Book: Never Forsaken



Never Forsaken

CONTENTS

Dedication

Legal

Social Links

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

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Authors Notes

Review Remarks

SECRET STUFF AT THE BACK

Wechselbalg Future

Chapter Twenty-Seven


To Family, Friends and

Those Who Love

To Read.

May We All Enjoy Grace

To Live The Life We Are

Called.

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) 2016 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

Version 1.1


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Michael Anderle - Jan 11, 2016.

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

Under My Heel

The Kurtherian Gambit 06

(Feb 2016)

Kneel Or Die

The Kurtherian Gambit 07

(Late Feb / Mar 2016)

(There are more,

but I’m not sharing the titles yet.

Looking at you Marvel Studios.)


CHAPTER ONE

Germany

Underneath the snow and ice the stone was centuries old.  Carried into the small valley on the backs of slaves whose bones had long since turned to dust in the countless massive graves surrounding the castle.  For hundreds of years, the trees stood silent as living headstones and the undergrowth covered the only physical remains of lives used up as self-serving expedients without a thought to the people who died to make this fortress.

David hadn’t cared about humans then, he cared even less for them now. Walking into the massive room beneath his castle, its size, over twenty feet wide and thirty feet long, rising over twenty-five feet in the air was an immense effort of time and lives, effort and lives he couldn’t be bothered to remember.  He stopped, staring at the hermitically sealed container in front of him, rage infusing his countenance, his eyes red, his voice full of anguish and hurt, voice barely above a whisper that could still be heard to the four corners of the room.

“Father, father.  Why did you bring me to this?  Instead of being locked up in this holding cell, you could be taking your rightful place at the head of our new order.  You would have been the prince these cattle would have recognized and followed.  Now, I am stuck with Anton, that degenerate mind-fuck and the lives of the Nazi scientists he has extended. Their pitiful existence needed to continue their research on recreating the serum.” David stepped to the glass. “Why you sacrificed others to destroy the effort in Japan is beyond me.  We were finished, we were complete.  We had the answer in our hands, and your American lackeys destroyed it all in the inferno of their Atom bomb.  All of our priceless research gone.  All they left me was but a few samples to try and reverse engineer.”

David, a tall aristocratic looking man with dark widow’s peaks on either side of his forehead started walking back and forth in front of the copper colored rectangular metal and glass container.  The iron anchor bolts holding it steadfastly and solidly to the bedrock beneath it.

“Now, I am forced to kill another sibling. Stephen has annoyingly decided that living is a better solution than just fading into the sun.  I will have the blood of another brother on my hands.  I’ve despised myself since I sent Hugo to the eternal sleep and now Stephen is forcing me to end his life.”  His voice became harder, “This time; however, you are to blame.  You brought this new woman into existence, and she pulled Stephen back from his final rest. Stephen’s blood will be laid at your feet, his death on your head.  Your Bethany Anne is causing all sorts of trouble for Anton and Stephen is now beyond being a simple annoyance.”  He stopped and considered his next steps, “Unfortunately I cannot allow his continued interruptions in my European plans.  Eventually, he might impede the progress of projects which are critical.  So, I tell you this and you may grieve in advance knowing your choices have already led to so many of our race dying… DYING!”  David slammed his palm against the copper exterior, a deep ringing bouncing off the wall.

He drew himself to his full height, “Do you know how many have died since she was brought forth? DO YOU?  Honor is what you preach, but she is the most dishonorable of all.  She treats humans as having value, werewolves deserving of respect.  This filth she teaches cannot be allowed to spread; cannot be allowed to take root in any more minds than it already has. She has affected far too many of my plans.”  His voice stopped, dropping to little more than a whisper. “As powerful as she could become, it is with little happiness that Anton will have to kill her.  She would be a supreme choice to become the new leader of our race.”  David paused, envisioning a future that could not be, “Of our existence.  Compared to her, even you pale in consideration.  The cattle would form a line and the sheep would bleat out their willingness to sacrifice everything just to feel her touch.”

He turned around, looking up and into the distance from underneath so much ground.  Up to where he imagined the sun must be shining, those rays which were too painful to see, to enjoy and spoke into the air.  “Even for someone who would take us into such a glorious future, she must be sacrificed to the greater righteousness and make amends for the millions killed seeking our rightful place.”  He paused imagining what would not be, “Pity that.”

David walked towards the steps that would take him up to the castle proper, wrapped in his own thoughts, his anger from a minute before completely forgotten.  He called over his shoulder before disappearing up the stone steps, “Do say your goodbyes for Stephen, he won’t be long in this world.”

In the copper container a myst swirled from top to the bottom and back again, agitated.  The pressure inside was too great for the myst to become a flesh and blood being, for a human form would immediately disintegrate.  The myst had been in this container for a time which seemed an ongoing, never ending pain as its energy continued to fade.  It had too much time to think, to listen to his child rail forth in rage and dishonor. Time for even a thousand-year-old being to consider the mistakes an unbreakable belief in absolutes might bring about.  To realize his whole existence and knowledge had been laid low, his superior standards, broken on the anvil of reality.  If the myst could weep, it would shed ten-thousand tears.

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

So, what are you saying is going to happen?

Would a qualified ‘I don’t know’ satisfy you?

Bethany Anne snorted, how TOM thought anything of the sort was beyond her.  She was standing in front of the pod-doc in TOM’s ship.  They had been going through the results on the German Shepherd’s medical review for the last fifteen minutes.  Well, as much as ‘push this button… hmmm… push that button and slide that digital representation up… hmmm… not sure about this… push this….’ could accomplish.  She was getting a little impatient with the alien symbiont inside of her.

Ok, give me your unqualified best guess TOM.  I’m getting a little impatient.

Really?  When did we start with patience so you could reduce it?  I thought if a substance was lacking in the first place, you couldn’t lose what you didn’t have in the beginning?

TOM, if it didn’t hurt so much, I would slap you smart.

Good for me you can’t at the moment, hmmm?  Wait, what was that?

Bethany Anne grinned.  TOM had become his own complete personality with idiosyncrasies she both enjoyed and deplored.  She finally figured out the other night he could hear a copy of another trashy reality TV show that was vibrating down from the deck above and quickly went up and walked in on a group of Navy folks working in the kitchen.

She looked at the TV, walked over and yanked the plug out of the wall, which got everyone’s attention.  “See this TV?”  Lots of heads shook up and down.  She reached down while holding the TV with her left hand and then yanked the plug out of the TV with her right. “This TV was giving TOM all sorts of bad human ideas that I have to listen to all of the time.  Now, any TV that is running in here better be family friendly or the next one goes overboard with the person who was playing it, capisch?”  Lots of heads shook up and down.  One or two were trying not to smile.  Some of TOM’s comments had run through the grapevine and there was a small but growing cadre of TOM fans.

It was driving her nuts.

She quit daydreaming and got back to the task at hand.

Never mind what I said, what is the diagnosis?

We have our own version of the Six Million Dollar Mutt?

Gott Verdammt!  She was going to find John and slap the ever loving shit out of him.  TOM asked about watching that deplorable old TV show after he heard a conversation between John and Frank and now fancied himself a creator of new and better versions of reality.  Maybe she should slap Frank for good measure.

Bethany Anne reached up and pulled aside the cover which allowed her to view inside and looked inside the pod-doc.  ‘Oh, holy shit.  I don’t remember him looking like that when I put him in there, TOM.  What happened?’

You’re talking to the air, again.

“Shut up and just get on with it.  Anyone inside this ship right now knows you’re in me.”

There is no one else in this ship.

There was a pregnant pause as Bethany Anne didn’t reply.

Ok, got it.  It seems the pod-doc decided to move forward after we put the canine in the medical doc.

Why would it decide to do this?  I was under the impression that we were just checking it out.

Human error?

How could it be human error, you ass!  I was the only one who was setting it up, and we both know I don’t know shit about how to operate your machinery, including Bones here!

Bones?  Oh, Dr. Bones.  Nice one.

Bethany Anne had pulled the Star Trek series to watch with TOM and they had made it through season one so far.

Well, Jim, it’s like this - I fucked up.

Bethany Anne was pole axed for a moment, just letting his comment wash through her.  She could feel his slight embarrassment through their connection.  She straightened up for a second then bent back over and looked in the small window for thirty seconds and stood back up again.

“TOM, buddy, that might be a small understatement.  We put a normal if pretty aggressive German Shepherd into the pod-doc.  What I have in there is an all-white monster sized German Shepherd with what I imagine are small knives for teeth and feet the size of horse shoes.  I don’t know if he can eat a side of beef, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough cow on board for that dog.  If the aggressiveness has been adjusted, I might have to kill it and that is a hell of a ‘thank you’ for helping me in the fight.”

True and I would feel bad about that.  However, on the positive side he isn’t ready to come out yet so we have a little time to discuss this situation.

“Situation, yeah, that about sums up this SNAFU.  Well, take your readings and set them to give it what we can.  If we are going to change him, and that train has left the station, we might as well up the settings to 11.”

Bethany Anne, the ‘settings’ don’t have an 11.

Turn of phrase TOM, it means we turn them up past what others can turn their … You know, I’ll just have to let you watch an old movie called Spinal Tap.

Ok, up to ’11’ it is.

Five minutes later, she turned to her right and took a step to trans-locate through the etheric. She disappeared before putting her foot down.

The Queen Bitch's Ship Polarus

Bethany Anne completed her step when appearing inside her protected wardrobe.  She unlocked the door and walked into her personal suite.  Ecaterina was working at her desk.  She was giving off a dissatisfied energy that Bethany Anne was able to almost feel, even if it didn’t touch her face.

Jumping up on her bed, she crossed her legs and put her head on her palm, elbow on her leg.  “What you got for me, Kat?”

Ecaterina was accustomed to Bethany Anne appearing from any direction.  Since her human senses wouldn’t register so much of what Bethany Anne could do, she tried to dampen her reactions honed from years out in the wilderness on the ship.  A wilderness, she could admit to herself, she was missing.

Ecaterina worked down the list of tasks.

“The Weres are on their way down to Miami.  They will stop and talk with Nathan and Pete and then Pete will bring them down to us.  Bobcat will pick them up at the closest airport, not sure which one that is, yet.  Nathan is working on a task with Frank and Lance up in Miami at the moment so he is staying there.  Dan and the team are getting ready to have the meeting with the Weres.  We have been able to track a little of what is going on in San Jose because of the newspaper and the reporter you guys helped.  She has some sort of love-fest going on for you guys.  Except, she suggests, her butt was pinched.”

Bethany Anne retorted, “She wishes, it was a dart from my gun. I shot her to put her to sleep.  We needed the reporter quiet at the time and it seemed the easiest solution, she’s freaking out like a little girl.”

Ecaterina looked up over her laptop at Bethany Anne on the bed; she raised an eyebrow in question. “She is young, maybe not a little girl but certainly had enough guts to try and get the story, no?”

“Yeah, ok.  You might consider that rash, stupid, or any of a number of other items. I suppose you could attach bravery as an alternate possibility.” Bethany Anne said.

“In my country, freedom of the press is permitted, but we still remember when it was not so easy to get the truth out.  I appreciate her effort to tell the truth even if we don’t personally want it known.”

“Consider me duly chastised.  Her stories have helped us, at least the politicians aren’t trying to track us down.  I don’t think we’ve gotten a single call in a week, right?”

“That is true, so I consider her an asset.  Asset, this is the right term, yes?”

Bethany Anne thought about that.  “Yes, she is definitely an asset; nothing she has done has hurt us.  You’re right, she is a benefit.”  There was more going on with Ecaterina than she thought.  “Are you missing Nathan?  He has only been gone a couple of days.”

Ecaterina looked back up from her laptop and pursed her lips.  She closed the lid on the laptop and made a frown.  “Nathan is not happy that I want to do more and we have had a disagreement.  I don’t like being stuck on the ship all of the time when everyone leaves to go on operations.  He thought I would be happy for a while with the new sniper rifles, but it was a ruse.  A ruse?  Maybe that is the wrong term.  I am not unhappy to be with you, and I will take however long I need to be a part of your ops team, I am ready to be more than just… this.”  The waved her hand over the laptop, “More than one who manages people and things.”

“You are going stir crazy.”

“What is this? You mean my crazy is getting stirred up?”

Bethany Anne cocked a head, “Not exactly, it means you are cooped up too long.  You need to get out.  If you were back in Romania, it would mean you had been too long in your house and need to go to the mountains for a little while.”

Ecaterina slowly nodded her head.  “Yes, this is what I would do.”

Bethany Anne thought about the woman who had tended bar and went out to hunt, trap and live on the mountain.  She was a free spirit and the people on the ships probably needed a little R&R themselves.  “Tell you what; we need a little down time from the ops.  You aren’t the only one who is probably feeling the need to stretch their legs.  Let’s figure out where we can anchor that has a good beach and is hopefully secluded. We will tie both ships up and have a day or two of fun.  Make sure we have a guard about, but we all need to stretch our legs.  Good idea.  Also, if you want to move to operations, you are going to have to train harder, be better and generally get your ass back in gear.  I haven’t thought about you for ops because you don’t train like you want to be on ops.  Got it?”

Ecaterina shook her head, “I understand, yes.  Just do, don’t whine.”  She opened her laptop back up and started jotting tasks she would need to get organized so she and others could enjoy some time off of the ships.  It was one of the most beautiful and expensive prisons in the world if you loved to be on the land as much as she did.


CHAPTER TWO

Miami, FL - USA

Nathan and Pete waited with Frank by one of William’s armor-protected SUV’s.  Fortunately, there was a set of keys easily available as William had left that morning on a three-day stay-cation.  He had met a woman at one of the clubs over the holidays and wined and dined her.  Now, they were going to go clubbing and prouncing around town for the next couple of days.

Three men waited for the Gulfstream to land and taxi over to them.  Frank wanted to get the flavor of the new recruits, he said.  Nathan assumed he just wanted to add another chapter to his book in process.

Lt. Cmdr Paul Jameson was bringing the plane in for a slow stop in front of the men. Nathan could see Paul wink over at Frank and wondered what that was about.  Anyway, the door to the plane started opening and the steps descended to the tarmac.  Next to him, Pete stood at casual attention, his time with John’s group was now ingrained in his posture and he was damn near a poster boy for Bethany Anne’s guards.   He wore his uniform, with his patch on his shoulder.  Nathan smiled as he remembered Pete’s conversation with the asshat back in New York. Pete had pointed to the same patch and informed the trouble-maker he wasn’t getting in the group since Pete had a vote and just voted him off the island, so to speak.

According to Ecaterina, there were five in this plane.  A few others who had wanted to join decided to wait until this first group went through the paces and word got back to the pack and was disseminated on what they could expect.

On board the aircraft, Tim “Rocky” Kinley was grabbing his duffle.  All of the group on the plane had been told to bring the minimum as anything not allowed would be summarily dumped overboard.  While he wasn’t too keen on having his stuff thrown away, he figured it would be a small price to pay to get the hell out from under the pack council’s laws.  He had a temper.  He wasn’t one to just randomly hurt people, but he had trouble controlling his temper. With him being as large as he was, randomly punching people who pissed him off for fairly innocuous problems had caused a black cloud above his head.  He had issues ever since he was fourteen and went through an impressive growth spurt.  Now, at six foot two and 220 lbs, there were few people he really respected in life.

The other four in the group didn’t fit into the pack life for their own reasons and so far, no one had asked ‘why’ they wanted out.  It was understood that all of them would meet the vampire before too long.  While Tim hadn’t met her back in New York, he was too far away to join that group; he had been at the meet-up in New York with Gerry and Nathan.  Tim wasn’t a screw off, he worked hard and maybe he wasn’t a super smart guy, but he wasn’t a meat head either.  He needed to be able to fit in with a group and the only way to accomplish this, he felt, was joining a group of people so badass they would be able to put him in his place if he got out of control.

This vampire, by all accounts, would be able to make this happen.  Now, whether any of the humans could was another matter.  Hopefully, his anger wouldn’t get him in trouble like it had in the past.  May God forgive him if it did.

The co-pilot on the plane had unbuckled and started opening the door for the guys. When the door was completely open, the man stepped back and Tim stepped down the steps and looked to see Nathan Lowell, the Queen Bitch Guard Pete Silvers and a middle-aged man with a grin and a notebook in his hand waiting for them.  There was a black SUV behind them.

Nathan Lowell was one man Tim’s emotions stayed in check around.  He hadn’t personally dealt with Nathan himself, but enough of the Wechselbalg community told stories that even his aggressive personality was careful around him.  He had watched Pete calmly shoot Terry in the kneecap from a distance and then toss him out on his ass at the meeting.  He respected Pete’s accomplishment, but Terry was just a fucking whiner.  His inner wolf wasn’t satisfied yet with Pete’s martial abilities.  The older man was a human.  That he was in on this meant he must be either a helper, maybe a librarian, or someone up the chain.  Either way, he wasn’t a physical threat and he was dismissed.

The four other guys followed him out.  Every one of them had alpha issues and couldn’t adjust to being within the pack as it was, but none of them decided to push Tim around.  Enough stories had circulated that Tim was a hot-head. He didn’t look for trouble, but sure as hell didn’t back down from it, either.  If they wanted a fight, a sneeze in the wrong direction could grant them an audience immediately.  No one figured fighting on the Queen Bitch’s personal plane was a good way to introduce themselves.

Each had their own duffle, provided at the New York La Guardia airport terminal.  It was black with a blue patch, similar to the Queen Bitch’s Guard, but instead of hair, the vampire skull had ears like wolves.  As a symbol, it wasn’t very subtle, maybe that was the point?

They lined up in a rough line in front of Nathan who had just stood there and shook his head to each as they arrived.  He was wearing a green long sleeve shirt and hadn’t shaved in a couple of days.  His grey-blue eyes just watching them appearing both at ease and yet ready to pounce if necessary.  Pete next to him just looked at ease.

Behind them, the plane’s engines cycled back up and it started to taxi away, moving a short distance.

Nathan waited for the noise to settle down.  “Gentleman, and I use that term very loosely because if ‘gentle’ is anywhere in your personality, I suggest you request a flight back to New York right now.”  Everyone enjoyed a small chuckle , there were rarely truly gentle Wechselbalg.

Nathan continued, “I’m here to officially pass you over from Pack to Bethany Anne’s group.  Right now, the aircraft is refueling.  When you get back on that plane, you have officially renounced the pack bonds you enjoy at this time.”

Nathan smiled a little, “Well, maybe ‘enjoy’ is not the right word to use right now, but you were under their protection such as it was.  When you step on Bethany Anne’s plane one more time, you are officially under her protection and her control.  Don’t mistake that last part.  If any of Bethany Anne’s group makes a decision to toss your ass out, it will be tossed out.  Until you make the team, there is no reason for Bethany Anne to believe your word over someone she has taken into the dark and come through the other side, usually by killing the problems between point A and B.  Don’t make the mistake of judging any of her team as anything less than professionals who have been through the dark and made it to the other side.  They have probably seen and killed beings that will turn you human.”  There were laughs with that comment.

Nathan finished, “Welcome to the team, I hope to see all of you at the end of your training.”  With that he stepped back and Pete stepped up.

Pete looked all of them in the eyes, making sure he had their attention. “I doubt anyone of you will be turned human, God forbid.”  He got another small chuckle, “But I will tell you that you had better leave your ‘B’ game here in Miami.  When you get on that plane, Bethany Anne will own your ass.  Since I am in charge of this group through the training, I will own your ass.  Everyone know what this patch means?”  Pete pointed to the patch on his left arm.  He got nods from everyone, “Good, then you know I won’t hesitate to throw your asses on to the nearest helicopter, plane or rowboat if necessary if you embarrass this group.  I don’t care if you make a mistake, we all do.  But you had better be running full steam when you make that mistake, do you understand?”  He got five nods.  “I’ll get your names on the plane; I see it coming back over here.  Grab your duffle’s and let’s make history.”

Tim was impressed; maybe this Pete was at least someone to get to know, hopefully before Tim did something stupid.

Anton’s residence, Buenos Aires Argentina

Anton grabbed one of his throw away phones, looked back at the computer screen which was on a well used social board for hookups and dialed the number that started in the girl’s measurements.  Not a valid number, that was for sure.  The female would have to have a forklift to carry those around if they were real.

The phone rang twice before it was picked up, “George is a dick…”

Anton replied, “Costanza was, but must you always be so crass?”   Anton wasn’t fond of the TV show, but he could appreciate the acting to some degree.  The pass phrase complete, he got down to business.  “Have you figured out where the team is that ruined San Jose for me?”

The man, an operative for the American government, who had been in South America too long. The agent succumbed to the temptation that money was more important than his honor, his allegiance to his country replied to the question. “Not exactly.  We know it was a Black Hawk that came in from the east.  The pilot was good, he stayed as close to the floor as he could most of the way.  Our first positive blip was within ten miles of the coast, so either they came in from a shore base or off a ship.  My vote is from a ship, it’s a cleaner solution than a base on land.  However, I don’t have any information about any US assets in that area.”

“Trust me, it isn’t a US ship.  There isn’t anything the US has which could have handled the fight as it went down.”  Anton heard a gruff grump on the phone. Anton decided to placate the American agent, “Stop beating your American chest; I’m not saying you don’t have deadly people, but until you meet and beat a Nosferatu, you’re nothing but a virgin.  If you weren’t a virgin, you would be dead.  I want more intelligence, I need to know more about their operations group.  Get some people who can deal with this.  Earn your keep and your retirement only gets closer, fail me and your retirement becomes irrelevant.  Make this happen, understand?”

The operative agreed and they hung up.  Anton went through the process of destroying the phone, thinking about where this Bethany Anne could be, and what she could have with her.  That she was flying in a military helicopter suggested she had military contacts already.  This was a disturbing precedent.  Maybe he needed to go back to his research group and see about pushing through the latest two serum trials.

He stood up from behind his desk and grabbed his coat.  It was a balmy 75 outside, but he used the special lining as protection from the sun.  Always be prepared, it helped him stay alive for centuries.

When he finally took over the world, he would slap those little boy-scout bastards who used his phrase and make them pay tribute.

Miami, Fl - USA

Lance read the number on his cell phone.  He was sitting on a couch in Bethany Anne’s home in Key Biscayne. Frank was on the other couch.  He clicked the accept button.

“Hey Bethany Anne, what do you have for me this time daughter dear?”

Bethany Anne snorted on the other side of the line, “Can’t I just be a concerned daughter looking out for her dear loving dad?”

It was Lance’s turn to snort.

He could hear her grin coming over the line, “Ok, you got me there.  I wanted to call you about Patricia.”

“Oh?  Really!  That’s interesting as I don’t recall us talking about Patricia such that you might need to talk with me about her.”  Lance looked over at Frank, who studiously ignored the byplay on the phone and kept writing in that strange language into his notebook.  Great, now this was going to be part of the story.

Bethany Anne ignored his effort to put off the conversation. “Can it, dad.  Get your dander up another time.  How well do you know Patricia, really know her?”



Lance considered the question.  They weren’t playing for a small local win here, but for all the worldwide marbles.  His daughter had a point, dammit!

He said, “Well, not well enough to have a shotgun wedding, but well enough to know she would have my back in a pinch.”

“Dad, this is going to be considerably more than a pinch.  Every one of my ex-military people has sworn their honor to what we are accomplishing.  You will be forced to have this same talk with Patricia and if she doesn’t join in, I’m going to have to remove this information.  Are you willing to make sure this happens, dad?  Because I’m not going to risk every one of my crew’s future because you have a good friend who can make your life easier.”

“No need for theatrics Bethany Anne, I get your point.  I’m comfortable she is the right person and I do need her for more than just making my life easier.  However, I think she needs to have a chat with you to finish this out before she gets pulled in.  Can you catch a flight up here when she arrives to have a chat?  I need her inside as quick as possible.”

“Probably, just call me or Ecaterina when you have had your discussion.  Who knows, I might be in the area.”

Lance wasn’t sure what she meant by that comment.  He wasn’t aware that she was planning on coming up to Miami from the Polarus.  He would have to ask Frank about that; or maybe Nathan later.

“Alright, she arrives in a couple of days.  I’ll let you know when it should happen…. pretty soon I think.”  He told her good-bye and hung up.

He knew Bethany Anne wouldn’t hurt Patricia, but he did have to consider that Patricia might not see Lance as the same man she respected for his effort to protect his nation when she worked for him.  If Patricia disapproved of what he was working on now with Bethany Anne, that might hurt more than he had thought.

He wasn’t sure how bad it would hurt Patricia if Bethany Anne did have to erase some of her memory.  Unfortunately, whatever Patricia would say to Lance before that happened would stay with him the rest of his, now longer, life.


CHAPTER THREE

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Polarus

Gabrielle was walking down the hallway to Bethany Anne’s room.  She had just left Darryl and Scott moaning and groaning on the practice mats after throwing them around.  Darryl had asked if something was bothering her when she got more and more aggressive during the session.

Gathering her thoughts, she was ashamed to realize that she had in fact allowed worry to invade her emotions while working with her team.  Nothing too bad, but it needed to be addressed and there was only one person who was even remotely able to understand Gabrielle’s unique position.

She was a vampire who could have children.

She told the guys to slap some duct tape on their boo boo’s and swallow some Ben-Gay; they were being a couple of babies.  Scott had just lain on the mat and slowly raised one arm and then gave her the middle tent pole answer to that statement.  She laughed it off and tossed them each a towel.  She had worked out with John and Eric earlier.  They were as ready for a show down with the Were group as she could make them.

She nodded to John as she came into Bethany Anne’s quarters.  Eric was walking around up top and Killian, she knew, was up in a sniper position.  She hadn’t seen Dan yet today.

She knocked on Bethany Anne’s door and it opened a couple of seconds later.  Ecaterina stood aside to let Gabrielle in as she walked out and then proceeded to leave the room herself. Ecaterina called over her shoulder,  “Sorry, got to run and get ready for a party!”  Gabrielle stopped to look at the smiling Romanian.  She realized she hadn’t really seen the woman smile in a couple of weeks.  Party?

Gabrielle shook her head and closed the door.  Bethany Anne was sitting on her bed, her legs crossed and just raised an eyebrow in her direction.  Her direct and often simple modes of communication was one of the traits Gabrielle liked about this woman.

Gabrielle was quick to get to the point, “I need to talk something out, and you are the only option here.”

Bethany Anne thought about that for a split second, jumping into vamp-speed to take apart the comment.  Well, she was the only female vampire and the ultimate boss.  Typically, Gabrielle could talk to Dan for anything her Bitch’s needed, so probably female vampire need.  Gabrielle looked a little distressed, which was not very normal for the older, much older, woman.  Bethany Anne sighed, “Children?”

Gabrielle nodded her head in agreement and slid into a sitting chair against the wall. “You are not so naive for such a youngling.”

“Process of elimination.  Plus, I have to admit I’m thinking about it too.  This ability to have children again took me by surprise and I can’t say that I’m happy about revisiting this decision again.”

Gabrielle looked confused, “You have a guy that you want to have children with?  How did I not know this?”

Bethany Anne stuck her tongue out.  “You know I don’t, and stop trying to tweak me because I called you wank-bait.”

Gabrielle looked at the younger woman, “It wasn’t simply ‘wank-bait’ but also ‘boner gypsy, jizz-queen, wank conductor, boner barn and penis harmonica.”

“Dick harmonica, but who is taking notes?”

“Apparently, you.”

Bethany Anne tapped her forehead, “Alien symbiont, remember?  There is nothing he forgets.”

I didn’t remind you of what you said.

Keep quiet; I might get to score again.

Humph.

Gabrielle mouth twisted as if she had eaten a sour lemon, “I looked up jizz. Really?  Queen of sperm?  That is disgusting.”

Bethany Anne smiled, “Is that so?  I figured after 500 years, you had just about tried everything.  You have that tattoo and all.”

Gabrielle was quick to reply, “I am not 500 years old!”  Then she got it.  Gabrielle hadn’t told Bethany Anne her real age and her dad, bless his black soul, had agreed not to tell anyone a very long time ago.  “You are baiting me, it won’t work.”

“Maybe not this time, but now I know you are less than 500 years old.”  She winked at the older vampire.

Gabrielle put her hands to the sides of her forehead and started rubbing. “You can be insufferable.  Why can’t you just let it go? Can’t a woman have a secret or two?”

Bethany Anne replied, “I’m sure you have more secrets than I am ever going to find out.  For example, how many lovers have you had?”

Gabrielle sputtered, “What?  Why would I tell you such a thing?  I am not a slut! But after a … few … years, a woman might acquire a few companions.  After a few … more … years, they might exceed a handful.”

“A handful at a time?”

“Not a handful at a time!”

“Ok, four.”

“It was not four!  Just three.”  Gabrielle’s face turned red as she stomped her foot; “Shit!”

Bethany Anne cracked up and started rolling around on her bed.  “My, my Gabrielle, does Stephen know that you have been quite the lucky lady?”

She pointed her finger at Bethany Anne, “No!  I swear you had better not tell him, either.  He would not let me live it down if I ever admitted to such a thing.  Look at this, I come in here to bare my heart and you pull this information out of me.” Her eyes narrowed, “You are a very evil woman.”

Bethany Anne got her laughter under control.  “I am just curious, it is the natural predilection of females and since I have lived such a chaste life.”  Gabrielle snorted.  Bethany Anne glared at her, “May I continue? Since I have led such a chaste life I am trying to figure out what my future might be and you are the only one who I know that has been alive long enough to share.  That you don’t drives me a little nuts.” She finished with a smile, “So, all of this is actually your fault for not sharing.”

Gabrielle was about to tell Bethany Anne off, but realized she herself had come for a similar reason.  “Ok, I get it.  I may not have realized that you have a decent reason for wanting to know my past.  I never considered you might be thinking about your future.  I just thought you wanted prurient details.”

“Well, some of those too.”  Bethany Anne smiled.

Gabrielle shook her head, “You are a handful, my Queen.  Ok, I’ll share more some other time and yes, I have had in excess of ten lovers.”  Bethany Anne raised an eyebrow, “Ok, twenty.”  She raised the other eyebrow, “Forty, but that is over a very long time.  There was a time back in Paris in the 20’s that I might have been considered for some of those words you used.”

“Really, the 1920’s?”

“No, the 1820’s.”

“God, this is just like Ivan was talking about with Stephen, you have to confirm what century you two are talking about.”

Gabrielle did her best impression of her father, “Indeed.”

Bethany Anne sighed and sat back up. “Ok, you’ve been fair.  I don’t want to talk about this subject, so it is easier to pick on you.  I don’t know what I want to do about children.”

“So, you understand my dilemma?”

“Maybe, but for you I would think it could be both easier and harder.  Easier because it has been a significant, but unknown, amount of time since you could not have children so why make a change now?  On the other hand, you have a human lover and within a few years, he will probably have a desire for children and he, knowing you can have children, will make it harder for you as time goes by.”

Gabrielle sighed, “Yes, that about sums it up nicely.”

Bethany Anne scooted to the end of her bed and draped her legs over, “How much do you care for Ivan?”

Gabrielle glanced over Bethany Anne’s head looking into the distance, focusing on nothing.  “I don’t know.  Part of me misses him; part of me forgets he is available to be missed when we get busy.  It is only when everyone is asleep and I am by myself that I think of him.”

“So, to be blunt, you’re lonely for companionship when it is available, but it isn’t a driving need in your life right now?”

“It does make me sound like a user when you put it that way.” Gabrielle said.

“Who’s to say you both aren’t users?  I don’t know that Ivan is pining away for you, either.  The distance is probably showing you both that the relationship is nice, but not a driving factor in either of your lives.  You need to talk to Ivan and let him know you need some time.  You don’t need to keep him tied up if you truly don’t want a relationship.  It isn’t like he wouldn’t be willing to provide you a warm bed… Damn, listen to me.  Using him like a convenient sex toy when your in Romania sounds a little crass.”

“But isn’t this what men and women have been doing for centuries?”

“I don’t know; I wasn’t around but you were.” Bethany Annes smile came back, “How many centuries has it been going on?”

“Ever since I’ve been alive.”  Gabrielle stuck her nose up in the air.

“Which is?”

“None of your business!” Gabrielle smiled, appreciating Bethany Anne pulling them out of the morose talk. “I’ll call Ivan and let him know I’m too busy right now with the teams to continue a relationship at this time.”

“Will you let me know how the call goes?”

She eyed the younger woman, “Will you continue trying to find out how old I am?”

“Yes.” Bethany Anne said.

Gabrielle sighed, “Well, it was worth a shot.  I’ll let you know about Ivan, even if I have to deal with your insatiable curiosity.”  She got up out of the chair, “Thank you for this, you know.  I’ve never had a friend to truly talk to about these things.”

Bethany Anne looked at her, puzzled, “Boys?”

“No; well yes in a way.  Matters of the heart.  For vampires, such things can be used against us and we don’t forget leverage like who other vampires care for, so we don’t share.”

“Is that why you don’t talk with Stephen about it?”

“Oh definitely not!  It wasn’t because he would use it against me for leverage, it is that he would laugh at me for centuries… at least one that is and I couldn’t provide him proper guidance if he could throw this back in my face.”

Bethany Anne raised an eyebrow, “You mean like three guys at one time?”

Gabrielle walked over to the bed and stuck her face six inches in front of Bethany Anne’s and said in a slow measured voice, “I think I hate you.”

Faster than Gabrielle could react, Bethany Anne struck out with her lips and kissed Gabrielle on the forehead, “No you don’t, you just aren’t used to having a girlfriend tease you.  I’ll get you past it, trust me.”

Gabrielle stood transfixed.  The strike was fast, the kiss was nice, the comment made her heart glow as a fire on a cold night. She stood up, slowly and looked down at the woman who was smiling, a twinkle in her eye.  “Yes, a girlfriend to tease me.”  She turned and walked to the door, opening and closing it without looking back at Bethany Anne.  When she finished closing the door she reached up and wiped away the tear rolling down her cheek.  She hoped the phone call with Ivan went well.

Las Vegas, NV - USA

Jeffrey Diamantz and Tom Billings, CEO and Lead Programmer respectively, looked at the large number of computer boxes sitting on the floor in Building 1.  They had talked for fifteen minutes on what designations they should have for the buildings, then named them buildings 1, 2 and 3.

Building 1 was where Adam would be constructed.  Well, to be truthful it was where the computers would all be put together and the critical kill switch.  Building 2 would be where they would house all of the secondary computers and internet connections and building 3 would be for housing, showers, food and secondary uses.

The racks had arrived yesterday and they had a team in the previous night assembling the damn things.  They didn’t look like much.   Basically big-ass metal boxes on wheels.  Both of the men had wanted to slap themselves in the head when Nathan had mentioned moving the whole thing once it was proven to work.  The original design had them using computer server racks that bolted into the floor.  Tom suggested they use the much more expensive rolling racks and they would lock them in place.  If and when they could move, they would have to shut everything down, move the servers and bring them back online in the reverse order.

Of course, they would be crossing their fingers the whole time that somehow they didn’t just kill the first AI in the world by doing it this way.  That wouldn’t go down in the history books very well.

Then again, if Adam 1.0 was going to design Adam 2.0, maybe he would have a better idea. Kind of like asking a brain surgeon to operate on themselves.

They were looking at all of the server boxes around the room when they heard a vehicle stopping outside.  The brakes on the newly arrived vehicle squeaked horribly.  Tom looked over at Jeffery who just shrugged his shoulders.  Both men walked out through the doors to find a dark blue jeep with an Air Force insignia on the door.  One man stayed behind the driver’s seat while another got out of the passenger side.

Jeffrey took the lead, “Good afternoon Officer… Billings?”

The blond haired man closed his door and put on his hat, he reached out to shake Jeffrey’s offered hand, “Yes.  I’m from Nellis as you might have guessed.”  He turned and shook Tom’s hand a moment later.

“How can we help you?”

“I am here to find out about our newest neighbor who has purchased property and a ton of computers right next to a large American Air Force base.  Plus, I understand that our newest neighbor is bringing in a substantial amount of internet and communications and I wouldn’t want to mistake you for a foreign power trying to sneak a peek into our computer systems.”

The blood drained right out of Tom’s face while Jeffrey was able to keep his composure a little better.  Shit!  Neither had considered what it might look like to the Air Force to drop millions of dollars in computer equipment and connectivity right on their damn fence line.

Tom said, “Ah, no.  To be honest we rather didn’t think about the fact that we were right on your fence line or how it would look.  We needed a building, fast, and this old machining area had the P’s we needed or could acquire fast enough to meet our timeline.”

The Air Force officer was puzzled, “The ‘P’s?”

Tom shook his head, trying to get his equilibriam back, “Yes, sorry, Power, Ping and Pipe.  Our company, Patriarch Research has a new set of code we need to test and it isn’t something we want to do out on the wild and woolly web.  The owners are pushing us to move forward, fast.  We thought we might have two years to test our research.  They gave us a bit less.”

Officer Billings face held a small smile, “How much time did they give you?”

“Two months.”

Billings head nodded back and forth as if he expected an answer similar to Tom’s timeframe. “That had to grab you by the short and curlies!  So how long did you look for a building?”

Tom looked over to Jeffrey as if hearing it for the first time, himself. “Two days…. Three, sort of.” He turned back to the Officer, “We had already used up five percent of our time so we grabbed the first property we felt would work.  Got our corporate over-seer to approve the purchase and started with all of the changes including the power review, the internet connections, the cooling and the building modifications.   We have the server cages inside and a substantial amount of computer boxes to go through.”

The officer looked around, “What is it you’re going to do with all of this?”

Well, that was the rub, wasn’t it?  Jeffrey really didn’t want to tell the Air Force officer that he wanted to create the world’s first Artificial Intelligence, but if it ever came out that he had lied, Jeffrey wasn’t sure what his culpability would be.  So he punted and turned to Tom.  “Officer Billings, meet Tom Billings our head of Research and Development.”

Tom asked, “Nevada Billings?”

The officer shook his head left and right emphatically, “Hell no! Montana.”

Tom shrugged, “No family in Montana, so probably not connected.”  He turned around and pointed at the building they had just come out of, “This is building 1, it is going to house the main set of computers to run our Heuristic Internet Defense algorithm.  We have no internet coming into this building.”  He pointed to the next concrete building over, “That is building 2; it houses the internet connections and some servers to pull data from the internet.  We are using that building to download everything we need and then use sneakernet to move the data over to building 1.”  He jerked his thumb back at the building behind them.

Office Billings interrupted him, “Excuse me, but did you say ’sneakernet’?  I’m not familiar with that term.”

Tom pointed his finger down at his Adidas shoes. “Sneakers, as in we are walking the data from building 2 to building 1 using our feet.  No connectivity between the two buildings.”

“Why wouldn’t you have connectivity between them?”

Jeffrey was wincing internally; he hadn’t meant for Tom to tell the truth!

Tom shrugged, “Just a precaution.  If the program doesn’t work as we expect, we don’t want it to do anything out on the real internet.  We operated the damn thing on the Amazon AWS system a couple of years ago and got a three hundred-thousand-dollar data bill in ten minutes. That pissed off the bean counters.”  Tom turned to look at Jeffrey, “No offense.”

Jeffrey just shook his head in amazement, “None taken.”  Instead of bullshit, Tom was baffling him with the truth.

Tom continued, “So, imagine what would happen if some idiot forgets to disconnect a connection in time?  Our Internet bill would make even the Kardashians wince.”

Billings, the officer not the research guy, was pretty convinced he didn’t have some foreign terrorists on his hands, but rather a couple of bumbling scientists. He was wondering why they hadn’t been fired already.  Three hundred-thousand-dollar data bill?  This made his daughters seventy-dollar text overcharge pale in comparison.  “What about the last building?”

Jeffrey took this one, “Building 3 is for food, restrooms, showers and cots.  We only have a few weeks to get this done, so some of us aren’t going to go home, much.  I don’t want a bunch of ants in the computer rooms, so I am being an ass about cleanliness.”

That was something the Air Force officer understood and did appreciate. “Ok, I hope you understand why we got a little nervous.”  Both men shook their heads in agreement, “I’ll probably still stop by from time to time, just to make sure everything looks on the up and up.”

They all shook hands.  Jeffrey and Tom watched as the Air Force Jeep turned and left their little area.

Tom looked over at Jeffrey, “Is that what you wanted?”

Jeffrey shook his head in the negative, “No.  But it was the perfect answer.  How did we miss such an obvious problem?”  He looked after the retreating Jeep.

Tom followed his eyes, “Maybe because we aren’t terrorists that are wanted by the US Air Force and didn’t think about what it might look like from their side?”

Jeffrey nodded in agreement, “Yeah, let’s just hope Adam 1.0 doesn’t become Anarchist Adam 2.0”

“There is that,” Tom agreed.  They both turned and went back into building 1.


CHAPTER FOUR

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

Bobcat was deep in a conversation with Chief Engineer John Rodriquez who had come over to the Ad Aeternitatem for the meeting.  It was being held in one of the closed off rooms inside the super yacht.  Bethany Anne had given Bobcat the authority to include whomever he felt was necessary to get the small super craft project running and Rodriquez was known for coaxing miracles out of bailing wire and string.  Well, if you didn’t include the alcohol and cussing that he considered necessary ingredients at times.

The Chief Engineer was talking, “I’m telling you, Bobcat, that the thermal effects of that much speed is going to affect the people inside.  You need to get a scientist who understands these metals better than you or I to run some tests.  The design will probably work to cut down the wind resistance, but unless it has a way to ignore air,” He paused, “It doesn’t, does it?”  Bobcat shook his head. “Ok, then consider a rocket or a missile design.  We can’t have it long enough for three people stacked on top of each other, so we need to design it as a rocket fat enough to house three around a central axis.  It can land on tripods that fold back into the body.  Does it need stabilizing fins?”

Bobcat considered what he knew, “Doubt it.  TOM’s craft doesn’t have much of that right now, so I don’t see why.”

Chief engineer Rodriguez thought about it for another second, “Are we going to be able to get the same propulsion system that TOM’s craft has now?”

“Not sure how we can fit that in, although I would sure like it!” Both men smiled at that thought.

Bobcat sighed, “So you’re telling me I’m going to need a rocket scientist, right?”

“Yup, I might be able to do a lot of things; however, I am not a rocket scientist.”  Both men reached for their beers.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to call Frank then; I’ll ask Ecaterina for the phone number. Wonder what kind of scientist I’ll have to deal with?”

John just looked at Bobcat. He had a guess however, he wasn’t about to mess things up for Bobcat by telling him what the guess was. He said his goodbyes to Bobcat, and headed out to hitch a ride back to the Polarus.

Bobcat took out his cell phone and hit the number for Ecaterina. It didn’t take long for her to answer the phone and after a few seconds she sent him Frank’s number.  Bobcat called Frank’s number, and surprisingly the man picked up on the first ring.

“Frank, this is Bobcat. I was wondering if you had a few minutes?”

Franks inquisitive voice came back over the line, “Sure Bobcat, what do you need?”

Bobcat smiled, “Believe it or not, I need a rocket scientist.”

Frank laughed, “You don’t ask for much, do you? Will any old rocket scientist do, or do you need a particular type of rocket scientist?”

Bobcat paused, “Well, I didn’t realize that there were actually different types of scientists available. Do you have a catalog perhaps?”

“Ah, no. I need you to give me an idea of what you need, and I will comb through the databases to find someone who might be available. Can you send me a request via email?”

“Sure, that would be easy enough to do. However, will the emails be safe?”

“Just make it look like you’re talking about someone from the show Ancient Aliens, it will be flagged as a false positive if anyone should actually read it.”

“Ok, I can do that. Any idea how long this might take?” Bobcat was fishing for information. He was concerned he wasn’t going to get the craft done as soon as Bethany Anne might need it.

 “I should have a good idea if anyone is available within twelve hours, I will have more information within twenty-four and at most forty-eight hours. We might have someone in the next few days, if they are available and I can tweak their interest enough.”

Bobcat felt a little tension leave, “Frank, you are a lifesaver! I will buy you as many beers as you can drink the next time we catch up.”

 They said their goodbyes and hung up. Frank spoke to his now dead connection, “Don’t thank me until after you have worked with him.”

 Bobcat turned around and covered up the designs he had been working on.

He walked out the door and shut it behind him. He ran into Chris in the hallway. They went upstairs talking the whole time about the differences between the Sikorsky and the Black Hawk helicopter and how each one handled. Bobcat was a little bummed at having to leave Shelly behind; however, he knew these craft were the future and it was what he had signed up for way back in Miami.  Not that he would have believed Bethany Anne had she confided in him that he would be working with alien technology.

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Polarus

Pete had to get Frank’s help with passports for two of his guys.  So that took some extra time.

Pete had gotten to know each one of the guys on the trip down on the Gulfstream and then on Shelly to get them to the Polarus.

The lead alpha of this group was Tim Kinley.  Pete found him smart, aggressive and holding on to his patience by a thread.  It hadn’t helped that everyone was stuck in the plane waiting for Frank to get passports pushed through.  Pete had finally just dropped the door and ran everyone around the building a few times to get rid of some energy.  Once they had the passports, they buttoned back up and took off.

After Tim was Joel Holt.  Joel was the fourth son of a pack leader in Virginia and he didn’t particularly like the family business.  Pete figured that Joel was the opposite of him.  Where his dad had given Pete too much, Joel’s dad had given him too little.  Too little time and too little attention.  Pete wasn’t sure that Joel’s efforts to leave the pack life, and specifically his dad’s pack, wasn’t a way to try and get just a little attention from his dad.

Rickie Escobar was next.  Pete had talked with Rickie for a while. Rickie was funny, loud and a bit of a cut-up.  Pete wasn’t sure if Rickie was going to make it past the first week.  Not because he was weak but rather because he didn’t seem to take anything seriously.  In the guard, serious went to a new level or someone got killed.  Not being focused led to deaths, both your own or worse - team mates.

After Rickie, Pete spent some time with Joseph Greggs.  An intense and quiet guy, it was a little difficult for Pete to figure out Joseph’s reasons for leaving the pack.  Finally, it all came together when Pete had made a comment about the Pack political system.  It took ten minutes for Joseph to finally step down off his soap box once Pete opened up that controversial topic. Pete wasn’t very politically minded himself, so it wasn’t a great stretch to admit he didn’t have much to say about the subject nor could he really judge the merits of Joseph’s points.  However, Joseph didn’t seem like a political nutcase, so Pete would give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Finally, the best conversation of the trip happened with Matthew Tseng.  Matthew was a rarity in America, an Asian Wechselbalg from immigrant parents.  Typically, Wechselbalg from Asia, any of the countries in Asia, didn’t come to the US.  It had been rare enough that the Pack Council had watched them covertly for years to ascertain if they were a plant in America or not.  Strangely enough, the fact that the child of the couple was wanting out of the Pack put to rest the fears of a few council members who still considered his parents suspect after three decades.

Matthew had an easy demeanor and was fast as hell.  They had played slaps for a while and Pete couldn’t win.  The rest of the guys got involved and even Tim had to admit Matthew was preternaturally fast.  Matthew gave off a completely guileless vibe.  If he didn’t agree with something, he just stated the disagreement.  He never sought to prove his point unless you chose to discuss the issue further. Pete tried to answer some of Matthews questions related to TQB. The more they talked, the more Matthew seemed to … fit … in Pete’s mind.

Tim was staring out the window as they approached the ship.  He was an adequate swimmer, but all of this water was causing him a little distress, increasing his anxiety.  He heard Rickie make a comment about the size of the yacht being a compensation mechanism.  None of the others laughed at his joke and Tim heard the ‘tough crowd’ comment under his breath.



That was when Tim noticed the sniper in the well concealed location at the top of the large ship.  As he looked around, he noticed others at strategic points around the ship.  In his mind, it was a carefully orchestrated effort to look normal that would fool most people not seeing it from above.  From above it was obvious every person on deck had every other person within their line of sight.  He had heard comments about the spec-ops feel from those who had been at the New York meeting with the vampire, but he hadn’t realized just how organized this team was.  Tim wasn’t a professional, but he had studied as much as he could through the Internet and from what he understood, they weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The Black Hawk touched down and Pete opened the door.  There were two humans waiting for them, an older fit man in a suit and one huge man who had to top even Tim’s height by four or more inches.

He was fighting back the desire to go over and slug the guy.  His alpha personality was working overtime on something as simple as his larger body size and height.   He had to get a grip or he might end up being thrown overboard.  Pete had made sure to remind them Bethany Anne was now the final law and she absolutely could and would slap their heads clean off their body if they fucked up too much.

There was a saying if you killed someone who needed it on land, they had a backhoe to bury the body.  Here, there wasn’t a need as the water would swallow you up and no one would be the wiser.  It helped Tim keep a tight leash on his anger.

Even Rickie was momentarily stunned and silent.  Joel was checking everything out, Joseph had his mouth open and Matthew just jumped off and looked around.  Pete touched the back of Bobcat’s shoulder as he exited and closed the door to Shelly.

Dan didn’t try to talk at all this close to Shelly; he just dipped his head in acknowledgement and waved everyone to follow him.

They noticed that the big man waited and followed them.  None of them were going to somehow get ‘lost’ wherever they were going.  Not that any had thought there would be a boat big enough to worry about getting lost on.  Both Tim and Joel had noticed another yacht with a helicopter not too far away.  It was a big one, but not as big as the one they were presently on.

Everyone on the ship sized them up and then promptly ignored them once they saw either of the guys with them.

All of the Were creatures were wondering just what they had jumped into, and where was the scary vampire?

