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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows; Chapter 34


I hope you are enjoying Dark Lords (Copyright 2013 T. Masters-Heinrichs); if so please share.

Chapter Thirty-four

The Little Things…

Castle Cor, Planet: Albion; Realm

Johanna sighed. Until her parents returned she was expected to be in the Voices Vestibule, who named it that? Listening to the concerns of the subjects of those under House De La Roche. She had listened to four people, their concerns mostly for her, not themselves. Oh, by the Blood, Dani! Please come home!

Howard Wiltmore was introduced, his life-partner Bill Stevens was with him. “Hello, Lady De La Roche.”

“I greet you in the name of the Lord and Lady of Castle Cor, House De La Roche. Come, sit and enjoy sustenance, for we break bread as equals.”

“As equals we are honoured to sit with you.” Both men took her hand and kissed the back of it. She really hated the formal language. Daniella always made it sound so smooth and easy; natural and definitely not rehearsed.

The older of the two men, Howard, was large, with big, working hands and thick white hair. He had large fuzzy eyebrows that reminded her of caterpillars and a thick jet black moustache. His Life Partner, Bill, was his opposite. Fine boned with the hands of a pianist. His fine red hair was curly, his eyes feminine under his delicate brows and a warm full mouth set in a smooth face. They both had the sour scent of worry.

Johanna motioned them to take their seats at the round table. All three chairs were equal distance apart, set up anew for each visitor. They even changed the table for larger groups. Tea and coffee had been set out.

“I would be honoured to serve you.” Damn, wrong. Johanna’s mind was blank. “May I serve you?”

“I would rather she brought the tray here,” muttered Bill into Howard’s curly white hair.

“Good. I am always afraid of getting it wrong,” Johanna said lifting the large tray with ease and setting it on the table between them. Bill’s eyes lit up at the biscuits displayed. Howard slapped his life partner’s hand and received a glare for it.

“Lady De La Roche,” Howard sighed. “I employed the unclean, I feel shame …”

“Please, call me Johanna, Mr. Wiltmore.”

“Call me Bill, Johanna, and Howard here is being silly.”

Howard Wiltmore harumphed. “The damn thing worked for us, Bill. Us.”

“Are either of you are telepaths, psychologists or profilers?”

Bill laughed, Howard looked sombre.

“No, Johanna. By the blood, no.” Bill chuckled and snatched a cookie.

“We’re shippers,” Howard said, he nodded to the offer of coffee.

“He worked very hard at keeping hidden.” Johanna shook her head. She reached out as she had been shown. Both men now understood that it was not their fault. They understood how it had hidden itself. Now they knew in their hearts as well as their minds. Howard wiped his face with his handkerchief. Bill hugged his bear of a partner. Johanna gripped each of their hands. There might easily be ten years between them, but their love was a solid thing.

“There must be a Great Festival, soon. We need the sense of security it brings,” Bill said. “Some think there may never be another Great Festival.”

“Community,” Howard said. “There are so few Vampyre on Albion.”

“Shush, once we have a Great Festival the sense of unity will return,” Bill said.

“The next festival is planned for eighteen months. As far as I know there is no reason for it not to go forward.” Johanna sat back. “You are shippers?”

“Yes, Always Fresh, that is what we call our little company. Did not want to call it Wilt-more.” Bill chuckled. “Not when you specialize in shipping perishables.”

Johanna smiled. “Yes, I can see that.”

Bill leaned forward, he gently gripped her hand again. “What is it dear? You can tell Bill?”

She looked down at his musician’s hands and let him feel her worry. “My sister … still no word.”

Howard made a growling sound. “Scoundrels, I get my hands on—”

“Shush you old sheep dog. Johanna, you think she was taken live?”

“Yes. With what happened to Abigail.”

“Going after a child! Bastards!” Howard muttered. “Get my hands—why would they want to grab a pair of kids—”

“Breeding!” Both Bill and Johanna said together. They looked at each other.

“Why grab a pair of young Vampyre on the verge of adulthood?” Johanna asked.

“To get a pair. There are few enough around. The old enemy wants the Vampyre destroyed!” Bill sat back.

“Who would want us alive?”

“What! You two are outrageous!” Howard shook his head. “Well, if this someone is kidnapping young ones, there should be more missing. Why go after two high profile children?”

“Because there are no low profile children left,” Bill said, eyes wide.

