I am hoping to have the whole novel completed by late March for proofreading and review in April, then publishing in May.
I first started this novel in 2007. For a long time I did not know where I was going with this, but a couple of years ago I had the Baby Jeebus moment of clarity and started rewriting it and moving it to the new focus. I am really happy with how the first 9 chapters have turned out. And I really can't wait to finish it and share it with you all.
I hope you enjoy.
Prologue 1 - Then
His nostrils flared as they filled with the stench of fresh blood. Looking down at the body at his feet, he shook his head at such a waste. With a flick of his wrist, he bade his underlings forward to take the body away and clean up the mess. Squinting up into the early morning brightness he once again could not help but hate the cursed sun and its’ heat. Its rays flashed down only to be amplified by the stone under his feet and then only to be further reflected by the whitewashed walls of the buildings around him. He felt like he was going to boil in his own skin.
As the body was taken away, he examined the area where the murder took place. It was an alley set back from the street where the main market was situated. The narrow street was bordered on both sides by four storied buildings that housed residential dwellings. He snorted. Dwellings, more like kennels. He could smell the stench of unwashed bodies and rotting food from where he stood. He looked up at the faces poking out of windows, all pointing and gossiping. One look from his stern face silenced the gossip and shamed the occupants into withdrawing back into their homes.
Draping his white scarf over his head, he delicately stepped around the congealed blood pool and began the short, hot walk back to the police building. It wasn’t much of a building, but it was cooler than being out in the open. How he hated life in the city.
Mind you, he could never say that life in Babylon was ever dull.
Prologue 2 – Now
These days were never dull. The General stirred uneasily in his seat. He hated these briefings. He hated the people at the briefings. He hated what the people at the briefings had to say. He just hated it all.
There were six of them in total. The heads of Australia’s two intelligence services – ASIO and ASIS. The Chief of the Defence Forces. The Minister for Defence & Intelligence. The Prime Minister’s Security Advisor, and The General. No one else in the government was aware that these meetings even occurred such was the sensitivity of the information discussed. Not even the Prime Minister was privy to all the information. None of those present would have it any other way.
Their briefings were held every week without fail. If someone was absent – no matter where in the world they were – they were included by either secure phone line or data uplink. The briefings were never missed.
Today, the briefing was dealing with a new terrorist threat that Australia simply was not prepared for. Indeed, when The General had first been made privy to the sensitive information sitting in front of him some six months ago, he laughed so hard he had almost urinated in his uniform. After he had been fully briefed, he found the idea of the type of terrorist being presented in the dossier seemed simply unbelievable. The General believed in the power of a tank. The General believed in the ability of Australian Troops to get in and get the job done. The General believed if nothing else worked; carpet-bomb the bastards. The General did not believe in genetically diverged humans. The General had a very low tolerance for bullshit, and the dossier in front of him had initially been very much what The General would define as a lump of waste requiring shovels.
But then he had met them.
He would never have believed it. Even when they were standing in front of him, the soldier in him demanded proof. And proof they had provided. It had taken The General exactly one whole bottle of Bundaberg Rum Open Proof to settle his nerves from the displays of their “abilities”. Now, he was being told that a similar group of individuals, with similar abilities, were planning a terrorist strike somewhere in his great country. To say he was pissed was akin to saying a tsunami was a teeny wave.
“Problem, Harold?” The director of ASIS asked of The General.
The General shifted in his seat before replying. When he did it was with the usual gruffness that only reinforced the stereotypical reputation, he had. Truth be told, he liked the reputation. It made people pause. It promoted fear and respect in his soldiers. It also pissed off the intelligence types. And that brought a crooked smile to his face. “Of course, I have a bloody problem!” He began in a shout that would rapidly evolve to a bellow. The room had no carpet and The General liked how the acoustics leant themselves to his type of communication. “Your fucking Intelligence mob is supposed to fix these things. What the bloody hell do you need my help for?”
The Director of ASIS cocked an eyebrow. He liked and respected The General, but he admitted he was a pain in the arse of the first order. The Director, however, was possessed of a much more refined civility and thus did not bellow, even when he wanted to.
“We are doing all we can. But unfortunately, this type of strike is not something that we alone can prevent. You have assets all over that part of Queensland and we need you to advise them of the threat. We need more eyes.”
The General laughed. It bounced around the room. “More eyes? You’ve got satellites. You’ve got access to more satellites from our friends. Why the hell should my people be moved from where they are? Give me one good bloody reason and I’ll do it.” The General punctuated the remark with a stabbing motion in the air. A honeyed voice from behind him answered.
“Because, if your assets aren’t made aware, Harrison, then they could very well be the first victims of a threat that you didn’t want them to be alerted to.”
The General cringed inwardly, even as the clicking of her heels announced the arrival of she whom The General referred to as “The Bitch”. She was the Director of the organization that was responsible for the individuals who had so spooked The General. She was also a woman who carried a very big stick, and was not afraid to wield it, with devastating force.