Dan took the new recruits into the large conference room and waved them all to chairs.  Two more of the big guys with the same patches as Pete showed up, grabbed their bags and took them away.  One was white, one was black.  A few seconds later a tanned guy with the patch showed up and took a position in the back corner.

The middle-aged guy went to the front and got their attention.

“Good afternoon, gentleman.  My name is Dan Bosse and I am the head of the military side of TQB Enterprises.  Previous to my present lofty position, I worked for the U.S. Government for three decades.  Half of that time was spent on special teams hunting young, vicious, mindless vampires called Nosferatu.  Have all of you heard that term?”  He received a bunch of blank stares. “Damn, what are your elders teaching you guys about vampires?”

Matthew raised his hand; Dan called to him, “Yes Mr. Tseng?”  Matthew was a shocked that the man knew who he was.

“Not to mess with them and to run like hell if you knew of one in the area.”

Dan grunted, “Well, I guess I can’t really argue that strategy, it is a perfect lead in to the first part of my presentation.  Eric, would you hit the lights?”

The lights dimmed and the built in LCD TV came on in the wall.  “What I am about to share, outside of TQB Enterprise personnel, is not known.  I spent a large part of my life making sure the sacrifice of these men was never attributed to the UnknownWorld.”

Dan went through a list of men, their ages, their service records ending with when and  how they had died.  It made an impression on each of the Weres, but their bias couldn’t be broken.  These were humans, maybe tough humans, but they didn’t have the stamina, strength, or speed of a Wechselbalg.  It made sense that Bethany Anne would want to bring on a team of werewolves to help fight these things.

In fact, the werewolves reacted pretty much as John had called it a while back.  They respected the deaths of the human agents, but felt it wouldn’t have happened to them.

The lights came up and Dan got their attention.  “What you are probably thinking is that if you were the ones fighting, you would not have died like these agents had.  No amount of my explaining or additional video will likely persuade you otherwise.  So, please raised your hands if you believe that you can’t be beaten by a human?”

Dan looked around, “Mr. Tseng?  You don’t have your hand up.”  Everyone looked over at him.

“I’m just cautious Mr. Bosse.  I’m willing to fight anyone you need me to, but I’m not willing to believe no human can beat me yet just because I’ve not met anyone who could.”  That got a little chuckle from everyone at the table.  John calculated that this one was probably going to be the toughest fight they had.

“Fair enough.  Unfortunately, the only vampires we have with us wouldn’t be a good way to introduce you to a Nosferatu.  The vampires who are on these two ships, both females by the way, would have you on the ground so fast you couldn’t learn anything.  So, you get the pleasure of going against the Queen’s Guard.  There are five of them, and five of you.  One of the guard, as you already know, is Pete. So if any of you want to call foul we will place a human, if you leave any of them left, in for a second round.”

Tim thought this seemed fair enough.  Personally, he wanted a shot at the big guy - that one looked like he might last a couple of rounds.

They all left the meeting room and Dan took them to the workout area.  He gave them a change of clothes to get into something better suited and let them have time to warm up and stretch their muscles.

The Queen’s guard were doing the same thing, but playing AC/DC at the same time…  It was weird to hear them screw it up and sing, “But Bethany Anne’s got the biggest … balls of them all!”  and then laugh their asses off.  Until the Weres knew differently, they weren’t going to get sucked into anything that could get the vampire, wherever she was, pissed off at them.

Dan called Rickie up, “Mr. Esobar, you have the floor.  Eric from the Queens Guard is going to be your Nosferatu for this session.”  He looked at all of the new recruites. “Now, please understand that while most Nosferatu are mindless about attacking something to eat it, it doesn’t lack intelligence or at least a cunningness at times.  If you permit an advantage, it is likely to use it.  Do you understand this rule Mr. Escobar?”

Rickie mouthed off and made a joke out of understanding the rules, “One Nosferatu coming up and one Nosferatu going to go down!”  Rickie put his hands up in the air as if this was a foregone conclusion.  Rickie noticed that the Guard Eric seemed to put himself into a strange walking motion that looked both painful to accomplish and reduced his walking speed by at least half.  This was going to be too easy.

Dan spoke up one more time, “Is there anything you want to know about your Nosferatu Mr. Escobar?  Anything you want to make sure they can or can’t do?”  Dan stood there patiently, waiting for his answer.

Rickie was feeling pretty cocky this time.  “Sorry, just need to know how long you want me to make this fight last?  Like, should I allow him to last for a least a couple of rounds before he goes down?”  Rickie was smiling.

“That is your final question, Mr. Escobar?  Yes?  Ok, then the answer is you may win quickly or take your time, but remember that taking your time will just give the Nosferatu time to keep after you.  You may start taking out the Nosferatu, Mr. Escobar.”

Rickie broke into a smile and looked around, hamming it up for everyone, when he turned to face Eric again, Eric shot him in the stomach.

Rickie went down yelling in surprise, “Mother fucker!”  Eric jump-limped over to Rickie and used the 9mm Luger to back-slap Rickie in the head.  He was knocked out quickly by Eric’s blow to his temple.  Everyone was stunned.

Eric stood up, jacked the round and went to pick up his shell casing.  Pete went over to Rickie and grabbed him by the shoulders; he looked over at Joseph, “A little help here?  He will be ok; the shot was lead.”  Joseph just came over and helped move Rickie to a pad.  Pete heard Joseph mumble under his breath, “Still going to hurt like a mother fucker when he wakes up.”

Pete spoke under his breath, “That’s the point, isn’t it?”  Joseph noticed there were five pads on the floor, and five new Wechselbalg recruits.  Oh fuck, he thought.

Since Tim was the last one, none of the guys got to see him ask for John.  It wasn’t even a fair contest.  Tim might be big, strong and fast, but unlike John, he hadn’t worked out with vampires nor had he been on operations against the Nosferatu.  Fact was, John was stronger, almost as fast due to Bethany Anne and substantially better trained and ready.  Tim went down in the first five seconds.  John didn’t put his lights out until the third time.  When Tim woke up, he would know that he had his ass handed to him.

As Pete and John carried Tim over to a waiting pallet, Pete called out to Eric, “You shot him?  Damn, even that’s cold even for you Eric.”

Eric smiled, “Yeah?  I bet he remembers to ask more pertinent questions next time.”

Everyone chuckled at that.  They all believed the werewolf with the mouth would use it to make sure he understood how the rules worked the next time.

It took no more than ten additional minutes before the Weres began waking up.  By then, even Rickie’s small 9mm bullet was ejected by his body.

Dan wanted them all to see the wounds, so he didn’t want any cleanup done until after the video viewing.

Once they were all awake and provided with water, it was a quiet walk back to the conference room.  When Rickie woke up, Dan had gone over and had a private conversation with him.  He grimaced, but shook his head.


CHAPTER FIVE

The second part of the meeting had them watching the Nosferatu video, Bill and other, rather bloody footage.

Dan didn’t need to make the point that the first humans had been killed by Nosferatu.  The humans who had taken them out had beaten the Nosferatu. If they weren’t good enough to beat the humans, they certainly could be Nosferatu dinner.  It was a sobering time for the typically brash young men.

The picture of Bill in all of his vampire glory was a little startling to everyone.  Here was one of the boogeymen; one of the vampires that mothers used to get their boys to mind.  It made an impression before Dan continued the video and showed them other attack footage.

At the end of the video, some food was brought in and Dan released them to get into a fresh set of clothes.

Dan and John were pleased.  While they hadn’t planned on shooting anyone, it was an object lesson every one of them recalled and it was only slightly painful for Rickie.  It was more of an embarrassment than a pain since he had been in more shock than pain when Eric pistol whipped him into unconsciousness. He didn’t feel much of anything until he woke up.

They were pretty tired by the end.  Pete showed them to their rooms, their duffles and let them know the area was expected to stay as clean as it was at this moment.  All cleaning would be done by them.  Also, he mentioned they might want to get as much rest as possible.  John Grimes, the big guy, was known to get new recruits up early.

He closed the door to their shared suite at approximately 10 PM.  Four hours later, John Grimes came in banging a trash can lid getting all of their sorry asses out of bed.  The whole guard was with him as John used this time to get them back into the gym and running laps with stop, drop and give me twenty pushups, spread throughout the morning.  Both guards and the new recruits stopped at 4:00 AM and John told them they had fifteen minutes to be ready for breakfast.

Every one of the grumps and complaints John heard only caused his smile to get bigger.

After breakfast and another session on Nosferatu training, John told the new guys to get ready for a sparring session.  This time, all five were a little more cautious getting ready.

The time was 10 AM, now came the final test.

Tim, Joel, Rickie, Joseph and Matthew came out in their white workout clothes, Pete came out in a black set with a patch on his shirt.  Darryl, Scott and Eric were standing together, their arms crossed.  Pete was the only guard who started stretching and warming up.  John got their attention.

“Listen up! You guys are obviously a new team we are moving through this training operation for the first time.  However, it doesn’t mean that we won’t train you to be ready to work together if something happens tomorrow.  Because we don’t know what can happen, I’m not comfortable without you guys already pulling together and working as a team.  Therefore, you guys are going to work out who is going to be the lead of your team.  I don’t know how a leader for a Wechselbalg team is chosen exactly, but since I don’t care who it will be I’m not going to push a particular choice.  To make this as even as we can, the four of us are going to leave.  Pete has decided he wants a shot at the leadership of the Wechselbalg group, so he is going at it as well.  The only rule we have is any unnecessary or capricious damage will be counted against you and it might take only one such display to get you tossed off the boat.  Depending on how badly you act will determine whether we toss you off with a life jacket or not, so don’t fuck up.  There are video cameras around the room; we will not be taking someone’s opinion.  If I can’t make a decision, it goes to Dan.  Dan will get Nathan’s opinion and if together they can’t make a decision it goes to Bethany Anne.”

Tim spoke out, “Are you the lead for the humans?”  Tim would feel a little better if he had been beaten by the head of Bethany Anne’s team, at least that way he could perhaps believe that he wouldn’t have lost to every one of these guys.  He had watched all of the fights before his and had been impressed with all of the team members, but had secretly felt that he would have done better.  John had dissuaded him that he was as good as he thought.

John looked at Tim, “No, not anymore. Our lead is a female and trust me, you don’t want to go up against her by yourself.  We will often test the four of us against her.  We have almost fought her to a draw, but we have never beaten her yet, so don’t push yourself to try that anytime soon, Tim.”

John looked at all of them, including Pete.  “You guys need to figure this shit out for yourselves.  The lead isn’t the strongest, he is the one who is going to get you guys through the dark and out the other side safely and accomplish the mission.  Remember that concept as you discuss your leader.”  John turned around and waved the other guys to follow him.

Team TQB wanted Pete to take this lead, but they couldn’t do anything about that now.  Nathan had explained that Wechselbalg would follow only strong people.  It didn’t mean that they would follow the strongest physically to the detriment of intelligence or wisdom, but they couldn’t and wouldn’t follow someone who wasn’t in the top as a fighter.  It was built into their DNA.  They, of course, didn’t realize that was absolutely the truth.  Their DNA had been manipulated and they were unable to follow weak leaders.

When Pete informed John and Gabrielle he wanted to drive the new team, they both asked him the questions they could think of to make sure he was doing it for the right reasons.  Both were satisfied with his attitude and emotional stability.  Gabrielle had spent eight grueling hours training Pete one on one.  Driving him to the end of his abilities and then kicking him while he was down.  Asking him each time he was on the ground, his body mending the broken bones, dislocated shoulders and minor cuts she had delivered with her swords if he was willing to take this pain for his team?

Pete had to know, beyond anything these new recruits would dish out that he was capable to push through to the end.  Gabrielle was finally satisfied that Pete had what it took to push through everything to accomplish this goal.  If any of the new recruits could beat him, then that person deserved the title.

Gabrielle told him that if he threw his hat in to be the leader, he would be staying on the new team.  He would be making his choice to make that team successful whether from a leadership position or as a team member just like in her group.

 That evening, Pete consumed three normal dinners to get the energy he needed to recuperate from Gabrielle’s training efforts.

The door closed behind John and the TQB team.

Pete turned around to everybody and looked them all over. “Every one of you knows that only one of us can lead. Only one of us is going to be the one that we all look to drive us forward. I’m not pulling my punches; I’m not pulling anything that will stop me from making sure I’m the team lead. You had better not do it either.”

 Pete continued, “The six of us represent the first Were Guardian team for Bethany Anne.   If you were in New York for the meeting, you know I will not accept anything less than the utmost respect for her. For this reason, you will have to go through me, to make the team lead. If you believe anyone else, or you yourself, would make a better team lead then let’s get this discussion started.”

The guys talked it out for a few minutes.  Tim made it plain he was throwing in.  He was almost apologetic about it, but said his inner wolf couldn’t have it any other way.  Pete didn’t mind.  Matthew, Joel and Joseph all said that they would follow either one of the guys.  Rickie admitted that while he wouldn’t mind trying for it, he was still nursing some issues where he had been shot the day before.  No one really believed that Rickie was powerful enough to beat Tim, so it wasn’t like Rickie was truly giving up a good chance at the leadership position.

It really came down to Pete or Tim.  Tim had thirty pounds and a couple of inches on Pete, but he didn’t have Pete’s TQB training or the most recent experience Gabrielle had put him through.  Pain wasn’t Pete’s friend, but he sure as hell knew pain intimately and had all the experience necessary to know what he could and would live through to make the position his.

Pete walked over to Tim and held out his hand, Tim took it. Both understood this wasn’t personal; it was just the way Wechselbalg decided things.

——

Bethany Anne was in her room, three monitors had been brought in to watch the discussions and the fight or fights.  It looked like it was going to be just one between Pete and Tim. The fight was also being piped over to the other ship, where Todd Jenkins and his group of Marines were also watching. Everyone wanted to know if this group could pull together and be something more than a bunch of unruly young Were. This was a new experience, even for Dan and his group. No one had fought with Wechselbalg before. Thousands of miles away, there was one person watching this fight who wasn’t part of Bethany Anne’s group. Near Denver Colorado. Jonathan Silvers had been called and had admitted he would want to watch his son in his first alpha fight.

Jonathan was proud that his son was fighting, yes.  However, he was more proud the way he was fighting.  Pete had taken a hammering early on.  Tim had the reach on Pete, but he got back up.  Tim didn’t want to know who was going to beat who up first.  Both realized this wasn’t a quick fight, but rather this was a fight to decide the future.  Only one Were would be able to stand after this fight was finished.  Many times, those who watched the fight cringed as a particularly hard punch or kick connected with massive follow ups.  Pete was the first to go down and barely roll away in time.  Tim wasn’t holding anything back, after the first five minutes Tim didn’t have any extra anger to release because he was fighting for his own ability to breathe when a particularly hard kick cracked a couple of his ribs.  After fifteen minutes, both guys had separated to give themselves a minute to heal.  Surprisingly, Pete had the better healing rate between the two of them.

They hadn’t started out as anything but two guys who needed to prove something to themselves and a desire to drive the future for Weres.  Pete had a driving desire to leave the kid from Colorado behind and step into the shoes of the man who would help drive his kind into the future.  Tim knew he wasn’t going back and was striving to be the only thing he knew to be, the one at the top.

Both were losing a little of themselves each time they connected or felt the brunt pain from wherever their opponent connected.  Tim was bigger, he had the reach but Pete was well tuned muscle and well versed to make his strikes hit harder and more accurately. Both men kept pounding the other.  Their faces were damn near unrecognizable.  Pete’s right eye had closed up after successive poundings by Tim.  Tim would lean on his right side, trying to not put so much weight on his broken left ribs that Pete kept crushing with punches and kicks to stop it from healing.

By the twenty-fifth minute, there wasn’t one person watching who didn’t respect both men.  Pete had an appreciation for Tim he hadn’t had when he walked into the gym that morning.  Tim couldn’t believe anyone was capable of taking that much damage and still stand.

Pete stopped dancing around and set his feet.  “Was that the best you’ve got Tim?  Can’t you put anything else together?  I can go all day doing this shit.  What are we at, twenty, thirty minutes?  Ready to go for an hour or are you ready to stop doing the fucking tango with me and let’s end this.  It isn’t that I don’t respect you, but there is no fucking way I trust someone I don’t know to move the Wechselbalg forward for Bethany Anne.  We have more to accomplish than you know, and I will never quit, I will never give up, I will only finish my mission Ad Aeternitatem.”

Tim wasn’t sure what those last two words meant, but he recognized them from the patch.  He nodded his head and walked up to Pete and settled into position.

Pete nodded, “I called it, you go first.”

Tim didn’t say a word, just reared back and let his first slash down to hit Pete in his half protected face.  Pete stumbled, but stood back up and got back in position.  It was his turn and he used it to deliver a solid upper cut that barely got to Tim before the block, Tim’s head blew back, causing him to take a couple of steps away before he shook his head and got back into position.

They went on like this, exchanging blows that came with less power and less accuracy for five more minutes.  Blows that would have put most humans down on the mat.  Todd’s group of marines all had their mouths open at the shear ferocity of the two men going at it like gladiators of old.  No quarter asked for, no quarter given.  No one doubted these two guys would have been some scary people to meet in a dark alley.

Pete’s left eye was slowly closing and Tim’s ribs had been re-cracked again causing him to spit up blood.  They both grinned at each other.

Tim slowly spoke through thoroughly cracked and swollen lips, “For a skinny fuck, you’ve got a really good right hook.”  Tim threw another downward slashing punch, but Pete was able to block most of the damage and kept it away from his face.

“There’s only one problem with my right hook, Tim.”  Pete got himself back in position.

“Yeah, what is that?”

Pete let loose a lightning fast left that connected solidly with Tim’s jaw.  Tim’s eyes rolled back in his head and slowly dropped to his knees and then slammed down on the mat.

Pete stood straight up and looked down at the man he had just bested, “My left hook is even better.”

Pete looked at the four other Wechselbalg, all of them having stopped everything but breathing as they had witnessed the two guys pummeling each other, sheer determination moving them through pain and injuries that should have caused them to drop to the mat forever ago.  “Any of you guys want a piece of this?  I’ve got all day.  We are the Guardians. We don’t stop, we don’t quit; we will not know the word defeat.  We will move through the darkness, we will defeat our foes; we will never leave our people behind. Anyone who can’t deal with that, step over here and let’s discuss it.”

Joseph, usually the quiet one, just shook his head, “Hell no.”

Pete kneeled down and grunted as he started to lift Tim up, “Come help me take our team member to medical, it seems he ran into a wall.”

Tim mumbled, easily heard by the Weres but unable to get himself to move his body, “No, a fucking freight train kicked my ass.  As soon as I can move, I’ll buy you a … shit, I have no money.”  Then, Tim dropped back into unconsciousness.

The team all smiled as they helped their new team lead carry Tim to medical.

The Queen Bitch’s guards lifted their beers to the monitor and said with solemn voices, ‘To Bethany Anne’s Guardians!”

Back in the United States, in a very pricey bedroom in Colorado a man stood with tears sliding down his face.

Two hours later, Pete had his new team of Guardians running through some of the same workout routines he had learned from John.  Tim was right there with them and Pete told him that he and Tim would keep their bloody clothes on.  Pete wanted everyone to realize how fast Wechselbalg guardians come back from what would have put humans in the hospital and he and Tim were the poster boys as they walked through the hallways.  If either one of them had cleaned up, it wouldn’t have been as pointed an example.

The door opened into the workout room and the six guys looked over, expecting to see John or maybe Dan Bosse come in for a follow-up.

Tim and the guys, some who had seen one of them before, felt their internal warning signals go off the charts.  Two lady vampires had just entered the room.


CHAPTER SIX

Key Biscayne, FL - USA

Frank went looking for Lance, and found him in the kitchen making a sandwich.  Looking up, Lance asked him if he wanted a sandwich for himself.

“No, thanks anyway.  I need to get your opinion on something, or rather someone.”

“Ok, can we do this while I eat this roast beast?”  Lance tossed a jalapeno chip into his mouth and grabbed a beer.  “Want a beer?”

“Yeah, actually that sounds good.”  Frank sat down on the barstool.  His body had continued to get a little healthier and he figured he was probably in his late thirties about now.

“Foreign or domestic?”

“Foreign, I feel like living on the wild side.”  Lance grabbed a Heineken and set it on the bar, closing the refrigerator after putting up the roast beef in the meat drawer.

Lance said, “Ok, times a ticking, who’s our candidate for craziness today?”

Frank looked at Lance funny, “Do you know what I’m about to ask?”

Lance swallowed his bite, “No, but you rarely ask me about anything related to people, so this has to be out of the ordinary.”  Taking a bite of his sandwich, he twirled his finger in a universal ‘get on with it’ symbol.

“Bobcat called me asking for a rocket scientist.”  Frank pulled the tab off the can of beer.

Lance snorted as if to ask, ‘Really?’

Frank answered the unasked question, “Yes, a real rocket scientist.”

Lance swallowed, “Ok, what’s the problem?”

“Other than those chips are god-awful loud?”  Lance just smiled at him, “He has a bit of a stigma attached to him.”

“In what way?”

“Like the tin-foil wearing type.”

“Ok, explain more while I crunch as loud as I can.”

“Has anyone told you what a pain in the ass you are?”

“Outside of my daughter?  Not too many who could get away with it when you’re a General.”

“It might explain your poor table manners.”  Frank took another swallow of his beer.

“If I remember correctly, I was making my sandwich and eating in the normally proscribed location to eat - namely the kitchen.  You followed me down and are now harassing my eating in the aforementioned eating area.  I believe you are actually showing less decorum than I.”

Frank sat there for a couple of seconds, dammit, he was right. “You’re still an ass-munch.”  Lance just laughed at the man.  “Ok, Marcus Cambridge was with NASA for about three decades until he got kicked out for political reasons.  Then Space-X grabbed him where he lasted three years before they also showed him the door.”

“What for?”

“Apparently, as he is getting older he is getting more and more strident about his belief in UFO’s.  Such that he is making his point of view more often and it is getting him into political hot water.  Being so boisterous in public with his views is not mixing well with the establishment.”

“So, what’s the problem?  Does he have the skills we need?”

“Oh, his skills and knowledge and even his research is what we need badly.  The problem is do we need a tin-foil hat scientist working on our team?”

Lance put his sandwich down and pushed his beer to the side.  He clasped his hands together and placed his elbows on the countertop.  “Let me get this right.  You came down to the kitchen, interrupted my lunch and criticized me for my eating habits to ask me whether a scientist who believes in UFO’s is appropriate to work on a UFO, right?”  He grinned at Frank.

“Yes, but he is... Well.  Oh, dammit.  You’re right.  I’m letting other’s opinions of him cloud my judgment.  He’s right but doesn’t have proof to back it up.  I’ve got the proof that he is right and I’m letting others persuade me that believing in the truth and speaking to it without evidence is a problem.”  Frank got up from the chair and grabbed his beer.

Lance grabbed his sandwich, “Where are you going?”

Frank called back over his shoulder, “Packing for California, Orange County area to go speak to the guy.”

“Need backup?”

“Not fucking likely, you ass-munch.”

Lance just chuckled and finished his sandwich.  Ten minutes later, he noticed a missed text message from Patricia, she was arriving in … he checked his watch.  Too soon.  Oh damn.

He called William, but was unable to raise him and then remembered he was supposed to be off.  Tossing his trash, he grabbed the keys and jumped in one of the SUV’s.  He made very good time to the airport and was pulling up outside when his phone chimed with a text message that she had landed.

Two hours later, Lance pulled into the house driveway, listening to gasps of surprise from Patricia as she noticed the expensive surroundings and the smell of the waterway so close by.  She had made remarks as they went through the security post at the beginning of the subdivision and another when he pulled into the street.  Finally, when he had to open the gate to drive into the driveway she just shook her head in amazement.

This was so unlike the General Lance Reynolds that Patricia was familiar with.  He was a gruff man who wasn’t into large displays of wealth. “Is this yours?”

Lance laughed, “Hell no.  It’s my… Well, it’s owned by the primary owner of the company I help manage.  She is out of the country…”

“She?”

Now why did that sound like he had just said something wrong?  “Yes, she.  As in female.  What is it with you ladies?  You want females to move to the top of the chain, but when a man works for one it becomes an issue?”

“You are in her home.”

Well, taken out of context, she kind of had a point.  Damn women and their logic.

“Sort of her home.  This home and the one next door are used as a base of operations for when she and her team are here in the States.  Although I am working to find a much bigger and better facility.  When ‘she’ is here, she has about nine to eleven people spread between the two homes.  Right now, there are three of us using the two houses.”

“Where is she now?”

“God only knows.  She said she might be in the area and able to drop in.  I think she is on her yacht near South America.  Who the hell knows?  It isn’t like she alerts me when she needs to move around.”

“Why so many people?  An entourage?”

Lance snorted, turned off the car and retrieved Patricia’s luggage and opened the front door.  “Not exactly.”  He stepped aside to let Patricia in while she was admiring the large entryway her attention was drawn as Frank descended the stairs. “Patricia, let me introduce Frank Kurns, one of the three employees living here at the moment.”

Frank held out his hand, “Pleased to meet you, Patricia.  Love to chat, but I have to catch a flight over to California to pick up a rocket scientist.”

They shook hands and spoke briefly.  Patricia watched as he hit the button to open the gate, an Escalade was waiting to take him to the airport.

Frank closed the door and took her to one of the bedrooms made up for visitors.  It wasn’t overly large, but it did have its own full bathroom, TV and computer setup.  A large, red rug set off the darker grey and white color scheme, Patricia just stared at the furnishings which had a very European flair.  She looked around, “I would love to meet the decorator, this is lovely.”

Lance, remembering his last comment about Ecaterina to Patricia, decided to let that opportunity pass him by because he really did want her help.

“I’ll have to ask who did the decorating for you.  Are you hungry?”

Patricia turned around and smiled, “Something light would be nice.  I’m planning on seafood tonight with you picking up the tab.”

Did he just get stuck with the bill that easily?  Well, he did ask her to fly out.  “Ok, seafood tonight and there are snacks in the kitchen.

“Did Frank just say he had to go ‘pick up’ a rocket scientist’?”  They walked to the kitchen and she sat on the same barstool Lance had a few hours before, getting comfortable after setting her purse beside her.

“Yes, the team needs his expertise to build some craft with new technology from one of our… acquisitions.”  He grabbed snacks and put out a couple of bowls. Patricia just raised her eyebrows and held out her hand.  Lance handed her the bag and she grabbed her own chips.

“So, are you messing with the military industrial complex then?”  She popped a chip in her mouth.

He grumped, “Not really.  Well, we don’t have any plans for it in the near future, too early to tell for the farther future.”  They would have to eventually, but no reason to bring that up right now.

“So, tell me more about what you are doing.  I have to tell you, between you calling me from Las Vegas, D.C. And now here in Miami it seems like you’re into a lot.  I thought you were leaving to settle down?”

Lance grabbed another beer and a Sprite next to it for Patricia.  She wasn’t a big drinker.  He handed her the Sprite and he popped the top on his own beer,  “No, where did you get that idea?”

She looked at the can of Sprite and back to Lance.  He looked down at back at her, “Perhaps a glass, and a little ice?”  She smiled at him.

“Sorry!”  Lance reached for a glass and turned to the refrigerator to fill it with ice. “Basically it is just us guys here right now, I’ve slipped into complete bachelor habits.”  He handed the glass with a napkin and a straw to her.

Patricia was trying to process his question about why she thought he would settle down.  She had watched Lance spiral into a depression after his daughter disappeared. Having opened that can of worms, she now had to admit that she had assumed he was checking out of life, in a way. Lance was waiting for her to answer, not making it easy on her at all. “Lance, we have worked together for a long time. I watched as you withdrew more and more into yourself that last year after your daughter left. I guess I just figured that you wanted to go off and be by yourself once you quit.”

Lance took a sip of his beer and thought about what she said. “That is a fair assessment, if you didn’t know the rest of the story. I guess I had withdrawn into myself after Bethany Anne left.”

 “What is the rest of the story?”

Lance set his beer down, “before I answer that, let me ask you a quick question Patricia. What is it you fought for when you were part of the military? Was it the flag? Was it Congress? Was it the country? Was it the rest of us near you?”

 Patrician took a couple of the chips and nibbled on them to give herself time to consider his question. “I actually entered the service, because I needed a job and a way to get an education. I would have to admit that it wasn’t for the ideals that so many people espouse. At the end, I was there because of those who were around me, you and the others. Of course, I needed the job, but it really wasn’t for the ideals, and certainly not Congress!” Patricia laughed at that.

This was just about what Lance had expected. While they had telling conversations over the years, Lance knew she didn’t have a super strong nationalistic focus. Patricia was more of a “live and let live” sort of person.  How could he get her involved and prove to Bethany Anne she was a legitimate prospect for the team?

He tried another approach hoping to find a reason which would prove to Bethany Anne what his gut was telling him was true. “Patricia, who is it that you love? Who is it that you would be willing to fight and die for? Friends, family, loved ones, maybe the dog down the street?” Lance smiled when mentioning that option. Patricia did have a soft heart for animals.

She poured the Sprite into the glass he provided. Taking a sip of her Sprite, Patricia had to answer the question, but she wasn’t willing to tell him the truth. “I have one or two people that I would be willing to fight and die for, or at least die beside. However, I don’t have any family left so that isn’t going to work. Why do you ask?”

Lance sighed, one part agitated and two parts frustrated at the moment. “Because what I’m involved in is literally life-and-death for not only our nation but possibly the world.  For you to be a part of this with me, it provides you access to secrets that would be harmful.”

Patricia bristled, “Lance! You know I have top security clearances. Why would you think I couldn’t be trusted with anything less on the outside?”

He turned the beer in his hand in circles, trying to figure the best way to say this. “Patricia, I am not worried about you sharing secrets with others. I am worried about you having secrets that would cause others to want to harm you to find out.”

That surprised her. She hadn’t expected that she might be in danger if she worked outside of the military.  “Why would I be in harm’s way?”

“I would like to say that I’m involved in a dog-eat-dog corporate world; however, the truth is the other team doesn’t mind getting their hands bloodied in this competition. I am not willing to get you involved if you don’t understand the danger.”

“How are you going to tell me what the danger is, without letting me know more than I should know?”

“Well, that is part of the problem isn’t it? I have to let you know enough that being a part of whatever I am a part of, is dangerous. You have some protection just being part of the group, however, if you leave the group with this knowledge the other team might come after you for information you don’t even have.  We aren’t only going up against corporate interests, but potentially political and … other … interests.  Any of them or all of them might come after you for completely different reasons believing you have the key piece of info they need.”

Patricia’s sat back in her chair, playing with non-existent lint to give herself time to think this through. “Lance, what are you involved in?” She looked at him, with seriousness in her eyes. It wasn’t often that she dropped the facade of being a secretary, and spoke to him directly as a concerned friend.

Lance wiped his face with his hand, looked back at Patricia and smiled, “Patricia, I am more alive today than I have been for the last ten years. I would love to have you as part of my team to move this forward. In fact, I will even admit I need you horribly.  I am completely overwhelmed and the job isn’t going to get any smaller in the future.”

Lance had no idea that he had just said the three words Patricia was waiting to hear, “I need you”.

 They continue talking for another half an hour. However, Patricia was already sold. She was just waiting to make sure that Lance felt he had pitched her well enough. She finally put up a hand to stop Lance from continuing, “What is the next step?”

Lance stopped with his mouth open, closed it, and pulled out his phone. He started texting a message, looked up at Patricia and said, “I asked the CEO to interview you now.”

“What? Just like that? She’s going to drop into to talk with your potentially new secretary?”

Lance put away his phone, “Patricia, I am not hiring a new secretary. I am hiring my right hand man, or woman in this case, for my team. There won’t be another person I rely on more to help me accomplish everything I need to do. Therefore, you had better believe that the CEO is anxious to make sure you are the right hire.”

Patricia just sat in her stool, a little taken aback. A woman who owned two expensive houses, one yacht somewhere near South America, and who knew what else was just going to drop whatever they were doing and come talk to her?   She had always thought she wanted to feel important, now she wasn’t so sure it was a good feeling.

There was a yippy-dog sound coming from Lance’s phone, he picked it up and looked at the text message he had received. “Well, it looks like the CEO is available, and will be here probably in the next five hours or so.” He looked over at Patricia, “Care to have dinner now?”

Patricia closed the chip bag, “Oh sure, feed me cheap chips before you take me to a rich seafood place. You just want an inexpensive date, you cheap bastard!” They laughed. She handed him the chip bag, “Why do you have the CEO’s text sound set to a yippy-dog?”

Setting down the bag, Lance looked down and started texting again, “Her executive assistant isn’t happy about something done to her involving a frozen drink.  So, she is trying different ways to get back at the CEO.  The CEO hasn’t heard it yet, so I’m leaving it on my phone to figure out a way to help the carefully laid revenge happen. There, I asked her to make sure she wouldn’t arrive before five hours. That should give you at least an hour to two hours to get your hunger back, depending on how far away you want to go.” He looked up at her, “So, how hungry are you, and how much of a view do you want?” He smiled.

Rancho Santa Margarita, Ca USA

 Marcus Cambridge looked down at his phone, and stared at it in disbelief. He had just hung up from a conversation where he had been asked if he was available to meet in just a little over an hour, for a position. The man, a Mr. Frank Kurns, had explained that he had tried to get a hold of him earlier in the day; however, had been unable to reach him so had hopped on an airplane and flown across the country from Miami.  Just to see him.

Marcus didn’t know what to do, or even what to feel. He had been without work for the last three months, ever since Space-X had fired him. Oh, sure, he had some friends back at NASA and Space-X that felt he could get hired if he would only stop talking about aliens, and UFOs. However, he was getting too old to not express his beliefs. It didn’t make any sense to him why everyone wanted to ignore the possibilities and not discuss them in public.

Unfortunately, he was separated from his latest wife after the Space-X debacle. She hadn’t wanted to be with a man where she had to worry every day if he started talking about “aliens” again and get fired from yet another job.

Furthermore, she had enjoyed the little dinners around Orange County until she realized people were whispering about him, and therefore her, behind her back. She could not stand the idea that she was the butt of jokes due to his comments.

He sighed, and wasn’t really sure what to make of Frank Kurns.  He had invited him to his house. It was the only appropriate thing to do. Wasn’t it?

He usually relied on his wife to answer these types of questions for him. At 6’2” tall and only 190 pounds, he was your typical tall bean-pole thin bookish scientist, who often forgot where he placed his glasses even though they were on top of his head.

He would take a shower first, that was it! At least he could remember to be clean for the interview.

Miami, Fl - USA

Patricia and Lance came back from a seafood place that had been located on top of one of the buildings on Miami Beach. The view had been fantastic, and the seafood was actually pretty good. Lance knew that they could have found better seats with other restaurants, ones that didn’t rely on the view to acquire patrons.

However, Patricia was looking forward to seeing the sights. And Lance enjoyed being able to provide the view for her. He had even placed this dinner on his own credit card. Even though Lance knew Bethany Anne wouldn’t mind him charging it to the company.

This dinner became more than a simple recruitment effort.  By the time dinner was finished, he wanted to be the one to have paid for it and so he did.

They found themselves back in the kitchen, as they had been when she first got there. They hadn’t been there 2 to 3 minutes when they heard a noise upstairs. Patricia looked up towards the ceiling, “Did we miss someone coming home?”

Lance looked up and considered the location, “Well, I think the CEO must have been closer than I thought. It looks like your interview is about to happen.” Lance hoped Patricia would be able to remember the dinner after her talk with Bethany Anne.


CHAPTER SEVEN

Rancho Santa Margarita, Ca - USA

Marcus was sitting down on the couch in the living room, staring at his reflection in the dark screen of the TV.

He stood up and went to the door, his shirt a little wrinkled.  He couldn’t find where the iron or ironing board were stored. Another one of the little things his wife used to do for him. He opened the door.

There stood a middle 30s, maybe late 30s, gentleman in his doorway. He opened the door a little wider and stuck his hand out “Frank Kurns?”

The man shook his hand back, “Yes, I’m Frank. You are Marcus, correct?”

 “Yes, yes I am. Here, I’m sorry, won’t you come inside?” Marcus stepped back, giving Frank a little more room to come inside and closed the door behind him. “We can step into the living room here and talk, does that work for you?”

 Frank looked around the house, while he wouldn’t say it was terribly dirty, it was certainly disheveled. On every flat service he could see there were books. Ones on metallurgy, chemistry, mathematics, space, a rare biology or two interspersed within them, and others he didn’t recognize stacked everywhere. “Certainly, that would work fine.”

 The two men seated themselves, Marcus on the couch and Frank on a love seat. Frank started the conversation, “Mr. Cambridge I represent a company that is looking to do rare research on very difficult to understand metals and propulsion systems that will eventually relate to both atmospheric and above atmospheric craft. I have been asked by the project manager responsible for small, three-man trans-atmospheric craft to acquire, and I quote, a ‘rocket scientist’ for his project team. After due diligence, I have decided that you might be the individual that he needs.”

“Mr. Kurns, or may I call you Frank?” Frank nodded his agreement, “Okay Frank. Before we go too far I have to admit that I am getting a little old in my ways and I don’t need to go through this process if all you, or the team, are going to do is ask me to leave when I start talking about ‘aliens’. I’m not sure if you have done much research into my last two positions? I ended up getting tossed off the both of them because I have certain beliefs that are not universally held as truth and it embarrasses those I work for. Usually enough so that whatever benefit I bring to the team isn’t enough to overcome the embarrassment and they toss me off the team.”

Frank thought for a minute on how to answer his question. “Marcus I am aware of why you were fired at Space-X and NASA. In fact, I took some advice from a general who I work with related to your situation and the comments about your ‘tinfoil’ beliefs. I can assure you that if you are hired, you will not be fired for these beliefs. However, I will have to ask some questions related to them to get a better handle on why you believe this and how it may, or may not, affect your responsibilities based on what our research already knows.”

Marcus sat back in his couch, a little relieved to get this piece out in the open. Ever since his last wife, Martha, had left him he had been feeling a little adrift. He had even, for a few days, wondered if he should just let go of his belief that there were others out in the universe. That this man had flown all the way across the United States to come talk to him, even after knowing of his beliefs, left him feeling a little vindicated. At least for his professional capabilities if they were willing to overlook his personal observations. “Of course, that only makes sense. What is it you would like to know?”

Frank opened up with the obvious question, “Why is it that you believe in aliens? Do you have any proof of their existence?”

Marcus smiled. This was an easy response although not one that usually provided any sort of answer to that question. “The absence of proof doesn’t prove the absence of truth.  I have never seen an alien, I have never seen an alien UFO, I have never been visited in the middle of the night or had any aliens stick their finger up my butt.” They both grinned a little at that comment; actually Frank was a little relieved to find Marcus had a sense of humor.

Frank continued his questions, “How can you believe so firmly, without proof, in something that has ruined two jobs, one of them with arguably the leading space company in America and if I understand my research, your last wife left you over this same set of beliefs?”

Marcus shook his head, “She didn’t exactly leave me over my beliefs, truth be told I think she holds some of the same beliefs herself. However, she wouldn’t speak of my beliefs out in public where people could ridicule her. Unfortunately, I was willing to do so and the ridicule directed at me splashed over her. She couldn’t handle this and decided to go seek other pastures. Note, I didn’t say ‘greener’ pastures; merely other pastures.”

 “Okay, that explains your wife but what about your contemporaries? What about the other scientists and their beliefs?”

“Those bastards? They wouldn’t believe something unless a committee had already blessed it and it had two articles peer-reviewed in a professional journal. Finally, someone would have to replicate the results in a third world country with subpar capabilities before they would believe it.”

Wow, Frank thought, this guy was still a little hot under the collar about the situation.

He wondered how Marcus would take his next couple of questions?

 Patricia turned around in the chair, hearing steps, obviously from a woman, hitting the floor in the entryway. The woman coming through the door with a smile on her face had to have been the last person she would have expected to ever see in her life.

“Bethany Anne?”   Patricia was confused. The woman before her certainly looked like Bethany Anne; however, wasn’t she dead? “You’re the CEO?”  She looked over at Lance who was smiling.  She turned back, confusion etched on her face.

Bethany Anne came up to Patricia and hugged her, “Yes; however, I can’t run the whole operation so I had to shanghai my dad to help run and organize the business side. Now, he tells me he can’t get along without your help. So here I am to make sure we get you on board and keep him happy. Why don’t you come with me upstairs, and we can talk about it without old fuss-bucket getting involved?”

Patricia turned towards Lance, a questioning look on her face. “Lance?” He just nodded his head in agreement and waved her toward Bethany Anne.

“I’ll be fine right here Patricia, I’m not going anywhere. Besides, if you girls don’t take too long we still have time to go out for drinks afterwards.” That helped settle Patricia’s feelings and concerns; that he would be here for her when this was all done. She hopped off the stool and went with Bethany Anne back upstairs.

Patricia followed Bethany Anne through the suite’s doors and Bethany Anne closed them behind her. Patricia looked around in amazement. “This has to be one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in. You have simply got to tell me who your decorator is!”

“Decorator?” Bethany and looked around the room, “The lady who helped me do the whole house is named Ecaterina, from Romania?”

Patricia’s eyes narrowed, “Ecaterina? I have that name right, correct?” Bethany Anne was quick to pick up on Patricia’s annoyance.

“Yes, she is presently helping me with a lot of different tasks around the company. Sort of like what you will do for my dad.   Why, do you know her?” Bethany Anne was sure Patricia had no idea and had never met Ecaterina; however, it was obvious she was familiar with her name.

Patricia tried to hide the annoyance she felt from showing on her face, “No, I have never met her. Lance has mentioned her a couple of times on the phone related to different business solutions. He happened to use her as a joke I think he was pointing my way. Honestly, I should be upset with Lance, not Ecaterina. No wonder that slime ball didn’t tell me who helped decorate downstairs. I swear, I will get that man back if it takes all night long.”

 Bethany Anne was starting to understand the situation, what she had here was a case of a woman loving a man who had no clue she cared about him. How very typical of her dad to not know how a woman felt about him. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be good enough for what they needed to accomplish.

“Decorators aside, Patricia you have to understand there is a lot going on and for you to be involved could be dangerous…”

“Yes, Lance already told me about the danger. I certainly don’t understand what it is yet and honestly I’m not even sure how you are involved. How did you disappear? How did he not know where you were for a year? Don’t you know how much pain you put that man through! My God, I feel like I want to slap you right now.”

Patricia started walking back and forth in Bethany Anne’s room. Her aggravation growing with each step. “It was awful, watching Lance slowly degenerate in front of my eyes. Watching the life of someone I had cared about for so long just draining away and not being able to do anything about it!” Bethany Anne was pretty sure Patricia hadn’t realized what she had just divulged.

Patricia continued, “He might be willing to follow you across the world, and do God only knows what, but if you want to know the truth?” She stopped to stare Bethany Anne in the eyes, “The truth is I will follow Lance, and not you, to the ends of the earth. I have been with him, I have worked with him, I have cried for him, and I would have died for him if it would’ve helped him get through his pain.” Patricia sat down on the small couch at the end of Bethany Anne’s bed. “Damn, did I just admit all of that out loud? In front of his daughter?”  She sighed, “What am I going to do with myself now. I’ll just hop on the nearest plane and leave Miami.  Maybe they have a waitress job back in Denver I can get.”

 Bethany Anne quirked an eyebrow, “Why do you believe anything you just admitted is a problem?”

Patricia looked up at her, “It is obvious? Lance is on a mission, I am assuming that mission is because he loves you, whether or not he understands the bigger picture or not. He is more alive right now than I have seen him in fifteen months. Hell, probably years!”

Bethany Anne studied the older woman, my God, she thought, am I about to play Cupid?  “Why do you say he is more alive?”

Patricia threw out her arm, “Have you seen how young he looks? It is like he went and got a damn facelift, a tummy tuck or something. I thought being seven years younger than him would give me an advantage, now I’m not so sure anymore. And look at you! My memory might not be perfect, but you are definitely looking substantially better than the last time I saw you. What did you do, get a breast lift? Are you wearing high heels? And you have got to be working out like crazy. How did you become the CEO of a major organization? Weren’t you working for the government or something? I feel like I’ve gone down the rabbit hole here and I can’t stop blabbing my mouth off.”

 Bethany Anne walked over to a Victorian era chair, and sat down in it. She faced Patricia, “I can understand that you feel overwhelmed. I can deal with the fact that you don’t know me well enough to trust me, and that you place your trust in my dad. Understand; however, that he does not have a misplaced trust in my mission. Nor, I trust, will you once you understand what it is and see the proof for yourself. However, your trust in my Dad is not misplaced. If it wasn’t for the fact that you will see unbelievable things in the near future, I would let you stay ignorant and blissfully happy. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to drop in here every time and give you an update as you need it. So, this is going to be your one big interview, and brain dump into the reality of the situation and you will have to make a decision tonight.”

Patricia tried to smile and bring a little levity to the conversation, “Can we get this done before I lose the chance to go get drinks with him?”

Bethany Anne smiled back at her, “I can make this happen quickly, or it can last for the next couple of hours. It all depends on how quick you can believe in something.”

“Really? What is it you want me to believe?”

From down in the kitchen, where Lance was nursing a beer, he could hear Patricia’s scream, “Oh my God!” He flinched a little, guessing that Bethany Anne had decided to show her something vampy.  He took another sip, trying to calm his nerves as the discussion upstairs continued.

An hour later, Lance heard one set of steps coming down the stairs.  He walked around the bar and met Patricia at the bottom.  He was hoping she remembered her meeting with Bethany Anne, but he had prepared himself that she could have had some of her memories wiped, as well.

He was a little puzzled at the look of admiration on her face.  She had stopped on the last step and her eyes were at the same level as his.  She reached out and grabbed his head, planting a kiss on his nose.  He looked at her, confusion written on his face.

She smiled at him, “What?  Was Russia, or China or even the terrorists not enough for you Frank?  You had to decide to take on aliens as well?”  Frank felt the relief wash through him.  Patricia had passed Bethany Anne’s testing.

“Well,” he grumped at her, “There are vampires to deal with.”  Patricia shuddered right in front of him.  Frank had noticed that reaction before, usually from anyone who had an up front and close view of Bethany Anne when she had gone all evil dead women on them.

“I am perfectly willing to let Bethany Anne handle the vampires, if that is ok with you?  Saving the world is enough for me.”

Patricia stepped around Frank and started for the door.  He turned to watch her as she walked with more of a perk to her step than she had when she arrived, he thought.  In fact, he would admit as she reached the door, everything seemed a little perter than he remembered.  Had she been working out since he had left the base?  He grabbed the keys and followed her out the door, admiring the view.


CHAPTER EIGHT

Rancho Santa Margarita, Ca - USA

Frank was starting to like this scientist. “Marcus, I have at least one maybe two more questions for you. You might be able to answer them together.  The first one is if you were tasked with finding proof of alien life in another system how would you do it?  The second one, which is the corollary, how would you confirm if aliens had visited the earth?”

 Marcus stood up and went to his window, looking up into the night sky, “Well, that’s the crux of the argument isn’t it? If one was tasked with finding alien life in another solar system, another universe, how could we even know unless the aliens were far more advanced than we are. For example, right now here on earth we are sending out radio waves to communicate at a distance. Do you know the speed that radio waves travel? No?  Actually, radio waves travel very quickly through space.

Radio waves are a kind of electromagnetic radiation, so they move at the speed of light. The speed of light is a little less than 300,000 km per second. The reason that it takes so long for radio messages to travel in space is that space is mind-bogglingly big. The distances to be traveled are so great that even light or radio waves take a while getting anywhere. It takes around eight minutes for radio waves to travel from the Earth to the Sun, and four years to get from here to the nearest star.

Do you know how many stars there are for us to check in the universe?   If we use a pencil and try to figure out the answer on the back of a napkin, the number is about 60 billion. Remember, the nearest star is four years away using light speed or in this case radio waves.

Back in January of 2015, scientists discovered a couple of potential earth like planets around a red dwarf.   They were named Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b. They sit at about 1,100 light years away.   So, we would have to assume that the alien civilization on either of these two planets were sending out radio waves at least 1100 years ago. Or, in 1100 years they will be able to receive our radio waves.”

While Frank usually considered himself pretty good with numbers, the size of the numbers Marcus was throwing around was a little overwhelming.

“So, either the alien civilizations have been sending us messages for centuries, or actually probably more like tens of thousands of years, or they have somehow visited us and left behind clues. Have you ever read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov?”  Marcus sat back down.

Frank shook his head, “No I haven’t, why?”

 Marcus sighed, “It just makes this next concept a little easier to understand. For someone of your age, they might have issues trying to figure this part out.”

Frank smiled, he wondered what Marcus would think if he knew Frank’s real age?

 “In the Foundation Series, there was a concept where a protagonist put information the farthest distance away from each other. Conceptually, most people were looking at two different edges of space. Think of it this way, if you stretched out your arms, you would say the largest distance is between the tips of your fingers, correct?” Frank agreed that that sounded correct. “Most of the people in the book thought the same thing; however, the reality was he wasn’t talking about distance, as in miles, but rather a different type of distance. He had placed the information at the core of civilization and then at the far edge of civilization. Does this make sense?”

Frank thought about the statement for a few seconds, “So in this case, he wasn’t talking distance as in miles like you say. But rather the farthest distance between two types of belief?”

“Essentially yes. So, the equivalent when looking for proof of aliens would be to look at the farthest distance away, considering 60 billion stars and the distance and time it takes for radio waves to travel, or look right here on earth.  Since I can get to most places on earth much easier, I think I would start here.”

