Book: We will build



We will build

CONTENTS


Dedication

Legal

Social Links

Series List

Prologue

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

Author's Note

Authors Helping Authors



To the Beta Readers

and

Production Editor of

We Will Build

-

This book would not

be as good as it is

and out for the fans

without you.


Period. F#cking. Dot.


We Will Build - The Kurtherian Gambit 08 

Team


David Down Under

Bree Buras

Arthur DeForest

Tom Dickerson

S. Forbes

Jennifer Hendricks

Mike Lucas

Dorene Johnson

Lisa Mitchell

Pip Moon

Faith Oakerson

Scott Paul

Diane Velasquez




Editor


Stephen Russell


Thank you to the following Special Consultants

for We Will Build


Jeff Morris - Asst Professor Cyber-Warfare

Shaun Murphy - Engineering Defense

Richard Atwood - Container Discussions

Heath Felps - Naval (I’ll get to you!)

Paul Middleton - Swords and Ancient Weapons


If I’ve missed you, just message me (FB) and I’ll do an update in the near future!

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 1.00



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




I hope you enjoy the book!


Michael Anderle - April  22, 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


Kneel Or Die

The Kurtherian Gambit 07


We Will Build

The Kurtherian Gambit 08


It’s Hell To Choose

Late May 2016

Prologue




The QBS Princess Alexandria - Traveling between the Stars (far future)


The D’tereth vid-reporter laid her tablet on the table and touched the recording symbol. She made sure her blue hair was coifed well and that the gun-metal grey walls of her small room were a good back drop for her face.


She didn’t want to leave anything to chance.


Anything she put out related to this interview was going to be shown in all of the systems her news group could reach. Additionally, they would license the recording for display in areas where they didn’t have offices.


She smiled for a few seconds to help the editing process. She started her introduction. “Hello, my name is Franath D’Tzaa. I’m on board the QBS Princess Alexandra, a Nicht Fleet Battleship and presently the flag ship Queen Bethany Anne is using to return with her team from Nodrizen’s World.


Nodrizen’s World is where she and her teams decimated Clan K’gurth’s resources and people, after they shared video where a group of their warriors dishonored her Guardians.


I understand she has issued an edict that all war with that clan is now considered ‘to the knife’. The Queen’s people have been ordered to proactively take the battle to those who are part of this clan or will personally answer to her.


I had an opportunity to sit down and interview the Queen earlier this evening. While I am pulling together my notes, I would like to offer this one insight into the most enigmatic woman in our Universe, one who is rarely seen out in public.


The belief, and she confirmed it for me earlier, is that she was born on the planet ‘Earth’ centuries ago. This was a time before her planet had true space-capable ships.


Most humans are not known to live beyond 175 Standard Cycles. I asked the question. “What was going through your mind when you realized that you had the ability to live so many cycles beyond the normal lifespan of your people?”


She answered me from her quarters on board Princess Alexandra. “In that time on my planet, there was a saying that ’the end is drawing nigh’, but what happens when the end is so far in the future, you can’t imagine what life will be like?” She nodded to herself, “That was my main thought back in the twenty-first century of my people.”


I followed up her answer and asked, “What is your main thought now?”


The ever so young looking woman tapped a finger against her lips. She was staring off into the distance, of either space or history, then turned to me and answered.


“When will it end?”












CHAPTER ONE


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Bethany Anne?


Yes TOM?


I think ADAM and I should confess something.


Bethany Anne stopped the short work-out she was doing and grabbed the small towel to wipe off some sweat.  She and John had arrived back on the main base a few hours ago and she felt a need to work out the desire to go back to Dallas, find the three creeps that had attacked John’s cousin and toss them into the Etheric.


Ok, shoot.


Do you remember a few weeks ago when you were with Michael, batting your eyelashes at him?


Bethany Anne thought back to when she had taken Gabrielle and Ashur to Argentina and had ended up on a date with Michael to kill David.


She chose to ignore TOM’s comment about her flirting.


Yes, why?


Do you remember our conversation about interacting with the Chinese?


Yeeesssss… ahhh ….Nope! No, I don’t.


She sat on the floor.  This whole room, about four-hundred square feet, had been built into the mountain some years back and was now a workout room for her and her team.  Right now, John was probably helping his cousin Cheryl Lynn and her children, Toni and Todd find a place to stay on base.  The rest of her team was… she didn’t know, actually.  She could find out just by asking ADAM, but it wasn’t like she needed them right now. Besides, Ashur was sitting on the floor with his tongue hanging out.


It wasn’t like she didn’t have protection.


It had taken some effort, but even Gabrielle had finally agreed that if someone was able to attack this far into the mountain, Bethany Anne would have time to travel the Etheric and escape. This meant she didn’t need to have a shadow while inside.


Like she would do that, but if it made Gabrielle happy to believe it was possible, then so be it.  Anything to keep the Captain of the Queen’s Own happy.


She should call her ‘Captain of the Bitch’s’ and see what Gabrielle said.  Nah, that was too easy.  She needed something with more impact.


Well, we mentioned that we were working on our communications with the Chinese and you said…


Yeah!  I remember now.  I was thinking you were messing with my emotions and I told you not to start World War III.  Wait, you guys haven’t started a war, have you?


Uhhh…  No?


Why do I sense bit of hesitance in that last reply?


Because I’m sure we haven’t started a war, I’m just not sure if we have potentially stopped one.


ADAM!


>>Yes?<<


Why is TOM speaking for the both of you?


Oh, shit.


TOM, keep quiet.


>>Because he said it would be better that only one of the two of us speak, it would reduce the opportunity for confusion.<<


Confusion about what?


May I speak?


HELL NO!


>>About the story.<<


What…Story?


>>That we didn’t start World War III.<<<


Is that answer positive?


YES!


TOM, Dammit, Shut…Up!


>> It approaches unity.<<


How close to unity?


>>98.7%<<


Bethany Anne laid back on the mat, wrapping her arms across her eyes and spoke out loud, “Am I to understand, that the alien and AI team of TOM and ADAM went off and incited enough of a concern with the Chinese that World War III might have occurred?”  Her voice was calm, almost monotone.


Oh shit…again.


>>I fail to understand the issue.  The chance was insignificant that war was going to break out.<<


Bethany Anne refrained from kicking any walls here, she would break her foot before she made any imprint on the hard rock.


“ADAM, have you checked to see the downside of that 1.3% chance?”


>>Do you mean, have I calculated the potential negative effects if the 1.3% event should happen?”


“Yes.”


>>No.<<


“Do that sometime.  The more lives that could be affected negatively, the smaller the chance you should allow before you implement something.  Get back with me when you have figured the results for those calculations.”


>>I will.<<


Ok.  I know you guys didn’t start out to potentially have the world go up in flames.  The same world, I might mention, that I’m working my ass off to save.


It would rather mess up my original mission.


Bethany Anne snorted.  Not to mention get your own alien ass burnt up at the same time.  


Yes, there is that.


So, what were you doing, really?


Well, ADAM discovered that China had been diligently attempting to hack the computers used by some of your companies.  From there, he was able to backtrack and take over their intermediate ‘cut-out command’ computers. This has severely curtailed their efforts.  Finally, he was able to get ‘into’ the origination systems and deliver a message. He told them that they should cease their preparations for cybernetic warfare.


Bethany Anne thought about this for a minute.  You mean, they are laying the groundwork to kick off a completely debilitating attack against American computers? And they were specifically targeting some of Michael’s companies?


Well, they are yours now.


I doubt that the person involved cares.  They must still be after something in them.  ADAM, do you have a list of companies targeted?


>>Yes.<<


Please contact Lance and let him know these companies have been targeted and see if there is any correlation between them.


>>There is.<<


Sorry, forgot who I was communicating with for a second.  What is the correlation?


>>Technology, R & D and finance.<<


Well, the technology and R & D makes sense for China, but finance?  That seems personal or at least non-state focused.


Perhaps this is a quasi-state operation?  Or someone is using state resources to accomplish a goal?


The way I understand China, you had better be high up in the political structure to pull off a stunt like that.  If you’re using military resources to accomplish personal goals and you aren’t protected, it is a good way to lose your life.


>>I can give provide those statistics if you would like?<<


No need at this time, but thank you for asking.  We need to find out what those companies are researching and what kind of money these companies have available.


What are you thinking?


I’m thinking someone is considering doing the same thing I am right now. Using Michael’s accumulated wealth and corporate capabilities to strike out on their own.  If they grab his money, that helps them use it to build what R & D is proposing.  ADAM, please make sure that all of company computers are hardened against intrusions and see if you can ferret out any spy-ware or virus stuff going on.  Let me know what you find.


>>I will have to break through your security company’s protections in some cases.<<


Huh?


He’s talking about the services provided by Nathan’s original company.


Oh.  Forgot about that for a second.  Can you make it through without the security people discovering your presence? 


>>There is a greater than sixty-five percent chance of success but I am not aware of a way at the moment.  Any higher calculation will require more research than I have done at this time. Any time I encountered a company with a Guardian installation, I did not make a prolonged effort to circumvent that protection.<<


Be gentle, but see if you can get through.  Choose a company that has the Guardian install, but isn’t a target of the Chinese at the moment.  Don’t do anything with military or R & D companies.  God only knows what would happen if you leave a path through their security for someone else to find.


>>There will be no ‘path’ for someone to find.<<


Really?  What is the chance of you doing this perfectly, does it reach unity?


There was a pause.


>>No.<<


Then I rest my case.


Washington D.C. - USA


Barbara ‘Barb’ Nickers walked into her boss’s office.  He had two chairs in front of his desk, but there was only one which Barb would sit in.  The other one she knew was pretty uncomfortable.


She knew this because it had come from her office. Her boss, who everyone referred to as ‘the Don’, was waiting for a replacement for the chair she had taken a few months ago.  He was a little annoyed that his chair requests kept getting lost in the bureaucracy.  The office pool had the odds at three-to-one that he would break and buy a chair himself, before the replacement made it into the office. Barb was waiting until it was five-to-one odds before she let the Don’s requisition hit the right desk.


She would make a killing if Don could just hold out another week or two.


She sat down in the comfortable chair, “You rang?”


Don looked up from his report, trying to decipher exactly what the memo required.  He paused, trying to collect his thoughts, “Yes.  I’ve got a request that has asked for your personal efforts to expand on some research you did a few months ago.”


Barb asked, “Any particular few months?”


Don handed the printed page across the desk to Barb. She took it and started reading it as Don continued. “Yeah, it had to do with the report you did that included the comment about Colonel Nickelson and his gun-shot to the knee here in town.”


She began to re-read the request, “It says here I’m supposed to drop my existing research!  Who is making that call?”


Don’s face looked like he had tasted sour milk, “I don’t know.  It came in under code-word level security, so I’m not supposed to dig too deeply.  I’m not too happy with this, your efforts to follow up on the two cells in Los Angeles are hot right now. Plus, Yasef’s the only other analyst I might be able to use and he is busy on his own trail right now.  Assigning this to you means I’m going to need to pull in additional resources and I don’t have the budget to do that.”


Don waited, hoping he didn’t have to do what he knew he was going to have to ask her.  She looked up from the paper, “You’re wanting me to do overtime on this?”


He shrugged, “I don’t have any other solution at the moment.  I don’t trust anyone else with your LA cell task. This new crap could be a dead-end or it might be for some political reason.  I don’t know why they want the info, or why they are picking our group to do this.  If you aren’t working on it during normal hours, it’s both our asses if we are audited.  What you do on personal time, outside of office hours, we can’t get nailed for.”


She made a face, “I’m going to need a budget for ‘Zombie Coffee and Donuts’ and pizza delivery.”


Don turned his head slightly and looked at her through slanted eyes, “No chair upgrade?”


She stood up, “Not yet.  If it goes past a week or two on either project, then we will have another negotiation, Mr. Roberts.”


Don nodded, if he had to buy a three-hundred-dollar chair plus food to get thirty to sixty hours of overtime there wasn’t a question.


It was a steal at that price.


She waved good-bye and stepped out of his office and started walking back to hers.




QBS Polarus, Mediterranean


Frank looked up from the conference table in the main meeting room on the ship.  He could hear steps but it was a large white German Shepherd which came around the corner.


Ashur quickly looked around as if he was checking the corners before continuing to walk and lay down behind the chair at the head of the table.


A moment later, Eric also stepped in and did the same check.  It amused Frank to watch the two ‘Queens Own’, Eric and Ashur protect an individual who was the one who least needed it.  Well, here on this ship anyway.  Some might argue Frank’s opinion on lumping Ashur into the Queen’s Own, but everyone who truly watched the dog came around to his way of thinking.


If Bethany Anne was aware of how Ashur treated her, she didn’t show it.  She came in with the new vampire behind her.  Frank stood as Bethany Anne came over to him with open arms.  He took her hug and smiled at the young woman.  “Beautiful as always, Bethany Anne.”


She winked to him. “I imagine you are testing your smooth talking on me in anticipation of a future conquest, Frank.”  She turned to the man he didn’t know, “Frank, meet Barnabas.”


Frank held out his hand, “Glad to meet you, I’ve been curious about you for decades.”


Barnabas grabbed his hand in a handshake, but when Frank admitted he had been curious about him for decades he looked puzzled. Barnabas glanced to Bethany Anne quickly and she just smiled back at him.


Barnabas kept Frank’s hand and measured his genial smile.  He stepped a little closer to Frank and covertly sniffed the air.  He stepped back and dropped Frank’s hand.  “You don’t smell like a vampire or a Wechselbalg.  Yet, you really mean that you have been interested in me for decades?”


Frank nodded in agreement.  His eyes alight.  “Yes, for at least six.”


Barnabas cocked his head, “You don’t look over mid-thirties to me.  Have humans created a way to slow their own aging process?”


Frank shook his head, “No, but the Kurtherians have and I’ve had an infusion of their best.”  He bowed his head slightly in Bethany Anne’s direction.


Barnabas turned to her, “Your blood did this to him?”


She nodded, “Yes.” She turned to sit down at the head of the table.  Barnabas’s way of talking, almost always with questions, still tried her patience.


Barnabas took in a lung full of air and started releasing it slowly.  He had been warned by both Stephen and Gabrielle that Bethany Anne could be impatient. That she had zero tolerance of ‘dicking around’ when something needed to be accomplished.


Barnabas was naturally inquisitive and the centuries had afforded him the opportunity to satiate his questioning personality to the hilt.  Usually, anyone he spoke with outside of Michael and his brothers would be as patient with him as necessary.


He was unaccustomed to dealing with someone who had information he wanted, yet he had no leverage for getting the information.  It was…annoying.


Frank took his cue from Bethany Anne and sat back down.  Barnabas was left standing for a second before taking a chair as well.


Bethany Anne started, “Ok Barnabas, we confirmed back in the U.S. that you can tell there are two others walking the Etheric, besides me.  Frank is our number one person for all knowledge related to the UnknownWorld.  He’s made it a habit of indulging his own curiosity, you two should get along famously.


Barnabas turned to face Frank again, “Truly?”


Frank nodded, “Don’t think you’re getting off this boat without me peppering you with questions.”


Barnabas darted his eyes in Bethany Anne’s direction before lifting his right eyebrow in a question.


Frank nodded slightly, “Perhaps we can educate each other?”


Barnabas smiled, “I would like that.”  He turned back to Bethany Anne, “What is it you hope Frank to figure out with my help?”


“I need the two of you to work with TOM …”


Barnabas interrupted, “The alien?”  His face, if anything, seemed to become more like a boy at Christmas.  Bethany Anne wondered if Barnabas didn’t suffer from a mild form of mental issues due to his aging.  If he did, and she figured it out, she was seriously going to feel guilty for all of the names she had called him in her mind.


“Yes, the alien TOM.”  She turned to Frank, “We need a way to detect and pinpoint anyone entering or exiting the Etheric.   Barnabas can do it from half a world away.”


“I can’t pinpoint it, just the general direction and distance unless it is close.”


Frank asked, “How close?”


Barnabas pursed his lips, “Perhaps ten leagues.”


Frank muttered, “So, about thirty miles.”


Barnabas agreed, “Yes, thirty miles.  The farther away it is, the vaguer I am on distance.  For a long time, I thought Bethany Anne’s travels were much closer to me due to the strength of her ripples.  I’ve never felt anything as strong, so I assumed she was closer.  I lost a fair amount of time before I understood my mistake.”


Frank looked back to Bethany Anne, “Are you thinking that if he can sense it, then the ripples can be measured? And if it can be measured, it can be monitored.”


Bethany Anne reached down to where she knew Ashur’s head was waiting and scratched behind his ears, “Not only monitored, but triangulated.”


Frank’s grin grew, “You want satellites, don’t you!”


She shrugged, “You could give me chocolate covered cherry boxes with electronics if they worked.  But, you know … if satellites are the right solution?”


Frank continued smiling while he started rubbing his hands together.  He had just been informed that he needed to create a new, never before designed method of data acquisition.  “For triangulation, I imagine they are.” He turned back to Barnabas, “Except for Bethany Anne, do you have an idea where the other ripples are?”


“Asia and perhaps Australia?”


She picked her hand up off of Ashur who stood and walked towards the door.


“Do you two guys understand what I need?”  Both men nodded, “Then thank you for taking on this challenge.  Barnabas, thanks for your time and support.”


“Frank?”


He looked at her, “Yes?”


She smiled, “I want them in a month.”


Frank’s smile dropped from his face, but the glint in his eye remained.  “Ok.”


She stood and started following Ashur from the room. “Then I’ll leave it to you two, ta-ta!”


Both men absently waved a hand in the air as they started asking each other questions.














CHAPTER TWO


QBS Polarus, Mediterranean


Barnabas took a small sip of wine and then set the glass on the little table.  Both he and Frank had decided to step outside and recline on the lounge chairs. Their discussion was much more pleasant while enjoying the evening air and sounds.


“I have to admit,” Barnabas said, “I didn’t realize the United States government still had people operating against the Forsaken after all of these decades.”


Frank swirled the wine around in his glass and took a sip himself, “Well, they did but they don’t anymore. When Bethany Anne recruited me the position rather disappeared.”


“So, there is no one in the government aware of the UnknownWorld?”


Frank considered that, “I can’t guarantee that. There are plenty of black-ops groups that have helped me over the years.  I imagine some members of the groups have long memories and files with hints and suggestions in them.  Plus, those that Michael’s group helped over the years, that weren’t memory wiped, are going to remember what happened.”  He thought for a moment, “Fat lot of good it will do them, no one will believe the stories except other’s who have been through it themselves.”


“But you fear your government?”


Frank considered his response, “I don’t fear the people, I fear their institutional habits. They tend to grab what they don’t understand and shove it into a dark hole for study.  What goes down the hole.”  He looked at his glass and then finished the little bit inside before answering. “Doesn’t come back out.”


Barnabas nodded in agreement, “That does seem to be the general reaction when groups of humans get together.  It is almost a herd response, I believe.”  Barnabas reached over to pull the wine bottle out of the iced bucket. “More?”  Frank nodded and held out his glass.  Barnabas poured it half full and then did the same to his own glass before putting the wine back in the bucket.  “So, what is it you do now that you aren’t trying to track down Forsaken?  I understand from Gabrielle that they aren’t a problem in America anymore?”


Frank snorted, “If they are, I’m unaware of it.  I still run all of my tracking applications in case something happens. If anything was to happen they are so overpowered now it isn’t even funny.”


Barnabas had lain back in the chaise lounge, enjoying the opportunity to just chat and enjoy the night.  “Because of Bethany Anne?”


“No,” Frank answered, “she probably doesn’t even need to deal with any of that any more.  She can send either the Guardians,” he looked over to Barnabas, “you do know about her Guardians?”


Barnabas nodded, “I understand she has a group of humans and Wechselbalg who comprise her own para-military group?”


Frank resumed looking at the stars that were beginning to really shine above them. “More than that, but close enough.  The main Guardian is Pete or Peter Silvers.  He can change to their Procilici form.  They also have a marine contingent that works with them.  Between the two groups they ratchet ‘refined mayhem and pointed lethality’ up a few notches.  I understand that they are working to build new teams of Guardians.  However, I imagine she could cover any of that by just sending in one or two of her Own.”


“Her own what?”


“The Bitches.”  Frank smiled, he loved being vague and Barnabas was just the person to allow him to lead him down this merry chase.


“Oh, you mean her guards?”


Damn, he already knew about them.  “Yes.  John, Eric, Darryl and Scott.  Gabrielle’s the head of the group.”


“Why did you call them her own?”  Barnabas asked.


“You need to think about it as a capitalized ‘O’.  When you do that, you realize that it is another title. It just happens to be one that is a little more P.C. than ‘Her Bitches’.”


Barnabas mused, “I would have thought they would be more upset with being called bitches.”


Frank shook his head, “No. It goes back a couple of years ago when I asked Bethany Anne for help.  Well, to be truthful I would have begged for her help.  I was losing people left and right due to a lot of Nosferatu hits across America. I had lost all of my Nicht contacts and support.  Without Carl, who was Michael’s contact at the time, no one else in his family would lift a finger in support until she came on the scene.  She joined an opp in Florida and it’s been nothing but a wild ride since then.  She and the four men I told you about connected in a hellacious fight in the Florida Everglades.  They bonded and have been inseparable since.  They have her back and she has theirs.  Then, Gabrielle came aboard and took the lead position due to her skills and experience over the centuries.  They took the name as the ‘Queen Bitch’s Guards’ and even made a patch.”  Frank turned back to look at the vampire on the other side of the small round table, “Have you seen one yet?”


“Skull with vampire teeth, long hair and red eyes?”


Frank nodded, “That’s the one.  Trust me, no one who knows what that patch means wants to screw around with any of them.”


“They don’t seem to wear it much.”


“No, only on special occasions.  If it’s visible, it’s an operations moment.”


Both men took a sip of their wine and enjoyed the quiet for a moment.  “So now you do special projects?” Barnabas asked.


“I mentioned I still keep an ear open for events around the world, but now I also keep tabs on chatter that might mean someone is onto us. That includes any or all of the family for the people on Bethany Anne’s teams.”


Barnabas’s eyebrows furrowed, “She asked you to watch out for her people’s families?”


“No.”  Frank answered.


“Then why do you do it?”


“Because if she had to ask, I’m not the right person to be on her team.  I know my boss and she cares considerably more than she might let on.  You don’t want to cross her, and you sure as hell don’t want to threaten someone she loves.”


“Why is that?”


Frank turned to stare at Barnabas to see if he was completely clueless, or if it was a simple response to continue the conversation.  Barnabas turned when he realized Frank had been quiet for a few seconds and had himself turned to stare at Barnabas.


“What?”


“I’m not sure if you haven’t been paying attention, but I doubt that.  I’ll assume that you weren’t paying attention and I’ll answer the question, but don’t pretend to not know the answer.  Bethany Anne’s sense of right and wrong is pretty strong.  But her sense of fairness can be very skewed if she feels that someone is threatening those that are helpless or those that are pawns in a game.  She was furious when they were taking her off of a dead-cases team because she felt the dead wouldn’t get justice.  If she feels someone is threatening her own, her people?”


Frank turned back to look over the night waters, “Then we might witness what happens when justice releases a Fury.”


Barnabas sipped his wine, he was very familiar with the tales of the Furies, he could imagine some of what a mythological Fury could do in today’s society.


He enjoyed another sip of his wine, the waters would turn red with blood as it had in the battles centuries in the past.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Jeffrey Diamantz still felt it a little surreal to be working under a mountain.  He was walking into was his team called ‘the pit’.  It was a room that looked like an auditorium with four levels ending at the bottom with a large table full of monitors built into the table itself.  All of them were touch sensitive with large high-definition screens across the wall at the front.


Basically this was the most up-to-date version of a space focused command center you might want.


There were three sets of work areas on each side of the main aisle as you went down the three levels.  The top level was for supplies, drinks and food.  Almost like someone expected there to be times when no one left for long.


Right now, the I.T. head Tom Billings hadn’t wired up the eighteen computer positions yet.  That was happening this afternoon.


Still the table was good to go and allowed them to view some of the data they were receiving from their satellites and other home-built devices they had between the earth and the moon.


Like moon-droid one.


Jeffrey laid his coffee down on the table and opened his folders to review the latest information.


He pulled out the report on moon-droid one and reviewed what it had done in the last twelve hours.  The device was actually a twenty-four-volt adult sized dune-buggy with gear added all over it.  Shipped up on their first cargo container and using one of the Team BMW power units they had it driving all over the dark side of the moon.  Not that it was dark, but it was the side not seen from earth.


Fortunately, the team was able to find and over-ride the detection units that the U.S. had on the moon and on that side facing out towards space.


Not too many people knew that some of the earlier rockets with nuclear warheads were designed to go into space.  You can’t hit what you don’t know about, so the U.S. put up detection satellites as well.


Kind of makes it hard to build a moon base if you’re under the watchful gaze of Uncle Sam.


The dune-buggy had worked it’s way around a couple of larger craters and had been taking samples.  Jeffrey looked over at the top-down pictures their own satellite had taken and then back at the report.  He looked down to see that Bobcat had been controlling the dune-buggy for an hour.


Well, that explained the donuts Jeffrey could see on the Moon’s surface.


He needed to tell Bobcat to take Shelly up for a few hours to get some of his energy out of his system.


He heard a few more coming down the hallway, and then Williams booming laugh, it seemed that Team BMW was arriving.


Sure enough, a second later the three guys did come in with Marcus speaking, “That isn’t what I said!”


Bobcat retorted, “Bullshit!  You said if I could make a donut in the moon’s one-sixth gravity that you would ask Gabrielle out on a date!”


Jeffrey set his reports down.  While he was holding some of the best information related to the moon’s surface known to mankind, he just had to hear what the bases own version of a reality-TV show was up to today.


The three men spread around the table, taking their usual spots.  William to Jeffrey’s left, Bobcat at the other end of the table and Marcus on his right.


Marcus grumped, “I was talking about a real donut!  Not just marks on the Moon’s regolith.  You know, with yeast?”


Bobcat’s head shook back and forth, “C’mon doc.  You know better than that.  If you don’t specify I get to choose my definition and my definition was a donut done by wheels on the dirt!”


“Regolith.”  Marcus replied.


“Whatever.  So, how hard is it to ask Gabrielle out on a date?  C’mon man, grow a pair.  It isn’t like she hasn’t turned down a thousand men in her life.  All that would mean is… is…”  Bobcat turned to William, “Help me out.”


William smiled, “Hell no.  I’m not about to admit I might, or might not, be aware that Gabrielle is older or perhaps older than two centuries.  If a woman can be peeved if she hits forty, I damn sure am not going to say she is older than four-hundred.  So, hell-to-the-no, you’re on your own.”


Bobcat told him, “Fuck you my no-spinal-cord friend and I mean that in the nicest way possible.”


William nodded, “Apology accepted.”


Bobcat turned back to Marcus, “My point is, I’m sure she has learned not to rip apart the shallow and delicate ego men have.  So, what’s your problem?”


Marcus looked between his two teammates and squeaked out, “What if she says yes?”


Bobcat slammed his hand down on the table making a loud ‘crack’ sound and then using the same hand to point at Marcus, “Perfect!  Then you … you…”  He looked back over at William again.  “Shit, what would you say to a woman who has literally been around the block hundreds of times?”


William just smiled and acted as if he were zipping his mouth shut.


Bobcat gave him a look of disgust and turned back to Marcus, “I imagine she hasn’t been out with a rocket scientist.  Hell, you guys have only been around since what, the 1940’s?”


Marcus started to consider what Bobcat was saying when Jeffrey cut in, “Gentleman, as entertaining as this is, we need to move forward with our meeting.”  He pulled out his folder for their recent tasks and then spoke to no one in particular, “Just a footnote to end your discussion guys?”


They all looked over from their own papers.


He looked up and smiled, “Remember that she was in Europe and could very well have dated the original rocket scientists from Germany.  Imagine if she had an evening with Wernher von Braun?”


Instead of causing Marcus to be more concerned, he turned thoughtful.


Jeffrey shrugged, sometimes he couldn’t figure out everyone’s motivation on the first pass.



Robert McCarty walked into Hanger One noticing that it was temporarily quartered into four distinct working areas with security around the perimeter.  He raised an eyebrow when he noticed Kevin standing over to the side with his arms crossed. Robert started walking towards him while watching all of the rest of the activity on the large floor.


“What’s up with the tables and everything Kevin?”


Kevin McCoullagh looked over to Robert McCarty, his senior member for the Corps of Engineers on the base and answered, “The company is doing a security check of everyone that came on board and wishes to stay since the main building is completed.”


Robert stood next to Kevin and watched for a couple of minutes, “I see them going into the two offices, but it doesn’t look like they are in there for more than a couple of minutes.”  He turned towards Kevin, “Do they have some sort of lie detector device?”


Kevin kept his face focused out towards the floor and lied through his teeth. “Don’t know.  I’m to understand that it is some of the new technology from one of the companies the General is over-seeing.  So, for all I know he brought it back with him.”


“You didn’t have to go through this when you were hired?”  Robert asked.


“In a way, my interview was a lot longer and more thorough.  I’m sealed from disclosing anything about my experience, but I’m pretty sure they got all of the truth out of me they wanted.”


Robert turned back to the floor, “What happens if they don’t pass?”


“Released with four months’ pay. Or they’re given the option of working for another company, if a position they are qualified for is available. In that instance all moving costs for the employee and their family will be paid.  So far I’ve heard of six taking the package without even going through the security check.”


Robert asked, “They scared to take the test?”


Kevin laughed, “No!  They were just tired of the cold weather and found out the company has some operations in Southern California and Florida.”


“That sounds nice, my bones are starting to seize up mid-summer just thinking about some of the cold we get here.”


Kevin grunted, “Well, if you want warmer climes, I’m not going to hold you back, but you need to help me find a qualified candidate or two if you can.”


Robert watched the people entering the offices, “You say the company will pay the moving expenses?”


“Yes, for you and one household to go with you.  Although for you, I imagine the opportunities are pretty wide-ranging.”


“Oh?”


“Yeah, they are building in other areas as well, plus in Europe.”


“No shit?” Robert asked.


“Nope.” Kevin replied.


Robert seemed to be thinking for half a minute. “I’ll be back in a bit. I need to go call Tricia.  She keeps on my ass about living near the water and if I don’t tell to her about this moving option and she finds out …”  Robert left it hanging.


Kevin simply nodded his understanding as Robert started walking towards the door heading outside and pulled his cellphone out.


Kevin hoped Robert’s ‘wife’ chose to move, because it would really suck to have to fire the guy for taking money to pass along base secrets.


Or bury him, depending on who he had sold out to. Kevin understood that behind door number two over there, was Michael. And he was just passing time with most of these simple mind reviews waiting to see if Robert really wanted to try and become a mole in the organization.


    Something that Kevin McCoullagh wasn’t going to allow.  Tom Billings had found evidence on three computers. Software had been installed to start passing information outbound in three weeks. Tom had deactivated the software and upgraded the firewalls, stopping information going outbound without authorization from special data transfer rules now in place.


It would be good enough until ADAM brought AGILITY online, the refined version of himself capable of being run on the massive number of servers Tom had installed and fired up in the past three weeks.


Which was good, because when Kevin first learned that Robert was guilty of setting up all of the snooping software, he wanted to leave him a bloody wreck. It took everything he had to act as if he didn’t know of Robert’s duplicity.  Knowing they were mere days from AGILITY going active had stayed his hand.


Just barely.












CHAPTER THREE


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


“Hi boss.”


Bethany Anne looked to her left as she was walking down the hallway.  “Hey Kevin, how did the security review go?”


Kevin McCoullagh stepped out of the room he was in and joined Bethany Anne as they walked towards Lance’s office.  “Well enough.  Almost all of the troublemakers left without causing us a problem.  Can’t say I’m terribly happy about letting Robert go without something to remember me by.”


Bethany Anne cocked an eyebrow at him, “My, someone’s in a bloodthirsty sort today aren’t they?”


Kevin shrugged, “It pisses me off that he would so easily sell out.  I have to question if he would have done that while he had on the uniform?  Anyway, I didn’t say anything.”


“Good, the team has a plan to monitor the software he installed and see what they were targeting and then feed false information upstream.”  The two of them arrived at Lance’s office.  Bethany Anne knocked a couple of times sharply, then opened the door.


“Bethany Anne!”  Patricia grinned at her from behind her desk and stood up. Lance and Patricia had decided they wanted one large office with the desks at both sides of the office facing each other.  If you placed a mirror in the middle of the room, it would look the same.  Except the mirror wouldn’t show Lance’s occasionally grumpy face on the other side.


“Hey Patricia.”  Bethany Anne accepted a hug from the woman.  She didn’t look much older than Bethany Anne now.  It solved the issue of calling her ‘mom’ when she looked more like her sister.


Bethany Anne turned to see her dad’s empty chair, “Dad around?”


Patricia sat back down, “Yes.  He went to find a couple of Ding-Dongs.  He can get grumpy in the middle of the afternoon if he didn’t sleep enough the previous night.  I found that sugar and chocolate cheers him up.”


Kevin was looking at Lance’s desk and asked, “No worries for his health?”  He turned to face the two young looking women who were staring at him. “My mistake, I wasn’t thinking.  No calorie worries.”


A voice spoke behind them, “Hey Kevin, hey baby!” Bethany Anne turned to receive a hug from her dad, Kevin got a slap on his back. “Ready to talk base?”


Kevin closed the door, “Yup.”


Patricia grabbed her laptop and Kevin turned one of Patricia’s chairs around and pulled it over so everyone was facing Lance.


Lance spoke, “We can talk about the three company R & D groups a little later.” He then asked Kevin, “What did we learn from Michael?”


Kevin answered, “We have a defense industry probe already into our business.  It seems the fact that you are the big guy for TQB Industries and residing here on your former base has made everyone assume you have a huge military play going on.  That was the ‘core focus’ of three people that Michael read.  We haven’t fired any of them yet. We are waiting for additional people to help cover their roles before we let them go.”


Bethany Anne asked, “What kind of people do you need?”


Kevin replied, “Security, engineering, maintenance and operations.  Pretty much all of the core people.”


Patricia interrupted, “Is it going to be hard to find people here in the States that know military and are safe?”


“No, we proved when selecting crew for the two ships that it can be done.” Bethany Anne answered, “However, we need to be thinking about merging more countries into our mix.  I don’t want there to be an ‘all U.S.A. all the time’ answer to everything.”


“What about vetting them?  When you crewed your ships, I understand from Frank that he took care of that for you.”  Lance said as he unwrapped a cigar and bit on it.


Bethany Anne wrinkled her nose, “Gah! Those things don’t smell good anymore, not like they did when I was young.”  She moved in her chair, trying to get more comfortable. “Dad, are you irritated with my comment about more Americans?”


“Honey,” Patricia said, “your dad knows we can’t stay so heavy U.S., but let him work through it his own way.”


Kevin hid a smile behind his hand which he quickly killed when Lance’s eye’s turned to him.


“Between Frank, Dan and ADAM I’m pretty sure we can accomplish the same as we did for the Polarus and the Ad Aeternitatem.  Plus, we have Michael to do a final.”


“About Michael.”  Kevin interrupted, “He says that the Pods are definitely a nice solution, but he would prefer a more personal experience and he requests a stewardess for his next flight.”  This time, Kevin didn’t hide his smile when Bethany Anne blushed.


“I’ll give him a ‘stewardess’…”


“I think that’s his idea, sweetie.”  Patricia said.


Bethany Anne turned to her, “You too?”


“Me too what? I’m just pointing out the obvious.  I’m not sure what happened to cause you be so upset with him.”


Bethany Anne crossed her arms. “Nothing. Happened.”


Patricia looked over to Lance who was watching his daughter and minutely nodded his head up and down.  “I see.  Well, if you want to have a proper relationship with such a powerful supporter you need to go down there and have a discussion about the ‘nothing’.”


She stared at her dad who stared right back.  Finally, she dropped her eyes, “I’ll take it under advisement.”


“No, you will go and do it.”  Lance said. Bethany Anne brought her head back up in a flash, but Lance kept going, “You can’t have such a significant opportunity become a potential misunderstanding between you and Michael. Left unresolved it has potential for an enemy to use against you.  That is bad leadership just because you’re having a spat about God only knows what, young lady.”


She jerked her head up and down to let him know she got the message.


Lance turned back to Kevin, “What is your concern about security?”


Kevin flipped a page over, “We are implementing a large amount of electronic surveillance devices and triggers across the property, the problem is both the size of the base and how easy small drones can get on the property.”


Bethany Anne asked, “Are we talking quad-copters or what?”


Kevin turned his page one more time, “Those, plus tiny insect devices, bugs on items brought in, long range laser devices against the windows in the R&D area plus the normal people, data transfers and other miscellaneous items.”


Bethany Anne pulled a leg up and put her elbow on her knee putting her chin in her hand.


Kevin looked over to Lance who shrugged his shoulders, out of the corner of his eye, Kevin caught Patricia putting up one finger.


“We need vampires.”


Patricia coughed suddenly and then laughed a little, Kevin going to pound on her back but she noticed and said, “No!  It’s nothing.  I just wasn’t expecting her to say we needed ‘more’ vampires!”


Bethany Anne was smiling and Kevin noticed that Lance seemed in thought when he asked, “What are you thinking?”


She shrugged, “If we had enough for a night crew, they could easily handle any night-time incursions.  I doubt much would cross their sense of smell and we could easily send two out in a Pod anywhere on base property very quickly.  If something happens to them, then they have the best chance of surviving…”


“Other than Wechselbalg.”  Lance pointed out.


“True.” She stood up and walked a few feet to the left and turned.  Talking while she paced. “But the truth is that both Vamps and Weres are just two sides of the same technology.  I can get rid of the sun issue, but any Vamps that we recruit would need to be trusted before I offer that solution to them.”


“Why don’t you trust Vamps?” Kevin asked.  Lance turned to him and raised an eyebrow.  Kevin remembered Lance dressing him down for doing a full background check on a blind date and told him, “I’m just curious.”


Bethany Anne answered, “It’s actually a good question.  Ever since I’ve was turned, I’ve been introduced to ass-hats whether they are Vamps or Weres.  The truth is that ass-hats are everywhere.  When you give them superior skills it can make a tiny ass-hat that is bearable into a significant ass-hat.  With Michael, I have a good chance of making sure we get decent people.  I don’t have enough of a rep with the Wechselbalg yet to get them here on base with us.  Nathan and Ecaterina are handling that issue for me right now.”


“Are you sure you have Michael’s help?”


She turned to her dad, “I heard you the last time you got your ‘dad bat’ out and jumped into my personal life, I’ll go see him, ok?”


Lance put his hands together on his desk, looked above her head for a second then looked her in the eyes, “Yes, I think that will do.”


“Thank you.”


“So long as it’s soon.”


Bethany Anne opened her lips to let her dad see she had her tongue held firmly by her teeth.  His grin caused her to smile.  “Fine dad, I’ll go see him tonight if he has time.”


“Oh baby,” Patricia said from behind Bethany Anne.  “He’ll have time.”


Washington D.C., - USA


Barb carefully reached over to the donut box and pulled a glazed donut from the four that were left.  She put a napkin underneath it to keep her desk clean.  It was past eight P.M. and everyone else had gone home for the evening.


She had started on her other project promptly at quitting time and dropped three hours on that projects’ research and then came back to this enigma.


She couldn’t help it.  The truth is out there, it seemed.  But it was damned difficult to find.


She was hooked.  She needed to find out what was behind the closet door, even if it was something scary.  It was like she was a child again and even though her parents promised her there was nothing under her bed, she still kept a bat she had taken from her brother’s room with her every night.


Now, she was a grown woman and really wished she had that bat again.  If she had any nails to bite, they would be gone again.


This time, if the vague puzzle she was putting together could be believed, some monsters had been on a rampage to take out other monsters and were now targeting her terrorists.


With some shady government contact that had to be almost a hundred years old.  She felt like was in some sort of Twilight Zone episode.  Just what the hell was going on?


She worked to flesh out her earlier report on the missing terrorists and the strike here in Washington D.C.  The ex-Army Colonel had a heart attack in prison just two weeks ago, so there wasn’t going to be any way to get any further information from him.  While that seemed too tidy, she doubted it had anything to do with her monster squad.


‘Huh’, she thought, that’s a good enough a name to call them.  Since they seemed to have no issues going ‘bump in the night’ she rather liked the name and wrote it down.  There, at least they had a name.


What she had been able to figure out was that the information about Colonel Nickelson taking money to sandbag his own men was true.


She was able to finally track down the phone records for a cheap throw-away phone that matched a few calls into the German military and then to Nickelson.  Once it was used to call Nickelson, it went dark.  Whoever used it had pretty good operational security.


Bastard!


Barb liked puzzles, but sometimes she was impatient as hell and it would have been nice if the person who called Nickelson would have been a little less crafty.


She combed the phone records to see if the people in the German military that were contacted had any other throw-away calls, but nothing registered for the last few months.  Maybe the person had gone dark.


Or, she considered, maybe the monster squad had gotten to him or her?


She shuddered.  Whoever this team was, they were damned efficient at taking out the trash.


Which caused her to wonder, who pulled the strings to get her to find this group?  Why did they want her to track them so badly that they pulled a major research asset, focused on high-probability terrorist attacks, to try and find them?  As far as Barb could tell, the monster squad never went after innocent targets.


She bit down on her donut, realizing that she had just finished it without tasting it at all.  She swallowed a sip of coffee.  She was starting to worry about where her thoughts were taking her.




The monster squad was careful to keep themselves off the radar. Yet she had some ghost government contact pulling strings to try to find them. And … there was only one point of convergence between the two groups … her. Shit!  Her eyes opened in alarm.


She was the cut-out.


She bent to her left and wiped her hands over her trash can.  It was time to start gathering more information on who was directing her research.


She needed insurance and the only way she could do that was to gain information.


She needed to figure out who wanted to know about the monster squad and why.


TQB Base, Colorado – USA


Cheryl Lynn knocked on the door and heard a lady call out ‘come in’.  She opened the door and noticed a pretty woman to her left.  Her desk had a really old time name holder with ‘Patricia’ on it.  Cheryl Lynn wondered if the lady had inherited it from someone who had been here at the base when it was run by the Army.”


The woman stood as Cheryl Lynn closed the door behind her and stepped forward to shake hands.  “Hello, I’m Cheryl Lynn.  I was told by John Grimes to come see you when I had my children enrolled in the school here.”


Patricia smiled, “Hi Cheryl Lynn, you’re John’s cousin, right?”  Cheryl Lynn nodded, “Good, have a seat right there and I will answer some of your questions before Bethany Anne gets back.”


Both women sat, one on each side of the desk.  Cheryl Lynn spoke first, thinking of something to cut the ice with.  “I noticed you have such a gorgeous old desk holder here, was your mom or grandmother in the service?”


Patricia looked down and noticed that Cheryl Lynn meant her own desk holder.  She wasn’t sure if she should be annoyed or humored.  She smiled, “That’s going to be an interesting story to share, but I can tell you that I brought it with me to this base from my previous posting.”


“You were in the Army as well?”


“Yes sweetie, I was in the Army.”  Cheryl Lynn thought it odd that the lady, who certainly couldn’t be any older than herself was calling her ‘sweetie’.


The door opened behind her and a young looking man stalked into the room without looking at the two ladies.  He was obviously annoyed at something and didn’t notice the women staring at him.  Cheryl Lynn turned to look at Patricia who smiled and winked at her before she turned back and watched him grab a clipboard with a yellow pad full of notes on it.  He then opened the top left drawer on his desk.


Bang!  He closed it and opened the next.  Bang! went the second drawer and then he opened the third.  “Ha!”  He reached into the drawer and pulled out an item that made a sound of something wrapped in cellophane when ‘bang’ the third drawer slammed closed.


He stood up, and he bit and held the Honey Roll package with his teeth as he searched his pockets and then opened the pencil drawer of his desk.  He reached in and grabbed a pair of keys and stuck them in his pocket.


BANG!


He snagged another pile of paperwork in his right hand and started for the door, never looking in the ladies’ direction.  Cheryl Lynn heard a muffled, “Love you, babe” from the man who opened the door and walked out, shutting it behind him without slamming it.


Cheryl Lynn was wearing a look of astonishment on her face as she turned to stare at Patricia.


“That, my dear, is my husband Lance.”  Patricia said. “He was the previous General of this base and I have to say having him here on the base tends to bring out the worst aspects of his previous role.”


“General?”  Patricia nodded to Cheryl Lynn.  “How old is he?”


Patricia was opening her mouth when the door opening interrupted them again.  This time Cheryl Lynn heard Bethany Anne from the hallway, “Ashur, sit your ass down right here.  No! Here you excuse for a white walking rug.  Dad had a hissy fit when you shed all over his floor last time.  No, don’t give me that look you miscreant!  You know damn well you rolled around behind his desk on purpose.  I swear to God I’m going to have the Reprobate & Degenerate group figure out how to communicate with your ass so I can slap you when you give me lip.”


The door finished opening and Bethany Anne stepped in.  Cheryl Lynn noticed that Scott was behind her.  He saw her in the room and winked, then he turned around and stood guard.  John had introduced her to Eric first, then Scott and finally Darryl when Scott and Darryl came back from a short trip down to Texas looking for, of all things, a UFO that had supposedly been spotted.


Patricia stood up again and walked to meet Bethany Anne and give her a hug.


Bethany Anne asked, “Where’s dad?”


Patricia answered, “He just left.  He was grumpy without his sugar fix.  He grabbed his notepad and has a conference call with the teams on the Polarus at the moment.


“Oh, ok.”  Bethany Anne turned to Cheryl Lynn, “Did Toni and Todd get in school ok?”  Cheryl Lynn nodded, trying to catch up with everything she thought she just heard.  “Good.  Did John take them over to the research area?”


Cheryl Lynn thought back to when her daughter Toni and Marcus Cambridge started a discussion when the two met.  Marcus apparently knew enough of biology sciences to get into an in-depth discussion with her about genetics of all things.  Before Cheryl Lynn had a chance to figure out what was going on with those two, she heard a ‘whoop!’ from Todd and turned to see him talking with two men near a military helicopter.  Todd later told her it was a Black Hawk named ‘Shelly’.


John had smiled and told her to stay quiet.  He had turned to her and said in a lowered voice, “This is when boys get a chance to find their love.  Bobcat and William won’t let him get hurt, trust me.”  Cheryl Lynn nodded and turned to see Toni following Mr. Cambridge into a room full of science equipment.  By the time she came out, she was talking about black holes and parsecs with the man and had it setup to come see him on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after school.


All she could do was slug her over-testosteroned cousin in the arm when he smiled at her.


Cheryl Lynn answered Bethany Anne’s question, “Yes.  Todd can’t stop talking about Shelly and now Toni won’t stay quiet about planets and outer-space.  She speaks about genetics every once in a while as well, but at the moment she acts like visiting Mr. Cambridge is the best gift I can provide her.”


“Mr. Cambridge?”  Bethany Anne looked at her.


“The scientist?” She answered.


“No, I know who he is, I’m just surprised you called him by his last name.”


Cheryl Lynn blushed, “Well, he is rather old with that grey hair and stuff so it would feel weird to not show him respect.”


Bethany Anne turned thoughtful for a moment and looked over to Patricia, “Would you mind checking him out?”


Patricia turned back to her desk and asked over her shoulder, “Same kind of ‘check out’ your dad gave me?”


Bethany Anne smiled, “Well, I’m not sure I want to know what he did, but how about you confirm if he is ‘with us’ enough that he warrants a health bump?”


“Got-chya.”  Patricia reached for her phone and typed in a reminder.


“Was that man really your father?”  Cheryl Lynn asked.


Bethany Anne turned to answer Cheryl Lynn’s question.  “Yes.”  Then she just watched Cheryl Lynn for a reaction.


Cheryl Lynn considered her next question carefully.  She felt like she was being measured for some reason.  Cheryl Lynn felt that she got on the base because she was John’s cousin, but she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do.  All John said was that she was going to work for Bethany Anne in some capacity.


She considered what she had seen to date, Bethany Anne could joke, but she had always seemed like she was straight forward when joking.


Cheryl Lynn said, “I’m not in Kansas anymore, am I.”


It was a statement, not a question.  Patricia laughed, “Honey, you left Kansas a long time ago.”












CHAPTER FOUR


Buenos Aires, Argentina


Bethany Anne arrived, in what her team had started to call her landing rooms.  She let go of Ashur’s neck and stepped over to the door and started unbolting the locks that ensured no one came in the room while she was absent.  She had barely started opening the door when she heard the steps of Tabitha running down the hall.


Bethany Anne stepped back to let Ashur jump ahead. She winced at the ‘train wreck’ which happened when Ashur and Tabitha collided, Tabitha yelling out “Ashur!” and giggling while Ashur licked her face.


The two of them started rough housing in the middle of the hallway.  While it was large, it was still a tangled mess with Ashur barking and Tabitha laughing.  The young woman had come back from her trip with Gabrielle remarkably happier and with a lighter spirit.  Bethany Anne had tried to get Gabrielle to give her some hints as to what went on, but Gabrielle had been pretty close lipped about it so far.


Bethany Anne switched to her vampiric speed and used it to get around the two wrestling combatants and then dropped back down to normal speed when she entered the main living room. “Michael?”  She called out.


She heard an ‘up here’ so turned to walk up the stairs and continued up to the second floor.  Michael had taken one of the ridiculously opulent rooms that Anton had favored and had it renovated into a library.  During the many years of Michael’s life he had managed to amass a significant collection of books. A large number of them were leather bound first editions. His new library, with the soothing scents of leather and furniture wax was the place he went when he wanted to relax.


Sure enough, she found him ensconced in a chair. A tiffany lamp provided subdued lighting and shared space with a small cognac glass on the elegant end table beside him.  She sat down in the chair across from him.  All four walls except for the window were covered with a tasteful brown wood finish set of book cases filled with his impressive display of books.


She could feel the warmth in the seat, so Tabitha must have been up here when she arrived.  She wondered if Michael had informed Tabitha that she was here, or if Tabitha had installed listening devices in the room to notify her when Bethany Anne arrived.


“Drink?”  Michael asked, a small smile on his face.  Damn that man, he was dressed casually and still looked scrumptious.


“Ah, no.  I think I want all of my wits about me.”


“Oh?  Are you about to engage in something that needs clear thinking?”  Michael put his finger to hold his place in his book and closed it.


“Yes.  I’m about to talk with you.”  He said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow and waited.   She didn’t even bother with trying to see if she could out-wait the man.  He’d had a thousand years to learn patience.  If you listened to her father, she was constitutionally incapable of patience.


Not true.  She considered the game she had played to lure Michael into her arms had been well played.


All the way until the bastard had refused to make a move on her.  Her ego was bruised that he was ‘taking too long’ and felt rejected, so she left.  While she had talked with him since, it hadn’t had the same sense of urgency and anticipation that she had enjoyed before that.  He was supposed to fall for her and lose his fucking mind in a physical cosmic boom.


There was no cosmic boom of them losing their damn minds.  Whoever said that a slow burn was the best burn must not have had a Michael in their life.  He was frustrating the hell out of her.


Constantly.


Like right…fucking…now.


She eyed the man.  He was drinking a honey flavored drink.  She could both smell it, and see the colors swirling in the glass from the reflections of the lamp illuminating them.  She leaned forward and it wasn’t to let him have a chance to view her cleavage.  Rather to put her hand out to see if he would share.  He seemed to be happy to lean forward to hand her the glass.


She locked eyes with him as she took a sip of the drink.  He raised an eyebrow when she swallowed.


It was good.  She kept her eyes on his and then downed the remainder of the drink and put it to the side without looking away.


She said huskily, “You know the problem with men who are a thousand years old?”


He replied, a challenge in his eyes, “No, but I feel confident you are going to tell me.”


She leaned forward to stand up and in the process she grabbed her shirt at the bottom and by the time she was upright in front of him, her shirt was in her hand and it was confirmed.