As she arrived at the conference table, the ASIS Director stood and politely kissed her cheek in greeting. The two were old colleagues from many years ago, and he valued and trusted her input. The General reluctantly respected her. She was a tough woman with access to data that she would readily share without price. However, she also was a determined leader who would always strive to get her own way. She spoke in her usual authoritative and business like tone that always raised The General’s hackles.
“Harrison. I understand the inconvenience from a logistics viewpoint. But you currently have six units in the catchment zone of this threat. I’ve made condolence calls to the families of the fallen and would prefer not to see you do any more than necessary. Considering our losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am sure you have made quite enough calls already.”
The General grunted in response. Unfortunately, she was right.
“Fine.” He conceded none too graciously. “You tell me where and when and I’ll get them moving.”
She smiled a genuine smile of appreciation. That was the other thing The General hated; she was appreciative of efforts expended on her behalf. God how he longed for the days where you stuck it to the intelligence agencies.
Prologue 3 – Them
He looked down at the human female. She was restrained to the bed upon which she lay. He had to concede that, for a human, she did indeed possess beauty. Her body was firm and ripe. Her face was pretty and unlined. But he viewed it with the same objectivity he would as if he were standing in front of one of their paintings. Whilst he knew the importance of the work, the next step gave him cause to pause.
“What is the matter?” His colleague asked from behind him.
“I really do not want to do it.” He replied without inflection.
His colleague walked forward to stand side by side with him. He looked down at the woman. “She is a model.”
The one turned to look at his colleague. “She sits for artists then?”
The colleague shook his head gently. “No. This one puts on clothes that are given to her and then walks up and back down a raised platform in them.”
“And?” The one prompted expecting more.
The colleague shrugged casually. “And that is it. She models their clothes. She then returns back stage and puts on another set, and repeats.”
The one’s brow crinkled in confusion. “And they consider that a way of living?”
The colleague shrugged again. It was as baffling to him as anyone else. “Apparently. They have entire exhibitions centred around the activity. It seems a wasted past time to me.”
The colleague shrugged again. It was as baffling to him as anyone else. “Apparently. They have entire exhibitions centred around the activity. It seems a wasted past time to me.”
The one nodded slowly in agreement. “And yet we wish to breed with them?”
The colleague nodded. “Only by breeding with them can we improve them. They have reached an evolutionary plateau as we ourselves are in danger of doing. At least, in this instance, they will assist us in moving forward.”
The one looked down at his nude body, and his still limp appendage. “She does not excite me.”
The colleague gestured to her. “She is considered very beautiful by their standards. And yet I understand your reluctance. She is not up to our standard.” He turned to the One. “Think of me as you do it. That should assist.”
The appendage grew.
She looked out over the fields of dead land and lifeless corpses. It was bad enough that her stock had suffered but survived through both drought and flood in recent times. But now, they were suffering the indignity of being targeted as blood sport by a local gang, just recently moved to her small, isolated town. Hers was not the only property being targeted either. Two other properties had lost stock because of the new gang. There were rumours that the hoons had relocated to her town to establish marijuana crops, an always lucrative revenue stream for the criminal element.
An early morning ride on her favourite horse had confirmed the rumour. She could not help but admire the organisational skills of her new “neighbours”. There were now several greenhouses, all with marijuana plants at various stages of growth. The plants were being grown hydroponically to accelerate their growth, and thus provide a higher turnover of the crop, and consequently, a higher turnover of profit.
She left the corpses of her stock unburied. After all, there were other animals that would benefit from the bodies and if she could not use them, the local scavengers could at least benefit from the carrion.
She went back to her house and prepared herself for the task ahead. It was time that she took back ownership of her land and sent a statement to the gang. Life was hard enough for her and her friends. A local collection of criminals adding to their woes simply would not do.
She grimaced. Though she knew what she was about to do was necessary, she did not particularly look forward to the task. She had never been fond of violence. Indeed, she had always avoided it whenever she could. Unfortunately, there were times when violence was truly the last resort.
She waited until nightfall, dressed in a simple cotton dress and her ever present wimple of the same material, and set off on bare foot to confront her “neighbours”.
Part of her distaste for the pack of unruly heathens was their location and their behaviour. They had bought the vacant piece of land next to her and then built a warehouse-cum-squat type of shed on the fence line, not 400 meters from her own residence. They favoured loud music, loud bikes, long nights, and excessive amounts of beer, drugs and women. Their parties lasted well into the night and she had excellent hearing. Sleep was becoming a rarity for her. Given how physically frail she normally was, sleep deprivation was the last thing she needed.
She proceeded down the short dirt road that was the only access point to the property towards yet another one of their “parties”. Empty forty-gallon drums had been converted into fire pits and several were dotted around the front of their shed. The ruddy glow of the burning logs reflected off her plain white apparel.
