Anne going all vampy on Ecaterina’s neck, she had the first bought of uncontrolled laughter since waking up in the medical pod back on the mountain. Both guys at first just looked at each other perplexed until Bethany Anne was able to explain that she didn’t need blood to survive daily. Their first introduction to her ripping heads off and sucking blood from the necks was related to the fight and the expending of energy.

Resting around the room was a net gain for her, so no need to stress out and feel all needful of protecting Ecaterina.

For her sake, Ecaterina thought it a little childish for the men to go all ‘protectionist’ of her. She had been handling her own protection out on the mountains for almost all of her twenty-four years and suddenly she had these two guys suffocating her.

Ecaterina was asking Bethany Anne all about what she did before she came to Europe and Bethany Anne shared about her work in the CIA and then, without naming names, her work in her former agency.

Nathan came through on the second morning with some plans for a nice little two story, with basement, a little outside the city situated on its own land. There were some notes about extra security in place, but the only thing that Nathan could confirm were some bills paid to a local security installation company fourteen months before.

They talked it over and it was decided that Alexi and Ecaterina would go and take a look at the house. They had the best woodcraft. Nathan would be excellent in the woods, but he didn’t know the common ways to look for traps. The Brasov pack would know if they scented another wolf that he wasn’t part of their pack. Alexi was a known local and while they might be concerned, at least he lived in the area.

Ecaterina going out like this didn’t sit too well with Nathan, but he was a big enough boy to know when to keep his mouth shut on the subject.

To keep Nathan busy, Bethany Anne had him researching more about Stephen’s area and to see if he could find any bank account information on Petre. They say, always trace the money to find out what is important in a man’s life.

Well, it worked when she was tracking the dirt on politicians, anyway.

Brasov, Romania

The four of them got back together when Alexi and Ecaterina arrived later in the evening. They didn’t want to chance Petre getting involved and their best guess was he would be up at night. Sitting on the two couches, they went over the results from their reconnaissance around Petre’s house.

It seems they found a few regular traps and then hit the electronic versions. Petre was pretty well protected from anything coming through the woods.

“Damn.” Bethany Anne seemed a little annoyed that Petre would make this more difficult for her. “I don’t know enough about this guy to decide if I can just walk up and slap him around, or if he has enough muscle on the property to make life difficult.”

Nathan piped in, “Have you considered the Bravos pack?”

“No, not really. They are in the back of my mind, but unless they can all jump me at the same time I should be able to fight my way clear of them.” Bethany Anne went quiet for a minute.

Nathan considered her comment. If she could take on that many at one time, just how strong was she already? If a child of Michael’s had become this powerful in less than a year, just how strong was Stephen?

“What if, beyond your ability have Stephen see reason, he decides that you have to pay for Petre? I still don’t like that you aren’t just taking the problem up with him.” Nathan wasn’t too happy with going outside the normal channels. He didn’t know what Michael would do with Bethany Anne going around the normal protocols he knew about, and felt obligated to continue to encourage Bethany Anne to consider changing her plan.

Bethany Anne considered his comment, for the fourth time at least. She respected that he came from a culture where this was, literally, a life or death decision for them and his encouragement was based in that culture.

“No, I’m not going to affect change by following the old rules. Every vampire, due to Michael’s influence, only understands power at the end of the day. Essentially, Michael’s power. Michael and I talked about this on the trip over here. It was very rare that an attack would happen on American soil because Michael would get involved if Bill couldn’t take care of the issue. So, whoever out there is making this happen, they are confident in their ability to take on Michael and his families.

“I’ve considered this for a while. I think the forsaken have become empowered with a new way to attack. Apparently, from the footage and what Michael knows about a situation in World War II, there is a method to use bodies to create a form of zombie nosferatu. They are intelligent enough to handle fairly complicated instructions and they really don’t have a will of their own. The ones in the explosion that killed Bill didn’t hesitate to blow themselves up.”

Nathan considered what Bethany Anne had just shared. “If they are nosferatu, then that pretty much makes them forsaken, right? None of Michael’s children allow a changed person to live if they don’t make it past that stage.”

“Unless we have another child or set of children that have decided to break from Michael, then yes. I asked Michael why they just didn’t bomb his residence back in America and he said that while possible, it would have been difficult for them to do anything permanent to him. There are enough video cameras in town they would have been given a better chance of backtracking evidence to someone. Plus, vampires never sleep where they don’t have a bolt hole.”

Ecaterina spoke up for the first time since they had explained what they had found at Petre’s house. “What is bolt hole? I don’t understand this word.”

Nathan jumped in, “It means a way out, a second, or third, way for him to leave the house, usually underground and comes up far away.”

“So, if we find this bolt hole, he will come out from there if his house is attacked?”

Bethany Anne took this question, “Yes. I could go through his house and if he got concerned before I could get to him, he could slip away and then I would have a bigger problem on my hands.”

“So, this bolt hole is probably outside protected area. Uncle and I go and try to find exit and close it, if possible.”

Bethany Anne considered that thought, she noticed Nathan grimacing a little that he didn’t like the idea much.

