between two deadly enemies
stands one woman...
Humans versus vampires. In a dark futuristic metropolis, humans are fighting a civil war against a subculture group of humans known as "hemophages." Genetically modified by a vampire-like disease, these outcasts pit their great speed and strength against the humans' relentless weapons in the gritty urban streets. Violet is an infected person, a beautiful, intelligent woman who possesses razor-sharp survival instincts. Caught up in the middle of this escalating conflict, Violet must protect an extraordinary nine-year-old boy named Six. While the vampires and humans seek to use the boy's unique genetic makeup to eliminate each other, Violet has no idea of his terrifying secret-- one that can destroy both races...
Published by Warner Books -- March 2006
Print version no longer available new, but the Kindle version is Here.
* AFTER THE BEGINNING... *
An Excerpt from
* AFTER THE BEGINNING... *
The Earth is a big, multi-toned ball floating in the sparkling, endless expanse of space. One side of the planet is periodically shrouded in darkness and sleep, the other is brilliant with the blues of water, the white and grays of clouds, the essence of energy. From an omnipotent viewpoint, it looks exquisite and peaceful, a world of peace and happiness, without hunger or pain.
"Mommy, is there such a thing as vampires?"
A world where nothing goes wrong and no one has to struggle just for the simple right to exist.
But for a lot of people, it's a world that no matter how hard they try, they cannot understand.
Because appearances can be so very, very deceiving.
The black helicopter cut through the air above the skyscrapers of Chicago, moving as swiftly and silently as a deadly eel in calm ocean waters. The buildings below it were simple and beautiful, tall lines of elegant silver steel, concealed concrete and alloy that blended well with the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and contributed rather than detracted from the environment. There was still concrete aplenty-- there will always be concrete-- but the heavy, ornate stone and gothic architecture of previous centuries was gone, steel and most of the older, cracked concrete had been swept away by the sleeker, cleaner structures of modern day. The shorelines of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River were lined with green-soaked city parks sporting lush grass and spectacular gardens filled with brilliant landscaping. No smoke or other pollutants threatened the purity of the air, no unnatural clouds marred the crystalline loveliness of the blue sky above the citizens who drank their coffee beneath brightly colored umbrellas and mosaic-covered tables. For as far as the eye could see, nothing disturbed the seamless, balanced blend of mankind and its surroundings--
Except for that dark, windowless helicopter.
Inside its cockpit, the pilot and copilot worked single-mindedly at the controls, navigating via a bank of liquid crystal screens, watching as the display followed the changing terrain and constantly updated the information about altitude, airspeed and distance. Dressed in black from head to toe, they were sleek and featureless behind helmets with fitted black visors. Their gloved fingers moved over the buttons and controls with impressive speed and efficiency.
"Coming up," the pilot said suddenly. The screen to his right rapid-fired coordinates and a directional grid in a blazing display of red, green and blue, and his voice was clear over the microphones built into the helmets. "Holding airspeed."
"Echo altitude," the co-pilot responded immediately. "Forward and lateral drift, numbers falling fast from here."
"On my mark," the pilot said crisply. "Three, two, one--" He jerked his head. "Mark!"
The co-pilot, whose forefinger had been holding over a red-labeled button slightly off-center on the control panel, pressed it firmly. There was a muffled thump behind the two men as the locking mechanism on the back cargo bay door released, then the hydraulics kicked in and the door dropped open. The interior of the slim helicopter filled with the scream of wind and speed. Then, triggered by the opening of the door, seven two-meter back steel balls spun out of recesses in the side walls like oversized bowling balls; following the track set into the floor of the helicopter, they rolled smoothly out the open door and dropped into the sky.