The louts were everything she imagined. Tattooed. Loud. Coarse. Rude. Drunk. Stoned. Unwashed. They groped their female “companions” without respect or shame. Suddenly, the impending violence did not seem as distasteful. She moved forward to a point where she knew she would be seen. She wanted to give them a warning after all.
The first to see her was an overweight, bearded lout with a beer bottle in one hand and his companions breast in the other. He went to take a swig of his bottle and noticed Her out of the corner of one bloodshot eye. He dropped both the bottle and the breast of his companion, and then stood. He walked a few steps forward and then stopped, casting his gaze over Her in a way that made her flesh crawl from the inside out.
“G’day love.” He started. He spoke in a thick Aussie drawl and with a volume that she considered unseemly at any time of day or night. “We were wonderin’ when you were gonna come over and meet ya new neighbours?”
The Woman returned his gaze with one that would normally cause a stranger to pause. “My apologies.” Her voice was measured and controlled. “I’ve had problems with my stock.”
The man laughed in a subconscious confirmation of their actions. “Well it’s a hard time for you farmers ain’t it? All sorts of things happening to your animals. Bloody piss poor luck I reckon.”
Now she smiled a small, tight smile. She found she was now looking forward to what she had to do. As always, the regret would come later. She reached up and modestly removed the wimple from her head. It took several moments for the drunken biker in front of her to realise what he was seeing. Without the coverage of the wimple, he could clearly see the distended rear portion of her head.
“Jesus Christ! You ain’t normal!” He yelled at her, grabbing the attention of the dozen or so others that were at the front of their communal residence.
By now the woman had begun to exercise her talent. Her skin began to prickle with the all too familiar sensation of static. The back half of her head, in contrast, had begun to radiate a warmth that was the side effect of her talent. For her, it was almost a sensual experience.
“We do not like you. And we do not want you or your drugs here. Please leave.”
The biker laughed at her and made several obscene gestures as his companions joined him.
She had warned him.
She resolutely brought her palm forward as one may do to stop a door. From the air, only centimetres in front of her hand come forth a concentrated burst of electricity. It surged forward and hit the man in the centre of his chest. The force of the bolt flung him backwards and through the flimsy wall of the shed.
For many moments, his companions stood there unmoving. Only the man’s female was active, and she simply stood in place screaming as if she were in a B-grade horror film. The screeching resembled fingernails being dragged on a chalkboard. She was the next one to go sailing from her feet and through the same hole in the wall made by the man who had previously groped her so salaciously.
By now many of the gang in front of her had grabbed weapons and now faced their pastoralist neighbour with several rifles and handguns. She faced them without a trace of fear. “Go ahead.” The Woman almost laughed out loud at her flagrant use of the tacky, film quote. “Make my night.”
Almost as one, they bikers fired.
Unfortunately, she had been ready for them.
What the uneducated criminals in front of her did not realise was that She was a woman possessed of a unique brain. Hers was fifty percent larger than most and possessed of a third lobe. She was a freak of nature, but a very talented freak indeed. It was this extra lobe that generated her talent. She could utilise the neuro-electric energy of her own brain to interact with the electro-magnetic energy around her. She could gather up the ever-present static charges around her into a single lightning bolt of shocking and devastating voltage. She could even join the electro-magnetic energy of her brain with the natural charge of metallic objects. With that, she could move and manipulate these objects. She could not manipulate large heavy objects, but small bullets were no problem for her.
Their bullets stopped in mid-air. For the collection of drunk and stoned drug peddlers, it was a disconcerting moment. In front of them, hanging in mid-air, were the projectiles that by now should have ripped apart the delicate appearing woman in front of them. Instead, their bullets hung there for several moments before the Woman in front of them “flexed” her talent and exploded them. What was next visited upon the group of criminals could understandably, but incorrectly, be described as visit by a demon of Hell.
Systematically, she moved through the entire property with her arms outstretched, her distended head unadorned, and her fingers flexed. The air rang with the small sonic booms created by the bolts of energy she unleashed with deadly accuracy. The screams of the men were of a terror that came from realising one’s nightmares, and then having that nightmare appear right in front of them.
There was nothing they could do to defend themselves. The woman would be exacting retribution on one group as another would approach from behind. Somehow, she could sense they were there. The men would not even have time to raise their weapons before yet another flash of electric energy would have them thrown from the feet with their clothes burned and their hair singed.
She did not kill them. That is one act she simply would not do. She had only ever killed once, and it had been in the defence of a young woman being targeted by an abusive, alcoholic husband. The man’s mind had become so addled from drink and madness, that he simply had not been able to comprehend the warnings given to him. Thus, when he had threatened to kill the already bruised and bloodied young bride, the Woman had had no other option but to exercise her latent in all its dreadful lethality. Now, she simply wounded and bruised.