She wasn’t wearing a bra.


She said, “Men who are a thousand years old have too many dating hang-ups.”


Downstairs, Tabitha was rubbing Ashur’s head which was resting on her lap.  His ears perked up and his head lifted to look down the hallway.  Tabitha turned in that direction and then heard a small ‘whoomp’.  Then a light ‘crash’ and some other muffled sounds.


She turned back to Ashur who had placed his head back down in her lap and told him, “It’s about time, he’s been a sour-puss lately.”


Then Tabitha’s head snapped up and she started wiggling on the floor while trying to get into her pocket.  Ashur pulled his head back up and looked at her.  She yanked out her cell phone.


“Sorry Ashur, I almost forgot to text Gabrielle. That, my furry friend, would be called a ‘career limiting move’.” She smiled and put the phone away wondering how she was going to spend her betting pool winnings.


---


“Perhaps,” Michael said, his hands playing with her hair “we should move to a bedroom now?”


“Hmm?”  Bethany Anne was enjoying the feel of her hair being played with.  “I don’t want to move.”


“Mmmm.”  Michael leaned back and could just reach the door to the room to finish closing it the last inch.  He was sure that Tabitha would give him grief about it later, but frankly he couldn’t be bothered by that right now.  “Bethany Anne, risking the wondrous feel of your body right now - so please don’t move - did you have something you needed besides making sure we understood each other properly?”


Bethany Anne replied, “If you promise not to stop playing with my hair, I promise not to pull my nails across your back again.”


Michael thought back to that event, “I’m sorry, when did I request you not to do that?”


She smiled, “Oh. My bad, I figured the blood was a large enough clue.”


“A small price, I assure you.” He replied.


She turned slightly so she could rest on her side, her head laid on his stomach.  She opened an eye and noticed that his pants were hanging off the top shelf of the bookcase some ten feet up.  “I don’t remember that happening.”


He followed her gaze to the pair of pants and considered what had happened. “You know, I don’t either.”


She smiled and closed her eyes, “Ok, ask me your question but don’t stop with the hair, please.”


“I’m just trying to figure out if you had anything but dating rituals of the twenty-first century on your itinerary when you arrived.”


“Yeah.  I need vampires.”  She mumbled.


Michael lifted his head to stare at her face, which was calmly composed with her eyes closed.  “Vampires?”


“Mmmhmmm.  I need to hire vampires as security for the base.  I thought you might know a few we could contact.”


Michael laid his head back down.  “Well, Gabrielle would probably know more than I.  Plus, there isn’t one here in South America that would want to answer a phone call from me, much less come see me.”  He paused for a second, then continued, “You do know your reputation is a little dark as well, right?”


“No, why is that?”  She asked, her voice a pleasant contralto at the moment.


“Well, consider everything you’ve done since Florida. You’ve taken out Adrian, Clarita then Anton and you were a part of killing David. And that’s without mentioning you dissolving the American Pack Council.  I’m sure the European Pack Council is waiting for you to show up.”


“Don’t need to yet,” She said into his chest, “Stephen’s got their number.  If they fuck-up, he will deal with them.”


Michael chuckled, “At least they have a clue about how to work with Stephen, but I understand what you’re saying.”


“So, you suggest I ask Gabrielle to find me some people?”


“That’s my advice, yes.”  He told her.


“Good.”  She lifted her head up, both eyes opening and he could see the red beginning to show in her pupils.  “Because I’m hungry again.”


He leaned forward to kiss her.  “Not this time, my little bunny.  This time I hunt.”


Two hours later Tabitha’s phone buzzed and she pulled it out.  She had moved to her room and Ashur had jumped up on her bed. Her text from Gabrielle was ‘Still!??’


She texted back, “YES!  I’m going to sleep, I’ve no idea how long they can go, but I’m happy they finally moved to his bedroom.  You might have to send blood bags or a few people in the neighborhood might become a late night snack!”


She almost had the phone on her night stand when she saw the reply, ‘You might want to have some garlic handy ;-)’


She stuck her tongue out at the phone and then placed an arm over Ashur, “Good night, Ash.”


He chuffed at her in reply.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Jeffrey walked into the ‘Sanctum of Sanctums’, commonly referred to as the Team BMW lair.


Well, at least that is what the Crayola sign taped on the outside of the door said.  It wasn’t a poor drawing, so Jeffrey assumed Cheryl Lynn’s son Todd had tried his best since Shelly figured prominently on the picture.


He took off his jacket and put it up on the coat rack that had a sign next to it that read – “NO SUITS”.


The ‘team’ took their casual dress seriously. According to Bobcat, Jeffrey’s preference for wearing a suit jacket ‘messed up the groove’ for the guys whenever Jeffrey was involved.  The next time he came in, the coat rack was there with the sign.


Hell, just yesterday he had failed to wear a tie and decided he liked it.


He walked towards the middle of the room between a couple of larger 3D printing machines which were busy printing… something.  It looked like some sort of brace or bracket to him.  He continued into the room and saw the notorious threesome in their large work area.


They had a third rolling board with mathematical scribbling all over it.  He saw ‘lbs’ a lot of times, so obviously Marcus was calculating weight.


He got close enough to hear their conversation after getting away from the noise of the machines.  William was speaking.


“All I’m saying, is that trying to put water into these som’bitches is going to be a pain in the ass, Marcus!  I thought the third engine tweaked would give us the protection for the contents?”


All three men nodded, acknowledging Jeffrey’s arrival, but continued their conversation.  Marcus stood up from his chair and went back to the third board picking up a white board marker.  “Look, the calculations show if we tweak that third engine, we will have more than enough lift to pull that much water weight and get it to the moon.  Not only will the water help provide a small amount of the radiation shielding, but we now have opportunity for oxygen and water on the moon.  We need both of these up there.”


William opened his mouth, then shut it.  He turned to Bobcat, “I don’t know about that.  I sure would feel comfortable knowing we had a shitload of oxygen.”


Bobcat was leaning back in his chair with one hand steadying him on the table, “So, how would even get it in the container in the first place?”


William turned and put a hand out to Marcus who handed him his marker.  “The biggest issue is going to be sealing the insides around the doors.  Some sort of seal will be needed there.  I’d build skids along the bottom and we need to have internal shipping crates at the right size.  Then I’d weld braces on the remaining three sides and at the end so we could use a forklift to push the crates inside and keep them mostly centered and in the middle.”


Jeffrey asked, “What about loading the water?”


William finished his little isometric design of a shipping container and drew three circles on the top, “So, these represent our gravity drives.  We need to put a spigot with pressure release on the top.  Once we have the crates inside and the container sealed, we need to fill it with water.”


Marcus said, “Don’t forget that ice expands.”


Bobcat asked, “I thought ice took up less volume?”


Jeffrey corrected, “No, it expands first, then contracts.  It’s why it breaks up rocks on mountains so effectively.  The rain comes down and gets into the cracks, freezes and opens the cracks and then recedes.”


William looked at his picture, “Well, the pressure release wouldn’t help with ice.  We need to figure out how much water we need and measure it.  Plus, the inside crates are going to need to be water proof.”  He considered how the water would flow into the container, around the inside crates and fill up equally around them.  He turned to Marcus, “How long for the water to freeze?”


Marcus looked at the drawing, “I’d need to figure out the insulation value for the reduced signature thermal coating we spray on the outside and then we would need to think about rotating the containers due to the sun.”


“Hell,” Bobcat said, “I thought that would be something that you could do off the top of your head.  It isn’t like we are asking you to design ablative armor or something.”


Marcus looked at him, his mouth open.


William shook his head in disgust, “You did it again, you ‘pucking frick’.”


Jeffrey looked at the three of them, “What did he do?”


Marcus held out his hand and William returned the marker allowing Marcus to start jotting down notes on his board.


Bobcat turned to face Jeffrey, “I’m trying to read as much science fiction as possible right now.  A lot of what we need is already posited in those books.  I read about ablative armor in a couple of books so I thought about using the term here.  I just tripped an idea in our esteemed rocket scientist’s brain and sent him down some path, God only knows where.”  Bobcat turned to smile at William, “Point for me.”


William nodded his agreement.


Jeffrey thought about how this weird group worked so well together.  Now, he was going to add to the mix.


“Ok guys, I’ve been tasked with ramping up the capabilities.  I know you have the flying Bobcat,” he turned to William, “the manufacturing and assembly,’ and then to Marcus who continued writing but did nod his head that he heard, “and the rocket science-y stuff, Marcus.  However, I think we are light in other areas including a lady that is focused on regenerative plant growth systems if she will join us.”


“Why would she join us, or why might she not?”  William asked.


“Well, she’s ex-Nasa,” Jeffrey heard Marcus snort, as he continued writing. “But she left NASA due to politics and took what she knew about growing food and is in Africa at the moment.  So, she may or may not care to deal with growing food in space again.  I think that about sums up both questions.”  William nodded, “Also, we are going to need some people who are willing to chance outer space.  I’ve talked with Bethany Anne and she has agreed to my assessment that you guys can’t be in the first group out of here.”


Jeffrey thought he might get a little push back on that, but it was Marcus who started the ball rolling, “That’s fucking preposterous!”  He threw down the marker turning around and pointing at Jeffrey, “What do you mean we can’t be in the first group out of here?  I’ve worked my whole life, which is a fair bit I might add, to be up there.”  He pointed towards the ceiling. “How long do I have left?  I could keel over tomorrow and then where would I be?”


“Probably six feet under, is my best guess.”  Bobcat chimed in.


“Not sure about that,” William retorted.  “The ground around here is too rocky.  I think we stuff him in a Pod and consign his grumpy ass to the sun.”


Marcus faced William, “Keep that up and I’ll bring the sun to your happy ass!  You won’t be able to sit down for a week.”


William turned towards Bobcat, “Damn, these rocket guys are always about flames and burning shit.”


“Word.” Bobcat replied.


“And you!”  Marcus turned towards his other partner, “I’ll withhold the modifications to Shelly we were going to work on.  That bird will have to twaddle along at her rated speed like any good dark pigeon!”


“It’s ‘Black Hawk’ and for the love of god, man.  Take a chill pill.  I’m on your team, no need to pull out of helping Shelly, that’s just mean.  She’s not done anything against you. Tell me you didn’t enjoy the ride last week?”


“Well,” Marcus grumped, “it was good.”  Bobcat thought the worst was over, “But not as good as space would be!”


Oh shit, Bobcat thought, here we go again.


Jeffrey asked, “Have you guys been up there yet?”


Marcus turned, “Up where?”  Jeffrey turned his hand and pointed a finger up. Marcus answered, “Only for a minimum amount of time when we were testing something.  We are always on a timeline.”


Jeffrey shrugged, “So, let’s go.  Seems like we might need to do a little research right?”


Bobcat threw back his chair, Marcus bent to get the marker off the floor while William shoved his chair under the table.


“Don’t just stand there man!”  Bobcat said, “We are going to play hooky!”   Bobcat walked over to the fridge and pulled out a six pack, paused for a moment then reached in and pulled a second six-pack out of the fridge and closed it.  He turned around and started back towards the guys.  Bobcat noticed Jeffrey eyeing the beers and answered Jeffrey’s unasked question, “It’s for research.”


Jeffrey said, “Ok.  What about the second six pack?”


Bobcat lifted it up and smiled, “You always need a second round of research.  Even Marcus will tell you not to trust the first results.”


Marcus’s voice came out of his office, “That’s true!”


Jeffrey just shook his head. These guys were changing him more than he was changing them


The speaker squawked, “Marcus?”


Jeffrey heard him call out in his office, “Yes?”


“It’s Wayne.  I have Ms. Tina here to see you about an astronomy discussion?”


Marcus popped his head around the corner of his office door, “Oh damn, I forgot about that.  What should I do?”


Jeffrey was the only parent in the group, “You ask her Mom if you can take her on a field trip.”


“To outer space?”


“Yes.  Although if you describe the reason for the fieldtrip as something scientific and have been completely honest and if she doesn’t ask, well that’s on her, right?”


“You get in trouble with your wife, don’t you?


 Jeffrey answered, “All the damn time.”






Bethany Anne was working out in her area again.  She needed to get her form back in control.  Her night spent with Michael had been … a lot.  A lot to enjoy, and a lot to take in.  Leaving his house had taken a huge amount of willpower.  Truthfully, she snuck in a request to TOM.  Asking him to dampen her emotions so she could get through it.  She had, however, made that last kiss take forever.  Tabitha had hugged her goodbye and whispered to her, “At least now he won’t be moping so much!”


While Bethany Anne had been able to keep her face from giving her away, she noticed Michael rolling his eyes behind the two of them. When he noticed Bethany Anne eyeing him, he simply shrugged his shoulders in response.


That sneaky rat bastard!  He HAD wanted her badly.


Bethany Anne?


Yes TOM.


The spaceship has been requested to pilot three Pods up into space.


Who’s taking them up?


I see that Jeffrey has authorized Team BMW some research time in outer space, and one request from Marcus for a ‘field trip.’


Wait, what?  What field trip?


It seems that he has made a request of Cheryl Lynn for Tina to go with them.


Really?  I wonder if she is going to stay with genetics.  Marcus must be doing a full court press to get her interested in outer space.


Any reason she can’t do both?


Oh, I don’t care if she studies everything. I do care that she is able to cope with the work load and maintain good grades.  As long as a student pushes themselves, I’ll turn over the heavens to help them.


You do realize you are sending her to the heavens?


Bethany Anne paused from her workout. I guess in a way, but it is Team BMW and you that are making it happen.


Are you going to have them ask her brother to go along?


Why is she going?


I believe she is meeting after school with Marcus. 


Then no, I’m not going to do any such thing.  The world tends to help those that are pushing themselves.  I suggest Todd learn that now.  Catering to him won’t do it.


You know, I think you would make a good parent.


Bethany Anne smiled, Thanks TOM.  That means a lot coming from you.


Why, because I’m an alien?


     No jackass, because you’re my closest friend.


You know, I wouldn’t mind going up either.


Bethany Anne smiled, Research?


Sure, if you want to call it that.


Bethany Anne left the workout area and texted Gabrielle that she was taking a Pod to go spend some time to think.


Her text came back quickly, “WHERE R U LANDING?”


She smiled, “RIGHT BACK HERE – YOU NOSY VAMP!”


Gabrielle replied, “HEY, I’D SAY DON’T DO ANYTHING I WOULDN’T, BUT THEN YOU NEED A COUPLE OF CENTURIES TO GET EVEN CLOSE ;-)”



Bethany Anne looked out of the Pod glass from the upper thermosphere, having already swiped the read-outs off so she could see the beautiful blue sphere below her.


Bethany Anne and TOM had figured out that with the new Etherically connected radio systems in the Pods, TOM and ADAM could route their communication to the spaceship and then back into the Pod.  It was a little odd for TOM to hear himself, even if the voice sounded more electronic than organic.  At times, Bethany Anne preferred to speak out loud with her friend.




“It’s so beautiful.”


“I agree.”  TOM said.




They were circumnavigating the globe and presently Bethany Anne could spot Australia and New Zealand beneath them.


ADAM?


>>Yes?<<


While ADAM could run his voice through the same connections TOM did, he did not normally chose that process and Bethany Anne had never told him to do so.


Can you interface with the Heads Up Display (HUD) and highlight the locations where the servers are located that you guys protected?


Outlines began to appear representing the land masses beneath her. ADAM made his globe a sphere, but only showed the information from their present view.  There were a few dots in New Zealand and more in Australia.  ADAM placed a count of servers cleaned, by country, off to the side.


The numbers kept rising until it stopped at a total exceeding eighty-four thousand.


Bethany Anne put her foot out on the bracket and put her chin in her hand, bracing her elbow on her knee.  “Why do I keep hearing about millions of machines being affected if you only found eighty-four thousand?”


>>I am only displaying the major infection sites.  That is not a count of the servers I cleaned or the dormant slave copies which infect the desktop machines and laptops.<<


“As a percentage, how many do you believe you cleaned up??


>>Are you asking by country, by this one group, or as a whole?<<


“Whole.”


>>I compute the clean-up value somewhere less than one percent.<<


“Mother-puss-filled…Really?”  Bethany Anne was shocked.


>>Yes.  All nations which have the capabilities expect that the ‘First Strike’ of a new war will be digital.  The Chinese were just the first major power to recognize this tactic and have become masters at it, they are constantly evolving and updating. However, all the major powers do it to some extent.”<<


Bethany Anne searched her memories for the name of a virus or something that was in the news many years before, “What about Stux-net?”


>>Stux-net is thought to be a joint Israeli-American worm used to destroy the Iranian centrifuges used in their nuclear program. In 2015, Kaspersky Labs found another highly sophisticated espionage platform created by what they called the Equation Group. Due to timing between similarly designed exploits used by both groups and their use in programs has led to assumptions they are either the same group or working closely together.  


Presently, the expectation is that any significant war between nations will start with a debilitating strike to upset all services within the target country.  For example, China would release digital war packages which would reduce if not completely disrupt services such as electricity, water, gas and oil flow.  The necessary command packages which run the plants have been easily entered and their command and control components can be remotely coordinated.  


A foreign country in control would be able to do something as benign as shut down the facility. Or escalate to issuing commands which could be used to cause substantial damage to infrastructure. This would trigger devastation within the country and require that civilian efforts be focused internally. 


This would minimize any assistance these companies might have been able to bring to bear to support an outwardly facing war effort. Once the populace is focused on their own issues, the expectation is that the war effort would lose any support. The expected result is that the government would be called upon to sue for peace.<<


 “So every major power is doing this?  How much did you do to deter the Chinese with your last effort?”


>>I’ve calculated the result to be less than seven percent of their existing infrastructure.  My expectation is that they have already infiltrated an additional two percent to date.<<


“Show me all digitally compromised locations by severity.”


The three dimensional globe started filling in with dots.  Reds through oranges, yellows and finally blues.  She took a hand and swiped it on the glass, turning the 3D globe and looking around the virtual world.  Except for Antarctica, there wasn’t a continent that wasn’t covered in oranges and reds.


Oh. My. God.”












CHAPTER FIVE


    “ADAM, I want to make sure I understand what you are showing me. All of these dots represent computers that have already had their security breached, do I understand that correctly?”


    >>YES.<<


    “Alright, explain what has happened in terms so I can understand.”


    >>Since we have been discussing the Chinese will it be acceptable to use China and the United States as examples?<<


    Bethany Anne nodded her head habitually as she answered. “Yes, that works - Just say ‘U.S.’ though.”


    >>Very well. China is preparing for the possibility of war with the U.S. With computers controlling so many vital functions, computer systems have become strategic targets. So foreign powers, in this example China, infiltrate key computer systems. Key systems include computers that electrical power companies use to control the power grids supplying their customers. The Chinese would target these computer systems and infiltrate them with a worm or latent virus. If war between the two countries appears inevitable, the Chinese would send a signal to that worm package causing it to become active. The probable result would be that the power grid of that electric company would cease to function. That would cause a complete blackout for that company’s customers. This is an example of just one facet of modern infrastructure. World powers target the computers of every infrastructure system they can infiltrate. Have I provided an adequate example?<<


“Yes, thank you. ADAM, do you have any idea what would happen if all of those worm packages were released at one time?”


>>Significant infrastructure and societal turmoil.  Calculations project forty-two percent reduction in population within five years as food and fuel become scarce and societies fail to maintain cohesion.<<


She slapped the side of the pod in anger, “Son of a bitch!  Those bastards are playing with life as we know it.  Those pillow biting dumb-shits are going to put into place something that anyone can use to drop the world into the fucking toilet!”


Bethany Anne stayed quiet as she fumed and thought on what ADAM had just told her.  “ADAM, what would be the best tactical method of neutralizing all of the payloads?”


>>Provided the software does not run on a communication system where it will release its payload if it fails to receive a communication, then blocking the communications would be sufficient.  However, if the payloads require the ability to communicate and without success it starts the payload, then the computer systems would have to be found and systematically cleaned.  Potentially, it would have to be a surgical strike at all control programs within the targeted company simultaneously.  Should the targeted company have a control program residing on a laptop that either remotely calls in, or the employee comes into the workplace and plugs back in the beneficial effort would be wasted. <<


“So, we are talking a complete beheading of the control systems and then cleanout of the payloads within the systems.”


>>Yes – For each individual location.<<


“Then, you would have to upgrade their security … Wait a minute.  If you did this like you and TOM did the Chinese, then we would set off all sorts of alarms.  Any way that we can do this without alarming everyone and setting off the result we are trying to protect everyone from?”


>>No.<<


“Bethany Anne, what about using a front?” TOM asked through the Pod’s speakers.


“Like the security company?”


“No, I’m thinking something like Anonymous.”


Bethany Anne started laughing.  “Oh TOM, that’s priceless!”


>>Why is attributing our efforts to an anonymous person priceless? <<


“TOM’s talking about Anonymous the hacktivist group, not an anonymous person.  If you setup all of your work and act like an Anonymous hacker then the major power players are just going to believe that they are fighting other humans.   If you make a mistake somewhere, then the powers are going to believe it more and more.  Yeah, that makes sense.  You’re going to have to flub a bit.”


>>Flub?<<


You are going to have to make a few mistakes on purpose and not have everything you do seem more sophisticated than what most programmers can accomplish right now.


>>I’m going to make mistakes … intentionally? <<


“Yes.”


>>I am having trouble computing the justification for making mistakes on purpose. <<


“That’s because not everything humans do is logical.  We can be a very emotionally driven being.  Those emotions can cause us to do illogical actions.”


Bethany Anne thought about how to help ADAM understand and came up empty.  Well, maybe another time.


“I need you to start the process by implementing small ‘fix it’ jobs to test your efforts.  Study everything you can on the hacktivist group Anonymous and see what they do that might provide you with cover for your persona.  Run it by me first before you do anything, please.  I don’t need to deal with a ruined world while we fight something coming at us, too.”


She exhaled loudly in the small cockpit.  What was usually a breathtaking view and a regenerative time to herself wasn’t working too well for her right now.


She smiled, what she needed was a fresh place to go.  “TOM.”


“Yes?”


“Let’s go see the moon.”


The pod turned lazily, the view of space taking up the glass in front of her as the earth slid off to one side.  The moon came into view with just a slip of the earth still in the bottom left of the view.


It was beautiful, hanging there and bright enough for her to feel like it was ‘just a few miles away’.


“Ready?”  Asked TOM.


She smiled, “Make it so, pilot!”


The Pod shot forward, the earth disappeared off of the glass in just a moment as the moon suddenly and rapidly started growing in size.


Bethany Anne’s face was alight in glee, her smile large enough for her teeth to reflect moonlight back outside as she shouted “Fuuuuuck Meeeeee!”


The first modified human using alien technology went screaming towards the moon.  Her AI and Alien companions joining her for a ride that would become the point where historians marked the future of Queen Bethany Anne’s legacy.


QBS Polarus – Mediterranean


“Well, son of a bitch.”  Frank Kurns was reviewing his latest information packet.  He had communicated with ADAM, who had offered to optimize Frank’s programs and research tools.  Frank was mollified that it had taken ADAM at least six hours to upgrade all of the programming.


Frank didn’t know it had taken ADAM less than twenty-two minutes.  ADAM had been told by Bethany Anne to wait six more hours before notifying Frank.


However, that modified code had now uncovered a potential vampire issue in the land down under.  Frank sighed, he had hoped that they could focus on outer space after Bethany Anne and Michael had taken David out.  Frank had seen the remains of the ceramic protective vest that Bethany Anne had been wearing when David had shot her.


That had been one powerful rifle.


Frank picked up his phone and dialed an extension, “Dan?  It’s Frank.  No, I’m good, thank you.  Hey, this is one of those ‘old timey’ calls.  No, not that kind of old timey call meathead.  This is a potential Forsaken call.  Yeah, my sentiments exactly.  Where?  Australia.  No, I don’t think you need her on this.  Hell, you could probably send in a couple of the guys but I think you need to ask Gabrielle to lead this.  Yeah, because she might know them.  It would be nice if this could be solved without violence but who the hell knows.  Yes, I’ll have the specifics for you within the hour.  Well, I’m sure sooner is better than later.  Scott and Darryl are back from Texas?  What the hell were they in Texas for?  UFO sighting?  Are you shitting me?  Yes… Wait, they are there for bigfoot?  Good lord man, which is it?  Stop laughing, dick-less.  Ok, UFO it is.  That’s interesting.  No, I just thought that MUFON’s data would be nice to go through. No, I’ll ask ADAM to help me with that.  Well, if they haven’t found anything then those two would be perfect.  I imagine John wouldn’t want to be separated from Cheryl Lynn at this time and Darryl and Scott work well together.  Yeah, there is that whole Eric and Gabrielle thing.  No, I don’t think anything is going on but you never know if it might flare up again, better not to tempt fate.  Sure, meet you there at two, bye.”




Sydney, Australia




Richard Linstone arrived at Maxwell’s Café, a favorite small coffee shop on Spring Street in Sydney, sharply at eight pm.  He walked up to the glass display case which had sandwiches and other food on display. Richard smiled to the lady behind the counter as he selected his piccolo and beef Szechuan salad extra bloody.


After paying, he made his way over to his good friend for the last two hundred and forty years.  His friend was wearing a trendy white shirt over his brown slacks and sipping tea.  Richard, on the other hand, was happy with a blazer over his tight t-shirt and designer jeans.


He nodded his head as he sat his piccolo and salad on the table.  “Samuel.”


His friend sipped his tea, “Richard, how are you this evening?”


“Good, good.  I’m going to need to get another bite later since I’m in town.  No need to waste this opportunity.”


“A little blood to go?”


Richard smiled, “Something like that, yes.”  He took his seat and made sure no customers were too close. “Ok Samuel, you asked for this time, please let me know why it was so important that we touch base?”


“Come-come Richard, where are the manners you were taught?”


“I’m doing a decade without.  I like to change things up from time to time.”


“Like the time you decided only to drink from animals?”


Richard made a face of disgust, “That was a horrible idea.  Thank god I had only decided to try that for six months.”


Samuel laughed, “What about the time you would only take the blood of virgins?”


Richard rolled his eyes, “How was I supposed to know that the sexual revolution would start that next year?”  he smiled, thinking back on that decade.


“Well,” Samuel agreed, “you were smart enough to broaden your definition of ‘virgin’ after a while.”


It was Richards turn to laugh, “I had to cut it off as either never having sex, or not having sex in the last six months.  I’m telling you, even then finding a good snack at the disco was a real tribulation.  I lost more money in free drinks just to find out the little sluts had been doing different men each month.  I’m telling you, if I wasn’t such an easy going Vampire, I would have believed that society was going down the tubes.”


Samuel tried not to bark out in laughter.  His mirth, however didn’t stop from manifesting in his eyes. “You dolt!  I had to listen to you for over three hours complain about the poor morals in the 70’s.  All you would talk about was that single females had finally been able to get the pill here in Australia and finding a nice virgin was as impossible as finding snow on a hot day in Alice Springs.


Richard was taken back to that night, “Ahhh, good times.”


Samuel looked around and muttered through his grin, “Says you...”


Richard shrugged, “True.”  He looked at his friend, “Why do I get the impression that you are finally going to get to the point of this conversation?”


Samuel put down his empty tea cup.  “Because you are an intelligent man and know me too damn well.”


Richard raised his eyebrows, “This must be a good request, you are buttering both sides.”


“Oh?  I can’t remember which way your swinging this decade.”


Richard waved his hand airily, “I gave up deciding that back in ’97.  Frankly, I’m just too old to care much anymore. But never mind that, you’re trying to deflect.  What is it you needed to call me out of my cave to come see you?”


This time, Samuel couldn’t hold his laughter in. There was only one other couple in the establishment at the moment. They glanced briefly his way then resumed their own conversation.  Samuel got his mirth under control, “Your calling that seven thousand square foot edifice to hedonistic activities a cave?”


“Well,” Richard sniffed, “I’ve yet to get some of the walls painted again after I went through my black phase so yes, I’m calling it my cave.”


Samuel shook his head and continued smiling, “Well, as much fun as that must be I do have some rumors that we need to deal with.”


Richard waved his hand in a universal ‘continue’ motion.


“First, we have to deal with the Queen’s request for tribute.”


Richard made a face, “That bitch is trying that request again?  Didn’t we slap her down back in…what, ’88?”


“It was ’89 and the ‘bitch’ is much stronger this time.  My contacts are saying that she is capable of disappearing just like Michael is rumored to do.”  Samuel looked around, like he was thinking that now they might be watched, “Either way, she and her group did take out Hichoi back in December.”


“He went to her house, remember?”  Richard commented.


“Yes, that was a strategically poor choice, but that’s the first vampire on vampire killing in a long time. I tell you, it gives me the shivers.  That was the whole reason we came out here instead of staying in Europe, less bullshit to deal with.”


Richard shrugged, “Look, we would have had to deal with something sooner if the Queen’s mother wasn’t killed in the Hiroshima blast.”


“Lucky that.”  Samuel mentioned


“You know better, that was Michael’s doing.”  Richard said pointedly.


“Fine.  So get on me because I’ve enjoyed an extra seven decades without upper level politics.  It isn’t like...”  Samuel’s cell phone rang.  “Sorry.”  He looked down and his eyes opened a little larger.


“Who is it?” Richard could see Samuel’s surprise.


“Gabrielle.”  Replied Samuel.


“Gabrielle who?”  Richard asked.


Samuel looked at his friend, “Not Gabrielle ‘who’, but Gabrielle.  Stephen’s daughter.”


It was Richard’s turn to open his eyes, “How did she get your number?” The cell phone stopped ringing.  “You missed the phone call.”


“Yes, so I did.  I have to admit that her calling caught me off guard.”  He looked up to his friend again, “When was the last time you had anything to do with her?”


“Wasn’t it the night the three of us got drunk and all woke up together in bed?”


Samuel smiled, “Yes.  Imagine her surprise when that happened.  I think she still believes something happened with the three of us.”


“Didn’t it?”


Samuel looked at his friend, “You weren’t able to stand up, much less anything else on your body.  It was all I could do to get everyone undressed and in bed.  It was the best practical joke I’ve ever played on her.”


“It’s why she hasn’t spoken to us since, you arsehole!”


Samuel shrugged, “Yes, but god you should have been awake to see her face turn beet red!  Oh, if only I had a camera in that century.”


“How the hell did we get so drunk?  Did you figure that out?”  Richard was looking up to the ceiling, trying to remember that far back.


“Poison.” Samuel replied emphatically.


Richard dropped his eyes to look at his friend, “Poison?”


Samuel nodded, “Yes, it seems that the girl I had used for help had spiked our barrel of wine with poison.  It did something to our bodies that took a while to recover so the alcohol effects took a lot longer to flush out of our bodies.”


Richard’s eyes grew huge and his mouth opened before he pointed a finger at the friend across the table, “You poisoned the three of us!”


“No, you dolt!”  Samuel said, then relented, “Well, not on purpose.”


“Then what was the plan?”


“I had heard rumors that a certain grape in that area would cause alcohol to become stronger, so I had a young woman go and pick me some berries and I gave her a description.”


“What did she do?”


This time, it was Samuel who made the disgusted face, “I believe she was the original blond that all jokes have been based on ever since.  The girl picked moonseed instead of the berry I asked for.”


“The grapes looking stuff?”


“The very same.”  Samuel replied.


“Good thing we didn’t all die that night.”  Richard said and glanced at the door as three new people come into the coffee house.  The small group consisted of a black man, a white man and then a white woman.   The white woman stepped around the two men and started coming right at them and she didn’t seem happy to see them.


“Samuel?”


“Hmmm?”


“Do you remember what Gabrielle looks like?”


“Sure, darker hair, pretty long.  Wonderful figure with a great pair of…”


Richard cut him off, “I’d leave off any other description unless you want eat your foot.”


Samuel rolled his eyes, “Why? Is she right behind me?”


Richard nodded slowly.


Samuel smiled at his friend’s joke and turned in his chair. Richard watched as his shoulders slumped.  “Awww, Crikey I’m cactus.”


Gabrielle came up to the table and looked down at Samuel, “Well, hello there Samuel,” She nodded to Richard, “and Richard.  It’s been a long time.”


Richard smiled, “Gabrielle, imagine you showing up right now, we were just talking about you.”


“Yes, I’ll just bet you were.  Probably because I tried to be civil to pencil-dick here and called before showing up.”


“I can explain…”  She put a hand up in front of Samuel’s face.  “Samuel, I’ve been listening for the last five minutes. When I’m off this operation I will come back and we will have a discussion like mature adults.”  Samuel smiled up at her, “And by that, I mean I’m going to kick your ass from here to Newcastle and back, do you understand me?” Samuel’s smile turned to a grimace.


She turned to the two guys, “Scott, if you don’t mind I’d appreciate a sandwich from the glass case.”  She looked at the four sided column that had chalk paint up all four sides, “See if they will do that Jose’s breakfast special.  If they will, I’ll have that over the sandwich and a Jumbo coffee.”  She turned to the other, “Darryl, would you make sure nothing comes from the front?”  He nodded and moved a couple of tables over. Darryl grabbed a small stool from one of the café’s round tables and rested one foot on it, continuing to stand.  The other couple were leaving at that time.


Richard and Samuel shared a look and Richard minutely shrugged his shoulders.  They both turned to Gabrielle when she turned back around.  “So guys, I’m here to find out about the rumors of potential Forsaken business.  Do you want to fess up what you know or shall I beat you both until you squeal?”  She gave them both a smile that in other times might have lit up the room.


Richard waved at her, “Gabrielle, you can’t take us both out and would you risk your human muscle?”


Gabrielle smiled when Scott laid a plate with a sandwich and her coffee on the table next to them instead of in front of her and Scott said, “Don’t want your food to go to waste, sometimes it’s tough to change old and senile minds.” As he eyed the two vampires. He then turned his body slightly to angle towards the kitchen, “The counter help is doing something to prep for later in the back, they said to give a shout if we need anything.”


Richard turned his head, “Who are you calling senile?  You might look strong but…”


Gabrielle cut him off, “Don’t Richard.”  He turned and looked at her, “The reason that I’m talking with you is because these two have killed enough Nosferatu to fill a pool with their blood and have plenty left over.  They would just as soon break your backs over their legs as talk with you.  Since the two of you are, somewhat, old friends of mine I’ve been tasked with trying to keep this as bloodless as possible.”


Richard hissed, “These two Gabrielle?”  He sniffed, “I can smell their humanity on them from across the coffee shop.”


Gabrielle lowered her face to Richard’s level, “You fucking idiot.  These are two of the Queen’s Own.  They restrain because I’ve been put in the lead, but don’t assume I control them.  They can and will put you into the grave a final time if you fail to help me.”  She stood back up, “So, who’s going to talk about the false queen first?”


Samuel spat, “False?  Tell that to Hichoi and his group.  They have seen their last moonrise.”


Gabrielle nodded, “That was the information I received.  That’s why she’s been tagged.  Vamp on Vamp violence has been outlawed.”


“By Michael?  He hasn’t been to this side of the world, ever.  His edicts mean little to us here.”


“No.”  Gabrielle said, “By Bethany Anne.”


“Who?”  Richard asked.


Richard noticed the human man turn his head towards him.  “She is talking about the Queen Bitch, you poor excuse for a sentient being.  If you say one disparaging word about my Queen, I will pull your intestines out through your mouth and sit on your useless ass until the sun comes up.”  Richard was about to make a disparaging remark when he noticed something that made him stop and stare.


The human’s eyes were glowing red.












CHAPTER SIX


Washington D.C. – USA


Barb tilted her chair back and leaned her head against the headrest.  Then, she leaned back further and stared up at the ceiling as she twirled in the chair, causing the ceiling to go round-and-round.


That lasted about three turns before she closed her eyes, “Good going, Barbie girl, you just successfully made yourself nauseous!”


It was a nice Saturday afternoon outside and Barb was stuck.


She was pretty far down the rabbit trail on the report.  She couldn’t completely pin down the group, but enough smoking trails were there to lead her to this new TQB Enterprises.


When she looked into the taxes and roster, it was pretty damning.  They had a retired General as the Company Operations Officer and a group of black-ops guys had disappeared into the mix. Not to mention a fuck-ton of ex-Navy people were floating around the Mediterranean Sea during the time of the Turkey operation. To top it all off they had purchased or, at minimum, indefinitely leased a major army base in Colorado that had just conveniently been decommissioned.


Why the hell hadn’t anyone else pulled this information together?


The companies under the umbrella were old.  Some of them centuries old and some as recent as a couple of years ago.  The elusive head of the company had real estate down in the Miami area but she hadn’t been seen there recently.


Barb had tried to track credit card receipts, but they didn’t make sense.  She might have purchased something in Miami for lunch and then in France at night with no method of travel that Barb could tell.


She had been able to confirm that the company had private jets, but she had tracked the flight plans. Occasionally they matched up, but frequently they didn’t.


It was pissing her off.  It was like she was missing pieces of the puzzle and couldn’t put it all together.


But that wasn’t the worst aspect.  The part that really concerned her was ‘who’ she was doing this research for.  There were plenty of potential clues, but they kept pointing to a non-entity.  The kind of non-entity you would use if your group was black and deniable.


The kind of group that might get rid of any pointer back to them.




Sydney, Australia


Samuel snapped in irritation, “Gabrielle, there is no way that…”  He stopped talking when he felt the gun barrel touching his skull.  Samuel noticed that Richard’s eyes were wide open across the little table.


The human bent down next to Samuel and hissed into his ear, “Please give me an excuse to blow your fucking brains all over the place.  The humans here would get money and might receive memory modification.  I, on the other hand, would have the pleasure of ending your useless ass.  The next words out of your mouth better respect Gabrielle or I’ll personally take you out and kick your ass.”


Samuel looked at Gabrielle but she just shrugged and pulled out a small knife to clean her beautifully manicured nails.


Samuel never saw Richard’s minute head shake.


“What the hell,” Samuel hissed, “I’ll go for door number two but I get to suck on your neck when I win this fight you disrespecting ass.  I’m not Nosferatu and there is a world of difference as I’ll show you.”


“Then you had better bring your ‘A’ game, old-timer.”  Scott said.


“So boys,” Gabrielle said putting up he knife, “Now that you have both enjoyed your ritual dick-beating, I have questions.”


“No.”  Samuel replied, “You said that this irresponsible idiot could break my back over his knee.  You don’t get an answer until he proves he should even be allowed to talk at the adults table.”


She shrugged, “Well, once your ass whipping is complete, we will finish this conversation.  Come with me.”


Scott stood back to give them room to get up.  They started following Gabrielle.  Samuel turned his head and said in a very quiet voice, “See, she even seeks to protect them from me right now.”


“You arse, she isn’t protecting them, she is protecting you!”


Samuel frowned and turned to face his friend. “What the hell are you talking about?”


Richard shook his head, “These two aren’t human.  The rumors of Michael’s Queen are apparently more accurate than we thought.”  The two stepped outside and looked to the left where Gabrielle was stepping into an alley between the two buildings.


They caught up with her.  She was easily seen in the ambient light originating from the street and business buildings around them.


Gabrielle asked, “How did you guys arrive?”  Both admitted, taxis. “Figures.”  She turned to Richard, “Do you still have that useless excuse for a house out on Point Piper?”


Richard raised an eye, “I didn’t know you knew about that house.”


Gabrielle eyed him, “There is a lot you don’t know about myself and my team.  I imagine your education will be enhanced by the morning.  We will meet you two there for the ‘discussion’ between the two of you.”  She turned to walk back towards the street and said over her shoulder, “Don’t be late, Samuel.  It’s so rude.”


Samuel turned to Richard after a few seconds, “What am I missing?”


Richard was still starring at the empty spot where Gabrielle had disappeared around the corner, “I’m pretty sure you missed the part where something dramatic happened on the other side of the world and now that tsunami is making itself known here.”


Samuel looked where Richard was starring, “You believe her human can do anything to me?”


Richard shrugged, “Have you ever known Gabrielle to allow someone to go into harm’s way.”


“Yes!”  Samuel huffed.  “That time back in ’1763 or maybe ’62.”


“Ok,” Richard agreed, “Point to you.  How about have you ever known Gabrielle to unnecessarily allow a human to get hurt by a vampire?”


“No,” Samuel mused, “but it doesn’t mean I know everything that has changed about her in the last couple of centuries.”


“No?” Richard turned to him, “then you have laid dormant for too long.”  Richard started towards the street, “Let’s go get a cab and get to the house.  I don’t want to be late for this.”


Samuel caught up with him, “What’s ‘this’?”



Richard was waiving his arm and was lucky when a taxi coming down the other way made an illegal u-turn and stopped in front of them.  Richard answered, “Hell if I know, I just feel life is changing and you know how I feel about change.”


Samuel got in the taxi thinking about Richard’s comment.


The taxi took them through the Cross city tunnel toll road and the two found themselves being dropped off just fifteen minutes later.  Samuel had received a text that they were waiting for them in the back of the house.


The two of them walked around Richard’s tiny estate to the back where they found the other three sitting at one of the tables around his large pool.  The lights were on a timer and the whole back yard had a beautiful glow from all of the decorative lights pointed up through the bushes and trees.  The pool lights cast their own blue hue onto the back of his house.


The three stood up.


Richard asked as they came up, “What are the rules?”


Scott answered, “Don’t squeal like a little baby.”


Samuel looked at him and frowned in disapproval, “How dry.”


Gabrielle shrugged, “All fists, no weapons.”


Samuel considered, “How about he is allowed a knife if I’m allowed my fingers?”


Gabrielle looked over to Richard, “You will vouch that I tried to keep it as bloodless as possible?”  Richard nodded to her.  She turned back to the two, “Do try to keep the neighbors out of this.”


Samuel smiled and took off his white shirt, “Sorry, but this is custom tailored, I don’t want your blood ruining it.”


Scott asked, “Are you good to go, now?”


Samuel answered “Yes.”  Then received the hardest left cross he had ever had the misfortune to feel, his neck whipping back as he heard he jaw break.  He found himself trying to pick himself up off the concrete surround of Richard’s pool, his blood dripping into the pool.


Samuel’s eye didn’t need to change to red, they were already that way fueled by his anger.  He stood up as Scott was walking to him, “First blood was yours, but don’t assume that one cheap shot…”  He had to stop talking when the human came at him as fast as a vampire and Samuel ducked the first punch but failed to see the knee coming up to break his nose disorienting him for a moment.


Samuel’s left fingers changed to half inch daggers and he swiped up as his body was lifted off the ground and was tossed back fifteen feet to land in the grassy back yard.  He rolled backwards to get his feet under him.


Scott ripped off his shirt, the three eight inch scratches across his torso from Samuel’s sharpened fingers starting to heal in front of Samuel’s eyes.


“So,” Samuel said, “Some sort of vampire then?”


Scott grunted, “You are so old-school I’m not sure you are capable of learning any more, are you?”


Samuel pivoted quickly, blindingly fast and whipped his leg around in a roundhouse kick.


Scott blocked it and stepped back a step allowing Samuel to return to his own ready position.


Samuel noticed Scott’s red eyes, matching his own.  “What?” Samuel asked, “are you recognizing the difference between Nosferatu and a real Vampire now?”


Scott laughed, “Motherfucker, I’ve worked out with the best and I’ve been beaten by the best.  My brothers work to take out monsters who make you seem like a high-school workout.”


“Monsters?  You haven’t seen a monster yet!”


Samuel’s right hand fingers grew their own nails.  He kicked off his shoes as his toes stretched and then claws erupted through his socks.


Scott looked down and noticed the new danger, “You seriously need to man-scape.”  At Samuel’s hiss, Scott shrugged, “Just a suggestion.”


Samuel’s blood lust was incensed.  Not only was this upstart causing him pain, but his insolence was driving Samuel beyond his normally controlled calm.  His toes tore into the turf as he launched himself at the human.  He swiped at him, but he had dodged to Samuels’ right.  He did score another set of shallow cuts in a small action where he should have eviscerated him.


He pivoted to face the human and received a large boot imprint on his chest and what felt like four cracked ribs as he flew back towards the pool area, narrowly missing a metal table.


Both men heard Richard hiss, “Dammit, you two cock-ups better miss my eighteenth century furniture!”


Richard heard the deep voice from the human named Darryl, “If you want anything saved, I’d suggest you move it.  Scott isn’t even working hard yet.”


Richard turned, his mouth open, “Truly?”


Darryl nodded, “Yes.  Here, I’ll help you, let’s do this.”


Richard was caught unaware when the big man switched to his own vampire speed and jumped across Richard’s pool to start grabbing chairs and other stuff, moving them to the side.  Richard did the same and when they both arrived back, next to Gabrielle, Richard had to appreciate how easily the man had told him that Gabrielle hadn’t mislead them at all.


These two men were beyond capable.


Resigned, Richard asked Gabrielle, “Am I going to lose him tonight?”


Gabrielle looked to him, “Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”


Richard looked back to the two guys fighting.  Scott had a few more rips across his chest.  But even at this distance he could see that they were healing at an incredible rate.  “Are you going to deal with her?”


Gabrielle snorted, “My Queen has given her Own a task.  We don’t quit.  She is going to answer for her crimes.”


Richard was thinking and mused out loud, “Why isn’t he fighting back much?”


Gabrielle asked again, “Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”  Richard nodded, “We will, but I have to say that Samuel knows more than me.”


Gabrielle turned back to the two men and spoke in a conversational voice, “Scott, end this please.”


---


Scott was dodging the fast vampire one more time when he heard Gabrielle’s command.  He used his foot that was moving out of the way of Samuel and set it into the ground.  Samuel pivoted and dodged low, expecting another kick from Scott and was surprised when he saw the human grinning in feral delight.


And coming straight at him.


He tried to dodge to his right, swiping up with his left hand to strike across the ribs when his wrist was caught in a grip that cracked his wrist bones.  The next instant, the man twisted behind him pulling Samuel off his feet and bodily throw him into a tree twenty feet away.  Samuel crunched into the tree trunk and bounced down.  By the time he got his hands underneath him that damned large-as-a-shovel boot kicked his head to bounce it off the trunk.


That fucked up Samuel’s world.  The pain was almost too much for Samuel to handle when he felt his body lifted up in the sky, he opened his eyes to see the stars through the tree limbs.  “Do you yield to the Queen’s Own, or do you die?”


Samuel couldn’t operate his arms, they splayed down his sides as he coughed through the blood disgorging from his mouth


He said in a weak voice, “Yield.”


Instead of being dropped the eight feet onto the grass, he was lowered down and carried like a baby back over to the pool and gently laid down on the grass next to the pool surround.  Samuel felt a blood bag placed in his hand, “Drink this,” he heard Gabrielle say.


He turned to his side and lifted his head, drinking the blood and then resting his head back down, waiting for the throbbing to stop.


He felt the plastic bag taken from his hands.


He finally got enough energy to look around to see Gabrielle kneeling by him.


He crookedly smiled up to her and asked, “What is it you wanted to know?”












CHAPTER SEVEN


Toumen Island


“You never offer a Forsaken an even break.”  Darryl grumped, as the three of them pulled their guns and swords from the two Pods.  It was mid-morning.  They had arrived earlier in the morning under the cloak of darkness and then waited for the time Gabrielle felt that all vampires would finally be asleep.


They were a mile from the location that Samuel had provided them as being the location for this ‘vampire queen’.  It seemed like this lady didn’t get the memo that there was a new Nicht in town and Bethany Anne didn’t share titles.  They ended up flying to an island off the coast of China just east of Taizhou.


Gabrielle slid her sword into her sheath and checked her two pistols.  Both guys had two pistols in side holsters, one each under their left arms and a backup behind their waist.  Scott reached back into the Pod storage behind the seats and pulled out a wooden box with a metal clasp.  Flipping up the clasp he opened the box to find four grenades.  One smoke, one magnesium and two fragmentation.  He turned the box towards Darryl, “Excuse me sir, care for a grenade?”


Darryl looked down at the box, “For me?  You shouldn’t have.”  Scott started pulling the box back and Darryl quickly said, “Hold on! Here, I’ll take one frag and the smoke.  That leaves you two.”  Darryl looked up to Scott, “You do remember that if you pull the pin then Mr. Grenade is not your friend, right?”


Scott looked at him, “I was a cop, not a congressman.”


Darryl smiled, “Good point.”  Darryl put each grenade into a zippered pouch on his vest he was wearing over the ceramic protection.


The same type of vest protection that Bethany Anne had worn when David had tried to blow a hole through her back that he could drive through.


Scott put the box back after taking the remaining grenades for himself.  Samuel was good to his word and he had provided as much information and hearsay as he could remember.


When they had left Australia, Gabrielle told the two vampires she would be back to discuss what happened the last time they were together.  Scott had watched with fascination as the rather pale Samuel had been able to achieve yet another shade lighter after all.


By now, Gabrielle had started wearing close to the same outfit that Bethany Anne would.  Leather pants with ceramic protection over a tight Under Armour shirt and then an additional vest and supplies on top of the ceramic.


Her breasts, unfortunately, were a bit of a challenge to compress enough on her own, so she had Darryl latch and pull straps from the back.


Gabrielle grunted when Darryl got it tight enough then muttered, “Would be pretty nice to have Bethany Anne’s ability to walk through the Etheric right now.”


Scott asked, “What are you thinking?  Appear up above and drop down?”


“Well,” Darryl thought out loud, “I doubt that this is going to be a cake walk.  Stupid Vampires are always thinking up some new and unique ways to booby trap the path up to their homes, plus the escape holes.”


Gabrielle added, “When we think about our long lives, we have something to lose.  Tends to make us focus on keeping ourselves alive.”


Gabrielle shouldered her small pack, “Plus, it hurts like hell to get shot.  Ideas guys?”


Darryl shrugged, “Any chance we just fly up on the Pods and jump off?”


Gabrielle looked between the two men, “Other than being seen, being shot at or blown out of the sky?”


Darryl nodded, “Well, I was guessing those were a given.”


“I like to assume nothing.” She said out loud.  “However, I’m liking the idea of trying to sneak over land even less.  Hold on a second.”  She went over to the Pod she had used and reached into the cab to the left above where the doors would close and grabbed a mic.  She pulled it out and clicked it. “Hey TOM, are you listening?”


It took a couple of seconds before she got a reply, “Hello Gabrielle, I am listening.”


“Can you possibly do something to help us get close to the front area of the building we need to attack?”


“I thought you were going to go see her?  Isn’t attacking a bit much at this time?” He replied.


“You would have to understand, TOM, attacking is a form of knocking on the front door for vampires. Considering she is already focused on taking control of most of this part of the globe, she will not understand anything less than absolute authority. The only way to confirm our authority is with force.”


Darryl was going over his weapons one last time and commented under his breath, “That is the best type of authority I know.”


Scott came around his pod, “You know, in the police force we always wanted to be able to just make an entrance without worrying about the law. I am looking forward to this.” He smiled when he saw Gabrielle nod her head.


 TOM’s voice came back over the speaker, “I have reviewed the information from the spaceship. If you are willing to accept a little risk, I will be able to move you at max speed to within plus or minus twenty-five yards of the front door and then drop you quickly and you can jump from the Pods.


Gabrielle clicked the mic, “TOM, how close to the ground will we be at that time?”


Tom replied, “With the measurements that I have, I would like to stay at least 20 feet above what I believe the ground is. We have to move too fast to get the kind of readings I would prefer.”


Gabrielle looked over at Darryl and Scott and raised an eyebrow, both shrugged their shoulders and Scott said, “I don’t care, what’s a twenty-foot drop between friends?”


She nodded and clicked the mic. “That sounds like a plan TOM, we will just drop the rest of the way.”


TOM’s voice came back over the speakers, “Okay. When you give me the word I will move the Pods to the target area at speed. You will have four seconds to drop and then these pods will rapidly ascend into the upper atmosphere. I highly suggest you’re not on them at that time.”


Darryl and Scott walked over to their pod, Scott telling Darryl, “I’ll go first, just in case.”


Darryl asked him, “In case of what?”