“OK, here is what we can do. I need you and your uncle to go back and see if you can find any exits. They will be very hard to find. If you can find one, we will probably do this, if you can find two, then I feel better than fifty-fifty we can contain Petre. I can get into the house during the day when he is probably sleeping. Even if he tries to flee, he will have the sun to deal with so he would prefer to either get out with a closed van, or something similar or hide in the house until the sun goes down.

I will need a reason to be there, I don’t think that they will allow me to just walk up and if I do something vampy it will certainly cause me to lose my element of surprise.”

Just then, she noticed Nathan leaning towards her and sniffing in her direction. She just raised an eyebrow at him.

“You don’t smell like a vampire. I just realized that. I knew you were a vampire back when you first came into the bushes, but you don’t have that…” He noticed her giving him a glare that just dared him to continue that sentence. “You don’t smell like a vampire, it’s all I’m trying to say.”

She was about to give Nathan a small tongue lashing when she noticed Alexi leaning towards her surreptitiously from beside Ecaterina. “What the hell is wrong with you two?”

Alexi answered her, leaning back with a shrug, “It’s how we know someone is a vampire if they aren’t being, what did you call it? Yeah, ‘vampy’. All vampires have a smell, like old blood, yes?”

Bethany Anne scrunched her nose up, “I heard about that, but haven’t smelled a vampire since getting the olfactory upgrade, so I don’t know myself. If you two have had enough smelling, you’re making me want to take another bath.” She got up and started pacing between the two couches, dictating how she wanted the effort to go. They broke the meeting up and the two trackers took a bath and went to bed. They would be getting up early to be in position when dawn broke to be looking around. They carried a cell phone to text in when they had found anything.

That next morning, right after Ecaterina and Alexi had left a little earlier to meet Ivan at one of his many equipment stashes, Nathan and Bethany Anne discussed how he would approach the house with Bethany Anne as a ‘prisoner’. They had decided to blame Alexi for the pack deaths. The story was that Nathan wanted to trade his life for Bethany Anne. Since she was the new chosen child, she should be worth it, right? Smelling human, that should get her in the door.

At first, Nathan got a little righteous on his own honor. He would never trade a woman for his own life. Bethany Anne felt a little smile at the fact that she was becoming a person to Nathan again, not just something to be feared.

She was able to get out of him that he also didn’t like the fact that when word got around that he didn’t play straight up, it wouldn’t go well for him in future negotiations. She pointed out that he was a hacker, among other things and she didn’t believe he had a lily-white reputation.

He pointed out that he wasn’t his hacker personas and that no one knew those ‘highly intelligent workers for freedom of information’ were him, anyway.

She shut him up by exclaiming the dead wouldn’t talk, or be concerned about what people said about them.

After only the small, obligatory grumbling from Nathan, they prepared and then got into their vehicle. They were going to only get within about three miles from his house and walk the rest of the way. They didn’t want to have their vehicle tracked. Petre’s house was on a small road, anyway.

They were waiting in the car a little before 9:00 AM, when they got the first text that Ecaterina had found an entrance. They were still looking.

Bethany Anne didn’t like how easy it was for the first exit to be found. Nathan championed her abilities, it was why he paid so much for her skills.

Bethany Anne had already gotten the story from Ivan, so she knew how Nathan had been suckered into paying for the trip in advance. While she let his comment go without correcting him, she thought it cute he was trying to pump up Ecaterina’s abilities. She was pretty sure that Nathan was shooting for Ecaterina to be on the team when they left Brasov.

A little after noon, she got a text that they had found a separate and much better hidden exit. Alexi had changed to his bear form and went smelling around until he had a musty smell and of all things, French fries coming out of a large set of bushes. It was agreed that Alexi would stay as a bear and push against the metal door at the bottom of some poorly poured concrete stairs under the bushes. Petre would be strong, but it was incredibly unlikely he would be able to move Alexi.

Alexi had sent Ecaterina to watch the other exit.

It was time.

Nathan and Bethany Anne got out of the car, Nathan taking a couple of plastic ties and after walking a little way down the path until he found what he was looking for, turned to look over at Bethany Anne. “You sure you’re able to handle your anger? I don’t want to get suddenly dead doing what you told me to do.”

Bethany Anne smiled at the comment. “Yeah, I’m good. I won’t feel a thing. Are you OK throwing down a defenseless woman?”

Nathan took Bethany Anne and grabbed her arms and held them behind her back and zipped the ties in place. “I am absolutely NOT OK with hurting a defensive woman. In fact, it goes against my masculinity.”

Grinning behind her back, Nathan used his substantial strength and pushed Bethany Anne so hard she flew into the thorny bushes rolling ass over appetite getting her clothes, face, hands and pants tore up until she suddenly stopped with a crack against a tree. He heard her voice coming from about twenty-five feet away from the road, “You son-of-a-bitch! I am defenseless here!”

Nathan smiled wide, “But Bethany Anne, you’re not a woman!”

A few minutes later, after Nathan figured it was safe enough to get close to Bethany Anne again, he was pleased with how messed up she looked. Plant parts, a small branch and leaves were still in her hair and she had dirt and scratches over her eyes and cheeks.