She wanted the criminals to live. She wanted them to remember this night. With all of them now on the ground in various stages of pain and suffering, she went back and focussed on their equipment and the oh-so-treasured motorcycles. She ignited fuel tanks and sent their two wheeled monstrosities exploding into fragments. She sent multiple bolts renting the air as she all but dissolved the greenhouses where their ‘crops’ grew. She set fire to several farm vehicles that sat at the rear of the property. With one last, double-handed bolt, she ignited the chemicals shed where they stored the compounds necessary to sustain their hydroponic crop. Even she was startled by the enormity of the explosion. Clearly, there had been a significant stockpile. They obviously had planned to be around for the long term.
Now, as she walked through the destruction that was of her own devising, she noted with some grim satisfaction that they all lived. She wanted them to know who had done this. She wanted them to relive it in their sleep; to cry out in horror every time a thunderstorm drew near and lightning rent the heavens; to recoil from the elements as they lay on the ground, curled up like mewling babies.
Later, she would place both hands to the side of her face in an artfully contrived look of shock at being implicated in the wanton damage of the property next door. The middle-aged policeman, a friend since birth, will chuckle as he tells the story of how the bikies were apparently molested by her wielding lightning bolts as if she was some sort of Viking Warrioress of legend. She would nod her head knowingly through a concerned expression as he patiently explained that their equipment had probably short circuited and ignited all the chemical compounds on the property, and that their drug addled minds would conjure any story to abrogate their responsibility. She would, with obvious appreciation, thank him for calling by and letting her know what the strange lights and sounds had be.
She would close the door, wait for his vehicle to depart her property and exit onto the main road. It was then that her frail body would finally fail her and thus she would collapse to the floor and weep at her actions. The shame and guilt always returned. In time, she would gain control of herself. She would then unsteadily rise to her feet, and retire to her bed where she would rest.
He would rest. He was tired and had left the driving bass of the dance party behind him. Walking home, he enjoyed the feel of the cool early morning breeze over his skin resulting in the evaporation of his sweat. He had become bored with the collection of bodies that writhed and undulated on the dance floor and had decided to go home to bed. He had even forgone the obvious interest of a particularly attractive Greek man whom he knew would have proven a congenial diversion. But he was tired. The drugs, as they always did, had worn off far too soon and his metabolism was once again demanding rest. So, he had simply left, with not one look back at the revelry, or the handsome Adonis.
Now, as he slowly walked home, he wondered if it was too late to go back and to take the Hellenic prize up on his blatant offer. With a small chuckle, he decided that sleep was the activity best suited to his bed this crisp morning. Glancing at his watch, he conceded it was far too close to five o’clock for his liking. As he turned onto a side street, he noted with some annoyance a group of young men who were lounging beside a heavily modified car, all drinking and smoking.
He smiled a small little smirk of amusement. In his short vinyl shorts, white vinyl boots and matching vest stretched over his muscular and heavily tattooed olive-toned build, he must have appeared quite the sight to them. And, true to form, it did not take long for the taunts to begin. He simply ignored them. He had been taunted by the very best and five, insignificant, classless pieces of rough trade certainly were not going to get the better of him. He simply walked on.
He was a little more than half way down the street when the taunts ceased. He was confident of what was going to transpire, so it came as no surprise when he heard car doors opening and closing and an engine roaring to life. With a small grunt of annoyance, he turned and walked into the middle of the road with his hands on his hips, staring at the car bearing down on him. He really hated being kept from his bed when he was tired. With a careful look to make sure no one else was present or observing, he set himself and waited.
He saw the maniacal grins and could almost imagine the adolescent goading that was going on in the car. Boys could be so predictable. He felt a moment of pity for the owner of the car. He liked hotted up cars. He liked the guys that usually accompanied the hotted up cars more, but he particularly appreciated a fine piece of automotive handiwork. Unfortunately, he also appreciated being left alone.
The car was less than four metres away when he raised both fists over his head and then brought them down on the front of the bonnet. Such was the force of his strike that the front of the car attempted a serious dive into the roadway beneath it. Inertia being what it was, however, the back end wanted to keep going, and thus it caused the car to flip up and over his head to land noisily on the road behind him, bursting all four tyres as it did so.
He walked up to one of the windows and perfunctorily put his fist through it, shattering the glass from the door. With his hands on his hips and a look of derision on his youthful face, he leaned into the group of shocked and shaken but otherwise unhurt young men. “Don’t you boys ever grow up?” He said before he turned and strode off. Yes, if there was any justice in the world, it would lead him to bed to sleep as needed.
