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Dark Lords, Book One: Shadows, Chapter 40

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Chapter Forty
Souvenirs
New Oxford, Grand Lucian Hotel and Conference Centre Parking area, Albion, Realm

Kelvin was smelling the rose in his right hand. Sarah was waiting for him. Though they were both officially spares, their high genetic count meant that they could marry. He’d bought the ring and just needed to figure out how to give it to her. Brendan, his guardian and if the truth be told, the man he thought of as father, was possibly more excited than his mother, Elaine.
Brendan had made many suggestions, each one more romantic than the last. Sarah’s family knew this was coming. They had already started the bickering. As both Sarah and he were not destined for a Seat, they could live, once married, where ever they choose, but because the kids they would produce would most likely be pure’s, there were political implications. Kelvin, quite honestly, and despite his mother’s best attempts, did not care.
He cut through the alley between the Grand Lucien and the Fortuna Casino. With ease he hopped onto the recycling receptacle and over the fence. Sarah worked for the Grand Lucien, had done so for the last two years while he finished his biology degree. She had stood firm on taking the job and could justify it as part of her finance training.
Of course, mused Kelvin, everyone was going to lose their hair when he told them his plans to study possible rabbit migrations on the southern tundra of Tawaret. Sarah was already making jokes about his guardian and step-father taking up rabbit shooting.
How was he going to tell them about his plans on becoming a vet?
Worse, far worse, how do you tell the people who love you that you’re planning to live on the Southern continent of a world forty light years away? That you want to spend the next five hundred years of your life looking after livestock?
Sarah had plans for developing a Crofters co-op. She had gone with him to meet Dr. Black, who was the biologist looking into the changing environment and how it could be used to help speed up terraforming operations all over the galaxy. Kelvin thanked his ancestors that she’d fallen in love with the vast empty spaces. That walking through the small towns, meeting the villagers had not put her off. She had started to get a feel for the people. They had been so happy to meet her.
Perhaps it was the hospitals, or the injuries caused by hard physical work. Whatever, she had chose to share her gifts with many. Kelvin blushed at the memory of his Sara marching off to go hunting with some local men and women. He remembered her face when she had come back. She had found him on the wind swept heather, collecting data on the rabbit kits.
Kelvin smiled, his steps slowing as he closed his eyes and smelled the rose. Felt the silk of the petals against his lips. Sarah had almost flung him to the heather, her flesh hot, her stomach full of fresh meat from the Great Deer she had run down. They had shared blood and flesh and love.
The rose tickled his nose. The petals almost as soft as her skin.
“Hello.”
Kelvin froze. A large man had detached from the shadows. Odd, there were no service or other entrances along here. He looked down the alley and back the way he had come. He was at the mid point between the two buildings.
“Are you lost?” Kelvin asked.
The man was still coming toward him. He had hard features and a strange grin that did not reach his eyes. “No. You?”
“No.” Kelvin felt a tingle of unease. “Excuse me.”
The man moved to block his path. “No.”
“I am late.” Kelvin looked up. Were there no cameras here? The ones further down pointed at the fire escape doors. “If you will excuse me, sir.”
The blow caught him square in the face. Kelvin knew his nose was broken as he fell back, blind, blood pouring, he did not see the next blows. Ribs broke as all the air left his body. Gasping he hit the concrete.
“Just say aaah.” The man grabbed his hair and yanked back his head.
Kelvin opened his eyes. The man had a pair of pliers in his right hand. Kelvin, heart racing, twisted free then struck out. He tried to get up but the man hit him in the right kidney. He could not even scream. Grey flecks danced in his vision.
Kelvin could barely breath as the man sat on his hips. The man bent his head back so hard Kelvin thought his neck would break. With all his strength he tried to hold back the hand with the pliers but it moved slowly toward his mouth.
“Ease up, kid. He just wants a souvenir. I don’t have to kill you, but I will, if you make me.”
As the man shifted his grip over Kelvin’s broken nose. Kelvin bit him, hard. As soon as his glands fully released into the man’s wrist he knew it was the biggest mistake of his life.
The large heavy man grunted. The pliers hit the ground as the man dropped his full weight onto Kelvin’s back.
“Frack me.” He hissed, his breath hot on Kelvin’s cheek. “Oh, gods.”
Kelvin tried to open his mouth, tried to pull free. The man grabbed the back of Kelvin’s head and pushed down. Hard. Kelvin tried to cry out as his fangs and teeth tore the man’s skin. He gagged on the blood. His right fang wrenched in his mouth, the pain ran through to his very soul.