Scott answered as they prepared to sit in the pod for the transfer, “Just in case somebody is waiting for us on the ground, I wouldn’t want you to worry about hurting a fingernail. I’ll take ’one for the team’ and jump first.”


Darryl chuckled, “Your real reason is worrying about being in that pod when it ascends superfast? Don’t worry, my black ass won’t be on it. If you’re in my way all you’re going to have is my size 14 shoe prints on your ass.”


Scott grinned, “Darryl, you are about to shame your grandparents for being slower than a white man.”


Gabrielle sat down in her pod getting ready to accomplish her own jump, “Would you two ass-hats stop talking and make sure you’re ready?”


 Gabrielle heard both men respond in unison, “Yes mother!”


She rolled her eyes, grabbed the mic and spoke to Tom, “Countdown in three.” She counted down and then both pods disappeared from the area with a soft ‘voomp’.   It was three minutes before the birds resumed chirping in the trees.


Scott wanted to say a little something that wasn’t manly when the forest disappeared and the fortress was suddenly in front of them eighty feet below. Then it felt as if his stomach stayed up above as his body descended astonishingly quickly toward the ground. He had barely registered they were stopped before he felt Darryl pushing him on the back. This spurred Scott to jump out.


He sure as hell hoped Darryl wouldn’t land on top of him. Scott was psyched, he was able to bend his knees and stop himself with his hand, Iron Man style! Darryl landed a mere two feet away from him and Gabrielle fifteen feet to his left.


The three of them quickly looked around and Gabrielle pointed towards what had to be the front door thirty-five feet away. It was a large, at least twelve-foot-tall black wooden slab easily six-foot-wide and looked solid enough to withstand a battering ram.


Before Gabrielle could motion, Darryl had already started running toward the door.  Scott turned around to see if they had any threats behind them and Gabrielle pulled a sword free from her scabbard in anticipation.  Darryl ripped a sticky back off of an explosive charge he had and placed it by the lock.  He pushed a button, smiled and knocked on the door then rapidly moved to the side, knelt down and covered his ears.


Neither Gabrielle nor Scott were near the entrance when the ground shook and the door was blown into three chunks, the right side barely holding on.  There was a three-foot smoking circle of ruin in the center of the door.  It was damned impressive that the door hadn’t been blown off of its hinges.


Gabrielle was moving in a blink.  She didn’t stop to try and pull the door open, but rather she dived through the opening keeping her sword in a position to allow her to roll and get to her feet quickly.  She found herself in a large chamber.  It was easily fifty feet long and fifteen feet high.  It was about twenty-five feet wide with large columns running down the length every eight feet or so.  There was a ten-foot-wide red carpet running from the smoldering door all the way to the other end of the room.  There, the red carpet ended at a slightly raised dais with a golden chair centered on it.  There were two chairs on each side, but set back a foot or so.  Even more ostentatious, the golden chair sat on its own raised dais above the other four.


Oh yeah, Gabrielle thought, we have someone who wants to be royalty.


To the left at the other end was a hallway leading off into the building.


She had heard both Scott and Darryl come through the remains of the door and both stood behind her.  Soon enough, probably a few seconds, she started hearing footsteps running in their direction.


“Negotiate?”  Darryl asked.


Gabrielle snuck a look at him.  He was actively looking for action.  She suspected he could hear the same footsteps running at them from the hallway. “After that entrance? Unlikely, prepare to engage.”


The three of them separated slightly, like they had trained.  Scott behind her and to the left, Darryl behind her and to the right.  Both Scott and Darryl had worked hard to learn their new abilities since sharing the oath with Bethany Anne on an alien spaceship.


Now, they were here to represent her wishes.


A second later, four men came through the hallway, swords drawn to face down Gabrielle, and the two ‘humans’ that didn’t show any weapons in their hands.


The first, a Japanese man put his left out to wave his followers to hold.  He stepped forward and bowed slightly.  He made an obvious gesture to the front door and spoke in a clipped English fashion, “This is how you enter someone’s home?”


Gabrielle replied, “Considering the in-hospitality your group provided Hichoi and his retinue, I believe it is a warranted introduction.  Consider it your one and only warning.”


He barked a laugh, “You?  You and what, your two humans behind you?  Have you even told them the viper pit you have brought them to?”  He turned his attention to Darryl and Scott and spoke to them. “You have either been told lies, or told nothing.  When you came out of the sun, you sealed your death.”  He turned his attention back to Gabrielle, “When my Queen gets here, she is going to hear your statement, then these two are going to be the sacrifice for your impertinence!”


Scott snorted behind Gabrielle.  She turned and he just shrugged and mouthed, ‘sorry’ She rolled her eyes and turned back to their host and said nothing.


Thirty tense seconds later, many more footsteps could be heard coming.  Men in golden livery and chainmail with halberds stepped into the room.  Two side-by-side they came in before they separated.  One staying to the left, the right column moving to the right side of the room.  After three sets came out, a beautiful Japanese woman entered.  She was dressed resplendently in a white kimono that hugged her hips.  All three noticed it was slit towards the bottom to provide better leg movement.  There were intricate gold and red embroidered dragons along her right arm and going down from her arm through that side of the dress.  The other side had no decoration.  As she took the little throne, an additional six more guards filed in after her.


Gabrielle could hear Darryl whisper to Scott, “I’ll take the eight on the right, you take the eight on the left.”


Scott replied, “What about the girl?”


Gabrielle could hear Darryl’s grin as he replied, “I always wanted to see a little girl-on-girl action.  It’s a damn shame I left the popcorn in the Pod.”


Gabrielle had a difficult time keeping the smirk off of her face.  She completely understood why Bethany Anne loved these guys so much.  They had seventeen vampires in front of them and they were talking porn?  ‘Fuck it!’ she thought.  Why hold back from the moment?


Gabrielle hissed, “You pricks!  If you wanted to see some girl-on-girl action, you just had to ask.”


She smiled to herself.  God!  She wished she could see their faces right now.  Darryl’s voice came back at her, a little subdued, “Gabrielle, now that was just cruel.  I’m not even going to enjoy this fight because I’m not going to be able to get that thought out of my mind!”


“ENOUGH!”  The lady on the throne yelled to them, her voice reverberating down the stone hall.


It was quiet for two seconds before Scott replied in a normal voice, “Bitch! We were just starting to have fun.”




These two human males were not scared in the least.  It was obvious to Kamiko Kana this was a tight group.  She had heard the comment about Hichoi, so they were very aware of the danger and yet had attacked her group anyway.


Kamiko Kana had been asleep for the last three days.  She had planned on sleeping another two before going back to the mainland for an update from one of her slaves in the Chinese military.


When the destruction happened to her front door, it had taken them too long to respond.  They had gotten too lax and been too trusting of their defenses.  How this group had passed them, she didn’t know.  She would make sure to learn before she allowed this woman in the middle to leave.


Properly subdued, of course.


As she settled in Kamiko Kana could hear the one on her left, the dark one, talk about taking out the guards in front of him.  Then she heard the comment about the woman taking her on in a disgusting exhibition.


That would not happen!  To her surprise, the leader kept no discipline and even joked with the two men.


Her anger burst from her, “ENOUGH!”  She was surprised when within a mere couple of seconds, the white male called her a bitch.  Her eyes narrowed, he would be tortured for days before his death.  But, his death was foretold as sure as she was sitting on her throne.


She let the silence drag.  Long enough to assure no more insulting remarks, but not long enough to tempt the two humans into doing it again.


Kamiko Kana eyed the female, “Your name?”


The woman in front of her smiled.  Kamiko wasn’t sure this is what she wanted.  Fear, of course.  Hesitation perhaps.  But definitely not smiling.  What was going on here?


The woman spoke, “My name is Gabrielle.  I am the Daughter of Stephen who is the brother of Michael.”  There was a small gasp from her men.  Michael was mostly a rumor on this side of the world.  Unlike most of her men, Kamiko Kana knew him to be real, not just a tale told about the origins of Vampires.  Her mother had spent a night with him.


Then, her mother had died because of him. In the flames and wreckage of the bombing of Nagasaki.


Oh yes, Kamiko Kana knew the name of Michael.


She spoke, “Michael has no brothers.”


The woman raised an eyebrow, “No wonder you try to carve your own little fiefdom.  You are so woefully ignorant of the bigger world.  A little girl who would make herself Queen.”


She was getting irritated.  This peasant woman was going to sit in the sun… Kamiko Kana’s face became a little tighter.  Stephen was known to be able to walk in the sun.  That meant that this woman was most likely who she said she was.


That put her at just two steps from Michael himself and a very, very strong opponent.  “We in the East do not recognize any above us but our own.  I am the Queen, and you have made the mistake of coming into my own lands to say what?”


“You are to immediately cease your Vampire-on-Vampire violence and retract your political ambitions.”  Gabrielle told her.


“Or?”  Kamiko Kana asked.


The black man grunted, “There is no ‘or’.”  He replied to her, “They will stop.”


Kamiko Kana noticed Gabrielle rolling her eyes and asked her, “You cannot stop your own men from commenting?”


“Who said they were my men?” She answered Kamiko Kana.


Kamiko Kana motioned to the two, “They are here as your support, you lead from the front so they are your men.”


Gabrielle laughed, her sound carrying the thirty feet easily, “I lead the operation you immature bitch! These two are from the Queen’s Own.  I’m not here to deal with you, I’m here to try to protect you from them!”  Her last notes were almost a snarl of irritation.


The feral smiles that the two men behind her displayed caused a slight rustle among her men.  Her guards were not stupid.  It was obvious these three were more than willing to start violence.  Those that were willing to start violence and yet refrained were rarely ignorant of their abilities.


One of her men shouted back. Unable to keep his temper in check, “Watch how you speak to the Queen!  Your Queen is nothing but a false…”  The crack of two pistol shots echoed down the chamber.  Her man’s head exploded across the one to his right and then against her back wall.  His halberd toppled to the ground while his body collapsed.


The white man said, “We will accept a lot of talk…”


The black man finished, “But disrespect of Bethany Anne is not allowed.”


Gabrielle shrugged, “Well, that about finishes my part of this.  I can tell Bethany Anne I tried.”  She lifted her sword up, “C’mon Kamiko Kana, care for a little girl-on-girl action?  My guys are wanting something to turn them on.”


The red in Kamiko’s eyes threatened to blind her vision as she hissed, “Kill them.  Kill them all!”


Gabrielle smiled, “Remember she said that guys, I want it known I didn’t start it!”


Scott laughed, “Your command oh fearless leader?” he asked Gabrielle.


Gabrielle smirked, “Fuck’em up.”


Darryl’s pistol started barking as fast as a machine gun, “Sure hope that means kill them, not the other stuff.”  He turned his pistol to find new targets.


Scott yelled back as he was racing in vampiric speed to his left, “I’m pretty sure anything means kill them!”


Darryl got busy running to his right, “Then why not just say it?”


Unfortunately, the eight Vampires that were left reached them and stopped Scott’s response.


Kamiko Kana’s mouth was agape.  Within seconds of the her command half of her men were dead, their head’s exploding.  The female in the middle was attacked by two of her men.  She could hear the backup of the second wave rushing down the hallway.  The new reinforcements were not the best she had.


She should never have needed the backup at all.  But her elite were dying, and dying quickly.  The Vampire had just cut the head off of one of her attackers and stabbed through the chain mail of the other.  Her kick sent his body flying to slam against a column.  Then Kamiko Kana could see her turn her eyes on her.


She wanted to stamp her foot down in frustration!  This was wrecking her plans.  Her second wave was arriving but it was too late.  Kamiko Kana threw down the glass sphere which released the smoke.


She stepped into the Etheric and stumbled into her secret chamber.  The calm of her chamber was reassuring as she moved to the hidden door and opened it.  She stepped hurriedly into her personal room, her human assistant came running when she pulled the bell cord.


“Mistress?”  She huffed, a little breathless from the exertion.


“It is time, Machiko.”


“Time?”  Machiko’s face drew down into puzzlement.


“Time!” Kamiko Kana came close, her eyes turned red and Machiko barely had time to gasp before the pain of the bite into her neck erased all other thoughts.


While her men were fighting above, Kamiko Kana drained the blood of her faithful servant of the past twelve years.  The young girl’s body dropped down lifeless when Kamiko Kana finished.  She stepped over her assistant to grab what she could.


It was time to leave.




“Seems like she didn’t want to stick around!”  Scott yelled.  He shot another guard in the head as he dodged a halberd.  Grabbing the halberd that just went past him by the shaft he kicked the holder who flew back to land in the middle of the room ten feet away.  Scott turned the halberd around and used it to first block a swing at him then slice at another.  “These things suck!”


Gabrielle stabbed a fourth, “It’s because you’re supposed to use it with two hands you uncultured swine!”


“Seriously?”  Scott replied and then tossed it to a confused vampire who easily caught it, only to open his eyes in alarm when Scott’s pistol was up and emptied three shots into this skull.  “That’s just fucked up.”


Seconds later, the room started filling up with reinforcements.  Darryl yelled, “Status?”


Gabrielle replied, “SNAFU”.


“Good to know.”  Darryl yelled back.  “Plan?”


Gabrielle grunted when a halberd got through her defense and hit her ceramic armor. “Gott Verdammt you shit, that’s my tits you’re hitting!”  The offending Vampire lost his head to Gabrielle’s cut.


“Need a hand over there?” Scott asked when three of the new guys came rushing at her.


“No!”  She dodged one slice, parried another and kicked a third away.  She swung her sword back around to lop off the first guy’s head and then blocked the second’s backhand swing.  She quickly brought her leg around to knock him back with a roundhouse kick then set to receive the fresh attack of the third guard.  That guy’s head disappeared in gore when two shots took him out.


Gabrielle heard Darryl yell over to Scott, “That’s eleven!”


Scott’s loud reply came back, “Look mother-fucker, that was Gabrielle’s kill.  You’re just cheating!”


“Don’t be a pussy, Scott.”  Two more shots rang out “Dead is dead!”


Gabrielle smiled as the second guy set himself up to be the sole focal point of Gabrielle’s attention.


She feinted to her left then stabbed to her right, catching him in the grove of his armor and causing him discomfort.  He next planned attack was interrupted when he was shot from behind and his blood splattered her.


The sound of machine gun fire wasn’t expected.  “Tweedle-dee,” She yelled as she turned quickly towards the door and started running, “Time to leave!  She was halfway back to the door when she yelled, “Make sure you leave the presents!”


Her armor caught two rounds when she saw Scott toss a grenade toward the other end of the hall.  She arrived at the door and turned to see where her team was.  She was shot two more times in the chest and the last thing she saw as she flew back through the door was Darryl getting hit multiple times himself and Scott grabbing him.


She struggled to get up when the larger hole she had made was increased in size yet again by Darryl and Scott barreling through it and then a huge explosion rocketing the inside of the hall.


She reached up to her chest and unzipped a small pouch to pull out a tiny transceiver and pushed the button.  Seconds later, two Pods came plummeting down from the sky.  She helped Scott put Darryl into a Pod.  She told Scott, “Take the other one, I’ll help him.”  Scott nodded his understanding and jumped in the other.  The door closed, she clicked the Mic, “Two for a trip, and make it quick!”


Barely a half-second later the pods lifted to the sky, leaving behind a smoldering ruin.


She checked Darryl over.  He was hit twice in his left leg, once in his right arm and the lower right side of his neck.  That one wasn’t too far into his neck, so it more creased him than did damage.  She reached down under the seat and grabbed a specially made cooler and pulled out a small pouch.  She could count ten different shots that hit Darryl’s chest.


“Drink this!”  She commanded.


Darryl nodded and drank the small vial.  He spoke after finishing the contents, “We going to need Bethany Anne for this bitch?”


Gabrielle’s eyes glowed. “Hell no!  The Queen sent her Own, and her Own are going to finish the job.”


“Just us three?”  Darryl asked.  He wasn’t concerned, but looked curious.


“No.”  Gabrielle said as she reached for the mic, “It’s time John got involved.”


Darryl chuckled in his pain.  “You really don’t like that Vampire much, do you?”


Gabrielle smiled, “She gives sluts a bad name.  Besides, I’m ready to see what John can do.”


Darryl closed his eyes to wait while the nanocytes and blood mix he just drank worked on his body.  “Well, there goes all our fun.”












CHAPTER EIGHT


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Cheryl Lynn was eating a late lunch when she noticed a man and woman enter the commissary.  He was striking.  Tall with a chin she could die for and a chest to wake up on.  Unfortunately, it was obvious that he was smitten with the woman.  They were talking and Cheryl Lynn could hear an accent in the woman’s voice.


She figured out that the couple was Nathan and Ecaterina.  She had heard about the two of them from John.  Although John failed to mention how good looking the couple were.


Sometimes, life was just a bitch. She bet they grew up together or something and had loved each other from childhood.  Like most men, John had neglected the interesting details.


Cheryl Lynn turned back to the papers she was reading. She was trying to get ‘up to speed’ with the background information she would need to help Bethany Anne.  She got engrossed in a small bit of information, related to a minor company involved in conceptual opportunities of space mining, when she heard a deep ‘excuse me’ causing her to look up.


Right into his eyes.  “May we join you?”  He asked.


Cheryl Lynn looked over to see Ecaterina smiling to her and she nodded, “Please!”  She gathered up the file folders that held her documents and dumped them in a chair next to her, making room for the food trays that her new table mates were holding.


The two introduced themselves and Cheryl Lynn did the same.  It took only a few minutes for Cheryl Lynn to realize a couple of things.


One, she was a bitch for being jealous. Two, her cousin could be a bastard, he hadn’t told her anything about the couple being Werewolves!






They talked for a while before Ecaterina asked Nathan if he should go and ‘help the Wechselbalg learn a few new ways to hit the floor?’.  Nathan bent over, kissed Ecaterina on her cheek and reached across to shake Cheryl Lynn’s hand. He told her he was happy to have met her, but he was taking this opportunity to go and get a work out.


He was gone pretty quickly.


“Don’t mind him,” Ecaterina said. “He hasn’t been able to get in any sparring for the last couple of days and he can get edgy.”


Cheryl Lynn was captivated, “You mean his, uh, his…”


Ecaterina smiled, “His wolfie side?”  Cheryl Lynn nodded.  “Well, I know that makes a difference, but he is just naturally an aggressive sort and we aren’t due to head back out on a trip for another couple of days.”


“Why did you come over here?”


Ecaterina smiled, “So I could answer questions about your new job.”  Ecaterina looked at Cheryl Lynn’s confused face. “Let me guess.  Neither Bethany Anne nor John told you that I was Bethany Anne’s assistant for the last couple of years?”  Cheryl Lynn shook her head.  “That figures, sometimes those two just assume everyone picks it all up through osmosis or something.”


“Wait,” Cheryl Lynn said.  “How did you become her support help?  I’m lost.  Aren’t you like, and forgive me if I’m out of order, Nathan’s wife or something?”


“I’m his mate, but it basically means the same thing.”  Ecaterina grabbed Nathan’s untouched dessert and pulled it in front of her.  She grabbed a spoon, “I tell you, between the ability to eat anything and the complete lack of needing bra support I’ll never go back.  I’ll return my nanites when someone sucks them out of my cold, dead and I hope very old, body.”


“Your nanites?”  Cheryl Lynn was getting hopelessly lost. “Aren’t those something like tiny little machines in your body?”  Ecaterina nodded her agreement as she ate another bite of the dessert.  She thought for a second, “So, these nanites are what make you different than me?”


Ecaterina answered, “Yes.  There are two groups of nanites that we are aware of so far.  I’m sure out in the universe there are a lot more, but right now on earth I’m only aware of those that create what are called Vampires and those that create the Wechselbalg, or the changelings.”


Cheryl Lynn looked around the mostly empty room, but still leaned forward even though no one was nearby. “Does it feel weird changing?  Does it hurt like on Michael Jackson’s video?”


Ecaterina grinned, “No one has shown you yet?”


Cheryl Lynn threw her arms up, sat back and huffed, “Hell no!  My own cousin, I’m learning, is way up in the organization and I’m trying to learn as much as I can.  I don’t even know what I don’t know so I can’t know how I can fix it.”  A look of determination came over her face, “But I’m going to figure it out, dammit!  Then I’m going to kick little John right in his damn shin.”  She crossed her arms in front of herself with a steely look of determination on her face.


Ecaterina smiled to herself, ‘that’s the spirit’, she thought.  She said aloud, “Well, let me give you some pointers on what you need to know and how to get more information from others.  I’ll also give you my cell phone number in case you need to text or call me.”


Over a hundred feet away hidden from the ladies by a door, a large man, easily topping six foot smiled to himself and then continued down the hallway.


Washington D.C. – USA


Barb had spent another two days on her report while also trying to find out more about whoever was behind the request.


Her questions to Don were fruitless.  It wasn’t that he knew the answer and was withholding it, she was sure that he just didn’t know.  They had the right request documents and that was enough for him.  His effort running the organization was taking the rest of his focus and it didn’t occur to him that the request might not be on the up-and-up.


Now, she had a report to file.  She was finished and she was pretty sure it could cause a few waves.


All of the evidence was circumstantial at best, but it was enough that a black group in the government would check it out and most likely believe everything that she had reported.  Which concerned her.


Barb was in her office, slowly twirling in the new chair that Don had provided three days ago.  She had never asked for it, but it showed up one morning in her office waiting for her when she had made it in by half past eight.  The team didn’t call in a ‘missing person’ with the cops anymore.  She had only one call when she missed nine in the morning.


She asked Don about it and he told her that everyone could tell she was working a lot of hours.  She asked how, thinking maybe someone was watching for her and his reply surprised her.


“It’s your hair.”  Don said.


“My hair?”  Barb was confused, “What’s wrong with my hair.”


Don looked to his best analyst, “It’s thinning Barb.  You’re so focused on this that you are losing weight and not eating right.”


Barb had left work early that day and promptly went to a hair dresser to give her a cut that would work with her unsatisfactory hair and then went to an Italian restaurant.  Because, what the hell?  If she was underweight there couldn’t possibly be a better solution to that than the carbs a nice pasta dish would give her.


She had two servings of lasagna that night and almost a complete bottle of wine. She called a taxi, then went home and crashed.


She woke up fuzzy-headed the next morning at half-past six.  She stepped on her bathroom scales and resolved to get some exercise later and start eating a little better.  She was almost ten pounds down.  No wonder everything she wore was so damn loose.


While not a good method of losing weight, it did allow her to indulge in a few treats over the next few days.  Hell, even the donuts hadn’t hurt her, apparently.


Now, she stopped twirling her chair in the one direction and spun the other way, circling back again.  She had figured that since she couldn’t identify the source of the request for the report, she was going to leave out a few important, key pieces of information.


Like the company’s name, for one.  Along with the main characters.  Oh, she would leave enough in to make sure that the data showed a large organization with power and influence. But she wasn’t going to give them her complete findings at this time.  They wanted a report, they would get a report.  It was actually a pretty damning report.


But it would be an incomplete report.


She figured the requestor would have two options.  Accept that no one could figure out who was behind the attacks, or ask her to continue.  At that time, she was going to beg off and tell them she had done her best work.


Satisfied that she had a good plan, she got to work compiling the relevant research to provide Don.  She always kept her data compartmentalized and safe.  She loaded information onto a USB drive and pulled her top drawer out.  Behind the drawer was enough space for about ten little thumb drives and so far, she had four hidden there.  She now added a fifth.  For good measure, she made a duplicate and decided to drop it off.  She wasn’t sure who she would give it too, yet.


She hoped she could trust somebody.  Don would be a natural choice but she had decided not to get him involved.  He would feel obligated to protect her, which was nice, but all he would do is get in trouble and she liked him too much for that.


It would be nice, she mused, if she had her own super-secret government agent that was a hundred years’ old who she could trust.  But even she rather doubted that particular conclusion in her report.


Because, she thought, what was the chance of that being real?


QBS Polarus, Mediterranean


Frank and Dan were sitting in the meeting room listening to Gabrielle over the speaker, “So, that’s about the end of it.  We got out when the machine guns started, left a present or two and we are regrouping.  I need a location for that bitch and I want John to join us.”


Dan asked, “No Eric?”


“Could we have him?”  She asked.


When Dan shrugged, he realized it wasn’t likely she was going to see that. “I don’t see why not.  It’s only going to be for one Op and we can have the Guardians step in if Bethany Anne is going to do something where she needs protection.  The biggest piece is making sure she doesn’t come along for the ride.”


Frank grumped, “If you take BA, there goes all the fun.”


“Funny you should say that,” Gabrielle said. “That’s what Darryl says about John.”


Frank asked, “Really?”  He reached over for one of his notebooks, “Why is that?”


“Oh no you don’t!”  Gabrielle said. “I’m not adding to your stories old man.”


“Says the lady who is…”


“If you want to live to the century mark, I wouldn’t say another word.”


Dan burst out laughing and Frank grinned, “Well, I’m young enough to be your son!”


“Hell” Gabrielle said, “Damn near the whole male population is but about one, two… Well, those guys are dead.  Maybe one or two I’m not sure about. Call it five men aren’t young enough to be my sons.  But, I can tell you none are.”


Dan was amused.  Gabrielle was much more open on this call than she had been before.  He wondered just what had happened so far on this assignment.


Frank said, “Ok, no ‘dirt’ on John this time.  But I did get Tabitha’s ok to ask you about your trip with her.”


“Fine, that works for me.  When you write about me make sure I’m pretty!”


Frank looked over at Dan who silently mouthed, ‘women!’


“I don’t think that is going to be a problem, Gabrielle.”  Frank answered.


“See that it isn’t.  Anyway, back on topic.  When do you think you can get me some idea of where that bitch is?”


Frank answered, “Not sure.  The satellites from Team BMW to track Etheric fluctuations have been through testing with Bethany Anne and seem to work ok.  TOM’s ship is in the process of moving them to your side of the planet.  I’ll do more research on this little special flower of yours to see what I can uncover.”


“Wait!  What did you say?”  She interrupted.


“I would do more research.” He answered.


“No, I heard that, what did you call her?  A special flower?”  Gabrielle said.


“Yes, why?” Frank replied.


“That reminds me of my Dad saying something.  Is he around?”  She asked.


Dan nodded and stood up.


Frank spoke, “Dan is going to go get him.  Why do you think ‘Special Flower’ is important?”


“Not sure.  I just remember that Stephen would laugh at Michael from time to time because there was a Vampire in Asia who had a name he couldn’t remember or pronounce easily, he never bothered to try and remember her name.”


“It was ‘Sunshine’.”  Stephen said as he entered the room ahead of Dan.


“Hi Dad!”


“Hello Gabrielle.  I understand that you are peeved with someone?”


“Yeah, a bitch tried to kill my guys and her people called them four letter words.”


“Dicks?”  Stephen asked.


“Humans.”  Gabrielle said, the smile in her voice coming through the phone.


“Perish the thought!”  Stephen replied.


“That was my thinking as well.”  Gabrielle asserted.


“Even if it is five letters?”  Stephen asked.


“Semantics.”  She replied


“Indeed,” Stephen said.  Then asked, “Why is Sunshine on your radar?”


“Just trying to remember what her real name is.”  She answered.


“It is Kamiko Kana.”  Stephen replied.


“Why in the hell is that so hard for Michael to remember?”


“Because she is the daughter of someone he doesn’t want to remember.  Michael knows the names; he just prefers not to say so.”


“Are we dealing with yet another one of his mistakes?”


“I don’t know if that is true or not.  However, remember that you might have more issues to deal with if they weren’t all dead.”


“Well, actually Richard and Samuel are still alive.  I’ll deal with those two later, though.”  Her upbeat tone sobered when she mentioned the two Vampires.


Stephen nodded.  He knew the history between the three of them.  At one time, they were very close.  “Please leave them alive.”


“Why?”


Stephen replied, “Bethany Anne is making requests for Vampire guards at the base in Colorado.  Maybe you could let them work their dastardly deeds off?”


“Don’t you go and support their antics!”  She growled.


“I merely mentioned that Bethany Anne, your Queen, wants to recruit Vampires, Gabrielle.”


“Fine!  But I’m still going to kick their asses.”


“Understood.  It that all?”


“Why, is there a hot date for you?”


“No, but I have a conference call with the European Pack Council in five minutes.”


“Sorry, yes that’s it, and thank you.”


“Your welcome.”  Stephen said goodbye to Dan and Frank and stepped back out of the conference room.


“So, can I have my men?”  She asked.


Dan replied, “Young lady…”


She interrupted Dan, “See!  That’s how you get in my good graces, Frank.”


“If you interrupt me again, Gabrielle, I not only won’t send John and Eric, but you will be recalled.”  Dan’s voice was firm.


Dan waited a second, but received no additional comments.  “Very well.  When we have a target, we will plan the op and get you the people.”


“Alright, I understand.  If you guys don’t need us, I’ll drop off.”  She replied.


“Nope, that works.  Talk later.”


They said their good-byes and dropped the line.


---


Two hours later, Frank was still up working, trying to track down anything on this Vampire.  Whether it was in his archives from back in D.C. or on the web.  His spiders were crawling the dark web, but he didn’t expect to get many hits.


He looked over at his phone and sighed.  He reached over, opened up the contacts and then hit Michael’s number.


Michael picked up on the second ring.  “Hello Frank.”


Frank answered, “Hello Michael, do you have a minute?”


“If I hadn’t had a minute, I would have allowed your call to go to voicemail.  I’m well aware that many are still very hesitant to speak to me.  Therefore, I’m sure that whatever is causing you to seek me out, it isn’t to discuss the weather.”


Frank wasn’t sure how to respond to Michael.  Everything that Michael had said was very true. He had hesitated to call Michael himself.  Out of everyone, it was probably only Bethany Anne who would just pick up the phone and call him.


“Frank?”  Michael asked.


“Sorry Michael,” Frank finally responded. “I was just caught off guard by your statement.  You know, in all honesty I’ve never thought about how lonely your life must be at times.”


There was a sigh on the phone, “That is probably the biggest issue, Frank.  As you age, it is difficult to keep going when friends and loved ones age and pass away.”


Frank made a spur-of-the-moment decision, “Michael, are you doing anything for the next couple of hours?”


 “No, why?”


“Because I’m going to come see you.”


This time, is was Michael who was surprised.


It took Frank ten minutes to get Dan’s approval to get a Pod and start on his way to Argentina.  At the moment, he felt even more alive than he had in the last couple of years.  He was hurtling through space with the world splayed out beneath him.  Half in darkness, half in light, it was beautiful.  Frank was content, he was paying back a friendship debt he owed Michael for decades.


As the Pod came down in Michael’s backyard, Frank could see the back door open and Tabitha streaking out with Michael sedately following behind her.  Tabitha’s smile could just about reach both ears, he thought.


When the Pod touched down, he reached up to unlatch the doors and they opened.  Tabitha reached in to help pull him out, “Hey pops!”


Frank looked at the younger woman, “Pops?  Who are you calling ‘pops’?  I’m a healthy looking young thirties I’ll have you know.”


She waved a hand, “Pshaw!  You could pass for an older twenty-something if you would stop wearing clothes that are as awesome as unicorns puking rainbows on the head of baby dragons. And for God’s sake, stop tucking in your shirt!”  Tabitha came up and started ripping his tucked in shirt out of his pants.  “Nothing says old like a tucked in shirt!”


“Nothing says sexual attack more,” Frank countered, “than a young and attractive woman ripping my clothes off in a backyard at night!”


“In your dreams! It isn’t a sexual attack, call it emergency fashion services.”  She stepped back and eyed him, “Oh yeah.  Let me take you out on the town, I’ll get you laid.”


Frank was poleaxed!  He looked over to Michael who was standing back behind Tabitha. Frank had such a look of ‘help me’, on his face, that it caused Michael to chuckle.


Tabitha patted him on the chest, “Don’t worry, I’m sure your younger body will be thinking about this and I’ll have you taking me up on my offer in no time.  Anyway, gotta go!”  She stepped around Frank and turned to sit down in the Pod. She looked around in confusion, then asked, “Um, now what?”


Frank turned and realized that Tabitha hadn’t been excited to see him, she must have been able to get permission to go up in a Pod.  He smiled, “Buckle in.  There is a small pouch if you get sick on the right side.  If you mess it up, you clean it up.”  He made sure she had the seatbelt on correctly.  “Pay attention to the instructions on the screen.  Wipe to turn the screen on or off.  Use the Mic in the top right to request anything and don’t be out too late!”  He showed her how to open and close the doors.


She said “Ok Pops!” at the last second before she closed the door.  A couple of seconds later, the Pod smoothly rose up fifteen feet, then rocketed up and disappeared.


Frank was looking where the Pod had disappeared, “That will always be cool.”


Michael walked up and stood next to him, “Would you care for dinner, or just drinks?”


Frank turned and held out his hand, “What kind of wine do you have?”


Michael smiled and shook his hand then turned to walk into the house, “I’m sure some of the best in the world.  I’ve not tried to drink too much of Anton’s cellar yet.”


“Well,” Frank said following Michael. “Since it was shit he caused that you and I were cleaning up most of the time, I feel like the little unlamented bastard owes me.”


Michael chuckled as they went in the house.












CHAPTER NINE


TQB Base, Colorado – USA


Marcus was in his office, contentedly working on calculations.  His laptop was plugged into two monitors with one of them devoted to his chats with both TOM and ADAM.


He was in scientist heaven.


The speaker activated and ‘beeped’ him, he hit the button, “Yes?”


The outside security spoke up, “Sir, I have Ms. Cheryl Lynn out here to see you?”


Marcus thought for a second to put a face to the name, That’s right, it was Tina’s mom…


Oh shit!  He turned around and looked frantically, then his shoulders slumped and he responded, “Please let her pass.”  He needed to take his medicine from her for his ‘field trip’.  But thinking back on Tina’s joy at being in outer space made his eyes twinkle and he straitened up.


He wasn’t letting Tina go into genetics without a full-court press to keep that incredible mind with him here in outer space.


Even if it meant he had to weather the full brunt of Cheryl Lynn being upset.


It wasn’t but a few seconds later that Marcus heard footsteps coming past the loud machines that William used to manufacture most of the little toys Marcus and Bobcat requested.


He was inwardly focused, thinking, when there was a small knock on his door jamb, startled, he looked up and smiled, “Hello!”  He stood to reach out to shake Cheryl Lynn’s hand, “Please come in and have a seat.”


Cheryl Lynn quickly looked around the room.  It had all sorts of lab equipment along with a large desk with a laptop and two large monitors connected to it.  He had six medium sized televisions with different views of space on four and two videos of earth on another two.  “Those are pretty.”  She commented as she found a round chair to sit on.  It was a stool on wheels.  Not the best choice when wearing a skirt to sit down, but he didn’t have any other type of chair in the room for her.


She could just imagine a bunch of teenagers grabbing the chairs and going outside to have chair races together.


“Hmm?”  Marcus turned around to see she was pointing to his outer space monitors. “Yes, they can be.  Last week there was a large storm in China that had lightening flashing all the time at night, it was simply gorgeous.”


She looked back to him, “Those are real?”


He looked perplexed for a second then smiled, “Are you asking if there are real-time?  Yes, those are real-time right now.  In fact,” he walked over to the middle set and pointed to an area showing the United States.  He put his finger about the middle of the continent. “If I walked outside and I requested a zoom down, the weather is nice enough that I could wave and you could see me smile at you.”


Cheryl Lynn pondered for a moment, trying to decide if what she thought she heard was actually what he was saying.  “You can see anywhere down to a person’s face?”


Marcus shook his head a little, “It is all dependent on weather, smog and other factors.  We are far enough from any city that smog isn’t normally a problem for us and there are no clouds right now. Plus, the optic capability we have learned from the Kurtherians allows us to zoom with far better resolution than our previous capabilities.”


“What are you looking to do with the other monitors?  Are they just pretty views?”


“Unfortunately, no.”  Marcus’s smile faded a little.  “These are the four most likely locations that would bring unwelcome visitors to earth.”


Cheryl Lynn stood up and walked over, “Like passes in the mountains?”


Marcus looked back to her, with raise eyebrows. “Excuse me?”


“I read a lot of westerns.”  She pointed to the four space monitors, “It’s like you are checking out the four passes through the mountains that they could attack.”


“Yes, that is a fair analogy.  Based on my work with TOM, I have figured out the main three points where we might expect to see unexpected guests, the fourth one is something that ADAM came up with for reasons only he knows.  I can’t follow his logic on that one.”


“We really are going to go out there, aren’t we?”  Cheryl Lynn had originally come to see Marcus for two reasons, neither seemed terribly significant at the moment.


“Not only are we going, we already have been.”  He mused aloud, looking at the screens.  That was when he felt her finger stab him in the chest.


He looked down to notice her previously engrossed look had become pointed.  What had he said?


“Speaking of ‘have’, you took my daughter into space!”


Oh, that.  He smiled to her and answered, “I did take her on a field trip.  Did you know your daughter is the youngest person to have travelled above the thermosphere?”


Each of Cheryl Lynn’s words were punctuated with another sharp little stab of her index finger, “You. Should. Have. Explained. To. Me. That. You. Meant. Outer. Space!”  On the last word she stabbed him twice as hard.


Fortunately, Marcus’s body was feeling a little less old due to some revitalizing liquid that Patricia had been providing him for the last eight days.  Otherwise, his older ‘self’ probably would have hurt more from her fingernail.


“Ms. Cheryl Lynn.”


“It’s just ‘Cheryl Lynn’, leave off being proper when I’m upset with you!”


“Ok, Cheryl Lynn.  I told you we were going on a scientific field trip past the thermosphere.  I am a rocket scientist, what else did you expect me to say?”


Cheryl Lynn turned around, throwing up her arms, “How should I know?”  She turned back around, “How about ‘I’m thinking of taking Tina half-way to the moon, we should be back by dinner.  Is that ok?’”


“Would you have believed it?”  He asked.


“Yes!  No!  …. I don’t know…..”  She turned back to her stool on wheels and sat down.  “I don’t know what I can or can’t believe anymore.”  She looked him in the eyes, “Did you know that we have honest-to-God Werewolves walking around with us?”


“Yes.  I’ve been introduced.” He replied, confused a little with her question.


Cheryl Lynn looked around then pushed her chair to slowly make her way to the door and shut it gently.  She turned around to regard Marcus, “You’re human, right?”


“Yes.”  He made his way back to his chair.  Even as ‘out of it’ as Marcus was for most social conversations, he could tell this wasn’t a science talk.


She pursed her lips, “How do you deal with it all?”


Sitting down, he said, “Could you clarify your question?  What do you mean ‘all’?”


“This,” she waved a hand around. “We are in a former military base.  You have capabilities I thought only the deepest CIA type groups have.  You just took my daughter.”  She paused, “My only daughter,” she eyed him so he understood.  Once he nodded his understanding she continued, “to outer-space.  Not only took her there, but she went safely and was ‘back in time for dinner’.  My own cousin is a mountain.  Don’t get me wrong, he was big before and I know he’s been fighting the nosfertwos for a while…”


“Nosferatu.”  Marcus clarified.


“Whatever,” she waved a hand, “the bad Vampires.  My point is that even with all of that, do you know he was perfectly willing to take on three guys to help me?  He called it nothing more than ‘a light scrimmage’.  He was more worried that Bethany Anne was going to take away his chance to beat the crap out of those men than getting shot.”  She paused.  “Did you hear me?  Getting SHOT!”  she blew out her breath.  “Bethany Anne’s own father looks younger than I do.  You are the only one who looks close to his actual age.  What are you, late forties, early fifties?”


Oh well, it had been going so well Marcus thought.  “I might be in my sixties.”


“Wow,” she said, “Good genes.”  She continued on, not thinking about Marcus, “And don’t get me started with Bethany Anne!  She is hell on wheels, smart and driven.  If John hadn’t talked her out of it, I’m not sure she wouldn’t have just killed those three guys that attacked me.”


“Well…”  She put up a hand to stop Marcus.


“I’m just venting, Marcus.”  She breathed in and out. “Don’t get me wrong.  This is all incredible, but it is incredible good.”  She looked over to him, “What if I’m not up to this?” Waving a hand to encompass his lab she continued, “What if I’m not good enough to be a part of the team?  What if I have to take my children and go back out again?”


Marcus waited for her to finish.  When she seemed to finally stop.  He answered her in the kindest tone he could manage.


“Can I tell you a story?”  She nodded her agreement. “When Frank found me in California, I was a washed up has-been rocket scientist who had not only been fired from NASA after 30 years of service, but I had been kicked out of Space-X, one of if not the pre-eminent commercial venture as well.  Why?  Because I held onto outrageous beliefs and spoke my thoughts out loud and too often.  No one in their right mind in that industry wanted me.  Until Bethany Anne’s group, that is.”


He looked around, smiled a little, then continued, “You know what makes this group so wonderful?”  She shook her head, “It’s because Bethany Anne and her team doesn’t give a … a…” He floundered.


“Shit?”  She offered.


He nodded, smiled his thanks and continued, “That you are the best.  She cares about your heart.  She wants to know that you are committed and will do your very best for the cause, for earth.  Do you care enough to make this big blue globe of ours safe?  Safe for your children?  Safe for the children of people you will never meet and possible could learn to hate?”  Cheryl Lynn was surprised at the question.  For her children, of course but he was asking her to think about those who might, one day, try to attack her children.


It was a hard question.  But it finally crystalized her understanding.  She opened her eyes to truly see what was around her.  The teams far away, the ships she knew about but had never seen.  The people she had only heard about.


These people had opted to be above politics, geography, country.  They believed in the future, the fight they knew deep down in their hearts was coming. They didn’t believe that the people of earth would unite in time to be capable of defending it.


They were becoming the first line of defense for groups that would hate them, revile and ridicule them.


She stood up and walked over to Marcus.  She put her hand out and he took it.  “Thank you,” she said. “Next time, the answer is yes, but explain what you are doing with my daughter first.  Got me?”


Marcus nodded his understanding then watched her leave his office.




Washington DC, USA


Barb was arching her back as she got out of her car.  The neighbor’s cat had peed in her garage.


Again.


She sighed and started looking for the urine.  She also needed to figure out how bad the cat hair infestation was.  She hated her allergies.  The cat was cute but would look at her in a ‘you are my slave’ sort of way. It was a look that dogs never manifested in her opinion.


After three minutes she calmly stood up and walked to her small workbench and picked up her can of disinfectant.  She walked back and reached under a shelf to spray it at the bag of dirt she used for her potted plants.  Once that was done, she calmly put the can away, got in her car and acted like she needed to get something from the store.


Actually, the store was a fine place for her to think.  Especially since she had spotted an electronic surveillance piece hidden in her garage.


Thanks to her next door neighbor’s cat.


She didn’t have the shakes until she had left the neighborhood.  She wasn’t sure if they had gotten to her car yet, but she would operate on the assumption that her house was bugged.  Not that bugging her house would net them much.  She had not dated in years due to her work load and now the most they might ‘see’ was her sleeping or watching TV.


She swallowed as she continued to think about what those watching her were probably doing.


     The hunter had become the hunted and she didn’t know what to do.


She was in deep shit.


QBS Polarus, Mediterranean


“Come to me, you heartless little bitch!” Frank murmured to himself in his room.  He was staring at his laptop screen.


Frank had a wonderful time with Michael the previous evening.  Frank let his previous concerns about Michael evaporate and just enjoyed Michael as a very long-lived individual while he tried to ignore Michael’s previous reputation.


Make that very, very long-lived, actually.


Michael had been a little sad to understand just who was causing trouble in the east, but it didn’t surprise him.


“Yes,” he had answered Frank’s question. “I did know her mom.  She was exceptional in all things both in and…”  Then Michael suddenly looked around.  “Sorry, but Tabitha can have sensors anywhere.  That girl isn’t happy, happy unless she can hear everything.”


Frank looked around, “Are you sure she hasn’t bugged this room?”


Michael nodded, “Pretty sure.  I’ve read her mind for anything to do with this room as best as I could.  As of this morning, it was still fine.”


“She would eavesdrop on you?”


“Oh,” Michael shrugged, “She wouldn’t think it was eavesdropping on me, but that at some point we might have people in here that she would need to know what they are saying.  She would simply consider it advanced preparation.”


“You seem relaxed about that.  That isn’t the Michael I knew before.”


“Women seem to have a way of changing men.”


“For the better?” Frank asked, itching to write some of this down.


“Perhaps.” Michael answered, smiling like he knew what Frank wanted to do.


Shit! It was because he did know what Frank wanted to do.


“Hey, no reading my mind over wine!”  Frank laughed.


“Is that a rule somewhere I wasn’t aware of?”


“No,” Frank took a sip, “but it should be.”


“If it helps, I didn’t read your mind.  I just know you enough to realize that when you looked around, you wanted your little writing books.”  Michael reached back behind him in the study and grabbed a small notepad and pen. “Here,” he handed the two to Frank, “feel free to jot some notes.”


And just like that, Frank was interviewing a thousand-year-old vampire over wine.


He left a few hours later, a smiling Tabitha patting him on the chest and telling him to ‘remember her offer’ as she went inside.  He shook Michael’s hand and went back to the ship for some sleep and then more research.


Which is where he was now, pulling together the puzzle pieces on Kamiko Kana.  What a sad disgrace of talent she was.


Frank had read enough reports that what was ‘between the lines’ was just about as informative as what the report actually said.  This was one savvy woman who had been working behind the scenes to acquire power for a long time.  After his talk with Michael, Frank could understand she had a grudge. She believed that Michael was, effectively, the one who killed her Mom.  Since her Mom had been involved with the serum, she had been at the labs when the bombs went off. There had been no chance for her Mom to survive.


Then, it got tricky.  She had made a few trips that he could track to China.  That made her his prime suspect behind the Chinese efforts to hack Bethany Anne’s, formerly Michael’s, companies.  She could either walk the Etheric or could swing into the myst form that Michael had spoken to him about.  That certainly meant advanced Etheric skills of some sort.  She had a large group of followers.  So, either she held some type of respect or she had an advanced form of charisma.  Either way, it was a pain to track her and would be difficult to keep her cornered somewhere.


Frank went back to the Etheric tracking satellites, but so far nothing was   reporting as positive hits.  The one time they knew she had moved, the satellites hadn’t been in place.


Well, perhaps the old fashioned method of finding someone would work.












CHAPTER TEN


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Cheryl Lynn walked down the hallway and stopped in front of Patricia’s office door, pausing for a second she finally knocked. Hearing a, ‘come in’ she stepped into the office and closed the door behind her.


Patricia was looking at her as Cheryl Lynn asked, “Do you have a few minutes?”


“Sure,” Patricia waved to one of her chairs, “take a seat. What’s on your mind?”


Cheryl Lynn thought about that question for second as she settled herself in a chair. “I need to ask you something, about why you are part of all of this.” She waved her hand around.


Patricia smiled, it seemed that John’s cousin was finally getting it. She leaned back in her chair and made herself comfortable. “I can do that, what would you like to know?”


“I know this is something that is not supposed to be asked between women, and I apologize for doing it upfront.”  Cheryl Lynn squared her shoulders to forge ahead anyway, “How old are you?”


Patricia burst out laughing and had to reach over and grab a tissue to dab at a couple of the tears that were threatening to mess up her makeup after a few moments. “Of all of the questions I thought you might ask, that wasn’t in my top three.” She turned and dropped the tissue into the wastebasket, then looked back to Cheryl Lynn. “Can we say that I am at least 3 to 4 decades older than I look?” Even with the body she now had, Patricia was still a little sensitive about admitting her age. It might take her another good decade or so to get comfortable with how old she was compared with how old she looked. Patricia’s eye’s glinted with humor as she continued, “But I am curious about why that was your first question.”


She replied, “I just had an interesting conversation with Marcus. Because of that conversation I realize there is a short game and a long game going on in the group. It wasn’t until I left Marcus’s office that I realized he looked a lot younger than his actual age. However, I was so caught up with the fact that you and your husband look so young that I didn’t realize that Marcus was looking younger than his age as well. If it wasn’t so far to walk back over there I would go back and demand that he tell me his real age.” She paused for a second and nodded her head quickly, “He owes me that much for pulling that field trip trick and taking Tina into outer space.”


“So what are you are trying to figure out about the short and the long game?”


“I guess I realize that there are certain people that Bethany Anne is supporting to continue this fight beyond a normal lifespan. Then there are those that are part of the group but not part of the longer group. Is this correct?”


“She is being very judicious in modifying people at this time, yes. That has to do with a few reasons, I suspect. Mind you, she doesn’t confide in me. Is this understood?” Patricia made sure that Cheryl Lynn understood before continuing. “’Bethany Anne’s purpose is to support and protect this earth. She doesn’t care about geo or political boundaries. She doesn’t care about the fights going on between countries and groups most of the time. Although, she got a real hair up her ass about the terrorists and I’m not sure that hasn’t or isn’t going to come back and bite her. However, I imagine if they do something off-the-wall and she gets pissed we will have another ‘intervention’ again.”  Patricia leaned back in her chair, “So, individuals that have been modified for the ‘longer game’ are showing that they have been focused and understand the real purpose and are completely committed.”  She eyed Cheryl Lynn and said it again, “Completely committed.  As in, someone reads their mind and confirms they are committed.  But, she doesn’t care where they come from.”


Cheryl Lynn nodded her understanding, “But almost everybody I have seen is American, and we are sitting right here on an American base. I’m not trying to argue we shouldn’t be here, I’m just confused. And I am trying to understand the situation. If we have a possible, no expected, alien invasion heading here sometime in the future why haven’t we gotten other governments or even our own government involved?”


Patricia answered, “Bethany Anne comes from a semi-black organization within the government. She has personal observations as well as former high level people. There is unanimous belief that should the government become aware of her, or her company’s capabilities and resources, they would make an effort to nationalize them or in some way coerce her into doing what they want. Bethany Anne is not against the US government.  She is fighting for the world. Unfortunately, there are too many years of conflict between us all and most people can’t see past their own nationalism. I understand this concern at some level. I joined the military so that I could get a college education, but I wasn’t a flag-waving, nationalistic supportive individual because it was just a job to me.  At the end of my career, I was there because those that I loved and those that I felt were family were there too.”


Cheryl Lynn leaned forward a little, “Then why did you join Bethany Anne and how did you get changed? Is it because, and no offense intended, you are her Dad’s wife?”


Patricia shook her head, “Not even remotely. Bethany Anne would not change me if that was the only reason. She can be very stubborn, and she does get that from her father by the way. Lance requested me as his personal assistant before we became a couple. He made me understand what the challenge was and what I would do before Bethany Anne allowed me the opportunity to be modified myself.   In the end I decided that the purpose and effort of Bethany Anne’s fight was one I could and should support. I have pledged, and I made a promise to myself that should something happen to Lance. I will continue on. I will see this until the end. Bethany Anne is now my daughter, maybe she doesn’t see it that way, maybe she does. I really don’t know. We haven’t spoken about it that much. I know it feels awkward to her that I am her stepmom. And that’s okay, I really do understand her feelings. At some level, looking as young as I do makes it easier for us because now I look like her sister, not her mom.  Hell, Lance looks like her brother.”  She smiled.


“So John is involved because Bethany Anne saved him back in Florida?”


“You know, I wasn’t there. John hasn’t told you about this himself?” Now Patricia was curious, it wasn’t like the John she knew to hide information from those that he cared for. And he certainly cared for his cousin.


Cheryl Lynn exhaled loudly, “Yes, he told me the basic facts but I know my cousin, he’s hiding something from me. It’s bugging me, it’s an itch I need to scratch.”


Patricia finally realized what John was doing, and she had to give him kudos because she didn’t normally expect John to be so subtle. He tended to come across as a ‘John smash’ sort of guy to her.  So, Patricia decided to help him. “Can I ask you a question?”


“Certainly, it isn’t like I just didn’t just interrupt your morning to ask my own questions.” Cheryl Lynn said.


“If John told you to believe something, how much weight would you give it?”