  Frank couldn’t help it, he was naturally an inquisitive person, and he loved to acquire new knowledge. This conversation with Marcus was causing his mental juices to start flowing. It took him a couple of minutes to realize he was so caught up in Marcus’ story and logic, he failed to remember the obvious. He didn’t need to look across the earth for proof of an alien’s existence; he had the damn spaceship in one of Bethany Anne’s super yachts.

 Frank looked at the scientist, “I know from reviewing your information online, I have access to some of the governments databases, that you have no other family. What we are doing is considered beyond top-secret.  What would it take for you to be willing to go away and research alien life without compromising a top-secret mission? In our case, you would never be able to publish any of your information; actually, all things considered you probably will be able to but it will be decades in the future.

“You mean after I’m dead?”

“Not necessarily, however, that decision is going to be moved at least ten to twenty years in the future and we have unbelievable medical coverage so I feel comfortable suggesting you will probably still be with us.”

“Young man, maybe from your perspective death seems to be in the future somewhere; however, at my age the damn thing seems to be right around the corner waiting for me.”

 Frank considered how to get Marcus to willingly come with him without divulging too much information. The worst that would happen is Marcus would go public with something Frank told him. Considering he was already talked about as a crack head, that probably wouldn’t hurt Bethany Anne’s team right now. However, it could potentially be used in the future once more of the truth came out.

Frank dramatically sighed out loud, “Marcus, I need a rocket scientist. I need a rocket scientist in the worst way. Your personal beliefs and aliens and UFOs will not affect your professional relationship with any of our team. I would like to offer you the chance to come work on a super yacht that is presently off the coast of Central America near Costa Rica. We have need of your engineering skills, as well as other capabilities you bring to bear. There will be a nondisclosure agreement, you probably guessed this already. That is normal in your line of work, correct?”

“Of course, nondisclosure agreements are standard in the industry. Although, I have to say that I’m not fond of them from a scientist’s perspective. However, since I am never going to be published again in any peer-reviewed journal I don’t think I’m giving up much.”

“Okay, this project is going to be at least two to three months minimum. I will authorize one and a half times your previous salary plus all expenses there and back and a small Per diem if you are off ship. Unfortunately, if you have any pets they will not be able to go. Do you have any pets?”

“No, of course not. I get lost in my studies too often to take care of other animals. Without a wife, sometimes I can’t figure out what I need to do for myself. By the way, what will we do for food on the ship? Do I have to cook for myself?”

Frank smiled, “No, of course not. There are a group of support staff in charge of cooking and cleaning.”

Marcus stood up, “Someone will cook for me again? Why didn’t you tell me that in the beginning? I’d be willing to go for free just for someone to cook, I can’t cook worth a damn and I hate my own food.  However, since you’ve already told me what the pay is going to be you can’t go back on that!”  Marcus seemed to be a young child waiting for Christmas morning, now.

 Frank laughed, “I wouldn’t dream of it. What will it take to get your house ready for you to leave for a while?”

Marcus looked around, “Honestly? Not a lot. I’m sure I can get Martha to come by once a week just to make sure everything still looks good, the mail is dropped off, and the lawn is done. I have the lawn service on automatic payment so it will continue to look good and the HOA won’t get after me.”

 Frank considered that now would be a good time to have Patricia on the payroll. He could just hand off this whole situation to her and it would magically get done. He could completely understand why Lance was so interested in her coming on board. “When do you think you can be ready to go?”

“How fast you do you want to leave?” Marcus asked.

Frank answered truthfully, “Yesterday would be a good time.”  He stood up.

Marcus put up a finger and walked away around the corner, down the hallway and disappeared in the door at the back. He was gone five minutes, before he came back with a backpack and a laptop bag. “I got nothing better to do tonight, let’s go!” Frank shrugged his shoulders, turned around and started walking for the door.

No time like the present to continue saving the world, he thought.

Anton’s residence, Buenos Aires Argentina

Anton considered the information he received from his CIA contact in Costa Rica. It didn’t make any sense for the helicopter to be based on land, at least as far as he could tell. That put the helicopter on a rather large ship. After discussing the potential possibilities with his subverted contacts in the local military, they came to the conclusion that it would have to either be another military vessel or a well-financed individual. Anton didn’t believe it was military; no one from Michael’s family would use military in this situation. He knew about the agents, of course, but even they didn’t use military vessels for this. That left it being a personal vessel. There weren’t that many personal vessels that could house, or hold, a Black Hawk helicopter. He sent out requests to information gatherers in South America to be on the lookout for a large yacht that had a Black Hawk helicopter on it. He felt confident he would have his answer within a few days at most.

From there, he considered, he would pull together a strike team to take over the yacht. Preferably, after he had pulled Bethany Anne off the yacht, it would decimate their ability to protect themselves from his team. He would add a couple of vampires for good measure. He wanted to keep this boat intact. Maybe he could do the same thing and create his own floating base. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of that before as it made perfect sense. He hated admitting an adversary had a better idea than he had come up with on his own.

No matter, once he took the yacht all would be right with the world again. He started pulling together the contacts to acquire a couple of cigarette speed boats.  He picked up one of his throwaway phones to make a phone call.

 Nathan looked down at his phone but didn’t recognize the Texas number that was calling him. He considered ignoring the phone call; however, it wasn’t like he was too busy. He clicked the answer button, “Hello?”

“Mr. Lowell? This is Ben, one of the, ah, workers you helped get a job?  From the Miami group?”

Nathan placed Ben.  He was the male hacker which Bethany Anne had saved from the ‘terrorists’ and had his name changed to work for Nathan’s company in Texas. “Yes Ben, what can I do for you?”

“Um, Mr. Kurns, the man you had me talk to a few weeks ago said I should follow up with you on a request I made to him when we talked.”

Nathan could hear Ben’s hesitation with continuing this line of conversation. He wondered how long it took Ben to get the courage up to call him. “Certainly, Ben. What is it you would like to know?”

“Actually, I had asked Mr. Kurns if I could meet the lady that saved me from the building back in Miami?”

Nathan was a little shocked. Of all the questions that he expected Ben to ask him, meeting Bethany Anne wasn’t at the top of the list, the middle of the list, it wasn’t even on the list. “I’m sorry, Ben. I am a little confused. Why is it that you want to meet Bethany Anne?”

 There was a pause on the other end of the line, “I keep asking myself the same thing. While I agree she is very attractive, she is also scary as hell. I don’t think a date is the reason I’m trying to reach out to her.  It almost feels like a need to close a loop. Does this make any sense? Somehow, I feel like I can be of more assistance to her than what I am doing here. I need to make amends in some form or fashion and until I get to ask her, and she tells me she doesn’t need my help…”  Ben didn’t finish his thought.

Ben was considered the best at his former company, now owned by Bethany Anne.  There was a back channel for conversations between Nathan and the head of the company. Lance had overall responsibility for the company, but approved of Nathan handling their questions.  Therefore, the main project leads still routed the questions to Nathan. Nathan had asked about Ben, and Tabitha, usually about once every two weeks or so. Both of them received glowing reviews, and Ben had been accomplishing even more than anyone had been expecting. Now that Ben was reaching out to him, he didn’t feel like he would be poaching if he took Ben away from the company.

“Ben, tell me what you know about the hacking activity from China, please.”

For the next hour and a half, Nathan and Ben discussed the particulars related to the China hacking situation. It was obvious to Nathan, a world-class hacker himself, that Ben had skills he could use effectively. While Nathan was talking to Ben, Nathan opened a back channel chat message program to discuss how quick Ben could be moved to Miami.  His Texas manager didn’t want to let Ben go, but Nathan pulled the ‘do I have to get the CEO to call you for this?’ card and his manager agreed that the absolute earliest was at the end of the following week, but he would really appreciate at least three weeks.

Nathan told Ben to go ahead and finish out his next week; however, he should expect to get a call and airline tickets to come to Miami within three weeks on the outside.

 Ben wasn’t old in nerd years. Computers and computer code plus a little bit of caffeine from time to time was his existence. It wouldn’t be hard to move him to Miami.

Hanging up with Ben, Nathan called Ecaterina.  He had been trying to stay busy, keeping Ecaterina and her situation out of his thoughts.  His last conversation on the Polarus with his girl hadn’t gone too well and Nathan got the full brunt of a Romanian woman’s anger. Unfortunately, Nathan knew enough of her language to understand most every word she said.

He was happy to not be stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean at the moment with her. He didn’t care how large the boat was, it wouldn’t have been large enough.  While he understood her desire to get involved, his personal desire to keep her safe made him say a couple of stupid things. He knew they were stupid before he said them; unfortunately, he couldn’t stop his mouth in time.

When she suddenly stopped talking to him and made a face that he hoped never to see on her again, he realized his need to keep her safe had created a sudden need to keep himself safe from her.  When your woman could, very literally, gut him or shoot him from a distance, being in Miami and allowing her to cool down seemed to be an intelligent move on his part.

Now, work called and he had a need to talk with her.  He sure hoped he didn’t get an unreceptive response.


CHAPTER NINE

Constanta, Romania

Stephen went into the kitchen and opened up the refrigerator, reaching in he grabbed a packet of blood and pulled it out. He opened the packet, poured the contents into a mug and placed the mug in the microwave. A couple of minutes later, he was drinking the blood down without making a face.

The bell rang for the door. This wasn’t just any normal front door bell, but rather an old-fashioned bell made of iron which Stephen had installed over a hundred years before. Anyone coming to the front door would reach up and grab an old rope handle and pull; pulleys would then guide a rope to ring the bell deep in the house. Stephen rather liked the sound; it reminded him of times in the past. He walked back out of the kitchen and up to the front door sensing that there were vampires on the other side.

He could hear their murmurs, and their concerns. With one of the voices being female and the other two being male he was pretty sure who he would find on the other side of the door.

 He opened the door and smiled to the three individuals on his front stoop. All three anxious and not sure what to do while he stood there looking at them expectantly. Finally, the young lady spoke for the three of them, “Excuse me, is this the house of Stephen?”

“Yes, certainly it is. How can I help you this evening?”

“Would you let Stephen know that Claudia and her brother Juan and Scott have arrived? We will be happy to stay out here until he admits us into his home.”

The three of them had been arguing whether or not they should act as if they had an invitation to Stephen’s home, or act subservient as would be expected of a Forsaken relationship. Stephen opened his front door wide and stepped back, “Please, make your way to the front room and be seated.”

The three of them walked through the front door and noticed the sitting area to the left, walking into the room Claudia and Juan took a couch, and Scott took the chair that was sitting across from them. Stephen closed the door and followed them “Would any of you care for a drink? Do any of you need blood?”

 Claudia looked a little relieved, “Yes, we would all appreciate at least a little blood. We have been concerned on whether or not it was permitted to drink in Stephen’s lands.”

“I understand; however, please understand that the blood I will be giving you will be reheated from packets.” Stephen noticed Scott had a small look of distaste flash across his face.

“I’m sure that that would be more than adequate and thank you very much.” Claudia stared at Scott giving him an evil look for a moment. Stephen tried to hide a smile as he went back to the kitchen and made three more mugs of blood and brought them back to his guests. After they finished their drinks, he collected the mugs and took him to the kitchen and rinsed them all out including the one he had drank with right before their arrival.

He walked back into the sitting room and took another one of the chairs, all three of them looking at him expectantly.

“Now that you have had refreshments, what is it that I can do for you?” Juan was the first one to understand they were speaking to Stephen himself.

It took only seconds for the other two to catch up; Claudia’s face became red with embarrassment. “Forgive me Stephen! I did not understand you were the one answering the door. We would never have presumed to request you service us as you have!”

Stephen just laughed, “Please, understand that I don’t operate the same here in Europe, as you are used to with the Forsaken in South America.”

All three of the vampires sat back in the seats, a little more at ease. Claudia continued the conversation, “When I spoke with Ecaterina, from Bethany Anne’s retinue, she mentioned you might be able to provide safety for us here in Europe within your house’s protection?”  Stephen noted Scott had a visceral reaction to Bethany Anne’s name. Stephen was trying to be polite; however, Scott was starting to get on his nerves. He realized that Bethany Anne wouldn’t have a problem with Scott’s reaction, especially if Scott was close to Clarita. However, Stephen was from another age and he could be counted on to have reactions to facial responses if they continued for too long.

Stephen answered, “Yes, that would not be a problem for you to live within Europe. Obviously, this permission is based on you rejecting the Forsaken creed regarding humans. Please be aware,” Stephen turned to look directly at Scott, “that we operate under the authority of Bethany Anne here in Europe. I will brook no disrespect of my Queen. Is this understood?” His eyes didn’t leave Scott’s face.

Claudia wanted to slap Scott. Scott had been the biggest issue for them ever since they left South America. While Juan was Claudia’s brother and had changed to a vampire in order to help her cope many years before, Scott was Juan’s friend who had found a mother figure in Clarita. He was hit particularly hard with her death. Now, she hoped Scott didn’t ruin this opportunity for safety with an outburst due to the emotional pain he was still working through.

Juan spoke up, “Stephen, could you explain to us the role of Bethany Anne in the UnknownWorld? Our experience in South America is not very helpful in understanding what is going on with the bigger picture. In fact, without my mother explaining why she was under attack due to Adrian, we would probably have thought it was an internal political issue with the Forsaken.”

 Stephen spent the next three hours explaining the true history of Vampires and how Bethany Anne fit within the new changes coming about. He was circumspect when explaining how Bethany Anne became a vampire; however, he did give them enough of an understanding to realize that their brother Adrian started the whole situation by killing Bethany Anne’s father-figure back in Washington DC.

Claudia and Juan could understand the anger she must have felt. Scott; however, did not want to hear any justifications for killing his mom. Finally, in a fit of disgust, Scott stood up, walked to the front door - opened it and slammed it behind him as he walked out into the night. There was a moment of silence as Claudia and Juan sat on pincushions clearly concerned with Stephen’s reaction.

Stephen looked at the door Scott had just closed. “Well, I suppose that reaction could’ve been handled better. Fortunately, whatever he might have to say about Bethany Anne I won’t hear and need to respond appropriately. I suppose that was the most mature response Scott could come up with.”

Stephen was not like any powerful vampires either of them were accustomed to working around.

They continued talking into the morning, waiting for Scott to make it back.  Sometime later, Ivan came and introduced himself.  He seemed a little despondent and not his typical cheery self.  He wasn’t rude, and had held a good conversion with Claudia and Juan, but particularly Claudia.

Stephen understood a phone call had occurred between Ivan and Gabrielle.  He would need to call his daughter and find out what was going on later.

Finally, Ivan went into the kitchen to make himself a late snack which is where he was when the trouble started.

San Jose, Costa Rica

Special Agent Matthew Burnside walked into the San Jose Police headquarters.  He was part of the Office of Asian Pacific, Latin American and African Analysis and frankly wasn’t supposed to be talking to anyone right now including - He looked down at his hastily written note - a Super Intendant Rodriguez.

Unfortunately; he got a call early this morning, waking him up in bed by someone with enough pull in the Military Affairs group to drag his ass out of bed to ask the Super Intendant some questions.

He typically dealt with the ongoing political volatility, military security, many varied leadership changes. With all of the unstable economic dynamics that occurred on a regular basis down here he often wondered why he left California.  It was rare that he was doing anything more than reading reports and occasionally making a few phone calls.  Being called up to run out into the field wasn’t something he did.  However, the meeting was going to be about all of the supposedly drug murders which had occurred in the last couple of weeks. He had read the many newspaper reports and understood something was very fishy. He had even read the reports about the Death Angels that had protected the group and the helicopter that flew at night.

 Matthew introduced himself to the attractive brunette secretary at the front of the building.  She was immune to his blond hair and was told he could wait in the second meeting room down the hall and to the left. He was only there, sitting down smelling the old cigarette smoke, for about five minutes when an attractive, maybe early 40s lady with dark black hair and glasses stepped in and introduced herself.

“Hello, I am Super Intendant Rodriguez of the Costa Rican Police.  I am one of the officers in charge of the task force for investigating the missing persons and murders cases.  How can I help you this morning Agent Burnside?”

 Matthew decided that just asking for what he wanted was the best way to move forward. “Pleased to meet you, Superintendent Rodriguez, I have been asked to get information related to the most recent murder crimes and the paramilitary group using a Black Hawk helicopter. We would like to understand why you worked with them, and where they might be at this time.”  It took Matthew approximately five seconds to realize he completely fouled up with the lady. Her busy expression quickly morphed into one he recognized as barely contained anger.

Her voice was clipped, angry, “Just like that? You want information related to our problems without so much as we are sorry for your deaths? Do you know that two of my close friends were killed during the troubles? Now all you want to know about is a paramilitary group operating in my country?  This is what you came here to talk to me about? Not other items of note? I don’t recall seeing any American agents at the funerals. Perhaps, you were there and I didn’t recognize you?”  Matthew understood really quickly where he had gone wrong.

He felt bad as he told her, “No Super Intendant, I was not there.”   What a cluster fuck, Matthew thought, no wonder that dick didn’t want to take this meeting himself. If no one from the agency even sent condolences on their loss, how were the two groups supposed to continue working well in the future?

Superintendent Rodriguez stood up, “Then you will understand if it takes me some time to finish with my personal grieving before I spend any effort related to tracking down a paramilitary group responsible for saving many more of our lives. Once I get finished with my grieving, feel free to reach out and contact me again to see if we can help you. Good day, agent.”

The superintendent left the office barely stopping herself from slamming the door in Matthew’s face. Matthew thought about it for a moment and opened the door quickly, “Super Intendant?” Rodriguez turned around, “would you happen to know the name of the reporter who was helped that first night?”

“Giannini Oviedo.” Rodriguez turned back around and continued walking, obviously not willing to answer any more of Matthew’s questions. It wasn’t until Rodriguez reached her office and was able to think clearly again that she realized she had just given away an important name and the American agent would follow up with it.

Shit, she thought, she needed to get Giannini on the phone quickly.

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

Bethany Anne was on TOM’s ship, looking into the pod-doc, down at the dog she had decided to name Ashur, not quite believing her eyes.

TOM, He’s Big.

He really is a very beautiful dog.

And big.

That too.

So, what are the readouts telling you?

They are telling me we are going to have an interesting canine.

TOM, define ‘interesting’.

 Well, something that is out of the ordinary? Something that was unexpected? Something that…

TOM, quit your bullshitting and tell me what is going on!

Okay, just trying to bring a little levity to the news.

Duly noted and you failed miserably.

Wow, tough crowd. Okay, all kidding aside we have a super-dog.

TOM, super-dog isn’t very helpful, give me something to work with.

 Well, as you might expect he has increased speed, strength, his bones are tougher, his skin is tougher, obviously he’s bigger all the way around, and of course he’s white. Not exactly going to be a good color for hiding at night.

True, any chance we can change that hair to black?

Are you kidding?

Um, Maybe?

Well then, answering from a scientific point-of-view, we certainly can change it. The nanocytes can create changes in the pigment-producing cells; however, it would probably take a few weeks for the color to completely envelop him as the hair grows.  The pod-doc had to deal with some genetic abnormalities and select some recessive genes.  In the process we got white hair.

Well, good to know. No need to do it right now; however, if he goes down again remind me that we had this conversation. I’m sensing that you left something unspoken, spit it out.

 Well, this time it isn’t actually anything bad. There are two particular nuances I hadn’t expected. The first is a substantial ability to act as a conduit for the Etheric. The second is his modified mind.

Tom? What do you mean by ‘modified mind’? I don’t want to release a huge, vicious animal with mental instability.

No, no I don’t think he has mental instability. Actually, from the research you and I did previously dogs have an intelligence that equates to maybe a 2 to 3 year old human child. I’m guessing this dog’s intelligence might be a touch higher than that estimate.

Bethany Anne was getting frustrated with TOM’s insufficient answers.

How much higher ‘than that’.

I can’t really say at this time, it might only be one or two more years, or we might have something that increases over time. It’s not like I have a lot of research to work with here.

Bethany Anne continued to look down, the dog was certainly beautiful; all white hair and she was curious what his eye color would end up.  She turned right and slipped through the etheric back to her room on the Polarus. They would be pulling Ashur out of the pod-doc pretty soon.

God only knows what she would find when they did that.

Bethany Anne walked out of her suite into the conference room following a knocking noise. She found Bobcat slowly banging his forehead against the wall. She stopped and stared at him, he continued to hit his head for thirty seconds straight before she interrupted him, “Bobcat, why are you damaging my wall?”

Startled, Bobcat turned around to notice Bethany Anne staring at him. His forehead was red, a flush started up his as his embarrassment started to show.

 Bobcat sighed, “I left William up in Miami to keep an eye on all of the assets up there. Over the holidays, he hooked up with a lady and had requested a three-day leave to go out with her. His three-day leave ended two days ago. I need his help down here on the project, so I called Miami and did not receive a response from him. However, 10 minutes ago, I was called by an unknown number and I answered the phone.” Bethany Anne raised an eyebrow at that; he should not have answered an unknown phone call for security reasons. However, it looked like she needed to get to the bottom of this first problem before she introduced and reprimanded him for the second. “The nice gentleman on the other side was actually a sheriff. It seems William got left high and dry two nights ago at a bar by this woman. He then proceeded to get himself drunk in his pain. I don’t remember if I shared this with you but William can’t hold his booze.”

Bethany Anne nodded; she had heard the stories about William and drinking. For such a large man, he didn’t necessarily do very well in bar brawls. However, since he was so large he was a natural target to take down first. She winced, thinking about what must have happened.

“So, how bad is it?”

“Well, he should only be nursing a headache about now, but the fact that he did it in the first place causes me some serious concerns. I think it might have been a poor decision to leave him alone up there, he doesn’t have a focus now that the SUV’s are complete.”

Bethany Anne thought about this for a minute, “I can see that; he is driven by challenges, and we haven’t given him any new challenges. He hasn’t been down here with us either. Ask Ecaterina to get legal representation that can get him out of the clink, and get his ass on a plane down here as soon as possible. Make sure he understands he is going to work off this fuck-up.”

Bobcat’s shoulders slumped a little, some of the tension draining from them. Bethany Anne spoke again, “Mind you, he is your teammate, so you are going to work off this fuck up as well.” Bobcat nodded his head; he understood it always went uphill as well as downhill within Bethany Anne’s group.

She turned around and left him to deal with getting William down there.


CHAPTER TEN

San Andreas Island, East of Nicaragua

Both the Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem had arrived near the San Andreas Island during the evening. William had been flown down to the island the previous night and was waiting to be pick up. Personnel on both ships were looking forward to a little R&R and enjoying themselves over the next couple of days. Ecaterina had made sure that both ships would be properly protected while personnel got a chance to go play in the sun and the surf.

 Both ships made quite a splash with the locals, often having some of the smaller yachts come out and wave as they took their time checking the sleek lines of the ships. A couple of the ships personnel had to ignore the requests from the boat bunnies who were trying to get on board. Although they smiled, they explained to the attractive ladies the owner of the ship would not permit anyone on board, and that they were very, very sorry about that.  One particularly attractive woman broke a couple of hearts with her pout.

Ecaterina talked with Nathan the previous night. Both of them had something to say about how they had acted. Nathan admitted to Ecaterina that he had gotten a little bit too protective and had to rein in his efforts in that regard. Ecaterina admitted she would try to understand Nathan’s protectiveness, and that it came from a good heart. They agreed to make up for their missed time the next chance they got in. Both finished the phone call with smiles on their faces and anticipation in their hearts.

Bethany Anne, Ecaterina, and Bobcat were planning on taking one of the boats over to the pier, in order to go pick up William. John and Eric would go with them for the protective detail. Bethany Anne wasn’t so happy that her father had escaped from his protection detail; however, she understood that all four of the Queen Bitches guards needed to be on ship when the Wechselbalg had arrived. She would get even with that old man as soon as she could.

It didn’t take too long to get to the pier, tie up and locate a taxi. Ten minutes after their arrival, Bethany Anne got a phone call from Gabrielle. She asked if it was okay to bring the boat back and start ferrying those that had shore leave due them. Bethany Anne didn’t mind, if she got stuck here on the island they would just go to a restaurant for a while and relax.

When they caught up to William, he had the good graces to be embarrassed as Bethany Anne dressed him down. She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that the next time that he failed and got drunk he not only wouldn’t remember doing the drinking he would probably not remember the previous year of his life.  William understood the security breach he had caused. Yes, he had been lonely and having the woman shaft him so publicly at the club had been embarrassing; however, he agreed the proper response should have been to go home. Bethany Anne sent William and Bobcat off to find the machines William would need to help fabricate Bobcats design. The two ladies then went to find outdoor spaces Ecaterina would enjoy exploring. John and Eric had to keep up with the two women as best they could.

By the time Bethany Anne’s party made it back to the pier, their boat was back and available. They met Chief Engineer John Rodriguez, Gunnery Officer Jean Dukes, Todd Jenkins from the Ad Aeternitatem and two others from the Polarus. The five of them were dressed as any tourist might be. Bethany Anne waved to the group as they passed and the four of them proceeded to go back to the Polarus.

“I’m not really feeling good about those guys over in the corner...” Todd mentioned to Jean Dukes under his breath. She looked around the room, acting as if she was looking for ship mates she spied the men Todd was talking about. She turned around,” Why, because they are Middle Eastern?”

The three of them had split off from the other two crewmen from the Polarus and found a bar.

 Todd smiled, “Well, while that certainly could be an issue. It’s not my main issue. My main issue is that they keep looking over here at us pointedly, as if they were trying to pick a fight.”

Jean started to turn back but was able to stop her natural confrontational response. Fortunately, she never went anywhere without packing heat. She hoped Bethany Anne was as good as her word from the original introduction.  She might have some explaining to do pretty soon.

The Chief Engineer arrived back at his chair and sat down smiling, bringing two beers with him. He sat one of them in front of Jean, “Come on Jean, we are off the boat, let your hair down a little bit.” He raised his beer to Todd at the same time, and then took a swallow as if to show them how it was done.  John looked over her shoulder and Jean turned back around to follow his eyes.

The three men that Todd had been watching were coming right at them, obviously looking to talk with them. She heard Todd adjust his chair on the floor, probably to get a better angle in case he had to get up quickly. Jean casually turned her chair around and rested her hands across her chest, one of them near the shoulder holster under her light jacket.

 The three men disregarded Jean, one of them paying attention to John who had stood up, the other two looking at Todd. Not a bad decision when you considered how big Todd was. The man in the middle, probably early middle-aged if Jean could judge, spoke to the three of them.

“Are you three from the big yacht Polarus?”

 Todd didn’t like the sound of the question, or the look on their faces. Had it only been the three of them he probably would have tried to diffuse the situation by lying and just leave. However, Todd was aware there were going to be multiple parties coming onto the island and he needed to deal with this situation one time only. He spoke to the man in the middle while keeping the other two in his peripheral vision. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Because, we knew the previous owner and our boss would like to have a word with you.”

Todd waved his hand at their table, “Not a problem, I was hired by the new owners and would be happy to talk with him. Or is it a her? Either way, invite them over.”

The man just shook his head, “I don’t think so, our boss doesn’t visit dives like this.” He looked around at the somewhat seedy bar. He adjusted his coat with his right hand showing the butt of a pistol stuck in his waistband. “He would prefer the three of you come to him.”

Todd just shook his head back and forth a smile starting to play on his face, “I don’t think we will be visiting him today, tomorrow, or anytime in the near future. In fact, I’m sure my boss would be very upset if we allowed anybody to force us to go somewhere she wouldn’t want us to go. She is very adamant about rudeness like that.”

Jean had a hard time keeping the smile off of her face. She inched her hand a little closer to her pistol. Fortunately, it had nine shots and there were only three men. Jean was having a hard time not making a comment after being ignored as a second-class female citizen by these morons.

“Your boss is a woman?” The man turned to the side and spit at Todd’s feet, “How do you pull your pants on each morning, allowing a woman to tell you what to do?” He nodded to the man on his left and then to the man on his right. Both moved their hands near their waist. He turned back to Todd, “Which is it going to be? Come with us willingly, or don’t leave this place at all?” Jean noticed a couple patrons had been quietly grabbing their beers and stepping away from her party.

Jean turned her mouth slightly towards Todd, “Todd, are we going to dance soon or not? This conversation is pushing my patience.”

Todd smiled and chuckled a little bit, “Jean, I would love to dance.  You lead or me?”

The man in the middle turned back to Jean and reared his right-hand back as if he was about to slap her. As she said, “Me”, she kicked out, breaking the kneecap of the guy on the left, he screamed as he reached for his shattered kneecap. Todd kicked back his chair and swung a hard left into the gut of the man on the right. Jean pulled her pistol and aimed at the middle guy, who had his own pistol out, Jean’s shot just beating his. Jean’s shot holed his forehead, splattering the back of his brains over patrons behind him. His shot missed, but she heard the sound of someone getting hit behind her. Todd had just finished cracking the man nearest him over the head and laying him out. Jean quickly went to the man grabbing his knee and stuck the pistol between his eyes, he stopped cussing and paid close attention. She muttered to herself, “Dammit, I’ve never studied their language.”

The man’s eyes were crossed, staring at the barrel touching his forehead, “I speak English, I speak English! Just get me a doctor; you will not have any problem from me. This was his idea” he nodded his head in the now dead man’s direction. “We had friends on the boat, he lied, we don’t have any boss who wants to know anything about you.” Jean put her gun away, and made sure Todd was okay. That was when she heard John from behind her.

“Can I get a little help here?” Jean turned around to find John Rodriguez falling off of his chair, his hands covered in blood trying to stop the blood flow.

 The blood drained from Jean’s face, pumped up on adrenaline she had forgotten about John behind her. Todd was already speaking into a phone, getting help. Jean reached across and grabbed a cloth napkin. Quickly going around the table, she tied a tourniquet as best she could. It didn’t look like the bullet had hit any major veins in his leg, which was a huge blessing. Well, she would quickly find out how her new boss reacted to violence.

John had been moved back to the Polarus within twenty minutes.

Jean stayed to speak with the police.  Once she got back to the Polarus, Jean made sure John was going to be okay, then she went to Bethany Anne’s suite. She wouldn’t wait to be called on the carpet like her experience in the Navy. John and Eric both nodded to her and let her go in.

Bethany Anne was working at the conference table writing. Bethany Anne looked up as Jean walked in and asked her Chief Gunnery Officer, “You wanted to talk with me?”

Jean shook her head affirmative, “Yes ma’am, I wanted to give you my version of events for what happened this evening.”

Bethany Anne’s face scrunched up, in concentration. “Didn’t Todd already provide the report to Dan? Did you have something to add to his comments? “

Jean’s mouth opened up, shut for a second, and opened up again, “Yes ma’am, he did speak to Dan. However, I wanted to make sure you understood why I felt it was necessary to fire my weapon.”

Bethany Anne put down her pen, slowly stood up and walked around the table to stand in front of Jean. “Do you have your pistol on you?” John and Eric looked at each other; neither had considered the fact that Jean might bring a gun near Bethany Anne.

Jean nodded that she did, and handed it over to Bethany Anne who had her hand out in a ‘give me’ gesture. Bethany Anne pushed down on the top bullet in the mag to see if went down, made sure the pistol was still on safety, and handed it back to Jean. Bethany Anne walked back around the table.

Sitting down she grabbed her pen, and looked up at Jean. “I would have kicked your ass if you hadn’t reloaded. Is this understood Miss Dukes?”

Jean smiled, and was just able to stop herself from saluting. “Yes ma’am! I completely understand and my powder will always be dry.” She turned to go, John winked at her.  Jean’s smile was bright enough she might need shades, he thought.

 Bethany Anne spoke up, her head still looking down at her writing pad. “Boys, make sure you never take away Jeans guns for my sake, understand?” Both men told her they understood and went back to their jobs.

Las Vegas, NV - USA

Tom Billings watched as Jeffrey drove up in his car, and he and his two children got out. Jeffrey reached into the front seat and pulled out two sandwich bags and an iPad. Tom called out, “Is it national bring-your-children-to-work-day and I didn’t get the memo?”

Jeffrey smiled, “I’m not sure if it had anything to do with it being a ‘national’ bring your children to work day, however, when my wife hands me an iPad and two already made up lunch bags? I got the memo. I am just going to put them into building three, make sure they’re okay, and we can discuss transferring the data. Give me ten minutes.” Tom waved at Jeffrey as he and the two kids went into building three.

 Closer to twenty minutes later Jeffrey caught up with Tom in building two,  Tom was sipping his 2nd cup of coffee as Jeffrey grabbed his first cup. “So, have we confirmed how we are going to move the data?”

Tom said, “Yes, I have installed three hot swappable arrays both in here and in building one for ADAM. We will be able to load up the hard drive, yank it out, sneakernet it over to building one and plug it in over there. It will not require any special mounting or drivers loading each time. The system automatically recognizes and connects. Hopefully, we will be able to do this as fast as we can load up each hard drive and transfer the data.”

Tom marked a line across his paper pad crossing off one detail accomplished. “Okay, so what data will we start with?”

Jeffrey set down across the table, “Do we have any ideas yet where to go? Do we start with history, science, ethics?”

Tom scratched his head with his pencil, “I’m not really sure it matters, at least not at this stage. We need to get a good foundation of information such that when it wants to dive in deeper ADAM at least understands enough to classify what area of knowledge it needs more data for. So, I’m for giving it a foundational understanding of the cosmos at this time, and allowing selective uploads at a later date. Plus, we aren’t running the system right away anyhow, right?”

Jeffrey scratched his chin in thought, “True, I don’t want the system trying to make heads or tails with a minimal data set. So, let’s load as much as we can equivalent to a college education before we go any further.”

Tom looked it Jeffrey thinking back to what Jeffrey had mentioned a minute before, “Ethics?”

Jeffrey nodded his head, “Sure, ethics is at the basis of all reasoning. It is the one area where artificial intelligence breaks when someone considers Asimov’s three laws. The three laws are too simplistic to truly work with artificial intelligence. For example, the first law states the robot should not hurt a human, or through inaction allow a human to be hurt. However, how do you tell the artificial intelligence what a human is? I suppose we could classify a human as Homo Sapiens, however, what would we do with edge cases? Even if we decided to classify humans related to our DNA, at what point is the DNA not human anymore.”

Tom was a little surprised, “What do you mean at what point is DNA not human anymore? Like if someone is a mutation?”

Jeffrey smiled, “No, I’m not thinking X-Men here. I’m asking what about a dead person? Their DNA is human; however, between helping a human who is alive with the right DNA, and a human who is now dead, I don’t want the artificial intelligence to get confused. Or, what happens if the human is recently dead and they could, through action, be revived?”

Tom stood up, taking his empty cup over to the coffee mug and filling it back up. “This day hasn’t started and I’m already getting a headache.”

Buenos Aries, Argentina

“Come in.”  Anton hated waiting for the knock on his door. He could hear anyone approach his office; he thought it was a waste of time to wait. His Butler, Jackson, stood there with a small envelope. Anton waved him over and Jackson approached the desk, and put the envelope on it. Turning around, Jackson left his office and closed the door behind him.

Anton picked up the envelope and opened it, taking a few seconds to read, and then reread the information it held. He smiled; it seemed that there was a large yacht that had been seen with a Black Hawk helicopter on top. Up near Costa Rica. Perfect!

Now, all he had to do is track down the name and he would have what he needed for the next part of his plan.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

TOM, are we ready to do this?

 Well, I can’t answer for you; however, I’m certainly ready to crack open this thing and see what we created.

I never realized you had a little bit of Dr. Frankenstein in you, TOM.

Doctor Who?

Wrong character, although I can see a semblance between you and Doctor Who as well.

 Who the hell is Doctor Who? I’m asking about Dr. Frankenstein.

Bethany Anne grinned; she loved it when she could confuse the alien. Mind you, since he understood so little of typical earth popular culture it wasn’t much of a challenge. She would take her little joys where she could.

Never mind, let’s get this show on the road, tell me what I need to do to open this.

Tom took her through the quick routine and Bethany Anne reached up and popped the lock manually to open the pod-doc. Tom had made sure the canine would be still asleep when the door opened. It took five minutes before the canine started to come around. Its big head lifted off of the bed and looked around until it spied Bethany Anne. It wagged its tail in recognition and took a couple of sniffs of the air. Bethany Anne talked quietly to the dog, grabbed it and quickly placed the animal on the floor. She wasn’t concerned that the dog could maim her; however, she had no desire to feel those claws scratching her skin.

The dog got up, and up, and up.  The top of the dog’s ears reached above her waist line. She mumbled under her breath, “I sure hope we got enough meat.”

TOM, you are sure the dog shouldn’t affect my ability to translocate?

No, I am not 100% sure. You have to give me points, I was right - we did make it to Miami and back.

Yes, however, I had to drink five packets of blood when I got back. You know how much I hate that stuff? I about threw up on the fifth one, that shit is disgusting. 

 Well, technically you didn’t have to drink all five. You only required one.

Yeah, but if I hadn’t drunk the rest of them, my energy levels would have been too low to do anything in a pinch!

Stop being a little baby, this is going to be okay, trust me.

Bethany Anne shook her head reached down and grabbed Ashur by the scruff of the neck and trans-located to her bedroom on the Polarus.  She didn’t feel any reduction in energy level at all; that was strange.  She knew Ashur was supposed to have an affinity for the etheric, but this was beyond her expectations.

Ashur started growling and looking around in confusion. “It’s going to be fine Ashur, you had better get used to this stuff.” Ashur stopped growling and walked over to a couple of her pairs of shoes and started sniffing. Her nose wrinkled, “Oh, that’s gross, Ashur! How can you smell that? God, you’re going to be as embarrassing as a guy. If you sniff any of my unmentionables your ass will be going topside.”  Ashur stopped sniffing the shoes and looked at her, tilting his head as if he was considering what she had just told him.

She went over to the door and unlocked it, opening it and waving Ashur to follow her. Ashur looked around one more time, as if he was confirming what he was seeing, and followed her out the door, head held high.

 Bethany Anne and Ashur walked over to the workout room. She hadn’t met anyone in the hallways, which was a little unique. Ashur was continuously sniffing everything. She told him to sit still while she went to go get a couple of towels. As she came back the door opened up and Gabrielle stepped in. Ashur started growling. “Stop that!” Ashur swung his head back to Bethany Anne, and continued the growling a little more forcefully this time. Bethany Anne dropped the towels, “No fucking way…” The closer she came to Ashur, the more he growled and showed his fangs.

Gabrielle backed up, “You two have something to discuss?”

Bethany Anne’s eyes turned red, her fangs elongating, “There is nothing to discuss! There is only one Alpha and this puppy is about to find out…”  That was when Ashur drove his hind legs into the ground, catapulting himself at the woman in front of him who wouldn’t submit.  He had been curious before and had tagged along, but when the second woman showed up, he wouldn’t allow any doubt as to who was the head of his pack.

He was snatched out of the air, turned over and dropped hard on the ground, the breath in his lungs exploding out of his snout.  He tried to turn over, to gain a grip with his strong legs but found himself up in the air, again.  This time the woman was holding his back against her, his feet aimed away.

Gabrielle stayed near the door, “Why are you holding him in the air like that?”

“Because he has nails and teeth on the other side!”  Bethany Anne casually tossed Ashur along the floor where he rolled and flipped until he hit the wall with a ‘thud’.  Ashur took a second to get his bearings and started growling in Bethany Anne’s direction again.

Scott’s head popped in by Gabrielle, “Who the fuck let Cujo on the ship?”  Gabrielle just pointed her finger in Bethany Anne’s direction. He continued, “This is the German Shepherd from the park?”

“Yup.”

Scott shrugged, “Don’t pick up any cats, I’d hate to see what they become.”  His head disappeared.

Bethany Anne muttered under her breath, “Everyone’s a critic.”

Ashur growled louder.  Bethany Anne hissed and started walking in his direction.  She stopped controlling the malevolence her body radiated when angry.  Ashur backed up one step for every step Bethany Anne took towards him.  Finally, his butt was against the wall.  He got down, belly on the ground, but he still had the look of rebellion on his face.  Bethany Anne moved into her fastest speed and got her face 6 inches in front of Ashur’s, daring him to try something.

So he did.  With his back haunches pressed against the wall he attacked, aiming to take a bite of her face.  Bethany Anne casually slapped him upside the head and his whole body flipped ass over appetite three times.  He was on his back with Bethany Anne holding him by the neck, her red eyes and fangs starring him in the eyes.  He started whining, giving up trying to best her.

She released him and he turned back over, staying down.  “If you try that shit with me again, Ashur, I will bitch slap you from the front to the back of this boat, and it is one long fucking boat.”  She walked back to pick up the two towels while Ashur stayed two paces behind her.

Gabrielle stayed by the door. “Remind me not to get into a pissing match with you.”

Bethany Anne smiled at the vampire, “You’ve tried, remember?”

Gabrielle thought about their sword fight when Bethany Anne had her fangs on her neck, “Yes, no need to revisit that again.”

They laughed together and walked out of the workroom towards the front.  Bethany Anne wanted Ashur to get accustomed to the ship and the people accustomed to him.  If he was going to cause any trouble, she wanted to get it over with now.

Fortunately, it seemed that one trial for dominance was all Ashur needed so far.  He only snapped one time when Eric was going to pass Bethany Anne from the back while she was talking with Dan. Eric was trying to pass them in the hall.  Eric jumped aside and laughed off the adrenaline charge and then continued towards the room where Pete’s group was working out.

 Hmm, it seemed Ashur had her back.  Good to know.

San Jose, Costa Rica

Giannini Oviedo wasn’t a tall woman, she topped out at 5’ 2”.  However, if you believed the talk on the streets she easily topped 6 feet.  With her articles discussing two of the attacks from personal experience, the only reporter to have articles with eyewitness reporting, she had the respect of those at her newspaper and the people on the street.

Presently, she was cleaning up her living room. She had decided to stay home for the day and take care of some normal challenges. Even her best friend had been a little embarrassed when he learned she had been saved by the Ángeles Oscuros the night he wouldn’t join her on the street.

 She had the only pictures, as dark as they were, of the team that had been in the fight at the park. The rights for printing the images had provided enough income to pay her rent for the next three months.  Now, if she could use the acclaim from her exploits to move up the reporting ladder at work, she would be golden.

The sharp tone of her phone ringing broke her out of her mental woolgathering. She took a look at the phone number and realized it was her contact from the police, she hit the accept button. ”Good morning, Super Intendent, how are you doing this morning?”

Rodriquez’s voice was crisp but she sounded annoyed, “Good morning Giannini, I’m well thank you. I just had a visit from the American intelligence group based here in our country. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking, because I was angry with the agent, and mentioned that you were the one who had the information they might be needing. Expect them to be calling on you, or at least one man sometime this morning. Watch them, I’m not happy that they come here asking questions and expect us to just lay over for them. Sometimes, Americans lack common courtesy.” There was a heavy sigh on the phone, “It could be that I am just upset and not thinking well. He didn’t give me a good feeling. My meeting may have been with a low level contact and safe, but take care of yourself, okay?”

 Giannini thought it wasn’t often Rodriguez came across as caring on the phone. She was often a very prim and proper Costa Rican Police Super Intendent, so Giannini felt a little warm from the effort on her behalf. “Of course, I will pay attention and make sure that I don’t close my front door should they want to talk. Do you believe I should just close up and try to meet them elsewhere?” The pause on the other end of the line was a bit telling.

   “No, I don’t think he intends any harm to you right now. However, if you feel bad after he leaves, then call me back and we will see what we can do to help you. Your articles have been beneficial, and I appreciate you telling the story of our lost brothers and sisters who died fighting those beasts. For a reporter, Giannini, you’re not so bad.” Her smile finally broke through on the phone, “Call me later and let me know how it goes, okay?”

“Of course, Super Intendent, I will be happy to do so.” They said their goodbyes and Giannini hung up.

Giannini completed the cleaning of her living room and was working on her kitchen when there was a knock at her door. She set aside her dishrags and dried off her hands. Walking to the front door she looked through the keyhole to see one man standing out there, he definitely looked American.  She called through the door asking who he was. The visitor answered that he was with the government and would she mind providing some additional insight to questions regarding her articles?

Giannini noticed he failed to say what government he belonged to. Mind you, she thought, he might not want to advertise that the Americans were looking around for something out in her hallway. She cracked the door open a few inches, “Yes? What questions can I answer for you?”

“May I come in, ma’am?” if she hadn’t known what nationality he was before, his vernacular certainly would have given him away.

“I’m sorry, Mr.?” Giannini left the question hanging.

Matthew wanted to kick himself, “Matthew Burnside, I apologize for not mentioning that a moment ago.”

“Mr. Burnside, I’m sure you understand why a single lady would be concerned with allowing a strange man to enter her home, yes?” She noticed the flush on his face.

Matthew looked up the hallway and the down the other side, he certainly wouldn’t be pushing his way into her home so he had to make a decision whether to ask his questions here in the hallway, or perhaps try to meet her at the police station or her workplace. Both of those places would probably garner him more attention than his boss would prefer. “Yes, I can understand that.”

He proceeded to ask her questions related to both nights where she had interactions with the spec-ops team. He paid close attention to any details on the helicopter she could provide, and the makeup of the team. He was surprised to learn two of the team members were females.  He asked her the same question, three different ways, to confirm this answer and she was adamant she saw two females in the group.

“And you say they were carrying a dog back to the helicopter at the end?” Matthew was continuing to write down all of the notes in his little book. It had become uncomfortable to hold and write in his hand so he had his book pressed up against the wall next to her door to provide something to write on.

Matthew had called his contact after his previous interview failed with the police. The contact on the phone had asked if he needed backup for this conversation in a tone which suggested Matthew had no spine.  Matthew rejected the help. Therefore, he was a little relieved to be able to acquire some information that had not already been provided in the newspapers. After his debacle with the Super Intendent, he was on his best manners trying desperately not to offend this contact.

He said his goodbyes after making sure Ms. Oviedo understood his appreciation for taking her time to answer his questions. He went downstairs and exited her building, turning left. He hadn’t made it one block before an American male a little taller than Matthew with dark hair stepped out from the side of the building and caught his attention. “Matthew?” Matthew stepped over to him

“Yes, who are you?”

The man gave Matthew his name and the name of the contact that had been able to get Matthew out of bed this morning. Matthew frowned, “I told your boss I didn’t need any back up this morning.”

The man put up both hands, “Hey, don’t jump my back on this either. I was told to come down here in case anything didn’t work out. All I need to know is whether or not you got the information?”

Matthew nodded, “Yes, she was very cordial and was willing to give me some extra information that wasn’t included in her articles. Not that there was a lot available, her editor allowed her to print most anything she wanted. I have a few bits of information, such as the team makeup, but not a lot that we’re going to be able to use directly at this time. I’m sure we will get reports where we will be able to correlate her information with something out in the field and make a match.”

“So, this information well is dry?”

Matthew wasn’t sure he liked how this guy phrased his question. It could be Matthew was just tired and was getting rubbed the wrong way by having someone sent as a backup when he hadn’t needed it. “Perhaps Ms. Oviedo will remember something in the future; however, I feel confident right now she has told us everything that she knows, or remembers. Maybe something in the future will jar her memory.”

The man looked up at Giannini’s building, as if he knew that she lived on the third floor and was looking right at her window, “Maybe something will.” Matthew said his goodbye and continued to where he had parked his car.

Up in the apartment, Giannini slowly stepped back from her window, concerned at what she had just witnessed.


CHAPTER TWELVE

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

Marcus Cambridge was feeling a little overwhelmed.  He was in his stateroom on the Ad Aeternitatem and his whole world was upside down.

There really were aliens and he wasn’t able to tell those who had fired him they could go fuck themselves.

Okay, maybe he should clean up his language. But to be proved right after years and years of ridicule released a lot of emotions for him. He had met Bethany Anne, and she alone would have been mind-boggling.

The infinitesimally small nanocytes that must have modified her body at a genetic level would be worth decades of research, the fact people labeled her a vampire was, in his opinion, an example of inaccurate associations with folklore.  Well, a more accurate take would be the ignorant from a thousand years ago didn’t have the scientific knowledge to recognize the opportunity.

She was a human with gene modifications. Although, he had to admit, her red eyes and growing fangs were pretty damn scary. It was a good thing he still had his bladder control at his age.   Now, he was about to see an actual UFO, and put his hands on it. He had a meeting with the project lead, Bobcat, the one who had asked for a rocket scientist and forever changed Marcus’s life.

Marcus hoped he would never have to go back to California ever again.  At least, not because he got fired, for a scientist he was in heaven.

He had been fired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the most advanced governmental space exploration agency in the world. He had been fired from Space-X, one of the preeminent commercial space exploration companies in the world. Only to find himself involved in a group that were centuries ahead of either one of them. While he might not live to see it, his name would be vindicated in history. Even from the grave, he would certainly have the last laugh.

He smiled, the first genuine smile he had been able to produce in months. Life was forever going to be interesting until the day he died. He got up from his bed, grabbed a light jacket and decided to be early to the meeting place with Bobcat.

Five minutes later, Bobcat entered the conference room with a smile on his face and papers rolled up underneath his arm. They introduced themselves to each other, and Marcus found himself liking the down to earth project head. Unlike a lot of project heads who, in Marcus’s opinion, only focused on due dates and due times and how to stay in budget, Bobcat was worried about results and safety. Actually, Bobcat was more worried about safety and results be damned unless the vehicles got his people from point A to point B safely. Marcus quickly found himself tasked with understanding how to move a rocket type object with completely new propulsion systems and gravity defying capabilities. Then they started discussing the materials necessary to accomplish this feat. They discussed the second version would do everything the first version would accomplish along with going into space.

Marcus was looking around and Bobcat asked him what he needed. Marcus answered, “I’m looking for something to drink, maybe some soda?”

