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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 28, Before The Storm

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

Before the Storm

Primary Listening Post, Border Space between Realm and HFSS

 

“What do you mean the Armada appears to be ramping up?” Charlie Girard asked.

Haj Khalof shook his head. “They’re scrambling. Maybe a manoeuvre?”

“I’ll bet they’ve figured it out,” Rena Norton said. “Who ever is behind the attacks, they are about to get seriously spanked.”

“Sir? It’s not just the Armada, it’s the Ships of the Line Fleet as well. There seems to be a mass deployment. Leaves are being cancelled across the Realm.” Haj Khalof was unscrambling incoming messages.

“Has to be manoeuvres? Right?”

Charlie sat back in his chair. What, By the Black, was going on? The Realm wasn’t nicknamed the Umbrella for nothing. 

“You have a comm from Lord De La Roche,” Rena Norton said. Charlie took his seat and motioned for the comm to be put through.

“Lord De La Roche, so good to hear from you. Is all well?”

“Yes, thank you. I hope you too are well, Mr. Girard?”

“Yes, thank you. Please, call me Charlie. To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”

“I would like to make a request, on behalf of our mutual acquaintance, Mr. Alex Hunter.”

“How is he doing? Last I heard there were some issues.” Charlie smiled. By the Enlightened, he’d love to debrief Alex Hunter, but there was no way the Vamps were letting that gem go.

“It would appear that Mr. Hunter is recovered from the incident.”

“Really? That’s excellent news, Lord De La Roche. Excellent.” Went from fried to fine in what, four rotations? Just for sex, hmm?

“Yes, it is. Unfortunately, due to the nature of his injuries he must be re-certified in his field. Though it can be done here, it would simply have to be redone for the HFSS. I was hoping that you could aid Alex in his quest to make his trip on the Jules Verne. He is a remarkable young man. He has worked very hard to get this opportunity.”

Charlie tilted his head, was George De La Roche, Dark Lord, asking him for a favour? Time to push. “He is indeed an exceptional young man. I’ve been looking forward to renewing our friendship. He seems to have such an unusual perspective. I agree that it would be a shame if he lost out on this opportunity. But someone with his skills, no doubt, would find others.”

On the comm pick up Lord De La Roche shifted slightly. “Mr. Girard, Charlie, I would take it as a personal favour, if Alex Hunter was able to make his own choices in these matters. I have spent some time with him and he is somewhat unaware, one would go so far as to say naive, as to the grander machinations of the universe around him.”

“I have suspected as much, but others might call me naive, if I didn’t take the time to personally look into Mr. Hunter’s well being. As you say, he has been through a lot.”

The silence lasted only a matter of seconds. Lord De La Roche’s blue grey eyes seemed filled with … worry? Then they were again inscrutable. Charlie could almost feel the moment when the much, much older man came to a conclusion, he gripped the arm rest as he keep his face impassive and calm.

“You fill the shoes of your successor well. It is the small lives, those too unimportant, and too many to know, that people like us use to justify our actions, even our lives. For the good of the many. Alex is, was, someone unimportant, those like him are truly the ones we work for. That our work protects.”

Charlie shifted. He had used such justifications himself … too many times. “Sadly, sometimes we must ask great sacrifices from those many, so that the rest can keep their small lives. Sometimes, they must be pulled into our world, Lord De La Roche. For the greater good.”

“As you may have seen, the Grand Armada is forming. Soon, within the week, it will be reformed into three fleets and depart by the twenty-first. The three will include all the primary and secondary Ships of the Line Fleet. The matter is of the utmost importance.”

Charlie couldn’t breathe. What De La Roche had just said was madness. The Umbrella was effectively closing. The Umbrella that protected the worlds of the HFSS, the Calhabah Collective, the Free Systems and a large section of the Corporate Sector. Not to mention the thousands of systems with colonies and the areas controlled by the Warlords, the Czars, the Wilds and even some of the Enlightened Systems.

Not counting the spectrum that made up the Hominid races, there was another twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? Sentient species that had agreements with the Realm. Agreements that brought stability, and safety to trillions upon trillions of lives.

“Lord De La Roche—”

“Call me George, Charlie, please.”