He needed for there to be justice in the world. And thus, he stalked his prey. Five nights previous he had been listening to his police scanner and had heard the report come in. A unit had been sent to a possible domestic incident, and a six-year-old boy had been sent to hospital with a broken rib. The father, also the alleged attacker, was apparently resisting all attempts to be interviewed. And so, for the previous four nights, he had observed the goings-on in the small apartment. Every night, his prey would come home from his job, berate his wife for the better part of an hour, then sit in front of the television and drink the cheapest of bottled vodka. He snorted. Trash was trash and it did not matter what rung of the socio-economic ladder it was on. Occasionally, the brute would hurl an insult at the woman who would noticeably cringe with fear every time. Other times he would simply dispense with the verbal abuse and beat her. Given that he was a bear of a man and well over six feet, and she was a petite thing with large scared eyes, it was hardly a fair match. And so now, having discovered where the violent abuser worked, he hunted.
He had almost laughed out loud when he discovered that his prey was a gardener in the local botanical park. He had almost expected him to be a criminal or serial rapist or the like. But to discover he was a tender of small flowers and orchards? It was simply too much.
And so, he walked barefoot through the park – he never wore shoes, he did not need to – until he saw his quarry in the Japanese section of the park. Immediately, the look of the hunter was replaced with an artfully contrived look of shock.
“Oh – my – god. I can’t believe I’m meeting the man who designed the Japanese garden.” He all but effused; mimicking the brainless effeminate articulation that he knew would get him noticed.
The man turned and straightened up, clearly confused by the girly queen who was now approaching him. “What?”
The Hunter put his hands to his chest with fingers splayed as he grinned like an idiot. “This is SUCH an honour. I mean, when I had to, like, decide on my thesis for landscape design, I came here, you know, for inspiration and there… it… was… my inspiration… oh – my – god!” He pointed grandly at the plot in front of him.
The man, clearly choosing to believe him, smiled and decided to let the homo gush. After all, he barely got a nod from his supervisor, so to get a landscape architect major going on about his work, it generously stroked the pride within that usually went without. He talked about his work, and the plants and how much effort he put into it and how unappreciated he was.
The Hunter played along, stroking the other man’s ego like a surfer waxing a board. It was so easy. Mister Domestic Abuser was one of the little people who very much resented being at the bottom of the pile. How pathetically predictable it was. In truth, he could have been forgiven for it, but breaking a child’s rib simply because he was upset at the size of his own penis was something that crossed the line.
After about fifteen minutes, he decided he had heard enough. And so, he interrupted the man in mid-sentence and asked how his son was. The abuser looked at him shocked. He tried to say something several times but could not. The fact that the Hunter had discarded his façade and now wore a look of implacable resolve may have had something to do with it.
“You are a maggot feasting on the fear of others.” The Hunter informed him flatly.
The abuser was not about to take this sort of insult from some girly poof, no matter how scary a look he could muster. To that end, he stepped forward and swung a mighty punch. If it had connected, the Hunter guessed it would have been very impressive. But he chose to not let it connect.
With a blur of speed, The Hunter caught the abuser by the wrist and twisted. The abuser crumpled with a strangled cry of pain and surprise. It was a truly wretched spectacle. Even when the abuser lashed out with the other hand, he was again quickly restrained and made to feel some of the pain he had caused.
The abuser began blubbering like a child and pleading with the Hunter not to hurt him. But it was too late. He should have thought of the consequences before he had hurt an innocent child. And so, the Hunter bared his extended incisors and with a snarl of hunger, bit the man’s left wrist, directly into the vein. The abuser’s look of pain was replaced by one of horrific confusion. Having ones’ blood drained will certainly do that to a man.
It took several minutes, but at last the Hunter let go and the now lifeless body dropped to the ground. As planned, he took a small note from his pocket and laid it under the uninjured right wrist of his victim. He was not concerned about his fingerprints being on the note; he did not have any to worry about. With a sigh of satisfaction, he walked away from the scene of a regrettable suicide.
Several days later, he turned up on the doorstep of the woman and her son and handed over a large cheque that he informed her was her husbands’ life insurance. He offered his condolences and walked away. The life insurance story was a complete lie. The cheque, however, was very real. He had barely stepped onto the street when he heard the delighted squeals of the now emancipated woman behind him.
He imagined he could hear the delighted squeals of his woman. The stunningly handsome young man sat on a stool in the kitchen wondering, again, why he had not acted before. True, the relationship was still new, but he had so wanted it to work this time. Unfortunately, his ability to pick the wrong sort of woman seemed to continue to work against him.
He glanced at the clock in the kitchen. It was almost midnight. She had called several hours earlier to inform him that she was catching a last-minute tutorial at the university where she studied. It was another lie in a long line of lies. There was always something to go to at the last minute. There was always one more assignment. It was a lie on a lie on a lie. And he had tired of it.
She was stunningly beautiful; tall and voluptuous; with an hourglass figure and the style of a 1950’s movie star. She was intelligent and cultured and oh so sophisticated. She was also the best sex he had ever had. It was completely uninhibited, almost animalistic, and it would last for hours. Quickie was not in her vocabulary.