The look of death she gave him was just the right touch. He figured she looked just like a human that was pissed, but not in a position to do anything about it.

His life was complete or as complete as it would get until they made it past this operation. It was a shame he wouldn’t ever be able to share the story of shoving a vampire into a tree without living to regret it.

Bethany Anne barely cracked her lips, her voice soft, “If this look doesn’t get us in, I’m taking you out back and beating you against a few trees to get my anger out, you feel me, Mr. Lowell?”

Nathan’s glimmer of good humor wasn’t diminished any at all by her threat. “I believe I will feel it, Ms. Reynolds, I trust that I will. However, if this plan doesn’t work, I’m not sure I’ll be alive to worry about it.”

“Oh, I’ll make sure you stay alive just so I can get my pound of your flesh back. That shove was fucking hard. My teeth almost went out the back of my head, you prick.” All Bethany Anne got for her verbal tirade was a slightly bigger smile out of Nathan.

They walked up to the gate. Bethany Anne looked at the gate, stupidly. The twelve foot high metal gates opened in the middle and were bracketed by large concrete columns with the letter ‘P’ in cyrillic on both, topped with large gas lanterns that were lit. The walls then went about fifteen feet each way before just stopping. If she wanted to, she could just walk around the walls, it looked so stupid.

Except for the traps that probably existed over there.

Nathan hit the call button on the security post.

Nothing.

He hit it again and a guy came on and spoke in Russian.

Nathan replied in English, “I don’t understand that Russian shit, anyone speak English in there?”

“Yeah, yeah, I speak English too. What do you want?”

“I’m Nathan Lowell, and I ran into some people up on the mountain. I want to do a trade.”

“One moment.”

One moment became two minutes when another voice, more cultured came on. “Who is this?”

Bethany Anne kept up the completely pissed off angry countenance going. It wasn’t hard to fake, she was getting impatient already. She figured they might have video so the acting needed to be as real as possible and Nathan had already supplied her with a superior reason to be pissed off.

“Nathan Lowell.”

“And you would want what exactly, Mr. Lowell?” Nathan figured he was speaking with Petre.

“I need to speak with Petre, I have something he wants and in exchange I just want a free pass back to the States.”

“And where are my partners, Mr. Lowell?”

“Are you Petre?” Nathan got silence for his answer. Yup, he was talking with a vampire. Weres would get angry, at least most of them would have said something. “They aren’t among the living, I’m afraid. They had a large fight with a werebear over on the mountain. He was protecting two women, I have one with me, the other one was killed with the other pack members.”

“And what do you have for me, Mr. Lowell?”

“I have the child that Michael was going to use to create the replacement for Bill, who was destroyed in the United States.”

“What do I want with her, Mr. Lowell?”

“Well, I wouldn’t rightly know, Petre, that is vampire family business and not something I need to be privy to.” Nathan wanted to vomit in his mouth. He wasn’t stupid around vampires, but he knew enough about this prick that it galled him to have to even act like he respected him at all.

“I see, I’m going to open the gate, please be sure that you stay on the path, I don’t want to have to smell your remains after they get blown all over my beautiful trees.” The speaker squelched.

Nathan grabbed Bethany Anne’s arm and pulled her towards the opening gate. “C’mon you whiny bitch, let’s get my ticket out of this country.”

“Whiny Bitch?” Bethany Anne kicked him, hard. He started limping and cussing fluently and loudly. He turned like he was going to backhand her, took one look at her eyes and remembered to act disgusted and grabbed her arm again as they walked up to the house.

The house was pretty large with a three-car garage on the lower right and very little glass showing. Made with a large amount of concrete, it looked pretty modern to his eyes.

The front door opened as they walked up to it and two guys came out. Both had under-arm holsters, but neither had their hands on their guns.

The air exiting the house had a putrid scent on it that Bethany Anne hadn’t smelled before.

That would be a vampire odor.

That is making me want to gag, really? What an obnoxious odor. Can’t humans smell that? 

Your sense of smell is very sensitive and the air in there has a very strong odor from Petre living there a while. His scent just gets stronger.

They stopped in front of the two guys. One in a pair of jeans and a sports jacket, the other had on an old members only jacket. Bethany Anne could barely bite her tongue in time before making a scathing fashion choice comment.

The one with the members only jacket took Bethany Anne’s arm, looking at her disheveled appearance, scuffed up face and stuff in her hair and then back at Nathan. “What?” he said defensively, “She’s a whiny bitch, sue me.” Bethany Anne’s eyes got a little more narrow when hearing that remark.

That same cultured voice was at the door, “Mr. Lowell, you should take care how you speak about anyone in the family.”

Nathan looked up at Petre, he was a normal sized guy. About four inches shorter than Nathan and more a lean swimming pool body with wider shoulders and thin waist, than Nathan’s bulked up physique. Black hair cut really short and a designer athletic suit on. He looked a little rumpled, for a vampire. They had probably woken him up.

“I figured she wasn’t a family member yet, my apologies.”

“Oh, she isn’t, if she was then I would have had to kill you. You realize that we can’t have disrespect in the family, right?” There was a dangerous glint of humor in Petre’s eyes. Like he was saying the right words, but found them loathsome to say out loud without a sardonic smile at the same time give the lie to his comment.