Charlie couldn’t, didn’t want to believe what George had just said. “George, what the frack is going on? I mean, you’re saying two million ships are about to disembark from the Realm and go where?”

George’s smile didn’t build confidence.

“Actually, two point seven million. We are hoping most of them make it back.”

Charlie was happy he was sitting down for that tidbit.

“You see, Charlie, we are imperiled. In roughly two to three thousand years, the Realm will be no more. The Old Enemy has outmaneuvered us. We are, as the saying goes, with our backs against the wall.”

Charlie glanced up. The whole room was silent, some people were standing, everyone was staring. A few looked like they were about to either cry or faint.

“George, a couple thousand years is a long time. I’m sure we could lend a hand.”

“Forgive me for my bluntness. You forget, for us, a thousand years is but one generation.” George shook his head. “I am trusting you, Charlie. I do not doubt that you will disseminate our conversation. It is expected. Alea iacta est, as they say. We will have success or we will have failure, either way we will not go quietly into the night.”

What about the rest of us? “Thank you for the heads up, George. I’ll look into the issue with Mr. Hunter. And, I’m also wishing you and yours success as well as speed.”

George nodded and commed off.

The room exploded into noise. Charlie sat. How in the name of Hell, had they not seen this coming? The old enemy …

“Sir?” The room had gone quiet. Alena Kabir was standing at her desk. She had dark hair, eyes and skin that came from mod. The kind of darkness that always made him think of cocao. “Sir, what do we do?”

Every eye was on him. “First, we report. The Security Council needs this ten minutes ago. Next, we get ready to deal with what’s coming. I want scenarios within four hours. Ling, I need an emergency request for a meeting of Chambers. We’re already on our way, we just doubled the agenda.”

Charlie stood. He would make his reports from his office secured comm. “Oh, Valentina?”

The small Asian woman stopped staring into space and blinked as she ‘came’ back to the room from cyberspace. “Sir?”

“Find out where the nearest Certification facilities are. We need to get Mr. Hunter to his flight.” Kinda wish I was going with him.

 

* * *

“Any news?” Alex asked Ms. Edwards. The butler shook her head. With a frown, Alex entered the dining room. He’d caught a few hours of sleep and showered only after Kelvin and Johanna had found him fast asleep while running a maintenance cycle.

Kelvin had been stunned at what Alex had achieved. He’d been explaining it to three engineers when Alex, with Johanna at his side, had left the garage. George and Claudette were still out. Working on something big, by the tension in the Castle. Then Johanna had gotten the news. Dani was not with her parents.

Alex, it turned out, had been the last person to see her. Which made no sense to him. He’d talked to the Armorium, Alex shivered at the memory. The man looked like the vids of what Vampires were supposed to look like. Apparently, he had a condition.

Dani was missing.

Alex stared down at the piece of toast.

“You have to eat, sir.” The young man said as he poured Alex a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. It flowed like blood into his glass.

“Thank you.” Dani is missing.

“Dex!”

Alex spun as one of the gardeners ran into the room. “Hey, Alex. Did you guys hear? We are going to war.”

Alex stood. “Is it because of Dani? Because of the attack?”

“I do not … I do not know what is going on. Look, we will not speculate, okay. We will just get it wrong.”

Dex put down the pitcher. “Damn Lakosh.”

“I do not think so. It is something else. Maybe the Old Enemy? Look, I got to talk to my dad and mom.” Then the young man was gone.

Alex made his way back to the workshop. “Open sesame.”

“Alex.”

He turned. Abby was smiling nervously at him. “Hey, Abby.”

“Can I see what you have done?” Her smiled vanished and reappeared rapidly.

“Sure. Do you like engines?”

“I prefer to fly. I want to be a pilot, well, when I am older.” Abby wrapped her arms around Alex’s right arm and leaned in close. “The House comes first, etcetera, etcetera.”

“I thought the old enemy is the Lakosh?”

“What? Oh, no. The Old Enemy are the Lords of Enlightenment, but they are gone, at least they are not around here anymore. We chased them off a long time ago. We will outlast them, that is what everyone says.” Abby had stopped them on the stairs. The doors whooshed open.