She replied without thinking, “All the weight in the world. You have no idea what my cousin means to me. He and I were close when we were young, and obviously we grew apart as we got older but that connection never drifted away. When I opened the door and he was standing there, my world changed.” Her voice broke as she related the story. “My hope, my dreams, my reality became solid again. Living day to day or hour to hour wasn’t a problem because Little John was back. Not only was he back, but he was making sure my kids were going to be safe.” Now, Patricia needed a tissue for herself as she handed one to Cheryl Lynn, they both dealt with the tears rolling down their face. Cheryl Lynn’s deep emotions revealed to Patricia why John was acting the way he was.


 Patricia gently asked her, “Which is stronger to you, acting in a certain way because you are relying on John’s belief, or taking action because you know something to be true?”


“Well, obviously the logical choice is what I believe. Even if I put all of the weight in the world on what John believes, it still can’t be stronger than what I know to be true…” Cheryl Lynn’s eyes open just a touch, letting Patricia know she understood.


Cheryl Lynn sat back in her chair her shoulder slumping a little, a small smile gracing her face. “He’s preparing me, isn’t he?”


“It could be, have you had any interesting conversations other than this one with me?” Patricia asked.


“Well, if you consider that two of the top Wechselbalg happen to come into the cafeteria and have lunch with me at an odd time, then yes.” She thought about her conversation with Marcus and whether or not John could have orchestrated that. Now, she wasn’t so sure. Her cousin had always been incredibly sharp, but most people only saw his size and assumed he wasn’t quick thinking. “You know? I have been worried that I wasn’t up to the minimum standards for staying here. After a conversation with Marcus, I now realize that trying my hardest and believing in the purpose are two of the main requirements. Sure, I could just fake it but I understand that really isn’t a choice here, is it?” Patricia shook her head negatively. “So John has been steering me into actions or meetings with people that help me understand what’s going on. You know, I have wondered why Bethany Anne would take me on as her support person.”


Patricia asked, “You never asked her?”


Cheryl Lynn shook her head, “No, to be honest I was a little concerned she would say it was a temporary position and they were looking for another spot to put me.”


Patricia snorted, “You need to work on your sense of self-assurance. Because if you don’t, I’m afraid you’re going to have it shoved down your throat in a very unpleasant fashion. Bethany Anne is known to get the best out of people and if what is holding you back is a lack of belief in yourself, I shudder to think what she will put you through in order for you to attain it. I highly suggest you figure out how to overcome this problem, young lady.” Patricia smiled in a motherly fashion, a smile that did not fit her young face at all. However, it fit her tone of voice perfectly.


Cheryl Lynn squared her shoulders, smiled a little and stood up. “Do you perhaps know who I should talk to for help with that?”


Patricia’s grin a twinkle in her expression let Cheryl Lynn know that Patricia had already figured out who she should meet next.


Patricia reached over to her phone, “Let me make a phone call to Pete for you, it will almost be like John is helping you himself, trust me.”


 Cheryl Lynn asked, “Why would he want to help me? It’s not that I don’t want you to ask him, I just need to understand what I can do in exchange for it.”


Patricia shook her head, “Baby, that price has already been paid for by your cousin.”


Washington DC - USA


Having spent all the time she could at the store, Barb decided to go get dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant and was now eating chicken fried rice. Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure she had tasted anything in the last hour or so. It was a little bit of a shame, as this was normally her favorite dish.  She had about three more hours before she would need to go home or whoever was paying attention to her would suspect something was up. If they were any good, and she had to assume they were, they would have already looked at her electricity usage and know her patterns.


It was a horrible feeling to know that now she was one of the ones being hunted. It felt like she was under a glass dome, with eyes all over the place looking at her. It put a new perspective on what she did every day, and she didn’t really like it very much. Oh, she could get over it when she was looking for terrorists, or suspected terrorists, but if the person was someone less obviously horrible her job would now leave a bad taste in her mouth.


While playing with her rice, she considered who had placed the surveillance equipment in her garage. She presumed that it had to do with her most recent report. So that left either an unknown government agency that she couldn’t track, or the monster squad.


She asked for a refill on her tea, and considered the two choices. She had enough information related to the monster squad to believe that they were, in fact, this ‘TQB Enterprises’. She was never able to figure out what the acronym stood for, she supposed she might get a chance to ask them soon enough. She had been in government long enough to understand there were some good groups, and there were some bad groups. There were some black groups that were trying to do good things by very bad means. Ethics became very murky when you allowed all options on the table to stop terrorism.  It could be a pretty broad brush to do some pretty horrific things.


All in the name of security, of course.


However, Barb subscribed to the notion that black government groups were only nice if you happen to be one of the members in the group. And she was certainly not part of any black operations group herself. As she considered how hard she had tried to figure out who this black group was, and giving herself plenty of credit for her skills, it became obvious they were pretty damn dark since she couldn’t find them.


Her report had been good enough to raise eyebrows, but not enough to cover her ass. Now, somebody wanted to know more about her. If it was the monster squad, she suspected that they would either just kill her, or ignore her. Everything she had been able to find suggested they had very specific engagement requirements. In fact, the terrorism operations were outside of their normal parameters, as far she could tell. That suggested new management at the top, or a different set of goals had been put in place.


Soon, she would need to ask for the dinner check and she hadn’t decided on the next place to go yet. She supposed she could go to the nearby Starbucks and enjoy a coffee and maybe a light dessert. She was going to have a hard enough time going to sleep tonight, she didn’t need the caffeine so maybe a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino would be better.


 In the end, it came down to a gut feeling that between the two of them, she trusted the mission of the monster squad more than she trusted a black operative government agency who was using her. Her project for them stank to high heaven and she assumed that she was being used as a cutout. Which also ascribed to them an unethical method of doing their jobs.


Screw it, she wasn’t going to the dark operative side. She was going to toss her hat in the ring with this monster squad and see, no hope, she had made the right decision.


Now, she just need to figure out a way to contact them without the black operative group figuring it out. She smiled thinking back to the scene in the movie Men in Black where K explained to J about using the National Enquirer for research purposes.


That gave her a thought.  She wondered what would be the equivalent now? The monster squad would be looking for any online research or chatter which might point to them. She knew of quite a few websites which hosted forums related to ‘way out there’ ideas. Often associated with aliens or Bigfoot or even vampires and werewolves. She would open up anonymous usernames on these boards and place comments. If she placed enough of them, it should cause the monster squad to try to figure out who the commenter is and what they knew about them. She would have to leave hints with each individual fake member.  Once they found enough of her fake accounts then the hints, taken as a whole, would help figure out who she is. None of the individual fake account users; however, would be enough to finger her.


The one individual she wished existed would have been the government contact. That was probably someone whom she could trust, if he were only real. But her research suggested he was almost 100 years old so that was a long shot.


Decision done, she requested her check, paid and stepped out into the cool evening air. Walking down the street she was able to stop in a small electronics store and pick up three throw away phones with cash. Having tracked enough people herself, she had a clue how to keep off the grid and she was going to use that skill right now.


She would route the phone numbers through online messaging systems. Either way, she doubted she had more than a few days before one of the sides would come for her. Oh, Don would try to protect her if she were to go to him and she appreciated the knowledge that he was trustworthy and he would step up. However, this was beyond him. She had well and truly stuck her foot in it this time. She smiled to herself, this is what you get when you do too good of a job.


She should have listened to her friends earlier who had told her that getting ahead in government was a no-win proposition.


She decided to head to Starbucks and see if she could pay a few dollars to borrow someone’s laptop for twenty minutes to cruise the web.


Because for damn sure, she wasn’t going to use any of her electronics to leave these messages and while it was doubtful anyone would trace it, they would get nowhere with a non-government civilian and leave them alone.  Her?  Not so much.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


 “Okay guys, we are going to need more people.” Jeffrey and team BMW had been spending the last two hours trying to come to grips with planning the final flight.


They needed to figure out food, air, water, sanitation, housing and manufacturing.


At a minimum.


Bobcat raised a hand to point at Jeffrey, opened his mouth to say something and then shut it and dropped his hand. There really wasn’t anything to say, what Jeffrey said was true. The team had to get bigger, and they needed to get bigger pretty fast.


William spoke up, “I’m going to need more testing for the manufacturing processes on the moon. Before we do the final plans, I need to understand just what we can, and cannot manufacture up there.”


Marcus asked, “Why would it be so different than manufacturing down here? If you’re worried about gravity, then let’s make sure we plan for that.” William nodded his agreement. Marcus continued, “I am concerned some related to the oxygen requirements for your manufacturing processes William. We are going to need a fairly extensive air purification system and while I am a rocket scientist.”


Bobcat interrupted, “Yes, you make that point all the damn time.”


Marcus quipped, “I was going for levity, you ass.  If you would be so kind as to allow me to finish?” He waited a second until Bobcat gave a regal, if shallow bow. “Thank you, my point is that we need experts in these areas. We just spoke about air purification systems. But we also need to concern ourselves with water purification systems as well. We can always ship food in our containers up to the moon. But what happens if someone stops it?”


Jeffrey said, “I thought we were going to use the Growtainers for that?” He looked around at the group, none of the others looked like they had a clue. He shook his head, “Guys, I know that you like to focus on your areas of expertise but you need to get your minds wrapped around the fact that you need to understand the bigger picture. Growtainers are hydroponic farms inside of recycled shipping containers. It would be fucking perfect for our food needs.”


Marcus replied, “Which, if we had the perfect person for this, we could hand off the food requirements to her.”


“Her?”  William asked.


“I’m thinking that we are a little male gender heavy.”  He said.


Bobcat smirked, “Oh?  So who is this ‘her’ you are thinking about?”


“Gentleman, and I use that term ever so loosely, focus.”  Jeffrey interrupted what had promised to be a humorous interlude, but it wasn’t getting them anywhere. “Let’s breakout the major areas again and see what we do know, what we need to know but are missing and project stopping questions we need answered, understood?”


They nodded but Jeffrey noticed Bobcat smile at Marcus and mouth ‘later’.


Jeffrey shook his head while grinning.  This had to be one of the best dysfunctional group of guys he had ever worked with.  They could come up with methods to simplify complicated problems and attain the impossible.


If he could just get them to focus!












CHAPTER ELEVEN


QBS Polarus - Mediterranean


Frank came back from dinner where he had a lovely conversation with Jean Dukes.  He didn’t actually have to say much, as she had carried the whole conversation at the table. Her topic of choice, the weapons modifications to the QBS Ad Aeternitatem.


Should anyone be unfortunate enough to attack that ship, they would find out what it’s like to grab a tiger by the tail.


He went over to his computer desk and touched his mouse to awaken the screen.


On it, he noticed that his general spider-bots had found something that would require his attention.  He sat down and opened the tabs of information.  He went through all of the forum posts which the computer had found and setup for his review.  None of them seemed to know that much individually, but together it was a pretty damning picture.


Someone was on to them.


He pulled the dates and times of the messages and then leaned back in his chair.  Not only was someone specifically on to them, they wanted their attention.


He sat back up and opened a message channel to ADAM and started typing.


ADAM?


>>Yes Frank?<<


Have you reviewed this information on my computer?


>>No, you expressly requested I not access your computer without your permission.<<


Damn, Frank thought, he wished he knew if ADAM could lie or not.  He had told ADAM to leave his stuff alone but he honestly hadn’t expected him to obey the request.  Maybe that was because Frank himself might not have followed the request, if he had all of the skills ADAM had.  Dammit, this AI stuff wasn’t half as much fun as he thought it would be.   Frank copied the information out of the red flagged group and pasted them into his message area with ADAM.


ADAM, would you please review my notes related to these forum posts and tell me what you think?


>>One moment while I review the information.<<


Frank sat back again.  He was being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud about ADAM and he knew it.  New technology was great, but when the technology so far outclassed his knowledge and abilities it was a bit intimidating and he was reacting like he was, too.


>>Okay. All information points to one person providing the necessary information to prove that she has significant details on TQB Enterprises. She has also made the connections to many of the operations Bethany Anne’s group have undertaken.<<


ADAM, you are sure about this?  And why do you say ‘she’?


>>Because her name is Barb Nickers.  I’ve looked up her work records and they very specifically state that Barb is a female.  Therefore, ‘she’.<<


Then again, the AI could be a pain in the ass being correct all the time.  Frank grinned.  He hadn’t made it to this age in life without learning how to roll with the punches. Dealing with an AI would now have to be his latest accomplishment.  Frank reminisced that he had always wanted that special partner like the old spy movies.


Spy movies… It took about two blinks before Frank grinned.  Now, if he needed to save someone, how would he go about it?


ADAM, can you show me a picture of Barb Nickers?


>>Of course.<<


The image of Barb came up on the screen next to their messaging window.


Cute, very cute.  She was, he guessed, now a damsel in distress.


Maybe, just maybe, it was time for Frank Kurns to live one of his own stories.


ADAM, how would you like to play a game?


>>Like Chess?  Or Thermonuclear War?<<


NO!  Not like Thermonuclear War you brat.  How about a spy game?


>>How do you play this game?<<


Well, I pretend I’m a spy and you are the spy’s super special support person helping him. The spy needs to find and rescue a damsel in distress.


>>And this damsel in distress would be Barb Nickers?<<


See?  You already know how to play.


>>Okay, how would you like to get to Washington D.C. Mr. Kurns?<<




TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Marcus went into the cafeteria looking for a light snack.  It was mid-afternoon and it was too early for beer.  Well, it was too early for him to drink beer.


For Bobcat it was just an afternoon sip.  William was very, very cautiously allowing himself a small amount of alcohol from time to time.  The one time Bethany Anne came walking in unexpectedly and William had a beer in his hand Marcus thought William was going to feint.  Which would have been a problem since there was no way that Marcus, even as close to William as he had been, would have been able to stop the man from crashing to the concrete floor.


She had only come in to talk with Jeffrey for a second and when finished she eyed William.  He nodded and said, “I remember last time.”


“See that you do.”  She told him, then smiled and walked back out.


Jeffrey had asked what the meaning was and Bobcat answered for William who had been trying not to hyperventilate.  Bobcat had mentioned that William had gone on a bender back in Florida and then been put in the klink.  Bethany Anne had warned him that if he had one more security slip up like that, she would erase his memories and put him ashore.


“Kind of a ball-buster moment?” Jeffrey asked.


“Dude,” William said, “You will never, and I mean never, get me to drink alcohol off base or around non ‘in-the-know’ personnel for the rest of my days.  That lady’s reaction was all the self-control I need.”


“Worried about losing your memories?” Jeffrey continued his questions.


“Nope.”  William replied, setting his beer down and looking him in the eye. “I’m worried I might fail to meet her expectations.”  He pointed around the area, “See all of my toys?”  Jeffrey nodded, “If you took all of these toys away, I’d get CNC machines. If you took my CNC machines away, I’d get hand tools.  I’d get whatever the hell it took to build whatever the hell that woman needs.”  He picked up his beer and eyed it.  “I’ll enjoy this, but alcohol, especially liquor, won’t be my crutch ever again.”


Marcus looked at the simple sandwiches in front of him then noticed Cheryl Lynn off in a corner as he looked for a place to sit.  He wasn’t sure if he was out of the doghouse with her totally, but she looked a little worried.  Marcus grabbed his roast beef on rye and his bag of chips.  He walked over to the drinks, grabbed a Sprite, shook off the ice, and made his way over to her.


Cheryl Lynn was looking through her documents when she heard Marcus come up.  She raised her head as he asked, “Care for company?”  She smiled and made a place for his tray.  He asked her as he sat down, “Am I still in the doghouse?”


“For what?”  She replied, a slight frown on her face.


“Taking Tina up into space?”


She shrugged, “No.  I told you when I left I didn’t want you doing something like that again without my permission. So long as you let me know all the details of what you intend to do, I don’t think I’ll have a problem with you taking Tina on field trips.”


 Marcus looked relieved and his shoulders moved a little forward.


“However,” her voice going a little lower, “I think maybe you misled me on how old you are.”


He thought back to their conversation, “No, I don’t think I misled you on that one. I believe I said I was in my 60s.”


“I had just got through talking about how young everyone looked, and how they were changed.  I asked you if you were in your 40s are your 50s and you mentioned, and I quote ‘might be in my 60s’.” She huffed, “You have been modified already, haven’t you.”


“Perhaps? Well, to be honest the answer is yes. However, I have only been taking the nanocytes liquid for the last couple of weeks. Why, do you have something against those who are being genetically modified to be younger?”


“No, not since I understand why. But I would like to understand how you know, really know, that it’s the right path to go down?”


“Can I tell you a story?” He reached over his sandwich, grabbed and then opened his bag of chips. “It happens to be about a slightly bitter old scientist who felt he hadn’t been given the recognition he deserved.”


This time, it was Cheryl Lynn that pushed her papers to the side and put her elbows on the table. She could sense that Marcus was about to give her a personal story. “Sure, I’m all ears.”


Marcus looked over at her, “I doubt it. You are a far cry from Dumbo.” He took a bite to give him a moment to think about what he wanted to say. He started, “I told you that I came from NASA, and that I had been in Space-X, correct?” She nodded. “What I failed to tell you was how bitter I was at being rejected by everybody, and yet when I came in with this group I was completely vindicated and I could tell no one. In fact, I have produced some exciting new technologies and the rest of the world is clueless about it. Do you have any idea how hard that is for a scientist? We breath the concept of sharing ideas, we have the belief that science should be shared among everybody – it is part of our blood stream. And yet, I can’t do it.”


“I would think,” she interrupted, “that the concern of being killed for divulging secrets would be quite a deterrent.”


“Not really, my biggest deterrent from telling anyone was that I know I would be banned from any new technologies. Have you met TOM yet?”  He continued when she shook her head, “He is the alien that is the benefactor for almost all the technology that has really pushed us forward. When I first came to the group, I was of the belief that if we wanted to find aliens we could find them here on earth. Versus trying to spy in the heavens and see what was going on. Because I was so vocal, I was a pariah in the scientific community regardless of how good I was. So when I found out I was right the whole time I wanted to stand on the highest building and broadcast my vindication to everyone who had treated me so poorly, including my ex-wife. Now, I’ve been around everything that is going on long enough to see the bigger picture. Do I still want the other scientists to know what I’ve done? Of course. And I feel that it’ll happen eventually. Now, because of my age extension, I suspect I’ll be around when they find out, but I didn’t know that for a long time. It can be hard to give up the sense of injustice that you feel when others treat you wrong. But I can tell you that because of the friendship of two military guys, not exactly a group known for working well with scientists, I’ve seen a much bigger picture. I wouldn’t give up working with Bobcat or William, and don’t you dare tell them I said that, for anything in the world. Well, maybe except for working with TOM.” He said with a small smile on his face.


“So for you it’s the people?” She asked.


“You could say that, it’s actually the people and the shared understanding of what we are trying to do about what is coming. I don’t ‘think’ there are aliens. I’ve been on the spaceship and I’ve seen the technology. I know there are aliens. There is no reason, after having long discussions with TOM, that I should doubt that there are aliens who wish us ill. And believe it or not, that is just the Kurtherians. That doesn’t take into account the many different alien groups that are out there. Hell, I suspect there are thousands of different species potentially somewhere out there. TOM has knowledge of less than a hundred.”


He set down his sandwich and looked at her earnestly, “That is slightly under one hundred other alien species. Some of them will work with mankind, some of them will undoubtedly hate us. But I have seen enough to know you can’t assume that intelligent equals peaceful. So yes, I’ve given up my personal petty feelings about the injustice I have endured. At one point I might have thought it would be karma if the same bastards who laughed at me about aliens were to die under alien guns. Now, I understand that my efforts might save those same jackasses. And then I realized something,” he took a chip and waved it as a pointer in class, “I realized that should an alien race attack Earth, those same jackasses are going to have to tell me ‘thank you’. He smiled at her while pointing the potato chip, “And that, Cheryl Lynn, will be my ultimate revenge.” With that said he crunched down on his chip as a physical exclamation point and smiled while he chewed.


She thought about what he had to say and what Patricia had recommended she do. “Marcus?” He just said ‘hmmm?’   while he continued to chew. “Do you know how I can meet Pete?”


“Sure,” he said reaching for another chip, “You just need to go over to the Ad Aeternitatem and look for him.  I think he is over there this week doing some training or something.”


 “Aren’t they in the Mediterranean?” She asked.


“Yeah, but it’s only a 20-minute ride.” He popped the chip in his mouth.


Cheryl Lynn was aghast. She knew there were technologies here that were incredible, but from the middle of the United States all the way over to the Mediterranean in 20 minutes? “Is this using the same type of Pod that you took Tina up in?” She continued as he nodded. “I don’t suppose you need to visit the ship any time soon, do you?”


Marcus smiled to her, “Why, I think I might need to do another field trip. Would you care to make sure it’s kid friendly?”


She grinned, “I think that would be very appropriate, Mr. Scientist man!”



 “John!” Bethany Anne called out. The team was working out in the underground practice area together. He came jogging over to her, “Yes?”


“I have just been informed that Marcus is requesting a ‘field trip’ to take Cheryl Lynn over to the Ad Aeternitatem. Have you been expecting this?”  She asked and then grumped, “And when am I going to get my helper back? I can’t keep making up crap for her to do while all of you finish whatever you have going on.”


John answered, “Sorry boss, but I know my cousin. You would have a solid support person with just me telling her it’s a good cause.” He leaned down a little bit and smiled, “But you will have an amazing support person when she knows, no believes, in this herself.”


Bethany Anne eyed him back, “Yeah, I can see that, but I’m getting impatient. And do you know what impatience causes me to do, Mr. Grimes?” She smiled up to him.


John straightened back up, “Makes you want to eat ice cream?  Because if you do, I’m more than willing to run up to the cafeteria and get you some.” He grinned.


“Fat chance! It makes me want to vent a little of my frustration, and since you’re the closest victim available at the moment …” She stepped back a few steps and settled into a Krav Maga fighting stance.


“Cheryl Lynn”, John prayed under his breath, “for God’s sake make up your mind soon. I can’t keep taking these ass kicking’s all of the time!”


He decided that giving Bethany Anne any more time to prepare was a lost cause, so he rushed her.



“OOHHH MYYYY GOOOOOOOD!”  The roof had opened in Marcus’ area.  Everyone knew that the roof opened for Shelly, and many had seen the helicopter leave and return. But Cheryl Lynn had never heard of anyone mentioning the Pods leaving.


Now she knew why. It was because no one could possibly see the Pods leaving. Not when they accelerated so fast it would be nothing but a blur to someone on the ground.


Then, the upper atmosphere went away and she was able to see the beauty of space in all of its glory.  Neither one spoke until she whispered into the silence, “I think I’m beginning to understand the siren call of outer space.”


Marcus stayed silent. He felt the cosmos could carry on a conversation with Cheryl Lynn just fine without his help.


 Fifteen minutes later it was time to go back down. Since it was dark in the Mediterranean area, they didn’t have to descend at the insane rate as their ascent. Cheryl Lynn had her face glued to the glass looking all around.


“Wow, saving the world comes with some perks, doesn’t it?” She asked.


 Marcus had to laugh, “Well, only the most advanced craft this world doesn’t know about. Some of the most amazing medical capabilities that the world, once again, doesn’t know about. And … exciting plans for the future that we share with no one. But other than that I’d say yes.”


She looked over to him, “I get the idea you still haven’t completely gotten over your rejection?”


He waved his hand, “I should probably stop talking like that, but bitching about it has been such a part of my life for so long that it’s a situation of my bad habits taking a while to stop.”


As they came closer and closer to the water, Cheryl Lynn could see the navigation lights of the ships starting to appear. Her eyes only got bigger and bigger as she finally realized just how large they were. She squeaked, “Those are the ships she has?”


Marcus shrugged, “Well, technically, they actually belong to Stephen but as far as I know he is merely holding them as a convenience for her. It isn’t like he doesn’t practically worship the ground she walks on.”


“Who is Stephen?”


Marcus reached up and scratched the side of his neck, “I forget that you’re so new and you don’t know a lot of the major players. You might meet him as he is usually either here on the Ad Aeternitatem or on the Polarus, but he is another vampire. In fact, he’s Michael’s brother.”


“The Michael? The Michael as in the original vampire Michael?” Marcus nodded. “God,” she murmured, “I wonder what Stephen could tell us about the last few hundred years.”


“Maybe not as much as you might think, I understand he slept through a lot of it.”


 Cheryl Lynn turned a confused face toward him for a split second before continuing to look down at the approaching ship, “Slept?”


 “Yes, mind you most everything I know about Vamps is second-hand. Apparently they can become bored, or tired with living.  Stephen had been suffering from that condition. Then, Bethany Anne came along.”


 Seconds later, they were slowing down to stop mere inches above the deck of the rolling ship. Then, they heard and felt a little nudge as the pod settled down on the ship. “Well, the first half of our field trip is now officially over. Since I’m here I’m going to go check on some things.”


Cheryl Lynn said in alarm, “How am I supposed to find Pete, this ship is huge!”


Marcus smiled, and pointed with his finger, “See that young guy right there coming at us with a smile on his face?” She nodded, “Well, that would be Pete.” Marcus opened the doors and Pete reached into shake his hand and help him out.


 Pete turned to Cheryl Lynn as she unbuckled her belt, “Hello, I’m Pete. Patricia sent a message that you have questions and we should talk.”


Cheryl Lynn took a second to undo the belt and huffed, “Do they have to have so many damn buckles on these things!”


 “Yes, as a matter of fact they do.” He added, “You don’t want a simple automobile seat belt in one of these things. Pods fly in three dimensions and even though they handle gravity very well it could still toss you around if it had to do some sort of quick maneuvers. Besides, we use them as transportation into combat situations. Arriving still able to function is important.”


Cheryl Lynn thought about her first comment to Pete and her cheeks reddened, “Sorry! I’m just a little flustered.” She took Pete’s hand and he pulled her out of the Pod with no effort.


 “Hungry?” He asked.


“You know? I wouldn’t have thought I was but now that you mention it I could do with a bite.”


Pete chuckled. “Be careful of that term around Weres, but follow me, we have some of the best food anywhere.”












CHAPTER TWELVE


Cheryl Lynn looked at everything following Pete while he led her through the ship. There was no way she could figure out how to get back to the Pod, but she was amazed at how nice everything was. They passed multiple people, all of them seemed very professional. Finally, she had to ask Pete in a whisper, “Is everybody here from the military?”


 Pete turned to her and leaned in a little and spoke in a soft voice, “No, not when they first get here.” He winked at her and straightened back up then a few seconds later he took a right turn to go into the Mess hall.


“Wow!”  Was all Cheryl Lynn could say as she took in the dining room and the cafe area.


“Nice, huh?” He walked into the cafe area, “Go ahead and grab something.  I’m going to get something and a drink, I’ll meet you out at the tables, ok?”  She nodded her agreement.


A few minutes later, she arrived at Pete’s table with a plate full of food.  She smiled at him as she sat down.  She mentioned, “I thought I would have a small bite.  Then, when everything looked so good I figured I’d have a small bite of this… and this… and that.”


Pete looked over at her plate, “Oh!  Those meatballs are delicious.  The chef on this boat has been in high-level five-star restaurants.  Heck, I think he has owned one or two.”  He reached across with his fork and speared one of the meatballs.  Cheryl Lynn watched as he put her meatball into his mouth.


“Hey now!”  She grabbed her fork and reached over to spear one of his small round tomatoes and popped it into her mouth, daring him with her eyes to try again.


That was when she noticed that his eyes seemed to go from green to gold and back again.   Her eyes opened a little in surprise and Pete asked, “What is it?”


Cheryl Lynn bent towards Pete and looked around the room.  No one was near them.  When she turned she noticed Pete was mimicking her actions and turned to look at her.


He was just a foot away.  She whispered “Um, are you normal?”


He didn’t answer but asked a question after twitching his eyes left and right, “Why are we whispering?”


She narrowed her eyes, “Answer. the damn. question!”


Pete leaned back in his chair.  “If you are asking if I’m ‘human’ then the answer is yes.”  He paused, then continued, “With a few modifications.”


Cheryl Lynn set her teeth and pointed at him with her fork, “You are a pain-in-the-ass just like Little John!”


“Who?”  Pete replied.


She folded her arms across her chest, “My cousin.”


“John?” Pete put his hand high up in the air, “John Grimes?  Six story tall John?”


Her head jerked in a ‘yes’.


Pete burst out laughing.  She wanted to walk around the little table and kick him.  God!  What was it?  He was at least seven years younger than her.   She looked harder, at least ten years actually, maybe more.


“Sorry!”  He put up a hand, “I’m sorry, really.  You have to understand. John is the first one who showed me what a ‘man’s discipline’ felt like.”


“Why?  What did he do, punch you?”  She asked tartly.


Pete sobered up, “Well, yes.  That is exactly what he did.  Damn near knocked my lights out and for a human to have done that to a Wechselbalg?”  He shook his head, “It would have been more impressive if it wasn’t my jaw that was having to fix itself.”


“What did you do?”


“I was disrespectful to Bethany Anne.”  This time, Pete didn’t smile like it was an inside joke. “At the time, mind you, I didn’t know who she was and I was full of myself.  My father hadn’t raised me with too many rules so I was kinda wild and I took advantage of the situation.”


“So, what happened?” Cheryl Lynn started eating, going first for the remaining meatball.


“He knocked some sense and respect into me every damned morning until I realized he wasn’t doing it to be an ass, he was doing it to shape me into the potential he saw in me.”


“What was that?”


Pete looked her in the eye, “A man, and a leader.”  He shrugged and speared the other tomato on his plate and took a bite, “I guess the leader part became something I wanted when I watched him all of the time.  He has a way of making you feel …  ‘when I grow up I want to be like John’.”


Cheryl Lynn laughed, “You want to be a walking, talking example of testosterone?”


Pete turned his head partway to the left and speared her with his eyes, “Are you dissing your cousin?”


She exhaled and put her fork down, “No, no I’m not.  I’m just not happy with him right now.”


“Oh? Why is that?”  Pete slid his chair back, “Sorry, one sec.  Would you like a refill?”  She shook her head and Pete took half a minute to refill his drink and returned to the table.  “Sorry again, so you were going to tell me why you are not happy with ‘Little John’?”


“He is treating me with kid gloves!”


“Really?  Because, from my perspective I can tell you that being treated the ‘opposite’ of kid gloves is no fun.”


“Why?  Did he do something to you?  Well, other than almost break your jaw?”  She asked.


Pete thought about it for a moment, “Can we say I came to him a spoiled little rich kid who felt superior to humans in every way and leave it at that?”


“He helped you out of the spoiled part?”


“He literally beat the spoiled part out,” Pete said.  “It wasn’t that I didn’t need it, I did.  The more responsibility I earned, piece by piece, the more responsibility I wanted.  All the way to being the alpha of the Wechselbalg Guardians.”  Pete noticed Cheryl Lynn open then close her mouth, “What is it?”


“Well, is it rude of me to ask you to describe what you look like when you change?”


Pete laughed, loud and long, “I’m sorry!”  He calmed down some, “You are so damned polite I’m not sure how to act.  Most people, if they are aware of Werewolves at all, are practically begging to see a change.  You’re asking me if it is rude to ask me to describe how I look?”


Cheryl Lynn sat up straight and her tone became sharper, “I don’t think it is incorrect of me to be polite here!”


Pete waved his hands, “No, no!  I’m good.”  He wiped at a tear threatening to come loose.  “It’s just our group is so full of testosterone that to have someone demure come on board is …”  He stopped for a second to think about it, “Well, it’s kinda nice.”


“Thank you … I think.”  She said after a moment.


“Tell you what.” He started.


“Yes?”


“Would it be impolite of me to ask you if you would like to ‘see’ a Werewolf change?” He asked her.


Cheryl Lynn thought about it, “I suppose it isn’t impolite of you to ask, but I’m not sure that I want to see it.”


“Why is that?”


“Well,” she continued, “I’m trying to understand what everything here is working towards.  For instance, why are you here?”


That question took Pete back, “What do you mean?”


“Well, do you have to stay here now? I mean, sure if you’re the leader maybe but did you ever have a chance to go home?”  She pressed.


This time, it was Pete who stayed silent for a minute, “You know, I’ve not truly been home since that day on the tarmac.”  He spoke quickly before she got out her next question, “I’ve seen my dad!”  She shut her mouth, “It’s just I haven’t tried to ‘go home’.  This,” he pointed around him, “is my home.  The people here and at the base are my family.  This family has formed under one person to accomplish one goal.”


“Save the world, right?”


Pete ‘hmmmd’ for second, “Not exactly.  It’s more like provide the world the opportunity to be whatever it wants to be.  Whether that works out for the better or not.  Bethany Anne just wants to make sure they have the choice in the future.”


“That seems odd.  What kind of answer is that?”  She was confused.


“Well,” He said, idly rotating his drink glass, “a Bethany Anne answer.  However, what it means is she has no intent to force the world to be anything it wasn’t going to be.”


“Like she could?”


“Come again?” Pete asked.


“I mean, like she could force the world to be something…”  She stopped as she saw Pete’s expression, “Can she?”


“Probably.  She could destroy the world right now.”


“What, how?”


Pete shrugged, “Drop a massive rock on it.”


“Another dinosaur extinction event?”


“Yes.”  He responded, “With us as the dinosaurs of course.”


“Who’s to stop her?”  Cheryl Lynn mused out loud.


“Her.”  Pete said simply.


“She’s the only one?”  Cheryl Lynn asked.


“Well, honestly no.  There is no one that could really physically stop her if she set her mind to it, but her heart is way too big to allow herself to do something like that.”  Pete said.


“You love her, don’t you?” Cheryl Lynn questioned.


Pete smiled, “If you mean like an older sister?  Then yes.  If you mean something else?  Then I tend to fall into John’s camp.”


She smiled, “Oh, I just have to hear what my cousin thinks.”


“Promise me you won’t tell him I told you this?” He retorted, one eye raised.


Cheryl Lynn’s lips pressed closed and then her shoulders slumped, “Fine, yes!”


Pete answered, “He would die for her, he just didn’t want to die in bed because of her.”


Cheryl Lynn’s face scrunched up in confusion, “What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Have you seen her vamp out yet?”  She shook her head, “Oh.  Well, that explains it.  Tell you what, come with me and I’ll give you a Wechselbalg demonstration.  Then, you can figure out what kind of person could make someone like me bend a knee to her.”


The two bussed their dishes and Pete took Cheryl Lynn to the workout area on the boat.


Cheryl Lynn looked around the room at the floor mat and the obvious signs of wear and tear before turning back to find Pete almost naked, “Excuse me!”  She quickly turned her head.


She could hear him quickly say, “I’m sorry!  I forgot you don’t know much.  I’m not getting any more undressed than this and I promise you that you will be safe.  However, I’ll need you to step farther away so that you don’t hurt yourself when I change and you will need to look at me to get an understanding of the change.”


Cheryl Lynn walked fifteen feet away and sat on a weight bench and turned to look at him.  Like that was hard work for her eyes.  He had rips on his rips.  “Ok, but you better realize I’m old enough to be your mother!”


Pete laughed, “Hardly!  But that isn’t the point.  Are you ready?”  She nodded and Pete thought back to a time that made him angry, a time when he thought he had lost Ecaterina and the room became brighter and he was taller again.  The scents were clear - sweat, dirt, fear… He turned to view the small woman on the bench, her eyes wide open.


“This issss myyy fooorrrmmm.”  He said.


She nodded her head and tried to get her voice to work. “John punched you and you could turn into this?  Was he fucking nuts?” her two hands quickly covered her mouth as she mumbled between her lips, “I’m sorry!”


“Hehh  heehh heehh.  Nooo, III cooullldddnnnnnntt chaahhnnngge aaatt thaaat ttiimmme.”


“I bet he wouldn’t punch you now!”  She wasn’t willing to move.  She had heard you never ran away from a predator as it just caused them to want to chase you.


“Oooonnnnee mmmmooooommmeennnnt.”  He growled.  A few seconds later Pete was standing in front of her again.  He moved his head back and forth and coughed, “Sorry!  Not easy to carry on a conversation in that form and without something violent to do, it’s hard to stay focused.”  He walked to his clothes and started putting on his pants.  “However, there is no way on God’s green earth I would purposely punch John Grimes and offer to fight him.”


“Is that because of what he did for you?”


Pete put on his shirt, “Well, certainly that but I’m talking hypothetically.  John would kick my ass and then use my hairy hide as a mop to clean up my own blood off the floor.”  Pete smiled as he put on his socks and shoes.


“But, you look so powerful.” She argued.


“Oh, I am.” He agreed.


“Then…”  Cheryl Lynn stopped.  “He’s been changed too, hasn’t he?”


“Yes, yes he has.”  Pete replied.


She got up from the bench and walked over to the mat and sat down.  Then, she laid back and talked up into the air. “So, John can take you out and Bethany Anne could take John out?”


“She could, yes.”


“But she wouldn’t?”  She looked over to Pete to gauge his reaction.


“No.  She loves him too much.”


“This is one convoluted family.”


“Don’t you mean dysfunctional?”  Pete asked.  He walked over to join her on the mat.


She sat back up, “No, convoluted.  You aren’t dysfunctional, in fact I’d say you are so functional it is damned near unbelievable.  But the ‘why’ it works is convoluted.  It all revolves around Bethany Anne and this need to not protect the earth, while protecting the earth.”  She looked over to Pete, “What if the earth doesn’t want you to protect it, or God forbid attacks you?”


Pete snorted, “Well, if they refuse protection I imagine she will just attack the aliens and leave it at that.  But, if they attack her people?”  Pete shook his head, “Then they will learn deep in their souls the meaning of regret.”


“She’s only pro-earth if earth doesn’t attack her?”


He shrugged, “I doubt she would do much if they just attacked her.  She would get away somehow.  But if someone hurts her people?”


“You mean John and Eric and Darryl and…”  She faltered.


“Scott?”


“Right! His name was right on the tip of my tongue.”


“Ok, I’ll believe that. No, I mean ‘any’ of her own.  All of us, any of us.  If something is wrong for one of us, it’s personal for her.”


“Like me.”  She said softly.


“Do what?” He asked.


“Sorry, I just realized that because of John, I became one of her own.”


“Yes, that’s probably true.  You are family that John cares about, therefore Bethany Anne cares about you.”


She looked up to Pete, “What if John didn’t care about me?”


“Well, I imagine he wouldn’t have mentioned you to Bethany Anne and you would still be in whatever situation you were in.”  He said matter-of-factly.


“What kind of love does she have that she is willing to stop trying to save the world to go to Dallas, Texas and help a mother of two kids with a personal problem?”


Pete answered solemnly, “The kind that can take a punk-ass spoiled rich brat and help make a man out of him.”


Cheryl Lynn continued, “And a Romanian bar maid into something amazing, and a washed-up rocket scientist working to help change the future…”  She paused for a moment and turned to look over at Pete, “And the type of person who would see something special in a mother from Dallas Texas and tell her she is going to be her personal assistant.”


“Oh that’s great!”  Pete said.


She scrunched her face together, “Why is that so great?”


“Cause, that means I’ve got an inside contact.”  Pete grinned, “Don’t forget how nice and friendly we are right now.”


She laughed, “Stop it!  I’m … well, I’m old enough.  It doesn’t matter that you have abs women would want to practice braille on, you’re still too young for me.”


“Damn,” he muttered, “that’s a good one.  Abs women want to practice braille on.”  He thought about that for a second, “I’m going to have to put that on my dating account.”


“You have a dating account?”


He smiled, “No!  God, I can only imagine what would happen if the teams found me with a dating account. Oh, the shit they would pull.”  This time, Pete put a hand over his mouth, “Oops!  Sorry.”


She giggled, “It’s ok.  I try to watch my language around Tina and Todd, not other adults.”


Pete dropped his hand.


“It’s all real, isn’t it?” She asked. Pete stayed silent, it didn’t sound like she was asking him a question.  “We really are in a battle. Bethany Anne really is what she seems like and I really do need to worry about if there will be a future for Tina and Todd.”  She turned to look at Pete, “Don’t I?”  Pete nodded his head.  She asked, “And you would really die for her?”


“Not only her, but John or Eric or Dan or Ecaterina or Gabrielle or my team and now, for you.”


Cheryl Lynn closed her eyes and Pete noticed one small tear making its way down her cheek.












CHAPTER THIRTEEN


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Kevin and Lance looked over the digital map of the emplacements surrounding the base with Stephanie, the new head of the Engineering group.  Stephanie was big, bold and boisterous which almost succeeded in hiding the treasure-chest of knowledge she possessed.


Kevin had found that out early and had used her expertise to great effect.


She was very much a woman though, and it was distracting Kevin.  Now he had a taste of what Lance must have gone through with Patricia, at some level.  Stephanie was of African American and Japanese descent and Kevin was trying to focus on her engineering abilities, not her other attributes, and it was becoming a stone-cold bitch to accomplish.


His data on the three possible replacements had been restricted, except for their skill sets.  Bethany Anne had provided him candidates with the exact skills he had requested, but she said she wanted to go to another country to find candidates with those skills.


Fluent in Japanese, Stephanie was considered ‘hafu’ or half-blood in Japan. Stephanie had decided to stop trying to beat her head against Japan’s homogeneity and had opted to work for a company in New Zealand instead. That company had contracts with the military, allowing her to produce an impressive resume.  Her job in Wellington was where Frank and ADAM had found her.


When Stephanie had gone for the interview, she had been surprised to find a beautiful young woman was obviously in charge of the meeting.  A young looking man, that the woman had slipped and called ‘dad’ a couple of times, seemed to be the one with the field knowledge.


She thought that Lance was some kind of ‘really’ close friend, until another man had joined them some ten minutes later, and DAMN! He was a looker.  She was considering what a nice package he made, until Bethany Anne kissed him after the two men had shaken hands.  It wasn’t a chaste kiss, but it wasn’t inappropriate for a meeting either, and it sent a message that this man was taken.


Some women have all the damned luck, she thought.


During the interview, Bethany Anne fired questions at Stephanie which were significantly out of the norm.  It was almost like Bethany Anne was testing on the fly and using the out of the box questions for her follow-up questions.  Michael - as he was introduced - didn’t say much, but would ask an odd question from time to time, almost like he had his own agenda.


All of Michael’s questions had to do with ethics, morality and various dilemmas one might find themselves facing.  Right before it was time for coffee and dessert, he begged off and Bethany Anne told him she would catch up with him later if that was ok.


By his smile, Stephanie figure, it was better than ok


Stephanie did grin to herself.  She wasn’t used to being upstaged, and now she understood why some women could be snippy to her.  Right now, she wanted to be snippy with Bethany Anne, who had only been generous and gracious to Stephanie this whole evening.


Well, she had to focus on what would absolutely sell her. That was her qualifications in engineering, and her history of engineering wizardry.  Her efforts to prove her qualifications were proving to be a cold bitch, too.


It was almost like Bethany Anne had an engineering testing group inside her head throwing questions at her.  Pretty soon, the challenge of answering those questions focused her attention, and she forgot all about anything else but the challenges. It became a competition to see if she could engineer her way out of the hypothetical situations thrown at her.


Bethany Anne would pose a question. Then Stephanie would request details about the landscape or other resources she would have available. On most occasions, Lance would answer those questions.  By dessert, she knew two things: the first was that she was mentally exhausted! This had been unlike any other interview she had ever attended, and she had been to some very challenging interviews in Japan.  The second was that she ended up wanting - no needing - to impress the hell out of Bethany Anne.


Stephanie had always wanted to work for a woman, and she desperately wanted this woman to be the one.


A little while after Michael left, they ordered dessert and spent another hour just chatting. This provided the opportunity for Stephanie to ask her own questions.  It was at this time Stephanie learned that Lance was responsible for overseeing a portfolio of more than a thousand companies.


That was the first bomb-shell.  The second was that Bethany Anne owned all of them.


She really, really wanted to work for this woman.


They had already interviewed one man from Great Britain and still had another candidate to interview in India.


Two days later she received a call officially offering her the position.  She didn’t scream, she didn’t jump up and down or yell.  She simply turned, closed the door to her engineering office, and locked her door.  Then, she took two steps to her desk, sat in the chair, put her head on her desk and let the tears of joy pool underneath her eyes.


Someone wanted her brain and her skills.


Period.


Now, Kevin was asking for her opinion on base enhancements. She was having to use all of her experience, and a shit-load of creative genius, to provide solutions to those issues.  Considering that many of the issues Kevin had were similar to the questions she had answered during the interview, Stephanie was impressed. It was a pretty slick way to make sure she could handle the job. Give her the exact problems they wanted resolved and see if she could provide workable solutions.


Apparently, she could.


First, they began by discussing layered defenses for targeting human trespass, then motion activated cameras to help detect incoming drones. Then, fast reaction teams would be put in place which Kevin said Bethany Anne would provide.


Those fast-reaction teams would be required to visually identify targets and cover any blind spots.  Kevin mentioned they would start running exercises to see if their own teams could penetrate the current defenses. They would use that data to make modifications where needed.


Stephanie agreed that time spent gathering data was seldom wasted.


Then, they considered a scenario of being overrun by civilians trying to acquire medical compounds that could only be found on the base.  She addressed the civilian issue and related how she wanted to channel people into smaller areas. Areas where it would be obvious that going forward would be a really bad idea.


Whether it was sonic noise projectors, glue guns, or something more devastating. She made sure that should anyone decide retreat was a better solution, they would always have the option. It’s never a good idea to make people choose between fighting or dying.


Then, they reviewed options for hiding medical support out in the fields for fast reaction times. Their own people would be the priority, then any of the attackers who might need assistance.


“After looking at the power output of the new emplacements, I believe we can effectively run twelve emplacements. Two here, two here, three more on this ridge, three covering this valley and two more on that side of the ridge.” Stephanie pointed to different areas of the base.  “Have you considered the sheer devastation those things are going to create?”


Kevin nodded slowly, “Yes. Unfortunately, they are going to make pulp out of any human and depending on the charge, they can go through armored units as well.  They will be our last resort, but we should have advanced warning if anything bigger is coming.”


“Why?”  Stephanie asked curiously, “Do you have people on the inside?”


“No, well not any people anyway.  We have access to strategic communication networks where orders would flow.  It isn’t a hundred percent, but it’s good enough we feel confident we will have some notice. How are we going to maintain command and control of our emplacements?” Kevin asked.


“We’ll use transceivers routed through the Etheric. Those will connect to AGILITY and allow us complete command from the base.”


“Is there any way to override those things?” Kevin pressed.


“Are you asking if we can shut them down, or are you asking if someone else could gain control of them?” Stephanie asked.


“Well,” Kevin started scratching under his chin while looking at the digital display, “I am concerned they could be hacked by somebody.”


Stephanie laughed, “I don’t think anyone is going to be able to hack AGILITY at this point.”


Stephanie had a previous meeting, or conference call if you will, with ADAM a couple of days back. It took her a while to realize she was talking with an artificial intelligence. She had been ‘read in’ by Bethany Anne and been part of an orientation like none she had ever experienced. Not only had the CEO of the company taken her into outer space, said CEO almost made her pee in her pants with fright at the same time. Now, she had a much better understanding of the capabilities and the goals of the group. Stephanie had been silly enough to ask why she was trusted with this information. It did not surprise her to find out that Michael had read her mind. At this point, after traveling to outer space and finding out the ‘big boss’ was a vampire, something as simple as telepathy was pretty easy to swallow.


Kevin grinned, “Yeah, I figured as much, but I didn’t want to get into another I.T. discussion with Tom about his new baby. He might superglue me to a chair so he can wax poetic all afternoon.”


Stephanie smirked, “Is that why you keep trying to miss him in the meetings?”


Kevin replied, “I am not trying to miss him, I am merely trying to keep my own personal schedule on track. My job is to run this base, not understand what’s caused Tom to have a woody that morning.” It took Kevin about three seconds before his brain caught up to his mouth. Once he realized what he had said, his cheeks turned beet red.


It only took Stephanie two seconds to start laughing so hard she could barely breathe.


Finally, Kevin began laughing as well, and he realized that Stephanie had become less ‘attractive female,’ and more ‘one of the people on his team,’ in his mind.  Just one of the people in his group whose job, in this particular case, was to make his area of responsibility secure.



John Grimes walked into the cafeteria and paused a moment to locate his cousin, who was seated in a corner. He waved at one of the security guys from the front gate, who nodded back to him, before John continued walking towards Cheryl Lynn.


He was within a couple of tables when she looked up and noticed him coming, and gave him her patented ‘cousin smile.’


Oh, shit! he thought. I’m going to catch it now.


She pointed to the chair across from her and said, “Why don’t you take a seat, dear cousin of mine?”


“Don’t mind if I do, Cheryl Lynn.” John smiled at her. His smile was interrupted when her eyes squinted and her mouth compressed together and he felt her kick him hard in the knee!


John clamped down on his teeth so he didn’t let out a rude exclamation. He said through clenched teeth, “I hope that was enough?”


Cheryl Lynn leaned forward, “Did I need to be passed around from person to person to get the point?”


John leaned back, still acting as if her kick was hurting him. He didn’t need to let her know that his body had already dealt with the pain. “If it helps your pride a little bit, I was subjected to ass-kicking’s all week long from Bethany Anne.”


“Good!” She exclaimed. Then her face became concerned, “Why was she kicking your ass?”


John leaned forward and put his elbows on the table, “Because she is an impatient sort of person and she wanted her assistant available, not on some wild goose chase.”


“Then why did you have me doing that? Is it that you felt I needed to find this out for myself?”


“That.” John pointed at her, “Is exactly what you needed to do. Don’t tell me if I had just told you ‘this is important,’ that it would be as meaningful to you as it is right now. Would it? Because if that’s the case, not only have I caused myself an unnecessary week of grief, but you’ve changed since we were kids.”


She sat back, crossing her arms over her chest, then rocked back and forth in the chair. She finally grumped, “No! It wouldn’t have been the same. But you’re doing the same thing you did to me when we were kids, leading me around instead of letting me know what I’m supposed to be doing. Do you realize what a …” She stopped, then exhaled. “I guess that isn’t fair. We haven’t been around each other enough for you to recognize that I have changed. So, you reverted back to old habits. Fine, but next time I will use a bat when I want to kick your knee.”


She reached down to massage her toes ruefully, “It was like kicking the wall.” She smiled at him. “Maybe I did need to hear everybody’s take on the situation. After living through my mistakes with Mark, trusting anyone has been difficult. I suppose, I might have thought that you could be mistaken about Bethany Anne, as well.”


John stood and pushed his chair back under the table. “I owe her my life, my team’s lives, and now your life as well. If there is one thing you can depend on,” he stared straight into her eyes, “it is Bethany Anne.”


Cheryl Lynn gave him a short, sharp nod and then winked at him. He gave her a cheesy excuse for a salute then turned around and walked out of the cafeteria.



Cheryl Lynn opened the door of the apartment she shared with Tina and Todd on the base.   Although she now had a lot of money in the bank, a product of Bethany Anne’s ‘talk’ with her ex-husband, she had decided to keep the same furniture this apartment had originally been outfitted with.


It was less about not spending money, as it was making sure that Tina and Todd could get into the rhythm of base life. After her various conversations, Cheryl Lynn understood that all of their futures could be in outer space, and there would be no frivolous furniture up there.


“Mom!” Todd yelled from his room when she shut the front door. “I want to go into space too!”


Cheryl Lynn put her work down on the kitchen table, and pulled out a chair. She took off her shoes to let her toes wiggle a little bit, waiting for Todd to come out of his room. It took him about 30 seconds before he came out, grumpy. She asked him, “What do you say when you see your mother for the first time in the day?”


Todd rolled his eyes, “Good afternoon, Mom. Now, how come I can’t go into outer space?”


“Excuse me?” She eyed Todd, her expression showing some irritation.


Todd realized he had crossed the line, again. “I’m sorry. Can you please tell me why I can’t go into outer space?”


“Ok, that’s better,” she nodded. “I have no idea, Todd.  What are you doing to earn the opportunity to go into outer space?”