“Swallow. Swallow!” The man spoke through clenched teeth.
Kelvin could not help it. He swallowed, choking, struggling to breath, but the blood went down his throat. With each taste he became dizzier. His pain seemed to intensify. The man’s rage filled his mind. The man was holding him so tight, he couldn’t breath, each attempt was pain as the feeding weakness took him.
The man moaned, but did not release his grip. He rolled slightly off Kelvin, gave him the chance to breath. He released Kelvin’s head.
“Drink! Drink!” He was begging now. But Kelvin could drink no more. He shifted, trying to free his teeth from the man’s hand. Kelvin was desperate, had to get away before—
“Ohh,” the man moaned. Kelvin could feel the rush of connection. Their two system joining, not through some piece of computer hardware, but through their blood, through the chemicals that he had injected. The man had gone through the initial rush, now came the follow up. The heightened emotions, senses, the desire.
The man’s mind was an overwhelming morass of shame, rage and loneliness. HE wanted a pair of fangs for a souvenir. HE had deleted the man’s name. HE caused shame and pain without thinking about it. HE owned the man holding Kelvin.
The man was desperate, hungry for human contact.
No, not this! Kelvin fought, but the man tore into Kelvin’s memories. Kelvin’s love for Sarah. The moments they had spent together. From the first time he saw her to their first time making love as their minds had touched.
The man dove deeper into Kelvin’s soul. Kelvin’s love of animals. His desire from his time in Military Service to help. He had flown medi-vac, gotten his Medic Certification. His first time walking on a dead world that could be terraformed to helping people on a planet going through the process. Flying in supplies. Flying in and out people. Moving through space with a white and brown world below and know he would live long enough to see it become a living blue green world.
The man’s mind was a blank but there were hints. Kelvin tried, desperately, but his own mind was not fully trained. Certain abilities would come with age, and now the man understood that Kelvin was really not much more than a child, he was not even thirty standard years old yet.
Still, they tried together to pull up the man’s memories. The little they could find left behind from those who had erased who the man had been was hard to hold onto. The technicians had been thorough. Only vague blurs emerged. The man clung to them even tighter then he now crushed Kelvin to him. There was a child’s laughter, a woman talking, but the words were unclear. A dog barking. Lights on a tree. Just smears of what once might have been.
The man’s need for human contact, for love, overwhelmed Kelvin. How could such loneliness, such aloneness exist? How could anyone survive it?
“What are you doing! Leave him alone!”
The words came from far away. Someone yelling. Yelling for help.
The man snarled. He let go of Kelvin. They would die for daring to come between Kelvin and him.
Having trouble breathing, Kelvin had to stop him. He knew who’s voice he’d heard. The two young men who loaded the recycling containers.
“No!” Kelvin called out mentally and raggedly from his throat.
He felt the man’s hand crushing the throat of one of the young men, but he stopped him from snapping the young man’s neck.
A searing pain ran through Kelvin’s head. The Man was being summoned by HIM. Kelvin’s mind struck out instinctively. He tore at the connection between the Man and HIM. Blinking tears, gasping for air, Kelvin crawled to the first body.
Danny, Dave, Doug? He couldn’t remember. He was even younger then Kelvin. He lay gasping, his crushed throat unable to get air to his lungs. Kelvin pulled out the knife that Brendan had given him. His medic training came back. He performed an emergency tracheotomy. He used the kid’s pen, emptied of the innards to keep it open so he could breath.
The second man was still moaning. Kelvin wanted to say something, but breathing was getting harder. Flashing lights descended from above even as darkness closed in.
* * *
George hurried through the hospital doors. It seemed he’d just been here, it had been less than three weeks. Everywhere people stood, shock on their faces. His security team motioned him through a familiar door. He stood again in the ICU observation room.
Brendan and Elaine were in the room. Brendan was staring at Dr. Shepard and Dr. Oberlander. The deja vu hit George, he gripped a chair then stood straight. They needed him to be strong.
Brendan turned to him, his face pale, ashen, his eyes red rimmed. “He is in surgery.” Brendan’s hands were open, palms up. {Why?}
The word stopped George with its punch of emotion. He staggered and looked at Dr. Shepard. His mind brushed aside the doctor’s defenses. Kelvin would live. He’d be in the hospital for at least ten days, unheard of for a Vampyre, but he would live.