“Hey, Alex—” Kelvin froze then faster than Alex could believe the young man was standing in front of them. “Hey, Abby, what are you up to?”

“You had your chance!” Abby snapped then stomped into the workshop.

“Um, what did she mean by that?” Alex asked. still rattled by Kelvin’s sudden speed. Vampires, Alex, Vampires, Theresa’s voice whispered through his mind.

“Ah, puberty, the age where reason is the undiscovered country.” Kelvin walked Alex toward a group of three men and two women. They were excitedly going over his changes to the LQ 9. “May I introduce the primary engineering team behind Knight Industries. They are here for your demo, Alex.”

“Sir?”

Alex turned, Dale was holding his PC and DataBox. It was clear by the looks that the geers were excited to have access to his data.

“Thanks, Dale.” Alex took the equipment. He wished that George was here. Alex sighed as he interfaced his DataBox with the Luminosity, who he really wanted here was Dani.

 

* * *

North Continent, Armed Forces Base, Albion, Realm System

 

The hover car joined a long line waiting to land at the Armed Forces Base. Jason hadn’t realized the bases were so busy. Below them, as they slowly moved forward, the land was a patchwork of fields and wooded squares. In the distance he could see the Ursula Reserve. Jason smiled, sixty years ago he’d spent four weeks hiding out about two thousand miles west of here. “Oops.”

“Sir?”

“Nothing, Cromby.” He was in the military now, didn’t they use klicks? What was that? He did the conversion in his head. About thirty-two hundred kilometres. Jason bit his lip. For a moment he had been back at Castle Ignes, sitting next to his father as he went through the math of how to convert from one system to another, they had made a game of it.

As the hover car moved slowly forward, Jason saw an ancient House rise from a tree covered hill. He snorted, no Vampires lived there anymore. It would be housing or something. There hadn’t been real Vampires living in the old Hill Estates for three thousand years. Or perhaps, like Carly Jones, some were descendants whose only Vampire genetic remnant was good hair and a longer than average life expectancy.

Finally they landed. Cromby handed the hover car over to a kid at the motor pool. What was it, take your kid to work day? The kid’s shoulder badge said cadet, Jason did a double take, yup, a cadet. They walked toward a line of men and women in uniform, though far too young for Jason’s liking, none of their shoulder badges read Cadet.

“This way, Sir.” Jason shook his head, he’d given up trying to get Cromby to stop calling him Sir. He followed the younger man past the lines to a large building. In front of which at least thirty men and women in civilian attire were standing, neatly spaced. They might not be Cadets, but they still looked like kids to him.

Cromby walked up the steps and Jason followed him inside. More people were lined up inside, than out. Jason realized they were signing up to serve. Idiots. Going down a hall and around a corner they came to another line. Jason was looking at the men and there were only men, in this line.

There must be a seniors buffet, because that was the only thing that made sense. There wasn’t one without grey hair or dyed hair, or no hair. He wouldn’t put any of them under two hundred. Since two fifty was the average age of death in the Realm for non-Vamps, this lot couldn’t be here for Service.

“Sir.”

Frowning Jason followed Cromby through another side hall, this time, there were men and women in white coats. Doctors. Oh, what joy! Time for the full physical.

He found himself in line with younger men than those he’d passed. They were putting their belongings into large containers and stripping off their clothes. Jason put his bag into the box given to him, followed by his jacket, shoes, socks and shirt. Pulling off his t-shirt he noticed a double look from one of the attendants.

Jason glanced down at his arm. Damn tats were showing through again. It wasn’t his House tat that was going to give him trouble.

“Hi! I’m Dex. Dex Weaver.” The kid in front of him had turned around. His eyes saw Jason’s arm tattoo. “You are a Vampire?”

“How old are you?” The kid couldn’t be shaving yet.

“I’m twenty-one.” The kid puffed up his chest. “I enlisted today.”

“Your parents okay with that?”

That took the strength from the kid’s body and the fact that he was only wearing underwear didn’t help. Clearly mommy and daddy were not happy. “Why?”

“To fight the enemy. My parents immigrated. I know how it is out there. I have been to Eden.” He spoke the last with a worldly flair.

“Eden’s a radioactive smoking ruin, Dex.” Jason raised an eyebrow.