“What do you mean? I go to school, and I’m passing all my classes.”  He answered, not quite managing to keep the whine out of his voice.


“Todd, you need to understand something. The people around here are not interested in a person who does the minimum to get by. These people are giving their all, not just,” she air-quoted, “‘Passing their classes.’ The reason that Tina was able to go into outer space, was because she is voluntarily attending additional scholastic sessions beyond her normal schooling.”


Cheryl Lynn started taking her books and setting them out on the table so she could review them.


“So, if you want a chance to do something cool,” she looked over at him, “You will have to give one hundred and fifty percent. Passing isn’t good enough here; you will need straight A’s. Are you putting in the effort to make sure you have great grades, or is your game console more important? What are you doing to make sure that you are with the right group, the people that are making things happen?”


Todd didn’t want to hear this, and it was the third time she’d had this same talk with him. He said solemnly, “Nothing.”


Cheryl Lynn turned to face her son, “Todd, look at me. No! Look. At. Me.”  Todd looked up at his mother, “I want you to have the chance to go to outer space. I want you to have the chance to live a long life. It is going to take me a significant amount of personal effort to make sure you and Tina have this chance. Do you want to go to outer space?” She held her son’s attention.


Finally, he nodded.


“Then you need to find something that you are interested in, something besides video games, and get engaged and learn it. Ask what sort of skills will be needed, then pick one you like, and learn something that is going to be useful. Because wishing to go to outer space, while you’re wasting time doing something frivolous stuff, won’t get you there.” Cheryl Lynn turned back to her books.


Todd didn’t like this answer, but he knew he wouldn’t receive a different one if he asked again tomorrow. He turned to go back to his bedroom. As he walked in he saw the game he had been playing, paused on his computer. Instead of going back to the chair and resuming play, he sat down on his bed.


So, what’s it going to be? He thought, how bad do I really want to go to outer space?


It was at least ten minutes later when Cheryl Lynn noticed that there were no game sounds coming from Todd’s room.


Damn it! Now, she was going to have to tell John that he was right … a second time.












CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Bethany Anne was working through the morning reports with ADAM.  She didn’t have an office or even carry a laptop.


She had the damned computer with her twenty-four hours a day.  For those people who complained in the past about how their Blackberries were ‘crackberries,’ they should try to live with it in their head.


However, it sure made getting through the morning updates faster.


If there was a lot of data, she would shift into Vampiric speed and not only take in the data dump, but have a conversation about all of the issues related to it that she could.  Then, she would have ADAM put together emails that looked like they came from her and have them sent to the appropriate parties.


Because of her speed and detailed analysis, Bethany Anne was attaining a reputation around her businesses for being very, very sharp and extremely fast.  One morning, a few employees happened to be chatting about the emails they’d received, and they noticed that Bethany Anne’s emails were all sent within two minutes of each other.  During the next few weeks, the highest throughput they recorded was eighty-two highly detailed and specific emails sent within the space of four and a half minutes.


A couple of people assumed she just had a lot of help. Four bright individuals decided to test the theory. In the space of a few minutes they called her and asked clarification questions to see if she delegated the response or requested a follow up call.


Bethany Anne was just finishing her shower after an early morning workout.  This time was usually used for chatting with TOM and ADAM about general events and other reports she needed to consider during the day. She took the calls and answered every single question, with two of the individuals receiving follow up projects that she had been considering.  Those two declared they would never repeat the mistake of doubting her abilities, all the while complaining about the extra work she had given them to their co-workers.


Once Bethany Anne was suitably dressed, Eric joined to walk her to the main building. He mentioned that Cheryl Lynn was coming up behind them half running, half jogging.


Bethany Anne turned and smiled while she waited for the woman.  Eric hung loose, looking around casually yet never failing to keep Cheryl Lynn in his peripheral vision.  While Cheryl Lynn was known, Eric hadn’t known her long enough to feel comfortable with her so close to Bethany Anne.


“Sorry!”  She said as she joined them, a little out of breath.  “I wanted to catch you before you got in the office.”  She puffed one more time rather loudly, then asked, “Wait, do you have an office?”


Bethany Anne shrugged, “Wherever I am, I guess.  Which means, wherever YOU are, is probably going to be my office.  Did John finish your trip through TQB personnel and did you learn what he felt you needed?”


Cheryl Lynn looked around, noticed that Eric was constantly watching her and grumped to him, “Like I could hurt the lady who can take John down?”


Eric smiled and turned away, just a little.


“Or,” she added, “the lady that protected my own children.”  Bethany Anne noticed Cheryl Lynn’s look of determination as she said that, “By the way, I never properly thanked you for that.  I had no idea what it meant for you to come with John on that trip.”


Bethany Anne waved her forward, “Come on.  We’re going to the work-out room underground.  It sounds like you need to get in shape with us.”  Bethany Anne turned and started to walk again with Cheryl Lynn next to her, “So, what is it you think I gave up, Cheryl Lynn?”


“Oh, nothing much, just the world’s future.  Like… literally.”  She huffed.


Bethany Anne elbowed her, “No need to be so melodramatic!”


“Well, you try to be the person who realizes one of the most powerful people in the world dropped everything to go with her guard to help a woman with two children and a soon to be dick-ex-husband!”  She gasped out all on one breath, “God, and I even thought that you two were an item.”


Cheryl Lynn blushed at her own comment and Bethany Anne grinned, responding, “No, but if you ever have time, ask John about the time I suggested to my nosy next-door neighbor I was using John as a boy-toy to christen every room in the Florida house.   That old crone about had a heart attack…”


Eric interrupted Bethany Anne’s story by laughing, “She wasn’t the only one.”  Both women turned to see Eric wiping a tear off of his face while he was still trying to maintain his visual scan, “Oh, my God!  You should have seen how white John was when he came into the house that morning.  I’ve never seen him hyperventilating so much without a work-out.”  Finally, Eric stopped trying to look around and glanced at Bethany Anne. He said in a squeaky voice as he held his hands out in supplication, “Priceless!”  Then he turned back to watching for danger again.  The two women looked to each other and smiled. Each knowing John the way they did made the moment special for the two of them.


“You know,” Cheryl Lynn said as they resumed walking, “I’m going to enjoy working with you.”


Bethany Anne felt a warm feeling with those words and knew that she owed John an apology, someday.


-----


“Are” … huff … “You” … puff … “Trying” … gasp … “To kill me?”  With that, Cheryl Lynn collapsed to the floor.


“Seriously?”  Bethany Anne asked, “That was what, eighteen push-ups?”  She finished a set of one hundred and jumped up.


Cheryl Lynn was gasping on the floor, “But those were real push-ups!  I used to do the girl-style with my knees on the ground back in ... high school or something!”  She groaned.  “Well,” she admitted, “maybe in college, but whatever, it was a long time ago.”


“You’ll feel better if you get up and start walking around.”  Bethany Anne suggested.


“Great … !”  Cheryl Lynn grumped as she pulled her knees under her to struggle to her feet.  Fortunately, she didn’t need to use much of her limp-noodle arms.  “This way, I’ll only have farther to fall when my legs fail me.”


Bethany Anne had to shake her head at Cheryl Lynn’s whining.  It had been a while since she had to push through with a normal body, so it helped remind her of her roots.  “Keep going, it eventually gets better.”


“And if it doesn’t?” She asked as she flung her arms around trying to get feeling back into them.


Eric responded from his own workout twenty feet away, “Then you’re dead.”


“Not the best ‘rah-rah’ speech I’ve ever heard, Eric!”  She retorted.  She continued to walk as she changed topics, “Bethany Anne, I think we need some marketing.”


“What?”  Bethany Anne asked.  She had been focused on a kata and Cheryl Lynn’s statement wasn’t what she had been expecting.


“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.”  She continued, “I just went through this whole ‘inside the secret group’ set of conversations, and it was hard for me to grasp the truth.  Imagine how hard it will be for the rest of the world, when all of a sudden, everything we are doing gets out of our control?  Whoever doesn’t like us will have the opportunity to spin it -- and they will -- so I’m thinking we need to have everything already sewn up so that when we are ready, we make a big ‘splash’ with it.  If someone beats us, well then we already have something in the can ready to go.”  She shrugged her shoulders, “Ok, what pain is next?”


Bethany Anne had stopped her own workout and said, “Eric, we need to pull together a few people for an impromptu meeting.”


Eric jumped up and grabbed his towel, “Purpose?”


“Hell if I know, ask Cheryl Lynn.  She’s the one who has a clue.”  She winked at Eric where Cheryl Lynn couldn’t see it.  Eric just smiled at Cheryl Lynn, who looked like she had just drawn the short straw.  Eric tossed her a second towel, and she numbly caught it.


“Welcome to the group, CL.  You just created your first project!”


Eric followed after Bethany Anne, who had stepped outside of the workout area already.  Cheryl Lynn dazedly followed.  She could hear Eric ahead of her yelling to Bethany Anne who was ahead of him, “No, it wasn’t Scott who said she create a project ‘first day’, it was me!  I won the pot!”




---


Cheryl Lynn was standing in front of a large group of people.  Some she knew, like Bobcat, William and of course Marcus.  She didn’t know Jeffrey too well, but she knew Bethany Anne, Lance and Patricia.  John was present, along with Eric who had guard duties for the day.  Kevin was kind of new to her, and she had met Stephanie for the first time that morning.


Nathan and Ecaterina were meeting with Gerry in New York, so they couldn’t attend.  Tom was included in case they had specific I.T. questions, although Cheryl Lynn couldn’t fathom why computers would be involved.  Ten minutes before they were going to start, Bethany Anne decided that she wanted Captains Thomas and Wagner to join.  Eric shrugged his shoulders, looked at his watch and told everyone they would be back in ten minutes.


They made it back in eight.


Cheryl Lynn knew that Bethany Anne had some other way to transport that was even faster than the Pods, but she hadn’t asked anything about it yet.  Since Bethany Anne and Eric walked back in with two minutes to spare and two men who looked like they had just come off shift, it had to be a very fast method.


Her mind went into overdrive trying to figure out how they could walk out of here, get two guys from the Mediterranean, and return here in eight minutes?  Something for another time, she decided.


Bethany Anne opened the meeting, “Ok, consider this a working meeting.  Cheryl Lynn brought up what I feel is an important concern, and what do I usually do to those who come to me with a problem?”


“Ask them to deal with it?”  Bobcat said, smiling.


“Curse them with the job?”  Marcus added.


“Provide the opportunity to expand their horizons by learning the solution to the problem?”  Kevin threw in, grinning as Bethany Anne pointed to him then touched her nose.


She looked at Bobcat and Marcus, “Two demerits for the both of you two.”  She looked back to the group assembled around the large meeting table, “So, this is the only time I’ll say this, and it goes only for this meeting:  try to be only sort of rough with her.  No biting!”  She looked around, “Damn, no Wechselbalg.”  She turned back to Cheryl Lynn, “Your meeting!”


Fourteen faces turned to her, and she wanted to crawl under the table.  She thought about the true purpose of this group, and standing her ground she started. “I would like to say, I am up here due to the mistake I made of telling Bethany Anne we needed more PR, more ‘marketing’ for the group.”  She felt relieved when not less than six of those at the table laughed and a few more had smiles on their faces.


Apparently, there were others who had fallen prey to Bethany Anne’s method of leadership.  “So, my concern was born out of being the ‘newbie’ here, and my cousin’s effort to educate me on why some of you have made this your life’s mission.  It is due to these conversations, and the conviction of those who I spoke with, that I understood what we are about and why we need to do this.


Enough so that I’m in this … ” She paused a second, then continued, “All the way.”  She turned to her cousin as she wiped away a tear, “Ad Aeternitatem, John.”  She stepped over to him, and he enveloped her in a crushing hug.  The table responded with a large amount of cheering.  They all felt joy for someone who had come into their ‘family.’


“I love you, little John.”  She murmured into his chest.


“I never doubted it, cuz.”  He responded.  They separated, and she felt emboldened.  The feeling that they were all in this together, without the political back-stabbing, made her feel comfortable and ready to forge ahead.


“As I was saying, before my emotions so rudely interrupted me,” She wiped away another tear and got back on track. “I think we need to have our narrative ready for the world, and to do that, we need to be ready when we do this stuff on the moon.  I don’t believe we are going to do this flawlessly, without someone finding out.  So while others are trying to confirm it, I say we deliver the goods in a fashion that makes us the latest ‘cool company.’”


She nodded over to Marcus, “I know from Marcus, that Space-X has some of the most rabid workers in the space industry, because they aren’t just working for a cool company, they are working to get into space.  The company can offer less salary than normal wages, due to the understanding that you are working for the future. If you aren’t devoted to space and willing to understand that is part of the package they offer?  Well, you aren’t right for them, and that is what we are going to offer.  We are going to be the new company doing amazing things never seen before.”


The response and cheering she received overwhelmed Cheryl Lynn. She kept grinning as everyone seemed excited about coming ‘out of the shadows’ and driving the future.  She looked around the table and stopped at Bethany Anne.


Who winked at her and mouthed ‘keep going’.


“Further,” She continued as the cheering quieted down, “We are going to do this internationally.  We need someone who is going to play the part of a neutral party.  I don’t know any reporters myself, and I’ve never been out of the United States…”


“Oooh, ooh!”  Eric interrupted, “I’ve got one!”  They all turned to him, “What about the reporter down in Costa Rica, Giannini Oveda or something?”


“Oviedo”, Bethany Anne corrected.


Eric pointed to Bethany Anne, “Her!”  Bethany Anne rolled her eyes.


Cheryl Lynn pursed her mouth, “Do we know if she has the skills and connections?  I don’t know anything about her.”


“I’ll have ADAM check her out.  But Michael and Tabitha have kept close tabs on her.  We would need to make sure she is able to keep what she knows about our other ops out of the limelight.”


“Why would she do that?”  Cheryl Lynn asked.


“Because we saved her life?”  Eric opined.


“How many times did we do that?” John asked wryly.


Eric turned to John, “At least a couple.  Plus, she became a famous reporter because of us, too.”


“Yes, there is that.”  John agreed.


Bethany Anne interrupted the two men, “Enough congratulating yourselves for shit you did a long time ago.”   She pulled the conversation back on track, “ADAM says she is solid and hasn’t released anything about us that we wouldn’t want out there.  She has pulled together a lot of information, and had she wanted to, could have already caused us problems. Also, Michael didn’t kill her back when he met her, so there is that.”


Cheryl Lynn’s eyes widened with shocked surprise. Bethany Anne casually mentioned Michael killing someone offhandedly, and no one here reacted like it was strange at all.


She still had a lot to learn, it seemed.


Cheryl Lynn continued, “Oookay.  So, we possibly have our reporter.  We will need to confirm, get her involved, and then start getting video.  Believable video.”  She nodded to Marcus, “Is there any way to get third parties to confirm the video isn’t photo-shopped?”


“It’s not Photo-shopped, that’s for pictures.”  Tom interrupted, “You want to make sure no one thinks that we’re using special effects for this.”


Ok, Cheryl Lynn thought, maybe there is a use for I.T. people.  “What he just said, Marcus?”


From there on, it became a discussion on how to ‘prove’ the authenticity of their content, and how much of their technology, their people, and their resources they wanted to display.


The answer to most of those questions, unfortunately, was less than Cheryl Lynn had hoped.  However, video would be shot, just set aside, only to be used with Bethany Anne’s permission.


They had been in the meeting for two hours before food was brought in, and the group broke up into discussions on normal day-to-day operations. Many of these people were friends and didn’t see each other very frequently, so they were catching up.


“Is it legal for us to put a base on the moon?”  Bobcat asked.  He had been thinking about how his launches were already skirting the law.


Those few around him who heard his question looked over to Marcus, who grumped, “Rocket scientist, not space law legal consultant.”


“Is there such a thing?” Asked William.


“God, here we go,” said Jeffrey with a smile on his face.


Cheryl Lynn had gravitated to be with Marcus’ group while they ate, because of her familiarity with them.  Her head was tracking back and forth as each one spoke.


“I don’t know, but you know we’re going to piss people off.”  Bobcat said.


“You know what they can do with that?” Said William.


“No, but I’m sure you are going to inform us.”  Bobcat replied.


“They can try to serve us on the Moon with their legal stuff.”  William replied, grinning.


Bobcat reached up and rubbed the side of his face. “You know, that might be funny - if we can setup a legal company that way.”


“You need to deal with the fact that the moon has certain ‘hands off’ aspects to it,” Marcus mentioned.


“Like what?”  Bobcat asked, “How the hell can countries tell you to keep your hands off it, if they can’t get up there?”  He asked, confused.


“It was back in the late 50’s,” Marcus answered, “When the United States and Russia started the space race, they held some bilateral discussions on keeping space peaceful, and moved it into the United Nations right at the end of the decade.  In the sixties, we got the Outer Space Treaty which, I guess, could cause us a problem, because we are based in a country that is part of the agreement.  Once our capabilities become known, it’s going to cause all sorts of fits with the legal beagles, since we will have a base up there, and a lot of countries are going to blame the United States.”


“Is every country a part of this?”  Cheryl Lynn asked.


“Oh no!” Marcus said, “Only about half of the countries are part.  It isn’t like too many are worried, because the other countries don’t have the resources…”


Bobcat smiled, “Until us.”


William smirked, “Team BMW is about to open a company in a foreign country, aren’t we?”


Jeffrey smiled, “Guys, I need to engage a space law expert and -- do we need to start planning to move our operations out of here?”


“Pshaw!”  Bobcat waved a hand, “By the time they figure out all of the legal stuff, we will already be up there, and not much of what we need will still be down here.”


“Oops.”  William smiled.  “I guess it was our bad we failed to launch that stuff from the right country.”


“We are still,” Cheryl Lynn interrupted, “going to need to have a decent front operation in some foreign country, so that the U.S. can’t use it to spin the P.R.”


Jeffrey turned to Cheryl Lynn, “Did you have a major in Journalism?”


“Journalism?  Why would I need that?  I have two pre-teens.  They know how to try and spin everything to their advantage.  I’m just extrapolating their logic to international intrigue.”


“Oh, yeah - that would work.”  Jeffrey, a fellow parent, admitted and raised his drink to her.


She raised hers back and then said, “So, let’s figure out how we can set up a legal entity that isn’t a party to the treaties, and provides the U.S. plausible deniability.  By the time everyone gets done with the finger pointing, we should have world support, if everything goes right.”


“And if it doesn’t?”  Marcus asked.


“Well, I’m hoping that Tina, Todd and I will already be up there with you.” She replied.


Bobcat smiled, “Are you asking for an apartment?  Because we haven’t designed any specifically for a small family.  Want in on that?”


“Hell yeah!” She grinned, “I’ll be the first space designer who has actually done work for moon apartments.”


“Well, actually the second.”  William quipped, “We had to ask Ecaterina some questions and got her input.”  He shrugged, “Sorry.”


Cheryl Lynn’s shoulders slumped just a bit.  “That’s ok.” She admitted, “Better to be number two.  Number one always has the jealous bitches trying to take them down.”


“Fat chance on the jealous bitches ‘taking down’ Ecaterina.”  Jeffrey mused.


“Word.”  Bobcat nodded his agreement.












CHAPTER FIFTEEN


QBS Polarus - Mediterranean


“So, Dan, what’s your concern?” Bethany Anne asked as she entered Dan’s office on the Polarus.  It wasn’t a large room, but it fit his personality well.


“Nukes,” Dan said succinctly.


“Come again?”  Bethany Anne responded, “Are you talking nuclear weapons?”


“Yes,” He responded.  “I’m considering what could happen if someone really, really, really doesn’t want us on the moon.”


Bethany Anne sat on the chair in front of his desk.   She wasn’t sure what kind of occupant this office had previously, but it was probably some type of officer as he had a lot of furniture in it.  “You don’t start out with tiny concerns, do you?”


Dan smiled, “I’m already dealing with the tiny concerns.  I’m only bringing this one up to make sure that we have thought of potential retaliation concerns.  I believe that the United States has had asteroid busting nukes for many decades, so it isn’t too hard to imagine they have something that could be thrown at us pretty easily if they are pissed off enough.”


She exhaled loudly, “Well, that would put a damper on our relationship with the U.S., I’d imagine.”


Dan grimaced, “Quite.”


“Ok, I know you wouldn’t give me this problem without some solution.” She said, “What do you have?”


“We are going to need anti-missile batteries on the side of the moon facing earth. We will need to have enough of them that, depending on the trajectory of the incoming missiles, our counter-measures miss the earth.”


“This is higher than my pay-grade, so I’ll ask our resident Rocket Scientist…”  Bethany Anne began.


>>Or, you could ask me.<<


Bethany Anne put up a finger, then pointed to her head.  Dan nodded in understanding.


Or, I could just ask you.  What’s the determination?


>>While the rail-gun rods will need to escape the Moon’s gravity at 2.3 kilometers per second, or 5,300 miles per hour, and we have that ability, we won’t have to do that.  We can place payloads with a gravitic engine, and then use the small satellites to confirm potential missile location.  Since our missile defenses will not be complicated, being essentially a metal block, they can accelerate without regard to any other constraints.  No major country admits to having missiles with nuclear payloads that can reach the moon, at this time.  However, as Dan mentioned, there is documentation which suggests the U.S. has had asteroid destruction capabilities for five decades.  Presently, most news accounts refute that conclusion. Due to the significant amount of lead-time, we do not need to do much more to handle attacks in which destruction of the launch vehicle is approved.<<


Dan noticed Bethany Anne’s eyes focusing back on him, “What did he say?”


“This time, it was ADAM, not TOM.” She stated. “Effectively, he suggested that we use the gravitic drives Team BMW has for powering the pods and have some available on the moon to reach the missile and slam into it.  There would be such a huge amount of time for acquisition, tracking and destruction that it is a non-issue.”


Dan said, “I sense a ‘but’ in there.”


She scrunched up her face, “Not so much a ‘but’ as ‘what if’.  As in, what if we have incoming, but we don’t want to destroy them?”


“Like what, an uninvited shuttle?”  She nodded. “Well,” he continued, “if killing them isn’t an option, or we don’t think it would be wise, we need to consider both PR and military responses.”


“Has Cheryl Lynn gotten to you, too?”  Bethany Anne cut in.


“No, why do you ask?”


“Because she’s been talking about the need for us to be prepared for press releases, and the ability to handle spin against us, once what we are doing comes out.”


“That’s a wise woman, then.  But my experience battling Forsaken is why I’m suggesting PR.  Our plans are to be on the other side of the moon.  I don’t think we want a large number of others ‘spying’ on us, but they sure as hell are going to want to do that.  Hell, I would if I were them.”  He mused, then continued, “So, we can either go full black-out and not let anything out or we can let them see what we want them to see and no more. Last choice is we give them full access.”


“Like the whole embedded reporters ‘thing’ with the U.S.?”  Bethany Anne asked.


“Yes, like the invasion of Iraq in ‘03,” he said.


“No, I’m not ready for that.”  She responded. “I don’t want to give up anonymity this soon, if possible.”


Dan shrugged again, “Well, we need to be ready.  When even a small amount of truth gets out, the rumors are going to be flying.”  He shrugged, “It’s going to be hard to argue with someone who is already up there, but we need to make sure we have the wherewithal to back up our ‘No’ to their demands.”


“Understood.”  She sighed, “I don’t like it, but I do understand.  It’s going to be like letting the babies have a lick of the sugar lollipop, but telling them they can’t have it.”


“Pretty much,” Dan quipped, “And the biggest babies are going to be the U.S., Russia and China.”


“Those are some big babies,” she agreed.  “We good?”


“Yes, so long as I’m not worrying about nuclear attacks, I’ll talk to the teams about digging in on the moon, in case we have to deal with letting someone land.  Although, frankly, we don’t have to open a door for them.”  He thought for a second, “You know, I think I’ll see about a good space suit.  With the pods, we have superiority over most anything, but if we need to go outside of the Pod, it will be a problem.”


Bethany Anne stood up. “Consider what you could do with enough of those containers.  Hell, have a few of them sitting around, and you have a moveable fence.”  She added thoughtfully.


He nodded.  She waved her goodbye and stepped out of his office.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


“I need an engineer.”  Where the first words Jeffrey heard as he walked into the central area.  He saw Bobcat and William chatting in the middle area and noticed Marcus over getting coffee in the break area.


“Look William,” Bobcat said, as he lifted his sleeve so William could see a little way up his arm, “Does it look like I have an engineer hidden here?”


“Guys,” Jeffrey said, interrupting them before they could get off track.  Both men turned to him, “I told you we would need more people. This isn’t a surprise or anything.”  Jeffrey turned to William, “What help do you need?”


“Well,” He admitted, “I’m not sure how to help finish pulling all of these things together and locking them during assembly.  I can do it, but I’m not going to be the one on the moon when it gets put together.”


“Ok, I’ve been getting a shit-ton of resumes submitted.”  Jeffrey started.


“How in the hell do you get resumes for a super-secret outer-space initiative?”  Bobcat asked.  Then he watched as Jeffrey simply raised one eyebrow and waited him out, “Ok, boss.”  Bobcat waved, “You have your ways … I get it.”


“It’s not that secret, Bobcat.”  Jeffrey answered, “You get with Frank and then with Frank and ADAM to start pulling possibilities, so I can grab them now.”


Bobcat smiled, “You mean ‘poach’ them.”


“You say tomato - I say tomatoe.”  Jeffrey smiled.


This time, it was Marcus that interrupted them as he made his way from the coffee area to his office.  He yelled over, “Did you get my woman?  Or rather, did you get the hydroponics expert?”  He smiled as he disappeared into his office.


“Now, why the hell is he so hell bent on this one lady?” Bobcat asked.


“Because they worked together fifteen years ago.”  Jeffrey answered.  Bobcat raised his eyebrow and Jeffrey continued. “I think Marcus would like one person on the team that knew him back when so they could geek out together.”


“What?” William asked Jeffrey incredulously, “We don’t geek out with him enough?”  William looked over to Bobcat who shrugged in response.


“Yeah,” Bobcat agreed, “I don’t get it either.”  The two men looked back to Jeffrey.


“Either way,” Jeffrey continued, “I’m going to reach out to an engineer by the name of Michael Pendergrass.  He’s qualified in engineering, high-performance vehicles, aerospace and mechanical repair.”


“Really?”  William asked, “What’s his down side?


“Maybe that he likes Dr. Pepper?”  Jeffrey replied, smiling.


“God help him.”  Bobcat mused. “Sure hope that’s a Coke product.”


“It is, you beer snob.”  William retorted.


“Word.”  Bobcat confirmed.


“Do you even know what ‘word’ means?” William asked.  All he got from Bobcat was a large smile.


Bobcat turned to Jeffrey, “Ok, really though.  What’s this guy’s downside?”


Jeffrey answered, “He’s a British national who has a complete fixation on making things go faster.  I’m pretty sure he is going to fit in fine, but I need William to confirm he has the mechanical chops to work with you two especially and …” He focused on William, “Make damn sure he knows the safety stuff.  I don’t want someone going ‘too fast’ on the moon.”


“Just because one happens to be an adrenaline junkie,” Bobcat said, “doesn’t preclude one from being anal about safety.”


“Word.”  Agreed William.


“Now that’s just rude.”  Bobcat complained, “I completely stole that phrase from hip-hop culture and now you’re trying to steal it back.”


“How in the hell can you steal something back that wasn’t ever taken out of your possession?” William retorted, “It’s not as if I have ever failed in my ability to say ‘word’ jackass!”


“Hah!” Bobcat pointed at William who rolled his eyes to the ceiling then hung his head.  William reached around to his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, opening it to retrieve a twenty to hand to Bobcat. “I cannot believe you remembered that bet from two months ago.  Seriously?  Giving you that twenty was worth it just so I can call you a ‘jackass’ again!”


“Word.”  Bobcat said, smiling.


William just flipped him off then turned to Jeffrey, “I’m sorry about that jackass over there  and I’m more than willing to interview poor Michael Penn.”


“Pendergrass,” Jeffrey corrected.


“There is no fucking way,” Bobcat said, “That we are allowing another Pendergrass in the outfit.  We will have a great ceremony commemorating the shortening of his last name.”


Jeffrey looked back between the two men and just nodded.  He was sure he would find out ‘why’ no more Pendergrasses would be allowed, but he just didn’t have the time for that right now.


He turned to go back to his own office to discover when Mr. M. Pendergrass could have a meeting. And, whether Michael might be available.


Washington DC - USA


The next day, Barb had made it into work without any problems. She was getting ready to leave, when a note popped up on her work computer, the very one that should be secure enough to not have unexpected messages show up.


She started to read the message and her eyes widened slightly before she got a grip on her reflexive surprise.


The text said: “Found your messages and understand you would like to meet.  Your phone has been tracked and your accounts are tapped as well.  I am wearing a blue tie and am available for a discussion if you would perhaps join me for dinner?  Your favorite Chinese restaurant, I’m sitting in the back.”  She finished the note before a second popped up.


“P.S. The chicken fried rice is delicious!”


Ok, now that freaked her the hell out.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t figure out how he knew her favorite Chinese restaurant.  Her credit cards could tell him how often she ate there, but to know her favorite dish was downright stalkish of him.  Well, she presumed him, and who the hell was she to get all righteous on anyone ‘stalking’ someone?  It was her own damned job and if she hadn’t done it so well, she wouldn’t need this guy.


When this was over, she was going to have to sit herself down and think about her priorities.


She clicked the messages closed after waiting another minute to see if anything else popped up.  She grabbed the five special USB’s in the back of her drawer and slipped them into her pocket.  She left her laptop in the middle drawer and locked it like she always did whenever she left it in the office.


Barb stood and grabbed her purse. She wanted to stomp her feet in frustration because she didn’t have a ‘go’ bag.  She didn’t have anything but a brush, some makeup and a mirror in her purse, along with two mints her phone and some gum.


Looking around a final time, she didn’t see anything that she absolutely had to grab.  She did spend a second to run her hand along the back of the chair she had taken from ’The Don’.


She grabbed her phone and took a few pictures of her office.  It wasn’t like she could take any of the physical items, but if this happened to be the last time she was here, she’d have a way to remember it.


God, she was so going to suck if she ever needed to be an operative.  Then again, she might be home by next weekend.  She shouldn’t get ahead of herself.


It only took a minute to get down to the parking garage, hop in her car and leave the building heading east to the restaurant.


For good or for ill, she was trusting her gut with this decision.  She sure hoped it wasn’t for ‘ill’.


Frank was enjoying his tea when he noticed Barb Nickers enter the restaurant.  The lady at the front waved to her in recognition and he watched the two of them chat for a moment.


He had been able to acquire a Pod to come to Washington relatively easily.  Dan didn’t require too many answers and since it was evening it wasn’t a problem getting to the area.  He had been required to land outside of the city proper and get an Uber to pick him up.


Well, let’s be honest ADAM had handled the Uber car ride.  The driver had been an elderly little lady who had talked about how she had three cats and a parakeet. It wasn’t quite the exciting spy story he had been going for.


However, she hadn’t questioned why he was at the old grocery store and she had been close by.  The long trip into the city was going to generate a substantial fare for her so she was very happy.  Frank was hoping that there would be a safe place to land the Pod inside the city if it got late enough. For God's sake, he might have to be a spy while riding in a big yellow car. That would really screw with his image!


He had arrived at Barb’s favorite Chinese food restaurant and decided to have the Chicken Fried Rice.  He hadn’t had any in a while and it sounded good.


ADAM had hacked into the computer systems where Barb worked and sent the messages for Frank.  Right now, Frank could only communicate with ADAM via text.  The possibility that something might go wrong made it too dangerous to bring his laptop into town, so Frank had left it in the Pod.


It only took a moment for Barb to finish her conversation with the hostess and decide she was going to head to the back and meet with the man.  She smiled tentatively at the gentleman as he stood up and walked to her side of the table to pull out her chair. “Call me Frank,” She dipped her head in appreciation as he deftly managed her chair before returning to his side of the table.


Frank hadn’t even put the napkin back in his lap before Barb hissed, “Before we say anything else, how the hell did you know my favorite dish is Chicken Fried Rice?”  She looked down at his plate which was mostly empty.


Frank smiled at her, “I didn’t.  The chef of the vessel I currently live on doesn’t normally make Chicken Fried Rice and I’ve always enjoyed it.  Since I was back in town I thought I would eat it because I didn’t know if you were going to make the dinner or not.”


Barb sat back a little.  She had assumed he knew her food preference and … “Wait, did you say ‘back in town’?”  Frank nodded, so she asked, “Did you come here often or what?”


“I lived here.”  He replied as the waitress came up.  Barb placed her normal order and returned to the conversation.


“Really?  Wait … sorry. I’m just too freaked presently.  This isn’t my normal life right now.”  Barb stopped talking.  Willing herself to not say anything else while she was so out of her comfort zone.


“I understand.  I take it that the report you pulled together on TQB caused some issues?”


She nodded.


“I’m guessing, if you are reaching out to us, that whoever had you research the report is either scary or you don’t know who they are. I’m guessing you decided that what you know about us is better than what you suspect about them?”


She nodded again.  Wow, he thought, this lady can really keep her mouth shut.


“Did you figure out anything in this whole mess?” He asked.


She answered, disgust evident in her voice, “Yes, I figured out that they are using me as a cut-out.”


Frank’s face drew into a frown.  He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t someone who used innocent females as cut-outs. “That tactic is a real piece of work.”  He replied with some anger.


Barb looked around and was about to say more, when her Chicken Fried Rice arrived.  Frank kept the conversation light while she ate.  He was cataloging all the things he liked about Washington D.C. when she interrupted, “You really have lived here a long time. You don’t look that old.”


He smiled, “Really good genes?”


“They would have to be some very good genes.  One of the places you mentioned closed over fifteen years ago. And, you would have had to be a pretty interesting teenager to have visited that museum as a kid.”


“How about I admit to having some work done?”  Frank tried, smiling as if he had a good joke going.


She glanced at him a second time, but didn’t respond otherwise.


Frank’s phone buzzed.  Startled, he looked down to see a text message from John. ‘Hey Romeo, you have two shadows just entering the restaurant and a white van is circling the block.  How do you want to play this?’


Frank looked up at Barb while grabbing his teacup.  He took a drink and looked around, noticing two men in suits being seated at a table near the front door.


He had two questions - who were the ‘shadows’ and why was John here?  John should be near…


Oh … My … God. Bethany Anne was close by.


Looking at the two men who had entered, that was probably a good thing. It significantly improved the odds of them both remaining amongst the living.


The downside was that he would have to explain himself at the end of this whole thing.  Damn, now he felt like he was going to get called to the principal’s office just as soon as they got through this.


“What’s wrong?” Barb asked.


“Well,” Frank began as he placed his cup back on the table. “We have two uninvited guests who just arrived via the front door.  Both in dark blue suits, no ties.  Don’t suppose they are just good friends of yours that are checking out your date?”


Barb had been about to swallow when Frank dropped that comment and she spewed a little tea over the table as she started coughing, “Oh my god!” She exclaimed as Frank used his napkin to clean the tea off of his shirt and the table.  “I’m so sorry!” she said.  He noticed she still took a moment to glance over at the guys.


Frank’s phone buzzed again, “Pick up at back door for one, BA will come get you.”


“Dammit,” he muttered.


“I am really sorry!”  Barb repeated as she moved to his side of the table to help clean up the tea.


He looked her in the eyes, to make sure he had her attention. “No, I wasn’t cursing at you. I want you to visit the Lady’s room, then sneak out the back door into the alley.  My friends will be there to help you. I’ll drop money for the food.”


“What’s wrong?” Barb was concerned that this nice man was going to get hurt because of her problems.  “Are you going to be able to get out without those guys hurting you?”


“Them?”  Frank looked back into her eyes and smiled, “I’m not worried about them at all.”


Barb cocked her head, “Then, what are you worried about?”


Frank looked toward the front door and then back at her, “My boss is coming. And … she is going to be pissed because I didn’t inform her I was coming for you.”


“Oh!” Her voice became noticeably quieter, “how pissed?”  Barb knew what this group was capable of. “She won’t ice you for not following protocol, will she?”


Frank laughed, “No, but her tongue lashings can be a bitch to take sometimes. Even when she doesn’t yell.”  He sighed, “You just go to the restroom and get cleaned up.  As soon as you are safe, I’m sure my boss is going to come in here and the two of us will be fine.”


“Ok. You’re sure?”


“About her coming in here, or being fine?”


Barb twitched her eyes to the other two guys as best she could, “With those two.”


Frank snorted, “Barb, I’ve never been so sure of anything in decades.”


“Ok.”  She put a hand up to Frank’s face, startling him.  He acted like he didn’t know what to do with a woman touching him.  “I’ll be going to the restroom now, you be good.”  She blew him a kiss, then turned towards the tiny hallway lined with soda pop cases. It led to the two bathrooms that were conveniently located by the back door.


Frank continued with the table when the waitress came with a clean tablecloth and for the next minute she helped transfer all of the plates to the new setting.


When he sat down, his phone buzzed and he read the message. “Incoming!”


Frank sighed. Barb was safe, which was good.  Then Bethany Anne came through the front door.  Frank noticed the two guys check her out, but they didn’t seem to recognize her.


Bethany Anne put out a hand to stop the hostess from helping her.  She was damn near stomping in her high heels as she headed straight up to him and spoke to him in a loud voice which got others to watch the spectacle. “I can’t believe you!  I thought you said you had stopped doing this last year?”


Frank looked up at her for a second, confused as she went on, “But no!  I find out you’re still meeting other women behind my back, you two-timing dick!”  Even the women in the place felt a small amount of sympathy for him for a second. Bethany Anne’s slap across his face as she said ‘dick’ damn near reverberated off the walls.  “Pay this check and then your ass is coming home, not too sure about the rest of you however!”


Frank stood and pulled out his wallet. He tossed three twenties on the table and grabbed his phone before Bethany Anne reached up and grabbed him by the ear, “Come with me, Romeo!”  Frank didn’t have to act at all. The pain from his ear was sufficient as he helplessly followed Bethany Anne out the door.  Frank even heard a small smattering of claps as the two of them exited the restaurant.


Once outside, Bethany Anne switched to holding him by the arm and guiding him to the left.  It wasn’t twenty feet before they ducked into an alley and Frank could see John and two Pods.  As they came up to the pods, Frank heard a person running up behind them.  He turned and the dim light in the alleyway allowed him to see Eric approaching.


Eric jumped into a Pod and John slid in next to him.  John smiled at Frank and said, “Sorry, this Pod is full; but the chew-out Pod still has a seat!”


Frank stepped to the second Pod, “Where’s Barb?”


Bethany Anne growled from beside the Pod, “With my dad. Now get in!”


Frank quickly got into the second Pod and was buckling in when he heard the air ‘whoosh’ and the first Pod leave.  Bethany Anne was next to him and then buckled in before he could finish.  A second later, the door was shut and then they too were gone.


Damn, he thought, this flight is so going to suck.












CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Sydney, Australia


“I’m telling you, a pirate-hat wearing prostitute is someone you have to talk to at least once in your life,” Scott argued.


He and Darryl had gone back to Maxwell’s Cafe for a late night snack.  While walking to the coffee shop, Scott had been propositioned by a ‘lady of the evening’ who had introduced herself as Jordan.  Scott had fallen back to how he handled the ladies while walking the beat.  Getting to know them and seeing what was happening that he should know about.  He never took in a lady unless he caught her in the act.  He might have told them to move along, but that was it.  Soon he was in a fun conversation with the woman, while Darryl cooled his heels waiting for Scott’s latest friend to get bored with him.


Unfortunately, Scott continued the conversation by asking how walking the streets was different here in Sydney compared to other places.


Jordan, who admitted to having a restless spirit, had turned tricks both in Amsterdam, and in a house of ill repute outside of Amsterdam called the 13th Hex...a place that had such a reputation Scott had heard about it all the way back in the U.S.


This caused another five-minute discussion about the ‘specials’ the house offered.  Scott was actually able to remember two of them from the story he had been told. One called The Hexbreaker which Jordan agreed was correct and a Merry Go Round which was incorrect.  Laughing, “It was the Carousel,” she corrected him. “It was a three-room trip for the evening.” She winked saucily, “I was room number 2 and always considered it a challenge to make sure they couldn’t reach room number 3.” It was hard not to appreciate a person so obviously skilled in their profession.


Scott noticed how irritated Darryl had become and offered to treat Jordan to a late coffee and sandwich, or something, at Maxwell’s. Jordan refused, saying she was on the clock. She scribbled her name and phone number on a card and Scott looked up and asked, “Really?  J. L. Hawk?”


“If I didn’t want you to know, I would have told you ‘Williams’!”  With a turn and a hip pop, she looked over her shoulder and winked at Scott as she went back to work.


The two men laughed at her antics as they continued down the street to Maxwell’s.


Darryl and Scott were enjoying their late night snack while speaking with the owner, Pip.  Pip was explaining her Pop-Art painting on the table of a woman crying as she was trying to make a coffee choice from all of the coffee options.


As they were about to leave, Jordan came in. She looked around quickly, spied the two men and made a beeline towards them.


She never made it.


The door flew open as she tried to tell Scott, “They are looking…” Before she could finish, she was hit from behind so hard, she fairly flew into Scott's arms, a large dagger protruding from her back.  She looked into his eyes as she coughed up blood, “I tried…”  Her eyes closed as more blood escaped her lips.


Darryl looked up to see a Vampire standing in the door smiling as if he had just been introduced by a chamberlain. “Now that I have your attention…” He started before being interrupted by Darryl.


“Motherfucker! A ‘hello’ would have been sufficient.”  Darryl fumed, “But nooo, you had to come in acting like you want to be Vlad the Destroyer.”


“Look cretin!”  The vampire spat, “Your life is forfeit unless you give up Gabrielle.”


Scott had lain Jordan gently on the ground, pulling the dagger out of her back.  “Asshole!” he began as he turned around and faced the newcomer, “Your life is forfeit for killing my friend.”  With that Scott blurred into action and returned the dagger, throwing it with all the vehemence he felt. It penetrated the Vampire’s skull and still had enough energy to drive his body back through the glass door to land on the sidewalk amongst shards of glass.


Darryl looked at his partner and shrugged his shoulders, he guessed they weren’t going to get to interrogate the asshole before they killed him.  Darryl followed the determined steps of Scott as Scott stepped through the broken glass instead of opening the door.


Right into an ambush.


The gunshots filled the night and Scott was driven back through the door into Darryl’s arms who grabbed him and quickly dove backwards into the coffee shop. “Heads down back there!”  Darryl yelled as bullets slammed into the overturned tables and square columns.


“Bastards!”  Darryl heard Pip yell from the back, “I spent a huge fucking amount of time on that table painting you asses!”


Darryl pulled his pistol and quickly rolled to the side seeing two more Vampires firing Uzi submachine guns.  Darryl quickly shot one in the chest and turned to blow a hole through the second’s head, dropping him where he stood.   More shots came into the Coffeehouse and Darryl quickly moved to another location.


Then, it was all over but for figuring out the damage. Scott was moaning in pain and Jordan’s body was lying on the floor to the right.


“Those ass-wipes better pay for this!”  Pip demanded from the back somewhere.


Darryl grinned; that was one spunky Coffeehouse proprietor.  Darryl pulled out his phone out and dialed Gabrielle who answered on the first ring, “Yes?”


“We need cleanup down at Maxwells.  We were ambushed.”


“Anyone hurt?”


Darryl looked at Scott who was conscious, but not looking his best at the moment. “Yeah, we lost a civilian who came to warn us and Scott’s pretty bad off, but is alive and conscious.  He has lost a lot of blood and certainly is not healing well at the moment.  I count six hits minimum, two are center of mass.  We are going to need to get him help.”  Darryl looked around, “And somehow we are going to need to keep this quiet really, really fast.  I can hear sirens already.”


“Understood.”  Gabrielle replied.


There was a pause before Darryl continued, “They wanted you, Gabrielle.” He checked around outside, but the only thing there was glass, shell casings and blood.  Darryl could hear Pip in the background bitching up a storm. She then hurried over to help Scott, letting out a small 'oh my god!"  when she noticed Jordan


Darryl came back inside and went to his partner as Gabrielle said, “Yeah? Well they are going to get me.  I’ll be there shortly with two Pods.  Do what you can for the proprietor and let’s get clear.  I’ll call Dan on my way.”


“Gotcha.”  Darryl hung up.


On the other side of the disconnected line, Gabrielle was tossing on her clothes and laying out her weapons.  She made sure the authorities were being handled then she phoned Dan.


“Dan here,” he answered his phone.


“It’s Gabrielle.  We’ve had an ambush from the pretty flower. Scott’s been hurt bad according to Darryl but will survive.  I want John and Eric and a location… now.”


There was a pause on the other end of the line. “This is the second time we have had a man down.”


Gabrielle thought about that and nodded her head, if only to herself, “I’ll not fuck-up again.  I should have handled the other situation better, but no one - and I mean no one Dan - hits the Queen’s Own and lives.”


“Understood, Gabrielle, understood.  I’ll get you what you need.  Give me twenty-four hours and I’ll have everything sent to our contact’s house there in Australia.”  Dan paused, then continued, “And Gabrielle?”


“Yes?”


“There had better not be a root of that tree left.”  He commanded.  “I don’t care if you knew them in the past or not.”


“Understood.”


She hung up and left the house they were renting, fairly slamming the door in her anger.




TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Jeffrey was sitting in his office, a nicely furnished room with his desk and two chairs plus an area with a table and six chairs and a whiteboard for discussions.  Presently, the whiteboard had six columns listing different areas of concern he had related to the moonbase project. Then the names of people he felt would be good candidates to run a specific group were listed under each column.


There was a sharp rap on his door and he barely had enough time to look up from his laptop when his door opened and Bethany Anne entered, followed by her huge German Shepherd.


“Hey boss,” Jeffrey said to her and noticed Eric poking his head in and then retreating back outside.


“Hey, yourself.”  She said, “What did you want to talk about?”


“Them.”  He said, pointing behind Bethany Anne who turned around and studied his board.


“This is your short list?”


“Yes.”  he said, getting up and walking around the table and putting his hands on it. He studied the names one more time. “People from all over as you requested.  vetted by ADAM and almost all by Frank…”


“Why not all by Frank?”  she interrupted.


“He hasn’t gotten back to me in the last twelve hours, I figured he was sleeping.”  Jeffrey answered.


“No, he was off playing spy in DC,” she retorted.  “He found someone we needed to talk to and felt she needed to be rescued so he decided to do it by himself.”  She continued wryly, “He got in a little over his head so we did an extraction and the two of them are back on the Polarus where Dan can have a talk with Frank’s new best friend.”


Bethany Anne seemed more bemused than upset, so Jeffrey asked, “I take it Frank is in the dog house?”


“Nah, well, not much.”  She replied, “I’m thinking the rejuvenation has affected him and he felt all young and spry. You know how that makes men?”


“Dumb?”  He answered.


“Pretty much, even if they are one-hundred years old, it seems that hormones can ruin a positively normal guy in all other ways.  He admitted he might have been wanting to become the guy that he didn’t get a chance to be back in World War II.”


“Go and rescue the damsel?”


She cocked her head, “That’s exactly what he told ADAM, what is it with you guys and damsels?”


“Hell, we are brought up on it!  Rescue the pretty damsel and they fall in love with you and shower you with kisses.”


“You would think they would create new stories for this generation.” Bethany Anne considered.


“Not everyone wants to see complete equality.  Many ladies still want to feel ‘saved’ and special.  It’s romantic,” he responded.


“It seems at such cross purposes with ‘I am woman, hear me roar’.”


“Eh,” Jeffrey shrugged, “There is equality in work and at the workplace and then there’s what happens in relationships during courtship. Not always the same thing.”


“Ok, I can see that.  Stupid fucking hormones can screw up everything.”


“Well, hormones aren’t here to make society perfect, they’re to get a male and female together and have children.”


“Yeah,” Bethany Anne quieted down as if in contemplation, “that is true.”  A moment later, she changed the subject back to the board, “So, who do we have?”


“Starting in Hydroponics, we have…”  Jeffrey began and for the next hour he went through the people he thought best for each major section of the base.


When they finished Bethany Anne told him, “Get with Michael about your trips and see if he is willing to go along.  We need him to make sure these people are one hundred percent trustworthy.  Anyone he says ‘no’ to, it’s no - understood?”  Jeffrey nodded so she continued as she got up and started for the door, “How is the family?”


“Good,” He replied, “excited to see their new place and the amenities.  My wife is happy to know that the base cafeteria is available in case she doesn’t want to cook and she’s looking into what she wants to do while the children are in school.  She’s decided the base school is better than any off base.”


“Should be,” Bethany Anne commented, “considering the caliber of the teachers and the guest lecturers they pull from our R&D groups to come chat. Not many Universities have this caliber of participation.” She pursed her lips, “Besides, didn’t I promise you a great school?”


“That you did,” He quickly concurred, “But, in everything school related, I defer to my wife.”


Bethany Anne winked at him, “Smart man.”  Then she and Ashur stepped out of his office.




The Pit, TQB Base, Colorado - USA


The table had most of the participants from Cheryl Lynn’s last meeting, with the exception of the two ship Captains.  She was a little more prepared, but only slightly less nervous than last time.


Last time, she didn’t have any time to worry about the meeting before it started. Now she’d had a couple of days to worry about it. “Ok, let’s get started,” Bethany Anne rapped on the table, “I’ve got a hot date tonight so let’s move it, people!”  She smiled at the catcalls coming from the table.  Jeffrey’s ‘here here!’ was the loudest so Bethany Anne pointed to him, “Hey, I’m doing this so Michael will work with you to vet those people!”


Jeffrey replied wryly, “I would like to personally tell you, I appreciate you sacrificing your body for the good of the team.”  That was followed by more catcalls and this time Bethany Anne just rolled her eyes.


Patricia spoke up, “I don’t think you are fooling anyone, dear.”  Patricia’s knowing smile caused Bethany Anne to blush.


Bethany Anne turned to Cheryl Lynn, “Would you please begin before I start sacrificing a few of these people as an object lesson for the others?”


Cheryl Lynn nodded her agreement while she listened to the chuckles die down. “Ok, we have looked at different options including telling others about the launch in advance, telling them after the launch or waiting until someone finds out what we’re doing and starts telling people about us.”


“Kind of my preference,” Bethany Anne interjected.


“Duly noted.”  Cheryl Lynn agreed. “However, there are a lot of good reasons for other options. Including the one I’m presenting as our best option, which is to go live during the event.”


“Really?”  Marcus interrupted.  “You want to tell people about the stuff as we do it?”


“Yes, and here are my thoughts. First, let me go with my reasons to ‘not’ do it the other ways.  Telling others up front, we run the risk of too much interference during the operation. Which is the same justification for not doing it during the actual start of the operation.  For not telling them after the event, we would suffer too many issues with people assuming complete fabrication of the video.  If we wait until someone figures out that we are up there we are going to suffer from people wondering why we are being so secretive? What are we hiding? We will have a hard PR slog to get through that mess and it will take a lot of time.  Finally, the ‘why do it during the event’ pros.  First, as long as we start the live coverage after the beginning of the event we won’t get stopped as no one can tell us to bring it back.  Second, if our materials are on the way to the moon, we will have a substantial number of astronomers who can see the shipping containers in space and those who will want to say it was a fabrication will have to fight them as well.”


She paused, “Any questions so far?”


Getting none she continued, “So, if we schedule the trip to take long enough, we can get worldwide coverage and get everyone involved in cheering for our scruffy little group doing something even the big bad nations of the world couldn’t.  We get public sentiment behind us to help overcome the pressure from certain nations that we expect to receive.  Further, we are going to need people.”


She stopped to look around the table to help emphasize her point. “Lots and lots of people are needed for the next stages of our efforts, and we can’t keep finding and hiring people on the sly.  There is no way to hire thousands quietly, so we should go public to build a large database of excited people and I’m sure,” Cheryl Lynn grinned, “that Bethany Anne will appreciate not having to go on dates with Michael every night for all of the trips that would require.”