The doors burst open and all turned to see a woman hurry in. She stared at them a moment then moved to the observation window. Elaine turned, throwing her arms around the woman. They sobbed together, two mothers whose children would live because of the actions of the other. The woman’s relief was washing through the room though it was quickly overpowered by her thanks.
She let go of Elaine.
“They told me,” she wiped her face and turned to Brendan. “They told me what he, what Kelvin did. If he had not …”
Brendan nodded and returned the woman’s embrace.
“Your son was … thank you.” The woman looked up at him, tears running down her face. “I need to thank him, he saved him, my Derek, he’s my only boy.”
* * *
They were in the private waiting room. A nurse had come in several hours earlier and offered Elaine blood, but she had declined. Brendan stood staring at the painting of Dragon clan seals on the wall. He had not moved, only his breathing and occasional blink showing him to be more than a statue.
“George.”
George started. He looked up at his oldest and dearest friend. “Brendan?”
“Did the officer tell you?”
George shook his head. “Tell me what?”
“The man was after his fangs.”
George felt his gorge rise and found himself on his feet. Elaine stifled a sob. He looked to her and she nodded.
“One of them wanted a souvenir, George, of their time in the Realm. They found the pliers. Dental pliers. The thing was after his fangs!” Brendan’s hands were fists. “It broke his jaw, nose, fractured his cheek, nearly broke his neck.”
George said nothing as tears ran down his face.
“Did I tell you that he is regrowing a kidney?” Brendan turned now, his face white to look at George. “His left lung was punctured in six places. Almost all of his ribs were broken, more than once. They had to insert guides so they would grow back correctly. Both his hands, George, were crushed. Right arm broken in three places. Left shoulder fractured. Eight fractures in his spine. Eight.”
Elaine slumped into the chair, pulling her legs up. George wanted to go to her and comfort her, but he could not move. He could not contain the rage boiling out of Brendan. It was washing over him, drowning him.
“If young Derek had not interfered that man would have killed Kelvin and ripped out his teeth. Did you see Derek, George?”
George shook his head. All he’d seen through the glass of the young man was a flash of pale flesh as nurses and doctors worked around him.
“His throat was crushed. His right arm was broken. When the other young man tried to run away, that thing broke his back. Both security guards are dead, George. Both of them. It ripped their arms off. Crushed their chests.” Brendan grew quiet, He turned back to the painting. Motioned with his hand but whatever the words were he was going to say, died on his lips.
Slowly, Brendan turned back to George, his eyes first lingering on his wife, then he looked his friend of over seven hundred years in the face. “There was a time when … they were after his teeth, George.”
And George knew what his friend was telling him. Without Brendan’s vote, without his support, he would lose the council’s support. The Realm would, at the next vote, close its borders with the HFSS and the rest of the universe.

George left the hospital after Kelvin was out of the ICU and in recovery. The doctors would not let him regain consciousness until they had a psychologist present. The man that was being brought in specialized in psychic and physical assault.
Getting into the car, his driver, Owen, informed George that there would be a delay before leaving. Pulling out of the underground parking lot, George was shocked to see crowds of people. Police were attempting to keep traffic flowing, but the crowd was growing too fast for them. The atmosphere was hushed, somber, there was no sign of violence but there was tension. Many had scarves or even coloured sheets upon their backs. He recognized the scarves. Their colours those of the House of Ector. He felt more tears threatening.
You are an old man, George, he thought to himself.
Kelvin was Brendan’s spare. Both he and George were beyond their fertile years and he smirked, wiping at the blasted tears, remembering Elaine’s jokes about the turkey baster. Yet Brendan loved Kelvin, loved the boy without regret or regard. Their first son, Philip, was an Admiral in the Royal Armed Forces and was being considered for Vice Admiral, if he returned, that is.
“Sir, military and police offices are reporting thousands attempting to sign up, it is causing traffic jams downtown.”
George nodded, pulled from his reverie. Why were so many people seeking Public Service?
As they crawled forward the crowds were silent, inches from the car. George watched as hands began reaching out and lightly touched the car. Most just trailed their fingers on the vehicle. Without thinking he placed his own hand on the window.
The crest of the De La Roche was prominently displayed on the car and on the flags flowing at the back and front. He was not sure if he should be afraid or inspired. He could feel their concern, their desire was that he knew they were there to support the Vampyre. Through the tinted windows, no one could see him. He let the tears fall.