Bobcat had the first look of alarm Marcus had seen on his face, “Please God, tell me you are not a Pepsi drinker?”

Marcus looked at him strangely. “No, why? Well, I could drink a Pepsi if I had to but my preference is either a Dr Pepper or a Coke.”

Bobcat exhaled, “Because the head boss is strictly a Coke person. She believes Pepsi, well let’s just say that Pepsi is the devils brew. It got so bad that her personal support specialist had hidden a couple of Pepsi’s for those in the group that liked the drink and Bethany Anne found them. I wasn’t here at the time; however, I understand that half the ship woke up to her screams when Bethany Anne placed two frozen Pepsi’s against her skin as she was sleeping. Now, I’m not sure what Ecaterina is going to do, but I don’t think we have heard the last of the little war between the two women because Ecaterina has bigger balls than I do, that’s for damn sure.”

“Why, what do you drink?” Marcus was enjoying this little story and curious which direction Bobcat went, Coke or Pepsi.

“Beer.”

“No, I mean for breakfast. What would you have for breakfast if you could drink anything?”

Bob just looked at the man, “Beer.”

Marcus smiled, “I am sensing a consistency to your answer. Am I to presume you only drink beer?”

Bobcat smiled back, “No, I drink coffee as well but you did ask me if I could drink anything.”

Marcus laughed at that, “Okay, you got me. Getting back on track here, what do you think our budget is for this project?”

Bobcat laid his hands down on the drawings, “I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings with this answer, as we just had on my beer answer. So, let me make this quite clear that.”  Bobcat paused, “We. Have. No. Budget.”

Bobcat grabbed a pen, drew a triangle on a piece of paper. He labeled the top tip of the triangle “time”, the next point was “quality” the last point was “cost”.

“They always say that you can have something that has high quality really fast, but not cheap. Bethany Anne is all about high quality and really, really fast. She doesn’t give a damn about the cost so long as we get it done by yesterday. Make sense?”

Marcus looked down at the piece of paper Bobcat had just written on, “I feel like I just found the end of the rainbow and dug up the pot of gold. My man, we are going to design, build, and make history!”

Bobcat glanced back down where Marcus was looking, “True, unfortunately no one is going to know about it for a while.”

“Yes, however, they will know about it in the future and I hope to still be alive and able shove it down their throats.” Both men laughed.

Bobcat looked up at Marcus, a glint in his eye, “Want to see a real alien spaceship?”

The Queen Bitch's Ship Polarus

Ecaterina knocked on Bethany Anne’s door, and then walked in when Bethany Anne called out to her. Her boss was reading on her laptop in bed, getting a better understanding of some of the businesses her father was reviewing, specifically those which were related to blood disorders. She looked up, “What’s up?”

Ecaterina sat down on a chair, “I just had a conversation with the San Jose Police Department contact. It seems we have a potential issue with our reporter down there.” Bethany closed her laptop and gave Ecaterina her undivided attention. “Some agents from the United States are looking into our efforts to clean up the city from a few weeks ago.”

Bethany Anne frowned, “Well, that’s a real pain in the ass. I wonder how Michael’s team dealt with this? Never mind, Frank always did it and we have been trying to keep Frank off the radar. It looks like we need to get him involved again with this.”

“Yes, I have talked with Frank. However, he informs me that the situation has already gone too far for anything he can do in the short term.”

Bethany Anne put her elbow on the laptop, resting her chin in her hand, “Why is it I get the impression I haven’t heard the rest of the appeal?”

Ecaterina said, “Our police contact has requested our help in trying to extract the reporter. That is what you call it, extract, correct? Anyway, she wants us to help get her out of the city and away from the American agents.”

Bethany Anne pondered this for a minute. While she had no direct connection with the reporter, she did like her spunk and the articles she wrote helped calm the city down. “Okay, we don’t forsake our own, and while she doesn’t know much about us, she has been helpful. Let’s get Gabrielle and the team together and send some people with Bobcat and Shelley to San Jose and pick her up. Who knows, maybe she can be helpful to us at the same time.”

Ecaterina went to the door, opened it and called out to Darrell who was on station and requested he grab the rest of the team for a quick meeting.

Five minutes later Dan, Gabrielle and the team were in the meeting room with Ecaterina and Bethany Anne. It seemed like it should be a simple decision to fly to San Jose, grab the reporter, and fly back.

However, once the team understood they would be working against, who they presumed were the CIA, it caused a few concerns on the part of Darrell and Scott. Gabrielle had no issues with it at all, as one might suspect. She looked over at her to team members, and asked them what their concerns were.

Darrell looked at her, “We are talking about operating against American interests. I recognize that we might have some bad people from time to time; however, how can we be sure this team is bad?”

Gabrielle replied, “Why would a simple snatch cause a problem?”

Scott replied, “It isn’t if we just grab her and bring her to the Polarus that is the problem. The problem occurs if we have to get into an altercation, or a firefight.”

Ecaterina put her phone down on the table, the noise catching everyone’s attention. She hit the play button and everyone was able to listen to the voice of the contact from the San Jose Police Department. It was obvious she was emotionally disturbed after her meeting with the American. It was hard not to feel empathy for the person behind the voice.

Gabriele spoke into the quiet, “In my country, not too many decades ago, we had a government who was only successful by hiding the truth. Reporters, both those that are highly valued and those who seek truth make some governments unhappy. These reporters are just as valuable to a people as other agents who might be working for the government in a foreign country. Remember, this is her country, and the United States has no right to hurt a reporter who, may I remind you, told stories about what we did. I am not suggesting the United States is trying to harm her. However, something is going on that causes her to be concerned for her life. All we will be doing is going to pick her up and bring her here, if no one shoots at us, we obviously won’t be shooting at anyone else. However, might I ask what you would be willing to do if someone is shooting at us?”

The look that came over Darrell and Scott’s face told Gabrielle all she needed to know. Darrell spoke for the both of them, “If someone is shooting at us for a simple taxi ride? I doubt they have our best interests in heart and unfortunately, whether they know it or not, they would not have the world’s best interests at heart. I would, we would, have to defend ourselves.” Scott just nodded his agreement.

Up until now, Bethany and had stayed quiet. She rapped her knuckles against the table to get everyone’s attention, “Let’s get this out in the open right now. My focus, our focus, is to protect the world. Without the world, it won’t matter if you are from the United States, Germany, Romania, Costa Rica, Russia, China… you get the idea. Unfortunately, we will ruffle feathers. When you ruffle the feathers of really powerful people? They will come after you. We will have issues with some people in the United States. What we will never have, is issues with the people of the United States. I don’t believe that every person in the United States government, or any government across the world, can be said to focus on their people’s best interest. Some will, some won’t. However, we are focused on saving the earth. For now, your fights have been easy. The Forsaken have just been in a different country, or people associated with them. Realize, we will have enemies who have no clue of the UnknownWorld. They will want what we have, they will want TOM’s ship, they will want our technology, they will want me, they will want Frank, they will want my dad, they will want you.  Some of those who choose to fight us will believe right is on their side. Unfortunately, I can’t agree with that.  There will be people, possibly the President of United States and others, who may decide they are better prepared or possibly consider themselves or their role better positioned to accomplish the effort of saving the world.”

She paused and looked at them all.  “I won’t begin to question how well-meaning they might be. The same way I wouldn’t question how well-meaning China might be, or Russia might be, or Great Britain might be.” As each foreign country was mentioned, the men at the table realized they had introduced their sense of nationalism into the meeting. If the United States held all of the cards, there was no way that Russia, or China would play along. The only possibility to accomplish the efforts quickly, relied on being as neutral as possible. The fact that Bethany Anne, and most of her team, were Americans was already going to be a potential problem for the future.

John spoke into the quiet, “As for me, Ad Aeternitatem.”

Eric spoke next, “Ad Aeternitatem.”

Darrell looked over at Gabrielle, “Sorry.” He looked over at Bethany Anne, “Ad Aeternitatem.”

It was Scott’s turn; he looked over Gabrielle, “I apologize, Ad Aeternitatem.”

Dan just nodded his head to Bethany Anne, they had already had this conversation a while back on the tarmac of a small airport in Miami.

Dan chose to send Gabrielle, Darryl and Scott with Bobcat.  Two hours later, after the extended tanks were filled, the team left to fly to San Jose.  Ecaterina called the contact to let her know the approximate ETA.

Constanta, Romania

 Scott was walking off his anger. He had been walking for the last hour and a half; he had a lot of anger. While he wanted to blame this Bethany Anne for Clarita’s death, being honest with himself he realized it was both Clarita’s fault as well as that bastard Adrian. Adrian for killing someone, and Clarita’s for trusting that sick bastard in the first place.

It was just easier to blame Bethany Anne, than put the blame on a woman who had pulled him out of the depression he had been in for most of his life. He stopped a couple of hundred yards from the house, standing, looking up at the stars trying to make the world right again. He stood there, silent, still working out his issues when he heard the crunching of steps on pebbles, of people walking down a small trail coming in his direction. He turned slightly and crouched down, in case he was outlined against the night sky.

His hearing was superb.  Unfortunately, what he heard was plans to rush Stephen’s home to attack and kill everyone inside.  There was a small argument about just ‘blowing the fucking thing apart’ and a scathing retort asking how the original talker would confirm Stephen’s death?  What if he was underground?  Would the ‘blow it up and let God sort out the remains’ guy like to try and remove all of the rubble to find a door, only to figure out Stephen had left by another route days before?

Scott had heard enough.  He started moving towards the house, staying in a crouch.  He managed to get half way back when he moved around a bush and stepped squarely on a branch making a resounding crack.  That did it; he was screwed on the sneaking part.  He decided that speed was the best choice and took off running for the front door to the home.

He heard a commotion behind him, some yelling.  Well, if nothing else he and his siblings would be able to mount a defense inside the house instead of being caught unawares.  Maybe Stephen had a good place to run to and then escape in the house.  He was only twenty feet from the door when he heard a rocket go off behind him.

Stephen could hear someone quickly approaching the house.  He stood up and paid attention to the door.  Alerted by Stephen’s actions, Claudia and Juan turned to look in the same direction.  While Scott should be back sometime soon, they hadn’t expected him to be running for the front door.

Scott yelled out, certain they could hear him inside, “We are under att…”  The rocket propelled grenade hit him square in the back driving him into the front door before exploding, ending his life.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Stephen covered his face as his front door was blown into his house, chunks of debris rained down from the ceiling above.  Claudia screamed.

Stephen became calm, as cold as ice.  No one in the UnknownWorld would be attacking him except one of his brothers.  Anton would be his first guess, but he wouldn’t count out any of them until he got a name and he would, by God, have a name very soon.

Ivan came running from the kitchen.  Stephen reached over and grabbed Claudia by the arm, pulling her up off of the chair and out of her stupor, he took her to Ivan.  “Ivan, please, take Claudia and go down to my bedroom. Take her through the door; you know the one I’m talking about, yes?” Ivan nodded his head. “Good, you two step inside and lock it from the inside. You will be safe there until I take care of this.”

Ivan grabbed Claudia’s hand and gently pulled her in the direction of the stairs going down. She finally caught on to what was happening and became an active participant to quickly leave the first floor for safety.

Juan and Stephen looked around noticing Scott’s body, in pieces, in his front foyer. Both of them heard rapid steps coming at them. Stephen spoke, “Come with me, we can defend much easier from the kitchen and living room area.”  When they arrived in the kitchen, Stephen reached under one of the cabinets and flipped a lock mechanism; he then reached down to open a cabinet door and retrieved a pistol, tossing it to Juan. “These are loaded with silver, and will deliver quite a painful lesson not to intrude. Are you good using that?”

Juan nodded his head. “I am good using this, and most things you can provide me.” Stephen pulled out two short swords tossing one to Juan.

 “That’s all I have up here; I wasn’t as prepared for a frontal attack as maybe I should have been. When we finish with these ass-hats, I will make sure to rectify that immediately.”

Bobcat was about half an hour outside of Costa Rica when he received a call from the ship. Gabrielle heard him say “Roger” before he turned around to get her attention. “We have the coordinates for her building; it seems she is concerned about them coming back right now. Additional agents have met up with someone she saw earlier so the decision has been made for her to go up to the roof and we will grab her from there. We have a rope ladder in the back, have the guys set it up in case we need it.”

Gabrielle passed along the instructions to Darrell and Scott who got busy getting prepared. Fifteen minutes later, Bobcat turned around to get Gabrielle’s attention again, “I just got word we got pinged, they’re going to know we are on our way so this might be a hot landing.” Gabrielle nodded her head in acknowledgment.

She got Darrell and Scott’s attention, “We will have to pick up our contact off the roof so I don’t want either of you firing any shots at all. I understand you both are fully on the team; however, there is no need to push your feelings on this matter right now. I will handle the situation, understand?” Both men nodded their heads in understanding.

 Gabrielle unhooked her sword belt from behind her back, and set it aside. If she had to move quickly, she doubted the sword was going to be beneficial for this operation. Fortunately, she did not expect to have to behead any Forsaken this time.

Bobcat noticed they were attracting the attention from those on the street and in buildings below.  He hated not knowing how high up their permission for this operation went.  If they didn’t have some high level authority to be flying over San Jose, this operation might become pretty dicey, pretty quick.

Matthew Burnside was frustrated with his job. He and three other agents had been detailed go back to talk with Giannini Oviedo at her apartment and ‘respectfully request’ that she come with them for additional questioning. He wasn’t sure how he could respectfully request anything when four foreign agents showed up at her door, it could be nothing less than intimidating to the woman.

Five minutes from her apartment building, he received a phone call from the CIA agent in charge. “Burnside here,” he listened intently to the man on the other end of the line. “What do you mean there is a Black Hawk helicopter coming in at us? Who the hell is sending a Black Hawk helicopter… you mean the group from the other week is back?”

Matthew could feel the eyes of the other agents in the car staring at him as he listened. “Look, we aren’t black operatives here; our job is research and support of information which we then move up the chain. The fact that you’re asking us to do field operations is outside of our normal purview. What the hell do you want me to do against a paramilitary group? Hell no, I will not grab or snatch a woman illegally. Look, you do your job and I will do mine. We will make it work, fine, we are almost there and we will ask her gently to come with us. Yes, I will tell her the other group is coming after her, but that’s all I’ll fucking do.  We aren’t going to commit a felony just because you have your panties in a twist about talking to this woman. Yeah, well, bite me.” Matthew stabbed the cancel button on his phone, “Fucking prick.”

He turned around to the guys in the car, “I’m sure you heard that, but we have the paramilitary group, or who we suspect is them coming after our contact. We need to rush upstairs and persuade her to come with us.”  One of the agents in the back asked a question, “What? No, this is not a snatch and grab. I’m not committing any felonies for some dick over in operations. You know as well as I do that if something goes wrong, he would disappear and we would be left holding the bag. So, we do this politely, and we do this legally.” He pointed at a building a block and a half down and on the left, “That’s her building. Park in the first spot you can find and let’s go.”

They were able to find a place to park a half a block away. As they got out, Matthew noticed two more agents coming from the other direction who met them at the front door to the building. He stared at them, “Who the hell are you?”

“Backup.”  Matthew looked between the two of them neither one offering him any more explanation.

Matthew shrugged, “Fine, we’ll go get the lady you guys can stay out here.” Matthew’s group went into the building, and he noticed the two agents tagging along at the end. He couldn’t force them to stay behind, so he just ignored the two men and kept going up to her door.

When he approached the door, he turned around and looked at his team, including the two new guys. “Hey, she is a little bit sensitive about strange men and her apartment why don’t all of you back off fifteen feet?” Matthew noted the two new agents took a few steps back. It was the most he could hope for so he ignored the rest, he turned back around and knocked on her door.

He got no response. He knocked a little louder this time and waited. Nothing. One of the two agents came up beside him, “Is this the right place?”

Matthew looked at him in annoyance, “I was just here this morning, yes, this is the right place.”

 The agent took one step back, “Good to know.” He pivoted on his left leg using his right to kick the door on the door jam, the door slamming open.

“What the hell?” However, there was no one there to yell at, the agent had already entered her apartment. Matthew was pushed aside by the second agent entering the apartment. By the time he and his team got into the apartment the other two agents were walking back from what must’ve been her bedroom.

“She isn’t here, are you sure she didn’t leave the building?” Matthew at first thought the question was directed at him before the other agent answered the question.

“We didn’t notice her leaving through the front door, and we have her car staked out as well. So unless she decided to leave by the back door and walk, she is still in the building somewhere.”

Matthew was watching this byplay when he realized a new noise was coming from outside. He stepped closer to the window and pushed aside the drapes when he recognized the sound, “Guys, we’ve just run out of time, I hear the helicopter approaching.” The two other agents stared at each other for a few seconds as if they were communing telepathically.

The first one looked at the second one, “Roof?”

“Roof.” Both men turned, and ran through the front door heading God knows where to get to the roof.

Charlie, one of his agents looked over at Matthew, “Should we follow them?”

Matthew sighed, “Probably; however, I’m not too enthusiastic about getting between those two and whoever is flying up above. So, this time it looks like we’re team back-up. Let’s go.”  Matthew led his team out of the front door and told Charlie to close it as best he could. They went in the direction of the two previous agents assuming there would be a way to get to the roof wherever they ended up.

Matthew had almost caught up with the agents when they found the right way to get to the roof.  In fact, he was behind them only a few feet when they burst through the door to get on the apartment buildings roof.

The agents turned to look to the left so that was where Matthew looked as soon as he came out of the entryway.

There was a Black Hawk helicopter dropping a ladder rope and a woman waiting for it at the far edge of the building, maybe sixty feet away. Two huge guys in black and a woman were in the back of the helicopter, it looked like.  He flinched as two shots were fired next to him.  He noticed one hole in the body of the helicopter.

He turned and yelled, “What the fuck? You’re shooting at a spec-ops group you idiot!”

Agent one crouched, “They bleed like the rest of us! Boss said to bring back that woman, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Matthew turned in time to see the woman in the helicopter drop fifteen feet to the roof and then toss the woman over her shoulder. Both agents had been caught unprepared. The helicopter started flying towards the building one over and the black clad woman started running, carrying the reporter. The first agent pulled his pistol back up and fired twice before he went down, a slug through his shoulder. Matthew looked back at the helicopter; there was an agent with a rifle he would swear had a barrel opening as big as his arm staring at him and the other agent. Matthew threw his hands in the air; he didn’t want anyone to mistake him for being one of the stupid guys who were shooting. The second agent yelled over his shoulder as he started to run towards the women, trying to get a better shot. “God, you desk jockeys are a bunch of pussies.” He pulled his pistol up to fire, when he crumpled to the ground having been shot in the leg. Matthew looked back at the helicopter to see the guy with the rifle elevate it up.

 Both Matthew and the second agent watched in awe as the woman, encumbered as she was with the reporter, jump the distance between the two buildings. It had to be at least 20 feet. On the other side, she stood up after collapsing, wrapped her arms in the ladder with the reporter while the helicopter lifted, taking the women away. Matthew assumed they would drop down as soon as they were at a safe distance.

Gabrielle heard the bullet hit the helicopter. Staying there waiting for the woman to climb up the rope wasn’t going to be an option. She yelled over her shoulder and told Darrell and Scott to hold their fire, she would be right back. She then jumped down to the roof below. She grabbed the reporter, throwing her over her shoulder, pointing at the next building over, hoping Bobcat would understand. Sure enough, the Black Hawk helicopter moved in that direction.

She checked her energy levels as she had been instructed by Bethany Anne and TOM, no time like the present to pull from them. She streaked towards the side of the building, the lady screaming as if they were heading to their deaths. She kicked off the building with everything she had, which ended up being just a bit too much. She easily cleared the other side of the building and almost hit a chimney that was rising from the other building. Fortunately, she was able to land but then her leg crumbled beneath her, she turned at the last moment so her back caught the ground, reaching up to protect the reporter. Getting back up, she pulled up the reporter and then grabbed the cable, slinging an arm through the rope. She told the reporter to put a leg in a loop. Grabbing the reporter around the waist she flicked her head up, trusting one of the guys would see it and tell Bobcat to take off. Sure enough, Shelley lifted off a few seconds later and took them away. She looked over at the reporter who was staring at her. “What is it?”

The woman screamed her question, not realizing that Gabrielle could hear her just fine, “Why are your eyes glowing red?”

Gabrielle was trying to come up with a suitable response for that question when the woman suddenly drew in a bunch of air, “you’re bleeding!”

Gabrielle followed her eyes down to her leg, sure enough she had been shot, no wonder she lost her balance landing. “So I am, let’s hope I don’t faint from blood loss shall we?” Gabrielle smiled at her, as the woman realized her protector might suddenly fall. At least it got her mind off the question about her eye color.

Bobcat located a parking lot with enough room six blocks from the building; he slowly lowered Shelley down enough for Gabrielle and Giannini to jump off the rope ladder. The ladies grabbed the rope and the both of them pulled it away from the helicopter so Bobcat could land. Both Darrell and Scott jumped off. Darrell helped Giannini to get on board and Scott handed Gabrielle a blood packet. Gabrielle ripped open the blood packet and downed the contents quickly, hoping the reporter didn’t notice.

Gabrielle stared at Scott while she was drinking, when she finished she wiped her mouth and asked, “I thought I told you guys not to shoot?”

Scott grinned at her, “No, you asked if we understood. That is not the same as do we agree.” Scott took the ladder from Gabrielle so he could start rolling it back up and they could jump on the helicopter. “Besides, I am not going to be the one to tell Eric we failed to get you back in one piece.” Scott turned around to jump back on the helicopter. Gabrielle took a second to ostensibly wipe any remaining blood off of her face, and the tear that was forming in her eye. Seconds later Bobcat had them back in the air going east.

 On the helicopter, Giannini was catching her breath from all of the excitement. She looked around and recognized Darrell as the man who helped her that first night. He was smiling at her right when she slapped him. “That is for pinching my butt!” Then she reached over and kissed him, “That’s for saving my life!”

Darrell decided not to correct her for the pinching misunderstanding.

They flew back to San Andreas Island where they made sure Giannini was safe in a nice hotel, with clothes and enough money to stay for a month. Darrell being nice enough to volunteer to take her shopping on the company’s account.  Gabrielle exchanged contact information with the reporter.  She liked the woman, but didn’t feel letting a reporter on the Polarus was a good idea, just yet.

Giannini wasn’t sure  what to make of the team, and the rescue.  She created a journal in a secure Dropbox folder on the Internet and put all of the notes and comments she could remember.  She wasn’t sure she saw the red eyes, but she absolutely noticed the way Gabrielle's leg healed so quickly.  She had been lucky to meet them back in San Jose, and now, she was beyond lucky to have been introduced to them again.  They hadn’t requested she not talk about them, but Giannini wasn’t going to spoil her chance at a bigger story by burning the beginning of a professional, and maybe personal, relationship too quickly.

She sent a quick and, hopefully, untraceable message to her contact in the police department and sat back to enjoy the paid vacation for at least a day.  Maybe two, she considered.

Dammit, what a cluster-fuck this turned out to be. He could hear the sirens in the distance; he turned and walked down the stairs grabbing his men who had been in the stairway. “Let’s let those jack-asses answer the questions this time.” They made it to their car before the police drove past them. Seven cops jumped out of the police cars and ran into the apartment building. Nonchalantly, Matthews group drove down the street and left the scene.

Matthew Burnside was hot, angry and livid.  When his phone call came from the Agent-In-Charge, he didn’t wait for a comment before he tore into him about bringing black operatives in on his operation with instructions to shoot to kill.  His people weren’t cattle to be used and abused.  The only question that made it through his tirade was a question regarding the status of the two other operatives.

Matthew explained he didn’t know, didn’t care and wasn’t about to figure it out.  Those two had unnecessarily endangered a foreign national, started a firefight with a Spec-ops team in broad daylight, been shot for their troubles and had last been seen bleeding on the top of a building with San Jose police coming in from the first floor.  They were welcome to jump to the other building as he had seen the woman accomplish.

Matthew listened to the question coming at him, “What?  Yes.  She jumped between the roofs while she was carrying another person. If your super-duper special agents can’t jump as far as a woman carrying someone can, they deserve to sit in jail for being pussies.  Yes, I’m sure it was a woman.  She dropped about fifteen feet from the helicopter, slung the reporter over her shoulder and took off in a sprint.  She jumped between the buildings.  I don’t know!  Maybe twenty-feet or more.  Look, I’m not hopped up on drugs shooting people.  Your people are damned lucky they didn’t let loose with the guns on that helicopter.  Your people are incompetent.  Yeah, you heard my ass just fine, incompetent.  … I don’t give a shit what you want!  This is going up my chain and they can decide how to deal with this cluster-fuck.  No, you don’t get to decide what ‘need to know’ is. When you drop in unidentified agents into what should have been a normal, and simple, request to speak to someone you lost that prerogative.  No, which part of ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ about what you think did you fail to hear?  Yeah, good-fucking-bye to you too.”  Matthew wished he could slam down his cell phone.  He exhaled in frustration, “What a prick!”


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Juan had never been the best fighter.  While he could handle humans and even Weres without too much trouble, he was a very solid middle of the pack when fighting other vampires.  It didn’t help he considered himself more of a lover than a fighter.

He could see at least three Nosferatu, but they didn’t look like regular Nosferatu.  These had too much intelligence to their actions and two of them were wearing what looked like shrapnel based suicide vests.  These clowns hadn’t expected Stephen to go down easily, and were using up the serum.  Juan didn’t know how many vials existed here in Europe, but there weren’t any more available in South America.  At least, according to rumors.

Juan hadn’t believed he would live forever. Claudia, who had been his rock, his life, his color before her sickness was unable to find any joy in her extended life.  This was due to the other vampires in South America rejecting her.  Oh, they thought she was attractive enough, but they shunned her non-Forsaken opinions.  It had taken three months for Juan to see that if no existing vampires were ever going to accept Claudia, then he would see if Clarita would change him so he might care for his sister in un-death like she had in life.  Clarita had explained that he wouldn’t truly be dead, but Juan figured without the sun, what was life?  Either way, he couldn’t let it stop him from following Claudia and becoming her rock.  Once Scott joined them, Juan could almost enjoy his life again.  Now, Scott was dead, his body destroyed moments before, his last act trying to warn them.

Now, now it was his turn.  Juan new that if those Nosferatu made it close enough to Stephen to explode their vests, the shrapnel would tear apart his body and no one would be between his sister and these malditos.  He held the pistol in his left hand, a short sword in his right.  He had been crouching behind a couch, Stephen was down behind the kitchen counter.  Juan admired the vampire, smiling like he was enjoying life.  Maybe he could learn something in his last few seconds of existence.  “Stephen!”  Stephen looked over at him. “They have the special Nosferatu, do you know what those are?”  Stephen nodded his head.  “There are two with shrapnel vests - we can’t stop them from going off.  Either they blow them, or if we kill them they automatically explode.”  Stephen lost a little of his grin, recognizing a bad situation. Juan lowered his voice, “Take care of my sister and tell her I loved her, ok?”  Stephen lost all of his smile and started to say something but Juan had already made his decision and was starting his personal charge towards the front of the house, three Nosferatu waiting for him.  Stephen decided he would not allow Juan to attack without support, his Queen should expect nothing less from one of her subjects.

He was barely standing up when a pair of massive explosions rocked his front chamber, debris, steel shards and ball bearings raining through the opening.  Some of the ball bearings ripping through Stephen’s body, the concussion lifting him up and tossing him back against the wall, a large splinter of wood, at least a foot long impaling him in his chest, piercing his left lung.  He spit up blood and left bloody streaks as he slowly slid down the wall, his legs failing to keep him standing.  With that size of an explosion, Claudia’s brother had to have been killed instantly.  Stephen’s pain was indescribable, more than he had felt in centuries.  He stared at nothing for a minute, trying to get his mind to focus.  He hoped that Ivan had been able to get into the secret room with Claudia, the future was looking pretty grim for him at the moment.

Ecaterina was wiped out, the trip and relaxation for the last couple of days on land had been what she had needed.  Now if Nathan would just find a way to get back down here, life would be complete again.

Ashur was sitting on Bethany Anne’s bed.  Damn near taking the bed over he was so big.  He was a beautiful dog, all white with striking blue eyes.  Ecaterina was sure he understood their talking and was just ‘taking it all in’.  Bethany Anne had a hand on Ashur’s back, unconsciously just petting the dog while she reviewed more information on her companies and the reports no one had realized had been coming in until the General had talked with Jeffrey, Patriarch Research’s head guy.

Ecaterina closed her laptop, resting her eyes.  Bethany Anne spoke, “Hey, why don’t you go to sleep early?  I’m not going to need anything for a while and it looks like all of that sun and fun has wiped you out?”

Ecaterina hated to admit it, but she had gone overboard just a bit.  She stood up and grabbed her laptop.  Closing it, she walked around her desk and opened the door to go back to her room.  “Open or shut?”

Bethany Anne looked up from her computer, “Hmm?  Oh, leave it open please…Oww, FUCK!”  Bethany Anne bent over in obvious pain and distress, her hand clinching Ashur.

Ecaterina’s eyes opened wide, she quickly called over her shoulder, “JOHN, we have a problem!”

She heard the men racing from their security area as Ecaterina dropped her laptop on a nearby chair and raced around to Bethany Anne’s side.  From John’s experience, it would be safe to touch her back, but not a good idea to grab her hands.  Ashur was whining slightly, whether it was from Bethany Anne squeezing his skin so hard, or a sympathetic connection she didn’t know.

Ecaterina placed her right arm across Bethany Anne’s back, “What’s wrong!” She looked around, not seeing any blood on Bethany Anne.

“Stephen,” she gasped out, “Stephen has been hurt.  Blood, I need blood now!”

Eric called from the door, “I’ll get it!”  Eric turned around and rushed over to the small refrigerator in the meeting room, opening the bottom drawer, he grabbed three bags.  He wasn’t sure how many she needed, but it was rare for her to need more than one or two.  He raced back into the room.

TOM!

I feel it, Bethany Anne.  It’s the connection we made to Stephen when you healed him.  Something has seriously hurt him and we are feeling it across the Etheric.

Is he at home?

I can’t tell, he is supposed to be there.

In her pain, Bethany Anne was having trouble thinking properly.

We are going to have to go to his house; we are going to have to trans-locate there, TOM.

I don’t know how much energy that much distance will take, Bethany Anne!  We might not make it there, or we make it there and collapse.   That would be bad if there is someone with just a simple pistol ups and shoots us.

Can’t. Be. Helped.  What about pulling energy through Ashur?

There was a second’s indecision.  That will increase our chance of success significantly.  Pulling Etheric through him would mitigate how much you have to pull.  Of course, all three of us could just disappear forever.

TOM, I’ll never forsake Stephen.  I’ve got his back.

I’ve got your back, Bethany Anne.  For better or worse, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clamp down on this pain, ok?  I can’t think.

The pain lessened, Bethany Anne was able to take a breath.  She sat up, feeling Ecaterina’s arm across her shoulder.  Eric had three bags of blood and she took the first one, ripping off the top and downing the contents.  “Swords and pistols, NOW!”  John didn’t ask what was going on; he just turned, ran into her closet and grabbed her weapons and her protective vest.  She downed the second and third packets.

“Leather?”

Bethany Anne hated to waste any time, but if she got there and wasn’t able to fight and protect herself it was just stupidity in action. “Give me everything.”

John brought them in, Bethany Anne stripped right in front of them, John holding out each piece when she needed to dress.  He was flicking clothes almost as fast as he could, her dressing speed short of incredible.  When it came to a fight, her team was all business.  “Stephen has been attacked.  I’m going to try and trans-locate from here to his house.  TOM says that Ashur should make it doable.   If you don’t hear from me in an hour, well it’s been a good ride, right?”

She finished putting her pistols in the holsters when John reached out and grabbed her head in his two very large hands.  He pulled her forehead forward and kissed it, “Come back to us boss, you got that?”  She nodded, “Ashur, let’s go.”  Ashur jumped off the bed.  Bethany Anne grabbed a fistful of hair as he was passing by and the two of them disappeared.

John stared at the place she had just disappeared from, “She had better be fucking alright.”

Eric put an arm on his big friend’s shoulder.

Stephen knew this vampire coming at him, or at least knew of him.  He coughed up blood as he spoke, “Terence, I’ve always heard you were a prick.”

Terence was a little under six feet tall, with a mustache that had gone out of style in the 1970’s.  “Ah, Stephen, a pleasure to speak with you, especially as this will be the only time.”  Terence looked around the kitchen and living room area, “Kinda messy, Stephen.  I rather expected you to have better taste.”  Terence waved to another vampire who slowly walked in.  Stephen turned his head to look over at the new arrival.

In better times, or at least with blood Stephen would be ok.  Right now, he was bleeding from too many small holes.  It was taking most of his energy to stop the bleeding and there was nothing left to help him fix his body.

Stephen’s lips parted, his fangs trying to grow.  “Ah, Reginald.  How very surprising to see you here.”  Stephen coughed up some more blood.  He reached down and pulled a piece of his shirt, using it to wipe his chin clean.  “So, dear old brother is behind this attack?”

The man in front of Stephen was easily three inches above six feet, well built and wearing an Italian suit. He was trying to step around the piles of debris, blood and body parts to make it closer to Stephen. “Stephen, I can tell you that it is so good to see you.   Yes, your brother sends his regards and wishes that you would have just stayed asleep instead of cavorting with that bitch Michael created.”  Reginald used the side of his shoe, moving a hand missing two fingers away from where he was standing.

Stephen smiled, “That ‘bitch’ is going to take my dear old brothers heart.  That cock-sucking prick has officially signed his death warrant.” Stephen coughed again.

Reginald barked a laugh, “What? You have truly lived too long if you believe a new vampire, even one created by Michael is going to be able to hurt David.”  He looked around, spying a head in the corner, “Oh, who is that?  I don’t recognize him.”

Stephen turned his head, followed Reginald's eyes.  “His name was Scott.  Yet another death you will answer for.”

Reginald shook his head, “Please, Stephen. There is no one here to hear you blather on.  I get it, I get it.” Reginald turned back to look at Stephen, “You are letting me know revenge will be yours because your Queen will avenge you.”

Reginald squatted down, trying to keep his pants off of the floor and was eye level with Stephen, careful to stay outside of Stephen’s reach. “You need to grow up, old man.  Your belief in vows and trust is not only old-school, it belonged to times and countries that don’t even exist anymore.  Funny, Hugo told me the same thing when he died and do you see me running?  No? Of course not!  Why? Because revenge only happens when those delivering revenge have power.  You don’t, your Queen doesn’t and David has even the mighty Michael sealed up, just waiting for his own death.  There is no one to avenge you. Your family is quickly dying.  Your kind, your belief is almost caput, finite, ended.”

Reginald stood up, “What would your precious Queen say if she could tell me something right now?”

Reginald watched as Stephen’s face scrunched up in concentration, looking into the distance behind him.  Stephen spoke, “She would say you are a cock-tip sucking, stinky fudge-loving, fucking retarded cluster-duck, shitfaced ass jacker.  No, wait, sorry.  That was cluster-fuck shitfaced ass jacker.”  Stephen’s face relaxed and smiled up at Reginald.

Stephen thought the look on Reginald's face was ‘priceless’.  Now he understood the phrase so well.  “Really? Your Queen has quite the limited and base vocabulary.  You really want to follow a bitch that talks like that?  Are you sure you haven’t lived too long?”

Stephen smiled, pulled his legs up to push himself back against the wall, sitting a little taller. He coughed once more, wiping his chin, “Yes, quite sure.  I would have been happy having died in service to my Queen.  However; I have been informed she isn’t finished with me yet.”

“Really?  Are you daydreaming now, Stephen?  Too much blood loss?”  Reginald sighed, and spoke to Terence, “It is sad, I had hoped for a different outcome.  Let’s finish this, find out who else is in this place and then burn it.”

The three bullets that blew apart Terence’s head sounded like one solid thunderclap.  Reginald flinched at the sound and then stopped, a deep and dangerous growl emanating from behind him.

Stephen’s smile was malicious, no love for the vampire in front of him, “Reginald, it’s time I introduced you to my Queen, Bethany Anne.”

Ivan was sitting with Claudia in the darkened room, a small chamber maybe ten feet by six feet.  Stephen had shown Ivan the multitude of ways to exit his house a few weeks back.  Right now, the decision was to wait.  There was no way Ivan would be able to outrun any vampires waiting outside.  They would hear him.  It would be best if Stephen won and yelled to him from the other side of the wall to return.  Right now, not even Stephen could open the door into this room.  There was a back way out of here, but it was frankly small and until it was light outside, it wasn’t a help.

Claudia had been weeping, Ivan trying to give her some support by patting her back.  She leaned into his arm, seeking a connection, something to help her.  Scott had been killed, the massive explosion and then the quiet.

She buried her head into Ivan’s chest, reaching around to hug him to her.  Ivan hugged her back, an unconscious response on his part.  He had been replaying the last conversation he had with Gabrielle.  It hadn’t gone well.  She had some issues come up with changes to herself and was going to need time to deal with what they meant for her.  Further, she wasn’t planning on moving forward on the personal side with him for a while.  She had been locked into Bethany Anne’s team and Nathan was going to work with her Dad on the intelligence side, so she wouldn’t have a lot of time to be flying back and forth to Europe.

Ivan hadn’t tried very hard to dissuade her from her decision.  He cared for her, but it seemed something had happened to her physically that had her shook up.  He was a firm believer if you let the bird go and it came back to you, then it was yours to keep.  He just had to let the bird go.  He told her he would wait, that nothing needed to be decided right then.  He finally got her to agree to talk again in a couple of months.  He knew she didn’t believe anything would change, but he needed just the faintest amount of hope to get through his own feelings.

Now, he had a very passionate woman needing his attention, concerned she could die at any moment.

Claudia mumbled something into his chest.  Ivan looked down, “Excuse me?”

She took her mouth away from his chest and spoke loud enough for him to hear, “Hold me, I’m scared.”

His protective instincts kicked in, he held her tightly against his chest.

Reginald held very still, the growling sounded about ten feet behind him.  Pissed he had allowed himself to trust Terence’s assurance the area was clear.  Now, Terrence had paid for his mistake and Reginald was trying to figure out a way to turn this situation around.

A female’s voice spoke behind him, “You know, I can almost see the little gears in your tiny pea-brain turning, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it to get you out of this situation.  Here, let me help you understand.”

So long as she kept talking, Reginald would only get smarter and have more time to turn this situation around.  That was when both of his kneecaps exploded out, the gun shots having been fired simultaneously. He dropped to the ground.  Screaming in rage and pain, “This is a very expensive suit, you bitch!”  Another shot fired and the elbow he was using to try and sit up was vaporized.

He laid back on the ground, in shock and watched as a beautiful woman with black hair walked around him.  She holstered two pistols and pulled a sword off of her back and cut through Terence’s neck, severing what was left of his head.  He lost her when she went into the kitchen.

Her voice called out, “Stephen, anyone else to worry about and would you like this cold or warmed up?”

Stephen smiled, “Oh, I can last long enough to have it warmed up.  I will enjoy this so much better with warm blood and I don’t think we have anyone else in the house.”

Reginald gritted his teeth.  Two knee-caps and an elbow was a fucking trial to heal.  His plans had never got him shot; he wasn’t a quick healer and couldn’t afford to get into a battle where he relied on his healing abilities.

Now, he was screwed, his kneecaps slowly regenerating, his elbow not even starting to heal yet.  He laid there on the ground and spied the hand with the missing fingers, considering if eating it would help him heal any faster.

The microwave dinged.  He heard the crunch of boots as the woman came back into his vision and walked over to Stephen, handing him a mug of blood and then quickly yanking out a large splinter from his chest.  Stephen only grunted and then slowly took the blood as if he were drinking a spot of tea.

Reginald started to bare his fangs, thinking about the blood in the cup.  He heard growling.  He arched his neck backwards and looked behind him, coming face to upside-down face with a large, angry sounding all-teeth beast.  Reginald closed his mouth and turned his head back to the woman who had stood up, walking over to where his feet laid at odd angles. He decided to negotiate, “I’ve got knowledge you need, so I can be useful.  We can bargain.”

The smile on the woman was not very regal, she looked beyond angry, she looked vengeful.  He was looking into the eyes of someone who would kill him as easily as breath.  “Oh, I don’t think we are bargaining anything, Reginald.  What we are going to do is play a game.  This game isn’t normal.  I’m not going to sit here and do anything but find out ways that make you scream in pain.  Then I’m going to heal you up enough to do it some more.  The only way I am going to stop is if Stephen asks, very politely, for me to do so.  But, I have to admit I have already done more than you believe possible, little Reginald.”

“What, what are you talking about?” Reginald did not like his chances if Stephen was going to be the decision maker on when his pain would stop.  What happened to women not liking torture?

“You see, I am the Queen and my subjects are never forsaken.  Just a few minutes ago, I was near Central America when you hurt my subject.  Not powerful, Reginald?  How many vampires do you know who can travel 7,000 miles in a second?”

Reginald wasn’t believing any of this, he couldn’t believe any of this.  If she wasn’t lying, then what was she?  Suddenly, his neck felt the pressure of a sword tip and a whisper, “You aren’t paying attention, Reginald!  Penalty box for you.”  He screamed in pain when she flicked her sword, cutting off his left ear.  She was back by Stephen again, helping him to stand up.

Bethany Anne made sure Stephen was able to keep himself standing against the wall. “Hold on, if Reginald is going to make so much racket, let’s make sure we have a little time.”  She moved her sword to her left hand, drew her pistol and shot both of Reginald's kneecaps again.  His screaming went up an octave.  She holstered the pistol, “Just making sure he can’t walk for a few minutes.”

Stephen nodded, deciding that explaining Reginald was a slow healer was inconsequential to Bethany Anne.  Stephen knew this side of his Queen, this side was death.  Reginald wasn’t leaving this house alive; Stephen would bet all of his wealth on that outcome.

Stephen asked, “I guess the room at the end of the hallway was acceptable my Queen?”  Bethany Anne smiled at him, making him feel ten times better.

“Yes, yes it was.  I appreciate the extra blood packets in the room.  It was a nice touch and it would have been a little less easy had they not been there.  Thank you.”

Stephen’s own wounds were starting to heal.  Bethany Anne checked a couple of wounds, tisk…tisking to herself.

TOM, can we move this along?

Maybe a little, I still don’t want him having too much blood.

Bethany Anne cocked her right elbow and put her hand, wrist to the outside in front of Stephen’s mouth, “Bite.”  It wasn’t a request; it was a command.

He lovingly sank his fangs into her wrist, pulling the blood, the energy, into his body.  It took seconds for him to feel the change, the quickness of his own healing speeding up. “Stop.”  He retracted, breathing a little hard from the excitement that overcame him drinking from her wrist.

He wouldn’t make the mistake of ever trying to grab her wrist against her will again.

“Ivan?”

“He and Claudia are in a safe room beneath us.  I showed him how to get out a while back.  They are fine right now.  I’m not sure how much of what we are going to do to Reginald Claudia needs to see.”

Bethany Anne thought about this, “Her brother and friend?”

Stephen shook his head, “Dead.”

Bethany Anne pursed her lips, “Well, if it was me I might want a little of my own back.  However; I’ll find them in a few minutes and ask her.  She doesn’t have to come up here.”

Stephen his voice dry, barely whispered, “It was David.”

Bethany Anne cocked her head, “What was David?”

“David, my sibling.  He is the one who set this up.  He has Michael.”

Bethany Anne turned back to Reginald, “Really?  Why isn’t that nice to hear, Reginald?  Quit, stop your fucking whining you cunt-lipped ass jacket.  Crying?  Really?  The big bad Reginald who kills vampires and isn’t afraid of revenge is crying?  Guess what, Hugo called and he is waiting to discuss his death with you.  Tough shit he has to wait until I’m done with your ass.  Where is Michael you fuck-nut?  Oh, growing a pair are we?”

Bethany Anne walked over to where Reginald's feet were on the ground, “See here?”  She snapped her fingers, “Reginald pay attention, this gets worse.  So, I’m going to tell you a children’s rhyme used in America.  Ever heard of ‘This little piggy went to market’? No?  Let me teach it to you.  This little piggy went to market,” Reginald screamed as Bethany Anne sliced through his leather shoe and took off his small toe.  “This little piggy stayed home.”  She sliced through the next toe over, cutting it off.  He tried to move his legs, but the pain was too intense to do much.  “Want to tell me where Michael is, or shall I continue teaching you the children’s rhyme?”

Reginald was only too happy to explain where David’s castle was.

Fifteen minutes later, after a couple of texts back to John, she took Ashur and followed Stephen’s directions to get Ivan and Claudia out of the hidden safe room.

Bethany Anne walked up to the wall where the hidden door was installed.  She could hear noise coming from behind the wall.  She put her ear up to listen more intently and stepped back, rolling her eyes.  Guess Ivan got over Gabrielle’s phone call pretty quickly.  Why was it every time she needed to have a discussion with a woman, Ivan was playing hide the sausage with her?

Bethany Anne spoke loudly, “Gott Verdammt Ivan!  I can’t leave you alone for one fucking minute and you’re having sex.  You fucking dick!”  She smiled as she heard the two of them start scrambling around.  She waited thirty seconds until the noises with the occasional squeal of pain as they stepped on a toe or something stopped.

Ivan’s voice called from behind the wall, “Is that you?”

“Who the hell else would you think would speak to a fucking wall this way?  Open up before I get pissed and come through it. I’m getting impatient here, Ivan.”

She heard a snick and then a three-foot-wide portion started to open towards her.  She stepped aside and looked into the room. She saw a disheveled Ivan and a woman who still had red eyes from crying with messed up hair.  Ivan’s shirt had his buttons in the wrong holes.  She eyed Ivan up and down, “Ivan, I think you have some explaining to do, if not to me, then maybe Gabrielle?  Two months, really?  Did you last two days?  You and the slut need to clean yourselves up before you come upstairs.”  She turned to go and then stopped and turned around.  “By the way, slut, do you want a piece of the person who killed your friend and your brother before he expires?”  Claudia just shook her head negatively.  She had figured her brother was dead but to have it brutally just laid out there was almost too much.  The woman turned back around and left.

Claudia walked out of the room and sat on the bed.  “Who is that bitch?”  She looked up at Ivan, who was lost in his own thoughts, looking miserable.  “Ivan!”  He jerked and looked at her, “Who is that bitch!  And Gabrielle, who is she and why do you need to talk with her?”

Ivan walked over to a chair and sat down.  “Gabrielle is Stephen’s daughter, was my girlfriend until she called and asked for a ‘time out’… Well, maybe I asked for the time out.”

“You were dating Stephen’s daughter?  Oh god, I just screwed Stephen’s daughter’s boyfriend? How worse can my life get?”  She put her face in her hands, “Who was the bitch?”

“That’s Bethany Anne.”

“Oh, fuck my miserable life.”

Miami Fl, USA

Across the Pacific Frank was sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands, his shoulders slumped starring at his laptop in front of him.  Nathan came into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee.  He stopped on his way out, Frank hadn’t noticed him so he pulled a chair out next to Frank and sat down, “What’s wrong?” Frank didn’t move, “Frank, what’s wrong?”  Frank looked up, noticing Nathan for the first time.

“I missed it.”  His right hand sweeping across his laptop as if that was the answer to Nathan’s question.

“What?  What did you miss?”  They all knew Bethany Anne had survived a dangerous trans-location to Romania to help Stephen and Ivan.

“David, my system recorded a conversation between Anton and David a few weeks ago.  I had the information in the system and somehow, I missed it.  Nathan, I’ve never missed something like this.  What is going on?  Is my brain aging out?  Am I becoming unfit?”  An edge of desperation mixed with despair spoke through his words.

Nathan sat his coffee on the table, “Tell me what happened, and we will figure it out.  I haven’t noticed you becoming a fumbling old professor, so don’t give up on me Frank.  Otherwise, I’ll be relegated to hacker status for the group.” Nathan’s voice trailed off his own voice lost for a moment, “Fuck us.”

Frank noticed the change in Nathan’s demeanor, “What?  Fuck us why?”  His voice inching a little towards normal, caught up in Nathan’s obvious concern.

“Frank, what if someone has hacked us?”  The two men stared at each other, alarm rising in both of their eyes.  Nathan’s chair made a scraping, keening sound as he pulled it around to sit closer beside Frank who turned his laptop so both of them could read it.

Frank’s funk evaporated, his fingers typing quickly over the keyboard, both men lost in concentration trying to track down a possible digital attack they hadn’t noticed.

Lance and Patricia stepped into the room, noticed the two men deep in conversation using words neither one recognized.  Lance grabbed the keys to one of the SUV’s and the two left to go quickly get a bite to eat.

Two hours later, time having sped by, Frank sat back and muttered, “I’ll be gott verdammt.  How the hell did they find that?”

Nathan stood up and put his chair back to its normal position at the table, stretching his back.  “I don’t know, but they were able to stop the email from getting to you.  The data was still on the server where it was recorded, but something intercepted your email and returned the acknowledgment.  You never received the email, the other server doesn’t look compromised, so we have some sort of man-in-the-middle attack.  Your email didn’t have much to go on so I doubt they understood the content and so far, the firewalls held.  We need to upgrade that system; it doesn’t look like the attacks have stopped yet.  They’re subtle, not brute force.”

Frank leaned back and sighed, “Yeah.  I supposed as often as I do this to others, I shouldn’t get upset when I’ve had it done to me, but can you imagine what we might have done if I hadn’t missed this?”