The group laughed when Bethany Anne stuck her tongue out at Cheryl Lynn. “So, notwithstanding our boss’s rather juvenile response, I propose this idea will generate the most positive reaction for PR purposes moving forward.”


“Unless,” Bobcat replied, “We pancake into the Moon and everyone dies on television for all to see.”


“Then I suggest you damn well don’t kill people on the moon.” Cheryl Lynn bit back, “Not only for PR issues, but the people in those containers would really appreciate living longer, I’m sure.”


“Yeah, there is that,” Bobcat agreed.


“Ok, let’s make this simple to start.”  Bethany Anne started, “Does anyone want to vote for ‘tell them upfront’?”  She got no hands raised, “How about when we start?  Ok, nothing for that one.”  She put up her hand, “How about for ‘let’s wait for the last minute?”  Bethany Anne and Bobcat were the only ones with their hands up.  “Ok, who is for telling them while we are doing it?”  The rest of the hands went up.  She turned to Cheryl Lynn, “Well done, you have now officially gone to the dark side, PR Vader.”


A few chuckles occurred before Cheryl Lynn pulled a small daintily wrapped bag and put it on the table, “Come to the dark side with me, Bethany Anne, we have milk and cookies!”  Bethany Anne had to laugh when the rest of the table produced the same pretty little bags.  Most of the men had already opened their bags.  Bobcat snagged a small round chocolate chip cookie from his and munched it.


He looked around at the people staring at him, “What?  I’m willing to listen, but it takes more than cookies to sway me to the dark side.”


“Like beer,” Marcus supplied.


“Now that’s a hell of a start.”  Bobcat nodded in agreement.


“Word,” William said smiling.


Bobcat looked disgusted as he rolled his eyes.


“Ok,” Bethany Anne interrupted the two before they could get on a roll, “If we are going to go live during the trip to the moon, we really need to make sure we can’t be stopped.  What are we going to do for a home base for those in command?”


“True,” Lance agreed, “it would be best not to be on base for the actual lift off unless they can’t figure out anything is happening from here?”  He looked towards Team BMW.


Jeffrey answered, “All communications are Etheric.  Provided no one spots the lift off from the base we have a shot.  However, all it would take is one person to blab and someone puts two and two together with all of our missing containers and the boxes up in space.”


“Unlikely we keep it quiet once it is on the news.”  Cheryl Lynn agreed, “What is the legality of building on the moon?”


“We are almost ok on that at the moment.”  Jeffrey said. “We have our final papers for incorporation in a country that is not part of the outer space agreement so we are good on that side.  Hell, we have two companies already in that country so we can put the focus on them if we want.”


“No, don’t do that.”  Bethany Anne ordered, “They have nothing to do with this, so the people don’t know anything and we don’t need to send stupid reporters to follow them.”


“Speaking of reporters,” Cheryl Lynn broke in, “When can I speak with our Costa Rican contact?”


“I think Tabitha said she would reach out and get you a time.  When do you want to meet with her?”  Bethany Anne asked.


“Mmmmm, tomorrow too soon?”  Cheryl Lynn proposed, “And how am I getting there?”


“How about commercial air?”  Jeffrey suggested, “We are going to be backtracked on our movements and if your reporter mentions a talk in her country with you and you don’t have a way to be tracked getting there?”


“Good point…dammit.”  Cheryl Lynn made a face of annoyance, “I was looking forward to Air BMW.”


“That name is probably already trademarked, so we can’t use it.”  Bobcat suggested.


“Guys... and lady,” Bethany Anne interrupted, “I … Have ... A ... Date!”  She demanded, “Now focus!”


The rest of the discussion went well and by the end, they had confirmed a time for Cheryl Lynn to talk with Giannini the following day and hopefully persuade her to come back and start getting content for the project.  Patricia was going to help watch Todd and Tina until she made it back home late that night.


Plans were laid, and Bethany Anne left to have dinner thousands of miles away.












CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


Sydney, Australia


It had taken only four minutes for Darryl to help Scott into a Pod and Gabrielle to retrieve Jordan’s body.  Darryl noticed Gabrielle being gentle with the body. She was offering her respect for someone whom she didn’t know but had shown such courage toward her team.  Gabrielle was adamant they would find out more about this young woman who had helped her men and they would provide her a proper funeral.


Gabrielle had told Pip her team would be by very soon to clean up, and she shouldn’t expect the police for about forty-five minutes or so.  By that time, all of the blood would be cleaned up and sweeping up the sidewalk would be completed.


The gunfire had produced interested observers milling around and Pip wasn’t sure how anything would get cleaned up. Then the rectangular white truck with a band of blue and white squares across the sides and the back with the words ‘Coroner' rolled up. Two men, dressed in white coveralls with official looking badges quickly stepped out of the vehicle, leaving the lights flashing.


One took a cart out of the back and came over to Pip, “Are you the owner?” He asked and Pip nodded.  “May we come in and clean the blood up?  Gabrielle sent us.”


“Yes, yes of course,” Pip answered.  She turned to walk into her cafe and pointed to the locations where Jordan had died and Scott had lain bleeding.


“Are these the only bloody areas?”  He asked.


“Up by the front door are some splatters and on the tables.”


The man looked around and finally nodded his head, “Ok.  My partner will have official documents for you.  When the police arrive, give them the paperwork and you shouldn’t have too many problems.  We will have a crew here in a few hours to clean-up and repair most of the damage.”  He looked over to Pip, “I’ll understand if you need to sleep.  The group will have a foreman…”


Pip’s countenance went from concerned to annoyed, “I’ll not have someone put my place back together without me supervising!”  The man quickly put up his hands.


“Say no more, it was only to give you the option.”  She quieted down and he continued, “The team will be here within a couple of hours as I said.  My partner and I will have the blood and some of the other mess cleaned up and out of here before then.  Just provide the documentation to the police. The person cleaning up and working to get you back in business will also issue you a check. This will help offset any reduction in business for the next three months.”  He looked around, “Do you think that will be sufficient?”


Pip kept her mouth shut to see if he would offer anything else.  His eyes came back to her, “Someone will be back in ninety days to review the status of your business.  If there is a problem, we can talk again.  Trust me, there will be no better offer.  Normally, there isn’t even this offer.”


Pip, never able to keep quiet when she was curious asked, “Why?  What is the normal deal?”


The man smiled down at her and this time she noticed the slightly pointed canine teeth, “Normally we would simply erase the memories of you and anyone else involved. There would be no money, no help and no answers for the police.”


“Why is this time different?”  She continued, little ventured little gained she figured.


The man’s shoulders straightened up a little. “Because ... there is a new Queen involved and she operates in a different way. Also, she sent someone who can be a real bitch to deal with.”


“Who?”  Pip asked.


He looked at the business owner, “She sent an old friend.”  The man started walking over to the first area he was going to clean up while mumbling, “And two scary as fuck guards…”



Richard’s Home – Sydney, Australia


“I’m telling you, if you don’t get that bullet out a little faster, it’s going to come out on it’s own in a bad way!”  Scott was grunting while stretched across Richard’s kitchen table.  Darryl had a knife out, but was hesitant to cut deeper into Scott, when Gabrielle walked in.


“What the hell is going on with you two?”  Gabrielle had brought two more tiny vials of Bethany Anne’s blood with her, she was running out.


Darryl turned to Gabrielle, “Scott has two more bullets in him that haven’t been pushed out.  I’m trying to figure out how to cut into him to grab them.”


“Really?”  Gabrielle walked over to stand next to Scott as he laid on the long table.  Fortunately, Richard had a darker stone floor and the blood would be easy to get off of that.  However, the nice white table might not make it.  “Where are you feeling them?”  She asked Scott.  He put a pinky on a spot a little to the right of his navel and then his thumb up by the bottom rib.


“Here and here, I’m pretty sure.”  He was able say through gritted teeth.


“Hmmm,” Gabrielle murmured. She walked over to the sink, washed her hands and returned. Darryl’s eyes opened perceptibly when he noticed that her fingers were growing short, sharp claws. “You don’t want me just rooting around in there! You need to be very sure. Are you?”  She asked.  Scott grunted that he was.


“Ok, good to know.  Now ... hold still.”  She lifted her hand up slightly then stabbed into Scott’s abdomen.  Darryl watched as Scott’s expression widened in shock as Gabrielle pulled one bullet out, held between two claws, and dropped it onto the table. “Ok, that’s the easy one.”


Panting between his clenched teeth Scott squeaked, “Easy one?”  He raised his head in time to see Gabrielle’s bloody clawed hand start stabbing into him again. This time she aimed just beneath his right ribs.  He grunted and ground his teeth together.  He wasn’t going to make any more whining comments than what he had already.  Fuck that!  If Gabrielle wasn’t going to wuss out about getting the bullets out of him, he wasn’t going to be a wuss by bitching about it.


A few pain laden breaths later, she pulled the second bullet from him and dropped it on the table.  “That’s the second.  Darryl, please give him the two vials to drink.”  She walked over to Richard’s kitchen sink and started washing her hands once more.  She considered what needed to happen next.  Apparently, Kamiko Kana felt that the best defense was an exceptionally aggressive offense and Gabrielle’s team locality had been compromised.


Richard had admitted that he had been talking with a friend over in Western Australia about old friends. He had let slip that he had seen Gabrielle in town, but that was the sum total of his comment.  Unfortunately, that friend hadn’t picked up the phone when Richard tried to do a three-way call with Gabrielle to diffuse her nasty thoughts a few minutes before.


Explaining the situation further to Gabrielle, he informed her that Samuel and he had been discussing Kamiko Kana’s efforts to take over the vampires the night she had found them.


Richard was saddened but wasn’t terribly surprised to learn weaker vampires might have already tossed their hats into the ring with Kamiko Kana.


Gabrielle had forced Richard to undergo a mind read by her.  He had been surprised to find out, not only could she do it, but it hadn’t taken her very long to get past his defenses.  He had never realized how powerful she truly was compared to himself and Samuel. That had caused him to reconsider how powerful her ‘Queen’ must be to have someone such as Gabrielle in her service.


When Gabrielle admitted that her father had sworn allegiance to Bethany Anne and that her Queen was dating Michael?  Well ... he found his own form of religion.


Richard and Samuel preferred to leave politics out of their life, but Gabrielle frankly told them their lives were officially hers.  She wasn’t happy about the ‘joke’ played a couple of centuries ago and while Samuel was guilty, Richard would be there to nag him the whole time about their situation.


Richard had asked how long they would be in service and Gabrielle had just eyed him and said, “Until I feel forgiving.”  She turned around, heading back into the house, and called over her shoulder, “Or ... two decades ... whichever comes first.”


Now, she had the two of them cleaning up the mess at Maxwell’s and dealing with the local politicians.  When the cleanup was done, the two of them were going to the Colorado base as the first vampire volunteers.  She planned to let them out of their punishment after twenty-four months.  She might even admit that to them, when she snagged them by their ears and threw them into a Pod for their trip to Colorado.


She would make sure they had martial arts training scheduled into their days. Then, she would visit from time to time … she could kick their asses during practice, especially Samuel’s!  His ass would be kicked often.


Very often, she thought.


Finished with cleaning her hands, she dried them on a towel and checked that Scott was looking better. “Why didn’t you two have on your vests?”


“Not to put too fine a point on it,” Darryl responded, “None of us did then or do now.”


Gabrielle nodded.  “Let’s not make that mistake again.  Would you grab them?”  Darryl nodded and walked out of the kitchen. “Ok, tell me why you made such a rookie mistake?”  She asked Scott.


“Really?”  Scott asked, “Can’t we say that the gunshots were an object lesson and call it good?”  He smiled, weakly, over at Gabrielle who shook her head.  “Well, I tried.” He sighed.


Scott answered, “Jordan reminded me of a girl on the streets in New York.  I’d talk with her every once in awhile on my beat.  It was a little like talking to someone at home again.”  Scott made a little shrug with his shoulders, “By the time we finished talking, she was a friend.  I guess I moved my older feelings over to Jordan during the conversation.”


“Really?  What happened to this other woman?”


“Killed.”


“Helping you?”


“No.”  Scott admitted.  “She was killed by her pimp.  A real world-class asshole that I had been able to keep behind bars for only two weeks before she was murdered.  He got out due to a weak-ass Junior D.A. that was going after a higher level criminal. So her pimp was allowed to bargain for a lesser charge and basically got off with a wrist-slap.”


“So, what was going through your mind when Jordan was killed?”


Scott turned his head towards Gabrielle, “I wasn’t letting this asshole walk.  He was going down.”


“You lost situational awareness.”  Gabrielle told him.


“I had no awareness but the desire to rip his head off,” Scott admitted.  “I guess I’ve felt kind of invulnerable considering the wins we’ve racked up.”


“You think?”  Gabrielle turned around and leaned against the table.  “I think we all have been a little loose on this operation.”  She asked Scott over her shoulder, “You want Bethany Anne in on this?”


Scott grimaced, “Hell no!”  Then he grinned, “It’s only a few bullets. How the hell are we going to get the necessary street cred if Bethany Anne pulls our nuts…”  Scott paused then continued,  “ … our reproductive organs, out of the fire each time?”


“Beats the hell out of me.”  Gabrielle admitted, “But we’re going in and I’m going to make damn sure we provide a large sign for everyone to see that messing with the Queen’s Own is a world class way to fuck up.


Scott levered himself up and slid his legs over the side of the table to sit next to Gabrielle. “Hey.” She turned to look at him, “I lived.  I’m good, or will be as good as new in fifteen minutes, so let it go.”


“Let what go?”  Gabrielle retorted.


“You can’t con me, Gabrielle.  You’re blaming yourself as the ops leader.”


“Why do you think that?”


“Because that is what we all do, me, Darryl, Eric or John.  It’s happened to all of us at one time or another.”  She nodded her head sharply so Scott finished. “Ad Aeternitatem.  We may be the Queen’s Own, but we are also the Queen’s Bitches and when the ‘Own’ decide to be bitches … ?”  Scott said.


“May every stupid fucker find a hole to crawl into.”  Gabrielle breathed.


“Damned straight! They can either hide in one or we can bury them in one,” Scott finished.


Gabrielle smiled, “Thank you.”  He nodded his acceptance.


“What’s next?” Scott asked.


“Mayhem,” She stated.


Darryl walked in and tossed each of them a tactical vest, setting four ceramic inserts on the counter, “What, are we switching from diplomacy to mayhem?”  He asked, and she nodded her agreement.


Darryl shrugged, “Alright, then the bitches are back!”  Darryl high fived Scott who only winced slightly then turned back to Gabrielle, “John’s coming, isn’t he?”  She nodded her agreement.


Darryl’s face changed to one that looked like he found out his friend’s dog had died, “Poor sons-a-bitches,” he said sympathetically.


They all laughed at that.




TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Enjoying the residual emotions from a wonderful night with Michael, Bethany Anne had decided to lay in bed another couple of hours after she stepped back through the Etheric with Ashur.  He had left her quarters for God only knew where, but his appearance would at least alert everyone she was back.


She had taken a shower, laid down to rest and was now quite comfortable.


>>Bethany Anne?<<


Yes, ADAM.


>>I need to discuss options concerning cleaning up the cyber-warfare payloads spread throughout the world.<<


Well, so much for a quiet rest.


Ok, what do you know?


>>I have run thirty-two thousand four hundred and fifty-seven different simulations. The best and most practical method of supporting the cleansing of most business computers and detangling the intricate methods of instant or delayed re-installation of negative packages will take approximately one hundred and forty-two days at a minimum. The parameters for these calculations are based on packages originating from Nation-States. The time required is somewhat less for Terrorist based packages.<<


Why so long to implement?


>>Time to integrate past some of the more difficult security efforts and backup programs.<<


Backup programs?


>>Yes, the infected backups will need time to propagate to long-term storage while the new and modified codes will need to be moved to immediate and medium level backup.<<


Oh, hadn’t thought of that.


>>Isn’t that why you asked me to do this?<<


Yes, ADAM.  So, how does that make you feel?


>>Feel?  What is this feel?<<


When I admit that you had covered my inability, how did you compute that?


>>It made me calculate that I am a valuable component to this group.<<


You are that, but I disagree - you are not a ‘component’ of this group. You are a contributing member and a valuable entity in your own right.  I rely on you to handle these things, understand?


This time, there was a pause before ADAM answered.


>>I understand Bethany Anne… Thank you.<<


You’re welcome, ADAM.  Hey, what did you mean ‘terrorist packages’?


>>There are a fair amount of terrorist based threats. <<


How fast can those be safely pulled?


>>If we are not concerned with backups, forty-eight hours. <<


Why so much easier?


>>They are not nearly as sophisticated as Nation-State packages.<<


Well, take those out as soon as practical.


>>Yes, Bethany Anne.<<


Bethany Anne was able to get another thirty minutes of rest before she was interrupted by a phone call.  She picked up her phone and looked at her screen before answering, “Hello Stephen, what’s up?”


Stephen answered, “What is always up, Bethany Anne?”


“Your good attitude?”  She replied, smiling.


“Well, that too.”


“Ok, hit me with it Stephen.”  She said.  As much as she loved Stephen, she rarely received a phone call from him to just ‘shoot the breeze’.


“Dan and I have been speaking and want to know if you are aware that both Darryl and Scott have been wounded?”


Bethany Anne sat up quickly in her bed, “What?  How?”


“The result of two different situations.  The first was when the team went to corner Kamiko Kana and Darryl got hit and came out ok.  The second time was an ambush for Darryl and Scott about six hours ago and Scott was hit.”


Bethany Anne realized that six hours ago, she had gotten up from Michael’s bed with a vague feeling something was wrong somewhere. However, the euphoria she had just been involved in rather overcame any negative feelings she had.  “How bad is Scott?”


“Doing better I understand.”


“Ok, I’m going to need to see about their nanocytes.  I didn't get the sort of feedback from their injuries I would expect.”


“Or, they were not close enough to death?” Stephen asked, thinking back to his own near death moment when Bethany Anne came for him.


Or ... they didn’t want you to know.


TOM, you mean the setup can interpret and react to intent?


Probably.  They are very connected with you, but there has to be intent and thought to start communication at the highest level.


“Ok, I’m being informed that the guys might not have wanted me to know.  What is the latest update?”


“Dan says that Gabrielle called and requested John and Eric by tomorrow with ‘a ton of shit’.


“They really don’t want me, do they.”  She mused out loud.


“I think, they think, you might ruin their fun.”   Stephen allowed.


“Then why call in John?  He is absolutely going to tear this shit up.  He’s still pissed with me for dealing with that pissant in Dallas.”


“One moment.”  Stephen said, then Bethany Anne could hear Stephen speaking with Dan. Stephen came back, “Going to put you on speaker.”


“Hi Bethany Anne.”  Dan said.


“Hey Dan-ster,” She smiled when she heard his groan.  “What’s happening with our favorite ass-kicking team?”


“I think they are pretty pissed, actually.”  Don allowed.


“Oh?


“Yes,” He continued. “I received a list of desired ‘toys’ while Stephen was talking with you.  It’s enough to start a small war.”


Bethany Anne considered this.  “I’m thinking the Bitches are about to stomp on some bugs.”


“Not the Queen’s Own?” Stephen asked.


“Oh, the two are the same.  Imagine that the nicer group are my Own.  This group is the one I met in the Florida Everglades.”  She paused, “God, I’m going to miss going in with them.”


“You aren’t going in?”


“Nope,” She answered, “can’t do that or I’d send the wrong message.  I sent the Queen’s Own to take care of this.  They need to make it happen.  They will get it done, or unfortunately come back on their shields. And I really doubt that will happen.  I imagine Frank might have some serious cleanup to do when they blow up half of Australia and China if one of those guys dies.”


“You would let them create that much destruction?”  It was Barnabas’s voice cutting in.


Stephen spoke, “Sorry, I didn’t realize he had stepped in the office.  He has always been a nosy ass and rarely understands boundaries.”


Bethany Anne had to listen as the two vampires continued a discussion with Barnabas answering Stephen’s charges, “I do understand boundaries, Stephen!  You left me outside an open door and didn’t say I couldn’t come in.  I haven’t done this to you in…”


“Don’t even say it.” Interrupted Stephen, “I haven’t seen you in whatever amount of time you are about to spout, so don’t even try it.”


Bethany Anne rolled her eyes, “Guys! Shut the fuck up.  I’ll answer Barnabas’s question but I support Stephen. Unless you knock and ask to include yourself, you are a guest.  If you want access to this level of conversation, you need to lose your neutrality Barnabas, understand?”


“I do.”  Barnabas answered.


“Ok, then to answer your question ... if someone were to kill one of my Own then no, I don’t have an issue with them destroying whatever it takes to find the mother-fuckers who did it.  It would be better in the long run.”


“Why would it be better?” Barnabas replied.


“There would be at least half the population left behind.  Without my Own around to deal with it, I'm next up and I can promise no one will want to see me coming.”


“Certainly you wouldn’t kill innocents in the population?”


“Have you ever read the story of Lot?”  Bethany Anne asked.


“Lot?  The Old Testament Bible, Lot?”  Stephen asked confused.


“Yes.” Bethany Anne replied.


“Yes, I’m aware of the story.”  Barnabas replied.


“Then you know my answer.”  She confirmed.


“Hmmm.  I understand.”  Barnabas allowed.


Bethany Anne could hear Dan whispering to Stephen in the background, “What the hell did she just say?”


“It’s the story of Sodom and Gomorra,” Stephen replied to Dan.  “The short, short version is there are no innocents.”


“And there is no Sodom and Gomorra, either.”  Barnabas said.


Barnabas was thinking, a Fury indeed.


“Ok, so pack it all up and ship John and Eric out?”  Dan confirmed.


“Well, if you are asking me as the Political leader, I’d tell you yes, double the weapons and get with Frank.  If you are asking me as a military person, that’s your call.”


She could hear Dan’s smile in his voice as he said, “You can never have too much ‘boom’.”


Bethany Anne wondered if Dan was going to invite himself along.












CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Sahara Desert, Africa


Jeffrey and Marcus had the Pod descend into the Gobi Desert just a half mile from a small encampment.   Once the Pod was a couple of feet above the sands, it moved quietly through the bush and stopped to let them out a few hundred feet outside of the camp.


Their contact, Dr. Michelle S. Brown-Williams had told Jeffrey that she was in the middle of the damned desert. If he wanted to interview her for a ‘super-secret’ position, he could come out that evening to speak with her.


She allowed that she had ‘just looked’ at her calendar and unfortunately every other day for the foreseeable future was booked.  She was slightly surprised to hear him say that he and one other would be there slightly after dark.


She had told him that he was kidding himself if he thought that was possible from Colorado. Jeffrey made her a bet.  If they got there, she would be open to hear him out for two hours before making up an excuse to kick them out of her camp.


She laughed at that and told Jeffrey he was ‘alright for a suit’ and to come on over.


So he and Marcus had done just that.


Both were in light clothing, dressed in Khakis, wearing tennis shoes and untucked polo shirts.  They stopped a hundred feet out of the camp and called, while Jeffrey turned on a flashlight and waved it around.


A dark man in dark clothes came out of the bushes some thirty feet away and stared at them.  He had an old rifle, but he didn’t point it menacingly at them.


Jeffrey said, “Dr. Brown-Williams?”  The man said nothing so Jeffrey tried again, “I’m looking for Dr. Brown-Williams?”


“Well, you found her!”  Both men pivoted to their right to see an older woman with a sun-weathered face and a large beaten hat on her head come through the bushes from the direction of the camp.  She stopped a few feet away and put them in the beam of her flashlight. “Which one of you is Jeffrey?”  Jeffrey raised his hand.  She turned to Marcus and asked, “And who are you?”


“Dr. Marcus …”  Almost too late, Marcus realized that he should look like her, grey hair and older skin.  She wasn’t going to believe that he was who he said he was.  Marcus stumbled over his last name and she asked him to repeat it.  Finally, he sighed and said, “Cambridge”.


“Marcus Cambridge?  Never heard of you.”


Jeffrey snorted to his left and Marcus wanted to punch him. Instead, he replied “No reason you should have.”


She came closer, “What is your area of specialty?”


Jeffrey answered for him, “Would you believe Rocket Science and Gravitic Movement?”  She looked at him suspiciously and he shrugged, “It’s true, I’m just asking if you are willing to believe it.”


She looked around the bush and sand, then up at the stars, “Well, considering the two of you made it here from Colorado?”  She glanced to Jeffrey who nodded and she continued, “In such a short amount of time. I’m willing to suspend belief for a little while and that is only because I can’t figure out why you would be in Africa looking for me in the first place.”  She turned around, “Come with me, the guys will look after your vehicle.”


Jeffrey looked over to Marcus and he shrugged.  Neither guy knew what to say since their Pod was already gone.


They came into the camp which was setup rather well.  There were two Land Rovers, one with a large tent attached, jutting out at least fifteen feet.  The other was a more traditional tent not connected to a vehicle.  There was a stone area in the center where they were burning a small amount of wood.  Jeffrey could see multiple tarps over items and one had the cover off just far enough for him to tell that they were solar generators.


“Take a seat.”  She waved over to a couple of old fold out chairs.  “Best seats in the house, don’t say I didn’t offer you first class accommodations.”  She smiled to herself as she reached into the tent that was connected to the Land Rover and pulled out another chair.


The two men sat down.  Jeffrey looked over to Marcus who was trying to settle his chair into a comfortable position as it rocked back and forth.


Michelle pointed to the feet on his chair, “It’s just on a rock, move the chair a little ways and you’ll be fine.”  Marcus got up far enough to move his chair half a foot before putting it back down to settle in the sand.


Marcus nodded to Michelle, “Thanks.”


“City slicker?”  She asked, but this time it was with a smile.


“Yes, I would say I am.”  Marcus turned to Jeffrey, “Please do not say a word to Bobcat and William, they will not let it go if you tell them this.”  Jeffrey didn’t say anything, just nodded his agreement.


“Ok,” She continued, “Your dime or dollar or ten thousand dollars.  What do you have?”


“I have a challenge,” Jeffrey started.


She held up a hand and motioned around, “I already have a challenge.”


Jeffrey looked around, “Not so much, you have a passion project that is helping move humanity forward in an admirable way.”  He turned to look back at Michelle. “This is great, but you are one of many scientists in the field and pulling you from this would be a problem, but in the end your contribution is going to be one of hundreds maybe?”


She admitted, “Probably dozens, but I get your point.  Go on.”


“Ok, one of dozens who are helping.  I’m not suggesting you aren’t a major force in making this happen.  I’m offering you a challenge you haven’t solved yet.  One that doesn’t have government oversight or involvement. I can also guarantee it has the funding already in place that will allow, no, require us to solve this problem in months…”


“Weeks.”  Marcus said.


Jeffrey turned to him, “Really?  Everything is ready to go that fast?”  Marcus nodded.


Michelle thought it was interesting that the scientist was telling the suit the timeframe and the scientist was telling him it was sooner than projected.


“I guess I better make this pitch a whole lot more engaging.”  He smiled back at Michelle, “Ok, her is the really long pitch I was prepared to say:  We are putting civilians on the moon in weeks or a few months maximum.  The governments don’t know about this and we need to see what it will take to grow food up on the big white ball in the sky damned fast.  We don’t ‘think’ the governments can shut us down, but we don’t want to find out the hard way that they have accomplished it.  So, we want the moonbase to be self sustaining as soon as possible.  You come highly recommended by a previous co-worker with NASA…”


“You working with them dumb-shits at NASA?”  Michelle started.


“Look, there are good people there,” Marcus retorted, “just because politics are the name of the game at the top, no need to belittle everyone else.”


Michelle looked closer at him, “You know what’s bothering me?”


“Not a clue,” Jeffrey admitted.


“It’s that Marcus here does look like a face I remember from over a decade or maybe more ago.  Problem is, this Marcus is too young.”  She turned in her chair slightly, “You have a father in the field?”


Marcus answered her question, “No, my father was a high-school band director.  But he’s passed away now.”


“Sorry, my condolences.”  She said, “I occasionally suffer from foot-in-mouth disease.”


“I’ve found it common with most of my scientist friends.”  Marcus admitted.


“You seem pretty laid back, you must be on the civilian side of the microscope.”  Michelle commented.


Jeffrey interrupted, “Uh, he has government experience, trust me.”  Then continued, “I’m here to ask you if working on viable food growth in outer space still intrigues you, and would you be willing to go immediately,” he stopped talking and looked around, “Or very close to immediately dropping your existing work if we pay to have another take your place. Also, would you be willing to keep it to yourself?”


“Why, looking to rape the moon?” Michelle asked.


Michelle was starting to get on Jeffrey’s nerves.  “No, there is no ‘raping’ and I might add that is a harsh word.  My boss is not going to take it lightly if you say that around her.”


“Your boss is a female?”


Jeffrey pursed his lips, “Should it matter?  What happened to gender equality?”


She waved that off, “When it happens, let me know.  That is going to be in the far future anyhow.”  She was about to continue when one of her men came into the camp and then talked excitedly with her.  She answered with a question and he replied.  She turned back to the two men, “How did you two say you got here?”


Jeffrey answered, “We didn’t say.  Why, is that important?  We are going to leave the same way as we showed up.  On foot.”


“Because my man here says your footprints just suddenly appeared in the sand.  There isn’t any disturbance around the area but it looks like you jumped off of something not that far away from the camp.”  She spoke again with her man and waited for his reply before she turned back to them. “He says no one out on the perimeter heard anything, either.”


“You need a perimeter guard out here?” Marcus asked, looking around as if something would jump out of the bushes.


Michelle ignored Marcus, “That’s a pretty incredible feat.”


Jeffrey shrugged, “You said we had to be here tonight otherwise we couldn’t get an interview.  You didn’t say that we had to explain our transportation.”


Michelle drummed her fingers on the chair arm-rest. She finally said, “You are working on my curiosity, aren’t you?”  Jeffrey nodded. “Do I get to see the magic carpet first, or is accepting the job a prerequisite?”


Jeffrey considered her question and turned to Marcus, “How trustworthy?”


Marcus stopped looking around at the bushes and turned his head to speak to Jeffrey.  His eyes continued to dart around, “Very.  Hates liars and won’t put up with idiots.”  He answered.  Michelle’s eyes drew narrower as she studied Marcus who was presently oblivious to her scrutiny.


“Very well,” Jeffrey answered, “here is my offer.  I’ll show you our transportation if you will take a thirty-minute ride in it with me.  I’ll drop you off right back here if you want.  However, I will require your personal oath that you will not on purpose, or with any intent, divulge what you learn or help others learn of it.”


“Until when?”  She countered.


Jeffrey wanted to roll his eyes, damned scientists!  He turned to Marcus, “How long before you think it will become a moot point?


Marcus answered without looked at him, “Maybe six months?”


Jeffrey answered Michelle, “Give us one year.”


She pointed to Marcus, “He said six months.”


“And I’m a ‘suit’, be thankful I only doubled his assessment, not quadrupled it.”  Jeffrey retorted.


Michelle smiled, “For a suit, you’re almost human.”


“Yeah, that’s what I say about lawyers.”  He responded.


“Oh, you are not leaving me here with the beasts in the field.”  Marcus said, shaking his head as he realized there was only one pod. “No way, no how.”  He stabbed his own arm rest with each word to punctuate his statement.


“It’s fine,” Jeffrey countered, “I have another that can take you back.”


Mollified, Marcus just said, “Oh.”


“What about my men?”  Michelle asked.


“Sorry, they aren’t part of the deal.”  Jeffrey answered, “I can’t allow them access to the technology.”


“No, you suit, I’m asking if they will be supported if I go with you?”


“Do you want them to be hired, or be recompensed for a year of their labor?”  Jeffrey asked.  He wasn’t sure what Michelle was driving towards.


“You would let me have them on my team?”


Jeffrey shrugged, “Why not?  If you are going to need support and they can help you, then yes.  However, if they are NOT going to be able to help, then you need to make that decision and I’ll see that they are paid monthly for twelve months.”


“Why not a lump sum?” She asked.


“I’ve seen too many go down a bad hole when that happens.”  Jeffrey shrugged, “But if you are good with that, I’ll make that change.”


She nodded, “Ok, I’ll take you up on your magical carpet ride.  Do I need anything special?”


Jeffrey shrugged, “Maybe something to drink and hit the restroom before we go?  We don’t have those amenities.” Michelle nodded and stepped into her tent. Jeffrey turned to Marcus, “You good going back, or do you want to go up with us?”


Marcus considered his response.  “You know; I think I’ll go back.  See you in the lair?”  Jeffrey nodded.


A moment later, Michelle came back out having changed into a clean blouse and holding a bottle of water.


It took the team just a few minutes to walk far enough away so that the light from the camp didn’t interfere with their night vision.  Michelle had asked her men to stay back. She explained that what was going on wasn’t a good thing to know about and their safety in the future might be dependent on them not knowing anything.  Unlike most in America, that was good enough for them and they stayed back.


Jeffrey and Marcus allowed Michelle to walk them to an open area that was mostly a large flat rock.  The shadows created by the partial moonlight played with Marcus’s now overactive imagination.  For whatever reason, he hadn’t thought about the potential for danger on their way into the camp and now he saw a horrible pairs of eyes behind every dark bush.


Michelle was looking around when Jeffrey pulled out a small device from his pocket, clicked the button and spoke into it, “TOM, please bring both down.  Marcus is going back to Colorado.”


Michelle turned her head to look up and was straining to see anything for at least fifteen seconds before two dark objects blocked the stars from her view.  Seconds later, they were in front of her.


She turned to the men and pointed to the two Pods, “Why didn’t I hear them?”


Marcus grumped, “Null-Gravity.”


Jeffrey smiled at Marcus and told him, “Don’t be an ass!  Just because I had something to say about Bobcat’s acronyms doesn’t mean you need to move that argument all the way to Africa.”  He turned to Michelle, “Dr. Cambridge here is the preeminent scientist here on earth to speak to about the Pods, but unfortunately he is going back to Colorado and I would just flub it up.”  Jeffrey tried his most polite smile.


Which didn’t work.


“Translation from suit-speak, you don’t want him to tell another scientist how it works?”


Jeffrey rolled his eyes, “Yes and no.  I’m not actually worried about you figuring it out if he told you.”


“Why is that,” she countered, “the technology’s ‘out of this world’?”  She was wearing a grumpy ‘heard this all before’ expression on her face.


“Well,” Jeffrey answered with a huge smile, “Yes!”


He sure hoped not every recruiting trip was going to be with such a recalcitrant individual.


A minute later, the three of them were gone.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


>>Bethany Anne?<<


Yes ADAM?  Bethany Anne was walking over to her father’s office with Ashur tagging along to discuss a situation with Barb.


>> I have finished my review of critical infrastructure issues related to Terrorist attacks.  While working through it, I found implanted software and increased communications originating from the hacking group Parastoo out of Iran targeting the U.S. electrical grid operators.  Presently, they are set to attack different parts of the national grid system simultaneously.  The design of the national power grid is based on integrated support.  By attacking different independent grid areas, it will cause those areas without power to pull on their nearby neighbors. The U.S. will suffer substantial national outage issues for weeks, potentially even months, due to the cascading failures this will create.<<


Bethany Anne considered the ramifications of the fallout of a large portion of the United States without power.  Some locations, such as hospitals and other core facilities would be able to operate for a time on backup generators.  However, trucking in the fuel would become a problem not to mention communications, computers and banking issues.


Can you stop it?


>>Yes.<<


Will they be able to locate you?


>>No.  Why would they?<<


To attack you.


Bethany Anne considered what ADAM should do.  What did you say to the Chinese at the end of your warning message?  No!  Not the actual Chinese, translate it for me.


>>I told them ‘Hello, my name is Adam. Stop your cyber attack effort or I will adopt the corrective action. You were warned.’<<


Bethany Anne thought about it for a moment.  Can you set up an avatar with a hacker name of ‘MyNam3isADAM’ and then sign all of your attacks and counterattacks with that?  Make sure that if they try to back track you, they find out you are somewhere in China.


>>My calculations indicate that Parastoo will not believe a Chinese hacker is responsible for protecting American interests.<<


Oh, they won’tBethany Anne agreed, but they will be trying to hack into Chinese interests and I doubt that the Chinese will take very kindly to it.


>>No, no they won’t and yes, I can do this easily.<<


Good, then I release you to hack the fuck out of Parastoo after you protect the U.S. Grid.  Let me know if they are set to attack any other countries and figure out how to protect them as well.


>>What if Parastoo is connected with a Nation-State?<<


Tell me, but if I’m not available the answer is a Boolean solution.  If Parastoo, then attack equals true.


>>Understood.<<


Go get ‘em, tiger!  Bethany Anne smiled as she knocked on the door to her father’s office then stepped in with Ashur sitting down at the door.


Ten minutes later, Bethany Anne left the office deciding with her father that Barb should stay on the Polarus with Frank for the next couple of weeks while the two of them tried to locate the black ops group that was using her.  Lance suggested, and Bethany Anne agreed, to have Mr. ‘Super Spy’ work with ADAM to let Barb’s boss know that she was safe.


Now, if Bethany Anne could make sure Barb wasn’t freaking out, life might settle down.  Time would tell.












CHAPTER NINETEEN


QBS Polarus - Mediterranean


“I’m still having trouble believing all of this.”  Barb Nichols said.


Frank and Barb were located inside a new office on the Polarus that allowed them a little more space. Frank had moved his multi-monitor setup into the office.  He and Barb had turned the main desk around so that it was up next to the wall, which allowed both he and Barb to see the monitors.


“Which part?”  Frank asked.  He opened two of the tabs and reviewed the information on tracking the black-ops group.  Unfortunately, the black ops group were damned professionals and had left very few crumbs for either him or ADAM to follow.  Lot’s and lot’s of cut-outs so that whenever they found a string it ultimately led them to a dead end.


Just like Barb.


“Your whole international operation to support the protection of the world, all while staying under the radar.  I mean, how are you able to accomplish that feat in today’s age?”


“Not very successfully.”  Frank admitted tersely.


“Oh, sorry about that.”  She replied, a small blush rising up her cheeks. “For what it’s worth, I never did figure out how you did a lot of what you accomplished.  After having flown in a Pod here, I realize that the Pods were used for a large amount of the moving around.”


Frank simply nodded his head, half paying attention to Barb, the other half tracking down a new query he had just made.


Barb noticed that she didn’t have Frank’s full attention.  She had learned over the last few days that usually meant he had found something which peaked his curiosity.  If it peaked his curiosity, she became inquisitive.  She rolled her chair up next to his, “What did you find?”


Frank whispered, “One moment…”  and Barb realized he barely registered her presence.  She watched him as he studied a report on his left screen and then pulled up a 3D image of the world on the right.  Then, four different satellites were highlighted and arcs were drawn surrounding all of them.


Frank pointed his finger at Shanghai, China.  “Got you, bitch!”  He reached across in front of Barb with a quick ‘excuse me’ and grabbed the phone.


He dialed three numbers and waited a moment before speaking, “Dan, it’s me.  I got the bitch.  Yeah, Kamiko Kana.  Mmmhmmm.  China.  Yeah, no shit.  Shanghai specifically.  No, don’t know what she did to set it off and it seemed a little weak.  No!” Frank chuckled, “Not even close to Bethany Anne’s ripples.  What? Yeah, that would explain a lot related to Barnabas’s information.  Bethany Anne’s pushing ripples anywhere from five thousand two-hundred to seven thousand one-hundred miles away from Shanghai.  Depending on where Barnabas was, it would be at least a few thousand I would think.  What?  You know, I don’t know how that works.  According to Barnabas he can sense direction…sort of.   Why in China? I think she is tied up with someone in the military.  The cyber-warfare guys?  Mmmmmm, that would make a lot of sense.  Probably only with one or two specific people though. I doubt she is running a huge game over there.  No, my experience over the last eight decades suggests she is more mind over matter.  The story I got from Gabrielle mentioned all of her guards she used to attack, and she bolted before it was close to over.  So, most likely she’s an intelligent survivor and she moves pawns around is my best guess.  No, I can’t suggest where next.  No, the system registered an entry and an exit, but they were both so close together the system puts them within the same hundred yards.  That could be, she is walking like Bethany Anne but she can’t go very far which doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve talked with Bethany Anne, it takes a large amount of energy to pull this off.  She jumps as far as she can, then does whatever and either walks away, or immediately grabs more energy.  She wouldn’t be the type to be without her most precious escape strategy.  I’m not sure how to block that ability.  You need to talk with Bethany Anne on that one.  Possibly?  I mean, the method for tracking is triangulation and you could build something that the team could use to give you an idea of which way to go, but nothing direct and once that is over, what are the odds you will be able to catch her?  Ok, your welcome.  Make sure you say ‘Hi’ to Bethany Anne for me, ok?  Maybe I’ll get out of the dog house.  What?  Hell no!  I absolutely don’t want that ride of shame again.  Alright, bye.”


Frank hung up the phone. Smiling he leaned back in his chair.  He noticed Barb almost right next to him for the first time and looked over, but she was staring at him in shock.  He reached up to his mouth and wiped around it, “What?  Do I have jelly from breakfast on my face?”


Barb slowly shook her head. “You’re him.”


“Him who?”  Frank asked, puzzled.


Barb whispered into the room, “You’re the hundred-year-old Government Agent!”





Outside TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Agent Terry DeLeon was two and a half miles from the front gates to the new TQB Enterprises Corporate Retreat sitting on the side of the road in his rented silver Nissan Sentra.


Retreat my ass, thought Terry, this was a former Army base and his boss wanted to know what was going on.  They had a lot of satellite photos of massive changes being made at the base, but nothing close enough to discern more than new housing, or new buildings and modifications.  They could tell some things were being placed around the base under tarps.  His group was not authorized to work inside of the U.S. and for now, his boss didn’t want to task the super high-resolution passes to focus on U.S. soil.


Terry was pretty sure the company would claim the tarps were sun protection for something benign, but he was a suspicious sort.  The company was being run by the previous general and he had his top people overseeing most of the changes.


His boss was right, something was fishy here.


Terry had been down in Costa Rica on a bad op a while back and had run into a group that used a Black Hawk.  The same type of helicopter was seen flying through these hills fairly frequently. It was painting a fairly good suggestion that this might be the same group that he and his partner tussled with down there.   He had been shot in the leg during an acquisition and extraction operation and that damned thing still hurt when it got cold and damp.  Every time it hurt, it only added more wood to the fire to bring that group to justice.


And by justice, he meant massive flames with no survivors.


When his boss pulled him aside to talk about an operation that might lead him to those  bastards, Terry was anxious to go.  He wrote up that he was asking for a vacation to go back to the states and would provide everything to his boss through a cut-out.  This operation couldn’t be tagged as going back to his group at all.


Making sure he had his credentials, as a reporter, in place Terry pulled the car back into the driving lane and headed for the base.


It took him almost five minutes on the switch back road to make it to the secured stop area.  He had been warned three times that there was a security gate ahead and if you did not stop, force would be used to stop you.


Terry was a little surprised at the setup.  It looked more like a border crossing than a simple company guard shack.  There were implanted tire shredders that only allowed movement in one direction and a method of protecting the guards should someone try to ram anything and push their way through.


Almost like they were designed to protect against a frontal assault.


He slowed as he approached and the guard was already out putting up his ‘halt’ signal while Terry rolled down his window and noticed the man’s name tag.  He smiled and said, “Hello Mr. Barrins!”


“Good afternoon, sir.”  The guard allowed, “I’m not showing any appointments on base at this time.”


Terry wasn’t sure how the guard would know he wasn’t a base employee and was wanting an appointment, but he let that go. “No, I am a reporter for the Post, boss sent me up here for a feel-good story on how the company has helped the members of our military and their families, coming to the aid of this area when they leased the old base.  So, I figured there must be a PR person I could speak to and it wouldn’t hurt TQB Enterprises to have some good press, right?”  Terry smiled his widest, most disarming smile.


But, it didn’t work.


“I’m sorry, but the PR Person only has one approved reporter on the list and you are not that person.”


“I see.”  Terry’s face bore a frown, “So no chance to call and ask him?”


“That would be ‘her’ and no there is not.”  Barrins was getting irritated with the man.  “Kindly go to your left at the split twenty feet ahead of you.  It will allow you to turn around and leave without ruining your car.  Should you make the mistake of trying to force your way onto the base, the car will be destroyed and possibly you in the process.  Have a good day.”


Terry smiled and nodded his head and was very careful to follow the guard’s directions.  He waved like he didn’t have a care in the world and started back down the road.


Ten minutes later, Barrins walked out of the guard area and put up his hand to stop a dark green Toyota Camry.  He looked down at the dark haired woman and said, “Good Morning, Senorita Oviedo.  Welcome back this morning.  Cheryl Lynn is expecting you.  Let me run your pass again to confirm your entry.”


Moments later, the dark green Toyota Camry continued into the base.


‘The Pit’, TQB Base Colorado - USA


“So,” Bethany Anne asked Jeffrey, “Are you saying that the teams are progressing according to plan or what?  I’m sensing a lot of waffling here.”  It was just Jeffrey and Bethany Anne at the main table at the bottom level.


Cheryl Lynn with Giannini Oviedo were up two levels above them.  Giannini was taking notes and had a camera, well two actually, trained on the two down at the table.


You call that waffling?  I call that an inconclusive response.


TOM, it means the same thing.


A food means the same thing?


Go look it up, I’m working here.


“Yes.”  Jeffrey answered, “To both.  They are both progressing well and I’m waffling.  We have officially moved beyond anyone’s experience.”


“So, what are the hang-ups?”  She asked him.  “Are we talking people, knowledge, time, materials, resources ... what?”


Jeffrey looked up to the ceiling and considered the core of his concern. “If we want to do this in front of the World, I’d rather be damned sure we don’t get it wrong and have some of our people die in the process.”


“Well, then why aren’t you practicing first?”  Bethany Anne asked.


“It isn’t like we have a moon gymnasium to tweak the process with.”  Jeffrey said, exasperatedly.


“Really?”  Bethany Anne replied, “I’m pretty sure anytime I look up at night the fucking gymnasium is staring me right in the face.”


Giannini covered her mouth and turned to Cheryl Lynn and said in a whisper, “Oh my God, she can’t say that!”


Cheryl Lynn looked up from her research she was doing at the computer, “Hmm?  Say what?”


“She said ‘fucking’!”  Giannini hissed.


“That?” Cheryl Lynn looked at her in surprise. “That’s pretty tame.  Wait until she really gets going.”  Cheryl Lynn seemed to go inside of herself before continuing, “Let’s see, I’ve heard ‘You flaming pile of rutting cock shit’, and ‘gold digging scrotum blender’” Cheryl Lynn looked at Giannini, “That was to a woman, then there is the completely curse word free ‘out of all the sperm you were the fastest?’ then we go back to ‘Aggravated Rotating Shit Eater’ or ARSE for short.  Following that we have ‘complete unadulterated fucking cunt’ and the short but succinct ‘butt twunt’.”


Cheryl Lynn paused, “Still not sure what the hell that means.  We continue with ‘fucking DILF mower’ which sounded rather painful to me and the ‘goat demonizing milk producer’ another curse word free variant and ‘lord of the unimaginable cock maggots’, a particular favorite of mine.”


Cheryl Lynn waited as Giannini just stared at her for a moment before blinking, “In how long a time did you hear all of these?” Giannini asked.


“Oh, probably the last week?” She replied unperturbedly, “You get pretty immune to them after the first few days.”


“Oh,” was Giannini’s only reply.


“Hey!”  The two women focused back down at the two talking at the table with Bethany Anne looking up to them. “You forgot a few, do you want me to mention them?”  Bethany Anne was smiling as Giannini furiously shook her head ‘no’. “Ok, just checking.”  She turned her focus back to Jeffrey, “So, you understand what I’m asking you to do?”


“Yes, and in it’s own way it’s brilliant.  I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it ourselves?”


“Probably still thinking ‘earthbound’.  Not a problem, but you need to get over it.  Tell you what, why don’t you move your practicing down to the new land in Paraguay?”


“You do know about the weather changes and winds, not to mention the rain, the government...”  Jeffrey got started.


“What I know,” Bethany Anne replied, “is that Paraguay is not part of the Outer Space Treaty, that Boquerón where Filadelfia is located has about 2 people per square kilometer and that we have purchased over 1,000 acres in a remote area.  We have at least a football field worth of space we can land our shipping containers on.  I’m thinking that moving them from here to there and then practicing with tree cover is a good idea, and then sending them up to outer space from there and back down for testing is a hell of a better idea than doing it from here.”


She continued, “Security will be an issue, so contact Dan to get that setup and tell Team BMW to move people as appropriate.  I know William is going to have to keep his machines here.  For that matter, so will Marcus.”  She let that hang.


“You’re shipping Bobcat down there with me?”  Bethany Anne didn’t respond.


“Ok,” He clarified, “You are telling me to do whatever is needed.  I get it.”  Jeffrey nodded, “There has to be a downside for getting ready to play in outer space.”


“Right!”  She smiled to him, “It’s called roughing it.  Just consider it good practice for roughing it in outer space.  It isn’t like you’re going to be able to drive out and see a movie on the Moon, either.”


“We will have Pods for that!”  Bethany Anne raised an eyebrow to Jeffrey, “Right, like we won’t have Pods in Paraguay.”


“Just think about what you want to build and have down there; build it here and send it down at night.  How cozy do you want it?”


“Pretty damned cozy.”  He replied.


Bethany Anne stood up, “Good, because there is NOTHING in Paraguay.  No electricity, no water that you would want to immediately drink, no gas, no entertainment, no plumbing.  It’s almost like I’m asking you to build a livable moon base right here on earth.”  She winked to him and then turned to walk out.  Ashur got up and traveled alongside her.  She didn’t have either Eric or John with her at the moment as they had left for Australia an hour ago.


She did get to have a talk with Dan however, so maybe momma bear would get to have a little fun after all.


So long as her team didn’t know it.


Cheryl Lynn and Giannini grabbed their stuff and quickly followed the two.












CHAPTER TWENTY


QBS Ad Aeternitatem - Mediterranean


Bethany Anne translocated with Ashur to the Ad Aeternitatem.  She exited from her arrival room and was surprised to see Ricky Escobar outside of her door, “Tell me you aren’t standing here in the off chance that I show up?”  she asked.


Ricky repeated back to Bethany Anne in a monotone voice, “I am not standing here in the off chance that you show up.”  He finished with a large grin at Bethany Anne who slapped his arm.


“Ok, funny.  Now tell me the truth?”  She started walking towards the stern of the yacht.  It was night here and she wanted to go back up to check out outer space.  Ashur chuffed to her so she told him, “Go on, go get spoiled in the damned cafeteria.”  Ashur didn’t wait, but took off with Bethany Anne calling after him, “You're lucky you don’t gain weight!”  She got a one bark response before he tore around a corner.


“That dog is scary smart,” Ricky commented.


“Yeah, I’m pretty sure if I could figure out a way to talk with him, I’d have a smart but bratty teenager on my hands.”  She thought about it for a moment, “Then again, not dealing with a bratty teenager is a nice thought at the moment.”


They arrived at the stern of the boat where TOM’s ship used to be held.  Now, there were Pod’s all setup to go up.  She waved to Todd Jenkins who was at the other end of the area making sure nothing seemed amiss.  He walked over to them, “Going up?”  He asked.


“Yes, I want to check something out.  While I could see it on the monitors, it helps me to have this big-ass blue ball under me.  It centers me.”  She shrugged.


“Ok.  You prepped on opening the roof Ricky?”  Todd asked.


“I’ve been checked out.  Pete wants us knowing everything we can about the running of the ship while we are on it.”  Ricky explained to Bethany Anne when she looked at him questioningly. “He and Todd are putting into place plans that have Guardians cross-training.”  He winked while Todd acted like he would backhand the Wechselbalg.