“My apologies, again, can I go now?”

“No, not yet Mr. Lowell, please come and enjoy my hospitality while I find out the full story on what happened with my associates. We will need to go back and find them for a proper funeral, of course.”

Nathan didn’t let anything show on his face, but that wasn’t something they had considered right away. He hoped Bethany Anne would just go all spastic on them and they could get this over with. He wanted a real bed to go collapse in and die for a couple of days. Preferably with a certain someone as company – if he could figure out how to get rid of her uncle. Maybe if he put steaks down he would gorge and go hibernate for a week.

They were walked into the house and passed an office and kitchen. There was another room that seemed to be ready for painting as they had a large paint tarp on the floor. Petre had stopped in the kitchen while the guy with Bethany Anne had taken her to the room with the tarp.

“Well, at least I figure I will need your information, Mr. Lowell. I doubt Ms. Reynolds will be able to provide me much in the way of directions.” Petre had reached over the bar as Nathan was walking past him.

Suddenly he heard a room-thundering boom as Bethany Anne was thrown to the floor, a hole in her back and blood splattering on the wall in front of her. She fell to the floor, unmoving.

Nathan jumped to the side and twisted, looking back at Petre, who was lowering his weapon to the ground with a twinkle in his eye. He looked over Nathan with an eyebrow raised, “Vampire politics, you understand, right Nathan?”

Gott Verdammt vampires, especially the psychotic ones!

Both of the pack guys had come back over to Nathan with a gleam in their eyes that had taken a darker turn. Their animals seemed to be pretty close to coming out.

“Now, Mr. Lowell, why don’t we discuss where my associates can find their pack mates?”

A small movement could be heard back in the other room, both pack members turned around and stared, as did Petre, when Bethany Anne stood up and turned around. There was a huge gaping red hole through her torso that could be seen through. Her eyes had turned red again, like they had been when Nathan had first encountered her out on the mountain.

There didn’t seem to be any intelligence behind those eyes. Nathan started thinking about how the hell he could get out of there without getting noticed by Bethany Anne when he noticed Petre lift the gun. Without thinking, he jumped to hit Petre’s arm to knock off his aim. The gun fired once into the bar before Petre back-handed Nathan into a wall five feet away.

Nathan hit the wall and landed on his knees, coughing, working to get his breath back, anger in his eyes. He couldn’t stop his mouth. “Petre, you hit like a girl.”

But there was no Petre to hear him. Nathan looked over where Bethany Anne was and she had been attacked by both of the pack goons, members only guy had his left arm ripped off, screaming in pain on the floor to the left of Bethany Anne, while the better dressed guy was struggling with the significantly smaller woman’s arms while she was casually chewing on his neck, blood spraying her face and neck, soaking both of them. The hole in her chest was closing in front of him. She dropped the listless guy on the floor and knelt by the other thug who was slowing down and looked to be going into shock. His healing ability was helping to stop the bleeding on his stump. Bethany Anne snapped her fingers in front of his eyes to get his attention.

His eyes, frightened, looked up at her as she took a finger across his bleeding arm socket and licked it off in her mouth right in front of him.

“Where is the bolt hole?” All she got was a guy shaking his head, no, spasmodically.

“Where is he going?” Her voice was silk over steel, her gaze looking into his soul.

“Downstairs, he lives downstairs. Left through the kitchen and then behind the mirror at the end of hall.”

“Good, I hope you yell when you get there.”

The guy looked confused. “Where? Where am I going?”

Bethany Anne’s hand slapped his head, causing blood to explode all over the wall, the rest of the head, with his unseeing eyes rebounded off the wall and landed on the other side of the room. “To hell.”

She stood up, looked around, looked at Nathan and told him to check out the rest of the house. Then she calmly walked around him and headed down the hall after Petre.


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Brasov, Romania

Ecaterina heard her uncle’s roaring and figured that Petre was trying to get out through his exit. They were prepared if he tried to come out during the day, However, she was hoping that he stayed over by her uncle. She was determined to pull her weight, she didn’t appreciate anything this Petre had done to her and her family, not to mention her new friends.

As the noise continued, she took that to be a good sign. If Uncle Alexi was battling the vampire, he wouldn’t come her way.

That was what she was thinking when the noise stopped.

She wasn’t strong enough to fight a vampire, she wasn’t quick enough. Hopefully, all of her years tracking and working in the wild had prepared her for this situation. She decided to get ready and set the final bait.

They had found her exit easily enough. It wasn’t hidden too well, as it was behind a small pile of detritus. This was a throw away exit. Only there to hopefully capture the attention of a backup group, keeping their focus away from the better prepared second exit. She would have never been able to find the main exit on her own, it was hidden too well.

The wooden door started to creak open, with successive pushes to get the old leaves and dirt off of it as it opened.

Petre was hiding under a very heavy dark cloak. Coming out of the hole and turning around to see if anyone was there, he quickly saw Ecaterina, in plain sight and was struck dumb, he moved towards her.