Nathan shrugged, “Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Can’t think like that right now.  What we need …”  His cell phone range, it was Stephen’s phone.  He stabbed the speaker button, “Hi, you are on speaker with Frank and myself.”

Bethany Anne’s voice came across the speaker, “Hi guys, I assume you have heard the situation report from the Polarus team?”

Nathan continued, “Yes.  What do you want us to do?”

“I need you two to find out everything about David’s lands particularly this old castle that is right outside… hold it,” she pulled the phone away from her face and spoke to Stephen.  When Stephen provided the name of a small town, Nathan wrote it down. When he heard her put the phone back to her ear, he broke into the conversation, “We got that, so you want a detailed reconnaissance and other info how quickly?”

“Yesterday, Stephen is almost healed up, he and I are going to try a fast sneak attack before David understands his effort to kill Stephen failed.  John might be a little upset.”  Nathan’s laughing interrupted her, “Ok, John is going to have his head blow off like a massive volcano, but between Stephen, Ashur and myself, we will get this first part done.  I’m not trying to take the bricks apart, just get Michael free.  Once we have him, we have probably got one mean and righteously pissed Patriarch on our side again.  It could really change our tactics, especially if I can kill that son-of-a-bitch David in the process.”

Nathan thought about how calm the UnknownWorld had been without Michael being around, “Sure we couldn’t rescue him but keep him on ice? Life has been nicer without his shadow on everything.”

He heard her sigh on the other side, “Nathan, I get that, I really do.  I’ll take care of Michael and have a talk with him.  He owes me big right now and I could use some additional understanding he can provide before we move forward.”

Nathan asked, “You know Carl is dead, right?”

“I did, but how did you?  Reginald was pretty free with his information when I spoke with him.”

Nathan heard Stephen snort and speak in the background, “After you pulled his arm off…”

Maybe, Nathan mused, Bethany Anne was the right person to talk with Michael.  He had always wondered if she was ignorant or just insane when they first met.  He figured if anyone might be able to rein Bethany Anne in, it might be Michael.  Now he worried more for Michael than he did Bethany Anne.  Those two made a hell of a couple… Oh, holy crap.  He hoped that never happened, please God in heaven don’t let those two become a couple.

Bethany Anne brought his wandering thoughts back on track, “Ignore Stephen, how did you know about Carl?”

Frank jumped in, “Because we just heard a conversation recorded by a system I had in place between Anton and David talking about the situation.  Here, let me play it.”  Frank played the recording on his laptop speakers, Nathan holding the phone closer to the laptop.

“When did that happen?”

Frank admitted, “A couple of weeks ago.  I thought I had failed you by not uncovering this quicker but the reality is we have someone aggressively hacking us and the email informing me of the recording was blocked.  I’m sorry, I should have figured this out more quickly.”

There was a pause while Bethany Anne thought about what she had just heard.  “Well, it gives us a few hints.  That we aren’t looking for Carl changes the rules of engagement a little.  There won’t be anyone at the castle we can’t shoot and we need to find something that constrains a non-corporeal body.  Michael will be inside of it. Better late than never with the info, but find and get rid of whoever or whatever is attacking us.”

Nathan jumped back in, “What if it is governmental?”

Bethany Anne response was immediate, “Well, get rid of the attack, fuck up their computers and operations.  If it takes a more personal discussion let me know. Until we figure out if ADAM is going to come online, we can’t have this bullshit interrupting our efforts.  I’ll take them on the same way I take on anything else, find their nuts and kick them so hard they have to swallow again to speak. Your priorities are my castle information and then these hacking activities.  Do you have enough resources, guys?”

“I’ve got someone coming in, one of the ones you saved back in Miami.”

Her voice showed surprise, “Really?  I’m going to get a plus in my Karma column for not just killing people indiscriminately?  That’s a nice surprise.”

Nathan smiled, he had to add, “You will be even more excited to learn he wants to meet you.”

This time, there was a pause on the line, if only an extra second, “Like a date, or just a meeting?”

“He requested a meeting but I think he wants a date.”  Frank was looking at Nathan like he had just provided more information for his book.

“Ahhh, you know what?  I don’t give a fuck, it’s not like my dance card is full right now.  See how he does with you and if he isn’t a slime ball you can setup a dinner meeting.  Let’s see what happens when he finds John and Eric hovering over me.”

Nathan smiled, he doubted John and Eric would matter.  Most geeks just roll with the punches especially if a beautiful woman was involved. He had to get Ecaterina involved in this; the story might become a chapter in Frank’s book after all if they could actually swing something.  Maybe a little payback for a frozen Pepsi in their bed? “I’ll let you know after I’ve worked with him some.  However, I have to admit I’m going to tell him dating you isn’t a good idea. Not that I figure he will listen to me, sorry.”

She retorted, “It isn’t a good idea, I could eat him for dinner and that’s literal not sexual.  He could get shot or tagged as an information source, so make sure you try to scare him away.  Otherwise, we are all living on borrowed time so if he has the ‘nads to ask me out, he will probably get a yes.  I hear Ivan coming so get back with me on Stephen’s phone with the info, I want to be gone within the hour.”  She hung up the phone.  Frank was already pulling data.

Ivan looked like shit when she spoke to him, “What’s going on with slut bunny?  Is she ok with all of the deaths or do we have just a horny zombie down there?”

Ivan started to interrupt her provoking the woman but realized she was trying to get his mind back in the game.  “She is in shock right now, but Claudia is made of pretty stern stuff if it doesn’t require violence.  She isn’t a violent person.”

“Ok, you two get with Stephen and figure out where she can stay before the sun comes up.  I’m surprised we haven’t had anyone official come out this way so far.”

Stephen spoke up, “We are pretty far away, and most people fear my home and don’t come here without an invitation.”

“I must have surprised the hell out of you.”  She smiled over at the vampire.

“Yes, that is true.”  Stephen looked over at Reginald's remains.  “I’m going to call a cleanup crew.  They will take all of the remains then come back and fix the house.  I’ll have the remains of Scott and Juan cremated so we can hold a service for them after our discussion with David.”  He paused and looked back at Bethany Anne, “And by discussion I really mean decapitating that arrogant ass and burning his body in case anyone is curious.”  His eyes intense with anger.

Bethany Anne shrugged, “Works for me.  I might want some questions answered but I won’t lose any sleep if they aren’t.”  She pointed to the fridge, “Do we have enough extra bags?  I can’t let Michael drink from me, not sure what that would do, so probably a bad idea.”

Stephen went to the fridge and started pulling out ten bags. “I stocked a lot for our extra company, so we might be a little over stocked right now.”

“Really?  How many bags?”

Stephen looked back in the fridge, “I don’t know, at least twenty-five? Why?”

Bethany Anne walked into the kitchen and looked around Stephen at the blood sitting there. “Because desperate times call for desperate measures.”  She turned around and looked at Ashur, who was calmly laying down on the couch, Bethany Anne had cleaned off the couch seats of glass and sharp debris. “Stephen, how much do you trust me?”

Stephen started pulling bags from the fridge and putting them on the counter, “With my very existence, my Queen.  It is a vow that apparently is only relevant for countries that do not exist.  I believe it was not misplaced at all.”  He continued pulling out bags, “By the way, what is a shit-faced ass jacker?”  He asked the question the same as if he was wanting to know the weather the next day.

“Hmmm?  Oh.”  She pulled her attention back from Ashur who had been intently watching the two of them, “It’s a drunk guy who sticks his dick in the wrong hole and claims to the girl afterwards it was all a mistake.  So, don’t be one, ok?”

“Not to worry, I never miss.”  Stephen finished pulling the bags out of the fridge and closed it.

Ashur got up from the couch and jumped off, coming over to Bethany Anne who put her hand on his head.  Ivan just stared at the huge German Shepherd. “Ivan, meet Ashur.  He invited himself to a fight over in Costa Rica a couple of weeks back.  He almost died.  He has had my blood and some time being ‘fixed’ in TOM’s ship.”  She grabbed some of Ashur’s hair on his head to pull it back, “Hey! Pay attention, he isn’t food.  He’s my friend and Ecaterina’s brother.”  Ashur’s tail started wagging.  “Figures you would remember who spoils you with the treats you like so much.”  She let go of Ashur’s head.  Ashur went over to sniff at Ivan who slowly put his hand on the dog’s head.

“He’s beautiful.”

“God, don’t encourage him.  He already has all of the Wechselbalg on the ship claiming him as their mascot and I swear he understands every word said around him.”

Ivan continued petting Ashur, “Is he going to start cursing soon?”

“Probably.”

Bethany Anne heard Claudia slowly coming up the stairs, as if she was having to talk herself up each step.  Bethany Anne nodded in her direction and then pointed to the body pieces still around, she mouthed the word ‘Claudia’.  Ivan shook his head in understanding and went to intercept her before she saw too much.

Stephen got off of the phone, “They will be here within the hour.  They have a completely secure van to take Claudia to a safe house I have.  She and Ivan can stay there until we come back.”

Bethany Anne smiled, “Pretty sure we are going to get through this, aren’t you?”

Stephen looked at her, “My Queen, just stay back.  Ashur and I will take care of everything.” Grinning when Ashur barked in agreement.

The trip to David’s Castle didn’t go anything like Stephen had expected.

Stephen took a shower and cleaned up. He shocked the hell out of Bethany Anne when he came back out of his room.

He was dressed in military fatigues, the patches removed.  He wore them comfortably.  This wasn’t the first time he had been involved in operations, she thought.  Damn, this man had secrets.  He had always been such a light hearted ‘lover not a fighter’ type. She never considered he might have a past that would surprise her.

He went downstairs three times; each time he came back with wooden crates.  Opening them, they contained a large assortment of weapons.  He had all types within the three crates.  She chose an extra knife and retrieved an extra set of clips for her pistols.  They would be attacking, she hoped, during sun-up.  That would mean more humans, easier to just shoot them and be done with it.

Ashur stood up, putting his front paws on the table and seemed to be looking over the choices.  She snorted, “See anything you like?”

Ashur turned his head and cocked it at her, as if to say, “I don’t have opposable thumbs, dumb-ass.”  He then turned back and sniffed around the boxes.

She mumbled, “I guess I just got told off.”

Stephen looked at Bethany Anne’s outfit, “Oh!”  His eyes opened in alarm and practically disappeared running back downstairs vampire fast.

What the hell?

She heard him coming back, not nearly as quickly as he left and had one more wooden crate, this one wasn’t as big as the others and the wood was different.  This wasn’t a crate to carry stuff; this was a special holding box for something.  Stephen had her attention as he set the box down, pushing a machine gun to the side.  He unlocked the box at both ends and stepped back, waving Bethany Anne forward.

She smiled and stepped up, the excitement of opening the box similar to receiving a beautiful gift.  She opened the top and stared down, speechless.  She picked a striking saya up, the handle to the sword matching seamlessly with the sheath.

Inside the saya was the most exquisite katana Bethany Anne had ever seen.  “It is beautiful, Stephen.”

“It is yours, my Queen. It is time that you leave your functional sword behind and take up your mantel.  It is said this sword can differentiate between someone deserving of death and that which doesn’t.  Personally, I think it has more to do with the person who bears it, but it is unbelievably sharp.”

Bethany Anne carefully went through a few attack movements, feeling the perfection of the balance, taking in the beauty of the blade.  She tied the new saya in place.  It felt right, like something had been returned to her.  “Thank you, Stephen.  It is a treasure.” She approached him and reached for his face, kissing his forehead.  “Are you ready?”  He nodded, “Then let’s get our stuff.  We need to be at the airport in five minutes.”

“How are we going to get there so fast?”

Ashur woofed, as if to say, “Seriously?”

“Trust me.”  This time, it wasn’t a question but a command.

Frank had dipped his hand back into his military contacts and had procured a fast transport for the three of them, no questions asked, at the military airfield she had used to get to Florida.  She trans-located the three of them with two bags.  One full of metal clinking and one insulated that carried their blood.  The front security gate guard was surprised to see two people and a very large dog walking up to his post, each person carrying a bag.  Once he got approval, they walked through the open gate, a car arriving to pick them up to take them to the hanger.  Stephen jumped up front so Ashur could ride in the back with Bethany Anne.

The airplane was in the air ten minutes later taking them straight to a small airfield in Germany.  There was a Mercedes SUV waiting for them, the driver by the door as they got off of the plane.  Ecaterina had outdone herself, Bethany Anne thought.  The two of them got in the back seat after placing their bags in the back area where Ashur jumped in.  He could easily lie down, his head resting on the bag of blood.  She got her update from Nathan on what to expect.  She handed the phone to Stephen in case he had specific questions.

They both could hear the conversation just fine without putting Nathan on speaker and sharing any information with their driver.

They stopped in a small village to gas up, then continued on.  Bethany Anne made one adjustment after seeing the topology of the valley David’s Castle was a part of.  There was another tourist building two miles away from David’s castle, but at a slightly higher elevation.  The driver dropped them off at the restaurant/hotel.  They paid top dollar for two adjoining rooms that faced David’s abode.  They charged Stephen a three-week deposit to allow Ashur into the room.  Bethany Anne looked down at Ashur whose face, she would swear, was saying, “What? I’ll be good.”

They went to their rooms, entering in the first and opening the adjoining door to the second.  Ashur went around checking things out.  Stephen put the bag with the weapons on the first bed.  Bethany Anne opened the window, the hotel was only three stories and they had the top room.  She went back to the first bag, and found the snipers scope.  Returning to the window, she started dialing in to see David’s castle better.  Stephen came up behind her.  “How do you want to get over there?  I imagine he has the grounds pretty well guarded by people and automated emplacements.”

Bethany Anne pulled the scope off of her face, “Automated emplacements?  Stephen you speak so deliciously right before an operation.”  She put the scope back to her eye.  “We are going to drop in on them.”

Stephen looked down at Ashur who had come back in the room. Ashur didn’t look like he had a clue what she was talking about either.  Stephen was trying to figure out why he had expected the dog to have any answers.

“I only see one guard up top.  We need to get rid of him quickly.”

“How?  Are you a good enough shot to hit him from here?  Plus, that will make an awful racket and I don’t know about you, but I can’t run fast enough to expect us to be able to get inside before they find the dead lookout.”

“Oh, God no.  Maybe Ecaterina or Killian could make the shot, but I can’t.  I’ll shoot him with a pistol if I have to, but I hope to just cut his throat.”  She put up the scope.

Stephen was completely at a loss what his Queen was expecting to do, so he just accepted it would happen as she said it would.

Bethany Anne started placing weapons on her body and in her holsters, so Stephen did the same.  Once completed, she tossed the bag of blood to Stephen, “We are probably going to need that, but save some for Michael if you can.  He isn’t going anywhere, so if we fail, don’t kill yourself, just drink the blood and we will try again some other time, got it?”  Stephen nodded, this wasn’t a request from her; he was being commanded to take care of himself, first.

She looked down at Ashur, “Don’t you make a lot of noise, either.  No barking or anything else unless you see something we need to know about.”  Ashur returned her stare.

Tying her sword in place, she positioned Ashur to face the window. “Stay.”  She waved at Stephen, “Come up beside me.  No screaming like a little girl, got it?”  Stephen was starting to understand what was about to happen.

“Is this going to be like John’s story of attacking the large yacht?”  Bethany Anne nodded, “Well then, yippee-ki-yay.”

Bethany Anne finished with him, grinning as the three of them disappeared, “Mother-fucker.”

She had almost got the distance right.  She had undershot the castle distance by about three hundred feet.  She was high enough in the air to see the roof and where the guard was walking taking a drag on a cigarette.  She trans-located the group of them again, after falling fifty feet.  Hopefully, no one noticed the three of them appearing and disappearing in the middle of the sky.

She let go of both Stephen and Ashur as soon as they came out of the second translocation. The three of them dropped the last five feet.  She landed on the balls of her feet, and took off towards the guard.  He hadn’t finish the last pull on his cigarette when his head was cut cleanly off, his body crumpling to the ground.  Bethany Anne had to move quickly to dodge the arterial spray.  “Gah!”

She walked back over to Stephen and Ashur, both on alert. She whispered, “This thing is dangerously sharp.  I just wanted to cut his throat, it took his head.”

Stephen smiled, “Guess he was evil then, huh?”  She nodded agreement.

They went in search of a way down.  From the conversation with Anton, they figured Michael would be near some dungeon.  Nathan didn’t have any information about the castle layout so they were on their own.

Stephen looked at her, “Stay together or apart?”  She considered their options.

Her only priority was breaking Michael out of this mess.  If they disrupted David’s people it was extra points and should they kill David she would do the happy dance.  “I’ll seek Michael by going down as fast as possible.  I want you two to stick with me.  Should we get trapped, your responsibilities are to take the fight somewhere else and let me continue on.  Keep the fight going then meet me back on the roof.”

“How will I know when to meet you?”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.  I’ll yell it a few times down the halls if I need to, just you two pay attention, ok?”

Both nodded at her.  That dog was just freaky intelligent, she thought.

They quickly went down the stairs.  They only passed one person, a maid, going down.  Bethany Anne popped her on the head, successfully not killing her. They laid her on a bed as if she was taking a nap.

It was getting late in the day.  No one had seen them yet, but they hadn’t found the way down to the dungeon, either.  Bethany Anne turned back from looking around a corner, “You have any suggestions?”

Ashur chose that moment to take the lead, smelling along the floorboards.  They sped up to catch him and then they quickly went from room to room.  They found two security types.  These they killed quickly, each one breaking a neck.  They stashed them in a small room that looked and smelled dusty.  Ashur went at it for ten minutes before he pawed at a wall in a hallway.  Stephen grabbed both torch holders and tried to move them.  He shrugged his shoulders mouthing, ‘It works in the movies.’

Ashur was sniffing on the wall, his head easily able to reach up hand high.  Finally, he stopped and pawed at a brick.  Bethany Anne felt around and finally just pushed hard and a ‘click’ was heard.  Stephen pushed and a section of the stone wall pushed in, the three of them entered and carefully closed the stone door.  “Fuck my life,” Bethany Anne whispered, “I didn’t think to bring a flashlight.”

A click occurred and lights turned on showing the stone steps going down in a circle. Stephen took his hand away from the light switch, “Us vampires are able to get with the times, you know?”  He smiled at Bethany Anne who rolled her eyes.  The three of them took off down the steps, trying to listen ahead.

They passed a room, it had some very old fashioned torture equipment, but nothing that looked like it could be used to hold somebody that would be non-corporeal.  Nothing smelled like it had been used in the last few weeks.

There was another level, this one with cells and old fashioned metal clasps.  The final level was a large room and in the center was a copper looking device that reminded Bethany Anne of a diving bell.

“This has got to be it.  You two make sure I don’t have company.”  Both Stephen and Ashur went back to the stairs.

She walked around the device.

TOM, do you have any suggestions?

According to the phone call, the idea is if he becomes corporeal, it kills him.  I would imagine it has a huge amount of pressure, or a huge amount of vacuum.  With one, it would crush him, the other he would explode.  If we could equalize the pressure, he could form his body again and we can grab him and go.

Bethany Anne looked around and found the controls.  She studied the controls for a minute.

Ok, any ideas?

Do I look like I run strange devices?

Do you really want me to answer that question?

Look, the pod-doc is not strange.

Ok, maybe I was asking too much.  So, if I try to open the door on something with pressure, the door blows off and god only knows what happens.  Too much vacuum and there isn’t a chance in hell I can pull the door open, not even with my strength.

Well, we could call to him and try to grab him etherically.

Come again?

Tom was silent.  This couldn’t be good; however, she didn’t like their other chances and right now she wanted out of this castle in the worst way.  The whole place just reeked of evil from ages past.

We could try to enter the Etheric right here and call to him, move to where you ‘feel’ him. Grab him and then move back out, you slip back into normal space and we have him out of there.

And if I fail to judge the distance correctly?

Uh… boom?

Hold on to that thought.

“Michael, can you hear me?”  Stephen and Ashur both turned their heads to look at her.  She waved her hands and they turned their heads back up the stairs.

She whispered in a hiss, “Gott Verdammt Michael, answer me you fucking pain in the ass!”

Bethany Anne?  It was weak, but she heard his mind connection.

“Yes!  It’s me, Michael.  I’m outside this fucking contraption.  I’ve got to get you out.  Is there anything you can do to help me?”

No.  I am barely holding on here as it is.  My energy is low.  Have you killed David?

“No, haven’t met him yet.  I’ll get around to killing him soon.  Well, I hope anyway.”

She got no response from Michael.  It wasn’t like she wanting his approval for killing David anyway.

You need to escape.  David has killed Stephen, he will kill you.  Leave to fight another day.

“Bullshit, Stephen is with me.”

Truly?

“Yes, truly.  I am not a lying bastard who says one thing and then disappears for a year.  Oh wait, that’s you. Don’t think I’m happy with you at the moment but we can talk once I have you out of this fucking thing.  Shit!”   Bethany Anne was getting impatient.  Not a rare occurrence for her.

“Fuck this. Michael, get ready, we have some blood out here.  When you sense me not moving you any more, then you are safe to come back into your body.  Drink the bag because if you try to give me a hickie you won’t need to worry about David, I’ll kill you myself.”

She could hear chuckling in her mind.  At least Michael’s sense of humor wasn’t gone.

“Bethany Anne?”  Stephen called out, concern in his voice.

She grabbed some blood out of the bag and set it down beside the bag.  “Whatever you do, Michael cannot drink from me, understand?”  He nodded.  She pulled off her sword and set it aside.

“Michael, time to meet your maker.”  Let him chew on that comment for a minute.

She stepped into the Etheric, trying not to move any distance.  It was a weird feeling; she lost the ability to ‘see’ anything.  Everything was by feel and sensing in this dimension for her right now.  She could feel a sentient near her, undulating in and out of existence. He felt maybe ten feet away?  Got you, she tried to mentally walk in that direction, moving towards the mind.  There was nothing easy for her to grab.  When she took others and transported them, she always grabbed them physically.

Dammit!  She wasn’t going to get this close and fail.  She moved a little to the side, to feel him from a different angle and then took another ‘step’ again.  Michael felt like he was some sort of vapor, not wholly here.  She needed some sort of vacuum.

TOM, can we pull a person into the Etheric and then push them out again?

Well, I guess there isn’t anything that would preclude that idea.  So far, we have moved people into the etheric and pulled them out.  I’m not sure if that is factually correct or just how we understood it ourselves.

No fucking time like the present to learn something new. 

TOM stayed quiet.  It wasn’t like he would change her mind and she always seemed to have an innate understanding of how the Etheric worked.  He never explained how many decades it could take a Kurtherian to master how much she knew right now.

Bethany Anne inched towards the vapor, thinking how far she had moved inside the Etheric.  She reached out, mentally grabbing the nebulous feeling and willing it to come into the Etheric with her.  It didn’t take long before the vapor became more solid in her mind.  She decided to act as if she was transporting herself from a normal location and took a step back into the room.  She had pushed Michael ahead of her, not wanting to find out what might happen if they were touching when she was back in the room, a very solid Michael fell towards the floor.  She reached out enough to grab his shirt, it ripped. She was successful slowing him down a little before he hit the stone floor.

Ouch, that had to hurt.

He was unconscious.  She grabbed a bag and was busy ripping it open when Stephen whispered. “Bethany Anne, we have company!”  He pointed up.

She downed the bag for herself and waved the two of them towards her.  Grabbing the empty blood pouch, she began tossing the extra blood pouches along with her empty back into the bag, “Grab Michael.”  Stephen picked up his Patriarch.  Ashur came over quickly; she tossed the canvas bag around her shoulders, grabbed a handful of Ashur and then Stephen’s hand and transported them back to their rooms in the hotel.

Twenty seconds later, David came down the stairs, sniffing in puzzlement.  “Why does it smell like dog in here?”  He went over to the device and checked the settings.  Nothing had been touched.  He walked around the containing device trying to figure out what was wrong.  “Master!”  David moved quickly back up the stairs.  He screamed in rage when he learned of his dead guards and rushed back down the stairs.

Walking over to the device and slammed his fist against it. “How!”  He turned around and looking down, noticed a drop of blood on the floor.  He stared harder into the device, looking for any proof that Michael was still inside.  The device was working correctly, but he couldn’t see anything.

David started yelling in a dialect lost to the ages.

The four of them appeared back in the hotel room.  Ashur stepped away and went into the other room. Stephen laid Michael on the bed, his face looking anemic.  Bethany Anne quickly pulled blood bags out and tossed them to Stephen who ripped them open and worked to get some down Michael’s throat.

It took them fifteen minutes to get enough in Michael that he was able to wake up and start drinking the blood himself. His voice calm, his eyes blazing in anger.  “Where is David?”

Bethany Anne snorted, “Really?  Your first words are wondering where that useless excuse is?  Not, ‘thank you Bethany Anne, thank you Stephen for saving my apparently inconsiderate ass’?”  She considered walking over and slapping the man.

He managed a feeble grin, “My apologies, I guess I should have said ‘I appreciate the rescue Bethany Anne and Stephen, where is David so I may kill him?’”

Mollified, Bethany Anne replied, “Well, at least you have one priority correct.  He is back at his castle, I imagine he is figuring out you aren’t there and having a epic conniption fit.  I hope he is worried just where you are right now, looking around every corner in fear.  But, looking at you, you can’t wrestle a squirrel, much less another vampire.”

Michael looked down at his body, realizing the truth in her words.  “Yes, this is true.  However, I will be better soon enough and then I will take care of him.”

“Really?  In a couple of hours, you going to be ‘ready to go’?  What a bullshit answer.  You will be lucky to be at quarter-strength.  You were almost dead; I could feel it.  If you are better in two days, I’ll consider it amazing.”

Michael decided to accept the truth of her statements.  His anger craved killing David immediately.  “How did we get out?”

Stephen handed Michael another bag, “Bethany Anne teleported us.”  Bethany Anne gave him an ugly look. He shrugged, “What do you want me to do?  He hasn’t learned everything so won’t have a clue if I tell him the real explanation.”

Bethany Anne shrugged, “Fine! Do we need to get out of this area?”

Michael looked around and through the window, “Where is ‘here’?”

“We are about two to three miles from his castle, in a hotel.”

Michael pursed his lips, “He might be able to feel me if he comes around here, so I wouldn’t say it is the safest place.  Do we have a vehicle?”

Bethany Anne pondered that question, she reached into the bag again to pull out a pouch, but this time she drank the blood.  She tried to gauge her level.

TOM, how am I doing on energy?

Amazingly enough, you have probably only used twenty percent since we left this room.

So, I’m pulling energy through Ashur, right?  Is this painful to him?

Does he look like he is bothered?  I’m guessing he would let you know if it bothered him.

I wonder just how much energy I could pull.  When we were in the Etheric, it seemed to be all around us, like swimming in the ocean.

A more apt metaphor would be breathing in air.  You were there, in the dimension, you were in the Etheric, so yes, you definitely felt it all.  It was beautiful.

TOM, is this where your people are?

Tom was silent for a moment.  Some, yes.  Those who had the ability, but far too many can’t make the change.

Stephen watched Bethany Anne for a moment, she seemed to be considering something.  Michael leaned his body over towards Stephen, while watching Bethany Anne.  “What is she doing?”

Stephen looked down at his father, the man who had left him to go to America centuries before.  Stephen almost felt compassion for his cluelessness.  “I imagine she is deciding how to move us somewhere.”

“How?  Are we doing this transporting thing again?  How far can she go, more than three miles?”  Stephen nodded his head, “Ten?”  Stephen nodded his head again.  “Twenty?”  Stephen decided to stop answering Michael’s questions.

Bethany Anne focused again, looking at the two men.  “Ok, Stephen.  How safe are Ivan and Claudia?”

“They are good.  They can move again tonight, but they are safe where they are right now as well, why?”

“Because I want to make sure they will be ok for a few days alone.  Can I use your phone?”  Stephen went to the gun bag and reached inside for a smaller bag that was cushioned, unzipping it he pulled out his phone and turned it on, handing it to Bethany Anne.  She waited for it to boot up.  Michael stared at Stephen, realizing in his haze that Stephen looked better than he remembered him, and he was comfortable with technology.  This wasn’t the man he remembered, or the man of the stories he had been hearing when he had been awake.  What had happened while he was in that infernal device?

“Stephen, what is the date?”  Stephen told him, “Really?  David is going to pay for that.”  His voice trailed off as Bethany Anne put the phone to her ear.

“Nathan?  Are you at the house?  Can you go up to my bedroom and check to make sure no one is in my closet?  Wait, don’t you fucking look in my closet either.  Just knock… Shit.  Ok.  Look, make sure the floor in my closet is clear and nothing is in the middle, but if you say one fucking thing about my shoe count I will personally pull your dick up around your neck and strangle you with it, understand?”

Bethany Anne rolled her eyes as she heard Nathan try to hold in his snickering. “Fur face, if I hear one mention, and that includes from Ecaterina too, your ass is grass, capiche?  Who else is there?  Frank?  Where is dad and Patricia?  Ok, so they are camped out next door for now?  That’s interesting.  Watching movies?  Netflix.  God, I hope it isn’t Netflix and chill.”  She thought about who she was bringing with her and started smiling, if she could pull this off Nathan would wet his pants.  “Tell you what, Stephen and I need to drop in, but I have a huge German Shepherd with me, yeah Ashur.  Really?  Those guys just got on the boat, no telling what they think is large.  Yes, we know where Michael is and we have a plan to get him back to the United States.”  Michael’s eyebrows rose at the comment about getting him to the United States.  He was clueless as to why she wanted her closet emptied out.  “It’s dark here right now, so David is up.  Mmhmmm. Right, Michael in the morning, stop, stop!  No, no more comments; that would be a bad idea.” She didn’t want Nathan to comment about Michael where he could over hear. She smiled evilly, her plan coming together.  “Call Frank up there would you?  I am going to want him there in a minute and I’m sure he will want to meet … Stephen.”  She winked at Stephen who was getting a good idea of where they would be shortly.

Ashur came into the room.  Stephen started pulling all of the bags together, taking the empty one from Bethany Anne and the plastic around Michael.  He tossed them all in the gun bag, Michael looking at him strangely so Stephen answered the unasked question, “We don’t need to leave behind anything that will make the hotel maids curious.”

Bethany Anne continued her conversation, “Yes?  Frank is there.  Good, make sure the lights are on, but you guys get out of my closet. Good, see you in a second.”  She pointed to a spot on the floor. Ashur walked over to it and stood.  “You good enough to walk old-man?”  She smiled and Michael decided to just go with the flow.  He didn’t have the strength to fight with her and she was a force of nature.

He slowly rolled over, getting his legs off of the bed and got ready to get up.  She pointed to Stephen, “You.”  She pointed to a spot on the floor, “Here.  Grab me, ok?”  He just nodded.

She walked over to Michael, who was just making it up to a standing position.  She stopped in front of him, looking up into his eyes.  “You know, I’ve been wanting to slap your face ever since I woke up and your ass wasn’t around.  For now, you get a reprieve, but I haven’t commuted your sentence yet.  Understand?”  Michael suppressed a grin; she didn’t seem to be in a joking mood right then, or at least not one that was directed in his direction.

“What do you want me to do?”

She smiled, “Nothing, but if you pinch my ass I will kick yours, understand?”

He didn’t until she bent down and grabbed him around the waist, lifting him up and carrying him in a fireman’s carry. Now his head was, in fact, starring right at her ass when she carried him back around the bed. From upside down, it was pretty fetching.

Stephen reached out with one hand and grabbed the arm she was using to hold Michael.  She used her other hand to grab Ashur, “Let’s go, boys.”  They disappeared.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The closet was pretty close to how she remembered it.  She lowered Michael down.  Even as pissed off as she was, she wouldn’t have him in such an embarrassing position when he met Nathan and Frank.

He looked around, “Where is this?”

Bethany Anne could hear Stephen introducing himself to Nathan and Frank.  She knew with Nathan’s hearing he would now know Michael was with them.. Damn shame she couldn’t see his face.

Ashur walked around, smelling her shoes again. Then he went out of the closet and started growling almost immediately.  She yelled out of the closet, “Gott verdammt, Ashur.  Stop your fucking alpha battles.  Don’t make me bitch slap you again!”  Ashur calmed down.

“I swear; it’s like going home at Christmas when you’re seeing cousins.”  She held Michael’s arm, giving him some support as they walked out of the closet.  At least most of his color had returned.  “We are in Key Biscayne Florida.  Miami is a few minutes from here.”

She had to stop as Michael paused his walking. “Truly?  You just moved us from Germany to Florida?  How?”  Stephen came and took Michael’s arm, sensing how tired Bethany Anne was.

She let him take Michael.  She sat down on a chair and pulled the blood bag around, getting a pouch of blood out. “It is called using the Etheric to trans-locate.  Something you might be able to do right now and certainly will when I fix you.”

Stephen helped Michael lay down on her bed.  Nathan’s face was a mask, not letting out anything.  She smiled at him; he finally just rolled his eyes and walked over to her, “What happened?”

“David had him in a device that would kill him immediately if he was in a normal body.  Don’t ask more about that, but suffice to say Michael was almost dead.  We got him out and now we are here.  We are going to have to get him healthy again and I’m sure David and Anton know they don’t have him anymore.  For the next couple of days, he is going to be healing. He and I have some discussions, which reminds me.”  She looked over at Michael, “Michael, I’m throwing the structures out the fucking window.  That bullshit has fucked up so many lives it is ridiculous.  I’ve run into a couple of situations where I understand why you did it, but we have to come up with another solution.”

He looked at the three men around him and the white dog laying on the floor.  She was truly a force of nature.  He wasn’t sure what happened while he was gone, but it was obvious the biggest mistake of his life was allowing David and Anton a free hand while his biggest success was sitting right in front of him.  She was everything he had hoped and so much more and he had nothing of himself invested in her success. He spoke after careful consideration reflecting on his thoughts while in the chamber, “Maybe it was appropriate for another time.”

She nodded her head, closing that conversation. She believed that was probably the most Michael could bend right now.  Nathan just stared, first at Michael, then back at Bethany Anne.  The strictures, the rules the UnknownWorld had lived under for hundreds of years had just been verbally torn apart. An agreement between the two most powerful beings he knew to forge a new destiny.  Nathan went and sat on the couch, at a loss for words.  Frank noticed Nathan’s reaction and was itching to get his notebook.  He hadn’t known what to expect when Nathan asked him upstairs and now he wasn’t prepared.

Anton’s residence, Buenos Aires Argentina

Behind his desk, Anton reached for the ringing phone, one that he had for three years but had never been used.  It stayed charged and was one of three he had to communicate should David call him.

He smiled as he answered the phone, “Hello David, tell me dear old father is dead.”

Anton’s face lost its color.  “What?  How the hell did he get out!”  Anton screamed into the phone, “YOU TOLD ME YOU HAD HIM.  HE WAS DYING AT ANY MOMENT!”  Anton stood up and started walking back and forth in his office.  “Well, fucking find him you jackass!”

He listened for a minute. “Don’t worry about that bitch and stop trying to change the subject.  I know where she’s at and I have a plan to take her out.  You find dear old dad and take care of him…  What? “

Anton stopped walking and went back behind his desk and sat down. “That isn’t a bad idea.  If he goes back home, we can take care of him there.  Yeah, I’ll put the word into a couple of ears and they will watch for him.  Dammit, David.  I handled my side of this.  You know Michael isn’t going to forgive me for killing Bill.  No, I guess he won’t be too pleased with you, either.  I’m going to have to push forward on the serum.  No, I’m out of the original, I’ve got our changed version.  No, we had to kill the most recent three subjects.  The last was one was impressive though, a real monster.  Yeah, I imagine you do need more protection now.  Michael isn’t going to let this go.  You have a target on your back and you’re not willing to leave that stupid castle.  It’s going to be the noose around your neck.  Fine, I’ll take care of myself, you take care of yourself.  Thanks a lot for being such a worthless fuck.  Why you didn’t just encase him in cement I will never understand. Yeah, good bye to you too!” Anton stood up and slung the phone as hard as he could, it shattered against the wall, the sound like a gun shot.

There was a knock on his door, “Boss?”

Anton looked around at the phone parts everywhere and called out to the closed door, “Francisco, find someone to sweep up phone parts for me, I need to go to the research lab.  Call up the car.”

“Yes boss.”  Footsteps quickly walked away.

The Queen Bitch’s Ship Ad Aeternitatem

Bobcat, Marcus and William were standing around the frame William had pulled together with help from the engineering crew on the Ad Aeternitatem.  This ship version had most of Bobcats design but very little of Marcus’ help yet.

They discussed what should work, and with Marcus’ insights what certainly wouldn’t work.

William sighed, “This isn’t going to fly, is it?”

Marcus shrugged, “We have an untested engine, a nominally untested flight design and not a clue exactly how we are supposed to steer the craft yet.  The one individual who might be able to help us is in Europe, right?  He looked over at Bobcat for verification and got a nod of agreement from him.  “Ok, so we have some details but can’t fully bake everything in at this time.  Is there any harm in trying it out?  What happens if we lose the craft?”

William snorted, “It sinks?”

Bobcat rubbed his chin, “I don’t think Bethany Anne wants us littering the ocean floor with our efforts here.  We had better put scuttling charges on the craft.  If we lose one of these things, no one should be able to figure out how we have it working by what is left of the parts.”

Both men nodded their agreement.

Marcus could understand the secrecy, but as a researcher he was still having trouble with the concept that knowledge was being hoarded which would benefit all of mankind.  Once he had a discussion with Bethany Anne, his desire to release any of the technology early had been squashed, like his desire to ever leave and pursue research somewhere else again.  That woman was fascinating.  That she was beautiful never entered Marcus’s analysis.  Then he met Gabrielle and walked around in a daze for ten minutes before he recognized the mirth in Bobcat’s eyes.  He had the good grace to at least blush at his scientific infatuation with the women.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Today was not a good day to fly.  At least, if you were the first effort for Bobcat’s team.

Captain Wagner put out to sea after retrieving the last of his crew from their shore leave.  Once he located an area safely outside the viewing area of other craft, he permitted the team to put the testing vehicle on a pontoon platform they lowered off the side.  Bobcat had the ship move off a quarter of a mile away. First, the craft didn’t react at all to any commands.  It took another hour for the team to communicate with Bethany Anne, who then replied back with the answers.  She apologized for not being there, but she was needed in Miami for a little while longer.  She hoped to be there that evening.

They were surprised to find out she was in Miami.

The team decided to move ahead with ideas including the input they had received from Bethany Anne.  After three more hours they tried again.

Everyone who was available went up to the main deck to watch the ‘amazing liftoff’.  As everyone counted down from ten to one, the team hit the button to test the ability to rise up on its new gravity based engine.  The cheering was loud for the first few seconds as the triangularly shaped rocket, all twelve feet long, slowly rose off of the pontoon platform.  It attained about a five-foot height when Bobcat sent the command to reverse gently and land.  Unfortunately, something wasn’t wired or coded correctly and the craft accelerated in the down direction at its maximum velocity.  The pontoon boat disintegrated, pieces flying fifty feet up in the air, as the heavy vehicle went straight through it.  Bobcat quickly fired off the command to detonate the scuttling charges and the team could see a large amount of bubbles come to the surface thirty seconds later.  Marcus wondered how far it had gone down in the scant time before Bobcat had hit the command?

One person commented that they should label that version the ‘X6’.  Apparently he was a fan of Top Gear and since the team was Bobcat, Marcus and William it fit to call them Team BMW and name their first failure after the car Jeremy Clarkson dubbed the ‘stupidest model BMW had ever shipped’.

Captain Wagner came over and asked them if there was anything they needed to do regarding trying to salvage parts of the rocket.  Bobcat told him no, they had the electronic recordings sent before the scuttling charge activated and there wouldn’t be anything of value after they went off.  Besides, the water was too deep here to accomplish anything.

Captain Wagner did have a team retrieve the parts of the pontoon boat that were floating, there was no reason to litter and if anyone wanted to know what caused the large explosion, at least he would have some physical proof to concoct a story around.

Down in the workshop area, Marcus was reviewing the electronic data they had been able to receive right before, and after, the debacle.  Bobcat came into the room and brought with him a bucket of ice with beers in it.  Marcus looked up from his laptop and gave it a curious glance.

Bobcat smiled, “Look, if the numbers don’t make much sense, maybe our minds aren’t lubricated enough to understand them at this time?”  Marcus smiled and reached for the first beer of what would become a serious effort to lubricate the hell out of his mind.

William came in an hour later.  He had helped the team retrieve the pontoon boat remains and had been taking some serious shit for the effort.  One of the engineering guys grabbed a couple of pieces they had retrieved and made a casket to put the pieces in and a headstone.  He brought a three-foot casket and headstone back from the engineering section.  The headstone read, “R.I.P. Pontoon 001, We Hardly Knew You. May Pontoon 002 last a little while longer.”  William had to suffer the congenial joking the rest of the people gave him.  Captain Wagner thought it was a hilarious effort and had the deckhands clear a small area to put up the headstone and coffin.  The original jokester asked William how large they should make the graveyard and William flipped him off as he walked away.

They were well past their third round of lubrication when Marcus came across some numbers that didn’t make sense.  He swung his laptop around to push it across the table to William and asked him to review it.  William was sober, he didn’t want Bethany Anne coming in and smelling any alcohol on his breath.  It took him about ten minutes to see what Marcus was having problems with.  He slowly put his head down on the table, and then proceeded to beat his head slowly against it.

Marcus and Bobcat stopped the swallows both had been taking, recognizing that their less sober teammate might have figured something out.

William tried to explain what he thought was wrong, but both of his teammates had lubricated a little too much.  They agreed to sleep it off and get back together in the morning.  William made sure Marcus was able to get back to his berth correctly.  Marcus didn’t seem to be able to hold his alcohol any better than William, while Bobcat could probably have passed a sobriety test so long as they didn’t make him breath into a Breathalyzer.

Las Vegas, Nv - USA

The microwave ding sounded and Tom got up from the table.  He brought back the chili con queso he had warmed up and turned the corn chips in Jeffrey’s direction, offering him a few.  Jeffrey reached out and grabbed a handful, dipping his chip for cheese and munching the whole chip in one bite.  No double dipping for him.

He talked around his chewing, “We are getting closer to decision time for the most important aspect of this whole AI project.”

Tom grabbed his Wagner’s Draft root beer and raised it in a toast. “I know, exciting right?”

Jeffrey shook his head, “Pretty momentous, this decision could be great, or it could get us ridiculed for decades, hell possibly centuries.”

Tom looked at his bottle, “Maybe this is too light?  Need something heavier for this discussion.”

Jeffrey agreed so Tom went to the refrigerator and brought back two Cokes.  “Need caffeine for this discussion.”  They clinked the two 1-liter bottles together, Tom reading the ‘Hecho en Mexico’ written on the side. “Why does this stuff taste so much better than what they bottle in the plastic?”

Jeffrey put his bottle down, “Real sugar?”

Tom shrugged, “Maybe, but fuck it’s good.”

Jeffrey sighed, put the Coke on the table and looked back at his main partner on this project, “Ok, we’ve put this decision off long enough.  Male or female?”

Tom barked out his answer, “Female!”

Jeffrey closed his eyes in weary acceptance, he knew they would have a disagreement, just not this fast. “Seriously?  You want another female AI voice?  Isn’t SIRI, Cortana and whatever the hell Google names their voice good enough for you, yet?”

Tom thought for a second, “You know, I don’t know what they call their voice command.  It’s just Google Now, right?”

Jeffrey snorted, “Maybe they call it Julia, I don’t know.  Stop dodging the question.  Do we want to follow everyone else, or strike out on our own?”

“Like they did in War-games?”  Tom switched his voice to sound like an electronic computer voice, “Would-you-like-to-play-a-game?”

Jeffrey stopped to consider his point, “Yes, I see what you mean.  Plus, there is the whole ‘Dave’ from 2001.”  Jeffrey thought about the whole male vs. Female issue.  “Seems to me the idea is that a male voice can come across as more menacing.”

“Yes, but then you have the female coming across as too mothering, “Here, let me lock all of the doors so you can’t leave the house, then you can’t possibly get hurt.”  Tom thought for another second, “Great, she could decide we don’t need to leave the planet, and here I was wanting to get voice samples of James Earl Jones.”

Jeffrey looked at the man, shock on his face.  “Darth Vader?  You want to put Darth Vader’s voice connected to our AI?  Hell, why not use what’s his face, Hannibal Lector?”

“Anthony Hopkins.”

“Yeah!”

Tom looked over at him, “What?  You want to give him Mickey Mouse as a voice? If you made me squeak all of the time, I would certainly choose team evil.”

Jeffrey calmed down.  “This is our world shattering discussion and hang up?  What if ADAM decides to research the actor or actress and then model its behavior on the actor or the part.”

“Good point, no psycho killers, agreed?” Tom said.

“Agreed.  What about a scientist, like Einstein?” Jeffrey reached for another chip.

Tom scratched his chin, “I don’t know.  What if the scientist is just a theoretician, do those guys ever get any real work done?”

Jeffrey smiled, “Lawyer?”

Tom’s face scrunched up in disgust, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”  Tom smiled evilly at his boss, “Politician?”

It was Jeffrey’s turn to be disgusted. “I hate you; I really, really hate you.”

Jeffrey reached down with his chip, but the cheese was gone.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The two men broke up, not deciding what kind of voice to give ADAM and went back to building 1.  Jeffrey brought up the next point of concern.  “Ok, we start with a core download to give the system enough information to start figuring out causality and questions to seek new answers.  What should we inject second?”

“What have you thought of so far, and what have you rejected?”

“The classics, but then which classics?  We could go for religious, the Bible, but then the whole Old Testament eye-for-an-eye thing.  The Qur’an?  No thank you.  Plus, I don’t want the chance to put a God complex into the thing.”

“So, we believe that whatever we feed it, will start it down the path we want it to go?”

Both men sat there a moment.  Tom looked up, “Why don’t we punt?”

Jeffrey returned the man’s stare. “Call Nathan?”  Tom grinned when Jeffrey reached for his phone.

It took only two rings for Nathan to pick up, “Yes Jeffrey, is ADAM awake already?”  Jeffrey snorted.

“No, actually we are deciding on a path of input.  Are you on speaker?”  Jeffrey explained what the guys had considered doing and what their concerns were.

“So you two have done what, moved it up the chain?”  Jeffrey could hear the grin in Nathan’s voice.

“Pretty much!  What are your thoughts?”

Nathan snorted, “Like this is my baby.  I’m going to do what great men have done before me.”

Tom butted in, “Punt it up the chain?”

“Exactly, and the person I need is in the house.  Both literally and figuratively.  I don’t think you have met her, but she is the one who runs this whole thing.”

“Bethany Anne?”  Both men were curious.  They knew of Bethany Anne and had been instructed of her concerns, but neither had spoken with her, just with Nathan.

“Yes.  One minute.” The phone was muted on Nathan’s side.  It wasn’t too long before the phone was un-muted and Nathan was back. “Jeffrey, Tom, let me introduce you to Bethany Anne.  Please give her the same overview you gave me.  Maybe the four of us can wrangle this question.”

Her voice was pleasant coming over the speaker, “Hello Jeffrey, Hello Tom.  I appreciate the opportunity to speak.  What’s going on?”

Tom liked that the head honcho didn’t sound pretentious, but rather down to earth.  He explained how ADAM worked at a high level and how what they fed the software could potentially affect the learning process to sentience.

Bethany Anne spoke slowly, like she was forming her thoughts while speaking, “Soooo, let me understand.  We feed the software Mein Kampf and we get a digital Hitler?”

Tom said, “Not exactly, we are going to have to work on the sense of ethics with you, eventually.  However, we don’t want to skew the direction unnecessarily.”

She replied, “So, we want to give it a broad education.  I know this might sound off the wall and trust me, I have a reason, but what about using Science Fiction?  Some of the classics dealt with ethical issues and large societies and the chance to meet alien cultures.  The best and worst of humanity are in those stories.”

The two men looked at each other, trying to figure out what the software would do with the stories.

“Guys?”

Jeffrey jumped back in, “Sorry, both of us were trying to figure out what the software might do in that situation.  You are suggesting we give it stories and let it ‘read’ about potentials and results of humanity?  What about just feeding it history?”

This time, Bethany Anne snorted, “Because I don’t want it to make a judgment on reality.  I want to have a discussion about stories.  I would have a hard time arguing; say the stupidity of World War II and the atrocities over the last eighty years.  I would rather have what-if discussions.  Much easier to converse when the facts aren’t available.”

The talk lasted another hour, but in the end they decided to follow Bethany Anne’s lead.  They also decided to leave off the last couple of hundred years of history in the core data load.

Ecaterina was sweating, trying to keep up with Pete’s team.  She had taken Bethany Anne up on the choice to train and went to Pete.  Everyone in Pete’s group knew she was with Nathan which guaranteed nothing but politeness from the new recruits.

Pete; however, wasn’t willing to cut her any slack.  She felt as though she had gotten out of shape because of muscles that were in revolt and rebellion.  Her body was one large sack of pain and completely devoid of following even the simple muscle commands.

Like stand up.

She lay on the mat, breathing through her pain, eyes closed trying to get her stomach muscles to stop cramping.  She could feel someone walk onto the mat with her.  If that prick told her she should, ‘stop being a whiny human’ one more time, she would eventually get her muscles in control enough to flip him off.  Maybe a ‘fuck you’ would be enough?  That is, if she could stop the effort of breathing enough to waste the time to speak.  Back to the flipping him off idea it was.

She opened her eyes to see Bethany Anne’s face inches away.  “Sh….Sh…..Sh…. Shit!”  She continued panting while Ashur went over to the other Weres who stopped what they were doing and all greeted him like a rock star.