But now, the sex was not enough. It was all or nothing now, and he wanted nothing more from her. Strangely enough, he felt very little sadness about what he felt necessary to do. In fact, there was a release to his decision, a lessening of weight that had been a burden for too long. Ever since the detox and his subsequent year long stay in rehab, all he had wanted from life was an ease of living. He had money, that was never an issue. But right now, he had drama and difficulty and hassles, they were the issues, and he wanted no more of it, just like he wanted no more of her.
His musings were interrupted by her entrance. She could never just walk into a room, it always had to be a grand entrance. As usual the door flew open, banging against the wall and further marking it. She would toss down her handbag, immediately begin on how busy her day had been and how tired she was. She would hastily kiss him and then put her laptop on the table and plug it in to recharge. She would put the kettle on and squeeze his arm as she again strode past him on her way to the shower. He wondered why she needed a second in an hour. Surely, she always had one at his place before coming home. She was so caught up in herself that she failed to notice his bags by the kitchen counter.
He shook his head. Enough was enough. He stood and walked over to her laptop. He placed the second, third and fourth fingers of his left hand on the screen. With a thought, the small, technological beings who shared his body raced out of his finger tips and connected him to the laptop’s memory core and hard drive. After a few seconds of searching, he found the file he was after. The obscure password of her email meant nothing to someone who could circumvent such programming with a thought. He called up the most recent email from her boyfriend, complete with its’ explicit descriptions of their previous lovemaking session.
Leaving that on her desktop, he picked up his bags, walked out of the apartment and down to his waiting taxi. He had decided some pampering was required and had chosen a luxury hotel in the city as his next stop before deciding on his future. He would order some food, get some booze and maybe even go out to a club. Then again, maybe he would stay in, call in an escort, get drunk and watch some rugby. Either way, without her around, it was a win-win scenario.
She had thought it a win-win scenario. She loved working out on her own. The young woman – Thumper to her friends – preferred to be alone in the gymnastics facility where she trained. She was just about to get back on the uneven bars when she heard a door open. Turning around, she was annoyed to see her rival walk in. She really wasn’t her rival; Thumper couldn’t be bothered with such trivialities. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the red headed athlete striding up to her. As usual, Red had a look of haughty disdain on her face as she approached her. Red took her mantle of star of the studio to heart and had developed a refined sense of bitterness where Thumper was concerned.
She stopped in front of her. “I’m supposed to have the studio to myself for the next hour.” Red declaimed.
“I’m only using the uneven bars. I won’t get in your way.” Thumper replied neutrally.
Red didn’t seem okay with that. “You're always in my way.” She replied tartly before turning on her heel and walking over to the beam.
Thumper just shook head with a small sigh. She looked at the uneven bars and decided she had done enough. She retrieved her towel and went back to the locker room where she steamed, took a long cool shower and then changed into some casual sweats. She briefly considered going back in and trying to come to some understanding with the rouge hag, but then decided it was simply too much effort. As she walked out of the locker room, she wandered down the common hallway and out the front doors, waving to the receptionist as she did so. As she walked out into the humid Newcastle air, she despaired of it ever cooling down again when she felt a tremble beneath her feet.
It was brief; maybe a second, but she had felt something. The gymnastics facility bordered an industrial estate that was deserted now of day, so it could not have been the result of any activity there. It had been many years since that terrible day in Newcastle when an angry earth had visited its fury on the city. Many buildings had been levelled and there had been thirteen deaths, it was something that she did not wish to revisit. And yet, she cursed as the vibrations began again, just like that December day in 1989.
It started as a small regular shaking beneath her feet, but it quickly grew in intensity until the street lights were swaying and the ground itself began to heave and crack. The doors to the gymnastics facility burst open and the receptionist ran outside. The woman was hysterical. Thumper knew that the woman had lost her mother in the previous quake, so there was probably some psychology happening that was intensifying her reaction.
Unfortunately, she could do nothing to calm the woman down. Eventually, she pushed on her shoulders until the woman was sitting in the middle of the street sobbing without pause. Thumper had just settled her on the bitumen when she heard a scream from behind. She turned quickly and cast her gaze upwards. On the second level balcony, Red was standing there screaming as the old warehouse style building that was the gymnastics hall shook and buckled around her. There would have been no time for Red to get outside from the second level work-out space even if she had tried. Thumper knew that the building would not hold up. It was over sixty years old and little more than a tin shed. The sickening sound of twisting metal announced in no uncertain terms that the balcony Red was on would not be a balcony much longer. Thumper silently cursed for what she was being forced to reveal, but there was a life that was in danger.