As they turned toward the main road, George saw that large posters of the dead security guards had been put up on the fence. Everywhere flowers and notes were being tied to the chain link so that already it seemed more like a fluttering privacy wall.
His heart started pounding at the large posters of Kelvin and the two young men who had stopped the attack. They had to drive around the crowds. Many wearing Ector’s colours but just as many he now saw were wearing the black, red and tan of the De La Roche.
Driving through town he started to see halt signs with coloured flags or even scarves on them. They were tied like streamers, some had so many that no part of the pipe showed. George wiped his eyes. He felt his composure return.
“Owen, what is that about?” He motioned to yet another halt sign festooned with colorful stripes of material.
“The Forgotten, Sir.” Own said from the front seat. George gave him a blank expression. “Those Houses that we have lost and have chose to forget, sir.”
Arriving home he found Castle Cor quiet. Perhaps it was just all the noise of the months before but the house seemed hushed. Those he passed bowed their heads, no doubt worrying themselves about poor Kelvin.
George headed to his room, he needed to change, to get rid of the scent of the hospital. He needed to call Abigail, to hear her voice. And Johanna. Why did she need to run off right now!
Thomas stood waiting by the elevator, his face somber. George felt his heart rate speed up.
“Sir, there has been a development. We require you in the den.”
Thomas hit the button. George felt his stomach twist. {Was it Daniella? Had she made contact? Had something happened to Abigail? To Johanna?}
{‘No.’} Was all Thomas sent back.
They passed Mrs. Findley in hall, George felt sick, she had been crying. He entered the den to find Claudette sitting at her desk, her secretary standing nearby. He was surprised to see the Armorium and security staff.
“What has happened?”
“News from Section 42. Alex did not disembark from the Burru. The hauler’s manifest indicate he boarded then he was deleted from it.” Claudette said, her voice firm. He could feel her thinking. Feeling her mind in the room humming like the engine of the ship that was his life.
George felt a moment of confusion. Alex was safe! If that was the right word. In less than two days he was boarding the Jules Verne for parts unknown. He had gotten his re-certification and he was far from the political muddle and any intrigue. Had not Charlie Girard promised that?
He queried her telepathically and she responded, {Scenarios.}
Scenarios? Thought George, scenarios of what?
“Charlie is waiting to speak with us,” Claudette said as images of Alex flashed through her mind.
George stood looking up at the screen. The call holding image vanished. The signal was heavily encrypted and it took a moment for the two systems to align.
“Hello. Sorry to be calling with bad news.” Charlie Girard’s face was huge on the screen, and he did indeed seem concerned. “First, let me make it clear, we weren’t going to interfere with Mr. Hunter’s choice, we were merely going to offer him another option.”
“To work for you?” Claudette asked. “If he said no?”
“We would have respected his decision.” Charlie looked her in the eye as he spoke. “Imagine our surprise when he didn’t get off the Burru. Our first thoughts were that he never got on the Burru. Logs and video confirm his departure from Farrago Lagrange Station. Also three of his bags were found in the hold.”
“Did it stop anywhere?” Claudette asked.
“Just a breather at jump point Xanadu.” Charlie motioned with his chin and three images appeared in boxes across the bottom of the screen. “Here are the scans of his room, I’m sending you all the data we have. Our people entered at 0700 and immediately sealed the room as a possible homicide scene.”
“Why?” George looked at the screen. Could that really be a stateroom, his bathroom was bigger!
“There was blood on the side table and wall, not all of it belonging to Mr. Hunter. Traces of blood were found on the bed linens and doorframe. Along with other genetic material. As you can see, there are clear signs of a struggle. Also, none of Mr. Hunter’s belongings were in the room. Found on the floor between the bed and side table was a shot glass and a deck of cards still packaged, bought on Albion.”
Claudette looked down over the report now displayed on the tablet her secretary had given her. Possible sexual assault.
George sucked in his breath. {‘No, Alex would not do that!’}
Claudette turned at George’s telepathic yell. “Dear, he is the victim, these are merely scenarios of what might have happened.”
“But?” George was having trouble breathing. He took the drink Thomas offered him and downed it. Taking a deep breath he stood behind his wife, he squeezed her shoulders.
“We have confirmation that he boarded by two staff members. His room wasn’t cleaned due to the staff shortages. After reviewing all logs, we discovered Mr. Hunter had received a bounced, scrambled comm message that appeared to be from somewhere in the Uncharted Regions. Then he went to the exercise room from 0500 to 0700. Returned to his room.