Seconds later, Bethany Anne heard Petre’s high, painful scream. She had found the entrance to the underground tunnels and was quickly walking through them keeping her left hand against the wall. She was barely able to judge any distance in the dank, dark tunnel. Shortly after she heard the screaming, she found the tunnel that took her in that direction.

Only taking a few seconds at her enhanced speed with better light, she hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight, she finished the last one hundred or so yards. The end of the tunnel was considerably brighter since the trap door at the end wasn’t properly shut.

It didn’t hurt she could hear Petre’s cussing and then a loud, meaty whack and a body hitting the ground.

Not knowing what she would find, she practically threw the trap door off in a shower of splinters and came out of the tunnel, only to find Petre, slumped on the ground with his foot in a bear trap and Ecaterina slowly buttoning her shirt up. It was obvious she had no bra on and didn’t look like one was necessary.

Looking at Bethany Anne, Ecaterina finished the last button on her shirt and bent over to pick up a large, metal cross. “What? Father always said use right bait. He never looked down.”

Bethany Anne busted out laughing as Alexi came running through the trees calling out her name.

Shaking her head, she reached down and easily pried apart the bear trap. Petre was a mess inside his robe and clothes, blood all over his broken left leg. She found a holstered .45 while patting him down. She took it out, considered whether he had enough damage and casually shot him in the other leg and then put the gun behind her waistband after setting the safety.

Petre didn’t even make a sound as she grabbed him and threw him back into the tunnel, landing with a thud. If she was lucky, she just broke his damn neck. She told Alexi to hold the fort for a few minutes, they would call if everything was good with Nathan.

She jumped down into the tunnel, noticed an old light switch and clicked it on. Very dim red lights went on about every fifty feet back towards the house. Enough for a vampire to see easily. Grabbing Petre’s foot, she started walking down the pathway. She stayed alert in case he should wake up, otherwise, she didn’t care if he hit more rocks on the way back to the house, in fact, she steered with purpose and hit Petre’s head on two large rocks on the side of the tunnel.

She had read somewhere about how to live a purpose-driven life. She figured she just had a purpose-driven moment and could work up from there.

Brasov, Romania

When she got back to the house with Petre, she noticed that his bullet wound was healed enough to stop bleeding and it looked like his leg was getting better. The swelling on his head wound was going down.

Looking around the office as she came out of the tunnels, the door was hidden behind a bookcase. She cut him ten demerits for lack of evil lair exit originality. Seeing a cricket bat signed by the Romanian cricket team on a wall display, she grabbed it and went back to where Petre was starting to move his head on the floor. She calmly palmed the bat in her right hand and slammed it down on Petre’s forehead. He stopped moving.

She looked at the bat. It now had a little dent where it connected with his head and some of the signatures were smeared. She decided she liked this bat. She grabbed Petre’s left leg with her unencumbered hand and dragged him back through the house and dropped him off in the room with the tarp where he shot her.

Poetic justice, she thought.

By the time she finished dropping Petre, Nathan was coming back downstairs with two laptops in his hands. She gave him a raised eyebrow.

Nathan quickly asked his most pressing concern, “Is Ecaterina, or Alex… Are they OK?”

“Yes, you would be proud of our Ecaterina, she trapped Petre coming out of the exit she was responsible for after he couldn’t get past Alexi’s door. He literally never looked for the bear trap that caught his foot.”

Nathan stood there, a puzzled expression on his face, “Bear trap? Wouldn’t he have been paying attention? Those aren’t easy to hide.”

“Not when he was staring at her bare tits. I’m sure he never noticed anything above her neck or below her navel. I heard the screams and by the time I found the end of the tunnel, I heard her hit him with what I found out to be an old rusted iron cross. By the time I got out, she was already buttoning up her shirt and picking up the cross again. You should have been there.”

Nathan’s face was classic guy, slack jawed with a thousand yard stare. She snapped her fingers in front of him. “What did you find out, what’s with the laptops?”

Coming around, Nathan answered. “Found them in a safe in his bedroom. Idiot never changed the safe’s original combination from the manufacturer. I figure to put them into a clean room and see what we can get off them.”

“Anything else?”

“No, nothing. These two dead guys can’t provide anything, either.”

“We will get it out of Petre as soon as I let him wake up.”

“Let him?”

“I found a cricket bat, I’m still pissed at getting shot, that shit hurt.”

“Yeah, I was able to see right through you, why didn’t that take you out?” Nathan was pretty sure he didn’t know of any vampire stories where that wouldn’t have hurt the vampire, especially such a young vampire, significantly more. She shouldn’t have been able to stand up certainly.

“Story for another time.”

“When?”

“About thirty minutes after I feel I trust you more, now stop being nosy and help me figure out a way to stage this house so they don’t come looking for DNA evidence.”

Seems like she had the normal vampire trust issues. Or, Nathan conceded, she could have been this way before the ‘V’ change.

He looked around at all of the blood everywhere. Even taking up the tarp, they couldn’t clean this house where a CSI group wasn’t going to get her blood. “Not going to happen. There’s no way they can’t see the arterial spray and realize something else went on. Shit, there’s a damn hole in the wall and half your stomach with it.”

She looked where he was pointing, that was just gross seeing her insides sprayed across the wall.