Running forward, she took off and leapt three metres to the top of the metal awning over the entrance-way; lightly rebounding off that, she somersaulted up and over the hand rail of the balcony, and then softly landed next to Red. The woman was staring at Thumper, clearly dumbstruck at the ability that was plainly magnitudes above her. Thumper picked her up in a cradle hold and leapt up and over the rail. Again, she rebounded off the awning to land lightly on the street and immediately ran to the centre of the street, simultaneously throwing Red over her shoulder in a fireman’s hold whilst snagging the hysterical receptionist with the other hand. With her two passengers, she ran to the open grass of the park across the road and unceremoniously dumped both to the ground as she herself dropped down. She looked up from where she had thrown herself and saw the balcony all but dissolve under the violent jolts.
The entire quake had lasted less than a minute, and yet, once again, fear had come to Newcastle. Pushing herself up onto her knees, Thumper looked around. Most of the industrial estate was still in one piece, although some of the less permanent buildings had collapsed. Several streetlights were down as was the entire front half of the gymnastic hall. She looked over the other women to make certain they were unhurt. The receptionist was slowly getting herself under control, but Red was looking at her through an expression of fear. With a quaking voice, she spoke.
“What the hell are you?” She asked, fear punctuating every syllable.
Thumper calmly stared her straight in the eye. “Something better than you could ever be, and aren’t you lucky.”
She thought herself lucky. Even though her advisor droned on and on and on, she regarded him as the most capable attaché she had ever had, but there were times when she wanted to pick up a chair and bust it across his teeth. Mind you, if she did that, she would have to break in a new attaché, and that was much, much worse.
“Has the regional council made a decision yet?” She interrupted his droning’s.
He readjusted his glasses as he spoke. “No. I believe it will be at least a month before they agree on a resolution.”
She looked out at the sunny afternoon without. She would go for a swim later she decided. It was warm enough, and the water would still be cold. She hated swimming in warm water. You were supposed to cringe when you first entered the water. It was a way to remind one of one’s insignificance next to something as immense as the ocean. She just hoped she wouldn’t run into another shark. She turned her attention back to her attaché as he recited profit and loss figures, annual expenditure, harvest yields, product sales and other things that were important to her.
“What has happened with the summer residence?” She asked.
He readjusted his glasses yet again as he replied. She found the nervous habit annoying and distracting. “The lower three fields have been sown; the new agricultural laboratory is installed and operational; our dairy facilities have been expanded to accommodate the new cheese production house; lamb yield was fifty percent higher than expected; and, the village has been extended to accommodate the ever-increasing employment force.”
She breathed in deeply. The next question was certain to make him drop his glasses altogether. “And how many more death threats have I received.”
Surprising her, he put the documents in his lap to one side and looked at her squarely. “Three in the last month.” His tone was rock steady.
She rose and, over his objection, strode to the window. She was tired of hiding. “Is there progress in the investigation?” She asked quietly.
From behind she heard him sigh with resignation. “I’m afraid not.”
She turned back to face him. “Please request that they redouble their efforts, I would prefer not to leave The Pack leaderless.”
He rose and bowed deeply. “As you wish, Baroness.”
She nodded in deference to his respect. He was a droning, boring bag of hot air, but his devotion to her and his duties had been above reproach for the last two centuries. She was grateful for him and the sense of continuity he projected. In those rare times, she was honest with herself, she was quite fond of the man. She motioned for the two of them to walk. It was lunchtime and she was starving. They had just stepped out of the parlour and into the hall when a gun-shot rang out. From beside her she heard a short, sharp crack and saw her attaché fall to the floor, blood flowing from a wound to his knee. The cracking had probably been the bullet breaking the poor man’s knee cap.
She looked back to see a figure dressed entirely in black with a balaclava over his head. For a moment, she was amused at the absurdity of his dress given it was inner city Melbourne in the twenty-first century and not Russia during the Cold War. He fired at her but she was prepared. She easily evaded the bullet and sprinted forward to knock the gun out of his hand. What she was not prepared for was the strength with which he returned the blows she was raining down on him. This was no average assassin; this was one of their allies’ kind. With that, she flashed into her Human/Lycan hybrid form and called on all her speed and strength.
She extended her claws and raked them across her attackers’ chest, drawing first blood. He screamed and vaulted over her and ran on through the house. She followed him, startled servants and Embassy staff quickly running out of the way of the pursuit. One thing she realised was that he was a professional. He was beginning the turn into corners even before he had got to them. He was clearly familiar with the Embassy’s floor plan. She didn’t care; she dug the claws of her feet into the carpet and pushed off with a huge burst of strength. She leapt up and came down on the back of her quarry and the two went crashing to the floor. He kicked her off and valiantly attempted to get back up, but she was just too fast, as all her kind was.
She leapt onto his chest and tore the balaclava from his face. She was not familiar with him, but that didn’t matter. She wanted information, not a reunion. With her weight on him, and his arms pinned to the floor by her feet, she leant forward. He looked up into her face, which was a mix of human and wolf. Her teeth were longer and her incisors were three inch fangs that could rip out a man’s throat with little effort. Her ears, normally somewhat pointed, were now extended by about four inches. Her eyebrows were now much fuller and her jaw line was much more angular and somewhat distended. Sharp, silver eyes dared him to break her gaze. For anyone it would be a sight of horror, but her quarry appeared not to be scared easily. Even now, futile as it was, he tried to break free.