“New Eden.” Dex rolled his eyes. “Have you ever left the Realm?”

Jason snorted. “Oh, yes.”

They were moving forward now. Sure enough, a Doctor Tyler motioned him to follow. The older man didn’t look much younger than the men out in the hall. Had to be a buffet line.

Jason stepped into the scanner. There was a quiet hum then the machine whirled around once and was done. A nurse entered the room, the man smiled as he took blood and did a mouth swab, then left, leaving behind the strong scent and taste of steriliser.

“You have fed recently, good.” The doctor was looking at his tablet as he put on his white gloves. “Open your mouth please.”

The rubber tasted funny, the smell of the powder was chalky and tickled his nose. Jason looked anywhere than at the doctor and gripped the metal bed frame behind him, tightly. He flinched when the man used his thumbs to push on his two upper soft palette glands. The pressure sending jolts of painful sensation through his body.

Jason mumbled ‘no’ around the man’s hands to the questions about pain, fluid build up, headaches, lack of drop control, spasms, premature envenomation, leaking, and bleeding gums. Finally the doctor leaned forward and sniffed Jason’s breath. He seemed concerned.

“When was your last checkup?”

“It’s been a while.”

“Would you say more than five years? Ten? Longer than twenty? How long?”

Jason hated shrugging and feeling guilty. What was it about anyone in a white lab coat that made it hard for him to lie? “Last time I saw a real doctor I was fourteen.”

“I take it you saw him for what happened with your mouth?”

Jason nodded.

“There should have been follow up appointments.” Doctor Tyler just looked at him a moment. Then he went to his cupboard. He picked up his tablet and a small case of some kind. “I am surprised you claim there is no pain when you bite. When problems such as this are left untreated … When something like this happens so young, it is easy to grow used to pain, to think it is normal. You also have a mild case of candidiasis, most likely a Tiliffian strain.” Doctor Tyler held up his hand before Jason could speak. “Do not worry, you are not infectious, but the fact that it has established itself and what I am seeing in your blood work indicates some issues.”

“Issues that prevent me from joining up?” If his mouth wasn’t throbbing so bad, Jason would have smiled.

“Oh, no. Do not worry about that. We will get you on some dietary supplements, and a quick trip to Dentistry and you will be fine.”

Doctor Tyler peeled off his gloves and tossed them into the bio-recycler and put a new pair on. “Now, turn around, drop your shorts and bend over the bed please.”

“I guess I can be thankful for the order you do things, Doc.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

Jason was eyeing the door as he pulled up his shorts. The doctor held up a cup and the small oval envenomation case. “We just need some samples and we will have you on your way. Urine and venom, please.”

“Thanks.” Jason took the sample containers. “Thanks a lot.”

* * *

Castle Cor, New Oxford, Albion, Realm World

 

George was in his office, everything that had been on top of the desk was now on the floor. Weiss was furious, he was calling in every marker. Already Intersystem Policing had called, twice. Weiss had stopped and was illegally searching free-merchant vessels, shipping containers, even Independents. George knew that what they needed to find Daniella was in the envelope, though a small voice kept telling him he did not know that for sure.

Daniella had gone to Weiss, her grandfather, someone she was lucky to see once a year. Someone she knew to be dangerous, but not to him, her father. Not to Claudette, her mother.

Weiss had shown them the report from some doctor. A young fellow who had been murdered. Literally ripped apart. The Guard and Interpol were hunting down the last moments of the man’s life.

Dani was infected.

She had recently been reinfected. She had been reinfected repeatedly. Repeatedly!

He pulled the top drawer out, dumping its contents. The drawer sailed away as he pulled the next one out. He didn’t hear it smash against the wall.

“Sir? My lord?” Thomas asked from just inside the doorway.

“There was an envelope. It was on my desk. I put it under the financial reports for the bloody symposium. Did you see them? The reports? Where are they? I need that envelope!”

“You heard him, find them now!” Thomas snapped. The two secretaries hurried to the filing cabinets in the outer office. “Sir, who was the letter from?”

George stopped. Daniella was infected. His baby girl. Someone had taken her. George sunk down to the floor. His baby had been in pain for two years and he had not known. How could he call himself a father?

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