Tom, are the authorities going to find the nanocytes in my blood all over this room?

No. Within an hour, all of your blood won’t be recognizable and your organs that are presently on display will be decomposing at a very fast rate. So long as no one throws them in a cryogenic vat nothing here will be traceable back to you or be able to find the nanocytes.

More than likely, she figured that the pack would find this place before the cops. By the time she was done with Petre, there wouldn’t be any DNA evidence left for any cops, if they were even called. She would get a broom to make sure Petre wasn’t a recognizable lump. Well, if it was true about sun turning them into ash. Otherwise, she’d toss him into the house.

However, Nathan’s scent was all over this house. Looks like fire it was, then. Even if the house didn’t all go up, the smoke generated would be enough to mask any of Nathan’s scent.

“Nathan, did you find any money in the safe?”

“Yeah, enough to get us all first class tickets back to the States and a little extra. I found a few pieces of jewelry, not sure whose. Some paperwork and insurance documents, house documents and the like. Nothing but the laptops, money and jewelry seemed that important.”

“OK, we can use the money to get out of Romania without using credit cards and if we need to pay to get across the border.”

Nathan looked at her and smiled, “I think you’re still remembering being human, I don’t think you need to worry about getting across the border, you could probably just run past them and they wouldn’t see you.”

“Until they looked at the video, sure. But I get your point. What about you?”

“Me? I can just change and run across and meet up with you on the other side.”

“What about Ecaterina?”

“She’s going?” Nathan’s interest peaked up.

“If she wants, she held her own and stopped a vampire. That’s pretty gutsy in my book. Granted, he wasn’t the shiniest tool in the shed, but she didn’t know that. I wish I could have seen Petre’s eyes when that bear trap crunched his leg.”

“Speaking of Petre, what do you want to do with him?”

“I’m going to talk with him, but I’ll do that alone. You can help me by finding whatever fuel you can use to start a fire. Your smell is all over this house, so I want all of the rooms to have a chance to go up in flames when I’m done.”

“What about your…” He waved a hand towards the wall.

“Won’t be a problem by the time we leave. Call Ecaterina and Alexi and let them know we will meet them back at the room to grab our stuff and decide where to go next. I don’t want them here in the house. Did you find any video?”

“No, they actually didn’t have any video.”

“Hmmm…”

Nathan was reminded of the ‘whiny bitch’ comment and started to consider a tactical retreat was in order. “I’m just going to go and find that fuel…”

Bethany Anne watched him walk out, “You just do that.” She walked over to Petre and thought about whacking him one more time for good measure, but decided she needed to get answers and get back to Brasov.

Now, what would be the best way to provide motivation to a sun-fearing vampire? She reached down and grabbed one of Petre’s legs and started towards the front door, “You know, Petre, you should have put on a little more sunscreen this morning. I’m thinking you are about to have a serious sunburn issue. Watch the doorstep. Damn, that had to hurt, if you were awake to feel that anyway.”

Nathan came back into the kitchen area in time to hear Bethany Anne mumbling to the completely comatose Petre as she pulled his body out through the front door, down the step and around the corner.

“Michael was either a genius, or suffering from a mental lapse when he chose that woman.”

Nathan could hear Bethany Anne’s voice from out front coming through the door, “I heard that!”

 Nathan got busy pouring gasoline around the kitchen, he’d found the fuel in the garage. “Well, fuckity-fuck, the walk back is going to suck.”

Her voice was soft, and right behind his ear, “Don’t make me pull off one of Petre’s legs and beat your disrespectful ass, Mr. Lowell.” Nathan turned around, but she was already gone.

Nathan kept his mouth shut, this time.

Brasov, Romania

Alexi, Ecaterina and Ivan were in the small basement when Nathan and Bethany Anne got back. Nathan immediately went to go and take a shower as the smoke was bothering his nose.

Alexi had been explaining his life to both his niece and nephew, how he had been mauled as a child and had healed up in a winter season when he shouldn’t have completely healed at all. He had not told any others in their family, for good reason. Regardless how Bethany Anne felt, he required them to give their word that they would not pass it on to others in the family. Ivan was good leaving this whole experience behind him if he could, but he could tell his sister was wanting to know more. Her closeness to the natural realm just flamed up her excitement about people who could get even closer to nature than she could and she had a driving need to know more, to be more.

There was one person who could tell her more, but he just went to take a shower. However, she had one other person who could and would stop what she wanted to do with but a word. so when Bethany Anne came in she excused herself from talking with her uncle and brother and walked over to Bethany Anne.

She asked Bethany Anne for a moment of her time, feeling trepidation knowing her future could be changed just asking for the chance to do more. What would she say? Would her help with capturing Petre be enough? Would she do what Nathan had talked about and follow this Michael’s rules and make her forget? She was throwing the dice. If she stayed here in Brasov, she could learn more from her uncle, maybe finding a way to safely change herself and feel the wind through her hair as she would walk through the forests as a bear.

She had considered that idea seriously, but this time there was another that she wanted to be with, to learn more about. He was a man after her own heart, and he was so much more.