The helicopter spun up and away, then disappeared into the distance as the seven spheres plummeted toward a spot just outside the southwest corner of the city, falling into a perfect line as they descended. Direction, descent speed and wind velocity had all been precalculated, and they hit their target with unfailing precision. While the huge white building would have been difficult to miss, even the strike-point itself was predetermined-- low on the southernmost corner of one specific building, hitting in a precisely spaced horizontal line running left to right. They punctured the outer walls without even slowing; their momentum kept them going, barreling through metal, wood, plaster and wallboard, never losing speed and guided by a pre-programed internal navigation system. Anything in their way was obliterated-- furniture reduced to splinters, copiers and high-tech equipment crushed into pieces of fluid-leaking twisted metal, cubicles smashed to kindling. Several puny flesh-and-blood office workers flattened to little more than wet, red puddles that resembled man-sized blots of dropped gelatin. Finally the spheres reeled to a stop in that same, razor-straight line, dead center in the middle of their target: a enormous laboratory.
Too shocked to move, a couple of dozen lab workers and scientists gaped as the first of the shining metal spheres suddenly unraveled, opening like a huge, steel seed pod. In the next instant a black-clad figure vaulted out of the leftover bands of metal and yanked a three-foot sword from a scabbard at his waistband that was no more than an inch deep; no one within twenty feet had time to decide whether their attacker was a man or woman, and they certainly couldn't call for help or finger an alarm-- every last one of them was eviscerated before so much as finishing useless mental questions about gender or spontaneous impulses regarding sirens. By then the other six spheres had split open and spilled their deadly occupants, and within seconds there was no one alive in the room except the seven dark arrivals.
The seven figures exchanged glances, their eyes hidden behind day-vision goggles that transformed the sunlight streaming through the skylights overhead to a more bearable night view. Moving in perfect synchrony, they streamed across the room like liquid oil, nimbly avoiding the splayed, red-splattered corpses, aiming for the door at the far end.
The high-pitched alarms were going off in every direction, but it took nearly no time at all to negotiate the corridors and get to their main target location-- they'd all studied the computer floor plans until, if it had been necessary, any one of them could have found anything in the building from memory right down to a specific floor outlet. The only thing that now stood between them and what they wanted most was the vault door, but the leader's laser pistol's beam ate through the metal alloy like it was nothing more than slightly stubborn wax. When the starting and ending edges of the laser wound met, the door seemed to float in place for a long, breathless second; then gravity took over and it tumbled outward with a reverberating clank!
The seven figures stepped nimbly over the threshold, then they couldn't help pausing. They had been briefed on what to expect, of course, but what they were facing... it was more than big, more than huge. It was monstrous, the stepping stone to an industrial complex the likes of which they'd tried but never been successful at imagining.
The outside of the complex gave no clue about the interior, the way the floor dropped down more than a hundred feet to conceal and protect the endless rows of unbreakable ten-story-tall glass tanks. The blood-- millions upon millions of gallons of it-- within the refinery tanks glistened in stark crimson relief against the non-color of the sterile white-washed walls and pristine tile floor, the blistering contrast enough to make a normal person's eyes throb with the effort to focus. If it hadn't been for the fact that the silos contained purified human blood, they might have been raiding one of the ancient oil refineries at the height of the long-ago world oil crisis.
The leader of the group was code-named BF-1. He stepped forward, on the verge of ordering the group to fan out--
The rest of his team stopped abruptly, holding their breath and waiting for his next move. BF-1 raised one clenched fist, holding them in position at the foot of one of the huge silos of liquid scarlet. He leaned forward slightly, inhaling and testing the air, straining to be sure he'd heard what he thought he had--
"Trap!" he suddenly bellowed inside his helmet. His hand snapped toward the mini-gun on his belt, but it was already too late. Shadows slid from behind the silos all around them-- fifty or more Command Security Marines, all packing full automatic weapons. There was nowhere for BF-1 and his team to run, no time to so much as draw against the storm of lead crossfire that enveloped them.
In mere seconds, all seven were nothing but dead, red mist and body fluids leaking all over the floor.
The gunshots finally faded, leaving the blood storage room full of silence and the stink of smoke and gun powder. "Clear!" the leader of the Marine group finally barked; there were no more shots but none of the servicemen lowered their weapons, just in case. And, of course, they would never dare remove their helmets, gloves or filter masks.