“How’s my little out-of-shape Romanian ducky doing today, hmmm?”  Bethany Anne stood up and reached down.  Grabbing Ecaterina’s outstretched hand; she pulled the woman up off of the floor but had to help steady her so she could stand.

“Dying, I’m dying here,” she continued the effort to get her breathing back under control.  “That guy is a sadist.  An animal.”  Bethany Anne looked up to where Ecaterina was trying to point, unsuccessfully.

“Who, Pete?”  Bethany Anne watched as Ecaterina changed from a sort-of pointing hand to a sort-of thumbs up gesture.  Bethany Anne waved Pete over.  He came over and smiled as Ecaterina finally arched her back and seemed to get herself under control.

“Yes, my Queen?”  Pete said.

Ecaterina rolled her eyes, not him, too?  She was still a little sore over the Pepsi incident but not sore enough to sneak any Pepsi’s back into Bethany Anne’s personal fridge.  For now, they stayed in the main kitchen fridge.

“How is wonder-butt doing here?”  Bethany Anne smiled as Ecaterina tried to get her finger to flip her off, finally she used her left hand to pull up her right middle finger.

Pete watched Ecaterina while answering Bethany Anne’s question. “Pretty fantastic, I would say.  I trained her like you asked, making sure she was being pushed like a Wechselbalg.  For a human, she ranks pretty highly.  Probably has more stamina than Scott actually.”

Ecaterina’s mouth dropped open.  She was being trained against the TQB guard’s abilities?  She didn’t know if she should be proud of herself, or trying to locate the nearest gun to shoot the both of them.  She would probably accomplish shooting her foot off because she couldn’t lift the damn thing at the moment.

“What about the other three?”

“Not even close to John and Darrell.  John for obvious reasons and Darrell because he came back from the sand-pit and never stopped pushing himself.  Eric has good days and bad.  But overall he is still pretty solid and she would need another month to catch him.”

“Hmmm, going to have to make sure Gabrielle works him more.”  Pete grimaced, he didn’t mean to point out Eric had bad days.  It was something that just occasionally happened, but even trying to throw in a bone to help Eric out would only get Bethany Anne’s attention honed in on the subject.  Pete shrugged, what didn’t kill you, made you stronger.

Bethany Anne called Ashur back over and helped Ecaterina to limp back to her temporary room here on the Ad Aeternitatem.  The Weres had been moved in order to get accustomed to the boat they would be protecting.  All of them had been ‘sworn in and sworn at’.  Pete took them all aside, individually and collectively.  He would allow nothing less than the best they had in them.  They were the first generation, what would be the greatest generation of Wechselbalg Guardians.  They would be setting the standard every Guardian would need to meet for generations to come.

In Pete’s eyes, every one of the new team, from Tim and Joel to Rickie, Joseph and Matthew found themselves measured and wanting.  They would measure up or they would die trying.  Pete’s expectations for each of them, unique to their own accomplishments to date, were stretch goals.  Even Tim found himself working to reach a goal above his own expectations.

To live is to believe.  They would be the hardest, fastest, meanest guardians ever before them, and ever after them. They would never accept defeat.

Over the next century, the core beliefs Pete instilled and these men accepted became the cornerstone of the Guardians.  Even when killed to the last fighter, the enemy would know to expect another group to come again to take the position and their brothers bodies.  Often, if a position was held by the Guardians, the enemy would try their damnedest to go around.  Occasionally, they just decided it wasn’t worth it and would go elsewhere.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

While Ecaterina was cleaning up, Bethany Anne worked with Team BMW and heard the firsthand account of what happened and what they had figured out.

With further insights which Bethany Anne was able to provide with TOM’s input, the team did confirm the information Marcus and William had surmised was the problem.  She stayed an extra hour, detailing new technologies for Marcus who was able to grasp the concepts, if not the details.  Marcus could not figure out how she was able to review such technical documents and figure out the solutions so quickly.

It wasn’t until Bethany Anne admitted she was communicating with a technical representative of the alien’s technology to help the men that Marcus both understood and then sat down, completely overwhelmed.

“You are speaking with an Alien?”  He sat on the chair, trying to come to terms with the communication.

She starred at Marcus, not understanding his seeming inability to accept she was talking with an Alien.  “You have seen the space ship; I’ve taken you through it once.  Well, to be truthful certain parts.  However, you have a problem believing I’m communicating with an Alien?”

He looked up at her, “No!  No, I don’t doubt you’re doing it.”  He waved his hands at the blue-prints and calculation sheets on the table the men had been working on. “I can tell that a lot of this is over your head.”  He looked back at Bethany Anne, his neck coloring, “No offense intended.”

She smiled, “No offense taken, Marcus.  I’m not a rocket scientist, I just know someone who is.”

I’m a pilot.

You’re an alien whose whole naming structure begins with the answer to a mathematical problem. I’m thinking I can throw in rocket scientist as the least of your accolades!

Well, since you put it that way, I suppose I am.

Having made TOM feel better about himself, she continued. “If I could, and we really should have figured out a way to do this already, I would give others access to communicate with him.  But I warn you!”  Marcus looked up at her eyes, “He can be a handful and a bit of a smart-ass.”

William snorted, “Sounds like he fits right in.”

“Yeah, he fit in just fine, I’m sure he will fit in again.”

The men had no clue what she meant by that comment.

After her conversation with Bobcat’s team, she and Ashur took Ecaterina to her Bethany Anne’s home in Key Biscayne.  Coming out of the closet, Ecaterina was surprised to see a man sleeping in Bethany Anne’s bed, even if he did look a little under the weather.  She hissed to Bethany Anne, “You’ve got a man in your bed!”  Bethany Anne looked over at the bed as she walked to her suite door.

“Yeah?  That’s Michael.  He got messed up pretty badly in Germany.  He’s sleeping, getting himself rested up and healed.  Right now, he’s a sort-of invited guest.”

“Yeah, but he is kind of cute in an older-man sort of way.”  Ecaterina was staring at Michael, making no effort to leave the room.  Ashur went to the foot of the bed and lay down. Bethany Anne walked back over to stand next to her.

“Yeah, as in much older.  You realize he is probably as old as your great, great, great, great…” She stopped for a second, counting on her fingers, “How many years is one generation?  I’m not sure how many greats to say frankly.  Fuck it, he’s at least a thousand years old.”

Michael’s voice interrupted the two of them, “And he is trying to sleep, not listen in while two women describe him as an old man!”  Ecaterina put a hand to her mouth, her eyes flying open.

Bethany Anne smiled, she had listened to his breathing and heart beat, so she had known he was awake before they left the closet.  “Well, don’t be a bump on a log then, codger-boy.  The blood will be here tonight; we will get you back in action soon.  So continue resting and let your betters talk about you while we pretend you can’t hear us, ok?”

Michael opened one eye and stabbed Bethany Anne with it.  “Wait till I am better, I’ll put you over my knee…”

Bethany Anne interrupted him, “And probably lose your concentration while staring at my ass, you lecherous old coot.”    Ecaterina’s eyes impossibly got larger, her head jerking around to glare at Bethany Anne, not believing what she was hearing.

“Maybe it is a chance I will have to take, isn’t it?”

Bethany Anne only “harrumphed,” and then pulled Ecaterina to the door. “He really does need his sleep and blood.  I probably shouldn’t be around to cause his blood pressure to rise like this anyway.”

Michael’s eye closed and his lips broke into the slightest grin. It was the first time he had scored any points against the fiery woman.

Stare at her ass, indeed.

Shutting the door behind her, Bethany Anne started towards the stairs.  Ecaterina asked her, “Why did you need me here?”

“One, you’re becoming useless without getting your Nathan injection…” Ecaterina slapped her arm, but then rubbed her hand realizing she wasn’t going to hurt the woman that way.  Bethany Anne pointed at her, “See?  You’re already so wound up any little thing sets you off!”

She smiled at Ecaterina who finally just went with the flow and whispered to Bethany Anne, “Damn right!  We will have to get a room at a hotel or risk damaging your sensitive ears!”  They went down the stairs.

“God, I only wish it was just you two!  I’m more worried about..”  They arrived at the bottom of the steps as the front door opened.  Lance and Patricia entered, both smiling.  “Speak of the devil’s.  Patricia, let me introduce you to Ecaterina.”  The two ladies exchanged greetings, but Bethany Anne noticed Patricia eyeball Lance once when she realized the beautiful woman was the Ecaterina Lance would occasionally mention.  It was probably a good thing Patricia had the good manners not to kick him in the shin right there in front of his own daughter.

Fortunately, Nathan was close behind them and the two of them had a very public display of affection.  Bethany Anne stepped between the two of them and almost physically pushed them apart. “Hey!  I’ve got to get back to talk with Pete.  You two make nice for those of us with sensitive eye-balls.”

Lance kicked in, “Damn right.”

Bethany Anne spoke over her shoulder, “Not you, I’m pretty sure your DNA doesn’t have any sensitivity in it.”

“Ha! That DNA is in you, too.”  Patricia elbowed Lance.

“And has been refined by Alien Technology to remove all horrible aspects.  That was probably why it took six months to fix me.”

TOM was sniggering in her mind.

“Ecaterina, I need you to work with Patricia and get her up to date on what you know.  Patricia is a master at handling ‘things’ with decades….”

Patricia interrupted, “Hey now!”

“… of experience. Good lord, Am I going to leave here without another interruption?”  She let the faintest red enter her eyes and stared at all of them.  Her father wasn’t bothered, but it got the right reaction from the other three.  Lance was just smart enough to keep his mouth shut this time.  “So, get with her and I’ll get you back for your workout tomorrow morning after you spend the night here, for obvious reasons.”  She put up a finger in Ecaterina’s face, “Don’t give me any lip about your workouts.  If you didn’t make it through them, boy-toy here wouldn’t have signed off on your joining the covert group.  Before you get your panties in a twist, he IS the Covert group lead, so you had to pass it before he gave approval.  I’m happy to say you passed.”

She stepped away from the two affectionate individuals and kissed her dad on his cheek.  “Looking good old man, looking good.  Talk tomorrow about the businesses?”  Lance nodded.  Michael hadn’t wanted anything ‘back’ in his control.  He rather enjoyed how Bethany Anne had most things under control. However; Lance was using as much time as Michael would provide to get his arms around the vast holdings.  Frank was constantly under Michael’s foot until Bethany Anne told him to go work at a Starbucks or she was going to find and burn his notebooks.

He left in a hurry, carrying considerably more notebooks than normal. Stephen went with him to experience more of the United States.  She figured he would find a bank and rent a safety deposit box.  He really was passionate about acquiring information and Stephen was happy to talk to him.  Frank was in heaven.

Apparently, Ivan and Claudia were doing ok.  Claudia was healing after the deaths of so many in her life, and Ivan was making sure everything with the house, and Claudia, was being taken care of.

She went back upstairs to fetch Ashur.  She knocked once and entered.  It wasn’t as if Michael couldn’t hear her coming up the stairs.  Ashur stood up.  She shut the door and walked to her closet.  This time, Michael was actually asleep.

She shut the door and the two of them stepped away, back to the Ad Aeternitatem and her special room reserved for her coming and goings.  She told Ashur to stay put, but left the door open in case something happened and he needed to leave.  She didn’t want him involved when she would be sparring with Pete’s team.  She stepped out and walked down towards his group.  One of Todd’s marines caught up to her before she went thirty feet and stayed a respectful five feet behind her.  These guys were getting as bad as John’s group.   She waved behind her to let him know she was aware of him, and not trying to be inconsiderate.

She stepped back into the Weres training area and moved to the side, allowing the marine to step in with her.  Joel was squaring off against Rickie.  Rickie’s sarcastic wit going overtime as the two of them tore into each other.  When Pete finally called it, Joel had grabbed Rickie’s hand and broke his wrist.  Rickie was grimacing in pain, but didn’t let a squeak come out of his mouth.  The marine just stared as the broken wrist started to ‘fix’ itself and Rickie tested it.

The marine leaned towards Bethany Anne, forgetting for a moment Todd had told him to be seen, but not heard, “They are some tough sons-a-bitches, aren’t they?”

She whispered back, “They are, but they are also a little sensitive about their mom’s being called bitches, so I wouldn’t use that term freely, mmmkay?”

The marine leaned back up and nodded his head sharply once.

The fight over, she walked into the group and got Pete’s attention.  She stared around at all six guys.  They had come a long way in just a few days. Mind you, these were balls-to-the-wall days that only Wechselbalg could do.  Pete had them sleeping for four and hard training for twenty.  He had done something amazing here and she was glad he had asked for the chance.  “Ok, you pussies feeling pretty good about yourselves?”  She noticed Tim straightening his back, becoming incensed with her rudeness.  Matthew let it roll right off of him and Joseph’s eyes narrowed, trying to find the play she was doing.

Pete didn’t let it faze him; she had called her personal guards group much worse and more often.  “Why?  What do you have in mind?”

“A little Were-on-Vampire action.”  Tim tried, but couldn’t control his snort.  She gave him a small smile; he would pay for that reaction.

Pete just nodded his head, “How do you want to play it?

She looked around at the area; the mat was twelve feet wide and twenty feet long.  “I’ll let you six talk for two minutes to come up with a game plan.  I will leave and close the door.  After the two-minute mark, I want you to ‘protect’ the …”  She walked over and picked up a towel, ripping it down the middle and then tying the two pieces back together.  “Flag.”  She tossed the flag into the middle of the mat.  “That will have to be protected, and yes you have to leave it there until I come into the room, then you can do whatever you want with it.  The only other rule is you have to stay off of the mat until I enter.  Agreed?”

She got head nods all around, she walked back out, pulling the marine with her.  He looked over his shoulder, “What, can’t I watch?”

She shook her head, “No, the first time is always embarrassing.  They need to keep this one in the group.  Unless you want to take on Pete for the right to watch?”  She looked over her shoulder as she shut the door.  He turned a little white and just shook his head, no.  “Got a timer?”  He nodded and pulled up his watch setting the alarm and she waited.

She considered moving through the Etheric into the room, but figured that might give them a way to complain.  She wanted to make sure they got the message, again, on how dangerous Nosferatu could be.  When he nodded, she dropped into vamp mode and pushed open the door.  Thankfully, no one had been stupid enough to try and stay behind the door or they might have become paste.  She was surprised that one of the guys was in his wolf form, just off the mat.

That was smart, they were going to try and play keep away from the vampire.  What a cute little Were game!  The door had just finished opening wide when the werewolf started moving towards the towel.

She figured that Pete would have at least two of them ready to ambush her, expecting her to move directly towards the mat to save the flag.  However; she turned to her right and sped up, running into, on, and then over Tim who had been there to try and grab her.  She cold-cocked him in the temple with her elbow for good measure.  Make fun of her sexually without permission?  No fucking way, even if it was a normal reaction.  Unfortunately, he was going to miss the rest of this effort as he would be out on the floor.  Sucked to be him.  She sped up some, keeping her speed within range of a very fast Nosferatu but not nearly her top speed.  Noticing a ten-pound dumbbell, she reached over to grab it, twisting around to help offset the sudden weight.  The werewolf was halfway to the flag so far.  That was fine; it wasn’t like it was a problem if they moved it.

She saw Rickie step out from behind a large box, a six-foot-long bar used for free-weights in his hands.  She tossed the barbell up in the air to fly towards his head.  His eyes got huge when he realized how much weight was coming at him and he tried to duck.  Her hands were now free, so she slid between his legs, grabbing them and pulling him down behind her.  She flinched at the sudden banging sound of the metal bar.  She didn’t want to see how he made out.  Unfortunately, she lost the barbell.  She could have caught up to it, but not without using her best speed.  She let it hit the far wall; Captain Wagner was going to hear that crash up in the main area for damn sure.

Two down, one in werewolf form and one she was sure on the other side of the door.  She stopped traveling around the area and darted straight towards the mat.  She realized those crafty bastards were probably going to try and get the flag out of the room.  She had to hand it to them, if that was the plan it was a smart one.

A second later, another Werewolf tore out of a cubby area running towards the door, gaining speed.

Gott Verdammt! She changed the angle to go back towards the door. Sure enough, the first Werewolf grabbed the flag and then made a beeline to where the second was already running towards the door.  Passing, the first wolf handed the flag to the second.  It was beautifully executed if a little late.

She saw Joel on the other side of the door, heading in her direction.  That probably meant that one of the wolves was Matthew and one Joseph.  Pete wouldn’t be a runner.  She glanced around, trying to figure out where he might be.

She got a bad feeling and decided to look back towards the door.  She spotted Pete all in black behind it to the right.  Oh fuckity fuck.  If she allowed Joel to slow her down, there was a chance that they could get the flag through the door and if it didn’t become a win, because she would chase their asses down, it would be a moral victory.  She wouldn’t allow a moral victory, she just wasn’t feeling very moral at the moment.

Coming up on Joel she reached out for the arm he was using to try and stiff-arm her.  Pivoting, she used his momentum to bring him back around and flung him ass over appetite back into the second werewolf, both making a resounding and painful crash against the wall.  Joel was out as well and it looked like the wolf was pretty messed up.

Four down, one wolf and Pete to go.  The first wolf took off towards the mess of arms and furry legs to get the flag again.  Bethany Anne headed towards the door.

Pete stepped out when it was obvious the plan was a bust.  She wouldn’t tell him how close they got for a while.  She didn’t want to hurt Pete, but she wouldn’t go easy on his training, either.  The problem was in his human form he was superior to humans, but inferior to vampires.  Since they didn’t have many weapons for this exercise, he was actually without a lot of options.

In her vamp state, she had lots of time to think.

TOM

Yes?

She acted as if she was going to head towards the flag, Pete’s eyes narrowed and he changed his direction to intercept her.

Why do the Wechselbalg only change between man and beast?  We have stories that there is a middle form, a man-beast if you will.

It could be that the group which infected them didn’t have the scientific abilities, or it could be that they also didn’t have a way to learn how to do this.

So, you don’t think that it is just impossible?

No, I don’t think it is impossible, but I can’t tell for sure unless we research the idea.

She took her last step, making sure Pete was committed to running as hard as he could before she broke left, heading straight for the door.  Pete’s eyes went big in alarm.

So, if we test one, we might find out a cure?

You mean, a cure for their condition, or a cure to help them stop in man-beast form?

Well, I guess both.  Maybe some don’t want this situation, but I was really discussing the option to give them a better fighting chance.  Going against vampires in their human forms doesn’t work very well.

She made it to the door and slammed it shut, jumping to the side and pushing off the wall while turning around in the air.  She found Pete running to get back to the door.  She reached out and grabbed an arm, flinging him faster in the direction he was going.  He made a resounding smack against the wall and she heard him sliding down.  She didn’t think he was unconscious, but she doubted he was thinking clearly at the moment.

The first wolf had grabbed the flag and taken a few steps towards the door when he realized that Pete wasn’t going to be getting back up to open it for him and he lacked opposable thumbs.

He bit down hard on the flag, not willing to give in to the inevitable and braced for impact.  She admired his tenacity.  There was no backing down in any of this team.  She wished she knew if there were any sensitive spots on a wolf’s jaw that would cause them to involuntarily open it and where it might be.  This certainly going to hurt the wolf a lot more than it was going to hurt her.

Reaching the wolf, she reached down and slowed some, not wanting to fling it very far.  She turned her torso in a circle and flung the wolf a few feet higher in the air, trying to see how many times she could cause him to flip before he landed.  She watched him try and arch his back, seeking some way to get his feet under himself before he crashed into the floor.  Somewhere around flip number five the flag left the jaws and went flying.  She used both arms to grab the wolf, getting scratched up when the nails sliced through her wrist.  She then rolled it like a bowling ball across the mat in the opposite direction from the flag.  Looking around, none of the guys had made it back up, yet.  She sauntered over to the flag and picked it up.  She went to Pete who dazedly looked up at her from the floor, a nasty gash healing on his forehead.

She looked at the gash a little closer, “You should probably get that looked at.  Talk to me after your AAR, ok?”  Pete just nodded.  She opened the door and stepped out, closing it again.

Thirty minutes later, Pete came by the inner landing pad where they had TOM’s craft.  She had been talking with Todd when he arrived.  Todd looked him up and down and cocked a head, “You look a little bad off, everything ok?”

Pete just pointed at Bethany Anne, “We played capture the flag and got our asses handed to us.  Tim is still trying to get his wits back, what did you do to him?”

Bethany Anne smiled, “Thou shalt not snort.”

“Yes, he understood that was a bad response when it happened.  I’m not sure he is going to remember anything at the moment.”

“Well, he was in the way.  Maybe I hit him with an extra elbow?”  Todd winced, he had heard about how Bethany Anne had used a forearm to knock a werewolf out once from Nathan.  Pete nodded; he had thought it might be an object lesson.  Well, Tim seemed a fast learner so Pete expected the one time should be enough.

She pointed her thumb at the craft, “Here, come with me.”  She turned around and plugged in the access codes.  Todd was never sure if she would show up and go in the front door, or he would be standing guard and suddenly she would be coming out having transported herself inside the craft when no one knew.

The two of them went inside and the door shut.  Pete looked around, “Seems tiny.”

“Yes, TOM’s group are shorter than us. I want to show you the pod-doc area.”  She took him into the white room, the medical pod in the middle of the floor.    She waved at the machine. “This, as you know, is what started vampires.  It is what was used to change Michael and a thousand years later it was used to change me.  It was used to fix Gabrielle’s issues with the sun and was used for Ashur.”

Pete stopped looking at the pod and looked at Bethany Anne, “It can handle non-humans?”

She nodded, “According to TOM, it is all about genetics.  It can read DNA and figure out what the code is supposed to do.  During our little game, I thought about how you guys are in a bad shape against vampires.  For weapons, you have to be in human form, for ultimate in speed and to have claws and teeth; you have to be in your werewolf form.  I asked TOM if there wasn’t a reason you guys can have a middle form.”

Pete nodded, “There are some historical stories that suggest a couple of Wechselbalg had this form, but that it was lost centuries ago.”

“That’s my theory.  I’m thinking the basics are there, but either the knowledge is not, or the genetic changes that allow you guys to change have mutated.  Something is different.”

Pete shrugged, “Beyond me, and I don’t know of anything off hand.  You’re wanting me to jump in?”

She smiled, “Am I that transparent?”

He grinned, “Pretty much, yes.  When you get a scratch for something that doesn’t make sense, you use a large tool to beat it until something comes up.  When that tool doesn’t work, you get something bigger.  You want to know why we can’t change and it matters for our safety.  Mind you, I know we will be more powerful and dangerous and that works perfectly for my Guardians. But you will notice your first comment that you thought about was how we are in a bad shape against vampires, so I take it your concerned with our safety first, our abilities next.”

“That’s…. fair, I guess.”

“So, want me to jump in?  How long will this take?”

TOM?

Just to run an analysis?  Probably a few hours.  He is human, just changed so we have most of the details already. The pod only has to figure out a few things, not everything like on Ashur.

“Have you back in time for dinner, at most breakfast?”

Pete shrugged, “Who is going to take care of my team?”

“Who would you suggest?”

“Well, Tim if he wasn’t working on getting over a concussion.  Probably Matthew next.”

“Ok, I’ll do it that way.  If Tim is still out of it, I’ll have Matthew handle it until we get you back.”

Pete nodded.  She explained he had to strip.  It wasn’t a big deal to him, a werewolf was stripping all of the time to change.  She pulled out the little bench and he folded his clothes and placed them there.  Getting into the doc, she spoke, “I’ll be here when the tests are complete.  Go inside, put your arms by your side and close your eyes.  You will fall asleep and wake up seconds later.  Piece of cake.”

Her ‘piece of cake’ comment was having the opposite effect on him than he presumed she was going for.

Once the pod-doc was working and TOM confirmed it was how he wanted it to work, she left and told Todd no one was to go around the craft for the next few hours.  Todd nodded and she went to help Pete’s crew.  Tim was tracking just fine by the time she got there.  She told his crew that Pete was working on a project with her, but he wouldn’t be available until that evening.

They talked for a little while, going through the game and how she had worked it from her side.  She admitted that they had a really good plan.  If they had gotten the flag out of the door, she would have tracked them down.  Matthew had been wolf number two.  He admitted he would have run out of the room and then jumped off the back of the boat.  Wechselbalg could tread water for a very long time.

She stared at the guy for a few seconds and then smiled, “That was damn devious.  You guys are fucking nuts, and I mean that as compliment.”  The guys all high-fived each other.  They felt good about Pete’s plan, their effort and really good knowing that they had surprised Bethany Anne so thoroughly.

She left them as they started to figure out how they might best her next time.


CHAPTER NINETEEN

Bethany Anne was back inside the medical room on TOM’s ship, sitting next to Pete’s clothes.  She was trying to come to grips with what TOM was telling her.

“You mean someone from your group changed them, too?”

Well, not exactly my group.  I think it was one of the seven.  The missing piece is in him.  He can change to a man-beast form, but the form is going to be hard to control.

How did they get here?  Are they still here? What a fucking mess.  You Kurtherians are worse than a soap opera.  That’s what you guys are, a Gott Verdammt space opera.  It’s like twelve siblings going around the galaxies stirring up shit.

TOM just stayed quiet.  She could compare his race to something worse.

She exhaled, loudly.

What’s the chance of him ever changing if we don’t modify him?

Not high at all.  The nanocytes in his body are a different type.  Maybe a slightly older version than what is in yours?  They aren’t as sophisticated.

Well, for not being so sophisticated, they sure seem to work efficiently with the Etheric power load.  

Yes, well that is true.  I’m not positive how that works and it would take putting the computer back into the ship to possibly figure it out.

No. Fucking. Way.  I am not going through that shit again.  

I wasn’t suggesting it, merely mentioning what it would take to understand the energy transfer and how it is accomplished.  It would mean no more blood drinking.

TOM, you can be an ass, you know that?  You really want to know how this works.  Well, have you considered that Ashur might be a clue?

How do you mean.

How much energy do you think I pull through him when we go traipsing across the world?  It has to be a huge spike.  What makes him able to pull it, but I’m having issues?  The Wechselbalg all pull a huge amount of power, but they turn into a canine.  At least, I think wolfs are canines.  Then there are bears, too.  Well, ok, animals.  Have you considered the animal side to this, yet?

In a word? No.

Fine, work on that angle before you start trying to bribe me with not drinking blood.  For now, I’ve got Ashur the wonder battery along for the ride.  Not that I would use that phrase around him.

He does seem remarkably smart.

Are you sure you don’t know what happened to him?

I told you I figured he would be smarter.  Dogs are already early childhood possibly.  He might have gone late childhood?  

How late?  Are we talking out of diapers, out of cribs or, god forbid, teenagers?  Because a hundred and whatever pounds of snarly teenager with teeth is not my idea of fun.

Well, he hasn’t required much in the way of blood.

Yeah, but he eats bags of dog food.  Not to mention he cleans every plate someone leaves unattended in the mess.  He should weigh five hundred pounds by now.  

She stood up.

This isn’t getting us anywhere.  I have the answer; it just leads to more questions.  I don’t know what to do with Pete, change him or keep him as is.  

What would Pete want?

Balls to the wall, I bet.  He is putting everything into the Guardians.  If he could learn something to make them even more bad-ass, I’m sure he would do it.  However, this isn’t Pete’s decision, it is mine.  Why am I doing it?  If I knew he could control it, I would do it in a heartbeat.  

What about any of the others?

Oh, God no!  I only trust Pete with this situation.  I don’t need a Tim with this ability if we don’t know how it is suppressed or how they control themselves.  Tim is bad enough without Hulk urges.

Hulk urges?

Big green guy, grows into a mountain of muscle.  Wears purple pants for who knows what reason.  What was the original setting, can you tell?

Yes, it was supposed to turn on when under a substantial amount of duress.  

Kind of like a Berserker warrior.  Well, if Pete was ever in that situation, I can imagine it would be a good time to have a chance to change things.  How long will it take?

Just a few minutes to change the settings, I don’t know how long for it to change throughout his body.  I would guess a couple of days at the minimum.

Will he still have his mind when this happens?

Where would it go?

No, I mean will he have his ability to think when in this state.  Will he be able to tell friend from foe?

I can’t tell from what we have seen so far, but I would be very surprised if he couldn’t.

Why is that?

Because the seven clans weren’t known for wasting their people by having them unnecessarily kill each other. 

Oh, trust an enemy to be smart about it, huh?

Yes.

She tried to figure out all of the angles and finally went with the one she trusted the most, her gut.

Ok. Let’s make it happen.

She hoped she wouldn’t regret this later.

She was there an hour later and cracked the case for Pete.  He was blinking his eyes, getting his bearings.

“How did it go?  Did you learn anything?”  He sat up, shaking his head.

She pulled on his arm and he popped off the bed.  “Yes, get dressed you hooligan.”  He grabbed his clothes and started dressing.

“Not only do we have a good idea who is responsible for creating the Wechselbalg…”

Pete interrupted her, “No fucking way!”

“Way.  Now shut up and stop interrupting me or you will be the first and last of your kind.”  He held in his comment, “The guilty party is another one of the Kurtherian clans.”  Pete almost let slip another comment, but caught himself in time. “Unfortunately, not the good side, but rather the other.  Wechselbalg do have a command to allow you to change to a man-beast form.”  She had Pete’s full attention and she could tell he was anxious to ask questions. “But it comes with a price.  So, knowing that the original intent is from a race full of inimical aliens.”

She noticed his desire to interrupt again.  “Fine, what is it?”

“Inimical?”

“Hostile.”

“Why didn’t you just say ‘hostile’?”

“I’m trying to teach the wolf a new word, now shut up again.”  Pete smiled at her.  “So, back to the basics, bad alien wants to make changes to humans for their own purposes.  You guys have a switch to change into raging man-beasts full of destructive power.  Should we try it out?”

“I have a choice?”

“Of course you have a choice!”

“Then let me back in and let’s do this.  No time like the present.”

“Ah, no need.”

Pete stopped unbuttoning his shirt, “You already flipped the switch, didn’t you?”

“Well, I had a discussion with TOM and we agreed it would be probably what you wanted.”

“You discussed my future with an alien, a similar alien to the one’s that created Wechselbalg and came up with ‘change him already’?”

Bethan Anne smiled, popped the pod-doc and pointed to it, “Want me to change it back?”

Pete put his hands up, waving her off, “No, no!  I’m very good exactly like I am.”

“Really?  Because with as much shit as you’re giving me, I’m pretty sure that you are about to either get another dose of the doctor, or you’re going to be treading water for a really, really long time.”

 Pete grimaced, “Matthew spilled the plan, didn’t he?”

“Not so much spilled it as we had an after action review.  You had an amazing plan.”

Pete tried to fish for information, “Would it have worked?”

“Against a Nosferatu?  Possibly.  No, probably.  They are more desire driven than intelligence driven.  On me?  No, but I wasn’t trying to be me, so yeah, you guys might have pulled off a win.  That was some seriously creative shit your team came up with.  I’m impressed.”

Pete looked at the pod doc, the top still open, “Um, are we good here?”  He waved at the pod-doc.

“I don’t know; do you think we are?  I wouldn’t want you second guessing my second guessing again.  As in, ever.”  She stared frankly at the young man.

“No, no I’m really good.”  Pete looked down, trying to school his face and stop it from betraying his humor.

She closed the pod-doc.  “Good, finish getting dressed.  The short answer is that the change can happen anytime, but it is generally duress driven.”

“Like, stress driven?”

“No, I think more action oriented or highly emotional state change if you want to get a little more clinical.” She set the controls on the pod doc to reset.  This time, TOM didn’t have to direct her on the controls.

“And if I want a more simplistic answer?”  He finished tying his shoes.

“Don’t get really, really mad. People might not like you very much when you get mad.”

“Ah, got it.”  They left the room together.

Todd confirmed everyone was out with Bethany Anne as Pete went to join his team, she trans-located over to the Polarus after she had grabbed Ashur.


CHAPTER TWENTY

Before Bethany Anne was able to sleep for the night, John cornered her and gave her a piece of his mind.  In this case, it was a short and abrupt set of comments about her, ‘tearing off across Europe without him… Uh, without the team’. She decided to ignore the change in clarification.  She knew where he was coming from, but couldn’t promise she wouldn’t ever do it again, but would try.

They sat down at the conference table and had a frank talk about what she could and couldn’t do.  Right now, she was able to easily bop between Miami and the boats.  However; she wasn’t sure just how many she could take and where.  She moved two humans and Ashur a couple of miles easily enough, and then moved them all to Miami.  The problem was getting everyone to touch.

John considered what she said, “What happens if they aren’t touching you?”

TOM?

Well, technically you could do it, although the power needs go up directly correlated to how far away from you they are.  Those that actively touch you are requiring the minimum amount of energy.  

What happens if I run out of juice?

When?  I don’t think you could partially pull a person into the Etheric, however; our race rarely ever took chances so I don’t have anything to support my assumptions.  If you run out of juice on the way to the other side?  Good question, either you lose people or everyone just stops in between.  If you should lose your connection to them, I imagine they would be stranded.  I can’t believe too many humans left in that dimension would last very long either physically or mentally.  It would be bad.

 She answered him, “I’m not comfortable trying that yet.  The farther away the more energy I need and while Ashur hasn’t let me down yet.”  She was interrupted by a ‘woof’ from her bedroom.  She rolled her eyes and continued, “I don’t know the amount of energy is truly safe to pull through him.  TOM says that the amount of energy could go up logarithmically.  So, how many people can we deal with?  I have to hold on to Ashur.”

John was quiet for a moment.  It was obvious she couldn’t take the whole team with her every time.  “How did you take Stephen and Michael to Miami?”

Bethany Anne got up and went for the refrigerator, bending over to make sure she could see in the back.  Satisfied no satan spawned beverages were hiding, she pulled a Coke out, “You want anything?”

He didn’t so she closed the door and came back to the table. “I slung Michael over my shoulder.  Ashur with one hand and Stephen grabbed my arm I think.  Well, that’s what I remember, we were a little busy.”

John latched on to that statement, “So, people can grab you just fine?”

She gave him the fisheye and he blushed, he put up his hands, “Not what I meant!”

She continued eyeing him while his face got redder.  She finally let him off the hook and smiled, “I know!  I’m just kicking you while you’re down.  I wanted to see if you could lighten up a little.  I know my trip to Romania upset you; however, I wasn’t about to try going that distance and put you guys in danger.”  She held up a hand, “Don’t, just don’t.  I will never do it no matter how much you complain, ok?”  He finally nodded.  “Yes, I suppose I could put out one arm and maybe the five of you could grab hold, but it isn’t something I’m happy trying out yet, ok?”

That was the best John could hope for, so he grabbed the small victory when he could.  They finished talking about inconsequential things.  Bethany Anne asked whether he had any chance to hook up with anyone on either of the boats and he pulled up his empty wrist to stare at it. “Oh! Look at the time, got to run.  Great talking to you and everything boss, but someone is calling my name.”  Nothing happened for a second, so John raised his voice, “I said, SOMEONE is calling my name!”

Eric’s voice came from the other room, “John, come quickly.  Someone is calling your name!”  She smiled as John waved and exited quickly from the room.  She got up from the table as she heard John smack Eric and tell him, “You ass!”  Eric’s laughter followed her into her room as she shut the door.

The next morning, Ecaterina was surprised when Bethany Anne came out of the closet, John and Eric with her.

John nodded to Ecaterina, Eric was talking, “That was bad ass boss.  You beat Disney World rides hands down…oof!” He bent over a little, holding his stomach.  Ecaterina assumed Bethany Anne hit him, but she didn’t see anything happen.

Bethany Anne smiled towards Ecaterina, “Feeling better?”

Ecaterina was up for it today, “Yes, filled to capacity and slept very well.”  Making sure there would be no misinterpretation, she added, “Dinner was nice, too.”  Bethany Anne smirked.  The Ecaterina of old was back. Ecaterina asked for her phone, letting her know she needed to add a couple of phone numbers.  Bethany Anne handed it to her.

Bethany Anne took off for the door, “Everyone downstairs ready?”  She noticed Michael wasn’t laying on her bed.  “Where’s Michael?”

Ecaterina turned around to walk with Bethany Anne out of her suite, the two men following behind them. “He grabbed an SUV and went for breakfast; he also said he needed a change of clothes.  I’ve got to say, he’s a changed man.”  They started down the stairs.

Bethany Anne was confused, “Changed how?  How much can you change a guy who has lived a thousand years?  I can’t change my own…”  The front door opened and Lance was coming in.  “Dad.  How are you this lovely morning?”  He was certainly looking younger himself.  He had a high and tight across the top since his hair was coming back in dark again.

Lance smiled, “Hi baby.  I see you have the terrible two-some with you this morning?”  Lance preferred his daughter to have protection and loved how it annoyed her at the same time.  As a parent, you get your kicks where you can.

Bethany Anne’s smile went up a notch.  “Yup, and you will be happy to know they are staying here for a while.”  Lance’s smile dropped.  “What?  Why?”

Lance closed the door so Bethany Anne grabbed his arm in hers and started them all to the living room.  “Because I’m popping between here and the ships so much, Gabrielle, Dan and John preferred to carry the protection at both locations, plus you aren’t protected here.”

Lance was walking along, but noticing his freedom quickly slipping away, “I’ve got Nathan here!  He is a hell of a guard, right?”  Lance looked over his shoulder to see if John would jump in to help him.  The look on John’s face told him he was screwed.  He turned back around, resigned to having shadows again.  Dammit!

John and Eric both smirked after Lance turned around.  John was more worried about Bethany Anne when she was here.   She made a good point that they would have duties around the home front if she was back on the boats.

Bethany Anne looked around, “Where’s Stephen?”  Frank was sitting on a couch, typing on his laptop.

Ecaterina answered, “He went with Michael.”

Bethany Anne went into the kitchen to grab a water, “Really?  I wonder how that is going.”  She came back into the living area and sat down on the love seat. “Where’s Patricia?”

Lance sat next to her, “On the phone with some old contacts.  We might have a way to get the base early.”

Bethany Anne sat forward, “Really?  That would be freaking fantastic.  God, that would make things easier right now.”

Lance nodded, “Yes.  It seems a multi-national corporation has been making quiet but very interesting inroads with both senators and congressman, especially one from the great state of Florida, and since the company is willing to help some of the military who have family in the area and are paying tax revenues there is a lot of political desire to make this happen.  The company is willing to pay a twenty-million-dollar bonus if the closing of the base and movement of military personnel happen quickly.  The company has agreed to help significantly and it is a ninety-nine year lease, so that was the last hurdle.  Should the government go to war, they have the right to reinstate parts of the base.”

Bethany Anne’s eyes got frosty, “Dad.  That could be a liability.  You know we are going to war.”

Lance smiled, “Well, it seemed that the legal language requires the war to be with a known terrestrial country.  It can’t be with anything less than Russia, China or a coalition having a minimum of one million soldiers.  That will, in fact, preclude them from grabbing the base if we go to war with say Iraq again.  Plus, since we lease the base, they would lose the income plus have to mobilize everyone back.  Once we have the base and everyone is happy, I’ll go back and renegotiate in a couple of years or so.  But, it gets us the base quickly.

Bethany Anne thought about the downsides and had to agree this was probably the best solution right now.  She sat back again. “Well, that is still good news, but make sure we have a bolt hole.  I don’t want some trumped up agency knocking on the front door telling us to leave everything and get out.  I want there to be doors we can then use to get out the back with our stuff.”

Frank looked up from his typing and grinned, “Not very trusting, are you?”

“Hell no!  I’ve worked government, remember?  I put away some of these creeps.  I trust them to either be altruistic, which has its own issues, work for themselves or work for the money.  I’ve never found them to be very pragmatic unless there was a political reason for it.  So, no.  Speaking of that, how is our Congressman Pepper?”

“Helpful.  At least so far.  We haven’t asked too much and he is careful making demands of us with all of the dirt Frank has on him.  He has talked with Anton, but told him off so we think we have him bought and paid for.  Anton invited him to an event he has in two weeks, but Pepper told him he was stuck in meetings and couldn’t make it.”

Bethany Anne’s eyes narrowed, “Hold on, did you say Anton is having an event?   Why is this the first I’m hearing about this?”

Nathan chose that moment to arrive, his hair an unruly mess, but he looked pretty relaxed.  He went over to Ecaterina and gave her a kiss. “What did I miss?”

Bethany Anne answered for her, “You missed telling me that Anton is having a party?”  Nathan sat down next to Ecaterina.

“Yes, Bethany Anne, Anton is having a party.  I told them not to tell you until I had more to go on.  With Michael here, I have more information and the beginning of a plan.  The problem..”  The front door opened again.  Bethany Anne could hear Michael and Stephen talking as the door shut, discussing fashion.  This was becoming a damned reality TV show.

Bethany Anne put up a hand to Nathan to stop him from continuing.  She turned to Lance, “Is Patricia going to be coming in anytime soon?”

Lance shook his head, “Unlikely.  She had a list of over twenty names.  She should be busy for at least a couple of hours.”

Michael and Stephen walked into the room, both dressed fashionably for Miami weather.  Stephen looked good as always but Michael was a significant step above.  He had lost his age and a very young and scrumptious thirty year-old was smiling as he walked in.  This man was going to get jumped if he walked into a bachelorette party anytime soon.

“Hello you guys, take a seat.  I’m just coming up to speed on what you all have been making happen without telling me.”

Stephen grabbed two chairs from the kitchen table and gave one to Michael, who was remarkably calm and seemed to be enjoying life.  Bethany Anne noticed that even Nathan wasn’t shying away from the man as he reached over to shake his hand.  Something was going on behind her back.  That they were all happy meant something, she just didn’t know what, yet.

The two male vampires sat next to each other.  Bethany Anne was having a hard time figuring out what was going on.  She quickly looked around the room.

Stephen and Michael talking and looking relaxed together.  Weird, check.

Nathan shaking Michael’s hand and not flinching.  Cold day in hell, check.

Ecaterina and Nathan happy with each other.  Well, at least one thing was nice and didn’t give her ominous feelings… Wait a minute.

She speared Nathan with a finger, “You prick! You’re sure you know how to nail Anton and don’t want me to be part of it.”

Stephen’s large grin let her know she was heading in the right direction.  Michael’s face gave nothing away and Nathan only let out a small grimace.

He started, “Not exactly.  It’s just we have a good idea of what Anton is going to do and we think we should discuss options.”

“I’m listening.”  She sat back, her arms crossed in front of her.

“Anton has the party, which I was about to tell you about.  The thought is to use Pepper’s invitation and you be his plus one.  Once inside, Pepper will leave again.  You can deal with Anton.  We will have Killian and Ecaterina at two separate locations with views into his house.”

Bethany Anne’s voice was a little short, “You know where he lives?”  She was already considering getting a plane ticket and flying down there right now.  Make that three tickets, and a ticket for a dog.  Damn, she would have to have Paul Jameson come get her.  Fuck, she wasn’t going to make this happen fast at all.

Nathan turned to Frank, who started speaking while he turned his laptop around, “We have the location of the party.  I don’t think it is his main house.  So, right now no.  The man is very security conscious so I highly doubt he is here except for the party.”

There went her need to call Paul right then.  That was when she noticed Ecaterina smiling, holding Bethany Anne’s phone which she had asked for earlier and had never given her back.

Bethany Anne smiled, sneaky bitch.  Her team knew her too well it seemed.

Michael chose to interrupt her efforts to go kill Anton right then.  “Bethany Anne, have you ever wondered why I didn’t kill Anton a long time ago?”

Bethany Anne turned back to Michael.  “Hell yes.  That prick needed to be gone a long time ago and certainly after World War II.”

Michael leaned forward in his chair, “Granted, I didn’t know about his efforts in World War II or I might have tracked him down, or I might not have.”  Frank turned his laptop around and started typing while Michael talked.  This was history talking.

Like, literal history.  The man should be in a museum just answering questions.  She smirked to herself, maybe she could get him to do something like Chippendales.  Oh shit!  Her face locked in place.  She was trying desperately to not laugh out loud at her own thought.  Michael strutting his stuff at Chippendales for the ladies.  God!  That was too much.  Time stopped as she willed herself to stop thinking about the subject.  Anton, Anton… Need to focus on killing Anton.

Michael caught the factual gesture and raised an eyebrow, but then continued unaware of the real reason Bethany Anne didn’t release her emotions.  Michael assumed she was pissed, it was better to not ask. “The problem is when you kill him, you will have a major problem with the Forsaken vampires in all of South America.  He is the lesser of two evils.”

Her face carefully controlled, she asked, “So, kill him and potentially hundreds or thousands die due to vampire politics as others try to take control?”

Michael nodded, “Yes.  That is the sum of it.”

Chippendales forgotten, Bethany Anne thought out loud, “We went through a period of this in San Jose.”  Michael looked at her. “Costa Rica, not California.”  No one seemed to have updated him on anything that had gone on since they rescued him.  Then again, he had been asleep for a large part of the time, too.

She stood up and started pacing in the living room, everyone surrounding her was sitting, she didn’t have much room to pace before she turned around. “What happens now if a powerful vampire kills the highest level vampire in an area to take control?”

Michael didn’t like the way this conversation was starting to head, but answered the question. “Unless someone challenges him, or her, then the new Vampire controls what goes on.  However, if you have a non-Forsaken take over a Forsaken area, you will still need to clean up everyone who believes vampires should rule humans.”

She decided not to correct him.  Vampires were humans, just genetically modified.  Which, when you went down that path meant they had genetic mutations over humans and that left you with vampires are mutants.  Back to square one.

“Michael, why did you allow this bullshit to continue?”  She wasn’t accusing him, but genuinely curious.

Everyone looked at Michael.  He wasn’t giving off the Patriarchal air he was accustomed to wearing and no one seemed to be judging him.  He sat back in his chair.  “Two reasons.  When it started, I lost them.  It wasn’t easy to track people back in those centuries.”  Frank was nodding along, it made sense to him, “The second was I thought it was a phase, like teenage boys?  Something they would grow out of eventually.  The men they were before they were vampires wasn’t the men they became.  It was like when they changed into vampires, something within their minds changed as well.  I felt a duty to the men I had changed to give them another chance.  Over time, my inactivity allowed them to grow until fixing the…”

Bethany Anne finished his sentence. “Fixing the problem was a bigger issue than leaving it alone.”  He nodded his agreement. She could understand both the emotional issues and the practical issues.  It didn’t make her happy.  She still had a little girls desire to slap the shit out of him.

She went back to her seat and sat down.  “Which brings us back to Anton.  I’m sorry, but that psychotic bastard is going to die.  Not just for having been the head of the group which killed Martin, but all of the people in those camps and I’m sure the hundreds if not thousands since.  He is messing with the formula in some form or fashion.  He has to go.”

Nathan took up the conversation, “So, there it is in a nutshell.  We have the place, we have the time, we have the beginning of the plan.  You couldn’t have done anything with the information before now and after talking with Michael, I understand the political issues better.  I don’t; however, have a solution for the massive amount of San Jose type of operations we will have to do to clean up South America.”

Bethany Anne put her elbows on her knees and put her chin on her hands, thinking.  “Michael, what do vampires understand more than anything else?”

Michael was quick to answer, “Power.”

“Who is the most powerful Vampire in all of history, as far as they know?”

Michael was a lot slower answering this question, with significantly less enthusiasm, “Me.”

She turned to him with a smile, “So, once Anton is dead, and I will be there making sure that bastard is dead, you are going to clean up South America.  Consider it your penance for making this mistake so many centuries ago.”  Her voice got a little harder, and little more commanding.  “In fact, consider the penance for the thousands of people he has killed over the decades and the hundreds of thousands he probably was at least partially responsible for.  Your Honor has been compromised and I will beat you with it until you make this right.  David and Anton have signed their own death sentences.”  Michael’s face got a decidedly less friendly visage when she mentioned David, “And we will collect.  Both because they deserve it and because I can’t have a problem on my back if I’m dealing with other … issues.”  She didn’t want to mention the aliens at the moment and lose the momentum on the present subject.

She softened her voice, adding the honey were before she was using a stick, “Will you do this, Michael?  Will you take control in South America when Anton is out of the way?”

He pursed his lips.  “What about Europe?”

Stephen shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’ve got Europe.  I might need a new house after the latest issue, but I’ve already committed to fixing Europe.”

Bethany Anne cocked her head, “How about two houses?  Of the floating variety?”

Stephen looked at her, “Your ships?”

She nodded, “Yes.  I am about to move to a fixed base in Colorado, at least I hope so.  The ships need to move and they have been in and around South America too long.  I will ‘sell’ them to you so that if someone tracks me, it looks like a legitimate change of ownership.  The Guardians need to get some seasoning.  I’ll be here in North and South America, so the TBQ can help if Michael needs it and the CG will help you.  We need to get a few more fronts going.  Keep my trans-location areas clear for me and a…” She looked at John, “Small team can come over on short notice, and a much larger team with planning.  Plus, Nathan needs to work in Europe too.”  Nathan seemed surprised at that comment.

She turned to Nathan, “I don’t want you in America while dealing with Chinese, or who we think are Chinese, network attacks.  Plus, if ADAM comes online.”

This time Michael interrupted, “Adam?”  She put up a hand to ‘shush’ him.  He was both surprised at her rudeness and humored that he didn’t cause her to shiver in her boots.  He had thought a long time in that device under David’s castle and it had caused him to rethink a lot of his previous attitudes.  Being a little less quick to take offense had been one of his choices.

She continued, “If ADAM comes online, I don’t want him in the United States.  I’m not sure how we are going to move him around yet, but I would rather he be somewhere outside of a major world power I think.”

