Authors: Yvonne Navarro
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Copyright © 2006 Screen Gems, Inc.
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Cover art copyright 2006 by Screen Gems, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: July 2006
Violet and the doctor each had a hand on the titanium briefcase. She slammed the knife edge of her other hand across his forearm. He let go of the case, screaming, and she spun to meet the instant reaction of the Armored Medical Techs. She punched one with enough force to shatter his bullet-resistant glass chest plate; the second, she put her fist through the face visor on his helmet. Another half dozen leapt forward in unison. She took care of their little circle with a double spinning crescent kick that turned her body into a blur of energy. It took all of fifteen seconds for her to decimate every single one of them, and never once did she let go of that white titanium briefcase. Of course, its lovely, pearly white covering was a lot more red by the time Violet stood, the only upright person . . . no, the only
—in the center of the inner vault.
For My Dad
Thanks for all the things
you’ve done and continue
to do, and for trying
to understand me.
Thank you to:
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 copilot 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.
The copilot, 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 black 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 preprogrammed 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 were 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: an enormous laboratory.
Too shocked to move, a couple 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 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 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
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
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—
he suddenly bellowed inside his helmet. His hand snapped toward the minigun 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 cross-fire 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 gunpowder. “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 rebreather 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
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 “eyeteeth” 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 into 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.”