After a moment, another team, this time from the police and headed by three detectives, trotted from around one of the silos a bit farther back. The most senior of the trio stepped confidently forward, striding up to the stack of bodies while at the same time snapping on a pair of latex gloves, then yanking a re-breather from the pocket of his jacket and jamming it into place over his mouth and nose. The plastic-coated identification card tagging him as Det. E. Cross and clipped to his lapel twinkled in the room's stark light as he sent a practiced, slightly sardonic gaze in the direction of his men. "Touch nothing," he reminded them. "Obviously."
He bent next to the body of the guy he'd pegged as the invading team's leader, then slipped his finger beneath the edge of the face mask on the dead man's helmet. When he tugged it free, the face beneath the helmet was young and Asian, a good-looking kid whose expression was now permanently serene, the look of a man forever sleeping in death's arms. Cross tilted his head, then curiously peeled back the corpse's upper lip, revealing the guy's canines. They were at least a half inch longer than the "eye-teeth" of a normal person. That, of course, could only mean one thing.
"Frickin' vampires," one of his men, Breeder, muttered from a few feet away. Detective Cross heaved himself to his feet as he sent the other man an annoyed but exaggerated glare. "‘Hemophages,' please." He yanked off his gloves and jammed them in his pocket as he stepped away from the cadaver. His tone turned more serious as he regarded each of them. "This is sensitive business," he said shortly. "We're doing everything we can to avoid the appearance of a witch hunt and inflammatory epithets like that don't help."
Breeder shrugged apologetically and tried to look appropriately chastised. Before he could say anything aloud, however, Pedro Endera, the third detective in the group, stepped past him and used a gloved hand to pull a katana halfway out of a tiny scabbard affixed to the belt of one of the dead bodies. He had it out at least eighteen inches before he reversed directions and settled it back into the one-inch deep scabbard. "Flat space technology," he said with undisguised admiration. "Dimension compression-- very rare, very pricey. The Archdiocese is going to shit when they hear the vam--" He glanced quickly at Cross and choked off the word under the pretext of clearing his throat, but his breathing apparatus did little to hide his mistake. "The, uh, Hemophages have it." He made sure the katana was snug in the scabbard, then crossed his arms. His face was puzzled. "This is almost identical to the attempt they made at the bank in Mid-Delhi last week," he said.
"Not to mention the one in Sub-Ankara," Cross added.
Breeder looked at the pile of bodies, then at his boss. Above his face mask, his eyes widened. "Raul," he said, then hesitated. "We're... we're really at war, aren't we?"
Cross let the remark go. It was easier to ignore the comment than say the bitter answer outright, easier to act as though it weren't an issue than admit the massive, ugly truth. He had learned decades ago that words had power, and power could bring out the worst in people. Besides, he thought as he frowned and surveyed the seemingly endless lines of blood-filled tanks, something was wrong here, even though he just couldn't quite wrap his head around it. With a little time, though, he would work it out. He always did. He was good that way with mysteries.
"That's queer," Detective Cross finally said. Breeder and Endera said nothing, but their gazes followed Cross's as it slid across the red glass rows. "How did they expect to transport the blood out of here? What kind of exit strategy did they think they had?" Were they bringing in reinforcements? Expecting a sudden arrival of transport equipment? Doubtful-- not in broad daylight, not like this. His frowned deepened into a fierce scowl as he turned back to face his two men. "Get people on all levels," he ordered. "They must've had a way out. Find it."
"Unless..." Endera had started to walk away, but now he hesitated and turned back. "Unless there was no exit strategy," he finished almost breathlessly. "We couldn't find one in Ankara." Above his re-breather, Endera's gaze brightened with sudden realization as he met his superior's eyes. "Maybe there's not one here, either."
Cross's mouth pressed together and he shoved his hands inside his pocket, absently rubbing a stingy spot on one thumb. He took another hard look around the huge room. "Then what's the point?" he demanded.
Endera's throat worked, as though he were having a hard time actually verbalizing his next words. When they finally did come out, he spoke so secretively that his two companions were forced to lean forward to hear him. "Well, what if they didn't come to get the blood out?" He gave them a moment to digest this before adding, "What if they came to infect it?"