She stopped herself, “Oh!  That gives me an idea, hold on folks.”  She walked back over to Ecaterina and put her hand out, retrieving her phone.  She typed into the messages app for just a second and then put it away in her pocket.

“Ok, consider what I just said.”  She turned to Michael, “ADAM is a potential Artificial Intelligence my team, well used to be your team, in Las Vegas, is working on.”

Michael asked, “How much have you accomplished since I was taken?”

She looked at all of the people in this room alone, thinking about how many dozens of others she had spread out across the World.  “A fair bit.  However, let’s focus on killing Anton at the moment and I’ll bring you up to speed on the rest, ok?”

He nodded his agreement.  Bethany Anne was beginning to like Michael 2.0.  She didn’t know Michael 1.0 for very long, but he had been a ranting scrotum lord.  Well, thinking back, she hadn’t been the easiest person to deal with either, but hey, she was the one who could freeze easier than Michael.  At least, that was the excuse she gave herself.

Wait until she explained the Wechselbalg, then let’s see just how changed the man had become.


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Congressman Pepper hadn’t been too hard to convince.  He was invited on a private jet with Ecaterina as his hostess, then Chris flew them both onto the Polarus in the Sikorsky.  They hid Shelly over on the Ad Aeternitatem and kept the ship far enough away that he couldn’t see it when on deck.

The crews of both ships had been ready to move.  While some down time was appreciated, the crews on both had become adrenaline junkies in one form or another.

Bethany Anne had trans-located Michael, Stephen and Nathan through the etheric.  John and Eric were to stay in Miami.  John didn’t like it, but he had to admit that with Michael, Stephen and Gabriel, she should be adequately protected.  She wanted to ask him, ‘what about my mad skills?  Don’t they count for anything?’ but just grabbed his ears and pulled his tall-ass head down so she could kiss his forehead.  The whole time the beast of a man was yelling, “Ow, Ow OOWW!”  Eric smiled and ducked his head down, he was no fool.  She kissed his head too and then took the group in two trips.

Michael, being fully awake for this trip was amazed.  He had memories of the trip from Romania, but he had still been mentally unfit to remember too much.  He looked around her closet on the Polarus.  Ashur left, probably to get snacks or hit up some someone for handouts in the galley.

Michael looked around the closet, “Shoes.  You really, really like…”  A finger was suddenly two inches in front of his face, followed closely by Bethany Anne’s eyes squinting.

She looked up at him, speaking in a decidedly abrupt tone. “Don’t. Say. One. Fucking. Word.  You deal with your stress your way; I deal with mine my way.  My psychiatrists are named Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, an occasional meeting with Blahnik and a couple of others.  Leave off and if you so much as mention Imelda Marcos I will send you to your maker early, got me buster?”

He was calm on the outside and shook his head in agreement, on the inside he was smiling.  He had another hot button to push; she was deliciously full of fun.  This was the first time in ten centuries a woman could stand up to him and he could understand what Stephen saw in her.  Now, if he could just understand this ‘Chippendale’ name he had caught a glimpse of earlier before she stopped thinking about it hard enough for him to mentally eavesdrop, he would be golden.  He might ask Stephen about it, or maybe Gabrielle, she seemed fun loving.

He followed her out of the closet and closed the door behind him.

The ship’s crew kept Pepper happy until Bethany Anne was ready to meet him.  She despised him immediately as being slimy and pretentious in the extreme.  However, he was an easy ticket to the party, so she put up with the man.

She had taken Ecaterina and Killian over to the Ad Aeternitatem.  Those two plus a couple of others took off in Shelly and went to Buenos Aries early.  She assumed to get good hides before the party, she really didn’t know.  She trusted Dan to have her team ready when it was time.

On the day of the event, Pepper and Bethany Anne were to be ferried to a landing area just a hundred yards from the party location.  The team couldn’t have any vampires on board, as Anton might be able to spot them by their scents.  That was the same reason she couldn’t have any of Pete’s team, either.

She had worried about a lack of decent armament and Michael had noticed her down mood the previous evening.  She finally confessed to him she hated not going in with her pistols or her sword.  She would have a knife down the small of her back, under her hair but that wasn’t as comfortable a feeling.  She had refused to go in a dress, so she would secret a small pistol on herself, but it would only be enough to shoot a human. Basically, not much good for anything as she didn’t want to be killing humans.

Michael took her aside and provided the nicest gift, other than an extended life, he could have given her.  He taught her the method to creating cutting surfaces with his hands.  She could almost kiss him for that alone.  With TOM’s help, what took Michael a significant amount of time to perfect, she was able to make useable within the first two hours.

It seemed that Michael figured out a way to pull energy from the Etheric and have it run along his hands and forearms.  Studying the blades Michael formed closely in this world, she then went into the Etheric, telling Michael not to move a centimeter; she was able to figure out what was going on from that side as she felt the energy flow.  She appeared back in the room and started concentrating, mentally thinking about a small hole of energy releasing power - running along her forearm and up the side of her hand and then to her pinky finger.  It didn’t look like much, but she could feel the energy.  She walked over to a metal serving tray the crew used to bring her food.  She wasn’t particularly fond of the design and had complained a couple of times it was gaudy.  She picked it up with her left hand and swiped at it.  She produced about a quarter inch cut before her hand hit it and the cutting stopped.

Michael came over, “You have to think harder, like you are pushing more energy into it when cutting.”

She pulled the tray back up, “Like it takes more energy once you’re cutting?”  He nodded.

She tried again and made it all of the way through.  She noticed the drag of energy as she had pulled more from the etheric.  She looked around the room, trying to find another object to test.  Nothing caught her attention that she would want to replace, so she turned the tray on its side and swiped it again.  This time, the cut was quick and clean.  The second piece dropping to the floor.  She studied the cuts, amazed at the cleanliness of the cut.

She said in a whisper, “This is seriously bad-ass.”  He smiled.

Now, they were landing.  If they caught her little pistol it was fine with her.  Pepper had been talking about himself the whole damn trip.  She had been tempted to put him to sleep.  If she knew how to do that correctly, she would have tried.  Since she didn’t, she suffered, and suffered, and fucking suffered some more.  She had no one to blame but herself for accepting this little part of the assignment.  No wonder Frank had been smiling at her the whole time she laid out the plan.

The land around Buenos Aires is relatively flat, no mountains close enough to block the sun so the party was scheduled later in the evening.  Sunset was around 8:00 PM, the party wasn’t scheduled to officially begin until 9:00 PM but the invite suggested those arriving via helicopter arrive early.  They chose to arrive at 8:30 PM.

Chris landed them nice and clean.  He had been taking lessons from Bobcat.  Bethany Anne surmised Bobcat was doing something in Shelly tonight.  If everything worked out, she would come in, meet Anton, Anton would die and then trans-locate through the etheric back to the boat.  Wham, bam, kill a man and leave.

There was a nice group of people gathered and she let Pepper take the lead.  He seemed to know a couple of those there and having an American congressman was a nice front, most considered her window dressing for the man.  She wanted to kick a couple of ladies who looked down at her pantsuit from their beautiful dresses and sparkling jewelry.  That most of the men ignored those ladies and were captivated by Bethany Anne only irritated the sparkly women more.

If the women had understood Bethany Anne had no makeup on, their heads might have exploded.

Pepper was using the opportunity to meet and greet, not realizing his sudden popularity and inclusion had little to do with himself or his name.

The walking around and talking lasted about one hour, when the buzz in the crowd decidedly changed.  Bethany Anne inhaled and tasted the scents.

Vampires had arrived.

Anton walked through the underground tunnel between his arrival location and the location of the party.  He bought the house decades before and used it for most of his lavish affairs.  He had two hulking Nosferatu walking behind him.

He was inordinately proud of these two creations.  Out of the fifty-two subjects, these two had survived.  Unfortunately, the previous two subjects had been able to break out of the straps and had killed three of the research support staff and put one of his scientists in a coma.  He had been close enough to provide a little of his blood to the man, so he would heal and be able to work for him soon enough.

These two hulks were not as easily commanded as the subjects who had been injected with the Japanese serum.  He had to be there to tell them what to do, and the massive musculature was abnormal for most humans, so he couldn’t use them in crowds without causing a minor panic.

However, for tonight they would be very beneficial.  His contacts had told him the Polarus had left, heading South.  Further, he found Pepper had decided to join him after all.  Imagine his surprise to find out Pepper was going to be arriving on the Polarus itself.

Stupid bitch, who did she think she was messing with?

He had enough information to know she could walk in the sun, so she was either Michael’s or Stephen’s.  Since Stephen seemed to work for her, then she was one of Michael’s.  Anton was aware Michael was free, somewhere, but David was supposed to clean up that mess.  He made it, he needed to fix it.

Or at least die trying.

Anton had his top three children with him.  They would move through the crowd and bring those Anton needed to speak with.  It was a shame Clarita died, she used to do it so nicely.  A smile, a word in the ear and they would be practically running to have a word with him.

Another annoyance Bethany Anne needed to answer for.  He had toyed, no matter what he told David, with considering how to turn her mind towards what the world needed with the Forsaken as leaders, but realized she would be too much of a handful.  He had been lucky with Clarita; she was a pretty subservient woman and hadn’t been too much trouble afterwards.  He understood Stephen had decades if not centuries of pestering from his daughter.

Oh well, he would take care of Michael’s mistake.  Michael could thank him later.

He came into his office from the back stairs, hidden from view.  When he entered the room, he opened the drapes and looked out over the back yard.  It was an acre of carefully cultivated bushes and trees with tasteful decorative lighting throughout.  It had two large fountains, lighted from within the water and one stony brook between them.  It was very tranquil and occasionally he would have the groundskeepers light it up and he would come here to contemplate the future.  The efforts he had taken to help create a centralized, one world government and what to do next.  He turned around and stood in front of his desk, the dark wood practically gleaming in the lights from the walls.  He touched it with his finger.  It was too oily.

Reaching into the second drawer, he pulled out a towel.  He had learned long ago that killing the maid only created more problems.  He would find out if she was good in other areas and not let her oil his desk again.

If she wasn’t good in anything else, well, he needed to drink from time to time.

He sat down, told the two hulking guys to stand, each in one corner.  He tested their abilities to understand his commands back at the research facility.  Including ‘attack’, ‘kill’ and ‘subdue’.  Mind you, he did it in the opposite order.  They subdued, then attacked, then killed.  It was beautiful to watch.  He got a little ahead of himself with his excitement and got too close to the action.  He had to change clothes when a bloody arm hit him in the chest, having been recently ripped off of the test subject.  The test subject, a research scientist who had a bout of conscience after witnessing the fruits of their labors had asked to speak with him.  Anton had nodded and kept asking the scientist to just ‘let his heart out, tell him what he felt’ until the man was finished, happy to finally let his conscience speak its mind.

So, he became the test subject, his obvious keen intellect and curiosity not enough to drive him forward any longer.

Finished wiping down his desk, he sat down.

It hadn’t taken long for George to come up and bring the first person, a local constable who hadn’t been introduced to Anton yet.  George nodded yes when Anton asked if the prime guest had arrived.

Anton listened to the man for a couple of minutes; it allowed a connection, the control to slowly insinuate between the two of them.  Once Anton felt the connection grow, he slowly turned around the conversation from what the Constable though about his area, to what Anton needed the constable to be on the lookout for and where he wanted the Constable to ignore.  By the end of the short ten-minute conversation, the Constable shook his hand, believing fully that Anton was his biggest supporter and he had agreed to take care of a couple of inconsequential issues for his biggest supporter.

When George opened the door to let the man out, Anton spoke, “Why don’t we get the main attraction up here?  I don’t want to be on pins and needles all night.  These two brutes can then go back down to the tunnels and make sure they keep the blood off of my floor when they take her away.”  George had almost walked out of the door before Anton spoke again, “George!”  George stopped and looked back, “Get someone up here to take these chairs out.   They’re antiques.”  George nodded and seconds later a couple of men in tuxes came in to take the loose furniture out.

Satisfied he had done enough to try and keep the destruction down, he sat down.

Five minutes later, George entered and a very beautiful woman came in, her black hair radiant in his wall light.  She wasn’t wearing a dress, and didn’t smell like a vampire.  He looked at George, “Are you sure this is the right lady?”

She spoke up, “If you mean, am I Bethany Anne?  The answer is yes.  What; is the fact I smell human throwing you off?”

Anton waived George back, “Where is Pepper?  I’m going to want to talk with him later.”

Bethany Anne spoke, “He has gone back to the ship, I just wanted a personal conversation with you.”

Anton flipped his hand, “No matter, we will grab him there.  What?  I see a small flinch there.  Did you think I didn’t know all about your ships?  Those two beautiful boats will be changing owners, much like they did when you took them over, yes?  Got rid of the original owner somewhere out at sea and purchased them on the cheap?”

Anton was enjoying himself, he had noticed a slight movement, a tightening around her eyes.  He was getting to the woman.  She wasn’t human, he was now sure of that but he wasn’t sure how she was hiding her scent.

That was when his men attacked her ships.


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The Queen Bitch's Ship Polarus

It was a good time, not a very trying time, but a good time.

Both the Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem had moved out beyond the twelve nautical mile limit of Argentina, so they weren’t near the city when the two speed boats came racing at them.

Captain Thomas called his Gunnery Officer and told her it was ‘weapons free’ but to fire a warning shot.

Jean complied, asking Darrell and his crew to place a few ranged shots as the boat sped towards the ship.  Nothing seemed to bug the speed boat, so Darrell put a couple into their glass.  The boat turned sharply to the right, but then got back up to speed, heading in their direction.

Darrell was near Jean and was able to overhear her, “Good, I was hoping they wouldn’t pussy out.”

Jean had a command headset on, “Team 1, please uncover and finish preparations to fire on my mark.”

One of the above board emplacements shed its metallic cover.  It was ripped away, in fact.  It had looked like it belonged on the boat and held safety equipment.  Now, two gun barrels rolled down, pointing over the side and tracked the boat.

“Fire.”

The barrels kicked back, a ‘whoomph’ sound coming out.  The Polarus barely rocked.  Darrell watched the cigarette boat explode into pieces, one body cart wheeling at least forty-five feet in the air before he lost the body to the stars.

Jean spoke again, “Captain, orders?”  She listened, “Understood.”  She switched channels. “Team stand ready; we are heading towards the Ad Aeternitatem.  They don’t have our armament.”

Gabriel came back from the side of the ship where she had prepared to repel boarders.  She spoke when coming up, “Anyone seen Michael or Stephen?”

——

On the Ad Aeternitatem, Captain Wagner was calm and collected.  He spoke with Todd and Pete, “Men, we are about to have boarders, probably Nosferatu.  I will move all crew I can into protected areas and lock down, but I can’t have anyone randomly on my ship and we can’t have anything happen to Bethany Anne’s spaceship.  The Polarus is on its way but it will be at least five minutes before they can help.  Suggestions?”

Pete was calm, Todd was calm but he understood what was coming at them so he asked, “Any chance we can get Bethany Anne to join us?”  Pete nodded, it was a good suggestion.

“Unfortunately, no.  I was able to listen enough to know she’s in the middle of something herself and can’t break.”  There was a bright flash and explosion to port, all three looked in that direction, “That was probably the end of the boat attacking the Polarus.  Maybe she will arrive a touch faster.”  He turned back to them.

“I don’t want any casualties for us and I don’t want any of these bastards running around on my ship, is this understood?”  Both men shook their heads and left the bridge.

Pete looked over at Todd as they walked, “Can your guys trust my team?”

Todd looked over at the young Were.  “Why?  What are you thinking?”

They reached the main floor, “Six of us, four of you.  I’ve got a situation that makes me possibly need to work alone.  I say make up two, maybe three teams.  Let my team soak up as much damage as possible while your team shoots the fuck out of them.  My guys know fighting, but we haven’t worked on weapons so far and I don’t think we want them doing that on a boat in the middle of this much water.”

Todd thought he was being rather dry with his wit with that comment.  “Three sets of three?”

“Works for us, I’ll send Tim with two of yours, Matthew and Joel, with someone and then Joseph and Rickie with you.”  Todd agreed and they went to finish suiting up.

All ten men met up on top of the ship, waiting for the speed boat to come within range before shooting.  They didn’t hope to hit much, but better shooting off the ship than on.

His guardians had their weapons, some blunt, some sharp.   Those that had sharp weapons were told to be careful around Todd’s marines.  Pete started to get undressed when Todd looked back, “What the hell?  Is this some sort of Werewolf rite of passage?”  He honestly looked perplexed so Pete didn’t take offense.  He had informed his guys what he was going to try and do.

“Trust me and don’t get between me and those assholes.”

Todd asked, turning his head back at the rapidly approaching boat, “Does this have to do with you being on the alien ship the other day?”

“Yes.”

Todd just nodded, “Stay out of the way of Pete everyone.  I’m not sure what Bethany Anne and Pete have cooked up, but I want a front row seat.  Ready to go?”

He got a bunch of, “oorahs!” from his guys.

Pete left on his pants.  He would feel stupid if he was fighting with his tackle hanging out, never changing.  He would risk a pair of pants getting ripped off.  He was getting pumped up, all of his blood racing through his body.  Fighting was what he wanted to do.  Ever since John Grimes had slugged him on the airport field, he had wanted to be worthy, had wanted to have John’s respect and he had earned it.  He had earned Nathan’s respect and even Gabrielle’s respect when he took over the pack.   His father had called him, told him how amazed he was, how proud a father he was after he and Tim had their alpha fight.

Now, he was fighting for his own future.  The future of the world to use a gift that had probably been intended to hurt people on his own planet.  He needed to understand this final change and control it.  He could feel his blood; feel the tension leave his body; the heightened senses that were muted before.

“Oh, fuck me sideways.”  Pete looked to his left at Joseph, usually the quiet one.  Someone had turned up the lights, he thought.

“What?”  Pete’s voice was a little surly.  Todd’s guys took a step back.  Todd turned around to see Pete, with fur starting to cover his body, his fingers growing into claws slowly.

“Pete, I think Bethany Anne gave you an upgrade, buddy.” Todd pointed to his hands.

Pete looked down, clenching his hand, the two inch claws making it a little difficult to squeeze too hard. He looked down, his legs growing out of his pants.

He shrugged, his shoulders larger than before.  He smiled, his mouth full of razor sharp teeth, making it hard to talk.  He was able to get across his feelings as he watched the boat come closer.  He walked towards the rail, clasping it with hands bigger, stronger than his normal hands.  He looked over his left shoulder, then his right.  All of the men grabbed their weapons.  He turned back to the boat coming at them yelling in a deep baritone, “Bring it, Bitches!”

Todd yelled, “Rifleman, fire!”

The battle for the Ad Aeternitatem commenced.

The Nosferatu jumped out of the boat, heading up at the first blood they could smell.  Pete’s team split to the left and to the right, the Marines jumping behind them.  Pete ignored the small fry, seeing his target, the Vampire.

Manet had been a vampire for over thirty years.  A fourth generation vampire, he was considerably stronger than his generation should be and often made third generation vampires walk around him.  He was power walking, he was death and he was here to take this ship.  He had been winged by one of the bullets and it had pissed him off.

Manet hissed at the enemy seeking to stop them from getting on the boat. He smelled the Were, but not knowing what to make of the mutant in the middle bellowing at him to ‘bring it’.  Whatever the hell that meant.  If he wanted a fight; however, Manet was more than willing to kill him first.

He bounded up the boat, grabbing a line and pulling himself straight at the soon to be dead furry guy.

He made it as far as the railing when both of his hands were clasped, swinging him up and over the rail to the deck.  This fool was going to make it too easy.

That was when he belatedly realized the beast wasn’t letting go and the momentum didn’t allow him time to get his feet under him.  His body was smashed into the deck, bones cracking.

Manet pulled his arms apart, but they were quickly pushed back together.  This werewolf wasn’t weak, Manet felt the first tinge of concern that this wasn’t going to be easy.  That was when two bullets slammed into his chest.  His left arm was free!  He tried to reach around to grab something for leverage when a large clawed hand grabbed his neck.  He reached back to pull the arm away when the hand clinched, crushing his throat.  He thought little else when the claw pulled back, tearing his throat apart.

Manet died on the deck of the Ad Aeternitatem, the first powerful vampire killed by a Changeling in single battle in over four centuries.  Seconds later, the last gun blast fired, the final Nosferatu killed.  Tim and Matthew went around, cutting off heads.

Pete looked around, anger and hunger running through his mind.  Everything was clear for him, like daylight.  He felt a hand on his shoulder and he snapped around.  It was Todd.  “Come back to us Pete.  We need you too much.  We’re done.”

Pete smiled, they had won, they had fought and the Guardians were 1-0-0.  He took the feeling of the anger, the desire to continue dealing death and felt it through his body.  Then he commanded it to leave.  He would be the first, but he would not be the last.  His people, his world and his Queen needed him to beat this.  Pete took the anger and shattered it, releasing the bonds in his mind and he could feel the energy leaving as he changed back to himself.

Pete Silvers, the little rich boy who had been slugged that day on a tarmac in New York was destroyed.  Peter Silvers, the first and arguably the best Alpha of the Guardians stood proudly among the men who had protected this ship and these people from the death that had come for them.  He looked around and held out his hand to Todd.  They cemented a friendship that would be talked about for centuries and together they architected the first Guardians cadre’ of Marines.

The Wechselbalg Guardians would forever be paired with humans.

Together, the teams threw the bodies overboard.  They laughed over who would claim the fast boat.  It didn’t take long for the Ad Aeternitatem’s crew to come up top and help them grab the expensive boat before it floated away.  Later, Rickie was lamenting how those bully marines had shot his beautiful boat. It took two seconds before three men jumped him, he was laughing as he changed it to, “Our boat, our boat!”  They had made it to within three feet of tossing him overboard before dropping him on the deck.


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Anton continued explaining his method to capturing her ships. “A few Nosferatu and a vampire for each boat and now they belong to me, well actually two vampires for your Polarus.  I know you have the lady Gabrielle on board that one.  I’m not an ass so I’ll let her decide if your ship is worth saving, or if she would like to live a few hundred years more.  I’m sure she will see the right decision open up before her.”

Bethany Anne’s eyes went to both of the hulking brutes in the corners, “Friends?”

Anton smirked, “Of course, newly made, as it were.  We’ve finally got a decent recipe.”  He looked back to his right, casually talking as if explaining the benefits of purchasing a new car. “Stronger than the original version, able to take a significant amount of damage before it quits working.  Working on the intelligence of course, but I would have to rate them a solid seven out of ten.  Over all, something I can be finally proud to bring out in public.”  He looked back at Bethany Anne, “Well, by ‘public’ I don’t mean daylight yet.  But, you know, small steps and all of that.”

“I see, so just figured this little recipe out?  Because, I have to tell you none of your other toys have been much of a challenge.”

It was Anton’s turn to be annoyed.  She had reminded him of the many times she had messed up his plans. “Yes, well, I wasn’t aware of you before recently so I hadn’t exactly planned on your crashing my party.  Well, like you’re doing again!”  He smiled, “You weren’t really invited and yet here you are.  I can only assume it had been to create mayhem and maybe a little revenge, hmmm?  Clarita, not enough for you?  I honestly didn’t have any direct effort or command to kill your friend in D.C., so you can’t lay that at my feet.”

Bethany Anne marveled at how the conversation was going, it was if the man thought that he would get a pass for the thousands he had killed in the past.  “Martin was one of my best friends, a man who helped a lost women find direction in her life.  An ear to bend when there was no one else to talk to, but then you probably don’t know much about that, do you?”

“Oh, au contraire!  I was just listening to one of the research scientists bleed his heart out when he had misgivings due to the results of their efforts.  I truly did listen and encouraged him to get it all off his chest.”  Bethany Anne wasn’t positive, but she was pretty sure he hadn’t told a lie.

“Well, then you might be able to appreciate how it helps a person.”

“Yes, yes I do.”

Bethany Anne was perplexed.  This wasn’t the way she had expected the conversation to go, but now she was too wrapped up in the story. “What happened to the scientist?”

Anton did that waving thing with his hand again, as if the end of the story was unimportant.  “He was used to test the command abilities of my two friends here.  I told you, he bled his heart out, right?  I’m almost positive I said that.”  Anton gave her a sincere smile at how he had worked the death of the scientist into his story.

Bethany Anne was wondering why she even cared, he was not only powerful, but obviously mentally unstable.  She turned around and noticed George by the door.  “You might want to move a few feet to your left.”

George looked at her funny and then looked at Anton who shook his head no, “She seeks to disturb you.  What did you find on her?”

George pulled out a little pistol from his pocket, “Just this.”

Anton looked back at Bethany Anne.

She told George, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  She turned back to Anton, “What?”

“Really?”  He pointed to the little gun, “That isn’t enough to piss me off.”

She nodded, “I totally agree, but I should have help arriving in 3…” She turned towards the door and George jumped to the side, ready to get into action.”

“2.”  Anton stood up, ready to command the two nosferatu to attack whatever came through the door.

He began to speak.  “I don’t hear…”

“1.”

“Anything.”

Two supersonic rounds, from two sniper rifles chambered for .338 Lapau arrived from a half mile away so closely together you wouldn’t be able to tell which hit him first. Anton’s head exploded, brain matter spraying the wall and door in front of him, George was covered in gore, surprise evident on his face.

Bethany spoke as Anton’s mostly decapitated body slumped over the desk.  “My friend always wonders ‘what is the bait’?  Well Anton, I’m the bait.”

George spoke into the silence, “Oh God.”  He was looking in her direction

She hadn’t made a move to attack him, but noticed he wasn’t directly looking at her, she turned quickly to realize the dumb stares the two Nosferatu had were being replaced by cunning looks.

Her eyes grew wide, “Oh, holy fuck.”


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Stephen felt the surprise and shock and understood it to come from Bethany Anne, then he felt pain.

Michael looked at him, “What’s wrong?”

“Something is wrong with Bethany Anne, I can feel it”

“How, where?”

Stephen stood up, “How do we get to where she is?  She needs help!”

Michael rose with him, “Do you know what direction she is in?”

Stephen stopped, concentration etched on his face.  He pointed out through the door, towards the coast. “That way.”

Michael nodded, “Come with me.”  The two of them broke into vamp speed, racing down the corridor and up to the main deck.  When Stephen arrived, Michael turned to myst and grabbed him, then started streaking towards the coast.  Stephen was surprised to find himself inches above the waves, feeling more than seeing the area around him. Further, he could hear Michael’s thoughts, and his concern for Bethany Anne.  Maybe feelings a father wouldn’t have for a daughter, hmmm Michael?

They were quickly approaching the bay, “Towards the left, Michael.”  His thoughts sounding in both his mind and echoed from close by.  He didn’t think this was how Michael normally communicated.

He felt another large bout of pain and an effort to speed up.  Michael was connecting with him to get a direct connection to his feelings to Bethany Anne.

Bethany Anne was tossed over the side of the second story railing.   She tried to twist around in the air and was successful in getting both feet underneath her.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough time to get a good stance and ended up falling backwards across the floor to come to a painful stop against a piano leg.

“You cock-sucking shit bag!”  She screamed.  She was getting her ass kicked.  But if she ran, they would focus on the other humans and that wasn’t a good thing.  George had bolted as soon as he realized the Nosferatu were free.  Well, no plan survives contact with the enemy.  Especially when the stupid enemy had a dead man’s switch on two massive hulking pain-in-the-asses.

It was time to get some of her own back.  Beast number one jumped at her from the second floor, aiming she figured, for her head.

She rolled out of the way and got up, “Look, you catatonic flea fucker…”  She had to dodge as its partner unexpectedly came through a wall above her.  In a second, she had the whole room to herself, the partiers having decided this wasn’t a safe room to be in.

She stood up, facing the two large Nosferatu, “Ok, you want to party?”  Her voice descended, malevolence was the song, “Let’s fucking party.”  Her eyes shot through with red, her fangs descended and the two Nosferatu charged as she ran towards them.

The clash was over in less than a second.  One Nosferatu lay on its side, it’s leg cut off while the other screaming in rage, what was left of its arm spraying blood.   Bethany Anne picked herself up off of the floor where she had landed.  The wall being polite enough to stop her after she was thrown by the second beast.

She reached down to peel off the hand and half arm still gripping her leg.  She stood up and cricked her neck.  Walking towards the first beast with the missing arm, it noticed her and turned, screaming in frustration and pain charged at her. She pivoted to the side with the missing arm, making a complete circle she continued towards the second beast.

The first one continued running, smashing into the wall, the cut head falling off to the side.  The second was able to pull himself around in time to reach out with both hands.  She grabbed them, putting a foot in its chest.  It screamed as she slowly pulled each arm out of their sockets.  Finally, she yanked hard enough to pull them both off.  “Dude, shut the fuck up!”  She sliced its head off. Covered in blood, gore and body parts she looked around the room.  She back towards the main entryway when she heard two sets of footsteps coming quickly.

She sighed; sounds like George went and got support.


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Michael was worried, getting into the house became an effort of dodging the people screaming and leaving.  Finally, he left the mass behind and he and Stephen became corporeal.   They could easily pinpoint the direction of Bethany Anne from the cussing and screams of frustration and pain.

They ran around the corner and both slowed down and stopped, looking at the sheer destruction and blood everywhere.  She wouldn’t win any best dressed contests as she looked at them in return.

“You guys are late, usually I complain about guys coming early, but you are definitely late.”  Stephen snorted at the joke, Michael didn’t get it.

Michael looked around, “I see you redecorated the place. Anton?” She pointed above his head.

“He’s up there, or at least his body is.  I don’t think Ecaterina and Killian left enough brain matter to regenerate.  I have to admit he wasn’t the main thought on my mind. Fuck-nuts had these two beasts, who went ape-shit when the prodigal wank-lover unsuccessfully tried to stop two copper jacketed lovers simultaneously with his skull.”

Michael turned to face Stephen, a confused look on his face.  “Antons upstairs, head blown off.  I’ll go make sure he is still dead.”  Stephen went upstairs in vamp speed.

Michael turned back to Bethany Anne, “Are you ok?”  He looked her over, trying to see if any of the blood was hers.

She looked at herself, “Well, I could use a bath… Hold it.  Here comes more fun.”

She looked over his shoulder back at the entrance to the room he and Stephen had come through.  Four sets of footsteps came racing towards them.  Sliding to a stop when they smelled the vampire on Michael.

George, the one in the lead, held a shotgun in his hand, “Look, buddy, don’t care who you are, but you’re in the middle of a disagreement.  This bitch,” he waved his head in Bethany Anne’s direction.  She looked around, was their another female in the room?

“This bitch just killed Anton, so we are going to finish her off and get South America settled before this becomes well known.”

Bethany Anne was curious how Michael was going to handle this when steps could be heard from the banister above them.  The four looked up to spy Stephen coming up to the rail.  George started the same spiel but Stephen put up his hand, “I heard you the first time, jack-hole.”  George looked like he wanted to start getting a word in on being called a name but Stephen just talked over him, “My name is Stephen.”  That got everyone’s attention.  “I’m sure you know she is Bethany Anne?”  George gave him a quick shake of the head. “Good, that helps.  Since she is my Queen, I’m sure you understand that I will not allow you to continue with your plan?”

George got a look on his face like he had just eaten a sour lemon.

Bethany Anne put her hand on her hip and stared up at Stephen, ‘he wouldn’t allow’?  What was this man-breast beating bullshit?

“Be that as it may,” Michael pulled everyone’s attention back to him.  Bethany Anne spared a glance back to Stephen one more time; he was getting his ear twisted for damn sure.  Michael’s eyes went black, his voice surrounding everyone and coming from everywhere and nowhere.  “My name is Michael…”  He disappeared.

Bethany Anne had to admit, that was one fucking scary-ass introduction.  She tried to see him, but she couldn’t.

His voice still surrounded the room, “There is no question who is in charge in South America…”  All four vampires were looking around, behind them, in front of them one even stared at her as if she had a clue.  She just shrugged her shoulders and smiled at him.

She tried to feel into the etheric and could slightly feel him. He was in the hallway behind the vampires.  Well, they were trapped because they wouldn’t get away from her.  She slowly walked into the middle of the room and stared them down.  Now, they spent half of their time looking at her, half of their time looking around.

A massive feeling of fear hit all of them, even she was affected.

TOM, what the hell?

One second…

The fear turned off.

Got it, he was affecting the mental areas that drive fear.  Pretty fantastic.  That is a level of control I hadn’t thought about.

Look, you can conclude the Michael Adoration Society meeting later; don’t let him affect me again like that.

The voice they all heard screamed, “I am Michael, YOU WILL KNEEL!

She stabbed a hand up to Stephen, who held himself up by force of will.

The four others however, couldn’t get to their knees fast enough.

He reappeared in front of them.  He spoke, his voice a deadly whisper, “South America is mine, I am changing the strictures here.  There will be one power, one voice and one rule.  Mine.”

Bethany Anne waved to Stephen and called him to come down.  He was there in a second, beside her. “Yes, my Queen?”

She smiled at him, “Michael seems busy, doing something he should have taken care of a long time ago and I need a bath, are you staying?”

Stephen looked over at Michael and his face broke into a mischievous smile, he put out his elbow and she proceeded to lock her arm in his and they disappeared.

One of the four vampires stared past Michael, who turned around.  He noticed the two of them were gone and realized what she had probably done to get the one vampires attention.  He turned back to the four to continue telling them what they would do to help clean up this mess, or they could choose a quick death.

He would find her and speak with her again, oh yes he would.  She wasn’t going to get rid of him this easily. He had time on his side.

Gabrielle heard the shower in Bethany Anne’s suite, so she went inside and stopped short.  Her father was sitting on the couch, leafing through a magazine on fashion.  He looked up at her.

Gabrielle pointed at the shower, “Michael?”

Stephen smiled, “No, Bethany Anne.”

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed, “Where is Michael and how are you in this suite while she is taking a shower, father mine?”

“Michael is, or was when we left him five minutes ago, where Anton had been holding his party.  I’m here because she didn’t tell me to leave and there were no security agents up front.”

She pointed at him, then at the suite door.  “Consider the security here, now get out.  She will normally come walking out of there naked and I don’t need your old geezer heart exploding with lust.”

He closed the magazine.  “But, that was what I was counting on.  I hear the stories and never get to…”  The pillow hit him square in the face.

“Go!”  He got up and walked out.  He actually hadn’t known she would walk out naked; he just liked giving Gabrielle a hard time.

He found Darrell and Scott jogging towards her suite, “She’s taking a shower, Gabrielle is in the suite.”  Darrell just nodded and moved on.  Scott smiled at him as if there was a shared joke and walked on past.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

David was standing outside of his castle, looking down on it from a quarter mile away, bathed in moonlight. It had been his fortress for hundreds of years, the one place he could depend on to protect him.

It had failed.

It had taken him three days to realize he was not in a good position at this location.  Michael knew where he was, and he wouldn’t be able to trick him and capture him as he had the first time.

He had considered booby trapping the whole castle, but couldn’t.  Maybe he would be able to survive this and if he did, he didn’t want to come back to his beloved place, full of memories, destroyed.

He heard the car coming down the lane a full minute before it arrived.  His legs caught in the headlights, he looked at his home and then turned around and walked to the opened and waiting back door and slid inside.  The driver closed the door and walked back to the front and got inside and closed his own door.  The car turned around and traveled down the road.

Las Vegas, Nv - USA

Jeffrey was sleeping on a cot.  His head hitting the pillow thirty minutes before.  He tried to go to sleep earlier, but he had a short argument with his wife.  She was not happy that he was here for a second night in a row.  If he hadn’t brought his kids here, and they hadn’t told her about everything including the kitchen and the cots, his wife might not have believed him.

A buzz woke him up.  He groggily looked around as his phone was buzzing and blinking.  He grabbed it to see Tom’s ugly mug showing.  He hit the accept button and closed his eyes, phone on his ear.  “What the hell Tom.  You’re two buildings away. Couldn’t you just walk over?”

“Jeffrey, it’s asking for more input.”

“Then feed it and let me go back to sleep.”  Jeffrey rolled over.

“JEFFREY!  Wake the FUCK UP.”

Jeffrey tried to wipe the sleep out of his eyes.  “Tom, damn, no need to yell.  Who wants food, and why are we feeding them?”

“Jeffrey, you awake yet?”

Jeffrey sat up with a grump.  “I am now, so answer my question.”

“ADAM is awake, he’s requesting data.”

“ADAM is awake and he…”, Jeffrey’s eyes opened wide, “He wants more … Oh shit.  Be right there!”

Jeffrey scrambled to get his clothes on, buttoning his shirt as he jogged over to building 1 and practically ran into the security door.  He stopped and plugged in the security code, taking two times to get it right.

He walked into the main room, dark with green and blue lights flickering all over.  Tom was at the desk, it had two monitors on top.  One had a command prompt window, green text blinking on black background.

He stared at the message.  It reminded him of a grocery list.

“Please provide the following >>”

There were forty-three lines of requests.  He sat down next to Tom.

ADAM had just woken up.

Michael’s Notes (Never Forsaken - The Kurtherian Gambit 05):  Written Jan 11th, 2016 

Thank you, I cannot express my appreciation enough that not only did you pick up the fifth book, but you read it all the way to the end and NOW, your reading this as well.  Since this book is part of a series, I am presuming you have blessed me by reading them all and what a fantastic feeling that is for any author!

So, in my notes in BITE THIS, I mentioned the fourth book took 11 days to write and 4 days of slamming the editing together.  This book was a completely different beast.  Partially because I created a storyline too convoluted to keep in my head anymore and I wanted to have action points happening all over this book.  The second is that I had a fan really dig deep and help pull together some great review notes through a huge chunk of the book, so I have to give a shout-out to Stephen Russell for helping through his weekend to make this book more than it was!  In fact, as I write this he sent a note about a subsonic round (the gunshots that took out Anton).  I’ve apparently written something completely false and not remotely possible.  [email protected]  I’ve got a request to him to please help provide guidance with the correct way to blow Anton’s head off***.  Because, believe me, that guy is a dead man.  This isn’t a soap opera, Anton isn’t coming back.  Hopefully I get that advice before I hit ‘submit’ in just a couple of hours and send this book out to the fans looking to get in on the pre-release $0.99 sale for 24 hours.

The editing is coming together, #4 just got back and I will be updating that book shortly.  #5 (this one) is in the queue next week and then we are back @ #1 or #2 right after.  I’ll nail down those pesky editing issues, by God.  (Note to Tutt - shutting up now.)

Purchased vs. Kindle Unlimited update.  As we go into book five, the Kindle Unlimited side is ahead in gross sales vs. The Kindle purchased group.  I don’t have a reason for the change in income percentages from the last book, maybe a big swing in new Kindle Unlimited readers over Christmas?  Income is about 55% Unlimited vs. 45% purchased (after Amazon’s cut).  I”m in month 3 for Kindle Select (you join for 90 days), so I have about 2.5 weeks to go.  I expect to re-up at least 1 more time before possibly going ‘wide’ (wide means pulling from Kindle Select (Unlimited) and being able to sell on Apple iTubes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble etc).  I’m not in a rush to go wide as I think the extra effort is going to be substantial.

But, here comes the stuff I DO want to do.  I want to get the books tightened up for a possible Audible release if anyone is interested?  I would probably have the biggest smile on my face to hear a professional reader say some of Bethany Anne’s lines.  Or maybe Stephen when he is talking with Reginald?  Can you imagine the interview process when speaking to the voice actor?

Me: Do you have any issues with saying curse words?

Voice Actor: What, like ‘f#ck’?

Me: No, more like… (insert one of Bethany Anne’s long-ass line of expletives).

I’m not sure I could say that out loud.  I can type it, no problem.  Well, no problem inside the book.  Apparently, my face is blushing just writing that word above in a semi-personal Author’s note.  Seriously, how lame is that?

This is probably my favorite book so far from an action and emotional level.  Lot’s of action scenes that were funny and a couple that brought a tear to my face (yes, I’m the kind of author that can make myself tear up when reading my own scene).  The scene when Bethany Anne arrives and Stephen says, while coughing up blood, “Let me introduce you to my Queen, Bethany Anne.”  I pointed to the laptop screen and I’m like, “Take THAT you fu#king bastard!  Eat S#it and die you…”  Well, you get the picture.

Another scene that chokes me up is when Pete becomes Peter Silvers.  That part makes me proud of him.  It really is odd to admit that sometimes I don’t have a choice where the story goes.  I have the idea, but occasionally stuff just happens (looking right at you, Ashur).

I like that Jean got a scene in this book.  She is like the little pistol that can.  I’m personally wondering why John (engineering) hasn’t tried to get any closer to her.  Damn dude, you quit the Navy because of her story, grow a pair and ask her out already or Todd might beat you to it.

I had the most interesting and fun conversation with a fan over this last weekend.  I hope she doesn’t mind me copying her comments (you can see them up on the Facebook Page).

Her original message was:

I would really like to get more than a couple of hours of sleep. Ever since I found this series I tend to keep reading and cooking microwave meals. Two things are going to happen (1) my microwave will need replacing or (2) I slip into a sleep coma. Thanks for a wonderful exceptionally well written and entertaining series with a smart, sassy, strong female lead. Keep "churning" out the series because at my age anything could happen and I really would haunt your butt.

ROFLMAO.  Seriously, go to the Facebook page and read the whole set of messages, this lady is fun! (“The cats and the chinchillas will starve.”) HAHAHAHAHA  (That’s LOL for you youngsters).

Oh!  That brings up something I also find amusing.  I am presently somewhere between #60 - #80 in the top 100 Horror writers (eBooks - cool, not funny), #116 in ebooks>Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction (it seems the readers are onto my devious plan to become the first Paranormal Military Science Fiction Niche writer… da#n) but ALSO #437 yesterday in Books > Teens.  I have not considered these books “Teen” books.  I have two teen boys and I don’t care if they read them, but I am not trying to market to Teens whatsoever.  I just don’t want to get an angry Mom telling me that Bethany Anne is NOT a proper role model for ladies.  I would have to agree, she is a kick-ass heroine who doesn’t take any sh#t from anybody but can still care enough for her family, her friends and her people and justice for those who have passed away.  [email protected], I guess she is an excellent role model for ladies.

Oh well, bring it on, I’ll take my lumps.

At the very end of this book I have cut and pasted reviews from book 1 (to date) - I respond and I’m f’ing fun!  I know I’m not supposed to ‘be a part of’ the review process, so I don’t respond online (freaking Amazon has actually deleted some of my responses that were really benign, like ‘thank you for your comment!’ type benign when I signed my name.  Maybe they didn’t want me to put a whole name?  Not sure.)  So, like above, I’ve added some review comments that have warmed my heart and I appreciate you dropping them online!

Now, I’ve read on author forums (www.kboards.com) that books start ‘mattering’ to buyers at 50 reviews.  Well, I’ve got a ways to go to get 50 reviews on all of the books, but you know what?  Every single review is a badge of honor I own proudly and thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing them.  Occasionally, you drop a note to let me know you put a review on ALL of the books, thank you for that as well.  <grin>

But, like, you know if you haven’t written a review and there are less than 50 on one of the books you like, well, if you LOVE the book it could be a late Christmas gift?  ;-)  Early Indie Authors Day gift?  (There is no such thing as Indie Authors Day, I’m completely making this day up just to provide another reason and I don’t want to admit just how much asking for reviews makes me crawl out of my comfort shell here).

Also, I found me.  I’m a ‘Pulp Writer’.  I own that title.  So yeah.  That’s me.

I’ve mentioned before, 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 get excited, worried, 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.

Please, if you enjoyed this book give it a good 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).

** Note:  If you would like the $0.99 pre-official-full-price-release message, please sign up on the email list - I’m going to keep doing this for each new release moving forward, so when released early, the price is $0.99 for a minimum of 24 hours **

If you want to help make the books better and receive an advanced copy, please consider the Advance Team project please catch me on Facebook and let me know your interested.

You can find book links on my Amazon Author Page here:

http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Anderle/e/B017J2WANQ/

Want to comment on the best (scene, comment, event, shoes or gun for Bethany Anne, weapon Nathan would prefer…you name it) join us on Facebook:

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

Want to know when the next book or major update is ready? Join the email list - Score that $0.99 24 hour bonus knowledge in time to SCORE.

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 & http://www.dreamstime.com

(Sometimes better selection on www.dreamstime.com - TKG05)

Image software to make the cover (Mac): http://www.pixelmator.com/mac/ (1.6 ratio @ 300dpi)

Image software to make the 3d book Covers: http://www.Adobe.com/photoshop

3d Template Script: http://www.psdcovers.com

Thank you,

Michael Anderle, Jan 2016

*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.  Second note, the suggestion to include special canines also came from my wife.

*** Stephen came through in SPADES - I had so much info it made my (non-gun-knowing) head explode!


Review Remarks

This is my ‘Middle Finger Salute’ to not saying ‘thank you’ to reviewers on review pages.  Even if your review isn’t … nice (sniff, sniff).

But then, if you have made it to book five and are reading this far, I doubt that you wrote a one or two star review (back on Death Becomes Her) and continued reading… So I guess this will be for Reviews with three stars and above.  If you did put a 1 or 2 star review and are reading the end of this book, what the h#ll?

Ok, sorry, I just thought that was funny.  Let me know on Facebook and I’ll included your review and republish w/ the next version.

Michael Anderle

By David Down Under on December 3, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

I just read the first 3 books in this series in 2 days, and boy does it pull you in! They remind me a lot of Laurence Dahners Ell Donsaii series: the author has created a science fiction framework that introduces a fantastic element in a logical and consistent way, then used that in conjunction with a strong female main character and a series of conflicts to create a story that just rollicks along with magnificent pacing. It's just fun to read!

So don't think this is just another vampire book. Think Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Think adventure! The fight scenes are magnificent!

The author obviously has a firm grasp of military organisation, and is able to convey business and science related topics well. I also thought the backroom dealing was realistic.

On the minus side some of the characters do come across as rather cliched. Partly this is because there are so many characters introduced, and they do get fleshed out a bit by occasional POV changes. I loved the Romanian girl. I'm also glad the POV changes weren't overdone - that's usually a pet peeve of mine.

From an editing standpoint there are a few cases of misplaced semicolons (, however; instead of ; however, for example) and there are a couple of places in each book where the wrong character name is used (you can infer that it is not the named character talking but another). These errors are understandable with the author writing so quickly (7 days for a book?!), and I understand he's correcting them.

Really, none of these flaws harmed the flow of the books.

Be warned - while each book is largely self-contained, various plot threads draw inexorably to the next book, and this promises to be a long series. Some anxious waiting for the next books will occur, and I pray the author can keep up the momentum!

Don't expect great literature, but Read It! It's good! Five stars!

MIKE >> Working on it David, working on it!  Fun fact:  David became the first member of the TKG Street Team.  He just popped the question to his girlfriend while on a trip a few weeks ago.  I was joking with him if he ‘proposed to her’ in an email … Son of a gun if he hadn’t!  WAY TO GO DAVID!  (Yes, she said Yes!)

I so hope his fiancé (who shall not be named in case she is shy) doesn’t get mad with as much time as he took read the ARC of TKG05 ;-)

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By S. Pace on December 11, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

I liked this book for many reasons, but feel that it really needs to be seriously polished up by a good editor. I enjoyed the characters, and especially some of the plot twists. For me, the story was a little choppy, and the chapter headings are distracting and not really necessary. One of my pet Peeves are 2 fold, it,s is really yards for me to rite this cents to give an examples. Author, your English grammar, use of misspelled words, and abysmal usage of apostrophes needs to be corrected! I wanted to love this book, but it is distracting to be reading along then bam, your instead of you're, were's instead of the plural weres, and other typos and punctuation errors. It's like hitting a big pot hole in a smooth road. Please take this as constructive criticism, as I really did enjoy the book. I think you have talent and a great story here, so please get some help in editing. I will be buying the next one in hopes that you have found someone to proofread a little before you publish. Even the famous authors have editors correct their work. Keep writing!!!!

MIKE >> Completely Agree!  I mention in TKG04 that I screwed up and I am following this recommendation and others on the editing.  THANK YOU for your constructive criticism and I love that you spent the time to provide such a detailed review.  Also, love that you enjoyed the characters :-)

Note:  I see you were nice enough to give me a second chance w/ reading TKG02 - I (I’m sure) was screwed because that book was WORSE.  “F” my life :-(

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By Amazon Customer on January 1, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

I bought this book yesterday, the 31st of December. I just finished it this morning and then proceded to buy the 2nd book. I just finished it as well and after finishing this review, I will be purchasing the third book. If Amazon were like Steam, you could see the total number of books I purchased and the total number of reviews I have made. Think I have made less than 5 reviews and have several hundred E-books.

The author does a wonderful job keeping things interesting and funny. You never know when humor is going to strike. Also, a DS could possibly learn a thing or two in the inventive swearing department from this author. I greatly enjoyed the book and the series so far. The first book kinda starts a little slow though, but stick with it. II really hope the author keeps up the good work.

Support the author and buy the books, it is worth it. Trust me

MIKE >> Ok, just a quick note that if you say something like “see the total number of reviews” I stalk that like a duck hunter (duck hunters don’t stalk, but I do).  I DID look to see what reviews this customer had and I AM one of the few.  (I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!)    :-)

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By EmptyAcorn on January 9, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition

This series of books are fairly well written, with just some minor editing problems (e.g., wrong word). Much better than many other books I have read from Kindle unlimited. Fast paced and interesting, these books keep you in the story and moving along. They are a quick read and not really anything like a standard vampire/were book. I really enjoyed reading this book and quickly read the rest of the books available in the series. I am looking forward to more. I don't expect that everyone will like them, but I would suggest trying them. They read quickly. At least one review mentions a slow start, how long it takes for the main character to meet the vampire. I totally disagree with the reviewer. The author does a good job laying down a foundation but at the same time keeps the story interesting and engaging.