“Water use, residue from the shower and washing area leads to the conclusion that he had been showering at the time a Mr. Gautier Song headed down the hallway near Mr. Hunter’s room at ship time 0715. The hall monitors and room monitors of Mr. Hunter’s room had stopped functioning at 0725.”
“This Gautier Song turned off the cameras?” George asked. Girard nodded.
“We believe he entered the room using an illegal device called an AllKey. It was found in the recycler. We know he entered the room because his DNA has been found throughout.”
“He is a biological sleeve for whom?” Claudette asked.
“A specialized unit contracted to Mr. Gabriel Durand.” Charlie looked down at something before he continued. “Mr. Durand is a fixer for Mr. Williams, the Industrialist. His being on the Burru is odd. We believe that Saturn Industries has reconsidered its position on Alex Hunter’s re-engineered power system design.”
“Why did they not just contact him?” George asked.
A look passed between Claudette and Girard.
“Why pay for what you can take,” Armorum Bowie said with a shake of his now completely bald head.
Charlie’s smile was somehow both sardonic and sad. “There would be no reason for someone like Alex Hunter, the son of a plumber from New Canada to be under any sort of high level surveillance even though he just left a restricted region.”
“I do not understand?” George looked over Claudette’s shoulder. “It says here Alex is missing? Where could he have gone? How big is the Burru?”
“Several possibilities, he could be with Mr. Durand. A life boat was jettisoned, he could be on that, though with the shape of the units on the Burru, that’s not a high possibility. Or, more likely he was taken somewhere else, killed and given an enzyme shot. With the time elapsed, there would be nothing left to find of Mr. Hunter in the recyclers.”
“Charlie, why is Mr. Durand not in custody?”
“He is an Upper Elite, dear.” Claudette sighed. “No officer without serious friends would dare detain him. As for arresting him…”
George shook his head. He turned to those in the room. Thomas’ outrage hummed loudly. All present were stone faced and none would meet his eyes. George turned back to Charlie. “I believe Alex is alive. He a very resourceful young man.”
Charlie smiled. “I read the report you sent on his disarming of the synthetic. And the bomb. If he was as resourceful with Mr. Durand, then I believe he will turn up. I’m afraid I have a very important meeting to attend. I just wanted to communicate directly on what we found. I will continue to update you, George.”
George sat, his mind wondering over the time he had spent with Alex. He had kept wanting to spend more time with the young man. It seemed that at every turn, something happened. A mental prod from Claudette, surprised him.
“Thank you, Charlie for your help with this matter and our daughter.”
“I just wish we had any news for you.” Charlie was all somber, George wondered if the feelings were real or if Charlie practiced in a mirror. “The verse is a big place, but there are warrants out. My best to you both.”
George took another drink from Thomas. As Bowie, his security seconds and Claudette went ever increasingly horrible scenarios George felt himself feeling more and more sick. He needed out of the office, he needed to hear his daughters’ voices.
Abigail was out and so was Johanna. He could take it no more and with his dogs George went for a walk.
Four hours later, he found Claudette in bed. “I talked to Abigail.”
“How is she doing?”
“Why did you pick the Salazars?”
“I met someone they helped. They are very good helping Initiates who have been traumatized.” Claudette put down her tablet. “George?”
“I contacted Ashley, she claimed Johanna was out.” George hit replay on the message they had received earlier.
‘Hey, Mother, Father, just in from shopping at a scandalous store, All That Sparkle! We really have to take Abs there when she gets back. Everything here is, well, it is Troth. Going out this evening with the girls. Peaches sends her love, Mother. Everyone is worried about Dani. Waiting to hear good news. Love, Jo.”
“She is trying to have a good time, George.”
“Johanna shopping with her sister missing?” George was giving Claudette an incredulous look. “Jo? She hates shopping.”
“I think that is why she is doing it.” Claudette shrugged. “I almost did not let her go, but she needs to take her mind off things. You know the girls had this planned from before the Symposium and they get so little time together.”
George pulled his wife close. Held her.
“Be as thankful as I am that our Jo has your sense, George. At her age I would have commandeered one of my father’s ships and hired a band of mercenaries. There would be blood being spilt in bars and doors being kicked in across the verse.”
“I am.” George was glad his wife could not see his face. ‘All That Sparkle!’ was currently shut down for renovations.

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