She feared that he might eventually give in to Bethany Anne. The vampire was exquisite, beyond beautiful and she knew that if it wasn’t for the scary vampire part Nathan would have been more attracted to her. Besides, if she wasn’t close enough for Nathan to focus on, he would do what all men did and start losing his brain cells. His brain would stop reminding him how dangerous and deadly she was and all he would see was the package of female perfection she presented. At least, when she wasn’t beating people with their own arms she had pulled off a moment before.

They went upstairs and sat at the table in the kitchen. Ecaterina started, “I want to thank you for all you have done for helping my uncle and me with these packs and Petre. If you had left us, we would have had to hide out on the mountain and they could have attacked our family until we were made to come down. So, thank you.

“But, I have another favor I want to ask. It is a big favor, I know, I want to leave with you. I’m not sure what I can bring, but I can help and I will learn. Better English? Yes? No problem. I will do better on my speech. If you need help in any way, I want to help. I want to learn more, to do more. This area, this area is beautiful, but I want more. I wanted more before you and Nathan came, I want to learn more. More about the Wechselbalg.”

Bethany Anne considered the earnest woman. “You realize that you could have died today with Petre? Not every vampire or Weres we fight are going to be so easily distracted by an amazing pair of breasts.” Bethany Anne grinned when saying that. Ecaterina blushed a little.

“It works more often than not in my knowledge. Men never get over them from baby to coffin, yes? Unless they like men, then I have Nathan flash them, right?”

Bethany Anne busted out laughing when her comment made her imagine Nathan being up in the forest rubbing his nipples when a gay vampire came out of the tunnel. She caused Ecaterina to start laughing at her own comment and they fueled each other’s mirth for a solid two minutes, tears streaming down their eyes imagining the big, strong Mr. Lowell tweaking his nipples and blowing kisses at the vamp.

Finally, Bethany Anne reached over and placed hand on Ecaterina’s mouth and told her to stop laughing, she was starting to cramp up and they finally slowed down to chuckling and got the tears wiped off their faces.

“Honestly, I don’t know where we are going next, Ecaterina. We probably have to deal with this pack here in Bravos and have Nathan find out what is on those laptops. I didn’t get too much from Petre, no matter how slowly I let the sun burn his body. He lasted longer than I would have given him credit for. I’m hoping that we find something to go on as I don’t want to continue doing this blind. I’m behind the other side by a good margin and I have many more questions than answers. You could die tomorrow when you stay around me, are you OK with this? I can give you a couple of days to think on this if you want. However, by asking to be a part of me, my group, under my protection, this is a lifetime commitment. Others will know you chose a side that most of the world doesn’t know exists. You will be on my team, there won’t be an option to opt-out, to quit, in the future.”

To her credit, Ecaterina didn’t just blurt out an answer but paused to think on the possible ramifications to her life. She felt comfortable that Bethany Anne wouldn’t just mind-wipe her if she declined. However, this was a path to the outside and to knowledge of people no one else knew about. An opportunity to see the world and if it was going to be a short ride, it would be one full of experiences she craved and answers she didn’t realize that a week before she wanted to know. She knew that Nathan had reservations about Bethany Anne, but she had none. She didn’t come with pre-supposed baggage about vampires, so all Ecaterina went on was what she had seen herself and her interactions with her.

Besides, how could you not love a vampire that had such a wonderful laugh?

Bethany Anne had sat back in her chair, she wasn’t going to rush Ecaterina’s decision, if she wanted more time she would provide it. She didn’t need to know until they left Brasov and that wasn’t going to happen today. She did wonder what was going through her thoughts. When she had come out of that tunnel and seen how Ecaterina had taken out Petre, that sealed the deal for Ecaterina to come along if she wanted to do so. She knew Nathan was going to be a very happy guy and Bethany Anne knew that was playing a part in Ecaterina’s considerations.

Personally, she wished that they would just do the horizontal mambo and get it over with. It was so plainly obvious that they liked each other. For once, Ecaterina had someone she was interested in enough she worried about getting his attentions, and Nathan didn’t want to scare her away by coming on too strong.

Those two were going to provide more than an ample amount of opportunities for mischief in the future, she hoped that they got a chance to enjoy life together.

She didn’t know the future, but she knew that she had some tasks to accomplish. The local issues, of course, plus it was time to get hold of Frank and get him involved. Then, they needed to acquire access to the funds and accounts that she knew about, which would involve a trip in to Switzerland or maybe Germany. Michael had a child in Germany, so she would probably choose Switzerland for her first contact with the banks. Nathan was going to need to deal with his own interests as well. She couldn’t just keep him as a pet. Well, let’s be fair, she certainly could do it but she had come to enjoy his company, and his input. He was an important contact in the Were community and she was going to completely upset the strictures the UnknownWorld have lived within for centuries. That alone would normally cause all sorts of problems. People, and she was using that term very loosely, did not like it when their comfortable understanding and place in the world was upset.

Bethany Anne got up from the table. She needed to get clean herself and go shopping. She would use some of the money Nathan uncovered at Petre’s house to get herself some clothes that fit appropriately. She didn’t know if Brasov had a fashionable shoe store, but she hoped no ladies were wearing a pair of Christian Louboutin’s size seven on her way to the store, she didn’t need that kind of temptation right now.