“What if they, who ever they are, are not just going after children? During the last five hundred years the number of accidents involving Vampyre have been steadily increasing. Weird accidents.” Johanna was staring down at the cookies. All the reading she had done on Jason …

“What?” Howard was sitting up now, his bushy brows facing off. “How so?”

“The Carodoc’s. Neal Carodoc and his wife, Jullietta Malwas died in a freak hover accident over the ocean on Esmeralda over a hundred years ago. Their bodies were never recovered. Mary-Anne Kaherdin went missing two hundred years ago hunting on Troth. No trace of her was ever found. Darling Olwyn while travelling in his personal ship in the Zuhause System, went missing eighty-five years ago between Francia and Vehmas. In the last one hundred and fifty years Jessa Ragnall, Cora Lee Mateo and Adele Deveau have all gone missing.”

“The Watt family,” Howard said quietly, then he spoke louder. “The Watt family. They were travelling with friends. All of them went missing on the edge of the Bata system. Eighteen people. We never found a trace of them”

“I remember, all our ships were put on alert.” Bill looked down at his fifth cookie. “The youngest was five.”

“How would you do it, Howard?” Johanna asked.

“Tell her Bill, what you said to Dave and Maya. Tell her!”

“My ancestors forgive me. I would, I would ship a Vampyre in a worm can. Put an anticongelante into their system, assuming they could take it, mind you,” Howard Wiltmore shook his head. “I would put an oxy mask on them, almost pure so they did not asphyxiate.”

“It is how they got slaves off the restricted colonies over three thousand years ago. Except they did not need an anticongelante.”

“A what?”

“When you ship the protein worms, not grubs like the old days, but worms, they have to be cooled to just above freezing. Usually plus one or they will die from starvation.” Howard looked sad. “So you put the anticongelante in the person in case the can drops below freezing. They go into a short term hybernation state, but you can not do it for long.”

“Some types of grubs you have to ship at minus five. They do not register as alive. When you put anticongelante into an animal for shipping, they also do not always register as alive.” Bill gripped Howard’s arm. “Tell her Howard, tell her about the shipments.”

“We shipped a lot of cans to those ships. If they put someone in one of them, they would not register on the scanners, if they pumped them full of an anticongelante.” Howard sighed. “White Tower shipped over eighteen hundred cans. We shipped twenty-two hundred cans. StarFresh shipped three thousand cans.”

Johanna felt her stomach grow cold. Bill was gripping her hand.

“If they wanted a live Vampyre, that is the best way, but why? Our Lady will fight them. She will find a way and get free. The risk!” Bill was shaking his head, she could feel that he was so angry that his emotions were raw.

“I need to show you both something.” Johanna got up, found paper and a pencil She pushed the tray aside. Closing her eyes she took the first picture, cleared her mind and focused. Then from the left top corner of the paper drew it in. When she was done she handed it over and started on the second picture.

“A hauler of some kind.” Howard hummed as Bill looked closely.

“An old Derby.” Bill tapped the corner of the picture. “Cans.”


Johanna showed them the second picture.

“You are right, cans.” Howard tapped the slighter larger view. “That makes no sense.”

“Why?” Asked Johana.

“An old Pegasus Industries Derby Hauler does not have tanks. They can not use protein grubs.” Howard shook his head.

“They are used to digest waste, then are converted into food for the crew.” Bill added. “Eight cans is enough to fill twenty-four tanks. A liner, or military vessel.”

“Or base, still, you would not ship them in a container.”

“What?” Johanna looked. Just on the edge of the picture the long coffin like cans were being loaded into a container. “What kind of container is that?”

“It is a cooler. You do not normally keep grubs that way. You put them in the bottom hold and drop the heat.”

“On an old Derby?” Bill shook his head. “There are no tanks. Derby’s are fast haulers. Why rush cans? They can sit in storage for up to three years.”

“I must tell …” Johanna froze. Tell who?

“Bah! We have no proof. No reason. This makes no sense.” Howard shook his head. “No one is going to believe us and if we are wrong, our Lady could die.”

“Do you have any idea where this picture was taken?”

They both looked at each other.

“Not a clue my Lady.” Bill said shaking his head.

“Well, not in the Realm or HFSS.”

“What?” Both Bill and Johanna looked at the picture. Howard pointed to the left edge of the picture, to a ship just behind the one in the photo.