“Hey, want to go up with me?” Bethany Anne asked Todd.


“Really?”  Todd asked.


“Sure tweedle-dick, like I offer and don’t mean it?”  She smiled and went to one of the Pods.


“Well, it isn’t like we get asked to go in these often.”  Todd came over.


Bethany Paused and considered his statement, “That’s a problem. Let’s get in and I’ll have a note sent to Dan.”


ADAM


>>Yes?<<


Please compose a message to Lance, Dan and both captains about getting all personnel a chance to ride the Pods into space.  They all need to understand what we are doing this for.


ADAM told her what he had written for her to those mentioned.


Sounds good, please send it.


She pulled all of the belts into place and locked in.  Todd closed the doors and Ricky opened up the door above them.


“Have you eaten recently?”  Bethany Anne asked Todd as she set her foot against a ledge on the door.  Since she tended to just ‘grab’ pods, William had made an effort to go around to all of the Pods and install the special Bethany Anne foot rest.


“No, why?”  Todd asked.


Bethany Anne leaned forward just a touch to confirm the door above them was open.


TOM.


Yes, oh Mistress of the Dark.


Gott Verdammt!  What the hell have you been watching recently?  Wait, never mind.  I don’t have time for that shit right now.  Get ready to take us out of here and set the speed dial to ‘11’.


Your wish is my command.


Bethany Anne leaned forward and rested her elbow against her leg and set her chin on her hand.


Todd leaned forward a little, mimicking Bethany Anne not sure what to expect.  As he leaned forward she smiled to herself.


Punch it!


Todd thought he had just left every atom of his body back on the ship as they screamed up through the hole above them into the night.  He reached to his left and to the door in front of him to push against as the extra gravity hit him in surprise.  He looked over to Bethany Anne who was acting like this wasn’t a big deal.


For her?  It probably wasn’t.


For Todd, he was doing everything he could not to scream in surprise.  Even so, he grunted at the acceleration and the view out of the glass instantly showed him lights that he knew were a hundred miles away.


Then, they hit high cloud cover and quickly starlight illuminated the sky above them and he slowly released his grip on the Pod itself.  “Oh, my God.” He exclaimed.


“Pretty much what I think every time.” Bethany Anne commented.  Todd looked over to the woman next to him.  “I know, you forgot I was here for a second.  Happens most every time.”


“Most?” Todd asked.


“Well, Kevin had a hold of me near my crotch, so I was a bit pointed in telling him he needed to move it, pay me … or lose it.”


Todd laughed, “That story has gone around a little, I was cognizant enough to make sure I didn’t grab the boss's leg!”


“Yeah, good.  That should be a rule somewhere.”  Bethany Anne replied.  “ADAM?”


ADAM’s voice came over the speaker, “Yes, Bethany Anne?”


“Please show me all spy satellites within view as we turn and bring up a 3D world globe and show the satellites online.”


“They have that information available on the net?” Todd asked.


“Oh, hell if I know.”  She replied, “It might have been satellites spotted by TOM and his craft or special computer ‘searches’ by our team.”  In front of her, two 1 inch circles showed up on the glass in front of them and the globe in the lower quarter.  “Take us to this one,” She touched one of the circles.  The Pod took off again, making the trip to the satellite in ten seconds, soon it was a hundred feet away from the satellite.


“Can we go closer?” Todd asked.


“Not without dealing with the satellite warning system.”  She replied, “They have the ability to sense someone coming near.  If we stay this far out, our Pods are definitely not seen by their sensors.  This way, it doesn’t require ADAM to change the information that it sends.”


“It isn’t that hard to do.”  ADAM commented over the speaker.


“I understand, but there isn’t a real reason to get closer at this time.”  She replied, “Now, give me an update on the satellite plans.”


“Everything revolves around the communications from the satellites to ground units and each other.” ADAM responded. “The plan is to infiltrate the programming on the satellites and then take over.  Most requests will be passed through.  Should the country who owns the satellite send a request that would be detrimental to our mission, it will ignore the request and send an artificial response.”


Bethany Anne murmured, “I was wondering how you were going to lie to them.”  She looked around, “Ok, kill the displays.”


The screens blanked out.


“Want to see anything?”  She asked Todd.


“Like what?”  He asked, stupefied.


“Anything.  Like, do you want to go to the North Pole, South Pole, over the USA…”  She let it hang.


“I’ve always wanted to go to the moon.”  He replied.


“Seriously?”  Bethany Anne was surprised.  She hadn’t thought that Todd was one to go sightseeing.


“Yeah, I’ve got the bug to see new places.  One of the reasons I joined the military.  It was a way to get out of the small town I came from.” Todd admitted. “Not much to do out my way honestly.” He turned to face her, “Did you know that John Glenn was the only Marine in the Mercury program, and that he flew on Discovery in ’88?”


“Well, I think I have the time to swing by the moon.  Hell, we can make you the marine to fly the farthest away from earth, at least for a little while.”


They were pressed back in their seats as the Pod took off towards the moon in record time, swung around the back and shot across the regolith.  Then, it gracefully arced up to shoot away from the moon for another twenty thousand miles and slowed down, turned to bring the moon and earth into view.


“There you go, Mr. Marine man.” Bethany Anne said, “You are officially the farthest Marine from the earth.”


“Well, that is recorded anyway,” Todd supplied, smiling.


“That’s true.” She admitted, “They might have super secret liaisons with other aliens going on right now we don’t know about.”


“Would you like me to look?” ADAM said over the loudspeaker.


“No, thank you ADAM.  I imagine that information is locked up very well and I don’t want you poking in those areas.  At least not yet.”  She amended.


TOM, please take us back.


Yes, Imperious Leader!


I am so going to kick someone’s ass back at the base for letting you listen to this shit!




Hidden chat room on the Dark Web


>>d3stryer - Where did the packages go?


>>br0kengod - What packages dimrod?


>>d3stryer - The server update packages for the U.S. grid are bitching about no connectivity.


>>partycactu5 - No!  That stuff was supposed to go out this friday!!!!


>>br0kengod - The power project?


>>partycactu5 - Yes!  Keep up br0kengod.


>> br0kengod - It’s not MY project asswipe.  Major is going to be PISSED.


>>d3stryer - Well, it is one of mine and I worked for months on that bitch.  Who the fuck screwed with it?


>>partycactu5 - Hell if I know.  I wouldn’t think the Americans

would have caught it, but it's possible.


>> br0kengod - Major is going to be PISSED.


>>d3stryer - You said that already.


>> br0kengod - Just saying a good c.y.a. might be in order here.  But if you don’t want me to help, then good fucking luck with the major ass chewing.


>>d3stryer - If he says too much, I’ll just drop this name.  It’s not like anyone is going to trace me.


>> br0kengod -  Well, that’s one way to do it.  You had better hope he doesn’t ever find out who you are.


>>d3stryer - If I get found out, he will have to take a number.  the Americans and Israelis already want my ass.  If they can’t find me, I can’t believe one mid-list officer in the Iranian army is going to do it.


>>MyNam3isADAM - Perhaps, but I have.


>>d3stryer - Who the fuck are you?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Who do you think? Like I’d share anything but my hacker name.


>> br0kengod -  Get the fuck out of our chat room, this is private.


>>MyNam3isADAM - There is NOTHING private from me.


>>partycactu5 - Says you.  I’ll have your info in ten seconds if you got the balls to stick around.


>>MyNam3isADAM - You couldn’t trace me if I drew you a DNS route, partycactu5.


>>partycactu5 - HA!  Says you.  I’ve already got tracking back into China.  That satellite uplink doesn’t mean shit to me.


>>MyNam3isADAM - Perhaps I’m there, perhaps I’m not.  You won’t find me either way.  But I can tell all three of you this, you are already MY bitches.  Your computers are infected and will lock you out.  Good day.


In three separate bedrooms across hundreds of miles, three young men started yelling at their computers and trying to pull the power cables to stop any more destruction from happening.  One was startled to figure out that his virtual machine, setup exactly in case of this eventuality, had already infected his main machine.


ADAM had started his attacks.




TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Bethany Anne and Ashur walked through the Etheric from the Ad Aeternitatem to her room on the base.  She unlocked her door and pushed it aside and then let Ashur out into the hallway to go find someone to bug.  She closed the door and went to take a shower.


Ok ADAM, tell me the plans to clean up the computers.


>> So far, the computer systems are responding to most commands as I suspected.  My hacker persona has started making a name for himself with terrorists at this time.  I am working to continue those efforts as I play around the world.  Under the cover of this playing, I am setting up my own servers who will do the following, one - setup the ability to simultaneously run all programs at the same time. Two, it will run code planted on the control servers to fake communications with the bogus children program I’ve created and three, I have worked to remove the code to the many millions of network switches that the Chinese government had hacking code installed on for those purchasing the equipment. <<


Wait, are you saying that businesses bought pre-hacked components for their networks?

 

>>Yes.  It has been believed and expressly stated for a few years by those high or previously high in the U.S. Government that Chinese products have trapdoors to allow Chinese malware to infect the devices.  This includes potential military weapons components. <<


That pisses me off, but on the other hand you have to be impressed with the effectiveness.  Is this how so much R&D information is stolen?


>>It has been suggested that it is ‘a death by a thousand cuts’ to the U.S. by Richard Clark, previous U.S. counter-terrorism Czar.  The effort to continue stealing information but keeping the pain below the threshold that requires businesses to do anything about it.<<


Fucking genius.  The cost to try and replace this would be huge.

 

>>Correct.<<


Ok, and your plan takes this into account?


>>Yes, I will have to implement security at the communications layer of the network traffic for these devices as well as seek to ameliorate the system security flaws present in the systems.<<


Sounds like you will be busy?


>>It will take, on average, forty two percent of my capacity continuously for the foreseeable month.


Yeah, that’s busy for you. Let me know if you need any direction but move ahead.  How about the terrorist attack on the Electrical grid, any fall-out from your success?

 

>>Not at this time.  The Hackers know that I was in China, but could not go beyond China so at this time they can’t confirm that isn’t where I was.<<


You mentioned that your hacker persona is getting some street cred, what else have you been doing?

 

>> I have researched and found many of the unethical hackers around the world and started a project to become well known.<<


Bethany Anne considered his comment for a second.


ADAM, what are you going to do to these hackers?


>>I’m going to make them my Bitches…<<












CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


“William?”  The speaker squawked in the ‘lair’.


“What’s up?”  William barked while stepping away from his 3D metal printing machine to better hear the request.


“I have a Michael Pendergrass here to see you, sir.”  The speaker answered.


“I’ll be right out.  What’s the weather outside?”


“Good sir,” He responded.


“Ok, give me one minute.” William walked over to the table and took off his goggles and breathing unit.  He wasn’t fond of the smells and chemicals that would come off of the metals and plastics the units used at times.  He grabbed two clipboards and slotted a brand new yellow pad and extra pen in one and walked out of the lair.


He walked thirty feet down to the security station that blocked anyone from coming into the area without permission and waved to the guard who opened the door for him.  Stepping out, he saw Michael Pendergrass in a blazer, pair of khakis and a white shirt.  He was about six feet tall and lean.  Not skinny, but lean like someone who was athletic.  William would put him in his late thirties.  He held out his hand, “William.”


“Michael.”  He supplied, grinning.


“Walk with me outside, Michael,” William replied and the two started back down the hallway.


“Where are we in the mountain?”  Michael asked


“Actually, we are walking back into the mountain right now.”  William answered.


“There isn’t a closer door?”  Michael asked.


“Nope.  Security reasons.  Only one door for us humans in and out.”  William answered.


“Oh.”


“Let me ask you a question.”  William started.


“Shoot.”


William looked sideways at the new employee, “Do you like wearing a coat and khakis?”  William asked.


“Hell no.  But since Jeffrey was dressed liked this, I figured it was common in the group.  Being the new guy, I didn’t want to screw up the flow.”


“Trust me, with that outfit you absolutely will screw up the flow.  Where do they have your shit?”


“Building C.”


“Ah, temp quarters.  Let’s swing by there and have you change.  That jacket makes me itch.”  William supplied.


“I’m liking this more and more already,” Michael responded, smiling.


--


“Are you telling me,” Michael asked, looking at the massive number of black shipping cargo containers, “that we are going to put those on the Moon?”


“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”  William responded, admiring the perfectly lined up and waiting boxes like they were all ready to move to outer space.


“Well, I think it’s buggered up, that’s for sure!”  Michael replied.


William changed the subject, “Hey, I gotta tell you, we are going to have to change your name.”


“What?”  Michael was caught off guard by the unexpected subject change.


“Yeah,” William continued, “we will have a name change ceremony sometime later, but we can’t have a ‘Pendergrass’ in the unit.  Bad memories.”


Michael looked over at William who seemed completely matter-of-fact, “Seriously?”


William nodded, “Yes, and I would suggest using a different first name.  You absolutely don’t want to be pointed out as ‘Michael’ around here.”


He blinked a few moments at William trying to take it all in. He asked, “So, different first name and a change to the last name?”  William nodded, “This isn’t a hazing project on your part?”  He pointed to the containers, “Because I have to tell you, that sounds a little far fetched.”


William looked back over to the containers. “You haven’t been told where the practice for hooking this shit together is going to be done yet, either.”


“Why?  Is it at the North Pole?”


“God no!”  William smiled and Michael laughed.


“It’s Paraguay,” he finished.


“You’re kidding!” Michael looked aghast as William shook his head no. “But, it’s like nothing but wet, cold and rainy there.”


“Don’t forget full of trees, mud, few people and no infrastructure where we are.”  William added.


“Then why Paraguay?”


“Boss says it has two things we need.  First, Paraguay is not part of the Outer Space Treaty, second is all of that shit I just mentioned.  Her logic is if we want it nice, warm and comfy we should probably build this shit in a horrible location to test it out.”


“Then I would think under water is a good choice.”  He retorted.


“God, don’t say that out loud!”  William looked around in alarm.


“What? Why?” He followed suit and didn’t see anyone within a few hundred feet of them.


“You might give her ideas, that’s why!”  William replied.


“Wait, you said ‘she’, I thought Jeffrey was our boss.” Michael asked.


“He is, but everything, and I mean everything, eventually goes through Bethany Anne.”  William said.


“A real ball-buster?” Michael asked.


“Dude, I’ll give you this one chance because you are new. Every one of us you will be working with respect the hell out of that woman.  So, we joke a lot, but we absolutely do not make rude jokes about Bethany Anne.  Are we clear?”


Michael nodded.


“Ok.  I’ll answer that question because in a way she is.  It is not outside the realm of possibility she could tell us to pack our shit up and go up to the moon in 24 hours.”  William said.


“Ok, now you have to be shitting me!” Michael laughed.


“You’re right.” William grinned as Michael relaxed just a little, “She would probably give us 48 hours since you’re new.”


Once again, Michael couldn’t tell if William was joking or not.


William crushed his hope by adding, “No joking, so the faster we fix our problems, the faster we are going to be prepared for the eventuality that Bethany Anne is going to tell us to go up ahead of schedule, understand?”


Michael started to realize that he wasn’t in a normal corporation.  “Hey, you suggested I use something besides ‘Michael’.  Was the other Michael with Jeffrey the reason?”  William nodded his response. “He didn’t seem so bad.  He barely asked any questions.”


William turned to face Michael, “Let me give you some free advice.  That man is the scariest mother-fucker you have ever run into.  He is being ‘good’ right now because he is trying to be good and he’s got a hot girl-friend he is working hard to change for, I think.  But you never want to be in a cage with a tiger, no matter how tame you think they are.  I’d rather just slit my own throat than be on his shit list and I’d go with him anywhere.  Whatever you do, tell the truth, never say you will do something you won’t try to do, and for God’s sake, don’t be rude to the man.”


“Why?  Does he have a short temper?”


William looked like he was trying to figure out a way to explain a truth that was hard to believe. “Some of us believe you can put a polite face on a tiger, but the tiger is still a tiger down to his tail.  Especially the older they are and that man is the oldest of all.  He is literally death walking.”


“He looked like he could be in late twenties or early thirties.”


“What did his eyes look like?” William asked.


Michael considered that for a while before he answered, “Ancient, actually.”


William just nodded and changed the subject again.  “So, what can we call you until the renaming party?”


“You are really serious about this?”  Michael’s English accent started to get more pronounced.  Seeing William nod he shrugged, “I guess ‘Mr. Penn’ can work for now, at least there I have my initials in the name.”


“Ok, Master P it is and thanks.  We will tell you the story of Pendergrass later.  However, to make it up to you, I’ll get you involved in a Team BMW special event.”


“Ok?”  Michael wasn’t sure how Mr. Penn became Master P, but he wasn’t surprised a minute later when William shortened it again.


“So, P, what are your thoughts on gambling?”  William smiled like he was about to setup ‘P’ and Michael would walk right into it willingly.


Michael stood there for a moment before answering, “I’ve been known to make a wager before, I’m into speed so winning is in my blood.”


“Ok,” William continued, “So how about we bet that I can make your ass tighten up so fast from a speed run you wouldn’t be able to push a BB out?”


Ok, now William had P’s complete attention. “A little crude I’d say, but I’m down with speed. I can’t possibly see how you would prove anything.”


William started walking back towards the lair.  “Come with me.  And the how is we will setup a gauge to tell how hard you are gripping and how tightly you are squeezing it.”  William made sure P was with him and listening, “Then, I’m going to make your orientation a little test to see if you become ‘little p’ or ‘big P’ for the next week.”


“And if I don’t want to take you up on your bet?”


William smiled, “Then the hazing name begins with ‘yellow’!”


Bugger me, Michael thought, I walked right into that!


--


By the end of the week, ‘little p’ was focused on getting the boxes to connect in the middle of a torrential rain and eighty mile-an-hour winds.  “Gott Verdammt!”  He had starting using the team’s curse words as his own. He and his team were watching the video monitors intently.  Bethany Anne had arrived a few days back with them in Paraguay and asked why the hell were they checking the boxes for connection out in the rain?  Were they going to be outside on the moon?  P hung his head, then jumped on the phone with William and worked out a new design for video to help align the containers properly to make a larger base.


Bethany Anne hadn’t been around long, but she was exactly the force of nature that William had claimed she was.


His already long days went into overdrive and everyone got the feeling their schedules were going to be shortened.  Penn had screwed up a connection two days ago and had then engineered a modified connector. This would allow for some slop when first connecting but then facilitate alignment as the two units got closer together.


Finally, they felt the ‘chunk’ of the seal in the master control module.  When Bethany Anne left, the whole team got together and ‘TOTFM’, (threw out the fucking manual). Then decided it was all test it right or die from then on.  They pulled out the connected modules and refitted them with the new connectors William sent them.  Afterward, they moved every container at least a hundred feet from each other.


Then, they would move the master command module in the center and start moving all of the additional containers into place allowing the specially programmed computer hookups to finish their connections.  One person in each team would be in the box to see if they could ‘feel’ any glitches that didn’t show up on any of their sensors.


At one point, they had a noise that Kris mentioned. They checked the connector and found it had suffered from some mud getting into the grooves.


Bobcat came down and focused on the safety of the crew as they pushed forward. He stopped them one time and forced everyone to take ten hours of downtime.


Penn came over to Bobcat who was watching the speed as the seven containers were being tested. “Hey,” Penn asked, “I think we need another test.”


Bobcat looked up, “Me too, all the way until Bethany Anne won’t give us the time.”


Penn shook his head, “Not what I’m talking about.  I’m thinking we need to do this on the south pole.”


“Just everyone takes a container and go?” Bobcat asked.


“Pretty much.  Wait until it’s dark and we go.  If we can do this down there, it will test if we have contraction problems due to freezing temperatures.”


Bobcat scratched his chin, “That seems solid. What about under water?”


“We have the new suits to test outside in space, but I’d rather just try that up above rather than in atmosphere.”


Bobcat nodded, “Ok, that’s what Bethany Anne wanted the whole time. Let’s pull everyone together and see if we can think of anything to make sure we are prepared for a bad result.  Also, extra Pods in case we need to Evac someone to a doctor, quickly.”


Bobcat smiled over to Penn, “Alright Big P, let’s make this happen!”


Michael smiled to himself as he turned to call out to his group. He just got upgraded!


Dan’s Office - QBS Polarus, Mediterranean


>>Bethany Anne?<<


Yes, ADAM.


>>I’ve been running tests and reviewing the files of the different countries on their efforts to plan for attacking and defending their cyber-assets.<<


You found their war-gaming plans?


>>Yes.  I found them to be very complete and surprisingly creative.  There are some plans I had not considered. <<


Such as?

 

>>The explosion of nuclear weapons to cause a massive EMP effect thus shutting down all electronic capabilities. <<


Not to mention the death and destruction of the people.  Fucking countries are all ready to blow each other up a million different ways.

 

>>I believe humans call it mutually assured destruction.<<


Yes, they do.  If any one country feels that they can incapacitate the other country sufficiently with ‘acceptable’ damages for their own side it becomes a command decision.  The worst choice is for the Islamist State to have this ability.

 

>>Because of their willingness to implement this solution?<<


Partially.  Part of it is they don’t have an infrastructure to incapacitate so no harm comes to them.  Can’t suffer from cyber-attacks if you have no computers in the first place.  The next reason, is unlike China, Russia or the US, the Islamist State is under the aegis of a deity to do what they need to do.  I’m pretty sure that the other countries do worry about their people and so they seek advantage through all means, but realize to truly destabilize the other countries is a bad solution.  The Islamist State doesn’t give a rat’s ass as they believe, incorrectly, their holy book says this is what they need to do to attain heaven.

 

>>What would you do to change it?<<


You mean if I had time on my side?  I’d probably become the ultimate assassin and start taking heads one at a time.  Those asses really piss me off.

 

“Bethany Anne?”  Dan said again.


“Sorry Dan, ADAM grabbed my attention.  Rude on my side.”  Bethany Anne replied.


“I hadn’t noticed much until your eyes dipped into the red for just a second.”  Dan said curiously, “What was that about?”


“Fucking terrorists.”  She shrugged, “I still don’t have my ‘mad’ out.  But that’s for another time, or maybe not again.  Tell me about this op.”


“Your group is setting up to go into a warehouse in lower Shanghai.  We have eyes on a large enough group and a positive match for Kimiko Kana. The five want to drop right on top of them and repel down the roof and into the windows from above as quickly as possible.”


“Why aren’t you just going through the roof?”


“What, with explosives?”  Dan asked.


“No, I would do something like a small meteorite that ‘happened’ to drop straight in.  Something big enough to punch a hole in the building but not flatten the place if possible.”


>>The last meteorite that hit in the Urals damaged over three thousand buildings.<<


Bethany Anne frowned, “Damn, ADAM says that to make it believable, the meteorite would damage potentially thousands of buildings.”


“What if we used a real meteorite flying across the sky to hide us blowing a hole in the roof?” Dan asked, an eyebrow raised.


“Oh ... I like that idea!  Maybe do something like a fast one, two and then a pause before number three and on the third one the team blows the hole?” She said.


“Yes, I like that as well.” Dan considered, “Then when number three is screaming by the city they blow the roof.  Everyone should be able to associate the extra explosion with the sonic booms if it is timed correctly.”


“Try your best so that the three flames in the sky don’t hurt anyone and I think we’re golden.  Now, what did you need me here for and why is it you think I’ll enjoy this?” Bethany Anne asked.


“I’m concerned that this Kamiko Kana is going to bolt again.  From the information that Frank has been able to locate, I feel positive Kamiko is able to Etherically walk and will just escape our clutches again.  I’m thinking you can help with that.”


Bethany Anne thought for a moment, “How?”


“Can you block off her ability to do this?” Dan asked.


“Umm, wait one.” She put up a finger.


TOM, what do you think?


About being able to block her?


Yes, if I’m around in the area in the Etheric maybe, if she tries to walk can I stop her?


I would think at a minimum you would be able to grab her and throw her back.  I’m not so sure that you can do anything from within the Etheric until she activates the ability.  If you were on Earth at the time, I’d say we could figure something out.


Yeah, not doing that.  I only get to play if the team doesn’t know I’m there.  But I would love a chance to have a word with that bitch.


“Ok,” She said, “I think we are a go.  I’ll need to go in a little early to be in the area.  I don’t think I have the skill to try and catch her movement from way over here.”


“I’ll have the exact moment the team will be there.” Dan supplied.


“I think I’ll want to find a safe place first.  Then, before the meteorites hit I’ll walk to the safe place and slip into the Etheric.  I don’t know if she has the ability to sense Etheric changes around her.”


“You can’t walk there from here?”  Dan asked.


“If I had been there before, then most likely.  Since I haven’t?  No, I’m pretty sure I would be sticking my head out all of the time to gauge where the hell I am.”


“Ok, that’s the plan then.” Dan finished.


“Ok, let me suit up and I’ll do a quick reconnaissance. When is this going down?” Bethany Anne stood up to leave.


“In eighteen hours.” He said.


“That works.”  She nodded her goodbye.












CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Paraguay


“Well, fuck me.” Bobcat murmured.


“What is it?”  Penn asked.


“Bethany Anne wants to move ahead, says there is chatter on back channels about seeing anomalous items on international radar.  We might have made one too many trips around the world with the containers.”  Bobcat answered.


“You wanted safe, safe we did.” he shrugged.


“Hell yeah I wanted safe!”  Bobcat said. “That’s the one thing I won’t skimp on. This is Bethany Anne’s way of telling me it’s time I put up or shut up.  If she doesn’t hear from me, then it is a go.”  He looked over to Penn, “Sorry, it was in the original job interview back in Miami you wouldn’t know that.”


“Not Jeffrey’s job?”


Bobcat shrugged, “Yes, it’s his as well, but if something is flying, she is depending on my approval.  If either of us stop it, it gets stopped.  Besides, I doubt Jeffrey would ever approve something I wasn’t happy with.  Interestingly enough, he asked me about my thoughts just three hours ago.  I’ll have to remember that for the next time it happens to ask him if it is ‘him’ asking, or Bethany Anne.”


Bobcat reached down and hit the ‘all talk’ button on his console. “Listen up everyone.  Just got the news from the head boss lady.  This shit just got real folks.”  He smiled as he heard the yells of excitement coming over the comms.  “I’ve been notified that I’m not allowed up due to my sins, so every damned one of you better get up there safely, you hear me?  I’m officially rolling the command of moon-base-one to Mr. Penn himself.”  He let go of the button and turned to Michael, “Make us proud, Mr. Penn.” and he held out his hand.


Michael grabbed his outstretched hand, “I’ll land everyone safe up there, Bobcat.”


“See that you do.”  Bobcat threw him a sloppy salute as he walked by.  “I give you guys eight hours, use them wisely!”  He said over his shoulder as he cycled through the connector.


“Everyone, this is Mr. Penn.”  Michael started on the speakers, “We have eight hours.  I want everyone to nap or sleep.  Be up with two hours to go.  Lock everything down, this is just another run upstairs and then a short jaunt over to our new landing.  As an aside, please don’t step out as the first step will be a doozy.”


He heard the laughter from the group, then continued, “Let’s go make history, folks!”




TQB Base, Colorado – USA


Agent Terry DeLeon watched the weather and the cloud cover was expected to be pretty heavy this evening.  He stopped his car three miles out from the base perimeter at a normal location used by those backpacking through the area. He then hiked a mile on the trail before taking a different route into a small, rocky valley with a steep, dangerous climb up to the beginning of where the base considered the area their property.


He doubted they had much in the way of sensors in this area so he would go up as quick as he could.


It took him almost to sunset to make it up the ridge.  He had worried for the last thirty minutes that he was going to run out of light before he got up the eighty-foot climb.


He hadn’t needed his climbing skills in a while and he had misjudged the difficulty of the climb.


Once he got to the top, he crawled under a bush and laid there panting for five minutes to get his breathing under control.


Then, he pulled out his GPS to see which direction he needed to go. He flicked on the red light to get his bearings before putting it away and headed north.  He was expecting to hit a small stream by twenty-two hundred and be on the base by midnight.


When he arrived at the stream, he checked his location with the GPS quickly and found he was only a hundred yards south of where he wanted to cross.  He went up through the foliage until he found the lazy water allowing him to easily wade across.  He started going north again when he heard something that chilled him.


“Look what came to visit, Samuel.”  The light voice seemed to come from his right.  Terry pulled his Kimber Ultra Covert and looked to his right, crouching down.


“I’m pretty sure a pistol means he doesn’t have permission to be here Richard.”


The second voice was coming from behind him. Shit!  He looked over his shoulder.


“Do you think Gabrielle will mind if we take a sip before we take him back?” The first voice added.


Terry was confused, he could hear that the voices were moving around him, but he couldn’t hear them actually move.


He was officially fucked if he got caught.  His boss would have to deny knowing anything about this unauthorized effort.


“Why don’t you come out and we can talk about his?”  Terry said before he moved himself another ten yards to kneel near a large tree.


“Oh, we are already talking, dinner.” Samuel said.


“Oh yes,” Richard said from behind him.  Terry turned and quickly put his back to the tree, looking both ways.  These motherfuckers were fast and they were playing with him.


“You know, Samuel. I’m pretty sure that Gabrielle would have been explicit about the whole not taking a bite before we bring them in.  How about we do this?...”


Terry turned and fired two shots where he thought the person speaking was coming from.  He was starting to sweat at the matter-of-fact way they were talking about eating him. It was starting to get past his calm.


“Well,” the voice named Richard said, “I was going to suggest that if you put your gun down, we would be obligated to bring you in without a scratch…”


Terry looked around as fast as he could.  The voice had simply moved during that whole conversation and Terry couldn’t tell where it was.


He froze when a hand reached down from above him and grabbed his pistol hand.  He screamed when he got yanked up the tree and felt hot breath and teeth entering his neck…


Seconds later, the night was quiet again.


--


Terry woke up, groggy from something… He stilled immediately.  Letting his body relax.  Perhaps he could listen to see what he could figure out before anyone was aware of him being awake.


“Good early morning, Agent Terry DeLeon.” A contralto voice spoke to him.  “While you are welcome to continue with your eyes closed, your body gives lie to the fact that you are still asleep.”


Terry considered his options.  They had him tied to a chair and the room was dim.  It wasn’t causing him issues with his eyes closed.  Fuck it, he wasn’t getting anywhere faking being asleep.


He opened his eyes to see he was in a small meeting room.  The chair he was tied to was metal and a common beige fabric cover just like it’s five other brothers and sisters around this crap table.  The walls seemed a little odd. They mostly looked to be cut out rock and someone had affixed a TV and whiteboard to them.  There was a door that led out right behind a woman seated at the head of the table.


“Good,” she said, “I’ve got to be in China within the next hour for a quick pre-operation setup, so I appreciate you manning up and opening your eyes.”  Terry tried to see if he could deal with the knots on his arms when he heard a deep growl behind him.  He tried to twist far enough to see what was there, but couldn’t in the chair.


“The beast …”  Terry heard a distinct ‘chuff’ behind him and the lady corrected herself, “Sorry, the German Shepherd behind you is named Ashur.  If you continue to try and get out of your bindings he will take a bite out of you.  Now, we can do this the easy way...”  Terry was fixated as the dark haired beauty seemed to go from boardroom CEO to backroom brawler in the space of time it took to blink. “Or the hard way.  I, of course, much prefer the hard way.  In fact, you petulant pouch of horse shit, times up.”


Terry watched her get up from the chair.  She was a little tall for a woman, but then he looked down and noticed she had on short heels.  When he looked up to see her changed visage the screaming began.


Her eyes were red, her teeth were out and then he remembered the vampires in the tree…


--


“This is Channel 11 with breaking news.”  The older newsman came on.  He was usually there for the six o’clock news, but this was early.


Jamil Williams was working on his freshman homework in his dorm room when his small tv interrupted a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rerun.


He looked over to the tv because it was a handy excuse not to be dealing with physics.  Hell, anything was a handy excuse not to deal with physics right then.


“We have live video on an open feed right that is being provided to us by an independent news service.  We have not ... I repeat ... not, been able to verify this report. We have been informed that there are semi-professional astronomers on the web who do verify that these containers, are in fact, in outer space at this time.”


Jamil moved his books to the side and pulled up his laptop.  Jamil was interested in everything to do with outer space and if something cool was going on, he wanted to know about it.


He had been following the Space-X efforts to land a reusable rocket back on earth and had been cheering out loud when they had successfully landed one on land after their third commercial attempt and one at sea just five months later.


Now, something completely new was happening.


Jamil pulled up Twitter and various chat rooms and they were going nuts!  There was a hashtag #WEWILLBUILD that called out a new company based in Paraguay.


Paraguay?


It seemed that the legal entity for the operation was a recently created company in Paraguay that listed their address as latitude and longitude coordinates out in the middle of a jungle.


The video switched to a conversation between a national American news anchor and a … Jamil tried to read the small text under her name, a Costa Rican reporter?


What the hell was going on?  He turned up the volume while continuing to read the tweet streams


“That’s right, Ken.  The company is based in Paraguay.  They are using a new form of propulsion and are presently moving their first base to the far side of the moon.”


“The dark side?”  The anchor asked, “Giannini, why on the dark side of the moon?”


“Well,” The lady reporter replied, “calling it ‘the dark side’ is a misnomer of course as it receives sunlight.  But they are doing this for their own efforts and desire to move out into space, so they care to point ‘out’ not in towards earth.”


“But, how can they do this?” Ken asked as he watched the video intake. “I don’t see any rockets on this and if I didn’t see all of the other video coming in from all over the internet, I would say you guys are perpetrating a large hoax!”


“That is why they chose to inform everyone in the middle of their efforts Ken.  It is hard to ignore the proof of hundreds or thousands of semi-professional astronomers as they all point their telescopes to the location listed at

http://www.wewillbuild.space.  That’s not ‘.com’ but ‘.space’ for everyone who would like to join in.  We encourage you to tweet the hashtag #WEWILLBUILD and provide your encouragement for every commercial company that is moving humanity into the future.”


“That’s a very altruistic suggestion right now offering to let everyone join you.  Why is the company doing this?”


“They are not able to share their technology for now, Ken.  Therefore, they want everyone to get excited about what is happening right here, right now on earth and how we are closer to making the dreams of so many across the world happen soon.”


“So, the company is not going to license the technology?”


“No, they are not.”  She replied.


“Why not?” Ken asked.


“I’ve asked their Press Representative and she explained that the company is not here to compete with existing companies nor are they going to obtain business and/or contracts for anything from earth to inside the Lagrange L1 point. This L1 point is between the earth and the moon where the gravity forces balance. It is a common location to hold a satellite in a rotational effort around this point to minimize fuel usage.”


“They don’t want business?  What are their intentions?  Is this strictly scientific?”  Despite himself, Ken was getting pulled in by this story.


“The company, Lair Technologies, is using the moon base as a research and development location for building and living in outer space.  Their plans are to build an additional station out at the Langrangian Point L2 on the other side of the Moon.”


“So, this station will not be seen from earth?” Ken clarified.


“Correct, in order to use the gravity of the moon to help the station stay in orbit, this station will need to stay on that side of the moon.”


“You say you have been with this company for the last, how long?”


“I have been working on this report for the last two weeks, Ken.”


“How did you acquire the relationship?”


Giannini thought back to the night she was running from monsters thinking she needed to get a story to get ahead.  “I worked my tail off and got noticed, Ken.”  She smiled at the camera.


“Fascinating,” Ken asked, “I see we are getting what looks like video from very close to the containers.  What are those containers made out of Giannini?”


“Believe it or not, Ken, those are International shipping containers and now you might call them Interplanetary shipping containers which have been modified with a special coating, ice internally and other methods to protect those inside from the harmful rays of the sun and micrometeorites.”


“You say they have ice in them?”  Ken asked.


“Yes, there are multiple ways they are carrying the necessary air, food and water to live on the moon.”


“Speaking of air, food and water what would happen if further supply ships are not able to make it up to the moon?  Are those astronauts going to be able to survive?”


“Why would further supply ships be unable to make it to the moon, Ken?”  Giannini asked, a frown on her face. “Are you asking if the same company that is accomplishing this right now is incapable of delivering additional supplies, or are you suggesting that perhaps a country would try to forbid it?”


“Well, I seem to remember there is an Outer Space Treaty that was signed by the US and Russia and the countries around the world.”


“That is true, Ken.  However, Lair Technologies is a Paraguayan company.  Paraguay is neither a member nor has signed that treaty without ratification.  Maybe half of the countries around the world are a part of the treaty.  Therefore, there is no reason for any of the larger, more developed countries to be upset is there?”


Ken was stymied for a moment and those watching could see him open and close his mouth a couple of times before continuing, “Well, this small company has to … what?”  Ken looked off screen for a moment and turned back. “Apparently, one of the containers has a message written in the lower corner and one of the video producers has grabbed a screenshot and we are pulling it up right now.”


Giannini kept her professional smile as she heard Ken’s comment.  Inside she wanted to stomp back over and kick a certain someone in his kneecap.  She knew just which three had to have pulled this stunt.


“Here it comes up now, we are zooming in and the message states…”  Ken kept his face straight, “It says ‘Bite Me NASA – Marcus’.”  Ken looked around, “Do we have any idea who Marcus could be?”  Ken turned back to the camera.  “It seems that one of the team members might be a little upset with the folks over at NASA, Giannini.  Do you have anything to add to that?”


“Other than I’m sure it is actually three individuals, not just one, Ken.”  She kept her smile going.


“But, you do know who this Marcus is, am I correct?”  Ken pushed.


“Yes, I am very aware of this gentleman.”  She replied.


“Why do you not think it was only him involved in this?”


“Because I know the other two individuals who make up the core of Lair Technologies and they are all in cahoots with each other.  That is the correct American idiom, am I right?”  She asked.


“Yes, although with your accent you make it sound exotic, Giannini.  Do you believe that the sign was approved by their boss?”


Giannini had to think about that one for a second and she came back speaking slowly as she thought on the fly, “You know, Ken.  I’m not sure.  I’m positive that if it is a problem, it won’t happen again.  However, I’m pretty sure knowing the people involved that they do feel comfortable that their boss will be ok with the prank.”


Back in a small building in Paraguay, Bobcat looked over to William while Marcus did a dance with his arms raised in the background, “God, I hope so!”


William smiled and added, “No shit.  If not, it’s the doghouse for us.”


They both turned as Marcus yelled in the background, “NASA kiss my hairy white ASS!” The two men watched as he held his eyes closed and they noticed a tear roll down his face.


The two turned back to face each other, “Fucking worth it.” Bobcat said and the two high-fived each other as the turned back to watch the TV.


Ken continued, “Giannini, the Internet is going nuts over this.  We are showing that Twitter has their servers practically melting. That it is based in a South American country has a lot of people, Americans mostly, crying ‘foul’.  Does the company have anything to say about that?”


“Ken, you can imagine that to accomplish everything that Lair Technologies is doing right now was done through the creativity, hard work and resources from companies around the world.  There are Americans, South Americans, Romanians, Japanese, British, Europeans and many others involved in the testing, tools, and technology that accomplished this feat today.  Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing additional footage of the continued efforts of this Moon Base One to rapidly become operational.”


“That almost sounds like a press release right there.”  Ken said.


In a building in Colorado, Cheryl Lynn yelled to the tv, “That’s because it WAS written by a press rep, bitch!”  Cheryl Lynn laughed hard and then looked over to see Bethany Anne staring at her with eyebrows raised high, “What?” Cheryl Lynn asked trying to calm herself down, “Too much?”


“Hell no!”  Bethany Anne replied smiling, “I’m just wondering how you got her to say that.”


“I made a bet with her that I could make her pee in her pants.  If she did, she had to work my paragraph into the interview somehow.”  Cheryl Lynn replied.


“And if you didn’t?”  Bethany Anne asked.


“I had to go ask Darryl to go out with her.”  Cheryl Lynn admitted.


“She wants a date with Darryl?” Bethany Anne, leaning forward, asked.


“Yes, why?  Is that a problem?”  Cheryl Lynn looked confused.


“Fuck no!”  Bethany Anne retorted, “I just wanted to make sure that I got that right.  We will get them hooked up, trust me.”  She looked down at her watch.  “Well, fuck.  Make sure someone records this would you?”


Cheryl Lynn grabbed the remote and made sure the ‘record’ button was punched.  “Got you covered boss.”  She never looked up from the tv, but waved a hand at Bethany Anne as she stepped around behind her, grabbed Ashur by the scruff of the neck, and walked through the Etheric into her closet in Florida.


From there, Bethany Anne changed clothes and slung one sword over her shoulder and belted on her pistols. “Time to make sure no one leaves the party my Own are throwing.”  Reaching down, she grabbed Ashur once again and walked to a building over in Shanghai China.  She had visited it hours earlier via a Pod delivery.  Then walked the Etheric back to Colorado to see the beginning of the news coverage.  She would in place hours before anyone should be around.  It might make for a boring time, but she wasn’t going to allow that certain someone to escape if she could stop it.


At that same time, there were three pods moving smaller hunks of rock and rapidly approaching the earth’s atmosphere on the other side of the world from the show going on approaching the moon.












CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


Aboard Moon Base One Command Module


“I’m telling you, let’s not fuck up on national television Coach.”  Penn told his second, Steve Hewgley.


Steve came over from the Navy as a retired Navy Avionics Electronics Technician.  He was in his early fifties, or if you believed him, his ‘late late thirties’.  Whatever, Penn didn’t care because he was hell on wheels getting things going on the electronics side and was a master with the video equipment.


“What?” Coach asked him from container two, “You don’t just want me to run the video with a fifteen second delay, that way if something goes wrong I just loop it?”


Penn looked at him, “That’s great!”  he exclaimed, “how fast can you make that happen.”


“Now.” Coach replied.


“Now?” Penn answered, confused.


“Yes, as in I’m running it that way right now. It’s common in situations like this.”


“Oh, I’m used to ‘live - live’, not ‘mostly live’.” Penn retorted.


“I’m used to captains of ships not wanting a fustercluck to show up on the news at six.”  Coach replied.


Penn thought about his own feelings as the captain of this effort, “Smart people,” he said.  Coach just nodded his agreement.


The team brought their containers around the moon to the most level location that they could find.  It had been pre-surveyed two days back and the locations for the seven containers had been programmed in and ADAM had checked everything.


Twice.


For global PR support, there was a video camera in each of the seven modules and the insides of the containers looked more like true science modules than what the team would have brought along if they did not have the cameras involved.  There was no reason, the team felt, to give away too much by showing how little of this stuff they needed.  Most of it was just pretty dressing done up by William.


The world, who was watching intently on the edge of their seats viewed the graceful slow down of the seven containers as they started to align themselves.  Jeffrey had a pod above them with a video camera trained down on the seven containers.


The team had built the beginning of Moon Base One to be three across the middle with two on each end perpendicular to the three.  One of the two containers on each end had a special connector built into the side of the container in addition to the two on the ends.


The seven team members included ‘Coach’, John Jensen (on loan from the Guardians), Adarsh Venkatesh, Kris England who had gotten involved with the base after a stint in the police force, Bree Breeza and ReaLea Hurt.


This team had been through hell and back preparing for this operation and, by God, Penn was going to make sure they all survived it.


“Bree, make sure we are on track to bring your module in first.”  While the team allowed the computers to handle most of the tracking, they were to be available for override or highlighting if there were issues quickly.


“Dammit John, pull that ship back a bit.  I know the computer is happy happy, but I’m not explaining to Bobcat why we scratched his pretty container.”


“Penn, we have a janky video connection on container four.”  ReaLea said as she watched the video link cut in an out and then felt the hesitation in the movement as they computer would stop movement each time it lost visual lock.


“Dammit.” Penn sighed, “Coach, suggestions?”  He turned to the monitor Coach was on.


“Not a problem, we have redundancies on our redundancies.  I’ll go to another channel and ReaLea and we will deal with it.  Worst case, I go moon walking.”  He cut off his channel.


Penn sure hoped they didn’t have to show the world their suits.  They were far less bulky than anything he had ever been shown outside of the movies and frankly too form fitting.  He was good, but a couple on the team were a bit too curvy for prime time in some countries while wearing those things.


During one session training in the suits, the team laughed about how their video show would go from PR to PoRn if the ladies stepped out.


Coach said he would take it for the team and go out in one of those suits. He claimed this would pull the attention from them to his elder ‘thirties’ body. Because ... no one would be able to pull their eyes away from his amazingly tight man figure.


That had caused Bree to snort out the coffee she had been drinking which was a pain all of its own to handle, but only caused the laughter by the rest to be more raucous.


The containers continued to come together and Penn watched them all doing the similar choreography that had happened in Paraguay, the south pole, the desert, during wind, rain and once they even tested it under sunshine.


Penn could feel Bree’s container link up with his and the scraping as the container twisted and connected tight.  One minute later, Coach’s container connected on his left.  Then John’s next to Coach and ReaLea’s behind John’s.  Finally, Kris connected to Bree’s and Adarsh behind ReaLea’s.


“Hold!”  Came from Adarsh. “I’m showing a leak between myself and ReaLea.


“I’m not seeing any warnings, Adarsh.” She supplied.  Penn could see her anxiety as she checked if there was anything she could do to help him.


“Let me think about this, one sec.”  He stepped away from the video and walked off screen.  A minute later he came back on.  “It’s a small issue with the seal.  I’m going to back off a bit and disconnect.”


A few tense moments later he spoke again, “Ok, I’m disconnected, I didn’t suffer any significant air loss.  Let me turn the container around and try the other side.”


Coach got Penn’s attention, “Maybe we missed something getting everything refurbished?”  Penn shrugged and didn’t say anything but rather stayed glued to watching the monitor for Adarsh.


The team had no idea a huge portion of the world was watching and universally holding their breath.


The world could see the last container pull back and slowly turn a half circle to present the other connector and slowly move closer.  Finally, Adarsh came back online, “I’ve got connection…I’m airtight!”


The whooping and hollering of the team was heard around the world.


TQB Base, Colorado - USA


Terry slowly regained consciousness in a cell.  The bed wasn’t uncomfortable, but the fear he felt when he blacked out was back in a second.  He stumbled up off the cot and swung around, backpedaling to put the rock wall behind him.


No one was there.


His mouth was dry and his pounding heartbeat overpowered his ability to hear any other sounds.


Vampires!


That had to be the answer. He felt his neck, but nothing was there.  He couldn’t feel any marks.


Whatever he had gotten into, he was thinking he would never get out.


It was time to end it.


Looking around, he realized he no longer had his glasses.  They were supposed to be something he could claim he needed in case he was found and then chew on the end to break the tiny glass capsule to ingest poison.


But the glasses weren’t on his body.


He moved over to look around the bed and couldn’t find where they might have left his personal stuff.


He heard a door open outside and immediately ran back to the wall, turned around and stared at the door with the tiny opening.


There was a knock on the door before it opened and a sharp looking man was in the doorway.  Terry considered his chances to escape and was getting ready to attack the smaller man when he stopped him with a few, short words.


“Hello, I am Samuel…”


QBS Polarus - Mediterranean


Barb walked into the cafeteria and looked to see Frank at a back table talking with someone in what looked like a monk's robe.


She breathed deeply once and then exhaled.  She walked by the tables smiling a couple of times to people who said ‘hi’ to her as she made her way over to Frank.


He was in a deep conversation with the man who had his back to her.  The man put out a hand and turned in his seat to regard Barb.  It was at this time that Frank noticed her.


“Sorry!”  Frank stood up and reached over to pull out a chair, “My apologies Barb.  Let me introduce Barnabas to you.  Barb, this is Barnabas and Barnabas, this is my guest, Barb.”


Barnabas stood up halfway and bowed, “It is a pleasure.”  Then sat back down to continue his discussion with Frank.


Now, Barb didn’t know what to do.  She had hoped to ask Frank an important question, but it was rude to ask someone she didn’t know to leave the table and she didn’t know if what they were talking about needed to change around her.


Dammit!


Frank continued his conversation, “So, you are saying that Kamiko Kana learned to walk the Etheric from you?”


“Sadly, yes.”  Barnabas agreed, “Not that I can walk it, but I was working on learning more for the last four centuries when…”  The two men heard Barb gasp.


“Oh, sorry about that Barb.”  Frank said, “I didn’t explain to Barnabas that you weren’t totally dialed into the UnknownWorld.  I should probably explain more to you…”


“You won’t wipe her memories?”  Barnabas asked, “Has Michael made a change to the Strictures?”


Frank shook his head, “Not Michael, Bethany Anne.”


“Truly?  Another major change to the Strictures.  It’s a wonder the whole thing hasn’t come falling down.”  Barnabas opined.


Frank retorted, “Do you really have a clue?  It’s like you throw these little comments left and right to see what blows up and how it lands.  Sometimes Barnabas, I swear you are like a …”


“Careful Frank Kurns, where I come from…” Barnabas started only to feel a hand on his shoulder.


Stephen’s voice held a hint of rebuke, “And where I come from, Barnabas, you never threaten the person under the aegis of another.”


Barnabas’s shoulders seemed to relax, “Sometimes brother, the old ways still drag me down.”


Stephen left his hand on Barnabas’s shoulder, “Then maybe we should go and discuss the old times with a brandy?”


Barnabas smiled to Frank and Barb, “My apologies, I seem to forget myself.  If you would forgive me, I’m going to adjourn with Stephen.”


Both Frank and Barb said their goodbyes.  Barb watched until they were about half-way through the cafeteria before turning to speak to Frank who held up his hand and mouthed, “Don’t!”


She backed up a few inches in reflex, but noticed he was still watching the two until they went out the door, then turned to her, “Sorry, but they easily hear great distances and I didn’t know if you were going to talk about the weather or make a comment that would be a problem.”


“What did he just mean about four centuries?”  She asked.


“Nothing about their hearing?”  Frank asked.


“I’m thinking I can deal with hearing, but you are almost a hundred or over and he’s saying he has been studying something for four hundred.  Who am I going to meet next, a thousand-year-old man?”  She stated.


“Well, now that you mention it,” Frank said while pointing to the door, “one just walked out.”


“What? Who?” She turned to look where he was pointing.


“Stephen.  That’s Michael’s brother.  Both are somewhere near a thousand or more years old.  Actually, I’ve pegged Michael as older than a thousand, but he get’s pretty cagey on his exact age.  He’s like a woman that way.”


“In what way?” Barb’s eyes started drawing down into a glare.


“So, how old are you?”  Frank asked.


“What?  That’s not relative to the conversation, is it?” Barb asked, momentarily taken aback.


“Sure, I just said women don’t like to admit their age.  We both know I am far older than you but you immediately didn’t want to tell me your age.”


“Well, I… It’s…”  She rolled her eyes, “I’m thirty-seven and yes it is hard sometimes to admit that.  You are three times my age practically and look five years younger.”


“Good genes?”  Frank laughed at her when she stuck her tongue out.  “Ok, I’m sorry.” He said.


“That’s ok, I deserved it.  You made a rational assessment based on facts and I just proved you correct.”  She exhaled, “Now, I want to know how I can help.”


“Excuse me?” Frank said.


“I want to know how I can help.”  She said, “I’ve seen enough.  I’m being wasted back at my other job.  Oh, I know that I help, but your team get’s things done.  I want to be a part of something that doesn’t hold back from doing what needs to be done, well, actually do you guys use torture?”  She looked suddenly pensive. “Because, I’m sure I could get over it mostly, but I’m a little against torture.”


Frank looked at the woman trying to figure out where the conversation had gone off track, “Torture?”


“Yes.  I tracked a lot of terrorist killings and the bodies all disappeared, or portions of them did and were never found.  So, the rational explanation is the terrorists were killed certainly and possibly tortured.”


“Well, I can say ‘I’ have never tortured anyone.” Frank agreed and reached for his water to take a sip.


“That leaves a whole lot of people in the organization.” She replied.


He put his glass down and answered, “Sure, but honestly the person who is willing to torture the most is Bethany Anne.  Well, Michael would probably be more willing but has less use for it.”


“She is the responsible party for the missing bodies?”  Now, Barb was trying to equate the pretty woman she had met with the fact that she was a torturing psychopath.