She heard Nathan come out of the shower downstairs. It was time he became useful and help Bethany Anne locate the appropriate fashion stores available in Brasov. Bethany Anne was on a mission for a new wardrobe and she spared a moment to pity any fool who managed to get in her way.

Michael’s Notes (Death Becomes Her):

Thank you, I cannot express my appreciation enough that not only did you pick up this book, but you read it all the way to the end and NOW, you’re reading this as well!

I love to read, I have ever since I was in elementary school. I would have to admit that my reading got a tremendous boost due to how often I was grounded. My parents didn’t believe that television or visiting friends were options while grounded.

I got grounded, often. It was so bad that one time I was running neck-and-neck in a reading competition in homeroom class at school simply because I was grounded and had nothing else I could do.

The only kind of friends I could invite over were The Three Investigators (http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Terror-Castle-Three-Investigators/dp/0679811761). I found their stories exciting, their special clubhouse in the junkyard amazing and the secret candy-in-the-globe so creative I tried to make one for myself. This was probably second or third grade. After destroying my mother’s globe, one she had since (I think) her high school years, I found out that my imagination wasn’t sufficient to overcome my lack of craft skills.

To this day I still read a lot. It is my way of disengaging my mind and traveling through someone else’s exciting adventures.

My writing is more escapist. I love a good action story, but more than that I want to engage with the characters. I want to feel what they are going through, if possible. I want situations that make me excited, worried, where I laugh and say ‘take that, sucka!’ out loud. The challenges faced by the protagonists don’t have to be life threatening, it could be a challenge to ask that special someone out for a date that keeps the story flowing. I’m not really into books that keep you constantly afraid for the characters. If I care about a character, I’ll turn the page, and buy the next book, just to see them reach a personal milestone that is challenging to that character. However, having said all of that, action is what drives the story forward!

For the last couple of years, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Urban Fantasy and Military Science Fiction with my personal reading. I decided for my series, I wanted to merge both genres. However, how to accomplish this? I decided I would write a story arc that would take us from a pivotal point here on Earth and then take the characters through the effort to reach for the stars and beyond.

There are presently thirteen titles sketched out. Death Becomes Her (originally titled “Death Comes”) is the first in the series and the next has the working title “Queen Bitch”.

My thought behind Bethany Anne’s character was ‘what happens when you provide a person overly sensitive to injustice and give her the ability to kick ass and ignore the names? I’m sure she could effect change, but it doesn’t automatically follow that it will be good change. The fight she has might not be with a ‘boss’ at the end of each book, but rather with herself. Will she become that which she loathes? Will she be able to recognize humanity in enemies or will she become desensitized like Michael? How will her friends react if that occurs?

Bethany Anne has a lot on her plate. Where is Michael? Is he alive, is Carl alive? If she changes the strictures which everyone follows that Michael laid down, what happens? How does she go about dealing with the challenge to Michael with the vampire serum? Without Michael, there is a vacuum at the top of the UnknownWorld and Bethany Anne is smart enough to know she cannot allow a leadership vacuum to occur. She is going to need to step in and ‘put her size sevens Christian Louboutin’s* up their asses if they don’t get in line.

Well, let’s be real. She will change her shoes then implement the attitude adjustments.

That’s what she is up against, so what does she have? Well, wonderful new skills. The ability to bitch slap with the best of them. Nathan is a solid computer security wizard and she has Tom, the organic computer in her mind (I hope that ends up well for her). Michael has provided some finances that she needs to access. I’m unsure what she will do for a home. Can she access Michael’s home in New York? If she can’t, where will she make her base of operations? Will Bethany Anne ever have a romantic interest? I’m not sure. What I have learned writing this book (other than that Scrivener is the best software for an author like me to get a book completed) is that as I write, the characters write their own stories. An example is that I never had Ecaterina in my story, she just tagged along. I tried to outline this story a long time ago. I failed miserably. What worked was sitting down and writing. Hopefully, it was a fun story!

Please, if you enjoyed this book give it a rating on Amazon. Your kind words and encouragement help any author. I will continue to the next story whether you provide an OUTSTANDING review or not. However, it might get done a wee bit faster with the encouragement (smile).

Want to comment on the best scene, comment, event, shoes or gun for Bethany Anne, weapon Nathan would prefer…you name it?

Join me on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/TheKurtherianGambitBooks/

Want to know when the next book or major update is ready? Join the email list here:

http://kurtherianbooks.com/email-list/

Software used to write this book is Scrivener (Windows and Mac):

https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Book Cover Images purchased at PhotoDune.net: http://photodune.net

Image software to make the cover (Mac): http://www.pixelmator.com/mac/ (3200x4800 @ 300dpi)


Thank you.

Michael Anderle, 2015

*All credit for me having ANY shoe knowledge goes to my wife, who still works to provide me with even a finger’s amount of fashion sense. Why she asks me to comment on her outfits in the morning still confuses me to this day.



home | my bookshelf | | Death Becomes Her |     цвет текста   цвет фона   размер шрифта   сохранить книгу

Текст книги загружен, загружаются изображения



Оцените эту книгу