Cross and Breeder stopped, then slowly turned their heads toward him and stared. "Ad Sul," Breeder finally managed. "You mean like... creating a bomb? An HPV bomb?"
Detective Endera nodded starkly. "One that would go off inside our population," he said hoarsely. "Creating thousands more just like them--"
"Ad Rasul!" Cross cut him off and spun toward the hazard teams that were waiting for orders. "I want a containment brigade on this facility instantly!" The team members leapt to obey, scurrying toward the exits to secure them and babbling instructions into their mouth-mics.
Endera grabbed his boss's elbow and Cross pulled his arm away in irritation as he tried to think. "But... Jesus. What about that Mid-Delhi blood?" he asked urgently. "And Ankara? That stuff's already out!"
Detective Breeder suddenly gasped. "Oh, my God-- Cross!"
Breeder jerked toward Endera, then followed his coworker's gaze to Cross's thumb, the one the man had used to pull back the dead vampire's lip and expose his canines. Cross was staring at it, too, stunned to see the bright, thin line of blood oozing from a tiny break in the skin-- the super sharp edge of the Hemophage's tooth must've sliced right through the protective latex. Their superior's gaze cut to Breeder and his eyes widened, but he already knew it was too late. Before he could bother to protest, Breeder snapped his pistol up and shot Cross right between the eyes.
Six dozen Lockheed F-48s ringed the blood refinery at pre-specified altitudes, circling the facility in a combat pattern to ensure no other aircraft violated the now-prohibited airspace. After the evacuation and sanitization of all personnel, the containment brigade had gone through the building a final time to ensure that all personnel were removed and all potentially hazardous machinery had been shut down and disabled. Then the team had carefully positioned its equipment: sensors throughout the facility, the radio detonator, and finally, the explosive device. Only one F-48 flew within the actual range of the coming nuclear blast; this one would drop the laser-targeted FAE-- fuel air explosive-- at precisely the moment necessary to contain the radiation blowing outward. There was a backup fighter in case something happened to make the lead F-48 fail its mission, but that was a far-fetched and, if it happened, deadly scenario. Failure of the FAE to drop and/or hit target at the precise moment would mean that most of Chicago-- and its residents-- would end up nothing more than a nuclear wasteland. From the ground, the circling military planes looked like a tornado speckled with glittering black and silver triangles. They held their pattern for a good twenty minutes, then there was a sudden, dull WHUMP at ground zero. The refinery and everything inside and around it simply... disintegrated in a ball of molten light. The F-48s shot upward, engines screaming as the pilots pushed to stay above the blast zone. Only the lead one lagged slightly so he could release the FAE immediately after the detonation of the mini-nuclear device. As he turned the nose of his jet upward and pulled back on the throttle, the thirty-five year old pilot was more concerned about the success of his explosive device than escaping the blossoming cloud. His family was down there, his wife and three kids probably eating lunch right about now in their house in Des Plaines. His two boys and toddler daughter loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and if something went wrong, all three and his wife would end up drenched in radiation poisoning, nothing but walking dead.
The FAE dropped into place and detonated precisely when it was supposed to, right to the millisecond. There was another sound, deeper and more condensed, and suddenly the burgeoning mushroom-shaped cloud collapsed into itself, layer after layer folding in as though an immense, unseen vacuum cleaner was sucking every bit of the poisonous matter out of the air. It took a total of twenty-eight seconds for both the nuclear bomb to obliterate the refinery and the specialized FAE to eliminate the remains of the nuclear bomb.
And then nothing was left except a gigantic, blackened scar on the Illinois soil that the government would surround with twelve-foot electrified fencing and let lie fallow for the next seven decades.
Disclaimer: The above excerpt is taken directly from the manuscript and does not include any corrections or edits made to the final copyedited manuscript and/or the galley proofs. Time being what it is-- limited-- what you just read is what you just got, and no, Von didn't proof it before she put it up here for the world to read. That's life. Deal.
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