Yes, definitely not everyone will like them.  But I’m blessed YOU did!  I’ve got more, I’ve got more (this one, the next one…)

MIKE >> Ok, I also agree with the slow start.  I thought blowing Bill up right away was a pretty quick start.  I blew up a whole damn city block for … someone’s… sake.   I guess since we didn’t have additional firefights it was slower… (scratching chin).  I’ve considered going back to add content to #1 and then I read your review and now, not so sure.

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By verilog on December 25, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Read the first four books in a row, then re-read the first two (and working on 3 again now). Wow, can't wait for #5. I must have hundreds of kindle books in my collection and this series is in the top 10. I laughed and a one or two tears; few books can make that claim. Some minor editing issues, but doesn't take anything away from the great story.

<*** Spoiler ****>

My one nit is using Cisco blade servers. Really? WTF? How about a batch of new generation Intel Xeon Phi boards cheap as too difficult for normal developers to handle and thus Intel is trying to dump on the market. But wouldn't be too difficult for an AI to reprogram... And skip the old school SSDs and use MRAM on the boards and might as well toss in InfiniBand for interconnect. <g>

MIKE >> HAHAHAHAHA (again, LOL for you youngsters… I’m pushing closer to 50 than 40).   I was in the technology field for a LOOOONNNNGGG time.  I remember having flame wars over technology buried in landfills now.  I did reply to this review (sorry, the techie in me had to say something in his defense).  I’ve been out of the technology field for over 5 years now (mid 2009) so my technology chops are last generation (or 3) back.

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ByAmazon Customeron January 4, 2016

Format: Kindle Edition

Like other readers, I blew through the first 4 books in a few days. It's a fun ride with engaging characters. I came back to the first in the series to write this review mainly to encourage others to read these books. Try the sample. It just gets better. By the 4th book you will have many interesting characters to keep track of, and ever expand plot lines. There are surprisingly few editing errors, and if you are like me, the action is strong enough you will read right through. Get on. It's a fun ride.

MIKE >> Thank you!  Coming back to book #1 is important as this is (usually) the book that starts everything off :-).  I love the ‘Get on.  It’s a fun ride.’ Comment - Exactly the type of experience I was hoping to accomplish with the series.  A fun ride, some ups, some downs, but with a group of characters you wouldn’t mind calling friends.  Well, except for that a$$ Anton.

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ByTutton December 27, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

To date I have read all 4 books of this series and I. Have. LOVED. Them.

These books are just fun to read, and to think that at first I was so very sure I would not like them. Well, I was right, wasn’t I? I didn't like them; instead, I LOVED them. Be warned, that there is lots of cussin', but it's all good. cussin' is a barometer of the how serious one takes the subject matter. Bethany Anne is very serious about a LOT of subjects.

MIKE >> Tutt made me laugh a couple of times.  First, she is responsible for slapping me around on the author forum to ‘get over’ the editing stuff and the ‘Bethany Anne is very serious about a LOT of subjects’ with her cussin’. :-)

“I. Have. LOVED. Them.”  <- I want the t-shirt.

‘Cussin’  <-  Southern!  We say that in Texas, too.  Maybe ‘cursin’ - dropping the ‘g’.

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ByAmazon Customeron December 7, 2015

Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

I love Bethany Ann. I give very few reviews compared to how much I read but just had to write a few words. I'm going to Amazon as soon as I post this to buy more of the story. Enjoy it folks. You'll laugh shout cheer and in bgeneral have a blast

MIKE >> Another ‘read lots, reviews little’ that graced TKG01 with a review, THANK YOU!  I loved the ‘You’ll laugh, shout, cheer and in general have a blast’ comment, woohoo!  (Well, the “buy more of the story” warmed my pocketbook, as well.  The capitalistic indie writer that I’ve become is so embarrassing).

Not really… I can’t sell that - I love to see the books go up the charts.  I have a screen shot where I was higher in the ebooks > Top 100 horror authors chart above Anne Rice for maybe 10 seconds before she took the listing back and my super-sized head exploded. (Huge grin).

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ByGrazziton November 20, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

I really enjoy this series and will be reading them all. I like the direction it is taking and the possibilities. The Main character is fun, tough and smart.

The one problem is that it needs a through proof read to fix many broken sentences. A lot of missing or misused words.

MIKE >> Here is the review that I screwed up and answered (saying I would go back through the books and find the errors).  I read just seconds later on author forum to NOT answer reviews.  Oops.

Early, Early reviewer and trust me, seeing the “The Main character is fun, tough and smart” made my day!

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Bytegory612on November 10, 2015

Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

Just finished reading Death becomes her and I highly recommend it! It starts out rather slow as the backstories are built, but once the action starts, get ready for a great ride. I just hope the second book is released soon!

MIKE >> This review is probably responsible for me mainlining Coke (a cola)  to push out book #2.  I was now officially hooked on fulfilling the massive desire for the fans of Bethany Anne to get out book 2.

I might have been a bit premature on that second book, releasing a slightly immature product… Ok, majorly but what’s a few editing mistakes?

A whole lot, I figured out.  ;-)

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ByKindle Customeron November 6, 2015

Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

Excellent book. New take on things with a good developed cast of characters, Good Plot and good Pacing. Looking forward to book 2

MIKE >> The first, the review that started it all… The avalanche of awesomeness.  Well, for me anyway!  I can remember when I got this first review and I felt 10 feet tall.  Then immediately hit head on door frame leaving room.

<Paragraph of expletives, that shit hurts)


P.S. - If you like these comments and want to see more, or tell me to ‘f#cking drop them’ - let me know on Facebook!


Are you one of those people who just have to stay until the very end?

Yes?

Well, I guess I can share something with you, then.

KNEEL OR DIE

WE WILL BUILD

ITS HELL TO CHOSE

RELEASE THE DOGS

SUED FOR PEACE

WE HAVE CONTACT

MY RIDES A BITCH

(MORE)


Still here?  [email protected]

It’s the credits… I don’t have anything else…


YET >>


— The future —

One hundred years later, on a planet with only a number, a Kurtherian clan successfully over powered a small contingent of the Queens Wechselbalg Guardians.  When they finally killed the last, the aliens with purpose and malice desecrated the fallen bodies.  The next day, a Spec-Ops group was called in to retake the position.  Finding the desecrated bodies, they called in and explained in voice, audio and video what had been done to their brothers.

That video was sent up the chain until it reached the top Guardian in Command.  He immediately walked down the hallway and up a flight of stairs to meet with the Queen who was discussing the strategy for the fronts across the galaxy.  The meeting she was having, once it was explained what had been done to her Guardians, was immediately ended.  She told those she was working with that they should move ahead as they thought best.  She would be back, “Sometime, but probably not too soon.”

The Queen and the G.I.C. arrived within forty-eight hours on planet and with honors laid her fallen to rest.  A video was made of the Spec-Ops group with the Guardian in Command and the Queen, her eyes glowing red, ripping into the military and then the political infrastructure for three weeks on that planet.  By the time the Queen was finished, there wasn’t a representative of that clan alive and she issued an edict to fight all battles with that clan ‘to the knife’.  Within six weeks, any sentient being got the message that you did not dishonor the Queen’s Guardians and may your deity have mercy on your soul if you should.

The Queen’s military, especially her Guardians would seek that clan any chance they had. Within a year, the clan sued for peace asking to be adopted by others of their kind.  None would take them.  The last heard of the clan was of their effort to reach into unknown space, forever fleeing the wrath of the Queen and her Guardians.

— The future —



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

AN EVENING OFF

Bethany Anne finally had a few hours to herself and was standing in front of her suite’s TV.

Why don’t you have a coven?

Excuse me?  

I asked, why don’t you have a coven?

Bethany Anne was nonplussed.  She had been looking through the DVD’s that Ecaterina had ordered for her.  She had expected to watch a little more Star Trek, or maybe Star Wars (four through six, she didn’t want to ruin the story for TOM right off the bat).

What the hell are you talking about?

Well, and don’t get upset with the kitchen crew…

Stop right there.

Gott Verdammt!  She had already decreed they weren’t supposed to watch bullshit TV up in the kitchen because TOM could hear it, and then he got ideas.  Usually annoying ideas he would pull out and ask her about at the most fucked up inopportune times.

Like right now.

When did they do this thing which I’m not supposed to get upset with them for?

Possibly over the last few days…

Bethany Anne sighed.  That meant she would have to throw every fucking one of the kitchen help off the Polarus…  preferably while they were underway.  Dammit, that wasn’t going to work.  Bethany Anne didn’t require food, but she did enjoy it and tossing off the whole group was, perhaps, a little much.  Well, depending on what TOM had to discuss.

What happened?  What were they watching?

They weren’t watching anything, they were listening.

Ok, what were they listening to?

A book.

Bethany Anne was getting frustrated, not an unusual occurrence when trying to pull information out of TOM.  She rubbed her face.

Does this book have a name?

Yes.

What is it?

Bill the Vampire.

Bethany Anne searched her memory, nope.  She didn’t remember any vampire books with ‘Bill’ in the name.

Who is the author?

Rick Gualtieri.

Another nope.  Anne Rice, check. Bram Stoker, of course.  Hell, she had even heard of Stephanie Meyer and Jim Butcher but not a ‘Rick’ in the bunch.

And I take it this book had vampires who were in covens, correct?

Yes.

She was making headway.

Did the vampires sparkle?

Don’t be ridiculous, but they did go up in a big ball of flame if you staked them.

Damn, that would be un-fucking-believable if that only worked in real life.  Maybe she should see if she could find the Blade Trilogy to watch with TOM.

Beautiful ladies, handsome men cavorting all around?

Ah, no.  Bill is slightly overweight and is a closet nerd and swears as much as you do, perhaps not as creatively, but parental guidance is suggested.

So why didn’t you get permission from me to listen to the book?

I’m 35 times older than you. Why would I need your permission?

So I don't decide to just end my life when you ask me stupid-ass question in the middle of picking out a movie.

I don’t consider it a stupid question, it is a fair question related to the organizational structure of vampires.  Since you are now the Queen, I thought it might be a relevant question.

Bethany Anne put the DVD she was looking at back in the box and walked over to her bed.  She grabbed her iPad and got comfortable.  Apparently, she was going to need to speed read the damn book so she could have a coherent conversation.

It had better not put her to sleep.

Ten minutes later, she closed her iPad.

Ok, TOM.  Not bad.

You laughed thirty-two times.

Ok, but he was fucking funny and Sally was just the sort of vampire I…

Well, don’t let Bethany Anne and TOM ruin the story.  Rick has been nice enough to let me insert part of the Story TOM listened to here at the end.  If you like it, there is a link at the end to go check out the reviews and pick it up for yourself.  Hopefully, it will tied you over until UNDER MY HEEL Releases in a few weeks!

Bill the Vampire

The Tome of Bill

Part 1

Rick Gualtieri

The Day I Died

*Thud, thud* Okay, somebody needs to turn off their goddamn stereo before I put my foot up their ass. God forbid a guy be allowed to sleep off a major bender without some dickhead blasting their bass to eleven. At least, I think it was a major bender. I know I’m asleep, but I can still feel the room spinning. Yeah, I’ve gotta be drunk off my ass.

The funny thing is, I don’t remember getting shitfaced, although that doesn’t mean anything. The best parties are sometimes the ones you don’t remember. Still, I’m not even sure I went to a party last night. It is morning, right? I can’t see anything. Well, duh, my eyes are closed.

Okay, my eyes aren’t opening. I guess I must be pretty trashed.

*Thud, thud* There it is again. For fuck’s sake! Some days I hate living here. There’s always some little white bread, teenaged douche pumping out Tupac from his daddy’s Beemer because he’s sure he can relate to life on the streets. Although why is it so loud? Maybe the window’s open. I should get up and close it. Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m out cold. I can’t really check the window in my current state. Oh, well, maybe I’ll get lucky and some real gangstas will come cruising down the block and pop a few caps in homey’s upper middle class ass.

*Thud, thud* ARGH! It’s really starting to piss me off now. Huh? What the hell was that? Holy shit, are those voices? Maybe I'm not at home, after all. If that's the case, I must still be at a party. Oh, crap. I hate passing out at someone else's place. I really hope they aren’t drawing dicks on my face. The last time that happened, the fuckers used a permanent Sharpie. Let me tell you how much fun that was to scrub off. Probably took off five layers of skin, and you could still see it. Tom was an asshole about it, too. He kept pretending to be helpful just to get a laugh. “You want me to go to the store for you, dickface?” “I’ll get it. Hello? Oh, Bill? Sorry, he can’t come to the phone right now. He's too busy trying to wipe cock off his face. Can you call back later?” One of these days, I’ve really gotta get my own apartment.

*Thud, thud* Okay, it's getting a little lower now. The song must be ending. I still can’t make out what the voices are saying, but at least it doesn’t sound like laughter. That’s good. Hopefully it means they haven’t started using my face as an easel yet. Maybe I can still wake up before that happens.

Jeez, my body still isn’t responding. Man, what the hell was I drinking? Even passed out, I still feel seriously fucked up. I’m wondering if maybe I was doing a little more than drinking. I vaguely remember Ed saying something about scoring a few joints. Shit! I hope they weren’t laced with Drano or something - although that might explain why I’m lying here, having an internal soliloquy. Hold on, though, didn't that happen last week?

*Thud, thud* Why does that sound so familiar? I don’t usually listen to any shit rap music, but damn if that doesn’t ring a bell. It’s right on the tip of my tongue...UGH! Speaking of my tongue, what the hell is that taste in my mouth? Oh, shit. Please don’t let me have puked. There’s nothing worse than puking at a party and waking up in it. Nobody ever gets laid after that. Well, okay, puke or not, it’s been a while since I scored at a party, but it could still happen...maybe. Although not if I’m lying in a swimming pool of my own spew.

Crap! I hope someone turned me on my side. The last thing I want to do is pull a Hendrix. Okay, okay, relax. No one is that big an asshole. If I can hear them talking, then that probably means I’m all right.

*Thud, thud* It was weird tasting puke, anyway; kind of coppery. Oh, okay. Maybe I didn’t puke. I probably bit the inside of my mouth instead. That makes sense. Hopefully, I just bit the inside of my mouth. Damn! What if this is some kind of seizure? I could have bitten off my own damn tongue, and these assholes are just standing around debating the artistic merits of penises on my face. Maybe that’s why I can’t wake up. I popped a blood vessel in my brain and even now, I’m spiraling into a coma.

Still, I don’t think I’d be quite as lucid if I were in a coma. Then again, I haven’t been in enough comas to know what it'd be like. All right, calm down. I'd probably feel it if my tongue was bitten off. I think that would be a wee bit on the painful side. Okay, I need to try and concentrate. Let's see...I can still taste that crap in my mouth, but I can sorta feel my tongue, too. At least I think I can.

I tried moving it around a bit inside my mouth. Yeah, I still had a tongue...OW! What the hell was that? Had my tongue a second ago, but I’m not so sure now. What the hell? Did someone stick a razor blade in my freaking mouth?

*Thud, thud* Thank God. The music was barely a whisper now. That damn song just went on forever. It’s funny that I can hear the bass, but nothing else, though. It still sounds so familiar. Almost like a...

Oh, no.

That can’t be right.

*Thud, thud*

It can’t be.

Please don’t let that be my heart that I’m hearing.

*Thud*

Oh, shit!

I am choking on my own puke.

Or having a seizure.

*Thud*

Or a goddamn brain aneurysm.

*Thu...*

Ohcrapohcrapohcrap!

Okay, I shouldn't worry. I’m sure someone will start CPR on me.

Any second now.

Any minute now.

Come on, people. I only have a few minutes here before that whole brain death thing.

FUCK!

Please start beating again.

Pretty please.

It’s not fair. I still have so many reasons to live. I was going to go out with Sheila. Well, okay, maybe. One of these days, certainly. Hell, I would have gotten to it eventually. You don’t just walk up to an insanely hot chick like that and ask her out, especially when you look like me. You have to work your way up to it. Sure, it’s been two years, but I was almost there, dammit. Now it’s all gone.

Or it will be all gone.

Any minute now, it’ll be all gone.

Jeez, this death thing isn’t quite like I thought it would be. I can still taste whatever is in my mouth. Yep, I can still move my tongue, too. Can dead people move their tongues? I don’t know. I haven’t Frenched too many corpses.

Okay, this is starting to get a bit odd. Shouldn’t I be seeing a tunnel with a light at the end? Maybe I’ll see Grandma and Grandpa - hell, maybe even Elvis is waiting for me at the end of it.

Nope, nothing.

No, that’s not quite true. Is that...yes. I can feel my left arm now. Do dead people start getting sensation back? Hmmm, I can’t move it much, but it feels like I’m lying on something soft. No, I’m not in my bed. It feels like carpet. Yep, I’m definitely on a floor somewhere. It feels thick...kinda like a...oh, no...a shag carpet. Either I’m stuck in a bad seventies’ flashback, or I’m at that...

Loft!

 Oh, fuck! And with that, the fog suddenly clears from my head. I can remember where I am and how I got here. If I’m right about what’s going on, then a face full of dicks isn’t going to sound all that bad in comparison.

Before I Became the Dearly Departed

Okay, let’s back up a little bit. I’m probably getting ahead of myself. Before I bore you with little things, like, say, my death, I should probably fill you in on the basics first. How’s that sound? Okay, then let’s start over, shall we?

My name is Bill, Bill Ryder. William Anderson Ryder, if you want to be formal, although I’m not sure why you’d want to be formal with a dead guy. It’s a pretty cool name, if you ask me, although it did get a little annoying a few years ago when The Matrix came out. For a couple of months, I had to deal with every single person I know ending everything they said to me with, “Mr. Anderson” in a deadpan voice. It was funny the first time, much less so the five-thousandth time. Anyway, I’ve always liked how my initials spell out WAR, kind of like W. Axl Rose, if a bit less cool, maybe. Not that much less cool, at least these days, but a bit. Although, since I go by “Bill” my friends have always pointed out that BAR might be a better acronym. I can’t really complain about that one either, since under duress I might admit to spending a decent amount of time pounding back cold ones on the weekends.

Now, I’d love to tell you that I’m a private detective, maybe a boy wizard in training, or even a normal Joe by day/superhero by night, but that would be stretching the truth just a bit. As with all things, reality tends to be less exciting than what we would hope it would be. Here are the basics: I’m twenty-four, currently single, and with no real potential hopefuls in sight. Well, there is Sheila, but we’ll get back to her later, especially since I’m not one hundred percent certain she’d be able to pick me out of a police lineup, not that she has any reason to. It’s not like I’ve been stalking her these past few years. Sure, I know where she lives, what time she gets to work, what her favorite perfume is, but I assure you I’m definitely not stalking her. Really.

Oh, yeah, and she has this super cute ass that shakes so nicely when she walks...

Okay, sorry. Sometimes I get caught up in the moment. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the basics...I’m twenty-four; I think I might have mentioned that already. I have short brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, am maybe an inch or two above average height, and about twenty...well, okay, maybe thirty pounds overweight. I’m not quite a hideous mutant, but I don’t exactly have the ladies swarming all over me like pigs in shit, either. That might have something to do with the fact that I probably look like someone who’d be right at home sitting around a D&D game (which I might admit to doing occasionally...or every Sunday, whichever comes first).

I have a degree in Computer Science from NJIT, graduated with honors, et cetera. I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy. Maybe not MIT material (fucking elitist cocksuckers!), but I can hold my own in front of a dual monitor setup. Speaking of which, I work as a game programmer for Hopskotchgames.com. You’ve probably heard of them. You know Jewel Smash? Yep, that was me, baby. That little gem (no pun intended) alone has made the company millions in online revenue. I dare say I got a nice little bonus on that one...emphasis on little. Cheap bastards. But still, I can’t complain, at least not too much. I make more than enough to support my “lavish” lifestyle, I get full benefits, and can work from home pretty much whenever I feel like it. Overall, there are far worse places to be employed. Don't get me wrong, though. The second I win the lottery, those guys can go fuck themselves sideways.

Anyway, my said lavish lifestyle consists of the top floor apartment of a building in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. I share it with my two aforementioned roomies, Ed and Tom. Ed is my partner in crime over at Hopskotchgames. He does graphical design for them, and we’ve partnered on more than a few of their top downloads. We met in college, and he's the one who got me the interview over there. Ed’s a good guy, if a little odd. He’s got a lot of talent, but is absolutely the least passionate artist I have ever met. Life is one big “Meh!” to him. Some days I think you’d need to set him on fire and cut his balls off with a dull hacksaw to get a reaction out of him, not that I fantasize much about setting him on fire...or his balls, for that matter. But you get the idea.

As for Tom, he’s my main bud. I’ve known him for almost twenty years. Of everyone I know, I’d vote him the most likely in the next decade or so to wind up in a twenty-room mansion with a hot trophy wife by his side. Tom’s all about the money. He works over in the Manhattan financial district. Right now, he’s little more than a toady to the higher-ups, but he assures me that’s the way things work there. You latch onto some upwardly mobile VP like a remora (in this case, attaching your lips firmly to their ass) and let them drag you up the ranks. He rounds that part out by also being an obsessive collector. His dad got him into it when he was young, and then Tom’s OCD took over and kept it going in overdrive ever since. He’s got a storage bin back in Jersey, where we grew up, filled to the brim with comic books and action figures. That doesn’t even count the stuff he keeps locked in his bedroom. Most of it is worth shit now, and will probably be forever, but he’s got a few nice pieces. Just don’t let him catch you playing with any of them. Dude is a little psycho about it. I once repositioned his He-Man figure to be giving it to Princess Leia doggy-style and you'd have thought I had poisoned his family. Shit, if I ever did poison his family, he'd probably get over it quicker.

So, that’s me. Not exactly Bruce Wayne, but then again, I’m not a basket case still living at home with Mom and Dad, either. My life is steady if a little dull: get up, get some work done, eat some food, then go back to sleep. Rinse and repeat until the weekend, when it’s more or less collect my paycheck, hang out with my friends, and bitch about the rest of the week. Some day I hope to get married, have a few kids, and then I’ll probably settle into the same routine again. Except then I’ll spend my weekends with my wife, bitching about the rest of the week. You know how it is. My plan is a lot like anyone else's. Maximize my good times, minimize my bad, and leave the larger stuff to people who give more of a shit than I do.

Or at least that was the plan, but then I had to go and fuck it all up by dying.

The Day before the Day I Died

So, let’s get back to my untimely death, all right? Let me start by saying, fuck SoHo! Yeah, that’s what I said. I have never, ever had a good experience there. Every person I know who lives there is a douchebag. Every job interview I’ve ever had there has been conducted by assholes. Every restaurant I’ve ever eaten at there has sucked; and when the food didn’t suck, the service sure as hell did. It is a place where the tragically hip go to die, and people with more fashion sense than brain cells gather like moths to a flame. So, I should have known better than to wind up at a party there. Even more so, I should’ve known that the sweet piece of ass that invited me was far too good to be true.

Saturday had started off well enough. It was a nice day; clear and just cool enough for a light jacket. Tom headed out to spend the day with his parents and his cute little sister (who, in just another two years, is going to be old enough to jerk off to legally...not that I would. Well, okay, talk to me in two years and we’ll see. Just don’t tell him I said that). As for Ed, he was holed up in his bedroom/home office. He was a little behind on the level design of a new project, and wanted to burn off some weekend hours to get it done. The rest of my local friends were busy, so that left me, myself, and I.

I grabbed a couple of Egg McMuffins in the A.M. from the McDonalds on 86th street, and then jumped onto the R train to head into the city. I didn’t really have much of a plan. I figured I’d spend a few bucks, grab lunch, and then head back. Maybe I’d see if anyone was up for some bar hopping in the evening. I gotta admit, dying wasn’t on my to-do list. But hey, live and learn, I guess...or is that don’t live and learn?

Okay, so the first part of my day went pretty much as expected. I popped into the Complete Strategist to grab a few new D&D minis (my current one just wasn’t doing justice to my High-Elf Battlemage) as well as a few new rule supplements that had come out. I plunked down enough cash so that, thanks to me, some executive at Wizards of the Coast could now continue paying their child’s college education. I walked over to midtown and spent a little time at the Apple Store, where for about the hundredth time, I stood around debating the merits of buying myself an iPad, and for the hundredth time, decided that maybe I’d hold off for now. After that, I grabbed a few slices of pizza and then headed down to the subway again. In retrospect, I should have loitered for a while longer. If that had happened, I wouldn’t have met her, and, well...I’d still be alive.

But you’re not here to catch the story about Bill, the guy who went home, met up with some friends, and then spent the rest of his Saturday night drunkenly arguing over who the hottest chick on Smallville was, are you? No, you’re not. So, as I was saying, I went to grab the train back to Brooklyn. Not really wanting to mingle with the weekend crowd, I wandered to the end of the platform where there were only a few people waiting. That turned out to be a big mistake.

The train took its sweet time, and I was just starting to tire of the perpetual stench of hobo urine when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Being a city resident, I reacted naturally. That is, I spun around quickly, sure I was about to get mugged - hoping I looked intimidating enough (doubtful) to give my would-be attackers second thoughts.

“A bit jumpy, aren’t you?” said the petite little thing staring back at me. She was no more than five-three, maybe a hundred and five soaking wet (excuse me while I consider the image of her soaking wet...ah, yes. Quite nice. Now, back to our story...), and totally smoking hot. She had medium-length blonde hair with green highlights, but aside from that little oddity, she looked like she could have just stepped out of a fashion shoot...or a strip club. I’d love to give you something cliché here, like she was dressed all in black, or had an ominous air about her. But the truth is, she was a very good-looking, well-dressed woman. Outside of the fact that she was talking to me, there was nothing about her that was really screaming threat.

Anyway, before things could stretch out to an awkward silence (or, more importantly, before it became obvious that I was undressing her with my eyes), I answered her. “Sorry about that. You just surprised me.”

“Whatever,” she said, obviously nonplussed with my answer. “Have a light?”

“I don’t smoke.” Were people even allowed to do that on the platform anymore?

“Figures. Then, have you got the time?”

That I can do,” I said as I brought my watch up to my face, being careful not to take my eyes off her. I had heard on CNN a few years back that some gang members did this to distract a person so they could slash them with a razor. Okay, she didn’t exactly look like a gang-banger per se, but still, it’s best to be careful. She apparently noticed my paranoia because she smirked in return.

“About one-thirty,” I answered, feeling overly self-conscious.

“Thank you.”

And well, that was it. She stepped back and went into that thousand-yard stare mode that is so common of people waiting for a train. And yet, I couldn't help but feel like she was still giving me the once over out of the corner of her eye. However, I dismissed the feeling as nothing more than wishful thinking. After all, what straight guy doesn't have “yeah, she wants me” thoughts running through his head the second a hot babe like her asks him an innocuous question?

Okay, I lied about the “that was it” part. It was just “it” for the platform. Turns out “it” started up again when the train pulled in and we got on. The last car was fairly empty, and the few of us there had the luxury of being able to sit, as well as doing so without being too close to each other. Just to be on the safe side, though, I grabbed a corner seat. Should the population inside the train suddenly swell, I could at least take comfort in knowing that I wouldn't wind up the meat in some smelly, weekend commuter sandwich. If you're thinking that I'm next going to tell you how my stripper “friend” (definitely a stripper - a model probably wouldn't have said a word to me had I been on fire) sat down next to me, then give yourself a prize. You, my friend, are either psychic, or at least not a complete idiot.

Now, just to digress for a moment, I made myself a promise a long time ago. I promised myself that, in my next life, I was going to come back hot. Not just attractive, but Johnny Depp-like (as every woman I have ever known will testify), women's panties will get moist if I even look in their direction hot. Call me shallow, but I don't give a damn what anyone else thinks. The world just has so many more possibilities when you're hot. Case in point: my attractive subway stalker. She sat down next to me, immediately grabbed my shopping bag with no more than a quick, “So whatcha got there?” and started rifling through it. Forget the ugly beasts of the world, if even an average-looking stranger tried that, they'd either get immediately decked, or pointed out to the cops at the next station. But someone hot? They can both get away with it and know that they will. The world is just unfair. On the other hand, I didn't see anyone else in the car with a smokin’ piece sitting next to them, so I figured I'd cut the world some slack...just this once, mind you.

So, there she was, going through my stuff, while I just sat there doing nothing except tensing up in case she bolted when the doors next opened. Yeah, yeah, I know, but gaming minis aren't cheap. I don't care what you look like - get your own goddamned swordmage.

Speaking of which, she pulled it out of the bag and gave me a questioning glance. Okay, there went that fantasy of hooking up with the world’s hottest gamer chick.

“Um. It's for my nephew,” I stupidly blurted out. She, in return, gave another look that told me I had about a zero percent chance of her buying that answer.

I didn't fail to notice the quick eye-roll she made as she put my new mini back in the bag. She then went back to ignoring the basic rules of “don't touch what isn't yours.” Pulling out my new books, she began thumbing through them with an expression that appeared to be a combination of pity and humor. In a bit of foreshadowing that only happens in the most desperate of stories, she happened to stop on one in particular.

“Now, this is cute,” she said, handing me the latest revision to the Manual of the Undead.

“Have to keep up with the rule changes,” I stammered, no doubt continuing my unbroken streak of lowering her initial opinion of me.

“Sure you do.” Then she got a bit of a far away look in her eye. “Rules are important. We all have them. Even me.”

“You play...”

“Not THOSE kind of rules. But rules nevertheless,” she cryptically continued. “There are all sorts of games...some a little more adult than others.”

Okay... it was time to shift a bit in my seat, as my pants were suddenly feeling a tad too tight.

She let the uncomfortable silence stretch a moment longer before her mood lightened. Handing back my purchases, she held out her hand. “Sorry for teasing you. I'm Sally.”

Not quite believing the reality I had somehow stepped into, I mimicked her movement. “No problem. I'm Bill. Bill Ryder,” I said as I shook her hand. (YES! Houston, we have achieved physical contact.)

“Pleasure to meet you, Bill Ryder.”

Now, here I will once more meander from my recollection of my days amongst the still living, and just point out that, no, I didn't notice anything odd about the handshake. I'd love to tell you that her hand was overly cold and clammy, or that perhaps she had a grip that would have made a much stronger man wince. But the truth is...well, okay, the truth is that her hand could have been covered in scales and crawling with hornets and I wouldn't have noticed. I was kind of lost in the moment. You always hear reports on the news about people who have just won the lottery, and they always recount with exact detail what they were doing when they found out. Bullshit, I say. When any major Holy Shit moment occurs, we tend to go a bit numb, and then maybe later we'll try to fill in the details as best we can. Well, that was as close as I've come to one of those moments in a long time. Besides, there were far more interesting things than hands in front of me. Oh, well, maybe next time I hook up with an apex predator with killer cleavage, I'll be a little more attentive.

Anyway, continuing my streak of witty banter, I then asked, “So, come here often?” Yeah, I know, it's amazing I don't get laid every night, isn't it?

Another eye-roll (jeez, did I really sound that pathetic?) and she responded with a banal, “Only when I need to get somewhere.”

Okay, it was time to dig deep down and try to find that little bit of adult dialogue, which I knew was hiding somewhere inside of me. “Sorry, that was kinda lame. What I meant to ask is whether you hang out in Manhattan often?”

“Much better,” she acknowledged with a smile, “And the answer is ‘yes.’ I actually live not too far from here. I have a little place in SoHo. You?”

“Brooklyn, myself. I was just doing a little shopping today.”

“I can tell.” She gestured down at the bags through which she had just finished rifling.

“You?”

“Me what?”

“What are you up to?” I asked.

“Well, besides talking to a very nervous-sounding (and here I thought I was being so smooth) guy on the train, I was just out enjoying the day. Since the nervous-sounding guy I'm talking to also sounds like a fairly decent fellow (bonus!), I'd say it’s going pretty well,” she replied, her tone friendly. Damn, she had a nice smile...amongst other awesome parts.

Sensing an opening, I pounced...figuratively. “There's still plenty of day left.”

“That there is,” she agreed...hot damn, I was a playa.

“Well, it's pretty nice outside. I don't suppose you'd maybe like to take a quick walk through the park? Maybe we could grab a coffee at one of those sidewalk cafes.”

She frowned a bit at that (oh crap, we're losing the patient). “Sorry, I can't.”

I've been there before, so I knew the drill to try to save a little bit of my crushed ego. “No. I didn't mean it like that, I...”

But she cut me off before I could finish. “It's not you, silly. I'm not really up for a bit of sun right now (aha! There's that bit of foreshadowing I should have been paying attention to). Besides, we're almost at my stop. I have some stuff to get done before tonight.”

Okay, the deal wasn't dead yet. The door was still hanging open, so I put my foot in it.

“What's tonight?” I asked.

“A couple of my friends are coming over. I'm throwing a little party.”

“That's cool.” Yeah, I was back to being lame.

“It's nothing big.”

“A little get together with close friends is always fun.”

“You think so?” she turned to look me dead in the eye. “I don't suppose you'd want to come?” she continued, her tone changing, almost becoming shy. “I mean, I know we just met. I don't want to come across as too aggressive.”

Too aggressive? Christ, she could’ve thrown me down and raped me right there on the subway and I still wouldn't have considered that too aggressive. Note to self: remember that little fantasy for later on when I'm alone.

“No, no, it's cool,” I said, trying to reassure her. “I'm not really too busy tonight (an understatement if ever there was one). I could pop by.”

“Really? Are you sure?” She brightened at my answer, sitting straight up - her chest jiggling slightly from the sudden movement. I tried and probably failed to pretend I hadn’t noticed.

“Why wouldn't I be?” I asked, attempting not to sound too desperately excited.

“Well, you seem like a sweet guy, and I'm just warning you now, my friends can get a little rowdy.”

“I can handle rowdy. They raise us tough in Brooklyn,” I fibbed.

“All right then, it's a date.”

A date? As in a “be somewhere together, maybe hold hands, maybe maybe make out, and if things go really well...wake up together” type of date? Hell, yeah! Damn, as soon as I told someone about this, my cred amongst my buddies would automatically shoot up by about ten thousand percent.

“Sounds good,” I casually replied, managing to stifle the part of my brain that wanted instead to shout, “OH YEAH, BABY! MAKE ME YOUR PLAYTHING!”

“Great.” She actually appeared genuinely pleased.

“So, what time does this soiree get started?”

“Show up any time after dark,” she said with a glimmer in her eye. “Here's the address; come up to the third floor,” she removed a pen from her purse, then took my hand and wrote on it. Wow. Didn't think that happened outside of the movies. This was starting to turn into a letter to a smut rag. “Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me...

A moment later, the train stopped and Sally popped to her feet, her tight body moving in all the right ways

“This is me,” she said as she walked to the door. “Hope to see you there.” She then stepped out onto the platform and gave a little wave.

I glanced down at the address on my hand, figuring it was best to memorize it, lest my palm get all sweaty. I looked up again, a scant second later, and Sally was gone. I jumped to my feet and stuck my head out the door to give her a quick wave goodbye, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Had I been in a slightly less euphoric mood, I might have noticed that we were at the very end of the station. The nearest stairs were a hundred feet away off to the right. There's no way she could have gotten there in the time I looked away. To the left...there was only the darkness of the subway tunnel.

A Party to Die For

It's amazing how just a few random events can turn things into the perfect shit storm. Under normal circumstances, Tom or Ed (or most likely both) would have been home when I arrived and, between the three of us, we would have probably psyched each other out and just blown the whole damn thing off in favor of going out for pizza. Not that we're allergic to fine women, or anti-social, or anything, but I have no doubt the whole “too good to be true” aspect of it all would have come up and realistic heads would have prevailed. Well, either that or we would have all been enticed by the possibility of some prime pussy, and the three of us would now be lying around, kind of dead. I give it a fifty/fifty shot of either scenario occurring, and, since I'm not a complete asshole, I guess in the end, only one of us biting the big one is better than our families having to throw a triple funeral.

Regardless, none of that came to pass. As I mentioned, Tom was at his family's house for the day. Ed must have taken a break and gone out for a bite to eat, because he wasn't home, either. That left me. Just great. I knew that, with no real voice of reason to turn to, I'd be left with just my own thoughts. The problem was the voice in my head that typically reasons with me pretty much sounds like a harsher amalgam of my two roommates. Where they might have decided on a different course of action for the evening, I knew that if I considered, for even a second, not going to this party, I'd have to contend with my own subconscious mercilessly assaulting me for being a pansy-ass loser with questionable sexual orientation.

Oh, well. At the time, I figured the worst-case scenario would be that I'd be out a few bucks for train fare. At least I would have killed a few hours that otherwise would’ve just been wasted on some online raid with my guild brothers. A definite night of World of Warcraft versus the slight chance of hooking up with some chick straight from the pages of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Millions of people play the Powerball lottery each week with much worse odds. So, ultimately, I figured, why the hell not?

I nuked myself a couple of pieces of chicken (no point in heading toward probable disappointment hungry) and then proceeded to clean myself up - figuring simple was best. I wouldn't even know what to wear to look “cool” in the Village, so instead opted for business casual. That was usually a safe way to go when in doubt, at least during company meetings. I was just winging it here. It might not be the coolest attire, but at least I wouldn't look scummy. Hopefully, Sally wasn't one of those chicks who was into dating dirt bags. Speaking of which...was this really a date? Sure, the word had come up, but the reality was I had no idea. Hell, I wasn't even sure I'd give her a ten percent chance of being there, so worrying about it being a date or not seemed to be getting a little ahead of myself. Ooh, Sally and a little head. Now there's a possibility I could get behind. Anyhow...

I got myself together as best as I could. I wasn’t a male model by any stretch of the imagination, but not exactly pre-Subway Jared-looking, either. It'd do. I grabbed my keys and wallet (stuffing an emergency $20 into one of my socks...momma didn't raise no complete fool), then stepped out to meet my fate...literally, as it turns out.

* * *

Saturday night trains are a lot like rush hour trains. People are in a hurry to get where they're going and, for the most part, stay out of each other’s way. Even the homeless mostly seem to understand this, and the onslaught of panhandling lessens a bit during these times. After all, getting in front of a determined person headed from point A to point B is a good way to get trampled. Thus, it was that I rode the N train to the stop closest to my destination. It let me off about five short blocks away from where I was headed, which I was able to walk with no problem.

In retrospect, the whole trip was a little underwhelming. If Hollywood has taught me anything, it's that fateful journeys like these are filled with foreshadowing. It should have been storming outside, but it was crystal clear. I should have been accosted by at least one semi-crazed, but mysteriously wizened, stranger on the train, warning me of dire doom, but instead I managed to snag a seat, and nobody even batted an eye in my direction. For Christ sakes, the address I was given should have been some popular, but inexplicably creepy, nightclub with a non-subtle name like Type-O, or maybe The Blud Room, but noooo. Instead, the main floor of the building was a fairly nondescript bar. Loud and full, but not packed, and certainly not crawling with creeps that were practically screaming, “Come in here and we'll drain your ass dry.” It figures. The world can't even deliver me clichés correctly.

My instructions were to use the side door and walk up to the third floor. I pressed the buzzer and was immediately let in. There was no challenge of “Who dares trespass?” No hulking bouncer opened the door, only to give me an evil smirk to let me know I was fresh meat. It was just a stairwell. Jeez!

As I climbed, the sounds changed slightly. The techno-rock music from the first floor was fairly muted by the time I reached the second floor landing. As I continued upward, it was slowly drowned out by a different techno beat. This was SoHo, after all.

Oh, by the way, in case you had forgotten from earlier...fuck SoHo!

Now, where was I? Yeah, yeah, still a fucking corpse, but I'm getting back to that. I'm still doing the whole life flashing before my eyes bit...although it's odd that the majority of the flashback seems to only be from the last twelve hours, but whatever. It’s not like I was an expert in the rules of the afterlife, at least not yet.

Reaching the third floor, the source of the new music, I knocked...and knocked again...and then knocked a third time. Didn't these guys just buzz me in? I was about to turn around and leave, visions of Sally and her friends (hot friends no doubt...and while we're on this fantasy, let's say hot nude friends) standing there, laughing at my idiocy, going through my not-surprised-in-the-least mind, when finally the door opened.

If this were a trashy romance novel, I'm sure the guy standing in the door would be described to the rapidly moistening female reader by his perfect hair, dazzling eyes, and bulging muscles. However, here in the real world, guys like me tend to see dudes like him and automatically assume one thing about them; that they will, in all likelihood, be complete asshole douchebags.

“What?” Douchebag asked in a bored tone (All right. At least one cliché was holding true tonight), looking me over as if I were something unpleasant he had stepped in.

“Sally invited me.” I tried to sound equally as bored as I replied to this fellow who looked uncomfortably like some of the jocks who’d handed me ass-kickings back in high school. At this, though, his demeanor noticeably changed. He straightened up and adopted an easy smile. Sure, he still looked like a douche, but at least now he was a douche who was acting...err... less douchey.

“Cool. Come on in,” he said, opening the door wider, letting out more of the insufferable techno crap that was playing. “Sorry about the attitude, buddy. Never know who's knocking. Gotta watch out for the narcs.” (Narcs? What was this, 1985?)

“No prob,” I answered, following him in. “Bill.”

“Huh?” Obviously he was already losing interest in me.

“I said my name is Bill.” And with that, I held out my hand.

“Oh. That's cool,” he answered, leaving my gesture of friendship dangling there. “Sally's around here somewhere. Just chill and she'll find you.” He turned away toward more interesting fare.

Douchebag or not, I can't say I really blamed him. Once I was dismissed, I took a second to look around. Hmm, it was an interesting place; kinda had a retro feel to it. Not that it was very surprising, considering what part of the city I was in. Every place in this area either was trying to be cutting-edge hip, or latching onto some past decade like it was coming back into style. This place had a definite “groovy” vibe to it, minus maybe the music that was playing. As for the partygoers...whoa...the partygoers. Damn! The only parties I’ve ever seen that looked even remotely like this were all on TV. Every chick could have passed for a swimsuit model, and I doubted any of the guys benched under two-fifty. I tried not to gawk as my brain attempted to process exactly when I had left reality and wandered onto the set of Gossip Girl. Forget the decor; they could have decorated the place as a Black Plague death pit and it wouldn't have mattered one iota.

I was starting to become acutely aware of how much I didn't fit in when I noticed a similarly out-of-place fellow off in a corner being chatted up by a tasty redhead. He was about ten years older than me, nearly bald, and looked like he'd be more at home at an accountants’ convention. Not that I should be judging, but it felt good to know there was at least one other person here who I'd stack up pretty well against. Sorry, but maybe it's a guy thing. Whenever there are women around, the whole Bros before Hoes concept goes right out the window, and I start checking out the situation to see who's higher and lower than me on the food chain, so to speak.

Regardless, he was also the only person in sight that I was not immediately intimidated by. I was thinking about heading over and introducing myself as the only other “normal” guy here, when I began to notice that I wasn't. Scattered throughout the crowd were more sore thumbs, guys much closer to geek than chic on the social scale, all being kept company by women way out of their (our) league. Damn, I thought, they must either all be rich or have huge dicks. But that still didn't answer what I was doing here. I do okay, but I'm definitely not rich, and I don't have a huge dick. Err, that is, there's nothing wrong with the size of my dick. Really! I mean, sure I'm not John Holmes, but things below the belt are just fine, thank you very much.

Okay, time to get off my dick...unless you look like one of the babes at this party. Ah, anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. While I was lost in this reverie of finances and dongs, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Giving my head a quick shake to clear it, I turned around just to be stunned again. There stood Sally. Holy shit! She was wearing a little green strapless dress, and, well...holy shit.

“You came,” she said (not yet, but pretty close, considering how she looked). “I wasn't sure you would. A part of me was hoping you...” she paused, sounding a little uncertain and maybe even...a little sad.

“Hoping I would...?” I tried to get her to finish the thought.

“It doesn't matter. You're here. That’s the important thing.” Whatever made her pause a second ago was now gone. Maybe I had just been imagining it.

“Yeah. I made it. You look great, by the way,” I stammered back, absolutely certain I sounded like a complete social retard.

“Thanks. As I was saying, I wasn't sure you'd actually show up. You sounded a bit nervous on the train.”

“I wasn't. You just caught me by surprise,” I blatantly lied.

“Cool.” She ignored the obviousness of my untruth. “Let me show you around.” With that, she hooked her arm around mine (more physical contact!) and gave me the tour. Turns out the apartment occupied the entire floor of the building (damn, I could only imagine the rent). It was a fairly open floor plan, but not quite a studio. All in all, it was a big space, and I doubt there are too many slumlords who wouldn't have drooled at the chance to get their hands on it. A few subdivisions and a landlord could retire to the Caribbean on the rent alone.

“Whose place is this?” I absently asked as we walked.

“I live here.” Goddamn! Hot and rich. Yes, I am here to tell you with all certainty...life is not fair.

“This is your place?” I asked somewhat incredulously.

“Technically it's Jeff's place (Jeff? Yeah, it was too good to be true), but a bunch of us share it.” (A bunch? Okay, there's still hope.)

“Who's Jeff?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could, hoping to be steered in the direction of someone obviously gay, or at least one of the other average dudes in the room. Sadly not, I realized, as she pointed directly at my douchebag acquaintance from earlier. Figures. Can't say I was overly surprised by this, either. On the other hand, it's not like he was the only scenery in the room. All things considered, douchebag aside, the entire experience was slowly turning out to be a positive.

“We've met,” I replied neutrally. “How do you two know each other?” I tried to sound as disinterested as possible.

“That's not important right now. Let's not worry about him. You're here with me. Let's mingle before the festivities get started.” She led me toward an open bar in one corner of the room.

“Festivities?” I asked, trying not to be distracted by thoughts of hot chicks and free drinks.

“You'll see. The night is still young.”

Okay. Whatever that meant. Hey, who knows? Maybe this was one of those parties where it all culminated in a wild orgy at the end of the night. A guy I knew in college claimed to have been at one of those. Personally, I thought he was full of shit, but since it at least sounded better than any of my stories, I kept my mouth shut. Besides which, I needed someone to live vicariously through, bullshit or not.

And so we mingled for a while. What I mean, of course, is that she mingled, while I was content just to devour my fill of eye candy, of which there was plenty. The problem with candy, though, is if you eat too much, you're asking for trouble.

Be Still, My Beating Heart

“May I have your attention, please?” the douchebag...err, Jeff, shouted out. “Midnight is upon us. The time you have all been waiting for has arrived.”

The time I was waiting for? Holy shit, maybe I was right and there was going to be an orgy. As long as I didn't have any dudes trying to rub their junk up against me, this had potential to be the best night of my life. If this actually happened, then from this moment on, my roommates would have to worship me as if I were unto a god. Oh, yeah.

“But first,” Jeff continued, “a few quick words, my children (children? Okay, douche). Judging by the new faces I see, the gauntlet thrown down last month by your brothers has been answered (???). Dread Stalker's is the score to beat,” he said, motioning to a muscular goon of similar douchey appearance off to his left. Dread Stalker? Either this guy was still living out his high school football fantasies, or his parents were a couple of Goth weirdos.

“Bring forth your offerings, my daughters.”

I saw several of the girls, all of them sweet little morsels, step forward, leading some of the men. I immediately noticed the accountant amongst them. I was about to comment when I felt Sally's arm entwine with mine and start to gently pull me forward. I tried to look at her expression to get a sense of what was going on, but she was facing toward Jeff’s direction. Hmm, if this was an orgy, I hoped I wasn't expected, as a new guy, to perform in front of everyone else. Sally was hot and all, but I wasn't quite so sure if a little stage fright might keep me from getting the job done.

She led me through the crowd and we wound up next to the group who’d been singled out. I couldn't help but take note that all the guys that I was now standing with appeared to be of the decisively non-male-model variety I had noticed before. Odd. I was actually starting to wonder if this was about to turn into the hazing scene from Revenge of The Nerds when Jeff began slowly pacing in front of us.

“Very nice. Any that you fancy before we get started, Ozymandias?” he asked toward the direction of the main group.

A bored voice with a vaguely Bostonian accent replied from near the back of the crowd, “Not particularly. Carry on with your silliness. Don't worry about me.” I couldn't help but notice a brief look of annoyance cross Jeff's face at the answer he was given. I tried to scan the crowd for the source, but that was when Jeff's overly smug-looking face stopped in front of me and continued. “So be it. As host, it is mine to offer our hospitality, but as guest, it is yours to refuse (ooh, wonder how many brain cells this ox had to burn off to come up with that). Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Excellent choices, my daughters. But before we can judge the cattle...”

I interrupted, “Did you just call me...*urk*” Make that tried to interrupt. His hand shot out, lightning quick, and grabbed me by the throat with a grip that felt overly strong even for a guy with his build.

“Cattle do NOT speak!” he spat at me. “They are just judged...after we feast.” He flashed a predatory smile. If you're guessing that his eyes turned black as coal, and his canines elongated in front of me, well, you're wrong. Don't be such a pretentious know-it-all.

Just messing with you. That's exactly what happened. It's kind of comforting to know that being a corpse hasn't affected my sense of humor. Unfortunately, it's the, hah-hah, if I don't laugh, then I'll start screaming, type of comedy. But hey, never let it be said I didn't crack wise in the face of a creature that shouldn't exist, right before it lowered its head to tear into my throat.

AMAZON:  BILL THE VAMPIRE (Tome of Bill Vol 1)



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