She casually slapped him across the face. It got his attention.
“Stop moving around. You know you can’t shift me.” She informed him almost nonchalantly. “You will tell me why am I being targeted and by whom?”
He spat at her, his own elongated incisors making that a somewhat messy task. She backhanded him across the face, this time drawing blood.
“That will get you nowhere even faster.” She drawled. “Who?”
His struggles ceased and his breathing began to slow. He stared at her with undisguised loathing. “The Red Council.”
She rolled her eyes and backhanded him even harder the third time. His eyes momentarily glazed over with the pain. She was many times stronger than him.
“What are they?” She asked quietly.
He replied through a slight slur. “The Red Council has tired of its association with the mongrels of history. They will kill you, and then The Pack.”
As he finished, two of her most trusted security staff entered the room. She motioned for them to take him away. “Interrogate him, thoroughly.” She instructed.
As they left, she shifted back to her human form. She would need to call a meeting. Thankfully, she did it so rarely that she was always obeyed when she did. Just because one had influence did not mean one was permitted to abuse it. Not even Karolinya, Countess of Laschavia; Marquise of Tolseichner; Baroness Holfensteim; and Regent-Hereditary of Wallachia.
She laid out the six photos on her desk. They were an intriguing if not slightly scary bunch. Inwardly she reprimanded herself. They were different, not scary. She sighed. This was exactly the reason why people such as this were encouraged to keep quiet about what they could do. Society barely tolerated racial and religious diversity. To ask the ignorant masses to further accept genetic diversity on this level was simply too much for the tiny little souls to cope with.
As the person in a high position in an Intelligence agency, she knew it was far kinder to keep the general population ignorant to the realities of the world. Indeed, the realities of their own neighbourhoods were usually too much for them. She sighed as she settled back into her luxurious chair, a small perk of her position.
She remembered with a shudder her years at MI-6 where she was sustained by her patriotic desire to serve her country and her Queen. She certainly had not done it for the money. Thankfully, her new employer demonstrated their belief in their employees by rewarding them with salaries that mirrored their value. She had been on holiday in Fiji – overdue of course - when she was approached with an offer to head an agency that was six hundred years old. She had eagerly accepted and swiftly took the helm of a group of some four thousand agents, sequestered in various regions of the world. What’s more, it appeared to be a very well-funded agency. Certainly, her first pay check attested to that. She was surprised to find that money could be used for other things rather than simply paying the rent and the light bill. Her beachside cottage in Byron Bay was testament to that.
She still possessed a sense of duty. However, it was far more generic these days. As a Regional Director in Charge in a global intelligence community, the world was her backyard, and there was a tremendous amount of weeding to be done. Thankfully, this organisation had resources unavailable to others. And this included her little group of genetic treasures.
The scientist in her found them fascinating. Five of the group were what they were due to a small, almost inconsequential variation in their genetic make-up. When analysed, the genetic mutations were so minor, that only the most skilled geneticist would have noticed anything out of the usual. And yet, these infinitesimal changes resulted in the most amazing abilities. There was the wolf-woman; the strong-man; the vampire; the acrobat; and the witch. She chuckled as she remembered the comic books her youngest nephew was always reading. One of them was about a group of individuals with genetic abnormalities that battled to survive in an unforgiving world. She wished she could tell him that the myth was a reality.
The sixth member of the rather select group had earned his abilities only through a technological gift that she herself had played a part in devising. The young man had been the son of a colleague of hers. When she had heard that his son had fallen prey to addiction, she had advocated on his behalf that his boy be given the opportunity to be their test subject. Not only had the procedure proved an enormous success, but the resulting side effects had proven to be of significant worth to the Agency. Thankfully, the young man was so grateful that he eagerly accepted his new role. Sadly, his father had not lived to see it, having been terminated during a mission in the Chinese hinterlands. The individuals responsible had been quickly apprehended and dealt with. She had taken it very personally, and had reacted in an appropriately personal manner.
Now, she had to find a coordinator for her little group of ‘special’ people. She looked to the stack of files on her other desk. She had been sent a shortlist of applicants from six different intelligence agencies throughout the world. She had people in every agency in any country that had one, of course, but the big six were what she used to recruit. CIA, Mossad, ASIS, MI5, MI6, and German Federal Intelligence were all her breadbaskets.
One file kept catching her eye. He was the quintessential quiet achiever. He was never late for work, and he never left early. His attention to detail was total. His analyses were insightful and comprehensive, and, he was a published author in the fantasy genre.
He had two novels currently in circulation, both concerning werewolves and witches. It was a personality quirk that would prove valuable. She summoned her assistant and handed him the file.
“Get him here.” Was all she had to say.