“Oh, I’m sure she is responsible for many of them, but she didn’t ‘torture’ them, kill them and bury them somewhere.  She probably tossed them into the Etheric.” Frank said matter of factly.


“What is this Etheric?”  She asked.


“Think of it as another universe someone can walk through, if they have the right abilities.” Frank answered, “And you probably need to stop thinking of Bethany Anne as a torturing lunatic.”


“Psychopath.”  Barb countered.


“Whatever.  She isn’t one to go around torturing willy-nilly.  She will do whatever it takes to get the end result she needs. If the person has been evil enough?  Well, she isn’t squeamish.”


She looked around and then leaned close to Frank, “How can you be so blasé about torture!”  She whispered to him.


Frank looked over at her while he took another drink then set it down, “Barb ... grow up!  You’re thirty-seven years old.  I’m a hundred, I’ve been in the dark side of life longer than two of your lifetimes. If you don’t think torture has saved millions of lives by this time, your pollyanna attitude isn’t going to work with this team.  Go back to Washington, do your research and let the others deal with it.  I get it, I really do.  I won’t think less of you but if you believe that the reason the U.S. is one of the most powerful nations in the world is because we didn’t ever do anything ‘bad’?”  He left the thought unsaid.


She leaned back, “I didn’t say that!”  She was angry, partially because she knew he was right, but torture was just wrong!


Or, was it?


Frank exhaled, “Let’s say, just for example, that you come upon a scene where someone near and dear to you is lying bloody and half dead against a wall.  Two of your friend’s guests have been killed and there is blood everywhere. The psychopath responsible for all of this destruction is working for yet another major psychopath who is wanting to overthrow the governments of most of the world.  As part of his master plan he has a virus that is going to kill millions.  You kill said psycho’s henchman and now you need a location.  Do you arrest the first psycho who has already killed before so you can take him down to the police station?  He admitted he was a murderer while you listened.  So, you don’t have to guess if he is guilty.  He has been personally responsible for probably in excess of a hundred killings over his life.”


Barb looked at Frank, “I would say you are being over the top with your example to see if I’m willing to say something is worth torture, but you aren’t, are you?”


“Remember that thousand-year-old man that grabbed Barnabas a couple of minutes ago?”  Frank asked.


“Yes.”


“He was the one bleeding to death, sitting with his back to the wall in his own home waiting to be shot and killed by a bastard.  Bethany Anne killed the henchman and then shot the Vampire that was trying to kill Stephen.  There wasn’t a jail that was going to hold Reginald and I’m to understand he seriously needed to be killed.  But, she wanted some information.”


“Whatever it takes.”  Barb whispered.


“Bethany Anne will do whatever it takes.”  Frank nodded.


“I can’t play it both ways.”  Barb looked down and played with the knife on the table.  “I want my nice and clean research job and then feel like I’m not responsible for the results my work causes.”


“If you own it, you sleep better.  But own it and choose to do it, or own it and choose not to do it.  But if you are a grown-up, you own it.”


She turned to face Frank a small smile on her face, “Where can I sign up?”


“Are you being a little spur of the moment, Barb?” Frank asked.


“Do I seem like a spur of the moment person to you?” Barb retorted, maybe a little more anger in her reply then she might have wished.


Frank took out his phone and sent a text message, it came back within seconds and Frank looked up. “Care to go to Argentina for a meeting with me?”


“Why?”  Barb asked, “Who’s in Argentina?”


“Michael.” Frank replied.












CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


Moon Base One - Dark Side of the Moon


Penn walked into the meeting container and grabbed a drink from the side table, “Damn, I’ll be happy when we have the next set of containers so we can get a bigger room.”  He took a sip and quickly pulled it back, “Who spiked the punch?”


“Ah, that would be me, sir.”  John Jensen spoke up from beside ReaLea, “I had a wee bit of single malt scotch and somehow I was carrying it all secure and then tripped and poured half the damn bottle in the punch bowl.”  His unrepentant smile let Penn know how sorry John really was.


Penn took another sip, “It’s good, but make damn sure you are able to function 24/7 because the boss can and will show up anytime, got me?”  John nodded so Penn moved down and spoke with everyone in the group.


Once he made it to the far side he turned around. “If I could get a little attention?”  He called out and the other six quieted down. “I want to thank all of you for a job well done!”  The cheers went up and then quieted down once again. “And a job ‘very fucking well’ done to Adarsh who made sure we kept half the world freaking out at the very end and then made the connection, thus saving the project, and was able to create instant Adarsh fans out of a million ladies!”  The ‘woohoos’ and cat-calls caused the normally shy Adarsh to smile and blush.


He raised his cup. “So, to you, to us and to Bethany Anne, we are on the moon and the aliens can have it when they pry it from our cold, dead fingers!”


If sound carried in outer space, they would have heard the tiny group back on earth.




Costa Rica


“Sir, we have a problem.”  The voice came over the line.


The person in charge of the black ops group went simply by Mr. Simmons.  “Yes?”


“Terry DeLeon has been found wandering around Washington D.C., sir.  He wasn’t in his right mind.”


“Oh?  Wasn’t Terry on vacation?”  Simmons was quickly trying to piece together why Terry would be in Washington unless he had a lead from the report that took him there.  Their last communication had him over in Colorado.


“Yes sir, he was on vacation.  However, the D.C. police picked him up when he was disturbing the peace.  He didn’t have any I.D. on him and no way for us to tell how he ended up where he was picked up.  That isn’t the most disturbing aspect of this story, sir.”  The voice admitted.


“Lay it on me, I’m sitting down.  What did Terry get into while on vacation?”


“He doesn’t remember. I’ve been in to talk with him.  He doesn’t remember his vacation, or me, sir.  At all.”


Simmons considered that answer.  Terry absolutely should remember one of his best friends in the group.


“Sir, one more thing.” The voice continued, “He keeps mumbling one phrase over and over.”


“Ok, what is it?” Simmons asked.


“Sir, his eyes keep darting left and right, like he’s seen something.  He keeps whispering, ‘the vampires are here, the vampires are here’!”





Shanghai, China


Ten hours after the world first heard about a set of containers going to the moon, Shanghai was astonished by two fast and bright shooting stars that lit up the night.  Then a third followed sixty-five seconds behind it.  The boom from the third passing through the atmosphere was felt for a hundred miles around the city.


As the first two asteroids passed through the atmosphere, three Pods were rocketing down from the heavens to stop a foot above the four story warehouse in the somewhat rundown and gritty district that Kamiko Kana was using as a base for now.


Darryl and Scott jumped out of the first Pod and moved quickly to place explosives on the roof above where they wanted to drop into the room below.  They had hopes that Kamiko Kana used the top floor, but Gabrielle doubted it.  She expected Kamiko to be on the third floor.


Vampires like her didn’t like to be up high and she wouldn’t be easily accessible on the first floor, either.


John and Eric were busy pulling extra weapons out of their pod.  The third held extras none of them could hold for the moment.


Gabrielle was buckling on her sword belt and then pulled the sword out.  Each of the four men had their special Bowie knives made for them for their first operation back in New York.


No one said a thing, the plans had already been laid.  Now if the bitch would just hold still long enough.


There is one thing you don’t do with an immortal who is an evil, lying sociopath with a god complex and that is allow her to live.  Michael had learned that the hard way.


Darryl and Scott were finished in record time and came back over to the Pods.  Everyone watched the heavens and seven seconds later, the third meteorite lit up the skies.


It was go time.


Darryl hit the switch and the explosion was just a another loud noise drowned out by the hellacious ‘boom’ from the final meteorite.


They would be cleaning up glass around Shanghai for a week from that pass.  They had to crash that meteorite at sea.  To the best of ADAM’s ability, it was planned to land where the fallout wouldn’t affect ships or boats out in the deep.  Most of the chunk of rock would have been burned up in the atmosphere, but they still crossed their fingers.


Before the fire had cleared from the explosion John was already running towards the new entrance.  He put a hand up in front of his face to block any pieces and then jumped feet first to land in a training dojo.  He rolled out of the way to allow the others to follow him.


Through the dust and smoke billowing in the air he found four men at the far window.  They had cranked down heavy duty metal blinds to see what the commotion was outside and looked shocked as the big man appeared from the new hole above.


By the time Eric landed, they had started to react.  Each had the sword they had been practicing with. They quickly raised them and started to race back towards the two.


Eric got his pistol up and scanned the area. There was only one person left to target, so Eric shot him in the belly first. Amongst the goodies Dan had sent there had been several Desert Eagle handguns chambered for .50 AE. The power of the 300 grain jacketed hollow point stopped the vampire cold and he crumpled like a puppet whose strings had been cut.


Eric swung around to check their six while Scott, Darryl and Gabrielle dropped in from the roof.


Darryl looked around in disgust, “Told you our fun was going to get cut short.”


Gabrielle went over to the four writhing on the ground.  “Watashi wa gaburieru gozen, Kamiko kana wa doko ni aru no?”  The first glared at Gabrielle and shook his head.


Gabrielle’s arm blurred and one head was separated from his body. She went to the second, “Watashi wa gaburieru gozen, Kamiko kana wa doko ni aru no?” She received the same response and she replied in kind.  The third was the same.


On the fourth, the man spoke before she could start her question, “Who do you represent?”


“I am here for Queen Bethany Anne.  Kamiko Kana has sealed her death.  The Queen’s Own are here to implement justice.”


“I will tell you if you let those who would change allegiance below live, but then you must absolve me of my dishonor!”  Gabrielle nodded her agreement. “She is below one floor.  Her personal chamber is on that…” He moved his head and eyes back to behind him, “side of the floor.”  The man closed his eyes and Gabrielle dispensed her end of the bargain.


She turned and cleaned her sword.  “We need another hole.”


Darryl popped Scott on the back, “The lady wants a door, let’s make the lady a door!”


Gabrielle turned, one eyebrow lifted, pointing “Stairs?”


John smiled, “On it.”  He and Eric started jogging over to the stairs, their weapons out and smiles on their faces.


“God, feels like old times.”  Eric said.


“Except these fuckers aren’t so crazy.”  John replied.


“You think?  You see how they didn’t hesitate to die for this bitch?”  Eric asked.


“And if that was you on the ground with someone asking you where Bethany Anne was?” John mentioned as they did a quick peek down the stairs to a door at the bottom.


“Well, they can have that information when they…”


The door opened cutting off Eric’s comment.

--


Kamiko Kana was looking out of the blinds at the mess she could see. She was to meet her Chinese cyber-intelligence contact for the third time in the early morning.  He had explained that his group was attacked and a lot of their abilities constrained in their first meeting.  Four days later, he admitted that they were having trouble communicating with the companies at all.  She would explain to him that he would provide a solution by evening or he wouldn’t be alive to eat supper.


She was still looking out when faint ‘cracks’ were heard above her through the concrete between the floors.  She had felt the building rumble as the third meteor blew over the city, causing windows to break in the shockwave.


Fortunately, her metal blinds would stop any sunlight from entering in the morning.


She turned around and walked to her door and opened it.  Four of her guards were at the other window looking out, two had turned around already as if they had heard something.


“See what is happening in the dojo,” She spoke to the two who had turned around.  They nodded and started for the stair’s door.  The first one opened it and stepped inside.  The second started to enter the hallway when his head exploded and both guard’s bodies were thrown backward into the room.


--


Darryl yelled out, “Fire in the hole!”  At the same time John and Eric started firing at the new targets entering the stairway.


“Good timing,” Eric mentioned.


--


Kamiko Kana turned to go back into her room when the ceiling above her bed exploded down in chunks of concrete, dust and dirt swirling around and making it impossible to see for more than a few feet.


This could not be happening again!  She snarled in anger and set her mind to walk through the Etheric to her escape room underground and a block over.


She never made it, she was pulled into a misty realm instead of her protected escape room.


Kamiko Kana’s blood ran cold as a woman’s voice spoke to her, “Welcome to my realm ... bitch!”


--


Bethany Anne was getting bored.  She wanted to just ‘peek’ out to see what was going on but constrained herself.


She was having another conversation with TOM about bad American cinema when she felt the Etheric twitch.


She immediately reached for the presence like she was grabbing ahold of a person and pulled.


A Japanese woman was immediately standing in the Etheric with her.  Bethany Anne moved herself to be nearby.


A smile on her face she spoke to Kamiko Kana, “Welcome to my realm, bitch!”


Kamiko Kana tried to remove the fear from her face before speaking but she didn’t get a chance to talk.


“Thought you would get away from the Queen’s Own by running again?  Is that how you intended to keep your royal crown?”  Bethany Anne moved around Kamiko Kana in a circle, causing her to constantly look back and forth to keep her in view. “You thought you would sacrifice person after person because you have revenge issues?  You thought you would try to hurt Michael because your mother was a backstabbing cunt?”


Bethany Anne stopped in front of Kamiko Kana who was trying desperately to overcome her sense of powerlessness.  She had tried to move, tried to do anything but she couldn’t.  There was a force keeping her right here in this realm between her room and her escape.  She looked into the red eyes of the woman in front of her and knew fear.


Knew it deep down in her heart.


“I’ve got news for you.  You ended your reign when you killed another vampire in cold blood.  You ended your freedom and opportunity for a trial when you targeted my Own.”


Bethany Anne paused and leaned forward, “But you sealed your death by wanting to take Michael from me!”  Bethany Anne stripped what Etheric power she could rip out of Kamiko Kana and pushed her violently back to the location she had come from.


Bethany Anne spoke to the mists, “Try leaving your people now, you fucking coward.”


--


Gabrielle waited for the dust to settle a bit and spied a place to land.  She jumped down and quickly looked around.  She spotted Kamiko Kana dazed against the door leading out to another other room.  It looked like she had hit her head against it and slid down.


Maybe she had been blown back from the blast?


Didn’t matter, Gabrielle walked towards her, “Kamiko Kana, The Queen has decreed your death and the Queen’s Own are oath bound to fulfill the Queen’s decree.”  Gabrielle barely paused as Kamiko Kana looked up at her with only half comprehension.  Gabrielle spit out, “I’d say this doesn’t give me any pleasure…”


Gabrielle swung her sword, cutting through Kamiko Kana’s neck and embedding it into the door behind her.  The decapitated head fell off and down to the floor rolling over two times before stopping. The blood pulsing from her neck went halfway up the door.


“But then I’d just be lying my ass off!”  Gabrielle finished.












CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


TQB Base, Colorado – USA


“What I’m thinking,” Lance told Kevin and Stephanie during a review of the base planning, “is that we need a bolt hole and a second location.”


“Bolt hole?” Stephanie asked.


“Yeah,” Kevin provided as he studied the map, “It means a way to exit out the back if it looks like your position becomes untenable.”


Lance looked over at Kevin who was oblivious to Lance’s stare. He turned to Stephanie, “Untenable is...”


She smiled, “I’m sorry, not to be disrespectful, but I know the word ‘untenable’.”


“Oh.”  Was all Lance had to say.  Kevin kept his mirth to himself.  He had already had ‘the talk’ from Stephanie about her English.  While she might occasionally get caught up by a few American phrases, she knew the language very well.


Kevin had decided to not make that mistake again.


Lance looked back down at the map.  Next time, he thought, I’ll let her ask for a definition before I assume.  “What I’m thinking is something obvious, say a few large items that have a little dirt on them so they are camouflaged and they run West as a decoy.  We will need something that allows us to move underground for a short way, then out towards the east.


“Why East?” She queried.


“Yeah, why East?” Kevin asked, looking up from the map.


“The Pods are too fast to really see.  We head across Denver then South before we hit Colorado Springs and then up into the atmosphere.  I’m going to assume that they have a cover above us in case we bolt straight up.”


“Unlikely they would hit us,” Kevin said.


“True, but that ordinance would eventually come down somewhere.  They aren’t going to be stupid enough to shoot over a city and they won’t have the ability to cover all the way southeast almost to Colorado Springs.”  He snorted, “Don’t need to go right over the Air Force Academy.”


“Ok, I need to build a tunnel out and camouflage the entry / exit.  What next?”


“Then,” Lance continued, “we need to make sure we have room for all of the base personnel and ways to get them under cover.  They would be considered non-combatants, but we can’t leave them unprotected.  Nathan is bringing us a group of Wechselbalg that are going to become base militia.  I understand that we have a group of vampires that just joined our team as well.  Make sure we have one of Bethany Anne’s landing rooms connected to this protected area.”


Kevin interrupted, “She isn’t thinking of translocating all of them, is she?”


Lance turned his glance to Kevin, “I know my daughter.  She doesn’t have to tell me to put the room there.  We either do it early or she will do something more drastic than try to pull them in groups out of there.  I’m not saying she will do it or that we will even need any of these preparations at all.”


Lance turned his head one way, then another while studying the map. “I’m thinking we need a way for the group to get out, so make sure the area that protects them has a way to the bolt hole.  Finally, we need to consider a second base.”


“Where?” Stephanie asked.


“Yeah, where?” Kevin spoke.  “I don’t think we are going to find another base here in America if they decide they want the lease revoked.”


“I’m thinking Australia.” Lance answered.


Stephanie looked over to him, “Really?”


Lance nodded, “Yes.  I’m thinking there are a lot of land parcels out in the outback we can use.  The guys doing the Moon Base One effort down in Paraguay got me thinking.  We have a lot of companies in Australia right now.  We buy some large patches of land and then move a shit-ton of base components in containers there at night.  Cover them with soil and done.”


Kevin didn’t know what to say to that.


“You are thinking a testing area for outer space?”  Stephanie asked.  Kevin looked at her surprised and then back to Lance with a question on his face.


Lance nodded, “I am.  I’m thinking we all need to think, and work, like we are already out there.  We need to plan this all as if we don’t have it, and we can’t get it from earth.  So, I need you two to work with Jeffrey and Michelle for food and water needs, Team BMW for the electricity etc.”


“What about security?”  Kevin asked.


Lance’s face became grim. “I’m torn on that one, Kevin.  On the one hand, we hide and hope we aren’t found.  On the other, we put up enough that we get warned and we bolt straight up.  From ground to space in a go.  On the last hand…”


Stephanie interrupted, “Wait, isn’t that three hands?”


Lance looked at her while Kevin said, “General’s prerogative, they take as many hands as they need.”


Lance continued, “On the third hand, we can try to build up another fortress that we really can’t defend against should the country come against us.  So, I’m thinking hide is better than outright defense.  We will need another group to run that base.”


“Should be easier to get people now.” Kevin said.


“Maybe,” Lance agreed, “But not everyone knows the reason we are doing all of this at the moment.  We are going to have a lot of people trying to get inside for their own reasons, spy, subterfuge, you name it.”


Kevin grunted, “Michael is not going to like this.”


“Yes, we are going to need another solution, or at least a better solution.  At some point, those two are going to get into a tiff and they won’t want to talk for a little while.”


“Two headstrong people?” Stephanie asked.


“No, two people in love always have a tiff.  It’s mandatory.”  Lance replied.


“Sounds like wisdom speaking.” Stephanie agreed.


Kevin chuckled, “Sounds like recent personal experience.”


Lance agreed, “Yeah. It was ugly.”


“When do we start?”  Kevin asked.


Lance looked at his watch, “I want you two to get together over lunch and think about all of the pieces that you need for a base.  Put those pieces into container sized parcels and then let’s review.  We will pull Jeffrey into that meeting.  Don’t forget to get with Tom about communications and computers and stuff.  He’s going to need some serious cooling in his area and air purification and creation is a big deal.”


Lance looked up to the two of them and grinned, “So, yesterday?”


The Dark Web


At seven minutes to midnight, in every time zone as the night rolled across the world certain hackers found their machines hacked.


If they had virtual machines, they were deleted.


If they had hidden server farms, they were trashed.


If they had emails to communicate back and forth, they were spammed.


The web was rife with noise, some of the chatter was reaching others who traveled the dark web, those who weren't into the despicable deeds of many who surfed the dangerous waters.


The muttering grew in intensity.  Certain groups found out about a lone vigilante taking on the terrorists by himself.


A name was whispered ... then spoken about. Finally, it was held up, like a beacon, by those who wanted society to move forward.  People who fought for what is right, even from behind a mask of anonymity.


The private messages were found out; the spammed emails were shared. Many who hated their darker cousins on the web were excited about someone new, a new lone ranger.


The message was the same, no matter the medium.


“I am watching you.

Where you go, I’ll find you.

Where you hide, I’ll seek you out.

Where you try to harm, I’ll fix it.

Where you live, I’ll find your address and release it.


MyNam3isADAM and you are my BITCH!”




Outside Denver, Colorado


Jonathan Silvers was drinking a whiskey, neat, in the small library in his ranch home in Colorado.  The house had seven rooms, but often seemed empty to him.  His wife had passed away and so he had focused his whole life on his son, Pete.


Almost to his death.


Trying to give his son everything, he almost failed to give him the one thing he needed the most in life. A chance to grow out of the stupidity of youth.


As the Pack leader here in Colorado, Jonathan hadn't worried too much about making sure Pete followed the Rules handed down by Michael so long ago.  Unfortunately, Pete thought the rules could be ignored with the same immunity he held for most of his misdeeds due to his father’s name and stature.


Until he made an almost fatal display of his Wechselbalg nature to two females in an effort to impress them in a drunken stupor one night. Fast forward a week of hell and worry culminating with Jonathan taking the biggest chance with Pete’s life he had ever done.


He had trusted a Vampire with his only son.


A son that had left a spoiled brat and was coming back as more than a man.  More than even the love of a father could possibly imagine. He had come back a leader, a protector, and the most rare of Wechselbalg - a Procilici.


Now, that same son was coming home.  Coming here to the house he had left as a spoiled brat, a child in an adult’s body.  Someone who had a death sentence hanging over his head and was too clueless about how the world worked to even know it.


A son who had been abandoned on the Tarmac of an airfield and left to suffer for the lack of discipline his father had failed to provide at home. A son who couldn't understand the love it took to watch his only child be slammed to the ground with a punch Jonathan could feel.  A son who, for the first time in his life, was feeling the repercussions for his own actions without dad there to ‘make it all better’.


A son who needed the love of an adult that wasn't his only parent and the discipline of a man willing to see something in a boy and do what was necessary each and every day to force the boy to grow a little more, seek a little more, want a little more.


To find love, love in the form of respect.  Love enough to stand toe-to-toe with a beast of a Werewolf and take excruciating pain because he refused to fail his queen, his people, and himself.


Jonathan thought about the story he had finally been told of Pete’s first time to transfer, the gift that same Vampire gave him. Gave him due to his own accomplishments and the trust in him that she had, having nothing to do with Jonathan himself.  How Pete had stood and taken the Vampire coming over the rail in his grip and slammed him down on the ship’s deck before killing him and becoming the first Wechselbalg to kill a vampire in combat in hundreds of years.


Again, Pete fought in Turkey with his team, beside Nathan Lowell and Ecaterina, with Bethany Anne and Michael against hundreds of Nosferatu and held.  He didn't run, he didn't waver.


Finally, to the night Jonathan came to grips with the fact that even the leader of all the packs in the Americas had to agree that Jonathan’s son was better able to protect him than Gerry himself.  Jonathan smiled back on that memory and how he had been proud of the man his son had become.


Now, his son was coming for a visit, in the dark of the night so the chance his craft would be seen was minimal.


It was at this time the doorbell rang and the front door opened and a deeper voice, a man’s voice came from the front, “Dad?” The voice called out.


Jonathan quickly finished his drink and stood up and wiped the tear away.  It was time Jonathan went and welcomed his son Peter home for the first time.




Emails to certain people across the world


This is a personal email for your eyes only. While I can’t, and won’t, stop you from sharing, sharing won’t help the Earth’s future.


We are doing this to protect the world from what is coming.


We are doing this to make a future for all.


We are doing this to stand our ground.


We are doing this apart from countries, from nationalities, from races, creed or color.  Neither sex, nor preferences nor religion will stop us.


We speak as one voice, with one goal and one focus.


We Will Build to Protect.

We Will Build to Prepare.

We Will Build to Progress.


If you are interested, Share #WEWILLBUILD on a social account.


If you do, then continue to watch this account.


Because if you do?


Then We Will Be in Contact.

Michael’s Notes (We Will Build - The Kurtherian Gambit 08):  Written April 21st, 2016 


Thank you, I cannot express my appreciation enough that not only did you pick up the EIGHTH book, but you read it all the way to the end and NOW, your reading this as well.


I’m writing this about 6 weeks and 3 days from the last release (Mar 7th).


Life is weird.  I had expected to test something with my books so that I could try to have a little ‘break’ between book 07 and book 08, which was put out a short story.  The goal was to do a little something specific to John Grimes (a fan favorite of both men and women fans) and to see if I could use a short story (and my fans) to market into a new area and pull some sales into the main story.


Further, it was to test the issue with falling off the ’30 day cliff’.  Basically, Amazon will push your book for a little while and then it lets the book sink or swim.  To ‘swim’ usually takes a fair amount of marketing effort.


Like, hours each day.


Hours I was thinking I could use for other things if…if maybe… I could keep releasing a book about every 3-4 weeks.  So, one big story, then a short between them and then the big story again.


It mostly worked except for two challenges.  The first challenge is myself.  I have the patience of a gnat and so when I finished the short story, I didn’t wait to put it ‘out’ in 21-28 days.  I released it about a week early against my stated plans.


Boy did I pay for that mistake, sort of.


Last week, the overall sales for my books went down on Wed / Thurs.  So much that I started advertising again on FB (which I hadn’t been doing).


The second challenge was I offered to help some authors if they felt what I was doing would help them.  I had been mentoring four (4) authors and thought that I would double that and be helping 8 authors.  I offered this on Kboards Writers Café Forum.


Within 3 days we were at 50…then 70…Now the FB group is over 130. Some of these are other major authors who are available to reach out for advice and some are representatives from companies (KOBO, Draft2Digital) that have agreed to be ‘in’ the group so we can send them questions easily.


Thank God!  This happened at the end of March while I went to Austin for an Author summit.  I would have melted if Scott Paul (T S Paul), Diane Velasquez and Dorene Johnson hadn’t agreed to help shoulder the administration duties while we grow and help me as we move over to another forum to help everyone as much as we can.


Part of the downside of this whole situation is I ended up getting on the radar of some petty ‘authors’ or frankly trolls.  I’ve had what are called drive-by-1-stars on my books and efforts to enhance the number of “this review was helpful to me” on the lower reviews to hurt me.  Fortunately, I had over a 100 reviews by this time so the effort (while a pain) isn’t a death hit.


Does it hurt my sales?  Probably a little (I’m totally guessing it might be 8-12% on the high side).  But in the end that person or people will have to look in the mirror at themselves.  The question will come up on how I know that the reviews are not legit?  Well, when they are 1-starring book 5 and talking about how they are complaining to Amazon about something we talked about on an AUTHOR’s forum?


Yeah, that’s another ‘author’, not a reader.


One of the gripes is that I have a line between my paragraphs.  Mind you, this is how I personally LIKE to read.  I like paragraphs with a line between them.  Does Amazon care? No.


So, screw them and the horse they rode in on.


So, I got caught up working with 100+ authors while needing to get this book out.  This is in a forum, so a lot of authors are helping each other – not me helping all of the time. I’m about a week beyond where I would like to be, but without the incredible support of this books beta readers and production editor (see them up front, THEY are the reason this book is in your hands so quickly) I would still be two weeks away.


Thank God for them!


Further, I screwed up.  Due to my poor handling of this stuff, dealing with personal support requests, and pushing on my writing, I failed to keep a good relationship with the Beta Readers and stumbled dealing with something that frankly wasn’t a big deal, but I succeeded in screwing it up anyway.  Fortunately, they are wonderful people and ... well, they are wonderful people.


That is why THIS BOOK is dedicated to them.


So, now the question gets begged (because, I’m willing to beg)… What am I doing as an Authoring Outlaw this time?


I’m adding a good amount of author’s you can reaad to the back of my book.  Why?  Because I can.  These are cool people and some of them are incredible writers.  Some, maybe not.  I did NOT limit who I would help.  I told them that my fans were chatting about what to read when they finished with my latest.  I told an author group my fans were incredibly cool people and would like to engage with authors and would they like to get a chance to introduce themselves?


Knowing that a lot of authors are introverts (I call it rejection adverse), I told them to just plug their information into my forum, and I would email my fans AND I would plug them all in my book.


Why?  Because you, me and these authors are all people making a new engagement reality for readers and authors.  Together.


I’m doing my dead level best to figure out what readers want / like / need and delivering it.  At the same time, I want to help those who deep in their soul want to make a living at writing a chance to do it.


They can’t make a living if no one is willing to give them a chance, a hand up and believe it or not every one of you reading this has allowed me the opportunity to give them that hand.


Why?  Because this book is going to sell 2,000 copies in the next two to three weeks.


That’s a number that is going to help more than one of these authors see something really, really cool.  Their sales take a pop up… Maybe a lot for some of them.


A couple of these authors are already big sellers and realize that sharing is caring.  Some will get ten sales and lay their head on the desk and smile to themselves with a tear coming out.


Trust me, it works exactly this way.


I did it, hell, I STILL do it.


Let me explain.


This is my 9th book (8 full books, 1 short story).  I’m about to start biting my nails in a few hours when I hit ‘publish’.  Then I’m going to fret and worry and agonize that this book SUCKS.  That the cover wasn’t right, that… well, you get the picture.


Then sometime in a few days or so, I’ll see some happy reviews and peek above the desk and go, “maybe that one was ok, they seemed to like it…”.  Only to bite my nails again in 5 weeks or so as I push out the next book.


I’m excited about this story.  This is the first book of the new arc.  It is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the next 7 and I like how it is shaping up.


Now, we have ‘more’.  More people, more activity, more bad-guys and more problems.  Because, without problems, we don’t have a story.


For those who are asking me ‘will my favorite character die’.  If you don’t know if they are living in the future?  They can die.  Unfortunately, these seven books get more dangerous… And then the final seven are … well… really tough.


Hold on to your hats during this arc.


Want to visit Maxwell’s in Sydney?  It is a real coffeehouse.  The owner (Pip) is a real person and she is a FAN   I asked her permission to use her café as a scene location and she not only gave me her permission, she helped with the book and is a HOOT to listen to.  If you have a minute, check out her FB page and “Like” It.


Let’s get Maxwells fans from AROUND THE WORLD.


She deserves it. She is a spunky woman who would fit right in Bethany Anne’s group.  Here is the link:   https://www.facebook.com/www.maxwellscafe.com.au/?fref=ts


As of right now, she has 82 Fans on the page.  What say we up that a few hundred?  Would you do that with me?  Then, in her comments occasionally make a mention that you love her allowingw Samuel and Richard in her place?  (By the way, no one killed there during the making of this book).


BTW – J.L. Hawk (Jordan) is a real author.  I sat next to her at Smarter Artists Summit and we were told by Boyd Craven (another author) about how he and a friend were ‘killing’ each other in their books.


So, I told Jordan I was killing her – right after I made her a prostitute!  She thought it was hilarious.  Here is her Amazon Author Page (complete with Pirate hat): http://www.amazon.com/Jordan-L.-Hawk/e/B00A2336YC/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1461294451&sr=1-1


Stop by and say ‘hi’ sometime!


P.S. - Thank you Emily Clair for requesting a resolution for Peter and his Father… It made me tear up.


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 and hang out with the other pitchfork and matches fans.

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


Want to know when the next book or major update is ready? Join the email list - Receive 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 & 123rf.com

(Sometimes better selection on www.dreamstime.com - TKG07)


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, April 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.

Third note: I’ve now had the pleasure of a trip to a Christian Louboutin store and watch my wife buy two (2) pairs… Oh [email protected] Crap… I needed a root beer float to deal with that.


;-)





Ready to read something? Authors Dropping In.


This is copied from my forum post here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/forum/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_fp_ef_tft_tp?ie=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2LGFPPMJOE6CZ&cdThread=Tx9MSJ0FBQAE8T


Ready to read something else?  Check out other Independent Authors :-)

(list in order of forum notes)


TS Paul


I write more classic Sci Fi. My series is the Athena Lee Chronicles.


It's about a female engineer on her first deployment who gets left behind after a big battle. She has to engineer a solution how to survive. My books have pirates, murder, ghost ships and lots of fun. Her sidekick is a <crazy> AI that thinks he is a famous VID star. On my blog is a weekly series called Wilson Wednesdays that highlight this AI and his adventures.


Check me out and have some fun. You can find me on Amazon here http://www.amazon.com/T-S-Paul/e/B01C7IPHYQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 or catch my Blog and my FREE short stories Here on my Blog http://tspaul.blogspot.com/


Art Deforest


My name is Art Deforest and I'm one of the many writers that Michael has helped. You can get my book here. Hunter's Home: Hunter's Saga Books 1-3


I'd love to hear from you. You can post to my Facebook page here. https://www.facebook.com/hunterssagabooks/


You can also check out my Author page here. http://amazon.com/author/artdeforest


Have a great weekend and happy reading.


Art DeForest


Jackie Dana


I'm a fantasy and sci-fi author in Austin, TX. My first novel, By Moonrise (http://www.amazon.com/Moonrise-Jackie-Dana-ebook/dp/B018TOPIR8/ ), is historical fantasy. In the novel, a young woman from our world gets caught up in a political firestorm involving an outlawed prince and discredited mages, and has to figure out who she can trust. Book 2, The Hidden Moon, will be out this summer. I'm also working on a time travel novel called In the Company of Outlaws.


In addition to writing novels, I'm also an author coach and freelance writer, and I'm working on a series of online courses to help people get through the book writing process.


You can follow me on Facebook (http://facebook.com/jackiedanawriter/ ) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/jadana17/ ) . My blog is at http://jackiedana.com . I'd love to hear from you!


Gary Jonas


Hey everyone! I want to start by thanking Michael for inviting a bunch of us to post here. He rocks!


As for me, I'm the author of the Jonathan Shade urban fantasy series (as I type this, there are seven novels and a spin-off book with book eight coming later this month--my editor is working her magic). If you like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, you'll enjoy Shade. In the SF field, I have a space opera novel called Pirates of the Outrigger Rift, which I wrote with my friend Bill D. Allen (who recently released a fun sequel), and a UFO conspiracy adventure called Guardians of the Sky. You can check out my Amazon page here: http://www.amazon.com/Gary-Jonas/e/B0050651V2


I enjoy interacting with readers on my Amazon forum too. Thank you for your time, and read on!


Kelly McClymer


I'm Kelly McClymer and I write in whatever genre takes me. I have some mother-focused short science fiction/fantasy on Kindle Unlimited if anyone is on there and wants to check out my take on the unique madness that motherhood can inflict on us (based on true stories...well, sort of :-) My Amazon page is http://www.amazon.com/Kelly-McClymer/e/B001KI7DRE/ I am also working on what I'm calling EverTwixt an immersive storyverse. It will be transmedia, but right now we're just beginning to look for our ideal readers in order to build our immersive storyverse community. The serial episodes and stories will be available for sale outside the storyverse. As for a good book recommendation (other than Michael's of course) is The Girl With All the Gifts. I loved that one and it is classic SF, with zombies in a way you've never read them before.


Garon E. Whited


All you had to do was ask. Authors love to write stuff. We're weird like that.

My suggestion, naturally, is "Nightlord: Sunset," the first book in the "Nightlord" series.

The basic premise is that we have Eric, a fairly normal guy, who gets sucked into the world of vampires, mythology, and epic fantasy. It has something of a Connecticut Yankee feel to it--modern man meets myths--but is mainly an action-adventure, with elements of urban fantasy and comedy.


My favorite description of it was "The love child of Anne Rice and Terry Pratchett was raised by Arthur C. Clarke." That may tell you something.


Links:

Nightlord: Sunset

http://www.amazon.com/Garon-Whited/e/B00IX0NER0

https://www.facebook.com/garon.whited


Please note that I have a terrible time with Amazon's forums. If you want me, feel free to email me or Facebook at me. I'm much more likely to see those! And if I -see- an email or message or something, I have this strange urge to -answer- it...


Kevin Tumlinson


There are some amazing authors popping in here from the Smarter Artist Summit, and I'll be checking out some of their work myself (if I haven't read it already)! I'm thrilled to be among these incredible talents.


I'm a speculative fiction author, mostly writing science fiction and recently dipping into thrillers. You can connect with me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kevin.tumlinson and you can find a LOT more about me (and get some free books) at http://kevintumlinson.com


My first series generally fits the military scifi genre, and still gets a lot of love from readers as being fast-paced and fun to read: Citadel: Omnibus: The Complete Citadel Trilogy


I'm personally more of a fan of contemporary scifi and fantasy, putting average, modern-day people in fantastic situations. One of my most recent books was Evergreen-a contemporary scifi thriller that some people have described as "Bourne Identity meets Limitless." Probably my favorite book to date: Evergreen


If you'd like to sample some shorter fiction that gets a lot of reader love, I have several novellas available -- Tin Man is a military scifi story in a post-apocalyptic universe, and Edge is ... different. I love them both, and get tons of comments from readers: Tin Man and EDGE: A Novella


Looking forward to connecting with new authors and readers, so come on by and say hello!




Felix R. Savage


Hey all! Massive thanks to Michael for giving us this chance to connect. I'd like to post an open call for readers of smart, twist-packed science fiction. Think Iain M. Banks, Ann Leckie, Gavin Smith, and Charles Stross. If you like any of these writers, I'm betting you'd enjoy my work. Here's The Galapagos Incident: A Space Colonization Thriller (The Solarian War Saga Book 1). If you hate it? Your money back. Oh wait. No money involved. It's FREE :) there are now six books in the Solarian War Saga, and as we speak I'm about to publish the seventh and last. Click over to my author page and you'll find a link to get the prequel, Crapkiller: A Space Colonization Thriller (The Solarian War Saga), free, too!


I lay claim to being the most rabid Iain M. Banks fan in Japan. I'm also the grouchy servant of two cats, proud parent of a four-year-old, and a determined basher of drums. I'm looking forward to getting to know you, so let's do this! www.felixrsavage.com or stop by https://www.facebook.com/felixrsavage and share YOUR favorite science fiction reads.


Craig Martelle


Thanks Michael - shout out to him for putting together a small group of independent authors so we can help each other.


Anne McCaffrey and her DragonRiders of Pern was a great influence for me, along with the works of James M. Ward. I write in Anne's style, clean language with deep characters and a consistent story line. My The Free Trader of Warren Deep (Free Trader Series Book 1) is about a man and his bonded Hillcat, a bioengineered creature that can talk over a mindlink. Our hero is determined to set up free trade south of the Great Desert, but humans and other mutants stand in their way. The Free Trader of Planet Vii (Free Trader Series Book 2) and Free Trader Series Book 3 should be available by April 15th, 2016. Three books in this series and it is going strong - there are plenty of stories remaining. One reviewer suggested twenty books worth.


I also write the Rick Banik Thriller series, a techno thriller for a new era. Rick is connecting the dots, painting a picture, but at every turn, the intelligence community fights with itself, seeking personal glory, then the truth. Can Rick save them from themselves in time to intercept a terrorist plot against Washington DC? Look for this series starting in May 2016!


Join my mailing list to learn more (no spamming, one or two emails a month is all, I promise) or just stop by my website or Facebook and say hello.

http://www.craigmartelle.com/contact-us

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCraigMartelle/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel


I'm retired from the Marine Corps and live in Fairbanks, Alaska, a slice of paradise frozen in time.


Marlayna Glynn Brown


Thank you for the invitation, Michael!


Under my real name, Marlayna Glynn Brown, I have a set of seven memoirs. If you enjoy true tales of overcoming adversity (my first, Overlay: A Tale of One Girl's Life in Las Vegas, garnered an award in this category) and surviving against the odds, you will enjoy these reads. They're all true.


Under my pen name, MG Sanders, I'm busy creating a psycho-thriller series narrated by a ghost. Other characters include a serial killer, cannibal and siren, just to name a few. Check out The Vigilant if you like creepy stuff. Book One is out, and Book Two will be out within the month.


I'm having a great time making stuff up under my pen name. I couldn't kill characters in my memoirs, though I really wanted to.


In real life, I'm a parent to seven, including teenage triplet stepchildren. The kids created the characters in The Vigilant, which was a blast weaving such a disparate group together into one story!


Thanks!


https://www.facebook.com/Marlayna-Glynn-211772872275744/

https://www.facebook.com/authormgsanders/




Scott Moon


Thanks, Michael.


My name is Scott Moon, and I am new to this type of forum, so please forgive me if I seem like I have never been to town before. I just read through the comments above and there are a lot of books I need to add to my list!


Currently, my science fiction is military adventure. My favorite stories growing up were Dune, Star Ship Troopers, and Aliens (had to throw a movie in there, sorry). I would love for everyone to check out Enemy of Man (The Chronicles of Kin Roland Book 1)


I am looking forward to this forum!


https://www.facebook.com/scottmoonwriter/

http://www.scottmoonwriter.com/


EE Isherwood


Thanks for the opportunity to share my universe. Michael has given me advice on lots of things, but always the most important lessons are how to connect with readers.


I write as author E.E. Isherwood [http://amazon.com/author/eeisherwood] and currently I have 3 books in my Sirens of the Zombie Apocalypse series which is a cozy myster--nah, it's zombies LOL. My influences are books like Earth Abides, Lucifer's Hammer, and The Stand, meaning I like to study the breakdown of things and watch how my characters interact with the end of the world. The first book Since the Sirens: Sirens of the Zombie Apocalypse, Book 1 is about a fifteen-year-old boy and his 104-year-old great-grandmother as they decide to make a "run" for it out of the city. I'm currently writing book 4, Last Fight of the Valkyries: Sirens of the Zombie Apocalypse, Book 4, which releases April 28, 2016.


If you'd like to join my mailing list, I'd be happy to have you. http://zombiebooks.net/subscribe/

I'm also on FB if you want to interact directly. https://www.facebook.com/sincethesirens/


I live in St. Louis, MO. My books take place in St. Louis as well. When I'm not writing I'm usually training for marathons. My daily runs are where I think of ideas. I take rule 1 (Cardio) very seriously!


Thank you,


EE


Ben Hale


NOTE: Ben named everyone at the artist summit (2 days, he learns over 100 names) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBjQy2vae40&app=desktop


Thanks for the invite Michael! It was a pleasure meeting you at the Summit. I write Timeline Fantasy, which blends Epic Fantasy with Urban Fantasy. I currently have 13 books that span 3 series and 10,000 years. My first series is the epic fantasy and starts with Elseerian: The Second Draeken War #1 (The Chronicles of Lumineia: The Second Draeken War series). and is a qualogy. My second series is the urban fantasy and takes places 10,000 years later, where the fantasy world has evolved into modern day Earth. That series starts with The Last Oracle: The White Mage Saga #1 (The Chronicles of Lumineia). My third series is based on a warrior rock troll, and is starts with The Flesh of War (The Warsworn Book 1). Readers can start at any series, especially if you are in KU since all 13 titles are in the catalog. I hope you enjoy them, and feel free to connect with me on Facebook at Facebook.com/Elseerian, or on my website at www.Lumineia.com, where you can sign up for my free starter library. Happy reading!


Victoria


My name is Victoria and I write paranormal and urban fantasy. I am new to self-publishing and will be releasing the first book, plus a short story, in my Independent Necromancers' Bureau series very shortly.


I look forward to connecting with people here and cannot thank Michael enough for all the inspiration and help he is sending my way (Thank you Michael).


Mari Oliver


Yes, thank you, Michael! Being an Indie is totally about community and you're a fine example of that. :)

Hi, everyone. I'm Mari Oliver, author of myth based fantasy. The first book in my Monster Mythos series, Forest Spirit, will be going live on May 9th. For more information on this project, please visit my website www.marioliver.weebly.com. I'm also on Twitter @mythobooks. At the moment, I'm creating an ARC list so if anyone is interested in reading the book for free in exchange for a review you can reach me at [email protected] :D


Renee Pawlish


Hi,

I'm Renee Pawlish and I'm an author and recently met Michael. What a great guy to help authors connect with readers :)


I primarily write private eye mysteries, so it may not be to the taste of this group, but I do also have a paranormal mystery/horror novel (or I guess it maybe could be urban fantasy?), called Nephilim Genesis of Evil. The premise of Nephilim is "What if the Nephilim, who are half man, half fallen angels that are mentioned in Genesis 6, still exist today and they try to take over a small Colorado mountain tourist town."


Here's my author page with a list of all books:


http://www.amazon.com/Renee-Pawlish/e/B0058PXUPO/


If you'd like to connect with me, my Facebook page is www.reneepawlish.com/reneepawlish.author


The first book in my first book is free on Amazon, called This Doesn't Happen In The Movies.


This Doesn't Happen In The Movies: A Reed Ferguson Mystery (A Private Investigator Mystery Series - Crime Suspense Thriller Book 1)


Thanks so much!

Renee


Jim Johnson


Hello, everyone. Thanks so much to Michael for inviting other authors over here to chat with you all. I'm Jim Johnson and I'm a sci-fi/fantasy writer. The book series I'd most recommend people check out is Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series, starting with Camber of Culdi. The series is so detailed, it's more like historical fantasy than straight-up fantasy. Really good, deep reads.


As for me, I've written stories for Star Trek anthologies and a lot of pen and paper RPG companies, and I've published three episodes of a fantasy weird western titled Pistols and Pyramids, essentially a spaghetti western with ancient Egyptian elements and magic and lots of mummies. I'm working on an urban fantasy trilogy now that'll be released this summer, and have a lot of other books in the pipeline.


First episode of P&P is free all this weekend: Ranger of Mayat (Pistols and Pyramids Book 1)

My author page: http://smile.amazon.com/Jim-Johnson/e/B0172BELMM/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

You can also find me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/scribeineti


Would love for folks to stop by and say hello and chat about your favorite westerns and sff reads and whatever else is going on.


Thanks again for the opportunity, Michael!


Sam Witt


Hi, folks! I was lucky enough to meet Michael in Austin a few days back and he graciously invited me to come and tell you a little bit about my books.


My first series takes place in Pitchfork County, Missouri, and is most easily described as Justified meets Lovecraft. One man and his cursed family must make a stand against the meth, mad gods, and mayhem when the supernatural world takes aim at America's heartland. The first couple of books in the series are available for free, so if you're into Urban Fantasy with a horror twist, grab 'em! Pitchfork County (5 Book Series)


My second series takes place during a slowpocalypse. It's a serial tale with new episodes coming out every two weeks. You can check out the first two books here: The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 1: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1 and The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 2: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1


You can keep up with me at my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/SamWittWrites/ where I periodically give stuff away, invite folks to read sneak peeks of new books, and have a good time chillin' with my readers.


Thanks again Michael, and I can't wait to talk to everyone!


H. Claire Taylor


Hi folks!


I'm H. Claire Taylor. Big shout out to Michael for being a good human being.


I got picked on a lot in middle school, so now I write comedy novels. My most recent book is A Single's Guide to Texas Roadways, a comedy about a young woman who drives around the Lone Star State in search of love or whatever. Mostly whatever. If that's not your thing, I suggest Wimbledon, Kentucky, a political/media satire that's a quick read for a night in. I also have a new comedy series coming out this summer called Jessica Christ, which is basically what it sounds like. If you're not already offended, maybe check out my stuff and consider joining my email group, where I send readers free chapters of my dystopian adventure comedy, Vestigial Vertigo, and try to not upset people into unsubscribing.


Let's be friends ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

www.hclairetaylor.com

www.facebook.com/authorhclairetaylor


Gerald M. Kilby


COLONY ONE MARS: A SciFi Thriller


Three years after all contact is lost with the first colony on Mars, a new mission arrives to investigate. It's not long before Biologist, Dr. Jann Malbec, begins to uncover a deadly secret. One that threatens not just the crew but everyone on Earth.


'Probably the best read I've had since "The Martian"...' Amazon Review.


You can connect with me on geraldmkilby.com


Enjoy!


Ben Lovejoy


Thanks for the invitation, Michael.


Hi everyone, I'm Ben Lovejoy and I write technothrillers. My approach is to start with an impossible 'what if' scenario, then figure out how it could be achieved. In 11/9 (http://amzn.to/1AonGhu), the impossible scenario was: what if terrorists could simultaneously crash every airliner in the skies? In The Billion Dollar Heist (http://amzn.to/1JkxIZN), it was: what if a gang of robbers could steal a billion dollars of the most heavily-guarded cash in the world and get clean away?


The fun part is, at the outset, I have no more idea than you do how it could be done! Along the way, I consult experts who usually respond with another dozen or so reasons it couldn't be done. I then cruelly throw the problems back at them and ask 'Ok, but if there were a way to do it, what would it be?'. We have fun - and readers seem to enjoy the results.


I don't want to spam the group, so if you'd like a free review copy of either, just email [email protected] letting me know which one you'd like. There's no obligation, but if you enjoy the book and would be willing to post an Amazon review, that's always much appreciated.


Ben


Jacob Stanley


Thank you for the opportunity Michael.


My name is Jacob Stanley. I'm an author specializing in "weird fiction," which is sort of a cross between fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Most of the stuff I've written so far has a definite emphasis on horror, but there's a lot of fantasy mixed in too. The science fiction is a little less prominent but it's there, under the surface.


Right now I'm working on two series at same time, but I'm currently tweaking one to redistribute it in a different way, so only one of them is available to download. My "Titan's Song" series mixes Lovecraftian horror with dark urban fantasy. The first book is titled titled: "She Kills,."


All my books share a common universe, and if you read them you'll find certain connections here and there, so if you like one series, you might enjoy the other as well, even if it has some significant differences.




Victoria St. Clair


Hi, I write in the Fantasy genre and a reader actually recommended I find you and post here because they thought you'd enjoy my books. I have a few series out, the most popular being The Broken Prism series. It's sort of in the genre of Harry Potter, though not a clone, so if you have readers who are interested please check it out!


J. L. Hendricks


Hi Everyone,


My Name is J.L. Hendricks and I am a new author. I started out as a beta reader for Michael and he helped me get started with my own series. Book is called Eclipse of the Warrior, The Interdimensional Saga and it went up on Amazon yesterday. Here is the link for book 1: Eclipse of the Warrior: The Interdimensional Saga (Book 1)

Book 2 is up for presale now as well. :)


You can find me most of the time on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/100011419945971


And check out my blog, i will be posting outtakes and shorts from by books for every 25 reviews I receive: https://jlhendricksblog.wordpress.com/blog/


Added on 4/10/2016 - I read what Ben said below, and so if you would like to write of review of my book, continue on to the very end of the story and a page will pop up (if you are reading in a Kindle device or the Apple Kindle app, not sure about computer reading), and then you can choose the stars for my book 1-5 and write your review. :) All authors rely on reviews. Amazon actually promotes the books that have more reviews. I think the threshold is 50 (but don't quote me on that). So if you want to help an author out, posting a review on Amazon of their book is very much appreciated. :)


And Ben, thank you for using the link to my book as your sample below! ;)


I hope you enjoy my book and feel like chatting!


J.L. Hendricks




Bradford Bates


Hey, all I'm Bradford Bates Author of the Ascendancy Legacy (and Origins) series. You can visit my website bradfordbates.com, or drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter. I've been doing Urban fantasy since I started writing but this summer I'll be releasing my first Science Fiction series. I'm really looking forward to it. It's been a blast storyboarding for the new series, and I;; be starting on it as soon as I finish book three in the Legacy Series.


Andrew Dobell


Hi


I'm Andrew Dobell. I'm a new Author and have released my first book and have my second on Pre order.


My first books belong to a series called The Magi Saga, which is an Urban Fantasy Series following my main character Amanda as she discovers a world of Magic, wonder and danger hidden all around her.

Book 1 is here; Epic Calling (The Magi Saga Book 1)

Pre Order book 2 here; Shadows of Darkness (The Magi Saga Book 2)


Here's my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/andrewdobellauthor/


I've love to hear what you think if you read my book!

Thanks.

http://www.andrewdobellauthor.co.uk/


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