“See that.” He tapped that wall just above it. “That is an Independant’s Sigil. And that, what you can see the edge of, is the Free Systems symbol. This is a moon or old base. Where ever this place is, my Lady, it is far, far from here.”


* * *

The UFSS Registered Ship: Barru; Type: Jax Industries Hauler, HFSS Territory,

Xanadu System jump point


Alex stepped out of the tiny personal wash closet. He had paid extra for hot water instead of a sonic shower. Sonic always made his teeth ache. Around him the feel of the ship’s engines had changed. They had reached jump point Xanadu. They weren’t actually in the Xanadu system but were using it as a point to set the ship for the next jump that would bring them to the Olympia system. They were out of hyper and slowing. He started cleaning his teeth.

The talk at the table the night before had turned to the Vampires and the Realm. No one it seemed, had really thought about what would happen if the Vamps vanished. No, that wasn’t the right word. Weren’t there between us and the verse. Just after Dai had mentioned Alex’s trip, he’d felt such a pang that … getting that com this morning … Alex sighed.

The ship’s vibration changed. Power transfers? Port side conduits regulators most likely needed calibration. Alex shook his head. He cleaned his tooth brush and picked up his shaver. He rubbed a hand on his stubble, it was rough and itchy. There was a mod that might be worth a try, no more hauling a shaver around the verse.

Wiping the mirror again, he started shaving. Dai had mentioned that the environmentals were off. The little cubicle, though open to the room, was filled with steam.

He’d learned that the ship was overloaded and understaffed. Things were getting rough in the HFSS if the greasers and geers onboard were getting full pay with no holdbacks. The clone problem wasn’t confined either. The Burru had lost eight of its cleaning staff, including the bot programmer. Why hire when you can buy a plug in?

The management were using all the bots upstairs and the clones were all failing,    only secondary machines down here. Thank the laws of chance, he’d splurged for the cabin, Alex thought. With no services, the bunks would be horrible. The heads were always breaking down. Of course he hadn’t mentioned any of that to Lisa, she’d never flown bunks and with her standards hopefully never would.

Alex, you could have had a few more memories last night, he thought, putting down his shaver and wiping the mirror with his left hand. He needed to make some comms—a shape moved in the clear smear. He spun around.

A large man was looking at him from the other side of the bed. The guy had to be a heavy worlder, or big into mods.

“Hello, Alex.” The voice was low, deep.

Who the frack?

Alex grabbed a towel, quickly wrapping it around his waist. “This is a private room. You need to leave.”

The man came around the bed it two strides. Alex went for the alarm by the headboard. The stunner was on the bedside table on the other side.

The man caught him by the right arm. Alex rolled driving his left heel into the man’s groin. His left elbow into the man’s face. The man grunted and Alex was thrown back against the wall with the wash station.

“That wasn’t very nice, Alex.”

The man slapped him, hard. Alex could feel blood running down his face. The second blow was to his diaphragm. Gasping for breath he dropped to the floor.

“Guess I look a little different.” The man grabbed him by the throat and lifted him against the wall. He pulled off Alex’s towel and used it to wipe his own bleeding nose. He breathed deeply of the towel then dropped it to the floor. Alex was trembling, choking. The man had his head against the wall. Alex was on his tip toes, seeing spots.

Across the bed, sitting on the night table was the stunner. It was less than three metres away. He tried to get his hands under the man’s fingers. He couldn’t force the man’s hand open. He kicked at him. The man pinned him against the wall with his body, he was taller and wider by more than a hands span.

“Let me properly introduce myself.” The man put his cheek against Alex’s and breathed deep before he spoke. “My name’s Gabriel, Gabriel Durand. Last time we met I was more myself. Good news. Mr. Williams has changed his mind. Both Saturn Industries and Saturn Systems will be utilizing your re-design.”

“You’re too late.” Alex choked out. “The Vamps signed the rights.”

“You know that’s not how it works, Alex.” Gabriel ran a finger around Alex’s right eye. “Heard you were in a Sedan accident. Really? Was it the Vamp from the symposium? He seemed a little hands on.”

Gabriel stepped away. Alex dropped choking to the floor. He kept his feet under him, knees together, back against the wall.

“Alex. You need friends right now. I could be a good friend, a gentle friend. Because, let’s be honest, I find that bit of antiquated tech you were hauling on Albion and we don’t actually need you.” Gabriel squatted down next to Alex. “Look at me, Alex.”

Alex turned his head. Gabriel’s expression was one of concern. He was resting his face on his left hand. He ran the back of his right hand down Alex’s arm. He motioned with his head to the end of the bed. Alex looked. At the wall, the new suitcase was sitting on top of the dresser in the space for luggage. The tan, high end, hard side was open, his DataBox sitting on top.

“Oh, look. There it is.”

Goose flesh had risen all over Alex’s body. Promise him what ever; get to the stunner; put him down; get the hell out of here.

“I have a proposition.” Gabriel’s finger tips found Alex’s left knee. “I didn’t appreciate being stood up before, neither did Williams. To him you’re not relevant. His advisers view your discovery as a fluke.”

Alex pulled his legs closer together, turned himself more toward the wash unit. He kept his head down, not making eye contact, his arms wrapped around his shoulders. He was still wet from the shower.

“They argued that someone as flat as you, with your background only gets one good idea. You’re a single function algorithm that got lucky.” Gabriel shifted. “They don’t see what I see. Flukes don’t have friends who are Admirals and Rear Admirals, they don’t stay at Dark Lord’s castles and they don’t jump up the re-cert levels like you have.”

Water was dripping from Alex’s hair, running down his back in cold rivulets. He was shivering. The heat from the shower had dissipated. His legs were getting stiff. Rear-Admirals? Admirals? What the frack was he talking about?

“The Jules Verne? They’re throwing you away, Alex. Don’t you see? It’s not an award. They are literally putting you on ice. They will be able to find you, to get to you when, if, they need you.” Gabriel sighed. “You’re cold.”

Gabriel started to stand. Alex hit him with his shoulder. Looking surprised, Gabriel fell back onto his ass. Alex was on the bed, his left hand on the book. His right hand reaching for the stunner.

He was yanked back. Deja vu from the Clover. Heart thudding, he scrambled, throwing the book, breaking the lamp, scattering everything from the top of the night table.

The pain was everything. Alex, curled around his groin. He couldn’t breathe. He almost vomited. 

“We could have been friends, Alex.” Gabriel grabbed Alex’s hair. Opening his eyes, Alex swallowed. Gabriel let go, he was staring down at Alex, hands on his hips. Gabriel shook his head. Neither of them breaking eye contact.

Alex knew he was supposed to submit. He remembered the training, had hated it at the time. Don’t make eye contact when dealing with a much stronger attacker. Use your military training, if that does not get you out of the situation, then you must try to survive until help comes. Remember details about your attacker. They never covered what to do when help isn’t coming. 

“Very well. I don’t believe you’re a one shot. I think there’s a lot more going on in there,” Gabriel tapped Alex’s head three times, “than Williams realizes. They wouldn’t put you on ice if you didn’t have other value.”

Gabriel looked down at Alex. “I’m not going to kill you Alex, but I am going to define our relationship. First, no one’s coming to rescue you. Second, you do manage to make it to the hall and there isn’t anything anyone on this ship can do for you. Thirdly and most importantly, from your point of view, is the fact that I’m the only one between you and death. A quick death, a slow death, either way, dead is dead. Do you understand what I’m telling you? Nod if you do?”

Alex nodded.

“Good, boy.” Gabriel reached down and ran a hand over the curve of Alex’s hip. “Now to the defining part.” Gabriel undid his shirt. Alex shifted back. He could feel the Neal Stephenson book against his shoulder. Something small and hard next to the book, digging into his back against his shoulder blade. Something small and hard.

Shifting to his left, Alex pushed the book away.

“Sorry, Alex,” Gabriel said. “You had your chance for nice.”

Alex glanced down at what was between the meatsuits legs. “Frack!”

Gabriel looked down. “Yeah, I know. It’s a guy thing, isn’t it? Hey, I was alreading paying a lot for this meatsuit, might as well get the extra centimetres.”

Alex was having trouble breathing. He scrambled sideways, he could hear stuff falling off the bed. Trembling, he pulled away, turning. Where the frack is it!

Gabriel’s eyes were drawn to the book. “Whoa, where did you get this?”

He reached for the hardcover. “Do you know what that tree symbol means?”

“It was printed on old Earth.” Alex’s left hand closed on the object still tangled in the blanket. Gabriel looked down at him.

“We’ll discuss this later.”

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